I went up to Estes Park last weekend. I’ve always considered it my home.
I’ve been really distraught lately. I think I’ve got a case of the existentialism. It seems like I’m in this limbo of progress and regression and nothingness. Now isn’t a time for that, though, it’s just something that’s weighed on me as of late. I think a lot about life and purpose and all of those other insightful things, but sometimes it’s healthier not to. Every once in a while I like to take a break from looking inward to see what’s outside of my thoughts and troubles and worries. If I don’t, I’ll get stuck.
When I’m in and around Estes, my soul breathes. It’s like that point when you can’t hold your breath any longer. Returning to that area is the first deep breath. That little city and its surrounds are my reset button. It’s such an extensive part of who I am.
At one point, a herd of big horn sheep crossed the road in front of me. I hadn’t seen a big horn in years, so there was much excitement. I pulled over and watched them for a bit, taking a couple pictures as they scurried up the snow-covered granite.
I love spending time in the Park. Especially at sunset. The gentle winds, the pastels, the dramatic skylines, the silence. There is something fulfilling about seeing clouds form and dissolve over a landscape.
Longs Peak is in the center of this frame. It’s obscured, but it’s there. I waited for the clouds to open up just enough for its silhouette to peek through. It was while I was waiting that I ran into another photographer; actually many passed through this lookout, but one in particular stood out.
He parked, propped his tripod and several thousand dollar Nikon rig, bundled himself up in his North Face, and stood silent for a minute or two. I looked over and told him about my hopes of the clouds opening up for us despite them taunting me for the last hour. It was just small talk, but he wasn’t amused.
In the few minutes his face was pressed to his viewfinder, he took one picture then began to disassemble, in a curt manner, with one remark.
“They’re not going to open. You’re just wasting your time.”
He was right, they didn’t open and I didn’t get a dramatic shot of Longs at sunset. But I didn’t waste my time. Maybe I’m wrong, but part of photography (and life for that matter) is making the most of what you have. There are times you have to be patient and wait for the light to hit just right. There are times when that won’t happen. You can hope, but you also have to accept that things won’t always work out how you want them to. You never quit. You do what you can. It’s more than getting that “perfect” image. It’s appreciating the land and pursuing a passion. As a photographer, you take thousands of images and if you’re lucky, you’re able to count the good ones on one hand. If you try to set an image up without just letting it happen, you’re often seeking the archetype.
I waited there until the sun descended and the land fell monochrome. I captured springtime in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Good things come to those who wait. The high point on the right is Longs Peak.
I’m new to this. I’ve been taking pictures for years, but landscapes and night photography have always been my adversaries. Combining the two is such a challenge for me. I’ve read lessons on astrophotography and watched videos about how to do certain things. Even after all of that, I still have a hard time getting halfway-decent night photos. I look at all of these outstanding images on Instagram and Trekearth and I think, “why don’t mine come out like that?”
Then I realize I’m not them. Duh. My photos will come out how they come out. I have my own style. I’m just going to do my own thing. And I stop caring.
Mr. Nikon-North Face Photographer from earlier was going for the same shot every one else wanted. Yeah, there’s some good points to that argument. For one, they’re more profitable. But at the end of the day they’re all the same pictures. I don’t want to take the same picture everyone else takes. I don’t want my name on that. It’s vexing. Even if you’re not going to get the shot, enjoy the experience. I know all of this is just an inference, but I found that guy irksome.
Then I realized that I was just there. Some guy adjusting little dials on a camera and pressing a button. I just wanted to reset, relax, watch the sunset, and enjoy the night. The moon was so bright, I didn’t even need a headlamp. It was beautiful. Photos were just a bonus. They’re always just a bonus. And even then, who’s to say what makes a good image? I think the stories behind them and the way they’re interpreted are what make them great. Not their resale.
With a canopy of starlight overhead, I drove around taking pictures here and there. I didn’t see another car in the Park past 10 p.m. It was a good break from the monotony of work. To me, this is the most meaningful image from my trip. It’s a reflection of my phone in my windshield. This song is incredibly pertinent to where I’m at right now in life. Sing For the Wind by Roo Panes.
For those I’m not as close to, I’ve been fervent in trying to relocate to Estes for the better part of a year. I had a job opportunity, but finding housing over the past few months has been a struggle. It’s not behind me, it’s just not my primary focus anymore. Sometimes you just have to wait for the sky to open up.
The time I spent up there put some things into perspective.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 3400 is a 55 liter weatherproof pack that weighs in around two pounds. At this point, I’ve had the pack for almost two years and in that time I’ve learned a fair amount about the Porter’s performance and build quality. I’ve taken it on day hikes, climbs, and backpacking trips throughout Colorado as well as on a three week trip through England and Kenya. This pack has seen both urban and wild environments. While it excels in both, it is meant for the backcountry.
This pack is basically a giant tube. With this design, you’re not limited by different storage areas and it really allows you to customize your weight distribution and overall packing preferences. The only compartment on the inside is a small zippered pocket, which is perfect for a few maps, a compass, and maybe some bars. It’s sized well, not too small that it’s pointless, but not too big that it gets in the way. I prefer to leave it empty or fill it and use it as a divider when packing. The zipper doesn’t unzip on its own and, being made from the same material as the rest of the pack, it performs well with keeping contents dry on the inside. If you stuff a wet jacket in there and have a phone inside the pocket, there’s no need to worry about damaging the phone. This pocket isn’t seam sealed, but it’ll still do the job with wet contents.
Underneath the pocket is the frame. It’s made of foam, which is about a quarter inch thick (don’t quote me on that), and two aluminum stays. The cool thing about this is that the stays are removable and held in by simple velcro tabs. I like to leave mine in because I like the support and, to me, the weight saved by removing them isn’t enough to compromise on comfort. But if you’re someone who’s counting grams or if you need to make a splint, they come out easily. They are curved slightly, so if you do completely remove them and they don’t slide in effortlessly, that’s most likely why. The stays aren’t too thick, either, so you won’t feel them when hiking. The stays also don’t interfere with packing.
This pack is also seam-taped. It’s basically a dry bag with suspension. The seams on the sides, the logo, and the daisy chains are all taped and the construction has held up. A few months ago I used this pack in Rocky Mountain National Park during a downpour that lasted about five hours and at the end of it, the contents of my pack were totally dry. I wouldn’t recommend submersing this pack, but it can definitely withstand nasty, wet storms. It’ll keep dry in melting snow as well. Anyway, back to the tape. A little bit of dirt will accumulate on the edges and they will peel ever-so-slightly over time, but that doesn’t compromise the weather-resistance, it’s just aesthetic.
At the top of the bag is the Velcro closure. Lots of times Velcro starts to fray after extended use, but this ins’t one of those cases. This stuff is good. The stitching is solid and the hooks and loops stick together really well. Unless you thrash it open, it’s going to stay shut. And with just a few rolls, water won’t be getting in. Pet hair will get caught in the fibers and sometimes the “Made in Maine” tag will get in the way, but it’s such a small section that it hardly affects the pack’s closure.
The Velcro doesn’t extend across the full length of the opening. This is actually useful because it seems to allow you to squeeze all the air out of the pack to get a less inflatable-feel.
There are two different ways this pack can be closed. I do both, depending on what I’m doing and carrying. The first way really compresses and streamlines the pack; it is the way HMG advertises it. The Porter has buckles on each side that connect to the buckles on the opening of the pack; once these are fastened, there is a final yoke closure that goes from the top of your shoulders to the front of the pack.
This is really handy if you’re carrying something on top, like a rope. It’s surprisingly secure. I like to put my helmet through the yoke strap. Near the handle, the yoke strap has another buckle; it makes getting into the pack easier without undo-ing the whole system.
The second way is how you close a dry bag, and mimics the Arc’teryx Naos series from a few years ago. I prefer closing the pack this way most of the time. For me, accessing the inside is easier.
The compression straps are multi-use. You can fasten snowshoes, ice tools, sleeping pads, and so much more in addition to compressing the pack. They’ve never loosened on me, the stitching is really tight, and the reinforcement points are solid, so you can put that extra attachment weight onto them without worrying. This is also a good time for me to commend the buckles. These are easy to open with minimal pressure, wet hands, and even with gloves and cold fingers. Combined with the simple closure, everything is very user-friendly for when your dexterity is limited.
Some might find the webbing excessive; I don’t. It’s handy when I need that extra length to pull on, weighs almost nothing, and makes me look pretty majestic in the wind. If I ever decide to shorten the straps, I can always cut them and burn the ends.
The daisy chain is on both sides of the pack, extending from the bottom to about half way up, as well as on 3/4 of the front of the pack. This feature really boosts the pack’s versatility. I put some spectra on the front for when I want to stuff something on the outside or don’t want to stick my crampons inside my pack. It’s helpful with ice tools, too. Spectra doesn’t come with the pack and is like an extra 12ish bucks if you order it from HMG. It was worth it for me and you never know when you’re going to need the extra line. I purchased 50′ and after looping this through the daisy chain, still had 24′ left. HMG also makes accessories you can affix to the pack like mesh sacks and pockets. This does the job for me, but it’s good that HMG offers those alternatives. If you really want some external pockets, definitely checkout their Southwest, Windrider, and Ice Pack models—they may be a better fit for you, in comparison to the stripped-down Porter.
At the top of the suspension is a webbing handle. It’s great when I need to throw this thing into a truck or onto a carousel or something. Below the handle is the foam padding I was talking about earlier. You have to be conscious of your packing. Like if you put a fluke or something that juts out up against this, you’ll be uncomfortable; it won’t be miserable, just not a 10/10 on comfort, more like a 4. It’s kind of like sleeping on a pointy rock. However, for what it is, it’s comfortable and even with minimal effort in packing, it will feel fine as long as you pack softer or flatter items against the frame. When I pack my folded Big Agnes Q-Core SL against the frame, it feels like a dream. Below the padding, there is some lumbar support with mesh over foam.
Here is the hip belt. For some, this may be a downside of the pack because it’s not as customizable as some other packs out there. You don’t really have the adjustment features here that you have on some Osprey and Gregory packs. HMG doesn’t offer that, at least not at this point. I haven’t had any issues with this at all, though. For how simple this suspension system is, I’m impressed at how well it keeps the weight off my shoulders when fit correctly. I ordered mine with the hip belt pockets, their volume is weird, but you can still fit a decent amount of stuff in there. The zippers are fairly water-resistant, but they’re finicky with closing all the way, staying completely shut when the pockets are full, and zipping and unzipping over the curve. Even then, I’ve never had water leak into them. The buckle is very secure and easy to fit, and just like the others, it’s super easy to buckle and unbuckle even with minimal dexterity.
The straps are made of the same materials as the lower suspension, there’s not as much padding and they are a little narrow compared to some other straps out there, but they don’t really dig into your shoulders as much as you may think. You can’t customize the fit up top, but you can easily do so on the bottom. The sternum strap is good at bringing everything together and you can move it up and down the anchors. The whistle is loud, too. If you use it, you will be heard, even with harsh gusts.
Biggest issue with the suspension of this pack comes when there’s more than 30-35 pounds. HMG advertises that this model has a carrying capacity between 25-40 pounds. I’ve found that anything really over 32 pounds, you’re going to start feeling it on your shoulders more, even with proper fitting. Mostly because these straps are narrow and I don’t think this pack is really built for that. If you keep it under 30 pounds, you’ll definitely be fine. However, if you are considering putting that weight in there, it can hold it, just not as comfortably as it would with less. You may want to consider the 4400 model for heavier loads.
So, in this picture, I’m pulling the strap from the body as hard as I can to expose the stitching. I did this to show that this pack is physically capable of supporting weight and the carrying capacity point I brought up is just a comfort issue. Who knows, maybe I’m just a wimp.
I’m 5’10, 155lbs. with an average build. HMG’s size medium fits me perfectly. It wobbles a little up top when completely full, but it fits to my back really well and does a fantastic job of keep all the weight off my shoulders. It sits just above my iliac crest. There’s definitely no pinching on my shoulders, arms, or hips. If you’re unsure of size, HMG is there to help.
The Porter is really great for weeklong trips, but also excels when compressed as a day pack for short hikes, climbs, peak bagging, all that. Honestly, if you plan well, this pack is more than you could ever need for a thru-hike.
Every single time I take this out and tell someone about it, they always say “it’s so thin, how do you not tear it?” and that’s a good question because I don’t know. I’m not careful with it. Like at all. I think HMG’s got some kind of magic formula or something. This material is very, very, very durable. I’ve slid it down scree slopes, it’s been rubbed against granite, fallen out of a moving truck, glissaded down snow fields. It’s bomber, really. I wouldn’t call it waterproof because it’s hard to put that label on things, but I’ve had it in a few downpours and set it in a few puddles and everything inside kept dry. If anything would leak through, it would be the seams, not the fabric itself. However, that’s never something I’ve had to really worry about. Nor ever will. While everyone else is fidgeting around with their rain covers, I’ve got a cheeky grin on my face.
So, the industry is in a transition phase with the name “Cuben Fiber.” When I purchased this pack in 2014, it was advertised as a nylon-cuben fiber blend. To keep things short, cuben fiber is transitioning to the name Dyneema Composite Fabric to give more credit to the manufacturers of the material. So look out for that in the future. Same material, different name. If you want to learn more about this, here’s a link.
Also, as of February 1, 2016, HMG has also changed its logo from the images above to the image below. It’s just something to be aware of if you are purchasing these items used.
Most of the pack is made of a 50D fabric. The bottom and about 1/5 of the way up the front and sides is a 150D fabric. The bottom is a lot thicker and you can definitely feel it and hear it. Oh that’s another thing, when it gets cold, like 10°F and below, this stuff gets really crinkly and noticeably more stiff. It’s not hard to work with, but there is a little bit of a change in feel when the temperature drops. When you first get it, you’ll start to get crinkles. They’re normal and the fabric isn’t any weaker because of them. My pack also has a ton of scratches and none of them have gotten through. I’m talking stepping on it with crampons, poking it with ice tools, none of it has torn. And if it did, it’s an easy repair with cuben tape. HMG sells this and so does ZPacks. HMG’s is thicker, but you get more bang for your buck with ZPacks’ tape. I’ve used both and they do the job. This is the really important part. I understand that the durability/puncture/tearing concern is one of the main reasons people are hesitant to purchase these products. Check out the video at the end. In it, I take my Black Diamond Cyborg crampons to the pack. It’s a little exaggerated, but the possibility of stepping on your pack with crampons or encountering sharp objects with it is a realistic one. It’s 6:40 into the video.
Overall, this is a great pack. It’s really durable, light, adaptable, and weatherproof. It’s also made in Maine by a company with outstanding customer service. They’re one of the few companies out there that has actually stayed true their mission. This pack is dynamic. It’s great for day hikes and climbs as well as week long trips and traveling through different cities and countries. Only thing I can bring up in this regard is that it did raise a few security flags in London. Its “appearance” was considered suspicious. The dude was rude and went out of his way to make a deal about it. You should be fine traveling internationally.
It’s so simple, yet exceptionally designed and built. I recommend this for anyone going ultralight or lightweight that wants a do-it-all weatherproof pack that will last them. This pack isn’t the most comfortable or the most customizable, but I wouldn’t dissuade you from purchasing it on that alone. It takes on the colors of where you take it over time, but that’s going to happen regardless. Using this pack made me think more critically about how and what I pack and has ultimately made me transition from a “bring everything” mindset to one more in line with bringing only what I need. I can say that if it weren’t for this pack, I might not have enjoyed some trips as much as I would have. I might not have had the motivation to go where I’ve gone had my pack been heavier. Do I recommend this? Hell yeah. There’s a good chance this will be the only pack I use for the next few years. That’s how much I trust it.
Don’t just take my word for it. Look into what other people are saying about the Porter before you make your purchase. Here’s a link that will take you to HMG’s website for all of the specs and a few reviews.
They’re a strong company, check them out. Look forward to more Hyperlite Mountain Gear tellabouts as well as some other products I’ve beaten up. Thanks for reading and I hope this was of some use to you!
Here’s the video I mentioned earlier. Watch me tell you about the Porter while trying my hardest not to say “um.”
So I’ve been thinking again. Mostly about my age and people around my age. Prepare for this to take a turn. Not like a gradual turn, but like a hairpin turn.
The twenty-fifth was my twenty-second birthday and it was a different one. Nothing weird happened—it just wasn’t like others. I think back to the birthdays I had when I was younger. They were always so celebratory; running around, eating gluten-filled Scooby-Doo cakes, and jumping on trampolines. That progressed to friends staying the night, tossing a football around in the street, racing go-karts, and playing video games all night until our sugar intakes knocked us out. Eventually, I wouldn’t really celebrate at all. Last year’s was a special one, though—the big one. My actual birthday was spent at work with a pounding migraine, so that was eventful. Some friends of mine eased the pain by bringing me gifts and gluten-free cakes. It was incredibly thoughtful. The following week, when I felt better, I went to the bar with my friends from work, planning on only having a cider or two so I could wake up for my 8 a.m. midterm the next morning. I don’t remember that night too well and that Wednesday I was over an hour late to class—in great discomfort—to find that my instructor posted the exam online and extended its completion date. I got lucky.
This year was mellow in contrast, but honestly, one of my favorites. It was so simple and enjoyable. After an amazing dinner, I was headed to Cripple Creek with some friends of mine. Not to gamble or drink, but to take pictures. Honestly, I would have gone alone, but it’s just not as fun getting eaten by a mountain lion without company.
I love Cripple Creek. Even though it’s designed for adults, the majority of my memories there are from my youth. I remember walking up and down the streets, hiking around the abandoned railcars and houses outside of Victor, writing rhetorical analyses in this little coffee shop that might not actually be there anymore. I need to check on that, I liked that place. I think it’s beautiful. I love the atmosphere.
Even when it seemed like there was nothing to do, there was so much to do.
To my surprise, many of the sculptures from the previous weekend’s ice festival were still standing. I mean, some of the figures looked like they had laid eyes upon the Ark of the Covenant, but that’s to be expected with cloudless, abnormal February warmth. I was giddy, probably more excited than I should have been over ice, but hey, I thought I missed it. And I think I got some decent shots.
The colors were phenomenal. They were so vibrant and did wonders reflecting through the different textures of ice. I’d never seen such beautiful iridescence and fracturing. The best part was the emptiness. We had the entire stretch to ourselves, minus the occasional geriatric towing his oxygen tank outside for a smoke break. Don’t believe me? Go to Cripple Creek sometime, you’ll see.
I never understood that. Why would someone who has such trouble breathing smoke? Especially in such close proximity to a compressed oxygen tank? Have they smoked their whole lives? Does it take the edge off of the free drinks and money loss? Is it an anxiety thing? Why aren’t they vaping like all the cool kids? Is it a part of their identity? Was there some event in their life that lead them to smoke? Does it bring back memories of when they were younger?
And there it is. The turn. I promise I won’t do this in every post. Mostly because I don’t think I have enough emotional fuel to burn long, drawn-out, deep paragraphs. But yeah, I got to thinking again. I’m twenty-two. When my grandparents were my age, they had children. Not just babies, but children. My friends are off traveling the world, getting married, moving up in their careers. What am I doing? What have I accomplished? Initially, not much came to mind. I mean, I graduated from college, but the two job opportunities I had in my degree field weren’t feasible. I’ve adopted two dogs and paid off my truck, but that doesn’t further my career. Lately, I’ve put so much thought into my accomplishments and failures. Imagine all of the books I could have read. Or all the paintings and drawings I could have completed.
Look at this house. I’m sure this thing was beautiful when it was first built. It was probably a real accomplishment for someone. They housed their family, their life, their belongings. But what if that wasn’t what the person who built that house wanted? What if that’s what everyone else was doing and they surrendered to that path? He could have been a writer, an explorer, anything, really. But instead he probably settled down, worked for the mine or a casino, and left all of those pages between the start of his book and the end unfulfilled; not blank, but incomplete. Look at this house again. It’s beautiful in it’s own way and it’s foundation has endured all of these years. I’m not saying that those who are on those paths are wrong. Everyone is entitled to live their lives how they want. I’m just saying that those paths are not for me. There are some gorgeous mansions in and around Cripple Creek. But for every one of those there is one of these. Ten, or twenty, or thirty years from now, I don’t want to be found boarded up where I started. Twenty-two is old in some areas of the world. Here, it is young.
I’ve realized something. I am here, alive, doing whatever it is that I’m doing now because of all the things I did and didn’t end up doing in the past twenty-two years. I’m not in jail. I haven’t hurt anybody. I haven’t hurt myself. I don’t have any addictions. If I had an opportunity to move to the other side of the world right now, I could. I’ve made some wise choices. I’ve got it good. Sure, I know people who seem to have their lives figured out and I’m proud of them, it’s a rarity. They had the courage to pursue their interests. However, I also know others who are trapped. Some of them don’t have the foresight to see the corrosiveness of their actions.
I’m going to jump back to the house metaphor. I feel it needs elaboration.
I. There are those who build their house upon a strong foundation with diligence. They do it themselves or with the help of others. Keyword: diligence.
II. There are those who have their houses built for them by others. They realize their fortune or are corrupted by the ease. Keywords: built for them.
III. There are those who want to build a house but cannot. They lack the resources or are less fortunate. Keyword: cannot.
IV. There are those who do not want to build a house ever. Keyword: hipster. Not really, but you get my meaning.
V. There are those who build houses for others. They have a house of their own or do not have one at all. Keywords: build for others.
VI. There are those who never build a house of their own, but instead are transient in the houses of others. Keyword: transient.
VII. Then, there are those who like the idea of building a house, but aren’t prudent in their approach; leaving it to collapse or be taken from them. Keywords: aren’t prudent. These are those I reference.
I have no idea how my house is being built, at least not yet. I think I’m laying a foundation, but I won’t know its strength until a storm blows through. I wonder what that guy with the cigarette and oxygen tank’s house is like.
I’m twenty-two and I don’t know what I want to be doing ten, or twenty, or thirty years from now. I don’t know what I want to be doing now. I know it involves traveling, writing, and photography, but I don’t have my heart set on any particular end goals. I feel like I’m going to have to build a career for myself in order to do what I love. That is terrifying, but I’d be lying to myself if I dropped everything and committed to just one path. I think it would be limiting. I don’t know. For now, I’m just going to enjoy that I can look up at the stars, relaxed, in this moment. Some people don’t have that option.
I like the picture above this. The one of the road and all the blurriness. I took this in the middle of CO 67 looking towards the backside of Pikes Peak around 1 a.m. I relate to it. All that is in focus is the beat up road immediately in front of me, but even then I can still make out where it’s headed. It’s not clear by any means, but it’s beautiful. And there’s light on the horizon.
I’m going to leave a quote. Not John Muir, but another wise, old man. Gandalf. I’m going to quote Gandalf, or rather, J.R.R. Tolkien. These words have resonated with me for months now. Not a day has gone by that they haven’t passed through my thoughts.
“All you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to you.”