Tuesday, August 18, 2015

High Country Lessons learned"...

When I was a young teen visits from my Uncle John and Aunt Mae were special!- Often we were included in mountain camping vacations, and sometimes day trips.  Uncle John would take off with me on one of his wandering excursions through nature.  
John Zlatnik - my uncle
He taught me many things and inspired in me a love of nature and a comfort in visiting the wild places of the earth.  Today when I go into the high mountains I still remember what he taught me.  I still hear his voice...  The instruction was always in the normal course of travel - never 'preachy' or dogmatic...
North peak - 20 lake basin - Hoover Wilderness - 11,500 ft.
In our recent trip to the high country above Yosemite, I carried paper and pen in my pocket and write down some of the "wilderness learning" from Uncle John... Ideas are listed as they occurred to me...

1.  When building a campfire keep it  small.  A large fire is impractical because you can’t get close enough to warm yourself - plus it becomes necessary to gather more wood.

Tuolumne campground
2.  When collecting firewood for cooking and campfire choose smaller branches - they are easier to collect and more practical than sawing or chopping big logs.  This was the Native American way.

3.  When hiking a rocky streambed or trail made up of large rocks always  step from high point to high point - it is safer and saves energy...but it takes concentration so that you don't trip.

High country Yosemite - Alpine terrain 
4.  The most satisfying walks are not along trails - but finding your own way as you travel going across-country - you must stay alert to not lose your way- and you will see more interesting things.

5. The best walks are not about reaching a destination but being alert during the journey - being open to discover what you find along the way.   - Dont be in a  hurry...

Knots where a branch leaves the main trunk
6.  As you return to camp, keep your eyes open for well rotted logs  - They need to be rotted enough that you can kick free the knots that are full of resins.  They burn easily, very hot flame, and make little smoke.  (Avoid wet knots - they smoke!).

7.  When you find something interesting (a flower, a rock, a bird, an animal) stop and take time to enjoy it... to photograph and marvel at it.

Indian paintbrush

8. The best trail food is a handful of raisins and a handful of shelled peanuts.  Carry in your pocket - this can keep you going all day.

One of the granite domes - Tuolumne Meadows - Stand upright 

9.  It is usually more practical to tank up on water before and after a hike rather than having to carry it.  Hiking alomg an especially hot dry trail is an exception.

Conness Glacier and Morraine ( on a very dry year ) - the grey below the ice is glacial  moraine 

10.  To avoid getting lost - train yourself to occasionally look behind you as you hike - pay attention to where you are - build a sense of the lay of the land so that you can loop back to camp without having to retrace your steps.  Keep aware where you are - keep reference points in mind - (hills, water ways, large rocks).

11.  Learn the names of common flowers, birds, mammals, and rock types... Every time you see one that you recognize it is like meeting an old friend.

Helen Lake

12.  Don't be afraid of bears, rattlesnakes, scorpions, etc ... but respect them. They are part of nature but you have to know how to deal with them with confidence.  They are each beautiful in its own way... They will almost never confront you (unless you get between them and their young). Don't kill them - they are much more interesting alive than dead.

13.  Walking with a walking stick is a waste of energy.  Sticks are heavy and usually more burden than help.

Home sweet mountain home
14.  If you find something that looks eatable - try it - Most all harmful things have a bad taste... If it tastes bad - spit it out.  Don't mess with mushrooms if you don't know them...  (I have my doubts about eating wild fruits- but I saw him follow this rule many times)

15. When camping there is seldom a need for a tent (unless there is a good chance of rain).  Just find thick dry pine needles or put down an old blanket, then your sleeping bag.  Be aware that you will often get cold from underneath - so you may need the under blanket on  cold nights... If rain is imminent build a draining canal around your tent.  Choose a camp site to minimize rain water draining into your tent.

Alpine Rock Garden  Flower
16.  In a tent you can't see the stars.  You can use the stars to approximate the passage of time.  It takes 24 hours for a constellation to appear to make one complete circle - so if a star constellation moves one fourth of a circle - it means 6 hours have passed... star movement across ⅛ of the sky = 3 hours.

17.  Sometimes, as you hike,  you have to scramble up or across steep rocks with your hands and feet.  For security, always have three points of contact at any time.

To left of Conness Glacier
18.  When you plan a trip - car camping or back packing - always travel as lightly as possible - you don't need the luxuries of hone - take the basics needed for food energy and basic comfort...nothing extra.

19.  Uncle John talked to animals and birds, he talked to every human we passed - Talking to humans along the way is a good way to learn useful and interesting things.
Evening campfire - The heat energy released is the very energy of the sun trapped in Photosynthesis and stored  in the  cellulose of the wood

20.  Evening campfires are a time to tell stories about past adventures, and to make plans for the current one.

21.  If you find something you can’t identify take a photo and look it up - keep guidebooks at home.
The steep trail to Conness lake passes to the right of this waterfall
22.  When crossing a sloping slab or rock keep your body upright and vertical - not perpendicular to the rock - this will give you the greatest security.

23.  The best of all firewood is dry dead sagebrush. It burns hot, little smoke, and smells great... Downside is that it burns fast.
A pregnant doe
24.  When firewood is damp, start the fire using paper, a small piece of parafine wax, add small twigs to catch the flame, then slowly add bigger and bigger wood - arrange wood teepee style to both dry the wood and allow it to catch on fire...

25.  The greatest  danger  most lively to be encountered  in the high mountains is extreme cold - always go prepared with sufficient clothes and for a surprise storm. Summer hail is not rare in summer storms above 9000 ft.

Uncle John as a young man