Salmon Butte Trip Report, Gear Test, and Off-Trail Fail

My goal this past weekend was to delve into off-trail adventures in an area I know relatively well.  I wanted to hike up Salmon Butte which is about 3000 ft of elevation gain and then take an unmaintained trail down the other side.  At some point, I would then venture west along a ridgeline (Rondthaler Mountain) and eventually up to Hambone Butte.  I planned to camp at a spring near Hambone Butte.  Then the next day I planned to bushwhack down to some falls that are difficult to reach from the other side of the Salmon River Canyon.  I would then attempt to cross the Salmon River and link up to the well-used trail on the other side to return home.  Seemed simple enough.  This trip was also my chance to test out both the IKEA Backpacking Poncho and my MYOG Synthetic Quilt in real conditions.

I did get a chance to field test my IKEA 6.7oz poncho.  As I started the trail it was POURING.  I purposely packed only my IKEA poncho, forcing me to try it in real conditions.  My pack “liner” was a kitchen garbage bag that I put my extra layers and sleeping gear into.  I left my actual rain gear and pack cover at home, so I would have no choice at the last minute to balk at using the IKEA poncho.

The poncho is a pain in the ass to get on.  I put my pack on first, then put on the poncho.   Maybe the opposite method is better?  Being alone, I had nobody to help get it over the back of my pack.  I eventually was able to do it, but it was a total pain in the ass.  The poncho kept me dry and functioned as intended.  No real issues with its performance to be honest.  I wore it for roughly an hour until it stopped raining.

When I took it off, I took a look at the seams.  They are taped shut.  However the construction is horrific and I could even see pinholes in the fabric near the seams.  It looked like the stitching job on my MYOG quilt.  While it looks like shit, it did work to my surprise.  However, in extended rains I believe it would definitely fail and leak.  This is not a durable product made for hardcore use.  That being said I’ll pack it along in warm weather when Im expecting rain.   This will be my go-to until it’s unusable.

I slogged up 3000 ft, slowly.  I was hungry by the time I summited.  I easily found the “unmaintained” trail which was much better than some maintained trails I have been on.  On this trail I saw the biggest pile of bear shit I’ve ever seen.  At this point, I was tired and hungry and about to embark on my first off-trail segment.  However, the brush and vegetation were insane.  It would take me forever to go off trail the way I had planned.  I saw that if I only went another mile or so on the trail I was on, there was a 4×4 road I could hike for 2.5 miles that would bring me to my intended camping spot.  I just couldn’t resist the efficiency off staying on trail and on the 4×4 road.

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The rest of the trail and the 4×4 road were really quite beautiful.  I was still up pretty high, so I looked down onto another valley that contained GIGANTIC old growth.  Even from up high, I could see thousands of old growth trees towering above the rest of the forest.  It was really something to see.   I saw only some bike tracks on the road and I wondered if it was closed off to vehicles.

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Eventually I made it to the campsite.  It was basically an older NFS campground left to rot, but still useable.  Now I had to find that spring to fill up.  Using my GPS on my phone I bushwhacked through thick rhododendron which took FOREVER.  It must’ve taken me 20 minutes to go an 1/8 of a mile, or less.  I reached the spring, filled up and walked straight up the hill and wouldn’t you know it THERE WAS A GODDAMN TRAIL LEADING RIGHT TO IT.  I just bushwhacked for nothing.

However, bushwhacking was the whole point of the trip.  After struggling through the dense rhododendron area and seeing nothing else, I decided that I wanted no part of doing that for upwards of 4 miles the next day until I could link up with another trail.  I also realized that the Salmon river this time of year is still roaring and crossing would be quite dangerous.  Even if I bushwhacked through the dense vegetation, found the wateralls I was looking for, and made it to where I wanted to cross; there was no guarantee I could safely cross.  And then I would have to completely backtrack the entire route.

So as I ate my beans and rice with crunched up nachos and drank an IPA, I knew I had a decision to make.   I could take the risk, bushwhack and see what the river had in store for me, or I could turn back the next morning and come back a day early.  I studied my maps and crashed out.  It was getting cold and my feet/socks were wet from the hike.

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My Adidas goretex equipped trail shoes which I bought because they didn’t aggravate my Plantar Fasciitis, wetted out just like all “waterproof breathable” gear will do.  I left my socks on and wore them to bed, because this is what will dry them out.  Leaving them out overnight only gives you cold damp socks the next morning.

Now was the time to test out my new MYOG quilt.  I made it with 3.6oz Apex Climashield insulation, which I read was supposed to be warm down to 40 degrees F, which I was skeptical of.  The forecast was for 41, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity to test it.  I packed a sweater just in case and was very glad I did.

My feet were toasty the whole night despite starting off wet.  By morning my socks were dry.  However, I made this quilt for using in “summer” conditions.  We are not quite there yet where I live.  I didn’t make the quilt with straps to connect it to the pad because I figured I wouldn’t need it in the summer and would mostly just use it like a blanket.  As a result it was drafty around my hips and ass, cooling me off when I didn’t want to be.  I slept horribly.

I wasn’t freezing per se, just uncomfortable.  I had on all of my clothing, base layers, pants, shirt, and a thick wool sweater.  For me the 3.6oz Climashield is probably better for a low of down to 50 degrees or so.  I sleep cold so this isn’t surprising to me.

I awoke at 530 AM, which means broad daylight this time of year.  First visible light starts after 4AM or so.  I got up and made goat milk oatmeal, had my coffee and decided against the long bushwhack.  It just didn’t seem worth it at this point.  Studying my map I saw some other possible future routes that may be better for another trip.

I was kinda bummed out but decided just to enjoy the hike back and was happy to have had the opportunity to try out both the IKEA poncho and my new quilt.  I realized I was a little overambitious in my planning.  Later in the season this is feasible and from a different point of entry this trip would be a whole other story.  Lesson learned and I’ll be back without a doubt.

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