Wednesday, January 27, 2010

GR 65 - a few days of beauty through the snow

I've been scanning the slides for our April-May 2004 walk from Le Puy to Figeac. This is a long process. One slide at a time, I place into the flatbed scanner with a slide adaptor. There is a prescan, then a scan, it goes into Photoshop and I have to adjust the lighting and name the slide. Maybe three minutes per slide.

You would think this is a tedious process, but as I go through the slides I am reliving that wonderful trip. It was cold and wet, rained most days and for five days it snowed, but we were prepared and comfortable. I thought I would share some of those snowy day images. The most snow was on the stretch from Nasbinals through Aubrac and Saint Chely. Click on the images below to see them full size.

To us, daffodils came from bulbs you buy and plant in your yard. Here they were everywhere:
 In the morning there was a dusting of snow
And then Daffodils through the snow
 And then just a track through the sparsely populated high plateau
Leaving Nasbinals with snow coming
When the walking is easy, an umbrella keeps the snow out of your face
Still gaining elevation
Down the other side towards Aubrac
And finally Saint Chely, our destination for the night
When I finish scanning for the entire Le Puy to Figeac segment, I will put together a YouTube of the whole thing, but I wanted to put this out while it was fresh in my mind.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Advice on hiking with a backpack in the rain

I try not to let wind and rain stop me from hiking. If I am prepared, it is actually sort of fun. The plants are dripping with water droplets. Rainwater paths give an education in delta formation, in miniaturized fashion. Some creatures appear only in the rain.

I've been doing some local training hikes during rainy conditions, some days raining when I start, some rain starts later. I am reminded by nature, once again I might add, that it is best to put on rain pants before it starts to rain. With no shelter, it gets a little tricky getting stuff out of the pack and still keeping the pack and contents dry.

In my case, I have a Packa which is a rain poncho with sleeves or a rain jacket with a hump for the pack, whichever you want to call it. It keeps the pack quite dry, but to get in the pack I've got to take it off and expose myself to the elements. For now I have a Patagonia Guide Jacket which is water resistant and a warm layer in the outer mesh pocket, and I grab that during brief stops to get something from the pack.

If it is raining at the start of the hike, and expected to continue all day, I will start with rain pants on, and also wearing my Seal Skinz socks and my trail runners, and will be fine all day. If the terrain is not steep, I will also have an umbrella. If I am out on the trail and the rain starts I will just accept the wet legs and feet if is our normal weather. I generate enough heat hiking to stay warm during our normal wet weather. If it is a cold storm I will go ahead and put on the rain pants over my wet synthetic pants, just for the added warmth. So far I have not put on Seal Skinz once my feet get wet.

Yesterday I went a little further than planned, ending up with 18+ miles, and realized another thing about pack covers and wet weather. On a real trip, I will use a bladder, but on these training hikes I just stick a water bottle in the side pocket of the pack. It is a real pain to get that water bottle out without taking off the pack, so it is easy to get somewhat dehydrated. My advice: If you are using a pack cover, use a water bladder.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Joys of Walking in the Rain

As I write this we are having a brief respite from the flash-boom thunderstorm right overhead. I know this is common for many of you, but for we in the Oakland Hills on the east side of San Francisco Bay, a few times a year occurrence. A smattering of hail on the ground, and no birds in sight. Earlier, when it was just windy and raining, birds were all over the place, a dozen or so trying to get on our cylindrical feeder with eight perches.

Our plan for today was a two hour hike, regardless of the weather, so this morning we put on our rain pants, packs, rain parkas, etc. I even put on my Seal Skinz waterproof socks. Our route was one of our favorites, the Heaven Hill & Pacific RR route  I blogged about earlier.

We had just donned the same gear a couple of days ago to go on the Kings Canyon Loop, a familiar local water district trail. On both of these trips there was rain, wind, mud .... and we had a whole lot of fun. There is a lot of in the moment stuff, small slides, water rushing down gutters, hillsides, normally dry creekbeds.

For example, dirt roads frequently have ant colonies, a hole, dirt scattered around, ants scurrying, no big deal. Well, they seem to do things differently during the wet season. There is a dam, an inch or two high, around the entire hole. When it is raining, the dam gets this sort of sponge like appearance, but no water gets in from the sides.

Just a few more shots to encourage you to take a walk in the rain.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Oakland Hills Walk 5 - North Oakland Sports Center loop to Skyline & Old Tunnel Rd

View Oakland Hills Walk 5 - from North Oakland Sports Center in a larger map

The Caldecott Tunnel through the east bay hills is a critical commute corridor for those east of the hills. Initially roads wound over the hills. In 1903 a tunnel was built above the current tunnel location, and when this walk takes you on Old Tunnel Road, that's the origin of the name. The current tunnel started with two bores in 1937, added a third in 1964, and a fourth is budgeted. In 1982, a gasoline truck caused a firestorm within the tunnel, killing seven, and in 1991 an improperly extinguished grass file just above the tunnel caused the disastrous Oakland fire that killed 25 people. I have driven through this tunnel many times, and had to evacuate for the fire, so know this area well.

As you approach the tunnel from the west, you see a lot of houses on the left side, and on the right, eucalyptus, brush, and a high voltage power line on the crest of some hills. Several years ago,  a sports field facility was built on the right side at the base of the hills - North Oakland Sports Center.

I always thought there should be a way to get from there up into the hills but couldn't see any trail from above. Finally I ran across the Walk Oakland map. This showed a trail curling up from the back of the sports field to Skyline Blvd. Back in December, I decided to check it out, not bringing my gps, as it was a clearly marked trail on the map.

It had maybe a 20 car parking lot, a quonset hut type restroom and a large fenced play field. The trail turned out to be a very wide fire road up through a dense young eucalyptus grove, with signs of some vehicle traffic. Initially there was a good view back towards the Golden Gate bridge, but the forest soon closed in around me. There were some barely trickling streams, and fairly high up, a tee junction, not indicated on the map.

The heavily used track went off to the right, even though I knew that Skyline Blvd was up and to the left. At this point I wished I'd been making a trace with the gps. Anyway, I went to the right (south) just to see what was there. In a short time I came to a massive water caused slide, now covered with plastic and sandbags, clearly the object of the vehicle tracks I had seen. Above the slide on the crest of the hill was a massive EBMUD water tank, and a narrow track between the tank and the slide. I took the track on past the slide, and then could see a large fenced concrete parking pad and a gated access road. The tank and pad were clearly post fire construction, and runoff from the pad was the cause of the erosion and the slide. If that slide had been left to nature, a few more storms would have it undermining the water tank, and then a possible flood of debris all the way down and over highway 24.

Continuing on past the tank, the trail followed some high voltage power lines, with good views towards Alameda and the Montclair section of Oakland. Finally the trail dead ended at a large flat area where there was a set of power line towers off to the side. There was a panoramic view of the bay. This would be an ideal stealth camping site if it were not for the law, and for the proximity of the power lines.

My parents used to walk regularly along a path near power lines in Modesto. Sometimes my dad would take a florescent light tube and hold it up near the power lines. The tube would light up. Well, a few years after that, my mother died of cancer. Then we found out that a number of other people who lived along the power line had also died of cancer. The only thing I could find on the web is that there was some suspicion that power lines could accelerate certain cancers. People do have to die of something, and these people were not young, but ever since, I have tried to avoid regular exposure to high voltage lines. Short story, I wouldn't camp here.

Back to the trail, retracing my steps, I get back to the tee junction, and take the upper north leading trail. This winds around a while, comes into an area of construction debris, and a child sized old caboose.

At the time I was a little upset to see what appeared to be construction dumping on public land, but that was my error. I've since done some googling and found that most of the land above the play field is a single private holding, though it is not marked or posted at any  point.

I can see that Skyline Blvd is just beyond, but there is not a clear trail, just a vee choice - one track leading left to the road and one sort of straight, but with a backhoe and truck parked in it. I take the left one, and that leads me up someone's driveway up to the inside side of a gate. Too late now, so I just step around it onto Skyline and turn left towards the rebuilt burn area.

Soon I hit Old Tunnel Road, and then start circling back to the sports center. I can see it in the distance, so just choose the appropriate road. A couple of kids zip by me on skateboards (this is a long downhill), and then I pass a parked car with  more kids getting out with their skateboards. They're shuttling up and down the hill.

This is a nice walk, but farther than I thought, so I speed up - sports field closes at dusk. I can see the bridge I must cross over the freeway, but soon realize that I am still high up on the slope of the hill. The road goes past and above the bridge, and finally, at the fire memorial, I can double back, cross the bridge and get back to my car with some time to spare.

The Google map at the start is accurate, as I did this walk again, this time with a gps to verify the trail location.

I've put together some more images of this walk in a YouTube video that I think you'll like:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kilimanjaro - mostly on conditioning

I saw someone's blog posting re Kilimanjaro training a couple of days ago, and realized that we had never posted anything on our Kilimanjaro experience. I guess that is because it was a guided trip (mandatory), and we normally write on hiking/backpacking experiences that we have done entirely on our own.

In retrospect, the training we did for Kilimanjaro, and our physical experiences while doing that climb could help others training for a similar high altitude climb (20,000 feet).

Of all our trips, this is the one where we trained most rigorously, and did not slack off. We were afraid that if we didn't do the training, we just would not be able to complete the climb. To do the climb, you are required to have a guide, and the company we used, Tusker Trails, sent out sent out training requirements that made it clear this was not a thing to be taken casually.

At this point, I didn't remember their exact instructions, so dug them up again. They had a very thorough set of workouts:

Mon Weds Fri Aerobic - walking, jogging, stair climbing 30 to 40 min, try for 70% of max heart rate.
Every weekend at least one three hour hike up and down hills with full equipment..
Tues and Thurs - Strength
incline leg press 3x15
leg extension 3x15
walking lunges 3x15
rear lunges 3x15
standing calf raises 3x15
Upper Body
reverse grip pull down
Daily stretches

What we ended up doing was an hour walk around our hilly neighborhood daily, and a couple of long walks (7 to 10 miles) per week. We have a steep local trail (Claremont Canyon for you locals) that rises about 800 feet in about half a mile, and then climbs more gradually for another 30 minutes or so. Up and back was a real workout. Even this climb didn't do much for my cardio, though. Susan's pulse would be up to 145, but mine would get to about 100 and just settle there. The result was that I was not getting much cardio training and I think it did cause me some problems on Kilimanjaro later
Our route was the Lemosho route, which is 10 days, 8 up and 2 down. We chose this to get the longest adaptation time.

When we did the climb, Tusker Trails was very safety conscious. They carried a portable high altitude chamber (gamow bag) for severe cases of altitude sickness, and bottled oxygen. However, if you needed oxygen, that meant you were going down right then (with a guide). It was not to let you continue up. They measured your blood oxygen several times a day, and also grilled you re how much water you drank, diarrhea, color of pee, etc.

Everyone had to have a prescription for Diamox. That lessened the effect of the elevation but caused stomach upset, diarrhea and so on. The dose that Tusker Trails recommended, 125mg twice a day, is less than your doctor's handbook will say, but it worked for me. At one point my blood oxygen was about 70%, which is almost the send down level. Luckily it popped back up as I adapted to the altitude. I think that if my cardio training had been better, I would have been able to pump blood fast enough to keep myself properly oxygenated. I did make it to the top, but after about 14000 feet, I was the slowest of the group. Of course I was older than most of the rest of the group by 20 years, though only a little older than Susan and our friend Grace. Because I was the slowest, the guides put me at the head of the line. It gave everyone else a break. You would think I would feel some social pressure, but at that point I was so focused on getting my feet up the mountain that I didn't care about anything else. The guides have a mantra which translates to slowly, slowly. They don't want you to ever stop, but keep inching up the mountain. My style was to set a goal, such as a rock 20 feet up the trail, and stop for a moment when I got there. It worked for me.

Someone asked me about toilet facilities. It is like normal backpacking - step off the trail and go. You  are drinking a lot of water. It helps you adjust to the elevation. Peeing adjusts your electrolytes so you are drinking and peeing all the way up. In camp they have a tent with a toilet seat over a bucket. Don't sit too far forward.

Clothing - for the most part I and the rest of the group wore normal backpacking garb. Disclosure - if you actually buy thru these links, I get a small commission.  Synthetic pants, Ex Officio shirt, and sometimes my Marmot Precip Jacket. Part of the time I wore a long sleeved synthetic Patagonia tee shirt. For the day we reached the summit I had a full winter puffy down jacket and a Charlie Brown type hat with ear flaps and a brim. I think a down sweater under my Precip would have been just as good. I also had prescription glacier glasses just for that day. Normally my transition darkening glasses were fine. We were required to wear boots, so I wore my Lowa Renegade Gortex GTX boots which have been in the closet since I started hiking the PCT. Otherwise I would have worn my trail runners, and on the last day used my waterproof Seal Skinz socks. I carried my fleece pants, but just wore them one evening. We rented sleeping bags and gaiters from Tusker Trails. I found the gaiters unnecessary and stopped wearing them after the first day. They might keep some gravel out of your shoes on the way down.

The down - we were most worried about this, as it is a huge descent and Susan's knees have sometimes had problems. It was better than expected. There was a long stretch of deep gravelly slope - almost like going down a sand dune, not the dangerous pebbles on a hard surface. After that, there was a long downhill trail that was fine going at a normal pace. The younger set could just about run down it, so we reached the bottom about an hour after the first arrivers, but we made it with knees intact.

I put together a YouTube video of the trip. It was made mainly for the other group members, so has a lot of people shots, but take a look closely at what they are wearing and you will have a better idea of what is needed. It also will give you a flavor of the experience.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Buxter Hoot'n at the Freight & Salvage - a band to see

I was booted out of the house last night, as there was a small female only gathering happening, so off I went to the Freight to hear whatever they had going. It turned out to be a collection of three different roots type bands, each having their own set, and each from Indiana, though I don't know if that is significant. The first two sets were ok, some talented individuals, but the overall sound from the groups didn't do much for me. I enjoyed it, but would not go back to hear them again till they played together for a few more years.

The third set was different - Buxter Hoot'n. A lot of energy and their sound worked - filled the large Freight space, and overcame the occasional squeaks and hums from the sound system. Each band member was worth watching and listening to, though I would have liked to heard a lot more from their female vocalist. They are supposed to have a cd, but it wasn't in the lobby, and it is not on Amazon.

I googled a little to see if there was something I could post here to give you an idea of their performance. They don't have much online. The main thing is their MySpace page where you can play some of their tracks and see a couple of videos. Those seem very dated though, compared to what I saw last night. Searching YouTube worked a little better. Click for one of the few featuring their female vocalist. The best thing to do is just see them in person when they come to your neighborhood. Their sound is unique. There were a couple of numbers that were a little drony for me, but I definitely would go back to hear them again.