Thursday, September 26, 2013

We finally caught up to 2008

Ryan circa 2008
Enchantments, WA

Dear friends, readers, curious onlookers and random googlers,

You can now find us on Facebook and Twitter!  Give us a Like or a Follow to see more photos of the mountains and to hear about updates, bug reports, etc. from hillmap.

We hear that these so called "social" media sites are really just places to have a chat, and we'd love to hear from you about fantastic trips you've taken, gear solutions you have figured out, and any questions, comments or concerns you have about this blog or the hillmap website.



Jen circa 2008
Enchantments, WA

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

From Stanley to Sunbeam, from Clayton to Challis....

Harvest moon rising over City of Rocks

This is an eclectic collection of photos, a bit jumbled and wonderful like the backseat (and trunk, and passenger foot well) of our car on our recent road trip through Idaho. We started on a mad dash for the City of Rocks, and then, when camp sites were all reserved on the weekend, we made a detour that unexpectedly followed Yonder Mountain String Band's song, Idaho.

The Toyota Corolla, entirely more hardcore than it seems at first glance.

City of Rocks

First stop: City of Rocks, to take advantage of the perfect fall climbing temps. The undulating landscape of granite domes looked to me like an endless playground.  Two days was not enough time and we'll be back for more.

Ryan got his start climbing here on family vacations, and I can see why!  I don't think it is possible to visit this place and not at least wonder what it would be like to scale the walls and perch up high with the vultures.

Sawtooth Mountains & Red Fish lake

From the City of Rocks we drove North(ish) following the Salmon River from Stanley to Sunbeam where we stopped for awhile at Redfish Lake and hiked up a ridge to get a view of the craggy Sawtooth Mountains.  The renowned Elephants Perch was close enough to taste, but not to see.  Only 5 hours from home.  Then we headed from Clayton to Challis, through the rangeland palace with sage brush all around.

Along the Road

Views from the car were almost as good as the ones farther from the road.  I love a good road trip where there's always the possibility of discovering a new magic spot.  So very many here.

Wild cows of the West

Useful books for this area:

  • Idaho Atlas and Gazeteer - indispensable!  Good to know the locations of campgrounds as well as public land, especially in areas where a smartphone won't work.
  • City of Rocks, A Climber's Guide - Covers routes and areas that are classic, as well as new areas. Lacking some info that I like in guide books such as what size gear to bring (always interesting to climb 2/3 of a pitch and then find out that you really should have brought that number four cam on a route touted as a great hand crack.)
  • Idaho, a Climbing Guide: Climbs, Scrambles and Hikes - Wish we had brought this!  Alas, we left it at home when we thought we'd spend the entire trip at the City of Rocks.  Looks like a really good guide, covers the Sawtooth and other ranges.
  • Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Northwest - This is the land of hot springs flowing into the Salmon River.  The Forest Service/Visitor Center just South of Stanley also has flyers with some hot springs locations, as well as lots of maps and guidebooks for sale.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fall forWard

We ventured out to our good old standby on Saturday, Ward Mountain.  The clouds tumbled overhead all day amidst a delightfully blue and smoke free sky.

Fall is here up on the slopes, leaves that had not yet succumbed to desiccation are now inching toward red and yellow.

Everyone needs a spot they can head toward on a moments notice that's worth the effort - a hike, bike or run that needs no planning and makes you sweat a bit.

Ward has turned into that place for us: we've been up the trail enough times that we know route finding won't be an issue, and the views of the valley keep us going while the trail climbs and works our legs and lungs.

It's fun to see the small changes creep in on a familiar landscape. This was one of the first truly fall-like days we've had and, coincidently, we also skied on Ward on one of the fist spring-like days earlier this year.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Most Bite Valves ... Bite

Few pieces of gear can ruin a trip more quickly than the humble hydration pack bite valve. Everything is fine one moment and the next moment you and your gear are soaked and you have nothing to drink because the drink valve popped off.

Ok, who here has never climbed or bushwhacked into a clinging shrub?  This is when bite valves are most prone to being pulled off.

A good bite valve must meet four criteria:

  1. It must not leak! I  don't want to lose precious water or drench my pack. An on/off switch helps with this.
  2. It must stay attached to the hose, even when it gets caught on an errant branch or elbow.
  3. It must be easy to open and close so that a thirsty person can get a drink of water while hiking, climbing, skiing, etc. without too much of a hassle.  The ability to drink without stopping is what gives a hydration pack an edge over a water bottle.

I've tried a number of bite valves over the years and they've all come up short in one way or another.

The Hall of Bite

Camelback Ergo HydroLock

Camelbak Ergo HydroLock + Camelbak Big Bite Valve Blue
This one is the worst offender. Mine isn't pictured with either the bite valve or the on off switch as both bits went missing at inopportune times. Jen lost her on/off switch while on lead on a runout slab resulting in all of her water pouring out onto her climbing shoes.

MSR Hydration Kit

MSR Hydration Kit (similar to platypus)
I can't find a link for just the switch/valve from MSR but you shouldn't buy it anyways. It is basically an oversized hook. I managed to pull off the entire assembly tree skiing (good thing I was wearing a coat) and have lost just the bite valve at least once.  Jen still uses this valve and is happy with it claiming it has only popped off once for her...she may be better at avoiding trees.

DaKine Replacement Bite Valve

DaKine Replacement Bite Valve (also sold by fox)
I thought this might be the perfect valve. The compact valve and 45 degree angle don't tend to get caught on things. Unfortunately the "twist to turn on/off" valve is difficult to manipulate to start with and becomes near impossible over time. With even a bit of sunscreen and sweat on my hands I can't manage to turn mine on or off using both hands and have to bite down on it as hard as I can to turn it. Worse, if you leave it in the on position it drips like crazy.

Osprey Magnetic Bite Valve

Osprey Magnetic Bite Valve
This is my new favorite and hasn't failed yet, though it has only been a few trips. It is a bit bulky but is easy to turn on and off with one hand and is less of a "hook" when in the off position than the MSR valve. I thought the magnetic thing was a gimmick but it actually works fairly well to keep the bite valve out of the way while hiking, though the valve is available in a non magnetic version too.

Unfortunately the soft rubber "bite" part of this valve got bitten through rather quickly in the first week of use. I'm still using it but the search continues.

The Hardcore Sippy Bottle... A Better Option?

Jen's RaidLight Bottle can be seen on her shoulder strap in this pic, I've slipped mine into my coat to melt the drink tube.

Many ski mountaineers and ultra runners have started to use bike style bottles mounted on their shoulder straps. RaidLight Makes a bottle and holder with a straw and bite valve for this. Camp makes something similar. These bottles don't carry the same amount of water as a bladder but we've found that they can be less likely to freeze up and easier to clear of ice (slip the whole thing inside your coat). I've been experimenting with a RaidLight or standard bike bottle in a CamelBak 0.75 Liter Insulated Bottle Carrier and found it to be a good option for winter though I still prefer a bladder in summer.

I've probably missed a good option or two so let me know in the comments if you have a favorite not seen here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Seattle-like 30% and Glen Lake Peak

A few years ago the University of Washington conducted a study to see if students understood a weather forecast. They found that given a weather prediction of 20% chance rain and a rain icon, students said that they'd carry an umbrella or jacket with them.  They thought that a 20% chance of rain meant that it would rain for 20% of the day.

The researchers were a bit surprised at this seemingly erroneous interpretation, but I was not.  When you live in Western Washington, a 20% chance of rain really does mean that it will rain for about 20% of the day, not that 2 out of 10 days with the same atmospheric conditions will produce rain (the "correct" interpretation).  A smart person will carry rain gear.

A momentary break in the dense cloud cover

Since moving to Montana I have had to readjust my response to the weather forecast where a 20% chance of rain really does mean that it's much more likely to be a totally dry day.  No more calling off a climbing trip when the forecast hits 30% chance of rain!

This week has been a different story.

The week leading up to Sunday called for low chance of rain every day, and every day it rained for a bit.  Sunday was the lowest probability and we planned to hike up Glen Lake Peak.

The View up Sweathouse Canyon

The day dawned cloudy, but we packed up and headed out.  Drops of rain hit the windshield as we neared the trailhead.

The sky cleared a bit as we started up the first pass, hiking through an area that burned in 2006.

We ate lunch amid a smattering of rain drops by Glen Lake, wishing we had worn long pants.

Then the sky opened up for a bit of a downpour and small hail on our way up to the next two lakes.

Ryan's comment: "Glad I wore my swim suit." (Turns out that board shorts make excellent hiking shorts).

Yes, it rained for about 30% of the day.  A Seattle-like forecast.

Even so, the scenery was beautiful, what we could see of it between the clouds and fog.

Ryan at the top of Glen Lake Peak

Click here to see our gpx tracks and map.  Route finding was not difficult, though the trail disappeared for a little bit after the third lake.  If you're going to drive all the way up to the Glen Lake trailhead, it is well worth the effort to see the second two lakes and head up to the peak.  There is a side trail that bypasses Glen Lake if you want to make a loop - easier to find on the way back between the 2nd and 3rd lake than on the way out.

South Heavenly Twin from the side trail

Friday, September 6, 2013

Sleep sound & Save your lungs: Sleeping pad inflation systems

The Thermarest Air Tap Pump valve

Huffing and puffing into an air mat is one of my less favorite parts of camping, but I wouldn't trade the lightweight comfort and warmth for any other option.  Many people feel like I do, and the camping pad companies have responded with a variety of solutions from battery powered fans to self inflating mattresses.

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core (top) and Exped Synmat 7 (bottom)

I have been sleeping on an Exped Synmat 7 for the last few years and absolutely love it.  This mat has two different options for lungless inflation.  My parents just purchased the excellent Big Agnes Insulated Air Core, and there are a couple different methods to inflate this pad.  Methods described below.  Both pads are air mats filled with primaloft, and are similar in their warmth and cushiness.  The Exped has a few more features.

The integrated pump and the Exped Synmat 7

The Synmat 7 is one of two models of air mat that Exped builds with an integrated hand pump. They just came out with an even lighter version, the Exped UL Synmat (but no integrated pump).  

The pump is a one-way inflation valve and foam pump located on the bottom of the mat.  The one way valve makes inflation less fussy as no air is lost between pumps.

The hand pump is not a fast inflation method, and feels a little bit like performing CPR as you push air into the pump with your hands.  It does warm me up on chilly nights, and I don't feel light headed (as I do after inflating an air mat with my breath).

Using the integrated pump

I much prefer the hand pump to blowing up a mattress, but I prefer the schnozzel.

The Schnozzel Pumpbag and the Exped Synmat 7

The Schnozzel Pumpbag is a diaphanous silnylon stuffsack with a valve on one end that is compatible with Exped air mats.  You need an adapter to make it compatible with mattresses with an integrated pump (like the Synmat 7), and it is not compatible with other air pads.

Ignore my expression, please!   Filling the schnozzel with air just requires you to open and close the bag.

Simply fill the bag with air by closing the top, and then squeeze the bag, pushing air into your sleeping pad.  This method is slightly faster than the hand pump for me, and only requires four or five bag fulls to inflate my mattress.

I am able to fill my camp pad until it is firm and no more air will enter through either the schnozzel or the integrated pump.  The pad will loose a little bit of volume due to cooling temperatures between the time I fill it and when I go to sleep, and it is easy to top it up before bed. However, because the pump is on the bottom of the mattress, it is difficult to top up in the middle of the night without waking my tent mate.

The schnozzel can also be used as a stuff sack, and as a pillow when filled with some air and the valve and top are sealed.

NeoAir Air Tap Pump and the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core

Pointy end of the air tap pump piercing through the garbage bag

The NeoAir Air Tap Pump (see photo at top of post) is a small two-part valve that is compatible with Thermarest, Big Agnes and other air mats with an air valve intended to blow into.  

You can attach the air tap pump to any air tight bag, I chose a garbage bag.  A large stuff sack would be more durable and stand up to the pressures of squeezing longer.  Either cut a small hole or stick the pointy end of the valve through one of the bag's bottom corners.  Thermarest also makes a pump bag with a reinforced hole for the air tap valve.

Turn the bag inside out and slide the rubber gasket over the pointy end of the valve, with the bag sandwiched between.  If you are using a stuff sack, you can get a better seal by gluing the valve and gasket to the bag.  The seal is fine without glue. 

Double check to make sure that the hole in the bag is free and clear, otherwise inflating the camp pad will be much slower.

Slide the gasket over the air mat's inflation valve and make sure that the valve is open.  Fill the bag with air, and then close the top by twisting or rolling and squeeze air into the mattress.

This kind of inflation valve on the camp pad is a two way valve, which makes your job a bit harder.  As soon as the air pressure inside the mattress is greater than the air pressure outside, it wants to deflate.  At this point I find that I really only need one about one large bag full to make the pad firm.  You can use the cap on the valve to shut off the air flow while you are refilling the bag.

The cap on the valve can be useful between refills when the bag is approaching fullness, however, it also wants to close itself while you are squeezing the bag to fill your mattress.  I solve this problem by gently pinching the cap with my thumb through the garbage bag while I am squeezing the bag to keep it from blowing shut.

The Air Tap Pump system will mostly fill the camping mat, but I like a bit of a firmer pad and need to add a couple breaths to make my mattress as supportive as I like.

Other Lung-less inflation systems

  • Thermarest makes many self-inflating pads.  Just open the valve and wait while the pad inflates.  In my experience this works somewhat, but you really need to add a few breaths (or a bunch of breaths) for a firm mattress.  I have never slept on one of their thicker mattresses like the LuxuryMap or MondoKing, and this system may be more effective with a larger volume mattress than the thin Trail Lite pad I used.  I may also have been impatient and not waited long enough....
  • Thermarest also makes a NeoAir mini pump that is essentially a small fan that attaches to your mattresses inflation valve and fills up the pad.  Weighing in at only 2.3 ounces, it may be a good solution to eliminate work to inflate your mattress, even when backpacking.  The reviews I've read say that it works pretty darn well, but you still do need to add a couple breaths to achieve a firm mattress.
  • Big Agnes makes their own version of the schnozzel, the Pumphouse.  I'd love to give it a try and see to what extent it makes it easier to keep the pad from deflating.
  • The Instaflator is another option, similar to the schnozzel and Pumphouse.  The bag itself is very long, so it will take fewer bag fulls of air to inflate your pad. (Worth looking at, but just to be warned, when you click on the link loud music blares).

No fuss, no lung power

If you're looking for a sleeping pad that requires absolutely no lung power, the Exped with integrated pump is the best way to go.  The one way valve is designed to keep air pressure in the mattress during inflation without fuss. The schnozzel cuts down the time & work it takes to inflate the mat.

The two-way valves on the Big Agnes and the Thermarest are designed for at least partial inflation by mouth, and your mouth and tongue are efficient at stopping the backward flow of air between breaths.  This makes a pump system a bit more fussy.

If you don't mind adding a couple breaths to make your pad firm enough to sleep on without feeling every bump on the ground, then the Air Tap Pump, Instaflator and Pumphouse are really great, lightweight systems that will save your lungs quite a bit of effort.  In this case, find a good deal on a comfortable pad and you'll be happy.


Another benefit of inflating your air mattress without breath is that it introduces less moisture into your mattress. Your breath is full of moisture that can shorten the useful life of your air mattress.

Also, here's a fun graphic by Exped that helps you choose which camping pad is right for you.