Archive for the ‘Living Out of a Pack’ Category

Time Lapse Monsson

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

They don’t come on quite as fast as they do in this time-lapse film, but it sure seems like that when you’re on foot.

From filmmaker Mike Oblinski



Mormon Lake segment of the AZT – sort of.

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

This week, my son and I – for his birthday and his idea – hiked ore than 30 miles of the Arizona trail south of Flagstaff.

(Ben’s 16.)

We went roughly 35 miles over three days from a road north of Fisher Point to the Double Springs Campground near Mormon Lake. En route, we covered parts of two hikes I have written about: Sandys Canyon (above which towers Fisher Point) and Anderson Mesa.

We started on Monday (June 3, 2013) at about 12:30 pm at the furthest point south my dear, sainted mother could coax her Toyota Prius, which turns out to be about a mile south of Log Cabin Tank. From there, we followed the dirt road until it was heading clearly west. Realizing that this was running parallel t the AZT, but only a quarter mile north of it, we mad a brief run cross country due south, and soon found our target – the AZT on the rim of Walnut Canyon.

For the record, this was as close as we came to getting lost. So there.

I should also add that we greatly benefited from the recent maintenance and upgrades the AZT has received through this section. It is well marked and in good shape.

We paused for photos at Fisher Point, and then wound down into Sandys Canyon. The cave at the base of Fisher Point has acquired a hornet nest. The east flank of the canyon has suffered recent fire damage. Now you know.

The AZT leaves Sandys Canyon to bolt south over the greater part of Anderson Mesa. This was the only serious climb on day one, and the first time we began noticing our blisters.

You know how they always stress that you need to break in your boots before hiking in them. That;s good advice for day hikes, but that’s an absolute necessity for a multi-day hike. because whatever those boots are doing to your feet – they’re gonna keep doing, and it only gets worse (and worse) (and worse).

We made camp on top of the mesa just north of Marshall Lake. At this point, our blisters were only annoying.  We found some oaks to swing ur hammocks from. I saw elk. It was a good camp. In the morning, we pushed to the Anderson Mesa trailhead by the observatory (the working part – not the tourist part) where we had cached a gallon of water. That’s where we had breakfast.

We spent the rest of the day following the AZT across the lava-studded dome that is Anderson Mesa. Past Prime and Vail lakes (the part of the hike I wrote about) and further across what I called “either a meadow crowded with trees or a wide open forest, depending on how you wish to phrase it.” In general, despite the relative openness of the terrain, you can only see a hundred yards in any direction.

By this time, the blisters were a real problem.  I am between good hiking boots. Ben’s normal boots had failed zippers. But he and my wife and I are all within a half-size of each other. So he borrowed my work boots, and I borrowed my wife’s new hiking boots, and this worked for about 8 miles, and it was tolerable for the next five, but now 14 miles in we were both dealing with multiple blister points, and getting worse.

We contained the damage with a defensive rotation. I took the work boots – which are heavy, but broken in for me, and Ben continued on in my camp sandals. In this way, we continued without developing new blisters.

At the edge of the mesa, 24 miles in, we made camp deliberately close to the Horse lake trailhead. There was some optimism that some kind motorist would give me a ride to the car (still 12 miles distant) but this never worked out. I have forsworn any angry comments about this.

The next morning, feet have covered in bandages and duct tape, we started the last leg of our journey with careful steps.

These are my insights to hiking with blisters:

  • When you feel one coming – stop and treat it right then.  It really. really does only get worse.
  • You are going to go slower and stop more often. Pain saps energy. This is not a failure – it’s just damage control.
  • The worst part is starting after stopping for a while. Accept that you’re going to go slow, and let your pace develop gradually – like a semi-truck.
  • If you think about something else, your feet will find a stride. Oh – it will still hurt. Consider though, that thinking about every step doesn’t make it hurt less, but it does make the pain that much more obvious.
  • Keep some shoes or better sandals in the car. The sooner you get out of the boots, the better off you will be.

From the knees up, this last stretch of our hike was actually the most pleasant. The AZT passes through thick pines following the old RR grade, which is cool with both shade and history. It then skirts the slope of Mormon Mountain, which is a lot fo up and down, and much less fun. Perhaps the blisters color my perception here.

We stumbled into the Mormon Mountain TH, by Dairy Springs Campground, by lunchtime. We were psyching urselves up for the last two miles, when I was able to flag down a passing ATV truck thing, and those nice ladies gave a ride the last two miles to the car.


Will update later with pics and maps.

Pine Mountain Wilderness

Friday, June 19th, 2009

After our dayhike to Tule Mesa, Ben and I drove to Salt Flat campground and spent the night.

The Prescott National Forest has vague criteria for what is and is not a fee area. Essentially, though, it boils down to water, toilets and some sort of full-time host. Salt Flat has none of this – so its free. It does have picnic tables and fire rings – though the Prescott is currently under fire restrictions.

We woke up in the morning, packed our bags, threw the balance into the vehicle, and crossed the dry wash to the Salt Flat TH, where the Nelson Trail begins.

The Nelson is the central trail for the Pine Mountain Wilderness – just about every other trai connectes with it a some point.

We soon reached the Nelson Place, which consists of remnant stone walls and huge trees (Arizona sycamore, cottonwood, oaks) growing from Nelson Springs. These springs are the only reliable fresh water in the area, inconveniently located less than a mile from the TH. In fact, we soon came upon a pair of backpackers on their way out who reported that all the other springs they came across had been dry.

Which is why I was lugging five liters of water.

All of which I would end up using.

From the Nelson, we went east on the Willow Springs Trail. Willow Springs seemed dry, but there were some puddles in the streambed. Ah well. That trail climbs up Willow Canyon until it meets the Verde Rim Trail – the other main trail in the wilderness. At that junction, we had climbed about a thousand feet in four miles.

Verde Rim features jaw-dropping views of the Verde Valley to the east – the good part where the Wild and Scenic portion flows in front of the Mazazatl Wilderness. On a clear day, such as that one, you can see Horshoe Lake far to the SE.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it keeps climbing as you head south.

[If you go north, though, you will eventually come upon a jeep trail that will lead you to Cavalier Point – a plan that we rejected only after much debate.]

Soon, you start switching back up the slopes f Pine Mountain, coming within 500′ of the peak. At that point, the signed spur trail to the top is certainly worth the marginal extra exertion.

Past Pine Mountain, we began to wind down the ridge, crossing limestone-covered ridges, and fiannly descending into some pine forest, where we camped.

Having emtied our water, we found ourselves filling our bottles from a deep, but bug-infested puddle while mosquitoes filled themselves on us. Even though I got to use all my filter/chemical/boil methodology, the effort was not recreational, and we decided to opt out of  our optional second night.

Instead, we returned to the Nelson Trail, follwoing it through pine forest both burned-out and pristine, and back to our car.

Total estimated mileage: 14

Total hike time: 14 hours

Pine Mountain Wilderness is obscure and poorly documented compared to some other wilderness areas, but the trails are in good shape, and the journey is worth it – providing you come prepared.

Photos on my personal blog (where I have bandwidth left): What Have We Learned?

Fire Restriction vs Backpacking Stoves

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The Tonto NF has announced fire restrictions from May 14th until, well, until the area gets serious rain.

The Prescott and Coconino NF’s have announced similar restictions starting tomorrow. Typically, these closures cover all the National Forests in the state by the beginning of June.

This is what that means, according to the press release:

Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire or charcoal-burning device is prohibited. Restrictions also apply to smoking outside of a cleared area, operating internal combustion power tools, using welding equipment or torches with open flames, operating combustion engines without spark- arresting devices in effective working order, or discharging firearms except in taking game in accordance with Arizona hunting laws. Use of petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns, and heating devices are allowed, and some developed campgrounds are also exempted from these restrictions. (Please see attached list).

Note, however, that fires are still permitted within designated fire pits in established campgrounds.

There is considerable gray area regarding which sort of backpacking stoves are legal under fire restriction. I know that my trusty MSR Pocket Rocket IS legal, because, like most liquid-fuel stoves of this type, I can shut it off instantly by turning the valve. I also know that my little metal Hobo Stove is NOT legal, because even though the fire is wholly contained in the cylinder, I can’t just shut it off.

The grey area, then, consists of alcohol stoves, Sterno stoves, and solid fuel stoves. From experience, I know that the legality of these depend upon which ranger you talk to. So I called the front office.

According to Tonto NF Fire Supervisor Helen Graham, alcohol and sterno would be legal, so long as they can be immediately extiguished.

“The real spirit behind the restrictions is that it’s a fire you can put out immediately.” She explained.

So, as long as you have a lid handy that will snuff the flame, light-em up. Good news, since alcohol and sterno stoves (particularly well-made alcohol stoves) have excellent weight/cost/btu ratios.

Just don’t be the jack-ass who started the fire that prompted the FS to outlaw all backcountry stoves.

Verde River Trail

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

[Part of our ongoing series of Behind-the-Hike for Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest]

Coming out of the Verde Valley was the closest I came to being in serious trouble in all my guidebook hikes. You know that “example” last post about fltering water from a catrtle pond in a desperate attempt t stave off heat exhaustion? This hike. But we’ll start at the beginning.

Verde Trail #11

“Northern seven-mile section climbs away from the river, and is easy to
travel.”  – USFS

Well, as we shall see, that all depends…

HIKE START: 17 June 2008; 11:40am

HIKE END: 18 June 2008; 5:20pm



This was the last hike of my 10-day run to finish the guidebook, and the next-to-last hike I actually did. With deadline looming, I took my vacation week and plotted out a course that would net me 8 hikes in 10 days – and it almost worked! Most of those hikes are in the central mountains or the Mogollon Rim.

So I woke up that morning in my hammock at the Pine TH, did some laundry at a trailer park in Pine, ate breakfast at the hotel in Strawberry, and rolled on down Fossil Springs Road.

I prodded my poor Buick down 5 miles of FR 194 until I finally ran out of nerve and parked it at the intersection with FR 540, and humped the remaining distance to Twin Buttes TH. I wisely left a couple of gallons of water in my car.

Typical trail conditions on Cedar Bench

Typical trail conditions on Cedar Bench

I love – love – juniper scrub country, but after 7 miles of it, I was actually kinda glad to start seeing chaparral.

My notes declare – in hindsight – that I should have stayed on the dirt path and gone down to the Verde. I did, in fact, take the trace route down to Fossil Creek, where I slapped together a bit of camp, and discovered that one of my wading shoes had fallen from my pack. Undetered, I spent the last hour of remaining daylight splashing about barefoot in the creek, ignoring the voice in my head that warned a foot injury down here becomes a survival scenario.

Coming down towards the Verde River

Coming down towards the Verde River

Finishing my DVR notes, I discovered that machie’s memory was blank. Every DVR note from the past seven hikes had been somehow obliterated! So I spent a few hours that night shooing bugs out of my headlamp as I desperately tried to write down in my pocket notebook every detail I could remember about the previous seven hikes.

I confirmed a principle I had long suspected the truth of: If you can’t remember it without notes, it probably won’t make it under word count anyway.

Also: Transcribe your DVR notes at the first opportunity! Like in the car after the hike.

Also: Don’t take your DVR into the drugstore. I suspect the anti-theft system will wipe out memories. Even in Pine.

I hauled a sleeping bag down for nothing. (In my defense, I had needed it every other night for the past nine days). It didn’t get down below room temperature until well after midnight.

I wasted the cool hours of the following morning in a brutal bushwhack trying to find a route along the shore (or, as it turned out, over a butte, and then over a rocky cliff) to the Verde River trail proper. I foolishly thought such a dircet route would be less annoying than the field of burrs I had originally descended through.

If you ever feel the urge to scramble over boulders in a 40 lb pack – resist it. Stay on the damn trail. GAFDE.

I found the trail, then the Verde River, and spent a good hour flopped out in a little swimming hole there until I knew I had to get going.

[Here is where I’d insert photos of both the banks of Fossil Creek and the bank of the Verde so you could compare and contrast, but I’m out of space again. I do however, have an album on Facebook with more photos.]

On my way back up, I flirted with heat exhaustion.  was too hot to eat more than half an energy bar all the way up, but, as we alluded too, I was thirsty enough to drink almost anything.

Bull Tank is the name of where I spent some time filtering green slime through a handkerchief into a Nalgene bottle. Happily, Auqumira kills everything! That was a long wait to drink chemically-shocked slime, but I was glad to have it.

I was even happier making it back to the car, where the means to make a gallon of warm Gatorade awaited.

The original plan was to camp at that very spot, and finish the run with Fossil Springs the next day, but I was done – and so were my boots.

Other notes:

* The banks of the Verde are known habitat for Southwest Bald Eagles, and officially closed to traffic from December through June. However, I have been told by Ken Jacobsen, who manages the nest-watching program, that the Verde Trail receives so little traffic that hikers are not a concern to the nest-watchers.  Still, if you see a nest, camp somewhere else.

* The Forest Service publishes a Guide to the Verde – mostly for boaters, but with some useful info for every user – and free. The part I described is around River Mile 20. The Verde River below this portion is called the Graveyard of Canoes by local boaters. Just so ya know.

* Your morning temperature at Twin Buttes TH is likely to be your overnight low down by the river.

*Don’t do this hike in June.

* You can fish on the Verde (with an AZ license) but you cannot fish on Fossil Creek.

* I found my other wading shoe on my way back up.

* I will, someday, do the whole Verde Trail – despite my travails on this first attempt. North – south – I got that much right, anyway.

The Miserable Facts About Plastic Bottles

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Leave is to our supposedly advanced civilization to muck up a simple act like drinking water. It is said that when the cynic philosopher Diogenes, who, among other things, was the first philosopher of the “Go-Lite” movement, saw a young boy drinking from a stream with his hands, the philosopher tossed aside his cup, grumbling, “A child has beaten me in simplicity of living!”

Now that child’s mother would scold him. We’re past the age where you can just drink from any stream – at least in the western United States (and the Tonto NF in particular).

I don’t buy bottled water because I’m scared of Phoenix tap. I buy it, on occasion, because free with every purchase is a cheap, lightweight, reusable canteen. Whenever I hike or work outside, I choose one of the 6-10 such bottles that lie in the floor of my car, fill it with water, and off I go. I started this habit because 1) I’m cheap and 2) I’m concerned about the growing plastic layer in the ecosystem. Only about 15% of water bottles in the US actually get recycled. Most end up in landfills anyway – or on the floor of my Buick.

I have now been informed by well-meaning co-workers that by doing so, I am poisoning myself. The common belief is that these containers, over time, release toxic chemicals into whatever you store in them, particularly at high temperatures. Or so I was told as I poured coffee from a Styrofoam cup into an empty Gatorade container.

Like most such wisdom of our age, this is 80% crap. But the 20% of truth behind it is somewhat alarming.

Let’s start with the quickest notion to dispute: boiling water in a plastic container does not relase a toxic gas into the liquid. If it did, I would have perished long ago. On the trail, I routinely boil water and then pour it into plastic containers. There are some health risks associated with this (which we’ll get to) , but they are minute compared to water-born illnesses, dehydration, or the traffic on State Highway 87.

(More on that sad state of affairs on my personal blog from last September. You can skip the first 5 paragraphs of political whining to get right to boiling the water).

Now, there’s plastic, and there’s plastic. Late last year, the treehuggers and the chemical industry went a few rounds on the blogosphere about bisphenol-A [BPA] in polycarbonate containers. Lexan, which is – or was – used in Nalgene bottles is a polycarbonate. BPA has been shown to cause reproductive abnormalities in mice.

Polycarbonates, among many other platsics, use recycling symbol #7 (which essentially stands for “other”). The Nalgene bottle I pulled out of my pack has such a symbol.

There are differing viewpoints on this:

“Ditch them now!” from TreeHugger

This may be a problem… from Toxin-Free Canada

This is not a concern... from the US Toxicology Program

My problem with my #7 Nalgene bottle is that it cost $9 from an outdoor shop and weighs 6 oz. An equivalent  drink bottle costs $1.70 from the convenience store and weighs 2 oz. That drink bottle, though, is PETE plastic (symbol #1) which has its own issues. They release antimony, which may or may not be a carcinogenic.

USN reports on PETE plastic bottles.

And a study done at ASU, down the street:

“Nine commercially available bottled waters in the southwestern US (Arizona) were purchased and tested for antimony concentrations as well as for potential antimony release by the plastics that compose the bottles. The southwestern US was chosen for the study because of its high consumption of bottled water and elevated temperatures, which could increase antimony leaching from PET plastics.” […]

“Summertime temperatures inside of cars, garages, and enclosed storage areas can exceed 65 degrees C in Arizona, and thus could promote antimony leaching from PET bottled waters.”


“Clearly, only a small fraction of the antimony in PET plastic bottles is released into the water. Still, the use of alternative types of plastics that do not leach antimony should be considered, especially for climates where exposure to extreme conditions can promote antimony release from PET plastics.”

What you should look for, then, is bottles made of HDPE (#2) which has not been found to leach anything toxic into the contained liquid (yet). Worth noting that Nalgene is making HDPE bottles. (Though they curiously don’t give a weight…)

So what’s an informed, green hiker to do?

* Buy a #2 bottle (because you won’t find one at the convenience store). There are a lot of different products. I linked to the Nalgene bottle because I had been using their name above.

* Don’t pour your hot coffee into a #1 bottle (at least, not every day).

* When your #1 bottle starts to get scratched up, go ahead and recycle it.

* Don’t let yourself get dehydrated or sick because you’re worried about cancer in laboratory mice.

Because when you find yourself on a hot summer day up to your ankles in mud filtering water from the stagnant, green cattle pond in a desperate attempt to stave off heat exhaustion, nanograms of acetowhatzits are the very least of your problems. At least, I’ve always found that to be the case.