Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, December 2020

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Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, December 2020
     Happy holidays!
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Contents:
1. As Hiking Surges During the Pandemic, So Do Injuries
2. Audio walks—armchair and onsite
3. Camino Masks 
4. Treeline Review helps with finding good gear for gifts!
5. Drawing the Colors of Winter 
6. Wearing a Mask While Running
7. Past, Present and Future on the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
Walk, Hike, Saunter 
is now available
in both print and
Kindle versions!  
 
Articles:
#1. “As Hiking Surges During the Pandemic, So Do Injuries” reads the headline in a NY Times article. Not exactly a surprise to those of us who are long-time hikers and park visitors—we’ve seen many people venturing out ill-prepared for their outings. And just like we have seen happening on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) ever since the book and movie “Wild” drew greatly increased interest in the iconic trail, so the COVID-19’s restrictions have drawn many new hikers to parks and trails.
What I hadn’t considered was that as the number of park visitors has increased (“upward of 90 percent over the previous year in some parks”) Search and Rescue crews have been stretched thinner. Adding to the problem has been the wildfires, which may draw S&R teams away from parks and trails and into the fire areas. “People need to be careful, especially now, as resources for search and rescue can be thin,” said Lisa Herron, a spokeswoman for the United States Forest Service at Lake Tahoe Basin in California. 
David Walsh, with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, commented that wearing a mask, necessitated by the coronavirus, causes responders to move more slowly and rescues that involve bringing injured hikers down out of the hills can take longer than usual. Sgt. Eric Palmberg of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office said many of the calls involved people ‘way out of their experience level and possibly taking more risks due to the pandemic and being cooped up at home.’”
A spokesperson at Zion National Park noted that bike rentals are way up and so are calls for help due to “ankle sprains, heat exhaustion and cuts and scrapes from crashes.” (Gillian R. Brassil https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/28/sports/covid-hiking-parks-trails.html?referringSource=articleShare )
#2. Audio guides take you on walks worldwide. Lorna Parkes wrote, “The bear’s throaty growl starts to my right, then circles predatorily around to my left as I turn. But I stay calm, because the beast is not really there – it’s an illusion. I’m on a street corner in Leeds on a bright, chilly autumn morning and there are no bears for thousands of miles – or at least there haven’t been for well over a century.” This is on a guided “sound walk” ’in the former Headingley Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
Turns out there are tons of sites where you can take armchair walks. I listened briefly to one about Leeds (England) Zoological and Botanical Gardens.  If you go to: https://www.365leedsstories.org/maps/map-19/ and scroll to the bottom on the page, you’ll find audio for 10 different stops in the garden. Thanks to Lorna Parkes for her article (16 Nov 2020)
Other audio travel guides out there in cyberspace include: The Last Eccentrics of Greenwich Village, which takes listeners on a walk around the New York neighborhood. “The Ears May Travel,”  “Visit walklistencreate.org or download the Echoes app to browse sound walks from around the world”
#3. Camino Masks. Ivar, who runs the very popular Camino forum, is offering a variety of Camino-related masks. I ordered two early on and have found them to be very comfortable.  They are two-layers of fabric (and don’t have a slot for a filter, but should be adequate while hiking.)
#4. Treeline Review helps with finding good gear for gifts! 
“Holiday gift giving for people who love the outdoors doesn’t have to be tricky. These are the gifts we’d give ourselves and that we’d be happy to receive. Based on our Gear of the Year and All Time Favorite gear items, here are present ideas for every outdoors person and every price range.” https://www.treelinereview.com/giftsTreeline does not have ads and is 100% reader supported.
And earlier they wrote: “We’re excited to announce the release of Susan Alcorn’s book Walk, Saunter, Hike: Seasoned Women Hikers Share Tales and Trails. Thirty-two women share their stories to inspire new and experienced hikers. I was thrilled and honored to be interviewed for this book and my copy just arrived! The book is currently available in paperback and e-book.” Naomi “The Punisher” Hudetz
 
Susan Alcorn
5. Drawing the colors of Winter. Saturday, Dec. 12, 10-12 pm. Leaves, pods, and fruits…Autumn is a time for reds, browns, and purples. Learn to apply color to capture the beauty of the season. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/drawing-the-colors-of-winter-tickets-126158755233 ($40-$50)
From the site: “Autumn is the perfect time to explore colored pencil techniques with all the beauty of the changing leaf colors, seed pods, gourds and berries. Their unique colors provide the opportunity to practice mixing and layering color. Learn to create rich reds, browns and purples. We will explore a variety of colored pencil techniques including layering, blending, and burnishing.
“This class will be two hours long, held online, using Zoom. We will spend time mixing colors, drawing your leaf or fruit and coloring with demonstration and time for questions and answers. All drawing levels are welcome. A supply list will be provided.
“Nina Antze has a Fine Arts degree and a Certificate in Botanical Illustration from the New York Botanical Gardens and studied at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford. She teaches throughout California and beyond. Her Chinese Maple was recently selected for the DeYoung Open. View her botanicals at pcquilt.com
Details:
-A meeting link for this class will be provided by email following registration
– Please arrive 5 minutes early to check in
– Refunds available for all classes 7 days in advance of the start date, after 7 days and before 2 days, participants can credit their class for a future date. All requests before 48 hours in advance will be declined.
– Please provide an email you check regularly for updates and reminders about your class
– Registration is required online prior to the event in order to maintain class sizes
– Sales end 48 hours before the start date.
– Waitlists are available when the class sells out
What to Bring:
Registered participants will receive a materials list via email with information about how to prepare in advance of this class
About the PRNSA Field Institute:
The PRNSA Field Institute offers hands-on environmental education classes throughout the year that foster enjoyment of Point Reyes National Seashore. Our classes are led by expert instructors, who take you out of your everyday life and into the natural world. We host a variety of classes about the arts and sciences and have something for everyone. You can reach the Field Institute at (415) 663-1200 x304 or by email at fieldinstitute@ptreyes.org.”
#6. Wearing a mask while running—and presumably while hiking!  If you’re a walker, runner or a bike rider, here’s a great reason to wear a mask when exercising outside. According to Emma Dibdin in this Runners World article, you get plenty of oxygen through your mask, but your lungs have to work slightly harder to get it. This actually strengthens your lungs and increases their efficiency! A lot of athletes train at higher altitudes to increase lung capacity which helps them run and bike faster at lower elevations. Wearing a mask does the same thing! https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a32380203/running-with-mask-impact-your-performance/
#7. Regional: San Francisco Bay Area: A link to the recent Past, Present and Future on the Bay Area Ridge Trail. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Adg43caJgM (This video was sponsored by POST and Bay Area Ridge Trail.)   
“The Bay Area Ridge Trail’s mission is to plan, promote and sustain a connected hiking, cycling, and equestrian trail on the ridgelines around San Francisco Bay—linking people, parks and open space for today and future generations”.
Message from Susan
Thank you everyone. Stay well, keep hiking when prudent—and I encourage you to send in items of interest to the hiking community.  
 
Susan ‘backpack45’ Alcorn 
Shepherd Canyon Books, Oakland, CA
Author of Walk, Hike, Saunter: Seasoned Women Share Tales and Trails; Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo, Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine; We’re in the Mountains Not over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers; and Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago. 
 
Please note: Hiking and backpacking can be risky endeavors. Always be prepared for emergencies and carry food, water, shelter (warm clothing, etc.), flashlight/headlamp, matches, first aid supplies, and maps. Cell phones don’t always work. Leave word where you are traveling and when you are due back.
 
To subscribe, unsubscribe, or send messages to this (almost) monthly newsletter, please send a message to Susan at backpack45@yahoo.com

More about the hiking newsletters:

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips is published (almost) monthly. The newsletter has items of interest to the hiking (including the Camino) community. Click here to read earlier editions:
You’ll find an assortment of topics each month. There’ll be health and fitness news, info on new gear, hiking records set, and statistics about the Camino. You’ll hear about upcoming hikes and other events as well as trail meetings and gatherings. In addition, you may learn something new about the animals that share our outdoors.

If you want to subscribe to Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, email Susan Alcorn at backpack45 (put at sign here) yahoo.com to subscribe* so that the news will reach you hot off the press!
*We do not share names with anyone. You can cancel this free subscription by emailing Susan Alcorn. 

Francis Tapon podcast
Francis Tapon, world traveler and adventurer, earlier did a podcast interviewing me about the Caminos Norte and Primitivo. Among other things, he asked these questions:
What was one of the most unusual paths you have taken?
What percentage of pilgrims are hiking purely for religious reasons? (The answer is surprising!)
How many pilgrims get to Santiago every year? (You won’t believe it!)
Have you camped on the trail?
What advice would you give to first-time pilgrims of El Camino de Santiago?
It was such great fun do this podcast! Check it out here! 

 

Bills Hill at Henry Coe State Park

Bills Hill at Henry Coe State Park
 

FINALLY we were able to tackle a new Nifty Ninety Peak. And it was great fun! The peaks in Henry Coe have posed, and continue to pose, a challenge to us for several reasons. They are all rated as difficult. Most of the trails are steep and long.

Timing can be tricky. Spring can be beautiful with wildflowers galore, but the trails can be slippery and water crossings difficult. Summer days can easily hit 100 or more and water sources can be limited. Fall is usually great, but wildfires become a concern. Winter temperatures often drop below freezing. 

And even though Henry Coe is the largest state park in Northern California, it is more than 1.5 hours from us. Some of the trailheads are even farther, and not all of peaks are accessible from the same entrances. 

But the first week of December, Ralph and I decided to scout out Bills Hill. I, for one, couldn’t stand waiting any longer to resume the Nifty Ninety challenge. We entered at the Hunting Hollow entrance (about 10 miles east of Gilroy, CA) and parked in the large, unpaved parking area. We then took the Hunting Hollow Trail out through the valley for about two miles. 

We initially missed the turnoff to the Bills Hill’s narrow dirt trail. The large pile of rocks that had indicated the turn at one time had been scattered. Ralph rebuilt the cairn and then we turned to head back to our car. We wanted to come back when our hiking buddies — Tom Coroneos and Patricia Schaffarczyk — could come with us.

‘Scouting’ has its rewards
Though this was not the day to hike to the peak, it did have some peak moments. On the way in, we were stopped dead in our tracks when we spotted a bobcat in a large grassy field. At first the cat was crouched next to the entrance of a squirrel’s tunnel. Then it casually walked through the short, tan grass to the far end of the football-sized field and disappeared into the scrubby brush.


Bobcat in Henry Coe SP

On the way back out,near an old, weather-beaten windmill pumping water into a nearby tank, we saw the largest covey of California Quail we’d ever been lucky enough to see. We  estimated 60-80 of these tufted, handsomely feathered birds. They were running about peeping, whistling, calling, and making their barking alarm sounds. (Click here for a good display: “The California Quail” by Peter Steuart. Click here.) 

When we got back to the dirt parking area, I got to talking with another hiker who was returning from a hike to another Coe peak — Willson’s. He had done Bills Hill previously so I asked him about it. “It requires some scrambling,” he said. 

In the week that followed, I kicked myself for not asking for clarification. How much scrambling? Did he mean the whole distance, or did he mean the last 20 feet to the peak? It had been so long since we had done a hike rated as difficult that I wasn’t sure if I could do it. The question about the scrambling bothered me as well as reading that there was lots of poison oak and ticks. 

Later we climbed the last leg of the route to Bills Hill using the fire road.

Finally...
we set a date and Tom and Patricia were enthusiastic. Per the COVID-19 restrictions at the time, we drove in different cars, wore our masks or distanced depending on what was appropriate. We couldn’t have picked a better day. This is a park that can be brutally hot in summer, freezing in winter. This day it was 50s and 60s — perfect for an ambitious hike. 

We set out again on the Hunters Hollow Trail and then turned right onto the Bills Hills Trail (the rock cairn was still there). We had to duck under a few low oak tree branches, but it was easy to follow the trail — for a while. It helped that there were green or pink ribbons indicating the trail from time to time.

Where did it go?
And then, with Patricia in the lead, we ran out of trail. She continued ahead, descended several feet into a steep canyon, but then came to a stop. We considered the cross-country ascent that would be required on the far side. This could NOT be right! Maybe the others could have climbed up the other side, but I doubted that I could. 

We backtracked, looked around, and saw that far off to the right was a barbed-wire fence. We decided to follow it up the hill. And sure enough the plastic trail ribbons once again began to appear. The trail was moderately steep and I was very glad I had my hiking poles — especially along the stretches where the trail was covered with a couple of inches of leaves.

We tried to avoid the thin, bare branches that hung over the trail — not able to determine which were poison oak and which were other scrub. We never did see any sign of ticks. 

Ralph holds the wire while Tom crawls under.

We reached Osos Ridge

From Osos Ridge, we could see Bills Hill a short distance to the south. Our narrow trail continued along to our left (south), but we had read that the barbed wire fence just ahead of us was not the park’s boundary. It was still park property, not private, making it was legal to crawl under the fence to follow the wide dirt fire road south to Bills Hill. Trail ribbons confirmed our choice. 

With our goal in sight, we followed the undulating road and made the last steep ascent to the summit — a flat, rather bare area except for a few oak trees bent over time by the wind. In the spring the area would likely be covered with bright  grasses and wildflowers and on a clear day it would offer extensive views to such regional peaks as Pinnacles, Mount Umunhum, and Mount Hamilton.

But this day it was hazy, and we didn’t care a bit — we were quite content basking in the bit of sunshine we found, eating our well-earned lunches, and taking photos. Ralph and I were very happy that we had checked #80 off our list of challenging Nifty Ninety Peaks.

Coming back down the hill went quickly. We tied some plastic ribbons to mark the turn in the trail that we hadn’t seen when we went up. In a few places we slowed to search for bare dirt to walk on rather than slippery leaves, but it went without incident. Back on Hunting Hollow, Tom and Patricia were again in the lead and they managed to see the bobcat where Ralph and I had seen it previously.

Hiked Dec. 6, 2020. Approx. 7.5 miles rt.

Taste Testing at Kelly Brewing Company

Patricia and Tom get the sampler.

As has been our custom after our hike, we looked for a brewery on the way back home. A stop in Morgan Hill at Kelly Brewing Company for beer accompanied by pizza from the food truck out front hit the spot. It happened to be the final day that outdoor dining was allowed before another of the COVID-19 shutdowns in the SF Bay Area. So, another perfect day on the trail — and at a brewpub!