Friday, August 21, 2015

Grand Tetons Death Canyon Loop, Day 1

Normally, I hike alone because I am slow. I prefer hiking with a friend, but usually when I attempt to go with others, they speed past me and leave me alone anyway. If I set out alone in the first place, I'm still alone - but at least I don't feel rejected. Maybe it's not true that when others ditch me because I am slow, they are being unkind. Maybe I should not feel hurt. But I always do.

The John Muir Trail was perfect for me, because I could set my own pace and hike alone, but there were so many nice people on the trail that I always had people to camp with at night. I can do as many miles per day as they can... just slower.

The hiccup for my hiking alone plan is grizzly country. I don't think it's a good idea to go out alone when you might meet a mama grizzly protecting her cubs. So I found a group going to the Grand Tetons on Meetup.com and decided to sign up. I'd hiked with them before on a short day hike and I was able to keep up just fine. Prior to the trip, they said to one another that we should always stay together on this trip, and nobody should ever go anywhere alone because of the grizzlies. We bought 2 cans of bear spray, and off we went.

The trail was the Death Canyon Loop. The Death Canyon trailhead is down a bumpy one-lane but two-direction dirt road that is labeled as 4-wheel-drive only. My poor little Prius does not have 4 wheel drive, but I drove it down that road anyway until it became so bumpy that I refused to go one more inch. I parked about a quarter mile from the trailhead.

By the time we reached the trailhead, my group had already left me in the dust. I met them at the trailhead, where they had stopped at the bathroom. Then we set off again, and they sped ahead of me again. Apparently "sticking together" only applied if you could hike fast enough. Otherwise, it was out the window - grizzlies or no. I loudly asked them to either have someone stay with me or give me one of our two cans of bear spray. They gave me the bear spray and then hiked on without me.

My photos aren't what they might have been on a different day, because the entire park is thick with smoke from wildfires out west. It looked like Los Angeles smog was somehow transported to Wyoming. Still, the hike was beautiful.

The trail starts at the Death Canyon trailhead, which is below 7000 feet, and goes up 0.9 miles to the Phelps Lake overlook (7200 feet above sea level).

Scotch Bluebell
Scotch bluebells

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Thistle
Thistle

Thistle
Thistle

Thistle
Thistle

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Common Pearlyeverlasting
Common Pearlyeverlasting

Phelps Lake
Phelps Lake from the overlook

Then the trail drops down about 500 feet to Phelps Lake and hits a junction at 1.7 miles. One direction takes you to Phelps Lake, and the other into Death Canyon. On the way down, I nearly ran into a grouse on the trail. She did not want to move either, but finally - slowly - she did. I was worried that she was injured but she seemed fine.

Grouse in the Trail
Grouse in the trail

Grouse
Grouse

After the drop down toward Phelps Lake, the trail begins to climb again. There were more switchbacks than I wish to recount.

Sticky Geranium
Sticky geranium

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DSC_1447

At 3.9 miles you reach a log cabin and another junction, which is around 8000 feet above sea level. This is where you will return at the end of the loop. You can go right toward Alaska Basin if you enjoy pain, switchbacks, and rapid elevation gain. Otherwise, go left toward the Death Canyon camping area, which begins another mile in. We went left.

That junction is 5.5 miles from Fox Creek Pass (9600 feet), and the Death Canyon camping zone encompasses a large area along those miles of trail. We spent our first night at the Group Camp Site, a spacious camp site with a bear box. It was about 7 miles into the trail. The trail from the log cabin to the group camp site went along a river and alternated between open and forested areas. There were flowers everywhere - asters, daisies, larkspur, monkshood, fireweed, paintbrushes, gentian, and more. Truly, flower heaven.

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Larkspur
Larkspur

Butterfly

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DSC_1499

Lewis Monkeyflower
Lewis Monkeyflower

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Claspleaf Twistedstalk
Claspleaf Twistedstalk

Columbian monkshood
Columbian monkshood

I had one wildlife sighting that first day. It was this guy:

Buck

The buck was right in the trail, but he quickly fled when I showed up. This was the best shot I got of him, unfortunately.

Gentian
Gentian

The View From Our Campsite

The View From Our Campsite

Richardson Geranium
Richardson geranium

The campsite was nice, although it got cold even before the sun set. I followed my normal backpacking routine of going to bed once it got cold, which the people I was with seemed to think was nuts. And I did not care a bit, because at least I was warm.

All in all, between the trail head and Fox Creek pass, you hike 9.4 miles and gain at least 3000 feet in elevation, probably a little more. We did about 7 miles of that the first day and about 2000 feet of elevation gain.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

John Muir Trail Lessons Learned

After all is said and done, I learned a TON from my hike on the JMT. Here's what I learned, and what I wish I knew before I went.
  1. Yes, it DOES rain, snow, and hail in the Sierras. It even snows in July, generally at the higher altitudes. While you don't need a 4-season tent or crampons, you DO need to be prepared for all kinds of weather.
    • Make sure your tent and rain jacket are seam sealed.
    • Have a rain cover for your pack, or a garbage bag to line the inside with. (The bummer of the latter option is that the outside of your pack will get wet, and water is heavy to carry.)
    • A 30 degree sleeping bag is not warm enough. I brought a 15 degree sleeping bag with a silk liner and it was fine. (The liner was more for keeping my bag clean than for warmth.)
    • If you can, go hiking in the rain in advance to test out your rain gear and make sure it works.
    • I did fine with a rain jacket (no kilt or pants), the aforementioned sleeping bag, a very warm sleeping pad that I loved (NeoAir XTherm 3/4 length), and a hooded down jacket that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a down jacket (Marmot Quasar).
    • Extra uses for this gear on the trail were: wearing my rain jacket in areas with lots of mosquitoes to keep the bugs off, wearing my rain jacket while washing my other clothes, using my sleeping bag liner as a blanket while eating breakfast on cold mornings, and wrapping my camera in my rain jacket at night to keep the camera safe from condensation.
  2. Unless you are really strong and fast and experienced in backpacking, doing a resupply between Muir Trail Ranch and Whitney Portal is a very good idea. It's either expensive, or a pain, or both. But it's a great idea. I found that I really benefit from being back in civilization every 5 days or so, so hiking out Kearsarge Pass and going into Independence to spend a night eating real food and showering could have been a good idea. It's a drag to hike out Kearsarge because it adds 15 miles to the trail, but it's actually a very pretty hike. Or you can hire a mule. Either way, planning for a resupply at Kearsarge in advance might mean the difference between finishing your hike or not finishing. Or running out of food, as many, MANY people did. It appeared that about half of the people I was hiking with, if not more, ran out of food toward the end of the hike. Some had days without dinner, some got food from other people who had extra, and several had to hike longer miles each day to finish before they ran out of food.
  3. Make sure you LIKE your food. I packed healthy food, but it was not stuff I necessarily enjoyed eating on the trail. If you can, do as much backpacking in advance and bring along the food you plan to eat on the JMT.
    • I found that, while trail mix is healthy in theory, I never wanted to eat it. But cheese on the other hand - I could gobble that up during the day no problem. Since I packed lots of trail mix and dried fruit to eat during the day, I ended up hardly eating anything at all - and I bonked twice. That was bad.
    • For my dinners, I packed Mary Jane's Farm organic meals. I tasted two of them in advance and I did like them - initially. But then I got sick of them by about the third night. I had not realized that the "variety" of foods I selected were actually just different permutations of the same ingredients. The Chilimac and the Cheesy Noodle Casserole were almost identical, and after two nights of eating them, the cheese made me want to gag. The Curry in a Hurry and Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice were basically identical, but the Curry had the same cheese that I was already sick of added to it.
    • I later discovered Good To-Go meals, and the Herbed Mushroom Risotto was delicious. I was less crazy about the Three Bean Chili.
  4. On a related note, make sure you have enough salty and sugary foods to prevent electrolyte loss and bonking.
    • In normal life, I try not to eat too much sugar. So I did not pack very much. Bad idea. That led to bonking. When I went home to get better food, I picked up a small bag of gummy worms. Later, someone gave me some jelly beans on the trail. They were immensely helpful. I was then able to complete longer and harder days of hiking without any trouble. Well, aside from blisters and sore muscles, but that's another story.
    • For the second half of my trip, I also brought salami and aged cheese. They were delicious! I looked forward to eating them every day for lunch. They were also nice and salty. I don't know if they helped because of the salt, but they at least helped make me happier on the trail.
    • When people talk about needing to replace electrolytes, they basically mean sodium and potassium. There are foods that have these nutrients, so bringing some sort of electrolyte drink is not technically necessary. I did without that. I don't like putting anything but water into my water bladder, to keep from having to wash it later.
  5. Land navigation training is a good idea. It's one thing to be able to find a spot on your map, but it's another thing to find it in real life when there are no signs. The trail is well-marked in general, and you can count on seeing a clear sign at every junction. You won't necessarily find a sign on every single stream or creek you cross.
    • Whatever method of land nav you use, make sure you know how to use it. A GPS device won't help you if you don't know how to use it. I use a watch with an altimeter that is based on barometric pressure, which means it's always a few hundred feet off. I would use my map to figure out how many hundred feet my watch was off by, and then used the altimeter to help with navigation. It was a HUGE help. The watch is solar powered, so I didn't have to worry about running out of batteries ever. Together with my topo and my compass (which I knew how to use), I was always confident in knowing where I was on the trail.
  6. Going solo is OK. You will never be alone. You'll meet friends immediately. If you want to be alone, no doubt you can find ways to hike and camp alone. But I did not want to camp alone, and I never did. Not even once. And I met wonderful, wonderful people.
  7. Wear wool! Unlike synthetic fabrics, wool is anti-microbial and it really keeps the stink down. After a full day of hiking, my wool shirts would have a very slight odor in the pits. It was more pronounced after two days of wear. After a full day, my wool socks did not smell at all. I wore Icebreakers T-shirts, REI brand socks, an Icebreakers bra, Icebreakers long underwear, SmartWool gloves, and a SmartWool hoodie. I would bring them all again except for the bra (I'd go without).
    • Most days, I would wash my extra pair of underwear and shirt in the morning and then hang them on my pack to dry. They would be dry by the time I got to camp for the night. Then I would wash myself if need be, and change into my clean shirt and undies. And repeat again the next day.
    • The people who wore synthetic fabrics had big problems with stinking. One friend brought her smelly clothes home after the hike and could not get the stink out after 2 washes. She said she was going to burn them.
    • Wool also keeps you warm even when it gets wet. On a long, cold hike in the rain, I wore my wool gloves and they kept my hands warm even though they got wet. After we hit bad weather, several people I was with bought wool clothing in Mammoth to wear for the rest of the hike.
  8. There's no rule that you have to finish the entire JMT. As everyone says, hike your own hike. Yeah, you won't be able to say you did the entire thing in one go... but you WILL be able to say you had a good time. Personally, I did not really care for the scenery of the last 37 miles of the trail compared to everything north of it. I would have probably had the best time if I thru-hiked everything from Happy Isles to Charlotte Lake and then hiked out through Kearsarge Pass and ended my hike there.
  9. Yes, the critters really will steal your food. Everything that isn't nailed down. This is more the case in the high tourist areas - Little Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Mt Whitney - than anywhere else. But in those places, if you leave a pack or a tent lying around with food in it, expect a squirrel or marmot to chew a hole in it to steal your food. Even your trash. It's not just the bears who are the problem.
  10. Yes, you should spend a night at VVR.
  11. Plan zero days and be flexible. You might end up having unexpectedly short days due to weather, or get delayed going over a pass because of lightening, and the zeros built into your schedule will give you flexibility. Plus, it's good to have room in your schedule to let your blisters heal or to change your plans so you can hike and camp with new friends.
  12. Use OmniFix for your blisters.
  13. If you need to exit the trail, you often can. Aside from the common resupply points (Tuolumne Meadows, Red's Meadow, VVR, and MTR), you can also leave the trail by going over Duck Pass (near Duck Creek), McGee Pass (near Tully Hole), Bishop Pass, Kearsarge Pass, and the Rae Lakes Loop (which takes you out to the west at either Wood's Creek or Bubb's Creek). If you aren't having fun, remember that you aren't stuck. There are also a lot of ranger stations around in the King's Canyon section, so if you aren't sure how to get out, you can ask them.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

John Muir Trail: Reducing Pack Weight and Changing Food

It's amazing how you find that you don't need as much as you thought you did once you have to carry all of your possessions on your back.

In Tuolumne Meadows, I mailed a box home with excess food, my camera charger, a wildflower book, some emergency water treatment tabs (I kept a few, but sent home most of them), flint and steel (which was a back-up for piezo ignition and a lighter), and some extra band-aids. I packed WAY more food than I needed, especially trail mix (which I don't even like), and my dinners (I assumed hiker hunger would kick in ASAP and I'd need enormous servings).

After VVR, it was time to dump more things. This time I got rid of:
  • My knit hat (it falls off when I sleep, and I have a wool hoodie and a down jacket with a hood)
  • A carabiner (never used it once)
  • My sunglasses (I don't even like wearing them)
  • Mosquito repellant (never used it... and I dealt with the bad mosquito areas by hiking through them and camping elsewhere)
  • Food, again
  • My windscreen (used it twice, didn't feel like it was really needed)
  • My phone charger (I keep my phone turned off since I don't have reception anyway)
  • The bottle the aspirin came in (transferred it to a plastic bag)
  • The bottle my prescription drugs came in (another bag)
  • Papers from the ranger about which lakes you can't camp near (they are well marked when you get there)
  • My third pair of socks
  • Extra memory chips for my camera
  • 6 extra batteries
  • My dry bag (I have a pack cover that did the job, plus ziplocs)
  • Moleskin (it seemed to make my blisters worse instead of better)

Luxuries I am keeping include: a collapsible bucket (I love that thing!), 2 pens and a notebook, and my big fat heavy camera.

I also changed up my food planning after VVR. My meals might have tasted good on day 1, but by now they were disgusting and I was sick of them. With 8 dinners to go (since I'm abbreviating the end of my trip), I switched to 4 new meals, which I will eat twice each. I'm drastically reducing the amount of trail mix I expect to eat (since I don't even like it) and increasing the amount of cheese I'm bringing (it hits the spot better than anything at lunch). Breakfast stays the same (oatmeal). Instead of bringing a variety of dried fruits, I'm just bringing prunes because I like them the best. And, for days when I'm dragging and just need energy, I'm bringing gummy worms. On long days of hiking, sugar is necessary, and not just because it's yummy. You need it to prevent bonking. I don't know how close I've gotten to bonking but there were a few times where my brain just stopped working after long and intense hikes, and I wonder if that's what was going on. I tended to not eat enough during the day because I did not like what I had for lunch.

To make all of these changes, I actually headed home. I could have avoided doing so by putting a bunch of food in the hiker barrel at MTR and then hiking out at Independence or Bishop to resupply in town. However, I feared that it would be expensive and that I wouldn't be able to find organic and vegetarian food like I want. After a weekend off (doing yoga, doing laundry, and eating fresh fruits and veg), I'm going back in at Kearsarge Pass, hiking north for a bit to Rae Lakes, and then heading south to finish the trail. It's not ideal, but at least it will make getting home at the end of the trip easier, because now I'll be able to leave my car in Lone Pine. Also, now I'll be able to leave nice things in my car to have when I finish... like a razor and a clean set of clothes.

I won't be able to say that I hiked the JMT straight through, but that ship had already sailed when it snowed at Donahue Pass my fifth day on the trail and I took a ride to Mammoth and spent two nights in a hotel with other JMTers. I'm excited that I'll get to go back next summer to finish the section of the trail I didn't do this time. Next year I'll hike from Tuolumne to Red's and then I'll see how close to VVR I can hike in (maybe Duck Pass or McGee Pass?) and then I'll go south from there to Kearsarge Pass.

I've hiked 82 miles so far, and I'm going to do plenty more in another stint of nine days on the trail, beginning Monday. And this way I will be safer, healthier, and happier.

Friday, July 17, 2015

John Muir Trail, Day 1: Happy Isles to Little Yosemite

I began at Happy Isles, and naturally, I needed to get a photo at The Sign:

Me at The Sign

Soon after starting, I ran into an old friend:

Gaping Keckiella

Gaping Keckiella

I remembered seeing this flower all over the Yosemite Falls trail last summer, but I couldn't remember its name. After several hours of hiking, it came to me: Gaping Keckiella.

Bottom of Vernal Falls
Bottom of Vernal Falls, from the bridge

Soon after taking the shot above, I saw the junction for the Mist Trail and the JMT. I took the Mist Trail. It was steep, and my pack was so heavy I could hardly carry it, but I enjoyed the flowers and waterfalls.

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Larkspur
Hansen's Larkspur

Larkspur... not sure why it's this color instead of purpleLarkspur
Larkspur close up

Bug
Cool looking bug

Pretty soon, Vernal Falls came into full view:

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

Squirrel
See the look on his face? He's plotting to steal your food.

Up until this point, the trail was extremely crowded with tourists who were hiking up to the top of Vernal Falls. It thinned out after heading up toward Nevada Falls and crossing this bridge:

Bridge

Still, most of the people I met were day hikers or people just going up to bag Half Dome, not JMT hikers.

Nevada Falls
Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls was extraordinary too, but I was getting tired of carrying my heavy pack. I tried to take a 10 minute break once every hour, actually sitting down and taking my pack off. I forced myself to eat too, because I get sick to my stomach when I hike sometimes, and if I don't eat, I get even sicker. Eating is difficult but it always makes me feel better. Plus, I still had some nice treats with me, like hard boiled eggs.

Nevada Falls

Currants, Not Ripe Yet
Currants growing along the trail, mostly not ripe yet. I ate a few anyway. (And stuffed my face with the raspberries growing around Curry Village.)

Nevada Falls

View from the Mist Trail
The view from above

At a certain point, I was just pooped. I sat down and rested for a while. Several people came past me and said I was literally right around the corner from the top. I've learned not to believe most information like that given by others on the trail, because people are often wildly inaccurate when they tell you how far you are from the end. This time, fortunately, they were right. When I got up and continued, I reached the top in no time. Then it was just another mile to Little Yosemite Valley.

The Bathroom at Little Yosemite Valley
This is the solar composting toilet at Little Yosemite Valley. It stinks just as bad as any other latrine, but at least if you use it, you don't have to pack out your toilet paper.

My Campsite at Little Yosemite Valley
My campsite at Little Yosemite Valley

I didn't take any more pictures after that point because I was too busy making friends, washing my clothes, and taking a dip in the Merced. Also worth noting... another hiker told me he saw 4 rattlesnakes at Little Yosemite Valley. I did not see any, but it's good to know you should look for them just in case.

Day 1 miles hiked: 3.9
Day 1 elevation gain: 2090 ft

All of my JMT photos can be seen here.

Previous JMT posts:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

John Muir Trail

In 2015, I planned to hike the entire John Muir Trail... and then hiked about half of it. In total, I hiked 140 miles in the Sierras. I plan to hike the rest of the JMT in 2016, and I am happy with the decision I made to hike what I did and save the rest for later. This post is a table of contents for all of my blogging about both trips - 2015 and 2016. Be aware that all of the posts and the planning for 2016 are considerably better than those for 2015. My 2015 plans did not exactly all pan out. However, they are worth reading for that reason alone if you want to learn from my mistakes.

2015

2016

All of my JMT photos can be seen here (2015) and here (2016).

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: Last Minute Prep, Freaking Out, and Loose Ends

The last week has involved an awful lot of trail-related anxiety. In large part this has to do with the calf, Achilles, and lower back pain I'm experiencing. What if my body is not up to this trail? What if I have to quit after a few days? What if it was all a waste of money? And how embarrassed will I be after telling everyone I'll be gone for a month and showing up again after a few days?

Then there's the weather. It's in the 90s in Yosemite. And the mosquitoes. All reports say hot weather and bad mosquitoes.

But then I see pictures of the Sierras and I am transported back there, and I re-experience my love for the area I am about to hike. Or, at least, attempt to hike.

I shipped off my re-supply boxes (and bucket) yesterday. Total cost: $50. All USPS Priority Mail. I'm told I got off easy on the price because I was mailing them within California.

Today I picked up my prescription for the next month and, while I was at it, dental floss. Then I got a 4 oz. bottle to put my herbal hippie (yet hopefully effective) mosquito repellent into, because it's currently in a huge 8 oz bottle. I think I still need to buy more dried fruit, and I might need more trail mix.

I deposited a few checks. I mailed off rent checks for both July and August a few days ago. I need to pay my car insurance but I'm not sure I have enough cash for that plus both rents. Today I went to court to pay a ticket, because the internet said I had to pay it there. Bit of drama there. The cop didn't include enough information when he put the ticket in, so it was deleted from the system a week ago, and I can't pay it until he fixes it. Only it's due four days after I leave. This is a problem.

Still to do: Get a windscreen for my stove (a turkey pan from the Dollar Store that I will cut up). Maybe get some batteries. And pants. My favorite pants are so worn out at this point (I've utterly worn them to death) that I just can't bring them on the trail. I had planned to bring them, but I wore them tonight and realized they were in very bad shape. They are torn, and just completely worn out, and it would be dumb to bring them as my only pair of pants on a 25 day hike. Thankfully, REI has an identical pair in stock, so I'll get those tomorrow.

I will leave the place where I'm staying on Friday, even though I will not go to Yosemite until Saturday. I think I'll make some hard boiled eggs and peanut butter sandwiches to bring with me, and I can get any last food I need on Friday. Just the dried fruit, I think. Friday I'm heading up to a friend's house that is every so slightly closer to Yosemite - but much closer to a train station. I'll leave my car at her place while I hike.

On Saturday, the train leaves at 7:56am. To get to Yosemite on public trans, I'll take the train to LAX, the bus to Bakersfield, and a train to Merced. In Merced, I pick up the YARTS bus to Yosemite's lodge, arriving after 8pm at night. It's going to suck. I'm bringing a cheap, used copy of The Last Season, which is apparently a book about Yosemite or something... it was recommended by other hikers. I figure I'll read it on the trains/buses and then hand it off to another hiker who wants a good read. And hopefully someone looking to off-load some weight from their pack will give me a book they've finished.

And... that's it. With luck, you won't hear from me again for a while because I'll be successfully hiking the JMT!

Previous JMT posts:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: New Training Plan

I've got a new training plan that can be roughly summed up as: "F*** it."

I was very ambitious at first to complete regular short and steep 3 mile hikes with increasing weight in my pack, plus increasingly long hikes at least once a week. I tried doing that. After doing two 9 mile hikes in a week, I lost several days to blisters. Oops. The next weekend, I got back on the trail and hiked up Mt. Baldy. That resulted in a three day long severe migraine and about a week of nausea. And then, the you know what REALLY hit the fan.

I attend grad school in Wisconsin, but I am from San Diego. I am also working on my graduate research in San Diego, which provides a perfect excuse to spend the entire summer here. Only I needed a place to stay. Somewhere cheap. I was going to bring my 3 cats and sublet my place in Wisconsin, and then sublet a place here. But an elderly couple offered me their home for $200 a month (to cover utilities). They were going on a three-month road trip so the house would be empty. I could not bring my cats to their house, so I found a woman to stay in my home in Wisconsin rent-free and watch the cats.

I cannot even begin to list the disasters that began even before last week. Car trouble of every sort, my cat sitter bailed on me, a friend got killed by a drunk driver, the university did not pay anyone the summer funding it promised due to a bureaucratic hiccup, and on and on. Then I had about a week without trouble, the week in which my blisters healed and I hiked up Mt Baldy. Following 3 days of a nasty migraine, I woke up pain-free. That was one week ago. After the nausea came back, I took a med for it and went to bed to wait it out. I was awakened by the owner of the home I was staying in. She had been gone all of 10 days out of her three month trip.

Apparently, three days into the trip, her doctor called to tell her she has melanoma and she needs to come home. She decided to surprise me instead of giving me advance warning so she could find out how clean I was keeping her home. Let's just say it wasn't up to her standards. I had my bear can and resupply buckets out on the bar, with all of my food and maps sorted between them for my resupplies. I hadn't done the dishes during my three days with a migraine. My hiking gear was strewn about, from when I came home from Mt. Baldy with a migraine. When she saw that, things got a little ugly.

I am no psychologist, but I can tell you this woman is a raging narcissist. She's definitely unpleasant to be around. I agreed to stay in her home because the price was right and because she would not be there. The plan was for me to never see her again. Ever. (Her husband, by the way, is the sweetest old man ever.)

The stress of her return led to two more severe migraines... and no hiking. It also coincided with a heat wave that has no end in sight, making hiking more difficult and less fun. I've checked, and even the mountains are hot. To avoid the heat, one can hike at night or head to the coast. Both Catalina Island and the Channel Islands would offer great hiking paired with great weather right now.

I'm now resettled at a friend's place a bit further east than I'd like to be. It's heaven to spend time with a good friend and to be out of that toxic atmosphere I was in. But the weather has not abated, and I have obligations that are keeping me from taking a big trip anywhere cooler like the Channel Islands. There are also financial constraints, of course, since you have to pay for the boat to get there, and that costs a lot more than it costs to just hike locally.

My new strategy involves daily three-mile hikes with 800 feet elevation gain and carrying weight. I've got my sleeping bag and tent in my pack, and tonight I'm adding my bear can and all of the food. This will be my 3rd day in a row carrying my pack up the same mountain. I'm doing it after dark, when it's cool. I'm also doing yoga several times a week and have been for a month and a half.

If I can, I'd like to do longer hikes too - or at least one longer hike - before my big trip. I've got a 12 mile hike planned for this weekend. We'll see if I go through with it. In the meantime, if you are wondering "exactly how little training can one get away with and still do the JMT?" stay tuned. You might find out.

Previous JMT posts:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: The Camera

Now that my food is squared away from my hike, I turned my thoughts to my camera. I've got many aspects of my camera already worked out. I'll be bringing my DSLR, and I carry it in a case that attaches to my hip belt. It's a bit of a pain in the butt, but it's a hands-free way to carry the camera on the trail, and it affords a bit of protection for the camera too. I've got 1 gallon ziplock bags to store the camera in during rainstorms and overnight.

But what about batteries and memory cards?

If I take 300 photos per day, then that will be 7200 photos during the whole trip. If I take 400 per day, that makes 9600 photos. I'll need enough batteries and memory cards to do that. I can charge the batteries if I bring a charger. I won't have my laptop, so I'll need enough memory cards to last the whole trip.

The battery situation is the easier one. Right now, I have 78% of my battery charge left on the camera, and the camera has taken 626 photos on the current charge. That means that one battery charge can take 2845 pictures. That means I need 2.5 batteries to take 300 pics per day, or 3.4 to take 400 pics per day. I estimate that I'll be good if I either bring 2 batteries and charge them during the trip, or if I bring 4 batteries. I'll need to check but I've got either 2 or 3 batteries for my camera. If I bring 2 and the charger, that should do it. I could potentially bring 3 and no charger, but I don't want to be sweating it out at the end of the trail, worried I'll run out.

Then there's the memory card. For that, it depends on what format of photos you take. JPEGs take less memory than raw photos, and even within raw, it depends. My photos range from 26 to 31 MB each. And there are 1000 MBs in a GB.

Assuming I take 400 photos per day and they are 28.5 MB per photo (I shoot raw), that equates to 273 GB. (If I did 300 pics per day, it would be 205 GB.) Right now, I've got a 32 GB memory card and a 16 GB card. That obviously won't do. I need an extra 225 gigs of memory. To be safe, I should probably get either 7 32-gig cards, or 4 64-gig cards for this trip (along with the cards I already have). Or I could get 2 128-gig cards and bring them along with the cards I've already got. Since cards do not weigh much, it's a matter of price. What's the cheapest way to get the right amount of memory for this hike?

For a SanDisk Extreme SDHC 95 MB/s, it appears that one can get 2 32 GB cards for $50 (or the same deal from B and H), one 64GB for $55, or one 128 GB card for $100. Therefore, it's pretty much the same price no matter which way you go.... with one exception. You can get 2 64 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro cards for $80. Sign me up.

For Lexar, you can find 2 32 GB for $35 (95 MB/s) (and the same deal at B and H). That's the best deal I found for Lexar. For Transcend, one can get a 32 GB card for $15, making it the cheapest option so far. A 64 GB Transcend is $30.

This review sings the praises of the SanDisk Extreme Plus 32 GB 80 MB/s card. This site slightly preferred the Trancend over the SanDisk. This review, on the other hand, did not think that the Transcend was as good as promised.

I decided to switch it up a bit, because it would be terrible to get out on the trail with two 128 GB cards only to have one of them fail. Or fall off the side of Mt Whitney. So, why not get a combination of SanDisk and Transcend, because SanDisk seems to be a favorite for quality, whereas Transcend is cheaper. I ended up choosing 2 64 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro from B & H Photo for $79.95, plus 2 64 GB Transcend cards from Adorama for $59.40. Total cost: $139.55.

Previous JMT posts:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: Food and Resupplies

Note: I can see a lot of people are reading this post. You should also read my post Lessons Learned. It turned out that my food was gross, despite my careful planning. Specifically, I got sick of the Mary Jane's Farm curry by day two, and trail mix and dried fruit did not agree with my tummy at altitude and while exerting myself. Cheese, on the other hand, hit the spot. I also did not pack enough sugary food initially, and eventually got my hands on some gummy bears and jelly beans that really saved the day. And I would not plan to thru-hike again without planning to resupply at Kearsarge or Wood's Creek, one or the other. If you are hiking less than 15 miles a day between MTR and WP, plan a resupply in between.

My hike on the John Muir Trail is starting to get real. I'm jumping the gun a little bit by packing my resupply boxes now... but only a little bit. There are four easy resupply options along the 220 mile trail, and all occur in the first half of the hike if you go southbound (as most do). After that, resupply options get more difficult and more expensive, like paying someone (a lot) to bring a mule over a mountain pass with food for you. I'm not doing that.

I began by making my itinerary and planning when I would receive my resupplies. I am going southbound (a.k.a. SOBO), starting at the beginning of the trail at Happy Isles in Yosemite. I'm starting slowly, and taking a day to hike Half Dome. And I anticipate I'll spend a night in the backpacker's campground in Yosemite Valley before I start my hike. That means I'll arrive at my first potential resupply location, Tuolumne Meadows, on the fourth day of the trip.

I decided to send a resupply to Tuolumne Meadows for a few reasons. First, it will be nice to start the trail with a lighter pack. Second, this resupply is easy and cheap. You just mail your stuff to the Tuolumne Meadows post office:

Your name
c/o General Delivery
Tuolumne Meadows
Yosemite National Park
CA 95389

Then you pick it up there during office hours - and not on Sundays. I will have to hike 10 mi on my fourth day to arrive at Tuolumne Meadows, and I am not counting on getting there before the post office closes. I will get my resupply the next morning when they open. It will be a Tuesday. So I'm good there.

The resupply box I send to Tuolumne Meadows must contain enough food and other supplies for five days. I plan to purchase breakfast at Tuolumne Meadows (I expect it will be a welcome break from oatmeal) and I plan to buy dinner at Red's Meadow Resort near Mammoth when I arrive to pick up my next resupply box. That means I'll need to pack 4 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 4 dinners in the box I send to Tuolumne Meadows. I am sending:

  • 4 c. oatmeal (mixed with brown sugar, raisins, and chia seeds)
  • 3 treats (for each time I go over a mountain pass in this segment)
  • 4 days coffee (Starbucks Via)
  • 5 bars
  • 5 days trail mix
  • 5 days dried fruit
  • 1 Thai Coconut meal
  • 1 Corn and Black Bean Chowder
  • 1 Curry in a Hurry
  • 1 Cheesy Noodle Casserole
  • Maps
  • 1 roll toilet paper
  • Dr. Bronners Soap
  • 15 Lysine (to prevent cold sores)
  • 5 days of band-aids
  • Coca Tea

The dinners are mostly Mary Jane's Farm organic meals. I bought two 3 pound bulk bags from them (Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice and Corn and Black Bean Chowder) plus several other individually packaged meals. The individually packaged meals cost more, but I figure I will go stir crazy if I eat the same thing for an entire month, so it is probably money well spent. I have three meals that are not Mary Janes. They are "Made in Nature" brand "Ancient Grains Fusion" in three flavors. They weigh twice as much as Mary Jane's Farm (they are not dehydrated) but they cost half as much. I'll eat them at or near my resupply points so that I won't have to carry them.

I went with Starbucks Via for coffee somewhat grudgingly. I don't like Starbucks coffee, but I must admit that it tastes better than anything else I've figured out. I was going to pack fuel for my stove too, but apparently that is complicated to send through the mail, so I will just buy it there. The coca tea is for altitude sickness, just in case. I am also bringing aspirin for the same reason. Aspirin and caffeine are a good combo for mild altitude sickness.

The next resupply option is Red's Meadow Resort near Mammoth. They require you to mail this form two weeks before you arrive, along with a payment of $35. Then you send your resupply package before you leave to:

Your name
Red's Meadow Resort
Mammoth Lakes, CA
93546

I will reach Red's on the 9th day of my trip. It will be a short hiking day, so I should be able to pick up my resupply package that day. I will reach the 3rd potential resupply location (Vermillion Valley Resort) just three days later, and the fourth (Muir Trail Ranch) five days later. So I've decided to skip resupplying at Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). It costs $20 plus the cost of shipping, and it's a needless expense since I am able to carry five days of food without any trouble. I will still probably visit VVR because they have a restaurant, shower, laundry, and internet... but without a resupply box to pick up there I have the option of skipping it.

I need to send five days of supplies to Red's. That includes 4 breakfasts (I'll have breakfast at their restaurant one day), 5 lunches, and 5 dinners. I am sending:

  • 4 c. oatmeal
  • 4 days coffee
  • 2 treats
  • 5 bars
  • 5 days trail mix
  • 5 days dried fruit
  • 1 Chilimac
  • 2 Corn and Black Bean Chowder
  • 1 Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice
  • 1 Cheesy Noodle Casserole
  • 5 days bandaids
  • 1 roll toilet paper
  • Dr Bronners
  • Batteries
  • 15 Lysine
  • Coca Tea
  • Maps

The last easy resupply is Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). I'll reach them on the 14th day of my hike. They tolerate but do not love hikers. They charge you $70 to send up to a 25 lb resupply bucket (they ask that you send it in a 5 gallon or smaller bucket), payable here. After you pay, they generate an address label to place on your bucket. You need to ship your resupply bucket 3 weeks before you expect to arrive. If you do not get there within 2 weeks of that date, they give away your food. The flipside of that - especially later in the season - is that you can help yourself to everyone else's leftover food (and there's plenty, especially later in the season). Quite frankly, if I wasn't picky and insistent on eating organic, vegetarian, and healthy, I would just plan to do that.

Muir Trail Ranch does not open its amenities to hikers, for the most part. If you want to eat in their restaurant or take a shower, you need to be a paying guest. And I will not be a paying guest. Hikers can pick up their resupplies, charge their phones and devices, pay to use the internet... and soak in the hot springs. I plan to take a day to do that.

After MTR, there are no more easy resupplies, but there's about 100 miles of trail. I plan to book it from there to the end in order to minimize the number of days I'm on the trail, which in turn minimizes the amount of food I'll need. Even still, I'll need 11 breakfasts, 11 lunches, and 10 dinners. That includes one day's worth of extra "just in case" meals, and excludes the last dinner because I'll eat at Whitney Portal when I get there.

Here's what I'm sending to MTR:

  • 9 c. oatmeal
  • 2 packages quinoa
  • 11 days of coffee
  • 6 treats
  • 11 bars
  • 11 days trail mix
  • 11 days dried fruit
  • 1 Moroccan Bazaar meal
  • 1 Tuscan Garlic & Tomato meal
  • 1 Bare Burrito
  • 2 Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice
  • 3 Corn and Black Bean Chowder
  • 1 Chilimac
  • 1 Curry in a Hurry
  • Aspirin
  • 10 days bandaids
  • Aqua Mira
  • Dr. Bronner's Soap
  • 2 rolls toilet paper
  • Batteries
  • 30 Lysine
  • 3 bags to repack food
  • Maps
  • Coca Tea

The overall cost of the food and resupplies is nightmarish.

  • The coffee cost $20
  • The bars (a mix of Luna bars and Earnest Eats bars) were $46
  • The oatmeal, trail mix, dried fruit, Lysine, soap, and Band-aids were $109
  • Fees paid to resupply points will be $105
  • Mary Jane's Farm meals were about $9 each for the 3 I bought full price ($27)
  • I got 4 Mary Jane's Farm meals on sale ($5 each). I don't like the flavors much (Chilimac and Cheesy Noodle Casserole) but I'll eat it to save money. ($20)
  • The 2 bulk Mary Jane's Farm bags I got were $70 with shipping, and they will feed me for 12 days, or about $6 per meal. I packed more than one serving per meal for those, because I imagine I'll be very hungry on the trail.
  • The Ancient Grains Fusion meals were $5 each ($15)
  • The quinoa was $2 each ($4)

That amounts to $416, and it does not count the Aqua-Mira, aspirin, treats, batteries, bags, bucket, or shipping. It also doesn't count the maps or Coca Tea, which were both gifts. The only nice thing I can say about it is that I would have to eat during the month of July anyway, so I'd spend money on food for July no matter what. Just maybe not that much money on food.

There are two more things I might add to my resupplies before I pack them up and send them. One is shelf-stable waxed cheeses. The other are books to read at night. If I get books, I'm getting them from the thrift store. I've spent enough money already.

Previous JMT posts:

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Book Review: Wildflowers of the High Sierra and John Muir Trail

I've just got my paws on Wildflowers of the High Sierra and John Muir Trail by Elizabeth Wenk and let me tell you, it's good.

The quality of a wildflower book depends in part on a few things. First, your own level of botanical expertise, and second, where you are going to look for flowers compared to the range of area covered by the book. If you are a wildflower newbie, a book organized by flower color (as Wenk's new book is) will be easier to navigate than a book arranged by taxonomic families. If you are hiking just within Yosemite National Park, a book covering all of the Sierras or all of California will be overwhelming.

Therefore, my ringing endorsement of Wenk's new book is predicated on two things. First, it's a great book for someone who is new to flowers but holds value for readers with a bit more knowledge too. Second, and most importantly, it is mostly restricted to high elevation flowers between Yosemite and Mt. Whitney, and if you're hiking the John Muir Trail or scoping out flowers anywhere in that region, it's perfect. You won't have to flip through pages of flowers that only grow in lower elevations, because they aren't included in the book.

I really enjoy the written text in the book as it describes how the geology and other factors like sunlight exposure, soil depth, and rainfall affect which plants grow where. In addition to the photos and descriptions of each plant to help readers identify the flowers they see, these blurbs, which are scattered throughout the text, add to readers' ecological understanding of the area.

I also love that each entry includes the elevation and locations where the plant is found and notes how common each species is. It makes identifying plants so much easier if you distinguish between similar looking species because they grow at entirely separate altitudes or hundreds of miles apart.

Another small detail with a big impact is the handy table of conifers, telling how to distinguish one from another. It's a shame all plant identification books for the Sierras don't include this.

I've got only a few gripes about the book. First, she tells the family of each plant but gives only the Latin name and not the common name of the family. For amateur botanists who have not memorized all of their Latin family names, it would be much more convenient if "Onagraceae" was followed by "Evening Primrose Family." Also, in the text blurbs describing High Sierra ecology, the lists of species are always Latin names, and it would be helpful to include common names after them. It's true that common names are imprecise, but it would still be helpful to add the term "Yarrow" in parentheses after the Latin name "Achillea millefolium," and so on.

All in all, this book is a keeper, and I definitely plan to bring it with me on the John Muir Trail this summer. (For a backpacker, that is high praise, since every additional item added to your pack is that much additional weight you have to carry.) Compared to the three other Sierra wildflower books I've used to date, this one has the best combination of including the most flowers I expect I'll see while excluding those I don't and the most useful information to help identify each plant.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: Gear

As noted previously, I'm planning to hike the John Muir Trail this summer. I'm blogging my planning and journey here as I go along. Now that I've got a permit and an itinerary and I'm well into training, it's time to talk about gear.

Previous JMT posts:
As with any backpacking, weight is key. Even dropping an ounce or two per item is worthwhile. But, as they say, you can drop your pack weight the most by reducing the weight of the heaviest items: your backpack, tent, and sleeping bag. In my case, I opted against an ultralight pack because when I tried one, my back hurt from the lack of support. So I'll be traveling with:
  • Backpack: Gregory Cairn 58, Size S: 3 lb, 13 oz.
  • Tent: TarpTent Rainbow: 2 lb.
  • Sleeping Bag: Nemo Rhapsody 15: 2 lb. 2 oz.
  • Total weight: 7 lb 15 oz.
How did I choose my pack size? First of all, it must be large enough for a bear canister, so smaller sizes are mostly too small. But if you get an overly large pack, then you tend to fill it up and end up carrying more weight. I think my pack is on the small side of what's needed for the JMT - but I can make it work.

My tent is a bit unconventional, as it's single walled and non-freestanding. But it pitches fast, it's spacious, it's light, it was a great price compared to similar weight tents, and I love it.

As for the sleeping bag, I can't say enough about how much I love the company, NEMO. While I was buying gear, I was also researching an article that was ultimately accepted by and then killed by Outside magazine (no biggie - that's something that happens when they have too much and need to drop something). For the article, I interviewed NEMO at length. Truly, they are wonderful. Also, I love that the bag is spoon-shaped. It tapers at the waist but flares out at the knees, which is great because I am not mummy shaped and I like having the room to move my legs around in my bag.

My gear list is a work in progress and I might switch out a few things for lighter ones (as noted below) before I head out on the trail. That said, here's most of what I've got now.
  • Bear Canister: UDAP No-fed-bear Bear Canister (2.4 lb)
  • MSR Miniworks Water Filter: 16 oz.
  • NeoAir Xtherm sleeping pad, 66": 14 oz.
  • Fuel canister (110 size): 10.4 oz
  • Snow Peak Titanium pot/pan: 7.1 oz.
  • Camelback 100 fl. oz water bladder: 6.5 oz
  • Sea to Summit silk sleeping bag liner: 4.6 oz.
  • Folding Metal Trowel: 4.1 oz.
  • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp: 3.4 oz.
  • Cheap Canister Stove from China: 3.3 oz. (Similar to MSR Pocket Rocket)
  • Total: 6.8 lbs
So the total weight so far with everything I've listed is nearly 15 lbs. I guess I don't qualify as ultralight.

A few notes on these items.
Water Filter: This is heavy. Normally I like it because it filters out sediment, whereas a chemical water purification option like AquaMira wouldn't. But AquaMira's smaller and lighter (just 3 oz). For the JMT hike, I might go the AquaMira route to save pack space and weight.

Sleeping Pad: I've just switched from the Thermarest Prolite Plus, which is heavy and uncomfortable, especially since I sleep on my side. I thought about going to the NeoAir Xlite instead of the Xtherm, and that would have been several ounces lighter - but not as warm. I've also heard stories about these pads crinkling while you sleep on them. I don't know if this will bother me or not. I can't imagine it will outweigh my pleasure at carrying 7 fewer ounces in my pack. (Actually, considering how much my base weight will be, maybe the Xlite was a better idea... The 66" version is 11 oz, 47" is 8 oz, although I'd be annoyed to have my feet hang off the end.)

Cook pot: I'm not thrilled with my pot and pan and might switch them out. They are Snow Peak brand and titanium with a non-stick coating. The pot lid functions as a frying pan and that's nice. Both are too large for my needs as a solo hiker, and I hate the non-stick coating. However, the low conductability of the titanium means that I can easily drink out of my dishes without burning my lips. (To date, I've been making coffee in the frying pan and drinking out of that. Silly, but functional.) If I switch to stainless steel, I'd burn my lips when I drink.

Water Bladder: Usually I try to avoid drinking or eating out of plastic. I typically hike and backpack with stainless steel Kleen Kanteens. To me, they are worth the weight. However, once the bear can goes in my pack, the big water bottles no longer fit. That's where the water bladder comes in. It actually fits in the pack. This bladder holds just 3 liters. It wouldn't work in the desert at all, but up in the Sierras where the most I'll ever go without a reliable water source is several miles the day I summit Whitney, it's no big deal.

Sleeping bag liner: Since my bag is down and some say you can't ever wash it without it losing its loft, I would rather not get it dirty. And on the trail, I will be dirty. So I'll get this liner dirty, and then I'll wash it. I went with silk because it doesn't absorb water like cotton does and I prefer to avoid synthetics when possible.

(Lack of) Pillow: I stuff all of my extra clothes into the stuff sack for my sleeping bag and use that as a pillow.

Other light items, 10 essentials, etc:
  • Space bag: 2.9 oz
  • 2 oz. Dr Bronner's soap: 2.7 oz.
  • Compass: 1.7 oz
  • Whistle with cord: 1.4 oz
  • Sparkstick: 1.3 oz
  • 3 AAA batteries: 1.2 oz
  • Mirror: 0.9 oz
  • Swiss Army Knife: 0.8 oz
  • Bandana: 0.8 oz
  • Camp towel: 0.75 oz.
  • Prescription drug container filled with cotton balls (dry tinder): 0.6 oz.
  • Titanium spork: 0.5 oz (I really hate sporks, btw)
  • Toilet paper
  • Lip balm
  • Tampons (good for first aid and tinder as well as their normal use)
  • Toothbrusth
  • Toothpaste
I will need to add:
  • Maps
  • A first aid kit
  • A tent repair kit (maybe)
  • Coffee cup (maybe)
For first aid, I'm thinking lots of band aids and 2nd Skin for blister care, Advil, Percocets, and Compazine (a nausea pill). I might take a wilderness first aid class prior to my trip to see what else is important, but I already know I get migraines (i.e. Percocets and Compazine) and blisters, so I'm already planning for those.

Also, you'll note two major categories of items not mentioned here: food and clothes. I'll address those in other posts.

Monday, March 9, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: Training for Mountains in a Flat State

A few things have gone awry since I started to put my JMT plans in place, but for the most part all is well. I got my permit (see Getting My Permit) for July 5, with the intention of going on a 4th of July Sierra Club bus trip to Yosemite as a means of getting up there. Then the San Diego Sierra Club changed the dates of the trip, and that plan fell through. But I can take a train to Merced (or maybe even Fresno) and take YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) from there. Less convenient, but not that bad.

Now for the many months of training...

I'm in a flat state right now (Wisconsin). I looked at a topographic map of the ENTIRE state the other day. Flat. The best there is for elevation is at Devil's Lake, a few hours from Madison. There's a very steep climb up a bluff that gets you some elevation gain, but I imagine that real training will involve going up and down it several times. After the snow melts and the mud dries, I'll go back to check it out.

By the way, Wisconsin isn't entirely without its perks:
Bald Eagle
Yes, I took that.

Bald Eagle
And that.

It's just flat.

My goal is to train gradually so I don't screw up my feet. Unfortunately, they are already screwed up so I'm starting from behind. Last summer I developed mild plantar fascitis and achilles tendinitis. The plantar fascitis resolved when I got new shoes (Ecco Biom hiking boots) and insoles (FootBalance). The tendinitis just lingered. Most recently, I've got a diagnosis of tendinosis, which is a chronic low grade inflammation of the achilles tendons. I'm trying to treat it with bodywork (myofascial release) and an anti-inflammatory gel (Voltaren gel). I was also doing a series of heel drop exercises called the Alfredson Protocol but then I saw online that apparently they don't work that well and the creator doesn't even favor doing them any more. I stopped doing the heel drops but I'll pick it up again now that it's warmer - you need a step or ledge to do them on so you can drop your feet down, and the only spot I've got is outdoors. It wasn't worth going out there when it was 9 degrees outside. Now that it's 50F, it's another story.

(Another perk of Wisconsin, by the way? I can try out ALL of my winter hiking gear in freezing temps and see if it works or not. Assessment: For 20F and below, my Marmot Quasar jacket works like a champ with an Icebreakers base layer and Smartwool sweater underneath - but my Icebreakers long underwear plus hiking pants aren't enough. My feet are fine in wool socks, but my tush froze. I recommend something like the Marmot down skirt to cover your rear end if you're spending a lot of time out in weather like that, like in a backpacking situation. It's fine to have a cold rear end if the issue is comfort; it's not OK if the issue is safety.)

Back to the story of my poor feet, I recently noticed that my right foot was pronating as I walked, and did some quick math. Oops, I've put probably 400 mi or so, if not more, on my hiking boots. I decided it was time for a new pair - and new insoles. That oughta help. When I first got them, the Ecco hiking boots solved my plantar fascitis problems almost immediately.

As for training, I hiked about 60 miles in the mountains and desert of San Diego over winter break. Since I got back to Wisconsin, I've been walking outdoors for exercise. I've read you should increase your exercise only by 10% per week to avoid injury. Ideally that's what I'd be doing. Unfortunately, the weather's been the boss of my workout schedule, not me.

Here's what I've done:
  • Week of Jan 18: 18 mi (w/ my pack weighing ~ 12 lbs)
  • Week of Jan 25: 14 mi
  • Week of Feb 1: 12.5 mi plus some snowshoeing
  • Week of Feb 8: 21.4 mi
  • Week of Feb 15: 18 mi
  • Week of Feb 23: 14 mi
  • Week of Mar 1: 24 mi w/ 18 lb pack
In that last week, for 2 miles, my pack weighed 28 lbs. That's because I walked with maybe 14 lbs in there to go get groceries, filled it up with food, and walked home like that. Also, in one of the low mileage weeks at the beginning, I walked in freshly falling snow and learned that walking in snow gives your quads an incredible workout. Man, was I sore!

This week, so far, I've done 7 mi with a 19.5 lb pack and it's just Monday. At this point, all logic and planning have gone out the window. I'm hooked on exercise and I crave it. It bums me out if I don't go for my walks, even if it's freezing out. I just add more layers and off I go. This week, the temps got up into the 40s and tomorrow it will be almost 60. You can bet I'll be out there, as much as possible.

A note on this exercise: It's boring. It's mostly flat, and all in the city. There's only 5 feet of elevation gain on one route I do, 20 feet in another, and maybe 120 feet max if I go up the biggest hill I can find in the area. I don't go anywhere special to walk, I just walk to where I need to go anyway: school, coffee shops, errands. A lot of places I go are ugly, especially when it's covered with dirty snow, and I pass smokers and cars and smell bus exhaust. Now the snow's melting and it's icy in the morning and muddy the rest of the day.

I decided to get an iPod to make it bearable, and that's done the trick. I never bring one on the trail with me, because the trail is never boring. But without the iPod, all this walking in the city would be unthinkable.

Now that it's nice out, I plan to up my game a bit. It's just over four mi to school, and it's easy to do five or six miles if I walk there and then walk between classes and walk to get the bus home. I'm going to start occasionally walking both ways, a total of 8.36 mi, to increase the mileage a bit each week.

Also, I've been gradually tossing more and more backpacking supplies in my pack, along with the school stuff I always carry. Now, if I ever get stranded in downtown Madison, I'll have all my 10 essentials, my tent, and even a trowel to dig cat holes if I have to go! Eventually, I'm putting my bear can in my pack. I'll probably keep the pack weight stable for the time being as I increase the mileage, however.

So far, I've been walking on sidewalks and streets. Once wildflowers start blooming, I'll hit the trails around here. And I'll soon spend 10 days back in San Diego hiking around the mountains there. I owe El Cajon mountain a visit :)

Once I get back from San Diego at the end of spring break, it's another month and four days until the end of the semester (but who's counting?). Then I am off to California for the summer, and I can train for real!

I've got all kinds of ideas for once I'm out there. I'm headed to Monterey first and then down to San Diego, so I can hit Big Sur on the way there. Then there's San Gorgonio, the Channel Islands, a trip back to Mt Baldy and San Jacinto for old time's sake, and much more. And July 5 will get here and I'll be on the JMT before I know it!