Saturday, May 16, 2015

ZPacks Hexamid Solplex tent review

I have used a ZPacks Hexamid Solplex tent for two thru hikes. It is my favorite tent... ever!
Room with a view
What do I want from a tent? A tent needs to be able to protect me from the elements. Cowboy camping may be great and if that's your thing, HYOH. For me though a tent is my chance to escape from the elements that are up close and personal whenever I am outdoors. I am not a back to nature nut, nor do I make any attempt to use only 'natural' fibers. In my opinion, man is as much a part of nature as a silkworm. If man can invent and produce a fiber then it is a natural fiber, even if it is man made. Cuben fiber is a fiber that is almost supernatural. In my opinion it is worth the money to buy it if you can afford it. 
Stay dry = stay warm
My old sil-nylon tent was great, but it always sags when the dew settles in it in the evening. It can stretch and be stretched. When I set up my Solplex it stays taut and doesn't sag. Cuben fiber doesn't stretch, is as waterproof as plastic, and is incredibly durable. I was skeptical that a fabric so light and fragile feeling could be so strong. I was sure that the wind was going to, at the very least, rip out the guy points. It did not.
What about wind driven rain? Like what happened this year on the Friday at ADZPCTKO? I got back from the first twenty mile leg of my hike in time to see the clouds of the squall approaching the campground across the valley. I oriented my tent so the back was facing the wind. (I have since found that my tent would rather take on the wind at an oblique angle, not square to the wind). Other than having to reset the back stake that pulled free once, I did not get wet. Even with the rain driving against the back of the tent. The design lets the air circulate freely through the tent, but water does not get to defy gravity and follow the air. 
Side entry in Desolation Wilderness
The integrated bathtub floor is high enough on all sides that you could be set up in a swamp and still be dry. The size is about thirty inches by one hundred inches which is enough room to fit all my stuff inside my tent. My only rule is that my shoes are never allowed inside, they stay right outside the door under the vestibule, where they stay dry, or at least don't get any wetter than they already are. With all my stuff inside I always know where, in a general sense, my stuff is... In my tent. 
A place for my stuff
The tent came with a loop up in the top corner by the tall pole. What it needed was another loop on the other side by the short pole. I set that request to Joe at Zpacks and he sent me a stick-on cuben fiber reinforced loop and said that from now on all to new Solplex's will come with the loop. What's so great about the loop? I have attached a line between the loops which gives me an indoor clothes line. Wash your socks and hang them above you and they'll be mostly dry by morning.
Guitar lake before summiting Mt Whitney
One of my favorite features of this tent is the side entry door. I can set up the tent with a left handed door or a right handed door. I get in on the side not the end. I can sit in the middle of the tent and it is high enough that my head is not bumping the top. Everything is I reach from the center of the tent. 
Palisade Lake, John Muir Trail
The tent doesn't need a ground cloth or footprint. But I like one to keep the bottom of the tent from getting dirty or muddy. I use a length of polyoleofin plastic, the kind that Lowes sells for insulating your sliding glass doors. This is a heatshrink product that I use as a ground cloth. The weight of a thirty inch by one hundred inch piece of this material is only one ounce. I have used the same piece on two thru hikes camping for more than thirty days on the same piece on rocks, mud, sand, loam, whatever and it is still working. A piece of Tyvek of the same dimensions would weigh in at six ounces.
Extra guylines to hold it down. I was surprised the tent didn't rip!
I have a shelter solution that I feel confident will protect me from the element that only weighs about one pound. My bivy sack and tarp was slightly lighter but I didn't  have the luxurious room that a tent affords, especially when you want to escape the rain or the mosquitoes.
I'd rather eat in my tent than in the rain. Try this in a bivy sack.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Day 13 : A Journey Ends - Big Bear City

Wednesday May 6, 2015
10 Miles Today
276 Total Miles
Last picture on the trail
It's official, I've left the trail. Big Bear City was always a possibility. In fact my plan was to take a Nero (Near zero) day here. I was going to stay over night at one of the  hiker friendly Inns and Hostels here and then head out on to the trail again tomorrow around noon. That's about when then weather is forecast to change, bringing wind, rain, and snow. Most of the hikers I've talked to are planning to weather over here in Big Bear. I would too except that the weather is supposed to clear on Saturday which is when I am already supposed to have walked the last seventy five miles. Ah well, that sometimes happens to 'The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men', at least according to Robert Frost.

I finished off the last five miles of the hike with a highlight. As I was sauntering off the steps to the end, a hiker came speeding up behind me. Zack, a hiker who started about a week before me has found his trail legs and was now pounding out miles in true thru-hiker style. I got sucked into his wake and drafted him out to the trail-head. During that time he and I chatted about all kinds of things, what I found at the end was a companion that I would have enjoyed spending more time with over the next few months. I hope to meet up with him again when he gets to Tahoe which is relatively close to home. Zack's blog can be found here. I look forward to reading about his journey north.

Thru hiking is as much a social event as it is a journey into stretching your boundaries. I learned that on the last day. Perhaps it was the self-imposed parameters with which I enclosed my plans. The tight schedule and large mileage early on did not provide me the opportunity nor incentive to socialize or to deviate from a schedule that demanded that I be at such and such mile by a certain time. Making a choice like diverting to a delightful place such as Idlywild something I didn't really consider. Or having the luxury to hang out with Zack and some of the other wonderful people that I met on the trail. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Day 12 : PCT Mile 256 Arrastre Trail Camp

Tuesday May 5, 2015
25 Miles Today
266 Total Miles

Last night during the commotion with the wind and all a guy came up to my tent and asked me my name, then he said, "Oh, you're the section hiker", perhaps it's because section hikers are so rare in these parts. It's possible that I am being overly sensitive but I detected a slight tone of condescension in his 'section hiker' remark. He said he was planning on camping in the next site. During this time the wind continued to buffet and howl. Like a skateboarder riding up and down the canyon walls the wind would zip past first in one direction. Then turn around and come whipping past from the opposite direction. 

In my 'bomb-proof' tent the wind was manageable enough to cook dinner. After dinner I went over to visit my new neighbor and found him laying on his tent. He said, "This is the fifth time I've set this tent up, the wind keeps blowing it over." I suggested that perhaps he needed bigger rocks. "I Have rocks", and he showed me the baseball sized rock that he was using to pound in stakes. As he lay on his tent he was perusing the instructions that came with it. "Perhaps for hints on setting up in the wind," I thought. I went and got a bowling ball sized rock and helped him place it over one of his stakes. He didn't seem overly enamored with a 'section-hiker' helping him so I left him to his own devices. 

As I sat in my tent planning tomorrow's (which is really today's) route, I heard a "Aarghh" of brief frustration. How else to become an expert but by experience. Some day he will be an expert at setting up a tent in the wind. 

I woke this morning to the trickling sound of water dancing from rock to rock down the canyon. It was so windy last night that it was impossible to hear. But with the silence of the morning it sounded delightful. It's one of my all time favorite sounds. As I lay there I noticed I could hear it a lot better from my left ear. I reach for my right ear and found the companion to the missing ear plug that escaped from my left ear during the night. It's been twice now on this trip that I've fallen asleep to howling winds to wake to silent still air.

A rare soggy trail

Mission Creek, I camped in the wind down there last night

Last view of Mt San Jacinto in the south

Wow, first time I've seen this.
I got up and thought about my new neighbor, how did he fair? I walked to his site and he wasn't there, nor was any of his stuff, no sign. "Gone with the wind," I thought, as I peed on his tent site.

Today's hike was a much different one from yesterday's. I climbed out of the desert in the forest. It was like walking into a cathedral. The tall trees like columns supporting a green canopy above my head to shield me from the desiccating rays of the burning sun.  Ponderosa pines, red cedars, Douglas and silver-tip firs all vied for attention from my tree starved, desert burned eyes. Oh the joys of experiencing anew the wonder of the forest. 

The entire day was spent above the desert, entering Big Bear country. I passed trail magic from Papa Smurf and Mountain Mama and a sofa and tool locker filled with goodies placed by the local hostel. Tonight's camp is at Arrastre Trail Camp, where a local Eagle Scout completed his eagle project making us a table to eat at. I am camped here with Silver, Diogenes, and Chillie Willie. It is they that bring tidings of changes in the weather forecast with rain, wind, and possibly snow forecast for the area covering the last seventy five miles. Hmmm... something to sleep on. FYI it's really cold here tonight.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Day 11 : PCT Mile 231 Mission Creek

Monday May 4, 2015
20 Miles Today
241 Total Miles

This many miles per day is beginning to wear me out. Desert miles, arid, dry, dusty, and rocky. Each deserty section I pass through in unique in some ways, but over all, the beauty doesn't take my breath away like the mountains do.
Ziggy and the Bear have a carpeted backyard!

Longest five miles on the PCT, the desert from the Snow Creek faucet to Ziggy and the Bear's

This gate keeps short posts out

Quail scurrying about
Have I mentioned the wind? No, wow, how could I have forgotten that? It is buffeting my tent from multiple directions. Tearing at it, clawing and shredding. This is some of the strongest gusts I have ever been in in a tent. I took pictures of my extra precautions on the guy points, we'll see if they hold up. I think that I am going to wear ear plugs tonight, the rattling is so loud it might be hard to sleep.
Wind-proof tent setup!

Three guylines from every guy point, each with a rock! My tent stayed up while other's collapsed!
It was windy last night at Ziggy and the Bear's. I thought that might have been because of their location, this location, is probably windier. If anything comes undone or snaps, I think I am just going to duck my head and wait for morning, If this tent comes apart half my stuff will be blown out into the desert. I am camped in a canyon along side of Mission creek. The elevation is high enough that it isn't as hot as the desert below.

Today I actually contemplated giving up the notion that I could hike the entire PCT. It was hot, I was tired and this is my ninth? Tenth? Twenty plus mile day. I am tired of hiking and especially tired of this wind. One of the things I grew up with every day in San Francisco was the wind. I loath it, it is the one thing that will drive me inside quicker than anything else. I detest being in it. So there's that too. 

My thoughts about hiking the entire thing... I miss being inside. I don't like having to cook every night. I was going to say I am sick of the food, but tonight I made 'Mamas spicy Italian soup' and it was really good. Even if I did have to eat it in the wind. I am rambling I know, but I don't know how to express the mixed thoughts that I am having about hiking right now. My low point came, and went, this afternoon. I had stupidly assumed that I had enough water, too lazy to check how many miles to the next water. Well I ran out five miles before the next water source. Mentally it is really hard for me. I start making compounding mistakes, such as since I can't drink I can't eat because eating makes me thirsty. When I don't eat my pace slows down and I start feeling drained and worn out. Each step is a painful plod up the trail, slower, and slower. 

When I reached the water source do I fill up? No again I made a stupid mistake. I knew that the trail crossed the stream twenty one times in six miles, why carry water? I can just stop and get more any time. Who wants to carry water? It's heavy. So I try that and my pace slows even more. I can't reach the water on my pack, I don't want it in my hand. Argghh! Finally the logical part of my brain overrode to goofy part. I stopped and filled up my two liter water bladder and began eating nuts and M&Ms drinking as much as I wanted. Finally back on track my pace picked up but the thoughts about hiking, or rather not hiking, didn't go away. I am thinking that I am due for a zero day.

The lazy dummy who didn't refill his water at Whitewater before he knew he was going to run out.

Weather at Big Bear?

This snake didn't rattle.

Right across the trail

As if to say, "Don't tread on me!"

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Day 10 : PCT Mile 211 - Ziggy and the Bear

Sunday May 3, 2015
32 Miles Today
221 Total Miles

Wow! Wow again! I got to Ziggy and the Bears ten minutes before lights out. Just enough time to take a cool shower. I was shivering and shaking when I finished but I feel clean. There are lots of hikers here but I don't recognize any of them. This was my record setting day, thirty two miles. The last three hiked in the dark. 

I started the day a little south of Saddle Junction up in the high country of Mt San Jacinto Wilderness. Rather than taking the alternate route to the top of the mountain I chose instead to stay on the PCT and traverse around the west side of the peak. The sun was racing around the mountain with me. The air cold and clear, I am looking forward to being back in the warmth of the desert. 

The map warned that the water I was crossing could be the last water for 20.4 miles. It was just a trickle, so I stopped and for only the second time this trip I used my water filter instead of my Aqua Mira drops. Water collected, I continued on around the corner and came to a medium sized stream of clear flowing water. Oh well, I already have water now. 

Fuller ridge trail takes you north from San Jacinto and begins to drop you down in elevation. The trail is supposed to go down but I believe the trail goes up almost as much as it goes down. When my mind is set on going down I want to go down, not up, every step back up means I'll need to take the step back down. It really started getting to me. Finally I got to the Fuller Ridge trailhead. I cooked a complete dinner and forced myself to eat it for lunch. I knew that I was going to need the calories for the long descent to the desert. 

I had no idea how long of a descent it would be. I would descend down the trail for hours and look down and it would appear that I hadn't descended any lower. Down, down, down, and still I was somewhere between the top and the bottom closer to the top. The hours passed and the five liters of water became four, then three, then two. Still down, switchback after switch back. My trekking poles clickity clicking off the rocks. 


Down some more...

More down...

I've been told that this is a Granite Spiny Lizard. Cool markings!
Do you see the rattlesnake? Yea, I didn't either... Look closely in the shadow to the left of the rock...
Suddenly there was a loud hissing sound right by my left ankle like a tire had sprung a leak. It made me jump about three feet straight up. The sound was so unlike the sounds of the last hours I didn't know what it was and it had startled me. As my mind tried to process the sound it occurred to me that it wasn't hissing, it was rattling, as in rattlesnake! Yikes! Less than six inches from my ankle. If it had wanted to bite me it could have. I am glad that it just chose to warn me rather than bite first. The adrenaline from that encounter powered me for a while. 
200 miles from the border
Down forever...
Yay! The faucet at the bottom!
Twilight in the desert

Helpful sign
The shadows were long when I finally made it to the faucet and the bottom of the hill. Tarzan the trail angel had left some bread, avocados, and mayonnaise. I wrapped my feet in my cool wet towel and made myself an avocado sandwich. Only five more miles to Ziggy and the Bear's place. I could see the water tank by their home right across the valley. As I walked the stuff breeze was warm and comfortable. Even though I was in the shadow of the mountain I wasn't cold. The twilight transitioned into night as the full moon rose in the east. I could see a thundercloud colored by the setting sun off in the northeast. As it got darker I could no longer see the sign posts and was left following the footsteps in the sand. I finally came to the underpass beneath Interstate 10. They looked like deep black holes in the dark. 

I stopped and removed my pack. I took the sunglasses off my head and pulled out my headlamp. As I looked up a dark figure stepped out of one of the black holes and walked down the trail in front of me passing into the bushes about twenty feet in front of me. He didn't say anything, nor did I. It was creepy. I strapped my headlamp on, shouldered my pack and moved into the blackness. The beam of my headlamp slicing through the dark as I worked my way beneath the thundering roadbed of the interstate. It was otherworldly and disorienting to be doing this in the pitch black after a long day. 

After reaching the other side I searched for trail markers or posts or some sort of hint as to where to go. I pulled out my map and it was useless without my glasses, so I pulled out my glasses too. The map said the trail goes straight out from the underpass. So I crossed the frontage road and stepped into the bushes, sure enough, the trail was here. It's probably obvious during the day but completely invisible in the dark. I turned off my headlamp and followed the trail by moonlight. My thought being that I am scarier to anything or person out here with my light off rather than with my light on. After another mile or so in the windy darkness I arrived at Ziggy and the Bear's place. Awesome awesome! Thirty two of the most challenging miles I have ever hiked.

Thousands of vertical feet descended today!