Monday, May 25, 2015

JMT Training Hike and Gear Test 1: San Bernardino Peak

This weekend, I joined a group of 10 backpackers on a trip up San Bernardino Peak. I'll cut to the chase: I did not summit San Bernardino Peak. But I did haul 20 lbs of gear up to the Limber Pines campground and back down again. I'm plenty pleased with myself for that, considering that the totality of my training to date consisted of four hikes up Cowles Mountain (a quick three mile out and back) without carrying a pack. (At the trailhead, a member of my group said to me, "You didn't train?" I replied, "This IS the training.")

The entire hike up San Bernardino Peak is a 16 mi out and back with 4700 ft elevation gain. The plan was to hike up to the Limber Pines campground the first day, summit the second day, and hike out the third day. Limber Pines is at 9200 ft, and getting there meant carrying my gear for 5.9 mi up 3400 ft. By the time I got up there, I hurt. Bad.

It was a beautiful hike, and completely worth it. For the first several miles, we hiked through fog:

Western Wallflowers in the Fog
Western Wallflowers

Spider Web


Snow Plants
I got very happy when I saw this snow plant. I am truly back home in California now!

Western Wallflower
Western Wallflower

Black Oak Leaves
Black oak leaves



Black Oak
Black Oak



Wildflowers on the Trail

A Foggy Day on the Trail

A View Through the Fog

Around 7000 feet, the wildflowers and oaks petered out, and I was hiking among conifers. By this time, the rest of the group was well ahead of me, so I was completely alone. My biggest complaint about the trail is the lack of signage and milestones between the bottom and the top. I reached the one and only milestone - a junction with a sign - after about four miles of hiking and more than 2000 feet elevation gain. Out of shape as I am, it took hours to get there. Hours of walking up this damn mountain, beautiful as it was, with no idea how far I'd gone or how far I had left to go.

At last I emerged above the clouds, with a ways to go until the junction still. As you can see, I amused myself by taking pictures.




In this photo, you can see some scrubby manzanita in the foreground. The trail goes through quite a bit of that before reaching the junction.





And... at last, my sore ass arrived in Limber Pines campground, elevation ~9200 ft. I managed to get my tent up and then the real gear and food test began. Results?

  • Cheap canister stove from China: Fail. When you screw it on, it leaks fuel all over you.
  • MSR Miniworks Water filter: Fail. Stupid thing weighs a pound and after I lugged it up there, my group discovered it was filthy and clogged and had to be cleaned. I'll clean it and use it for short trips, but I plan to use AquaMira on the JMT. Someone in our group says that AquaMira often leaks in hikers' bags without them realizing it, so I'll try to be careful with it, and I'll bring some tabs as backup too.
  • Mary Janes Farm food: Success! It's expensive, but delicious. I'll eat it.
  • MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot: Success! Heavier than titanium, but I like it better.
  • Double walled stainless steel cup: Huge success. Keeps hot drinks hot for a long time.
  • Camp coffee filter: Fail. It worked fine, but my pre-ground coffee did not taste as good as the instant coffee the others in the group brought. I'm going to switch.

By the way, the view that night was spectacular:


Some members of my group, watching the sunset

The forecast was for freezing cold weather, and that was exactly what we got. But at least it did not rain - or snow. And there was water a mere quarter mile from camp, so that was nice. I got only four hours of sleep the night before the trip, so I went to bed early that night and slept like a baby. Kudos to my TarpTent Rainbow, NeoAir Xtherm sleeping pad, NEMO Rhapsody 15 sleeping bag, and Marmot Quasar Hoodie for keeping me warm.

Clouds Rolling In
A cloud rolling into camp the next morning.

The View from Camp
The view from the door of my tent.

I woke up the next morning with a nasty migraine. There was no way I was going up that mountain. It was less than two miles to the summit - but still. Not happening. In a moment of denial, I put my pack on and started up the mountain. My body immediately rebelled. Pain all over. I went back to camp and got in bed for a long nap. Even after my nap, my head hurt all day. It was not til after dark that I ventured up the mountain at all, and even then it was just to get water.

This morning, I got an early start down the mountain because I hike slowly. I started 30 minutes early, and got to the bottom 15 minutes ahead of the others. So I guess I don't hike that slowly. Not going down, at least.

Me, on the way down.

So pretty... and yet I am so eager to get down off this thing and use a flush toilet


The biggest treat of all came at the bottom: irises.





After I got home, I made two purchases. A collapsible 11.5 liter bucket and a new stove. I went with the Snowpeak GigaPower Auto stove, because it has a piezo ignition. And hopefully doesn't leak fuel. The collapsible bucket weighs only a few ounces, and another member of our group brought one and shared it. It was fantastic. I'm never camping without one again.

My next purchases will be camp shoes, rain gear, and more Mary Janes Farm food.

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