Sep 11

Washington: A life: by Ron Chernow ★★★★

I’ve been amiss at writing book reviews. Of the four books here, I found all to be delightful and informative reads, gaining insight into the thoughts and minds of historical characters from the late 18th century and civil war. I will continue several more books on the era of the founding fathers, before plunging whole hog into civil war history. The book “Sherman” has wet my appetite for the era of the civil war. But first, we review “Washington”.

Ron Chernow clearly has done his homework, going through vast volumes of papers and references to the man George Washington. Much of the book details his years during the Revolutionary War, and as president. Chernow is excellent at painting both the strengths and flaws in the character of Washington. Washington made many mistakes throughout his life, especially in the conduct of the Revolutionary War, and without the help of France, we would have probably still been a part of the U.K. I don’t picture him as a brilliant general, even though the soldiers he had to work with were painted as less than stellar. Congress (and the individual states) were also quite remiss at helping Washington fight the war that they commissioned him to accomplish. Washington’s strength was that of being able to inspire people, and to play the political games that brought people together and agree on vexing matters. 

Much of the mythology of Washington was debunked in this book. He did not throw a coin across the Potomac, or chop down a cherry tree. He did not kneel to pray at Valley Forge. His “god” was the nebulous force of “Providence”. Washington was a strong federalist, in that he wished for power to preside mostly in the central government, rather than the states. Oddly, it’s a battle that continues to this date. Chernow describes in detail but glosses over some extreme double-mindedness of Washington, such as his insistence on holding slaves, and not even allowing his most cherished slave to go free after years of dedicated service to his master.

In this book, we truly see not only greatness of the man George Washington, but also his horrid faults. Such a person would not have survived the twenty-first century. Thank God he lived in the eighteenth century. It is a book worth reading should one be interested in the founding fathers, and Chernow writes well, being able to hold your attention throughout the book.

Amazing Grace, by Eric Metaxas ★★★★

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the heroic campaign to end slavery, details the life of Wilberforce, one of the leading persons in the British government to remove slavery from the United Kingdom. Metaxas details the life from birth to death of Wilberforce, showing the rise and actions of a truly great man, who was willing to put his life and effort into abolishing the slave trade in British Empire. This was accomplished in stages, with first the abolishment of the slave trade, and then much later, just before his death, the abolishment of the practice of slavery within the United Kingdom. Wilberforce’s accomplishments were actually far more than just addressing the issue of slavery during his time in the parliament, where he made much effort to bring help to the poor and downcast.

Metaxas paints Wilberforce as being born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He grew up in a privileged family, and thus really never had to work. He dawdled his way through college, never really excelling, but he was able to enter the house of Commons through his speaking talent. Through a deepening of his Christian faith and encounters with John Newton, the pastor and author of “Amazing Grace”, but previously a slave trader, Wilberforce’s focus was directed toward the abolishment of the slave trade throughout the United Kingdom. Wilberforce was in Parliament at the time of the American Revolutionary War, though this did not seem to garner much interest to William. Like politics in the USA, there was much wrangling and fighting in Parliament before a decision could be made, and Metaxas is excellent at detailing that process.

So, what are we to think of Wilberforce? In a way, I would hold him in disdain as an elitist. In another way, he was able to take a moral stance against all odds, fight for that stance, and win, making him a hero of the cause. Wilberforce was motivated by a Christian conscience, something that also drove our Civil War for the abolishment of slavery, yet many might ask if the abolishment of slavery could have happened without a Christian mindset? I think not, but that is a topic for lengthy discussion over a good bottle of Cognac and a Cuban cigar. This book is much worth a read, generates stimulating discussion, and Metaxas is a superb author who writes in an addicting style. I encourage all to read this tome. 

1776; by David McCullough ★★★

This book begins in late 1775 and ends with the New Year of 1776. It repeats much material from Chernow’s text on Washington, though not focusing on Washington. The focus is mostly the first year of the Revolutionary War, and the activities in the North. The war in the south and at sea are really not mentioned. The campaigns in Massachusetts, the war to defend New York city, and the ending with Washington’s victory at Trenton are details. The end of 1776 left great wonderment whether Washington would ever be successful at overcoming the far more disciplined and vastly more numbered British army, supported by a large army of paid Hessian mercenaries. 

Washington faced multiple challenges from a very highly undisciplined army, as well as a congress always slow at supporting the war effort. The individual states were quite unwilling to send their militia to the support of the war effort, making recruitment a near impossible task for Washington. Much of the book is quite dark, as it should be for the first year of the war, where defeat far outnumbered victory, and those victories were most providential with the rag-tag army that Washington was fielding. 

The book would have been more successful, had McCullough carried on through the end of the war. I would have liked to see a more comprehensive review of what was occurring in congress, in the states, and other areas of the war, such as in the south. I would not put this book on the must-read list.

William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of my Country, by James Lee McDonough ★★★★★

This was a most delightful read of one of the greatest generals ever produced by America, and certainly a person that competes on the world stage as one of the greatest of the greatest mastermind in war. Sherman grew up in Ohio, being raised by adoptive parents. He went to West Point, much to the chagrin of his adoptive parents, did ok at West Point, and served in the military for a length of time, mostly in the south, but mostly attending high society parties. Eventually, he left the military, seeking fortunes in the banking industry in California. When California banking went south, Sherman moved back to the south to become one of the first military academies in the south, being released when the civil war broke out, and his strong disagreement with the south that matters should have been worked out civilly. 

Without detailing the events of Sherman’s life, and especially his war years, I would like to summarize some interesting aspects of his life. First, though he was probably one of the most brilliant generals of the war, the newspapers frequently characterized him as insane, a looney, and crazy. Any time there would be a struggle with the enemy, the charges would be resurrected. Kind of sounds like the press today… they never seem to get it right. Secondly, Sherman was correct in seeing war as a total war; civilians often are a contributor to the war, as was especially true with the civil war on both sides. Yet, it was Sherman that first spoke the phrase “War is all hell”. He had a very realistic approach to war, while having a very sympathetic feeling toward the enemy. We quickly criticize Sherman and his march to the sea, and yet overlook the supremely evil Confederate general that frequently confronted Sherman, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Sherman’s innovation in developing supply off the land far from his natural supply lines seemed only natural and right, and certainly was effective of breaking the will of the enemy for war. Though long dead, Sherman continues to receive unfair criticism. Like the other truly great generals such as Patton, end results tend to speak louder than the curbside audience that could never start up to the heat of the moment of these generals while leading the army to ultimate victory. 

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Sep 07
Mount Olympus as seen from the trail to Grand Lake

04-07SEPT I had planned for a 3-4 day hike in the rain shadow region of the Olympic National Park. The Olympics tends to be challenging hiking, with the trails often showing no regard for real humans, heading straight up the hills without mercy. The land is rugged and not for the faint-of-heart, yet offers some of the most spectacular beauty to be seen. Every corner of the the trail, every vista, every pass, every step offers an ever unfolding realm of majesty; new snow-clad peaks, new valleys, new lakes and meadows, all discovered by the sweat of one’s brow and the toil of aching muscles and limbs… but, it was all very much worth it. Sometimes it could be a challenge to get permits into the Grand Valley basin. Fortunately, it was after Labor Day, and permits were quite easy to obtain. Even though the weather was spectacularly beautiful without a cloud in the sky, the campgrounds were quite empty. On the 8 miles or so of trail from the Grand Pass junction to Three Forks Campground, and the next day back up to Deer Park, I never saw a single other person of the trail. One needs not go to Alaska for solitude!

Day zero started by me leaving from home about noon, and reaching the Port Angeles ranger station where I was able to obtain my permit to hike, and camp at Moose Lake. I decided to start at Deer Park, which I didn’t realize was somewhat of a crazy drive up a VERY narrow gravel road 8 miles to the campground. I spent the night there.

One day one, the hike went from Deer Park to Moose Lake via Obstruction Point, roughly 11.5 miles and 3500 ft of climbing. Much of the trail to Obstruction Point was on a crest overlooking Port Angeles and the Puget Sound on one side, and a broad panoply of mountains on the other. The trail to the Grand Basin also followed a ridge overlooking Mount Olympus (see above) before steeply dropping down into the basin. A short further hike put me at Moose Lake, where I set up camp. There I met a retired chemical engineer named Ray, my same age, and we spoke of our joy for the mountains. I was just getting over a week-long bout of gastroenteritis, so a bit worried about eating. I tried some Loma Linda spaghetti bolognese, which tasted absolutely awful. The meal was remedied with pecan sandy cookies and Snicker bars.

Day two went further up the Grand Valley, beyond where most people do not go, up over Grand Pass. While the lower Grand Valley is V-shaped, the upper valley has a distinct glacial appearance as a large U-shaped cirque. The valley curves to the left, not seen from below, so the top of the valley as seen from Moose Lake was much lower than where Grand Pass actually was, a climb of about 3500 feet. The trail did not seem too difficult, until I had to descend on the other side. On the maps, the trail becomes a dotted line, suggesting not quite a trail. It was not terribly challenging to follow the route down, now with mountains on all sides of me. The hard part was that the trail condition was poor and not maintained. I was unable to hike any faster descending than when ascending the north side of the pass. I encountered three people on the trail, including middle aged lady, a younger man carrying a large tripod on his pack, and an old geezer slowly working his way up the pass… all were solo, like me. Once I reached the Cameron Creek trail, I decided to make this a three (rather than 4-5) day adventure and go down Cameron Creek. Everybody suggested that the trail was okay, and quite beautiful. It was a beautiful trail, though one was now in dense forest without views. The trail here was both poorly designed as well as poorly maintained. It was about 7 miles to Three Forks campground, which took me about 4.5 hours to achieve, much slower than my usual hiking speed on manicured trail. I am not sure why this trail is so neglected. It needs to be re-routed over many segments, and desperately needs a modicum of maintenance, after which I’m sure it would become a very popular trail. For dinner, I had my own specialty, where I combine freeze dried hamburger and vegetables into Top Ramen. It tasted great. The day was roughly about 12 miles, and 4500 ft of climbing.

The last day was a return to Deer Park on a trail that went straight from Three Forks Campground to Deer Park, about 4.4 miles with about 3500 ft of elevation gain. It was a persistent climb, but the trail was in stellar shape, making it not a terrible challenge. There was no available water on the trail, and knew that Deer Park had no water, so my CamelBak was filled with 3 liters, and I went through most of it. Toward the top, the vistas again opened up in their glorious beauty. Though this has been one of my more challenging hikes, I did not feel overwhelmingly spent or exhausted on ending it. I reached Deer Park by 10:30 in the morning, almost 3 hours of climbing. 

On the trail to Obstruction Point
Looking south toward the mountains
Grand Lake
My tent with the Bear Vault at Moose Lake
Moose Lake in the Grand Valley
The view from the summit of the Grand Valley
Grand Pass
Looking down the Cameron Creek Valley
A view in the upper Cameron Valley
My tent at Three Forks
The structure at Three Forks

A few more notes need to be added here. Equipment-wise, I tried out a new pack, the Exos 58, most of which I loved. It was a very comfortable pack, even though I didn’t take sufficient time to fit it to me. There are a few things I didn’t like about it. First, I liked the pockets in the brain, but didn’t like that they competed with an additional optional flap. I would have liked to be able to remove the flap. The long cord on each side that was to help compress the pack seemed more troublesome than good. There were no hip pockets to place little things. Yet, it held everything nicely, including the mandatory bear canister, which one must have when camping in the Olympics. I liked the two very large side stretch pockets and large back pocket. This will probably be my go-to pack, though I might eliminate the “brain” and find a pocket to hold all my loose-ends in in the pack. 

I also tried out two other things, including Dirty-girl gaiters and OP hiking gloves, both of which I loved. My feet were so comfortable in the Altas that I didn’t even bother taking them off at the completion of the hike… they just felt great, without blisters or soreness. The gaiters worked perfect at keeping out dust and rocks and sand from the shoe. I wore my pants over the gaiters, providing a secondary round of protection. The OP hiking gloves also were perfect, as my hands had no soreness while holding onto the hiking poles, didn’t become hot, yet allowed me access to my cell phone for gps purposes. 

I also tried out the MSR pocket rocket mini-stove. Before this, I was very happy with my JetBoil stove, but many reviews and recommendations suggested trying this out. I did, and didn’t like it. It takes at least twice as long to boil up 0.5 liter of water, and requires a lighter to get the flame started. It offers no weight advantage.  I’ll probably go back to my JetBoil Flash Lite system, and use the above stove as a back-up when I’m camping with a group.

Dirty Girl gaiters on my Altas
OR ActiveIce Spectrum Sun Gloves
Final View on leaving the trail
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Aug 24
Camp with my tent

PCTA Work Party Sasquatch Volunteer Vacation-Goat Rocks 16-23AUG

I had signed up for this trip early in the year, having hiked the area we would be working on in the recent past.  I enjoy doing trail work, and it is quite educational to experience how much work it really takes to maintain a trail in the wilderness. Though I had expressed a desire to hike the PCT in 2019, this had little influence on me wanting to actually contribute to the maintenance of this trail. 

I arrived to the starting trailhead at Waptus Lake the evening before on 16AUG, and some of the fellow participants were already there. I had a great night’s sleep, and the next morning, was able to meet the entire crew for our endeavor. The leaders, Justin and Dave, explained the rules of engagement, we did some stretching exercises, and off we went to a campsite (as seen above), 4.5 miles up the Waptus Lake trail. It was an easy hike, even with our packs loaded heavier than usual, and with a short steep uphill climb. The food, tools, and other provisions were being brought in by horse and mule through the agency of horse riding volunteers. The horse team passed us on the way into camp. 

We helped set up the community cooking tent, then hiked about ½ to 1 mile further to assess the trail segment on which we would be working. On return to camp, we set up our personal tents, and then had dinner, cooked compliments of Justin and Dave. Each night, two of the crew were assigned to do the cooking and kitchen clean-up. Even with our help, Justin and Dave had to do the lion’s share of coordinating the food efforts, and putting out the food for each day’s breakfast and lunch. 

On day 2, we commenced operations. I was involved in a team that did brushing on the trail below (south of) the Waptus Lake trail junction. The remainder of the crew went north on the PCT and started cutting down cedar trees, debarking the trunks, and installing check steps along the trail. Various portions of the trail would form large “ruts” from rain run-off, but drainage channels and check steps helped to slow the process of erosion of the trail. In the following days, I performed a combination of more brushing, installing check steps, de-berming (removing the outside edge of the trail in order to allow water run-off), and de-sloughing (removing the build-up of slough from the inside edge of the trail acquired my material coming downhill onto the trail). Perhaps Justin and Dave grew a little weary of my constant inquiry as to what and why we were doing things, but little did they know that I had a nickname as a kid of “twenty questions”. 

The very last day, we worked on the trail for only a few hours, adding polish to our work. We had installed 21 Steps (sounds like a Hitchcock film!!!), and did a massive amount of brushing, and de-berming/de-sloughing/drainage structures of the trail. It was a satisfying experience.

I really enjoy all the people that I get to meet in the work party. I felt like the  old goat (Alter Knacker) or (Blöde Ziege) of the group, though I believe there were 1-2 people older than me. There was Jacob, a sixteen year old kid, hoping to thru-hike the PCT next year. Beverly was a wonderful resource and a joy to work with, who had done many work parties in the Olympics. Joan was a very pleasant spirit, who shared a common occupation in the medical field. Julian, of whom I accidentally called “Marcel”. (Unfortunately???), the name seemed to stick, had hiked the PCT four years ago as “Back-scratcher”, and was most helpful in offering pointers in strategies of doing the PCT. Evan was delightful, a person I wish I could have spent more time with. Then there was Sterling, a gregarious personality who hails from North Carolina, who had an affection for finding the Sasquatch, and with whom I had many delightful interchanges. Sadly, his knee began acting up during our week of work. I hope that the knee is an easy to fix. Lastly (but not least), I mention Anne. She hails from Ingolstadt (in Bavaria, Germany), and was a true delight to get to know. I admire her willingness to come to America to get dirty working on our trails. It really touched my heart. She also was a doctor, and I felt a strong kindred spirit with her. I truly hope that we might meet again. . . vielleicht in mein Heimatland, Deutschland. Ich ehrlich liebe Deutschland!!!!! 

I left our fearless leaders last, but only because they deserve special mention. They made an awesome team, and set a tone within the work party that helped everybody on the team have a great time.  Justin was our fearless leader. He walked with a sprightly stride, and radiated the joie de vivre. Particularly, Justin was able to maintain qualities of a leader, such as not forming favorites within the group, and spent time interacting with each and every of the work party members. He behaved like he truly enjoyed what he was doing, which was infectious among the worker bees. Dave was a thru-hiker veteran, trail named Spatula, a bit more quiet personality, but also manifesting excellent leader skills. I loved interacting with Dave.

Several items need to be mentioned. The weather was perfect, but forest fires in the Northwest caused much haziness in the atmosphere, and leading to blood-red moons every night. The dew was quite heavy each morning. Besides my trips with a gourmet chef (John Pribyl), I have never eaten so well on a backpack trip. Superb planning by Dave and the assistance of the horse team allowed that to happen. Finally, my shoes died. I was personally attached to those shoes! They were the first shoes I had ever hiked in with which I had not gotten a blister after a multi-day hike. They took me around Rainier twice on the Wonderland Trail, and many, many other places. I had quit using them for hiking in the last few years, going to Alta shoes (light-weight hiking shoes), but needed them for WTA work parties. Thankfully, I had already purchased an exact second pair, fearing that they would some day die. They died. I noticed that the soles were coming off of both shoes the first day in. Several days later, I took precautionary measures by duct-taping the soles in a circumferential fashion to the boots. That partially helped, but by the time of the hike out, the soles were barely attached to the upper portion of the shoe. The padding of the shoe entirely decomposed, offering no cushion to the terra firma. I acquired my first (but small, non-painful) blister in many years. The shoes were in such pitiful condition, that I threw them away at the tail-head.

In the drive home, I had to make a stop at Scale Burgers in Elbe. Cora, the owner, was my cancer patient many moons ago, and over 25 years later, remained free of cancer. She came out to have a long chat with me. It’s hard to believe that Cora is in her mid-eighties and still kicking strong. The hamburger was also quite awesome. 

As I finish writing this post, I finish the last of five “Tristan und Isolde”s that I have serially listened to. The opera ends with the Liebestod, an extremely demanding soprano solo forced on poor Isolde at the end of five hours of intense singing. I mention this, in that the opera ends sadly, but the trail work also has a sad ending, in that good-bye’s need to be said, and a new set of circumstances need to be engaged. Many are returning back to work. Justin and Dave, after a week of rest, must prepare for yet another work party in the Mt. Adams area, and I must seriously make a decision about whether I should thru-hike the PCT next year. My leaning is in the strong affirmative, though I hate the thought of leaving my wife for 5-6 months, and staying dirty for that length of time. I’m used to sterile operating suites that had no hint of dust. I fear river crossings. But, I love God’s great earth, and share with Bilbo and Frodo the reluctant joy of an epic adventure. 

The cooking tent
A hazy sky from forest fires
Geriatric boots, ready to die
Some of the 21 Check steps that we installed
God’s beautiful world, created for our delight
Looking down from the PCT on the lake by which we were camped
The camp. Sterling rests his knee.
Beverly and Jacob take pride in a proto-typical check step
Joan shows off a step check in creation
Horses and mules saved our backs
We are most grateful to the horsemen that ferried our supplies to and from camp
Adios, my beloved boots

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Aug 09

Dewey Lake with Sam

I had planned on hiking into Snow Lake MORA (Mount Rainier) with Sam, purchased the reservations, and then at the last minute realized that I had the dates wrong. Panic and planning led to a longer hike (3.1 miles rather than 1.4 miles), but I’m glad we did it. Sam had an awesome time. He led the hike both ways, and kept a reasonable rate without any complaining. At the lake, I set up camp, did some swimming, loafed (I brought along an ultra-light camp chair), and did the cooking. Sam’s appetite was voracious. Here are some photos…

At the start, Sam is quite fresh

Sam at an overlook to Dewey Lake, half way in. It is about 800 feet down.

An eager backpacker

Sam had a voracious appetite, and ate almost all the food I brought in.

Sam, chilling out at the lake.

The amount of bugs were moderate, and Sam counted 14 bug bites. I had about the same. Our only mishap was that Sam realized at camp that he forgot to pack the sleeping bag. Ooops! We made do by opening my sleeping bag and using it as a quilt. We did not use the fly to our tent, and the stars were most beautiful. With the hike out, Sam did a wonderful pace, even though the climb made him a bit tired. He didn’t feel like he could do another mile. Because the hike was entirely on the PCT, several thru-hikers piqued Sam’s interest, though Sam adamantly remarked that he would not take off five months to do the PCT if that meant skipping school. Oh well… we’ll see!

 

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Jul 27

Northern Loop of Mount Rainier 23-25JUL 2018

I had signed up for the Northern Loop on Mount Rainier in April, as it was one of the few hikes remaining on my list to do in Mount Rainier NP in order to complete all of the major hikes in the park. Besides, I was quite curious about the northern aspect of the park, which is somewhat less accessible than most other areas of the park. The year was mostly spent bicycling, and so to get my hiking legs in shape, I focused on some peaks in the Snoqualmie/North Bend area, doing Mailbox Peak, Mt. Si, and Rattlesnake Ridge. Mailbox Peak was definitely the hardest and Rattlesnake the easiest, but all are demanding climbs.

Russ A. with me on the summit of Mailbox Peak. Guess why it is called “Mailbox” Peak?

I have never done the summit scramble on Mt. Si, but always stop at the overlook several 100 feet below the true summit.

The summit of Rattlesnake Ridge does not afford any views

I had planned to do the hike with Russ A., but various circumstances prevented that from happening, so, not being able to find another hiking partner on short notice, I set out solo. Because the Carbon River Road inside the park is washed out with no intention of the NP service to repair it, an extra 5 miles is added to the hike, which is not challenging, since it is basically flat, with easy gravel road conditions. I camped at the Ipsut Creek campground that night.

Ipsut Creek Camp

Views of the mountains from the Carbon River Road

Waking up the next morning, I headed out, knowing that this would be the hardest day, entailing over 4000 ft of climbing in the space of about 4 miles. The weather could not be more perfect, and I headed across the Carbon River, then working up Chenuis Mountain to the Yellowstone Cliffs. It actually went easier than I thought, though it was a steady climb all of the way through, without relief. Fortunately, it was in dense forest, which kept the hike cool. The Yellowstone Cliffs were most spectacular, and the beauty even intensifying as one reached the Windy Gap, where several alpine lakes, still with some surrounding snow and snow-clad mountains, contributed to the scenic ambience.

Yellowstone Cliffs

Yellowstone Cliffs

Windy Gap View

Windy Gap flowered meadows

Top of Windy Gap looking eastward

Natural Bridge. Below, Lake James is to the right and Lake Ethyl to the left.

Yes, I also did the side trip to see Natural Bridge, which was cool, but a bit of a grunt to get to. Descending about 1300 ft, I arrived at Lake James camp. After setting the tent up and having my celebratory brandy and cigar, I realized that the flies and mosquitos were to intense to enjoy a cooked meal, so settled for a Snicker bar and granola bars. It worked.

Lake James camp

Lake James

The next morning was more descent, about 1400 ft more, to the west fork of the White River. The trail passed by a small burn area before reaching the river.

Burn area, down from Lake James

Upon reaching the White River, I saw rock cairns where the park service suggested doing a crossing of the river. It appeared very unsafe to pass and so I spent about an hour going up and down stream, looking for more safe areas to cross. The particularly warm weather tended to fill the stream and the water was both deep and very rapid moving. I know that others had been able to cross, but being alone and unsure about the crossing decided not to take my chances. On returning from the hike, I checked out other WTA trip reports, and noted that the crossing in the past week was described as perilously risky, or the “most frightening experience”, which to me means it should not have been crossed by those people. I won’t be surprised if I hear of an accident or death of somebody attempting to cross the river there. The park service really needs to offer a substantive warning to those attempting the Northern Loop. I decided to head back. It was a 2.2 mile descent from Lake James to the West Fork of the White River, so I calculated about 18 miles to hike out. I had completed about half of the loop, and except for a couple miles, had hiked the rest of the loop at various times before, so considered my trip a success. I was a bit tired and sore on reaching the car, and my 27 lb pack felt like it had just doubled its weight, causing me to re-weigh it when I got home to confirm that the boogie man did not sneak some stones in my pack on the hike out.

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