Adventures in hiking…

Humor

Never Trust a Marmot

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A marmot sunning above Thousand Island Lake on the JMT.

 

The hike today had been a long one.  The John Muir Trail was all that we had expected and more.  Imagine Ansel Adams pictures in living color.

Rounding Emerald Lake, I proceeded down toward Thousand Island Lake to look for a suitable camp.  To the left, a solid granite landscape rose up but appeared to level out after a few hundred feet.  It looked promising so I climbed it with my pack.  Reaching the top, it was mostly rocky with a few areas where one could pitch a tent. It was almost a caldera like depression, but the car-sized boulders made it obvious that this area was formed by ancient glaciers.

Dropping my pack, I retreated down the face of a granite hill to see how my wife and brother were doing. The final push toward Thousand Island Lake had been a hard one and my brother was experiencing a bit of acute mountain sickness (AMS).  We had to find a place to make camp soon.

I took out our JMT maps and discovered the area up the hill was off-limits.  It wasn’t worth getting caught by the ranger, so I went back to retrieve my pack.  Starting up the granite escarpment, I noticed something moving in the area where I had left my pack.  Marmots!  Those sneaky pests found my pack and were checking it out.

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Yellow-bellied marmot, Yosemite NP.

 

I yelled “Hey, get outta here!” and one of them perked up like a meerkat.  Still far off, I looked for rocks to throw, but they were too big.  Continuing to climb, it was difficult to scale the rock and yell.   Kinda like chewing bubble gum and walking.   Anyhow, I did find some rocks and started slinging them at the vermin but my shots all fell short.   I think one of them snickered something to the other one and they didn’t budge.

It seemed like it took forever to reach my pack and I was worried now that they ripped it open trying to get to my food.  Most of it was in a bear canister, but I did keep some snacks in the outer pockets for easy access.  As I got to within 20 feet, the two burglars scattered and disappeared down a hole.  Man, they’re like Orcs living underground.

Checking my pack out, everything was intact and I was able to meet my wife and brother back on the trail.  We ended up camping on the north shore of the lake with Banner Peak as our backdrop.

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Our view for the evening. No marmots here, but plenty of mosquitoes.

 

The yellow-bellied marmot, a ground squirrel – a fat one mind you, is an omnivore that eats anything including stuff in your backpack if left unattended.  They hibernate and are generally fattest in the fall.  They can live up to 15 years and are nicknamed “whistle pigs” because of the sound they make when predators are near.  To me, they look like groundhogs or beavers without the tail.  Don’t let their cuteness fool you.  They are sneaky and will steal your lunch.

Lesson learned: Never trust a marmot.

We use the Nikon 3300 series for most of our pics.  An easy to use camera a step up from the entry-level model. Nikon D3300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR with AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II Zoom Lens (Black)


How to Win the War on Mosquitoes When Hiking

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Camping near a stream is great. Notice the head-net and long sleeves?

Hike in the backcountry long enough and you will understand the saying “I’m being eaten alive”.  Eaten by mosquitoes that is.  Some of the most beautiful vistas in the U.S. are also the most infested by those pests.  Actually, you may find mosquitoes anywhere there is an abundance of water and mild-hot temperatures.  From sea level to over 10,000 ft. they will find you.  While the risk of West Nile and chikungunya viruses is there, those illnesses will not kill you.  Chiki-what?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chikungunya  To my knowledge, yellow fever and malaria aren’t that common in America.

I remember the time we met a family near Devil’s Postpile, on the John Muir Trail.  They had passed through Lyle Canyon and bore the bites of many, many mosquitoes.  It was a bit scary to see their skin covered in itchy, red bumps.  They all had shorts, short sleeve shirts and no headnets. Ok, I could end this blog on bugs right here.   One could probably eliminate 75% of bug bites by wearing a headnet, long sleeves and long pants.

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Thousand Island Lake on the JMT. Beautiful, yet heavily infested with mosquitoes in the spring, summer.

Do some research on why mosquitoes in particular are attracted to humans and you will see that it has to do with our movement, carbon dioxide that we exhale, body odor and body chemistry.  According to one researcher  “One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes,” reports Jerry Butler, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Florida.  That might explain why some are eaten alive and others barely get bitten.  When hiking, it’s hard to avoid the attractants mentioned above.

However, any good mosquito abatement plan has multiple layers.   This will even work for other bugs like gnats and flies.  Let’s start with your clothing.  When on an extended trip in the backcountry, less is better.  The less weight you carry, the better off you will be.  Make your clothes count.  Bring convertible pants that zip off at the knees and long sleeve shirts that can be rolled up and fastened.  Layer your top with a t-shirt that wicks sweat.  I’ve been bitten by mosquitos through a t-shirt, so layering may help.

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So many mosquitoes that we had to eat in our tents. 😦

Prior to your trip, consider treating your clothing with a bug repellant like Permethrin.  It works amazingly well and may last for 5 or 6 washings.  It dries within a few hours and is not known to irritate the skin.  It is highly toxic to cats, so be aware and apply outside or in a well ventilated area.  In my opinion, Permethrin is more effective than spray on repellents and less of an irritant. It is effective on most other bugs including ticks and flies.   This is a good brand that I use: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 24-Ounce

Do spray on repellents work?  I believe they do, but will only last for so long.  If you sweat, it tends to wash away the repellant.  It also can get into your eyes and on your food.  We carry it, but use it sparingly.  DEET is still a common chemical and very effective, but in higher concentrations it can melt plastic like sunglasses and synthetic clothing.   Scary, huh?  Here is a lotion that works very well, but be careful around the eyes: 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion, 2-Ounce

When camping, mosquitoes are the worst, especially if you are near water.  Set up your tent quickly and zip the screen closed.   Wind is your friend when it comes to these insects.   It’s harder for them to fly and find their prey.  Set up your tent where there is a breeze if possible.   Many a camper has pitched their tent near a beautiful lake or stream and are forced to eat dinner inside their tent because of the swarms.  At night, minimize the use of bright lights or use the red lens if your lamp is equipped with one.

This might seem a bit extreme, but when nature calls and you are in an infested area, it may be a good idea to put some bug repellant on your backside.  You are an easy target during this time and it might prevent you from toppling over because you were swatting them.

The $5 I spent on our head nets was probably the best money spent.  You can even run your hydration tube underneath the net.   The nets are not fashionable, but it’s only a matter of time before someone invents some that are.  When not in buggy areas, I usually roll mine up and over my trail hat.  I can pull it down when they start to bite.  This inexpensive one has served us well: Coleman Insect Head Net

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I never said rolling the head net over the hat was stylish. Nevada Falls, Yosemite.

Some last thoughts.  According to the same researcher mentioned above, female mosquitoes do the biting.  They need your blood to fertilize their eggs.  Supposedly there are new inventions coming to aid in the battle including pills and wearable patches.  I’ll try anything once – as long as it’s safe.   So friends, don’t let those Culicidae  keep you from venturing into the backcountry – hike on!  Any ideas for repelling mosquitoes?  Please mention them in your comments.


Backcountry Hiking: How not to Cross Streams and Other Bodies of Water

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If you hike in the backcountry long enough you will eventually come across a brook, stream, creek, river or ginormous mud puddle.  You will be faced with a decision.  Do I cross it, go around or turn back?

I once came upon a large mud puddle filled with the smelliest black mud ever on the Appalachian Trail and noticed half of someone’s hiking pole.  Wow, that was a run-on sentence.  I wondered, where the other half was and if the person fell into the bog. Actually did meet the owner of the broken pole at a lean-to later.  I did make it across the bog and learned how to do the splits that day.  Now, I can sing tenor.

Most of you will cross the creek, especially if there is a bridge.  I’m sure there are some out there that even have bridge phobias.   Kind of like driving on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and realizing midway that 23 mile long bridges with little or no guard rails scare the crap out of you.

What if there isn’t a bridge when you come upon that creek that is swollen to twice its’ size due to the thunderstorm that just occurred?  No fear, the purpose of my blog is to help you.  Actually, blogging just gives me something to occupy my time during my government furlough and keeps me from writing angry letters to my representatives.

Let’s assume there are no bridges, logs or rocks to step on to cross this creek.  You have many options, most require some prior preparation.  Still, you always have options in life.  Unless you are a congressional representative up for re-election that is.

Your first choice for crossing is this:

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The manly way to cross

Of course this method requires rope or a homemade hemp vine found only where they grow marijuana in the national forests of California.

The next method still involves rope, but it must be fastened to something on both sides of the creek.  Once, there was a rope strung across the Little Wilson Stream in the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness, but it was too high to reach.  Very funny.

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The monkey bar method

Hiking with a friend certainly makes it easier to cross water, especially when you have to ford it.

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The buddy system. Dude on top has four eyes. No, really.

The buddy system, while loads of fun when doing chicken fights in the neighborhood pool can be especially treacherous with 40 lb. packs.  Always remember to loosen your straps and unbuckle those waist fasteners.

Sometimes, the body of water requires something more than rope and a friend.    There are places in the middle of nowhere that require a boat ride to get to your resupply.  Why do they always put it on the other shore?  And why can’t you blow the horn more than once to get picked up?

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Don’t be a sissy.

I mean, really.  Who gets off the trail to resupply at some resort?   It’s only 40 miles to the next town.

So, there you have it.  The most common ways to cross water.  Why is it in Maine that a brook is bigger than a creek and a stream is wider than a river?  Everywhere else it’s not that way.  Well, maybe in other parts of New England.  But, they were here first, so I guess they can call it what they want.  Ayuh, that’s wicked cool.

P.S. – I must be passive aggressive because the WordPress grammar checker always underlines my writing and accuses me of “passive voice”.


Packing a Bear Canister, Unpacking a Bear Canister

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Yes honey, it will all fit.

As we prepare for our section hike of the JMT,  I am enjoying watching my wife pack, unpack the bear canister.  Her frustration mounting, I assure her that it will all fit or we will hang the non-essentials from a tree.  Hopefully, by the time we hit Yosemite where bears come to feast, we will have mostly empty bear cans.   Whoever created the saying it’s like packing 10 pounds of “stuff” in a 5 pound bag must have invented the bear canister.

The logistics of a section hike in the backcountry are significant.  Permits, transportation, food, clothing, checklists, on and on….  Watching her pack, it’s obvious that organized people can get more in their canisters than the rest of us.  If you’ve ever crammed a bear canister into an ultralight backpack, you realize that you may be wearing the same clothing all week because it’s either food or clothing.

Keep in mind the pack-it-in, pack-it-out rule.  While I agree that we should be good stewards and not leave our trash in the wilderness, it literally stinks to carry your garbage around for a week.  I would advise that you rinse out those foil tuna packs after you empty them or your apples will smell like Chicken-of-the-Sea by day three.

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This is why you need a bear can in Yosemite.

Should you pack your bear can with each day’s meals?  Like day 5 on the bottom, day 4 above that and so on.  I guess if you are OCD then yes.  Otherwise, it’s fun finding your food, kind of like the treat in the bottom of a Crackerjack box.

When I got our bear cans, by the way I picked two different types, a Garcia and a Bearvault, I got some reflective tape and made smiley face designs on them.  That way, if we need to find a bear can in the dark after Yogi rolls it away,  it will be smiling back at us.  Along with my phone number, I added a little graffiti like “eat me” and “sorry Yogi” on the reflective tape with a Sharpie.  If I have to use those darn things, I will make the best of it.

The old standby canister used by the Park Service: Backpackers’ Cache – Bear Proof Container

BearVault BV500 Bear Proof Container Bear Vault  – This one is my favorite, roomy and you can see your stuff.

Always stow your bear canisters between 50-100 ft. away from your tent and wedge them between rocks or trees.  Never place them around a cliff or near water unless you plan on fasting for a few days.  Enjoy packing them, practice or watch others pack a bear can for cheap entertainment.  It’s better than watching Duck Dynasty.