Thanks for 2009!

28 12 2009

Acadia NP in Winter

Her Side was on hiatus last week in the madcap dash to Christmas (and I still have gifts to wrap and ship…I don’t know how this happens to me), and will be checking out again after this post until January 4, but I wanted to take this opportunity to say:

Thank you.

Thank you for reading, for commenting, for emailing me and telling me that I have inspired you.  Thank you for allowing Her Side to spend the last few months of 2009 figure out how the heck to do this blog thing.  Thank you for providing feedback, making requests, and sticking around.

A look back at 2009:

  • September 8: Her Side of the Mountain launches with a post entitled “Carpe Diem,” a photo of Buffy and Willow, and a joke about carp.  Let’s keep carpe-ing the diem in 2010.
  • September 27: Ken Burns’ documentary series “National Parks: America’s Best Idea” airs.  Someone says to me, “I thought I’d be bored but I couldn’t stop staring at the footage.  There are places that look like that for real?”  Yes, Virginia, there is a Yellowstone.  And not just in our hearts.
  • October 5: Her Side posts a photo of Henry Ford (beside a quirky and topical quote attributed to Ford), and thereby receives a vast influx of visitors because a LOT of people search for Henry Ford each and every day.  Each and every day. 
  • November 7: A couple of Her Side’s friends get lost in the woods in the dark and  provide Her Side with its first real-life reason to say “I told you so.”
  • December 28: Her Side gears up for the new year, makes lots of resolutions, and comes up with loads of brilliant new ideas (see below!).

Coming up in 2010:

  • New Year’s Resolutions.  Yes, let’s make them, and let’s make them fun to keep.  Who’s with me?
  • The completion of posts about the Rules and the Good Stuff.  We’re about halfway there.
  • More (hopefully many more) hike reviews and guides (with photos!).
  • Food.  I’ve been digging into some hiking/camping food sites and cookbooks…once I’ve had the opportunity to try some of this out, I can pass some suggestions along to you and we can discuss.
  • I respond to your requests and suggestions.  So keep ’em coming.

Happy New Year, everyone.





Stuck on Band-Aid

30 11 2009

Poor Kenny.  For those who have never seen South Park, or who have been living in a cave on Mars with their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears for the last twelve years, Kenny McCormick is the unfortunate member of the South Park gang who, in nearly every episode in the first five seasons, dies a terrible death.  So, as I was saying, poor Kenny.

Kenny is a really unlucky little kid.  Kenny dies in just about every way imaginable.  He is electrocuted, crushed by a tree, torn apart by an angry mob, gored by a bull, eaten by fish…and so on and so on.  If there is a chance, however small, that someone could be injured while participating in any activity, Kenny will beat the odds and become the fatal statistic.

I’m glad I’m not as unlucky as Kenny, and I hope that you’re not either.   If you are, there’s not much that can be done about it.  But if you’re a little more average, it pays to take some precautions while engaged in activities that have a higher risk of injury than sitting around on your sofa watching South Park.

That brings us to Rule No. 6:

First Aid Kits Are Non-Negotiable.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.  Bring a first aid kit when you hike and camp.  Bring it when you’re solo, bring it when you’re in a group, just bring it.  Bring it even when you think that the hike should be a piece of cake, especially if you’ve never done it before and don’t know from personal experience how easy it will be.  After all, we know what can happen when you set out on what you think is a “simple” hike in unknown territory. 

I don’t want to hear any excuses out of you.  A while ago, I discussed what should go into a first-aid kit in some detail.  You don’t have to put much work into getting one together, however, because ready-made kits are available for your (inexpensive) purchase.  First aid kits come in all sizes (mine weighs half a pound) and so the minor extra weight is worth the vast benefits of carrying one.

You should also learn how to use your first aid kit.  Having one won’t help in an emergency if you’re sitting there trying to figure out what a lancet is or how to operate your snake-bite suction device.  Read the instructions in advance.  Buy a first aid manual and study it (they make compact ones that you can bring with you, and some ready-made kits actually come with them).  You can even take a first aid course.

At the end of the day, a first aid kit, and knowledge of how to use it, can help you avoid the fate that always, always, seemed to befall poor Kenny.  Those bastards.





You’re Not Ghandi

16 11 2009
Diamond Head

Diamond Head, Oahu

My grandfather, “Pépère,” is eighty-three years old.  We call him “Pep” for short, and the nickname suits him…he’s in better shape than I am.  A couple of years ago (and I do mean only a couple), while vacationing in Hawaii, he climbed Diamond Head on Oahu.  Now, Pep is a smart guy, with lots of common sense and life experience.  On that climb, however, he made a very common mistake for a novice (or overconfident, as the case may be) hiker: he didn’t bring enough water.

It all worked out okay for Pep, don’t worry.  He made it to the top, where some nice folks commented that he was by far the most senior person they’ve seen climb the volcanic crater.  But when he tells the story now, he puts a lot of emphasis on how hot he was and how he regretted not bringing more than a teeny little water bottle. 

You see, kids, he didn’t follow Rule No. 5:

You’re Not Ghandi: Pack Food and Water

WaterNot packing enough food and water is a common mistake, even for experienced hikers.  It’s very easy to over- and underestimate your water needs.  If you’re new to hiking, you don’t have any frame of reference as to how much water you’ll need.  If you’re new to hiking in a particular climate, particularly one that is hotter/drier/more humid than you’re used to, you can’t use past experience to guide you.  If  you are an experienced hiker, you can sometimes get overconfident (which usually leads to not packing enough water instead of packing too much).

FoodThe same is true for food.  As an experienced hiker, there are times that I just want to head out on the trail and not take the time to pack anything to eat.  Having found myself hungry on the trail, however, shaky from exertion and wishing I had at least a Powerbar, I know better.  Remember that while hiking you’re going to use up more energy than while sitting around — and maybe even more than your normal workout routine.  You won’t usually find (thank heavens) a convenience store at the top of the mountain where you can replenish your supplies, so plan ahead. 

Wait, wait.  I know you have questions.  Go ahead.

But, Her Side, I don’t want to have to carry too much!  Water is heavy!

Sure, but being dehydrated is worse than carrying a little extra weight.  And it will get lighter as you go (and drink it), or you can empty some out if it becomes clear you’ve overestimated your needs.

I’m only going to a hike for a couple of hours.  Do I really need food?

Yes.  You should have something, even if it’s just some fruit or a couple of granola bars.  After all, look what could happen on a simple hike.

Will I ever be able to refill my water while on the trail?

Sometimes.  On the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, for example, there are water stations at intervals of the trail into the canyon (which is a darned good thing because it is HOT there).  If you have a water purification system, you might be able to refill from nature (of course, that requires packing the water purification system, so…).  You can usually find out whether there are opportunities to refill before you go.  However, I wouldn’t skimp on the water anyway, just in case.

I was thinking if I didn’t drink too much water, I wouldn’t have to use the facilities — or lack thereof — while on the trail.  I think peeing in the woods is icky.

Get over it.  This isn’t a reason not to bring water or keep yourself hydrated.  Stop being such a wimp.

Fine, I’ll pack extra water.  But how do I know how much I need?  And is there an easier way to carry it?

There’s no mathematical formula that I can give you to tell you how much water to bring.  I can tell you that it’s always better to have too much than to not have enough.  Don’t despair, however.  You can, in fact, make it easier to carry.  Get yourself a hydration backpack.  Those things hold liters of water (usually plenty for a day hike, even in the heat), and aren’t difficult to carry because the backpack sits comfortable on your back.

Now, if only I had written this post before Pep climbed Diamond Head…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





There’s a Lesson Here Somewhere

11 11 2009

Chalkboard

I have a case of the “I told you so’s.”

As I mentioned on Monday, this past weekend I was up in Vermont with some friends.  Two of my friends decided to go hiking.  As much as I wanted to go with them, when the choice came down to hiking or spending the afternoon with my sharp-as-a-tack and deathly sarcastic fifteen-year-old nephew and my four-and-a-half-year-old niece who is cuter than any button I’ve ever seen, my path was clear.

So the other two headed out alone.  (They both have names that start with “A” so let’s call them A and B for simplicity’s sake.)  Well, not alone, since they were together.  This was not a solo hiking expedition, and that part is important to the story.  A and B left around twelve-thirty and set out to hike the Little Rock Pond loop (trailhead in Danby, VT), which is an easy, 4-5 mile hike that runs along the A.T. and the Long Trail and loops around Little Rock Pond before returning on the same trail.  Before leaving, they packed a lunch, strapped on their hiking boots, shouldered their backpacks, and we all had a discussion that it would start getting dark around four-thirty, and they would be back for dinner.  We estimated it would take them ~2-3 hours to complete the hike, though none of us had done it before.

By five-thirty, it was full-on night-time, and they had not returned.  Dinner was cooking, and we all got a little concerned about their whereabouts.  I called A’s cell phone (I didn’t have B’s number), and it went straight to voicemail.  At that point, we figured that two scenarios were likely: (1) they finished the hike early and went into town, losing track of time, and A’s phone died; or (2) they got lost on the mountain.

Now, the second one was concerning, but it didn’t have to mean panic.  It was a warm night (particularly for early November in Vermont).  A is a very experienced hiker, with a good head on his shoulders (not to imply that B doesn’t have a good head on her shoulders, but you know what I mean).  The only member of our group who knew anything about the trail noted that, if they weren’t paying attention they could have missed the loop around the lake and continued north on the A.T. which would eventually spit them out in Wallingford.

By six-thirty, we had decided to mount up and investigate.  I volunteered to drive out to the trailhead and check for their car.  If it was gone, we’d know they were off somewhere.  If it was there, then we’d deal with the next steps and get them home safely.  Just as we were about to leave, they drove in.

It turned out that they had, in fact, missed the loop around the pond and continued north on the A.T.  Eventually they realized their mistake, but not until they had added significant distance and time onto their hike.  On the way back, they found themselves on the wrong part of the loop, and had to backtrack a short ways again to find the right trail.  They also had a bad moment when they were concerned they weren’t on a trail anymore at all.  To make matters more difficult, the sun set, and they hiked for a good long while in the dark to finally, blessedly, make it back to the trailhead.  I hadn’t been able to reach them by phone because A had used a GPS app on his phone that had drained the battery quickly, and B had left her phone in the car.

We were very glad to see them, listened with interest to their story, and were glad it wasn’t more harrowing (no injuries, bad weather, animal encounters, etc.).  After telling the tale, A rolled his eyes and said, “I feel like such an amateur.

Hearing the adventure, I couldn’t help but think about what I have been writing on this blog.  I have been saying that solo hiking is only more dangerous than hiking in groups because you have only yourself to rely on, since most anything that could happen to a solo hiker could happen to non-solos.  I have been outlining basic rules for safety, must-have equipment, and always always always emphasizing the importance of using your head.

It turns out, I’m right.  (There’s the “I told you so.”)  I’d like to thank A and B for providing this real-life, illustrative example so that I could write about it today.

Here’s what A and B did right:

  • They dressed warmly and in layers (November hiking in VT, remember?)
  • They wore appropriate clothing and footwear
  • They packed a flashlight
  • They consulted a map before they left to get an idea of the direction they should be traveling and how long it should take
  • They asked someone who was generally familiar with hike for some information
  • They told people where they were going, and when they expected to be back
  • They made themselves aware of when the sun would set
  • They kept their heads and acted without panic (or much of it) to get themselves out of trouble

Here’s what they did wrong:

  • They didn’t pack extra food
  • They didn’t have a first aid kit
  • They didn’t pay enough attention to the trail itself to notice that they ended up on the wrong one
  • They didn’t place enough emphasis on how much time they had before it would get dark
  • They left a phone in the car, and let the other one drain of battery
  • They were overconfident about the ease of the hike, which lowered their vigilance

This last one is perhaps the most important of all.  This list is not meant to be overly crtitical.  Had I decided to go with them, might I have shrugged at extra precautions?  Maybe.  Like I said, A is an experienced hiker.  He’s an experienced solo hiker.  He’s an experienced de facto trail leader.  This should have been a simple hike: not too long, not too difficult, pretty clearly marked.  In total, not much went wrong.  No one got hurt.  No one was exposed to the elements.  They didn’t actually get lost in the woods, because they were always on a trail, even if it wasn’t the right trail.  And yet, because of a couple of wrong turns, the hike took much longer than intended and left them in darkness.  As simple (and as quick) as that, the easy hike turned into something difficult and harrowing.

The truth of the matter is that A and B had never been on this hike before.  It was unfamiliar.  Even if it was billed as an easy hike, they should have considered the unknown factor when preparing, and not made any assumptions.

And that’s why preparation, precautions, and using your head, both before and during your hike are the key to staying safe, whether you’re hiking alone or with companions.

Yeah, I’m gonna say it again.

I told you so.

Ed: A tells me that he actually estimated the hike would take them 4 hours, not 2-3.  That brings into relief that, starting the hike after 12:30, with darkness falling around 4:30, on a 4 hour hike, is cutting it too close even if you know the trail. 

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





There’s An App For That

2 11 2009
DSCN0100

My equipment for the Road Trip

How many times have you looked out the window at gloomy skies and decided to take an umbrella, not because you might need it, but because if you don’t bring it you feel you’re tempting the rain?  That’s Murphy’s rule of packing having its wacky effect on your life — and your packing decisions:

If you don’t pack it, you’ll need it; and if you pack it, you won’t need it.

Any time you pack for a trip, you have to balance bringing what you think you might need and bringing the minimum necessary to make the travel easier.  When it comes to packing for a solo camping or hiking, however, this balance is trickier — you want to have the equipment you’ll need to deal with problems that arise, but you don’t want to have to lug around too much.

Which brings us to Rule Number 4:

Pack the right equipment.

The right equipment will be the most efficient equipment for your intended journey.  Just like you wouldn’t pack flip-flops and shorts for a ski trip, you don’t need a camp stove for a short hike.

Keep in mind the purpose of your trip when you’re considering equipment.  When car camping, if I’m going for more than a couple of nights, I might bring a camp stove and cooking equipment.  Most of the time, however, I pack food that can be prepared without the rest of the equipment, to limit what I need to take.

The equipment checklist can help you think through what you might need.  There are some things I never leave behind:

  • Water
  • Food
  • First Aid Kit
  • Cell Phone
  • GPS

On longer hikes, I also always bring an extra layer of clothing.

Just keep asking yourself what your intended trip will be like, and when in doubt, particularly in regards to safety items, food and water, it’s best to err on the side of inclusion.

Within reason, of course.  You probably won’t need that evening gown or…sorry…the Louboutins.

What equipment can’t you live without?





Your Gut’s Telling You to Run, Run. OK?

19 10 2009

potential023

BUFFY: What did your instincts tell you to do just then?

RONA: Block his attack, keep him off balance, gain the advantage…?

BUFFY: No, they didn’t.

RONA: They told me to run.

BUFFY: Vi?

VI: They told me to run. They’re still sort of telling me to run.

BUFFY: Don’t fight on his terms. Your gut’s telling you to run, run. OK?

— Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Potential”

We all have instincts.  Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone you don’t know, and started to feel like backing away?  Something was telling you — signs the stranger is putting off, something he/she said, something you’ve noticed but haven’t consciously considered yet — that this person wasn’t trustworthy, or the situation wasn’t safe.

When discussing hiking solo as a woman — or traveling solo as a woman — there are a lot of “do’s and don’ts” to consider.  While some of these rules are phrased as absolutes, all of them can be broken if the situation warrants.  When to break the rules — or how to make decisions about something that isn’t covered by the rules — is something that you can only do by considering your situation and balancing the risks and the benefits of each choice.

Here’s one example: I have read solo female travel guides that advise women to never reveal that they are traveling solo, to always have some excuse, like they’re catching up to your group, or waiting for a husband/boyfriend.  This isn’t a bad idea, at least as a fallback.  The trouble is, it’s difficult to maintain (what if you’re at a restaurant, eating alone, or you’re walking behind a group on a trail, by yourself, etc.).  Also, it will deprive you of one of the great joys of traveling alone: meeting people.  That’s why it’s not a rule on my list.  However, it falls under the umbrella of Rule Number Three:

For God’s Sake, Use Your Head: Instincts Are Your Best Tool

Like with anything else, there is a balance here.  As a default, not revealing you’re solo status is wise, at least up front.  But sometimes it can’t be helped, and really, all you need to do is pay attention and trust your gut.  Don’t trust everyone blindly, but there’s nothing wrong with making friends while you travel, as long as you’re using your head and taking other precautions.

Here’s an example from my own experience: One day, I drove to Moab, Utah, with the intention of pitching my tent and spending the next day at Arches National Park.  When I arrived, however, I found that the park’s campgrounds were closed for renovation.  The private campgrounds on the side of the main highway made me uncomfortable.  They were exposed (as it was, after all, the desert), and there weren’t any tent-campers, only RVs.  It took me about thirty seconds to decide I didn’t want to risk being the only tent on the side of a major road, and I pulled into the Comfort Inn (or it might have been a Motel 6, I don’t remember).

Would anything have happened?  Probably not.  But there was something about the situation that said “don’t do it.”  And so I didn’t.

Several nights later, I had no trouble having a couple of beers with an older couple from California while watching football at a local bar (Pats v. Colts, season opener) and sharing with them that I was on my own.  I was camping that night, and I was just careful not to say out loud where I was staying — or even that I was camping that night — and since I was staying at a quite crowded campground, I was very comfortable.  My caution was less about the couple I was hanging out with (they were really nice people), but more that I didn’t want someone else to overhear.  In that situation my instincts were giving me the go ahead, with caution, and so I did.

Sharing your solo status, and meeting people, is only one example that falls under this rule.  Some solo female travelers don’t touch a drop of alcohol while traveling alone, afraid it will impair their judgment.  That’s a personal choice you have to make, but I wouldn’t advocate willingly impairing your judgment while traveling even if you were with a group.  Or in your home city, for that matter.  You may be in a more comfortable place, but there are still risks.  It all comes down to using your head — don’t do anything willfully stupid, and trust your gut.

The bottom line is that you have a head.  Use it.  You have instincts.  Listen to them.

Or, as Buffy says:potential051

Your gut’s telling you to run, run. OK?





Anything You Can I Can Do…Maybe

28 09 2009

rosie1

Yes, we can.  (Wait, haven’t I heard that somewhere recently?  Nah…)

I live alone, and one thing I have learned is that while I can do many things (rewire an electrical socket, figure out a plumbing problem, use a drill, kill any manner of bugs without freaking out), there are other things that I just can’t do on my own (hang a fifty-pound chandelier from the ceiling in my dining room — thanks, Gary and Erik).

The simple truth is that, as an average woman, there will be things of the physical sort that are just more difficult for us than they would be for a guy.  Maybe a couple of us could handle it, but the whole point of this blog is to talk about solo camping and hiking.  As I keep saying (so it must be important), the best weapon you have as a solo hiker is to be aware of the risks and be prepared to handle them.  So that brings me to Rule Number Two:

Don’t Confuse Enthusiasm With Ability: Realistically Assess Your Abilities and Plan Accordingly

This rule could also be called “Don’t Overestimate Your Abilities.”  What it means is that I think it’s great if you want to camp out on your own and tackle the outdoors because your boyfriend/husband teased you that you wouldn’t last ten minutes without your manicurist once you chipped a nail.  However, I don’t suggest that you decide to prove him wrong by shouldering a fifty-pound frame pack and hiking twelve miles into the back country that is known for its aggressive population of grizzlies, if you’ve never slept outdoors in your life.

Solo camping and hiking is not the time to attempt some grand feat that you’ve never before come close to even considering, when that could land you in some serious trouble.  If you go with the boyfriend/husband (or a girlfriend, or your mom, or whatever), then at least there’s someone around to help when you realize that you need to dump half your pack or else collapse from fatigue.  There’s someone to encourage you when your muscles start screaming.  There’s someone to go for help when you step wrong and twist your ankle.

Rule Number Two doesn’t mean you can’t challenge yourself.  It simply requires that you realistically assess your abilities and limitations, and plan accordingly.

The key here is being realistic.  Are there some women who can rebuild a transmission?  Sure.  I’m not one of them.  Could I learn?  Probably, but right now I can’t do it.  When I was on my road trip, I knew that if something happened to my car, I’d have to get help.  When my tire blew out while I was flying down Rte. 40 in New Mexico, I called AAA to come and help.  Good thing, because the guy was also able to direct me to the nearest town that had both a hotel and a tire place that would be open in the morning.

Just be realistic.  Don’t be afraid to push yourself, and try new things, but have an escape plan ready in case you need it.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Risky Business: Not Necessarily

10 09 2009

risky_businessLast time, we talked generally about risks inherent in solo camping and hiking, primarily that any risks you face while camping and hiking are heightened because you may have no one around the help you if you find yourself in a difficult situation. 

Life is full of risks, however.  Driving a car is risky, and yet many of us do it every day.  We minimize our risks by being cautious, requiring drivers to be licensed, discouraging risky behavior with civil and criminal penalties, and making cars as safe as possible through the use of seatbelts and air bags.  We also avoid increasing risks through our own behavior, by not driving while intoxicated or on medication or while sleep-deprived (at least, I hope we avoid this…you do, don’t you?  Yeah, I’m looking at you, with the margarita glass in your hand and salt on your lips…).  We are taught to be extra cautious in these situations: if you have any question about your ability to drive safely, don’t try.

That brings me to my first rule for safe solo camping and hiking:

Knowledge is Power: Learn the Risks and Take Precautions

We’ll talk a lot about the risks.  We’ll talk a lot about precautions and preparations and how these preparations, just like obeying traffic rules and wearing seatbelts and not driving drunk, can make solo camping and hiking safer. 

So what are some of the risks?  This list is not exclusive, of course.  I haven’t listed, for example, “Getting a concussion when a stray parachuter lands on top of you” or “Making a fool out of yourself when you run into Billy-Bob Thornton” (hey it could happen…in fact, it might have happened to me).

  • Getting Lost
  • Injury (twisted ankle, gashes/scrapes, broken limbs)
  • Wild Animal Encounter (snake bite, bear/mountain lion sighting)
  • Sudden Change in Weather (drop in temperature, rain/snow)
  • Heat Exhaustion/Dehydration/Over-Exertion
  • Meeting Unsavory Characters/Being a Target

For every risk, there are preparations and precautions, such as:

  • Maps/GPS/Distress Signal Devices
  • Cell Phones
  • Telling someone where you’ll be
  • First Aid Kits
  • Knowing how to handle an animal encounter/Being aware of surroundings
  • Having the right clothing/equipment
  • Knowing the weather forecast and packing accordingly
  • Visiting the ranger station for trail/campsite updates and cautions
  • Having enough food/water and knowing your own limitations
  • Being cautious around strangers and choosing the best trails/campsites to minimize the risks of solo female travel

This may seem like a lot, but most of it is really common sense, and the volume of risks to be aware of/prepare for shouldn’t discourage you from getting out there and enjoying nature.  Stay tuned for the first post about The Good Stuff, the encouraging counterpoint to the Rules.  Up first is “Oh, the Places You’ll Go: the Passion is in the Possibilities” so stick around.

In the meantime, what are some risks that you have encountered or that you worry about when you camp and hike solo?  How do you prepare for these things?

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Isn’t It Dangerous?

9 09 2009

warning-sign

So let’s get this out of the way. The number one question anyone has about camping and hiking as a solo female is:

“Isn’t it dangerous?”

The simple answer is yes. Solo camping and hiking is always dangerous, whether you’re a man or a woman. Some people think it’s crazy to hike alone and should never be done. Solo travel of any kind has its risks — solo travelers, women in particular, are targets for thieves, con artists, and other unsavory characters — but when hiking the uncertainties of nature must be factored into the equation.

What can happen while solo camping and hiking? Anything that can happen while camping and hiking with others — except that there’s no one around to help. If you fall and hurt yourself, you could be stuck until someone comes along and finds you. If you get bitten by a snake, or encounter a wild animal, you’re on your own. And, of course, there are always stories like this to strike fear in the hearts of anyone — male or female — wanting to hike alone.

If it’s so dangerous, then, why take that risk? Why do it at all?

That’s a question you have to answer for yourself. For me, being on my own while hiking is serene, giving me time — time I don’t often make for myself — to think. Being on my own while camping makes me feel capable and accomplished. See? I can pitch a tent. I can cook a meal outside. I can fend for myself and take care of myself. It’s invigorating.

Despite the risks, solo camping and hiking can be done safely, if you know the risks and take preparations and precautions. That brings us to Rule Number One…

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.