Tag Archives: Off Trail

The Right Backpack For You

This blog post begins a two-part series on the  backpack.

Lately,  my blog posts have been focused on gear and preparation. This to some degree is a diversion from my passion for adventure hiking, but to be prepared for the adventure we must be prepared for the hike.

Foundationally what we want is to be: FIRST, Physically prepared for the adventure we are engaged in; SECOND, Prepared with the right gear to both make our adventure safe and enjoyable.

There is nothing like pain to divert your attention from discovery and broken or deficient gear just messes things up. THIRDLY, We need the skills to provide both the framework for adventure as well as the confidence to enter into it.

We covered the subjects of planning and physical preparation in the following blog posts.

Planning:

  1. Planning your Hike, the key to success
  2. Backcountry Trip Planning

Preparation:

  1. Spring Hiking Preparation
  2. The Hiking Stretches

These are beginning points; not an exhaustive study.

Last week I discussed key issues relating to hiking boots, the foundation of our hiking gear. Today, I start a two-part series on the backpack. This first post will cover:

  1. The basic types of backpacks available and their pros and cons.
  2. Pack sizing for various hiking conditions and events (loads and volume)
  3. Sizing your pack to fit you.
    1. Fitting the backpack to your body
    2. Fitting the backpack on your body

I will follow this post with a second post dealing with:

  1. How to pack your backpack
  2. How much weight to carry
  3. Care and feeding your backpack
  4. Storing
  5. Waterproofing
  6. Hydration
  7. Tips etc.

The backpack is likely the second most critical item of gear that needs to be right for you.

If it fits you, and it carries the weight right, you will find it can become a key measure of your success in adventure hiking. So today within the context of discussing the right backpack and how to make it fit you and your conditions, I want to also point out the related elements of discovery necessary for a good adventure. What I am speaking to is that you can have the right fit and the right suspension but the wrong backpack.

Three critical elements, usually not considered in choosing a backpack, are the impact of color, noise, and convenience.

The prey side of the animal world largely survives on their hearing, smell, and sight.

Have you ever noticed how big a deer’s ears are or noticed that their eyes are on the side of their head, not in front?

As you hike into a habitat, what you do not want to do is announce your arrival. The eyes of the forest are watching and you will want to be as discrete as possible so as to not unduly attract attention. I was, just the other day, moving into the sight lane of a mother great horned owl and her two chicks. They were totally unaware of my presence. I was present by not manifest. So, being prepared for such moments, I grabbed my camera, which was in a convenient location, to start taking pictures. Unbelievably, meaning I overlooked something important, I had just purchased a new case for the camera and, by not thinking through the impact, I purchased one whose flap was held shut by Velcro. I opened my case and the noise of the Velcro parting was like a siren going off, as off did go my great horned owl family.

Your gear must compliment your intent and if you are looking for the adventure, purchase gear that compliments your strategy of discovery.

Therefore when you are looking for a backpack, get one that is present but not manifest.

No bright colors especially blue! Purchase a pack with the subdued color(s) of your environs; deer brown, dull leaf green, dirt gray, etc. The same context should be considered with all your clothing, hats and shoes. The more they move the more color integration is important… Like walking sticks.

I noted color, noise, and convenience as aspects of a backpack purchase. I spoke of the color above. The noise comes from things like crinkly fabric, items attached to the outside of the pack, moans of pain, Velcro attachments and the like. Think through what you are purchasing and consider the impact on noise.

Lastly convenience.

Purchase a pack or attachments that will allow you to have ready access to your critical tools. Items like camera, water, map, compass, binoculars, etc. Each of us will have a different list but if you are on a trail of something and you need to record a track or scat, for example, you do not want to have to take your backpack off to get to your camera. This is particularly so if you want to get a picture of a mother great horned owl as she is training her chicks.

The Backpack:

There are two basic types of backpacks; the external-frame and the internal frame.

The purpose of the frame is to stabilize your pack and transfer most of the weight of your gear from your shoulders to your hips where the strong muscles of the hips carry the load. The ideal distribution is 70 to 80 percent of the weight on your hips and 20 to 30 percent on your shoulders. Today’s technology advances in backpack design provide a wide range of options in design, size, and fit. Ultimately, the suspension is the most important part of any backpack.

External-Frame: 

The external-frame backpack is designed to provide the foundation for carrying lots of weight in different parcels. Attached to the frame is your pack bag usually in the 3000 to 4500 cubic inch range (49 to 73 liters), then, separately, items like your tent, your sleeping bag, your mattress, etc. The result is a large capacity platform that you attach the various elements to as needed for the intended hike. The external frame revolutionized backpacking for it allowed much larger volumes and weight to be carried easily and comfortably for long distances. Present day designs have good lumbar padding, a conical hip belt, recurved shoulder straps and chest compression straps. They can work well. Additionally, they allow you to carry a smaller pack compartment, which means a lighter backpack (almost a day-pack) for your excursions away from home base once you have set up camp.

Pros:

  1. Good for carrying weight
  2. Allows more airspace between pack bag and back thus better cooling and less sweating.
  3. Weight is carried higher in the pack, allowing for a more upright posture.
  4. Frame extension bars provide space for strapping on lots of additional gear like sleeping bags and tents, making the backpack more versatile.
  5. Usually less expensive than internal framed packs.

Cons:

  1. Since external framed packs carry the load higher, they raise your center of gravity, making you more “top heavy” and less stable.
  2. Most external framed backpacks don’t hug your body as well, so you get some sway as you walk which can be a problem with snowshoeing or skiing.
  3. Airplane baggage-handling machines like to bend stuff, so don’t send your external frame pack via the airlines unless you have your pack separately boxed.
  4. External-framed packs tend to get caught in brush and are more difficult to maneuver in tight places.
  5. Most all external framed packs do not have load lifters.

Internal-Frame:

Internal-frame packs use a wide variety of materials-aluminum trays, carbon fiber, polycarbonate, plastic sheets, and foam to create a rigid spine to which the hip belt and shoulder straps attach. The pack bag runs the full height of the internal-frame though it may be divided into separate compartments. Pack volumes range from 3,000 to 7,500 cubic inches (49 to 122 liters). Present day internal-frame backpacks come in a variety of sizes, some with fixed spine lengths and some with adjustable spine lengths. Key features to look for include good lumbar padding, a conical hip belt, and recurved shoulder straps with good padding, chest compression straps, and side compression straps for carrying smaller loads and load lifter straps.

Pros:

  1. Good for carrying lots of gear
  2. Conforms to the body for better balance
  3. Generally more comfortable to wear for long periods
  4. Your gear, particularly your sleeping bag, is inside your backpack thus not so exposed to the elements. Many internal- frame packs come with a built in rain cover to maintain a dry interior.
  5. They generally have load lifter adjustments allowing you to shift weight between you shoulders and hips

Cons:

  1. Because the pack frame and pack are directly against your back, they have less air circulation and likely more sweating.
  2. The weight is carried lower in the pack thus causing you to walk not quite as upright as you would in an external frame pack.
  3. You can’t put as much gear on the outside of the pack so its capacity is largely confined to the internal volume of the pack bag.

Daypacks:

Almost all daypacks are internal-frame packs if they have any frame at all. The larger the capacity the more rigidity is provided which helps distribute weight to the hips. In most cases you will be looking for a daypack in the 1,200 and 3,000 cubic inches range for any serious day hikes. There is no way to come properly equipped with anything much smaller than a 1,200 cubic inch pack. Unless you are using your daypack for a book bag or to carry your lunch and some wraps, you will want to look for the same qualities in your hiking daypack as you would a backpack used for multiday hikes. Remember the 11 Essentials are important to have in you pack every time you venture out be it a short day hike or an extended adventure. There is absolutely no excuse to gamble with your health and safety or miss out on the excitement of discovery.

Pack Size:

It is important that you obtain a backpack that can both carry the volume of gear and food necessary for your trip as well as fit you comfortably carrying the weight. Keep in mind that the external- frame pack bag will be smaller than the comparable internal-framed pack bag. The external-framed pack is designed to be a platform upon which you attach other larger gear directly to the frame thus giving you the added capacity. For example, a sleeping bag in a stuff bag may be anywhere from 700 to 1500 cubic inches (11 to 25 liters). Below are some rough guidelines on pack size related to trip length.

Trip Length External Frame Pack Volume Intern-Frame Pack Volume
2-4 days 1,500+ cubic inches (25+ liters) 3,500+ cubic inches (57+ liters)
5-7 days 2,000+ cubic inches (33+ liters) 4,500+ cubic inches (73+ liters)
8-10 days 3,000+ cubic inches (39+ liters) 5,500+ cubic inches (90+ liters)

Sizing the Pack:

It is imperative that you get a properly fitting backpack. The major measurements you want to consider include:

  1. Spine length…Some backpacks have adjustable spine lengths. On others, it is a matter of selecting the correct spine length backpack.
  2. Waist size…This affects the size of waist belt. You need to have sufficient length to adjust it tighter or looser depending on the need.
  3. Shoulder width…Your straps must not cut into your neck or slip off your shoulders.

Make sure you review the manufacture’s instructions for both adjusting your pack and loading it. Some backpacks come with a variety of options for hip belts and shoulder straps and you should be able to find specific combinations designed for women’s bodies.

Remember the key objective of the backpack is to transfer the weight from your shoulders to your hips and legs through your hip belt.

General fitting guidelines for an internal framed pack:

  1. Load your pack with 10 to 15 lbs. This will allow the pack to sit firmly on your body and will provide you the most accurate representation of how it will carry in the field.
  2. Put the pack on and pull the shoulder strap adjustment strap ((1) See illustration below) downward at about a 30 degree angle backward (see diagram). This will cause the hip belt to rise on your body. Once the center of the belt is level with your hipbones stop pulling and buckle up the hip belt. (2) Wearing the hip belt higher transfers weight onto major muscle groups. Wearing the belt too low on the hips can compress arteries and nerves and lead to poor circulation and numbness in the legs.
  3. Reach behind your head at about the height of your ears and pull the load lifter straps snugly towards you. (3) Note: this is a key step in the performance of your pack, as it engages the frame and causes the load to be transferred to your hips. These straps are also responsible for stabilizing the pack as well as pulling it into your natural center of gravity. When you do this, you should feel the top of the shoulder straps lifting off of your body, and there will be a small gap between the straps and your shoulders. If you can avoid it, never carry too much weight on your shoulders, as this is a common cause of spinal injuries.
  4. Now buckle up the sternum strap across your chest and pull it snug. The sternum strap should cross your chest below your collarbone.
  5. The last step to a good the fit is to place your thumbs on the shoulder strap adjustments at the bottom of the shoulder straps and slightly loosen them. Once again snug up the sternum strap to take care of any excess slack. (4) At this point the frame stays or frame structure should extend 2 to 4 inches above your shoulders.

Backpack Adjustments

Super summary by diagram number:

  1. Pull down & back. The belt will rise.
  2. After buckling, there should be a minimum of 2” on each side of the buckle before it runs out of adjustment.
  3. As you pull forward the shoulder straps will lift. Weight transfers to hips.
  4. Sternum strap keeps it together. The sternum strap should cross your chest below your collarbone.
  5. Slightly release the shoulder strap adjustment. Retighten sternum strap.

General fitting guidelines for an external framed pack:

  1. Put on the pack and adjust the hip belt to fit your hips. Wear the hip belt on the hipbones just underneath the rib cage. The center of the hip belt is about at the crest of your pelvis. The buckle will be about at your navel. Wearing the hip belt higher transfers weight onto major muscle groups. Wearing the belt too low on the hips can compress arteries and nerves and lead to poor circulation and numbness in the legs.
  2. With the hip belt on and properly positioned, tighten the shoulder straps and note their position. Some packs will allow you to adjust the height at which the shoulder straps attach to the frame to fine-tune your fit. For an external-frame pack, the straps should come off the frame about even with the top of your shoulders. If the straps drop too far down, the pack is too small and too much weight will be pulled onto your shoulders. If the straps go too far up, the pack is too large and too little weight will go onto your shoulders.
  3. Be sure the width of the shoulder straps is positioned so that they neither pinch your neck nor slip off your shoulders.
  4. The sternum strap should cross your chest below your collarbone.
  5. There will be no load lifter straps on an external framed pack. Adjustments must be made by the location of the straps on the frame, the shoulder straps, and hip belt.

Jump up and down, put more weight in the backpack, and sit down with your pack on. Make sure before you leave the store that the pack is comfortable, convenient, colored right, and not crinkly. The next test is to take the backpack home and fill it as if preparing for a trip.

My next upcoming blog post will provide instructions on how and why to pack your backpack for maximum comfort, stability, and use.

I hope to see you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,

Scott

 

Hiking Boots: What you need to know

Your hiking boots are among the most important pieces of equipment that you bring into the backcountry.

There is an infinite array of heights, weights, materials, soles, etc. The key is to select your hiking boots according to your need, which may mean you will need multiple pairs of hiking boots. No hiking boot fits all conditions and as you will discover if you haven’t already they are an investment. Likely the single most important investment on your equipment list is your hiking boots. Some of the variables you will want to take into consideration in defining the hiking boots or shoes you need include:

  • Types of hikes they will be used on including day hikes, multiday hikes, and extended treks.
  • Pack weight, terrain; season and temperature all affect your boot type and need.
  • Your hiking style (traditional or Ultralight) will have an impact on your boot selection as well as the cost. Ultralight gear is generally more expensive.

WHAT KIND OF HIKING BOOTS:

There is no single hiking boot that does it all. It is a key to your comfort and endurance and ultimately your health that you wear a hiking boot or shoe that matches trail activity. For every 1 lb on your foot you have an equivalent energy expenditure of adding 5 lbs on your back. Lifting your feet for thousands of steps takes a lot of energy. Therefore get the lightest weight boots that will meet your needs. Some considerations include:

  1. If you are carrying a heavy pack, (50 plus lbs) on an extended trip you will want a stiff boot with high ankle support. Boot weight and stiffness provide muscle support for the weight on your back.
  2. Multiday trip carrying 40 lbs, a lighter weight boot that extends just over the ankle may be ok for you though even here I prefer an above ankle style boot.
  3. Day hike or ultra light multiday with less than 20 lbs a “Mid” style Hiking boots, trail shoes or running shoes may be ok for you. Key here to remember is that none of these is going to give you significant ankle support.

The key in each case is the “for you” and “what are you doing”. Weak ankles make a difference in the height of boot for ankle support. Off trail hiking makes a difference in ankle support because you are walking on rougher terrain over obstacles not found on a well-groomed trail. And lastly the weight of pack and length of travel all make a difference in the best hiking boot combination. The path to maximizing your flexibility, comfort, and endurance on the trail is using the lightest gear that will meet your needs and your budget.

At the end of a day of hiking a second pair of camp shoes may be a good addition for around camp. They will allow you to air out your boots, especially if wet from rain or sweat, and air out your feet releasing them from their cocoon of heat and pressure. The heavier the hiking boot the more important it is to allow them to air out thus camp shoes, flip-flops, sandals, etc. Sandals or flip-flops are also handy at stream crossings to keep your hiking boots dry.

WATERPROOF HIKING BOOTS…SOME COMMENTS

Waterproofing works both ways. If you get sweaty quickly your waterproof hiking boots will be wet. And once your feet are wet, blisters come easily. Or if water does get inside, like coming down the sides of your boot or shoe, it doesn’t come out. In wet weather, gaiters can keep both hiking boots and socks dry.

Waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex clog and corrode without seasonal washing. Sometimes having shoes that dry off in ten minutes is more useful then waterproof hiking boots that when wet on the interior take many hours to dry. Waterproofing also traps heat, and releases it slower. This can help keep your feet warmer in cold conditions, but it also means that on hot summer days they can get pretty sweaty.

Leather is another great method of waterproofing. Leather is breathable and waterproof if needed by waxing it regularity. Waxing has the added benefit of restoring the strength and durability to leather and extending its lifespan. But leather is more expensive and heavier. As noted above every shoe is a tradeoff.

HIKING BOOTS AND INJURY…SOME COMMENTS

Most generic ankle injuries are a result of torsional forces; either a twisting of the lower leg and/or simultaneously a twisting of the foot. We have a series of ligaments around the ankle and torsional forces can stretch or tear these ligaments.

Ankle protection is essential to avoid injuries. To test the shoe, take the heel in one hand and the toe in the other and twist it. The stiffer the more stable and the better the ankle protection. The main advantage of the hiking boot over the shoe is that it offers better support and stops debris and wet from getting into the boot easily. When you add weight (geared up for a multiday backpacking trip) you need to add ankle protection. You need both support (boot) and you need hiking boots that lace tight around and above the ankle. This arrangement confers a lot of muscular support. This works similar to compression socks. Basically, it compensates for the muscles. Thus if you are doing long days with a heavy load (which increases your risk of ankle injury), a heavier stiff hiking boot that laces above the ankles will protect your ankles and take some of the strain off your legs.

Beware of “Mid” style hiking shoes/boots. Unless you feel tension around your ankles, there is no ankle support. Mid style hiking boots can provide a good foundation for weight and are decent for stopping debris and moisture, but that’s where the benefits largely end. I do not recommend a mid style hiking boot for off-trail hiking.

FITTING HIKING BOOTS

A proper fitting hiking boot is essential. Understanding how shoes/boots are sized and fitted can be helpful particularly when you find you need a variety of hiking boots. Hiking boots are constructed based on a representative “average” foot mold called “lasts” (length, width at toes, width at heals, etc.) and each boot is usually built around the same lasts formula for each shoe size and model of a particular brand. Some brands use unisex averaged for each shoe size and some have separate lasts for men and for women. The secret here is that most manufacturers use the same representative “average” foot mold, lasts, for all their various styles of boots. So if you find a lightweight hiking boot for example that fits you particularly well it is likely that the mid weight and stiff boots of that brand will also fit your foot well.

Try new hiking boots on in the afternoon since your feet swell during the day. Select your liner sock and outer sock combination that you will generally plan to wear with the boots you are purchasing and bring your own sock with you to the store. Using a store’s random socks combinations may leave you with ill-fitting boots when you get home, not good. With the hiking boot unlaced slide your foot to the very end of the boot, toes touching, and you should be able to get your index finger between your heel and the back of the boot. Next, lace up the hiking boots with moderate tension; you should be able to both tighten them further and loosen them up so you can adjust your boots as conditions dictate. At this point, you should be able to wiggle your toes inside your hiking boots. With your foot flat on the ground holding the boot heel down with your hand, you should be able to lift your heel inside the hiking boot. The heel lift at this point should be only ¼” to ½”. Too much heel lift causes friction and blisters.

Hiking boot length needs also to be checked. With the hiking boot firmly laced, do some good hard kicking against a post or the floor. Do your toes smash into the front of the boot? If so you have discovered “boot bang”. This can be a serious problem. Whatever boot bang you experience in the store will be magnified going down hill with a heavy pack. Smashing your toes against the end of your hiking boot can result in lost toenails and other serious foot problems. If you are getting boot bang, try lacing differently, try another size, different sock combination, or another brand of hiking boot.

As you get older your feet tend to get longer. Your arches begin to flatten out thus extending your foot due to the loss of the arch curve. Beware of hiking boots you have not worn for 5 years or so. Break them in again before heading out on any extensive hiking. If they don’t fit well, consider getting new hiking boots.

BREAKING IN HIKING BOOTS

With new hiking boots start wearing them around the house to make sure you have the right fit. Once you are comfortable with the fit, it is time to break the boots into your feet. If they aren’t fitting comfortably consider returning them and getting a pair that do. It is critical that your boots fit.

Always break in a pair of new hiking boots before a trip. Most medium to heavy weight boots require some use to conform them to your feet and to soften them up.

Old boots not worn for a while should be run through a break-in period. Begin with short walks and gradually increase the length of time you wear them. Easy day hikes are a good way to do this adding pack weight with each outing. Each time you lace your boots, take the time to align the tongue and lace them properly. If you fail here often the tongue gets set in a bad position, which can lead to sore spots and blisters. Give yourself five to ten hours of walking and day hiking if possible before taking a serious multiday hike in new boots. This is less an issue for lighter weight hiking boots you are using for day hikes because your boots will be softer and more flexible. But even here if at all possible, give all new hiking boots a good break-in trial before carrying significant weight or going on a long hike.

HIKING BOOT CARE

The key to top performance in most any endeavor is to know your equipment. One of the first steps in boot care is to know your boots. Are they leather, synthetic leather, nylon or a combination of these? If they are all leather boots are they Oil-tanned or Chrome-tanned leather. Oil-tanned leather usually is treated with wax and oil. Chrome-tanned leather is usually treated with silicone wax (a beeswax-silicone mixture is recommended). Treating boots isn’t necessarily to completely waterproof them, but to make them water repellent and to nourish the leather to prevent drying and cracking. Boots should be treated when new and on a regular basis to keep the leather supple.

Wet boots should be air-dried slowly or with minimal heat. Do not cook your leather boots by the side of a fire or on a heater. The different thicknesses of leather will shrink at different rates and likely pull your seams apart. At a minimum, you can get cracking and curling. At the end of a day of hiking open your boots up as much as possible to help them dry out. Leaving them upside down for the night will prevent dew from forming inside.

When you return from a trip always clean your hiking boots before storing. Dirt left on the boot can corrode the seam stitching. Use a non-wire brush to get dirt deposits off. For leather boots, rub them with moistened saddle soap. Wipe off the residue, air-dry them thoroughly, and then apply a generous coating of wax or sealer. Store in a cool dry place to prevent mildew. A boot tree can assist in maintaining shape. A cedar boot tree will also absorb moisture inside your boot and wick it out, thus again helping them to dry slowly.

HIKING BOOT TIPS

  1. Use polypropylene sock liners and wool socks. They will keep your feet dryer as the polypro wicks the moisture away from your feet as does wool.
  2. Often using aftermarket insoles like Superfeet, which give you arch support, will add more to your comfort and endurance than the boots themselves.
  3. Remember that if you have found a brand of shoes/boots that really fit your feet it is likely that any other model of that same brand of boot will be comfortable. They generally use the same “lasts” for all models.
  4. Before long uphill climbs, lace boots snugly below the mid-foot (use a double overhand knot if your boots don’t have locking laces there) and looser around the ankles. For long descents, tighten laces back up around the ankles.
  5. If you are having issues with too much heel activity a suggestion to get a snugger fit in your hiking boot is to lace the upper laces using a runner’s lock. Unless your boots are really mis-sized the runners lock will solve excessive heel movement. I have attached a YouTube demo of three useful boot knots that can help with various boot fitting issues common to the hiking genre.
  6. To minimize foot friction a foot lubricant like Hydropel or Gold Bond and also look at Bodyglide or BlisterShield. The objective is to keep your feet drier and not developing hot spots. At the first signs of hot spots I suggest using moleskin to avoid at all costs getting blisters on your feet.

Well-fitting hiking boots make for happy feet.

Happy feet make for good hikes. Good hikes are the stories that are told over and over.

Click here for a PDF copy of this blog

BACKCOUNTRY TRIP PLANNING

We have moved from the day hike to an overnight or multi-day adventure and backcountry trip planning is the agenda. The strategy for success is being prepared, being equipped, and traveling light.

There is no universal blueprint by which each and every multi-day hike can be planned but there are certain basic questions and issues that need to be addressed that are common to backcountry trip planning:

  1. Purpose
  2. Alone or with a group
  3. Conditioning
  4. Research
  5. Equipment
  6. Food
  7. Weather
  8. Leave trip details
  9. The Unexpected

Purpose

The fundamental question for each of us as we head out to the trailhead or backcountry is; Why are we going? What are our goals and expectations for making the trip and are we achieving them?

A key first step in “Backcountry Trip Planning” is to set out the goals for the trip. During the trip it is good to review those goals and evaluate how you are progressing. By reflecting on your situation you can maximize your opportunities to achieve your goals, or if appropriate, making mid-course adjustments, as needed.

If you are with a buddy or a group, check in with your companions and get their read on the progress; are we going at too fast a pace? How are you feeling? Etc. Lunch break is a great time to get into an informal discussion on progress. If you are alone, this is a good time to write in your trip journal and reflect on progress.

The key, as we discussed in the prior blog on planning, is to have a plan for your hike and have a plan with a purpose. The goal will greatly enhance the accomplishment of the plan and greatly increase the satisfaction in the achievement.

Back at home base, after gear clean up; take the time for some reflection. Ask the questions: What happened on the trip? If there were others on the trail with you, discuss the highlights; bring back the memories about the experience.

Then ask So What? Asking the question as to why certain events were important or had an impact. What did I or we learn? Why am I reacting to the experience the way I am? How did I grow in some skill or insight from the trip?

Lastly ask yourself and your companions; Now What? What comes next after this experience, how can I or we take what we have learned back to other parts of our lives. How will I apply what I have learned, discovered and been challenged by to enhance my next trip or my next week?

Taking time for reflection puts the pieces of life back into a whole and allows your experiences to become both the teacher for the next time out and the inquirer as to why you do what you do and is it what you want from it.

Alone or with a Group?

The mantra of the day is “Walk not your own path but come follow us”.

There is clear wisdom being expressed as it relates to hiking if you are a beginner or even an experienced hiker facing unfamiliar circumstance or challenges. This is not however the only all-encompassing truth. Your choice of solo or with companions ultimately largely depends, as one world traveler stated it, on three principal factors:

  1. Your level of experience
  2. The prevailing conditions
  3. Personal preference

Walking alone in the wilderness can be immensely rewarding. However, problems can occur when hikers venture solo into terrain and conditions for which they are not prepared. It is, therefore important to always balance intangible considerations such as freedom, self-determination, and connection with nature, with a realistic assessment of your backcountry skill set.

Conditioning

You will either take it in or it will take you out. An essential of multi-day hiking preparation is to have yourself physically and mentally fit for the trip. Why? The fitter you are the less of a struggle both physically and mentally. Plan the time to be ready and the best way to be fit is progressive hiking. Start early in the year with the day hikes and slowly build up distance, difficulty, and pack-weight. Supplement with the gym if needed, working on your weak points.

You will find fitness of particular advantage during the first few days of a backpack trip. The last thing you will want from an adventure is to be so exhausted you can’t enjoy your surroundings, missing not only the beauty of it all but the mental acumen to be focusing on the discovery that is lying before you.

Your pre-hike conditioning will also minimize the likelihood of injury.

Research

One of the keys to a safe and enjoyable backcountry experience is pre-hike research.

The first research is to get a clear footing of where you are going, what you are going to face along the way as far as physical challenges, and what preparation is needed to accommodate the route.

Guidebooks, maps, historical weather data, trip reports of other hikers and checking in with the local forest service all provide foundational information to build your route upon.

Backcountry travel can be unpredictable, but by arming yourself with the necessary knowledge before setting out, you improve your chances of successfully dealing with whatever providence may throw your way.

Your research then leads to the planning of the trip. The key element of trip planning is to work out the details of the proposed route; research and route details drive equipment, food, safety issues, skill sets etc.

Once you have obtained all the general information pertinent to your journey, it’s time to work out the details of your proposed route:

  • Estimate times and distances; break this down into the various legs of the trip.
  • Evaluate opportunities for campsite locations.
  • Identify your options for water and if possible the quality of the water.
  • A key to map reading and thus staying on course is identifying key landmarks and points of reference along your route.
  • Natural and not so natural hazardous areas such as spires and rock falls should be identified and likely avoided. If you chose to or must pass through them make sure you have a what if plan in place to cover worst case situations.
  • Check out regulations, restrictions and permits required for your route.

Equipment

Your research will drive your equipment choice. Pack according to terrain and conditions you expect to encounter. Keep it simple, keep it light and keep it fun. Your starting point is the 11 Essentials.

Ask the two gear questions as you go through your final inventory for the trip. Do I need it? What will happen if I don’t have it? Ultimately your own backcountry experience and personal philosophy of hiking will be your best guide.

Pre trip preparation: Test run your key equipment to make sure it is all working and that includes your water filter and boots. A clogged filter or new boots can be a harbinger for a difficult trip.

Food

Food, as with equipment, function under the same model: keep it good and keep it light. Based upon three season backpacking requirements in general, you will consume 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day. This mix, depending on the length and difficulty of the trip will run 50% Carbs, 25% fats, and 25% protein. Remember to be regularly snacking and drinking water to replenish your energy supply and keep you hydrated. The key accident times are 11 AM and 3 PM due to low blood sugar and dehydration. I like a good mixture of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits as a trail mix. Fluid intake should average 10 to 12 ounces every half hour or more under strenuous or hot conditions.

Weather & Weather Hazards

On trip day, check the weather before you head out. From your prior route evaluation consider your options and challenges if weather conditions turn to the worst.

  • Emergency shelters or campsites.
  • Emergency food supplies if you are delayed days due to weather.
  • River crossings that may become impassable during heavy rains.
  • Canyons that may pose a flash flood danger.
  • Exposed areas during a lightening storm. Where is accessible cover and how do we get there with an impending storm?
  • Evacuation route options.
  • Communication options.

Leave Trip Details

Who knows your destination, route, and expected return time? Include also the name of all parties on the trip and cell phone numbers and as much of your literary as possible.

What: 1.Leave this information with a contact person who will be concerned of your situation and checking that you return on time. 2. Leave it in your vehicle where parked at trailhead.

When you return make sure to inform your contact person that you have returned.

Expect The Unexpected

No matter how confident you are that you have covered all bases, nature has forces beyond your predictability or your capacity. When entering the wilderness as with any adventure be aware of what is going on around you. Adjust your agenda and schedule both to accomplish your goals and accommodate your conditions. Safety is a prime consideration  in your backcountry trip planning and reasoned forward progress is far more profitable than stubborn determination.

Discovery Hiking means hiking with purpose!

I want to discuss the process of discovery hiking because it is the key to making hiking an adventure.

The adventure in discovery hiking starts when you turn your attention from the trail to what is happening on and or off the trail; seeing what is there but not necessarily obvious, listening to what you are hearing and learning to understanding what is being said. Thus, attitude is of singular importance as you hone your skills at discovery hiking because you are hiking expectantly and using all you senses to discover what is happening around you. This will come natural over time but, during your beginning hikes, it will take focused attention.

The most practical way to begin the process is to determine something specific you want to discover (this may be a bird, an animal, a location, etc.) and prepare before your discovery hiking with a little research on where you might find your objective. My suggestion is to start with something relatively general that can lead you to something specific and help develop your skills. That way the hunt gets more exciting the more you get into it. So let’s say you want to find footprints of the animals that live in the habitat of your hike. Your initial research might be to get a chart of the footprints of the common animals found in the habitat. You might get a trail map of the area and look for the locations of water, particularly water that is not directly on a hiking trail. All animals and birds need and congregate around water and footprints are a lot easier to see and identify if they are left in moist ground.

Thus, you have an objective to discover the location (the haunt) where you can find evidence of the animals living in the habitat. You know their footprints because you have done your homework and you have at least one area where you can start your investigation to see what you can find. In our discovery language, the footprints are the objects of your discovery. The location of the footprints is the mystery to be solved. Secondarily, the owner of the footprints is your next investigation. Whose are they? This exercise is one of the most basic and most influential you can do in developing an understanding of the critters that live in your area. Once you understand who is there, their habits, diets, and activities, you start building your knowledge base that will lead you to serious adventure.

Now that you have your objective defined, you have your research compiled and in a form that you can have it readily available while hiking, your next step is to determine what tools you need to take with you to assist in your investigation. Some basics might include:

  1. The 11 Essentials in your backpack. If you need this checklist you can get it along with a basic hiking strategy and a more exhaustive gear list  by clicking HERE.
  2. You will want to chronicle your findings. I strongly suggest you take a journal and pen for recording your discoveries.
  3. Bring along a camera to take pictures of the prints you find.

At this juncture, we have identified a basic of  discovery hiking that will introduce you to, or at least give you some clues to, the eyes of the forest that are watching you trek through their habitat. Through a series of this type of investigatory hikes, you will gain understanding into the signs, sounds, and habits of the forest inhabitants. As you gain both insight and confidence in the process you will move from seeking a sign, like a footprint for understanding who lives here, to seeing a footprint or hearing an activity and seeking to find out what they are up to. I have posted a couple of blog posts that describe some of this activity. Check out: “Hiking Off Trail” and its follow up “Uncovering The Mystery”. You might also enjoy “Listening To Your Hike.”

In future blogs, emails and training’s, I will be providing you with much more detail on the discovery process along with handy tools and keen insights. Soon the investigations of Rupert Walker and his hiking cohort Dr. Jonathan will be available for your enjoyment and edification. Take a look at Dr. Jonathan’s blog post for a little history.

Concurrent with your growing skills at discovery hiking you will, by necessity and developing the skills of off-trial hiking. In the near future we will be starting the training in the basics of off-trail hiking beginning with map reading and navigation. I am inspired to be participating with you in discovering the wonderful world of nature and the enormous wealth of experience, adventure, and wisdom that we gain by engaging, understanding and preserving what has been provided to us in the great outdoors.

I hope to see you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,

Scott

 

Spring Hiking Preparation

Spring hiking season is just around the corner, it is time to get your self into the process of preparation.

For some, that means getting in shape and for others it is remembering where their gear is stored and getting it cleaned up and stocked. For yet others it is starting the search for the special places they have not hiked yet and getting to those places on the bucket list of this year’s treks.

So, where do we start in our spring hiking preparation if we are not only looking for a great year of hiking but also putting some real adventure into it?

Adventure Hiking is much like developing your skills at flying a plane. You start off with safety before you get into the air. Once in the air in the early stages of flight, you go around in circles and do a lot of landing and taking off. Then, as you hone your skills at navigation, you head off to destinations that you are familiar with but take some skill to get there. By this stage you have become familiar with understanding and using waypoints (markers of significant physical characteristics of the area you are traveling through) and, with the aid of navigation and experience, you will start investigating new routes and new techniques. Then all of a sudden you discover pontoons and from there the vision of mountain lakes seldom visited by man become a goal as well as emergency fields in remote locations. Then, almost by magic, you realize that these skills have become apart of you.

Your routine checkpoints become habit, and you are all about experiencing the adventure of flying instead of just the mechanics of flight, yet with a wholesome respect for aerodynamics. You start flying down the canyons of adventure and over the hills of discovery; investigating unique and spellbinding places. Thus is the stimulation of uncovering the heartbeat of the Super-cub airplane and, equally so, the exploits of Discovery Hiking.

You start flying down the canyons of adventure and over the hills of discovery; investigating unique and spellbinding places. Thus is the stimulation of uncovering the heartbeat of the Super-cub airplane and, equally so, the exploits of Discovery Hiking.

Over the upcoming weeks we will be going through the key processes of developing the skills of hiking with both body and mind. Starting with safety and on to getting familiar with planning, navigation, the process of discovery, gear and how to use it, mapping and how to find your way, keep your course and get off the trail. In the process of honing your skills and techniques you will find that deductive reasoning is not only useful in your hiking but that it equips you to see and become apart of what is happening around you. You will all of a sudden be aware of things you missed in the past. You will hear sounds that alert you to activities heretofore lost in the fog of daydreams. And as these clues become signals to the activities in the forest you will start uncovering mysteries that will astound you. You will find habitats and caves and family activities that have only crossed your eyes within the pages of the National Geographic. Your love of hiking will proceed to a passion for experience. With the aid of your camera, with the discovery of the skill of being present but not manifest, and with experience and insight, you will start participating in the lives and treasures of the creation at its fullest. Discovering the simplicity of nature and the haunt of those that live free both flora and fauna.

You are invited to keep tuned to the HTA channel as we together dig into the process of Discovery Hiking skill by skill. For some of us this will be a tune-up in the hiking skills category. For most, the skills of discovery, which is largely a lost art, will be, with some exercise, the door to a new world of hiking. There is no tale that is as exciting to relay as the one you just experienced.

I hope to see you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,

Scott

An Introduction to Outdoors Adventure

I met Rupert fresh out of the ranks of an Afghanistan experience where, after receiving my degree as Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, I resided as a guest of the US military for three years. I was slow in moving through my education as my interests were deeply impacted by my love of outdoors adventure, which ultimately led me to Afghanistan and a close call with eternity.

While recovering, I set out for the west and ended up hiking through an enchanting land far north in the states of Washington and Idaho and eventually visiting the Haunt and discovering the person of Rupert H. Walker. Rupert is an extraordinary woodsman and of that particular breed that live out their convictions openly and consequentially. His zealousness for adventure in the context of the natural world is punctuated by an amazingly trained mind that can focus so intently on an issue, a mystery, or an event and deduce effect-to-cause so succinctly that to follow his course of reasoning has become an apt pursuit.

In the course of our year or so since meeting, I have grown to covet our times of hiking and outdoors adventure together. He has, for his part, allowed me into his confidence as a collaborator of sorts. I am often both a fellow adventurer as well as a chronicler of these adventures which, as consented, will be published as they provide instructive fodder for those seeking to uncover the mysteries of our creation. I have watched with wonder as this master detective and master woodsman has developed not only an unbelievable knowledge base for facts about our natural world and its workings but also his application of this knowledge to the science of discovery.

Of the bloodline and genealogy of one S. Holmes, Rupert’s grandfather migrated from England looking for adventure and fell in love with the “wild west”. This love infected Rupert and by age ten he was a constant companion of the byways and trails of the north woods. Following his linage, which comes from his mother’s side, whose grandmother was a beekeeper and, through the sting of the bee, Rupert’s great-grandfather found her an admirable companion. From that union, third generation, from the clan of the Walkers, appeared Rupert Holmes Walker. He is a master woodsman, adventurer, and detective. His mastery of deductive reasoning combined with his command of the ways of nature joins to make an adventure of even the simplest of treks.

Rupert is a musician of sorts; a strong thin man with a hawkish nose and keen eyes. He has bouts of melancholy at times, moving from excited with the flow of activity yet when not on a trail scent, capable of the dumps. He sees what I can’t even envision and puts together clues that often leave me in a bit of a mare’s nest. Though tending to be a loner and not keen on social relationships, there are some of us that have gained access to this unusual man. I, his scribe, have been allowed to publish a portion of his accounts. Soon with the assistance of fellow woodsman and editor Scott Wallace we will publish one of Rupert’s first adventures in which I accompanied him.

One insight I discovered very quickly was that knowing your neighbors and their habits can be both consequential and adds immensely to travel through their domain. One of the first and most insightful investigations when one prepares to go into a new territory or even to start really getting to know the environs of your common hiking area is to discover who lives there, their habits, traits and impact. Because, as you will see, this is foundational to many of our future exploits. Getting to know your neighbors is in Rupert’s eyes, the beginning, the starting point, and the footprints to discovery. I will keep you posted on progress as well as content. I plan, to the degree possible, to include with each chronicle, instructive tools and resources to sharpen your skills at discovery.

J. Jonathan

Hiking to Discover the Mystery of the mountains

Hiking to discover the Mystery

Discovering the Secrets to the doors of Adventure

Have you ever hiked, backpacked, sea kayaked, or pursued similar recreational activities including prospecting, rock hounding, or mushroom hunting and wondered what am I missing, what are the secrets of this place, or how do I hike to discover the mystery?

I have hiked the Olympic and Cascade mountains of Washington State; I have sea-kayaked from south Puget Sound to the front door of Alaska including the discovery islands of Canada. I have fished in, and sailed these same environs. In the process we have floated in our kayaks alongside whales, hiked in lands where the floor matt was three feet thick, fished in lakes and ponds with incredible catches, hunted and haunted wonderful and enchanting places; entered caves with piles of bones inside, ate things that were strange, and laid on big flat warm rocks far north in the dark mesmerized by the greens and reds of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) for hours.

At the end of each of our adventures the question keeps arising, what was it that really enticed us, what was the big Ah Ha of our trip? It always came down to the discoveries we made/found. The grave yards of some coastal Indians. The spectacular display as we paddled our kayaks up a channel, where the Bounty (as in Mutiny) was re-rigged, in rain stormed darkness and saw the water come alive with streams of fire as hundreds of fish appeared to be coming at our kayaks large and small as flaming swords due to the iridescent plankton that filled the pitch black waters. It was the discovery of an old mine, the hull of a sunken ship, the cave full of stalagmites and bats, the mountain lion tracks outside our tent. It was the gold flecks in the steam. It is our spectacular discoveries that filled our minds with both the vivid memories of the past and the expectations of our next time out.

So, how do we live an adventure every time we head out, hiking to discover the mysteries, and for me to find a way  even to pull from these mountains, seas, and plains resources to expand my opportunities to hike the great and wondrous places I haven’t yet escaped to.

This is not a call to the macho man or extreme hiker/backpacker It is an approach to our pursuit of the creation before us that is based on some planning, some observation/investigation and some getting off the beaten path at times. How often have you taken a trip and discovered that even just a little planning and research done before the trip was almost the best part of the trip? The next step is to combine your knowledge gained before hand with a process of investigation to turn your hike from walk in the woods to unlocking the secrets of your own discoveries.

The adventure you are about to enter into is a change of mind set in both how you approach your next hike or trek or walk in the woods and how you observe what you see, sense, feel, smell, hear and taste. You will move from casual observer to detective, from seeing what appears, to looking for what is hidden in the obvious. You will discover how to read the treasure map of the terrain and find the gold, the cave of hibernation, the rare mushroom, the feasts among the bounty of the fields and woods. Whatever your focus may be from that of a naturalist looking for a plant or bird, to a prospector looking for gold or gem stones, the approach to discovery, the principals of finding, the seeking of the adventure are the same or very similar.

In upcoming blog posts we will be delving into the “how to” of discovery hiking. However even more you will be exposed to keen training in the skills of Off-Trail Hiking.

In our next post I will be introducing you to Dr. Jonathan and Rupert Walker whose narratives and hiking adventures using the principles of discovery will wind your clock as they uncover the Mystery of The Mountains.

I look forward to seeing you on the trail, it is amazing what you will find.

 

Joy of hiking to discover the mystery

With Hiking Stick in Hand,

Scott

Scott Wallace

Uncovering Mystery/ who did it?

THE CASE OF THE BARE BONES

 

In my last Blog Post I relayed the discovery of hide & hair, bones, bear scat and a harness and bell. All were found within a 200’ radius of the bear scat. I also mentioned that in the area I was hiking there are range-mules that wear bells to warn people of their presence. Now we will focus on uncovering the mystery. You may want to review my prior Blog Post Hiking Off Trail to get the full context of this post.

So when we hike with a focus on discovery we look for what is present but not necessarily obvious. We evaluate our finds using a process that is easy but uncommon for us today. It is the process called deductive reasoning (the how to of uncovering mystery) . We go from effect to cause, which, for most of us, is foreign. One of the primary rules in deductive reasoning is to view the evidence only as evidence and draw no conclusions until all the facts available are fully understood to the degree possible. Only then can you connect the dots. So very important to the process is being able to discern between relevant events (clue/evidence) and not relevant events (feint/diversion).

The normal inductive reasoning that we are accustom to using assumes the evidences will lead us from cause to effect not effect to cause. Our minds would quickly conclude that a bear killed a range mule, consumed its appendages and drug off the balance of the carcass for future consumption. We found the harness and bell meaning somehow it was removed from the mule. We found some leg bones and hide and the presence of the bear so, viola, we solved the mystery.

The enchanting part about discovery is that thinking through deductively leads you away from general assumptions and quick conclusions based on a hypothetical or gut reaction hypothesis. It does so because we first investigate and understand the effect and then gather evidence as to the cause. The evidence was hair and hide, bones, a harness and bell, and bear scat.

So now let us look at the facts deductively to really uncover the mystery.

What do we see?

  1. Hide & hair
    1. It was a dry not a moist hide.
    2. There were only two small samples.
    3. The hair was very long.
    4. There was no sinew present.
    5. There was no carcass found in the area.
  2. Appendage bones
    1. They were scattered about.
    2. They were smaller not larger.
    3. They showed signs of both deterioration and weathering.
    4. There was no sinew present.
  3. Harness & bell
    1. It showed no signs of teeth marks or claw marks or blood.
    2. The harness was a buckled piece of heavy leather almost 2’ in diameter.
  4. Bear Scat
    1. It had not lost its moisture thus was at most weeks old.
    2. It was made up largely of bark, berries, seeds and other similar items.

What do we know that impacts our consideration?

  1. The weight range for a full-grown mule is 800 to 1000 lbs.
  2. The weight range for an adult mule deer is 200 to 400 lbs. The most common deer in the habitat are mule deer.
  3. The weight of black bears in the region is generally in the range of 150 to 400lbs, with the upper weight limit not characteristic.
  4. The summer hair on both animals (deer and mule) is short and in winter it is long.
  5. It is not uncommon to have harness and bell get caught in underbrush and come off over the head of the mules. We have found similar finds (bell and harness) in the areas where the mules roam.
  6. Bear scat can easily dry up within a week in the warm Eastern Washington summer weather.
  7. Black bears, in general, do not actively hunt deer, particularly when they have abundant alternate food sources. The black bear is an omnivore and over 85% of its food intake is vegetarian in nature. They generally attempt chase off, if possible, the predator that kills the game and then proceed to enjoy its find.

Thus looking at our preliminary findings we start connecting the dots.

  1. The bear scat is more recent, not older.
  2. The bones don’t fit a Mule.
  3. The hair is winter hair not summer hair.
  4. The lack of a carcass or more bones suggests a “long time ago” event.
  5. The aging of the bones suggest a “long time ago” event.
  6. Take away the bell which appears coincidental (non-relevant event/feint), and the bear scat which appears coincidental (non-relevant event/feint) and you have a deer that met it death likely at the earliest last winter.

What else do we know? Last winter was a particularly severe winter for the deer due in part to massive wild fires that destroyed much of their winter food and prolonged cold weather including a February with heavy snow which is late for the area. There are numerous predators including wolf and bear in the area that would take down a weak and helpless deer. It may have been a bear but not this bear.

Moving from “effect” to “cause” we have a logical conclusion derived from facts that tell us what, if any, relationship the “indications” we found have to do with the mystery we discovered (parts of a dead animal). What was the cause of the effect.

Stay tuned as we lead you through the process of discovery hiking. We will be providing ongoing training in the application of deductive reasoning as applied to the process of discovery hiking which is the substance of Hiking To Adventure. If you are into hiking, backpacking, wondering in the woods, geocaching, kayaking or any other outdoor adventure activities Hiking To Adventure (HTA) is your backwoods investigatory training institute. The hills are alive with the sound of critters, and all sorts of wonders to be discovered.

With Hiking Stick in Hand,

Scott

 

 

 

 

HIKING-OFF-TRAIL

It is a beautiful morning to be hiking off  the trail. Today much like the one last week when I put on my ankle high boots and, as if driving, I put them in “4-wheel drive” and went off the trail. For me most of my real discoveries take place when hiking off-trail following the paths and animal highways looking for the action that is taking place in the habitat that I am hiking through. If you are like me, the more adventure in my outings the better I like them. So I escaped from the green trails map and started following the deer paths through the woods. Somehow when I get off-trail my mind changes gears and I start applying my senses of discovery to my surroundings much more naturally. I more purposely look to see. I am subconsciously asking the questions of investigation into what I am viewing; the “who, what, when, where, why & how” questions. Much like Sherlock Holmes or his predecessor and woodsman, Rupert Walker might say… “Read the story that is laid out before you by seeing the evidence that is left for your inquiring eyes”. I love these adventures and this one was no disappointment. In the area I was hiking there are semi wild mules, really range mules, whose owners put bells around their necks with thick harnesses. The clanging announces their presence. The mules will take down a dog instantly if it gets close enough, I am told.

As I was generally following a trail it broadened into an open area much like a funnel and as I was entering the narrow neck of the funnel I spied black bear scat and stopped to investigate it. The scat was not recent but also not well dried out either. As I proceeded, now looking for evidence of the omnivore’s earlier presence, the trail opened up into a broader area amongst a grove of decaying deciduous trees, leaves covering the ground an inch or more thick. Within a short distance I discovered both a bone and a small scrap of hair-covered hide some distance apart amongst the fall leaves. I carry small plastic “evidence” bags and I put the hide into one for future identification and study. Upon further searching the site I found bones scattered, each quite separate from the other, and all being leg bones, no body parts were to be found. I took pictures of each of my finds and noted in my field manual locations of the finds, posture, and any other details that appeared relevant. Sometimes I need to look again and again to see what is obvious but not clear to my eyes. I eventually concluded that I had found all that I could see for the time being and moved on down the trail.

On my return an hour or so later, I decided to spend a little more effort on the site. All of the activity, including the scattered bones, were within a 200’ circle from the bear scat. Now, looking at the site from a totally different direction and therefore a different perspective, I saw things that were not apparent on my prior investigation. I also noted that there were no paw prints or hoof prints. I found no stains, no messed up areas where a scuffle might have taken place, and no discovery of the balance of the body parts or hide. But, lying within the 200’ circle of evidence, unnoticed at my prior “looking”, was a harness and bell.

There was much to ponder from this day’s hike. It is oft the case that the action is beyond the borders of the man made trails.

I hope to see you along one of the paths to adventure.

With Hiking Stick in Hand,

Scott

PS.   My follow up Blog Post entitled Uncovering Mystery engages where we left off here. It covers the full analysis of the evidence.

Listening To Your Hike

Sometimes the little guy wins. Champions come in all sizes and shapes and there is so much about life that we can learn if we approach our hike as adventures, purposely looking for the evidence of “effect” to “cause”. We often need to engage our minds beyond just observing the beauty of our surroundings and getting some exercise.

I was on a trail early one morning last week. I was traveling an adjunct trail, not one traveled by hunters, for it was bow season. Somehow, at times, it seems that the inhabitants of the habitat perceive our intent. It is so curious how the prey can comprehend in some fashion the presence and intent of the predator. The weather was overcast and the morning light was gray as I passed without disturbance 5 mule deer over a quarter mile stretch all bedded down and watching but not running. One of which was a beautiful 2-point buck.

As I hiked, one of the sentries of the woods, a red squirrel was chattering loudly and anxiously down in a hollow. A squirrel in a tree barking at you is telling everyone of your coming along. A squirrel in anxious activity not focusing on you is likely announcing the presence of something else of concern. In this case the little feller was scampering back and forth across a log and virtually screaming while watching in the direction of an apparent stump. The “effect” was anxious activity, but not so anxious that escape was perceived as immediately necessary. The cause was the point of interest. I understood the sign, a signal of great concern. I settled in to observe and hopefully perceive his source of angst. As I watched in the direction of his focus and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light I finally saw movement, ever so slight. I kept focused and still. I was, as Rupert would say, present but not manifest. Eventually I saw, not 10 feet from our furry sentry, a head moving ever so slowly in what appeared to be almost a circle. I knew instantly that there was an owl present. After careful and quiet observation I was able to get a picture of a great horned owl sitting on a stump not ten feet from the squirrel. Obviously from the squirrels perspective Mr. Owl was too close to take flight and get him but to dangerous to himself and his fellow critters to allow it to stay put without a strong discussion.

(Great Horned Owl, the squirrel was on the log at bottom of the circle.)

Great Horned Owl

The “effect” was an anxious squirrel.

The “signs” (1) an unusually anxious squirrel & (2) movement of a unique “kind.”

The “tools” were (1) awareness of the unusual character of the activity, (2) silence, (3) being present without being observed, and (4) patience that my observation was relevant and not incidental.

The “cause” was a great horned owl that liked to eat squirrels.

The “activity” was (1) to notify the forest creatures that danger lurked, and (2) to irritate the predator hoping he would move on and leave them alone.

The “hero” was a spry squirrel risking his hide to notify his compatriots.

The “results” were (1) our sentry notified me of the presence of a crafty and quiet predator that was closing out his day of hunting. (Great horned owls hunt mostly in the shadow hours before dark and just after dawn.) (2) The owl got fed up with all the publicity and moved on. I watched as his six-foot wingspan silently glided through the trees likely to find roost for the day.

As we study the signs and sounds of the woods there is often a story to enter into and a tale to tell if we are present but not manifest.