Colorado: 2 Day Backpacking Trip 2018

This September 2018, me and my father wanted a nice 2 day backpacking trip while I was visiting Colorado. I wanted to get my boots on the famous CDT as well as see some amazing viewpoints.

Trip Summary: Our chosen route involved traveling 6 miles up the North Lake Trail until it meets the Wyoming Trail and Continental Divide. Next we hiked north along the Wyoming trail and camped on the ridge line. Finally, the second day we completed the Gilpin Trail section of the popular Zirkel Circle hike. Luckily we had a driver for this trip and therefore our loop did not begin and end at the same location. The total hike was about 19 miles.

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Hike route overview

To begin, you must find the trail head at the end of forest road 443. This road is a mix of gravel, dirt, and large rocks. High clearance vehicles are highly recommended. We actually left our ride a mile before the trail head due to rough driving conditions. The Subaru did great, but I would recommend you have a spare tire and drive slowly!

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North Lake Trail parking area

The trail head is marked with a CDT badge. This is where through hikers get down off the official continental divide. There is also a log book for checking in/off the trail. The North Lake trail is well marked and hard to miss.

Colorado North Lake trail head CDT 2018
My first time on the CDT

We began by gaining elevation quickly. This section of trail is heavily covered in trees and offers some great natural environments. Be ready for switchbacks and elevation gain. After climbing for 4 miles you will reach a very interesting section of trail. There is a dead expanse of trees that is eerily beautiful and slightly foreboding. I have never before witnessed a burned area with this many standing trees left intact. The wind literally whistles between the trunks and adds something special to the North Lake trail.

Colorado North Lake trail 2018
Standing section of dead trees

The trail levels out for the next mile but is still heading upwards at a slower pace. We trudged onward until reaching this trails namesake — North Lake.

Colorado North Lake 2018
North Lake: A perfect place for wildlife views and lunch

After leaving North Lake, you do not have far to travel before reaching the ridge line and continental divide. Again the junction is well marked and the Wyoming Trail leads you either North or South. For our purposes, we headed North (left) towards Zirkel Circle.

Colorado Wyoming Trail Head 2018
North Lake Trail meets Wyoming Trail

After reaching the Wyoming Trail, you will officially be out of the forest an on top of the ridge line. Be ready for high winds and expansive 360 degree views. The ground is covered with long grass and it makes the trail difficult to see. Keep your eyes open for the wooden pylons that will keep you on the trail.

Colorado Hank Backpacking 2018
My Dad making backpacking look too easy

We hiked along this section for 2 miles while looking for a camping destination. My dad knew of a spring he had utilized in the past and eventually we did find a trickle of water coming from some rocks. In September, the spring was not flowing much, but it did allow us enough moving water to fill our bottles and camp nearby. The views are quite amazing in this section and the swaying grass is peaceful. However, beware that conditions were VERY windy for us and that made sleeping a tad difficult on the ridge line. Most experienced backpackers would have foregone this section, as ridge camping is never recommended 🙂

Our campsite was after passing the Three Island Trail junction and before reaching the Long Pine Trail junction. I suggest you use a mapping service like HikingProject to determine your GPS location and help follow the journey.

Colorado Wyoming Camping 2018
My camping spot for the night. Windy but beautiful

If you trek off-trail to the east for about 1/4 mile, you will find the viewpoint overlooking Bighorn lake. Try to keep your bearings when hiking off trail. The view from this location is well worth the added effort.

Colorado Bighorn lake 2018
Bighorn Lake ridge viewpoint

In September the continental divide dropped in temperature dramatically after sunset. I was fully insulated with base layers and using a 20F rated sleeping bag. This seemed like a comfortable sleeping combination but expect a cold morning whenever backpacking at elevation.

After awakening to a cold morning, we spotted a huge Coyote staring at us from the tall grass. It quickly loped away after noticing we had spotted it watching, but it did provide some needed distraction from the frozen air. Next, some coffee and breakfast, then we broke camp quickly. Hiking is the only way to alleviate your bones and muscles on a freezing cold morning. Again, this section of trail is tricky to follow and involves keeping an eye on the wooden pylons for guidance. You will pass the junction of Long Pine Trail and begin dropping in elevation towards the Gold Creek Lake Trail.

Colorado Morning Hike 2018
Morning hike to warm up

After traveling about 1.5 miles and quickly dropping into the valley below; there are several nice camping spots near running water. The view might not be as nice, but the wind conditions were almost assuredly better. If you choose to follow our hike here, I would recommend camping in this location. This is almost immediately before encountering the Cold Creek Lake Trail (AKA Zirkel Circle).

After reaching the trail junction, you could choose to quickly exit the hike by heading west on the Cold Creek Lake Trail for 3 miles to the Slavonia Trail Head. However, we wanted to see the beautiful Gilpin Lake and therefore headed Northeast on this loop and took the roughly 8 mile route around the Zirkel Circle.

There is a river crossing on the trail that might require some tactful maneuvering. It was easy during September, but my Father said it generally has high water during summer months.

The next major obstacle is a series of switchbacks to get up and over the rocky ridge and into Gilpin lake.

Colorado Back Before Gilpen 2018
Looking backwards after the switchbacks

Next, we capped the rocky peak and stood in amazement — the viewpoint is fantastic. One second I was huffing and puffing….next second I was staring at a bowl of stone, filled with magic.

Colorado Cresting Gilpen 2018
First look upon Gilpin Lake.

After cresting the ridge and enjoying this moment of glory; It is time to head down into the valley, circle the lake, and head home.

Throughout the duration of this hike we had yet to encounter another soul.  I knew that North Lake trail and Wyoming trail were infrequently traveled this time of year, but I never expected to have a completely deserted hike.

Reaching the Zirkel Circle meant also reaching popular Colorado hiking trails. While circling the lake, we passed an amazing sheer rock climbing wall. I had a little fun myself by scaling up to a safe level (without a harness).

Colorado Rock Climb 2018
Scaling some rock

We continued circling the lake and enjoying the surrounding mountains. Hikers were numerous but the conversations were good. It was fun running into fellow trekkers after a full day of seclusion.

Eventually we reached the opposite side of the lake. From here you can look backwards and view the ridge crossing that originally dropped you into the Valley.

Colorado other side of Gilpen 2018
View from the opposite side of Gilpin Lake

Finally, we exited the Gilpin area and hiked the final few miles towards Slavonia trail-head and our waiting car. My Stepmom Beth was nice enough to provide transportation for this semi-loop hike. Or else we would have had to get creative to enter and exit this two day backpacking trip.

Colorado after Gilpen 2018
Nearing the end of Zirkel Circle

We were lucky enough to visit while the Aspen trees were turning a miraculous yellow/orange. This natural colorful landscape made the final section enjoyable and it was also nice to be hiking downhill for a change!

Overall, this backpacking loop took us two full days. It totaled about 19 miles of hiking and will go down as one of my favorite treks in the United States.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Written By:

Luke Langhals

 

 

6 Quotes for Environmental Motivation

Anyone who knows me, knows that I enjoy a good quote. Much like a perfect song — a quote can seem like it is meant to be said at a certain place and a certain time.


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“If you violate nature’s laws you are your own prosecuting attorney, judge, jury, and hangman.” – Luther Burbank

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“We cannot live without the Earth or apart from it, and something is shrivelled in a man’s heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.” – Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

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“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” —John James Audubon

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“Unless we keep this planet healthy, everything else is for naught.” – Victoria Principal

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“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” —Theodore Roosevelt

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“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” – Henry David Thoreau

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Concrete Countertops: Over Laminate Countertops

My pantry has several cabinets and a small section of countertop. Mainly I use this space for growing indoor plants and storing food. The countertops are extremely outdated laminate; which unfortunately extends up as the area’s backsplash. I wanted a project that would cost under $100.00 and be unique/functional.

First, I removed all the cabinet doors and hardware. I wanted to paint these a dark gray to offset the white subway tile.

I’ve seen a few other blogs outline their use of thin layers of ‘feather’ concrete over a solid wooden base. I decided concrete countertops and a subway tile backsplash would give a modern, chic, and solid look.


Material List:

  • Sandpaper ($5.00)
  • Ardex Self Drying Cement ($26.00)
  • Subway Tiles ($23.00)
  • Tile Adhesive ($12.00)
  • Gray Grout ($14.00)
  • Concrete Sealer ($22.00

I began by sanding the laminate surface to give something for the concrete and tile to adhere to. Use a rough grit and sand both the countertop and the backsplash.

Concrete Countertops laminate before 2018
Laminate being sanded to remove finish and create rough surface

So to begin, I made up a batch of the Ardex Self Crying Cement. I used a drywall mud pan ($4) and standard 8 inch flat taping knife ($7). I mixed the cement per the packages direction to create a toothpaste like texture. I then spread the paste on top of the laminate in 1/4 inch layers. You can still see the laminate countertop after the first layer drys.

Concrete Countertops first layer 2018
First layer of cement going over laminate

You will need to allow each layer to dry before putting on the next layer. Sand off uneven sections after the surface is dry. I decided to add one layer per day and 5 layers total.

Concrete Countertops 3rd layer 2018
After 3rd layer and before sanding

After the 4th layer was dry — I sanded it down to a very smooth surface. personally, I didn’t like the look of the cement when it was super smooth. This is why I added a 5th layer and allowed it to maintain some texture. I would encourage everyone to continue spreading on layers until you like the look

Next, you will require a sealer to insure the concrete countertops do not absorb water and have a glossy finish.

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Concrete sealer going on with a hand sponge

I bought a concrete sealer from Lowes for $22.00. It’s a very large gallon container and I used approximately 10% of the bottle for this small section of countertop. I filled a plastic disposable cup and rubbed the sealant onto the countertop with a sponge. I personally felt that three treatments of sealer was good for this job. It ended up with a glossy finish and does not absorb water (I checked by dripping water from my finger tips).

To finish the project, I installed a subway tile backsplash and reinstalled my newly painted cabinet doors. Overall, I’m happy with the look.

Concrete Countertops Finished 2018
Finished (Before caulk and cleanup)

We will see how this holds up over time. It feels sturdy to the touch and hasn’t cracked in any locations. The rough but shiny look gives this section a very modern feel.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Costa Rica operates on 100% Clean Energy for 300 days!

An entire country’s electrical generation operating for 300 days solely on a mixture of hydro, geothermal, wind, biomass and solar energy! That is very exciting and proves that developing nations see major value in clean energy investments. This type of forward thinking activism will insure Costa Rica’s future as a powerhouse in renewable energy and help stabilize an area that would otherwise be threatened by fluctuating fossil fuel prices and supply chains.

Costa Rica was able to reach such a feat by committing to the 5 different renewable sources; hydropower (78%), wind (10%), geothermal energy (10%), biomass and solar (1%).

In comparison, the United States currently generates about 15% of its electrical needs from a similar mix of Renewable Sources.

 

Red River Gorge: Kentucky Backpacking

This past labor day weekend, I decided to take a little jaunt down to Kentucky to do some backpacking. Red River Gorge is located in the Daniel Boone National forest and has some great hiking trails, stone arches, and natural rock climbing sites.

There are several options for “out and back” style backpacking trips. However, I was looking to do a loop hike and this required combining multiple different trails into a continuous loop back to my car.

After doing some research, I realized the Red River Gorge backpacking loops require some creative trail combinations. I managed to craft together a 12 mile loop through the central part of the park. My plan was to sleep on an unmarked viewpoint located off an unmarked spur trail. The camping spot is roughly 7-8 miles into the loop and the area is called Hanson’s Point.

Red River Backpacking Loop 2018
12 Mile Loop through Red River Gorge

To begin the loop; I parked at the Koomer’s Ridge backing area. There is also a campground in this location if you want to stay here the night before. I believe they charge about $25.00 per site. They looked very nice and perfect for car camping!

After parking; I began hiking up the Koomer Ridge trail heading north. There is a side trail to the “Hidden Arch” that is well marked. Its not exactly worth it, but it adds an extra half mile to your day, so decide if you want/need the added portion. Splitting off from Koomers Ridge to Hidden Arch on the first day will slightly limit the amount of repeat trail on the second day.

After this side trail, I continued until I reached the intersection with the Buck Trail. The offshoot onto Buck is well marked and should be 1 mile from the parking. This area begins to rise in elevation after dropping quickly to a small river. Its a very pretty section of this loop and I encourage you to enjoy.

After a fair amount of uphill and ridge line hiking, you will reach the Gray’s Arch parking area. The trail crosses this section and you can easily tell where to get to the Arch trail. Also, this location has some limited facilities and pit toilets. You should be roughly 3 miles into your hike now.

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Underneath Gray’s Arch

The Gray’s Arch trail is popular and therefore this was the most crowded area of my hike. The arch is roughly .5 miles from the Gray’s Arch parking area. There are several stone overhangs that are cool to look at on the way.  A small offshoot trail will get you underneath the Arch itself. Leave your pack when the trail splits and head downhill and then uphill to get underneath the archway itself. Definitely take this trail and enjoy some rock scrambling and picture taking in this location.

After viewing the arch you will continue on the trail until you reach the Rough Trail and head southeast. The Rough Trail is very beautiful and involves several ups and downs. This area  isn’t as well traveled and therefore you should have seclusion. There is a variety of stone overhangs, rock ledges, and great natural areas. You will cross two small streams. The second one is named Rush Branch creek and this puts you less than a mile from the offshoot to Hanson’s Point.

Getting to Hanson’s Point is not difficult. The trail is unmarked and has no signs; however, it is an obvious offshoot from the main trail. The spur trail narrows quickly and it is obviously well traveled but also not maintained. There are several sections where you need to cross downed trees or squeeze through tight pathways. After walking for a half mile, you will cross several large flat camping areas. These had many fellow backpackers; about 20 other people were camping near Hanson’s Point. This might have been higher than normal because there was a large youth group. We managed to get the closest (albeit smallest) camping spot to the actual viewpoint. This location equated to many people passing by our tent to view the sunset/sunrise….but it was totally worth the views!

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The top of Hanson’s point during the day
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Sunset view Hanson’s Point

Make sure to see both the sunrise and sunset from the flat rock outcropping on the point. The fog fills the valley and creates the feeling that you are actually sitting on top of clouds. It’s breathtaking. Also, if you look across the valley you will see other hikers on Chimney Top Rock; enjoy waiving and hollering at your fellow distant hikers.

Red River Hansons Sunrise 2018
Sunrise on top of the clouds from Hanson’s Point

In the morning, make your way down the spur trail and return to the Rough Trail. Turn the opposite direction from where you came yesterday and continue on the backpacking loop route.

After a couple of miles, the rough trail combines with the Sheltowee. Keep plugging along until the Koomer Ridge Trail juts off southward. Follow this all the way back to the parking area. There is a steep elevation gain on day two but mostly the trail is easy and pretty. It crosses a couple of streams and gives adequate areas to resupply water.

If you are here to only backpack a single night….congratulations you have finished this 12 mile backpacking loop in Red River Gorge!

If you would like to camp a second night, you have now completed your loop and need to choose a different camping area. We took a quick drive down to the Swift Camp Creek trail’s southern terminus off the Rock Bridge loop. This is a popular out and back backpacking trail and includes several good back country camping spots along the river. After viewing the Rock Bridge and nearby waterfall on the way to Swift Camp’s trail-head; continue North along the river. Understanding that we had already hiked 6 miles this morning, I began searching for a site about 2 miles down Swift Camp.

This section of the trail is pretty high off the river and its hard to get down to a flat spot for camping by the river. We came upon a small waterfall surrounded by a flat section. There is no way to walk down to this spot and it required about 10 ft of rock climbing. I would not recommend this for anyone uncomfortable with climbing…especially with a 40 pound pack on your back. The only way this was possible was with a partner to pass the backpacks up/down.

Red River Waterfall shower 2018
Showering underneath a VERY cold waterfall off Swift Creek Camp trail

Sleeping to the sound of the small waterfall and rippling river was beautiful. This spot was the exact opposite from the high viewpoint offered from the night before. I feel as if I got both extremes Red River Gorge has to offer.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this hike. I am happy to provide more route details or trail information.

Written by:

Luke Langhals

Iceland: Hiking Glymur Falls

Before heading to Iceland, i did a lot of research on epic local hiking trails. My travel companions had very limited hiking experience but they were all athletic. I needed a trip that was strenuous but also safe for novice trekkers.

Glymur Falls continuously came up in my research and its location, within 1.5 hours of Reykjavik, made this a perfect day trip from our hostel. The Glymur Falls hike is a 3-4 miles loop. Taking hikers up one side of the falls, crossing over at the top, and bringing them down the opposite side.

The parking area provides ample spaces as well as good signage to direct you towards the trail. After a gentle stroll through the woods and passing inside a small cave, we came to a raging river crossing. The trail has a roughly 50 ft wire stretched from one side of the river to the other. This provides a handhold for hikers while stepping between slightly submerged rocks and a well placed log. There is some chance of getting wet during this crossing but a slow pace should see you to the other side safely.

Following the river crossing — the trail begins to ascend quickly, gaining elevation towards the waterfall that we began to see in the distance. There are several areas where anchored ropes have been installed to assist with steep/rocky uphill climbs and descents.

GlymurRope Climbing 2018

After continuing upwards we began to see the falls. The view is absolutely stunning as you continue. The trail itself was crowded, but not overly so. We never had problem getting around other hikers or having to stop for large crowds. Most of the other visitors were spread out evenly and moving at a good pace.

GlymurFallsView 2018
The view of the falls from a distance

There are several flat sections to offer spectacular views. Many of these locations would be good for a lunch break to regain some of the energy used during the climb. In the above picture you can see other hikers farther up the trail in the distance. It seems very far away, but in reality the hike goes very quickly.

The hike will track along the right rocky ridge and you will rarely lose sight of the magnificent waterfall. The valley’s scale is something of an epic experience in real life. It cuts through the stone and is covered with vegetation during summer months. Sea gulls constantly fly within the valley, and there swooping presence serves as a way for the eye to better understand the depth and scale of this place.

GlymurFalls Higher View 2018
Eventually you reach the top of the falls; It is a LONG way down when looking over the edge!

Take your time viewing the waterfall as you approach. You will not regret spending an extra few minutes here!

Upon reaching the “peak” you will see a vast field and winding river in front of you. This river eventually caps the stony rocks into the valley and forms Glymur Falls. Looking backwards over the top of the falls; there are some expansive views of the Icelandic countryside.

GlymurView topoffalls 2018
Looking backwards after reaching the top of Glymur Falls

Now, if you want to complete the loop and trek down the opposite side….you need to cross the river somewhere. I could not see a place to do this without getting a little bit of cold feet (literally). We walked about 500 yards from the cliff edge, stripped off our boots, rolled up our pants, and began inching across. I say inching because the water is FREEZING cold! Also, the rocky bottom does not feel like a foot massage on your exposed feet. The deepest section came up just below our knees and the current is a little deceiving, just be careful here

We met a family on the opposite side who brought flip flops for this purpose. I wish we would’ve been that well prepared 🙂 .

GlymurUpper River Cross 2018
Crossing the river above Glymur Falls

The next stage is an easy, but rocky pathway descending back to the car. The views become a little less dramatic, but I found it to be a very rewarding loop. We were lucky enough to snap a few pictures on the other side and see some close up Icelandic wildlife.

Glymur Sheet pic 2018
They let us get surprisingly close…

To summarize: This was an AMAZING hike to conquer during our trip to Iceland. It was challenging enough to make it enjoyable; but easy enough that my inexperienced companions did not fall to their deaths. I would highly recommend this as a must do while visiting this fantasy island.

Enjoy!

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Tech Tip: Smart Outlets

Information is king in the world of energy saving. Understanding how much electricity is being used will give you an opportunity to eliminate waste. I picked up a pair of the Etekcity smart plugs for $27.00 on Amazon.

These smart outlets have the ability to turn power on/off from your smartphone. It also gives you a breakdown of Energy usage and allows for scheduled timers. Any plugged in appliance will have some power waste even when turned off. Gaming systems, TVs, cable boxes, and computers are notorious for wasting energy when not in use.

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Here is the home screen for one of my outlets. My bedside lamp and cell phone charger have used only 0.82 kWh this month

Owning these outlets allows you to understand how much power things are using over time. Further, the schedule/timer feature provides the ability to turn off energy wasting appliances when they are dormant.

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Here is the yearly chart of electricity usage from this same outlet. This tells me that I did more night time reading during the month of May.

Overall, I plan to continue purchasing more of these whenever they are on sale. Understanding and programming my electricity usage is a valuable commodity. I can save money by eliminating energy waste — I can also look cool by turning lights on and off from my cell phone!

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Re-purposing an old workbench into a kitchen island

Rental property number 3 had a major kitchen countertop issue! Its countertop space was extremely limited and I was looking for a way to make it more suitable for cooking. I didn’t want to invest a ton in this project and decided the only option was to create a crafty kitchen island for under $30.

Luckily, my mother had found an old basement workbench for $2. A complete steal for assembled treated wood!

RentalIsland
Well worth the $2 investment

The overall dimensions were 6ft by 3ft. It was sturdy, ugly, and ready for refurbishment. I began by lightly sanding and painting on primer.

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1 coat of “no sand” primer. My favorite brand is “Kilz Hide-All”

After priming was complete, the table is ready for tile prep. I used inexpensive 3″ x 1″ pine boards to line the long edges. I chose metal tile edging for the short table sides; mainly to give it a little contrast. Total cost of edging was about $15.

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Next, I painted the pine edging to match the kitchen walls. My thinking was that this would break up the white a bit. It would also match well with the gray grout I was planning to use on the tile. I chose 3″x6″ self spacing subway tile. This was an easy decision because I had it laying around AND its inexpensive to install/use. At 22 pennies per tile….this is a great choice whenever possible.

I laid my mortar and prepared to set the subway tile. After this it’s as simple as snap, stagger, lay, and repeat. The metal edging is pushed in the mortar and installed underneath the tile to create a clean edge on the short table sides. On the long table sides, I screwed the painted pine edges about 1/2″ above the table top. This allows the subway tiles to set within this edge and create a clean “lip.”

Also, please note the paper plates underneath each leg for painting. Paper plates and plastic cups are THE MOST USEFUL thing to have around any renovation project.

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Pressing in subway tile

Finally, I ended my project with some gray grout to offset the white subway tiles and match the kitchen walls. Overall, I see this as a successful re-purposing. The tenant will have added countertop space and a nice eat-in area.

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Finished project: Under $30.00…roughly

Revitalizing old pieces can be a great addition to any property. I’ve done many similar projects in my own home. Although it might be high in labor….it is definitely inexpensive in materials!

Enjoy!

Written By:
Luke Langhals

 

Mother Earth News Fair: Biomass Cogeneration

Two weeks ago, I assisted with exhibiting a new technology at The Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina.

I was consulting for the Combined Energy Technology (CET) team based in Athens, OH. They are an engineering and R&D firm working on developing biomass fueled cogeneration systems.

CET was publicly presenting the Bio-Gen 1000 technology for the first time at The Mother Earth News Fair. I recommended this venue because the attendees are forward thinking, sustainable minded, and environmentally conscious.

The Bio-Gen 1000 unit is revolutionary for its ability to gasify biomass into fuel for operation. The system itself generates 1kw of electricity, 5.5kw of heat energy, and 1 lb of biochar per hour. The combination of these features is perfect for off-grid, agricultural operations, and sustainable power sites.

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Personally, I view some amazing possibilities for CET in the future. This technology has the ability to be powered by a wide range of locally sourced fuels. I envision transporting this system to remote third world locations and having the locals bring agricultural waste to fuel the Bio-Gen. When operating in this format, the system could potentially provide electricity, sterilize water, and produce bio-char to be used for soil regeneration. As you can imagine, localized power plants could be very useful to locations without a ready supply of electricity and sterile water. Further, unlike standard gas powered generators – there will be no need to supply expensive fuel to the location.

We can consider the Bio-Gen 1000 to be the world’s third form of Renewable Energy and I am very excited that it will soon be available to the wider public.

More information available at CombinedEnergyTechnology.com


Other Fantastic Exhibitors I ran into while at the Mother Earth News Fair:

Air Head Composting Toilets

The Air Head composting toilet is one of the most compact composting toilets in the world. It’s the original mobile diversion system, since 2001: simple, odorless, better!

Buffalo Girl Soaps

Buffalo Girl Soaps sells all-natural bath and body products made with pure essential oils. Since 2000, they’ve specialized in “pure products, wild by nature.”

EIS Solar

EIS is western Pennsylvania’s leading solar integrator.


Written By:

Luke Langhals

 

Death Valley 2018: Backpacking Cottonwood Marble Canyon Loop

Famous among backpackers — the Cottonwood Marble Canyon loop in Death Valley is a very taxing and difficult trail. The hike itself does not offer large elevation changes but it does present unique scenery. I went in the first week of April and was hoping to avoid the harsh summer temperatures and sun. This was not the case!

I started the trail by driving roughly 8.1 miles down a dirt “high clearance” road from Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley. I was driving a rental sedan and it was a rough ride down the road. If I had an SUV or 4×4 vehicle, I could have driven another 2-3 miles to the trail head. Having a low clearance rental car added these extra miles to my backpacking loop.

CottMarb Parking 2018
Made it 8.3 miles down the dirt road before parking. Sorry rental car!

Upon entering the death valley back country, I was immediately met with jagged stone formations, distant mountains, and pulsing 94F heat + sun. The experience can be daunting even for an experienced backpacker. I had packed 3 days worth of food and 4 liters of water. I knew that my next water source was 12-14 miles away and the spring has been known to be…finicky.

The first 8 miles were on a 4×4 track and surrounded by sprawling canyons. The trail winds its way through the ragged rocks and slowly gains elevation. The experience was one of complete remoteness. Much like being on Mars!

After about 9 beautiful miles, I managed to strain a leg muscle. The 34 pounds on my back added to the pain that was now growing with every step. I attribute this injury to the shifting loose dirt/sand and knew I was roughly 5 miles from the closest oasis containing water. I would limp into Cottonwood springs or I would collapse and become a sun dried tomato. Only two options 🙂

After many house of hiking through the desert, cottonwood springs is a little bit of a shock. Hours of reds, browns, and grays turn into green trees. All of a sudden you are walking among leaves and a very shallow babbling crick.

Death Valley 2018 Oasis
A picture of Cottonwood Spring from above; An ecosystem surrounded by desert mountains

Camping at Cottonwood is a very nice experience. The trees are rustling, the water is nearby, and there are dozens of level campsites for backpackers. Backpackers are required to camp 100 ft from water, as well as leave no trace principles. On this particular early April day….I was the only human camping in the vicinity.

Death Valley 2018 Campsite
Campsite View: Oasis on my left, elevation on my right, canyon in front

After a very sore morning, I set out to leave cottonwood and make the “turn” to the back side of this backpacking loop. The canyon spits hikers out into a large expanse of open area. With mountains on the right and left; I was now staring down 5.5 miles of open prairie. There seemed to be a dip between to the distant ridge line and this was where I would be crossing over into dead horse canyon. The hike going forward would be primarily off trail. A GPS and TOPO map is highly recommended.

Death Valley Prarie to Deadhorse edited
No trail in this section but you can see the ridge line cross in the distance

After going up and over the ridge, I believed myself to be in Deadhorse canyon. However, that is actually in another 2 miles and it involves another small ridge crossing….I missed this an continued down the wrong canyon. I’ve read other blogs about the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop and this is a common issue. Luckily, I checked by GPS and saw that I was now headed the wrong way. I could either backtrack and try to find the cross into Deadhorse….or I could cross through uncharted territory over the mountain range and try to find the next Oasis water supply (I was running low again).

Death Valley Lost
Oops! This was an unsafe and off-trail route; Check your GPS more often!

Being the adventurous type, i decided to leave the unnamed canyon and traverse my way over the mountain to my left. I had to literally crawl up the steep side as loose rocks slipped from beneath my hands and feet. Upon getting about 50 ft up the incline, I began rethinking this crossing decision. However, I refused to turn back and continued the tedious accent. I don’t recommend following my path here but I will say the top of this ridge gave some STUNNING 360 views. It also gave me a strong sense of adventurism through uncharted trails.

Death Valley View from Lost
This is the view from atop my lost excursion; Dead Horse water supply is just around the corner

After a very steep and sliding decent into the canyon, I began to see the trees of my next oasis in Dead Horse canyon. There is a dry river bed running off to the west ending in a cluster of trees that is the next water supply. I walked into the forest and again the contrast between desert hills and green trees was breathtaking. There is a small footpath routed along the oasis…this is the first actual trail I’ve seen in 7 miles. Coming off my ridge scrambling off-trail adventure — I was excited for a water break and my pace was faster than normal. All of a sudden; I heard a very loud hissing noise to my right and immediately halted in my tracks. 5 ft in front of me was a huge rattlesnake blending into the sand walking path. I took a few steps back and watched his accent up the steep canyon wall to my left. If I had been less attentive, unaware, or listening to headphones…. I probably would have stepped right into his coiled body. A potential tragedy avoided!

The Dead Horse canyon water supply was a very small trickle of water. I managed to collect and filter enough for 3 fresh liters but it was a slow collection process. The area around Dead Horse gives multiples locations for flat camp sites on semi-soft sandy ground. This is a perfect place for back country camping.

I recommend backpackers be careful when continuing onward from Dead Horse towards Marble Canyon. There is an 10ft vertical drop that cannot be avoided. I threw my pack down and climbed/rolled/fell down after. It was not a graceful decent 🙂

Death Valley 2018 Marble entrace
A few miles after leaving the Oasis, you will see the entrance to the Marble Canyon

After a few more miles of trekking you will reach Marble Canyon. The next couple miles were the only shaded hiking i did in Death Valley. Surrounded by massive 100ft slot canyon walls — this is an absolutely breathtaking experience after days of hot sun and strenuous trail. I recommend you proceed through this section slowly and take in the beautifully unique environment.

Death Valley 2018 Marble canyon
Beautiful walls within Marble Canyon. Towering above and leaning precariously overhead

You will be within this canyon up until the dead end point of a 4×4 dirt road. Upon reaching the end, I ran into a group of day hikers who nicely offered a ride in their Ford 4×4. It was a bumpy ride in the bed of the truck but at least it eliminated 5 miles of road hiking off my plan…3 of which I already hiked when arriving.

To sum up; this is a very unique backpacking loop. It presents challenges and views that are not entirely common in many locations. The secluded nature of the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop is perfect for people wishing to escape the confines of busy trails and society.

A few more pictures are below. Feel free to reach out with questions about this hike. Enjoy!

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Death Valley 2018 tent
My REI Passage 2 has been a rigorous ally on over 1000 miles of backpacking trails. It is a 2 person tent — but I love the extra space and easy set up.
death-valley-2018-selfie.jpg
A selfie water break in front of the entrance to Marble Canyon

Insulating Hot Water Pipes

Your home’s hot water needs to travel from the tank to various locations throughout your house. In my case; I have copper pipes, but this is also applicable to Pex or C-PVC piping.

During the water traveling process, heat moves from the inside of your hot water pipe to the surrounding area. To give you a rough estimate — my home costs about $18.67 per month for hot water. I have a standard gas hot water tank. Electric tanks are generally more expensive to operate and therefore your pipe insulation savings will be higher depending on how you generate hot water. Any heat that is transferred through the pipe is literally wasted before it ever reaches your sink or shower. For this reason we want to stop the waste, save some energy, and make a more efficient domestic hot water system.


Summary:

1. Heat is wasted while traveling from the hot water tank to the faucet/shower.

2. Insulating the pipes can stop this waste and allow your home to be more efficient and cost less money!

3. Pipe insulation costs roughly $2 per 6 ft section at the local hardware store.

4. Installation time is roughly 1 hour to complete the project.

5. You should save $3-$6 per month by adding insulation and your payback will be 1-3 years.


So, we begin this project in my basement. We need to find all the water pipes that are supplying hot water to various locations in the home. For me I have a dishwasher, washing machine, basement faucet, kitchen faucet, bathroom faucets x2, and a single shower. Turn on the hot water at the furthest location and allow it to run for 1 minute. This will heat the pipes up throughout your home and allow you to find the correct ones requiring insulation.

Now, travel into your basement and begin touching the hot water pipes (careful they might be hot). Mark the pipes that are warm and note there locations so we can add insulation to the correct pipes.

There will be three types of pipe insulation at the hardware store. Foam, foam self sealing, and rubber. For our purposes, I find the foam self sealing option to be best. The standard foam is roughly $.80 cheaper but you would need to add tape which lengthens installation time AND costs extra for the tape. Just buy the self sealing foam pipe insulation which cost $1.77 for me per 6 ft section at 1/2″ in size. Most of your pipes will be 1/2″ but make sure to check the various pipe sizes before making the hardware store trip.

hotwaterpipe
Before insulation

Here is a picture of my basement hot water supply piping. These are 1/2″ in size and they are now warm to the touch. One of these pipes is for cold water…and doesn’t need to be insulated. Make sure to feel the pipes and find which ones actually require the insulation!

Hotwaterpipethermal resized
Thermal picture after running hot water: You can obviously tell which pipe is supplying hot water….The bright yellow is wasted heat

After finding your hot water pipes, fit a section of insulation around the pipe itself. For self sealing insulation — pull the plastic seal off and push the sections of insulation together. The insulation should now fit firmly around the pipe. I suggest starting with the sections of pipe that will fit full sections of insulation. Your insulation will not go past pipe connections and branches. You will need to cut short sections of your insulation to fit these smaller pipe areas.

Hotwaterinsulatedpipe
Hot water pipes with insulation complete

Overall, This is not a difficult project and it is very inexpensive. This is a project that can be completed in limited time with a limited budget. After you have finished installing your sections of insulation — turn down the temperature of your water tank slightly and save some money on your utility bills.

Let me know if you have questions.

Adding Insulation in Rental Properties

Most of our rental properties have little to no insulation. Many of these houses were bought from typical “slum lords” that cared as much about their tenants as they did about the squirrels living in the attic.

Our investment strategy is simple. Give people a quality place to live at an affordable monthly rate. And guess what?…..Utility bills play a huge part in whether a home is affordable!

First, you may ask WHY we make energy efficiency upgrades when the tenant is responsible for the utility bills. This is a simple argument. The largest expense suffered by landlords is vacant properties, tenant turnover, and damage caused by unhappy tenants. We try to avoid all three of these by keeping our tenants happy! Happy tenants equal long term leases and commitment to keeping the property in good condition. We want people living in our houses to feel like it is their home. Home is where the heart is 🙂


Summary of work:

1. Seal penetrations from the living space into the attic. ie. wires, lights

2. Add blown-in cellulose in the attic for insulation

3. Add rigid EPS foam and fiberglass batts to rim joists

Cost = $450.00

Value = Lower heating bills and happy tenants


Ok, lets begin with step number one. I like to start in the basement and work my way up! Begin at the rim joists. Buy 2″ EPS foam sheets for $39.00 and R-13 fiberglass batts roll for $16.00. Read the RIM JOIST INSULATING BLOG.

Next, we evaluate whether any insulation can be added within the walls. Some of our houses have fiberglass bat insulation or cellulose insulation within the wall cavities. If drywall repair is required; we try to use fiberglass bats between the wall studs.

 

Finally, comes the attic insulation. We move ourselves into the attic with several cans of spray foam. we seal up exterior gaps and insulate around wire penetrations through the sheet rock. Generally, these penetrations are caused by light fixtures and ductwork. The goal is to remove the locations where the houses heated/cooled air can work its way into the attic. Any exposed ducting in the attic should be wrapped in fiberglass insulation to prevent energy from escaping your ducting. 

Now we are ready for attic insulation! Generally, I find blown-in cellulose to be the easiest to work with. I purchase the packs of cellulose from Lowes and choose the GreenFiber brand. These come in roughly 2 ft packaged cubes and the blowing machine is free for the day (with $250 deposit). First, let me warn you that this machine is heavy and you will need someone to assist with lifting this.

GreenFibre2018

I start with 20 containers of GreenFiber for roughly $8.00 each. Depending on the size of your attic, you will need to estimate how many of these you will require. Carry the blowing machine inside and plug it in. Climb up into the attic with the included distribution hose and have your partner load half a package of cellulose inside the machine. Begin in the farthest corner by blowing insulation into the area between the joists. Do not insulate the soffit space to avoid covering the exterior air vents. Blow insulation into one area at a time — wait until the insulation reaches above the joist. Your goal is to get a continuous “blanket” of insulation that is a MINIMUM of 5″ deep and with the goal of achieving 8″ of coverage. Add the depth of insulation required to meet your local building code.

Have fun with this DIY project! Going from un-insulated to insulated will be a noticeable difference in both utility bills and comfort.

Written By:

Luke Langhals