Packrafthike gapyear – family farewell, gear list, adventure and science

Last stressy weeks at work. Nightly gear, logistics and route check-ups. Preperations got accelared. Hectic at times. Eventually the day arrives you shake hands with your colleageus. “See you in 400 days” with a deadpan grimace.

Walking on a ridge on the wild northeast coast of Tenerife

Walking on a ridge on the wild northeast coast of Tenerife

2 weeks before we leave on our expeditions to Lapland we go on a close-to-home farewell weekend-trip with Katrijn’s family. Eat, drink, bike, walk, laugh, fun. Immediatly followed by a 10 day family trip to the volcanic island of Tenerife with Steve’s family. A trip to a holiday resort island, which attracts 5 million tourists a year? Not our kind of destination you’ll think. But the island had more to offer then what we came for, watch the video impression…

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What do you take on such a 55-day packrafthike in the subarctic?

Well, here is our gearlist for download, or click on the picture below. This is our full skin packlist, calculated with 10-day food ratio stretches. Is this ultra lightweight? Not in a distance. It’s lightweight in our mind with subarctic, mosquito-laden, summer-autumn climate conditions in mind. And some comfort too. Andrew Skurka’s blogpost on Stupid Light, just came in time to stop us from gram hunting 😉 I could write a full blogpost on our gear. Can you wait for a year?

Gear List Packrafthike Lapland - 1100km

Gear List Packrafthike Lapland – 1100km

Adventure and science

Not working for a year. You lazy horse. Why not combining all this with some voluntary usefulness for society. That’s why we shaked hands with Adventure and Science. This NGO facilitates partnerships between adventure athletes and the researchers who need them to collect data all around the world. From Mt. Everest to the Ocean, they have asked hundreds of athletes to make their time outside more meaningful. All of them become volunteers and make the decision to become adventurer-scientists because they have a strong desire to make more of their expeditions.

Adventure and Science

Adventure and Science

On our 1100km subarctic Lapland expedition we will be working for the Evolutionary Biology department from the Uppsala University in Sweden. We will do field data collection on Lichens, which are symbiotic organisms between a fungus and algae. Even if they are very important members of an ecosystem, their life cycle and biology is very little understood. Thamnolia vermicularis lichen grows all over the world in alpine and artic environments. It was not discovered yet in Africa or Antarctica but there is o reason it should no grow there. Because is an asexual species its wide distribution is quit a mistery among biologists. Some consider this lichen a very old species dating from Permian-Triassic when the Pangea continent still existed. Other think is spreading by birds, or by air currents. In lichen world this dispute is quit intense. By using a genetic approach (extracting DNA from it) scientists will be able to make a phylogenetic tree and solve its mistery. More then that the answers of this investigation will also help scientists and nature conservation people to understand the lichens migration patterns and their biology.

We are choosen as the first adventurers who will collect these species on such an expedition. It’s an honour.

Click for report and video on Joery's blog

Packrafting Grensmaas, last rehearsal before Lapland expedition. Click on picture for report and video on Joery’s blog

Oooh, before I forget, on the last weekend of June, we got a very nice, last minute, 24-hour packrafting trip wit Yves, Michael “Andreas” Jackson and Joery. Please visit his blog for a report with a nice vid. Joery is leaving in August for a 5 week wilderness packrafthike into the Mackenzie Mountains. Allready looking forward to his report!

We are ready. This is it. Let’s get the heck out of here. See you in September, when we are home for 3 days before leaving for the Great Himalayan Trail in Nepal.

Click here for live updates from our SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger

Click here for live updates from our SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger

Walk on water – Packrafting

Half-way January… childishly eagerly awaiting the mailman… The beast is arriving! Ding-dong! Hi mailman. Big box. Yeah. Boats in there. Boats? Yeah, never mind. Bye. Unwrapping. 2 boats. Yeah, one small boat for Joery, one big boat for us. Yellow blinking. Unfolding. Wooooow. How to inflate this thing? Oh, a bellow bag. Handy. That’s fast. Heart pounding. This is exciting. When can we go out to tame the beast!

Baptising the beast

Baptising the beast

Lazy sunday… Forecast predicts freezer temperatures for the coming week. Just before the water loozes its fluidity for a week or more, we go out for a couple of kms from our house and find a perfect spot for baptising the beast in an old cut-off meander of the mighty Schelde. Sunday joggers and passing mountainbikers put up a crazy frown. No it’s not E.T. phoning home, it’s 2 crazy Belgians going for a first float.

Why the hell an inflating boat? For us it’s a natural continuation of our wilderness travels. While backpacking in remote areas, we always are most afraid of crossing hurling waters. This is the safe answer. In stead of walking for days around the fjord, we can now cut it off… Backpacking is not only hiking, it does not stop on fluid boundaries. This is walking on waters. Float. Be free.

Katrijn is walking on water

Katrijn is walking on water

2.6kg for a 2-person boat. That’s 1.3kg per person. For the weight of a tent, we become amphibians. 1 kayak paddle. 4-piece. 2 pieces makes a blade for each of us. Paddling canoe style, that’s where we are going. A big thumb for Sven, from Packrafting.de. He did an excellent job in handling all business with Alpacka Rafts, clearing customs and providing us with all necessary advice in how to start with this thingy. Finishing Roman’s bible. It’s a splash. The unrigged explorer. It’s on. The ice is broken. Now we have to load our beast with our gear. Stay tuned.

Undulating snow on the Vercors Plateau (French Alps)

Panic in november. No freezing. No snow. Ski resorts in full frantic. Xmass holidays are coming. Hyperventilation! But when people were losing all hope in climate, big fat “high pressure” momma left the continent and made way for northwesterly runs smashing in moisture into the Alps, providing 2m of snow by the time the turkeys were filled. Whew! Winter saved. Get the snow shoes of stable. Ready for some powder blues.

Mont Aiguille

Mont Aiguille

With a winter traverse of arctic Sarek scheduled for end March, we wanted to do some more field tests of our winter gear: pulka, snow shoes, Therm-A-Rest NeoAir All-Season,… and yeah, testing the tarping business on stable winter conditions. Que?

So on the last week of the diverse year 2011 we spent on the Western Alps’ finest balcony: the undulating Vercors. Set upon a limestone plateau in the RhĂŽne-Alpes region of southeastern France, the Vercors plateau extends into the Western Alps, catching the first moisture before it hits the main ridges and high summits of the main Alps more to the west.

Surrounded by high cliffs whatever the side you approach it, you will need to enter the plateau trough deep gorges or tight passes. The Vercors plateaus generally run north-south at around 1400m altitude, is rather woody (esp.pines, it reminds us a lot on northern Scandinavia) with intermediate vast, windswept spaces. It’s real danger however lies in the large network of karst cracks permeable to water making it a desert in summer and a “crevasse-hidden glacier” in winter.

Winter bivaouc with view on the Mont Aiguille (2087m)

Winter bivaouc with view on the Mont Aiguille (2087m)

On the north side of the plateau, easy accesbile from the city of Grenoble, you will find some ski-stations, where it’s less interesting for the “wilderness”-hiker. To the south-east, the plateau is protected in the Parc Naturel RĂ©gional du Vercors, only dotted with some very basic shelters, providing some refuge for when it gets erratic on the plateau. And when nasty weather hits in, then it can howl badly, so come prepared, summer or winter! In winter it’s a paradise for snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and even pulling a pulk. No experience so far in summer, but water scarce seems to be the bottleneck in this season.

The trip report is put in a short movie, so I will not talk too much about the tour in detail, it takes 6 minutes of your valuable time:

Gear field tests:

Altough not as such use for short trips and especially if it is not too cold (like it was on the first night), we wanted to test the vapor barrier line technique in our sleeping bag.

So this was the winter set-up, from skin towards open skies:

– base layer
AMK Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy Sleeping Bag (VBL-layer, to prevent body vaporation to get into the down sleeping bag)
Valandre Classic 900 down sleeping bag (-7°C comfort temperature)
Rab Survival Zone Bivy Bag (external bivy bag)
MSR Twing Tarp

This was the winter sleeping set up, which worked only well when temperaturs reached -7°C and lower. One night it was barely freezing, and we were litteraly boiling eggs. Result, half way night we woke up in a puddle of sweat (collected in the VBL) and had to ditch the VBL and base layer. This will be our setup for Sarek, but we will bring along a heavy winter tent for frantic nights… to be continued.

Winter tarping  under the Milky way

Winter tarping under the Milky way

Back in november in Switserland we did’nt come to testing our new Therm-A-Rest NeoAir All-Season (R4.9) sleeping pad. This was payback time, immediatly in winter! We used to haul with the bulky and heavy Prolite Plus (R3.8). Unlike the prolite plus, a self inflating matress, the neo air has to be inflated completely manually. The store away serves as inflate-bag, but this just doesn’t work. So ditch it, and use your bare lungs. It warms you up. But leaves you with some hyperventilation 🙂

When you lay upon the matress, at first it will feel cold and the squeezing metallic sound of the inner fabric bothers you. After a couple of minutes the technology unfolds: the inside warmth reflection reliefs! How nice is that! On a surplus it’s more comfartable sleeping then the “hard” prolites. Are we happy with this quite light product: you bet yes!

Jump!

Jump!

Windy and Undulating Vercors

Windy and Undulating Vercors

Before we forget: a happy new year to you all and thanx for passing by this blog.

2012 promises to be an adventurous year with loads of things coming up. We are especially and eagerly awaiting a new member of our family: the Alpacka unrigged explorer PACKRAFT! Our adventures will no longer be limited to mountains, fields and forrests, but will be extended onto open waters.

So more coming up on that shortly!

For more pictures from this trip, please visit our online album!

Cheers
S+K

Gear – The Tarping Business (a MSR Twing field review)

As late bloomers in all things (ultra)light, we only tried tarping since last summer. After some tests in our garden, we went tarping last summer in Iceland and Greenland. Tarping in the arctic? In always-horrible-wind-swept Iceland? Are you nuts? In wicked-and-unpredictable-wild Greenland? Oh, go take a break and please reconsider your “stupid” idea… People labeled us “loco”/”screw loose”…

MSR Twing Tarp with custom adapted bug net,  Tasilap kua Valley, East-Greenland

MSR Twing Tarp with custom adapted bug net, Tasilap kua Valley, East-Greenland

In our quest to reduce the weight of the big 3 we wanted to test what a tarp would mean as a shelter in 3-season conditions, even in the “treeless” arctic. Part of the decision to go tarping is practical (go lighter) and part philosophical (being more close to nature). Still we were quite uncertain on how a tarp could possibly replace the safe heaven of a tent, especially when it would go erratic out there.

While we were initially interested in getting the MLD Trailstar, we found a 1/2 discounted MSR Twing Tarp from a dutch wholesaler, who had it on display for a couple of days at a tent show. Tschitsching for a tarp which would otherwise cost easily 250 euros fresh from the shop!

Freestanding, it covers a huge area (6 sqm!) to be pitched with 2 walking poles (the MLD Trailstar only needs one pole!). Because of this size, you lose a bit of flexibility that you actually want to achieve with a tarp, a disadvantage of most 2-person tarps I reckon. On the other hand, the size adds to comfort. It’s a palace for 2 persons to sleep under, and still roomy for having an outdoor cooking party of 4 to 6 persons. Handy on group trips in rainy/windy environments. There are a lot of discussions on what the difference is between a tarp and a tarp-tent, well i would put this “tarp” somewhere in between the tarp and tarp-tent. … Here we go for another round on tarptent battling around the camp fire 😉

4000gr expedition tent Outside Mountain Equipment NOVA (left) and 850gr MSR Twing Tarp (right), Llinera-valley, East-Greenland

4000gr expedition tent Outside Mountain Equipment NOVA (left) and 850gr MSR Twing Tarp (right), Llinera-valley, East-Greenland

We still have to play with different possible pitches, but the standard pitch (with all stakes in the soil) is a storm pitch: the rear and side panels secured to the ground. The rear side has to be put against the wind if don’t want to wake up without a roof. With the guy lines you can however leave open vents from 5 – 20cm to the soil (you can put rocks on the panels on stormy conditions to close it completely). The front of the tarp stays open (ventilation!), but if you remove the front pole, you could find a pitch to completely shut off the surroundings. The hardest wind we’ve encountered was something around 15m/s, while bivouacing on a ridge. The wind would then pound against the back, causing the front pannel to shake with high frequency, but nothing that would let you out of your sleep (if you put earplugs in ;-)). So is it bomb proof? Probably… but still to be tested in more harsh conditions.

Is it waterproof? The tarp comes seamsealed from the manufacturer. We had some downpoors (not longer then 1 hour) and stayed bone dry!

On clear, windstill and cold nights (min. -5C min), we had negligible condensation on the ceiling of the tarp. The down sleeping bags, we kept condensation free with Rab Bivy Suvival Zone, a perfect humidity and wind barrier! We never had any form of moisture on the sleeping bags by morning!

In Greenland, we had a lot of flying, crittering friends around: midges and mosquitoes (even in windy weather). On the last gasp of setting of for the trip we found a CarePlus mosquito net on the attic (from previous trips to the tropics) and stripped it to its essentials. With some acrobatics and stones we could easily secure the bug net under the tarp.

MSR Twing Tarp with custom stripped bug net, Tasilap kua Valley, East-Greenland

MSR Twing Tarp with custom stripped bug net, Tasilap kua Valley, East-Greenland

So we set off to the Arctic with nothing but a tarp and we must admit it went very well with the tarp, not to say extremely well and we really liked it a lot to be so close to nature when dreaming away in our sleeping bags while the ice bergs would tuff by. We had mostly friendly weather
 But as Martin Rye mentioned some years ago in his blog, the choice between tarp or tent should not always be taken too lightly (what’s in a word).

Altough our recent experience in Iceland and Greenland proved that tarping above the treeline could be quite hassle free (if the weather cooperates ), we still have our doubts for future “monster” hikes we plan to make in Lapland and Patagonia. What if the weather really gets nasty for multiple days and we are in the middle of the wilderness (above the tree line), days away from civiilization, would it not be “safer” in for example a Hillberg Nallo? The mental battle still goes on…

To finish, I would like to quote Joery Truyen’s opinion on this issue:

I think a lot of people often choose an uncomfortable bivouac spot just because ONE, they just don’t know how to recognize the signs that tell you there is a storm coming and TWO, when the wind is blowing many people just don’t seem to be aware where they can find the most sheltered places in complex terrain. If you don’t want to develop these skills and don’t like to spend the effort, I think you will more often risk uncomfortable nights under your tarp in places above tree line. At the end hiking succesfully with lightweight material is all about developing the appropriate skills and knowing the limitations of your gear and yourself.

Leaving the tarp for a side exploration, Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland

Leaving the tarp for a side exploration, Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland

Specs in this field test

MSR Twing Tarp 850gr (300gr heavier then the MLD Trailstar!)
Stakes + bag 80gr
RAB Survival ZoneBivy Bag 300gr
Careplus stripped down mosquito net 350gr
6sqm simply shiny plastic ground sheet 80gr.

Indian Summer in the Swiss Alps (a GoLite Pinnacle Pack field test)

[edit 2013 – the GoLite Pinnacle is not fabricated anymore, they changed the name to GoLite JAM]

The European Alps prepare themselves for the harsh winter to come. Farmers and their cattle already descended into the lower valleys. Wildlife roams below the edges. Tourists are long gone. Late autumn is a delight to go hike in the (Swiss) Alps.

HohtĂŒrli

HohtĂŒrli - BlĂŒemlisalp

For us it’s a no brainer to plan a hike in the Swiss Alps. A 7.5 hour drive takes us right in front of the massive wall that forms the Bernese Wall. Folding open the map, eyes closed, we point out a direction from our starting point Kandersteg for a 4-day hike. A persistent and (for the time of the year) unusual south Foehn provokes a real indian summer in the northern Alps, unfolding clear blue skies and summer temperatures into the valleys.

We both are childishly eager to test our new lightweight backpacks: the GoLite Men’s 72L/935g and Women’s 63L/877g Pinnacle Pack! We also have the intention to test our new Therm-a-Rest Neo Air All Seoson, but short daylight hours, long hiking hours, coincidence and lazyness failed us to bivaouc so we got comfy sleeps in the empty winter raums of the widespread Swiss mountain huts.

GoLite Pinnacle 72L Pack

GoLite Pinnacle men's 72L Pack, weighing only 935g

On the first day we walk upwards trough golden larches in the direction of Wildstrubel (3243m) up in the wide Schwarenbachtal (following an, out of this world, ugly high power line cutting trough the valley). We wave hello towards the snowdusted Altels (3629m), the glaciated Balmhorn (3698m) and craggy Rinderhorn (3448m).

Lammerental towards Rote Totz (2848m), coming from the Lammerenhutte

Lammerental towards Rote Totz (2848m), coming from the Lammerenhutte

In the ascent towards the Lammerenalp we pass by the almost fully dried up Daubensee (2207m) and on our left side we see the closed hotel on the Gemmipass (2314m). We have the intention to bivaouc somewhere in the snowed and shady Lammerenalp but then we see the Lammerenhutte above a rock outcrop and head for the winter raum, arriving just before dark.

Spot Emergency Beacon, from Rote Totz Lucke with a southern view towards Valais Alps

Spot Emergency Beacon, from Rote Totz Lucke with a southern view towards Valais Alps

On the second day we follow the icy Lammerental, passing a herd of Chamois, climbing towards snow covered Rote Totz Lucke-ridge from where we have a clear view towards the Valais Alps. We are right on the border of Berner Oberland with Valais. We descend towards the Uschenentall, crossing the Talligletsjer.

Perfect fit of the WM's GoLite Pinnacle, on the Talligletsjer under the granite wall of Steghorn (3146m)

Perfect fit of the WM's GoLite Pinnacle, on the Talligletsjer under the granite wall of Steghorn (3146m)

What a beautiful, forgotten high alpine glen this is! We enjoy the silence, the icy and snowy passages and clear blue skies that lead us, passing the frozen Talliseeli-tarn towards the Usser Üschene valley. We descide we want to reach Fisialp high above the Oeschinen Lake, which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once there, we continue in the dusk light towards the Doldenhorn Hutte.

Snowy descend toward the Usser Üschene valley

Snowy descend toward the Usser Üschene valley

On our thirth day we explore the area around under the Doldenhorn (3475m) and descide to descend towards the Oeschinen Lake and try to reach the BlĂŒemlisalphĂŒtte (2840m). The area around the Unesco protected lake is outstanding beautiful and we are astonished that on such a sunny day there is nobody around! The place is just silently empty. We can imagine how busy it could be here in summer.

Dusk at The BlĂŒemlisalphĂŒtte (2840m)

Dusk at The BlĂŒemlisalphĂŒtte (2840m)

In a couple of hours we reach, on a quite easy trail, just before sunset the beautifuly located hut. It stands proud above the heavily crevassed BlĂŒemlisalpglacier and under the guarding, icy summits of Morgenhorn (3623m), Wyssi Frau (3650m) and BlĂŒemlisalphorn (3661m).

On the firth day we descend towards Kandersteg, passing by the Heuberg (1940m), with tremendous view towards the azure Oeschinen Lake.

Oeschinen Lake (1578m) as seen from near Heuberg (1940m)

Oeschinen Lake (1578m) as seen from near Heuberg (1940m)

What about the GoLite Pinnacle Pack?

We started with a winter base weight of 7552gr (including winter down sleeping bag, crampons, down jacket,…) plus food, fuel, water,… to a total of 11kg550gr. The manufacturer specifies a comfortable to carry load of max. 18kg, which really is the max. weight we would put in this pack.

GoLite Pinnacle Pack Men vs Women

GoLite Pinnacle Pack Men vs Women

The frameless pack fits unbelievably pefect to the back spine if the load is organised bulky enough to give support enough to your entire back. The padding on the hips is small, compared to heavier “standard” packs, but spreads the weight very well towards the hips. The biggest difference with “standard” packs, is the lack of the hood, with which you would normally close your pack. Now there only remains a cord strap and clip system (you close the pack as you would close a dry bag). As the pack is not waterproof (only water resistant), you should pack your valuable gear in waterproof bags, but that’s also the case with “standard” packs. We also like the side straps which will enable us to put gear “outside the pack” in future trips. With small straps you can also make the pack unbelievalbe small like it resemble a daypack (see in our flickr photostream)! There is a big zipped front pocket for storing small, quickly accesible items like maps, torches, …

Are we happy with the pack? Ooooooh yeaaaah!

Please visit our full photoset on our flickr page for more pics on this short trip into the Swiss Alps.