Saturday, March 31, 2007


Several years ago, about this point in spring, I got hypothermic on a hike. I made it out okay but the incident was definitely a wakeup call, things might easily have turned out badly.

I headed to the local west side of the Cascades at a fairly low elevation for an early hike. It was warm and mostly sunny in the lowlands, at the trailhead it was cloudy and spitting some rain. The trail was badly obstructed with blowdowns and to make progress I literally needed to crawl through trees. After about an hour, I decided to give up, it was beginning to snow and hiking wasn't at all fun, just a succession of obstacles. Some amount of time later I made it back to my pickup and was surprised at the difficulty I had in getting my keys out and unlocking the pickup; my hands were very cold and stiff. Why hadn't I noticed and put on gloves? Fortunately the pickup was parked so the windshield faced what sun there was, it was probably 20 degrees warmer inside than out. As I usually do after a hike, I poured a cup of coffee, using the cup to warm my hands, and ate some candy. Shortly thereafter I started feeling very cold and then started to shiver. At that point I started coming out of my half daze and pulled off wet clothing and pulled on a wool sweater and cap, both were in my daypack but I hadn't been cold before. After I warmed up enough to safely drive, I went home, with my heater on full blast. At home I changed into warm, dry clothing, everything I was wearing was wet, including innermost garments, and had some soup. Then I crawled into bed, still feeling cold, and slept for 2 hours when I was finally warm, although still tired.

Before I went hiking again, I thought long and hard about what had happened. I was alone, if I had fallen, easy to do on the wet, tangled wood I crawled through, I might not have made it out. Obviously I couldn't rely on feeling cold or shivering to warn me of approaching hypothermia, I didn't remember feeling cold until after I started to warm up. And the temperature wasn't that cold, probably above 30 F the entire time. The extreme tiredness was also worrisome, luckily I had planned on going home afterward.

The first thing I did was replace my old and battered Goretex shell, it was no longer keeping me dry. At the same time I bought a new shell, I picked up some lightweight rain pants. I also noticed that even though in a daze, I followed my usual hiking practices (SOP). I needed to add some rules to my hiking SOP to hopefully avoid this problem in the future. I wasn't wearing much cotton, mixed polyester/cotton pants, and a tee-shirt but everything else was wool or polyester (see here). However I needed an additional or heavier layer on top. So I started wearing a midweight top over a lightweight top in similar conditions with at least a sweater in my pack. I also made the rule that in cold weather, after going up for a while, when I started down for a stretch, I needed to put on another layer. No thinking if I'm cold, just do it. Also, I need to eat more often, at least every 2 hours and preferably more frequently and drink more often, every few minutes. At least part of my problem was exacerbated by low blood sugar and dehydration, ridiculous given the wetness of the hike.

I've done a lot of hiking in similar conditions since without any problem. I continue to remember this episode and what I learned. I was very lucky that I learned this lesson without serious consequences. In the last few years, I've read about a number of people who weren't so fortunate.


Saturday, March 24, 2007


I recently read the book Shattered Air by Bob Madgic, an account of a lightning strike on Half Dome that killed 2 hikers and seriously injured 2 others. The book discusses the injuries, the rescue operation, the recovery of the badly injured hikers, and history of the hikers before the hike. I found the book interesting and thought provoking. After reading the book I want more than ever to explore Yosemite and see Half Dome and the surrounding area. Yosemite is another of a long list of places I want to see and hike.

I also started thinking about lightning dangers when I hike. Most of my hiking is done in Washington State which has a low incidence of lightning strikes, only 2 deaths between 1995 and 2005. Yellowstone park has had some lightning deaths but none recently. Other states I hike in commonly also have relatively few deaths. I'm used to reading that lightning kills more people than bears or cougars in North America but then there are probably more people exposed to lightning than bears or cougars.

I've retreated from storms on exposed ridges or mountains several times. After reading the book and doing some more reading, I doubt I've been as careful as I thought I was. I had little idea lightning could strike from 10 miles away
I remember several times watching lightning get within 5 or so miles before I left the area and might not shelter even then, just try not to be the highest item in the vicinity. I've actually been more nervous about wind blowing over trees or knocking branches on me. Even more, I've worried about lightning causing forest fires, a very real danger in the northwestern US.

I'm not going to become extra anxious about lightning now although I will think more about safety in the future especially when I get down to Utah locations which are more open. I still enjoy watching lightning storms especially from a sheltered spot but I doubt I will go into any caves or rock shelters during a storm.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Petrified wood in YNP

Specimen Ridge, looking into the Lamar River towards Mammoth.

While Yellowstone NP is not generally known for its petrified wood and trees it has some nice specimens. There is a tree that is accessible by car but most of the petrified wood requires some hiking to reach. I am most familiar with the wood on Specimen Ridge although I've never made it to the fossil forest part of the trail. The shortest trail to the examples in the pictures in this post starts from an unmarked trailhead between Tower and the Slough Cr. turnout. This is not the marked Specimen Ridge trailheads. The trail is clearly visible from the road going up to the ridge and becomes quite steep it places. After reaching the ridge, look back to fix in your mind how you came up, finding the safe trail down can be difficult among the cliffs. Several petrified trees can be found nearby, both standing stumps and trees laying along the ground.

Another stump along Specimen Ridge.

Another area that has petrified wood is the Gallatin Mountains along the northwest of the Park and various areas in the National Forest. I have found some wood there but nothing dramatic, possibly I don't know where to go. I have hiked up Specimen Creek which like Specimen Ridge is named for the fossils found there but did not go far enough to the fossil areas.

Please remember that it is illegal to remove petrified wood or anything else from Yellowstone Park.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bones and antlers

When hiking in Yellowstone Park, I often see animal skeletons and antlers; something I rarely see in other places except along roads where the animals were killed by traffic. I like finding the bones of animals killed by natural events. If I find them early enough, I can sometimes get an idea of what killed them or see the signs of scavaging. Of course if the carcass is too recent I don't hang around lest I meet the grizzly scavenging it.
(Cache Cr. trail near junction with Specimen Ridge)

Other people evidently enjoy finding bones and sometimes arrange them, as in this bison skeleton to the right. Since I hike in YNP every June, I have learned how long bones remain visible there by returning to the same area succeeding years. One set of bison bones I could find for 2 years beyond my original view but most are gone after one year. YNP is dry and cold most of the year, in other places bones don't last as long.
(Mary Mountain trail along Nez Perce Cr.)

Sometimes I find collections of elk and deer antlers or just one side of a set. It is illegal to remove antlers or anything else from the Park. I've noticed that the antlers often disappear before the bones.

(Specimen Ridge trail, Mt. Washburn in distance)


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Utah canyon hiking

Nearly all of my hiking has been done in the northwest US, mountains, forest, and mixed grass and brushlands. Last spring and the previous fall (2005) I finally started to explore canyon hiking in Utah. I stayed to the popular areas, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef because I was aware I was a novice to this type of hiking and didn't want to exceed my abilities. I am glad I did, I had problems on the trails that I did not have expect.

In many areas I found it difficult to follow the trail, I missed trail markers and couldn't easily follow the sense of the trail. I could easily take a compass reading and look at my map and see the direction to go but that didn't help find a route out of a canyon, I needed to find someplace where I could actually traverse. Mostly on forest trails the route is obvious and if it isn't, because of snow, rocks, etc., I am used to following the lay of the land and and can make sense of the route. I haven't worried about getting lost in the mountainous woods I usually hike for years.

Also, I found it hard to move safely on the slicker rocks and to find safe places to step. I was overly concerned about falling and hurting a leg, partly because it would have stopped my hiking vacation but also because I am aware how long it would take for me to heal. I could lose a whole season of hiking from one bad step. And part of the problem was that I simply wasn't used to moving this way and needed more practice.

Finally, it was too hot and the sun was too direct. In Seattle, 90 degrees F is a hot day. If I do hike in hot weather, I hike in forests, on breezy ridges, and early in the day. Some days it was 90 degrees by 9am and I simply wasn't used to heat and sun.

I got hooked on canyon hiking however; I'm ready to do more and maybe a try bit more adventurous routes. I hope to be able to get to Utah in May this year which will hopefully help with the heat and I have more idea of what my limitations are.