Trail Talk: Life Lessons and Hiking Bloopers From the John Muir Trail

Because nobody is #sweatydirtyhappy all the time

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet”.

-Roger Miller

IMG-9876.JPG

People are fascinating! I use the term, “fascinating” in the most colorful way possible because humans are the only living species on this earth that can make you laugh, cry, scream and feel as though your life maybe ending all within one short backpacking trip in the wilderness. Nature is by far, the least of any hiker’s concerns. I have learned over the years through some hilarious and challenging hiker bloopers that we must be extremely cautious of our fellow nature human travelers because nobody is #sweatydirty happy all the time and REI sadly does not sell Cranky People Spray.

But seriously, I have hiked and backpacked with some pretty nutty people so I have gotten pretty good at taking punches in the outdoors. I had a guy I was backpacking with race to try to catch up with me on the trail even though I was behind him the entire hike ( he didn’t realize he was in front of me until I found him waiting at the trailhead), I had a gal scream at me in the middle of our campsite after hours of meeting her because she felt like she was the fifth wheel in our group (this was the very first time ever we all actually met each other), and I recently had a camp neighbor scream at me and call me “trash” for stepping too close to her cabin while I was searching for a cell signal so I could send a work email.

IMG-7697.JPG

Some trail names should always be left unsaid

I knew we were in for a treat when I had to unexpectantly jam pack five people, five 65-liter backpacks and my dog into my Honda Accord for a six-hour drive up to the Eastern Sierras (our carpooling plans got a little jumbled last minute so we had to play Tetris with our bodies and gear). We were off on another adventure to backpack 26 miles on the John Muir Trail over 3 days and within an hour into the drive I knew we were in for a “treat”.

One of the gals in a sheer panic (after jokingly stating that two of my friends in the backseat, who are moms to a gaggle of kids, were child abusers because they were on a trip without their kiddos) exclaimed that she forgot her headlamp and her solar lantern. Easy fix: just buy another headlamp when we get into Mammoth and forget about the lantern (an unnecessary backpacking item).  As soon as we arrived (after another grueling five hours in the car) to my favorite mountain town, we picked up our wilderness permit from the visitor center and grabbed food and beer from Mammoth Mountain Brewing Company. At lunch, the topic of trail names came up. A trail name is a nickname that is given to you on the trail usually by someone who has hiked with you before. One of my friends in Colorado gave me the trail name, Trail Goddess and with a mischievous grin on her face, “Ms. I forgot my headlamp” quickly exclaimed that her trail name was Problem Child. 

Something always happens to me on the trail or I am always forgetting my gear,” she stated.

During our 6-hour car ride, she was constantly telling us how experienced she was as a backpacker, but I have learned over the years that backpacking is like scuba diving…you never really know someone’s experience level until you actually see them in action.

 The words “You are so SCREWED, Kristen” kept circling around in my mind.

I made a mental note to myself that I would just need more vodka for this special trip and I could handle anything for four days…its four days, what could go wrong?

IMG-7767.JPG

That one time when my car alarm was actually helpful

We made our way to our campsite (after stopping by an outdoor gear store so Problem Child could purchase her headlamp) since we decided to spend a night tent camping in Mammoth so we could get an early start on the trail in the morning. Upon arriving to our gorgeous campsite and meeting up with two other friends who were adventuring with us, we all quickly learned that Problem Child was overly terrified of bears, did not know how to set up any of her gear, and didn’t bother reading any of the detailed pre-trip emails I sent out. I quickly opened another beer and said a few positive mantras to myself because I knew I was in for a challenging adventure. We helped her set up her tent and spent at least 45 minutes going through all of her gear and teaching her about “bear safety” in the outdoors. After a couple of hours of explaining that scented lotions and baby wipes are in fact, “scented”, and needed to be kept in her bear canister, it was clear our group needed a break and I needed another beer. Most of the gals went to find the bathroom and the camp store and a couple of us stayed behind to watch a California black bear meander into the forest only a few feet from our campsite.

“At least all this scented vs. non-scented talk was not a waste of time”, I jokingly said to my friend standing next to me as I watched my 14-pound dog bark excessively at this bear.

Problem Child missed the bear sighting because she was in her tent and somehow didn’t hear the loud commotion of people screaming (people go NUTS over bears and it’s quite entertaining to witness). When she finally appeared from her tent and heard about the bear sighting she freaked out, said some overly ridiculous comments about bear spray and bear bells and stated that she better not see a bear on the trail (of course I was quietly hoping we would run into lots of bears).

You know a bear is looking for food in the campground when you wake up in the middle of the night to loud banging noises. That same night, I awoke to our camp neighbors banging tin plates and cups together to scare away the bear from their campsite at 2AM and all I could think of was,

“I hope Mr. Bear leaves soon so I can get out and go pee”

After 10 minutes of impatiently holding my bladder, my car alarm was set off and of course my keys were locked in the bear box. I looked outside of my tent and all I could say was

“Holy Fu$K, there is a bear on my car”.

His front paws were on my driver’s window and he was peering into my car looking for food. Problem Child started yelling loudly from her tent and I told her to be quiet since she had nothing to worry about since the bear was clearly looking for food IN MY CAR. I thanked the car alarm gods for quickly scaring the bear off my car after a 90 second ETERNITY.

I was on my feet, tearing my car apart at the crack of dawn the next morning to discover that chocolate candies and lots of food wrappers were left inside Problem Child’s backpack in the trunk of my car. Bear safety lesson #1 was clearly a fail.

Now I am that neurotic person who makes you search your backpack in front of me if you are storing your gear in my car in bear territory.

IMG-0406.JPG

Raise your hand if you peed today

We arrived at the trailhead and after ensuring my car was 100% bear proof, we gathered our packs and started off on our adventure; two nights, three days and 26-ish miles in the some of the most beautiful backcountry in the United States. We we were so excited to be section-hiking the John Muir Trail! We were planning to camp at Ediza Lake on night one in the backcountry and to camp at Thousand Island Lake on night two but when we were only two miles from our night one camping destination and we found out (thanks to a very nice hiking fellow we came across on the trail) that there was no bridge to cross over to get to Ediza Lake. The bridge to Ediza Lake was out which put a huge wrench in our plans. The water was swift and high, we had a very difficult scramble in front of us and I was already dragged through so much drama that I knew making a dangerous attempt to either boulder over rocks or cross fast moving deep water was not going to happen. I already had a backup plan but I stayed quiet and listened to my friends talk about options as I apologized to my pup, Moo, for an unexpectedly long (and very hot) hiking day. My friends asked for my opinion of what we should do and I quickly stated we should definitely hike to Garnett Lake where we will camp for the night. Ediza Lake was completely out of the question!

“Yes, it is going to make for a longer day, yes it is super hot right now and yes we have to cross another 10,000 foot ridge but not everyone in our group is prepared to scramble over rocks or wade through swift moving water with 40-pound packs and I do not feel comfortable putting Moo through that”, was my game plan and explanation and everyone agreed (we really did not have another option).

IMG-7702.JPG
IMG-7794.JPG

We had six more miles in the very exposed heat to go so everyone filtered more water, put on their big girl pants and made their way to Garnett Lake. Problem Child was extremely irritated about our game plan but we were shit out of options and we were all in the same boat so I tried to explain we have to just roll with the punches because backpacking trips never go as planned. I decided to hike with Problem Child because it was clear she was irritated and it didn’t seem she was doing well. We were about 45 minutes behind the rest of the group, keeping a very slow 0.8 mile per hour pace and within one mile of starting out toward Garnett Lake; she exclaimed,

“ I think I am out of water”

 Now how can that even be possible? We all each filtered 3-4 liters of water when we decided to head towards Garnet Lake because we knew there would be no more water crossings for another six miles. I was very confused and beginning to get very annoyed. I literally asked if everyone had at least 3 liters of water for this next leg of our hike before we made our way to Garnett Lake.

“What? When was the last time you filtered water?” was all I could ask her.

“At lunch”, she replied.

I was repeating about every swear word in the English dictionary in my head because lunch was approximately 6 miles back, 3.5 hours ago. She never filtered water before taking off for Garnet Lake. She just sat back and watched everyone.

We had 6 miles to go and 3.5 liters of water between the three of us including my dog. I knew I could spare at least a liter for Problem Child but I wanted her to understand the importance of hydration on the trail. I was officially pissed. She complained, moaned, bitched and groaned for another two miles and finally exclaimed,

“This is the worst trip ever, and I hate this”.

I kept asking her if she was feeling okay and she adamantly stated that she felt fine and she had already drank plenty of water for the day. She said she knew she was hydrated because she was “sweating a lot”. We started going back and forth about this, I told her she was dehydrated and she was adamant she was not. We were going in circles and I knew if I tried to explain the physiological process of sweating aka perspiration, it was going to go in one ear and out the other.

I started asking her more specific questions about her fluid intake and output for the day. I didn’t care that she was having a horrible time or that she hated me because I was too concerned that she was now putting herself and our group at risk. I quickly rushed into my doctor mode, calculated her fluid ins and outs and decided this girl is getting evacuated off the trail as soon as we catch up to our group. 

 I was about to give her a liter of my water when we came across a stream.

“Halleluiah”, I thought to myself.

 We walked PAST the stream and I almost lost my mind.

“This chick is not going to filter water. She is just going to keep on walking in her damn dehydrated state”, I thought to myself.

I asked her if she was going to filter any of this water and it dawned on her that she probably should. As I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes waiting for her to filter water, she loudly demanded that I help her because she could not manage her water filter on her own. I held her Smart water bottle and the clean end of the filter as she pumped water through her MSR filtration system. After we were finished pumping water and 38 mosquito bites later, I told myself she would of course thank me when we got to camp for helping her filter water and making sure she was safe on the trail (she did not have a map or a navigation device). Let’s just say that was wishful thinking.

Four miles to go at a 0.8 mile per hour pace in 90-degree temperatures up a 10,000-foot ridge behind a woman who literally hates my guts and is a dangerous hiker… “It’s a beautiful day to be alive”.

“Who has cell phone service right now”?!

That was all I could muster out of my mouth when we finally reached the top of that 10,000-foot ridge and I saw all my friends waiting. Each one of my friends looked at me without saying a word. They knew I had steam coming out of my ears and I had to take quite a few deep exhales to prevent myself from crying out of frustration. Two gals had cell phone service and I quickly asked them to call the two mule companies we saw at the trailhead to get Problem Child off this trail. That quickly opened up a tall can of worms but I was 100% done hiking with her.

“Raise your hand if you have peed on the trail today” I asked our entire group, as if I was a third grade teacher.

Everyone raised their hand and began saying how many times they peed on the trail over our 9-hour hiking day, except for Problem Child. I knew she didn’t pee all day and I wanted the group to clearly understand the situation we were in. We were a group of seven women backpacking together in the wild and we all needed to understand what was unfolding in front of us. I then explained to Problem Child that I was extremely concerned for her hydration status and also very concerned about the decisions she was making on the trail and if she came into my ER I would stick a needle in her arm and give her a 1 liter bag of normal saline. Right then and there, the rest of the group understood the gravity of the situation. Every gal in the group searched for a way to safely get Problem Child off the trail but the quickest way was to finish our loop through Thousand Island Lakes, and this was only day one. We had two more days to go.

I was done sweeping for the day and I needed a beer. I picked up my pace and hiked next to one of my girlfriends while another gal stayed behind Problem Child to make sure she didn’t jump off a cliff or do something else completely off the wall. We all came to the beginning of Garnett Lake and quickly chatted about filtering water. We all asked how much water Problem Child had left and her response was “I don’t know” and she kept walking. One of the gals told her to stop and check because we were at a water crossing. I guess my trail hydration lesson didn’t sink in. Throughout the next two days we made Problem Child take out her bladder from her backpack at every water crossing and visually show us how much water she had left.

IMG-7856.JPG

Does anyone have an extra spoon?

Problem child continued to ruffle everyone’s feathers when we got to camp and for the duration of our trip. She refused to keep her scented items in her bear canister at night, she still could not figure out how to set up her tent and she slept with her bear canister next to her tent (after watching every single one of us find places to store our bear canisters away from our campsite). The next morning she realized she was out of camp stove fuel and convinced someone in our group to boil her water for every single meal from here on out. She continued to complain about the tremendous chore of filtering water and although I kept my distance, every single gal in our group would tell me some ridiculousness Problem Child was getting into. I started to respond, “I don’t care anymore”.

Day two was glorious because I refused to hike next to Problem Child, I met my trail Jesus, a very kind thru-hiker from Eastern Tennessee, (I should write a blog post entitled “Trail Magic” about this amazing man) and our group spent most of the day swimming in crystal clear water and basking in the sun at Thousand Island Lake. As we were getting ready to cook our food before sunset on night two, Problem Child asked the group if any of us had an extra spoon. She forgot her headlamp, did not bring enough camp stove fuel and forgot her spoon. We all blurted out in unison,

“No!”

We were all officially done with her nonsense.

 Of course I asked myself, “How is this girl eating her food without a utensil? “

I quickly thought to myself “she could use her bathroom shovel if she really wanted to”.  

IMG-7810.JPG

Always bring an extra pair of pants

The morning of day three, Problem Child could not figure out how to get all of her gear in her pack, I managed to completely break a BearVault bear canister that I borrowed from a friend and we were hiking out of camp before sunrise in order to make it home at a decent hour (I hate tearing down my tent in the dark). My friend helped Problem Child pack her backpack and within a few hours we were safe and sound back at my car. Problem Child was staying in Mammoth to visit friends so I dropped her off at the Starbucks, wished her good riddance and the rest of us drove to Bishop (much more comfortably in my car compared to the drive up) to grab lunch. Of course, we just could not stop talking about the sheer ridiculousness we endured on the trail. It was straight out of a movie! After finishing lunch, I checked my phone and noticed I had about a dozen text messages from Problem Child regarding her iPad that she left in my car. She insisted on bringing her iPad on the trip (even though there was no service) because she couldn’t live without it. I explained that I am not responsible if something happens to this iPad and if I were she, I would leave it at home. I knew her iPad was not in my car but I needed witnesses in case she tried to report me for theft. All four of us tore apart my car, looking for this iPad and I texted her back explaining that it was nowhere to be found, told her to use the app “find my Ipad” and wished her good luck, once again. She insisted that I must have taken her iPad when I rummaged through her backpack after the bear set off my car alarm and at that point I gave my cell phone to my friend sitting in my passenger seat and asked her to handle the rest of this texting conversation because I was done.  We were all dumbfounded once again and shaking our heads in disbelief but I knew I had witnesses and these gals would back me up in case Problem Child took this any further.

“Kristen, did you know that she tore her pants on the first day getting out of the car at the trailhead”

 I just about swerved my car into oncoming traffic because I could not control my laughter.

 “She did what?”, I exclaimed

“Yes, when she was stepping out of your car at the trailhead on the first day, she split the back of her pants right down the middle and did not bring an extra pair of clothes so every time she bent down I got to see her rear end. She had to backpack in split pants for three days”

“Well karma is a bitch, isn’t it?!”

 Problem Child found her iPad a few days later; it was in her backpack after all. No apologies or words of gratitude were ever expressed.

IMG-7749.JPG

Take home lessons

  • Always bring an extra set of clothes

  • Write a packing list and follow it, then double and triple checked that you brought everything

  • Don’t brag about your trail experience

  • When everyone in the group is filtering water, taking a bathroom break, eating a snack or setting up camp; you should be doing that too

  • When someone sends out a pre-trip detailed email, read it.

  • Learn the name of the trail you are hiking on and the campsites you are staying at before you set foot on the trail.

  • If you have never used your gear before, set it up at home and watch a You Tube video if you need help.

  • If you don’t enjoy backpacking, that’s okay, don’t partake.

  • Don’t throw your food waste in the bushes.

  • California black bears want to eat your food; they have no desire to eat you.

  • If you did forget something, make a mistake, or have a question; use your manners and be nice about it.

  • You are responsible for your own safety on the trail, no matter what.

  • Always bring more alcohol than you think you actually need.

This was definitely a memorable and beautiful trip however this was by far the most challenging backpacking trip I have ever endured. I arrived at my mom’s house to pick up by grumpy Shitzu (my saint of a mom watches my older dog when I travel) and I shared every detail with her over a couple of bottles of wine. I was sun burned to a crisped and had over 200 mosquito bites on me, but my mom and I still laughed so hard that we cried. This trip has officially gone down in history and it is just too good not to write about (in stride of course).

Thanks for reading and see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail: The Quick and Dirty

"There's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away."
-Sarah Kay

 Seals and sea lions on the trail across from Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Seals and sea lions on the trail across from Punta Gorda Lighthouse

The Lost Coast Trail is a force to be reckoned with. From hiking with sea lions and elephant seals, talking sweet nothings to the resident sea otters in Cooksie Creek, staring at the Milky Way in the night sky and observing all the washed up sea life to watching the deer and bear meander down from the mountains to visit the campground creek, the wildlife, night sky, washed up sea stars, sea urchins, whale bones and fish vertebrae are just a taste of the beautiful uninhibited terrain that is known as the Lost Coast. The Lost Coast is mostly a natural and development-free area in Humboldt County California, specifically in the King Range wilderness. In the 1930s this area experienced depopulation and as a result, it was named the “The Lost Coast”. In addition, the steepness and related geotechnical challenges of the coastal mountains made this stretch of coastline too costly for state highway or county road builders to establish routes through the area, leaving it the most undeveloped and remote portion of the California coast. This trip has been on my bucket list for some time and when I saw permits were available for early September, I snagged a solo permit and dove deep into the planning process. From scheduling a shuttle service, understanding the tide tables and mapping the impassible zones on my Gaia GPS, I had my work cut out for me. I decided to do this trip solo since the planning process was a bit intense and frankly, I wanted some time alone to unwind and fall off the grid. From Mattole beach to Black Sands beach this hike is just over 25 miles and I wanted to take my time on the trail, sleep in, make breakfast, have plenty of time to cross the high tidal zones, take in the salty air, watch the waves, and be lost in my own thoughts so I decided to do this trek over 4 days and 3 nights however this can easily be completed in 2 nights and 3 days.

 Clear blue skies on an overland trail, day 1.

Clear blue skies on an overland trail, day 1.

 Bearikade bear canister, Goal Zero solar panel and battery back and an incredible memoir written by Trevor Noah; all must-haves for backpacking trips. Big Flat campground, night 2.

Bearikade bear canister, Goal Zero solar panel and battery back and an incredible memoir written by Trevor Noah; all must-haves for backpacking trips. Big Flat campground, night 2.

Obtaining that coveted permit

A permit is required to camp overnight in the King Range Wilderness and permits can be obtained at Recreation.gov You can print your permit a week in advance of your start date.

 Night 3 at Gitchell Creek

Night 3 at Gitchell Creek

 Washed up sea urchin on the trail.

Washed up sea urchin on the trail.

 Washed up sea star on the trail.

Washed up sea star on the trail.

 Love is truly everywhere, if you look hard enough…

Love is truly everywhere, if you look hard enough…

 Shuttle service, please?

Since this is a one-way hike, you must book a shuttle that will drive you from Black Sands beach to Mattole Beach. Starting from Matthole Beach and hiking the 25-mile stretch back to your car at Black Sands Beach is the way to go because you are hiking in the same direction as the wind and the road to Black Sands Beach is paved and maintained unlike the road to Matthole Beach (an unpaved mess). The shuttle will pick you up at Black Sands Beach parking lot and the driver will give you a 10 minute orientation on proper trail etiquette and the quick and dirty on the tides. He will also give you a tide table book, which is golden for when you are on the trail. The road to Black Sands Beach is windy and narrow and can make you nervous especially if you decide to do this drive at night. I arrived at the parking lot around 11:00PM the night before and quickly discovered that all campgrounds in the area close at 9 PM so I slept in my car since I had a 7am shuttle departure the next morning (not the most ideal situation but sometimes you have to roll with the punches). I booked a shuttle with Lost Coast Adventure Tours (cost about $70) but keep in mind that if they do not have at least 4 people booked for that shuttle time, they will cancel your shuttle or place you in the next shuttle that is full. I was moved from the 7AM shuttle to the 8AM shuttle which meant I was going to start an hour later than scheduled but again, you always have to roll with the punches. Make sure you call them 48 hours before your departure to confirm that your shuttle is full.

 Mamma and baby deer crossing Cooksie Creek, night 1.

Mamma and baby deer crossing Cooksie Creek, night 1.

Tide tables and impassible zones

So this is the part where it gets tricky. There are two, 4-mile and one, 0.25 miles stretch of coastal zones that cannot be passed during high tide, and there is one totally impassible zone that cannot be crossed period, regardless of the tide. It is important to study the tide table and understand your hiking windows. The impassible zone is about 0.5 miles from Sea Lion Gulch and there is a small flat rock sitting on top a large boulder referred to as “hat rock”. This “hat rock” is a sign that you must look for the overhead trail that takes you up and over this impassible zone. If you come to the impassible zone like I did, and discover huge boulders that are impossible to climb, retrace your steps and look above for that overhead trail. Once you are about half way up the overhead trail you will notice a trail sign that points you in the correct direction. Remember the ocean is always on your right and the mountains are always on your left (if you are hiking from Matthole to Black Sands).

Now for the 2-mile impassible zones at high tides, the rule of the thumb is to stop hiking 2 hours before high tide and to begin hiking 2 hours after high tide. There is an AM and a PM high tide so you will begin your hike 2 hours after the high tide in the morning and will make sure you are through the impassible zones 2 hours before the PM high tide begins. Here is where it gets tricky; you must deduct 52 minutes from the high tides for the Shelter Cover area and keep in mind the tidal heights. My high tides were all within the 4-foot range so the 2-hour windows were safe for me (for the most part). However if your high tide is within the 6-7 foot range then you may need to give yourself a larger window (most likely 3-3.5 hours before and after high tide). I would suggest going over your hiking schedule with the rangers beforehand if you find this confusing but once you start hiking, you will get the hang of it. I would recommend setting up camp at the beginning of these tidal zones so you can hike through them in the morning after the first high tide so you do not have to worry about getting stuck or waiting out the tide. There are also camping sites within the impassable tidal zones, which are great places to camp as well.

 Tide table book.

Tide table book.

Tide table example:

AM high tide 4AM 4.5 tidal height (minus 52 minutes)

PM high tide 7PM 6.5 tidal height (minus 52 minutes)

Start hiking through the “high tide impassible zone” after 5AM and make sure you are through this 4 mile impassible zone by 3PM (see how there was a 3 hour window in the evening because the tidal height is much higher).

 One of the “impassible zones at high tide”. Day 2-4 were overcast and gloomy.

One of the “impassible zones at high tide”. Day 2-4 were overcast and gloomy.

Backcountry campsites on the Lost Coast

The “campsites” are basically the creek areas where you are able to filter water. Even if the area is not marked as a campsite on your map, you are still able to camp there as this whole area is considered BLM land.  

Getting stuck in the impassible zone

The first night, I decided to camp at Cooksie Creek, an adorable little area where sea otters play in the river and deer roam around in search of a drink from the stream. I met two super nice guys and hiked with them the first day, sharing stories about India along the trail. Cooksie Creek is about 2 miles into the first impassible tidal zone and we had about 2 hours to clear these two miles before we had to worry about the high tides. Seems easy right? Well, hiking over boulders and sand can slow you down, more than you think. Unfortunately we ran out of time and we had 0.2 miles left until we reached camp but we were stuck on a jagged boulder hanging on for dear life as the waves crashed around us, soaking us from the waist down. One of the guys I was with decided to check around the corner to see how far we had to go. When he realized we had less than 0.2 miles to go, we waited for the next set of waves to crash into us then made a run for it. We made it to camp safe and soaked but my heart was filled with pure joy when I came across a family of three sea otters playing at our campsite. I was in animal kingdom heaven! We quickly learned our lesson about the impassible tidal zones and I gave myself plenty of time the next day.

Day 2-4

On the second day, I solo hiked 10 miles to Big Flat where I set up camp for the night. Big Flat is about 1 mile from the second impassible tidal zone, a very quiet campsite with gorgeous ocean views and a large flowing creek for filtering water. The next morning, I was at the beginning of the second high tide impassible zone so I started my hike with fresh legs and with plenty of time to spare in between the high tides. After hiking a quick and easy 4.5 miles on day 3, I set up my camp at Gitchell Creek, which is right after the second tidal zone. I was the only person camping at Gitchell Creek which was magical (this was most likely because it was only 3 miles from the end of the trail). Day 4 made for an easy 3 miles back to my car at Black Sands Beach. I arrived at my car around 10:30AM and drove to San Jose, checked into a hotel and took a nice long shower before meeting a friend for drinks.

 Punta Gorda lighthouse, day 1.

Punta Gorda lighthouse, day 1.

 Sunset on our only clear evening.

Sunset on our only clear evening.

 Answers to commonly asked questions

  • This is bear country so make sure you store all of your scented items in an approved bear canister.

  • There are streams about every 2-3 miles along the trail to filter enough water for that distance.

  • Camp at a stream (they are called “creeks” on the trail maps).

  • My starting pack weight all in with 3 liters of water was 32 pounds.

  • It was very sunny the first day and very windy and overcast the next 3 days…the weather changes on a dime.

  • I did not use my tent fly once. If there is no rain in the forecast, I would recommend leaving this at home as it did not drop below 50 degrees at night.

  • Most of the trail is on sand and boulders which will slow you down. I recommend very sturdy and high ankle hiking boots. I wore my LOWA Renegades and my feet felt great the whole trip.

  • There are tons of poison oak and ticks on the trail. Be mindful where you step and check your body for ticks when you get to camp.

  • Although this was a relatively easy trip in terms of physical endurance, the planning and logistics were quite tricky so I would not recommend this as a first-time backpacking trip.

  • No I did not bring any alcohol and yes I started and finished an entire book, “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah.

 Wet sea otters in our first campsite.

Wet sea otters in our first campsite.

 After he dried out… hehe. They were SO cute!

After he dried out… hehe. They were SO cute!

Thanks for reading!

Please feel free to reach out with any questions.

Hope to see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

My Favorite Trails in Southern California: From Summits to Coastal Views

"As one went to Europe to see the living past, so one must visit Southern California to observe the future."

-Alison Lurie

 Getting blown away on the Lost Coast Trail. Post coming soon about my incredible solo backpacking trip through this uninhabited coastline.

Getting blown away on the Lost Coast Trail. Post coming soon about my incredible solo backpacking trip through this uninhabited coastline.

Although I have lived and traveled around the globe, I am fortunate enough to call Southern California home.  I have camped, backpacked, ran and hiked my way through Southern California and over the years I have learned which trails to avoid (Peters Canyon) and which parts of Southern California are worth returning to time and time again. I have included hyperlinks to each trail for quick and easy access to trail statistics such as mileage, difficulty, route descriptions and elevation gain. 

 Climb For Heroes 2018

Climb For Heroes 2018

Favorite trail for a snow hike: San Jacinto via Ariel Tramway to Wellman’s Divide

This is my favorite trail to snowshoe hands down and here is why; you do not need to worry about snow on the roads since you drive into Palm Springs and take the Ariel Tramway up to a winter wonderland. I can comfortably drive my 4-door sedan and I do not have to worry about snow chains (they are a major pain in the rear). I usually bring my trail crampons and my snowshoes after a snowstorm since I am never too sure how deep the snowpack will be at certain elevations. Since I know many of you are wondering, “what is the difference between snowshoes and crampons”? Here is the quick and dirty between the two:

Are you traveling over ice or hard-packed snow that your boots can’t penetrate? Is the terrain steep and slippery? Time to put on some crampons to dig into the snow and ice and provide maximum traction underfoot. For moderate terrain, you can get away with a lighter-weight pair of crampons (such as Hillsound Trail Crampons).

Are you dealing with unbroken (or mostly unbroken) snow-covered terrain where your boots are sinking in over the ankle tops? You are now in snowshoe and gaiter country, the snowshoes to reduce the amount you sink, the gaiters to keep snow out of your boots. (I own the Redfeather Hike 25 Women's Snowshoes)

Get there early and take the first tram up so you have fresh snow and no crowds. If you are unsure about the snowpack, there is a live camera on the website where you can check to see how much snow is on the ground! Make sure to fill out a permit at the Ranger station and check in with them to get a summit weather report (if you plan on summiting). I prefer to hike to Wellman’s Divide (about 4 miles from the tram) as the trail is fairly safe, moderate in elevation gain and the views are stunning. The weather can change quickly after Wellman’s Divide in the winter and oftentimes you will be required to carry an ice ax (and know how to use it) if you plan on summiting. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the tram, so Moo has not experienced this hike.

 Winter Wonderland in San Jacinto

Winter Wonderland in San Jacinto

Favorite trail for sunsets and ocean views: Boat Canyon

If you know me, then you know how much I love this trail (I most likely have dragged you along with me). Boat Canyon trail is a 4-mile out and back, moderately rated trail in Laguna Beach with the most stunning ocean views THE ENTIRE TRAIL. No matter where you are on this trail, you can see the ocean! Since I have spent the past 3 years living in Laguna Beach, this trail is very near and dear to my heart. You can usually find me trail running this trail in time to catch the sunset on the way down while listening to Justin Bieber. I also love this trail because you can hike (or trail run) as far as your little legs desire as this trail connects to Bommer Ridge, which goes all the way through Newport Coast and into Irvine! In the spring, be sure to look for the “lawnmowers” aka the cute giant herd of goats that trim the brush to prevent fires. This trail is also good for sunrise hikes (I may or may not have sipped champagne at the top before 7 AM). Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on this trail, so Moo has not experienced this hike.

 A little bubbly in the morning never hurt, right?

A little bubbly in the morning never hurt, right?

 My "backyard" trail

My "backyard" trail

Favorite mountain trail for a sunset: Sitton Peak

This short hike off of Ortega Highway has the most incredible sunset views with layers and layers of mountains. The last ¼ of a mile is pretty brutal but just suck it up because the views are worth it. Bring a headlamp, a noisemaker, and hike in a group because there are lots of wild animals (including mountain lions). I solo hiked this at sunset with Moo, and although she was in my pack; we were being stalked by a mountain lion. To be honest, I would only recommend this hike to watch the sunset at the summit since there is nothing special about this trail (except for the view at the top). This trail (along with all the trails off of Ortega Highway) is dog-friendly! Bring your Adventure Pass.

 Mountain layers, sunsets and sweet moments with my pup.

Mountain layers, sunsets and sweet moments with my pup.

Favorite trail for sunrise: Mt. Baldy

If you want to see one of the most spectacular sunrises you have ever seen, Mt. Baldy is your next destination. You can choose to set off for the summit in the middle of the night to make breakfast and enjoy a cup of coffee at the summit for sunrise or you can backpack this magical mountain and wake up for sunrise on the summit (I have done both). My preferred route is up AND down Devil’s Backbone and here is why; you can refill your water at the lodge, grab food, drink a beer and take the ski lift down to save your knees (and cut off 2.5 miles from that boring fire road). Let’s be honest though, Mt. Baldy is my absolute favorite mountain in SoCal and I can guarantee you I am hiking it in the snow, in the summer heat, in the fall and in the middle of the night. I have hiked from Bear canyon trail, Ski hut trail, Backbone trail and I am leading a group hike up Register ridge in October. Moo also thoroughly enjoys this mountain (hint: it is dog-friendly). If you haven’t figured this out yet, Moo is my dog. Bring your Adventure Pass.

 Sunrise on the Baldy summit.

Sunrise on the Baldy summit.

 Wine a summits go well together.

Wine a summits go well together.

Favorite trail for a quick overnight backpacking trip: Lower Moro Campground

I lead an overnight backpacking trip to this local campsite every year for gals who have never backpacked before or for gals who want to test out new gear. Although there is no water available at this campsite or along the trail (I recommend at least 5 liters and lots of wine for one night) there are pit toilets with toilet paper and cell phone service. Although you must make reservations for Lower Moro Campground on Reserve California, the specific sites are first come first serve so get there early, as there are only a couple sites with ocean views. This trail is 3.5 miles each way (I choose to hike the steepest way up and the route with stunning ocean views on the way back). Do not let this 3.5 miles fool you, with a overnight pack and the steep inclines it is a booty killer. I like this trail for first-time backpackers because if you have an emergency or are just plain OVER IT, it is relatively easy to evacuate someone off the trail.

 Love these views from our campsite.

Love these views from our campsite.

Favorite trail for the butt and thighs: Mt. Baden Powell

With over 40 switchbacks, stunning views, the infamous Wally Waldron tree and the experience of hiking on the PCT, there is nothing to dislike about this trail (well except for the disgusting bathrooms). To be honest, I have seen a lot of trail destruction within the last year after this became an alternate peak for the popular “six-pack” but this trail (despite the crowds and trail destruction) remains one of my favorite trails in SoCal. It is relatively short, Moo can come along, it has some decent elevation gains for training and the views at the top are stunning. Bring your Adventure Pass.

 Giving some love to Wally Waldron!

Giving some love to Wally Waldron!

 Girls Who Hike OC group hike to the Baden Powell Summit.

Girls Who Hike OC group hike to the Baden Powell Summit.

Favorite trail to watch the stars while camping: Joshua Tree National Park

Although this is not a trail per say, Joshua Tree is the only National Park in Southern California and it is one of my favorite places to escape to for a night or two. The galaxies and constellations are jaw dropping and my neck hurts after every single trip because I spend hours just staring at the stars. There are lots of car camping sites (summer is first-come-first serve and Fall-Spring is by reservation) but I prefer to backpack out into the desert and set up a tent where no soul can find me. There are a few backpacking trails where you can fill out a permit at the trailhead and hike as far into the backcountry as your desert soul desires. Remember to always have a GPS device and drop a pin of your trailhead and backcountry campsite as many people go missing each year because it is SO easy to become disoriented in the desert. You must hike in all of your own water and like true backcountry sites, please remember to dig you cathole and always practice Leave No Trace.

 Star gazing until our necks hurt.

Star gazing until our necks hurt.

 Tents, Joshua Trees and Moo.

Tents, Joshua Trees and Moo.

Favorite long distance trail: San Jacinto via Deer Springs Trail

Just under 20 miles round-trip, this hike has it all; views, elevation, trees, wildlife, and campsites. I was completely taken aback when I hiked this trail in early summer of 2018 because it is just breathtaking. We chose to hike the Strawberry junction loop so we could experience new views and add some mileage and were not disappointed. There are a couple of streams to filter water but remember to start EARLY and bring a headlamp because this hike is long. Fill out your day permit at the Ranger Station up the road and don’t forget your Adventure Pass.

 They named this ridge after me...

They named this ridge after me...

 Views from the San Jacinto Summit.

Views from the San Jacinto Summit.

Favorite Thru-hike: Trans Catalina Trail

Hands down, this is a MUST do! From killer inclines, intimate beaches, jaw-dropping ocean views, bison on the trail to the yummy beer at Airport in the Sky. I had the ultimate pleasure of leading six other fabulous ladies on this 54-mile trail over 3 nights and 4 days in the fall of 2017 and I still get goosebumps thinking about our amazing experience. Make sure to book your campsites way in advance, grab your hiking permit online and book your boat ticket into Avalon and out of Two Harbors to make sure you get the first boat in and the last boat out. Also make sure that you order water and wood at Parson’s landing, visit Starlight beach at sunset and have wood delivered to your campsite at Two Harbors. If you want any further details about this dream trip, please reach out to me as I spent at least 20 hours making sure this trip went off without a hitch (okay so we dropped a few F-bombs and may have shed some tears along the way because this trek is HARD).

 Loved this multi-day backpacking trip!

Loved this multi-day backpacking trip!

Solo Adventuring Tips for the Female Badass

#Adventurelikeagirl

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” – Albert Einstein

 “I don’t know where I am going but I’m on my way.” – Carl Sagan

“I don’t know where I am going but I’m on my way.” – Carl Sagan

For those of you that know me, I LOVE traveling alone. It may sound weird at first and a little bit ‘loner-ish” but hear me out. I love making my own schedule, waking up and going to sleep whenever and wherever I want, having the option of meeting new people or not talking to anyone, being able to change my plans last minute, listening to audiobooks in the car or on the airplane and having the option to stay in lavish hotels or pitching a tent at a free campsite. Whenever I travel solo, I get to know myself a little bit more, become a bit more comfortable with being alone and feel so rejuvenated when I return home. I usually end up meeting a few rad people along the way too!

Is it safe?

I am often asked if adventuring solo is safe and my snarky response is usually along the lines of something like “it is safer than driving down the 405 freeway”, which in my opinion is true. I have traveled to other countries solo, camped solo, backpacked solo and road tripped across the country solo and I have definitely learned a thing or two about how to stay safe while traveling solo and making the most of my trip. In reality, no matter where you are in the world, you are never 100% safe. True, some cities and countries are safer than others but I truly believe that if you practice good judgment and have some street smarts (Don’t show your ignorance, fear, and vulnerability while on the road, it may encourage unwanted attention and invite others to take advantage of you), you will be just fine.  

I have many girlfriends tell me they are fearful of traveling solo because they may be unprepared or may find themselves in an unsafe situation, however, living in fear is scary in itself. You will not know if traveling solo will fill your soul until you step out of your comfort zone and try it. I promised myself after I graduated college that once a year I will travel internationally and travel somewhere within the United States where I have never been before. It has been 10 years since I have made this pact to myself, and I am still going strong.

 “If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie

“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie

 “Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.” – Roman Payne

“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.” – Roman Payne

How do you afford to travel so often?

I am often asked, “How do I afford to travel so often”. To be honest, I have an amazing career that I love that pays me well and gives me the freedom to work remote the majority of the time. I save a lot of my money because I do not go out to eat frequently, I rarely buy coffee out and I rarely shop for clothes. I literally spend most of my money on travel, sparkling water, wine, and skincare. I consider myself a minimalist as I do not like owning a bunch of things and I am that person that always has the same outfit on in every photo. I buy most of my clothes from consignment stores and will wear them until they have holes in them and I never buy processed snacks from grocery stores because they are overpriced and unhealthy. In other words, I have learned to spend my money on things that are important to me.

 “Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

 Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvelous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline BoonIf

Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvelous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline BoonIf

Tips and tricks for the most epic solo adventure

  • Have an itinerary printed out that includes your reservations, distance to each destination, stops along the way, and any other details you do not want to forget. I also email this agenda to myself and take screen captures on my phone.
  • If you are road-tripping solo make sure you have downloaded offline maps and a detailed description of your final destination and stops along the way as it is very possible you may lose cell signal. I am preparing for a 10 day solo road trip in Northern California where I will be backpacking The Lost Coast Trail and will stop at a few National Parks within the general area so I have a word doc with all my stops, campground reservations, hiking details, trail recommendations and of course a tide chart (since backpacking along the Lost Coast solely depends on the tides).
  • Always check the weather and plan accordingly. My parents recently canceled their trip to Hawaii a day before their flight because of the hurricane. So sad.
  • Make sure you always have at least 1/3 tank of gas as oftentimes you can drive for 40-60 miles without any service stations and running our of gas does not sound like a good time.
  • Carry essentials in case you run into car trouble. This includes an emergency first aid car kit, a flashlight, a warm jacket (in case you get stranded in the cold), a gallon of water (in case your car overheats), a spare tire, jumper cables and your roadside assistance card. Make sure you know how to use your jumper cables as you can do some serious damage if you do not use them correctly.
  • Always make sure you have plenty of snacks, water, caffeine and good music (or in my case, audiobooks). I usually order 3-5 audiobooks at the library before an upcoming trip so I have plenty of entertainment while I am driving. My rule of thumb at every gas station stop is I purchase two bottles of sparkling water, a coffee and a couple of bags of trail mix and gummy bears. I am a creature of habit and for many of my friends, who have been on road trips with me, know that I buy the exact same thing at every gas station.
  • Bring ear buds and a battery pack to charge your electronics. Ear buds come in handy especially on trains, airplanes and in long lines.
  • Always have a book… or three. For great book recommendations, check out this list of the top adventure books for women
  • Remember you can do laundry anywhere in the world so pack light. Whether you are hiking the John Muir Trail or you are adventuring to Africa, you can always wash your own clothes (in the case of the JMT) or pay a small fee to have your clothes washed. I have lived in India, Africa, the Caribbean, and Italy and I always was able to have my laundry done. Everyone around the world does laundry so there is no need to pack a new pair of clothes for each day you are adventuring. Contrary to the fashion magazines, it is totally okay to wear the same outfit two (or even three days) in a row.
  • If you go out to eat, grab a seat at the bar instead of a table (it is less awkward and you will meet lots of people eating at the bar).
  • If you get lost, take a deep breath, look at your map and center yourself. Everything is going to be okay and yes, you will make the wrong turn at least once. It happens to everyone.
  • Keep an open mind. Not every plan is going to work out and not every detail is going to go your way. There may be a wrench in your plans but the only thing you can control is your mindset and attitude. Keep an open mind and always be willing to make a new move.
  • Skip washing your hair, seriously, I never wash my hair when I am camping or backpacking no matter how many days I am out on the trails. When I am staying at a hotel or a rented apartment, I wash my hair once a week (my usual routine).
  • Do not ever forget your sunscreen (I actually carry most of my skincare regimen in travel size containers even when I am backpacking).
  • Always send a loved one at home your itinerary and tell them when they can expect to hear from you.
  • Baby wipes and face wipes are a must. I use Philosophy cleansing cloths for my face
  • If you plan on flying, always carry on, unless you are bringing camping gear or traveling internationally for more than 10 days. I use stuff sacks in my carry on bag and can fit up to a week’s worth of clothes in my carry-on without having to do laundry. Nobody likes waiting for luggage to come off the plane, paying for luggage or losing his or her luggage.
  • Do not venture out alone at night, always be diligent when you are pulling money out of the ATM, never carry too much cash or your passport on you, keep your valuable items in a safe at the hotel, and always trust your gut if you feel you are being watched or followed. I have been chased down twice in foreign countries and both incidences were at night and I saw the individual follow me out of my peripheral vision. I do not carry a weapon or pepper spray and I hope I will never need to.
  • Wear minimal or no jewelry and do not wear revealing clothing. 
  • Talk to people. It is amazing how many people you will meet whether you are backpacking alone or traveling internationally alone. People are usually very intrigued by solo female travelers and it is a great way to engage socially and learn some great tips about the trail or the city. 
  • If you are in a country where toilet paper is uncommon, always have a stash in your purse.
  • Charge all electronics before you hit the road and bring a backup battery pack (with an adapter for foreign countries if needed).
  • Take public transportation whenever possible to save money, save the environment, meet people and be adventurous. Taking public transportation helps you sharpen your navigational skills and many metro systems have apps you can download or you can always use Google maps offline to navigate the public transit system.
  • Buy a memento from your trip. I personally collect magnets for my fridge so I can save wedding invitations, printed photos and hand-written cards I receive in the mail. Some of my friends buy a patch, a pin or a t-shirt. If I am in a place that is known for their art or jewelry, you can bet I will be doing some damage on my credit card.
  • Always make a packing list so you do not forget anything.
  • Take lots of photos. Instead of taking selfies (I despise selfies) use your amazing people skills and ask someone to take a photo of you or instead of having to be in every photo, take a photo of your surroundings. 

A complete guide on planning a successful backpacking/camping trip

A complete packing list for any backpacking adventure

 “An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other” – Norma Shearer

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other” – Norma Shearer

 “Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berr

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berr

 You are the one that possesses the keys to your being. You carry the passport to your own happiness.” – Diane von Furstenberg

You are the one that possesses the keys to your being. You carry the passport to your own happiness.” – Diane von Furstenberg

If you ever have any questions about preparing for a solo trip or would like to see one of my itineraries, feel free to reach out to me!

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you on the trails!

Xx,

Kristen 

 “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Mary Louise Alcott

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Mary Louise Alcott

Giving Back, Porters' Rights and My Experience Climbing Kilimanjaro

 “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” 

- Muhammad Ali

 Summit photo of me in all my rented gear in 2006! 

Summit photo of me in all my rented gear in 2006! 

As a child, I was taught by my parents to either give my time, money or skillset to others who were in need, regardless of how much or how little I have. I recently made the decision to return back to Tanzania this winter for three months, not to volunteer, but for personal reasons. My heart has unfinished business in this country and the individuals in my life who are close to me, understand how deep my connection runs with Tanzania. I have spent over a year in this beautiful African country on two separate visits that I took 10 years ago; both of which were centered on giving my time, my skillset and fundraising for the people in Tanzania. I worked closely with women and children who were directly affected by the underlying poverty and medical complications associated with HIV. I also worked closely with porters, who assist tourists in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, commonly referred to as “the rooftop of Africa”. After spending so much time in this vibrant country, I can guarantee that I received much more from the Tanzanian people than I could ever fathom giving back to them. I lived with a family, whom I now consider my own, I developed deep friendships with individuals who are still in my life today, I fell in love with an incredible person and I left knowing that one day, I will come back. On my departure to the airport, I rented a bus and 15 of my closest African family members and friends departed with me to the airport to say goodbye. We all cried outside the airport (African people do not cry in public) and it took me months to readjust back to my life in the states.

 I became very involved with the most incredible 13 children at a local orphanage in Arusha. Every week I would visit and play with the kiddos. I raised a few hundred dollars over Christmas and threw them a huge Christmas celebration with food, gifts, a cake and kitchen necessities. As I drove up with my Tanzanian family, each child was in his or her Sunday best and the Bibi and Babu prepared a huge African feast for me! They wrapped me around in this African blanket and gathered around me and sang songs to welcome me into their family, a tradition that is done at Tanzanian weddings. And to think I was giving THEM a Christmas. THEY gave me the most memorable Christmas of my life. 

I became very involved with the most incredible 13 children at a local orphanage in Arusha. Every week I would visit and play with the kiddos. I raised a few hundred dollars over Christmas and threw them a huge Christmas celebration with food, gifts, a cake and kitchen necessities. As I drove up with my Tanzanian family, each child was in his or her Sunday best and the Bibi and Babu prepared a huge African feast for me! They wrapped me around in this African blanket and gathered around me and sang songs to welcome me into their family, a tradition that is done at Tanzanian weddings. And to think I was giving THEM a Christmas. THEY gave me the most memorable Christmas of my life. 

 Orphanages can be boring! The 13 kiddos were always cooped up in a tiny building when they were not in school. I decided to rent a bus and take them all on a field trip to a wild animal park. My African mama and sister spent all night preparing home cooked lunches for 17 people (to surprise me) and as I showed up each kid was wearing a matching t-shirt. Literally the best day! 

Orphanages can be boring! The 13 kiddos were always cooped up in a tiny building when they were not in school. I decided to rent a bus and take them all on a field trip to a wild animal park. My African mama and sister spent all night preparing home cooked lunches for 17 people (to surprise me) and as I showed up each kid was wearing a matching t-shirt. Literally the best day! 

 On my very first trip to Tanzania, working in a very rural medical clinic. 

On my very first trip to Tanzania, working in a very rural medical clinic. 

 What I have up my sleeve

This past July, I called my brother (he is my voice of reason because I am impulsive) to tell him about my deep desire to return to East Africa while telling him my game plan of how I would live and work in Tanzania. I asked him if he thought I was crazy and if this idea should just be that; an idea with no action. He told me I should go. I made the decision to go back to this beloved country this winter because everything in my life aligned for this journey. I am moving out of my home in Laguna Beach, leaving my precious doggies with my mom and moving everything I own into storage so I can live in Tanzania for 3 months to reconnect with the country that still has my heart. I do not know where I am going to live upon my return to the states in 2019, but I know I will land somewhere amazing. 

It took me a couple of months to finally feel comfortable sharing with others about my decision of temporarily moving back to Africa and one of the first things everyone said to me was “what projects do you have up your sleeve?”

My answer was “none, I am going for myself”.

The outdoor industry and helping out porters

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my email history and an email chain from The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) popped up. I found this interesting since I am planning to hike Mt. Meru, Africa’s 4th tallest mountain that stands just under 15,000 feet above sea level, and I made a mental note to look into climbing companies that support porters’ rights. I am a huge advocate for porters’ rights and I spent the off-season in Tanzania teaching English to a group of porters during my last stay in Tanzania. I knew right away that KPAP and supporting porters was going to be “my project” for my upcoming trip. With my love for the outdoor community, my advocacy for porters’ rights, my desire to see a change among the corruption in Kilimanjaro expedition companies and my close ties to the outdoor industry; I knew I had to get my hands dirty in a project that can benefit the porters. So down the rabbit hole, I go! I am choosing to support KPAP by collecting new and used outdoor gear donations for the porters! 

My experience on Kilimanjaro

My first trek on Mt. Kilimanjaro 10 years ago I was devastated in regards to the treatment of the porters on the mountain. From wearing flip-flops, torn clothing and the lack of gloves and hats while carrying excessively heavy packs in freezing cold temperatures, high altitude, and challenging terrain, these porters were working under inhumane conditions for less than $10 a day. The daily wage for a porter as of 2017 is Tsh 20000/ $8.50 per day, but usually, operators pay a lot less, maybe half that. I remember seeing porters enter the gate and weigh their packs (each pack back then had to weigh under 40kg) in front of the guards only to walk several miles to past the guards and double up on packs while half of the porters were sent back down the mountain. This occurred so the safari companies would only have to pay half of the porters (while the other half were sent back down the mountain with zero wages) and pocket the rest of the money. Keep in mind each porter now had double the weight. I witnessed porters literally running up the mountain carrying gear on their backs, heads, and chest, while many other porters were helping transport sick or injured tourists on gurneys down the mountain. Porters make the majority of their money through tips, however, the general public is not properly informed on how much to tip each porter and as a result, tips are usually not up to par. Kilimanjaro porters are at the bottom of the food chain. A cutthroat price war rages on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and when budget operators cut corners to save money, the porters are the first to suffer. The trekking industry (in all developing countries, not just in Tanzania) is corrupt and broken. I became involved with KPAP immediately after my first experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I spent two months teaching some of the porters basic English so they could communicate with English speaking tourists, in hopes of gaining higher tips. Today porters have a lower weight restriction (around 25 kilos) and more awareness is being raised about their wages, tips, safety and climbing conditions but we still have so many oceans to cross. The other day my friend in Tanzania told me that women are now working as porters on the mountain and are wearing their Kitenge (typical African fabric) as mountain clothing. 

 One of the porters is wearing jeans....

One of the porters is wearing jeans....

IMG_8852.PNG
 Too much weight and not proper gear. 

Too much weight and not proper gear. 

 Too much weight and no gloves 

Too much weight and no gloves 

I need your help

As I return to Tanzania in November, I will be taking new and use donated outdoor clothing and hiking boots to give to KPAP so they can lend their porters' proper gear to help ensure their safety and comfort while tackling one of the hardest jobs in the world. Many females are now porters so female-outdoor clothing and boots are also needed. I am not only reaching out to my friends in the hiking community, but I am reaching out to outdoor brands who also want to help make a difference.

About KPAP

Established in 2003, the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) is a legally registered Tanzanian not-for-profit organization. Our Mission is to improve the working conditions of the porters on Kilimanjaro. KPAP is not a porter membership organization, or a tour operating business, and we do not collect any fees from porters or climbing companies. 

KPAP is an initiative of the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based out of Boulder, Colorado in the United States.Those who have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro know that porters are the backbone of the trek. Many climbers may not realize that porters can be ill-equipped, poorly paid and have improper working conditions. KPAP’s focus is on improving the working conditions of the porters by:

  • Lending mountain clothing to porters free of charge
  • Advocating for fair wages and ethical treatment by all companies climbing Kilimanjaro
  • Encouraging climbers to select a climbing company with responsible treatment practices towards their crew
  • Providing educational opportunities to the mountain crew

Since 2003, KPAP’s work has had a tremendous impact for porters climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. These include:

  • Porters on over 32,500 climbs have borrowed KPAP’s mountain climbing gear free-of-charge
  • Over 7,000 porters climbing with Partner for Responsible Travel companies are ensured fair and ethical treatment every year
  • More than 16,000 mountain crew have participated with KPAP’s free educational and training classes in English, HIV/AIDS Awareness and Money Management
  • Through funding provided by the Tanzanian Foundation for Civil Society, KPAP has instructed 5,225 porters in classes on Porter Rights
  • 115 mountain crew have received Leave No Trace certification in environmental care of Mount Kilimanjaro
  • More than 1,320 mountain crew have been certified in First Aid and 69 porters and guides have been trained as First Aid Instructors and have gone on to conduct First Aid Certification courses for additional porters and mountain crew.

I cannot wait to see this project take off and bring joy to the porters of Kilimanjaro. 

I am truly hoping the outdoor community can come together because, without this outdoor community, this project will not be successful. 

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” 

-Winston Churchill

Backcountry Technology 101: How to Keep Your Electronics Fully Charged

"As technology tries to maintain its dizzying ascent, one dead weight has kept its altitude in check: the battery."

~Steven Levy

 Goal Zero Solar Panel on my pack. Santa Cruz Island. 

Goal Zero Solar Panel on my pack. Santa Cruz Island. 

There was a time when backpacking or camping was a way to get away from all of the trappings of modern life. Although many of us still escape into the wild to disconnect so we can reconnect with others and ourselves it seems that we still need our electronic gadgets since, after all, they do help us capture our memories and navigate our adventures. Even without cell phone reception, it seems we still use our phones to take photos and videos, help navigate us and even entertain us by playing music. Although we may be disconnected from the outside world, we still need ways to recharge not only our internal human battery but our electronics’ batteries as well.

Smartphones, cameras, GoPros, and GPS devices have a rechargeable battery. Even our headlamps, water purification systems, headphones, and watches now need to power up on a regular basis. There are multiple ways to keep these gadgets fully charged and running properly even when we are miles from home.

Tips and tricks to save battery life on your iPhone

My iPhone 7 usually lasts 2-3 full days when I am using Gaia and my camera on airplane mode and when I practice the following settings:

  • Keep your cell phone on Airplane Mode even if you think you may have cell service. Taking your phone off airplane mode to try to find service can suck up the battery in no time.
  • Have minimal apps running on your phone. Oftentimes, we have multiple apps running in the background, which can eat our battery. I try to only have my Gaia navigation app running when I am on the trails. To delete background apps on the iPhone, double tap on the home button and scroll up to delete each app.
  • Power Off when you are sleeping
  • Dim the screen or turn on Auto-Brightness
  • Update your phone to the latest software settings
  • Enable Low Power Mode
  • Turn off Location Services
  • Turn off Background App Refresh
  • Turn off Notifications

Tips and tricks to save battery life on your Garmin inReach

  • Turn on the Extended Tracking setting 
  • Turn on the Automatic backlight brightness setting or reduce the backlight timeout 
  • Reduce the message Listen Interval setting (I have this set to once every 24 hours)
  • Reduce the value of the tracking Log Interval and Send Interval settings (I have my send interval turned off)
  • Turn off Bluetooth® wireless technology
  Tecnu  sent me this GoPro as a gift and I finally learned how to use it while on my recent trip exploring the Channel Islands. I am pretty impressed and incredibly grateful! 

Tecnu sent me this GoPro as a gift and I finally learned how to use it while on my recent trip exploring the Channel Islands. I am pretty impressed and incredibly grateful! 

 Yelling at my GoPro to "turn on". 

Yelling at my GoPro to "turn on". 

Tips and tricks to save battery life on your GoPro

  • Turn it off when you are not recording
  • Update the firmware: You can update your GoPro by connecting the camera to your phone over Wi-Fi and using the GoPro app to update it
  • Turn off Wi-Fi
  • Reduce the recording resolution or frame rate: For most GoPro action footage, 1080p at 60 frames per second is the standard. Turning it down a notch to 720p or leaving it at 1080p and setting it to 30 frames per second can help conserve battery life.
  • Carry an extra battery: Each battery only holds 1.5 hours of recording time so most of us carry an extra battery to have on hand.

Battery packs (power storage)

Think of battery packs as a storage unit. You can use the stored power from the battery pack to charge your electronic devices but you need to replenish your storage unit with new power from a power source. Your power source can be your wall charger, your car charger or your solar panel. A decent battery pack should provide an iPhone with FOUR full charges and will run you about $50-$150, depending on the battery size and power.

Storage capacity and power output

The capacity of a battery pack is measured in milliamp hours (mAh). By comparing the storage capacity of a portable battery to that of the battery in your device, you can get an idea of how many recharges you have available. This is usually stated in milliAmp-hours (mAh) or Amp-hours (Ah). For example, 2200 mAh = 2.2 Ah. Watt hours (wh) is another measure of capacity. To convert watt-hours to mAh: (Wh /Volts) x 1000 = mAhSmaller USB battery packs have as few as 2,000 to 3,000 mAh, while larger ones can have as much as 10,000 to 15,000 mAh or more. If you're going to be charging multiple devices, or are bringing a tablet along with you, having one of these high-capacity batteries at your disposal will definitely come in handy. Small electronic devices that can be charged with a USB cable need a 5V output rating so make sure your battery pack as at least a 5V output port.

I currently use GoalZero products (and never plan on changing), specifically the Venture 70 and the Flip 30 recharger. Both of these are drastically different work great for different purposes.

Goal Zero Venture 70: Can charge multiple gadgets at the same time, can be used with a solar panel, the capacity of 17,700mAh, and waterproof. I prefer this for longer backpacking trips or thru-hikes.

Goal Zero Flip 30 recharger: Charges one device at a time, can be used with solar panel, 7800mAh, shorter charge times than Venture 70, cheaper in price, less weight than Venture 70, not waterproof. I use this on day hikes or 1-2 day backpacking trips.

 It is pretty amazing that the sun can power all of our gadgets. 

It is pretty amazing that the sun can power all of our gadgets. 

Solar panels (power source)

A solar panel on its own is a good way to keep your devices charged while traveling, but pair one with a portable USB battery pack and you'll have a complete energy system. This approach allows you to store the energy (through the battery pack) that the solar panel generates and save it for use at another time. The solar panel does not hold a charge but it produces power when it is exposed to sunlight, so, therefore, you must hook it up to a battery back or electronic device while it is exposed to the sun. You can plug your phone directly into the panel or use it to recharge a portable recharger for later use.  The larger the solar panel, the more sunlight it collects and the faster it gets converted to power stored in a battery. A smaller panel, though easier to pack, takes longer to charge a battery. Large surface area is also best for conditions such as cloud cover or the low-angled, low-intensity light in winter, or when logistical constraints limit how long you can have it exposed to sun. Solar panels are rated in watts. The higher the number, the more electricity is generated during a given time period. 7 W is a good number to shoot for.

It took me a while to finally invest in a solar panel but I am so happy I did. A decent solar panel should run you about $100-$125. It is important to use your solar panel in direct sunlight and always have it hooked on to the outside of your backpack/tent so the solar panels are facing the sun. On average, a solar panel takes about 6-12 hours to charge a device (depending on the size of the device). When investing in a solar panel, make sure that you can it can charge directly to your device and to your battery pack. It is also important that your solar panel is weatherproof and waterproof. I use the Goal Zero Nomad 7. The Goal Zero Nomad 7 plus is new on the market and currently out of stock.

 I even have a solar-powered light for Moo! 

I even have a solar-powered light for Moo! 

Extra power tips and tricks

  • Always carry an extra USB/lightning cable
  • Download maps on your favorite navigation device (I use Gaia maps on my iPhone) before you hit the trails and turn tracking off to save battery.
  • Download your favorite music (I use Pandora) and use it in offline mode while on the trails.
  • Store all electronics in a Dry Sack to ensure no water gets in. I also use my Dry Sack as my backpacking sink to wash my face and dishes.
  • If you have a rechargeable headlamp (like I do), always make sure you charge the batteries every day before nightfall, as these batteries do not hold their charge for very long.

Do you have any power saving tips and tricks?

Hope to see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

My Personal Story on Activating the SOS Function on my Garmin inReach

"He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger."

-Confucius
 

 Always keep your Garmin inReach device On, within reach and pointing towards the clouds when you are on the trail. 

Always keep your Garmin inReach device On, within reach and pointing towards the clouds when you are on the trail. 

On Sunday, July 8, I experienced a multitude of harrowing events (being left alone, lightning storms, fires, and bears) while hiking Mt. Whitney in the Eastern Sierras that resulted in me sending an SOS signal via my Garmin inReach, for the first time ever. After writing about my experience, I received quite a few questions on the logistics of activating the emergency signal.

  • "What happened when you activated it?"
  • "I didn't know you could activate unless your life was in imminent danger"?.
  • "What did the emergency response center tell you to do"?
  • "Were you nervous"?
  • "How long did it take until you received a response"?
  • "Did they charge you"?

Although, I was able to safely hike out alone, knowing that I was in communication with the International Emergency Rescue Coordination Center in regards to the direction of the Georges fire, gave me reassurance that I could safely exit the Mt. Whitney trail without coming in contact with the fire. 

What are satellite messengers and how do they work?

For the full description and comparison, visit my blog post on SOS and communication devices. These handheld devices, such as those from SPOT and Garmin are 2-way communication devices that allow you to send messages to an emergency responder and receive messages back. Satellite messengers are GPS-based devices that rely on either of 2 commercial satellite networks, Iridium or Globalstar, rather than the military network used by PLBs (this is why there is a monthly subscription). Besides the two-way communication, these devices also allow you to send preset text messages to your contacts, link your coordinates to your social media, download maps and they can also be used as a navigation device; fancy right?

IMG-7577.JPG

Activating the SOS button

During an emergency, you can contact the GEOS International Emergency Rescue Coordination Center (IERCC) to request help. This center picks up your coordinates and after communicating with you, sends a message to the appropriate emergency service response team in your area. Pressing the SOS key (lift the cover on the side of the device and hold down the SOS button) sends a message to the rescue coordination center. I made the decision to activate the SOS signal because I was unsure where the fire was located and if I was able to hike out safely. I saw the lightning that initiated the fire while I was hiking down Mt. Whitney on the switchbacks in a lightning storm and once I was within 2-3 miles of the Whitney Portal trailhead, I noticed the sky was covered in thick smoke and ash, and I was unsure where the fire was or if it was safe to continue hiking. Once I held down the SOS key a loud noise on the device coupled with a 20-second countdown began. I thought to myself, “this just got real”. During this countdown, you have the option to immediately cancel this SOS signal however I was confident that I needed to know safety information in regards to the fire. Was I nervous? Yes. The first message that automatically sent once the countdown ended was “I have an emergency, and I need you to send help”. All I could think was, “oh geez I hope they do not automatically send a helicopter!” Within one minute, I received a text message on my Garmin inReach stating they have received my SOS signal and they asked if I was alone. I responded “yes”. I started to type my reasoning for contacting them, to realize that I had to type out each individual letter by moving the cursor and selecting the letter in order to make each word (think back to those old school Nokia phones) and this was painfully taking me forever and my spelling and grammar were unbearable. I finally explained, in terrible spelling, that I was 2-3 miles from Whitney portal and I spotted a fire and needed to know if I was able to hike out safe. I quickly remembered that I paired my iPhone to the Eartmate app, which allows you access text messages, maps, weather forecasts, routes and waypoints on your smart phone. I was able to properly type a message from my iPhone to the GEOS International Emergency Rescue Coordination Center (IERCC) center fully explaining what I just went through and properly asking if I can hike out safely. THIS WAS A GAME CHANGER. They responded that they were contacting the local Sheriff’s department and checking on the fire. Within 26 minutes from my initial SOS activation, I received the OK that I was able to hike out safely, but if the winds changed directions they would contact me. They also asked me to send them a message once I got off the trail safely

 A transcription of my messages that were sent. As you can see messages 2-4 were typed from the Garmin device where the latter messages were properly typed from my smart phone vie the Earthlink app. Make sure you pair your phone with your SOS device before you hit the trails. 

A transcription of my messages that were sent. As you can see messages 2-4 were typed from the Garmin device where the latter messages were properly typed from my smart phone vie the Earthlink app. Make sure you pair your phone with your SOS device before you hit the trails. 

Emergency Contacts Are Helpful

During my communication with GEOS International Emergency Rescue Coordination Center (IERCC), they contacted my brother (who is my emergency contact). He did not answer his phone on the first ring, assuming a Texas number was probably a telemarketer (I don’t blame him). When they called back five minutes later he picked up and they calmly and kindly explained who they were and why they were calling. They asked my brother if I was alone or in a group, and he told them he assumed I was with my hiking group (little did he know). They updated him on my experience and told him about the fire and explained they will be in contact with him until I reach safety. It took me one hour and fifteen minutes to exit the trail and over this period of time, they contacted my brother three different times, updating him on my location and finally assuring him that I was safely off the trail.

Sending your location

For the first 10 minutes of your rescue, an updated location is automatically sent to the emergency response service every minute. To conserve battery power after the first 10 minutes, an updated location is sent every 10 minutes when moving, and every 30 minutes when stationary. Once I returned home and logged into my Garmin account, I was able to see every location that was automatically sent to the rescue center.

 These were all the waypoints that were located from the emergency response center. These were automatically sent from the GPS feature on the Garmin inReach. 

These were all the waypoints that were located from the emergency response center. These were automatically sent from the GPS feature on the Garmin inReach. 

 Not every emergency results in a helicopter rescue

Many people assume that activating an SOS signal means you need a rescue right away, however this is not the case. Activating an SOS signal when you are in a dangerous or unknown situation can be helpful to alert emergency services that you may need help in the impending future or you need advice on whether you can safely continue your hike. If you become lost, injured, or are sick or you are at the mercy of a natural disaster, it may be wise to alert emergency services earlier rather than later so they can give you the proper advice. They may tell you that you should evacuate yourself out of the area (self evacuate), or they may send someone to hike into your location to evacuate you out and of course, in extreme rescue situations, you may need to be evacuated by a helicopter. There are no absolutes, no black and white areas and many of these are judgment calls that you must make while you are in the outdoors. Go with your gut feeling and do what you feel is right.

 Marmots are one of the largest members of the squirrel family. They can be two feet in length and weigh up to 11 pounds. Their large body size is an adaptation to the cold, high elevation sites in which they live. Marmots have reddish-brown fur and a yellow belly, from which they get their name. They are related to woodchucks and groundhogs in other parts of the country.

Marmots are one of the largest members of the squirrel family. They can be two feet in length and weigh up to 11 pounds. Their large body size is an adaptation to the cold, high elevation sites in which they live. Marmots have reddish-brown fur and a yellow belly, from which they get their name. They are related to woodchucks and groundhogs in other parts of the country.

For those of you who have asked me about whether I will be hiking with these folks in the future, the answer is No.

I am currently leading a Mammoth backpacking trip and a have a summer filled of outdoor adventures. When will I be hiking a 14er again? Soon! I am planning to hike Mt. Langley and Mt. Shasta in the near future. 

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you on the trails.

Xx,

Kristen 

IMG-7490.JPG

Hike Like a Girl: Periods and Peeing in the Backcountry

“You’re the reason I get up in the morning. That, and I need to pee.” 
― Darynda JonesSeventh Grave and No Body

 My recent 4th of July backpacking trip up to Cucamonga Peak to watch the fireworks. The sunset and sunrise were not that bad either. 

My recent 4th of July backpacking trip up to Cucamonga Peak to watch the fireworks. The sunset and sunrise were not that bad either. 

How to handle your period in the backcountry

If you spend a lot of time in the wilderness, you know first hand how annoying it is to be in the backcountry on your period. If you haven’t experienced this quite yet…just wait…it will happen. From menstrual cramps and mood swings to dealing with tampons and bloating, sometimes being female is rough but let’s be honest gals; guys could never do this on a monthly basis. We are so much stronger than we allow ourselves to believe. I personally have the most excruciating cramps that sometimes I vomit from the pain, literally cry and curl up in a ball. I have tried every natural remedy on the market but I still to the tried and true ibuprofen, which is sold under the brand name Advil or Motrin. Ibuprofen is a pain reliever with anti-inflammatory properties that specifically triggers prostaglandins. Prostaglandin triggers symptoms of pain associated with inflammation and are produced, in high concentrations by your uterine tissue during menstruation and are primarily responsible for menstrual cramps. Ibuprofen works by preventing your body from making prostaglandins, thereby reducing your menstrual cramps. It is recommended by physicians to take 800mg of ibuprofen 2-3 times a day for pain and to begin 2 days before your cycle in order to prevent cramping. 800mg is the recommended dose to treat any sort of pain caused by inflammation and I strongly recommend and prescribe this dose to all my patients (who do not have gastritis or ulcers).

Tampons, menstrual cups, and pads…oh my

I personally do not have a problem using tampons while I am backpacking or hiking however you must follow the Leave No Trace guidelines and remember to change your tampon every 4-6 hours. Contrary to popular belief, altitude alone should not really affect your period flow but some people do notice changes when they travel to higher or lower altitude areas more likely due to the stress of travel, crossing time zones, change in sleep cycles, etc.

Menstrual cups: an alternative to tampons and pads

They’re usually made of silicone or natural rubber and you can use for one for your entire trip and beyond. Some popular brands are DivaCup, Softcup, Lily Cup, The Keepers and Moon Cup. This reusable cup captures your menstrual flow, which means you need to insert it and later remove it to empty out its contents. You can usually wear a cup for up to 12 hours straight without emptying it, however, this depends on how heavy your flow is as many women say they do empty it every 4 hours for heavy cycles. These cups come in different sizes so it is recommended you try this product for a couple of cycles at home so you can get used to the fit and used to inserting/emptying the cup before you go out into the wild.

Before inserting or removing the cup, be sure to wash your hands with hand sanitizer or soap and water. Empty the contents of the cup and bury it just like you would any other human waste in a cat hole, which you should dig six to eight inches deep and 200 feet away from any water sources. If you are on a glacier or in a sensitive area where you need to use bags for human waste, instead of digging a cat hole, empty the contents of the cup into the waste bag. Then re-insert the cup and wash your hands again.

To clean your cup during the trip, wash it with warm water and oil-free soap if you can. You can also sterilize it in boiling hot water for 5-10 minutes. When cleaning your menstrual be sure to avoid using: vinegar, tea tree oil, scented/fragranced soap, castile/peppermint soap or any other oil based soap, rubbing alcohol, antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer, pre-moistened wipes, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, dishwashing soap, bleach or harsh chemicals because these ingredients can slowly degrade the silicone and just imagine inserting hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol up into your girl parts… no, thank you. The cup needs to be stored in something breathable, so once your cycle is over you can keep it in the cotton pouch that comes with many cups or in another cotton or paper bag.

Disposing of tampons and pads in the backcountry

  • You must pack out all of your waste, yes that means used pads and tampons.
  • Bring the kind of tampons without applicators for less waste to pack out.
  • Make sure to have one bag for clean tampons and another well-marked waste bag for used ones. 
  • Store used pads or tampons ones inside a separate duct-taped waste bag and add dry tea bags or crumbled aspirin to control the scent.
  • If you are in the bear country or in another area with wildlife issues, you will need to place this bag in the container holding your food and other scented items overnight so that you do have odors drawing wildlife towards your tent.
 Sitting on top of the world watching the sunset. 

Sitting on top of the world watching the sunset. 

Peeing in the backcountry: from squatting and pee rags to the Freshette and pee bottles

  •  If you’re on a slope, pee facing downhill so it flows away from you and not back down onto your feet.
  • If it’s windy, try to pee so it flows in the same direction as the wind so it doesn’t get blown back at you.
  • Squat low to the ground with your heels in front of your bum, so you do not risk peeing on your hiking boots.
  • Always wipe. Drip-drying over time can lead to urinary tract infections or yeast infections, and wiping after going pee makes a huge difference in preventing these illnesses.
  •  If you use toilet paper or baby wipes, please pack these out using a Ziplock bag (I double these baggies)

The power of the "pee rag" 

You can also use a “pee handkerchief” aka a bandana and tie it on the outside of your pack to dry in the sun. To those who may question whether a pee rag is sanitary, consider that ultra-violet rays from the sun are one of the earth’s most powerful disinfectants. A pee rag on the outside of a backpack is probably cleaner than the toilet paper rolls in many public bathrooms.

Squeeze bottles for the win

You can also use a high flow squeeze bottle to clean yourself after you are done by squeezing water into your girl parts (the high flow is really important). Note: These high flow bottles also work great for flushing out any wounds or lacerations you may get while on the trails.

Pee like a boy: The Freshette

If you do not want to mess with squatting on the trail, the Freshette feminine urinary director is also an option. (To be honest, I have never used this device nor does it interest me, but I have lots of gal pals who swear by it.

The infamous pee bottle

If you’re pinned down in a snowstorm, the last thing you want to do is go out into blinding wind and snow at night to drop your pants and pee. This is where the pee bottle comes in, and there are some special tricks for this one. First of all, make sure you get the largest pee bottle possible so that you don’t have to get out and empty it any more than necessary. I like using an extra-large collapsible Nalgene Cantene. Use a permanent marker to label the bottle (I typically mark a skull and crossbones on it) so it doesn’t get mixed up with your regular water bottles. No matter what, make sure it’s collapsible and has a wide mouth.

 My favorite trail companion and spirit animal, Moo. 

My favorite trail companion and spirit animal, Moo. 

Remember to always pack out what you pack in and do your business 200 feet from the trail and/or water source. 

Thanks for reading!

See you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

 

Eleven Essential Steps to Planning a Successful Backpacking/Camping Trip

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

IMG-6848.JPG

Planning a trip into the wilderness, whether you are backpacking or car camping requires a lot of thought. Thanks to the Internet and social media, humans are saturating the outdoors and as a result, the days of throwing on a backpack and hiking into the backcountry last minute, are long gone. Most trails and campsites now require permits, which can be booked up almost a year in advance and many of these permits are nearly impossible to come by when they can only be obtained through a lottery. From permits to packing and everything in between, there is a lot of planning that goes into seeking solitude in the wild and gracing Mother Nature with your presence.

I am a planner by nature. I plan my the majority of my year out well in advance, I write everything down in a Word document and I am the first person my friends and family call when they have a question about planning a trip. The other day, I even offered to pack my friend's backpack for our 4th of July trip next week. ( He politely declined and then I realized I was probably mothering him) Sorry, Matt!

I am currently in the process of planning four very involved backpacking trips and two car camping trips so I figured I will share all my secrets to my madness. I understand that not everyone plans their calendar out a year in advance or writes down every detail in a Word document but if you ever want any help, you know where to find me! 

Step 1: Time is of the essence

When planning a trip, it is important to first figure out how many days are required. Can this trip be done in a weekend? Is this a weeklong trip or is this a thru-hike that requires multiple weeks to months? You must also consider the time it takes to travel to and from your destination.  My rule of thumb is if I am flying anywhere or if there are more than 4 hours of driving involved, I automatically add an extra two days to the trip.  If you are traveling a far distance think about any side trips that are reasonably close. For example, I am backpacking The Lost Coast in September and since this a 12-hour drive, I have decided to split up the drive by camping at a State Park on the front end and at a National Park on the backend. Sometimes side trips can not only break up the driving/traveling time but they are a great excuse to see new places as well.

Step 2: Seasons

Summer is the most popular time of year to backpack and camp and therefore if you are planning an adventure during this season, you will most likely need to book a permit or a campsite 3-9 months in advance.  For off season adventuring, make sure you are prepared for any weather that may come your way (rain, snow, hail) and be prepared to travel in these conditions (make sure you have chains on your car or be prepared for flights delays). I personally love winter camping, however, I do not drive in snow so I usually head up to Mammoth last minute when the roads are clear and when there are no impending storms. If I am flying somewhere to go skiing, I make sure I can fly into the town and take a shuttle to my ski resort. This way, I am not driving on roads in dangerous weather conditions. If you plan to hike in the snow, make sure you have the right gear (crampons, ice ax, microspikes etc.) and always check the trail conditions before you head out.

IMG-6976.JPG

Step 3: Playing your odds at permits: Apply early

If you’ve got your eye on a popular National Park day hike or epic backpacking trip, you’ll want to pay close attention to the permit deadlines and processes. There’s nothing worse than getting your gear and planning everything out only to find out you missed the permit deadline and reservations are full. Keep in mind that backcountry permits are for backpacking (hike-in sites) and camping permits are you typical drive-in tent camping sites.

Permits are A BIG DEAL. Most campsites and backpacking trips require some sort of permit, whether it is a walk up permit or an advanced permit, this piece of paper is the determining factor of when you are going to go on your trip. My rule of thumb is look into permits for popular destinations at least 6-7 months in advance, preferably 7-8 months as some permit applications open up 6-7 months in advance. Mark the date on your calendar pertaining to the start date for permit applications and apply on that day, first thing in the morning as many permits fill up within minutes to hours. 

National Parks: Advanced reservations are always required to camp at most National Parks but some sites are first-come first serve. First-come, first-served sites become full at the blink of an eye so I prefer to always have an advanced reservation. Popular National Parks such as Yosemite, Sequoia, Yellowstone, and Zion usually require reservations 3 months to 6 months in advance and fill up immediately. If you plan on visiting a popular National Park, research when reservations open and set an alarm for that day to ensure the best possible odds of obtaining a campsite or a permit.  Visit Recreation.gov, enter in the National Park you want to visit and select the specific campsite of your choice. Again, you may have to choose “next available dates” as many sites become booked up months in advance for popular National Parks.

BLM: Bureau of Land Management areas are first-come, first-serve for campsites and are usually free (or minimal cost) however some areas such as the Lost Coast require a permit through Recration.gov so be aware that just because you are adventuring on BLM land, you may still be required to apply for a permit. For more information on planning a trip on BLM land visit their website.

National Forests: Depending on the location, some national forests require a walk up permit at the time of your trip, however, many National Forests require permits to be mailed or faxed, in advance.  For popular National Forests, advanced permits are required and will book up fast (think permits for Big Pine Lakes, Thousand Island Lakes, Rae Lakes Loop etc.)

Recreation.gov will become your best friend for National Forest permits. To search wilderness permits, enter the National Forest you will be entering. For example, Big Pine Lakes is in Inyo National Forest. On the left-hand side under filters, click on “permits”. You can then enter the specific trail, dates and group size. If all the dates are reserved, you can search “next available dates”

State Parks: Backpacking or car camping in state parks require an advanced permit.

California has a new reservation system starting 2018 for California State Parks

Wilderness permits: Within a National Forest, there are specifically designated wilderness areas. For example, The San Bernardino National Forest has eight designated wilderness areas including San Gorgonio, Cucamonga, San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, Bighorn Mountain, Cahuilla Mountain, South Fork San Jacinto and part of the Sheep Mountain wilderness.  Wilderness permits are usually not required for day hikes but may be required for overnight hikes. All permits are highly recommended as a safety precaution (you are accounted for in case a Ranger needs to find you).

Lottery permits: These are fun, not. From Half Dome and The Wave to Rim-to-Rim, Mt. Whitney and Havasupai, popular destinations often require a permit that is drawn by lottery (luckily, I have scored permits to all these place and persistency is the key).  This means on a certain date (depending on the specific location), you are required to fill out an application, pay a fee and either email, fax or USPS your permit application and wait for a “Yes” or “No” response. These lotteries are drawn at random and sometimes you can get lucky on the first try or sometimes you have to keep on trying. I always advise to keep on trying and apply for dates that are during the off-season. The website where you fill out your permit application will usually have statistics on which dates are more popular (you will have lower odds of snagging a spot the more popular the dates are).

Thru hiking permits: Depending on which trail you want to complete, you must apply through the designated system. For example, if you are applying to the hike the John Muir Trail from North to South, you apply directly from the Yosemite National Park website.  If you are applying to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, there is a specific website that is listed here to apply for permits.

IMG-6798.JPG

Popular permit deadlines

  • Inyo National Forest Permits: Most trails can be reserved 6 months in advance
  • John Muir Trail: 24 weeks in advance of your entry date
  • Yosemite National Park: Campground reservations are available in blocks of one month at a time, up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am Pacific time. Be aware that nearly all reservations for the months of May through September and for some other weekends are filled the first day they become available, usually within seconds or minutes after 7 am.
  • Mount Whitney Lottery: Permit application lottery begins February 1st
  • Half Dome Lottery: Permit application lottery begins March 1
  • Death Valley Furnace Creek Campground: 6 months in advance. The most popular time to visit in October-May.
  • Joshua Tree National Park: 6 months in advance. The most popular time to visit in October-May.
  • Joshua Tree National Park backcountry permits: Walk up/first-come first-serve
  • Trans-Catalina Trail: Permits are available approximately a year in advance. Trail permits are free however campsite reservations require a fee per person/per night. You must also book your boat reservations in advance.
  • Pacific Crest Trail long distance permit lottery: Applications open on February 1st with 35 permits issues per day. PCT additional long-distance permit application: February 16th with an additional 15 permits becoming available per day.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park backcountry permit: March 1
  • Grand Teton National Park backcountry permit: Jan-May 15
  • The Enchantments: February 15. Overnight permits required from May 15 to October 31st
  • Glacier National Park backcountry permits: March 1
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park backcountry permits (this includes the High Sierra Trail): March 1
  • Sequoia and Kinds Canyon campsites: 6 months in advance
  • Mount Rainer National Park backcountry permit: Applications are open and processed in random order until April 1 when they start processing permits on the order they are received. This includes the Wonderland Trail
  • Grand Canyon National Park backcountry permits: Permit applications are accepted about 10 days before the first of the month that is four months prior to the proposed start date.
  • Zion National Park backcountry permits: 3 months in advance
  • Subway permits for Zion: 3 months in advance
  • Zion National Park Campsites: 6 months in advance
  • Canyonlands National Park backcountry permits: 6 months in advance
  • Yellowstone National Park campgrounds: May 1st for the following summer season (about one year in advance)
  • The Wave: The Wave permit applications are accepted starting at 12 pm MST on the 1st of the month and for the remainder of that month, four months prior to your desired hiking month.

Are your permits being sent to you in the mail? Are they emailed to you? Or do you have to pick them up in person? If you have to pick up your permits in person, I suggest doing this the day before you arrive as Ranger Stations have set opening and closing hours.

Step 4: How many miles per day?

Before you set out on your adventure, it is good to have an itinerary of how many miles you plan on hiking/backpacking each day. Most people backpack between 3-10 miles each day. If a backpacking trip is 25 miles, it is best to take 2-3 nights depending on your pace.

IMG-6640.JPG

Step 5: Type of trail: loop, out and back or one-way?

For one-way hikes, you must plan transportation when you finish the trek. Shuttle two cars; hitchhike back to your car; or, pay for a local shuttle service, if one is available. For The Lost Coast and Rim to Rim, I reserved a spot on the shuttle. For shuttle services, make sure you reserve early and check the minimum number of passengers, as many shuttle services will not depart unless they meet the minimum passenger requirement.

 Step 6: Mapping it out

You must always map out your trail on a navigation device. I use GAIA GPS and use my Garmin inReach Explorer for backup.

When you are creating your map, make sure to add waypoints for campsites and where water is available. For information about navigation and apps check out my blog post.

Step 7: Campfires and stoves

Are campfires permitted? Are stoves allowed? Do you need a stove permit? If campfires are allowed, can you purchase wood there or do you need to reserve it in advance. For Trans Catalina, you must reserve wood and water in advance at Parson’s Landing and Two Harbors. For information on how to make a fire, check out my blog post.

IMG-6961.JPG

Step 8: Gear

Is a bear canister required? Do you need to filter your water? Do you need gaiters? Think about any gear upgrades or necessary items you need to purchase and make the purchase in advance so you can try the gear before you go. For information on water filters or treating water check out my blog post. Make a packing list, have a system down and pack early. I usually am embarking on back-to-back trips so I always have a method to my madness when packing. I make lists, do my grocery shopping ahead of time and always pack the day before to make sure everything is in order. Make sure all of your gadgets are fully charged.

For all my tips and tricks on backpacking gear, check out my blog post “ My Favorite Backpacking Best Kept Secrets”  

Step 9: Emergency Contacts

Always give out your itinerary and coordinates to a close friend or family member so just in case something does happen they know who to reach. I always send an email to my brother with my itinerary, coordinates and emergency numbers and give him a timeframe of when I will be in contact with him.

Step 10: Check the trail, road and weather conditions

Always check for road closures, trail closures, flight delays and current and future weather conditions as these can change on a daily basis. Make sure you have the right gear and have a backup plan. In terms of my upcoming Lost Coast backpacking trip, my hike each day is literally is scheduled around the tides. I must hike within a certain window so I am not in the danger zones during high tide. I will be re-checking the tide schedule in relation to my hiking schedule with a ranger before I set off on my trip. If you are an avid snow hiker, be sure to look out for avalanche warnings. 

Step 11: Meet and chat with the ranger

You usually have to check into a campsite or pick up a permit at a ranger station so it is always important to chat with the ranger on duty. I personally like to chat with him or her, just in case something happens, hopefully, he/she will remember me. Here are some questions topics to ask the ranger before you head out on the trail:

  • Current and impending weather conditions
  • Trail conditions
  • Recent sightings of bears/mountain lions
  • Trail closures
  • Bathroom etiquette (usually this is standard but for the Lost Coast, they want you to make your cat hole literally on the beach).

Thank so much for reading and see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

IMG-6980.JPG