Spring Break Gear Test

Backpacking in March. This could get interesting.

Looking out my office window, I can’t say it is going to rain, but I also can’t say it isn’t. The sky looks ominous, but it may also simply remain ominous and overcast. We’re heading east of the Cascades, where the forecast looks to be drier, but in the PNW in March, forecasts are a relative thing. Both of us stir crazy to get out, Shel and I have been planning this quick overnighter for a while (I think she officially has the bug, GRIN), so we’re giving it a go regardless of what it looks like outside the window.

My loaded down with just-in-case shit backpack still only weighs in at a little over 26lbs, water included. Not perfect yet, but getting there, and a far cry from the 40+ lbs I was carrying when Andy and I first started backpacking a little over a decade ago. The dog is bouncing around the house as I wait for Shel to arrive, and I re-eyeball the dark sky from inside my cozy home. 

spoiler alert: it's not raining at the trailhead, but it's still pretty ominous looking out

I want to go backpacking in this, at 4000 feet? I must be insane.

Good thing I have insane friends. 
Badger Creek Wilderness, Oregon 03/25-03/26/2015
~9 miles, ~2150 elevation gain

This has been a very unusual winter for us, and one of our driest on record. The lack of precipitation and snow directly correlates with trails that are normally snowbound at this time of year being wide open. The flower bloom in the eastern gorge is early. So, time for a backpack.

Andy and I sold the Nemo Meta 2P this winter. Although it was a good, lightweight two person trekking pole tent, I was getting really tired of the condensation buildup issue common to single wall tents. Always a gear junkie, I’m trialing our new Brooks Range Tension 30, which has dropped a pound off of our old tent. And the space ratio for a tall guy like Andy is better too.

I’m slowly upgrading gear and dropping weight/ounces. The only gear still left over from my old school days (2004- shameful, I know) are my Marmot Sawtooth 15° bag and the bomb proof, field serviceable MSR Miniworks water filter. I haven’t found a bag yet with the warmth/weight/cost ratio of the Sawtooth, which has made it hard to upgrade (mostly because I’m not quite ready to jump into the $400+ range for a bag), and the filter has saved my tail a number of times with glacial flour streams. They are both, by far though, some of the heavier items in my pack.

When Shel showed up with Dave in tow, I found out everybody, not just me was trialing new gear. Shel had a new tent, stove and water filter. Dave, getting back into backpacking after a hiatus, was trialing almost everything new.

photography/trail shenanigans

I was glad this was going to be a short and sweet overnighter. Nothing like being forty miles into wilderness determining you hate your gear.

Passing thru Government Camp, we hit snow and rain. It was positively dismal. I really, really hoped the east side was drier or this was going to be a short trip.

The gamble paid off. While not exactly sunny and dry, it was only drizzling off and on. More than manageable. The new snow that hit Hood over the weekend appeared nonexistent here. Starting up the School Canyon trail toward Ball Point, we were initially bundled up against the gray skies, cool temps and wind, but quickly began shedding layers with the climb.  

Suspended between the end of winter and beginning of spring, the trail was newly green and is going to be a veritable flower explosion in the next month.

I’ve been as far as Ball Point before; beyond that, this entire trail was new to me. A continuation of my explorations in the Badger Creek Wilderness. We had initially wanted to backpack in the gorge, but forgot it was spring break….in our hunt for solitude, we ended up here. It was a good choice. We saw only one other person, as surprised to see us as us them, on our way out the second afternoon.

approaching the saddle, 3250' elevation, by Ball Point

It’s clear the trail doesn’t see much use or maintenance. We worked our way across, over and under several blow down in the burn zone around the north side of Ball Point. Temperatures dropped as we gained altitude, but we were sheltered from the wind as we entered cool, pine forest. Camp robber jays followed us along the trail, but remained strangely absent after we made camp. The pine forest gave way, finally, to an open meadow sprinkled with juniper, ponderosa and blooming manzanita, and littered with rock gardens.

burn zone: ponderosa detail

Shel, contemplating one of many blow downs

Pepper, trying to figure out why this is so hard for us humans

Dave led the way, entering cooler, pine forest

blooming manzanita

We made home for the night at the helispot, watching the sky gradually clear, taking in the world.

camp and clearing skies, evening chores

A long time hiker, solo traveler and camper, last year, Shel decided she was hooked by the backpacking bug and has been gradually hoarding/acquiring new gear all winter. Woman after my own heart.

new tents: the Brooks Range and the Big Agnes

still loving the GSI and Soto set up

That night is one of the coldest I have spent in the backcountry. I rarely fully zip up my bag, but this particular night I was very, very glad to have the down mummy in full mummy mode. Which meant the dog commandeered the toe box, and a fight for space and the sleeping pad ensued all night. Pepper still has a lot to learn about backpacking manners.

That said, it was really, really nice to wake up in the morning to a double wall tent. I’m kind of over the single wall condensation issue.

The following morning was stark contrast to the day before- sunny skies that, by 10:30, had us stripping to shorts and T-shirts for the hike out. In March. It’s a bizarre spring.

the open meadows near the helispot were full of great rock formations...

and twisted trees...

and more rock gardens

We backtracked from the helispot to the junction with the Little Badger Creek trail and began the plunge down the trail- steep. Toe-smashing steep. But short. At the junction of the two trails, we took some time to explore the creepy Kinzel mine and the remains of the old cabin, met our only fellow hiker of the trip and proceeded out on the Little Badger Creek trail.

the descent to Little Badger Creek was short, steep and quick

And what a lovely trail it is. Rambling and rolling through open, dry eastern forest, it was dotted here and there with wildflowers trying to break through, all the green of spring exploding. It was very peaceful, very quiet. Our trio hiked our own hike, occasionally coming together, but more strung out on the trail, the dog bouncing between us, deep in our own thoughts.

lovely Little Badger Creek

Definitely a lover of the alpine, I am challenging myself more to enjoy different types of backpacks. It’s no secret that the high country calls to me, but I found myself entirely enamored by this little trip. Short, sweet, pastoral, and quiet. Pretty perfect.

The new tent rocked too.


Jan W said...

Love the evening photos from the helispot, looks like a pretty hike.

Manda said...

Thank you, Jan! It was lovely, surprisingly so.

I have to say, very jealous that the Pasayten is in your backyard....