Fastpacking, is a cross between Backpacking and Mountain Running. The defining characteristics of Fastpacking are: 1) Rapid, long-distance mountain travel, on foot, over multiple days, involving camps or bivouacs, and 2) Refined equipment choices and practiced skill sets that allow for both rapid movement and self-sufficiency in a remote mountain setting. Fastpackers share alpinists’ “light and fast” attitude for moving in the mountains. Fastpackers use gear selection, ingenuity, and a streamlined approach as primary tools for maximizing speed and minimizing overall effort, without overly compromising safety or comfort.
Running is a means of terrestrial locomotion allowing humans and other animals to move swiftly on foot. Mountain Running is a discipline of long-distance running that takes place in mountain topography. Mountain Running can be defined by two philosophies: 1) the appreciation of the joy and benefits of moving rapidly on foot through natural mountain landscapes, and/or 2) the athletic pursuit of the fastest possible speed on foot over a given mountain route, given considerations of risk and safety.
The best selection of shoes for mountain adventures, and for training & recovery back down in the valley too. Check out our selection of insoles and socks for optimizing fit and comfort. Ultralight gaiters keep dirt and snow out and the lightest crampons and traction devices add security on snow without weighing you down. Sage to Summit is your one stop shop for mountain footwear!
Proper technical layering systems are key for going light and fast in the mountains. We have the best pieces available for keeping you dry, comfortable, and protected from the elements - without adding unnecessary weight or bulk to your pack.
Fastpacking, also called Ultralight Backpacking, is a cross between Backpacking and Mountain Running. The defining characteristics of Fastpacking are: 1) Rapid, long-distance mountain travel, on foot, over multiple days, involving camps or bivouacs, and 2) Refined equipment choices and practiced skill sets that allow for both rapid movement and self-sufficiency in a remote mountain setting. Fastpackers share alpinists' "light and fast" attitude for moving in the mountains. Fastpackers use gear selection, ingenuity, and a streamlined approach as primary tools for maximizing speed and minimizing overall effort, without overly compromising safety or comfort.
Interested in what makes a good fastpacking trip? At Sage to Summit, we cruise around the Sierra looking for loops and point-to-point routes, to check out as many places as possible. Fastpacking is one of the quickest ways to check out the Sierra. At Sage to Summit we pioneer fastpacking trips and use our ultralight gear so we can get further - faster!
Sage to Summit also hand picks the gear that we believe works the best for ultralight mountain running, fastpacking, and alpine climbing. The gear is reviewed, scrutinized, and tested to make sure it meets the demands of our customers. Sage to Summit gives beta on Eastern Sierra mountain runs, mountain running gear, and mountain running races.
The Big Whitney Meadow Loop is a 25-mile route that explores the open expanses of the northern Golden Trout Wilderness. Download a FREE map of the route on our web site.
Distance: 25.5 miles
Elevation gain: 3,362 feet
Location/Trailhead: Horseshoe Meadows (west of Lone Pine)
Time of year: May/June
Description: From the Horseshoe Meadows parking lot, take the Trail Pass trail up to Trail Pass and then down to Mulkey Meadow. Take the northern fork of the trail to continue on through Bullfrog Meadow and then down to Tunnel Meadow. At elevation 8,950, turn right on the signed trail that heads north along Golden Trout Creek to Big Whitney Meadow. Cross the northern part of Big Whitney Meadow by staying RIGHT at each trail junction, and take this trail all the way up to Cottonwood Pass. Descend back to Horseshoe Meadows.
Many thanks to Linda Emerson for the pics and description!!
The Evolution 100K passes through some of the most spectacular Sierra scenery, from mountain passes, to alpine valleys and serene lakes. It even features the stone-built Muir hut. Many many thanks to Peter Clark for the awesome photos!
Get a FREE download of this description and a map of the Evolution 100K.
Distance: 55 miles
Elevation Gain: 9800 Feet Up and 9400 Feet Down
Location: Piute Pass Trail Head – North Lake. (Ends at South Lake trailhead)
Time of Year: Mid June to Mid October (Snow is likely going over the passes until late July.
Directions from Bishop: Take Line Street West and follow signs to North Lake, approximately 18 miles.
Description: Follow the trail to Piute pass, approximately 5 miles and 2000 feet up. From Piute pass it is 9 miles and 3200 feet down to the San Joaquin River, where you junction with the John Muir and PCT trails. From here you’ll experience some of the most visually stunning scenery in the Sierra as you climb up to Muir Pass. The Pass is approximately 16 miles and 4000 feet up. Now it’s down through beautiful Le Conte Canyon to Little Pete Meadow, 6 miles and 3200 feet away. At Little Pete Meadow you’ll leave the John Muir/PCT trail and turn north, heading up 6 miles and 3200 feet later you’ll reach Bishop Pass. The final 5 miles brings you to South Lake, 2300 feet below Bishop Pass.
Note: This is not a loop trip. You will be exiting a different trailhead than the one you departed from, which necessitates some pre-planning or car shuttles.
I had the pleasure this past winter of using and abusing the Olicamp Kinetic Ultra Titanium Stove and Hard Anodized XTS pot. A long time friend got into my car recently and commented on the array of abuse symptoms in view. She said "you're always so hard on gear". She's right. I beat stuff up. I'd like to think that Sage to Summit came to me to review gear because I can put one word after another and because of my depth of knowledge in the mountains. However, it is likely because I can put years worth of wear and tear on a piece of equipment in just a season or two.
Tester and tested. Cooking ultralight dinner high in Yosemite National Park.
The above truth, reluctant as I am to accept my abusive tendencies, means that the unblemished appearance of the tested Olicamp Kinetic Ultra Titanium propane canister stove and semi-integrated, heat-transferring XTS Pot, is quite remarkable. This is ultralight equipment and would be forgiven for far less rugged durability. Among the lightest on the market, Olicamp's cook gear is also impeccably constructed. The stove lights reliably under all sorts of foul conditions, and the pot protects a fuel can and the stove while traveling, and your soup or boiling water while at camp. Function is strong and consistent, while application exceeds expectations and far exceeds the competition.
What makes this stove and pot special?
First of all, at under 2 ounces, the stove is among the lightest on the market. It isn't available many places, but Sage to Summit strives to connect you with high-quality lightweight gear at a reasonable price. The only lighter propane stoves on the market are far more difficult to obtain, both with regards to price and availability, and only save a fraction of an ounce. The stove has few moving parts, and all have held up just fine. The pot supports fold out to hold a bigger load, but can be collapsed to fit inside the XTS pot with a fuel can. The on/off knob on the Kinetic stove works smoothly and effectively, with a nice modulation from gentle simmer to blow-torch boil.
The pot is solidly constructed, a perfect size for 1-2 people, and has integrated heat-absorbing fins on the bottom of the pot. These fins, available on only a few products on the market, make a huge difference in stove efficiency. What good is the lightest stove and pot around if it requires a ton of fuel? In any case, the XTS pot's valuable heat ring, unlike those from some competitors, is sturdy and well-protected. You can shove this tightly into your full Windrider pack and risk no damage to the precious parts.
The Olicamp XTS pot housing a 8oz fuel can, the Kinetic burner, and a lighter.
How much efficiency do you gain with a pot with integrated heat transfer fins? Because of the large number of variables, it is difficult to quantify. Anecdotal experience on the part of this experienced tester suggests that you will boil a given water volume, or cook a given food serving, in the Olicamp XTS pot with at least 30% less time and fuel than with a similarly shaped, flat-bottomed pot. This means that you can carry quite a bit less fuel. Let's say you're taking a 5 day summer solo trip in the High Sierra. With a "traditional" flat-bottomed pot and low-demand "convenience food", you'd burn about 5 oz of canned fuel. Unless you have a partially empty canister to bring along, you'll have to use a full 8 oz can. We're talking net weight here. That full 8 oz canister weighs about 14 oz. Alright, switch to the far more efficient XTS pot and you'll need less than 4 oz of fuel. That allows you to downsize to the readily available 4 oz fuel cans. A full 4 oz fuel can weighs about 7.5 oz. The efficient pot saved you almost half your fuel weight! Now, of course, this example put you right at the threshold between the two canister sizes. But this isn't uncommon. In general, thinking through your strategy and gear critically will result in similarly compounding weight savings. Your stove system selection is no exception.
Most of my testing was in your standard winter camping setting. I cooked in a dug-out snow kitchen or on a dry rock. Some other integrated canister stoves on the market can be more easily configured to hang. If you will cook inside your tent (gasp! I know, that's verboten. But I've also heard that no man over 30 should be caught using emoticons. You know, I just like to live on the edge ;-)), or on a small ledge, rigging the otherwise excellent Olicamp gear may be unnecessarily complicated.
In the end, for 99% of the self-propelled adventuring I do, the Olicamp Kinetic Stove and XTS pot are an excellent combination. It is a rare piece of equipment that competes with the lightest on the market while functioning near the top of the heap.
The North Face Ultra Kilowatt is a slick-looking shoe designed as part of The North Face's recent "Mountain Athletics" concept launch; in a nutshell a programming of ancillary workouts designed specifically for mountain athletes such as trail runners, fastpackers, mountaineers, etc., to get better at what they do best, namely, pushing the edge of human endurance and exploration in the outdoors. And, of course, The North Face created a whole arsenal of footwear and apparel to enhance the training and performing experience. The North Face Ultra Kilowatt is one such resultant creation.
It is not being marketed as a running shoe, more a cross-trainer; however I have found that, if you are comfortable with or prefer minimal footwear for off-pavement running, then you will probably dig logging miles in the North Face Ultra Kilowatt. I certainly have. They were an enjoyable ride on a 14-miler that mixed up groomed dirt roads and technical singletrack with some steeps ups and downs in between cruiser terrain.
I'm not sure what the drop is but these shoes are very lightweight (9.6oz) and nimble with a thin sole that allows for substantial ground-feel and a need to choose your footfalls wisely. I found the shoe very comfortable with a snug, secure heel cup, a glove-like midfoot wrap and a roomy toebox boasting an expanded protective rubber toecap reminiscent of a climbing shoe's rand, which is as good a lead-in as any to where I feel this shoe can excel beyond the cross-training circuit: run 'n' bagging.
What is run 'n' bagging, you ask? It is a combination of trail running and the scrambling/3rd class-type climbing involved with summiting many of the peaks in the Sierra, and other mountain ranges. Mt Aggasiz, a sexy peak southwest of Bishop, CA straining to reach that 14000' mark, is a perfect example. Five and a half miles of technical singletrack running to Bishop Pass followed by 2000' vert of granite talus-hopping to the spectacular summit views. An annual Sierra outing for me and one I can't wait to test the Kilowatts out on this summer. I believe this is where the North Face Ultra Kilowatt will excel.
One cool feature of the shoe is the use of a Pebax plate and cradle system that enhances energy return and, better yet, is a material that does not vary in stiffness/softness with changing temperatures, assuring a similar feel underfoot regardless of the trail and weather conditions.
The North Face is still a relative newcomer to the trail running/cross-training shoe market but their shoes just keep improving, hopefully just as your running and fitness levels are. Although I wouldn't want it to be my only or go-to trail running shoe (and, as I mentioned earlier, it is not being promoted as such), the North Face Ultra Kilowatt is definitely worth checking out. As a bonus, it pairs well with jeans while hitting up happy hour for a cold one après-run. #ultrakilowatt
The North Face Ultra Kilowatt Upper
The North Face Ultra Kilowatt Profile
The North Face Ultra Kilowatt Outsole. Great for run 'n baggin peaks
Fall is a great time in the Sierra and Iva Bell Hot Springs is a fantastic place to visit.
January and February tend to be the planning months for backcountry trips. If you are new to faspacking or have limited time, Iva Bell Hot Springs is one to check out. It is a great place to camp in the fall, with crisp weather and a relatively empty backcountry. It’s an easy loop (with a small bit of cross-country travel) making it a great place to do a fastpacking overnighter. Beginning at Reds Meadow on the western edge of Mammoth Lakes it’s approximately 10 miles of running through forested country, passing lakes, steep canyon walls until arriving at Iva Bell Hot Springs. There are a few different pools to choose from, all of which are great. If you are looking for really hot water, you will be disappointed, the pools are warm, but not hot. On day 1, it's best to leave early, and you can easily arrive to the hot springs by mid-afternoon, and enjoy an afternoon and evening of soaking. On day 2, you can wake up and enjoy another soak, but be prepared to leave by mid-morning. This is where you will leave the trail and cross-country up to the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s steep getting up to the PCT, but isn’t too long. Once you hit the trail, it’s smooth sailing back to Reds Meadow. This is approximately a 25 mile loop. It’s a great trip if you’re new to fastpacking or are looking for a more mellow backcountry experience. If you want more detailed information go to our fastpacking page and download details on the trip.
Iva Bell Hot Springs fastpacking - approximately a 25 mile loop
Karen Schwartz psyched for a photo opportunity among the fall foliage.
There are many pools to choose from
Hot springs - fastpacking - big smiles
Evening soaks are a MUST!
The off-trail section up to the Pacific Crest Trail is a grind.
Once you are on the PCT - It's FUN and easy running
Altra is a relatively new company out of Salt Lake City making some very innovative running footwear and the Lone Peak 1.5 is no exception. This is a sweet trail running shoe for a variety of reasons.
When I first put a pair on I thought there was no way I could wear it without going down at least ½ size from what I typically wear. The shoe felt way too roomy in the heel and especially in the toebox where my forefoot felt like it was swimming. Once out on the trail though I found the fit to be excellent. I did have to use the heel-lock lacing technique (also known as the “rabbit ears”) to adequately secure my heel in the fairly roomy heel cup but that did the trick.
I have not been much more than a casual convert to zero drop footwear (for short, easy runs on mellow terrain), finding that more often than not, zero drop is generally accompanied by minimal cushioning and underfoot protection. The Lone Peak 1.5 may soon have me going long in the mountains in zero drop for the first time as it is very well cushioned (with a 23mm stack height) and provides just enough stiffness and protection in the outsole to enhance stability and minimize the uncomfortable pounding of a rough, rocky trail without totally eliminating ground feel.
I had a chance to wear test the shoe in late April on the Paiute Pass trail in the Sierra Nevada west of Bishop where I live and work at Sage To Summit. Normally, you would still be strapping on skis instead of shoes this time of year at that elevation but the range was already going through its transition to early summer conditions with a rapidly melting snowpack. This made for a great opportunity to test the shoe in a wide variety of conditions in one 10 mile trail run, everything from dry, sandy, and rocky trail, to wet, muddy and very slick water-covered rock trail to a very soft, slushy snow surface. The shoe performed great in all of these conditions. What impressed me most was the grip of the outsole as I was running hard downhill at the end of the run, taking tight switchbacks quickly and with complete control. Although the shoe was soaking wet from post-holing in “suspended water” snow conditions and the outsole was covered in a layer of gritty, decomposed granite (sand) I never slipped or lost my footing once even when landing on a flat, cambered rock surface.
The Lone Peak 1.5 has an extremely aggressive outsole
As far as specific shoe features go, as I have already mentioned, and as is the case with all Altra models, the Lone Peak 1.5 is zero drop (with 23mm stack height) and has an exceptionally roomy toebox. The shoes are built on what Altra calls a natural or foot-shaped platform. They recommend that there be a 1/2” gap between the end of your longest toe and the front of the shoe. This will feel overly roomy to a lot of people but as long as your heel is secure and the midfoot feels comfortably snug this abundant forefoot room allows your toes to fully splay out as they would when barefoot which enhances the stability of the ride and allows for extra force, or propulsion, as you push off into your next stride. The heel cup is very soft and comfortable due to a minimally stiff heel counter. The lateral and medial sides of the midfoot are reinforced with a more durable material which gives the shoes a slightly more stable and supportive feeling than it otherwise would have. The outsole is well-lugged and super-grippy, giving you confidence on even the most technical descents.
One very unique feature of the Lone Peak 1.5 is the built-in Velcro tab on the outside of the heel counter. If you use lightweight trail gaiters (such as the Running Funky or Dirty Girl lines) this feature will be much-appreciated.
Finally, the outsole extends slightly out from the heel creating what Altra calls a “trail rudder” for enhanced balance and stability, say when making tight turns running downhill; whether this benefit is really accomplished or not, I’m not really sure, but it certainly does not take away from the shoe’s overall performance. It is very similar to the feature on the Adidas Trail Response, one of the original trail shoe options from the mid-90s.
I would highly recommend the Lone Peak 1.5 to anyone who wants to experiment with zero drop footwear but is unwilling or biomechanically-incapable of running without either cushioning or underfoot protection. If stiff heel counters aggravate your Achilles/ankle area or if you have a very wide forefoot, this shoe would be a great option.
The shoe weighs in a 10oz, making it more of a mid-weight than a featherweight option, but still plenty light enough for a racing shoe. I would consider using this shoe for short runs, long runs, flat and smooth, steep and technical terrain, and everything in between. Also, because of its zero drop stability and adequate cushioning and protection, it could be a solid choice for a multi-day fastpacking trip, when you might have a 15-25 lb pack on your back. And, when your feet start swelling from the duration of your outing you’ll have plenty of shoe volume to accommodate it comfortably.
Mountain Running packs are becoming an exploding category, it is difficult to decide which ones to carry. We are testing out quite a few packs this spring. Here is our most recent review by Frank Klein, a runner, climber, and mountaineer. The CAMP USA Trail Vest Light is available at Sage to Summit.
The vest is very light (310g or 10.9oz). It has a lot of storage options; four zippered storage pockets and two water bottle holders in front, one large zippered main compartment with two small Velcro pockets inside of it on back, and a separate hydration bladder storage compartment. The water bottle holders on front are large enough to hold most squeeze water bottles i tested, but they won't hold a one liter water bottle. The holders also have a draw string closure so you can use them to hold other items securely. There are attachments for trekking poles and an ice axe. The storage on the front side of the vest can hold all the food I take on an all day mountain run (a bunch of gels, a few bars, etc.) in addition to two water bottles. The main compartment is roomy enough to hold extra layers and has dedicated small pockets for cell phones and maps. The hydration compartment has the space to hold up to a three liter bladder. The material is very breathable and quick drying. The pack is light but the material seems pretty durable, although I probably wouldn't want to scrape it against too much rock.The straps on the front of the pack are made of elastic webbing. The adjustment system for the straps offers a lot of precise adjustment but is somewhat complex. There is a high strap and a low strap, but the lower one is still above where a traditional backpack's waist belt would be.
I've used this vest on 10 runs from 6-18 miles long so far with the longest outing taking about four hours. I wouldn't hesitate to use it for a longer day, I just haven't yet had the chance. My trips have taken place on trails, on dirt roads, and in cross country areas of the local high desert. On a longer run in sketchy weather I carried a two liter bladder, a rain shell, a lightweight wool layer, gloves, a beenie, a handful of gels, some dried fruit, a water bottle with a sports drink in it, and my cell phone and it was absolutely comfortable! The vest will carry better if the weight is balanced between the front and the back storage areas. This works out well if you keep food in the front pockets and light bulky items like clothing in the back main pouch. I've found the vest to be very secure and not restrictive at all when the load and fit are dialed in, which is really great given how much it carries. The pockets in front are all convenient to unzip and get to while running. The water bottle holders up front are accessible mid-stride and comfortable. The vest has withstood a bit of rock scraping and some pokes and stabs from the sharp and unruly vegetation found in my area. I've found durability to be sufficient so far. The trekking pole attachment system is simple and functional.
There are a few problems. The vest nature of this pack means that it isn't great at hauling weight. If you load the back of the vest with too much weight it can be bouncy, which can get pretty annoying on a long run. This vest can still hold a lot of stuff, just make sure it is appropriate lightweight gear! I find the material the shoulder straps are made out of to be a bit too rough to wear against bare skin. I expect that opinions may vary on this point, but I had to put my shirt back on after 10 miles of running in the heat. The straps can be pretty tricky to dial in, and as you consume food or adjust the load in the vest you will need to adjust the straps to maintain a good fit (there is plenty of adjustment range to compensate, just make sure you get the right size).
The Camp Trail Vest Light strikes a nice balance between running freedom, carrying capacity, and organization. If you find traditional packs restrictive in terms of motion but still want to carry lots of essentials, this is a great option. Even though it has lots of features, they were all done in the simplest, cleanest, and lightest way possible. The vest really finds its stride with longer runs or long fast hikes. It works well for short runs too because it is so light, but it can feel like overkill if you are out for less than two hours. I'm very excited to use this vest in The High Sierra this summer!
The three option Signature Series line of running vests being launched by Ultimate Direction this winter (2012-13) is definitely taking the pack choices for runners and other light and fast-moving adventurers to the next level and I have a feeling these are going to become the latest gold standard. The Series is comprised of 3 packs of varying storage capacity, but all with very similar design features, created with the input of 3 highly accomplished household names in the ultra and adventure-running worlds: Anton Krupicka (the AK Race Vest, the smallest of the options at 4.5L), Scott Jurek (the SJ Ultra Vest, mid-sized at 9.2L) and Peter Bakwin (the PB Adventure Vest at 12L). I had the good fortune of being able to test out the Race Vest and Ultra Vest earlier this fall and immediately wished I could keep the test samples for myself and add them to my gear arsenal.
Not long after I received the samples I had a 50 mile Sierra backcountry adventure run planned and decided to take the Ultra Vest for a spin. After laying out all of the clothing, gear and food that I felt necessary to take along I took one look at the Ultra Vest and thought, “There is absolutely no way all of this stuff is going to fit in this pack.” But as I began to carefully load the pack up the main storage compartment seemed to simply keep expanding and everywhere I looked I was discovering yet another pocket or stretch mesh pouch and the next thing I new everything I wanted to take was in the pack. I truly couldn’t believe it. My excitement was tempered though by another thought, “Okay, it all fits but now that this thing is fully loaded down how is it going to ride?” I put it on and it felt very comfortable but the only way to truly find out was a real world mountain run test.
The Ultra Vest passed that exam with flying colors. The pack felt and functioned incredibly during the all day outing. The features that I am about to discuss are more or less the same with each pack, the main difference being overall storage capacity.
The water bottle holsters are mounted on the front of the shoulder straps for easy access and monitoring of fluid level in bottles. Draw-cords allow for further tightening down to prevent bottles from popping out. I was concerned about enhanced bounce with this bottle placement but that turned out to be unwarranted as I hardly noticed they were there. If you are a diehard handheld bottle runner like me then those 2 bottle pockets can be freed up for additional storage space for frequently needed items such as gels. Speaking of gels it seems that the design team left no space unused where even the smallest of pockets could be placed for storage of small items such as gels, keys, credit card, etc. Some of these pockets are constructed with cuben fiber, making them nearly waterproof and thus ideal for items such as electrolyte capsules.
The use of stretch mesh and cuben fiber throughout the packs allows for a sweet combination of compartments that are either highly water resistant (think protection of gear from sweat or the condensation off a water bladder) or have the ability to expand and contract with changing load size (for instance, when a sudden storm has you wearing all of your gear instead of carrying it on your back), or in some cases both, as with the outer zippered compartment on the Ultra Vest. The outside of each pack is equipped with a stretchy bungee-like cord where clothing such as a windbreaker that may be taken on and off frequently can quickly be secured and re-accessed.
The vest design makes for an exceptionally comfortable ride and the mesh used allows for greater breathability against the skin helping to minimize sweat-soaked back syndrome. The vests are secured across the front with two thin, almost unnoticeable straps, one across the sternum with a stretchy webbing piece that allows some give as your chest expands and contracts during the breathing cycle, and one several inches lower.
In summary, for how lightweight and compact these packs are, they are loaded with innovative features sure to take you the distance of your next race or mountain adventure in comfort and carrying everything you could possibly need. They are due to arrive at Sage To Summit, check them out. Adventure Vest, Ultra Vest, and Race Vest.
Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest: The smallest vest in the Signature Series it is perfect for a 50 mile mountain day!
Profile View - Jacket and Shorts are stuffed in the back sleeve
Front View: The two water bottles are easy to access and perfect for those who prefer bottles over handhelds
The pack can easily fit a jacket, pants and shorts.
"Why is your pack so much bigger than everyone else's?"
I must have been asked that question a baker's dozen times on the way to McClure Meadow where Camp 1, which had been packed in courtesy of mule muscle by the Bishop Pack Outfitters, awaited, twenty-six miles from our starting point at North Lake. It was the first day, and by far the longest, of a 3-day fastpack trip of the 56-mile Evolution Loop with thirteen folks representing Sage To Summit (S2S), Sierra Mountain Guides (SMG) and CAMP USA. Our goals were simple: to thoroughly test and review shoes from New Balance, Brooks, Inov8 and Hoka One One and clothing and gear designed by CAMP, the 122 years-young company sprung out of the needs of pioneering mountaineers in the Old World (Premana, Italy to be crampon-point precise); to iron out some logistical wrinkles for future, multi-day, guided and supported fastpacking trip offerings by SMG on this iconic High Sierra route; and to have a Sierra-sized helping of fun along the way. That last goal was a given, or at least it would have been under normal circumstances. Mine were far from normal.
Four days earlier I had competed in the Pine To Palm 100 Mile in the Siskiyou Mountains west of Ashland, OR, and, as one might imagine, my legs and feet were fully cooked. I wanted nothing more stimulating than the walk from the beer in the fridge to "The Office" re-runs on the couch. In other words, the usual post-race recovery week modus operandi. However, as I mentioned to Neil Satterfield, co-owner of SMG, on the final day, there was no way I could possibly have passed this trip up. I didn't want to have to live that down. I had the rest of the fall to recover.
And so it was that I found myself physically present at the SMG offices at 5:45am on Friday September 23rd, looking around at the almost non-existent minimalist running packs of my cohorts, realizing quietly to myself that I was indeed, mentally and logistically, underprepared for this Evolution endeavor. The idea behind Day 1 was to experience mountain running at its lightest and fastest, thanks to a heaping pile of gear having already been packed in for us for the remainder of the journey. Problem was that in the 2 weeks leading up to the trip I was so absorbed with preparing for, racing and then recovering to some semblance of normalcy from Pine To Palm that, even when I was packing for the Evolution outing, my mind was elsewhere. This fact didn't go unnoticed.
"Yeah, it looked as though your gear and food were really hastily thrown together," remarked Howie Schwartz, co-owner of SMG, who was in charge of getting the group's gear packed up properly for the mule trip in. Understatement! I was more than a little fuzzy on just what exactly I had sent in with the mules which resulted in several extra pounds of "compensatory" gear and food weight, just in case I had truly blown my trip preparation. By the end of the day I was definitely tired, tired of explaining my pack size and feeling like "that guy," as in the one who obviously didn't carefully read the trip itinerary.
Heading up the Piute Pass trail in the early morning light, I quickly settled into the caboose position, finding it ironic that I simply hoped to survive the trip with my body intact. Afterall, three days to "do the evolution" should have felt luxurious seeing as how I had never done it as anything other than a 14-18 hour single-push outing. By the time we reached Piute Pass where Davey McCoy and Tracy Bahr waited with high tech camera equipment at the ready, I knew it was going to be a very long day.
At the pass we transformed ourselves into models, running back and forth along sections of trail, attempting to look fast and natural, our brightly-colored CAMP gear (the Magic Jacket comes in black AND a flashy pumpkin-orange)providing sharp contrast to the still-green meadows and 360 degrees of granite that define the alpine Sierra. These photo shoots would occur frequently and randomly throughout the trip as the Range of Light lived up to its name on its own schedule.
The long descent off the pass, down through Hutchinson Meadow, still displaying an impressive abundance and variety of wildflowers for late-September, and finally to the bomber bridge crossing Piute Creek just above it's confluence with the South Fork of the San Joaquin River all passed by uneventfully as we separated into groups organically, each one finding its own rhythm and topic of discussion. At the bridge we ate lunch and re-grouped for the push up into Evolution Valley. The weather was pleasantly calm and warm, the perfect invitation for a mid-day nap, which is exactly what the lead group of Jed Porter, Chris Gaggia and Ryan Spaulding did while waiting for the laggards.
At the often anxiety-producing Evolution Creek crossing, now barely knee deep and fully-tamed by fall dryness, we re-convened once more for the final leg past McClure Meadow to our camp at the base of the switch-backing ascent to Evolution Lake. Once again I drifted quickly to the back of the pack, this time for good, as my body in general and my feet in particular quickly lost all desire to keep moving forward. By the time I reached camp I felt like I had been transported back to the final ten miserable miles of the hundred the previous weekend. All I could think about was getting off my feet and going to sleep.
The camp was a beehive of activity with everyone scrambling to change into warmer clothing (the CAMP ED Microjacket, with its 680-fill white goose down and hood was the showcase piece of the evening!), set-up shelters, and get meals cooking (Mountain House freeze-dried to the rescue!) in the remaining few hours of daylight. Not long after dark, with conversations about gear, wilderness ethics and the like still permeating the sounds of backcountry silence, I crawled into my sleeping bag and almost immediately drifted off as a final thought about just how I was going to manage the next day tugged at my consciousness.
Less than an hour later I awoke to a near-continuous flickering of light against my eyelids. My first thought was headlamp beams darting about camp but upon opening my eyes I quickly realized the southwestern horizon was the scene of an impressive light show...lightning! The sky above was littered with stars but what would tomorrow bring? Or tonight? I drifted off again wondering if the waterproofness of my bivy sack would get it's first real test.
I awoke to the sound of pine cones landing around my sleeping zone, a backcountry alarm clock of sorts improvised by my trip mates. It was fully light out and I was the last one up. As I hobbled stiffly around, separating gear out into one pile for the final 2 self-supported fastpacking days and a pile for the packers to haul back out, it was immediately apparent that my feet were in no condition for 15 rocky miles of the John Muir Trail. No blisters or injuries, they simply hurt and screamed to be weight-bearing-free, just as they had for the final 10 at Pine To Palm. I had packed in the Hoka One One Stinson B to wear test and unhesitatingly decided it was now or never for the shoes I had summarily dismissed as akin to strapping a couple of Stay Puft marshmallow bags to your feet.
As we headed up the trail to Evolution Lake I couldn't believe how much better my feet felt. I was no longer hobbling and could run without discomfort. The only difference was the shoes. Although my feet were again tired and a bit sore by the end of the day I absolutely had to give the Hokas credit for taking a day that was bound to be filled with locomotive misery and turning it into an enjoyable backcountry experience in which I could focus on the breath-taking Sierra high country instead of my painfully pressure-sensitive dogs.
Popping out of the tree cover at timberline in the lower Evolution Basin, although it was only mid-morning, we were greeted by a dark mass of clouds already assembled along the Black Divide near Muir Pass heading our direction. By the time we reached Sapphire Lake the clouds had closed in from all directions, drawing a curtain of steel-gray over the surrounding peaks. As the wind intensified and the sky filled with horizontal sleet and snow we stopped to empty our packs of every piece of clothing we could find. Adorned in our CAMP-armor (just about everyone was wearing their Magic Pants and Jacket, ED Microjacket and Windmittens) we soldiered on toward Muir Pass at 12000'. Running along the shoreline of Wanda Lake as rumbles of thunder pierced the sound of the howling wind, my feet could feel nothing of the rocky terrain, encased securely in the thick-bed of ultralight foam making up the Hoka midsole, and despite the rapidly plummenting temps I felt toasty warm.
By the time we reached the pass the storm had already been displaced by warming sunshine but it was to be short-lived. As we ate lunch and took turns getting in front of the camera for video gear reviews the storm clouds rolled back in with heightened intensity and we took shelter in the Muir Pass Hut. Jed spent the entire time entertaining us with his attempts to transform his Mega-Mid shelter into a wearable storm suit. Soon enough the deer antlers were borrowed from the wall and, to the random backpackers that wandered in seeking shelter, it must have appeared as though they had stumbled upon an alpine pagan ceremony. These shenanigans were the result of an hour's worth of hunkering down. One can only speculate what truly prolonged, storm-bound cabin fever would have stirred up.
Fortunately, before behavior could deteriorate further, the skies cleared again, this time for good, and we headed over to a nearby snowfield for a mini-clinic in lightweight crampon(examples: the CAMP XLC 490, the Kahtoola KTS and the Kahtoola Microspikes) and ice-axe usage(example: the CAMP Corsa Axe) with Neil Satterfield. Then, it was the long descent down into LeConte Canyon where we set up camp near Big Pete Meadow. Everyone retired early as the plan was a daybreak start on the trail to get up into Dusy Basin during the best morning light for more photo ops. In keeping with the spirit of testing as much gear as possible I found myself trying to get comfortable on an exceptionally-minimalized 3/4 length sleeping pad. It would work great if you got into the proper position and never shifted; an impossibility, at least for me. I didn't sleep nearly as soundly on this night.
After breaking camp in the dark, we steadily ascended the endless switchbacks out of LeConte Canyon and cruised over the lip of Dusy Basin's western edge past a few fall-color-tinged tarns to a mid-morning breakfast spot with a view of Bishop Pass, Mt. Agassiz and the Palisade Crest. Here we conducted extensive video gear reviews and soaked in the beauty of our surroundings.
At Bishop Pass the group divided. Several folks took the opportunity to summit Mt. Agassiz for the first time, while the rest of us continued on down to the trailhead at South Lake. It was a testament to how tired I was that I couldn't convince myself to head up Agassiz, one of my favorite peaks. It was a beautiful fall day in the Sierra and though I'm sure there was no place else any of us would rather have been, we all had various responsibilities to return to. I suppose the inevitable return to reality is what makes adventures like these in the mountains so memorable.
Thanks to everyone who had a hand in putting the trip together and/or who took part in 3 awesome days on the Evolution Loop...
Sierra Mountain Guides: Howie Schwartz Neil Satterfield Jed Porter Terri Fisher
Sage To Summit: Karen Schwartz Chris Gaggia Tracy Bahr Ryan Spaulding Jeff Kozak
Supporting Mountain Running and Fastpacking is what Sage to Summit is all about. We decided we ought to be clear as an alpine stream regarding the terms that define our beloved mountain endeavors. There is not any one definitive source we could find to cite so, with the help of some local active mountain folk who have a way with words and the info available on the almighty internet, we took a stab at it. As it turns out, the lexicon for our activities is as diverse and complex as the people that participate in them... OK, maybe not quite that diverse or complex. We hope this is more interesting for you than reading a dictionary. - Howie
What is Mountain Running?
Running is a means of terrestrial locomotion allowing humans and other animals to move swiftly on foot. Mountain Running is a discipline of long-distance running that takes place in mountain topography. Mountain Running can be defined by two philosophies: 1) the appreciation of the joy and benefits of moving rapidly on foot through natural mountain landscapes, and/or 2) the athletic pursuit of the fastest possible speed on foot over a given mountain route, given considerations of risk and safety.
As with normal running, two feet leave the ground at regular points in the gait, however mountain running may also employ techniques of walking, scrambling, climbing, hopping, jumping, skipping, leaping, sliding, glissading, wading, post-holing, bushwhacking, and swimming for short distances. Mountain runners strive to apply the most efficient technique to the terrain and conditions while also taking into account their own personal capabilities and preferences.
Although mountain running can be done on asphalt or dirt road surfaces, this activity is more often enjoyed on established mountain trails or in rugged terrain where such trails do not exist. Mountain Running activities typically start and finish from points in civilization such as a road, trailhead, lift station, basecamp, or lodging facility and do not require an overnight bivouac in the mountains. Mountain Running activities can be organized competitive athletic events, or casual personal outings. Navigation, routefinding, survival, self-sufficiency, and general mountain sense are important skills for long distance Mountain Running, especially outside of organized and supported race events.
Some Mountain Running itineraries may demand certain mountaineering skills and very lightweight mountaineering equipment. Mountain Runners may use specialized crampons that work on lightweight footwear or a small aluminum ice axe for short snowy sections.The following are generally considered to be outside the realm of Mountain Running: planned multiday journeys carrying bivouac or camping gear, use of a rope, harness, or other climbing security hardware; use of skis, snowshoes, watercraft, or other modes of travel not by foot; terrain that prevents one from achieving steady, rapid, forward progress, such as difficult rock climbing terrain, glacier obstacles/hazards, dense brush, etc.
Relatives of Mountain Running:
Trail Running – Specifically related to running on trails. Trail Running may or may not be done in mountain topography. Mountain Running outings usually involve a significant amount of Trail Running but travel may or may not be exclusively on trails. The term Trail Running typically refers to the running surface more than the topographic setting or context of the activity.
Ultrarunning – Also known as Ultramarathoning. Describes running distances longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). Organized ultrarunning race events known as ultra distance races or ultras, for short, are common and growing in popularity. These races are usually a minimum of 50 kilometers (31.07 miles). Ultrarunning may or may not be organized as a competitive event, and may or may not involve mountain topography. Most Ultrarunners train for and participate in competitive long-distance running events.
Skyrunning – Skyrunning is a racing discipline of Mountain Running that takes place above 2,000m where the incline exceeds 30% and the climbing difficulty does not exceed UIAA grade II. Ski poles and hands may be used to aid progress. The International Skyrunning Federation was formed in 2008 in Italy and most Skyrunning race events are in Europe, but there are also major events held in the Americas and Asia.
Fell Running – Fell Running is an historical predecessor to Mountain Running. Fell running races started in the fells and hill country of Northern Britain’s Lake District, which first gained widespread popularity in the 19th century. The tradition of these races continues today. These are generally adventurous competitions that, in addition to running in rugged, and sometimes boggy terrain, may demand skills in navigation, orienteering, and sometimes require carrying specified survival equipment. These events exclude any rock climbing or travel on loose, unstable slopes. Outside of these races and the United Kingdom, this term is rarely used for similar Mountain Running endeavors elsewhere.
Cross Country Running – Cross Country Running is an athletic racing event that has its origins in prehistoric times. It was first formalized into national competition in Britain in 1876 and International Championship competition in 1903. Running surfaces are generally earth (e.g. trail, dirt road) or ideally grass, and race courses are well marked. Courses are a standard of 5 meters wide to allow passing and are usually between 1.75 and 2km long, featuring rolling hills with smooth curves and short straights.
Adventure Racing – A descendant of Mountain Running racing, Adventure Racing combines at least 2 different endurance disciplines typically including: Trail or Mountain Running, Fastpacking, orienteering, navigation, mountain biking, paddling, climbing, and/or technical ropework. Sometimes races include such unconventional modes as: in-line skating, paragliding, horse/camel riding, caving, canyoneering, and more. Races are team events of various lengths, lasting from a few hours to several days.
Peak Bagging – Peak Bagging is a term for mountain climbing where the principal goal is to reach the summit or a specific set of summits. A difference between Peak Bagging and regular mountain climbing is that in Peak Bagging the summit is usually one of multiple high points of prominence on a list that one has made it a personal goal, or perhaps obsession to achieve. These lists may be published or self-generated, but either way, Peak Baggers tend to make “bagging” the summits on their lists the primary reason for going to the mountains. Routes and styles are secondary to the goal of simply standing on the top. Regional mountain clubs generate many of these peak lists. The “Seven Summits” a list of the highest peaks on each of the seven continents is among the most infamous examples, as is the “State Highpoints” list and the “14’ers” lists in the U.S., and the 4000m peak list in the Alps. The term Peak Bagging can also apply to lesser peaks that typical hikers and Mountain Runners can ascend to without technical skills and equipment. Mountain Runners sometimes take up Peak Bagging as a speed challenge with a summit highpoint, or in an effort to summit as many nearby peaks as possible in a single outing or ridge traverse.
Speed Climbing – Speed Climbing can be defined as climbing technical snow, ice, and/or rock routes as quickly as possible in a very lightweight style. Technical climbing terrain is loosely defined as 4th class rock climbing / UIAA grade III / French PD and harder. Aid climbing is also considered technical. Speed Climbing poses significant risks due to critical dependence on personal skill and abilities, and generally lower margin for error if anything goes wrong. Terrain can be highly exposed to mountain hazards such as falling, rockfall, icefall, avalanche, crevasses, and mountain weather. Speed climbers generally try to avoid standard technical safety systems to decrease weight and increase speed. Less time on a mountain route can reduce the overall exposure time to risk, which in many cases makes climbing slowly with increased safety systems more risky than climbing quickly and continuously without them. Successful Speed Climbing requires a high level of skill and confidence, and an ability to move efficiently in difficult terrain, as well as a willingness to accept the risks involved.
Fastpacking – see What is Fastpacking? below
What is Fastpacking?
Fastpacking is a cross between Backpacking and Mountain Running. The defining characteristics of Fastpacking are: 1) Rapid, long-distance mountain travel, on foot, over multiple days, involving camps or bivouacs, and 2) Refined equipment choices and practiced skill sets that allow for both rapid movement and self-sufficiency in a remote mountain setting. Fastpackers share alpinists’ “light and fast” attitude for moving in the mountains. Fastpackers use gear selection, ingenuity, and a streamlined approach as primary tools for maximizing speed and minimizing overall effort, without overly compromising safety or comfort.
Fastpackers enjoy the increased freedom of movement that comes with a light and fast approach. A lightweight backpack allows fastpackers to also use lighter footwear and maintain a faster pace, including the ability to use a running gait at times. This can make a big difference in overall efficiency and enjoyment. Fastpackers trade the comforts of a well equipped camping setup for the ability to see more terrain in less time, travel in more rugged terrain, and burden their muscles and joints with less load. Competitve Fastpacking is not a recognized athletic event but is usually included in longer adventure races. There are fastest known recorded times for popular trail and mountain routes that are continually challenged by elite Fastpackers and Mountain Runners, but the vast majority of this activity is done strictly for pleasure.
There are three styles of Fastpacking: supported, self-supported, and unsupported. Supported means there is a support team that can supply or tend to the Fastpacker along the way at various checkpoints along the route. These are generally the fastest, lightest trips, and they offer increased safety in case of an emergency. Self-supported trips do not involve a dedicated support team but they allow for self-caching of supplies in advance along the route, and using stores, lodgings, and/or other facilities along the way. Unsupported trips do not make use of outside assistance or self-caching of any supplies. Other than water and endemic edibles that can be ingested or collected along the way, all supplies are carried from start to finish. Unsupported, also known to mountaineers as “alpine style,” is generally considered the least impactful and purest form of the sport. It is frowned upon for Fastpackers to beg supplies from other trail users, unless in an absolute emergency, and it is considered very important that Fastpackers, and all mountain travelers, adhere strictly to the seven ethical principles of Leave No Trace, and respect the laws of the land.
Lightweight & Ultralight Backpacking - These common terms are casually used interchangeably with Fastpacking, and with each other. They are all are virtually the same in terms of philosophy and approach, with subtle distinctions. Fastpacking confers a speed and distance component in addition to the lightweight aspects. Some lightweight backpackers simply want to lighten their load for comfort and enjoyment without desiring to move any faster, or over greater distances. The terms Lightweight and Ultralight have not been officially quantified but some have suggested that the term "lightweight" generally applies to backpackers with a 3-season base pack weight of less than 20 pounds and "ultralight" applies to less than 10 pounds. The terms "super-ultralight" and "extreme-ultralight" have emerged to apply to base weights less than 5 pounds and 3 pounds, respectively. These latter terms have not gained wide acceptance in the lightweight backpacking community, probably because their use takes focus away from the bigger picture philosophy and practical approach to planning and executing lighter backcountry trips, and instead puts emphasis on achieving specific base weight numbers.