Backpacking Light – Wilderness Trekking School – WS1-LWB 2010

Over a weekend in late July and early August Chris Wallace and I had the opportunity to instruct a group of excited students in the ways and (dare I say) art of ultralight backpacking.  We were working on behalf of the Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School and operated a three day course out of Jackson Hole Wyoming in the Bridger Teton National Forest. 

Chris and I have had the opportunity of backpacking together previously and regularly exchange gear-related chats via various Internet channels so I know what his strengths were.  He is a gear and nutrition nerd, plain and simple.  Ask him a question about a piece of gear and he will provide you a well-researched and fact-based explanation of it.  Ask him a question about caloric density of food or what he suggests as a ratio of protein to fat to carbs and he’ll have an answer for that as well. 

Chris provides a good balance to my style which is a bit looser.  I know gear also but from a more theoretical point of view basing my knowledge more on fabrics generalities and broad design elements rather than specific brands.  I’m also blessed with having spent myriad days in the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains and having walked thousands of trail miles with only a map as my guide.

I was able to offer up to our students a light-hearted, humorous attitude with an anecdote for just about every situation and Chris was able to provide qualitative, verifiable data for any and all serious questions posed by our more technical students.

The students who enrolled in our course were of a broad background.  We had semi-retirees from Florida, vagabonds from Wyoming, alpine enthusiasts from Oregon, and a solo-trekker from Quebec.  The students were well-versed in a good chunk of info regarding the ultralight backpacking ethos but all yearned for more and also particularly wished to put these techniques into practice in the backcountry and have help doing such from instructors like Chris and myself who’ve done so many times.  According to post-course feedback we were successful. 

But enough with all this writing – – let’s look at some photos because we all know they’re worth a thousand words.  For full photo set please visit my Flickr photo page.

Teton Mountain Range
Gossamer Gear Spinn Twinn

 Charlie and the rising sun.
Have you been hiking near the Tetons?  You really should you know.
 I can see your Tetons from here.

Splitboarding and Backpacking in July

Friday, July 9th, 2010 I walked out of the office at 17:00, was home and had a lightweight gear set-up for both backpacking and splitboarding packed and in the trunk of my Subaru by 18:40.  My destination was the Pine Creek trailhead in the Northwest corner of the Absaroka Mountain Range and I arrived by 19:40.  I knew daylight would leave me sometime between 21:30 and 22:00 so I shouldered my load and high-tailed it onto the five mi. (eight km) Pine Creek Lake trail.

Being an ultralight backpacker it was strange to have the added weight of snowboard, boots, avalanche safety tools, and ice axe.  The moving was a bit slower but it felt good to be moving as day slowly turned to night, temperatures dropped, and I got further and further into the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.

I hiked until 21:30 and stopped to make use of the last bits of daylight to set up my minimal camp consisting of an eVent bivy sack, synthetic sleeping quilt, and torso-length sleeping pad.  I strung my bear rope, set up my alcohol stove and prepared some instant mashed potatoes as the sun set over the Gallatin Mountain Range and Paradise Valley to the West.  Sleep came to me by 22:00. 

I awoke at 06:00 and was hiking within twenty minutes, chomping on an energy bar and sipping water from my hydration system.  About 30 minutes of hiking brought me to the end of the trail and into the snowy bowl that is Pine Creek Lake.  A large iceberg was still floating in the lake and the cirque held a fair amount of snow – – a soothing site for me as I had lugged many pounds of snowboard gear into terrain of which I knew little about the snow conditions other than my previous trip two years before.

By 09:30 I had summited Black Mountain (read Summit Post profile) using methods of walking, skinning, and ski crampons.  I was slightly undernourished having had only one energy bar and one GU but I made decent time and was in great spirits.  I spent a few minutes on the relatively snow-free summit and then descended to the large snow bowl that I planned to ride.

The snowboarding was quite delicious and I was able to get approximately 1,000 vertical feet (304 m) of riding in.  The top 800′ (244 m) was wonderful corn snow that didn’t grab the board in the least and allowed for me to arc some nice, large GS turns.

Proceeding past a flat spot at the bottom of the large bowl and sliding over a little roll put me onto a different aspect that consisted of some fun slaloming through large boulders in snow of a slushy quality for about 200′ (61 m) vertical.

I swapped out the snowboard gear for shorts, trailrunners, sunscreen, took a few swigs of the refreshing snowmelt water that was all around me and headed down the trail.  Arrival back at my Subaru was around 13:30 leaving me plenty of time to return home and shower before heading into downtown Bozeman for the bicycle sprints portion of the Tour of Bozeman race series.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – Summit Peak Loop

This trip took place October 6th – 8th, 2007

My buddy Mark and I have been backpacking together for the past seven years or so and in 2007 we planned a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (c’mon up to da U.P., eh!).  The Upper Peninsula or UP as it’s commonly referred to is home to some nice wildland – particularly Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.  We planned for a four day weekend and did a great – albeit rainy – loop within the confines of the park. 

Our trip route was:

  • N. Mirror Lake Trail
  • Little Carp River Trail
  • Lake Superior Trai
  • Big Carp River Trail

I was very pleased with how the photos Mark and I took that weekend turned out.  The fall colors and wet landscape came together for some very soft and pleasing imagery.  Following are a few of my favorites.  View the entire set within the pages of my Porcupine Mountains set on Flickr. 


Sam on a rock

Fall colors

Sun and water

Mark, Sam, jackasses

Silver Bay to Section 13 on the Superior Hiking Trail

This trip took place April 20-22nd, 2007.  Participants were Andy, Logan, and Sam

Logan, Bean Lake

April 20th – Friday night we arrived at the Silver Bay trailhead just before dark. We were able to move the 3.5 or so miles to the Bear Lake campsite with no difficulties. We ran into some fellow Duluthians at the trailhead but they were camping at a closer spot and we lost track of them.

Arrival at camp was quick and efficient as all three of us are experienced backpackers. Tents were erected, dinner prepared and a comfortable fire built just in time for the “alpine-glow” to be replaced with darkness.

Feet, Bear Lake

April 21st – Morning was just as efficient and gratefully so as the rain began to fall just as we were closing the tops of our packs. We hit the trail as the chilly drops of rain sent their wake up messages to our bodies. We hiked to Tettegouche State Park where Andy had to make his departure to meet some family members for a backpacking trip elsewhere along the trail but Logan and Sam continued on the rest of the sixteen odd miles to Section 13 camp.

Section 13 Cliffs

A chilly but relaxing evening found us cooking some warm grub and chatting about the old days back in Montana followed by an early bedtime. It had been awhile since either of us had done any real trail miles so we were feeling the sixteen miles.

ULA Equipment Conduit

April 22nd – Morning came with no real pain and we quickly packed for the short mile and a half back down to the highway and Logan’s waiting Jeep. We were in Duluth eating wild rice burgers at the Brewhouse by 11:30.

View entire trip photo set on Flickr.

Revisiting Old Trips – Superior Hiking Trail, MN, USA

Sam above Duluth, MN with Lake Superior in the background
Sam Haraldson above Duluth, MN and Lake Superior, October 2005

I’ve decided to take all the trips I’ve documented on and create blog posts about them here so that I can have one all-encompassing trip reports website. The majority of these posts will be short and focus on photos but others such as my trip reports for my thru-hikes are quite lengthy.

This particular post you are reading now will cover two trips, one from July 2006 and another from September 2006 – both on the Superior Hiking Trail on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

I took an overnight trip in July 2006 into Crosby-Manitou State Park along the Superior Hiking Trail. I had really only begun practicing ultralight backpacking the year previous and was getting into the process of trying out new gear and techniques. In the photos below you can see my heavy nylon tarp, makeshift nordic ski poles, Equinox “About-a-Pound” pack, DIY Tyvek stuff sack, REI WPB bivy, and Gatorade water bottle.

Tarp and bivy camping, Crosby Manitou
Tarp and bivy camping, Crosby Manitou

In September of 2006 I had acquired a Golite Poncho Tarp but was still rockin’ the same nordic ski poles and bivy. I did a lot of volunteer trail maintenance and a lot of backpacking that summer. It was wonderful exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior and re-visiting the SHT again after having thru-hiked it on a visit there in 2005. On my hike into Sonju Lake I was surprised to find fellow trail-maintainer and friend, Kurt with two buddies who were out on a multi-day trip.

Poncho tarp and bivy camping Sonju Lake

West Fork Boulder River, Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness

Mike and I were poring over our the excellent Absaroka Beartooth from Beartooth Publishing looking for a trail of decent length that stayed below 7,000 ft. (2133 m) elevation as we expected this was the approximate snow line. We chose a trail along the West Fork of the Boulder River that could be hiked for over ten miles in all while staying below the magic 7k topo line. We were pretty certain this was snowline as we had hiked into the East Fork of Sage Creek the week before – a drainage that butts up against the West Fork and therefore should have represented similar weather systems.

June 5th, U.S. National Trails Day (and my brother’s birthday) we set off from Bozeman around 9:30 am stopping to acquire 375 mL of Jameson whisky on our way out of town. The weather was gorgeous and the 50 mi (80 km) drive relaxing.

Mike Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness

I had hiked this drainage in 2008 as part of the Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking III expedition (a trip report I plan to finally write this summer) Up the Couloirso I was familiar with some aspects of the hike although my previous trip was in October and there was knee-deep snow covering everything. The sun was out but the previous week’s weather had created pretty muddy trails and the snowmelt and rain had the tributary creeks flowing like crazy.

We set off to a nice pace with Jax dog often running off to chase Elk, deer, marmot (one of which we’re pretty sure he mortally wounded), and the like. At one point in the trip Mike stopped and called out to me to stop and look up the hill. To our delight a black bear was walking across the hillside and very visible to us through the forest denuded of vegetation by a forest fire.

Black Bear

We hiked about nine miles to a spot on the map called Beaver Meadows which was situated just below 7,000 ft. It was a gorgeous, grassy, flat island in the middle of the river and although we’d forded four other fast flowing tributary creeks and had spent half the day walking through ankle deep, muddy trails we were wary of crossing the fast, cold, and deep water of the river.

Mike fords the West Fork Boulder River

Our shoes and socks had dried from walking to a state of warm dampness and as it was approaching 17:30 we weren’t about to completely soak ourselves again so we stripped our pants and shoes off and made the crotch-deep crossing swiftly in an attempt (a failed one) to stave off numbness. Upon reaching the other side we quickly did some calisthenics to warm up and then set off to hunt the island for fire wood.

West Fork of the Boulder River Drainage, Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness

Temperatures that evening only got down to 41 deg F (5 deg C) so we both slept soundly listening to the pitter patter of raindrops on Mike’s Oware Cat II and my BPL Stealth Nano tarps. We were camped only a stone’s throw from the soothing sounds of the rushing river.

Backpacking Light Stealth NANO Cuben Tarp

In the morning we found solace from the falling rain under the canopy of low hanging conifer boughs and cooked up breakfast and coffee on my trusty Whitebox Stove an AntiGravityGear Two Quart pot.

White Box Stove, Trapper Mug

After we began to warm up after re-fording the river back to the trail the sun ended up coming out making for a pleasant journey back down river to the trailhead, car, and waiting beer and potato chip stash.

West Fork Boulder River Drainage


Gorgeous glow

And Macro Lens...

West Fork Boulder River, Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness

East Fork Sage Creek – Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, Montana, USA

Mike and I along with Coda and Jax dogs drove into Paradise Valley and up Mill Creek road to the East Fork Sage Creek trailhead on the afternoon of Sunday, May 30th. We planned to hike up river until we hit the snowline and then find a suitable place to camp. This ended up being about eight miles in at elevation 7,500 ft.


Our map showed a landmark called Crystal Cave which we found and explored before wandering around on a hillside for 30 minutes trying to find a place flat enough, dry enough, and suitable enough to pitch our tarps.

Mike at the mouth of Crystal Cave

We found a nice flat spot fifty or so meters off trail, pitched the tarps, laid out our bags/quilts and then headed into the woods aways off to find a suitable place for cooking, eating, and hanging our food. Upon finding a nice place I set about cooking some dehydrated chicken, beans, and rice left over from what Mike had prepared for a trip the previous fall. While I was cooking Mike set about building a nicely done “Leave No Trace” fire.

Cooking over the woodfire

We enjoyed some working man’s whisky and conversation around the fire while the dogs napped until about 23:00 when it was time to put on the headlamps and navigate back to our tarps. It’s always fun climbing over wet, downed logs in the dark after you’ve had a couple fingers of mediocre whisky.

Coda and some Early Times

Morning arrived with temps hovering around freezing (34 deg F / 1 deg C) and clear skies. With no schedule to keep we slept in ’til around 07:45 or 08:00, arose, made coffee and breakfast and were out of camp by around 09:45. The hike back to the car was lovely with Jax dog scaring up plenty of deer as well as getting a face full of porcupine quills. We arrived at the car around 13:00, enjoyed a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and had a chat with the ranch owner (or caretaker, not sure which) of the Big Snowy Ranch located at the trailhead.

East Fork Sage Creek – Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, Montana, USA at EveryTrail

Backpacking Light – Wilderness Trekking School – WS2-BSA 2010

Backpacking Light classroom training sessionCold, snowy, rainy, sunny, repeat. That is a Montana spring and this past weekend was no exception. Ryan Connelly, Sam Haraldson, Ryan Jordan, Mike Martin, and Chris Wallace of Backpacking Light’s Wilderness Trekking School came together with Doug Prosser, Phil Barton, and Pat Starich to instruct twelve Boy Scouts of America scoutmasters from around the country in the ways of ultralight backpacking.

The starting point of our trek was near Dupuyer, Montana on the Eastern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and it’s 1,009,356 acres (4,085 km²). The focus of the weekend trip was mostly to instruct an already skilled set of scoutmasters in ways they can lighten their pack weights as well as ways for them to transfer these lessons to the scouts in their troop. This task was accomplished by a half-day of classroom instruction, two days and two nights in the field, and an indoor debriefing session.

Squirrel Patrol

The group split into two patrols consisting of nine members and set off into the Eastern front of the Rocky Mountains and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Our starting point was the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch owned by the Boone and Crockett Club. SamThe first night was spent on the ranch followed the next day by travels into “The Bob” via the North Fork of Dupuyer Creek drainage.

A combination of ranch roads, trails, and off-trail routes was taken with the group exhibiting excellent skills in map and compass navigation. Both nights provided absolutely choice camping spots with excellent views, sources of water, and comfortable eating and sleeping options.

May in Montana requires quality gear choices as the group encountered nearly all possible weather types – – with warm and sunny being the least of our troubles. Blizzarding snow, cold rain, and sun were all to be dealt with at one time or another and most hikers wore a long-sleeve baselayer and windshirt or rain shell for the duration of the trip.

Side View of Walling Reef

All in all the views were superb and the weather was kept at bay with quality tarp and pyramid pitches as well as a warming campfire in the mornings and evenings. Although inquisitive the participants skill-set was no laughing matter as all in attendance were well-prepared with both gear and intelligence. The conversations amongst participants and the ideas shared between them became just as, if not more important than the formal instruction taking place.

View the entire Flickr photo set at Wilderness Trekking – WS2-BSA – 2010-05-21.


Lance, Ryan, and DougRyan Instructs some packing techniques







Ultralight Shelters


Crazy Mountains – DIAD

I’ve been doing some reading about DIAD activities lately.  DIAD stands for done-in-a-day.  The idea behind the type of DIAD hiking activities I’ve been researching is to pick a hike that might take two or even three days for typical completion and finish it in one day.

During the waning part of August, 2008 I had my sights on the Crazy Mountains, a small range in Southwest Montana better known for it’s grazing cattle and timber land than for backpacking.  Using a combination of Google Earth, digital 7.5 min. quadrangle maps and National Geographics TOPO! program I determined the route I was too take through the Crazies.  My plan was to head up the Trespass Creek trail, over a pass, down into the Sweet Grass drainage, then up a different fork of the same creek, over another pass (one without a trail), and finishing by walking down and out the Cottonwood Creek trail back to my car.  This trip was twenty plus miles and I was hoping to summit Conical Peak in the middle of it so I knew it was going to be a stout set of miles.

I usually hike solo and because of this I prefer to be prepared, having no one to rely on in the event of an emergency or stranding.  I decided I would attempt the hike in a one-day push but would carry a limited backpacking kit (shelter, insulation, cooking gear, et al) in the event the weather turned poor or I the terrain dished out more than my endurance could handle. 

I had a commitment on Friday night which I attended but left immediately afterward and headed to the Cottonwood Creek trailhead arriving about midnight.  The weather folks were warning about possible nastiness so I had opted to bring my Golite Shangri-La 2 shelter which fairs well in the event of snow.  I set it up in the parking lot at the trailhead and sat on the hood of my Subaru downing the pint of Old Milwaukee I’d brought along for the occassion.  The stars came out and the night was beautiful for a sleep out.

I awoke at dawn, packed my bag and headed up the trail.  I encountered a man and his son readying themselves for six days of mountain goat hunting, two groups of two backpackers, and a man as his four daughters outr backpacking.  I didn’t expect much traffic but this was Labor Day weekend so then again it didn’t surprise me all that much.  I made excellent time, hitting all the marks I was hoping to and as I approached Conical Peak I saw no reason I couldn’t summit it and still be back to my car before dark.

The sky had been having trouble making up its mind as to what the clouds wanted to do.  Big, ugly, black, menacing looking things had been rolling in and out all day and as I began the couple thousand foot climb to the summit of Conical it became very cold and began to rain.  As I progressed another hundred feet the rain was turning to snow and a white, blinding fog was enveloping all around me.  I realized very quickly that a summit of a mountain doesn’t mean a lot to me without a view so I turned around and headed back to lower ground.  If it did start snowing seriously I knew I was going to either have to make a dash over the trail-less pass I needed to cross to get back to my car, or camp below Conical Peak and hope the next day was warm enough to melt the snow which would have made the off-trail crossing difficult.

As I lost elevation the weather decided to be silly again and the sun came back out and warmed everything up.  I made my way toward the steep, loose, rocky pass that from my vantage appeared to have some class 3 and 4 sections required for crossing.  The group of backpackers consisting of the man and his daughters had told me they had made their way over this pass the day before (only in the opposite direction) and considering that these were kids aged in their pre to teens I figured I could probably do it successfully as well.  I headed up the pass and made a couple poor route decisions which put me into about ten minutes of climbing that was a bit over the edge of safety.  It wasn’t anything I’m incapable of, but it was certainly stuff that could lead to danger had I made a wrong move.

The wind was howling atop the pass but the view was gorgeous and I knew I still had ample hours of daylight and only a few miles of trail hiking in front of me.  I descended to Cottonwood Lake and found the trail down along creek.  This trail was in great shape and the second half consisted of a well-graded road (used to access some land-locked private property).  I arrived at my car before dark, relaxed with the other pint of Swill I’d brought before jumping into my rig for the drive back to Bozeman.

Driving along the fifteen mile gravel road back to the highway the weather really decided to kick it up a notch.  A heavy rain began to fall complete with thunder and lighting.  I drove slowly home thinking how nice it was I’d finished the loop in a day and not having to deal with the weather.  But all the while a parallel thought was coursing my synapses, and that was that I just knew the next morning would have provided me a brilliant covering of snow and I would’ve awoke to the glistening beauty of a snow-covered alpine lakeshore.  Alas, the time will come soon enough for lots, and lots, and looooots of snow.  I’m curious, what would you have done? 

Gallatin Crest Trail – Gallatin Range

Everybody is going green these days. Ask my friends ad family and they’ll tell you I’ve been trying to go green since I was like ten years old. I took a break from it and entered a period of ignorance during college but even then I still tried to recycle my beer bottles and cans.

I gave my car away a couple years ago and biked everywhere I could. I have another car now but since my 1,000 mile move to Montana I’ve only put a few dozen miles on it. These precious miles are devoted to allowing myself the freedom of the hills. In trying to further minimize my impact of even these few dozen miles I concocted a nifty route for my backpacking trip on the weekend of August 15th, 2008.

On Friday I threw my bike into my car and drove the twenty miles into Hyalite Canyon to the Hyalite Creek trailhead. I parked my car and rode my bicycle the twenty miles back to town. I packed up my gear, got the rest of my groceries all trip-ready and went to sleep peacefully in my bed. A 6:30am alarm woke me and I grabbed my pack and walked out the door headed for the Gallatin Valley Mall. A weird place to start a backpacking trip I’m sure you’re thinking. About 7:20am a large bus pulled up and I boarded along with a half dozen others and we set off South down the Gallatin River Valley. Upon reaching the turn off to Big Sky Ski Resort I asked the bus driver for a whistle stop and he obliged. My backpacking trip had begun.

The first leg of my trip was a three mile walk South along the highway to the Porcupine Creek trailhead followed by a grueling ascent of multiple thousands of feet to gain the Gallatin Divide and it’s meandering Gallatin Crest Trail (also commonly referred to as the Devil’s Backbone). By afternoon I was on the Divide and making my way Northward toward Hyalite Canyon where my trusty Subaru was parked. I hiked from 9:00am until 8:20pm covering something along the lines of twenty-five miles and ascending an elevation of 6,500ft.

The Gallatin Divide is out of reach of any creeks or lakes so I was out of water by the end of my hiking day. I had noticed snowbanks along the route and was relying on finding a camping spot where this would be available. This and some other factors were what prompted the spot I did choose. I camped at a lovely spot along the Divide at 9,500 ft above sea level and while melting snow for drinking water was treated to a sunset my photos will have trouble doing justice.

At dawn I awoke to the sound of a family of mountain goats click-clacking their way across the opposite side of the canyon I was sleeping near. The sunrise and moon-set were equally as delightful as the opposite occurrence the evening before. I quickly packed having not set up a tent or tarp the night before and headed off to find more water and ultimately my destination. Hiking in the early hours of the day is always a treat as this is when wildlife is most frequently visible. I had the rare opportunity of witnessing two elk from a distance of only a few dozen meters while I was collecting water from a stream. A handful more mountain goats also made their appearance high up on a canyon wall.

I summited Hyalite Peak that morning and enjoyed the view of the surrounding landscape – a view only barely topping the full-day of delightful views I had enjoyed during the previous days’ hike. I can with all honesty say that the hike along the Gallatin Crest Trail No. 96 ranked second only to the high country in the Pasayten Wilderness I experienced the summer before on my 2007 PNT thru hike. If you are ever in the Bozeman area and in need of a quality trip, consider the Gallatin Divide Trail at the top of your list.

I descended from Hyalite Peak through Hyalite Creek and back to my car at the busy trailhead as just another hiker out in the woods – no different than the scads of cotton-clad families with half-full Nalgene bottles in tow walking up or down the creek. I smiled to myself at the grandeurs I had witnessed and groaned a bit at the toll the twenty-five miles the previous day and the dozen or so miles the current day had taken on my body. Endurance, limits, toughness. All things I like to test – and seem to do so on a regular basis. Stay tuned for next weeks’ grand adventure…

View this trip’s concurrent photo set here