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April through June 2013

Post date: Jun 14, 2013 12:51:49 AM Just finished reading a great book, "Up and Down California" by William F. Brewer. You may recognize Mr. Brewer, because there is a mountain in Kings Canyon named for him. There's another one named for the professor who supervised his project, a Josiah Dwight Whitney. Yes, that Whitney. And along as part of the team were such notables as William Gabb, James Gardiner, Clarence King, and Charles Hoffman, all of whom also have notable peaks named for them in the Sierra Nevada.

As you might guess from the title, the book is a collection of his letters as he undertakes the geologic and topographic survey of California in 1860-1864--and covers just about every part of the Golden State. It's a great glimpse into what this place looked like right after the Gold Rush. And did we mention that Charles Hoffman was in his party?

You might wonder where May Lake got its name...And we know that answer. It was named by that same survey team for Lucy Mayotte Brown of Oakland. She married Charles Hoffman in 1870, and they lived happily ever after. How sweet is that? We climbed to the top of Mt. Hoffman in 2009, only a few days after the new trail had been built to the top of the peak. The trail was pretty sketchy in places, but the views from the top of Mt. Hoffman are simply among the best in all of Yosemite. And May Lake is beautiful, too.

Post date: May 20, 2013 3:32:45 PM This month's Backpacker Magazine has a list of ten rookie mistakes that hikers should avoid. It's all well and good, but we think they left a few things out. Here are the top five rookie mistakes that we have seen on the trail.

1. Stay out of the water. This is the biggest killer in the Sierra Nevada, by far. Those beautiful rivers are powerfulforces, and the rocks around the edges are not your friends. Once in a river, it is very difficult to get back out--and every year people die in the Sierra because they don't understand this. Sure, it's fine to dip your feet in the water at the end of the day, particularly in a nice mountain lake. But do NOT underestimate the power of a Sierra River. The people who stupidly wade in the Merced River above Vernal or Nevada Falls in Yosemite think that its looks rather peaceful and cool. That's just before they lose their footing, slip into the water, and then realize that they are going to go right over the falls.And it's not just above waterfalls that you need to be careful. You can bang your head on a rock, or just get driven downstream beyond where your friends can help you. And then you might still be in the river, hanging onto a rock, and getting colder by the second (see Hypothermia below.)

You NEVER have to cross a stream or river in the Sierra. You can always go back another way, find a log to cross, or just wait a few hours (or even a few days!) for the water level to drop. Veterans know this. Rookies don't.2. Getting lost. Yep--we've met people who were so far out of the way that we didn't really know how to tell them how to get back to their car. So take a map--a real map, not a brochure--and trace your route as you go. In basic navigation courses they teach you to make a mark on the map every time you can confirm your position---that allows you to go back to that spot, at least, and know where you are. If you do that, you should also be able to predict the next step of the hike, and check it off when you get there. That's P, on the right, checking the map to make sure he is on the bridge---which is one landmark you can always identify on a map! And if you are new to the area, or new to hiking, ask questions of people who look like they've done this before. They are not the ones with the biggest or newest packs. They are usually the ones who look a little shopworn around the edges.

3. Getting dehydrated. Remember that when you are hiking in the Sierra Nevada, you are usually hiking above 6,000 feet, and in air that has a relative humidity WAY below what you see at home. That means that your body gets dehydrated really fast. Know that feeling when you spend six hours on an airplane? Most of that is dehydration, and it happens in only a couple of hours. Imagine spending twelve hours on the plane...and carrying a pack uphill for most of that time. You are dehydrated.

The solution is to drink all the time. We drink every 20-30 minutes on the trail, just the way P does when he is biking hard at home. And we always drink a lot of water at every rest stop, and at night, and every morning before we hit the trail. Simple test? If you are not peeing every couple of hours, and your pee is anything but light and clear, you are probably getting dehydrated. Among the effects of dehydration is losing mental acuity---which means you make stupid decisions--decisions about things like where you are, what you should do next, and how you are feeling.

4. Getting hypothermic. We once met a couple at the top of a climb, and the minute they stopped hiking, the young woman starting shivering uncontrollably. While her partner assured her that everything was just fine, we assured her that she needed to put on something warm immediately. When you are hiking, your body creates enough heat to counteract a lot of cold temperatures. But the minute you stop, that cold weather takes effect, You need to stay warm, and you need to put on clothes the minute you feel cold. Your body, when it gets cold, directs most of the blood and warmth of your body to your torso, to keep your heart and lungs warm. That means less blood to your brain. You brain is what you need to make the smart decisions when you are hiking. You need blood up there. Stay warm. That's M with our friend Robin in June in Yosemite at left. And they are hiking warm.

5. Not eating enough. Once we had kids, we really understood how important a little food can be. Normally delightful children can turn into monsters when they are hungry---and adults do this on the trail, as well. We've met quite a few people on the trail who were having a bad day, and we're pretty sure that most of them were hiking without enough food. We normally eat breakfast and then have a snack about 90 minutes into the hike. We do that because we know that we are using more calories than at home, and we need to keep the body fueled for that kind of activity. Even on a day-hike you should take some energy bars and fruit. It's amazing what a difference they can make, and there are few pleasures greater than sharing a snack at the top of a peak or the foot of a waterfall.

Post date: May 7, 2013 9:32:24 PM Worried about bears? More worried about grizzlies than black bears?

You should really worry about TEDDY bears.

They kill far more people than any other kind of bear...from a child injury law site: Posted On: March 17, 2010 by David A. Wolf Are Teddy Bears More Likely to Cause Child Injury Than Grizzly Bears? By David Wolf, Attorney Published by Child Injury Lawyer Network

You might be surprised to find out that in everyday life, commonplace items or activities are much more likely to be dangerous or even fatal than the alarming accidents we hear about on the news each night. Unfortunately, people are much more likely to use caution when they are in a situation they perceive as being dangerous than they are when doing normal activities. But 1 million Americans are seriously injured in their own kitchens every year – and that is only one room in the house.

An example that parents should be especially aware of is the teddy bear. Which is more dangerous – a teddy bear or a real bear? In the last eighty nine years, eighty two Americans have been killed in bear attacks. Teddy bears and other toys account for twenty two deaths each year, and nearly one hundred and fifty thousand injuries. Most of these deaths and injuries happen to children. The most common teddy bear hazard is the small parts that can fall off and become choking hazards, like their glass eyes. Teddy bears are also tripping hazards. Tripping and falling can cause no harm at all or can result in death, if the child trips and falls down a flight of stairs or hits his or her head on the sharp corner of a coffee table.

So while you should use caution while hiking in the woods with your children, it is even more important to make sure that their toys are age-appropriate, that they are picked up and put away after use, and that they don’t have any small parts that can break off

. Or perhaps we should simply give this one the title: Lawyers and the things they say... And by the way, we should note that since 1980 there have been a total of twelve reported attacks by black bears in California. That’s an average of less than one attack every two years. Most occurred in developed campgrounds or rural urban interfaces, not in the wilderness. None were fatal.

Post date: May 2, 2013 6:35:29 PM For those of you who haven't tried to reserve a campsite in Yosemite these days, it's a pretty stressful process. The campsites seem to sell out within minutes of being put on sale...and you have to plan months in advance if you hope to get one for any date during the summer.

Of course, as any good marketing expert will tell you, when there is scarcity, there is also a black market. So now there are a few people who are snapping up the Yosemite campsites and "flipping" them as if they were cult wines or real estate.

Only one problem: The NPS says that you will need a photo ID to check into your campsite, and if your name doesn't match the name they have on their reservation order, you are going to be out of luck.Which means that there are going to be some unhappy campers in Yosemite this summer. sigh.

On the other hand, if you have a backpacking permit, you can camp in one of the backpacking campgrounds in the park for free for one night before and one night after your backpacking trip. And between those nights, you can camp in the wilderness and see the best part of the park.What's not to like?

Post date: Apr 29, 2013 5:40:46 PM Because we're based in the Napa Valley, things like this catch our attention.

Can you imagine your next hike into the Sierra; your pack full of bars made from wine grape seeds? Gena McKahan, a student at Washington State, has a plan. "The remains of wine grapes picked and pressed typically return to fields as fertilizers, but scientists are also finding ways to recycle those edible remains into healthy foods."

Take Gena McKahan’s gluten-free, merlot grape-seed flour granola bar, for example. As a food science undergraduate at Washington State University, McKahan was curious how different amounts of merlot grape-seed flour would change a granola bar’s antioxidant content when baked with other ingredients..

"Now let's see... Would a merlot trail bar go well with a nice bit of turkey jerky, as a kind of backcountry food and wine pairing? you can read the whole story here, from Washington State.

Go Cougars!

Post date: Apr 23, 2013 6:15:15 PM OK. we give in. We will now give you all the tips you need to avoid problems with bears in the High Sierra. Pay Close attention:

1. Stay away from busy campgrounds, lazy people, and anywhere that you see food lying about on the ground. That includes your own camp, if you are lazy and leave food lying around.That's itUnfortunately, that's the only tip we have. Luckily, it's the only tip you need. We don't use bear spray (illegal in California National Parks), bear bells, wasp spray, secret bear ointments, voodoo dances, or 357 magnums (also illegal to fire in a National Park)

True, we always use a bear canister, because it's easy, simple and seems to be fool-proof (as well as bear-proof.) That's part of tip #1. We understand that other people use a Kevlar sack called the Ur-sack-- We like the fact that Ur-sacks weigh less than our Bear-Vault. We don't like that they are vulnerable to smaller animals like mice, squirrels, marmots etc. who can chew through them overnight with their sharp tiny teeth. No thanks.

And we know that some through-hikers swear by various hanging systems (all of which are illegal in California's National Parks). We've hung food sacks before, and may well do it again. But spending time looking for the right tree that is tall enough to hang the bag above the reach of a standing bear, big enough to have branches that will allow you to hang the food out from the trunk to avoid a climbing bear, and safe from baby bears that can climb out on a limb and chew through the ropes....well, we'd rather spend our time fishing, watching the sunset, and enjoying like on the trail instead of looking for the perfect tree.

And then slinging that rope into the tree...oops. Try again. Nope, too close to the trunk. Do it again...sigh. So yes, we use a bear canister. We are strict about it, and always leave all of our food and smelly toiletries in it. And we stay away from people who don't do that. Very simple.

Very sad that other people find it so hard to do. Because the ones who suffer the most are the bears--who become accustomed to hikers as a source of food, and eventually have to be destroyed. And that is, indeed, very sad.

Post date: Apr 13, 2013 5:06:40 AM Fear, fear, fear...What's the deal with bears?Why is it that so many people see to be concerned about bears? Not only are they a regular topic on many chat boards, but Backpacker Magazine devotes a column every single issue to bear questions. Every single issue! And now they have a complete website article discussing every possible thing that might or might not affect a bear.

Among the issues discussed are bear bells, cans, bags, sex, toothpaste, wasp spray, pepper spray, menstruation, marijuana, and electric fences.

Really? Come on...What a waste of time and energy. As we've said before, we rarely see bears in the back country. In fact, we wish we would see them more often. But we also avoid heavy concentrations of people--especially stupid people who ignore the rules--and it seems that those people attract most of the bears. If you want to meet a bear, go to a big public campground and watch the dumb people leave their food out. Other than that, bears are pretty low profile.

But that doesn't seem to matter to people who don't backpack so much--or to fear-mongering editors. They would prefer to talk all bears all the time, as if they were Boogie Men waiting around each corner to catch and eat unwary hikers.Get a grip. Please.

In the Sierra there have been 12 bear attacks since 1980--and none of those were in the backcountry. (Way more people have been struck by lightning.) In fact, if you really want to freak out, 130 Americans are killed by deer every year. 65 are struck by lightning. 100 are killed by bees. 20 are killed by cows.

Got that? Cows are more dangerous than bears--about fifty times more dangerous.We've seen exactly one bear in the backcountry in the last five years. It was a spectacular sight. The sun backlit the bear's fur, and it positively glowed. And yes, we did have to tell the college kids at a nearby camp that we had seen a bear, and that they should clean up their camp. They did. The bear never reappeared.

So give it a rest. Keep a clean camp, use a bear can, and enjoy your time in the High Sierra without worrying about bears.Instead, worry about important things, like whether you are going to catch fish tonight...or see a shooting star.

Post date: Apr 5, 2013 10:33:59 PM Yes, we know. There is still a lot of snow in the high sierra, and that's enough to keep most people, including us, snug in the homes instead of out on the trail. But that's not to say that you shouldn't start planning.

Many trailheads are already booked solid for the most popular dates, and every day the situation gets worse.We've already filled out the forms for two the hikes we're planning for this summer, and we delighted to find out we got our first choice in both SEKI and Desolation Wilderness.

You should do the same.And we're also taking a couple of trips that don't require such advanced planning, including one in the Emigrant Wilderness. And we've got our eye on one more...

Let's get out those maps and start thinking this through again...

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