Patagonia lessons learned

Just got back from a 9 day / 8 night 70 mile trek with Lee in Tor­res Del Paine Nation­al Park down in south­ern Chile.

This was the longest hike I’ve done, both in dura­tion and dis­tance.  Temps were most­ly in the 50s dur­ing the day and dipped down to the low 30s at night.  The wind was con­stant and heavy.  Lots of scat­tered show­ers, one day of heavy rain, and we ran into snow and hail and sleet going over the John Gard­ner Pass at 4,000 ft.  Dai­ly hikes were usu­al­ly 4–6 hours with a max day of 12.5 hours going over the Pass.  Start­ing pack weights were 22 lbs for Lee and 30 lbs for me.  By the end we were prob­a­bly down to 16 & 22, respec­tive­ly.  We had the light­est packs by far on the trail and saw lots of oth­er rel­a­tive­ly unpre­pared peo­ple with way too much shit.  Lis­ten­ing to Dave H.‘s sage coun­sel on all things ultra-light weight was super helpful.

For food we each brought 11 dehy­drat­ed meals and sup­ple­ment­ed that with eat­ing 5 din­ners and 3 or 4 break­fasts at the var­i­ous refugios/huts along the way.  Also ate Hal­vah bars (my fave trail food) and salami/cheese/crackers/crushed up pringles/cookies that we bought either at the super­mar­ket in town before we start­ed or at var­i­ous refu­gios along the way.

We were lucky enough to have excel­lent rec­om­men­da­tions and bor­rowed gear from friends like Brad B and Greg C.  Brad espe­cial­ly was help­ful.  He rec­om­mend­ed a book called “Allen & Mike’s Real­ly Cool Back­pack­ing Book” which, despite it’s sil­ly title was worth twice it’s weight in gold for the good sol­id advice inside.  High­ly rec­om­mend this read to any back­pack­er.  Brad also lent us a tent, ket­tle, poles, sleep­ing bags and pads.  Hav­ing his years of out­door liv­ing in our back­packs was incred­i­bly help­ful and prob­a­bly made the dif­fer­ence between a high­ly enjoy­able trip and one that would have been down­right fuck­ing mis­er­able.  Les­son one:  Have good friends with exper­tise help you.

On to lessons learned (writ­ten down on the trail):

-bet­ter, more orga­nized med kit.  Nice that it was in a lit­tle red nylon pouch, would like to see it a lit­tle eas­i­er to sort through.  Not sure yet how to do that.  Things we def­i­nite­ly will add include:  arnicare/traumed (soft tis­sue injuries/overuse stuff), more ibupro­fen, ace bandage

-earplugs and eye­cov­ers worked real­ly well in crowd­ed camp­grounds and were also use­ful get­ting to sleep at night with so much day­light (4:30 am — 11:00 pm)

-Patag­o­nia brand R1 hoody and Nanop­uff com­bo were the fuck­ing heat.  T‑shirt on bot­tom fol­lowed by those two lay­ers and a rain­coat up top kept us warm in every­thing but the freez­ing temps of the Pass, and I think if we’d just had bet­ter gloves and I’d have had rain­proof bot­toms with ther­mal under­wear we would have been good to go.

-Lee’s back­pack, a Gos­samer Gear Mari­posa, worked real­ly well with all the mesh pouch­es on the out­side for easy access.  Her time to get any­thing was 1/5 of mine as I had an old (and bombproof) Arc’teryx Bora 40.  40 liter pack is just enough to car­ry gear and food for one, but had we not had easy and con­tin­u­ous access to water I would have had to bump up a size.

-we lined our packs with trash com­pactor bags, fold­ed over at the top and then cov­ered with anoth­er (back­up) fold­ed TC bag as a cap.  That seemed to be total­ly water­proof and nei­ther of us had wet any­thing inside our bag despite a full day of Patag­o­nia rain.

-use of glacial melt as ice baths saved the day for both of us com­ing off the Pass.  Although very uncom­fort­able I went from hob­bling to strid­ing in a mat­ter of min­utes.  Should have done them again the next day but did­n’t, trad­ing short-term avoid­ance for slight­ly longer term pain.

-I ordered the wrong size rain pants before we left and delayed in return­ing them, result­ing in not hav­ing them in time for my trip.  I took the light weight Patag­o­nia brand Guide pant which flat-out was­n’t enough for the rain.  Soaked right through, and I learned my les­son the best way, which is the hard way:  Always bring full rain gear.

-Lee wrote down a ban­dan­na for face/head cov­er­ing, more stream­lined leg­gings (she wore reg­u­lar cot­ton pants from the Gap,which left her super cold com­ing down from the Pass) and some kind of open-air camp/shower shoes for the var­i­ous nasty bathing facil­i­ties.  I won’t bring any of that shit, but that’s just me.

-We did­n’t pre­pare enough and should have rest­ed on day 3 instead of charg­ing.  2–3 days of hik­ing and 1 day of rest is bombproof for injury pre­ven­tion, but you don’t always have the time.  We did have the time but did­n’t stop until forced to by injury.  Should have been more dis­ci­plined about stop­ping before it got bad.  Again, learned the hard way. Solid.

-Need to fig­ure out a bet­ter way to carry/organize socks.  It’s a lit­tle thing but know­ing which socks are fresh and/or used only once would be help­ful.  Not essen­tial, just helpful.

-Slam­ming 2 liters of water at the start of the day worked phe­nom­e­nal­ly well to avoid dehy­dra­tion and car­ry­ing excess water in the ruck.  Lots of piss stops, but those were good mini rest stops as well.  I will fol­low the morn­ing 2‑liter H2O slam pro­to­col from here on out.

-our tent (a BD sin­gle wall hiLight bor­rowed from Brad) was awe­some for weath­er­proof-ness.  Shed water well, let in a lit­tle wind but we had NO prob­lems with con­den­sa­tion.  It is billed as a cozy 2 per­son assault style tent, and that’s what it is.  Will look for a slight­ly larg­er tent with a vestibule as we end­ed up just chuck­ing all our extra shit into the trash com­pactor bags and leav­ing them out­side the tent.  Not as secure as I’d like, but it worked well.  Also, a vestibule for cook­ing in inclement weath­er seems like a good call.  Did­n’t have to use ours but thought about it.

-hydropel worked well for any hot spots on our feet, and tap­ing toes worked well too.  Nei­ther of us had any real foot prob­lems due to being super pro-active about foot care.

-Dave H. rec­om­mend­ed I take a hard case for sun­glass­es and like a fool I blew him off.  Will bring a small hard case next time.

-the small primus ket­tle and cat can stove worked real­ly well, need to build a bet­ter wind­screen then the white trash alu­minum foil that I used.  The wind­screen worked, but it’s a lit­tle too light­weight, and I think I could get bet­ter per­for­mance out of some­thing slight­ly beefier.

-cat can stove: good to go.  I brought way too much fuel, that thing is a sip­per, not a gulper.  Fill­ing it up to the bot­tom holes with fuel was enough to get the water bub­bling but not boil­ing, which was all I need­ed.  Some issues:  it’s got a hot bot­tom so can’t use it inside tent with­out some kind of stand, which I did­n’t have.  I think vestibule cook­ing would be fine if you’re care­ful.  Excel­lent hobo skill.

-Brought a wind­jack­et which worked well but was unnec­es­sary because I had my light shell rain jack­et (Patag­o­nia Torrentshell)

-need to get warmer and more water­proof gloves.  Once your hands are soaked you can get fuct quickly.

-Down bags were good to go.  We used sea-to-sum­mit eVent com­pres­sion sacks and those kept our bags dry and com­pressed.  Will con­tin­ue to use this sys­tem.  Am SUPER impressed with the Big Agnes sleep sys­tem, was very warm and com­fort­able at night.  Thanks again, Brad.

-nat­ur­al bug spray was use­less.  Bet­ter off with a head­net and long clothes.

-the spy­der­co and bench­made knives were heavy and I don’t remem­ber using them.  Could prob­a­bly car­ry a light util­i­ty knife or just a few razor blades for same effect.

-should have car­ried more tea, instant soups (miso) and ramen.  Noth­ing like a fast hot meal to make a cold wet day a whole lot better.

-need lighter tent stakes.  The beefy plas­tic orange ones I had from high school were too much weight and not enough strength, esp. in cold.  Cracked one on day 2 from pounding.

-Lee says more soap and hair ties.  Absence of both did not both­er me.

Most of these are lit­tle issues, minor tweaks in an effort at per­fec­tion.  Over­all it was a very com­fort­able and enjoy­able trip despite some incred­i­bly inclement weath­er.  Hav­ing top-lev­el gear real­ly made a dif­fer­ence in our abil­i­ty to enjoy the sur­round­ings vs. bat­tling envi­ron­men­tals.  Lay­er­ing up and down worked real­ly well, and being proac­tive about not sweat­ing kept us warm and stoked pret­ty much the whole time.

Gear List

‑heavy prana t‑shirt
‑surf trunks (I don’t get cold eas­i­ly when moving)
‑inov8 Fly­Roc 310 shoes

Arc­teryx Bora 40

Main Pouch

‑grey/silver ground­cloth, cut to size
‑grey wind­break­er (unnec­es­sary)
‑cook­ing kit in ket­tle (2 pair socks, liq­uid soap, storm­proof match­es and strik­er (could have brought a lighter) therm-a-rest repair kit, sil-fix for tent, cat can stove, tin foil wind­shield for stove)
‑nano puff
R1 hoody
‑long under­wear sleep gear, top & bottom
‑3 x socks
‑food (11 x organ­ic Mary Janes Farm Out­post dehy­drat­ed food packs, just add boil­ing water. Worked real­ly well.)
‑sleep­ing bag in sea-to-sum­mit eVent com­pres­sion sack
‑therm a rest sleep­ing pad as a tube for every­thing to fit into, then…
‑trash com­pactor bag as water­proof inner lining

Out­side Side Pock­ets, lower
‑trash bags for trail trash

Top Out­side
‑1 liter platy­pus, usu­al­ly 1/4 filled
‑potable aqua (did not need)
HEED and Per­petuem (Ham­mer Nutrition)

Top Inside Pocket:
‑tooth­brush & paste, inte­grat­ed into one neat lit­tle system
‑spoon, long han­dled Ti
‑Toi­let paper
‑more HEED, Recoverite, and Perpetuem

Out­side Long Pocket
‑rain jack­et & pants
‑tent poles & stakes
‑fuel bot­tles, 2 x 8 oz and 1 x 4 oz.  Only used 8 oz
‑40′ of 550.  Used as a clothesline.

If you’re going on this trek or have any ques­tions, hit me up.  Thanks to CR for prod­ding me to write this all up.

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