Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blogging hiatus - broken arm

Not that I've been regular about posting but I will be doing so much less for a while. I broke my left humerus near the elbow. I wish I could write a hiking- related posting on how I broke my arm but I tripped over an irregularity on my driveway and fell at home.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Public campgrounds

I do day hikes, not backpacking. When I hike, even locally, I like to car camp near my hiking area. I enjoy the camping and often hike the next day also or until I need to return home. When I go to areas further away, such as Yellowstone NP or Utah, I much rather camp than stay in a motel most of the time and it is much cheaper. I've seen a lot of public campgrounds, mostly in the Western U.S., built and maintained by the Park Service, Forest Service, and BLM. Campgrounds, built or reconstructed in the last 25 years, often seem to be to be designed by people who have never camped in that they are not designed in ways most campers want. I'm thinking about privacy, ability to park close to campsite, room to park, shade, and arrangement of tables, fire pits, etc. I do realize that the responsible agency never has enough money, must compromise among multiple requirements, such as resource conservation and safety, and often needs to consider tent campers, large RV users, and pickup campers. Obviously differing requirements make it difficult to come up with campgrounds that please everyone especially budget offices and conservation needs. Still, I see some campgrounds that I wonder what the agency was thinking when the campground was designed. I also see recently constructed campgrounds that have few users even when surrounding ones are full.

For me, one of the greatest irritations is lack of privacy and any barrier between sites. Of course some areas simply don't have natural barriers, the area has scant vegetation and is mostly flat. On the other hand, in many FS campgrounds, much of the underbrush and trees are removed. I know that larger RVs need more room to maneuver forcing brush removal. And unsafe trees need to be removed lest they land on someones campsite and cause injuries and lawsuits. Still, I really wish the agency would attempt to retain trees and understory when possible and utilize natural barriers, such as rocks, to separate campsites. There is a FS campground in north Idaho that was rebuilt a few years ago. This area is heavily used on summer weekends and I would expect to see the newer campground more heavily used with its updated toilets, etc. However, the campground was virtually clearcut, no shade, no privacy among sites, and no sound deadening from the nearby highway. Whenever I've gone by, the campground has been nearly empty.

Another annoying issue is placing campsites and particularly parking too close together. I understand the desire to have a compact campground retaining as much natural habitat as possible. Also, most people want to be close to facilities and compactness is cheaper than building more toilets and water and garbage stations. Still, if sites and parking are too close, most people won't use the site or campground if they have a choice. Many campground have tent camping sections with the parking being a parking lot and campsites off a short trail some feet away. I don't see these sites used a lot. Yes, people are lazy but if you aren't backpacking, you probably don't want to carry all your gear that far from your car. Then there is also the issue of food, stoves, and food waste. Nearly everyone who has camped in areas frequented by bears will want to place the food, cooking equipment, and garbage in the car, making for a lot of trips. Also most people like to be able to see their car in a public campground.

Double campsites are common in some campgrounds. I know a lot of campers travel in small groups and like double sites but making the whole campground into double sites? I stayed at a BLM campground in Wyoming configured as all double sites. The campground was about 1/3 full but the only sites occupied by 2 vehicles were fairly obviously being used by the RV and vehicle, not 2 campers. The parking area for most of the sites was simply too small for a large RV and towed vehicle or towing vehicle. The parking areas were also too narrow to easily fit most camper's vehicles and allow easy access.

There are other issues such as permanent fire pits which are situated wrong for common wind directions, parking spaces which are too short for no obvious reason, and tent pads which are uneven or noticeably slanted. Often I wonder, was anyone thinking about how these sites will be used or just following a checkoff list? I don't mean to be overly critical, I use public campgrounds and often like them and certainly prefer them to all the private campgrounds I've seen. Still, a little bit more thought would have helped.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Expanding wildlife ranges

Since I've been hiking, some wildlife species have expanded their ranges; more have retracted or become far less common throughout their range. I wish all range expansion was of native animals to the region but some non-native North American animals have been introduced for hunting.

The most publicized example is the reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone area and Idaho. I've seen Yellowstone wolves while hiking several times and heard wolves and seen tracks in the Lolo Pass area of Idaho. I'm pleased with the spread of wolves in the west although I'm aware that not everyone is so pleased especially local ranchers. I graduated with a degree in biology from Idaho State University in Pocatello and remember persistent rumors of wolves in the Yellowstone area when I was there 35 years ago. In one case I heard directly from the participants who were biology graduate students. They had gone cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and saw what they thought was a wolf. In the same area they found tracks in snow larger than coyote tracks. Of course other animals than a wild wolf could have made these tracks. A pet wolf or dog or escaped wolf/dog/coyote mix could have made these tracks. And, the tracks may have been enlarged by melting and/or made by a very large coyote. It is certain that even if wolves did move through the area after local extirpation, they did not establish a permanent breeding population before reintroduction. Still it is pleasant to think some wolves may have added their genes to the packs without human intervention.

Speaking of Yellowstone Park, mountain goats can now often be seen in the northeast area on and around Mt. Barronette. Mountain goats were introduced to the Absaroka and Gallatin mountains in the past, they are not native to the Yellowstone area. I hope they do not cause the same problems as the introduced mountain goats have caused in the Olympic Mountains, particularly destruction of alpine vegetation.

On my recent trip to the Methow area, I saw turkeys along the road a few times. These are also non-native animals, introduced for hunting. I'm not aware of any problems yet from turkey introductions but I know non-native introductions of other species have caused serious problems including extinction of native populations.

Growing up in north Idaho, I do not remember seeing Stellar's blue jays in local rural areas. Sometime in the 1980s Stellar's blue jays expanded into the small towns and rural areas. I know Stellar's blue jays were in north Idaho before then, the Lewis and Clark expedition clearly describes them. Did they expand their range into areas near people or did they move back into areas they had previously lived in but were pushed out?


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring Methow-area trip

I recently made a trip to the Methow area to hike and camp and get out of my house. It is a bit early for most trails, I went up the Twisp River road to War Creek but could not drive to the trail head because of snow. I did walk for a couple of hours along the Twisp River trail that parallels the road. It wasn't very exciting but was enjoyable. I liked the many mule's ears blooming along the trail and visible even from the road.

I decided to shift to the Chewuch River road thinking I would find less snow there and more access to trail heads. I drove to the end of the road where a new foot/horse bridge gives access to the trails that used to be at the thirty mile trailhead. I had hiked these trails a few times before the Thirty Mile fire and this was the first time I had gone to the end of the road. I only walked a short ways, the destruction caused by the Thirty Mile fire and the lack of any greenery yet this year made the area very depressing especially as contrasted with what I remember from before. Not to be too self-absorbed, but just didn't want to be there remembering the lives lost and the destruction due to human negligence.

I was lucky enough to see a pair of common mergansers in the Chewuch River near where I camped. I wish I had a telephoto lens for my camera but at least I can tell what I took a picture of, a better outcome than many of my pictures.

I did limited hiking on this trip but I really enjoyed getting out of my house and into the backcountry. Even though the weather was very nice, I saw few people along either river and no other hikers.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

How to P*ss in the Woods - for women

Use a Feminine Urinary Device (Director), an FUD. These devices allow a woman to urinate standing up, without needing to pull pants or underwear down, and to easily direct urine into a container. When hiking, I don't need to take off my pack, I simply undo the waist strap, unzip my pants, and place the FUD under my underwear and urinate. I carry my FUD in a pouch on my belt so it is easy to reach and handy. I've used an FUD for 7 to 8 years now and started as soon as I became aware of them. Had I known of them earlier, I'm sure I would tried one sooner. I'm surprised that many women don't know about FUDs; part of my motivation for this entry is an article in Washington Trails, the Washington Trails Association magazine discussing problems women have urinating in the backcountry.

The advantages of using a FUD are plentiful. My older knees do not like to squat especially after a long hike and definitely not with a pack on. Not squatting and not pulling my pants down means I am much less likely to be bitten by mosquitoes or to run into thorns or devil's club (ouch!) on my butt. Urinating this way is also a lot more discreet, something I prefer on crowded trails. Also, I've been squatted down a few times and then discovered I'm uncomfortably close to a large animal, both moose and bison. This has created some anxiety on my part especially if I can't move quickly. An FUD is also great for using with a bottle inside a tent, using in dirty outhouses, when on small boats, and other situations.

There are now many different FUDs available. My favorite and the type I've used the most is the Freshette by Sanifem, although I don't have the most recent unit the overall design is very similar. These are available from Campmor and REI and the Sanifem website also gives more information. Some FUDs are disposable and may be a good way to decide if you with to use that style or an FUD at all, see the P-Mate available at There are various sizes and shapes for FUDs although all consist of a funnel and tube. The smallest I've seen is the Travelmate which does not seem to be available right now. It and some of the other small units may take considerable practice to use reliably. Others, like the Freshette and SheWee, an inexpensive 1 piece unit, can be used more easily. Some, like the Lady-J are meant to be used with a bottle or urinal, not as a stand-alone device.

There are a few common sense precautions to take when using a FUD. First, practice at home and note how to position the funnel and aim the tube. With 2 piece devices, like the Freshette, if the tube isn't pulled down fully, urine may collect in the funnel and not go through the tube, possibly making a mess. You may also find it necessary to lean forward to fully empty the funnel and tube at the end. And, of course, don't piss into the wind!

You will also need to keep the device clean. Urine should be sterile as it exits the urethra but will quickly pick up bacteria. Using clean water to rinse the FUD should be enough for a few days but having some anti-bacterial wipes handy is a good idea. Wipes can easily be kept in the pouch with the FUD. After a few days use, a good cleaning with warm water and soap is a good idea.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Recent backcountry news

A federal judge granted an injunction against the new regulations allowing concealed carry of loaded weapons in National Parks (story). The NRA has already filed to remove the injunction. I discussed this previously and I hope the injunction stands and that ready to use weapons continue to be forbidden in Parks. I am in favor of the gun restriction primarily for resource protection. Poaching of Park animals occurs despite the laws against killing them; I know some people will continue to bring loaded weapons into Parks and I see the restrictive gun rule as some protection.

I'm very much in favor of wild wolves living in backcountry areas of Washington state. Like many, I was happy to hear Canadian wolves had colonized areas of the Methow River area. Now it appears that at least one of the wolves was killed by locals. I know anti-wolf sentiment is strong among some people but I hope not the majority of people in the US.

More positively for wolf recovery, the Pt. Defiance Zoo is expanding its captive breeding program for red wolves. This should allow more animals to re-introduce into native habitat in the southeastern US.

A bill sponsored by several members of the Washington Congressional delegation proposes to expand the wilderness area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area and designate two rivers as 'wild and scenic'. The Alpine Lakes is an extremely popular area for backcountry recreation and since it is close to the Seattle Metropolitan area, is heavily used. Expanding the Wilderness area will hopefully protect more of this very scenic area from overuse and development.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

TR - Lower Big Quilcene

I finally got out on my first hike of the season on the Lower Big Quilcene trail on the Olympic Peninsula. I don't hike much in the Olympics, it isn't as convenient to where I live as the Cascades and the ferry fees to get there are enough to make me look for other areas. It is too bad, there are a lot of nice trails both in Olympic National Park and the surrounding National Forest to explore.

The trail was quite nice, mild elevation gain, wide trail with light snow. We didn't go far or long, about 4 hours total with a lunch stop, because not all of my group were in shape for a long hike nor were all of us well shod for a muddy, slippery trail. The area was nicely forested with mature second growth trees and attractive. I would have liked to see the Big Quilcene River more, we could hear it but rarely saw it. I forgot my camera so no pictures. We didn't see anyone else on the trail but could see tracks from previous hikers, snowshoes, and skis. At the Forest Service office I grabbed a photo copied trail guide and was surprised to see that this trail was open to all users, including motor bikes. I would think this trail would be too wet for motor bikes at least in spring and winter. I'm glad we didn't meet any.