Saturday, December 29, 2012

Playing Poker

With Mr P.

Scientists, long puzzled by why people go backpacking, have recently given up trying to understand the phenomenon.

The problem is, as you know if you've ever tried to explain your obsession with dirt, pain, flies, and sleeping in the woods, insoluble.

The answer is that there is no answer.

And nobody cares anyway, which means it's really, really hard to get grant money. Without money, you ain't got no salary, and without a salary you're no longer a scientist, just another homeless person.

What to do?

Two choices.

(A) Since you're homeless already, buy a pack and hike the Appalachian Trail.

(B) Invent stuff, especially things that will torture backpackers. They kinda deserve it for ruining your career, doncha think?

That's what Woo Kyung Cho, and his or her buddies are up to.

First step: understand the porcupine principle.

Intro to subject: The basics of porcupines are well known. Porcupines are critters covered in needles. You may never have seen one in person but if wake up and find yourself staring one in the face, you'll know enough to back off.

Even if you're exceptionally stupid.

Even if you're an exceptionally moronic college sophomore on spring break, and have just drunk 18 beers.

Nobody is dumb enough to mess with Mr P.

Except scientists, and most of them have grad students to do all the dangerous work anyway.

It seems that porcupines (as a group) are smarter than almost all of us, even those of us who hang out in wise crowds and tweetle a lot, and do The Facebook.

Individual porcupines, maybe not, but evolution has a great multiplier effect.

Woo Kyung the Cho-Master has discovered that the tips of a porcupine's quills are pretty clever even if the rodent isn't, so much.

The barbs help a quill to penetrate flesh.

More easily than a hypodermic needle.

Using only half the force.

And then they make it nearly impossible to remove said quills (quills always come in the dozens - go ask a dog with a snoot full).

OK, that was Poking Science 101.

Where does backpacking come in?

Well, if you have a Ph.D., have lost all your grants, and are in danger of involuntarily becoming a homeless backpacker, you might invent a thing or two to get even.

Like the Sans-A-Strap pack.

Remember Sans-A-Belt pants? No? Too young?

Sans-A-Belt pants were like the wash-and-wear drip-dry suit, which surfaced at about the same time.

You know - another modern convenience.

Forgot your belt? No problemo. Worry not with Sans-A-Belt. As long as you remembered the pants, you were covered.

Same deal with the Sans-A-Strap pack.

No more adjusting, fiddling, chafing, buckles, hitches, pull tabs, levelers or any of that. Simply have someone hold it for you (or hang it from a tree), and then back into it.

Hundreds of tiny, precision crafted, barbed needles effortlessly sink into your hide and lock the pack in place. Without straps! Practically pain free! (Note: medical bills due to infection are not covered by the purchase price.)

Need to take the pack off? Like to go to work or something?

Again, no worries.

Since you're a backpacker you have no job to go to, and you can wait one to three weeks until your body rejects the pack and sloughs it off automagically.

Then, while healing and regaining your strength, you can make camp and spend quality time recovering.

So simple. Yet so ingenious.

So ingenious that you ask yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Because you're not a scientist, dummy.


Porcupines sport some 30,000 quills, which easily penetrate flesh - and then stay stuck in it.

Microstructured barbs on the North American porcupine quill enable easy tissue penetration and difficult removal

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Life Past The Edge

Scraping the bottom.

"We're pretty certain we've found something," said Dr Walker Reklaw, a lead scientist at Extremophiles-R-Us, a joint scientific consortium consisting of scientists from Russia, the U.K, and the U.S.

Earlier this month, teams from those three countries began drilling into Antarctic lakes lying under many, many kilometers of ice.


First, because they're scientists, and scientists do things like that.

But there are more profound reasons, like having generous funding, which pays the bills and keeps the teams supplied with beer, cigars, and tins of smoked herring.

And even more fundamental reasons. Like fame. Which comes to those who uncover previously unknown weird stuff.

Stuff like microbes creeping around blindly in dark waters at unfathomable depths in frozen wastes. Which impresses some.

But yet again, hey. Only microbes. What is it with the microbes?

Which is where Walker Reklaw enters the picture.

He's got a different angle.

Instead of drilling holes in ice and searching through frigid muck for signs of life, Reklaw is after bigger game.

And he may have found it.

Reklaw's strategy was to stick to land, and to more temperate regions. He's been exploring remote reaches of the Continental Divide Trail in Wyoming, a place where humans never go. Or never did go.

Until now.

Reklaw's plan was simple: to hike, and to keep at least one eyeball peeled for signs of extremely primitive life.

After weeks of searching he found a clue. A wrapper from a packet of ramen noodles.

Then a discarded boot sole, and shortly after that, ashes inside a ring of stones.

"I can't tell you how excited I've been. I've hardly slept in weeks," Reklaw texted from his tent in the Wind River Range.

And recently I hit paydirt - contact with primitive human-like creatures seemingly native to this environment.

I even befriended some of them. We communicate with hand gestures, and by sharing food. Mostly Snickers bars. Snickers bars seem to be their favorite.

What was a huge surprise to me was that they were all wearing clothes, and they seem to have developed language too.

Some even have names, though they seem a little tentative on that point. Maybe that's why they call them "trial names".

But regardless, they are definitely the most primitive land-dwelling organisms ever discovered.

One distinguishing characteristic is a compelling urge to keep moving north, changing locations daily, and never (or almost never) bathing. And they eat mysterious lumps of disturbing substances they carry in bags on their backs.

And sleep on the ground. All the time.

This could have huge implications for biology as a whole, and especially for the search for extraterrestrial life.

If species this primitive can exist on earth, then that certainly opens the door to finding life on other planets. Even planets spookier than earth.

Meanwhile, back in Antarctica, drill bits continue to plunge ever deeper through layers of dense ice, searching for yet more surprises.

Because you never know what's out there until you look.


Race Is On to Find Life Under Antarctic Ice

Friday, December 14, 2012

Deer Randall

The story of Grandma Ogilvy and Sam Nicks, and Randall the deer.

Well, now I'm recovered a bit I feel I should speak up, so here's my side of this story.

It was around April when this man showed up at the farm, about four years back, you see. He was kind of dusty looking and worn around the edges but nice. You know? Didn't seem like a bad guy and he had this little deer with him, a fawn, it was just a young thing.

He said it didn't have no mama, being as she was killed on the highway, which is where he found this little fawn wandering around, the man did, or so he told it, and it was a cute little one too.

Funny thing about the man, as I recall now that I think back, he looked kinda old and young at the same time and had a little bit of white fur trim on his jacket, which he wore although it was a nice spring day and not really that cold or nothin, but he still had on his jacket, kinda reddish color as I remember it, with the fur trim, which didn't seem to stand out so much at the time but it does now as I remember it.

But he seemed a decent enough fellow and wanted to take good care of this deer, not see it go to a zoo or be left wild with no mama to get run over too, or let the coyotes get a hold of it. You know?

And he didn't look well off or nothin but he offered to pay so's I could keep this deer for a while, and he paid me for a whole year up front if I'd keep it in my yard or in the corral or the barn when the weather got bad and I didn't see nothin harmful in that, seeing as how he paid up and all, so I said sure, I'd keep it, but I asked what he wanted to do with the deer and then he got kind of a bit vague and said something about safe keeping for when he needed to brighten up the night or something, I don't know, but he seemed kind enough so I said sure, I'd do it.

Seems he had some other deer of some kind at his place, which sounded a ways off, up north somewhere, and didn't have room and no easy way to get this one up there since he was hiking around the countryside with his backpack and stuff, which was when I thought I had him figured out, one of those rich city people who get tired of it all and go out and buy a toy ranch or go hiking around but he didn't seem like a rich guy or a city guy neither, pretty nice and sensible over all I thought, and he had a good attitude and seemed all around a pretty decent jolly kind of fellow, kind of grandfatherly sort of, with his white beard and all, but young at heart.

He said his name was Sam Nicks.

So that's how I got started with the deer and then the years went by.

I didn't see Mr Nicks for a long time, but eventually he came around again and paid up for another couple of years, and the little fawn grew up and seemed happy, especially at night, nice and safe inside the barn and it would stick its head out and kind of look up at the sky, especially around Christmas time, on clear, cold nights and it almost seemed there was a glow around it some times, but maybe it was my imagination though there was something special about this deer, I could tell. He sort of warmed my heart.

And then a couple more years went by and I didn't see Mr Nicks though he did send me a check every now and then, enough to pay for room and board for the deer and then some and on the bottom of the check it said For Upkeep Of Randall, or something like that as best as I could make out and everything seemed fine as far as I could tell, though I understand it is technically illegal to keep a wild animal penned up, and Randall was free to go, but he didn't seem to want none of that.

Then around the middle of December this year Randall seemed to be getting anxious about something, especially at night, like he wanted to get out and go look for Mr Nicks or something, so I would take him some carrots out to the barn every now and then, and talk to him for a while to calm him down, but he seemed to be looking up at the sky all the time, like he wanted to get out there and jump up into the sky and fly around or something, and you know it's kind of strange but every time I went out to the barn at night there was this sort of warm glow coming out of it like Randall was lit up or something, no so much like a light bulb but more like a feeling almost, you know?

Like a warm comforting feeling coming off him that lit up the whole place, but he was kind of nervous too, at the same time.

Then, last Wednesday night, he seemed really restless and really wanted out, banging his hoofs around inside the barn, looking out his window and then turning around and running from one side of the barn to the other and all, and I didn't know what to do so I went over to the barn and opened the door a crack and tried to talk to Randall to calm him down so I could go to bed and not worry, but when I did that he just rushed at the door and hit it hard and knocked it open wide which then knocked me down and he jumped right over me and that is the last I saw of him.

My husband came out a few minutes later and found me in the snow, kind of a little beat up but not too bad, more shaken than anything, and I've been knocked around lots worse in my day, but Randall was nowhere to be seen.

We looked for his tracks in the snow but they went a few feet and stopped, like he disappeared, or took off like a bird or something so we had to give up and we went to bed but a little later on, after we put out the lights it seemed like there was some kind of light flying around in the woods out back, going around and around in circles, and then it shot way up in the sky and headed north, and that's really the end of it there.

Somehow I think it was Randall. Somehow I do. I think he wanted to be back with Sam Nicks so much he just took off.

And you know, I think Randall will be all right.

We don't know for sure what happened to him but I have a good feeling about him so don't fret, we took good care of him while he was here and I think he wanted to get loose and go find Sam Nicks and thank him for arranging for his care and all, and I bet you that somehow the two of them met up again and it's probably all for the best in the end.


Captive buck deer injures Florence woman in barn attack.

Florence woman recovering from surgery after attack by captive deer.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sasquatch Poo Found Interesting In Texas

Maybe the dog did it.

Dr Moira Ketchup, Chair of the Department of Hospitality Science and Genetics at T-Bone University in Lizard, Texas, and author of several books including "Non-Intelligent Design: Just do it!", has today emitted a press release on her 5-year long DNA study of an odd-looking lump discovered one summer day in June, 2007.

Our study has utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from samples that my dog found while playing in the field out back. I'm guessing Sasquatch for sure.

The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mitochondrial DNA is mostly identical to modern Homo sapiens, plus something very close to dog hair.

But Sasquatch nuclear DNA represents a novel, unknown hominid thing related to Homo sapiens and other monkey-like species, sort of like my inlaws but somewhat cruder.

This indicates that a previously unknown hominid may still be on the loose, at least in Texas, and might like playing with dogs. We still don't know for sure.

Our best guess (soon to be made into a movie by the guy down the street who knows video) is that the DNA belongs to a true North American Sasquatch.

This would be a hybrid resulting from immigrant Sasquatch males fooling around with female Homo sapiens, possibly some of the ones living in the trailer park across the street from me.

Besides the lump of unknown stuff her dog brought home, there were also several curious artifacts: some rusty buckles, two dirty, worn-out socks, discarded ramen noodle wrappers, and what is most surprising, a fire ring containing ash and charred sticks.

We don't see many people around here, so it couldn't just be some backpackers camped out behind the fence. From what I know backpackers aren't that highly evolved and don't have the use of fire, let alone knowing how to cook ramen, so the material has to have been deposited by Sasquatch.

You might not believe this, but Sasquatch even uses toilet paper. And yes, we have definitive proof resting in the cold storage locker in the cafeteria.

Stay tuned, folks. This could be big.


Melba Ketchum announces Bigfoot DNA results. Without the data.

DNA expert's view of the Ketchum Bigfoot DNA claim

Friday, November 30, 2012

Gas Me, Gas Me Not

No more huffing and puffing, not even a little.

Wheezing. Coughing. Swearing. Choking.

More swearing.

That was me one July.

Gagging over a wood fire with smoke up my nose and tears in my eyes. Trying to blow life into a reluctant fire under my pot.

Simply heating water over an alcohol stove and dumping it into a ziplock bag of premixed food is my usual style. But I just had to try cooking this other way, using wood to save fuel.

Bad move.

Really bad move.

Finding a way to make it work sounded like a challenge. Sadly, I like a challenge.

I guess that explains my "Dumbnuts" tattoo.

Ray Garlington said "I inexplicably became inspired to try building a wood stove that would not require a battery and fan. I decided, more or less arbitrarily, that the stove would have to be very light (5 oz or less), would have to boil 1 quart of water, hold a simmer for 10 minutes, and be fun to use."

Clean burning, no moving parts, light, small, and dead simple. And even I could understand how to make one. WooHoo!

Take an empty steel can. Cut out the ends and put a grate and legs at the bottom. Add air holes higher up, and a pot support at the top.

Dump in some twigs, then some kindling.

Prime at the top with a few drops of flammable liquid and light it.

The fire then burns from the top down, converting unburned fuel into smoke as it goes.

Air sucked in at the bottom pushes the smoke up, into the flames. Vents higher up add oxygen, and it burns like crazy.

As long as the twigs are small enough, there are plenty of air holes, and the pot is at least two inches above the top of the stove, it's smoke-free.

Toward the end you've got a charcoal fire that cools down slowly and leaves only a tiny pile of clean ash.

With a metal shield or flat rock underneath and maybe a wind screen, you're all set. The fuel supply is infinite.

This is true.



Some places to go for basic, practical information:

The Garlington WoodGas Stove

Risk's WoodGas Stove

Penny Wood Stove

Zen Stoves (wood gas section)

For more technical info on how I did it, sift through my previous posts for the plans.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fill'er Up? Never!

Trail chow goes Hi-Tek.™

So then I got to thinking.

Water is everywhere.

The atmosphere is full of it (three quadrillion gallons, give or take a liter here or there, on an average day). Given the right technology and a bit of time, a person can fill a water bottle from atmospheric condensation with no problem.

And the technology isn't really that difficult these days. I mean, with the kind of 3-D printer available today you can make your own plastic sidearm and go rob a bank. If you want that.

And water is everywhere.

Mostly, even in dry country, you only need to know where to look. Once you can read the landscape you know where. If you know where, you find water.

And given the places that people go backpacking, like in the mountains, water isn't even all that scarce.

But food. Different issue.

You don't find food in any old ravine. It doesn't stream out from under melting snowpack. When the sky darkens, the wind rises, and the air chills, it isn't food that falls on your head.

So water is everywhere. And food isn't.

So maybe I solved the wrong problem.

Sure, you bet, a self-filling water bottle is going to be handy, but how about a self-filling food bag?

This is more interesting.

This is an issue that nano-materials and a solar cell can't solve on their own. I was forced back to first principles. And around here, at least on this planet, first principles means biology. Elementary biology. Really elementary biology.

If energy flows and matter cycles as the ecologists say, then food is actually everywhere, but mostly not in usable form. The trick is to recycle matter the right way.

And that matter is. . . almost anything organic.

Dust it off, kill the pathogens, rejigger it a bit, and you have food. Then add water, heat, and eat.

So now I've invented the bottomless food bag. I call it EverMunch™, and it's designed for backpackers like you and me.

The bag is made from a flexible fabric containing high-efficiency solar cells. It's odor-proof, waterproof, and impermeable to the teeth of critters.

Running low on hiker chow? Simply pop a few twigs, leaves, clumps of moss, wild berries, pinecones, or handfuls of pond scum into the bag and see that it gets six or more hours of full sun.

What comes out is kind of like tempeh. A bit lumpy and fungus-y but wholesome. Sit down, season to taste and you'll probably be OK.

Or wear the bag over your face using the handy built-in strap and graze while you hike.

You get all the protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals that you can handle.

In a pinch you can toss in dead mice, swatted flies, animal droppings - doesn't matter - it's all organic and it all comes out smelling sweet and fresh, if you like fungus, which actually is pretty wholesome stuff, considering what you get at the burger joint.

And what is the magic here?

Bacteria. What we're looking for on Mars, the basis for all other life. Bacteria, the overlords of creation.

They are infinitely capable. They can turn cow flops into sweet corn, air into fertilizer, toxic industrial waste into baby food (check the label next time).

Which is where all this is going. If anyone needs a way to turn everything into food, it's thru-hikers, especially untralighters.

Look for EverMunch™ bags in 2015, about a year after the self-filling water bottle comes out.

You could do worse. You probably have already.


Scientist takes inspiration from natural world to create self-filling water bottle

Does success spell doom for Homo sapiens?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

When Critters Attack

Mind your mice.

When Hieronymous Hickaboo took up hiking, he didn't expect things like this. "You know, I kind of crawled out of my tent one morning and went to put on my boots and they were full of diarrhea or something. Definitely excrement. I had to walk home in my socks."

If you think this sounds unusual, you're right, except that incidents of this kind are occurring with increasing frequency as more and more people take to the out-of-doors.

Just last week, for example, Jayde Higgins, enjoying a brisk morning walk in a suburban park, took off her headphones and set them down on a rock. Within seconds, a mongoose came "like, almost from out of nowhere I guess" and attacked the cord. "He musta thought it was a worm or something, maybe a snake. I dunno," said Ms Higgins, 38, of Swiffer Valley.

Although mongoose are not native to this area, the attack definitely is consistent with reports flooding in from all over.

Nature has taken the offensive.

"Well, you know, you reach a certain tipping point, and then the system will try to rebalance itself," said Dr Fritz Farnsworth, professor of ecology at Upstate University, speaking from his office on campus. "Obviously, we've encroached too far on nature, and now we're paying the price."

And at that very moment a barred owl swooped in through an open window, snatched Dr Farnsworth's toupee from his head, and flew out a second window, leaving behind a small cloud of feathers and a startled -- and badly scratched -- academic.

But what really is the root of these incidents, and more importantly, what can we do about them?

The answer may, possibly, be known to Rudy Trud. Mr Trud calls himself a "mouse whisperer", and as the title implies, he knows a lot about mice.

Mice, in fact, are by far the biggest problem, evidenced by such happenings as the giant swarm that overwhelmed the picnic at Cooberville's Backpacking Faire last summer. No one is certain of the numbers of mice, but estimates reach into the millions.

"This is not so difficult," says Mr Trud. "First you get to know yourself. Then you get to know your adversary. Then you discover that you are not so different after all. Understanding is the foundation of any true solution."

How does this apply to backpackers huddled in a tent miles from the nearest road while an onslaught of mice bounces like furry hailstones off the rain fly?

"Be humble," Mr Trud says. "Take a few snacks for the mice. Share. Show some respect. Talk to them quietly. We and they are more alike than different. Be patient too. It all works out in time."

Mr Trud was interviewed for this piece from his hospital bed, after being badly injured by jealous beavers while sharing snacks and partying with mice.


Aggressive owls attacking people at local state parks

Thursday, November 8, 2012


For those too stupid to make it alone.

OK, then. You all remember when ultralight backpacking came along, doncha?


Too young? Too dopey? Don't give a fat rat's nose hairs? Ignorant?

All the same. Is OK.

Now there is hope for you. Your crumbly old genes can still be passed on to future generations, so those same future generations can point at your descendants sitting in cages while fiddling with Kelty Tiogas and stainless steel cooksets and oiling up their mid-calf hobnailed hiking boots.

After all, there is something called heritage, and you may be it, however pointless.

The National Science Foundation, the Centers for Stupidity Control and Prevention, and the DumNuts-Is-Us Foundation are teaming up to collect genetic samples from the most hard-core, pointless, ignorant, and irredeemable traditional backpacking population with the intent of cloning select specimens so that people of the future will know just how bad things used to be.

You may, if you belong to the current generation of light, ultralight, or super-ultralight backpackers, be totally clueless about the past, recent though it was.

Backpackers of the "classical" era, when the motto was "Sure, take that too. You never know if it'll come in handy," thought nothing of loading packs to the 80-pound/36 kg level for a weekend trip. Gear was steel, leather, canvas, wood, and only much later, welded aluminum with nuclear-grade nylon webbing.

Those backpackers who didn't die outright lived to pass on their genes, and so the cycle continued. All seemed good.

These backpackers lived in the best of all possible worlds, with packs large and strong enough to carry any quantity of canned goods, ensuring a continuation of the life force while out there in the bush.

However, as the pessimist asserts, the best of all possible worlds may be pretty crappy overall. And perhaps this was true. The numbers of classical or heavyweight backpackers dwindled.

Some were lost to exhaustion. Some stumbled and fell over, remaining on their backsides flailing madly like helpless stranded turtles until starvation or mice (or both) did them in. Others just came home one last time, went down to the basement, and were never heard from again, even by their families, who locked the upstairs doors, sold the house, and moved far away.

So it is within this context that science has decided to step in.

The few remaining specimens from the era of heavyweight trail grunting will be captured, caged, and have their cheek pouches gently scraped to acquire enough genetic material to make some decent clones.

Once these procedures are finished the backpackers, some of whom have lost not only the desire to hike, but also the ability to speak, write, smile, or do anything but eat and scratch, will be inoculated, shampooed, and turned loose on a comfy nature preserve set up at an undisclosed location where they will be able to live out their remaining days mooning at the sky and grunting.

As for the clones, they will not be used to repopulate vacant habitat (pointless, doncha think?), but will be kept in zoos where they can be studied at length to determine why they are so vastly stupid.


Brazil To Clone Wild Animals In Danger Of Extinction

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Packable Power

Better living through buzzing.

I admit I'm partial to simple.

That may be why I started backpacking. You got a bag to put things in, and you got food to put in the bag, a knife, and whatever you want to sleep in, and a bit of something else to keep off the rain and that's about it right there.

I figure if you can't make it with a knife, can't fix it with a rock or a needle then you don't need it, probably.

I've been out days on end with no particular troubles and any I did have I fixed up quick with the tools I had on hand.

I don't fuss.

If you have it and don't need it you're pretty dumb and if you need it and don't have it you just cinch up your belt a notch and get on with it.

That's how it always worked for me, anyway.

Give me a pointed stick and a problem and the stick will come out on top, nine times out of ten. It is amazing what targeted poking can do, as long as you have a need.

So that's me then. I'm kinda from the old country when it comes down to stuff.

Some of the guys I went to high school with ran with the slide rules gang. Soon to become engineers.

They would be the ones to invent a steam engine for backpackers. You can imagine them staying up late on weekends, filing away at tiny brass valves and polishing gear teeth. "Only seven pounds. Warms up to working temperature in under 20 minutes. Runs on anything combustible. Needs cleaning and an overhaul only once a week!"

Well, you wouldn't need a power source unless you had a power drain, which a lot of people have now.

See, back in the old country they hardly had transistor radios yet. My dad had a portable radio from the 40s. Used tubes. About the size of a briefcase. Did not do GPS or talk to the planets, send or receive faxes, shine your shoes, or provide hot shooting action in full game color with stereo sound effects.

Steam nowadays is pretty sketchy. Too much tubing, too many flywheels.

Even using farts as fuel, you wouldn't really get a good ergonomic payback. Better to use farts directly to spin a turbine, but then of course you have to eat the right food, have terrific aim, and time to spare.

Some potential cleanup issues too.

Taking a step back, for a sort of head-mounted wind generator, there is the old propeller-equipped beanie, which however leaves you dependent on wind. And you don't want to even think about using this in conjunction with gusty farts.

Mice however, are plentiful at most backcountry locations.

Bring an ultralight hamster wheel (extra-large size), bait it, and let 10 or 20 frantic mice warm up your bathwater while trying to escape. Due to the clever wheel shape however, they only run in an endless circle and can generate up to 0.017 kilowatt-hours (AC) before exploding.

Mice however, are not only plentiful at most backcountry locations, they are completely renewable as well, so that's a plus.

Another option, usable either with or without wind, is shrubbery. A wind-whipped bush with a string tied on is just like a tide-powered pulse generator.

No wind? Still works, but not as well.

Pull a sapling down to the ground, tie a string on it, and let go. If done right this can generate current for an hour at a time, with a steady pull, until the tree resumes an upright position. It's like winding a clock, but more work.

So much more work that the effort of setting it up will not only warm you all over, but poop you out, to the point that you may not want to stay up late and see how good the TV reception is, now that you do have some juice.

But maybe the most promising power source is flies.

Right. Flies.

Smaller but more plentiful than mice. Present everywhere backpackers are. Completely mindless, and without those cute ears and soulful eyes.

Hey, when you burn out a bucket of flies you don't really care. Get more.

Mice you can get attached to, especially the hard workers. It can actually be emotionally painful to hear a final squeak and see your favorite of the pack go titsup.

Not so with flies. Death is too good for them.

And they have the numbers, so maybe the best route to electronic heaven on the trail is a fly-powered generator.

Good news is, someone is already working on this. Former high school buddy of mine. Check the store shelves in a year or two. You may be pleasantly surprised.


If you are one of the many who want to keep your backcountry experience free of gizmos and gadgets, please realize that a time may come when your time comes.

Like for Uncle Ed, who found an iPod on a trail once and mistook it for a bottle of hand lotion. "I aint never and aint gonna never use none a that stuff but then I found it wan't hand lotion and theres music inside," said Ed.

And that was pretty much it for him. Now wherever he goes, in all weather and over all terrain, he's got his Oompah Joe and the Hootie Girls, Papa John's Polka Parade, and, of course Two-Fisted Sam and his Beer Crackers.

Life. Sweet, eh? Just keeps getting better.


Steam Powered Battery Charger

Friday, October 26, 2012


Folded! Crinkly! Not comfy!

Aa is a type of basaltic lava characterized by high viscosity.

This results in a rough, broken, rubbly appearance in the cooled lava flow.

Tough for hiking on, even after it has cooled.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Virtually Hiking

Make mine to go.

Time to bring backpacking into the digital era.

Sure, once upon a time there was Pocketmail. Nice enough for its day, but a lot like sending a postcard to Aunt Millie. If the batteries hadn't died. And you could find a phone booth.

Fussy. Technically Limited. Uncertain results.

Well, we're beyond that now.

We've had cell phones for a good while, and there's no surprise anymore about all phones having cameras. Even art school grads from Texas can hit the PCT, leave one pocket free for an iProduct, and carry along the equivalent of a film studio in less than 120 grams.

A wedding photographer took his phone to Italy, along with a $1.99 app. With only that he published a travel book.

OK, that's where we are. Where do we go?

Good you asked.

You've heard of, the world's biggest online seller of everything hiker-related? Sure you have.

Everyone has by now.

Well, they've shipped you replacement sole lugs and bags of trail nibbles for quite a while, undercutting just about everyone and revolutionizing the business via easy clicks and free shipping. We've all got rooms full of their stuff and can't imagine how life on the trail could be better.

Well, once again they're way ahead of us. has just introduced the Treadle. It's a sort of tablet computer, but way beyond the iPhone or iPad, let alone the long-defunct Pocketmail. And at $199.99, it's pretty cheap.

Amazing, really. It's like Star-Trek's holodeck with a replicator attachment built in.

Here's how it goes.

After buying a Treadle device from, just use your credit or debit card to pay for any section of any hiking trail you fancy. This is automagically downloaded to your device, and after that you can use it anywhere, anytime it's convenient for you.

While waiting for a bus. During your lunch break. Mowing the lawn. Walking down a long corridor to another stupid meeting. In that garbage-strewn park next to the tracks, the only place you had available for walking. Until now.

It's your call, and it's cheap.

Pull down the goggles, punch "play", and in an instant you're stomping through the La Garita Wilderness between Lake City and Salida, with or without the commentary on landmarks and history. You get a full-color 3-D experience and even hear the crunch of your boots as you pass through fragrant forests.

Time to stop for the night? Easy.

Just sit down and enjoy one of's tasty full Sens-O-Ramen freeze-dried meals ($1.99 each, 12-second download), then pop into your choice of shelters for a good night's sleep.

Myself, I prefer the ultralight single-wall Shires model from TorporTent. You know - the one with the round Hobbit-windows. (Also $1.99) But you can get just about anything from's vast catalog. And with any decent signal at all, the download is almost instantaneous.

Be up with the sun the next morning, have a hot shower, and hop instantly from the Continental Divide Trail to your favorite section of the Appalachian Trail, then somewhere else again. Like over to Maggie's Riffle. (One of my favorite places.)

It's easy, quick, and way cheaper than buying real equipment you have to store and maintain. No rude and tedious airline travel. No actual bugs unless you add the Li'l Nippers Pak. (True, only $0.99, but most of us pass on that one.)

Keep your credit card up to date, stay within the Terms of Service, and you should be OK. Though a few customers have reported seeing their Treadles wiped and their accounts closed without warning.

If you're lucky, and this does happen to you (probably not, but just sayin'), you're home in your living room, and fully dressed at the time.

Unlike Aksel Bjorklund, who found himself no longer in the woods but suddenly surrounded by traffic, in his underwear, vacantly gazing at the sky and making chewing motions with his (now empty) mouth.

Mr Bjorklund, who insists he did nothing other than to stop for lunch at a particularly fetching overlook along the Te Araroa Trail, suddenly had his account yanked by, which replied to his query only with:

...We have found your account is directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies.

Please know that any attempt to open a new account will meet with the same action...

Mr Bjorklund did know a famous blogger who publicized the incident, and shortly thereafter, due to a high level of viral negativity, the account was suddenly re-established, again without explanation or notice.

But a bit later neighbors saw Mr Bjorklund removed from his home by what appeared to be police, and he hasn't been seen since.

On the other hand, most of us will never have any problem at all with one of's Treadles, our downloaded apps, or SWAT teams.

Accidentally get a bowl of rabid mice instead of beef stew? Just delete them. What could be more convenient?

That's what we really like. Convenience.

For $199.99, it's a deal.


Vern takes a hike


The coolest thing anyone's done with Camera+

Outlawed by Amazon DRM

Amazon quietly un-wipes remotely wiped Kindle

Friday, October 19, 2012

Shiver Me Sphagnum

Does anyone care about this?

Quaking Bog: A bog that has developed on a mat of carex or sphagnum growing over the water's surface.

Or, a carpet of bog vegetation that is floating but sinks and quivers when walked on.

A floating bog.

Related to: Fen, Mire. (As if you cared.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Anger At Altitude

Rumbles on the Switchback Trail.

Ladies an Gentlegoats, lemme call dis here meetin ta order once. We gotta problem, see?

Us goats of da Olympic Mountains is gettin a bum deal here.

Ya all know we needs salt, right? Salt. Dat's what we need. So who cares if we goes out an licks a little pee off a rock? Hey. Nobody. Nobody should care.

But now dey do. It's a problem.

See, we got dese here fancypants rangers an biologists an such comin around now an gettin all high an mighty on us, tellin us our business an such an causin problems.

Disruptin things all over, ya know what I mean. Bustin our chops. Dat aint no good for business, now is it?


Now Ernie, he done a dumb thing, Ernie did. Ya know how Ernie was. He dint pay attention too much. Ernie got carried away, went nuts over salt, an poked a guy. Ernie was like dat. Ya know how Ernie was. He got a bad name.

Dey called him "Klahhane Billy", dey called him a "Monstrous Goat". Dis was our own Fat Ernie, 370 pounds a love an muscle, an he goes an pokes a guy an kills him. An now what? It's on our heads. Da heads a all a us.

Ladies an Gentlegoats, dis aint good for none a us. We got a problem here.

Now lately we got dese guys comin on our turf wit slingshots an paintball guns an disruptin things. That aint so good. We got business to tend to an here is dese guys blastin away cuz we just want to drink a little pee in peace. Or lick it or whatever.

Hey. It's what we do.

But we gotta fight back. It's da only way.

So here's da deal.

See, each a youse is gettin a paintball gun, dis here very afternoon. Ya take a look at it. Get familiar. Ammo comes tomorrow when we start da trainin. Not before. We dont want no one endin up like Fat Ernie wit a bullet messin up his haircut.

So in a coupla days when we got da trainin over we moves in on da campground, see? We goes in an takes over. All da salt dere is, we takes it, an anyone gets in our way, we blasts em. Wit paint.

Speshly dat guy Kurt Aluzas wit his slingshot an his "aversive conditioning" crap. He goes down first. Gently. Wit love and paint. No pokin nowhere.

Den when it gets all quiet again, we does some grazin an gambolin in da meadow an lickin salty rocks when da hikers come back.

But no pokin nobody no more. Got dat? Nobody gets poked no more unless I says so. Bad for business.

OK. Meetin adjourned. Scram.


Bush Menace Keep one eye on your nuts.

Paintballing with Hezbollah

Rangers say hazing of aggressive mountain goats is working

Hiker killed by mountain goat in Olympic Nat'l. Park

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gear Bylls Finishing School

Look tough. Wear man pants.

CrapChoppers Ltd., a British outdoor clothing company, wants you to look like a man.

A man who can do stuff. Like eat bugs. And drink his own urine. For fun.

A man who can have his own TV show, wallow in the mud, sleep in the occasional hotel. And still look bitchen.

Because chicks dig it.

But even more important, guys do.

Especially guys.

Macho parking lot cruisers, guys with apartments full of guns, lifetime gym memberships, and TV remotes stuck to the Idiot Channel.

And who's going to lead the way? Who's going to show you how?

Well, the leader of the pack, dude.

The guy with the Frequent Sleeper Discount at the Pines Resort Hotel in California, the guy who can assemble a bamboo raft kit in front of an entire video production company magically filming him all alone in the world's worst hellholes.

Like Hawaii.

Are you up to it? Can you handle a room with internet access and blueberry pancakes for breakfast, advertised as "a cozy getaway for families"?



Tell you a secret here. It's lots easier when you got your own Gear Bylls Adventure Suit ® from CrapChoppers Ltd.

Chicks dig craggy guys wearing stuff from CrapChoppers. A mouth full of grubs won't do it. Not even biting the head off a snake.

You need some Bylls AdventurePants. ® (Like the Bylls Survivor Full Stretch Trousers ®, with enhanced elastic gut control for the mature macho guy.)

We got fit. We got size. We got colors.

Try some on and prepare to go missing in action.

And you get the Gear Bylls ® imprint on everything. Even the underpants, now with Teflon.

Gear Bylls Teflon Undos. ® EZ-off/EZ-on. Stains rinse right out, in any creek.

And the special super slippery Qwik-On UndoGear ® fabric helps you cut a quick escape when a marauding husband comes home early.


Never been outside before?

Is OK. CrapChoppers has your back covered as well as your butt.

Just buy a Gear Bylls Freedom Jacket ® in your choice of camo, super-camo, ultra-camo, or camo with realistic blood stains printed right on. No need to bleed, indeed. If you got the cash, we provide the flash.

Be the macho man's macho man. Be smothered in babes. Get free drinks. Wear underpants.

Just like Gear Bylls. (Coming soon to a Wal-Mart near you.)


Bear Grylls Survival Academy

How Bear Grylls the Born Survivor roughed it - in hotels

Interview With a Bear: Grylls Talks to GearJunkie on New Clothing Line

Bear Grylls Survival School to launch in Scotland

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Bite or be bitten.

Following several unfortunate incidents involving unwary tourists, Scotland's National Outdoor Edible Menace Training Centre, run by HaggSpotters UK (HUK), has beefed up its survival and culinary training program for hikers in danger of encountering the wild haggis.

The HUK facility provides a realistic but safe training venue where hikers and backpackers can hone their skills in a controlled environment.

Due to the common belief that the wild haggis is "only a myth", you might assume that this creature is no hazard, but you would be wrong. So very wrong.

While actual wild haggis encounters are both rare and random, they are all too real. This only increases the danger to an unprepared hiker suddenly facing the Legend of the Highlands.

"I was just out for a pleasant walk," says Alasdair Mangus of Giffnock in East Renfrewshire. "A wee stroll I was on and then there it was, clawing at the throat of me before I even knew a thing, is what happened." While Mr Mangus escaped with only minor scratches and a slight bitter aftertaste, it isn't always so.

Exact sighting statistics (let alone those on actual encounters) are unreliable at best, but HUK last year tallied over 7900 reports covering all known haggis habitat areas.

And the trend to extreme sports plus advances in outdoor gear bring out ever-growing numbers of outdoor enthusiasts in all seasons. Most, believing haggis to be nonexistent, a joke, or at worst a harmless rodent that goes dormant in winter months, are stupefied at the sight of a stumpy but muscular furry sausage leaping at them from behind a rock or across a snow drift.

Though haggis range in weight from two to only four kg., and have small blunt jaws set with short teeth, those teeth are quite sharp and the jaws are powerful. Bites become infected almost immediately, inducing hallucinations and causing victims to wander in ever smaller circles until they collide with themselves and self-annihilate.

Chances of survival diminish rapidly with time, so quick intervention is essential.

The technique taught at HUK is "companion cookery", in which unaffected members of a party quickly build a fire, capture the offending haggis, and drop it into a pot of boiling water. After about three hours of simmering the furry skin is peeled off, the haggis is carved into bite-sized bits, and served in its own broth.

Eating haggis follows the Theory of Affinity Medicine, or the "Hair of the Haggis" principle, in which the disease is its own cure. Conversely, the cure for consuming haggis is to let a live specimen bite out your throat.

Some survivors have described the dish as having "an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour", others vomit uncontrollably, and yet others refuse to let it pass their lips, preferring to die in peace.

Veteran hill walkers in haggis country now routinely carry transceivers tuned to a standard frequency they call "Neeps and Tatties" (for "nips and tatters", because of the typical carnage a haggis bite inflicts), or about 1270 kilo-whatis for you propellorheads. They recommend that every hiker carry a similar beacon to ensure the quickest possible rescue and treatment, or proper recovery of remains, whichever comes first.

"We can't forget that lives are lost on Scotland's mountains each year. The opening of the HaggSpotters UK training facility is a great resource for those heading into the great unknown. We teach people to plan ahead, check the weather, and bring proper cooking equipment," said Tilda Twaddle, HUK's culinary biologist. "Haggis tend to leap for the throat, which gives the perfect opportunity for a defensive swing with a cast iron frying pan, but this becomes second nature only with proper training, and with practice, both of which we provide."


Majestic haggis of the glens proves elusive for US tourists.

What Now? Meat training for winter strength.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wandering Rocks

Like dancing mice, only dumber.

Glacial Erratic: A boulder carried a long distance by glaciers and deposited when the glacier melted. They tend to be smooth and rounded, polished by glacial action.

Glacial Erratic: A boulder or chunk of rock moved from its origin and, then left behind by a receding glacier.

An erratic's makeup may not match the rocks naturally in an area, and they are often large and isolated, sitting on top of the ground.

May be any size, even the size of a house.

Glacial Erratic: A rock or stony fragment transported by a glacier and deposited far from its origin.

Erratics range in size from a gravel to giant boulders.

Glacial Erratic: A rock transported by glacier from a distance to its current location.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Big Trade Show

Gaudy displays. Merch. Pigs.

From: Dave Stone, PorqTent International
Date: Monday 8 Apr 2012 11:04am
To: Melissa Nichals, Events Manager, Outdoors Retailer, Inc.
Subject: R.S.V.P.

Thank you for your kind invitation to the Outdoors Retailer, Inc. Summer Trade Show.

We at PorqTent are quite pleased to accept, especially since we are such a small manufacturer (just me and my Registered Burgundian Swine Jacqueline at the moment).

We hope to spread the news about not only our innovative backpacking shelters but also about the many positive benefits of hiking with pigs (or "PorkPacking" as I like to call it).

Regards, Dave.

From: Melissa Nichals, Events Manager, Outdoors Retailer, Inc.
Date: Tuesday 9 Apr 2012 3:14 pm
To: Dave Stone, PorqTent International
Subject: R.S.V.P.

Dear Mr. Stone: We at Outdoors Retailer, Inc., the world's leading recreational trade show host, serve a wide variety of small, medium, and large manufacturers and suppliers in the Outdoor Recreation Field, with two trade shows per year.

However, a quick look at our records does not indicate that your company will be one of our exhibitors. In fact it appears that "PorqTent International" does not have an account with us.

If this is an error on our part, I apologize, but we are unable to respond to you any further at this time. Please refer to your account number in any subsequent communication.

Very truly yours,
Melissa Nichals

From: Dave Stone, PorqTent International
Date: Wednesday 10 Apr 2012 3:10pm
To: Melissa Nichals, Events Manager, Outdoors Retailer, Inc.
Subject: R.S.V.P.

Dear Melissa,

Thank you for your kind reply. I found out about the trade show while reading a copy of Backpacker magazine at the library. The article said that the Outdoors Retailer, Inc. Summer Trade Show is a big event, with invitations going out to all the top makers of backpacking equipment, so I assumed this meant PorqTent International.

Since I pay taxes to support the library, which has a subscription to Backpacker magazine, which I in turn read faithfully, this should qualify me, as Backpacker magazine obviously supports Outdoors Retailer, Inc. by its coverage.


Please forward details about which hotel you will be putting me up in while in Denver, and the available menu options for Jacqueline (she has a sensitive stomach).

I don't mean to belabor the obvious, but our hotel room must have twin beds. I'm sure you understand that although we are close, our relationship is purely professional.

Regards, Dave.

From: Melissa Nichals, Events Manager, Outdoors Retailer, Inc.
Date: Thursday 11 Apr 2012 9:15 am
To: Dave Stone, PorqTent International
Subject: R.S.V.P.

Dear Mr. Stone:

Excuse me, but I feel I must get this straightened out immediately. Our membership rolls do not have any record of a PorqTent International, or of a Dave Stone.

Outdoors Retailer, Inc. is a private association, and attendance at any and all Outdoors Retailer, Inc. trade shows is contingent upon membership. Space is also limited.

We appreciate your interest, but unless you are a paid member in good standing and registered in advance, you will not be able to even enter the show pavilion. Display space has already been allocated for this year, though you may still apply for membership and consider exhibiting next year.

Outdoors Retailer, Inc. does not provide any meals or lodging, and no animals are allowed on the premises, aside from registered service animals such as guide dogs.

Very truly yours,
Melissa Nichals

From: Dave Stone, PorqTent International
Date: Friday 12 Apr 2012 2:15 pm
To: Melissa Nichals, Events Manager, Outdoors Retailer, Inc.
Subject: R.S.V.P.

Dear Melissa,

Hey, no problem for me.

Jacqueline and I can camp out on the trade show floor in one of my PorqTents. This will be great advertising and she is trained to hide her droppings so there's basically no cleanup issue.

Just by pure chance she gave birth to a litter a few months back, so I can bring them along in exchange for our membership fee.

Jacqueline is also a certified Truffle Hog (sorry to sound crude, but that's the technical term). This should more than qualify her as a service animal.

During lulls in the action we can demonstrate how she works. We don't actually need truffles - a few dirty socks scattered around the exhibition hall will work, and if people aren't interested in that, we can set up a petting zoo with her piglets as the star attraction.

Jacqueline is still a bit protective of the little ones but hardly ever charges anymore. I've only been severely bitten twice in the last month so it should be OK. Anyway, outdoors people know how to handle emergencies.

She's also attracted to women's crotches for some reason - probably some good photo ops there, don't you think?

Regards, Dave.

From: Melissa Nichals, Events Manager, Outdoors Retailer, Inc.
Date: Monday 15 Apr 2012 10:11 am
To: Dave Stone, PorqTent International
Subject: R.S.V.P.

Dear Mr. Stone: I'm sorry, but I have to be blunt. An internet search has revealed several disturbing news items related to a man with your name, and his pig. We were especially distressed to learn about the incident at the elementary school and the resulting prison sentence.

I regret to inform you that we have alerted the local authorities, who have your description and photographs of you, and who are prepared to intercept and arrest you should you attempt to attend any events sponsored by Outdoors Retailer, Inc.

Please heed this warning and do not contact us again.

Melissa Nichals.

From: D. Stein, FBI, PorqTent Division
Date: Tuesday 16 Apr 2012 2:15 pm
To: Melissa Nichals, Events Manager, Outdoors Retailer, Inc.
Subject: Dave Stone, PorqTent International, and Jacqueline the Pig

Dear Ms. Nichals:

We have recently been made aware of email communications between you and a certain Dave Stone of PorqTent International.

Please be advised that Mr. Stone and his pig Jacqueline are special agents and are working with the FBI on a very important investigation involving apple thieves. We believe that these thieves may try to infiltrate the Outdoors Retailer, Inc. Summer Trade Show in a few weeks, with the intent of making off with any untended apples (or truffles) that happen to be lying around.

Needless to say, this is serious business.

Therefore we recommend that you set aside adequate display space for Mr. Stone and his pig and a few of his distinctive and brightly colored yet affordable PorqTents as a decoy for the thieves. When they see a lovely pig like Jacqueline they may be tempted to make off with her too, to go with the apples they steal.

At this point Jacqueline will spring into action, trained as she is at sniffing out rats (in addition to truffles, dirty socks, and female crotches), and we will be able to nab the culprits with very little if any gunfire.

A critical point in our strategy is, of course, getting Mr. Stone and his pig Jacqueline in place along with a representative and tasteful display of PorqTents.

We also recommend putting up Mr. Stone and Jacqueline in one of the better hotels in the area (separate beds, of course, with special attention to the menu, since Jacqueline is known to have a sensitive stomach).

We regard this as a small price to pay in the never-ending story of fighting crime.

Yours Very Truly,
D. Stein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, PorqTent Division

From: Melissa Nichals, Events Manager, Outdoors Retailer, Inc.
Date: Wednesday 17 Apr 2012 8:01 am
To: D. Stein, FBI, PorqTent Division
Subject: Dave Stone, PorqTent International, and Jacqueline the Pig

Mr. Stein:

Thank you very much for alerting us to this situation. We at Outdoors Retailer, Inc. are very concerned and will do everything we can to assist you.

First off, I think we should keep this as quiet as possible.

Please have Mr. Stone and Jacqueline the Pig stop by my office early tomorrow morning, before sunrise, while the sky is still dark and the streets are free of busybodies.

Have them come in through the back entrance, which leads directly to the parking garage. They will be out of sight that way.

Staff will be there to meet them to assure that they are treated appropriately.

Once again, thank you very much for alerting us.

Melissa Nichals

From: Dave Stone, PorqTent International
Date: Wednesday 17 Apr 2012 8:03 am
To: Melissa Nichals, Events Manager, Outdoors Retailer, Inc.
Subject: Dave Stone, PorqTent International, and Jacqueline the Pig

See you soon! (And don't worry about your crotch. For the most part Jacqueline has been pretty mellow lately.)


Friday, September 21, 2012

Pack Flaps

Give me one with a nice grain pattern, please.

Panel-Loading Backpack (Panel-Loader): Mostly on external frame packs. There is an opening at the top of the front and another (often U-shaped, zippered opening) under it, sometimes with a panel inside separating the sleeping bag compartment from the rest of the pack.

Panel-Loading Backpack (Panel-Loader): A pack that features a horseshoe-shaped zipper allowing you to peel back the front of the pack for access to the whole main compartment.

Somewhat harder to load and more delicate than a top loader, due to the zipper.

Compression straps over the zippers can let you reduce some of the pressure on the zippers though.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Historic Handrails

Walk the dome.

Blather White of Keep Yosemite Historic, a non-profit organization created by lovers of Yosemite National Park in California, is close to being ecstatic.


Because hundreds of feet of twisted metal cables going up Half Dome's backside are now on the National Register of Historic Places. "These cables are part of our heritage," she said, noting that in 1919, the Sierra Club itself installed the original set.

"In those days they were all organic. The cables were knit by Club members out of goat hair carefully brushed from local animals. No one expected them to become a tradition."

Later on, the cables were replaced by the National Park Service which first used hemp ropes. But these were all cut to pieces and smoked during the 1960s, and that's when the switch to braided steel cables happened. So far no one has tried to smoke those.

For almost a century then, the Half Dome Cables and Trail have allowed random hikers in Bermuda shorts and flipflops with no rock climbing experience to pull themselves to the top of Half Dome and peer over the edge at Little Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, the valley floor, and mountains and stuff.

And a lot of people agree about that being a pretty good reason for the historic designation.

Other recent additions to the National Register of Historic Places include a set of doorknobs from Gates of the Arctic National Park, the original steam-powered haze generator from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a bunch of discarded flashlight batteries and candy wrappers found behind a stalagmite in Mammoth Cave, and Ohio's Cuyahoga River, which caught fire in 1952 and again in 1969.

Maintenance and signage for the Yosemite cable route will be provided by Handrails-R-Us of Merced, California, owned by Wilbur and Blather White, who are also the founders and board of directors of Keep Yosemite Historic.

Full story.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Where The Bugs Are

Unlike some other matter, this is dry and crunchy.

Duff: A general term for vegetal matter including fresh and well decomposed organic material and humus lying on mineral soil in a forest.

Duff: A general term referring to the organic layer on top of mineral soil. This consists of fallen vegetative matter in the process of decomposition. It includes everything from litter on the surface to pure humus.

Duff: A layer of decaying organic plant matter (leaves, needles, and humus) on the ground that is highly absorbent, but quickly erodes under foot traffic.

Duff: A matted layer of decaying organic plant matter (leaves, needles, and so on) of forested soils. It is highly absorbent and quickly erodes under traffic.

Duff: Any combination of loose vegetation, vegetable matter, roots, and organic-laden soil. Duff retains moisture and rots quickly if not removed from trails, resulting in the formation of depressions and pockets that retain water and erode.

Duff: Forest litter and other organic debris in various stages of decomposition on top of mineral soil. Duff is typical of coniferous forests in cool climates where the decomposition is slow and litter accumulates.

Duff: Product of litter lying on mineral soil, in which the identity of the original tissue can no longer be discerned due to decomposition. A product of litter decay.

Duff: The accumulation of needles, leaves, and decaying matter on the forest floor.

Duff: The first three to four inches of ground material.

Duff: The layer of decomposing organic materials lying below the top layer of litter (freshly fallen twigs, needles, and leaves) and immediately above the mineral soil.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Up With Yours

Communications from our readers.

From: Bethany-Anne Pawlicker <>

Date: Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 6:41 AM

Subject: Dave, thanks for helping my youth group with your backpacking and hiking webpage

I just wanted to send you a quick e-mail to say thank you.

My name is Bethany-Anne, and I am a student teacher working with a group of disadvantaged middle school kids. We wanted to come up with some ideas for things to do outdoors. You know, ways to enjoy these last few weeks of summer.

All the kids thought hiking was a great idea, so that's how we found your page. It has some great info that we will be able to share. Thanks for all the help! :)

Oh, and one of the girls in my group, little Katie, found a great resource on hiking safety during computer time that I thought I'd share with you. It's Could you add this to your page?

Little Katie is a bit shy around the others, so I thought showing them all your page with her link on it would help her stand out a little more. And that way I can award her a gold star for initiative too! It would do wonders for her self-esteem, coming from a troubled home and all.

Plus, I thought other hikers looking for safety information would appreciate your thoughtfulness, especially since as you might guess, has the lowest prices on the whole internet! Check out their walkers, wheelchairs, and incontinence supplies as well -- no one undersells!

So thanks again, and I hope you have a great rest of the summer! Katie and I can hardly wait!

Ms Bethany-Anne Pawlicker

P.S. It just occurred to me that you might like more information on our organization, Pathway of, so here goes.

Well, as you can see at our web site, there is no "About Us" page, and no "Contact Us" page, which just take up unnecessary space. Since we're on a tight budget we decided to leave these out.

Also, we don't list any staff, or mention a location, mostly because it's a kind of small operation. I'm sure you've heard about nonprofits!

If you do a web search on our URL thing, it will just bring you back to our web site -- no wasteful mentions by other charitable groups, testimonials by parents, sponsors, or any of that.

Partly this is due to us keeping a low profile, as you can tell from the "whois" information listing our address as a "PMB" (private mail box) in Belize, with computer servers in Vietnam and Botswana.

So I guess that's about it, unless you'd like to help us cash some checks.

We don't have a bank account, instead relying on the kindness of others, and really, are there better people than hikers? We can send you some checks which you deposit, and after keeping 15%, just wire the money back to us. Simple, yet effective!

And if that isn't right for you (I surely understand) we do have a contact in Nigeria, a prince no less, who is trying to get a large sum of money out of that troubled country. He certainly could use help from someone like you, so don't be shy about getting back to me.

Sincerely, (My real job! ;)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Definitions: Abutment

Where touch happens and stress is passed onward.

(1) It's like a meeting-place for stresses.

Usually this means a structure at either end of a bridge that supports the superstructure. It is often composed of stone, concrete, brick, or timber.

(2) An abrupt interruption to a short trail such as the superstructure-supporting contrivance at either end of a bridge.

(3) The part of a structure supporting the end of a span or accepting force transferred through an arch. Hey.

(4) The end of, and the load-carrying supports on a bridge.

(5) A short rest which uses the butt cheeks for support, i.e., a "butt moment", also known as a "butt minute".

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Babes In The Bushes

Former governor still humping it down the trail.

"Yes, it's true. Hiking changed my life, and now I want to help others." That was the statement issued recently by former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, the man who disappeared one day "to go for a hike", and ended up with an Argentinian mistress named Maria Belén Chapur.

Just how that could have happened seems mysterious to outsiders, but among Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, section hikers, trail crews, and others familiar with the 2184-mile (3515 km) route, it's simply another case of "trail magic".

Most instances of this phenomenon are limited to unexpected gifts of food, cold drinks, or sometimes a shower and a place to hole up and remove ticks, but in Sanford's case, he hit the jackpot.

"We get very, very few cases anything like this," said Benton K. Shaffer, Director of the The Appalachian Trail Conservancy. "Although it's not unknown for romances to develop while hiking the trail, in many ways it's like being struck by lightning - you can't count on it."

"And," he continued, "this is the first recorded case of two people from separate continents, people who never actually met in person, getting this kind of action."

Governor Sanford was, at the time, simply out to relax on a day hike. Ms Chapur, a resident of Buenos Aires, was walking her dog down a path near the Rio de la Plata, taking the air and admiring the sunset.

Suddenly, each was intimately aware of the other, though they had never met, or even heard of each other before.

"It was a kind of telepathic spooky action at a distance," said Sanford, "I knew I had to go and find this woman, my true soulmate, so I immediately left my wife and family. Hey, wouldn't you? How often do you find a hiking buddy you know is right for you?"

Governor Sanford's wife Jenny divorced him in 2010, though he remained in office until his term died a natural death in January 2011.

Non-hikers being non-believers, his political career also died, but that hasn't stopped Sanford. He is now promoting an extension to the Appalachian Trail which would take it south through Central America and along the east coast of South America, all the way to Tierra del Fuego, the "land of fire", and possibly of romance.

As well, he has started an online hiker dating service called "Plenty of Trips", where other bad boys with tomcat tendencies can search the world for their "true lugmates". "What does the word 'vibram' make you think of?" he asks with a wink. I know what it does for me."

Sanford and Chapur are now engaged to be married, although each maintains an active account at "Just in case lightning wants to strike twice."


Ex-South Carolina governor to marry former mistress

El gobernador infiel de Carolina del Sur se casa con su amante argentina

Exclusive CNN Photos: Sanford engaged to Argentinean girlfriend

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Adams North

Capping the loop.

Me hammock on a nameless ridge. (pano → click to embiggen)

Yeah, well, this was a while ago.

I've done the hike around Mt Adams twice, and wanted to go back the last couple of years. Two years ago we had rain all summer. Last year I was selling off my camera gear. This year I'm packing to leave the country and have no car, so poop on it.

I usually forget to photograph it. (pano → click to embiggen)

These photos are from the first trip.

The off-trail stage is only about three and a half miles (5.6 km), but takes forever.

First, because it is extremely dangerous. If you are traveling alone.

It isn't that hard, but one misstep can break a leg or a shoulder, or a skull, and then that's about it. Take it easy, be cautious, be conservative, and you'll probably get through OK.

But that takes time, so the first time through I had to camp on a ridge around a mile short of my destination. Which was actually a good thing. Sunrise was great.

Gnarly morning. (pano → click to embiggen)

The second time I did this trip I pushed through and covered all the ground -- in eleven and a half hours -- but actually it was better the first time.

Keeping to some arbitrary schedule does not always make sense.

The nice thing about reaching the meadow is that there is water there, and although there is plenty of room for tents, it's not so good for hammocks. And the view is much better from the ridge.

Mountains always look good at sunrise. (pano → click to embiggen)

Coming around the mountain on the trail is easy. The trail is level and well-maintained. It's a piece of cake. You could hike it with your eyes closed.

Then, arcing around the south side of the mountain and heading back north again, you come to the end of it. The trail.

There is a drop, into Hellroaring Valley, and if you go there you are on your own.

This is the part I like.

After some terrain negotiation - midday-ish. (pano → click to embiggen)

Negotiating the route after that takes caution and some planning. Think of on-the-ground tactics applied to pre-hike strategy.

You encounter various kinds of scree and talus, both of stone of dried, flaked dirt.

There are thickets. Unstable boulders. Hidden streams. Thorns. Steep slopes.


Well, one glacier. A small one. But a glacier nevertheless.

It could bite if it chose to. I guess.

In other words, there is freedom and you are welcome to use it to your advantage or detriment, as the case may be.

High, clear, calm, rocky, lonesome. Perfect. (pano → click to embiggen)

But we've been over that part.

Today we move beyond.

Trending first south, then east, and now back north and again to the west before leaving the mountain takes us through several different environments.

The trail travel is mellow, as noted.

The off-trail travel is interesting.

The northern side of the mountain is something else again.

It is open. It is free. There are no boundaries.

The landscape is softly rolling and grassy, and yet rocky underfoot.

Both times there I have lost the trail, despite wasting what seemed like hours searching for it. You lose it. You can't help it. It doesn't matter. Not really.

The trail is there, and might be easy to follow if going the other direction, but by traveling counter-clockwise, losing the trail is not only easy but inevitable.

Rainier standing alone. (pano → click to embiggen)


Cross-country travel is easy to the north. All you have to do is head toward where the map says you need to be and sooner or later you will cross the trail, and then it will carry you from that point onward.

In between, you get to fly free across a sort of cobbly tundra. Grassy yet full of stubbornly-hidden stobbers waiting to catch up your feet and throw you down.

Evening closing in and miles to go yet. (pano → click to embiggen)

Eventually you will come to a stream. One of those volcanic-mountain streams full of grayness and silt, and you will have to cross it.

Crossing these is always uncomfortable. Late in the day, after high snows have warmed, these streams are full to the brink and vigorous with their strength. This is when you have to cross them, even if, early in the day, they may be only damp gullies.

So you cross the stream because you have to, and you get your legs and feet covered with grit, and have to wait to dry, and then you continue.

Final morning at the PCT junction. (pano → click to embiggen)

Not long after this crossing you enter the first outliers of forest.

For most of this day you will have been in the open, skimming the mountain's surface like a happy bee, carefree in the sunshine.

But now, toward evening, you begin to look for clear water, supper, and a campsite, and soon you find water, and then woods.

Rainier always dominates the horizon. (pano → click to embiggen)

For hammockers, the north part of Mt Adams is fine.

There are many places to slip off the trail and find a couple of trees to hang from, and another one to put your food in.

Hey. OK. I can't get enough. (pano → click to embiggen)

And in August, when the weather is fine, you are too.

The only trouble I had was on the first trip, when coyotes -- well, one coyote -- insisted on howling and barking late into the night.

I was awake yelling at it, hoping to scare it away, but I think it finally simply got tired of making noise and climbed into its own bed to finish rest up and leave me in peace.

Goodbye, Adams. I love you.

Anyway, the last (short) day is an easy hike back down the trail to the parking lot, where, if you've been clever with your parking, your car is waiting in the shade, nice and cool for the drive home.


Adams West

Adams South

Adams East