Sunday, March 30, 2014

Trail Fit

Dale Matson

 Tamarack Near Huntington Lake CA 
March 28th 2014
"I'm Training!
For what?
Oh, just training.
I’m thinking about the mountains I’m going to climb...” Covert Baily The Ultimate Fit or Fat

Covert Baily wrote The Ultimate Fit or Fat (1999) and at the time he wrote it, he was 67 years old. Mountain mileage is quite different than elsewhere. It is more demanding because of the steep ups and downs, the higher altitudes with less oxygen and the questionable footing on single-track trails with worse footing off trails. Mountain travel also requires equipment and supplies to sustain one on multi- day trips.

This means that there is an increased demand on the cardiovascular system and the muscles that power one up and down the trails. My primary purpose for my training is less and less competition but to enable me to continue to plan and enjoy the mountains and to search the wilderness for lost travelers as a volunteer for the Fresno County SAR Team. I believe there are those folks who enjoy working out for it’s own sake and the health benefits that accompany being toned and fit. Some work out for the sake of how they look in the many mirrors that line the walls of a fitness center.

My own sense it that working out should be goal directed. When it is goal directed, I think it can rightfully be called training. Training is related to real world activities. If working out is not related to real world activity it is for posing. Many folks aim their training at sport specific goals, which is fine. My training uses sports as a means to accomplish other goals.

As someone who began running later in life as a replacement behavior for smoking, I began to develop nagging injuries when my mileage went beyond 60 miles a week. I learned that aerobic training can be done in a variety of venues and was one of the first to write about biking and cross country skiing as a means to train for 100 mile trail runs. I later added swimming to the mix and have remained injury free since 2001.

When I could no longer run the mountain trails, I took up lightweight backpacking. This required additional upper body strength for the backpack and the use of trekking poles. Trekking poles help power the climbs uphill and are great knee savers on the steep downhill sections. I took up weight training but use high repetitions with light weights. Far too many of my friends have had shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff caused by lifting heavy weights. Additionally, I don’t want bulk. Backpacking like running is a gravity sport and maintaining optimum body weight is crucial to endurance in the mountains. I am always striving for proportionate strength.

My weights routine is usually 30 reps with 3 different types of exercise for each muscle group. I do core, back, chest, triceps, and biceps three times a week. I don't do much free weight work and it is less risky at my age to use the machines. I don't use weights for my legs since they get enough strength work in the regular exercises.

In the summer, I bike, swim and run three times a week. In the winter I ski and bike less. I mix up the days with no more than two activities on any day. I use a Suunto Ambit heart monitor and train scientifically. I have a high intensity run once a week where I do a tempo run to get my heart rate near predicted maximum with a high average over the duration of the exercise. This keeps my heart muscle strong and legs ‘fast’. My 10k time is still under my age in minutes.

I do a long run every other week for my base cardio. This is the most important cardio I do and determines my trail endurance. This also means a long run once a month of 20 miles. I have kept accurate records for nearly 20 years of my daily exercise. Muscles are exercise specific and so is cardio. Running stadium steps for an hour three times a week will NOT allow you to hike 20 miles a day in the mountains.

So, this is what it takes for an ordinary senior person like me to backpack comfortably in the mountains. It is worth the price with the added benefit that I am not on any medications.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Sierra Club And Environmentalism Part II

Dale Matson

Will Glacier Point Road Remain?

I ended my previous post about the Sierra Club with a question. “Would the Sierra Club allow the John Muir Trail to be built today?” The answer is, “No”. I believe this is because the Sierra Club has a philosophy that is different than the founder John Muir.

While Muir made a personal appeal to men like Teddy Roosevelt to preserve wilderness areas, he intended those areas to be a refuge for people. He saw the restorative capacity of the wilderness for the human soul. He led groups into the wilderness to enlighten them about the wilderness so that they would be advocates for the wilderness. For Muir, conservation, preservation, education and access went hand in hand. The focus of his efforts was protecting the wilderness in perpetuity for human access. Today, it seems like the Sierra Club believes it is their duty to protect the wilderness in perpetuity by greatly reducing human access.

An example of early Sierra Club activity was to install the first set of cables on Half Dome in Yosemite Park in 1919. Countless individuals have enjoyed what is arguably considered the 17-mile hike of hikes from Happy Isles to the Top of Half Dome and back. It was a personal accomplishment for me. The hike required transcending my personal limits, at the time. I rank it with completing my first marathon.
I believe the Sierra Club would have the cables and bolts removed today if possible.

I have a former colleague who was an active and important official in the Sierra Club. We were at lunch one day discussing the 100-year flood that hit Yosemite in 1997 and closed the park for three months. I particularly remember not being able to cross the Merced River on a hike above Nevada Falls because the footbridge had been washed away. I commented that it was a terrible flood and had destroyed much of the Yosemite Valley accommodations.  His response was, “I wish it had been a 1,000-year flood and washed everything away.” I looked at him in amazement and responded, “You are not pro environment, but you are anti-people.”  In many conversations with him over the years, it was evident that his views were mainstream for the Sierra Club.

As I look at federal legislation encouraged by the Sierra Club, and includes the Wilderness Act of 1964 written byby the Wilderness Society and the Wild Rivers And Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Both put additional layers of environmental restrictions on wilderness and park areas.

In particular, things can be problematic when trail maintenance is limited to hand tools only and motorized vehicles are not allowed even when searching for lost individuals. Much of the difficulty for California is the restrictions on providing needed additional water storage on rivers that are designated as “Wild”. It also means that existing bridges may be removed where they interfere with the natural flow of the river. Once again, it means less access for people. It also means the elimination of the iconic and epic Badwater Marathon in Death Valley National Park.

The purpose of this posting is to ask the Sierra Club to reexamine its charter and origins; to go back to its roots. What was the intent of John Muir and his contemporaries? How does electing attorneys and those who call themselves “Environmental Activists” as board members further the spirit of John Muir as an organization? Advocacy is certainly preferable to litigation. Why is a group with such a noble purpose seen only as obstructionists by so many who use the wilderness? I know the Sierra Club is pro environment but are they still pro people? We are more than the sum of a carbon footprint.        

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Best All Around Backpack

The Kifaru Express

Dale Matson

Right now you are probably saying, “Well, that’s your opinion” or something less civil. Please hear me out as I explain how I came to that conclusion. As a retired trail runner, backpacking has become my reluctant plan B. Because of this, I have always thought in terms of the least weight needed to get from point a to point b. Even as a trail runner, I wore fanny packs that were some iteration of the Ultimate Directions single bottle with zippered mesh side pouches or a double bottle pouch.

Fastpacking became popular in the 1980’s with folks wearing packs that would allow them to stay out overnight. This meant they could include a down sleeping bag, some food and some kind of tarp, bivy or ultralight tent. The pack and contents weighed about 15 pounds. It was pretty basic and somewhat risky. In those days, bear canisters were not required in the national parks.

There were folks who wanted to be out a tad longer and travel a little further with a bit more gear. Companies like Gossamer Gear and GoLite began marketing lightweight packs that could hold up to 70 Liters and only weighed a couple of pounds. Of course, the pack frames were not really made for comfort with this much weight. I fell victim to this kind of thinking on the northern 50 miles of the John Muir Trail (Agnew Meadows to Happy Isles). My shoulders still ache. Here is an important backpacking tip. A heavier well framed pack can carry a heavier load or a light load too.

I bought a Mountainsmith Krux Pack on sale when they were discontinued. I used it for winter backcountry skiing and summer 3-day outings. While it has been discontinued, I think it is still one of the best 50 Liter packs I have owned. My wife uses it now. Patrick Smith founded the Mountainsmith Pack Company. I believe he is the premier pack designer and manufacturer in the world. He sold that company and founded Kifaru Packs in Colorado.

The Rhino logo is no coincidence. The packs are constructed of 1,000d Cordura. I own the “Express” which is about 38 Liters and weighs 4 lbs. The newer Express packs have an integrated lid pocket that my older pack lacks. You can add extra pouches on the sides, back and top of the pack. Therefore it is modular and customizable too. What is so great is that the pack can be designed and built for the individual.

So what really sets this pack apart? It is a lifetime pack. I have been off trail with this pack on search and rescue missions for about 6 years. It is my “3-day” pack for search and rescue but I can extend it to four or five days too. It will even handle the smaller Bare Boxer Bear Canister, which is approved for the national parks. I made the mistake of using other brand name packs off trail. They were quickly ripped to shreds in the buck brush and Manzanita.

So, I have come full circle. The pack I bought for search and rescue is also my trail pack. With good lightweight gear inside, the pack with food for four days and a liter of water weighs 20 pounds. For me a 20-pound pack means a 20-mile day. Kifaru won’t be the first place you look for a pack for lightweight backpacking but it should be the last. The price is cheap for a pack that will last you a lifetime.

Note: I have not been paid for this review.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

SAR Hasty Deployment Training 03-15-14

(AKA Beware The Ides Of March)

Dale Matson

Click to enlarge photographs

Every year the civilian Mountaineering Unit of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team has a number of sessions of hasty deployment training. Once a year, each civilian team member is required to hike a loop trail in the San Joaquin River Gorge. Each participant has a backpack with a minimum weight of 20 pounds and must cover the 8-mile loop trail in less than 3 hours as part of the “mission ready” requirements. There are rattlesnakes this time of year.

The trailhead begins at about 1,000’ and drops down to where it crosses the San Joaquin at an elevation of 600’. This is the low point in the trail as you cross the footbridge. From there the trail rises to about 1,800’ at about the midpoint of the loop with a great view and then begins descending toward the river again. As you cross the bridge, you are facing the 400’ climb on legs that are no longer fresh.

Loop Trail Across The San Joaquin River

While this hike does not duplicate some of the trails in Eastern Fresno County that exceed 12,000’, it is still an excellent measure of cardiovascular fitness and sound joints with the steep punishing downhill sections. I was happy to complete it this year in 2:23, which is about what I have done for the last five years. There are some who have done this trail considerably under two hours and a young lady Amie, who is also an ultra runner finished first Saturday with a 1:59.

A secondary benefit of the hike is revealing to some that their footwear may not be suitable for prolonged searches on single-track trails. Off trail footgear is another matter entirely.

There is no way the second oldest member of this team at age 69 (me) could complete this arduous hike without training every single day. I mix it up with swimming, biking, ‘running’ (I still call what I do running), back country skiing and weight training. I believe the team can only be as effective as the slowest member. I call this “real world fitness”. All this training is not for posing in a mirror.

Note: The loop route graphic was a download from my Suunto Ambit GPS watch to and then a screenshot converted to a Jpeg. I had my heart monitor strap on with an average pulse of 128 and a maximum of 158. The Suunto Ambit is an altimeter, barometer, compass (ABC) watch with a GPS and heart rate feature. It is an excellent ‘adventure’ device for SAR operations.    

Friday, March 14, 2014

SAR Callout To Shaver Lake 03-12-14

Dale Matson

I received a call at about 1700 hours from our mission manager to check my email about a missing man near Shaver Lake off Dinkey Creek Road. The father of Kenneth Paul Young had received a text message from his son saying that he had injured his ankle on his motorcycle and needed help. There are more details from the Bee account.

The meet up location was about an hour away about 3 miles out of Shaver Lake on Dinkey Creek road. I threw a 30-liter pack and three plastic tubs of winter gear into my Tahoe and headed up the hill. It seemed a little odd since the temperature in Fresno was 75 degrees at the time. Shaver Lake is around 5,500’ and the search area was higher yet. By the time I turned off Dinkey Creek Road the temperature had dropped to 37 degrees. I immediately wondered how Kenneth would do if he was out overnight.
The IC Sergeant was there and talking with a forest service person and the Sheriff’s deputy assigned to that area. They had come across the abandoned motorcycle and gear and blocked off footprints leading away from the bike. We had a photograph of the distinctive shoe sole. Having a good print was a crucial bit of information for tracking Kenneth.

Our civilian team leaders Martin and Rich were conferring with the IC while A.J., Daniel, and I got our gear together. Mike was there with his search dog. The CP trailer and quad runners had not arrived yet.
Another team leader Russ arrived a bit later and began getting his gear together. Winter in the mountains is a crapshoot in knowing what to pack. It had rained on the way up and rain should always be expected. I had rain gear and waterproof gloves, an insulated jacket, headlamp, energy bars a Gatorade borrowed from Martin and a water bottle also. Most of us agreed not to pack a sleeping bag for the extra weight. We figured we would be on our feet all night anyway.

We were split into three teams and drove a couple more miles to get us closer to the abandoned motorbike. Martin went with Mike and his search dog. Russ and A J went together and Rich, Daniel and I teamed up. By this time we were in darkness and switched on our headlamps.

As we worked our way along the road, we did find a couple of tracks and Richard stayed with them for a time to build protection around them. We had begun the hunt but the road surface was packed and tracks were few and far between at that point. There were patches of snow and we did pick up a couple of prints heading north. Once it seemed that the direction of travel had been established, the teams came together. Mike and his dog had to turn back and Richard went out with them.

The going was uphill and slow. Under these circumstances we were looking for what could be called “track traps”. These are areas across the road where a person would be more likely to leave a print. They are generally mud, sand or snow. The road was covered with pine needles, which also obscured tracks. We were looking for disturbed places also. Most of us had been schooled under the master tracker Art Sallee and it was evident that Russ had the best eyes and the most patience of any of us. As he held his light across and just above the track it appeared to the rest of us. click to enlarge photos.

Russ at footprint

We communicated with the CP that we were on track and they sent two deputies to leap frog ahead of us on their quad runners. Because we had spotty cell tower communication, Russ was able to take cell phone photographs and attach them to text messages to the CP in addition to calling the coordinates of the tracks and other trail evidence.  In the meantime another group of Sheriff's deputies came up behind us. the deputy on the quadrunner called us from up ahead to say that they had crossed a snow patch and Kenneth had turned back and was headed our way. We had gone for a mile with no sign of tracks but had found an energy bar wrapper along the way. Kenneth had been walking down the center of the road so everyone was careful to stay off to the side including the quad runners. Just before the quad runners got back to us, we came across really fresh tracks coming back toward us.

Good print near animal scat

At this point we were really puzzled. The quad runners arrive as we continued to yell out for Kenneth. We all headed back down hill and came across a fresh energy bar wrapper, which contributed, to the puzzle.
 Energy Bar Wrapper

and ran into the other deputies who found track on a lesser trail below and parallel to us. The entire group spent about an hour in the brush finding an occasional track in the snow patches but to no avail. It was speculated that he had been in this area during daylight hours.

At about 0200 hours the deputies decided with Russ that we should all head back to the CP. I was glad since my day had begun at 0400 the previous morning and I was flat out tired. We covered about 8 miles on and off trail based on my GPS readings.

My GPS readout
We got a ride the final two miles back to the CP and I signed in at 0300 hours. As we headed back an additional group of volunteers who had arrived later were heading up the road. I downed a quick cup of coffee from Martin and headed back down the hill. I arrived home at 0400 hrs. which is when I usually arise in the morning! I called dispatch and logged off. 

Our helicopter, “Eagle One”, located Kenneth later in the day and, a team was sent in to help get him back. I don’t know the particulars yet on what was going on in Kenneth’s mind but I am glad he is safe again.

In terms of gathering of useful evidence, boots on the ground is number one. Probably the main three takeaways from this were the necessary good communication between teams and the CP,  the ability and patience to track a subject at night and the necessary fitness required to begin a lengthy and arduous search at the end of a day.