Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mount Whitney Revisited As A Day Hike

Dale Matson

Time marches on. I hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney in 2004. It was the 100th anniversary of the building of the trail. Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S.  The bad news is it took me 15 hours (three more hours) this year to complete the 22 mile out and back hike. The good news is that I didn't have altitude sickness this year.  I suppose it IS taller at 14,505’ than it was in 2004 (14,494’). Maybe that’s why it took longer.  Mt. Whitney is an impressive and imposing sight from the Inyo County permit station on the east side of highway 395. Whitney rises over two miles above the town of Lone Pine.

Mt. Whitney Viewed From Lone Pine, CA

A day hike is still a three day hike, if you don’t live in the vicinity of Lone Pine. The Whitney trail requires a specific permit and is obtained through a reservation lottery. You need to pick up the permit in Lone Pine by noon the day before the hike. If you pick up the permit as a same day “walk in”, there is already a problem. You won’t be on the trail until after 9am. The average hiker takes about eight hours to summit. When storms come in, they generally come in the afternoon. Hikers want to be on their way down before noon. When you are done with the hike on day two, you will need to spend the night in Lone Pine unless you live in Bishop.

There are generally lots of pilgrims on the Whitney trail since the folks on the John Muir Trail are either beginning or ending their hike at Whitney too. When you get to "Trail Crest" (13,600’) there are quite a few backpacks stacked around the area. The JMT folks leave them there to top out at Whitney which is the southern terminus or beginning of the JMT depending on whether you hike the JMT N-S or S-N. The trail-head at Whitney Portal is at 8,000’ but it is not a true measure of the climate and conditions on top of Whitney. It can be more than twenty degrees colder than Whitney Portal on top of Whitney. The wind chill will make it feel even colder. Once the trail enters Sequoia Park at trail crest, the wind increases and another layer of clothing is required.

Unfortunately, it is near this area that the trail narrows to a knife edge in a few places making it especially dangerous. People have been blown off the trail. Some have probably fallen from sheer fatigue or died from hypothermia. Anyway, the trail claims at least one person every year. I was a part of the search team helicoptered in to look for Kenneth Wade Brunette in 2009, who fell off the trail to his death. It may have been storm related. If you have balance issues, stay off this trail.

Knife Edge On Mt. Whitney Trail
People are not really afraid of heights. They are afraid of edges. No one is afraid of falling off of Denver. There are plenty of edges on the Whitney trail. There is one short section of guard posts with cables along the 99 switchbacks. There is a problem with ice buildup on this section and a very steep drop off along the fence.

The stone shelter on top of Whitney was constructed in 1909 to protect people from lightning strikes and has a wooden floor for the same purpose. The hut used to have a toilet but it was removed by order of the head ranger J.D. Swed. He told me he was quite proud of this action.

There used to be a solar toilet available at trail camp. It was there in 2004 but has been removed since that time. Now the policy is pack it in and pack it out. When you pick up your trail permit, you also receive a human waste bag to pack out. I noticed some bags used and left along the trail. Maybe those individuals were waiting for their mother to pick up after them. 

My friend John Shehadey ran the Badwater ultramarathon (135 miles) from Death Valley to Whitney Portal. It is the custom for the finishers to hike to the top of Whitney AFTER this. John loves to tell the story to anyone who will listen that he had to stay the night in the stone hut and saw a Buddhist monk appear off and on during the night. I believe you John since I once saw a bunch of Scottie Dogs on the trail at about mile 75 while running the Western States 100 mile endurance run.

I have a youtube video of this hike available here:  .        


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Thoughts While Ascending The Outbound Trail

Trail To Kaiser Peak 

Dale Matson

I am ascending a mountain trail. Where is the top? Is it just up there or is that just another false summit? I can see a hole in the trees. As I walk my heart pounds in my chest. It is not like running down below. This is much more noticeable. I need to pause from time to time to get a deep cleansing breath as I lean forward on my trekking poles. Someone approaches from up above. I gladly step off the trail to let him by. It is as much an excuse to rest as it is being polite. He says he’s from England. “This is a heck of a lot higher than Ben Nevis” I say and he nods his head.

I take a long drink from my water bottle. I gasp for breath again. It was too long without breathing. A bead of sweat mixed with Deet drips from my forehead into my eye. It begins to burn. I squirt water into my eye from my water bottle and wipe it with my towel hanging from my pack.

There is a distant sound like someone blowing rapidly into a Coke bottle. It is a Partridge drumming on a log. There is a stone in my shoe. It has been there awhile, sometimes painful, sometimes not but I need to find a sitting rock and take my shoe off. There’s a good rock that is the right height to support my pack too but it’s too far off the trail. Maybe I’ll find one on the next switchback. I need a rest again too.

I hear a conversation. Is it above or below me? It’s below me. People are catching up and will soon pass. Dang! This never happened in the old days. I think to myself as they pass, “I could be their grandfather.” It’s time for another drink. Well, that’s almost the last of my water. I need resupply the next time I come to a source.

Man, this climb is never ending! I can’t take any more caffeinated energy gels till I have lots more water. Oh, I’ll just shorten my stride and get into my marching mode to conserve energy. There goes my hope for a two miles an hour pace for this climb. Did I put my car key in my Velcro or my zip pocket? Man, I wouldn't want to do this climb in the afternoon.

Oops, I almost tripped on that root stub. Where did it come from? I then scold myself for looking at the altimeter too much on my watch. I pause again to take another cleansing breath. Just as I think I am on the last switchback and I can see the peak ahead of me, the trail takes a hard left and climbs in another direction.

Finally, I see people sitting just above me. The view is beginning to open up.  I wonder where those folks are from. I’ll ask them when I find a place to sit and admire the view.

View East From Kaiser Peak With Banner Peak       

Friday, September 20, 2013


Trail To Glen Pass From Kearsarge Pass

Dale Matson

As someone who has searched for lost individuals off trails, I know how foreboding and difficult it can be to navigate the wilderness without them. Trails are highways through the wilderness. They are a thin ribbon often called ‘single tracks’. Trails are the shortcut. They are the way into and out of the wilderness. They take us to a timeless time zone. Most often they are ‘use’ trails headed over a mountain pass, to a view or to lakes. Trails frequently follow the course of a creek or a river which is also good for necessary hydration.

As you proceed, there are signs on trees called reassurance markers or blazes. When the trail is faint, they reassure the traveler that he is headed in the correct direction. On large stretches of open areas there are often cairns made of stacked rocks. There are other more subtle signs for the experienced traveler. Trails are also used by pack animals and their scat can help when the trail is uncertain. It is also common to see deer and bear track on human made trails.  The residue from soiled boots leaves a telltale travel sign on smooth granite. Trails through meadows are well worn, deep and certain. Trails on steep climbs and descents zigzag in what are called switchbacks to make the climb less steep. One must be careful on a descending trail not to follow the waterway diversion path, designed to keep the trail from washing away during spring runoff and thunderstorms. Ferns open as you approach and close like curtains on the trail behind you.

Trails lead us deeper into the wilderness and deeper into ourselves. Suddenly you are so small and insignificant. You are like the protagonist in the movie “The Incredible Shrinking Man”.

West Of Mt. Whitney On A SAR Mission

The surroundings are timeless and indifferent to your presence.  Your footsteps will be erased by the next storm. The granite in sunlight is warm to the touch on a cool windy day. The wind at high elevations blows continuously and makes a narrow knife edge trail a test of courage too. Our hearts pound like a drum in our chests in an uncustomary way as we climb in thinner air. Trails along water bring mosquitoes in the early and late hours and deer flies and horseflies and gnats in the hotter part of the day. Thank God for Deet.

Trails bring surprises. All you have to do is turn around and your view can be even better than the slow motion wonderland you are walking into. A partridge flies up and startles you. The brush cracks and a deer bolts into the trees. A coyote (God’s dogs) barks and grudgingly gives ground. So often our ears perceive things before our eyes do.  Fresh bear scat steams in the cool morning air and you wonder if he is just around that big boulder up ahead. You see a stick and then it moves and then it is a rattlesnake and you give her the proper distance. After days on the trail, you hear an uncustomary sound at a considerable distance. It is a human voice and it is out of place. We expect the scolding jays and crows but not a conversation between other humans.

There are sections of trail that are not so pretty. I still remember the area near Red Cones on the JMT. A long ago fire turned a beautiful section of forest into a long lasting black skeleton. Switchbacks on the face of an open section of mountain are exposed, hot and dry at mid-day. There are sections of trail where the forest was flattened by avalanches and landslides. Downed trees across the trail force climb-overs and walk-arounds. Where did the trail go? They also give a renewed appreciation for an unobstructed trail.

Twenty years ago I ran trails and traveled fifty miles in a day. I was light and younger, fast and foolish. Today, the views most often require an overnight. An overnight requires a pack and a pack makes you heavy, old and slow but realistic.  As long as I am physically able to move on trails and have sound judgment, I will continue to use them to plan, dream and explore the wilderness and my own thoughts.

Thank you Lord for the trails in the wilderness created and maintained by the footsteps of pilgrims and the work of volunteers and forest service workers before me.      


Monday, September 16, 2013

My Productivity Tools Then And Now

Dale Matson

Productivity tools have always been a part of my working life. As an adolescent in Michigan I began with tools like rakes, dirt and snow shovels and push lawnmowers. A wheelbarrow was a step up and made it easier to move wood and dirt around our yard. It had a pneumatic tire and occasionally went flat. The blades on the mower became dull and it tended to skip over the tougher grass. These were problems with tools with moving parts.

I worked as a laborer for quite a few years including my first two years of college. The grounds supervisor promoted me to tractor driver and I pulled a set of gang mowers to mow acres of grass daily on our campus. I enjoyed it and taught myself how to operate other kinds of heavy equipment used by the grounds department.

After military service I moved to Wisconsin and went to work for a general contractor. My primary productivity tools were bulldozers, backhoes and front loaders. I enjoyed the work and appreciated how much these machines could do compared to hand labor. I still used shovels and rakes to finish up close to buildings.

Dale Operating Dozer In Late 1970’s

I went back to college still using the typing skills I learned in high school. This extended into my early college days with ‘onion skin’ paper the paper of choice because it could be erased. The transition to the word processor was easy since the keyboards were the same but mistakes could easily be corrected and work stored. “Xerox” machines made it easy to duplicate work. They became my productivity tools as I completed my master’s degree and doctorate. As a professor, my productivity tools also included an overhead projector. At this point, computers were used to email folks, perform statistical analysis and word processing. PowerPoint was fairly new when I retired. This was far beyond the use of the yellow legal pad and a ball point pen. The Commodore 64 computer that I used had a whopping 64 kilobytes of RAM. Writing lesson plans and lectures was a snap.

The hardware and software I use today is another giant leap. The hardware is smaller, much more powerful and easier to use. The real change is the internet, traffic speeds and software (some refer to it as “Apps”). This is the digital age. As an author and self-publisher my productivity tools are mostly contained in a laptop and desktop computer. My pocket point and shoot camera can take and store almost an unlimited number photographs. Just one picture file today would not “fit” on an older 3.5” floppy disc. I have a love hate relationship with my modern productivity tools and spent two hours today installing a newer version of Adobe Photoshop. Don’t look for tech support. Companies today think FAQs will suffice. Sorry but NO!

We now have “cloud technology” where software companies will keep their products in the cloud and the software user will rent the software. I don’t trust cloud storage and cloud access. My productivity tools will remain in my house along with my shovel and rake. Every occupation has productivity tools. These tools make the impossible only difficult and sometimes easy.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shane Krogen RIP

Marek Warszawski — The Fresno Bee 09-15-13

Shane Krogen

Shane Krogen was one of the first friendly faces I met in Fresno.
He was behind the counter at California Outfitters, the outdoors speciality shop he used to own near Blackstone and Herndon, when I walked in 15 years ago looking for new hiking boots. (I found the store in something called the yellow pages. Kids, ask your parents what that is.)
Shane not only sold me new boots but also measured my feet for high-quality moldable insoles. I balked, but he insisted. And my blister problems ceased that day.

I remember being struck by Krogen's smile and enthusiasm for the outdoors, and it wasn't long before he had me volunteering for his trail crew and signing up for the store's activity classes. He was one of those people you can't help but think of fondly.

That's why my knees buckled when I heard that Krogen died Thursday morning in a fall from a helicopter while members of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew assisted in the cleanup of a marijuana grove in the Tulare County mountains. The group's founder and executive director was 57.
While I could sit here and tell you what a great guy Shane was and how many lives he influenced, others do it better.

Mike Libecki, 40, is a renowned explorer and climber who lives outside Salt Lake City. National Geographic named him one of its Adventurers of the Year for 2013.
But back in the 1990s, Libecki was just an aspiring rock climber from Clovis who hung around California Outfitters for two reasons: his friends worked there; and it was the only place in town that sold climbing equipment.

But Shane sensed something in the young upstart. ("A lot of kids come to the store and talk a lot," Krogen told me for a 2003 story. "But I knew right away Mike was more than just talk.") So when Libecki started getting his foot in the door by doing a couple big routes on Yosemite's El Capitan and Baffin Island, Krogen helped him kick it open.

"I'll never forget when he told me, 'Mike, when you come into the store, take anything you want. Anything you want,' " Libecki recalls. "He said, 'You're going to make it as a climber, and I want to help you get there.' "When I heard the news (about Krogen's death), I immediately thought of his kindness and generosity."

Libecki estimates that over the years he took "thousands of dollars" worth of equipment from California Outfitters on his expeditions to places like Greenland, Madagascar and Antarctica. But Krogen's influence when he returned from those adventures was just as important.
Libecki is known for his entertaining slideshows; he's given hundreds around the world. But the very first one came at California Outfitters — and it was Shane who encouraged it.
"I don't know if I'd be where I'm at today without his support in those early days," Libecki says.

Then there is Ryan Soares.
Soares, 36, is Fresno State's "adventure professor" teaching outdoors-themed classes for the Department of Recreation Administration. He also directs the school's E.D.G.E Challenge Ropes Course, a leadership development program.

Soares began working at California Outfitters as an 18-year-old. Years later, as store manager, he, Krogen and two professors helped establish outdoors classes on campus.
"I'd say about 90% of where I am today in the outdoors industry is because of him," Soares says. "And I'm only one person. When you think of all the people whose lives he touched, it's kind of hard to quantify."

The group includes Haley Fielding.
Fielding, a 19-year-old graduate of Yosemite High, is pursuing a degree in environmental biology (though she's currently living in Florida working for Disney on an internship). She credits the many summer weekends she and her mother, Coni Hintergardt, spent volunteering for the trail crew with sparking her interest in the outdoors.

"I don't think that I'd be the person I am today without him," Fielding says. "He had a huge influence on my life, and I've met so many people through trail crew that are like my second family."
Krogen made it his mission to get people excited about nature and the outdoors while encouraging volunteer stewardship of our public lands.

The legacy he leaves behind carries on with these three stories, and many more. There couldn't be a better tribute.

Read more here:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lightweight Backpacking Items

Over the years, two things have happened that have changed backpacking for me. I have gotten older and gear has gotten lighter. Twenty years ago a multi-day backpacking trip would mean reaching for a 70 liter back pack and stuffing it with lots of heavy gear.  Even today I still see these packs on the trail used by folks out for only a few days. These heavy packs limit trail speed, daily endurance and distance traveled. they also increase the possibility of a fall. I thought it useful to offer a suggested list of items based on what I use on a four day, three night trip. These are only suggested items and your needs may differ but the gear listed here combined is about 25 pounds. This is essentially the same gear I set aside for my 3 day Search and Rescue pack minus the Bear Vault 450.

Big Agnes Seedhouse 1
Summit Rocket 40

Back pack Sierra Designs Discovery 30 ----30 liter backpack (or Mountain Hardwear Summit Rocket 40 Liter pack)
Tent------Big Agnes Seedhouse 1 (tent in pack and metal support rods in outside pocket) Or single wall Mountain Hardwear direkt 2
Bear Canister----Bear Vault 450 solo
Bear canister contains [Snowpeak Litemax Titanium stove in cook pot w/small fuel can, waterproof matches, first aid kit, toilet kit and Food---energy bars, dried fruit, mixed nuts and premixed instant coffee]
Waterproof stuff sack w/ Sleeping Bag----Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32°
Sleeping Pad-----Thermarest NeoAir all season
Waterproof stuff sack w/ Down Sweater----Mountain Hardwear  Ghost Whisperer
Waterproof stuff sack w/merino wool socks, light poly pro gloves and balaclava
Inflatable pillow
Pack lid contains Petzl Tekki LED headlamp, spare AA and AAA batteries, mini Bic butane lighter and chlorine tabs for emergency purification
Note pad and pen, spare waterproof map
Garmin Oregon 550 t with detailed California topo map chip on front of shoulder strap
Left waistbelt pocket includes mosquito repellent, Suunto Compass, lip balm
Right waistbelt pocket contains small Kershaw folding knife and sunscreen
Right side mesh pocket contains spare water bottle
Left side mesh pocket has collapsible tent support rods and Mont-bel titanium scoop
Mesh pocket on back has Mountain Hardwear lightweight hooded rain shell, rain pants and waterproof gloves.

Utility Belt
Velcro holster with a Katadyn filter water bottle
Point and shoot camera w/plastic sealable bag
Iridium 9575 Sat Phone in waterproof bag
Utility pouch for chap stick, water tablets, camera batteries, aspirin and ibuprofen, sunblock, folding knife etc.

Cargo Shorts with lots of zippered pockets
Mountain Hardwear polypro shirt with zipper pocket
Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 Trail-Running shoes
Black Diamond Trekking Poles

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bears On The Trails

Dale Matson

I have often been on a trail in the cool of the morning and seen fresh bear scat steaming in the morning sun. It never fails to make me feel somewhat discomfited. It seems that knowing that there is a bear close by but not knowing where, can often be more disturbing than actually seeing the bear, if there is distance between you and the bear. Distance provides a psychological cushion especially if you ignore the fact that the bear could cover that distance in a matter of seconds.

Bear scat with my cap for comparison

I am ambivalent about the absence of Grizzly Bears in the Sierras.  They once were prevalent throughout California but were hunted into extinction. They are represented on the California State flag. There is an excellent book on the Grizzly in California called, California's Day of the Grizzly: The Exciting, Tragic Story of the Mighty California Grizzly by William B. Secrest. With rattle snakes, black bears and mountain lions, however, there are enough apex predators to think about without considering the grizzly too.

In the past couple of years, I have run into several bears in Kings Canyon National Park. Two of the bears have been on the trail coming toward me. Last year I ran into a large black male on the first set of switchbacks that ascend along the Bubb’s Creek Trail heading east out of Roads End. This is a narrow trail on the exposed face of a cliff with a granite wall on the left and a steep slope on the right. About half way, I looked up to see the bear so close, I could see the flies on his face.

I was surprised that I wasn’t afraid even after breaking through the initial denial, “That is not a bear standing in front of me!”  We stood there facing each other and I decided it was too dangerous for me to walk below the trail. “Well, I’ll just take his picture.” While I slowly got my camera out and focused on him, he must have decided to go around below me. He then got back on the trail and continued down the trail behind me.

This summer, I headed out of Roads End again for an overnight at Charlotte Lake off the John Muir Trail. On my return leg, I saw a dark brown lump partially obscured by a large boulder beside the trail. It was not an ordinary wilderness color and got my attention. As I got closer, I realized it was a bear with her head behind a boulder. I stopped and whistled to let her know that I was there. She backed out and stood on the trail facing me. Then she started walking toward me.

Once again, I did not get off the trail. I was simply too tired for detours. Suddenly a cub came out from behind the boulder and started running past her toward me. I was not happy about this. The mother must have realized I was not a threat, wheeled around and walked away on the trail. The cub lost both his curiosity and courage at that point and fled back to the security of his mother.

They both eventually took a route perpendicular to the trail and I continued on. I believe she walked toward me initially to put herself  between me and her cub.

In both cases, I was not fearful and I didn’t try and drive the bears away with gestures and yelling. Is this the way to behave in a bear encounter? It was for me for those two bears. Neither bear seemed the least bit nervous or irritated. I have seen a mother bear circle back and begin to pace back and forth on another occasion.  That bear was nervous. She made me nervous also. Fortunately she eventually moved on. I don’t know if a bear can sense that you are not afraid or a threat but in both cases, I got good photographs. This summer (2013) seven people were attacked by black bears. I was glad that I was not one of them.

Here are some bear tracks in the snow on two different c.c. ski trips I took to Glacier Point from Badger Pass. My ski glove is in the first picture for comparison.

Bear On Hike To Cloud's Rest Yosemite   

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ten Rules for Wilderness Travel

Dale Matson

  1. Remain orientedDon’t get lost in the first place. Use a map, GPS/compass and wristwatch. Pay attention to your surroundings. What is unique and distinctive? Was there a creek along the trail on your right outbound? Where will it be inbound? Is the highway perpendicular to the trailhead? Which direction are you heading on the trail away from the highway? 
  2. Know your limitations. Your own ego is your worst enemy. Don’t succumb to summit fever. Things you step over outbound you may trip over on the return leg.
  3. Everyone should have basic navigational skills. Lost people frequently began with a group and became separated. Put a good navigator in the rear too. Know your route. Is there water along the way to resupply?
  4. Let someone know where you are going. Do not change your plans and hike a different area. Tell them you will call them when you are in your vehicle and headed home.
  5. Stay on the trail. The trail IS the shortcut. Be careful not to follow the drainage from a trail (which can look like a trail) especially on switchbacks. Watch for blaze marks on trees along the trail.  Many trails are used in winter also and have tags high up in trees. Head out early to your destination if you are alone. People returning to the trailhead behind you are what could be called “trail sweeps”.
  6. Mountains make their own weather. Be prepared for the worst but check the weather. If there is a storm coming cancel the trip. Winter driving itself can be dangerous. Rescuers are more at risk too. Air support is unavailable in a storm. Don’t put others at risk too.
  7. Stay warm, stay hydrated and nourished and stay dry. Have these items with you at all times at a minimum. Know the essentials and have them in your day pack.  Always think of a day hike as a possible overnight. (copy and paste in your browser)
  8. Communicate with each other. Wait for people to catch up especially at trail junctions. The slowest person in a group will determine the pace.
  9. Know when to turn back. How much time do you have? Check your watch frequently. Even If the trail is up outbound, figure on an equal amount of time required inbound.
  10. When all else fails. Stay put unless you have to keep moving to avoid hypothermia. Stay in the open. Do not attempt to travel in the dark. The wind in the evergreens is not cars on a nearby road. Even if you are lost in the forest, you are probably safer than spending the night on the sidewalks of any major city.

Will I follow my own rules? I hope and pray that I will.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Rim Fire

Dale Matson

“No arrests have been made, and the hunter's name is being withheld "pending further investigation," Forest Service spokesman Ray Mooney said. Investigators declined to release further details Thursday, including where he's from, whether they have interviewed him and whether there were other hunters involved.”
(Paul Rodgers, San Jose Mercury News 09-05-13

It surprised me that there was no immediate claim about the cause of the fire by the U.S. Forest Service when the fire began in mid-August in the Stanislaus National Forest. My wife and I were returning from the east side of the Sierras via highway 120 over Tioga Pass on August 23rd when we saw the enormous smoke plume as early as the eastern gate of Yosemite. At that time 120 westbound was still open and the fire had not entered Yosemite Park.

It was initially reported that the cause of the Rim Fire was ‘unknown’. Then it was reported that the Rim Fire was caused by illegal marijuana growers. This reason was then denied because the area was too steep and there was no water source to grow the plants. Since that time the fire has been attributed to the illegal campfire of a ‘hunter’. It almost seems to me that government officials are reaching for a plausible cause that will also offer up a politically correct explanation and appeal to those opposed to guns. What follows is a quote from one of those who responded to the article in the San Jose Mercury News article written by Paul Rodgers. [Slightly edited]

“Hey, this response is to you, Paul Rogers, the author who wrote this article. Did you conduct any investigative journalism to validate/verify that this fire was started by a hunter? Have any of you in the media asked what an alleged hunter was doing in Zone D6 when hunting season isn't even open until Sept 21st? (Check the DFG regulations which are open for public viewing) I'd like to see the media produce some evidence...but no, they are just interested in narratives and story lines.

Could this be our failed government and the stupid media once again partnering to blame a terrible tragedy on gun owners? This is an endless effort to distort the truth and perpetuate myths in their mutual war on gun owners and gun ownership? If this alleged hunter was in Zone D6, "hunting", then he/she was there illegally and will get prosecuted for that. If an individual did start this fire, then I think they were at best a hiker or a stupid "poacher" and clearly not a law abiding hunter.” (Drew McLaughlin)

At this point, it remains a mystery to me that the individual(s) that started this fire has/have not been identified. Additionally, IF it was an illegal hunter hunting out of season, then the individual should be referred to as a poacher and not a ‘hunter’ and prosecuted accordingly.

In any event, I hope that the U.S. Forest Service will review their policy on the management of our national forests and not just pass fires like this off as caused by climate change and bad prior fire management practices. Privately managed forests have been demonstrated to be less fire prone because they are thinned and harvested. There is a Montana State University white paper on this that I no longer have access to.

Do we need to even rethink the concept of designating an area as “wilderness”? Fire policy in our National Parks where a U.S. Forest Service official told me confidentially that a “let burn” policy contributed to fires getting out of control in Yellowstone in 1988, burning over 800,000 acres.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Time For Prayer

Fr. Dale Matson

“This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: Violence and war are never the way to peace!"  Pope Francis

“Syria’s faithful Christians have suffered for many months.  We are reminded in Hebrews 13, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” I am calling the Anglican Church in North America to pray for protection for the Syrian Church, relief for those who are suffering and wisdom for the international community as they consider how to respond.” Archbishop Duncan Anglican Church North America

I humbly cry to You O Lord, restrain those in positions of power. Give them ears to hear the voices of those who seek peace. Let the cries of Your people be heard who are weary of war, violence, persecution and suffering. Give those involved in conflict hearts to negotiate. Protect the innocent and keep them from harm. Instill leaders with humility and patience. Give Your people hearts to pray and fast. Restrain the use of power and force in a futile attempt to punish others. Lord, find a home for those who are displaced; who have no place. Silence those who call for war, for bombs, for death. Give all Your people hearts of compassion and mercy. Let Your people see the good in others and embrace their right to live in peace and prosper. Lord, Let justice clothe herself in patience and wisdom gird herself with mercy. Amen

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Communicating Mountain Emergencies

Dale Matson

Iridium 9575 (Extreme)

I am usually alone when I am in the mountains. Many would say that this is not prudent but this is reality. I would prefer traveling with trail companions but none are usually available. I usually stick to the trails and always let my wife know my travel plans. I copy extra maps of the areas in which I will be traveling and give her my itinerary. I’m not sure how closely the park and forest services monitor your itinerary on your wilderness permit.

Additionally, I have carried a satellite phone for the last ten years. On multiday trips, I call my wife every night to verify my location and confirm that I am well. There are some locations in the mountains where a cell phone will reach a distant tower but it would be foolish to assume that the cell phone is a reliable means of establishing an emergency connection.

Some would argue that having companions is better than a satellite phone and in some situations, this is probably true. I know of two situations in the last two years however that argue in favor of a satellite phone even when one has trail companions.

In the first case, two men were traveling off trail in the Sierra National Forest high country. The navigator fell and suffered a severe head trauma. His friend put him in a tent and went for help but was lost for quite awhile before he was able to get a rescue helicopter to take him back to his friend. In the meantime, his friend crawled out of the tent and over a cliff. The helicopter flew out his body.

In the second case a woman and two male companions were climbing a dome in the Sierra National Forest and she was cut severely while suspended and swinging from a rope. One friend went for help and the other stayed with her. By the time help arrived, she had perished.

I thought to myself on both occasions, if they had an emergency communicating device both people might be alive today. Additionally a person with an emergency device could help someone from another party if they had a problem.

Ten years ago Globalstar had good satellite coverage and I used their phones. The satellites prematurely degraded and I was left with a small communication window. Eventually they stopped charging me a monthly fee because they essentially had no phone service. Since that time they have developed the “Spot”, a small device (< 8 ounces) that will send one way messages to let people know your status. The purchase cost is relatively cheap and there is a subscription fee.

I bought a 9555 Iridium satellite phone and it had generally good coverage. I have run into problems in canyons. Sometimes a clear overhead sky is not enough.  Iridium has the most subscribers including most government agencies. The back country rangers in Kings Canyon have them and some use a solar charger to recharge the lithium batteries. Two way radios are not always dependable even with mountain top repeater towers. I was with the SAR team in Humphreys' Basin and they used my satellite phone to get out when the radios couldn't.

I recently traded in my Iridium 9555 for a 9575. The newer phone is a tad smaller, weighs in a little over 8 ounces, has a tougher case and is water resistant. It also has a red panic button that functions a lot like a Spot system. One nice feature is that it displays Latitude/Longitude. I pay the base monthly rate and per minute call rate. These phones can also be rented.  Some would say this is a lot of money. I call it a life insurance policy.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Muscle: How Much Is Too Much Muscle?

Dale Matson

Well, the answer begins with, “It depends…..” This is a n=1 case study of a 69 year old man (me) that I think will generalize fairly well. I once talked with a trainer who was also a body builder and he argued that one could not have too much muscle. More muscle was better in any sport. I said, “What about those who run marathons? Wouldn’t that mean that Arnold Schwarzenegger could have run a sub 2 hour marathon”? He had no response.

I am an example of someone who has had muscle, lost muscle and gained some back for different reasons. When I graduated from High School, I weighed 160 pounds. In my early twenties, I was primarily a “poser”. The current meaning was not available then. I think we were called “players” then. I have an ectomorph frame and am 6’ tall. At that time I was 230 pounds, could military press 210 pounds and could do three sets of ten pull ups. I did no real aerobic exercise in addition to the weight lifting. Aerobic exercise wasn't really fashionable until Kenneth Cooper came along in the 1970’s.  I was very strong but would wake up at night with a numb arm. I believe I had increased body mass without increasing my circulatory system.

I was drafted into the army and quickly decided that basic training was not geared to the heavy folks. There are mesomorphs who are exceptions to this. I was in basic training with Ken Bowman a center for the Green Bay Packers. He was huge, fast and fit but even he would not set any marathon records unless he was in the “Clydesdale” category. We were tested in the mile run and needed to finish in less than seven minutes to pass. We ran everywhere we went. Since running is a gravity dependent sport (as opposed to swimming), I began to lose weight. By the time I finished advanced individual training (AIT), I weighed 173 pounds. Because of the other combat proficiency tests like the horizontal ladder, I maintained proportionate strength but was not nearly as strong as before. It was a worthwhile tradeoff.

After the Army, I gradually gained weight and was up to 220 pounds again at mid-life. I had begun to have health problems including high Cholesterol and high blood pressure. I decided to start exercising again and began walking two miles a day. Since my life motto is “Everything worth doing is worth overdoing” I eventually worked up to a marathon. I finished my first marathon (the American Odyssey) is Wisconsin in last place in 6:20. I was about 200 pounds by then. It was obvious that my weight was the primary limitation. More and more I thought about my high school weight as proper for my frame.

After that I got into trail running and ultra-marathons. Eventually, my weight dropped to 185 pounds and I could finish a marathon in less than four hours. I also realized that at age 50 I would have to be at 160 pounds to meet the 3:30 qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. I qualified and ran the 100th anniversary Boston Marathon.

I wanted to finish the Western States 100 mile endurance run and finally finished after three tries at age 57 (20001) at 160 pounds. I was about seven percent body fat. 160 pounds is my optimal running weight but I began having trouble opening my friction fit windows in my house. I took on the challenge of the Hawaii Ironman (I was a lottery winner in 2004). In my training for Ironman, my weight increased to 165 pounds because of the upper body muscle developed by weight training and needed for swimming. I was still about 7 percent body fat.

As I age, it is also becoming evident that my heart and lungs are not as robust as they once were. This is another reason to keep my weight down. I still lift for upper body strength but my lower body is developed by running, biking, swimming and cross country skiing. I find that backpacking using trekking poles also is a great endurance workout. This summer, my weight is just below 160 pounds but my body fat is down to 5 percent. Climbing at altitude with a pack is quite a workout.

The point I am making is that each person has a particular frame size, V02 Max, sport and optimal weight. For the ordinary person like me to optimize my performance in endurance events, I need to be at my ideal weight. It only varies by about five pounds. It is exercise (and diet) that primarily shapes my body. I am no longer a poser. My training is directed to my real life activities. I can still do three sets of six pull ups. What I do now is directed less to competition and more to being in the Sierras.

If you play contact sports and are younger then that is another story for someone else to tell. Even in football there is room for the lean individual but that depends on the position he may play.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Favorite Fresno County CA Mountain Passes

The Cover Photo Is Kearsarge Pass Looking West

Often my civilian and clerical lives merge. As a cleric there is a kind of prophetic mindset. By this I don’t mean future telling as much as stating what is obvious but hidden. I don’t mean this in a critical sense either because it is all too easy to distort the prophetic role into that of a critic or simply a grumbler. The older we become, the easier it is to do this. At my age one has to be intentionally positive.

 It is obvious to me, that most of the world, including Fresno County California residents, is not aware of the beauty that lies hidden in the mountains and wilderness of Fresno County. Much of this beauty is found along the wilderness trails of eastern Fresno County. We have become a nation that drives to beautiful places. The places I am referring to are not accessible by automobile. John Muir understood the importance and the need for humans to spend time in the wilderness. There is a twofold effect of immersing oneself in the wilderness. We need to be freed from the distract white noise of civilized living and once again attune to and reacquaint ourselves with the primitive sounds and smells of the wilderness. Once we have ‘acclimatized’, we have eyes to see and ears to hear once again. We are not blocking things out. We are taking things in.

I wrote this book to share what I have discovered in Fresno County California with those who are not familiar with her rugged beauty. It may seem odd to some that the combination of rock, trees and water can be so varied and wondrously beautiful. The primary purpose of this piece is to pass on beauty that is difficult to access and rarely shared in color in a digital format or black and white on the printed page. It would be too costly to produce a color version in paperback.

I am thankful that my health and fitness level allow me at the age of sixty nine, to continue to take on the effort required to find and experience the mountain passes that I am sharing. There is an emotional lift to reaching these high places where most will linger to chat with other mountain pilgrims. This work then is both educational and a sharing of the beauty that I have been able to capture in photographs. I hope others will be attracted by the beauty and see first-hand for themselves. I have offered suggested routes which are rough guidelines that are not intended to take the place of detailed maps. A wilderness permit from the agency that controls the entry point is required for all wilderness travel that requires an overnight stay.  For those of you who are unable to travel the trails, this is an opportunity to see the beauty from your chair. Someday it will be the same for me.

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir.

Fr. Dale Matson September 2013 

the book is available on Kindle now in color and will be available in paperback sometime this week.