Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Current, General Trail Routines

Introduction

My take on trail routines was inspired by this great book I am reading at the moment by Liz "Snorkel" Thomas, Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru Hike.  I thought it would be fun for me and perhaps useful and fun for others to see a rough sketch of what my routines are while I'm out wilderness backpacking, and this is the result.  In Liz's book, she gives her and other experienced thru-hiker's trail routines, and I found it both useful and interesting to compare them to my own.  

Now I am no thru-hiker (yet), but a humble section hiker, and Liz and her choice of experts are some of the most experienced backpackers you'll find on the entire planet.  While I do have a fair amount of experience under my belt over the last few decades of backpacking and outdoor life, it's but a shadow compared to other hardcore hikers like Liz.  They would maybe laugh at my daily personal goals when it comes to how far and long I hike, as they would likely have no problem hiking literally double of what I usually hike.  But the book gives me hope for my future life as a thru-hiker once I sort out some life complications that prevent me from getting out there more and for longer periods of time.

Anyhow, it's a great read so far (I'm about halfway through it), in case anyone reading this is looking for a good, non-fiction backpacking book to read.  Though this book is specifically for people who fully intend on going on (or who already have gone on) one or more thru hikes, not the casual backpacker, I would add.  And no, I didn't get a copy for free, nor do I know Liz at all--just an honest recommendation!  

Now on to some of my routines.  I will breakdown my most common trips, which are section hikes here in Scandinavia for 2-6 days.  These trips are usually on marked trails, but there are also the occasional off trail/bushwhacking trips I like to do as well.  The main difference is that I usually don't hike as far on off trail trips, as they are often to familiar stomping grounds where I want to relax and maybe read a book, pick more wild edibles, go for a longer swims, etc.  So I won't get into my off trail routines, which can vary greatly depending on my mood, weather, the season, etc.

I will cover two different types of routines based on season: summer and spring/fall (which are nearly the same routines).  I also won't get into all the logistics of catching trains and buses to get to and from the trail, but just focus on life on the trail itself.  These routines are also for when I am solo hiking.  Hiking with friends, things can be all over the place depending on the friend or group I am traveling with.  And finally, all times are just rough estimates, of course, and can change quite a bit when it comes to how much sunlight I have to work with given what month it is.

Summer

In the summer I am way more relaxed about time, as here in Scandinavia there is sunlight until around 10-11 at night during its peak.  My personal goal in this season is usually to hike around 30-35km a day.

6:00-6:30: Wake up to birds singing 9 times out of 10, turn on my phone (or turn off airplane mode) and check if I have an internet connection.  If I have internet, check the weather forecast, make sure there are no emergency or important text messages or emails, etc.  If no internet, put it on airplane mode put it down again.  Lay and reflect on my plan for the day.  

Sometimes I will go back to sleep for another 30-45 minutes or so if I had an especially demanding hike the day before, and skip messing with my phone and my plan reflections.  If there was a cold snap, then just before, during, and right after sunrise it's coldest, so this is when I will put on an extra layer (like a wind jacket) if needed and bundle up more in my sleeping bag/quilt before the sun warms things up.

7:00-7:30: Deflate my sleeping mat if I am using an inflatable, and get out of my sleeping bag.  If I am sleeping in a bivy, then get out of the bivy to change into my hiking clothing and get my shoes on.  If I am in a tent or net tent then I change inside.  Go and find a nice tree to pee on.  

If it's not raining, turn my sleeping bag or quilt inside out and hang or lay it someplace to air out.  Eat a granola bar and drink some water.  Read my map.  Go and find a nice spot to dig a hole and take a dump.  Wash my hands.  Pack up clothing, fold up my sleeping mat, wipe down any condensation with my small towel if needed, and then break down my shelter.  After everything is packed up and ready to be put into my backpack, then I will stuff my sleeping bag/quilt into its drybag last, and then fully pack up.  Put on my satchel, then my backpack, and walk around camp to make sure I didn't forget or drop anything.

If it's raining I will do all my packing under my tarp or in my tent and wait to air out my sleeping bag until later.  The last thing I will pack will be my shelter, after I have everything else ready to go.  If there was/is moderate to heavy rain I will strap my tarp or rain fly on top of my backpack as the last thing I pack, or if I am using a poncho/tarp I will just put that on last before I double check my campsite and move on.

7:30-8:00: Hit the trail for a very short hike, 2nd breakfast, and find water.  After double checking my map and making sure I am on track again, I will eat another granola bar and/or some dried fruit and nuts while I hike.  Drink more water, and I tend to drink a lot of water for breakfast, so if I am low on water I will look for a water source directly in front of me on the trail as I am hiking.  If no water is in sight, then check my map for the next potentially good water source.  

I favor water sources that are more isolated (i.e. away from any houses, farms, roads, etc.), and try and find springs and small creeks/streams that are clear and flowing rather than lakes or bogs.  I also decide if I am going to filter my water or not, depending on the conditions of the water source at the time.  For example, if I find a cold, clear spring of water flowing directly out of the side of a hill in the middle of a nature reserve, and there are no dead animals or any animal poop in or around the water upstream, I will give it a little taste first, and if it tastes fine, then I'll drink my fill and then fill up my bottles directly.  Otherwise, if I think I need to filter, I fill my bladder, filter a few liters of water, and now I have a belly and a few bottles full of clean water.  

After filling up on water, and if it's not raining, I can focus on a bit of personal hygiene.  First I'll brush my teeth.  Then I will wash my face, rinse off my head, neck, and arms, and dry myself off with my small towel.  Hang the towel to dry on my backpack, then wash my dirty socks and hang them to dry too.  If it's raining, I will just focus on filling up my water bottles and then just brush my teeth.

8:00-12:00: Try and hike around 10km.  Take lots of pictures, maybe pick some berries and wood sorrel to munch on as a snack if I can find them.  And if I find any mushrooms I save them for later--either cook and eat them for dinner (if I brought a stove, put them in a stew, or roast them on an open fire if I am stoveless) or bring them home.  If it's raining, I will check my map and try and find a good, dry spot for lunch.  Ideally this means a nice trail shelter, but could also be under a bridge, under some overhanging cliffs, or even under a big pine tree in a thicker patch of woods.

12:00-12:30: Lunch.  I often go stoveless in the summer, so this means eat something quick and easy like chips, tortilla sandwich of some sort, nuts, maybe a luxury item like a fresh fruit.  Yet even when I do bring a stove, I will usually opt for a no-cook lunch to make things easier.  If it's still raining and I'm in a dry enough place, here is where I can air out my sleeping bag and tarp or rain fly.  If it was raining all morning and I skipped out on personal hygiene and washing my socks, then I will do those chores after lunch (rain or not), where I have a dry place to work with to make things easier.

12:30-17:00:  Try and hike around 10-12km.  Take even more pictures, try and find even more wild edibles along the way, and eat another snack (granola bar, nuts, chips, etc.).  I will drink most or all of my water, but unless it's really warm out I won't bother with filling my bottles again until dinner.

17:00-18:00:  Find a nice spot for dinner near a good water source, and eat, drink, and fill my water bottles again.  Study my map and decide on a goal area to set up camp for the night.  This is my last big break before I put in my final push for the day, so I try and enjoy it--especially if the weather is nice.  In the summer I generally start the day slow and easy, and then after lunch and until dusk I am more in "the zone."  I will at times hike my longest stretch after dinner, especially if I feel like I am a bit behind on my daily hiking goal.  So I will eat up, drink up, take off my shoes, maybe do a bit of meditation, maybe go for a quick swim, then hit the trail hard as I take full advantage of the last bit of sunlight.

18:00-22:00:  The last big push.  Try and hike another 10-12km.  When it's close to dusk, start scouting for a good campsite if there are no trail shelters around, otherwise gun for the trail shelter I set as my goal.  I always try and get to a trail shelter with enough sunlight to get a good look at it and the campsite around it.  If the trail shelter sucks (holes in the roof and/or floor, mouse infestation, filthy, non-existent, etc.), then I will need to fix/clean it up enough to make it livable for the night.  Or if it's too messed up or I am too tired to bother (or if it's not there at all), I'll need some extra time to set up my shelter, and may have to do last minute scouting for a nice, flat spot to pitch my tarp or tent.

22:00-22:30: Set up camp.  After I set up either the trail shelter or my own shelter and then my sleeping mat/bag, I will usually reward myself with a late night snack, like some dark chocolate.  Then I pee, hang up my food, brush my teeth, change into my sleep clothing, and then crawl into my sleeping bag/quilt and settle down for the night.  Next to my sleep system I will lay out my hiking clothing--which helps them to dry out if wet, and if there is a cold snap I can find them easily in the middle of the night and put them on--along with my head lamp, phone (and plug it into a my battery bank if needed), and maps.

22:30-22:45: One last, quick look at the map to formulate my plan for tomorrow, then I take my phone off airplane mode and check for a signal.  Do a bit of quick catching up and sending messages if possible and needed, then back on airplane mode (or turn it off).  Once I am snug in my shelter and everything is in its right place, I am usually able to fall into a deep sleep pretty fast.

Spring/Fall

In these two seasons I have to be more disciplined about time management, as there is less sunlight to work with.  As such, I am more flexible about my personal hiking goals, and am happy with 25-30km.  Since I've already elaborated on many of the details and nuances of my general routines in the summer--and much of them are the same in other seasons--I won't repeat that here and just give a condensed version of routines.  This is fitting considering the higher pace and attention to time that is needed during these two seasons, when the sun goes down anywhere between 6-8pm much of each season.  So shorter breaks, and much less foraging for wild edibles while hiking.  Swims are rare, but do happen on occasion.  When they do happen they are pretty quick tho, brrr!

6:30-7:15: Wake up to my phone's alarm.  Earlier in the spring and later in the fall I will set my alarm earlier to make up for the shorter days, at times it will be a bit dark when wake up, so I will make good use of my headlamp.  

If there is a cold snap, same routines, but warmer layers.  Keep water filter and phone inside bivy or sleeping bag, and make sure to loosen up shoe laces and pull the tongue of the shoe out wide.  That way if it dips below freezing, filter and phone won't freeze, and if shoes are wet/damp and do freeze, they will be easy to put on--cold, but I use minimalist/barefoot shoes, so in not too long my body heat defrosts them.  That way I don't have to worry about putting my shoes inside my sleeping bag.  I'd rather be comfortable sleeping and put up with around 10-20 minutes of cold shoes in the morning.

No time for chilling out like in summer.  Take a few deep breaths, deflate the damn sleeping pad, and get down to it.  Get up, change, pee, eat bar #1, drink, read maps, poop, wash hands, pack, break down shelter, pack, put on the backpack, look around one last time, and hit the trail while eating bar #2.

7:15-11:30: Hike around 10km.  Eat a few snacks along the way.  This time of year is colder, so it's generally more eating and less drinking.  But somewhere in there fill up on water and get some hygiene in too, tho less sweat makes for less stink which makes for less washing up.

11:30-12:00: Lunch.  I bring a stove during these two seasons, as warm meals for lunch and dinner I think are worth it when it's brisk out.

12:00-17:00: Hike around 12-15km.  More consistent, steady pace.  But still lots of pics tho.

17:00-17:30: Dinner, and try and find a spot near water.  No time for a big last push, but a small push is possible.

17:30-19:00: Small push of around 3-5km with enough sunlight to get things done at camp.

19:00-21:00: Routines are the same as in the summer, only once camp is set up, I have more time to relax before bed.  This could mean do chores like laundry. But also fun stuff, like building a campfire, using my phone more to listen to music/read/chat with friends, put on my headlamp and do some short walks close to my campsite in search of fire wood, mushrooms, nice views, wildlife, etc.

21:00-21:30: Hit the sack.  Important that I go to sleep earlier these times of year because I need to wake up earlier to make good progress.


And there you have it, my life in a nutshell while I'm a temporary forest nomad.  As always, feel free to ask questions or give feedback, either in the comments below, or on my blog's Facebook page (link on the sidebar).  Peace!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cesar's Guide to the E1 Trails in Sweden: Södra Kungsleden Part 2, Mörkret to Flötningen





Introduction

If you haven't read part one of this section's guide, you can do so here.

Part two of the Södra Kungsleden trails see the path continue west through Fulufjället, briefly exiting the national park, entering another large national park called Drevfjällen, and then heading north.  As before, this hike offers stunning views and gorgeous fjäll/mountain landscape, but again with the same cost of it being a more challenging trek.  In fact, the group I traveled with and I agreed that this trip was even more difficult than last year's trip (see: link above).  In addition to tough terrain and elevation to get through, Drevfjällen park is all the more isolated, and overall the trail was much less maintained.

The trail markings were mostly fine, but a few key spots really could use some better signs/markers.  Plus in Drevfjällen there are several marshes/bogs that the trail goes through--much more than before in Fulufjället--and the majority of the time these wetland trails have either no planks/bridges for walking on, or there are old, rotten/broken ones.  So you will get wet and muddy, and not just your feet, but most likely up to your knees and beyond.  And then there are the trail shelters, which simply put, are generally not as nice as the more popular (and therefore more well maintained) Fulufjället shelters.  Though there are a few exceptions, as you will soon see.

Okay, so that's the bad news, but with all that being said (and so long as you are at least a somewhat experienced backpacker), I would still recommend this hike, and my group and I had a great trip.  A harder trip, but a good trip, and one that is more off the beaten path than before.  In the five days we hiked (only one of which was in Fulufjället) we only saw a handful of people in western Fulufjället (mostly day hikers) and only two backpackers in all of Drevfjällen.  And at the end of the trip, we were even able to see a small herd of reindeer.

My wife said of this trip: "It's beautiful, but you have to know what you're getting yourself into."  So now you know, and considering the lack of information on this stage of the E1 trails in Sweden, I hope this will help.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cesar's Guide to The Dalsland Connection Route



Introduction

For those of you that intend on actually hiking in this area, if you have not read my guide to The Ed Loop, I suggest you do that first, as these two sections of hiking are directly related and connected to each other.  Plus, there is also more background information and context that I won't repeat here, so do check that out please.  Together, The Ed Loop and The Dalsland Connection Route (DCR from now on) provide an alternative to hikers to connect two longer, well established trails: Bohusleden to the west, and Pilgrimsleden (Dalsland) to the east.  Or these new routes can also work as section hikes unto themselves.  One potential shorter thru-hike that I really like the idea of is to start in Åmål in the east and hiking all the way to Strömstand in the west, or the other way around.

You can read my full trail guide to Bohusleden here

And you can also read a more recent partial trail guide to Pilgrimsleden here

The DCR is around 50-60km (depending on how you choose to hike it), and runs from the town Ed in west, to the Dalsland Canal area to the east, centered around the villages of Håverud, Åsensbruk, and Upperud.  These three canal villages are all right next to each other and offer a variety of interesting things for hikers and travelers alike.  One option already mentioned is Pilgrimsleden, which runs right through this canal area. Another is that in the summer time, special boats and trains run up and down the Dalsland canal and beyond.  Then of course there are more mundane but practical amenities for hikers/travelers, such as access to regular public transportation, restaurants, cafes, B&Bs, supermarkets, etc.

From these canal villages, one can catch a bus or train to the larger town of Mellerud, where there are further connections.  Or backpackers can simply continue hiking onto Pilgrimsleden, which is accessible at several points in this area.  The trail passes right through Upperud, and there are a few roads and trails one can follow from Håverud that intersect with the trail only 2-3kms away.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Cesar's Guide to Pilgrimsleden Dalsland




Introduction

There are several different trails in Scandinavia called "Pilgrimsleden" (The Pilgrim's Trail), so this one is not to be confused with other trails fo the same name!  I've hiked on at least two other trails in Sweden called the same, but this guide is for the one that runs through the Dalsland area.  The trail goes roughly from the city of Vänersborg in the south to the border of Varmland county to the north.  Also worth noting is that past the border to the north, the trail continues and eventually goes into the Glaskogen nature reserve further north, where there are even more hiking trails throughout the park.

Pilgrimsleden Dalsland is about 110km in total, but for the purposes of wilderness backpacking I strongly suggest a modified route.  My modified route incorporates a long side-trail that begins in the town of Åmål called Storspåret, and skips a long section from the village of Upperud to Vänersborg on the southern part of the trail.  The reason behind skipping this section is simple: it's mostly asphalt walking.  And hiking on paved roads for a long time, if you ask me and many others interested in wilderness backpacking, sucks.  

But there are also good logistical considerations to my modified route.  Rather than starting or ending this trail in the middle of nowhere at the northern endpoint of the trail, one can begin or end in Åmål, which has a train station, buses, supermarkets, restaurants, etc.  And in Upperud the trail literally passes by a bus stop (see: below) where you can catch a bus to the town of Mellerud, where there is a train station.



So my way of hiking this trail goes from Upperud in the south to Åmål in the northeast, and covers roughly 75km of trail--55km of Pilgrimsleden Dalsland and 20km of the Storspåret side trail.  It's a wonderful section hike that my friends and I really enjoyed.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Cost of an UL Backpacking Kit Revisted, Spring 2017

Introduction

*Update 07/05/2017: A member of the UL forum on Reddit was nice enough to create a TLDR summary of all the gear.  So if you want to get right to the full gear list, scroll all the way down to the bottom of this post.  Thanks to u/cwcoleman!

The most popular post on my blog right now (and for a while now) covers the cost of a good yet affordable set of UL backpacking gear for a beginner.  That was roughly three years ago, and I while I still think it's a pretty solid gear list, of course I have given plenty of thought on how to improve or expand on this conceptual gear list.  So here's another crack at it, but this time with a few changes to the given context going into this project, and naturally some changes in gear selection as well.

This new gear list is aimed more at either a traditional (i.e. "heavy") backpacker with some experience that wants to transition into a solid UL kit right away, or someone new to UL backpacking that has already tried things out with cheap/borrowed/DIY gear but now wants an upgraded and improved set of UL gear.  Some of the gear mentioned you may already have, or maybe even something just as good or better.  In which case, the transition to UL will be even cheaper and easier.

If you are entirely new to backpacking and the outdoors in general, then this gear list is probably not for you.  I suggest you start with some entry level cheap/DIY gear before you move on to a bigger transition like this, which is more of an investment of both money and future free time to actually get out there and use the gear.  Remember, not everyone likes or becomes passionate about wilderness backpacking, and it can be a fairly demanding activity.  You can read more in depth advice for new backpackers here.

Yet another way to look at this gear list is with a hypothetical: if my house were to burn down tomorrow and most of my gear with it, the new gear list I would buy to rebuild my gear closet would be more or less the same as the one this post describes.  And for anyone that is new to my blog and my experience, well stick around here long enough and you'll see that I'm pretty crazy about the outdoors--and especially UL, long distance, wilderness backpacking.  That's why I've been backpacking for over two decades now, got into UL around 7 years ago, and still pretty much everyday I daydream about getting back out to the woods.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Cesar's Guide to The Ed Loop



Introduction

I must admit that I am pretty excited writing this guide.  For one, well the trip that it is based on went great--better than my expectations even.  But also because what I am attempting to do here is effectively create an entirely new hiking loop that can be done on its own or in addition to another long hiking trail.  So because of this context, this will have to be longer guide and report with lots of background information.  You've been warned: big wall-o-text to follow.  Otherwise just scroll down for more of the pretty pictures.  Let's begin.

Dals-Ed is a municipality in south-west Sweden that boarders Norway, and has a vast amount of forests, several national parks and hiking trails, and lots of potential for great wilderness backpacking trips.  One feature of this area that I personally find quite appealing and somewhat unique is its rift terrain, which has many long, tall hills/cliffs in narrow ranges throughout the landscape.  Along with this interesting elevation also come many rift valleys that form plenty of lakes and tarns (often long and narrow), as well as winding rivers and streams.

I've been hiking and exploring the western parts of Dals-Ed for nearly a decade now, doing a variety of trips from off-trail bushwhacking, to following marked trails into the area--such as Bohusleden, which goes very close to the boarder of Dals-Ed at several points--to a mix of both.  And I've really grown fond of this area, which is of course why I have returned so often.  It's full of natural beauty, is low in population, and is hence more wild and unspoiled.  Plus there always seemed like there was more to discover about this area, and this proved true on my most recent trip there.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What's in Cesar's Daypack/EDC for 2017


Ah the old "What's in your backpack?" question. 

I get asked about this a fair amount, even when I'm not in the woods--especially when people see me pulling out useful stuff. So this will be a short, sweet, and fairly straight forward answer to that question. The only context is that this is my daypack/EDC, or in other words, what I carry with me on "normal" days. You know, like to and from work, or on day hikes or walks around town. Yep, same backpack, and mostly the same gear. The only things that change are a bit of clothing depending on the season, and whatever book I am reading at the time.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cesar's Guide to Bjursås Vildmarksleden


---Introduction

Bjursås is a small town in central-ish Sweden in the country of Dalarna that has a lovely little looping wilderness hiking trail called Vildmarksleden. Not to be confused with other trails, as there are a few others with the same name, such as one in Västra Götalands county, which I have also hiked and you can read more about here. This Vildmarksleden trail is about 35km long and begins and ends in Bjursås, but one could begin and end it at other points too.

Here is the trail's official page (in Swedish), and here is a PDF map of the trail that is quite good and serviceable on its own. You can get to Bjursås by bus from the small city of Falun, which has train connections to various other cities. I discovered this trail because it is somewhat close to the Swedish E1 trail system, which goes by the town of Leksand (30km from Bjursås). So I would recommend it to section hikers and thru hikers alike, because not only is it a great trail, but it is logistically convenient to include as part of a longer section hike in the area or a more ambitious thru hike of the E1.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Long Overdue Update, Winter 2017

Been a while.  Over half a year since my last post.  So what the hell is going on?  Well, it's pretty simple in some respects, more complex in others.  Let's start with the simple: life has just been really busy the past year.  Having small kids, working full time, social life, etc. have all been more demanding, so my free time has suffered because of it, unfortunately.  Then on top of this, a few trips I had planned recently fell through due to illness.  So yeah, some bad luck too.

However there are other factors that have contributed to my outdoor life sinking into a rut.  I vented about them at length on the forum for Ultralight backpacking over at Reddit, which you can read here.  Long story short, after several years of devotedly section hiking trails in my area, I ran out of new places to explore, and this made me lose the motivation to get out as regularly as I did in the past.