Hike and A Hot Tub Soak!

8 08 2017

Today’s plan calls for a mellow (well, relatively) hike out of Huayhuash to a 15,584′ pass, 5-hours total, and ending with the afternoon at a hot tub soak and camp at Viconga Thermal Baths, at 14,432′ – natural hot springs here we come! Sounds good! We’ll also break out our portable hot shower! After these hard-won days, I’m liking the sound of that.

Like most mornings, our “beast herders” are out before dawn wrangling the herds! These guys sometimes climb hills, yelling urgent taunts to get their charges (donkeys and llamas) in line. Sometimes they disappear behind hillsides. But every morning, they find the beasts of burden, bringing them back. I never understood why the beasts don’t just take off during the night!

We pass through some beautiful valleys, and pass by condors above, and chinchilla below.

Chinchilla

These chinchilla are really cute! Part rabbit, part guinea pig, or something, they inhabit the rocks all around these parts. With alert ears, long whiskers and fluffy tails!

In between certain elevations, our hikes flow through fields of wildflowers. We experience Paintbrush, Mistletoe, flowering cactus, giant six foot lupine, and others I cannot identify.

Then today as every day, our train of llamas, donkeys and horses catch up with us! They, and our crew, carry our stuff and set up camp so that when we arrive, we just crawl into our tents and mend.

Now it’s time to take a break.

 

We catch up with ourselves. Some like me de-layer, whilst others visit, or take in snacks. On the way we pass a good sized lake. It’s the largest we’ll see on our trek.

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Then, after some climbs and descents, we see our destination! It’s a little valley with a glacier-fed stream flowing through. Up above and behind, it’s got three different temperature thermal baths! Wow! It’s going to be a sweet afternoon!

 

Man that bath felt great. But getting out of the water NOT! OMG.

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They had 3 baths with varying temps. But when you get out, it’s chilly!

Along with our thermal baths, which felt EXQUISITE! Our staff also set up a hot shower. Now, this shower was far from automatic. Somebody had to pump up the water pressure for it to work! Cathy Ann and Roger handled the technical aspects.

 

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Regina peeks out ready for the shower!

 

 

So, Regina gets a real hot shower! Got to be worth it!

Tomorrow is a one of our WHOOP ASS hikes! We are due to climb over 16,000ft! We need all the soothing from today’s thermal baths for that one!

 

 





Past the Emerald Lakes to Huayhuash

7 08 2017

 

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Morning mist casts a moody tone…

 

Today’s agenda begins with a bang and continues! We’re all up before dawn to catch sunrise on this lake and Andes peaks! Once again ice covers the tent fly, and I stretch my body out to loosen those muscles. All our tents are aligned to catch the soon-to-be sun bathed peaks! This daybreak, a mysterious freezing fog shrouds camp, and partially obscures the view up above. Our llamas take it all in stride. But it burns off quickly!

 

It was worth awakening pre-dawn to get the pictures! We are so lucky. Beautiful sky and no wind. Today’s hike will pass by this lake, take a left and climb a valley just opposite these peaks. It will be a gradual rise at first then steepening toward 15,748′ Siula Pass.

It was pretty chilly at dawn. But as the sun warmed camp, it became nice enough to get rid of our breakfast tent! Aha! Breakfast with THIS VIEW!

 

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WOW! Time for coffee tea and orange pancakes!

 

 

Lake Breakfast

Anna ensures each place setting is perfecto!

OK, it’s 8:00 time to hoist our packs and hike! Out we go, following the lake, up up, and then to the left. We start tracing a valley filled with terminal glacial moraines and sapphire lakes beneath, all under the incredible towering Andes peaks.

 

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Roger checks back to ensure the group’s coming along

 

We take a rest stop at one of theses lakes, above which there is another truly colorful lake. This time I decided to stick around and catch up with myself. The whole area is so peaceful, except for loud thunderous noise which goes on for 15 – 20 seconds. Avalanche!

 

Avalanche

That’s not fog, that’s an avalanche!

 

This was the 2nd of this day. A previous avalanche made it all the way to one of the lakes.

Past the lakes, the climb steepens, and I want to groan, but I didn’t. I kept on going, and then, Roger announces we are 15 minutes from lunch! This was good, because it broke up the steep, scree covered hike to the pass.

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Today’s hike is a long one – over 7 hours total! I was so glad to see the yellow tents of camp!

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Our Llamas at Camp Huayhuash, at 14,268′. Always ready!

 





Trekking Peru: The Cordillera Huayhuash – Acclimatization Days 1-2: Huaraz

10 07 2017

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Here we go! This the first of about a dozen blog posts covering my June 2017 trek in Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash! This was a big deal. Back in 2007 I did a Himalayan trek of Bhutan’s Chomolhari with Cathy Ann Taylor, and it stuck prominently in my mind. I watched her Cattara website for an Andean trek and when this one popped up I jumped at it!

These treks are simply the “bee’s knees” of hiking/camping trips. They involve undertaking the “ultimate challenge” level of athletic perseverance and mental toughness. Hiking 8 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. day after day at altitudes ranging from 13,500 – 16,404. All that effort is rewarded with beautiful, dry weather, flowers along the way, and views so spectacular as to literally defy description. But there is more: You don’t have to carry a big pack. Or cook. Or set up your tent. Staff brings coffee/tea to your tent to awaken you in the morning. And, they bring you hot wash water morning and after your hike. On this trek, we even had a portable shower – and one of our stops was at a thermal bath!

Why do these treks? I’m sure everybody has their own reasons. For me, it’s the chance to see mountains so big they are unimaginable at home. To conquer the athletic challenge. To completely disconnect from the snowglobe of distractive thoughts and temptations that are the Internet, e-mail, news, and ties to home. To peel off layer after layer of that routine, getting to the core and reconnecting with natural rhythms once again. For it is only then, free of the pull of those “can’t waits,” that things start to get back into perspective.

 

Huascaran from Airport

22,205ft Huascaran towers over the airport at Huaraz, Peru

 

There would be 13 trekkers on this trip. We all flew into Huaraz to meet Cathy Ann (CAT). Our first two days would be acclimatization days, staying at the Hotel Club Andino. Huaraz, with a population over 100,000 sits at 10,150ft. At this altitude even climbing the hotel stairs was a struggle! But we’d have to do more – for our very first camp would be at 13,776ft!

Hotel Andino is a Swiss-owned Euro-style hotel perched on a hillside street at the top of town. Rooms have a mountain view and the restaurant is 1st rate.

 

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View from my room!

 

 

 

On day two, the plan was a 4-mile hike at Huillcachocha Lake, up to 12,650 feet. We hiked to a rock where Inca sacrifices were performed. From this hike, we had horizon to horizon views of the entire Cordillera Blanca Range! And we encountered some local families going out for the day.

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To me, the thin air and exertion of this “warm up” hike seemed like the max. But I knew in the next two days we’d be hiking to over 15,387′ and yikes. Can I do this? Will I make it?

The staff was excellent, making a slow, do-able pace. And they let us take breaks to get water, snacks, and adjust our clothing. The views would be one thing that would keep me going!

 

Cordillera Blanca Pano

View of the entire Cordillera Blanca! It’s the range next to the Cordillera Huayhuash.

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CAT and our local lead guide, Roger (pronounced “Roher”) of ExplorAndes, show us a map of the area

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Myself with Anna, local Assistant Guide

So, how much equipment, staff and stuff did this 12-day expedition take? 10 Llamas, 16 donkeys, 2 “emergency” horses, 13 staff, kitchen tent, meal tent, a dozen or so Eureka! tents for guests, plus food and emergency gear. Yes, we had supplemental oxygen just in case. Quite the production!

 

The day’s acclimatization hike complete, we enjoyed a terrific welcome dinner at the hotel. Tomorrow, we’d be off on a 5-hour drive to our first trek-camp!

So, you may ask, “How do I prepare for such a trip?” Answer: 4 months of preparation. Lots of cardio. Running is fine, but about six weeks before the trip, switch to hour long hikes/walks. Four times a week. Hikes with elevation gain are the best preparation because instead of static roads, you’ll get the benefit of walking amongst rocks and such. Even better, hike with a 20 pound day pack. Because on the trek, you’ll be carrying a day pack with rain gear and layers, plus two liters of water.

OK, upcoming are a series of posts from the trail! Passes, 20,000 foot peaks, avalanches, glaciers, emerald lakes, Llamas, and flowers galore! Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 





Trinidad, CA – A Slice of Coastal Heaven

13 10 2016

My visit with Jason Self and Shay Bickley in Trinidad, California, was more than hikes among Redwood giants and herds of Rossevelt Elk. The region sports some of North America’s most spectacular coastlines!

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Near Crescent City

Foggy and rugged, thickly forested, and impacted by frequent Pacific storms, this coast shows off when the sun pops out. Highway 101 passes through this region, tracing its line along surf beaches, through dark redwood forest, climbing to 800-ft above the sea before opening up to spectacular unlimited vistas dotted with sea stacks.

We spent a sunset hiking along the beach, and another afternoon walking to a point high above the waves. No matter what route you pick, rewards are rich.

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Man’s Best Friend waits for his family to come in.

One evening we took a pre-dinner stroll along the shore near the Moonstone Grill, a terrific restaurant with an unmatched Pacific View. It was surreal. No wind and calm seas. So beautiful!

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The incoming tide was mesmerizing. I could look down on the wavy sand, and see, with each passing wave, how the water was navigating its way further and further ashore. We found a few stranded sea creatures and set them back into the ocean, much to Shay’s delight.

The following day was to be our paddle on the bay. Days here often dawn in a pea soup fog, but most of the time, that fog loses out the the sun by mid day.

On paddle day, there was barely any fog at sun up.

We breakfasted, loaded the boats on the cars, and partially donned out dry suits. Then it was time to head to the bay.

The town of Trinidad leads to a peninsula – with beaches on the NW and SW sides. On this day the swell was coming in from the NW.

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The sea laid down for us!

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Shay readies the P&H Delphin.

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We launched on the protected SW side – which, I’ve got to say, had become an undulating lake! We got maybe a mile or one and a half miles down the shore, paddling amongst sea stacks and harbor seals, before the swells were bigger, and I could see waves crashing against rocks. Even with the small seas, they were quartering from behind, and I got a weird feeling like the sea was a magnet, and I wanted to fall in. Jason said it was a touch of vertigo. I have had vertigo sensations before, but never at sea, and I’ve never been sea sick. Turning around, facing the swell, completely reversed that feeling.

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A bay of kelp and harbor seals. And, as Jason says, sharks.

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We checked out the sea stacks, rocks, and took a “stroll” along a cliff face. There, we found murrelets, more seals, and a couple of otters! One otter came out of a little cave. Another had caught a fish, and was hurriedly eating, as if it were concerned a rival might try to steal its catch.

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And Jason LOVES his recently acquired P&H Hammer, but not having his photo taken! It was a memorable day on the big P. I hope to visit again!





North Fork John Day River Backpack

26 08 2016
River Evening Peaceful

The peaceful nirvana of early evening at the Oriental Springs Campground

In July, Laura and I planned to backpack a 10-mile section of the North Fork John Day River in central eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains. The entire river is a nationally designated wild and scenic river, so we were very excited! I had hiked the eastern portion back in 2014. This time, the plan was to try hiking from the western end. The whole trail, some 50 miles, is steeped in gold-rush history. Back in the 1870’s gold was struck in the area, and thousands braved the wilds to strike it rich. Today, although the big mines are mostly gone, there are still active mining claims with people panning for gold! I’ll post a blog about that next. But for now, it’s about the backpacking.

This hard-to-reach trailhead and backpack had been on my list for many years. It took about 5 hours from Portland. Even when you get off the state road, the dirt road/4WD track to the last campground and trailhead is many miles. Due to the long drive, we just planned to car camp the first night at Oriental Springs Campground. Arriving about 5:00 p.m., the heat of the day had passed. The river sits in a tight valley, and the shadows were already beginning to lengthen.

Oriental Campground We had the whole place to ourselves. There were lots of puddles on the road – and blow down. There must have been a recent thunderstorm. Though most of the area was dry and dusty, the evidence of rain was there. Despite the standing water, there were no mosquitoes. Lucky us.

Laura found the campfire to her liking! Laura Fire Oriental Campground

In the morning, we sipped coffee, ate breakfast and packed up.

It was a moderately cool morning. Very pleasant!

Not in a hurry, we didn’t plan on hitting the trail until maybe 11:00. Big mistake.

Laura packed for backpack

Packed up and ready!

With the car locked and packs filled, we hit the trail. My research revealed that this is bear and cougar country. So, we both wore jingle bells on our wrists and used trekking poles, which made us very noisy to any hungry or motherly creatures out there! And merry makers to others.

Bear Bells

Bear bells highly suggested!

The trail lies on the northern (i.e. sunniest) side of the river. The forest here is amber-colored bark Ponderosa pine. If you’ve never been in a Ponderosa pine forest – I need to describe. Instead of tightly laced tree branches typical of Douglas fir forests – which are shady and therefore offer a cooling effect, Ponderosa pines are spread farther apart, with not nearly as many branches between trees touching. Hikes in Pondersoa forests are more vulnerable to hot sun. This one is no exception.

The valley slopes reached skyward immediately from the northern side of the trail. Soon,  the place became a convection oven! We had no relief from the sun or the broiler-like hillside next to us. But there was more. There was winter blowdown. Packs on, we climbed over or slithered under fallen trees.

It didn’t take long for signs of large wildlife to appear. The recent rain and puddles left some flat, muddy areas. Anything walking over would leave footprints, betraying its presence. We noticed deer, elk, and then – bear and cougar prints!

Bear Track

No doubt about what left these prints!

Not long after, and right smack in the middle of the trail, we saw a pile of poop. Not just any pile of poop. Because whatever this creature ate it was full of seeds! Bear scat. Between the trail and the river at this particular point is an area full of blackberries. No doubt this bear was feasting.

Heat aside, it’s a very beautiful river. It winds lazily along, and except for some deeper pools, it’s about 2-3 feet deep. But the heat quickly got to us. We found an open place for lunch and discovered it was a camping spot. It didn’t look like it had been used recently because growth was starting to cover the fire ring. As hard as it was to accept, we actually decided to base camp here. It was a place that offered shade!

 

Feeling guilty and pretty annoyed about the heat and the fact that we’d only covered 2.5 miles, we decided to hike further up the river. What we discovered unexpectedly justified stopping to camp were we did.

We didn’t find anywhere suitable to camp. And grass plus brush had assertively grown across the trail, about knee high. We wore shorts. And I’d heard stories about lots of ticks from other hikers recently. So we pressed on, but were constantly checking our legs for critters.

Eventually we’d had enough and, frustrated, we started back. Just when we began to get cranky, I saw a possible wading spot. We walked down there and waded out into the river. This was the respite we needed. More, we realized, this what this day was all about. Sitting in the river, with it flowing over our overheated souls, we cooled down enough and it became almost meditative. Impossible to get out.

Laura on rock in river

We spent time here, and then back at camp, spent more time just enjoying the water! Well, what to do with the rest of our time out here? We decided to get on the trail early the next day, before the heat picked up, hike out, and then drive over to Anthony Lakes and car camp.

Laura on Anthony Lake

An end-of-day happy hour at Anthony Lakes!

Anthony Lakes is a year-round recreational area. In summer there is camping, hiking, boating, and fishing. And even some sailing. It’s elevation is over 7,000 feet, so it’s got dry powder snow in the winter. The Anthony Lakes Ski Area is popular with locals all winter long. Plus, there are lovely Cross-Country trails all around. The stars were really spectacular. All together, we had a nice trip!

 





Hiking Amongst Siouxon Creek’s Emerald Waters and Waterfalls

6 05 2016

siouxon creek

Siouxon Creek trail is one of the most beautiful places to hike near Vancouver, Washington. Located in a deep valley, it rarely gets hot even during summer heat waves. April, Tatsuro, Monica and I spent a perfect afternoon hiking there last weekend.

Monica Tatsuro Rod

Monica, Tatsuro and myself.

Hiking Siouxon Creek leads you past flumes, towering moss-covered firs and maples, clear green pools and ends with a 45-foot waterfall. It’s about 4.3 miles to the waterfall, making for a full 8+ mile day. The trail continues past the waterfall. And you can connect with a trail leading to Huffman Peak, which would make for 14 miles total.

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There are perhaps ten backpacking campsites along this stretch. And on our hike it seemed most filled up. It would be a Lord of the Rings type experience, I think. I could imagine Orcs coming in the night – perhaps fighting with Cave Trolls. We had expected the area to be muddy because it had rained the day before. But we found only a few spots with mud. Completely delightful. The trail comes almost down to creek level, then climbs sometimes 40 feet above, whilst crossing tributaries. There are lots of small waterfalls and pools to glimpse.

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It might be tempting to jump in that water, but it was May. The temperature is probably 40 degrees! I have seen people swimming in the middle of summer here, though.

Siouxon Creek is also popular for mountain biking. I originally discovered this trail through a mountain biking guidebook. On our hike this time we only saw two bikers.

Although fast-hiking or fast-packing is trendy these days, I find sometimes going extra slow, or even pausing, yields beautiful rewards.

This area is packed with life. But if you are rushing along, you’ll miss the wonder. There are countless species of plants. Every inch is occupied by a form of life competing for food and sunlight.

 

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Moss clinging to a maple.

There were countless “nurse logs.” A nurse log is a fallen tree that has decomposed to the point that it becomes nutrients for new trees. We saw a toppled old-growth tree, with over 100 feet of new trees growing along it.

 

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Super clear water!

The water is impossibly pure and clear. The rocks are gray, brown, rose, green, and speckled colors. In some places the water is so clear you cannot even see it.

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April

Our turnaround point on the hike was the 45-ft waterfall. Also a nice spot to stop for lunch. We lingered quite a while to soak up the tranquility. Then it was another refreshing hike back to the trailhead.20160430_141735_HDR





MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX Tent – Review

15 03 2015
msr hubba hubba nx,gear shed,camping,camping oregon

The Hubba Hubba NX with the Gear Shed

I’m the proud owner of a brand new Mountain Safety Research – MSR Hubba Hubba NX ultralightweight backpacking tent! With 27-year-low snowpack in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, I couldn’t wait to try out my new tent. I also bought the “Gear Shed” attachment for the tent. So, I headed up to Clear Lake near Mount Hood, Oregon to set up and sleep in my new tent.

The MSR Hubba Hubba NX is a super light two-person tent – only 3.7 pounds! But any tent I’m going to be pleased using has to be easy to set up and durable. And on warm summer nights I like to set up the tent without the fly. This allows for star gazing and cooler sleeping. But some tents have a very shallow “bathtub” around the bottom, allowing breezes to get through, and onlookers to see you when you’re dressing. I like tents where the “bathtub” is a bit higher.

As a backpacker and kayak camper, I also want a tent that’s easy to set up in the dark. No complicated setups. I also like tents with reflectors so at night I can shine a light on them and see it from far away. Gear vestibules are also super important. I want my shoes and gear to stay dry even if it’s outside my mosquito-lined sleeping area. For windy days tents need to be guyed out. There must be ways to secure the tent to the ground, so it doesn’t blow away.

So with these needs / wants in mind I set about testing and setting up the MSR Hubba Hubba NX. Unpacking it from the bag, I immediately noticed thoughtful touches. The bag kind of cinches up like a cradle. The bag has outside straps enabling it to be scrunched down like a compression sack.

I set out the tent footprint and then laid the tent on top of it. I staked out the corners. Right away I noticed a clever detail where the attachment of the tent to the stakes takes place. A sturdy cinchable strap-to-stake attachment point. Nice!

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The tent pole goes thu this grommet. But you can tighten the strap to the stake. Thoughtful!

I unpacked the tent frame. On the MSR Hubba Hubba NX there is only one frameset where all the pieces are connected via shock cord. It’s made of DAC Pressfit aluminum. Light and durable. But you need to be careful and deliberate about connecting. I fear splitting a pole end if I am in a hurry.

msr hubba hubba nxI laid the frame on top of the staked-out tent.

The next step is to connect all four corners and the top center piece to the frame. It’s a little challenging do do alone but with practice it will be easy.

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Frame connected and ready for clips

OK. So now, the next step will be snapping the clips to the frame.

It’s here I notice another thoughtful and durable touch.

The clips are shaped to fit snugly around the poles, but there is more. The load of the clip is spread between two attachment points on the tent. This reduces stress points on the stitching on the tent.

msr hubba hubba nxSo far, I’m delighted with the thoughtful, clever details of this tent. And all for 3.7 pounds! Next step is to connect the clips. Once done I’ll have the full volume of the inside.

msr hubba hubba nxThis is how nights under the stars will be. This is how I like things – there is a good view of the sky above, and ample ventilation – but the bathtub walls are high enough to shield occupants from wind and from onlookers.

Next, the fly. A fly should be able to keep rain out but also allow for ventilation – and especially bonus points are awarded for flies that can be unzipped without rain dripping into the tent.

msr hubba hubba nxVoila. with the fly attached, and the vestibules stakes out, there is actually a lot of acreage to store packs and shoes out of rain’s way. Two tent mates each have a vestibule and exit for themselves. Inside the tent, on each end, there are tent-wide gear pockets. Enough for most any backpacker’s needs. Up above, there are attachment points so you can sling strings – from which you can dry your stanky socks. Unfortunately two things are lacking – Firstly, a distinct shortage of attachment points for guy lines and secondly, no reflective piping.

But let’s say you have need for even more room. You have a disagreement with your tent mate. Or perhaps there is a 3rd soul needing a place to rest for the night. Or you’re car camping with executive camping gear and you’re needing extra storage space. For that, the MSR Hubba Hubba NX offers a solution: The Gear Shed.

The Gear Shed doubles the available storage space. Or can be used to accommodate another camper – or a Man’s Best Friend? If you have the MSR Gear Shed, you have options.

20150312_153922What’s the verdict? Well, although I love this tent and gear shed setup, it’s not 100% perfect. Somehow designers left out reflective materials. At night I bumped the corners more than once. And I have to wonder about its ability to hold up in the wind without lots of guy line attachment points. Still, I love the MSR Hubba Hubba NX and it’s a keeper. I can recommend it!