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Nits to Pick


OK—the mountain range is called the Sierra Nevada. Sierra, in Spanish, means “mountain range.” (Actually it has two meanings--the other one is a saw--as in the Sawtooth Range.)

So the range is the Sierra, not the Sierras. There are not many mountain ranges, there is one. And yes, we speak English here, not Spanish. That’s why we live in a state called California, in cities called Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and use words like patio, cargo, canyon, siesta, adobe, macho, aficionado, …and don’t even get me started on food. Ay! Caramba!

I’s the Sierra. Nevada.


Man Vs. Wild, Survivor Man, and almost any of those supposedly “realistic” TV shows about living in or escaping from the woods. Are they entertaining? You bet, but not for the reasons that the producers usually think they are.

The number one survival rule in the wilderness is: Don’t do anything stupid. And that rule is followed by: Stay warm, keep hydrated, and look for ways to minimize the dangers you face.

So what do the “heroes” of these shows do? They take every silly risk they can, just to show off their “skills.” They jump off waterfalls, cross frozen lakes, eat foods that make them vomit, leap or tumble down incredibly steep slopes, jump into the water every chance they get, and generally do anything they can to show the average American how to die quicker.

Our solutions? Climb down the slope, rather than jumping in the waterfall. It may take longer, but it won’t break your leg, give you a concussion, or drown you. Go around the frozen lake. That way you stay dry and warm, because hypothermia is your single biggest danger in the snow—especially if you’ve been stupid enough to fall into a frozen lake. Don’t eat anything that is at all questionable. You can live for weeks without food, so why go to all that trouble (and spend ALL THAT ENERGY!) to catch or harvest something that has so little nutritional value? Instead of going straight down the steepest slope, use your brain instead of your brawn, and find an easier and safer way that doesn’t include the risk of broken bones. And stay dry. Hypothermia loves wet people.

Of course, if you have a full TV production crew with a helicopter nearby, you can take any risks you want. Just don’t try to sell them to us as "outdoor skills" to use when your survival depends on your common sense in the wilderness, instead of the helicopter.

Come to think of it—this isn’t a nit. These people are nitwits, and probably do more damage than good.


These seems to multiply like rabbits in the backcountry, and frankly, we're getting tired of them. We've regularly found them well above the legal elevation for fires, and sometimes we find more than one in a single campsite. You don't need to make a fire every night. And it wouldn't hurt to remember that a fire ring is an ugly mark that lasts for years.

We know people who actually destroy these fire rings every time they find them. (It is illegal to make a new one, so once one is gone, it should never come back.) We're not prepared to go that far...but if we keep finding these everywhere, we just might get convinced.


And while we're at it, who are the idiots who keep thinking that burying their TP is somehow going to turn out well? It doesn't. Rodents dig it up within a couple of days, and the rest of us, who are in the mountains a lot more often than you are, have to deal with campsites littered with this stuff. Suck it up and pack it out.


It's only fair that we should include this in our list of things that we know better than everyone else!

Every avocation in the world has people like this. Whatever you are doing, they have a better way to do it, a new piece of equipment you should buy, or a better trip to take than the one you took.

We do, too.

But we also think it is far more important for you to get out into the woods and have fun than it is for you to worry yourself silly. So don't sweat the small stuff. You don't need the latest pack or the lightest tent. If you want to hydrate by sucking on a tube, or by hoisting a bota bag over your head, do it! You can have a great backpacking adventure eating stew out of cans cooked on a campfire--although you might have problems doing that for the whole length of the John Muir Trail.

So if it works for you, and doesn't mess up the wilderness for anybody else, we say: "go for it."



Yes, we pass people on the trail sometimes. Sometimes people pass us on the trail. (The really maddening ones are the ones who pass us, then stop for a rest because they can't maintain the pace. Then pass us again. At that point, P is ready to run them into the ground, and M suggests we stop for an hour or so to fish--even if there isn't any water nearby.)

But speed hikers? These are people who basically try to complete a hike in as short a time as possible. The whole 220+ miles of the John Muir Trail in less than six days. Hiking at night so that you can keep moving.


In our mind, it is exactly like trying to have sex as quickly as possible. It may give some enjoyment, but aren't you missing the point?

We think they are.

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