Monday, November 27, 2006

Favorite gear and gadgets - Functional items

I don't think of myself as gear-obsessed and even though I work in a high tech field I don't have all the high tech gadgets available. I don't even have a GPS or Ipod. But there is some gear I really appreciate, gear that I didn't have when I started hiking but that I use most of the time now.

I have an older Leki hiking staff that I use for most hikes, it is adjustable and has a removable snowbasket. I had used old ski poles or wood staffs before but the Leki is much nicer. The carbide tip grips better in ice and mud, I change length depending on conditions, and I can attach it to my pack if I don't need it. Besides, I broke and bent the ski poles and the wood staff was heavy and clumsy. Every couple of years I forget the staff and go on my hike anyway, I regret it if there is much downhill or very uneven ground. My knees tell me I need the staff. At some point I may need 2 poles but for now I'm happy with the single staff.

I started using a hydration reservoir a few years ago when I noticed that I was getting headaches on longer, warmer hikes. I don't use it in winter but like it the rest of the year. I only put water in my reservoir and carry a bottle of sports drink separately. I could just use bottles but found I did not drink enough in warm weather when I had to stop hiking to get the bottle and replace it.

I would still hike without either of these items but both make hiking more comfortable and safer. Of course I have updated a lot of gear from when I first started hiking seriously in the late 60's. My daypack with back stays and suspension system is much nicer than the "bag with straps" rucksack I used then. Updates in clothing and otherwear is an entire post. I am fairly slow to update to new items; I have to be convinced there is a real advantage rather than a fad or just a neat toy.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Rain, flooding, and backcountry access

I think most people in the Puget Sound area right now would say they have had enough rain for now. November in this area is usually wet but this year there has been more than twice the usual November rain fall. This has lead to extensive flooding and washed out roads including closing most of the access to Mt. Rainier National Park and some to Olympic National Park. I suspect access to many of my favorite hiking areas will not be open next spring, some of the roads may not open again and many will take time to be fixed. I also suspect hiking bridges and trails were washed out.

I don't enjoy hiking in the rain very much, I do some because I love to be in the woods and mountains. While many people think rain is common year around in Puget Sound areas, summers are usually dry and in many years, the dry weather extends through October. Also, a 2 hour drive will take me to areas on the east side of the Cascade slopes which are much drier and less used. When I vacation, I go to areas that are drier, Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and the canyon areas of Utah. If it weren't for jobs, I would love to live near or in the Rocky Mountains.

I usually celebrate Thanksgiving and winter holidays by hiking or snowshoeing, depending on the weather. I'm hoping it cools down enough to cause the precipitation to fall as snow in the mountains soon so I can go snowshoeing. I would rather snowshoe in falling snow than hike in cold rain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dogs on hiking trails

Talking about dogs in the backcountry tends to promote emotional responses. I am going to try to blog about my experiences in the hope that I won't swing to extremes. I don't have a dog now, although I have lived with dogs in the past and like many of my friend's dogs. I do understand why someone would want to take their dog hiking with them. While hiking I'm met many quiet, well mannered dogs. Unfortunately, I have also met many loud, obnoxious dogs and had some unpleasant experiences. Because of my unpleasant experiences, I think all dogs should be on leashes on public trails. I know many people believe their dogs are under control and would not harm a person or animal but unexpected things happen. I do not think a dog is under control when it is out of sight of the owners or when the dog rushes away even when called. Also, when I meet a dog barking or growling, I don't know the the dog is friendly.

On a recent trip, I was eating a snack just off a trail when I heard a dog, close by but not visible, barking loudly. Because of past experiences, I jumped up and faced the barking. The owner soon had the dog on a leash and had the grace to say "sorry". The group left but I overheard the owner talking about an encounter with another hiker in which the hiker loudly and profanely complained about the dog. She didn't understand and thought that something else was going on. Now I wasn't there but wondered if the other hiker maybe just didn't like being disturbed by a loud, possibly agressive animal that wasn't under control.

Two personal stories to illustrate some of my irritations with dogs. On a moderately busy trail, I went about 30 feet off the trail to eat lunch and put moleskin on hot spots on my feet. I had a boot and sock off and my lunch around me when I heard a sound and saw a german shepard running toward me, followed by yelling hikers. I stood up and tried to put my foot in my boot and grab my stuff. The dog took part of my lunch (jerky), knocked over my water bottle, and got muddy pawprints on my sock.

Another time on a trail, I met a family with small children at a bad spot, narrow trail with a steep drop on both sides. I moved off the trail to let the family pass but the parents wanted some information about trail and we talked for a few minutes. Behind me, another group caught up and after a bit of confusion, started back up the trail so the first family could progress. The second group had a cocker spaniel that apparently didn't want to wait. It continued down the trail and when it came to me, put its shoulder against the inside of my knee (I was below the trail). I hadn't been aware of the dog and when it pushed against my leg I nearly fell. Since the slope I was standing on was steep and composed of loose soil and gravel, a fall could have easily caused serious injury.

I don't think I'm being intolerant in saying neither of these dog encounters should have happened. The second situation was an unusual occurance that would be hard to predict. Which is part of my point, because unexpected situations occur and because dogs aren't reasoning individuals and may behave regardless of consequences to others, the dogs should be on leashes.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Trailhead parking - Recreation Passes

In my area, most trailheads require a Recreation Pass (various titles over the years) to park within 1/2 mile. When this first occurred, I was unhappy. Of course I didn't like a fee for something which had previously been free. Also, my perception was that supporting logging, mining, and grazing cost the Forest Service or BLM more and did more damage than hikers. Now I am less sure what I think. Trails which had not been maintained in years, making them effectively unusable were logged out and repaired. Toliets appeared at some trailheads. Combining the permits into one pass, the Golden Eagle, also helped, less hassle, less cost.

Popular trails around Seattle are heavily used, causing increased trail damage. Because of the wet climate and frequent wind storms, trails need logging out and bridges and culverts need repairs. Someone has to pay the costs and it should, in my opinion, be those who use the trails. There are groups locally who maintain trails, most noteably the Washington Trails Association but they cannot work all the trails even close to Seattle. An annual Northwest Forest Pass costs $30 and if people cannot afford one there are usually other options, such as parking more than 1/2 mile from the trailhead or using trails that do not require a pass or going on the free days.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I've never seen a Bigfoot

I have never seen a Bigfoot or Sasquatch, nor have I seen large humanoid tracks. I have not witnessed any other Bigfoot phenomena such as unexplained bad odor, heavy items moved without equipment, or heard screams that I couldn't attribute to a known cause. This is rather disappointing since I have spent a lot of time hiking and camping in the Washington state Cascade mountains, an area that has a lot of reported Bigfoot activity. I have seen what appear to be day beds of bear or deer or elk. I have smelled bad odors due to carcasses, scat, or wet plants. I have also seen a variety of wildlife, black bear, cougar, fox, coyote, deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and many smaller animals.

When I read the sighting reports, either in books or online, I sometimes know the area where the sighting occurred, I've been there many times. I spend many days hiking, many nights on the edge of the backcounty alone. Why don't I see a Bigfoot when so many others see them or come across their tracks? One thing I don't do much of is drive along backcountry roads at night when a lot of sightings occur. Nor am I getting deep into the backcountry but most of the sightings are from roads or camp areas. Perhaps Bigfoot is now more wary of people and there are more people hiking, camping, etc. in this area than there were 20 years ago. Still there are some recent sightings.

I want to see evidence of Bigfoot but I am not sure what my reaction would be. Would I be excited and elated, like I have been after seeing wolves or grizzlys, or would I be frightened and doubtful that I saw what I thought I did? When I found recent grizzly tracks 100 years from my campsite in a National Forest near Yellowstone, I didn't leave but I did become more cautious. Maybe that is how I would react to Bigfoot tracks.