Saturday, July 20, 2013

The thieves of Razz Lake (& pack review)

A clattering sound erupted outside my tent. My water bottle, moving around. Something was out there. What to do? "Hey!" I yelled. "Quit playing with my stuff!"

Which, in retrospect, was kind of a funny thing to say, but it was three in the morning and I was the only one at Razz Lake, reached by a grueling slog on a user-created footpath almost nine hundred feet above a tamer lake. There was silence outside and I sunk uneasily back into my quilt, dozing fitfully until about five when I unzipped the tent and looked around.

There was only the peaceful reflection of sunlit crags above the lake. My water bottle and flip flops rested innocently outside. But my bandanna...was GONE. Nowhere to be seen. The night had been deathly still, not even the whisper of a breeze. Somewhere in this lonely basin, a chipmunk..or a deer...or a mountain lion..or a bear..was sporting a pink bandanna.

The previous night I had met up with my husband and a co-worker where they were camped a few lakes and one pass away. It has reached the magical time of year, so short and sweet, when you can actually swim in the lakes and not sprint for shore. A nearly full moon lit up the night. The next day we did a tent hand off and I headed out for one more night solo. The temperature on the pass felt like eighty at 9 am. Last year at this time the Freak of Nature and I were at Mirror Lake below the pass and it was shrouded in snow. Now it was completely clear. This has been a strange year all around.

At Razz Lake the white granite slabs slanted down to the water. I hiked up to a magical upper basin, infinity pools and marble rocks dotting an enchanted landscape. This is the way to go, I thought. Work like a fiend all week and leave Thursday afternoon.

Yep. Everyone takes this photo.

The price to pay would be a thirteen mile hike out. I passed a trail runner going the other way, no doubt completing the seventeen mile loop from where I had started two days ago. He would be done in such a short time, but he wouldn't have had time to jump in the lake and lie steaming on a granite slab. As much as I love trail running, I felt like the lucky one. Even without a bandanna.

So--Pack review. When I was deciding to buy a Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus FS, there weren't many reviews of it. I had seen people carrying them, and it looked like a good compromise between a UL rucksack with no suspension and a heavier pack. And it is light--freakishly light, less than two pounds. So here is what is awesome and what is not:

I love: how light it is. It appears sturdy and well-made. I've carried it now for about fifty miles and while that's not a lot, it has been enough to tell it will hold up. Love the mesh pocket in front. I can put wet gear in there or stuff I need to grab immediately. You can get waist pockets too, if you're like me and want stuff you can grab on the run. I like how there's a big hole for the hydration bladder, unlike some packs where you have to take off the sippy part to fit it through.

What I don't love: It hugs close to your back. Which means that it rides well, but at the expense of a really sweaty back. And on this trip, something disturbing happened. The combination of a sweaty shirt and a close-riding pack means only one thing. Friction! And that's not good, campers! I ended up with some sore places on my back where the pack rubbed. I don't know why this didn't happen in the other two trips, but it could be because it was so much hotter, or maybe my shirt was thinner material. Either way--it could be a dealbreaker! I'd love to hear if this happened to anyone else who has one.

The verdict is, I am not taking it on my section hike. I'd love to, but this pack is really for those who have their UL gear dialed in. It's not for 8 days of food and for people like me who want flip flops for crossing streams and a Kindle to read at night, and a tent to myself so I can sleep. It works best I think for loads of twenty pounds or less.

I still love the pack, and maybe someday when there is a bombproof UL shelter and/or I can learn to sleep when people roll over on their Thermarests or snore, I will carry it more often. Until then it will be a good overnight pack if I can figure out the friction thing.

The home of the bandanna thieves

on the pass with the imaginatively named Upper and Mirror Lakes in the distance.



  1. Good observations about your pack. I actually prefer a "hugging" fit because there's a lot less jostling when I attempt to run. I'm also susceptible to sports bra chafing, both with small hydration packs and larger packs, which I mitigate with lube (like chamois cream, or Sports Slick. Body Glide works too) and sometimes Leukotape over the problem spots. Just as I don't believe in blister-proof shoes, I can't be sold on the idea of a chafe-proof pack. So many variables lead to chafing. Better to be pre-emptive, IMO. :)

    I've put in about 100 miles of running/hiking with my Golite Jam. Not nearly as much as I hoped, but enough to feel happy with it overall. We did some serious bushwhacking through the Manzanita in Ventana last weekend. Tore big chunks out of Beat's Ridge Rest, but the packs were fine. It looks like that Exodus is made out of a similar material. So it has that going for it.

  2. Beautiful photos, Mary, especially the one with the moon!

    The Great Bandanna Mystery--funny.

  3. Beautiful put the reader right there in the basins, along the high mountain lakes. APB for a pack-rat with a pink bandanna?

  4. I prefer the hugging fit too. The other packs feel too far from my back and almost like my sense of gravity is off. I really love Body Glide for chafing (although it melts in high temperatures I've found out). I've never had chafing from a hiking backpack though.

    I enjoyed picturing a mountain lion wearing your pink bandana.
    It has been extra toasty inland from here lately,.. I had a hot run in the Redwoods today, the river after was the perfect temp. Trail runners take a dip sometimes too ;)

  5. I don't see a pack photo but I see a Black Diamond tent? What model is that? Have you switched up tents or is that a bigger one you use when not solo?
    Sweaty bandanna, unsecured, prime target. Those subalpine critters seem to love salt.
    and I yell similar things to nighttime rodents, though I've found that a flashlight shown on the tent wall seems to be all I need to do and they skedaddle.


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