Monthly Archives: January 2017

Getting Started Geocaching

Getting started geocaching,
just how do you do it?
It’s really quite simple,
there is nothing much to it.
Just get online and create an account
How many caches?
It’s an amazing amount!

Ok, sorry for channeling Dr Seuss. I guess I read The Sleep Book to my kids a few too many times.

But getting started geocaching really is quite easy. All you need is a GPS, and then log into one of the geocaching web sites to obtain the Latitude & Longitude (Lat/Lon) of a cache near you. Then go out and find it! It really is that simple.

The hook is that once you find your first cache, you will want to find more. And you will probably want to log your finds so you and others will have a record of it. You also, might like to be able to load a bunch of caches for a given area directly into your GPS rather than have to print out the information and/or manually enter it in. And if you are like me, you want to be able to geocache and any time or place, so being able to access caches in your current location with your phone is an absolute must…ok maybe not a must, but it sure is cool!

So I have assembled a few links that I think could be helpful for new cachers (see below). The geocaching.com FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and Wiki (Wikihow & Wikipedia) are good places to start.

Geocaching.com by Groundspeak is probably the most popular geocaching site there is. It is where I got my start, but there are other sites that maintain their own lists of caches, and I have tried to include a few in the links provided.

My recommendation would be to visit a few of the sites, see which you like and/or have caches near you and sign up. To my knowledge they all have some sort of free signup, and then some offer additional services for a fee.

Once you sign up you can search for caches in your area or someplace you intend to visit, and you are ready to go. When you find the caches you can log your find to the site and it will keep track of the ones you have visited making it easer to find new ones. Some will even send you e-mails when new caches are created.

What do you need? Well besides a GPS, not much. GPS’s are much cheeper than they were only a few years ago, and some even have dedicated Geocaching features! I reciently had the opertunity to try out the Geomate Jr and found it ideal for kids and/or someone who wants to jump into Geocaching quickly. Good footwear is kind of important. You could end up walking quite a bit while looking for the caches or exploring the area. Many caches are placed in a location for a reason. Sometimes while looking for a cache you will find a new place to explore. A pen/pencil is a good idea for signing cache logs and taking notes. Some catchers like to trade small trinkets. This is my kid’s favorite part! So I keep a small bag or pouch with little trinkets that they use to trade. The basic concept is that what is in the cache is available for trade, simply take something and leave something else in its place (preferably of equal or higher value). There are also sometimes items in the caches that are intended to be picked up and moved to other caches. These range from custom made coins to items with tags (know as “travel bugs”). Some of these items are intended to just be moved around, while some have specific places they are trying to get to or tasks they are trying to accomplish (e.g. my daughter created a travel bug with the objective of getting its picture taken with as many cat lovers as possible).

Some caches are hidden in out of the way places. So basic items one would take on a trail hike can also be a good idea (simple first aid kit, jacket or poncho, water, snacks, maps, etc), what you bring depends highly on you, your location, as well as the conditions. Personally I also like to bring a walking stick, if for no other reason than to make sure there are no ‘surprises’ (such as a snake or poison ivy) when I reach for a suspected cache.

After you have found a cache…or 20, you just might start thinking that you wished you had a cache of your own. This is natural, don’t worry or feel embarrassed, it happens to most cachers. Creating your own cache is a bit more involved than finding your first cache, but it is still quite simple. Unfortunately, I am not going to go into the details in this article but will save that for a follow up article I plan to post very soon.

US Swim School Association’s Guide To Surviving A Fall Through The Ice

It is never a good idea to walk onto a frozen lake without following the proper protocols and knowing how long it takes and what temperature must be hit for that body of water to freeze. Each year, it’s estimated that nearly 8,000 people die from drowning. Even though ice may appear safe, some areas can be thinner than others. Unfortunately, when venturing onto ice, not everyone has a friend nearby or carries an item such as an ice pick to help them out of the water. The United States Swim School Association, the leading swim school organization in the country, has created a list of what to do if you fall through ice.
Falling Through Thin Ice – What to do…

Brace Yourself: This may be difficult to do at first but due to the immediate change in body temperature and shock from the cold water, the body’s immediate reaction is going to be to gasp for air and hyperventilate. Breathing in the freezing water increases the chances of drowning.

Keep Calm: Do not flail your arms; this will release more body heat. The body loses 32 times more heat in cold water than in cold air. Panicking will do nothing, keep your head above the water, grab onto the ice in the direction you came from. This ice should be strong enough to help you out of the water.

Do Not Undress Winter Clothes: Keep winter clothing on while in the water, it will not drag you down. It will help keep in body heat and any air inside the clothing will help you float.

Get Horizontal: Once you’ve gotten most of your upper body out of the water, kick your legs as strongly as possible in hopes of getting yourself out of the water and onto the ice.

Roll Onto The Ice: Do not stand up, roll over the ice once you’re out to help prevent more cracks in the ice and from falling in again. Always stay off ice that’s only 3 inches thick or less.

Retrace Your Steps: Once out and far enough away from the hole, trace your footsteps back to safety. Take it slow because your body is still dealing with the affects of the freezing water.

Throw, Don’t Go: Never enter the water to rescue someone. If someone is there to help you it is safer for that person to throw a lifesaving device, branch, coat, or rope into the water, wait until you grab hold and then tow you to safety. Otherwise you could both end up in the water.

Survives The Skookumchuck Trail Solo

Skookumchuck Trail

Recently I was going through some old emails in my hiking folder. I came across a story about a hiker that got lost in the Mt. Lafayette area. It reminded me of a near disastrous hike I had in the same area. I will get more into that story after I relate my experience which happened several years before his experience. Most stories that get publicized are about the victims of an outdoor adventure. In a survivors story the hiker often does not know how close he was to becoming a victim. Survivors can tell us how they coped in a difficult situation.

backpackers

Every year I spend the first week in May at the Mittersill Alpine Resort in Franconia New Hampshire. On Saturday afternoon I was checking out the Skookumchuck trailhead. It was mid afternoon and I was surprised to see 2 men heading for the trailhead. After a brief conversation I learned they were going to camp just below the tree line and bag Mt. Lafayette and return the next day. I told them I was going to do a day hike the following day so I should be meeting them on their way back to the parking lot. I have hiked this trail before in the summer and early fall. It is a steady uphill climb till you reach the summit of .Mt. Lafayette. There are a lot of trees on this trail until the tree line and then it is bare rock. What I like most about this trail is there are no really steep inclines, just a constant moderate slope. There are several small stream crossings. I never understood why this trail was not more popular.

the hike starts

So early Sunday at about 7 am I was starting my hike at the Skookumchuck Trailhead. It was already getting warm and the temperature was predicted to be in the 80’s. There was no snow on the ground and the snow aspect of this hike had not entered my mind. The ground on the Canon mountain ski slopes was almost bare. About 2 hours into the hike I started seeing snow on the ground. The trail markers are still very visible. Shortly thereafter I encountered the 2 hikers from the previous day. They asked me if I had snow shoes and when I replied in the negative they warned me that I may have trouble sinking into the snow as farther up the mountain it was at least 5 feet deep, They said if I hurried I may get though this part before the snow gets too soft. The snow was still hard at this point and since this trail is very seldomly used there was very little indication that anyone had hiked this trail. I had hiked this trail when there was no snow and realized the tree cover might keep the snow hard till I was near the tree line and would then be walking over the rocky part of the mountain. It was not too long before the trail makers were covered by snow. Fortunately I was able to detect where the hikers had travelled. The higher I got in elevation the more pronounced were the tracks of the hikers. My luck soon ran out, I was starting to sink and I had not quite reached the tree line.

first sign of a problem

With the trail markers invisible due to snow I had no choice but to follow the tracks of the hikers. After sinking into the snow up to my hips a few times I was forced to tamp the snow before each step. I quickly reasoned that I would not last long if I continued to try and pull myself out of the snow each time I sunk to my hips. I was already wet and being in wet melting snow was beginning to get chilly. Suddenly I was at the end of the hiker tracks. I figured they had came to this spot the previous day pitched camp and did the summit and came back to the camp spent the night and descended this morning. I was already 2 hours behind schedule. I could see that the tree line was about 200 feet away and after that it was mostly bare rock. Between me and the bare rock was huge snow covered boulders and 75 feet of dense short evergreen trees.

making a choice

It was now time to clearly figure out a plan and proceed quickly. Going back the way I came would be a lot shorter but I may get lost on the way back if I was unable to follow the trail. This being the north side of the mountain it would get dark sooner. I would also be tamping down the snow for a longer time than I did on the way up. It in the 80’s. The prospect of getting lost on the way back was foremost in my mind. Going forward would not be a cake walk. I would have to tamp carefully going from boulder to boulder and then getting through the thick short trees would not be easy. The trip back would be at least twice as long. I should have no trouble finding the trail once I reached the bare rocks. I quickly choose the longer way.

tired but on solid rock

Passing over the boulders to the thick slow trees was slow and tedious. Sometimes I threw my pack ahead of me, sometimes I managed to jump from one boulder to the next. I spent at least an hour going less than 50 feet. Now I had to contend with the trees. This was more of a challenge than I anticipated. I had to push through the trees hoping the branches would bend enough so I could get by. I did eventually get through. I was probably about 4 hours behind. I had been checking the sky very carefully as this is an area where nasty weather can develop quickly sometimes in as little as 20 minutes. I was still a little wet, tired, and sore from the scramble that I had just finished. The really good thing is, I was warm and I quickly found the painted trail markers on the rocks. When I reached the summit of Mt. Lafayette it was after 2 pm, I could see the Greenleaf hut and figured I was about an hour away. Mt. Lafayette is 5260 feet high. The trail down to the hut has a southern exposure and had very little snow or ice. It is very steep most of the way and one has to be very cautious. I always do better on the way down and since my cardio is not as strong as my legs. I arrived at the hut to find a few workers there getting ready for the upcoming season. They told me that taking the Old Bridle Path would be the longest but would have the least amount of snow and ice and that I should not do the Greenleaf trail without traction devices.

a slow descend

It was after 4 pm when I started down the Old Bridle Path. About an hour later I met a woman coming up and she offered me the keys to her car. At this time I was actually feeling a bit recovered and declined the offer. When I reached the parking lot I was starting to regret that decision. From the parking lot it is about 4 miles to the resort I was staying. It was twilight but I would be on a paved bike path halfway and a paved road the rest of the way. I was getting tired, sore, and hungry. It was starting to cool down so I did not stop as I needed my body heat to keep me warm. I arrived at my unit at about 9 pm. It was a lot later than I predicted and they were about to make calls about my not coming back on time.

grateful outcome

I have thought about this hike many times. I was extremely lucky the weather stayed good. I don’t think I was in great physical shape, but I did stay alert and did not slip and get hurt which also helped a lot. I think I made the most conservative choices rather than the shorter more riskier uncertain ways. When I think about having more or better equipment, the down side of that it requires more weight and the energy to carry the extra equipment. Someday I will write about such a hike and some of the consequences. As I promised I will write briefly about another solo hiker who started at the same place I did and in a different year but only a few days earlier in the season and by a man about 10 years younger than me and we are both electrical engineers.

lesson learned

From the story below I see that Peter started out from the same location that I did but later on in the day. I am speculating on what he may have done. He must have ascended till he decided he did not want to proceed in the melting deep snow. He turned around and headed back. At that time of day I would probably have made the same choice. At some point he took a right when he should have gone left. I have gotten disoriented in this area in the summer and early fall. I ended up hiking about 16 miles instead of about 4 miles. He ended up spending 2 nights outside before being found. I could have easily have followed his path with probably with similar results.
This is an excerpt from an email I received.

After The Fall

After the Fall

I often get asked about my favorite hiking season or location. It seems no matter how often I am asked I have to think before answering. The main reason is that I don’t have a favorite season but if I think of particular places then I find that each one has good times of the year for being there. Since my playground is New England this discussion will be how I look at the outdoors of New England as a yearly repeating cycle. I have selected when the leaves have fallen as the beginning of my discussion.

To me this is the one time of year that occurs almost at the same time each year despite the weather changes that have been happening. This is when the trees are naked, the visibility is greatest, the insects are gone, it is colder but not frigid. To counter this, the trails are harder to see as they are covered with newly fallen leaves, and it is easier to slip and fall. The cold weather is invigorating but the daylight is shorter. The air is less humid, there are less clouds and one can see farther distances. My pack is heavier and I make use of my trekking poles more often. I find with the leaves gone, I can explore more off trail areas and possibly make discoveries. This is also the noisiest time of the year with the constant rustling of the leaves under my feet. I often see places that I will want to return to when the ground has frozen solid. This is like previewing hikes that I can possibly take as the weather gets colder.

Cold with and without snow

As the season progresses it does get colder whether we have snow or not. By the time the ground is frozen, the leaves are pretty much gone from the medium to well used trails. The air is crispy most of the time and when there is a wind the cheeks feel the cold. When a new snowfall arrives one has to follow the the markers on the trees or signs placed for that purpose. The snow has the advantage of covering up the ground and making it a lot flatter and in most cases a lot easier for hiking. Sometimes a fine layer of snow is covering more treacherous ice. There seems to be this balance between the things that make hiking easier and those that make it more difficult. Depending on the amount of snow, it can be time for the cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or ice skating. The snow also silences the sound of boots hitting the trail. There are sounds that are only heard at this time of the year. A branch breaking this time of year can sound a lot louder than at other times. The footprints of wildlife become clearly visible. This is often a topic for discussion on the trail. Questions like what kind of animal, how big, what was it doing? If the snow gets so deep that the trail makers can no longer be seen one either has to know the trail very well or stick to trails where the trail is clearly visible from being compacted by the many hikers. At some point in this continual weather cycle the daylight hours get longer and daytime temperatures increase during the day.

The transition from winter to spring hiking

During the spring thaws the trails should not be walked on. They are muddy and can be damaged. The length of this period depends on the amount of snow that has accumulated, the altitude and the forest cover. The transition from frozen to thawed starts slow and is not easy to detect. The first melting starts above the tree line where the rocks are exposed and absorb the heat of the sun. The melted water flows downward following the easiest path. The lower temperatures at night cause refreezing and because the ground is still frozen the melting process is slow at first. During the winter in the deep snow areas, the trail is compacted and lower than the surroundings. As the day temperatures get warmer the surrounding snow shrinks and the trail becomes higher than the surroundings. The ambient noise of the forest goes from being quiet to becoming noisier as the melted water reaches the streams and rivers. The snow off trail becomes known as “rotten”. At some point in this melting process one can sink to your hips in snow that is a mixture of ice crystals and water. It does cool you off quickly. One of the dangers of walking off trail in deep snow and melting conditions is discovering a “snow cave”. This is when an evergreen tree (typically a spruce) gets covered by snow and is not visible. This can be a very dangerous if one walks over such a tree and falls through the snow cover. This could result in being in a position where you are facing downward and finding yourself stuck without being able to move very much. Always best not to be alone when this kind of condition can exist. Snowshoes can help a lot also in preventing this.

The trees begin to have leaves

The leaves are beginning to appear, the ground is slowly thawing and some trails need to be avoided because of mud. The sound of water is almost everywhere and the streams are overflowing their beds. I am reminded of Paul Dukas’s “ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.  The sound increases until the streams crest and return to normal levels. This is the time of year where a lot of stream crossings are very difficult and dangerous to cross. The water is near freezing, the rocks at the bottom are covered with slime, and the current is strong and unpredictable. The bottom of the stream bed is unpredictable which makes for a slow frigid crossing. I choose to turn around many times or to hike upstream hoping to find an easier crossing. This is not always an easy choice. Bushwhacking along a stream is usually time and energy consuming. This is especially true if this is not a loop trail or if because of time constraints you have to go back by the way you entered. At this time of year it does not take a lot of rain to cause the water levels to rise drastically.

The insects return

The return of insects is a sure sign that warmer weather is getting closer. Leaves and flowers are starting to bloom and color returns to the forest. The streams remain noisy as long as there is not a drought. The ground becomes fully thawed and at some point gets warmer than the overnight temperatures. It is time for the 5 B’s in the forest. Bugs, bees, birds, berries and bears. When you pass through a blueberry area and you can detect the smell of what reminds you of a dog that has not been washed but only a lot stronger, coupled with bear scat it is a good indication the bears are not too far away. Seeing bears at a distance is good enough for me. For me this is backpacking season. My backpack load is at it’s lowest, the insects can be handled, the forest abounds with various life forms, and this is my time for backpacking. The longer days allow for leisurely hiking and more time to explore while heading to the nightly campsite.