As you know, hiking is a great way to explore and enjoy the Great Outdoors. It’s also a great way to get hurt. Or worse. My Top Tip for dramatically increasing your chances of becoming headline news or an avoidable trail tragedy? Hike alone. Yep, hiking solo is just about the dumbest hiking thing you can do most anywhere.
There are those towering intellects among us who insist they like the “solitude” and “peace and quiet” of hitting the trail alone. They may feel differently after twisting an ankle. Having no one else slower behind them when an angry bear charges. Or getting bit by whatever, twenty miles from the nearest valley in a valley that eats cell phone signals for breakfast.
This sign is upside down for a reason (or should be). It designates a trail that’s so utterly pointless, so hellacious and worthless, it tops my Stinkeroo List. As in, avoid this sucker at all costs.
The Wagonwheel Lake trail at Lake Cushman/Staircase tops my “S List.” Yea, verily. This is the worst trail I’ve hiked in a decade. Maybe more. (Well. There was that one hike near Kerrville, TX. But anyway…)
Located in Olympic National Park near Hoodsport, the Wagonwheel Lake trail is a 3,200 foot elevation gain over 2.9 miles. The exertion might be justified if there was something worth seeing en route to a rinky-dink lake that’s not worth writing home about. But there’s virtually nothing to recommend this Climb From Hell. No grand vistas. No singing streams or rushing rivers. No pristine mountain lakes. No cascading waterfalls. Zip. Zero. Nada.
This trail is just an endless slog up an idiot mountain that’s so steep, it’d give a Yeti cause for pause. (We met two other hikers at about the 2.5 mile mark. Guys in their mid-twenties. Both were about played out. Hello?)
Other than some thick sword fern near the trailhead, the terrain on this trail is boring, dull, and unvaried. It’s like watching moss grow. While scrambling over all kinds of treacherous tanglefoot and boulders that eat turned ankles for lunch.
The canopy is so thick, you can’t see the sky most of the time. There aren’t any jaw-unhinging panoramas common at that altitude. The foliage along the trail is so dense, you can barely swing your trekking poles without getting tangled. Also, because the trail is so steep and thickly forested, you can’t see how far you have to go to reach your final destination. So it’s just one hamstring-hollering, quad-quivering, knee-needling step after another. And another. And another. And…
We hiked Wagonwheel Lake in late September. It was a glorious, blue-skied day with temperatures skimming the low 80s. Unfortunately, this beautiful Indian summer day was mostly wasted on this stupid trail.
The Lake Cushman area is one of the prettiest on the Olympic Peninsula. But don’t waste your time or your knees on the Wagonwheel Lake trail. There are plenty of more worthy alternatives in the area: Dry Creek, Staircase Rapids, or the Staircase Bridge (an easy one mile out-and-back).
I’ll let you know when I can feel my feet again.
Do you love visiting Mount Rainier or Olympic national parks? How ‘bout Bryce Canyon or the Grand Canyon? Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Zion?
Well, guess what? A trip to all of these national parks could soon take a bigger bite out of your wallet.
Yes, friends. The National Park Service is proposing nearly tripling admission fees to some popular national parks, including Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks.
The NPS says the increased fees are needed to “generate badly needed revenue for improvements to the aging infrastructure of national parks.” Funds would be used to “improve facilities, infrastructure, and visitor services, with an emphasis on deferred maintenance projects.”
Right now, a one-time visit to Mount Rainier or Olympic national parks costs $25 per vehicle or $10 per person. The receipt is good for seven days. If the NPS fee hikes go through, that could nearly triple. Under the new proposal, peak season entrance fees at 17 parks listed below would be:
- $70 per vehicle
- $50 per motorcycle
- $30 per person.
According to the National Park Service:
The peak season for each park is defined as the busiest contiguous five month period as follows:
- May 1-September 30: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Denali National Park, Glacier National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Olympic National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park
- June 1-October 31: Acadia National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Shenandoah National Park
- January 1-May 31: Joshua Tree National Park Fees would stay largely the same during off-peak, although the price of an annual pass would jump from $50 to $75.
Fees would stay largely the same for the off-season. But the price of an annual pass would jump from $50 to $75.
The public comment period on the proposed fee hike opened last Tuesday. It closes on November 23.
Image: Lake Quinault. Quinault is located in the southwest portion of Olympic National Park.
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Most of you are aware that I’ve been hiking Mount Rainier National Park since shortly after the Ark made landfall. “Write a book,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. So I did: 12 Top Trails at Mount Rainier.
We will now return you to our regularly scheduled programming…
See you on the trail!
Hiking in a monsoon or a bone-crushing downpour probably doesn’t top too many “bucket lists.” But if you live in the soggy Northwest, you basically have two options when it comes to hiking: either quit for about half the year and wait for the trails to dry out, or deal with it.
I vote for the latter.
Here are Eleven Tips to help you ‘hike happy’ during a rainy day hike or backpack. Adapted from Karen Berger’s Everyday Wisdom: 1001 Expert Tips for Hikers:
- DO NOT HIKE IN JEANS or COTTON. Why? Because as the saying goes, “Cotton kills.” Cotton and denim get wet and stay wet, wicking heat away from your body and increasing your risk of hypothermia. Wear Gore Tex or something similar. (You can drop a fortune on high-end rain gear. Frog Togs [Wal-Mart] work just as well, at half the price.)
- Invest in a quality pair of waterproof boots. Don’t scrimp Tip: Cabela’s Bargain Cave. Other tip for ladies: Buy men’s boots. I don’t know why, but in 30+ years of hiking I’ve found that men’s boots are sturdier and last longer.
- Wear gaiters to help keep your boots and feet dry.
- Use waterproof stuff sacks for your gear, especially clothing. Color code them to indicate what stuff is in which sack.
- Use plastic Ziplocs to help keep items such as matches, trail mix, camera, map, etc., dry. Seal matches in a plastic film canister with a snap-on lid. You can also soak a few cotton balls in Vaseline and stash them in a similar canister as an emergency fire starter. A cut-up inner tube will also work.
- Dress in layers. Check the weather report and gear up accordingly. Keep a steady, slow-to-moderate pace until you reach shelter, especially if it’s cold. Keep an extra layer of dry clothing on hand. See #4.
- Be realistic about your physical ability and how far you can reasonably hike in a day. Don’t over-shoot, especially in inclement weather. Better to choose a shorter trail or come in early than risk becoming a Search & Rescue statistic.
- If hiking in on-and-off rain, try to plan your water and snack stops in between showers.
- Keep water and snacks in your larger exterior pockets or somewhere that doesn’t require taking off your rain gear or opening your pack in order to access.
- Don’t be too quick to shed your wet weather gear. Dense foliage along the trail and trees overhead will shed and drip water for some time after heavy rains. Keep your rain gear on awhile after the sun comes out.
- Wring out your wet socks at the end of the day and hang them up in your tent. Your body heat will help them dry a bit. You can also stuff them inside your sleeping bag while you snooze. If the next day is drier and sunnier, hang the wet socks up to dry outside. Then put them back on your feet for hiking if they’re not too wet. Save your dry back-up socks for the end of the day when you’re in camp, sipping a warm beverage around a crackling campfire.
One other thing. After a cold, wet day on the trails, a nice, hot dinner – preferably next to a roaring fireplace – works wonders in alleviating Wet-Weather Induced Curmudgeonliness and Overall Crankiness.
Don’t ask how I know that.
For more, see: How to Hike Safe and Sane
If you’re looking to add flavor and “oomph” to your time on the trail, bananas are a great choice as a hiking snack. Why? Well, among other things, bananas are a great source of vitamin B6, manganese, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, potassium, biotin, and copper. Bananas are one of the world’s healthiest foods. They’re also a great add-in to trail mix.
Unfortunately, bananas are difficult to cart around in a backpack. They’re oddly shaped and bulky. They bruise easily, resulting in banana mush. These problems can be solved if you dry bananas by slicing them and slow baking them in an oven to create banana chips. (I recommend this over using a dehydrator, which tends to crank out mini hockey pucks.)
Here’s how we do it:
- Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees
- Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray
- Slice a banana in thin slices, about one-quarter of an inch thick
- Dip slices in lemon juice and place on baking sheet (very important step or you’ll wind up with little black hockey pucks)
- Bake, turning over once or twice, until banana slices are golden brown and crispy. About 8 hours.
- Remove from oven. Cool and add to your favorite homemade trail mix.
That’s it! Ovens and wattage vary, so be sure to check your banana slices often so they don’t overbake.
For more, see: Cheapskate Guide to Terrific Trail Mix.
What’s your favorite add-in? Share in the Comments section.
Getting ready to enjoy the Great Outdoors may pose a challenge if your bank account’s a little light. But don’t let that stop you. Here are seven ways to save money while gearing up for your next outdoor adventure.
Do I need it?
1) First, limit your purchases to what you need. Make a list. Avoid impulse buying. Have a plan. Be realistic. Set a budget and stick to it. For example, you probably don’t need a backpack designed for a six-week European tour if you’re heading out on a two-hour day hike. (Tip: Load your pack and carry it around the mall for a couple hours prior to your trip. Then reduce and repack.)
Likewise, don’t purchase something just because it looks or sounds cool. Those Amazon-tested, mother approved hiking boots/hip waders built to outlast Armageddon may look pretty chic on the mannequin. Ditto that designer, Alpaca-lined fleece that’d keep a penguin warm inside an igloo. But unless you’re a penguin planning on igloo lodging or outlasting Armageddon, you can probably pass up those painful price tags.
Similarly, don’t assume you can’t live without high-end gear with price tags rivaling a down payment on a tropical island. You don’t want to drop $599 on a Sidewinder SV Arc’teryx jacket and find you don’t like it. A $35 fleece from Big 5 or waterproof boots from the Cabelas bargain cave will do fine. You can always “buy up” once you know what you like and what works best for you.
Know where you can save and where you shouldn’t.
2) DO NOT scrimp on anything related to survival gear or personal safety. For example, if you’re planning on rappelling down El Capitan, you probably don’t want to get ropes or carabiners at Fast Eddy’s Slightly Used Climbing Gear.
Also, don’t scrimp on your base layer, worn next to the skin. Remember, “cotton kills.” That’s because cotton gets soaked and holds moisture next to the body, significantly increasing your risk of hypothermia. Invest in a quality base layer designed to wick moisture away from your body. I recommend Under Armour. Lightweight, durable and reasonably priced.
3) Food. Entire industries have sprung up around designer hiking/ camping/back packing eats. You can practically buy a round-trip ticket to the moon on what some of these fancy, pre-packaged items cost. So don’t. A ziploc of GORP (Good Ole Raisins and Peanuts) is just as good as that dehydrated champagne and caviar. At a fraction of the cost. For more, see The Cheapskate Guide to Trail Snacks and Camp Cooking Made Easy.
4) Hydration. Some “outdoor” beverage manufacturers promise more power than a locomotive or the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound if you drink their product. Fine. But water works fine, too. It’s also free.
5) Shop on-line. Check out sales and on-line discounts. We snagged two pairs of quality waterproof gaiters for less than $10 off eBay (regularly $75), including shipping. Also see: Where to Buy Inexpensive Hiking Gear.
6) Technology. You can drop a boatload of dough on every fancy, new-fangled trail techno doo-dad out there. But you don’t have to. Keep it simple and you’ll save money. I’ll take an old fashioned topo map and a compass over GPS any day. Need an emergency fire starter? Put a couple Vaseline-soaked cotton balls or a piece of bicycle inner tube into an empty plastic film canister + matches in a waterproof container. You’re good to go. And so on.
7) Avoid name brands if feasible (without sacrificing quality.) You can sink your children’s inheritance into North Face, Gore-Tex or Patagonia products. If you have the resources to do so, go for it. But there are plenty of less expensive options. We’ve found Coleman gear – everything from tents and sleeping bags to lanterns and cook stoves – to be reliable, durable, and affordable.
Bottom line: You can wipe out your children’s college fund getting ready for your next outdoor expedition. But you don’t have to. Unless Howard Hughes is a good friend or you’re ready to mortgage your firstborn, a little research, inspiration, motivation and elbow grease can get you well outfitted for the outdoors without breaking your bank in the process.
What would you add?
Every once in a while those “spur of the moment” ideas pan out pretty well. Like The Oregon Garden. We visited there recently. On a fluke.
Located about 20 miles east of Salem in the little town of Silverton, The Oregon Garden is easy to miss. Don’t. Because I’ve been to downtown Salem. Ditto the Capitol Building. If you haven’t visited either, you haven’t missed a blessed thing. The Oregon Garden, however, is another story. We just happened to see the sign on the highway on the way back from a hiking excursion.
Opened in 1999, the garden’s 80 acres include a variety of plant species and habitats and the only Frank Lloyd Wright home in Oregon. The grounds are bursting with color, fountains, fragrance, trails, and over a dozen themed botanical gardens. These include fuchsia, conifer, rose, water, sensory, Northwest, “Lewis & Clark” and “Best of the West” gardens. Also garden art, wetlands, a rediscovery forest, and a kids’ garden.
The spacious grounds also feature a “secret garden.” It’s not on the map. But if you’re familiar with Frances Hodgson Burnett – I read the book twice – you can find it.
We only had a couple hours. And it was ninety degrees out. But you can easily spend a day roaming the garden’s gently rolling hills, carefully manicured lawns, oak grove, Rediscovery Forest (15 acres), and walking trails. There’s also a Tropical House and an amphitheater. If you’re not up for walking, take the tram. It’s free.
Other stand-outs include the Silverton Market Garden and the Pet-Friendly Gardens. Almost 150 different agricultural products are grown in the former, including berries, grapes, grass seed and hops. A beautiful, serene place to spend an hour or two. Or a couple months.
The Pet-Friendly Garden showcases plants that are friendly and those that are toxic to animals. Also two statues of beloved pets: Max the yellow Lab and a collie, “Bobbie the Wonder Dog.” Sweet!
No time to visit The Oregon Garden? Don’t worry. You can wander through here. I won’t even charge admission:
879 W. Main Street, Silverton, Oregon. Open seven days a week, 365 days a year. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors (60+). Directions.
Tell a friend.
People sometimes ask, “What’s the best season for hiking?” The answer is: That depends. On weather. On calendars. On where you want to go, see, and how much time you have.
For us, fall gets the nod for Finest Hiking Season.
By “fall” I mean that brief “Indian Summer” time between mid-September to mid or late-October, when one glorious, gilded day glides into the next. Temperatures drop. Trees change clothes. Cherry-cheeked winds scrub cyan skies. Trails clogged with crowds a few short weeks ago are quiet and nearly deserted.
You can sometimes push the time frame into November. But the window is brief, so you have to be quick. And keep an eye on the weather.
This is especially true at Mount Rainier, where notoriously unpredictable weather can get even more unpredictable. Think dry, cozy tent site turning into the Okeefenokee overnight (don’t ask how I know that).
Here are some of the perks you get when hiking the Pacific Northwest during fall:
Located about 25 windy miles east of Salem, Silver Falls State Park’s 9,000 acres offer camping, picnicking, a historic district, conference center, and 25 miles of multi-use trails friendly to horses, hikers, hikers with dogs, trail runners and mountain bikers. (Some trails are restricted. Be sure to check signage.)
The highlight of this park is the Trail of Ten Falls. We’re talking serious Wow Factor here.
This nationally recognized hiking trail snakes through a series of waterfalls along a rocky canyon thick with ferns, Big Leaf Maples, Western hemlock, Douglas fir and Alder trees. You pass behind several of the canyon’s most impressive gushers. (Hello, Hawkeye!)
The total loop trail is about nine miles. It offers several connecting points for shorter hikes, depending on what you want to see and how much time you have. For the best “Wow!” factor, you’ll probably want to start from the Stone Circle in the South Falls Day Use Area. Proceed along the Canyon Trail.
This trail might also double as the “International Trail.” The day we hiked this loop, we met hikers from half a dozen different states as well as Canada, Poland, France, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, and the U.K. Also the entire coaching staff of the University of Minnesota.
Official signage pegs the Trail of Ten Falls as “moderately difficult.” Nah. The trail includes some ups and downs and a few switchbacks. But the climbs are relatively short. The grades are mild. It’s a pretty easy hike for anyone in halfway decent shape. (If you’re not in halfway decent shape and tackle this trail, I won’t say “I told you so.” But I did tell you so.)
Also, the “No Trail” or “Stay Behind Rails” signs/barricades are there for a reason.
Arrive early to avoid crowds, especially on clear, sunny summer weekends. We arrived just after opening – at 8:00 a.m. – and had the trail to ourselves for a couple hours. There’s a $5.00 day use fee. Self-pay stations are located in parking lots.
And yes, on the west and north portions of the trail, a river runs through it. You’ll have to drive a ways for Missoula.