Friday, January 31, 2014

Solar Panel Part 2

During my short trip in the Carmel recently, I tried testing my improvised solar panel to see if it can charge my phone. It did not perform as expected. In retrospect I can say it was probably because we were mostly under trees, and in the shade. Not the optimal conditions to test a solar charger. But when I got back home that day, I felt as though it's not going to work between us.

After reading many favorable reviews on the Suntactics sCharger 5, I decided to buy a kit, along with an external 6000mA battery. The kit also comes along with a 10 LED usb powered light, which I'm going to leave at home. I really don't see any use for it on the trail.

The price was not so bad, with a sale price of $152.95, and a work colleague of mine was just taking of for 4 days in Seattle, so I took the opportunity and asked him to bring it over for me, after I order it to his hotel. Luckily, this crazy plan worked, and I am now the proud owner of the sCharger 5. Yay for me.

Panel with case, battery with its own little case, the LED is hiding beneath the instruction manuals.
The panel does look much better than my improvised one. Sturdy and simple, just a panel with a USB output. The external battery also seems like a good deal, with two USB outputs (1.2mA and 2.1mA), so I guess I will be able to charge both my phone and my camera at the same time (I just need 2 USB cables for it). This will come in handy, I guess.

I just need to figure out how I can secure the panel to my backpack, so it will be out and open to the sunlight while I hike.

As a side note - after ordering the sCharger, I took my improvised panel for another spin. This time I just put it outside of the window, in direct sunlight, and it charged two phones easily. I guess I was too quick on the gun with the decision to buy a charger. But the sCharger does come with the battery, which is a bonus, and it does seem better than mine anyway. So it was not all a waste of good money...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Got plane tickets!

Last week I finally bought my plane tickets. There were many back-and-forth discussions about the best course to take (tlv-lax and then back lax-tlv, or tlv-san and then back from Seattle...), and many price shifts, and annoying web sites showing not-current information.

At the end, I used a local travel agency, just to make sure I understand the change policy of the ticket I'm getting, and to have someone to call when I'm in the middle of nowhere and in need of some travel-related assistance. The route itself was something a fellow Israeli hiker was talking about TLV-CDG-ORD-SAN, and the price was ~$1360 (back from Seattle). I can live with that. We will both be on the same flight, and start the trail together.

The date, you ask? I'll be taking off (and landing, actually. Because of the time differences) at April 9th. I guess we will start around the 11th, or maybe 12th. We will see how the jet lag and general tiredness hits us.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fire Hazard Warnings

I was a bit worried about the snow sections of the PCT, having no real snow experience except for the recent trip around the Mont Blanc. So I'm a little bit relieved so far, with the current snow levels so low it appears I won't have a hard time crossing the Sierras even when starting a bit early.

Sadly, this drought also causes severe fire warnings in California, as a recent PCTA blog post announced. It seems open fire cooking stoves will not be allowed in most places along the PCT. So there goes my plan to use the lightweight Caldera Keg System to cook my dinners.

The quest is on, to figure out what stove I'll buy/use on the trail.

On the left - Caldera Keg-F system with spare can. On the right - MSR Whisperlite stove with fuel bottle, wind screen and pot.
I took out my old MSR Whisperlite stove from the gear closet. I bought it back before I started hiking the AT. I didn't know what I was doing with it, and filled up my fuel bottle with kerosene. For the first 4 days on the trail, I cooked mainly in open flame burning over small kerosene puddles it created. When I got to Neals Gap, I went through the "Gear Shakedown", and got rid of loads of stuff I sent back home. I bought an alcohol cat stove which cooked my dinners along the trail, and I hadn't looked back on the Whisperlite since...

My complete Whisperlite kit. The pot is in a pretty bad shape.
Well, I did take it with me on several 2 day outings here in Israel, and learned how to use it properly with White Gas, to cook decent meals. I can make it work.

Today I weighed it, and it's around 322gr (11.35oz) for the stove itself, 335gr (11.81oz) for the pot and lid, and about 585gr(20.63oz) for a 3/4 full fuel bottle. That's crazy! I want my alcohol (stove) back!

I will probably replace the pot to some titanium <1L cup. I think will be enough for my daily meals. But that's more money on gear, and more logistics to get it to Israel.

I started looking at MSR/Primus/Jetboil sites for their lightest stove options. Some are really expensive, and some are not that light. MSR have the impressive but expensive Reactor Stove Systems ($190). It is a bit like JetBoil ($160) - an integrated system with a pot stand and pot. They also have the lighter and simpler MicroRocket ($60) and PocketRocket ($40) (be careful - this is also the name of a famous sex toy).

I just got a tip to go to Sierra Trading Post, after liking their Facebook page. That gets you an extra %25 off, until Jan 28th. They are offering the Snow Peak Litemax Titanium Stove for $35, with this sale. Seems like a good deal. Shipping to Israel will double the price, but maybe I can have it shipped to somebody in the US to keep it for me until I get there.

I have ordered the above mentioned Litemax, and also an Evernew .75 L Ultralight Pasta Pot from They will wait for me at the Trail Angels' house in San Diego. Can't wait to get there and open all my presents...

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Trail Name cunundrum

It was just about 11 years ago, on my second day on the Appalachian Trail, when I first got my trail name. I was hiking along with some guy I met in Amicalola Falls two days earlier. His trail name was Slow Poke (Later renamed to Doggie Bag), and he hiked the trail several years before, and came back for another go.

We were leap frogging each other on that second day, in freezing temperatures, when suddenly he said to me "Amtrak. That's a good trail name for 'ya". That day, when I got to Hawk Mountain Shelter (I only hiked about 5 miles that cold cold day), I started introducing myself as Amtrak, and it stuck for the whole trail. For around 5 months of my life, I responded almost solely to the name "Amtrak", and would turn immediately if anybody called me by that name. Thinking about it now - it's strange.

Ever since, I have only used my trail name in online forums regarding hiking. Over the years, I think I mostly "gotten over" that name, and now it's just a fond memory from my good old thru-hiking days.

Which brings us to now. Should I stick to my old trail name? Should I just land in San Diego, and introduce myself to the trail angels as "Amtrak", and ride that name for the following 5+ months again? Or should I pick a new name? Something better? Something I find more fitting? Or maybe just let the trail itself name me again, and hope it will be something I can relate to?

I really don't have answers to these questions. Well, one more thing to think about for the next 2-3 months.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tickets to the USA

I have been looking on flights to the US for a while now, trying to figure out when I should start my hike, and what airlines to pick/airports to go through.

At first, I checked out flying to San Diego in April, and come back home from Seattle. I was checking out two websites - Matrix and hipmunk, and was surprised that they did not show the same flights and prices. I found some really cheap flights through Istanbul, but I couldn't book anything through the Matrix site, and when I tried looking for those same flights on other sites (Expedia, for example), they were much more expensive.

I later discovered that flying to LAX would be cheaper anyway, being a larger international airport, and only about 1 hour away from San Diego by bus. Flying back home from there might be easier as well, and I'll just have to get there somehow from wherever I'll be when I end my hike. So TLV-LAX-TLV it is (probably).

Looking more into the different prices on different sites, I think I got it figured out now - Matrix shows prices for tickets that are not available anymore. I don't know what it's good for. But it seems as though hipmunk really does show relevant results, which is very helpful indeed. It also offers links to other sites for direct purchase of these same tickets, for the noted price. Just what I was looking for. 1 - Matrix 0

And now, the small matter of deciding when I start my hike. I was hoping on avoiding doing the Seder (Passover evening family dinner) at home, and taking off several days before, around April 10th. The plan was to start hiking on the 13th, and catch the Lunar eclipse of the 14th from the trail. It seems as though I will postpone my start date by about a week, so I can fly over with another Israeli who wants to do the Seder at home. We might take off around the 15th, and start hiking on the 18th or 19th. But nothing is set in stone yet.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Cooking Test

Several days ago I had a chance to try out cooking my meal "trail style", using my Caldera Keg-F Stove System and a Knorr dinner bag. I know it's not exactly like cooking on the trail, but I want to feel confident I use the proper amount of alcohol and water, and get a satisfying meal at the end.
Caldera Keg (with a spare keg), fuel bottle, spork and lighter, and the meal I'm going to eat
For this test, I used just about 20ml of alcohol in the stove. I put in a bit too much water in the keg, so for the next attempt I'll put less. Those 20ml burned for about 8 minutes, though I got a boil at around 7. So again - a bit less fuel will also work for me.
The stove inside the Caldera Cone
After the boil, I poured most of the water inside the Knorr bag (Rice with Mujadarrah), and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Waiting for the rice to cook, while watching "Alone in the Wild" on TV
I think the 10 minute mark for cooking the rice in the bag is good. The rice was completely cooked. Maybe even a bit less time would work, but unless I'm starving I don't think It'd matter much. After the rice is done, I poured in about 1/2 a bag of powdered mashed potatoes, to turn it from a soupy rice meal, into a chunky potato/rice mix. It doesn't look too tasty, but I kinda like it, and it definitely filled me up, and got me warm inside.
Yum yum. It looks oh so inviting.
I already imagine myself wolfing down one of those inside my tent, sitting under my quilt.

Oh - and a happy new year to you all. The year of my Pacific Crest Trail Hike.