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October through December 2015

5,006 miles and counting Post date: Dec 17, 2015 4:12:01 PM P began this year with a goal: to ride his bicycle at least 5,000 miles over the course of the year. This was quite a challenge, given the number of miles he traveled on airplanes (135,000+ through today) and the fact that he was not only running his own business, but also teaching two classes at the local college.

But success is his! This week he rode a number of days when the temps dropped down into the high 30's and watched with glee/relief as the odometer on the bike rolled over 5,000 miles for the year...and it's now over 62,000 miles since he bought his Bianchi Giro about thirteen years ago.

Now if the weather would just warm up, he'd love to get on the bike and go for a ride...

Naughty List Post date: Dec 17, 2015 4:05:09 PM So who's been naughty this year? We usually make a list of those who deserve something closer to a lump of coal in their stockings, thanks to the dumb and/or mean things they've done over the course of the year. Given the horrific drought we've suffered through over the past four years, first on that list would be those who are careless with fire in the mountains.

But while California had another year of terrible fires, at least clueless hikers weren't to blame for the biggest of them, as far as we know.

In fact, we saw people behaving pretty darn well on the many trips we took into the Sierra this year. Nobody hacking at trees, no dogs on the backcountry trails in the national parks, no mindless campers being obnoxious to everyone nearby. No idiots feeding bears, or trying to tame the deer.

The closest we came to an unpleasant experience was at Lower Youngs Lake in Yosemite, when two different groups of campers set up their tents within 75 feet of us on either side.

But then, our own tent was so neatly camouflaged by its granite gray color and its clever placement in a small grove of trees that we're pretty sure they never even saw us.

So let's just take a pass on the naughty list this year, and just encourage everyone to keep up the good work.

Holiday Wish List Post date: Dec 7, 2015 5:03:01 PM This time of year brings back memories of life as a small child, hoping against hope that we would get the gift or gifts that we really, really desperately wanted. We were sure those gifts would make us happier than we'd ever been. Of course, P remembers one year that he received a football for Christmas...and by noon on Christmas Day it was flat, thanks to an overly aggressive rosebush. Ah well.

These days, we're less convinced that gifts can make us happy. But there are always a few things that would make life easier.

What would make us happy is to have more time to spend on the trail and in the mountains. Maybe we should ask Santa for that...

Walking the Dog Post date: Dec 4, 2015 4:38:44 PM We've run into quite a few dogs on the trail over the years. Some of them have been an absolute delight, while others don't seem to know what to do---and that's never a good situation with a dog.

There's a great discussion right now on Backcountry about how to train your dog before you take it on the trail. It's being driven by a couple of people who really know what they're doing, and the questions are coming fast from a couple of people who want to train the perfect trail dog.

Want to know what they're talking about? Check it out right here:

Yosemite Permits--a plan for next year Post date: Dec 1, 2015 7:07:32 PM As you start to plan your big visit to Yosemite, you might want to keep the following in mind. While June is often when the season opens, that date can vary by as much as a month or more in either direction...

Depending on the weather, June can be either warm, sunny and dry, or snowy and slush. It all depends on what happens over the next six months...and a foot of snow on the ground will obliterate just about all traces of a trail you might want to follow. Most of Yosemite outside of the valley itself is over 7,500 feet.

If we get the predicted El Nino big wet winter, then you could be in for snow levels at 7,500 feet or so---and that includes the top of Half Dome. If that's the case, they won't let you climb it. On the other hand, in most years they open it up around mid to late May...just saying it would be a good idea to keep your options open.

A couple of examples of loop ideas:

1. Take the John Muir Trail from Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows, then hike back down to Happy Isles through Rafferty Creek, Tuolumne Pass, and Fletcher or Lewis Creeks. This would be the busiest section of the backcountry in Yosemite

2. Go off the grid a bit: Hike past Glen Aulin on the first day from Tuolumne Meadows. From their hike up Cold Canyon to Virginia Canyon or McCabe Lakes. Hike cross country by contouring past Roosevelt Lake to Young Lakes. And then back to Tuolumne Meadows. You won't see many people on that route.

Bear in mind that the number of people you will see in the back country is directly related to two things: How close you are to the John Muir Trail and Half Dome, and then how close you are to a trailhead and on a trail. On a trail and one day in from a trailhead, and you will have lots of company. Off trail, or two days in, and the number of people you will see will drop by about 80%. And that is also true of the availability of permits. Avoid the busiest trailheads, and you should be able to get a permit.

Wilderness permits allow you to spend one day BEFORE and one day AFTER the dates on your permit in a backpackers' campground. There is one in Tuolumne Meadows, and another in the Valley. If you want to spend additional time sightseeing in the park, you can usually find a campsite if you start looking early in the morning for a first-come/first serve sight in some of the regular campgrounds. That's easiest to do if you spend the night before in a backpackers campground.


1. Reserve your wilderness permit in advance.

2. Arrive in the park early the day before your permit starts, and pick it up at a wilderness office.

3. Set up camp in a backpackers' campground and enjoy the day sightseeing in Yosemite.

4. Start your backpacking trip with your permit on the date specified.

5. End your trip on the day specified....and spend that night in a backpackers' campground.

6. Get up early the next and prowl the regular campgrounds looking for someone who is packing up. Reserve their space and you're good to go.

There are fabulous hikes in Yosemite that don't involved Half Dome or the John Muir Trail. If you want a true wilderness experience, you'll have to go where other people don't go. We have a long list of backpacking trips in the destination sections on our website

Grateful Post date: Nov 23, 2015 3:58:14 PM This week we celebrate Thanksgiving in the USA, and we thought we'd take just a minute to mention some of the things we are grateful for: Top among those are our apparent good health, and the fact that we have each other and continue to be in love after 38 years of marriage. We wish all of you the same.

We're also enormously grateful for the fact that we live in a place and time that allows us to enjoy the beauty of nature when and where we would like, with wonderful national parks, forests, and wilderness areas.

And we should mention the many people who have joined us in our celebration of the wilderness, from those on the various backpacking message forums, to those we have taken along on a hike . We thank you all

Yosemite's Bears Post date: Nov 20, 2015 4:16:43 PM We have been outspoken on this site about the problem with people. Yes, people. Bears on their own don't cause problems. Bears near stupid people cause lots of problems for everyone--including themselves. The good news is that the public information campaign in Yosemite National Park is really working. Here's what the story in today's SF Chronicle says:

"The black bears of Yosemite National Park are no longer waltzing into campsites, breaking into cars and scarfing tourist food with impunity under the majestic granite domes and soaring waterfalls."Hungry bruins were responsible for only 76 aggressive or destructive incidents in the park this year — the fewest since record-keeping began in 1975, Yosemite officials said Thursday. None of this year’s incidents involved injuries."That’s compared with some 1,600 bear-human incidents recorded in the peak year of 1998, a 95 percent decrease."

Want to read more about it? Here's the link:

Time to review the troops Post date: Nov 16, 2015 6:42:23 PM With the news full of road closures and snowstorms in the Sierra, now is a great time to review, refresh and re-think your equipment for next year.We usually take a weekend to pull out every piece of backpacking equipment that we own.

We drag it all out into the center of the living room, and make sure it's all in tip-top shape. Sometimes a tent needs a leak fixed, or a sleeping bag needs a wash. The bug juice gets checked to make sure it's still good, as do the medicines and any dried food...

And every year, we find that we've picked up another piece of equipment or two, to replace something that's a bit old, a bit tired, or maybe just a heavier version of the new one. And while we keep some of the old equipment just to make sure that we have what we need, we also give some of it away.

We made one girl scout troop very happy a few years ago, when we gave them some old sleeping pads, tents, and bags. We weren't using them any more, and the scouts were able to enjoy a trip together--even those who couldn't have afforded to buy their own gear. We hope you'll do the same this year.

Besides, going through your gear is not only a smart thing to do, it will also give you ideas for planning next year's trips, where you just might need one or two things before you go.

Do it now, and avoid the Christmas rush.

Re-Thinking Black Friday Post date: Oct 29, 2015 5:04:07 PM It was nice to see that REI is going to be closed on Black Friday, encouraging their customers to get outside and do something more entertaining than shopping. It's a great idea, and it can't hurt REI much, since the people who would shop at REI are not likely to find similar merchandise at the big box stores and malls that get so much attention on Black Friday.

If the weather is at all agreeable, we highly recommend a hike in the Sierra. Some of our favorite day-hikes are perfect for this time of year--it's not too hot, the light is lovely for photographs, and you won't see 1/3 of the people that you might see during the summer months.

Here's a link to the REI story in USA Today:

Not so Easy Post date: Oct 25, 2015 2:19:50 PM We've had a few comments about our recent post on bow-drill fire making. As many people have pointed out, that just one of the "standard practices" that aren't very reliable once you get out in the woods.

So once you've spent days mastering making a fire that way, you might want to use whatever energy you have left to try to signal for help with a small mirror.

Yeah.These actually work pretty well for signaling from one mountain top to another--because the bright flash of the mirror is much easier to see WHEN YOU KNOW WHERE TO LOOK FOR IT!

On the other hand, there are innumerable stories of people who tried to signal helicopters and other search parties with a mirror, and found that it simply wasn't a big enough flash to get anyone's attention.

Colin Fletcher, in his book "The Man Who Walked Through Time" tell of his deep frustration trying to do this. He also tried a bright red signal flag--also ineffective in the red rock canyons of the Grand Canyon. A large blue tarp finally got Colin his food drop--and the rest of his book.

Fire Drill Post date: Oct 17, 2015 1:37:34 AM Following up on our last post...Have you ever tried to start a fire with a bow drill? P has. It took forever, and a little help from a friend, as well as three different kinds of tinder to get it started. And that isn't because he didn't know what he was doing. Starting a fire that way is really hard. Unless you really have no other alternative, it's a huge waste of time and energy--just what you don't need in the wilderness.

Which is what most of those survival shows seem to do every single time.

We take along a couple of extra lighters, because we don't like the idea of having to start a fire with a bow drill. We also take along a small magnifying glass, which can be used quite effectively to start a fire, as any nine year-old boy can tell you.

Of course, there's no great television in doing in that way. But we don't go backpacking to entertain television viewers. We go to have fun and relax. And if those survival shows need any advice, we'd suggest that they ask any nine year-old boy for help. We're sure they'd learn a few things.

Overkill on the Trail Post date: Oct 13, 2015 8:22:27 PM One of the disadvantages of the bushcrafters who want to make their camp out of available materials in the wilderness is that they have to carry such heavy packs.

Of course they need a huge survival knife, to fight bears and ...well, I am sure that they find uses for those knives. The only thing we've every seen someone use a big knife for on the trail is to split wood, scrape wood for tinder, or dig a hole for a tent stake. In each case, we had to smile. We never make fires with wood big enough to split, because they take too long to put out properly.* And with a good lighter and a little bit of paper, we don't need to create piles of tinder for our bow-drill.

And we can't think of a better way to ruin your knife that to use it to dig a hole, or pound in a tent stake. What's more, we've sometimes seen everything from a hatcherTto a shovel tied to a if the hiker is going to homestead somewhere out by the lake. What a lot of extra weight to carry for no purpose! We take along a small plastic trowel as part of our toilet kit, but we don't need to dig a latrine, just a small cat-hole.

The hatchet? The only thing a hatchet can do in the wilderness is leave marks wherever it is used--which is exactly the opposite of our philosophy to leave no trace. We leave no trace...and we leave the hatchet at home.

*(We rarely make a fire in the backcountry at all, for that reason.)

Out of Date Ideas Post date: Oct 12, 2015 11:22:58 PM We’re not big fans of those survival shows that focus on “bushcraft” skills to stay alive in the wilderness. Sure, they can be entertaining—sometimes for the wrong reasons—but we backpack in the Sierra Nevada in California, and that makes a big difference.

Yes, we’ve seen a show or two located in “California’s rugged and deadly Sierra Nevada…” but please. We hike there all the time. We run into families with kids, people far older than ourselves, and rookies with almost no experience. And we all seem to have a great time in these mountains. The deadliest part of the Sierra, as we have said many times, is the drive to the trailhead on the highway. But there is more to this topic than just a misrepresentation of the nature of the mountains. Bushcraft is a group of skills developed by early trappers and mountain men to stay alive when they had to live off the land a hundred and fifty years ago. Those skills are not only obsolete, but the techniques they used often damaged the wilderness for years to come. They didn’t care, and neither did anyone else, because there was so much wilderness and so few people. They also shot animals to eat, and trapped others to sell. That’s not the case today.

John Muir loved to chop branches of a tree to make his bed—but that doesn’t mean you should do it. We don’t have enough trees for that kind of nonsense now. So our advice is to leave the hatchet and Bowie knife at home. Instead of scrounging up all the available tinder to start your fire with a bow-drill, take along an extra lighter and cook on a nice gas stove.

And when the mood strikes you to whack some trees down to make shelter against a coming storm, resist it. Your tent will work better than anything you can make anyway…and you’ll leave the mountains in better shape that way.

We like to leave our campsite in the photo without a trace of use--so the next person could find it just as pristine as we did.

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