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InReach Mini—Presidential Traverse Attempt

As I am getting to be an athletic old guy, I know that I am no longer invincible. I am entering the age where things like a heart attack can happen. I have had some close calls where a hiking partner took a good spill on a snow-covered slope followed by a sudden stop at a large rock—thankfully only receiving bruises and a good gash. As a result, I was starting to be haunted by the idea of wanting to be able to call for help if I needed it while deep in the wilderness. I had been pining for an InReach satellite communicator slash personal locator beacon. I am training to attempt to do the New Hampshire Direttissima in 2019 and planned on acquiring one for that endeavor. When I heard that Garmin was going to launch the InReach Mini I got really excited about the smaller and lighter version of the device. My buddy and I were going to attempt the Presidential Traverse near the end of June and I talked my wife into letting me pull the trigger on it!

My wife took care of the purchasing to maximize her Southwest Airlines miles. Once delivered, it took me roughly 30 minutes to get it activated. I imported the route for the traverse, easily enough, from a GPX file that I exported from Suunto’s Moves Count website. I updated my tracking settings to attempt to maximize my battery life. I set the tracking to update to the satellites every 20 minutes and to log every two minutes. I downloaded the Earthmate app from the Google play store to for my phone. The Earthmate app is the easiest way to update and sync with the InReach device.

At the trailhead I turned on the device and turned on the tracking and selected my uploaded route as we left Appalachia at 4:28 am. We weren’t out to set any records—we were averaging about 1.5 miles per hour. My buddy likes the huts, so we hit the Madison Spring hut when we got to the saddle and when we got back down from Madison. We had a good time talking to a couple of through hikers from Florida on our way up Madison, reaching the top at 8:40. Once back down, we left the hut for Adam’s a little after 8:00. Our families were supposed to meet us on top of Mt. Washington. My wife and daughter were driving up, and his family was hiking up Washington. So we were hoping the dance would all workout and we would all arrive roughly around the same time.

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It was a beautiful morning and it was the best visibility I’ve had up there. There were some clouds, but they were really high altitude. You could see into Maine, Vermont, and Canada. It was going to rain starting in the early afternoon and I was hoping to make it to Washington as early as 12:00—that wasn’t looking as likely the further we went.

We topped Adams at 9:00 snapped a few photos and ate a snack before heading on to Jefferson. On our way to Jefferson the weather was degrading and the wind was picking up. Surprisingly, the visibility remained outstanding. We arrived at Jefferson at 10:35 and ate a snack out of the wind while we waited for 5 minutes for the summit to thin out—there were a lot of people doing the traverse that day.

We decided that we were going to include Clay and Franklin, as it didn’t add a lot of distance or elevation. We hadn’t ever gone up Clay before and that was a pleasant surprise. One of the most beautiful trails I’ve hiked in the White Mountains, I would highly recommend you include it the next time you are traveling between Jefferson and Washington—it is well worth it. My buddy and I were both thinking that it reminded us of walking through as Zen garden. We reached the top at about 12:15.

The wind picked up on our route up Washington and rain came with it. At first I thought the wind was blowing sand and gravel into my face, but I soon realized it was just the rain driven by the wind—just another pleasant day on Washington. Surprisingly the visibility remained outstanding even with the rain. At the top we ran into my wife and daughter, who arrived two minutes before us—that worked out well. We tried to contact his family to see where they were, but it took us about 40 minutes to get in touch with them via text. Meanwhile I downed a bowl of chili, a coke, and three packs of M&Ms. His wife texted us that they were about 20 minutes away from the summit, which meant 40—isn’t funny how that works. So, after our joyful reunions and goodbyes we set out again at 2:40.

All along the way I would check-in with the Earthmate app to see how we were doing. There was a glaring shortcoming that I’ve noticed with the app and the website, and that is that they don’t display the trail names. Sometimes on the website the trail name will show for a flash of a second and disappear. So, it appears that the layer exists, but isn’t visible. There are areas along the traverse where there are a number of trails converging together and heading out in similar directions, 5 to 20 degrees of difference. This is especially true around Mt. Washington. It would be good to double check that you are heading out on the correct path, by verifying which trail by name you want to be on. On the app you see the name of the wilderness area overlaid in a tiled manner which doesn’t add value and clutters the display. The website has the ability to toggle between map types, but as you zoom in it automatically changes which type of map layer you are viewing. If you are looking at the topo and zoom in, the map automatically goes to a satellite view whether you want it to or not. The elevation lines in the topo map in the app are really nice and clear regardless of zoom level. The coloring and graphic display I could wish was more like what you find on the Suunto’s Moves Count website, but they are generally acceptable. I only came across one trail that wasn’t present on the map that was the path up Mt. Franklin. The rest of lesser known trails appeared to be present. I will explore this further as I plan my next hike in the Eagle Caps soon to see how well represented the trails are in a less traveled region.

 

As we began our descent to the Lake of the Clouds Hut my buddy’s knee began to hurt during the descent. The closer we got to the hut, the heavier the rain became. We arrived at the hut at 3:55. I snarfed down a pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups while my buddy dawned his knee brace and we were back on the trail in five minutes. We made it to the top of Monroe uneventfully at 4:25. The descent was proving to be excruciating for my hiking partner. We decided to skirt around Franklin to avoid any unnecessary elevation gain to avoid the descent that comes with it.

 

As we began to draw near Mt. Eisenhower we begin discussing bailing. Arriving at the trail marker for Edmunds’ Path my buddy said, “Let’s see where this goes so we can tell our wives to pick us up there.” We had cell signal so we texted them to pick us up at the trailhead. We began slowly making our way down. At one point he asked to see where we were on my Earthmate app. We deduced at our current pace it was going to take us three hours to get down to the trailhead, his wife was supposed to be there in less than an hour. We decided that I would run down and meet her and then I would walk back up and join him. I ran at slow shuffle down and arrived at the trailhead, no car. I sent a message through the Earthmate app to show his wife where to pick us up at. Then I gave her a call on my phone—turns out the road was closed and she couldn’t get to us. A side note, her data was not fast enough down in the notch so she couldn’t pull up the MapShare info anyway. I walked back to my buddy and then we proceeded to walk out to the highway. It was much faster going for him once we were in the bottom. By bailing we didn’t cut out much distance, but it did reduce the descent and the difficulty, so in the end it was a good call. The total time on the trail was 15.1 hours, 18 miles, and 8,300 feet of elevation gain. It was good challenging hike with fantastic views before the rains came. I was surprised how enjoyable it was for me even in the rain. I have an ultralight Patagonia rain jacket that held up really well—it was freshly Nikwax-ed. My InReach Mini battery was at 67% when I got to the car—not bad.

 

So, what do I think about the Garmin InReach Mini? Overall, I would recommend it. As a tracker it was adequate, it has a lot of room for improvement. It struggled to track my position with the satellites when I was in the bottom with dense tree cover. The mapping interface on the web and in the Earthmate application has to address the issue where it doesn’t display trail names. I would also like it to stick with whatever layer I have selected regardless of zoom level. I think they should really look at overhauling the interface. Suunto, the watch company, has an excellent interface that they could learn a lot from. Garmin’s maps look primitive and dated, which goes beyond aesthetics, it affects usability and readability. The pros of the tracking and route navigation: Feedback, feedback, feedback. You know where you are, where you are heading, and how fast or slow in my case. This is important to have while you are on the trail and after you leave the trail so that you can better plan future adventures. I was a little concerned that the reduction in size was partly driven by a reduction in the battery capacity, but after it was running for 16 hours and 20 minutes and only used 33% of the battery, I was pleasantly surprised. The display is small and the interface simplistic, but functional. The screen was easy to view in full sun or low light. I don’t imagine that the larger screens on the bigger siblings are worth the gain in weight and size. When it comes to the messaging I have some reservations that I will have to sort out. I tried to send a preset message at one point and I thought I had successfully navigated through the simplistic menus on the InReach Mini, but alas nothing was sent. It was probably user error and I will be getting more familiar with the device over the coming weeks and will try that again. I would also like to see all of the InReach messaging functionality on the mobile app. You currently can’t send one of the three free preset messages from the mobile app. Only the quick texts and custom messages can be sent from the mobile app. I hope I never have to try the SOS feature, but this is the primary feature of this device that trumps all else in my mind. You never know when you or someone you come across will need rescue services, and that is a huge peace of mind to know that they can be reached from anywhere. It is nice that you can see where you are on a map, but most of us already have that capability. It is nice you can tell someone that you are changing your plans—that is convenient but being able summon help when its needed is invaluable.

The InReach Mini requires a subscription plan. There are four plans available through Garmin. The prices range from $12 dollars to $100 dollars a month. Each plan is available as a month-to-month or an annual subscription, varying in limited or unlimited options like messages, tracking points, data pings, weather updates, etc. I opted for the Recreation subscription at $35 per month, with 40 messages, unlimited tracking points and location pings.

 

Dimensions: Tiny! 2.04” x 3.90” x 1.03”
Weight: 100g/ 3.5 oz.
Battery: Lithium Ion;
                Up to 50 hours default 10-minute
                Up to 20 days 30-ninute extended tracking mode
Impact Resistance: MIL-STD-810F
Water Resistance: IPX-7; Immersion up to 1 m depth
Display: Monochrome transflective; 

                0.9” x 0.9”; 128 x 128 pixels
Interface: Micro-USB
Waypoints: 500
Routes: 20
Price: $350.00
Subscriptions: $12 to $100 /mo.

Keep Moving A Few Inches at Time

By Lonnie Miller

I love hiking because it can be an extreme sport that I can grow old with. I am 48 now and in the two years that I’ve gotten serious about hiking, I have learned so much about myself, life, and my friends. The first hike, which is deserving of its own post, was so profound for me. I am beginning my physical descent, no matter how I fight it, it is true. I am coming to the conclusion it is time to hang up my high-tops—save for coaching my daughter—it is time to put the basketball away. There is some sadness with that, but I have found so much more hope in my future.

In 2016 I got together with my sister Darcy and her longtime friend Jim. Jim was 71, a combat marine in Vietnam, is a loving father, and a great example of how to be a husband. This is what I learned about him in the first twenty minutes driving to the trailhead in the Wallowa Mountains. I knew I was going to like this guy a lot. He had to drive with the seat practically laid back like he was in bed—a bad back just like me. Jim has the gift, he has got to talk, which is fine with me, I can be chatty, but I am really a quiet person, so I don’t mind if someone else likes to drive the conversation.

So, after we finished going through each other’s gear, distributing the gear and weight, we were finally off to the trailhead. I was pretty stoked and feeling excited and a little anxious. I had never carried fifty pounds of gear. Jim began to tell me what was going to happen. He said, “So Lonnie, you’re going to follow behind me. We are going to start out real slow and get the pumps primed. Then we are going to go slow, just putting one foot in front of the other, a few inches at a time. You will be amazed at how much ground we will cover. I see it all the time, people will fly by me and twenty minutes later I pass them as they are resting all sweaty. Then they will pass me again and I’ll see them twenty minutes later on the side of the trail resting again, but I never see them again. You can walk forever without stopping as long as you pace yourself, can’t let yourself get into a rolling sweat, that extra 10 or 20% of effort is what will bring on exhaustion.”

Over the next two and a half days we covered more than 24 miles and 9,000 feet of gain. Much of it off trail, too much of it in 80-degree heat, almost half of it with 50 pounds of gear. I am not sure I would have survived it or experienced what I did without that nugget. There were times struggling up a long steep south-facing slope with the sun beating down that I thought, “Just keep moving a few inches at a time and I’ll get through this.” And a few minutes later I would marvel looking back how much ground I had covered in a lot of discomfort. I would later learn another phrase from my buddy Tim, “Embrace the suck, embrace the suck brother!” Another story for another time.

 

Isn’t life like this though? There are plenty of uncomfortable things we quite or avoid. Or other things we rush into headlong not looking at the end game. How many times do we burn ourselves out by going all in, instead of pacing ourselves for long-term success? I remember when I was in the ministry and one sage said, “Radical is doing small things consistently every day.” It is amazing how much ground you cover three inches at a time without needing to stop. Time to follow this wisdom, it is 11 pm and time for bed! So, get out there, resist the urge to fly off headlong, and keep moving, one foot in front of the other.

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