Camping Notes

Mt. Rainier climb

Camp Stove comparison

Suunto altimeter condensed instructions

Mt. Sill attempt


Suunto altimeter condensed instructions

I have Suunto Altimax wristwatch/altimeter.  It's a great gadget as an altimeter for climbing as it lets your measure your rate of climb and total progress toward goal.  However, it's rather complicated to remember.  I compressed the instruction manual into a single page diagram, which I can take with me.  Incidentally, the thermometer (too close to your body) and compass feature (takes too long to stabilize when you hold your wrist up) are both useless on the watch, but the rest is good.  

To understand the chart imagine that each rectangle is the fact of the watch,  The line points in the arrow you move by pushing the button in the corresponding position.   For instance, the upper left button when in alarm mode takes you to stopwatch mode if pressed once, and if you hold it to down, it takes you to the alarm set mode.

Camp Stoves

In preparation for a mountain camping trip, I compared three kinds of fuel available for stoves:

Esbit, isopropane, or white gas?

3/18/06 experiment in backyard (55 degrees outside, and at sea level)

Heated 3 pints of ice cold water (decanted from an ice solution) to a rolling boil



Isopropane mixture

White Gas

Time per container

10+ minutes / tablet

2.5 hours

Extrapolated 36 minutes for the 22 oz container

Time to boil 6 cups

12:55 (4 tablets)

7:45, 10:20

7:52 cold pan, 9:18-9:42 warm pan

Time to melt 5.5 cups of water from 6 cups of ice

Not tested

6:44 to melt then 7:40 to boil

Should be similar to isopropane

Time to melt 2 cups of water from 6+ cups of fresh snow

Not tested

1:40, 1:53


Ease of lighting

3-4 matches

Super easy push button, works every time

Messy pumping & priming process, often takes several attempts

Mess factor

Low (slight residue in stove)


Fuel spills and carbon deposits everywhere

Fire risk

Some (flame wanders)

Low (focused butane flame)

High (fuel spills from spigot and primer cup)

Stability of pan platform

High (stove is short)

Low (high spindle)


Weight of stove

3.0 oz

4.0 oz

10.4 oz including bag and 1.6 oz wind screen

Weight of fuel

0.5 oz/tablet

12.5 oz for an 8 oz tank

1.3-2.0 oz ounces of fuel for 6 cups

ounces of fuel/pint of boiling water

0.7 oz

0.2 oz

0.5-0.7 oz

Weight of fuel container


4.7 oz

3.1 oz to hold 9 oz of fuel

Net weight to boil 16 pints

13.7 oz

16.5 oz

20.6 oz

Reuse fuel container




Low ambient temperature

Good to low temp

REI promises good to 20, worked <0F out of my refrigerator

Good to low temp

Temperature control





replace tablets every 5-10 minutes


must pump every 5 minutes

Notes: isopropane and Esbit do not require a wind screen so much as white gas does, but would probably profit from it anyway.

The Esbit story: First try: two tablets burned 9:45 minutes without boiling, a 3rd tablet burned for a while then went out partially burned, a 4th tabled then burned with the 3rd for 19:40 cumulative. A fifth tablet then burned another 8:20 minutes before going out. One tablet at a time was never going to boil 6 cups of water. Its not clear if two tablets at a time would have boiled it, but it was starting to form nascent bubbles. Second try: four tablets at once was enough, just barely, and it was the reasonable max that the stove could hold.

The white gas story: first priming attempt failed to light anything, second attempt had a run away fire due to a spill, third attempt failed because the priming cup was too hot to hold gas, but priming loop was not hot enough to hold prime, fourth attempt worked. Some white gas is often spilled during priming and setup, unlike the others.

The second pan full of water on isopropane had an already hot pan, so its surprising it took longer.

Isopropane and temperature. In theory, it does not work as well at low temperature. I put my isopropane cannister and stove in my refrigerator to test. A not totally accurate thermometer said my freezer section was < 0 (F). I let the stove sit there for an hour, pulled it out, and it lit and burned immediately. It couldn't have warmed up much in the 5 seconds it took me to pull it out, set it on the counter, and light it.  Of course, it wasn't continuously burning in the cold, which is somewhat different since it cools itself significantly via evaporation and is thus even colder than the ambient air temperature. By burning in the warm air I wasn't able to test that effect.

I also tested it in 32 (F) outdoors.  I lit first and burned well one try.  Another try took six attempts to light, but then burned well.

Mt. Sill

These are some notes regarding the approach to Mt. Sill and camping along it (not technical climbs of it).  I made my trip in September 2001.

Wilson's in Bishop, CA, has good maps of the region including a plasticized topo  map, which can be hard to find elsewhere.

The trail from Big Pine campground (National Forest camping)/Glacier Lodge (apparently private cabins), follows the north fork of Big Pine Creek for about 8 miles to Sam Mack meadow.  It ascends from 7800' to 11000'.  To this point, it's a clearly established trail.  At  Sam Mack meadow, it crosses the stream and climbs the valley on switchbacks.  At the top of the switchbacks, the trail becomes a little fainter but continues.  At this point is the first clear view of Mt. Sill.  Before this point, it has mostly been hidden behind Mt. Gayley.

In another 1/2 mile (approximately), the trail descends a small valley, of maybe 30'.  This is notable because it's the only descent, of even a trivial amount, on this part of the trail (between Sam Mack and the Palisade Glacier).  In the bottom of this small valley was a sheltered, small flat sandy area, suitable for a tent, one of the few to be found, and a trickle of water that be would enough for drinking (once filtered).  For lack of a better name, we dubbed this PCS (Perfect Camping Spot).

At PCS, there are some choices that are not obvious to the first-time hiker.  From here, one can see the moraine from the Palisade glacier as a tongue of fine talus.  If one heads straight up the valley, it is probably the shortest course to the camping spots at the foot of the glacier on some flat rocks by the lake there at 12,200'.  I didn't take this route, as it apparently requires some difficult  walking on the talus.

Alternatively, the "ducks" (small stone cairns) marking the trail lead across the PCS valley and along a lip, which averages maybe 50 yards wide, just below the moraine and just above the steep gully at the foot of Mt. Gayley and Temple Crags.  This is probably the best day hike route for making the glacier and being as near to Glacier Notch (between Mt. Gayley and Mt. Sill) as possible, as well as having a good view if one doesn't intend to ice climb.  It crests a few hundred feet above the foot of the glacier.  The initial part is slow going with scrambling across large scree, but in only a few hundred yards becomes scenic rolling bedrock with numerous striations, many good paths, and solid footholds.    It all continues steeply upward, but makes for easy climbing.  In the picture below, this is between the yellow and green lines.  The yellow line marks where the moraine meets the bedrock and the green line marks where the bedrock gives way to the gully. 

Along this route, there are several possible camping spots, perhaps 10 that are flat enough to set a tent on, though all rocky.  On the date we climbed, we found only one which had any water (about halfway from PCS to the top of the bedrock), and that was only a steady drip (but enough for our needs).  There were other water sources along this part, but none close to a flat enough spot for a tent.  There is even a decent spot at the top of the bedrock, just yards before the ridge, at about 12,300', but no water nearby.

There is a temptation from PCS to head straight for Mt. Sill by walking over the talus.  This is not recommended.  Staying a little lower, and following the ducks, keeps one on the bedrock as long as possible.   One can approach Glacier Notch a little bit closer with a difficult scree passage from the ridge at the top of the bedrock, but there is no hiking trail from there to Glacier Notch (in September).  Either an ice climb or a technical rock climb is needed.



The map below is about 3 miles on a side.