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January through March 2015

Alaska seems almost too easy... Post date: Mar 25, 2015 10:43:58 PM Remember those cyclists from our last post?

"After cycling 25,000 miles through searing heat in Africa and subfreezing nights in the mountains of South America, what better place to rest for a few days than the bike-centric college town of Davis, with a stop at a local brewpub on a temperate spring day?

Polish couple Adela Tarkowska and Kris Jozefowski, both in their early 30s, have spent the last five years riding through the Middle East, Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico and now the United States.They said men with machetes ambushed them in Nicaragua but ran off when a vehicle approached. Their bike tires turned to goo “like cheese and pizza” when the mercury topped 120 degrees in Botswana. They froze their sprockets on the high plains of Bolivia, where the temperature in their tent fell to almost zero. And they rode for days into 40 mph headwinds during winter in Patagonia.

What made them do it?“Curiosity,” Jozefowski said. “Or maybe madness,” his girlfriend added quickly.Read more here:

Looking for Something to do this Summer? Post date: Mar 19, 2015 3:41:44 PM P tries to get in a bike ride most days after work. It’s a great way to breathe some air, clear his mind, and write all those emails he should never send.

And since we live in the Napa Valley, it’s a pretty nice place to ride.But yesterday was a little different. As he rode along one of his usual main routes, he noticed two cyclists stopped by the side of the road. These were not your run-of-the-mill day bikers. They were heavily laden with panniers and backpacks. And from their rear fenders they sported small Polish flags.He stopped to see if they needed any help.

No, they were fine. Just checking their location.

So he asked them where they were going.The young man looked up at him with a smile, and answered: “Alaska.”

P suggested that they might not make it by nightfall. The biker laughed and replied that maybe tomorrow…They explained that they had met a Polish expat on their ride earlier in the day, and were on their way to his house for dinner and a shower.That sounded like they were in good hands, so P left them to continue their ride…to Alaska.

So what are you doing this summer?

Death Valley Detective story Post date: Feb 26, 2015 2:41:09 PM A fellow backpacker shared this story in response to our post about Death Valley. It is an amazing story of detective work and hiking, blended together. But a warning: do not start reading this unless you have enough time to finish the whole thing...because it is fascinating, and you won't want to leave it!

Shine on me... Post date: Feb 25, 2015 7:42:45 PM We have really liked our new Luci solar powered light. It charges during the day, and emits nice bright light for a few hours after dark. It was particularly helpful on our trip to Death Valley in February, when the days are short and the nights are long.

We were able to see well enough to read in the tent with Lucy, and it had the added bonus of being a bright beacon in the desert when M got up in the middle of the night and then tried to find the tent again! At around $15 and less than four ounces, this is a gadget that we actually think is worth it.And no, they didn't give us a free one, we paid for it. And we are not getting paid to endorse it!

The Right Way.... Post date: Feb 22, 2015 2:48:58 PM After yesterday’s post, we did want to share a great place to eat in Bakersfield. Yes, Bakersfield. As we drove along highway 178 across town, we noticed a small café: the 24 St. Café. It isn’t hard to find. It’s on 24th St. and Highway 178.

And it is everything that a small café should be: lively, fresh cooked food, inexpensive, hearty portions, friendly and helpful service. It is only open for breakfast and lunch, and even on a Wednesday it was pretty full at 12:15. But they squeezed us in at the counter, gave us our delicious lunch with a smile, provided some welcome driving directions, and had us on our way in less than 45 minutes.

You can’t ask for more than that, and everyone in that restaurant was enjoying the experience, from the customers to the staff. And yes, the owner was present and paying attention to the customers with a smile.In Stovepipe Wells we would have been just biting into our (cold) food. And paid double.

Bad Food and the NPS Post date: Feb 21, 2015 4:58:16 PM Why is the food so universally bad in our national parks?

It’s true that they located in difficult places: food deliveries are going to be limited and expensive. But there has to be more to it than that. On our last trip to Death Valley, we waited more than forty minutes to be served a BLT at Stovepipe Wells, and when it arrived it was stone cold. The next night, at Furnace Creek, our salads and entrees arrived at the same time, within three minutes of ordering them, and well before our drinks made it to the table.

It’s as if nobody in the dining room is paying attention. And it’s not just that we’re from Napa, and used to better things. As we look around the restaurants in our national parks, we see looks of confusion and bewilderment on the faces of all the customers. Why is it so hard?

The worst restaurant we have ever visited is the one at Grant’s Grove in SEKI. A few years ago, they were simply a disaster from beginning to end: bad reception, lousy service, and terrible food, all bundled up into one restaurant. And the prices in these places are way above what you would pay anywhere else.

In Death Valley, one steakhouse is asking more than $65 for a steak—and given the rest of the operation we can’t imagine that it was very good. Two days before we had eaten at Harris Ranch in Coalinga—not exactly the culinary capital of the Western World—where the steaks were certainly better, and certainly less expensive. And the service was attention, and the whole thing worked.

We wish that SOMEBODY were paying attention to this, but they are not. Sure, it might be hard to get good staff to work at a national park, (Really? Wouldn’t bright young people want to do this for a season of adventure?) but there seems to be almost no training of the people they do hire. And there seems to be no supervision in the dining room. Again, nobody there is paying attention…

Water enough to drink... Post date: Feb 20, 2015 3:45:42 PM How much water do you need to drink on the trail? On our trip to Death Valley, we took what we hoped would be enough water for the two of us for an overnight backpacking trip: Slightly more than a gallon per person for 24 hours. In terms of water bottles, it was 14 quarts, and that turned out to be about right.

We drank three quarts during our hike to the campsite (this was, after all, Death Valley) and then used another three quarts for dinner. And then used another two quarts for breakfast the next day…and drank two more on the way out. So we drank ten quarts (five quarts per person) over the 24 hours of the hike. We were a little under-hydrated on the first day, as we were hiking in the afternoon sun. And we had some water left over (which is not a bad thing in the desert). If we were to do it again, we’d probably take about the same.

In the Sierra, of course, you can fill your water bottles along the way. We generally only take four quart bottles for the two of us on those hikes. We always camp near water, so we don’t need to worry about carrying the water for dinner or breakfast. And we start the day with four full bottles---enough to get us through lunch and into dinner. Some people prefer to carry less weight, and may only carry one bottle per person---or even hike from stream to lake and drink what’s available.

But we don’t like to take the time to pump and filter while we are on the trail—we prefer to hike. So we carry a little extra weight, and stop less often to pull out our water filter. Either way works, as long as you keep drinking enough water.

Death Valley Redux Post date: Feb 19, 2015 9:45:35 PM A few years ago we took a trip to Death Valley in the spring...thinking that it would be a good way to get in some hiking while the Sierra was under snow, and it would also give us a chance to see one of the largest US national parks at a time when the temperatures were conducive to hiking and exploring...rather than sitting and sweating.

It worked. And so in 2015 we went back again for a second helping--including plans for a couple of overnight backpacking trips.

After a long drive down, we spent the first day in the park just exploring the Funeral Mountains east of Death Valley. We drove to Hole in the Wall, and then hiked up into Slit Canyon--a nice little adventure that whetted our appetite for more. And so we did the same in Echo Canyon, hiking to Eye of the Needle. Both led us on enchanting tours of narrow canyons full of serenity and scenery.

On both of these trips, our little 2wd hybrid SUV was just fine on the dirt roads---we felt pretty good about the fact that it made both hikes really easy. In fact, we felt pretty darn confident at this point.

Which led us to our next adventure, backpacking in Cottonwood Canyon. The first 8 miles of the dirt road are described as suitable to all passenger vehicles. And Michel Digonnet's Hiking in Death Valley describes the following ten miles as passable for anything with high clearance.

Off we went in our Ford Escape. And after a couple of tight spots, we drove almost all the way to the end of the road at Cottonwood Canyon. Often very slowly. The road was not in good shape at all, and despite a couple of people we met on the way who reassured us, it was pretty tricky going. P even got out of the car a couple of times to check out the route before moving forward. We finally stopped about a half-mile from the end of the road, where it dove steeply into a wash and then just as steeply up the other side...and then did that three more times in succession. We chickened out, parked our car, and covered the last section on foot. Upper Cottonwood Canyon does not have scenery that is as dramatic at the Funeral Mountains, and we found the hike vaguely disappointing. We reached Cottonwood Springs to discover that the whole area was covered in horse manure...and the brown hills seemed peaceful and...well, really brown, and really peaceful. We found the herd of wild horses (or rather, they found us) that were living there, and checked out the route up over the pass to Marble Canyon---to be tackled another day.

That evening, as we were reading the NPS notes on this hike, we discovered that they considered the road impassable except for 4X4s--which gave us something to think about that night, and on the hike back out. Did we somehow get ourselves into something that would prove a problem on the drive out?

We were delighted to see some climbers and their 4X4s at the end of the road as we hiked out. We weren't sure we would need help, but it was nice to know they were in the area. They were the only people we saw within eight miles of the trailhead. And then we began the slow, slow, and careful drive back out. And there were no problems. We made it just fine. The only sad part was that P was so focused on his driving, and M was so focused on holding onto the armrest and groaning at every tight spot, that we didn't take any pictures. And that's sad, because the lower part of Cottonwood Canyon, where the road is, has far more beauty and scenery that the upper part where we hiked.

But it did give us a new appreciation of how important it is to check the latest info on any hike, no matter whose book you are reading!

The celebrate our "escape" out of Cottonwood Canyon, we drove to Natural Bridge and topped off the day with a hike up that small but lovely canyon. As usual, once we passed the obvious point of interest, we left all the rest of the tourists behind, and had a delightful stroll up that canyon for another half mile in peace and solitude.

The next day, M began to come down with the cold that P had been fighting all week, and so we took the day off. We drove to Scotty's Castle, Ubehebe Crater, and Rhyolite, Nevada, and generally took life easy. It was a nice way to spend a warm sunny day in February. and it seemed to be a reasonably good medicine for fighting a cold. We found a few more places that we would like to hike in the future, including a couple of places we'd like to backpack. That night in the campground, we enjoyed a chat with a neighbor and were already thinking about next time. And on the way home, we found ourselves in one more adventure, as M suggested we take the road to Wildrose on the way to Ridgecrest and home. That's what we did. Only upon arriving at the turn-off to Wildrose, some 15-20 miles up the road, we found the rest of the road was marked "Closed." Oops. How bad could it be? We were about to find out. After two enormous potholes in the first fifty feet of the road, it wasn't too bad. There were clearly areas that were eroded away, and the road dwindled down to a single lane between steep drop-offs. But the road was passable. It was beautiful. And we saw a small herd of wild burros on the way, as well. With a sigh of relief, we eased past the last narrow section about mile from the end of the road...

And so we added to the legend of the little blue Escape, and drove past the "Road Closed" sign in the other direction, slipped out onto the Panamint highway, and sped off to Trona and home.

The weather was nearly perfect for our trip. The hottest temperature was 90F at the Furnace Creek visitors' center in the middle of the afternoon, and the coldest was about 32F in Cottonwood Canyon at 3500 feet during our backpacking trip. The skies were clear, the flowers were just barely beginning to show, and the hiking was delightful.

Fishing Etiquette Post date: Feb 4, 2015 10:17:29 PM Got this question from one of our readers:

Love your blog and site. Recently moved to Fresno after 10+ long years in barren West Texas and cannot wait to spend some good time up in the mountains. Question about fishing in bear country. I mostly fished streams growing up, and always learned to throw the guts back in the stream or lake...but I've read so many different opinions about this, and it sounds like I've been doing it wrong. If not in the water-- then where (especially in bear country). I would love to know what precautions you take, from cleaning and cooking to your clothes.Your thoughts are appreciated! Thanks so much.E...

We thought that this was a good enough question we would put it on our blog. Authorities in different jurisdictions have different answers for this one. We've always been taught that when you are in the wilderness you should leave the guts along side a lake or river (far from camp, for obvious reasons) and let the wilderness scavengers eat them up. We've done it that way for more than fifty years, and we've never seen the guts the next morning.

We know that there are areas where the policy is to toss the guts into the river or stream...but we've seen too many of these white masses of dead flesh at the bottom of crystal clear lakes. Unless we are specifically told otherwise, we'll continue to use the local wildlife to dispose of the fish guts!


Rousseau and hiking Post date: Jan 21, 2015 5:08:19 AM You don't think of him as a backpacker, but he knew hiking. We loved this quote when we read it the other day:

"Never did I think so much, exist so vividly, and experience so much, never have I been so much in the journeys I have taken alone and on foot. There is something about walking which stimulates and enlivens my thoughts. When I stay in one place I can hardly think at all; my body has to be on the move to set my mind going."

Thanks to Michael Jacobs and his book Andes for drawing our attention to this quote, and inspiring us to visit the Andes again.

Time to get out for a walk!

Going UP--the hard way Post date: Jan 15, 2015 7:57:04 PM We hope you've been as fascinated as we have at the amazing attempt to climb the Wall of the Morning Light on El Capitan in Yosemite this month. An incredibly difficult adventure. The Wall of the Early Morning Light was first scaled in the late 1950's in a very controversial climb at the time. The two climbers used many, many bolts to get up the glass-flat slabs of granite on some of the sections, and other climbers were offended by this heavy use of hardware. In fact, a second set of climbers set out along the same route to REMOVE all the bolts the first guys had installed. Only halfway up the climb, they became so enamored of the route that they left the rest in and climbed up to the top using the rest of the bolts, and raving about the experience.

Since then, lots of people have climbed El Capitan, and some have climbed what is now called the Dawn Wall...but always using plenty of hardware. These guys did it climbing only on rock, no bolts or rope to lift themselves up, and starting every pitch from the beginning if they fell. Unbelievable.Here's a link to the whole story from the SF Chronicle:

Filing a Hike Plan Post date: Jan 7, 2015 10:01:12 PM We're sure you've seen it many times---the advice that you should always tell someone where you are going when you leave for a hike. It's good advice. And this story from our neighborhood here in Northern California is a pretty amazing example of that, even when the hike plan was just a post on Facebook.

Here's the story from Reuters: LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A badly injured California hiker stranded on a remote trail was located by a quick-thinking dispatch trainee using Facebook after a 911 distress call got cut off, authorities said Wednesday.

Ryan Pritchard, 41, was hiking Sunday afternoon with his sons Jake, 11, and Devon, 18, in the rugged Putah Creek State Wildlife Area near Lake Barryessa, about 30 miles east of his Sacramento home, when he slipped on a loose rock and fell 150 feet down a cliff and landed in a tree.Since Devon had already gone ahead to their car to return gear, little brother Jake went down the cliff, got his father’s cell phone and called 911, reaching the California Highway Patrol dispatcher. But the call was disconnected before he could give an accurate location and efforts to call again failed.

"Because it was in our jurisdiction, they relayed it to us,” said Deputy Daryl Snedeker, spokesman for the Solano County Sheriff’s Department. “Our dispatchers took the information and began to work together to try to determine where the subject was.

”The cell phone coordinates got them no closer than a cell tower in the city of Vacaville, some 30 miles from where the hikers were. Then a dispatch trainee, Breanna Martinez, got an idea.

“She’s a younger person, so the social media was the first thing that came to her mind,” said Snedeker. “She went to Google, as everyone does these days, and Googled the guy’s name.”

Google took Martinez to Ryan Pritchard’s LinkedIn page, which then led her to his Facebook page.“I scrolled down and the very first post was a picture of his two sons and behind him was the lake — Lake Berryessa,” Martinez told CBS Sacramento. “And it just said, ‘Hiking the Blue Ridge Trail today.’”

That was all the information the dispatchers needed. A CHP rescue helicopter crew found the trail, plucked Ryan from the tree and got him to UC Davis Medical Center all before darkness, said Snedeker.Ryan was being treated for several fractured bones, a head injury and a broken jaw, his family told CBS Sacramento.“I am really impressed by this. I’m so proud of them, taking the initiative and solving the problem,” said the dispatchers’ boss, Solano County Sheriff Tom Ferrara. “And if you have to come up with a new way of doing it, that’s just outstanding.

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