Category Archives: Hiking/Backpacking Instruction

So You’re Lost In The Wilderness….Now What?

This has happened to us all before, to some degree, on a hike or even a simple walk into the wilderness.

We had allowed ourselves to get distracted, and we somehow lost the trail we were on, or lost our direction on how to get back to the safety of our vehicle.

As a member of search and rescue, I take interest in learning about and discussing lost person behavior. This knowledge had helped our teams locate lost people more quickly.

It also motivates me to learn about the best steps to take, what things would be the best to do when you get caught in this situation.

While the concept of being lost on the trail or being separated from our hiking companions is terrifying, the actions we take over the course of the first few minutes can rapidly increase or decrease our chances of getting out safely.

First, let’s back up to before you got lost in the first place, and was planning on this particular trip.

Did you….

1. Plan out your trip ahead of time, and check on the weather and any hazards on this particular trail and area?

2. Bring your ten essentials?

3. Communicate ahead of time to someone responsible of the trail and the route you were taking, and approximate time of your expected return?

(Please review the link below if you are new to hike planning, or want to learn more about it)

Once you have become lost, here are the steps, as recommended by the Forest Service, that you need to take to make yourself more likely to be found…

Stop


As soon as you realize you may be lost: stop, stay calm, stay put. Panic is your greatest enemy.

Think

Try to retrace in your mind how you got to where you are. What landmarks do you remember, and should be able to easily see? Do not move at all until you have a specific reason to take a step.

Observe

Get out your map and compass, and determine the directions based on where you are standing. Do not walk aimlessly.

If you are on a trail, stay on it. Most trails are marked with signs, where intersections meet and where you may find points of interest. This information could be helpful for somebody to come and find you.

Plan

Based on your clear thinking and observations, think of some possible plans. Think them through, then act on one of them once you are convinced this is the best action to take.

If you are not very, very confident in the route, if it’s nightfall, or if you are injured or you are near exhaustion, stay in place.

Self Rescue

If you are feeling up for a self rescue, here are some guidelines to follow.

  1. Stop and take a breather when your body is telling you to. Don’t expend your energy too early.
  2. Remember to take rest, food, and water breaks, even though your mind maybe racing a mile a minute.
  3. Drink plenty of water, not just on your breaks, but also while you are hiking to find your way back. Dehydration will increase your stress and frustration, while depleting your energy rapidly.
  4. Take the time to deal with small issues while they are still small. If you ignore your body and gear and just keep pushing, the pain, illness, or risk of injury will only get worse and make recovery more difficult.
  5. Avoid hiking, if possible, on highly exposed areas on hot days. If you are on a trail such as this, find a shady spot and stay there until the temperature cools down. Adjust you’re hiking pace to what you can comfortably maintain and rest when you feel necessary.

Hope you find this information useful (or, better yet, never will need it!)

Be safe out there!

Leave No Trace Principles…Are you Bringing These Along On Your Adventures?

As we all know, the 10 essentials of hiking is very important. These essentials will not only make our adventures more enjoyable, but are usually necessary to get us back out of the wilderness safely.

I recently took an online Leave No Trace awareness course, and had become certified. This had helped both educate and remind me how important these principles are.

I always feel that I do a good job of protecting the wilderness when I am out there, but also realize there is a lot more to learn about these very important concepts.

The 7 current Leave No Trace Principles are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly (Pack It In, Pack It Out)
  4. Leave What You Find.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts.
  6. Respect Wildlife.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

I had actually made a couple of changes recently to decrease my own impact on the wilderness.

First thing I did was disband my Facebook hiking group.

I enjoyed being a group leader and always enjoy the company of hiking partners, but I also found that I allowed this hiking group to get too big. I was bringing too many people out at once, and realized I was sometimes disrupting or even possibly creating damage to the wilderness areas by doing this.

Now, I simply send out texts to smaller groups when I plan a hike, backpack, or a photo shoot and want company.

The second change that I made, was I stopped sharing photos to the large hiking groups on Facebook and Instagram.

This scenic barn rests in the meadow near Cle Elum.

If you are curious about this, you can read about my main reasons for quitting social media here:

While I initially enjoyed sharing the photos and hikes that I had done, I had realized that instantly sharing these locations to tens of thousands of strangers was not doing the ecosystem any good.

I had included a link below, if you are interested in the Leave No Trace course, and would also like to obtain certification (it’s free).

See you on the trails, and I welcome any feedback in the comments below.

Thank you for reading, and see you next Tuesday!

Now May Be The Time For Adventure Planning

Now that we are all spending time at home, it may be the time to plan some adventures, for when we are able to go out and visit these destinations again.

I thought I would share a hike planning tutorial I had created, and had recently updated.

I’m hoping it may have some ideas you may be looking for, while we have some downtime on our schedules!

What type of adventures are you planning? Is the link above helpful? Please let me know in the comments!

Have a great day,

Mirek

Why Snowshoeing is a Perfect Wintertime Adventure

We all love our spring, summer, and fall hikes, but winter weather doesn’t always need to keep us indoors.

While it’s raining, foggy, and dreary in the lowlands, we can still experience some great weather when we head up to hike in higher elevations.

The combination of fresh powder, great weather effects, and the groomed access to amazing vistas make this a prime hobby for photographers as well.

What gear do I need?

Well, obviously, snowshoes! But If you already hike in the other seasons, you probably own the majority of the gear you will need, more on that later.

Most recreation retailers will rent out snowshoes, I recommend trying this first before investing in snowshoes. Snowshoeing is much different than hiking in the other seasons, and it may actually not be for everyone. Giving it a try with a minimal investment may be a good idea.

I had gained experience with different features of snowshoes, and the following features are ones that I prefer not to do without.

Solid traction – some shoes, such as MSR’s Lightning models, have better teeth on the bottom for traction, compared to just a tubular frame found on other models. I had learned that these gripping teeth are a must for me, since sometimes I will encounter solid ice.

Elevation bars – these are incredibly beneficial when encountering hills, which you will. These bars help raise your heels a couple of inches while walking uphill, taking any strain off your ankles, and actually making the process of climbing much easier. These bars are simply folded down when not in use.

Also, be prepared that walking in snowshoes will be much more work (although worth it!)

Great weather effects out at Lake Lena, in the Olympic Mountains.

Dressing in Layers

It’s obvious that we need to dress warmer, but since hiking in snowshoes is much more work, you will warm up very quickly.

So I recommend to start with a great base layer, I use a medium weight merino wool shirt and pants. These will keep you a bit warmer while it wicks away any sweat, and will prevent you from getting too hot.

Now, this is where gear from the other hiking seasons come into play, as I had mentioned above.

Over your base layer, this is where your favorite hiking shirt and pants from the other seasons will work perfect, the lighter the better. This will be your middle layer.

For your next layer, which will be your outer layer, a warm coat or sweater (wool, NOT cotton), will serve you will for this. For your lower body, a good breathable pair of rain pants will keep you dry, without retaining too much heat.

The outer layer is meant to keep you warm for most of your trip, but can easily be removed when you begin to feel warm.

The sun was reflecting through the trees, during this great snowshoe hike at Hurricane Ridge, in January 2016.

Your regular hiking boots, as long as they are waterproof, should work great for snowshoeing. They should attach just fine to your snowshoes with the bindings that are included with them.

And don’t forget your wool hat and gloves! While the generation of body heat while winter hiking may lead you to believe you will be fine without these, you will really appreciate them at the trail parking lot and during snack breaks.

Additional Considerations

While your 10 essentials are the things that will be with you year round, there some additional considerations while snowshoeing.

Navigation may not be as obvious, due to the trails all mostly snow covered, with footprints being the only indicator of where to go. Just remember that not all footprints will lead you in the right direction, so ensure you have planned your route well, and have a great, waterproof map. I carry a GPS on every adventure, especially on winter routes.

I also recommend start with short hikes (less than 1.5 miles to the destination) with minimal elevation gain until you have gone a few times and understand your pacing and energy level with wearing snowshoes.

In addition to your usual food requirements, keep in mind that a stove and a warm meal and/or beverage may hit the spot while out in the tundra.

Lastly, take into consideration that the days in the winter months are much shorter….and plan accordingly. The best night hikes are the ones that are planned that way.

The stars were just coming out during this night hike at High Rock Fire Lookout, in November 2015.

NOTE: While not all winter hikes require snowshoes, keep in mind that you should not venture out in the winter months without the gear I had mentioned, and I never head out on winter hikes without at least micro spikes in my pack.

Have fun out there, and enjoy! I hope the guidelines above will help you prepare, if you plan to take on this great new adventure!

Here’s What I’m Learning During my Social Media Detox

Recently, I had taken a break from posting photos and hikes social media, for many reasons.

As a hiker and photographer, a lot of my processes involved getting my hiking trip reports and pictures up on social media. This had been part of my process from the beginning, and while I really enjoyed it initially, it had began to feel tedious after a while.

This process also added stress, since I was in a rush to post my photos and trip reports, and would slowly get concerned if no one liked it or commented on it enough.

Over time, I realized this had begun to add anxiety, and even stress to my routine.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some good qualities about social media, but for me, the negative attributes far outweighed the good.

To me, social media had a caused a “superficial” appreciation for the outdoors…..and I felt myself losing the sincere appreciation of living for the moment. I would get concerned that I was not capturing enough “wow” photos that would fill up my notification screen. I also found myself competing with other posts, and actually having a fear of missing out when I saw posts of others going on hiking adventures while I was at home working in my yard (which really needed to be done).

This year, I had begun working on a goal of creating a better balance in my life. After reading “Digital Minimalism” and “Deep Work”, both by Cal Newport, I had taken the author’s suggestion to minimize social media. Both of these books are amazing, and they give the numerous how this change could improve your focus and passion in your craft.

Deciding I would leave the social media sites for a while has moved me tremendously toward my goal of balance, and life is already much better.

While I am out and enjoying the outdoors and finding photography compositions, I am also enjoying living in the moment. I am being more selective in my photos, which results in less work when I get home of processing and posting on social media.

I am no longer stressed or concerned with how many “likes” I am getting, or trying to keep up with comments about my hikes or my photos. I am no longer striving to be popular, since this was leading me to post unnecessarily, and sometimes excessively.

I do have friends that really like to see photography in their feed, and had commented they miss seeing my work since I had quit posting. But for the most part, I do not have any repercussions of taking a break from social media. Also, even though I had decided not to do a typical “exit speech” while beginning my social media detox, some friends have realized it and now text me about barbecues, hikes and backpacking trips that I thought I would miss out on while being offline.

This was also a big motivator for starting this blog. I still love to share my ideas, my photos, and my passion in this format, specifically for those who seek this type of information. Rather than using this method strictly for attention, it is a great outlet for creativity, and still allows me to share my work, through a more meaningful channel. I also like spending time on my tutorials, since it also works as a database from what I am learning on

Curious if others feel this same way I do……I would really like to hear about your experiences also!

So I Stopped Posting My Hikes to Social Media….and Here is What I Discovered

Some locations such as this peaceful ridge can be found while out exploring, and these amazing locations are meant to be discovered, not overrun by the masses.

You know it, and I know it…..social media is negatively impacting the land that we love, and it’s only getting worse.

The pristine areas we all know and value are being trampled….droves of visitors are coming to these areas, and we all can clearly see signs that the ecosystem cannot handle it.

Obviously, it is largely in part because the wilderness environment is no longer being respected like it should be by its visitors.

Why is this?

There has been a shift, and more often than not, now the waves of visitors to the wilderness are NOT coming out there to experience and appreciate it. They are often coming out there to obtain that perfect photo and obtain that experience strictly so they can share it on their social media accounts, their friends and strangers see it, and the cycle repeats.

Why else are trails being littered, meadows being trampled, natural features being damaged due to photo ops, and social media tags being etched into historical relics?

As I had mentioned in an earlier blog, as I began my hiking and photography hobby, I would routinely post all of my hikes and landscape photos on social media like everyone else.

On the surface, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

The main idea behind social media was for us to keep in touch with distant family and friends, and so we can have a network of friends that we can share ideas and our adventures in life with.

Unfortunately, social media has evolved into the sharing of our photos and newly discovered hiking locations to literally tens of thousands of complete strangers.

The social media sites actually want this, since web traffic drives up their revenue from advertising, and this is precisely why they created the like and heart buttons, and made sharing buttons incredibly easy to use. When we get likes and comments on our posts, it gives us a boost of dopamine, and therefore fuels the need to share to even more droves of strangers.

So when you think of this overwhelming internet traffic being directed to our treasured hiking trails and pristine photography locations, it has, at least to me, become very discouraging.

So I had decided to stop using social media for the reason of sharing my hiking locations and pictures, especially to the hiking and photography groups with overwhelming member numbers.

When I do share a new hiking location or photography spot to a friend, its usually while doing a another hike together, or even over a cold beer. This is also much more personable and rewarding to me, and I feel good knowing that they may have one more great adventure to add to their list, and so do I.

This hidden spot was found off trail, and shared to me by a close friend during a hike. It is much more rewarding to discover these spots this way, rather than just rushing straight there after been given GPS coordinates to it.

So what is this discovery that I had mentioned?

As a result of this, I actually find that I appreciate these amazing adventures to these great spots even more. I see these places more as sacred, but I am far from being selfish and keeping them all to myself. I am still talking about these amazing discoveries with people whom I know will respect these places, but I am no longer sharing them to the endless wave of strangers.

It is a small step, but I at least feel really good that I am no longer contributing to the depreciation of these amazing places.

John Muir would have wanted it this way.

Discover the Benefits of Through-Hikes

Recently, some friends and I have been talking about planning out some “through-hikes” this summer, rather than the typical “destination-and-back” hikes that we have been doing all along.

A “through-hike” simply means that we have a distinct start point, and then a finish point at another area of the map. where we plan to finish our hike. This eliminates having to turn around and head back to the original trailhead when our main destination is reached.

This method does require at least 2 vehicles……the first one will be left at the finish point, and the second one will transport all the hikers to the trailhead of the start point.

This was shortly after we began our hike, we had just departed our start point. This hike was planned to take us 10 miles, mostly downhill, which was very achievable for us to complete.

While this method does require a bit more resources and planning, there are some very nice benefits to planning a hike this way…..

  1. You can plan the hike and make it a bit more comfortable (i.e. downhill vs. uphill) This can allow for more ground to be covered in the time allotted, but also keep in mind that your route can be reversed if you are wanting to challenge yourself with some incline.
  2. By covering new ground for the entire hike, you can visit more points of interest, for example, two lakes or waterfalls instead of just one.
  3. You can leave the crowds behind you, since your group will simply keep venturing on the trail, while the rest of the crowds will turn around to head back to the original trailhead.
This lake above is a destination a lot of day hikers may choose to turn around for a day hike, while we still had miles of new trail ahead of us to explore.

Caution: Using this through-hike method does require good basic navigation skills, and the ability to read a map. I also recommend you use map software, such as CalTopo, to create a map to bring along with you. You have been advised!

In advance, it’s important to know the mileage and elevation change during the planning stages of your hike, so you can ensure everyone in your group can manage this. You also want to be sure you can finish your hike in the allotted time.

Please refer to my previous post about hike planning by clicking the button below, if you would like more information about this.

Hard to believe that there were hordes of people on the trail before we crested over the ridge. They all headed back to their vehicles, while we had this amazing section of the trail to ourselves!
Another benefit of a through-hike is that you can cover many different types of views and terrain.
We were able to visit 2 awesome lakes on this through-hike, rather than just the one if we had to turn around!

Thanks for reading, and have an amazing time out there!

Find Balance In Your Photography (And I’m Not Talking About Composition)

Balance is a concept many photographers use to evenly place objects within the frame of the composition. This concept sometimes makes a photo more appealing to the eye.

So how about applying balance to your method of actually capturing the photos?

The sun rises from behind Mt. Adams during a summer 2017 backpacking trip. While I really like this photo, I wished I spent more time on this trip enjoying the experience rather than stressing over finding compositions.

What I mean is, rather than just rush out to these amazing spots for the purpose of capturing a great photo, take your time and enjoy your surroundings, and the experience of being there.

Social media has influenced the way a lot of hikers see the wilderness.

While some like to experience the wilderness for solidarity, peace, and enhancing our well-being, quite a few others may just simply rush out to these destinations for the purpose of capturing that perfect photo, and updating our social media accounts.

Found this great waterfall while exploring in the Mt. Adams Wilderness.

My method of applying balance is simple…..you can still enjoy finding the compositions you want, enjoy capturing these in your photographs, and enjoy sharing with your friends. However, you should allow photography to sometimes take a back seat, to ensure that you are also equally enjoying the other benefits that the outdoors provide, rather than just capturing your photos and leaving.

I used to rush home after a hike and immediately analyze the photos I have taken, then I would feel the stress of choosing the ones I like, and I would hurriedly post them to my social media accounts and await the feedback.

While the attention of posting my best photography to social media was initially fulfilling, I begin to wonder why I feel so stressed after an adventure, when I should be relaxing and reflecting about what I had experienced while out in the wilderness.

I would actually judge the experience based on how many comments and likes that I received, and this seemed really unnatural to me.

While I am still incredibly passionate about taking photographs, I have changed how I experience the outdoors. Instead of just seeing photography as being the priority, I allow pictures take a back seat to the actual experience of exploring and experiencing the environment. I use less time focusing on capturing the photographs, and more time on enjoying and exploring the natural wonders around me.

This thought process has also conditioned me to become more selective on my photographs. This also lightens the load of the often daunting task of photo processing on my laptop when I get back home.

It took me just a few minutes to capture this photograph, one of my favorites. Thankfully, I spent more time enjoying the sights and sounds of an amazing mountain lake below the Milky Way, and that experience was the most memorable to me.

The result……

I am more relaxed about my photography. I am no longer stressed or anxious about feedback from my photos, and I no longer feel disappointed if I missed a particular shot or if the weather did not cooperate.

I am out in the wilderness to enjoy the environment, and as a reward, I get to bring back some great photos that I took along the way.

Give this some thought next time you are out there!

Why You Should Explore the Wilderness with a GPS

While out exploring and photographing the wilderness, you will find that navigation is a very important skill to have. Basic map reading and compass navigation is a necessary base skill, but having and using a GPS can be a great benefit as well.

A GPS can help tremendously for efficiently and safely naviagating an amazing wilderness, such as this.

As a member of Search & Rescue, I have learned that most people do not get lost on the way to their destination.

They get lost by spontaneously exploring side trails, and looking for photography spots and/or points of interest off the main trail, and are unable to find their way back. It is very easy to get distracted while exploring, and this is the point we lose awareness of our location and get into trouble.

Remember: the opposite of “lost” is “aware”……keep a firm grip on your awareness of your location, and you can significantly decrease your chances of getting lost.

A GPS is an efficient and effective way to plot points, so if you do intentionally (or unintentionally) head off the main trail, you can find your way back.

As I explain the features of a GPS, I will refer to my model pictured above, the Garmin 64s. Your GPS and functions should be similar, whichever model of GPS you use.

Also, I have a PNW map installed, which will show the terrain detail and points of interest, such as lakes and mountain peaks. Some GPS models have these installed, or you can purchase these through your GPS manufacturer’s website.

Here the important features you should know how to use on your GPS;

  1. Marking locations – This feature is enabled when you press the MARK button. This is a great tool for marking the trailhead, or a specific spot when you leave a trail, so that it can insure a safe return. But this feature can also be used to return to a great camping spot you found, or a great photography composition that you want to visit again. Mark and name locations as you go on your hikes.
  2. Saving tracks – Saving your tracks will allow you to store your hikes on your GPS, and will also summarize with the elevation and distance for each one. This is enabled on a Garmin GPS by using the TRACK MANAGER menu item. As you may have read in my Hike Planning blog, at my computer, I use this exported data into Google Earth to view my route on a 3D map of the earth.
  3. “Go To” feature – This feature allows you to have a guided return to your trailhead at the end of your hike, or the point where you left the trail, when you have explored and ready to get back on track. On a Garmin GPS, you would select the spot you had marked on the Map screen, then select GO TO, and you will be guided back to it.

In addition to a map and compass, a GPS can be a tool to have on your adventures. While helping to navigate and explore the area, it is a great way to store your hike and points you had saved, to help

Consider adding one of these to your hiking gear!