Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Crater Lake in San Francisco East Bay?


We are out on a slightly rainy Sunday, hiking from Coyote Hills Regional Park to Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. It is an absolutely perfect time to hike this area. Cool and pleasant, the bay waters steel gray, dotted with ducks. Dark and linear clouds overhead, with light streaks. A few ground squirrels around. An egret leaves a muddy track on the shallow bay bottom.


The Coyote Hills end has a few cars. Not much water in the freshwater marsh, big irregular polygons in the mud, separated by deep cracks. Most now under two or three inches of water, so the last rains have put some water into Alameda Creek.

As we move south towards Don Edwards, we see the Dumbarton Bridge off to the right, and in the distant foreground, the outlines of a dozen or so salt cars, ready for their load. An aside, we've been getting some unattributed taking of blog content so inserting © 2009 backpack45.com

Nearing the highway, a massive crater comes into view, maybe 200 feet deep. We can't quite see the bottom on the way south, but on the return trip we take a trail choice that leads us closer, so the lake on the bottom is visible. This has got to be well below sea level. Is that water salt or fresh?

This is the first time at Don Edwards for us, and a pleasant surprise. Old fishing cabins, great views.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Patagonia - Torres del Paine - Trip Planning Stream of Consciousness

Thought it might aid some future trekker if I just list things as we learn them. It is now early Dec 2008, and we have reservations into Santiago, Chile for March, and back home from Buenos Aires. Now we have to fill in the in between. We got the start and end locations from a friend who visited Chile and Argentina last year, though he wasn't trekking Torres del Paine.

Some other friends did do the trek about 15 years ago, so we started by borrowing all their old guide books and maps. Since then we got our own Lonely Planet Trekking in Patagonia, and a recent Torres del Paine Trekking Map.

Since I'm going to keep updating this post, to keep all the Patagonia info in one spot, and try to keep a change log here:
Change log:

12/14/16 *** very important*** all campsites now require advance reservations, for example at this date, all of January is already reserved. See Campsite Reservations post below for more details.

12/2014 *** important *** Any US citizen entering Argentina by any means, now needs to have PREPAID a reciprocity fee by credit card on a specific website. See this for details: embassyofargentina.us/embassyofargentina.us/en/consularsection/tramites/reciprocityfee.html
12/10/08 add remarks re southern hemisphere compass.
12/12/08 searching for gps info, maps for Garmin mapsource, Garmin etrex vista c, also currency and visa info.
12/20/08 info on facilities at each campsite on Torres del Paine circuit, update currency info.
1/7/09 fuel - Doite gas canisters available in Puenta Arenas - fit Snowpeak.
1/24/09 add web address of 2nd company that has refugios in Torres del Paine
2/8/09 add more electricity info, and add cell phone note - they don't work in park or P.N.
2/24/09 reminder check shots! several recommended. Also, update currency figures
3/1/09 site with all area bus schedules, rates www.torres-del-paine.co.uk , added visa reminder if Brazil is in your itinerary.
3/2/09 added one more map - best yet
3/28/09 *** trip report and revisions based on trip
4/6/09 *** more trip report mosquitos & jerky
1/11/10 *** we are going back again this year to complete the circuit - got stopped by weather last year - this time are using a different route to get there
11/14/12 - add entry about Susan's book Patagonia Chronicle
An aside, we've been getting some unattributed taking of blog content so inserting © 2009 backpack45.com
 Nov 2012 - Susan's book Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine is published. Her book description:


Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine enables readers to gain a sense of the rewards and challenges of travel south of the 40th parallel in Chile and Argentina — Patagonia. Through journal entries, interviews, historic documents, and essays on subjects unique to the region, the reader samples the richness of the land and its peoples past and present. 

The book is for anyone contemplating a hike in Chile’s most famous park. Hikers en route to Torres del Paine will benefit from the detailed park information with descriptions of the accommodations, trekking routes, and trails as well as time and mileage charts, suggested itineraries, and a trail elevation profile.

However, Patagonia Chronicle is more than a trekking guide to that spectacular park: it casts a much larger net. Practical information is abundant. As such, this book will appeal not only to hikers, but also to travelers of all stripes. Besides Torres del Paine, readers discover the gateway towns that most Patagonian travelers enjoy exploring such as: Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, and El Calafate. They visit Los Glaciares National Park — home of Perito Moreno Glacier and Mount Fitz Roy.

Travelers will also find information about touring Chile’s and Argentina’s more temperate Lake Districts and several other national parks inside and outside of Patagonia. They’ll learn about Ushuaia—the hub for Antarctic visits. And, because most travelers to Patagonia will spend time in Santiago or Buenos Aires on their way farther south, they’ll find the colorful chapters on those capital cities helpful.

Finally, an underlying question raised in the book: how to gauge the risks and confront the fears that must be overcome when seeking adventure in unknown territory can be helpful and inspiring to any adventurer. In Patagonia Chronicle we learn that the author wants to backpack the Torres del Paine back country circuit, but she knows that the trek can range from a moderate activity to a life-threatening one — depending on the extremely unpredictable weather. In life there are always demons to slay: how does one decide when to continue on and when to turn back?

Available on Amazon & Barnes and Noble. Your local bookseller can order from Ingram. Good reviews appreciated.

Campsite Reservations Update 12/14/16

TDP has gotten very popular, and instituted campsite reservations during the 2015-2016 season. At that time they were loosely enforced but reports are coming back from those hiking now (Dec 2016) that reservations are being checked and those without reservations are being forced to hike on (Camp Paso for example). The Fantastico Sur Reservations sites are Camping Central (the big one in the Las Torres area at the beginning of the W route, Camping Los Cuernos, Camping Serón, Camping Francés, Camping El Chileno. Vertice Camping Reservations handles Paine Grande, Grey, Dickson and Los Perros Camping. For Vertice, their website says reservations must be made at least 5 days ahead, and if it is less than 5 days, then visit their offices in Puerto Natales at Bulnes 100 and Bulnes 1202. Also, you must reserve the free CONAF campsites: Campo Italiano, Campo Paso and Campo Torres (that is the free one at foot of towers, not the one at Las Torres area.

December 2013 - found another excellent blog post on Torres del Paine - be sure to check it out. It complements this post and is much better organized: http://cariedaway.blogspot.com/2013/12/planning-your-trip-to-torres-del-paine.html


2011-2012 Fire News
1/1/12 starting this up again to get a handle on the fire damage. So far I have heard that Italiano has been burned,  Refugio Grey at least closed, as was Refugio Cuernos and Refugio
Affected area:
http://www.emol.com/noticias/nacional/2011/12/31/519538/infografia-areas-afectadas-por-el-incendio-en-torres-del-paine.html ,
1/9/12 - Hotel Las Torres has a good map showing closed and open areas:
http://www.lastorres.com/the-national-park-torres-del-paine-is-open-for-tourists/
It appears as if at the moment Refugio Grey is undamaged, but not open, and catamarans are not running. Cuernos is open, but you cannot go up the French Valley. This will change over the next few weeks.
Another better map of the fire damaged area:
http://www.reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/map_29.jpg
As of Jan 14, 2012 status by the eight fire sectors:
http://www.allchile.net/chileforum/topic7279-132.html#p83784
English language summary of 1/13/12 announcement of what trekking routes are open:
Government of Chile 1/13/12 announcement
1/31/12 According to VerticePatagonia, the company that runs Grey, Los Perros and Dickson, Grey refugio is open.
A TripAdvisor post item 7 says that W and O routes both opened the 27th, Grey refugio the 26th, and that the catamaran is operating.
Lonely Planet forum has even a more current discussion going.
2/3/12 - VerticePatagonia says that Paine Grande will be open Feb 6th
2/7/12 - Erratic Rock Hostel says park is requiring local guides for multiday trips:
http://www.erraticrock.com/programs/2012-fire-program/
2/8/12 Lonely Planet forum - person who is guide in Torres del Paine says no guide required. Later comment in same thread suggests that organized groups must have a local guide
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2145201&start=180

Post Update 1
I'm starting to find some websites. This one has maps:
http://www.torresdelpaine.com/ingles/secciones/02/a/mapas.asp#

David, an email contact who hiked it last March gave me these tips:
I used a msr whisperlite international stove that burns any type of fuel.
All the hardware stores in puerto natales (gateway town to torres de paine) sell white gas (called it bensina blanco...they use it to clean stuff...my stove never worked as good).
It is also possible to buy isobutane canisters in town [ed.note: Brand is Doite - from Korea]. Fuel should not be an issue. *** post trip note *** got canister in Punta Arenas, numerous stores sell in Puerto Natales. Also, at Las Torres alburge central - the big refugio that you first get to if entering from Laguna Armarga, they had canisters. ***
You can fly with a used fuel canister, just wash/air it out before you board the plane and don't have it in your carry on luggage.
A good faq website recommended by David:
http://www.erraticrock.com/index.php?action=6&menu=5

Transportation seems a little tricky. Argentina and Chile don't get along all that well. There are three towns you need to remember. Punta Arenas is the southernmost city to remember - the largest city in the area and a transportation hub for Chile. North of that is Puerto Natales the gateway town to Torres del Paine. North of Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales is El Calafate - the Argentina transportation hub. You fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas and bus from there to Puerto Natales, and bus into the park. From Argentina you can also fly in and out of Ushuaia or Rio Gallegos and fly from there to Punta Arenas.*** post trip *** there were daily buses from Puerto Natales to El Calafate. There were buses leaving Puerto Natales for Laguna Amarga, Pudeto and Administration at 7am and 14:30. ***

I found a site with all bus schedules and rates for the area, but don't know if it is accurate:
http://www.torres-del-paine.co.uk/transport_public.php

According to the fslodges.com , there are buses leaving Punta Arenas every one to two hours for Puerto Natales, starting around 7 am. Catch Buses Fernández at Armando Sanhueza 745, or Bus Pacheco at Avenida Colón 900 or Bus Sur at José Menéndez 565.

From Puerto Natales, buses leave for the park at 7:00 am and 2:30 pm - Buses Gomez at Arturo Prat 234, Buses JB at Arturo Prat 244 or Buses Turismo Maria Jose at Bulnes 386.

Buses Gomez site is: http://www.busesgomez.com/ When I last checked, they left Laguna Armarga for Puerto Natales at 15:00 and 19:45. You would catch a shuttle at Las Torres Refugio to connect at Laguna Armarga.

You can bus from Puerto Natales to El Calfate, and from there get a flight to Buenos Aires for about $148 if you pick the right day of week. $312 for wrong day. Our plane was full leaving, so book in advance. You can get a ticket from Punta Arenas to Buenos Aires, but it routes you thru Santiago and costs about $450. For Brazil flights: http://plane.lan.com/index-en-us.html

There is also a little Argentine town south of Punta Arenas - Ushuaia and people can fly in and out of there, to Buenos Aires, but about $346 on low price days.

*** 1/11/10 ***  our 2010 route - fly into Puerto Montt, stay at Puerto Salas a couple of days and then take the Navimag ferry to Puerto Natales. After that, same as last year.

Found another website, says 8 to 10 days for circuit and carry a weeks worth of food. We were planning on eating in refugios and carrying 3 days of food for between refugio camps. Have to resolve. *** post trip note *** our plan worked. The remote refugios only have radio communications so don't take credit cards. Las Torres refugio does take credit cards. ***

Also, circuit, where does it really go? My Torres del Paine Trekking Map shows trails going up the Valle Encantado and then staying just south of Lago Paine as the trail goes west. *** my map is correct *** All the online maps so far show the trail going just north of Lago Paine, and no trail up the Valle Encantado .

Finally found an online map that shows the same trails as my trekking map:

TDP official trekking map

This is another good trail map: i-needtoknow.com/paine/

BestHikes website  has a couple of excellent maps showing the region around Torres del Paine:



Compass question. Our friends who hiked it 15 years ago said that a special compass is needed for the southern hemisphere. 12/10/08 I've found that a northern compass is weighted to counterbalance the pull of the north magnetic pole. When you take that compass way south, the south end is pulled by the south magnetic pole, and both the pole and the counterbalance weights are pulling on the same end of the compass, making the tip drag when you hold it level. *** our Silva compass worked just fine ***

Post Update 2
Sources of info: backpacker magazine forums includes one in international travel - some detailed postings there: backpacker.com . Select community, then forums, then destinations, then international. Also found a reference to lonely planets forum for finding accommodations:
www.lonelyplanet.com. Find their Thorntree Forum, next South America, next Chile and/or Argentina. Recommendations and you can post questions.

More good web sites:
http://www.besthike.com/southamerica/chile/paine.html
http://www.i-needtoknow.com/paine/index.html
trip advisor Patagonia report

Post Update 3
Our Route. This 8 day route is based on the Lonely Planet route and the route in i-needtoknow.robmccharles.com/paine/routes .

Day 0 sleep in Puerto Natales.
Day 1 16.5 km Take bus to park gate at Laguna Amarga and take van shuttle from there to Las Torres & start counterclockwise hike from there. Hike to Puesto Serón and camp (in tent). If weather is good, at Las Torres, do side trip to towers and camp at Las Torres and shift schedule by 1 day. *** post trip note *** we arrived in good weather, hiked to Camp Chilean, setup camp, went on to towers and returned to Camp Chilean, next day just went to Las Torres, and day after that went to Seron. ***
Day 2 Puesto Serón to Refugio Lago Dickson 18.5 km.
Day 3 Refugio Lago Dickson to Campamento Los Perros 9 km *** this was a very long day - took us about 7 hours ***
Day 4 Campamento Los Perros to Campamento Paso 12 km - about 2100 ft up and 2400 ft descent. *** we didn't go over pass due to strong winds and weather - backtracked to Las Torres ***
Day 5 Campamento Paso to Refugio Grey 10 km
Day 6 Refugio Grey to Campamento Italiano est 16 km 900 ft ascent/descent.
side trip Valle del Francés est 8 km
Day 7 Campamento Italiano to Los Cuernos est 13 km
Day 8 Los Cuernos to Hosteria Las Torres est 11 km 600 ft up 300 ft down and side trip to the towers.
Day 9 sleep in Puerto Natales *** Stayed at Casa Cecilia - left extra bag there on the way to the park (we had several hours in Puerto Natales before catching the 2:30 bus to the park. ***

Post Update 12/12/08
Looking for maps and waypoints to load to my Garmin Etrex Vista C, and to Garmin Mapsource. Found a site with mapsource loads for Argentina in Spanish, but with a tutorial that has English comments on how to register, and download free maps. I followed their steps and downloaded the Argentina-Chile map, and it did show up in Mapsource, so, so far, so good. Problem: Argentina not too fond of Chile, so no data points on Chile side of map where Torres del Paine is. However, found a site with someone's 7 day gps route around Torres del Paine. Not quite our route but labels most of the camps and fills in the blanks on the above mapsource map. Also found a trail source called WikiLoc with several Torres del Paine gps routes, the one in the link almost exactly our route. So, looks as if worthwhile to take gps. Will still take/get compass just in case. *** post trip note *** gps worked but was totally unneeded. I just turned it on a few times to see what it said. There was an initial problem when I turned it on in Puenta Arenas the first time - couldn't find any satellites. I had to use the new location map function and point to Patagonia on the little map to get the satellite search to work. ***

Currency Info:
1000 Chilean Pesos is about $1.50 US Dollars
10 Argentine Pesos is about $3 US Dollars
Banks in both countries are open 9am to 2pm, Mon thru Fri
Credit cards and ATMs can be used in the cities
On the Torres del Paine circuit, cash only (I assume Chilean Pesos, but some sources imply that US Dollars ok). Dollars, euros, credit cards and pesos are accepted at large road accessible refugios *** the ones in the backcountry are cash only since they only communicate by radio.


Exchange bureaus are available in the four gateway towns near Torres del Paine:
Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Calafate, Ushuaia, and rates are better than in banks.
Have enough cash for airport taxes, etc. Around $130 for US citizens to enter Chile, $18 airport international departure tax, $5 local.

Visas:
Visas not required for US citizens or Europeans for stays of less than 90 days. You will pay a visa reciprocity fee when you go into Chile of about $130 - what the US charges Brazil and Chile for visas. You only pay this if you enter Chile via the Santiago International Airport (thanks, Bystander). Also, Brazil does require a visa obtained in advance. Chile is very strict on food - check yes on organic box if you have any (thanks again, Bystander).

Electricity:
240 volts. You need the round 2 prong adaptor for Chile (3 if ground required), Argentina 2 round or two diagonal. Remember that you need a voltage converter, not just a plug adaptor if your appliance requires 110 volts. My camera battery charger will convert 240, but my cell phone charger will not. (note: cell phones for Chile and Argentina are GSM, but as far as I can find out, cell phones don't work in the park. No one has said they work in Puerto Natales though ATT's GSM coverage map shows a little pink spot on Puerto Natales. They do work in Punta Arenas. The coverage map doesn't show any Chile coverage north of the park till Coihaique.)

12/20/08
Misc note: in Chile, hot water faucet is on the right - applies to campground showers. *** post trip note - hot water on left where we stayed *** Figure on about $7000 Chilean pesos per camping night for two people, per Nadine's blog. However, fslodges.com rate chart says $5500 for breakfast, $7500 for lunch, $10000 for dinner. This is about $10, $14, $19 us dollars for 1 person. Camping with shower and toilet is $4000 per person. You have to pay $15,000 pesos (pesos required) to enter the park.
There is an english language online newspaper on Patagonia - patagoniablacksheep.com. I got the next couple items from its faqs.
Mice are sometimes a problem, so if you have an Ursack, bring it.
Get white gas at the pharmacies in Puerto Natales.
Accommodations and camping on our counterclockwise circuit.
Note: all spots have camping, ones with lodging require that the lodging be reserved in advance.
Campamento Serón - has a store, campground and showers. You can buy prepared food for breakfast and dinner according to the fslodges.com.
Campamento Lago Paine (Coiron) - just a free campground - can be windy, we don't plan to camp here.
Dixon, Grey and Los Perros are managed by verticepatagonia.cl/ingles
Refugio Lago Dickson - food, showers, camping, lodging if desired
Campamento Los Perros - food, cold showers, camping, lodging
Campamento Paso - free camping, a three sided shelter for cooking
Campamento Guardas - free camping - we don't plan to stay here
Refugio Grey - food, hot showers, campground, lodging if desired
Refugio Lago Pehoé - food, showers, campground, lodging - we will skip and go to next entry
Campamento Italiano - free campground
Los Cuernos - food, showers, campground, lodging
Hosteria Los Torres - food, showers, campground, lodging

2/12/09 Update
A good website for the entire Patagonia area - El Calafate, etc is interpatagonia.com .

3/28/09 Update - trip report

4/2/09 more trip notes


Wonderful country - better than expected. The winds were severe at times, a couple of times such that my wife could not stand up with a pack on, and I had to carry my pack thru the windy area and go back and get hers. At the staffed remote camps they have rental tents already set up, and some people were using those and carrying their own sleeping bag. Reserve the tents at least a day or two in advance. The bunk beds need to be reserved further in advance. Cash was a problem. We thought we had enough pesos, but meals, camping fees, etc. use it up fast.

Water - the refugios all had water from a faucet, and we drank it unfiltered with no problems. One day a storm knocked out the water at Seron, so I filtered muddy water from a stream using our ULA gravity filter.

Raingear - we both had Packas - rain parkas with sleeves, zippers, and a big hump for the backpack. Worked fine, but only protects to about the crotch. We also had rainpants. Also, I carried Seal Skinz waterproof socks.

Footwear - I wore Asics Gel Nimbus - my normal hiking backpacking shoe, with superfeet inserts. My wife, who normally also uses Gel Nimbuses, used her Lowa Renegade GTX boots. I think the running shoes were fine - possibly better than boots. They gave good traction on some rocky surfaces. We had three wet and rainy hiking days. On two of these I wore the full rain outfit including Sealskinz and stayed relatively warm and dry. On the third day, I had washed the rain pants and Sealskinz the night before, so just wore the Packa. Got quite wet up to the crotch, but wind continued after rain stopped, so by the time we reached camp both my pant and shoes were fairly dry, and I was warm while hiking, even though pants and shoes were wet. Legs have big muscles and generate a lot of heat.

Since we couldn't complete the circuit, we took a tour to see the Grey Glacier, etc. After that, we went to El Calafate, saw the Pedro Moreno Glacier, took a day trip to El Chalten to the Fitzroy area and a short hike, then to Buenos Aires for 3 days and home.

I will put a Patagonia page on our website www.backpack45.com at some point.


4/2/09 - Tents - We took a Stephensons Warmlite 2R and were quite happy with it. It setup fast, handled fierce winds without problems, and we stayed dry. Many others were having a problem with wet sleeping bags and other gear. One thing I should have done, and will do now, is coat the floor with some wide diagonal strips of seam sealer, as the silnylon floor was very slippery, and if we weren't on a level area, ended up on one side or the other by morning. Also, I ordered the tent with side window panels, and double zip door. It is a 4 season tent, but we only use it for severe conditions, so there is no value to the side windows - they are always closed, so just extra weight. The double zip door was nice. If I were ordering it again, I would also get double wall end panels. We got some condensation and blow thru on the end panels, because they were just a single layer of silnylon. For snow, the single panel would be ok, but for driving rain, double is better. Someone else had just a tarp, and cancelled the hiking part of their trip because the bag was too cold. I think taking a tarp is an extreme risk. The winds most nights would blow it away. I remember one night when I got up to pee. Of course, I kept my back to the wind, and by the time I finished, I had done a complete circle.

4/6/09 *** Some locations had quite a few mosquitos, not clouds of them, but bring deet, and spray clothes with Sawyers or equivalent. *** Jerky - we brought 9 lunches and 3 complete days of backpack food with us. That included jerky for lunches. The jerky was seized by Chile customs, so replaced with a stick of dried salami from a Chilean supermarket. ***

4/10/09 *** official conaf torres del paine map you get at the entrance station:
In researching for our 2010 trip, I discovered a site by the Moon guidebooks author for the Chile book. He has a good blog with an incredible list of Patagonia and South America links at the end of the blog: http://www.southernconetravel.com/

Monday, November 17, 2008

Long Distance Travelers "not us"

We went to the San Mateo Harvest Festival the other day. As we walked in, we noticed this Model A parked just outside, along with Candelaria and Herman selling books. That's Susan on the right, not Herman. It turns out that they have driven this car from Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, having a child during the trip. Somehow they found time to write a book about their trip:
Spark Your Dream
and now are planning to drive their car across Asia.

I had a point when I started this, but Susan has been quizzing me from across the room "ou habite vous", "vous vous apelez, comment?", etc as we try to master phrases from our rudimentary French class, and my train of thought was derailed. On our last hiking trip in France, we were talking to our hostess in English, after she heard our attempts at French. She: "How many times have you been in France" Us: "Well, five times". She: "Isn't it about time you learned French?" So, we vowed to take lessions as soon as we got home, and now have had two sessions of feeling incompetent.

Anyway, we bought the book, and I can hardly wait to read it. I'm so envious of such a trip, though some parts of it would scare the hell out of me. There is something about each day being a new and yet familiar adventure that is very appealing. Something like that is at the core of most long distance hikers. The other thought I had is that this requires a certain degree of obsession - another trait of long distance hikers, and I thought of Harvey Butchart and his drive to hike and document all the Grand Canyon trails - at the expense of his family. I'm extremely lucky to have Susan, who is a co-conspirator when it comes to getting out on the trails. If she weren't into hiking, then I would be doing something else that we could share, but there would be something missing. The only time I feel truly at home is out on the trail.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fog, Weasel Antics, Skunk foraging and Point Reyes Elk

A cold and foggy Sunday morning, but we headed for Point Reyes, knowing the elk would be forming harems. About 50 feet before we reached the Pierce Point Ranch parking lot, Susan spotted a skunk about 15 feet from the road, out foraging. We backed up to get a photo, and saw another skunk about 25 feet from the first one. Both were ignoring us, just walking around digging here and there.


After a few shots, we park and start down the trail. A few others are braving the fog. A lot of elk are way off the trail, down towards the ocean on the right.

The real surprise comes as we continue on towards the pond, where lots of elk usually hang out. Susan spots a movement almost at my feet, just off the trail. A little weasel is popping in and out of a burrow, and boldly just standing and checking us out. You can't really appreciate him until you checkout this movie Susan made, and posted on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBje2k4KNC4

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ants - an environmental indicator?


When we backpack and hike, ants are ubiquitous, big, little, all black, red and black, etc. Today we were out walking along a road bordering an East Bay Regional Park, and noticed a cone shaped ant lion trap on the edge of the road. I also saw a few in early spring. However, the only ants we ever see locally are the tiny Argentine ants, not big enough for a respectable ant lion snack. Are the local ant lions just a remnant population, gradually starving to death? Why don't we see the variety of ants here that we see while hiking the remote regions of California and Oregon?

My thought is that maybe the larger ants are an overlooked environmental indicator - not able to tolerate human disturbance.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Long Distance Walk Planning


I'm just finishing up a planning effort, both polishing up our GR 653 Arles to Toulouse info based on completing that trip, and doing the initial Toulouse to Puenta la Reina planning.

In all cases, the key document is the spreadsheet in the bottom center of the image. Normally I will use a Google Documents spreadsheet, as I share the info with others. I gather the appropriate guidebooks, and from them build the spreadsheet with names of the stops, and distances between points. To this I add the elevation for each point. Sometimes this is in the guidebooks, other times I have to pull it off of a topo map, or my topo software, or worst case, zooming google maps in terrain mode. I add cumulative distances to my spreadsheet, and with the distances and elevation can do an elevation profile chart with Google charts. Its a little easier to chart if I clone my original spreadsheet, and delete all but the elevations and cumulative distance. An aside, we've been getting some unattributed taking of blog content so inserting © 2009 backpack45.com

Once the spreadsheet is done I can estimate the number of days and we can schedule the trip, buy supplies, book reservations, etc.

Some examples:

A PCT Spreadsheet

A GR653 Arles to Toulouse Spreadsheet

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Existential Friendships


For hours, and sometimes days, we see no one as we walk. In France, at least we see someone at our lodging place at the end of the day.

This is not a bad thing. It helps the transformation to the simple demands of the trail - food, shelter and persuading our body that this is normal, this is to be expected. As we settle into the daily routine, a new voice, the passing of a pilgrim, become major events.

Later, as we think back on our experiences, we find the trip defined by the people we meet. Good friends for the moment, and then usually gone forever. For a few hours on the Arles trip we walked a while with Robert, the Solitary Walker.

A few days later we kept meeting Celine, a French-Canadian pilgrim who helped us with our daily phone calls for lodging.

Then they are gone or we are gone, each walking our own path.

This is a strangely compelling existence. If you are thinking of walking in Europe, I would recommend the Le Puy route to Santiago as a good first experience, but once you have that under your belt, and are looking for a different challenge, consider the Arles route. I've put our planning info and post walk thoughts into an Arles Route webpage.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Del Valle hike re snake phobia cure

We're still plugging away at the East Bay Regional Parks Trail Challenge, trying to stay in shape for our next trip. A week or so ago, we did the Dell Valle suggested 10 mile trip, from the dam up nearly to the marina and back. A long, hot, up and down, and mileage mislabeled trip, as they frequently are (closer to 12 miles).

Anyway, near the end of the return trip, I noticed this stick in the road that sort of looked like a snake, so knowing Susan is not too fond of snakes, I call out "hey, check out that stick in the road, doesn't it look like a snake?" She agrees, and as we continue walking towards it, the stick begins moving off the trail. We get up to it, and it is a fair sized rattlesnake, about three feet long. We didn't have our cameras, so just continued on back to our car.

The thing that prompted this post was that yesterday I asked her if she had told anyone about seeing the snake - no, she had completely forgotten it, and it was no big deal. Well, when we first met, about twenty years ago, she wouldn't even look at a picture of a snake, and anything slim and wiggly - even an angleworm was traumatic. A couple of years later we moved into house with lots of ivy, and the biggest banana slugs I had ever seen. These of course freaked Susan out. They were all unique, with black patches in different locations, and I could recognize some of them. One day I had the brilliant idea of naming them. I said "that's not a slug, that's Old Spotty" and pointed out its unique markings to Susan. I did this over several days, and almost immediately, Susan's attitude changed. These were not horrible things, they were some sort of odd looking neighbors. Over the years since, Susan has continued to view snakes and their like with a more nuanced response than sheer terror. We started hiking the PCT desert sections in 2005, and with that, rattlesnakes became a normal, though not welcomed event. The one in the first photo was the largest one we saw, and that was on the PCT up near the Oregon border. It was more than five feet long.
The second image is a tiny rattler, about 10 inches long. It scurried into a hole in the trail as we approached. I looked in the hole out of curiosity, expecting to see nothing but a hole in the ground, and there he was, waiting like a trap door spider.

Anyhow, our five year old granddaughter comes to visit frequently, and for some reason she is bug phobic, and I have been using the naming approach with some success, to help her get used to insects. "A spider shriek, shriek" "Oh, no that's just Fred. Fred's mom used to live over there, but she moved. Someplace around I saw Fred's little sister, Spindora, etc. etc. etc.

Friday, July 25, 2008

PCT Cottonwood Pass to Kennedy Meadows - highlight: a wolverine spotting


We finished the California part of the Pacific Crest Trail with this trip. Nice hike, though the altitude starting at the high end gave me a reaction somewhat like mild hyperthermia - headache the 1st day and sluggish and slow thinking the second.

At a PopTart break, I was so beat, I grabbed a 2 minute nap in the trail:

The section south from the northernmost crossing of the Kern River could use some trail maintenance. I really hate having to crawl under a tree with my pack on, but it is not quite as bad as pushing or pulling it thru.

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing a wolverine in the upper part of Cow Creek. Susan spotted it first, and asked if it was a bear cub. With that long bushy dark tail, it did not compute. We watched it run straight up the slope from the creek, about 60 feet away. Dark brown and golden brown with a fringe of sunlit hair on the sides. We weren't fast enough to get the cameras out, so another undocumented sighting.

We tried the SticPic a few times, so you can see the two of us:

The last day of this trip sent us thru the Clover Fire area, which has now been opened to hikers. It was a fairly sobering experience to see the devastation. Earlier on the trip, the trail was overgrown, and the brush was giving our shins a beating. Not a problem in the fire area. One thing I had never seen before - the granite boulders literally blew flakes of granite off during the fire, some large flakes went as far as four feet away, leaving a checkerboard appearance on the original boulder, and flakes scattered around. It must have been really noisy when those flakes were blowing off.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Repackaging Backpacking Food, Our menu, and Pilot Biscuits


I've been busy getting our resupply box off to Crater Lake for our Oregon PCT segment in a few weeks. As long as I label it appropriately, I can include isobutane fuel. For the full story on mailing fuel, see Ken Power's writeup.

We've also learned a few more tricks on lightening our pack and reducing the volume. For weight, we have replaced dried fruit with the tasty but pricey freeze dried sensiblefoods.com offerings. You can get them at a discount at Amazon.




We've gained space by repackaging the freeze dried dinners, the gorp and the jerky using Handi-Vac quart bags that we found in the supermarket. It is a hand sized vacuum sealer with special bags. About every seven bags or so, the seal fails due to some problem such as a sharp jerky point, or noodle point puncturing the bag, so check them a couple hours after sealing.

As long as I'm talking about food, some more tips. Those snack sized ziplocks used for kid's lunches are useful. I use them to prepare daily portions of breakfast cereal, Tang, etc. I don't like generating the extra trash, but the multi day bags frequently develop problems that cause leaks after several days of use. Having the daily portions already measured out saves quite a bit of time.

When we measure out the daily Tang (2 liters, 1 per person per day), we add 1/2 tsp. table salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1/4 tsp lite salt for electrolyte replacement, from Kaiser's 1994 health handbook. However, I just found out that they have withdrawn this recommendation and I am still researching a better ratio. Too bad. The one above that we have been using and will use for this trip gives the Tang a fizzy zing and improves the taste.

Re breakfast - We use normal high density cold cereal - i.e. grape nuts, cheerios, granola - snack baggies hold one serving. Also use some instant oatmeal. One serving is two packets, one regular and one flavored. If you use two flavored, by the end of the trip you will never eat that flavor again. We don't bother to premix the Milkman, just dump the desired amount of powder on the cereal, stir & add hot or cold water. Most thru hikers just eat a bar and start walking, but we take the extra hour for a hot beverage, multivitamins and cereal.

Mid morning snack - A poptart wafer, i.e. one two wafer packet for the two of us. Sometimes we also have the freeze dried fruit packet. Otherwise the fruit at noon. Afternoon snack is the same.

Gorp - we munch about every hour at a break. The ratio is 2 mixed salted nuts to 1 raisins and 1 regular M&Ms, so for 2 people 8 days, 16 oz nuts, 8 oz raisins, 8 oz M&Ms. Sometimes we add sunflower seeds - shelled, etc.

Lunch - 1 cracker equivalent per person, 1/2 oz jerky, one bar. On the bars, we look for high calories per weight, but have a variety. The cracker equiv is about 1 1/2 oz and varies from canned potato chips, to stoned wheat crackers to cheese and peanut butter sandwich crackers. We get into food a little more on our backpack45 food page.

The cracker equivalent term came because about 20 years ago we used pilot biscuits, which were big, hard and almost indestructible. These are no longer available. You can order things called pilot biscuits from the internet, but they are flimsy imitations of the original.

UPDATE 3/4/2011 - finished the pct last fall. Some changes in above. Milkman not available anymore, but Nido can be found and tastes better. Instead of Tang, we just buy assorted electrolyte packets, chews, and EmergenC packets, just to get a variety of flavors.

An aside, we've been getting some unattributed taking of blog content so inserting © 2009 backpack45.com

Monday, June 30, 2008

Don't forget to get the faces


My parents were in the National Park Service, so as part of their heritage they left us umpteen million photographs and a lot of home movies. The thing that struck me about the movies, some 60 years later, is how much I want so see images of people. I look at these unique movies of buffalo, bighorns, deer, moose, etc., but what I want to see is the faces of people I have known. In so many shots, the people are just an afterthought. The back of a head, a shoulder, distant views.

Recently I've been scanning in old slides of Susan's old neighborhood from about 30 years ago. She has done a little better at capturing faces. The batter here is backpack45, but I what I appreciated was the shot of her in a Renaissance dress.

Some of the others in that scanning are good examples of what I'd like to see:





These are all circa 1977

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

StickPic test in Tilden and Timecheck and Backpack45 together


Did another of the East Bay Regional Park Trail Challenge hikes today. A nice route - starts at Little Farm, goes up to Nimitz Way, out for about three miles, down and back via Wildcat Canyon trail. Almost nobody out there due to the smoke warnings. We met one hiker early on, said he had seen a mountain lion a mile back. All we managed to see were cows. At our Pop Tart break, I decided to try the StickPic we had for testing. This is a little camera tripod like device that looks like a fat plastic ring, and fits on the end of the hiking stick.

It worked fine and resulted in one of the few pictures we have of the two of us. However, Susan vetoed her image, so I had to abide by her wishes and just post the above.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Barking Frogs on Pleasanton Ridge


Our backpacks were sitting there, ready to go for our now fire canceled 4 day backpack. Water bladders full, etc. With an open schedule, we turned to our East Bay Regional Parks Trail Challenge book for a hike to keep us in condition. Pleasanton Ridge, 7.5 miles, challenging was the description, so we went for it, me with my full backpack, and Susan with a fanny pack.

It's a little tedious slogging up to the top of the ridge, but then the trail goes thru some ancient olive trees, and follows the ridgetop with shade when you want a break. The challenge route is a loop, and the back side goes by three cattle ponds. They look pretty stark - bare dirt surroundings with a small margin of green around the edge.

I walked over to get a better look at the first one, and heard this bark-splash. I walked a little closer and more bark-splashes. About every 2 or 3 feet around the lake there was a frog head sticking out of the water about 2 inches from shore, with a few actually on shore. Every frog gave this bark at the instant they jumped. I've scared a lot of frogs, but never encountered this bark and leap behavior. They were about 4 inches long. Don't know if they were baby bullfrogs or something else.

Anyway, near the end of the loop we passed a ranger residence, and a few minutes later another entry for Tom Managan's decrepit building contest:










One of the frog ponds had a large blue egg mass about 6 inches across. Anyone know if that is frogs, newts or what?




Monday, June 23, 2008

Decrepitude and Rusty Objects



I'm sitting here thwarted because once again nature has cancelled our attempt to finish the one 50 mile piece of the Pacific Crest Trail that we have yet to complete in California.

It's just a short segment from Kennedy Meadows to Cottonwood Pass, and when we finished our 250 mile segment from Agua Dulce to Kennedy Meadows on May 19th, our plan was to come back and do the Cottonwood Pass stretch on June 6, after the snow level had dropped sufficiently. Well, several days after we got home there was a big storm, and the Cottonwood Pass area got several feet of fresh snow instead of melting off. So, we rescheduled once again for June 22. We were all packed up and ready to leave, but checked to see if firefighters were still letting pct hikers go thru the small fire just north of Kennedy Meadows. That fire became a monster overnight and has gone from about 300 acres to 3000+. Wildfire Today: Clover fire approaches Hwy. 395 Hikers are barred from the pct, though they can detour around. Since it's our last 50 miles of California, finishing on a detour wasn't what we wanted, so once more we have rescheduled, now in late July.

The one good thing about canceling a trip is that suddenly you have a blank calendar. In my newly acquired idle time I learned how use Google Reader to read blogs automatically. I have favorite blogs, but usually forget to check them regularly.

I was reading Tom Managan's TwoHeel Drive blog this morning and he had an old shack picture. That reminded me that I've been accumulating photos of old cars, rusty objects, and decrepit buildings that we have encountered while hiking, and decided to share some of them.


The old truck at top, and shack at bottom are both at Fox Mill Spring on section G of the pct. The rusty vw is somewhere on section B or C.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Life can be viewed as a series of separations


I don't spend a lot of time reflecting. My usual focus is now, today, and the near future. However, recently I had this flash of insight - maybe inspired by talk of new year's resolutions (something I don't do).

I've heard people express the idea that life is a process of maintenance. This is another view of life. I think for men more than women, and probably for the quiet more than the gregarious, on looking back, life can be seen as a series of separations. As we move from childhood through school, through various employers, we are making new friends, but we are also leaving old ones behind. From our earliest childhood days we realize that people we know die. How we deal with these separations is important. There has to be an acceptance that separations are a part of life. Otherwise the weight of these cumulative separations is a path to depression. I find that viewing separation as a natural consequence of living allows me to see it as a life experience, but not crippling. Sticking © 2009 backpack45.com in here to foil blog bandits.

This is way more than I usually dwell on such things, but when this epiphany struck me it seemed as if it had some value.

Sibley labyrinth, frog sounds, newts


One foggy morning following some rainy days, I walked up to the Sibley labyrinth, which has a rainy season pond. As I walked around the corner to where the labyrinth came into sight, there was a stunning chorus of frog voices coming from the pond. The fog was just lifting, and patches of sunlight were hitting the pond. I'd been there many times before, and never heard anything other than a few peeps from the frog population.

Of course I didn't have my camera or any way to record it, so I came back every morning for four days. Each day was windy and beautiful, but zero frog sounds. Finally I came back one rainy morning and got the sounds again, along with some clips of newts doing their newt business. I put it all on this video.