Friday, August 12, 2011

Update from Rich Johnston, August 8

The JMT has been a beautiful and exciting trip so far. The scenery is fantastic, and I have a lot of pictures to share.

Chuck and I completed the first leg of the trip on 8/5. We covered 60 miles from Yosemite Village to Red's Meadow near Mammoth. We met my wife and family for a food resupply on Friday, 8/5. Our third member had a family emergency and will be joining us later.

The first 60 miles exacted a heavy toll on me and my equipment. I had (have!) pepperoni-sized blisters on on my heels and I broke one of my trekking poles. (On the positive side I've lost 14 pounds!) The most difficult part was getting over 11,000 foot Donohue Pass out of Tuolumne Meadows. We had to cross several snowfields. At one point my trekking pole got jammed in a rock and I fell into a snowfield. As I was struggling to get up my left leg plunged through the snow and got trapped so I had to dig myself out with my REI cup.

We took an extra day to get to Red's Meadow. Fortunately we often had text, email, and even voice communication during the first leg so we could coordinate with my family. In addition the Spot Communicator allowed us to provide updates to our plans when cell communication wasn't available.

We spent a couple of nights in Red's Meadow with my whole family. It was a great continuation of my 70th birthday celebrations. I decided that I needed to heal myself and my equipment before continuing, so I drove home with Wendie on Sunday. Chuck is continuing on to our next resupply point at Vermillion Lake. We encounter dozens of hikers going in both directions every day, so hiking solo isn't a problem. Christopher and I will hook up with him on Wednesday 8/10, and resume the hike on 8/12. I spent Monday exchanging boots and poles, buying additional items I need and getting advice on blisters. (Duct tape works wonders! )

Tuesday I will evaluate every item in my pack and discard those I can do without. I need to lighten my load for the remaining part of the JMT. We go over 12,000 and 13,000 foot passes before reaching the end of the JMT at the summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft). We now plan to walk out of Whitney Portal on 8/25.

I am much stronger now, and I will be carrying less weight for the remainder of the trip. However, the altitude does affect me. This next section (Vermillion Lake to Muir Trail Ranch) will allow me to see if I've adapted adequately to the altitude. I have two exit opportunities after Vermillion Lake if it turns out that I can't do the whole JMT.

For me this has been a great adventure and I feel that I've already met my expectations. The rest of the trip will be the bonus.

Thanks for your support. I'll keep those Spot messages coming.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dear Blog...

Dear Blog,

I have not forgotten you. No, I have only momentarily neglected you and for this I apologize profusely. You have longed for the embrace of a new post, this I realize - please understand that factors beyond my control have conspired against us and that I fully intend to make it up to you.

Yes - my quilt kicks ass.

No - the boots did not work.

Yes - I have been hiking more.

No - I'm still not ready for the JMT.

But of all of this I will fill you in on soon,


Friday, April 8, 2011

Gear Review Delays

So I'm sure all 3 of you who occasionally look at this blog are wracked with pain over the delay in my posting reviews of the gear I have been testing. Well, too bad.

I have been using the GoLite quilt quite a bit recently, but have also acquired a new sleeping pad - the Exped Synmat 7 UL, so I have been reserving my reviews of the Neo Air and quilt until I have had a chance to test the new system.

As for the CAMP wind shirt?It rocks, but I have not had adequate reason to put it through its paces.

I do not want to share 1/2 the story you see.

However, last week Rich, Cali and I fought our way up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Hut and set up camp in less than ideal conditions. We survived the night and the following day Cali and I battled our way up some god forsaken chute to the summit. It was epic, and I plan to share it all with you soon. It was a great trip!

So long story short - reviews and trip reports are coming!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gear Review: TrekSta Evolution Mid GTX

Measured weight (size 10): 2 lb 2.5 oz

 Pic of the boots after a weekend in Bishop!

First impressions: Well made, very interesting footbed insert, maybe a little lacking in aggressive tread. Fit was as advertised, plenty of room up front with a very nice underfoot feel. The sculpted midsole was immediately noticeable and garnered favourable comments from co-workers and friends who tried on the boot, which felt more like a high end running shoe than a hiking boot.

First reservations: The heel counter on the left foot seemed to pinch the inside of my left heel, just forward of the Achilles tendon. Worries of blisters and hot spots came hard and fast. This may have happened during shipping and should be easily fixed if it turns out to be a problem. The tread pattern seemed a bit passive and the IceLock portions appeared to be less than durable, the rubber being very soft. 

  View of the tread - the stripy bits are the IceLock which seemed to work fine!

First Impression Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First Testing:
Oak Crest Institute of Science
Pasadena, CA
Elevation aprox. 800 feet
Temperature - 72° F

Worn around the lab for 3 days, the boots performed marvelously! I have notoriously sweaty, hot feet so my decision to go with a GoreTex boot had me worried. While these boots were obviously warmer than my regular Keen Arroyo sandals, the Gore Extended Comfort waterproof membrane lived up to the hype. After having other proprietary ‘waterproof’ barriers fail on me, I have become a steadfast convert regarding all things GoreTex in recent months, but having my feet wrapped in it always put me off.

Seems my fears were unfounded – yes, the boots were no where near as ventilated as sandals, but my feet have been hotter in running shoes made with nothing more than mesh in the same conditions!
 The innovative insert which I like very much indeed!

The very unique footbed insert was another thing that gave me pause at first. I have used stabilizing footbeds in the past (Superfeet, Sole, etc.) but never found them comfortable. The TrekSta insert uses two different densities of foam to help cushion the metatarsal and calcaneus (aka the ball of your foot and your heel) but also incorporates a semi flexible arch. The combination of insert and contoured midsole seem to be a winning combination. Cushion and control – the Holy Grail of footwear!

Second Testing:
Buttermilk Country & Volcanic Tableland
Bishop, CA
Elevation: Aprox 4100 – 4700 feet
Temperature Range: 30° - 70° F           

Used as an approach shoe for a 3 day bouldering trip, the TrekSta Evolution GTX boot was the only footwear other than rock shoes I brought along for the trip. Conditions at night, while I was awake and mobile, were flirting with the 30’s and during the day they ranged from the 40’s in snow covered Buttermilk Country to the 70’s at the Sad Boulders. Not once were my feet uncomfortable.

But what about the heel counter and traction that worried me only a couple of days prior? Neither one turned out to be an issue. The boots performed admirably on the hike through 4 inches of snow up the hill to the Iron Man Traverse, and equally as well up the ¼ mile sandy trail leading to the Happy Boulders the next day. Traction was never an issue – something other shoes I’ve used in these conditions cannot claim. The heel counter, which still feels weird every time I put the boots on, simply was not an issue. Not to mention how well the boots worked while scrambling or even climbing easy 5th class boulder problems.

For the climbers who might be reading this: Could they edge better? Sure. But the Evolution is decidedly not an approach shoe. Did they smear well? Absolutely! How about that heel hook? Yes, I tried this too, just to see how it would work – very well it turns out!

Rating after testing: 4 out of 5 stars 

Why? Only get 4 of 5 stars because I have yet to test them with a full pack. Because I have yet to test them on a hike of any notable distance. Because I have yet to convince myself the heel counter will not be an issue.

Overall I am very impressed by this relatively new footwear manufacturer, and indeed impressed by their entry into a type of footwear I have long maligned – light hikers. Working in the industry, fitting countless people into inferior boots I knew they were buying because they were inexpensive and looked ‘cool’, I developed a distaste for the light hiker. Why not simply go for sandals or trail runners if all you will be doing is hiking Grifith Park? If you think crampons might be needed, get some good alpine boots!

Right or wrong, my opinion has changed for the better thanks to TrekSta. If the boots will hold up to a JMT thru-hike is yet to be seen, but I have a feeling these boots will be my go-to footwear for training hikes leading up to it. 

I will post more information on the boots as I use them - I expect very good things from them!

NOTE: TrekSta USA very graciously offered these boots to me at a discount rate. The opinions expressed above have in no way been affected by this. If the boots were crap, I would say so - they simply are anything but!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reviews and stuff...

The GoLite Ultra 20, CAMP Magic windshirt and Neo Air reviews are in the works, but I wanted to say that I have just ordered a pair of TrekSta Evolution Mid GTX boots this evening. I have high hopes for these and will update accordingly after I have a chance to put them through their paces.

A couple of years ago I heard about this company who took thousands of scans of regular peoples feet to make a specialized last that they would use to make shoes with. This tale stuck with me, but unfortunately the company name did not. Lo and behold, as I was researching footwear to use on The Mild Bunch JMT hike I came across TrekSta and suddenly everything made sense. The NestFIT system, cool styling and earnest marketing came back to me all at once. This was the company I had forgotten about.

I look forward to beating the heck out of these boots and letting you all know how they work for me!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Off we go into the....

Gear Geek. Ounce Counter. Knee Weenie.

Call it what you want, but when the name calling is over, I’m just plain lazy and don’t want to carry 40+ pounds on my back for 200 miles! 

Add to my propensity for lolling about a bad back, sore right hip and predilection for cool stuff (ok – maybe in my case Gear Geek is applicable too!) you have all the right ingredients to make an Aspiring Ultralight (UL) Backpacker.
And I’m not alone – just do a Google search for Ultralight Backpacking and you get over 233,000 hits. 

Among these are some fine sites for educating the traditional camping apostate, among them the King Of All Things UL and myriad imitators. Dig even deeper and you can find sites dedicated to  making your own UL food, gear and even footwear! One could spend endless hours perusing these sites, I assure you, and come out sounding like some sort of techno dork – but nothing compares to getting out there and actually doing it.

So after so many years of researching, looking into, investigating, dreaming and talking the talk, this former REI product trainer is putting his knowledge to use on the trail. 

And with this JMT thing coming up quick, not a moment too soon...

My plan for the JMT this summer is to carry no more than 30 pounds at any given time, including food and water. Of course if Rich decides that his 6 pound 300 mm telephoto lens is too heavy, I may be swayed to carry it for him… to the next mail box where it will be sent home to him with a note saying “I told you so!”

How will he do this, you ask? 

I’m in the process of changing up my kit from top to bottom favoring UL gear that I hope will see me safely through the Sierra come summer.  This past weekend I had the pleasure of testing some of these changes out on the trail with Cali at a lovely place called Idlehour in the San Gabriel’s above Altadena. 

Cali in camp at Idlehour - a wonderful spot above Altadena!

OK – deep breath everyone, here comes the data...
Some of the highlights of what has made my pack easier to bear:
  • Go Lite Ultra 20 quilt – 27 oz (Review to follow)
  • Thermarest Neo Air Regular – 14 oz (Review to follow)
  • CAMP Magic windshirt – 4.3 oz (Review to follow)
  • First Ascent Downlight Sweater – 12.5 oz (Review to follow)
  • First Aid kit – 3 oz
Now, not that you are at all interested, but these 5 changes lightened my load by 2.5 pounds when compared to my previous gear! There’s a complete list of gear carried HERE if you’re so inclined. (And no Rich, I have not figured out how to make Excel convert Ounces to Pounds using the conversion formula, though would love to!)

Two and a half pounds. Wow! 

But it’s only 2.5 pounds you say… yes, but the tent I will carry on the JMT weighs 1/3rd of what I carried on this trip – yes, 1/3rd! It’s called The One by Gossmaer Gear and it will save me a MINIMUM of 4 pounds compared to the options I already own. The pack I would like to carry weighs a full 50% less than the Osprey I carried on this trip, another pack I may try out weighs an astounding 75% less! So you can see how it adds up…

Adding to my Skin Out weight (the amount of weight carried including clothes, shoes, etc.) will be affected by my choice of footwear. I plan to use trail runners for the hike, cutting that weight by two thirds... but more on that in a later post.


Very well – well enough to warrant a series of Gear Reviews that will be posted at a later date, starting with The Quilt.
 The Geek with his New Toys

That’s right, a quilt. But it’s not like that one hanging on the wall of Mom’s house, or draped across the chest at the foot of your bed. No, this quilt reduces the weight of a traditional sleeping bag by an appreciable amount, without sacrificing any notable amount of performance. In fact, for Rotisserie Sleepers like myself, it may increase performance!

Challenging accepted wisdom has been something I’ve always held dear and this new obsession seems to follow suit. 

Be gone heavy but well loved gear! Hello light of foot travel!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


For most of my adult life people around me have urged me to go into therapy. You climb rocks? You need therapy. You climb ice? You need therapy. You have this weird obsession with lightweight gear - maybe you should see a therapist. Gonna hike for how many miles???

Of course there are many other reasons I've been told I should seek therapy over - relationships, my penchant for good times where music is being performed, an unnatural attraction to dolphins.... wait - that was Troy McClure! I like dolphins, just not in that way - they make tuna fish taste better! Anyhow, everyone who has ever urged me to seek help will be pleased to know that I have taken the plunge.

Yes, I am officially in therapy.

My doctor is a striking young man in Glendale who has a very adept assistant who was able to tell where my problems were just by watching me bend over. Now I know what you're thinking... but it's not that cool.

No, I have long fought with lower back pain you see. I finally came to the decision that I should employ any means available to me to prevent a trip ending episode 100 miles from nowhere by seeking the help of a physical therapist. While they cannot tell me what is wrong, even after a bunch of x-rays of my back, they gave me exercises to help strengthen my core which will hopefully stave off any flare ups come July 28th.

My name is Christopher and I have back problems.

But that won't stop me!!!