Tuesday, January 1, 2019


How to Enjoy the Snow!

This morning, residents of the Gila Valley awoke to a wonderful sight--snow in the Sonoran Desert. (Or at least the Sky Islands surrounding the desert.)
Mt. Graham  (Monika Ragland)
All week we have enjoyed cooler temperatures and the joy of snow.  And a few club members took the opportunity to head to higher elevations to enjoy some snowshoeing. It is a way to get away from those crowds parked in every pull-off and campground looking for a spot to build a snowman, tube down a slope, or throw a snowball.
While some "desert rats" shudder at the thought of being out in the cold for an extended time, we assure you that with a little forethought and preparation, even poikilothermics (those who think they have cold blood coursing through their veins) can enjoy a day out in the snow.

First, THINK ABOUT YOUR FEET.  Footwear is probably the most important consideration for winter hiking. if you don’t have the right shoes, you’re probably going to get cold, wet, and miserable.  Your shoes have to be waterproof, and that means not using stylish city boots, or the low cut breathable hiking shoe we wear in the desert.  You need heavy-duty winter boots that are waterproof.  (I bought mine at a clearance sale at Big 5 right after Christmas.) And make sure they are comfortable and flexible enough to allow for some movement of your toes and ankle when wearing socks.

If you know you will be doing serious hiking in icy conditions, buy a pair of crampons or ice cleats to strap to the bottom of your shoes.  Don't buy the most expensive, vicious looking spikes you can find.  You probably won't need them.  I bought an inexpensive pair ($20.00) at the Grand Canyon in March when we discovered an ice sheet at the top of South Kiabab Trail.

For socks, I use calf or knee-length wool socks. Wool and wool blend socks retain warmth longer even when wet.  Avoid cotton socks.  (And just in case your feet do get wet, carry an extra pair of dry socks with you.)

Your other choices in clothing are also important.  Remember that layering your clothing is of utmost importance during the winter.  Begin with a layer of long underwear.  Next, you want to add a long sleeve shirt and pants made of pile or fleece.  There is nothing like fleece lined pants when you're out in the snow.  Even lightweight ski pants work well.  Experiment on short forays into the snow.  It is easy to overheat, but with layers you can adjust until your figure out what works best for you. (For me: long underwear, fleece lined soft shell pants, long sleeve tee, hoodie, and down vest.)   For gloves I use fleece lined ski gloves.  My hoodie is often enough for keeping my head warm, but for cold days I’ll wear a wool cap or pair of ear muffs.  I also carry a handkerchief because my nose runs when it gets cold!

Hiking poles in the winter are a great idea because you never know when you might come across a patch of ice or how deep the snow may be, and this extra support is a big help.

The above will prepare you for hiking in 3-4" of snow or outlasting your enemy in a snowball fight, but if you have deep snow to hike through, consider snowshoes.  Today's brands are quick and easy to put on.  Modern snowshoes utilize aluminum frames, molded plastic toe and heel pieces, and nylon straps. (I purchased LLBean snowshoes in 2015 for $120. They came in a back pack with poles.)   Make sure they have cleats at the toe, forefoot, and heel.  Cleats at least one inch long should provide the traction you need.

I once read,  "There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."  So with a little preparation, any "desert rat" can enjoy the snow.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Rockin' It on the Trail


The scouting team headed out this week to check on a trail scheduled for an upcoming hike.  The Shannon/Arcadia Trail was recently opened after the 2017 Frye Fire. The fire drastically changed the landscape and a couple of sections of the trail have completely disappeared.  One lone cairn--a stack of rocks--helped guide us through a particularly rough spot.  So, we added a few cairns to help the next hikers through the area.

On a recent hike, we had an opportunity to educate some novice hikers about the piles of rocks cutting through a large meadow.  Being from Arizona, one individual shared that she had seen these stone piles marking energy vortexes in Sedona.   Yes, after the Harmonic Convergence in 1987 and the end of the Millennium many of the new stone stacks appeared around the world.  They are people’s way of saying “I was here” or mark a spot of spiritual significance. But historically stone stacks denote the next point along a trail so you know which direction to go. 
 
Real cairns appear all around the world. The word comes from Gaelic for “heap of stones.”  Many cultures used stones as before there were lighthouses to help them navigate along the shorelines.  Stone piles also mark trails in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mongolian steppe and in the Andes. Many still standing today are ancient.  Rock cairn have been used for millennia for guidance.  But in recent years, we have begun seeing cairns go from tools for guidance to art, or a fad. Yes, they make for great Facebook selfies. They are popping up everywhere!  So what's rockin' with these stacked stones?  A big debate. Here are some things we might consider before stacking rocks.


Moving rocks alters the landscape.  In the West, we know the effects water can have on barren land.  Rocks hold down soil and moving even a couple of rocks can cause erosion.  Every time a rock is disturbed, an animal loses a potential home, since many insects and mammals burrow under rocks for protection and reproduction.

Moving rocks not only is bad for the environment, but you run the risk of misdirecting hikers. 
If you make your own cairn, it can lead people in the wrong direction, and it could get people in trouble. Knock down a cairn along a trail and there can be similar results.  Properly built cairns help mark trails to help hikers and can endure for decades.  As trail markers, cairns keep hikers on a single path, so they don't wander about damaging fragile soil and vegetation.  In foggy or stormy weather or at night, they can be lifesavers, helping keep hikers safely on the trail.  Cairns have an important purpose, protecting the environment and the hiker.

But on the other side of the debate--I've seen stacked stones that are works of art.  I've marveled at the builders' abilities to balance one stone upon another. 

But when we think of the out-of doors, we need to think and act responsibly.  In both cases, context and quantity should be considered rather than the idea of our right to stack a few stones.  It's not just one or two stacks...it's dozens and hundreds in some areas.  If an individual is truly moved by the environment visually, physically, or spiritually, we have a responsibility to protect the area.  We should all embrace the leave-no-trace approach in our activities.  Those who stack stones, take some photos, and then dismantle.  Hikers, place true cairns along a trail only when needed.  Cairns can be great when done right.

Let's all do our part.  Leave nothing but footprints; take nothing but pictures; kill nothing but time.
 

   

Friday, July 21, 2017

After the Frye Fire...


We have lost the opportunity this last month to get out and enjoy the cool mountain temperatures and beauty of the forest along with the social interactions we share while hiking due to the Frye Fire.  The total impact of the fire on hiking in the Pinalenos is still unknown.  We can assume that many trails will be closed for at least the next year just as they were following the Nuttal Complex Fire in 2004.  But we also know we will get access to portions of the mountain once the fire is 100% contained and ADOT and the USFS have cleaned up monsoon and fire debris on Swift Tail (Highway 366) and in recreation areas.

In the upcoming year as hikers and recreationists return to the mountains, we must take special care while visiting areas affected by wildfires.  Burned areas present a number of hazards that either did not exist prior to the fire or are increased by the effects of the fire.  These hazardous conditions may be present for several years after a fire.  Be very aware of your surroundings and pay attention to possible safety hazards. 

In severely burned areas, dead plant roots will decompose over the years.  As they do, they will cease to hold the soil in place allowing the soil and rock to shift and move under foot. 

Animals that live in the burn area are often displaced and may appear confused or act odd as they come back into their habitat.  Be cautious when encountering any animal.

Be on the lookout for trees that appear dead.  Fire can burn and weaken the root systems of trees.  Even in a light wind, trees may fall.  When they do, they can impact an area up to 2x the tree's height.  Without needles, these trees provide no warning because they make little or no sound.  Everyone in a hiking party should keep an eye on the trees above.  Give yourself some extra room when choosing a route and especially where you choose to rest.  Be extra careful of trees after rain.  Burned tree stumps can create obvious large holes.  In many cases, the hole may actually be bigger than you think.  Fire may have burned roots leaving tunnels where solid wood used to be.  Your body or vehicle weight may cause a tunnel to collapse under you.  And again, especially after rain.

Rain is a welcomed thing in the Southwest, but problems can arise because of this wonderful resource, water.  The wild fires have left burn areas devoid of vegetation and ground cover.  This makes these areas more susceptible to flooding and mudslides with even the slightest bit of precipitation.  Rainfall of even 1/4 inch can cause flash flooding and mudslides.  Conditions can quickly change, wiping out a trail and trapping a hiker.
In the event of a storm, hikers should avoid any natural drainages, such as creeks or stream beds.  Seek higher ground to avoid potential flooding.  If you should become trapped, stay put and use a signaling device to attract attention.

We are looking forward to exploring the new conditions we will find when we return to the mountain, but we will always put hikers' safety at the forefront of our activities.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Lost!

No one plans on getting lost, but if you hike long enough, chances are you will find yourself off course, wondering where you went wrong.  Hopefully it is only a few yard off the intended path when you discover you are heading off in the wrong directions and can correct your ways.  But sometimes it is not discovered until later and you wonder where you went wrong.

It often starts out the same way. a hiker, having escaped into the forest to enjoy the day, is late returning home.  Their car waits at the trailhead, empty.  A search and rescue team is called in, and the hiker is found--tired, cold, hungry, and embarrassed.  Luckily this ending was a happy one.  Perhaps they were a beginner hiker unfamiliar with the area, or maybe they were experience and just missed a crucial trail marker.  Sometimes they have just thrown caution and preparation to the wind. 

The first step in avoiding a tragedy is your preparation.  Research your hike.  Study a map and read trail descriptions before you go on your hike.  In today's world, using a GPS on a hike can really help you avoid getting lost, and if you do get lost, it can help you find our way back to safety.  (Be sure you know how to use it before you hike.)

Make sure you are prepared for the off chance you do get lost.  Carry these essentials:  nutrition, hydration, sun protection, additional clothing for insulation, illumination, first-aid,waterproof matches, and emergency signalling (old cd and whistle.)

It is never a good idea to hike alone.  There is safety in numbers.  If you do hike alone, and in fact any time you hike, leave a hike itinerary with someone.  Let them know where you are going and when you plan to return.  This can make the difference between life and death, as it gives search and rescue a general location for where to start looking.  Make sure you notify your contact if you change plans during your hike.

Taking a detour to waterfalls, venturing off-trail to see wildlife and other adventurous exploration are why we hike.  (And there are thoe side trips to heed the call of mother nature.)  They are also what get us lost.  Make sure you watch for landmarks--interesting rocks, trees, topography.  That way you can navigate back to your trail.  Don't consider taking a short cut or going off trail.  Remaining on the trail reduces your chances of getting lost. 

Remember, weather changes quickly in the mountains.  Fatigue and unexpected conditions can affect your hike.  Know your limitations and when to postpone ahike or turn back.  The mountains will be there another day.

If you find yourself clueless in the forest, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Don't panic.  Sop, take a deep breath and look around.
  • Never run when you get lost.  Not only could you hurt yourself, but you can take yourself farther and farther away from your point of origin and become further disoriented.  Good advice for a lost child is "hug a tree" meaning stay put.  That's good advice for all of us.  Don't move until you have a specific reason to do so. The only time you might want to leave your spot when lost is if you know you haven't gone too far afield and can retrace your steps until you are back on familiar ground.  You also want to eave a location that is unsafe, severe weather is approaching and you need shelter, if no one will know you are missing to search for you, your rescue signal will probably not be seen, or you do not have enough food or water to survive.  These exception make the situation pretty complicated.
Spend enough time exploring the outdoors and chances are you're going to get lost sometime.  All in all, you can't ever prevent getting lost with 100% certainty.  But plan and follow the tips above, and chances are you won't be lost for long.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Survival!

It can be a dangerous world out there, and the Boy Scouts had the right idea when they chose for their motto "Be prepared."  Mike McCarthy, Eastern Arizona College Biology/Modern Desert Survival Instructor, was our guest presenter during our March meeting.  He presented an excellent review and a few updated tips for surviving emergency situations.  Here are a few you may want to add to your knowledge base.
  • If you are with your vehicle, stay with it because it is much easier for aerial rescuers to see.  Indicate distress by taking out your floor mats, removing your spare tire, and opening your hood.   You want to draw attention to the situation--don't look like your out for a picnic.
  • Stay in the shade and if you choose to walk, only walk at dusk and dawn.  Leave stick arrows, or tie bits of cloth to brush as signals for rescuers or yourself.
  • Do not remove your clothing.  It will protect you from heat and cut down on dehydration.
  • Don't eat if you get lost.  Your body requires more fluids for digestion.
  • Don't ration water.  It is better stored in your body than a canteen.  Don't drink your urine.  And you can't get water from a Barrel Cactus.
  • Solar stills are a thing of the past.  If you have large ziplock type bags, you can fill them with crushed greenery and hang them off a tree in the sunshine.  In a short time, transpiration will occur and moisture will collect in the corner of the bag. 
  • Carry a cigarette lighter to start fires.  You'll only get blisters if you try to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together.
  • The triangle is a universal ground-to-air symbol for help.  You can also set up three fires in a triangle and light one.  If you hear an airplane, you can quickly light the other two.
  • A DVD works like a mirror for signaling.  They are easy to sight with--you just look at your target through the hole and catch the sunlight.
  • Regarding animal encounters--Bees kill more people than rattlesnakes or bears.  Remember snakes look for shade during the day and in an emergency you do, too.  Bears are generally not aggressive in our area and will scurry off.  If a bear approaches, keep your face turned toward the bear and slowly back away.  DO NOT turn and run;  a running person is seen as "food" trying to escape. Making yourself appear large and sometimes shouting will scare a bear away.
If you would like to learn more,  EAC is offering a two weekend Desert Survival Class, April 22-23, 29-30.  Contact the Registrars Office to sign-up.  Mike McCarthy also has taught  a birding and local archaeology and geology weekend classes, so watch for those next fall.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hiking in Rattlesnake Country

Spring has really been drawn out this year.  It's May 15th, and many of us haven't turned on our home air conditioning yet.  We're not complaining, but the cooler than normal weather means those critters we call rattlesnakes are just beginning to emerge from hibernation.   A week ago, hiking club members encountered a black tail rattler while hiking the lower elevations of Mt. Graham. 

Encountering a rattlesnake while hiking can be scary, (even hearing that distinctive rattling sound makes my heart race.) Rattlesnakes for the most part would rather choose to avoid hikers altogether, and if given an opportunity to escape, they will. With proper precautions, awareness, and knowledge, you will be able to avoid encounters with rattlesnakes, or if you do spot one while hiking, you will only come away with a set of "rattled" nerves.
  • Be aware of where you are hiking.  Popular, well used trails seem to have fewer snakes since rattlers want to avoid humans. Check with other hikers or online reports regarding recent rattlesnake activity.  You will know if extra caution is required, or you can choose a different location to hike. 
  • Watch where you are stepping, placing you hands, and sitting. (Enough said.)
  • Stay on cleared, open sections of trails so you can see a snake.  Thick grass, brush, and fallen leaves makes a perfect hiding spot for a rattlesnake.
  • Trekking poles provide a bit of safety as you can push back grass and brush on the trail or hit rocks and ledges that might serve as a nice sunning spot for a rattlesnake.
  • Wearing long, loose pants and high top boots provide more protection against rattlesnake bites.
  • Keep kids close and keep your dog on a short, non-retractable leash. (Because of a dog's instinctive behavior, they are bitten much more often than humans.)
If you do encounter a rattlesnake on the trail or find a snake right in front of you don't panic--FREEZE, LISTEN, and SLOWLY RETREAT.

Sometimes it is impossible to see a snake hiding under a rock or behind a fallen log.  It is important to locate the sound before you try to move away from the snake.  You want to avoid putting the snake in a position where it feels trapped or more threatened.

Once the snake is found, move away slowly with no sudden movements.  If you have a hiking pole, hold it between you and the snake.  If the snake does attack, it might go for the pole instead of your leg.

 A rattlesnake will coil in defensive posture if it cannot escape.  It will usually continue to rattle. It last defensive move is to strike.

In the rare chance you are bitten, the most important thing to do is say calm, try not to move too much, and seek immediate medical attention. (This applies to dogs, too.)
  • Snake venom travels slowly through the body.  Most deaths from rattlesnake bites are caused by shock rather than venom.  Stay calm and restrict movement--time is on your side in most cases.  Rest at once.  An increased heart rate means increased blood flow and forces the venom throughout your body faster.
  • The only first aid you should attempt is washing the bite area with soap and water or an antiseptic wipe.
  • Apply a clean, moist, loose, dressing.  A moist dressing can sooth the snake bite area.  It is important not to apply pressure.
  • Remove any items that restrict the swelling of the bite area.  This  means rings, watches, bracelets, and possibly shoes.  Swelling is normal and will occur.
  • It is crucial that a snake bite be treated as soon as possible.  Try to call 911 from the trail and get help to you rather than hiking out.  If phone service is not possible, send another hiker to the trailhead to contact help.  If you are alone, layer your clothing to keep you body temperature stable and walk slowly back to the trailhead.  Exert as little energy as possible.  If you dog is bitten, do not allow them to walk out; carry your pet and keep the wound below the heart. 
DO NOT:
  • Elevate the wound above the heart,
  • Draw out the venom by cutting,
  • Suck the venom from the wound,
  • Apply pressure with bandages or tourniquets,
  • Apply ice.
  • Give medication like pain killers, or
  • Try to capture or kill the snake.
It's also wise to know that not all rattlers will sound a warning.  (The largest rattler I saw on a trail was just coiled among the leaves watching the trail.)  And snakes do bite sometimes without injecting venom (dry bite).  But it is essential that you seek medical attention even if you do not exhibit symptoms of swelling and pain.

Spotting a rattler can be exciting, but most bites occur when people are intentionally engaging a snake.  If the desire to get the perfect photo of a rattlesnake is just too much, move to a safe distance before you reach for your camera.  Use a telephoto lens or digital zoom on your phone.  Watch for the warning signs of the snake coiling and rattling.  Back away and wait to take the photograph another day.

These tips will lessen your chances of having a painful, expensive, or deadly experience with this critter.
 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Who Let the Dogs Out?"

Hiking with your dog, can be a great motivator to get you out on the trail.  Your “best friend” will enjoy a romp outdoors, and you will get some great exercise. However, bringing your dog along on a hike comes with great responsibility to both people, the environment, and your dog.

Hiking with your dog is a privilege, not a right.  There are often rules and restrictions regarding pets wherever you hike.  Dogs are very easily banned from great hiking trails due to misbehavior and irresponsible owners.  Having your dog under your control, and safe, responsible hiking will ensure our dogs are welcome on local trails.
These are some of the ways you can ensure you don't give canine hikers a bad name:

1.  Follow the local trail rules.  Find out about the trail before you go, and if it says "No Dogs Allowed," leave your dog at home or don’t go. Rules vary from place to place. For example, dog’s aren’t allowed in national parks but are allowed in most but not all national forests. In the Coronado National Forest, pets must be restrained or on a leash at all times while in developed recreation areas.  Even in areas where dogs are allowed off leash, your dog should always be under control--this means that your dog will come when called.  If your dog does not come when called, you should keep your dog on a leash.  We ask all members of the Gila Valley Hiking Club bring their dogs on hikes to also bring a leash and use it if necessary.  (So far, T-Bone, Emma, and Tippy have been perfect companions on hikes.  We love having them along.)
 
2.     Yield to other trail users. When dog owners meet other hikers, the dog and owner must yield the right-of-way to allow other users to pass. If you encounter a horse and rider, hikers should always yield the right-of-way to horses. Make sure your dog stays calm, refrains from barking, and doesn’t move toward the horse. If possible, move to the downhill side of the trail (so you don’t look big) and hold your dog close until the horse is well past. 
 
3.  Do not let your dog bark or lunge at other dogs and hikers.  You may have the nicest dog in the whole world, but other people don't know that. All they see is a dog, sometimes a big dog careening up a hill or around a curve. They think: Is it friendly? How is it going to react to meeting my dog? My kids? Where are the owners? Just because you have a small dog does not mean others find bad behavior “cute”. It’s just poor manners. Along those same lines – don’t let your dog repetitively bark and interrupt other trails user’s peaceful experience.
 
4.     No one wants to step in poo left on the trail either.  (That’s all we’re saying on that topic.)

5.     Protect the environment. Hikers and dogs should stick to the trails. It’s hard for dogs to control their natural instinct to strike out on their own.  But owners have a responsibility to see their pets practice minimum impact.

6.    Protect wildlife. Whether your dog is on a leash or under strict voice control, do not let them wander off the trail to sniff or chase wildlife. Don’t let them bark at wildlife either. If your dog is barking, it can traumatize critters. In the case of large animals, they may think your doggie is asking to be eaten.

So, how can you help your dog enjoy and be a successful hiker?  Here’s some tips.
 
1.     Hydration is also critical for dogs, so give your dog plenty of water before, during, and after the hike.  Don't count on finding water along the trail.  Pack enough for the entire day. A good rule of thumb is three liters of water for your dog's day hike. And bring along a bowl for your dog.
 
2.  Keep your dog well fed on the trail, because she will burn more calories than usual. Bring extra snacks in case you get lost and need to spend the night in the woods.
 
3.  Make sure your dog is properly identified with tags should he become separated from you. Put a photo of your dog in your pack.
 
4.     Take a look at your dog's feet before, during, and after hikes to check the condition of the pads. A solid callous is what you want. If the pads are pink or worn in any way, stop and let them heal. It can take up to a couple of weeks.  Be patient, it takes time to toughen the pads. Imagine how your feet would feel and look if you had to walk 5 miles barefoot.
 
5.     After a hike, check for and remove ticks, look for wear on the pads of paws, make sure your dog has plenty of water, and feed extra food as needed.
 
Great trail etiquette ensures your four-legged buddy stays safe and you both have an enjoyable experience.  And by respecting nature, the environment, and other trail users, we can ensure that dogs will remain welcome on trails for years to come.