I’m not a big fan of “Wish Lists.” I understand them, and even have one myself; there is something to be said for sacrificing a little mystery (I wonder what is in that package?) for some assurance that your gift will actually be welcomed. Still, I’m old-fashioned. I think there are few things better than seeing a friend or family-member open a gift that delights and surprises.
If you have a hiker or backpacker on your list, here are five items I own that have delighted me over the years. Perhaps, among these, you will find a solution to one of your gift-giving puzzles.
Patagonia Capilene® Thermal Weight Zip-Neck Hoody. Every time I wear this I keep thinking that I’ll need to change the batteries in it someday – it is that warm. And the hood makes it perfect for wearing in a sleeping bag that is a few degrees cooler than the current temperature demands. It comes in men’s and women’s, and the colors are quite attractive. (I have the “Smolder Blue.”)
Classic Hikes of the World: 23 Breathtaking Treks by Peter Potterfield. I’ve owned this book for more than a decade and find myself re-reading portions several times a year. It’s a coffee-table book, but when I first received it I read it cover-to-cover. If you are looking to rekindle your enthusiasm for hiking in the middle of winter, there is no better place to look. In case you were wondering, the John Muir Trail is the first trek described.
REI Flexlite Chair. I’ve sung the praises of this little guy before, and since then have bought one for my wife. Some of our best hiking memories are of us sitting side-by-side enjoying a meal and a view. Like everything in your backpack, this chair will force you to do a cost-benefit analysis. But, if you are of a certain age where sitting on log, a boulder, or the ground is hard on your back (and backside), you just might find the extra couple of pounds worth it. Check it out here.
Born In Yosemite by Peter T. Hoss. Most John Muir Trail hikers fall in love with the Sierra Nevada before they fall in love with the trail, and many of those first experience the Sierra in Yosemite. This combination of memoir and history truly gives readers an inside look – both small- and big-picture – at Yosemite National Park and how we got the current mixed results in our attempt to preserve it. Mr. Hoss has an appreciation of this beautiful place that comes from a perspective few have.
Patagonia Capilene® Lightweight T-Shirt. I’m no gym rat, but three times a week you’ll find me in our fitness center slogging through a aerobic & anaerobic routine. Over the years I’ve worn probably fifty different shirts. These days I’m down to three (one blue, one red, one green) Patagonia tee-shirts, made out of what was then called Capilene 1. For me, there is nothing better. I actually bought these shirts for hiking more than a decade ago, and continue to wear them as an outer-garment on the trail in warm weather, or as a base layer in cooler weather. They are comfortable, light as a feather, and are tailored so that they don’t look like a potato sack with three holes cut in them. They seem impervious to wear. They come in men’s and women’s versions.
Good hiking, Ray
Finishing a John Muir Trail hike is something to be proud of. Judging by the email I get from readers, there are many backpackers out there who may only do one long-distance hike in their lives: the JMT. That is even more of a reason to supplement the photos and memories with something a bit more…ornamental.
Enter the John Muir Trail hiking medallion.
Elegant, substantial, and about three-and-a-half inches wide, the JMT version depicts the trace of the trail itself, mileage and elevation gain, a pithy John Muir quote, and an etched portrayal of the Painted Lady (in the Rae Lakes area of the hike). More refined than a shot glass and longer lasting than a tee-shirt, the medallion’s weight and motif is anything but kitschy. This is a piece of micro-art that would look great in your den, office, or family room.
The man behind the design is Wim Schalken, an IT professional, accomplished trail-runner, and backpacker. He is also giving back to the hiking community by pledging to contribute 10% of revenue to the organizations listed below.
Backpacking magazine was so impressed with his design and generosity that they donated a full-color, half-page advertisement for his little enterprise.
Unless you are a four-season backpacker, these next few months are a great time to not only plan next year’s adventures, but to reflect on the past year’s successes. Hang one of these somewhere visible from where you do your planning and I can almost guarantee you will be inspired!
Good hiking, Ray
Note: I feel obligated to point out that I do not have a financial interest in Wim’s venture; any funds sent his way go strictly to him and the organizations I listed above.
Note: as I always feel compelled to do, I should point out that I do not have any financial interest in this undertaking – just an appreciation for good work done for the right intentions.
For what I would hope are obvious reasons, I have a lot of sympathy for those who try to earn a few extra bucks by providing something valuable for fellow backpackers. In the past I’ve recommended Erik the Black, Inga Aksamit, as well as host of other micro-businesses. In that vein, Id like to introduce you to Dr. Ray Kenny, a professionally registered geologist and professor of Geology at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. (Note: I have visited that school; my step-daughter had it on her list of candidates during the summer between her junior and senior years in high school. The campus is gorgeous!)
Dr. Kenny and his wife did a thirty-one day trip in the Sierra Nevada last year that included much of the John Muir Trail and many side trips. That inspired him to create some tee shirts, each with a pithy aphorism attributed to John Muir himself, as well as some of his own original art. My two favorite appear on this page, but all of them are terrific.
If it’s time for a new tee-shirt, why not check out one of these:
Good hiking, Ray
Many of us who have hiked – or intend to hike – the John Muir Trail can’t quite get enough information about that glorious stretch of the Sierra Nevada. We have collections of books and magazines, new and not-so-new, that we like to amble through when we are unable to amble down the trail itself.
If you are going to start your own collection, begin with John Dittli’s Walk the Sky. It is readily available at Amazon and, for those of you reading this during the holidays, it makes a terrific present for anyone interested in the JMT.
If you are willing to dig a little deeper, consider hitting the internet (or a local used bookstore) for the April 1989 issue of National Geographic (volume 175, number 4). Look for the loon on the cover.
Within its pages you will find an article by the writer, photographer, and adventurer Galen Rowell. For more than two-dozen pages he describes a mid-winter quest to ski and hike from the summit of Mount Whitney to Happy Isles.
While Ansel Adams is doubtlessly the first photographer that comes to mind when one thinks of the Sierra Nevada, Rowell (1940 – 2002) is not far behind. And because he was an accomplished climber (he is credited with a number of first ascents), Rowell’s photos are often taken from a vantage point unreachable by Adams. If you are looking to kill a little time before or after your JMT hike, an hour or two spent at his Mountain Light gallery, in Bishop, California, would be time well spent.
The article in the magazine is called, Along the High, Wild Sierra. There is a lot within it to enjoy, but I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that they travelled 160 miles on the trail without seeing anyone. It took them a little over two weeks to make the trek.
Although the depictions of life on the trail in deep winter were interesting, Rowell’s account of how his mother, Margaret Avery, introduced him to the Range of Light, and inadvertently (or, perhaps, intentionally) set him on a path he would follow for the rest of his life were fascinating, probably because I, too, can credit my mother with introducing me to the mountains. Avery was quite the adventurer in her own right, and was the first to reach the summit of the Hermit, which towers over the Evolution Valley.
If you can’t find an actual copy of the magazine, all back issues of National Geographic are available to subscribers.
Good hiking, Ray
Ho ho ho!
Here are ten items that might be the perfect gift for the hiker you know. Otherwise, bookmark this entry and come back to it when it’s time to spend your Christmas money!
- Is your hiker a bit of an artist or a diarist with elegant penmanship? Then one of these journals (which are a little pricey, but nice) would be a gift that could be filled during a big hike and then browsed through for a lifetime. The small size (4 x 5) would be about perfect.
- If you are going to spend more than $50 on a journal for your artist hiker, you might as well toss in a set of these.
- Like the idea of a journal, but looking to spend a little less. I’ve carried these for years.
- Does your friend carry a monogrammed towel on the trail because, to do otherwise, just wouldn’t be right? Then you need a matching monogrammed Nalgene bottle, right?
- How do you make sure the total ISN”T more than the sum of the parts? Use a scale for every single item.
- You know that compass in your iPhone? You really should have a back-up. I doubt you’ll find one lighter than this.
- Okay…trivia question: what non-electronic signaling device has the longest range? Flares? Smoke? Whistle? Nope, one of these. (But not at midnight.)
- Got to have one of these, because, if there are no photos, it didn’t happen!
- The gram-counters will tell you that this is unnecessary – and they’re right. But it’s kind of neat, anyway.
- Your JMT hiker will love one of these, even in the dead of winter. Even better, have it framed!
Good luck with your shopping and have a wonderful (and safe) holiday.
Good hiking, Ray
Feel free to pick and choose, one or more. Just click on the photo, download, and transfer to your phone. Enjoy!
- The Hiker’s Mini Journal for just $5.95. From the very cool company called Journal Unlimited this 160 page journal is perfect for the trail and even contains prompts, like what scenery or fauna you saw or what equipment you should or should not have left behind.
- Wool/Nylon/Lycra Socks for less than $10 a pair. My experience has been that 75% Merino wool combined with 24% nylon and 1% Lycra make for a very durable sock that will last a long time, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear the same socks forever. Why not get him or her some new ones?
- Mountain Hardware Dome Perignon hat for $36. Guaranteed to keep your head warm on those cold Sierra Nevada nights (are there any other kind?). Particularly appropriate for the oenophile who also happens to be a hiker.
- Black Diamond Spot Headlamp for $40. Great light with all the necessary features, like a lock to keep it from coming on accidently in your bag or pocket, and bright colors so that you can find it in the dark without a light.
- Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner for $60. Layers are a great way to keep warm outside the sleeping bag, why not use them inside?
Need more ideas? Try this terrific list from Inga Aksmit.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Good hiking, Ray
One doesn’t often brush up against near perfection. My encounters have been limited to the feel of the chef’s knife I bought in Heidelberg a dozen years ago, the experience of a Beethoven symphony magnificently conducted, the spectacle of standing at Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park during a clearing storm…
…and a book about the mountains I love.
The book is called “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada.” It was written and illustrated by the aptly named John Muir Laws.
How can a little book achieve near perfection? It does so through elegance, usability, beauty, and its encyclopedic scope. Like the chef’s knife I mention up above, it’s both a work of art and exactly the right tool for the job.
The book can’t really be described as small (it runs 8.75 inches by 4.5 inches by .8 inch, and weighs 17.5 ounces), but it makes good use of every page. There is more information per square inch in this volume than in any field guide I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.
Flip through the pages and the first thing you’ll notice are the illustrations–more than 2,700 of them. Each was hand sketched and painted by Mr. Laws, himself. I’ll confess to treating the book like a museum catalog or a fine art, coffee table book. I’ll open it and admire the gentle curve introduced to the stem of the fairy lantern (page 73), the way the great basin fritillary appears to be ready to leap off the page (page 169), or the, “Hey, what are YOU looking at!” scowl on the face of the snowshoe hare (page 311).
Each illustration is surrounded by small nuggets of text that help you to identify what you’ve found, and occasionally you’ll get even more. For example, you’ll learn that the viper heat-sensing pits on a northern pacific rattlesnake can detect temperature changes as small as 0.003 degrees centigrade. (Or, in other words, you’re unlikely to sneak past one that is coiled next to the trail.)
Taking It Outdoors
If you were to buy the book for the sole purpose of leafing through it in search of such delights, it would be money well spent. But the real genius of its design is revealed when you take it outdoors.
Open the cover and you’ll find a colorful, user-friendly table of contents, which, when combined with the colors that bleed to the fore-edge, make navigating to the proper section (there are nine) quick and easy.
The first eight sections cover fungi & lichens; trees & shrubs, vines & ferns; wildflowers; spiders, insects & other small animals (think crayfish or snails); fish; amphibians & reptiles; birds; and mammals.
The ninth is a real gem-within-a-gem. It contains illustrations and text that will help you identify animals by their tracks and scat, galls (small outgrowths on plants where insects lay eggs), four star charts (one for each season), and even a couple of pages on how to predict weather in the Sierra Nevada.
The user-friendly organization continues after you’ve moved directly to the appropriate section.
Assume, for a moment, you are trying to identify a particular wildflower you have found along the trail. It has four petals and is orange in color. On the first two pages of the wildflower section you quickly zero in on the section for four-petal flowers. A split second later you see that the orange ones are described on page 113. It’s taken you all of about three seconds to find exactly the right illustrations, in a book of nearly 400 pages, to identify your flower.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Taking this book on your John Muir Trail hike will certainly not appeal to everyone. Those of you with a ten-pound base weight, cooking over a stove made from a Diet Coke can, and carrying Cuban-carbon-titanium-anti-gravity whatchamacallits are no doubt staggered that I would even suggest it, but suggest it I will.
I’m stunned and a bit shamed by my own ignorance of the places I’ve hiked though. Carrying this seventeen-and-a-half ounce package of near perfection, and some exploration along the trail, will be my first step in correcting that problem.
Good hiking, Ray