Posted by: davepidgeon | November 19, 2009

Raise your toasty hands

New Jersey Appalachian Trail

Keeping your hands warm during winter hiking is essential to enjoying the day and night. (Compass Points Media / flickr) / CC BY-ND 2.0

Few aspects of winter hiking contribute more to the enjoyment of the day or night than keeping your hands warm. If your fingers or palms are numb, chances are the numbness affects your entire body and mindset. Are you really having fun if your hands feel as if they’ve plunged into a bucket of ice for four hours? Probably not.

Gonna try here to help you keep those hands toasty for the 2009-10 winter season with a few tips. These tips would be for hiking in conditions from 40 degrees to 0 degrees fahrenheit:

1.) During a hike, I want my hands to have full movement as well as warmth so I can grip trekker poles and operate my camera or GPS. I don’t want cumbersome gloves at this moment.

As long as my arms pump to help my body walk along a ridgeline or ascend a steep slope, blood is flowing to my hands, so I don’t usually need thick mittens or gloves insulated with down … unless the temperatures have plummeted so far and/or precipitation is falling. That warrants the need for more insulation or a waterproof covering.

Generally, though, I hike with a glove made of a flexible material called Polartec, which is a blend of polyester and spandex. It’s lightweight and conforms to my hand so I can easily grip the handles on my trekker poles, zip up the softshell or use my GPS. If I start to notice the glove does not provide enough warmth, I’ll add a small liner.

2.) Five backpackers including myself stopped along the Red X Trail in Wyoming State Forest, PA, during a frigid February 2005 trip, and I noticed one of my companions immediately begin swinging his arms like a great eagle methodically flapping its wings.

I tried it. Looked strange, but I could feel blood pouring into my hands. And I didn’t get cold.

The idea here is to get warm blood into your hands to keep them from becoming numb with coldness. Do this motion slowly, and don’t over exert yourself. You don’t want to sweat and open up the chances for hypothermia. Try this to get warmth to your hands.

3.) When I’m in camp, then I turn to thicker gloves. I’m not moving as much compared to hiking, so I get colder faster.

I keep on the layers I mentioned in item No. 1 while covering over with a mitten. Why a mitten? I learned from experience that gloves with fingers keep those fingers isolated from one another. Why do this when bunching them up does a better job of keeping your fingers warm? A mitten puts four fingers together, and each builds upon the others warmth. If each individual finger resides in its own compartment, the finger won’t retain its warmth as well.

4.) Yeah, these are necessary.

5.) As strange as this sounds, should you find yourself unable to warm up your hands, fold them into your crotch. Your crotch is one of the warmest parts of your body, and keeping your hands there will help warm them up.

Posted by: davepidgeon | November 18, 2009

TRAIL TUNES: How to win the climate change debate

The Fat Old Sun

Public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. (Ever. / flickr) / CC BY 2.0

Over at Yale Environment 360, the fellas point out the latest Pew Research Center poll about global warming shows increasing skepticism about the science of global warming:

On its face, the news was not good: Belief that global warming is occurring had declined from 71 percent in April of 2008 to 56 percent in October (2009) — an astonishing drop in just 18 months. The belief that global warming is human-caused declined from 47 percent to 36 percent.

Well, slap me and say: “Why aren’t you shocked?” Because I’m not. And I have a theory, but I’ll let Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, the authors of Yale Environment 360, take first crack at explaining why the downslide is occurring:

Political psychology can help us answer these questions. First, climate change seems tailor-made to be a low priority for most people. The threat is distant in both time and space. It is difficult to visualize. And it is difficult to identify a clearly defined enemy. Coal executives may deny that global warming exists, but at the end of the day they’re just in it for a buck, not hiding in caves in Pakistan plotting new and exotic ways to kill us.

Second, the dominant climate change solutions run up against established ideologies and identities. Consider the psychological concept of “system justification.” System justification theory builds upon earlier work on ego justification and group justification to suggest that many people have a psychological need to maintain a positive view of the existing social order, whatever it may be. This need manifests itself, not surprisingly, in the strong tendency to perceive existing social relations as fair, legitimate, and desirable, even in contexts in which those relations substantively disadvantage the person involved.

Yeah, okay. I’ll agree to the extent that climate change legislation remains a low priority for most Americans during the current economic slog and that a psychological need to maintain the status quo (because change is … AHHHHH! … scary) plays a role, but after five years of political journalism, I can tell you there is only one thing in the current political atmosphere that’s going to force positive climate change legislation.

Melting is your destiny

The chunk of a glacier floating along. (Irargerich / flickr) / CC BY 2.0

If you want to save the glaciers of Montana, the polar bears of the Arctic, to stop the encroachment of southern climes on northern latitudes, then hear me out on this one …

MONEY. You have to make this about money. Cha-ching.

And I’m not talking about tossing a bunch of funding at solutions to the problem. I’m talking about what’s in American wallets – your meat-and-potatoes Americans, your urban dwelling Americans, your till the fields Americans, your two-car garage suburban Americans.

We’re a pocketbook-issue population right now, which is precisely why Barack Obama occupies the White House and not John McCain. The economy remained the top priority for voters, and it still does as unemployment has jumped to 10 percent, the highest rate in a generation. And if advocates for reversing man-made global warming want to see this country take positive steps against climate change, then the rhetoric can’t be about “OH MY GOD, THE PLANET IS DYING!” That just won’t sell. Not in this political world.

What will sell is how taking steps like increased fuel efficiency in automobiles or using energy-efficient appliances will save American taxpayers of any socioeconomic class money. You have to make the message about that.

Let me give you a representative story from my personal experience. I’ve never doubted the need for positive environmental legislation, but what solidified my point-of-view was a 500-mile trip home to Pennsylvania after visiting my parents.

We took my fiancé’s car and left my parents home near Cincinnati, Ohio, with half a tank of gas. She drives a Toyota Echo, a fuel-efficient car discontinued by Toyota back in 2005. Just after passing the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border, we filled up with regular unleaded (and this was back when gas cost close to $3.50 a gallon) for about $25. We made it home to Lancaster, Pa., a journey of about 500 miles, with half a tank of gas, about the same amount we had in Cincinnati.

One fill up … 500 miles of driving through August heat with the A.C. blasting … $25. Used to take me two fill ups with my sedan and cost me nearly $50 to $60 for a one-way trip. Now, I’ll never buy another car that doesn’t get at least 40 mpg on a highway.

But I rarely, if ever, do I hear this sort of economical message from those proposing climate change legislation and behavior. I do often hear doom and gloom, which after a while no matter how right environmentalists are, starts to sound like hyperbolic scare tactics to the American public, who then tune out.

There’s also the see-no evil syndrome. Most people living in surburban Dallas won’t see a massive Alaskan glacier turned to fluid during their life time. The senior citizen in Boca Raton enjoying a Florida retirement most likely won’t see a polar bear stranded in the middle of an Arctic sea, adrift on a piece of iceberg like an ice cube in a warm soft drink. Vacationers at Ocean City, Md., aren’t going to develop skin cancer with one summer afternoon at the beach. If they don’t see the effects of global warming, and if temperatures are rising by one or two degrees on average, they don’t immediately sense it or care about it.

But they do care about their wealth. We’re a capitalistic society, and I think the anti-global warming advocates need to cater their message to a broad audience desperate these days to find ways to save money in their daily lives. Other wise, the messages melt away into a pool of ignored political waters.

Today’s Trail Tunes comes from Beck, who penned a song about global warming:

Posted by: davepidgeon | November 17, 2009

Where the buffalo once roamed

Great Plains - Somwhere in Kansas

Could areas like this become a new national park? (southerntabitha / flickr) / CC BY 2.0

Something Jon Jarvis, the new National Parks Service director, said to me during my September interview with him for Backpacker has stuck with me. And while I can’t reveal specifically what he said until the interview is published, I’ll say it was related to this story about creating national park land in Kansas for the purpose of re-establishing buffalo herds on the Plains. From the article:

There are numerous arguments in favor of this plan:

Kansas is vastly under-represented in national parkland, and can accurately be considered parkland poor today.

The prairie is the greatest long-term carbon sequestration landscape available, as the grasses take carbon from the atmosphere and bury it deep in the ground, where it stays to nurture plant growth.

A new national park would attract tourists. Europeans, in love with the romance of the American West, would be drawn to it, as would other international visitors and Americans. Parks of similar size and remoteness in Texas and North Dakota attract at least 300,000 visitors a year. With the central location of Kansas, it has the potential to attract more.

Tourism could grow into a lifeline for surrounding counties, all of which are struggling to find ways to keep native sons and daughters at home, but have largely failed to build enough industry or create enough jobs.

Grasslands are the world’s most endangered eco-system, and re-establishing a large patch is important to America’s natural and cultural heritage.

Buffalo Commons is an idea whose time has come.

That’s from an editorial from the Kansas City Star, published Saturday. Aside from all the talk about tourism, there’s the added benefit of returning the buffalo to the Plains, where it once lorded over the landscape. Talk about righting an epic wrong in the natural history of the North American continent.


Massive buffalo herds could make a comeback in Kansas. (Royalty-free Image Collection / flickr) / CC BY 2.0

I hear that Yellowstone National Park has enjoyed a boost in visits due to the re-introduction of wolf packs, with people making specific journeys to Y-stone to view the howlin’ icon of the American wilderness. I imagine a massive buffalo herd could do the same for Kansas, although I have doubts about a Kansas national park attracting 300,000 visitors. I mean, after all, it is Kansas, which lacks the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the coasts, the Sonoran Desert or the Rocky Mountains.

But don’t be surprised if a discussion about a national park in Kansas starts to gain momentum. Given the history of Kansas, though, I doubt very much that establishing a massive tract of federal land in that state would be easy.

Hey, the buffalo is the official state animal, so there’s that.

Posted by: davepidgeon | November 17, 2009

Hike to Cerro Chato

Cerro Chato, Costa Rica

Cerro Chato rises above the Costa Rican countryside. (Dave Pidgeon / Compass Points Media)

The cold fronts get colder, and that sends a lot of people migrating to smaller latitudes. And while some want to engage in gluttony and laziness on some beach resort, some of you want a little adventure. So how ’bout hiking up to the top of a dormant volcano that neighbors a smoldering one?

Compass Points is gonna help you get there.

Cerro Chato steeply rises from Costa Rica’s Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal like a fortress wall, and if this mountain stood on its own, Cerro Chato would not have to share the attention. Unfortunately, you know, active volcanoes tend to be the celebrities wherever they’re found, and here is no exception. Arenal rises to a nearly perfect volcanic cone, and from resort windows and observation decks, tourists can watch smoke billow out of its 5,400-foot-high mouth and boulders the size of cars tumble down its slopes.

Volcán Arenal

Smoke spews out of Volcán Arenal in northwest Costa Rica. (Dave Pidgeon / Compass Points Media)

So, okay, Arenal’s fairly awesome to stare at. And in the hike I’m about to describe, you’re going to have constant views of the volcano, but one look at it tells you that you are most definitely not going to stand on its summit.

But, you can ascend Cerro Chato.

Stop at the Arenal Observation Lodge ($8 entrance fee), about 11 miles west of the town of La Fortuna along Route 142. You can pick up a trail map at the lodge.

There’s plenty to see in the national park, including an impressive waterfall and several cattle farms, as you make your way to the foot of Cerro Chato along the hiking trails. With a stop at the waterfall, my wife and I made it from the lodge to the base of Cerro Chato in about one hour of mostly flat walking (the only exception was the short drop into a ravine to the waterfall).

Cerro Chato stands at about 3,742 feet high, and it last erupted some 3,500 years ago, according I’ve seen several Web sites recommend you take 4 to 6 hours for the hike, and I would say that’s accurate. You’re going to spend a good one to two hours even if you’re in great physical shape ascending the mountain, and the unrelentless trail is muddy and rooty as it passes through the rain forest. Keep your eyes open for salamanders, bugs with four hundred dozen legs, monkeys, snakes and so on. Once you reach the summit, the trail bears to the left, and then it steeply drops into the crater. You’ll begin to see views of the emerald green lake that rests inside the Cerro Chato crater.

Take plenty of water. The jungle gets stifling hot, even during the dry season. Stick to the trail and don’t try to bushwack you’re way.

If you’re up for a body slam of a hike, I recommend giving Cerro Chato a try. At the very least, you won’t be sharing with dozens of tourists views of a remarkably green lake amongst a jungle crater created by a violent volcano explosion several millennia ago. I’m talking about bragging rights.

Crater Lake of Cerro Chato

Through the leaves one can see the emerald lake of Cerro Chato, Costa Rica. (Dave Pidgeon / Compass Points Media)

Click here for my story about hiking Cerro Chato: Green and serene (eventually).

Below is an episode of Compass Points filmed at Cerro Chato from April 2009. Hopefully, it will give you an idea of what you’re in for should you decide to challenge Cerro Chato.

Posted by: davepidgeon | November 16, 2009

DAY TRIPPER: Run to the Pinnacle

The Pinnacle

A frozen Susquehanna River slowly flows southward. (Dave Pidgeon / Compass Points Media)

Lancaster County, Pa., ranks among the most popular tourist destinations in the United States with an estimated 10 million visitors annually. And while most of those are slurping down plates of Pennsylvania Dutch food and searching for that farm from the movie Witness, skip the tourist traps on Route 30 and head for Kelly’s Run and The Pinnacle, two wild spots you can see on a single day hike.

What you get in this 2.78-mile point-to-point hike (about 5.5 miles out-and-back) is a scenic ravine stocked with rhododendrons, oaks and sugar maples; a creek brimming with swimming holes; and a sweeping vista of the Susquehanna River.


Kelly's Run in southern Lancaster County, Pa., creates several swimming holes. (Dave Pidgeon / Compass Points)

Directions: From Lancaster city, take New Danville Pike/Route 324 South for 2.8 miles to the intersection with Route 741 (Marticville Road). Turn left onto Marticville Road and follow for 6.5 miles. At the intersection with Hilldale Road, turn left. Follow Hilldale Road for 4.1 miles, then turn right onto Old Holtwood Road. Follow Old Holtwood Road for 0.7 mile to a fork and stay right onto Street Road  until you see Holtwood Park on the right. Park in the parking lot.

Hike On: The Kelly’s Run Trail begins just behind centerfield at the League League field next to the parking lot. Look for the wooden post. The trail also follows the path of the Conestoga Trail, so the trees and rocks are marked with blue and orange blazes. The trail descends into the ravine until after about a mile you reach Kelly’s Run trickling beneath a patch of rhododendron. During the next mile, you’ll cross Kelly’s Run through some tricky fords if the water is high (dangerous if frozen), but keep your eyes open for deep green swimming holes should you find yourself here in the summer time. Look for the Conestoga Trail to break off to the right and steeply climb out of the ravine, ascending about 500 feet over about 0.75 miles. But the reward is The Pinnacle, pictured above. When you’re done gawking, just retrace your steps back to the car.

Posted by: davepidgeon | November 13, 2009

From Seattle to Asheville

Mount Rainier in Washington (flickr - pfly)

We made it to Friday, and although the date is the unlucky 13, we’ve had the good fortune this week to come across a few new friends to tell you about.

First up, an anonymous blogger from the Pacific Northwest has a new blog called “Seattle Hiker” about the pathways in his region. I posed a question at his site about where a person should spend one day hiking in that part of the United States, and here was his answer:

So, the best day hike, if you only have one day, depends a bit on your taste. I think there are two kinds of people in the world: mountain people, and ocean people. If you’re an ocean person, you’ll want to hike the Dungenous Spit. This is a narrow sand bar that stretches and meanders about five miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, making for a ten mile round trip. The last time I went hiking here, I saw a pod of gray whales. Needless to say you’ll find yourself surrounded by salt water, but, also, mountains rise up in both directions around the water ( more intensely to the south – the Olympic Range ), and you’ll see Victoria, British Columbia to the north. To get here, you’ll need some time, however; leave early, catch the ferry across Puget Sound, then drive north to Squim – it might take an hour and a half.

The mountains are harder – normally endless with possibilities, they’re now covering themselves with snow, and we’re heading into avalanche season. I would recommend snow-shoeing on Mt. Rainier. The National Park Service has guided tours at Paradise, and they lend you the shoes. You’ll hike over about 10 to 15 feet of snow, up to a glacier, and, with luck, see the sun shine through a snowbank. Of course, if you already have snow shoes, I would change my advice to Snow Lake along the I-90 corridor, because Paradise is quite a long drive this time of year, requiring four wheel drive or chains.

Is it me, or does the Dungenous Spit sound like some torture device the kings of ol’ England would employ in a Mel Gibson movie about rebellious Scotsmen?

A view of Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the Appalachian Trail.

From another part of the country, we meet author Danny Bernstein of Asheville, N.C., who’s put her boots to just about every trail in the southern Appalachians. She’s written two books about hiking in North Carolina since 2007, she operates a Web site called HikerToHiker, and she’s a fierce defender of the image of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This week, National Geographic Traveler in its current issue gave the popular national park an unsightly score of 49 out of 100 for its destination ratings, slamming the region for its overhyped development detrimental to the natural beauty of its surroundings:

Here is a representative sampling of additional anonymous comments from the panelists. They are not necessarily the views of the National Geographic Society:

“Heavily visited region of natural beauty that has been degraded by visual pollution. But the worst excesses of mass tourist development are apparent just outside the national park, in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Asheville, NC, is a town of much greater aesthetic appeal and has the notable attraction of the Gilded Era Biltmore Estate with gardens.”

And I would have to agree. The development in the area can be appalling. But Bernstein makes an important observation in a blog post dated Nov. 10. She asks – Did the surveyors actually go into the park?

The problem with these surveys is that they compare apples to oranges or maybe in this case, apples to broccoli. Both are good but they’re different.  As everyone knows by now, the Smokies are the most visited park in the United States – almost 10 million visitors. In addition, there is almost no development in the park. No great lodge, no Yosemite Village with gas stations and coffee shops. So all of that is outside the park – that’s what the quote above refers to.

National Geographic asked experts to look at authenticity and stewartship. Go to Cataloochee; you can’t get more authentic than that. I think the problem is that these experts never got into the Smokies; they just drove on Newfound Gap Rd.

And number one – Norway’s Fjord region. I’ve been there; it’s lovely but it isn’t the Smokies.

In other words, by ripping the development of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the park’s reputation gets unfairly soiled as there is little development within the borders (save for that gaudy tower at the peak of Clingman’s Dome).

Her Web site, aside from being a sounding board to defend the Smokies, tells stories about a life spent backpacking, the kind a hiker would love to read. Compass Points strongly recommends stopping by

So where are you hiking this weekend? I’m waiting for the remnants of Hurricane Ida to push out to sea, and then the wife and I plan to step onto a trail virtually in our backyard. Stop by next week to learn about it.

Might be back later this afternoon, but if I’m not, you know the slogan …

Hike on, friends!

Posted by: davepidgeon | November 12, 2009

Red rocks and snow

Hiking into Secret Canyon near Sedona

A couple of quick links to provide you on this blustery, depressingly cloudy day:

Sedona’s Secret

One of the most memorable day hikes I’ve ever discovered was the one pictured above to Secret Canyon, hidden amongst the red rock mountains of Sedona, Ariz. Fascinating place. Every turn a new view. My camera and eyes couldn’t get enough of the scenery. And my wife and I saw absolutely no one else on the trail. It was Arizona hiking heaven.

The Arizona Republic published Wednesday an article about the 8.3-mile loop:

The deep, meandering canyons north and west of Sedona are a marvel.

Secluded forest trails wind among towering, multihued cliffs, providing an exhilarating sense of isolation that’s tough to find on the more heavily traveled routes along Oak Creek Canyon and in the Bell Rock area.

Although most of the hikes into these backcountry areas – Fay Canyon, Boynton Canyon, Long Canyon and HS Canyon, to name a few – are out-and-backs, you can make a terrific loop hike by combining portions of the Secret Canyon, David Miller, Bear Sign and Dry Creek trails.

Compass Points recommends checking it out, the article and the hike.

And in a completely different part of the world, the intrepid Eric Larsen has set out on a mind-blowing journey that destroys the conventional concept of modern-day exploration and rewrites a new meaning:

Slated to begin in November 2009, Eric and his team members will travel to the North Pole, South Pole and the summit of Everest all in one year. The ‘Save the Poles’ expedition will journey to these last frozen places in attempt to tell their amazing story while promoting clean energy solutions to the problem of Climate Change.

I mean, that’s just … damn, Larsen’s plan is astoundingly ambitious. You can follow his journey here.

Posted by: davepidgeon | November 12, 2009

Pleasing the aperture

A week celebrating the some of my favorite hiking videos on the Internet would not be complete without Beautiful Places In HD by Tony Farley. Farley is a skilled videographer, whose camera and voice capture the comeliness of an experience in the American wilderness, from the sound of gentle breezes and the tune of songbirds to the myriad of natural color spied from any trail.

In composing the second season of Compass Points TV, I’ve looked to Farley’s work for inspiration and guidance. What’s most notable about Beautiful Places is how Farley puts his mark on the production. You get a sense of Farley’s personality and what places such as the Zion Narrows, Mirror Lake and Havasu Falls mean to him – locations which prompt reflection, relaxation and a sense of wonder.

Even as Farley narrates each video, you never get the sense that he’s trying to talk over the sights and sounds of the trails he’s capturing on camera. Instead, his personality is as much a part of the experience of watching Beautiful Places as the canyons, mountains and skies which are shown. You couldn’t have Beautiful Places without Farley, and that’s the mark of an excellent videographer.

Below is Farley’s dazzling video for Havasu Falls in Arizona.

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Posted by: davepidgeon | November 11, 2009

Trail Tunes: Music and the volcano

Mason Jennings grew out of the Jack Johnson tree of music – laid back style, Dylan-esque lyrics, strumming an acoustic guitar, smelling the breeze and feeling the sun. Think Jack, Donavon Frankenreiter and a little Ben Harper mixed in.

I picked the “Fighter Girl” video for this week’s Trail Tunes because of what you spy in the background – humongoid mountains. Plus, it’s a nice song to have along if you’re taking a road trip with your sassy girlfriend/wife.

According to a Facebook post by Jennings in May 2008, he filmed “Fighter Girl” in Chile at a town called Chaitén. That month, Chaitén became unfortunately the site of a massive volcano explosion and flood, which devastated the town to the point where the Chilean government will have to build a whole new community.

That’s tragic, but the scenery near Chaitén in places like Corcovado National Park remains stunningly beautiful, as captured in Jennings’s video. Here’s hoping the Chaitén people can recover and if people visit this stretch of South American mountains they spend time and money helping the recovery.

Posted by: davepidgeon | November 10, 2009

Video didn’t killed the Backpacker star

Anyone else notice the improved quality of video at Backpacker‘s Web site this year? I have to say – and not because much of my journalistic work involves the magazine – that Backpacker has stepped it up in terms of quality and content.

Recipes, trip vids, gear reviews and so on, and done in an entertaining and informative manner. I don’t agree with every choice – the shredding of backpacks by tying them to the back of an SUV and dragging them along a dirt road seemed to me a little over-the-top – but I dig much of what they chose to shoot.

As video week at Compass Points rolls on, we’re celebrating today Backpacker‘s excellent repertoire.

Beer pancakes!!!

Sierra Designs tent review

Fend off a bear attack
A personal favorite … my editor, Shannon Davis, fends off an attack by an intern real bear. Overall, loads of good info here, and when it comes to bears, great to see in person what you should do.

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