Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Gift of Nature

Genesis 1:1-2 Read it yourself

In the beginning God...

He was there before the beginning. In order for there to be a beginning God had to be there. Without God being there in the beginning the beginning would have never happened. Proponents of the Big Bang theory talk about how the universe was once compressed down to a point of singularity. Then it blew up into everything we can observe. They propose that you don't need God for this theory. What they overlook is that there was a singularity. If there was a singularity then there already was something created, which means it isn't the beginning.

... created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Here we have a beginning, we have heavens and earth, without form, without substance, without light. When I think of water I think of liquidity, I think of Brownian motion, I think of Chaos theory which attempts to create formulas to calculate outside of the boundaries of linear equations. Liquid is the densest form of matter. In the beginning we have God creating the heavens and the earth and they are formless, empty, and dark, perhaps not unlike the singularity described by the theorists.

The Spirit of God hovered. Above and separate from. The universe is not divine or part of God. God is not nature. Nature is not God. Nature is, as Saint Francis of Assisi said, our sister, not our mother. This is a significant point of differentiation of Christianity from modern, semi-pagan, secularism which places man as an usurper to the throne of Mother nature. The secularists would make man subservient to the needs of nature. Christianity defines mankind as a conservator, a steward. We ought to care for nature because that is the divine injunction given to man.

You will not find God in Nature, but you certainly can observe his handiwork. An artist takes media and provides his or her creativity and inspiration to produce something that expresses to others what the artist is experiencing within. Nature is Gods expression to us. A place where we live. The beauty of Nature is given to us as a gift. Beauty without a beholder is meaningless. Beauty expresses value and worth. Saint Francis, an artist with words, was moved by his observation of nature to write the Canticle of the Creatures in 1225

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
- Saint Francis of Assisi

Sunday, December 22, 2013

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

For many years I have used the same gear and have grown comfortable with how it works, its features, and its limitations. Not unlike other parts of my life, things grow comfortable, normal, and routine. My friend Al uses the phrase "culture settles fast" to describe group dynamics, but I find the phrase to be true in many areas of my life. I like routine and normal, I cultivate habits and practice routines, doing things the same way over and over until I no longer have to spend much mental energy doing things, I can focus on thinking about other things while living in routine.

One of the big downsides of living in routine is that you miss the NEW. You become blind to things outside of your own comfort zone. I think that was one of the things that frustrated Jesus in his interactions with the Pharisees. The had got so used to their religious routines that when something outside of their paradigm, like the Messiah they had been waiting for, showing up into their lives, they couldn't see or hear him.

I find it to be a healthy practice to periodically go back and question my assumptions and re-visit those decisions that I have previously made. With these thoughts in mind I began to research my shelter. For a number of years I have used a bivy sack and a tarp when I am soloing. The combined weight of my bivy sack and tarp is 15.3 ounces. This was significantly lighter than the 22.7 ounce two-person Henry Shires Tarp Tent (Squall) that I used if I was sharing a shelter.

There were four downsides to my shelter;
  1. It was more difficult to get into and out of, 
  2. The bug netting on my bivy sack is up-close and personal, like right in your face. The bug-free zone is quite small and confining. 
  3. The tarp works great but takes some practice to get it setup properly, especially in windy conditions. 
  4. This combination also requires a warmer sleeping bag in that there is quite a bit of air movement underneath the tarp and the bivy sack sits in contact with my sleeping bag, leaving no insulation value. When I used the two-person tarp tent I was amazed at how much warmer it is "inside" even though the only wall is gossamer-thin mosquito netting. It slowed the air movement considerably so I experienced a warmer temperature within the tarp tent than with a tarp alone.

Based on those downsides I wanted to find something that was 1) lighter than I have with my bivy / tarp combo, 2) would give me more bug-free zone, and 3) would be warmer. In October 2013 settled on the Zpacks Hexamid Solo Tent without the beak. The tent has a wrap-around bug net that goes underneath you and your gear and you put your groundsheet inside and on top.

This caused me to re-evaluate and weigh my current groundsheet which is an old piece of house wrap. It weighs a mere 5.2 ounces. Zpacks sells a Cuben fiber groundsheet the comes in at 2.7 ounces. Wow, If I bought the groundsheet I could save another 2.5 ounces.

I got my tent in November and set it up on my lawn. I found that it easily met all of the criteria I had set out to accomplish and at 12.8 ounces for both groundsheet and tent would save me about 7.7 ounces.

All was good until early December when I began the same re-evaluation of my sleeping bag. I have been using the same bag now for over ten years. I know it well, I have been pleased with it's performance and it's still clean and in excellent condition. I have a Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 bag which weighs a mere 23 ounces. Way less than most bags you'll find at REI. In my research I came across's Ultralight sleeping bag review. I saw that ZPacks's 20 degree bag was rated as the warmest bag for it's weight.

Not only was it the warmest for it's weight, it weighs less than the bag I have now. I began thinking, this is a twenty degree bag, I have a thirty-two degree bag. I recalled that when I had originally bought my bag I went from a zero degree bag to a thirty-two degree bag. I recalled the fear I had of freezing to death in the mountains because my bag wouldn't be warm enough. In the many, many cold nights in the mountains since then there have only been a few times where my bag wasn't warm enough. One time I was cold enough that I pulled out my emergency "space" blanket, tucked it under the side of my bag, and draped it over the top of me. I found that I was instantly warm.

Since then I have added a 3.8 ounce Cocoon mummy liner to my sleep setup. My purpose was to provide a barrier between my typically filthy body and my difficult to wash sleeping bag. I found that not only did my sleeping bag stay cleaner, but I gained a few degrees of warmth to my sleep system.

With the mummy liner, the warmth of a tent, and the insurance of my "space" blanket, I feel I no longer need a thirty-two degree bag. So the idea of a twenty-two degree bag, even though lighter, didn't make sense to me. I found that ZPacks makes a 40 degree bag that would be much more along the lines of what I need. Not only is it lighter than the 20 degree bag, It is almost 11 ounces lighter than my bag.

Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I found myself falling into more and more weight savings with every turn. I started with questioning my shelter and now I am questioning my bag. Where will the madness end?

Well, not yet because as I looked at this new bag I found that it had continuous baffles, meaning I could shift all of the down to one side of the bag. The point is that down is not that great of an insulator if your are crushing it underneath your body weight. I have known this for years and because of this switched from a Therm-A-Rest inflatable mattress to a Z-Rest closed-cell foam mattress. The r-value (insulation value of the Z-Rest is 2.6 which was much better than the inflatable one I had. Well, wouldn't you know it, those clever folk at Therm-A-Rest have come up with a new NeoAir XLite mattress that is lighter than my ZRest and has a higher r-value to boot. I could increase the warmth and comfort of my sleeping pad and save 2.4 ounces at the same time.

So, I decided to get the 40 degree bag. While visiting ZPacks website I found that they had just introduced a new tent. This tent has a sown-in floor of Cuben fiber and a killer design with a door that closes down to provide bomber rain protection. After lying in the Hexamid I had purchased without the beak I could easily see that the suggestions on the website of shifting positions under the tape during the rain would be given and that even though the tent is well ventilated it would provide minimal warmth because the front was so open. So even though the Solplex is a little heavier, the better rain protection and warmth it will provide is more than worth it. I emailed Zpacks about the tent I already had and the one that I would rather have and they were happy to exchange it. What a great company.

So now I will have a tent with a sown in floor. I began thinking how dirty tent floors get when you set them directly on the ground. So I went back to researching groundsheets and discovered that something called cross linked polyolefin has become the bellwether lightweight material for groundsheets. Some have even used this material to make a tarp! That is still outside my comfort level but I was intrigued about using it for a groundsheet. I went to my local Home Depot and didn't find the window insulation kit that the guys on the forum were talking about. I then went to Lowes and success! I was able to pickup a Frost King V75 window kit with a 62" X 210" piece of cross linked polyolefin in it. I cut it in half both ways and now I have four 31" X 105" groundsheets. So now I have a groundsheet that weighs 1.4 ounces.

Here's a table showing the weights of each of gear item:

Before After
Sleeping bag 23.1 12.3
Shelter 15.3 14.6
Groundsheet 5.2 1.4
Sleeping Pad 10.4 8

54 36.3

17.7 ounces of weight cut from my base weight

It is funny to me that I have cut 17.7 ounces from my base weight by going through this process. I remember doing this the last time and was sure I had gotten my weight to the lightest I could get it. Now I have improved my warmth and, increased my bug-free zone, and reduced my base weight all at the same time. Normally the first two will always increase the last one.

This is just the most recent example of how challenging my assumptions has led me to a better place. In this case it means not having to carry around over a pound of extra weight that would be keeping me less warm and comfortable than I will now be.

Snowshoeing for newbies

I went snowshoeing yesterday for the first time in about forty years. Bayside Adventure Sports had a trip planned to Mt Judah and Donner Peak that I attended. What a great way to meet other people with a love for mountains! It was a lot of fun to be one of a group of people that shared a common interest and were going the same place together.
I took my brand-new bright yellow MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes and broke them in. The paint on the bottom edges is actually scratched and chipped! I think the tops are scratched too, especially in the front. I kept stepping on the front while taking a step. I learned that this is something you want to avoid doing unless you like planting your face into the snow.I definitely need more practice. I think perhaps walking more bow-legged like a cowboy might make the tripping less frequent. I wore my lightweight trail running shoes. I found that snowshoes and trail running shoes are a workable combination. I like the freedom I felt in my ankles not being rigidly strapped into a thick snow boot.

There wasn't much snow so the first part of our trip was a hike in somewhat snowy forest. I had my snowshoes strapped to my pack. I thought it looked pretty cool having them on my pack. They are supposedly 'ultralight' at roughly 2 pounds each. That is more weight than my tent and sleeping bag combined. Other than the weight, I really liked having them for traveling in the snow. It remains to be seen as to whether or not they make it on my JMT or PCT trips. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Planning for the John Muir Trail in 2014

The John Muir Trail starts in Yosemite Valley and ends at the top of Mt Whitney. I have only ever hiked about  ten miles of its two hundred eleven mile length. That hardly qualifies as a John Muir trail hike, so for all intents and purposes I haven't hike it, yet. I am thinking that this might be a fun trip this summer. It looks like I might not be the only one who thinks so as you have to make reservations in advance.

One of the challenges of this thru-hike is how to get to and from the ends of it. It's like a smaller version of the full PCT hike. I will include a resupply or two in the middle to experience that and I will be hiking in the opposite direction of most of the PCT hikers so perhaps I'll meet a few of them.

I am wondering if planning for a twenty-one miles-a-day pace might be too optimistic. It is all above eight-thousand feet with strenuous climbing up and down passes that are over ten thousand feet. Mount Whitney is over fourteen thousand feet. I figure it is only a plan, and I think it is a plan with an aggressive schedule. The worst case is that I end up hiking slower than I want to. It just seems to me that the middle of summer has around sixteen hours of daylight which seems like plenty of time to hike twenty-one miles. My plan calls for me to do the whole hike from Yosemite Valley to Whitney Portal in eleven days. Currently I have a single resupply planned for Vermillion Valley Resort with a short 'rest' day planned for that day.

What I don't know about is the snow conditions and the snow-melt conditions. According to those that have been there, the crossings of some of the creeks and passes can be quite challenging in the earlier part of the season. That being said, a later date is probably a safer bet than an earlier date. However the earlier date will allow me to experience a typical PCT thru-hiker's conditions. That is if any particular year could be considered 'typical'. I am leaning toward the earlier date as it seems that it'll be more challenging than the later. I am thinking and planning all of this now because the reservation process. I can reserve my permit one hundred and sixty eight days in advance which means January for a July trip and February for an August trip.

Logistics is another challenge. Since it's a thru-hike, when I finish I won't be anywhere near where I started. So how will I get to the starting trail-head and get home from the finish trail-head? I will have some shuttling to do unless someone were to drive me to and from the start and finish. I really don't anticipate having any volunteers to drive the four hours to my drop-off point and the six hours to my pick-up point. Even if my wife wanted to do that, I don't know if I want her to have to drive all that time, both trips being round-trips.

I think driving a vehicle to Lone Pine and then riding the buses to Yosemite Valley is what I am going to do. In order to hit the bus-stops at the right time I think I am going to over-night in Mammoth Lakes. I will end up in Yosemite Valley around noon, which means I probably want to arrive the day before I start hiking. I can stay in the hiker camp that first night for free. After I pickup my permit I might have a little time to do some sight-seeing in Yosemite Valley, which is an awesome place to see the sights. All-in-all this should turn out to be quite an adventure.