Wednesday, May 27, 2015

10 Essential Myths — Ilumination

Number four: Peek a boo. I see you!

Have you ever been out camping? At all?

Probably, right? Or else you wouldn't be reading this, nut cruncher that you are.

You can take it.

You've been there. All alone in the dark. Sleeping peacefully after a day of backpacking.

And then you have to take a whiz.

Which is something you can't do inside your tent, no matter how little you actually want to get out of your sleeping bag, put on your shoes, and go stumbling around in the dark.

Which is why you need illumination.

Illumination (a flashlight, headlamp, or whatever) will help you get out there, do your business, and get you back to bed, where you belong. Without too much chance of you wandering off and getting entirely lost, or of going over a cliff. Both of these are real bummers, as those who can speak from experience will tell you.

Illumination will help you get out there, do your business, and get back to your bed, but it will not prevent you from having to get up in the first place, which would be even better. Much, much better. Makes you wonder why we're getting fancier lights all the time, but no one has figured out a way to stay in bed and blow off all that wandering around in the dark.

And there's another thing. The eyes.

Take a decent light with you when you leave the safety of your tent, shine it around here and there to get your bearings, and you can just about bet on finding a lot of eyes out there, looking back.

All those eyes — so very many of them — all turned your way.

They're waiting for you.

Waiting for you to step away from the security of your zipped-up tent and take a few steps into the woods. Just a few steps, that's all. That's enough. Just a few steps.

You are, after all, a stranger here, and don't know your way around, which is why you have that headlamp on your noggin, that flashlight in your hand. Either of which will show you a few things though not much — mostly the eyes.

But more importantly, having that light on your person, shining it around, left, right, up, down. Well, that's a bright beacon signaling. Signaling that the big-city doofus is up, in the dark, defenseless, and also signaling exactly where your doofus self is located.

Ever think of that?

You will now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hoofin' The Wolf

First view of water.

I wanted to check out the condition of the Gray Wolf Trail (Forest Service Trail 834) in the Buckhorn Wilderness.

Looking over the edge — almost straight down.

I had been through this area in 2003, and things have changed since then.

Typical mossylog.

Specifically, one bridge.

Its other half.

Last time I went through, there was a log bridge. Leaning, Its far end almost dislodged. And since then, it has all washed away.

Half of a robin's egg shell.

So, hey. I want to hike through there again, but not before seeing if it's possible.

A rare type of sign.

The bridge, such as it was, was located in a small but narrow and rocky canyon. The first time through it scared the snot out of me. The water was deep and foaming. Well, foaming around the edges. But foaming.

Entering the Buckhorn Wilderness, and...

And that is not a good sign for someone afoot, wearing a pack, and wanting to get through. Especially if that's me.

There's more info. More but not encouraging.

But maybe. Maybe there is a way around it. Yes? Maybe.

The Gray Wolf River face-to-face.

So I went to go see, and took the wrong turn. Slightly wrong. I ended up at the east end of this section of trail rather than in the middle — downstream of the former bridge instead of upstream.

Looking upstream.

Which is almost as good — it's a bit of a hike in either direction, and the day was nice for hiking in.

One of the camping spots along the trail.

The trail goes along the river. It climbs. Then it descends. Then it goes up and down. And so on.

Ah, well then. Here's the end of it.

And after a bit more, there is no trail no more.


There is a track climbing steeply up from there, but following it doesn't help — it's one of those walkarounds that gets crazier with every step. No hope of getting through this old, overgrown slide area, and going around it also looks suicidal.

The river. Seriously deep in spots.

The day after this exploration, I went in search of other maps. (My two maps disagree on details). I wanted another opinion. In case.

Another camp.

And I got it. But this third opinion was less encouraging.

River cobbles.

I found a slide, old and overgrown, but the new map shows a slide upstream of the former bridge, and I didn't even get to the bridge. My slide was downstream.

Looking downstream.

So I found one slide, where the "trail" goes straight up through brush, and toward a hidden cliff.

Alders in the sun, across the river.

But there was another slide, big enough to be marked, way up ahead somewhere.

Devils club.

And a missing bridge in a narrow slot of a canyon, where there was only uncrossable foamy water.

The same, looking more approachable from the top side.

Unfortunately, this short segment of trail links two larger trail systems.

Typical trail.

And although those two trail systems are also linked by road, it looks like road walking might take a whole extra day, considerably longer than a couple of hours on the now-impassable trail. If it was passable, that is.

More leafy undergrowth.

Plan B, hiking the eastern trail system in the Buckhorn Wilderness, would be an "in-and-back-out" route, instead of being a fun part of a 200-mile loop.

Alders on the hillside.

I may make another trip and check the route from the west, but maybe if I'm thinking seriously about it, I might just check out how long the road walk would be instead. I think the trail is a total loss for now.

The same alders, as seen from farther back.

No matter what, I'm not hopeful. Road walking is never fun.

Little strawberry plants.

Any long route in the Olympics involves miles of road walking. I'd set things up differently if I could.

Back near the trail's eastern terminus.

There are huge parts of Olympic National Park without any trails, huge parts separating the areas that do have trails.

Burned and rotting stump.

Without too much work it would be possible to build relatively short trail segments linking up with currently-existing trails and spreading hikers over thousands more acres while enhancing the experience and turning the park into one whole rather than a collection of disjointed regions, which it is now.

Here is a link to the area I'm talking about. In the upper right of this map, between Deer Park and Dungeness Forks connecting roads 2875 and 2870.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

10 Essential Myths — Insulation

Number three, a big one.

So you've decided to go backpacking, and you've decided to wear clothes while you do that.

Congrats. Now what?


Take extra.

Mom told you this, but maybe you weren't listening. Well, get smart then and listen up once.

The Classic 10 Essentials have "Extra Clothing" right there on the list. What part of extra clothing is giving you cognitive constipation? Eh?

You know the meanings of

  • Clothing, and
  • Extra clothing.


So take it. Or not. It's up to you if you want to lie there uncomfortable all night, or even croak out a horrible plaintive call for help while you shiver yourself to death. Really. And don't phone me. I'm at home where it's warm and predictable and where I have plenty of cat toys to amuse myself with. (It's a hobby_, OK?)

But if you do decide to go backpacking, and to take some extras along, and go with the New Age bumfuzzle of saying "Insulation" when you mean "Extra Clothing", then you'll have to think about it.

Like what your goal is.

Want to stay warm? Then maybe taking extra is good. Though staying home is always safer.

Want to come home alive? Then maybe taking extra is good. Unless you take too much and that thing back there is able to catch you because you can't run so fast all loaded down like that.

Want to stay comfy? Then maybe taking extra is good. If you have someone else to carry it for you. Otherwise, it's a whole lot like work, don't you think?

Want to be annoying and whiny? Then maybe winging it is good, with no preparation whatsoever, and you get to die from it too. (They call that a toofer.)

As the high lords of backpacking say, "Conditions can abruptly turn wet, windy or chilly in the backcountry, so it's smart to carry an additional layer of clothing in case something unexpected prolongs your exposure to the elements." Can't beat that as an example of conventional advice, but there's more...

"Ask this question: 'What is needed to survive the worst conditions that could be realistically encountered on this trip?'"

Well, this is where "accepted wisdom" goes off the rails, crashes, and explodes.

It's hard to imagine anything much worse than being out there, farting contentedly after supper, and then looking up and realizing that you have about six seconds to tune your thoughts to the fact that the Earth is about to be hit by a giant flaming space rock. Headed for your tent.

In this case, you can tear up that little card listing the 10 Essentials because, really, they aren't. You should know this by now because we've been over some of the other items already. But maybe you're slow. Who can say? You never know what hikers are thinking, or even if they are thinking, so (fair warning here, folks) I'm not worrying about what you'd do. Expect the worst and prepare for it, or accept that no matter what happens, you're screwed.

Just to rub in how blindingly pointless this all is, have a couple definitions dealing with today's subject.

Hat: An undead thing worn on the head, in the sense that it can't be a live animal (or plant), and a dead one would be spooky, so it's something else, not living, not dead. Undead.

The simplest kind of hat is a bag worn over the head, such as a knit hat, which in some circles is called a tuque (or stocking cap), and is also fine when used for robbing banks.

This style of hat is good if you like to sleep late or bump into things, because it covers the eyes. It is possible to roll up the hat's bottom edge to uncover the eyes, but then the eyes get cold, so what's the point? Better to stay indoors in cold weather, as noted above.

Other hats have more complicated parts, but they're too hard to figure out, so let's stop here.

Wind Chill: (Also known as the Wind Chill Factor) A favorite dramatic device of poofy-haired TV weatherpersons, largely used to scare the stupid.

Here's what wind chill really is: How it feels to stand in a cold breeze.

Standing in a cold breeze makes you feel colder than you would if you had enough clothes on, or weren't stupid enough to stand in a cold breeze. Other than that wind chill is simply an amusing idea.

The reverse of wind chill, which we can use for an interesting example from the other end of the thermodynamic spectrum, is something that doesn't have a name, but we can call it, oh, say, scalding. That sounds good as far as it goes, but in fact it would be much more impressive (befuddlingly frighteningly impressive even) if we called it not just scalding but dynamically interactive superhot scald flow.

Just between you and me, what we're talking about for this exercise is pouring boiling hot water onto your hand.

Now, in case you are one of those brainless dumb-bunnies, please don't actually go and do this. Not right now. Give it about a week, so no one can trace where you got the idea, then have at it if you really need to. If you were to actually do this (which you shouldn't want to unless you are very, very stupid), well then you would get a big owie on your hand. The big owie you got from pouring hot water on yourself would be even bigger than the owie you got by simply sticking the same hand into a pot of hot water at the same temperature as the other hot water. (Don't do this either, OK?)

It's a bigger owie when the water flows because flowing water can run more heat past your hand.

You can probably understand that.

If not, then try harder.

Hint: because your hand soaks up more heat from more water.

Now getting back to wind chill, let's see if you can follow this. So what happens is that you get the opposite effect by standing in a cold wind with your nubbins hanging out. Standing around on a cold day with exposed nubbins will make you feel cold, but if the wind is blowing, then the air in that wind can make off with more of your body heat the way a crazed monkey can make off with your wallet a lot better if it's running away than just standing there, masturbating, and chewing on the wallet.

If you find a monkey standing there and chewing on your wallet, probably the best thing to do would be to grab the wallet, remove the valuable things, give back the wallet, and be on your way as quickly as possible, avoiding emotional involvement if you can, and before the monkey's relatives show up and begin sending out wedding invitations and putting up decorations. (Which might happen if you have the masturbating kind of monkey.)

You can do this if the monkey is preoccupied with its own nubbin thingy (or whatever they are called in polite society) and standing there, than if it is running away like crazy, which, unfortunately, crazy monkeys tend to do. But you might get lucky.

Not in that sense but in the sense of encountering a stationary masturbating monkey that won't nip off a finger and give you rabies besides while you engage in a brief tug-of-war to get your wallet back. All of this is in fact germane, though you might not think so at first (it becomes clearer on re-reading).

Confusion is what the poofy-haired weatherpersons are all about anyway, and it's completely possible that none of them really know what they're talking about. At all. In fact, it's likely. And if they do really know anything, they're trying to make it confusing. But it's not.

The thing about wind chill is that the temperature is exactly the same with wind chill and without wind chill. The only difference is that when the wind is blowing, even a little, you feel colder. Most people don't know this, but then again that isn't too surprising because you know what most people are like.

The odds are that you in fact are one of them. Have a nice day, if possible, and keep one eye on the sky.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

10 Essential Myths — Sun Protection

Myth #2: Sun Protection

First, I guess you could say that if the sun is dangerous, then why is Earth so close to it? Ever think about that?

Right at this moment there's a volcano in Chile that's exploding all over the place. "Calbuco", it's called, and it's got lots of people running around waving their arms in the air. Imagine what happens if the sun explodes. Worse, right? So then, why are we here?

The answer is that the sun isn't dangerous. Not that dangerous. It's useful.

The sun is good for plants and all living things. Just ask the nearest lizard. Lizards go out of their way to intercept as many solar rays as they possibly can. Doubters say that's why lizards are covered in scales but scales are just a kind of skin and you'll quickly see exactly how much protection they offer the next time you bite a lizard.

Protection? Practically none, though it pays to take your time working up from small lizards to like the alligators and so on. Some of them are cranky.

So where were we? Somewhere around debating the existence of the sun.

Since we also have eyes, I guess you could argue either side:

  • Eyes are for finding the sun so you can keep away from it, or
  • Eyes are for finding the sun so you can use it properly.

You might as well say the same thing about beer. I know which side of that debate I'm on. But for the moment, let's pretend that I don't count. Let's pretend that you do, and you're afraid of the sun and its UV rays, infrared rays, visible rays, magnetic storms, neutrino flux, and other stuff. What?

What then? How to cope?

Wear Clothes

First, try wearing clothes. I've found over the years, by trial and error as much as anything else, that wearing clothes makes me less visible to others — maybe to the sun too. If the sun can't pick you out of a crowd, then it can't zap you without incinerating everyone else at the same time. Since nature tends to conserve what it's got to work with, you'll probably escape the worst of it by looking like those other doofuses out there. So wear clothes.

Wear Sunglasses

Then, wear sunglasses. People seem to like other people wearing sunglasses quite a bit, especially if the sunglass-wearers are at least partly clothed, depending on who you are. Hey — don't ask me. It just works.

But they're expensive, sunglasses.

If you can't afford any real sunglasses, cut some out of cardboard. Use one of your crayons and color it all black, then punch a little hole in the center of each "lens". Walk around looking out of your holes and smile stupidly. Again — why? I don't know either, but look up Kim Kardashian. She knows how to work it, and has even made a career out of it. Plus her butt.

Are you even that smart?

Think it over.

Use Sunscreen

This can be a real pisser.

The only sunscreen that really works under all conditions is a sheet of half-inch plywood held up over your head. Or thicker, but the half-inch stuff weighs around 25 pounds (11 kg), so. Then you need handles under it to protect your fingers, and there can be problems in high winds. A gust caught my cousin Ed one day and we're still looking for him, so if you're not all that beefy, better think about it.

Your other option is to smear goop on your skin.

Again — who's the expert? Lizards. Ever see a goopy lizard?

Ah, no. Lizards are dry and dusty, generally in that order, so methinks goop is another marketing ploy. Someone out there, maybe someone wearing clothes, and odd clothes at that, someone working in a tall building covered in an unhealthy quantity of glass, wants you to go goopy for reasons unconnected to your own needs.

And they want you to pay for it. Sound suspicious?

It does to me.

What I say is (and you may quote me) — only one word — cheap.

Goop costs a bunch. Cheap stuff doesn't.

What's cheap?

Think about it. Think.

What needs sun protection for the long term? Like decades. What?


Houses do.

And what do they put on houses?


Try paint.

Granted, this isn't like the old days. Oil-based paint, that stuff whose aroma you could spend a whole day inhaling, is hard to get any more, but the water-based stuff is just as good, if less fun out on the back porch.

Anyhow, give yourself a good coat (brilliant white is probably best), wait a few hours, and do it again. Let dry overnight, and then get out there and make all the tracks you want.

The really cool part is, once you've got a good hard shell of paint on, you don't need clothes anymore, and you'll never get sunburned again either. For years.

And if you don't like white, there's lots of other colors. By the gallon. Check it out.

What The Pros Do


Like "Carhop". He's a thru-hiker. Working his way along all of the National Scenic Trails. Solo.

So, what?

Well, he hikes at night.

Everyone knows that when the time comes and someone wants to take a rocket to the sun and not burn up, they'll have to go at night. Carhop has applied that principle to thru-hiking, which shows that some hikers are smart too.

Granted, he's got two vehicles, driving ahead a day's hike, resting, then hiking back to the first vehicle overnight, then leapfrogging past the second vehicle, and so on. And that might be a bit expensive, but compared to goopy sunscreen, it's probably cheaper in the long run.

And since it's all at night, no one can tell if you're wearing clothes. And since it's all dark, you can do other stuff, though maybe we'll have to get to that in another post.


Busted or not? Myth or solid gold?

A lot depends on your point of view, I guess.

If you're more like a lizard, enjoy eating bugs, are potentially poisonous, and relish scuttling from one hot rock to another, then you're in the clear.

On the other hand, if you're pasty white, or painted white (or some other designer color from the Sherwin-Williams catalog) and get a thrill from loping through the night woods, howling every now and then, well that works too.

Works for lots of us.