Saturday, December 29, 2007

Highly individualistic hikers gift guide

Yes, it is after Christmas but the glut of gift guides for hikers and everyone else caused me to think about gifts given and received related to hiking and how many of the gift guides I see are either too expensive or rather useless for backcounry users. So here is a short and highly individualistic set of suggestions.

Emergency items:
- a foil "space" emergency blanket. I think every backpack and daypack should have one when temperatures may fall below 50 F. I've not used one but I have seen these used by emergency personnel. They are lightweight and small. Some are designed for 2 persons or shaped as a sleeping bag but I think the single blanket is more versatile. I carry a similar item in my car as a part of the first aid supplies. Sturdier and thicker space blankets are also available but are heavier and more bulky.
- a magnesium/steel fire starter kit. I've not used one so this may be less useful than I think but I've tried lighters, waterproof match holders, and waterproof/windproof matches and all have had problems in difficult conditions. There are a number of variants, some small, light, and relatively inexpensive that would be a useful backup.

- Led keyring "pinch" lights. I have several of these of various brands and use them for zipper pulls, on my keyring, and as a map light in my car. I prefer the white leds; other colors are good for specialized uses or signaling but if used to see something the white works best for me. I also like those with a constant light switch. I do wish the switches were designed a bit better, few people over 50 can see the switch without reading glasses.
- Led headlamps. These are great and every hiker could use one especially if they ever camp. They substitute for flashlights, reading lights, etc. and allow heads-free use for hiking after dark, preparing food, and many other tasks. I prefer headlamps with only leds with variable output, batteries in the unit, not in a separate box, and a single strap around the head, no over the head strap. The last makes it easier to wear over a cap. Hikers with special needs, like cavers, may have different needs, they probably have already picked out their own headlamp. Most hikers will prefer a smaller and lighter headlamp that uses AA or AAA batteries.

- silk glove liners. I don't know why more people don't use these, I think they are wonderful. They add some warmth when wearing gloves or mittens but are really nice when you need to take the outer glove off for tasks needing dexterity. Most such tasks can be accomplished with the silk liners on and the liners retain heat well for short periods. Silk glove liners are very thin and light weight and do not add bulk, I find that they make it easier for me to put gloves on if my hands are cold or damp.
- buff wraps ( These are multi functional tubes of microfiber material that can be used as hats, bandannas, etc., see the website for ways to use them. I don't have much hair and find they are very useful to keep mosquitoes from biting my head, sop up sweat, prevent sunburn, and add a bit of warmth. I have the original buff and usually wear mine in a head-covering "pirate" style. If it is cool or there are mosquitoes, I often wear it to bed. I also like the variety of colors and patterns.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

More floods and backcountry damage

Already this year, Western Washington has sustained serious flood damage. Olympic Park has estimated $18 million dollars of damage, I haven't heard reports from Mt. Rainier or North Cascades although I would expect the latter to have less damage since it was further from the storm center. This damage comes on top of severe damages from flooding and windstorms last year. I expect that spring will bring reports of more damage to the back country and not just parks but National and State Forest lands also.

Western WA is used to both flooding and windstorms, they happen every year from November to March. In the past, people would talk about 100 year floods or 10 year windstorms, meaning that the severity of the flood or windstorm would be expected about every 100 or 10 years respectively. Unfortunately flooding at least is becoming far more common than previously. In some areas, the flooding is almost certainly made worse by human activities such as building on flood plains and excessive clear cutting. Weather patterns are changing due to global warming and Western WA is getting excessive winter rain while areas to the east are in a drought.

Last year, the Park service, the Forest Service, and volunteer groups spent a lot of money and effort rebuilding trails, access roads, and associated amenities. I'm very glad they did and I'm happy to support their efforts with taxes, fees, and donations. But I wonder how long we will continue to spent money and time rebuilding backcountry access which is damaged every few years. Perhaps it is less of a problem than I think, backcountry usage in Washington is far higher than it was 25 years ago. Of course the population is higher also but I believe the proportion of people using backcountry sites is also higher.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Believing what I see

Probably like most hikers, I've seen things in the backcountry that were not what I initially thought they were. I have seen several 'bears' that resolved into stumps or logs when closer. Also I have seen a couple of logs that turned out to be bears. Woods with a lot of downed trees and often dim light are a good place to see things that aren't really there. I've also seen animals that I couldn't identify, I had too brief a view or they were too far away.

Only one time that I'm aware of have I really fooled myself into seeing something that wasn't there. On a fall day near Halloween with high clouds and a stiff breeze. I was hiking up a canyon when I saw what I thought was a large, dark animal ahead of me. Its head appeared to be moving back and forth feeding on berries on bushes but I couldn't see it clearly, I had forgotten my monocular that hike. I yelled a couple of times and moved a bit closer, the animal paid no attention. I have a policy about black bears, if they don't move when they become aware of me, I leave the area. Another yell with no response and I decided to to turn around, I was feeling distinctly uneasy. By the time I got to the trailhead I had about half convinced myself it was a bear and half aware I didn't know what it was, I even considered Bigfoot.

The next spring I decided to hike the same trail, it was a quiet day and early enough that leaves were still sparse. When I got to the area I had turned around the previous fall, I was looking around thinking of the previous hike. Then, I saw the same thing I saw before. Only this time there was no breeze and I had my monocular. What I had seen was a dark rock framed by brush so it really did look like an upright bear. Without the wind, it didn't appear to be moving and was less lifelike. Had I not hiked the same trail the following spring, I might never have realized what I had seen and probably settled on the idea it was a bear. As the brushes leafed out and then grew, the resemblance went away. Fortunately I have other real bear stories some of them here.

I sometimes talk with people who have seen very unusual things in the backcountry. I don't know what they saw, I wasn't there. But for some of the stories, I think back to how easily I've believed I saw something that wasn't what I believed it was. I don't disbelieve them but I wonder if they saw what they thought they had.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hiking during hunting season

Most of my fall hiking is done during open hunting season of some kind, bear opens 1 September in many places and bow season opens about the same time. I usually don't take much notice of hunting season, often I don't know whether it is open season where I'm hiking or not. Still, I do make some changes when the most popular seasons are open. The most obvious change is to wear brightly colored clothing especially in preference to white or brown. I substitute the bright red cap for the white cap. Unfortunately my outer shell and pack are both black, so I wear a bright cap and sometimes attach a bright handkerchief or other item to my pack. I don't usually wear hunter's orange which may be a mistake but then I'm not hunting.

Most hunters who I've met on trails, as opposed to on roads, have been careful and friendly even though my presence probably reduces their chances of finding game. I don't deliberately scare off game but I'm not quiet or stealthy either. It has been years since I've seen hunters on trails practice poor gun safety (according to the hunting safety course I took many years ago). In general, I am happy to share the trails.

I notice hunters more in camp areas and along roads. I've blogged disparagingly before about hunters very slowly driving along roads looking for game and obviously engaging in road hunting. Some popular areas are so crowded that I no longer camp there during rifle deer season, not only are the camp areas full but some hunters have actually hunted within 100 feet of my campsite. Maybe they are careful and I don't need to worry; however they don't inspire confidence being that close. I also don't appreciate hunters sighting in their rifles close by, and I doubt other hunters like those who do so much either. Nothing like warning all the game in the areas that hunting season has started.