Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

A new stove: Trangia mini

I had been a white gas stove guy from way back in the days of Svea stoves – yup, I just really dated myself! More recently I had used a series of fine little MSR stoves, but a few seasons back I was persuaded to try the little MSR canister stove. It is very small, light, quite simple, and it works very well for the most part. Since I usually can minimize the amount of time I need to run the stove – especially when I’m only cooking for myself – I’ve been able to complete fairly long trips with a single canister. Downsides are that it is still somewhat loud – which seems to be the price you pay for a hotter stove – and that the canisters are expensive, hard to manage (you can’t really know how much fuel is left after some use), and raise some concerning disposal issues.

A few years ago my ultra-light backpacking friends began showing up for trips with some stoves that I couldn’t have even imagined people using a decade ago. All of them were alcohol burning stoves and they ranged from simple, small burners from commercial sources to tiny, featherlight home-grown designs created out of soda cans. At first I was skeptical, having relied on more traditional equipment for some decades, but as I watched my friends use these stoves I began to see their value, particularly for the solo backpacker who mostly needs to simply boil a small amount of water.

I finally took the plunge last month and ordered the very inexpensive (about $20) Trangia mini stove. This consists of a small and simple aluminum wind-screen/stand and a small brass stove that is not much more than a fancy bowl into which you pour a bit of alcohol and then light the whole thing. (Yes, there are lighter stoves and lighter stand and windscreen options, but I didn’t want to begin by, for example, constructing my own stove – as some friends do!)

The “stove” fits neatly into the bottom of my tall Snow Peak solo pot and leaves plenty of room for my spoon, a lighter, a small square of cloth I use as “small towel and pot grabber,” and a tiny plastic bottle of soap. The wind screen is a bit more awkward, but I use the space efficiently by packing it with something else stuffed into it.

Fuel is simply alcohol that you can pick up at your local hardware store, though REI and probably other outdoor stores stock it as well. One can will probably last most people at least a full season. The fuel comes from agricultural sources rather than gas/oil wells, so while the actual effect on the world is small, it seems like a positive step. These stoves also save resources in one other important way. It would take many, many regular fuel canisters to power the stove for the same amount of time that one can of alcohol will last. So, one can of alcohol and one small bottle to carry what you need on the trail is all you’ll use.

The first time I tried it on the trail last week I found myself using more fuel than necessary – at first by a factor of two. Over the course of a four-day trip I got a better handle on how much fuel is needed to boil a particular amount of water, and once on the final morning I manged to bring the water for a cup of tea to a boil just as the fuel burned out. I carried 8 oz. of fuel for this trip and used about half of it – and didn’t use it all that efficiently. I think that it would be quite reasonable to use an ounce or less per day with some care. Unlike the home-brew stoves, the Trangia burner includes a screw-on lid that supposedly allows you to put out the stove before it finishes burning and then store it with the remaining alcohol available for the next use. I didn’t try this. It also includes a detachable top that has a rotating piece that lets you manually lower the flame to simmer. I would rarely have a need for this since I mostly just boil water on the trail.

The stove does take longer to bring a given amount of water to a boil – perhaps 50% or more additional time. If you travel solo (or travel with a group but cook individually) this isn’t a big issue since you’ll probably just add a few minutes to your cooking time. I quickly learned to get my water in the pot and start it boiling first and then to take care of other food preparation issues like getting out the dinner and so forth. Another advantage is that the longer cook time is essentially silent! You’d be surprised at what a difference this makes.

If you have ever had a stove “go bad” on the trail – yes, it happens – you may appreciate the retro simplicity of the alcohol stoves. There are no moving parts, no jets to clean – basically it just holds the alcohol and you light it.

My verdict after one use is that:

  • I’ll definitely use the stove for solo travel.
  • I did not find the slightly longer cooking times to be an issue.
  • I enjoyed the silent operation of the stove.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Commentary, Equipment, Gear Reviews, Technique | , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Ten Lakes Basin – a quick photographic pack trip

Earlier this week I spent a few days in the Ten Lakes Basin area of Yosemite National Park. Although I’ve backpacked widely in the high country of the park over the past years – OK, decades… – this was actually the very first time that I visited this popular backpacking destination. I think I had shied away from it for a couple reasons: it seems perhaps too popular and accessible, and I tend to prefer somewhat higher and more alpine terrain. But it was time, I visited, and I’m glad I did.

I managed to get to the park fairly early on a Monday morning and pick up a wilderness permit without problems. (Congratulations to ranger “Elizabeth” who issued her very first Yosemite wilderness permit to me… ;-) It was less difficult to get the permit than it might be under different circumstances: school has started for many and the midweek backcountry “traffic” begins to decline near the end of August. Although I had permit in hand by 9:00 a.m. or so, for a variety of reasons I did not hit the trail until about 1:30.

Although I carry a map and can do a fine job of finding my way around in the mountains with or without a trail, these days I sometimes don’t obsess over “knowing everything” (as if that were even possible!) about the route ahead of time. That was the case on this trip. I was familiar with the trailhead, having driving past it many times, and I had often looked up the valley into which it goes. But beyond that I initially had almost no idea of the actual terrain – in fact, I had long be under the mistaken impression that the Basin is on the south side of the ridge. Wrong.

Before I actually hit the trail I did consult the map more carefully and discover that the lakes are actually on the other side of the ridge… and a few hundred feet below the high point of the trail on a ridge that divides Mariposa and Tuolumne counties. I was starting to catch on that there might be a bit more climbing on this trip than I had really imagined – I sort of intentionally did not measure the climb… which turned out to be about 2000 feet. Now a 2000 foot climb is not a giant one, especially compared to some of 3000′ to 5000′ that I’ve done in the southern Sierra – but neither is it exactly a happy little afternoon walk. In the end, what with stops for photography and food and water along the way, it was close to 7:00 p.m. by the time I arrived at my campsite at “lake three,” the lake to the left of the trail when it arrives in the Basin. I basically set up camp, fixed dinner, did a bit of reading, and went to sleep.

Day 2 was fairly lazy. I did not get up early, so I missed some possible early morning photo opportunities, though I used the better part of the rest of the morning to scout out shooting locations for later. In the afternoon I wandered on up to the next lake and did a bit of photography, especially on the way back down when shadows from the cliff to the west were starting to create some interesting lighting conditions. I also visited the main lake (“lake two”) and found a couple scenes that I returned to photograph later in the evening.

By the end of this second day I was thinking more about the tremendous panorama I had seen as I crossed the high ridge above the lake on the way in. I was stunned by the wide open views, especially toward the peaks of the Sierra crest from Dana and Gibb past Conness to other high peaks far to the north, all set off against the rock-strewn summit of the ridge, tree covered ridges below, and below all of that the depths of the Tuolumne River canyon. I started to make a plan to do a “dry camp” on the ridge on the next night and try to photograph the evening and then the following morning.

On the third day I still had this plan in mind in the morning. But first I did more photography around lake three, including near the outlet stream where I had found some still-fresh vegetation and flowers. (By this time much of the summer plant life is starting to show signs of going dormant. Many flowers have blossomed and gone to seed and some very early hints of fall color are already starting to appear.) After this I decided to explore further up this creek and by a combination of use trails and cross-country scrambling I managed to get up to lake five. I returned to my camp by about 2:00 – hungry for lunch! – and soon packed up with the plan of doing that “dry camp” on the ridge for the photography.

Late in the afternoon I started up the trail and I reached the ridge by about 4:45 or so – but I was somewhat disappointed to find that a very large wildfire was burning to the west and sending quite a bit of smoke my way, and also generally adding a lot of brown haze to the scene that had been so clear two days earlier. I poked around a bit and found a potential camp spot for my bivy sack in a clump of trees on the ridge, but in the end I decided that the photographs I had in mind just weren’t going to happen in these conditions – and I decided to head out and drive home that night. (One often doesn’t know for sure whether such decisions are right or not – but I think this was the right decision given that the fire continued – continues, as I write this – to grow and shortly forced a closure of the Big Oak Flat road into the valley.)

So, at about 6:00 p.m. I started down from the ridge, having resolved to make a beeline for the trailhead. Most of the trail is conducive to fast downhill walking, with the exception of a few steep and rocky sections near the beginning and end of the descent, and I made good time. I arrived at my car before 8:00 p.m. – still enough light to see well, but fading fast – and was soon on the road back to the Bay Area.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Trips, Yosemite | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ten Lakes Basin – a quick photographic pack trip

Young Lakes Information

I just replied to an email from future European visitor to Yosemite who wanted to know a bit about visiting the Young Lakes region in the Yosemite National Park high country, and I thought it might be useful to share the message with others who may want to go there. Here is the text, slightly modified: Continue reading

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Trails | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Young Lakes Information

   

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