The Wrong Map

I found this great story while researching our tendency to be optimistic in estimating work. There is a Scoutmaster Minute or three in this, for sure.

There is a story told by Albert Szent-Györgyi […]. A platoon of soldiers during World War II was lost in the Alps. Overcome with fear and despair, they did little until an officer found a map. Then they rallied, worked and finally found their way to safety. Only later did they learn that the map was of the Pyrenees, not the Alps.

This is great news for those brand-new to leadership, like Patrol Leaders. Even if your information is wrong, it may be enough to make the group more confident and pull everyone together.

It also shows the difference between being lost and merely not knowing your location. Without the map, they were truly lost. With the map, even the wrong map, they now had a goal and a plan and were no longer lost.

Finally, we are who we think we are, especially in groups. Believing we will succeed is critical to getting to the goal.

I found this in Taking Myths Seriously: An Essay For Lawyers by Donald C. Langevoort. A PDF copy is here. His source was Sensemaking in Organizations by Karl E. Weick, page 54, 1995.

For the original story, as far as it can be traced, check pages 16-17 in Any Old Map won’t Do, a study of the origins and mutations of the story.

Rite in the Rain Notebooks

My favorite hiking notebook is the Rite in the Rain 371FX-M. It weighs 20 grams, fits in my shirt pocket, and works fine when soaked with rain (or sweat).

Here are a couple of them that have been on a few treks.

Notebook 1a

I keep pretty basic notes: times, weather, campsites, and so on. If you write a lot, you might want more than 24 pages and maybe bigger pages. I use an official Rite in the Rain pen, but the paper is fine with most ballpoints. Pencils work, too. Sharpie pens smear, for some reason.

Pen and paper is one of the essentials, part of a first aid kit. If there is a serious incident, you’ll need to keep vital signs and notes. Those notes will go with the patient when they are evac’ed. You may also want to post a note at a trail intersection for directions.

Philmont encourages each participant to keep a journal. I bought a stack of these notebooks and gave one to each crew member. My son’s trail journal is almost all quotes, odd or funny things that other people said.

Notebook 4a

Here is a 3-pack of the 371FX-M on Amazon.

Ten Essential Skills

Gear without skills is dead weight. In 2010, The Mountaineers revised the Ten Essentials for a list of items to a list of functional systems. What skills are needed to actually use these essentials?

The New Ten Essentials—A Systems Approach was published in Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition. The list was first formulated in the 1930’s as a tool to increase safety for climbers on Mount Rainier.

Why carry the essentials? According to The Mountaineers:

The point of the Ten Essentials list has always been to help answer two basic questions: First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend a night—or more—out?

So let’s walk through the ten essential systems with that in mind. When things go wrong, are you ready with both gear and skills?

Navigation: You need to be able to use the navigation gear you choose, whether it is map & compass, GPS, or both. Last March, I took a fine three-mile “scenic route” in the rain because I misread my GPS. Do you know where you are? Do you know where you are going? Can you use maps, GPS, and landmarks? What does the trail junction look like as you leave it (always look back)? Where is the next water source? Where are potential good spots for lunch or camping? Here is an exercise: lay out a (paper) topo map and throw a dart (or toss a pebble), then find the route from that spot to a campsite or to a road (for an emergency evac). Extra points for safe helicopter landing zones.

Sun Protection (sunglasses & sunscreen): This is basic risk management for sun exposure. I’ve seen people with sunburn blisters on the top of their ears, which is one reason I wear a broad-brim hat instead of a ball cap. I’ve also had a sunburn on the back of my neck, not fun. Are you ready for high-altitude sun? Do you remember to reapply sunscreen mid-day?

Insulation (extra clothing): I carry extra, but how much extra? Did you check the weather forecast before going out? I check several different forecasters, and see if they agree. If they don’t agree, plan for a wider range of conditions. If the forecasts keep changing, plan for a wider range. When the forecasts don’t converge, there is extra uncertainty. Plan for it.

Illumination (headlamp/flashlight): Always check your lighting before you leave civilization. With LED headlamps and flashlights, batteries last a long time, but still check. Know the limits of your lighting. Try night hiking with your headlamp. Even better, try it in fog or snow. Are you ready to walk out an injured crew member at night, in bad weather?

First-Aid Supplies: This and navigation are the deepest skills. You can get better over years and years. For anyone 14 or older, I strongly recommend taking a Wilderness First Aid course. For first aid, if I had to choose between skills and gear, I’d choose skills every time. If you don’t know how to use something in your first aid kit, leave it at home. Know the skills of everyone in your crew, because in an emergency, you all need to work as a team.

Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle): Fire-starting takes practice. Do it again and again in dry weather, then move on to wet weather. When you really need a fire, it won’t be in nice weather. Hint: your toilet paper is probably dry, and Chapstick is 44% petroleum jelly.

Repair Kit and Tools: This isn’t just duct tape. Can you sew? If not, learn. I don’t carry duct tape, I carry medical tape (3M Micropore), Tenacious Tape, and a few feet of Leukotape P on long trips, for blisters. I’ve seen a lot of people carrying huge, heavy multi-tools, but I’ve never seen a Phillips head screw in the backcountry. Bring appropriate, lightweight tools.

Nutrition (extra food): What is your worst case estimate for extra time in the back country? If a crew member is injured, you send for help, then wait for rescuers, how long is that? Or how long does a slow self-evac take? I throw in three extra bars, figuring I’ll be hungry by the end of the second day, but still thinking straight. Also, extra tea and fuel, gotta have the caffeine.

Hydration (extra water): It is surprisingly hard to get information on how much water you should carry. The only reference willing to commit is The Backpacker’s Field Manual. That is not an exciting read, but it is clear and comprehensive on nearly every subject. Short version: six to seven liters per person per day for most treks—more in the desert or snow, or with heavy exertion (climbing and so on). Navigation skills come into play here, knowing your next reliable water source and the expected time to that source, plus a safety factor.

Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag): Where are you hiking and what is the forecast? If you are above timberline, a saw won’t help. Trash bags are light and useful in most situations. Have you built a shelter with a trash bag? Can you stay warm insulated with dry leaves? Maybe you should try that.

By now, you may have gathered that we are talking about risk management. Know the specific risks of each outing and plan for them. This is not throwing stuff in “just in case”. More gear does not make a trek safer, it just makes your pack heavier. As you get more information about the risks for your trek, you can tune the gear and the skills to make it safer.

Gossamer Gear Riksak at Philmont

A daypack is pretty useful on a Philmont trek, but only if it is really light. The Gossamer Gear Riksak is 2.9 ounces and doubles as a stuff sack. It is made of silnylon and costs $30.


At $35 and 4.6 ounces, the Gossamer Gear Riksak 2 is made of tougher material and has proper shoulder straps instead of slippery silnylon sleeves. That could be a worthwhile tradeoff if your side hike is more than a mile or so.

Why a daypack on a backpacking trip? Every Philmont crew does a three hour conservation project. You could empty out your pack, but all you need for “cons” is rain gear, a first aid kit, and water, so a daypack is perfect. Side trips for peak bagging are pretty common on Philmont itineraries, so a daypack is great for those, after you bear bag the smellables, of course.

Once you have a daypack with you, it is just the thing for a the ten essentials and a camera for all the Philmont activities. It is also handy for heading across base camp, or even on the trip to Philmont.

If I was choosing the best daypack for a hike, it wouldn’t be the original Riksak and might not be the Riksak 2. But as an extra item to carry on an twelve day 50+ mile trek, they are just right.

Other Things I Learned at Wilderness First Aid

I expected to learn first aid in the Wilderness First Aid course, but I did not expect to learn so much about planning and teamwork.

I first took Wilderness First Aid (WFA) in 2009 and I’ve taken the course again three times since then to recertify. The material hasn’t changed much, but I always learn or re-learn something.

Our WFA class uses a lot of practical scenarios. All of them require teamwork, and they are planned to stretch your skills. That means that you kill the patient most of the time. We learn a lot more from failure than from success.

A lot of our older Scouts have taken WFA. They are high-achieving youth and are not used to failing, so killing the patient every time was really unsettling for them. It made them think and made them more aware about risks in the backcountry.

WFA taught me that you can always evac. If you don’t like the situation, pack up and walk out, even in the middle of the night. We’ve aborted a few outings, for example at Sky Camp in Point Reyes, an exposed location on the side of Mount Wittenberg. It was planned as a two-night outing with a hike to the summit. A storm came in during the night with 40º temps and 40 mph winds. The lighthouse recorded an 80 mph gust. We had trail food for breakfast, packed up, and headed home. Afterwards, I put a dozen patches on my Walrus Aero Tarp 150 because it had pulled out stakes and banged against the charcoal grill all night.

WFA in the field uses incident command skills—organized decision-making and teamwork in a high-stakes situation. A back-country emergency often means choosing the best among several bad options. Open communication can save lives, another important message.

A good WFA course is a great team-building course. Half of our 2010 Philmont crew was WFA-trained and it was the best shakedown we had.

I practice incident command skills in other areas. I volunteer in amateur radio emergency communication (ARES/RACES), where we are always part of an incident command structure. The Incident Command System (ICS) was developed in response to failures fighting California wildfires. It is now a national system for responding to any emergency, whether there are three or three thousand responders. Learn more with the online FEMA ICS-100 course. Hint: The person wearing the white hat is the Incident Commander.

What happens when there is an earthquake and you are at work? ICS is a good first step.

I’ve learned confidence. On a 50-mile Sierra trek, one of our Scouts had a neck injury. They’d tied a rock to a rope, thrown it into a tree for bear-bagging, and the rock got stuck. When they pulled it loose, it slammed into the neck of one Scout. The other Scout ran to me, panicked. I took time to grab the first aid kit, hustled over there without running, determined that it was a soft tissue injury (a bad bruise), and started treating for shock. I deputized the Scout’s tent-mate to watch over him while he recovered in his sleeping bag. I checked on him every 15 minutes.

This could have been a lot worse if the rock had hit somewhere else on his neck or head. Even so, we had a shocky Scout for the evening and he couldn’t turn his head for a couple of days. Later, the injured Scout (now a Philmont Ranger) told me how impressed he was with my calm response. Of course, I had been full of adrenaline, but I had practiced what to do, so I could go down the checklist.

The scariest part about the first course was being retroactively terrified at how unprepared I had been for previous outings. Please, take WFA as soon as possible to spare yourself this grief.

Any time that I did the right thing, I owe it to the course. We usually don’t perform up to our potential, but rather down to our training. Get trained.

Mushroom Spaghetti (Vegetarian)

OK, so I broke our Vegan September by adding (excellent, imported) Parmesan, but this was a tasty backpacking meal and still vegetarian. I’d use fresh mushrooms and spices for guests at home, but this is a tasty, filling meal on the trail.

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This recipe is from Teresa Marrone’s The Backcountry Kitchen.

Mushroom spaghetti is not tomato spaghetti sauce with mushrooms. It is a mushroom sauce over pasta, in this case, spinach pasta.

For two people, I used six ounces of pasta, half the box. This is a pretty light meal, because the dried mushrooms are only an ounce. Add an ounce or so of parmesan and you are at nine ounces for two people. Because of the pasta box size (12 oz.), this is a slightly better meal scaled up to four people.

Because it is so light (about four ounces per person), it would be a great meal towards the end of a longer trek. Everyone is hungrier later in the the trek and this is a filling meal.

It does require two pots, one for the mushroom sauce and one for cooking the pasta. That is extra weight, but on a longer trip a second pot is handy, since you’ll be washing dishes every night. I hope you rinse them with boiling water, since I would hate for you to get the runs on the trail.

But back to the positive: tasty, light, and nutritious. Hint: if you are serving linguine, bring forks.

Tina was reading the first Longmire mystery, so I forgive her for reading during dinner. Also, that really is a kids cereal bowl with the alphabet all around. Lightweight and nearly indestructible, so a great choice for backpacking.

Solo Stove Campfire

This looks really interesting as a patrol-sized wood-fueled backpacking stove. I have the smallest model, which is great for one or two people. This is sized for more people and should work great for a Boy Scout patrol (around eight).

The design is about 7″ in diameter and about 9″ tall. That is roughly the size of a squared-off gallon milk jug, if you make a cylinder around the outside edges. It weighs two pounds, which is substantial, but not bad for a stove to feed a patrol. Remember, no fuel weight, only firestarter material.

If the milk jug analogy doesn’t work for you, it is smaller and lighter than most bear canisters. It would almost certainly fit inside a BearVault BV500.

It is also smaller and lighter than any synthetic sleeping bag. For example, the Cat’s Meow from The North Face is 2 pounds 10 ounces, and packs down to 8″ in diameter and 17″ long. The Solo Stove Campfire is an inch smaller in diameter and half as long when the fire ring is inverted for packing.

This is a “wood gasification” stove, with air feeds at two levels to promote secondary combustion and efficient use of the wood. It can be a real blowtorch if you need that, or you can moderate the heat by limiting the fuel. You get it started, then keep feeding it small stuff. The shell and bottom stay cool because there is outside air drawn in at the bottom. No scorched fire rings, and just ashes to dump out after it is done.

The Solo Stove Campfire Kickstarter level to get a stove is $99. Very tempting. I’m guessing it will be about $120 once they get to full production.

Planning a Vegan Backpacking Menu

Tina and I are going vegan for September, and we have a backpacking outing planned for the last weekend of the month. Teresa Marrone’s The Back-Country Kitchen is, once again, looking like the best resource.

Breakfast and lunch are not a challenge. I often have a Lärabar for breakfast at home. Oatmeal, bars, dried apricots (only Blenheims), figs, cashews, whatever, will get us through until dinner. But dinner is a challenge.

I pulled out a few backpacking cookbooks and a stack of Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador cards for bookmarks.

My first resource was Glen McAllister’s Recipes for Adventure, especially because of Philip Werner’s glowing recommendation of his ratatouille.

Ratatouille is almost all vegetables, so it is easy to make vegan, but does not have a lot of calories for feeding hikers. I need to at least add rice. Plus, McAllister’s recipe uses fennel seeds, which my wife doesn’t like.

Red Beans and Rice from McAllister looked good, and since I grew up in Louisiana, it goes on my list of possible meals.

So, I went back to my go-to cookbook, Teresa Marrone’s The Back-Country Kitchen.

Lentil-Bulgur Chili from this book is fantastic, and trivial to vegan-ize (don’t top with cheese). But we might hike with another couple and I made this the last time the four of us went backpacking, so I’d like to make something else.

Teresa’s “Weetamoo” Stew looks good with rice, bulgur, onions, other veg, but the leek soup mix probably has milk. Dang.

Mushroom Spaghetti looks like a winner. Use a mix of tasty dried mushrooms with a tomato sauce over spinach noodles. We only need to omit the cheese. Maybe I’ll bring parmesan for our friends.

Ratatouille, hmm I like her recipe better. She sweats liquid from both the eggplant and the zucchini and uses a more traditional spice mix of parsley, basil, thyme, and oregano. Maybe I could use this as a veg with the mushroom spaghetti.

Risi e Bisi (Rice and Peas) looks good, too, and easy to adapt. Use olive oil instead of butter buds and vegetable bouillion. I don’t really need another starch, but I’ll keep this on my list.

Many Beans Salad from Packit Gourmet looks tasty, especially with some rice.

I’m leaning towards the Mushroom Spaghetti, maybe with Ratatouille on the side if I get fancy and want to carry the pots. Or I could repeat the Lentil-Bulgur Chili. Red Beans and Rice would be nice too—I could dehydrate some okra for that. The Packit Gourmet meal is good to have in my pocket if time gets tight. Nice to have choices, and I’m pleasantly surprised that I can find four nights of vegan dinners with only an hour of research in the cookbook library.

We’re Already There

In the summer of 1971, my dad and I headed out on our first wilderness backpacking trip in the Pecos Wilderness. The first person we met on the trail was from our home town, Baton Rouge! Of course, we asked him how far it was to our destination, Beatty’s Cabin. He told us, but he added a bit of wisdom. When he went backpacking in the wilderness, he didn’t worry too much about specific spots. His destination was the wilderness, and he was already there. I still remember that—as soon as I leave the trailhead, I’m already there.

This was our first stop on the trail that year, before the meeting. And yes, it was at Noisy Brook Creek, an odd name.

Pecos 1971 2-11

And, if you are still thinking about destinations, this is our tent, a Gerry Year-Round, set up in the meadow at Beatty’s Cabin. I believe this area has been closed to camping due to overuse for a few decades now.

Pecos 1971 2-21

I scanned these photos from my dad’s slides.

38 gram Selfie Kit

Feel the need for more trail selfies? Instead of a heavy tripod, support your iPhone for 38g (1.3 ounces) or your small camera for 30g (1 ounce). This kit goes on top of regular bottles like the 1 liter sparkling water bottle that is always in my pack.

IMG 7175

There are two basic parts: a water bottle camera mount and a tripod adaptor for an iPhone (or other phone). If you have a lightweight camera, you can skip the phone mount and save 8 grams.

Bottle cap mount: $10, 30g. This fits on the top of a regular small mouthed bottle. I carry a one liter sparkling water bottle (stronger than still water bottles), so I always have one of these. I wouldn’t support my DSLR with this, but it is fine for a light camera or phone camera. I got my bottle cap camera support from Photojojo.

Bottle cap tripod

Glif: $20, 8g. This is how an iPhone is mounted on a tripod screw. The Glif Original is sized for a bare iPhone 4/4s or 5/5s, depending on the size you order. Mine is for an iPhone 4/4s, but fits my thinner 5s with the Apple leather case (see the photo above). If you have a different phone or want an adjustable mount, get the New Glif for $30. I don’t know how much the New Glif weighs, but I expect it isn’t much heavier than the Glif Original.

Glif crop

Here is the New Glif (adjustable).

New glif crop

The final touch is a camera app that has a self timer, unlike the built-in Apple camera app. I use Camera Plus, which costs a whopping $1.99 and adds more features than you probably need, though it does have that essential selfie feature, the self timer.

How good is it? I took this selfie during a ham radio activation on Black Mountain. Looks good to me, good enough to put on my QSL card after I cropped it a bit.


BSA Fieldbook Fumbles the Ten Essentials

The essence of the Ten Essentials is easy—carry these ten things to help you not die on the mountain. It is a part of risk management and planning. The new BSA Fieldbook gets this upside down, making it all about gear. Also, the Fieldbook sticks with the 1930’s list, instead of moving to the 2003 “systems” Ten Essentials. For more details, see the current edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.

The new Ten Essentials covers risk areas rather than listing specific gear. Map and compass is replaced by navigation, and sunglasses and sunscreen by sun protection. This is a smart update to a list from the 1930’s, but the BSA didn’t get the memo.

In the 2014 Fieldbook, the Ten Essentials description is based on the 2004 edition, but it has been reorganized to be more gear-centric, not a good idea. The 2004 Fieldbook has a “why” and “what” for each essential. This is oriented to risk management, “why carry this?” The new Fieldbook has some introductory “why” text without a heading, but then has a “basic” and “advanced” choice for each essential. This does not make sense to me. Yes, some gear requires more training, but why is a soda bottle basic and a wide-mouth Nalgene advanced? I’m an advanced packer and I carry a soda bottle. My Nalgenes are for car camping.

Let’s look at different descriptions for a common essential, a knife.

Here is the knife entry from The Mountaineers’ Ten Essentials. Everyone should carry a knife, but tools like screwdrivers can be crew gear.

Repair Kit and Tools: Knives are so useful in first aid, food preparation, repairs, and climbing that every party member needs to carry one. Leashes to prevent loss are common. Other tools (pliers, screwdriver, awl, scissors) can be part of a knife or a pocket tool, or carried separately—perhaps even as part of a group kit. Other useful repair items are shoelaces, safety pins, needle and thread, wire, duct tape, nylon fabric repair tape, cable ties, plastic buckles, cordage, webbing, and parts for equipment such as tent, stove, crampons, snowshoes, and skis.

Here is what the 2014 Fieldbook says on page 20. Try and think about how a wire stripper or digital memory card might keep you alive on the mountain, to the degree that every Sout should carry them.

A pocketknife is the all-purpose tool of the outdoors. Use it to cut a cord, trim a bandage, slice cheese, whittle a tent stake, open a can, tighten a camp stove screw, and take care of a hundred other tasks.

Choose a quality knife that includes one or two sharp blades, a can opener, and a screwdriver. Invest in a good knife now, and it will serve you well through years of adventures. Keep it sharp and clean.

Some knives have additional features intended for specific outdoor activities. Among the possibilities are wire strippers, toothpicks, scissors, tweezers, a magnifying glass, pliers, a wood saw, and even a digital memory card. Each adds bulk to a knife, so think carefully about what you really need before you buy.

This is advice for shopping, not risk management. And what do they mean by “advanced”, more expensive? For me, advanced packing is not taking the kitchen sink, but honing my planning and skill to take only what I need. I might put this 15 gram folding knife under “advanced”.

The Boy Scout Handbook (12th edition, 2009) is refreshingly to the point on page 264.

A pocketknife could be the most useful tool you can own. Keep yours clean, sharp, and secure.

Finally, here is the description from the 2004 Fieldbook. This is also gear-centric, but at least it is shorter and doesn’t go completely off the rails like the 2014 edition.

Why: Cut a cord, trim a bandage, slice some cheese, whittle a tent stake, tighten a screw on a camp stove—a pocketknife is the all-purpose tool for the out-of-doors.

What: Choose a quality knife that includes among its tools one or two cutting blades, a can opener, and a screwdriver. Keep it sharp and clean.

Better, but the whole approach is a mess. Whittling tent stakes is a big Leave No Trace violation, and probably not one of your top needs in a survival situation. And the can opener? Are these the Car Camping Essentials? Is this “be equipped” rather than “be prepared”?

Let’s remember that this is about staying alive in the wilderness, so it is critical to get it right. Treating it as a gear buyer’s guide is a deep misunderstanding of the Ten Essentials. The BSA needs to get up to date, use the latest “systems” Ten Essentials, and teach Scouts to Be Prepared.

New Checklists and Reporting Requirements in Guide to Safe Scouting

The quarterly update of the Guide to Safe Scouting includes two new checklists in the appendix.

The Campout Safety Checklist (PDF) is two pages long with 35 items, and a big improvement in BSA risk management. Some of the checklist items:

  • Have weather conditions been checked and communicated?
  • Has an adult been assigned to help Scouts with taking meds?
  • Is a mechanism in place for contacting a camp ranger or camp office (e.g., walkie-talkie, mobile phone, etc.)?
  • Has the location of the nearest hospital/ER been identified and announced to all adults?
  • Is the unit first-aid kit in a conspicuous location and readily available?
  • Have any incidents been recorded and reported, if necessary, to BSA professionals?
  • Have the adult and youth leaders captured any lessons learned from the campout?

There is a similar Event Safety Checklist (PDF) for non-camping activities.

Units are now required to report all incidents and near misses. I’m not sure when this was added, but this is the first time I’ve noticed it. These reports make more paperwork for adults, but are key to improving our risk management. The Incident Descriptions and Reporting Instructions (PDF) sheet establishes incident levels and reporting requirements. Here is a overview with some of the incident types, but read the original, it is a single page with another page of definitions.

  • Catastrophic: fatality or life-critical hospitalization, allegation of sexual abuse, major multi-vehicle accident, national publicity — report as soon as possible (after 911 or other immediate response).
  • Serious/Critical: other hospitalization, non-sexual abuse, disease or food-born illness outbreak, bomb threat, local publicity — report within 24 hours
  • Marginal: first aid, ER visit and released, emergency response initiated, serious near miss — report within five days
  • Negligible: near miss, injury or illness not requiring first aid — report by end of charter year

The Incident Information Report (fillable PDF) is linked from the appendix.

There is also a Near Miss Incident Information Report (fillable PDF), but that is not linked from the appendix. It is linked from the health and safety forms page. It should be linked from the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Instead of this colorful PDF for the incident types and definition, I’d like to see them printed in simple text on the back of each Incident Information Form and Near Miss form. The BSA seems to love over-decorative PDFs for basic information.

A set of specific examples would help, too. There is one in the GSS’s Incident Reporting Policy, but more would be useful. If there is lightning nearby and your hiking group takes lightning precautions, is that a near miss? A serious near miss? Not an incident at all? We helped extinguish a single tree fire on a 50 Miler. Is that a near miss or a good turn? Let’s hope the BSA gets enough reports this year that they can give better guidance in 2015.

Couples Backpack to Mission Peak

There is a little-known campsite at Mission Peak, but it is one of my favorites. The views are wonderful and it is a perfect base camp for catching a sunset from the peak, or a sunrise, if that is your persuasion.

My wife and I restarted our backpacking with an overnight to this spot, accompanied by another couple. This was my first non-Scout backpacking in years, and it was lovely.

Mission Peak is a very popular hike—we were amazed at the number of people up there at sunset. The rest of them had to hike all the way out in the dark. We strolled back to our campsite. This photo is only a sample, we counted over fifty people. It was a party.


Eagle Spring Backpack Camp is just north of Mission Peak at about 2100 feet (roughly 400 below the summit). Make a reservation through the East Bay Regional Parks District. The park website has a nice PDF map, though you’ll probably also need a Sunol Regional Park map (if you take my advice).

I like hiking Mission Peak from the Sunol Regional Park trailhead, especially for an overnight. Most people take the 3+ mile trail from the Fremont side, but that is steep for backpacking and the parking is problematic. Starting from Sunol adds an entrance fee and a $2/person Ohlone Wilderness access fee, but the trail is a nice, steady spread climb over five miles and the park closes at night, so your car is relatively safe. Most of the trail is a fire road, perfect for groups who like to chat on the trail. Vintage gear connoisseurs might want to check out Tina’s Lowe Alpine Systems pack.


All of the campsites have clear views north to Mount Diablo. Three are out in the open, and one is up a rise and sheltered under a spreading California bay laurel. Tina likes trees, so we camped there.


Climb the peak from the south side. The north approach is a too-steep, rutted mess. The southern trail to the peak is a regular trail in fine condition. Even on a day hike from the north side, it is worth going around.

And if you are still not sure about the view from this camp, here is a something from an earlier trip. Think about all those people heading home on the I-680 freeway while you are relaxing with a priceless view of Diablo. This is one of my favorite computer backgrounds. Feel free to use it.


FInally, here is a Flickr set from the trip. It is short, less than twenty pictures. I’m a tough photo editor.

Trying Lightweight Hiking Socks

I tried lightweight socks on my most recent backpacking trip and really liked them. I’ve been wearing thick wool socks for backpacking since the 1970’s. I stopped using liner socks a decade or two ago, but I had never tried lighter main socks like the thru-hikers wear now.

The forecast was for continuous soaking rain, 48º temperatures, some steep trails, and a fair amount of idle time waiting for the next participant patrol to come to my area. That’s a good sock test, with a nice chance to have cold, wet feet, plus blisters. But less sock means less wet sock, right? And if I get a blister on a two-night outing, I can deal with that.

I grabbed some light socks at REI, Wigwam Merino Airlite Pro. They are roughly one third each of merino wool, stretch nylon, and polyester, plus a smudge of cotton. There is no cushioning, just a nice smooth fit.

Here they are with my previous socks, SmartWool Trekking, 77% merino wool and probably one of the heavier socks you can find.

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I tried out the new socks going work a couple of times and on neighborhood walks. My hiking shoes (well-ventilated trail runners) are my everyday go-to-work shoes.

They also passed inspection by Loken.

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Getting to the point, the socks were great. It did rain almost all Saturday, so they were soaked. The trail from base camp up to the ridge could use some switchbacks and general trail maintenance. It was a tougher test than expected. The trail down from the ridge needs a double black diamond sign. It goes straight down the fall line and was muddy and covered with wet leaves, perfect conditions for rubbing hot spots on your feet. I was planting my poles hard and practicing my trail glissade. In between, I spent two hours under a tarp waiting for patrols to visit my activity, and an equal amount of time in camp observing them set up and cook.

The socks slide a little bit in the my shoes, but that is OK. First, the shoes are sized for thicker socks, and second, I’d rather have the sock grip my foot and slide rather than the sock slide against my skin and cause blisters.

I wasn’t planning on saving weight in my pack, but these thin socks are meaningfully lighter. The heavyweight socks I’ve been wearing are 100 grams per pair, and these are 50g. When I carry two pair, that saves 100 grams, over three ounces.

If you haven’t figured it out, I’m now a thin sock hiker (the sock on the right). They even look good enough to be dress socks.

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