Thursday, April 23, 2015

Getting into the Backcountry- While you still can

At left is a picture of Yosemite National Park's beautiful Half Dome, a granite dome that's probably the park's most recognizable feature. Beautiful, isn't it? You can see why Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks in the country, and it is- rated best for RVs overall and one of the busiest, seeing almost four million visitors in 2012. You can even hike all the way to the top of Half Dome, though it's pretty grueling and involves the use of cables and supports that have been installed there for that express purpose- or an even harder technical rock climb.

The picture looks incredible, doesn't it? I don't know about you, but it makes me want to get on a plane and fly to California right now, and hit the backcountry. But as incredible as the picture looks, there's an enormous problem also on display in it. Life-changing, as far as Yosemite National Park (and California as a whole) goes.

Can you see it? I admit, it's hard without some assistance. Let me show you a picture taken from that same camera exactly four years earlier.

And the difference is... snow. Lots and lots of snow. That's because California's been suffering under a four-year drought that looks like it won't be abating any time soon. And that's caused a cascading effect, such as the one you see there. We still don't know what the full effects will be for parks like Yosemite; according to the National Park Service, it's at a much higher risk for fires that could ravage it's natural beauty; at risk for a dramatic increase in non-native animal species, like the New Zealand mud snail, which can completely cover river streambeds, displacing native organisms and making traversing the streambed impossible; and a huge risk of allowing invasive plant species, like the Himalayan blackberry, to thrive and form impenetrable thickets that replace native vegetation.

But, still, Yosemite will exist in some form. It's not like Half Dome is going to go away anytime soon. But what about a national park who takes it's name from something it's predicted to have none of within the next twenty to thirty years?

I'm talking, of course, about Glacier National Park. No need for a long spiel; here's a picture instead.

The point I'm trying to get at here is that there isn't a better time than now for getting into the Backcountry and enjoy it with your kids. My daughter wants to hike Glacier, as I've said many times, and if we don't get out there, she might not be able to. It's incredibly unlikely that she'll be able to hike it with her kids- well, I take that back. Glacier National Park isn't going anywhere; it'll always be Glacier National Park. But the Glaciers that give it it's moniker will be gone forever. The thousands of years it took to form them, and they'll be gone before our kids can take their kids to see them.

We can bicker and argue about climate change and global warming and whatnot, I'm not sure how that got to be such a huge, partisan issue in this country, but the bottom line is that if you want to see it and enjoy it, you better get your butt out there. Don't put that off any longer- and don't be intimidated by it! It might be a big jump, but you can get it done- and we're here to help you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tackling Backcountry Anxiety Syndrome- Ticks!

Backcountry Anxiety Syndrome is a condition where things that aren't as scary as they seem to the uninitiated conspire to keep people from enjoying nature. Recently, I was chatting with an acquaintance of mine, and this came up. He said:

"I'm not scared of much. Heights, snakes, tight spaces, whatever..... but ticks..... those things give me the mega-creeps. Tiny little disease vectors that suck your blood. Ugh."

It's true. Ticks are a kind-of bugaboo for a lot of people, especially in the last twenty years with the resurgence of Lyme's Disease and other fun things like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the newest and fun-est one of the bunch, Alpha-Gal allergies. That one comes from the Lone Star tick. For those of you who don't know, Lone Star ticks- with a distinctive dot on their back- are the ones that pass on the alpha-gal allergy, which makes you unable to eat any non-primate mammalian meat potentially ever again. No beef, no pork, no venison, mutton, game meat, etc.

In fact, recently I had a person come into the emergency department I work at with a full-blown anaphylactic reaction; turns out he'd picked the pepperoni off a slice of pizza his family had ordered and even the residual amount of grease or whatever left sent him to the ED via ambulance.

So, the right thing to do is panic- stay indoors, carpet bomb your property with pesticides, wear a human tick collar- right? Nah. You definitely need to watch out for ticks if you're out and about, but with a little vigilance, you don't have much to worry about.

Some things to remember- ticks generally crawl from the ground. They don't usually attach from brushing up against something or dropping onto you, but it's not impossible for that to happen. They don't seek out prey this way, though. Their instinct is to crawl from the ground and up as far as they can, lots of times in the hair, behind the ear, etc.

Wear long pants and tuck them into your socks if you're in a high-density tick area, and stay to the trails- you shouldn't be bushwacking too much anyhow, which can destroy delicate environments. Check yourself frequently in tick country, and remove ticks early- earlier the better. When you do remove ticks, don't squeeze their bellies, you need to grab them by the head with tweezers and gently pull until they pop off. Might pull skin up, too, when you do that, but that's okay. Steady backwards pressure, they'll come off. Don't use matches or anything like that, makes it more likely they'll regurgitate their stomach contents- especially if they're distended.

You can also buy sprays you can put on your clothing that'll instill them with insecticide; apparently, they work pretty good, but I'm not 100% sold on that. Also, it goes without saying maybe, but make sure you use plenty of insect repellent! Take this advice, and don't let ticks keep you from getting out in the backcountry!

If you want the full run-down, see the Centers for Disease Control's excellent website on ticks and tick prevention.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A great article from the famous Wes Siler

"If you're new to camping, the best advice I can give you is to visit a National Park. No matter which one you go to, you'll find beautiful views, clean facilities and an accesible, safe experience. As an experienced outdoorsman, I like knowing that National Parks have consistent rules and policies across the country; if I need a place to camp a the last minute, late at night, I know I can find that at a National Park and I know what to expect. The Parks Service charges a $10-25 entrance fee per car, an amount that can be paid upon departure if you arrive after the gate closes for the night and which is reinvested in maintaining and preserving the park. Or, do what I do and buy an annual pass for $80. That's a good deal and supports a good cause."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Backcountry Backstory- Where our dads come from

Backcountry Dad started as a resource for parents from broken places- dads facing custody battles over their kids. Who came in as a step-parent and were having a tough time connecting with their kids. Who worked so hard to put food on the table, they couldn't spend the time they wanted with their kids. Even "stay at home" parents whose focus is the kids, see their spouse or children's other parent infinitely less than the kids themselves- but always seem stuck in the house or running errands.

Since then, we've wanted to open up and make this a resource for all parents, everywhere, no matter their background or circumstances. But we don't want to ignore where we came from; we want to reach out to those who, for whatever reason, need a hand up in these sorts of endeavors the most. Limited time, limited budget, limited knowledge- those don't have to be barriers to getting outside and having an epic backcountry trip with your kids.

If you're reading this, trying to cope with how to make the most out of twenty weekends a year and a couple weeks in the summer- we're here for you.

If you've just had another round of "You're not my real mom/dad!"- we're here for you.

If you've just put in your sixth twelve-hour day in a row, and are so exhausted you can hardly move- we're here for you.

If you've just had another round of shuttling between mindless extracurricular activities and haven't been out of the house for anything not errand-related in weeks- we're here for you.

If you're just a mom or dad on a budget who wants to get out and explore the great outdoors with your kids- we're here for you, too.

Keep your chin up, whoever you are, and stay tuned, because we're going to have the gear review, trip planners, and general advice you need to get into the backcountry and have a great time.