Monday, June 30, 2014

Beware the Bad Chipmunks of Ice Lake

I strolled back toward my tent in a good mood. Lately obligations have kept me from backpacking, and so I had concocted what most saw as a crazy scheme. I would hike up on Sunday, spend the night, and wake up super early to race down the mountain in order to be on time for a video conference on Monday. The hike was not insignificant, so everything had to fall into place, but I knew it would be worth it.

As I hiked toward another lake, I passed three backpackers headed for the trailhead. They divulged that they had been at Ice Lake. Ice Lake! I had been sure it was snowbound. They said they had to "climb over some drifts" but "it was too late to turn back." The third person in line looked traumatized. "The lake refroze last night," he muttered. "So cold."

I had been planning to head for Horseshoe Lake, but Ice was only eight miles, which would make it easier to make the deadline. And why not? Ice Lake is one of my favorites. As it turned out, the "drifts" were merely a few snow patches, nothing to worry about. I lay around in the sun, reading and taking about fifty pictures of the same lake. Harmless little chipmunks raced about. So cute, I thought.

Then everything changed. As I approached my tent, I saw it. A chipmunk! Inside the tent! It raced around in terror, finally jumping out the hole it had chewed to get in. 

AARGH!!! I had just repaired the two holes that my poles had torn in this tent, and I had only slept in it five nights! What is it about this tent? I could foresee another order of McNett's Bug Net Repair in my future. As I sat and pondered this event, I noticed a creepy deer stalking me. No amount of chasing it away made it leave.

The tent, prior to the Chewing Incident.

Ice Lake is beautiful, but it is also accessible. It draws in the inexperienced, because the trailhead is close to the state park. The trail is nicely graded, and although it's an eight mile hike to a pretty high elevation, it's totally within the grasp of the reasonably fit. The animals are getting habituated to people, and it's not great to see. It means people have been careless with their food, and the chippies and deer know. They don't forget.

After the day hikers left I had the lake to myself. Stars twinkled overhead, seen through the (chewed) netting. Getting up at 3:30 didn't seem so bad, hiking by headlamp until an hour later, it was light enough to see. I was back before 6:30, ready to begin the work day. The chipmunks? They lie in wait. Beware.

Good night, Ice Lake.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Where the Living is Easy

I've lived so long in mountain towns that when I went to southern Michigan this week, I realized how...easy...summer could be. You don't have to lug a fleece jacket with you for the inevitable evening deep freeze! You don't have to wait for the sun to poke over the mountains and run to stand in a patch to warm up! You can swim a half mile across a lake and not have to wear a wetsuit!

Looking back at the cottage (it's red)

It's a warm rain! Running is SO EASY without elevation and very tall hills!

Lake Michigan!

Your hair is curly without effort! There are nice relatives, some of which have known you forever, and you don't have to be anybody but yourself!

There are big spiders..Wait. Um...

This is how it went: Wake up at the decadent hour of 8:00. Swim across the lake and back, or run on the lovely Rails to Trails Kal-Haven trail. So flat! With mile markers so you know how far and how fast! Come back. Eat strawberries. Entertain. Swim. Go out in the pontoon boat and look at all the houses. Eat some more.

I worked hard on the Art of Hanging Out. I'm actually terrible at this. I always SAY that I want to do nothing, but in reality it's hard for me. I fret about getting in the backcountry, or getting chores done, or something supposedly pressing. At Mill Lake, there were seamless hours of sun and rain and glorious thunderstorms where we didn't have to do anything but look at old family photos, poke around in cemeteries and hear old stories, and...hang out.

My typical vacation is hiking 20 miles a day on the PCT, so this was eye-opening. And actually...pretty nice. I kind of miss it....

LifeStraw update: There were three entries (I included Kim's because well..I didn't get home until just now to read it.) I decided to do a random number generator with entries #1, #2, and #3, and the winner is #2! So Karen, if you want to private message me your mailing address, I will send it in and you can get your Straw! For anyone else reading this, I promise not to do reviews and giveaways very often, but check out the LifeStraw, it's under $30 and is a great safety item!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Got Clean Water? LifeStraw Review and Giveaway!

Step one, open the top and bottom caps.

Step two, put the filter end in the water source.
Whoa there partner! You are at the right blog. I often get requests from people to review products, add my content to their platform, or write for them for free. I don't do it, because I don't want to become one of those blogs. But when I was given the opportunity to test out and write a review of LifeStraw, I thought: there's a product I can get behind.

Why? Because I've tried every water filtration system known to woman, and I'm always interested in new ways to get clean water. I tend to be a bit of a camel, hiking on without adequately fueling, which can lead to dangerous bonks. So bring it on, LifeStraw!

I have to admit, when I opened up the package, I thought: Is this it? How can this be? But apparently the LifeStraw is used in emergencies all over the world.  It's  so lightweight (2 oz!) and relatively small that it wouldn't be a big deal to haul it along on trips, even on trail runs (you would have to have a pocket). In fact, that is where I think this product would shine: on trail runs and day hikes where there's water to filter, and as a back-up on backpacking trips. By doing that you could eliminate the bladder issue, as in: the sloshing bag of water as you run or fast-hike. 

I packed the LifeStraw on my recent day hike to still-mostly-frozen Bonny Lakes. At nearly 8,000 feet, spring is just beginning. It's a slog through intermittent snowbanks, over fallen trees, and searching for cut logs to make sure you are on the actual trail. I even got snowed on, which just seems wrong, but there you go. 

So there I was, in need of water, and all you do is this--flip off the caps on either end of the straw, insert the filter end into your water source, and drink. Genius! It takes a little effort at first but after that it's just like sipping your favorite beverage.  Only it's filtering out bacteria (the folks at LifeStraw say "LifeStraw® uses hollow fiber microfiltration technology to remove up to 99.99999 percent of waterborne bacteria and 99.9 percent of waterborne protozoan cysts to provide clean, safe potable water."). 

No more sitting with a wet butt by the stream pumping water or waiting for chemicals. There are no batteries to worry about. And for someone who is notoriously hard on gear, it doesn't look like I could break it.  You could make this work even more efficiently by packing along a collapsible cup or a dedicated "dirty water bottle". You could then just fill that container up, move along, and then sip away in camp. You clean it by blowing back through the straw. Granted, when I did this, I felt like nothing was happening--but I had only used it twice, so..

The bottle option. Kind of fuzzy, sorry! It was cold. You get the idea.
I like to drink as I walk along, though, without bending over at a stream, or stopping to get things out from my pack, so for backpacking trips the LifeStraw would be a back-up plan. However, I can see myself sitting by a stream taking a break and using it on the trail. Sometimes I don't want to take the time to filter, and a Straw would be handy that way--just sip up some water and move on. 

Negatives? Honestly I don't really see any, unless you wait until you are desperately thirsty to use it. It's sipping through a straw, people. Don't expect to power down gallons of water in a short amount of time.

Here's the product info:

  LifeStraw website:      LifeStraw Facebook:

And the disclosure:    The LifeStraw® product and information have been provided by Vestergaard.  I was sent a free product for a review. However, my opinions are my own and not influenced by the free swag. I wouldn't lie to you guys!

Want one? Of course you do!

Here's how you get one! Post a comment about why you NEED the LifeStraw. I will pick an impartial judge (MY HUSBAND, who wants one!) and he will pick the best entry ( I will hide your name, just in case he knows you!) Just so you know, I have to provide your mailing addy to the company because you will get it from them. If you win, I will send that address to them, so I will be asking you for it (don't put it in the comments).

You have until June 23 at 5 pm Pacific Time. Ready? GO!

Step three, drink!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

River Crossings and Me

Crossing rivers. Always the bane of my existence. In wilderness, there are very few bridges; there's pretty strict guidance as to when there should be one (though this is sometimes ignored for convenience). I learned how to cross rivers as a young wilderness ranger: walk upstream from your intended landing point. Shuffle your feet along the bottom of the river. Use a stick or poles. Still, I've nearly been swept away. Boots, hanging around my neck, have fallen into the current. I know the power of rivers.

So you search for logs, but these can be a blessing or a curse. The movement of the water beneath can cause you to freeze in terror. The logs can slope upwards, or, worse, down. Or, like this one across the West Fork of the Wallowa, can turn icy from frost and high water.

Still, I was determined. There's something about being one of the first to see the lakes emerge from winter that I love. Horseshoe Lake was in my sights, a mere three mile climb from Six Mile Meadow, and only this log stood in my way. Plus, there was a wilderness ranger camped nearby, who also intended to do the hike. Old ladies had to represent!

My camp/river crossing shoes. I know, Crocs! I avoided them for years, but I have to say, now I get it.
Walking across the log was out of the question. Ice coated its surface. A slip would mean a tumble into deep, fast water. So I crawled. As I did so, I heard a heart-stopping sound, the sound of something falling out of my pack. As I watched, my water bottle slid into the current and was gone.

Daaarn. Though it was a Smartwater bottle that I had re-used many times (these bottles are great for backpacking. They are lightweight and fit well in pockets), I hate the thought of littering. But what could I do? Going after it meant certain death. I crawled on, reaching safety with a sigh of relief.

The lake itself was shrouded in white and it took a little route-finding to stay on the snow-covered trail. It was worth it, despite the log that awaited me on my return. The wilderness ranger was still at camp! Ha ha! The old ladies rule once more!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Into the snake pit

Here's a confession: I kind of love snakes. I just think they're pretty neat. In the Florida swamps, we tramped around hoping to see them, especially the two brightly banded ones that can be easily mistaken, the viper for the innocent. We had a rhyme we chanted to remember the way the stripes were supposed to go: "Red on yellow can hurt a fellow (coral snake); red on black, friend of Jack. (scarlet king)." When random scientists showed up in their tall snake gaiters and minced about the tall grass in fear, we strode through in our Vietnam surplus swamp boots and never, ever got bitten.

So when we heard the first rattle, just off the trail, my first thought was, "Cool!" My companions, not so much. Not for that snake, or for the dozen others we encountered in the Wenaha-Tucannon wilderness. After awhile one of the Ts was gingerly poking each clump of grass we encountered as we waded through the jungle that was the trail. When I took over the lead and hiked faster, the Freak of Nature was heard to say, "Oh, that's the (Monkey Bars) approach to snake prevention. Power through and hope for the best."  Yep. That's pretty much my life approach.

The beautiful Wenaha
In their defense, they had dogs, and dogs and snakes don't mix well. By the end of the day, as we reached a lovely grassy bench by the Wenaha River, everyone was approaching snake fatigue. We had also been doing the Poison Ivy Dance all day, contorting our bodies into strange poses as we leapt through the foliage like backpack-clad ballet dancers.

My Skyscape worked great, even with some wind and a little sprinkle of rain!
You might wonder why we decided to do this hike, but the main reason is that despite its issues, the canyon is a serene and incredible place. The river rushed bright and clear past our camp, and the stars hung like grapes in the darkness. A spiderweb of trails took off from this place, which made us imagine striking out for days and days before coming out.

But we had to come out. The next day was mostly snake-free, and after waiting the requisite 5-7 days I am happy to report no poison ivy rash. The dance worked!
Wouldn't you go here, even with snakes?

Monday, June 2, 2014

"You must be a tough gal."

I arrived at the warehouse and quickly snagged one of the "good" pack test vests, after weighing it and discarding one of the lead weights (I'll carry the required 45 pounds, but not 49). One of the fire engine crew, lurking around, saw me and said, "You're taking the pack test? You must be a tough gal!"


Let me back up a little. In case you aren't familiar, in order to fight fire every year, you have to pass a physical fitness test. Back in the day, we stepped up and down on a box (kind of like step aerobics) while someone held a watch. After several minutes, your pulse was taken. If it fell into an acceptable range, you got your "red card". Because this wasn't an accurate way of measuring fitness, this test was later discarded, but for awhile we ran instead. You had to finish one and a half miles in 11:45, which is pretty easy, and we all would cruise to the finish feeling good about ourselves.

Sometime in the nineties, the work capacity test, or pack test, arrived. You had to lug a backpack weighing 45 pounds, or a truly horrifying bladder bag (rubber bag full of water, all the weight on your shoulders) three miles in 45 minutes. Which sounds easy until you try it. For vertically challenged people, this is not easy, but it is possible for people in decent shape. Now there are weighted vests which make it even easier (but not easy).

I looked around the room to spy--men. A sea of men. I was the only woman taking the pack test, and most of the others were young enough that I could be their mom, a truly awful feeling. It wasn't as bad as someone marveling that a girl could do it though. I thought, where are all the women? When I started fighting fire in 1986, there were only a handful of us. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good. I can't say I was totally responsible for paving the way for women to be accepted on the fireline--a few had been there already, and others went on to smokejump. But I had hoped by now that a woman doing a pack test would not be a big deal.

We pounded the pavement, and it was fine. I ended up with two blisters and my running shoes are showing the same kind of wear as my old ones, a blow-out on the left outer side. Why is this happening? Are my feet getting wider? Runners, please advise!

The pack test is not a race, but the young guys try to make it one. Out of thirteen I finished third. I guess "gals" can do it after all.