The Best Hiking Boots

What are the best hiking boots? I get asked that a lot, since I do so much hiking. My pat answer is not usually appreciated: "The ones that fit best on your feet and fit best in your budget." So now I will give a real recommendation based on years of experience. There are several companies that I buy from on a regular basis.

My three favorites are Timberland boots, Merrell Boots, and Vasque Boots. Each has their strong points. All are sturdy, reliable, long-lasting, and comfortable. Well, as comfortable as hiking boots can be....

These days I have been using the half-leather, half-mesh boots just to have a pair of lighter boots on these old tired dogs of mine. The older I get, the lighter I want my boots to be. But back when I was a youngster bounding up and down the trails, it was total leather for me!

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What About RV's?

As you know, I do not engage in motorized outdoor sports such as snowmobiling, off-road racing, and things like that. I like the challenge of doing things outside with my own physical power, to test it and see how I can improve my strength and enjoy the great outdoors at the same time.

I used to be opposed to using recreational vehicles, back when I was much younger and more agile and out of touch with the older population and families with children. Since then I have broadened my horizons as I get out and meet other folks enjoying nature in their own way. I don't hang out in the same places or do the same things, but we share some things in common.

First and foremost is that we use gasoline to get to our favorite recreation spots. This cannot be denied, so until I am self-sufficient and not reliant upon fossil fuels myself, I have no right to criticize others for using fossil fuels.

Although I do not personally use or own a recreational vehicle, I can see how the lives of families with children and our older population are much less isolated and more enjoyable thanks to RV's.
And I can actually see myself joining the senior RV group myself, a thing I never would have thought possible in my younger days.

Many times when I pull into a trailhead parking lot I will see one or two RV's parked there, and I usually meet the owners on the trail. I often stop to gawk at these behemoths of the camping culture, and am amazed at the trappings that go along with these vehicles. Seems like you have to buy a whole lot of accessories for them, such as a trailer hitch cover and an RV spare tire cover and an RV this and an RV that! The most fun is when I meet up with them later on the trail and chat with them. The more I talk to them the more I see how if they did not have an RV, they would not be out enjoying nature and getting reconnected to the outdoors.

These folks are usually on their way to or from an RV park camping experience and are just enjoying a day hike in the vacinity of the RV campground. It is always fun to meet them and learn more about their lifestyles.

So put me in the category of "RV? Probably later!" Whatever it takes to enjoy being outside without bothering others is fine by me.

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In terms of camping comfort and safety, having the proper equipment is at the top of the list. And the right tent is very important for everyone's safety, whether camping or backpacking.

You need to limit your exposure to the extreme weather conditions, so the choice of a tent is a crucial decision for all campers and backpackers. What good is that down mummy bag if your tent leaks or the fly becomes loose in the wind?

Here are the most important considerations to make when you are learning how to choose a tent:

1. Poles inside or poles outside? The best backpacker tents have been refined over the years and the finest quality backpacker tents feature poles under tension on the outside of the tent. Because this design has worked so well, many family size tents now feature these kinds of poles.

2. Separate fly attached by clip-on apparatus or rig your own with a tarp? Definitely choose the tent that has a custom fitting fly that clips on. These are superior to any fly you can create with a tarp and bungee cords. Because their shape perfectly matches the shape of the tent, there is little chance of wind-blown rain entering the tent.

3. Air-tight or mesh top? Can you even buy a tent without a mesh top these days? Enough people reported the inside condensation build-up to the tent manufacturers that they listened and your best tents in every price range have a mesh 'skylight' so the tent breathes under an attached fly. Never choose a tent that is advertised as air-tight. You will get rained on from the inside of your tent from condensation.

4. 'Sleeps Comfortably' ratings? Always choose a tent that claims to have room for one more person than will use the tent. I swear they are measuring children when the manufacturers claim their tent will sleep a certain number of people. If there are two of you, get a tent rated for three or four people.

5. Plastic stakes or metal? Always go for metal, and the longer the better. I often purchase a set of replacement stakes longer and thicker than those that come with the tent and take them with me on each trip. After a dozen trips, guess what? Yep, all the original stakes are bent, broken, or lost.

6. Waterproof fabric or canvas? Do they even make canvas tents anymore? If so, don't buy one. Lightweight nylon is the way to go. Waterproof it yourself with a spray-on product and be sure to do the seams three times.

If you follow those basic recommendations, you have learned how to choose a tent for any situation. Enjoy your new tent!

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Gone Fishin'

Got a call from my friend Ben in Minnesota right after Christmas and we planned a get together. I left all the details up to him. "Surprise me!" I said and hung up the phone. I flew into Minneapolis and there he was waiting for me, grinning from ear to ear. "You like cold? I gonna show you cold!" Now he had warned me to dress for being outside in a Minnesota winter, so I did bring my best outdoor gear. I didn't pump him for information, I just let him surprise me.

The next day we had breakfast at his place with his wife Ellen and then we took off, getting an early start. He had a small ATV on a trailer behind his truck and everything was all packed so we left right away.

When we pulled up to the lake my jaw dropped open. What the heck were all those blue tents and ATV's doing right ON the frickin' lake? Oh my goodness, it finally dawned on me, we were going to be doing some ice fishing! Modern ice fishing. I had no idea! Ben always was one for the hunting/fishing/trapping side of the outdoor sports scene, whereas I prefer to challenge myself physically and opt for camping, hiking, backpacking, climbing, etc. There was going to be a huge learning curve!

But Ben was up for the challenge of taking out a novice like me and ignored my surprised look on my face as he pulled the ATV out onto the lake. Then he showed me how to set up his portable 'fising tent' as I called it and he cringed every time. He had one of those clam ice fishing huts, and man was it great. It was large enough to stand up in, it was easy to set up, and it really did keep us warm. We could not have fit one more guy in there, though.

Ben caught a few fish and I caught one and it was a lot of fun. I was surprised at how much fun I had.

Ben if you read this, I hope we get to do that again next year!

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Benefits of Hiking

Benefits of Hiking

Hiking is just one of the many types of activities that can bring families closer together. Hiking is something that can be enjoyed without the interruption of the chores and errands of life at home.

Backpacking is a special kind of hiking, a time to get into the wilderness and absorb. Ask parents why they take their kids hiking, and one idea is usually mentioned, to share that time with their kids in nature.

Hiking is more than simply going for a walk, it is walking in and experiencing the wilderness. Hiking is a popular outdoor recreational activity and one of the best ways to explore nature. It is one of the most loved activities for the outdoorsy person! Nothing can compare to the thrill of the adventure topped with the fresh air and the beautiful topography all around.

Hiking is said to improve arthritis by strengthening leg muscles; and since natural tranquillizing endorphins are generated, hiking may relieve back pain. Hiking forms healthy habits for a healthy life. Hiking is such great exercise!

Hiking is usually as close as a local park. Hiking is essentially walking, and we know that walking is a great workout. As in all forms of exercise, do not neglect your regular stretching routine. The uphill demand on your heart and the downhill demand on your muscles, connective tissues, and joints during hiking make it not only a great all-around workout but also a more intense one.

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Hunt Hot Springs

While Eric and I were at Mt. Shasta, we made a little side trip that I wanted to tell you all about. I have a great book about hot springs of the western United States, and always look forward to exploring a new one.

Hunt Hot Springs is reachable from Redding. I want to post the directions here so some of you can visit yourself if you so desire. Go east on Highway 299 about 35 miles to Big Bend Road (exit is for the town of Big Bend). Turn north (left) on Big Bend Road and follow it about 17 miles to Big Bend. After you reach the general store in Big Bend, drive across the Pitt River Bridge. After .8 miles, FS 3702 turns to the right and merges with FS 11. Follow FS 11 for 100 yards, then park (due to road erosion, it is iffy as to how far you can drive up this forest service road). Walk on FS 11 until you see the first dirt road on your left. Walk down the dirt road. When it forks, go right. Continue walking one mile to the river, past the Wright Historical Cemetery.

GPS GeoCoords: 41.033722, -121.931484

Hunt Hot Springs is in a spectacular valley near Mount Shasta. There are several 105F rock and cement pools fed by the hot spring, including one that holds four people. There is also a soaking tub. This is a relaxing little getaway spot.

Because Eric and I read up on Hunt Hot Springs, we knew to bring along a bucket to carry water from the nearby creek so we could cool down the pool a bit. Made all the difference in the world.

Up and over the hill from Hunt Hot Springs is a really special place: a tiny, two-person rock pool called Kosh Hot Springs. This one was built by volunteers. Because it is tucked away, this spring is a hidden jewel. The pool is warmed by 104-degree water.

Eric and I would have a hard time choosing between Hunt or Kosh for our favorite small hot spring. Both are beautiful, quiet spots. We enjoyed breathing the fresh forest air and soaking after the Mt. Shasta trek. Hope you get the chance yourself to visit these two gems and make up your own mind.

Hunt Hot Springs - Weekends Outdoors.

Camping and Hiking at Crater Lake

Eric and I had so much fun at Mt. Shasta that we decided to head over to Crater Lake in Oregon. Neither of us had ever camped out there and we were eager to hike some trails and sleep in the mountain air. We were not disappointed.

We opted for all the 'roads-less-traveled,' including the entrance road. We entered on the road that is closed due to snowfall from November to end of June most years, off of highway 230, entering the National Park at its North Entrance.

We had five days total and decided to do day hikes from a base camp. Being a National Park, we knew we would have plenty of company even at the most remote campground, but we also heard that the beauty of the place and the great day hiking were worth the bother. We chose Lost Creek Campground due to it being open for tents. No fun camping in tents next to behemoth RV's with generators over at Mazama Campground.

We found a good spot at Lost Creek Campground and spent the afternoon setting up camp and planning our remaining days. It was our first chance to try out my new grill, on of those portable charcoal grills, which are a great way to cook when you are camping, not backpacking. So perfect for this trip. It worked great!

After dinner we drove down to the Pinnacles Overlook, which is near the campground. It was a pleasant surprise. Simply breathtaking! Reminded us both of the spires of Bryce Canyon. We stayed there until it got too dark to see the pinnacles. Nobody else came by the whole time we were there. Ah - nice. A place less travelled.

Day 2 we set aside for a hike to Crater Peak, elevation 7263 feet. This trail starts at Grayback Drive, which runs near our campground, close to Rim Drive, at Vidae Falls Picnic Area. We had a great time on this trail, despite there being no view of Crater Lake from the top. It was about 3 miles to the top. The trail was easy once we got past the steep beginning. The view from the top of Crater Peak gave us a panoramic view of the area all around our campground. We could really see where we were camped! We saw plenty of Clark's Nutcrackers and Mountain Chickadees.
Through the binoculars we think we saw some elk grazing in a far off meadow.

After our hike we cleaned up and then relaxed in camp for a bit, and then headed to the Rim Village Cafe for a casual dinner out on the patio, where we had a great view of Crater Lake. All in all, a perfect day.

Day 3 we set aside to climb Mt. Scott, the highest peak in the park. After a liesurely breakfast we drove to the trailhead at the road to Cloudcap Overlook. It was quite a strenuous hike, about two and a half miles each way. The view of Crater Lake from the top was worth the climb. We also enjoyed the panoramic view of the rest of the park from up there.

We decided to eat dinner in camp and enjoyed the evening at the campsite.

Day 4 We climbed Garfield Peak and really enjoyed the many panoramic views of Crater Lake. The Phantom Ship overlook was fantastic! We decided this was our favorite hike.

Again we had dinner in camp and just relaxed in camp. We drove to Pinnacle Overlook one more time.

Day 5 we broke camp after breakfast and spent the whole morning being tourists. We drove the entire Rim Drive slowly, stopping at every lookout and stayed longer than your average tourist. Eric did some sketches. We took the trail down to the edge of the lake and took a quick dip in the water...not warm! Ha!

A great, fun, relaxing time for both of us. We like Crater Lake!

Camping and Hiking at Crater Lake - Weekends Outdoors.

Mt. Shasta Summit Hike

I chose July to return to Mt. Shasta, as this year it was a low snow year and I knew there would be less snow than usual, making a somewhat easier climb. I was joined on this trip by my friend Eric, whom I have known since high school. We both drove in to the Bunny Flats Trailhead on the southwest flank of Mt. Shasta. Our chosen route: Avalanche Gulch, also known as the Traditional John Muir route. In two days, we would climb 7300 feet and cover 7 miles.

Day 1: With fully-loaded packs, we started up the gradually sloping trail through the forest. Eventually the trees disappeared as we climbed higher. The sun brought temperatures up into the 90’s. In less than 2 miles, thankfully, we reached the Sierra Horse Camp. Here we refilled empty water bottles with cool spring water and sat in the shade. We felt fully rejuvenated and proceeded onto Helen Lake.

The walk from Horse Camp to Helen Lake was a bit warm, that’s for sure. But the surrounding rocky landscape was dramatic, interrupted by the occasional melting snow patch. A cricket or bird would break into song occasionally. Eric and I proceeded in a stride that seemed effortless, so interesting was the scenery. We took frequent breaks to cool down and hydrate. We encountered one other pair of climbers along the way. About 5 hours after we started our journey, we arrived at Helen Lake.

We each pitched our tents in one of the crescent-shaped stone shelters for protection from Shasta’s notorious winds. We tied our tents down securely and spent the rest of the day barefoot, relaxing at our base camp. It was warm, but somewhat breezy. Hours passed as we told stories, laughed heartily, and took in the scenery. Eric sketched a bit and I wrote in my journal. At about 7 pm, we decided we’d had enough sun and retired to our tents.

Day 2: The alarm woke us up at 3 am. After a quick breakfast of granola bars and water, we packed up supplies for the summit hike. By 4 am, we bid adieu to Helen Lake and were off. After expending some major energy trying to ascend a scree slope to the base of the Heart, we opted to hike on the snow. The crampons gripped the snow firmly and our pace quickened. At the base of the Heart, we decided to go left. Although we knew most climbers go right, we thought this route looked more fun, plus we would avoid the gnarly ascent through Red Banks. The day’s warmth had carved out fanciful asymmetrical shapes in the snow, making the route more beautiful and giving us nice platforms to stand on or step into. We reached the base of aptly-named Misery Hill and changed footwear for the scree hiking.

We took a couple of extended breaks on Misery Hill and on the snowy, flat terrain above. We opted for a slow, steady pace and passed several hiking pairs resting. Eventually the rocks became larger, more solidly stacked up. No more of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back walking characteristic of a scree slope. We clambered over the rocks and Eric became as agile as a mountain goat.

The summit quickly came closer and we veered back onto the sandy trail. We could see a group of three hikers resting and snacking up top. We smiled, knowing that the climb was successful. We sat on the summit for about an hour, stretching, napping, writing, eating. It was great to relax and bask in our glory of success at summiting Mt. Shasta.

The descent, as always, was far easier for me. Eric has weak knees so he always suffers on the way down. We took it very slowly. My lungs got a break as my legs took over the work. We passed lots of people now, all on their way up. Close to Red Banks, we affixed crampons once more and followed a narrow band of snow through the pumice cliffs. There was a glissade chute there for anyone willing, but Eric and I deemed the snow conditions too poor for glissading.

After getting off the snow, it was back to conquering scree walking. Helen Lake couldn’t come fast enough. At the lake we spent quite a while eating, airing out, and sitting down.

We packed up our camp and put on our heavy packs once again. We met some other climbers preparing for their summit bid and again relaxed in the shade while refueling on snacks. The last one and half miles back to the car were a breeze. Smiles and words of congratulations came from most of the aspiring climbers we met on the way up the trail.

Eric and I agree: What a trip!

Mt. Shasta Summit Hike - Weekends Outdoors

Chaco Canyon Adventures

This was my second trip to Chaco Canyon. Went back with my cousin David, who also accompanied me on my first visit there. We drove east on Highway 64 & then turned south on 550 to Nageezi. The first few miles were okay, but the last 13 miles into the park were unpaved, and very rough. And we often found ourselves going east again as well as south and west on the meandering back-country road. We tried to track our progress, but the GPS was no help at all. As far as it was concerned we were traveling "off road."

Our first stop was Hungo Pavi, which has not been excavated. It's pretty much just as it was was when discovered back in the 1800s. The walls were so well constructed that they're still standing after a thousand years. Other ruins have undergone various degrees of reconstruction.

Our second stop was Pueblo Bonito. As we walked among the ruins, it was hard to imagine thousands of people living and working here. This was the center of Chacoan culture from A. D. 859-1150. There were a great many rooms to explore. We did have an opportunity to observe several crews of workers doing restoration work. We then walked along the Petroglyph Trail to Chetro Ketl. Sadly, even in a place as remote as this, there were still those who left their graffiti on the ancient markings on the walls of the canyon. I wonder if the graffiti of today will one day be considered a great archaeological find.

We made camp before dark, then hiked the Chaco Canyon Overlook Trail for a beautiful view of the sunset.

It rained off and on all night, but was dry by morning. We hiked the Peñasco Blanco Trail, the longest in the canyon, in the morning, with a cold wind swirling around us. Peñasco Blanco is a sidetrip from the main Chaco settlement. A spur trail took us to the famous Supernova Platograph. This rock drawing is believed to represent the sighting of the Crab Supernova of July 5, 1054, which was also recorded by Chinese and Arab astronomers, and may have been visible during daylight hours for about three weeks in this area.

By early afternoon it was getting hot, and we were glad we were not trying to do this walk in the summer, when it's even hotter & drier. It would then be best to do this all in the early morning. In the afternoon we did a very nice hike to the Canyon Overlook, followed by a second vist to Pueblo Bonito. Pueblo Bonito is an example of Chacoan architecture called a Great House, which is D-shaped. It is very cold this night.

The next day, day 3 of our trip, brings bright blue skies and glaring sun for the morning hike to Tsin Kletsin, one of the best in the canyon. We made the loop, starting at Casa Rinconada, and returned by way of the south gap. We have now hiked every trail in Chaco Canyon.

After lunch we broke camp, then hiked Wijiji, one of the lonelier trails in the canyon, under perfectly calm blue skies.

We avoided most tourists by not going on guided tours. These tours are valuable for first-time visitors, such as we were two years ago. I remember learning that the Native American people would like us to stop using the word Anasazi, as it means 'enemy.' Since I learned that tidbit two years ago I have stopped using the term, but I see that the rest of the world continues to use it.

Chaco Canyon Adventures - Weekends Outdoors