Friday, July 26, 2019

Tracks not visible on Garmin inReach

This is a public service announcement. I spent hours trying to figure out why tracks I had imported to didn't show up on either my MAP page, nor my inReach after it had been synced. I finally called inReach and they told me imported tracks would never show. That's why I couldn't see them! They have to be converted to routes. I wish I had been able to find that information before!

Routes are limited to 200 points. One workaround is to break a track or route into multiple segments so the output is more accurate.

More good info can be found for this on the Garmin forum, on the thread Importing Tracks on Device.

Hopefully this issue will be fixed in the future.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Alone in the Fortress of the Bears: Now an Audio Book!

"Living off the land" for seventy days, surviving on only the foods I could harvest myself, was a lifelong dream of mine.

I have now told my story in an audio book, narrated in my own voice.

I had a hard time putting the book down once I began reading. I rationed it by reading only 2 or 3 chapters a day to make it last longer. Some books written in journal or diary style can be a chore to read. Not this one. It's well written and the story flows easily in his matter-of-fact style of writing. It's as if you are alongside Buck. You quiver with anticipation as he pulls up his crab trap to find what is inside. Your heart pounds as he wades through tall grass, having spotted a brown bear just ahead. You tremble with excitement and trepidation as he fights a monster halibut from his inflatable kayak. He intersperses his tale with related experiences from his past which further increases the appeal of this book. If you're an outdoorsman, or if you like tales of adventure or both, you will love this book. Amazon review

Listen today!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

My new Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike audio book!

The story of my thru-hike is now available as an audio book! Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Mexico to Canada is available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes

This books is narrated in my own voice, all the magic and struggle of a five month thru-hike, told like it is.

Please check it out at the above links. You won't be disappointed!

I've read dozens of AT, CDT, and PCT books - this one is by far the best yet! Amazon review.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: My new book!

I am happy to announce my recently released book Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Mexico to Canada!

It's the story of my successful thru-hike of this famous and beautiful route. Enjoy the beauty, the colorful characters, the struggles and the glories of a summer on the trail. Please come along!

Check out the reviews and order!

Friday, September 07, 2018

Alaska Traverse: 2018

This summer I did a second traverse of Alaska, from the Arctic Ocean on the northeast corner of Alaska, down to the Pacific tidewater in southwest Alaska.

Needless to say it was a great adventure. For a route map, photos and journal posts, please visit my website at: 
#alaska #hiking

Sunday, January 29, 2017

My new video: 70 Days "Living off the Land" in Alaska

I have a new highlight video about my 70 days of Alaska wilderness survival, where I only brought salt and pepper. My book about the experience Alone in the Fortress of the Bears, is available here.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

3,323 Miles on the Lewis and Clark Trail

Paddling past the White Cliffs, upper Missouri River
This year, from March 24 thru September 14, I hiked and paddled the westbound route of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Physically, it was one of the most grueling expeditions I've ever tackled, but it was also one of the greatest and most rewarding adventures as well.

One of the best aspects of the journey was variety. For example, I hiked the first 800 miles of the journey, a route that included a pleasant springtime walk along the Katy Trail which parallels the Missouri. Next, I kayaked over 1,500 miles up the Missouri River, the most challenging part of the adventure, especially the days I was fighting both the wind and the current.

Lemhi Pass

From Three Forks, Montana, the head of the Missouri River, I began hiking again. It was thrill to reach Lemhi Pass on the Continental Divide in early August after 2,500 miles of travel. Eight years before I'd crossed this same pass while hiking the CDT.

I began kayaking again near Canoe Camp on the Clearwater River in Idaho. From there it was about 500 more miles down to the Pacific Ocean.

You can see an overview of my journey along with a route map and gear lists, here:

You can read my daily journal and see dozens of highlight photos, here:

Monday, March 21, 2016

Lewis and Clark Trail, 2016

This year I hope to retrace the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I will be starting on Friday, March 25 at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. I will be walking the first part of the Trail until I get to Yankton, South Dakota. My kayak will be waiting there.

The plan is to paddle upstream as far as Three Forks, Montana, or even Twin Bridges. Then I'll follow the L&C route on foot, over Lemhi Pass, Lost Trail Pass and Lolo Pass, and follow the Lolo Trail to Weippe and on to Orofino, Idaho. There I'll get back in my kayak for the trip to the Pacific.

If all goes well, that's about 3,300 miles. You can find more information about my trip, see a map of the route on which I will be posting position updates, and also see a list of gear I will be using, on this page.

Have a good day!

Monday, February 01, 2016

My new book is here! Alone in the Fortress of the Bears 70 Days Surviving Wilderness Alaska: Foraging, Fishing, Hunting

From the back cover: On the last day of June, my bush pilot left me alone and without food in a wilderness rainforest of Southeast Alaska. He would return in September. For the next ten weeks my survival would depend on foraging, hunting and fishing on an island I would share with 1,600 brown bears. This is my story of hunger and solitude, salmon fishing and stormy seas, torrential rains and mountain sunsets, giant halibut and deer hunting, campfires and killer whales. Illustrated with nearly fifty photos and a map.

In the words of one reviewer:
Bruce "Buck Nelson's new book, "Alone in the Fortress of the Bears" is a fascinating account of his 70 day "living off the land" survival trip in southeast Alaska. Few people possess the outdoor survival skills and knowledge necessary for completing such an adventure and fewer still possess the mental and physical fortitude required to put up with the hardships and loneliness encountered on a trip such as this. Buck handles all with apparent ease. I had a hard time putting the book down once I began reading. I rationed it by reading only 2 or 3 chapters a day to make it last longer. Some books written in journal or diary style can be a chore to read. Not this one. It's well written and the story flows easily in his matter-of-fact style of writing. It's as if you are alongside Buck. You quiver with anticipation as he pulls up his crab trap to find what is inside. Your heart pounds as he wades through tall grass, having spotted a brown bear just ahead. You tremble with excitement and trepidation as he fights a monster halibut from his inflatable kayak. He intersperses his tale with related experiences from his past which further increases the appeal of this book. If you're an outdoorsman, or if you like tales of adventure or both, you will love this book.

Satisfaction guaranteed. You will not be disappointed!

You can order a copy directly from me here. If you want it signed, let me know when you order.

If you prefer an ebook, you can order through Amazon at this link.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Living Off the Land in the Fortress of the Bears

From June 30th until September 8th I lived exclusively "off the land" in the  Kootznoowoo Wilderness of southeast Alaska.
I picked berries, ate wild plants and seaweed, fished, caught Dungeness crabs, and hunted. It was an amazing adventure unlike any other I've been on.

Please visit my website to read my journal and learn more about my adventure.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Living Off the Land in Southeast Alaska

Tomorrow, June 30, I am off for a planned 2+ month trip to southeast Alaska. The challenge on this trip is that I won't be bringing any food, I'll rely solely on foraging, fishing and, when season opens, hunting.

I will be primarily on Admiralty Island, also known as "The Fortress of the Bears" with the highest concentration of brown bears in North America.

There is a lot more information on my website, as well as a link to my journal which I hope to update periodically. You'll also find a link to my gear list.

I'm off. Have a great summer!

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Year so Far

It's been a good and relatively mellow year. It was a late, cold spring, a warm and beautiful summer, and an unusually colorful fall. Now the leaves are down and we are heading into winter in Fairbanks.

Recently I have been alternating "Big Adventure" years.
In 2006 I hiked and paddles across Alaska on my Brooks Range Traverse.
In 2008 I hiked the Continental Divide Trail,
In 2010 the big adventure was the Pacific Crest Trail,
And in 2012 I hiked the Desert Trail and canoed the Yellowstone River.

"Variety is the spice of life" as they say, and this was a year for smaller adventures. For two months in the spring I was back at the family farm making maple syrup. In late June my old smokejumper buddy Griff came up for a week-long fishing trip for char, rainbow and king salmon. I went sheep hunting in the Brooks Range in August.

Early in the year I completely revamped my website. It was a big project. Please have a look! I put together slideshows of each of the thru-hikes above which you can see at those links. This summer my nieces Angie and Jess were up for a week. We visited Denali, saw the Yukon River and drove up to the Arctic Circle.

My little cabin home saw some improvements, including a nice new window looking out into the birch and spruce, fresh paint and new flooring. Quality of life things that are satisfying to have done.

I recently got back to work on my book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I write off and on but it's a project I will complete one day.

If you would so kind, please consider starting all your Amazon shopping at the links provided on the right side of my blog and website pages. Your costs and shopping experience will be exactly the same, but Amazon will anonymously credit me a small % of your order total, which will significantly support my blog and website. Thanks!

Happy adventuring to everyone!

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Backpacker Giardia: Debunking a Skeptical Paper

Water on the Desert Trail: Mexico to Canada

The paper Giardiasis as a threat to backpackers in the United States: a survey of state health departments (Welch TR, Welch TP) contains this statement: Thus, neither health department surveillance nor the medical literature support the widely held perception that giardiasis is a significant risk to backpackers in the United States. In some respects, this situation resembles that recently described by Campbell and Smith in reference to shark attacks [18]: an extraordinarily rare event to which the public and the press have seemingly devoted inappropriate attention.

That conclusion is convincing, misleading, and untrue. In Risk of Giardiasis from Consumption of Wilderness Water in North America: A Systematic Review of Epidemiologic Data, Welch, TP himself says: Published reports of confirmed giardiasis among outdoor recreationists clearly demonstrate a high incidence among this population.

A good example of the laughable research in this paper is this sentence: Giardiasis and similar enteric illnesses in developed nations are overwhelmingly spread by direct fecal-oral or food-borne transmission, not by contaminated drinking water. Verifiable facts from unbiased sources say just the opposite. Giardiasis outbreaks in the United States, 1971–2011 found 98% of individual cases were waterborne, and 2.1% were foodborne or person-to-person.

Another example of the easily disprovable "research" in this paper is this statement: Only two departments considered water-associated giardiasis to be a problem for backpackers in their jurisdiction, and neither had any data to support this concern. Baloney. Only two departments? No data? Nearly all the states I just looked up clearly contradict this "research". Here is just the tip of the iceberg:

"In Wyoming, [Department of Health] officials see cases of giardiasis in people who drink untreated water from streams, lakes or reservoirs

Minnesota Department of Health: This was a waterborne outbreak of giardiasis associated with drinking surface water at multiple points along a hiking trail.

Montana Department of Public Health: On average, there are close to 200 cases of cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis reported in Montana every year. Of those who reported risk, 51% of cases had recreational water exposure or drank untreated water in the days before they became ill.

 Washington Department of Social and Health Services: "Clusters of [Washington giardia] cases were linked to... backpacker groups... Factors which appeared to put a person at increased risk included consumption of untreated water.

Oregon Public Health Division: During 2016, 99% of the [Oregon] cases were reported as “sporadic” Rates of [giardia] infection tend to be higher in the summer months with transmission related to outdoor activities in or near untreated water... Do not drink untreated surface water.

Below are just some of the studies refute the authors' claim that medical literature does not support the perception (waterborne) transmission of giardia for backcountry travelers is a significant risk:

Giardiasis in Colorado: an epidemiologic study
"drinking untreated mountain water is an important cause of endemic infection"

An outbreak of giardiasis in a group of campers
"These surveys show that campers exposed to mountain stream water are at risk of acquiring giardiasis."

Factors associated with acquiring giardiasis in British Columbia residents "the authors concluded that consumption of local water while participating in outdoor activities, such as camping, was associated with a higher risk of giardiasis than in controls who participated in such activities but did not ingest local waters."

Acute Giardiasis: An Improved Clinical Case Definition for Epidemiologic Studies
"an outbreak of waterborne giardiasis occurred in a group of 93 university students and faculty participating in a geology field course in Colorado. All cases occurred in one subgroup of persons who were heavily exposed to untreated stream water on a field trip, and the risk of illness was strongly related to the amount of untreated stream water consumed."

Giardia Prevalence among 1-to-3-Year-Old Children in Two Washington State Counties
 "Significant increases in [giardiasis] prevalence were observed, however, if the child had a history of drinking untreated surface water (from streams or lakes during recreational activities)"
While the EPA, FDA, CDC and the Mayo Clinic say that waterborne giardiasis for backpackers is a concern, this paper claims hygiene is the primary culprit for giardiasis in backpackers while implying there is little if any risk from waterborne transmission. If Drs. Welch or anyone else knows of studies that support that claim, similar to the above, I hope someone will point me to them and I will include a link. I have already debunked the well known Rockwell paper, and part of the paper being discussed now, here.

This paper says: Nineteen of these outbreaks were attributed to consumption of contaminated drinking water; only two outbreaks were reported among individuals identified as campers or backpackers From that it would be easy to conclude that giardia must not be very dangerous to backpackers. However, an outbreak is "the occurrence of cases of disease in excess of what would normally be expected in a defined community, geographical area or season." Backpackers are commonly treated for giardiasis, so it rarely gets reported as an outbreak. Why ask a question in a survey which will guarantee misleading results?

"Several backpackers appear weekly at Centinela Mammoth Hospital in Mammoth Lakes sick enough with giardiasis to need urgent care," said Dr. Jack Bertman, an emergency physician, who noted, "We publicize it a great deal more in Mammoth." As rare as shark attack Dr. Welch? How many cases of Giardiasis were reported in that county (Modoc) in 2008-2010? Zero. Including my case. In that single county backpacker giardiasis was, technically, infinitely under-reported.

Actually, approximately 99% of giardiasis cases go unreported (based on official reported figures vs estimated infection rates) By extrapolating reported rates of cases vs unreported, and camper/backpacker outbreaks vs other outbreaks, I come up with a number of 62,000 giardiasis cases a year for waterborne transmission in the backcountry. Fuzzy numbers? Absolutely, but much more reflective of reality that the “2 outbreaks a year” reported in this paper.

This paper says It appears to be common wisdom among outdoor recreationists in the United States that there is widespread fecal contamination of wilderness waters. That common wisdom is proven: (Giardia) Cysts have been found all months of the year in surface waters from the Arctic to the tropics in even the most pristine of surface waters.

Attempting to refute An outbreak of giardiasis in a group of campers the paper says No cysts were identified in suspect water, Well, the water testing filter didn’t work.  Doesn't that seem relevant to mention in a scientific paper?

The paper goes on to say. there was no association between water consumption rates and the likelihood of disease. The authors discounted food or fecal-oral spread, commenting that the former had never been reported. To quote from that paper's abstract: The temporal distribution of cases and the absence of clustering among food preparation subgroups suggested a common source exposure. They discounted food preparation for good reason, because it didn’t correlate to food sharing groups! It DID correlate to one common source, the drinking water. And water consumption rates?? Was there a correlation between food consumption rates and infection? Apparently not. The conclusion of water-borne giardiasis made sense then, and it makes sense now.

There is an even more egregious "mistake" in Giardiasis from Wilderness Water. Citing Giardiasis in Colorado: an epidemiologic study it says Responses indicated that 38% of cases vs 18% of controls had camped overnight in backcountry areas. He ignores the very next line in the abstract to that paper which says and drank untreated mountain water (50% vs. 17%.) There it is, in black and white. The infection rate was TRIPLE for drinking untreated mountain water in this large group. I think it's a great example of confirmation bias and is bad science, at best.

The paper goes on to say: An excellent effort at such a study, however, was recently reported by ZelI and Sorenson [17]. Although 16% of a cohort they studied developed transient gastrointestinal illness following a visit to an area of high use, none developed symptomatic giardiasis. I agree  that it is one of the very best studies of it’s kind. However, what the authors don't say is that one person was empirically diagnosed with giardiasis, was treated, and quickly recovered. Historically, giardiasis was often not detected with a single test. Two more people tested positive for giardia but were asymptomatic at the time of the last test. Many giardiasis cases are asymptomatic. So it is certain at least 5.7% got Giardia, and it seems more than likely that 3 of 35 got giardia, for a total of 8 1/2%. On a SINGLE TRIP. To me, the authors went far beyond a little spin in trying to make a point.

The CDC SPECIFICALLY cited a TR Welch paper and said Although the advice to universally filter and disinfect backcountry drinking water to prevent disease has been debated (62), the health consequences of ignoring that standard water treatment advice have been documented in WBDOSS [Waterborne Disease and Outbreaks Associated with Drinking Water and Water]  In other words, there is documentation, with data, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that Dr. Welch is wrong.

My conclusion: Giardiasis as a threat to backpackers in the United States: a survey of state health departments is deeply flawed and misleading for the reasons outlined. For backpackers, there is more scientific evidence to support the spread of Giardiasis through water than there is through hygiene. That said, there is good scientific evidence that hygiene plays a significant role in gastrointestinal health for outdoors people. Logic tells me there are some cases of giardiasis in the backpacker community as the result of poor hygiene despite lack of studies to properly support that claim. Having been diagnosed with giardiasis three times, I am treating my water and washing my hands. Others are welcome to make their own risk assessment.
[Note, there are two authors named Dr. Welch who have written on giardiasis. Welch, TR, and Welch, TP. I've attempted to keep them straight in this blog post.]

Please click the like button if you like this article. I invite your comments and corrections. Have a great hike!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Canoeing Down the Yellowstone River

Yesterday afternoon I completed a canoe trip down the Yellowstone. It was a very fun trip. I had no schedule, the fishing was good and varied, and resupply was easy. The Yellowstone is a beautiful river.

Its about 557 miles from Gardiner, Montana to the Missouri River in North Dakota. Jim Griffin and I launched at McConnell Landing just below Gardiner, and used a raft to run Yankee Jim Canyon. At the fairly low water levels at the time we found it to be fairly easy with a raft. It can be dangerous at higher water levels or in a canoe or for inexperienced rafters.

I had read the Yellowstone is safe below Yankee Jim Canyon for competent beginner canoers. Untrue. Beginners would end up in the water because there are many rapids, some with tight corners and standing waves plenty high to swamp a canoe. I am not a whitewater canoeing expert but have lots of canoeing experience. I nearly swamped the canoe once. Other places were exciting but I made it fine. Most of the river was a piece of cake with relatively warm water this late in the year and moderate water levels.

There are also several diversion dams. I only had to portage one. The others I lined or took side channels around. It's important to stay alert for these dams!

I did lots of fishing. There were rainbows and brown trout up high, down to Laurel or so. I caught smallmouth bass in mid-river, and catfish, goldeye, drum, sauger and carp from mid-river to the confluence. Sight-fishing for carp with flyfishing gear was really fun. They are smart and strong! Don't forget to pinch the hook barbs for all fishing:

It was easy to find places to camp. In Montana you can legally camp below high water mark. There was also public land in places including BLM, and fishing access sites which sometimes allow camping. I resupplied in places like Columbus, Forsyth, Miles City, and Glendive.

Wildlife was plentiful: mule deer and whitetail, elk, beaver and mink, eagles, ospreys, pelicans and geese. The scenery was awesome, big mountains up high, with bluffs further down.

Most of the river has a good current. It took me 23 days including lots of fishing. There was considerable wind at times, as often as not a tailwind. When the winds were especially bad I'd stop and make camp early. Nice!

The Yellowstone is a very historical river too. It was interesting to see Captain Clark's signature at Pompey's Pillar where there is also a nice visitor's center. There is also a great museum at the confluence, Fort Union.

I plan to expand this entry as time allows. If you have questions, please ask!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thru-Paddle of the Yellowstone River

Today I leave on a trip down the Yellowstone River with my old smokejumper buddy Jim Griffin. We will raft from the Park boundary to Livingston, Montana and from there I will continue by canoe to where the Yellowstone runs into the Missouri River just across the Montana/North Dakota border.

Completed the Desert Trail!

I finished my hike of the Desert Trail, Mexico to Canada, on July 11, 2012. It was a wonderful adventure. You can read my journal and see many photos here. A big thanks to all those who worked to make the trail a reality. If you are thinking of hiking the Desert Trail yourself, feel free to ask questions here.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Upcoming Thru-Hike: The Desert Trail

This summer I will be attempting another long hike, this time along the Desert Trail. The Desert Trail starts on the Mexico/California border, and runs over 1,500 miles northward through Death Valley and then through western Nevada and into Oregon.

From the end of the designated trail I've laid out my own route through the Blue Mountains and eastern Washington, then along the Washington/Idaho border, finishing at the border of Canada for a total of about 2,500 miles.

This route will rely on many water and food caches, especially in the south. Along with long stretches of true desert there will be many miles of forested mountains and even a few walks through towns. The cactus photo was taken on the PCT near Scissors Crossing, just a few miles from the Desert Trail at that point.

You can find more information and a map on my website and follow my trail journal.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Golden Wolf

Sometimes in the outdoors there are extraordinary experiences that stand out, and even when they are happening you realize it's something never to be forgotten.

Recently on my trip to the North Slope, I was driving down the Haul Road and saw a wolf in the distance, trotting across the tundra and angling towards the road. I grabbed my camera, rolled down the window, and tried to time our convergence for a good photo. As he drew nearer I was surprised to see his color, a beautiful shade of gold that I'd never seen before in a wolf. He trotted along confidently as I took a few photos. When I stopped he became suspicious and quickly loped across the deserted gravel road and trotted across the tundra on the other side, stopping to pounce upon a mouse. He scanned the countryside as he slowly disappeared in the distance.

The next day I was far off the road, glassing the open hills and creek bottoms for caribou. When I lowered my binoculars, a white dot moved across a hillside well over a mile away: a wolf. Through my binoculars I watched as he angled my way. Leaving my hilltop I kept an eye on him as I moved to intercept his route. When he got to the creek he jumped on something, rolling around in the high grass, appearing and disappearing, his bushy tail flipping in the air from time to time. He'd be gone for a bit, then his head would pop up again. When he headed upstream and disappeared into the willows he was still a mile away. As I hurried along for another look I continued to look around, and was startled to see him suddenly trotting behind me, through the knee-high willows only a hundred yards or so away.

It took a moment to realize what I was seeing. The light was different, but I realized he wasn't white at all, but a pale yellow. It HAD to be the same wolf. When we made eye contact he paused for moment, then turned to run. The distinctive black spot on his tail confirmed his identity. When he stopped again to gauge my reaction it's as if he recognized me, too. Then he loped away over the hilltop and was gone.

Our last encounter had been about fifteen miles away as the crow flies. What were the odds that he would have changed direction after that first meeting, and come directly to me for another rendezvous the very next day? I suppose there was no reason or explanation, it just was.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Return to the North Slope of the Brooks Range

Late last night I returned from a wonderful experience. Leaving Sunday I made the long drive north, up the Haul Road and over the crest of the Brooks Range towards Deadhorse. Fall colors were just past their peak in Fairbanks, but in the 400 mile drive ebbed to the faded reds and browns of late fall, with the leaves all fallen. The higher elevations of the Brooks Range were dusted with new snows. Atigun Pass was already deep with winter snow and ice. On the north side of the pass there were many snow-white Dall sheep feeding just below snow line. A fat grizzly bear loped down the mountainside just beyond.

In another hour a few scattered caribou appeared here and there. I was completely out of game meat in Fairbanks and was looking for a caribou to fill my freezer. Rifle hunters must be 5 miles off the Haul Road to hunt. It's a good rule and one that dramatically reduces hunting pressure. Just before nightfall I set up my camp just over 5 miles from the road. Early the next morning I climbed to a hilltop overlooking several little lakes and streams, with the higher hills beyond mostly hidden by low-lying clouds.

In late morning I had a remarkable encounter with a wolf I recognized, (a story I'll save for another time.) Around 1 PM I spotted a band of caribou about 1-1/2 miles a way: cows, calves and young bulls. They disappeared for a while and next time I looked they had been replaced by a half dozen magnificent mature bulls, their manes white against the tundra. It can be hard to catch up with moving caribou, but you never know when they might bed down. As luck would have it, they did.

When I carefully crested the gently sloped ridge they were still bedded, with one or two occasionally rising to feed before lying down again. The other band of caribou appeared on the low ridge above. When it looked like they were heading toward the creek, I crawled back out of sight and moved to cut them off, but they bedded again. Finally after the third long crawl I was within shooting distance. When my selected bull was clear it was a quick, clean kill and he was down. The other caribou scattered when I stood up, a small forest of swaying antlers.

It was hard work getting him out, but well worth it. What a treasure to have a place like that left in the world: truly wild animals and the sweep of beautiful lonely wilderness. How many places can a person set out alone from their front door and see moose, wolf, Dall sheep, caribou and grizzly on trip of a few days? What is it worth to have the opportunity to experience it?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Remote Alaska Homestead

A few months ago I stumbled across an ad for a remote Alaska homestead, 39 acres, no road access, about 20 miles south of Denali National Park. "1500 feet of creek frontage - large stream with plenty of fishing" the ad said, "This is a complete turn-key homestead...SkiDoo Tundra in good running condition. However, bears chewed the gas tank off." I looked it up on Google Earth. The access was flying to a lake about a mile from the cabins.

I contacted the fellow with some questions about the shape of the cabin, hunting, fishing and hiking opportunities and whatnot. The lake was unlandable that time of year, in May, with mushy ice. It's usually unwise to buy land sight unseen, but after doing what research I could, I decided to take a chance.

It wasn't until August 3rd that I could fly out there. The pilot landed the small Super Cub, and it took only a minute or so to unload my small pile of gear and then he flew away. It would be more than three weeks before I saw another person.

That area is thick country compared to Fairbanks, with patches of alders and devil's club along with birch and spruce. But there was a flagged trail laid out to the cabin and in less than an hour I entered a meadow of fireweed in full bloom and caught my first sight of the cabin.

I was excited but had mixed emotions. Most truly remote cabins have debris around. It's a lot of work and expensive to fly things back out, and you never know what might be useful. Plus it's not like you need to impress people dropping by. There were broken sleds and tattered tarps and bear-chewed gas cans and more around the cabin. 2/3 of the tarp roof of one cache was in tatters with the tools exposed to the rain. The roof had partially collapsed on the second shed, with hundreds of pounds of rainwater in a giant pool crushing down what was left. Outside the rain poured down from a dreary sky and at that moment I was unsure of how good of a deal I'd gotten.

After packing the second and final load of my supplies to the cabin I got into dry clothes and rolled out my sleeping bag and read the rest of the day. The rain pattered on the good steel roof of the cabin. A good roof was a big plus.

The next day I repaired the roof of the small cache and drained the water off the second shed. The day after I cut and peeled some spruce poles for the roof and soon the second shed was also waterproof. Each day things took shape a little more as I explored, cleaned and organized. Unexpectedly there was a 10 gauge double-barreled shotgun there, "loaded for bear" with slugs. Also a .22 rifle and a bow. Fishing rods, hand saws, several chain saws, axes, at least a hundred pounds of assorted nails and screws, a brush cutter, lots of food, rain gear, boots, hundreds of books, radios, clothing, a solar system, a generator and much more. It was fun discovering new stuff. The original homesteader had truly accomplished a staggering amount of work building that cabin and homestead in that remote area.

I would listen to the radio almost all day as I worked. There was a long wire serving as an antenna so reception was perfect. The solar panel powered the radio. When two sunny days were predicted, I left in the morning on an expedition to climb a mountain peak about 6 miles away. It was a tough walk at times. But I found an old cabin and when I finally made the summit of that mountain late that evening there were stunning views of the Alaska Range, including Foraker and McKinley.

At the end of three weeks at the cabin things were neatly organized and it was time to head home. There were already claw and bite marks from grizzly and black bears around the corners of the cabin, so I made several "nail boards" with nails sticking out every which way and nailed them over the front door to discourage bears from breaking in.

I packed my inflatable kayak down the creek a ways and then inflated it and paddled and dragged down to the first confluence. There I could see salmon in the pool. Right off the bat I caught a big rainbow trout, then a silver salmon and a chum salmon and grayling.

Shortly after continuing I found a moose antler in the creek, and shortly thereafter another on a gravel bar next to a pool full of salmon.

I had many portages to do around and over logs, but otherwise made steady progress. What a beautiful little creek. The next day I made it down to the Yentna River. Near the mouth of the river I began seeing seals that had swum up the Susitna River after the salmon. As I began deflating my kayak a power boat was coming down river so I held up my "Willow" (a small town) sign and he swung over and gave me ride up the river and into Willow which was right on his way. For his kindness I donated some gas money. In the bush people really do look out for each other.

It turned out to be a great adventure and I look forward to returning. I'd like to thank Frank, the original owner, for the huge amount of work he did building that homestead, and for his generous advice based on his years of hard-won experience in wilderness homesteading.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Waterborne Giardia for Backpackers: No Myth

Years ago I twice contracted Giardiasis, in consecutive years. Since the second time I have been very careful about treating water, and had no trouble for many years. However, before I left on my five month thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail last year, I read this article. Giardia lamblia and Giardiasis With Particular Attention to the Sierra Nevada. It made a very convincing case that the odds of getting Giardia from backcountry drinking water was so low it didn't pay to worry about, at least in the High Sierras, as long as some attempt was made to select water sources. Instead, a focus on hygiene was stressed. So on the PCT I usually didn't treat my water. But I was the most careful I've ever been with hygiene in the outdoors. Unfortunately I got so sick in the Sierras that I was curled up on a mountainside, and it took me most of a day to make it the four miles (only four, luckily) to the nearest road. I partially recovered, after a full day of rest, then a week later became very sick again. Luckily I was at Mammoth Lakes. My physician diagnosed Giardia. He told me he treats many backpacker Giardia cases and doesn't report it. He laughed when I told him about the article I read. Other hikers have told me their doctors told them the same. A cursory scanning of Pacific Crest Trail sources shows about 12 thru-hikers a year (out of around 300) report getting giardiasis. And despite statements to the contrary, most are diagnosed by lab tests and/or physicians. With 2/3 of people being asymptomatic, the true number is likely much higher.

Here are some undisputed facts. Giardia is very common. There are about 2 ½ million cases a year in the United States. Giardia cysts may be ingested with contaminated food or water, or acquired from unwashed hands. Most sickness experienced by backpackers is undoubtedly caused by things other than Giardia. The incubation period of Giardia is usually 3 to 25 days or longer.

What are the odds of getting Giardia while out backpacking? Anecdotal evidence is extremely undependable, but here are two relevant studies:

Twenty-five...campers had stools examined before and after a subsequent hiking trip in another area of Utah; none had Giardia cysts before, but 6 (24%) had them after return. This source goes on to say Questionnaires returned by 133 of the campers showed that 5% had an illness compatible with giardiasis within 2 weeks after their trip. These surveys show that campers exposed to mountain stream water are at risk of acquiring giardiasis.

In another excellent study, 2 of 35 people got Giardia, but were asymptomatic. A third had Giardia symptoms, was treated for Giardia, and quickly recovered. Giardia is often not detected with a single test. So it is certain at least 5.7% got Giardia, and it seems more than likely that 3 of 35 got Giardia, for a total of 8 1/2%.

Another study shows a strong correlation between not treating mountain water and getting Giardia:

A one-year retrospective laboratory survey in Colorado revealed that 691 (3%) of 22,743 stool examinations for ova and parasites were positive for Giardia lamblia, a higher percentage than that reported from surveys outside of Colorado. The majority of infected residents who were surveyed had experienced an episode of chronic watery diarrhea (median duration 3.8 weeks) with bloating, flatulence, and weight loss (averaging 5.1 kg), and had responded to a course of metronidazole or quinacrine. A statewide telephone survey of 256 cases and matched controls identified: 1) and increased incidence of giardiasis in persons between the ages of 16 and 45, p less than .001, with males and females equally affected; and 2) a higher proportion of cases than controls who visited Colorado mountains (69% vs. 47%), camped out overnight (38% vs. 18%), and drank untreated mountain water (50% vs. 17%), p less than .001. Also identified was a correlation between the seasonal distribution of cases and degree of fecal contamination of mountain streams. These results indicated that G. lamblia is endemic in Colorado and that drinking untreated mountain water is an important cause of endemic infection.

(Note, after I wrote this post I ran a poll on the Alaska Outdoors Forum. That poll also showed that people who didn't treat water contracted Giardiasis about 3 times as often. What actually happens in the real world trumps theories of what should be happening.)

The skeptics of waterborne Giardia transmission for backpackers tend to rely on the low numbers of cysts usually shown in backcountry drinking water, and statements to the effect that 10 or even 20 cysts are required for an “infectious dose.” But those statements are all based on one very limited study, (cited in Waterborne Transmission Of Giardiasis Proceedings Of A Symposium Held At Cincinnati Ohio On Sept 18-20, 1978 starting on page 64) a key part of which is shown below:

There is no biological reason why single cysts of Giardia would not also be infectious. The FDA says: one or more cysts may cause disease. One cyst compared to the 10 cysts Rockwell used to calculate the risk for water in the Sierra. By the time Zell did his study a few years later they were adjusting  for a cyst recovery rate of only 10%. If  we similarly adjust Rockwell's cited cyst counts and change the minimum infectious dose to one, that's two orders of magnitude! Something to ponder is that An infected person might shed 1-10 billion cysts daily in their feces...

The people who claim to have drank untreated water for years without getting sick are probably right. About 2/3 of Giardia carriers are asymptomatic. Others are lucky or resistent. Nonetheless, getting Giardia in the backcountry is very common.

Anyone may become infected with Giardia. However, those at greatest risk are:
(Giardia) Cysts have been found all months of the year in surface waters from the Arctic to the tropics in even the most pristine of surface waters...In Wisconsin, Archer et al (1995) found that all 18 streams sampled were positive for Giardia; the highest level was 2,601 cysts/100 L from a stream characterized as pristine.
That's 26 cysts per liter. In other words, you'd probably get Giardia if you were drinking from that stream. The EPA goes on to say Hancock et al. (1997) collected 463 groundwater samples from 199 sites in 23 states in the United States; Giardia cysts were found in 14% of the springs. Pick your water sources and you'll be safe? Maybe not.

One of the most egregiously misleading papers I've seen on this topic is Giardiasis as a threat to backpackers in the United States : a survey of state health departments
As quoted by Robert Rockwell: “Neither health department surveillance nor the medical literature supports the widely held perception that giardiasis is a significant risk to backpackers in the United States. In some respects, this situation resembles (the threat to beachgoers of) a shark attack: an extraordinarily rare event to which the public and press have seemingly devoted inappropriate attention.”

Giardiasis is widely under-reported because backpackers and campers normally seek medical attention one at a time... "Several backpackers appear weekly at Centinela Mammoth Hospital in Mammoth Lakes sick enough with giardiasis to need urgent care, said Dr. Jack Bertman, an emergency physician, who noted, 'We publicize it a great deal more in Mammoth.' " As rare as shark attack Dr. Welch? You know how many cases of Giardiasis were reported in that county (Modoc) in 2008-2010? Zero. Including my case. In that single county backpacker giardiasis was, technically, infininitely under-reported.

Welch looked at outbreaks. He says Nineteen of these outbreaks were attributed to consumption of contaminated drinking water; only two outbreaks were reported among individuals identified as campers or backpackers Giardiasis, although common among backpackers, rarely meets the definition of an outbreak. The Welch paper is very, very misleading. In Rockwell's paper he says this about water in the Sierra: One conclusion of this paper is that you can indeed contract giardiasis on visits to the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada, but it almost certainly won’t be from the water. So drink freely and confidently. From a more recent survey in the high Sierra which included seemingly pristine water: Nowhere is the water dirtier, he discovered, than on U.S. Forest Service land, including wilderness areas, where beef cattle and commercial pack stock — horses and mules — graze during the summer. There, bacterial contamination was easily high enough to sicken hikers with Giardia, E. coli and other diseases." "Drink freely" is bad advice.

A major theme in the Rockwell paper is that Sierra water on average is purer than San Francisco and LA water. Except for two big factors:  these cities filter and/or treat their water supplies, so they are undoubtedly much safer than untreated Sierra water. And hikers don't drink an "average" canteen of water. Their water bottle might contain no Giardia cysts, or they might get enough cysts to send them to the hospital. Been there, done that, more than once. Won't do it again.

It's also important to recognize there are other protozoa, viruses and bacteria that can and have sickened backcountry travelers drinking untreated water. Some people have gotten by for long periods of time without treating, but the odds have a way with catching up with people. Here's a quote from an article about Scott Williamson, who has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail 13 times or more (!!!) Williamson does not filter or treat his water. 'I’ve been sick multiple times, I have had giardia…' (and then he ticks off a list of other parasites, but your trusty reporter was too dumbfounded to write them all down).'I am very selective about my water. If it looks like a heavily used area I will try to find cleaner water, but I have had to drink some nasty water. It saves time, I just dip and drink.' He does add, 'If you don’t want to be sick at some point, you have to always treat your water.'

Although giardiasis makes some people very sick indeed, it is treatable. If I somehow got in a position where I had a choice between drinking suspect water or getting dangerously dehydrated, I'd choose the former. Most stomach upsets resulting from backpacking are not Giardia, and hand washing before eating is important.

You should make your own choices about water treatment, but it's important to realize that the risks of getting Giardia from backcountry water are no myth.

Please comment with your corrections and feedback. I will edit this article as needed. If you like this article, please click the “Like” button!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Bears: Should you be afraid?

(Grizzly rushes towards me in Alone Across Alaska.)
What are your odds of being killed by a bear? Incredibly low. So low that it's not something to worry about. What are the facts backing up that statement? Since interest, or perhaps morbid obsession, with fatal bear attacks is so high, Wikipedia actually gives a reasonably good idea of the recent numbers because people rush to list "another bear attack." According to Wikipedia, in the 2000's black bears killed 15 people in NORTH AMERICA (including Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.) Grizzlies killed 12 people during that same period, for a total of 27. For the 90's Wikipedia lists 23 fatal attacks. Dr. Stephen Herrero, a leading authority on human/bear conflicts, says 29 people were killed by bears in North America in the 1990s. In other words, less than three people are killed in North America by bears each year over the last 20 years. And that includes all the countless people in all of the most theoretically dangerous places: Yellowstone, Denali, BC, Alberta, the Yukon, Glacier.

To put things in perspective, about 2 3/4 MILLION people die each year of all causes in the U.S. and Canada. That's well over 7,000 people every day. Other causes are about ONE MILLION TIMES more likely to kill you than bears. So why are people scared of bears? Partly because every fatal bear attack gets huge news coverage. Partly because people are instinctively afraid of bears and the unknown and the unfamiliar. This article helps explain our bear fear (thanks to SouthMark on

Death Rates in the U.S. (note, these are all from recent years, mostly from 2007)
With about 16,929 murders a year in the US and Canada combined out of a total population of about 334,000,000, about 1 out of 19,625 people will be a murderer in a given year.

With about 3 fatal bear attacks per year in the US and Canada combined, and about 660,000 bears in the US and Canada total, about 1 out of 220,000 bears will be "murderers" in a given year.

In Stephen Herrero's great book Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance (revised edition) he says this: Bear attacks are rare events. I told her that in North America there are an estimated six hundred thousand black bears and sixty thousand grizzly bears. Each year there are millions of times in which each species is close to people and no threat or injury results... I hate to see people's lives crippled by fear based on ignorance.

So what should you do with this information? Follow a few simple precautions and simply enjoy your trip into bear country. Trust me, you'll be fine. (Oh, and by the way, that grizzly bear in the photo rushed towards me until it smelled me, then turned and ran.)

If you like this post, I hope you'll click the "Like" button below, and spread the word! Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Monday, January 17, 2011

January in the Alaskan Interior

It's still dark and 34 below this morning. Yesterday I drove down to Cantwell and back. There were beautiful views of Denali. Just west of Fairbanks I took these two photos.

As I mentioned in a post a year ago, Denali, at about 160 miles from Fairbanks, should be mostly hidden by the curvature of the earth and barely appear above the horizon. But on a day like yesterday, atmospheric conditions allow the mountain to "jump" above the horizon. Notice how the mountain on the right, probably Mt. Foraker, has "grown" and changed shape in the second photo, taken minutes later from a few miles further down the road. One advantage to the days this far north is that the low sun provides beautiful light from sunrise to sunset.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Back in Alaska

I'm back in Alaska. What an epic summer it was! This photo is of a sunrise on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington last September. I just posted an update on my PCT webpage. Please check it out!

After the PCT I spent several wonderful weeks in southwest Montana and northern Wyoming, including an awesome week of Indian summer in Yellowstone. One of my favorite parts of the trip was a float down the Big Hole and Jefferson Rivers in October, when the colors were still nice and there was virtually no one else on the river. I also spent a couple of weeks in Minnesota hunting with the family as well as visiting friends and family. It was really fun. I hope you are enjoying your fall, wherever you may be.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pacific Crest Trail hike completed!

I reached the border on a rainy/snowy day, at about 12:15 Pacific Time yesterday, September 20. The fall colors were spectacular, but it was likely the coldest, wettest day of the entire hike. A hiker that came into Manning Park a few hours behind me said he had ankle deep snow by the time he got off the crest, while the snow was melting as it fell while I was there. So, I'm happy to say, I beat the fall snows.

The hike was an unforgettable experience. I will be updating my website in a few days with more stories, photos, and reflections. I hope you'll check it out!

Thanks to everyone for your support during my summer on the trail!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Pacific Crest Trail: Snowqualmie Pass. 2403 Miles Completed, 254 Miles Left!

The miles have been flying by. Fall hit the Pacific Crest Trail for me in the Three Sisters area. The weather has been much cooler, and the fall colors have been coming on strong. I have been averaging about 25 miles a day for weeks now. The days are getting shorter but I'm packing up as the sky starts getting gray in the morning, and hiking fairly steadily with fairly short breaks until near dark. For me, that means actually starting my walk around 6:30 and stopping to set up my tent sometime before 8 PM.

My old (as in from past years) smokejumper buddies Mike Fitzpatrick and Steve Dickenson met me at Timberline Lodge on the base of Mt. Hood. Mike treated me to a great buffet there while we exchanged a long string of smokejumper stories. The tales kept on coming as we headed to Steve's house, where he made us a great dinner. It was really fun to see those guys.

By chance, I ended up in Cascade Locks for "Hiker Days." It was really fun to see many thru-hikers I know from the trail, many of whom I hadn't seen for hundreds of miles. There was a big raffle. I'd got a pile of tickets as a way to donate to PCTA and ended up winning a backpack, a bear canister, and a wool hat!

Not surprisingly, perhaps, there have been several days of rain here in Washington. Yesterday was a real soaker. A big plus is the fall colors are getting very bright now. The huckleberry bushes are thick and there are all the berries I want it many places. There are also blackberries in places and even raspberries and thimbleberries.

One evening I had a beautiful camp at the base of Mt. Adams. In the evening, the orange alpine glow on my camp and the mountain is something I'll never forget. St. Helens in the distance and the looming Rainier have added to the backdrop of the hike.

The Goat Rocks Wilderness was as beautiful as described, rugged and still snowy in stretches. I hit the "Knife Edge" area early in the morning while the snow was frozen and had to use a rock to chop steps across an especially steep section. Later in the day when the snow was soft it would have been no problem.

Three days ago I ended up Urich Cabin along the trail. I finally caught up with Wyoming, my hiking partner from earlier this summer. It was really fun to see her and catch up on the news. Also there were several more thru-hikers there. Dicentra, author of a backpacker cookbook, and her friend Hoosier Daddy were there with "trail magic." We had some great chili that evening and pancakes in the morning! Magic Man had brought Krispy Creme Donuts, too. What a feast!

I've seen mountain goats in places, deer of course, and many elk recently. One foggy morning a few days ago I heard the first bull elk bugling. And this being Washington in September, it's not surprising that there has been plenty of rain. It rained nearly all day yesterday, and when it wasn't raining it was still soaking wet with the huckleberry bushes crowding the trail and the trees dripping down. Basically, I am often soaked below the waist all day long, damp above the waist, and toasty warm and dry at night, when I sleep soundly about nine hours a night.

My smokejumper bro Rod Dow met me at White Pass and brought me a hot meal and four days of smokejumper food, all of it "his treat." His generosity has continues as he picked me up at Snowqualmie Pass and I'm now at his house here an hour east of the trail. More smokejumper tales, and plenty of belly laughs.

There is some fairly steep and likely wet hiking ahead, but if things go well I'll finish the trail around September 21 or thereabouts. It's been a grand adventure, but at this point most of us are pushing towards Canada to reach our goal and to limit the amount of rain, or snow we are likely to experience. I'll post on my website in the future with more photos and stories and a hike wrap-up.

Enjoy your day!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pacific Crest Trail: Bend, OR. 1962 Miles.

I just updated my website. The hike is going great. Check it out!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Pacific Crest Trail: California Completed!

I just got back to Kennedy Meadows, meaning California is all done. In a little bit I'm going to hitch down to Highway 395 and then towards Ashland, Oregon. I'm still on schedule but have to average about 20 miles per day to finish in September, before the snows of October. I've hiked something like 1,736 miles, with over 900 to go.

The last four days I've hiked about 104 miles, and that includes high passes like Forester, over 13,000 feet, and a climb of Mt. Whitney, about 14,496 feet. The "High Sierra" was rugged, steep, and was my longest stretch without resupply. It was also spectacular in beauty.

Have a good day!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pacific Crest Trail Hike: Mile 1,533, Mammoth Lakes, California

The snow is melting at last, I'm happy to say. The hike is going well. I just updated my website along with some new photos. Have fun on your own adventures!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Pacific Crest Trail - Donner Pass, CA; 1,283 Miles

I'm taking a day off on Donner Lake, and have just updated my website. It's a snowy year, but progress has been good and it's been a grand adventure.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Old Station, California; Pacfic Crest Trail.

I've updated my website along with some photos. One thousand miles down, sixteen hundred more to go!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

June 16, 2010 - Etna, CA; 824 Miles, Day 58

I just updated my website with the latest news of my Pacific Crest Trail hike, along with several new photos. This is a perfect town to contemplate options for the snowy trail ahead. The beautiful weather of the last few days is slowly taking a toll on the unusually deep and extensive snowpack.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Mile 704, Kennedy Meadows, CA, Pacific Crest Trail

The hike is going great. I'm headed up to Ashland to hike back south to this point to give the snows just north of here a little more time to melt. You can check out a full update, here:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mile 560; Mojave, California

I got into Mojave yesterday and only have a few minutes on the library computer! Wyoming and I walked along the Los Angeles Aquaduct for a day and then up over some mountains and to the road where I hitched into Mojave and she into Tehachapi for packages waiting for us there.

We've been walking through stands of Joshua trees, many species and colors of wildflowers, and continue to hike from desert to moutain forests and back. We've seen many quail and birds, as well as ground squirrels, but except for deer not many large animals. We spotted what looked to be wolves in pens a couple of days ago and got a tour of the wolf hybrid kennels. There were some super cute wolf puppies and a huge white wolf. It was interesting to see him "smiling" like a dog, a far cry from wild wolves when they encounter humans.

It has been running very cool and we walked in a heavy mist for hours yesterday in our heavy jackets and rain gear, up in the clouds. There are thousands of wind turbines around here, some of them are simply huge.

I'm thinking of "flipping" up to Ashland, Oregon, once we get to Kennedy Meadows, and then walking south back toward Kennedy Meadows to give the snow time to melt, but we'll have to see what the snow is like when we get there.

Gotta go, have a good day!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wrightwood, CA; Mile 370 Pacific Crest Trail

I'm at the library in Wrightwood with the "time remaining" clock winding down on the computer.

It was a beautiful and easy walk out of Big Bear City, back into some big trees, then through a huge wildfire burn from a year or two ago. The next day there were three creek crossings of about knee deep. There was a long walk along a canyon with the trail dropping off steeply to one side. Wildflowers are profuse, especially in places, with numerous lizards for entertainment.

I spent a day at a hot springs. An infinite supply of hot water in the backcountry is a genuine treat. Many thru-hikers stopped for a soak while i was there. What a relaxing day. I hiked with Joker and Motor for much of the next day. I camped in a canyon just above the trail. An anticipated landmark was reached the next day. There was an official sign on the trail that said "McDonald's, 1/4 Mile." I ordered every item off the dollar menu, 7 in all, and ate them no problem.

After that was a major reroute caused by another big fire from last year. It was some hot walking but with some scenic spots. Several thru-hikers and I camped in Applewhite? Campground. Water out of spigots was nice to have, the shade even moreso. I was surprised to experience the first heavy fog of the trip, things were dripping in the morning.

Yesterday was a major climb, over 5,000 vertical feet, not counting all the lesser ups and downs. It was another desert to mountains day, with hours up in the big trees and with significant snow in places. Around 5 PM I hit the road the same time as Happy Feet. We got a ride into town with the second car. I ate four tacos and an order of nachos for dinner, with a big helping of ice cream for dessert.

Southern California has big a big surprise. My impression is that it was mostly desert. There has certainly been plenty, but on this route there's also been a great deal of mountains. The variety keeps things interesting.

There are thru-hikers all over town. I saw them at the hardware store, (run by a retired smokejumper of my era, Mike Troeger!) the post office, the eateries, the grocery store, etc. There are always many errands to run in these busy town stops.

I've been getting up at about 5:30, and starting to hike about 6:00 before it gets hot. I take breaks when I need them. Most full days of walking I'm doing about 16-20 miles of walking, with my longest day on this trip about 28 miles. The pace is much more relaxed than my other hikes as there is still mountains of snow that need to melt ahead of me. Just ahead there is supposed to be deep snow.

Well, that's it for now. The next major stop is Agua Dulce. Enjoy your day!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Big Bear City, California: 265 Miles/10% of the PCT Done!

I hiked down to Highway 18 at about noon today, and it took only about 15 minutes to get a ride down to Big Bear City. The lady delivered me right to the door of Nature's Inn, where I'm staying.

The hike is continuing to go very well. My knees and feet are doing great. I really like my shoes, they are a perfect fit for me. My equipment has been peforming well too with one exception.

I hiked out of Idyllwild and was soon back into the deep snow. I found a bare place to camp and when I was chopping snow to use for cooking my ULA Ice Axe broke!! I couldn't believe it. I had stopped early in the afternoon so I spent a couple of hours making a very servicable repair. The next day was a long one of traversing the famously steep Fuller Ridge. I'd bought micro-spikes for traction and by using caution and by doing lots of map reading and floundering around by the end of the day the Saddle Junction to Fuller Ridge traverse was completed. And I was glad.

I camped by a giant boulder and had an excellent sleep. The next day could hardly have been more different. For hours there was an "endless" descent with a series of countless switchbacks. From the deep snows to baking heat. From big trees to cactus. Half way down I ran across a wildfire. It had been started by a PCT hiker, as I had feared, a fellow I had met many times along the trail. He was using a cook stove, and the high winds just blew the flames into nearby grass and the wildfire raced up the hill. He reported it and identified himself, an honorable man. For me it was a "collision of worlds" when I came through the smoking fire as both a PCT hiker and a recently retired firefighter. The sound of aircraft and the smell of smoke and the crews were all very familiar.

The trail goes through the underpass at Interstate 10. There, a hiker from the 2006 Class of PCT Thru-hikers, trail name "Chai Man," had a keg of beer! The hikers acted with remarkable constraint. ANOTHER Trail Angel, Dave, also showed up, and drove four of us to the A&W a few miles away, where we all bought ourselves a huge meal. The icy rootbeers in that heat were awesome. That eveing, I hiked to the Mesa Wind Farm, where they kindly allow hikers to get drinking water. I could see desert, dozens of wind turbines, and snowy mountains from my sleeping bag. Nearly every night I just roll out my sleeping pad and bag in a nice looking spot so camping is easy!

There was another day of very scenic desert hiking, then I climbed thousands of feet back up into the snowy mountains. There was some more easily crossed snow patches. The afternoon became windy, and I actually moved camp after it became intense. I found a place in thick scrub oak on the lee side of the ridge. It froze last night and that with the wind called for my down jacket, balaclava and long underwear in my sleeping bag.

This is a nice place to stay. I'm splitting a room with two fellow hikers, Old Scout and Danny. I got a giant burger, did my laundry, got partially caught up on email, and still have shopping and other chores to do.

I'm still ahead of schedule. There's big snow ahead in the Sierras so I don't want to go any faster, but want to give it plenty of time to melt.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Idyllwild, California

I am in this nice little town trying to update on a tiny borrowed IPhone. Yesterrday I got into deep and steep snow. It was nice having an ice axe. The trail disappeared in the snow and I saw a guy whose tracks I was following. We finally figured out where we were and headed cross-country, doing a remarkably good or lucky job of finding the "saddle" the trail ran through. Lots of beautiful big trees and dramatic mountains. The first car gave us a ride to town, people have been great. This is about 180+ miles. Feeling greT and enjoying a day off with hiker friends. Ate a half pizza and a pint of ice cream last night!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

PCT Update, Made it to Warner Springs, 110 Miles

It's been a great hike so far, with unexpected weather conditions. Driving out of San Diego, a few minutes after leaving the palm trees, a car ahead of us lost control in the snow!! Four carloads of hikers met at the monument marking the southern terminus, and soon we all headed north. It wasn't long until a cold rain was falling, which later turned to sleet, enough to make the ground white. It rained much of the time over the next two days. Rather than the baking heat and lack of water we expected, my hands were so cold it was hard to open the guidebook, and every little drainage had a running brook!

The PCT kick-off gathering had hundreds of people, and it was fun to meet so many hikers including many well-known names. It was freezing hard at night, and there were some chilly people who had planned more for the heat than the cold and wet. I'm actually pretty well geared up with a rain jacket, balaclava, and warm down jacket.

The miles have been remarkably easy, with a sensibly graded trail and good footing. The landscape has varied from desert to Ponderosa pines and cedars in the snow. A couple of days ago there was a mountainside covered with so many species of cactus (cacti,) many blooming, that it looked like a botanical garden. Someone said there might be the most snow in southern CA in PC history, and someone else said there were streams running that they've never seen before. People have been really nice. Today, total strangers were camped at a spring where hikers get water, and gave us coffee and bagels for breakfast. Even better yet, they gave us chili dogs and cold drinks last night!

I want to go soak in the hot springs and other hikers are waiting for the computer, so I'm going to run. I'll post more when I get the chance.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heading to San Diego to start the Pacific Crest Trail

This morning I'm packing and taking care of the final details before leaving. I fly to San Diego from Sheridan this evening. Tomorrow morning I'll start my hike from the Mexican border near Campo, California.

Friday, April 09, 2010

My PCT Hike Plan

I just posted my estimated hike plan for the Pacific Crest Trail this summer. I've got some friends planning to meet me along the trail and this will help all of us get a rough idea of when I'll be along certain stretches of trail. I plan to start out fairly slow to help get in good trail shape, to enjoy the early stretch of trail, and to give the snow in the high Sierrras time to melt. Thanks to Craig's PCT Planner for helping me generate my plan!