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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mini-Squeeze Sawyer filtration review

Anyone who's hiked with me knows I've been toying with the idea of building a lightweight gravity filter system for 5 years. The problem up and to this point was finding a filter that didn't require a heavy pump system, wasn't bulky, could be integrated into my current water management system, and was less than 3oz wet in order for me to consider giving up my fast and light system of drop and go multi-bottle purification.

The newly released 2oz inline Sawyer Mini-Squeeze kit fit the bill. (released ~October, 2013) is a lot less bulky than the previous Sawyer Squeeze. I still retain my 2 bottle system, allowing me to add a chlorine-dioxide purification treatment when needed in conjunction with filtration. On long distance hikes, the compact size will actually fit in my compact 9oz frameless pack.  Carrying a 8 to 14oz pump was not likely to ever happen. The benefit of this system for me was that I was retaining both 1L primary bladders, and it screwed onto my current platypus setup with no modification or added hoses were necessary. Reducing any added weight, complexity, or forcing me to switch away from my collapsible water carrying system.
Filter with supplied 16oz dirty bag.
Filter paired down for carrying

Measured Weights:
Filter dry weight:                 1.35oz
Filter wet weight:                 2.00oz
(shaken out)
60mL Back flush Syringe:    1.20oz
20mL Back flush Syringe:   0.5oz
16oz dirty bag:                     0.8oz
1L platypus dirty bag:         0.9oz
(already carried)
Stuff Sack:                           0.25oz

The function of this system is basically fill the dirty bag, screw the filter on, and squeeze the water into the clean bladder. Flow rate with a clean filter was excellent. The dirty bladder can still be used to carry water for dry sections of trail where carrying water is necessary. The system comes with a measly 16oz dirty bag, that can be swapped out for one of the 1L bladders you are already carrying. With a 1L dirty bladder, I was getting just a little over 0.9L of return water. A little is left in the bag, and in the filter after filtering.

Parts laid out, ready to be attached.

Filtering in progress.

The operation of the back flush/field servicing is one of the simplest I've seen while kicking around filters. A 60mL syringe is included that you fill with clean water, push up against the clean end, and press water through the filter in reverse flow. After using the filter for filtering 2 people's water last weekend's trip, with no slowing of the flow rate while using fairly clean mountain water... I'll likely leave the back flush system at home, unless I'm going on a long trip, or somewhere where I'll likely have to filter seriously dirty water (not as common in the NW). I'd also toy with the idea of carrying an emergency 20mL syringe to reduce the weight carried, and reduce the bulk of the 60mL syringe.
Basic back flush setup. The Syringe is bigger than the filter.

Included supplies are a 16oz dirty bag, 0.1 micron filter, straw, and 60mL backflush syringe. I added a small mesh stuff sack to hold the dirty bag, filter, and backflush syringe. As you see I also increased the size of the dirty bag.

Other possible options:
Frontier Pro Pre-filter mod, to help from clogging the filter when using dirty water. There's an excellent write up if you search the internet, and you will have to break off the nipple on the dirty side to screw it in.

Gray Wolf River, (Slab Camp to Camp Ellis)

Another round of early season backpacking in the Olympic National Park. This trip was to another river valley that I had never been to, the Gray Wolf River. It was also an introduction to backpacking for my best friend Lyss! Apparently reaching the upper stretch of the Gray Wolf River Valley into the ONP requires taking a side trail down hill on the Slab Camp Creek trail due to a trail bridge washout on the lower reach of the trail. You can also more readily access the upper stretch in the ONP by Deer Park rd if it was open, but that road is not currently open and you'd be taking the Deer Park access trail from the same parking lot anyhow. I wanted to see the valley!

After a late start, nearly noon by the time we set foot on the trail, we scurried down hill to Slab Camp on the Gray Wolf river via a well maintained National Forest trail through the Buckhorn Wilderness. You start out in the 2500' elevation range, and plummet downhill to the Slab Camp in the 1500' elevation range. The downhill start is a little inverse for a river hike. In that you lose so much elevation before even starting to climb the valley, which is unlike most ONP river hikes.

After crossing the large bridge across the river you make up for the loss in elevation fairly soon. The trail pulls away from the river and climbs on a narrower path high above the river. The path is laden with moss, and an eerie feel of the recovering forest from an old burn. Small trees strewn across the hillside's floor. With glimpses of burnt stumps, hollow trees, and scorched sections of the few surviving older growth trees in this area. The narrow path meanders along steep forested hill with the occasional trail engineering to maintain a walkable path. As you approach Slide Creek camp the forest thins a bit, and crosses an open rock scree field that gives you glimpses up into the valley. By this point we had passed both large groups, and accounted for all of the cars in the parking lot. After Slide Creek we had the rest of the valley in isolation for a very peaceful, and silent wilderness experience. Rarely is it with this much solitude.

Slide Camp was the first test of the new 2oz in line sawyer mini-squeeze kit. I'll have a further review of use later, including maintenance, and function, but in essence I still retain my 2 bottle system allowing me to add a chlorine-dioxide purification treatment when needed or on light and fast hikes. It also has a no-frills, no extra parts required and was fully integrable with my platypus bladder systems that I currently use. The release of this filter in October of 2013, is likely going to change my water system permanently. The old Squeeze was too bulky, and heavy... The new mini-squeeze is trimmed down and won't be as bulky in my space is limited 9oz frameless pack when I choose to carry it.

After Slide Camp you go up, down, cross another fork of Slide Creek and then you cross the ONP boundry  where shortly after dogs are no longer permitted. We found a wider spot and sat down to make Chicken Ranch wraps and snack on some bacon before we began the slow descent to the Gray Wolf River Camp where the backcountry self register box still exists. I'm not sure if anyone is picking up permits. Having already registered at the Port Angeles WIC we took a left and headed up the river valley. Until this point, other than crossing the Gray Wolf River at Slab Camp we were high above the river and out of sight of the river below. Starting at Gray Wolf camp you are following right along the river for the rest of the trip up the valley. Around this area the forest slowly begins to become older growth as you go further up the valley. Along the way there was a long log crossing, and more meandering through majestic mossy woodlands until we reached Camp Ellis. We decided to stop here instead of pushing on to Falls Camp after such a late start. Setting up camp, overfilling our dinner with water, and making some tent maintenance required before the next trip we finally sat down to make a fire and relax before crashing for the night.

The next morning we made an amazing breakfast! (which Dani and Richard introduced to me on the last backpacking trip). 2 quart ziplocs were filled with a half packet of Idaho instant butter mashed potatoes, and half a packet of McCormick peppered gravy. A third bag was filled with a 1/2 cup of Providence Pantry freeze dried sausage crumbles (boy are these tasty! even without re-hydrating!). The sausage was re-hydrated with the requisite amount of water, and we found that between 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups of hot water was about right for the FBC method. A side of Oberto Applewood Bacon Jerky made for an amazingly filling and delicious backcountry breakfast! This will likely be a staple from now on.

After breakfast we finished tearing down camp and meandered on to Gray Wolf camp. We crossed the Gray Wolf River and had a snack alongside the larger tributary of Cameron Creek. From here it was up and on out. At Slab Camp we stopped for an Italian Sausage, Baby Bell cheese, spicy mustard and mayo wraps before the haul back up the hill to the car. Up and to this point we had barely encountered rain showers, and at lunch it was blue skies and sunny! On the up hill out of the valley, this slowly changed... The closer we got to the ridge, the larger the drops of rain!

Gear in review:
The new filtration system is going to stick around for at least a few more trial runs if not indefinitely.

The adjustment to my rain gear on this trip was adding the rain wrap back into the equation like mentioned in the recent Elkhorn trip. Using that in conjunction with converting my pants to shorts kept me significantly drier. When I get the sewing machine back, I'll fabricate some sil-nylon trail gators for those trips of imminent rain. Knowing my shoe's gore-tex is shot I'll need to test the current rain system with non-leaky shoes anyhow.

The Ti-SOL Jetboil is still kicking strong. It is usable for 2, with at least 2 boils of water for breakfast and drinks. This trip was an experiment, to see how much of a hassle it was and whether I wanted to take one of my larger 1.3L or 2L pots with next time.

66" Neoair pad, Neoair sit pad, and my down jacket in an 8L Ultra-sil dry bag for a pillow is definitely the most comfortable sleep I have been in the backcountry! This setup is staying...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Goat Lake (North Cascades)

Early rise, and near solitude on a very busy trail! Even though we left "late," the Mother's Day festivities of others must of made the hordes arrive late. Arriving at the parking lot and only having 2 other cars present was surprising! Mia was geared up, and along we went.

Taking the Lower Elliott Creek Trail at the first split we began meandering up the trail. Shortly after a small decrease in elevation, you get down to the creek and slowly climb up the drainage. After climbing up and away from the creek you intersect with the Upper Elliott Creek trail and start to walk a flat stretch of old road bed (which the Upper trail follows the whole time...). After meandering on this flat bench for awhile you will start in on the majority of the elevation gain towards the lake.

You cross a small creek just before the few gentle switchbacks begin. There is one section that almost appears that the trail is going straight toward the creek passing a big root-ball. The trail actually switchbacks left, while going straight you can go off trail over some windfall to the creek. This really would only come into play if you are have a bad sense of direction, or aren't paying attention as you are walking. There is a mini-cairn next to the stump as well. On the way to the next switchback you cross the open avalanche run out and get a view to the mountains across the valley. The second switchback has a small cascade down a granite slide, giving a view up towards the mountain north of the lake. At the next left switchback there is a slight flat area, if you go off trail to the right instead of switch backing left with the trail you can find a trail down to the outlet falls. After the outlet falls view area, you are pretty much at the lake.

Staying right at the camp junction we continued alongside the lake and passed the only other person we saw other than the trail runner on his way back to the car. From this point you are passing through brushy avalanche run outs and a few windfalls on your way out to the falls on the far side of the lake. We had lunch with a view of the falls and headed back.

Up and to this point we pretty much had the most amazing views completely to ourselves. On the way back I joked with Lyss about how it would be a mob when we got back to where the trail meets the lake. About halfway back to the main trail and past the big down trees in true northwest fashion every little opening by the lake had hoards of people. To include one group of 20 plus...

From here we headed back down the Lower Elliot trail to the car. Another beautiful day on the trail, and surprisingly quiet on the way up!

The camp at the lake is kind of a free for all, with an open privy tucked away in the back. If you can find a flat spot big enough for your tent you can camp... There's spots up the hill and through the trees, even a few that have a view of the privy... I've camped at this camp once, and it wouldn't be a bad place to do one of your first backpacking trips without the help of someone experienced with you, or taking someone that doesn't want to walk more than 5 miles to camp. You are close enough to the car, so it's an easy hike downhill back to the car. The time I camped here some people had cast iron pans, bacon, eggs and were boasting about how heavy their packs were coming up the hill...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Elkhorn Backpacking Trip 5/3-4/2014

Every year the first backpacking trip of the season is a, "did I remember everything and was that gear list I used from 5 years ago that I found on my blog complete?" kind of trip. Friday night I headed out after the hustle and bussle of work to the Elwha River Campground in the ONP. Driving around in the dark it always seems that the car camp is more "wooded" and "private" than it is when you wake up in the morning. It's part of the reason I have an aversion to car camping without a purpose.

After self registering for the trip, we were slowly gearing up at the trailhead, when I lifted the storage in my car and found a mouse! When I relifted the cover up, the mouse was gone with a nest of babies. The nest wasn't there earlier that week, and it explains the nibbles on my Cliff bar that morning, and the mice sounds in the middle of the night as I slept in the car...

Heading out we were blessed with only light intermittent showers, making fairly good time to the Humes Ranch area. The slight increase in gradient begins shortly after the cabin. Over all it is certainly not a long hard climb, but the couple spots that climb on this trail are consistent gradient.

Upon approaching Lilian River, I passed a guy that was carrying a kitchen sink in his pack I swear... I've been putting some weight back in my pack for comfort items over the past couple years after previously trimming down to a 6lb base weight. So I know what I actually use, need, and just plain want in my pack. On this trip I was carrying a more "traditional" Gregory pack with a vented panel instead of a 9oz MYOG pack. I figured I looked liked like I was carrying a tank... The guy asked me how far out I was day hiking, and no one ever likes my responses when I tell them, "day hiking? Nope, I'm backpacking out to Elkhorn, how about you?"

After Dani, Richard and I ate lunch, I stormed ahead like I tend to do, fully knowing I was going to pass that fellow again on the "Never Ending Ups." After Lilian River is the most significant incline on this stretch of the trail, albeit it's not super steep it makes up by staying that way for probably close to a mile or 2. At the high point I took a nice break playing around with the macro option on my camera. When that guy caught back up, his next question was, "Do your friends have your tent?" I just chuckled, "Nope, I am fully self sufficient and have my tarp and bivy in my own bag." I really just wanted to say, "Less is more dude."
In general in this spot I secure off my poles so I don't try to sacrifice them to the gods of the Grand Canyon of the Elwha a long long way below... Instead, I bumped one of the trekking poles and it tumbled off the edge about 10' or 15' down the steep embankment! Followed by my camera, but luckily it's roll was stopped by the flat portion of the trail. Crap! Luckily Dani saved my pole for me and off we went back down the trail!

Scoping out rapids along the way from Mary Falls to Elkhorn, cursing Nat the whole time because I could hear his voice in the back of my head, "You need to get a packraft." The river was pretty high coupled with the snowmelt and rain, which made the rapids look juicier than I've ever seen them. The section between Mary Falls and Elkhorn are beautiful with their winding moss covered paths that make you imagine you are wandering into a childs fairytale. Leaving you wondering when the mythical creatures are going to hop out of the bushes... The weird details and beauty of this hike keep me returning time after time.

Approaching Elkhorn never ceases to amaze me as well. The trail has this little weave through the trees with a crescendo opening into a beautiful grassy meadow with historical structures. Across from the shelter there are beautiful mountain views up into the range across the river accented with the meadow and Elwha River below. After setting up the tarp, we began cooking and the skys opened up considerably more! I was scouring around for dry tinder in the bushes and under the trees and found enough to get a small fire going. As I slowly realized everyone went to bed, so did I.

The next morning there was fresh snow on the hills above...

During the night the skies opened up and gave my sleeping system some of the most rain I can remember while being under that tarp. The pitter-patter on spinnaker is one of the most soothing sounds I can think of falling asleep to. Topped off with being bone dry afterwards is always a good sign! :-) I remember my first trip after sewing that tarp and bivy setup almost 6 years ago was "dear god am I going to break this?"... As daylight broke, I was having some of the best sleep I've ever had in the backcountry, so I found my beanie, covered my eyes, and fell back asleep. When I finally awoke, everyone had already eaten and pretty much packed up... :-) I guess I really needed that night with the insecent, yet soothing rain to destress after the work week.

Breakfast was warmed up, eaten, packed up and off we went! Slowly meandering through the mystic forests, and grabbing lunch on the way through Lillian River again.

Gear in review:

 So on this trip I added the old Gregory Z-45 that I used for hauling college books around campus. It is certainly heavier than my MYOG pack, but it carries well. The vented curved back panel is quite nice with how hot blooded I am vs the next to skin of the frameless pack. I think I'll certainly give it another whirl, and if possible try a smaller size, since I had way too much room with my UL gear packed inside. Probably could of fit a couple weeks worth of food on top of what I was carrying.

The semi-full length NEOair certainly sleeps a lot better for sure!

The poncho should be coupled with my rain wrap in conditions like we had on the second day. The voice in my head was telling me to pack it prior to the trip, but I still didn't grab it on the way out the door. The poncho is certainly more breathable and comfortable than traditional rain gear. For earlier season, or imminent rain trips I'll bring more rain gear.