Taking Care of Yourself On the Trail (or Giving Your Loved Ones Peace of Mind)

NPR posted an article about hikers leaving the trailhead utterly unprepared. If things go south, could you take care of things? Would you need help, or could you deal with problems on your own?

I am seeing this more and more frequently: one or two people, heading up the trail, with a tiny pack, carrying only what they’d need for a long walk in the county park. It’s okay if you don’t carry high end backpacking gear. But you absolutely have to be prepared to spend an uncomfortable night in the woods.

The NPR article also assumes that a hiker can use a cell phone from the trail. That’s not always the case out here in the West. For example, if you start a hike off of I-90, you can easily climb a ridge and then descend to the other side, to eat your lunch by a lake. But at that point, you’ll most likely be out of cell range. Consider a personal locator beacon, such as the SPOT. This is used when a person is in danger…broken leg, completely lost, hypothermia, etc….after a person has exhausted other options. But try your cellphone first.

Besides communication (consider it the 11th essential), make sure you have the 10 essentials. I am *more* than happy to consult on these…the last thing I want is my friends to get into trouble in the backcountry!

Here are some inexpensive ways to fill out your Ten Essentials kit. Once you get them, just leave them in your pack (well, except for the food and water).

  1. Navigation (map and compass…bringing a GPS app is fine too, and you won’t need cell signal, but have the map and compass as backup)
    1. Maps: Get them for free at Caltopo.
    2. Compass and loud whistle: Coghlans Four Function Whistle is very simple, but it will get the job done. $4
    3. Also ***make sure*** you leave your hiking plans with a friend or loved one
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing, AND a warm hat, AND a raincoat…this is the Northwest)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight AND extra batteries)
    1. Headlamp, if you don’t already have one: Energizer Headlamp $15
    2. Batteries: Carry one extra set, in a ziploc bag.
  5. First-aid supplies (that you know how to use)
    1. This Lifeline model is a good one. I’d only add a small bag of Benadryl, in case of sudden allergic reaction. If you’ve got this stuff at home, just put it in a ziploc bag and you’re good. $10
  6. Fire (Lighter AND stormproof matches AND a firestarter)
    1. Lighter: Grab a Mini bic at the grocery store checkout stand, for a couple of bucks
    2. Stormproof matches: This Stormproof Match Kit comes in a case and last forever. $9
    3. Firestarter: Murphy’s Law says it will be raining. Use InstaFire to get the fire going. $8
    4. ***Don’t forget to put it out…dead, cold out…when you leave.***
  7. Repair kit and tools (like a pocket knife)
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (this large size space blanket can fit two people) $8
  11. Communication
    1. For day/weekend hiking, the SPOT is fine. It’s on sale at Cabela’s now, for $90. Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s an insurance policy. If you hike once per month, that’s only $7.50 per month, plus the $20 monthly subscription fee…less than you’ll spend on gas and an after-hike meal.
    2. Cellphone…try this first
    3. The compass/whistle above

Please be safe out there.

Keeping My Journal

Most of the time, I have no signal at all when I’m on the trail. I do have a Delorme inReach satellite communicator, which I can use for brief texts, communication with the family, and Search and Rescue. But, at least for me, there’s no good way to do a daily writeup.

As a 50-something year old hiker, my thumbs just aren’t nimble enough to crank out several paragraphs every day. What I did last year, and which I’ll continue this year, is to record voice memos. I can share far more detail this way, and it’s fun to listen to when I’m back at home. I can hear the rain on the tent, and the rustle of me getting ready for bed.

So what I’ll be doing is posting frequent texts to Facebook, via my inReach. When I have signal, I’ll be able to share a few pictures. But most of my story will be written up at home.

Because my 2016 hike is split into two parts, I’ll be able to share at least some of my entries in mid-August. I don’t know if that’s tantalizing or not, but it will be pretty awesome to write it up and share it with you all.

Two more days and I’ll be on a train…

Preparations

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Dehydrated food. Ziplocs. Recipes. Mail orders. Counting. Averaging. Checking. Checking again. Wondering if my Snickers and M&Ms stash would survive a house of teenage boys (hint…they did). Toiletries, sundries, and meds, oh my. And this was just the resupplies.

You wouldn’t think food would take this much effort, but it’s a balancing act. How many days? How many miles? What’s the elevation gain/loss? Are there any hazards which might slow you down? How much nutrition do you need, and is it (kinda sorta) balanced? Do you have enough calories per ounce (100+ is optimal)? Do you have enough variation so that you won’t go bonkers?

And gear. New pack. New hydration setup. An umbrella (yes, an umbrella). Spraying Permethrin on every piece of clothing, in preparation for the notorious Oregon mosquitoes.

I can’t believe it, but it’s getting close. On Wednesday, Steve is dropping me at the train station, and I’ll head to Eugene. My longtime friend Robin is hosting me for the night, and in the morning she’ll drive me up to Willamette Pass. And then…it’s time for a hike.

Done!

As many of you know, I’ve had my nose to the proverbial grindstone since January. I’m enrolled in a professional certification program at Cascadia College, north of Seattle. I’ve been working on the finer points of mobile app design, web app design, UI, and a lot of programming. I’ve been doing pretty well, and am looking forward to jumping back into the software field in a year and change.

But! Spring quarter has just ended! And I have a total of four weeks in which to prepare, almost from scratch, my 2016 Pacific Crest Trail section hike!

This year my hike will be in two parts. The third week of July will see Steve and I head to Willamette Pass, right about the halfway point on the Oregon PCT. I’ll hike north 240 miles, to Cascade Locks, where I started in 2014. I love connecting the dots!

Then I’ll head home for about ten days, while Steve is away on business. When he returns, I’m heading back to where I left off last summer, just south of Glacier Peak. And from there, it’s off to Manning Park, BC: 175 miles, to the northernmost point on the trail.

The tests are taken, the projects presented, and the books are neatly stacked to one side. Rest Step is in the house!!!

Monday, August 25, 2014, Mile 2203: More Blessed to Give…

At Blue Lake, Mile 2203

I had to reorganize because half my stuff was still wet, so I got another late start. My boots and yesterday’s socks were soaked, so I just put everything on and planned for a day’s worth of squelching.

Got water at the piped spring at 2193; there were six of us hanging out and chatting, including the Warden and Firestarter. Next stop was Crest Horse Camp, 2195.

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Heading up towards Crest Horse Camp Trailhead.

Along this stretch I decided it was time to purvey a little Trail Magic. I pulled all my leftovers from days 1-4, plus all of the food for days 9-10, set it out with a Magic sign, and a note from Rest Step. Within ten minutes, three thrus descended like vultures. They were very grateful, and my pack was noticeably lighter. As were my spirits. Getting closer to that sweet spot, and Trail Magic is wonderful for both the giver and the receiver.

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At Crest TH, I purveyed a little trail magic: putting out a sign, and leaving extra food for hungry and happy thru-hikers.
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Just after the Crest Horse Camp TH…seven miles to my destination.

Entered the Indian Heaven Wilderness this afternoon, and passed Sheep Lake at 2197. At Green Lake, there was a family picking blueberries. I chatted with the youngest daughter, and she described the blueberry pancakes her family would be making. I tried not to drool, but those theoretical pancakes rapidly developed into the stuff of legend.

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Got water at Green Lake, with some creative filtering.
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One of the main trails through the Indian Heaven Wilderness, mile 2199.
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Within the Indian Heaven Wilderness, this style of PCT emblem was used.
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Climbing up the ridge heading toward Blue Lake.
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More rowanberries, this time in red. You can just see Adams peeking through the trees.
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Mt. Adams is getting closer and clearer.

Another handful of miles, and I reached Blue Lake (2203), after a thirteen mile day. I was able to spread out my wet gear, and get things dried out. Even my boots were 95% dry after a couple of hours in the sun. And the pair of socks which were rinsed on Day 3 were dry enough to wear tomorrow.

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From my campsite at Blue Lake.

The Girl Who Goes Alone

I recently discovered this incredible poem from Elizabeth Austen, read by her at Hedgebrook Rises! in 2013. The poem was published as part of her collection EVERY DRESS A DECISION (Blue Begonia Press, 2011). Elizabeth Austen is the Washington State Poet Laureate, 2014-2016.

I dedicate this to the Mighty Hiker Women of the world, especially those who are unsure, and perhaps fearful, but who feel the inexorable pull of the wild places.