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SolarMio. Power on the Move


Our recent trip to the United States to do the John Muir Trail was the perfect opportunity for me to try out my latest gizmo, a SolarMio 3 lightweight solar panel. We planned to do the walk over 24 days and I wanted to take along my Apple iPhone. I was hoping the SolarMio would be able to recharge it along the way. I admit there was no reason to carry an actual phone along the crest of the Sierras as there is cold snap in hells chance of getting a connection. But I do use my iPhone for a variety of other purposes. Firstly, I’m addicted to the iPhone camera. Sure, I was carrying a Canon 5D Mark II for all of the usual high-quality stuff, but I have to say that I really love the immediacy and simplicity of the iPhone camera. I’m also fascinated with the various camera apps that allow me to quickly change how my images look and feel. Secondly, I wanted to listen to my music collection. I have thousands of songs on my iPhone and I figured that since we were confined to our sleeping bags by 7pm I would end up listening to most of them (my wife, Karen, was reading her Kindle and didn’t want to talk to me). Thirdly, I use my iPhone to write a daily journal and wanted to work on a few other text projects.

I bought the SolarMio 3 from the guys at Pinnacle Outdoors in Melbourne. The SolarMio is a foldable unit with three flexible solar panels. It has an output of 4.5V (300mA) and a battery bank with an output of 5V/6V (500mA). The battery is rechargeable Lithium Polymer and the whole lot weighs in at a reasonable 125g (a couple of Mars bars). I attached the panel directly to the back of my rucksack using elastic ties, which worked extremely well. Interestingly, we were walking the John Muir Trail from north to south and the back of my rucksack was often facing north, which in California means away from the sun. Despite this the SolarMio battery would usually fully charge over the day (especially if I placed the panels to face the sun in the last half of the day when we were in camp). A single full charge of the battery would see it deliver a reasonable 35 to 40% charge to my iPhone. This proved to be plenty of power to keep me shooting images, listening to music and jotting down my thoughts. Overall the SolarMio proved its worth, but we were hiking in sunny California. I wouldn’t want to bet the house that the SolarMio would deliver similar results when walking in less sunny regions such as Patagonia or Scotland.

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New Marysville Trails Brochure

Parks Victoria (in conjunction with the Department of Sustainability and Environment) have just released the new Marysville Trails brochure. Open Spaces was commissioned to write the text. Following the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 pretty much all of the walking trail infrastructure in and around Marysville was wiped out. Parks Victoria and DSE have done an enormous amount of work since the fires and all of the walking trails are now open. The brochure describes 7 walks in the immediate Marysville area (Marysville Forest Trails), 4 walks along Lady Talbot Drive (Lady Talbot Trails) and 2 walks in Cambarville (Cambarville Trails). The brochure has clear maps and is colourfully illustrated. The free Marysville Trails brochure is available from Parks Victoria (ph 13 1963), and from the Visitor Information Centres in Healesville and Marysville.

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The John Muir Trail

Karen and I just got back from walking the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, USA. The John Muir Trail is one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the world and is regarded as the most scenic in the United States. The trail begins in Yosemite National Park and continues 211 miles (340km) through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon National Park. The trail ends on the summit of Mt Whitney (14,496ft or 4418m), the highest peak in continental United States. Of course this means you still have to descend off the top of Mt Whitney to the trail-head at Whitney Portal, which adds up to about 355km in total (not including any side trips). We spent 24 continuous days on the trail, which is a little more than the average walker takes to complete it. Most hikers we met were doing the walk in about 21 days but some were planning on ticking it in as little as 15 days. We had a rest day at Vermillion Valley Resort on day 10 so we averaged about 15.5km per day, which we found comfortable. Most days we were on the trail at 7.30am and were finished walking by around 1 to 2pm. This meant we avoided the worst heat of the day and had plenty of time to explore the area surrounding our campsite.

There are six passes over 11,000ft (3,400m), the highest of which is Forester Pass at 13,153ft (4009m). Most walkers walk north to south as this will allow you to gain altitude slowly and prepare you physically for the most difficult section of the walk which occurs at the far southern end of the trail. Karen and I climbed a total of 46,000ft (14,000m) and descended a total of 38,000ft (12,000m). All walkers on the John Muir Trail require a permit. Obtaining a permit is not straightforward and trail-heads at Yosemite, Tuolomne Meadows and Whitney Portal are subject to a lottery system. You’ll also need to carry a bear cannister. All of your food and toiletries must be carried inside a cannister to prevent bears from having a free picnic.

The John Muir Trail was everything we had hoped. Fabulous mountain views, wonderful campsites and loads of furry animal life along the way. Even the weather stayed perfect, day after day. Over the next month or so I’ll be uploading hi-res images of the walk to our SmugMug site. I’ll let you know when they are up. I’ll also create a few more posts about the John Muir Trail and the adventures we had along the way.