Saturday, January 31, 2009

Outdoor reading - survival

During the summer I buy books on outdoor topics, during the winter I read them. Since I'm not getting out this winter and don't have other topics in mind, I will discuss some topics on backcountry books.

I've been reading more books and articles on survival topics this last year than usual. Possibly the well reported incidents locally (PNW) have piqued my interest or perhaps my increasing age and declining health have made me more aware of my personal risks. Not that I expect to be in a survival situation, I hope to avoid such situations, but I am aware that even in everyday activities I may find myself in a precarious situation.

Most of the books have been about an individual's personal survival stories, interesting but not highly applicable to situations I expect to encounter. I can learn some things from these books, such as to carry appropriate equipment and don't fly in small planes over mountains, but the day to day struggle isn't likely to be similar to what I would encounter. Other books, such as those by Tom Brown, are more specialized than I would usually need and require more time and practice than I'm willing to spend.

One book I read recently is Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales, the subtitle is "Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why". To oversimplify, the premise of the book is psychological factors most strongly influence ability to survive life-threatening situations. I hasten to add that he doesn't imply having a positive attitude is the only thing needed or that one needs a positive attitude, just an appropriate turn of mind. I won't elaborate, I think this is a good book to read both for the survival knowledge and as interesting reading. The majority of the book consists of annotated survival stories, both of those who survived and who didn't, with a final chapter with some advice to increase ones chances of survival. Gonzales includes stories from from non-outdoor disasters, such as the September 11, 2001 planes and other plane crashes and how people coped without emergency gear.

I've blogged before about trying to develop a balanced approach to carrying emergency items with me when hiking. I tend to be the type to take 'everything' and that isn't working when hiking, my pack weighs too much, see I carry lots of equipment in my car and often multiple backup options, like 3 flashlights plus extra batteries. It only took a couple of situations, such as being stuck for a couple of hours on Snoqualmie Pass, with no idea of how long the wait would be and unable to go either direction, before I decided that I would carry lots of stuff including food and blankets in my car but that isn't an option for hiking.

Anyway, I am rethinking what is most useful for me to carry when hiking. I haven't taken my cell phone much of the time since cell coverage in the northern Cascades and many backcountry locations is poor. However, coverage is getting better and even if I can't complete a call, my phone might be trackable by GPS through the cell phone company. I'm also putting together a small emergency kit for my waist pack and making sure I carry a compass, emergency food, and a light vinyl poncho always.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Other trail users - motorized users

As a hiker I don't like motorized use of backcountry trails or roads set aside for snow recreation use. Over the years I've been hiking, I have observed enough bad behavior by riders of trails bikes, ATVs, and snowmobiles to ensure I don't like such uses of trails. Motorized use tends to be noisy and polluting, lead to increased environmental degradation, and users may be inconsiderate to the point of vandalism and other illegal behavior. On one occasion, I heard noise coming up behind me that I initially thought was Whidbey Island jet jockeys flying up canyons north of Lake Wenatchee, something I've seen several times. No, it was 3 dirt bikes coming up the trail. Many off-road machines are 2-stroke engines which are inefficient and unnecessarily pollute the air. I've seen riders pull down fences and signs, both on public and private lands. Also, I've seen riders use closed trails and ride across previously unmarked land, destroying vegetation. Many arid hills show erosion patterns due to multiple bike or ATV trails going up.

Of course motorized use doesn't have to be so obnoxious. Quieter 4-stroke engines and mufflers are available. Riders who obey laws and ride on hard surfaces don't necessarily cause excessive erosion. Of course most motorized use is more damaging than hiking, but I've seen enough alpine meadows trampled by hikers to know that other users also cause environmental damage and I've commented recently on horse and mountain bike issues. I've had pleasant conversations with people on dirt bikes, snowmobiles, and ATVs many times. I have also seen riders help non-riders when lost, stuck, or mildly injured. Of course this is expected behavior but points out that not all riders are obnoxious jerks.

I also know that riding may be fun. For a couple of years around 1970, I used a trail bike to get into Forest Service lands. Mostly I used the bike to allow myself to get closer to the area I wanted to hike than I could with a car rather than actually ride on a trail, my skills weren't up to real trail riding but I remember enjoying riding along Forest Service roads. On my recent trips to Utah, I've wanted to take an ATV on some of the motorized trails, I can't hike that far anymore and I would like to get further into the non-road areas. I've used a snowmobile a couple of times on logging roads, it was great.

My copy of Backpacking One Step at a Time (1973) has the following quote "Strangers met on the trail deserve the same consideration - unless they are riding motorbikes in which case the proper response is every manner of hostility short of lynching." My response to this quote has moved from amusement to acceptance to dismay. I don't like motorized trail use, I don't even want to be in the same area that motorized use is occurring but I think that blanket hostility is the wrong approach. I think riders behaving in a considerate, legal, and respectful manner should be treated courteously, as we treat all other users. Yes, motorized use is problematic and uses more resources than non-motorized use. But I drive often and sometimes longs distances to hike, is this not a waste of precious resources? Also, there is some hypocrisy in a group of users who celebrate the joy of helicopter-assisted skiing but object to snowmobiles on a logging road. All recreational users need to consider the cost of their use and work to reduce these costs.