Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, January 2022

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, #270, January 2022

Hi everyone, Happy New Year!

Tule elk at Pierce Point, Point Reyes Ntl. Seashore, Marin, CA

#1. Pilgrim guidebook author Beebe Bahrami and her wolf encounter
#2. Snowshoeing and backpacking adventures with Yosemite Conservancy
#3. Are Monarch Butterflies Recovering?
#4. SYMG (Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides)
#5. 600-mile trail underway in the Sierra
#6. 2022 Pilgrim gathering and Hospitalero training coming up
#7. ALDHA-West info
#8. S.F. Bay Area Regional hikes: DIY in Point Reyes to see  Snowy Plover? Tule Elk? Coho Salmon?

Articles:
#1. Beebe Bahrami shares her wolf encounter story.
Beebe is known and beloved by many for her Camino guidebooks including The Spiritual Traveler Spain—A Guide to Sacred Sites and Pilgrim Routes (Paulist Press), Historic Walking Guides: Madrid(DestinWorld Publishing), and her newest— Moon Camino de Santiago (Avalon Travel/Hachette Book Group). She was one of the chapters (what the women of the book are calling themselves!) in my Walk, Hike, Saunter where she enticed to learn more of the story about her encounter with a wolf while hiking on a narrow path near Luarca on the Camino del Norte.

How lucky we are that her story has now been published with Perceptive Travel and I appreciate that she is sharing it with us here. “Time evaporated and space dissolved, as did the wolf’s agitation and mine. I felt the air molecules and the earth between us lose all barriers and meld and weave a profound interconnectedness, what I can only call communion.” Read on…  https://www.perceptivetravel.com/issues/0122/asturias.html.

#2. Snowshoeing and Backpacking Adventures with Yosemite Conservancy: “Experience the quiet beauty of winter in the park during a day of hiking or snowshoeing at Badger Pass, Dewey Point, Yosemite Valley, or the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.” I can attest to what beautiful scenery you will have whether it’s on an evening full moon hike or a daytime forest ramble. Yosemite Conservancy has a partnership with the park and they offer excursions for those of all levels of expertise—beginner to advanced. Learn more and register here. https://yosemite.org/experience/outdoor-adventures/

#3. Seemingly Headed for Extinction in 2020, Western Monarchs Boom Back in 2021. Daniel Roman in Bay Nature (December 8, 2021) writes, “Since 1997, volunteers organized by the conservation group Xerces Society have counted western monarchs over Thanksgiving at the butterflies’ overwintering sites around coastal California, as part of the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count.’

They collect data from more than 200 monitoring sites. In 2020, the count hit an all-time low — less than 2,000 monarchs — a number Bay Nature reported last year, that “represents an astonishing continuation of the near-total collapse of the western migratory population of the species over the last few decades.”

But this season’s numbers are encouraging and the changes significant. In 2020, three important overwintering sites in  along the California coast—Pacific Grove, Pismo Beach, and Big Sur— had fewer than 300 butterflies total. This season (2021—2022) more than 10,000 monarchs were counted.

Why this rebound is unknown, but there are a couple of theories. One hypothesis is that this year’s boom is due to an influx of monarchs from the eastern migratory population — which typically migrates between Mexico and the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains — joining western monarchs, thereby adding to the population.

What seems more likely, however, is good luck — a chance happening of good weather at the right time and other factors. The Xerces Society researchers wrote that, like other insects, “’monarchs [numbers] fluctuate from year to year in response to the temperature, rainfall, the availability of food, and other factors.’”

“A single adult female can lay 300 eggs, which multiplies with each of the monarchs’ typically four of five breeding generations in a year. So, if it’s a good year, with good weather, monarchs can produce a lot of offspring.”

In conclusion, it’s very good news, but there’s no guarantee that the monarch population has recovered. We have far to go to again see the numbers we had in the 1980’s — when millions of monarchs overwintered in California.  

You can subscribe to Bay Nature at https://baynature.org/ Meanwhile, people can help by continuing to create and improve butterfly habitat— planting native milkweed and flowers that provide nectar, and reducing pesticide use.

#4. Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides has been in business for 30 years and this year’s trips look as exciting as ever! SYMG sends season’s greetings! Their trips, often using pack animals to reduce what you have to carry, take you to what they describe as “arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth, Yosemite National Park and the High Sierra!”

Here’s a sampling:
“JMT: Rae Lakes Loop: Backpacking: Explore a famous section of the John Muir Trail. We’ll navigate the Rae Lakes Loop through the wilderness of King’s Canyon National Park. Along the way we’ll tackle Glen Pass and camp in the Rae Lakes…”

“Mt Whitney w/ Horsepack Support. Pack Supported Trekking. Climb Mt Whitney and the remote backcountry wilderness of Sequoia National Park! Pack stock will ease our burden as we travel between camps along scenic high-country sections of the famous John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail…” Website is https://www.symg.com/

#5. Lost Sierra Route: Wow! Guy Joaquin, co-coordinator of the Northern California Pilgrim group, shared this exciting news for hikers. The facebook link is here.  “Just heard of this amazing project underway: a 600-mile, multi-use trail connecting 15 Northern California and Nevada mountain towns from Truckee and Reno to Susanville.

“After reading this article, I watched a few videos online from the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship who are leading the charge. Their plans include routing the trails though the towns, instead of away, to connect users with the local communities and businesses so there will be accommodations and other support services. In other words, it could be very Camino-like. There is even a passport and stamp program in the works! Definitely something to keep an eye on and even maybe support.” Link to the trail project here. https://sierratrails.org/connected-communities/

#6. Camino Gathering and Hospitalero Training. “Get Prepared for the 2022 Gathering!” Dave Donselar, Chair of the 2022 Gathering, shares the details. The 2022 Annual Gathering of Pilgrims is will be held in Alexandria, VA. “This will be American Pilgrims on the Camino’s 25th year of gathering pilgrims together and we look forward to seeing you at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, NC (near Asheville) from March 31 to April 3, 2022.

“Registration will open in early January. Members will be notified when registration opens. Visit the American Pilgrims’ website americanpilgrims.org for additional details on the program including the most recent draft of the program, the cost, accommodations options, and the most up-to-date health precautions as we complete our preparations. Also be sure to check for email updates from American Pilgrims . . . we’ll be sending out updates before the event!

“Hospitalero Corner: Training. Hospitalero Trainings are starting again in 2022. The first one will be March 29-31 immediately preceding the 2022 Annual Gathering in Black Mountain, NC. Watch our website for updated information. Registration will open in early January”

#7. Info about the Triple Crown of Hiking: You hear about it—an award for hiking the of the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Appalachian trails. ALDHA-West, the organization that presents the award, gives some specifics for how you can tackle the challenge. “Happy New Year! As we enter into 2022, we will continue to dedicate our Tuesday posts for the next several weeks to address FAQs about the Triple Crown. Q: “Does it matter how I hiked the trail? Section hikes over multiple years, thru-hike, etc.?

A: “Nope. As long as you have hiked each trail in its entirety, section, thru, or flip-flop doesn’t matter.” Follow them on Facebook to read further information as it appears. 

#8. Great time to visit Marin County. Perhaps you are looking for a great hike that is short and sweet? Look no farther than one of these:
Abbotts Lagoon in Pt. Reyes National Park. This is an easy hike out to the ocean, which can be extended either north or south depending on whether you want or continue on flat or hill terrain. Trailhead is along the Pierce Point Road. The lagoon draws many kinds of birds—this time of year, Snowy Plover are reportedly nesting in the sand. https://www.pointreyesnature.com/blog/2020/9/19/western-snowy-plover

Pierce Point in Pt. Reyes. This is a moderate hike, out and back, on a dirt trail along the northernmost point of the Pt. Reyes peninsula. As you hike out to see the resident Tule Elk, you’ll be walking with the Pacific Ocean on the west side and Tomales Bay on the east. To the endpoint, Tomales Point, is about 10 miles round trip, but you’ll see the elk long before that. Google maps here.  

Lagunitas Creek/Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Easy. This is the location of the last notable wild Coho Salmon population in the Bay Area. The salmon this year were able to migrate from nearby Tomales Bay.

The females are in the process of building their nests (redd), which they do by swimming on their sides, arching their backs, and using their tails to smooth out the underwater gravel. When the female is content with her redd, she releases pheromones, which is a signal  indicating she is ready to lay her eggs. It’s also a signal to the males to approach to fertilize them — which they need to do quickly as the eggs are only viable for a few seconds.

To see them, you can go on your own; it’s best to go when  it’s less crowded on weekdays. Look for the salmon in the vicinity of the Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area. Better yet, to get a better idea of where to look, and what the behaviors mean, sign up for a guided tour with the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) part of the Turtle Island Restoration Network in Lagunitas. Tours are available on weekends Jan 9 to 30—and they will fill quickly. (Eventbrite/click here.) 
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Thank you everyone. Stay well, keep hiking when prudent. I encourage you to send in items of interest to the hiking community to me at backpack45 “at sign” yahoo.com

Susan ‘backpack45’ Alcorn
Shepherd Canyon Books, Oakland, CA
https://www.susandalcorn.com
https://www.backpack45.com

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.

  

Gratitude for our trails

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Sunol Regional Park, Alameda County, CA

Here in the S.F. Bay Area, the days have been so mild with daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving. However, when it starts getting dark at 5 PM, and colder, we realize we have to work a bit harder to fit hikes into our shorter daytime hours.

This reminds me that I have much to appreciate about where I live, why I try to support environmental causes, and how grateful I am for the thousands of people here who work to protect our environment.

Sunol Regional Park, Alameda County, CA

In particular, I am reminded of the importance of the regional parklands around me, which…

  • provide hundreds of miles of trails that I can hike. 
  • bring ever-changing displays of flowers, trees, and other plants. 
  • have quiet places to clear my head and exercise my body.
  • inspire my writing and photography with its scenic beauty.
  • support wildlife—from ladybugs covering entire branches; herons stalking their prey; hawks soaring overhead; flickers hammering cavities in tree branches to build their nests.  
  • offer the opportunity to gain perspective on our place on this earth.
  • allow free, or inexpensive, visits to all who want to come. 

And, people are instrumental in what happens…

  • by envisioning the setting aside of parcels of land to create parklands.
  • when they work to acquire properties that would otherwise turn into developments.
  • by volunteering to help with fund-raising, to interface with the public at the kiosks and gift shops, and by organizing work parties for weed control.
  • when they become park employees that build fences and picnic tables, clear out invasive plants, repair storm damaged trails and roadways, and educate park visitors. 
  • by voting in tax measures to support and improve our parks

Galen Rowell, photographer, climber, author (1940-2002) in  Bay Area Wild: A Celebration of the Natural Heritage of the San Francisco Bay Area wrote,  “The San Francisco Bay Area holds the most extensive system of wild greenbelts in the nation, with more than 200 parks and other protected areas lying within forty miles of the city.”

We are truly blessed to live here. 

Where Else to Roam?

‘Bucket List’ or Serendipity?

On the Vezelay Camino route, after Limoges, we found many castles and fortresses!

“Once upon a time” I thought that one really should do a “bucket list,” or set out to check off the places listed in “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” or some other similar book with a catchy title. I’m not saying that these concepts are bad, just that, in my experience, they don’t allow for real life! At least not ours, we like to be more flexible. 

Truthfully, when Ralph and I started the John Muir Trail in 1989 (the year we were married), we hadn’t planned to do more than backpack from Kearsarge Pass (near Lone Pine, CA) to Mt. Whitney. In fact, it was several years (meanwhile backpacking in other parts of the Sierra Nevada) before we decided to do another section of the JMT.  Because our time was limited for each backpacking trip, we actually hiked the JMT in sections—returning four times to do it all.

But ‘what then?’ What then, because I had just officially retired, but could keep teaching as a job-share, was that we were able to take off for longer periods—we came down into Yosemite Valley at the end of trip #4, went home, and repacked, and then flew to Spain and start the Camino Frances—the best known of the Spanish Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trails.

A Reality Check

Ralph (83) and I (78) are at a point in our lives where we can facing the fact that we may not be able to hike ‘forever.’ We have no way of knowing if we will even be able to hike another few years—things happen!

We know that we are not as strong as we once were and can’t hike as fast or as far as we once could. Also, increasingly, we see friends developing conditions or illnesses that limit their mobility. This is just part of the aging process. So, we are approaching travel, especially that will include hiking, more carefully. We are being more selective about destinations.

Our plans include

One thing seems certain, we will continue to explore routes of the Camino de Santiago. We are part of the pilgrim community here, and find the Camino trails of Europe compelling. Each route is different; we enjoy experiencing the cultures, the places the trails take us, and meeting new people. We have about 140 miles more to go on the Vezelay, French route to reach Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees so returning there is on the horizon.

The ‘biggie’ coming up even sooner, however, is a cruise to Antarctica—the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctica peninsula. This year we are celebrating our 30th anniversary and this is one way that we are making it memorable. 

Is 10,000 a magic number?

What about 10,000 steps?

Along the Vezelay, FR., Camino route.

For many years, 10,000 has been given as the magic number of steps to take daily to improve our fitness level and boost our longevity. More recently, however, we’ve read that 10,000 is really an arbitrary number. In one study of women (average age 72), click here, it was found that 4,000 steps per day was beneficial. Additionally, the study said that anything over 7,500 steps brought no additional benefit.

That is not to say that counting steps isn’t a helpful tool; it can be. It is an fairly effective method of keeping track of your steps and mileage. Just as writing in a food diary is a more accurate way of seeing what your caloric intake is than relying on a running total in your head, a step counter will probably keep you more honest. And, as the study stated, for most people, any increase in steps is helpful. 

For us as hikers, another takeaway is that counting steps is not a well-rounded way to become trail-ready, particularly if your aim is longer hikes and multi-day backpack trips. Nevertheless, I find aiming for 10,000 motivating, and I am relieved to learn that I am not harming myself when I don’t reach that number. 

In my article, Training for Walking, Hiking, and Backpacking, you’ll find plenty of advice to achieve greater hiking stamina and strength that goes beyond counting steps.