2018-05-12

Early spring in the Sierra

Angie and I really wanted to go backpacking in the Sierra while we're out here. I kind of wanted to take Angie to Evolution Valley in particular, a gorgeous section the JMT/PCT. The only problem is that it's may, which is really early to be up there. We'd been hanging on in Bishop, CA on the east side of the Sierra doing some bouldering and noticed things warming up a bit and a good span of nice wweather over the next week. So, we decided to go for it. We went down to the ranger station to see about conditions and got a permit. The plan was to go up through Piute Pass (11,400 ft), down evolution valley, then go off the main trails and climb Darwin's bench up and over to Lamark Col pass (12,800 ft), then drop down to where we started. All in all it's about a 40 mile loop.

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Normally a 40 mile loop is about a 3 day trip for us, but we figured several factors would slow us down. "postholing" (walking in snow where you sink to your knee or deeper) is exhausting. Wearing snowshoes is less exhausting, but still WAY more tiring than normal hiking. Even hiking on hard snow in crampons is a lot more tiring than on normal ground. All the extra gear we needed meant our packs would be heavier, slowing us down further. Lastly, if snow conditions or weather are wrong crossing a high pass can become too treacherous to try or we could even get snowed in. Given all of that we planned for 5 days to do the loop, but packed 6 days of food.

Everyone we talked to told us it was pretty early in the season to do this. The ranger, and the guy at the place we rented our bear canister. The days were expected to be warm though, so while we had crampons and snowshoes, we weren't carrying winter clothing.

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So, given that here's what I packed for gear:
  • Clothing:
    • Cotton canvas shorts
    • Cotton button-down shirt
    • 3 pair wool socks (varying weights/types)
    • 2 marino wool sweaters
    • Boiled wool mittens
    • Custom knit alpaca tights
    • Waxed cotton canvas overshirt
    • Cotton canvas Tilly hat
    • "waterproof" vivo-barefoot boots
    • WWII style wool puttees (leg wraps)
    • Wool poncho (also used as part of sleep system)
  • Mountaineering gear
    • Homemade alpenstock
    • Lightning ascent snowshoes
    • Kahtoola KTS Steel crampons
    • Sunglasses
  • Sleeping
    • Alpaca fur sleepingbag (augmented by poncho)
    • Waxed Cotton Groundcloth (also used to pack gear in... waxed jacket augments this too)
    • 3/8" Closed cell foam sleepingpad (from gossamer gear)
  • Cooking
    • titanium BOT
    • Toaks titanium alcohol stove
    • Toaks titanium windscreen
    • Toaks steel mesh pot stand
  • Packing
    • Modified kelty frame Pack
    • 25 foot section of rope for tying gear to pack
    • 2 12 foot sections of rope for tying gear to pack or other uses
  • Ditty
    • Belt Knife and sparker
    • Sunglasses
    • repair kit
    • pills
    • medication
    • bla bla bla
As a side note the plan was for both of us to sleep under Angie's tarp.

The trip:

Day 1:
We started hitting patchy snow at around 9500 feet on our way up to Piute pass. Patchy means sometimes there's no snow, and sometimes it's 6 feet deep, often only a few feet apart. If it's early morning the snow is hard and you can walk on top of it using normal shoes or crampons, but in the afternoon you end up with a choice between postholing in normal shoes, or walking on the non-snowy parts in snowshoes. Often no option is terribly good so until snow coverage was over 70 percent, or the snow was nearly impassable (postholing clear to the crotch or waist) we generally chose postholing over snowshoing.

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After the pass there was just too much snow to see where the trail was. We could follow it generally using the map, but Angie had the "Hiking project" app on her phone which has this route on it. This app also uses the phone's GPS and allowed us follow the trail much more closely helping to ensure we were on the easiest route.

It was quite a relief when the snow finally got deeper and more consistent and we could just wear snowshoes. We'd been staying at Buttermilk Boulders at ~6000 feet elevation. The trail starts at ~9000 ft and climbs over Piute pass at 11400. Our goal for the day was upper golden trout lake. Along with all the postholing the altitude was making us even more tired. We were pretty tired when we finally hit camp and our shoes were completely soaked, despite gators/putties in my case. The trail was gorgeous though, with only 2 sets of footprints to follow. At the pass even those turned around. It's an awesome feeling knowing no-one had been there in quite a long time.

I ran in to a minor gear issue. I've been spending a lot of time outside, obviously, and I'm pretty tan. I had a hat and long-sleeved shirt on. I figured my beard would protect my chin and neck from the snow reflection. But, I forgot about one thing... I forgot my knees. The backs of my knees got really badly burned. Actually, I forgot 2 things, my lips were bad too, happily I could bum some chapstick off Angie... oops.

Though the deep snow eased walking, it brings some other difficulties as well, in particular even though the creeks are running they are often doing so well underneath the snow. We found a section of creek that was exposed running in to the lake, and stayed near it. Here's where we slept after we broke camp in the morning.

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Day 2
I have some winter backpacking experience and on cold mornings the best plan is to start hiking to get your blood moving and your toes warmed up, then stop for breakfast after a little while. So... we tried that plan.

My shoes were simply ice-cubes. I tried to put them on and walk around packing up, but finally ran over where this photo was taken and sat on a rock and took them off 'cause it hurt too much. Angie finished breaking camp and joined me her toes hurting too. The sun came out and we learned that summer in the mountains is different. It's cold until the sun comes out, then it's suddenly hot. Our boots defrosted while we cooked breakfast and by the time we went to leave they were just wet. Life was good and we learned a new pattern for warm mountain mornings.

While hanging out that morning I attacked my knee sunburn problem. I took the sweater I didn't like much, acquired at a thrift store for ~$6.00 and cut the sleeves off. I pulled the sleeves up over my knees, the wrist part down because it didn't fit around my thigh the other way. Then to hold them up I took some twine. I punched a hole in each to attach the twine and tied the twine to my belt riging my knee covers up like chaps. Amazingly, this worked for the rest of the trip. You've already seen the picture below, but this time look at my knees, and the string running up my thigh.

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Since the snow was still hard we went with crampons, which served us well for a while. We weren't able to leave the snow before we started postholing though and we had to go back to snowshoes... then it got too patchy for snowshoes and we went back to postholing. It was frustrating, tiring, and slow going. Finally it started to break up though. The rivers were going gangbusters.

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The trail was still tricky though. The trail was steep and made largely of pebbly rocks a little smaller than a fist that rolled underfoot, and all the water meant water crossings. We knew we had several that day and weren't sure how bad it would be with all the flooding. Here's one crossing, for scale this river is ~20 feet across. It actually wasn't that bad, not nearly as bad as it looked. We did 3 or so of these and numerous smaller stream crossings. Or boots were soaked from postholing, so we just went through boots on.

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And finally we hit the JMT... smooth beautiful trail, no snow, warm, with good flat camping spots. We took sponge baths in the river, dried out our gear and just hung out. Angie was carrying her kindle with a book we're reading together so we read aloud to each other while we hung out and cooked dinner. In fact, we relaxed so much that we forgot to take any photos!

We were a lot more sore than we'd expected to be at this point. My back and shoulders ached. We'd originally intended to take a break day between bouldering and climbing, but we got overexcited and forgot. As a result in addition to tiredness fro crossing the pass we were still feeling the effects of bouldering from 2 days prior. Since we had an extra day we decided to take it by going to evolution valley Day 3, then up on to Darwin's Bench Day 4, and crossing the pass day 5 to stay at Lamark lake, and finally exit day 6. We were glad we'd given ourselves an extra day.

Day 3

Day 3 was supposed to be the "easy" day... and was easier than the others. The one thing we knew was coming that day was a bad river crossing. I'd done it before when I hiked the JMT, but I'd been told it might be chest deep this time. Here's where we crossed:

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It turns out that, after finding a good spot to cross, it was only about thigh deep. No big deal... just VERY cold. Angie wore shoes and I went barefoot. Angie screamed a couple of times when she hit the other side. I followed behind and only made groaning noises and huffed a lot. It took a few minutes for the pain to go away in Angie's feet so we could continue. It sucked, but we were fine, and there was no danger.

After this we hit more patchy snow. Here the GPS phone app became really valuable. The trail winds around through the forest a lot, but then twists up a pretty steep and jagged slope after Goddard Canyon Trail splits off. In areas like this following the trail more closely becomes really valuable, so you don't end up on really bad terrain.

Sadly, the camping sites shown on that app are not great anytime, but particularly in the winter with snowpack. Our site was fine, but not awesome. We had to kick some horse dung out of the way but were able to find something dry at least. It was a little damp that night, but warm enough.

Day 4

This was really our light day. The idea was to rest up so we'd be fresh for the push over Lamark Col pass. All we had to do was climb 500 feet of switchbacks, then leave the official marked trail and go offtrail (there's actually a faint trail there, but not much) up another 1000 feet or so on to darwin's bench for a total of maybe 3.5 miles.

The snow made this tricky, but it was by far our easiest day, and we hit a nice spot to chill by around noon. It was warm and beautiful, and we had lots of time to dry out our gear in the sun sitting on a nice rock. I made "snowcones" by mixing lime jello with snow
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We even had a good spot to get water from.

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We were reading and chilling, then Angie noticed the cloud. She pointed it out and my response was just "Shit".

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Our tarp had been pitched on the snow and the stakes weren't really holding. A cloud like that meant we were likely to get some decent wind. We might be fine, but we needed to get ready for the worst. We poked around for a better spot and found something behind a boulder with soft snow. Angie suggested a snow-cave... a GREAT idea, except a snowcave would take too long. I modified the idea to a snow-trench (a technique I learned from the ski patrol while in Cal-ESAR), and we built this up against the backside of a boulder:

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We dug the trench using snowshoes. The "Ascent" snowshoes from MSR have a heal lift hoop you can flip up for steep climbs. Angie noticed that this made a wonderful handle. I also used her ice-axe to hack out some blocks so we could build up the ends a little. I carefully smashed the bottom down by jumping and walking around on it until it was nice and packed. We also built a little door on one end so you could get out and up on to the boulder easily.

The tarp was tied out to a push on one end, and Angie's ice-axe on the other. We used her hiking pole and my alpenstock as poles. For the side stakes we used a bush and actual stakes in dirt on one-side (there was some dirt on top of the rocks), and Angie's snow-shoes on the other.

THIS setup could stand some serious wind with no trouble at all, particularly as the worst wind was likely to come from the other side of the boulder. We were set for the night.

Day 5

Day 5 was the big day when we push over Lamark Col pass. Starting from ~11400 though made topping 12800 seem a lot more reasonable. Only 1500 feet of climbing. We started by skirting several lakes. The lakes were all over their banks of course and my Alpenstock came in handy for checking the ice to make sure we would fall through. We wound our way around the lakes sometimes on the ice, sometimes on the sides, and occasionally on the rocks. Then came the final long climb up the pass.

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Most of it looked about like this. Steep, with boulders strewn about. We had to take off our crampons a couple of times to scramble over sections of boulder. The snow consistancy was mostly good but a few spots it was just too open. We'd started early so it was frozen solid, but that only helps if the crystal lattice is dense enough. We tried to avoid the steepest spots, or scramble over boulders when it was bad, but Angie did slip a foot. Of course, that is what ice-axes are for, she was able to recover with her other foot and ice-axe without actually having to self-arrest. It was a LOONG climb, but there were rocks in between. So, if you slipped you wouldn't fall that far... on the other hand, you'd hit a rock :shrug:.

The last rock-scramble was pretty gnarly, and the wind came up pretty hard, but we made it to the top. Finally we peaked and came over the other side. It was WAAAY too steep. We both looked at it and were like "Noooope!". Checking the GPS the "trail" went a little farther to the right, so we scrambled our way over there and it looked more reasonable. Still scary, but not insane. On this side, in contrast there were NO rocks, just a straight slide all the way to the bottom. Angie considered glissading it (sliding on her butt), but not having experience decided maybe this wasn't the time to try it. I didn't have gear for that, so we went it on foot.

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The snow for the first 100 feet was really inconsistent, sometimes frozen solid, sometimes crystals sitting on top, and sometimes just soft. This made it feel a bit sketchy, but we planned the route carefully avoiding steep spots and neither of us slipped. Here's Angie a bit after the steepest sketchy area. Someone HAD come over this pass recently enough that we could pick out the remnants of their steps. These made this stretch of the decent that much easier.

At the bottom we breathed a sigh of relief. This was the pass we'd been nervous about the whole trip, and we were over it, finally. Now we just had to get down safely.

We were 1 mile from hitting a "real" trail at Lamark lake when we hit this.

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The trail runs horizantally across a vertical cliff face. I mean vertical, even in climbing shoes there was no way around I would've been willing to try without full trad gear. Piled with snow the only way through was to dig. Some spots like shown above looked feasible given enough digging and care, but right in front of us was a 4 foot mound followed by a 10 foot drop off a cliff, we'd have to dig out that 10 feet of snow and still it looked like it was probably a rock-scramble underneath. After some consideration we decided once again "Noooope!" and turned around. We'd take our chance off trail.

So, instead we dropped straight down this avalanche chute. I'd been watching very carefully for signs of avalanches the whole trip, it juts wasn't the right conditions yet. Only extremely steep hills were sliding, so I figured we were okay.

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The problem was that this snow was too soft. This is great for us in terms of being really comfortable on steep terrain, it's easy not to fall or slide, if you just sit down you stay in place. The problem is that underneath the snow is a talus field. If you post-hole in the wrong place you could jam a leg between boulders and break something.

To deal with this we bouldered around the edge of the snow as much as we could. I resisted using snowshoes because I thought they'd just sink as well, and snowshoes are hard to work with on steep terrain, but eventually we ran out of other options and at Angie's urging we gave them a try. Happily, they worked. It was a bit like using crampons, a bit like skiing. You had to switchback very carefully and you'd slide a bit occasionally, but you could always just sit down to stop. Using this technique we made it down to the bottom of the chute.

Only issue is, now we're off the trail. I led the way back towards the trail and pointed where we had to go. Angie looked at the hill I said we had to go over and said "Noooope!" once again. It was a steep rock-scramble the whole way, doable, but hard for sure. She wanted to follow the river instead. Her choice meant maybe 6 times as much off-trail bushwahcking, and a chance we'd hit a waterfall we could descend, but she was adament... So, we went her way.

It was steep and rough, but easier than other off-trail hiking we've done (such as in Gila National Forest). We bounced down the creek staying on the left side where there was less snow until we hit grass lake. Then we worked our way around the bog getting a few minor scratches and low and behold a TRAIL!

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Our map didn't have a trail here, but it turns out there's a well maintained trail down to grass lake. It even had a sign when we hit the intersection!

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Conclusion

All in all this was probably the single most difficult backpacking trip I've ever done. Rough trails, cold nights, soft snow, hard snow, mountaineering, off-trail hiking, we even dug a snow trench. It was exhausting and rewarding and we were very glad to make it out safely. We split a large pizza that night after, then ate a huge breakfast the next morning. We ate well while we were out and came back with a day of food, but I'm sure we still ran a calorie deficit.

In terms of gear there were some lessons learned. As noted above my waterproof boots were not waterproof enough for this. Wet boots are a horrible thing in cold weather. I also learned that carrying *only* a cookpot/bottle on a trip like this is a PITA, and I should definitely carry a bottle as well in the future... just so I still have water while I'm cooking. I cheated off Angie a bit on that one, along with her chapstick. Obviously I need something for my knees for this sort of trip, I'm leaning towards long pants cut off below the knee like a capri pant.

Oh, one other interesting point on gear. I tried to use the "blanket pack" style pack when I was first packing for this trip, http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2018/03/blanket-pack.html but just couldn't make it work with this gear. The waist part kept sliding down. Maybe someone more experienced with that setup could make it work for a trip like this, but I'm not there yet. So I broke out my old frame which is still banging around in our truck and used it.

Otherwise this gear actually worked really well. The alpenstock was great to have and had quite a variety of other uses. In particular it was very good for checking snow for stability before stepping on it and for breaking through ice to get water.

We're going to take it easy for a couple of days. My back needs a break and we're both a bit sleepy and out of it.

UPDATE:
In the initial version of this post I neglected to note the rather important "3/8" Closed cell foam sleepingpad (from gossamer gear)" I was carrying. I added this bit of gear I don't usually use to make sure I'd be warm enough sleeping on top of snow.
The alpaca works well and I can use it without a pad in most conditions, but I don't think it works well enough without a pad for this use case.

2018-04-24

Howto: Simple homemade shoes

This post describes how to make these shoes:

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This is the simplest fully functional rubber soled Moccasin I've figured out how to make. It's made from 3 pieces of leather, and one piece of conveyor belt. They are zero drop, no support, minimalist shoes that should have a very good wear life even compared to typical hiking boots.

This is a surprisingly easy project, but the "fudging" parts can be a bit frustrating. I have very high standards for shoes, if I can't walk 15 miles in them without getting sore spots, it doesn't fit right. I definitely don't promise you'll get a shoe that fits just right on your first try. The pair above is my 3'rd pair of shoes ever, and my first of this *exact* design. These are new, but they do seem to fit just right.

This is a moccasin of my own design, but I'm using some tricks from this design: http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2018/03/homemade-shoes-new-design.html

The last time I made this general design was before I knew those tricks. In particular I didn't know about bison leather, the heal re-enforcement panel, and I did the sole sewing/gluing process in a different and far less effective order. That pair of shoes was usable (I was able to do a 10 mile hike in them without major issues), but they definitely weren't perfect for long-distance walking, and the wear life was less than ideal as the sole kept coming off. These new tricks should rectify all of these known issues.

To do this you'll need:
  • Leather, veg-tan bison leather is preferrable as it's both supple and tough
  • 2 ply rough-top conveyor belt (which you can find online pretty easilly).
  • Some fake sinew (Natural materials could work, but can't take the tension you'll want to apply, and will rot out too fast... you're using a rubber sole anyway, a little biodegradable nylon isn't a big deal)
  • 2 egg-eye size 000 leather glover's needles
  • A good tough cutting board
  • A pair of small plyers
  • A source of fire (lighter works great)
  • A pattern material (brown paper bag works great)
  • Contact cement, I use original formulation barge
  • A leather cutting implement, leather shears are easiest, scissors work okay as does a knife
  • An implement for cutting conveyor belt. Heavy shears are easiest, but a knife works okay (be careful though, it takes a difficult sawing motion).
  • An awl, nail or some sort of punch to make holes for laces
Step 1: Trace the bottom of one foot on on your pattern material. I had fabric, but this is NOT ideal, I highly recommend paper instead. When tracing hold your marker *vertical* and go around your foot. This should round up in just the right way to make things work out.

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After tracing, sketch a little extra space around the toes.

A lot of making a pair of shoes you really like is about doing just the right fudging. Here's where it starts. If you just want to wear these barefoot, you're probably good. If you want to wear them with thick socks (like i do) you might have to fudge just a bit more and add a touch to the whole foot.

Another tip, my preference is to not have the shoe curve under my arch much at all, I'd rather it run basically straight from my heal to my toe. So I'll actually tweak that when sketching (as you can see above, also notice the pencil marks as I try and work out the size I want). If you want a more fitted shoe through this area, you may need to tilt the marker a little.

Step 2: Mark where your vamp and heal pieces go

When you are done and think you have it right, place your foot back on the pattern. Find the base of your little toe, where there's a "dent" in your foot, and put a mark next to this on your pattern. This is where your heal material will end on the outside of your foot.

Then, find the bone just behind that and go just barely back from it, put a second mark. This is where the vamp material will end on the outside of your foot. Notice that the heal and vamp will overlap by maybe 1.5-2 inches. That's exactly what you want. If you're confused look down at the sewing pictures later in this post.

Now on the inside of the foot, find the bone sticking outsideways behind your big toe, make a mark right about there. Again, this is where the heal material will end.

Lastly, go about the same distance back towars the heal as you ended up with on the outside of the foot and make your last mark, again where the vamp will end.

This is the key to the rest of your shoe pattern, spend your time here. This is my 3'rd pair of shoes and it still took me about 4 hours to make my pattern, and probably 2 of that was just fiddling with this component.


Step 2: Make the pattern for the vamp

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To do this scrunch your pattern material over your foot. Transfer the marks for where the vamp ends (the 2 marks towards the heal, one on each side) to the new vamp pattern. Then trace around the front of your foot.

Take the material off your foot.


Now... again, here comes the fudging. You actually need a bit more material than this for seem allowance as well as to "scrunch" up and make it fit right. I wish I had a better way to describe this, but here's about what I did. With the piece off my foot I followed the curve backwards another 1-1.5" past where the vamp "should" end (the transferred mark). Then from there drew an artful curve up to the instep.

Sorry, I hope eventually to have this step down to a bit more of a science, but so it goes.

Step 3: heal pattern
Wrap some pattern material around your heal and up to the front of your foot, still standing on the sole pattern you made first. Go to the forward marks on your sole pattern, then Add ~3" to both left and right. This doesn't need to be at all exact, just make sure it's enough... Similarly go up your ankle a couple inches past where you want it to come out (hint: you probably want it below the ankle joint that sticks out or it'll be uncomfortable).

This one really isn't precise at all, just make sure you get enough material.

Step 4: heal reinforcement pattern
Make a half-oval about 2.5" high by ~6" wide. Picture it on your heal and make sure it doesn't come out any higher than your shoe to be.

Step 5: Cut out all your patterns. Transfer them to the leather. Then flip all your patterns over and transfer them to the leather again (to make the shoe for your other foot). Make sure to use good stiff pieces of leather for the heal and heal re-inforcement. Damaged leather is fine for the sole component.

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Note that this picture is missing the heal re-inforcement and vamp pieces. Pictured is the sole and heal pieces. I used different parts of the leather for some of that, so it didn't go well in one picture.

Step 5: Cut out your pieces. Make sure to cut the lines *off*, this will ensure your pieces are actually the same size as your pattern, not larger.

Step 6: Trace the sole pattern on to your conveyor belt, flip it and trace it again. Cut this out similarly to how you did the leather.

Step 7: Glue the leather sole to the rubber sole
Take your contact cement, spread it thin as you can on the fuzzy side of one leather sole, then on the "canvas" side of the conveyor. Wait for it to dry until tacky, then carefully apply the leather to the conveyor. Note that it will stick as soon as it contacts and you can't pull it back off and still get a really solid glue job. Try and just apply it smoothly in one go.

Step 8: Glue the heal reinforcement to the heal

Take the heal and fold it in half, mark where the center is. Do the same with the heal re-enforcement piece. Then, carefully place the heal re-infocement piece (smooth side out) on the heal (smooth side out) about 1/4" from the bottom edge using the marks you made to center the reinforcement on the heal. Trace the heal re-inforcement piece on to heal piece and remove it again.

Go to a well ventelated space. Coat the fuzzy side of the heal re-inforcement piece with glue as thinly as you can manage. Then do the same with the space you traced on to the heal. Wait for the glue to dry until it's just tacky... Then apply the re-inforcement piece to the heal, place it in one go and don't move it. Push it on as hard as you can against a stable surface.

Do this for both heals. This should now be your 6 pieces. 3 for each shoe. Heal reinforcement glued on to the heals, and soles glued together.

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Step 6: Sew on the heal reinforcement
Take a length of your fake sinew. If you fiddle with the end a bit you'll see it's flat and made of a bunch of stuck together threads. This makes it possible to split that flat thing in half. Take your length and carefully tear it in half so you have two pieces that are half the original width.

Stick one of these through your needle, double it, and tie a knot. I like to use a figure 8 with 1/4" or more of tail. Then, burn the tail down with your lighter until it's just a little ball next to the knot.

Take this thread and do a simple running stitch around the reinforcement panel, sewing it to the heal. You can use the cutting board to push the needle through and pliers to pull it out, or if you have strong fingers a swatch of leather works well for both and is a bit faster.

Repeat for both, heals you should now have something like this:

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Step 7: Sew on the heal
Now that you have your pieces assembled, it's time to start actually making the shoe. Thread a needle again in the same way as you did to sew the reinforcement panels on.

Add a mark to the very back of the heal of both of your soles. On the top. Line up the heal piece on the heal of your sole, using this mark and the mark we put on the heal piece earlier. Then start stitching from the top.
You should read "sewing" below before you continue, but just to finish the description of your first stitch: When you reach the other side I like to run it back through the thread, just behind the knot.

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SEWINGGo through *just* below the heal re-enforcement. Make sure as you do this that it comes through in a "valley' in the conveyor belt. Push it through using the cutting board. This may take a couple of tries, you can tilt the sole a bit as you stick it through to get it to hit the right spot. Watch your fingers! To finish pulling it through you can use the pliers.

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Now go back to the top. When you go back through to the top, try to avoid going over a "mountain top" or "ridgeline". This ensures that the fake sinew isn't exposed directly to wear and is protected by the tread. This is a trick I learned from Sunny Baba. To get a good stitch spacing you may really need to go over a ridgeline. If that's the case you can instead go *under* the ridgeline.

To do this you can stick your needle sideways in to the "ridgeline" you want to go under

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Then stand it up, this will sort of push the ridgeline out of the way, and let you go through the sole under the ridgeline (or where it will be once it bounces back).

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Then pull it TIGHT. Don't just pull like normal stitching, really yank. The fake sinew will hold up and as you pull it'll sink in to the tread. If you get it right, the stitches should nearly disappear in to the sole so that they are quite hard to find.

Keep going around the sole, until you hit the *rear* mark (where the vamp ends. Then start from the heal again and go around the other side. At this point you have something like this:

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Step 8: Trim the heal piece

Cut the heal piece where it aligns with the *front* mark on the sole. Here you can see I've sewn to the first mark, and I'm about to cut at the second.

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The part between the two marks will be sewed on later, when the vamp is sewn on directly over it. Just cut the heal piece around 90 degrees at that second mark for now. You'll cut it at an angle later to make space, but you can wait until the whole shoe together first which'll help you get the angle right.

Step 9: Sew on the vamp
Start on the inside of the shoe (the long, less curved side). Place the vamp over the heal piece aligning it with the rear mark (now covered by the heal piece)... And start sewing from there.

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Remember how you added extra to the vamp? If you just sew straight the tip of the big toe of the vamp will end up way around the end of the shoe. Instead, what you want to do is "scrunch" the leather as you sew. This will help create extra space so your feet will actually fit in the shoe when you are done. To scrunch you bunch up the leather a little bit as you put the needle through, like this:

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You can adjust how much you scrunch so that you keep scrunching up to the big toe, and the big toe comes out in the right spot. I use that as a marker 'cause it's easy to see on both the sole and the vamp patterns (it's the pointiest part of the front).

After this you probably still need to keep scrunching a little. Scrunch until it looks like you'll come out just past the rear mark on the other side of the shoe. If it's a little on the long side, no worries, we can always trim a bit.

Keep sewing all of the way around. Eventually you'll hit the heal section, sew right over it.

You basically have a shoe at this point

Step 10

Finish off your shoe. Flip the leather down, and see how it fits. Remember how we just cut the front of the heal section at 90 degrees or so? Using your preferred implement carve that back as needed so you can wrap this around your foot with some space in the front. Use your punch to make holes where you want the laces to come out.

If you don't have another material in mind, you can cut laces from your bison leather. Just carefully cut long strips, preferrably down the length of the animal hide along the back (this is the longest straightest line as well, conveniently).

If you missed on some stitches so your leather sticks off the sole a little, you can carve it back a little so it lines up with the conveyor. A knife works best for this. Here's the finished shoe:

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WEARING
One more note. When you first put these shoes on your toes will feel a little crushed. Don't worry, the leather will stretch. You can stretch them yourself with a broomstick or similar if they are too uncomfortable to wear. Once you can wear them, just wear them for a day or so and they should stretch to fit. You may want to start barefoot even if your goal is to wear socks with them.

Review: Softstar Runamoc

I just purchased my 4'th pair of these.

The Softstar Runamoc is designed as a minimal running shoe... and I mean minimal. The sole is 100% flat and completely unshaped. The shoe is made of one layer of leather sewn to a leather sole which is subsequently glued to a vibram sole.

You can have Softstar custom make whatever you like, but I get them with a full-grain leather upper, and Softstar's "trail sole". The trail sole is the thickest of the soles they offer minimizing bruising of your feet by rocks, and maximizing wear life... it's still *very* flexible, easy forming around rocks and the like. I like the full-grain upper because I think it's a little tougher, and it resists water a *little*, so I can walk across a damp field in the morning and not instantly have wet feet.

The good
  • Wear life is approximately equivelent to a normal shoe
  • Easy to repair
  • Truly flat zero-support shoe
  • No padding to collapse and give you knee trouble
  • 100% leather upper is non-porous to grass seed
  • Lightweight

The Bad
  • Slots where the back meets the front allow mud in to the shoe
  • Waterproof? Hah, it's barely a layer of leather, and has a slit in the side
  • You better be ready to bruise your feet on rocks
For me, they are perfect. Having moved to minimal shoes with no support some years ago these are my every-day shoes, my backpacking shoes, and my running shoes. In cold weather I switch to something more like a boot, and if it's hot enough I sometimes wear my huaraches to try and save wear on my runamocs, but 95% of the time I wear these shoes. I wanted to make shoes for years, and these are pretty close to what I would've made (and in fact, did at one point).

I wore a pair of these on my 72 miles in 72 hours hike on the "ring of fire" in Virginia. It was extremely rocky, and my feet definitely hurt from bruising, but they worked great being light-weight and grippy, and I didn't get any injuries.

The toe usually blows through first, which is great. As I explained in my article on shoe repair http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/03/shoe-repair-on-and-off-trail.html this is a very easy repair, and will get a fair bit more life out of the shoe. By the time you get around to replacing the shoe the sole will be paper-thin anyway and the heal possibly torn through as well... but you'll still be walking in them fine. This is perfect for those of us who don't replace gear until it's really shot.

If you usually wear a normal shoe do NOT buy these and start backpacking in them! If anything you'd want to buy these as your normal shoes and keep wearing supportive shoes for backpacking. If you walk around barefoot a lot, and want a shoe to walk on trails covered in chert, or otherwise have been looking for a thin layer of leather and rubber to wrap your foot in when hiking, these are the shoes for you.

UPDATE:
They no longer make these shoes. I bought one pair of the so-called replacements, which have rubber bicycle inner tube over the toe, and I blew them out in less than half the lifetime of the old ones. The sewing is poor, the leather is too thin, in general they are simply no good.
Sadly, if you want a shoe like this now, you probably have to make it, see my later articles on making shoes.