Adventures in hiking…

Posts tagged “hiking

Hiking Late in Life – Piece of Cake

DSC_0639

We started hiking around the time I turned 50.  As a Baby Boomer, I’ve heard the term “late-bloomer” used when someone does something later than normal in life. So now you know why I named my blog  thelatebloomerhiker 

Living in crazy California certainly made it easier to get out and enjoy the numerous trails available.  After a few times out, I was hooked.  The freedom and fresh air were awesome. Within a year, I did a four-day trek into beautiful Yosemite.  This trip was with Marines who were half my age, and the hardest physical challenge in recent memory.  While in the Sierras I discovered how much I loved camping in the backcountry.  A couple of years later, I convinced my bride of thirty-one years to go with me for a 70-mile journey along the John Muir Trail.  It was an experience that we will never forget.

DSC_0662

For awhile, I was impressed with my ability to venture out and hike above 10,000 ft. with a 40lb pack on my back.  Then, I started running across people who were at least 20 yrs older than me.  My ego was level-set after a few encounters with these senior citizens.  Physical disabilities aside, I discovered that hiking is one of those things that doesn’t have an age limit.  From toddlers in backpacks to an 80-year-old Japanese man on Mt. Baldy,  I’ve seen some amazing people.   To date, the most impressive hiker was a blind senior citizen on Mount Cuyamaca.     Basically, if you can walk and have a fair sense of balance, then you can hike.

DSC_0739

So, for the rest of you Late Bloomers, shake off the nay-sayers and hit the trail.  You will be glad that you did.


Water Crossings – It’s About the Risk

DSC_0628

A frozen creek crossing near Upper Cathedral Lake, Yosemite.

Have you ever crossed a rushing stream or creek?  I’ve read many a tale from hikers crossing rain-swollen streams up to their chests in the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine.  Obviously, they survived to tell about it but was it worth the risk?  This could be a very short blog and I could say – use common sense.  If you hike in the backcountry long enough, water crossings are inevitable.  Most of the time, it will be safe to cross to the trail on the other side.  Sometimes, the choice could be the difference between life or death.

I’ve crossed streams, creeks, and rivers and have never been swept away.  Crossed frozen creeks and have never fallen through.  But, what would you do if you got swept under, fell off the log or broke through the ice?  Here are some ideas.

Assess/Prepare

– Assess water hazards.  Most well-established trails cross water at a location that is fairly safe.  However, rainstorms and snowmelt can turn any crossing into a treacherous ordeal.  Never cross:

1.  In front of or immediately after a waterfall.  Only a Darwin Award contender would do this.

2. Where there is debris, logs, branches that you could get entangled in.  The water pressure can force you under the debris.

3.  Rapid water above your thighs or waist.  Even if it is below your knees, fast-moving water can trip you up.  Assess the risk and look for a safer location.

4. Where there is a sharp bend in the creek or river.  The water speed varies greatly here and it may be hard to climb out.

5.  Where the bank is steep.  You may not be able to climb out.

DSC_0359

A creek crossing in Glacier National Park.

– Night crossings are not recommended unless you are familiar with the crossing and the water is very shallow.  Do you know if there is a waterfall or some other water hazard downstream?

– Remove your socks and boots, strap them to your pack.  I tie the socks in a knot.  I carry a carabiner, tie my shoes in a knot and clip them in.

– If you have trekking poles, extend them to where the handles are above your waist to account for holes in the creek bed.

– Loosen the various harnesses on your pack.  Unbuckle the sternum and waist straps.  This allows for a way to shed the pack if it pulls you under.  Often, the weight of the pack will pull you head first going downstream which is bad.

– Ziploc  or waterproof bags should have been on your supply list.  Put all electronics in those and stow in your backpack lid or high up in your pack.  Depending on the depth of the water, might be a good idea to move your sleeping bag and strap it to the top.  Same with your food supplies.

– If you have two or more people, face upstream and link arms.  As an alternative, you can face upstream and form a conga line with the strongest person in the front.  Hold on to the person’s waist in front of you.  Shuffle feet sideways as you cross.

– If you perform the crossing alone or one at a time, use your hiking poles and face upstream.  Always have three points in contact with the bottom.  Shuffle or take small side-steps.  Some crossings have rope or guy lines.  If you feel comfortable with those, grab on and shuffle across.

– If hiking in a group, there may be someone who has a fear of being pulled under.  Offer to make an extra trip and carry their pack.  The extra weight of a pack while crossing a log or in the water unnerves some people.  You can also tie a rope to their waist in case they trip or fall in.

– Cold water.  Find a shallow spot.  Icy cold water  can cause you to lose feeling in your feet and legs and possibly cause debilitating muscle cramps.   Cross as quickly as possible.  Use a safety line if you are with someone.

DSC_0774

Pretty, but not a good place to cross.

 

Equipment

– River shoes or water shoes with a thick rubber sole.  Some people use waterproof sandals or clogs.  Most waterproof hiking boots still allow water in over the top.  If your hiking shoes get wet, you are just inviting blisters.

– Trekking or hiking poles provide you with additional stability.  Put your hands through the straps in case you drop it.

– If you have convertible hiking pants, unzip the legs and stow them in your pack.  If you are wearing cotton, you might want to cross in your tighty-whities or swimming trunks.  It’s not great to hike in wet clothes.

– Carabiners, rope or paracord to tie loose items or as a safety line.

These work great and are lightweight: Black Diamond Neutrino Carabiner – gray, one size    and strong paracord – Military 550 Paracord from Our School Spirit – Made in the USA (Black)

– Waterproof gear bags, bear canisters for food and ziploc baggies.

DSC_0815

Don’t be a Darwin Award Nominee. Nevada Falls, Yosemite.

 

What to do if you fall in:

– In rushing water: If you followed the previous instructions about unbuckling the backpack harnesses before crossing, and it begins to drag you under,  roll out of your pack and point your feet downstream to protect your head from rocks and debris.  Try to navigate to the creek or river bank and grab on to overhead branches or anything along the bank.

– Once you crawl out of the water, assess your situation.  If it is daylight, look for your pack downstream.  You may see it washed up on some rocks or caught up in a tree root.  Be careful when pulling it out., it would suck to fall back in.   If a friend has a carabiner and rope, someone can attach it and pull it out.

– Falling through the ice:  If your pack pulls you under, roll out of it.  Frog kick and try to propel yourself onto the ice.  If you are with someone and still have your hiking poles, extend one so they can pull you out.   A rope and a branch can come in handy here too.  Once out on the ice, spread your body out to increase the surface area and crawl toward the bank.  Don’t stand up until you are at the bank.  If you have a change of clothes, it would be a good idea to get some dry ones.  Hypothermia is the real enemy now.

 

One of the nicer log crossings on the JMT. Most were a single, narrow log with a torrent of water below.

 

Do you have any tips for water crossing based on your experience or something you’ve read?  Please share them with us in the comments section.

A great guide for backpackers:  The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Revised and Updated: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills

I like this guide in paperback form, but is also available in Kindle format.

_DSC0112

Lastly, a true story and lesson learned from one of my crossings:  Hiking on a southern California beach with my wife, we crossed a 10 foot inlet where the Pacific fed a lagoon.  Up to our shins, it was easy.  On the return leg 4 hours later, the inlet was 60 ft. wide and ultimately up to our shoulders as the tide rushed in to the lagoon.  We made it, but it was scary.  The salt water also caused a chemical reaction with my magnesium fire stick and almost caught my pack on fire.  Whew!

Good, affordable trekking poles:  Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue

Disclaimer:  The information in this blog is for informational use only.   There is no guarantee that following the recommendations will protect you from harm.  Use common sense when hiking.  Most seasoned hikers are not competing for the Darwin Award.


The Pedro Fages to Pacific Crest Trail

Nestled between Cuyamaca State Park and the southern section of Anza Borrego State Park is a nice trek along the Pedro Fages Trail.   As we pulled off the road and read the trail marker, I tried to visualize the path that the Native Americans and later the Europeans took as they made their way through Oriflamme Canyon.   The trail starts on the Sunset Highway (S1) near the junction of Hwy 79 at Cuyamaca Lake.  The California Riding and Hiking Trail which actually starts near Otay Lake in southern San Diego County passes through Cuyamaca and through this area toward Chillihua Valley.

DSC_0288

What makes this hike enjoyable are the wide open views as you start out in Mason Valley.   One of the things that amazes me about southern California is the diversity of the land.  Sure, it is dry and rocky in most areas, but you will find contrast all around.  Today, the deep blue sky with scattered clouds was set apart from the rocky terrain of the Laguna Mountains.

The single track trail with wide open vistas made you want to run, but I’m a hiker not a runner.  The breeze from the Anza-Borrego Desert made the dry grasses wave in unison.  It was tempting to lie down in the meadow and just watch the cloud formations, but we had a goal today.  We would hit the junction with the PCT and see how far we would go.

After 1.5 miles, you come to a Jeep trail.  Out here they call them truck roads, but they’re mostly service roads for the USFS.  Turn right, go through a gate and you will see small signs for the PCT.  Turn right and you’ll follow the PCT to Mexico.  A little farther up on the left is a battered sign for my favorite trail north.  My wife and I talked about setting up some trail magic near here for the PCT class of 2015.  Hmm, we will have to see.  I’ve always had thoughts about becoming a trail angel.  People who bring drinks, food to PCT thru-hikers are trail angels and the stuff they provide is trail magic.  It’s an awesome way to bless people when they least expect it.

DSC_0306

A “classic” Pacific Crest Trail sign.

The trail has been fairly level to this point but as you follow it east-northeast it begins to drop into the canyon.  It appears to descend around 800-1,000 ft.  This is a very quiet hike through here, the only sounds are aircraft passing by and the fluttering birds.   It’s definitely one of the trails less travelled.   We were not exactly thrilled about hiking down and then having to hike back up at the end, but sometimes it is just what you have to do.

At the bottom of the canyon is another Jeep trail and the PCT hikers will take a right and walk along the road before bearing left 1/4 mile up.  We took our lunch break at the bottom on a couple of boulders and took our shoes and socks off to cool down.  It’s always a good idea to remove the boots/shoes on a warm hike.  Helps to cut down on the blisters.  A rare patch of cool, green grass made it even more inviting.  A cool creek or mountain stream would have been perfect, but we are in the desert of So-Cal.

The hike up was a tough climb, and I must have left my trail legs in the Sierras because my calves were complaining.  This would be a hot hike in late spring, summer and not recommended.  Back at the main fire road, we noticed a Forest Service or Cal-Fire concrete water tank.  On top was a steel lid to the inside.   Unfortunately, it was empty but it sure would make a nice sleeping bunker on a cold night.

 

DSC_0333

A valve to the forest service water tank. Of course I had to try it.

After the leg workout, the valley and meadow was a nice way to finish the out and back hike.  About 200 yards out, a lone coyote trotted by.  I tried howling at him, but my throat was parched and all that came out was a failed attempt of a silly human trying to make an animal sound.   He did glance over at us and barely slowed down.

DSC_0345

Looking for the Roadrunner….

Today’s out and back to the PCT was a solid 6 miles.  It was good to be back on the trail with my hiking partner.  This trail didn’t have the best vistas, but any day that you can hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail is a good day.   Thanks for stopping by my blog and remember to take the 10 Essentials when you trek into the backcountry.

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter
DSC_0310

I always hug a PCT marker whenever I get the chance.

 

 

 


Wildfire in Yosemite – Part I

ss-140909-yosemite-10.nbcnews-ux-1280-900

Wildfire in Yosemite – Photo Credit – Jeffrey Trust via Reuters

We were finishing up a section hike of the John Muir Trail in early September.  The trip from Mammoth into Yosemite was filled with the most amazing views.  In Devil’s Postpile Campground, it was nice to gather around the fire to talk about our upcoming adventure.  During our hike, we observed that most of the terrain around the JMT was pristine.  There was an area near Devil’s Postpile that had recently burned.  It was apparently caused by lightning.  The weather was perfect as we skirted thunderstorms for the past couple of days.  Late August or Early September is a good time to do backcountry in the Sierras.  Much later and the chance of snow really increases.   The mosquitoes are not as bad and stream crossings are usually a bit easier.   We met some southbound hikers before Donohue Pass that mentioned how they were pummeled by a storm, hail and all.   Noticed the first bit of snow at Donohue and made the transition from Ansel Adams Wilderness to Yosemite NP. The trek through Lyle Canyon was at a fast pace as the storm seemed to be on our heels.    For most of the week, we went without a campfire since the USFS had a ban in place.

We passed through Tuolumne Meadows and enjoyed some non-dehydrated food.  Next was a glorious day spent near Lower Cathedral Lake where we made camp near the shore.  What a magical place.  The thunder continued to rumble around us through late afternoon,  but it never rained.  The next day we pressed on for 11-12 miles.   We were fortunate enough to nab a site with decent views of Half Dome which appeared a couple of miles away.  In Yosemite, below 9,000 ft. campfires were still allowed.   We gathered up loose firewood and proceeded to make a nice fire.  The site we picked already had a fire pit and we reinforced the edge with some additional rocks.

DSC_0153

Along the JMT

Before dusk, we went down to the creek to filter some water.  The water flow here was poor and the mosquitoes were swarming.  I pumped my water filter faster than ever before while swatting those pesky critters.  All week, we evaded them and wore long sleeves and our head-nets.  Tonight, I was bitten more while filtering than the previous six nights combined.  Oh well, we needed the water for dinner and some extra to put out the campfire.

After dinner, we noticed the skies had clouded up a bit.  We were spared from the rain one more night.   I thought about a previous camping trip where the rain serenaded me to sleep.  Next to a rushing stream, a light rain is the perfect sleep machine.  Sometime during the night, we did hear thunder as well as see the lightning as it lit up our tents.  It sounded like it was 10-15 miles away.  Our site was in a good spot and not in a flash flood prone area.

DSC_0754

Approaching Half Dome from the east

By dawn, the far away storm had subsided.  We noticed the campers above us had packed up early.  They were going to Half Dome.  We ate a light breakfast, packed up and were on our way to finish our trip.  Today would be approximately 7 miles as we would pass the dome, Little Yosemite Valley, Nevada and Vernal Falls.

As we got back on the trail, we passed a small group heading back from a 3 day stay at one of the High Sierra Camps.  They were chatting how “glamping” was the way to go.  Glamping or glamour-camping is luxury camping.  You stay in a yurt, or cabin and receive room service or have your meals prepared for you.  Hmm, sounds nice after all.  At this point, we started talking about real food again.  While it had only been a few days since the cheeseburger in Tuolumne Meadows, the idea of fast-food still sounded good.

Eventually, we emerged from the canopy with Half Dome to our west and Vogelsang Peak to our east.  Suddenly, there was a thrashing sound to our left and a group of 4-5 deer bolted out of the forest in front of us.  What the heck?  Then we saw why they were running.  A white billowing cloud covered half of the horizon to the east.  Was it a cumulus cloud – or smoke?   The three of us stopped to get a better look.  Within a few minutes, it started snowing.  Except this was not regular snow, it was ash.  Now it hit us – forest fire!

ss-140909-yosemite (2).nbcnews-ux-1280-800

Wildfire near Half Dome, Yosemite NP. Photo Credit – Michael Frye/AP

Next: Trapped!  Wildfire in Yosemite – Part II


Fuller Ridge Trail – San Jacinto Peak

Fuller Ridge 2

 

If you are up for a bit of four-wheelin on a fire road followed by some sweet views, then this is the trail for you.  Don’t forget to pick up your hiking and camping permits at the Visitor’s Center in Idyllwild.

In the past two years, we have hiked almost every trail in the San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area.   This area has some of the most beautiful alpine hikes ever.

The Fuller Ridge Trail is located approximately 8 miles up Black Mountain Fire Road (4S01)from SR243 north of Idlyllwild.   We did this one in early Nov during a mild and dry fall weekend.  It follows the western ridge up to San Jacinto and is a tough 14.2 mile out and back hike to the peak with approx. 4,000 ft. of elevation gain.  I’d give the full hike a good 7-8 hrs.  We didn’t have enough time for that and just hiked a few miles in.   If hiked in its’ entirety, it is a good practice hike for Mt. Whitney.

Fuller Ridge 5

Driving up this single lane fire road is a bit of a bone jarring experience, but believe it or not, a vehicle with good clearance can make it through.  It does require some maneuvering but the Jeep had no problem tackling this one straight on.   The road takes you up the north side of the San Jacinto range with views of Banning and Palm Springs along the way.  Ol’ Grayback  (Mt San Gorgonio) is a close neighbor.  Amazingly, we didn’t run across any vehicles coming down as it would have required some jockeying to make room for two.  You might want to hit the restroom before this drive because it will test the strongest of bladders.   There are a few pull offs along the way for pics.  Around 6,800-7,000 ft., the road comes to an end with the entrance to a campground and Fuller Ridge trailhead.  Only one other vehicle here this fall afternoon.  We began our ascent through a heavy cover of conifers.  It was cool and crisp with the wind whispering through the gentle giants.

 

Fuller Ridge 3

The trail meanders through the forest with occasional views into the desert below.  It is one of the most peaceful  and secluded trails that you can hike around San Jacinto.   Most people will not drive 30 minutes up a fire road to hike.  It’s also a nice back way in to San Jacinto Peak.  We would not be doing the 7 miles to the top,  but it is a fairly mild if not long journey there.

The only sounds were the woodpeckers seemingly fussing at each other and the occasional chatter of the chipmunks.  This appears to be a nice trail for runners as the slopes are generally mild and the trail is mostly single-track.  We noticed a fair amount of ups/downs the first few miles.  No water sources were available on this trip, so bring what you need.  If hiked in the spring, you may run across some PCT through hikers on their long trek north.

It is a mostly shaded, well maintained trail with occasional steep slopes on either side.  Almost all trails in San Jacinto are worth the trip.  This one is no exception.

Today’s tip:  Always let someone know where you will be hiking.  We usually send a text to a family member with the trail name, location and when we expect to return.


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

DSC_0153

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:

drawing1

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.

drawing2

The monkey bar method

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

drawing3

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?

drawing4 1

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”.


How I Convinced My Wife to do Backcountry Hiking

Big Pine Creek Clouds2

The title should really have peaked your interest.  How does a husband convince their wife to do anything? As we say in the military – here’s the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):  It takes time.

Most things worthwhile take some effort.  Typical of our manly ways, we tend to go for the gusto – straight away.  Backcountry, or multi-day hikes take a bit of planning especially for someone who has never been.  Specifically on the backcountry hiking,  it’s easier when you live in an area that is conducive to camping and hiking.  Either that or you have enough time and money to vacation in beautiful wilderness areas.

Living in southern California, we are within a days’ drive of the High Sierras which has made it uber-easy to do this outdoor activity.  However, every state in the union has locations for hiking.  From the Appalachian to the Continental Divide to the Pacific Crest Trails, including the national and state forests – there are many areas where you can get off the beaten path. Imagine Denali in amazing Alaska, or Waimea State Park on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

For me, I was determined to do an outdoor activity with my wife that we could enjoy together.  We started by day hiking.  I bought a book on trails within San Diego County and we began going out on Saturdays.   We would pack a lunch and make a day of it.  The more secluded, the better.  Eventually, the hikes got longer with more elevation change.  While flat terrain is a good break, the challenge of a good cardio workout made it more than a walk in the woods.

IMG_1528

We would mix up mountain hiking with desert treks as the seasons allowed.  We developed a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for the creation.  As believers, we observed God’s handiwork in the land and His animals.   We also enjoyed each others’ company as we took breaks and drove to/from our hikes.   The time in the car is a great time to talk about your marriage – and life.  

You really don’t have to be equals as far as physical conditioning.  In our case, she kicks my butt on the trail.  However, consider the physical condition of your spouse.  Start out with easy, short hikes and make a date out of it.  It helps to start out with a trek that has awesome scenery.   End with a sunset and/or dinner at a new café. We’ve discovered some decent eateries while out on the road.  We also established a tradition of celebrating with a cup of hot tea after reaching each summit.   

There were times when I pushed us too hard or it was too hot, but we learned from our mistakes.  Once, we were almost swept into a lagoon in a rushing tidal inlet.  We often share that story with others and always laugh.  Another time, we got off track on a snow-covered mountain in the Sierras and bushwhacked for a couple of hours.  Every year, there are new stories to share.

DSC_0639

Day hiking presented an opportunity to do some camping.  We eventually combined car camping with some hikes.   If your spouse hasn’t camped before, car camping is a great intro.  It allows for conveniences like coolers, chairs and bathrooms.  If your kids are grown, go to campgrounds when school is in session.  Much less crowded…. 

During this time, we also visited epic locations like Yosemite.    Some places just leave you yearning for more.  The Sierras are this way.  I imagine the Rockies and so many other areas are similar.  Eventually, we did a 3 day backcountry trip to the highest peak in our area – San Gorgonio.  It was difficult, but rewarding. It really proved that she could hike in the backcountry with a full pack and sleep in the wilderness.  We still laugh about being awakened at midnight by the spotlight of a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s helicopter looking for a lost hiker.  Wilderness hiking builds memories.

I won’t exaggerate, it took a few years to get my wife into the backcountry on an extended trip.  We worked up to it.  I made sure that her needs were taken care of and that she felt safe.  I gradually built up trust and gained some knowledge on our wilderness treks.  Over the years, We’ve been lost a few times, but a handy GPS and some map skills would get us back on track.

I really could have made this blog a lot shorter by stating that backcountry hiking with your spouse (or significant other) isn’t going to happen quickly.  Start out with day hikes, progress to car camping and do a short backcountry trip that has awesome scenery.  “Now you’re cooking with peanut oil”  Phil Robertson-Duck Dynasty, A&E.

DSC_0131


Big Pine Creek North Fork – Palisade Glacier – Day 1

DSC_0148

2nd Lake, Big Pine Creek – North Fork

Tucked away on a mountain road near the eastern Sierra town of Big Pine is the entrance to one of the most amazing getaways.  The Big Pine Creek collection of campgrounds, lakes and trails are magnificent.

This trip was a last-minute adventure.  My wife was back east helping out with a new grandchild and I knew that I didn’t want to sit around over the long Labor Day weekend.  The Sierras are only 4-5 hours away from San Diego, so I packed up my gear and headed toward the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine to get my backcountry permit.  I researched a few areas to hike and was prepared to “settle” for whatever was available.  Normally, this holiday weekend is one of the busiest up here.  You should especially avoid Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne unless your plans are very flexible.  One could write a blog on the best ways to get backcountry permits.  The trails in the various areas are under the jurisdiction of the USFS or National Parks and traffic is controlled through the use of permits.  About 40% of permits are reserved for walk-ins, the rest can be reserved through recreation.gov for a small fee.

DSC_0142

The visitor center was actually not that busy and I was able to easily obtain the permit for the Pine Creek North Fork trail.  Another 40 minutes and I was in Big Pine.  The sign on the road that takes you to the trail is fairly obscure and starts out as Crocker Rd.  The road passes through a neighborhood and gradually climbs several thousand feet.  The rocky, desert landscape starts to change as you approach the sub-alpine area where the campgrounds are.  The aspen and Jeffrey Pines are abundant in the lower elevations and I imagine that this is even more beautiful as the deciduous trees change in the fall.

The overnight parking lot for the hikers comes up on the right.  There is plenty of room, but I found out that the trailhead is almost a mile away.  Oh well, I needed to loosen up a bit.  I passed the pack-train corral and noticed signs for the various campgrounds and Glacier Lodge.  It was fairly busy in the camps as people were getting in their last bit of summer vacation.  The trailhead is well marked at the end of the road.  There is limited day use parking at the end and I recommend to drop off your gear if there are two or more hikers.

The trail wastes no time in elevation change as the steep, short switchbacks get the heart beating.  You cross the first footbridge and the creek is rapidly descending through cascades and waterfalls.  Normally, this time of year many of the creeks in the Sierras are dry.  Not here, the Palisade Glacier ensures a year-round flow.  The trail meanders through the forest but stays close to the creek.  The rushing water provides the assurance that you can follow it all the way up to its’ source.

DSC_0116

View from Black Lake trail

After the second footbridge, the trail gradually climbs the canyon and then flattens out for a bit.  The riparian environment changes to a desert landscape with some cactus hiding under the chaparral.  The trail diverges from the creek, but never far enough to lose sight or sound.  Occasionally, the sound of the cascading water is an indicator that you will be climbing again.  The louder the water, the steeper the incline.  I’m a simple guy, so I tend to associate simple things you know.

One of the things I love about hiking in the Sierras is the change in eco-systems as you ascend the trails.  You can start out in an arid desert and pass through riparian areas to sub-alpine forests with deciduous trees, followed by alpine forests and end up in snow-covered peaks above the tree line.  It’s so cool to see the flora change while you hike.  This trail appears to dead-end in a canyon and one knows there is only one way out – and that is up.  The path diverges from the creek and the long switchbacks quickly take you above 8,500 ft. Evidence of the pack trains litters the trail where their path emerges from the corral.  Fortunately, the trail is wide enough to step around the mule doodles.  The trail is well maintained with many man-made steps carved from the granite.  You round the corner near a significant cascade and the view is impressive.  Temple Crag comes into sight and the trail rises above the creek.  During the afternoon, the wildlife was missing but imagine that this is a place where deer would hang out.

Big-Pine-Creek05

Big Pine Creek – North Fork – First Fall

Due to my late start and occasional thunder, I started looking for a campsite.  100 ft. from water and trail, that makes it a bit harder.  Well, that and a flat spot for the tent that isn’t in a wash or drainage area.  I found a suitable spot under some fir trees and set up the tent quickly.  The two-person Eureka tent has been a good one.  Lightweight and easy to set up.  The bugs were almost non-existent.  Mosquitoes are bad here in early summer, but this was perfect.  Dinner was a Mountain Home chicken and noodle- too much for one person.  The housekeeping routine when you camp solo is a bit different.  Normally, you split chores like setting up the tent, getting water and cooking but tonight it was all mine.  Within 45 minutes, it started sprinkling and by 7 p.m. a steady rain ensued.  Fortunately, the lightning was distant and the trees seemed to reduce the impact of the rain.

Combined with the drive and a couple of hours of hiking, the rain was a natural sleep machine.  The pitter-patter on the tent was peaceful and the rushing creek was a great combination.  I was asleep by 8:30.

Next: This place has it all

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)


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 7 – The Last Day

DSC_0834

Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God’s wild fields, we find more than we seek.

John Muir – My First Summer in the Sierra

The last day was bittersweet.  Ready to finish our week on the trail, we broke camp after a light breakfast.  We filtered water at the creek last night and the flow was just a trickle, full of water bugs.  The mosquitoes were relentless at the creek and we were glad that we didn’t camp near there.  Generally, it’s not a great idea to pitch your tent near calm or stagnant water. 🙂

The John Muir trail guide was very helpful as it listed plenty of campsites – all were spot on.  Today, as we made our way toward the Half Dome spur we met a large group on their way back to their base camp.   Seems that the area we stayed in is often used by those who climb the dome.  This group must have left camp around 4 in the morning to climb the rock.  I’m sure Half Dome is a neat experience, it just wasn’t on our itinerary.  Remember, as they say on the A.T. –  “hike your own hike”.

DSC_0023

As we passed the spur trail to Half Dome, we started seeing a lot of people.  Alas, the splendor and solitude of the JMT started to fade.  Within the next 30-45 minutes, we would come across more people than we had seen all week.  It’s probably the main reason we don’t do the main attractions, too many people.

Continuing through Little Yosemite Valley, it seemed like a decent place to camp, but looked crowded.   We have enjoyed the ability to pick out our own campsite on the JMT.   The Merced River came up beside the trail and the smell of jasmine filled the air.  Well, I thought it was jasmine, but they were probably fragrant mountain dogwoods with beautiful white flowers.

_DSC0047

The Merced at this point was leveling out prior to the leap over Nevada Fall, and it was deceitfully calm.  Clear with a slight green tint, this water has traveled many miles from its’ snowy origin.  We passed the junction to Vernal Falls and the Mist Trail and emerged on solid granite.  Dropping our packs, we removed our shoes and dipped our feet in the cool waters.  Some adventurous souls were wading out into the river.  We were probably two hundred yards from the precipice, but it still unnerved me to see people in the water.  Almost every year, someone gets too close and is swept over the edge.  On the other side of the Merced River, a foreign tourist had climbed down and was within 6 feet of the edge.  This was surely a Darwin Award candidate so I took his picture.

We filtered some more water as the day hikers watched.  One gentleman asked me if it was safe to drink.  I explained that if it was filtered, yes.   After a while, my brother and I ventured over and took some pics.  The whirling cascade just puts you in awe of the power.  John Muir captured this with eloquence:

The Nevada is white from its first appearance as it leaps out into the freedom of the air. At the head it presents a twisted appearance, by an overfolding of the current from striking on the side of its channel just before the first free out-bounding leap is made. About two thirds of the way down, the hurrying throng of comet-shaped masses glance on an inclined part of the face of the precipice and are beaten into yet whiter foam, greatly expanded, and sent bounding outward, making an indescribably glorious show, especially when the afternoon sunshine is pouring into it.

DSC_0815

“The Nevada”

Ready to complete our journey, we got back on the trail and began the longest stretch to the valley floor below.  I’m not sure why it seemed long, maybe because we were mentally finished.  The stretch from Nevada to the valley was tough on our tired feet.

The scene at Vernal Fall bridge was chaotic.  People, like ants milled about seemingly without direction.  At least ants have a purpose.  We just wanted to get through the throngs of people so we trudged on.  I am sure that we looked haggard after a week on the trail, but it felt good to be near the end.

DSC_0025_2

Vernal Fall

The asphalt sidewalk on the Mist Trail was another reminder that we were back in civilization.  It felt awkward to walk on it with our poles clacking about.   “Move over people, make a hole, real hikers coming through!”  I wanted to say that, but my subconscious did not prevail.

At the end, the sign that lists the various trails was our last photo-op.  While the sign showed 211 miles for the JMT, we actually only did our 68 mile section.  It still felt good and I was proud of my wife and brother for completing it.

DSC_0029

The shuttle ride from Happy Isles to the Visitor Center was tough.  Throngs of people made their way on the shuttle and we were separated from my brother.  We eventually found each other and enjoyed a good sandwich from the deli.  The YARTS bus stop is across from the Visitor Center.  In the summer, it leaves once daily at 5 p.m.  from the valley and makes multiple stops on the way to Mammoth Lakes.  For $18, it was a wonderful ride, comfortable with amazing scenery.  Google YARTS and you will find the various schedules.

2012-05-16 new yarts waterfall

This was a good way to get back to our car in Mammoth.

DSC_0045

Emery Lake from the YARTS bus.

For the next few weeks, the memories of the trip would resurface and we would laugh about things that happened.  It was an amazing journey and one that created great memories.  I did push my brother and wife hard on this trip, but they persevered and made it through.  It doesn’t take an athlete to do backcountry hiking.  It takes a desire to explore and the ability to push yourself a bit beyond your limits.

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07

YouTube slide show of our trip:

Part I – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

Part II – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zHwNLPY6A


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 5 – Tuolumne to Lower Cathedral Lake

DSC_0528

Lower Lake Cathedral outlet is one of many that feed Tenaya Lake 1,300 ft. below.

“Going to the mountains is going home.”
― John Muir

On July 4th, we decided to take a pseudo-zero day and hike up to Lower Cathedral Lake where we would relax.  We passed by the Tuolumne Grill in the a.m. and got a wonderful bacon, egg and cheese biscuit.  A quick shuttle to the Cathedral trailhead and we began the relatively short 3.5 mile hike to Lower Cathedral Lake.  Short yes, easy no.  (I left out the part where I almost took out a tourist’ eye on the shuttle with my hiking pole.)  Lesson learned:  When getting on the shuttles/buses, wear your pack, don’t try to carry it.

This is probably the most popular trail with day hikers in the Tuolumne area.  As you near the lake you enter into a meadow and are in the shadow of Cathedral Peak.  There are several creeks feeding the lake.  Most day hikers stop on the eastern shore; we would continue on the north side of the lake and head west to the far end.   We were rewarded with a lakefront campsite and plenty of solitude.  Tip – get there early in the day for your choice of sites.

DSC_0463

After setting up our camp and eating lunch, we did chores.  My brother took one of his waterproof clothing bags and filtered some lake water.  Oila, a washing machine!   Dump the dirty water at least 100 ft. away from the lake and fill the bag with clean filtered water for rinsing.  It was labor intensive, but the clothes came out smelling clean.  We used  Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable Magic Soap and it was great.   I’ve used the peppermint soap in the past which can be used for bathing too.  A clothesline between two dead trees and we were set.  One biohazard Mary discovered was that the bees liked the aroma of the lavender soap on the clothes while they dried.   I had some insect bite/sting paste in my 1st aid kit that does wonders for those stings.  

DSC_0639

Enjoying the sunset on Lower Cathedral Lake.

At the far end of Lower Cathedral Lake, the water is warmer in the shallows of the shore.  No fish in this lake that we could see.  We ventured to the western edge where the lake’s outlet is and viewed Tenaya Lake 1,300 ft. below.   The flows from Cathedral are one of many that make their way to the glacier made Tenaya.   The Yosemite Indians actually called it Pywiack, meaning shining rock.  The white man renamed it Tenaya after the Indian chief who fled here from soldiers one spring.

DSC_0643

Sunset on Cathedral Peak

We would enjoy the remainder of our day at Lower Cathedral.  Our Independence Day celebration concluded with fireworks presented by God.  The sky to the west of the lake was most spectacular.  I highly recommend spending the night here.  Bring mosquito head nets and some bug repellant, as it can get a bit buggy.

DSC_0630

Now this is a 4th of July show.

DSC_0650

As the world turned during our peaceful night, the sun would greet us by silhouetting Cathedral. What a glorious place.

Tomorrow, we are determined to put in some mileage.  Tonight, we would sleep soundly in the quiet surroundings of another lake.

Links to a slide show of the hike:

Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

Part II http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zHwNLPY6A

John says it best:  ….Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 438.


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 3 – Thousand Island Lake to Donahue Pass

DSC_0234

One of many marmots.

First half slideshow of our hike:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

The continuing story of our northbound JMT section hike…..

By day 3, we all had our trail legs.  You know what I mean, the steadiness that you get after a few days of stepping on, around and over stuff.  Backpacks have a way of changing your center of gravity.  Bend over a bit too far to smell those lupines and you’ll see how blue they really are.  The night at Thousand Island Lake was amazing.  The sound of the distant snow-fed waterfall created a peaceful nights’ rest.

DSC_0247

Floating islands at Island Pass.

At Thousand Island, it was a bit difficult to find a private place to do your business.  Sorry for bringing it up, but it’s just one of those things that you have to do.  One could write an entire blog about it, but I’ll spare you the details.  Let’s just say that sometimes you have to venture out to find that secluded spot and hope that the nearest trail is out of view.  It is arguably one of the most challenging yet natural chores in the backcountry.  Mosquitoes present a significant challenge with this, so you may need to apply some repellant where the “sun don’t shine”.  The cathole shovel, tp and antiseptic wipes are essential gear.  However, in a pinch so are a stick, leaves and some handfuls of dirt.  Let’s leave it at that.

We admired the view from our campsite and did the usual tasks.  Filtering water, making breakfast, tearing down camp and repacking those packs.  The last task was usually the biggest pain.  Packing around those bear canisters is like emptying a sardine can and then stuffing them back in.  The climb out of Thousand Island Lake was steady and hot.  The views over our shoulders of Banner Peak were ever-changing and dramatic.  As we rounded a ledge, a fat marmot sat perched on a rock and it looked like a good place to stop.  This is their territory and the scat is enough to prove it.    Pausing occasionally to catch our breath, we would hunch over to shift the weight of the pack and lean on our poles.  It was a funny sight for sure.  Island Pass was like something out of a movie.  Little archipelagos of grass seemingly floated around us.  Birds were abundant here as were so many varieties of flowers.   This area made me regret that we had to cover 10 miles today.

DSC_0262

We descended into an area near Wough Lake and heard rumblings of thunderstorms.  The skies to the north were menacing and I kept an eye on the direction it was moving.  We discussed what our plan would be for inclement weather, especially if caught out in the open.  Things like avoiding meadows, tall trees and shallow caves if lightning is nearby.  Lightning is a strange and dangerous occurrence and you should have a plan whether you are alone or hiking in a group.  In a group, it’s a good idea to spread out so a stray bolt doesn’t take everyone out.   If possible, find a clump of medium-sized trees for shelter.  The tallest and shortest trees are not advisable.   The position for protection is simple.  Sit on your backpack or sleeping pad with your two feet touching the ground or pad.  Don’t lay or stand up if possible.  If in a tent, do the same and don’t touch your tent frame.  Enough of the morbidity, you can do some research on hiking and lightning.  It is “enlightening”.

DSC_0255

We would cross several streams over single logs perched 6-8 feet above rushing streams and creeks.  It requires a sense of balance with a pack and if you are unsteady should consider having a mate take your pack across for you.  Something about a skinny log, sights and sounds of roaring water can unnerve almost anyone.

We passed through a canyon and ran into a large group from Tennessee.  They proceeded to tell us how they were pummeled by hail and rain for 1 1/2 hours.  I must say, God protected our little group because we avoided bad weather all week.  Either way, be prepared.  We started the steady climb up Donahue Pass and a 80% cloud cover made it much more comfortable as we were totally exposed.  The trail is well-defined and there are plenty of boulders to take breaks on.  We ran across a couple of SoBo’s (southbounders) who provided upcoming trail conditions.  We did the same.  It’s very common to briefly stop and chat to discuss weather, trail conditions and experiences.  People who are out here most often share our appreciation for the outdoors and generally are friendly with good attitudes.   While I still scratch my head when we come across solo female hikers, they are safer out here than in their urban neighborhoods.

DSC_0278

We would also run across a PCT thru-hiker who was disappointed that he wasn’t going to be able to walk 30 miles today.  Man, I thought we were doing good at 10 miles per day.

DSC_0284

Reaching the Pass, we would tread across the last remnants of snow fields and cross into Yosemite territory.

DSC_0296

The trail becomes a bit hard to follow on the north side of Donahue as you cross more snow.  Some cairns indicated the general direction.

DSC_0307

We quickly descended into the beginnings of Lyell Canyon.  The landscape, ever-changing was devoid of all but the hardiest of vegetation.  The hiking poles made the descent easier as we snaked our way down.  Forty five minutes later, we reached a wide creek and realized that we would have to ford it.  Two hundred feet downstream was a waterfall and cascade, so no crossing there.  We put on our water shoes and stepped in the cold creek that would become the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne.  Here, underneath the snow of Donahue Pass, the water was a chili 40-45 degrees.

_DSC0112  I crossed without incident, my wife mentioned that her feet were getting numb within 30-45 seconds.  When fording water, it’s best to unbuckle your pack in case you fall since it can absorb water and drag you under.   It took a bit to warm up from the creek as I imagined what it would have been like if there had been a heavy snow year.

DSC_0319

We would cross countless tributaries to this creek as we ventured further in the valley.   Some streams were cutting across the trail on a ledge that was five feet wide.  Rock hopping was common and we definitely got better at it.  We would also cross the creek twice more before finding a campsite.   At the last crossing, we did it in our hiking shoes.  My shoes, while excellent on the trail, were not waterproof.

DSC_0354

We made camp around 100 ft. from the water in a beautiful stand of pines within earshot of the cascades.  The sun was setting quickly as we ended a tough day on the trail.  Dinner was spicy beef stew.  We slept like hibernating bears.  Tomorrow, July 3rd would be a race to Tuolumne Post Office to retrieve our supplies.


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 0 – Devils Postpile

DSC_0003

The big day was here.  Anyone who has ever hiked in the Sierras can tell you the allure of these mountains.  The vistas are like fuel for the soul.  This trip was planned about six months ago.  We decided to do a south-north section hike of the JMT starting in the Mammoth Lakes area and ending up in Yosemite Valley.  90% of hikers do the north-south route and finish at Mt. Whitney.  While that fourteener is on the list, this trip was meant to enjoy a seven-day trek up the legendary trail.

My friend obtained the permit through the recreation.gov website ahead of time.  He couldn’t make it, but listed me as an alternate group leader which made picking up the permit easier.  I will not go into detail, but if you don’t need to climb Whitney or Half Dome, obtaining the permit is very easy online.  Overall, the fee for four people online was $26, which included a processing fee.  At the Wilderness Centers or ranger stations, it is around $5 per person.  There is no guarantee of trail availability for walk-ins, so plan accordingly.

DSC_0018

Campsite at Devils Postpile.

Since my friend could not make it, I asked my trusty hiking partner – aka my wife to go.  She reluctantly said yes!  We also asked my older brother who said that it was on his bucket list.  Early morning, June 29th we left suburban San Diego heading toward Mammoth Lakes.  Today was a hot one, with forecasts putting the temps between 100-110 degrees in the Owens Valley area.  Mammoth was projected to be in the 90’s. Whew!

We picked up our permit at the Mammoth Visitor Center and spoiled ourselves with a burger at a local tourist trap before heading to Mammoth Lakes Inn to catch the Reds Meadow Shuttle.  The shuttle was $7 and would drop us at our choice of campgrounds.  We chose to stay at Devils PostPile Campground.  At $14, it was a good bargain and had nice sites located close to the San Joaquin River.   We pitched our tents and settled in for a leisurely night before our first hiking day.  The camp has bathrooms, potable water, picnic tables and fire rings.  This was luxury camping to us compared to the rest of the week.  You can tent or RV camp.

We would try out our first dehydrated dinner at the camp.  It was an Alpineaire Black Bart Chili.  Yummm.  We hung out by the river, my brother trying his hand at fly fishing.  Discussing tomorrow’s itinerary, we would rest well with the sound of the cascading San Joaquin River 100 ft. away.

DSC_0007

Sun setting on the small San Joaquin River.

Temps are forecast to be in the 80’s tomorrow.  Hopefully, as we climb out the temps will drop between 3-5 degrees for each 1,000 ft.  Oh well, at least there is plenty of water up here.

Next:  Section Hike of the JMT – Day 1


Planning for a Section Hike of the John Muir Trail

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07After much preparation, our section hike of the JMT commenced.  Our plan was to do a 60+ mile section from south-north.  We would start around Devils Postpile and finish in Yosemite Valley.  There are a lot of logistics that go into an extended backcountry trip.  From clothing, food, transportation – the options are numerous.

How much will it cost?  It will vary widely depending on your choices for transportation, gear and food.  Don’t go cheap on essential hiking gear.  You get what you pay for.  The $25 tent is not a good idea for a High Sierra backcountry trip.

DSC_0221

It started with choosing a time of year to do it.  In the Sierras, the previous winter has a lot of impact on trail conditions.  This year was a low snow year, so the streams were not very high.  Since there was less snow, that usually means less standing water so mosquitos should not be as bad.  Well, that’s debatable.  To some, any mosquitos are bad.  Ensure that you don’t have problems fording streams or walking across logs over rushing water.  Late June/early July worked for us.  I hear late August/early September is a good time.

Next choice was the distance to hike.  This is where you need to know what your limits are.  Can you hike 8-10 miles per day with a full pack at high altitude in 80 degree temps?  I can tell you as an avid day hiker, there is a lot of difference between hiking 10 miles with a daypack and with a 40 lb. pack.  It’s not pleasant to do a forced march just to make your mileage.

DSC_0142

Clothing was another choice.  What to wear?  Best advice I can give is to check blogs and user groups to see what others are doing.  Yahoo has a great JMT user group with relevant info.  Due to a forecast of high temps, we would take synthetic short and long sleeve shirts, convertible pants and rain/wind jackets.  Still, conditions in the Sierras vary widely, so an extra layer or two is a good idea.  Those light weight hiking shoes may not provide enough support on a multi-day hike with a full pack.  Test it out first.

Food was next.  Dehydrated meals are the easiest and they’ve come a long way.  Test some out ahead of time and read the reviews for each.  There is some amazing innovation in the area of crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon.  Ensure they you have plenty of snacks like energy bars, trail mix, beef sticks and fruits like apples.  My wife found healthy alternatives in the form of grass fed beef sticks and even some gluten free snacks.  It’s amazing how many calories you can burn in 6-8 hours of hiking, so do the math.  Bear canisters are mandatory in most areas on the JMT, so plan to rent or bring your own.

Transportation.  Since we were doing a section hike, we chose to leave our car in Mammoth Lakes, catch a shuttle to the trail and for the return leg, catch public transportation (YARTS) back to Mammoth.  It ended up working out great.  Have a backup plan in case you miss your ride.

2012-05-16 new yarts waterfall

Research and planning was everything on this trip which helped make it successful.  I learned so much reading others’ blogs and experiences.

NEXT:  John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 0

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


Packing a Bear Canister, Unpacking a Bear Canister

bearcan

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.

bear

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.


Hydration on the Trail

DSC03187Most of our hiking is in southern California with a desert climate that is arid and dry.  From the Colorado Desert in the Anza-Borrego region south to the San Bernardino Mountains,  we can go for months without significant precipitation.  Water is one thing you can’t scrimp on.  The mind plays tricks on you if deprived of this vital liquid, especially since the brain is made up of approximately 75% water.

It’s really important to understand the area that you hike in.  On longer day and section hikes, you should know where there are water sources or carry a boatload with you.  At over two pounds per liter, it adds up quickly and can make up the bulk of your pack weight.  Hydration really is a common sense thing-especially if you’ve ever run out of water.  On multi-day and section hikes, it’s a good idea to research trail conditions and water availability.  During low snowfall years, many streams are dry by early-mid summer.

DSC_0448

How your body loses water

On the trail, the most obvious ways are 1. perspiration (evaporation), 2. breathing-especially if you’re a mouth breather, and 3. urination.

Let’s talk about the  symptoms and effects of dehydration on the body first.  Dehydration simply put is “deficiency of fluid within an organism”  Ha, I like that one.  Deficiency is lack of and the organism is your body.  When your body lacks the fluid, it’s like running your car with no water in the radiator.  You can only go so far before the engine shuts down from overheating.  Your body can only go so far because your blood plasma needs water and your organs need the blood.

DSC_0080

Symptoms of Dehydration

Dehydration doesn’t occur instantly, there are stages and warning signs along the way.  The most obvious symptoms may be thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, headaches and nausea. Urine is a great indicator of your hydration state.  Dark or yellow pee is an obvious sign that you need more water.  However, in some cases people in a dehydrated state don’t even urinate because there isn’t enough fluid in the body.  As your body loses water through dehydration, it can reach a point where it starts taking fluid from the organs, which is a very bad thing.

Prevention/Treatment

I am the master of the obvious.  Prevent dehydration by taking in more fluids than you lose.  If you start out with a deficit, and you exert yourself on a tough hike, you never catch up and put your health at risk.  We always try to “tank up” and drink 16-32 oz. of water before a hike.  Doctors say it’s always good to start your day that way.  The two cups of coffee don’t count either.  On the trail, we ward off the thirst by frequently sipping from our water bladders.   Drinking a few sips every 5 minutes or so while going uphill barely keeps us ahead of the curve on a hot day.  Some people use water bottles like a 32 oz. Nalgene or Camelbak, but use whatever works best.  We prefer the 100 oz. Camelbak bladders and I carry a spare liter of water in a bottle.

If you recognize symptoms of dehydration in yourself or a fellow hiker, take a break and drink as much water as is comfortable.  Other health issues like heat stress or acute mountain sickness are made worse if you are in a dehydrated state.  Remember the car radiator analogy….   Your body regulates itself better when it has plenty of fluids to work with.  On a challenging hike, a liter of water lasts me 2-3 miles. Figure out your usage and plan accordingly.

I have used some of the following products for water filtration and highly recommend them:

Sawyer mini-filtration: http://amzn.to/1FDDL48

Katadyn Vario Water Filter: http://amzn.to/1cDgkRd  (the absolute best)

Platypus Gravityworks 2L: http://amzn.to/1JtIWee  (for several people, good for group camping)

Common Misconceptions

1. You don’t need as much water in the winter time.  Actually, you may need more as cool temps provide a false sense of hydration.  It’s typically drier in winter and you may lose more through perspiration and respiration.

2.  You can get fluids from other drinks like soda, tea. Some beverages actually act as diuretics and can cause increased fluid loss through urination.  Water is always best.  You can add flavor or add electrolytes if needed.  Alcohol and hiking? Niet.

3.  I can drink water from that stream. Sure you can.  Be prepared to get a classic case of diarrhea due to giardia and cryptosporidium, two bacteria that can probably only be eliminated with antibiotics.  You should always filter or treat water from a stream or lake.  The animal that pooped upstream just didn’t know any better.

IMG_1008

Hiking and good hydration practice go hand-in-hand.  Never hit the trail without enough water.  Bless you friends, enjoy your walkabout – where ever you are!

P.S. – I often use my Nikon 3300 series camera on the trail.  Durable and takes amazing pics.  http://amzn.to/1F0F38L