Monday, July 4, 2016

JMT Planning: Mosquitoes

This is my third year hiking in the Sierras. The previous two were years of extremely low snow levels. The result was: easy water crossings (I never even got my feet wet) and nearly no mosquitoes. I brought a headnet and used it... twice.

On the JMT last year, the areas of bad mosquitoes were Sunrise Creek, Tully Hole, and Bear Ridge to Marie Lake. That was it. The easy solution was to just hike quickly through them and not camp there. Reports are that this year that's not the case. It sounds as if the little fuckers are making up for several years of blood sucking all at once.

The easy options for dealing with mosquitoes are: hike late in the season (August, September); wear repellent; and wear pesticide-impregnated clothing. I am not doing any of those things.

I'd hike late if I could, but I can't. So that's out. I'm starting July 18, finishing August 4. I suppose the only consolation here is that maybe the bugs will diminish as the trip goes on, and there will be fewer of them when I finish in August than when I start in July.

I actually have a full outfit of pesticide clothing. I wore it in Kenya, near Lake Victoria. When it comes to malaria, African sleeping sickness, and who knows what all else, I'm not f***ing around. The only other time I wore it was when looking for mushrooms in an area with lots of ticks and Lyme disease.

But I don't want to go to a place I love and wish to protect and to bring toxic, man-made chemicals with me. I also don't want to get that stuff all over my sleeping bag, tent, and other gear. That's also why I cover my skin and wear a hat instead of using sunblock. The hat's ugly, but it does the job without polluting the lakes.

Given that I'm not doing any of the obvious things to prevent the mosquitoes from wrecking my hike, and that I have tried pretty much every natural repellent without much luck (I'm too delicious), here's the plan.

  1. Wear Light Colors: I'm sure it won't make the difference between getting bitten a lot vs. not at all, but it can't hurt. "They" (expert websites and such) say light colors are better than dark. I'm not sure, but it could have to do with helping you keep cool, because heat attracts mosquitoes.

  2. Bug Net Shirt and Pants: The brand is Coghlan's. You can find it easily online. The whole thing cost $23 with free shipping on Amazon. It doesn't have insecticide in it. There's a more expensive version in another brand that does have insecticide in it. The more expensive version also has mitts that cover your hands. The one I got doesn't. But the one I got does have a little zipper near your mouth so you can upzip that to eat while wearing it. The top is 4 oz. I didn't check the weight of the bottoms. I don't care. I'm bringing it and wearing it.

    If you don't want to opt for this, at least wear loose-fitting long sleeves and pants. Mosquitoes can bite through fabric, but only if the fabric is right up against your skin.

  3. Brimmed Hat: Keeps the headnet off your face, so the little f***ers can't bite you through it.

  4. Gaiters: Why not. Can't hurt, right? The rest of me will be pretty well covered except for my hands. The bug pants go down to your ankles. Mosquitoes can bite through your socks. But if they can't access your socks...

  5. Gloves: To cover the only bare part of my body. But what kind of gloves? Is there a fabric that works well? Apparently mosquitoes bite easily through thin fabrics. I can attest to this. I've already got thick, wool gloves for warmth. Do I wear those or something else? So I looked into...

  6. Woven Fabrics: Woven fabric instead of knits help a bit. Mosquitoes apparently bite through knits easier than they bite through a tight weave. This post recommends nylon and polyester. (Can I say how much I friggin' hate wearing nylon and polyester?) It also adds that they aren't breathable. (No, they aren't. Part of why I hate them.) The post adds that a blend with a bit of Spandex will help, because nylon and polyester on their own aren't stretchy. Time to go see about those gloves, as much as I really don't want to hike with gloves on. Particularly not with thick gloves made of non-breathable nylon or polyester.

  7. Wear Thick Enough Fabrics: Apparently a mosquito's proboscis is 2.5 to 3.5 mm and it sticks half to two-thirds of that into you. That means that fabric that is 2.5mm thick will prevent most bites. That sounds pretty unpleasant for hiking in during the daytime, but I am considering just wearing my thick wool gloves each day instead of buying new ones. Bike gloves will be thick in the palms but probably not elsewhere.

  8. Camp Somewhere With a Breeze: Mosquitoes aren't strong fliers. A nice breeze will help a bit. I'll be honest though, my preference is to...

  9. Camp Above the Bugs: Why camp amid them when you can camp above them? It depends how high they go? Thousand Island Lake, which is notoriously buggy, is at 9830 ft. That's not good. I often camped above 10,000 ft last year, but I rarely camped above 11,000 ft. I think the only time I did, in fact, was probably my last two nights, just before Mt. Whitney and at Trail Camp on Mt. Whitney. And I'm exiting at Kearsarge this time so I won't even do Whitney.

  10. Get In Tent Before Dusk: This was a part of my strategy last year for sure. I would finish hiking around 5pm generally, set up camp, eat, and get my butt in my tent before dusk. You can't cook inside your tent unless you want to burn the thing down, and I'd rather not even cook in my vestibule. So I prefer to finish cooking before dusk. This is useful for dealing with the cold too. I'd rather get inside my sleeping bag and start warming it up BEFORE it's freezing outside.

  11. "Natural" Repellent: I'm on the fence about whether this is even worth the weight. I've done the research. In tests, certain essential oils were all successful against bugs. Adding vanillin makes a natural concoction or even DEET last longer than it would otherwise. But the natural stuff is not long lasting, so you have to keep spraying it. That's what the data says. My own experience is that the bugs ate me up anyway. I taste really, really good.

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