The list of items one prefers to take trekking is endless. With so many variables involved (distance, terrain, climate), what you should have with you is arguably subjective. However, the bigger reason that most hikers are out there in the first place is to achieve value fulfillment. Put aside all of the physical gear you might take with you when you enter the wilderness, and for a few minutes spend some time asking yourself whether or not you truly take the following things with you each time you go. Or, if you truly ever have?
First, a clear mind. Many of us find nature in order to unwind or decompress from a busy week. While we certainly achieve that through the physical and emotional stimulation of a hike, we’re using most of the hike to clear the week’s adversities instead of using the majority of the hike to fully absorb the serenity around us. Take time to clear your mind before you start hiking, and imagine how much more powerful your senses will become!
Some may have difficulty understanding how one can accomplish this, but it can be simple. You have to recognize your values in order to honor them.
Defining one’s values can be difficult. For most we think of the immediate answers, “Family,” for example. “Family” by itself is not a value, it’s the place you find value. The root value is more likely love, loyalty, or safety, for example. Perhaps the easiest way to recognize your values is to ask yourself what drives you crazy. What you value is almost always going to be the opposite of what makes you anxious. For example, maybe you have a particular aversion to individuals who fail to use a turn signal when they drive. This might suggest that you value self-awareness; how your actions affect others. Honor that value. Find a way to be self-aware in a way that positively affects someone else. Honor your values and clear the adversity before you even step onto the trail. Not only does this free-up your senses, but it also keeps you focused and more alert, thus safer on your trek.
Second, the ability to dance in the moment. I’m not suggesting that you break into the “moon walk” on a hike (I may have just dated myself), but rather that you take in everything you’re seeing. Stop and appreciate the sights and sounds around you.
Most of us find this a natural part of taking a break along the trek, but how often do you randomly stop while in full stride just to look around? You might be amazed at what you see, hear, or smell. Fulfill the senses. Especially with an ecosystem that is constantly in some form of change or evolution, what you’re seeing today may not be the same a few years or even a few months from now.
While you’re at rest with what’s around you, it offers another opportunity to recognize how it ties to your values and how you can honor them. This becomes much easier to do if you’re already of clear mind. It validates your purpose for being outdoors to being with. Allow yourself time to dance in those moments.
Third, champion yourself. Before you walk off of the trail at the end of your hike, take a few minutes to recognize what you accomplished. Be proud of the miles you crossed, the hill you climbed, or the milestone you reached. Most importantly, be inspired by the time you spent respecting yourself and honoring your own values. Be happy with what you saw, smelled, or heard. Realize that you spent time that day with nothing more than what makes you who you are, your core values. Treat yourself like a champion and you’ll feel like one.
None of the three things I have offered are tangible items needed for a hike. More importantly, they are the intangible necessities. The psychology of our individual purpose and motivation. If you’re able to enter a hike with your mind already clear, endure that hike with your mind tuned-in to your values, and complete the hike by rewarding those values, I can promise you that you will have experienced an entirely new level of trekking, and being outdoors in general. You will have truly experienced your values. You will have achieved self-fulfillment.
Keep Hiking Forward.
With the temperatures dropping quickly (we had our first frost a few days ago!), if we still want to spend time hiking and camping, we will need to prepare a little differently. Winter tends to be colder, windier, and wetter. The days are much shorter, which means less hours on the trail. Footing can become more dangerous. However, do not let that list scare you away from camping and hiking when the seasons change, because there is one HUGE advantage to the cold dark days of winter. NO BUGS!!! (Insert happy dance) For the purposes of this blog, I won't be getting into trips where things like snowshoes, crampons, or sleds are needed. That falls into mountaineering and I lack advanced knowledge about that.
Mike has done a significant amount of cold weather camping and hiking. I have hiked in all sorts of conditions, but haven't backpacked in the dead of winter yet. So that leads me to my first tip: go with someone who knows. As with anything new, it always helps and makes things safer if you learn from someone with experience. But if the weather isn't too severe and you think you want to get a taste of what it's like in the winter, I still recommend not taking on this experience by yourself for the first time. Symptoms of hypothermia, altitude sickness, and dehydration can be hard to spot when you are the one suffering. For that reason, I recommend having a buddy or 2 along to help keep an eye on each other to prevent something minor from turning into a true emergency.
Plan, plan, plan
For your first winter camping trip, I would recommend going to an area that you are familiar with. But if you can't do that, get your maps ahead of time, look carefully at the routes, the elevation changes, & the location of shelters. Remember, you will have less daylight hours to work with, so plan your distances accordingly. Hiking through snow and/or ice will slow you down too, so you should plan on reducing your daily mileage by 50%. Know where the nearest help is located (Ranger's station or such). Know how far away you will be from your vehicle or help throughout the route. Basically, just know where you will be and where you are going as well as planning some bail out spots or routes just in case. Let someone at home know your plan and educate them on when they need to call for help for you. Let everyone in your group know the plan as well as contingency plans in case you become unable to lead the group for some reason.
Keep a close eye on the weather leading up to your trip
You can find backcountry weather reports at the National Weather Service site. If the area you are visiting has a website that they update (like the National Park system), check prior to your trip for alerts, trail closures, weather reports, etc. If you are traveling in an area prone to avalanches, check avalanche reports and avoid slopes of more than 20 degrees unless you have specialized avalanche training. Don't be fooled if the forecast calls for some warm days. This may just help snow and ice to melt and refreeze each day which can create difficult to see "black ice" and can make conditions tricky. Warm days can also lead to runoff and turn a babbling brook into a raging river, so keep in mind how the weather will affect water crossings. Understanding how the weather fluctuations affect the area you will be utilizing can help you plan better.
Dress for the conditions
In winter, it is more important than ever to follow a tried and true layering system. In addition to layering properly, in winter you will want to put away the trail runners and use boots. They will give you extra stability on slick footing, they will help prevent snow and moisture from getting into your shoes, and they provide more insulation than low cut shoes. If you will be in deep snow, you may want to also plan on using gaiters to help keep your feet dry and warm. Wool socks are a must, as they insulate even when wet. For wet conditions, I've heard good things about Goretex socks as well, but haven't tried them. I carry a pair of Neoprene socks that I can use if my feet are going to be wet for a while, and those can even be layered with a thin wool sock underneath. Always bring a warm hat, gloves or mittens, and sunglasses or goggles. Also, always bring a spare pair of gloves or mittens and a hat, because if you lose those items, your trip will take a turn for the worse quickly.
Evaluate your gear
You will need a sleeping pad that offers insulation from the cold ground, a sleeping bag rated for the conditions you will face, and a pack big enough to carry the extra layers and gear that winter camping demands. A tarp or footprint for your tent will help keep snow and water from seeping in and making you cold. If you have a sleeping bag that isn't going to be quite warm enough, a good liner can add another 15 degrees of warmth. There are many types of liners, and you can read about them and their various features here. If you find yourself without a liner in conditions that are too cold for your bag, anemergency blanket can be used as a liner in a pinch. A good sleeping pad arrangement for winter camping is to use two pads, a closed cell and aninflatable. The closed cell should be on the ground with the inflatable pad on top of it. This will provide enough insulation from the cold ground and having a closed cell pad is extra insurance should your inflatable pad spring a leak. Using a winter gear checklist can help prevent forgetting important items.
Eat to stay warm
Eating enough calories is one way to help your body stay warm, and your body burns more calories in the cold. Besides the extra calorie burn from staying warm, hiking through snow or challenging winter terrain adds to the number of calories you will be depleting. Plan to add at least 25% more calories to your diet in cold weather. For this reason, dehydrated meals are great. They are warm, have some water content, are usually pretty high in calories, and are comforting. Another tip is to bring along a small amount of olive or coconut oil. You can add a tablespoon to your meal or just eat it straight for an extra 120 calories. Remember you will need more fuel to heat water in cold weather, so make sure you bring plenty! Packets of hot chocolate, hot cider, or tea bags make a nice pick me up beverage when you need one before bed or in the cold, cold morning.
Learn first aid
Many symptoms of things like hypothermia, shock, dehydration, etc., are often subtle and may go unnoticed by an untrained eye. It's important to begin treating these things immediately and appropriately, as an injury or illness compounded by exposure to extreme weather can quickly become a life or death situation. Starting out your trip being properly hydrated, nourished, and dressed can go a long way to preventing conditions from developing. Ensure that you have adequate food and water, our bodies burn calories keeping warm, so it's important to make sure you keep "stoking the fire". Hydration helps keep your circulation flowing efficiently. Many people make the mistake of not drinking enough fluids in cold weather because they don't feel thirsty, but the dry wind can dehydrate you rapidly.
Other tips and hacks
You can put damp socks, mittens, and other small items inside your sleeping bag at night to help them dry. This won't work for large items, as they will add too much moisture to the inside of your bag and end up making you colder. Place your boots in a sack and put them at the bottom of your sleeping bag at night so they are dry and warm in the morning.
Put water next to you, away from the tent wall to keep it from freezing. If you are using bottles, place them upside down. Water freezes from the top down, so when you flip it over, you will have water to drink right away and ice won't clog up the spout or top of your bottle. Use lithium batteries when possible, they tolerate cold temperatures better than traditional batteries.Make sure your tent has enough ventilation for water vapor to escape. If not, the condensation build up will make your sleeping bag and everything else in the tent damp and cold. Do not put your whole head inside your sleeping bag. The moisture from your breath will cancel out the insulating properties of your sleeping bag.
Carry a sleeping bag warmer for emergencies. Carry some hand warmers just because they are nice to have and can help warm up frozen boots or cold hands & feet.
There is certainly a lot more that could be said about winter camping and hiking, and we will cover some more advanced camping skills in future posts. In our part of the country, winter is long and cold, so any fun you can have while waiting for spring to come is much needed. Hopefully these tips will encourage you to get outside this winter too. Being prepared and educated about how to handle the conditions will keep you safe and make your trips fun!
Keep Hiking Forward!
Both Melanie and I are planners by virtue of our backgrounds so when we started to list subjects we wanted to tackle for content I wanted to talk about some of the more boutique gear companies out there doing innovative designs with form, function, good QA/QC and guerrilla marketing. One of the older, yet still boutique gear companies out there is San Francisco based Triple Aught Design (aka TAD Gear). The name Triple Aught is a reference to the three zero moniker (000) engineers use to speak in thousandths of an inch, a value of high tolerance and quality control. The company maintains a robust, thoughtful website and two local retail outlets in San Francisco.
During our recent trip to Yosemite, we went to the "Dog Patch" section of San Francisco to one of the stores. We also visited Mrs Doubtfire's house but that is for another blog. The store is located in a converted warehouse that still boasts a steel roll up door and "changing rooms" made from wool blankets hung from a string. Don't get me wrong. The presentation is far from shabby. It was simple, clean and well laid out with a classroom in the rear for their CORE classes (more on that in a moment). The onsite customer service was excellent and I quickly learned they offer a first responder/military/veterans pro deal of 15% off retail.
So lets get to the "Gear" of TAD Gear. They break up their line into Apparel and Equipment, each with a diverse mix of products.
The equipment is broken out into Packs and Pouches, Knives, Lights and Tools. The firm's flagship pack is the FAST Pack EDC, a 1000 denier cordura day pack with a generous beavertail and robust belt system. Like most of the their line, both this pack and the smaller FAST Pack LiteSpeed are offered in their coyote brown and foliage green colors. You will find when you scan the website that both equipment and apparel share a muted palette of autumn colors and black/grey scale. This works from a practical sense (covers dirt/wear) and a tactical sense (big part of their customer base is military and police special operations). The pouch line offers internal and external modularity to the pack series and both packs have leveraged the military Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS) webbing (mistakenly referred to as MOLLE by some) to add proprietary pouches, as well as military issue equipment.
Now I am not a knife guy. That is a whole other world that I have only a glancing understanding of, but by name (Winkler) and appearance the high end and custom line of knives and occasional hatchet are top drawer. I have no experience with their lights and don't know anyone who does (My friends and I have bet our lives on Surefire on more than one occasion) however, like most of their designs they appear slick and lean heavily toward practical functionality.
The company's Tool line is without a doubt the most eclectic mix of cool guy stuff. From their super cool Titanium Short Spork that Melanie and I both coveted to the Skeleton Key, a oddly shaped multi tool w/ the TAD Gear skull festooned on the top. Each piece of hardware is made of quality materials, sleek lines and innovative design. The website provides detailed descriptions and photographs.
My direct experience with Triple Aught stems from the clothing line. As stated, all of their clothes are what can be called tacticool color wise; however, the mix of colors is more aesthetically pleasing compared to the more tactically focused clothing lines of Crye Precision, Patagonia's military line or Arc'teryx LEAF. YKK zippers, double stitching and thoughtful design are all apparent and sizes are true. Their line of hard and soft shells all provide top of the line materials, user focused design and durability. A knock to the company that the salesperson was happy to assure us is soon to change is the lack of design options for ladies. Melanie was in love with their Stealth hoodie, but even the men's XS was not a good fit, so I know when it comes out in a women's version it will almost certainly be added to her extensive collection of jackets. I think the companies strength lies in their insulating layers. In the past, I have owned their Ranger hoodie and a merino wool zip up cardigan with full turtle style neck. With past experience with TNF Denali and Mountain Hardwear windstopper fleece jackets ,TAD's Ranger hoodie is hands down the best fleece jacket I have owned. With a hood that accommodates a helmet, thumb holes, pit zips and windstopper materials, I swore by this jacket during a winter in Eastern Afghanistan. The sweater I owned is no longer part of their line; however, all their merino wool apparel is soft, simply designed and is at home in town and the backcountry.
While in the San Francisco store, I bought their Force 10 cargo pants. The entire line of pants appears well designed w/ ample pockets located in a common sense fashion. The fit is true (maybe a little generous in the waist) supplemented with large belt loops. The different cuts of pant are offered in a variety of materials as well. I have yet to really shake these pants out but with fall upon us, I will begin to wear them on our trips and day hikes, replacing their equivalent from Arc'teryx.
With the thousands of dollars I have spent on gear that falls short, TAD has never let me down. But keep in mind the old axiom, "Buy once, Cry once." They are close in pricing with your higher end companies like Arc Teryx and Patagonia, but if you spend that money you won't have issue w/ quality, fit or support. Another caveat when working with Triple Aught is product availability. They are a small company and with that run a tight inventory control program so outages by design or size is a common occurrence. I followed up with them on an item through Facebook and received an immediate response to item availability questions and for me that goes miles toward return business.
Alongside their gear selection, Triple Aught is offering in the San Francisco area a myriad of classes like Field Forecasting, a course on weather prediction sans technology, wilderness medicine and esoteric skills like their Black Box curriculum, a kidnap and ransom mitigation course. They also offer combative style courses in Extreme Close Quarters Combat (ECQC) and knife fighting; all taught by local law enforcement subject matter experts.
I strongly encourage a visit to the website and Facebook page to really take in all that TAD offers. They have stayed close to their roots, design gear with a unique mix of style and function and continue to support the communities they serve.
Keep Hiking Forward!
I pulled double duty this autumn day, planning and leading three separate hikes. The morning Tyke hike would be followed by two afternoon school hikes. Knowing the unpredictability of Wisconsin's weather, this triple-hike experiment could have been a wonderful or devastating decision. Luckily, though there was a rather frustrating bump in the road, the weather was brilliant and the hikes were fantastic.
At the Tyke Hike, 50 hikers and a four-legged friend joined me on my trek down the newest section of Lapham Peak's Ice Age trail, thanks to a Mobile Skills Crew project in late August. The school hikes also brought in around 50 people each. Though the route of each hike was identical, the discoveries the participants of each hike made each journey unique and different.
We departed from the tower and headed gradually down hill until we came to one of my favorite spots that used to be right along the trial, but is now a short distance away because of the reroute. At this spot, a hollowed out tree makes for a perfect family photo. We stopped to snap some photos and discussed blazes and their purpose on the trail.
Then it was furtehr down the path until we stopped at a short 30-foot section near and dear to my heart. Here, I stopped to provide information on the volunteering that goes hand in hand with the Ice Age Trail. I chose this specific spot because a few short weeks ago, I was lucky enough to volunteer and build this section of the trail. I reminisced about the painful memories of de-stumping this area and adding a new rock wall to aid trail stability.
We then continued down the hill to a new area loaded with young pines and older oaks. Being a tree enthusiast, I had to take this opportunity to talk trees with the hikers, so besides chatting and aksing kids about deciduous and evergreen trees, I gave them a quiz. I asked each child to find one leaf and one acorn and hold them up high. Then, I asked them what they were holding. Some said nature. Some said seeds. Some said stuff. :) Great answers, but not the one I was looking for. I told them that they were holding the future. After scanning the faces and noticing quizzical looks from both children and adults, I mentioned that the acorns were the baby oaks and the leaves would decompose into the soil needs to help those babies grow, so the kids were literally holding in their own hands the future of the forest. They seemed to enjoy it.
After the quiz, we retraced our steps back to the tower. At the Tyke Hike, Our librarian assistant read some stories and led some glacier yoga while I handed out Tyke Hike Certificates and schedules for future hikes. At the school hikes, I took many still energized children up to the top of the tower for a scenic look at the fall colors, which I am told are near 40% of their peak this weekend.
You may remember the frustrating bump in the road I told you about. It may have been a literal bump in the road as one of the tires I had just purchased the night before had already gone flat. Luckily, some Good Samaritan hikers from one of the school hikes assisted me with the change. Technically, they did it and I entertained the kids. :)
Alas, that slight unexpected event didn't detract from the wonderful day. I enjoyed seeing many former students, current students, and other excited hikers. When I surveyed the growing crowds while waiting to begin the Tyke Hike, families told me they heard about the Tyke Hike from the local newspaper, the Ice Age Trail website, a moms group, Facebook, REI, the library, and the bulletin board posting information in the park's parking lot. I was blown away at how many ways are out there to get tykes out and about.
Keep Hiking Forward!
I crave the wild.
The smell of the woods in the morning as it first begins to come alive with the sound of birds singing and the delicate pitter patter of ground animals.
I yearn for the sense of accomplishment that only a taxing hike will provide.
I hunger for the laughter and the overwhelming sense of camaraderie that is bestowed amongst those sharing together in fellowship surrounded by what nature provides us.
I need the flowing water to be my nourishment, to cleanse my body and soul.
I dream of relishing in the solemn silence in the still of the forest under a wondrous and bright moon above.
I feel an overwhelming sense of desire to be simply with nature and to be where I know I truly feel at home.
I wonder... am I the only hungry one out there?
Keep Hiking Forward!
Multi day trips to the backcountry require a good pack. One that handles the weight with a level of comfort that doesn't fatigue the user and offers protection to his/her belongings from the elements. Within that general need lies an entire focus of some major outdoor companies product lines and in some more boutique firms their entire offering.
As a wilderness counselor, I gravitated toward the bombproof construction and end user focus of pack designer Dana Gleason. When I came aboard, the veteran counselors and leaders all had Dana Design Astraplane or Terraplane models for hiking and Bomb or Humbug Spires for climbing. It was the pack of what I deemed the "professional." Eventually, I purchased through a "pro deal" a Terraplane LTW and found out first hand why they dropped the money when we had free Lowe Alpine and Mountainsmith bags available. Cavernous, user friendly features and enough 500 and 1000 denier to survive a nuclear blast, it was amazing. Dana's load bearing hip belt and yoke held unwieldy amounts of weight and they just plain looked cool.
As life progressed, there was a period of time where I found myself in need of money and not doing any hiking. As a result, I listed my Salsa colored LTW on eBay and in the years following I didn't notice it's absence. Fast forward a decade, my better half found me obsessing about Dana Gleason's new company Mystery Ranch. Gleason began Mystery Ranch and adopted a "made in the USA" model (after selling off Dana Design some years prior) with the end user focus being military, wilderness firefighter and hunters. A demographic that previously was not acknowledged in his designs. This was precipitated by some Navy Special Warfare guys who approached him with needs for the mountains of Afghanistan. The company's bags and supporting accessories are well received within the communities they were meant to serve. Based on my past success with their products, I found myself the owner of a new Terraplane in mid-2014.
Details: At 7lbs, 7oz this 85 liter bag is built from 500 denier cordura. It offers an adjustable yoke to match the hikers height and a padded waist belt with lumbar support along the pelvis. It has a generous removable lid with two large pockets that can second as a "fanny style" pack and a double draw string to seal up the top loading portion of the pack. A zipper for quick access is half way down on one side and compression straps across both sections criss cross both sides directly over two ample pockets for water bottles (holds a large Nalgene). Two tubular pockets run on the backside length of the pack offering quick access to additional layers on a hike or stove/fuel to separate from the rest of your load.
My Experience: Despite my great experience with Gleason's designs in the past and my loyalty to his products, I am not happy with the bag's performance. I was careful to ensure it is appropriately adjusted for my frame/height and the belt is the correct size, yet with a 60lbs load the bag is reduced to a $485 book bag. The belt slides down my hips causing my shoulders to take on the burden. This bag is touted to be for loads of 80-100lbs. I called Mystery Ranch and shared photos of me carrying the load, the bag, etc. The company's customer service team was excellent and talked through everything to conclude that it was "just a lot of weight." Honestly, I am not sure how you build an 85 liter pack and then tell the user that 60lbs is too much weight. 60lbs is at the high end of the recommended weight for other 60-70 liter packs on the market. This pack adds 15+ liters of space, but you are supposed to carry 10-20lbs less than someone with a smaller pack?
Since that call I have used the bag again on a shorter backpacking trip with a bit less weight. The problems still existed and frustrated me to no end. Add in the fact that Melanie has the Osprey Aura 65 and it rides like a feather while I am constantly being reminded of the load on my back, and you have an unhappy hiker.
With modern suspension systems offered from Osprey and lighter, less over engineered materials being used by the majority of other manufacturers, I am hard pressed to recommend this pack to anyone. The price makes it an even more compelling argument. I still have the bag and I'm not sure what I'm going to do at this point. I know it's a bombproof pack, but for the price and the reputation, I also expected it to ride at least somewhat comfortably. I know I should move on but my loyalty to the brand and the design has me saying "just one more time." I guess we will see...Stay safe.
Keep Hiking Forward
The leaves are beginning to fall, football is in full swing and it's time to take full advantage of this amazing weather before it's too late. Just like other seasons, gear ebbs and flows with the requirements of the season. Fall outdoor activities such as car-camping, backpacking, tail-gating or just sitting around with your friends dreaming of your next adventure require the right gear to enhance your overall fall experience.
Stanley has offered up three new products sure to amaze you and your friends during your next outdoor get together.
ADVENTURE VACUUM CROCK 3Qt
CLASSIC VACUUM GROWLER 64oz
I don't know how much cooler it can get. This is the ultimate. Have a favorite craft brew that you would love to take along on your next trip but they don't sell it packaged and a glass growler and camping just doesn't seem smart? Never fear my friends Stanley to the rescue once again. You remember Dad or Grandpa's green Stanley work mug from years gone by don't you? Well this is now your beer Growler made of the same great materials to keep your beer cold for... wait for it... wait for it... 24 hours!
Think of the possibilities!
ADVENTURE STACKING STEEL TUMBLER 4-PACK 12oz
Okay so no you are around the campfire with your three best buds your about to show off the new Stanley Growler full of cold Octoberfest or maybe your an IPA'er... wait! What are you going to pour that awesome brew into? A solo cup? Really?
Stanley offers up these perfectly sized 12 oz stacking stainless steel tumblers for your drink of choice. In addition to these cups being strong and durable they are each surrounded by coozie sleeves that are multi-colored so you never mix up your drink.
Stanley has thought of it all for the perfect fall weekend with your friends. Now get on out there and enjoy!
Keep Hiking Forward!
I remember it like it was yesterday, mostly because it wasn't that long ago. Way back in the year 2012. The iPhone 5 swept the nation allowing people to take pictures, videos and even listen to music all on their phone! The New England Patriots had only been involved in one cheating scandal. And only 3 Jurassic Park movies existed (2 that were any good). In other words, it was ages before 2015 and the invention of the Hoverboard.
I had spent a year working towards the opening of a new business and had determined that a weekend hike would get me mentally prepared before opening day.I chose my father as a hiking partner. In his 55 years on the planet he had hiked the same amount of miles as my then infant child had hiked. But he was enthusiastic and I knew the time would be spent laughing as much as hiking.
We chose the Pine Mountain Trail in Georgia. How that weekend progressed and ended is another story. This one is more lighthearted.
In doing his research for our hike my father had garnered enough info to have chosen his souvenir ahead of time. He wanted a wooden walking stick Bilbo Baggins style. I never object to hobbit paraphernalia and planned to buy my own as well. You can even buy the medallion of the park you are visiting and hammer it on your stick like a badge of honor. It's a level above Cub Scouts but not quiet the Marines. I have since added 2 state parks to mine. My dad's stick currently has, and probably only ever will have, just the one.
We entered the shop and made a b-line for the barrel that held 10 or so hiking sticks ranging in size and color. Beautifully lacquered they varied in shade and presentation. Some had big knots that drew the eye instantly. They all had been shaved so smoothly that they looked as though they were made of faux wood.
We selected a few to try out. These were going to be snug in our hands for next two days and then some. I pictured myself hiking the AT and fighting bears with my trusty wooden Excalibur! When we hike alone, we shall not be alone. For the sticks shall also be with us. Giving aid to our weary legs and guiding us over rocks. Our sticks shall go where we go. Never complaining, the stick walks at your pace and if you put your ear close to it you can hear it whisper, "you can do it buddy. I believe in you". So needless to say we had to do a little sauntering around the shop and have hike like conversations to see if our sticks were the chosen ones. The hiker doesn't choose the stick, Mr. Jeremy. It’s not always clear why.
My father leaned on his one handed, then two handed. Ipretended to hold a beer while he spoke. We walked the store not unlike runway models. Although I'm 100% sure Victoria Secret models have never discussed the history of the Patagonia clothing line. We dodged guests and Park Rangers, one of which popped out of a door I didn't even know was there. We faked anger to see if the stick would increase our intimidation. It did not. We faked laughter so long that we actually started laughing. In the end we chose wisely.
Walking to the counter we picked up a couple of medallions and Pepsi-Colas. As I reached for my wallet the Park Ranger that had appeared during our runway show said, “That’ll be $8.” Math has never been my strong suite and let’s be honest, with the advent of technology, it’s basically obsolete… unless you’re a total dork. But this didn’t add up. I held out a $20 bill, the Ranger snatched it, made my change and had moved on before the last tumbler fell into place. We walked quietly back to the car puzzled. Then, caught up in the majesty of the park, I forgot all about it. Remember we are from Florida so the only hills we see have red ants inside them.
The trip ended and as we drove back I needed a piece of paper to wrap my gum in. I grabbed the receipt from the shop. I mulled it over and it hit my like lightning.
“Aha! I figured out why we were only charged for the medallions and Pepsi.”
“That Park Ranger that rang us up never saw us enter the store. When we were parading around the place with our sticks laughing like a couple of chuckle heads, he must have thought they were ours.”
It had to be true. I don’t know if they ever figured it out, but it was an honest mistake. Truth be told though, I felt a little like Keyser Soze.I had accidentally pulled off the heist of Pine Mountain Trail. I crossed the state line into Florida and breathed a sigh of relief. I snickered as the long arm of the law faded out of my rearview mirror. I drove away with my windows down in my car letting the air run through my fingers and thought,‘dang it feels good to be gangster.’
Keep Hiking Forward
This time last year, I was fortunate enough to be in Zion National Park. I had been planning the trip for roughly 6 months, and it was a dream come true. Originally it was intended to be a trip by myself to tackle some challenging hikes and spend some quality time with nature. During the summer, while riding the train to NYC to visit friends, I got the idea to invite my dad to join me. He had never hiked before, but I knew he would love the landscape and natural beauty.
This was my first experience with navigating the National Park System to this extent. I needed permits, needed to plan routes, lodging, timelines, transportation, and a multitude of other things. In the beginning it was daunting, and the learning curve was steep, but fortunately I had started planning far enough ahead that I tackled it piece by piece. The old saying "How you you eat an elephant? One bite at a time", especially applies to planning these type of trips. My hope is to provide you with some tools and information that will make planning a trip to Zion much easier and less stressful.
Decide what "style" you want your trip to be
Are you super adventurous and hoping to push your limits? Or do you want to take a more stately pace and really soak in the natural beauty? Are you bringing your kids or family? Do you hope to improve your photography skills? If you plan on doing a lot of hiking, how far can you reasonably hike in one day?
Answering those type of questions will help you narrow down things like the best time of year to visit, how much time you will need to visit, what sort of skills and/or gear do you need to acquire prior to your trip, etc. All the National Parks I have visited thus far have a wide variety of things to offer to people of all ages and skill levels. Popular trailheads along the shuttle routes and areas near the visitor's center, for example, closely resembles the crowds and infrastructure you would expect at Disney World. It's a great place for families hoping to expose their kids to some natural beauty, but those of you who crave solitude might find it claustrophobic and annoying. Many parks are somewhat limited by weather and have areas that are closed during certain months. Zion is open year round, but your itinerary will still dictate what time of year is best to accomplish your goals. For example, I knew I wanted to visit when it wasn't too hot or too cold, and I wanted little risk of rain. I planned on hiking the Narrows which is prone to deadly flash flooding, so limiting the chance of rain was a priority for me. The website has a great guide to the different seasons and weather that will help you decide.
If children will be accompanying you, the National Parks do a great job of setting up activities geared toward them. Ranger talks are awesome, and there are usually lots of other Youth Programs designed to help little ones engage in nature and get the most out of their visit.
The NPS websites are usually very thorough and great with helping to plan. I recommend always starting there. Once you have some ideas of what you are planning, other sites like Trip Advisor have great forums where you can read other people's questions and answers and reviews, or post your own questions. Be sure to check the park website often during planning for alerts and updates like road or trail closures or other issues that might affect your trip.
Zion, like most National Parks, has an excellent shuttle system within the park. In fact, from March-October, the shuttle is the ONLY way to get around inside the park. The town of Springdale is right outside the park's gate, so if you are lodging there, you can literally walk to the shuttle and get to most of the destinations in the park. There are also shuttle services run by the Zion Adventure Company that cater to those who need to get to remote trailheads. You'll need to plan ahead for those and make a reservation. You will also need to show up on time because they WILL leave without you. I used them to get to the Lava Point trailhead and the Chamberlain's Ranch trailhead for long day hikes. While these trailheads aren't too far away as the crow flies, the shuttle to Lava Point took about 1 hour and 15 minutes and the shuttle to Chamberlain's Ranch took close to 2 hours.
As soon as you think about planning your trip to Zion, you'll want to get a good map. The NPS website has a pretty good hiking guide, but it doesn't really get into many longer routes or loops. There are some awesome websites out there with great hike reviews, namely the Citrus Milo site. Compare the trail map with the routes described for the best details on the routes on to decide which routes best meet your goals and abilities. Many hikes are accessible directly from the various shuttle stops throughout the park, and there are hikes of all distances and ability levels. Generally though, the easier the hike, the more crowded the trail will be. We opted to hike the West Rim Trail from Lava Point to the main canyon. This is usually done as an overnight backpack, but we did it as a day hike, and if you are up for it, I definitely recommend it. As I said, I also did the Narrows (top down) as a thru hike. I do think if I opted to do the Narrows again I would do it as an overnight. It was very mentally challenging to be in the water for 16 miles in one day.
Ahhh, my favorite subject, permits. My experience with getting permits for hiking in Zion was a good one, though I know certain trails are very competitive. I applied for several different permits and was successful in being granted all of them. I only needed a permit for my thru hike of the Narrows, so I was able to cancel the others. Permits are required for the following: ALL thru hikes of the Narrows and its tributaries, all canyons requiring the use of descending gear or ropes, and all trips into The Subway and Left Fork, and any overnight wilderness trips. Apply for your permits as soon as possible to hopefully get them well in advance of your trip. Walk up permits are available as well, but you'll be waiting in line and it's still a crapshoot. Once you have been notified that you have a permit, the fun is not over. You will still need to report to the visitor's center to pick up your permit the day before your hike.
Getting to Zion
The easiest and most inexpensive way I found to get to Zion was by flying into Las Vegas and renting a car. The drive from Vegas to Zion is one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen, so if you can plan do do your driving while it's light out, I highly recommend it! The town of Springdale is really easy to navigate, it's basically one road through town with lots of hotels, restaurants, etc. along the way. Most things are within walking distance and we found everyone to be friendly and helpful. Because Zion is so popular, you'll want to make hotel reservations as early as possible. There are hotels in literally every price point, from budget motels to luxurious hotels, so do some research and find the right hotel for your needs.
Zion is located relatively close to many other awesome attractions, so if you have the time, you might want to plan some excursions to these areas.Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon (North Rim), and Antelope Canyon are all within a couple hours of Zion. We opted to visit the Grand Canyon since my dad had never been there. Antelope Canyon is great for photographers, from what I've heard. Bryce Canyon could warrant a few days on it's own, and I hope to visit there in the future.
You really can't go wrong with a trip to Zion. The more you navigate and plan trips like this, the easier it gets. But the great thing about our National Park system is that no matter where you go, you will find incredible natural beauty, a well organized infrastructure, and helpful rangers and employees to help you make the most of your trip.
Keep Hiking Forward
As a young marine, I heard "Left add, right subtract!" more times than I could count. And here I thought I joined the Marines to avoid math!
Land navigation was a dark voodoo to me then. So many rules, numbers, variables and oh so many tools (compass, protractor, DAGR, Garmin GPS etc). With time and practice, I grew to not only understand it but feel a level of comfort and confidence in the woods because of this very necessary backcountry skill.
My intent with this blog is not to talk to the basics of orienteering . I recommend you seek out a good class and get your Google on and find some good solid sources (link: http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/navigation-basics.html) to read up on contour lines, declination, map symbols and compass work. The focus of this article will be terrain association, a very specific skill that I find most helpful.
Terrain association is the practice of comparing major terrain features against what is visible on an oriented (basic skill) map. The navigator has a number of options to pick from when doing their assessment of the terrain in an attempt to orient their present location and upcoming route. The major terrain features on a map include hilltop, valley, ridge, depression, and saddle. These prominent terrain features are not however the only option. Water sources like lakes and rivers are also good indicators. Simply walking down the trail and seeing a hill top to the left and a pond to the right a hiker will likely be able locate that combination easily on a map. Streams are somewhat variable, but finding a dry stream or river bed is still a clue to your location.
Other features on the map include the use of vegetation or lack of (fields/meadows), Understanding the symbols on the map, the traveler can easily ascertain a vineyard, orchard or farm. Unlike the more variable nature of vegetation or small water sources, man made features on the map are a huge help in terrain association. Roadways, firebreaks and buildings are terrific indicators when they are marked on your map.
Always remember in planning a hike seasonal changes will impact your terrain association methods and abilities. Snow sometimes makes terrain features more prominent, while obstructing micro terrain. Thicker canopy or vegetation in summer months will obscure your view and droughts will wilt vegetation and dry up water sources. Also take into consideration that this is 100% visual tool, so times of lower visibility will negatively impact your reliance on this method of travel (have a compass and GPS if you can - two is one, one is none).
Melanie and I have relied heavily on this skill on all of our trips. It is not foolproof by any means. We were presented with two trail heads about 10 feet apart in Yosemite. We took what we thought was correct. It turned out the route of the two trails paralleled each other in a manner that didn't allow us to determine we were going the wrong way for miles. Both trails hit the same ridge lines, similar switchbacks, the same water sources etc. No harm done. We just had a nice visit to Sunrise Lakes campground BEFORE we did Clouds Rest.
Some best practices for effective terrain association include:
Hope this helps. Stay Safe
Keep Hiking Forward!
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