Saturday, April 28, 2007

Meeting hikers on the trail

I usually enjoy meeting other hikers on trails. Most hikers are considerate, helpful, and friendly. Some are occasionally thoughtless or just irritating but even those hikers may be otherwise pleasant. When hiking in Yellowstone or Glacier Parks, I am especially glad to be informed of any bear activity. Other hikers have told me about animals they saw on the current trail, trail hazards, and particularly good views or neat things they've seen. Hikers have directed me when I was uncertain of the trail and told me about other nice trails in the area. While most encounters are brief and consist of the other party and I simply exchanging greetings, sometimes we talk for a few minutes or hike a bit together along the trail.

Because I usually hike alone I may enjoy talking with other hikers more than most but often groups of 2 or more initiate the conversation. I suspect most hikers like to share information and experiences. Obviously the desire to share is a large part of my motivation for blogging. I don't always want to stop and talk with hikers, some trails are crowded and I wouldn't make any progress if I stopped to talk and feel crowded. I tend to avoid trails I know are popular in summer because meeting someone is more enjoyable if I haven't seen another hiker recently. I also like being quiet (except in grizzly country) while hiking; I see more animals. I don't like constantly hearing others conversations. I also get tired of stepping off the trail repeatedly and being asked "how much farther?". However I do try to give accurate information even if I think they should have a decent map; I've been less prepared than I should be before also.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Poisonous snakes

Most of the places I hike I don't need to worry about poisonous snakes, I mostly hike in western WA and we don't have any poisonous snakes here. I do hike in other places, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and eastern WA that do have poisonous snakes. I grew up in Idaho and saw a number of rattlesnakes, none particularly aggressive and not worrisome. When I was in Utah in Fall 2005, I saw a small, pale rattlesnake in Arches NP along a trail. It was moving away from the hikers as fast as it could. Last June in Zion I saw a red and black banded snake near a trail. I could not remember how to distinguish a King snake from a Coral snake and none of the other hikers close by could remember either. I took a picture and later decided it definitely was a King snake. Still, it was a type of snake I had never seen before and interesting.

My closest recent encounter with a poisonous snake was in WA state along the Methow River a few miles upstream from Mazama. One fall afternoon I was hiking back to my pickup along a rocky trail. I was tired and hot, the sun was heating the rocks, and I wasn't paying much attention to the trail. I looked down at one point just in time to avoid stepping on a large snake. It was coiled, poised to strike. I couldn't see its tail and it wasn't rattling. I thought it was a pine or bull snake, they look similar to rattlesnakes and may mimic their behavior. I stepped back anyway and the snake uncoiled and moved back into the rocks. When its tail became visible, it started rattling. I was a lot more aware of where I was walking for the rest of that hike. I shouldn't have been so surprised to see a rattlesnake, I know the Methow Valley has them and and several nearby trails have warning signs. Besides, the area around the trailhead for the trail I was on is called Rattlesnake Camp.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Drinking untreated water

Until about 20 years ago, I routinely drank untreated water from streams on trails. On many hikes, I would take only a pint water bottle and fill it along the trail as I went. On some hikes that was a problem, I would run out of water before I found more, but I was younger then and better able to withstand dehydration. On hikes in areas without water I would carry water but still enjoyed drinking from clear, fast moving streams. Then I started hearing more recommendations to treat water before drinking it, both official and word of mouth. For the western US where I hike the primary issue was giardiasis and there was emphasis that it could infect clear, fast moving water. So I started bringing water with me or treating it, chemically or boiling it. It was a pain but an acquaintance got giardiasis and was miserable for weeks. I hadn't had any trouble but did not want to chance infection.

In the last couple of years, the USENET group rec.backcountry has had recurring discussions about the safety of water in the backcountry of the western US. Various posters have quoted sources which indicate that giardia are not that common and the risk of drinking water from moving sources is slight. Also that the larger risk of giardiasis is from poor hygiene and contamination by companions. I've thought about this but concluded that the downside of treating my water or carrying extra is slight and I prefer to lower my risks of water-borne illness. On the other hand, if I ran out of water on a hike and got thirsty, I would drink what appeared to be clean water rather than get dehydrated.

A couple of years ago in Yellowstone NP, I met 4 guys backcountry hiking on a warm, very dry afternoon. They initially asked me where the nearest restroom was (probably back where you started the trail). After talking further I found they needed water, it was good they clarified this because I might have directed them to a pit toliet. I could have spared some water but it would not have gone far amoung the 4 of them. Instead I gave them my bottle of iodine water purifier and suggested they read the directions. Since we were standing by a small lake with streams flowing into the lake, there was plenty of available water. I'm not sure how to weigh the risk of drinking untreated water in YNP backcountry with the discomfort and risk of dehydration, clearly it is better to be prepared. Still, I probably would have found a clean-appearing creek and filled my water bottles.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Candle lantern

I use and really like the LED flashlights and headlamps that have appeared the the last few years. My headlamp (Princeton Tec Aurora) is lightweight, comfortable to wear, and lasts a long time on 3 AAA batteries. I use it for reading, for cooking, and for general camp use. I have a couple of LED flashlights I use when camping, a CMG Infinity, I like the single AA battery, long battery life, and it is small and lightweight. I sometimes take a Princeton Tec Attitude (4 AAA) because it it brighter and casts its beam further. I'm less happy about the 4 AA LED area light I bought, it is large and bulky and doesn't really put out enough light to read by or do very much. I still use it for car camping because I have it and it does put out enough light to find things. I tried another combination area and flashlight and decided it was a good flashlight but not effective as an area light. Maybe there are good small LED area lights out there but I haven't wanted to buy yet another possibly disappointing light. I have considered getting the Indigo lantern (here) for car camping especially longer trips or power outages at home. I like the multiple recharge modes (crank, AC, 12 volt) but I don't really need it. During a 3 day power outage last December, I did very well with what I already have for lights.

I still also use my REI candle lantern. I like the light it gives, which is a bit better than the area light I have. It also warms a small area and helps reduce humidity, nice in cold weather. It is nostalgic, a return to simpler and younger times. It used to be cheaper than a flashlight, about 25 hours for less than 3 dollars of candle. However, since my Infinity gets about 60 hours on 1 AA battery the cost trade off is less obvious. I haven't figured out how many hours I get from my 4 AA area light, but it isn't as inexpensive as the Infinity. The candle lantern is somewhat of a fire hazard, but I have bumped it and knocked it over or down several times and it has always gone out immediately. A couple of times a bit of wax spilled out but mostly not even that. I'm careful with it of course but think the advantages, including the esthetic, outweigh the dangers and cost.