Friday, September 24, 2010

Couple or partner hiking safety issues

There is one serious hiking issue that is unique to two people hiking together. This is the accidental passing. You think the other person is ahead when he/she is really behind. Your attempts to catch up only worsen the problem. I have seen this happen once to another couple in Europe, and on the isolated environs of the PCT it is much more serious.

We are serious about safety and attempt to be prepared for any weather that might come up. However, our gear is split. The two of us together have everything we need,  but neither carries enough to get through a night on their own without problems. About all we each have is a space blanket and a sleeping bag.

Consequently, we are quite careful not to get accidentally separated. If the person ahead is out of sight of the other, and has to go off the trail, they either leave their poles or their backpack on the trail, so they can't be accidentally passed. Believe me, in my hiking head-down mode, I can miss something two feet off the trail.

In the case were there is a substantial amount of time that one person is hiking ahead, say I have to take a long bathroom break, or stop to get water for a dry camp, then we use a trail mark convention. The person going ahead makes a special mark on the trail about every five minutes or so, and immediately  after passing any sort of trail junction, signed or unsigned. For example a trail mark could be three parallel lines, with the line in the middle being longer at the bottom, and that indicates direction, like the shaft of an arrow.

This is great for the person trying to catch up. They know they are going the right direction when they see mark A. One more thing we do is when the follower sees a mark, they cross it off, like in B, so if the person ahead ever has to go back looking for the behind person, they will know if that person has been on the trail or not. We do this, but so far, never needed it.

In addition, we set some rules on how far to walk ahead, and how long to wait there, before starting back.You need to be careful not to get separated when it might be too dark to get back together in case of a problem.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Feeling a lot of empathy for those PCTers in Washington right now

The Dinsmores, and the pct-l forum report lots of rain. Fortunately the resupply points are five to seven days apart for strong hikers, so if everything is wet by the fifth day, just a day or two more till you reach civilization. I've already sent off my Stephenson's Warmlite to get endliners, which will reduce condensation in the front and back of the tent, should we ever be so foolish as to ever attempt such a trip again. I'm still investigating how to cook in the tent - seems risky at best. Even if we don't burn our shelter down, how much oxygen do two people need in a Warmlite, and how much is used up if you take 7 minutes to boil a liter of water in the tent? Maybe I should get one of those carbon monoxide warning devices, put it in the tent while we boil a pot of water.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Completed Pacific Crest Trail, Sept 7, 11:10 am

A long time coming, but we finally reached the monument marking the Canada-US border. Our first segment of the trail was in 1989, but we have done the majority of it since 2004, in a couple of 200 to 300 mile trips each year. This year we decided we didn't know how long we could keep doing this, so did the last 470 miles in one 5 1/2 week trip. It's way too much stuff to put in a single blog post, so I'll just post from time to time on whatever comes to mind about the trip.

One is that Washington weather is different, particularly northern Washington. If I lived up there I would have to rethink my gear for wet conditions. We had rain and snow, which we've experienced before, but never with days on end with no sun or wind to dry things out. Our waterproof socks made things comfortable as long as we could start the day with dry liners, but by the end of five days, all socks were wet, tent was wet, fleece was a little damp, down bag a little damp and we were a little weather stressed. If I were to repeat this section, I'd have a couple more pairs of socks, more turkey bags to keep things dry, and I would be more careful about keeping things dry. In general, our rain gear worked well. We had Marmot rain pants, a rain parka, and also a packa - a poncho with sleeves and a hump. With those and the waterproof socks we could walk through the soaking wet vegetation and still stay warm and dry. Making and breaking camp in the rain required the most care to keep dry.

The country is spectacular, truly worthy of national park status. The first half of Washington is sort of rolling ups and downs, but after Snoqualmie Pass, big ups and downs, i.e. 3000 feet or more. Lots of long traverses on slopes exceeding 50 degrees. I'd say some were 70, but didn't measure. Lots where it would be very bad to step off the edge of the trail. You could go miles with no spot flat enough to put a tent down, and sometimes this was a problem. This whole part of the state is prone to trail and bridge washouts due to floods from snow and glacier fed rivers. Milk Creek was a spot where the bridge washed out repeatedly, so they just installed a new bridge, I think by helicopter, several miles downstream of the old one. We planned to camp there, and arrived near dark. Another couple was already there, setting their tent up on one end of the bridge - no camp spots for miles either direction. We set ours up at the other end, and then another hiker arrived, absolutely beat, and set his tent up in the middle of the bridge. Lesson: look carefully at the topo map for flattening contours before deciding you can camp somewhere. Ridgetops and shoulders of hills are likely spots.