I [MtnStuff’s Tyler Noonan] was invited to help at an event at the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale, WY the weekend before the Outdoor Retailer show. The event was to end on Sunday and I had to be in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. Rather than drive home and drive back, I thought I should take advantage of being in such a beautiful place and go backpacking. After much hunting for good trailheads and routes I settled on a loop from Elkhart Park, clockwise to Trapper Lake, Summit Lake and out the Titcomb Basin back to Elkhart Park.
The plan was to cover about 35 miles between 2P on Sunday and 12P on Tuesday. Given the distance and time constraint I knew I had to move fast, which was the perfect opportunity to try some new gear: Osprey is releasing the new Levity 45 next spring, aimed at carrying loads of 20-25 lbs. and weighing only about 1.75 lbs. Western Mountaineering is also going light for spring 2018, launching their new collection of quilts. I opted for the Nanolite, a 38 degree bag that weights 11 oz.
As I set out to complete the rest of my kit I wanted to be similarly ultralight minded, and after digging around my gear closet here’s what I came up with:
Outdoor Research Sequence L/S Zip Top
Outdoor Research Transcendent Down Sweater
Outdoor Research Transition Tights
Woolrich Superior Hiker ¾ Crew Merino Wool Socks
Woolrich Ten-Mile Quarter Wool Socks
Outdoor Research Echo Tee
Outdoor Research Activeice Ubertube
Outdoor Research Voodoo Shorts
Outdoor Research Radar Visor
Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket
Astral TR1 Junction
Suunto M-3 Compass
Leatherman Juice S2 Knife
Light My Fire Spork
Big Agnes Aircore Pad
Leki Micro-Vario Poles
Katadyn Hiker Pro Filter
Osprey Hydraulics LT 2.5L Reservoir
Western Mountaineering Nanolite
Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo
Osprey Levity 45
In addition to those bigger items I had a small map, a toiletry kit (trowel, toilet paper, sunscreen, insect repellant and hand sanitizer) and a small first aid kit. I carried my iPhone 7 as my camera and I wore a Garmin vivosmart HR+ as a watch and it tracked my mileage. I didn’t weight my pack with food and water, but it weighed 15.8 lbs. with everything else. I estimate that my total weight was about 24 lbs. – 5.5 lbs. of water, maybe 3 lbs. of food.
Packed and approaching my leave date I learned I didn’t have to work on Sunday and could leave at 9A instead of 2P. I was worrying about having enough time to cover all that distance, over rough terrain in such a short time – so an extra 5 hours was welcomed. On Saturday night I grabbed a stick of salami, trail mix (tropical trail mix with M&Ms added was perfect) and some single serving, just add water, Kraft mac-n-cheese for dinner. Sunday morning I loaded up on free hotel breakfast and headed toward Elkhart Park.
After parking, I worked my way toward Pine Creek Trail, which descends 1700 feet toward the head of Freemont Lake. After crossing Pine Creek it was clear there would be a good amount of snow up high, the confluence of Pine and Bridger Creeks just upstream from the bridge crossing were simply raging. On the other side of the bridge was a sign noting that the connecting trail up to Glimpse Lake Trail is unmaintained. No lies there, I had to negotiate a lot of downed trees, some of which were so concentrated I would loose the trail for a short time. Fortunately the old trail was still pretty visible and easy to pick out. The trail finally tops out after climbing the full 1700 feet back out of the Pine Creek drainage at Crows Nest Lookout near Glimpse Lake. From there I turned north towards Trapper Lake, where my original plan had my first camp.
When I reached Little Trapper Lake, it was only 2P, so I made lunch and decided I’d keep going to Summit Lake. I did something a bit different for lunch, an old long-trail hiker friend of mine once told me that some people eat their bigger meal for lunch and not dinner. The thought is that you aren’t racing daylight to cook and set up camp (especially difficult when you’re solo), and you need more calories during the day when you’re moving, so you should eat your bigger meal during the day. I have to say, it was nice to not do dishes in the dark. In bear country it was also nice to not have the scent of food prep and cleaning near my campsite. I also felt more energized than I normally do after lunch, which was nice with 8 miles ahead.
The trail to Summit Lake was over rolling terrain and it didn’t take long. After snapping some pictures I decided I’d keep going, since I didn’t have to make dinner I could go almost until dark. I took the Highline Trail up toward Elbow Lake. Up in the basin at about 10,800 ft. there was indeed a lot of snow. The high alpine environment, high snow pack, and copious amount of foot trails visible in the snow mean that I got lured away from the trail for a time. Looking around the basin I couldn’t see an exit that wasn’t up over a pass, which I new wasn’t right. I also knew the trail had to turn south, so I headed that direction until I saw a valley that looked promising. This thinking without consulting my map was a mistake. After a quarter mile or so I looked at my map and realized I needed to move east toward Elbow Lake and then north, where I would eventually move around a ridge and toward the south.
After correcting my direction I got to a nice camp spot, set up my tent, pumped some water, had some salami and trial mix and curled up for the night. Initially the quilt felt super cozy, but as the night wore on my feet got a little chilly. When I woke up in the morning I realized that the lake and small stream a few hundred feet from camp were frozen over, so it had been pretty cold and the bag is only rated to 38. Makes sense that I wasn’t as toasty as I thought I should be.
I retrieved my bear bag, packed up camp, and started out of the basin. Trail finding continued to be challenging in the snow, there were also several very cold stream crossings. But once I saw the exit from the valley it was pretty easy to choose my own adventure to get there. There were several miles of crossing increasingly warming snow, which made my non-waterproof shoes really wet. The wool socks helped keep me warm. When I stopped on the other side of the snow to pump some water I took off my shoes and socks, and pulled out the insoles to let everything dry on a warm rock. After pumping 2.5 liters of water and eating some trail mix the shoes and insoles were dry. I put on my extra pair of socks and kept on trucking.
Once I turned off the Highline Trail and onto the Seneca Lake Trail, I started to see many more hikers heading the other way. To this point I’d only seen 5 people since leaving the parking lot. I would pass dozens once on the Seneca Lake Trail. Again, I was moving faster than planned. I had thought camp would be at Hobbs or Barbara Lake, but I quickly realized I would make it all the way back to the car before dark.
At Little Seneca Lake I took a high route when the trail disappeared into the lake. On the other side several hikers were donning their water shoes to follow the trail under the cliff face through the lake. I guess it wasn’t too deep, but the high snow this winter had flooded the trial. There were several other lakeside trails that were flooded, but the others were easily passed by rock hopping.
The rest of way held few surprises. Though the number of mosquitos I encountered the last few miles shocked me, I hadn’t really been bothered the entire trip, but the muddy shady trail out was thick with those hungry buggers. The pack llama train was also something I’d never seen. A dozen or so people, each with their own llama made their way cheerfully past.
I’m always startled by how quickly my mind betrays me on the way out. I was fully prepared for a second night out, but the second I knew that I would make it back to the car, I kept thinking about ice cream bars and hamburgers. These thoughts encroached and embedded themselves on my will, and I became so frustrated that the parking lot wasn’t around that next corner. But, soon enough I emerged on the pavement. I swapped my hiking shoes for flips and made my way back to town.
I noticed that my shoulders were pretty sore. The fit on the pack the size medium sample I had should have fit my 19.5” torso, but a quick check told me the sample was too small. When I got to the Outdoor Retailer show I confirmed that the new samples (and production versions) are sized correctly. Other than a corrected fit, the pack was perfect. I never felt like I was carrying much of anything, and never missed the bells and whistles on heavier packs. I could get to everything easily and quickly, and I was able to organize my gear efficiently.
I’m very excited about lightening my own load on trips, and I’m very excited that our brands are leading the charge for the industry at large.
My final millage was a little over 35 miles. Car to car I was on trail for about 33 hours. 11 hours of that was spent sleeping or in camp. So about 22 hours of hiking means that I was only moving at about 1.5 miles an hour – a pretty moderate pace. Which means that if you hike all day you can go pretty darn far, and that’s made much easier with a lighter load.