You Think That Was A Mistake? (Guest Post!)

28 06 2010

(Today, I have a special treat for you all.  My friend and sometime hiking buddy, Aprille Dembsky, is doing a guest post!  She and I were talking about my recent posts about mistakes made while hiking, and she told me about this group trip from a couple of years ago.  Aprille knows better.  Most of the people on this large group hike know better.  And yet…)

by Aprille Dembsky

To set the scene: a week-long vacation in Las Vegas over New Year’s Eve with 15 friends from college. Average age: about 30. On the first day, we did a relatively tame hike in the nearby Red Rocks Park. The path was well-marked and popular (i.e. crowded) and left us feeling a tad cocky. Towards the end of the week, after days drinking like we were still in college, 10 of us decided to find a “real” hike.

We planned to leave at 10:00 in the morning, but Dan was still in bed.

“Dude, I’m so hung over. Fifteen more minutes?”
“Dude, we are ALL WAITING in the van. We are leaving NOW!”
Dan grumbles.
“He’s coming! Hold on!”
Which was following by nine other people grumbling. Once on the road, Dan asks to stop at McDonalds for breakfast. Somebody throws him a Powerbar and says no.

Everybody packed their own bag. We half-heartedly coordinated food and supplies, but we didn’t have a first aid kit. We headed to the Valley of Fire State Park in a rented white panel van.

There had been some changes to the Valley of Fire State Park in the 12 years since the guide book was printed. The marquee trail, “vigorous and isolated, with panoramic views” had been paved over. What used to be a five-mile trek was now a scenic drive, ending with a half-mile scramble to the top of a small hill.

Greatly discouraged, we asked the Visitor Center if any “real” hikes still existed.

“Well, I don’t recommend it,” worried glance at our motley crew of hiking boots and sneakers, dry-wicking pants and jeans, and Andy, who was recovering from a car accident and walking with a cane, “but one part of the park is an open wilderness. Folks can go hiking in there, but it’s an interpretive hike, no trail markings. We have maps, but we suggest you use GPS.”

Interpretive hiking sounded perfect. No, we didn’t have a compass or GPS (this was just before everybody owned an iPhone). It was almost noon, so we finished the few sandwiches. We cracked a few jokes about how little water we had for a journey into the chilly winter desert.

We drove to the start of the hike, and saw two people exiting, heading to their pick-up truck. Rugged and withered, the man and woman each wore large packs, broad hats, and exhausted smiles. Their large dog (St. Bernard, perhaps) was wearing a pack containing two empty water bottles.

“Y’all know where you’re going?” the gentleman asked.
“Oh, yeah, sure. We’re just gonna take a look around.”
“Y’all take care now.” He was too polite to say what he was obviously thinking: “you stupid city kids.”

The head of the interpretive hike was on a hill, giving us a good vantage point of a vast valley below. It was rocky and tree-less (making for few natural landmarks.) There were no other cars parked at the trail head, and we could see no other hikers.

“This is wrong on so many levels” mused Carl, who had studied geology in college. “At least let’s stay together.” The beginning descent was steep, and the rocky ground was unsteady. At this point, Andy wisely decided to sit out, rather than risk further injury to his hip. Ian offered to stay with Andy.

We continued to separate after that. Miguel ran to follow some tracks in the dust while Dan tried to scale a large boulder. We called back and forth to each other, trying to keep in verbal contact. After about 15 minutes, we heard a thump, and then “Oh, shit.” “What?” “What, what?” “Where?” “I’m OK, I’m just stuck.” Josh had jumped in a hole. Yes, Josh, an accomplished lawyer and military serviceman, saw a large crevice between two desert rocks, and decided to jump into the natural cave. And he was stuck, because the sides of the rock were smooth.

Much humor ensued, jokes about leaving Josh behind, jokes about how everybody ELSE would meet their death. Carl noted that we could no longer see the trail head or the van. “Andy and Ian took it! They’ve driving back to the Strip now!”

The end of the story is far less interesting than the set-up. This is because we were lucky, as well as dumb. We managed to extricate Josh from the cave, and after that, we stuck together. After a short loop we returned to the van and drove back to the City of Sin.

Photo Friday

18 06 2010

Zion Canyon, from the Middle Emerald Pools Trail.  Stunned me then, stuns me now.

Happy Friday!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Ideas and Innovations

16 06 2010

Last night, President Obama called for new ideas and innovation to decrease our dependence on oil and turn to new energy sources.  That Obama, he’s always calling out to the public for ideas.

For example, on April 16, the President established America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to “promote and support innovative community-level efforts to conserve outdoor spaces and to reconnect Americans to the outdoors.”¹  Well, that sounds pretty good to me.  How?

Step one seems to be to start a countrywide conversation-of-sorts about promoting and preserving outdoor spaces.  No, really.  The powers that be want to know what you think.  First, there are “listening sessions” being set up across the country, the first being Annapolis, MD, on June 25, from 1-5PM.

Can’t attend one?  You can submit your ideas and innovations (and read and vote on those submitted by others) at the America’s Great Outdoors idea center.  Check it out, there’s a lot of interesting stuff on there.

A lot of people seem to like the idea of creating a “master naturalist” volunteer program, based on the Texas program of the same name, in which individuals would rack up volunteer hours and undergo training to obtain a certification as a “master naturalist.”  Texans seem to like their program, and it seems to do a lot of good.

Less well-liked (or maybe just more controversial) is this suggestion to revamp Smokey the Bear.  I wonder if the number of “demotes” (think the oft-wished-for “dislike” button on Facebook) on this suggestion is because people love Smokey or because forcing poor Smokey into retirement at the age of 65 hits a little too close to home for some people?

Which ideas do you like?  What do you think of the “conversation”?  Is Obama’s tendency to solicit ideas from the public increasing democratic involvement and allowing for real innovation that might otherwise have been stifled, or is it just another way for well-funded organizations to lobby?  (Oops, that last question is a little charged.  Have at it anyhow.)

¹ Glunz, Christine, et al.  April 16, 2010.  “President Obama Launches Initiative to Develop a 21st Century Strategy for America’s Great Outdoors.”  Retrieved from

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

The Answer, As Always, I’m An Idiot

11 06 2010

But you don’t have to be, because I’m here to help you not make the mistakes that I made when I started out hiking and camping solo.

On Wednesday, I posted this photo, of me at the end of my very first solo hike, on the teeny, easy little Door Trail at Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  I asked you what was wrong with the picture — in other words, could you tell from this photo all the rules I was breaking and mistakes I was making?

Well, you guys did great!  It’s a little embarassing, but here are the answers:

  1. I’m wearing the wrong shoes.  If you look closely, you’ll see I’m wearing Teva sandals.  Why are these wrong?  Let me count the ways.  First of all, they don’t provide the support needed for “real” hiking.  Second, they leave my feet (including fragile toes) completely unprotected.  They might be cooler than boots, but jagged rocks and sticks and rocks could do a number on my poor exposed feets.  Because this was a very short, easy hike, this wasn’t really a problem.  Would I do it again?  Not if I had never hiked the trail.  If I knew the trail well, I might, but without knowing the lay of the land, that was dumb.
  2. I’m not wearing a hat.  This is open, arid land.  There ain’t no shade anywhere in sight.  A hat is really really really a good idea.  But even worse…
  3. I’m not wearing sunscreen.  Now, you can’t see that from this photo, but trust me, it’s true.  I didn’t get too burned.  I actually think I had put on sunscreen that morning, but at this point it was early afternoon and it was time for some more.
  4. I’m wearing the wrong shirt.  Yes, that is a cotton t-shirt.  I like that t-shirt.  But it isn’t hiking-friendly, particularly not in hot, arid, South Dakota in August, when I was sweating just standing around.  This isn’t a fatal mistake.  I spent years hiking in regular old t-shirts before I discovered the wonder of wicking, and now I live in my hiking clothes in the summer.  But since we’re picking out things I would do differently with the experience I have now, this goes on the list.  Oh, and Josh is right: while somewhat minimal here, lighter colors and the desert are usually better companions.
  5. I’m not carrying my first aid kit.  Oops.  Now, I have said it isn’t strictly always necessary to carry your first aid kit, if you’re doing a really easy, short hike that you’ve done a million times and there’s a decent population there with you.  I don’t bring my kit when I traipse around Walden Pond, for example.  But here, in a part of the country I knew nothing about, on a hike I had never done, which could have rattlesnakes (something that wasn’t even a little bit on my radar at this point), not carrying the kit is stupid.  Thankfully, this was such a short hike, and there were a fair number of people there, so I wasn’t really in any danger from this mistake.  The next hike I did, immediately thereafter, however, I was the only one on the trail, and it involved climbing.  Not having the kit there was especially especially stupid.
  6. As Dad and Deborah noted, I also don’t have a pack.  This means my water is limited to my Nalgene bottle, and I don’t have any of the other essentials with me (cell phone, whistle, compass, etc.).  For this hike, again, it was short, easy and well populated, so it wasn’t a problem.  But for the next hike, what was I thinking?

I’ll tell you what I was thinking.  I pulled off the main road and into the trailhead parking lot.  There were a lot of people there.  I was so excited, because I knew this was going to be my first hike of the trip.  I got out of the car, pulled my hair into a ponytail (it was very hot), and grabbed my Nalgene bottle.  I went to the trunk and looked at my hydration pack, which was filled with hiking essentials, and my boots, and then I looked at all the totally non-hiking dressed people headed out on the trail, and decided it was all overkill.

I was sort of right.  The Door Trail is very simple.  The first part is handicap-accessible, for goodness sake.  But in retrospect, and especially when I headed out for the Notch Trail, I should have geared up.  If I didn’t want to fill my hydration pack with water, or if I didn’t want to carry too much, I could have at least put the boots, sunscreen, and hat on. 

Here is another photo of me, from several weeks later.  As you can see, I was learning my lessons, hike by hike, trail by trail:

This is on a hike in Bryce Canyon National Park, in Utah.  As you can see, I’m more appropriately geared.  Those are pants (and yes, I did see a rattlesnake on this trail).  I’m wearing a hiking shirt, and a hat.  I am wearing sunscreen (though you probably can’t tell).  I’ve got my hydration pack filled with 2.5 liters of water, first aid kit, cell phone, compass, etc. etc. etc.

Thanks for playing.  Remember, we all make mistakes when we don’t know any better.  My goal is to help you avoid them as you embark upon your own solo journeys.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Ride ‘Em Cowgirl

10 06 2010

Today on Go Girl, I talk about why visiting a dude ranch is a great way to spend a week.

Check it out here.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

What’s Wrong With This Image?

9 06 2010

Take a look at this photo:

There I am, nearly six years ago (yikes), at the end of the Door Trail at Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  There are a couple of very significant things about this photo.

  1. This was my very first solo hike everIt was day five of my Road Trip.  The first four days I was concentrated on getting west as fast as possible (with a two-night stop in Chicago to visit a friend), and on the fifth day, I finally arrived, early afternoon, at my first National Park.  I was chomping at the bit to get out on the trail, since hiking was the focus of my trip.  I was also scared about my first solo hike, but comforted by the fact that I had picked an easy intro hike, and the fact that the beginning of the Door Trail (which is less than a mile out-and-back, the first bit of which is handicap-accessible) was crowded with people in sundresses and little children.  Yes, I looked at them and thought, if they are doing it, then I certainly can.  But that’s all right.
  2. I was doing this all wrong.  Seriously.  Can you pick out what I was doing wrong in this photo?  You’d think that, since I had been hiking before, and since I had done all this research, I would know what I was doing.  But nooooo.  Of course, on this hike, it was really fine, since it was so low-key.  Mostly flat, pretty well populated (at least the first half), short.  But I look at this photo and remember the mistakes I made.  Can you see them?  (Hint: one of them you can’t see, but you might be able to guess.)

On Friday, we’ll talk about the things I did wrong on that hike, and on the one that happened right after, that make me cringe at my own naiveté (or, in some cases, overconfidence or laziness).  Make your guesses in the comments!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Photo Friday

4 06 2010

Today, some color for you.

Badlands, South Dakota.  Have a colorful weekend, everyone!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Pencil Yourself In

2 06 2010

My calendar is way more full than this.

I woke up yesterday and realized that while I was recovering from the holiday weekend, June had descended upon us.

How in the world is it June already?  Beware, campers, this summer is going to fly by, I can feel it.  Are your weekends already booked?  Weddings, baby showers, trips to the beach, family obligations…when are you going to have free time to get out and hike?

Answer: Make the time.

I know, it’s easier said than done.  It’s much more comfortable to make time for your family and friends, to make the time to travel to see other people or share in their momentous life events, than it is to make time for yourself.  I experience this too.  I feel guilty when I try to tell someone I can’t make plans to travel to see them for a weekend not because I have already booked time for someone else, but because I have things that I want to do, things that are important to me.

Well, I’m telling myself — and you — to Get Over It.

Go ahead, schedule some time for yourself.  You don’t need an excuse.  You want to spend a day hiking and are worried that your schedule is filling up too fast?  Quick, pick a day, and pencil yourself in.  Better yet, write in ink.  Now, keep your date with yourself.  Don’t cancel just because you get another offer.  You deserve more consideration than that.

I know I do.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.