Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Tag

Hiking Essentials   2 comments

May 28, 2018
With the Memorial Day holiday marking the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States, the season of cookouts and camping has arrived. What are your “must haves” for these events?

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Living in Alaska, Memorial Day weekend is really the first weekend of the year when you can camp out without risking frostbite … although there are people here who use four- season tents with heaters called Arctic Ovens, who do camp out in the winter.

But even in summer, Alaska posed camping challenges.

Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean the camping trip is canceled. With only about 20 weeks of good outdoor weather, we can’t be shy about camping in inclement weather. Besides, Alaska is a big state, so while it may be raining in Fairbanks, it might not be raining in Paxson … or vice versa. It could be beautiful at my house and snowing in the mountains. You just never know. And, so, here are a few of my must-haves for any camping trip in Alaska.

By the way, most of our camping trips involve leaving our car and hiking into the wilderness. Brad and I have it down to about 50 pounds of gear shared between the two of us.

TentBug Spray – mosquitoes in Alaska are everywhere. The Interior is pretty boggy for a semi-desert, but the worse mosquitoes we ever encountered were on Mount Prindle, which is at altitude. This is because much of our ground is overlain with permafrost, so water has nowhere to go. Mosquitoes breed in water. Therefore … bug spray. A tourist back when I worked in the industry asked me why Alaskan women all seemed to have an evergreen perfume. My reply was “We call it au de Cutters.” If you say it with a French accent, it like a high-end item.

Sunscreen – yes, we have sun – 22 hours of it in June. And you can actually get a bad sunburn on cloudy days and a worse sunburn on snow. So we always carry a bottle of sunscreen, even after we develop our summer tans because … sun.

Tent – did I mention the mosquitoes? And that we never know when a rain squall will catch up to us … or snow at altitude? Even on an 80-degree day, the weather can change dramatically and suddenly you’re dealing with hypothermic conditions. We have three tents. The backpacking tent goes with us always, even on day hikes … just in case. Three of us and the dog have crawled into that thing made for two very friendly people, but hey … better crowded than frozen. We also have a mid-sized tent which we often set up for several days at a base camp and we still have a family-sized tent for car camping. That’s the only one you can stand up in.

Sleeping bag – The good news is that the sun doesn’t go down at night from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, so it doesn’t cool off much … normally. But then there’s the abnormal weather – snow at altitude, thundershowers — and the fact that our ground is underlain with permafrost. It can be sweating hot and the minute you lay down on the ground, you feel your body heat ebbing away. Each of us has a three-part military surplus bivouac bag that we don’t always need, but it has come in handy at times. You can throw the bivy sack under you to help insulate from the cold ground. Once when I was visiting Brad on our land, I decided to stay the night on a lark and he let me have one of his two inner bags. It was hot out, so that was all either of us needed.

Tent2Ridge Rest – closed-cell camping pad that rolls up into a tiny roll and is impervious to water. It eases the rock under your shoulder and it insulates you from the cold hard ground. When we used to take the kids with us, we’d turn four Ridgerests sideway so we couldn’t roll off them when rolling over. We still carry three today for just that reason. We upgraded a few years ago and got the ones that can be folded and braced with straps to make camping chairs. Love the back support!

Water filter – the bugs are not just in the air. Giardia is a thing here – beavers inhabit almost every waterway and … well, they ain’t house-broke, if you know what I mean. Plus there’s lots of minerals and debris in our streams, so we filter all of our water, just in case.

A water container – I cannot tell you how useless a water filter is when you have nothing to pump the water into.

Cookstove – this is not a Coleman two-burner outfit, but a Jetboil single propane rocket that will boil water in under a minute. It means we can travel light and still have warm beverages … a must if you get caught in snow at altitude.

MREs – Meals Ready to Eat – military issue surplus. Once you’ve eaten these, Mountain House just seems so inadequate. There’s about 4,000 calories in each meal kit, so Brad and I usually share one or we eat the entrees and save the extras for another meal. The beauty of these is that you don’t need a cook stove to warm them … they come with carbon dioxide heaters that just need a little water to activate them. Also, when sealed, they don’t appear to give off a smell. The dogs aren’t interested until you open them, so it’s unlikely they’ll attract a bear.

jetboilBaby wipes – you can buy body wipes, or whatever they’re marketed as now, in the camping section of most mega-marts or hardware stores, but for half the price you can buy baby wipes and get the same effect. We put them in a 1-gallon freezer bag so they don’t take up much room. It just feels so good after a day of hiking in the hot sun with bug spray and sunscreen coating your skin to wipe off before hitting the sleeping bag.

Powdered potatoes, powdered milk, tea bags, coffee bags, chocolate bars and pilot bread – These are our emergency supplies – the just-in-case-we-turn-the-wrong-way-and-end-up-lost. Well, the coffee bags (like tea bags and way better than instant) are for breakfasts, but we always bring some extra, just in case. Often we eat a chocolate bar or two on our drive home in celebration of a successful outing, but we don’t eat them until we’re off the trail because we’ve had the experience of needing that final burst of calories to finish a trek and were so glad to have forgotten a candy bar in the bottom of the tuck sack.

A knife – until you’ve tried to open an MRE meal kit with your teeth, you really can’t know what a necessity this is. We also carry a multi-tool now after we had a dog get mixed up with a porcupine. It sure would have been nice to have scissors and a pair of pliers to pull those out ourselves rather than backtrack to take the idiot to the vet. And, yes, we have since spent an evening by a campfire pulling quills out of a dog’s face. Her name was Black Dog and she was certain she would one day beat the porcupine. The black Lab in the photo below also had an encounter with a porcupine, but she learned from the experience as did the yellow Lab. Huskies — convinced next time will have a different outcome.

Baggie of shortening – not only can you cook with it, but it’s great coating for chaped hands, feet and lips.

Baggie with soaped kitchen sponge – to be honest, I let the dog take care of the worst of what’s on the cooking implements, but then I wash the germs off with soap. It’s mostly to assure there’s no giardia left on the surface.

Lab backpackA gun – if you know me, you knew this was going to be on the list. The world in general is a dangerous place, but in Alaska there are large animals to contend with. About 20 people were attacked by bears last year in Alaska. Bear spray can be effective, but only if you’re far closer to the bear than is sensible and only if the wind cooperates and doesn’t send the pepper powder back into your face. Plus grizzly bears will ignore pain when they’re pissed off and hikers who have hit them full in the face with an entire can of bear spray will attest it didn’t stop them. There’s also moose, wolverine, wolves, coyote, and fisher who can pose threats to human life here. And, if we do get lost and start to run out of emergency supplies, hunting with a 357 is not the easiest thing in the world, but I have taken grouse and rabbit with mine. And finally, I’ve had a couple of encounters with humans in remote areas where I think, had I not been armed, something might have happened that would have made me wish I was armed.  In a huge state of deep wilderness, cops are always hours away when seconds count. When we’re prepared, we just don’t know what might have happened had we not been prepared. I would go so far as to say that living the way we do in Alaska would not be sensible without guns to protect ourselves from large carnivores and poor decision-makers.

Screamer – otherwise known as a personal body alarm. If we can get away without killing the wildlife, we prefer to just deafen them and it has discouraged bear and moose — sometimes. Wildlife is not always predictable.

First aid kit – again dangerous world, plenty of things that can hurt you. Our kit is a 1-gallon freezer bag because it fits where ever there’s room in the packs and it’s customizable. I once sewed up a friend who sunk a fish hook in his thigh. It allowed him to continue the trek. Brad’s allergic to bee stings so we always carry Benadryl. We include first aid items for the dog. You just can’t buy that with one of those kits from Walmart.

Extra socks – you never know when you’re going to sink into muskeg to your ankles and need dry socks. Plus, all day with your feet sweating in hiking boots … you don’t want to wear those socks tomorrow.

Windbreaker, sweatshirt, rain poncho, baseball cap and stocking cap. I hike in a pair of rip-stop pants that can be rolled up into shorts and (usually) a tank-top or t-shirt. I layer as the weather changes. Sometimes I’ve needed all of these items and sometimes they’ve just been extra weight, but if you don’t bring them, you will need them and it’s better to be prepared when you encounter winter in the middle of a 90-degree day.

Safety shades – Sunglasses that can take a licking and still be unscratched. Alaska forests are not groomed and I am not tall. I got tired of getting poked in the eye by branches. And, hey, the sun is bright at this latitude and it never goes down in the summer. You can buy $100 hiking sunglasses or spend $10 for a pair of dark safety glasses – you choose.

Gloves – I have office worker hands, but Brad brings a pair too. You never know when you’re going to need to saw up a tree limb to make a warming fire or scrabble up or down a scree slope and then there’s the wild-rose bushes. It cuts down on busted knuckles and spending time digging slivers out of your palms.

A fold-saw and matches – Again, you might not need these, but if you do, you really will kick yourself for not carrying the extra half-pound.

Camera – this is Alaska. It demands to be recorded.

You might have noticed what I didn’t include on the list. Extra clothes are a luxury when hiking. I do usually carry a clean pair of panties and my hiking sandals as camp shoes or for crossing rivers and creeks (I have wimpy feet), but I leave those if we’re getting overweight. There is usually a notepad and pen in my gear, but I leave them if we’re overweight. We don’t bother with GPS because a lot of Alaska is not digitally mapped yet. We usually carry a geodetic map of the area we’re hiking. We leave a duplicate in the car marked with our intended route and our estimated return time, in case someone needs to come looking for us. We don’t waste the weight of a cell phone because you usually can’t get a signal, although we do have our eyes on a new texting satellite phone that also act as GPS. One of those might be worth the extra weight. The dog carries her own food, blanket, booties (for rough terrain) and a frisbee (good for both play and a water dish) in saddle bags. We don’t bother with flashlights or lanterns because it never gets dark enough to not be able to see.

Now, if we are car-camping, there’s a lot more luxury involved — better food, changes of clothes, camp chairs, books, fishing poles — but that’s a whole different experience and I chose to tell you about one type of camping, not any of the others.

 

Hiking in Images   3 comments

Featured Image -- 20674This week is an images roundup – pick a theme and post photos around that theme. So, I chose hiking trails because just about every place we go in the world, we’ve taken a hike. These are some of the scenes from our past.

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Posted August 22, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Bear Tale (or Why I Own a Gun Part 2)   Leave a comment

The hot August afternoon hung still and close over the valley. The only sound was the buzz of insects and the distant song of the creek at the bottom of the hill.

Brad stared at the GPS, sweat trickling down from his hair into the neck of his shirt. To get from waypoint 2 to waypoint three, he needed to cross a tract of fallen, fire-killed trees where brush had begun to grow up. Before he could chainsaw another brushing line for the surveyors he had to calculate the angle of his line. He couldn’t see both waypoint markers, so math was required. The square of the hypotonuse is ….

Where was Lela? She said she and their son would drive out today with fresh supplies and chainsaw gas. Maybe they could help him with the math. The angle of the hill was throwing him off.

Gosh it was quiet here! Brad allowed himself a brief reverie about evenings in a cabin in the clearing he’d found yesterday. A long way off, he heard the sound of a truck gearing down on the highway as it came down the hill. He could live with that. He glanced at the sun and estimated that Lela and Robert were out of church by now, but probably not left Fairbanks yet. He was tired of MREs and hoping she’d bring some fruit. No cell phone service made it impossible to tell ….

Some of the taller brush moved down slope.

Oh, good, she’s here early. I’ll just finish up this calculation and get ready for a picnic.

The brush swayed hard now.

She brought the dogs.

Brad tried to decide whether he was upset with her for disturbing the peace of the valley or glad to see the two mutton heads.

The brush was shaking more violently and he was about to shout “I’m up here” when the branches parted and a cow moose running full tilt uphill ran straight at him.

Damn, I don’t have a gun!

A cow moose … with calf running behind … could easily stomp him to death even though she was running into his space. Thinking quickly, Brad raised a fist over his head and as loudly as he was capable, shouted “Hey, you! Back off!” while pumping his hand at the moose with each syllable.

She blew from her nose, but with missing a beat, veered around him, one great brown eye rolling to look at him. It reminded him of a horse and if his adrenaline had not been so high, he might have laughed. The calf veered with her and they continued their headlong rush up the hill.

Whew! That was close! Wow, I voice-commanded a moose! Pretty cool!

The brush down the hill moved.

Aw, twins! Come on, baby moose! Catch up to Mama and brother!

Brad rehearsed in his head how he would guide the baby moose to follow its mom using the same technique as before and then — above the brush about 30 yards down slope, a large brown head appeared. Brad’s voice clutched in his throat. His hand dropped.

Bear? Don’t run! Stay still!

The bear looked right at him, dropped into the brush and headed directly toward him. Brad’s body turned to run even as Brad’s brain said “Don’t!”

Chainsaw!

Thirty feet uphill and across a mass of downed trees that crisscrossed one another to hip height and then — he leaped from tree trunk to tree truck without pause, slipped, rolled, sprang up and ran again. Behind him he could hear branches cracking and snapping. He didn’t look back. His body wanted to just run down the path he’d cut. He was trending that way.

No! Chainsaw!

Against all instinct, he ran toward the waypoint marker where his chainsaw and pack waited. The bear was closing.

Run!

With a burst of speed, he reached the post, grabbed the chainsaw, pushed the lock forward and pulled the cord. He expected it to putt and die like it always did, but this time it roared to life without a hesitation. Revving the motor, he turned in the direction of the grizzly. It was 10 feet away, a good 5 1/5 feet at the shoulders and headed right for him. He revved the chainsaw higher and held it out in front of him like a rifle. The grizzly stopped, sprang up to its hind legs and roared. Brad revved the chainsaw again. The grizzly dropped to all fours and scampered back, putting about 15 feet between them, then circled around to the north and upslope.

Brad started back down the brushing line, running chainsaw in his hand, walking as fast as he could. He could hear the bear crunching along in the brush maybe 30 feet upslope.

Don’t run! Walk fast! Keep going! Don’t run!

He reached waypoint 4 and the downward trail. He glanced upslope and the bear reared up in the brush, still about 30 feet away, but clearly not giving up. He started sideways down the brushing line, moving as fast as he dared without actually running. Just as he reached the trail that would lead to his tent, the chainsaw died. He pulled the cord. It putted and sputtered. He pulled the cord. It putted and sputtered.

Run! Get out! Get away!

Brad jogged to the bottom of his brushing line, to where it met with the neighbor’s trail and then he ran, ran as hard as he could while carrying a chainsaw until he reached an outcropping of rock where he could climb high and sit and wait.

Brad didn’t see the bear again that day, though he had a good view of the valley. When he returned to his abandoned pack two days later, (with Lela guarding his back) he saw evidence that the bear had marked it, sprayed the waypoint marker and there were claw holes in his canteen.

And, people wonder why we think we need guns?

 It’s not about hunting! It’s about survival!

A Broken Compass   Leave a comment

I live in Alaska, which is far to the north. It is so far to the north that our compasses don’t point north. They point northeast, toward Greenland, where magnetic north is located. For this reason, if we rely on a compass at all, we adjust it about 23 degrees so that it points toward true north.

A few years back, my family and I traveled to the Northeast to visit relatives and while we were there, we thought it would be fun to go hiking in a forest in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Let’s settle a misconception at the outset. The White Mountains are not mountains. By Alaskan standards, they are hills. In fact, we have a few “mountains” here in Interior Alaska that have a higher elevation than Mt. Washington and we call them “domes” because they just don’t measure up to the larger mountains surrounding them.

The lack of mountainous terrain may have resulted in less preparation than we normally would have taken. We essentially grabbed some sun screen, some water, my daypack and set off into the woods. We had a trail map, but it wasn’t the terrain maps we normally carry for Alaskan wilderness treks. In fact, I think I’d want a better map for taking a subway in New York.

But, hey, we’re almost professional hikers, so no problem! Right?  Uh ….

About an hour into the hike, I recognized that the sun was in the wrong place compared to where we should have been on the map. We were faced with multiple choices in paths and it was clear we’d taken the wrong one. I dredged my compass out of the back pack and my husband and I charted a new route designed to take us back to the road. Only it didn’t. Night comes very quickly in New England. In Alaska, we may only have 2 1/2 hours of daylight in the winter, but there’s two hours of dusk at either end of that, so when the sun started to lower, we weren’t worried — until it got dark. Oh, my!

Our daughter announced that she was pretty sure we were traveling in circles. She’d seen this rock formation before. She’s got a photographic memory, so we paused again. There was a moon, which any hiker knows rises in the east and sets in the west after traveling along the southern horizon and it had just come up, so we knew which direction east was. My husband stared at my compass, shooting little glances at the moon.

“Did you change the declination on the compass?” he asked.

Uh, no. We were never planning to need the compass and … oops. After an oh-so-very-polite discussion of how many degrees to remove (we eventually decided to disable declination entirely), we charted yet another course on the less-than-helpful trail map and started out again. We were all greatly relieved when we found blacktop only a half-mile from where we’d left the car.

Lesson?

If your compass is pointed toward the wrong object of attraction, you will get hopelessly lost even in conditions that don’t seem all that threatening, even if you think you know what you’re doing.

Spiritual lesson?

If you think that something other than Jesus Christ is going to save you, you are lost and you will never find your way out of whatever woods you’re in until you admit that you’ve got your moral compass pointed toward the wrong object of attraction.

There are a lot of philosophies out there that seem wise, loving, beneficial, etc. But truth isn’t a multiple choice option and Jesus Christ is the Truth.

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