2016 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

Hyperlite Mountain Gear is proud to be an unofficial sponsor of the unofficial Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.

Words by Luc Mehl
22 competitors | 115 miles of Alaskan Wilderness | Photo: Luc Mehl

The Mountain Wilderness Classic is Alaska’s premier wilderness challenge, a grassroots event where participants push to their exertion and exhaustion limits. Ultralight is the name of the game, so it is no surprise that the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter is the pack of choice.

The 2016 course started at Galbraith Lake and ended in Wiseman, completing a north-south traverse of the Brooks Range, Alaska’s northernmost mountain range. The course was short by Classic standards, a minimum of 110 miles, half of which was floatable. This was a welcome change from the 2015 300-mile route in the Alaska Range, which was only finished by four of the thirty participants.

The short Brooks Range course and 24-hour daylight allowed participants to cut even more gear from their packs, with many participants expecting to go without sleep. Sleeping bags, shelter systems, and extra clothing were all left behind. One participant even opted to leave his packraft behind, starting with a 13 pound pack (this ended up being a bad decision).
Read more about the Classic, and check out a sweet video.

Drop Everything & Thru Hike the Pacific Crest Trail

Nick Click Riechard

The Appalachian Trail under his belt, photographer Nicholas Reichard is on round #2– thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

From the Appalachian Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail.

Nicholas “Click” Reichard didn’t grow up hiking or exploring in the woods. He had a passion filmmaking, and wanted to be one of the best. So he attended the Savannah College of Art and Design where he obtained a BFA in filmmaking. But despite his skill and talent, he found his options limited. So he sought a change–a new perspective on life. And what better way to do it than hike the “big three” long-distance trails in the United States. He planned to become a Triple Crowner, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. It didn’t matter that he had little backpacking experience, he would photograph his adventure with a film camera. So in 2015 he got some gear together and began thru hiking the AT. Six months and 150 rolls of film later he completed the first leg of his journey, and he was hungry for more. Currently Click is partway through the PCT. We caught up with him on a day he had phone reception and asked him a few questions about how he balances ultralight with photography.

How did you discover thru hiking?

So the funny thing is I never wanted to hike the AT, or even enjoyed going on day hikes. But I knew undertaking such an epic adventure would change who I am as a person and as an artist. Boy was I right. Now I sleep better outside than I do at home. I think the challenge of covering so much ground over the span of a few months is also really appealing to me.

How do you plan for a trip like the Pacific Crest Trail?

I’m not sure there is a right answer for this. I’d say it’s fun to plan the trip but I’m more of a figure it out as I go which seems to make things happen more naturally. Read the rest of the Q&A.

Gone Light, Part III: Safety, Hygiene & Women Hiking Solo

Annie MacWilliams high in the Sierras.
Annie MacWilliams high in the Sierras.

This is the third of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger & Triple Crowner Annie MacWilliams. 

When you break it all down, there are some gear swaps you can make to lighten your load and some skills you can hone in on to better adjust to long-distance treks. But becoming a good thru hiker really comes down to your mental strength. I personally feel females make stronger long-distance hikers due to the ability of a woman’s body to delegate limited resources (think pregnancy). Plus, females tend to have a lower bar for the acceptable level of risk, and we have a higher bar for hygiene.

Read Annie’s latest Stripped Down post!

On the Chetco River: A Packrafting Adventure

On the Chetco River.

Photos & text by Mike Curiak (republished from 2013)

About a year ago I was introduced to the wonders of multi-day whitewater packrafting. When I returned, glowing, from my trip, I spent lots of waking moments searching out other rivers for future trips. Thanks to a writeup I found, Oregon’s Chetco River rose to the tip-top of that list.

Doom (aka Steve Fassbinder) and I had planned to run it last spring, but the bottom fell out of the flows a few days before we were able to get there.

I spent the next few months watching weather patterns and the gauge, hoping that the water would come up before the season was too far advanced to enjoy it. Jeny’s need to burn a heap of vacation time before October 1st also hastened the desire to head north. When I called Bearfoot Brad to arrange our vehicle shuttle he protested that there simply wasn’t any water. Unlike Brad, I’d been methodically checking the forecasts, and within hours of our arrival in Oregon the fall rains began, taking our target from 60cfs to over 800.

On!

Highlights of the trip are many. Top of the list has to be the impossibly clear water, followed closely by the carved-through-bedrock gorges, both ensconced within the remotest feeling place I’ve yet experienced in the Lower 48. Both of us are lifelong mountain bikers and agreed that we’ve never been able to get anywhere close to this ‘out there’ by bike.

Jeny and I completed our trip in four days. That was a bit ambitious for a first time down, and given a choice I’d add an extra day next time. The hike is easy and takes half a day rain or shine–I’d want the extra time to savor and photograph the gorges and canyons once floating.

Read the rest of the article.

Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail – Segment 7, The Four State Challenge!

Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof  2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s seventh post from the trail . . .

The Four State Challenge

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It was tough getting back on the trail after taking four days off. My body had realized it was time to relax and allow the aches and pains to come to the surface: my feet were swollen and I hobbled up and down the stairs because I couldn’t bend my knees. It was even tougher getting back on because the first day we did 44 miles.

When I first heard about the four state challenge, I thought it was something that everyone did; one of those rites of passage on the trail. I decided then, at the very beginning of the trail, when an 18 mile day was a bit of a push, that one day I would walk 43.1 miles. Once the end of Virginia came into sight, I realized the magnitude of what I had committed myself to: I had yet to even do a 30 mile day. Thanks to peer pressure and my own mental obstinacy, there was no turning back. Read the rest of the article.

Forrest McCarthy on Tasmania’s Overland Track

Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Ambassadors are the testers, critics and storytellers of our products.  They put our gear through the paces in the worlds toughest playgrounds and give us critical feedback which helps us drive product development.  They also help us spread the good word about our backpacks, tents/shelters and accessories — while regularly making us jealous of  what they’re doing in the field.  This past winter Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Forrest McCarthy traveled to Tasmania with his wife Amy McCarthy to take on the Overland Track — one of Tasmania’s premier hiking routes.  Read on for the report . . .

Tasmanian Track Amy McCarthy

The Overland Track is Tasmania’s premier walk and attracts hikers from all over the world. The track winds its way through CradleMountain – Lake St Clair National Park traversing a vast wilderness of exposed alpine plateaus, tranquil lakes, and dense forests of beech, pine and gum. The entire track is within the 1.38 million hectare Tasmanian World Wilderness Heritage Area and home to unique wildlife including: kangaroo, wombat, wallaby, possum, quoll, Platypus, Echidna, tiger snakes, and Tasmanian Devils. Read the rest of the article.

Putting up a new route in Alaska with Ambassador Seth Timpano

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Seth Timpano is a world class mountaineer and guide.  He has led him on climbing trips throughout the globe including: Antarctica, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Alaska, Canada, Spain, France, Italy, Thailand, Nepal and New Zealand.  We recently found out that Seth took a pretty bad fall into a crevasse, 55 feet, but luckily walked away with it with minor injuries and a mild concussion.  Seth told us the Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack he was wearing might have helped pad his fall — we’re not sure about that, but we psyched that Seth is fully recovered and planning some exciting new expeditions for this coming year.  Read on for Seth’s report on a new route he, Jared Vilhauer and Jens Holsten  put up this summer on Reality Peak, a 13,100 foot satellite peak of Alaska’s iconic Denali.  Awesome photos by Jared Vilhauer.

Seth Timpano on Reality Peak Summit.  Photo by Jared Vilhauer.
Seth Timpano on Reality Peak Summit. Photo by Jared Vilhauer.
In late May I left Seattle early in the morning and flew to Anchorage, Alaska. From there I hopped a shuttle van and was on ski-equipped plane by late afternoon. The flight into the Alaska Range was as memorable as the previous dozen, and my excitement for alpine climbing was high. Paul Roderick with Talkeetna Air Taxi flew by the impressive Mount Hunter and Mount Huntington and spiraled down into the West Fork of the Ruth Glacier, one of the three large glaciers pouring from the south aspect of Denali. There I met my friends Jared Vilhauer and Jens Holsten. They had been skiing around for a few days scoping out different lines and route conditions and that evening we all agreed to attempt an unclimbed route on the east face of Reality Peak.
Seth Timpano climbing face of Reality Peak.  Photo by Seth Timpano on Reality Peak Summit.  Photo by Jared Vilhauer.
Seth Timpano climbing face of Reality Peak. Photo by Jared Vilhauer.
The next day we skied to the base of the route and started climbing. We climbed about 2000 feet of steep snow and easy ice before entering into the heart of the route, a narrow winding passage of steep granite and ice. We found 1500 feet of perfect steep alpine ice conditions. Once through this crux section we found more moderate snow and ice to the where our line joined the previously established Reality Ridge. We setup a bivy, ate, re-hydrated and slept. Poor weather kept us tent bound for nearly 24 hours but this also gave us a chance to rest before attempting to summit Peak 13,100 (Reality Peak). The ridge to the summit was typical Alaskan climbing; bigger, harder and scarier than expected.
The face of Reality Peak.  Photo by Seth Timpano climbing face of Reality Peak.  Photo by Seth Timpano on Reality Peak Summit.  Photo by Jared Vilhauer.
The face of Reality Peak. Photo by Jared Vilhauer.
Difficult snow and ice conditions put us on the top in about 8 hours from our high bivy. The three of us were all very excited to have succeeded on this difficult climb, but we also realized we had a lot of work ahead of us. We tediously down climbed the ridge back to our camp, tired and exhausted. Nevertheless, we all knew we had to keep heading down before the intense sun hit our route, which would create a dangerous situation with rock and ice fall. We rappelled through the night, chasing the sun with each 200 feet decent. 27 double rope rappels found us at the base of our route. A few hundred feet of easy down climbing and we were safely back at our skis. We skied, tired but satisfied, back to camp, 4 days after we had left. Later that afternoon we were on a plane flying out of the Alaska Range and back to civilization.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs are without a doubt the best alpine climbing pack on the market. Durable, light, waterproof and made with climbing in mind, I continue to be impressed by my Porter Pack w/ Ice Feature. I look forward to using Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs on my expeditions to Patagonia and India next year.
HMG Ambassador descending Reality Peak.  Photo by The face of Reality Peak.  Photo by Seth Timpano climbing face of Reality Peak.  Photo by Seth Timpano on Reality Peak Summit.  Photo by Jared Vilhauer.
HMG Ambassador descending Reality Peak. Photo by Jared Vilhauer.

 

Seth Timpano
Alaska
Fall 2013

Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail – (Segment 6)

Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof  2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s sixth post from the trail . . .
I had been looking forward to my time after Trail Days because I figured I could relax and not worry about getting anywhere by a certain date- my only deadline was the cold weather in Maine. The first day out of Damascus we walked through the Grayson Highlands, one of the sections that I had heard so much about. As soon as we walked through the gate into the highlands, a wild pony started trying to bite Turbo’s backpack. We had heard the ponies can get aggressive and when he came after me, I put my hand on his head to hold him off and wielded my trekking pole like a weapon. Once we got farther into the highlands, we saw more and more ponies grazing in the fields. They brought these ponies in specifically for this reason- the highlands is a large open area devoid of trees and with large rock formations. They want the ponies to graze there in order to maintain the grassy areas. The rest of them were friendlier than the first and let us pet them without trying to bite us.
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Since so many people had either slowed down or sped up to make it Damascus for the festival, there was a huge bubble of people leaving at the same time. There was also a lot of rain in the week following the festival and so everyone wanted to stay in the shelters to avoid getting wet. Every night the shelters were full and there were sometimes up to 20 tents set up around them as well. The rain was starting to get frustrating- wet boots and clothing for days on end was getting old. Every time I started to complain in my head, I started to think about Jennifer Pharr Davis. I was reading her book about the endurance record and she is a badass. She got hypothermia, had shin splints for 1000 miles, and overcame a bunch of other problems to finish the trail in record time. Every time I felt down, I reminded myself that if she could deal with all that, I could deal with a little rain.
I was also starting to make up for my lack of trail magic before Damascus. In Troutdale, VA there was a hiker feed put on by a local church. They put up flyers at each road crossing telling hikers about it and about 35 people showed up. All the churchgoers brought in food and there was enough so that everyone could stuff themselves. There was some intense preaching after the meal and I’m not sure the preacher realized that the hikers were a different audience than he was used to, but it was worth it.
The next night we made it to Partnership Shelter, one of the shelters on the trail that you can order pizza from. There was a big group of people and it was this girl Smokey’s birthday so we ordered a bunch of food, ignored the no alcohol signs, and went into town to get some beer.
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Turbo and I were settling into a new kind of hiking- one that involved a lot more drinking. The next day we were walking along the trail when we came upon two hikers, Twoper and Bait, who were handing out beers on the side of the trail. We hung out with them and then walked along into Atkins, VA. Turbo and I were planning on doing a few more miles but decided to hang out in town for a bit. We were being classy as usual and decided to sit behind the gas station with a couple tall boys. The longer we sat, the less we wanted to keep hiking. Luckily, Lumber came by and said he had gotten a hotel room and had extra room if we were interested. We definitely were. Also staying in the hotel were Red Velvet, Predator, Hagrid, E.T., Promise, and Gigs. We hung out and I ate an insane amount of candy- 1 snickers ice cream bar, 1 bag of Doritos, 1 bag of cheese puffs, 1 package of Twizzlers pull n peel, 1 bag of Snyder’s honey mustard and onion pretzels, 1 sleeve of double stuff oreos, and probably more that I’m forgetting.
We got breakfast in the morning and then started hiking. Before we could get very far though, we came upon some more trail magic. The mom of someone hiking had a cooler full of soda and beer and a table full of fruit salad, hot dogs, chips, candy, taco salad, and more. I had ordered two breakfasts at the diner that morning and then ate a lot at the trail magic so I had to lounge around until noon before I could walk again. I was walking with Hagrid and we were planning on doing about 20 miles, but we got to a camp spot with a bunch of people that we knew and decided to stay there. Squirrel had packed in some whiskey to celebrate us getting 1/3 of the way and passed it around while someone else cooked up hot dogs for the group. I was excited to have gotten that far, but there was still a long way to go. I was also starting to get the “Virginia Blues”. Virginia is over 500 miles and much of it is just green tunnel; hiking in the trees with no views. It is easy to start thinking about how far you still have to go and get overwhelmed by the length of the trail.
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While the hiking might have been boring, the bubble was still together and we were having a lot of fun. There were about 30 of us who had been seeing each other consistently since Damascus. We would get split up, but then a hiker feed or stop in town would bring us back together. In Bland, VA there was another hiker feed that we all went to and then we planned a birthday party for Fresh Step at Dismal Falls in two days. Dismal Falls was supposed to be an awesome campsite and swimming hole and it was also just a few miles past a road crossing with a grocery store that sold beer. We all packed in food and beer, swam, and hung out by the fire. Before I had started the trail, I had a vision in my mind of what the trail would be like. I had underestimated the social aspect of the hike, but Dismal Falls was the kind of picturesque camp spot that I had envisioned beforehand. Simply put, the trail was even better than I had imagined it.
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Neon
The AT
Summer 2013

Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail (Segment 5)

Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof  2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s fifth post from the trail . . .
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After the Smokies, I was looking to get away from Ramon and hike on my own. I enjoyed spending time with him and having a hiking buddy but I also wanted to hang out with other people. He was also very slow getting ready in the morning and I was sick of waiting up to an hour each day for him. He was planning on going about 13 miles that day with Briton, so I decided to keep moving. That day I passed over Max Patch; the first of many balds along the trail. I have never experienced winds like that in my life and I can only guess their speed. 150 mph is my guess. A more realistic person might say 60 mph; either way they were insane. I had to walk at an angle, my body leaning into the wind so that I didn’t fall over. Then a gust would come and I would get blown sideways and have to dig my trekking poles into the ground to regain my position. It was awesome.

That same day day I got to talking with a section hiker about my experience and she asked me if I was still enjoying myself. I answered with great conviction that I still got up each day and was excited to hike. The trail was continually changing and each day still brought me something new.

At the shelter that night I had my first encounter with yellow blazers (people who skip part of the trail by hitching a ride). Two of the hikers there had skipped the Smokies. It was early in the trip and most everyone was still committed to walking to Katahdin so there was an awkward moment when they said they had hitched ahead and skipped the Smokies. I didn’t know how to react, this time anyway. The farther north I got, the more people I met that had skipped at least one section. Instead of getting off the trail when people got tired of hiking, they hitch to meet their friends so they can still get some of the experience. Many people don’t have the time, money, or desire for a full thru-hike, but for me yellow-blazing did not mesh my motivation for doing the trail.

The next night I was discussing my lack of a trail name with Stealth. At this point, he was still just Matt and I was still Brenna and we were both feeling left out since most everyone else already had names. I suggested Stealth for him because he wore all black and had a habit of walking quietly and sneaking up on people on the trail. We decided, based on my bright orange Crocs and yellow rain jacket, that Neon might be good for me. I hadn’t met anyone else by that name and it was short and easy to remember. That next day I started signing Neon in the shelter logs and introducing myself as such. There was a strange transition period where I had to get used to going by a different name but after a while it started to seem alright.

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“Neon” rocking her trademark bright orange Crocs and a yellow jacket

After a couple days of cold, rain, and wind, I did a 3 mile “nero” (nearly zero miles) to Hot Springs, NC. Hot Springs is the first town through which the trail passes directly. Stealth and I somehow got lost going into town, despite the fact that the sidewalks were engraved with the AT symbol in order to show the way. In typical thru-hiker style, if there wasn’t a blaze every five feet then we were lost. We stopped at the first restaurant we came to, Smoke Mountain Diner, and got some excellent food- including the best cinnamon roll I have ever had in my life. There were a bunch of hikers there, most of whom I knew and we all hung out while we gorged ourselves.

My oldest sister, Sarah, was flying in that day to do the next 70 miles to Erwin, TN. Seven of us decided to split a room at a local hotel, the Iron Horse Station, and bummed around all day and watched TV. When Sarah got there that afternoon we got a few beers at the Spring Creek Tavern where they had live music. Sarah had talked about doing a thru-hike at some point and I wanted her to get a the full experience; crowded hotel room, trail town, and the trail.

The next day, we set off early for the trail but before we could even get started someone told us that the trail was flooded. It wad been raining like crazy for days and they said the water was waist deep and we would have to hitch around. Sarah and I decided to go see for ourselves and the trail was flooded, but not up our waists. I bushwhacked around while Sarah took off her boots and walked through the water. Eventually though, we got to a point with an overhang where the water was deeper and the current stronger. Instead of wading out and possibly getting swept away, we took a blue blaze trail up the side of the overhang and came down the other side about 50 feet beyond where we had left the trail. Where we returned to the trail we could see a tent floating in the river. It was tied down and there was a bunch of stuff strewn about. I took off my boots and stepped into the water to look into the tent just to make sure there was no body floating inside. It seemed like someone left in a hurry; there was ramen and all sorts of gear floating inside, but no body. The trail was still flooded there, but we walked just to the side of it, knowing that soon the trail would climb up and out of the valley.

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We did 11 miles that day and Sarah seemed to be hurting a bit. I had told everyone that she was going to come and visit and they all told me she wouldn’t be able to handle the miles. Eight to ten, they all said. I thought she would be fine doing more and we had to average 14 per day in order to make it to Erwin on time. Watching her that first day made it seem like it wouldn’t end up being as easy I thought, but I knew she would suck it up and do the miles either way.
The next few miles were uneventful as far as hiking goes, but it was really nice to spend some time with Sarah. The first few days I hiked ahead, but I realized I was wasting our time together. For the past four years I had been at school in Missouri and since she is seven years older than me, we hadn’t lived together in about 12 years. While we saw each other reasonably often, it was usually in the presence of other family members and so it was unusual to have time together just the two of us.It turned out that Sarah had no problem turning on the miles and did a couple 15 miles days and a 16.5 to finish off her trip. We got into Erwin on time and went to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel which is is right on the trail. It is overpriced and dirty, but known to be a good time. The group renting the nice cabin with the kitchen invited us over for a feast with steak, garlic bread, ice cream, salad, beer, mashed potatoes and a fritatta. A bunch of people were also having a bonfire outside and everyone seemed to be making the most of their night in town. Ramon and Briton had gotten in earlier that day and had tried to hitch into town for a resupply. The guy who picked them up asked if they wanted to go rafting on the very swollen Nolichucky River and so they went down the river all afternoon. Ramon got his trail name that day, Turbo, because the guy kept yelling at them that they were his turbo on the river. While I had previously been looking to get away from him, now I was looking forward to hiking with Turbo again. We planned to leave the next morning with another friend, Quinoa, and begin the race to Damascus for Trail Days.

Neon on the AT
August 2013

To Hell and Back — Across North America’s Deepest Canyon with Steve Graepel

Two hours from Boise, but a world away from the daily grind, the Snake River cuts through the narrows bordering Oregon, Idaho and Washington. It’s here where over 60,000 Cubic Feet per Second of water has carved the deepest gorge in North America. Yes, Hells Canyon cuts deeper than the Grand, plunging 8,000 feet inside the 10-mile gap. Yet as best the record showed, this plumb-line remained un-run as an out and back inside a single push. Mike James and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Steve Graepel ventured out on a whim to set the first known Rim-Rim-Rim.  Read on for Steve’s report.

The Snake serves as the lifeline for southern Idaho, bridling fertile ground and power where there would otherwise be neither. The canyon is no different, only here its always taken more than it provided. Dry and inhospitable, traces of man’s eagerness to eek out a living has been preserved in an arid time capsule scattered along the route to the canyon floor. At 8,000′, the Seven Devils reference back to Nez Perce Indian lore, where the “devils” traveled West yearly to feast on the tribes newborn. At 6,000′, the McGaffee summer cow camp decayed under the conifer canopy. A trophy elk was entangled in the remnants of wire fencing at 4,000′. Fruit orchards grew ferial and tangled at 2,000′. A prehistoric rock shelter and ancient pictographs etched the canyon walls at its low point at 1,400′.

©2013 AllTrails ©2013 National Geographic
©2013 AllTrails ©2013 National Geographic
While cleaning debris out of our shoes on the McGaffee winter cabin’s porch, a cackle of voices broke the din of wind and water. The most common way to see the canyon is by water; rafters float downstream from the dam while jet boats hurdle upstream over the rapids from Pittsburg Landing. We strapped our shoes and stumbled out of the hackberry thickets and out onto the pebble beach to see a flotilla of rafts pulling out for lunch. A Wilderness with no bridge for miles, we eagerly thumbed a ride into Oregon with their scout boat. Our captain asked about our itinerary; we shared our plans, pointing fingers and arching necks to describe our progress and intent. “You boys have a good time”, he shook as we eddied into Oregon.
On the West side of the Snake parallels the manicured and historical Nee-Me-Poo trail—the same route Chief Joseph led his people into Montana while fleeing General Howard in 1877. We followed it south until we saw the sun-weathered Hat Point trail sign, marking our route to the Oregon rim. We stocked up on water and began to negotiate the heat of the day with the pain of the climb. The trail quickly turned to game trail quickly turned to runnels between bunchgrass and brought us up a stringer canyon, rotten with volcanic choss. The canyon took back half of every step we made. The angle eased and we picked up the pace as we ducked under Ponderosa pine for the final climb.
6 miles, 5 hours and 5 liters of water later, we eventually broke the rim’s crest and climbed out onto the fire tower’s observation deck to review our day’s progress. With thunderheads on the horizon, we anxiously retreated towards the river with a shuffle, slipping down a series of grassy fells and into darkness.
We cautiously navigated the route mostly by braille. The angle of the slopes, the shadow of adjacent slopes, the crossing of a stream indicated by the map. We were actually making reasonable progress until I heard the friction of rubber skid over gravel. Mike slide maybe 5 feet, righted himself and gingerly walked down to my perch. He flashed his headlamp, revealing probably 200+ cactus spines studded down his right side. We spent the next 45 minutes extracting the barbed quills … some buried deep past fascia and into muscle.
Photo by Steve Graepel
Photo by Steve Graepel
After pulling most the of the damage, I pulled my sleeves over my calves, draped the map over my torso and drifted into sleep as the glow of the Sheep Fire illuminated the sky behind the Idaho ridge.
I awoke to find Mike still pulling barbs from his ass. He stuffed a glove between his shorts and leg and snorted, “you ready to go?” Mike James—toughest man in America.
We strolled lazily down to the river, knowing that we would likely not get the same luck as the day before. We carefully chose a placid stretch of water, well above the next rapid set, stripped down to our shorts and shoved everything into our packs and dove into the current. Taller and stronger, Mike held a line into Idaho. I found myself washing out downstream a few hundred feet below. I pulled myself out over the river rock, collected myself and resumed the climb out of Hell.
With a day behind us and the steepest portion ahead, there was no racing out of the canyon. We each slowly picked a line and wrestled our own devils to the Idaho rim. Once on the plateau at Dry Diggens, we still had 8 miles and 3 hours to the trailhead—plenty of time to temper any celebration of success in snagging one of the North America’s greatest trail running challenges.
For more from Steve Grapel, check out his contributions to the National Geographic Adventure Blog.
Steve Graepel
Idaho 2012

Hike Fast. Paddle Hard. Dance All Night.

The First Annual AK Packrafting Festival

This past July Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Luc Mehl and friends participated in the first annual McCarthy Creek Packraft Race and Whitewater Festival in Wrangell Mountains of Alaska.  We’re hoping this event, organized by Kennicott Wilderness Guides and McCarthy River Tours and Outfitters, will become an annual happening.  Hyperlite Mountain Gear is psyched to support the rapidly growing packrafting community by making some of the best packrafting packs available. 

Read on for the report on the inaugural 2013, festival.

McCarthy Packrafting Festival Poster

The McCarthy Creek runs through the Wrangell Mountains outside the quirky/charming outpost town of McCarthy, Alaska at the edge of Wrangell St. Elias National Park.  The creek runs fast and strong with rapids up to rated by American Whitewater as a class III+(V+). 
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Nick Truax Puts Our Gear to the Test

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassadors are the testers, critics and storytellers of our products.  They put our gear through the paces and provide critical feedback.  The Ambassadors help us build our products with confidence that they will perform in the world’s toughest playgrounds … because that’s where they start. 

Like our other Ambassadors, Nick Truax has been putting Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s packs and shelters to the test.  He recently shared a report on his last 12 months as an Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador.  Check it out on Nick’s blog “Nick on the Mountain” — great photos Nick!

Nick Truax in France with his HMG Stuff Pack.
Nick Truax in France with his Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Pack.

For the full story on Nick’s Hyperlite Mountain Gear year, see: http://www.nicktruax.com/?p=1083

Nick Truax
September 2013

Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail – (Segment 3)

Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof  2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s third post from the trail . . .

 

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After our stay at Blueberry Patch, Ramon and I felt we were ready to start doing some bigger miles. Everything I had read online before the trip said to take it easy starting out. People said that pushing yourself in the beginning would lead to an injury, but the past six days we had been averaging about 12 miles and it was boring me. We would get to our destination at 2 pm and sit around until dark. In some ways it was nice to relax, but I also wanted to see what I was capable of.

The day we left Hiawassee, Ramon and I set out to do 18 miles to Standing Indian Mountain. The miles felt surprisingly doable. My feet were sore by the end and I was so hungry that I didn’t even wait for my broccoli and cheddar pasta to finish cooking before scarfing it down, but I was satisfied. We were the only people camped at the top of the mountain and so had the best view on the trail thus far and an awesome sunset all to ourselves. We kept up that pace, crossed into North Carolina, and three days later walked down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). After being in the woods for a few days, it was a welcome relief. From miles away I could smell fried food and catch glimpses of brightly colored objects. I couldn’t wait to eat good food, drink beer, take a shower, and sleep in a bed. It turned out that that weekend was the US Freestyke Kayaking Team Trials and there were a bunch of kayakers milling about and practicing in the water. Upon arrival, Ramon and I rented a couple bunks and took showers. I was learning that as a small form of trail magic, someone always left behind shampoo in the showers. I checked myself out in the mirror for the first time on the trail and realized I had lost close to 10 pounds. Eating becomes part of the trail experience for thru hikers. On the trail everyone eats processed, high calorie foods because they are light. People eat trail mix, honey buns and snickers bars as snacks and usually Ramen, Knorr pasta sides, or some other easy meal for dinner. Then in town it is time to pack in the calories. All you can eat buffets, ice cream, and often a large pizza. I couldn’t wait to eat like a hiker and started off by buying a bag of chips and an ice cream.

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Neon stumbles upon an “all you can eat buffet” on the AT

I sat in the laundry room in just my rain gear (no other options) and shared a six pack with Ramon. Later we hung out with a couple other hikers (Hangnail and Law Dog), ate some barbecue, drank some more beer, and called it a night around 9:30 (way past my bedtime these days). The climb out of the Nantahala Outdoor Center is known for being tough. It is 7.5 miles long, 3000 vertical feet, and the first good climb of the trail. Climbing out when hungover made it feel like 15 miles and 6000 vertical feet, but eventually we made it. The next day we walked to Fontana Dam, NC; the town before the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It was raining all day long and the trail was filled with water up to my ankles. I was starting to notice a pattern with the weather- it rained all the time. We got a shuttle into town for resupply and the driver said they were already 9 inches over the average precipitation for the year. I wasn’t surprised. We got all the food we needed and hiked to the Fontana Hilton; a shelter right on the lake which fits about 20 people and has showers and a real bathroom. There were a number of people already there and I lounged around with Titty Bar Naked Yoga (TBNY for short), Tank Tank, Briton, Ramon, Runaway, and Candyman while the rain pounded the tin roof.

After walking in the rain all day, the idea of getting up the next day and doing it again seemed horrible. So we took our first zero day. Most other people had already taken their first and so I didn’t feel too guilty. We bummed around town, went to the gas station bar, and watched the rain outside. That night at about 11:30 pm, Candyman got up, started grumbling about something and left the shelter in the rain. We found out later that the mice had been crawling all over him and  chewing at his sleeping bag. It was no surprise to the rest of us since he had been keeping candy in his pockets to munch on throughout the night. It is generally expected that there will be mice in the shelters and you can hear (and sometimes feel) them scampering around most nights. For this reason, people hang their food bags on strings in the shelters (or from trees/bear cables like you should do). He had previously been known as ‘Sharkbait’, but Candyman seemed much more fitting after that.

Neon, Somewhere on the AT, August 2013

Peter on the CDT – Grants to Cuba (Segment 6)

For 2013 Hyperlite Mountain Gear is sponsoring one thru-hiker on each of the Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Pacific Coastal Trail (PCT).  Here’s the sixth update from the trail by Peter, Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s sponsored CDT hiker.  Peter (trail name, “CzechXpress”) will keep all of us up do date with periodic posts and pictures from his journey.  We hope you’ll check in regularly to follow Peter along the trail!

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Peter all smiles on his way from Grants to Cuba via the CDT

The zero day that I had in Grants, which involved moving as little as possible because of my aching foot that was tender to each step I took was rather uneventful.  The rest of the group had left that morning, but I knew that an extra day would give my foot the rest it needed to make it to Cuba, which was the next destination for my next segment.

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A well needed ‘zero day’ to recover before continuing on to Cuba

Grants is small town that once was a booming Uranium mining town, and was once home to the biggest and most productive Uranium mines in the country.  As I learned during the local shuttle drive, high school kids were dropping out of school to go work the mines for an average starting salary of $80,000 per year, creating a huge void in the school system.  Once the government stopped buying the Uranium, the mine laid off 4,000 people overnight, starting a mass exodus out of the town.  Grants has since recovered, but you can still see the boarded up shops downtown. Regardless, you can still feel the local pride in its banners and its people.

After resting in the hotel room, doing some shopping at Wal-Mart, and getting a resupply box ready to be shipped to Ghost Ranch, it was time to leave.  My foot was feeling a little better and I was ready to keep moving.  I’ve learned the longer I stay in town, the more comfortable I get and the more my head starts spinning with ideas. I was tired of always taking my pack off to drink water so wanted to try this new hydration system.  I caught the local shuttle to the post office and then to the Mumms who are local trail angels and were holding a new bladder system that I had ordered from REI.  The Mumms are great people who leave water caches out at the start of the Malapais, entering the final canyon towards Grants and a final one on the last stretch up Mt. Taylor for hikers to use.

I was very happy to meet them and did not hesitate to give them a much-needed donation.  I got to the trail head for the next segment and began the long hike to the base of Mt. Taylor, hiking about 10 miles that day to the water cache left by the Mumms.  I like staying next to caches as you can drink all you want and then ‘camel up’ in the morning for the next day.  This was my first section alone since the border and I was actually happy to be hiking alone for this part.  I was able to hike at my own pace, on my own schedule and have some time to think about the journey so far. I hiked up the 11,301 ft summit of Mt. Taylor, a leftover ridge from a volcano that had exploded many millions of years ago, currently making it the highest point of the CDT in New Mexico.  I summited Mt. Taylor in the morning with the sun rising over the huge horizon that lay before me.

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Nothing but clear skies and Hyperlite Mountain Gears’ sponsored CDT thru-hiker Peter atop Mt. Taylor

To the south were the mountains I had walked through to reach Grants and to the West were the open plains of the desert landscape that hid Arizona not far away.  To the East and North you could see the next ridges and plateaus that would be my home for the next couple of days as I hiked on top of expanding mesas.  I spent a little bit of time on top before making the descent down the mountain, following forest roads to my next water source; American Spring.  This was one of the nicest springs I had seen so far and was happy to get the water out of the pipe. The spring was surrounded by great meadow full of grass and glorious shade.  What a change from the low-lying desert areas that had been my home for so long before.  I ate a nice leisurely lunch there before continuing my trip down the mountain.  That day I hiked 27 miles, making camp in a patch of trees after getting a burst of energy from Skrillz on my newly downloaded Spotify app.  Yes, some say technology is wrong in the woods but music is a great companion after a long day…  Especially Bob Marley.

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The “road walk that seemed to never end”

The next day brought a boring road walk that seemed to never end.  It finally did at my next water source, Los Indios Spring.  This is the point where I made one of my most stupid mistakes of the hike so far. It taught me to read and then re-read my map notes 10 times before making my next move.  The sign read Los Indios spring .5 miles, so I thought that it was that far past and down the 200ft canyon as noted on the maps.  I walked the .5 miles past the gate but, still no turn off or canyon.  I still saw foot prints, so I kept walking, thinking the sign makers had made a mistake and I decided to keep on going. Stupidly, I ended up  walking about three miles before deciding to reread my maps. Taking the point of view of the southbound hiker, at the gate you would go .5 miles down the canyon to the spring.  So this meant I had to walk the 3 miles back, then go the .5 miles down the 200 ft canyon to get the water.  I don’t think I’ve ever hiked so pissed off before in my life!  I walked back, got to the spring and threw down my pack in anger.  I knew I had made a mistake and being out of water for the last hour made me even more mad.  Why did I make this mistake?  What was I thinking? All of these questions ran through my head. I wanted to learn from the mistake I had just made and avoid having to deal with a similar situation again.

After coming down off the high plateau and the breathtaking view it provided, it was back down to the desert floor where the fear of rattlesnakes, heat and water shortages resurfaced.  It was miserable.  That section of trail was miserable for me.  It was hot, the landscape was Mars-like, and it had no appeal for me.  It was only about 20 miles long, but it put me in such a bad mood that I found myself walking faster and harder then ever before.  After finally being in the trees and seeing beautiful green grass, it was hard to switch back to the desert hiking I had been enduring for weeks.

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A beautiful Mars-like landscape in the desert

The last 20 miles before Cuba were a gorgeous change from the previous miles in the ugly desert. I spent so much time high on the plateaus that surround the area with wonderful rock formations, beautiful expanding views and a cairned trail that was easy to follow.  It reminded me of hiking Utah which is one of my most sacred places to hike in the world.  I happily followed the cairned route up and down the mesa skirting the edge and then back to the middle again, my shoes filled with sand.  My shoes were dying. I couldn’t wait to get my nice new pair once I got to Cuba, and say good bye to these after 530 miles of hard walking.

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Almost to Cuba!

I walked into Cuba at 9pm that night on Memorial Day. I road walked the last four miles in the dimming light of the day as people drove home from parties and celebrations.  I was happy to get to town and plop down on the bed knowing that another section was done and a good rest was coming my way.  I lay in the tub with the water hitting my tired and bruised body knowing that this section was now done and that I was nearing the eventual end of New Mexico.

 

 

 

 

Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail – (Segment 2)

Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof  2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s second post from the trail . . .
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It turns out that I was better prepared than I originally thought. My first day I hiked 16 miles and even though my feet and legs were sore in the days that followed, I was exceeding my own expectations. There were days when the trail turned into a river and the nights were below freezing, but I was settling into trail life with ease. I even made a few friends. In Hiawassee, GA I got off the trail for the first time in order to stay at the Blueberry Patch Hostel. It was my first time hitchhiking and I had been looking forward to the experience for the past few days. Ramon, one of the guys I had met at Hiker Hostel on my first night, and I stopped at the road and I asked a couple day hikers for a ride. I was disappointed I didn’t get to thumb it, but I also knew it was harder to say no to someone’s face than it was to pass by a couple anonymous hikers on the side of the road.
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First-time hitch hiker “Neon” practices her technique!
The hostel was a Christian Ministry that provided a shower, bunks, laundry, a chance to recharge my phone, and an amazing breakfast with pancakes and blueberry syrup, hash browns, homemade biscuits, and eggs. Gary, one of the owners, gave Ramon, a few other hikers, and me a ride into town in order to resupply. The other two hikers who came with us were a couple from Fayetteville, NC. They had already acquired trail names and were known as Crybaby (she hadn’t handled the uphills too well the past few days) and Batman. Batman was carrying over 60 pounds (I had left Springer Mountain with about 27 pounds); including a five pound hatchet. They were engaged and hiking the trail in order to raise money for veterans and could not have possibly had less in common with me. They had grown up with little money and had been homeless for a brief period before coming on the trail. She was 17 and hadn’t graduated from high school while he was 23 and had recently gotten out of jail. It was there that he found religion and every chance he got he told us how thankful he was that God had given him the opportunity to hike the trail. This trip was already the longest period of time he had ever been out of Fayetteville. I saw some of the gear that they were carrying and wasn’t sure how far it would take them: their Walmart sleeping bags didn’t look like they would cut it and the blisters on their feet were some of the biggest I had ever seen. Despite our differences, we were all on the trail for some of the same reasons. I wanted to challenge myself mentally and physically and I was finding out just how satisfying it is to get up early in the morning, walk 15 miles, and sleep outside each night. There was a great simplicity in this lifestyle; no obligations or responsibilities other than walking a little farther each day.
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“Neon” looks ahead to a beautiful AT sunset.
I was also finding out about the social aspect of life on the trail. I saw some of the same people each day; one day I might walk farther but then the next day they would catch up. Every night we hung out around a fire until hiker midnight (9 PM) and on occasion someone might pass around a bottle of whiskey or moonshine. There were people from 14 to 70 and from all over the world with vastly different life stories. We were all bonded by a common goal: Katahdin.

Peter on the CDT – Pie Town to Grants (Segment 5)

For 2013 Hyperlite Mountain Gear is sponsoring one thru-hiker on each of the Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Pacific Coastal Trail (PCT).  Here’s the fifth update from the trail by Peter, Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s sponsored CDT hiker.  Peter (trail name, “CzechXpress”) will keep all of us up do date with periodic posts and pictures from his journey.  We hope you’ll check in regularly to follow Peter along the trail!

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Peter and his Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 3400 resting in the shade on the CDT

After stuffing myself with pie while in Pie Town and loving the Toaster House, it was unfortunately time to start the hike to Grants.  We left late in the afternoon after seeing two other CDT hikers, Trip and Michigan Wolverine come into the cafe where we were having a late lunch. We chatted with them for a while and shared stories of the past section which is customary to do with other hikers. They are both great guys and I even bumped into Michigan Wolverine later on the trail.  We left the Toaster House with a few new hiker friends named Virgo and Nicotine. We completed a 10 mile road walk until we called it a night near the road out of town.

The next morning, we started our full day of road walking before we hit Amejo Canyon, which would be our camp for the night.We got water half way through the day by stopping at the Thomas Ranch. The Thomas Ranch is run by some of the sweetest people I have ever met.  John and his wife  live on the ranch and have for many years. They purchased the property from a flyer they happened to receive in the mail many years before.  They ranched the property and lived in a large open shed that they converted into their living space.  Everything was beautiful, compartmentalized, and decorated with antique, family pictures as well as an old west looking ‘outhouse’ inside.  It was truly a wonderful place.  We sat and talked with them for about two hours. We chatted about all the hikers that had come through the property since they started hosting visitors in the late 90’s.  They had nothing but good things to say about hikers and the visitors they have had over the years.  John told us stories about his time being a medic in Korea, expressing how proud he was of his service and his continued mission work around the world.  John and his wife had so much love for each other, which glowed from their faces and their bodies, it was truly a wonderful place to rest our weary bodies.  After the two hours of great conversation, we continued on our road walk until dark when we reached the Canyon and setup camp for the night.

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John and his wife with Peter at the Thomas Ranch

The next day, we headed up and over the ridge to Sand Canyon. Sand Canyon as you can expect was lots of walking on road and sand that just sapped the energy out of you.  Virgo was a faster hiker than me, so he took off and we didn’t see him again until we arrived at Grants.  Everyone has their own hiking style, so it was fine with me.  We continued down the canyon and eventually started our road walk to the Rim Trail which gives a great overlook of the Ventana Arch and the expansive volcanic area called El Malpais National Monument.  The black basalt terrain was created over the past million years from volcanic forces that created this vast landscape of cones, trenches and caves. The black volcanic rock was tough to walk on and proved to be too much for my shoes. Walking on the jagged surface cut up the bottom of my shoes which welcomed sand to enter them at any time.  The going was slow, but the beauty of the landscape and its tough terrain was a great change of pace.  After the four hours of walking across the El Malpais, we entered our final canyon which would take us to Grants the next day.

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Ventana Arch is New Mexico’s second-largest natural arch

We camped that night off to the side of the forest road with Michigan Wolverine who had caught up to us towards the end of our hike in the Malpais. The next day, we continued on the forest road but not before spotting my second snake of the trip. It was sunning itself on the road and didn’t seem to mind that we were near it until we stood and stared at it.  It was still a young snake, so its rattle wasn’t loud and it didn’t seem too afraid of us.

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Peter with a pile of volcanic rocks at El Malpais National Monument

Walking into Grants, I was happy to back in a town that provided me with the opportunity to rest and relax before the next section of the trail.  We stayed at the Travel Inn which was a good cheap place where we were able to do laundry. Our laundry needed lots of pre-soaking before we could actually wash our clothes because washing machines are designed for normal humans, not thru hikers.

 

 

 

 

Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail – (Segment 1)

Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof  2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s first post from the trail . . .

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“Neon” and her brand new Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack

I made the decision to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail while sitting on a toilet in Guatemala. It was November 2012 and I had been volunteering as a guide with an all-volunteer non-profit trekking organization called Quetzaltrekkers since early September. My departure date was drawing closer and I was deciding what I should do next. I loved what I was doing there: my work was funding a school and dormitory for streetchildren, I got to lead awesome treks every week, and most of all- the other guides were like family. We lived together, worked together, cooked together, and partied together. I had never worked with a group that was so passionate about what they were doing and it was inspiring. They made me excited to get up and go to work no matter how tired I was.

In November, I could no longer deny the inevitable: I would be going home on December 23rd. I had been toying with the idea of hiking the AT for a few months but was still up in the air as to whether it was really what I wanted to do. I had graduated from Washington University in St. Louis last May without any intention of getting a job. In fact, I was actively avoiding it. I was lucky enough to have parents who were able and willing to fund my college education and as a result I was able to work and save for after school. Immediately after graduation I set off for a two month long trip through South America. After that trip and a stay at home for my sister’s wedding, I left for Guatemala.

There were so many things I wanted to do that it was hard to prioritize. Should I teach English somewhere abroad? Get a seasonal job at a ski resort? Maybe come back to Guatemala? These are the questions I asked myself day in and day out while on the treks and now while I was sitting on the toilet. It was there that I decided that if I didn’t do the trail this year, when I had the time, money, and a respectable level of physical fitness, I was just making excuses and I would never do it. I was so excited by the productivity of this visit to the bathroom that I stayed and read part of a magazine someone had left behind.

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Brenna (trail name “Neon”) starting her AT trek

When I got back to the US, I moved into my parent’s house in Connecticut and spent the next few months reading about the trail, buying gear, and working at a restaurant to make sure I had enough money for the trip. During that period I felt like I was just biding my time until mid-April. At times, I was excited, anxious, and terrified. I thought I was mentally and physically unprepared and that I wouldn’t make friends. Most of all I was scared of failure. The AT would be the biggest challenge I had ever undertaken. I felt so overwhelmed and consumed by emotion that I wanted to start immediately. I knew that the only way to get past my fears was to begin.

Then, on the day that I was supposed to fly down to Georgia, I missed my flight. I didn’t make it on any later flights so I called my sister crying for her to pick me up. At the time, it felt like the end of the world. I had just spent months waiting for the start and now I had to wait one more day. $300 and 24 hours later, I was on my way. I got a shuttle from Atlanta and stayed at the Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, GA. There I met a number of other hopeful thru-hikers and some of them were already a few days into their trip. They were sunburned and had the “hiker hobble”. They described days filled with pain and misery. I realized that even if I was completely unprepared, I would at least be in good company.

Peter on the CDT – Doc Campbells to Pie Town (Segment 4)

For 2013 Hyperlite Mountain Gear is sponsoring one thru-hiker on each of the Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Pacific Coastal Trail (PCT).  Here’s the fourth update from the trail by Peter, Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s sponsored CDT hiker.  Peter (trail name, “CzechXpress”) will keep all of us up do date with periodic posts and pictures from his journey.  We hope you’ll check in regularly to follow Peter along the trail!

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Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s sponsored CDT hiker Peter (trail name “CzechXpress”)

Being at Doc Campbell’s was a great milestone of my trip. I knew that if I made it there then I was making good progress to make it across New Mexico and to my eventual goal of Canada. At Docs, I picked up my resupply box that my sister had prepared for me with little surprises of good chocolates and notes from home that were welcomed motivation to keep going.  Knowing that people back home are supportive of my hike really keeps me going and the positive encouragement helps you stay connected to home.

After staying the night in the campgrounds and soaking in the local hot springs to loosen my aching muscles, we did the road walk up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center. Walking this far and passing up such an incredible piece of local history that is only an extra two miles walk away was not an option.

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Doc Campbell’s Post Vacation Center

The dwellings were a spectacular sight, snuggled up on the rock facing south with the light hitting the interior of the caves.  Over 700 years ago, the Mogollon’s (ancient ancestors of the Puebloen people) inhabited this site. The caves at Gila are considered to be everything from ceremonial sites, permanent dwellings, to only seasonal residence.  While inside the caves with the petroglyphs, the dark ceilings from the fires and the intricate construction of the homes that once stood there offer a visually stunning experience as well as a unique look into the area’s history.

Following my visit to the dwellings, I took an alternate route towards the Middle Fork of the Gila River, coming out of a slot canyon to its wonderful high walls and its beautiful flowing river.  The river was breath-taking and I couldn’t wait to start getting my feet wet with the upcoming endless river crossings.

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Gila Cave Dwellings- Over 700 years old!

After repacking my backpack (just in case I fell in while making a crossing), I put my sleeping bag, clothes, and electronics in protective cases, then secured them in a plain old garbage bag. I started the winding trail through the Gila, crossing from dry trail to dry trail. The water depths of the rivers varied from ankle height all the way to waist height. Having my feet and legs constantly wet was a nice change from the hot and sandy desert.  Unfortunately, dealing with wet feet all day brought along new challenges. Loose skin on my feet and more rocks in my shoes slowed me down a tad, the best course of action was to dry my socks and feet at night to prevent blisters. With high cliff walls, a winding river, fresh water, and remarkably cool temperatures, the rest of the Gila was phenomenal. In total, I completed 147 river crossings before hitting the end of the trail and getting back into the open valley’s ahead.

 

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Peter gets his feet wet while sporting his ultralight Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider

After the Gila’s we entered into the open plains again and towards higher mountains that rises above the valley floor, following new CDT trails and forest roads towards the highway that takes you to Reserve.  Passing through burn area that had used blazes like you see on the AT for trail markers made it very difficult to navigate through.  The blazes were chopped into the tree, but of course this was burned as well and blended with the rest of the tree.  Losing the trail here was easy to do and took me extra time to make it through the section down to the highway.

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Peter gives the CDT two thumbs up!

Once down at the highway, I made a failed attempt to hitch to Reserve to surrender to my craving for town food.  After three hours of attempting to get a ride, I gave up and slept in the trees eating my sad rice and tuna dinner versus the big steak I had been envisioning for days. The next morning, I got up and headed into the Apache Forest on my way to Pie town and the famed Toaster house I had heard so much about.  I had been following the Ley route the entire way but, heard the official route was new and nice so I decided to go that way.  After about 3 hours of constant winding around the hills, I got frustrated and bushwacked back to Ley’s route and continued from there.

The official route is nice, don’t get me wrong but thru hikers don’t want to take the scenic route, we just want to get there already.  So after climbing Mangas Mountain and coming back down the other side, I made a push to make it into Pie Town before the Cafe would close.  That morning, I decided to hike the 30.5 miles to the Toaster House, which would be my longest day of hiking ever.  The trail was good and the roads were easy to follow but the road just kept going on and on and on with no end in sight.  With only  five more miles to go, I made the final push in the dark to reach the Toaster house at 9:30 pm.  I was greeted by two CDT bikers and a fridge full of Tostinos pizzas which I ate two of, drank about a gallon of water and  then crashed in one of the beds.  The Toaster house is an neat place to visit. The owner Nita is a wonderful woman who leaves the house open for all weary travelers to enjoy. The people are colorful and very welcoming, while the pie was just flat out amazing.  The Toaster house is truly like a CDT hall of fame and I only wished the walls could talk….

 

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Pie Town, New Mexico

 

Peter on the CDT – Emory Pass to Doc Campbells (Segment 3)

For 2013 Hyperlite Mountain Gear is sponsoring one thru-hiker on each of the Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Pacific Coastal Trail (PCT).  Here’s the third update from the trail by Peter, Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s sponsored CDT hiker.  Peter (trail name, “CzechXpress”) will keep all of us up do date with periodic posts and pictures from his journey.  We hope you’ll check in regularly to follow Peter along the trail!

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The CzechXpress on the trail!

After a well deserved zero day (no miles logged) in Silver City, it was time to leave the comforts of the city and get back on the trail. We packed up our gear which was scattered around the hotel room and grabbed our freshly made sign “Hikers to Emory Pass” to hitch out of town.  I stood right outside of the Motel 6 after seeing other hikers getting hitches from that same spot the day before.  After about 2 hours in the morning sun a nice lady in a pickup stopped and said she could take us the 15 miles to the intersection with the highway that leads to the pass.  We hoped into the back of the truck, trying to hide our bodies from the passing cars not knowing if it was legal to ride in the back of pickups in New Mexico.

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Hunkered down in the bed of a pick-up.

After getting dropped off, another car that had seen us hitching earlier gave us a ride a further 15 miles to the final intersection of the road.  At this point any passing car would have to go by the pass.  It was another 2 1/2 hours of standing now in the beating afternoon sun to get our final ride to the pass, ending our 5 hr hitch back to where we’d gotten off the trail.

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Into the Gila Nat’l Forest after a well deserved zero day.
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The local wildlife seemed happy to see me back and making progress along the CDT.

After a quick snack I hiked 5 miles up to the summit of Hillsboro Peak which stands at 10,011 feet and has a fire lookout tower and an open cabin that anyone can stay in.

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The 10,011 foot summit of Hillsboro Peak complete with fire tower and hikers cabin.
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View from the Hillsboro Peak fire tower at sunset.
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At over 10,000 feet there’s snow left in the shady spots on Hillsboro Peak, even this far south!

Its cabin at the summit of Hillsboro Peak is great, with a wood stove, two chairs, bunk beds and a front porch that invites you to sit and stay for awhile.

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“Nicotine” checking out the luxurious digs at the summit cabin on Hillsboro Peak.

The night on Hillsboro was my best night of the CDT so far. A hiker known by the trail name Nicotine and I hung out and made dinner, then played poker under the beam of my headlamp using rocks as poker chips. The wind howled outside as we sat comfortably inside snacking on our newest resupply and wishing we had a six-pack to go with this game.

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All you need for a few hands of hiker’s poker.

In the morning we headed down the mountain.  It was tough going. The trails were indistinct and and hard to follow because of many merging trails and seemingly misplaced cairns that made things even more confusing.

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We continued regardless just checking our maps frequently to make sure our eyes matched what the map & compass was saying. Taking an alternate trail that we could tell was newer then the rest, saving us what we thought would be 4 miles, ended up taking us up and over more peaks then we thought it would.

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After a couple of hours and a lot more elevation logged than we originally planned, we popped out at the road that we had to reach to make it down into Mimbres.  We walked the ridge road until about 5 miles from Mimbres.

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While walking the road into Mimbres and a pickup stopped close by.  The driver introduced himself as Steve, told us he’d hosted hikers in the past, offered a shower at his place and clean water — I couldn’t turn that down!

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Posing on the porch with Steve, another “trail angel” who provided a much needed shower.

After a quick shower I continued on my way stopping by the Elk X-ing Café, where I destroyed a burger.

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The Elk X-Ing Cafe, purveyors of fine burgers.
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Burger inhaled, now back to the trail.

Continuing the hike up Allie Canyon and then connecting with Sheeps Coral Canyon, and then finally hooking up with the official route we headed towards the the lower Gila.  The lower Gila was like entering the garden of Eden with its flowing clear water that was the most abundant source of water on the trail.

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The area around the river was such a welcomed change from the scarcity I’d been facing since the start. The lower Gila was gorgeous with its beautiful water,  tall trees and canyon walls that change colors depending on the time of day.

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There are numerous spots where a river crossing is necessary, a refreshing change from the sand and heat that had been attacking my feet. Hiking the next 2 days along the Gila on the way to Doc Campbells recharged my batteries and brought me back to hiking and away from just the daily grind of making miles.

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Aahhhhhhhh!

Getting to Docs was another step in this long process but I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the next section.

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Peter on the CDT – Deming to Emory Pass (Segment 2)

For 2013 Hyperlite Mountain Gear is sponsoring one thru-hiker on each of the Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Pacific Coastal Trail (PCT).  Here’s the second update from the trail by Peter, Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s sponsored CDT hiker.   Peter will keep all of us up do date with periodic posts and pictures from his journey.  We hope you’ll check in regularly to follow Peter along the trail!

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Thru hiking is demanding on the body.  I learned that on section 1 of my hike and continue to learn that as I keep progressing on this trail.  I left Deming after taking a “Zero Day” (no hiking — zero miles covered) and got my knee to feel a little better before leaving town.  The knee brace I bought at Walmart didn’t exactly do the trick for me as I left Deming, and started the next section of my hike leading to Emory Pass.  I left in good spirits hiking the highway out of town to the residential section north of Deming following my map to the first landmark, an old broken down windmill.  From here I have to admit I got a little lost, trudging cross country in the brush and heat to a point that was not there when I thought it should be.

P1000261After about 3 hrs of hiking I finally realized I was walking in the wrong direction.  I was far off my intended mark.  Frustrated, I threw my pack down on the hard sand that constantly surrounded me and took my bearings as best as I could read my map.  I climbed a high fence looking for some my next landmark on the horizon.

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I was looking for a gate and a broken cow tank which I thought would be easy to spot.  After a long look an object shinned in the distance and I took that as a sign that I should head in that direction.  I got my pack back on, climbed under the barbed wired fence that wanted a piece of my flesh and walked 3 miles cross country to what turned out to be (!) the fence and old cow tank I had been looking for.  Getting lost is a once a day thing on the trail and that was my one for the day.

Odd things seen in the desert:  insect nicotine fiends.
Odd things seen in the desert: insect nicotine fiends.

About 2 hours after reaching my shiny beacon in the desert, I was greeted by other CDT hikers who were going my way and they happily invited me to join them.  I was happy for the company and excited to have some other hikers to talk with.  Its great to think you can go at it alone but, having others to suffer (or have fun) with out there is a great feeling.  They were a couple from Seattle who had been talked into doing the trail by some friends and a guy from Austria who had flipped a coin to either do the CDT or PCT — tails it was.

New friends.
New friends.

We spent the next 4 days hiking together, sharing our stories and experiencing the trail.  We passed through ranches, scrubby dark black hills and open desert.  We went from water source to water source looking for windmills in the distance which are your lifeline out there.  The wind is your companion as you hike.  Its a relentless partner, blowing the sand, debris and cow funk into your face all day, every day with no let up.  I camped several timed behind the cow water tanks just to get a break.  The downside to these campsites is that you’re surrounded by cow poo — which is not appealing at all, but surprisingly you get use to it quickly.  Purell also becomes my best friend….

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My gear and body has been tested on this trip and everything has held up well so far.  My right ankle is twice as big as my left and my knee hurts but, Tylenol takes care of that.  My gear such as my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider pack is taking the beating with the thorns, brush and sand constantly trying to break it ever minute.  Every plant out here is like its own fortress, protecting what it has, not wanting anyone to get anything for free, so its covered in long, sharp and pointy thorns that seem to be reaching out to scratch you.  The cuben fiber construction of my Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack has held up great with no tears or fractures and the hip belt is in a place that just perfectly wraps my hips so no adjustment is needed.  My clothes become filthy quickly but hey, its my funk so I can live with it.

HMG's Windrider Pack -- getting it done for me on the CDT.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Windrider Pack — getting it done for me on the CDT.

After two days we finally reached the hills with trees — actual living trees(!) to give you much need shade from the blazing sun in the afternoon.

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I’ve created a little afternoon mandatory siesta to get out of the mid-day sun for a little while and recharge the batteries.  Its great to rest a bit, nap and take off my shoes and socks to prevent any more blisters from getting created.

Wear and tear.
Wear and tear.

We found an old abandoned house that had stacks of old National Enquirers from 1986-1992 which were interesting.  I read an article about how O.J’s wife is worried he’s cheating on her… I wonder how that worked out???

Time capsule.
Time capsule.

The hills brought a great change of scenery from the constant sand but brought some navigational challenges as well.  At only a day and a half away from Emory Pass I was excited to finally get to town.  Making the final push I we walked faster then normal but then lack of water slowed us down to a screeching stop.  The two water sources we were counting on were either broken or the spring was not running because of a 3-year long drought that has crippled this area of the country.  With no water I made the last 7 miles dreaming of water.

Parched and heading into town.
Parched and heading into town.

Its amazing how thirsty you can become after physically exerting yourself on only the last 2 oz of water you had left.  I finally made it to Emory Pass early in the morning and got a hitch from a nice couple from Arizona.  After slamming a gallon of water I rested, getting ready for the next leg of the hike, the Gila Wilderness.  I can’t wait for the change of scenery and more water… or at least I hope there will be more water.

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