Gear review: Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack

I love: All those pockets! Great size, fairly low weight.

Dislikes: Relatively flimsy mesh pocket, buckles tend to break, boring gray color.


I started using the Mariposa 60 liter backpack on monthly backpacking trips a little over a year before embarking on my PCT hike. I immediately liked the size and relatively low weight of this pack. It was comfortable even carrying a bear canister and awkward, heavy loads (like snow shoes strapped to the outside). Most of all, I loved the external pockets. By the time I started hiking north from the Mexican border, I was confident in my choice of pack.

This backpack has one large mesh pocket on the front (or back, depending on your perspective), two small pockets on one side, and one tall pocket on the other side. The tall side pocket was my absolute favorite feature. Here’s why: I drink out of a water bladder, and I treat my water using an in-line filter. I carry the water bladder in the large side pocket. When I need water, I simply pull out the bladder, fill it, then tuck it away. The water is filtered while I drink. This made for quick, easy water refills.

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Mariposa backpack with Platypus water bladder in the large side pocket. (I safety-pinned the sunflaps on my hat together in lieu of using sunblock.)

I’m a fan of large pockets on hipbelts. I was able to cram a lot of stuff into these hipbelt pockets, including snacks, chapstick, handkerchief, a small tripod, a headlamp, a pen for signing trail registers, etc. (all at the same time). Also, the hipbelt was comfortable. No complaints there.

I like the removable foam backpad in this pack. Over time, it molded to the shape of my back, which I really liked. By the end of my hike the cushioning was completely gone, but it was still really comfortable. After my hike I only swapped out the pad for a new one because it reeked of hiker sweat. I like that the pad is replaceable, and that it is easily removed to use as a seat cushion.

As expected, pack comfort was compromised when weighed down with a fully-loaded bear canister. When stuffed with a fully-loaded Bearikade Expedition, the largest bear can around, oh boy. I was uncomfortable for a few days until the food weight went down. Prior to re-entering the Sierra with heavier clothing and extra gear, I tried on other packs that would distribute all of the weight better. But I ended up sticking with the Mariposa – mostly because I couldn’t give up that large side pocket! – and it was fine.

I carried my sleeping pad, the accordion-style ZLite Sol, strapped to the outside of the pack in front of the mesh pocket (as seen in the above picture). For the most part, this kept the mesh from ripping. However, I still ended up with a few holes, and I consider this mesh to be a weak point in an otherwise wonderful backpack.

The backpack’s second weak point is buckles. I had two buckles break during my hike: the hipbelt, and one of the buckles that secures the “lid.” In each case I was able to keep using the broken buckles, but I worried about how long I would be able to do so. When contacted about the broken buckles, Gossamer Gear readily sent replacements, which I greatly appreciated.

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Broken hipbelt buckle…still functional.

All in all, I loved this backpack. After six months of hard daily use (plus more than a year of use before that), the pack is still fully functional. I anticipate being able to carry this backpack for another year or more. When it finally wears out, I will buy another one.

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What’s next?

Transitioning out of a thru-hike is a long process. It’s not easy, physically or emotionally, to stop hiking all day, every day. There’s physical pain in the transition, mostly in my feet, which after two months has finally (mostly) subsided – foot pain primarily occurs when I’m not walking. There’s the appetite rollercoaster as my body settles into a less active pattern. There’s sadness in losing a beloved lifestyle. And there’s a strange void that appears after achieving a major life goal. For years, almost every action I took revolved around hiking the PCT. Afterward, I expected to feel disoriented, and I have. This isn’t an easy process. As far as this blog, what can you expect as I transition away from my hike?

PCT gear reviews

When I was preparing for my hike, I found gear reviews by thru-hikers to be a valuable resource. I’ll be posting reviews of my own with the hope that my experiences will help others make informed gear choices.

Backpacking in every month of the year

In 2015, my husband and I committed to backpacking in every month of the year. We enjoyed the experience so much that when 2016 rolled around, we decided to commit to another 12 months. These trips, taken in winter, spring, summer, and fall, were excellent preparation for the PCT. December 2017 marked our 36th consecutive month of backpacking, and I don’t anticipate quitting any time soon. From time to time, I’ll share our experiences on California’s backcountry trails.

Backpacking the PCT in Bucks Lake Wilderness, December 2017, for our 36th consecutive month of backpacking.
Backpacking the PCT in Bucks Lake Wilderness, December 2017, for our 36th consecutive month of backpacking.

Continuing to write

All my life, I’ve written stories. In elementary school, I wrote a series of short stories about a unicorn family. I wrote my first novel in the fifth grade, a 100+ page adventure about a race horse. I wrote a second novel in high school, and a third while working toward my bachelor’s degree. Before I started this blog, however, I never shared my writing with anyone outside of my immediate family. Posting publicly about my thoughts and feelings has not been easy, but it’s made me more comfortable with sharing my work. I’m currently working on another novel – this time, one that may be worth sharing. Stay tuned for more.

Life Beyond Lyme – in the newspaper!

I’m excited to be featured in my local newspaper this morning with an article about my 2017 PCT hike. The reporter did a wonderful job of connecting my thru hike to my battle with Lyme disease.

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Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are devastating, and in my experience most people – including hikers – don’t take the threat seriously enough. I didn’t, until I became disabled by Lyme and Bartonella. These are not just East Coast problems; I was infected in northern California, not far from the PCT.

My battle against these diseases was the original focus of this blog. I hope to continue raising awareness about the threat of tick-borne diseases and sharing hope that recovery is possible.

To follow my PCT hike from the beginning, start here.

New PCT page

I’ve created a new page with links to all of my PCT blog posts, organized by region. If you’re looking for a specific section of trail or a particular blog post, you don’t have to click through my entire blog to find what you’re after. I added a permanent link to this new PCT page at the top of my website: “Pacific Crest Trail 2017” is accessible from any page in my site. Thanks for following!  

Reckoning

My hike started on May 8 and ended on October 28th. Before I started, I knew that it would probably be impossible to hike the entire PCT, given that at least a portion of the trail was sure to close due to summer wildfires; I hoped to complete a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada by walking around the closures. However, in 2017 there were many closures, and I didn’t feel safe walking around most of them, either because the alternate routes involved long miles of highway walking or because the fires were so active that the official closure areas were changing daily.

In all, I missed 239 miles of trail:

28.1 miles from Sonora to Ebbetts Pass (CA) due to extreme (65mph) wind and feeling unsafe going solo.

61.2 miles from Seiad Valley to I-5/Ashland (CA/OR) due to fire closure.

65.8 miles from Hwy 140 (Fish Lake) to northern Crater Lake Rim trail (OR) due to fire closure.

31.3 miles from Elk Lake to McKenzie Pass (OR) due to fire closure.

52.3 miles from White Pass to Government Camp (WA) due to fire closure.

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Looking at this another way, I hiked a total of 2,545 miles this summer. This number includes all of the “bonus” miles I hiked: backtracking from Mount Whitney to Crabtree Meadows, returning to Harts Pass from the Canadian border, road-walking around the Jefferson Wilderness fires, etc.

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Now that I’m home and back at work, people want to know if I hiked “the whole thing.” Obviously I didn’t…but this is still a difficult question to answer. How much of the trail did I hike? In one sense, I hiked all but 28 miles of the 2017 PCT. The rest of the trail was officially closed.

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2017 was an exceptionally challenging year for a PCT thru-hike. I met a few people who [claimed to have] hiked the whole thing, straight through the snowy Sierra, around every fire closure. Most of us didn’t. Couldn’t, for our own reasons. If my timing had been different, if I hadn’t gotten sick, if I’d had a hiking partner, if I was more willing to take risks, if, if, if….maybe I could have walked all the way from Mexico to Canada.

I have very mixed feelings about the miles I missed, and how they fit into my personal definition of a thru-hike. But I’m proud of this: I never gave up, or abandoned my hike. I kept walking until I was staring winter in the face – and facing the end of my leave of absence from work. I consider myself a thru-hiker. I thru-hiked the PCT this year, but I couldn’t walk all the way from Mexico to Canada. One day, I will.

Day 174: The unexpected end

21.0 miles (1634.0 to 1655.0)

We leave camp as darkness lifts and immediately head downhill. Downhill it will be for the next 15 miles. We cross a dirt road, then another, dropping lower, winding down into a steep, damp canyon where sunrise is still hours away. 

Fall colors here are exceptional. Bright yellow big leaf maple is the star of the show, with dogwood and thimbleberry and many other shrubs and forbs glowing pink and yellow and orange. We cross little streams, cross and re-cross Grider Creek. We’re making excellent time. All of this downhill is exhausting, though. The trail is frequently overgrown, and there are many fallen trees. 

Crossing Grider Creek.

At last we arrive at Grider Creek Campground, where we enjoy the luxury of eating lunch at a picnic table. 

From here it’s a 6.5-mile road walk to Seiad Valley, first on a dirt road, then on a paved road along the Klamath River, and finally along the side of Highway 96. I’m surprised the official PCT is the shoulder of a highway, but it is, so we walk and arrive in Seiad Valley (population 350) at 3:45pm. 

Highway 96 and the PCT cross the Klamath River.

In the store, I ask for my box. Confusion follows. Apparently the store and the post office have returned all remaining hiker boxes. A few weeks ago, the store still had my box, and I told someone who works here that I was still coming. Now I’m here, but my box isn’t, or so they say, though it isn’t on the list of returned boxes. 

I decide to purchase food for the final three days to Ashland. Unfortunately there’s very little here that I can eat, given my odd dietary restrictions. I piece together a somewhat reasonable resupply. Dad and I hike on. After nearly a mile the trail leaves the highway and begins what will be a long, hot climb. Shortly after, there’s a signpost with a map of the general area. Below the map hangs a laminated sign that announces, in big red letters, “TRAIL CLOSED.”

We pause. The Klamath River ranger station told Dad the PCT is open. They told me the same when I called. The Rogue-Siskiyou ranger station told Dad the PCT is closed, but they told me it’s open. The PCTA website says the trail is closed; a PCTA employee told Dad they haven’t received an update for a few weeks. Now there’s a new-looking sign on the trail itself saying closed. What’s the truth? How can there be such conflicting information? 

No matter what, we can’t spend the night right here, and we were both told that the Klamath Forest section is open, so we decide to go on for another half mile to our intended campsite. If the trail is still closed, the closure must be on the Rogue-Siskiyou Forest, many miles ahead.

Is the trail closed? How can there be no clear answer? When I spoke with a woman in the Rogue-Siskiyou office a few days ago, she said there was no closure, but that there had been some “discrepancies” as to the status. However, the printed and laminated sign near the trailhead looks new. It doesn’t look like it weathered the recent big storm. 

Self explanatory?
In addition to our uncertainty over whether the trail is open or not, there’s the burned area itself to consider. It seems to be a large burn, perhaps affecting a larger stretch of trail than the burn I walked through two days ago. Several tentsites listed in the apps were obliterated in that fire; soil was seared away, leaving only rocks. We won’t be able to count on the apps to know where we can camp. This will be especially problematic if we find ourselves still in the burn come sunset tomorrow. 

When I started hiking at Castle Crags, I only intended to reach to Seiad Valley. Later, when it seemed as if the trail had reopened, I was excited about hiking all the way to Ashland and closing my gap. Now, I’m confused and disappointed. I don’t want to stop if the trail really is open. But I don’t want to keep going into a burned area where status and safety are uncertain. I think my hike is over. 

We set up our tents in a semi-flat site on the side of a steep hill where gnats swarm my face and buzz in my ears. We eat dinner. I know I should end my hike, but I don’t want to, not like this, not without knowing for certain if the trail is actually closed. PCTA says it’s closed. The sign at the trailhead says it’s closed. If the trail is closed, the decision to stop or not isn’t mine to make. Yet I’m forced to make a choice. 

If I’d known I was stopping in Seiad Valley, this day would have felt very different: I would have known I was walking through the last day of my thru-hike. That experience was stolen from me. I feel disoriented. This is the end? Now? 

It is. With so many unknowns, I don’t feel right about going on. 

I text Mom on the GPS and ask her to pick us up tomorrow in Seiad Valley. I’m glad Dad was with me today. I’m glad we finished together, though this finish wasn’t what either of us expected. 

Day 173: Marble Mountain

21.4 miles (1612.6 to 1634.0)

I’m slightly worried about running into snow on the steep north-facing climb I’m about to tackle on my way to a pass on the ridge. I leave camp at 7:30. I cross Kidder Creek and load up with water for the next 10 miles. There’s snow on the trail, but not much, not enough to be dangerous. I crest the pass without difficulty.

Below, Man Eaten Lake appears. I’m very curious how this lake received its name. It’s a gorgeous lake that would require a steep climb down (and back) to access.

Man Eaten Lake

The trail climbs again, then mostly levels out. In the distance, I get my first look at Black Marble Mountain. What a beauty. The mountain is unlike any other I’ve seen. I walk through more burned areas. I encounter a hiker. He says he’s camped at Sky High Lakes and is out exploring – the first backpacker I’ve seen since leaving I-5.

Marble Mountain looms closer and closer. I drop over a ridge into Marble Valley. Cows with bells graze on the east side of the valley. The white rock formations here are amazing. I don’t know what kind of rock this is, but I need to find out.

Marble Mountain

One of the toes on my right foot hurts, and the pain is getting worse. When I stop for water I sit and take off my shoe and examine the toe. There’s no obvious injury. The skin looks a little torn near the nail. I squeeze on some antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandaid. Hopefully that will help.


I continue the climb out of Marble Valley, then drop into the next basin. The trail more or less follows the contour to Paradise Lake, where I find Dad sitting with his back against a boulder. I eat lunch, then we head north.


We do eight miles before stopping for the night at the wilderness boundary. There are several mostly-flat spots here. We pitch our tents and eat dinner. Male and female Great Horned Owls hoot nearby. Darkness falls. We’re in our tents early. I reapply ointment and bandage to my toe, which is painful to touch. I hope the pain will be gone come morning.