Archive for October, 2009

Lightning Safety

October 31st, 2009

There are three different ways that of lightning can harm you: direct cloud-to-ground strikes, side flashes, and ground currents. In a cloud-to-ground strike, two arcs of energy meet, an upward leader, emanating from a high point such as a tree or mountain top and one emanating from a cloud. These complete a circuit and create the flash of a direct strike. Direct strikes like this are relatively rare but can cause serious burns and stop the heart.

Side flashes occur when the cloud-to-ground strike fails to meet the upward leader and is attracted to another high point which is more conductive. Side flashes can arc through the air or travel over the ground and carry the same energy as a direct strike. Injuries due to side flashes are much more common than direct strikes.

Ground currents occur once the lightning has hit the ground. From there, it emanates from the point of the strike, dissipating along pathways such as wet rocks, crevasses, and tree root systems. Injuries from this type of lightning strike are also quite common and are just as serious as side flashes and direct cloud-to-ground strikes.

To minimize your risk from lightning, you want to get away from tall trees and away from mountain peaks or high ridges. If you are near or on the water, you want to get to shore and avoid wet areas that can conduct ground current. And if you are in a field, you want to get out of the open to avoid being the high point.

You can further protect yourself by squatting on top of your pack or a sleeping pad or on a boulder that sits on top of other boulders. If you can squat without your hands touching the ground, ground current will travel up one leg and down the other rather than traveling up your torso and cooking your major organ groups.

NOTE: The Following Lightning Safety Guidelines Have Been Adapted and Excerpted from “The National Outdoor Leadership Schools Wilderness Guide” by Mark Harvey (1999)

  1. Stay off high peaks and ridges. The higher you are, the greater the chance of getting struck.
  2. Stay away from shallow caves and overhangs. Although they may look safe, the electricity can jump these small gaps and electrocute you.
  3. Stay away from lone, tall objects like single trees in an open field. They are likely to be hit, and you could be hit by the ground current. If you can’t avoid this situation, then crouch in the “cone of protection”. Project a line from the lone object, often a tree, at a 45 degree angle. This forms an imaginary circle around the object that you should stay at.
  4. Avoid metal objects and bodies of water. They are good conductors and can attract lightning. This includes metal pack frames, trekking poles, canoes, tent poles, etc.
  5. If you are in a group, separate yourselves by at least 30 feet. That way, others can give first aid if one person is struck. If you stay in one big bunch, then there will be nobody to help if you all get struck.
  6. Avoid wide open spaces. You are at a greater risk of being struck if you are the only thing around. The best place to be during a lightning storm is in a large group of trees.
  7. Assume the Lightning position by insulating yourself from the ground with your sleeping pad. This will help with ground current, which is what kills most people in lightning-related accidents. Crouch on this pad with your toes pointing down hill and your heels together. This will allow the current to run through your feet rather than your whole body in the event that the ground current finds you.

Additional resources:

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Yosemite High Sierra Camps

October 22nd, 2009

When I was a kid, I remember my parents taking trips into Yosemite and staying at the High Sierra Camps.  These camps are located in the back country and you need to hike to get there.   I think these can be good family options because they allow someone not familiar with backpacking to venture into the wilderness but still have a bed (cot) to sleep on  and a hot meal.  These camps are very popular and there is a lottery system to get reservations.  Some people go to only one or two on their trip, others make the whole circuit of five.  Below is information about the High Sierra camps from their reservations site.

Located high in the wilderness, obtainable only by foot or by saddle, are five unique hike-to camps spaced 5.7 to 10 miles apart along a loop trail in Yosemite’s beautiful High Country.

Overnight accommodations in Yosemite at the High Sierra Camps includes full dinner and breakfast, served in cozy dining tents. Box lunches for the next day on the trail are available at an additional cost and may be ordered the night before departure.

All lodging is in canvas tent cabins with dormitory-style steel frame beds with mattresses, pillows, woolen blankets or comforters. The staff makes every effort to keep members of a party in the same tent(s), but sometimes splitting a party is necessary.

Guests must provide their own sheets or sleep-sacks and towels.

Camp descriptions-

Merced Lake (1916)

Located along one of the largest lakes in Yosemite, this camp is encircled by granite ridges and domes. Because of its lower elevation, it is relatively warm and has slightly different vegetation, such as large white firs, aspen and lodgepole pines. With the largest occupancy it’s great for groups and often this camp has last-minute availability.  Merced Lake High Sierra Camp is also the furthest camp from any trailhead.  With roughly 14 miles of steep hiking to get to Merced Lake from either Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne Meadows, most visitors choose to stop at either Vogelsang or Sunrise first, and then continue on to Merced Lake the following day.   Merced Lake has 19 cabins with accommodations for 60 guests. Elevation: 7,150 ft.

Vogelsang (1924)

Located along Fletcher Creek, just beyond Fletcher Lake, Vogelsang is often named as one of the favorite spots in Yosemite by many a veteran visitor. It’s in an alpine setting with peaks and vistas, lakes, meadows and passes within close proximity and sits at the highest elevation of all the camps. Vogelsang has 12 cabins and accommodates a total of 42 guests. Showers not available.  Elevation: 10,300 ft.

Glen Aulin (1927)

Meaning “beautiful valley,” this camp is set alongside a stunning waterfall and lucent pool on the Tuolumne River.  Campers enjoy catching the sunset from a nearby promontory with a view of Mt. Cones.  Glen Aulin has eight cabins with a total occupancy of 32 guests. Showers not available.  Elevation: 7,800 ft.

May Lake (1938)

Named for the wife of Charles Hoffman, the first man to climb the peak that now bears his name. Mt. Hoffman is also the geographic center of Yosemite National Park and is an excellent, though challenging, hike for May Lake visitors. Located on a quiet high mountain lake, perfect for relaxing, swimming and fishing. The easiest camp to access via a short, one-mile hike from the parking lot off Tioga Road. A great family destination.  May Lake has eight cabins and has accommodations for a total occupancy of 36 guests. Elevation: 9,270 ft.

Sunrise Camp (1961)

Well-named for the spectacular morning views as the sun creeps over the mountains casting alpine glow on the Clark Range. Sunrise offers numerous vantage points for incredible vistas, including Echo Peak, Matthes Crest, Cathedral Peak and the Clark Range.  Sunrise camps has nine cabins for a total occupancy of 34. Elevation: 9,400 ft.

The camps fill up quickly and in order to maxmize your chances of getting the dates you are looking for, it’s best to enter the High Sierra Camp lottery.   Here is some information from their website.

  1. The deadline to request an application is typically late November of the prior year
  2. Applications will only be accepted on the official Yosemite High Sierra Camp Lottery Application Form.  They must be received by the Yosemite Reservations Office sometime in December.  Check the website for exact dates.
  3. A maximum of eight spaces (six for meals-only) may be requested on one application form.
  4. Please do not send payment until requested.
  5. Applicants will be notified in late February as to their standing in the lottery.
  6. You will receive notification once we receive your lottery application.  Please DO NOT CALL or email to check on the status after that. Due to the volume of applications received, we ask that applicants wait until the lottery is complete to make any inquiries.
  7. Any canceled space will be filled by a second round lottery using applications which were not awarded during the first round. Any available space not awarded during the first two rounds will be filled by phone inquiries on a first come first served basis beginning in early April.
  8. All reservations must be paid in full within 30 days of lottery award.

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Hiked Mount Baldy today

October 17th, 2009

Today I took a day trip from San Diego to Mount Baldy. Hiked up the Ski Hut trail and down the Devil’s Backbone to the chair lift. It was an excellent day and I took some video footage for a future report. Glad I was able to get this trail in before the first snow of the season. Look forward to cutting the footage, sunny all day long, not a could in the sky. Could actually see the ocean.

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Pee Perimeter

October 10th, 2009

I was always curious about this topic and found this Q/A exchange with an expert on

Q.} Are bears, mountain lions, and other predators attracted to, or repelled by human urine? I often ‘set up a perimeter’ when camping in bear country by peeing in different locations outside of camp. Is this effective or am I just watering a lot of different rocks?
A.} Pee, by any other name, still smells the same, and bears, lions, and other predators are interested in anything that smells interesting. Stephen Herrero’s book “Bear Attacks”, considered the definitive work by many authorities, says “human excrement/urine attracts bears and should not be near your campsite.” The National Park Service promotes that belief as well, adding that the salt in urine attracts wild animals (including bears and lions) and should be deposited well away from camp. There are some folks, however, who disagree with urine-as-attraction. The Get Bear Smart Society is one. They say human urine deters nosey bears. But the majority of experts oppose this view.Two other no-no’s that you should be aware of: You don’t have to bury urine; and you shouldn’t pee on vegetation. Urine is harmful to many species of plants. Move about 100 yards from camp to urinate in big predator country, and you should be far enough for a safe deposit.

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Topo Maps

October 3rd, 2009

A good topographical map is essential to have on any hike, but only if you know how to read it properly.  Lets look at what all the lines and scales are about.

Contour lines

The heart of a topo map is its overlay of contour lines, each line indicating a constant elevation as it follows the shape of the landscape. Contour lines that are close together represent steep slopes.

topographic map


Topographic maps almost always carry a grid of lines which divides them up. This is either based on degrees of latitude and longitude or a special grid developed by the mapping authority such as UTM -Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system.

Simply defined, scale is the relationship between distance on the map and distance on the ground. A map scale usually is given as a fraction or a ratio—1/10,000 or 1:10,000.  These “representative fraction” scales mean that 1 unit of measurement on the map—1 inch or 1 centimeter—represents 10,000 of the same units on the ground.  The second number (ground distance) is different for each scale; the larger the second number is, the smaller the scale of the map. In the small-scale map (1:316,800), there is less room; therefore, everything must be drawn smaller, and some small streams, roads, and landmarks must be left out altogether. On the other hand, the larger scale map (1:63,360) permits more detail but covers much less ground.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) publishes maps at various scales. The scale used for most U.S. topographic mapping is 1:24,000. USGS maps at this scale cover an area measuring 7.5 minutes of latitude and 7.5 minutes of longitude and are commonly called 7.5-minute quadrangle maps. Map coverage for most of the United States has been completed at this scale.  Maps at 1:24,000 scale are fairly large and provide detailed information about the features of an area, including the locations of important trails and most campgrounds. Footbridges, drawbridges, fence lines, and private roads are also shown at this scale.   I’ve included a USGS scale grid on the website to give you an idea of what scales are used where.   US sectional maps are 1 : 2,000,000 scale. where 1 inch represents 32 miles.


Series Scale 1 inch represents
1 centimeter
Standard quadrangle size
(latitude by longitude)
Quadrangle area
(square miles)
Puerto Rico 7.5 minute 1:20,000 1,667 feet 200 meters 7.5 by 7.5 minute 71
7.5 minute 1:24,000 2,000 feet (exact) 240 meters 7.5 by 7.5 minute 49 to 70
7.5 minute 1:25,000 2,083 feet 250 meters 7.5 by 7.5 minute 49 to 70
7.5 by 15 minute 1:25,000 2,083 feet 250 meters 7.5 by 15 minute 98 to 140
USGS-DMA 15 minute 1:50,000 4,166 feet 500 meters 15 by 15 minute 197 to 282
Alaska Maps 1:63,360 1 mile (exact) 633.6 meters 15 by 20 to 36 minute 207 to 281
County Maps 1:50,000 4,166 feet 500 meters County area Varies
County Maps 1:100,000 1.6 miles 1 kilometer County area Varies
30 by 60 minute 1:100,000 1.6 miles 1 kilometer 30 by 60 minute 1,568 to 2,240
1 degree by 2 degrees or 3 degrees 1:250,000 4 miles 2.5 kilometers 1° by 2° or 3° 4,580 to 8,669
State Maps 1:500,000 8 miles 5 kilometers State area Varies
State Maps 1:1,000,000 16 miles 10 kilometers State area Varies
U.S. Sectional Maps 1:2,000,000 32 miles 20 kilometers State groups Varies
Antarctica Maps 1:250,000 4 miles 2.5 kilometers 1° by 3° to 15° 4,089 to 8,336
Antarctica Maps 1:500,000 8 miles 5 kilometers 2° by 7.5° 28,174 to 30,462T

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