Author Archives: brett

Nigels Real-Time TGO Trip

My friend Nigel leaves for the UK to start his TGO trip next week. He's planning on taking a SPOT communicator with him and having real-time updates of his progress available at his blog.

Check out Nigels TGO Map page for real-time progress.

It shows his 'planned' route, and all points checked-in by the Spot. If you zoom out of the UK and into Seattle, you can see Nigel has been wandering between Redmond and downtown Seattle over the last few days, and either he swam across Lake Washington or the SPOT isn't all that accurate 😉

I for one, will be watching like a hawk and living my life vicariously through Nigel and Lynn, while getting fat eating donuts & coffee at my desk at Cisco. 😉

Thermarest NeoAir First Impressions

I received my new NeoAir in the mail today. My first impressions are outstanding. Read on for the gory details

I was surprised at how small the package was the came in the mail. Upon opening, the NeoAir comes nicely packed in minimal packaging and is about the size of a water bottle.

Here's a shot next to my iphone showing the scale.

After unpacking the mattress comes tightly rolled from the factory. I took a photo, as I thought I would never see my NeoAir look like this again 🙂

However, it is surprisingly easy to re-roll into this tight package even after being inflated. I unrolled the bundle and blew up the pad.

When inflated it takes on a slightly wavy shape to it.

I ordered the short model – which is quite generous in length. I've been accustomed to my Gossamer Gear Torso pad for some time now, and this new length feels down right luxurious. I can't imagine why anyone would want the regular length unless they are snow-camping.

The thickness of this mattress is what blew me away – it is a whopping 2.5  thick. Here's a few side shots:

The weight test? The specs say 9 oz for the small and 14 oz for the regular. My scale showed it at 8.9 oz after being deflated.

The comfort test? On my hardwood floors at home – down right staggering. I think it's more comfortable than my bed. The thickness feels like a crazy luxury and I can't wait to field-test it.

My current sleep solution is the Gossamer Gear Torso Pad, which while functional and very light at 4.7 oz (including the extra insulation pad) isn't exactly a comfortable nights sleep – but I've gotten used to it. The ultra plush comfort is certainly going to give me a good reason to re-think my sleep solution and consider a 5 oz gain for a better nights sleep. Although the weight penalty might be higher, as my Torso Pad currently doubles as a my packs back-pad eliminating weight from my GoLite Jam. 

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

I decided to bite the bullet today and pony up $3 for a 3-pack of Starbucks VIA.

My best option for backpacking so far has been Medaglia D'Oro instant espresso – which isn't terrible.

So does Starbucks VIA live up to it's hype?

In its dry form, the instant coffee resembled very finely ground regular coffee, and doesn't at all look like the typical freeze-dried granules  of the revolting varieties like Nescafe and Folgers.

The taste test? I wouldn't go as far as to call it great  – but it's actually pretty decent. On the trail – I expect it will be fabulous. It has the grittiness and texture of real brewed black coffee, and almost tastes like the real thing.

I mixed it with less water than recommended to make it nice and strong, and noticed it left a concentration in the bottom that was very bitter where the grounds didn't completely dissolve.

Definitely coming on some trips with me this year

We’re going to Wonderland – Take 2

I received a letter today saying that our permit for the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier has been approved. Last year we had to abandon our early season permit due to lingering snowpack. This year, we opted for a trip at the end August spanning over labor day weekend.

I didn't fancy our odds for a permit in August – but the stars aligned

Our Camp sites are as follows

  • Mowich Lake (Start, No Camp)
  • Mystic Camp
  • White River
  • Indian Bar
  • Maple Creek
  • Paradise River
  • Devils Dream
  • Klapatche Park
  • Golden Lakes
  • Out at Mowich Lake

Oh and to top of a great start to April – REI is apparently receiving a shipment of Thermarest NEO Air sleeping pads this week.

Flip Mino HD


The company I work for (Cisco), just announced the intent to acquire Pure Digital – makers of the Flip, for a whopping $590m. The CEO of Pure Digital, Jonathan Kaplan, was in Seattle and spoke at our company meeting yesterday.

The flip is a very cool product. I'm not sure my backpacking trips are ever entertaining enough to want to shoot video – but I'm sure some readers might find the idea interesting.

If you haven't heard of it before (living under a rock?) then it's a tiny Digital Video Camera – about 4  x 2  and weighs a ridiculous 3.3 oz. It has built-in storage, but it's elegance it truly in it's simplicity.

Jonathan was a humble yet inspiring guy – his tenacity on simplicity really shows in the Flip. I've wrestled with camcorders, codecs, video problems, fire-wire connections and all sorts of mess in the past. The flip – is insanely easy – you just flip a switch on the side and up pops a USB connector. Plug it into your PC, some simple software runs automatically and hey presto – your video is on YouTube or off to your friends and family via a link in email.

It is truly in the league of an Apple product – something all consumer companies aspire to – but very few can ever achieve.

More info at

End Footwear

End looks like an interesting company. End stands for Environmentally Neutral Design , and they go out of their way to use the greenest materials and processes possible.

More interestingly, is that they have an 8.5 oz shoe. They look more of a street shoe than a trail runner to me, but they certainly peak my curiosity.

REI is stocking some of their shoes, but more info can be found at their website:

Live Writer 2009 Released

Windows Live Writer (which I use to post and edit my blog), shipped it's Release Candidate today as the official 2009 release. After the Vista fiasco, I was starting to loose faith in MSFTs ability to ship decent software. The Live Writer team has given me hope again – it's been a solid product from the start (with a good plugin-SDK backing it up), but it keeps getting better – especially with this release.

Cool new features?

  • They have made my Polaroid Plugin add-on obsolete, by integrating new Polaroid style borders and tilt-effect abilities directly into Live Writer, here's an example of their instant photo  effect. Although, I find the ˜tilt' function buried a little too deep to be useful.


  • They fixed their annoying bug where you can now click on a photo and center it vs. having to select beyond the photo.
  • The added a wicked-cool photo album effect  where you can upload multiple photos and LW will auto-generate a ˜collage' effect for you with a bunch of different layout options. For example, here's little Chester munching away on his first ever spoonful of solid food at 4 months old:
  • The only annoying part is that it forces you to link to Windows Live Photo Gallery vs. your own blog. However, I've used effects like this on some of my trip reports before – but it's been a bunch of work to generate them in Photoshop, so atleast LW now does all the heavy lifting for me.
  • They also added the ability to filter your blog posts when inserting links to previous blog articles, together with an ˜auto-link this word' feature. Both of these are really useful and will save a ton of time.

Kudo's to the Live Writer team on a great release – I look forward to using it more.

Dropping out of the TGO


This has been an agonizing decision for me over the last week. Several conversations I have had with Theresa have made me re-assess my current plans to travel to Scotland and hike the TGO in May. There are many many reasons I really want to do the TGO (not least of which, it's on my Top-5 list), and a handful that give me pause for thought; but it boils down to two major factors:

  1. When I initially explored the TGO I viewed it as 200 miles across Scotland , and in my head, I did the math as Crank it out in 9-10 days, get the T-shirt, back on the plane, job done.  Since spending more time on the TGO forums and reading several trip reports (especially this one of a newbie TGO'er who made a similar error), I think this attitude it counter to the spirit of the TGO. The TGO appears to be as much of a social event as it is a challenge, and given that I would likely only hike it once in my lifetime – I think the right way to do it , is to take the full 14 days and enjoy the social event with fellow hikers at the end of the trip. With travel time on either end (and a lay-over in Chester, UK to see my parents – they would kill me for going to England without a visit), this is probably at least 12 work days off.
  2. Which leads to my next dilemma in the US – employers give out a stingy 15 vacation days (20 if you're lucky) a year. Just four months ago, Theresa and I were blessed with a bouncing baby boy; and as enthusiastic and optimistic as I might be, it turns out raising babies is a lot more time consuming that I expected. The reality of abandoning Theresa and little Chester for two weeks to tromp across Scotland in my pre-fatherhood modus operandi doesn't sit well with me; and burning more than my share of family vacation days on a solo trip doesn't seem fair to them or me either. Plus, truth be told – I'd probably miss the little bugger 😉

So with much sadness, I am withdrawing from the TGO. I am thankful for the opportunity to be accepted onto it this year, and hope that Nigel and Lynn at least (Tim will likely withdraw also given this news) will see their way across Scotland. I very much hope and wish I hike the TGO some day when the planets align to make the circumstances right.

I shall turn my attention back to my top-5 long distance list and pick a long distance hike closer to home this summer – perhaps this is the year for the Wonderland Trail?

Kaffir Lime

I'm so excited!

At a recently family reunion, I got chatting with a relative of Theresa's from California about Thai Food. I talked about the magic of the Kaffir Lime – to my amazement she proclaimed "Oh – we have a Kaffir Lime bush in our garden." …

I even went so far as trying to grow my own tree, but sadly that wasn't happening in our climate. Kaffir Limes are hard to come by in Washington State. The FDA hasn't approved them for produce sale (According to the grocer at Uwajimaya)  and so at Asian grocery stores – all we can get are the Kaffir Lime Leaves, not the limes themselves.

When making thai curry pastes, the peel of the Kaffir Lime imparts an intense amazing flavor that really sets them apart from other curries.

Today, I received a shipment of their Kaffir Lime harvest! They are perfect, beautiful and smell so wonderful!

The timing couldn't have been more perfect. After maxing-out on my last plate of turkey left-overs, I'm ready to cook some more Thai Food.

I'm going to make a beef Panaeng Curry from scratch (making the paste itself) in the next few days to take advantage of these deliciously fresh limes.

Ultra-heavy Backpacking Knives

In a search for an ever lighter backpacking knife, I ran across this beast:


Weighing in at a whopping 2 lbs, and retailing for a princely $1400, this knife has every attachment ever conceived – a total of 87 blades and 141 functions!

Some of my favorites include: Magnetized recessed bit holder, Chain rivet setter, Universal wrench, Springless scissors with serrated self-sharpening design, Golf Club face cleaner, Shoe spike wrench, Divot repair tool, a Ruler, Cupped cigar cutter with double honed edges, Watch caseback opening tool, Compass, Fish Scaler, Hook disgorger, Shortix laboratory key, Laser pointer with 300 ft. range, Flashlight, Special self-centering screwdriver for gunsights, Mineral crystal magnifier, Tire tread gauge and Fiber optic tool holder.

How I ever went into the wild without my Shortix lab key, laser pointer and gunsight tool I will never know.

Anyway… if you're tired of losing all your money on the whims of wall street and want something to show for your hard earned cash, then perhaps this is the blade for you! Might be handy when the economy melts down and we all run for the caves…

You can find one here.

Pasayten Photos Get Better

Tim had a busy weekend he worked on the Pasayten Photos he took on our trip and make allsorts of tweaks and adjustments to the RAW format in Adobe Lightroom.

The results are spectacular – and make the ones I posted in the trip reports seem washed-out by comparison.

There are some epic photos in here that make jaw-dropping backdrops for your PC desktop.

Given that he posted the originals on Smugmug, I'm sure he wouldn't mind of people snagged one or two 🙂

>> Link to Tims Pasayten Photos

TGO Here We Go

I received a letter in the mail today indicating that we have been accepted onto the 30th TGO Challenge taking place in May 2009.

This year there were 509 applications and only 360 spaces available. We were lucky enough to get selected in the draw.

Planning our trip will be fun and challenging. Nigel found a good Podcast offering some planning trips by Chris Townsend:

Chris Townsend TGO Route Planning Podcast (48 minutes)

Easy Showily – Ultralight GPS

Earlier this year I looked into Ultralight GPS Units. I ended up trying out the Garmin Forerunner 405, but wasn't thrilled with it. I liked the watch form-factor, but it was clunky to use and was missing an Altimeter. It also came with a weird USB-cable which made field-charging it somewhat difficult.

In the end, I decided a basic GPS logger is all I needed. A GPS logger will record waypoints – show basic lat|long information on a screen and they usually run on easily field-replaceable batteries. It doesn't come with a fancy color screen and map data like the traditional GPS units.

The Easy Showily , as awkward as the name might be – came up trumps. This is a deceptively excellent device.


First and foremost – the device is incredibly small and light – weighing in at 1.3 oz without batteries.

Secondly – it has amazing battery life. I used AAA Energizer Lithium Batteries and got over 20 hours of logging-time per pair. A pair weighs in at 0.3 oz.

Digging a little deeper – the cap comes off and reveals a USB plug. The device is elegantly simple – in that it does not require drivers or special software to operate. The USB connection exposes a typical thumb-drive (albeit with a meagre 5Mb of storage), and as the GPS unit logs data, it simply writes the way points to a file on the drive.


When you insert the device into a PC, windows detects it as a Thumb Drive and auto-runs the Win_Tool.exe application installed on the thumb drive. This application proceeds to unpack the data file into many different formats – a GPX file – the most common GPS exchange file format, and a collection of HTML and Javascript files that it then proceed to open a browser on – which uses Google Maps to display your way-points. I get all the benefits of Google Maps terrain data without needing to install special mapping software on my machine.


A side-bar allows you to show each GPS ˜track' (a collection of way points), and overlay other information – such as ˜push-pin' data, direction, speed etc.

Ideal for multi-day trips, the Easily Showily can store almost 100,000 way points. When logging aggressively – as a way-point every 10 seconds – that's over 23days of continuous data assuming 12 hrs of hiking a day!

It's chocked full of other features like power-saving shake-activated mode, photo-location-tagging software, multiple recording modes (bike, walk, run, car etc) and more.

Costs about $99 from ˜Buy GPS Now'.

And the point of carrying a GPS? So I can easily crank out maps like this one of our Pasayten Trip.

East Pasayten Loop Trip Report – Day 4

It was 4am and it was cold. My watch was reading 38 degrees in the tent – chilly when you consider the daytime was in the 80's. 

It was a rough night; and my sleep pad felt thin – I forgot to take my usual nighttime dose of Tylenol PM before hanging the bag for the night. I shut my eyes and tried to get back to counting sheep, or mountain goats maybe.

Eventually 6am came and the sun came up brightly through the trees and started to warm things. We expected to have a cold breakfast as we thought the sun would come up late – hidden behind Amphitheatre Mountain, but it rose perfectly between the saddle and hit the campsite early.

I got up to warm a little in the morning sun, and got some coffee going. The bugs weren't bad this morning, so it was nice and pleasant sitting out on the rocks.

We ate breakfast, did camp chores and then spent a while doing extensive foot repairs. We debated if the best option for my now liquid filled blister was the lance the skin and drain the fluid or not. The fluid supposedly serves as nature protection – but it sure makes things feel less comfortable with a swollen bulge in your shoes. We decided to leave it intact at least for now. Plenty of duct-tape and gauze later and we were all ready to roll. Nigel and Tim were sporting some new foot-sores now too – so they deployed some preventative measures of their own.

Just before we left camp, my satellite pager went off. My heart fluttered with fear. Surely Theresa can't be going into labor we're too far from the road to evacuate in any reasonable time. I checked the message and it was indeed from Theresa – but just some sweet words of encouragement. It was a cute to get messages from her on the trail – kind of like being in primary school getting little love-notes passed from another classmate with a crush; but also weird to receive them one-way and not be able to text-back.

We left camp around 8 am and decided to take a ˜shortcut' to Remmel Lake that was marked as hard to follow  on the Green Trails map. We went off in search of the shortcut.

The ˜hidden' trail was rough going at first – not that it was hard to find, but it wandered through a marshy area with heavy horse damage on the trail – so there was deep unpleasant mud to walk in. After a while, the trail did start getting a little trickier as we climbed up into a rocky area with little vegetation. It looked like one could do a neat side-trip here up into a saddle that appears like it would look down into the Amphitheatre. However, we elected to continue on.

Eventually we re-found a trail and it popped us out into a stunning meadow area, with breathtaking views all around. A small stream ran through the base of the meadow and I broke off from the group for a while to get water from the stream. Walking back towards the group, I realized that the ˜grassy looking meadow' I was in, was actually thick with flowers with green-buds on just waiting to bloom. We were a little ahead of the curve due to the late snow melt, but I sure wish I could have seen this area in full bloom. Still – it was very pretty as it was.

Further on from the meadow area we walked into an area with what appeared to be a somewhat permanent camp. There were white tents, a propane tank and a fuel drum. The camp seemed still – and a deer was munching grass on the other side of it. We assumed perhaps the trail-maintenance crews stayed here?

The trail descended rapidly until it dropped us out near Remmel Lake around 9:30am. Remmel Lake was wide open and very expansive. Plenty of horse damage here, but pretty none the less. There wasn't a sole in sight during our time there. I kept peering over the other side of the shore – half expecting to see some a bear or other large wild-life – but it was still as could be.

As you leave the Remmel Lake area there is a very tight hairpin turn off to the left – which is easy to miss; which is the trail leading down to the Junction to 4 point lake. The decent was long, and pounding on the feet. In true Tim style – he decided he would ˜jog' (more of a ˜sprint' in our book) down the trail and meet us at the junction. He gained a good half-hour over the rest of us by the time we caught up with him.

In Tim's absence, Nigel and I debated on what we wanted for lunch. Cheese Crackers and Salami won out again – and our plan was to snack at the junction. Half way down I  had a bright idea We stopped in a chilly stream and filled up a left-over foil pouch from a freeze dried meal last night with water, and plopped the cheese and Salami (Vacuum sealed) in it. This was my trail refrigerator  and had a good 35 minutes to get the cheese nice and cold for lunch. Sure – it meant carrying an extra pound of two of water – but our packs were very light at this point in the trip.

We caught up with Tim and ate lunch – out came the head nets – as lower in the woods the mozzies and biting flies came out – obviously attracted to the delicately chilled Aged Cheshire Cheese on the menu.

It was only 11:30 am and we had a choice to make:

  • Climb 2.5 miles or so and camp at four point lake for the night, at the consequence of a long 16 mile last day out.
  • Or continue on another 8 miles to our first camp, followed by a short 5 mile half day out. 

It was tough call – four point was supposed to be very pretty, but it was really early in the day still. The long last day didn't appeal either.  We decided to skip four point and push on to the first camp.

The eight miles along the Chewack valley were long and gradually descending. We arrived at camp around 3:30 pm. My blisters were burning and so I went to dump my feet in the stream to get some relief.

Nigel, Tim and Bill started the next debate

So it's only 3:30pm – which is pretty early in the grand scheme of things  (uh oh a very slippery slope)

We had a few more options to consider:

  1. Stick around and setup camp for the night.
  2. Bust our asses on the last 5.2 miles out of here and car camp at the trail head.
  3. Option 2, except drive home stopping for junk food on the way.
  4. Option 2, except head to Winthrop for celebratory Margaritas at the Mexican place and then drive home. 

We spent a good hour debating our options and repairing our feet. We'd used up all our duct-tape on blisters and were down to just a few plasters. At 4:30 we took the final poll – each of us first a first and second choice vote. The votes came out 2,0,2,4 in favour of Margaritas! So on went the packs and out came the polls.

The push out was hard work – it had been a long day so far – over 16 miles to the camp site, and we were adding another 5+ to get out. We forgot how unmaintained this section of the trail was – but seemed to brute-force our way under and over fallen trees with a feverous vigor! The power of the mighty Margarita promise!

Two hours later, at 6:40pm we arrived at the bridge we started the trail on.

This time the trail head was not empty – a forest service truck was there, and two frogmen were swimming in the river in dry suits. They were surveying fish – and had found Chinook Salmon, Rainbow and Steelhead Trout swimming upstream. We chatted with them for a while while we washed up in the river before heading for civilization and tequila.

[Apologies for the long delay in getting this written up. A newborn sure takes a toll on ones time to be able to write blog entries!]

East Pasayten Loop – Day 3