Before You Hike, Leave Critical Information

Vernal Fall in Yosemite...

Vernal Fall–image via Wikipedia

This continues a string of posts about hiking safely. Out west, extra snowmelt, combined with storms, led to deaths of hikers. A climber slipped while climbing the famous Half Dome in the rain. Hikers drowned trying to cross rivers. Backpackers were swept over Vernal Falls in Yosemite.

In New England and upstate New York, Tropical Storms, such as Irene, have contributed to problems for hikers and backpackers. However, there have been many search and rescue calls in New York’s Adirondacks in all seasons. Heart attacks, capsizings, drownings, falls, and lost hikers keep searchers and rescuers busy.

As I read through the reports, one bit of advice came to mind: Don’t try to do too much, too soon, too fast. I’ve been guilty of this too, and I’ve paid for it. Rushing in Virginia just so I could make it to a post office and pick up a care package before the P.O. closed for the weekend, cost me an extra week on the Appalachian Trail.

As I dug deeper into the reports, it was clear that some victims were not physically or mentally prepared to tackle so much. Extra snowmelt in the West should have meant extra caution and revised plans. In other accounts, hikers had left scattered information about their routes and destinations to loved ones. When they were expected to return and didn’t, families had to try to piece things together and scramble. Don’t forget, cell phones aren’t reliable in the wilderness.

This brings me to the planner and report forms at the bottom. I scanned the forms from the Adirondack Newspaper, Embark. These simple forms can make life easier for a lot of people and give you, the hiker, peace of mind as well. Searchers need specifics; rescuers need vital information.

Don’t forget to take it easy out in the wilds. Life is too short–enjoy it.

Backcountry search and rescue reports for hikers

Search and Rescue Reports–provided by DEC

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A Backcountry Checklist

Former NPS director Mary A. Bomar in her park ...

Image via Wikipedia

Hiker in redwood forest, inside Redwood Nation...

Hiker in redwood forest, inside Redwood National Park, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Hiker in Bob Marshall Wilderness Area...

English: Hiker in Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Montana, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think ahead before you step off on a hike. Leave an itinerary for loved ones, and and list your plans in case of emergency. If you prepare thoroughly before stepping off into the wilderness, you will have the best chance of returning safely. That old “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” thing.

There are tons of hiker checklists; I’ve seen some lists stretch to multiple pages. Some checklists are so involved that a casual backpacker or weekend camper doesn’t know where to begin and will ignore them.

The Backcountry Checklist below, taken from the Adirondack newspaper Embark, covers the basics and includes other reminders. In particular, it alerts hikers, backpackers, and campers to get the short-term weather forecast and to get current information from the local forest ranger. Just think of all the tragedies that could have been prevented in the backcountry if one had done these two things before stepping off. Even if a storm has ended and it’s sunny and mild out, a Ranger can tell you what rivers may give you trouble, what trails may be closed because of damaged bridges, what other problems to expect.

Note the item–non-cotton clothes–on the list. We’ve all seen young people, and children, in cotton T-shirts climbing mountains. Clueless. You need to wick off that sweat, especially if it turns cold and stormy. I once saw a young hiker and his girlfriend, both in commercial T-shirts, heading up a mountain path in the afternoon. I stopped to ask their intentions, and before I got a word out, he asked me if they would be able to make it up to the peak and back before dark. The young woman was drinking from a 20 oz. Seven-Up bottle. That’s the only liquid they had!

I would add two other reminders to this list: 1) Be physically ready if you plan to do serious hiking. 2) Hike with friends.

 

wilderness checklist for hikers, backpackers, campers

Survival and Rescue: A Growing Problem

Mahoosic Notch-Maine

 

Mt. Shasta– California–from PCT

A couple of years ago, an injured hiker was rescued after spending three nights on Mt. Hood in Oregon. At the same time on the East Coast, it took rescuers nine hours to bring an injured hiker to safety after he fell on a Maine mountain. More and more, we hear these stories. Why?

Some believe that the ubiquitous cell phone lends a false sense of security to hikers. The cell phone is the first line of defense for the backpacker who thinks he can rely on that more than maps, extra clothing, water, nourishment. Hikers forget that most cell phones don’t work in the mountains.

Also, with hiking and backpacking a growing interest, there are more hikers out there. And many of them haven’t taken the time to learn the basics, what to pack, how to handle bad weather, how to read field maps, how to prepare a backup plan, etc.

We aren’t given every detail in the first incident referred to above, but according to the article the young woman is an avid hiker who “ate berries and bugs and covered herself with moss to stay warm.” She deserves a lot of credit for surviving, but here’s the thing: She was found wearing only a T-shirt and shorts! True, she became separated from her boyfriend after dropping her gear to look for a better campsite, but when they got out of shouting range, it may have been a good time for her to go back and get her pack.

In the second incident referred to, an experienced hiker fell off a mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. He was injured and couldn’t move but, luckily, was able to call for help with his cell. Unfortunately, he was three miles from the nearest road. We aren’t given all the details here, either, but it appears that he was hiking with just one other person, his niece.

I’ve hiked alone, but not anymore. And you always put an outing at risk when you hike with just one other person who is dependent on you, especially if you can’t get your cell phone to work. What could his niece have done then? She would have had to leave him and tramp on alone to try to get help. Another risk.

Not only is it safer, it’s more fun to hike with a group. You learn things, and you’re ready to help others.

So, study your maps; prepare, pack smartly, and stay alert; hike with friends.

Hiking in Virginia mountains with Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Virginia, near the Appalachian Trail

“THE Trail”

 

TheTrail_designsB1 for Patriot Ledger                                                           IMG_1505[2]

I hope my readers will permit me a departure from the usual post. Happy to say that my Appalachian Trail thriller, The Trail, from Turner Publishing, appears to be doing well. It was a long siege from first draft to publication, and the easiest part was the actual thru-hike of the A.T.

This is a thriller. I’ve put a mean and nasty fugitive, wanted for murder, out on the trail. In my afterword, I explain that I had a wonderful thru-hike and did not meet any problem characters. Nevertheless, it’s always wise to remain alert in the wilds. No one wants to meet my villain “Moonwalker” anywhere.

As many of you know, I conceived and fleshed out the plot as I thru-hiked. When I started out in Georgia, I had no plans to write a book, much less a thriller. But three weeks in, I was hiking alone in dense forest. The wind picked up and the sky darkened as a storm brewed. I felt vulnerable and nervous, and wondered if I could defend myself if I were attacked by another human. And that’s how this all started.

My research revealed that 11 documented murders have occurred on or near the A.T. since 1976. Sad but true. I advise anyone not to hike alone; go with at least one friend. That way you can look out for each other and be there if someone gets sick or injured. With friends you can enjoy those special moments and record them.

You can order The Trail by clicking here:   http://www.turnerpublishing.com/books/detail/the-trail

To all hikers everywhere–Happy trails!

IMG_2591       katahdin

Winter Hiking 2

Traction for hiking ice

Micro-spikes for hiking over ice

In this second post about winter hiking, I need to address one thing from last time. I’d said one of the rewards of winter hiking was losing weight. In this case, however, body weight should not be lost by eating normal nutritious meals. One must eat extra carbohydrates and fats. What’s more, don’t stop for lunch–keep moving and snack, snack, snack.

Proteins take days to metabolize and fats take hours, but simple carbs metabolize quickly. Energy bars, gorp with candy, cookies and crackers, all give quick energy. This is what to snack on during the day, after you’ve had a solid fat-filled breakfast of cereals, toast with peanut butter, or bagels and cream cheese, or french toast with syrup, and cheese, nuts, fruits.

But you will lose weight on a rigorous winter hike because you’ll burn off more than you eat. Because proteins take so much longer to metabolize, you put yourself in danger if you decide to eat “diet” meals. You will tire and get cold faster, which can lead to falls and accidents. Carbs and fats will keep you energized and warmer, especially if you keep moving and don’t stop for lunch.

Here are some more winter hiking pointers:

1) Add Tang or Gatorade to water to reduce the freezing point. You must drink extra liquid to stay hydrated. Drinking water seems counter-intuitive when it’s cold outside, but you will sweat a lot. A flavoring added to water, keeps it from freezing and adds taste.

2) Don’t eat snow. Always melt it before you consume it. Eating actual snow will make you cold and the amount of energy your body expends to melt it outweighs the benefit.

3) Keep spare batteries covered and in a pocket so that they are warm and ready, if needed.

4) Pack a small container of glasses/goggles anti-fog stuff.

5) Fleece is best for warmth. And if fleece gets wet it still insulates. “Down” is warm, but useless when wet.

In winter conditions, keeping warm is a function of keeping dry. The trick is to keep cool. “If your feet are cold, put a hat on, or pull your hat down over your ears. If you are hot, take off your hat, or pull it up over your ears.” Don’t remain hot or cold, stay cool!

Thanks to fellow AMC member Bob Vogel for providing most of this information.

 

Windbeeches on the Schauinsland in Germany (Bl...

Image via Wikipedia

Hiker Rescues: The Sat Phone; The PLB

Personal Location Beacon for hikers

You’re alone and isolated in the wilds. You are injured, cold, and thirsty. You are shivering; the outlook is not good. The surest way to be rescued and survive is with a Satellite (Sat) Phone. The next best alternative is the Personal Location Beacon (PLB).

But how much do these things cost? And what do they weigh?

Let’s start with Sat Phones. They are expensive, weigh about a pound, and involve plans. In this example, you can get a free phone and pay over $300.00 a month for service, or buy a phone and pay $15.00 a month for service. Let’s face it, most hikers are not going to make this investment. Rentals are possible but also expensive; one example I saw charged the user $1.75 a minute, but to avoid paying higher rental fees, the user would have to buy a minimum of 200 minutes.

I think Satellite Phones are a good idea if a leader is in charge of a hiking group and the cost can be defrayed among the hikers.

The PLB, sometimes known as a distress radio beacon or an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons), is an alternative. However, you can’t converse on PLBs; they are used to signal your location. The phones are almost as expensive as some Sat Phones, but don’t require a subscriber plan. I’ve heard of one instance where PLB’s can be rented at Ranger Stations. Be sure to read the comprehensive user reviews for the “Fast Find” PLB at the website just above.

Now for something kind of in-between. While not a satellite phone, the Spot Connect device turns your smartphone into a satellite communicator. You pair your smartphone with Spot Connect and get connected to a global satellite network. You can then send one-way text/typed message via satellite. You can’t have a conversation; you send vital details and wait. But I like the idea and have noticed their ads in Backpacker Magazine.

The Spot Connect system weighs 5 oz and costs around $150.00. It can be bundled with a basic service plan costing $100.00

I think any serious hiker going solo should use  a PLB, or a device like Spot Connect. I do see one problem, however. Just as cell phones seem to give one a false sense of security in the wilds, leading to more and more rescues of hikers that are foolish and unprepared, PLB’s are going to make hikers take increased risks more often. If a type-A hiker wants to bag that one last peak, or wants to get across that gushing river somehow, he’ll chance it with a PLB. And that’s not wise.PLB for hikers

 

A Backcountry Checklist

Former NPS director Mary A. Bomar in her park ...

Image via Wikipedia

Previous posts have addressed some of the dangers in hiking. I had scanned an itinerary form to leave for loved ones and a report form for helping Rangers and authorities. But if we prepare thoroughly before stepping off into the wilderness, we will have the best chance of returning safely. That old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is wise whenever you plan to step into the wilds.

There are tons of hiker checklists; I’ve seen some lists stretch to multiple pages. Some checklists are so involved that a casual backpacker or weekend camper doesn’t know where to begin and will ignore them.

The Backcountry Checklist below, taken from the Adirondack newspaper Embark, covers the basics and includes other reminders. In particular, it alerts hikers, backpackers, and campers to get the short-term weather forecast and to get current information from the local Forest Ranger. Just think of all the tragedies that could have been prevented in the backcountry if one had done these two things before stepping off. Even if a storm has ended and it’s sunny and mild out, a Ranger can tell you what rivers may give you trouble, what trails may be closed because of damaged bridges, what other problems to expect.

Note the item–non-cotton clothes–on the list. We’ve all seen young people, and children, in cotton T-shirts climbing mountains. Clueless. You need to wick off that sweat, especially if it turns cold and stormy. I once saw a young hiker and his girlfriend, both in commercial T-shirts, heading up a mountain path in the afternoon. I stopped to ask their intentions, and before I got a word out, he asked me if they would be able to make it up to the peak and back before dark. The young woman was drinking from a 20 oz. Seven-Up bottle. That’s the only liquid they had!

wilderness checklist for hikers, backpackers, campers

I would add two other reminders to this list: 1) Be physically ready if you plan to do serious hiking. 2) Hike with friends.

 

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Survival and Rescue: A Growing Problem

Mahoosic Notch-Maine

 

Mt. Shasta– California–from PCT

A couple of years ago, an injured hiker was rescued after spending three nights on Mt. Hood in Oregon. At the same time on the East Coast, it took rescuers nine hours to bring an injured hiker to safety after he fell on a Maine mountain. More and more, we hear these stories. Why?

Some believe that the ubiquitous cell phone lends a false sense of security to hikers. The cell phone is the first line of defense for the backpacker who thinks he can rely on that more than maps, extra clothing, water, nourishment. Hikers forget that most cell phones don’t work in the mountains.

Also, with hiking and backpacking a growing interest, there are more hikers out there. And many of them haven’t taken the time to learn the basics, what to pack, how to handle bad weather, how to read field maps, how to prepare a backup plan, etc.

We aren’t given every detail in the first incident referred to above, but according to the article the young woman is an avid hiker who “ate berries and bugs and covered herself with moss to stay warm.” She deserves a lot of credit for surviving, but here’s the thing: She was found wearing only a T-shirt and shorts! True, she became separated from her boyfriend after dropping her gear to look for a better campsite, but when they got out of shouting range, it may have been a good time for her to go back and get her pack.

In the second incident referred to, an experienced hiker fell off a mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. He was injured and couldn’t move but, luckily, was able to call for help with his cell. Unfortunately, he was three miles from the nearest road. We aren’t given all the details here, either, but it appears that he was hiking with just one other person, his niece.

I’ve hiked alone, but not anymore. And you always put an outing at risk when you hike with just one other person who is dependent on you, especially if you can’t get your cell phone to work. What could his niece have done then? She would have had to leave him and tramp on alone to try to get help. Another risk.

Not only is it safer, it’s more fun to hike with a group. You learn things, and you’re ready to help others.

So, study your maps; prepare, pack smartly, and stay alert; hike with friends.

Hiking in Virginia mountains with Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Virginia, near the Appalachian Trail

Sleeping Bags: How to wash and dry them

A person in a sleeping bag

A person in a sleeping bag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

021

I’m always apprehensive about washing my sleeping bag; I’m afraid I’ll ruin it. There are few pieces of hiking gear as important to me as my bag, and I do everything I can to get a comfortable sleep in the wilds.

Here’s what BACKPACKER magazine says about washing sleeping bags:

1) Read the label, or get advice on the company’s website.

2) Close all zippers and fasteners, then turn the bag inside out.

3) Use the right soap.  For “down” bags try Nikwax Down Wash or ReviveX Down Cleaner; for “synthetics,” try Granger’s Extreme Cleaner Plus.

4) Wash it. Hand wash in a tub, or use a front-load washing machine, not a top-loader which can tear baffles. Always choose a gentle cycle, and do an extra rinse to remove all soap.

5) Remove carefully. Hang it lengthwise on a laundry line until most of the water weight is gone.

6) Dry it. Place bag in a large commercial dryer, keep it on LOW heat, and check frequently. Remove down bags every 30 minutes to de-clump the feathers. Back home, leave the bag unstuffed for a few days.

REI gives these additional tips:

Always use a gentle non-detergent soap. Put washer on gentle cycle using cool water.

Use a tub with warm water for down bags. Do a cold-water rinse and let the remaining water drain from the bag.

Exposed drying in natural air is best, but it will take a long time.

So far, I’ve been successful. My bags are clean.

“THE Trail”

 

TheTrail_designsB1 for Patriot Ledger                                                           IMG_1505[2]

I hope my readers will permit me a departure from the usual post. Happy to say that my Appalachian Trail thriller, The Trail, has been released by Turner Publishing–today! It’s been a long siege from first draft to publication, and the easiest part was the actual thru-hike of the A.T.

This is a thriller. I’ve put a mean and nasty fugitive, wanted for murder, out on the trail. In my afterword, I explain that I had a wonderful thru-hike and did not meet any problem characters. Nevertheless, it’s always wise to remain alert in the wilds. No one wants to meet my villain “Moonwalker” anywhere.

As some of you know, I conceived and fleshed out the plot as I thru-hiked. When I started out in Georgia, I had no plans to write a book, much less a thriller. But three weeks in, I was hiking alone in dense forest. The wind picked up and the sky darkened as a storm brewed. I felt vulnerable and nervous, and wondered if I could defend myself if I were attacked by another human. And that’s how this all started.

My research revealed that 11 documented murders have occurred on or near the A.T. since 1976. Sad but true. I advise anyone not to hike alone; go with at least one friend. That way you can look out for each other and be there if someone gets sick or injured. With friends you can enjoy those special moments and record them.

You can order The Trail by clicking here:   http://www.turnerpublishing.com/books/detail/the-trail

To all hikers everywhere–Happy trails!

IMG_2591       katahdin