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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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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.





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!

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.

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.

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.

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.





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!

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.

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.

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.


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.

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….


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!

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.

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.

Into the Gila Nat’l Forest after a well deserved zero day.
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.

The 10,011 foot summit of Hillsboro Peak complete with fire tower and hikers cabin.
View from the Hillsboro Peak fire tower at sunset.
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.

“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.

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.


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.


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.


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!

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.

The Elk X-Ing Cafe, purveyors of fine burgers.
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.


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.


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.


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


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!


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.


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….


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.


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.


Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador: Hiking the West Coast Trail, Trip Report

Trail report from Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador David Ure on his hike of the  West Coast Trail with his Porter Pack in May 2012 — a little inspiration for this season!

Pray for Rain

The West Coast Trail (WCT) is a 75 KM backpacking trail following the lower and middle west side of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, although more recent estimates put it closer to 80 KM.  Given the aggressive winter storms, trail maintenance has extended the path over the years. It was originally ‘built’ in 1907 to assist in the rescue of survivors of shipwrecks along the coast often dubbed the Graveyard of the Pacific.  The entire area is part of the Pacific Rim National Park and since 1973, has been open to the public to enjoy.

The first year I trekked the West Coast Trail was in 2004.  With a 64 lb starting wet weight and no idea of what to truly expect. I knew I had fitness on my side.  Strength.  Endurance.  Mental fortitude.

Yeah right.

Nothing could quite prepare me for what I was about to encounter over the 6 days. Tall ladders attached to brazen cliffs of rock where your pack wanted to test the effects of gravity 8 stories high. Massive sticky mud bogs that covered you past your knees. Manually operated cable cars to pass over fast moving and deep rivers. Slippery drift logs with circumferences greater than the average car.  Impassable ocean tides and dangerous surge channels. Unpredictable weather – if it doesn’t rain hard and long at some point on a typical WCT trip, it may be time to buy a lottery ticket.  Although the soft sand beach looked inviting, it fooled you.  Every step sinking deep and forcing your calves to cramp hard as you pushed up.  There are as many as 70 ladders, 130 bridges, 4 cable cars and 1 really long, really shaky suspension bridge book marked by ladder systems over 250 feet tall.

During the 4 and a half-month season that permits hiking on the WCT, there are, on average, over 80 evacuations by either boat or helicopter.  For some, the trek can be dangerous. The prize for contending with these obstacles is an almost unmatched, and widely varying topography. Scenic beaches, thundering waves, hidden bays, storm chiseled caves and breathtaking waterfalls.

There are geographic formations similar to lunar landscapes and tidal pools to explore when the ocean retreats.

A massive forest canopy with huge Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, Hemlock and tall cedar dominates the highland trail.

Incredible access to wildlife – whales, seals, and sea lions.

Bald eagle, black bear, cougar and wolf watch you from afar.

Fast forward several years and I have become wiser.  Packing light.  Doing more.  Going further and seeing as much as possible.  From a 6 day expedition weight trek to a 2.5 day fast pack adventure.  There is no negative to the WCT for me now.  All challenges become merely minor obstacles with a light pack.

In May of 2012, I, with 3 others went back to the WCT to test our wills against the elements.  Carrying a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter Pack and with the removable accessory HMG Porter Pocket, I wanted to validate the pack’s ability to shed rain and withstand destruction through some of the most intimidating sections of the WCT.

Day 1: 7 KM

We started the trailhead in the very late afternoon with full packs and only had a few hours to hike.  All packing light, my pack was just over 20 pounds with 2L of water and food.  This was a leisurely trip. No race to the finish; no running of any personal records.

This was a chance to savor the trek around, and sometimes through, obstacles that only the WCT can offer.

The target camp was Thrasher Cove, which is located an additional 1 KM off the main trail.  Although I am not a fan of this campsite because of its location, given we knew that the tides would be low in the morning, we could traverse Owen Point with its Volkswagen sized boulders early the next day and avoid the muddy, root and rock stricken highland trail.

We arrived at camp with no injuries but with copious amounts of mud splatter, smiles, and sweat. But no rain.  Where was the rain?

Day 2: 17 KM

Owen Point at low tide.  What were we thinking?

Climbing over and beside these massive boulders made us wish we were back in the mud. Not to mention, two nasty spills caused by my own hurriedness made be wonder if hiking in crampons would have been a better idea (it would not).  Banged up and a little bruised, my body fared much worse than the Hyperlite Mountain Gear  Porter Pack that showed nary a scratch.  Bomber fabric and construction.

Unable to pass one of the many surge channels found at this side of the WCT, we elected to work back up to the highland trail and then back down to the beach to hike as long as we could until having to take the highland route again.  If there were any WCT advice that I would give it would be to take the beach and tidal shelf route as much as possible.  The views are incredible.

This is close to the last point from which you can see the state of Washington.

During this portion of the WCT, moving North to Walbran Campsite and around Logan River, one encounters the largest concentration of ladder systems. Some are quite steep.

Others are many in number.

And some are both steep and long.

Thankful to be back on the beach as we approach Walbran, we encounter an accumulation of fog, but no rain. Where was the rain?

Day 3: 11 KM

We got a late start out of Walbran but that was just fine. Today was a short hiking day to Cribs Campsite.  Is that a little rain sprinkle I feel?  Yes!  Okay, the Porter and I are ready.  Wait, where did this sunshine come from?  Boy it’s warm.  This is the WCT in May?

By 2:00 pm we had pitched our tarp tents, unpacked our packs, and were enjoying the scenery, sights, and smells. Who was I to complain? I would be lying if a couple of us didn’t doze off for a few winks in sunshine.

At 1:00 am I heard it.  It started very light then heavier.  Rain. Too tired (lazy?) to stick the Porter Pack out from under the vestibule.  Back to sleep.  7:00 am.  Hello Mr. Sun.  So much for rain testing.

Day 4: 20 KM

Today’s agenda: Hike to Klanawa, through Ditidaht tribal land, and across the Nitinat Narrows by small boat.  The Ditidaht have been providing this service for many years and while the boat ride only takes 7 minutes or so, it is the fresh crab and salmon that you can buy that gets most of the attention!

The Nitinat is a saltwater inlet that for the most part, looks like a lake.  But when the operators pull up a cage that has caught several crabs and you see the odd seal swimming about, it does cause a re-order of your senses.

This is also one of the most scenic areas of the WCT with mostly beach and tidal shelf walking (tides permitting).  Passing the ‘Hole in the Wall’ can only be completed at low tide and many backpackers have been stranded until the water retreats, easily throwing their progress off by 6 hours or more.

We were thankful the tide was out!

On the way to Klanawa, you also pass Tsusiat Falls.  Fresh, salt free water, which was great for a quick shower, rolls into the ocean.

Klanawa was secluded and had some of the largest pieces of driftwood I had ever seen.  Wood, wood, everywhere but much too large to burn.  Regardless, we did get a small fire going in anticipation of incoming rain clouds.  The rain never came.

Day 5: 23 KM

The final trek out to the North Trailhead by Pachena Bay was spectacular and we enjoyed the incredible ocean views knowing that the adventure would soon be complete.

We finished about 3:00 pm that day and managed to get a van to pick us up at the trailhead and drive us to the small town of Bamfield, where we stayed overnight at the Bamfield Trails Motel.  The next morning we would take a boat back to the south trailhead where we had parked our rental car. Never did a burger (two actually) taste so good and a squeaky, flatbed feel so bad.  Now where did I put my sleeping pad?

Day 6: 80 Plus KM….by boat.

We woke up to rain.  A lot of it.  Torrential.  Breakfast in the pub and then time to check out.  I grab the Porter and walk outside to see it work its magic.  No dice.  The rain has stopped.

As I walk to the boat launch with the Porter Pack on my back contemplating the upcoming 4 hour boat ride, I can’t help but chuckle.  Maybe I should take the pack into the shower with me instead. Speaking of the pack, it sure looks good.  No abrasion issues, a little dirty maybe but the durability has been excellent (I can’t say the same about a couple of the other packs on the trip).

The Boat Captain Brian provides the synopsis of what to expect over the next 4 hour boat ride.  Stay in the warm cabin and feel the full effects of the waves and enjoy the potential for severe seasickness, or stay outside where the ride is much calmer but the cold wind and splashing salt water can make the journey a little more than uncomfortable.

Then he points out the 13 metal grab handles for those who stay outside.  That was enough for me. Sitting inside is no way to end the adventure!  Outside it is.  Brian locks my Porter under the boat’s main storage compartment at the stern.

It rained for 4 hours straight.  “Um, hey Brian, any chance I can get to my Porter Pack?”

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador David Lamb on Mt. Washington

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador David Lamb takes his Southwest Pack ski mountaineering on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, March 9, 2013.

At 6,288 ft, New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast US.  Its well known for wild weather (for 76 years, until 2010, the weather observatory at the summit held the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth’s surface, 231 mph).  Its also known for late winter /spring backcountry skiing.  Great, often untracked, stashes of snow can be found on Mount Washington long after the Northeast ski areas are closed and lesser peaks are down to bare rock and mud.

This past weekend, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador David Lamb strapped his skis to his Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest Pack and went out to make some turns on Mt. Washington.  Click here for more information the Southwest Pack.

Attaching skis to Hyperlite Mountain Gear Summit Pack

Winter routes on Mt. Washington vary from mild to extreme.  When conditions are right it’s possible to ski practically from the summit to the trail head where you left your car — a run of over 4,000 vertical feet.  Not too shabby for the East Coast.

Ready to hit the trail, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Summit Pack with AT skis loaded.

For many of us, the 4,000 ft of vertical is just can be just as satisfying on the way up as it is on the way down.  You start among the evergreens that define this area of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. And its a great winter hike as the trees get smaller and smaller until you pop out above the tree line.  Then the views are just spectacular. Hyperlite Mountain Gear ultralight packs are a great choice of winter hiking and mountaineering. Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs are made using Cuben Fiber, which is rip stop, ultralight, and inherently waterproof and non-absorbent — just the qualities you’d want if you are climbing up the side of Mt. Washington . . .

Above the tree line on Mount Washington.

Skiing the “headwall” at Tuckerman’s Ravine falls into the more extreme category of routes available on Mt. Washington and is a right of passage for many an East Coast backcountry skier.  But in addition to “Tucks” there is also great, and somewhat less intimidating skiing to be found on Mt. Washington in The Gulf of Slides, Oakes Gulf and The Great Gulf.


Looking up at Tuckerman’s Ravine, Mt. Washington

Of course the trip back down is what you’re out there for! Spring on Mt. Washington can give you some great bluebird days and make for excellent snow conditions.

On the way down!

Thanks to David for sharing his adventures with us!

For more information on the ultralight, hellishly strong and virtually waterproof pack David chose for this adventure, check out Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest click here.

For more information on what David does in his “spare” time, check out Untamed New England adventure racing.

Floating the East Branch of the Penobscot

A report and video from Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Mike and Josh on their adventure on East Branch of the Penobscot River in Northern Maine.

On the weekend of September 22 and 23, Hyperlite Mountain Gear founder and CEO Mike St. Pierre and Josh Mansir once again demonstrated their ability to play just as hard on Saturday and Sunday as they work at Hyperlite Mountain Gear during the week.  The weekend’s adventure was a hike (carrying Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs of course) into remote Maine’s remote Lake Matagamon where they inflated their packrafts and then ran the East Branch of the Penobscot River

Baxter State Park, Maine

Lake Matagamon (or “Grand Lake Matagamon” as it is sometimes called) is located in Northeastern Maine.   The is known in Maine for its fishing, many remote islands and scenery.  Its a great paddling lake.

Lake Matagamon

Approximately half of the lake is located inside the Northeast corner of Baxter State Park, the jewel of Maine’s state park system and the home to Maine’s highest peak, Baxter Peak (or Katahdin).

Map of Baxter State Park showing Lake Matagamon and the East Branch of the Penobscot River

For Mike and Josh, Lake Matagamon was there stop moving by foot and switched over to paddle.  They pulled their packrafts and drysuits out of their Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs and hit the water.  From there they followed the East Branch of the Penobscot River approximately 47 miles to Medway, Maine.

The packrafts loaded on the riverside.
Gourmet breakfast at camp

Along the way Mike and Josh had their share of slack water — we heard some whining about aching shoulders when they returned.    But they also had their share of excitement.

To see the video, follow this link: 

Hendrik Morkel Interviews Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Mike St. Pierre . . . Again!

A pair of interviews by Hiking in Finland’s Hendrik Morkel.

Hendrik Morkel was one of the early hiking and outdoor-focused bloggers to pick up on Hyperlite Mountain Gear.  Hendrik first interviewed founder and CEO Mike St. Pierre in the summer of 2010, when Hyperlite Mountain Gear was truly in its earliest stage of development.  He’s followed Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s progress since then and has helped them develop and test some of its its products as one of Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s team of Ambassadors.  Now, two years after his initial interview, Hendrik has interviewed Mike St. Pierre again.  These two interviews give a great look at how Hyperlite Mountain Gear has grown from an idea into a product and now into company that is on the leading edge of ultralight outdoor technology.

The initial interview:  Summer 2010

The new interview:  Summer 2012

A little more on Hendrik, who one of the most prolific and trusted bloggers covering hiking with a focus on light and ultralight gear and techniques:  Hendrik is a Wilderness Guide and author based in Finland. An ultralight backpacking evangelist, he doesn’t limit himself to backpacking alone, but likes to mix it up and uses his UL skills and gear for various activities, from bikepacking and packrafting over climbing to skiing and ice-climbing. He likes to build communities and get like-minded people together, and is one of the founders of Nordic Lightpacking, a group of outdoor bloggers from Scandinavia; and is the mastermind behind the Ultralight Summit, a gathering of UL aficionados from across the globe. You can read more about his adventures at Hiking in Finland.  Thanks Hendrik for pushing the light hiking movement forward and helping to build our community.

Hendrik Morkel

Photo by ©hikesinatra aka creep | http://hikesinatra.blogspot.com

How much stuff can a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Pack stuff?

Max Neale, a Review Editor for Outdoor Gear Lab, shares how he uses Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Pack. 

I’ve been living traveling with and living out of Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Pack for the past six months. This started in late December when a gear swap with Hyperlite Mountain Gear Co-Founder Mike St. Pierre landed me four cuben fiber Stuff Packs. Two made of  CF 11 and two from the cuben fiber/ nylon blend. I gave one away as a gift and have been loaning the others out to friends, and using them myself… nearly everyday. Throughout this time, and in hopes of answering the “how much stuff can a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Pack stuff?” I’ve put the versatile devices to use for just about everything.

Gear explosion. Note the white Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Pack and Windrider pack.

While traveling in Turkey for two months I used a CF 11 Stuff Pack as a daypack and to store clothes and my sleeping bag. Since returning stateside I’ve been living out my car, and out of Stuff Packs. They serve as exceptionally good stuff sacks; one houses my street clothes for looking decent in public and the other, a portion of my technical outerwear. Though not the most economical storage vessel, Stuff Packs have several advantages over duffel bags and large compression sacks: 1) they’re completely waterproof and can be set down in dirt, on wet ground, and left outside without spoiling the bag’s contents; 2) their shape (a square with rounded edges) and moderate size allows them to pack efficiently in a vehicle; 3) without any zippers or straps they slide easily over other things like backpacks, duffels, and other Stuff Packs; 4) their rolltop closure is waterproof, pickpocket-proof (someone would have to cut the bag in order to steal something), and the buckle provides an easy way to attach the bag to things like trees (for hanging food); and 5) their straps allow them to be used as a backpack, which has an infinite number of applications.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear bags: Tote Bag, three Stuff Packs, and the Windrider backpack.

My most recent trip with the Stuff Pack was a bicycle tour down the California coast. A friend and I rode 450 some miles from San Francisco to Ventura (just north of Los Angeles). We approached the trip from the usual perspective: carry as little as possible, but instead of going fast, our goal was to go slow and see the as much of the coast as possible. Critically, all of my stuff fit inside a Stuff Pack.

How much stuff? Answer- I stuffed all of this stuff into one Stuff Pack:

  • Shelter: Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 (lightest self-supporting tent in the world)
  • Sleep: 2 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pads, Katabatic Gear Palisade quilt, Feathered Friends Rock Wren bag
  • Cook: MSR Micro Rocket, MSR Titan 2.3L pot, Snow Peak Ti Sporks, bottled olive oil, salt, pepper, Aqua Mira, 4L MSR Dromedary
  • Wear: Arcteryx Alpha FL hardshell, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer down jacket, Ibex Hooded Indie wool shirt, DeFeet Aireator socks, jeans, long sleeve button down.

This was my first bike tour. It was a blast!! Unlike extended trips in the mountains, you can go to a grocery store at the end of a long day, and biking is so much faster than walking. Here are some photos:

Departing San Francisco.
Big Sur Coast at the Bixby Bridge
Campsite at Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur. Note the Stuff Pack at right.
The Stuff Pack, with all of the items listed above, on the flight home from LA.

Six months after my initial gear swap the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Packs are still going strong. What I thought would be a good gift has turned into piece of gear I use almost everyday. Whether packing a large sleeping bag, storing food, clothing, or carrying gear on a bike trip, the Stuff Pack has turned into a go-to piece. It’s one of the most versatile items I own.