Monthly Archives: April 2012

More of the Grand Canyon; Unexpected Contrasts

Above – Mile-and-a-half rest stop (latrine and water), coming down from the Bright Angel Trail Head, probably about 1000′ below the South Rim.  March 2012

Above – At Cottonwood Campground, about mid way up the North Kaibab Trail, about 3000′ below the South Rim. March 2012

I’m Going To Kill The Idiot With The Effing Altimeter!

We’re going uphill

Me:  We’ve only got 2ooo’ to go…

Sherpa:  2000′, I thought we had several miles to go?

Me: No, I mean we have only 2000′ of elevation to go up, not distance.

Sherpa:  F you.

Me: OK now we only have 1950′ to go.

Sherpa:  I’m going to throw you off a cliff, if you don’ t stop that.

Me:  The next cliff is another 300′.

Sherpa:  I mean it, stop it, before I kill you!

Me:  Sorry, we’ve got about 2 hrs.

Me:  (ten minutes later) OK, we only have 1900′ to go.

Sherpa:  that’s it, you’re dead!

What The Hell is an Altimeter For Anyway?

I’m taking my GPS, and the spare batteries, out of my pack.  I only use it these days to practice finding my location on a map using UTM coordinates.

These days it seems I’m only using my wrist watch altimeter.  An altimeter measures your elevation, in relation to sea level.

I carry a topo map, and normally, ooh I’d say, maybe, 100% of the time, I stay on the trail.

I have a map, I’m at the trail head, I locate the trail on the map, where I’m standing at the moment…and I head out on the trail.  Later on, the only question remaining is, where am I now on the trail?

To find my location, I take a reading on the altimeter, it says, say, 1200′.  I then look at my map, find the trail, then find where the 1200′ contour line, on my topo map, crosses the trail.  I should be approximately where that contour line crosses the trail.  Pretty simple.

There are few more rules though.  An altimeter measures relative air pressure to indicate elevation, much like a barometer.  Air pressure changes due to ‘weather’.  I need to re-set my altimeter at each known location, to make sure it’s adjusted properly for changes in air pressure.  Example, at the trail head, I check my map and determine the elevation.  I then check my altimeter to see if they match.  If the map says the trail head is 1500′, and my altimeter reads 1200 I re-set my altimeter to read 1500, the elevation of my ‘known location’.

I do this while on the hike as well at other known locations I can pin point on the map, say a trail junction, a stream crossing, a ridge, or a saddle.

Since I’ve been using the altimeter technique, I haven’t pulled out my compass in years.  I did practice with my compass skill in the Colorado Weminuche Wilderness, up on the Continental Divide Trail, with Geardog and Herc.

One more footnote or word of caution, the best topos (topographical maps) are the 7.5 min quad maps available for free download from the USGS web site, however, I’ve learned the hard way that the trail locations are old and not up to date, and the AT has apparently been relocated over the years in many areas.  The most up to date maps, or ‘more’ up to date are the trail maps from the National Geographic Society.  The scales are larger, this means that everything is smaller, so the contours are a little harder to read, but at least the trails are pretty accurate.

An altimeter bonus is using your altimeter in a barometer mode to predict changes in the weather.

As you ascend, go higher, air pressure decreases, and your altimeter reads higher – BUT – if you’re not going up, and you altimeter thinks you are going up, i.e. the air pressure is decreasing, or – barometer is dropping, this could be a signal of  bad weather (rain) moving in.  Conversely, a rising barometer (dropping altimeter) could mean better weather.  Confused, we’ll, that’s for another time.

Later, kiddoe’s!  This uncle professor phil, signing off.

No Such Thing As A Small Accident In The Woods

That’s my mantra and I’m sticking with it.  Mrakun misses the point.  Of course there are literal small accidents that may have little or no consequence.  But if you’re backpacking, then you probably don’t have immediate access to 911 help or rescue. Accidents and their consequences are MAGNIFIED by the seriousness of the injury/accident and the distance to rescue or appropriate medical attention.

Somebody who is walking in the woods, no problem; but, somebody running in the woods, with a pack, and then again in the dark, literally hours from walking out, has just multiplied the chances of having an accident, and possibly a serious accident.  Somebody who has a turned ankle and can’t walk out on their own, that’s not small in my book.

My mantra is advice to be careful and consider the consequences of your actions, further, to conduct real quick risk analysis as you walk, cross a stream, tightrope a wet log over a rushing creek, try to down climb/rock scramble, even leaving your sleeping bag out of the waterproof bag or going into the woods without a map (or not knowing how to use them).

Backpacking is a subset of Mountaineering, whether you intend to ever climb a mountain or not.  All the skills are transferable.  Even the skills of critical thinking (whether one is aware or not), to understand risks, identify objective dangers and learning how to plan, are applied to both backpacking and mountaineering. 

Every single skill you perfect in the woods of Virginia can be applied to the mountains of Colorado or Switzerland.  With the exception of roped glacier travel, rescue, and avalanches, all the skills necessary in the forest apply, e.g.  Layering to stay warm and/or dry, sleeping, camping, cooking, first aid, navigation, route planning, leadership, etc, etc, etc..

So lighten up, you’re probably ready to start mountain climbing and don’t even know it.

Setting Up Camp in the Rain, What’s Your Solution?

Phil Reed’s Hikes Photo Albums

It’s raining now at my house. So I did what any backpacker does, I started anguishing about setting up my tent in the rain and minimizing my discomfort.

My current tent is the REI quarter dome (3lbs 14 oz, without stuff sack).  I’ve watched my fellow hikers from Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers   set up their hubba hubba’s and brag that if it rains they can just set up their rain flys and crawl in for the night.

So I took my thoughts out of the warm and dry house out into the backyard (about a hour ago) and this is what happened:

I took my pole set and snapped them altogether.  I then laid out my rain-fly over the poles and connected the primary rib pole, not hard.  I then attached the first side pole to the first fly corner and tried to attach the other end to the grommet on the inside just over the first door, very very tight.  I then tried to repeat the process with the other pole, it’s pouring rain mind you.  The quarter dome’s poles are not 2 poles crossing and going corner to corner, there are 3 poles, a main rib pole, going corner to corner, then 2 slightly smaller poles that go from 1 corner, over the rib and to a grommet over the door on either side, it’s kind of weird but I guess this is a weight saving strategy.  As I connected each of the shorter poles to the door grommet, the rain-fly kept flipping in and out under tension, but I managed to finally get it together and stake out the 2 vestibule ends.

I then crawled in with the actual tent and laid it out on the grass.  The actual tent is all screen over the nylon bottom, with very large screen doors on each side, also a weight saver.  I spread out the tent and fasted each corner to the poles.  I then sat upright in the tent – out of one of the screen doors and then proceeded to clip the tent to the poles.  The clips are on the outside of the screen top, but it turned out to be pretty easy.

The hard part was un-clipping the ends of the shorter poles, fastened in the  rain-fly grommets over the doors (under tension) and trying to clip then into the grommets on top of each screen door, while sitting inside the tent.  I had to really bend down the poles to do this and was pretty worried about  snapping a pole.  But once it was done, the tent was set up pretty good and still pretty dry for all that thrashing around.

My wife came looking for me about that time and calling from the garage back door, heard my voice inside this newly erected tent in the backyard, in the pouring rain, and I could hear her thinking – WTF is this idiot doing now?

So, what’s your plan?  I’m ready to steal good ideas!

Told To Sleep Naked In The Woods? Turn The Other Cheek!

Phil Reed’s Hikes Photo Albums

Let me try to get this started with some Phil-osophy, this is the way I think.

I have a mantra I bore people with every hike. #1.  What goes down must come up, and #2.  There’s no such thing as a small accident in the wilderness.

Backpacking is training for the main event, Mountaineering.  You have to learn to pay attention to every bit of minutiae, every little detail of your route, your equipment, objective and subjective dangers.

Your sleeping bag could be your last line of defense in an emergency, your last refuge;  Keep your bag dry at all costs, especially a down bag.

Don’t get into your bag with wet clothing – unless you don’t have any choice;  You may get away with this if your bag is fiber filled.  The only time you get into your bag nude is when you know it’s going to be warm enough or your bag is down and your all your clothes are soaking wet.

Here’s the problem, and there’s a couple of issues here.  If you get into you down bag and you have wet clothing, you risk getting the down wet, losing loft, losing the ability of the down to trap and warm air, losing the insulation down provides to keep you warm.  Further, wet clothing against you skin prevents any possibility of trapping and warming air against you skin, which is the definition of keeping warm in the first place.

You stay warm when dead air is trapped and warmed against you skin.  Wind can blow this warm air away from your skin, (wind chill), and cool you down.  This is when you put on a parka to trap the air and keep you warm.

If the outside air temperature is too cold, wind or no wind, you need insulation to trap – and warm – the air next to your skin.  The colder the outside air the more layers of insulation you need.

Let’s say Squirrel is standing naked in the snow (could happen 🙂 ), somebody hands her some thermals, she starts to warm up, but is still cold.  You throw her a shirt and some pants to put on over the thermals, a little warmer, but still cold.  Now you throw her a sweater, some rain pants, then a parka, a hat, some gloves, a down vest, – get the picture?  At some point, hopefully, she’s finally warm and cozy, still standing in the snow.  Now you throw her a giant down comforter – wow! Finally toasty!  No wait, somebody told her all you needed was the giant down comforter (sleeping bag), so you need to strip all the clothing off and just wear the bag?  WTF?

Kind of depends on the rating of the bag, how cold the outside temperature is, whether you sleep warm or cold.  You probably need some combination, but there’s no rule that you need to sleep in the nude, unless your bag is too hot, or you’re with your sweetie(?).  Note:  If my bag is rated 30F (comfort) that means it will not keep me warm below 45F.  My zero bag works for me in the upper teens, then the sweater and hat go on, possibly a hot water bottle inside my bag.

Ok, let’s sum up.

1.  Keep your bag dry, at all costs.

2.  Don’t get into your bag with wet clothing, unless in a survival situation, and then only in a fiber bag.

3.  It’s ok to wear clothes/coat/sweater/hat/gloves/thermals – or nothing in your bag, to stay comfortable.

4.  Remember to take the 10 essentials, what? you don’t know about the 10 essentials?

5.  And finally, there’s no such thing as a small accident in the woods and that backpacking is training for mountaineering, so stop relying on other people to read the map, ok that’s 3 things.

6.  And don’t trust the temperature rating on the bag. (final point)

good bye

please comment, thanks, adios


New Rant coming soon…

I’m sick and tired of people telling others ” you need to strip down” in your sleeping bag to stay warm.  This makes me absolutely crazy!!!  Common sense, logic, and science are completely ignored, resulting in total shit advice.

I’ll lay it all out for debate very soon!

comments appreciated.

ps.  the blog people say the best blogs are deliberately confrontational, posting definite views, not being wishy washy


encouraging comments!

Back from Apple Orchard (VA)

Just back from a short weekend hike on a trail called “apple orchard” (ref: http:\\

Hike goes down from the Blue Ridge Parkway on the AT for a mile or so, then drops down the mountain for a couple of miles to the campsite on a creek.  Don’t walk too fast or you get there really soon and have a lot of laying about time.

We drove down Friday night and camped in the TJNF off a dirt road, then visited what’s called the longest foot bridge on the AT, crossing the James River.

I had a large cinnamon raisin bagel with pineapple cream cheese and folger’s coffee bags for breakfast, worked ok.

For dinner I tried something different, 3 packets of .5 cup each dehydrated mashed potatoes, weighed almost nothing, and some liptons gravy.  It was hard to simmer the gravy in the jet boil without burning, but it was done.  But the potatoes with the gravy was FANTASTIC!  and I was not hungry later.  Only problem was the bowl that comes with the jet boil would only hold 2 packets (1 cup), next time will need to use a larger plastic bowl.

We had 3 or 4 sailors on this trip and these guys were great, and absolutely hysterical!  Caleb shared his “Jack” with me at the campfire and he and Rattler swapped Chuck Norris jokes till we almost cried with laughter (you had to be there).

Squirrel had a new and lighter tent and was hiking and camping like a pro!

Squirrel almost stepped on a black rat snake, I was walking behind her…so after I cleaned out my pants we took some pictures and made a film of the snake before moving on.  We ran into Herc, who’s an amateur herpetologist, so we went back found mr. snake, Herc picked it up and we played with it for a few minutes, it secreted musk, and I got it all over my hands, yuk.

Besides Caleb, I met Rodney and son Josh BMX, also Mr. and Mrs. Rattler & Sunflower Snackalicious (NOT TRAIL NAMES :0) from me anyway.  I had hiked with Micki last year at Tinker Cliffs, this year she had new boots and no blisters, she also had Mr Sunflower, (we knew who was in charge)

From the parkway down to the camp we had to drop from 3470′ to 1600′.  For the return trip an adjoining trail took us by Apple Orchard Falls for some photo ops the back to the trail head on the parkway.

I guess I was still in pretty good shape from the Grand Canyon hike because I had no issues with the climb back to parkway, held my own, was able to march on, only took one small break and that was at the falls for our photo op.

Comments appreciated!