Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Do we "need" the wilderness?

Wilderness-loving guys like me tend towards hippiness (not like me.)  Loving to quote John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, they often talk about the spiritual "need" in mankind to have wilderness.  In this, they (as well as those they are quoting) are usually, actually, projecting their own tastes on to others.  I love the wilderness.  I love nothing so much as a hike in the mountains in the summer (but with a mantle of snow still on the higher elevations to give the mountains a suitably dramatic color-scheme!)  Backpacking in somewhere that you can't get to in a single day will tend to thin out the crowds considerably (something you'll probably greatly appreciate if your last wilderness experience was in Yosemite Valley, or the Great Smokies, or at geyser central in Yellowstone, or the south Rim of the Grand Canyon in the summer... or anywhere else where there are hordes of people making lots of noise and getting in the way.  I like this a lot too--some of my favorite experiences ever were deep in the desert wilderness of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the High Uintas Wilderness and the Weminuche Wilderness.  One of the things that I liked most about them was the very fact that they were remote and people weren't always about (although that's a little less true in the Chicago Basin today--the Weminuche has become a bit of a backpacker central, or so I hear.)

But I don't need it.  I just really like it.

To be perfectly honest, for the most part of human history, the wilderness was not to be embraced or explored, it was simply avoided.  Mountains were difficult barriers.  Deserts were inhospitable and unwelcoming.  Forests were dangerous and useless except as a source of timber.  People tamed the wilderness, they didn't coexist with it.  It wasn't until society became wealthy enough, and possessed of enough luxury, that people could afford to choose to recreate in the wilderness, or that anyone would have thought to do so.  Starting in about the mid-1800s, the first pioneers of wilderness recreation, or of living simply in a wilderness setting because you choose to, even if you had other options, first popped up.  Guys like Thoreau, or Muir, or Roosevelt were unusual. 

The Wilderness Act of 1964 systematized the notion of wilderness in the US, but it wasn't until the 70s that backpacking and hiking as a significant hobby became more widely popular.

So this notion that we have to get back into the wilderness, to reconnect with something or other, is a bunch of baloney.  We have to do absolutely nothing of the kind.  My wife has no interest in doing so.  She likes (or maybe better said, she tolerates) day-hiking, at least somewhat.  She'll occasionally tolerate car-camping.  But the notion of backpacking out in the wilderness and sleeping in a little backpacking tent sounds like a nightmare to her.  It's not something at all that the needs.

Some of us really enjoy it.  That's all there is to it.  It's nice to be able to do things that you enjoy.  But recasting the experience as some kind of spiritual journey or higher calling only makes you look like a moron.

Anyway, for the curious, supposedly the most remote area in the Lower 48 (defined somewhat arbitrarily as the place farthest from any road.  Given the extreme primitiveness and low traffic of many roads, this may not be a meaningful distinction, but there it is anyway) is in the greater Yellowstone area; the northwest corner of Wyoming.  Curiously, I don't know how it can be that remote if it's supposedly quite near to the USFS Hawk's Rest ranger station.  If there's a ranger station nearby, it's arguably not that remote.

Here's some pictures of the area, although not specifically in the Teton wilderness, where this supposed "most remote spot" is--these are from neighboring Washakie Wilderness.  That's really the thrill of the greater Yellowstone area, which is somewhere around 20 million acres of land.  There are two national parks and over half a dozen wilderness areas--as well as de facto wilderness making up much of the intervening land between, that straddles the line between Wyoming and Montana on the western side, centered around Yellowstone National Park itself.  What a spectacular bit of conservationism.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ptarmigan Wall goat "trail"


I love how this starts with the disclaimer that this isn't a climbing route, it's just a hiking trail!  Heh. 

I seriously doubt I would ever "hike" this "trail"  unless I get bit by a radioactive spider first and develop Peter Parker-like superpowers, but I have to admit that the very concept of this "trail" really fires my imagination something fierce.

Check out this neato youtube video of someone hiking a portion of it.  And read the article linked above, including looking at the pictures, which are enough to give me vertigo even sitting here in my office chair.  For best results, pick the HD option and watch full-screen.

Pack size

The smaller Terra 35
While I have a fair bit of gear for hiking/camping, before I embark on a major backcountry trip of any kind that involves spending the night anywhere, I'd have to pick up a fair number of new things.  One of the things I need is a new backpacking pack.

The North Face Terra line immediately rose to among the top of my picks, as being a sturdy, convenient, well-rated and regarded (and reviewed) pack at a reasonable price.  I homed in on the Terra 65 at first--the number being a reference to the capacity (in liters) of the large size of the pack (although it is adjustible, there is more than one size to accomodate variable torso lengths.  I need to officially measure mine, but I'm figuring that I'm around 20".) 

But lately, I've been tinkering with my gear list.  I eliminated a few things that were extra (do I really need a change of clothes?  So what if they get dirty?  I have to carry those things!) and a few other small adjustments.  I read some articles on lightening your load.  As an exercise, rather than because I was serious about making this switch, I made an ultralight gear list.  As I expected, it was considerably more expensive than my regular gear-list--although curiously, other than the sleeping bag and an ultralight tent that uses ultralight trekking poles for set-up, it wasn't as much more expensive as I thought it would be.  To completely convert my existing gear to ultralight alternatives would be about $1,000 more than topping off my gear list is going to cost anyway.  Again; surprisingly less expensive than I thought.

The larger Terra 55
One side effect of this exercise was that it becamse obvious that I was overdoing it with my pack.  I had no need of a 65 liter pack.  In fact, one gear list article that I was quite impressed by, had the guy using a 29 liter pack from REI.  Is it possible that not only had I overdone it, but I had overdone it by a factor of 2?

The Terra series of backpacks actually has a number of entries, the Terra 35, the Terra 45, the Terra 55 and the Terra 65.  The 55 is only available at Dick's (as near as I can tell) but that's not a problem for me since that's actually my closest sporting goods store by far.  Plus, I can order online anyway.  And I'm almost thinking that the 45 liter may be where I'd like to settle.  I'll never be quite as small as the guy who stashed his gear in a 29 liter pack, because he cut a few things that I'm not willing to.  I could maybe even do the 35, although I think the 45 is a better option, just because it allows me to stash more food and water if necessary for longer or drier hikes without otherwise substantially changing my gear list.

Of course, that also opens up the door to other packs by other brands in the same size class--an opportunity to hunt for how I can cut a pound or two in pack weight without spending substantially more money than I have to spend anyway.  If I were to buy right now, The North Face options are almost certainly the winners, because they seem to have just gone on sale (hopefully not because the line is about to be phased out) based on cost, there is the Gregory Z40 to consider, and the Kelty Redwing 44, and the REI Lookout 40 (the lightest of the bunch, curiously.)

Because, frankly, with The North Face options, they aren't the lightest ones out there.  And the weight difference between the 35 and the 65 is only about a pound and a half.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Big wilderness complexes

Although I consider myself both fiscally, politically and socially pretty darn conservative, the fact of the matter is that none of the political parties in the United States really captures the complexity of any one person's actual beliefs.  By and large, I'm mostly "conservative libertarian" which isn't really represented by either the Republicans or the Democrats (although at least the Republicans occasionally remember that that's where they should be standing--when they haven't been hijacked by big-state Neoconservatives who are functionally little different than Democrats.)  However, one area in which I break significantly from the conservative libertarian point of view is in the area of conservation (I greatly dislike environmentalism as it's become, but a more sensible approach, which I call conservationalism, I can deal with.)  The laissez-faire libertarian will tend to dislike the fact that resources are tied up by the federal government in the form of national parks, national forests, and especially wilderness designations--a reference to the Wilderness Act of 1964 in the US--which preserves some land as "super protected"--free from roads, access to motorized or mechanized vehicles; really all you can do in a federally designated wilderness is ride a horse or hike.  Today, about 5% of the total area of the United States has been designated wilderness (a designation that often overlaps large portions of national parks--but not necessarily).  And some areas are not officially designated wilderness--which requires an act of Congress--but are protected as "roadless areas" or "wilderness study" areas, which means that they are treated as if they were wilderness areas--mostly--although the status could be later removed or changed, since it's not officially designated.  This increases the "effective" wilderness of the US by about 60-65% or so--so somewhere between 7-8% of the total area of the US is "effective wilderness".  Needless to say, much of this is in Alaska.

However, there are about half a dozen "big" complexes of wilderness in the lower 48--places where wilderness areas--either within or without national parks--are stacked on top of each other, creating an environment where relatively vast areas are designated and federally protected as true wilderness, pierced by very little on the way of human development.  In making this claim, I'm adopting a somewhat less strict application of wilderness--for example, I'd note that Yosemite National Park is 95% wilderness area, encompassing the Yosemite Wilderness.  The fact that you can drive into Yosemite valley itself and hang out with the circus of tourists is--occasionally--unfortunate, but it doesn't really significantly detract from the fact that Yosemite National Park is by and large a wilderness experience.  Bounded as it is by further designated wilderness areas, I'd say that the High Sierras Wilderness Complex (my own terminology, not one that's official) which has back to back federally protected Wilderness areas with very little interruption all the way from the Kiavah Wilderness, down near Weldon, CA all the way nearly to Lake Tahoe is truly one of the great wilderness areas on the lower 48, although it's heavily used by hikers and tourists, and most of the big carnivores of a bygone era (i.e. wolves and grizzlies) have long been extinct from the area.  Another similar area exists up in Washington--the North Cascades National Park Complex (which includes the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas) are separated from other protected wildernesses in the Snoqualmie National Forest and elsewhere in the North Cascades Range by the occasional highway that leads to the Seattle area from the interior, but a handful of road crossings don't significantly diminish the fact that there's a very large area of beautiful mountain terrain that is protected as wilderness.  The Pacific Northwest being one of the main hubs of the concept of wilderness chic and the hiking as a lifestyle movement, some of this area is also over-used by tourists (the Enchantments area in Alpine Lakes Wilderness, for instance, has a fierce lottery action ongoing during the summer season for camping permits).  This area also lacks large predators (except the black bear)

I think the Colorado areas struggle to really quality, since they are more developed, and true wilderness areas are often smaller, and split apart by roads, towns, and other developed features that make the wilderness areas more like a patchwork than a true complex.  But in the more northerly Rockies, we have the massive Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem region, pierced by a handful of roads into Yellowstone and Grant Teton National parks, but otherwise including some of the most remote wilderness in the entire lower 48, the gigantic Bob Marshall and Glacier complex, and the vast and extremely remote Salmon River Mountains complex in central Idaho.

Big wilderness designations also cover parts of southern Utah's Colorado Plateau and the Death Valley region.  And, of course, smaller pockets of wilderness dot much of the lower 48's western states.  Northern California has some spectacular areas in the shadow of Mount Shasta like the Russian Wilderness and the Trinity Alps Wilderness.  Oregon and Washington and Colorado all have tons of spectacular wilderness, including one of my favorites that I've actually been to, the Weminuche Wilderness in southern Colorado, which--although maybe it doesn't qualify as a mega-complex like the High Sierras or the Yellowstone region, but it's still pretty big.

The Wyoming and Montana wildernesses, as well as somewhat the Idaho Wildernesses, are famous for the success of the grizzly and gray wolf in the area, as well as all kinds of other big, charismatic wildlife--bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bison, pronghorn, elk, moose, coyote, and more.  These really make these bastions of an America that was, but remains only in small islands in the lower 48 (and still remains somewhat true in vast stretches of the northern Canadian and Alaskan areas, however.)  Remote, hard to reach, often lacking in tourists (except for small pinprick areas that get loads) ranging with large and potentially dangerous wildlife; these vast wilderness complexes are something that I, at least, value greatly and desperately wish to further explore.  If I could do it all over again, would I have gone into some career where I could range through these wildernesses myself?  I don't really see myself as a ranger, but maybe some kind of academic who studied wildlife therein? 

I dunno.  Maybe.  As it is, my goal is to start exploring some of these areas that I've only lightly touched on.  I've spent a very brief amount of time in the Sierras, and I spent an equally brief amount of time in Glacier NP.  This coming summer, a whirlwind tour of the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will whet my appetite for more.  But it's really probably the next summer after that that I'll start doing what I really want to do--weeklong hikes into the backcountry of some of the greatest, most beautiful , and most remote areas of the lower 48 United States.  Maybe even, someday, I'll hike the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trails--and soak myself in the wilderness for months.

Here's just a few images that I grabbed from summitpost.org; one of my favorite sites about hiking and mountains, of some of the wilderness areas described in this post.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Revised big summer trip plan

I think I mentioned a few posts ago, that I'm working up an itinerary for a pretty spectacular and ambitious summer trip plan to take with the family, starting in late June (most likely) and straddling the 4th of July holiday.  This is not really a hiking trip, and it's certainly not a backpacking trip, but it is a trip that will allow me to really indulge my love for the scenic West (especially the Rockies) and hopefully engage the kids a little bit in that love so that they can see a bit of it too.  I always loved the mountains and the deserts, and I credit a lot of that love with the persistent trips we took, about every other summer, from my home in inland Gulf Coast Texas up to Utah to visit extended family.  We always took it as a road trip, and while the easiest way to get there was to head out to west Texas, stay the night in Santa Rosa or Albuqurque, NM, and then head up past Shiprock, CO to Utah (much of the latter part of which would have been done in the dark), my parents wisely decided that making the drive efficient every time was boring, while taking a little bit more time but seeing more would be a lot more fun for them and for us.  Therefore, on the way there, we often went through Colorado, and I got to see places like Black Canyon of the Gunnison (which wasn't, back then, a national park yet), Royal Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Garden of the Gods, and more.

As a teenager, I got to do a number of hikes (back then, there wasn't a geographical constraint on high adventure activities--we drove from Texas to either Colorado or Utah for high adventure) which ended up being backpacking trips in the mountains and desert.  The Uintas, the San Juans, and Coyote Gulch in the Escalante Canyons region of what's now the line between Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  This cemented what was already there--the fact that I love the outdoors, particularly if it's in areas with dramatic and beautiful natural scenery.  The final transformation into a hiker was nearly complete--but it had to wait while I did other things (go on a mission, go to college, get married, start having kids, start a career, remember how much I missed hiking and backpacking, start trying to figure out how to re-equip myself and plan some trips, all around an increasingly constrained schedule and budget, etc.)

So, I hope that this trip will sow some of those same seeds that were sown in me as a kid.  And if they don't, really, well--at least I'll still enjoy it, and everyone can say that they saw some iconic parts of the country. 

Here's the tentative itinerary, as it stands right now.  Each item on the list stands in for a day of the trip.
  1. Leave work early, drive to Wisconsin Dells.
  2. Noah's Ark waterpark.
  3. Drive from Wisconsin Dells to Mt. Rushmore (probably arrive too late to see it--it's a 10½ hour drive.)
  4. See Mt. Rushmore (quick and dirty; not much hiking.)  Go a little bit out of our way while heading further west to see Devil's Tower National Monument.  Maybe just do a drive-by?  Maybe go see it.  Depends on the time.  Again; go a bit out of our way to drive the Beartooth Highway on the way into the Yellowstone area.
  5. See Yellowstone Falls and some other TBD Yellowstone things to see.
  6. See Old Faithful and some other geysers, the Grand Prismatic spring, and other TBD locations in Yellowstone NatPark.
  7. Drive to Grand Teton National Park (2 hrs.)  Take the shuttle boat across Jenny Lake.  See Cascade Canyon, Inspiration Point, and a few other locations.  I know, I know, it seems like a real shame to breeze through here.  But doing a full Teton Crest Trail backcountry hike for 4-5 days or so is on my list to do in the next few years anyway, so I can get away with it now.  Take the shuttle back and go see the famous barns and stuff on Mormon Row.
  8. Take a good 4½ hours or so to drive to Salt Lake City.  See Temple square, the Joseph Smith building, and other stuff in downtown SLC.  Hit up Mr. Mac's to outfit Spencer for his mission (he should have his call in hand long before this trip starts.)
  9. Drive to Provo.  Hike up to Timp Cave National Monument.  Go see Bridal Veil Falls.  Wander around BYU campus and the bookstore.  Maybe hike up to the Y.
  10. Go to church with Julie's grandfather and visit with him.  Maybe see some other Provo things that have sentimental value.  Go do the Mirror Lake scenic drive in the afternoon, if time.
  11. Drive 3 hours to Goblin Valley State Park.  Hike the hoodoos a bit, then go to the Wild Horse and Bell Canyon loops--a nice hike through a great slot canyon.  The kids'll eat up the concept of a slot canyon.  After this, drive to Moab (1½-2 hours.)
  12. See some areas near Moab--hike to Fisher Towers, drive to Dead Horse Point, maybe do either (or both, if time) Horseshoe Canyon or the La Sal scenic loop drive.
  13. Arches National Park.  One of the few that you can pretty comprehensively see in a single day if you get going right away.
  14. Drive 2 hours to Cortez, Colorado.  See Mesa Verde National Park.  Pick two iconic hikes to two cliff dwelling locations--Cliff Palace and Square Tower House, probably, and then see if there's still time for any more or not.
  15. Drive 3 hours to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  Spend a few hours there.  Start driving home (22 hours worth, so day fifteen--however much we can get done, and finish the rest on...
  16. Finish getting home.  It'll probably be really late after a super long driving day, so we may crash completely without even unpacking the car.
Well, with all that, what would I include a picture of?  I decided on a view of the La Sal mountains from Arches National Park.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hiking destinations

Julie (my wife) seems surprised that I'm actually quite interested in "rehiking" or exploring areas that I've already been.  With all of the great destinations still to see--and frankly, at my age--shouldn't I be prioritizing places that I haven't been, she thinks?  Why do you want to go back to the Uintas, for instance (a place I hiked as a teenger--nearly twenty-five years ago, shortly after it got its official wilderness designation) or the San Juans (another place I hiked as a teenager--summited Sunlight Peak, far in the backcountry).  Why do I want to hike Coyote Gulch again (my third big teenaged destination.)  Why go back to Glacier when I was there a few years ago, or Big Bend?  Or even the Grand Canyon?  You've seen that before (even if you didn't really hike it per se.)

Usually when she asks me this, I ask her how many times has she been to DisneyWorld again?  And are you interested in going back to Hawai'i?

The reality is that I'll never see everything I want to.  If I could somehow spend the entire mountain hiking season--July, August and September in most years, on the trails, I might possibly see most of the places I want to see in the US mountain ranges in the next thirty years or so--by which point I'll have cracked into my 70s and should seriously consider whether I'm still up to backcountry hiking.  I could book-end that with two months on either end seeing desert and other lower-eleveation destinations (like the Black Hills, for instance).  And then in the dead of winter for North America, I could take three more months to explore the Patagonian Andes or New Zealand's Southern Alps.  And spending ¾ of the year hiking for thirty years straight might get me to see almost everything that I really want to.  Maybe.  But clearly it's impractible for every other reason.

But when I went on my earlier trips, why wouldn't they have whet my appetite to see more?  When I was in Coyote Gulch, the Uintas and even the Needles in the San Juans, I was too young and dumb to appreciate what I was doing, really, or even pay very close attention to it (I actually had to write my old youth leaders to figure out where we had even gone.)  And I didn't see everything.  How can I say I've "done" the Uintas when I haven't even been to King's Peak or Mount Agassiz, for example?  How can I say that I've "done" Glacier when I couldn't even get to the Logan's Peak area because we went in late June and it had been a high snowfall year--the road was closed!  That's the most iconic part of the entire experience, and I couldn't do it!  How can I say that I've done the Grand Canyon when we spent an afternoon on the main road in June looking over the overlooks of the South Rim, and I never even hiked a single foot of a single trail?  The same can be said for every national park or other major scenic destination I've been to--what I did do there merely made me want to go back and do more of it even more strongly.  I didn't ever feel like I satisfactorily "saw it all" and was done with the location forever.  In fact, I specifically feel like I was missing some of the key elements of doing that location again (this is perhaps less true of the San Juan's trip.  But it was so cool I'd like to do it again anyway.)

Where I am right now, the Uintas are high on my list of places to go.  Not only is it a "relatively tame" place, where I think I could get away with going even with my lack of recent experience and not get in too much trouble, but I kind of feel a sense of kinship to the place somehow--probably simply because it's in Utah.  It's also immune from government shut-down shenanigans and whatnot, since it's not a national park, can't really be closed, and doesn't require a fee or anything other than a self-registration at unmanned trailheads to enter anyway.  Perfect location for me, I can probably be shuttled by friends and/or family to the trailhead, and it's a little off the beaten path compared to something like the High Sierras or the Alpine Lakes Wilderness or something like that.

Here's a few pictures of places I'd like to go in the High Uintas Wilderness:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Holliday Nature Preserve - Tonquish Trail

To me, hiking means the landscapes out west, mostly.  I spent time when younger hiking in the Rockies: the San Juans, the Wasatch, the Uintas, and places like Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier National Park, Coyote Gulch, the Grand Canyon, near Moab, with it's spectacular desert scenery, Big Bend National Park, etc.  I've had a big desire to go even further west and hike lots of Sierra Nevada locations, or in the North Cascades, or the Trinity Alps.

But I also spent time hiking in east Texas, in the Smokies, Hocking Hills, and other places more to the east, where although the views may not be nearly as expansive and dramatic, well, a walk in the woods is nice too.  In fact, given that reaching the western destinations that I aspire to is kinda a big deal most of the time, my day to day hiking, such as it is, is exactly that--a walk in the woods.  Luckily for me, there's a fair bit of trail right here in western suburban Detroit that I can access without too much trouble.  Yeah, I might have to cross some streets here and there while hiking, and I might have to hear traffic for a long stretch of the walk, but it still beats jogging along a sidewalk anyday.  The closest and most familiar to me of these destinations is the Lower Rouge River trail.  I can literally walk from my front porch to the western trailhead (or to feeder trails that join this mid-stream) in 10-15 minutes or so, and then spend time exploring this wide, gravel trail, and the more intimate, narrow and adventerous trails that sprout from it, many maintained by the MMBA--the Michican Mountain Biking Association.  I've also walked a bit in Maybury State Park up in Northville, not far from me as well.

What I hadn't ever really tried was the Holliday Nature Preserve in Westland.  This is perhaps a little odd, since I go to church in a building that literally abuts this park, and occasionally we see people using the back of our church parking lot as a trailhead.  Sure, I've occasionally wandered a bit into the woods from the church building, but I'd never really made any systemic attempt to hike or explore this area.  I almost did a few years ago, when I had to plan a Webelos hike, and thought that meeting at the church (our normal meeting place) and walking right back in the woods behind us would be the easiest approach.  I decided against it, because I didn't really want to be exploring trails that I didn't know with a bunch of 10-year olds, so I had them meet at my house and we did the Lower Rouge River trail systems, which I know quite well.  But I did discover a series of trailmaps of the nature preserve, and logged away a desire to hike them someday.  That day ended up being this last Friday.  I had to take the morning off to do some home repairs, but I decided that since I had vacation I still needed to burn before the end of the year, I'd just take the whole day off and spend the afternoon hiking.  As this link shows, the trails looked pretty straight-forward, and the notion of doing the entire Tonquish Trail, which starts somewhere in the middle of the Koppernick section--near where the church is, actually--and heads all the way to the Nankin Mills area up in Livonia, seemed like a fun afternoon adventure.  From the parking area at the bend in the road of Koppernick itself, I could swing eastward on the so-called Tulip trail, which would then bend back to the west and connect to the Tonquish trail, which more or less paralleled the Tonquish creek all the way up to Nankin Mills.  At least, according to the map.  *sigh*  One of the great lessons of this experience was to get some actual good, up-to-date trail info and not just trust what's on a map.  But I'm getting ahead of myself a bit.

Friday afternoon was perfect for hiking.  Following a week of prolonged sunshine and unseasonably warm weather, I was looking at afternoon temperatures of 70-75° F, firm ground, and not a cloud in the sky.  Perfect weather to be hiking in shady woodland.  I dropped my car off at Nankin Mills (I couldn't get the Hines Park parking area that I wanted to, because for some inexplicable reason, Hines Park was closed!  I parked up on Ann Arbor Trail where the segway rentals and the Nankin Mills building are located, though.)  Julie then drove me from there to Koppernick, where we entered a narrow, tunnel-like entrance to a small parking area.  I had with me my trusty hiking shoes, some regular cotton athletic socks, a pair of cargo shorts, and a nylon t-shirt (as well as a baseball cap, and sunglasses, which I didn't use.)  Some of this will become relevant later.  I also had with my my Camelbak full of two liters of water, and some bags of trail mix that Julie had picked up for free with a coupon from Krogers--although I wasn't really hungry, some snacks along the way sounded good.  And I had with me printouts of the big map as well as the four detailed maps of each section.

The hike started off well in the Koppernick section.  The trails were well maintained (although as there was some leaf-fall already, it was occasionally difficult to tell exactly where it was, since it started to blur into the ground cover a bit due to fallen leaves.)  There were regular trail markers telling me that I was still on the correct trail.  This first part of the hike was quite lovely, other than that it occasionally got extremely close to the back yards of some neighborhoods, including a trailer park.  Luckily, I had sprayed Off on before starting, because the woods were crawling with mosquitos.  I wasn't bothered the entire trip by any, however.

Before long, I finished the eastern section of the Tulip trail, and came to the connection with the Tonquish trail.  There was a trail marker that called it the Black Feather trail, but since the icon on my map matched the one on the marker (a black feather) I figured that wasn't a problem.  Oddly, however, there was another turnoff to a so-called Deer trail, and there was no indication of any such trail on my map.  I actually passed about three crossings to this Deer trail, as well as one to a Snake trail, none of which were labeled on my map.  As you can see from the detailed Koppernick section of the map, there are a lot of trails in the area, but few of them connect to the Tonquish (Black Feather) trail, so I was a little wary of this discrepancy between my map and what I was seeing on the ground, but even without much in the way of visible landmarks (a major handicap of forest walking vs. mountain hiking) I was confident in where I was, even if I wasn't always confidant in where my trail was.  This was especially true after I crossed the bridge marked low on the map and was on the south side of the creek, where there were no other trails.  However... there were no trails, of any kind in this area.  The Tonquish trail was clearly marked on the map, and finding the bridge hadn't been too difficult, but on the ground, there was no trail at all.  For this final part of the Koppernick section, I found myself bushwhacking through heavily overgrown woods.  My clothes--particularly my socks--were soon covered in literally hundreds of stickers and burrs, and I was soon covered with mud and scratches as well.  But, I found the Hix road crossing easily enough--exactly where it was supposed to be, so I knew I wasn't lost.  But the trail was.

Across Hix, the trail started back up again in the Newburgh section.  It was reasonably easy to follow, but extremely narrow, feeling more like a deer run than a hiking trail.  In a few spots, it was blocked by major deadfall that I had to find my way around.  In this section, I felt more confident in the trail's presence--mostly--but still felt like I was essentially bushwhacking.  I crossed the creek again at the marked bridge, and crossed Newburgh road, feeling like the experience had been much more adventurous than I had expected, rather than a more staid walk in the woods.

I wasn't sure what that brown line was on the map, but when I got there, it was clearly a grassy and overgrown remnant of a former road.  I followed that to its end, where, according to the map, there should have been two additional trails--the continuation of the Tonquish trail, and a smaller trail that was un-named.  Since both met up again at the same bridge crossing, I wasn't terribly concerned with which I took, but I only saw one on the ground at the end of the road, wherethere was what was once an old cement platform, now a spot full of litter, including the remnants of an old tent that someone had clearly camped in, probably within the last year or two.  The trail, again, felt more like a deer run than a hiking trail, and wishing that I'd worn long pants, waterproof hiking boots and brought a machete, I headed back into the woods again.

I almost missed the bridge marked on the map.  The approach to it was seriously overgrown, and in fact, technically the bridge was closed.  There were signs indicating that it shouldn't be used, and some aluminum barricades had been bolted to the steel framework.  It was obvious why it was closed, since every single one of the wooden planks was removed, leaving only the steel framework.  I crossed it anyway, since--well, that's where the trail was supposed to be.  According to my map, if I followed the trail on the south side of the creek, I'd soon find myself outside of the nature preserve entirely. 

However, if I thought that the trail was faint and hard to follow south of the creek, it was completely nonexistant north of the creek.  I dived into rushes and tall grasses for a while, but soon came to the inescapable conclusion that I wasn't on any kind of trail at all, and was in fact, simply trying to navigate my way through a bog by stepping on fallen logs instead of in twelve inch mud (yes, I had a few mis-steps.  So now, not only were my unprotected legs completely criss-crossed by a fine lattice of scratches and scrapes, and not only did I have hundreds of prickly seeds embedded deeply in my socks, but I had mud up above the level of my shoes.)

Finally, I had to admit defeat and accept that without at least some good wading or tall waterproof hunting boots, there was no way I was going to find a route through this section of the preserve.  Again; I wasn't lost--the preserve here was really narrow and I didn't have any way of really coming out of it without it being immediately obvious--there simply wasn't a trail here.  Up near the edge of the Newburgh section, where the Tonquish creek makes a sharp turn to the west, I climbed up a bank into the parking lot of a condo complex, and walked through it for a quarter mile or so until I found myself on Newburgh road. 

Despirited by this failure, I took the sidewalk along the road all the way up to Joy, where I turned again to the west.  Joy was worse for walking than Newburgh, since there is no sidewalk for much of the way, and cars were zipping past me with great frequency, but if you look at the Cowan/Central City section of the preserve, you'll see that there was another parking area and trailhead on Joy where I could rejoin the Tonquish trail.  I would have missed most of the Cowan section, but given that I couldn't figure out how to get to the Cowan section from the Newburgh section without crossing through territory that I simply wasn't equipped to cross through, I had to write off that section and hope for the best. 

For a while I was able to enjoy this next part of the walk (although my squelching shoes and now itchy socks were not exactly what I was anticipating) as well-marked and lovely section of trail followed the creek from this northern trailhead to the Wayne Road crossing.  I was impressed by how quickly after crossing under the trees the road noise from Joy Road, which had been considerable, simply disappeared.  However, at Wayne Road, I came across another issue.  The map clearly shows the trail crossing a bridge before the road crossing, and lo-and-behold, there was a pedestrian bridge on the trail below the Wayne Road bridge itself for traffic.  I dutifully crossed it.  While doing so, I noticed that there were a few guys--who I didn't look at closely, but who looked like either hobos, or folks who didn't want to be seen, sitting under the Wayne Road bridge drinking out of brown paper bags.  They gave me a funny look when they saw me, but hey--I was on a trail busy doing my thing, and live and let live, I suppose.  However, it quickly became apparent that the map was incorrect, and that the trail didn't cross the creek here after all, since it took me up to Wayne Road nearly at the Joy crossing again, so way too far north.  From the traffic bridge, I looked down on the west side of the creek and could see some kind of trail.  But it was a good 15-20 feet below me, and there didn't appear to be any way to reach it from this side.  Instead, I'd have to backtrack, re-cross the pedestrian bridge again, go under the traffic bridge, say hello to the hobos (and hope that they were hobos, and not something worse) and also hope that there was a way to cross the creek down there, so I could continue on the trail.

Now, if you're really in the wilderness and you have to do a stream or river crossing, or the trail is poorly marked, or whatever, that's both understandable and OK.  If you're in a suburban park and you're bushwhacking through thickly overgrown nettles, through sticky bogs, and past stereotypical hobos drinking something unidentifiable under a bridge, that's probably not what you were hoping for.  By now, thoroughly disgusted with the way the hike had turned out, I gave up on the Ellsworth section of the trail, and walked up to Ann Arbor Trail, which I followed to my car, which was parked exactly where the big gold star is on the map.  Once there, I took my shoes and socks off, and drove home.  My legs and shoes were immediately hosed off.  My socks, I ended up throwing away--I'd be picking prickly seeds out of them for weeks, if not months.  They were never going to really be useable again.

The Tonquish trail has the potential to be a nice, good five to five and a half mile hike (when combined with the sections that take you from the trail head to the actual Tonquish trail) that could be a great walk through the woods, equal to Maybury State Park or the Lower Rouge River trail, but the trail itself is in a state of complete and total disrepair and suffers from--apparently--having been largely abandoned by either the county or the city--whomever's supposed to maintain it.  Maybe theres an Eagle Project in the making here (more likely half a dozen, given the extent of work needed to reclaim that trail) and the hike could be doable again, but for now, avoid at all costs, unless you are equipped with high, waterproof hunting boots, thick pants and shirt, a machete, and the desire to really make your own way through a clogged and overgrown thicket of thick brush.  And if that's what you crave, why would you do that in Westland, of all places?

I could go back to the Koppernick section and hike some of the other trails, which were quite pleasant, and I could try to see what the other trails in the Cowan section are like, but the Newburgh section of trail is a complete loss, and the Tonquish trail itself is a disaster.

The attached map has been modified by me; I marked my route in red, with a few question marks where my exact position was a bit unclear.  I actually think I went a little further north than shown in the Newburgh section before bailing out and getting on the road, but not by much.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Danner Mt. Defiance GTX

On a whim (and because I had the time) I drove about 20 minutes to the nearby Gander Mountain (which I had never visited and, in fact, only recently realized that we had in our metropolitan area.)  My intent was to have a look at some Danner boots that were not available at my other outlets (i.e., Cabelas, Dicks, REI.)

According to Gander Mountain's website, they have a pretty good selection of Danner hiking boots, but in reality, I only saw three varieties in store, with limited color.  I couldn't look at the 453s at all (although they do carry those at Cabela's) and they didn't have the dark tan nubuck leather with gray nylon highlights version of the Mt. Defiance, which was what I favored.  They did have the all-leather Mt. Defiance, which looked really dark to me online.  I was a little bit surprised that it looked better in real life than it did on my screen.  On a whim, and because the sales guy was hovering, I decided to try on a pair.

First strike--they didn't have my normal shoe size, 10½.  I asked for an 11.  The 11s actually felt a bit snug, and on the right foot, it pinched a bit in the front--although they otherwise were quite comfortable.  I think I needed to try and 11½, which quite surprised me, because I wasn't even wearing the proper midweight merino wool hiking socks that I would wear with the boot in actual practice.  That meant that, heck, I might have even needed a 12!  Because I didn't have the proper socks, and because I wasn't intending on buying anything tonight, I didn't keep trying on different sizes and keep the sales guy hopping.  I'll need to go back with the proper socks (and I realized that I really need to cut my toenails before I do it, too!) and try this out again with some slightly bigger sizes.

The last word in hiking boots is, of course, fit, fit, fit.  If you get a pair that fits you properly, you can expect to hike in them right out of the box comfortably, and not get blisters or have other foot problems.  But, if they don't fit properly, then you're in big trouble if you spend very much time in them.  This is why I'd never attempt to buy a pair of boots online (well--at least, not without finding the boots somewhere where I could try them on.  That's a bit mean-spirited, though--going somewhere to try on boots, and then saying, "thanks!" and leaving without buying anything to go purchase online.)

As much as I was in love for a long time with the concept of the Meindl boots at Cabela's, I've reading great reviews of these Danner hikers, and they're cheaper, and they look nicer than I thought, and they're an American company.  I'm leaning more and more towards these after all.  Plus, I like the rubber toe box and heel cap.  I'd like even better a full rand.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hiking clothes

If you go to your typical outfitters or sporting gear store, you may find a lot of stuff that's geared for outdoory people.  Performance fleeces, polyester base layers and shirts, cargo pants, etc.  Much of this will be in your hiking and/or hunting section (if the latter, it will probably come in Mossy Oak and RealTree camo patterns) but you'll soon notice that if you look carefully, there's not necessarily a lot of difference between running and workout clothes and hiking clothes.

This shouldn't be surprising; runners will face many of the same challenges as hikers: namely, moisture management from both sweat and rain or other precipitation, and lightweight warmth that can be layered for comfort both when you're working hard and when you're cooling down and taking it easier.  Of course, they also face some different challenges, but that mostly comes to play in terms of footwear, and maybe pants, if you're worried about your legs having to go through a lot of brush or other rough terrain.  So, you can vastly expand your repertoire of available clothing; especially shirts, by looking at running shirts, running gloves, and maybe even track pants (although I'd personally be concerned that track pants wouldn't protect my legs from getting scratched up by rocks or bushes in a hiking environment; I'd rather wear something a bit more durable.)

I grew up thinking long sleeves equated to keeping warm, but long-sleeved, often mesh or mesh-paneled, polyester running shirts are pretty commin, and they have the advantage of being so light-weight that you barely feel them on, yet you aren't actually shirtless, and you keep the sun from beating down on your bare skin.  Long-sleeved running shirts, therefore, seem like the ideal hiking shirts to me.

Of course, if you look at your sporting goods store, you'll probably see options by UnderArmour, or Nike Pro Combat or something like that.  If you look at some place like Old Navy or Target or Meijer, you can get clothes that are exactly the same except half the price (and lacking the prominent display of expensive brand icons.)  You can get a good hiking shirt for less than $20, and potentially quite a bit less than that, if you do your homework and shop around.  Sadly, this isn't really true for pants.  True, you don't need to spend over $100 a pair for RailRider Weatherpants or anything like that, but any "real" hiking pants are going to be more like $60-80 points.  And its certainly not true for boots--you can go get some hiking boots at Target or Wal-Mart for $40 or so, but it's clearly questionable that they will perform like a highly engineered pair of boots.  A "good" pair of boots is--again, sadly--probably about $200 (give or take about $50.)  Can you hike in cheaper boots, or even shoes?  Sure, but your feet and ankles are the most important component of your biological chassis when hiking.  I'd rather spend a bit more to get some boots that are not only going to be durable, waterproof, and comfortable, which won't give me blisters or cause any other kind of foot or ankle injuries that will stop my hiking endeavors cold.  And that means expending more resources in my boots.  Because of this, I'm actually quite glad that many of my other items can get by with something cheaper.

Then, with some Sawyer Permethrin applications, you can make this all bugproof for months