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Sierra Designs Flashlight 2 FL

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Ultralight. The word doesn’t necessarily invoke comfort or luxury, does it.

When shopping around for an ultralight two-person tent, I typically find myself sacrificing comfort to save ounces, losing valuable square-footage until I’m essentially left with a very expensive tarp for one. Not really the investment you want to make. But Sierra Designs challenges the conventional ultralight tent with a unique design that saves weight without sacrificing room and comfort.

Flashlight 2 FL
“Unconventional” doesn’t even begin to describe the Flashlight 2 FL’s unique design.

The tent.

The term “unconventional” doesn’t even begin to describe the Flashlight 2 FL. The tent stands 46X50 inches at the head and 24X46 inches at the foot. Spanning 90 inches, the Flashlight 2 may look small but offers a staggering 30 square feet of interior space. The two-doored tent features two small gear “closets” by each door, which range from 3.3 to 4.9 square feet depending on where the closet is clipped. To save weight, the tent also features 8-inch awnings above each door, rather than conventional vestibules.

Let’s get technical. The Flashlight 2 FL is a single-walled tent, featuring a 20D Polyester Ripstop, Silicone/1200mm PE fly. The floor and zip-up interior walls are made from a 30D Nylon Ripstop, WR/3000mm PE material, while the rest of the tent’s body is 15D Nylon No-See-Um mesh. The three DANC NSL Pressfit poles weigh in at less than 12 ounces. What does this name-dropping have to do with anything? Well, it means the Flashlight 2 FL is made from the best of the best ultralight materials on the market. You’re getting quality.

Flashlight 2 FL
The Flashlight 2 FL comes in a compact stuff sack — poles and tent separately.

As with most ultralight tents, the Flashlight 2 FL is not freestanding. The basic structure is derived from three poles – two for the head of the tent, and one curved to lift the footbed. To save 6 oz of weight, the head poles can easily be swapped for trekking poles. The tent relies on tension from 8 stakes to hold it upright, and comes with three guylines for additional security during wind. String locks on each of the stake points offer quick tension adjustment.

The set up.

In my experience, freestanding ultralight tents can be a pain to put up. With help from the exquisitely detailed instructions, I was able to set up the tent in less than 5 minutes. After a week of practice, setup was down to three minutes and tear-down was around three. Why? Besides the fact that single-walled tents are always significantly easier to manage, the design is just intuitive and user-friendly.

The test.

My SO and I stayed in the Flashlight 2 FL for about a week total, as we rode our road bikes up Eastern Washington. I chose to submit this non-freestanding tent to everything from high winds to dew and rain. Frankly, I was a bit skeptical about the wind. While brilliantly designed, the tent doesn’t look wind-tolerable at first sight. However, the tent’s intelligent design and multiple staking points allowed it to survive gusts up to 20 mph with no wear and tear.

Flashlight 2 FL
A view from the head of the tent.

Durability. Because Sierra Designs doesn’t offer a footprint for the Flashlight 2 FL, the product was tested without one. The 30D Nylon Ripstop withstood the test, although the tent was always pitched on grass or soil. Even in dewy and rainy mornings, the Nylon base held up to the water.

Weight. Coming in at 2 pounds 14 ounces, this is one tent you won’t notice in your pack. I’ve carried the Flashlight 2 on multiple backpacking trips as an emergency shelter.

Comfort. Although the tent looks like a squeeze from the outside, it feels remarkably large inside; considerably larger than most ultralight tents. There was ample space for two sleeping pads, and the extra length allowed for some interior gear storage. We managed a week without feeling claustrophobic.

Outside storage. The gear “closets” are large enough for a 65-liter bag or stuff sack, but won’t fit a 65-liter backpack. Unfortunately, the lack of exterior gear storage would make me think twice about bringing this tent on a wet weather trip.

Flashlight 2 FL
One exterior pole lifts the footbed. Gear closets closed in this shot.

Usability. Similar to all Sierra Designs products I’ve tested, the manufacturer sneaks in an innumerable amount of bells and whistles for such a small package. Two snaps to allow for different vestibule coverage/gear storage sizes. The doors allow easy access to gear in the vestibule, while the awning provides some shelter from rain and morning dew. Quickly add insulation or shelter from the elements by zipping up the nylon interior walls over the mesh.

Ventilation. While the tent is waterproof, its biggest adversary is condensation. The single-walled build inhibits necessary ventilation, especially when the nylon doors are zipped up over the mesh. This means dramatic condensation build up by morning. While I didn’t have any condensation issues in the drier regions of Eastern Washington, I saw significant moisture buildup as we traded desert for the wetter regions of the Palouse and the North Cascades.

The Pros.

Ultralight and ultra compact. The Flashlight 2 weighs in at 2 pounds 14 ounces and the tent storage bag is a mere 8X3.5 inches, meaning I barely noticed it in my backpack. The tent is actually designed to easily accommodate trekking poles with clever pocket design.

Roomy. You can’t argue with 30 square feet of space for a two-person tent. The 46-inch max height adds a “lofted ceiling” feeling of luxury.

Ease of set up. A quick set up and tear down means more time enjoying nature. Who can argue with that?

Flashlight 2 FL
The Flashlight 2 FL compacts down to about the size of two Nalgene water bottles.

The Cons.

Condensation. Unfortunately, this is a typical battle with single-walled tents. Because the roof is shared with the tent, on cold or dewy days your gear is wet by morning.

Small vestibules. In the Pacific Northwest, vestibules can be the difference between a good second (or third) day and a bad one. The vestibules were slightly too small to completely shield a 65-liter backpack, making me wary of taking this tent out in inclement weather.

Final thoughts.  The Flashlight 2 FL is labeled a 3-season tent, but in the Pacific Northwest I might limit it to two seasons. Due to the limited vestibule space and condensation issues, I do not recommend the Flashlight 2 FL for wet trips. That being said, with its compactness, durability and low weight, the Flashlight 2 FL is an exceptional tent to have on hand for fair weather trips and minimalist bike camping trips. Slightly larger than my 32-OZ water bottle, and weighing less than my sleeping bag, the Flashlight 2 FL is a perfect choice for desert trips and Eastern Washington adventures.

Exploring Iconic Colorado Springs Hikes Like a Local

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Read about these less well-known Colorado Springs hikes and enjoy amazing vistas without the crowds. Photo Source: pinterest.com.

Colorado Springs, Colo., is often seen as an urban gateway to some of the best outdoor recreation in the country. In fact, it is the largest city to border a National Forest in the nation. Such proximity to the outdoors, an increasingly vibrant downtown, and a medium-sized airport draws in an estimated 5.2 million overnight visitors annually to Colorado’s second largest city. Most of these visitors who choose to explore the outdoors schedule their days around the iconic, must dos in Colorado Springs hikes: Garden of the Gods, The Incline, and Pikes Peak (by train, car, or the 26 mile there-and-back Barr Trail), among others. Although these attractions are well worth the trip, they are heavily trafficked by recreationists of all abilities and experience. As a three-year resident of Colorado Springs, I have accumulated a list of hiking and mountain biking spots that guarantee the same grandeur as Garden of the Gods without the hordes of tourists. For tips on avoiding the crowds and finding the locals on your first (or next!) trip to this urban-outdoor Mecca, check out these four spots.

Red Rock Open Space

Garden of the Gods Park is generally ranked by travel websites as the number one destination for tourists in Colorado Springs. The giant red rock fins contain a wealth of geologic, ecologic, and cultural history that has helped define what Colorado Springs represents. As a local looking to avoid the crowds but still enjoy the grandeur of this type of geological landmark, I instead venture two miles south of Garden of the Gods to Red Rock Open Space.

The 789-acre city park offers an extensive network of trails open to hikers, mountain bikers, dog walkers, horseback riders, and in the winter time, cross country skiers. Hikes can range from as short as a half mile to the pavilion and lake, to over five miles into very low traffic areas on the western hillside. For a shorter hike, head to the Quarry for humbling, worms-eye views of the red rock. For those with more time and energy, hike around the Roundup Trail for 180 degree views of Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods, and the eastern plains.

colorado springs hikes
Colorado Springs hikes offer many opportunities to leave the crowds behind. The Section 16 area offers dramatic views and micro-ecosystems. Photo by Liz Forster

Section 16

Also known as the Palmer Loop Trail, Section 16 offers hikers and mountain bikers expansive views of Red Rock Open Space and Garden of the Gods. The trail meanders through a variety of micro-ecosystems, from chalky white sandstone and the iconic red rock to small forests of conifer trees. On a weekday, even in the summer, you can hike through Section 16 without seeing more than three groups of hikers and/or bikers. If the hikes at Red Rocks are not long enough, take the Section 16 connector trail for a hike upwards of 10 miles looping through Section 16 and back to the Red Rock parking lot.

After your hike, head down to Manitou Springs for a taste of one of Colorado Springs’ most eclectic and ‘hippy’ neighborhoods.

 

7 Bridges Trail

The 7 Bridges Trail is a 3.8 mile loop that crosses over (you guessed it) seven bridges. The trail switchbacks through North Cheyenne Canyon and leads visitors to expansive views of Colorado Springs.  Visitors will also enjoy an up-close look at the flora and fauna in the mountains surrounding the city. The trail has moderate traffic, especially on weekends, but if you walk past the seventh bridge further into the canyon, traffic drastically decreases. If you’re looking for some scrambling up scree fields and atop rocks, the area past the seventh bridge can serve as a small playground.

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Most peoples’ vision of eastern Colorado consists of flat plains and miles of wind turbine farms, and rightly so. Until Denver, the midpoint between Utah and Kansas, that vision is mostly true. Hidden among the forest of white wind mills, though, is a true cultural and geological gem: Paint Mines Interpretive Park. About 30 minutes east of downtown Colorado Springs, Paint Mines features colorful clay spires and hoodoos (a column of weathered rock) jutting out of a eroded depression in the plains. The four-mile trail network allows visitors ample opportunities to hike under and scramble atop of red, orange, purple, maroon, and tan rock formations, and imagine what it was like 9,000 years ago for the first humans recorded in this area. Visitors can sometimes find themselves completely alone in this striking park.

colorado springs hikes
The Paint Mines Interpretive Park offers some unique Colorado Springs hikes to visitors willing to explore areas off the beaten path. Photo by Liz Forster.

 

Part 2 – Tami Asars PCT Experience in Her Own Words

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Tami Asars
Hiker on the PCT enjoys the view above Joe Lake north of Snoqualmie Pass. Photo by Tami Asars.

Last week we introduced a two-part interview with guidebook writer and photographer Tami Asars.  This week we complete the series with Tami Asars giving us expert advice for trekking Washington’s PCT.  From shoes to pastries, Tami Asars tells us what we need to know to make the most of our own PCT experience.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing the Washington part of the PCT?  If someone is stage hiking is there a “must do” section?

As I always say, that the feather in your cap is not that you hiked X amount of miles along the PCT, but rather that you experienced the wild backcountry with the muscle and mental power of your beautiful, human self.

Every single section of the PCT has something to see.  Near the Columbia River the landscape occasionally echoes our east coast neighbors with deciduous trees, riparian brush, quiet forests, dribbling creeks and view of Mount Adams and Mount Hood.

As you head north the trail curves around the broad shoulders of the giant Mount Adams and truly introduces “purple mountain majesty” with meadows of lupine and aster lining the rocky soil. Volcanic views make you realize just how tiny you are in the grand scheme of the universe.

From there, it’s up and over to Goat Rocks Wilderness where an ancient strata volcano guides hikers into subalpine meadows, spectacular views and alpine landscapes before crossing one of the most exhilarating and somewhat nerve wracking stretches on the entire Pacific Crest Trail- the Goat Rocks Knife Edge or The Spine. The cliffs below you drop off into valleys up to 3,000 feet below the trail.  Goat herds click and clack along the exposed rocks while grassy meadows below the trail offer rich grazing grounds for elk and deer. This view will knock off your socks and maybe even your boots.

Tami Asars
Dramatic open views are provided at Cispus Basin in Goat Rocks Wilderness. Photo by Tami Asars.

North of White Pass the grade is gentle to moderate and lakes and tarns abound.  There are so many in fact, that you might lose count of how many you’ve passed.  The peacefulness of the place attracts visitors who wish to saturate themselves in backcountry magic on the many shorelines of this tranquil landscape.

Rumors you may have heard about the trail between Chinook Pass and Snoqualmie Pass being all clear cuts is just not true. Sure there are a few here and there, but the trail also crosses the grand backcountry near Crystal Mountain ski area and the beautiful meadows and historic cabin near Government Meadow. When clear cuts present themselves, there are often herds of elk grazing on the young, green shoots.

Snoqualmie Pass to Steven Pass is one of the most popular sections for a reason!  The vast views of jagged peaks such as Mount Daniel, Bears Breast, and Cathedral Rock will have you reaching for your camera over and over again. Tranquil lakes, green meadows and running rivers provide hikers a brilliant opportunity to metaphorically take a load off.

From Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass the countryside looms large, rugged and breathtaking. From the high country of Glacier Peak Wilderness to the rumbling, deep valleys there is something for everyone, provided you are motivated, as this is the longest section in the guide. The tiny town of Stehekin is in the mix of this stretch, giving hikers an opportunity for a side trip.  The ponderosa pines of the east side of the Cascade Crest make more of an appearance and at times you feel like someone has dropped you into the set of a John Wayne movie.

North of Rainy Pass the trail hits one of the most majestic stretches of the North Cascades- the vast area known as Cutthroat Pass with sweeping views of mountains as far as the eye can see. Staying on the eastern side of the crest, the trail eventually meets up with the car camping area of Harts Pass, a popular access spot for those looking to sync up with friends.  From there, it’s more peaks and valleys until you arrive at Monument 78, also known as the wide swath of cleared land differentiating the US and Canadian borders. Folks looking to travel into Canada and end up in Manning Park, B. C. must have appropriate paperwork arranged in advance. With that in hand, you’ll sleep like a baby once you reach the cozy Manning Park Lodge off Highway 3, the final destination for many weary hikers.

I really love the North Cascades from Rainy Pass to Manning Park, B. C.! That stretch is extremely panoramic and, if you can wait until fall, you’ll be in the thick of yellow larch trees and fewer people in the backcountry.  When you get closer to the Canadian Border, the only evidence of people is the trail you are following. Simply put, it’s undisturbed serenity.

How did your experience guiding the Wonderland help with this project?

I actually guided on the Northern Loop Trail in Mount Rainier National Park which connects in with the Wonderland. During that experience, I saw people with a variety of athletic abilities carrying a pack, many for the first time, over challenging terrain. I made a few notes of ways to make this guidebook extremely useful.

  1. Water sources. Folks new to backpacking will often carry way too much water, fearing that they may not find more up ahead. Carrying too much heavy water can weigh the most athletic hikers down to a snail’s pace and create potential for injuries. A good guidebook, like my PCT guide, will have information on where water sources are found and can be a tremendous asset in your planning. When you are training, learn your body’s hydration needs and carry only the amount you require until your next water source. Also, when you get to your water source, fill a bottle and drink it before you leave. As a guide, we helped people do the delicate dance between carrying too much water and carrying too little.
  1. Camping challenges. While the Northern Loop and Wonderland Trails have prearranged designated camps, the PCT does not.  In the beating heart of the summer, on some of the most popular PCT sections, camps get very full. When this happens, section hikers have no idea how far they need to keep hiking on tired feet and sore shoulders until they reach the next viable flat spot to call home for the night. I spent two years documenting all the camps along the trail including them in the guide’s elevation profile, maps and trail descriptions so that folks know exactly how far it is from one to the next. There is even a camp to camp distance chart at the end of each leg to further help those folks who want hard numbers.

Are there any pieces of gear you would recommend as a “must have?”

There are many, but if I had to pick one, I’d say my Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes.  Years ago everyone wore heavy backpacking boots, but these days it’s much more common to see folks traipsing down the trail wearing a lightweight, sneaker-style shoes designed to handle off- road terrain with reinforced foot protection and more aggressive stability.

The trail shoes were a game changer with respects to foot and leg fatigue and allowed me to cover much more ground than traditional hiking boots. Not only are they lighter, but the wide toe box provides plenty of room for my swollen, weary feet to spread-out without rubbing, pinching or impeding in anyway. Since I’ve started wearing them, I’ve gone from 15 mile days to over 20 with very little foot pain or exhaustion and for a professional hiker like myself, those are precious, deadline miles!

Any places off the trail (towns, restaurants, coffee shops, post offices) that you would recommend?

Don’t even think of missing the town of Stehekin! It’s one of the most amazing micro-towns you’ll ever get the chance to visit. There is so much to see and do in this historic villa located at the northern tip of Lake Chelan. Waterfalls, a historic one-room school house, a rustic bakery serving mouthwatering pies and cinnamon rolls, a gorgeous garden selling local produce, cheese and honey, bicycle rentals, kayak rentals, petroglyphs, fly-fishing adventures, and a handful of salt-of-the-earth residents are just a few reasons to visit! My new guidebook has contact information for a variety of lodging and activities you may want to enjoy.

 

 

Tami AsarsGuide book writer Tami Asars on the Pacific Crest Trail. Tami’s new guide book will be out in September 2016 in a full color coffee-table style edition.  An e-reader version is available for those that want to take the book with them on the trail.  Tami Asars says that her book is one in a series of PCT guide books that will be out this fall, other books will cover the California and Oregon sections of the PCT.  For details about where Tami Asars will be signing books and talking about her adventures go to her website at www.tamiasars.com

7 Tips to Escape National Park Hiking Crowds

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Escape National Park hiking crowds
Escape National Park Hiking Crowds
The hiking herd getting you down? Escape National Park hiking crowds with these seven tips.  Photo Source: mnn.com

Washington hikers and backpackers are a unique crowd. We have high expectations when it comes to views, trail etiquette, and solitude. We know the good spots and we know the secret spots that we really only mention around close friends. But when we travel out of state, without our local insider information, we can find ourselves out of our element. I recently made the rounds to some of the West’s most famous National Parks, including Yellowstone, Arches, and Zion. While I reveled in the experience of exploring some of the nation’s most scenic National Parks, I constantly battled the feeling I was slowly slipping into a tourist trap and it was difficult to escape National Park hiking crowds.

Safe to say, I learned a few things along the way that will help plan my next adventure. Here are seven tips I can offer to help you stay away from the main pack and have a unique National Park adventure.

Escape National Park hiking crowds
Escape National Park hiking crowds at Angel’s Rest just 1/4 mile after the turnoff 1

1.Location. Hate crowds? Avoiding them can be as simple as choosing one of the less iconic National Parks or state parks in the area. You don’t have to hit Utah’s “Big Five” if you won’t enjoy the experience in the end. Even if you want to explore the major parks, it can be calming to plan one or two hikes in the less popular regions of the park. The scenery will be spectacular nonetheless.

2. Timing. Avoid visiting on or near major holidays. Everyone (including me) wants to schedule their trips around major holidays to optimize their PTO. This is great maximizing your vacation time, but can dramatically increase the number of park visitors. Choose weekdays over weekends, and skip summer vacation. Typically National Parks will list the five most popular days on their website. Take this into consideration!

3. Backpacking. While most of the crowds flock to the short hikes and easy-to-reach photogenic points of interest, backpacking can be a fantastic way to break away from the herd. Backpacking also allows you to enjoy the park on your own timeline and actually experience the park’s natural beauty after the day crowds have dissipated. Because backcountry permits are required in National Parks, you can actually count on some solitude on the trail.

Escape National Park hiking crowds
Enjoy the solitude of the Yellowstone River Trail by choosing the Hellroaring Trailhead as your starting point.  This trail will help you escape National Park hiking crowds at this popular location.

4. Research. Even though you’re leaving your usual stomping grounds, nothing is stopping you from getting local advice. Call the backcountry offices and ranger stations and ask around for tips. Don’t hesitate to request less popular hiking or backpacking trails; typically the rangers will sympathize and offer advice catered to the experience you’re looking for.

5. Strenuous trails. Typically trails marked “strenuous” are anything but, in Washington standards at least. I highly recommend selecting strenuous trails for a more serene experience. Before setting out on a strenuous trail, make sure to read any recommendations or precautions.

6. Secret trails. The best National Park trails aren’t marked. Ask the information center if they have any recommendations for less-traveled trails, and they might direct you to some unmarked trails. Because the trails are unmarked and often hidden at the start, you can relish in having a unique experience even in a well-traveled National Park.

7. Odd hours. Early or late; there’s no real guarantee as to when the crowds will gather. If you’re in the desert, sunrise and sunset can be popular times to visit the main attractions, but I recommend taking the chance. If conditions are fair and you have the right gear and experience, there’s nothing wrong with hitting the trail at sunset and enjoying the starry skies over some of the nation’s most striking vistas.

Escape National Park hiking crowds
Sorry, this one’s a secret.

Of course, with National Parks there can really be no guarantee when the crowds will ebb and flow. The most important part of exploring a new National Park is to enjoy your experience, even if you’re sharing it with several hundred of your new closest friends.

If you have a National Park hiking tip, please share in the comments below!

Running: Ideal Active Meditation

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active meditation
Hit the trail on your next run and use active meditation to reduce stress, become more creative, and become more mindful.  Photo Source: mindbodygreen.com

Have you ever experienced running along a trail, connecting with nature, feeling alive and then having a “break through” moment where your mind clears and your body takes control while you “observe”? This phenomenal experience is called active  meditation (or movement meditation), where the mind, body and soul start performing together and an inner high spot is reached. Active meditation is exhilarating because you literally enter a state where you don’t feel like you are making conscious decisions to move, but instead your body is just flowing and you are along for the ride.

In a recent survey, Runner’s World magazine asked readers why they run. 95.3 percent said because it makes them feel good mentally, and 85.8 percent said for stress relief.  Not surprisingly, 93 percent of Americans say that stress affects their perceptions, thoughts and choices. Science backs up the idea that running actually undoes the damage caused by the stress response. There have been numerous studies looking at the benefits of endorphins associated with the famous “runner’s high” as well as other dopamine/feel-good hormones that are suppressed with cortisol levels (stress hormone) are high. Running makes an excellent movement meditation, during which you can deeply connect to the present moment.

“By paying attention to how your mind and body feel … this changes running from simple exercise to a journey of discovery and growth.” -Sakyong Mipham

 

Increased Creativity

active meditationActive meditation is commonly explained as moments that are not spent consuming information but moments that can be used to boost mental health and abundance. When you combine meditation with physical activity it creates both novel and unique health benefits. There is an increase in blood circulation within the brain that fuels an improvement in the ability to function and dive into creativity.

Do you ever find yourself coming up with exciting and creative ideas while you run? Since running is an aerobic repeat-pattern activity, it stimulates the right brain and therefore creativity. Some of the best thoughts come out of a run! Also, when you are in this mindful state, you have access to an incredible tool for reducing stress and increasing joy that leaves you feeling mentally refreshed and rejuvenated even after a long trail run.

Try Active Meditation While You Run

active meditation
Try running in nature, the quiet fascination of the trail will help you get into the active meditation zone.

Allow yourself some time to get into the zone. The hardest but most important part is being able to push past resistance. There’s always this period of time when the muscles aren’t quite ready or your mind is still racing coming off of where you just left – whether it’s the laundry, emails, a presentation you have to give, etc. This does take some time and work, but then all of a sudden you find steady and clear focus.

Overall, active meditation is a challenging yet unique battle with metamorphic results. When you are able to reach that point of everything being okay and it’s just you in the action, fuzzy feelings between unreal and real, you have reached this transformative state!

 

Peace. Love. Running.

National Park Centennial – Post Your Best Park Pics

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National Park Centennial
Use these tips to share great pictures and help celebrate the National Park Centennial

You may or may not have heard, but 2016 is a special year – the US National Park Service is celebrating its centennial this year.  Celebrate the National Park Centennial by sharing your best pics from some super scenic spots at some top parks.  Using the Cairn app we’re showing exact spots to get a signal and post away.  To help celebrate a 100 years of outdoor service, the National Park Service is offering free admission days on Aug. 25-28, Sept. 24, and Nov. 11.  Here’s the scoop:

1. Arches NP – Delicate Arch is kid-friendly and short.  In addition to the accessible trail, another (moderately strenuous) hiking trail climbs one-half mile (0.8 km) toward Delicate Arch and ends at the rim of a steep canyon that separates the viewpoint from the arch. Get coverage on the north side of the arch with Verizon.

National Park Centennial

2. Grand Canyon NP – The Rim trail on the South Rim from Hermits Rest to Monument Creek Vista via Pima point has good views and bad cell coverage.  Decent Sprint and Verizon coverage at the village,  remember to stay behind the barrier, carry water, and follow park rules/advice.  The Grand Canyon is a “must-see” for the National Park Centennial.

National Park Centennial

3. Olympic NP – Head East on the Obstruction Point trail from the Hurricane Ridge visitor center for as long as the kids can manage (snowshoe in winter).  Great views start immediately and don’t end.  AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Coverage at various spots.  T-mobile is more spotty but possible with line of sight towards Seattle.

National Park Centennial

4. Yosemite NP – You can’t go wrong exploring the valley for the National Park Centennial.  There are many okay spots of coverage near the village and campgrounds and possible to find a spot with all major carriers, Verizon has the best coverage to post a photo.  The main issue at Yosemite is the high amount of people overwhelming the lines.

National Park Centennial

5. Mt. Rainier NP – Pristine lakes, waterfalls galore, glaciers, rugged peaks, and cute marmots are just a taste.  You can easily spend two days exploring the trails and views at Paradise.    Cell coverage gets better with height.  Cairn users have found coverage with Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint.  Some good spots to share from are above the Paradise lodge on Golden Gates Trail and Panorama Point.

National Park Centennial

6. Yellowstone – Avoid the crowds by heading to Lonestar Geyser, at 4.8 miles round-trip the trail is still kid-friendly, and can be biked most of the way. Lone Star erupts 35-45 feet high every three hours.  There is no cell coverage at the Geyser from any carrier but decent Verizon coverage at the trailhead and great Verizon (weak AT&T) a few miles up the road at Old Faithful.

National Park Centennial

7. Crater Lake – Poor cell coverage but out of dozens of points mapped someone was able to get an AT&T signal at the top of Watchman peak, stand at the summit to send your pic.  There are points with nice views leading up to the lake going north with spotty coverage.

National Park Centennial

 

Signal Tips

Once you get to a spot with coverage on the map, improve your signal with the following tips:

  • Slowly hold up your device and move till coverage improves.
  • Turn off/on your device if signal is too weak.
  • Once you get a signal in a spotty location, keep your device still.
  • If there’s absolutely no signal with your carrier conserve your battery and try later.

Lastly remember to stay safe and away from the edge when taking selfies, keep a proper distance from wildlife and follow park rules.  When posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram don’t forget to use the hashtags #FindYourPark and #Findingyourway.

Renowned Guide Book Writer Tami Asars – The PCT Experience in Her Own Words

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Mount Adams
Tami Asars
As you head north the trail curves around the broad shoulders of the giant Mount Adams and truly introduces ‘purple mountain majesty’ with meadows of lupine and aster lining the rocky soil. Volcanic views make you realize just how tiny you are in the grand scheme of the universe. Words and Photo by guide book writer Tami Asars.

This fall, photographer, former REI guide, and guide book writer Tami Asars will release her third backpacking guide book.  Tami’s critically acclaimed books are known for detailed trail information and beautiful photograph.  I caught up with Tami this summer after her two-year odyssey to write the definitive guide book of Washington’s portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  This timely book follows a 137 percent increase in PCT usage between 2013 and 2015.

In this two-part series, I will explore Tami’s experiences writing the book and her advice for those thinking about taking on the challenge of backpacking Washington’s PCT.  Not wanting to change a word, I present Tami’s responses unedited.  Enjoy!

Part One:  Tami Asars in her own words

What gave you the idea to write the guide book about the Washington PCT?

As a guidebook author, I’m constantly thinking of ways to share my passions with other hikers.  While I love day hiking, I’m absolutely smitten by backpacking and love doing long distance trips, especially in Washington State.  Because it’s so beautiful, section hikers are becoming increasingly more prevalent in the backcountry and I wanted to give them a tool to help them discover the best way to see the trail from logical point to logical point.

How long did you spend on the PCT?  Was it continuous or did you break it up?

I spent two summers pushing up every pass and traipsing down every valley with the GPS rolling. I documented every water source, every camp site, every trail intersection, every river ford, every challenge and every reward.

The first year, I hiked from Snoqualmie Pass to Manning Park, B.C a distance of just over 267 miles. It took me roughly 13 days and it rained, hailed, and drizzled consistently for 9 solid days out of those 13. Washington weather is extremely fickle and I was able to represent the landscape and countryside in photos and trail descriptions having experienced a wide variety of conditions.

Tami Asars
Lodge Lake near Snoqualmie Pass. Photo by guide book writer Tami Asars.

The following summer I bobbed and weaved through lightning bolts, rain and sunshine from the Columbia River to Forest Road 23, near the town of Trout Lake, a total of 81.8 miles which took me 3.5 days.  During those days I enjoyed the splendor of the deciduous forests and riparian landscapes near the southern Washington border, and wandered through Indian Heaven Wilderness elbow deep in huckleberries.

I took a break at that point and explored the Columbia Gorge before hopping back on the trail and hiking from Forest Road 23 to Snoqualmie Pass a total of nearly 163 miles. During that stretch there were moments of peacefully, haunting quietness save for the occasional lone Clark’s Nutcracker call in the Mount Adams Wilderness.

What was your experience on the trail? Your time alone, people you met, wildlife encounters, observations of nature, photography.

I hiked half of the state solo which I always enjoy.  Don’t get me wrong, I love company too, but I believe all of us seek to peel back the layers and find out just how strong we are, both emotionally and physically, and hiking completely alone does just that.

When you spend time deep in thought simultaneously hyper aware of your surrounds, you actually begin to use all of your senses more keenly. Because we live in a modern world, I think we forget about the fact that underneath it all we are mammals and those senses are there for our survival; they are just a little buried underneath computer screens and central heat.  Out on the trail I could smell where there had been herds of elk before I came to their tracks. I could hear water dripping down creek beds long before I saw them. And, at one point, I felt as if I was being watched, so I stopped and took a hard look around. I thought I was going crazy before I discovered a beautiful, red-tailed hawk perched on a tree branch not more than 30 feet above me.

One night, I met a thru-hiker who offered to let me pitch my tent not far from hers.  It was late and getting dark, so my options were limited and she seemed happy and chatty. We talked for a long time about her med school ambitions and shared stories about our love of wild creatures and places.  We were so deep in conversation that we nearly missed the most brilliant sunset I’ve ever seen!  As we starred at the hues of reds, pinks, yellows and turquoise melding into the setting stars over Mount Adams, we were hypnotized into a stilled state of awe.  Sometimes the most brilliant of life’s moment unfold at the most unexpected times.

As for wildlife encounters, I’ve seen many animals along Washington’s PCT.  All have been quick to scamper off much to the chagrin of my waiting camera. Deer, elk, bear, bobcats, pikas, marmots, martens, toads, frogs, snakes, lizards, and too many birds to list have crossed my path along the way. And, it’s likely I chatted with every animal who would listen to me talk.

What obstacles did you face on the trail and with the book?

The most challenging part of the book, hands-down was the data and ensuring it was as accurate as possible. Collecting data is challenging in the best of conditions but add in a dense forest in places and/or an overcast sky which prevents the GPS from seeing the sky/satellites and data can get messy. What’s more GPS’s are often slightly inaccurate.

GPS technology used for recreational purposes is simply not an exact science, so unravelling the mysterious data tracks took a lot of imports and exports on a variety of mapping software as well as comparisons with numerous paper maps and other trusted sources. In the end, I proudly stand with my conclusions.

 

Check back next week when Tami gives sage advice for those thinking of backpacking Washington’s PCT.

PCT SignGuide book writer Tami Asars on the Pacific Crest Trail. Tami’s new guide book will be out in September 2016 in a full color coffee-table style edition.  An e-reader version is available for those that want to take the book with them on the trail.  Tami says that her book is one in a series of PCT guide books that will be out this fall, other books will cover the California and Oregon sections of the PCT.  For details about where Tami Asars will be signing books and talking about her adventures go to her website at www.tamiasars.com.

Healthy Outdoor Food – 2nd Annual Vegan Food Crawl

in Community/Food by
VEGAN Food Crawl (1)

 

Healthy Outdoor Food
Find healthy outdoor food options at the 2016 vegan food crawl.

 

It’s time to get stoked! Are you a long-time vegan, a new vegan or just starting to explore how to reduce the amount of animal products in your diet? Seattle Backpackers Magazine is committed to healthy outdoor food.  It’s time to get excited, connect, learn about healthy outdoor food, and have fun during the 2nd Annual Vegan Food Crawl at Downtown Bellevue on Sunday, August 14, 2016. This year’s lineup is something to get excited about as vegan has become more mainstream and offers so many delicious options.

As this new innovative food economy is rising, numerous new businesses and restaurants are working to enhance our food system by offering healthier, more sustainable foods. What a better time to experience this shift than joining others in a fun, community event walking all over Downtown Bellevue in hip matching t-shirts enjoying amazing vegan food, and finding out about some healthy outdoor food options.

Restaurant Line-up:

  1. Jujubeet
  2. Araya’s Place
  3. Moksha
  4. The Essential Baking Company

Healthy Outdoor FoodHealthy Outdoor FoodHealthy Outdoor FoodHealthy Outdoor Food

Event Details:
Sunday, August 14th 2016
Registration: 10:30-11:30am @ Ashwood Playfield Park
The Crawl: 11:30am – 3:30pm

Price:
$30/per person (includes crawl menu and vegan food crawl t-shirt)

Registration Deadline:
July 29th, 2016
80 spots available

Registration Information Booths:

  • The Humane League
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • Mercy for Animals
  • NARN
  • Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
  • Manitoba Harvest

 

Event Details and Registration:

www.veganfoodcrawl.com

 

Summer Book Review – Amazing Trail Recipe Book

in Community/Food by
Good Food front cover 04052016

GOOD FOOD
For outdoor adventures
By Tanya Krezevka
230 pp. Available through Amazon or directly from Trail Recipes for $19.00

 

trail recipe book
Try these adventure tested meals in a new trail recipe book by trail chef Tanya Krezevska.

Food is important, especially in the outdoors where weather and exertion can put the body in a diminished capacity to perform.  Beyond the physical need to fuel the body, food is also an important aspect of positive mental attitude and resiliency in the wild.  Tanya Krezevska understands the importance of good food in outdoor adventures and has written a wonderful and informative trail recipe book for the rest of us.

Tanya is an avid backpacker, trail chef, and educated culinary artist.  Her trail recipe book provides a comprehensive guide of 101 field tested (from Nepal to Iceland) outdoor recipes, food planning advice, and food preparation tips.  The book is beautifully illustrated, well organized, and easy to follow.  A particularly helpful feature of Tanya’s book is the calorie count and prepared weight of each meal.  There is also a balanced blend of vegetarian and vegan recipes include in the book for those looking for meatless options

I tried the crunchy peanut butter oatmeal, a new twist to my standard oatmeal trail breakfast.  The meal was easy to make, tasty, and kept me fueled throughout the morning.  I also tried the pine needle tea, this great trail novelty is better than you might think and is fun to share with friends.  Tanya also provides more elaborate recipes for ambitious trail chefs; the section on wilderness baking and the outback oven is well worth the read.

One of the most helpful sections of this trail recipe book is the food planning chapter.  Full of helpful advice on preparing and packing meals, this chapter also provides multi-day meal plans.  The meal plans ensure you take healthy food on your trip and that you have the calories to complete your journey.  If you are looking for awesome food ideas for your summer outdoor adventures, this book is for you!

trail recipe book
Tanya Krezevska is founder of Trail Recipes, a food blog dedicated to outdoor enthusiasts. Her recipes have been published in Seattle Backpackers Magazine, MSR Drink Lab, Outdoor Adventure Guide Magazine, Go Outdoors, Est’ Magazine and others.

 

Outdoor Photography – How to Capture the Milky Way

in Community/Skills by
Winchester Lookout 3
Outdoor Photography
Learn what you need to know to take perfect outdoor photography shots of the Milky Way. Photo: First Beach

My favorite months to capture outdoor photography images of the Milky Way are August and September. The core of our galaxy is visible before the wee hours of the morning and we generally have fewer clouds to block the view.  Besides a cloudless night you also need to have no moon in the sky as it reflects so much sunlight into the night sky that the arc of the Milky Way is faint.

Camped under the Milky Way at Baker River
Camped under the Milky Way at Baker River

The next three New Moons dates are: Tuesday, Aug. 3, Thursday, Sept. 1, and Friday, Sept. 30.   If you head out and up (out of town and up into the mountains) for outdoor photography and Milky Way shots, you can get great images plus/minus 2 days of the actual New Moon.

I have been teaching Night Sky Photo Classes for some time at the North Cascades Institute and leading Night Sky Photo Tours for several years and here are the most important things to remember:

When doing outdoor photography, a full frame camera is preferred but not a necessity. What IS important is that whatever camera you use is to have an effective 10 – 20mm lens for your rig. If you have a full frame body, a 14mm lens is very good, and if you have a cropped sensor body, a 10mm is also fine.

Focusing your lens on infinity at night can also be a problem. The auto function will not work in the dark. You will need to set the lens to manual focus. It’s best to figure out where, exactly to set the focus ring on your lens BEFORE heading out. Here are some simple steps:

ourdoor photography
Dramatic night photo of Winchester Lookout.

Set your camera on manual focus and head outside in the daytime. Find some sign with sharp text, like a STOP sign, stand back about 30 feet. Set your aperture on its lowest f/stop number (as this is what you’ll use at night) using the built in light meter, adjust your shutter speed for a correct exposure. Now turn the focus ring all the way, past the Infinity symbol and take a picture.  Using the zoom function on the camera, enlarge the text on the sign.  Are the  letters perfectly in focus? If yes, great. If not, adjust the focus ring a hair away from the infinity symbol and try again and so on. Each time zooming in on the text, keep this up until you have found the sweet spot for your lens. You may be very surprised where that sweet spot is for your lens! Make a mental note, or use a pencil, or whatever so that you KNOW where to set your lens, on manual focus, so that its set to capture images in sharp focus.

Then you’re all set! Find a spot away from the ambient lights of people, get your rig set on a tripod, use a wide open aperture, and set your shutter speed based on the chart below and you’re ready for action!

outdoor photography

 

outdoor photography
Mount Rainier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources

Learn more about night outdoor photography at the North Cascades Institute or on Night Sky Photo Tours .

 

 

 

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