Amazing Sedona – Part I: Gear testing, Sunset and New Friends…

I haphazardly packed the back of the truck in the cold, dark pre-dawn hours Saturday morning as the dogs looked on through the glass front door.  I’m sure they were just as curious as I was about what possessed me to be up this early on a Saturday after only a few short hours’ sleep.  Friday night I had been out with friends enjoying our annual Christmas Party and had stayed longer than I had planned.  I had double-booked my weekend and needed to be in Sedona by sunrise to meet a new friend for a weekend of camping, hiking and gear testing.

Tim had arrived in Sedona early Friday afternoon ahead of me and claimed our campsite at the tiny Manzanita Campground along Oak Creek.  We had planned this trip on the spur of the moment realizing that we both were planning outings to field test new gear and figured it was the perfect opportunity to meet.  After a few phone calls and a handful of emails back and forth, we had reservations for a campsite and a loose itinerary.

I was in charge of figuring out our hike for Saturday since I am more familiar with the area.  I noticed that there was a nice, strenuous hike very close to our camp that would take us to one of only a few natural rock arches around Sedona.  Vultee Arch is a small natural rock bridge named after the owner of a small aircraft manufacturing company.  Jerry Vultee and his wife got caught flying in a severe blizzard over Wilson Mountain in 1938 and crashed on the north end of the plateau.  Between the crash and the resulting fire, neither survived.

Tim and I had both discussed our increasing focus on photography in our outdoor pursuits so the arch was a great fit, but I wanted to make it even more interesting so I proposed we plan our hike so that we’d hit the arch at sunset.  This would mean an afternoon hike, a nice pause while we waited for the light and grabbed some shots, then a night hike over the pass on our return.  Tim responded with, “Sounds good to me.  Night hikes are awesome.”

Between last minute packing, a longer than expected stop for coffee and fuel as well as not accounting for the extra distance from the my new house, I was running late.  I realized I wasn’t going to make it to camp before day break, but hoped I would at least make it to the lower end of Sedona’s Red Rocks by Sunrise.  I barely made it to the turn-off as the sun was getting ready to crack the horizon.  I stopped for a few pictures of first light and found a great old tree to use as foreground.

my sunrise shot near the turn-off to Sedona

I continued toward Sedona and made it as far as Bell Rock before I decided I needed to stop and capture more images of the sunrise.  I managed to take some really nice shots at Bell Rock as the sun climbed higher.  I decided to skip a stop in Sedona and head straight to camp, knowing I was running late.  There was really no reason why I needed to be to camp so early except that I had specifically told Tim that I would be.  That was enough reason for me to worry about being late.

Sunrise at Bell Rock, Sedona

When I got to camp, Tim was up and had been down by the creek.  After a handshake and an apology I unloaded my gear and set up camp as we visited like old friends.  We spent the better part of the day talking about gear, the outdoors, family, food and life in general.

Tim is one of a small handful of people I’ve now met in person after getting to know them through Social Media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.  It’s the modern version of finally meeting a pen-pal you’ve written to for years.  There is an instant familiarity, comfort and friendship that is merely extended by the shaking of a hand and the sharing of a meal…even more so when done around a camp fire.

more Oak Creek at sunrise at Manzanita Campground

It eventually came time to head out for our hike, we needed to make it over Sterling Pass and down to the arch by 4:30 if we were going to have a chance at being in position by sunset at 5:15.  I had studied the times and angles of the sun against the topography around the arch to insure that we wouldn’t lose the sun early due to some distant peak.  It looked as through we’d have light at the arch until at least 5pm.  We headed out at 2:30 to give us plenty of time to hike the pass and make it down in to canyon below the arch.  I did not have an exact idea of how difficult the hike up to the arch itself would be so we needed a little padding in the schedule.

Dead trees along Sterling Pass Trail

The marked trailhead for Sterling Pass was almost directly across the street from camp where we began the steep climb up and over the rocky pass.  Much of the area was still recovering from the Arch Fire that devastated this canyon in 1996.  The blackened skeletal remains of the formerly thick forest jabbed skyward through the lush new growth optimistically trying to regain it’s footing.

The rock and vegetation changed at the pass before we plunged back down the steep switchbacks on the other side.  The forest was much thicker on this side of the pass where it had clearly been protected from the fire.  My knee was reminding me throughout the descent that it is still not 100% and I was relieved a bit when the trail leveled out finally along the bottom of the canyon.

Sterling Pass on the way to Vultee Arch

We were on the lookout for the side canyon containing Vultee Arch and, with the sun chasing toward the horizon, we were getting short on time.  Finally we reached a point where we could see the arch, still drenched in the glow of the setting sun.  As we approached the rock ledge that house the plaque describing the arch’s namesake, I noticed we were not going to have light on the arch for as long as I had estimated.  This was going to significantly shorten the window for getting the photographs I was after.

I was feeling the pinch of time and when we found what appeared to be the small trail leading to the actual arch, I took off leaving Tim to find his own pace.  I aggressively scrambled through brush and cacti along the overgrown trail before finding the right spot to venture off-trail in an effort to find a unique angle for shooting Vultee Arch.  I waded through thick Manzanita and danced around prickly pear cactus and agaves as I climbed under and around the arch.

Sunset light on Vultee Arch, Sedona

The sunset light was well worth the effort and I was glad that we’d made the decision to visit the arch when we did.  The sunset that evening gave us an amazingly warm orange glow that accentuated the red rock of the arch.  Even the vegetation took on a supernatural glow as the sun cast the last of it’s fading light across our little canyon.  Tim caught up and found a perch atop the arch to watch the sunset and nibble on some trail mix as I scrambled precariously along all points collecting my shots.

Long view from below Vultee Arch, Sedona

View of the late sunset from the base of Sterling Canyon

When light had faded from the arch we hiked back down to the rock vista, made hot coffee and watched the remainder of the sunset.  Once darkness had pushed the last traces of light from the horizon we packed up and headed out.  The cold was kept at bay with the exertion of climbing the switchbacks back up to Sterling Pass.  As we crested the pass we were greeted with a rich, black, moonless desert sky deeply punctuated with brilliant stars.  We sat here for a while, with headlamps off, taking in the night sky.  Both of us live in larger cities where the night is never truly dark and stars never laid out so thick.

Some time later we strolled back in to camp and started dinner.  We ate well and talked late in to the night around the camp fire.  This is the perfect example of what I love about being outdoors.  We encountered very few people on the trail and all of them had bailed before light ran out.  We had the arch entirely to ourselves and experienced it in a way that very few ever would.  The desert was our playground and I reveled in it with a giddy, childlike joy.

When it came time to head home the next day, we said our good-byes and vowed to do this again soon. With any luck, the next excursion will include our wives and another amazing location.  I left Sedona that afternoon tired, happy and hoping for another adventure very soon.  Little did I know at the time, that I would be back to this very same area in only one week…

…but that’s another story.

Trip Gallery:

For more pictures from the hike check out Tim’s gallery here.

Bear Mountain – Sedona, Arizona…

I am forcing myself to get outdoors.  

This summer’s heat in Phoenix has been miserable for me.  I don’t know why it feels so much more oppressive and suffocating than summers past, but it does.  More than I have in a long time, I find myself hiding inside and making excuses.  I don’t like excuses.

After a great week in Pennsylvania, where the weather was significantly better, I felt energized…recharged.  I also returned to Phoenix to find the weather was a little more reasonable and a storm system was providing some much needed cloud cover in the mornings.  So, for the first time this summer, I had a solid week of outdoors activity and I didn’t want it to stop.  So as the heat rose, I planned to head up north and get some trail time in around my new favorite stomping grounds…Sedona.

Originally, I was looking for a nice long canyon hike that would allow me to amble along in the shade of the high red-rock walls.  I day-dreamed of running along a dusty canyon trail through Cottonwoods, Junipers and Pine trees.  This, unfortunately, would continue to be a dream as I did my pre-trip research and found that afternoon thunderstorms were forecast for the weekend in Sedona.  Monsoon season thunderstorms in Arizona mean flash floods and a secluded canyon is not where you want to be.  So, as often happens…change of plan.

I browsed my Sedona Trail Map and found a few interesting options that seemed far enough off the beaten path to offer some solitude.  Early Sunday morning, I got myself packed and headed north out of town.  Sunday was also National Hammock Day, so part of my goal for the day was to find a good place to hang my ENO and soak in some classic Sedona views.

driving up 179

In Sedona, I made my requisite stop at The Hike House to review trail options and take a look at their gear selection.  Deb met me at the door and ushered me in to show off some of the new gear and chat.  Then we looked over the map and she agreed that it would be a bad time to do any canyon hiking.  In lieu of a canyon hike I wanted to summit something.  Wilson Mountain was out of the question because it would get hit the hardest by any lightning and monsoon rains.  I asked about a small, strenuous hike on the west end of town that climbed up into the southwestern corner of the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Bear Mountain summit trail is only a 5 mile hike round-trip.  That would make it a much shorter distance than I wanted to hike but with nearly 2,000 ft of elevation gain in the 2.5 miles to the summit, it is strenuous.  Knowing it was a summit hike and storms were due to make their way in, I grabbed a cookie (thanks, Deb!) and headed toward the trailhead.

Bear Mountain as seen from the trailhead

There were a few cars parked at the lot that serves as the trailhead for both Bear Mountain and the much shorter Doe Mountain hike.  There is a decent sized parking lot and restrooms here.  There is also an automated pay-station for the Red Rock Day passes (I don’t think the passes are required anymore, but for $5 it was better to have it and not need it).

Cactus at the start of the trailThis mountain looks much different on paper than it does in person.  On paper, there are a couple of obvious climbs but I was not expecting the exciting geological adventure this mountain offers.  The trail starts across the road from the parking lot in a relatively flat, cactus laden stretch of iconic red soil split by ribbons of deeply eroded washes.  It climbs slowly straight to the base of the mountain comprised of heavily eroded cliffs of Schnebly Hill Sandstone.  A steep 400 ft climb brings me to a distinct ledge of Apache Limestone that has resisted erosion enough to create a relatively level path along the wall of the cliffs above.The first dramatic views from Bear Mountain

It’s Sedona, so I’m already impressed by the views and stopping to take pictures.  The rocky trail is more narrow and overgrown through this section and I am careful to watch for the cairns as I find myself nearly following false trails here and there.  This shelf ends at a narrow cut in the mountain side where the trail begins another steep climb.  I’m excited to see a trail becoming more technical and interesting.  As I hoist myself up out of the ravine and on to the first plateau, I’ve left the cactus behind.  Though there are still Agave, the low-land cactus has been replaced with Manzanita…and lots of it.

rocky trail to scramble to the main deckThe views on this first plateau are impressive, but I know I’ve barely started my climb.  I was anxious to see more.  This is the first place I run in to fellow hikers on their way back down.  A hundred yards or so later I run in to another couple resting further up the trail.  The deck at this section of Bear Mountain is a transition from the Schnebly Hill Sandstone to the very orange Coconino Sandstone.  The scrubby Manzanita is thick across this deck, but still relatively treeless.  Following the cairns carefully, the trail climbs another 500ft or so through a maze of rock and brush across a steeply inclined deck.  The rock gets lighter as you climb eventually revealing a twisted section of sandstone, bleached almost white, turned on it’s side and eroded to reveal etched swirls and striations unlike anything else I’ve seen in Sedona.

This section of the mountain becomes very narrow with sheer cliffs falling into twisted red canyons below on either side.  You gotta follow the trail on the 3D map below to get a good feel for this narrow bridge of rock.  It really was amazing to walk a few feet in either direction and be staring down into steep canyons, each with very unique character.

This is also where the trees start to occur.  I found myself scouting for a place to hang the hammock on the return hike.  It was a meager selection at first, with solitary trees perched here and there.  After more climbing, however, the trees became a little thicker and stronger and options were starting to present themselves.

There is a plateau that sort of presents itself as a false-peak.  In fact, when I got the plateau there were a couple of guys there resting and they announced “you made it!” as if this was the summit and end of the trail.  Clearly, with mountain still above me and my GPS reading that I still had a quarter mile left to go, they were mistaken.  I spent a few minutes taking pictures and soaking in the view from the false-summit but I wanted the top and time was running short.

CLOUDS!This entire time I’d been hiking and watching the clouds far up to the north.  An innocent line of clouds that morning had slowly grown to a picturesque desert sky and then transformed into a black, shadowy mass pulsing with flashes of light and emitting a menacing growl from time to time just to remind me it was coming.  I picked up the pace and made for the summit.  The last push to the top is very different than the rest of the trail.  As I’ve seen in a lot of summit hikes, part of the trail is less traveled, rougher and the cairns are more important to keep on the right path.  The rock here is more broken and loose and the vegetation changes again becoming more scrubby with grasses and Yucca.

Love the flag in the wind and the clouds gathering above...The top is marked with a small pile of rock and a small American Flag.  I paused at the top looking down across the flat, open valley to the southwest.  I stood on a fractured and pitted ledge of stark white Kaibab Limestone at the precipice of a great canyon and watched two hawks chase each other and grapple in the sky below me.  Then as the thunder reminded me of my time frame, I grabbed a few shots of the lone flag at the summit and moved on.

One the way down I found a great spot to hang the hammock overlooking Fay Canyon where I could watch the storm roll in over Wilson Mountain toward Sedona.  I was strapped between two pine trees at a ledge just 20ft or so off the trail and watched a couple of hikers pass below me.  I had a little snack and some water while I rested and watched the clouds move across the horizon, grumbling deeply as it moved, white lightning splitting the sky.

Before too long, I packed up my stuff and returned to my march down the mountain.  I picked up the pace, jogging through the flat parts and scrambling through the more technical sections.  Before I knew it was back to the narrow climb to the main deck, quickly working my way down I was back to the foot of the mountain in no time and headed to the truck just as the first drops of rain were starting to fall.

I drove back into Sedona through intermittent rain.  I stopped in to the Hike House again to say goodbye and grabbed a smoothie for the ride home since I wasn’t really feeling up to a full dinner.

watching the storm come in from my hammock

Bear Mountain really is a great summit hike for Sedona.  It is a very unique experience in place where unique experiences abound.  I think next time I will want to hike Fey Canyon and Boynton Canyon, the two dramatic canyons on the north side of Bear Mountain that offered such amazing views.

Bear Mountain – Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Plenty of trailhead parking. From Sedona take Highway 89A west to Dry Creek Road.  Follow until it dead-ends and make a left on to Boynton Pass Road toward Boynton Canyon.  Another left at the next intersection will take you to the trailheads for Boynton Canyon, Fey Canyon then Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain.  There is a small parking area, bathrooms and a Red Rock Pass purchase booth at the trailhead.

Trail Length: 5 mile round-trip (as described here)
Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous
Open: Year-round but not suggested during winter when snow is expected.

View Bear Mountain by wildernessdave on Breadcrumbs

 

Gear Review: ENO Doublenest Hammock…

ENO Doublenest Hammock

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows I’ve been talking about hammock camping a lot lately.  That’s one of the reasons I was lucky enough to review a copy of Derek Hansen’s book, The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping.  Hammock camping is something I dabbled in years ago, without really knowing what I was doing, and now have returned to exploring.  There are so many more hammocks and accessories on the market now that I’m really excited about testing out a lot of this new gear.  But what got me back in to exploring the Hang was a fluke contest win last year.  I managed to win an ENO Doublenest Hammock kit (including their slap-straps and some other accessories) on Facebook!  Now, I was looking forward to getting outdoors for some overnights with my hammock.

It took a while, but I finally managed to start planning trips that would specifically put me in locations where I knew I could set a hammock.  I’ve now had the ENO out a half-dozen times and I have to say I am really enjoying it.  The Doublenest is pretty small packed into it’s own attached stuff sack (about 4x4x5) and weighs about 22oz.  It’s not UltraLight but it’s lighter than my tent.  The size of the hammock unfolded is 9′-4″ x 6′-8″ which is a little short compared to most hammocks designed for camping.  I would admit that the ENO is designed to be an all-purpose hammock.  It’s not long enough to be considered a true “camping” hammock or “expedition” hammock but it’s a comfortable size and it’s portability means you can take it almost anywhere.

The lightweight parachute nylon material has held up well so far.  The carabiners that came with the ENO were heavy, so I have replaced those with lighter, stronger carabiners (also lightening the overall load by a few ounces).  The seams are all triple-stitched and the gathered-end design translates into maximum strength at the attachment points.  The load capacity on the Doublenest is somewhere in the neighborhood of 500lbs, making it possible for two people to sit in the hammock.  This really isn’t practical for anything more than a nap as two people trying to sleep together overnight in the same hammock will lead to two people not wanting to see each other gain.  The load capacity is effected by the angle of the hang (as illustrated in Derek’s book) so if you are planning on pushing the weight limits of the product, make sure you achieve a solid 30 degree hang.

This is a great starter hammock.  For those new to hammocks, or hammock camping the ENO would be a good place to start.  It’s versatile, light, small, packable and easy to set up.  ENO has tons of accessories on their website like the Slap-Straps, tarps, bug-nets, LED lights for your ridgeline, even speakers so you can have tunes while you hang.

Enjoying the Hang in PrescottFor me, I love the low-impact nature of hammock camping.  I also love having the ability to camp in places where you just can’t with a tent.  I will be exploring more hammock options and looking into some of the more lightweight, expedition hammocks for backpacking trips.  I’ve got a few in mind and, thankfully, Derek has been a great resource for getting deeper into these products.  But I will always love my ENO and I’m sure it will find it’s way along on many future adventures.

 

 

Campsite Impact comparison

Kendrick Mountain Wilderness -or- Prelude to Humphrey’s Peak…

Kendrick Mountain

Humphrey’s Peak is the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 ft.  It’s been on my must-do list for a while now.  A couple months ago, I started chatting with Matt on Twitter about hiking Humphrey’s Peak in June.  My only worry was that I have not been at high elevation in a long time.  The last time I spent any real time above 10,000 ft was hiking the Mount Rose Summit (10,776 ft) in Tahoe in 2010.  Prior to that, my last experience above 10,000 ft was in Peru all the way back in 1998.  I’ve never really had trouble with elevation, but things change over the years so I needed to see how my body would react at elevation and I wanted to do it before making a run on Humphrey’s Peak.

Dirty TruckMy buddy Bryan does a lot of bike races (he was the reason I was in Prescott for the Whiskey Off-Road).  A few weeks ago he asked me, kinda of last minute, if I wanted to go camping with him for another bike race.  The race was a popular 104-mile relay called the Barn Burner.  The Barn Burner Mountain Bike Race covers a 26-mile loop that weaves in and out of the Kendrick Mountain Wilderness area, home of Kendrick Peak.  Kendrick Peak tops out at 10,418 ft and is part of the same volcanic San Francisco Mountain Range as Humphrey’s. It would be a perfect warm-up for hiking Humphrey’s Peak so I packed up some gear and set to drive out to Flagstaff.

That day I had some work that needed to get done before I could get on the road so I got a later start than I wanted.  I didn’t leave the house until close to noon.  By the time I was on the freeway headed north, it was already pretty hot and weekend traffic headed out of town was getting thick.  To make matters worse, there was an accident reported on the freeway about 10 miles ahead and all of us were stuck in a slow crawl up a long grade out of the valley.

That’s when the truck stalled.

I spent the next hour or so with the hood up on the side of the freeway as vehicles crawled by trying to figure out why the truck would have stalled.  I was certain my weekend was ruined and I’d be headed back in to town in a tow truck.  I had managed to get it started once or twice only to have it die on me again seconds later.  Eventually I got it started again and it was done stalling…probably water in the fuel line, but at least it was running again and I was headed north to the wilderness.

Hammock CampingA few hours later I was at camp at the C&C Ranch with nearly 4,000 other people in what was probably the dirtiest, dustiest piece of land in Arizona.  There were signs on the way in describing how the land had been destroyed by overgrazing and the soil was loose and devoid of nutrients.  The soil was so soft and dry that it would billow up in front of your vehicle like water as if you were driving through a shallow pond.

Crazy amounts of dust along with the crowded nature of the camp area convinced me to hike up above the flat into the trees with my hammock and camp above the chaos.  Before it got dark I wandered up to the tree line and found a good spot to hang camp, then walked back down to be “sociable” and have dinner with the race crew.

After a nice dinner and a cold beer, I headed up to my hammock and snuggled in for the night.  More and more I find myself enjoying this style of camping.  The temps got down to about 40 degrees that night and I slept like a baby.  I’m getting used to using a top-quilt and keeping warm with an insulated sleeping pad.

Early the next morning, I shuffled down off the hill and back to my truck to make some camp coffee (thanks to Coffee Brewers).  My plan was to wait until the bike race got going before heading to the trailhead.  The road I would take to the Kendrick Peak trailhead is the same road being used for a portion of the bike race and I didn’t want to be in the way, or creating unnecessary dust for the riders.  I headed out about 8:30 and was near the trailhead by 9am.  The first wave of bikers had made their way around and I couldn’t drive all the way to the trailhead without impeding the race so I parked off the road a half-mile or so down from the trailhead parking lot and hiked up.

Trailhead ParkingThe parking lot is well kept and big enough for nearly 20 cars.  It also has some posted trail and wilderness information as well as a permanent bathroom.  The trail wasn’t crowded but there were several cars in the lot and a couple of groups getting on the trail about the same time as myself.

Kendrick Trail MapI really love hiking in Northern Arizona.  The pine forests with thick green grasses and ferns remind me of a slightly drier version of the Pacific Northwest.  The trail is well maintained and easy to follow.  Though the 4-mile hike to the top is a continuous incline, it’s not terribly aggressive making the hike fairly moderate.  Hiking up the mountain, the trail weaves though Ponderosa Pine, Aspen, Oak, Fir, and Spruce trees and is home to Mexican spotted owls, mule deer, elk and black bear.  I didn’t get to see any real wildlife while I was up on the mountain, but the scenery was amazing even with large sections of the forest along the foothills still recovering from the 15,000 acre Pumpkin Fire back in 2000.

Kendrick Mountain TrailMost of the trail zig-zags through the forest, but occasionally opens up to offer views to the to the south as well as casual glimpses of Humphrey’s Peak to the east.  I kept a solid pace marching up the switch-backs, passing many of the hikers who were already on the trail.  Surprisingly, many of the hikers seemed to be in the over-fifty set.  With the exception of a young woman running the trail and two other women hiking together, I think I was the youngest hiker on the mountain.  When I reached the grassy saddle there were a couple of groups of day-hikers resting on fallen logs enjoying a mid-morning snack.  Smack in the middle of the saddle, surrounded by tall pines and green grass is the old, historic fire lookout cabin.

Built around 1911, the old log cabin is still in pretty good shape.  It was originally built as a shelter for the men working the fire lookout at the summit of Kendrick Peak.  It still has a functional door and glass windows.  Inside, the cabin is kept up with an old spring bunk bed, desk and storage chest with some emergency gear.  On the desk, along with other miscellaneous items, is a small notebook used as a trail sign-in book.

Kendrick Mountain lookout cabinThe trail splits at the saddle.  To the west you head up a rocky, narrow trail to the summit and the fire lookout building and can continue west along the ridgeline on the Pumpkin Trail.  To the northeast the Bull Basin Trail can take you down the north side of the mountain where it connects back to the Pumpkin Trail.  Having done this shorter trail, I would like to go back soon and hike the Pumpkin trail, hammock at the meadow next to the cabin, and then hike back down the Bull Basin Trail.

Kendrick Mountain TrailI left the cabin and headed up to the summit, so far feeling minimal effects from the elevation.  The hike from the saddle to the summit is less than half a mile and, though rocky, is not difficult.  At the top, the fire lookout dominates the peak.  In fact, you can see the massive fire lookout building from quite a distance (I was able to see it from camp that morning).  I’ve been to several fire lookouts in Arizona and this one is different than any of the others I’ve seen.

The first thing that makes this fire lookout unique in Arizona is that it is the only lookout post that does NOT have vehicular access.  The volunteers that work this post have to backpack the 4 miles in with all the gear and supplies on their backs.  There is a very small helipad near the structure for emergency extractions.  I hiked around the back of the structure and across to the helipad where several hikers were stretched out on the warm concrete like lizards soaking up the morning sun.  I pulled an apple out of my pack and soaked up the view from the peak while I ate my snack.

After a short rest, I noticed that most of the hikers had left.  So I secured my pack and walked up to the lookout building to meet the guy working there and have a chat.  It turns out that many of the Arizona fire lookouts are manned entirely by volunteers, most of which have no affiliation with the Forest Service.  I also discovered that they are typically in need of more volunteers on a regular basis.  The guy I was talking to, Ken, said he lives in Phoenix and comes up to man this post for about 5 weekends out of the summer.  He works a regular 9-5 during the week and uses this as his Summer getaway.  Where do I sign up??!!  I asked a few questions and managed to collect some contact information for the guy who manages the schedule for the volunteers.  I plan to call and get my name on the list.

Kendrick PeakThe lookout building itself has a propane stove and fridge, solar power, a bathroom, two double beds, a hammock and 360 degree views from one of the highest peaks in Arizona.  Sounds like the perfect Summer cabin to me!

I thanked Ken for the information and headed back down.  The total hike for me was nearly 9-miles round-trip because I parked further away from the trailhead.  The hike is typically about 7.5-8 miles RT with an elevation gain of nearly 3,000 ft.  The total trip took me about 3 hours. All in all, I never really felt any issues with the elevation even at the solid pace I was keeping.  Humphrey’s, here I come!

Side note: My phone battery has not been working properly lately so I have no track map.  I also had some technical difficulties with my DSLR right before reaching the saddle so I don’t have any pictures of the fire lookout.  Guess this just means I really need to hike this one again!

The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping…

Over the years, in my back country adventures, I’ve tried hammock camping several times.  I have two hammocks I hang in my backyard when the weather is nice.  I have a hammock that picked up specifically for my (formerly) annual trips to Mexico.  I have tried many hammocks in a variety of locations and I’ve always had a great experience, even when it wasn’t ideal.

Cascade at Havasupai…Imagine hiking 12 miles into a picturesque oasis of fantastic waterfalls and crystal-blue creeks.  High red-rock cliffs rise on all sides dripping with verdant greenery creating welcome shade in the normally warm temperatures of Northern Arizona in late Spring.  After the long, hot hike in to camp you set up a luxurious hammock under the canopy of group of shade trees next to the cool creek water…  This was the setting of my first hammock camping trip, a nine-day hang in the heart of Havasupai just above Mooney Falls.

On that trip, I packed in a very heavy cloth hammock.  It was warm in late May and I did not bring a sleeping bag.  Nor did I bother with a tarp, bug net, or any of the other fun accessories available for hammock camping these days.  I was a little cold the first night there, but was otherwise comfortable the entire time in the canyon…and I was hooked!

Since then, I’ve hiked in to various locations around the state with a hammock and have even taken it on some whitewater trips.  Hammock camping, in general, has always been a warm weather adventure for me but as I work to get out in the wilderness more often I’ve looked for ways to make my hammock a more year-round setup.

The Ultimate Hang BookI recently mentioned getting to use the ENO Double Nest Hammock I won last year to do some camping up near Flagstaff.  One of the comments left on that post was from Derek Hansen.  I soon discovered that Derek was the author of a new book called The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping.  After a quick back-and-forth, Derek offered to send me a copy of the book to check out and I happily accepted.

Derek was introduced to hammock camping at the age of 14 at a Scouting event in Utah.  Later, volunteering as a Scout Master himself in Virginia he began experimenting with hammocks again.  He became a very active voice at the worldwide hammock community, HammockForums.net.  Here, his talent and skill as an illustrator played a major roll in his ability to share his experiences and techniques with the Forum.  Eventually, Derek decided to parlay his talent, skills and experience into a concise, self-illustrated guide to the art of Hammock Camping.

Page samples from The Ultimate HangAs soon as I received my copy of Derek’s book, I leafed through it to get a feel for the presentation, expecting it to be a dry read of knots and gear lists.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a fun, well organized, beautifully illustrated, interactive book that reveals a real passion for the subject.  Derek’s writing style is easy and informal offering in a fun read.  It’s organized such that you could read it cover to cover, or jump in to any chapter you want.  The illustrations are a fun fun mix of diagrams and comic-strip style cartoons, making the book entertaining and informative.

Illustration from The Ultimate HangAs a former freelance illustrator myself, I was very impressed with the consistency and continuity created with the illustrations.  The book has a great, relaxed look and feel but presents you with an amazing amount if information.

Another fantastic feature of this book takes advantage of a fairly new innovation just recently finding popularity in marketing circles.  The book is sprinkled with QR codes, allowing you to scan them with your smartphone for more detailed information, a custom “Hang” calculator, links to web pages mentioned in the text, among other things.  This feature I found to be great fun and a beautiful use of the QR code technology.

How to Layer your Hammock from The Ultimate HangThe best part about this book is that it walks you through many of the basics of hammock camping as well as technical knots and DIY projects, making the book relevant for beginners and experienced hangers alike.  Whether you’ve never owned a hammock before in your life, or you are a regular weekend Hang Champ, this book is bound to teach you something that will make your hammock camping experience more comfortable and enjoyable.

Have you been out hammock camping, or thought about hammock camping, but just don’t feel confident in trying it on your own?  Well, here’s your chance…not only will this book help, but I’ve got a copy to give away!  Derek was gracious enough to send me an extra, autographed copy of his book to give away to one of YOU!

Check out the Rafflecopter widget below and follow the instructions for your chance to WIN your own copy of this book.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Campsite Impact on the environment…

I’ve been doing a fair amount of hammock camping lately.  I’ve also been studying and testing gear and techniques associated with making hammock camping more comfortable and convenient.  I’m currently reading The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping by Derek Hansen.  I’m hoping to see Derek at a seminar he will be giving at the local REI about hammock camping and, I’m sure, promoting his new book.

Aside from the technical information about knots, gear, quilts, tarps, etc. Derek also discusses the history of the hammock in Western Culture.  Most interestingly, he does discuss the importance hammock camping plays in protecting the environment.  In my interview with Seth Haber of Trek Light Gear, he also touches on the fact that hammock camping is, by it’s nature, a zero-footprint way of camping.  It is very closely associated with the Leave No Trace school of thought.

To illustrate this point, I took a couple of photos this weekend while I was out camping with some friends.  This photo is not to place judgement or to show that one method is better than the other, simply to show the difference in the impact (footprint) of a typical family camp site vs. the impact of a hammock camp site.

campsite impact on the environment

Whether your style of camping is closer to the top, or the bottom picture…whatever gets you and your family outdoors enjoying nature is good enough!

The sad side of this weekend was something I failed to get any pictures of.  Just a couple of camp sites down from where we were, a previous party had left a giant pile of trash and debris.  It looked almost as if they had brought trash from home just to dump at the camp site.  It was frustrating and infuriating to witness.  Back in Northern California, in the more rural areas, we would find trash dump sites all throughout the forests.  People would use the wilderness as their personal landfill to avoid having to pay to dump in the actual landfill. Often these sites would host appliances riddled with bullet holes and broken down vehicles with rusty frames and the engines missing.

I think it’s that sort of carelessness that I’ve seen in the backcountry that makes me so self-conscious about my own impact on the environment when I’m in the wilderness.  On most local trails, I often return carrying trash I’ve collected from the trail.  On camping and backpacking trips, I go to great lengths to make sure I’m leaving things just as I found it.  My time camping along the Colorado River it was a constant challenge to leave our camp site cleaner than it was when we arrived.

What are your “camp rules” for making sure you leave a clean camp site?

Have you ever tried camping in a hammock?  Would you take an extended trip camping in a hammock?

Weekend camping with new gear…

I was fortunate enough to head up into the high country this weekend to get away from the oppressive heat of The Valley.  I camped just south of the Kendrick Mountain Wilderness area and made plans to summit Kendrick Peak (post to follow!).  The great part of this weekend’s trip was the opportunity to test out some new gear.  I will post full reviews of some of this stuff over the next few weeks and some of it needs additional testing before I can truly review it.  For now, however, I want to give a quick outline of what I got to play with and my first impressions.

Eno DoubleNest Hammock

I love hammocks!  I’ve camped in other hammocks multiple times and there’s nothing like it.  I won an ENO DoubleNest almost a year ago and I’ve only recently had the opportunity to take it camping.  So far, I really like the ENO Hammock.  It’s light, easy to set up with the ENO Slap Straps.  It takes some time to get used to sleeping in a hammock again but it’s really the way to go.  I look forward to using this one a lot and can’t wait to see how well it holds up over time.

Exped Synmat UL

One of the keys to comfortable hammock camping is a good insulated sleeping pad.  I got the Exped a few months ago and have used it a few times now.  It’s super lightweight at just over 1lb and packs down to about half the size of a Nalgene bottle.  I’ve used it now on the ground, in my truck and in the hammock.  It’s been pretty comfortable and I love the one-way inflation valve.

enLIGHTened Equipment Revelation X

I was shopping around for a new sleeping bag a couple months ago after getting frustrated with the size and weight of my old bag.  I started talking with some of you guys on Twitter about a backpacking quilt instead of a full sleeping bag.  I ended up getting myself a nice full down quilt from enLIGHTened Equipment.  The Revelation X is very nice!  It’s warm, soft, light and comfortable.  The first couple of nights I used it I was colder than I expected to be but once I got used to using the quilt it was better.  This recent trip the temps got down to about 40F overnight and I was actually warm enough to have to open the quilt a little to cool off.

GEIGERRIG 1600 Hydration Pack

I just started field testing this pack a couple weeks ago.  I’ve had it out a half-dozen times or so and it’s a pretty nice pack.  I ran in to some minor issues with one of the pieces of webbing but the issue was immediately addressed by GeigerRig as soon as I brought it to their attention.  Otherwise, the pack is very sturdy and well made.  The 1600 is their largest pack and, in my opinion, too big for cycling or trail running.  It is, however, the perfect size for longer day hikes and peakbagging trips.  The pressurized hydration system is taking some getting used to but I have enjoyed being able to easily share my water with my dog when we hike together.  An in-depth review of this pack will follow later this month.

Grower’s Cup Coffeebrewers

A few days before I headed out for Kendrick Mountain a package from Grower’s Cup arrived.  I don’t know who was more happy about this…me, or my buddy who found out we’d have quality coffee at camp.  We brewed up some coffee Saturday morning and it was super easy and faster than brewing coffee at home!  We drank it black and it was actually really good coffee.  I think I want to let it brew just a little longer next time since I like my coffee strong.

Buff USA headwear

I grabbed a couple of these after it seemed EVERYONE got to win one but me!  I used to carry a bandana on hiking and backpacking trips for all sorts of uses.  It came in handy often.  I haven’t carried on in a while and I usually find some reason why I wish I’d had one.  The Buff serves the same purpose except better.  It’s even more versatile than the bandana I used to carry.

Ahnu Elkridge Mid Hiking Boots

I just picked these up Thursday and was excited to try them out.  They were amazingly comfortable in the store when I tried them on.  I wore them all weekend and did a 9-mile peak hike in them.  My feet were sore and tired, but the boots held up well.  I look forward to putting more miles on them.

The North Face Apex Elixir Summit Series Jacket

I picked up this nice little light-weight soft-shell jacket at REI a few weeks ago.  It’s a nice jacket and has good stretch to it so it doesn’t confine any activities.  It’s wind and water resistant and fits me nicely.  I wore this jacket all day Saturday and it was light enough to be comfortable in full sun, but warm enough to keep me cozy in the shade.  It worked well in the high winds on the peak and was water resistant enough to keep me from getting soaked while attempting to get used to spraying water from the GEIGERRIG.

It was a fun weekend that allowed me to spend part of my afternoon at over 10,000 ft (something I haven’t done in close to 15 years).  Watch for my post about Kendrick Peak coming soon.

 

Interview: Seth Haber – CEO of Trek Light Gear…

This week’s giveaway will feature products from Trek Light Gear.  As an introduction to Trek Light Gear, I conducted an interview with co-founder and CEO, Seth Haber.  Trek Light Gear is one of the leading companies producing high-quality lightweight hammocks today.  Designed to be used anywhere, the company is built around Seth’s personal revelation,

What better way to get outside, relax and take a break from a busy life than to lay in a hammock? And, what if you could easily take that hammock, that little piece of heaven, with you wherever you went?

Based out of Colorado, Trek Light Gear has made the rounds to countless shows, conventions and festivals to spread the noble philosophy that “no matter how crazy your life is, you are never too busy to take a few moments and relax.”

Trek Light Gear Logo

Interview with Seth Haber, CEO, Trek Light Gear:

Seth Haber CEO

Hello, Seth.  I’d first like to thank you for allowing us to do this interview with you and for generously donating to the Spring in to Adventure Giveaway for Backcountry Expedition Week.

Q:  First, can you tell us a little about the products that you’ve sent in for this giveaway?

We’re giving away one of our Double Hammocks along with our Go Anywhere Rope Kit which makes it easy to hang the hammock anywhere you go.  The Double is our most comfortable and most popular hammock model, weighing only 20oz and holding up to 400lbs.   We’re also including a pair of our ultralight carabiners which can be used to hang the hammock or for anything else – they weigh less than an ounce each and are rated up to 1100lbs.

Q:  The description of the Double Hammock on the website lists it as weighing in around 20 ounces.  About how much space does it take up in a pack?

The hammock itself packs down into its own pouch which only measures about 5”x8”.  And because the material packs so well, that pouch can then be compressed even further when stuffing it into a pack – the entire Double Hammock packs down to about the size of a softball when compressed.  Another great feature is that the carry pouch itself is permanently attached to the hammock and functions as a pocket while using the hammock – a great, multi-use feature that means you’ll never lose it and there’s no extra weight to carry.

Q:  What material are the hammocks made out of?  What made you decide on this fabric?

The hammocks are made out of a nylon material that’s commonly referred to as ‘parachute nylon’.  After checking out a variety of different ways to make a hammock, I found that the parachute nylon offered the perfect combination of the 5 factors that are most important: durability, breathability, strength, weight and comfort.  The material won’t rot or mildew which is a major problem with other woven cotton or cloth hammocks.  It breathes extremely well in the heat and doesn’t stretch during use.

Q:  With so many different styles of hammocks out there, what inspired you to take the direction you have with the design of the hammocks?

I’m a big fan of simple design and the ‘less is more’ philosophy.  When you get into more complicated hammock designs you’ll often find that there’s more to break, repair, etc. and the improvements offered are often appealing to a smaller set of people.  When it comes to the hammock, I discovered that the same basic hammock design that’s been in use for centuries around the world is ultimately pretty perfect in its simplicity.  It’s not something I invented by any means, it’s simply using a traditional design with different materials.

By traditional design, I’m referring to the woven string hammock design found commonly in Central and South America, not the wooden spreader bar style hammock that’s common in many backyards in the US.  Those are an unfortunate departure from what a hammock should be and if you’re curious to know what I mean by that I highly recommend reading this blog post: “These Aren’t The Hammocks You’re Looking For: How You’ve Been Hammock Brainwashed

Even though we’re using a modern material instead of woven strings, the basic design principles of a Trek Light Gear hammock is really as old as the hammock itself.

Q:  In your experience, how long should someone expect their hammock to hold up to regular use?  When do you know it’s time to start looking for a replacement?

The best answer to that question is that we’re still at 9 years and counting for a number of our original customers.  It honestly amazes even me but people continue to stop by our kiosk in Boulder and let us know that they’re still using their hammocks they bought during our first summer in business.

That being said though, I’ve definitely seen hammocks that people have put through the ringer so to speak.  Holes or small tears in the hammock can be pretty easily repaired (we sell a great repair patch through our site) but a growing number of holes or a major tear in the material is a sure sign that it’s time for a new hammock.

What’s most encouraging is that just about every time I hear from a customer who’s worn out their hammock, they follow it up by telling me how happy they are with how long it lasted and the abuse it took and that they can’t wait to get a new one.

Q:  What do you recommend for taking care of our hammocks to insure they last a long time?

The hammock is built tough but the key is really just to remember that it’s made with a lightweight material that needs to be treated with respect.  Be aware of what you’re wearing when you get into it, you don’t want to hop into your hammock with something sharp or abrasive on your clothing or shoes that could tear the material.

If you’re camping, be mindful of how close to the campfire you setup your hammock.  It’s no different than how you would think of any other camping gear in that regard – embers can have a certain knack for seeking out your favorite pieces of gear and burning holes through them if you’re not careful.

Last but not least, the hammock is designed so you can put it up and take it down literally within seconds.   Like flaming embers, UV rays can be gear-killers, so you don’t want to leave the hammock outside in the direct sun for long periods of time.  By no means does that mean that you shouldn’t use your hammock in the sun or that you should ever worry about having it out while you enjoy a fun day in the sun.  It’s long term exposure that does the damage and over time those powerful UV rays are going to fade the colors and eventually weaken the material to the point that it can tear much easier.  A few extra seconds to bring your hammock in when you’re done will likely have the biggest impact on how many years of enjoyment you get out of it.

Q:  I love that your site has a guide to sleeping in a hammock.  Do you find that a lot of people have trouble sleeping in hammocks simply because they don’t know how to properly lay in one?

Absolutely.  The Sleeping In A Hammock Guide has been the most viewed blog post on our site since I published it.  I didn’t start a hammock company because I was a hammock aficionado or expert, I discovered the benefits of a hammock and eventually found myself learning more about it and spreading that message to others.  As part of my job I’m often at festivals and trade shows talking to thousands of people about hammocks and I started to realize that there are a lot of misconceptions about hammocks and how to properly hang them and use them comfortably.  Telling someone how to properly setup and use a hammock may sound ridiculous if you think there’s nothing to it, but it’s amazing how understanding a few simple concepts can make such a big difference in the experience.

It took me a while to funnel what I’ve learned into a guide that I could publish but since I posted it I’ve gotten hundreds of emails and phone calls from people who tell me I’ve literally helped them get the best sleep of their lives – definitely not something I ever expected when I wrote it. Without rehashing it here you should just read the guide!

Q:  How long has Trek Light Gear been in business?

The first event I did was in 2003 at a street festival in Boulder.  At the beginning I felt like I was simply sharing a cool idea with other people and if it earned me some summer beer money I was happy.  It wasn’t until 2005 that I actually formed an LLC, launched a basic website and started focusing on what it really meant to have a business and where it could go.   In 2008, I finally walked away from my full-time job to focus on Trek Light Gear and it’s been a wild ride ever since.

Q:  Your website, and your company philosophy in general, seem to be all about not just getting outdoors, but finding the moments that make being outdoors special.  This is a great message to have woven into the core values of your business.  How does Trek Light encourage this philosophy in their customers and the community?

I love the question because you really nailed one of the important aspects of what the Trek Light brand and the hammock in particular represents to me.

I see our hammock as a vehicle for experiencing life.  When you lay back in the hammock things slow down – you have a chance to breathe, relax, think, and appreciate your surroundings.  You’re suddenly blissfully comfortable and it has the interesting effect of making you feel at peace and lucky to be where you are.  It’s those moments when you can’t help but think ‘life is good’ even when you’ve got stressful things going on in your life.   You mentioned the outdoors and that’s obviously a huge focus, but it doesn’t even have to be outdoors – a hammock setup indoors is incredible and helps you find those moments just the same.

The idea that ‘life is better in a hammock’ is something that I felt early on and it’s woven into every aspect of the company.  I’ve been so touched by the emails and calls I’ve gotten from people who have told me that the hammock has actually changed their lives or made one of their adventures what it was.  It’s incredible when you think about it – a backpack won’t make your life more memorable.  Neither will a tent, clothing or so many other outdoor gear products out there.  But I hear it all the time from people who’ve discovered the effect the hammock has on them and it’s something I’ll never take for granted as a business owner.

Q:  Your site also talks about hammock camping being a more “environmentally friendly” way to experience the outdoors.  Can you elaborate on this a little for us?

It’s hard to talk about all the positive effects and benefits of camping with a hammock without coming across as anti-tent.  I grew up camping in tents and have lots of great memories hanging out with groups of friends in the backyard or in the woods.  Comfort aside, one of the truths about tent camping is that you’ve got a pretty large footprint where you’re crushing the soil and any plant growth underneath you.  There are studies that show that even one night of having a tent on the ground can kill the grass, wildflowers, etc. underneath.  If you’re camping in a group night after night or other people will be camping in the exact same spot when you leave, you can see how much of an impact it can have over time.   Camping with a hammock minimizes the impact that you have on the soil a great deal. Instead of rolling around on the ground all night your only real impact to the ground is your footprints.

I also believe that one of the best ways to get people to care more about the environment is to get them to connect with nature.  It became apparent to me that sleeping in a tent when you’re camping actually disconnects you from your surroundings – you’re in the woods but you’re practically indoors in your tent.  When you’re in a hammock you’re literally sleeping under the stars (or under a tarp if there’s rain) and that ‘life is good’ feeling kicks in quick.  You’ll realize that you feel a much stronger connection to your surroundings and anything that helps you feel that connection to nature is going to help make you more mindful of your impact.

Q:  Would you consider Trek Light Gear a “Green” company?

I don’t let myself get hung up on the whole ‘green’ company thing.  What we do speaks to how important environmental issues are to the brand and me personally.

We’ve got our ‘Buy A Hammock, Plant A Tree’ program which has planted thousands of trees around the country over the last few years for every hammock we’ve sold.  The impact the program has had is incredible, there’s areas all over the world that desperately need reforestation and I’m immensely proud of the difference we’re making.

We’ve been promoting our Eco Totes (reusable shopping bags) since long before all the plastic bag bans started coming about in grocery stores around the world.  I was reading an article one day that opened my eyes to just how bad the plastic bag pollution problem is – learning that something as disposable and commonplace in our culture as the plastic bag takes over 1,000 years to decompose and often winds up in our oceans.  Suddenly I realized I could use the material we make our hammocks out of to do something about it.  Considering the average person uses about 500 plastic bags a year, every single Eco Tote we get out there makes an incredible difference.

My goal is simply to promote the philosophy that if you enjoy the outdoors we all need to do our part to protect it, one small step at time.  I want people to think about their impact on the planet – that’s definitely a big part of what the Trek Light name represents.  It can be overwhelming for people or businesses who feel like they can’t possibly live up to the high standards of doing everything that being considered ‘green’ might cover.  Just do your best – something as simple as recycling a bottle or using a reusable bag on your next grocery trip can have an incredible impact when enough of us simply care enough to do it.

Q:  I think most of us would suspect that selling hammocks for a living has got to be one of the most relaxing jobs in the outdoor industry.  What does the average day look like for the CEO of Trek Light Gear?

Of course the answer is that it’s not as much time spent lying around in a hammock as you’d think.  But, there are lots of perks – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been somewhere hanging out in a hammock, out on a photo shoot or even just talking to someone about hammocks and had that amazing “I love my job” feeling.  Realizing that while I’m relaxing in a hammock I’m actually at work, it never really gets old.

Right now I love being involved in every aspect of running a business – on any given day I’ve got a million things on my plate: marketing, accounting, customer service, graphic design, blogging, business development, you name it.   The CEO in my title stands for Chief Everything Officer and it’s been an incredible learning experience for me.  It can be pretty overwhelming most of the time, but it’s a great feeling to love your job and not have the same work routine to do day after day.

In February, I signed a lease on the first Trek Light Gear office space that isn’t in my living room or garage.  It’s in a funky warehouse space in Boulder and we’re busy turning it into a showroom complete with hammocks hanging from the ceiling and lots of space to demo all of our products.  There’s a few more projects to complete and then I can’t wait to show it off and invite people in.

Q:  What do you look for when you are looking for the right place to hang a hammock?

The view is definitely the easy answer to that one.  There’s something incredible about hanging a hammock with a beautiful view you can take in as you fall asleep or first thing when you wake up.  To sit near the edge of a waterfall or watch the sunrise on the side of a mountain, those are the moments that are hard to beat.  But, the beauty of having a portable hammock is that it also really doesn’t matter where you are.  When you lie back and close your eyes or look up at the sky it doesn’t matter whether you’re on your back porch or on the edge of the Grand Canyon – life is good.

Q:  Your Facebook Page has some great shots of Trek Light hammocks in amazing locations.  One of the recent REI photo contest winners was a Trek Light hammock photo.  Where was your favorite, or most memorable place you’ve hung your hammock?

There are a lot of spots that compete for a favorite in my mind, but if I had to choose it would probably be on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.  Lying in a hammock and listening to the waves crash on the beach as you drift off to sleep, you could call that my happy place.

The hammock has actually created powerful enough memories for me that I can often just close my eyes and put myself back in a particular spot – even around the office I can lie down in a hammock and suddenly remember the sounds or the way the breeze felt during one of those magical hammock experiences.

Q:  I once spent a week camping in my hammock along a creek.  I woke up in the middle of the night with something repeatedly bumping against the underside of the hammock.  When I finally got my headlamp turned on and looked, there were dozens of tiny frogs making their way across my camp and as they jumped, some would hit the hammock.  It was a very strange and memorable experience for me and one you really wouldn’t get sleeping in a tent.  Have you ever had a strange or unique experience that would not have happened if you were NOT in your hammock?

That’s a great example of why I love being in a hammock instead of a tent whenever I can.  One of my favorite experiences is just waking up in a hammock and watching the sunrise.  You don’t have to go to the trouble of getting out of your tent, putting your shoes on or anything at all – you can just float in a hammock and watch nature come alive right before your eyes.   I’ve woken up to see marmots running around my hammock, fish jumping in a nearby lake, bighorn sheep silhouetted on a mountain range – you realize why you’re out there camping in the first place.  When I sleep in a tent, most of my mornings are spent complaining about the rock or root that kept me up all night and not wanting to really get up until it gets too hot in the tent to force me out.

Q:  Trek Light recently added the Eco Totes to the product line.  Can you tell us a little about what inspired the new product?

Contrary to the note on our website that still refers to them as being recently introduced (I need to update that!) they’ve actually been in our lineup for a number of years now.  I talked about the Eco Totes while answering the ‘green’ question but it’s hard to say enough how important they are.

We’re all used to just showing up at the grocery store and getting paper or plastic bags, I definitely understand that the idea of bringing your own takes a little getting used to.  But, we’ve got to educate ourselves on what’s actually happening every time you get a plastic bag – incredible amounts of oil and other valuable resources go into making something that people use once (twice if you’re lucky) before disposing.  You use it for less than 20 minutes and then it sits around as waste for 1,000 years – that’s a no-brainer.

The idea behind the Eco Totes is that they make it easy to make the switch, they pack up into a tiny pouch so you can easily leave them in your car or have them with you when you need them.   They’re also stronger than just about any similar bag out there because they’re made with the same material as our hammocks.  There are lots of examples of things being sold as ‘reusable bags’ that look like they’ll wear out after only a few uses.  I don’t see the point in calling something a reusable bag if it doesn’t hold up for many years of use.

Q:  What’s next for Trek Light Gear?  Any new projects in the pipeline you’d like to tell us about?  Anything exciting coming up?

There’s lots of exciting things happening here right now.  One thing I’m most excited about is a new backpack design we’ve got coming out soon, it’s a small daypack which can pack down into itself just like our Eco Totes and hammocks and it only weighs about 3oz.  I’ve been testing one for the last few weeks and I’m amazed at how much I’m using it on a daily basis.  It’ll be called the PackBack™ and you heard it here first.  Look for it in Late Spring/Early Summer.

There may be a few other exciting product additions this year, but the big focus for me is in spreading the word even more about our current product line and building a strong retail presence in 2012.  I’ve been focusing on grassroots marketing and building the brand through direct sales for the last 9 years and I’m excited to build on that foundation now by getting Trek Light Gear on as many retail shelves as possible.  I’ve got competitors who have focused solely on getting into stores from the start, so there will be some fun challenges there but our passionate fan base speaks for itself in many ways.  I’m looking forward to making it easier for people to discover Trek Light Gear in their favorite outdoor stores.  It’s a whole new direction for the company but it’s really just an extension of what we’ve been doing all along.

Q:  And finally, I have to ask: I noticed in your FAQ page someone has asked “Can the hammock be used as a parachute?”…how often do you really get that question?

You’d be amazed.  

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