“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was as companionable as solitude.” — Henry David Thoreau
Last weekend was the 2014 Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff or also known as the ADZPCTKO. I don’t know who all thinks this is a good acronym, but I can never remember it. I usually refer to it as the PCT Kickoff. Anyway, it was held on Apr 25-27 as usual at Lake Moreno County Park near Campo CA about 20 miles north of the Mexican border where the PCT trail starts. Moreno Lake Park is located on the PCT trail. Though many thru-hikers start long before and after the Kickoff, a large contingent hike from the border and attend the party. Others start their hikes early in March-April and catch a ride back to Moreno Lake to attend, and then catch a ride back to where they left the trail to continue hiking. In my case, I won’t start my hike until June 13th, but decided to attend the party anyway.
The Kickoff pre-reserved camp sites for all the PCT hikers in advance and then allowed previous year PCT hikers and future hikers to reserve sites as available. From what I saw, there were many, many camp sites available (over 1000 people attended!). The reservations start Thursday afternoon (Apr 24) at 5pm and extend to Monday morning (Apr 28). I arrived on Friday, around noon and setup my new tent, planning to be there for 2-3 nights.
Friday night was a huge rain storm with 50 mph wind gusts. My tent survived until about 3am when it collapsed on top of me. I went outside in the howling rain and restaked my tent. I was soaked to the gills and cold as hell (odd saying…). Reentering my tent got everything wet. My sleeping bag, sleeping pad, all my warm clothes, soaked. 15 minutes later, the tent collapses again. I restaked it again. It didn’t hold. The ground was saturated and the stakes were not long enough to dig in and hold. I was forced to hold the hiking pole that holds the tent up with my hand every time the wind blew hard. This went on the rest of the night as I shivered in my tent, with no more sleep.
At about 7 am, I decided to get out and figure out what I am to do next. I went to the rest room and found a bunch of guys standing around trying to stay warm and dry as their tents had also collapsed. Looking around I saw many tents flattened to the ground. I now wish I would have collected data on the tent brands that held up vs the ones that didn’t. It would have been a great study.
It was still raining and the wind was blowing and I was still cold and wet. There didn’t seem to be any good reason to stay so I left the kick off and went to a friend’s house in San Diego for the rest of the weekend. I remained cold all day Saturday and couldn’t get warm, wearing two jackets while my friends were wearing tee shirts. This was a wakeup call as I had I been hiking, I could be in the middle of nowhere and be soaking cold with no way to warm up. The tent had to go! You might say all I really needed were longer, beefier stakes. True, but the tent is too small. I didn’t have my back pack inside because there was nowhere to put it. It would have had to reside outside in the rain. Not ideal. Also, all the things that I did have in the tent, that I wasn’t wearing, were arranged around the sleep pad and pushed up against the edges of the tent. In this position, the tent is mesh and does not hold out water. Everything got soaking wet. I want a larger tent that has a waterproof bathtub bottom and will keep me dry. I can’t think of anything more important than to keep dry when it’s cold and rainy out. Hypothermia is apparently the primary killer of hikers (not bears or falling off a cliff).
I spent almost $500 on that tent and only used it once. I need to see if they will take it back. When I arrived back in New Mexico, I checked the return policy. 30 days was the limit. I received it 32 days ago. Aghhhhhh… I wrote them an email pleading for clemency but have not yet heard back. I offered to trade for a sleeping bag, as I don’t think my quilt will be warm enough in the snowy Cascade mountains. I hope they will have sympathy. If not, I will have to sell it at a loss, which could take some time. I only have 6 weeks to the start of the hike. This needs to be resolved! I researched alternative tents but have not decided on the best choice. I am being very diligent about the specs and reviews to make sure this is the last tent purchase I make.
Next week I head to northern NM where it is cooler and higher elevation (8000 ft). I hope to do some multi-day hikes, so I will need a tent pretty soon. The last one that failed me was built custom after the order was placed and took about two months to deliver. I will need to buy one off the self. I have a couple of choices that I’m looking at. One choice would revert me back to the previous tent that I owned for about 10 months, then returned it to REI for being too heavy (2 lbs, 10 oz at $389.95). It was the Big Agnes Flycreek UL2:
Nice tent, just heavier than I wanted. Now I see that cutting the weight has its down side. It’s clear that I want a large, free-standing tent, so it won’t fall down. The bottom is a waterproof bathtub so water can’t flow inside the tent. And it needs to have good reviews from those who have used the tent in fowl weather. Who needs a tent for good weather? You can sleep outside in that case (unless you’re terrified of bugs, like me..).
There is another version of this tent called the Flycreek 2 Platinum. It weighs in at 1 lb 13 oz, and costs $500. That’s a
big step down in weight but a big step up in cost. The reviews are generally good, saying that it is the lightest free-standing, double walled tent in the world. Sounds good except that they agree that the weight reduction required the use of thinner materials that don’t hold up well and tears easily. I can’t take that chance, so I’m ruling this one out for now. Bummer, it looked really good…
I found another alternative. The GoLite Imogene Ultralight 2 Person Tent. Only $300 and weighs 2 lbs 8 oz. It has a nice design feature that makes the entry way vertical so rain won’t get in the tent when you open it (unlike the fly creeks). Also, it has a higher peak for sitting up without
hitting the top of the tent. Not sure this is a problem for my hobbit size.. It has very good reviews overall but some folks complained that water came in through the bottom of the tent during a rain storm. Others said it stayed perfectly dry during heavy rain. Also, there were complaints that condensation builds up on the inner surface and drips down on top of you. Two reviews agreed on this. Not sure what to believe. The weight is ok, the price is great and the design is very nice. I’m leaning heavily toward this tent but I will do more research into the water issues. Any tent can get water inside if not setup right and poorly placed in a water path. Condensation is a big concern. Some tents are worse than others depending on how much ventilation is designed in.
I just found another option… The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2. It seems to have very vertical walls and is a “True” freestanding tent. Evidently, the three previous tents listed above must be staked out or the walls are loose and saggy. This tent can be assembled
without staking and moved around easily. This is a very nice option because 90% of the time the weather will be no wind and no rain. In this case, I won’t have to stake the tent out, saving time and hassle. The reviews are all good. Though it does have condensation build up (as with all tents) there are no complaints of it dripping down inside the tent. The biggest two down sides are weight and cost: $400 and just under 3 lbs. I really like the vertical walls and headroom. Also, there are entrances on both sides of the tent. This is probably why the tent is heavier than the Fly Creek. I like this as you can get a good cross breeze on hot days, and if one of the zippers breaks or jams, you have another backup door. This could be the one!!
I’ll keep looking for alternatives until I find the right one, but I need to act soon. Any suggestions are welcome.
As far as sleeping bags, I think I settled for the ZPacks 10 deg Long bag. It’s long enough
to slide down inside to cover my head if needed, very wide for my wide shoulders and the lightest 10 deg bag anywhere. I can get it with hydrophobic down coating that will allow the bag to retain loft (and heat) even if it gets wet. Weight: 1 lb 9 oz. Cost: $465 (ouch). I’m really hoping for the tent trade here…
I’m starting to feel nervous about starting the hike, as it is getting very close (about 6 weeks). The wind is so heavy in NM that I have not been able to get back on my bike. My last hike, yesterday, was 8.5 miles with a 35 lb pack. My legs were tired and feet were sore. I expect my final pack weight to be around 45-50 lbs at the start as I need lots of cold weather gear. I have a long way to go yet! I think from here forward, I will emphasize hiking and mostly eliminate cycling. I need to start ramping my distance and do some overnighters to thoroughly test my gear, learning where changes need to be made.