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January to April 2011

Post date: Apr 15, 2011 3:23:41 PM

As we begin packing for our trip to Machu Picchu, one of the things we are supposed to bring on the trail is our own selection of snacks. And snacks on the trail means Gorp to us!

(The unofficial etymology of Gorp is "Good Old Raisins and Peanuts," but the OED says it probably comes from an English word meaning to eat greedily. Beware! Reading further my increase your appetite!)

We make up a separate bag of gorp for each day on the trail, more or less. And each one is a little different, so that we get lots of variety as we hike, even on a week-long trip.The mix for each day always starts with M&Ms.

Gotta have that chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your pack. And the dark chocolate ones, please. Milk chocolate is chocolate lite--not for real people. Then we add an equal amount of nuts. Sometime walnuts, sometimes almond, cashews, or pecans. Each day is different.

Then we add an equal amount of dried fruit. Here again, variation is the rule. We love craisins, and use raisins, as well. We also have been know to chop up apricots, apples, bananas, and even ginger to add a little spice.Shake the bag, seal it up, and move on to the next day.

Let's see...this time with craisins, pecans, and ginger...ummmmm!

Post date: Apr 6, 2011 3:15:19 AM

This amazing story comes out of Yosemite National Park...A winter storm that began on the night of Friday, March 18th, continued into the following week, dropping heavy snow throughout the park.

By the following Monday morning, the Wawona District and nearby community of Fish Camp had received between two and three feet of snow. Highway 41, the only road leading into the park's South Entrance, was closed and impassible due to power line and tree failures outside of the park, leaving Fish Camp residents and guests at the Tenaya Lodge stranded.

Around 11 a.m., dispatch received a 911 call from the Tenaya Lodge, reporting that a 61-year-old man was experiencing chest pain. Because county responders could not get to the hotel, ranger/paramedic Heidi Schlichting responded from Wawona. She reached the man about 15 minutes later, along with a Cal Fire paramedic from Fish Camp, Mark Spencer. An assessment of the patient revealed that he had a history of heart problems and that, due to the nature of his symptoms, he was likely having another cardiac event.Immediate transport was warranted, but weather conditions made this an extremely difficult option.

An air evacuation was accordingly ordered. A CHP helicopter flew to the area, but was unable to find an adequate landing zone due to the terrain and inclement weather.While the helicopter was circling, Schlichting and Spencer began transporting the patient in her patrol car, hoping to somehow meet up with an ambulance. Pushing through over two feet of snow and maneuvering around stuck motorists, Schlichting drove until she encountered a tree across the road.

Using hand and chain saws to clear trees and debris, she slowly made her way down the road, while still maintaining patient care, which included administration of emergency cardiac medications. She was assisted by NPS forestry tech Brian Mattos and NPS fire personnel Taro Pusina and Eric Neiswanger, whose sawyer expertise was invaluable in clearing approximately fifteen trees in very difficult conditions. It took about an hour-and-a-half for the party to travel approximately two miles, where they encountered power lines down across the road, making it impossible to continue.

While waiting for a PG&E utilities crew to reach them to clear the lines, they began devising a plan to extricate the patient over the snow. A Madera County Search and Rescue snow cat arrived on the opposite side of the downed lines and assisted with transporting the man to a waiting ambulance. It took four hours to reach the ambulance. The man was then transported by ambulance to Oakhurst and flown to St. Agnes Hospital in Fresno, where he subsequently underwent triple bypass surgery.

Dispatchers Ansley Rothell and Nancy Bissmeyer played a key role in maintaining communications and coordinating efforts of all involved personnel. Without the efforts and coordination between the involved agencies, including the NPS, Cal Fire MMU, Sierra National Forest, Mariposa County, Madera County, CHP, and CAL Trans, the man would likely not have survived.

Posted originally by Eeek! on a great site for chatting about Yosemite and its issues.

Post date: Mar 31, 2011 2:18:24 AM

A recent discussion on the High Sierra Topix page got us thinking...On a typical day on the trail, P is usually the first one up...about 6:30 or so....just like at home. He gets dressed and goes out of the tent to get the breakfast out and start it cooking. No fire, because we almost never light a fire in the back country, but there is water to boil. M gets up a bit later, so that by the time she leaves the tent, the breakfast is ready. Oatmeal, hot cocoa, some dried fruit and a bit of coffee for M is how we start the day--often with some walnuts chopped up in the oatmeal. If she gets an early start, M packs up the sleeping bags, etc. before coming out of the tent. If not, we do that together right after breakfast.

While M puts on her lotions and creams, P packs up the tent, and we both work together pretty efficiently to pack up for the day's hike. We do like to get out of camp and on the trail in the morning...allowing us the afternoon to recover and enjoy the next campsite, so we are always on the trail by 8:30 or so, sometimes as much as an hour earlier. One of us always makes sure that our water bottles are full for the day on the trail. Once on the trail, we'll stop every hour or so for water and/or a snack, and stop for lunch around noon---usually only 30 minutes or so. After lunch we'll just keep hiking until we get to the destination, although some days we've been known to dawdle at a nice lunch stop and fish, rest, and relax before continuing on.

Once we get to camp, usually in mid-afternoont, we set up the tent right away, then take time to fish, bathe, etc. Maybe we take a nap in the afternoon, or go for short sight-seeing hikes in the area--and we always pump enough water for dinner at that point. Dinner is usually about 6 pm...and then we go for a short day-hike to the top of the nearest hill or peak to see the view. That's a great tradition with us, and many of our favorite photos have been taken at the end of the day like that.

e're always back in camp well before dark...and usually with no fire, we just watch the shadows grow deeper, and when it is dark, we get in the tent and into our bags.M may read for a few minutes by the light of one of our micro-lights, while P often prefers just to lie still and listen to the wilderness. We're asleep well before ten p.m....and the next thing you know, it's time to get up and do it again again.Just thinking about it makes us wish we were hiking right now!

Post date: Mar 9, 2011 6:00:36 PM

No, we're not great fans of the airlines. Admittedly, P travels so much that he gets special treatment at the gate...but like everyone else, he is still stuck on a plane with hundreds of people every time he flies. It's not exactly backpacking. Here's his account.

A recent flight out of SFO sure had its charms. Choosing a window seat allowed me to get the ultimate bird's eye view of the Sierra, and since I was headed for IAD, we went right over the top of Sonora Pass. I could trace at least four of our recent pack trips into the Emigrant Wilderness--although they were under a heavy snowpack.

It was pretty great entertainment--way better than the video on board! Crabtree Trailhead was clearly visible, as was the topography to get to Camp, Bear, and Granite Lakes. And I could easily make out the route to Grouse Lake, up Louse Canyon, and on to Woods Lake. The huge granite gorge of Cherry Creek really stood out, and Yellowhammer Lake's location was obvious, down in the canyon. From there I could follow the creek all the way down to Cherry Lake. Every lake I could see was frozen over except for Cherry Lake.

And higher up, closer to the crest, I could Emigrant and Huckleberry Lake. And south of that was Matterhorn Canyon and Kerrick Canyon; another great trip we took just this last summer. In the distance Half Dome and Cloud's Rest were good markers; and from there I could see Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Peak, and Mount Conness.

It was as much fun as any map, and I was glued to the window for the entire time. And yes. I wish I had carried my camera on board. There were clouds hanging just over the crest, so the east side was pretty much covered up. I couldn't see Leavitt Meadows or our long hike up the West Walker River. But I could see Bishop and the road that leads up to Twin Lakes and the trailhead for the Matterhorn Canyon trip. It disappeared in to the fog just as it hit the hills on the east side.

The whole show put a smile on my face for most of the rest of the flight...until I realized how long it would be before I was going to walk those mountains again. sigh.

Time to pull out a map and start planning.

Post date: Feb 5, 2011 3:22:49 PM

We loved this story when we heard it on NPR's Science Friday...

ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2011) — A systematic review carried out by a team at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry has analysed existing studies and concluded that there are benefits to mental and physical well-being from taking exercise in the natural environment. Their findings are published in the research journal Environmental Science and Technology on February 4th

It turns out that doing mental puzzles (crosswords, sudoku, etc.) help build specific brain functions ( P is addicted to those) but only hiking or other outside exercise builds a better brain all the way around. But then, as backpackers, we knew that we felt better, and thought better, after we returned from a backpacking trip.

Of course we knew. We backpack. Our brains are already bigger!

Post date: Jan 20, 2011 4:34:41 PM

P recently built a few alcohol stoves from empty Bud Light aluminum bottles. The plans are easy to find on the internet--and luckily we have a friend who likes Bud Light. P would have hated to pour the stuff out---but it really isn't his kind of beer!

The plans are pretty simple, and P managed to make the stoves using really basic hand tools. A small saw, a drill, some sandpaper, and fifteen minutes later you have a pretty decent alcohol stove.

So how does it work? It takes a few seconds, maybe twenty, for the alcohol to heat up and start to vaporize through the gas jets. Then it burns just like the burner on our gas stove at full blast for as long as there is fuel. And then it slowly dies down and goes out.

This thing puts out lots of heat while there is fuel--and at room temperature, it boiled a quart of water in about three minutes or so, with about one ounce of fuel. Pretty efficient!

But there are some down sides as well. You can't control the heat--it's either ON, or it's off. That isn't the best solution for M, who is a chef and likes to be able to moderate the heat as needed. The burner pattern is pretty big--bigger than many small backpacking pots. (the perfect combination would be one of these stoves with a cookpot made of a larger Fosters beer can...but most of the flame from this stove would go right past the bottom of that pot. That's not efficient at all.)

And once it's on, it has to burn out. If you try to blow it out, it will just burn hotter...and maybe blow flaming alcohol all over the forest. ahem. (Yeah--there are ways that you can smother the burner once it's lit...but if the goal here is a light stove, taking extra parts complicates that.)

These also seem to use more fuel than our MSR Pocket Rocket. With the Rocket, we use about one ounce of fuel per day to boil water twice a day--once at dinner, and once for breakfast. But these alcohol stoves use about twice that amount. Then again, the PR gas canister weighs more that a plastic bottle filled with alcohol...weight probably works out about the same.In the end, everyone will have to make their own decisions about these stoves.

We've give a few to friends, for them to play with. And we've kept a couple for ourselves, too. But M doesn't think we'll be using them for backpacking. She likes her Pocket Rocket.

Post date: Jan 16, 2011 1:32:08 AM

This time of year, we spend a lot of time thinking about summer, and the trips we'll take. But we also try to stay in shape, despite the obvious temptations of holiday food and drink. Those temptations are even stronger in our house, since M is a chef and P works in the wine business. You can imagine how that works. Well, maybe you can't.

But we do spend some time getting fit, or trying to maintain our conditioning. M goes to the gym three or four times a week, for a variety of workout classes. That seems to work pretty well for her, especially when she adds an evening walk to the mix. P is a litte more hard-core. He loves to ride his road bike--and will do that over 5,000 miles every year. Last year he did over 6500. That means lots of rides longer than two hours--and quite a few over 50 miles. His cardio seems pretty darn good these days.

We seems to notice a difference once we hit the trail. M starts out strong, but seems to lose steam after an hour. P, maybe because of his longer workouts, seems to be able to keep up the pace much longer...maybe because he's used to those long bike rides?But we're curious.

Do you do any endurance training or similar sports? How much, and how long? Jogging or swimming fit the bill...are we missing some others? And how do you think that affects your backpacking?

Post date: Jan 12, 2011 3:33:50 PM

Every backpacking book or website will tell you that it's all about the big three: tent, pack and sleeping bag. Get the very best of those, and the rest of your backpacking will be a breeze.Well, we disagree. It's not about the big three. It's really about getting outdoors and on the trail. And if you are going to obsess about your equipment instead of hiking, you really are missing the point.

Sure, the big three are the main ingredients to your home on the trail. And sure, it would be wonderful to have the very best, lightest and latest version of each item. But it isn't a requirement. In fact, it doesn't really make a big difference.

Examples? OK. Some of our early equipment would never meet the standards of today's equipment geeks (even though it served us through some of the greatest trips we have ever taken!) A couple of full sized sleeping bags that weighed five pounds and didn't compress much smaller than an ice chest cost us about $40 each. A three-man Eureka tent that we originally bought for car camping and weighs nearly eight pounds and cost us another $150. And a pair of Eureka backpacks that we picked up at a box store for under $50 apiece. Our total pack weights just for the big three were something like 17 pounds for P, and another 9 pounds for M. And that's without food, water, cook kit, or clothing.

That sounds like a lot. But then again, when we left for a four day trip in Yosemite that covered over thirty miles in four days...the stuff worked just fine, and we had a phenomenal trip! Our total pack weights were 35 pounds for P and 25 for M. And our total expenditures (including stove and water filter) were just over $420.That's not unbearable by any means. We picked up a great aluminum pot for a buck at Goodwill, and that's also where we bought all of our fleece layers. And we left the skillet at home, and didn't bring our tuxedos...but we had all we needed, and that's all that really matters.

Those are reasonable pack weights for most people, and if you can carry that, you can have some great adventures in the mountains, even if you don't own the latest ultra-light airskin equipment.Do we still use that stuff? The answer might surprise you. Over the years, we've upgraded our equipment a bit. We picked up a couple REI Sub-kilo sleeping bags for under $200 each, and that cut almost three pounds off our packweight. And P made a little two-man tent that cut another found pounds of his load. But we still sometimes use the Eureka when we have a guest along, and it works just fine. And our packs? Sometimes we still use the same old ones we started with. They work just fine, thank you very much.So now our base weights are lower.

For the big three, M carries just six pounds, and P carries about nine. Which means that on a an eight day trip last summer over three 10,000 foot passes, our starting trail weight was 36 pounds for P and 26 for M--only a pound more than that earlier trip in Yosemite.That was nice, but we could have done the same trip carrying the extra ten pounds between us. And so can you. So don't spend your life making constant upgrades to a kit you don't use. Get out there with whatever you have, and over time that equipment will take care of itself. If you REALLY want to look like a pro, it's always better to have older, well-used equipment on your back instead of brand new equipment sitting in your living room.Always.

Footnote: P posted this on some of the on-line backpacking discussion boards. My goodness, but it caused a ruckus. And also brought out a lot of support from long time backpackers who absolutely agreed!

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