Devils Loop– Photo Trip Report

Trail Name: Crater-Jackita Ridge-Devils Loop Trip Report
Distance: 43-ish miles
Date of Trip: September 20-22, 2011
Permit Info: An overnight permit is required but can easily be obtained at the Methow Ranger District.
Getting There: From Seattle, take I5-N, then Highway 20-E towards Winthrop. Ample parking at the trailhead a few miles after Ross Dam.

Trail Map:

Map from 100 Classic Hikes in Washington

This trip report is going to be a little different – normally I include all the excruciating detail; however – on this trip I decided to keep on my notes in my iPhone vs. my usual pen & paper method; and ended up killing my phone. The trip was almost 6 months ago and I have the memory of a goldfish, so I can't recall all the details.

However, my friend Tim took some great photos that are just too good not to share so here goes a quick photo-trip report.


This trail covers 40+ miles of spectacular terrain dipping into the lonely and vast Pasayten Wilderness in northern Washington. We took it anti-clockwise starting with a big climb up to Crater Lake and heading north to Devils Pass. From here you can do an extended loop (90m or so) by going north, but we only had a few days and so opted for the shortcut west across Devils Dome and a very flat hike out along the lake shore.

Day 1:


Old ruin near ruby peak


Crater Lake (more like bug-pool)


Logging notes in my phone


The elusive Pickett Range

Day 2:

Someone carried that thing up HERE?



My favorite trail lunch


Vast meadows of the Pasaten


Jack Mountain


Pretty Lake & Waterfall


Long Rubble Decent


Lenticular clouds. Spells Trouble! Miles and miles from nearest roads Collapsed Shelter Only water source was a rusty pipe "spring"

Day 3:

A wet start


And so started day 3. It dumped on us all morning with brutal wind. Our cameras didn't come out after this. Devils Done was rough – the umbrellas had a tough time in the exposure and sideways rain, so the waterproof jackets had to ensure most of it. By the time we reached the shores of Ross Lake for our camp site, it was still somewhat early in the afternoon. Faced with a soggy night, we opted for a hike out. We came out by headlamps after an epic 24 mile day.

I made the mistake of taking new shoes for this trip and not replacing the insoles with super-feet. The stock inserts were awful when fully saturated and hiking hard and kept folding up uncomfortably. I won't make that mistake again.

I’m an Idiot

Yes. Self-professed moron.

I've recently been experimenting with taking my iphone into the wild. It's a pretty handy multi-tool; it replaces my camera and gives me a ton more functions (notepad, peak-finder, compass, gps, maps etc) I'll detail about in another post.

However, a couple of weeks ago I did a trip in the Pasayten wilderness and it chucked down with rain. I stupidly put my phone in a cheap and cheerful ziplock sarnie bag and the seal failed miserably.

Five days of drying out in a bowl of rice later, and my iphone is officially toast; and of course, stupidity is not covered by AppleCare.

The sad part is that I have a ton of aLOKSAK bags at home and I didn't bring one

These bags are awesome, bomb-proof and leak-proof. Next time my iphone will be snuggled up inside one.

Free Gear: Ultralight Bear Rope

My last freebie give away was almost two years ago. Time to spread the love again

This time it's some very cool ultralight hanging cord. This stuff is awesome, it's made of Spectra and so is very strong. It has a breaking strength of 329 kg; which means while I wouldn't tie it to my climbing harness and attempt a Factor 2 fall, it isn't going to break when hauling your bags full of food into the trees, no matter how many days worth. It will also stand up pretty well to several games of camp tug-a-war with your new found trail mates.

Unlike most other spectra cords, this one has a flat vs. round profile. This is nice, as if you've every hauled a very heavy sack into trees, the thin round-profile of most light spectra will cut into the branch – damaging the tree or worse, sometimes getting stuck.

This particular cord, comes from one of my favorite ultralight focused companies: Gossamer Gear.

At Gossamer gear, $25 gets you in the cool club of bear-baggers with your 1.2 oz, 50 ft line. The cord is brand-new as I ordered too many.

You my friends, have a shot at the cool club for free today. The only catch is that if you win, you agree to pay postage.

How do you win? Simply submit a comment on this post and include your email address (so I can contact you if you win ) when you do. I'll pick a lucky winner at random at 5pm (PST) Monday Sept 19th.

Good luck.

Update: 9/19/2001: Contest closed and winner announced here.

Perfect Camera Mount

What's the secret for travelling ultralight in the wilderness and yet getting awesome high-quality photos? Bring a friend that is even more of a photography geek that you are, and he'll be passionate enough to lug all the heavy gear himself Winking smile

Seriously I've done a number of trips with Tim now and he's always struggled bringing his DSLR into the backcountry. The challenge is how do you make the camera readily-accessible yet protected and not inhibit your movement? He tried the ˜hang in around your neck' maneuver, but it swung to-and-fro and was not comfortable to hike with. Often, it ended up buried in the top of his backpack and many little shots were missed. It came out for epic moments, but otherwise it was too inconvenient to get it out. To be able to have enough photos to string a trip report together, it's not just about the epics wallpaper-quality vistas – it's about the little things: campsites, junctions, trail flowers etc.

Enter the Peak Design Capture  camera clip:


It worked really well on our last trip, Tim mounted it on the hip-belt of his pack and was bringing out the camera much more often. It sat in a place that didn't interfere with movement – especially when using poles.

We were fortunate to have dry weather last trip, so a little silnylon synch-bag to put over it to protect from the elements will be essential for the next one.

Not only is this an awesome little gadget, but the story behind it is even better: The inventor asked for pre-orders of $10,000 on to make enough cash to do a production run. He received so much PR / word-of-mouth attention on the idea, that pledges flowed in and the project raised over $350k.

Trip Report: Spectacle Lake, Glacier & Park Lakes – Day 2

Day 2 Map:

Lazy Bones

It's not often that during the night I cinch up the string of my sleeping bag hood to barely a pinch-hole. Last night was one of those nights, but not because of the freezing temperature, on the contrary, it was a warm and mild night. I was hunting for darkness – it was bright & sunny all night and the light was waking me up. Too sleepy to question the ridiculousness of my logic, I closed that hood and fell back to sleep. Next time I awoke it was 9:30 am. I can't recall ever sleeping in this late.

I got up and went to reclaim the food bag while Tim started boiling water. Not surprisingly the two other parties camped at the lake had already left. After a quick coffee and breakfast of cold granola and coconut milk we packed up the tarp tent, which had minimal condensation this morning.

Loo with a View

It's worth mentioning that the toilet at Spectacle Lake has probably one of the most spectacular views of any wilderness toilet. Here's my throne  picture for the day:

My only complaint, is that they didn't orient the toilet in the right direction to fully appreciate it.


Climbing up out of Spectacle we passed by one of the solo campers from last night. He was carrying a serious rack of camera gear, including a tripod that look like it weighed 20 lbs alone the irony of the situation is that a lot of it was crammed into a GoLite  backpack. He was probably hauling 40+ lbs in there. I hope he got some great shots.

Annapurna Debate

We started the climb up to Park Lakes the views opened up to some very expansive Vistas. In the distance, a very prominent feature was Mt. Stuart. We tried to make our where Little Annapurna was in relation and guessed it to be on the left. Wrong. Tim whipped out his iPhone and used a nifty little application called Peak Finder; which uses the GPS and doesn't require a mobile signal.

We quickly confirmed it to be on the right. Peak Finder was really fun, and we used it on a lot of the views.

We kept climbing and crossed a few minor snow patches on the trail. Passing an occupied horse camp on the way.

Park Lakes

Our first stop for the day was to Park Lakes, we planned to spend the night there, and so were going to setup our tent and drop off a little gear before making the trek to Glacier Lake and beyond. We picked the smallest of the lakes, as it seemed nice and cozy and very swimmable should we get back in the early afternoon.

Glacier Lake

We we climbed higher on the PCT from Park Lakes the views kept getting more and more epic. Eventually we came across a junction with a smaller trail leading off in the direction of Glacier.

The trail climbed but was wet due to a stream more or less running down it. Patches of snow on the trail got more common as we crested the top. Down below us we could see the pretty looking Glacier Lake, complete with blue-glowing glacier off to the right. However, the trail down to it wasn't so easy. For a while the trail followed a steep gully with fairly good steps down, then we hit a large snow patch. The snow veered off – very steeply into the gully, it appeared to be the natural path, but the fall line took us right over a steep drop that we couldn't see the other side of. To take this path would be very foolish. Rather we traversed across the snow patch trying to get to bare ground to find an alternative route down.

We made around to see where the trail was – but it was hard to spot, and appeared to be now a stream due to the quickly melting snow above it. Far below, we got a good view of the road ahead to Glacier Lake. It didn't look good. A large body of water with falls above it was melting out and creating the large waterfall we saw dropping into Spectacle Lake last night. The water was covered in snow bridges and it was unclear how safe a crossing would be. A fall through one of those bridges could be fatal. We debated for a while on how adventurous we were feeling and eventually decided to take the conservative option. We bailed on Glacier in favor of a hike higher up on the PCT. A lake's a lake, and Glacier would be there next season.

On the way back up the Gully, we ran into two backpackers going down to camp at Glacier. We gave them our trail beta and told them we were turning back, but they seemed adamant to try and alternative path down. They said last year they bushwhacked to Glacier all the way from Spectacle, which would have been quite the adventure. We wished them well.

Up the PCT

Back at the junction, we turned left onto the PCT and hiked a series of long switchbacks in the hot sun. Tim took this fun Action  shot trying to blur my motion and keep the background steady. It ended up almost the opposite, but it's fun how it turned out.

Eventually coming to a high point on a corner, our turn-around spot. The views were outstanding, down to Park Lakes on the left.

and meadow views to the right, where one could see the trail weaving around the mountainside towards Snoqualmie pass. We must have been only 5 or 6 miles from Kendall Katwalk.

While playing with Peak Finder on his phone, Tim noticed he got a signal out here. I guess as the crow flies we were pretty close to I90, but it felt like a long way from civilization. I tried making a quick call to Theresa to say hello to the boys. Alas, voicemail.


We turned around and tore back down the hill at a pretty quick pace. About half way down to the lake, we heard the roar of a fighter jet and looked up to see two of them upside down. Upside down? Yup they completed their barrel roll as they flew overhead. Fun little air-show, just for us.

Of course, you can't witness a barrel roll and not mention the legendary roll of a Boeing Jetliner during the 1955 Seattle Sea Fair. So we yakked about this for a while as we continued to few miles left to camp at Park Lakes.

Camp Photos

It was 3pm, which was a little early for bed, so we took a nice dip in the lake to cool off. Behind the lake was a beautiful copper colored stream which seemed to drain towards Spectacle. It was our source of water in camp.

We ate an early dinner and hung the food. Admiring our almost text-book PCT-method  hang:

We spent the early evening wandering around and exploring the lake, and Tim took some amazing photo as the light turned.

Around dusk the bugs turned nasty and we had to break out the head-nets. There were very large swarms of mosquitoes all over us, but as soon as the sun was down and the temperature dropped, they were almost non-existent.

I set my watch alarm for an early start – 6am – so we could burn most of the 13 miles out before lunch time.

Spectacle Lake, Glacier & Park Lakes – Day 1

Trip Report: Spectacle Lake, Glacier & Park Lakes – Day 1

Last week, Tim and I took a spontaneous mid-week 3-day backpacking trip in the Alpine Lakes area of the Cascades.

Due to an unusually high snowpack this year, we struggled to find the perfect spot for our 3-days. Many of the epic trips we wanted to do were still suffering from high-elevation snows which would mean we couldn't do the mileage we wanted in our allotted time. An excellent compromise, very close to home – was Spectacle Lake and beyond.

Trail Name: Spectacle Lake, Park Lakes, Glacier Lake, PCT

Distance: 30-ish miles

Date of Trip: August 24-26th, 2011

Permit Info: An overnight permit is required but can easily be obtained at the trail-head. This is a crowded area on weekends, so go mid-week or expect to fight for camp spots.

Getting There: From Seattle, drive I90E to Cle Elum, then drive Hwy 903 for 18 miles. Turn left on Forest Road 46, crossing the river and after 3 miles turn right onto a gravel road – following signs for Cooper Lake. Pete Lake trail head is here, people parking on the left, horse parking on the right.

Trail Map:

Map from Backpacking Washington.

Green Trails Maps: #207 and #208.

Photo Credits: The crappy ones are from my iphone, the awesome ones are Tim's.

Day 1:

Checking the scale before we left, my pack was coming in at just under 19lbs with water and 3-days of food. Tim was running a little heavier as he was packing in his Canon 5D for some spectacular shots.

We left Seattle at a nice leisurely 9:30 am and arrived at the Cle Elum Ranger Station around 11. We wanted to check-in on trail conditions and also needed to buy another NW Forest Pass (after leaving mine on the kitchen counter!). The Ranger told us that he pretty much just checks the WTA website these days for trail conditions reported by hikers, as they don't have many field-rangers anymore to keep up on conditions.

Another 30 minutes or so and we were at the Pete Lake trail head, close to the shore of Cooper Lake. It was a Wednesday, and so there weren't many cars in the parking lot, so the mozzies smelled us a mile away. As soon as we got out, a couple came right up to introduce themselves

We read some recent reports that mosquitoes were very bad in this area, so defended against them with Permethrin treatment on our clothing.

To Pete Lake

The hike starts out with a very easy 4 mi hike in to Pete Lake. The trail hugs Cooper River, which reveals itself at various spots along the way – the river had a very pretty copper-blue tone to the riverbed that made you just want to run down the bank and jump right in.

Other than a few junction off-spurs on the way, a couple on horseback and a few hikers coming out, it was a fairly uneventful trip to Pete Lake.

We ate lunch on the shore of Pete Lake – I munched down my usual Day One , PB&J and fresh apple with a little beef jerky. Delicious.

A Wet Bushwhack

A sign at the trailhead warned us that the PCT bridge had washed out and the only option was to ford the creek. Some WTA reports suggested there was a tree down near the bridge that was crossable, but we decided to just do the ford anyway.

Rather than just jump right in, we scouted the bank for a drier option. There appeared to be some cairns marking the way towards a large downed tree. Unfortunately the tree turned out to be inaccessible and the cairns stopped short to another bank, they probably marked an earlier season crossing when the main crossing was too fierce. Foolishly we decided to take the freshly discovered alternative crossing.

We pulled out our socks and insoles (to allow shoes to dry faster on other side) and waded in with our shoes on. The stream was over knee deep in spots, and flowing fast, but fairly easy to cross with poles. However, when we got to the other bank – we had to take a pretty extensive bushwhack through nasty thorny bushes before we were back at the trail. Added an unexpected 20 minutes to our crossing.

On the other side, I re-applied Hydropel to my feet to prevent blisters and put the dry socks on and insoles back in, within ten minutes of hiking the shoes were dried out again. This is a huge advantage for non-goretex light mesh style trail runners – they dry fast.

Zen and Forest Fires

After the crossing the trail weaves through a burned out section of forest and them began climbing up to Spectacle Lake. 

As we hiked though this section Tim has a Zen moment: he noticed that the hard-worn trail we were on had very aggressive growth at the sides. The trail (or wound), allowed there to be more light which allowed for more intense growth to heal itself.

The trees quickly regained their foliage and the trail opened up to pretty meadow views and crossed a foot bridge by a large waterfall.

On our way up to the Lake we ran into a Spanish PCT thru-hiker – he was almost running down the hill. He noticed my ULA pack and stopped to chat. He was also carrying a ULA and was curious what pack Tim had (GoLite Jam). Sixty seconds later and he was on his way, cruising rapidly downhill clocking the miles before bedtime.

The trail finally spurred off towards Spectacle. As you can see in the picture below the lake is almost divided by a long peninsular. When you get to a fork in the trail go left and around the lake to get onto the peninsula; these appear to be the best camping spots. We arrived around 4pm.

We setup the tent and explored the area for a while. The temperature was pleasant and the bugs were minimal.

Not that hungry, we eventually forced ourselves to cook our freeze dried goop and chow down a meal.

Hung the food and tucked up in bed by 8pm ready for a big day up to Glacier and Chickamin Lakes tomorrow.

Spectacle Lake, Glacier & Park Lakes – Day 2

Builder’s Tea

teaWhen most Americans think of us Brits and our tea-drinking habits, visions spring to mind of a bunch of hoity-toity well-todo folks sitting around drinking fancy loose-leaf tea in finest bone china supplemented by crustless sandwiches and little pastries.

For those that have lived outside of the upper crusts of London, the reality is far from it. Good tea , comes in a little bag (without strings!) – and common brands like Tetley, PG Tips and Ty-phoo are the workhorse of the country. The trick is in the timing, how long it's steeped and the right amount of milk.

It's not uncommon to drink five or more cups of tea a day. It's a social thing, and a small-gesture thing too. Friend come over for a chat? I'll put the kettle on. Plumber comes over to fix a pipe? First thing after opening the door is to offer him a nice cup of tea.

Workmen swinging from scaffolding chipping away at bricks, always have a thermos-flask of hot tea on hand for frequent breaks during the day.

This is where Builder's Tea finds its roots: often made from cheap tea, it's steeped stronger that normal, piping hot, more milky than normal and usually with a couple of sugars to soften the blow.

There is quite possibly no better feeling in the world, than sitting on top of the peak of a mountain your just conquered, a little chill in the air, maybe some drizzle, the sound the the stove going off and sipping on a big mug of Builder's Tea.

I don't often go to the effort of breaking out the stove mid-day, but I've had some epic cups (Mt. Rainier, Pasayten etc)  of Builders Tea brewed by my friend Nigel that will have a spot in my memory for a lifetime.

An Ultralight 4-Person Tent?

Sounds like an oxymoron right?

The Marl family are going on a car camping trip soon. What's a guy to do with a two year old and a nine-month (notice my lack of blog posts lately?) old, the wife and a two-man tarptent?

Clearly a bigger shelter is in order

There are a bunch of option out there for mega-tents. REI has somewhat cheap (couple of nights in a hotel), beastly large tents line the Hobitat 4 or Hobitat 6.

The Hobitat is a monster-tent alright, with plenty of head-room for standing, which at first blush given out situation this seems useful. The little guy is still an infant – and too young to roll about on a matt on the floor, so he'll need to sleep in a pack-and-play or something, having a little space to walk around to rock him to sleep sounds tempting.

Then I look at the specs – a jaw-dropping 17 pounds for this tent. At this point I just can't bring myself to do it. Something in my core is so against buying a tent dedicated to car camping I'm not sure I do it enough to justify the extra clutter in our house – even packed up – it's huge: 10 x 10 x 27!

Some point in my future, I'm having fantasies that the boys will be old enough we can start backpacking again as a family and sure as chips I'm not going to lug a 17 pounder up any trail.

After some discussion Theresa and I decide a family backpacking tent is the right option – sure we'll be a little cramped when car-camping, and little baby Jack will be sleeping in a cardboard box, but hey – that just makes it more fun right?


After poking around a little, I stumbled on the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL4. On sale at for $400.

It arrived yesterday and I set it up in the garden. I'm really impressed I haven't been that tuned in to Big Agnes as a brand, but they have a very solid product.

  • It's unbelievably light at just over 4 lbs.
  • It's a double-wall traditional tent!!! With little kids, I'm willing to take the (marginal) weight hit for this benefit not having to worry about them whacking the sides and getting wet or causing condensation to fall on everyone. I love my tarp tent, but it takes a gentle touch  
  • The tent-pole system is awesome, they all snap-together.
  • Comes with very light high-quality titanium pegs.
  • Build-quality and fabric seems very high.
  • Size-wise it's pretty darn tight for four. You have to sleep tops-and-tails and there's no room for gear other than in the vestibule, but at this weight it's at solid trade-off. Bring a black trash bag and store your stuff outside.

I'll report back after a little trail (or car camp) testing

Climb Baby Climb

Chester just turned two and he's got the whole walking and running thing pretty squared away now. Time for a new challenge! Probably too early to put him on Ski's, so I figured – put him on a climbing wall Smile 

Toddlers are top-heavy and can flip easily on a descent – so a waist-harness is not secure enough. I've been looking at full-body harness options.

There are two that peaked my attention:

The first is the Petzl Ouistit – it's a nice harness with some good padding in the leg loops. However, the leg loops don't look as adjustable. It's designed for 4-9 year olds – and while I read reviews of people putting a 3-year old in it – I suspect it might be too big for Chester.


So next up is the Mammut Elefantito. Granted, this thing may look like Joe Brown bodged it together with some left-over slings while eating a bacon buttie at the bottom of Tremadog, however, it is a lot more adjustable and several reviews report it fitting two year olds quite well. So the Mammut wins this time.


Assuming Chester takes to a few trips to Vertical World, Daddy will be breaking out the drill and whipping up a quick 4×8 panel of holds in the garage for him to tinker on.

Baby Jack

Introducing the latest addition to our household – Jack Coyle Marl. Born Saturday August 14th at 1:30am, weighing in at 6 lbs 8oz.

Theresa blew me away with another all natural birth. This one was a lot quicker, but more intense – we were only at the hospital for just over an hour before he graced us with his presence.

There won't be any overnight backpacks in my future this season, but it's a trade off I'm more than ecstatic to make 🙂


5 things to know about Foot Repair

Nothing ruins a backpacking trip more than a foot full of blisters.


Whether you're a traditionalist with heavy leather boots, going the Ultralight way with trail runners, or breaking new ground with funny rubber feet, you will benefit from a little preventative maintenance on the trail to ensure fond memories.

Here are five great tips for keeping your feet nice and healthy on the trail:

1. Pay Attention
Before blister form you will start to feel little hot-spots in your feet. If you start to get the tiniest sensation of this then STOP IMMEDIATLEY and apply prevention to the affected area. Don't just ignore it and hope it will go away in a mile or two.

2. Lube Up
A recent discovery for me is Hydropel. It's a thick Vaseline-like foot lubricant that goes on thick and provides and excellent barrier between your feet and socks. I find that one application of Hydropel each morning lasts all day and keeps the doctor away.


3. Leukotape
Forget moleskin and messy tincture of benzoin. Leukotape welcomes you to the twenty first century. This is a very strong rigid tape that is easily torn to size. Once applies the zinc oxide adhesive makes sure it's not going anywhere. No matter if you have freshly bathed stream feet or sweaty hydropel stink feet, this sucker isn't going to come off in a hurry. Does a great job at preventing further irritation and friction on a developing blister.

In a pinch, duct-tape works surprisingly well also. 
 BSN_LeukotapeTape _LG

4. Soothing stream foot baths
Hot tired feet at the end of the day? Make sure you clean then really well each night. Dip them in a nearby river and wash away all that grime. With ultralight shoes, the quick-drying mesh means that a lot of dust and soil penetrates both shoes and socks, so filthy feet ensue.

5. Toe Socks
Injinji makes some pretty cool toe socks. Designed to separate your toes with a special anti-friction membrane that is light and breathable. These suckers are actually surprisingly comfy. If you're prone to blisters between your toes – these could be just the ticket.


What *is* GoLite Thinking?

A recent comment on my gear list page brought to my attention that the latest Jam (v3) Pack from GoLite is now a whopping 1 lbs 15oz.

Erm aren't we going the wrong way? Let's review the progression:

Jam v1: 1lb 5oz (21oz) (Circa 2003)

Jam v2: 1 lb 10oz (26oz) (Circa 2007)

Jam v3: 1 lb 15oz (31oz) (Circa 2010)


Surely a leading-edge ultralight backpacking company would be making huge technological leaps each year? Shaving ounces OFF their fabrics, straps, padding etc. and striving for a better product

Apparently not.

GoLite appears to be suffering from what (for lack of an existing label) I'll call The Ray Effect . The Ray Effect is an observation made by Ray Jardine in his book Beyond Backpacking.

Ray observes that gear gets heavier the more successful an outdoor company becomes. The more successful a company, the more likely they are to get exposure at big stores – like REI and Walmart (Yes GoLite sells to the mega store). These big stores carry no questions asked  return policies and their customers often take advantage of the perk. A little tear in your pack a year or two later? No problem – REI takes it back. So what do you get if you cross a fragile, needing to be cared for ultralight fabric with a mainstream consumer with high durability expectations? High volumes of returns – where the product gets sent back to the original manufacturer. Their reaction? Make the product more durable. More durable equals heavier, but more profits.

So sadly, one of my favorite ultralight backpacking pioneers of the last decade has lost their way. Fortunately, however, there are other outstanding startups pioneering in their place.

My next backpack will be the ULA Conduit weighing in a scant 17oz (1 lb 1oz), it's almost a pound lighter than the Jam3 and just as functional.

Go ULA! I hope I never see you at REI.