Islands in the Clouds

(5/31/05) This weekend I decided to scout Agua Tibia Mountain for next week's trip and to also try out some new ultra-light hiking gear and techniques. I was very surprised. From the few pictures I found of Agua Tibia on the Web, I truly expected mostly chaparral and other Southern California desert variety, with possibly a couple token oak groves dotting the top. The three mile stretch of the Agua Tibia mountain ridge however is a beautiful coniferous forest of pine, spruce, and fir. There were flowers in bloom everywhere and creeks were still running this time of year.

My favorite part of the trip was seeing the tallest peaks in Southern California as islands in the clouds. A marine layer, sometimes referred to as "June gloom" typically covers Southern California in mornings of late Spring. Agua Tibia peak at 4779 was just high enough to rise above the marine layer. All you see from the top is an ocean of clouds and the tallest peaks in Southern California. It was spectacular. I can tell I'm going to be frequenting Agua Tibia especially early spring.

My ultra-light experiment went very well. After attending an ultra-light backpacking clinic at Adventure 16 last week, I decided to try out a few ultra-light changes. With the thought of carrying seven liters of water for this trip, it was more of a necessity than choice. I brought just the rain fly and ground sheet, and ditched the mug, bowl, coffee filter cone, mp3 strap, insulating pants, extra food, and various other items. I also substituted my Thermarest Prolight 3 sleeping pad with a torso length Thermarest Ridgerest mattress pad, the Black Diamond Night Ray with the Ion, and ski gloves with lighter gloves. I was able to reduce my base pack weight (minus food and water) down to 15 lbs. I used the back of my backpack as a pad for the legs. Surprisingly, I slept very soundly that night. It was a little unnerving not having built-in insect protection especially with all the flying insects on this trip, but I was able to use my head net to ward off mosquitos during the night. Waking up in the morning with a hairy spider next me did make me jump, but I think I could get used to this. I honestly didn't miss anything I ditched. I just learned to use the items I had more efficiently.

The pay off was huge with a faster pace, less shoulder and back pain, better maneuverability, less exhaustion, and no blisters. There was actually a kick in my step. I felt like I was only carrying a day pack. With a Gossamer Spinnaker tent and Bozeman Mountain Works sleeping pad on order, I'll be able to reduce my base pack weight down further to only thirteen pounds. The biggest lesson I've learned from going ultra-light is that its mostly a state-of-mind of what we perceive as comfortable and safe. With the right choices in gear, multi-function use of gear and good backcountry practices, its amazing how much weight you can shed off your back for a profound difference in your backpacking adventure.