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Susan Alcorn's Backpacking Tales and Tips Newsletters 2005

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Shepherd Canyon Books
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Oakland, CA  94611
Toll free number 866-219-8260   email backpack45 at

Publisher of "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill--Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers."

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Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales and Tips #54 December 15, 2005

Dear friends, family, and hiker buddies,

>From one of the gift catalogs (Northstyle) I've recently received, "I wish I was a BEAR. Everyone would expect me to have hairy legs, excess body fat, and wake up growling."

#1. "The Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG) has unanimously approved the use of the Ursack Hybrid in the previously restricted areas of the National Parks and Forests in the Sierra: Yosemite, SEKI, Inyo, Devil's Postpile, Stanislaus." This is a conditional approval for 2006. Check their website for details if you are interested in a lighter (20-oz.) bear-resistant food canister. The model getting the go-ahead is called the Ursack Hybrid; it's an Ursack with an aluminum liner. If you already have the Ursack, you can buy the liner only.

#2. I've noticed that some people who are indoors this time of year instead of out backpacking get a bit of "cabin fever." I'll let you decide if you think the following offer is on the up and up, or not, but I thought it was very interesting: As recently posted on the PCT-L ( forum: "I will take the first female(s) who is the first one to flip-flop the PCT in one calendar year to the restaurant of her choice in the San Diego area at the completion of her hike.  The hike must be north and then south to end up at Campo.  Also, I will present her with a $50 US Savings Bond at the restaurant.  I know, you have to read that again to believe it, but it is true.  This extravagance is because I am getting
a little tired of the men taking all the glory and setting all the records.  Ridiculous. Anyone who wants to up the reward pool is welcome to join in. Any hanger-ons and trail dudes and dudettes who want to join in on the celebration will have to pick up their own tabs. Thank you for your attention."
Sincerely and respectfully, Switchback, Trail Self Promoter & Camp Flim-Flam Man

#3. A new series of stamps called "Wonders of America" is scheduled for release on May 27, 2006. Forty natural and man-made wonders of the United States are depicted on the stamps. These remarkable places, plants, animals, and structures were selected from every region of the country. One of the stamps will feature the PCT and will read, "Longest Hiking Trail: Pacific Crest Trail" on the front. "The Pacific Crest Trail is the nation's longest continuous designated hiking trail, running for 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, through California, Oregon, and Washington. It passes through various climate zones and types of terrain and is open to foot and horse travel only," is printed on the back. You can preview the stamp at One of the correspondents on the PCT-L forum (Wandering Bob) wrote that it's Mount Rainier (WA) in the background.

#4. I've occasionally used a bag of peas for icing sore muscles, etc., but the UC Wellness Letter (Dec. 2005) has a better suggestion. Make your own frozen gel pack for injuries by partially filling a heavy-duty freezer bag with one-quarter rubbing alcohol and three-quarters water. Seal it, put it inside a second bag and then stick the whole works in the freezer. The mixture will remain soft. The more alcohol the softer. This is gentler on injuries than bags of frozen peas and ice cubes.

#5. A reminder for those looking at new backpacks (this is from the Granite Gear tags): "To determine the length of your torso, measure the distance between your 7th cervical vertebra and the shelf of your hipbones. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Tilt your head forward and place your hands on your hips, thumbs to the back. With a flexible tape, have someone measure from the most prominent vertebra at the base of your neck to an imaginary line drawn between your thumbs. This is your torso length. Short torso: 15-18 inches, Regular torso: 18-21 inches, Long torso: 21-25 inches." (I still love my Granite Gear Vapor Light.)

Happy holidays,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales and Tips #53 December 1, 2005

"Life is the art of drawing without an eraser." John W. Gardner

Because the weather is "challenging" in many parts of the country: storms hitting many areas (including our S.F. Bay Area) as we speak, this is a fine time to start planning next year's hikes, backpacking trips, and other adventures.

#1. Terry Gustafson, founder of Rainbow Expeditions II sends his company's 2006 schedule. (Terry writes, "The Sierra Nevada of California was my home during 16 years as a backcountry ranger in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. After 19,000 miles of wilderness travel, I hung up my ranger hat in 1993.")  The company's outings and retreats include Lower Escalante Canyon in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Utah), Canyons and Mesas of the Rainbow Plateau in the Navajo Nation (Arizona), and a High Sierra Vipassana Retreat in Sequoia National Park (California). The length and level of difficulty of the backpacking trips vary. Of particular interest is that several of the trips are silent retreats. Go to:

#2. Monty Tam, who completed the Pacific Crest Trail this year, is not spending his time at home idly. He is hoping to gain sponsorship and publicity for his plan to hike the entire PCT with a 5-pound average base weight (all but his consumables).  For his trips this year, he designed and made or modified most of his gear. Last spring, at the PCT kick-off celebration, Monty took 1st prize in the contest for lightest packweight. Last I heard, he had reduced his cold weather thru-hike weight to 4 pounds 12 ounces.

#3. The previous issue of this newsletter had a typo. If you want to see what is happening with the moon for the month, go to I personally like camping when the moon is full because I can see my surroundings from a different perspective.

#4. In his October, 2005 newsletter, John Vonhof, recommended Blist-O-Ban as a blister treatment. Instead of padding a hot spot or blister, this bandage-like product contains a bubble--which works like a bursa to protect sensitive spots. John has a website called "Happy Feet" at

#5. I generally don't write about the obvious--that exercise and moderation in diet are important to health--but I thought the latest report linking moderate exercise and longevity was of interest because it provides quantitative information. "People who get a good workout almost daily can add nearly four years to their lives." (Erasmus M.C. Univ. Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands) as reported in the S.F. Chronicle, 11/15/05). The article also states that benefits of physical activity go beyond expectations of greater longevity and include: improved sense of well-being, reducing depression, and cutting the risk of Alzheimer's and various forms of dementia.

#6. The Pacific Crest Trail Pacific Crest 2006 Trail Fest Annual Gathering and Trail Classes will be Friday, March 31 - Sunday, April 2, 2006 at the Mission Inn, Riverside, California.  One of the highlights of this event will be the Friday evening presentation by Michael Adams, son of Ansel Adams.

#7. I thought I would end this newsletter with a trail angel story from Ralph's and my September hike in southern France.  Though most of our hiking days were warm, even hot, we did have a couple of rainy ones.

One day, while we were walking on a relatively level trail (which had originally been a train route), drops began to fall. At first it was easy to ignore them because we were walking with the protection of a canopy of deciduous trees.  After a while, however, the water began to drip through the leaves; we pulled out our umbrellas. It began to rain harder; we stopped to put on our rain jackets. Our rain pants were in the bottom of our packs; we decided to do without until we came to a place where we could more easily put them on.

It began to pour and flashes of lightning lit the now-blackened sky. We reached the end of the trail and entered the town where we hoped to have lunch.  The lightning and thunder were constant--with seemingly no delay between the jagged flashes and the crashing sounds. By the time we reached the center of town, water was pouring off of our backpacks and jackets. Our hiking pants were soaked (but still warm!).  We found a sheltering arcade and dropped our gear onto wrought-iron chairs outside of a bar.  The owner opened the door as we hung our wet jackets to drip onto the stone floor. Speaking in French and gesturing us inside, the elderly man proceeded us into the small room.  He walked to the corner fireplace, picked up a box of matches and lit the previously laid fire.

My feelings went from embarrassment at dripping water all over the floor to gratitude at the man's hospitality.  Ralph ordered hot chocolate for both of us and we sat down at the table next to the fire. The host indicated that there was a small hotel nearby; he offered to call ahead for us.  When we indicated that we were going to go on, he became concerned.  He wanted to be sure we understood his offer--he held his hand to his mouth and ear as if using the telephone. I would have stayed in town; Ralph pushed for continuing on. It was only noon and we would have had to make up the miles the next day because we had a bus to catch the following day. Luckily, the thunderstorm passed, the rain eased, and stopped. And we enjoyed the rest of the day's hike.

I guess it reminds us that trail angels can be found worldwide.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales and Tips #52 November 15, 2005

"The true harvest of my life is intangible... a little stardust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched" -Thoreau

1. Thinking like a llama
2. Walking with art
3. Women's backpack input sought
4. Moon phases
5. Bear facts
6. Title IX
7. Taking care of your hands
8. A recommended book: "In Beauty May She Walk"
9. Bird watching tour in Peru

#1 Marion, the Llama Lady of the PCT, was kind enough to share some of her experiences with llamas: She sent the following letter after reading "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill":"I read the llama trekking chapter in the book I bought from you this morning. I was very pleased with it. It totally rang true with my experience. I am frankly horrified that anyone will rent out their llamas. It's like renting out a housecat. Every llama has a distinct personality, and it takes a great deal of experience to "read" your llama's needs and understand how to protect them and get them to do what is needed at the moment. We had a llama spooked by a bear near Glen Aulin one night. I spent an hour looking for him in the dark, to no avail. At dawn I looked for another 40 minutes. No luck. Then I realized I had to "think like a llama." I know that our loose llamas (we leave one or more loose every night) will sometimes bed down out of our sight, but they are always on a high perch where they can look down over our camp. So I went looking on a high rocky knoll next to the camp, and sure enough, there he was. He got right up and walked down to join the herd when I approached him. A person renting a llama would never figure this out.

As we hiked into Goddard Canyon one day we met a ranger who was searching for a dead llama. The people who rented him had left his gear by the trail, saying the llama had eaten something and died, and people were welcome to take any gear they wanted. The ranger was pretty agitated. I can't imagine renting out a llama and having the folks come back and tell me, "Oh well, the llama died". I love my llamas.

Grace [ed: featured in "We're in the Mountains..."] is right on in saying that llama use can extend people's backpacking years. I have pretty severe fibromyalgia, making it really tough to carry a pack. My husband is a cancer survivor so he is supposed to avoid physical stress. But the llamas let us continue to spend a month or more in the backcountry every year. We average 50 nights in the backcountry every year, adding together all our weekends and long trips. Without the llamas we wouldn't be there anymore."

#2. Jeannine Burk [also in "We're in the Mountains..."] was recently featured in an Ashland, Oregon newspaper article because of the unique way she has combined her interests in art and hiking. "Exercising for health, Jeannine Burk in her wandering has discovered a plethora of strange art decorations" reads the headline. Jeannine has photographed strange yard art for years--beginning when she lived in Los Angeles and continuing where she now lives in the Rogue Valley. Her discoveries include: a holiday wreath made of high heels, a picket fence topped with bowling balls, and an outhouse with its door ajar permitting a view of a stuffed cowboy sitting inside.

Jeannine is now 72 and deals with her arthritis admirably, "I hurt every day so it doesn't matter if I am at home or walking. When you are enthralled with where you are, you forget that you hurt." (quotes from John Darling

#3. A manufacturer of backpacks is seeking input from WOMEN backpackers about packs. If you are interested in contributing your thoughts on good design, send an email to

#4. If you like the knowing what's happening with the moon, whether considering a nighttime hike or camping when it's full, you'll love this website: (from "Switchback" on the PCT-l forum).

#5. A couple of bear facts : The Great Smoky Mountains harbors roughly two bear per square mile. Whereas a grown man might need to use a hammer to crack a hickory nut, a staple of the black bear diet, a bear can crunch them as easily as cereal. from the National Wildlife Foundation mag. Aug/Sep 2005, p 43.)

#6. Title 9 Sports, a very fine company that specializes in offering quality sports clothing for women, adopted its name from legislation passed in 1972. "'Title IX' required schools receiving federal funds to provide girls and women equal opportunity to compete in sports. So all of a sudden girls got off the sidelines and onto the playing fields." (from the Title 9 order envelope).

#7. In response to last issue's question about preventing dry hands while hiking or backpacking, I received the following suggestions: "I carry a small bottle of Vaseline Water Resistant lotion for my evening face- and hand-cream and find it effective enough, so far. In addition, I carry a tiny container of Vaseline for extra-dry areas (for me, eyelids). This might help with fingertips. Stick sunblocks, whether for faces or just lips, are helpful but not a total solution. You need something effective overnight as well as gloves for daytime.

Also, I wear kayaker's gloves for hiking gloves. They keep the vulnerable lower-joint and back-of-hand areas covered, but I can still use my fingers fairly freely. I can't encourage other women strongly enough to glove their vulnerable hands, no matter what their ages! Hope this idea helps other women!" Kathy Morey

And, "When I saw your note about finding white cotton gloves, I immediately thought of the catalog from Vermont Country Store ( They have all kinds of useful old-fashioned things and, sure enough, they have them...they even call them "overnight gloves" for the purpose of wearing to bed with lotion on for dry skin. About $11 for two pairs. They have something similar for wear to bed with lotion on...for the dreaded "sandal feet" cracked heels etc: -" Becki M.

#8. I heartily recommend a new book, "In Beauty May She Walk: Hiking the Appalachian Trail at 60," by Leslie Mass (Rock Spring Press, 2005). We were asked to review it (my review is on Amazon) and I'm glad I had the opportunity to do so. In 2001, Leslie began her thru hike of the 2,000 mile AT. Because she writes in journal form, each day's entry provides helpful information about the trail and the shelters. And beyond that, the book provides insight into the physical and mental strength required for such a journey. But most of all, I enjoyed Leslie's stories about the trail community of the AT--the hikers, the townspeople, and the trail angels. (You can order from or through our website at

#9. For those who are interested in birding, continue reading. Marcyn C. sends a write up of a recent (9/9-10/2) birding trip to Northern Peru that I have condensed: "Northern Perú only recently became open to bird watchers and only in the last few years a safe place to see
some very specialized, endemic avian species.
"Flying from Lima north to Chiclayo, we spent the rest of that day a little south of there, in the Lagunas area, in sand dunes and desert, picking up some rarities of the coastal Tumbesian zone. The Tumbesian Region is that arid desert zone of coastal South America extending from southern Ecuador to the northern half of Chile. Much of the biomass there is found no where else on earth.

"Continuing into the low hills of this ecosystem yielded many rare Tumbesian endemics, including the White-winged Guan - only 50 pairs exist. The funding has been dropped for the reintroduction of this primitive species, and it is the country's official bird! (Write the President of Perú to protest!)

"To see the guan, we were bused over bouldery, barely passable rutted dirt roads and slept in roomy tents outside the village of Limón, on a wide quebrada. The next day we hiked up canyon and saw several of the big black guans with white patches in their wings. We also saw lots of other new birds to the list - including troops of gaily-colored Red-masked Parakeets. We stayed at a small, unmarked hotel in Olmos both going to Quebrada Limón and coming back from there."

"Early on the chilly morning we traveled north from Jaé n. An hour & a half later we stopped along a little traveled road leading toward Ecuador. As dawn slowly defined the Cordillera del Condor, we listened to a Tataupa Tinamou sing.

"From Bagua Chica (newer than Bagua Grande,) we set out over the hills at 4:30 am, had breakfast in the forest listening to dawn songs of shy endemics and then trundled the short boat ride down the Rio Marañ on to the Aguaruna Indian Village of Nueva Salem. Our hosts had prepared a grassy plot for our tents; a palapa for our meals and a shower head, enclosed by sticks - crooked sticks. (Think about it!) The steep, sweaty ridge-back trail led us up to a fruiting fig; sweat bees on our backs and gorgeous birds in the fig! The best was the Orange-throated Tanager, only recently described, and in fairly threatened status.

"On Abra (Pass) Porculla we strolled up a dirt back-road. As the morning mist burned off, Puna Hawks and one Black-chested Buzzard Eagle rose on the thermals!

"In the dark of pre-dawn, up at about 9,000', along a slippery, invisible trail, we heard the reply to our tape of a Cinnamon Screech-Owl. We got several fly-bys of it, although whether it was an owl or a flying dishcloth was hard to say!" "...that night, in Florida, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake jolted us out of our painting-hung rooms. The epicenter was 50 miles from where we had just been! The river - a whole river - where we had stopped for birds that morning, disappeared."

"We had to retrace our way, back down the Utcubamba River Valley, where we had photographed wild orchids and seen a Black-necked Woodpecker (a Colaptes just like our flicker) in the huge cordon-like cactus. [We enjoyed] a strenuous, but exciting bird watching trip to Northern Perú." (Marcy)

AND, that's all for this time! Happy Thanksgiving.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales and Tips #51 November 1, 2005

"The true harvest of my life is intangible.... a little stardust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched."--Thoreau

1. Survey of women backpackers and health
2. Ken and Marcia Powers complete their ADT hike
3. Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association compiling DVD
4. News from American Pilgrims on the Camino
5. Triple Crown recipients
6. Question about dry skin
7. Women on Common Ground (S.F. Bay Area)

#1. Monty Tam, a trail angel who has become a friend, informed me about a survey on women's health and women hikers being conducted by Michele Toms, who is both an experienced backpacker and doctor:

From: Michele Toms <>
Date: 10/29/2005 2:41:27 PM
Subject: [pct-l] Calling all Women Hikers!

Calling women thru-hikers! For squeamish men, read no further:-

As a doctor and a thru-hiker, I have been interested in the health of hikers while on the trail.  Anecdotally, it seemed that some women stopped having their periods, probably due to weight loss and excessive exercise. There is a recognized condition called Female Athlete Syndrome that comprises a triad of amenorrhea (lack of menstrual period), disordered eating and osteoporosis. I wouldn't exactly consider that hikers have eating disorders in the conventional sense, but they can have a rather irregular diet. Osteoporosis is a real threat to the thru-hiker, as it can predispose to stress fractures.

I'm interested in collecting data in the form of a questionnaire from any female hiker who has hiked all or sections of the PCT, in any year. The more data I can collect the better. I am just as interested in replies from women who had no problems as well as those who did, so as not to bias the data. The information will be kept confidential and anonymous. I intend to write up a report which will be discussed with fellow doctors, and will make it available to hikers on request. It may help future women hikers intending on embarking on a long hike.

Please respond directly to me off-list if you would like to help with this study; it will involve approximately 10 minutes of your time
filling in a questionnaire.
Dr Michele Toms (half of Dave-and-Michele)
PCT \'05

#2. Congratulations to Ken and Marcia Powers, both in their fifties, for completing their backpacking trip across the United States on October 15, 2005. "Others have made this 4,900-mile trek, but this husband-and-wife team are the first to follow the actual Trail route continuously and finish in the same year." (

#3. Hi Susan,

Next year is the 25th annual Gathering of the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association. Over the next several months we are planning to put together a commemorative DVD profiling the entire history of the Gatherings and ALDHA as a way to celebrate this occasion. We\'d like to present this as part of next year\'s Friday evening program, as well as each attendee receiving a DVD copy as part of their registration packet. But to create a complete visual display of ALDHA history, and to do it artistically, we need to collect a significant amount of material, from the original 1982 Gathering all the way up to the present time.

We\'re looking for prints, slides, audio or video recordings, and digital images. The more we receive, the more there will be to choose from to make it as creative as possible. And given that ALDHA consists of more than Gatherings, we\'re also interested in images from spring meetings, work trips, and the presence of ALDHA in relation to other events, towns, etc. Each contributor would be credited at the close of the video.

Jolene "Jojo" Koby-Burley will be collecting all of the material, as well as taking care of any scanning for the prints and slides. They will then be sent back to the contributor, and if you wish, a copy of the scanned versions can be included as well. Regarding the labeling of images, it is important that we know which year a photo was taken, but other identifying info is not as necessary. This would apply whether they are print, slide, or digital.

When everything is collected and digitized, it will be sent to Weathercarrot, who will then put the video together over the winter in time for a showing at the ALDHA spring meeting. Given the time constraints of computer access, (this will be produced between December and February) we have a deadline of early December to collect the images and any audio/video.

Digital photos can either be sent to the FL address (below) on CD or e-mailed directly. CD\'s are better if you have more than a few shots. Higher resolution is more ideal because it allows for more options in the editing process. We\'d like to think of this project as a group effort that everyone in ALDHA will benefit from. So if you\'ve got anything from any ALDHA event you may have attended, we would be extremely grateful for your help. This mailing is a one time only plea for help in this endeavor. Thanks very much and we hope to hear from you.
Take care,
Weathercarrot and Jojo

Jolene "Jojo" Koby-Burley
c/o Ben\'s Hitching Post
2440 NE 115th Ave.
Silver Springs, FL 34488

#4. Several important events for those interested in the Camino de Santiago: a. Note to Bay Area Pilgrims: date CHANGED: The walk described in my last newsletter has been changed to SUNDAY, November 12. 1st Annual Urban Hike-Gathering, Sunday, November 13th, 2005, Ferry Building Plaza to Sausalito: a special gathering for San Francisco Bay Area Pilgrims, described below by organizer Laurie Willhalm: "Grab a coffee and something yummy at Peet\'s Coffee and meet around the statue of Ghandi  (both on the bay side of the Ferry Bldg) about 9:00 a.m.  If it\'s too chilly to stand around outside, there\'s an indoor sitting area next to Pete\'s. About 10:00 we\'ll start our leisurely hike through San Francisco along the waterfront, through the Presidio (where we can get more hot or cold drinks), over Golden Gate Bridge and down into Sausalito along the shoreline.  We\'ll have lunch in Sausalito (location not yet finalized as of press time) and take the ferry back to Ferry Plaza.

At a leisurely pace, the walk takes about four hours. There should be plenty of time to connect with Pilgrim friends and share memories of the Camino.  Be sure to bring water, snacks, and layered clothing.  It can be windy on the water.  If you want to take BART (suggested), get off at the Embarcadero Station and then walk toward the Bay.

Please RSVP to so that I can keep track of numbers for the lunch and inform you of any changes, if necessary."

b. 9th Annual Gathering of Pilgrims, March 31 - April 2, 2006,
Boulder, Colorado
"Our next gathering will be held on the grounds of Chautauqua, Boulder's living historic district located at the foot of the Flatirons.  The program will include guest speakers and authors plus a variety of workshops on topics such as writing a book about the Camino, wilderness medicine, alternate routes, Spanish cooking, and state of the art equipment.  There will be dedicated workshops to answer questions for prospective pilgrims and for volunteer hospitaleros. Best of all, there will be time to walk in the mountains, sit by a fire, talk with fellow pilgrims and renew old friendships. Registration packets will be available at the end of November."
c. Retreat, April 2 - April 4, 2006, Boulder, Colorado

d. Hospitalero Training, April 28 -30, 2006, Sacramento, California. Program starts Friday evening with dinner and concludes late Sunday afternoon. Cost: $125

We are pleased to announce another hospitalero training and that Jan and Mariluz Melis from the Federacion de Asociaciones de Amigos del Camino de Santiago en Espana will be our facilitators once again.  They bring with them their many years of dedicated volunteer experience and their very special way of imparting the traditions, attitudes and skills for creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere in the refugio

We appreciate that volunteering as a hospitalero is a sacrifice in time and money for Americans.  In addition to the time spent in Spain, Americans must also pay for their own travel.   For these reasons, we want the cost of the training not to be a deterrent to anyone who truly wishes to volunteer.  Thanks to the generosity of several members, a portion of the program costs, as well as frequent flyer miles for Jan & Mariluz, were donated.  Without these contributions, the cost of the training would have been $192 per person...this will be the last opportunity to take the training until November 2007. For information and registration, contact:
edited from: Autumn 2005 Newsletter, "American Pilgrims"
For more information and packets contact:
For information about Chautauqua, visit
For information about Boulder, CO, visit

#5. I was recently quite thrilled to be mentioned by Tom Stienstra, in his Outdoors' column in the S.F. Chronicle, in an item about Triple Crown recepients. I doubled-checked with American Long Distance Hikers Assoc.-West (ALDHA) and found that 50 people have been awarded the award for completing the ADT, PCT, and CDT (some estimate that upwards of 90 have completed all three trails, but not all have notified ALDHA).  Bay Area's Brian Robinson, "Flyin' Brian" did indeed receive
the award: for completing all three in 2001.

#6. Adele sends the following question (and gives some hints): Hi Susan, Q. Do you have any tips for keeping ones fingers and fingertips from getting dry and generally worn out when backpacking? Thanks!

A. I've had the same problem. My skin is pretty dry, and I have problems inside and outside this time of year. It's a problem when backpacking because of all the abrasive surfaces and at higher altitudes, the decreased humidity. When backpacking: I've often taken a small bottle of hand lotion. It's
best used when it will stay on a while, so putting it on at night works pretty well, especially if you put on a pair of cotton gloves (or clean socks) for overnight.

In the desert section this year, I wore lightweight cotton gloves all day (lotion or chapstick on first). I think it helped a lot. I tried to find a better fitting WHITE cotton glove, but ended up buying some inexpensive gardening ones. I also kept my chapstick much handier by wearing a  lanyard around my neck with my mini-light, chapstick, and whistle. That made it much easier to keep applying the chapstick since I didn't have to go rummaging in my pack for it. (DOES  ANYONE else have suggestions?)

Adele replies:
I use silk glove liners for cool weather running... perhaps that would work for you.  you can find them at WinterSilks (mail order company, I'm sure they have a website).
#7. S.F. Bay Area interest: East Bay Regional Park District, Naturalist
WOMEN ON COMMON GROUND, FALL - WINTER 2005 Reservations required: For information: Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness
PO Box 82, Sunol, CA 94586 (925)862-2601,
For EBRPD info: or (510) 635-0135

Women on Common Ground is a series of naturalist-led programs for women who love to hike, camp, or otherwise play in the out-of-doors, but whose concern for personal safety keeps them from enjoying the wonders within their own parklands.
a. BRUSHY PEAK REGIONAL PRESERVE, Sunday, November 20 10:30am - 1:30pm Crowned with oaks, marbled with intricate geologic formations and infused with cultural history, Brushy Peak is one of the EBRPD's newest parks. Our 2 - 3-mile hike will take us uphill to enjoy a fall landscape and inspiring vistas. Bring water and a trail lunch with something to share. Meet at the staging area at the end of Laughlin Rd. Call (925) 862-2601 by Thursday, November 17 for reservations.

b. TILDEN NATURE AREA, HOLIDAY DECORATIONS: Saturday, December 17 10am - 12:30pm
In our annual workshop, we'll create holiday decorations for the Women's Daytime Drop-in Shelter of Berkeley and your home too. Bring a pair of small hand clippers and a bag lunch if you plan to continue the day on our early winter hike.
Fee: $15 Alameda/Contra Costa County residents, $17 non-residents. Registration required. Please call 510-636-1684.

c. TILDEN NATURE AREA, EARLY WINTER HIKE, Saturday, December 17 1:30pm- 4pm Join us on a crisp, wintry hike to Wildcat Peak. We'll return to a warm fire and hot cider. Reservations required. Please call (510) 525-2233.

That concludes this newsletter. So many interesting things to do! If you would like your name to be added to, or deleted from this twice-monthly newsletter, send a message to  We do not share names or addresses with anyone. We welcome items of general interest to hikers and backpackers.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales and Tips #50 October 15, 2005

"Nature is by and large to be found out of doors, a location where, it cannot be argued, there are never enough comfortable chairs." Fran Lebowitz

#1 Ken and Marcia Powers are definitely on the home stretch of their hike across the United States on the American Discovery Trail. This amazing couple started their trip on February 27, 2005 at Cape Henlopen St. Park, DE and will complete it at Limantour Beach, Pt. Reyes National Seashore, CA.  This past Thursday, they hiked through the East Bay hills, had pizza at Zachary's Chicago Style Pizza (a local favorite), walked through downtown Oakland, took the ferry across to San Francisco, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and into Marin County.  They had originally expected to arrive at Pt. Reyes on this coming Monday, but since they have been a day or two ahead of schedule, they may arrive today (Saturday), or Sunday. When finished, they will have walked 4, 818 miles.

American Long Distance Hikers Association-West (ALDHA-West) may have to come up with a "Quadruple Crown" award for Ken and Marcia since they have already earned the "Triple Crown" for completing the Appalachian (2003), the Continental Divide (2002) and the Pacific Crest (2000), trails.

As you may well imagine, the logistics of planning such a hike are formidable. At the Powers' website, or through, you can not only read their gear list, where they mailed their food drops, but also read their day-by-day accounts and view their amazing photos.

#2 Those interested in the Spanish pilgrimage trail, the Camino de Santiago, might be interested in going to an informal gathering being held in San Francisco, CA on November 12.  Participants will meet at the Ferry Plaza in the morning, have coffee, etc., and have a chance to reconnect. Then they'll walk across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and have a late lunch.  "It's an easy walk but a bit long, so bring your normal daily rations," adds organizer Laurie.  More info:

#3 Doris Klein of Vallejo shares this item about a great, yet inexpensive, place to stay for those who want to hike in the Sierra, but not camp.  "I would add to your info the Clair Tapaan Lodge near Donner Summit, CA, the venerable Sierra Club "hostel".  I've stayed there many times, and the price is right, the food good, and people alone get acquainted fast since we have to share a few chores in the dining room, kitchen or bath.  I have also had nice acquaintanceship just by sitting beside the big fireplace, or reading in the library.  I have stayed there while snowshoeing with friends (who have Condos) and sometimes just for easy walking in their "backyard", or around the (probably snowed-in lake).   The Sierra Club is hard-pressed what with the new trend of liability and higher costs in general.  They would like support."

#4 Ralph and I went with friends Wednesday on one of the most beautiful hikes in the world: the Tomales Point trail of Pt. Reyes National Seashore.  We set out to follow the trail the 4.7 miles to the northern tip on the peninsula, under hazy skies -- the sun occasionally breaking through. About a third of the way out, we began to see groups of six to eight male elk -- "bachelors" -- who had been kept away from the female elk --"harems" -- by the dominant males.  In another mile, we came a large group of elk  -- 80 by my count -- and we stopped to eat our picnic lunch and watch them as they grazed.  We watched the bull elk occasionally chase an errant female back into the main group; we heard the bugling sounds that are part of the mating ritual. We finished our lunch, continued on to land's end, peered carefully over the edge of the steep cliffs to view the hundreds of cormorants resting there, and took delight in the slow graceful flight of the pelicans overhead.  As we turned to retrace our steps, the wind picked up, the fog swept in, and we were reminded of how quickly the weather changes of this particular edge of the world.  Whereas moments earlier we had been able to see both Tomales Bay on one side of us, and the Pacific Ocean on the other, now we had to hurry back to our car before the fog obscured even the herds of elk. reyes

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn


Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales and Tips #49, October 3, 2005

Hello hiking friends and family,

Wow, where to start!?!

#1 Ralph and I just returned from a fine hike in France on one of the (four) traditional pilgrim routes leading to Spain's Camino de Santiago.  We were on the GR 65, which goes from Le Puy to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees (it actually can be started in Budapest!). We did a 200-mile section from Figeac (where we left off last year), to Aire-sur-'l Adour (where we hope to resume next year).

Enough statistics! This is a hike most any reasonably fit person could do and would enjoy. Fall appears to be a perfect time to do it. Since this is southern France, one mostly finds warm days under sunny skies, (perhaps I'll talk about the too close for comfort lightning storm at some later point in time!).  Though there are some steep stretches, they are generally not very long. The trail itself is sometimes rocky, sometimes hard-packed dirt, but much of the time (60-70%) it's edge-of-road walking.

In this area of France, there are few large towns: Figeac (11,000), Cahors (21,000), Moissac (12,000), Lectoure, Condom, Aire-sur-'l Adour are the biggest. My favorite town was Auvillar. It has a beautiful, medieval, circular marketplace in the center square.  It also has an active artist community. It's only because we were on foot that I did not purchase a painting being shown in the information center's gallery. This section of France is principally an agricultural land--corn, sunflowers, sorghum, grapes, etc.  There are also many sections of mixed forest (generally my favorite part). The trail goes through numerous hamlets consisting of one or two houses.  And though there are many churches to visit, there are a lot fewer museums and historical sights than one sees along the Spanish Camino.

We had 18 hiking days -- works out to just over 11 miles per day -- which is just enough to allow one to eat everything one wants and not gain weight. Everything we wanted includes (but not limited to): breakfasts of flaky, buttery croissants, chocolate de pain, or baguettes smeared with butter and homemade jam; picnic lunches of
bread, salami and cheese, and fruit; dinners of duck, casoulet, steak, salad, cheese plate, and profiteroles (like eclairs).  Oh! Did I forget to mention the beer and good wine?  (You've probably noticed that hikers are generally obsessed with food and where the next meal will come from.).

Lodging was easy to come by. This area of southern France is very sparsely populated and, in general, off the beaten track of tourists. The guide to accomodations is in French, but quite useable. We were able make reservations by underlining the desired accomodation, and pointing to the entry, when asking our host each day to call ahead for the next night.  This also saved us the difficulty of negotiating accommodations in French on the telephone.  Our French is very limited,
but we manage to get by when we add hand gestures, pull out our phrase book, or find another traveler who is multi-lingual (usually Dutch, German, or French-Canadian).

The people of the trail -- the hikers and the lodging hosts -- were often the highlight of the day.  We loved sharing stories around the dinner table with people from various countries.  And because we were lucky enough to encounter more English-speakers than usual, we were able to have actual conversations about real estate in France, the welfare of the Euro, and the declining market of French wine.

#2. Hardly had we landed (Friday evening), than we jumped in the car (Sat.) and drove to Sierra Pines (near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra) for the annual American Long Distance Hikes Association-West get together. Ralph and I gave managed to give a talk on Camino hiking (I think it was moderately articulate -- considering the jet lag). Then we enjoyed visiting with other hikers and watching various slide shows about the Pacific Crest Trail and the Pacific Coast Trail.

There were definitely some heavy-hitters in the crowd.  Six (of the eleven people) who earned the "Triple Crown" (for having completed the PCT, Continental Divide, and Appalachian trails) within the last year were there. Also, Scott Williamson who yo-yo/hiked the PCT both ways last year and Brian Robinson (who did all three in one year). "Scrambler," the 10 year old Bay Area girl, who completed the PCT last year was also at the event.  I noticed she spent a lot of time entertaining herself by curling up on the sofa with her nose in a book.

Keynote speaker, Linda Lawrence Hunt, captivated us with the story of Helga Estby.  Hunt's book, "Bold Spirit" is the fruit of 20 year's research and writing to bring forth the untold story of Estby's walk across the United States in 1896.  Estby, her family facing foreclosure on their home, set out on this amazing venture because of an offer to pay $10,000 to a woman who made the journey.

I haven't yet read my copy of the book, but when I consider not only the physical demands of the trip, but also the social stigma surrounding a woman setting out to tackle it during the Victorian era, I can hardly wait to read the account.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn


Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #48 Sept 2, 2005

"...on a lighter note, I recently purchased a T-shirt which has this on the front: 'I HIKE BECAUSE THE VOICES IN MY HEAD TELL ME TO.'" (item posted on the PCT-l forum by Yogi (who wrote an essential guide to the Pacific Crest Trail.

#1 Lightning deadly/precautions
#2 Insurance available to aid hikers in the backcountry
#3 Carry a mylar emergency blanket
#4 Problems with Bear Vault containers
#5 Record time for the Pacific Crest Trail: David Horton
#6 Marcy reports on llama excursion.
#7 No mid-September newsletter

#1. Sadly, two people, 13-year-old Boy Scout Ryan Collins and 29-year-old Troop leader Stephen McCullagh, (both of the St. Helena, CA area) died in late July when lightning struck them during a backpacking trip near Mt. Whitney. Stephen was killed instantly; Ryan was kept on a ventilator at the Fresno hospital for a short time so his organs could be donated (he had recently discussed wanting his organs donated if anything should happen to him.).

Both Collins and McCullagh were part of the St. Helena Scout group on a nine-day backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail; they were all planning a midnight climb to the top of 14, 944-foot Mt. Whitney in order to watch sunrise on July 27. They were at 10,700 feet when the storm struck "without warning." Several others were knocked unconscious by the lightning strike. Quick action was taken to aid the victims: CPR was administered, two scouts ran for help at a ranger station, others blew whistles for help from anyone in the area (two hikers responded), helicopters were brought in to evacuate the injured.

Precautions you can take: Lightning storms are a risk of being in the backcountry. Though it can indeed be a matter of "being in the wrong place at the wrong time," there are some things you can do to reduce your exposure.
a. Summer thunderstorms are common mid-afternoon in the Sierra. Keeping that in mind, try to camp part way up a mountain so that you are able to get over high passes early in the day.
b. Set up camp, or take cover during storms, in a grove of trees -- not near a lone tree. Look at the trees in the area; if they have been previously struck by lightning, that's probably not where you want to hunker down. Basically, you do not want to be the tallest thing around (or near it).
c. Stay away from water's edge and out of meadows (usually damp).
d. You can estimate the distance of lightning by counting the time between when you see the lightning and hear the thunder: five seconds means it is within a mile. If you feel the hair raising on the back of your neck, you are at extreme risk. If you can't get out of an exposed area, and lightning is close: move away from your pack (if it has a metal frame), toss aside your metal hiking poles, get 20' away from others in your party, and squat on your ensolite (or similar) pad. Keep in mind that while approximately 80-90 people die from lightning in the U.S. each year, millions engage in swimming, boating, hiking, backpacking, etc.

#2. I recently read the fine print on my AAA Plus® Membership. Turns out that eligible California and Nevada members are covered for $2,500 of emergency medical transportation when traveling more than 100 miles from home (worldwide). THIS can even include transportation by air ambulance. Something for backpackers to consider. Go to for details. Residents of other states might check to see if they are eligible for similar coverage.

#3. Kathy Morey sends the following hint. "One of those metallized-mylar emergency blankets makes an easy, ultralight help for colder-than-expected nights. Carry the blanket unfolded -- takes up a little more room but compresses very easily (you will NEVER get it back into its original package!). Drape the unfolded blanket loosely over your sleeping bag to help keep your body heat in. Doesn't seem to generate much condensation, if any, and sure adds warmth! I carry my unfolded blanket in an old plastic grocery bag at the bottom of my pack, under the sleeping bag."

#4. Bear Vault food storage containers have become increasingly popular with backpackers. They are comparable in price to the Garcia "Backpacker Cache.," and are lighter, hold somewhat more food, are easier to pack and unpack, and are transparent.. The Bearikade is lighter still in weight, though more pricey.

However, there have been several reports about one or more bears breaking into seven Bear Vaults and two Bearikades. This is in the Kearsarge Lakes/Charlotte Lake/Upper Bubbs Creek (near Mt. Whitney, CA). BV250/300 models: bear, (or more) south of Mt. Whitney, breaking into the Bear Vault. It either muscles it open, or jumps on it.  The manufacturer of Bear Vault has responded that some of the lids on their models BV250s and BV300s may be oversized allowing them to be
closed incorrectly. They state that they enclose instructions with their containers explaining a production problem and detailing how to correctly screw on the storage container's lid. They have offered to replace any "defective" lids.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group, which is responsible for approving or not allowing various bear food storage containers, will be studying the situation.

#4. On Tuesday, August 9, 2005, David Horton completed his run of the Pacific Crest Trail. His record-setting run of the 2666.1 miles was completed in 67 days, 7hours, 16 min. Horton is 55 years old, lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is a professor at Liberty University. WOW!

#6. Marcy, of "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill" fame, reports on her recent four-day llama trek into the La Garita Wilderness of Colorado. "I MAY be spoiled for the rest of my life! Those llamas took EVERYthing! ... what fun to just walk along with hardly any weight!"

#7. There will be no mid-September newsletter because our offices will be closed until early October. Ralph and I will be continuing our hike in France on the LePuy route. We will, however, be back for part of the ALDHA-West Gathering (9/30-10/2) in the Sierra and hope to see you there.

Note: This is our first newsletter with the Google service and hope all goes through without any hitch. Please let us know if you want to be added to, or removed from, future mailings.

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #47 August 16, 2005

"He who would like to have something he never had, will need to do something well that he hasn't done yet." (author unknown)

#1. Good advice on staying hydrated: As hikers and backpackers, we know how important it is to stay hydrated, and I'm sure most of us try to keep our fluid intake up while exercising. A recent column (at by Colleen Cooke, of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine mentioned another way we lose water that had not occurred to me (and gave the remedy), "while you sleep, you lose as much as 1.5 pounds of fluid through sweat and respiration. Before breaking camp, replenish with 16 to 24 ounces of water, sports drink, or decaffeinated tea."

#2. Tea tree oil?: Several people have recently sent messages about the value of tea tree oil. John Vonhof, author of "Fixing Your Feet, Prevention and Treatments for Athletes," recommends it. From comes the following anti-fungal treatment: "Add 15-20 drops of tea tree oil in a bowl of warm water & soak feet for 15 minutes 2 to 3 times daily. Let dry. Apply tea tree oil directly onto affected areas 2 times a day.  Combine 5 drops of tea tree oil with 115 ml of aloe vera juice in a spray bottle. Shake well. Spray onto affected areas 2 times a day. Let dry. Aloe vera soothes itchiness." John has a new blog, "Happy Feet: Expert Foot Care Advice for People Who Love Their Feet."

And more uses: Monte Dodge sends word that Washington's Forest Service recommends using shampoo containing this ingredient to reduce the chance of picking up ticks. Christine "Ceanothus" Kudija (also a posting on PCT-l forum), says the shampoo leaves your hair feeling feeling fresh and clean after a hard day of trail maintenance work.

#3. Ronni Egan, Executive Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, writes in the Summer 2005 newsletter, "One of the biggest blessings of a trip like this [backpack trip to a remote area near Page, AZ], for me, is the necessity of accepting the circumstance in which I find myself, and finding whatever it takes inside me to 'handle' inclement weather, difficult terrain, and isolation with equanimity. It has been said that wilderness  has been a major part of shaping the American character, and I heartily concur."

#4. Ralph and I just returned from our latest PCT section hike (L & M). This is the 130 mile section between Donner Pass and Belden, CA. Though it was hotter than I like (80s and up),it had its compensations. My favorite spots were the Sierra Buttes (near Sierra City), the Lakes Basin near Graeagle, the rock formations and lakes north of Buck's Lake, and the Middle Fork of the Feather River (a designated wild river). Awesome!  I saw only one rattlesnake. It was small, but had a BIG attitude?-much hissing and rattling!. Ralph saw one of the biggest bears he's ever seen?at aptly named Bear Ridge.

We had 3 trail angel experiences: #1 was a group of five working their way north with support. When we mentioned during a break that we were running short of purification tablets, they offered to leave us some at the next highway crossing. A few hours later, we found them waiting with the water treatment, jugs of water for resupply, and cold sodas. #2 was a cooler full of beer left "for hikers" by Datto and Pearson. Since it was 9:30 in the morning, we passed, but we appreciated the gesture. #3 was our friends Sandy and Craig, who drove us to the trailhead and picked us up at the finish and also provided us with a wonderful stay in their home with running (hot!) water, excellent food, and real conversation.

One of the greatest things about this year's PCT hiking (we've done three stints) has been that we have met so many thru hikers. We have enjoyed every moment we've spent with the long distance hiker community.

#5. Coordinator Greg Hummel sends more details at the upcoming American Long Distance Hikers Assoc. - West (ALDHA) annual gathering, " a great lineup of presentations in the works.  From Linda Hunt, author of "Bold Spirit" to Scrambler, the youngest person to ever thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  From Scott Williamson's numerous Yo-Yo PCT attempts and success to the now classic Weather Carrot DVD of the PCT in 2004 and, of course, "Walk" too.  Highlighting other crazy long distance hikers who take on trails of their own making; "Alone Across Australia"  and "Walking from Albuquerque, NM to Munising, MI" will be shown. Susan Alcorn will be giving a talk on "Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers".  Switchback, the master of "Super Secrets" will be hosting a roundtable discussion on "Gear & Techniques".  Phil Hough, one of the foundations of the new board, will give a talk on "Flora, Fungus and Fun".  Nate "Tha Wookie" Olive will give a presentation of the first ever "Pacific COAST Trail" hike and Jerry Goller will give an overview of his illustrious website; Backpacking Gear Test.  "The Colorado Trail", "Muir . . . The Man and His Life", "Publishing Your Hiking Journal as a Booklet" and several other presentations will round out the event. Be sure to submit your "Triple Crown" application for the annual presentation on Saturday evening.  Oh, an don't miss the llamas outside! All in all a great gathering is planned in a great spot.  Mark your calendars for September 30th to October 2nd." "Sierra Pines is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains 15 miles west of South Lake Tahoe, California. The camp has plenty of meeting and dining space, plus cabins to accommodate all of us. Keeping with tradition, the 2005 Gathering will be held close to the Pacific Crest Trail (just about 8 miles west)."

#6. Becki sent word of an excellent website and book, by "Brawny", aimed at women in middle and later years who love being out in the mountains. www.trailquest.NET.  The site offers a wealth of information based on her backpacking trips of the PCT, AT, and Continental Divide Trail.

#7. Steve Vaughn, the 400 (estim.) pound guy who decided to walk across the United Sates in order to lose weight, is now in New Mexico. He started out from his Oceanside (near San Diego, CA) home on April 10 and hopes that taking this six months hike will add years to his life. The latest update indicated that he is now down to 346 pounds. You can follow his adventures at

AUTHOR EVENT: Roseville, CA. JMT slideshow.  Tuesday, August 23, 2005. 7:00 P.M. REI, 1148 Galleria Blvd., Roseville, CA 95678. (916) 724-6750.  Susan and Ralph Alcorn will present a narrated slide show of their section hikes on the beautiful John Muir Trail in the high Sierra. Susan will also read short excerpts from her latest book, "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers."

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #46  July 28, 2005

"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." Albert Einstein (contributed by "Steel-Eye"(trail-name)on the PCT-l forum).

This issue contains:
1. Pacific Crest Trail forum info
2. John Vonhof's "Fixing Your Feet."
3. Guidebook to Tahoe Rim Trail
4. Eastern Sierra Shuttle
5. Knapsack Tours

#1. Those interested in learning more about the Pacific Crest Trail and following the reports of hikers can sign-up for the pct-l forum. The web address to subscribe is:

#2. Wilderness Press has just released John's "Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes Footcare," 3rd edition. We recently were able to attend John Vonhof's footcare clinic at REI - an evening well spent. John spends a great deal of time patching feet at endurance runs and walkathons.  He also publishes an E-zine mid-month.  You can subscribe by sending an E-mail to:

In his current newsletter, John notes that ultrarunners are learning how to care for their feet, but non-runners, people who walk events like the Avon Walk, "fall through the cracks." John is interested in suggestions on how to reach those who have  less experience and who need more  footcare information. "Overall, the problems were more severe at the Avon Walk. Many women had terrific blisters with heels, toes, and balls of the feet blisters equally common. Many wore cotton socks. Some wore new shoes they had purchased the day before at the Walk's Expo. Bad idea."

John's "QUOTE OF THE MONTH 'After a bizillion miles of backpacking and running, one would think I would know everything about my feet. [Yet] When thinking about another thruhike next year, I spend more time thinking about my feet than my backpack.' ? Terry"

#3. While I'm plugging books, I'd like to recommend Tim Hauserman's "The Tahoe Rim Trail: A Complete Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, and Equestrians (Paperback)."  Ralph recently wrote an Amazon review, which contains some amusing comments, "A horse believes that everything will eat it until proved otherwise" (from Sonja Willits, TRT Newsletter).  This is in the "Sharing the Trail With Horses" section and explains why hikers should move off the trail, and on the downhill side, when equestrians approach.

#4. As many of you know, finding a ride to a trailhead can be a difficult task. Rarely does public transportation seem to go anywhere near where we want to go.  Over the years, Ralph and I have used several methods: paying for a shuttle to take us back to our starting point, finding a trail angel to drive us to the start point, taking two cars and leaving one at both our start and end points, etc.

For those wanting to shuttle from Onion Valley trailhead (going over Kearsarge Pass) to Whitney Portal, there is once again a service operating out of the Bishop area. Rick B., who we recently met at our REI Santa Rosa clinic, sent this info: "Last September my friends and I used Sierra Shuttle.  The phone number I have for them is 1-888-313-0151.  As I recall they charged three of us $100 to drive from Bishop to Whitney Portal to Onion Valley trailhead and back to Bishop.  They met us at the time promised and drove safely."

#5. Doris K. sent the following that may be of interest to those of you who want to hike without carrying a heavy pack.  "Knapsack Tours was started by Cathy Harrison of Montclair [Oakland, CA neighborhood], and carried on by Mike Palucki of Walnut Creek.  Their motto is 'Hiking on a Shoestring'  and one of their best trips is a week at Yosemite Institute,  Sunday, July 31-Friday August 5th. Fearful because word of the Sierra Snow Pack this year has made the news, several couples dropped out.  In order not to cancel, Mike has asked us if we know anyone who can be flexible and join Knapsack for the week.  Day hikes are led by Geologists, Botanists and Historians, and after group dinner in our log lodge, evening talks about same. The price is about $700, food, room (BYO sleeping bag). July 31 is nearly upon us, but Mike's e-mail is  and his
phone (925) 944-9435.

I found out that Knapsack Tours was named #1 of the Best Hiking Tour Operators by Arthur Frommer, Budget Travel Magazine.  Mike promptly responded to my inquiry: "We have a web location at .Our tours are for all ages and abilities, but frankly our tours attract a preponderance of experienced hikes from 45 to 75 who travel the USA and the World seeking active holidays. Our trip prices tend to be on the so-called value end of the spectrum as we try to price ourselves below or at REI (usually our hotels are a step or two up) and we are often up to $1000 or more less expensive than the high priced outfits - sometimes we stay in the same hotels at these companies."

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #45 July 15, 2005

Dear Friends,

#1. Ralph and I enjoyed presenting our John Muir Trail slideshow at Concord, CA REI this week. A wonderful turnout - almost 50 enthusiastic hikers. Many of us wish we could be on the trail right now, but the snow is delaying our start. The next factor to be considered is the melt-off; creeks will be much deeper and faster than usual. Conditions change quickly, especially with the hot weather we're having; check such websites as for trail conditions.

#2. Joining the American Long Distance Hiking Association (east or west coast), connects you with other long distance hikers and backpackers. Membership in ALDHA-West is $15.  The group is having an annual gathering on September 30, October 1-2, 2005. It will be held at the Sierra Pines Camp near Lake Tahoe, California.

"Sierra Pines is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains 15 miles west of South Lake Tahoe, California. The camp has plenty of meeting and dining space, plus cabins to accommodate all of us. Keeping with tradition, the 2005 Gathering will be held close to the Pacific Crest Trail (just about 8 miles west). Please check back later this summer for more information. Details for this year's event are being planned by Gathering Coordinators Greg Hummel and Phil Hough."

I am very pleased to have been asked to talk about "We're in the Mountains not over the Hill" and women's backpacking at this year's event.

#3. Kathy Morey, who frequently sends tips to this newsletter, has sent word that the new, totally reorganized edition of "Sierra North" (of which she is a co-author) is out.

#4. Travel underwear I really like! Ex Officio undies are great.  They are a nylon/spandex fabric and very comfortable. Wash them at night, they'll be dry by morning. In fact, if you wash them and wring them out in a towel, you'll be able to put them right back on. Several styles. Pricey at $15-$18, but worth it.

#5. A new pilgrim hostel on the Camino del Norte route to Santiago de Compostela has been opened by the Confraternity of St. James. release from Rebekah Scott)

#6. Local: East Bay Regional Park District Naturalist Program (for women only). For information: Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness, PO Box 82, Sunol, CA 94586 (925)862-2601, For EBRPD info: or (510) 635-0135 -- WOMEN ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005.  Women on Common Ground is a series of naturalist-led programs for women who love to hike, camp, or otherwise play in the out-of-doors, but whose concern for personal safety keeps them from enjoying the wonders within their own parklands. Activities celebrate natural and cultural history and are designed to help women reclaim the joys of wild places by day and night.  Wear sturdy shoes with textured soles for hiking, dress in layers, wear sunscreen and a sun/rain hat and bring water and a trail snack to share.  Parking fees may apply. We meet RAIN or SHINE, but will moderate our adventure to accommodate the weather.  We encourage and can often help arrange carpools. DIRECTIONS to meeting locations follow program descriptions.   Please confirm with a map!

#7. Bay Area Local: Ralph and Susan Alcorn will be again showing their narrated slide show of section hiking on the beautiful John Muir Trail in the high Sierra. Susan will also read short excerpts from her latest book, We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill -- Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers:  Thursday, July 21.REI, 2715 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, CA. (707) 540-9025. 7:00 P.M
Thursday, July 28. REI, 213 Corte Madera Town Center (415) 927-1938. 7:00 P.M
Tuesday, August 23. REI, 1148 Galleria Blvd., Roseville, CA 95678. (916) 724-6750. 7:00 P.M.
Reminder: Change of date: Sausalito, CA. Susan will do a book reading on Saturday, July 23 (changed from July 16). 1:00 P.M. at Habitat Books, 205 Second St., Sausalito. (415) 331-3344. Please call and confirm close to the date. This is a new, independent bookstore with a welcoming owner, Sharon Jones. Driving to the store can be a bit tricky to those unfamiliar with Sausalito.  Check the bookstore's website: for directions.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn


Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #44 July 5, 2005

Dear Friends,
I hope you had a good 4th of July. This edition of the newsletter is a bit late because I was on a trip in British Columbia. (Item #4 has the details.)

#1 Because the High Sierra Camps in Yosemite National Park have been cancelled (due to deep snow), hundreds of people are no doubt scrambling to find an alternative vacation site. These popular rustic, but comfortable, Yosemite camps are in the high country at about 7,000 to 10,000 feet and about a day's hike apart. The $125 per night fee entitles 4,300 winners of the annual lottery to a warm bed in a tent cabin with heater, showers and restrooms nearby, and good food (fresh fish, etc.). (Note: Those wanting to rough it, can still request a wilderness permit, and camp in these areas.)

After I received a call requesting information on alternate trips (where someone else would do the food planning, carrying, and preparation), I put together the following. Please note that because Ralph and I generally backpack carrying our own food, we have not used these services and that these are suggestions, not recommendations. bearpaw high sierra camp
The first, Bearpaw high sierra camp, in Sequoia Ntl. Park is in a beautiful setting. We haven't stayed
there, but stopped in for lunch during a backpack trip. Reds Meadow area is near Mammoth Ski Area and the "gateway" to numerous great places to hike/backpack. The eastern sierra packers is an umbrella organization for many outfits. Muir Trail Ranch would be great. They are full for 2005, but I imagine they have a waiting list and cancellations. Additionally: One could check with Sierra Club National and see if they have any trips open. Their trips usually provide the food and the participants share camp chores.

One also might consider going to a different area. Most people who visit Northern California's Marble
Mtns/Trinity Alps area rave about it. Finally, one can rent a cabin in dozens of small towns or resort areas in the mountains and take day hikes. Those who were cancelled from the 5 Yosemite high
camps this year will have priority for booking trips next year. High Sierra Camp reservations 559-253-5674

#2 Ever since we returned from our last backpacking trip in So. Ca, we have been following the adventures of a couple we met on the Pacific Crest Trail. Chele and Andy, like most people who are trying to hike the entire route from Mexico to Canada this year, are bouncing around California trying to cover the miles but continually running into trail sections pretty much impassable due to deep snow. I'll briefly quote Andy and Chele's entry of June 26 when they backpacked from Crabtree Meadow to Bubbs Creek over Forester Pass (the highest point on the PCT):

Andy: "... what followed was hands down the most difficult mountaineering adventure of my life. we couldn't see the trail up to the pass because of snow so we made a b-line up a chute that led to the pass. It wasn't even hiking, it was crawling up crumbly icy snow with frequent use of an ice ax. once we got near the top, after about 4 hours of precarious climbing we could see the trail blasted across the face of the mountain. We used the trail to ascend the final 30 feet to the pass."
Chele: "I definitely thought this was going to be the end of my life, or Andy's, because I needed so much help. I am excited to be done with the hard part of today and I can tell you this, you don't see this enough in movies..."

#3 If you want the first-hand accounts of what it is like out there on our major trails (Appalachian, Pacific Crest, etc.), you can follow their journeys on You'll get the unvarnished
stories, not the Hollywood romanticized version. Talk about courage and determination -- those slogging through the Sierra this year have it!!!

#4 Though my most recent trip was neither hiking (much) or backpacking, it might be of interest to those of you who are parents or grandparents. It was a trip arranged by Elderhostel for grandparents and grandchildren (Intergenerational trips). It was a very active trip to the Campbell River area of British Columbia and the program included rock-climbing, rappelling, kayaking, canoeing, high ropes, zip line, etc. I liked the fact that the children had their peer group and I had mine. It meant that the responsibility of keeping my granddaughter (13 years) entertained wasn't mine! A great program!

#5 Last I heard, Terry Gustafson of Rainbow Expeditions had ONE spot remaining (due to a cancellation) for a 9-day silent backpacking retreat in Sequoia National Park. More info, and photos, at Phone 303-239-9917.

#6 Grace, the llama mama, just sent word from Steve Frederickson, the "mosquito man" for Inyo County, who claims that mosquitoes in the Sierra high country are a different species than the ones that carry West Nile virus. Hopefully, that gives us one less thing to worry about!

#7 To summarize: Exercise lifts depression. A recent study at the U. of Texas Southwestern Medical Center divided a group of inactive adults with mild to moderate depression into three groups. The ones who performed moderate exercise 3-5 times per week for 30-35 minutes per session made the biggest improvement. Their symptoms fell almost 50% -- about the same rate of improvement as is expected from antidepressant medication or therapy. One more reason to get moving!

Bay Area Local:
NEW author event: REI, Roseville, CA., August 23, 2005. 7:00 P.M. Susan and Ralph Alcorn will present a narrated slide show of their section hikes on the beautiful John Muir Trail in the high Sierra. Susan will also read short excerpts from her latest book, "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill -- Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers."

This program will also be given at three REI stores in July (all at 7:00 P.M.):
Tuesday, July 12. REI, 1975 Diamond Blvd., Concord. (925)825-9400.
Thursday, July 21. REI, 2715 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. (707) 540-9025.
Thursday, July 28. REI, 213 Corte Madera Town Center (415) 927-1938.

Change of date: Sausalito, CA. Susan will do a book reading on Saturday, July 23 (changed from July 16). 1:00 P.M. at Habitat Books, 205 Second St., Sausalito. (415) 331-3344. Please call and confirm close to the date. This is a new, independent bookstore with a welcoming owner, Sharon Jones. Driving to the store can be a bit tricky to those unfamiliar with Sausalito. Check the bookstore's website: for directions.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #43 June 15, 2005

"To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug."                 Helen Keller (courtesy Woman's Day 5/31/05)

Dear friends, family, and hiking enthusiasts,

#1 As you know, we are approaching mosquito season. Unfortunately, West Nile virus has now occurred across the continental U.S. Though most healthy people who are bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus never show any symptoms (80% according to Lauran Nee rgaard of Associated Press), and most of the remaining people who are infected suffer only mild flu-like symptoms  serious illness or death can occur. Avoiding bites is your best defense.

How to do this: At home we can take measures to reduce mosquito populations: not let water collect in flowerpots, wading pools, plastic tarps, and so forth.  At home and on the trail in areas where there are swarms of mosquitoes: wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants (tucked in, or otherwise closed at the ankle, and use protective netting.  Avoid camping in buggy areas; camp away from stagnant water, etc.  Mosquitoes are usually at their worst late in the day, so collect drinking water at other times of day.  Mosquitoes don't like windy areas, so use that fact to your advantage when choosing a camping spot.

Two products that are approved by the Centers for Disease Control for mosquito repellants are Picaridin (under the brand name "Advance") and DEET.   Picaridin has been used in Europe for many years, but has just been approved for use in California.  If you choose to use any chemicals on your body or in your clothing in the wilderness, wash yourself and your clothing well away from water sources.

#2 Recently read an interesting approach to preventing foot problems on the trail.  "Switchback" suggests you hike a few miles in your hiking shoes without socks. Since socks can mask potential hotspots, etc., walking without socks will tell where you may have problems later on.  Thus, you'll know where to apply breathable tape/your favorite preventative before blisters occur.

#3 There's been a lot of discussion on the PCT forum lately about the proper way to pack sleeping bags.  Of course at home, the bags should be stored (clean) in large bags?not the bags they are sold in.  It appears the same issue of compression applies on the trail. Down sleeping bags lose much of their insulative value if stuffed into tight compression bags (or crushed with compression straps).  Many people recommend that you let your sleeping bag fill the bottom of your backpack (unbagged) rather than worry about keeping it in a tidy little package.  When you stop for the night, lay out your sleeping bag in your tent/tarp right away to let it regain its loft.

#4 Ralph and I both wore running shoes (Asic Gel Nimbus & New Balance 766) on our Section A and B Pacific Crest Trail hikes this spring.  Ralph hopes he never has to wear boots again.  An Ergonomics study in 1986 concluded that each pound additional on the foot was equivalent to 6.4 of carried weight.  We've seen different numbers, but the point is well made: lighter shoes reduce fatigue.  I also loved wearing the lighter shoes, but am trying to figure out whether the reduced support has contributed to a flare-up in knee problems.

#5 Help, help! If you enjoyed "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers," we need you to post some more positive reviews on  Thank you.

Local author events: Concord, CA. Tuesday, July 12. 7:00 P.M. REI, 1975 Diamond Blvd., Concord. (925) 825-9400.  Susan and Ralph Alcorn will present a narrated slide show of their section hikes on the beautiful John Muir Trail in the high Sierra. Susan will also read short excerpts from her latest book, We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill -- Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers.  This program will also be at the following REI stores: Santa Rosa, CA. Thursday, July 21. 7:00 P.M. REI, 2715 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. (707) 540-9025. Corte Madera, CA. Thursday, July 28.  7:00 P.M. REI, 213 Corte Madera Town Center (415) 927-1938.  Sausalito, CA. Susan will do a book reading on Saturday, July 16. 1:00 P.M. at Habitat Books, 205  Second St., Sausalito. (415) 331-3344.  This is a new, independent bookstore with a welcoming owner, Sharon Jones.  Driving to the store can be a bit tricky to those unfamiliar with Sausalito. Check the bookstore's
website: for directions.

If you have suggestions or tales to share, please send them in. We do not share names and addresses with anyone. Please send me a note if you would like to be added to, or deleted from, this list.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #42  June 1, 2005

"Almost anyone able to cross a cobblestone street in a crowd may climb Mt. Whitney," said John Muir ("Via" --the CSAA magazine, M/J 2005)."

#1 I don't know about that (anyone can climb Mt. Whitney?), but it is a "walk up" mountain (vs. a technical climb) during the summer months. Call of the Wild -- specializing in adventure travel for women -- offers Mt. Whitney backpacking trips in August. It's just possible the heavy snow in the Sierra may be gone by then. or (510) 849-9292.

#2 Sierra Magazine is offering a "Women's Beginner Backpack" in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, CA. in June. Go to and click on "outings" for availability.

#3 Shortly after Ralph and I returned from our most recent S. CA Pacific Crest Trail hike, we learned that search and rescue teams have been searching for a missing backpacker in the Saddle Junction/Fuller Ridge area near Idyllwild. This is the area where we had to struggle through deep snow. Most hikers, including us, did a detour in the area, bypassing the most hazardous section (Fuller Ridge). As of May 31, rescuers have not been able to find John Donovan, 60, of Virginia. Donovan, who was hiking alone, has not been seen since May 2.  This is being handled as a missing person's case. Anyone having any information is asked to call the Hemet Sheriff's Station at (951) 791-3400.

#4 On our most recent backpacking trips, Ralph and I used the so-called "penny stove." This is a homemade cooking stove -- fashioned out of a couple of Heineken beer cans (directions are on-line), which uses alcohol for fuel. It weighs mere ounces and works well. Using it does have some risk, however. We recently learned of a wildfire in the Riverside County area caused when a PCT hiker accidentally spilled fuel while trying to fill his lightweight stove. He had cleared an area before starting to cook, but it was a windy evening (not unusual in the area) and somehow his jacket, pack,
and tent caught fire. His hands were burned (apparently only minor burns, luckily) while trying to put out the fire.  Our suggestion: Besides clearing the immediate area of any flammable materials, build a stone fire ring to surround your stove. And before you leave the area, ALWAYS replace the stones where they were found. Note: this is not the same as making a campfire ring and leaving behind scorched rocks. "Leave no trace."

#5 Marcy del Clements just sent me the following article from the L.A. Times: Norman Vaughan, who at the age of 23 trekked in Antarctica with Admiral Byrd and raced in Alaska's Iditarod at the age of 72, is now approaching 100. His plan for his birthday? Summitting the 10,302 foot Mt. Vaughan. It will be only the second time this peak near the South Pole has been climbed; the first time was 11 years ago when Vaughan first climbed it at age 88 (that's when it was named after him). Though he climbed it on foot last time, this time he is planning to be hauled in his wheelchair by six guides to the top.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #41  May 20, 2005

Dear Friends,
  This newsletter is a bit later in the month than
usual because Ralph and I have been backpacking in
Southern California.

#1 Our trip was "Section B" of the Pacific Crest Trail -- from Warner Springs to Hwy 10 (in the vicinity of Palm Springs). This is a 100 mile stretch that ranges in elevation from approximately 1,100 feet to 9,000 feet. As we pretty much expected, it was a tough one -- primarily because of the heat in the desert, the long distances between water sources, and because of the snow in the San Jacinto Wilderness. Highlights: Lots of cactus in bloom. The wildflowers --flowering carpets of yellow, hot pink, and white. I particularly loved the large expanses of (deep blue) larkspur. We enjoyed meeting people on the trail. Most were thru-hikers on their way to Canada. Lots of fun sharing stories of rattlesnakes seen along the way and commiserating about blisters, etc. Almost everyone was concerned with the snow conditions we would encounter at the 8,500-9,000 foot level. We also greatly appreciated various trail angels who brought in water jugs.

Other treats were leaving the trail to hike in to the Paradise Cafe (at Hwy 74) to get a delicious "Jose Burger" and refill our water containers. Days later, we   dropped down into the mountain town of Idyllwild and enjoyed an overnight stay in a motel. When you've been without for a week or so, nothing beats a warm shower, a restaurant meal, and a comfy bed. (Many hikers resupply dwindling food supplies here).   The snow. After weeks of reading reports and listening to trail rumors about the conditions of the snow and ice we would find in the mountains, Ralph and I "turned a corner" at about 8,500 feet on a north slope and found snow covering the landscape. The trail was buried. We tried following its route for a couple of hours. There were a couple of stretches that I found particularly frightening because of deep slopes alongside. It is sobering to slip and fall and start to slide downhill -- particularly if you have relatively no experience with snow. When we were on relatively level stretches and I could follow in Ralph's footsteps, it was fun.   After a while, we decided to drop down in elevation. We picked up an alternate trail to the pass down to Idyllwild. While there, we made the decision to bypass the next section of the trail (about 12 miles worth) which was the infamous "Fuller Ridge" stretch with its hazardous conditions. Apparently more than 90% of this year's contingent of backpackers have made the same decision. We were shuttled to a trailhead a bit north, and resumed our hike. Later, we talked to three people who went through the roughest portions. Two were from Switzerland (lots of snow experience). The third said most people were well advised to take the alternative.   
#2 While we were talking with the couple from Switzerland, Ralph asked the woman if she had seen any snakes on the hike so far. "I've seen two rattlesnakes and they were SO big. Before we left home, we went to the zoo at home to see what they looked like and the one there was only about a foot long." Her husband added, "And it was behind glass!" We all laughed.

And now for something completely different:
#3 "High Sierra Water: What is in the H20?" by Robert W. Derlet, MD, Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine U.C. Davis has studied the water quality and has these reassuring comments about our Sierra backcountry. "If one wants to be entirely safe, one could purify water but my suspicion is that perhaps less than 1% of streams in the Sierra would have Giardia significant enough to cause infection in humans." You can read more about his findings at under
"Nature Notes."
#4 From the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter (2/2005). "Older athletes are doing better than ever." A Yale study of NYC marathons shows that greater numbers of master runners (over 50 years) are participating and their performances continue to improve. Why? Improved training methods (with the help of competent coaches and doctors) and "societal expectations" (seeing older athletes encourages others to become more active.)

#5 Regional events (S.F. Bay Area) Please mark one (at least) of these upcoming author's events on your calendar. Ralph and I will be presenting our revised John Muir Trail narrated slide show at three REI stores in July. We'd love to see you. REI Concord, Tuesday, July 12.
REI Santa Rosa, Thursday, July 21.
REI Corte Madera, Thursday July 28th.
All events are at 7:00. Free. Details on our website

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #40  May 1, 2005

"Reflect upon your present blessings, of which everyman [woman] has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men [women] have some."      Charles Dickens

Dear Friends and Family,

1. Ralph and I spent last weekend (4/21-24) in Southern California doing a slide show/book talk in Santa Ana and attending a PCT event at Lake Morena. Our presentation on the John Muir Trail at REI was well attended. From there we drove to the ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off). There were close to 500 registered for the event--including hikers, trail angels, organizers, family, friends, and hiking groupies. We went not to hike, but to meet people in the hikers' community, to see the latest in light-weight gear, and to see various slide and DVD presentations about the trail.

  We met some amazingly accomplished people including: Scott Williamson (who hiked the PCT both ways last year for a total of 5,300 miles), "Scrambler" (the 10 year old girl who hiked the entire trail in 2004), "Yogi" (who's hiked the trail 2-1/2 times and written an excellent reference guide to it) and many others.  If you have any interest in hiking major portions of the trail, attending this annual event is very beneficial. You can't help but be inspired, and you will find lots of support.

2. "Climb up the mountain -- clear the fat from your blood. Hike down -- lower your blood sugar. Go in either direction -- reduce your 'bad' cholesterol." These were the findings reported by the Vorarlberg Institute for Vascular Investigation and Treatment in Feldkirch, Austria. The 45 subjects were normally sedentary, but hiked in the Alps 3-5 times a week for the study. Even those who could not climb UP the mountains benefited from walking downhill.  (AARP Bulletin, Mar. 2005).

3. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but it seems the usual advice to drink, drink, and drink more water is now being debated by fitness experts. Athletes have long been told to consume large amounts of water in order to avoid dehydration because it can cause a rise in body temperature and lead to heat stroke. Apparently, however, too MUCH water can lead to "hyponatremia" - a condition in which the body's sodium level drops below normal. Normally when you exercise, you lose both water and sodium as sweat. The risk appears to be from replacing the water, but not the sodium.   Researchers point out that this condition happens only during marathons, etc. of long duration (4 hours or more). I don't know if this has implications for "fast-packers" or not, but incorporating salty snacks (pretzels, etc.) into your diet when consuming large amounts of water was recommended by the American Running Association for athletes. Look for the
American College of Sports Medicine to come out with a list of guidelines next year. (Associate Press/S.F. Chronicle, April, 2005, pg. A5) 
4. The Partnership for the National Trails System will hold its annual conference on National and Scenic and Historic Trails in Las Vegas, NV. from June 11-22. Topics will include: raising awareness of trails, participating in local and regional trails planning, and implementation, organizing volunteer programs, etc. E-mail for info:

5. Ralph and I will be hiking Section B (Warner Springs to the vicinity of Palm Springs)of the Pacific Crest Trail later this month. It will be our first experience with crampons and ice ages, so we expect it to be an interesting trip. This southern California section of the trail goes from 3,000 to 9,000 feet; we expect temperature ranges from 30 to 100 degrees!!!

6. More on the PCT: Because of the heavy and later rains and snow, this is going to be a short  season for backpacking in the high Sierra. Many of the thru-hikers are going to start north from the border and when they hit impassable area, they are going to go to Canada and start south so they can complete the whole trail.

7. Bay Area Regional: East Bay Regional Park District is once again sponsoring their "Trail Challenge" and "May Marathon." Participants in the challenge must complete five of the designated trails by year's end. Marathoners must complete 26 miles by the end of June. We have participated in this event for several years--a great way to explore new parks while getting some exercise. Registration and info:

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #39  April 15, 2005

Thanks to both Diddo C. and Craig S. for forwarding the following: Subject: Fw: Deer Tick Warning!

"Send this warning to everyone on your e-mail list. If someone comes to your door saying they are conducting a survey on deer ticks and asks you to take all your clothes off and dance around to shake off the ticks,      DON'T DO IT!  It is a scam; They only want to see you jump around naked. I wish I had gotten this yesterday.  I feel so stupid now..."

#1 Ralph and I just returned from an incredible backpack trip in S. California. We hiked Section A of the Pacific Crest Trail from Campo (at the Mexican border) to Warner Springs. This stretch of the trail is 110 miles of arid land, which can be brutal in the summer with temps exceeding 110 F. It crosses Mt. Laguna, Anza Borrego, and the dreaded San Felipe Hills. Luckily, S. Cal has had abundant rain this winter and the land was covered with green grasses and colorful wildflowers.  Daytime temperatures were in the range of 50-70 degrees - about as good as you can get for hiking. 

Even so, if it were not for the help of Trail Angels supplying water to caches along the trail, we would have had difficult days. That's because one stretch of the trail is 26 miles with NO natural watersource (and certainly none piped in!). Our trail angels, Charlie J. and Monty T., drove many miles on bumpy desert roads, parked about 1-1/2 miles from the San Felipe gate (a gate through which the trail passes), hiked uphill to the gate, and left water for us (and hikers to follow).  When we reached the cache, we found that they had hauled 52+ GALLONS of water - which was still in sealed plastic containers to the site. Note: a gallon of water weighs eight pounds.

We had some cold nights - two nights the temperatures went below freezing. And we definitely had wind - I thought the gusts on Mt. Laguna were going to knock me over. But, the combination of relatively easy hiking and beautiful terrain made it a wonderful trip. The last night, as we watched a colorful sunset from a grassy knoll, I wondered aloud why we would ever want to leave. The wind had calmed, I was enjoying a cup of hot tea, and fields of mini-lupine, goldfields, and California poppies surrounded us. It doesn't get any better than this!

#2 Go to the following website to watch a pair of Peregrine falcons care for their chicks. It's LIVE, from atop the PG&E building in San Francisco.

#3 These companies offer walking tours of various regions and of varied levels of challenge: Walking the World, (800)340-9255 (specializes in trips for those over 50); Eldertreks,  (800)741-7956 (most trips are abroad); Adventure Women, (800)804-8686 (women-only, over 30); Geographic Expeditions (415)922-0448 (upscale trips, many with hiking, to exotic locations); Outdoor & Cultural Adventures for Women over 40, (877)257-0152 (hiking often part of the programs).  Source: (Oakland Tribune) Marcia Schnedler, UPS, 3/3/05.

#4 Crickets can tell you the temperature!  Count how many chirps you hear in 14 seconds, then add 40. That's it!

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips # 38 March 15, 2005

Dear Friends,
Admiral Peary, when asked why he was drawn to Arctic explorations replied, "It's a good, clean way of having a hard time." (This was recently sent to me by Terry Gustafson when I was recently wondering chatting with him on-line about what I am getting into with an upcoming challenging hike.)

#1 Terry, who runs Rainbow Expeditions, has just announced two new backpacking outings--Glen Canyon and Peaks of the Mount Whitney Crest. Terry is well qualified to lead these adventures -- he spent 16 years as a backcountry ranger in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the Southwest and Alaska. Contact:

#2 Those interested in the Camino de Santiago (Spain's famous pilgrimage trail) might be interested in the "2005 Gathering of Pilgrims" to be held May 10-17 in Toronto, Ontario. The registration deadline is March 20th. Contact You can call Steven Pede at 770-971-8602, or email to

#3 Backpacker Magazine reported that Brian Robinson, the first person to complete the "Big Three" (Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and the Appalachian Trail), all in one year, can testify that carrying less packweight allows you to go more miles. He hiked a section of the John Muir Trail three times. With 60 pounds, he averaged 10 miles per day. With 40 pounds, he went 20. And with 25 pounds, he averaged 30 miles per day. (Oct. 2004) Note: you are not REQUIRED to hike 30 miles a day, but if you want an easier time of whatever distance you hike, lighten up!

#4 It's that wonderful time of year when our Oak trees are putting forth their beautiful new light green leaves. Turns out the Live Oak is so named because it keeps its old leaves until the end of winter, then they wither and are pushed aside by the new foliage. (Audubon, Jan.Feb 2005, pg. 68)

#5 Ken and Marcia Powers dipped their feet into the Atlantic and then started out from Cape Henlopen State Park (DE) on the American Discovery Trail. They plan to follow the trail's southern route across the U.S. They started on Feb 27, and on March 14 were in West Virginia (have hiked 369.20 miles). Check them at or

Please note: There will not be a newsletter on April 1. Ralph and I will be hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail starting at the California/Mexico border and heading north to Warner Springs. Next issue I hope to tell you more about the various "Trail Angels" who have offered to help us with transportation to the trailhead and by bringing us water in the desert.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips # 37 March 1, 2005

Dear Friends,

What happened to February? Wow! Though we in the Bay Area have been awash in rain (though apparently nothing compared to Los Angeles), we are starting to see some sunny skies. Our daffodils and flowering trees are incredible. Actually, Ralph and I had a mini-escape from the rain by spending a wonderful week in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Some overcast days there, but for the most part we were able to enjoy walking that colonial city's cobblestone streets wearing light layers of clothing.

I enjoyed some lines from a "backpacking light" forum letter (sent by Gary Roberts groberts @ and found these gems that fit our backpacking theme:

#1 "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a leaky tire." and,
#2 "Never test the depth of the water with both feet."

#3 Paula M. from Longmont, CO sent these suggestions for volunteer organizations involved with trail work in her state: Rocky Mountains National Park, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Volunteers of Outdoor Colorado, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Colorado Trail, and Boulder County Open Space, along with City Parks and Recreation. Most offer free food and work at various levels. Any other suggestions of ways to "give back?"

#4 I have been wanting to relay our latest "wildlife" encounter for some time now. As most of you know, "bear canisters" -- food storage containers designed to keep bears out of your supplies -- are required in many national/state parks. Ralph and I have a couple of them. Ralph keeps birdseed in it in a storage closet at the back of our house when it's not in backpacking use. Imagine our surprise when we recently went to refill the birdfeeders--a gaping hole about two inches in diameter. Turns out the clever rat population of our area had found a plentiful food supply.

#5 PCTA Pacific Crest Trail Assoc. holds its annual kick-off days for thru hikers on April 22-24 (with the main events on Saturday, April 23) at Lake Morena County Park (along the PCT about 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border) Registrations now open. Ralph and I plan to be there just to meet some of the folks starting their northern trek.
Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn 

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tips & Tales #36 February 15, 2005

Dear Friends and Family,
#1 Continuing on in the vein of overhauling your backpacking gear during the winter months: in order to keep bacteria at bay, it's important to periodically clean the bladder in your hydration pack. Fill the bladder with water and add two teaspoons of bleach. Let soak several hours/overnight(Dandelion Mag). Drain the liquid and store per manufacturer's recommendations.

#2 Hiking and backpacking are great ways to keep up our metabolism. "Women's metabolism typically slows down 2 to 8% per decade beginning in her thirties." (AARP Mag.) That's why eating the same amount in your later years as you did in your earlier years, will most likely cause you to gain weight. The answer, of course, is to eat less and/or exercise more as you age.

#3 I know several people who are "paying back" for the great experiences they've had on hiking trails. Two organizations that offer these rewarding opportunities to help build or maintain trails are the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew ( and the Pacific Crest Trail Assoc.( High Sierra describes the opportunity, "Join us for the most rewarding work you'll ever do, in the most beautiful setting anywhere, among the greatest group of people you'll ever know. We'll feed you, teach you, challenge you, make you laugh, and leave you with good friends, new experiences, and happy memories." All skill levels can be used, trips of various lengths.Food provided. No fee! What a win-win situation!

#4 Appalachian Trail data for 2004: 403 thru-hikers reported (to date).

#5 Lengthy, but worth it: Taking a Centipede on a Hike. "A hiker decided life would be more fun if he had a pet to hike with so he went to the pet store and told the owner that he wanted to buy a pet. After some discussion, he finally bought a centipede, which came in a little white box. "He took the box back home, found a good location for the box, and decided he would start off by taking his new pet on a hike. So he asked the centipede in the box, "Would you like to go on a hike with me today? We'll have a good time."
"But there was no answer from his new pet. This bothered him a bit, but he waited a few minutes and then asked again, "How about going on a hike?". But again, there was no answer from his new friend and pet. So the hiker waited a few minutes more, thinking about the situation. He decided to ask one more time; this time putting his face up against the centipede's house and shouting, "Hey in there,would you like to go on a hike with me? 

(Scroll down.)
"A little voice came from the box, "I heard you the first time; I'm putting on my shoes." (from "Lonetrail" on the PCT-l forum)

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #35 February 1, 2005

"Don't be afraid to go out on a limb, that's where the fruit is." (author unknown)

Dear Readers,
  So much going on... and it's still officially winter! If the weather is keeping you indoors, this is an excellent time to plan trips for later in the year and to do a bit of clothing and equipment maintenance.

#1 Each year thousands of hikers climb California's Mt. Whitney -- the highest mountain (14,496 feet) in the U.S. outside of Alaska. A Wilderness Permit is required between May 1 and Nov 1. Although it is sometimes possible to obtain a permit on a walk-in basis, it is much more likely you will be able to get a permit for the dates you want by entering the lottery. THE APPLICATION PERIOD IS NOW OPEN. Applications received Feb. 1 to 14 will be processed by a random lottery on Feb. 15. Thereafter, applications will be entered into the lottery as they are received. More info and applications: Inyo Ntl. Forest phone: 760-873-2400

#2 Irene "Tagalong" Cline wrote to say that she no longer holds the record for being the oldest woman to complete the Appalachian Trail. "Another lady, who was 80 at the time, finished the trail in June 2004," writes Irene. Irene, who is now in her eighties, is planning to backpack the Grand Canyon rim to rim in May.

#3 Lynne A. is planning to hike the Camino de Santiago in May and would like to hear from other women who have done it. Her E-mail is: Lina88 @

#4 The promised equipment care item: Goretex jackets and other outerwear that no longer keep you dry can be treated to restore waterproof properties. First of all,  keep these items clean. After washing, put a broomstick through the sleeves to straighten out the creases and spray with Tectron (or similar product). Sometimes clothing can be put in the dryer at a low heat and that will restore the water-repellent features (read the labels first!). This is also a good time to be sure your boots are in good condition. Be sure they are clean and  waxed or lubricated as appropriate.

Regional: I will reading from "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill--Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers" at the Grand Opening of ShapeXpress (230-A Alamo Plaza) in Alamo, CA on Thursday, Feb. 3. 5:00 P.M. Appetizers. Free.

While other parts of the country may be dealing with severe winter storms, here in the San Francisco Bay Area the daffodils and fruit trees are starting to bloom. Hikers wanting a beautiful hike need go no further than Mt. Diablo or Mt. Tamalpais to find waterfalls cascading down through beautiful fern and moss covered canyons.  

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #34  January 15, 2004

Dear Friends,
#1 Ken and Marcia Powers plan to start the southern route of the American Discovery Trail about March 1st. "Our goal is to walk a continuous path, all in one direction from Cape Henlopen, Delaware to Point Reyes, California. We believe that we can walk the entire trail in 8 months and time our crossing of the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada to not have to contend with snowy passes. We will carry our backpacks and all our camping equipment the whole way."
Go to their website at to get the complete details and see some of their great photos. The Powers are accomplished long-distance hikers who have already completed the Continental Divide, the Pacific Crest, and the Appalachian Trails. 

#2 I just learned about, which is a website offering info to women travelers on everything from health issues to customs of various locales.  It's oriented to the more independent traveler, but also has listings of tour companies offering trips for women only.

#3 To add to the info on chickadees in the last issue, Sue L. sent the following: "They are very accustomed to people.  They regularly stay in the area when you are trying to photograph them, or put more food in the feeder, or entice them to come to you, or show them off to guests.  We have even had them come to our hands to wait patiently while these slow moving humankinds refill the feeders."

Regional news:
San Francisco Bay Area:
Thursday, February 3, 2004.  Susan Alcorn will read and discuss "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill - Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers" at the "Grand Opening" of ShapeXpress Fitness for Women, 230-A Alamo Plaza, Alamo, CA. 5:00 PM., 925-838-5200.

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn's Backpacking/Hiking Tales & Tips #33 January 1, 2005

Dear Friends,
Happy New Year! I hope you are planning lots of beautiful hikes and exciting backpack trips for 2005. Ralph and I are planning a couple of trips on the Pacific Crest Trail ? one in southern California and another in the northern part of the state.  

#1 According to Backpacker Magazine (02/2004), female participation in backpacking has shot up by 64% in the last decade. Backpacker has added a section to their website for women with advice on products, health,
etc. at  

#2 Some of you may be taking the opportunity this time of year provides to repair and wash your summer camping gear. One hint I've heard from a backpacker who also spins wool: don't use Woolite ? it makes the fibers brittle. Use Dawn dishwashing soap. Also don't store your down sleeping bag in its stuff sack. We keep ours in large muslin bags so that the loft is maintained.

#3-A The Pacific Crest Trail Fest Annual Gathering will be held on April 9, 2005 in Portland, Oregon. The fees are quite reasonable for a full day of trail classes and the vendor fair ? $10 members, $15
non-member. Tickets for the awards dinner are pricier - $45-$60 - but the choices are mouth-watering: buffalo flank, mesquite-grilled salmon, pork tenderloin, or vegetarian Wellington.  This is a great opportunity for PCTers or "wannabe" PCTers to enjoy reunions or learn about the trail from those who have hiked it. Phone (919)349-2109 or go to for more info.

3-B April 22-24, 2005 is the "Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO)." This is a "low key gathering of present section and thru-hikers, past thru-hikers, ancient thru-hikers, trail angels,
supporters, and aspiring section- and thru-hikers." The Kick Off is held in Southern CA at the Lake Morena County Park (along the PCT about 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border). Following the event, many backpackers start their trek north to Canada (info:

3-C I just have to add that Backpacker Magazine reported (12/04) that California is its readers' favorite backpacking state. (No surprise to me, of course!)

#4 I'm not a birder, but I enjoy watching the birds at our feeder as well as when hiking. The chickadee is one songbird that sticks around year-round.  You wonder how a creature so tiny can survive cold weather.  Two important strategies help. First, they eat the seeds of coniferous trees, which are high in oil and fat and available year round. Secondly, they "thermoregulate ? they have the ability to control their own body temperature.  During extreme cold, they can lower their body temperature up to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. (National Wildlife Fed.Winter, 2004).  Wouldn't that be convenient for winter campers?

Regional: S.F. Bay Area: The annual BAEER Fair, Bay Area Environmental Education Resources Fair, will be held on Sat. January 29, 2005 at the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael, CA from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $7 info: (510) 657-4847 or (510) 795-9385. For teachers, families, and anyone else interested in the environment.  

Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn

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Emma Gatewood first hiked the entire 2160 mile Appalachian Trail at the age of 67.  She last hiked it at the age of 76.

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