The Story Behind it….

Hear the story and meet the man who gave it all up to pursue his dream to become a mountain man.

Raising Little Mountain Men / Women

Your children can become little Mountainmen and Mountainwomen too! Teach them the necessary skills and let them experience the same outdoors you love without it being a chore.

Set Your Goals for 2014

Do you have a bucket list? Build one and set your goals for hiking, backpacking, and developing your skills for 2014

Coffee in the Backcountry

You don't need to sacrifice your need for coffee because you want to spend some time in the back country. Read all about the methods and the trade-offs.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Remington Hot Springs and Hobo Campground

If you are looking for a great Spring camping spot, a hot spring, and a quick 7 mile round-trip hike with beautiful views, Hobo Campground and Remington Hot Springs.

The Scouting
Hobo campground is a small campground located off the 214.  As of 2011, this was not on the map yet and we had to rely on directions from a previous scouting that one of the other members did the week prior.  Since it is first come, first serve we arrived there early.  This site may be more popular then it used to be now that it is visible on Google Maps.  We met in the town of Lake Isabella and traveled southwest until we saw signs for Hobo Campground.  Remington Hot Springs were also hard to find, but are on the map now.  The Trailhead is right across the street from the parking lot and easy to see.

The Gear
You will need two permits - a fire permit and a car permit as well for your parking.  Be prepared for the necessary warmth in sleeping, wood for the fire, and bathing suit for the springs.  While the springs will be warm, you will be very cold before and after you get in, so be sure to bring a warm towel.  No need to worry about weight or how you will carry the towel since you will need to park near the springs.

Field Report
Once we arrived, the campsite had enough room for 6 of us to set up tents across two sites and one shared firepit.  Alongside the site, the Kern ran strong from the snow melt.  It was a beautiful site, especially if you live in Southern California where rivers (and freshwater in general) are rare.  We packed up and went to sleep,

The next morning after breakfast, we packed up for a day hike and packed our bathing suits.  We drove down to the parking lot of the Remington Hot Springs.  After a short hike, we arrived at three "hot tubs."  It looked as if these hot tubs were built with cement while the Kern River was low, complete with random tiles pushed into the cement.  The Kern was running alongside the tubs had to be about 40C with a very strong current from the snow melt.  The hot tubs reminded me of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  One was flooded with frigid water, one was about 80 degrees with a partial flood, and the last was a toasty 90+ degrees.  The temperature outside was probably ~50-55F, so we waited until one of the groups left, shed our jackets and slid in.

Being the only one that was non-Californian native, I enjoyed was a bit more comfortable with the cold water.  Jumping into the Kern at 40 degrees, then back into 90 degree water was probably not the best thing for my heart, but it felt great.  The other group in the tub were Russian, clearly drunk from beer and Vodka in an unmarked bottle.  They also had not packed their bathings suits (or didn't believe they were necessary).  One man, listening to people complain about the cold, stood up and made an announcement that would have met any stereotype from a bad 80's movie.  In a thick Russian accent, he announced,"You Americans - you do not know cold.  This is not cold!"  and dove into the Kern to swim across.  The Kern was strong, and at one point he panicked and tried to swim across.  We were afraid we were going to have to jump in and fish out the naked man, but he made it cross and climbed the top of a rock.  He faced us like a conqueror peering down above a fallen city.

Aside of this spectacle, the tubs were pretty calm but busy.  You had to rotate in and out, which meant 5 min or so of cold shivering and then back into the warm water.  While this was nice, it got old and we decided to pack up and head up the Remington Ridge Trail.

The Remington Ridge Trail is 3.63 one way, though you hike in and then turn around (see here for trip map).

The total elevation gain is 2828, mostly through switchbacks.

Once you arrive at the peak, you can continue for at least another 3-4 miles, but we decided to take a break for lunch, hike in another hour to get the best view, and then turn back around.  The view from the top was amazing.  This was my first California hike, and I was amazed at the view of the mountain peaks, the vibrant green grass, and the granite stones pushing through the green.

It was beautiful, and I didn't properly appreciate how much nicer these mountain ranges were because I had not yet hiked the dry Santa Monica Mountains, the California Desert, or the rocky San Bernadino landscape.

Overall, the sites and the hike were very nice.  The springs were something to experience, but I can imagine they get very busy at certain areas.  I would highly recommend for a good car camping trip.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Little Jimmy Camp, Angeles National Forest

Nestled deep in the Los Angeles National Forest is a small backpacking campground called Little Jimmy camp.  It is a popular introductory backpacking site which a group of people I was with chose for a "into to Snow Camping" location.

The Scouting
The trail is very easy to find and map out.  The advantage to this hike is that you park around ~6700' -6800' and can hike to ~7500' in 2.04 miles,  Pull the full hike here.

On the hike, there are actually two options.  You can hike along the side of the mountain via the famous Pacific Crest Trail.  A portion of the trail can be taken via a fire road, which adds only .05 miles.

There is also a natural spring that along the PCT past camp, approximately 0.20 miles.  My plan is to pack a couple power bars and enough water to drink both directions.  Once I arrive at camp, I will check the spring before I use any water for food.  This way, if the spring is dry, I can rely on the power bars and minimum water.  However, all research our leader did, the water is flowing and clean.  We were very fortunate to have a good leader that did a fair amount of comprehensive research and share maps.

The Gear
Most of us were prepared for minimal snow.  We were hoping for at least a couple inches, though all research showed us we may not have any.  Prior to the trip, I chose to invest in staying warm and dry - merino wool sweater, hat, and socks along with some snow pants and a soft shell.  I did not waterproof my boots or buy crampons to grip ice.  Instead, I made my own crampons by taking 4 T-Bars and 8 screws to split them between my boots.  These were attached with straps and metal buckles.  Looking back, I will buy crampons next time for 12-25$.  It is funny to read the comments we had prior to the trip, hoping we would have at least an inch or so.  Little did we know what we would encounter.

The Hike
When we arrived, we were pleased to see snow at the beginning of the hike.  The weather was already around 55F.  The view was immediately beautiful.

As we hiked up the trail, the snow got deeper.  My boots held up pretty well, but as we started to increase our altitude, we walked along the edge of the mountain and hit some deeper drifts.
Some of the hikers were native Californians and were not used to walking in snow.  I had to explain how to walk on it, distributing weight each step, and how to tell where the snow was thicker with a layer of ice so your foot isn't crashing through every time.  Otherwise, you are crashing through every time and stressing muscles that are not used to constantly being stressed.
When we finally reached camp 2 miles in, the views were spectacular.  The combination of the trees with the snow backdrop and clouds lingering directly in front of us was amazing.  It was hard for many of us to enjoy, as we were now very cold from walking through 12-15" of snow.  My feet were very cold at this point since my boots were saturated with water.  Others were in pain, crashing though the snow and stressing muscles that hadn't been worked out in a long time.
The camp was pretty nice, though we had to spend a good amount of time cleaning up.  Since there was close to 2 ft of snow, we had to clear off the picnic tables for a cooking surface.  I learned that packing down snow for the footprint of my tent did not mean the snow would melt through and soak my tent.  In fact, the extra 1-2 ft of coverage would protect me from wind.

Once my tent was set up, it was time to find water.   We were exhausted, cold, and it was going to get dark soon.  There was a natural spring on a hill about 1/2 mile away, but we weren't 100% sure.  At this point, my feet are wet and I am starving, but I knew if I didn't get water now, I would run out before hiked back down.  After what seemed to be forever, we came upon the spring.  The water was so clean and cold, I forgot about my feet.
Upon returning to the site, I warmed up my freezer bag meal and some coffee.  When I think back bout this hike, I can still recall how delicious this coffee was when I added some Bailey's and Whiskey to share.  I carried this in one of those small kids water bottles and it was well worth the weight.

The last thing to do before going to sleep was boil some water for a heater.  Pouring boiling water into a metal water bottle (with a strong seal) and toss in the bottle of your sleeping back acts as a heater.  It worked very well.  My 30 degree bag was not quite warm enough, so an extra layer of wool, the water heater, and pulling the drawstring on my mummy tight enough that only my nose stuck out turned out to be enough.

When we woke up the next morning, it really took an extra effort to get out of my bag.  The weather was much worse then the night before.  However, your body kicks into gear as you go into survival mode.  I made some oatmeal, packed up my tent and gear, and we headed back to our cars.  

The hike back was much easier, but we had to have 2 people run down.  One of our fellow backpackers had injured herself on the hike up and was unable to move,  We actually had to get help to bring her back down, which the rangers did by trapping her to a sled.

Here is a recap of the site and the area:

Overall, it was an awesome experience.  There is something about carrying all our gear to an area you could never survive without it and sleeping on ice.  If you are looking for a good backpacking site for beginners, this is it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Bucket List - 2015/2016 Goals

Goal - Improve Skills

- Learn to navigate properly with both a GPS unit and a compass

- Learn 3 ways to light fires without lighter
- Build a kit with 4 different types of fire starters

Knots and Shelter Building
- Learn 20 different types of knots
- Learn 5 different tarp setups
- Effectively use at least 1 snare
- Develop full 3 season Hammock setup
- Waterproof fabric and shoes in gear
- Find 30 geocaches

Update My Gear
- Develop Lightweight pre-packed kits

Raising Kids That Love the Outdoors
- Develop seamless preparation processes that allow the kids to enjoy trips
    Full Bucket List (Hikes, Camping, and Backpacking)

    Beaches / Shoreline
    - Doheny State Beach
    - Point Mugu
    - El Refugio
    - Palas Verdes

    - Death Valley National Park
    - Joshua Tree
    - Anza Borrego

    - Grand Canyon Backpacking
    - Arches National Park
    - Ring of Fire

    - Dawn Mine Trail -
    - Devil's Slide to Saddle Junction -
    - Echo Mountain Night Hike
    - Big Bear or Lake Tahoe - backpack or family trip
    - Southern California Peak Progression by 2015
    - Devil's Backbone - Santa Monica Mountains

    - Yosemite
    - Ansel Adams
    - Mount Whitney

    Unique Places
    - Santa Cruz Island

    Any suggestions for other hikes / trips?  Please - comment below or contact me!

    Friday, April 25, 2014

    Backpacking Meals - Methods and Tradeoffs

    How you plan your meals when you backpack can make or break your meal.  If you are too conservative, you could carry a lot of weight.  If you don't plan properly, you could be trying to open a can with a rock or relying on snacks for meals.

    You have to ask yourself a few questions:

    • You going to prep the food in advance, or swing by the grocery store on the way over?  
    • How effort do you want to spend cooking and cleaning when you are in the backcountry?  
    • Are you carrying out the trash?  
    • How bulky can you afford to let your pack be?

    Here are the primary forms of cooking you can start with.

    Pack Meals From Your Cabinets
    Weight - High, Taste - Medium, Waste - High, Ease - Medium
    New backpackers will often throw food in their bag from their Cabinets or a quick stop at the grocery store before the meeting spot.  This is generally poor planning.

    I have seen all of the following during trips:
        • Cans of Soup
        • Cans of Tuna
        • Boxes of snacks and energy bars
        • Packages of easy meals such as EZ Ma
        • Lipton Packets
        • Salami & Cheese Packs (non-refrigerated)
        • Hummis & Veggies

    It may be easy and cheap, but many of these lead to extra weight and trash.  Not to mention you'll get laughed at when you break out a Campbell's soup can.

    Pack Backpacker Meals
    Weight - Low, Taste - Medium, Waste - Medium, Ease - High

    The easiest way is to stop by REI or a retailer that sells the prepared meal that you add boiling water to and seal shut, such as Backpacker Pantry meals.
    These are easy to pack, you can eat out of the bag, and the trash is minimal.  If you believe in "leaving no trace," you may not burn the bag.  There is less trash less then normal food, but you can do better.
    Custom Made Meal
    Weight - Varies, Taste - High, Waste - Varies, Ease - Varies
    The last time I went snow camping, one of my fellow backpackers cooked up steaks and veggies.  You can get very creative with meals, though it generally requires a little extra weight, including additional cooking utensils and pans, and a little more room for :

    Backcountry Thanksgiving (Justin Bailie) 

    These are up to the cook.  With the right preparations, you can make some pretty good gourmet meals in the middle of the woods.  Here is a link to my favorite:
    Freezer Bag Cooking
    Weight - Low, Taste - Medium, Waste - Low, Ease - High
    With the right preparations, you can prepare all your meals in freezer bags.  Mark on the bag the how much water to add.  When you add the boiled water to the bag, it slowly cooks the contents of the bag.  If you have the ability to place it in an insulated area or cover it with a towel, it will help it cook properly.  I prefer to eat of the bag so I don't have to wash anything besides my spoon:

    Here are a couple great websites for freezer bag cooking:

    There are some that say cooking inside a freezer bag is not healthy due to carcinogens, etc.  I am not an expert on this, so do your own research, but I can tell you that this is my preferred method when backpacking and I have never had a bag leak or melt.

    Open Fire Cooking
    Weight - Low, Taste - High, Waste - Low, Ease - Medium
    Generally, I do not cook over the fire.  Camping in California also means many places do not allow open fires.  Then I recommend the Coughlan's Pack Grill for lightweight or a heavier duty Texsport Heavy Duty Camp Grill .  It will take some trial and error.

    For beginners, I recommend avoiding direct heat (flames) and using hot coals.  You can even practice with charcoal (if car camping) to learn how to use the grill.  To increase heat, elevate the coals with rocks (prior to starting of course), trap heat with rocks on each side of the Camp Grill, or turn the grill upside down and use rocks / logs to hold the grill.  My favorite use of these grills are to cook burgers or to prep chicken by placing in freezer bags with BBQ/Marinade and storing in the cooler.  When the time comes, these grill cook chicken very well, just careful of direct heat burning the outside without cooking the inside.

    What are your favorite recipes?

    Sharing the Outdoors With Your Children

    Over time, I have learned the following preparation tips to help put your mind at ease as well as keep your kids engaged.  If they don't enjoy the outdoors as a kid because you are acting like a psycho, it will be your fault when they hate it as they get older.

    Set Small Goals, Have Backup Plan
    Learn the hike, no matter how short it is.  Set goals and the contingency plan in advance.  Run through the scenarios with your wife / husband / hiking partner.  "If they are struggling in mile 1 we will cut our losses at landmark A instead of trying to complete the 5 mile loop."

    Make an Activity List, Not a Scheduled Checklist
    When camping, they don't need every hour planned out.  It will work against you as you rush through activities or push them to walk faster so you can fit everything in.  Instead, get them excited about small activities.  Making s'mores.  Playing a certain games.  Seeing a sea cave or waterfall.  Starting a fire.  Don't rush through them either.  Take your time.  If starting a fire has them fascinated for an hour vs. the 15 minutes you expected, don't rush to the next thing.  It is about them enjoying the time, not getting through your checklist. 

    Plant Seeds and Set Small Goals
    The longest hike I did with my 4 and 7 year old was 7 miles in the heat.  In perparation, my wife and I did some marketing.  We would talk about sea caves, hiking near the ocean, cooking on fires, interesting facts about animals.  When the time came, they were excited to go on a hike where we will see a sea cave and might see come dolphins.  To them, it wasn't a 5 mile hike.  It was climbing a mountain.  Then seeing a sea cave.  Then eating their favorite lunch with small candy breaks along the way.  We didn't talk about the end - just each destination.  When I went camping with my son, he wanted to start a fire.  Then he wanted a hot dog.  Then it was time for smores.  Plant these seeds in advance, even days prior to the trip.  "Hey Buddy, did you know there are caves in the water?  Did you know you can see the whole city from the top of the mountain?"  Then, during the hike, he will ask me 100 questions (or the same 20 questions 5 times).  "Do dolphins live in the caves?  Do sharks?  Do sharks eat people?  Will they ever eat me?  Do monsters live there?  What to monsters eat?"  Next thing you know, you are past the halfway point and they aren't even struggling.

    Encourage and Energize
    Your kids need two types of energy.  Mental and Physical.  Be prepared to feed both.

    Physical Energy - It begins with a good, hearty meal an hour prior.  It can't be a big enough surving to make them full and tired, but enough to quench their hunger and give them good energy (vs. complex carbs or sugar energy that they will burn quickly).  Let them pack the lunch and snacks.  I will post some great meals and snacks, but in the meantime, research backpacking nutrition and get creative.  Keep small sweet snacks too, and use them sparingly.  After the 3rd mile, tell them you are proud at how grown up they are and how well they are doing, and give them a chocolate or some type of sweet reward that has other energy benefits.  Chocolate and bluberries are both very popular.  

    Mental Energy - Whether they act like it or not, they need your constant approval and energy.  If you spend a whole hike dragging them along or yelling at them, they will dread hiking.  But if you make a big deal about little wins, you will see how positive of an effect it will have on their energy.  For example, I continued to ask my son if he was a tough man and tell him how proud I was that he was that he was doing so well.  He took off his shirt on one hike when he was hot and a teenager walked by with no shirt.  He was like, "Daddy, look that man doesn't have hit shirt on either!"  For the rest of the hike, we he walked with his chin up and his shirt off, saying he was a big man.

    Built in Education
    An outdoor hike is a perfect time to be a teacher, but it has to be organic.  I start a lot of my sentences with "did you know..." as I pass a certain plant, wild life, landscape, etc.  Stories are also great ways to teach instead of just spitting out random facts.  For example, 'you notice how a lot of the bushes are black?  It is because they were burned.  A fire burned up a lot of their forest.  [Then, go on to explain how nature sometimes has natural fires as a normal cycle].

    At the end of the day, the more time you put into preparation with the goal of letting things happen organically, the more they will enjoy the trips.

    What have I missed?  Do you have any other trips or stories?

    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

    Geocaching - The Underground Treasure Hunting Network

    The Perfect Car Ride
    The large, white cargo van moved along, driven by one brave man and packed with 7 kids ranging from 2-14.  That's right, 8 kids vs. one adult.  The children sat quietly.  1 child sat in shotgun, rotating between looking at the road and glancing back down the glowing screen of an iPhone.  The middle of the van had 3 of the kids huddled around a pack of papers.  The rest of the kids listened intently for the next clue.

    What is Geocaching?
    What has kept them so quiet?  Geocaching.

    Geocaching is an underground network based on the website  The site has three purposes.  Two of which are free.  You are either (1) uploading caches, or you are (2) finding caches and sharing information.  The last (3) is merchandise and equipment for geocaching, which is entirely optional.

    A "cache" is a treasure chest of sorts with a log book.  Basically, you hide a container and share the coordinates along with other information with the community.  A container is supposed to be water proof.  It should have, at minimum, a log that everyone can sign once they find the cache.  It can also contain little treasures, such as toys, stickers, souvenirs, or geocaching trackable merchandise (can be tracked back to origin).  It can be hidden, camouflaged, or out in the open.  The coolest cache I found was either a fake metal stake found in the cement of a parking lot, or circular case doubling as a reflector attached to a telephone pole.

    How Do You Start?
    If you are finding the caches, you have multiple options.  You can go to the website, search their map for the geocaches, and use a compass or GPS to find them.  There are also geocaching apps.   I use the standard app, [insert link here].  This allows you to find caches around the area, determine the difficulty level of finding them and where they are, bookmark them, then use the app as a GPS to find the caches.  All of this information is pulled off the website, including pictures and hints if you want to cheat.  Once you find the cache, sign the logbook, and replace any treasures you take with other treasures, you can then check them off the website through the website or the apps.

    Lessons Learned
    Here are a few of the mistakes I have learned from:
    - Public Property Only - Geocaches should not be dangerous or on private property.  If they are, don't even read the reviews.
    - Use App Sparingly on Long Hunts - The internet usage and constant GPS will kill your phone fast.  I have found it drains the battery faster then you can charge.  I recommend using your phone to get coordinates, plan multiple caches, and update after the found.  Use a handheld GPS for the search.  
    - Don't Scroll Too Far - Many reviews and hints on give it away.  Let the kids (or yourself) look for it for a little before you cheat.
    - Be Prepared for Failure.  There us nothing worse then spending 30 min on a cache and then just stopping.  Set a time limit, then move on.
    - LEARN TO SHARE!  For the fathers living vicariously through their kids - I know it is cool and you wish you had technology like this when you were a kid, but this is about the kids!  Let them rotate responsibilities so they get a turn in the front seat with the "treasure map" while one writes the post. 

    Other Reference:
    I only reviewed and the geocaching app [link] because I think they are simple enough.  Here is a article that lists and explains more geocaching apps.

    If anyone out there has any experience and would like to share, your comments are welcome!  If you had the ability to take geocaching to the next level - what would you add?

    Friday, December 20, 2013

    Don't Negotiate on Coffee in the Backwoods

    I can lay on dirt, climb through brush, filter water from a creek, eat with my fingers and sleep with the bugs.  Showers are optional and pit toilets are a luxury.  All of this I can endure in the backwoods, but I can't skip my coffee.  I've experimented with many the different ways of methods and types of coffee on the mountain, the woods and the desert.  Below I rank my top methods based on trade-offs between cost, weight, and taste.

    4th Place - Instant Coffee
    Lowest Weight, Lowest Taste
    You can purchase these packets in grocery stores.  Just heat your water, add the packet(s) of instant, stir, and you're done.  It is the quickest, lightest, and easiest cleanup, though you will have to packout the trash.  The flavor isn't bad, but isn't great flavor either compared to the other option.  I prefer stronger coffee with a bold taste, so 2 packets of Necafe's Spanish coffee has been my favorite.  I supposed you could also bag instant coffee, which would be less trash, but I don't drink instant coffee so I prefer the small packets.  This option is best for a quick, mess-free cup on a thru-hike backpacking trip where you don't have time to sit and enjoy a best breakfast.

    3rd Place - It's Time for the Percolator
    Highest Weight, Great Taste
    I know, corny title, but I couldn't help it.  You can find this common percolator in any camping or retail store.  Percolators work by placing over heat with grounds in top filter and water in the bottom of the pot.  The water is boiled, which pushes it up a metal tube then spits it out at the top.  The water hits the cap, lands on the grounds and soaks back through into the water supply to circulate again.  By the end of the brew, your boiling water will turn into coffee and run through the grounds multiple times.  While this leads to a nice, strong flavor, coffee is best brewed slightly below boiling to prevent the burned flavor most people are used to.  The percolator is also the messiest to clean up, the heaviest, and can take up some unnecessary space in your bag.  This option is best for car camping when you are starting a fire to cook up breakfast and making coffee for 4-5 people at once.

    2nd Place - Drink Coffee Like Clint Eastwood
    Low Weight, Medium Taste

    Real Mountain Men don't need a yuppy paper coffee filter.  To make "cowboy coffee", fill your pot with water and brew the coffee right in the pot.  From there, you have two options.  The first option is to pour the finished coffee through your bandanna into your cup.  The second is to drink straight from the pot, chew the grounds and grunt while string at the fire like a wildman.  As with the percolator, coffee is brewed by boiling, so you may get burned flavor.  The pot will need to be cleaned, but my mom used coffee grinds for compost, so I am sure there is nothing wrong with leaving the grounds in the soil.  This option is best for 1-2 people (based on capacity of you backpacking pot).

    1st Place - GSI Collapsible Java Drip
    Medium Weight, Best Taste

    I first tried the GSI Collapsible Java Drip on a backpacking trip on Santa Cruz Island.  I liked it so much, I brought it to work and used it instead of the coffee machine.  Just pull up the collapsible silicon and place a Melitta #2 (1 cup) or Melitta #4 filter with 2-4T of coffee.  Wet all the grounds first, then slowly pour hot water over the grounds.  The drip cone sits over a cup.  The first cup is stronger and it gets weaker the more water that passes through the grounds, so for >1 cup, it is best to place over a pot or large container.  This method is easiest to clean since you just pull out the filter and is good for up to 4 people.  The weight is greater then cowboy & instant coffee, but it is only 4.5oz.

    What methods do you use?  What is your favorite light weight coffee maker?