Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Touch with My Wild Side

Today, I got to do something (again) that the majority of humans don't have an opportunity to do.  Interact with big(ger) Cats.

Today was my first day at the zoo.  I won't bore you with the hours of details on enclosure cleaning, promise.  I won't tell you about interacting with the red pandas, prairie dogs, or langurs.  What I will tell you about are the amazing cats that I had an opportunity to interact with today: snow leopards, bobcats, and my beloved cougars.

A photo I took of one of our
Snow Leopards in 2011.
These are really some amazing animals and each are vastly different.  The snow leopards (aka Panthera unciawere great to be near - and so very close!  The ones here are a family - mother (whose name I can't recall - it was long!), father (Czar), and new daughter (Kenji).  The two females were in the outside enclosure while Czar was in the inside enclosure.  He weighs about 110 pounds (visual estimation only) and was quite mellow.  Of course, to him I'm merely 'the keep'... there to sweep up and spray down his room while he pretended to sleep and not notice me.  He liked to grunt at people, though, which amused me.  Of note, their fur is just as thick and luxurious as it looks; while I see the draw to making them into garments I detest the mere idea of it.  His coat is by far prettier on him.  What I think made him truly adorable to me was his teddy bear.  Yes, his teddy bear.

The bobcats (aka Lynx rufus) were cute - named Gene and Joan (like Gene Simmons and Joan Jett).  It's assumed that they are brother and sister.  Both were prior 'pets' and found released in the city some time ago.  I was distracting them with mice and was enthralled when they kept swatting my hand to get my attention - so very house-cat like!  They are much smaller than the snow leopards, both the size of medium dogs with Gene being a little larger than Joan.  Once again, a great example of why people should NOT assume they should have exotic pets... how irresponsible to force animals to imprint on humans only to them release them to fend for themselves just assuming they will find their wild side.  Amazing little animals!

A photo I took of Coby earlier in 2011.
Of course, that leaves only the cougars (or Puma Concolor - meaning 'cat of one color') to tell you about: Miamya (mee-ah-mie-ah) and Coby.  First off, neither cat has their tail - the most prominent sign on a cougar - each for different reasons.  Coby, who is quite a big boy, lost his in an 'incident' at one time with another animal.  They are also both declawed.  Coby, despite his lack of tail or claws, is still a very impressive cat to behold.  He probably weighs in around 180 lbs and, without his tail, he's probably 4.5-5 feet long.  With his tail, he'd be an easy 6-7' cat.  His head is the perfect shape and his teeth were still incredibly large.  He grunted while I was there but I didn't get to his hear his token cougar growl.  Miamya is quite different.  She was... amazing for different reasons.  Her story is long, but the short version is that she was once a school mascot... but as the school was the bobcats and she is a cougar, they had her tail bobbed and also did a relatively bad job declawing her and filing down her teeth.  It's also suspected that she was once hit by a car in her 'prior life' and she has a pronounced limp.  She's a small cougar, maybe 90-100 lbs at most.  She had an awesome disposition and, due to her perfect little 'meow' and purring, I fell in love with her.  Her sordid history makes the plight of her species all the more prominent in my mind.

I can't wait for my next day!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Eastern" Cougars?

Eastern cougar

A photo I took of Coby, Puma Concolor
When you say "Eastern cougar" what do people hear? I think they hear
"cougar that reside in the east" rather than identifying this as a specific subspecies of the great cat. This is quite the misnomer. Eastern cougars, which were recently confirmed and declared formally extinct by the USFWS, are a specific subspecies of cougar (puma concolor couguar) rather like the Florida subspecies (puma concolor coryi). Traditionally, it is accepted that the eastern cougar's natural range extended from Canadian provinces west to the Mississippi and south into Tennessee extending to the coast. The Florida panther home range was estimated to range from southern florida up to and bordering the range of the eastern cougar.

The reason this is important is because, while the eastern cougar has been declared extinct, that does not mean that individuals from the current Floria population or the western population haven't begun dispersing to our region. Furthermore, there are estimates ranging from a mere 100 up to 1,000 captive cougars of varied genetic composition in captivity in the eastern united states. Hypothetically, if any of the transient males that have begun dispersing (as the ones we have proof of are all subadult males) were to encounter a released or escaped female... Maybe then we would actually see a population rather than just individuals.

But my questions specifically surround protection. With the eastern cougar being declared extinct, what are the repercussions of shooting a cougar now in this region? With no big game laws around it, does that negate the ability to kill it indiscriminately? For this I seek advice with more knowledge on the subject than I. I asked a hunter friend who I consider a reliable resource and he states that in TN it would have to be a very clear case of self-defense to keep a hunter out of trouble - that there is no season (and therefore you cannot shoot for the sake of shooting) for the cat.

So let's make a drastic flying leap with some data... There was a confirmed western cat in CT and a confirmed Florida cat in mid-Georgia. That's 2 males - lets assume that is half of the transients that made it this far. If we take the middle ground on potential captive cats, that's 500. Of that 500, let's say that 5% are released illegally because they aren't nearly as cuddly when they weight 150 lbs and realize they can eat you. That's 25 individuals. Now let's say that 1% escaped, which is another 5 individuals. Of those, we can estimate that 50% are female. So now we have a wild population of 32 cats in 15 states with 17 males (large range) and 15 females. Looking at just the national forests (c/o, there is a strong stretch of wooded lands from the Chattahootchee in northern GA extending up to northern VA. A very large range hitting exactly where I live... Southeastern TN, northwest GA, southwest NC.

I know from personal knowledge that deer densities of this region are high. So are coyote and black bear densities. So what, then, are the odds that this would be a place of refuge for either dispersed nomads or former captives?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Extremists are Killing Our World

We've all heard them... the extremists. These are the people that cry wolf so loud and so often that we find ourselves tuning them out. I posted on twitter that extremists are like a snowball with a rock core... a lot of puffery with a painful nugget of truth buried within.  The problem is that extreme views propose extreme fixes in many cases.  The typical trend is that the left runs the television while the right rules talk radio.  Both sides have valid points on many issues and I don't intend on going into a political rant.  I care about lots of things, but one of the things that tops my list is my home. I don't mean the one made of lumber and stone with an address on the front.  I don't even mean the city in which I live.  I mean the planet that has, through eons, provided for the species that inhabit it.

Where is the middle ground?  Why can't people have a sense for capitalism AND a sense for environmentalism?  There's a reason that we all study history when we're growing up - not to memorize facts and dates, but because people who forget what happened are doomed to repeat the same failures.  It's a lesson we're taught through life.  So why is it so hard for humans - as a species - to take the tiniest of glimpses to our past and realize that we apparently aren't capable of policing ourselves when it comes to the world we live in?  We use and abuse the land.  Sure, dump stuff in the drain rather than pay to have it taken care of the right way.  Strip mine.  Clear cut.  Do things that provide the most amount of profit with the least amount of work.  Predators kill livestock?  Screw 'em; kill them all.  Does private property really mean we have the right to do anything we want with it?  We seem to think that because we have evolved and harnessed energy and technology that we are the culmination of what defines evolution.  We are the pinnacle and the only concern.  Conquer nature.  Tame wilderness. Exploit what can be exploited, regardless of cost, for profit.
We eradicate species we don't like or ones that are profitable.  It's not Americans I point an ecological finger at, it's humans.  Here's some facts: 
  • When humans first migrated to North America, we played the key role in extinction of some of the coolest animals that ever lived. North America had lions bigger than the African Lion!  We had giant turtles.  We had camels.  We had three different species of elephants.  These animals were large and had never encountered humans; know what that made them?  Sitting ducks.  Kill off the giant herbivores and then the, through competition and hunting, the predators were dead species, too. (Of note, happened everywhere, I just liked our megafauna the best.)
  • When America started to 'shrink' (through easier transportation and communication), we saw the resources on this great continent as an inexhaustible resource.  Bison were eradicated in the wild.  Beavers - a keystone species - were hunted to near extinction because of the value of their pelts.  Certain birds were driven to the verge of extinction not because we ate them, but because their feathers were pretty in hats. Passenger pigeons, which had an astronomical population, driven extinct due to being easy targets.
Why do they go extinct - what did people do?  Hunting**.  Habitat change (the big one).  Introduction (whether accidental or on purpose) of invasive species. And of course the token few that go extinct due to natural causes.  Here's some animals that you probably grew up with that are on the list: 
  • Eastern Box Turtle (vulnerable, decreasing)
  • Polar bear (vulnerable, decreasing)
  • Mexican Long-nosed Bat (endangered, decreasing)
  • Red Wolf (critically endangered, increasing)

So tell me, is it impossible to have a "meeting of the minds" in regard to capitalism and conservationism? I know a lot of brilliant - non-extreme, even - people who could likely think of ideas.  I don't agree with regulations merely for the sake of regulating, but there's some aspects that warrant it.  There's so many brilliant people... I hope that they have a few ideas and I solicit them to share.  I'm tired of extreme-minded people constantly directing the way things are going to be. Don't get me wrong - I'm pointing my finger both left and right.  I'm tired of 'right and left'.  I want circular, well-rounded!

**By hunting I do not mean to infer any fault to responsible hunting/hunters.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Human Predator Perception

Some of my hockey fans will be depressed that this post isn't hockey related... Half the time when I say "predators" I mean the Nashville NHL team and the other half of time I mean the literal carnivores.  I'll try to use a certain Inuit player to mesh hockey with nature... but it's a far reach to tie both predators together, I promise.

Human perceptions play a pivotal role in predator management - whether you're discussing current populations or reintroduction.  Humans have an inherent fear and bias towards apex predators that really needs to be looked at.  The success or failure of a reintroduced species, for example, relies on how the humans of the area perceive the predator and whatever posed threat they may bring.  I'm one of those 'idiots' who goes out of my way to find predators - bears, cougars, ...even rattlesnakes.  I don't do this because I have some death wish (nor do I try to interact with the animals) but I really want to see them, their behavior, and study them.  Fact of the matter is that around 125-145 people a year are killed in deer-human accidents.  Rattlesnakes? 5.5 people on average.  Bears? Average 1 person a year, so admittedly this is a high year.  Cougar? Again, about 1 person a year.  Shark? 1.  How about the virtually eradicated wolf?  Try 0.1 people a year.  The odds are far higher for a bee sting to kill a person (53 average) than a predator.  Or, if you'd like, a horse (20 per year).  So why, then, the unrealistic fear that predators in your 'local habitat' are going to stalk and kill YOU.  It's statistically minuscule odds (Historylist, 2008).

The funny thing is that predator perception varies based on many different factors.  For example, people living in rural areas have a utilitarian view and tend to favor exploitation or subjugation.  People with advanced education lean toward naturalistic and conservationist mentalities.  Young people and women tend toward moralistic and humanistic values with a lot of affection for an individual animal or species (Reading, Keller, & Clark, 1993 & 1996).   In most cases the instilled fear of predators likely has less to due with human-predator interaction and more to due with human-predator conflict due to livestock loss.

The problem arises when humans have a "humans first and only" mentality that disregards the eventual outcome of so many species.  Did you know that in the next 50 years it's estimated that HALF of the world's current species will be extinct?  I'm a learned girl, so I am aware that we're in the midst of the world's sixth mass extinction, but what is disconcerting about this one is that it's primarily caused by one species: US.  (Of note, about 3% of the extinctions have/will be due to natural causes... so saying "we didn't do it all" isn't comforting when we cant take responsibility for about 97%.)

Asking "how did we get here" garners one of the simplest yet most complex answers in the history of our time.  We cared about us most.  Some people say "that's to be expected" but many others think that we're depriving our children - not even our children's children, mind you, but OUR children - to seeing far less of what we had the pleasure of. Isn't it time, then, that not only the left and right wings came together in understanding but that we figure out how to help on a global basis?  Rainforests, for example, cover a tiny percentage of land (1.8%) on earth... yet they are continually harvested.  Timber companies don't exercise the same responsible land use policies as other agrarians and clear cut old growth forests.  Our rivers and streams and ponds and lakes - ALL of them - have suffered the worst.  We all say 'sure, I care about the environment' but, like with so many other things, we merely SAY it.  We don't do anything actively about it.  I guess we expect the 'other guy' to stand up and do something.

To bring this blog full circle (and tie in to the Nashville Predators, as promised), here's a snapshot of how historic Inuit versus current Inuit mentality on polar bears - a predator often in the world's view due to climate change.  Of note for non-hockey fans, Jordin Tootoo is the first Inuit in the NHL and from Nunavut - he was also unavailable for comment.

  • Historically, Inuit saw Nanuk (polar bear) as a species garnering great respect.  If Nanuk was killed in a hunt, it provided clothing and food (the only thing discarded was the liver).  To show respect for the takoit (soul of the bear), the skin was hung in a place of honor for a few days.  Ancient Inuit legend shows a coexistence and respect for this greatest of bears.  Now, the Inuit officials don't even want the great Nanuk even added to Canada's list of protected species.  "Protect us, not the bear" (CBC News, April 2010). The logic? Threat to people, property destruction, and killing of their people.  Of note, a look at polar bears international discusses the very rare cases where humans are killed by polar bears.  I did a look on the net globally and found a case recently in Norway... but historical numbers were drastically low. Granted, maybe the Inuit people don't report these? Or, perhaps, it has more to do with hunting restrictions and less to do with Nanuk attacking people.  I really don't know but this is a great example of human perception on a species... the politics involved and the opposition and facts.  
In closing... I know that I'm working to practice what I preach - and I put my money and/or time where my mouth is in support.  Where do you stand?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The world calls them "Siberian"... but really, they are...

Panthera Tigris altaica.

I was doing some homework on my favorite species and, on IUCN I was a bit surprised when, in the search bar, I keyed “tiger” and a whopping 112 species with “tiger” in the name appeared.  What is it that the world has against "tiger" beauties regardless of class/order/family?! 

For actual Panthera Tigris, 9 species, 3 of which are already extinct, appear. 

Most of the world knows this fine animal as the Siberian Tiger, though the more appropriate name is the AmurTiger.  This cat isn’t indigenous to the entire geographic range of Siberia, but rather merely the Amur river region where Russian and China converge.  While many subspecies of tiger are endangered or threatened, this cat is my most favorite animal of all.  The Amur tiger is different from any other cat in the world – including being the largest feline on the planet!  Throw that with the usual human fears of predators, some myths about tiger bones and ancient Chinese health tips, the enormous home range, and the fact that this feline has devastatingly beautiful fur and it’s a poster-child for the Endangered Species list. 

Because of the size of the mature adults and the vast ranges they require, many of the tiger conservation areas set up for this cat are really too small to retain a viable population.  Low recruitment rates also hurt their chances for increased populations. IUCN states two factors which increase the tiger's vulnerability to extinction are their low densities (relative to other mammals, including their prey species) and relatively low recruitment rates (where few animals raise offspring which survive to join the breeding population) (Smith and McDougal 1991, Kerley et al. 2003). 

Officially the Amur tiger is decreasing in population due to high rates of habitat loss and fragmentation which even occur inside protected areas.  There are also high levels of human-tiger conflict (including being struck by trucks on a logging road that goes right through the middle of a habitat area) and illegal trade in tiger parts (fur for trade and the bones for ancient Chinese medicines for male ‘enhancement’).  Lastly, they also suffer from prey depletion.

Conservation efforts are generally in habitat conservation and education.  Recently actor Leonardo DiCaprio founded the Save Tigers Now and is attempting to garner more support using his personal celebrity status as a springboard.  In addition, many tiger foundations exist to help the futures of all remaining tiger subspecies.  Illegal poaching of tigers still exists.  Between 1998 – 2002 at least 51 tigers were killed  with 76% being for illegal trade and 15% being human-tiger interactions.  With drastically low numbers for some of the remaining subspecies, one sincerely hopes this is not a case of “too little, too late”.  

To see more on the IUCN Red list for tigers, go here; for the Amur Tiger, go here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Hiking?

For anyone who loves the outdoors and physical activity, hiking is a sure thing to win your heart.  Hiking is one of the great activities that is done in the wonders of the ‘wild’ that can be done solo, with a partner, or with a group.  Hiking is a very easy way to get some serious steps, increase your energy, better your physical health, and really impact your life all together.  A deep respect for nature develops quickly.  Moreover, hiking really can improve your mental wellbeing as much as your physical well being. 

Regardless if you’re new to hiking or a hiking aficionado, Tennessee (and the southeast) is a great place to be.  If you’re new at hiking you can start on nature walks.  (See “where to go” below.) Build experience on various trails and work your way to the big hikes that our region is known for.  Hiking is a very easy hobby to start, the only bare-bones basics that you need are right shoes and a means to carry hydration – as simple as a bottle of water.  As your experience and endurance levels increase, you can add gear slowly to grow with you.  When you get to the multi-day, heavy terrain levels you’ll need a full pack.  Here’s the average contents of my hiking pack:
  1. The pack itself – my multiday pack is about 70L and my day pack is about 30L.  The “L” stands for liters, which just tells you the overall capacity of your pack.  Only my big pack is an internal-frame pack; however, both have full straps (don’t stress your shoulders – carrying a pack that has a waist strap is a MUST.  Your hips are the best weight-bearing part of your body and you’ll feel a LOT better hiking with even distribution of weight.)
  2. Med Pack – I keep my med pack in a thing called a “stuff stack” (various sized sack that you get to literally “stuff stuff” in).  The contents of my med pack vary slightly based on the length and terrain I’m going to.  It always has OTC pain killer, benedryl, ace bandage, band-aids, etc.
  3. Water Bladder- 3L
  4. Water filtration system – never drink stream/natural water unless it’s “that or nothing”.  Natural water often has microscopic bacteria that can cause severe abdominal upset.
  5. Trail food – light weight and packed with proteins and carbs.  Hiking with a pack on heavy terrain burns a TON of calories, make sure your body has fuel!
  6. Water flavor packs.  This is one of my treats.  I carry these to mix with water if I have to filter it from a stream.  While filtered stream water often tastes just fine, the flavor packs help to mask any mineral flavor that may be present. 
  7. Rain gear – functional and lightweight.  This includes a rain cover for my pack.
  8. GPS, compass AND maps.  I never take just one.  I use the GPS because it offers a lot of really nifty features but I never trust battery-powered things 100%.  Better safe than lost.
  9. Flashlight and headlamp.  I carry both all the time because, again, I don’t trust battery-powered things 100%. 
  10. If I’m staying overnight, I always have my hammock.  It’s more lightweight than a tent and far more comfortable.  But, a small tent is just fine for my daughter!
  11.  If I’m hiking in bear country I carry bear spray.  Also, if I’m staying overnight in bear country I’ll take my bear canister (it’s a bear-proof canister for foods and anything that has an aroma of any kind)
  12. Trekking poles – not a necessity but when you’re clumsy like me, it’s better to be safe.
  13. Always take a very strong respect for nature and remember that what you pack in you also pack out.  I also always try to pack-out any trash that I see while I’m on a hike. 

If you’re wondering where to go, around this part of the country you have so many options it’s hard to settle on one.  If you’re brand new to hiking try a nature walk like the 4.5 mile loop at Harrison Bay State Park.  It has very easy terrain that is only occasionally broken by roots or rocks and the elevation variance is virtually nil.  If you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge, try The Walls of Jericho (around 8 miles, I think) near Winchester, TN/Stephenson, AL.  This hike offers good scenery and a relatively challenging elevation variance.  If you live north of the city, try Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness in Dayton, TN.  It offers 2 different hikes, both found from the same trailhead (one is 9 miles r/t and the other about 5 r/t with different terrain for each).  Want more wilderness in your hike?  Try anything near the Cohutta/Cherokee parks that cross the GA/TN/NC lines (easy access near Springer Mtn, GA or Ocoee/Reliance, TN; heavy concentrations of bear).  There are hundreds of trails in that area with varied lengths and terrains.  The Benton MacCaye (pronounced mack-eye) goes through here; it’s a 300-mile trail).  Are you ready to summit a mountain?  I recommend Rainbow Trail in the GSM Park, take the Rainbow Falls trailhead all the way to the summit of Mount Leconte from Gatlinburg stoplight #8 (apx 13 miles r/t, very difficult and I do NOT recommend this as a 1-day trip; there is a free group camp area/shelter at the top that you can use with reservations through GSM).   Like I said, around here it’s not a matter of where to go, it’s a matter of picking one trail out of the variety available. (Of note, you can't take your 4-legged bud with you on Federal Park trails.)

What to expect out of hike really varies depending on where you go and the length of time you’re out.   Always research where you’re going and what wildlife you may encounter (and how to react to said wildlife!).  I’ve encountered rattlesnakes and bears (even been charged by a bear!) and knowing what to do when you encounter wildlife is a MUST.  If you’re looking to start hiking and are new to it, join me someday for one of my group-led hikes at Harrison Bay.  It’s an easy walk and four-legged, well-behaved leashed friends are welcome.  If you’re looking for more, check out some local hiking clubs.  I’m out at least twice a month hiking and always willing to share my passion for hiking with anyone! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wade Belak, A Day to Mourn

Wade Belak, my fave photo cuz of the tatts.
Photo Copyright Nashville Examiner
Today Twitter brought me horrid news.  Wade Belak, on again-off again hockey player, was found dead in Toronto.  Wade was many things over the years, not limited to his transition between teams, ending his career and retiring a Nashville Predator.  Wade was a constant source of discussion, whether the discussion surrounded his 'healthy scratch' status or his amazing public persona. From game to game Wade talk ranged from impassioned talk over ice time to, occasionally, him being a fan whipping post for on-ice mishaps.   Regardless what lovers of ice hockey thought about Wade's play, there was one thing that we could arguably all agree on: Wade was a Good Guy.  He was funny.  He always had a smile for anyone and everyone.  He loved the game he invested his life in but, moreover, he loved what makes the game what it is: the Fans.  Very few professional athletes had time for fans like Wade.

I had the pleasure of being on what I call the 'fringe' of Wade's life.  I knew his name, he knew mine.  He never failed to have a smile and some anecdote to relay, often at his own expense, just to make those near him grin.  He had a zest for life and his jovial attitude was virtually contagious.

Today was devastating, not only at the news that we have lost Wade, but that we have lost so many so soon!  What a shame it is, what a loss... as we the fans mourn and feel loss, I can only imagine the loss that the families of these public personalities must now face.  First it was Derek Booggard (27) then Rick Rypien (28)... and now it hits so close to home with Wade (35).

If any of the deaths mentioned here were accidental overdoses, what is going on?  Where is the strict control surrounding limits of such high-powered meds?  I go through surgery and it's an act of congress to get more than a few weeks supply of pain meds... so what gives?  I understand chronic pain (I mean, I did break my back in three spots and have arthritis in my hip from hockey) but there has to be something we can do.  Education?  Limitations?  I don't know what the answer may be - if there is an answer at all - but this needs to be looked at.  Our players are valuable to us and indispensable to their families...

...but mostly I have to 'blame' something and I naturally gravitate to over-willing prescribers.

Wade, your infectious smile will be missed, regardless of ice.

Wade Belak, 7/3/1976 - 8/31/2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rocky Mountain National Park - A Week in Paradise

(This is going to be a long post as it spans 4 days)
Day One
Due to weather delays, I got off the plane about 3 hours later than expected.  I rented a red, convertible Camaro, which I admit was super sweet.  The drive from Denver International to Estes Park was starkly beautiful.  The jagged peaks of the Rockies became more clear with every passing mile.

Starving, I finally located a McDonalds when I arrived in Estes Park.  The scenery here was amazingly different from home.  Pine and aspen trees rule the hillsides there.  Rock juts precariously from every  exposed surface. The landscape is a uniform brown dappled by bits of greenery.  It's easy to see why this rugged place draws so many hikers.  My home turf is a menagerie of green encroaching in from everywhere.  The stifling humidity seems to saturate everything in a damp haze and the wind only blows as a precursor to a storm.  Here, there is no humidity in this semi-arid climate.  The deep rooted ponderosa and lodgepole pines creak in what seems to be a ceaseless alpine wind.

A black bear cub obviously thinking I had
a pretty sweet ride.
After my 'dinner' I went through a quick drive in the park, staying close to town.  I didn't really have any expectations and was looking to take in some scenery as a means to blow-off steam from the flight delays. On the way to the first trailhead I wanted to glance at, I rounded a corner of a gravel road to find a black bear walking down the road with a cub - large and fuzzy - in tow.  They were both larger than the black bears here and I found myself clumsily trying to pick my phone up off the floor where it had fallen with my quick braking and trying to put the top up on the car at the same time.  I hadn't even thought to bring my real camera because I knew my jaunt in the park wouldn't be long and hadn't expected a bear! I nabbed my phone and, though momma bear had already meandered to the dense underbrush, the cub was still in view.  Crappy pic, sure... but still a pic!

Twenty minutes later and on a main road I saw, in the fading light of day, my first elk.  It was immense... and too dark to try to get a picture.  I was actually pretty impressed with myself that I had even seen it.  I ruefully wondered if that would be my only photo op for a bull elk.  I jokingly thought to myself that if a bighorn sheep bounded across the road with a mountain lion in chase, I could leave and feel satisfied.  Alas, however, no lion padded across my path that night.

Exhausted from my day, I returned to my lodge for the night.  The lodge was historic, which I think is code for "we lack air conditioning".  Actually, from what the front desk said, most of the residences and businesses didn't bother with a/c here as it was rarely ever hot.  This week, however, seemed to be an exception.  With all the windows open, I attempted to sleep.  By 4 a.m. local (MDT) I finally resigned myself to being "up" as the heat was annoying and the dry climate had made every bit of me feel dried out - skin, nose, eyes, mouth... I was parched in the true sense of the word.  I dressed, made coffee, and wandered out to enjoy the pre-dawn hours from the comfort of the lodge steps.

Day Two
The pines creaked noisily and rabbits scurried hither and dither within feet of me.  The air, constantly moving in the alpine breeze, was actually chilly outside.  I was glad I brought some thermals for the night in backcountry.  Even my coffee didn't retain heat for long.  My shoulders, aching from carrying a 48-pound, single strap duffle containing my pack and gear, were screaming at me.  The elevation here, close to 8,000 feet at the lodge, was already tangible to my body.  I wondered if I would be ready to hike with any sort of load.  Following on that thought, I wondered how much wildlife I was going to incur on my hike and how safe I was going to be.  Thoughts flitted across my mind as I watched the sky lighten from black to deep blue.  I knew the world around me would soon wake and my day would officially begin.

Herd of elk crossing a meadow.
I had time to kill before the backcountry office opened, so I decided to snag some real coffee and do a quick drive into the park.  Driving on a whim, I found myself on road leading to the Beaver Meadows trailhead.  Once again, my animal magnetism was in full form and before I knew it I was stopped watching a herd of elk - cows and calves - crossing a field.  I watched them casually walk across the field and the setting was something out of a movie.

The Fearless Coyote
A mile down the road, I had to nail the brakes as a coyote came loping towards me.  It walked right next to my car, not giving me (or the car) so much as a sideways glance.  I opened the door, stupidly sure, but rather in amazement that the coyote had really not even registered that he was sharing the road.  I snapped a few pics of him as he looked off in the distance.  I noticed then that he was watching a single elk with her calf off in the meadow.  I snapped a photo of them, but was more intrigued by the predator so casually standing not 20-feet from me.  I snapped another picture of him and he turned to look at me - I snapped another.

At the trailhead, I sipped my coffee and casually talked to a volunteer of the park.  Bolstered by talking hiking for an hour, animal sightings, and now a surplus of caffeine, I headed back to the backcountry office.  I talked trail for another hour there and finally had A Plan.

Marmot - I have a ton of these pics!
...well, at least a plan for later in the week!  Satisfied, I decided I wanted to first drive Trail Ridge Highway over the Rockies to Grand Lake.  The sky was a flawless, robin's egg blue with only an occasional puff of a cloud to break it up.  Well above the tree line, which is about 12,700 feet above sea level, I decided to stroll along the Ute Trail where I encountered my first family of marmot.  Cute buggers, these... rather like groundhogs interbred with prairie dogs.  Cute and noisy, they became the mainstay animal of my trip.

Bierstadt Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
I had to cut my drive short as they were doing roadwork - I swear I am plagued with travel woes! - so I turned around to find something more productive to do.  I drove down Bear Lake Road to the Hollowell Park trailhead and got on the trail to Bierstadt Lake.  The hike was nice and a relatively easy course.  Glad for a sharp eye, I noticed a tree with some very obvious claw marks and, scouring the ground I found a distinct paw print in the soft dirt - it was a mountain lion!  (Go here for pictures from my trip - they are the last two in the series).  The hike to the lake was relatively easy for the majority, saving for the elevation (the lake is apx 9,200 elevation).  I enjoyed the company of a fearless female duck and a chipmunk while I virtually drank in the beauty and solitude of the place.  I could have sat there for hours, but true to my usual hiking self, I soon packed up for a hike down the mountain.  The rest of the day and into the night was uneventful.  I sat at a picnic area until after dark, however, and FINALLY got to see the Milky Way with my own eyes.

Day Three
Otis Peak on left, Hallet Peak on right - in the
finally-still reflection of Sprague Lake.
Some people think I'm nuts for hiking alone.  On day 3, those people would freak.  Today I intended to hike to Cutbank - a single-site, backcountry camping area.  Admittedly, it was my first time camping in the backcountry all alone.  Before I headed that way, since it wasn't a long hike (just 4 miles), I decided to take a couple of 'quick' trips.  My first was, on the advice of professional wildlife/nature photographer Dick Orleans, was to Sprague Lake where I snagged this amazing photo of Otis and Hallet Peaks.  I had hoped to see a moose, which was rumored to like the lake, but no joy.

After Sprague Lake, I was hoping to finish my journey across Trail Ridge Road... traffic and construction permitting!

Moose looking for shade.
Every curve on the road introduced a new and breathtaking view of the Rockies.  My only wish was that I had managed to find a chauffeur so I could gawk openly instead of being forced to pay attention to my driving.  The road, while boasting amazing scenery, is precarious because often, just off the shoulder of the road, would be a precipice that scared the living heck out of me.  On the west side of the park and mere miles from the exit, my animal luck showed up again.  My intent that morning was for a bull moose... and while I never saw a bull, I did manage to lay eyes on a cow and her calf - awkward with so much leg under such a large animal.  I watch the mother - at first not knowing that she had her calf at all - as she climbed from a stream and meandered to shade.  As I was about to turn back to my car, I saw a flicker of ears and a moment later the calf exited the bank of the stream as well.   Satisfied, I turned around to head back across the tundra.

Bull elk, living large on the tundra
As I crossed the now-familiar scenery, my mind drifted to the bull elk I had missed the photo of on my first day there.  As if I had thought it into existence, I rounded a corner and glance to my left to spot a bull who had already claimed a harem.

From here, and feeling quite smug, I headed to my trailhead to start the hike to my overnight spot.  The trail to my site was labeled at just under 3 miles one way... but gaining 1,500 feet. And, just to pay me back for my smugness I'm sure, it started to storm not 10 minutes into my hike.  I had to unload, get out the rain gear, cover the pack, don the gear, and then reload.  My pack wasn't light - having the extra weight of the required bear can as well as my camera and extra lens and 6 liters of water.  Before long, the elevation was wearing on me and my legs and shoulders ached.  Seeming to take forever, at one point I convinced myself I had missed my break-off when I had to go through a family that had their horses completely surrounding the trail.  I glanced at a map - not my awesome topo as it was stowed in my pack - and decided I had missed my turn.  I trekked back down the mountain for a half a mile.  At least the error had me going down hill, right?  I got to where the horses had been... but to my chagrin there was no break off trail.  I had just walked all this way nothing!  Furious with myself, I unloaded and grabbed the topo.  Sure enough, if I hadn't turned around, I was maybe a 20 minute walk from my spur trail.  Talk about a 'face palm' moment.  Now, instead of 20 minutes, I had a 45 minute walk back UPhill. I was so angry at myself I wouldn't even allow myself to take a break during the make-up hike, regardless of the steep incline.
The Roaring River in the foreground with the
elegant backdrop of Long's Peak (the sheer face
is called 'The Diamond' and is a mountaineers
playground) in the distance.

Finally, I was at camp and set up and allowed myself to soak my feet in the frigid waters of the Roaring River while I ate my dinner of trail-mix and jerky.  After dinner I stowed my food in the bear can - double zipped inside and 200 yards from my camp - and reveled in the wonder of solitude.  The only sounds, aside from the occasional plane, was the ceaseless chatter of squirrels and, at once point in the evening, the distant sound of a bobcat yelling (there's audio on that link - various 'sounds').

Day Four
The night in the forest was cold... like REALLY cold.  I had my thermals and my spring bag (i.e. a 45-degree sleeping bag) and it was no where near enough.  The elevation at my campsite was around 10,500 feet and the temperature dropped between 35-40 degrees.  I didn't get much sleep but when I finally woke up - at least for the final time that night - the tips of my finger's were blue and a sickly yellow.  It took almost an hour of me keeping them tucked under my arms to get them nimble enough to breakdown camp.  I hiked off the trail, treated myself to a breakfast and hot coffee, and then made one final attempt to find a bighorn sheep.  My animal luck, it seemed, had finally worn off.  Before long, with still not so much as a distant 'baa' from a sheep, it was time to head to Boulder for the Expedition Impossible finale party.

Expedition Impossible Party Quick Thoughts
The finale party was great and insane.  It was SO crowded with over 500 people jammed into a place intended for maybe 400.  I finally got to hang with my guys, Team No Limits: Jeff Evans, Erik Wiehenmayer, and Ike Isaacson.  I also had the pleasure of meeting the Modern Gypsies - the winners of Expedition Impossible - John Post, Eric Bach, and Taylor Filasky... all super nice guys.  I also got to meet Shooter - one of the assistant producers on the show - and really enjoyed talking with him on his part of the project... of everyone I met for the first time that night, he was by far my favorite.  Photos of a sunburned and extremely exhausted me with the guys are below.

Finally, I turned in for some well-earned sleep only to wake at 4 a.m. and head back to Denver International Airport for the ride home...

Me and Ike

Me and Erik

Me and Jeff

Monday, August 8, 2011

Abrams Falls, Cades Cove

Cade's Cove is a splendid and enchanting place where modern day mingles with echos of days gone by, lingering in a misty, fog-shrouded union.  Ripe with wildlife, steeped in history, Cade's Cove is a beautiful area with easy access nestled in the heart of the most visited National Park in the US.

While splendid and full of wonder, it's not exactly easy for a hiker to plan a full trip if the trailhead is nestled in the park, which is closed to motor traffic until 10 a.m.  This would have been a great fact to know AHEAD OF TIME as the the trailhead I needed was located deep within the park.  Furthermore, the mileage (around a 15-mile R/T) and terrain (summit of Rocky Top and Thunderhead) of my trail warranted a necessity to be on the trail by 9 a.m.  So, as I sat in dead-stopped traffic until well after 10, that made me alter my plans.  To make my ill-tempered morning even worse, the line of cars I was trailing did not heed the "be courteous to other drivers and don't stop on the road" signs that were posted every quarter of a mile.  Nope.  So by the time I finally got angry and decided I'd take the very next trail I saw, it was 11 a.m.  That next trail happened to be Abram's Falls.

Flowing Abram's Falls, Great Smoky Mountains, Cade's Cove
Abram's Falls is often considered one of the better falls in the Smokies.  It has a bit of allure because it has a very high volume of water going over the not-terribly-high falls.  The falls themselves are around 20-feet in height.  To make it better for visitors, the hike to get to the falls isn't too far into the trail.  The posted sign states that it's 2.5 miles one direction over moderate terrain and that hiker's should plan for a "2-4 hour trip" for each leg of the walk.  While the trail is wide and the path well worn, I agree that it is a moderate hike as the elevation shifts are frequent and steep.  Only a couple parts of the trail are rough, containing exposed rock (good ankle twisters!) that, as per the geological structure of the land, is at crazy angles.

Some people just ignore the rules
for the sake a few minutes of fun.
Further, the allure of the falls seems to beckon people to do what the blatantly posted signs (at the trailhead and at the entrance to the falls itself) warn against:  "Do not climb on the falls. Four drownings have occurred in these waters, don't be the next victim".  Of course, what are the point of rules if there were no rule breakers?  While I had only hiked for about 1.5 hours to get to the falls, I decided to sit on a great rock that had perhaps the best view of the falls.  I leisurely ate my lunch (cold pasta and some almonds) while watching swimmers and, of course, 'falls divers'.  There were three 20ish-aged boys who were entertaining us all by ignoring the signs, climbing the falls and then leaping spectacularly from the top (see image).  While I can't condone their behavior, I thought it would be a good way to get a photo to add perspective to the other pictures I'd nabbed of the falls (especially since a little patience afforded me photos of the falls without bobbing heads of swimmers!).

The vast majority of people stop their hike at the falls and then head back after enjoying the view.  Of course, the falls are only 2.5 miles in... so there was no way I was stopping at the highly known.  My hikes crave solitude and the discovery of what few take the time to see. I loaded my gear back up and continued on my happy little way.

A hidden waterfall
I followed the trail, which followed the water, for another 2 miles.  The serenity of this temperate rainforest did not let me down.  One of the splendors of the Smokies is in the hidden wonders she holds just out of view.  Often you hear things you can never see because of the very dense and thick greenery that surrounds the trail.  At one trail crossing at the 4 mile point, I sat on a rock for a rest and, peeking through at knee level, I spotted a hidden falls dowsed in sunlight just out of 'normal' view - hidden by fallen trees crusted in thick moss and mountain laurel.  The falls weren't impressive - maybe 10-feet high - but the fact that they were so discreet and somehow enchantingly hidden made me smile.

Not too much further on, I opted to turn around... I was breaking one of the rules of hiking and I knew it:  I was on a trail that was NOT the one I had told everyone I would take... IF anything happened, there was no logical reason that my family would know to look for me here.  So I turned around knowing I would at least have 8 or more miles under my belt for the day.

After an uneventful hike back to the trailhead I loaded up and rejoined the motorcade that is a constant thing in the park... it's the one thing that I hate about my park being the most visited in the US... it's always crowded in the easy-access areas.  On the way out I saw a splendid 10-point buck (in too dense of forest to manage a picture) and one of the tiniest doe I'd seen alone yet (if she was 65-lbs I'd be shocked!).

On the trip home, as I was about to cross the Decatur Bridge over the Hiwassee River, I spotted an osprey in nest and managed to snag a photo - albeit not very clear - who was checking me out to see if I was a threat.  The nests that these birds use are amazing and these raptors are simply gorgeous.

Even though plans get altered and things don't go they way they are always supposed to, there's still more to be said for a bad day of hiking that shames a good day in front of the tv or computer.

Go.  Play!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Next Big Trip

This weekend's backpacking trip was just enough to whet my appetite for more.  The Smokie's, like other great mountain chains, offer a variety of options.  Add to that the proximity to Nantahala, Cherokee, and Cohutta... and you have a hiker's heaven with lush areas to trek.  I've often considered what side of the US is the better to hike and I have an insatiable urge to test all of the epic areas out west... you know: Rocky Mountain National, Glacier (which is my fave and I want to LIVE there), Yosemite, Sierra Nevadas, Olypic National, Tetons... there are SO many places out there I want to go.  All of these places are dramatically different from what I have locally and while I may be green with envy for a few of those (Glacier and Yosemite, for starters!) I always try to remember that the range I have here is close, easily accessible, diverse, and ...HOME.

That being said, I know I have intent to go to the Rockies sometime soon (maybe next month?) and I know I'll be taking a trek to Glacier for a week or two (next year, I think) which leaves me ample time to plan a multi-day trek locally.

With so many different multi-day trails, I'm open to suggestions (either here or on Twitter using my handle: @Nicotye) but I'm thinking about doing the 16.5 mile Big Creek Loop in North Carolina.

What I'd LOVE to do is get my new Hyperlite Asym hammock first and then make my pops (whom i have aptly trailnamed: Methane Man) go with me.  

Sounds like fun unless you all have a better suggestion???

Go out and play!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Surviving My First Bear Charge

It was a perfect day.  The sky was blue and pocked with plump, lazy stratus clouds.  It was early, so the temperature was still tolerable.  It had rained the night before, so the trail was damp and perfect to keep your eyes peeled for tracks.  The damp leaves softened every footfall, so the sounds of the forest were alive.  We hiked the incline at a casual, deliberate pace.  Today, we had no set destination; we merely looked at what branched off the trail and, though we agreed that we'd take one specific trail if we made it that far, opted to take whatever trail looked the most inviting to us.

A quarter mile passed... half a mile... one mile... the incline leveled substantially.  We neared our first branch and stood for a moment, deliberating on how enticing it may be.  We'd never taken that specific trail, so there was promise of new adventure if we so wished it.  After a few minutes discussion, we decided to keep going and see what the next trail brought.

The main trail crosses over three mountain "streams" but, through the summer (excluding after rain) the creeks are normally barely flowing.  The recent rainfall didn't impact the creeks much, but it did leave potential for tracks.  At every creek, I would pause and inspect the forest floor, looking for tracks of bear, bobcat, deer, boar, and coyote.

We approached the third stream and I meandered over to it.  I heard a rustling in the forest on the hill above me.  My eyes immediately searched for the source of the scratching sounds.

"Jess," I said as I pointed up the hill, "cubs!"  Sure enough, two cubs were scrambling up a tree about 50 yards away.  They were taking it at quite a pace, too.  That, my friends, is NOT a good sign.  Bears climb trees for three reasons:  1) to escape perceived danger, 2) to get to some nuts or fruits, and 3) to rest or sleep.  When hiking, if you see cubs hauling bear tookey up a tree and you don't see momma in the bush, this can be a very bad sign.

"Awe! Yes," Jess replied, "oh look, there's momma!"

"Momma?!" my ears perked up and I leaned left to get a view from Jessica's vantage point.  She wasn't kidding.  We saw momma, NOT scrambling up a tree, and momma quite clearly saw us.  The following portion of the story will take far longer to tell than the encounter itself, but I swear to you, I will not embellish one thing.

Momma bear saw us and charged.  Immediately education and training kicked in; my hands were in the air, arms waving.  It's the equivalent of saying "I'm human" in bear.  She quickly closed the distance to 50 feet.  Jess's arms were in the air now, too.  We yelled 'HEY BEAR' as we waved.  She was charging down hill... this is worse than up hill because she's more inclined to follow through.  Momma bear closed the distance to 25 feet.  My yelling became more aggressive and loud - black bears respond to aggression (whereas a grizzly responds by becoming more aggressive).  She was 20 feet away.  I started snapping my camera with my right hand, aiming at nothing but hoping the flash would help make me look big and scary.  Now she was 15 feet away and I was reaching with my left hand for the bear spray.

Suddenly, she skidded... stopped.  She was somewhere between 10-12 feet away.  Her teeth were bared at us still, but at least she was stopped; behavioral signs indicating it was a bluff charge.  Still waving our arms and yelling at her, I told Jess quickly and quietly to very slowly step back.  We took a large but slow and deliberate step back.  Momma bear stood her ground.

"Back up another step, Jess."  We did.  Again, very slow and deliberate.  We had increased our distance between us and momma bear to about 15 feet.  She didn't realize it, but I was in the exact same mode that she was in: "if you threaten my child, I will attack and hurt you."

It was enough.  She turned and ran back up the hill to her awaiting cubs.  We stood our ground.  She gathered her cubs and they took off in the opposite direction.  Finally - after seconds that seemingly lasted hours - I was able to breathe.

"Jess," I said at last, "do you realize we were just bluff charged by a black bear?!"

Jess and I stood there for another 5 minutes, talking excitedly.  I glanced at the photos on my camera, not spending a lot of time on any as my adrenaline was pumping, and told Jess I didn't think I managed to snag her in any of the photos.  We continued to talk excitedly while we made our way to a backcountry unsanctioned camping area to sit and have a bite to eat.

We continued to talk over some trailmix and jerky and, on a whim, I wanted to look at the photos again.  I was calm now, and I was so very hopeful that I had managed to get even a shadow of her in one of the sure-to-be-out-of-focus pictures.  I hit the display on my camera and, right there she was.

Defensive Momma Black Bear after a bluff charge.  (Nic Pic)
How I missed it before can only be summed up by sheer adrenaline causing brain freeze.  In the photo in front of my eyes was an almost in focus, 10 feet away, teeth bared, pissed off and scared momma black bear.

I say it every time, but this is one of those cases that really brings it home: know everything about EVERYTHING where you plan to be.

Of note, I didn't manage to get a photo of the cubs.  I will report this sow and her cubs to the Cherokee National Forest rangers because this bear has been spotted by the trail 3 times in three weeks; twice by me.  I don't know if they will do what the Smoky's do (block the trail for awhile) because this is a wilderness area, but I should at least let them know that she is very active and consistently near the trail and that she has at least 2 cubs (she had 3 a couple weeks prior, but I can only verify a visualization of 2).

Now, go outside and have fun!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nothing But Water and Woods?

Today Jess and I hiked Big Frog Mountain in Polk County, Tennessee.  I was anxious for this trip as I knew it was black bear country (and boar country).  I haven't seen a black bear in a few years, the last two I saw were in Glacier National (Montana) and the only wild bear I have seen in Tennessee was ages ago (15 years?) and the bear was quite far from me.  My aspirations, today, were to see a black bear.

A view from Big Frog, by Nicotye
Jess and I left around 6 a.m. and hit the trail around 8.  Not quite 2 miles into the 10-mile-round-trip I hear something "hear us".  Normally, the most noisy creature in the woods is a squirrel.  I swear, I have watched a large buck run through the woods and make less noise than a squirrel rooting around for nuts.  Whatever heard us, however, wasn't a squirrel.

It was big.

It huffed... not a deer huff, but deeper.

My heart started racing.  I started fumbling, hands over my shoulders, with the top of my pack to get my camera.  It was still making noise and was in a thicket not 30 feet from us.  I told Jess, "my heart is pounding!"

As soon as I spoke, even though it was a low tone, the animal started to run.  Instinctively I listened for the direction it was running and realized almost instantly it was running away!  The trail went around a bend immediately in front of us and I took two huge strides - forgetting the camera - and rounded the corner just in time to see it.

Maybe 50 feet now to my left a large (well, it would have come to my waist, so large to me!) bear was high-tailing it down the mountain.  I watched him bound for about 10 strides and one jump before he was in underbrush too thick to see him.  I got a great look at him (granted, from behind).  His ears were, for the record, freaking adorable.

After my missed photo op of a bear's bum, I opted to strap my trekking poles to my pack and carry my camera.  Now, you know as well as I do, this is a big, fat JINX.  It worked flawlessly, too... at least against bear.

About 4 miles later the terrain had shifted slightly and I told Jess, "keep your eyes open, this is pristine rattler country."  Less than 40 steps later, I let out a loud, startled "WHOA!"

Jess quickly caught up.  "Mom? What is it?"

I pointed.

Six feet in front of us, what in my wonder-filled eyes did I see?

A HUGE effing rattler, about to see ME.

Sorry for the lamer poetry there, but I was startled.  Just last week I found a rattler, but there was one difference:  I had MEANT to find that one.  This one was being totally un-timber-like and laying, literally down the center of our 12" path.  He was large, too.   Every bit of 4-feet long and as big around as my fist.  No sooner had Jess let out a gasp of wonder (I hadn't let her see last week's specimen), the snake realized we were there.  It went into a mildly defensive "S", staring us down.  It didn't "RATTLE" but it 'buzzed' at us.  Not a "ch-ch-ch-chhhh" but a "zzzzzzz".

Timber Rattlesnake, photo by Nicotye
"Jess, back up a couple steps," I whispered. She immediately complied, as did I.

No sooner had she and I backed up, it laid it's head back down and started to slowly move off the trail.  There was one problem.  It moved off the trail by, at most, 2-feet... and it was parallel with the trail.  I may have cussed a bit.  Making up my mind that it had moved for a reason (to be out of our way), I told Jess to get behind me and, never turning my front or taking my eyes from the snake, we eased past it.  As soon as we were clear I told her to step it up and we walked a little faster for about 15 feet.  I cussed a little more and thanked all that was green and good that I hadn't brought my dog, LeiLui.  On the way to a destination, Lui is always out front; there's no doubt in mind she would have been bit and killed.  After that, I'll admit, I went a little paranoid.  I'd go so slow I was almost in reverse any time that I couldn't see the trail (it was overgrown in spots).

Jess asked, "What's your deal, mom?"

I explained to her over the next quarter that timbers were the bane of the pioneers.  They aren't aggressive by nature, but their venom packs a punch.  If you startled an adult, there's a 20% chance that, when they bite, they won't inject you with venom.  But 20% isn't odds that are high enough to bank on.  Timber's venom is highly toxic and deaths have been recorded.  Moreover, survival rates decrease based on two things:  amount of injected venom (only the snake knows, initially) and length of time before treatment.  I then asked her how, if I got bit, she was going to haul me off the mountain and get to a medical facility in a couple hours when it had taken us 4 hours to get that far, not including the 45 minute drive to the nearest city.

Her reply?

"Well, if you get near it, you'll hear it rattle first."  Comforting?  Not really.  I explained that timbers aren't actually known for their over-use of their rattle.  They rely on camouflage far more than their rattles.

"Then I'd leave you."  Less comforting.

"You'd leave me?!" I exclaimed.

"Well, I'd leave you and my pack and run down till I got cell signal and then call 911 and give them your GPS coordinates to fly in and get you."

It was a good thing I never got bit.  I checked on the way back and we didn't get signal once on the trail and, once back on the road, we didn't get signal until 35 miles later.

We hiked the rest of the trip, and the trip back in peace.  I did have to make a quick trek about .75 miles back in to find one of Jess's trekking poles that a tree had pick-pocketed (which, of course, we didn't figure out until we got to the trailhead).  Luckily, I was pack-free so I walked at a good 3.5 mile pace to her pole and, literally, jogged back.  Nothing like adding an extra mile-and-a-half mallwalker/jog to the end of your lengthy, 3000-foot-vertical-variance hike!

15 rattles on this timber!  (Nic Pic)
In all, totally exciting trip and a magnificent picture to boot.

Just in case you were wondering, the timber had 15 'rattles'... which does not indicate he was 15 years old (snake shed more than once a year).

As always, learn about the areas your hiking in... temperatures, elevation variances, terrain, and FAUNA.  Study the facts that help you to identify signs, tracks, scat, and behaviors.  In the end, seeing wildlife in the wild... is the most amazing thing you can do.

As always: GET OUT AND PLAY!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The World of MountainVision: Next up... "New Horse"

A Word From Nicotye: Never
Underestimate the opponent!
Anyone who knows me knows I don't watch TV (except for Nashville Predators hockey!).  So when I pipe up about watching a TV show, it's kind of a big deal.  Not much keeps me inside and glued to a  TV, but Expedition Impossible is an exception...

Want some insider, behind the scenes info from Expedition Impossible?  No worries! My bud, Jeff Evans (team No Limits) has a blog and gives you more info than the editors can let through in an hour (not to mention personal touches).

Never give up on team No Limits... Erik ("the blind guy") has done more amazing things than most of us could ever hope to do.  How anyone could count him out is beyond me.

The World of MountainVision: Next up... "New Horse": "crawl"

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Bucket List Desinations... it's about the JOURNEY

Everyone has a bucket list... some are experiences, some are destinations, some are skills or accomplishments.  My bucket list (aside from seeing my Preds play in every other team's barn) is made up of journeys in different places.  Most of my places are on the North American continent... which probably makes me a lucky girl.  Here, in no particular order, are my Bucket List Journeys:

Sierra National Forest
Photo belongs to Mike Jones
Who wouldn't want to visit Bull Buck, the second-largest tree on the planet? The Sierra National Forest has enough sequoias to make even giants feel small. Bull Buck, a 2,700-year-old tree, towers over 247 feet and I'm certain it will make me feel like I've tumbled through a rabbit hole into some magickal realm.  Located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, this California woodland’s hiking highlights includes John Muir WildernessAnsel Adams Wilderness and several others.

Grand Canyon National Park
Photo from
I grew up near the Grand Canyon and can't remember ever actually seeing it.  In my late 20's or early 30's, I remember flying west and the pilot pointed it out in the distance.  The setting sun glowed red and magickal over the earthen rock.  I'm dying to climb down a world famous gorge with a depth of about 6,000 feet (or 1 mile)... and equally dying to climb back UP.  I'm one of those weirdo's who prefers up or level to down. For those with the endurance and will, this hike is bound to be one of the greatest adventures of a lifetime. The government site about Grand Canyon National Park gives lifesaving pointers such as avoid huffing and puffing to ensure your body is getting enough oxygen during that arduous journey.

Yellowstone.  If ever there was a place on earth that was amazing due to geology, this would be it.  Home to one of the world’s super volcanoes (the one they made the TV show about that’s been dormant for about 640,000 years and due to blow it's top), this wilderness safe haven holds so many wonders!  Old Faithful Geyser. Even another active volcano. While the park’s geological attributes really provide no eminent threat, perhaps it does add a hint of danger to the trek while weaving through trails overflowing with the highest concentration of mammals in the lower 48.

Glacier National Park
I've been to Glacier but didn't get to hike.  It was October (and I had one, rainy day to get a view of the park).  I remember Logan's Pass (I think?) was closed already.   Glacier National Park looks like the Swiss Alps without having to travel so far. Breath taking views along the Going-to-the-sun-road. Watching the sunrise over the gorgeous mountains. Hiking some of the most beautiful trails in the United States. The best part is the park is hardly ever crowded because it's way up in northern Montana about 45 miles from the Canadian border.  I can't wait to go again, and staying in White Fish, MT was a blast all by itself!  Did I mention I met my first real cowboy in here?  I love this place.

Grand Tetons

Photo from - Visit them!
I think the Grand Tetons are the most photographed mountains in the US.  There are a magnitude of trails and so many rumored, hidden qualities of the peaks and canyons. One look at Painbrush Canyon and I'm always willing to pack my bags.

Denali National Park

Denali, Care of
And then, there's Denali.  Never has a single mountain called to me like Mount McKinley and the Denali Range.  I've loved that mountain since I was a kid and, while I have no plans to summit that beast, I'm sure that one day I will hike it's base and trails.  Snow capped peaks are my very favorite and the amazing spring/summer in Denali is guaranteed to please.  The park is massive, the wildlife is amazing, the rangers are helpful (they provide bear canisters and teach you want to do during bear encounters) and the views are nothing short of enchanting.