Introducing the Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation, a missing hiker resource

It’s a fact, hikers go missing. Most for a few hours, some overnight, others longer and then there are those who remain missing for far too long.

Having been involved with a few incidents I’ve learned getting the process started can be frustrating. First, when do you contact authorities? Second, who do you contact? Third, how do you get the word out and coordinate the search? There are a ton of details. It becomes overwhelming quickly.

As hikers, we can help by leaving crumbs to expedite the search. I wrote this post a few years ago specifically to help Search and Rescue (SAR): Dear Friends & Family, If I become a Missing Person . . . I was motivated after Sherpa (Kris) went missing on the PCT. The search was delayed unnecessarily which may have contributed to the fact that he is still missing. His stepmom, Sally, has been a warrior in the process and continues to advocate and mentor. 

I’m excited to join Sally in announcing the Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation

Mission Statement: With safety and compassion as our core principles, the Fowler O’Sullivan Foundation provides assistance to families of missing hikers, connects them to vetted resources, facilitates searches on their behalf once official efforts have been suspended, and supports initiatives to prevent future missing hiker cases.

You can participate in several ways.

  1. If you are an Amazon Prime member, make your purchases through Amazon Smile (link) and select Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation as your charitable organization. It doesn’t cost you anything. It’s a WIN WIN! 
  2. Make a tax-deductible donation (link). Your donation will help our continued search efforts of missing hikers or those missing in the wilderness and help fund our preventative projects geared towards hiker safety. 
  3. Volunteer (link). Are you interested in joining our team? Do you have search or investigation skills? Are you interested in image viewing, mapping, research, communications, fund raising, base camp, ground search or other SAR related skills? Training available.

This was Sally’s introductory message:

When Kris first went missing, We didn’t know what to do. Who to call. What to expect or what we were up against. It was the kindness of a stranger, who had been through the same thing, and reached out to me with some advice, that helped us take the next steps. Since then, paying it forward to other families that are suddenly in that same position has been so important to me. Thanks to some amazing selfless people that have been involved with searching for Kris and for David O’Sullivan, our families will be able to pay it forward in honor of our sons for many years to come.

It is my honor and privilege to announce a new and amazing Non Profit foundation that has been created in honor of Kris and David and all missing hikers. The Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation has been created to help families of missing hikers navigate through the very difficult process of searching for a loved one. It will provide suggested steps to take from day one and if needed, also offer help, guidance and coordinate search efforts, after the official SAR efforts have ended. The Foundation will also focus on safety and prevention. There are many amazing Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR) initiatives in the works already! In honor of Kris and David, they will also be giving away at least 2 InReach GPS devices to PCT hikers in 2021 and hopefully for years to come.

The Foundation is also excited to be a part of the Amazon Smile program, where you can simply click on this link and sign up and .5% of all eligible Amazon purchases will be donated to the Foundation.  I signed up recently and it was very easy to do! (Link)

Thank you to Cathy Tarr for getting this amazing, life changing NP organization off of the ground! It is NOT an easy task and she and her amazing board members have been working countless hours on this for over a year now. Please click on the link to the Foundation to learn more about what they plan to do to help other families like mine. There is a menu bar on the top right that will take you through the different segments of the Foundation as well as introduce the wonderful people responsible for making this happen.

I have always said the silver lining to losing Kris, are the changes for the good that have happened and the amazing people in this group, and now we will be able to pay it forward to others in a professional and comforting way. I am so very grateful and I know Kris is beyond proud to be honored this way. 💕
Thanksgiving started early…..the perfect time to make this launch!

http://www.fofound.org

One last thing, since we are in the season of being thankful and giving, consider a donation and/or volunteering with your local Search and Rescue organization. I consider this a given if you carry an emergency transponder. Don’t wait until you need it to contribute to those who might need to help you.

2020 – A Summer of Surprises

Spring was filled with much confusion. I was in Northeast Arizona when the COVID-19 restrictions began. Traveling wasn’t fun. I felt ostracized and unwelcome. Once I realized this wasn’t going to be a short-term problem, I scurried home and spent spring recreating locally while struggling to process this current reality. I wrote a lot. It will be a good reminder of this time in my life.

My county officially declared itself ready to move to Stage 2 pandemic reopening on May 6th. In celebration I ran away and visited a waterfall.

With temperatures climbing to the low 90’s, I took my #stimuluscheck inflatable SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) for it’s maiden voyage on Trinity Lake.

Little did I know how the SUP would help me set new challenges. Why not try to paddle around the perimeter of Whiskeytown Lake? GAIA proved to be a helpful tool, working as well on water as on land.

Living near this lake for several decades I’ve spent plenty of time along it’s shores and hiking the trails but this was my first summer ON the water. I learned about the old highway that runs under the lake and is still visible (the shadow line on the right). How is it possible for pavement to remain intact under water for decades?

While in general the joy of hiking wasn’t present during my paddles, I found satisfaction swimming, watching fish, frogs and birds, discovering the creek inflow channels, and imagining camping on one of the little islands.

Spending the last six summers in the mountain states, I’d forgotten how hot it gets in Redding starting in June; my melting point is around 80F. It was easy to start questioning my decision to stay local. Several times I considered running away.

I’ve become quite heat intolerant so I found swimming and paddling to be better options than hiking and biking. I spent time in cooler climates like this paddle at Castle Lake.

Life on the road gave me the opportunity to run from weather or fires and smoke. Staying home, meant daily checks of the air quality starting mid July. This was my last day of paddling. Soon enough instead of buying backpacking gear I was buying an air purifier and dragging out my N95 masks, for smoke rather than COVID-19.

But with smoke comes beautiful sunsets.

Rewind to May. I found the bike a better option than walking the nearby paved trails. I was thankful as the community reopened, the crowds mostly disappeared.

I also enjoyed blooms in my yard, watched over by my friend and namesake, BeeKeeper aka Queen Bee.

And then it was finally time! My local forests sort of invited participation with this statement, “We ask the public to please recreate responsibly. Law enforcement and/or search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 issues. High risk activities such as rock climbing, etc., or backcountry activities that increase your chance of injury or distress should be avoided.” Maybe a little selfish, hiking and backpacking in my local wilderness areas was a decision I didn’t take lightly, but one imperative to my personal well being. Trails were open, and with careful planning I selected options with few cars at the trailheads and rarely a human sighting while on trail. I didn’t stop anywhere along the way, no restrooms, no gas, no food or drink. I’d return home to resupply, do laundry and grab gas before hitting the repeat button.

Looking at this list makes me realize I didn’t have a wasted summer. It wasn’t anywhere near the #epic summer I had planned, but at least I got out. The biggest regret I have is giving up a month of opportunity. I suffered from the heat and was miserable during my early July jaunt on the PCT in the Russian Wilderness. I decided I needed to wait until fall. In retrospect I realize what I should have done was find places where I could lounge around lakes during the heat of the day. It’s not my style, but then again neither is staying home feeling sorry for myself. Once again, maybe I should have run away?

By mid August fire season was in full swing.

Air quality sucked. I was stuck inside left to wonder whether my fall hiking plans would be only a dream.

FINALLY, the week before Labor Day weekend, we had a weather change and were gifted a break from the heat and smoke. So off I went to find my happy spot, and yes more swimming. Did I say this was my summer of swimming?

And just as I was ramping up for some fall fun, my body decided otherwise. Little did I know this would mark the end of my 2020 season.

I spent September learning a lot about knee anatomy, followed by knee surgery in early October. For six weeks, it’s crutches and 8 hours a day in a CPM (continuous passive motion) machine, so basically 24×7 in bed. Oh fun!

With the mild temperatures I’ve been able to enjoy outside Vitamin D breaks. The sun is a huge mood booster. It looks like fall is due to arrive by the end of the week.

I took advantage of my downtime while I was cooped up inside, hiding from heat or smoke, to write my series on a decade of lessons learned.

I also worked on a few DIY projects.

Lastly I’ve been busy contributing to other communities, including my interview with Jester (link).

In Susan Alcorn’s recently released book, I’m one of the women interviewed and hear I have a dedicated chapter (I’m still waiting for my complimentary copy to arrive). It’s a little nerve wracking not knowing how content will be used and edited, especially in a project like this one. “In Walk, Hike, Saunter, long-distance hiker Susan Alcorn introduces you to 32 experienced outdoors women who consider hiking to be an essential part of their live. The common theme of Walk, Hike, Saunter is that there are many paths to incorporating hiking into your life. Whether hiking is one of many things that you enjoy doing, or whether you find hiking such an passion that you don’t mind living out of your car in order to pursue it–you can reap the rewards of exploring the world on foot. The women, all 45 and older and in the prime of their lives, are all superstars–shining examples of the richness that hiking can bring to our lives.” The book is currently available in paperback but at some point in the future will be an e-book as well (Amazon link).

I’m also happy to be contributing to the PCT Foundation Document (link). It’s a very interesting project. You can learn more and add your two cents if interested.

My blog will probably be fairly quiet for the next few months as I go through rehab. I’ll be spending a lot of time in my home gym, although I’ll be dreaming of being elsewhere. January will be my 3-month post surgery mark and April 6 months. I’ve been forewarned that patience is the key to achieving the desired outcome, which to me means full function of my knee.

My goal is to keep smiling, stay optimistic, work on creating photo journals from my blog, do lots of rehab and be ready for some #epic adventures in 2021!

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site. 

Links:

More Miscellaneous Jabberings

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Preparing for the Unexpected


Lessons Learned:

  1. You can’t plan for everything.
  2. Accidents happen.
  3. The unexpected is to be expected.

Injury:

If you hike enough miles, you’re going to get injured. Knowing how to minimize injuries helps as does finding the balance of what to include in your first aid kit, because yes weight matters. These are a few of the injuries I’ve sustained.

  • Blisters – Thankfully now that I have my sock/shoe combination perfected I rarely get blisters but when I feel a hot spot or discover a blister my treatment includes covering the spot with Leukotape-P. Leave it on until it falls off. If it’s a blister, I’ll drain it first using a needle, floss and alcohol wipe. If it’s night I’ll wait to tape until it drains overnight leaving the floss extended through the blister and removed in the morning.
  • Tendonitis – This is one of the most challenging injuries to deal with on trail. You can try stretching and resting but truly the only cure is longer rest that you can provide hiking so the goal is to get off trail. I’ve learned to tape to prevent one type of tendonitis I’m prone to get in an ankle when hiking very steep terrain.
  • Cuts/Scrapes/Abrasions – Most of these can be ignored. For more serious ones, I carry antiseptic wipes, triple antibiotic ointment, gauze and leuko tape. The worst cut I sustained was hiking in snow when I sliced open my palm on a rock. I used my buff to apply pressure and stop the bleeding, then used steri-strips to close the wound. Cactus and yucca are my worst enemies. For the times I’m in areas of jumping cholla I carry full size tweezers and a comb.
  • Stings/Bites – While these tend to be more irritating than serious for most people, I get bacterial infections and am sensitive to bee/wasp stings and biting flies in particular. I now carry benadryl and pepcid as the combination recommended by my doctor. I’ve used a few times and it works. I also carry some type of anti-itch relief as bites drive me bonkers. In areas with ticks, I carry a tick key and do regular checks. Thankfully I haven’t ever had a seriously embedded tick and in fact have had few encounters.
  • Black Toenails – Once I switched from boots to trail runners these became a bygone memory. I also use a narrow heel lacing technique to keep my foot from sliding forward as well as wear shoes with a wide toe box.

Accidents:

I feel like for the amount of miles and types of terrain I hike, my accident rate is about the best I could hope to achieve. My goal is to be as careful as possible but I know I take risks I shouldn’t however it seems most of my accidents happen on easy terrain.

  • Broken Ribs – I was hiking out after a few days on trail with a friend. We’d done some off trailing and taken some risks. But no, two miles from the trailhead, I slipped on a bit of sand that was on a waterbar. There happened to be a limb that grabbed my ribs as I slid to my butt. Gravity worked against me between the pack and the limb. I was able to hike out and drive two hours home. The next few weeks were painful and limiting but I didn’t need medical intervention, just time.
  • Broken Wrist – On my 9th day of hiking on a section of the PCT in Oregon, I walked off the trail. It was flat and wide with no obstacles but I think I just lost my focus. This incident was bad as my wrist dislocated and ended up not only broken in three places, it also became my one and only inReach activation with SAR involvement.
  • Slips and Falls – These happen more often than I’d like to admit. I remember falling off a log during a water crossing that could have had serious consequences. For me I’d rather walk through water with my shoes on than attempt rock jumping or a log balance beam. I’ve also learned how to use my hiking poles to brace myself during steep downhills, as well as adopting the crab and dog techniques knowing four points of contact are better than two.

Ailments:

I’ve been lucky and haven’t ever been sick on trail. I carry something for stomach issues and diarrhea. Thankfully I’ve never had giardia either. The worst I’ve had is soft stools which can make for quite a mess requiring extra wipes so I plan for that situation. Using a bidet is helpful.

Weather:

I’ve learned to check point-specific weather, like the forecasts available on NOOA, the day before and morning of a trip so I can pack accordingly. I also use the weather feature on my inReach, although I’ve found it to be 50/50 on accuracy.

  • Lightning – This has been the most scary weather to experience on trail. I spent so many hours in the lightning prevention position when hiking the JMT. I was glad I’d done some advance research.
  • Rain, Rain, Rain – Multiple days of rain is my least favorite weather. I’m a sunshine gal and don’t enjoy hiking in the rain and definitely don’t like dealing with wet gear. But to avoid hypothermia, it’s important to add a few items to your pack and know best practices.
  • Snow – The biggest concern for me is damage to my 3-season tent, so I make sure to knock off accumulation during the night. I’d rather hide out in my tent than hike through a wet snow storm. Hypothermia is real and my quilt keeps me toasty warm especially if I avoid getting wet and chilled first.
  • Wind – There are a few concerns with wind, the first is dust in my eyes which I try to remedy with eye drops which I always carry. Strong winds can damage tents so I try to set up with the narrow end facing the wind. I’ve also learned to use my hiking poles for extra support. One of the worst is blowing sand. It’s nearly impossible to avoid and will seriously damage zippers.

Equipment/Technology Failures:

  • Phone – Of all my gear, this is probably my most dependent item and the one I cringe at losing or breaking. I rely on my phone for navigation and although I’m usually prepared with a paper map and compass, the phone is my security blanket. I try to take extra precautions to protect this precious resource but the reality is stuff happens. My phone fell out of my pants pocket once when I was climbing rocks. Thankfully I was able to find after backtracking and amazingly it wasn’t broken. Sometimes apps stop working or I forget to download maps for offline use. I carry a back-up battery to help keep this important item charged.
  • Tent – Zippers seem to be the first item to fail. Keeping them clean helps but in buggy areas having them fail is a serious irritant. Most of the time you can clean and tighten to extend the life. Other times you need the zipper replaced. Losing stakes is probably the most common but thankfully you can usually find a substitute items such as rocks.
  • Hiking Poles – For me four legs are better than two so broken or lost poles are a bit of a nightmare. Sometimes you can repair other times you can use a stick. One surprise was when carpenter ants ate the cork during the night. I used a glove to cover the handle until I could get to town.
  • Water Filter – I remember the time I filtered the wrong direction through my Sawyer Squeeze tainting both my filter and clean bag. Thankfully I had water treatment tablets with me so I treated the water in my clean bag which then allowed me to backflush my filter. I always carry a few tablets because treating water is essential in my opinion and since I hike solo most often I need to be self sufficient.
  • Stove – I’ve run out of fuel or had a bad canister of fuel. Sometimes igniters fail so I bring a mini lighter which would also be used for an emergency fire and for sterilizing a needle. What do you do if you’re solo, you cold soak. It might not be the most tasty meal but it’s nutrition.
  • Air Mattress – Eventually even when super careful, most likely your pad will develop a leak. If you can find the leak, it’s pretty easy to repair in the field. Tenancious tape is a great multi-use repair item. I’ve never had success finding leaks even in the best of situations. In every case I end up returning to the manufacturer for replacement. You might just have a few uncomfortable nights, but you won’t die.

Navigational Errors:

Getting misplaced isn’t fun. I take this very seriously and try to be as prepared as possible so I can stay found and avoid wasting time and energy wandering around, although it happens occasionally. The key is not to panic and try to return to the place you were last on trail or in a known location. I’ve had this happen when having to negotiate my way around down trees or other trail obstacles. If I’m flustered the next step is to take a break where I can eat, drink and study maps. Thankfully I’ve never needed to activate the inReach but it’s my security blanket just in case.

Trail Conditions:

My rule of thumb is to be prepared to turnaround. I’d rather reverse direction than die attempting something I consider beyond reasonable risk whether that be eroded trail or sketchy snow, scree or swift water crossing. I also take extra precautions for major water crossings by stowing my electronics and down gear in waterproof bags.

Wildlife:

I’m always alert to wildlife signs especially bear and big cats. I see plenty of prints and scat but haven’t seen a mountain lion. I regularly see bears but they’ve all acted as bears should and ran once they saw, smelled or heard me. In some areas mountain goats can be a problem. Although they hung out in or near my camp in several places in Washington, they’ve never bothered me. Deer can be pests; they might steal your clothes or hiking poles for salt. Mice are a huge problem in some places like Washington, and as such I recommend hanging your food in a rodent safe bag. Rattlesnakes cause me far more concern than bears.

Creepy Peeps:

These have been few and far between and I’ve never felt endangered until my recent dog bite incident. I recall one sketchy hitchhiking incident that we bailed from before getting into that uncomfortable situation. I always have my radar on high alert near roads, trailheads and campgrounds, and avoid camping in those areas.

Links:

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Eats Drinks and More


Lessons Learned:

  1. I prefer simple and don’t mind repetitive.
  2. Food is fuel; fuel is power.
  3. Try before you carry.
  4. Quantity, quality and quickness matter.
  5. Homemade is best.
  6. It’s an evolving process.
  7. Repackage for weight savings and portion control.

What I take depends a bit on whether I’m prepping from home or on the road, whether I’ll be out for a few days or multiple weeks, and whether I’ll be mailing food in a resupply box.  Basically I’m lazy but I prefer homemade meals and I’m budget conscious. I don’t cook, instead I use boiling water to rehydrate. Figuring out how much food and drink is part science part art. It’s a formula each person needs to figure out for themselves. The biggest challenge is adjusting your personal formula for conditions and situations such as:

  • Day 1 vs 5 vs 21 (hiker hunger kicks in around week 3)
  • Base elevation
  • Temperature
  • Calories burned

Breakfast:

A few times a year, I’ll make huge batches of muesli. I’ve started using Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli as the base, then add flax, chia, brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, nuts, etc. I fill snack size ziplocks using a wide mouth funnel. In camp I pour into a 16-oz Ziploc Twist N Loc Container, add hot coffee and let it sit 5-10 minutes. Yes, I said coffee. I use the Starbucks VIA packets and add one to full pot of water boiled in my Jetboil. It’s my two-in-one prep. I can drink hot coffee while waiting for my cereal to hydrate.

Lunch:

I tend to favor wraps. Most often I’ll bring hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks or extra sharp cheddar and tortillas. I usually throw in a bag of spinach or slaw and maybe an avocado or hummus/avocado spread. It’s convenient that these come in single serve containers now. They say refrigerate but I’ve traveled with them in my pack for several days without issue (except in extreme heat).

Dinner:

Keeping it simple I have a few items I rotate between with all repackaged in snack size ziplock bags. The requirement is calorie dense, tasty and suitable for quick rehydration with boiling water.

  • Mixed grains, beans and greens – I usually make and dehydrate a huge batch with rotating spices.
  • Idahoan potatoes – I prefer the 4 cheese variety and usually buy the family size.
  • Rice noodles with pasta sauce – This is my favorite meal. I make my own sauce and bring a cube of Lotus rice ramen which I crunch up and add to the dry sauce and then rehydrate together.
  • Other meals – I like to dehydrate what I normally eat at home. This might includes some of the following:
    • Turkey, barley, vegetable soup
    • Beef stew with potatoes and carrots
    • Teriyaki turkey, rice and veges
  • Knorrs rice sides are a reliable option. If I don’t have time to prepare meals in advance this is a regular in my rotation.

I’ve had terrible luck rehydrating pasta so as much as I like macaroni and cheese or other noodle-based dishes, they stay home. There are plenty of other options such as rice, quinoa, barley, couscous, and ramen.

Snacks:

Hard boiled eggs are my favorite. You can now buy them in 2 packs at most grocery and convenience stores.

For other protein options I usually brings nuts and might bring jerky or peanut butter. I prefer salty to sweet snacks.

I’ve tried lots of bars and have found I don’t like protein bars. I try to buy my favorites by the box when they are on sale so I always have them conveniently available. My current favorites are:

  • Nature Valley Almond Butter Biscuits
  • Nature Valley Crunch Oats n Dark Chocolate
  • Nature Bakery Fig Bar
  • Luna Bars (Lemon, Blueberry and Peppermint)

Drinks:

I don’t like sweetener in my water and will only go that route for really bad tasting water. I tried several options while on the Arizona Trail and found I preferred cold vanilla coffee, grape or orange flavoring, and recently discovered Cusa powdered teas. I suffer in the heat and have found Himalayan Pink Salt Crystals preferable to electrolyte tablets or drink additives.

How much water? That’s a challenging question and one I discuss further in my post “water, water, water.”

Related Posts:

Links:

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

CA – Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Parks Creek Trailhead . . . Let’s Go Swimming

After a wonderful smoke-free three-day window spent at Bear Lakes in the Trinity Alps (link), I had another day and a half available to play. It wasn’t quite enough time to visit a planned area that I’d saved for these conditions so I decided to see if one of my favorite areas was crowd and smoke free. As I drove by the Deadfalls Meadows Trailhead I was delighted to see zero cars. What would I find at the more popular Parks Creek trailhead? Two cars and smoke-free skies. Decision made!

I headed out knowing I had lots of options. I could lollygag and spend time swimming and enjoying the sun, or I could summit Mt Eddy, or I could hike miles and miles on the PCT, or I could explore some off-trail areas. So many options and I loved having the freedom to choose. I considered each hour a gift, knowing the smoke would most likely return. Nearby the Red Salmon Complex fire was burning in the northwest corner of the Trinity Alps.

I was delighted to find a few late season blooms.

There were signs of fall including colorful seed pods.

Lower Deadfall Lake was at the lowest level I’d ever seen. There was a couple camped nearby. Even though the lake was shallow, I found sufficient depth for swim #1.

Middle Deadfall Lake is spring fed so it tends to be more inviting.

I wandered around the lake finding the perfect spot for swim #2. Surprisingly except for the PCT southbound thru hiker I met near the main trail, I had the lake to myself.

The thought of obtaining drinking water from these lakes is gag worthy. So many swimmers and bathers during the summer months. Thankfully the springs were still flowing. One of the benefits of previous visits and map reading.

The pond between Middle and Upper Deadfall Lakes was not on my swim list.

I found the “crowds” at Upper Deadfall Lake, where I ran into three couples. Knowing views from Mt Eddy would be under a veil of smoke I skipped that hike on this day, opting instead for a walk around the lake and swim #3.

I found some blooming gentians.

Amazingly I’d lollygagged away most of the day and it was time to make my way to one of the unnamed lakes.

Something bad happened on my way to this campsite. My knee made a loud popping sound and I couldn’t support my weight. I sat and rested for a while tried again and after about an hour was able to hobble to camp. I worried all night about my ability to hike out unassisted. This is one of the negatives of solo hiking. I didn’t have a history of knee problems and was quite concerned that it wouldn’t resolve during the night. Plan A was to attempt walking out on my own. Plan B was to text a couple of friends who lived nearby to see if they would carry my pack while I attemped walking without the weight. Plan C would have been hitting the SOS on my inReach, an option I wanted to avoid if at all possible.

Little did I know the orange colored sunset was foretelling about a change in conditions. This is the view the next morning toward Upper Deadfall Lake and is the section of trail where my knee failed me.

Thankfully slowly and steadily I was able to begin my hike toward my car. The full moon was setting. I’d enjoyed the glow during the night which surprisingly escaped the smoky veil.

The Trinity Alps were now invisible.

Sadly this would be the end of my summer/fall hiking season. Upon returning home I went to a walk-in clinic for x-rays, followed by a visit to my primary care, then a referral and visit to an orthopedist, an MRI and finally surgery scheduled for early October. I have a radial tear of the posterior horn medial meniscal root with a 1cm gap.

So after avoiding all indoor establishments since late March when the COVID-19 pandemic began, September was all about potential exposure in the highest risk places. But heck since I was already taking risks, I decided to get my hair cut; that was a boost to my happy factor and will certainly help with healing and recovery.

Adventure Date(s):

  • September 3-4, 2020

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Bear Lakes Trailhead

My goal was to find Wee Bear and Little Bear Lakes on this my third trip on the Bear Creek Trail. These are both off-trail lakes requiring navigation and bouldering skills.

With nearby wildfires, smoke had been problematic. I’d saved a few shorter distance trails for times when I could exit quickly if conditions changed. After a week of horrific air quality, we had a couple days with improvement and indications wind would be in my favor. Checking Purple Air and Air Now sites have become a morning routine during fire season.

Big Bear Lake

In this summer of 2020, the Trinity Alps saw unprecedented visitation levels. I was concerned and had several alternative plans if I found a full trailhead. Thankfully on this day, luck was on my side. No cars and I only met two day hikers on my first day of this three day trip.

This has become my summer of swimming. I had plenty of time to indulge after this 4.5 mile 2,800′ elevation gain hike especially since I had the lake to myself for the afternoon and evening. Lucky me! Little Bear Lake can be accessed via the gap shown in the below photo, but it’s not the recommended way. I wandered part way around the lake and quickly found myself blocked by brush that I wasn’t willing to fight my way through.

There are plenty of places to wander around and above the lake. In fact the granite benches host the majority of campsites, including views of Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy. It was a great place to watch sunset and sunrise. Catching alpenglow is one of my favorite reasons to camp.

Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy visible from the benches above Big Bear Lake. The granite mountain to the right is the scramble to Wee and Little Bear Lakes.

Wee and Little Bear Lakes

The trail shown in the below photo is from Big Bear Lake and provides one starting point to the off-trail lakes. There is also a cairn on the main trail below Big Bear Lake. Basically you want to angle your way up this rock face. You’ll find cairns marking a variety of routes. There is no right way, as I say, “pick your poison.” One of my resource guidebooks says “the goal is to bisect the top of the ridge at approximately the midpoint near some dead trees.”

There are a few campsites near the junction with water available from the Big Bear Lake outflow creek. The books indicate this is an EASY scramble. For some it might be, I found it fairly challenging.

This is the mountain you’re traversing. I’ll take granite boulders and slabs over scree any day. While you’ll find cairns dropping you down lower you want to avoid the brush. I stayed high on my way to the lakes and a little lower on my exit. I found the high route much more forgiving as the lower you go the steeper the slabs.

This photo shows the notch you want to reach and why you want to find the mid sweet point so you don’t waste energy going too high or too low.

This is an example of the steep slabs best to avoid, which can be easily done if you stay higher.

On the way back I followed cairns which dropped me lower. I found myself working a lot harder on this mid route.

Wee Bear Lake is more a pond than a lake but it’s very photogenic.

Little Bear Lake is a much superior swimming lake to Big Bear with slabs for diving platforms and debris free exit.

It took me about an hour to reach Little Bear Lake from Big Bear. After a few hours of swimming and relaxing I was inspired to see if I could ascend the ridge separating the lakes.

Although there is a trail traversing the lake, once again I quickly got stopped by thick brush so I backtracked and found another way which included this view of Wee Bear Lake, Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy.

These ramps made for a gentle ascent.

Success! There’s 28-acre Big Bear Lake, depth 73 feet.

Looking down at Little Bear Lake.

The lower ridge in this photo is the unnamed peak you traverse around between Big and Little Bear Lakes.

First kiss of sun on the peaks surrounding Little Bear Lake.

Morning reflections on Little Bear Lake.

The jagged spires surrounding the Bear Lakes are a recognizable sight in much of the Trinity Alps and Castle Crags Wilderness areas. It was so nice to see blue sky after a couple weeks of smoky skies.

Bear Creek signals the return to the main hiking trail.

I enjoyed a few late blooms along the trail like this fire weed.

Possibly Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris).

Red Columbine

There was indication summer was ending and soon fall would take center stage.

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 31 – September 2, 2020

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • This can be a busy trail. If the trailhead is full you might want to consider other options especially if you want to camp.
  • In late August, nights were pretty warm. I was glad I’d brought my new summer quilt (link).
  • Always pack first-aid supplies. This was a bleeder. It wasn’t very deep but it bled for 3-4 days.
  • Do your part and pack out what others may have left behind. I walked past this hat several times before I noticed it. I also carried out a bag of used toilet paper, two fishing rod tips, a GSI cooking pot lid, and one sandal plus some micro trash. It’s the right thing to do!
  • I was glad to have my headnet as there were face flies at lower elevation. I met some hikers on their way in as I was exiting and they were very jealous.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

CA – Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Cabin Creek Trailhead (aka Squaw Valley Creek)

What has become known as the fifth season on the west coast is in full swing. Fire and smoke season is one I’d sooner skip and have successfully run from and avoided for several years. With 2020 being the year of COVID-19, I made the choice to stay local. My new normal was checking the Air Quality Index every morning. On this day, I saw some green to the north and decided I best take advantage of this rare window.

The skies were white with smoke. The visibility was limited and I considered turning around several times. I needed out of the house so onward I went. I’d chosen this trail as it would be more of a meander than a strenuous hike, one where I could lollygag along a creek and just enjoy being outside. I of course was worried about crowds since that’s become a norm this summer. Thankfully upon arrival there was only one car at the trailhead. For this smoke sensitive asthmatic, the air quality seemed acceptable.

When I first started hiking about ten years ago, this was the Squaw Valley Creek Trail, but due to political correctness, the offensive word has been removed from most named places. However this hike is still along thus named Squaw Valley Creek. Cabin Creek is a secondary stream further downstream so it doesn’t really make sense to change the name but whatever it is it is.

I was introduced to umbrella plant aka Indian Rhubarb along this trail. It’s probably my favorite water plant. Seeing signs of changing seasons reminded me fire season won’t last forever.

It was a hot day so I was grateful for easy creek side access where I could stay wet and refreshed.

This waterfall provided a perfect lunch break backdrop. Interestingly, Squaw Valley Creek (still named as such) originates on Mt Shasta at South Gate Meadows the destination of my previous hike (link).

There was evidence of recent trail maintenance which is always much appreciated.

If there was any negative to my day it was face flies but thankfully I came prepared with my headnet.

Soon enough bug season will be gone, just like fire season and summer.

Until then I’ll be grateful for this day when I escaped the smoke and enjoyed creek lullabies, a soft trail, bird song, the smell of pine needles and freshly sawed timber. I may have only walked about 1/4 mile on the PCT this day but it brought back the most wonderful memories of when I walked from Burney Falls to the Oregon border.

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 28, 2020

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • I hiked this as an out and back, but there is a loop option. I tried the loop several years ago and found it choked with poison oak. I didn’t go that far this time so don’t know condition but something to consider. I’ve been warned of rattlesnakes in that meadow as well.
  • There are a couple of eroded sections of trail and at at least one place where some rock scampering is required.
  • For additional hiking from the trailhead, consider the PCT north or south. The nature trail near Ah-Di-Na Campground is worth a visit although a bit of a drive or a 10+ mile jaunt.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Water, Water, Water


Lessons Learned:

  1. Water is heavy
  2. Invest in your formula
  3. Don’t carry what you’re not going to drink
  4. Cow slobber/sh*t water needs flavoring
  5. Trial and error is required to find your vessel and treatment solutions

How Much to Carry?

At 2.2 pounds per liter, water is one of the heaviest items in your pack. So rather than arbitrarily starting a trip with 3-4 liters, I’ve learned it’s better to research available water sources. I’d much rather stop every few miles and replenish my water supply than carry the extra weight.

Figuring out how much to carry is based on a formula adjusted for conditions.  It takes time to build your own formula.

I drink more when I’m:

  • hot
  • ascending
  • at altitude
  • snowshoeing

When I started backpacking, I would track how much water I was carrying and how much I had left when I got to a water source. Then I could calculate how much I was drinking per mile and per hour based on conditions. The goal was to get to a reliable water source with none or very little in my pack.

This gets trickier in unreliable water areas and since I worry about dehydration I tend to carry extra as insurance.

Unless you camp near water, you also need to calculate how much water is needed for dinner, breakfast as well as hiking to camp and to the next water source. In general 3 liters is my magic number.

How to Carry?

I’ve found through trial and error that I like soft water bottles like Evernew. I have one marked for dirty water. The 1500ml size is my preference. I sometimes also carry a 600ml plastic bottle for when I want to add flavorings to my water. I’ll be testing CNOC 2L Vecto bags over the upcoming months.

I started with a bladder in my pack but discontinued because I didn’t like

  • worrying a about a leak
  • not knowing when I needed to refill
  • taking apart my pack to refill

I’ve tried a variety of bottles and while they work for some people they never found a permanent place in my pack.

Capacity is a consideration. I prefer smaller 1.5 liter storage containers to 3 liter because they fit my hands better and I feel like I have more flexibility when it comes to how many to fill. However, I switch to 3 liter in the desert where I have to carry larger quantities between sources.

Remember water is heavy, so figuring out where to carry that weight in your pack is an important consideration.

How to Treat?

Like most other things in backpacking I’ve tried several different systems. I currently use the Sawyer Squeeze filter although I prefer using the water treatment tablets such as Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets. I will be testing the Katadyn BeFree filter over the upcoming months.

Prefilter/Scoop:

Filter:

  • I squeeze from my “dirty” Evernew bottle into a clean bottle (I use a black hair tie around top to flag as dirty).
  • It’s time consuming.
  • I’d prefer using inline so I can scoop and go but the current Squeeze version doesn’t work.
  • I really hate protecting the Sawyer Squeeze from freezing and have had to replace a couple times when I’ve forgotten (sadly the BeFree has the same issue).

Chemical:

  • Carrying water for 20-40 minutes without being able to drink is not very weight efficient
  • I like drinking at a water source (cameling up) so I can be hydrated without carrying extra weight but with chemical treatment it’s not an option.
  • I’m lazy and sometimes compromise especially in cooler temperatures.
  • I prefer Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets over Aquamira liquid drops.

Flavoring and Additives:

  • Although I prefer unflavored water, I’ve had to in nasty situations especially in cattle country.
  • There are a lot of options but my favorites remains cold coffee or Orange/Grape Crush.
  • Electrolytes are important when sweating and drinking a lot. There are plenty of options but I’ve found I prefer to eat pink Himalayan salt rather than having flavored water.

How to Drink?

I prefer drinking from a hydration hose as I’m hiking. I can’t reach bottles easily and don’t like to stop to drink. I got the Blue Desert SmarTube Hydration System to use with my Evernew bottles (ebay is best reseller). Many attach their Sawyer directly to a bottle and squeeze as they go. This can be an efficient system.

How to Clean?

When I get to town, it’s time to refresh my water systems. My preference is to use a little bleach in my water bottles, drinking hose, etc. If I’m on a long-distance hike without access to bleach I use denture tablets. Backflushing the Sawyer Squeeze takes a bit more effort than simply using the provided syringe or another system. I’ve had the most success following Sawyer’s advice of soaking it in a very vinegar hot water solution before banging the sides and flushing. I’m hoping for easier maintenance with the BeFree system. I know it won’t last as long at an estimated 250 gallons versus 100,000 gallons with the Squeeze. I average 1-1.5 gallons a day when backpacking and usually backpack at least 60 days per year so that means around 100 gallons per year. At less than $20, I consider it reasonable to replace my filter every year or two.

When and How to Cross?

Water crossings are an accident waiting to happen. I’ve had several minor injuries trying to keep my feet dry. Logs and rocks can be tippy and slippery. Vertigo is common when looking at rushing water. If I have a choice I’ll typically walk through (ford) rather than worry about injury. In swift water, I carefully evaluate crossing options. I honor the saying, “turnaround don’t drown” when I can’t find a safe crossing. Camping and waiting until morning is an option during snowmelt.

Links:

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

CA – Mt Shasta Wilderness, South Gate Meadows Trailhead

I hadn’t hiked in a month. Between the heat, fires and smoke, I was on hiking hiatus. It was making me really grumpy so I decided to see if I could find an escape. I checked Purple Air, web cams and the smoke maps. I was hopeful. The skies looked clear but my lungs said otherwise as I drove through the canyon. I took a double dose of my inhaler and donned my hiking uniform. The temperature at 7,800 feet was a pleasant 70F degrees as compared to home where the overnight low had been 75F.

Looking to the west, the brown smoky skies hide Castle Crags and the Trinity Alps.

I was welcomed with this splash of color.

Soon enough I reached the wilderness boundary.

There are plenty of rocky features to explore like this unnamed 8,300′ peak. Meanwhile the plant life is sparse.

Green Butte at 9,193′ is a geologic beauty.

Hummingbird Spring is a one of many reliable springs on the mountain. It was a little past peak wildflower season but a few blooms remained. I didn’t take photos so I must not have been very impressed.

The butterflies enjoyed this oasis.

After hiking through a forested section, you turn the corner and find yourself at South Gate Meadows.

I’ve only hiked this trail one time previously and it was 8 years ago. This photo I took then shows better perspective.

The meadow marks the end of the maintained trail. However there are unmaintained trails inviting further exploration which is of course what I did. It’s important to be mindful of this fragile environment by staying on the well-used trails or rocky surfaces.

You can see the damage throughout the meadow. This is looking east toward Mt Lassen, again hidden by the smoke from nearby wildfires.

When you look at the mountain, your first impression is lots and lots of gray rock. These spring fed creeks create welcome relief.

Shastarama Point draws me upward.

Turning the corner I found colorful delight and more Dr. Seuss flowers, which had been dominant along many earlier sections of the trail.

There were tons of monkey flowers.

After reaching the spring, and then the ridge, I couldn’t help but see if I could find better views by wandering this escarpment.

I was thrilled to find views new to me, most notably Shastarama Point.

A close up of Shastarama.

Rather than retracing my steps, I decided to take an off-trail route through the rocks to create a bit of a lollipop loop. You can now also see a better angle on the side views of this lower part of the mountain. Shastarama Point is at 11,000+ feet whereas Mt Shasta Peak is at 14,000+ feet. Looks are deceptive!

Back on the main trail, this is a different side of Shastarama.

And the view more often seen by peak baggers summiting via the Bunny Flat or Old Ski Bowl route.

For those interested here’s a better perspective.

All too soon it was time to drop back into the smoke. Even at elevation my chest burned from the smoke. I was grateful for the blue skies and a break from the heat. There was a welcome breeze, and of course the streams to keep my temperature comfortable.

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 14, 2020

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • There are quite a few permit requirements and backcountry rules in the area. You’ll want to review the USFS information if you want to backpack or disperse camp (link).

  • Check weather forecasts. It can be quite windy and the mountain makes it’s own weather.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Electronics and Technology


Lessons Learned:

  1. A good power bank (battery) is essential.
  2. Invest in learning how to use devices and apps.
  3. Apps have improved my experiences.
  4. Electronics are a tool but dead weight if not utilized.
  5. Photography is a huge part of every adventure.
  6. Accident insurance is worth every penny.

Although hefty, electronics have become a weight penalty I’m willing to accept as I find great value and enjoyment from technology. I still prefer carrying a camera to using the one on my phone as I don’t find the quality comparable. Additionally my phone uses far more battery than my camera. I also prefer map apps on my phone to a GPS device. I find phone apps to be more user friendly with more flexibility. Having a satellite communication devise is non negotiable. It holds me accountable and keeps me more responsible while also offering a safety and security.

Phone:

Rarely do I have cell signal while hiking and backpacking. I keep my phone on airplane mode and primarily use it for the following functions:

  • Map Apps – I currently use Gaia as my primary digital mapping and tracking app. I pay for premium membership which includes helpful layers such as National Geographic, National Parks, USFS, snow levels, fire history, geology, etc. You can find great tutorials on YouTube and the Gaia blog. I also use Avenza and wrote this blog post with helpful tips, Hiking with Geospatial PDF Maps (Avenza).
  • Trail Specific Apps – There are general apps such as All Trails and REI’s Hiking Project which help you find nearby trails and provide user comments as to current conditions.
  • Park Specific Apps – I’ve gotten in the habit of checking the app store before going to a State for National Park as often they have their own apps which are helpful in planning and gaining insights.
  • Identification Apps – This is one of my favorite features of smart phones. I have several wildflower apps. It’s worth checking to see if there are ones specific to a particular area you’re visiting. Another favorite app is Peak Finder where I can take a photo of mountains and it adds names and elevations. It helps me later when I’m looking at my photos. Other fun apps I use are related to geology, astronomy and scat and tracks. I also have helpful apps such as ones focused on first aid, knots, and slope angles. One in particular helps me level my car when using it as a sleeping vehicle.
  • E-Books – I spend a lot of my down time reading so having books available on my phone is a necessity.
  • Screen Shots – I use this in conjunction with my maps to note location on map showing feature I may have photographed with camera. I also use it to note time I was at certain places and the associated stats from my tracker.
  • Camera/Video – I tend to use my phone for selfies and videos.

Battery life is an important feature for me since I’m fairly dependent on my phone, especially as a navigational aid. It’s at the top or near the top of the list when I’m looking for a new phone. Tip: investigate best ways to extend battery life on your particular phone.

Satellite Communicator:

My inReach is my security blanket, plus it keeps me accountable and responsible. I’m diligent about using it consistently so if my pings disappear hopefully someone will notice and begin the process of finding out if I need help or if I had a technology failure.

The key function is SOS which utilizes a satellite network. After carrying this device for several years, I had to push the SOS button in 2018. It worked as expected. Be sure to set up your emergency contacts online in advance. Here’s the link to the details of my experience: Life Interrupted . . . Forever Grateful for the SOS Button

One of the reasons I chose inReach over other units was the two-way texting option. Competitor products may have this as a feature now as well. Not only do I use this for check-ins but also for urgent issues. Examples:

  • While hiking the PCT in Washington, my power bank (external battery) was failing. I was able to contact a friend who had a replacement shipped to my next resupply town.
  • It had been raining for multiple days and I wanted/needed a hotel room. I texted a friend and she made a reservation and texted back with confirmation.
  • My mom fell and broke her hip. My niece messaged me and I was able to stay in touch while she underwent emergency surgery.

Most of these devices require a subscription service. Garmin has several plans including a flexible option which allows for putting the unit on vacation mode. Since I’m on a budget I have the safety plan which includes unlimited preset messages. This allows me to have tracking without paying the tracking fee. I send a message at the beginning and end of my trip indicating the location of my car, every evening and morning from my campsite, and each time I change trail or find myself crossing sketchy terrain including uncomfortable water crossings. I can also text any major change of plans.

I’ve been using this unit for many years without incident. I consider it an essential item and wouldn’t hike without a satellite communicator.

Camera:

While phone cameras have significantly improved over the past decade, I still prefer my camera for a few reasons.

  • Battery Life – I can usually get about 500 photos per battery on my camera, which can then be recharged from my external battery; however, I usually carry an extra in case of battery failure. I’ve also had memory card failures so I keep one in my emergency kit. Yes there is a small weight penalty for these non-essential items but because photography adds to my experience it’s worth it to me. Taking photos on my phone drains the battery quickly.
  • Photo Quality – I’ve never had a phone that takes the same quality images.  When I compare side-by-side photos taken at the same time, there is no contest. If I were just taking photos for instagram or facebook, my phone would be fine.
  • Photo Processing – I takes tons of photos. It’s rare I come back from an outing with less than 500-1000 images. I download the memory card to my computer where I can review, edit, organize, back up and share.

External Battery (Power Bank):

  • Size – There are lots of options from which to match your needs. I carry an Anker with 10,000 mAh. It usually keeps my phone charged for up to a week, even while running my Gaia tracker, plus if needed I can use for camera, inReach and headlamp. Anker has been a reliable brand for long distance backpackers for many years. You’ll want to do plenty of research to determine price, weight, fast charge, input/output options, etc. This Anker power bank (Amazon link) is a good starting point.
  • Cords – I found short cords to provide more efficient charge than longer ones (Amazon link). Research indicates it’s most efficient to recharge your phone when it’s no less than 30% and to stop at 80%.
  • Wall Charger – If you plan to recharge along your journey, you’ll want a light, small and fast charger. Once again I recommend Anker but don’t have one to recommend as I haven’t done the research recently.
  • Solar Charger – There are very few instances I’d carry a solar charger. Those include when I plan to be out for more than a week and/or I’m primarily dependent on my phone for navigation. Even then I’d be more likely to bring two power banks. The reasons are:
    • Weight of solar charges are usually more or similar to a power bank.
    • You still need to carry a power bank as few devices accept the trickle charge provided by a solar charger.
    • You need to be disciplined about placing the solar charger in direct sun during your breaks (while keeping the power bank in the shade)
    • Solar charges aren’t very efficient when they aren’t in the direct sun for long periods of time. While you can mount on your pack, the panels are rarely in alignment with the sun.

Insurance:

I have a history of having accidents with my electronics while hiking.

  • Camera #1 – dropped in a creek, but rescued and saved with the rice/freezer method, only to break the screen a few months later when I sat on it on a concrete bench.
  • Camera #2 – chipped the lens

Then I discovered Squaretrade Accident Insurance.

  • Camera #3 – dropped in the sand, outside my insurance period. I think I might have bought 2 years, now I buy 4 years.
  • Camera #4 – dropped in the sand. Sent in for repair under accident insurance.
  • Camera #4 – dropped on rock, shattered screen. Sent in for repair under accident insurance.

When I purchased my inReach and my phone, I added the insurance. It’s worth the peace of mind knowing something might happen on that first outing. The cost is very reasonable and is related to the price you paid for the item.

Loss Prevention:

  • Add your name and phone number to your items to help it find it’s way back to you
  • Add some duck tape or other easily identifiable tape to make it easy to differentiate your items from another hiker especially in areas where you might be sharing recharge plugs.

Related Posts:

Links: