Product Testing - Soft Shells Weather the Storm
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Product Report: Wool 3 Zip Neck, R1 Pullover, Capilene® 1 Bottoms, Ready Mix Jacket, & Backcountry Guide Pants
Activity: Winter traverse of the Carson Range (2 nights, 3 days) - Tahoe City to Sky Tavern 45+ Miles
Elevation Lo 6,300 ft Hi 9,500 ft - Temps 28°F to 45°F
Tested by: Adam B., Patagonia Customer Service
Shelly and I left Tahoe City on about 3 ft of snow. It was warm leaving the car so I pretty much snow-shoed all day in a Wool 3 Zip Neck and Capilene® 1 Bottoms with a pair of Backcountry Guide Pants [Ed note: At time of publication, only Women's Backcountry Guide Pants remain available for this season. Look for Men's availability in late August 2009.] Wool 3 is a really good weight for me - not too warm that I end up overheating, but warm enough when I need it at night in camp [closest current equivalent is the Wool 2 Zip Neck]. I like the vents on my Guide Pants as well. The gaiters on the pants have worked well for me this winter. I also like all the pockets on the pants for chapstick, extra batteries, map, etc. When Shelly and I topped out on the ridge we got some nice views of the Squaw Valley area. We found some deep untracked powder following the rolling ridge over to Painted Rock. That was fun being in the deep snow in the shady side of the ridge. I practiced a new trick at lunch today: take fresh snow add it to what water you do have and sit it on a black rock for 30 minutes and presto! more water. This is for the most part a waterless stretch, so any water I could get without melting snow is a good thing (don’t want to carry too much fuel).
Shelly headed back from Painted Rock and I continued on to within a few miles of Brockway Summit on a combo of snow machine/ hiking trail. Toward 6 p.m. I found a patch of dirt to set up on at about 7,000 ft. I was very warm under my shelter lying on dirt instead of snow. It was 37°F after dark, so I could comfortably sit out in just my Cap 1 Bottoms, Wool 3 Top and R1 Pull-Over.
That night at about 4 a.m. it started to rain. I stayed plenty dry in my SupahFly shelter (13.8 oz 2-person pyramid). I had felt nausea in camp that night, so I didn’t melt snow for the next day, I had just wanted to get a little bit of electrolyte in me and some refried beans. In the morning I spent about an hour melting snow—what a time-consuming chore and it consumed a lot of fuel, too. I did feel better though, and I needed the water anyway as it was to be another long, waterless stretch to Gray Lake (15 miles).
As I was breaking camp the rain turned to snow. It was a wet snow coming down hard as I packed away my wet tarp and my hands and my upper body were soon cold. Since I was wearing a Ready Mix Jacket [Ed Note: the closest currently available equivalent is the Ascensionist Jacket] over my Wool 3 my back felt a little damp; however, once I was up and going I liked that the wool kept me warm even when wet. I also appreciated how well the Ready Mix breathed in these damp conditions. As I descended down a logging road I spotted a mountain lion lurking on its edge. The encounter couldn’t have lasted more than 10 seconds, but I clearly made out its long tail, long torso and slinking manner as it left the road. I went over and checked out its tracks. It is pretty cool how much wildlife one can sneak up on with snowshoes.
I finally got below snow level over near Brockway Summit (7,300 ft). Even though it was now raining I was warm and comfortable inside my Ready Mix and Backcountry Guide Pants. From here I knew that once I got back up around 8,000 ft I would get back into the snow and dry off a little. On the climb up, I spotted a coyote trotting down the trail at me. Again all the wildlife is out today in the bad weather, but no people. From 7,500 - 8,000 ft. the snow was really sticky and wet, meaning a lot of work to break trail. I could hear the wind howling up on the ridge so I battened down all the hatches before getting up there.
It must have been gusting about 35-40 mph between 8,000 - 9,000 ft. It was a combination of rain and snow so my right side was coated in ice, including the thigh vent zippers. Again I was happy in my Ready Mix and Guide Pants. All the hard work paid off though, as it was much dryer up on the ridge and the mixed powder/wind-blown snow conditions where fun. When I dropped down into Gray Lake there was about 2ft of fresh snow that had been deposited on the north-facing slope. I learned one valuable lesson setting up camp in a snowstorm: don’t set anything down in the snow as it will be covered and lost in a hurry. I use titanium V-stakes as my deadman anchors for my tarp for winter, and though they work awesome and are light, they’re hard to find in drifting snow. But I didn’t worry about that too much, just put in a waypoint on the GPS to come back and look for them in the spring. I only lost 3, but losing anything weighs heavy on me.
I got a bomber camp dug down into all of the fresh snow, and ended up being happy for it, as that night would end up being one of my wildest as far as storms go. With winds consistently gusting to 35-40 mph, it sounded like a jet engine roaring down the canyon. The up-side is the stiff winds kept snow from collapsing my shelter. There was so much blowing snow that even inside the tarp I had a lot landing on me. Still, I was impressed with my 13oz. shelter in these conditions.
At night at 9,200 ft at 30° I had on Capilene® 1 Bottoms Wool 3 top and my trusty MontBell Down Inner Parka and Down Pants. These two pieces of gear along with my Integral Designs Hot Socks are some of my best winter purchases. I am amazed at how warm the Parka and Pants are for less than 1 lb. The Hot Socks are killer too. Very light, compressible and cheap. I can sleep with the socks in my bag and they dry overnight so they are all warm and ready in the morning.
There was nough fuel for dinner at night and I crashed out at 8:30PM pretty bushed, and happy to have my 6oz bivy to get into combined with my 2lb Western Mountaineering Versalite. The bivy was a must as it allowed me to zip completely into it, keeping drifting snow from landing on my face. It also kept my bag completely dry. I woke up every couple hours and shook the tarp to keep the snow from collapsing it.
Up at 6AM this morning, with enough fuel to blast two batches of warm drinks. I was slow getting going as the temperature had dropped to 27° and everything I had for outer layers was pretty frozen. The metal snap at the ankle of the Backcountry Guide Pant can be difficult to snap once frozen. It was still blowing and snowing hard out, and I broke camp slowly and resolved to only heading to Sky Tavern. There was so much fresh snow just from last night that I was to be wallowing through 4 new feet of it back up to the ridge above Gray Lake. It took about an hour just to climb 500ft [Ed note: For reference, Adam joined yours truly on a recent outing and knocked out a 1300’ climb in ½ hr]. I was worn out and definitely counting my climbs left for the day. I was also happy to be heading out as steady-blowing wind wears on my mind after a while. There was much less snow on the south facing slope. I safely traversed over to a ridge above Ginny Lake and found killer powder dropping off this ridge. I saw something cool over here, too - a virtual snow fountain. The wind was gusting so hard against a granite boulder that it sculpted a waveform out of the snow. As the wind continued to blow drifting snow against the waveform, it made the wind-blown snow spout like a fountain. When I walked up at first it I couldn’t figure out what was going on, I have never seen snow behave in that fashion before.
I tanked up on water out of a ditch over here and got
wore out on the climb back up along 2nd Creek; it was like climbing through
mashed potatoes. Once I topped out near Snow Pond I was happy it would be
all-downhill to Sky Tavern, and once over at Sky Tavern I had my second
casualty of the trip: I lost my Tom Harrison Tahoe Rim map. It has been through
a lot with me and has gotten more use than any map I have ever owned. It would
have kept trucking for several more years, but when I unfastened my waist belt
on my pack it fell out of my jacket and blew away in the wind. Looks like it is
time to purchase another. I arranged for transport from Sky Tavern and set out
against the ski area sign as a little windbreak. I was comfortable at 8,000ft
in 35 mph gusts at 35° for 45 minutes in just my Cap 1 Bottoms, Backcountry
Guide Pants, Wool 3 Top, R1 Flash Pullover and Ready Mix Jacket.
Patagonia Customer Service Rep. Adam Bradley is steadily refining his light-weight trail technique. He's currently training for a new record unsupported speed attempt on the Pacific Crest Trail. He's generously provided a copy of his Gear List for those who might be looking for tips on how to lighten their loads.