Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Producing a Post Trip Map

I like maps. I like looking at them during trip preparation.  I like looking at them on an unfamiliar trail to get myself oriented.  And I like looking at them after the trip to see where I went and to help relate the trip to my wife.  But as I have been preparing for some extended section hiking of the PCT this year, the shear volume of maps required has been daunting.  So I have been looking into electronic mapping this year, both for 'on the trail use' as well as post trip to document the journey.  And I think I have found a pair of tools that offers some real promise.

I have a Droid Bionic phone and have bought a couple of extended batteries for it.  Initially the phone was going to just be used for occasional entertainment and control of SPOT.  But I have Backcountry Navigator (BCN) installed on it now and like the way it works.  I have had it out for a couple of trips so far and it seems to be able to track my course even when in the woods and the phone is in a hip belt pocket on my pack; much better than my previous phone. I like being able to open my map and have the little 'you are here' mark at my current location.  While the screen is much small than a printed map, I can zoom in or out as necessary, as well as shift the displayed view to see what might be coming up.  It is actually pretty convenient.   I do need to take the time to cache the maps I will need onto the phone before I go out, at all the resolutions I think I will need; but not a great deal different than locating the correct map from the pile.  I have also download the PCT half mile maps onto the phone and will be able to use that now instead of printing out a hundred or so pages of maps.

On the last trip I went a step further and created a trip file in BCN and then recorded a track and set some waypoints along the way.  This requires the GPS to be running all day, but it appears like an extended battery should be able to handle at least two days of this.  I have a second battery already that I can swap out, but may need to get a third for longer trips.  I was able to pause, restart and stop the track as needed and when the trip was over I had a blue line along the trail showing where I had gone.  I used this primarily to document the trip, but it would also be useful for backtracking to a particular spot along the trail.  Within BCN you can save the trip and then reload it later as desired.

Once I got home I began looking for ways to get the map out of BCN on my phone and be able to embed it on a web page along with trip pictures and a trip journal.  A quick search on the web produced several options, including EveryTrail.  EveryTrail requires you to setup an account, and then allows you to import gpx files, pictures and words to create a trip that can then be shared with other users of the site.  The neat thing about this site is that once you have the trip documented, they provide you will all of the HTML code you need to be able to embed a Google Map of your trip into your own web page, either as a plain map, or as a flash image.

Skokomish River

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Washington

Above is an example of the plain map option, while below is the flash enabled map.

Skokomish River

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Olympic National Park

BCN can export a loaded trip to a gpx file, and from there it can be transferred to my laptop via a USB cable.  Log into your EveryTrail account and then select 'Create Trip', select and upload your gpx file, and then fill out as much of the trip info as you desire.  Note that if you are going to show the map on your own site, the trip will have to be public.  Once you select Done, you will get your trip page, and on the bottom right of the page will be the information you need to link the map onto your own site.  You can edit the HTML to change the titles and map size if desired.  Once you have done this you have a Google Map of your trip embedded into your own web page to share with the rest of the world.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The 2012 Annual Trip up the Skokomish

The North Fork Skokomish trail is one of my favorites in the Olympics.  It was actually the site of my very first solo backpacking adventure some 30 years ago; one that has been repeated numerous times over the following years.  In part its because it is the closest to home and hike-able pretty much year round.  But it's also just a nice trail that makes for a good walk in the woods.

This trip out was intended as both  a relaxing time, and a shakedown for my August PCT trip.  I originally planned on going with a friend, but that fell through so I took off with just me and my thoughts, something I enjoy.  The plan was to hike from Staircase up to Nine Stream, set up camp and then head on up to First Divide, or as close as I could get.  Snow travel and navigation is something I am still working on so I was looking forward to getting some practice on somewhat familiar territory.  Then back to camp for the evening and a quite morning before heading back home.

I left the parking lot about 9 AM and headed on up the trail.  I had a new camera, a Canon SX260 HS, to play with so made frequent stops to take pictures of flowers, bugs and anything else that took my fancy.  The trail was in good shape until the bridge across the Skokomish.  From there to Camp Pleasant there were about 5 trees (a couple were pretty large with lots of branches) across the trail, and another 5 or 6 down heading on up to Nine Stream.  As I was leaving I met an incoming trail crew heading to Big Log, so much of what I saw may already be cleared up.

I spent about an hour and a half at Camp Pleasant on the way up because of a calf that was giving me grief.  I considered stopping there but ultimately pushed on up to Nine Steam and ditched the plan to play in the snow.  Other than a couple of tiny patches of snow off to the side, the valley up to Nine Steam is snow free.

I had the camp to myself when I got there so found my favorite spot between two trees on a small bluff overlooking the river and settled in for the afternoon and evening.  Even though I didn't get to play in the snow, sitting on the river bank watching the water flow by was very relaxing and needed.  The weather was pleasant with some sun and semi warm temps, and no bugs to speak of.

When I got up the next morning I saw at least 4 elk grazing in the trees just across the river.  I grabbed the camera and put its 20x optical zoom to the test, and was very pleased with the result.  I sat and watched then for close to 15 minutes until they moved out of view.

After a leisurely morning I packed up and headed out, getting back to Staircase mid afternoon.  Other than another solo hiker who had come into Nine Stream the previous night, I had the trail to myself until I recrossed the Skokomish bridge.  From there on out I met a steady stream of people heading in, including the trail crew and their pack train.

All in all it was a very good trip.  My calf held up, the new gear performed well, I learned stuff, and the time in the woods was both physically and spiritually uplifting.

At the North Fork Skokomish trail head.  Nine Stream is the evenings destination.

The Ground Dogwood were blooming pretty much everywhere.

The 'bridge' across Madeline Creek.  That log has been there for a long time.

Madeline Creek as viewed from the middle of the log bridge.

The bridge crossing the Skokomish between Big Log and Camp Pleasant.

There were a lot of Stream Violets blooming along the trail as well.  Very pretty, especially in large clumps.


This stream is between Camp Pleasant and Eight Stream.  You either ford it or hop across on wet rocks and logs.  I hopped across going and forded coming back.

The bridge across Eight Stream.  Looks like the same builder as the Skokomish bridge.

A long boardwalk in the woods.  There is a lot of water moving under this walkway.

The Vanilla Leaf is in bloom.

The Hosta's are just starting to come up.

There were a few Fairy Slipper's popping up around camp.

Siberian Miner's Lettuce.  Lot's of this around with both white and pink flowers.

A Bleeding Heart poking up on the river bank at Nine Stream.

Still have a few Trillium out, although not near what there was a month ago.

View of the Skokomish just up from Nine Stream.  The beach to the right is just below my camp.

An elk grazing just across the river from camp.

Three more grazing elk.

Salmonberry in bloom.

An old dead snag in a meadow just up from Nine Stream.  Needs an eagle perched in the top.

Home for the night.  On a bluff about 20 feet above the river in the background.

An old slide on the far side of the river between Eight & Nine streams

This guy posed for me just long enough to get the camera out and then he disappeared.

A nurse log about 15 feet above the trail, just upstream from Camp Pleasant.

Official greeter for Camp Pleasant.

Looking down the Skokomish from Camp Pleasant.

Maidenhair Fern.  One of my favorite ferns.

The guy to the right is about as big as my thumbnail.  

The pack trail bring in supplies for the trail crew.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taking SPOT for a Walk

About 4 years ago my son gave my wife one of the original SPOT's for Christmas.  The intent was that I would carry it to let her know that I was OK, thus giving her a bit more peace of mind.  It was a bit clunky but it did generally work and let her know at least once a day that I was still alive and well.  But it was a bit challenging to share any kind of change of plans with her once I had left the trail head.

The original SPOT and four buttons, including the power button.  I could send an OK message, a Help message, or an SOS message.  For the OK and Help messages I could set up a list of email addresses and/or phone numbers that would get each message I sent from the device.  The messages sent would include my pre-canned text as well as my location coordinates and a link to my position on Google Maps.  The SOS message would be sent to the SAR folks and fortunately I have never had occasion to test that one out.

Last year I upgraded to a SPOT Connect.  This device is used in conjunction with my Android phone (also works with iPhone) to allow for sending one of a number of predefined messages or a short on-the-fly message you type into your phone.  You can also now select who you want to send the messages to, including Facebook and Twitter.

I used this quite a bit last year, keeping my wife and other interested parties updated on my position as well as an occasional Facebook post.  I liked the ability to customize the messages as well as direct them to specific people.  The Facebook posting was nice as well although not nearly as important.  Also very nice is the reduced weight and size of the Connect.  If you are going to be lugging a phone out with you anyway, then there is little downside to requiring the phone be connected to send a message, other than a bit more futz factor.

SPOT also has a Tracking feature that will automatically send out a position message every 10 minutes.  I tried this the first year but was unhappy with it and did not bother with it again until this year.  I am now setup to track my trips and found it worked fairly well on the first trip out.  At this point I am planning on doing this for the remainder of this years trips, including the PCT in August.

One of the neat things about the Tracking feature now is the ability to share a map of the trip with the rest of the world.  There are several ways of doing this, including the live map at the bottom of this page.  It will show each received tracking message as it comes in, allowing anyone who is interested to see where I am along the trail, and where I have been.  This map will only contain the most recent 7 days worth of messages, but will be good for providing current trip data.

The trip data can also be imported into an Adventure Map, providing a permanent record of the trip data.  This map also allows for embedding pictures and a trip description.  This looks pretty cool so far.  But I have yet to figure out how to load more than the most recent 7 days of SPOT data into it; so a longer trip may be problematic.  Hopefully I will have that figured out prior to the August trip.

I am heading out in the morning for a trip up the Skokomish River in the ONP.  If all works as advertised, and you are interested, you should be able to stop back by here periodically and see how the trip is progressing.  When I get back I will update this blog to indicate anything else I have learned.

This map not be functional until SPOT starts sending data, likely by 9:00 AM PDT on 6/20/2012.  The data in this map will start disappearing after 7 days.

Update 6/21/2012: As you can see from the above map, the tracking did work; kinda.  There were long stretches where nothing got through, a suspect because of heavy tree cover.  I carried SPOT on top of my pack in the correct orientation, so I was not blocking it.  Looks like it should be useful for keeping the wife updated, but probably not something that would do a wonderful job of documenting the trip.  I did have Backcountry Navigator running on my phone on the trip up.  Looks like it did a better job.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Countdown to the PCT - 8 Weeks

Eight more weeks!  8 weeks from today I should be launching out on the 2012 edition of my PCT adventure.  It has been out there in the future for some time now, but it suddenly has become imminent; time to get serious around the preparation and planning.

I launched my conquest of the PCT 2 summers ago when a friend and I tackled the 70 mile section from Rainy pass on Highway 20 up to the northern terminus at Manning Park in British Columbia.  It was a good introduction to the trail and helped to whet my appetite for more.

Last year I had initially planned on Highway 20 down to I-90, but the snow levels were too high for my comfort.  So I shifted down into Oregon and went from the Columbia River south to McKenzie Pass on Oregon Route 242.  This was a much longer stretch than anything I had tackled before and was very physically demanding.

So this year I am responding by increasing the mileage from 160 miles to about 400.  I plan to start this year at McKenzie Pass and head south to Seiad Valley at the north end of California, finishing off Oregon.  Then I will move back north and hike with a friend from Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass in Washington.  The month of August is dedicated to this endeavor.

So many things to do to prepare for a trip like this.  The biggest concern to me has to do with the physical conditioning.  I am currently running about 25 miles a week.  But on this trip I will be carrying 20-30 pounds for 20-25 miles a day over a hilly mountain route.  Getting the bony shoulders and hips toughened up to carry the pack, and the feet tough enough to handle the pounding are the biggest challenges there.  And that will only be rectified by more time out on the trail.  I currently plan on being out every other weekend in June and July getting the body ready for this.

I know where I am going, and generally what my rate of passage will be.  But I still need to invest some time in becoming more familiar with the trail and making sure I have all the maps I need.  One of the lessons I learned last year is that the PCT in Oregon does not have nearly as much water as the Olympic Mountains.  It was not uncommon at all to go 10 miles or more between water sources.  So I want to be sure that things like water, good camping, noteworthy sights are marked on my map.  At this point in the preparation I am planning on taking along the overview maps from the USFS for general use and markup.  And I will use Backcountry Navigator, a mapping application, installed on my phone, along with its GPS to handle detailed or more complex navigational issues.

Food is not that big a deal for a trip of 2-3 days.  But it becomes a much bigger deal when preparing for a month.  Fortunately I will not have to carry more than about 5 days of food except for the last week.  But I still need to be sure I have enough variety so that I will not be too bored with the food to actually eat it.  And I need to be sure that it packs as many calories as possible into each ounce.  It is also helpful if it does not require refrigeration, is easy to prepare, and does not turn into a pile of crumbs when stuffed into a backpack.  Further complicating food selection this year is the plan to go without a stove.

I have been working on a diet that reduces weight as much as possible, and can be eaten without cooking, and that tastes good enough to eat at the end of long day after long day.  It is surprisingly difficult to get 4000 calories of editable, easily packable, and simple to prepare food at under 2 pounds a day.  The quest is still underway to find the wonder diet that will get me through this; other than a steady diet of Snickers and Baby Ruths.

There are a number of other tweaks to equipment that I am working on and will be testing out in the Olympics over the next 8 weeks.
  • Learning the best way to use my new Sawyer Squeeze filter rather than chemicals.  Being able to get drinkable water from tiny trickles, and not have to wait 4 hours, is going to be very important.
  • Simplifying the setup for my tarp.  It will go up and down a lot of times in that month and it is a bit cumbersome right now.
  • I have a new camera (Canon SX260 HS) with lots of bells and whistles and want to be sure I can maximize its features.
  • Learning how to use the tracking feature of my SPOT and how to publish the resultant map so if anyone is interested they will be able to track me along the way.
  • How to keep all the electronics charged and functional.  I will meet Sue every few days and can recharge them then, so long as the car is equipped for it.
  • And I'm sure there will be many other things come up as the time gets closer.  The trick will be to deal with things as they come up rather than wait until the end and be overwhelmed with it all.
And, in many ways most importantly, working with Sue as she prepares to support the hike.  She will be traveling along in the car and meeting me every few days for resupply and whatever else is needed, not to mention getting the opportunity to share portions of the trail.  We need to find places for her to stay and things to do when I am several days away from an access point.  We are also working on get the proper equipment to ensure that her trip is as good as possible.  She is looking forward to it, and I want to make sure she still has the same positive feelings come the first of September.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Up the Dose

It's already the first of June and it had been nearly 9 months since I spent a night in the woods.  But that failing was overcome this weekend.  I was invited out by a couple of young men I had not seen in several years and I jumped at the chance to hang out in the woods and get better acquainted.

I headed out Friday morning early, forgoing the normal long run, and hit the washout/new trailhead on the Dosewallips at about 9:30.  The other guys were coming along later so I set off up the trail/old road.  There was only one other vehicle at the washout, and I met him coming out fairly early; I enjoy being the only person out on the trail.

The weather was really great for hiking, dry, cool and somewhat overcast.  The spring flowers were blooming very nicely along the road and I wasted lots of time taking pictures.  Once I got onto the trail proper there were not nearly as many flowers blooming, but I did find a few.

It was also interesting to see how much the forest is recovering from the recent fire.  There are still a few burnt snags visible, but if you are not looking for them you might easily miss that it had been recently burned.  It is greening up very well through there.

I setup the hammock at Dose Forks and then headed up toward Deception Creek, looking for some snow to play in.  But, alas, I grew weary of the search before snow was found.  I got up to Hawk Creek and turned around; heading back to Dose Forks.  The trail was in great shape as far up as I went.

Shortly after I got back to camp the other guys showed up and we spent a pleasant evening around the campfire.  I am not really a campfire kind of person, but I have to admit that I did enjoy the experience of sitting around the fire and 'bonding' with the guys.

The Dose was up as high as I had ever seen it; and its roar made for good sleeping.  Not another sound could be heard through the night.  Peacefully slept the night away snuggled up in my down cocoon.

Got up around 7 this morning and spent the next 4 hours eating, visiting and breaking down camp.  The other guys were spending a couple of additional days in camp so I headed out alone and got back to the truck just as it started to rain.

All it all it was a very good trip, visiting with Jesse and Carl,  shaking the rust off, getting familiar with some new gear, and working on going stove-less.  I am going to need to get back out and do this again real soon!

Lots of Columbine 
Why did the Banana Slug cross the road?
Plenty of Paint Brush
Lots of Sedum as well
He posed so nicely for me.
A small field of white flowers
The waterfall just below the Ranger Station
Dosewallips Ranger Station
Calypso Falls on the Upper Twin creek
There were quite a few Fairy Slippers above Dose Forks
Mushrooms pushing their way up
Guess who was the most comfortable?
Looking up the Dose from the Dose Fork bridge
There were still quite a few Rhododendrons in bloom.