Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Heather Park Trail 01

Photos in the clouds.

In mid-September I decided to take a day hike.

I was living in Port Angeles, WA at the time, and the weather was nice, so why not?

Down low, at the trailhead, the day was chilly – frigid even, but sunny. Things looked good.

The trail begins at the very northernmost edge of Olympic National Park, which abuts the city of Port Angeles, and at that point the whole trail is secluded in forest.

So, no matter how sunny the day was, the trip up was freezing cold.

Even though I was sweating while huffing my way up the trail, my hands and head were freezing.

Slow as I am, I finally caught on, and pulled gloves and a fuzzy cap out of my pack.

Then I continued huffing and sweating. A gray-haired woman passed me and eventually pulled so far ahead that I lost sight of her.

I kept snorting and snuffling, huffing and puffing, and finally made it to Heather Park, which is a sort of tilted meadow with a small stream running through it. After a break and some sightseeing I pushed on, headed for the top. After a while I met the gray-haired woman again. She was headed back down, after spending at least an hour up on the ridge. So much for my ego.

From Heather Park it's still a slog to get to the barren and open ridge on top of the mountains, but it's fun. To the north there are views of the cities of Port Angeles, Sequim, and Victoria B.C., around 20 miles off on the southern edge of Vancouver Island.

To the west, you see more mountains. To the east you get views of peaks, and a glimpse or two of Klahhane Ridge, which leads south to the national park visitor center and Hurricane Ridge.

But this day, the action was all in the sky. After a rest and a sandwich, I was ready to do more exploring than I had time for when I came through on a backpacking trip earlier in the season.

But that was about the time that the clouds began rolling in. And rolling is the right word. The clouds came charging, tumbling, and rolling in from the southeast (the route that most weather follows there), and before long I was in the clouds, which came and went according to their own whims and wiles, while a mile below me the sun still shone brightly.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Time And Christmas

From Frenzied Fiction, Chapter 18, Merry Christmas, by Stephen Leacock, published in 1918.

"My Dear Young Friend," said Father Time, as he laid his hand gently upon my shoulder, "you are entirely wrong."

Then I looked up over my shoulder from the table at which I was sitting and I saw him.

But I had known, or felt, for at least the last half-hour that he was standing somewhere near me.

You have had, I do not doubt, good reader, more than once that strange uncanny feeling that there is some one unseen standing beside you, in a darkened room, let us say, with a dying fire, when the night has grown late, and the October wind sounds low outside, and when, through the thin curtain that we call Reality, the Unseen World starts for a moment clear upon our dreaming sense.

You have had it? Yes, I know you have. Never mind telling me about it. Stop. I don't want to hear about that strange presentiment you had the night your Aunt Eliza broke her leg. Don't let's bother with your experience. I want to tell mine.

"You are quite mistaken, my dear young friend," repeated Father Time, "quite wrong."

"Young friend?" I said, my mind, as one's mind is apt to in such a case, running to an unimportant detail. "Why do you call me young?"

"Your pardon," he answered gently – he had a gentle way with him, had Father Time. "The fault is in my failing eyes. I took you at first sight for something under a hundred."

"Under a hundred?" I expostulated. "Well, I should think so!"

"Your pardon again," said Time, "the fault is in my failing memory. I forgot. You seldom pass that nowadays, do you? Your life is very short of late."

I heard him breathe a wistful hollow sigh. Very ancient and dim he seemed as he stood beside me. But I did not turn to look upon him. I had no need to. I knew his form, in the inner and clearer sight of things, as well as every human being knows by innate instinct, the Unseen face and form of Father Time.

I could hear him murmuring beside me, "Short – short, your life is short"; till the sound of it seemed to mingle with the measured ticking of a clock somewhere in the silent house.

Then I remembered what he had said.

"How do you know that I am wrong?" I asked. "And how can you tell what I was thinking?"

"You said it out loud," answered Father Time. "But it wouldn't have mattered, anyway. You said that Christmas was all played out and done with."

"Yes," I admitted, "that's what I said."

"And what makes you think that?" he questioned, stooping, so it seemed to me, still further over my shoulder.

"Why," I answered, "the trouble is this. I've been sitting here for hours, sitting till goodness only knows how far into the night, trying to think out something to write for a Christmas story. And it won't go. It can't be done – not in these awful days."

"A Christmas Story?"

"Yes. You see, Father Time," I explained, glad with a foolish little vanity of my trade to be able to tell him something that I thought enlightening, "all the Christmas stuff – stories and jokes and pictures – is all done, you know, in October."

I thought it would have surprised him, but I was mistaken.

"Dear me," he said, "not till October! What a rush! How well I remember in Ancient Egypt – as I think you call it – seeing them getting out their Christmas things, all cut in hieroglyphics, always two or three years ahead."

"Two or three years!" I exclaimed.

"Pooh," said Time, "that was nothing. Why in Babylon they used to get their Christmas jokes ready – all baked in clay – a whole Solar eclipse ahead of Christmas. They said, I think, that the public preferred them so."

"Egypt?" I said. "Babylon? But surely, Father Time, there was no Christmas in those days. I thought – "

"My dear boy," he interrupted gravely, "don't you know that there has always been Christmas?"

I was silent. Father Time had moved across the room and stood beside the fireplace, leaning on the mantelpiece. The little wreaths of smoke from the fading fire seemed to mingle with his shadowy outline.

"Well," he said presently, "what is it that is wrong with Christmas?"

"Why," I answered, "all the romance, the joy, the beauty of it has gone, crushed and killed by the greed of commerce and the horrors of war. I am not, as you thought I was, a hundred years old, but I can conjure up, as anybody can, a picture of Christmas in the good old days of a hundred years ago: the quaint old-fashioned houses, standing deep among the evergreens, with the light twinkling from the windows on the snow; the warmth and comfort within; the great fire roaring on the hearth; the merry guests grouped about its blaze and the little children with their eyes dancing in the Christmas fire-light, waiting for Father Christmas in his fine mummery of red and white and cotton wool to hand the presents from the yule-tide tree. I can see it," I added, "as if it were yesterday."

"It was but yesterday," said Father Time, and his voice seemed to soften with the memory of bygone years. "I remember it well."

"Ah," I continued, "that was Christmas indeed. Give me back such days as those, with the old good cheer, the old stage coaches and the gabled inns and the warm red wine, the snapdragon and the Christmas-tree, and I'll believe again in Christmas, yes, in Father Christmas himself."

"Believe in him?" said Time quietly. "You may well do that. He happens to be standing outside in the street at this moment."

"Outside?" I exclaimed. "Why don't he come in?"

"He's afraid to," said Father Time. "He's frightened and he daren't come in unless you ask him. May I call him in?"

I signified assent, and Father Time went to the window for a moment and beckoned into the darkened street. Then I heard footsteps, clumsy and hesitant they seemed, upon the stairs. And in a moment a figure stood framed in the doorway – the figure of Father Christmas. He stood shuffling his feet, a timid, apologetic look upon his face.

How changed he was!

I had known in my mind's eye, from childhood up, the face and form of Father Christmas as well as that of Old Time himself. Everybody knows, or once knew him – a jolly little rounded man, with a great muffler wound about him, a packet of toys upon his back and with such merry, twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks as are only given by the touch of the driving snow and the rude fun of the North Wind. Why, there was once a time, not yet so long ago, when the very sound of his sleigh-bells sent the blood running warm to the heart.

But now how changed.

All draggled with the mud and rain he stood, as if no house had sheltered him these three years past. His old red jersey was tattered in a dozen places, his muffler frayed and ravelled.

The bundle of toys that he dragged with him in a net seemed wet and worn till the cardboard boxes gaped asunder. There were boxes among them, I vow, that he must have been carrying these three past years.

But most of all I noted the change that had come over the face of Father Christmas. The old brave look of cheery confidence was gone. The smile that had beamed responsive to the laughing eyes of countless children around unnumbered Christmas-trees was there no more. And in the place of it there showed a look of timid apology, of apprehensiveness, as of one who has asked in vain the warmth and shelter of a human home – such a look as the harsh cruelty of this world has stamped upon the faces of its outcasts.

So stood Father Christmas shuffling upon the threshold, fumbling his poor tattered hat in his hand.

"Shall I come in?" he said, his eyes appealingly on Father Time.

"Come," said Time. He turned to speak to me, "Your room is dark. Turn up the lights. He's used to light, bright light and plenty of it. The dark has frightened him these three years past."

I turned up the lights and the bright glare revealed all the more cruelly the tattered figure before us.

Father Christmas advanced a timid step across the floor. Then he paused, as if in sudden fear.

"Is this floor mined?" he said.

"No, no," said Time soothingly. And to me he added in a murmured whisper, "He's afraid. He was blown up in a mine in No Man's Land between the trenches at Christmas-time in 1914. It broke his nerve."

"May I put my toys on that machine gun?" asked Father Christmas timidly. "It will help to keep them dry."

"It is not a machine gun," said Time gently. "See, it is only a pile of books upon the sofa." And to me he whispered, "They turned a machine gun on him in the streets of Warsaw. He thinks he sees them everywhere since then."

"It's all right, Father Christmas," I said, speaking as cheerily as I could, while I rose and stirred the fire into a blaze. "There are no machine guns here and there are no mines. This is but the house of a poor writer."

"Ah," said Father Christmas, lowering his tattered hat still further and attempting something of a humble bow, "a writer? Are you Hans Andersen, perhaps?"

"Not quite," I answered.

"But a great writer, I do not doubt," said the old man, with a humble courtesy that he had learned, it well may be, centuries ago in the yule-tide season of his northern home. "The world owes much to its great books. I carry some of the greatest with me always. I have them here..."

He began fumbling among the limp and tattered packages that he carried. "Look! The House that Jack Built – a marvellous, deep thing, sir – and this, The Babes in the Wood. Will you take it, sir? A poor present, but a present still – not so long ago I gave them in thousands every Christmas-time. None seem to want them now."

He looked appealingly towards Father Time, as the weak may look towards the strong, for help and guidance.

"None want them now," he repeated, and I could see the tears start in his eyes. "Why is it so? Has the world forgotten its sympathy with the lost children wandering in the wood?"

"All the world," I heard Time murmur with a sigh, "is wandering in the wood." But out loud he spoke to Father Christmas in cheery admonition, "Tut, tut, good Christmas," he said, "you must cheer up. Here, sit in this chair the biggest one; so – beside the fire. Let us stir it to a blaze; more wood, that's better. And listen, good old Friend, to the wind outside – almost a Christmas wind, is it not? Merry and boisterous enough, for all the evil times it stirs among."

Old Christmas seated himself beside the fire, his hands outstretched towards the flames. Something of his old-time cheeriness seemed to flicker across his features as he warmed himself at the blaze.

"That's better," he murmured. "I was cold, sir, cold, chilled to the bone. Of old I never felt it so; no matter what the wind, the world seemed warm about me. Why is it not so now?"

"You see," said Time, speaking low in a whisper for my ear alone, "how sunk and broken he is? Will you not help?"

"Gladly," I answered, "if I can."

"All can," said Father Time, "every one of us."

Meantime Christmas had turned towards me a questioning eye, in which, however, there seemed to revive some little gleam of merriment.

"Have you, perhaps," he asked half timidly, "schnapps?"

"Schnapps?" I repeated.

"Ay, schnapps. A glass of it to drink your health might warm my heart again, I think."

"Ah," I said, "something to drink?"

"His one failing," whispered Time, "if it is one. Forgive it him. He was used to it for centuries. Give it him if you have it."

"I keep a little in the house," I said reluctantly perhaps, "in case of illness."

"Tut, tut," said Father Time, as something as near as could be to a smile passed over his shadowy face. "In case of illness! They used to say that in ancient Babylon. Here, let me pour it for him. Drink, Father Christmas, drink!"

Marvellous it was to see the old man smack his lips as he drank his glass of liquor neat after the fashion of old Norway.

Marvellous, too, to see the way in which, with the warmth of the fire and the generous glow of the spirits, his face changed and brightened till the old-time cheerfulness beamed again upon it.

He looked about him, as it were, with a new and growing interest.

"A pleasant room," he said. "And what better, sir, than the wind without and a brave fire within!"

Then his eye fell upon the mantelpiece, where lay among the litter of books and pipes a little toy horse.

"Ah," said Father Christmas almost gayly, "children in the house!"

"One," I answered, "the sweetest boy in all the world."

"I'll be bound he is!" said Father Christmas and he broke now into a merry laugh that did one's heart good to hear. "They all are! Lord bless me! The number that I have seen, and each and every one – and quite right too – the sweetest child in all the world. And how old, do you say? Two and a half all but two months except a week? The very sweetest age of all, I'll bet you say, eh, what? They all do!"

And the old man broke again into such a jolly chuckling of laughter that his snow-white locks shook upon his head.

"But stop a bit," he added. "This horse is broken. Tut, tut, a hind leg nearly off. This won't do!"

He had the toy in his lap in a moment, mending it. It was wonderful to see, for all his age, how deft his fingers were.

"Time," he said, and it was amusing to note that his voice had assumed almost an authoritative tone, "reach me that piece of string. That's right. Here, hold your finger across the knot. There! Now, then, a bit of beeswax. What? No beeswax? Tut, tut, how ill-supplied your houses are to-day. How can you mend toys, sir, without beeswax? Still, it will stand up now."

I tried to murmur by best thanks.

But Father Christmas waved my gratitude aside.

"Nonsense," he said, "that's nothing. That's my life. Perhaps the little boy would like a book too. I have them here in the packet. Here, sir, Jack and the Bean Stalk, most profound thing. I read it to myself often still. How damp it is! Pray, sir, will you let me dry my books before your fire?"

"Only too willingly," I said. "How wet and torn they are!"

Father Christmas had risen from his chair and was fumbling among his tattered packages, taking from them his children's books, all limp and draggled from the rain and wind.

"All wet and torn!" he murmured, and his voice sank again into sadness. "I have carried them these three years past. Look! These were for little children in Belgium and in Serbia. Can I get them to them, think you?"

Time gently shook his head.

"But presently, perhaps," said Father Christmas, "if I dry and mend them. Look, some of them were inscribed already! This one, see you, was written 'With father's love.' Why has it never come to him? Is it rain or tears upon the page?"

He stood bowed over his little books, his hands trembling as he turned the pages. Then he looked up, the old fear upon his face again.

"That sound!" he said. "Listen! It is guns – I hear them."

"No, no," I said, "it is nothing. Only a car passing in the street below."

"Listen," he said. "Hear that again – voices crying!"

"No, no," I answered, "not voices, only the night wind among the trees."

"My children's voices!" he exclaimed. "I hear them everywhere – they come to me in every wind – and I see them as I wander in the night and storm – my children – torn and dying in the trenches – beaten into the ground – I hear them crying from the hospitals – each one to me, still as I knew him once, a little child. Time, Time," he cried, reaching out his arms in appeal, "give me back my children!"

"They do not die in vain," Time murmured gently.

But Christmas only moaned in answer:

"Give me back my children!"

Then he sank down upon his pile of books and toys, his head buried in his arms.

"You see," said Time, "his heart is breaking, and will you not help him if you can?"

"Only too gladly," I replied. "But what is there to do?"

"This," said Father Time, "listen."

He stood before me grave and solemn, a shadowy figure but half seen though he was close beside me. The fire-light had died down, and through the curtained windows there came already the first dim brightening of dawn.

"The world that once you knew," said Father Time, "seems broken and destroyed about you. You must not let them know – the children. The cruelty and the horror and the hate that racks the world to-day – keep it from them. Some day he will know" – here Time pointed to the prostrate form of Father Christmas – "that his children, that once were, have not died in vain: that from their sacrifice shall come a nobler, better world for all to live in, a world where countless happy children shall hold bright their memory for ever. But for the children of To-day, save and spare them all you can from the evil hate and horror of the war. Later they will know and understand. Not yet. Give them back their Merry Christmas and its kind thoughts, and its Christmas charity, till later on there shall be with it again Peace upon Earth Good Will towards Men."

His voice ceased. It seemed to vanish, as it were, in the sighing of the wind.

I looked up. Father Time and Christmas had vanished from the room. The fire was low and the day was breaking visibly outside.

"Let us begin," I murmured. "I will mend this broken horse."

More: Stephen Leacock

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Things Backpackers Really Do

But don't actually talk about.

A good story requires conflict, suspense, adventure, and resolution. That's why there are so many good backpacking blogs, all full to the brim with great, hair-raising stories.

You know – a guy pitches his tent after getting caught in a ripping storm, crawls in covered with mud and the day's sweat, scrapes the dried residue of lunch from his pot, gets attacked by bears around midnight. Or mice. Mice attack too.

Anyway, a lot of these stories are bogus. Mostly backpackers aren't that stupid, but wish they were, so they could have good stories to tell, so they fudge.

Some things backpackers do but don't talk about.

Bathe frequently and wear clean underwear.

The one true badge of honor among backpackers is going grungy. Dirt is where it's at. You walk on it, you sleep in it, you eat all your meals sitting on top of it. And walking means sweat. Sweat means nasty socks and zombie undos. It's fun to talk about how you survived a week without any kind of bath, wearing exactly the same stuff, and how you made do, but most people don't do that.

They just take a couple of changes, rinse them out when they can, and at least sponge themselves off. Sometimes they go swimming, which is fun in itself. But being clean doesn't make a good story.

Never get lost.

Next to a story about nearly having your hide ripped off during a mountain-cracking thunderstorm is how you innocently took a wrong turn and walked into Hell. And couldn't get out for days. Because you lost your fancy GPS thingy, and something ate your map while you weren't looking. Sure. We believe that. Happens to all of us, all the time, doesn't it?

Eat decent food.

So about when you got yourself un-lost, you noticed you were on the edge of starvation and had to dig through garbage for anything at all less than half-rotten to eat. And since you were out of water too, you had to make coffee with your own urine. (Luckily, someone left a bag of coffee in the litter barrel for you, and you managed to hang onto just barely enough urine to make it work.)

Mostly though, you know? Doesn't happen.

These days only a screaming idiot starts off with a jar of peanut butter and some moldy crackers. The freeze-dried stuff is there if you can afford it, and any grocery has lots of dried soups, noodles, and rice, and butter. Butter goes with anything.

You can buy pre-packaged or mix up your own and have good eats without much fuss. But there's no story there, is there? Yawn.

Think how much more fun it would be at home.

Tired of boring scenery like mountains, lakes, and trees? Annoyed by creeping things with all kinds of legs running all over you 24/7? Burned out by sunny skies, temperate weather, and starry nights? Creeped out by crossing paths with rarely-sighted wildlife?

Well then, you've probably spent a bunch of your trail time wishing you were back home in front of the TV, with an easily-reached refrigerator full of tall cool ones, and no worries about sunburn, pests, or rangers.

Sure, everybody's goal is to get back home again, but for most of us, you know, if we really admit it, that's where we should have stayed. People really don't belong out of doors, or we would have been born with backpacks and hiking boots on. Think about all the problems that would cause during the average delivery and you understand why we're not really meant to be out there, so much, after all.

Which is what makes frightening stories so easy to believe, isn't it?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Prime Mover

Technology rids trail of pest, by Philippa Aswang.

I first met LeRoi Nildenson only a day before we began our hike of the Pathetic Crust Trail. I should have known.

Despite the trail's glowing reputation and what all the guidebooks say, it has a name that's just begging to bring on disappointment, and it did.

But I didn't expect anything as pathetic as LeRoi.

It was two weeks of hell, hiking with that man – up one side and down the other – and he was always talking about his car, or pining for his cat, or wondering what his mother would be making him for breakfast now, if only he was still at home with her. Well, soon he will be, because I finally did what I should have done in the first five minutes.

Sure, yes, I admit – it was my decision to go with LeRoi. I picked him and thought "Hey – what's the worst that could happen?" Well, the worst turned out to be LeRoi. He said his trail name was BOO-Hah!, and he was a gonzo hiker, but five minutes after I first laid eyes on him I had to start calling him Boo-Boo, and he was a bozo hiker, a trail scab, a pustule on the very idea of backpacking.

Hint to those who follow in my footsteps – don't believe every profile you read on Plenty of Tramps. I know most of you don't need to hear this, but it's too easy for even a trail-hardened woman to get carried away when you find all of the following in a fifty-word profile:

Adventurous, athletic, open-minded, new age, old fashioned, friendship, sole mate, free spirit, emotionally secure, nearly beardless, feminist, educated, intelligent, sick of the campground scene, fun loving, creative, long hikes in the moonlight, snuggling near a warm campfire, employed, tick-free.

Luckily I leased LeRoi from Plenty of Tramps rather than buying him outright, and charged it on my Store Card (by GE Capital Retail Bank). That gave me the leverage I needed not only to send him back, but to get a full refund within hours.

That, and the new Amazon Prime Air which went into service none too soon. It took only a little thumb-waving over my smartphone, and almost before I could hog-tie LeRoi for the trip back, there was the Amazon RotoMerch FetchDrone with its buzzing thrusters coming to return him to the warehouse.

Sooner than I imagined possible, LeRoi was hoisted up and spirited away over the treetops, never to annoy anyone again – all at no cost to me, thanks to newly-loosened FAA regulations and Amazon's liberal returns policy. He really belongs at home with Mama and his cat anyway, not with a real trail woman.

Bye-bye, Boo-Boo.


Amazon Tests Drones for Same-Day Parcel Delivery, Bezos Says

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Great Questions In Backpacking

What do you do about legs?

Legs are often used in backpacking. True! Just go watch sometime.

What you see on almost any trail where there are people is that they are walking (the people, not the trail, though sometimes you see animals such as dogs, hermit crabs, migrating beasts, ducks, and, if you are in Australia, wombats at times).

You might ask then – hey, what's the thing that is common here?

Legs, my friend – they all have some legs.

First, when you have legs, your clothes stay clean because you are not always on your belly wiggling around. Snakes do this but nakedness is not an option since no one makes decent clothes for snakes any more, so they are off the table.

That leaves the rest of us, and we rely on our legs to keep our clothes clean, which is very important when we want to be served at such fine dining establishments as Taco Gong and Burger Doodle.

Snakes can't eat there because of the no-shirt/no-shoes rule, but dirty people are refused as well. Keep this in mind when deciding whether to walk or slither – you may regret a wrong choice.

Legs provide needed proportion to the rest of your body.

Remember the height-weight proportional rule? It is connected to your legs, usually as a small tag hanging from your butt crack area.

You have seen this tag on others when it peeked over their pants, but you probably haven't seen your own because your eyes are on the opposite side, and you are on the lookout for cougars and free-range wombats (if you are in Australia). Or maybe your tag fell off.

If it did, you lack the proof required to date legally, but on the other hand you have another reason to stay alone in the woods, so there is an up-side.

Legs also help you maintain a proper height.

Without legs you would be much shorter. Much, much shorter. Think about how hard it is now to get your food up in a tree for safety overnight. Now imagine getting it down again, and you can't reach the string at all because of no legs.

Bummer? You bet, so keep your legs stretched. Include regular exercises so your legs continue to reach the ground whenever you stand up.

Here is a telltale sign that something is wrong – whenever you stand up you fall down again. Sure, some people do this naturally. It runs in families, but they are not backpackers, so what do you care? That is no excuse.

You may be naturally klutzy, or your legs may be shrinking because you don't stretch them enough. Then they don't reach the ground any more. Find a mirror. Look. You may be surprised.

Stick with a good exercise plan.

Beyond stretching, here are other good ideas to keep your legs fit.

  • Jumping: Use a shorter and shorter string to hang your food, so you have to jump to pull it down. You will find yourself able to jump ever higher as you lose weight from lack of calories, so don't worry if you cut too much off, if you are current on that stretching.
  • Running: There is nothing better for legs than running. If you are not a self-starter then try throwing a few stones at the nearest large animal, or at fellow backpackers if no other animals are around that day. When charged, just run like crazy. Works every time.
  • Riding a bike: This is cheating. Much better to steal a bike so someone chases you. Then you can practice more running.
  • Swimming: OK for some, but generally it is better for the legs to ford deep rivers while wearing a full pack. Look for foamy water. Sometimes you can hear it calling your name from afar.
  • Aerobics: This is from the 1980s and no one remembers what it was about, but the result was buns of steel – useless. If anything, you want cinnamon buns, or a few nice caramel rolls, none of which require heavy breathing or wiggling your behind while wearing funny tights.
  • Squats: You should be doing this every morning anyway. Don't forget the toilet paper. After a while it will come naturally.
  • Wait training: This is what most people do, figuring they'll catch up later. These are the ones that get eaten first.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Uses For String

Theory meets practice.

If you're a cat, you know about string – that mysterious substance that stays still while moving, and moves when staying still – endlessly fascinating, and irresistible, like mice, which is saying a lot.

If you're a backpacker, things aren't that different. String is fascinating for you too, because it's both useful and spooky. And on those days when the weather is bad – bad enough to keep you in your already-stinky sleeping bag – string is a doorway to entertainment if handled properly.

For example, instead of lying there and picking your nose all day, you can practice your knots.

Knots are essential. They keep your shoes attached to your feet. Keep tents attached to the earth. Provide that critical last line of defense in food hanging – forget that knot and your food comes crashing down again and again – haven't we all been there?

You need knots, so get some string and play until you know all you need to.

Say you got up at night to water the shrubbery and lost your tent? Well, my friend, you probably tried winging it without string, and ended up in the wrong county. That is seriously wrong. If this problem persists, sign up for one of our easy-peasy seminars, like "String Basics", or "Intro to Whizzing".


Free tip: Tie one end of a string to your tent, and the other to any handy body part. If you feel a painful tug, you've gone out to the far edge, so reel yourself back in. If you feel dumb doing this, you're definitely a noob. All the pros do it, so wise up and get with the program.

How do you think people hike the Intercontinental Divide Trail without disappearing in the dark like campfire sparks? String. And we can teach you effective string technique.

Course requirements.

  • String (Provided.)
  • You (Bring yourself. If you can't get up, we'll send a guy to poke you with a stick.)
  • Ignorance (Handy, but optional.)
  • Willingness to learn (Also optional but helpful. See next item.)
  • Cash (Only $299.95, and you get a framed certificate. Course may be repeated as often as you like, as long as you've got the dough.)

Too advanced for that one? Try our week-long retreat on String Theory.

What's covered:

  • What is string anyway?
  • Where did string come from? (A short history that ties up all the loose ends.)
  • What kinds of string are out there?
  • String colors and the knots that work with them.
  • Which end to tie where?
  • Buying tips.
  • Bosons, quantum chromodynamics, and entanglement – the real story.
  • Shoelaces: Special case, or variation on a theme?
  • String and pegging: For tents only, or fun adult entertainment option?
  • Effective swearing. (When all else fails.)

To summarize, We're here for you, whenever you give up and admit that string wrangling really is above your pay grade. For info, email:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

EPA Bans More Fun Stuff

Life as we know it to end soon.

Say you want to go backpacking and you kind of think about taking your uncle Fred's cast-iron wood-burning stove along because you like flapjacks.

Forget for the moment that the stove weighs 400 pounds and won't quite fit in your pack, even though your pack is a Kelty Tioga that you bought in 1983, and they said it could haul anything.

Also forget that you might be stupid.

For right now, let's focus on more important things, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saying that Uncle Fred's stove, and other stoves like it can't be used no more, even in Uncle Fred's cabin.

They're doing all this because they like meddling, and they just about have ran clean out of other ways to meddle, so now they're going to come on their black mountain bikes in their shiny stretch pants and confiscate your onliest way of making breakfast.

What does this mean, really?

For one thing, maybe more backpackers will try the FrickStove, recently patented by Elias Horff. It looks like a two-pound coffee can. Inside is a powerful spring and a spool of heatproof and fireproof titanium wire. You just pull on the wire until the spring is wound (takes only an hour or so), set your pot on the top, and flip the switch.

From then on, environmentally-healthy friction from counter-rotating plates inside the stove creates heat, and that creates super-heated air, which shoots out the top of the stove like an F-22 on full afterburner, and your noodles are cooked in seconds.

It's mostly silent too, except for an occasional friendly sonic boom if a stove should tip over. In that case its massive thrust vector can power it into the upper atmosphere at supersonic speeds. (One early FrickStove prototype was clocked at Mach 2.17 on a cool day with light southeasterly winds in early autumn – data about production models is still classified, so we can't tell you that.)

Hey – maybe it's worth a look.

Meanwhile, back inside the Beltway, the pointy-headed EPA has banned production and sale of stoves used by about 80 percent of real men. You know – men who enjoy inhaling "airborne fine-particle matter" at a rate of over 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air. No real man knows or cares what a meter is, let alone a microgram, and most of them are just fine using a bit of fine-particle stove scale as seasoning.

The whole deal is govmint encroachment, and most of us don't like that, expecially when it comes to having safe streets and highways, fecal-free food, and socialist, tax-supported police and fire departments, which would be privately owned in a true free-market system.

Rumor has it that next year the National Socialist Park Service will require all overnighters to carry a change of underwear and wash their armpits daily. We all know where that might lead.


EPA Bans Most Wood-Burning Stoves

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Class Act

Want to sleep on that?

Let's hear it for ideas. Ideas, and not much else, separate us from other monkey-like creatures and possibly some of those things that live in the basement and mutter about Creeping Socialism and Britney Spears being so disappointing these days.

Well, in keeping with that, how about developing a difficulty rating for backpacking trails?

I've got nothing else to do, and maybe you don't either, so it sounds like we have a committee, and since all good ideas come from committees, we'd better get started.

Class 1: Getting out of bed.

This sounds really easy but does take practice. Most accidents occur in the home, and home is where you spend most of your free time, and no one likes getting out of bed, even if there is fun stuff going on somewhere, so we have issues to work through here, right?

Getting out of bed works reliably only after lots of practice, by developing a dependable routine with a smooth, flowing, and supple follow-through.

Luckily, few route-finding skills are needed in moving from a horizontal in-bed position to a vertical near-bed stance. The path to the bathroom (which comes next) is commonly well-marked, free of obstacles, and should already be familiar. This is also good.

We mention the bathroom here because getting to it is a common and often critical first step after climbing out of the sack, so it's a great (and easily recognizable) destination for beginning backpackers.

Most Class 1 hikes take place in urban or suburbans areas, and indoors. There is nothing wrong with that, but after a while you get tired of pancake breakfasts and a view of the Motel Five parking lot.

Which means it's time for...

Class 2: Extra-Pavemental Movement Activities.

I know – scary – but we've all gotta do it sometime.

Class 2 is defined as hiking that could require some level of conscious effort, or at least consciousness, and a taste for adventure. After all, you don't really know what's out there in the weeds besides the neighbor's cat, and you never did get along with him anyway.

Unpaved ground is also strange. It's oddly uneven and consists entirely of dirt. These are things you'll eventually need to come to terms with. Counseling may help, and be sure your vaccinations are up-to-date before you do anything bold.

If you see things sticking out of the ground, they're probably plants, unless they are moving. In that case there is either wind or who knows what. Remain vigilant but affect an air of casual confidence, even if you wet your pants the first few times. (Many report that adult diapers help.)

Bouts of vertigo or minor panic are not unusual. Some find it helpful to tie one end of a string to the car, and the other end to their pants, making a quick retreat possible. (Note that this does require a special two-ended string in order to work properly.)

But it's all too easy to trip over string, so forming a human chain might be better. Everyone holds hands, which is reassuring, and then you can throw a few expendables at anything dangerous while beating a hasty retreat for yourself, if necessary. (Keep this in mind.)

Class 3: For the real thrill seekers out there.

First, leave town. Seriously. You have to do it.

Then, find a trail.

To find a trail, first buy a map. Inspect said map for telltale lines. Any line you see may be a trail, or not. (This is where experience really pays off.)

If your chosen line is a trail, try walking on it. If it wiggles it's a big snake and you are dinner, so here's hoping you brought your (waterproof, bite-proof, and squeeze-proof) camera for a once-in-a-lifetime photo-op.

But if it isn't a snake you may have found the long-lost route to the mysterious and sought-after Fountain of Youth. If you do find something that looks like it may be the place, check your diaper for confirmation.

Well, that's about it for now. There are other, more advanced levels of backpacking, but I need a nap. How about you? Time for a little rest after all this exertion? I thought so.

Just kick back for the rest of the day, and we'll let 'er rip next time.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Five Days Rocking With The Goats (Part 5)

Wherein I finally encounter a beast.

Dora goes missing in action.

Right. So another good night in the hammock. I could say another good night in the sack, but I don't want to be reminded of being a snack in a sack. Maybe I've just been lucky, but so far nothing has come along in the night and tried to eat me. Anyway, nothing big enough to take my hammock and me down in one bite.

Heading back to the main trail (which is also the Pacific Crest Trail), I found that someone had left a message for Dora. Since Dora is an explorer, I figured she'd be doing well enough, and didn't feel a need to get involved, so I tried eating some of the rocks that spelled out the message. Not much luck there. They were all actual rocks, and not hard candies, which spoiled the whole experience and left me a little sour on that whole "kindness of strangers" thing. So screw Dora and her friends.

Corn lily and blue doodles.

Continuing, I found plants.

Etc. Still blue, but with new friends.

Some of the plants had flowers growing out of them. Maybe it was colorful parasites, but plants don't get a lot of sympathy from me, so I kept walking.

Yellow-Petaled Stem-Waver.

Then, wouldn't you just know it – there were more plants. Plants seemed to be all over the ground up there, like they didn't have anything better to do. I may have urinated on some of them out of frustration. Since then I've heard that plants actually like that, which gives you some idea of what they're really like, so now I hold it until I get home again. Take that, plants.

Morning rocks/Gilbert Peak. (Sans goats.)

Eventually, I looked up. There it was. Gilbert Peak, formerly known as Mount Curtis Gilbert.

  • Type: Mountain/Rock
  • Elevation: 8184 ft / 2494 m
  • Consistency: Hard
  • Color: Gray
  • Taste: Mostly rocky with a crunchy texture and good mouth feel, though somewhat gritty. Practically no bitter aftertaste.
  • Locale: Washington, United States, North America
  • Mailing Address: 46.49000°N / 121.4074°W
  • Distinguishing characteristics: Old. Pointy on top. Somewhat crumbly, but heavy if you are the one that a piece falls on.
Closer, with pointy bits on top. (click/embiggen)

Or, as Becky Fred (Fred Beckey's former girlfriend) said, "A jumble of spires resulting from violent volcanic action, followed by periods of rapid cooling." Followed in turn by two million years of inactivity.

Closer, with even pointier bits. (click/embiggen)

But enough of that. Back to the trail.

The trail headed back north toward Cispus Pass.

There's this other thing – looks like a volcanic plug.

Unfortunately, the name of this isn't on my map. (click/embiggen)

I no longer have any of my nice Green Trails maps, and my current ones don't give any decent clues about this one, which leads me to suspect that it isn't really there, which would explain a lot.

Along the ridge approaching Cispus Pass. (click/embiggen)

About then, as I drew nearer to Cispus Pass, I noticed that clouds were trying to sneak up on me from the southwest. They do that at times. I saw some of them scraping the ridge tops, which tells you about all you need to know about the intelligence of clouds. I mean, floaty and all, can go anywhere they want, and still they crash into mountains?

Gilbert Peak above Cispus Pass. (click/embiggen)

But quick to anger. I'm sure you've heard them growl, and at times they bite. Nothing that stupid should be allowed to play with electricity, but no one asked me up front, when there was still time to get the design right – they just went ahead and equipped clouds with heavy armament, and now where does that leave us? Oh, right – looking back over our shoulders.

More of the Gilbert Peak area. (click/embiggen)

Even Mount Gilbert seemed to be shaking its pointy things at me.

Columnar basalt.

Meanwhile, over on my side of the valley, the columnar basalt was looking good. It's part of that two-million-year-old stuff, and has had enough time to cool and go chunky.

Solo woman and her arfy pal. (click/embiggen)

But to approach it, first I had to get past the dog. Dogs. They were all over. Everybody had a dog. Some people had two. I saw them coming in from all directions, but none leaving, so I had to do a lot of tiptoeing around them. Next time I'm bringing my cougar. Her name is Ellen and she likes dogs, which saves me a bunch of money on cougar food.

More columnar basalt. (click/embiggen)

So I pointed across the valley and said "Damn, look at that." Dogs, being even less bright than most backpackers, are easily distracted, and it looked away while I scooted past before it noticed. I did hear angry barking about a half hour later, when the dog finally caught on, but, you know – too late by then, right?

Mysterious mudslide. (Dry phase.)

Even stranger, there were what must have been mud slides along the west side of the valley, at least a dozen of them. These were long, narrow runners reaching down to the trail from 100 to 200 yards up the mountain. The soil was soft, as though it had been deposited wet and then had frozen before finally thawing and drying out. I've never seen anything like that before.

Southeast into the Yakima Nation land. (click/embiggen)

A bit farther up and closer to Cispus Pass I noticed that the clouds were gaining on me. I tried making myself small so they wouldn't see me but they weren't bright enough not to notice, so that didn't work.

Yakima side of Cispus Pass. (click/embiggen)

They did help the scenery though. Somehow, sometimes, things look better when you can't see everything. I know I'm like that. People often remark on that quality of mine. It's like a talent, I think.

At the pass.

Since Cispus Pass is marked by a wooden board screwed into a tree, I found myself wondering what happens to the pass if someone cuts down that tree and takes it home? So I left it there. And does the elevation include how far the sign is off the ground? This information does not seem to be in any textbooks. Conspiracy? Hidden agenda? No one is talking, at least to me.

Cispus River.

Up here, the Cispus River is laughable, but knowing how touchy some inanimate things can be, I didn't laugh at it until I stepped over it, and then not out loud, in case it had friends nearby.

Downslope along the Cispus drainage.

Meanwhile, way down toward the southwest, the weather wasn't quite out of bed yet, but looked pretty rumpled and disorderly. It was still headed my way with its rain hair all disheveled.

Looking SE and back up toward Gilbert Peak. (click/embiggen)

Even Gilbert Peak or Mount Gilbert or whatever was looking iffy.

Weather. What!? (click/embiggen)

Especially when I zoomed in on the rocky parts and found that they were deep in negotiations with some of those clouds. This is usually not a good sign, so I resumed skedaddling, in a northerly direction.

Beast encounter. First, I get the hairy eye.

Some distance later I came to a boulder field, and while I paused to decide if I should lick any boulders to see how they tasted, I was accosted by a troll.

Then it's "Hmmm. Smells like backpacker."

Prior to this, I'd thought that trolls were big and ugly, but this guy was cute as a squeaky toy, and tiny. He told me that he was going to gobble me up, but I said he should wait for the next backpacker, who was plump and much more toothsome. And had bathed more recently. After sniffing the air for a bit he decided that it would be better for both of us if I went on my way. Heh.

And finally, "You are staying how long?"

Just as I turned a bend farther down the trail I heard him squeaking that I'd better not be trying any tricks or he'd come after me. "Yeah, right," I thought, "On two-inch-long legs." The next backpacker to come along was that woman, who got her gaiters seriously twisted for being referred to as plump, and set her dog on the troll.

But when things calmed down he did come after me, in his airplane – sure it was small, but it worked, and I had to hide under a log for the rest of the morning while me made repeated strafing runs. Finally, after a really long time he gave up, for lack fuel (or ammo), or because some other more plump and relatively more toothsome and less aromatic hiker finally did come along. At least it wasn't me.

Lunch on the verandah. No extra charge for rain.

Or maybe it was the weather that grounded the troll, because all that gray stuff off to the southwest had finally caught up. Then it lunged and dumped liquid sky all over. I crawled out from under my log, but had to duck into a grove of trees and string up my hammock fly and cower under that. But since I had food and fuel and drinkable water, I decided to give lunch a go, and wait.

Great lunchtime view, given a tarp.

This turned out to be a lot more fun than standing out in the rain with my tongue hanging out, and I got a couple of photos of the clouds as evidence in case I ever get hauled into court to testify about where I was and what I was doing at noon on August 26, 2013. Under a tarp, munching, peeking out, and swearing. More or less in that order.

Clearing to the southwest. (Clearing? OK, whatever.)

Eventually the clouds drained themselves dry and went off to bother someone else, and I went back to hiking. There was a nice view off to the southwest by then, but all nice views are off somewhere, aren't they? This one looked sunny in a gloomy sort of way, and, as noted, it was far off.


I saw more plants, with flowers on them, all of which seem to like clouds and rain more than is healthy.

Beginning the final descent. (click/embiggen)

And then there was a sad meadow with more plants, and trees (Which also are plants – who knew?) around it. And then I got to the edge of the world, and it was mostly downhill from there, which was comforting in a way, since my life is normally like that and I know how to work a downhill drift.

Goat Creek at campsite, downstream.

But before the end of everything I came to Goat Creek, off to one side. (No goats there either, just water.)

Goat Creek at campsite, upstream. (click/embiggen)

This turned out to be choice. (The creek and gravel bars and the forest and all.)

Goat Creek at campsite, downstream. (click/embiggen)

The trail is heavily used but since the trail crosses the creek so close to the parking lot (around a mile up / 2km), it isn't worth anyone's time to do too much searching for campsites there. Maybe earlier in the season, but not when I was there, so I had the place to myself, and to get to the creek a person has to go off-trail on spec and wander around here and there before finding the payoff.

Downstream, looking back toward campsite.

Most of the season's bugs were down by then too, and it was cool but not unpleasantly damp, and quiet. There was gravel beach (no mud) to walk on and cook on, and a pair of trees in just the right place for a hammock, so I had a good last night.

Campsite sheltered in the trees. (click/embiggen)

More, kinda:

Mount Curtis Gilbert

Gilbert Peak

Mount Curtis Gilbert - Conrad/Meade Glacier, Nov. 2004

The Pika Stove