Choosing a Water Filter

It was just one of those crazy mixed up days. A very painful corn, a detour for food and somehow a gear review for choosing a water filter for a thru hike evolved.

Choosing a water filter for a thru hike is just as important as any other gear in your pack. It goes without saying, we need water, and on a thru hike you need lots of water. Hydration, food prep and cleaning to name a few, are essentials that demand you have H2O. How does one choose a filter? We’d ask, “what are your needs, what type of hike are you on, what is your budget, how much weight will you carry or want to carry?

Look at your options and, first things first, consider reliability. We begin with reliability because this is a very important piece of equipment that you must rely on for the duration of your hike. Move next to usability and weight. Then price. At the end of the day, we need to know our water on the trail is safe for us to drink and cook with (We re-hydrate our meals). Usability is also important, we will be using our filter day in and day out for as long as we are on the trail. If it is not user friendly it will have a negative impact on our outing. If it adds too much weight to our overall pack weight, that too can be quite a hindrance as we pound out the miles. Lastly, price. Sure, like everyone, we have a budget to consider. But, we’d rather spend more on safety and less elsewhere if we can. Safety is all too important when you’re miles from nowhere and relying on the gear in your pack to get you thru safely.

In our field test, see the video above, we tested the The MSR MiniWorks EX and Sawyer Squeeze. We had planned on a long hike putting both filters thru the motions along the trail in different scenarios, however, it was just one of those crazy mixed up days. A few days prior Miller developed a very painful corn on his right foot and was not in any condition for a long hike. We opted for a favorite creek location instead. Add in a detour for food, a quick moving rain / snow squall and somehow a gear review for choosing a water filter for a thru hike eventually evolved. A good day none the less.

The MSR is a pump style filter and pumps 1 liter per minute, weighs 14.6 ounces, uses a ceramic / carbon core while filtering out protozoa and bacteria. A great filter for the Colorado Rocky Mountains, one that we have been using for several years now.

The Sawyer Squeeze, somewhat new to us, is a gravity style filter and filters 1.7 liters per min (when pushing water thru the filter, longer if gravity fed). It weighs 3 ounces, uses a hollow-fiber membrane while filtering out protozoa and bacteria. Like the MSR, a good filter for the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Our overall impression is that both filters will definitely get the job done. That said, it boils down to preferences. We like the pump style filter, and, while the MSR is heavier than the Sawyer, we prefer it for its pump style process. Being able to put the line into the water source vs having to put an entire bottle into the water source made for an easier process and less risk of contaminated water mixing with clean water. Again, the MSR is the heavier of the two filters and costs more. As a side note, we do plan on hiking long distance hikes with both filters, the MSR being a primary use filter, with the Sawyer acting as a reliable backup.

Our dislikes for the MSR, moving parts that can break and its heavier weight.

Our dislikes for the Sawyer, no access to the filter to inspect its condition. It also seems to dry out much slower, several days vs the MSR which is overnight. But in all honesty, we’re not sure if the Sawyer is completely dry when stored as there is no access to the filter. We just seem to keep “shaking” water out of it for a few days.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail

Turning fifty, physically, was like a light-switch was flipped and stuck in the on (or off, depending on how you look at it) position. The mental fight began soon after. Hiking the Colorado Trail just seemed like the right thing to do.

In 2017 we wanted to hike the Colorado Trail. But, as it were, life has a way of dictating what we do and what we do not do. There are times when we wonder if we are really in control, or if we are merely allowed to make decisions based on current events. The later seems more likely.

Why the Colorado trail? Why not! We live in Denver and love exploring the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Day hikes and backpacking are a big part of our lives. Being in nature is a great way to unwind, relax and clear our heads of the junk we’d rather not think about.

But, really, 486 miles, Denver to Durango? Seems a bit lofty to some. There are definitely longer thru hikes we could take, not to mention shorter ones. The Colorado Trail just happens to be in our backyard and has a draw to it that is somewhat unexplainable. It just feels right. The current plan, the CT in 2018. Is that etched in stone, is anything? Just like Colorado weather, no one really knows what tomorrow will bring until they actually experience it. We can plan, prepare and hope that everything falls into place all we want, but the future remains a mystery until it happens.

Hiking in your fifties is certainly not like hiking in your twenties. It would be nice to complete the Colorado Trail sooner than later. One can only imagine how hard it must get as we age. Though, speaking of goals, we plan to hike until our legs are taken away from us, and then we’ll just look for some mobility device, buy an RV, crawl or move to some distant mountain hideaway.

Alas, here we sit on the back half of life, if you will, looking forwards and backwards. There’s been so much, there will be so much more. Amazing how we find ourselves at this odd crossroads, not necessarily on the map, and yet here it is. We’re fiftyish now and wondering what’s next. Funny, it was never a real worry before, but for some strange reason we find ourselves contemplating something we never thought would be a notion to consider. It’s quite silly really, why is this time the midlife meme? Who or what gave it power? Of all the things we could be thinking about, our minds, like our bodies, fell prey to this phenomenon of turning fifty. It’s like a built in mechanism that is time released.

Most days are like, yeah, we’re in the fifty crowd, we got our AARP cards in the mail, we grunt a little more now, things are starting to go. Other days are like, big deal, we’re still here, still together and still moving forward, like we have a choice. We count our blessings, we think back on all the memories and look forward to even more. We still have plenty of wants. Our bucket list, if we actually made one, seems to becoming more of a priority list vs the perpetual “one day” list.

Not putting too much emphasis on numbers, fifty never was much of a date on the horizon, though now, perhaps, that understanding might have changed. It was just a number, just another day, and just another year. Yet, somehow, someway, turning fifty, physically, was like a light-switch was flipped and stuck in the on (or off, depending on how you look at it) position. The mental fight began soon after. Hiking the Colorado Trail just seemed like the right thing to do.

To that, we are motivated more than ever to keep ourselves moving, maintaining a healthy (healthier) diet and exercising regularly (more regularly). Adjustments to our hiking gear, trail food and trail duration are modifications we are looking at closely. Let’s face it, thru hiking is not easy, doing it at fiftyish isn’t helping matters, but we can and will complete the trail with the proper gear and mindset. For now, plan the hike and keep ourselves fit and healthy.

We’ll either hike it thru or in segments. Capturing, embracing and absorbing every moment as they come. The plan is to document our adventure by taking innumerable amounts of photos, endless videos, and stitching them together by segment, 28 of them to be exact.

There’s a lot of hype in the thru hiking world about pack weight. Quality hiking gear isn’t cheap. Replacing it with ultra-light gear isn’t that easy, if even needed. Most emphasize base weight, that is, everything but food and water, consumables in a nut shell. We’re guessing people want to take less and be lighter on their feet, ultimately less time on the trail. While less might be more comfortable while in motion, there is a level of comfort each of us has to consider, otherwise we become miserable and want off the trail. For us a balance must be found. Let’s face it, if you love the outdoors, you most likely want to spend more time there, not less. A quick hike doesn’t necessarily make for an opportunity to embrace all the trail has to offer. We’d rather slow down, smell the wildflowers and take it all in. If that means a little extra weight on our backs, so be it.

If your interested, here are the boring details on our gear to date. [ Miller’s Backpack / Debbie’s Backpack ] If you have any questions, we’d be glad to answer them.

Peace,

MAD

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Chicago Lakes – Mt Evans Wilderness

Protective, loving and sweet only begin to describe what one would see when she peered deep into our eyes awaiting the chance to just cuddle. She was what life should be, love.

It is with a heavy heart that we share our latest adventure. To those who have been following us and know, our beloved Billie “Bean” lost her fight with cancer and has left a huge hole in our hearts. Thank you all for your kind words, prayers and warm thoughts.

On a brisk evening back in 2011 the local news stations were forecasting a strong snowstorm for our area, upwards of a foot of snow, temps dropping into the 10s with sustained strong winds. A blizzard if you will. That same evening  a small bundle of joy crawled up inside our hearts and never left.

Balled up on the doorstep was a nervous, shaking and cold Chiweenie. Abandoned to the cold and left to die, she somehow found her way to the home in the neighborhood that would not, could not or ever would say no. Frail, exhausted and afraid we slowly wrapped her up and took her in. Not that she had the energy to run, much less fight. A trip to the local veterinarian to get checked out, see if she had a chip and if anyone was looking for her, and the next thing we knew six years later those eyes still looked at us with love of family, home and safety. She gave as much to us as we did to her.

Two months ago our little baby girl, Billie “Bean” was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer. It wasn’t enough that someone had abandoned her at a young age, now she would be sucker punched with a devastating health blow. Again, we bundled her up and loved her all the more, keeping her as comfortable as possible. Her fight came to an end the other day, though ours continues, we miss her all the more even now.

Our hike to Chicago Lakes is much like she was to us, full of relaxing surprises around every corner. A beautiful soul enjoying the natural world and the time she was given with us, and the time we were blessed to have been given with her. Protective, loving and sweet only begin to describe what one would see when she peered deep into our eyes awaiting the chance to just cuddle. She was what life should be, love.

Our hike began next to the lazy Echo Lake, adorned with late summer color and migrating water fowl. Birds singing as the sun began to make its way over the ridge, life had once again returned to the Mt Evans Wilderness. A short stroll around the northern corner of the lake, we soon disappeared into the alpine wilderness on our way to the Chicago Lakes nestled beneath Mt Evans. Quiet, peaceful and inviting was the trail on this late summer morning.

The path rocky with expansive views of our distant destination. Across Chicago Creek, we traveled onward to our next way point, the Idaho Springs Reservoir. At first glance one would have thought a light shower was upon us, though not a cloud was seen in the sky. Hundreds, if not more, trout were jumping through the surface of the lake feasting on the morning’s delight. Mosquitoes we hoped! Just passed the reservoir a pleasant surprise awaited. Someone had made a “labyrinth” to the side of the trail inviting all who passed to take time out and enjoy its short path.

labyrinth

Beyond this we began a moderate climb to the upper valley, dense woods gave way to an old burn area, some forty years earlier, that was now in the regeneration process, and doing well we might add. The ground was covered in many various colors of vegetation while aspens and pines pushed their way higher and higher with each new growing season. Life had returned to a once devastated area of the forest.

Another creek crossing, perhaps two, and we soon were greeted with the open expanse of the upper valley and its headwall capped on all sides by Rogers Peak, Mt Warren, Mt Evans, Mt Spalding and Gray Wolf Mountain. The Chicago Lakes are simply a spectacular sight inviting the traveler to relax, sit back and absorb the surroundings. A few clouds, a few stray showers and warm food in our bellies and we were ready to build a small log home right where we sat. Solitude, serenity and peacefulness took over from there. The circle of life resides well in this corner of the Mt Evans Wilderness, a place for one to explore physically, emotionally and spiritually as the sun sets and rises and time itself seems to stand still.

Peace,

MAD

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High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb

Making our way across the high open tundra, we felt as if we could touch the sky. The High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb is just that, a high altitude trail to be alone with your thoughts in an ever expanding environment. The trail always aiming for a horizon that blurs, where earth and sky are one and the imagination is left with thoughts of danger, beauty and intrigue.

Leaving Denver, we made our way to Berthoud Pass, a good early morning stop to shake out the predawn cobwebs and give our bladders a much needed break from the coffee sludge we had ingested a few hours before.

Over the pass and into the  sleepy ski town of Winter Park, we found our turnoff on to the less traveled Corona Pass Rd, a road full of Colorado railroad history! It was a good thing we had stopped at Berthoud Pass, the dips, bumps, holes and rocks had us bobbing up and down, side to side and all around the cab of the truck like a bad carnival ride. Something our bladders probably would not have tolerated! Several hours of road torture gave way to views of the alpine as we finally pulled up to the trailhead.

On the border of two wilderness areas, James Peak and Indian Peaks, we couldn’t help but admire the incredible beauty of this place. Adventure options abound here. While a wildflower lined trail lead down to King Lake, Lake Shira and Bob and Betty Lakes was inviting in and of itself, today our adventure would take us up the high road, the High Lonsome to Devil’s Thumb.

Late summer snow, wildflowers, low clouds and a wind that brought a sense of an early fall soon to arrive met us as we began our ascent. Our path today, a section of the Continental Divide Trail that averages 12,000′ and very exposed to the elements. Full of big views in each direction, we kept a close eye, and ear, on the weather churning above us.

Making our way across the high open tundra, we felt as if we could touch the sky. The High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb is just that, a high altitude trail to be alone with your thoughts in an ever expanding environment. The trail always aiming for a horizon that blurs, where earth and sky are one and the imagination is left with thoughts of danger, beauty and intrigue.

Leaving the High Lonsome for Devil’s Thumb was an exciting event. A year ago we had planned to be here on a multi-day hike only to cut this portion of the adventure out due to lack of water in one of the lower lakes, a planned overnight stop. This time water was aplenty, we were charged with the anticipation of seeing down in the valley where Devil’s Thumb, Devil’s Thumb Lake and Jasper Lake reside. Serenaded by Marmot and Pika, we stared ahead in awe of the alpine landscape we had come to visit. Plush, teaming with life and unexplored, the valley below calls to the weary high alpine traveler, “come down and rest.”

Peace,

MAD

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Mount Saint Vrain

The question begs to be asked, can you be in two places at the same time and still benefit from both? Absolutely! However, you need to know where such a place exists and then be able to get there.

Anyone who has a love for the outdoors in Colorado will tell you, the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park are two of the most iconic places to set out on an adventure in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. But, can you be in two places at the same time?

Both sharing a border, much less the jaw-dropping landscape they have each come to be known by, it is no wonder that at one time Enos Mills proposed both wilderness areas were on the table to be known as Rocky Mountain National Park. Suffice it to say, local mining interests put a hold on those plans and eventually the Indian Peaks, thankfully, were protected under their own wilderness boundaries.

Call them what you will, Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Roosevelt, Arapaho or Routt National Forests. The fact remains for anyone who has ever explored within their boundaries, this is a land of immense imagination filled with wildlife, clear running streams, dense forests and high alpine peaks where snow can linger all year long.

The question begs to be asked, can you be in two places at the same time and still benefit from both? Absolutely! However, you need to know where such a place exists and then be able to get there.

Nestled in a high meadow, perhaps overlooked for the popularity of Estes Park and neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park, sits the little known mountain “village” of Allenspark in the shadow of a well kept secret.

While many will make the trek to RMNP and the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, few will find their way to the small trailhead for Mount Saint Vrain nestled deep in the woods behind the small town of Allenspark, Colorado. There you will find a small parking area with no real distinguishing attributes for the dense forests. One must begin a rather unforgiving and relentless climb from here, climbing up and above the timberline on a quiet, though demanding, hike.

Once above it all, the answer to the question, can you be in two places at one time, becomes quite obvious. Absolutely. But, be prepared to pick your jaw up from off the ground. While one can see amazing beauty in both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the old saying, “can you see the forest for the trees” applies. It’s one thing to be among these iconic wilderness areas, while it is a whole different experience to see them both in their grand expanse, first hand and at the same time.

The trail to Mount Saint Vrain might be strenuous, but the reward far outweighs the effort as you climb above the dense forests and find yourself standing in an alpine saddle surrounded by, perhaps, one of the most incredible views one could dream of. But don’t stop there, exploring further in this area will only spark the imagination further, deepening one’s appreciation for the great outdoors, the Colorado Rocky Mountains and an alpine environment seldom experienced.

Being in two places at the same time is not always something we want to do, but in cases such as this, you will not want to leave.

Peace,

MAD

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Eccles Pass

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

What a beautiful late summer outing, backpacking Eccles Pass. Heading up into the Gore Mountain Range near Frisco, Colorado can be some what of an uphill battle, especially with a full backpack. Though, once out of the gulch the trail levels into picturesque meadows surrounded by mountain peaks. Simply put, the hike up is lush and quiet. Aspen groves give way to mixed pine woods with fresh running streams and a much more laid-back environment versus the hustle and bustle of city life.

Arriving in the high valley, you’ll find open meadows thinning out to rugged peaks and big open skies. Wildflowers abound here, while gentle creeks flow from snowmelt high above bring life giving waters to the valley below. There’s room for everyone and everything here, that is, man, nature and wildlife enjoy the pristine unmaintained landscape of the beautiful Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, just the way it should remain.

We camped just below Eccles Pass, somewhere around 11,500′, out of touch and out of time with nowhere to go, no place to be, relaxing and allowing the natural flow of things to overtake our minds. A room with a view, if you will, positioning our tent to face west at the mountain range, prime for sunset and sunrise and a hopeful moose having dinner among the reeds.

The nights were quiet, so much so you could hear a mouse chewing on a pine cone fifty yards away. Shadows danced all around the meadow under an almost full moon. We were alone with only nature as our cohabitant. We would drift in and out of sleep with anticipation of first light and exploring further.

“What was that?”

“A bear”

“What!?”

“A rabid moose”

“What?!!”

“An alligator…”

The next morning we would wander, aimlessly, exploring fields of wildflowers, cool running streams and eventually up to Eccles Pass for the view of a lifetime. From our vantage point the whole landscape disappeared into further untouched lands waiting to be explored. Trails winding in and out and over further mountain passes. If only we had more supplies we could just walk on in any direction letting our imaginations lead the way.

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

Does a bear sh*t in the woods? I know we do! Finding that “spot” where you need to relieve yourself can be tricky at times. You obviously don’t want an audience, hell, we don’t even want a chipmunk watching, nor do you want someone to find your, well, you just don’t want someone finding “it.” Privacy, secrecy and no mosquitoes coming up behind you is what it’s all about.

“How deep should I make the hole?”

“I don’t know, how full of sh*t are you?”

After breaking camp, we fueled up, loaded up and began our decent back to city life. How we would love to just stay and never go back. Backpacking Eccles Pass, much less anyplace in the Colorado High Country, just seems to sit well with us. We always feel at home and as if the weight of the world and all its frustrations just lift off of us. Perhaps one day we’ll just take that one last look behind us as we disappear into the wilderness for good.

Peace,

MAD

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