Most Important Piece of Gear? Your Body.

Over the years, I’ve literally spent thousands of dollars on gear and it makes me want to yarf a little. Tents of all shapes, jackets of all colors, boots of varying stiffnesses, a stove that weighs a mere 3 oz, cameras that eventually die or become obsolete, quick-dry this, breathable that, and packable the other.


Uff da!

Now, much of my gear is of decent enough quality to last a dozen years more, which is good because I’m kind of done buying stuff. (Unless its wool…more on that later). Last year, after my trekking poles gave up the ghost, I hiked pretty much the entire year without external support, which is something I thought I could never do again given a previous 22 years of trick-knee (that’s the technical term, of course). This is because I improved my internal support.

I mean what good is all that comfort and protection if you get that burning, throbbing, locking, stabbing, or just plain aching pain while miles from nowhere? What’s the point of all that wilderness exploration if you’ve got to then spend the next 4 days recovering and popping NSAIDs?

So, how do we get and stay durable?

For starters, let’s examine this from a bio-mechanical standpoint. In backpacking, there are tremendous loads placed on the body in specific places. 10-40+ pounds on the shoulders, back (as in not the front), and hips. Various angles of impact from the ground up. I argue, that these loads (or any loads for that matter) are not inherently bad, but can cause trouble if they are not balanced out by opposing loads.


Ahh, settling vertebrae. Not all movement has to include a lot of motion.

The standard fitness model is about calories, heart rate, VO2 max and stuff like AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible). Let’s just examine everyone’s favorite exercise, the push-up. The push-up is great for strengthening/toning the front line, or, the mirror muscles, if you will. But, at what expense? Well, the back line of course! So, enter its opposite, the pull-up. Actually it would be more like reverse table, but you get the point.f6fc142e4387389644f78991cb81d830

So, when backpacking/hiking, what is missing? There’s little spinal extension or twisting. There’s not a whole lot of ground-level activity going on unless you find yourself scrambling. You are not bending your hips or knees all the way. Your arms are almost never overhead.


Variety is spicy.

Wolff’s Law states, in essence, that the body’s tissues will respond to forces placed upon it by reinforcing where the load was placed. So, if I always carry a bag (think 5 pound purse), for example over my right shoulder, that side of the shoulder and neck will become overdeveloped and lead to compensations elsewhere. Try this: interlace your fingers. Then, do it the other way. You know, the way you’ve never done it before.

Your “repetitive stress” injury is not an injury at all. It is a completely natural response to a repetitive demand. So, what shape you are in, is quite literally how you shape yourself – every moment of the day.






The Methow ~ The Meadow

Last week, Gwen and I pulled our 1983 Colemen tent-trailer up and over the passes to the greater region, known as The Methow. This area receives enough rain to naturally support some trees (mostly pine and fir) but not nearly enough to promote dense forest like here on the westside. So, you find rolling hills with treed drainages and woodsy clumps surrounded by meadow. Lots and lots of meadow!wp-1466397326874.jpg

It is beyond lovely and no wonder why it has attracted artists, ranchers, the independently wealthy, and gritty salt-of-the-earth types. Tourism is alive and well as Seattle-ites can easily travel there in a half-day’s drive. Winthrop alone sustains two or three densely stocked outfitter shops for hikers, climbers, and hunters-fishers to stock up on gear. wp-1466396109517.jpg

For us, who are used to carrying provisions to high elevation camps, the tent-trailer is glamping for sure. Included in the luxurious package are queen-sized down comforter, cast-iron skillet, and a hatchet for kindling. wp-1466396109410.jpg

From this basecamp, we drove wildflower-flanked forest roads to two trailheads on two different days. The first trail ascended (but not strenuously so) to Crater Lakes, with the creek in earshot the majority of the time. The alpine here was just beginning to melt out, but the snow was not too soft, not to hard…just right.

The following day we ventured along a ridge with spectacularly expansive views of the lower-lands. This flower-strewn ridge topped stone formations that belong in Utah or Arizona. Sheer cliffs of weathered rock just like Arches or Red Rocks or Zion here in volcanic country. wp-1466396109070.jpgwp-1466396109234.jpgwp-1466396108570.jpgTruly a gem of a place!




From 365 Tao: Daily Meditations: 

#72 Discovery

Seize the mountain spirits,

Make them divulge their secrets.

Only with strength is there discovery.

The scriptures say the mountains contain the answers. Generations of seekers have gone into the wilderness and have encountered spirits both benevolent and terrible. Though the possibility of great discovery is mixed with the threat of misadventure, we must all go into the mountains to seek these answers. Last Import - 144

We should understand that these mountains represent the unknown aspects of our own minds. Meditation is a process of discovery, of slowly exploring how you function as a human being. Through walking in the vastness of this land, you can resolve the problems of your psyche and seek the treasures buried in your soul. Like actual mountain exploration, this process is not without danger. Failure means falling into insanity and obsession. Success is to find treasures without comparison anywhere in the world.Early morning sun on Mt. Maude showed promise of clearing skies.

People ask, “Is meditation necessary?” If you want to explore the innermost parts of your mind and ascertain who you really are, there is no more ideal method. Mere introspection is not deep enough, and psychological counseling will not necessarily bring you face to face with all parts of yourself. Only the depth and solitude of meditation can help you learn everything. Discoveries are there. We need only enter the mind to find them.cropped-p1030814.jpg-Deng Ming-Dao

Where the Lakes Have No Name

As with any art, once you learn fundamentals then you can fully improvise.

Wilderness travel has been my obsession and practice for nearly 20 years. There’s really nothing that has offered the freedom, reward, and awe as exploring the steep and wild gardens of the alpine. So saturated have I been, at times, that I’ve completed long loops while in REM state; holding unreal maps and reaching places that have left me aching to find upon waking.

One such place that has recurred, I will clumsily describe as a dark blue body of almost oily water surrounded by sheer granite walls. As stark as stark can be. No vegetation, just pre-mordial liquid and stone.

I know of a few alpine lakes that would fit this bill, but they are above 7,000 feet in elevation where trees just don’t grow. But, none have quite matched the feeling.

Last summer, while pouring over maps, I stumbled upon three intriguingly nameless blue ovals all neatly aligned. Wha??? NO NAMES? Isn’t everywhere nowadays labeled, categorized, and charted to the minute and degree? No name, no trail, no trip reports found even on the most intrepid of sites. Hmm…could be just what the doctor ordered!unnamed lakes pic

After printing a more detailed map where cliffs actually show up due to sharp top0 lines, it looked pretty plausible to make it there without event. (Uneventful hikes don’t end up in expensive helicopter rides).

So, with a favorable forecast and a couple of four legged companions, off I went.

There’s a trail to settle into for a while, but soon enough, the route I was to find with each step took off in another direction. Up, through, over and between; reading and responding to the landscape. At times wondering about what was over that next rise, fearing whether this was such a good idea after all…then, I’d come across a “spot” and know there’s nowhere else on the planet I’d rather be. For example –>il36

I ended up on a ridge and was able to spy the lakes for the first time. Glittering jewelry and hydrating sustainance all at once. Only trouble was how to get down to these charms. Following water is SOMETIMES a good idea as it seeks the lowest route. Of course, there are these things called waterfalls. As these places are where stuff naturally likes to fall, I find it best to avoid them. unnamed2

The best routes are forged by game. Deer, sheep, goats, cats, bear, etc. Deer and goat tend to leave the deepest gouges in the surface and so are easiest to track. Animal intelligence/instinct tends to follow the path of least resistance. Saw these on the hike:Unnamed Lakes 7:3-7:4:15 - 10

Finally, after not so much a fall as a controlled-slide-with-sudden-handplant, I made it to the first, largest lake. It was blue of course, but an unusually dark shade of blue. And totally surrounded by light to dark gray rock. No trees. No vegetation whatsoever. And it only sits at 4,000 something something feet. Here’s the kicker, in my mind: there was one sheer wall at the edge of the water toward the outlet. Do, do, do, do, Do, do, do, do.Unnamed Lakes32


Kinda spooky.

The next lower lakes began to show signs of life at the shores as they likely melt out sooner. Still, zero trees throughout this chain of lakes. unnamed1Unnamed Lakes 7:3-7:4:15 - 44

I was not able to completely relax, however, as the loop-hike meant still more explorations in order to connect once again back to the trail. One steep and grassy sidehill proved to be the toughest stretch. Here (on a later trip) Gwen makes it look easy.Unnamed Lakes 7:3-7:4:15 - 61And the warm weather meant snow patches and swims were welcome reliefs for myself and the pups.Unnamed Lakes03All in all, a successful creation. Or, RE-creation. And possibly, a dream-come-true! I hope these beauties remain unnamed for the rest of time.

Lake Byrne via Lost Creek Ridge; a 4-Nighter and Midlife Welcoming.


This gallery contains 5 photos.

Is 40-trips-around-the-sun the half-way point? The statistics would say so. Forty seems like prime time for reflection, assessment, and projection. A trail-cairn of sorts marking an unclear route where past, present, and future can be measured.So how does midlife feel? Personally, … Continue reading

Not All Jewels Found in Necklace Valley

“Alpine” is typically used synonymously with at and above treeline. Or, where the trees begin to thin out due to the shortened growing season. “Subalpine” refers to that ecosystem just below where trees still rule.P1090466The Necklace Valley holds several lakes, many of which are subalpine. The lower elevation melts out earlier, a perfect option for early season wilderness overnighting. P1090400The trail begins with 5 miles of gentle up and down (only 600 feet gain) through old growth forest with a deliciously biodiverse understory. Then, the climb begins in earnest with as rooty and rocky a tread as you will find anywhere. Here is yet another root staircase.P1090467

The up seemed interminable with our 34 pounds of food and gear each. (Ursula the young dog nimbly and graciously carried 4 pounds of kibble including Dusky the old dog’s share).  But, finally we made it to the first gem appropriately called Jade Lake. P1090414

The clouds were low for the majority of the three days. So low and thick in fact, Gwen coined the phrase: to be clouded upon. Not unlike the rolling fog that saturates the Redwoods of Northern California, it dampened our tent and outer layer from time to time, but also kept hungry bugs at bay.P1090442This low visibility made route finding very tricky by hiding ridges and summits. Made worse by a lack of signage and our two unmatching maps. It was like one of them was painted in an impressionist manner; someone’s interpretation of how this area felt. P1090455

Detoured by an authoritative trail voice and disoriented, we headed up valley and finally figured out we were not where we had planned to be. Fortuitous then, that we ended up with the perfect campsite and a brief parting of the ceiling.

nv5Two nights out and long hours of daylight meant we could travel one leg of the spider like valley in the morning, and another in the afternoon. P1090450

Still socked in, we opted for the more forested route toward Al (really?), Locket, and Jewel (that’s more like it!). Half way around Locket the trail petered out at some unclimbable walls and wet, clouded on brush kept us from going any further. P1090457Returning to camp for hot food and rest, the opening skies energized us to explore up valley. The way began with much boulder hopping across fields of granite; extremely fun with “approach shoes” that must have the stickiest rubber known to mankind. If you look close, you will see my liberating hot-tea-only packing method. nv3Up and up we went until views were not going to improve anytime soon. Atop the waterfall below, is more of the Necklace that will have to be explored at a later date.

nv2And on the way back to camp, we used the expediency of an actual trail.


Many, many, stream crossings in this valley.P1090475Wouldn’t go here without a map…or three!


This area is bound to shine when the sun is out, but has the potential for crowds later in the year. Now, that’s my idea of jewelry!!!

Grocery-getter Goes to Galbraith Mountain

A mountain biking mecca, Galbraith Mtn has dozens of trails with new ones being built on the heels of loggers every month or so. There are all levels. I typically stick to the cross country style single track with dogs in hot pursuit.

With my old hard-tail in the shop and a clearing in the skies, I thought I would inaugurate my stout steel road/touring/kind-of-cyclocross/station wagon of a bike. wpid-wp-1430412962154.jpegStarted out on the gravel roads and it climbed beautifully with inverted tread 35 tires.wpid-wp-1430412960076.jpegThen I just couldn’t resist…wpid-wp-1430412953776.jpegwpid-wp-1430412951878.jpegEven on a wet day, the bike did surprisingly well. Slowly, but I never had to carry. Maybe that rack on the back gave some extra traction. Here’s the mud shot:wpid-wp-1430412944339.jpegPretty fun!!!

Baker River: Variation on an Old Theme

This had happened recently:

P1090120An old-growth Doug Fir just obliterated the previous log bridge with cable railing. As if to say, “You call THAT a bridge?! Try this!!!

So, we took the opportunity to deviate from the meandering trail and head down to the crystal clear and icy braided Baker River. Here’s Gwen doing the airplane to keep balance atop shifty cobble: P1090123There were many stream crossings:P1090184Leaving the trail afforded us this choice picnic spot:P1090143And world class views:P1090134

With literal cold feet we chose to head back a different, no-so-watery-way. Log bridges to the rescue! P1090194“Josh, are you sure?”P1090199This trail and non-trail remains one of my all time favorite places.P1090220

Anderson Lakes Snow-venture

The day began with a hazy pall. The type not promising the views one might hope for when giving such an output. No matter, when the clouds gather, it begs micro rather than macro.

The dogs were not bummed as infinite wild smells awaited exploration. Then when bored just exhibited a little sibling sparring.

After enjoying an extremely refreshing dip, pockets of blue drew me onward and upward. Termed “sucker holes” in climber-jargon, they elicit hope and frequently disappoint by narrowing their aperture.

This time the gamble paid off…and conditions were perfect for glissading on the descent: dry powder atop a consolidated, anchored and surprisingly smooth base.

And by all means, get up and shake it to Adham Shaikh’s super sonic fusion!