Adventures in hiking…

Archive for March, 2015

How to Lose Your Toenails When Hiking

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Oh, I can relate to this one.  My first year of hiking was almost my last.  My big toes hated me.  Even lost some of my second nails.  Either that or I developed some kind of fungus and they decided to fall off.  By year two, I was down to an occasional black/blue toenail.  Eventually, I learned how to hold on to my nails and it wasn’t because I was producing more keratin.

My problem was simple.  I was losing toenails because my boots were too small.  Of course, they fit when I purchased them, but little did I realize the dynamics of human physiology.  When hiking, you exert a lot of pressure on those feet, especially when going downhill.  For those that are not flat-footed, you arch helps to absorb some of the force – like a built-in shock absorber.  Afte a while, the feet swell and flatten out a bit.  Unfortunately, the toes are on the receiving end of the punishment.  The solution is simple!

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Time to cool off those feet!

Buy your hiking shoes/boots 1/2 size larger than your normal size.  This requires some adjustment.  I typically hike with a synthetic sock liner and a light wool blend hiking sock.  The synthetic sock wicks away moisture and the wool blend will provide some cushion and keep your heel from sliding around.  If your heel moves around, you will normally get blisters.  You can keep the 1/2 size larger shoe from moving by tightening the laces a bit.

Another thing that you can do to keep your toenails is to trim them.  Trim them like you normally do and you should be fine. Don’t pull your black/blue nail off, let it fall off naturally.  If you do let it progress naturally, you may find a fresh, new nail underneath. This process could take several months!  You should also use trekking poles to lessen the impact on your knees and feet.  I use these and they are awesome: Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue

For more tips on hiking or trekking poles, refer to an earlier blog: https://thelatebloomerhiker.com/2013/05/10/hiking-poles-are-not-for-wimps/

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Oh, you knew I had to have a pic of some real toenail damage. Not my feet mind you, but it brings back memories.


Food Choices When Hiking in the Backcountry

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I remember my last day on a section hike of the Appalachian Trail in the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness.  All I wanted was a cheeseburger.  Well, a huge cheeseburger and fries.  After eating mostly dehydrated food for 8 days and losing 14lbs, I was beginning to be obsessed with real food.  Imagine the through-hikers doing this for weeks on end.  When they do exit the trail for resupply, they often have binge eating episodes.

A backcountry trip requires quite a bit of planning and food is a major part of it.  There have been many innovations in the area of dehydrated food.  I’ll discuss some suggestions for other foods that may work for you on the trail and a few that may not.

Dehydrated meals

Mountain House makes quality meals.  My favorites are grilled chicken breast with mash potatoes, lasagna with beef and beef stroganoff.  Backpacker’s Pantry has some good selections too. Rounding out the top three is Alpine Aire Foods.

My favorite: Alpine Aire Foods Black Bart Chili with Beef and Beans (Serves 2)

A good variety pack:  Mountain House Best Sellers Kit

Another good one:  Backpacker’s Pantry Jamaican Jerk Rice with Chicken

When cooking dehydrated meals, you have to account for higher altitudes.  Let it soak longer when you are above 8,000 ft.  Undercooked freeze-dried food is just gross.

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Try cramming 7 lbs of food in a bear canister.

 

Dry Soups

– Ramen is the most portable.  You can put it in plastic baggies.  Add some pita bread or tortillas and you have a meal.  Good when you don’t have much of an appetite.

Some meats and fish

– Foil packed meat like chicken, fish like tuna, salmon do well.  Pepperoni, summer sausage do ok.  Beef or turkey jerky-oh yeah.

Fresh Fruit

– Apples, oranges last up to a week.

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Eggs and bacon, thank you.

 

Nuts or Trail Mix

A mixture of nuts with dried fruit and/or yogurt chips will last.  Chocolate chips can melt in hot temps.

Energy Bars

Energy chews, gels.  My go to bars are Clifhttp://amzn.to/1KKNmLs and for a quick boost these Honey Stinger gels: http://amzn.to/1FOxmId

Spreads

Packets of peanut or almond butter are nice for apples or crackers.

Coffee, tea

– Starbucks Via worked well.  Also have used instant coffee.  Powdered milk or creamer mixed with sugar in a baggie.

Seasonings

– I carry a portable spice container: http://amzn.to/1KKNEli that holds about 8 different spices.  Nice to be able to spice up your meals.

Breakfast

– Pancake mix with powdered or crystallized eggs is excellent.  A little maple syrup in a small bottle goes a long way

– Oatmeal

– A brand name Ova Easy Crystallized Eggs tastes close to real scrambled eggs. http://amzn.to/1KKNN8B  Much better than powdered eggs.

Oscar Mayer or Hormel Pre-cooked bacon worked great, just heat it up for a few minutes in a pan.

Things that don’t work well on the trail:

Soft fruit like bananas, pears, Chocolate, Bread that doesn’t have preservatives, canned food-you have to lug the empty cans around.

Planning Meals, Carrying your food

Before your trip, plan out your menu and carry an extra day or two of supplies.  Lay out your food and pack it as individual meals so you aren’t digging through your canister or food bag for each meal.

Depending on where you hike, bear canisters may be required, check with the Forest or Park Service Rangers ahead of time.  Canisters are bulky and add a few pounds but will keep the critters out of your food.  In non-bear areas, a waterproof food bag will work.  You will still need to hang it to keep the little vermin out.  Those shelters on the Appalachian Trail are hosts to plenty of well-fed mice.

Remember the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.  Pack-it-in, pack-it-out.  I carry some extra gallon baggies to store the used packaging.  The plastics and foil packaging is not biodegradable and doesn’t burn well in a camp fire.  Please pack it out.

Blacktailed Jackrabbit off the Palm Canyon Trail.

California jackrabbit in the backcountry.


Struck by Lightning on the Appalachian Trail

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Thinking back, I remember the tingling feeling of hair rising on the back of my neck, like when you are really scared.  Yes, that was it – then the brightest flash ever.

On a one-week solo section hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT), I hopped on near Fontana Dam in North Carolina.  It was mid-August and the weather forecast for the week was for scattered thunderstorms with highs in the 80’s.  Most of my experience has been hiking the PCT and in the mountains of southern California.  While we do get thunderstorms, they are infrequent and not as intense as the ones I remember while living back east.

My ride dropped me off on Hwy 28 near Fontana Village where I picked up some last minute supplies.  I walked to the trailhead and stopped to take in the view at the dam.  It brought back memories from my honeymoon 33 years ago.  That was a glorious week spent exploring the Smokies and hanging out on Fontana Lake.

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Today would be a short day and I would only knock out about 7 miles.  Hoping to make Mollies Ridge shelter, I extended my hiking poles, took a deep breath and started walking.  Fontana Lake was to my right and had plenty of water in it.  Man, I was jealous because California has been in an awful drought and our lakes and reservoirs were almost empty.

Making good time, I thought about going for Double Spring Gap.  It is a couple of miles west of Klingman’s Dome, the highest peak in NC/TN.  At 6,643 ft. it provides awesome views of the surrounding landscape.  It was no Mt. Whitney, but the trail wasn’t any easier.  The SUDS (senseless-ups-downs) were just as tough as the switchbacks in the Sierras.

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Shelter on the AT. Photo credit: sectionhiker.com

 

As I passed over a ridge, I took a snack break and noticed the cumulus clouds gathering to the west/northwest.  A cool breeze picked up and it felt like the swamp-coolers we have in the desert.  The pine trees started waving their spindly branches as the wind made a waterfall like sound.  I caught the first whiff of rain, a refreshing smell.   About 10 minutes later, I heard the first rumblings of thunder.  Passing a fellow hiker who was getting out his rain gear, I thought to do the same and stopped a few minutes later.   The hiker walked past me and I asked where he was stopping for the day.  He mentioned that he was trying to make the Mount Collins shelter about 7 miles away.

Decent waterproof hat:  Columbia Men’s Eminent Storm Bucket Hat

I dug out the rain cover for my pack and rain jacket.  Back west, I used the jacket more as a windbreaker and only remember using my pack cover one other time on the AT up in the Maine wilderness.   Back on the trail, the thunder became more frequent and I saw the first flashes of lightning.  Hmm, those clouds became fully developed thunderheads now, nice and dark with flat tops.  I started looking for a place where I could ride out the storm when a lightning strike hit too close for comfort.  A flash and almost immediate boom made me speed up my search for shelter.  Of course, this part of the trail had no shelter, just plenty of pine and oak trees.  The rain came next, almost immediately a downpour.  Well, this sucks.  I know, if you hike the AT long enough, this is fairly common. For this California acclimated dude, this was going to be interesting.

What followed happened quickly.  I remember feeling the hair rise on the back of my neck, a tingly feeling- like when you are really scared.  My training kicked in and I dropped my pack on the side of the trail and began to sit on it.  The flash came and occurred at the same time as the crack.

I woke up with the rain pelting me, the sound of it bouncing off my jacket.  My vision was blurred and I was looking at a tree trunk sideways.   Disoriented and dizzy,  my ears were ringing.  I laid there on the ground for a bit and got on my hands and knees and moved over to my pack.  I had one hiking pole still strapped to my hand.  My fingers were a bit numb, but no other damage. The storm continued as I sat on my pack to minimize contact with the ground.  I looked around and saw an oak tree that was smoking about 30-40 ft away.   The lightning had struck it about halfway up and split a large part of the trunk.   Hoping that lightning wouldn’t strike twice in the same place, I sat for another 10-15 minutes and made sure I was ok.

As the thunderstorm passed to the east, I put my pack on and got back on the trail, thanking the Lord that it wasn’t a direct hit.  My ears were still ringing when I strolled into the Double Spring Gap shelter.  I met about three other hikers there and shared my tale of woe.   They stared at me with wide eyes and said they were pelted with hail about an hour ago.  I rested well that night but remember waking once to the sound of distant thunder.

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Well folks, for the 10 or so people that follow my blog, you knew this was another one of my tall tales.  I have hiked around thunderstorms and know about precautions to take.  If there is a chance of lightning where you hike, consider the following:

– If you are with people, spread out.  One lightning strike can take out an entire group if they are close to each other.

– If you ever do feel the hair rising on your neck or arms, immediately drop to the ground into a crouching position.  Try not to touch the ground and drop those poles.

– If you have time, sit on your pack to minimize contact with the ground.

– Don’t seek shelter under a tall tree.  If you can, seek a medium sized grove of trees, head there.

– Don’t go into caves or sit on rocks.  They conduct electricity very well.

– If someone does get struck, they will quite possibly go into shock.  Check for pulse and treat for shock by keeping them warm and covered.  Seek immediate help.

Bottom line, there is no sure way to prevent lightning strikes.  A strike can occur 30 miles or so from a thunderstorm.  Tents provide little protection from lightning but may get you out of that pelting rain.  If you do go into your tent, sit on a pad or your pack to minimize contact with the ground.

This is an awesome rain jacket and has never leaked: Marmot Mens Precip Jacket

We actually do get nasty thunderstorms in the Sierras and hikers have died from lightning on Half-Dome in Yosemite. Thunderstorms in the Sierra Nevada are generally mild compared to the ones on the Appalachian Trail.  Enjoy the trail, you will be talking about that hail and stinging rain for years to come.  🙂

Inexpensive pack cover for occasional hiking: KLOUD City ® Black nylon backpack rain cover for hiking / camping / traveling (Size: L)

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Mule Doodles on the Trail – A Trek Through the Sierras

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Approaching Sunrise High Sierra Camp in Yosemite.

Hike long enough in the Sierras and you inevitably notice the FedEx and UPS carriers of the mountain trails.  There are around 16 commercial outfitters or packers in the Sierras.  Most often, you will see evidence of their passing littering the trail.  Initially, you complain about the smell and of the doodles, but then you realize that it’s just part of the experience hiking in one of the most amazing places ever.

The pack or mule trains in the  Sierra Nevada Mountains are the primary way of supplying the remote camps throughout the region.  Thru-hikers on the JMT definitely appreciate the deliveries of their supplies to the Muir Trail Ranch.  Without the mules, people would be exiting the trail for resupply or carrying much more weight.

These sure-footed creatures usually weigh in around 600-800 lbs and can carry around 20% of their body weight.  The trains are as short as four mules or big as ten.  They are fairly docile and move along at a steady pace of 3-5 mph.  As you may know, all mules are sterile, the result of a male donkey and a female horse.  The scientific name of the species is Equus asinus x Equus caballus (donkey x horse).

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Quite the load you have there fella.

 

Our first encounter with pack mules was on the John Muir Trail.  They were on their way to a High Sierra camp and were loaded down with supplies for the “glampers”.   The train drivers are usually cowboy types and almost always friendly.

Trail etiquette:  Always give the pack trains the right of way.  When you see them coming, find a safe area to stand or on the uphill side if you are on a narrow part of the trail. Generally, they are not skittish, but it’s best to be quiet.  If you take pics, ensure your flash is off!

 

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Get your water upstream here. On the JMT in Yosemite.

 

Lessons learned: When getting your water refilled, do it on the upstream side of the trail.  Once, I was taking a break next to a creek near the Palisades Glacier.  A pack train passed by and several of the mules did their business as they passed over the stream.  Ten minutes later a couple of hikers came by and one of them started drinking right out of the stream.  I was actually filtering some water upstream.  I mentioned that a pack train just came through and well, you know.  The hiker continued to drink water and mentioned that she has been drinking out of the streams for over 20 years and hasn’t gotten sick yet.   Well, if it wasn’t for her Swedish accent, I would have thought she was a direct descendant of John Muir.  Even John would have gotten his water upstream. 🙂

These are awesome light-weight trekking poles:

 

Each year around Memorial day, an event named Bishop Mule Days Celebration  http://www.muledays.org/   is held to commemorate the impact that the mules have had in the Sierras.  The town of Bishop, located on Highway 395 in the eastern Sierras puts on a spectacular event that showcases these hard working equines.  Looks like fun.

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A passing train on the JMT. My wife off to the side.

The pack trains of the Sierras.  Yet another part of an awesome experience.

“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”  John Muir – My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) chapter 2.

I use this type of camera on the trail and am very pleased with it: Nikon D3300 DX-format DSLR Kit w/ 18-55mm DX VR II & 55-200mm DX VR II Zoom Lenses and Case


San Bernardino Mountains – Cedar Springs Trail

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Where the pavement ends, the fun begins.

 

U.S.D.A. Identifier: Cedar Springs Trail-4E13

Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil, rocks.

Distance as hiked: 6 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,400ft., Top of trail- 6,800ft.

Temps:50-57 degrees

Difficulty: moderate

The Mountain Fire in the summer of 2013 devasted a large area of the southern San Bernardino Mountains.  Located near Mountain Center and Idyllwild, Ca. the fire eventually spread to over 25,000 acres and burned in steep, difficult terrain.  I don’t know of any deaths, but unfortunately homes were destroyed.   Some info and pics here:  http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=81677

The fire affected an approximate 10 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail and a half-dozen trails throughout the San Jacinto Forest area.  PCT hikers in 2014 and again in 2015 will have to detour onto Hwy 74 before getting back on the trail near Idyllwild.  It also destroyed one of our favorite trails – Spitler Peak.

We would find a trail just south of the burn perimeter named Cedar Springs Trail. It’s located off of Hwy 74, about two miles from the junction with Hwy 371 and four miles south of Lake Hemet.   There is a trail marker along the highway and a paved road takes you up and over a ridge several miles to the trailhead.  The trail is located on private land, named Camp Scherman – a 700 acre camp owned by the Girl Scouts of Orange County.   The pavement  ends about 100 yards past the trailhead and parking is very limited, you basically have to angle your vehicle on the inclined hill.

The path starts out on a fire road and makes its way into a wooded area through a gate.  There are several gates on this hike; not sure why but suspect there are horses or maybe some free range cattle.  We paralleled a dry creek bed and the trail becomes a rocky, rutted path that appears to be a dry creek.   The oak trees are the dominant tree and offer nice shade.  We came up to a picnic area consisting of two tables near a meadow.  To the right, the trees and shrubs are concentrated in a riparian area.  We noticed a ribbon of a stream about 25 yards off-trail.   Ahead was an ominous sign that made us giggle.

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An ominous sign

Up until this point, it was a leisurely walkabout along a fire road and a riparian path through the woods.  Now, we would hit some switchbacks and begin a gradual climb.  The views usually get better when you have switchbacks.  If nothing else, the perspective changes.  The hillside was covered with young yucca plants and skeletons of the old ones.  It’s an interesting plant and can live for many years.  I suspect the average life of this variety is less than ten years.  Some species live to be over a hundred.

We rounded a switchback and were confronted with a mixed breed Rottweiler off-leash who was barking angrily at us.  I got in front of my wife and held out my poles in case he charged.  Three women were about 50 ft. behind and his owner tried to get him to stop advancing and barking at us, but he wasn’t very obedient.  Eventually, she got him under control and we passed.  I love animals, but some breeds are a bit intimidating on the trail.   I reigned in my frustration over the incident and hiked on.

As we hit a summit and intersection with the PCT, we also saw some other signs which were disappointing.

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Sign at the junction of Cedar Springs Trail and the PCT. Aww man!

Oh well, we will just hang a right and go south on the PCT for a bit.

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We removed the graffiti sticker on the PCT sign.

The wind picked up as we trekked south and eventually we found an area sheltered from the wind looking down into the desert.

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View from the PCT into Anza-Borrego Desert.

As we enjoyed the solitude and had our lunch with some hot tea, I noticed someone passing about 30 ft. behind us moving fairly quickly.  I don’t believe he saw us because we were down behind some rocks.    After lunch, we hit the trail for our return trip.   Within a few minutes, we ran into the guy who passed us.  He looked a bit frazzled and stressed.   He had a distinct British accent and mentioned that he had been lost for several hours just south of here and was supposed to meet his wife at a restaurant nearby.  I assured him that he was on the PCT heading back in the right direction.  This gentleman was out alone, no map, no backpack, a GPS with a dead battery and a 20 oz. bottle of juice.   We made sure he was ok and followed behind him.  He was moving quickly and eventually disappeared.

Our descent was uneventful as I reflected back on another enjoyable day on the trail.  While the beautiful Sierras are the ultimate eye-candy, the short hikes on the PCT near our home are a good prescription for the office cubicle doldrums.

Lessons Learned:

– When hiking alone, pack the 10 hiking essentials and always let someone know where you are hiking.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Essentials

– When day hiking, I carry a little extra water and snacks in case we run into a lost hiker.

– If you get lost, take a break, calm down and try to get reoriented.

– If you are hopelessly lost, do not get off the path.  Stay put, eventually you will be found.

Gear we use:

Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS

SPOT-3O Spot Gen3 GPS Satellite Messenger

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A yucca looking down from the top of the stalk