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Canadian Rockies

Trip Summary
August 16-28th, 2015

by: Bryan Wolf

Inspiration and Planning: I only stumbled upon the Canadian Rockies. In an effort to not miss the next must-do hike, I found myself searching through blogs and “Top 10” lists in search of the best trails in North America. I made a list of what looked to be my favorites that included Gros Morne in Newfoundland, the Wind River Range in Wyoming, the Collegiate Peaks in Colorado, and several other equally stunning trip itineraries. Not a one would be disappointing, I’m sure, but I could only choose one.

The first picture I saw of Jasper Parc National was that of the Ramparts reflecting in Tonquin Lake. The image of the sharp, well-defined peaks were unlike any other and the aura surrounding the Canadian Wilderness took over as my next obsession. I ordered the maps (#902 and 903 from National Geographic) and the planning began.

My recent trips had landed me in the severe backcountry of Alaska, meaning float planes, isolation, and true exploration. All things come with a price: long days, prolonged exposure, and difficult terrain defined these trips. I wanted to find a balance between all these conditions and the trails at Jasper N.P. seemed to offer exactly that.

Despite the allure of Tonquin Valley, we didn’t even end up selecting the trek. After research and group discussion, we decided to hike both the Skyline Trail and the Berg Lake Trail, the latter of which is actually in Mt. Robson Provincial Park. The Skyline would boast smaller camps, one-way hiking, and almost all of the trail being above treeline or in the high alpine meadows. The Berg Lake trail boasts turquoise lakes, glaciers, icefields, and the highest peak in Canada, Mt. Robson. at 3954m. With all of this in mind, this trip seemed to have the makings to be every bit as epic as my previous Alaska trips.

The team was assembled, all familiar faces. Vince would be my tent-mate, partner in crime, and equally paced hiking buddy. Also joining us was Kevin and Liz, who have previously accompanied me on my winter treks of Mt. LeConte in the Smoky Mountains. I took lead on the planning and logistics, more so than I ever had on previous treks. This made me all the more excited as I was taking more of a leadership role.

Taking the trip one step at a time, I quickly understood the time sensitive importance of booking our camp sites. All sites on these trails are mandatory reservations (new as of 2013, I believe) and they fill up fast. You can call at 9am exactly 3 months to the day before the very first day of your trip in that park. Important facts that I learned (each requiring a separate reminder alarm): booking is done in Pacific Time, each park (both Robson and Jasper) book separately, and you can only leave a message with your contact information and requested itinerary. They will then call you back ASAP. After getting confirmation of our campsites, our group would meet to review weather patterns, transportation details, airline tickets, rental cars, and equipment considerations. All that was left to do at that point was to wait. For me this was easy, I’d work too hard to think about anything else.

Here is a summary of trip expenses and logistics to this point:

Airfare from Cincinnati to Edmonton, Alberta CA was about $550 for one stop round trip flights. Air time was about 6 hours each way. Our 12 day rental car was about $750 for a large SUV holding four people and gear, this was extremely good at the time because the US dollar was worth about 1.3x the Canadian dollar. Edmonton is about 4 hours east  from Jasper, while Robson is an additional hour west of Jasper. Jasper is a “Parc National” and requires an entrance fee. For us it was cheapest to buy the family year pass at about $100. Two campsites for three nights on the Skyline Trail was $130, and two campsites for four nights on the Berg Lake Trail was about $200. Trail food, gear, and town expenses can greatly vary depending on lifestyle.

After getting to town and finding a KOA to rest our heads, we were able to spend some extra time at the Miette Hot Springs as well. These hot springs are commercial at this point and consist of a few swimming pools that are hot spring fed. Nevertheless, they are very relaxing and cost only a few dollars to enter. We headed to the town of Jasper where we would fulfill our tourist duties of shopping and our duties as beer drinking adults to visit the local brewery. We also stopped by the half a dozen outfitters for last minute goods including stove fuel that we couldn’t bring on the plane. One last stop at a tour company where we pre-booked our shuttle to get to the south end of the Skyline Trail (a one-way trail) and we were set.

Trip Weather Report and Other Considerations:

We had rain only at night and on a single night we had frost and snow-covered peaks lasting till mid afternoon. Temperatures at day were mostly in the 50s-60s and nights were high 20s to low 30s. If planning a trip, I’d recommend researching typical highs and lows in the area ahead of time, then adjust to mountain weather by reducing those temperatures about 10 degrees. For August and September travel, I’d recommend several clothing layers for warmth options and, although we were lucky with rain, a shell top and bottom are a must. August to September is considered the best time to go, the latter of which gives you better chances for a bug-free experience. We had very little issues with mosquitoes in late August.

Both areas we visited are considered semi-primitive by the park districts, meaning that they supply safe food storage, composting privys, and tent pads. Being a higher traffic trail, larger wildlife is more scarce. We still carried bear spray as a precaution. Not being able to fly home with it, you can then donate unused spray to the Jasper Backcountry office for rangers. Both parks have trail information and booking information online. We used and highly recommend Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies guide books for trail details when planning. The trails are all easy to follow, but we still hiked with the maps as they are fun to reference.

Town lodging booked up fast. I’d recommend pre-booking for best rates and availability. There are plenty of car camping sites outside of town. There is also cheaper lodging and more availability about 45 minutes east of Jasper in Hinton.

Robson Provincial Park- The Berg Lake Trail

Day 1, 12.7km to Emperor Falls Camp: There is a large but crowded parking lot at the Berg Lake Trail trail head. This trail is very popular! Don’t sweat it too much. Like many trails, the farther from the parking lot the fewer the people. The trail was immediately impressive for it’s old forest, but also notable for the wide and easy grade that we were on. The first few km are also mountain bike friendly. After getting to the Kinney Lake campsite there is a long rocky moraine and then the trail changes pretty drastically. Kinney Lake is a beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by high peaks, there are a few tips of glaciers on the peaks and slim waterfalls visible from each one in the far distance. It was a perfect stop for our Helinox Chairs and a little lunch. It is straight up from there, gaining about 600m in about 4km.

The vertical gain is more than worth it as we begin to be rewarded with high views and spectacular waterfalls. We would climb to White Falls, Falls of the Pool, and then Emperor Falls, each more spectacular than the last. Robson sticks out above Emperor Falls. We were lucky enough to also have a blue sky back drop and warm enough weather that the mist radiating off the falls felt perfectly cool.  Our camp site was riverside and gave us our first glimpse of the Berg Glacier. I was immediately under the impression that we must have had the very best campsite on the trail. Simply breathtaking.

Berg LakeDay 2, 11.2km to Robson Camp: Our next day was intentionally planned light so that we could bask in the sun looking out onto Berg Lake. This is the scene that one would find by googling the park or trail: a beautiful glacier fed lake with ice chunks from recent calving of the glacier that hits the top of the lake. The glacier climbs to the top of Mt. Robson where there were almost always swirling clouds even in the bluest of skies.  Since our legs still had energy left in them, we decided to stretch them with a 5.2km round trip to Adolphus Camp past where the Berg Lake Trails end. This was a far less traveled path with more signs of wildlife, deeper woods, and complete solitude. Also noteworthy, this path takes you into Jasper N.P. and across the Alberta and British Columbia border where you also cross from Pacific to Mountain time. Time traveling, man!

BJs ViewDay 3, 19km on Snowbird Pass Trail: The best hiking we’d see yet, just when I thought it impossible. We would hike the Snowbird Pass side trail out and back, a total of 19km and nearly 800m elevation gain. We did this as a day hike, staying at Robson for a second night. The weather made for a popular day on the trail, but still far less crowded than the main trail thanks to an early start. You begin by hiking back nearly to the tip of the Robson Glacier before then heading up. The trail skirts the steep mountain side with lots of moving scree and follows along the glaciers path now with a higher view, the further you make it the more you can see the massiveness of the glacier. Eventually the trail cuts in to more of a rolling hills meadow, a playground for the many marmots. When you enter the meadow you can see the pass between two long ridges in the far distance. Another steep climb and you’re there, directly above the Reef Icefield. From your view point you can see the ice field sprawl about 2 miles in any direction. Everyone is always so time crunched and so many people only get as far Berg Lake, but there is no doubt that the Snowbird Pass Route is the very best of Robson.

Snowbird PassDay 4, 10km ending at Berg Lake Camp: To stay with the theme of light days, our next day would include time just to enjoy the time and place that we were in. We hiked the Toboggan Falls Trail up from our next camp at Berg Lake (now working back to the car), then hiked along the Mumm Basin Route to the Hargreavas Glacier and back in a sort of loop. The trail from camp is steep and almost immediately follows the falls. I was under the impression that we were hiking to a large falls when we actually were hiking along side a long gradual falls the whole time. The trail then comes to a fork with the trail continuing up to the “cave”. The cave was not on our map, but exploration was the name of the game that day. The steep route continued to a now above treeline trail that offered amazing views again back at Robson, yet another perspective of the peak. A cairn in the distance marked the cave and we ventured to and then inside for a look. The cave is small, but has a few rooms we braved with cell phone light before turning back. The entire day was again perfect and offered a different and less traveled path, well worth it at around 9-10km and 450-500m in elevation gain.

Day 5, 20.1km to the car: The way back was almost entirely downhill, back the way we came. We made quick of it as we wanted our share of town food before hiking back out the very next morning. After leaving Robson we had obligations in the quaint town of Jasper. We had to stimulate the economy with tourist purchases and make another trip to the Jasper Brewing Company. I was honestly worried about our trip to the Skyline: how could it live up to the experience we had just had? We also had concerns for the shift in winds as it clouded the immediate landscape with smoke from mega forest fires that were all over the northwest United States.

When in Canada:

Sick of the Meters and Kilometers? Here is the run down. A kilometer is 6/10 of a mile, or you could multiply by .62137 to be exact. A meter is 3 times a foot, or 3.2808 to be exact. National Geographic maps often have both and list miles/feet in parenthesis (because we’re weird for using miles/feet).

Jasper National Park- The Skyline Trail

Curator Lake Day 6, 12.2 km to Snowbowl Camp: We left our rental at the north end of the trail and were dropped off at the south trail head with 44km ahead of us. Setting out was a beautiful switchback trail past the first two campgrounds. Now with some trail legs under us we blazed up the trail and made it to our first camp way too early. Getting to the camp includes a few kilometers getting out of the trees and then the last few in high meadows with slow streams, long views, and plenty of ground squirrel and marmot. The mountains were covered with a light haze from the smoke, but not too badly.

Day 7, 8.1km to Curator Camp: The entire second day was above the trees and the trail started to earn its name. We’d leisurely hike on smooth graded trails and take extended lunches to enjoy the views surrounding us. We’d also stop and venture up the Watchtower Trail to its high point to look into the next valley and over at the Watchtower shaped peak itself. The Curator camp is down in the valley from there, a significant descent on a side trail down “1km”. There is a rustic lodge just below that where many hikers passed through our camp to get to.

Day 8, 11.9km to Tekarra Camp: Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies had suggested this trail as one of the very best and day three on the Skyline proved them right. The smoke was a little lighter on this day and thSkyline Traile views and trail the most spectacular. We started by climbing 120m up from camp and then over 400m more to the top of The Notch. I love this kind of hiking, very vertical, exposed, loose rock, and beautiful skies. We dropped pack and enjoyed the view, able to trace a line from which we came the day before. We also hiked up the south peak of the notch another 50m or so making it the trips highest point at 2560 meters. This side route is worth it as it gives you more of a 360 vantage point.  The day was set up to be perfect and the trail continued to be such. We stayed above tree line the entire time, mostly on sharp ridges looking out at ridgeline after ridgeline in the far and fading distance.

Day 9, 13.7km to the car: The Tekarra camp was beautiful and difficult to leave. The camp is below Tekarra mountain in a lush meadow. After leaving camp there are kilometers more of of high alpine meadows before hittiRidgeng a forest service road and that’s where it gets boring. We would have a quick pace down the wide shared-use trail back to the car. The Skyline is far different from the glacial lakes and ice fields we came from at Robson, but a perfect complement with its warmer colored rocks and long looking views. Both trails were very convincing in making the Canadian Rockies a favorite destination and a must add to any adventurers’ list.

 

 

 

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RRT Adventure: Gates of The Arctic Part 2

Gates To Another World
Living Your Dream
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Time has no place in the real world. I don’t mean the “real world” that includes long hours at work or traffic jams on the way home. I am referring to a different world, one that I have had the pleasure of visiting yet again. You see, the real world is the one that has been here for billions of years, and the whole time it has been living and breathing all on its own. Long before our manufactured world existed, there were cities of stone peaks that were thousands of feet tall, and these cities had more travelers pass through than any of our cities today. Each bit of land was self sustaining, unaltered, and beautiful. When you see Alaska, and especially Gates of the Arctic NP, you will see this world because it is still here, and is all around us. Time disappears, you wake when you are rested, you sleep when you are tired, you eat when you are hungry, and you move at your pace. Blueberries grow at your feet, Caribou herds flow into the deep valleys, Wolves sing to you, and Grizzlies play.  This place is unaltered, it’s life unshaken from our worlds existence, and for that reason it is more real than all else.

Our trip began in Fairbanks Alaska. The remoteness of the park requires from here a bush plane flight to Bettles, a town with just over 50 residence.  The hour plane ride drastically changes your mindset from one of civilization to one of adventurous spirit. The town is more bare bones than most people care to go, but we are just half-way there.  We check in with the Rangers at the National Park Service station and get briefed on what the current season has been like.  You should always check with your local resources for that first hand information that never makes it online.  With our group size she didn’t expect us to see much in the way of bears but maybe some Caribou migrating from the north.  From her past 10+ years working at that station in Bettles however she couldn’t recall anyone else heading out for the route we had planned, which is exciting for us!

Jumping in an old pick up truck we throw our backpacks in the bed of the truck and dive into the plush double bench seats of the extended cab.  The truck hasn’t even been registered in 10 years and I’m sure it dates back further.  Just a short drive and we get to the second Bettles landing strip, the lake.  From here we’ll take off by float plane and head another hour north into the park.  Finally to our destination at Lake Agiak in a Northeastern area of Gates of the Arctic NP.

The planes leave but the buzzing continues, our friends the mosquitoes have been waiting for us.  The mosquitoes only purpose is of course to fly into your ears, eyes, and mouth, and to bite you if you dare reveal an inch of skin.  No worry, we anticipated this, we freshen up with repellent and some of us dawn our ever fashionable bug head nets. I think bug nets are the new in-thing, all the Hollywood stars are doing it.  We sit, glance over our plans and the map to set route, and pump our first collection of fresh Alaska water. I gotta tell you, my Alaska glacier water tastes way better than that plastic bottle of “fresh glacier water” that you’ll find at the store so I’m not sure what they’re doing to it.

Our trek started by trying to escape the boggy low ground near the lake.  Alaska doesn’t have the usual terrain, there is very little soil to pack and harden the ground. The water washes the ground away from around the vegetation and we are left to hike through the tussocks. Think of tussocks like ankle twisting basketballs glued to the ground spaced just inches apart.  With the rocky and permafrost under-layer the ground between the tussocks is often a mucky puddle.  The first day and a half were long, we covered nearly 10 miles as the crow flies but struggled to find the path of least resistance.  We would come up and down off ridges as they spilled into river valleys, and had a few tricky river crossing en-route.  So I know I’m not painting a glorious picture of Alaska so far, mosquitoes and slow miles that make your knees scream, but I’ll get there, I promise.

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RRT Owners Bryan, Emily, and Joe

RRT Owners Bryan, Emily, and Joe

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[col class=”span6″]The first few days it seems you are just happy to be there.  To stop and look around at the most open and vast landscape, to have giants around you in all directions, and even to breathe the fresh air is silencing.  These are the days that the setting for your next 10 days is still becoming real, the realization of escape.  So although the first few days can be the toughest physically I consider them very important transition days.  They were also days that would teach us a lot we came to find out.  There is not a topographical map that shows bogs or tussocks, you have to spend some time with the land [/col]
[/row]to learn how it really moves.  What took us four backpacking days to get to took us but two days to come back on.

The sights and the experience was absolutely amazing! If you have not already you have to check out some pictures we’ve posted.  Our route took us west from Agiak and then north through a valley up to the north slope.  We would cover nearly 50 miles backpacking and another 20 miles through our day hikes. Despite our group size there was no shortage of wild life encounters either.  The trip summary would include well over 100 Caribou, the first sighting of which was a herd of nearly 70 at best count making their way right toward us!  The herd was broken up for reasons that were not immediately clear.  At first we thought it was the scattered showers that made some of them move on but we found it to be much more interesting than that.  The Caribou herd was split by the sight of two adolescent Grizzly Bears.

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[col class=”span6″]The Twins as we would then call them were seen several times on our trip and always close together in their adventures.  Adolescent bears can actually be the most dangerous due to their unpredictable nature.  What started as two blond hair balls across the river bed very quickly became two large (adolescent or not) bears on our side of the ridge.  A Grizzly moves at up to 35mph covering 100 yards in 3.5 seconds.  At the time we were a group of 9 with 4 other adults out in front of the group and around the ridge.  Keeping everyone calm, together and prepared was crucial for these next moments. Holding our [/col]
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"The Twins"

“The Twins”

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[/row] trekking poles in the air and shouting we readied our bear spray.  The bears slowly but surely continued on a path towards the group.We shifted from a large cluster formation to a very tight and long line to show more numbers, louder than ever we gave up no ground.  Forward progress became more of a lateral movement as the bears, still curious, moved along the ridge and away from the group.  Then we all exhaled for the first time in 10 minutes.

We would see 9 different Grizzlies and have 13 different bear sightings over our 10 day trek.  The third time we would see the twins became the most interesting, all this from a group that didn’t expect to see any bears (but were very prepared).  It turns out that because nobody had explored this region for so long that nobody could predict the exact conditions.  The height of blueberry season and the early migration of the caribou set the stage however for heavy Grizzly activity.  Our eighth day had us venturing back that same river.  We hit the river bed this time for easy walking.  After a glimpse of the twins up in front of us we veered out of the thicker brush and up on the higher bank.  With in a few minutes of shouting at the twins, who didn’t pay much attention this time, the unthinkable happened.  Across the river on the opposite ridge was a third Grizzly, a large adult Grizzly!

The group reformed to be all 13 of us strong together. We had look outs for all directions and our now 6 bear sprays ready to go. Oh but wait, that’s not all, we hit the jackpot on this one.  Right when it seems the adult bear is in retreat we notice a head pop up from the very river bed we walked out of.  That is when we looked over and just 3.5 seconds away was “Peek-a-Boo”.  Peek-a-Boo was the closest a Grizzly had yet been and standing tall with his head peaking above the brush he seemed the most content to stand and just watch us.  We wouldn’t win this stand off, we were cornered now by 4 Grizzlies and one of them was not going anywhere.  In groups of 6 and 7 we moved very slowly backwards away from the river.  Always keeping sight of Peek-a-Boo we moved one group back about 20-30 feet.  Next the other group would come back to meet us and we would regroup.  Repeating steps one and two eventually got us in the clear and for the first time in 15 minutes, we exhaled.

Our day hikes took us to two unnamed peaks, which we took the liberty of naming since we may have been the first to climb them.  On day three a group of us went up “Dragons Peak”.  The mountain was the closest to our camp but towered above the valley around us.  This was a good opportunity for both spectacular views and to scout the valley ahead of us.  The hike was moderate in difficulty but felt great with a light load.  On the fifth day a group of us crossed the north valley that we had yet to go up and set our sites for “Dragons Perch”.  We are obviously convinced that dragons do or did rule this land at some point.  Dragons Perch was unique because it was more isolated and gave us 360 views leading up into 5 different valleys and over top of neighboring mountains.  The Perch was not as kind either, a steep cliff side of broken slippery shale made for a complicated and sometimes nerve racking ascent. This extremely difficult summit was well worth it though.  The peak had a sitting perch for us to view far in any direction and to no doubt feel like the only people to see the world from that perspective!

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[col class=”span6″]Bryan trekking up Dragons Peak[/col]
[col class=”span6″]Our third day hike brought the entire group along.  Traveling all the way up the valley we headed for the North Slope. The North Slope is the point where the Brooks Range Mountains begin to tapper and elevation slowly drops to the sea.  At the end of the slope, at the very last peak, we would climb the ridge of rocky boulders and broken shale to get a sight of the ice field that lies within its grasp.  An exhausting ascent led us to a spectacular view of the valley back to camp and that which then drops back down the [/col]
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[col class=”span6″]                                                                                other side.  We could see the ice pack but our adventurous side wanted more.  Splitting up half of us moved forward for a closer look.  The ridge walking became a glacial rock field working down and then back up to the basin holding the ice in.  Stowing the trekking poles away we had to scramble large boulders of often moving and unstable rock until close was close enough.  The field was tricky to maneuver and since it has been untouched it presented too many dangers for us to continue on.  Being close enough to see the blue shine on some of the ice was awesome though.  The way down was [/col]
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From the top of "Dragon's Perch"

From the top of “Dragon’s Perch”

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[/row]just as precarious with the wind and rain making the temperature bitter at that elevation.

The group, together again made the long hike back to camp and fired up the camp stoves.  The group meshed incredibly well and I am lucky to have shared this experience with those that came along.  Dinner time was a family event for us.  We all huddled around the bear cans sharing the days stories and telling jokes.  Be it gear junkies we couldn’t help but to pick everyone’s mind about there gear as well.  Bartering was the most popular post dinner entertainment.  Chili Mac for Rice and Chicken and two Starburst first required two Starburst for two Jolly Ranchers but the trade was almost soured by the infamous Twix bet of 2013.  Like most trips into the wild there is a large emphasis on food at camp.  A yawn and a stretch and it was time for bed, because we were tired. At one point I had to throw my sunglasses on to sleep.

I love camp sleep, especially with a new luxury pad.  There was but one night that I slept poorly and it isn’t what you’d think.  Sound asleep, I hear a light whisper, “Beej”.  I hear it again, “Beej”. Vince who I shared a tent with was waking me up.  I turn over in my sleeping bag and look up to him staring right at me.  “There is a bear outside of the tent” he says with a frozen look on his face.  I slowly and quietly unzip myself and grab the bear spray sitting between us.  My heart goes from 0 to 60, the adrenaline pumping though my veins.  I assume at this point he is frozen with fear so I jump into action and pull the safety right off the spray.

As I start to get out of the bag and ready for my next move he finally speaks again having been silent this whole time. “What are you doing?” “Whoa, what are you doing?” he says with a blank look. “You said there was a bear outside of the tent!” I said at this point more than confused.  Still staring me down he says “No, I said Caribou”.  Immediately following this he turns and falls fast asleep.  I’m in a daze at this point, my heart still racing but this time a little angry.  Looking outside the tent I can’t see a thing, caribou, or bear.  I shake him awake “What were you talking about”, he responds with a “huh”.  “You said there was a bear!” to which Vince replied, “No I didn’t”.  It took me about an hour to calm down and get back to sleep and the next morning he didn’t remember a bit of it.

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I took a swim in Agaik Lake on our last day

I took a swim in Agaik Lake on our last day

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[col class=”span6″]                                                                       Looking over the trip there is very little I would ever do differently.  Our gear performed exceptionally and I look forward to doing individual reviews after this post.  Our food plan was stellar, our bear protocol and Leave No Trace ethics impeccable (we actually carried out trash and set GPS coordinates for larger debris left by early explorers), and our route (much improved on the way back) was beautiful! We stopped by and exchanged some information with the rangers upon return.  The park ranger said she considers us the “foremost experts on the area”.  Of  [/col]
[/row] all the gear I brought the least used were my mosquito net (we ended up real lucky) and my headlamp. The headlamp seemed silly to bring in the first place due to the 24 hours of sunlight but dark cloud cover would make you regret not bringing it even more.  I hope that this post brings you closer to this wonderful world, or that one day you can visit it for yourself.  We will give a free presentation on our experience on 8/27/13 at 7pm at Roads Rivers and Trails.

RRT Adventure: Gates of The Arctic Part 1

Inside the Arctic Circle
Projecting Your Dream
Written by: Bryan Wolf

The easiest part of a trip for me is when I commit to the trip.  Over a year ago I had no reason to say no, in fact if you ask early enough I’m not sure I ever could say no.  Alaska? Sure!  I figure anything that needs done be it planning, saving, packing, or training I have plenty of time to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to belittle any of those steps for anyone else.  Individually they are all huge endeavors. At some point however you have to become a Yes Man (or woman). Say “Yes” to adventure and allow yourself the confidence to make your dreams come to.  I like to set a goal and then put all of my energy to making it happen.  So, Saturday morning I’ll drive to Indy, jump on a plane and 4 more flights later step off in the wonderful wild that is Gates of the Arctic National Park.

So besides commitment what else goes into planning a trip like this?  How do you get to one of the most remote National Parks in the world? It takes a dream and a plan. In my case it also took a team.  Start by assembling your team and by projecting your dreaming.  This isn’t happening on two weeks notice for anyone.  Team leaders included our friend Scott and RRT owner Joe.  Scott is great at planning and organizing, when he got a break from work and wasn’t hanging from a wall at the Red, Scott was able to book permits for the park, bush plane and float plane flights, and hotel stays for the whole group.  We had our days picked and some ducks started filing into a row.  This is where Joe came in; Joe has been a guide in Alaska for years and to Gates of the Arctic three times already. With some topographical maps and some beers Joe, Scott, and I sat down to find potential routes.

The Gates don’t have blazed and maintained hiking trails, this is remote and untouched (hopefully forever) landscape.  Our entry point was restricted only by that of the size of the lake we wanted to fly to.  A lake has to be big enough for the float plane to land and take off again. Coordinating a pick-up and drop-off point with your pilot is an important step.  Once we arrive we are free to roam.  If we so chose we could frolic through the wild grass and lake side pebble beach for 10 days.  Honestly though, who goes to Alaska to be on the beach all week?  Looking at the maps we decided that the first two days would cover 8-10 miles per day through a valley on relatively low elevation.  The brush can be thick in places and the terrain is untamed so this is no place for light weight or vulnerable gear.  The game plan then shifts to much shorter days backpacking and setting up base camps earlier in the day.  Doing this will afford us some more flexibility in our travels.

There are 13 people in total on our trip this year.  If you have ever been with such a group you’ll understand that people often want to go at different speeds or even take different routes.  Our gear and trip planning will allow us to do that.  Staying in groups of 4+ we’ll be taking all the safety precautions.  A group of four or more will be much more safe when it comes to wildlife encounters.  We have also brought groupings of gear for just this reason.  We have several stoves, water filters, bear spray, first aids, and other essential items to divide amongst us.  This will come in handy mostly for our day hikes.  After setting up base camp we’ll venture out to higher elevations and bigger WOW moments.  We have already mapped out several snow fields that we’d like to hike up to in the 7,000 ft range.  I’ve only been to Alaska once so far but I can tell you that there is a sense of discovery and natural beauty that is unmatched when you discover your own path, when there is no trail.  Taking the time to stop and pay attention or to look around another corner may just mean that you are seeing something that no one else has ever seen!

By the end we’ll do a full circle right back to our original lake; Lake Agiak.  The loop mileage can range considering our open day to day plan but is expected to be in the 50-60 mile range for backpacking miles.  In doing so we can burn 2-3,000 calories a day leaving us pretty hungry.  That is where having a team member like RRT owner Emily helps out as she broke down our day to day meal plan for the group, which can apply to any back country experience. With food, weight and pack space are just as much of an issue as with any other gear, but unlike your Crazy Creek chair, this is one thing you can’t leave at home.  Here are some tips for your meal plan: try to pack things that you like at home, bring yourself some sort of comfort food or treat, pack some variety, always bring one extra day of food, but don’t over pack.  For ten days in the park we’ll have 1 and 1/4 bear cans each with our individual food weight at 14-15 pounds.  Same rules apply out there as when you are home, being hungry can turn you into quite the drama king or queen so eat often and keep fueled up.

For a gear or food checklist feel free to come buy the store and grab one.  We’ll also be happy to review specifics to your trip.  Always use and double check your checklist no matter how experienced you are.  Upon returning I’ll post Part 2 of this blog.  We will also have a presentation on 8/27/13 over our experience including a beer tasting by Mt. Carmel Brewing Co. I hope you can join us then.  A well planned trip and a well organized group will put you in line for unforgettable moments.

Here is what is in my pack, keep in mind that there are some group items not shown (like first aid, bear spray, and camp fuel):

gear layout

[row class=”row-fluid”]
[col class=”span6″]A. Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Bag Liner (Sea to Summit Coolmax and Trek III)

B. Trekking Poles (Komperdell)
C. Sleeping Pad (Big Agnes Q-Core SL)
D. Pillow (Thermorest)
E. Stove (MSR Reactor)
F. Pack Towel (MSR)
G. Rain Gear (Rab Latok Jacket)
H. Rain Gear (Sherpa Pertemba)
I. Hiking Top (Rab MeCo L/S)
J. Hiking Pants (Rab Alpine Trek)
K. Pack Cover (Osprey)
L. Sun/Rain Hat (Outdoor Research)
M. Backpack (Osprey Aether 85)
N. Bottles (Nalgene)
O. Bowl/Spork (Sea to Summit)
P. Bear Can

[/col]
[col class=”span6″]Q. Personal Hygiene

R. Bug Repellent
S. Knife (Helle Egan)
T. Bug Net
U. Beanie (Rab Fleece)
V. Matches
W. Gloves (Rab Phantom Gloves)
X. Vibram (Maiori)
Y. Tent Poles (MSR Hoop)
Z. Tent Body
AA. Tent Fly in own drysack
BB. Water Filter (MSR Miniworks)
CC. Insulating Jacket (Rab Generator)
DD. Extra Clothes/Layers
EE. RRT Buff
FF. Headlamp (Princeton Tec Vizz)
GG. All Purpose Tarp/Mylar Blanket

[/col]
[/row]

Book Review: Born to Run

Secrets of The Copper Canyons
Book Review: Born To Run by Christopher McDougall
Written by: Bryan Wolf

I seldom have the time to read, but a nine hour car drive was looking me in the eyes and promising to be every bit as boring as you’d expect Pennsylvania toll roads to be.  About a month ago, I decided that the first step to reading a book was buying it: so after many recommendations I picked up my own copy of Born To Run.  Despite my obsession with minimalist running and countless conversations on the topic I had not yet read the book that turned so many people onto natural running.  So I bought the book and immediately put it on the shelf next to the others.  Glancing over my collection of half-read books I realized that step one isn’t my problem, nor is step-two where I open the book.  I needed to commit to finishing one of them, and stubbornly I chose the one that had not yet been started.

I’m somebody who enjoys short stories, and I’ll jump into one after another every day.  Born To Run captured me with just that; I read this book one story at a time. The author captured me in not just one place or one period but in stories that travel the globe and date back to our early evolution as a species. Instead of drifting off in neck-twisting sleep or playing pointless games on my smartphone, I sunk myself in what I would now call my new favorite book.  When we first stopped for a bathroom break, I was several chapters in and couldn’t stop talking about it.  I searched for a placeholder and found only some thin fast food napkins tucked in the van console.  Chapter after chapter I proudly shoved the napkin back into the book.  I’d set the book at my feet to marvel at the story I had just been told.  When I had replayed the entire story back in my head I was drawn to the book again; “What happens next?!”

So how is this a gear review? I think that this may be the best gear review yet, because we already have the needed gear: It’s your body. This book is about the very fantastic and complicated make-up of our bodies, our evolution, and our history as a running people.  I wrote an article before reading this book, already exclaiming my passion and love for running in minimalist shoes, and I’ll attach it at the bottom of the review.  The book didn’t help me discover being barefoot, nor did it help me discover running, it did, however, help me identify why and how I embraced minimalism.

The author, much renowned, travels in search of the “White Horse” or “Caballo Blanco”.  His journey takes him into the Copper Canyons of Mexico and close to peoples that have been nearly untouched by modern civilization; the Tarahumara.  His friendship with this ghost of a man, Caballo, not only opens his story but it opens his world up to one of pain-free and natural motion. Through this journey the author himself becomes twisted in a world of ultra-marathons and ultra-marathoners where he discovers what propels each of us to run both physically and mentally.  He follows leads to interview lead biologists, anthropologists, doctors, runners, coaches, corporations, and Olympians.  All signs point in one overwhelming direction: we were born to run.

If you enjoy running but suffer from injuries (like the vast majority of runners every year), or if you are looking for the passion in running and can’t seem to find it I would seriously recommend this book.  For those of you that have found the thrill of minimalist running I have formed a facebook group under the group name “Raramuri” for sharing minimalist insights, suggestions, and posting group runs.  Or on Meet-up.com under “Raramuri Minimalist Running”.  Raramuri means “the running people” and was the original name of the Tarahumara.  You can pick up your copy of “The Guide to the Outdoors” free publication or your own copy of Born To Run at Roads Rivers and Trails in downtown Milford, Ohio.

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Gear Review: Ibex OD Solo Shirt

Trail to Town
Gear Review: Ibex OD Solo Shirt
Written by: Bryan Wolf

In the backcountry I could care less what I look like. You can bet that on this year’s trip to Gates of The Arctic NP I will have some Ibex Woolies and Rab MeCo long sleeve available for their unbeatable function. It is not that they look bad, but I don’t typically wear skin tight shirts when I go out on the town. What about the trip that ends with a cold beer at a local eatery or takes you back through town for errands before heading to your cabin rental, hostel, or B&B? There are a million trips that run on this schedule; a perfect example is my recent trip to Bar Harbor, ME inside Acadia NP. Queue the OD L/S or OD Solo.

Bar Harbor is a perfect outdoor mecca. If you have not been to Maine this is a hell of a spot to start. Packed full of cycling, hiking, boating, birding, sightseeing, camping, climbing, and kayaking the National Park can fulfill your nature needs. A cozy small town feel can be found inside any of the Harbor towns. Due to its unique creation, Bar Harbor is one of the only cities you’ll find inside a National Park, although not technically part of it. So when you are done with a morning trail run to Bar Island during low tide you can run back through town and stop at the local café. When you return from a mid-day hike and take main street just a few minutes back into town you can stop at any one of the fresh lobster seaside restaurants and tip back one of their many local beers. Like I said, it’s a pretty awesome place.

So, when you don’t want to be camp gritty or if you don’t want to smell stronger than the lobster house Ibex has the fix. With every wonderful property you have already found in merino wool, Ibex delivers it with a style and casual look. Merino is wicking, quick drying, odor resistant, insulating when wet, soft and comfortable. Offered in long sleeve or short, it is a casual fit collared button up made with 18.5 micron merino, which is the measure of how fine a wool fiber is. It is a lot to pack into one shirt but I had the confidence to scale the Beehive Trail (amazing) and head straight to town with my mountain swagger. Simply said it feels good and it looks good.

As you can expect, the OD Shirt by Ibex is proudly hung at Roads Rivers and Trails in Milford, OH. If you need that cross functioning piece for an upcoming trip this is it.

Barefoot Running

Barefoot Running
How I Fell into Barefoot Running
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Why do I barefoot run?  There is one good answer and it is the one that is most important.   I barefoot run because I would not otherwise run.  It is the only running I’ve ever enjoyed. It can be called a trend, a fad, a dangerous endeavor, or whatever you’d like to call it but what I experience is a freedom.  Barefoot or Minimalist Running from the very beginning has enlightened me to another set of awareness and senses.  I can hardly remember what made me start minimalist running. I have no idea why I bought a pair of Vibram Fivefingers more than 5 years ago.  When I put them on though I noticed a mental difference, I had the confidence to move.  I also noticed the physical differences; I could feel the ground that I stepped on, the textures, the temperatures, they fit more like a glove, I could move with full dexterity and control. I felt good, I felt barefoot.

What barefoot enthusiasts will tell you is that they feel connected, light, balanced, natural, and healthy.  Having a sense of awareness in motion and in correspondence with the ground beneath you has benefits of both body and mind. What is the first thing you do when you come home? Chances are you take off your shoes.  Besides a housemate angry about the mud you tracked in you took your shoes off because it is the most comfortable. Despite thousands of designs and attempts at correcting a “problem” there is no modern footwear that is more comfortable than simply being barefoot nor is there footwear that has stood the test of being injury free or even preventive.  You wear a cast on your foot everyday!

Vibram Fivefinger slogan is “You are the Technology”.  It is the first and only footwear that can protect you and allow for full utilization of our human engineering. When you first switch however minimalist running requires a patience and dedication that allows for your body to prepare for its new journey.  Through exercises and a slow but purposeful integration you can experience a transformation that ready’s you for running.  We have 52 bones, 66 joints, and 40 muscles in our feet, make no mistake that each one has a purpose and a place.  As a perfect creation there is no better mechanism for movement than that which we were given; remember “You are the Technology”.

I trained and transitioned slow, working my way to the hills of Clifton; up Ravine or MLK (does anyone feel my pain there?), to the Little Miami Scenic Trail where I would increase distance and speed.  I ventured out to our public parks for trail runs in East Fork or Mt. Airy Forest to discover a whole new sense of awareness and joy carefully bouncing down the muddy banks, through soft pebble creeks, and up grassy hills. I find myself now signing up for regular 5k and 10k events and the Cincinnati Flying Pig half marathon.  I run now, and I enjoy it.

I have been injury free through Appalachia to Cincy streets.  I have to say that if you can abandon your misconceptions or fears you too can find this same joy in running.  This type of running style or footwear may not be for everybody so start with the proper education. There are lots of resources and I’ve included a few here.   Your feet are beautiful, get to know them!

Online Guides/Resources:

Vibram Education: www.vibramfivefingers.com/education/index.htm

Meetup Group: Raramuri Minimalist Running

Harvard Study:  barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu

“Born To Run” best seller: borntorun.org/

“Born To Run” best seller: Blog Review

Gear Review: Osprey Atmos 65

Long Term Test
Gear Review: Osprey Atmos 65
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Its Early Spring 2012, we had just hiked up the Hurricane Trail to the Hurricane Campground. It is late and the rain is coming down fast so we found ourselves with little left to do but set up and consequently stay in our tents. I think we fell asleep still laughing; we were just happy to be out. The next morning we woke at what ended up being the junction of the Hurricane Trail and the AT. What a beautiful way to wake up, the start of a 40 mile trip into Trail Days at Damascus Virginia.

This was my first trip wearing the then newly released Atmos 65. We’ll get to the pack and its features shortly, but before you can recognize what is good and really appreciate it, I feel it is important to look at the category as a whole. Looking back on the trip I quickly remember some perfectly convenient examples of backpacks gone awry and hopefully this mess of stories will somehow defend my love for Osprey packs, but also the importance of a professional pack fitting… by people that wear packs.

The first story happened that same morning. Early risers were jetting down the trail, obvious thru hikers from both the grime and conditioning. Stopping for a break and to simply say hi to the group was a lean and shaggy NOBO (North Bound hiker). Taking off his pack for a while he explained his dilemma. The pack he was wearing had fallen off his waist and consequently dropped to his shoulders. If any of you have dealt with this before you would know that the turn of events next leads you to weakened and soon useless Gumby like arms. What could have gone wrong?

Travel back further, the year is 2006 in deep Appalachian Maine. After 200 miles of grueling trail my buddy Joe and I grab a hitch into Rangley. We pick up a total of 2 knee braces, some fried chicken, Mountain Dews, and Doritos. If you are problem solving here the later 3 items are not related to the issue. Joe had a gap between the pack and his back leaving the entirety of the weight to fall on his hips and impact on his knees with every stride. Then again the guy that sized him up was never really a backpacker…

Why the Atmos?
FROM FIT TO FEATURES

The backpack is one of the most important and customized pieces of gear you’ll need, as important as or maybe even more so than your boots. Sizing doesn’t run like your t-shirts and even if you do get sized, are you sure the pack can accommodate your needs? That brings us to strength number one of the Atmos; the fit.

The pack comes in 3 sizes to match your torso height. From there each pack has an extended range of torso adjustment to meet your EXACT size. The pack should flow with your back, follow your shoulders with the strap yoke ending right under your arms. From there you can make the adjustments to assure the weight is distributed, centered and close to your body. The “Fit On The Go” hip extensions assure that you can both extend or shorten the hip belt to fit your waist in fluctuating circumstances. Does any of this sound helpful to the scenarios above?

If you find multiple packs that fit you perfect then it’s time to break down the features. This is a left or right hose hydration compatible pack with a separate internal sleeve. The top hood, or the “brain” of the pack has one main zipper on the top and one mesh organizer on the bottom. If I had one beef with the product it would be the small zipper opening on the brain limiting access with-in. Through the main duffle you have a removable sleeping bag compartment and bottom zipper for the sleeping bag compartment access.

On the outside of the pack you have well thought out features that will be on competitors’ packs in a few years when they catch up to Osprey’s standards. The Atmos has two fully usable drink pockets and the compression straps on either side can be redone to weave on the outside or inside of the exterior pockets. There is one larger light buckled pouch on the front of the pack and two separate side pockets. The pack rides nice with an exaggerated air scape mesh backing that makes the old school external frame guys drop their jaws. The air scape allows air flow behind your back for four season temperature regulation. Top it off with trekking pole holders and a safety whistle on the sternum strap and you’ve got it.

The packs suspension and framing can hold weight in the 40 pound range comfortably and it will withstand the weight without issue. Another thing to recognize is “The All Mighty Guarantee”. Osprey has an unbeatable warranty and matching customer service.

On The Job
PERSONAL TESTIMONY

bryan rrt osprey

You can see pictures of the pack and read about features on the Osprey website. How about why I like the pack? One of my favorite things is the gear organization and separation. I find it important to be efficient, organized and fully manage moisture in relation to all of my gear. The two hip pockets allow quick access to my headlamp, pocket knife, and a snack. No need to take off the pack for that, I’ve got it. The two vertical zips on the front carry my filter, pack towel, and toilet paper consistently. I have full access to what I need without routing through everything and I’ve separated items like the filter and pack towel that may be wet.

In the large outside pouch I find it is perfect to gorge safely with a rain shell and rain pants. The pocket seems to dry and drain easy with the lighter outer fabric and keeps the items I may need in a hurry there while being the furthest from the rest of my gear. Other reviews label the Air Scape back panel as a summer feature while I find it to be far from that simple. On my recent Mt. LeConte trip in the snow I found it convenient to manage my temperature as a whole. If I was cold in the front and hot on my back I’d otherwise need a Snuggie to figure things out, and I’m sorry but I’m not packing a Snuggie. The Air Scape gives me consistency in my layering.

I feel like 65 liters is perfect for trips other than those needing a bear canister and the weight of the Atmos pack from small to large are all under 4 pounds. I wear a small torso and it weighs in at less than 3 1/2 pounds. There is a size difference in the pack capacity due to the torso size, but it is hardly worth noting.

Please note that the female specific version of the Atmos is the Aura. Please see an experienced staff for a full customized fitting. Otherwise risk being the gimpy Gumby, and nobody likes a gimpy Gumby. To get sized for your pack and get a full run down on other pack features stop by Roads Rivers and Trails in Milford, OH.

Gear Review: Asolo TPS 520

The Long Term Test
Gear Review: Asolo TPS 520
Written by: Bryan Wolf

My Experience with the TPS is not a short story. This story started almost 7 years ago when I bought my first pair for my very first backpacking trip. If you can buy one thing that immediately makes you feel like a rugged outdoorsman, it’s boots. Heavy on the leather, Gore Tex, mud stomping, ass kicking boots. I think the Asolos gave me mountain swagger. I wasn’t even sure at the time what Gore Tex was, and it didn’t matter, since my buddy Joe was an eagle scout and he knew everything in the outdoor world! Joe picked out all of the gear for my first trip and I forked out the cash. The boots were not cheap then and they are not cheap now, but their value remains consistent.

That first backpacking trip took me on a 2,175 mile journey through the Appalachian Mountains. Not having worn the boots before, we decided to purchase two pairs before the trail, and at the half way point we swapped them out to avoid any trail malfunctions. So, after 6 months of damage each pair had seen about 1,100 miles of hard trail abuse. Like I said though, it’s a long story. The boots were not retired from there, they had only just begun. Through Red River Gorge, constant AT revisits, and Alaska back country, these same 2 pairs of TPS boots remain the same solid, rock kickers that they were 7 years ago. With no sole separation and only a slight gap in the front toe, the boots stay dry and warm still to this day. The tread wear is adding up, especially after 1500 plus miles each so they are due for a visit to Dave the Cobbler, but I would gladly pay a few bucks to revitalize them.

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More or Less?
Are you old fashioned or ultra-light?

TPS” stands for Triple Power Structure; that is the 3 shock absorbing dual density points on the boots midsole at the points of usual wear. If you notice the picture above, the TPS system follows the foot starting with the strike point on the outer heel, it then improves stability supporting the inner heel and ends with a third shock absorber in the front of the foot for pushing off. A “PU Dual Density” sole, is called dual density because it combines a tough outer compound with a softer and more shock absorbing inner compound. The outsole on the TPS is a durable Vibram sole.

The 520 model is the Gore Tex model, versus the 535 non Gore. Gore is a waterproof bootie easily seen on the inside of a boot. The leather has a high weather resistance already so it can be overkill in some models. The Gore can also add insulation but does not breathe quite as well as an eVent fabric or a non-waterproof model. It’s not like you’re pushing perspiration through that thick of leather anyway.

There is no way around it, these boots are heavy. The leather upper is thicker than the sole on some of my Vibram Five Fingers. The boots come in just short of 4 pounds, and a wise man once told me 1 lb on your foot is like 5 lbs on your back. So it is easy to see the perks of going with some Salomon trail runners and bouncing around all nimbly bimbly like a cat. After all, things have changed, carrying 50-60 big lbs on your back was the norm not long ago. Today, further and faster is more of the game and 20-30 pound packs are more the norm. It is not about right or wrong, just about picking your path.

If The Boot Fits…
Finding the right boot for the job

The TPS fit me, and it fit me quick despite its rigid body. I did a few days of urban trekking before the trail to “break them in” and that was it. When we got our second pair we took them straight to the trail with no break in period. Maybe my feet were just rock solid by that point, toughened by the trail? Not everyone will be as lucky, and not everyone will agree. Ask yourself if the boots fit you, and do they fit your trip?

It is easy to say that the TPS is the “BEST BOOT EVER” but that seems a bit generalized considering we all have different needs. What I can tell you is that I enjoy wearing them, they feel great and they make me feel invincible. Not rock, nor rain will stop me in those boots. While I watch other hikers cycle through 10 or 11 pairs of trail shoes, I always feel great knowing the dollar value of my boots far superseded theirs. So what’s right for you?

This is coming from a guy that wears minimalist to backpack, and often. You can however rest assured that when we pack up for Alaska again, or on most of my winter hikes where the remote conditions require dependability over bragging rights of being lightweight, the Asolo TPS 520 GTX will be my pick. Sometimes there is no room for error; deep into Lake Clark Wilderness is not the place to duct tape a boot together (I won’t name names). To get sized for your boots and get a full run down on other boot features stop by Roads Rivers and Trails in Milford, OH.

Gear Review: Vibram Fivefingers Lontra

A True 4-Season Minimalist
Gear Review: Vibram Fivefingers Lontra
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Just this past fall Vibram Five Fingers released a new model of toe shoes called the Lontra. The Lontra was the answer I was looking for, finally an insulated Vibram so that I could enjoy my barefoot lifestyle all year long. I ordered my first pair and was not disappointed in the least. This “shoe” was hot! The concept was flying off the shelf and my feet were super toasty. I would wear them around town, everyday use, and chilly early morning runs. The Lontra was built for more though; the Lontra was built with the 4mm midsole and TC-1 rubber the same as the Treksport. I needed to take this on the trail and give this a test so it is worthy of the RRT wall.

The test subject: Ice Man. Familiar with winter trekking, I earned my trail name over my winter thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I have been wearing minimalist footwear for about 6 years. My first pair was the Vibram Classics and my Vibram collection is now at a very disturbing 9 pairs. I have enjoyed half marathons and week-long backpacking trips with them. I feel ready for the test at hand.

The test would be conducted on Mt. LeConte. LeConte stands at 6,593 feet in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The mountain has the most elevation gain in all the Smokies and is a mere 55 feet shorter than the tallest mountain in the eastern United States. LeConte will typically see 100+ inches of snow fall a year and its icy conditions are typically met with chain or diamond studded boots. How long, how cold, and how winterized is the Lontra really? We would go up Rainbow Falls trail, stay the night at the top, and go down Bulls Head trail the following morning.

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You Are The Technology
THE MAKE UP OF A 4-SEASON SHOE

With minimalist footwear “you are the technology”. That is the slogan used in Vibram advertising. No strike absorbing heel pad, no rounded arch or shifting sole, just you. So what is the Lontra? A Lontra is a North American Otter apparently, fair enough; it is also a minimalist five fingered toe shoe. The Lontra is the only insulated model with a micro fleece lined interior for both wicking perspiration and also added warmth value. It is labeled as water resistant with fully tapped seams. It has an extended neoprene cuff that comes around the ankle as well to keep out debris like snow. As earlier mention they also gave it a thicker sole than other non-trekking models at 4mm and with some more aggressive mini lugs for traction. The 4mm sole will also provide added insulation from the frozen ground you may be traversing. Like many models and activities the Lontra feels best with a wool micro weight toe sock. This will also add warmth and was used in this test.

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The Results
RESPONSIBLY WEARING YOUR VIBRAMS

The following review is based off of a prolonged trip with continued exposure to the elements.

On many levels these fury fleece finger shoes excelled. On the other hand, I would not choose them for this trip if I were to do it again. While they were plenty warm to start the journey they could not maintain it. The trip started at near 50 degrees, that temperature would drop sharply with elevation gain and we would be in temperatures just below 20 degrees up top. It was a 7 mile journey up the mountain and the top 4 miles of hiking were covered in snow and ice. My feet could not sustain their warmth despite my body burning off heat from a strenuous uphill climb. Once on the way up and once more at the top I would switch to some warm down booties while taking a break. The booties stopped the numb feeling momentarily so that I could put the Lontras back on and the hike could safely continue. On the way down we faced deeper snow and slightly heavier winds to chill the feet. Since we were moving faster down Bulls Head trail I was able to get to warmer temperatures fast enough to avoid a break. My toes I guess were comfortably numb.

Outside of the insulation value of the shoes they performed great! The neoprene cuff fit tight and kept out all debris and snow keeping my ankle and foot warm and dry. The sole of the shoe, although not modified for snow or ice versus other trek models still did well in those conditions. I did not have any issues with slipping and considering I was constantly on ice they did a fair job of blocking off winters chill as well. Given that it was snow and not rain, the shoes seemed waterproof during my test. Walking over streams of ice cold water I would have been in serious trouble if they were not. I would not trust them to be as waterproof as my boots but for these conditions they did great. Any sweat that had built up in the shoe definitely contributed to the struggle to keep warm.

Overall they were fun to backpack in and lived up to their advertised uses. I wanted to push the envelope and find their limits and I think I did that. I would recommend them for temperatures below freezing if the use is less remote and exposure is under 3 hours. I would recommend them for prolonged use at temperatures above freezing with or without winter’s ice and snow. This is a significant improvement from other Vibrams, I previously was not comfortable with prolonged exposure under 60 degrees.

Please remember that I am an experienced outdoorsman and that you need to take use of any gear, especially Vibrams, at your own pace. Vibram has a great guide to wearing your new minimalist shoes on their website. Know your limitations and please be responsible. You can find men’s and women’s Lontra proudly on the Roads Rivers and Trails shoe wall.

“Down” Gear Clinic

Who Wants to get “Down”?
Gear Clinic: Education and Implementation of Down
Written by: Bryan Wolf

A Gear Clinic is the day that everyone shows up to work in the outdoors world. Why? Well that is simple, because we are gear junkies. A gear clinic means two things to a gear junkie: First, we are about to be exposed to the newest and best information in that particular product category. Second, we are going to be offered a sick crazy deal on the clinic of the day.

A sales representative comes in the store and spends anywhere from 1-3 hours reviewing everything about the products, and in this case it would be down. RRT has had clinics over down sleeping bags, jackets, and down treatments.

Here is Your Down Clinic
Behind the Numbers

Like most anything, not all down is created equal. Down, which is typically a byproduct of the meat industry, can be either goose or duck. We’ll discuss the difference between goose or duck, the fill power of down, the contents of down fill, down maturity, and what’s new in down technology.

Think of the feathers around the exterior of a goose, these are tough with large stems. A goose or duck will actually derive its warmth from what is under them, the down feathers or down plumes. Down plumes are the lightest insulation available. The more loft, the greater the barrier between you and the harsh cold. Loft is going to be dependent on both fill power and how many grams of that fill power are being used?

“Fill Power” is the number of cubic inches that are displaced with a single ounce of down. So if we use 700 fill down, it will displace 700 cubic inches of space with just one ounce! That is why the outdoor world loves it! When you compare the additional weight that you can save with higher fill power, it can really add up.

It’s best to look at the fill power and the grams of down used. 100 grams of 700 fill will be warmer than 75 grams of 700 fill. Also, equal grams in a 500 fill jacket will not be as warm as that in a 700 fill jacket. If information is not available on grams or fill power, it’s likely to be of poor quality. In the outdoor industry, most down products will be 500-900 fill.

A typical down sweater may be 650 fill and 100+ grams. The Rab Microlight is 750 fill and 140 grams of fill. The Montane Nitro is 800 fill and 150 grams of fill. A competitors down sweater at the same price uses a 600 fill and a unspecified weight (But it does have a more trendy name sewn on the front).

What Down Is It?
Some Quality Assurance

About a year ago, the adventurous crew at RRT finally fell in love with what we feel to be the best sleeping bags on the market. There are a slew of factors that make Sea to Summit sleeping bags so awesome, but our favorite part is how they test each batch of down product.

This is the IDFL test report. The test details the percentage of down clusters, fibers, feathers, and other impurities. This report also verifies the ratings of fill power promised to the consumer. Most times, the test brings back over qualified ratings! Hopefully, most consumers like me are done buying cheap, unaccountable, and short-lived pieces of gear. You can understand how awesome that each Sea to Summit sleeping bag comes with its own report.

With the cost of goose down on the rise, you can find many companies switching to duck which has been thought of as lower quality down. While goose has its benefits, duck down is not much different. Duck down has more natural oils adding extra weight. The oils also can cause the down to have a slight odor when wet.

Another great aspect of going with a creditable down supplier and manufacturer is knowing the maturity of the down. Each fiber of the down cluster has hundreds of smaller fibers on it, and beyond that even tinier fibers on those fibers. A mature goose or duck plume will develop more and more of those tiny offshoots which act as tiny hooks that keep the down fibers from separating and creating cold spots. Basically, the more mature the bird, the less chance of cold spots through the down. When you apply this knowledge to sleeping bags, lower quality, less mature down will not cling to itself as well as more mature down. The down fill will separate sooner and you will be left with a cold spot in its absence. A cold spot in a sleeping bag that is meant to keep you safe and warm is unacceptable. Mature down will be more dependable and will also have a greater life span.

Using Down, Even When It’s Wet
Where modern technology is taking us.

The buzz is out and everyone is wondering if the technology is ready and real. Through a few innovative processes, down can be treated to become hydrophobic. Down has notoriously been the perfect solution for insulation except for when it comes to a cold kid in a wet down bag. Down naturally becomes very matted down and loses its loft (the only thing that matters) when it is wet. Enter Down Tek.

Down-Tek, besides being a Cincinnati company is also the most environmentally friendly of all down treatment providers. Down Tek treats down to become anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and biggest of all water repellent. Its water repellency is best described as the “Lotus Effect” where water molecules do not adhere to the down feathers. The treatment doesn’t add any weight to the bag either.

I’ve attached a picture for a fun look at this effect, or you can visit Down-Tek for a demo video. Despite being sloshed around in a jar of water the down retains its loft after being strained out which is truly amazing. There is a lot more detail to this as you could imagine, and the truth is, you should take care of your bag and keep it dry anyway with or with-out dry down.

Currently both Sea to Summit and Big Agnes are using down from Down-Tek. This spring unveils all of their respective sleeping bag lines utilizing this technology. Today in-store we have the Talus from Sea to Summit showcasing the Down-Tek. The Talus3 is 700 grams of 750+ fill power goose down, guaranteed to be 90% or higher in full down clusters only. The Talus uses only mature down fibers and has an EN rating of 16/1/-35 degrees.

Now you know what all that means and about the wonderful world of down. Come by the store and speak with a clinic specialist and as always, a product user.

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