I’ve been hinting here and there about a few possible long-ish trips in my future. And by “hinting” I mean I’ve been thinking about where I can realistically go in between a big location move, without totally abandoning the idea of actually finding a place to live by the end of the summer (or maybe even before). Whereas my original plan was to finally hike the entire JMT this year (which clearly didn’t work out), my other backup plan was to instead do the High Sierra Trail, which is roughly 70 miles long, also ending at Mt. Whitney.
However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that perhaps this isn’t the right year for a long-ish Sierra hike. While anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE the Sierra, it was turning into a logistical nightmare. You may be tempted to ask, “But why? If you really want to hike in the Sierra, you should do it!” That’s a great mentality, one that I usually support. However, with our summer schedule, it’s too far out of the way to be a good option, BECAUSE we are spending almost a whole month living in Northern California, in my home town, where I will be de-stressing from LA traffic, hiking/running, going to farmers markets, and generally sleeping after my job ends in May. This is great! Really really great. Unfortunately however, this town is roughly 4 hours north of San Francisco, over at least an hour of small curvy roads, which lead you to the awesomely gorgeous (and oftentimes foggy) Mendocino coast. So, that’s pretty far from the Sierras, and I can’t say I feel like making the 7+ hour drive to get there, or somehow getting someone to drop us off in Sequoia National Park. It’s just not the year. However, it IS closer to the…
Lost Coast Trail! I’m finally doing it! Little backstory: I grew up playing at the beaches in Mackerricher State Park, with its (cold) gray waters and sweeping views of the lost coast towards the north. It wasn’t until I was much older, and addicted to hiking, that I realized there was a trail up there (heck, I didn’t realize there was anything after West Port). However, since learning about the lost coast, it’s been on my list of trails not to miss, and this is probably my best shot of finally doing it (since after all, I’ll be spending a month living roughly an hour from the southernmost trail head).
A little about the Lost Coast Trail:
-Its split into two sections: the north section is 24.4 miles long, traveling through the King Range National Conservation Area, from Mattole Beach to Black Sands Beach. The south is 28 miles, and runs from Sinkyone Wilderness State Park from Hidden Valley to Usal Creek.
-The north section of the trail seems to be mostly a beach walk, requiring you to time your travel with low tides (it’s very dangerous to try and cross some of these areas during high tide). The south section travels up higher ridges for the most part.
-While it initially seemed like a semi easy 52 miles walk along the beach, the few accounts that exist online note that it’s a deceptively strenuous hike, with a lot of elevation gain and loss, especially in the southern section
-It looks beautiful, and from my research, seems to take you through many different coastal environments, from beach to grassy bluffs to redwood forests.
-Its really remote! While highway 1 goes through places like Big Sur, it never made it through the King Range. Instead, it turns, going inland and bypassing this area. As a result, this is one of the most remote areas in the whole state.
Unlike what I’ve been used to seeing for the JMT, there are very few “guides” available online that cover the entire trail. I really like this aspect of planning, even if it’s slightly more complicated. Most of the information I’ve found on websites seems to only cover one section of the trail (mostly the northern), such as the guide written up on Appalachian trails or Jeff Hester’s write-up on Socal Hiker (note: Socal Hiker has the Lost Coast Trail as only 25 miles. This would only be the northern section. As noted, it continues south!). Years ago, I also found this write-up on Summit Post.
We will be doing the entire 52 miles in 8 or 9 days starting around June 23rd and possibly ending on July 1st, which adds up to only about 6 miles a day. Why take so long for something we could do in less time? Because we can. My brother will be joining us (yay!) and wants to spend some time fishing and wild forging for plants, and I’m in no hurry to get home. The only issue we will have is how to keep 8-9 days of food in bear canisters (which, BY THE WAY, are recommended, but maybe not required), but I think we can do it.
As I plan, I’ll continue to write posts about the process. Who knows, perhaps someday you’ll make the long trek up to Northern California and hike this amazing trail 🙂
(Until then, next big challenge, which is overwhelming complicated: How to get my car to the Southern trailhead, and start at the northern. without paying $400+ for a shuttle. Somehow. Sigh).
Okay, bear with me on this one. I said I was going to write my next post about my continuing sleeping issues. While I’m still going to do that for my next, NEXT post (I’ve figured some things out, maybe), I’ve been thinking a lot about doing a post in regards to some of my backpacking goals. Goals you say? Like, what trails you want to hike? Sort of. I’ve certainly been making my short (actually, long) list of trails I’d like to tackle. They are going to be awesome. More broadly though, I’ve been spending some serious think time pondering how that hiking fits into the greater scheme that is my current life.
To frame this, let’s talk about life. Non-hiking life. We all have those lives, the ones that happen off the trail, that requires you get up, go to work, get health insurance, be a functioning adult, etc. I’ve been thinking about the relationship that my daily life (specifically, work life) has to my backpacking life, and it’s sometimes a tense one. I’ve also spent a lot of time recently reflecting on what kind of backpacker I want to be. While you may be reading this thinking, “just go backpacking for a weekend, it’s not that complicated”, for me it’s slightly more complicated. So, let’s have a conversation about these two topics: work and how I envision myself moving forward in the world of semi-long distance backpacking.
To start, let’s quickly go over a little about me and my job (though obviously you’ve read this in the about me section of my blog, right??):
-I work full time at an amazingly prestigious museum. That’s pretty cool. It’s a nice place to work.
-I’m an archivist, and while I often get the “oh my god, I bet you have the best job in the world!” reaction, it can also be a lot of tedious work on a day to day basis. Sure, sometimes I get to work with super old materials from the 1800-1900s, but a lot of what I work with is newer (think: 1995), and like any type of record, it’s not always fascinating.
-A lot of being an archivist is office work. It’s working on spreadsheets, it’s cataloging folders into a content management system, which we can then use to aid researchers or scholars to answer questions. While this is absolutely a vital service that we provide to our society, it also involves a lot of full time desk sitting and indoor time on my part. I certainly don’t take this duty lightly: we provide the materials that people use to make our world better.
-I’ve always struggled a lot with full time jobs. I know that working a full time, 40 hour work week is sometimes part of life. But, I’ve always hated it. Oftentimes, I wander out of my office, look out at the mountains, and think “I wish I was climbing one of those”. By the end of working at my desk for 9 hours, I sometimes feel a little nuts, muttering to myself “what am I doing with my life”.
I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time in my life assuming that I’d settle into the 40 hour “sit at your desk” work week, once I found the right career. I just needed the right job, the right masters degree, and something would CLICK. I just had to figure out what “my thing” would be. Well, I’ve spent a lot of time and have obtained a lot of degrees in my pursuit to figure this out. However, I’m starting to think that maybe my personality just isn’t suited for a full-time office job. I actually think a lot of people aren’t suited for this, and you know what? That might just be okay. Why have I always assumed that this was the only route in life? I’ve always felt that if I couldn’t somehow fit into this model, that I was failing to be a full fledged adult, one that is self-sufficient and successful.
I don’t regret the time I’ve spent exploring careers, jobs, and the fact that I have a masters degree. This is all super great. I’ll always have that masters degree, and I fully intend to apply it in a way that feels right for ME. However, I’m starting to also realize that maybe I’m just a loose cannon, a wanderer, who’d rather have the ability to pick up on a Wednesday to climb a mountain, and then come home and work on my own schedule. What I’m getting at, is that instead of trying to fit yourself into what you think we need to be, sometimes maybe you have to embrace what you know to be true of yourself, and try and mold a life that works for YOU (and not someone else). Maybe I’m spontaneous and I don’t like to sit at a desk, but, that could be something I can work with. I’m still working this all out in my head, but I like where it’s going.
(Also, on the plus side, my position at big museum is up in May, and it might be the perfect time to make a change).
Okay, we’re done with some of the deep, questionably ridiculous big life topics, for now.
Still with me? Next topic is sort of related: I’ve been heading towards the topic of thru-hiking for awhile, both in my writing and in my general life. I have always loved the idea of thru-hiking, ever since learning about the PCT in 2007 or 2008. If, in some magical world, I decide I’m not going to be chained to a desk all day, does that mean I’m going to pick up and go hike for 6 months straight? I don’t think so. For a lot of reasons, I don’t really want to do that. Why not?
-I’ve never done anything longer than 5 days (gasp, I know, it’s crazy), but I think knowing myself, I’d be pretty darn happy with a trip lasting up to a month or so. I don’t have a deep urge to spend 1/2 of the year hiking a super long trail in one go.
-I really really love spending time with my husband and my family. I’d really miss them, so I don’t want to be gone for huge stretches of time (note: I’m sure that everyone who thru-hikes the PCT has someone they dearly miss. I don’t doubt that.)
So, after much thought and consideration, I have determined: I’m a long section hiker! (Or, a hiker of trails taking around 1 month or less to finish*). Sometime, I’ll post the short-list I’ve been making of hikes I’d love to do. They are long section hikes of big trails and shorter thru-hikes (think the John Muir Trail, if the permit situation improves in the next few years). I know it’s silly, but it feels great to say this. I’m a section hiker, and it’s exciting. I want to hike lots, see lots of places and do a lot of writing about those experiences.
This post has already gone on way too long, and my lunch break is almost over. Until next time!
*I’m sure there are lots of definitions “section hiker” but this is how I apply it.
Last week was the final classroom course for the 2015 Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course. This is sad. Very sad. What will I do with my Wednesday evenings, if not nerd out with 20 other people about which backpacking stove is the BEST backpacking stove? (hint: it’s made from a cat food can).
Now, as my husband will attest to, I went back and forth (and BACK AND FORTH) on whether or not to take this class. What if my knee was shitty and not cooperating? What if people found out that I’ve transformed into a fat ball of archivist who sits at a desk all day desperately eating snacks, who also can’t hike 14 miles?? (Turns out, this isn’t quite accurate, I am very able to hike 14 miles, and in fact it’s fun). Thus, it was with trepidation that I signed up, telling myself that I still had time to drop it. Well, it’s good I didn’t, because it turns out that I learned a ton, some of which I covered in my a previous post. Instead of writing another long winded post about all the awesome stuff you’ll generally learn in WTC (I think I covered a lot of this already), this post will take you through the wild ride that is snow travel day and snow camp.
(Overview of the next several paragraphs, in case you can’t get through all the prose: traveling on snow is fun, and it’s isn’t as “wild” as I thought it would be. In a good way).
When I first signed up for the course, I very thoroughly read through the course overview on the website. I also looked at the schedule and noticed that there were outings titled things like “snow travel day” and “snow camp”. I’ve definitely spent some quality time in snow and up until this point, wasn’t terribly sure how I felt about it. Was it fun? Maybe? I recall renting snow shoes in college and thinking how it felt like I was carrying cumbersome weights on my feet. Was that fun? Maybe not. I thought, “we’re in Southern California, in a drought. What is snow? What is rain?” I spent some serious time reading other blogs posts about what to expect, particularly in relation to all the snow travel. A few people have written about their WTC experiences, similar to the way I’m now reflecting on my own. For example, Shawnté Salabert wrote about taking the class a few years ago, over on Modern Hiker.
By the time March 1st came around for our snow travel day hike I was feeling really excited, and in fact found myself HOPING for snow (yes, that’s right, HOPING). Fortunately, we got really lucky, and spent the day experiencing all types of precipitation, including snow, hail, sleet and rain. After meeting very early at a McDonalds, where many of our group attempted to drink cheap coffee, we headed up towards Mt. Pinos in the Frazier Park area north of Los Angeles, in the Los Padres National Forest. What awaited us was a very cold and beautiful winter wonderland (our thermostat showed 23 degrees!). It was an excellent opportunity to practice what we had learned about venting, water freezing and staying warm.
Photos (click to see bigger):
We had a great day practicing navigation, snow travel tricks, and trying not to freeze, followed by a quick group dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. It turns out, snow isn’t scary! It’s pretty and fun, as long as you know how to take care of yourself (which is what you are suppose to be learning in this class).
Up next, we headed into the Sierra Nevada Mountains for 2 nights and 3 days of snow camping. Now, of all the outings, I like many others, was very skeptical of camping in the snow. One time, at around age 19, I did that. It was an accident. I was camping in Rocky Mountain National Park in the spring, not realizing it could snow, and from what I can remember the experience was not entirely pleasant. However, your instructors do an excellent job of preparing you to deal with cold, snowy camp conditions, and by the time the outing rolls around, you’ve been talking about snow camp for over 7 weeks. In fact, you are oddly excited for it.
We left relatively early on a Friday morning, meeting at a Park and Ride and piling onto a bus. We headed up the east side of the mountains, taking a quick break at a rest stop with a lovely view of Mt. Whitney.
After getting back on the bus, we drove for another few hours towards Bishop, at which point the bus headed into the mountains (note: not all WTC groups and sections go to the same place. While I believe that snow camp always happens in the Sierras, there are many locations within the mountains where groups go). Our destination was Table Mountain Group Camp, a campground (closed to cars during the winter) on the way to lovely South Lake. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) snow camp wasn’t exactly as snowy as we’d hoped. After all, this is California, and we are still deep in a 4+ year drought (click for bigger images).
Despite that, we had a really great weekend. We spent the evenings chatting, sharing food, and participating in group activities like a fire starting contest (it’s harder than you think) and a knot tying competition. On Saturday, we packed up our snow shoes and headed up the road (and a trail) to South Lake, where we were able to actually find some areas of snow to practice snow travel AND have a snow shoe relay race. We used our snow shovels to reveal the new and old layers of snow while discussing avalanche safety, and practiced using avalanche probes to find “missing hikers” (or, a plastic bag of random things).
On Sunday morning, we had the option to go on hikes or relax next to the stream running through the campground. I opted to go on a shorter off-trail hike near the campground up a ridge where we found cactus, a dry lake and gorgeous views. We took turns navigating using our maps while practicing snow travel (mostly kicking steps). We left camp at around 1pm, returned to the bus, and stopped at the Pizza Factory in Bishop before returning home (Pizza never tasted so good).
I could go on and on about snow camp. It was fun, educational, beautiful, and only a little cold. While all WTC groups will have their own style for snow camp, overall you spend quality time working on skills that any hiker should have, especially those venturing to high mountains where cold and snow is a distinct possibility at any time of the year. However, I think the experience would have been slightly different had we had to deal with deep snowy conditions. Regardless, the instructors did their best to impart snow camp knowledge.
In the end, I’m positively enthusiastic about WTC. I’m a CONVERT. I’ve met some great friends, who I’ll continue to hike (and backpack) with and I feel more confident about my ability to navigate off trail and deal with adverse conditions when they might appear. As a fairly experienced backpacker, I found so much in this course to learn.
Bottom line: Take the WTC! It’s well worth the money and peace of mind.
Next time: I’ll keep lamenting about my sleep troubles, and I’ll tell you about sleeping on my back for the FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE.
I will admit something terrible: I hate camping. More specifically, I hate trying to SLEEP while I am camping. Up to that point, I love everything. The tough climb up a pass, the joy of eating a warm rehydrated meal, watching a sunset with good friends, peeing in the woods under the stars.
However, once the sun goes down, all of that changes. Inevitably, I will climb into my quilt, thinking to myself “Wow, this is pretty nice” before eventually succumbing to madness for the next 8+ hours as I slide in and out of a semi awake/semi sleeping state. The result? When 7 am eventually comes around I will have maybe slept 2 hours, and feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. This becomes especially fun when I have to immediately drive home on the last day of a trip, requiring me to drink all the caffeine in the world while ALSO maintaining supernatural attention to stay awake.
Basically, it’s bad. I’ve had this problem since I started backpacking in middle school, so one would think I would have solved it by age 30. Apparently not.
So, what is the solution? I’ve read this article in Backpacker magazine, I’ve spent countless hours obsessively searching for the perfect sleeping pad with the right price to weight to comfort ratio. I’ve dealt with my compulsive need to roll around while falling asleep (quilt, attached to pad with straps, it’s the best). I use a pillow these days (Exped air pillow). I take melatonin, use ear plugs, wear a hat, drink enough water not to feel dehydrated throughout the night.
However, nothing seems to work. As someone who is NOT a fan of sleep aids such as Advil PM or Ambien, these aren’t good options for me. In order to trouble shoot this problem, I’ve started to examine some of overarching sleep themes I’ve seen throughout my life that seem to occur both on and off the trail. This is what I’ve realized so far (and maybe you, dear reader, also experience some of this):
1. I’ve always had problems sleeping in new places that I’m unfamiliar with. This happens to me in hotels too.
2. It’s always been hard for me to sleep when I’m anticipating something, whether it be a good thing or a thing I’m not looking forward to. I get really excited/happy when I backpack, and I think maybe this doesn’t add to my general ability to just relax and slip into a restful sleep.
3. Finally, in order for me to fall asleep, even at home, that stars must align and everything must be perfect (that is: I must have the pillow in the exact position I want, the blankets must cover just enough of me to create the perfect temperature at the moment that I nod off). I’ve always been envious of people who can fall asleep mid sentence or be holding a book and suddenly BAM, SLEEPING.
As mentioned, I’ve spent an absurd amount of time and energy developing a sleep system that should, in theory address some of my sleep needs.
I’ve been using this Exped Synmat UL 7, which feels pretty good. Compared to the old, heavy and thin thermarest I used all through college, this feels like a DREAM. While it’s heavier than I’d like (roughly 15.4 oz), I’m sadly never going to be one of those ultralight hikers who can get away with a thin foam mat. I sleep on my side, and while this pad doesn’t entirely save me from dead arm, it’s a vast improvement. (Admittedly, when I’m going extra light, I sometimes use a Gossamer Gear Airbeam torso pad, which is actually pretty great for the weight/size!)
As a side sleeper who constantly turns over all night, I’ve found a quilt system (with straps attaching it to my pad) to be a big improvement over mummy bags. Before using a quilt, I experienced over a decade of being uncomfortable and tangled in mummy bags, while the “hood” never actually acted as a hood but rather something that never quit lined up with my head. In a bag, I felt that every time I needed to switch sides I also had a to spend a lot of time realigning the hood, which was a fruitless endeavor. Not so anymore, since I now sleep in the sweet sweet cloud that is either a Hammock Gear Burrow 20 or (since I received it in the mail yesterday) an Enlightened Equipment Enigma (0 degrees, for snow camping). Now, when I turn over, the quilt stays put without me getting tangled.
Finally, in terms of gear, I’ve come to the point where I’ve finally accepted that I can’t sleep without a pillow. Not a lumpy stuff sack full of clothes, but some kind of pillow. I usually use an Exped Air Pillow OR more recently, I’ve started to experiment with a Zpacks Dry Pillow Bag, which is basically a cuben fiber dry bag with an inner micro fleece lining that can be turned inside out to create a pillow. I simply stuff my down jacket inside, and it makes a reasonably comfy pillow. However, the cuben fiber can be crinkly, and I’ll need to experiment more to see how I deal with the sound.
If it’s cold out, I’ll wear cozy socks, some merino leggings, and a base layer top.
To me, this seems like the best possible setup I can imagine for sound sleeping in the backcountry. However, it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, so I’ll be spending some time devising some ways to improve the situation.
One thought: If the issue is “newness” when sleeping in a different place, perhaps I can at least start by spending some nights at home using my backcountry setup. Sometimes, due to a full time job and life, I can only get out maybe once per month to go camping. As such, when I finally get to go, I’m not only sleeping in a new and weird nighttime place, but also using gear that I don’t use very much, increasing the discomfort I feel in that situation. This is something I’ve heard about for years from different online communities, and while I always thought it was a bit silly to acclimate yourself to your sleep system while still at home, I’m starting to realize there might be some truth to this.
Finally, while I’m sure I’ll continue having more thoughts on this topic, I’ve also realized that it might be beneficial to bring a more homey feeling to my sleep setup. As much as it pains me to add extra ounces, this could mean a familiar pillow case.
Finally, I learned this AMAZING backpacking hack during my Wilderness Travel Course last week, and it’s blowing my mind:
I always have issues measuring water for backcountry meals (i.e the “add one cup of water” type of meals, where adding too much or too little can ruin your warm dinner, if you’re inclined to be cooking). I never seem to have a cup that uses any measurements that I need (eh snow peak). In case you can’t tell from this amazing photo (I mean, it’s so professional and clear), this is a ziploc bag with lines on it marking both 1 cup and 1/2 cup lines. To make these, I simply measured out the water using my home measuring cup, poured the water into the bag, and then marked where the water came up to on the bag. BAM, backcountry measuring cup. One thing to keep in mind: make sure you always hold the bag the same way when adding water (i.e don’t squeeze it).
Next up: snow camping this weekend. I guess I’ll get to test out some of my backcountry sleeping theories. Oh dear.
Over the last several years, I’ve spent a lot of time, a ridiculous amount of time, thinking and/or mentally planning for a John Muir Trail hike. If you don’t know what the “JMT” is, it’s a 211 mile trail that runs from Yosemite National Park, starting at the Happy Isles trail head, and finishing at Mt. Whitney, in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. It is, what I consider, a “greatest hits” trail for the Sierra Nevada mountains, passing through some of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes in California. As such, it turns out that I’m not the only one to have JMT aspirations, considering that permit requests have gone up 100% since 2011. This is in large part related to the current boom that is occurring in long distance hiking, where many trails are experienced unprecedented popularity due to movies such as Wild and Mile, Mile and a Half.
(On a related note, Mile, Mile and a Half was a completely lovely film, and certainly contributed to the urgency I’ve been feeling to do the entire JMT NOW).
But, plans change, and we’ve decided to shelve the JMT idea for a few years, an idea that I entirely support (and something I concluded myself a few months ago). This is disappointing for a lot of reasons. I’ve dreamed about the opportunity to hike and explore for an entire month. It’s a time of transition for me career-wise. With a job is ending in May, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to finally having time over a summer for a long thru-hike, without the need to worry about vacation time. Added to this, is my complete and utter fascination with thru-hiking, something I’ve been consistently frustrated by for the last 5+ years. On TOP of this, I’ve had a special relationship with the JMT since interning in the Yosemite National Park archives during the summer of 2013. Throughout that time, I did countless hikes throughout all areas of the park, and many of those occured on sections of the JMT. In particular, I vividly remember taking a great 10 mile day hike through Lyell canyon one Saturday, and looking south towards Donahue pass desperately wishing I could keep traveling in that direction.
There are some great reasons we’ve decided to wait:
1. Permit changes: Yosemite has not only decided to restrict which trail heads JMT thru-hikers are allowed to use, but there is also now a 40 person per-day limit on Donahue pass, the exit point for the JMT in Yosemite National Park. While it’s frustrating to many, I think this was a great move by the park, as I worry that growing popularity will lead to more overuse of the trail. In the future, if I ever do the JMT, I think I’ll use an alternate pass out of Yosemite.
2. It’s more popular than ever. As mentioned above, there has been a 100% percent increase in permit requests in the last 4 years, with over 3,000+ JMT hikers during the summer of 2014 traveling south. My guess is, this year is going to be nuts, especially considering the huge influx of people now hiking northbound because they have been unable to secure a prized southbound permit from Yosemite. While some have noted that this won’t result in more people on the trail since there has ALWAYS been this number of permits available from other trail heads (and with new limitations on numbers from Yosemite), I have my doubts. I have never before encountered so much discussion on the various online JMT communities in regards to alternate entry points and ways to avoid Donahue pass. While these are perfectly legal and legitimate to do the JMT, I strongly suspect this might change the total traffic one will encounter.
3. With these changes, there is very little chance that we will be able to obtain a permit for 5-6 people.
4. This isn’t the experience we are looking for. Sure, we’d love to experience places on this trail, because they are undeniably amazing. But, we’re also not feeling comfortable with the idea of bigger crowds and more pressure to obtain prized permits.
5. We’re moving to Oregon! This is great and exciting, but the idea of moving AND planning a JMT hike at the same time was becoming daunting/overly stressful.
It’s disappointing. Really disappointing, even though it was partially my idea to wait it out. Being in grad school, I had long been anticipating a brief time without school or job (but then, fortunately for me, I got a job right out of grad school, pushing my summer plans back a year). While I’ve been very attached to the idea that I MUST do a 10+ day trip, I’m not entirely sure it’s realistic with our move out of California. However, not all hope is lost! And HERE is perhaps the point to this entire post: Do the best you can, and try and take advantage and appreciate what you can do without judging yourself for not being hard core enough right this moment. If I’m luck, I’ll still have years to long distance hike. Also, I’m planning to take full advantage of my summer in the best way possible right now, and here’s how I’ll do it:
1. We’ll do lots of short trips, regardless. We have lots of potentials plans for this, which I’m sure I will discuss soon.
2. We’ll take more time to explore our new home in the pacific northwest.
3. In the future, if I can’t do a official “thru-hike” of an established long trail, I’ll certainly be working on piecing together my own route. I love maps, and I’m obsessed with the unlimited possibilities that exist to link together established and non-established routes into something big and magical.
Or, what I will call “Pt 1: When do you abandon us in the desert with no water and only a topo map and compass?”
I will start this post by writing one of my most-used phrases on this blog: I’ve been meaning to write about this for awhile, but haven’t gotten around to it. My head is constantly full of swirling ideas (amongst other things) in regards to this blog. I want to review ALL THE GEARS that I’m obsessed with (like that Patagonia Houdini, which is rapidly becoming my new best friend), I want to talk about all the trips I have planned, and the move that is taking place in my life in a few short months.
But, what happens instead: I spend all day at work, sometimes on a computer, and then realize upon returning home in the evening that I don’t want to spend more time on the computer. However, I think it’s important (and fun, always fun) for me to sit down (or stand up) and take some time to write about topics that aren’t related to work or academics. So, here we go: I’ve really been wanting to do a nice summary of the Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course (or WTC) I’ve been participating in over the last few months. It’s the best. The. Best.
If you learn one thing from this overly long and detailed post, I want you to know this: TAKE THIS CLASS. It’s amazing. You will learn a lot of things. Many many things. You will maybe disagree with some of the things, but a vast majority of them are things you probably either don’t know, or needed to be reminded about.
You should also know these details:
– WTC website: http://www.wildernesstravelcourse.org
– When: January-March (I assume this stays fairly regular from year to year). If you really think you want to sign up, do it early! There was a pretty large wait list by the time January came around.
– Where: At 4 locations in the Los Angeles area, read below for more details in regards to this.
– Cost: $335 for Sierra Club members, $370 for non-members. Plus, you will likely have to purchase gear, unless you’re like me and live in a sea of gear. To me, this class has been well worth the money though!
When I first heard about this class after reading about it over on Modern Hiker I thought to myself, “Well, you’ve been backpacking since middle school, and have been pretty obsessed with it since that time, how much can you actually learn in a backpacking class?” Well, turns out a lot. While much of the class IS in fact about backpacking, it certainly is ALSO full of information related to more intense mountaineering practices as well (something I love).
Overview of the class:
It happens over a course of 10 weeks, with one evening session per week based on the location you sign up for. There are four sections, each generally meeting on a different night each week: West Los Angeles, San Gabriel Valley, Long Beach/South Bay, and Orange County. As part of the West Los Angeles cohort, I meet the class every Wednesday night at a local elementary school, where we do this stuff:
1. One hour lecture on weekly topic: It could be outdoor gear, conditioning, snow or mountain travel. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of women giving weekly lectures, which has been inspiring.
2. When you first start the class, you are placed into one of four smaller groups. These groups will be your WTC family for the duration of the course. You’ll attend smaller classroom sessions with them every week after the full lecture (all groups attend this), and you’ll go on your outings with them as well.
3. Each smaller group will have numerous instructors, who will guide you in topical education semi-related to the main lecture of the evening. For example, this past week we began the evening with a lecture on wilderness first aid, and then completed scenarios in our smaller groups afterwards. You are assigned a mentor, who is available for you to ask questions, or sometimes even loan you gear.
4. As I mentioned there are outings, you will do a:
– Conditioning hike: We hiked Mt. Lowe in the San Gabriel Mountains (about 14 miles, roughly 2500 elevation gain, I think).
– Joshua Tree overnight: After leaving early (so, so early) you spend one full day wandering around the desert in small groups with an instructor, practicing with your map + compass and learning how to travel in the desert. The next day, you’ll do a really fun climb of Peak 4377.
– Snow travel day: Spend a day learning how to travel on snow (if you can find snow, this is California, after all).
– Snow camping weekend (2 nights): Go to the sierras with your group, where you will spend two nights learning how to not freeze in your four season tent (which you probably rented).
Here is a sampling of the things I’ve learned so far (a bit more than halfway through):
1. Navigation: THIS IS IMPORTANT! I’ll be honest. In college, I carried a mini compass on my backpack, but I had no idea how to use it. I thought it seemed like a good idea. But, now I’m getting pretty confident with a topographic map and a compass. While I’ve always used and liked topo maps (partially because I think they’re beautiful) I’ve never spent any time with them in the field, looking at the landscape around me and understanding how it corresponds to what I see on the map. I always thought, “I’m just on this trail and I follow it to this thing, and I have a trail map, so why would I need to know anything else?” Sure, this is sometimes true. But, I’ve also always really wanted to go off trail more, and this is just the ticket to get me there. (And it’s fun, so so fun). Plus, as we all know, even on-trail trips should be accompanied by some map skills (and hopefully a map).
2. General Skills: The format of the class is very geared towards beginners, which at times has been a little frustrating to me. I’ve spent years learning the difference between down and synthetic insulation (I mean, I carried that huge synthetic bag for YEARS!), I know about backpacks, and I learned all kinds of things just from trial and error. But, the thing is: There is a lot I don’t know, and this class is introducing me to those things. One of the best things you can do sometimes is relearn some of the basic things, and also take advantage of learning from instructors who have a lot of experience.
3. Rock scrambling: I’ve generally done minor rock scrambling around campsites in the evening, but I’ve never really done anything more off-trail than that. Through this course, I’ve finally gotten to do a class 2/class 3 rock scramble to Peak 4377 in Joshua Tree National Park, and now I’m addicted (ugh, thanks WTC). It’s like a giant playground for adults, full of abrasive rock, cactus, and sweeping views.
4. Snow camp: I haven’t done this yet, so I can’t reflect on my experience at this point. But, this was one of the big factors inspiring me to sign up for this class. I had to think it over a lot (do I want to camp in the snow, after that one time I accidentally camped in the snow in the rockies??) But, eventually I concluded that yes, snow camping seems like it could maybe not horrible if you prepare to actually snow camp, so I should learn how to do it. I’ll be writing a part 2 with more reflections on snow camp later next month.
5. You don’t know everything: While, as I mentioned, I fashion myself a pretty savvy backpacker (HEY, I just bought a TARP! I’m fancy), this class is a much needed reminder that there still so much to learn. It’s also a reminder of how much there is out there to explore, if you have the right tools to be able to safely get there.
This weekend, we have a snow travel day, which will include… Actual snow! Apparently there was some lucky snowfall over the last few days, and we’re due for more over the weekend. So, looks like I’ll get to drag some snow shoes around (I have a love/hate relationship with snowshoeing at this point in my life, hopefully that will change in the next few weeks).
After that: Snow camping (click here for part 2). Fingers crossed, both for snow, and the warmth of my supposed zero degree quilt.
Until then, here are some more Joshua Tree photos:
In line with my sort-of-resolution for the new year, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the weekends to spend more time outside (and less time whining about how I can’t because I work full time). So, this weekend, after a lot of research (probably too much research, I probably spend too much time obsessively reading about potential outdoor adventures) we decided to try some local car camping with 2 other (awesome, fun, hilarious) couples. After a lot of deliberating we decided to try the semi-local Crystal Cove State Park in The Laguna Beach area (Red Rock Canyon State Park was a close second, but we thought it might get a bit cold for some of the gear the group had). Now, I’ve been south of LA only a handful of times since moving to the area. It’s somewhere I don’t understand, nor usually have any reason to visit. On top of that, I spend large amounts of energy devoted to finding the perfect car camping place much as I look for the perfect backpacking route. That being said, I have a love/hate relationship with car camping:
-Camping. In general it’s always a good thing.
-Camping with stuff I wouldn’t carry while backpacking. Full meals, a bottle of wine! A nice craft beer from Oregon. I was not raised by camping parents. In fact, I generally was attracted to friends who also happen to have camping parents (thus, I would also get to go camping). It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to car camp. In fact, for many years, on the rare occasion when car camping did happen, I would basically bring my backpacking gear, and make my same backcountry food at a picnic table in a campsite. But I’m learning.
-You can make real food over a fire without carrying a lot of fresh food on your back.
-You sometimes get to camp with great friends who probably wouldn’t want to backpack.
-The other people. This is a weird statement, I understand. Many car campers are lovely, quiet, respectful folks. However, some are not. Case in point: the RV generators late at night, the drunk teenagers, the guys playing Led Zeppelin in the next campsite over. These are all things that can happen, and I don’t usually have to think about this when I’m backpacking.
-On a related note: the sense that you’re still with a bunch of crowds even though part of the reason you went camping was to get away from those.
-Car camping close to a city: the strange feeling that sometimes you’re sleeping right next to a city, which feels kind of weird.
-Maybe it’s gross, but I don’t care: I’d rather pee in the woods than some of the campground bathrooms you find.
However, not all car camping places are the same. Living in California, we are incredibly lucky to have some of the nicest and most gorgeous car camping spots around (oh, and all that great backpacking too). Case in point, this view from the weekend is pretty nice:
In the distance you can see Catalina island, which makes for an extra gorgeous sunset:
Overall, we had a great night at Crystal Cove State park. After arriving at around 1pm (actually, 12:52, but the individual working the gate was pretty set on us checking in exactly at 1pm. So we spent approximately 8 minutes pulled over next to the entrance eating snacks). While you can check-in at 1pm, you don’t actually get to go to your selected site until 3pm (we picked site 33, more on this later). This was fine because we had already planned a hike with 4/6 of the group, and actually finished this at almost exactly 3.
My initial impressions of this campground were overall very good. The sites are big, clean and since each loop is tiered above the loop in front of it, every site has a GREAT ocean view (see above).
Things to note:
-No fires, but apparently you’re allowed bring your own portable fireplace? I’m not 100% sure what that is…
-No tent stakes. This site used to be an old trailer park turned state park campground in 2011, so the surface is nice and flat, but also hard and not able to take any stakes. So, a free standing tent is a must.
-If you are coming from the west LA area and taking highway 405, you can see snow capped Baldy AND also get a great view of Mt. San Jacinto too (I was very excited about this).
Things I learned that would impact my choice to camp there again:
-As I mentioned, this is a very popular RV spot, since it is so accessible and right next to Highway 1. Overall we had very little issue with generators running late at night (there seemed to be only one person running it until the 10pm cutoff time). The top loops are 100% occupied by RV’s, and while we picked somewhere in the middle, our row was also almost all RV’s (see photo below). So, in the future I would pick Dolphin loop (we were just above that, on Sage loop) or below, which looked much darker and maybe a little quieter.
-You can definitely hear the highway and see the traffic lights on the road. This was sort of why I didn’t pick the lowest tier (which in theory is right above the highway). It fortunately was not nearly as loud and annoying as I thought it would be during the night, with only the occasional loud motorcycle passing by. It was definitely quiet enough for us to hear coyotes out in the hills behind the campground, which was neat. Bothered by the cars? Bring ear plugs for bed time!
Verdict: I would definitely camp here again. It’s exactly 1 hour from my house (without much traffic on the weekend), and it’s a lovely and well maintained campground with an unbeatable view of the ocean and on a clear day Catalina is right in front of you. Throughout the day there were multiple rounds done by a friendly volunteer/ranger and overall I found the other campers to be pretty respectful and quiet. While you can hear the highway at night, you can also see shooting stars and hear coyotes too. As someone pretty picky about where I car camp (okay, I’m very picky), there seemed to be enough going for this park that would make me want to come back again.
The details: Crystal Cove State Park (this link as some info, but also check out the official state park site with a nice campground map).
Reservations: Yes, you can make them through the reservations link on the state park site.
Price $35 with an $8 transaction fee, which covered all 6 of our party, with 2 cars.
Amenities: Bathrooms (that seemed really clean), showers, a nice beach, lots of hiking trails. If you need food or don’t feel like cooking, there’s restaurants right down the road, including a Trader Joe’s
Directions: Moro Campground at Crystal Cove State Park is located just off the PCH before you reach Laguna beach. Click here for the google maps location! (Note: if coming north, definitely take the left right before the school (the street will have a sign that says “State Park” with an arrow). It looks like you can turn off on another road just south of the campground, but that is actually not open).
After much research and googling things like “how to transfer domain” I’ve finally changed my website to something a bit more blog friendly. When I first thought about starting a website my thoughts were:
“Oh man, I’m gonna have a site where people can find hikes and learn about cool stuff they can do.”
So, I this site will be mostly a blog, where I’ll write up my thoughts on various topics and share some of my adventures. As times has gone on I’ve generally found that I enjoy just having a place to reflect and write. It helps me to clarify some thoughts that I’ve been working through, and it’s nice to think that maybe someone else out there will read those thoughts and gain something from them.
I’ll add my (now dated) gear list etc back onto the page soon, but overall, I’m really looking forward to sharing my adventures and thoughts in the next year.
(Let me apologize in advance, this post will probably be long-ish)
I’ve been thinking a lot about “Wild”.
(As in the book + now movie about Cheryl Strayed’s 1000+ mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail).
I’ve really struggled with Wild, partially for reasons that have nothing to do with the book or movie.
Rewind to sometime around 2012, when I was living in New York and a friend suggested I check out a book she had seen at Barnes and Noble. Since I constantly mentioned the idea of wanting to do the PCT, she thought it would be something I’d enjoyed. I’m not entirely sure how long I’d known about the PCT, or when my fascination with it started. Being someone who grew up in and frequently backpacked in California, I think I was always semi aware that there was something called the PCT. After moving to the upper west side of New York to attend Columbia for a year, this fascination only grew stronger as I slowly realized what I had done: Outdoorsy, small town me had moved to a huge city, without a car, and without immediate access to trails and mountains. While the call of public transportation + endless activities and restaurants was something I wanted to experience (and it was glorious, for a time), I was missing the west coast, the mountains and backpacking.
So, when I decided to pick up a copy of Wild, I was reminded of what I missed so much, regardless of the fact that the story isn’t really all about hiking the PCT. But for me it was. I found it at a time when I knew that I wanted to be outside more, in addition to doing more trips that took me to challenging places both mentally and physically. As such, the book was both inspiring and also incredibly sad for these reasons:
1. Great reason: It reminded me of why I’ve been obsessed with backpacking and the outdoors since I can remember. I’ve always found comfort and solace in the back country, where I feel like a different person who isn’t stressed or anxious about random shit in life. Compared to making life decisions, climbing switchbacks is simple.
2. Sad reason: The seemingly subsequent explosion of trails like the PCT and the JMT, partially inspired by “Wild”, has made me feel irrationally upset at times. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think I’ve personally had this reaction for two main reasons. First, I feel like I was finally finding my way back to being a more honest version of myself, and backpacking has always been a big part of that. At times, I felt sad that this coincided with LOTS of other people suddenly finding that same thing. Second, I have very selfishly always felt that backpacking was mine, even though it never has, or never will be. As I said, I’ve found immeasurable peace and comfort in the outdoors since childhood (I remember sitting under a tree in my elementary school playground, playing with leaves and feeling like all was right in the world). Now, lots and lots of people were going to do “my thing” and as a result, it was somehow going to be different.
Since I’m into making lists tonight (I love spreadsheets and lists), I’ve come to some conclusions to why I’ve had this reaction to a book that I personally really enjoyed at times.
1. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had backpacking, much less outdoorsy friends. Backpacking has become this thing that “Lindsey likes” and that everyone else sort of gets, but doesn’t want to do. I’m not used to sharing that activity these days with anyone else as passionate as I am, and it feels weird at times to have joined a bunch of online communities and realizing that LOTS of people are like me.
2. Partially as a result of never having a co-planner (or really even an enthusiastic buddy to join me) I’ve struggled to make trips happen since moving back to California. The reminder that all these other people love backpacking now sometimes just reminds me that sometimes I’m too tired or uninspired to plan trips.
BUT, I think in the end this is going to be good, not only for me, but also for the hiking community as well. There will be more people donating to organizations like the PCTA, more people contributing to trail work, and more people embracing a healthy and active lifestyle. And also, I think maybe it’ll be good for me in the long run, because I’ve found that perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a few backpacking lady friends to inspire and maybe help me plan more trips.
This past weekend, I had three major goals, some of which may seem contradictory:
1. Sleep/relax/don’t do anything.
2. Test out my shitty, long-time misbehaving knee using KT Tape + recent physical therapy + a new and improved stretching routine.
3. Get out and see some mountains and do the 10.5 mile hike to inspiration point in the Angeles National Forest.
On all accounts, it was a success. While I’ve done the shorter trip to the Echo Mountain hotel, I’ve been very tentative to try anything longer than roughly 8 miles with the shitty knee. This past summer, in July 2014 I completed an amazing and gorgeous hike of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park (seriously, DO THIS HIKE, and I will soon do a nice write-up of the experience). While it was worth it, I paid dearly in knee pain for weeks after. So, after starting physical therapy and having my knee tapped the week before, I decided to see how far I was comfortable going this past weekend, fully intending to turn back when I felt like things were taking a turn for the worse. Amazing, I never reached this point, and did the entire loop, all 2740 feet of elevation gain, with very little pain, and I was rewarded with a lovely rainy and misty hike all the way up to inspiration point. While I definitely have a long way to go with physical therapy, I’m finally feeling hopeful that this is something I can improve as time goes on.
I’ve been a naysayer when it comes to taping over the years, a belief I’ve based off of things I’ve made up in my head (how can tape fix anything??). Well, turns out tape does help, and it helps a lot. So, looks like KT Tape is my new best friend for long hikes.
By the way, if you’ve been thinking about doing this hike, it’s a wonderful trip, taking around 4.5 hours. You see a lot of different environments all in one hike, including pines, yucca/cactus and unfortunately, lots of poodle dog bush near the site of the Station Fire. Also, I noticed a considerable thinning of the crowds once we got past the hotel, so don’t be scared after the first 3 miles!
On Sunday, I was also super successful in my first goal: to not do ANYTHING. Well, I did something: laundry. So I guess that counts as something.
The husband and I have been doing a lot of reflection lately, both on where we’d like to go as individuals and where we see ourselves growing (and settling) as a unit. It’s been said by many before, and I’m sure it will be said many times in the future: I don’t like Los Angeles. Try as I might, there’s some aspects to living here that I’ve come to dread, but also some that I’ve come to enjoy as well.
There’s all the big reasons that lots of people hate it: TRAFFIC, crazy drivers in BMWs, it’s getting more expensive, the general feeling of being isolated in your own neighborhood all the time. But, there are some things to love: the desert, the mountains, the WEATHER, the friends I’ve made here. However, we’ve come to the mutual decision that it’s probably time to think about where we’d both be happy in the long run, and unfortunately, LA hasn’t made the cut. We originally moved here two years ago for me to attend graduate school, which I finished in June. So, after I’m finished with my job in May, husband and I are planning on making moves back north to spend a little time in my hometown in Mendocino county and do some visiting to the Portland + Seattle areas to see if anything sparks for us.
This all has me thinking, what is on my southern California bucket list between now and May? What can’t I miss while I living here? And more specifically to me, what are some big (and small) outdoor goals for my final months in LA? I’ve made it very clear since my last post that I complain about LA a lot. I complain about the traffic, I complain about the how we can’t ever buy a house here, I complain about how I miss seasons. That being said, LA is awesome for one often overlooked reason: There’s lots of mountains, deserts and beaches to explore. So, I’ve started making a list of my bucket list trips within a few hours of LA:
1. I want to backpack San Jacinto. At 10,834 feet, it’s second highest mountain range in southern CA. AND, it’s only a few hours from my doorstep. I think we’ll plan a spring multi-day backpack of this, utilizing some of the many back country camps along the way.
2. I want to spend more time going to the Angeles National Forest. I will admit it, I’ve only been there twice, and each time was the same front country trail. I’ve never driven the Angeles Crest Highway, and I’ve never bagged a peak in the San Gabriels. Why haven’t I done this?
3. Spend more time in the desert this winter. LA is in a prime location to travel to places such as the Anza Borrego Desert, Joshua Tree National Park, and Red Rocks Canyon State Park. Someday soon, I’ll be living somewhere green and rainy, and perhaps I’ll regret the time I missed to explore the desert landscapes here.
4. Explore the San Bernardino National Forest, say hello to the PCT! Perhaps climb San Gorgonio while I have the chance!
This also all plays into my non-resolution (which is kind of actually a resolution) for new years, which is to spend less time complaining about the adventures I can’t do, and spend MORE time exploring all these awesome places.
Oh, and my other goal: Sell some of my extra camping/backpacking gear that I don’t use. Anyone need a 2 person GSI Outdoors pot??
That semi-arbitrary reminder to change the way I date things (I still seem to always spend January accidentally writing the previous year anyways) does always inspire me to spend a little time reflecting on the past year. So, since this is my blog, I’m going to briefly talk about some (very deep and philosophical) conclusions I’ve come to recently. And maybe, a few things that I could improve on as an outdoorsy archivist + human being:
1. I need to stop whining. I spend a lot of timing lamenting to my family (particularly the husband) about how much I love the outdoors, but how hard it is for me to make time to do any backpacking. Over the last year, I have become the most un-outdoorsy of outdoor people. Since the age of 13, I’ve talked and thought about backpacking constantly. However, I spend every weekend sitting in my LA apartment, being annoyed, mulling over how I can’t backpack because I failed to plan ahead for anything. As such, I’ve been trying to be a little more positive about the work situation and spend less time being shitty while I complain to everyone I know. I’m pretty sure I can probably get outside a lot, if I get off my ass and plan it before Friday night, instead of sitting at work all day pining for the outdoors. Bottom line: Stop complaining about how much I want to go outdoors, and just go outdoors.
2. I need to start making more of an effort to create a work situation for myself that lets me have more flexibility. Yes, sure, there are weekends, and I’m lucky enough to work 9 hours/day for my job with every other Friday off. Cool! But, I spend a lot of time being an unbearable complaining person who constantly laments about how much I hate my 40/hr a week job. I have a lot of ideas of how I can break out of that schedule after my job is over in May, and I think it’s time to give it a go.
3. So, basically I need to stop being a complainer and instead just do something about the things I don’t like. Right now, husband and I are living in LA, which we both generally hate. But, that being said, there are SO MANY amazing mountains and deserts within a few hours of this massive cluster of people.
Anyways, that is the end of my self-centered, very deep, self reflection this week. Right now, I’m at my parents house in Hawaii (we moved here when I was 13 from Northern CA, and I partially fell in love with backpacking after many middle school trips into Haleakala National Park). It’s amazing and I’m insanely lucky to be here.
I’ve been quietly marinating a post about the book/movie “Wild” in my brain. While I’ve sort of been on the fence about it, I’ve also been overly critical of what it means for me as a backpacker (despite the fact that I generally enjoyed both the book + movie). However, that is a discussion for another day though. In the meantime, enjoy this photo I took yesterday on my drive around the backside of Haleakala here on Maui.