Friday, November 30, 2012

The Nano Puff Pullover is so Good it Stinks

My Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover is wet. It smells awful....or maybe that is me. I was breaking trail uphill in nothing but a base layer. When I stopped I pulled it on and then put my DAS parka on over it. I kept the Nano on as I started down and the added warmth helped my base layer dry while I warmed back up, transferring all the moisture to it.

Tree skiing in the Nano

Worn over a soft shell for added warmth in wet snow in Mount Rainier National Park
Good thing it is so easy to wash.

Jen and I both have Nano Puff Pullovers and we bring them on most trips. In warmer conditions mine is often the only piece of insulation I use. I clip it on my harness for alpine climbs and throw it in a small pack for trail runs or bike rides in case I sprain an ankle or break a chain.

A perfect light insulating piece for summer backpacking
In the winter it is a key layering piece. It is cut boxy enough to fit over several layers yet is compressible enough to fit comfortably under a shell.

It has held up well in the year and a half I have had it and has only a few slight snags despite being worn for bushwhacking and tree skiing when I was too cold to take it off or move it under my shell.  I also wash it regularly which is something that is hard to do with a down piece. (I use a Granger Outerwear Care Kit which includes laundry soap and a DWR refresher to keep the Nano water resistant. Don't use standard detergent! It works by wicking water into the fabric and ruins DWR. Granger or McNett products work and smell much better than NikWax but are harder to find.)

The Nano puff isn't very breathable, and for sustained activity in the cold where you will be moving a lot of sweat, you are better off with a combination of thin fleece and/or soft shell (I like the Patagonia R1 Hoody and a windshirt or thin uninsulated soft shell like the discontinued Patagonia Ascensionist).

Worn on a cold morning in late summer
The Nano is perfect for stop and go activities. I keep mine on while climbing the first pitch on a chilly morning or when leap frogging down a slope on skis or skiing lift served laps. I'll often wear it after a rest break and stop briefly to peel it off before I get too warm.

Used like this or worn under a parka it can soak up the moisture from your base layer, leaving you dry and comfortable. (This doesn't work as well in humid Cascades conditions...bring an extra base layer for that). This winter in the colder dryer Rockies I plan on experimenting with the Nano as a sacrificial sweat absorbing layer under a thick down parka.

Jen breaking trail in her Nano
Several other companies make similar pieces that I haven't tried. The key features of the Nano Puff are the loose fit for layering, 60 g Primaloft One insulation (warmer per weight then primaloft eco or sport), light weight due to minimal features and the ability to stuff in its own pocket for clipping to a harness.

Patagonia made a similar pullover a few years ago called the "Puff Ball" which was discontinued in favor of heavier garments with full zippers and a more flattering, less versatile cut. Hopefully the same fte won't befall the Nano but if you want one you should pick one up soon. They frequently go on end of season clearance for around $100.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The reason for chair poses and lunges

One corner of Mount Rainier in the Spring
Our home may be in Montana, but the Cascades will remain in my imagination...adding a Spring ski trip to my calendar right now.  As Ryan says, "Who needs a chair lift when I can take my own high speed quads?"

Monday, November 26, 2012

Video: The First Tour of the Season

We broke out the skis for the first real tour of the season on Gash Point which is just across the valley from our new home in the Bitterroot. Watch the video in full screen HD with the sound on if you can.

It turned out quite picturesque thanks in no small part to the song "Snow" courtesy of my friend and old neighbor Brittain Ashford and her band, Prairie Empire. As Jen said "That isn't how the day felt but it is how I want to remember it."

Not shown: freezing fingers, ravenous hunger, numerous half buried logs, bushes and rocks, breakable sun crusts, gouged ski bases, and onerous bushwhacking and post-holing.

The snow at the top was fantastic and I can't imagine a better way to make the first few turns of the season.

Approximate route taken:

Detailed Conditions: Skinable from just above the upper trail head but thin cover and lots of logs and a variable sun crust down low. Variable and wind effected but very skiable higher up.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Remind Again me why We Left the Skis at Home?

...and the snowshoes in the car? Note bright orange vest tied to pack for the last weekend of hunting season. 
Our old stomping grounds in the cascades get this sublimely heavy wet snow...even a few inches can feel bottomless and keep your ski bases safe from the rocks beneath.

Our new home in Montana seems to get more of this unfamiliar light and fluffy stuff and our first few forays out on skis took their toll on our bases. People claim this makes for good skiing once there is enough of it but we decided to stick to boots for early season scouting and yesterday even left the snowshoes in the car.

Oh how wrong we were.

Still nothing like a good wallow to burn off turkey dinner. While, after hours of downed logs and deep snow trail breaking, our high point was not the summit we did get our first taste of a cool area. Viewing the gps track of our day in hillmap gives me some good ides for a better route staying on the north side of the creek:

CalTopoFs plus Hillmap Slope Analysis

(That screen shot is a peek at the next version of hillmap ... I'll post details soon but you can play with a preview at ... please report bugs.)

By the time we headed down the sun had warmed the snow enough to firm it up a bit and now it is snowing again so perhaps we will have better luck tomorrow.
Next time...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

In Montana Every Climber gets their own Drainage...

...or so a local told us. It is true that since moving here we can't seem to go for a short hike without discovering a new one of these:

Which are two miles up a valley with a good trail along the stream near the base and an alternate approach to the top via logging roads and trails:

While scouting ski touring spots (ie post holing through snow not deep enough to keep your ski bases off the rocks) we also stumbled upon a nice alpine lake surrounded by boulders that should be a fun summer destination: 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Create a ski trip map: Bitterroot ski traverse

Ski season is so close I can taste it, but until a couple more inches of snow sticks to the rocks, I’ll get my fill through ski trip reports from last season.   

If you ever might go backcountry skiing in Montana, check out Greg Seitz’s video of a trip he and friends Ian and Matt took traversing the backbone of the Bitterroot Mountains.  It’s an incredible twenty five minutes of powdery slopes, interspersed with glimpses into the “glamorous” reality of a multi-day ski trip.

This video makes me aspire to follow their tracks someday. 

The map in the video does a great job of showing the extent of the trip, but it doesn’t include a topo for others to follow.  I made my own topo map of a potential ski trip through the Bitterroots using tools so that I could see if the trip would be fun for me this year.  And to daydream about skiing.

The Bitterroot traverse in Greg’s video started at Lost Horse Canyon and ended after skiing Lolo Peak to Highway 12.  I find that the best tools for plotting a route in a new area are in the Data & Analysis tab: the slope analysis tool allows you to highlight slopes greater than the angle of your choice (for example, highlight slopes greater than 30 degrees), while the CalTopoSlope layer highlights slopes of pre-designated angles.  

I chose to use the CalTopoSlope layer for this project because it highlights slopes on the entire map, while the slope layers analyze one region at a time.  

I plotted a route from Lost Horse Canyon to Lolo Peak that looked like the best skiing for my abilities, sticking to slopes of less than 34 degrees when possible.  Also, I tried to avoid skiing on slopes that could turn out to be cliffs or are most likely to be avalanche prone, or under slopes that looked like they had a high probability of avalanches.  Avalanches are most common on slopes between 30 and 45 degrees.  On the CalTopoSlope layer, that means avoiding slopes highlighted in red or purple.

Picking an avalanche safe route is more complicated than staying off slopes of a certain steepness, however, knowing the topography of your trip is one important step in choosing your route.  

My route did include what looks like avalanche prone slopes, which means that I would attempt this trip when the snow layers had consolidated, and risk of slides decreases - probably in the Spring.  Greg’s trip was in mid-May.

Another important factor that I did not take into account in my route is bushwhacking.  I am new to the Bitterroots, and so I don’t know how much bushwhacking is entailed in traversing the valleys in snow.  

I can check for tree coverage by using the satellite layer in  I overlaid the satellite image on my route on the Data & Analysis page.  Below is a section of the route with the satellite overlay.

Looks like there will be sections of trees on this route.  

I’ll need to take a couple of scouting trips this winter to determine if treed sections of the map translate into epic bushwhacking or fun tree skiing, and adjust my route accordingly.

Here’s a link to my topo map for you to view, print and play with.  Make sure to zoom in to see route detail. You can change sections of the route on the Paths page at


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Cheapest Lightest Snow Saw?

Last winter was a weird backcountry ski season in the Cascades. Some of the weak layers in the snow got buried under thin but hard ice layers that were hard to cut through cleanly with a pole or ski. I started to feel the need for a snow saw mounted on a pole to do extended column tests when evaluating slopes for avalanche stability.

I have a great G3 Bonesawbut it is a bit heavy so I started to experiment with a 9" Reciprocating Saw Blade. I found that it could be mounted securely with no modification in the flicklock mechanism of a Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poleby clamping the blade in the slot part of the flicklock. Some blades even come with a plastic sheath.

BD has changed the flicklock mechanism for 2012 and I don't know if this will work with the latest poles but the old poles are still available on clearance lots of places.

I only figured this out in the spring so I need to do more field testing and would also like to see how well it works for emergency firewood gathering. If needed, I may strengthen the mount by fabricating something that bolts to the blade and is the diameter of the lower section of pole.