Hiking with a Six-Year-Old

Yesterday, AralBear and I made our way up into the Cascades to spend some time walking. This is not the first time we’ve done this, but he did amazingly well.

We ended up hiking Snow Lake Trail 1013 despite seeing the parking packed with about 30 cars; more than expected for a Friday, but most parties were small and spread out along the whole distance.

Trail Conditions

By and large, the trail is good repair. There are a number of locations on the climb up to the pass between Chair Peak and Snoqualmie Mountain where rock retaining work has eroded and soil, as well as trail surface, is being lost.  The far side of the pass, where the trail descends to Snow Lake has a good deal of snow pack left over the trail. It’s melting rapidly, but still, presents a technical obstacle for hikes especially on the descent.

Between Aral and I we picked up a good collection of trash. A great indication of how much love this trail sees during Independence Day celebrations. Add to this that we encountered no less than three parties of people playing music over a Bluetooth speaker and you get the general idea of how the first half of the hike worked out.

Things to Follow Up On

As you can imagine hiking with a very active and curious young boy represents some challenges. The good news is that AralBear is both excited for the adventure and happy to be out on the trail. That really helps me stay motivated. We ran into a small pile of challenges on this trip because I didn’t prepare enough.

Dry Socks

We ate lunch near one of the many streams that feed Snow Lake. The sun was out and there are a bunch of different perennials in bloom right now. This particular spot was jam packed with both. Despite the temperature, Aral wanted very much to test the waters. I let him.

At one point, while jumping from rock to rock, he dipped a shoe and sock into the water and came up soaked. Then later, after I had spread out his footwear to dry, in the sunshine he sat in the water. I brought myself dry socks (which I didn’t need), I neglected to pack a pair for him.

To follow up on this I’m going to need to acquire some more hiking capable socks for him. I know he’s going to use them.

Lightweight Sunscreen

Usually, I carry zinc oxide in a tidy and lightweight tube for sunscreen. However, these days I’m having difficulty keeping the stuff on for any length of time. So far I’ve burnt my shoulders twice this season. The stuff that works usually comes in a big ass can, which is both too big and heavy for me to ever want to add to my pack.

I’m going to need to examine my options here. This may require that I start buying/wearing long sleeves for more complete coverage?

Keeping Clean

AralBear schooled me yesterday. What I learned is that I am not prepared to keep a kid like him even remotely clean over any distance. At one point, on our way back to the car, we had this exchange.

“Dad, what’s all this brown stuff?”

I turned and looked over my shoulder to be sure. His chest was covered with rivulets of grimy trail dust. “That’s dirt.”

“Oh good, I thought it was poop.”

Part of this solution set is going to be teaching him good trail hygiene habits. Right now he’s just into everything regardless. But, until that time, I’ve got to add something my kit to aid me in cleaning him up.

Teaching Aral About Wilderness

Last and perhaps most important I need to work on passing on the value of wilderness to Aral. I’m uncertain if he really understood the world he walked into yesterday when he passed the obligatory boundary marker with me.

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WTA Hike-A-Thon 2017


It’s that time of year again. I can hear the high country calling. Don’t worry I’m not going to run the whole month away and rack up tons of miles. This year will be the first time Aral and I do this together, so we’ll be hiking at a reasonable pace with lots of time to stop and soak in the scenery.

This is the same project I was working on back in 2009 when I ran into a Pacific Crest Trail hiker that had fallen near Alaska Lake. The Hike-a-thon is a big deal to me because trails are and have been a major concern of mine since I was a kid. Back in 1987, I spent a summer volunteering with the Student Conservation Association working on a segment of the Colorado Trail and this changed me forever. Right now trails and public lands are under constant threat. Budgets that were little more than bone and gristle are being cut, fire season is upon us, and here in the Pacific North West trails had a hard winter.

“What is the Washington Trails Association,” you ask? WTA’s mission is to preserve, enhance, and promote hiking opportunities in Washington state through collaboration, education, advocacy and volunteer trail maintenance. Learn more about WTA by visiting their website. From my point of view, the WTA is the single most effective and efficient regional volunteer organization stewarding foot trails in my experience.

“What do I get out of this?” you remain curious. I’ll be coordinating our trail days through my Patreon page which means that all donations there get special access to trip reports, pictures, movies, and gear reviews. Plus I’m donating everything I make through Patreon to WTA in July and August. Finally, donations are 100% deductible. Even better, all donations of $50 or more include a year-long membership to WTA. Membership includes a subscription to Washington Trails magazine, a member decal and special access to events and discounts. So, regardless of how you support me and the WTA, there’s something in it for you.

If you can’t make a donation, help me reach my goal by sharing this page on Facebook and Twitter! Or, even better, send an e-mail to friends you think might be interested in contributing and include a link to the Hike-a-thon.

WTA Hike-A-Thon 2014

In 2009 I ran nearly every day during the month of August. I don’t recall the exact amount, but I know I raised nearly the most for Washington Trails Associations annual Hike-a-Thon. If I recall correctly, I came in second place. The following year, due to some soft tissue injuries and the pending birth of my second child I ran fewer miles, but with a matching gift from my employer we exceeded the fund raising efforts of the previous year.

Since we left Washington in 2011 I have been unable to locate a trails organization that does even a fraction of the good WTA does every year. These guys mean business, and considering the number of fallen trees and washed out water bars they have to contend with they had better be ready to step up. Personally, I have felt that loss. The years we spent in Colorado were marked by the decline of some of my favorite trails. Beautiful places neglected, or worse, good places used with neglect. That sort of thing happens. When it became apparent that we’d be moving back to the Pacific North West I got excited.

Now I get to work with excited, energized people who care about wild lands. So now our chance to rectify the intervening years. Click on the image above, let’s get this baby rolling. And remember, if you are lucky enough to be working for one of the many excellent employers in the Puget Sound you may have matching funds you can donate toward this cause.

Fast Trekking Packs

I’ve been spending a lot of time getting ready for one of the panels I’m on at DetCon1 next week and as a result I’ve been looking at many pictures of endurance races. Thus I’ve also been exposed to the great variety of new gear that is forever coming out. Anyone who has ever run a self-sufficient stage race or attempted to through hike a great distance knows that your pack is the foundation of your whole world. If you forget something, lose something, or break something while underway you will soon gain a deep and unrelenting understanding of the term SOL.

To make matters worse, for both of these endeavors, everything you take with has to fit into your ruck. You cannot strap an iron skillet to the outside of your pack. You’ll go insane before you pass 20 kilometers. Tidy, comfortable, well balanced, padded in all the right locations your pack has to move with you and it should feel like this piece of nylon is handing you the thing you need right when you need it.

Currently my kit does not do this. Even for extended day trips I can never reach what I need when I need it and my selection of packs seems optimized for a much slower and mode of travel.  The Pacific Crest is starting to open up and I really want to spend what little free time I have on the trail there, not fighting with my gear.

The idea of getting back out on the trail using a series of LT24Os is also something I’d like to make a reality. We’re coming up on August quickly and I’ve already volunteered to raise money for Washington Trails Association during the Hike-A-Thon. But this post isn’t about raising money for one of the best stay-at-home causes I can think of (although you should expect one soon). Rather it’s about considering options.

I have been, for some time, smitten with packs purpose designed for this kind of work. If someone were to ask me this morning, “Matt, if you could get any self-sufficient race pack on the market, which one would you chose?” I would have replied the WAA Ultrabag 20L MDS, don’t hold any of the fixin’s. I discovered soon after this conversation however, that a lot has changed since that black and orange wunderbag caught my eye as I watched the Marathon des Sables a year ago.

The problem at this point is not that there isn’t innovation being made here. It is that all the innovation that has taken place occurred in Europe. Mostly in France. Very little about these sports or this gear seems to make its way across The Pond. If you’ve watched even a little of the World Cup recently you may now agree that this is a shame. North Americans, and in particular citizens of The Good ‘Ol US of A, have largely ignored some of the most independent and free form racing sports ever invented.

Below I’ve begun to compile a list of packs that might fill the bill. As I’ve mentioned, this August I’ll be running trails a lot. My intent is to get out on the dirt most, if not every, day during the month. Some time down the road Nolan’s 14 still resides within my bucket list. And when I break out my Tour the Divide maps it’s not to plot a course for my bike (gratz again Jefe), but rather to plan out how to make this possible on foot (although that is looking increasingly like a bulki run).

I’m shooting for packs that carry a fair amount of water. Approach about 20 liters of carrying capacity. Aren’t too heavy. Aren’t horribly expensive. Are designed to ergonomically move with the wearer/runner. Look sorta cool. And packs that can carry my kit (which is tiny).

One more thing, water and balance are always problems for me. I usually prefer to carry more water than I think I’ll need because I always drink it. August in Washington State is dry. There are significant dry stretches along the Tour. You get the picture. Two handhelds, two shoulder stashed liters and at least two liters in the bag on the back is what I plan for on most occasions.

Balance? I prefer to have the option of a front pack for a variety of reasons. All my snacks and such are easily available. I get the forward leaning balance weight. I have a place to sew patches. I can “wear” electronics closer to my core. For some reason North American designers have overlooked this prime real estate opting instead to preserve that window of chest hair. Thus, bags that either come with or can accommodate a kangaroo pouch will get extra special attention.

If you’ve used any of these packs and want to pass along your kudos or frustrations I’d really appreciate your advice. Also, if there’s something missing from my list please feel free to clue me in.

Right now my top contenders are listed below. Their benefits and drawbacks are included.

WAA Ultrabag 20 MDS

2014 WAA UB 20l

2014 WAA UB 20l

Still number one my list is the French designed and manufactured WAA. It has an excellent reputation (from what I can translate) and is used not only on routes like the MdS, but can be found in in races like the Everest Ultra series and the Indo Asian. This pack has a front pack as well as bottle holders and can accommodate a sizable bladder on your back. The gear tie on straps (for things like the sleeping mat) are more than just a couple of elastic strings and because of the squared off main compartment the ability to strap additional gear such as a bivy or a sleeping sack to the top are now an option.

Chief disadvantages for this pack at this time are that it has to be shipped a very long way to make it into my hands. WAA sells these, and, per their web site, it appears that they’ll ship it to the US. But there’s no indication of how long it might take to get here. Also, it is expensive.

RaidLight OLMO PACK DESERT 20 + 4 L

olmo-desert-pack-20l-4

olmo-desert-pack-20l-4

Again, my skills of translation, may be failing me here, but this ruck system was for a long time known as the Raidlight uniform. Everyone was wearing it. Now in later versions it shares many of the same positive attributes found in the WAA. The kangaroo pouch is hung much lower (on the waist line) and while they’re rated the same size this one just looks bigger to me. It’s price is average compared to the others.

This pack is not squared and has mesh pockets instead of tie-on straps. It would be difficult to impossible to strap a z-foam mat to your back with the RaidLight. Again, French and only sold in Europe with potentially stupid wait times.

Osprey Rev 24

Osprey Rev 24

Osprey Rev 24

The Osprey has the most space out of this selection. It lacks gear tie-ons and instead uses elastic cords. Running with a sleeping mat bungied to the back would likely drive me insane. I might as well develop a speed habit. And it does not have a kangaroo pouch.

It does have some very likable attributes. Starting with the DigiFlip phone case that attaches to a shoulder strap. Another project I’m currently working on is forging the One Device. Seriously, I carry too many electronics and being able to get the functionality I require out of a single multi purpose device is where I’m headed. Being able to flip it open from its protective case while running? That’d be a huge point in its favor.

Also, it is important to note that this pack is both available in the US of A and priced very competitively.

Salomon Skin Pro 14+3

Salomon Skin Pro 14+3

Salomon Skin Pro 14+3

Front pack? Check. Balanced and form fitting? Check. Tested on long duration races? Check. Salomon get’s some high marks with this one, and right now, if you order online from them directly you’ll get 30% off the base pack. This makes them competitive on another plane.

The big down side to this set up is that it’s just so small. Fourteen liters is perfect if you’re fast and can run 100 miles in under 24 hours. This will get you there. That person isn’t me, hasn’t ever been.

So while it’s sexy, well manufactured and used by the best it may be that it’s also targeted at the best. Or at different sports.

Ultimate Direction PB ADVENTURE VEST 2.0

Ultimate Direction PB ADVENTURE VEST 2.0

Ultimate Direction PB ADVENTURE VEST 2.0

Part of UD’s signature series this is the second design iteration of Peter Bakwin model. This pack suffers from many of the same problems that the Salomon suffers from. It’s just too small. I’ve been using UD products for a long time (still have a collection of their first version rubber nipple water bottles) and so I know that they’re making quality goods.

If UD took this design opened up that back compartment to 20 liters and added an integrated kangaroo pouch they would immediately accomplish two things. First, they would fill a market gap in North America with a wonderful product. Second, they would add a new member to their growing signature series, the Ultimate Direction MT Self-Sustaining Vest 1.0.

Could I get mine in gray please?