Friday, February 23, 2007

Burned areas

Forest fires are a natural part of the ecology of many forests. Perhaps because of my age and the constant Smokey the Bear teachings when I was younger, I still react to forest fires as if they were a disaster. Intense fires do change the area to a point that is almost unrecognizable and I know that an intensely burned over area will not be the same in my lifetime. Still my hiking in Yellowstone NP is helping me change my views. I have been hiking in Yellowstone at least once a year since 1994; I had been there several times before the 1988 fires but not on a yearly basis. Watching the regeneration of forested areas from year to year helps me accept better the place of fires. Of course much of the burned forest in Yellowstone is lodgepole pine, a species that needs fire and grows quickly.

Other types of forest do not regenerate from an intense fire as quickly and the fire can be a tragedy. I am thinking specifically of the Thirtymile fire which killed 4 firefighters ( The Thirtymile fire occurred in the Chewuch valley in northern Washington state on the east side of the Cascade mountains. This was not a natural fire but one started by a person who did not adequately put out a campfire. I did not know any of the firefighters on this fire, but I have known many people who spent their summers or much of their career fighting fires. I had camped and hiked many times from the end of the Chewuch road, after the road reopened after the fire I have been there once. My concerns are trivial compared to those who lost their lives and their families; still I felt a great sadness at the loss and waste. I also know the forest will regenerate and that lightening could have caused a similar fire.

In the years since I have put out several campfires left near roads in forested areas. I was amazed that in the year following the fire, people were still careless about putting out fires in the same area although I've drown fires in several forests in the northwest US. Please, if you are going to have a fire PUT IT OUT fully and carefully. Please look to this website for instructions

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Home made hardtack

I found a recipe for home made hardtack several years ago and I make this hardtack every winter for the season's hiking. It is a simple recipe and makes a bland product which I prefer to any commercial hardtack I have tried. I also appreciate knowing the ingredients of what I'm eating. The hardtack keeps very well if kept dry, I have some hardtack that is at least 3 years old and still is tasty. The hardtack does crumble easily though especially in a pack.

Hardtack - makes 4 sheets
Preheat oven to 400 F

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1/4 cup molassas (could substitute honey)
1/2 Tablespoon salt

Mix all ingredients well. Divide into 4 equal balls. Roll each ball as thin as possible on a floured surface using a floured rolling pin. Place sheet onto a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake in a 400 F oven for about 10 minutes or until edges brown. Turn gently and continue cooking until edges turn up and center is stiff, about 10 minutes. Cool on cooking rack. After cooling break into smaller pieces and store in airtight container. Cooking times will vary depending on type and color of cooking sheet and number of sheets in oven.

I put the cooled pieces initially into a quart sized freezer bag, a batch like that above will just about fill 1 bag. For hiking I put pieces into smaller plastic bags and have had little problem with it molding or otherwise becoming inedible.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Camping with rodents

When I hike I usually setup a base camp and day hike from near the camp. As I get older and as I continue hiking during colder weather, the campsite increasingly is a car camp. Sometimes I sleep in the back of my pickup which has a light canopy, sometimes I sleep in my tent. Many times the campsite has an abundance of rodents, either mice, voles, or ground squirrels. Sleeping on the desert in southern Idaho, I've enjoyed watching kangaroo mice jumping around my sleeping bag. Sometimes various rodents get into my tent or pickup with comic results.

Late one fall I setup camp about noon near the Chiwaukum River and ate lunch closely watched by serveral golden-mantled ground squirrels. I thought I had kept all the squirrels out of my tent and left for an afternoon's hike. When I got back, no squirrels were evident and I laid out my sleeping bag in my tent and sat by a fire until it started to rain. After getting ready for bed, I opened my sleeping bag to be surprised by a ground squirrel sleeping on the pillow who had left gifts of pellets and at least 1 flea. I spent several minutues trying to get the squirrel out of the tent which was surprisingly difficult, it was very quick and could hide in places is I couldn't imagine. During this, I ended up getting myself and my gear somewhat wet and getting less and less thrilled about camping. I tried cleaning my bag and pillow of pellets and fleas but couldn't see well and remembered that bubonic plague is endemic in the western USA, although rare. Finally, I gave up and dumped my gear in the back of my pickup and drove home, about 3 hours away. The following day I discovered I had not suceeded in removing the squirrel, gnawed fabric showed it came home with me. Fortunately a neighborhood cat expressed much interest in my pickup and gear, I don't know what happened but I didn't see signs of the ground squirrel again. I did thoroughly clean my sleeping bag, etc. after this.

Another time along the White River (flows into Lake Wenatchee), I was sleeping in the back of my pickup when I started hearing a scratching, scrabbling sound. I was sleepy and it didn't bother me until something crawled across the top of my head. I woke rapidly and was able to see a deermouse inside my pickup bed. Attempts to get the mouse out were not successfull, it could squeeze between pieces of metal that seemed much smaller than the mouse. After several attempts, I just opened the tailgate and went back to sleep. I didn't see more of this mouse and it didn't really disturb my rest. I guess because I was already in possesion of my bed I was less upset by its presence.

I am more careful now about keeping rodents out of my tent or vehicle and if they are about don't setup a camp and keep doors closed. Also because I camp more in bear country, I do not keep food in my tent or near my campsite, except in an enclosed vehicle. Still, I expect more rodent camp encounters.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Winter excuses

I don't get out to the backcountry much in the winter. I have several excuses but many of them are just rationalizing staying home. Some excuses are good, high avalanche danger or roads that aren't open or safe occur fairly often.

November through February, give or take a couple of weeks in either direction, in the Seattle area is damp, dark, and generally dreary. There is snow in the local mountains but it is often wet and heavy, not good for either x-country skiing or snowshoeing. I don't really enjoy hiking in the rain, especially in temperatures just above freezing in wet snow. And on good days, weekend or holiday days with fresh new snow or sunshine, the accessable areas are full of people early in the day. Several times I've been the first up, breaking a ski trail. Coming down, I'm unable to use my ski tracks because there are so many people using them to walk, ski, snowshoe or sled.

I am disappointed in myself that I haven't been out since the end of November. It isn't that I need different gear but that I need more motivation. I enjoy being out and it is good for me but I don't expect to do any snowshoing or skiing this winter.