An assortment of takeaways from my Kings Canyon High Basin Route thru-hike earlier this month. They are mostly a reminder for me, but maybe they’ll have some value for you, too. If any prompt a question, leave a comment.
- Pack weight. Take a handheld digital scale to the trailhead for a final weigh-in of all gear, supplies, and food. This will be more accurate than estimating a starting pack weight based on spreadsheets for gear and food.
- Navigation. Using my smartphone + GaiaGPS as a backup to my detailed paper maps was exceptionally handy in few spots, notably when climbing to passes that were out of view such as Gardiner Pass and King Col. There were a few whiteouts too, but since I had done the route before I didn’t need the extra help. Read more about my navigation system.
- Pack liners. My pack was big at the start, and two 20-gallon trash compactor bags were necessary to adequately waterproof my belongings.
- Last-minute I decided to leave my puffy jacket in the car, partly because I already had three tops: a hiking shirt, bug shirt, and fleece half-zip. This worked fine, and it would have been okay even if had taken only two layers. On a solo trip, I am either hiking or in bed; on a group trip, a puffy is hugely beneficial for all of that “camping” time.
- If there is any chance of even light bug pressure, I must remember to treat my hiking shirt with Sawyer Permethrin Spray in order to avoid needing a separate bug shirt.
- In the Mountain West, wet is usually accompanied by cold. In such conditions, staying dry is ideal but unlikely. The second-best option is to keep the rain out but to become damp with trapped perspiration. It’s entirely unacceptable to have a rain jacket “wet through” and soak me with cold rain. Rain gear with very high hydrostatic head — which necessitates a trade-off with fabric breathability — will deliver this outcome. My 2-layer rain gear did not.
- In light of the weather forecast at the trailhead, which called for a few wet-ish days followed by nicer weather, my 300-weight fleece gloves made the cut but my 2-oz rain mitts did not. This was a dumb decision, since my hands are the first thing to go when I get cold and wet, as happened on Day 3. If I make this same calculation again, I’ll at least throw some non-latex medical gloves in my kit as a backup solution. At that point, however, I might as well just take the rain shells.
- The Quicklaces on both Salomon Synapse shoes frayed and were on the verge of breaking. This surprised me, since it had happened before in the sandy Southwest but never in the High Sierra. The solution was easy: isolate the frayed section with an overhand knot, and with a lighter burn off the frayed section and singe the loose ends.
- The stock Salomon insoles perform abysmally when wet. If there is any chance that they will get wet during a hike, replace them with something else. The OrthoLite open-cell foam absorbs and retains water; it loses its rigidity and “accordions” inside the shoe, especially in the toebox; and the adhesive used to laminate the layers together must be water-soluble, since the layers began separating.
- Versus my experience last year with a flat tarp on the Wind River High Route, I was much happier with my full-sided mid. The combination of a mid + water-resistant bivy works great for high routes in the West: solid storm protection when I need it, but otherwise I’m cowboy camping inside of a bug-proof enclosure that requires 1-2 minutes to set up and break down.
- The Sidewinder Ti-Tri + Zelph Modified StarLyte Stove + Evernew 900 ml Titanium Ultra-Light Pot is a slick setup. It’s ultralight, very stable, and super fuel-efficient, requiring no more than a half-ounce of alcohol fuel per 2.5 cups (600 ml) of boiling water. On group trips earlier this year I was frustrated by its slow boil times, but in a solo setting I found that I could get it going and then tend to other duties (e.g. setting up the shelter, looking at tomorrow’s maps) while my dinner cooked.
- So long as I sleep on thermally neutral ground (e.g. forest duff), a non-insulated sleeping pad like the Big Agnes Air Core — which is lighter and WAY less expensive than the insulated versions — is perfectly sufficient. My takeaway was the same in April in the Southwest, where common sleeping surfaces were dry sand and sun-warmed slickrock. Even though I’m 6 feet tall, the Small size is okay since I can insulate and cushion my lower legs with my framed backpack.
- No surprise, no bears in any of my camps. When you camp where no one else does, or few do, your campsite will not be party of their nightly rounds.
- When I prepared my dinners I pre-salted them with what I thought was a sufficient amount of salt, and I didn’t take extra salt. I should have — my dinners all needed more salt.
- My dinner entrees were on a 3-night rotation: Curry Couscous, Polenta + Peppers, and Pesto Noodles. Each requires olive oil, which I stored successfully in a 16-oz Platypus SoftBottle. Since marker too easily wears off the bottle, I used electrical tape to mark 2-night servings.
- With 20 oz of water, all of my dinners are soupy, which is the way I like. One advantage is that long before a boil I can add the ingredients without burning them to the bottom of the pot. The exception is Parmesan, which if added prematurely becomes a sticky mess. Two of my meals were packaged accordingly, but the Pesto Noodles was not — the noodles, sun-dried tomatoes, and spices should be bagged together, and the Parmesan on its own.
- For breakfast I had a 4-oz protein bar, which had staying power through 8-9 AM (after a 5-5:30 AM start). From that point on, I had budgeted five snacks of 3-4 oz each. For the first few days of the trip, I was happy with just four, leaving one leftover. By Day 4 or 5, I was eating all five. Late in the trip, I was happy to have six, though it was unnecessary. My caloric consumption was certainly not even to my caloric burn, but my body seemed to function okay even when hungry, i.e. no loss of energy level.
- Protein intake was probably inadequate. For prolonged exercise of moderate intensity, research suggests about 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. At 155 lbs, this puts me at 105 grams per day. I was probably getting 75 percent of that, which I think is part of the reason I wasn’t fully recovering at night.
- Camera. For the next 10-day trip, take 3 batteries and two 16 GB cards for your Canon S110.
- Communication. After using the Delorme inReach SE 2-3x per day for 10 days, the battery was at 70 percent.
- Foot care. Besides the Bonnie’s Balm, which I used almost nightly, I did not need anything out of my foot care kit, e.g. Leukoptape, Blist-o-Bans
- Repairs. None.
- Water purification. Water in the High Sierra is abundant and generally pure, especially in the low- or no-use areas that I was in. I carried Aquamira Drops and never considered using them. And I didn’t get sick. YMMV.
- For any itinerary up to 1-2 weeks depending on the location, loop hikes are the way to go — the travel logistics are incredibly EASY. Drive your car to the trailhead, park your car, hike, return to your car, go home. Don’t waste your precious vacation time hitchhiking or taking shuttles.
- There were ample backcountry permits at 3pm on a Tuesday at Road’s End, even for two of the most popular trailheads in the park — Bubbs Creek and Woods Creek.
- For High Sierra trips, I continue to use San Jose (SJC) instead of Fresno-Yosemite (FAT). There are more flights and less expensive flights between SJC and Denver. And normally I have enough points with Southwest Airlines to fly free.