Monday, January 24, 2011

It's So Nice Out!

Today, January 24, in Yosemite National Park (where I plan to be about year from now), temperatures started out in the high 30s, and may reach the mid 60s at lower elevations.

Today, January 24, in Boston, Massachusetts, it's 4, which is so low it looks awkward to write in numerals. It's below zero where I grew up in Vermont.

Today is, I hope, colder than I'll ever bother with out west, but high Utah and mountain California might get pretty chilly. So I got my new long johns in the mail (the only ones at the store had little Christmas trees all over them; I just can't get behind that), put on my "nothin' at all!" pants, my new fleece, my wind jacket, and my Christmas sock-monkey hat (explain why I'll wear a monkey on my head but not trees on my underwear…) and donned my backpack to fetch 40 lbs of groceries for some hot, hearty meals. My experiment was to see whether the wind shell plus fleece and long undies would be adequate for winter, so I wouldn't have to spring for a (bulky, expensive, and non-versatile) heavy-duty winter jacket. 

I can't put my arms down.
I was sweating. Having to do about 15 minutes of yoga just to climb into all that gear probably helped, too. But I didn't feel a thing. I was so immune to the weather that I actually made an excursion onto the middle of frozen-solid Spy Pond, about a half mile from my house. The only thing that would have made me more comfortable on the wind-swept ice was a pair of sunglasses.
Not pictured: Copious back sweat
I was ready for winter this year; we had a great, warm summer, and I'm still excited about the old-school ice and cold. When I was out today, the only other person on the bike path was a middle-aged woman. She gleefully kicked along snowballs and skated around on the icy spots. She rules. It seems like more than half of being comfortable in awful weather is deciding beforehand that it's fun.

That whole walking-on-water thing isn't nearly as impressive up here. I did it for like 20 minutes.

Now to make stew!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Hola. It's been a while since I rapped at ya'. We have piles of snow, plus the holidays and a sick cat and etc., and it makes me hibernatory. I've kept on prepping, a bit at a time. My generous friends Nick and Anna were awesome enough to ship me some wonderful hiking guides and maps to the Southwest. (They've relocated to the Pacific Northwest, where I hope to visit them.)  I've researched stoves and dehydrated meals. I took advantage of end-of-winter sales to grab cold-weather gear on markdown, and got some fleece pants that can be described thusly:

(The "nothin' at all" part, not the "worst pain ever." Those would be bad pants.)

My next big step--and it's a critical one--is to set a start date. I have until October 5th, exactly, to get through the Pacific Northwest and Mountain West before I must be in Flagstaff, Arizona for the Grand Canyon rafting trip. Start too late, and I might miss out on things I want to see, or feel rushed and over-scheduled. Start too early and risk imposing on hosts, having to fill time, and missing my friends and our summer plans.

I bought detailed maps and guides to the PN and MW, intending to get a solid estimate of the time I'll need. Except the map for Olympic National Park is mysteriously absent from my bookshelf, and I can't recall whether Amazon overlooked it or I managed to lose it between the box and the bookshelf, so I guess wah. And the guide to Glacier is hard to follow, with weirdly whimsical maps and no organization of hikes according to difficulty or length, so eh. And the Grand Teton map was "temporarily out of stock" so guh. Oh, look, it's the Internet!

The specifics of this thing are starting to shift from really exciting to a bit scary. Stacks of Post-Its and wax pencils for my water-resistant maps help only a little in sifting through an overwhelming number of choices, and do absolutely nothing about the fact that I won't really know how long I want to spend in a place until I get there. It is very easy to get intimidated and decide to think about something else. (Is blogging considered procrastination?)

Here's something I did learn. Hikes in the North Cascades generally follow this description:
1. Drive 147 miles on an unimproved road to the trailhead.
2. Climb 2,900 feet in 1.8 miles.
3. Wow, mountains!
4. Turn around right away, because you had to drive 147 miles and then took like four hours to climb that measly 1.8 miles, so it'll be dark, like, now, and there's no camping allowed.
5. To get to the next trail, drive another 74 miles along an unimproved road to the trailhead. No facilities.

I'm not big into driving for hours before getting anywhere, or peak-bagging, or treeless scree, or turning around after just a couple of miles. I think North Cascades and surrounding preserves, despite their vastness, might only tempt me for a couple of days, as opposed to the near month I hope to spend in more accessible parks like Yellowstone.

On the other hand, these are some of the alternately hilarious and terrifying placenames in the North Cascades I might have to miss out on:

Joker Mountain
Elbow Basin
Tatoosh Buttes
Little and Big Beaver
Happy Panther Trail
Horse Heaven
Last Chance Point
Mount Torment
Mix-up Peak
Hurry-up Peak
Bugger Lake
Beaner Lake
Skookum Puss Mountain
Swede Heaven
Damnation Peak
Mount Despair
Nooksack Cirque
Egg Lake
Tmyhoi Peak

And speaking of Yellowstone: wilderness cred be damned, no way I'll miss those wooden walkways over the freaky rainbow pools no matter how crowded with pensioners, because supervolcano calderas are the shit, yo.