Craig Wisner

Archive for May, 2011

Chickens in the garden…

...with my beautiful bird-tamer.

Thanks to my daughter, the chickens are grown and very tame.  For weeks she’d go outside, open the coop, and sit with grass in her hands until they were comfortable enough to get onto her lap and eat.  We owe their friendliness entirely to her- neither my wife nor I have had the time to tame them.  They come out during the day now, roaming and doing what chickens do; plucking bugs from the weeds and fighting one another for the coveted earthworm (Yes, that looks like grass in my yard, but I assure you it’s all wild growth and weeds.  Grass doesn’t get water at my house).  They don’t like being put back in the coop…this is where the dog on a leash comes in handy to corral them back in She loves to chase them, thoroughly enjoying sending them into a panic- though she won’t bite if she catches one.  Eggs are due within a few weeks.  Everyone is healthy and happy- they’ve proven to be a real fun edition to the home.

Three of my neighbor’s chickens were killed this weekend, two Cochins and a white Silkie.  We couldn’t tell if it was raccoon or coyote, but something killed two without too much gore and took the third one with it, leaving only a feather pile in the front yard.  Given the fencing of his yard, I have a hard time believing it was coyotes.  Needless to say, I just got back in from fortifying the coop, sinking more cinder block around the perimeter to seal it from digging attempts.  Stakeout with the compound bow?

Bishop High Sierra 50K Report

The trip started at around 7PM on Friday night, heading out after having dinner and hanging out with family.  With my bed made in the back of the car, I left for Bishop and the start of the race, hoping to find a place to sleep near the course.   Unfortunately, darkness obscured my view of Mount Whitney and all of the Eastern Sierra while driving there.  Peering out the window into the darkness, I could barely make out black monoliths and peaks with the stars above.  Four hours later I found myself pulling into Millpond County Park, the starting point, and found a place to get fitful sleep at the edge of a parking lot.  First light brought amazing views of the country I was in, seeing the peaks above for the first time since last summer.

Morning view from the race start.

I dressed, had some coffee from the thermos, ate a bagel and a banana, and headed over to pick up my bib and timing chip by about 5:30 AM.  Excitement built in the parking lot around me, runners milling about in anxious wait, warming up, making last minute gear adjustments, all periodically looking to the peaks above not entirely certain of what sort of beauty, pain, and work awaited us.  Some were running a 20 mile, others the 50K, some a 50 mile, still others a 100K, all sharing a mass start.


Alas the countdown began, nervous energy relieved, and we’re off towards the hills.  As I wasn’t too confident in my training coming in to this race, I kept the pace super-easy, focusing not on any time standard, but simply enjoying the day.  An easy task as the race energy was some of the most positive I’ve been around.  The aid stations and volunteers were well-stocked and embarrassingly helpful; I was not allowed to fill my own water bottle once all day.  At about 6 miles in I felt great, still holding an easy pace and power hiking anything that got steep.  I met Faye somewhere around this point, our paces identical, we settled in and talked for a while.  A far more experienced distance runner than I, it certainly helped to have an ultra-positive person to pace me.  I was promptly invited to join her and some friends on a Grand Canyon R2R2R this coming September/October which I’ll likely take her up on.  I was pretty certain I was in good company when I realized her tattoo sleeves included a portrait of John Muir as well as Bigfoot cruising on what appeared to be the JMT/PCT.

I pulled ahead of her and went my own way at about mile 10, still feeling great, and now beginning the climb into the higher reaches of the course.  The climb was not particularly steep, but long and slow, compounded by thinner and thinner air.  Snow covered peaks and clouds looming overhead, desert scrub and boulders soon gave way to aspen groves and frequent stream crossings.  Upon reaching the mile 15 aid station, at approximately 7’800 feet, I was getting a bit fuzzy in the head, as were many other runners.  I remember pulling into the station and a volunteer excitedly greeting me:

“Hey!  How are you!  We’ve got water here, HEED, Gatorade over there, soda, what’dya need?”

“Ummmm…” and a spacey look was about all I could manage when forced to make a decision so quickly.  Another guy threw up in the bushes next to me.

“I’m sorry.”  said the volunteer. “I’ll slow down.  Water…(pointing her finger) Gatorade…(pointing her finger) HEED….”

I snapped out of it pretty quickly, had my bottle filled, and pushed on.  The turnaround for the 50K was another 3 miles of climbing ahead, at roughly 8,500 feet.  At this point the aspen gave way to conifer and the clouds broke for a while.  Idyllic, typical High Sierra flora; meadows and trees, snow, rock, and blue sky above.  At the turnaround I got off my feet for a few minutes, stopping to empty rocks from my shoes and eat some potato chips.  Halfway, it was time to go home.  A pivotal psychological point of a run, knowing that it’s halfway done- from now on my steps bring me back towards the finish and more miles lay behind than ahead.  I was never concerned that I couldn’t finish, but at this point I knew for certain it was done, everything remaining downhill from here.  I was feeling great, my easy pace working fine.

And how quickly things can change!  No real physical issues other than sore feet, but somewhere around mile 24 my motivation was somehow slipping away…I’ve always marveled at how this happens during long events, how the other voice can begin in one’s head, the voice of doubt, uncertainty, a voice that can pop up without warning or reason.  I walked for a little while to see if it would help.  Mistake- only making it more painful to start again.  The constant downhill was beginning to take a toll on my joints, not painful, just increasingly uncomfortable.  Not feeling like you can’t do it, but beginning to question why you’re doing it, and certainly not enjoying it.

And just as quickly as it began to fall apart, it all came back together when Faye and her friend caught me.  Buoyed by conversation and two pacers, I was right back in it, feeling good again.  With about 9 miles to go, we all stayed together for the remainder of the race.  Sharing backpacking stories, adventures, races tales (OUCH!  Faye had something like a 30+ hour DNF on a 100 mile, missing the final cutoff by 3 minutes and not being allowed to continue).  The miles rolled by as we descended back into the desert.  The only real issue left was a bad stomach at one of the last aid stations, about 5 miles from the finish.  Coming out of a long, hot stretch, I gulped two cups of icewater, as did Faye.  It seems that was a mistake, as both of our stomachs were screwed for the remainder of the race.  I’m certain that anything would’ve made me puke at that point, but thankfully, not much running was left.

Soon we found the finish in sight- it’s always amazing how the pain seems to intensify yet the pace quickens as you get closer to the end.

“I’ll tie you!” Faye said as the cheers and finish line approached.


And the run was over.

Everything- the snow, the rocks, the hurting toes, the sky, they all now become the stuff of dream and memory.

Despite what I considered to be poor preparation and bad motivation coming in to this, I’m very happy I did it.  This race certainly taught me the power of the mental game, that so long as a base level of conditioning exists, the rest is in your mind so long as you commit.

Gear worn/carried:

OR Sunrunner hat


synthetic T

cylcling arm warmers…love running in sleeves now, great gear.

Asics shorts

Injinji toe socks

New Balance MT101

REI Double Shot waist pack/bottle holder w/one bottle

Montbell Tachyon Anorak (never used)

liner gloves (never used)

Things I’d do again:

Run.  Remember that it will be good out there, that there is nothing to be gained by missing an opportunity like this.

Be confident in oneself.   It’s too easy to slip into apathy and uncertainty, especially when faced with runs/trips you know will be difficult or make you dig deep.

Get out and run with other people.  As I spend so much time running alone, I completely forgot how good it is to be able to pace someone or simply talk to pass the miles or get out of a low spot.

I ate and drank perfectly on this run; no post-race dehydration issues.

Things I’d do different:

Stay away from ice water.  Faye and I both agreed that it was what seemed to do a number on our stomachs.

Carry my camera!  I just figured I’d be too preoccupied…but I missed a lot of cool shots. (Everything here was taken before and after)

I’m thinking a shoe more substantial than the MT101 would’ve been good.  I’ve hiked 50K+ in them, but the pounding of running is worse.  The toe box also started feeling cramped, especially on the downhill at mile 24 and beyond.  Perhaps it was foot swelling.  I also think my feet have been slowly getting wider from going barefoot so much/using minimal footwear.

Train better.  While I’m still very content with my day out there, I feel I let myself down through poor training in the prior weeks.  I won’t say why I failed or make any justifications; I only know this race would’ve been even better if I headed into it with less anxiety over a lack of training.  My time was over an hour slower from paces I’ve held when in better condition.


Doing well so far.  Sore quads and calves, but zero foot issues or blisters.  I’m having a weird burning/tendinitis feeling in my left knee (inner side of kneecap), but it comes and goes.  Too early to tell if it’s a legit injury or only irritation.  Other than that, I feel I could run again tomorrow.

Finally…the Stats:

Distance: 33 miles

Elevation: +/- ~9,000′

Time: 8:09  (Not fast, but a hell of a lot better than not being there!)

Lightweight Comfort Gearlist

Based upon the previous post When Ultralight May Not Be Ultrasimple, this is the gearlist that I’ve created including a 2011  MSR Hubba tent as well as an inflatable pad.  I’ll soon post a review of the Hubba as well as my rationale behind choosing it , but so far, I really like this little tent compared to others I’ve used.

The list was created with my upcoming Lost Coast (including the Sinkyone section) yo-yo in mind, thus the bear canister, but not including my surf fishing kit (which has not been finalized).  The list is also based upon 5 days/4 nights of food and would be more than comfortable for 3 seasons in any weather, bug conditions, or locale that I have backpacked in  so far.  Could I make it lighter?  Absolutely.  But that is not the point of a kit like this- it is for long evenings in camp, 20-25 mile days, sleeping comfortably, and taking my time.  Fast trips require a much different, far more spartan list.

My base weight with this list is a little over 12.5 pounds.  But note that without a bear canister, I would only be a touch over 10 lbs…Skirting ultralight while still carrying a freestanding, double-wall tent and an inflatable pad.  As previously expected, these comforts add only 2 pounds to the typical ~8 pound base that I carry.  So what’s two pounds?

Lightweight Comfort Gearlist for 3 Seasons

Joe Grant Interviews Buzz Burrell

I thought this was a great short piece on Joe’s site:

Buzz Burrell Interview

Joe Grant’s Site: Alpine Works

Death or Glory.

My 50K is coming up in Bishop this Saturday morning at 6am.  From what I gather there’s snow and cold temps in the higher reaches with a chance of rain throughout the day.  Plagued by a few recent weeks of what I consider to be poor training, I can’t say I’m real confident about this one.  I’ve found every reason to talk myself out of it along the way- only to counter with an equally powerful argument of why I should just suck it up and go run.  This waffling has gone on for a few weeks now, to the point that I’m sick of being in my head about it.

I have to go.

DNF, DFL, a limping finish, or Supreme Glory of the Miraculous Sort…come what may, staying at home this weekend and backing out will be far more regrettable than any other alternative.

I may not be running at my best, but I will run.  One thing is for certain: there is no glory on the couch.  So I will run.

When Ultralight May Not Be Ultrasimple.

Aside from the ease of carrying an ultralight gear kit, simplicity is often the most cited reason for converting to a lighter load.  After years of experimenting with just about every type of gear system in the backcountry, I find myself possibly coming full circle in some regards.  My current source of philosophical confusion: the quest for shelter.

Note I did not say the “perfect shelter”.  There is none so far as I am concerned.  But I find my attitudes in this category shifting in a different direction.  I’ll follow some new hunches, see where they lead me, test them in the field.

I’ve begun to question what have become the Holy Grail of ultralight shelter systems: the standard tarp/bivy combo or the venerated mid or hex-style floorless shelter.  What would provoke this blasphemy?  In a sense, it’s the quest for a certain simplicity that I’ve yet to really find.  Though it is often repeated or assumed  that the more minimal the shelter, the more simple the experience (I have personally long held this belief), I have to question this assertion.

I should note that I still believe that the best shelter is none at all; simply laying outside under the night sky has become one of my favorite ways to sleeping; ultralight simplicity at its finest: clear weather and a shelter left at home.  Living in Southern California, I can do this a lot.  But for obvious reasons, this can’t be the only option.  So the choices begin; and in the seemingly endless options I think we have begun to confuse light weight with simplicity.  The two are not necessarily equivalent.

A simple case in point: Using a tarp/bivy combo in the High Sierra during a week of severe rain and ice storms.  This was the same week in which the trout hatchery was wiped out and half of Independence and Lone Pine were flooded.   But there I was, unsuspecting of what lay ahead, proud of my 14 ounce shelter combo, striding boldly forth into the wilderness on the other side of a 12,500 foot pass.  And then the rain started.  And then the sleet started.  And 25 miles later, I was soaked, cold, tired, and it was time to camp and eat.  I followed all the basics tenets of tarp camping, as it was not my first time; I sought out a wind protected site in the trees (thus minimizing horizontally driven rain and spray), found high ground to minimize runoff exposure, and pitched the tarp as low as possible.  I guyed out everything securely, re-tensioned the tarp a few times, and crawled under…to be faced with the grim question of how, exactly, I was going to cook and eat dinner while pinned under a tarp pitched two feet off the ground.  Even though the rain was being directed straight downward by the trees above, it was falling so hard I was catching a ton of spray regardless.  It simply couldn’t have been pitched higher.  So I skipped hot dinner and ate cold food…Laying on my back in a bivy.  In the pouring rain.  At 7Pm.  I lay there in my coffin for at least three hours before being able to sleep; slowly I watched my bivy getting wetter and wetter.  I woke to more rain, a soaked bivy, a sleeping bag that was wetting out due to either condensation, rain, or both, and packed as quickly as possible.  At this point, walking in the cold rain all day was far more preferable to laying in that wet coffin any longer.

In retrospect I can wax philosophical about being part of my environment, about being more connected because of the experience, about what the rain taught me about comfort and being a Stoic.  But on another level, it was just stupid and uncomfortable, and had I not been able to bail out after two more days of solid rain, it could’ve gotten dangerous.  With a traditional tent I likely could’ve been sitting around, keeping my bag dry, comfortably reading, cooking a hot dinner in the vestibule, and enjoying the sound of rain as I fell asleep.

What, exactly, did I gain by saving the additional ~2 pounds a full-coverage, double-walled shelter would’ve cost me?  I certainly did not gain simplicity.  Simplicity in this case would’ve been setting up a shelter in a few minutes, climbing in, and relaxing.  Simplicity was nowhere to be found in the ~2 pounds I saved.

While not as bad, I’ve had some similar negative experiences in floorless mids/hexes that have caused me to question these systems as well; namely, issues with staking in soft soil or having to pitch in rain-soaked, muddy areas and try to stay confined to my small square of plastic groundsheet to stay clean and dry.  The other issue is bugs.  So while these shelters are fully storm-worthy (when staked well), they tend to leave me with a lot of questions and other required gear.  To carry or not carry an inner bug net?  Which one?  Do I want to carry trekking poles or a dedicated pole?  These are hardly insurmountable issues; I’ve dealt with them successfully for a long time.  However, I crave being back to the point of simplicity that I have one solo shelter and it’s the only thing I have to grab.

Coming full circle, the double-walled, freestanding tent seems to fit this bill rather well.  If a comfortable one can be had for 3lbs. or less, I think the additional 1-2.5 pounds is well worth the ease of use and versatility.  Not to mention the simplicity of only having one shelter, always used in the same configuration, that is comfortable and functional for all but epic conditions.

I think I’ve found it and it’s currently in the mail; time and field experience will tell if going back to a more traditional (and slightly heavier)  shelter brings back a different sort of simplicity.

And what the hell?  I’ve yet to detect any discernible difference between an 8 pound pack vs. a 10 pound pack.

Could ultralight be making us soft?  An entirely different conversation….

Drew Chessie Nowhere

Eugene Smith recently sent me a link to an interview with him.  I had seen a few of his photos in the past, but never knew who he was.

Thanks Eugene!  Good stuff to pass along.

The interview:

Drew Chessie’s photos:

Sespe Hot Springs, 4/30-5/1

A quick weekend with friends; Michael, Adan, and Rob of BPL.  Up the Sespe River from Piedras Blancas, about 18 miles of rolling hills and meadows in to the Sespe Hot Springs.

Cliff diving, water flowing, breeze in the face, an idyllic walk.  Grasses alive and lush at this time, quail coveys spooking in explosion every half mile.  Silence and good conversation with good people.  Easy days in the backcountry, a perfect weather window, this area soon to be scorched and parched.

The hot springs were more like warm springs, but did the job nonetheless; drinking whiskey in the water, watching meteors, laughs all around.

Going in.

Looking back on the Sespe River.

Don't mess with a man with a snakeskin headband (Adan).


Morning at the oasis camp.

Grasses and breeze.

Going home.

Thanks guys, it was a great couple of days.