News and notes from the Great Wide Open…
You might remember a post I made early last week about “Yuppie 911.” This is a growing problem where people use personal emergency beacons, like SPOT locators and avalanche beacons, to get themselves out of uncomfortable (but not emergency) situations or take on adventures beyond their abilities.
One incident profiled in the story I posted reported a group of hikers in the Grand Canyon pushed the button on their beacon three times in a relatively short period of time because they thought they were lost; they thought they would run out of water; and they thought the water they later filtered “tasted salty.” Each time they used their device, search and rescue teams — both on the ground and in a helicopter — responded at great risk to themselves and expense to their organizations.
Definitely an abuse of the system. But these hikers should be glad the Grand Canyon isn’t in New Hampshire.
According to an Associated Press story I read on the Aspen Times Web site, New Hampshire authorities will bill you for the cost of search and rescue, even if you truly were in a pinch.
One guy there sprained an ankle and was out on is own in the cold for three days. He did everything he could to self-rescue, and was even praised for his resourcefulness by rescue authorities who went looking for him. And then the state handed him a bill for the cost of his rescue: $25,734.65.
New Hampshire is one of eight states that have laws allowing for the billing of rescue costs, the AP reported. But it would appear New Hampshire is the only one that’s pretty serious about enforcing it.
On the surface, it seems like it might not be a bad idea. People who do really stupid things and get themselves into trouble or, in the Grand Canyon hiker case, those who needlessly call on rescue services, should have some consequence to their behavior, right?
Not so fast, some say. The same AP story said there is one constituency that is opposed to policies like New Hampshire’s: the rescue personnel.
Their take? If people go into the backcountry knowing they’ll be billed for rescue services, they’ll be hesitant to call for help when they really need it. Or they’ll just avoid states with such policies altogether.
I’d hate to think someone would hesitate to call for help in the event of a crisis because they feared getting billed thousands of dollars. Creating such indecision in unforgiving places where indecision can kill just doesn’t sound like a good idea. But then again, what do we do about Yuppie 911 cases?
Food for thought, folks. Wouldn’t mind hearing some opinions on that one.
Looking for an outdoor adventure with a different angle? Like maybe finding hidden treasure? Check out this link. Good story, good photos and a different tack on having fun outside.
A few news and notes from the great outdoors…
Had some comments on the issue of “Yuppie 911,” where people use emergency beacons frivolously or, worse yet, try things in the outdoors beyond their skills. Here’s what Out There reader Trent Riley had to say:
“I read this a few days ago on 14ers forum, it’s so lame that people would do such a thing. I mean really, how could you not feel like an idiot for doing something like that. It cracks me up to this day when I see some of the people in the mountains that have no idea or seem to at least have no idea what safety is. The whole incident seemed outrageous and it’s sad people will rely on others to help them through their wilderness experience. To me, having a helicopter bring you water because you thought your water was salty takes the point of adventure out of hiking/climbing. Very glad you posted something on this, keep up the great work.”
Thanks for the comments. I think there’s a lot of people who would agree.
I got some good comments from another forum concerning Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area and Mount Mitchell. From the 14ers.com forum, here’s a few words from current and former Okies who have shared similar experiences in the Wichitas:
“Wow, that brings back a lot of memories. When I was in high school my dad lived in Lawton, so every other weekend my brother and I would go see him. We spent most of our time hiking and camping in the Wichitas. It sure would be nice to swing by there again. And of course we always ate at Meers.”
You’re going to see a theme here…
“I was born in Oklahoma, so I could be close to my Mom. When I turned 18, I moved to Golden, Colorado, and never looked back. I visited the Wichita Wildlife Refuge to climb several times. It is pretty cool considering it is in Oklahoma. The rock is very solid, and there are tons of natural features to climb. The ratings are a bit soft if you ask me, and make you feel like a hard man. I have several fond memories of eating a Meersburger after climbing, a culinary item that is definitely bigger than my head. Friends and I used to hang out there during high school to get away from OKC. If you love to climb and are anywhere near the place, check it out — it is really cool. Don’t forget to get a food/culture dose in Meers!”
Looks like we have a couple votes for the Meersbuger at the Meers Store. Count me in! Interesting word on how Oklahoma routes are classified. Wonder if anyone feels the same way. Anyway, some more suggestions about the wilderness…
“Nice trip report. Looks like your route was a little different than the one Barry and I did on SP. (Sunset Peak?) Another one of my favorite hikes is the Sunset Peak traverse. We do that one several times over the winter and early spring. It is quite a bit easier than Mitchell, but it is still almost all bushwhack. The nice thing about peaks like Mitchell and Sunset is you hardly ever see other people that far back in the wilderness.”
Sunset Peak is on my list. From what I could see, I’d have to agree. It doesn’t look as difficult as Mitchell. And this poster is correct: Few people venture into this part of the Wichitas, and my group saw no other signs of human activity. Thanks for your comments, everyone.
Take a look at the map and you won’t see many wild places left in Oklahoma.
Sure, there’s plenty of rural places. Remote, even. But wild? Not really.
Despite the abundance of wildlife — deer, coyotes, gamefowl and even bear — the fact is that just about any place in the state is accessible by road or trail. Most of it is privately owned. If you want to find a truly wild place, it takes some doing.
One of those spots is in the far western reaches of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area, with only a couple of lonely trails going through it. Where the main trail ends is where Oklahoma’s most remote peak — Mount Mitchell — begins.
Rugged and remote
The Wichitas boast a number of small granite peaks, some more famous or prominent than others. You can drive to the top of Mount Scott, the range’s monarch that overlooks Lawton. Elk Mountain is a popular hiking destination. Several others are accessible through various trail loops.
Mount Mitchell is another story. A large topographical map at the refuge’s visitor center doesn’t include it among the refuge’s named peaks, though its height rivals that of nearby Sunset Peak and Granite Mountain (Mount Mitchell is a somewhat unofficial name). There are no trails leading to its summit. And approaching the mountain requires off-trail bushwhacking that is a bit beyond what most casual hikers are ready to commit to.
I first saw this peak last year on a hike/climb of Crab Eyes, a curious formation that stands guard over Styx Canyon. My hiking buddy, Johnny Hunter, looked toward the mountain and said, simply, “Now that looks rugged.”
Months later, while doing some research on the Wichitas, I ran into a write-up on summitpost.org that described the mountain. Among its features: numerous Class 3 and 4 routes on its west ridge and Class 5 climbing on its north face.
An infatuation was born.
There are places to climb in Oklahoma, and we have some mountains. But few Oklahoma mountains exist that cannot be hiked. I wanted more. Mount Mitchell offered. There was no hiking up this one. You had to climb it.
Johnny and his sister, Ouida Plumlee, went with me on this one. Both have hiked a lot in the Wichitas, but never to Mitchell. We could have gone there more easily had we stayed on Prospector Trail, but we took a detour to Crab Eyes, then bushwhacked off-trail through Styx Canyon. If you like difficult, off-trail terrain, the canyon’s thick woods, briars and boulders will reward you. Otherwise, stick to the trail and steer clear of this scenic but rugged canyon.
Eventually, we exited the canyon and hit flatter ground that met up with the main trail. But we couldn’t stay there long. The mountain was just past a small, rocky ridge and some thick woods and underbrush. A few minutes of navigating that tangle brought us to the foot of the mountain.
What little information on the mountain I found said it has Class 3 and 4 routes along its west ridge. Its north face was mostly Class 5, which would require use of ropes and other climbing gear. We picked a ravine on the northwest side of the peak to begin the ascent.
The trickiest climbing started just above the base. We scrambled up some boulders, but finding no real “footing,” we had to resort to some low-grade bouldering, searching for handholds and footholds on the rocks and slabs that littered the ravine. The rock was solid and grippy.
(One note here on exposure: For the most part, you can avoid large, vertical dropoffs. But clinging to the rocks and navigating the traverses leaves you exposed to shorter but equally dangerous falls back into other rocks below or into narrow crevasses that can be up to 30 feet deep.)
Once we got into the heart of ravine, the climbing got easier, with only a few Class 3 moves needed before heading west on a mildly exposed ledge that led toward the summit ridge.
From here, there was a choice of routes leading to the western highpoint of the mountain. I purposely looked for some of the more difficult routes, but nothing too scary. Soon, however, the true summit came into view, still about 50 vertical feet above us.
From here, you have three choices. First, go back west and take an easy walk-up route to the summit block, where just a couple of boulder scrambles are needed to attain the summit. Second, you can go east, then find a deep crack in the rock and go through that for a more direct route to the top. Third, keep going west and climb up to a narrow, downward-sloped and highly exposed ledge that circles up toward the top. I took the second option, a nice compromise between the first and the third.
The crack was narrow — too narrow to walk through normally. So I ditched my pack there and slipped in sideways, shuffling about 50 feet until I hit a 15- to 20-foot Class 4 chimney that went straight up. Thankfully, the rock had good holds. I had to do my best Spiderman impression to get up the walls, and there’s a small boulder wedged in the crack that is not stable. But a short bit of fun climbing there gave me access to the summit block.
It was a breezy day, and at the summit the winds were quite strong. Despite that, the views begged us to linger. To the east, we could see Granite Mountain. North was Sunset Peak. Slightly northeast, we could make out Crab Eyes, Mount Lincoln and the broad plateau of Elk Mountain. A westward glance gives you views of the Quartz Mountains and the plains beyond.
Ouida’s knees weren’t feeling so swift, so she opted to stay off the peak. Johnny and I hoped to find an easier route down than the one we chose to ascend.
We failed miserably.
Johnny decided to scout what looked like gentler slopes to the east. I had to go back west to retrieve my pack. So that meant downclimbing the chimney, sliding through the split and emerging from the other side. I hoped to take a shortcut to meet Johnny on the east side, but quickly cliffed out. Luckily, I was able to reverse direction and climb out of the mess I was in and eventually meet back up with Johnny 15 minutes later.
Everything further east from where we ascended looked too steep to descend without rappelling down. We didn’t plan to do any technical Class 5 stuff, so we didn’t bring equipment for a rappel. Eventually we found a different, but more difficult ravine for our descent. Included in that was an interesting chimney climb down that eventually led to easier ground and an exit off this complicated and wild mountain.
Like most of the Wichitas, there are plenty of opportunities to test your climbing abilities here. The refuge is filled with highly technical routes for climbers more seasoned than me. But many of those places have plenty of easier hiking for those not wanting to climb. Mount Mitchell is not one of those places. For that, I’m grateful.
How to get there: Take State Highway 49 into the refuge. Drive west until you get to the access road that takes you to Elk Mountain’s western parking lot. Hike 3.5 miles southwest on Prospector Trail through the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area. Once you’re clear of the neighboring ridges, hike off-trail toward the mountain.
Route classifications: Class 1 is easy to moderate hiking; Class 2 is difficult or off-trail hiking; Class 3 is scrambling (hands needed to ascend); Class 4 is climbing, with some preferring to use rope; Class 5 is technical climbing where rope and other safety equipment is needed.
I read this recently, and I have to admit I had a bit of outrage well up inside me. Summary: People are using SPOT locators or similar electronic devices for non-emergency bailouts in the backcountry or, worse yet, attempting activities (hiking, climbing, etc.) that are beyond their skill or experience levels. Hitting the panic button can send search and rescue crews out on lengthy, pricey and risky rescues which, if this trend continues, are increasingly unnecessary.
Much of the talk I’ve seen about this story goes something like this: People who ask for rescue and don’t need it should be fined or billed. Same goes for people who are reckless in the outdoors. In either case, they’re putting their lives, their companions’ lives, and the safety of rescue crews at risk.
I can’t say I disagree.
Read on, and feel free to share your thoughts.
Tired from a tough hike? Rescuers fear ‘Yuppie 911’
By TRACIE CONE Associated Press Writer
FRESNO, Calif. — Last month two men and their teenage sons tackled one of the world’s most unforgiving summertime hikes: the Grand Canyon’s parched and searing Royal Arch Loop. Along with bedrolls and freeze-dried food, the inexperienced backpackers carried a personal locator beacon—just in case.
In the span of three days, the group pushed the panic button three times, mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues inside the steep canyon walls.
What was that emergency? The water they had found to quench their thirst “tasted salty.”
If they had not been toting the device that works like Onstar for hikers, “we would have never attempted this hike,” one of them said after the third rescue crew forced them to board their chopper. It’s a growing problem facing the men and women who risk their lives when they believe others are in danger of losing theirs.
Technology has made calling for help instantaneous even in the most remote places. Because would-be adventurers can send GPS coordinates to rescuers with the touch of a button, some are exploring terrain they do not have the experience, knowledge or endurance to tackle.
Rescue officials are deciding whether to start keeping statistics on the problem, but the incidents have become so frequent that the head of California’s Search and Rescue operation has a name for the devices: Yuppie 911.
“Now you can go into the back country and take a risk you might not normally have taken,” says Matt Scharper, who coordinates a rescue every day in a state with wilderness so rugged even crashed planes can take decades to find. “With the Yuppie 911, you send a message to a satellite and the government pulls your butt out of something you shouldn’t have been in in the first place.”
From the Sierra to the Cascades, Rockies and beyond, hikers are arming themselves with increasingly affordable technology intended to get them out of life-threatening situations.
While daring rescues are one result, very often the beacons go off unintentionally when the button is pushed in someone’s backpack, or they are activated unnecessarily, as in the case of a woman who was frightened by a thunderstorm.
“There’s controversy over these devices in the first place because it removes the self sufficiency that’s required in the back country,” Scharper says. “But we are a society of services, and every service you need you can get by calling.”
The sheriff’s office in San Bernardino County, the largest in the nation and home to part of the unforgiving Death Valley, hopes to reduce false alarms. So it is studying under what circumstances hikers activate the devices.
“In the past, people who got in trouble self-rescued; they got on their hands and knees and crawled out,” says John Amrhein, the county’s emergency coordinator. “We saw the increase in non-emergencies with cell phones: people called saying ‘I’m cold and damp. Come get me out.’ These take it to another level.”
Personal locator beacons, which send distress signals to government satellites, became available in the early 1980s, but at a price exceeding $1,200. They have been legal for the public to use since 2003, and in the last year the price has fallen to less than $100 for devices that send alerts to a company, which then calls local law enforcement.
When rescue beacons tempt inexperienced hikers to attempt trails beyond their abilities, that can translate into unnecessary expense and a risk of lives.
Last year, the beacon for a hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail triggered accidentally in his backpack, sending helicopters scrambling. Recently, a couple from New Bruswick, British Columbia activated their beacon when they climbed a steep trail and could not get back down. A helicopter lowered them 200 feet to secure footing.
In September, a hiker from Placer County was panning for gold in New York Canyon when he became dehydrated and used his rescue beacon to call for help.
With darkness setting in on the same day, Mono County sheriff’s deputies asked the National Guard for a high-altitude helicopter and a hoist for a treacherous rescue of two beacon-equipped hikers stranded at Convict Lake. The next day they hiked out on foot.
When eight climbers ran into trouble last winter during a summit attempt of Mt. Hood in Oregon, they called for help after becoming stranded on a glacier in a snowstorm.
“The question is, would they have decided to go on the trip knowing the weather was going bad if they had not been able to take the beacons,” asks Rocky Henderson of Portland Mountain Rescue. “We are now entering the Twilight Zone of someone else’s intentions.”
The Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch loop, the National Park Service warns, “has a million ways to get into serious trouble” for those lacking skill and good judgment. One evening the fathers-and-sons team activated their beacon when they ran out of water.
Rescuers, who did not know the nature of the call, could not launch the helicopter until morning. When the rescuers arrived, the group had found a stream and declined help.
That night, they activated the emergency beacon again. This time the Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter, which has night vision capabilities, launched into emergency mode.
When rescuers found them, the hikers were worried they might become dehydrated because the water they found tasted salty. They declined an evacuation, and the crew left water.
The following morning the group called for help again. This time, according to a park service report, rescuers took them out and cited the leader for “creating a hazardous condition” for the rescue teams.
I was sitting here at work, and outside the office window I saw a huge gathering of Boy Scouts enjoying their annual Camporee. Many of them pitched tents and camped the night in the grassy areas that surround OPUBCO’s north Oklahoma City office complex. Dare I say, it got me thinking about camping!
There are times when I’ve thoroughly enjoyed camping. Then there’s other times when I’ve been pretty miserable. When it’s the latter, is usually has something to do with overnight temperatures or heavy rain. But there’s been plenty of times where less-than-ideal campsite conditions have made life hard on me or the people I’ve camped with.
Again, with the help of sectionhiker.com and a few of my own observations, come some ideas when it comes to backcountry campsite selection:
- Be near a water source. But not too near. You don’t want to be forced to haul in all your water for drinking or cooking if you can help it. So a campsite with a nearby stream or clean lake – combined with a good water filter – is a must. Be sure not to camp too close, however. Stay about 100 to 200 feet away so as not to accidentally pollute it.
- Stay clear of natural hazards. You don’t want to be in the fall line of loose rocks or potential avalanches. Likewise, you also don’t want to hunker down in a place prone to flash floods or, in seaside locations, vulnerable to high tides.
- Look for a debris-free site. Protruding rocks, roots, branches or other debris can make for a rough night. Nothing worse then trying to sleep with a rock jamming into your back. Clear the site as best as you can.
- Camp as level as possible. If you can’t find level ground, find the gentlest incline you can. Sleep with your head at the high point.
- Consider wind conditions. If you’re out in the open, you may be exposed to high winds. If your shelter is sturdy and you think you can ride it out, give it a shot. If not, seek shelter from the wind.
- Lastly, consider water runoff. In the event of heavy rain, a dry-looking campsite could collect standing water and flood your tent. Ever try sleeping in a soggy sleeping bag? Don’t. It’s not fun. A few years ago, I was with a party of 10 in the backcountry. Two sets of people camped in what turned out to be a bit of a gully. When the rains persisted for much of the day, it made for a wet evening for those four guys.
Not that I had great sleep. My brother and I were camped right over a previously unseen rock which rose right in the middle of my back.
I’ve had better luck lately, and in some cases, I made hard ground softer by moving dead leaves and pine boughs over the place where I chose to pitch my tent. Now if I could just figure out that whole sleeping in the cold thing…
Anyone interested in doing an Out There meet-up for a hike? Let me know. Message me here or e-mail me. If enough people want to give it a go, I’ll work something up.
Picture this: You’re hiking on the shore of a river in a deep canyon, and suddenly you’re confronted with a cliff and no way around it. You can’t climb the cliff, but you need to continue on. You look across the river and you see a wide bank that should make for easy traveling.
The only problem: a swift river with rocks, overhanging tree limbs and rough spots. It’s 50 yards wide, and you can’t see the bottom. Do you know how to navigate this problem?
I’ve faced a similar issue before. More on that later. For now, let me share some really good advice I found on sectionhiker.com.
Fording rivers and streams is always a major challenge for overland travelers, especially in the backcountry. Depending on the time of year, the weather and the terrain, rivers can change. Even in a single stretch, you can have alternately swift and slow spots, deep pools and shallow riffles. Normally, you can’t see the bottom to know what you’re stepping on or into. And without fail, the bottom is slippery.
The main danger: being swept under, trapped underwater, and drowning. Walking through a river might not look as dramatically dangerous as climbing vertical rock, but it can be quite risky. So here’s some tips from sectionhiker.com:
- Scout the river for a good spot to cross. Really look it over, finding rocks or islands you can hop to, obstacles to avoid and swift portions that could be dangerous. A current traveling 20 mph at knee level is more than strong enough to knock you off your feet.
- Release your pack. If you’re wearing a backpack, unbuckle the hip belt and the chest strap. If you fall in, the extra weight and volume of the pack will make it much more difficult to regain your feet or swim. Better to let that pack slip off your shoulders than drag you under if you fall.
- Good boots or water shoes are best for river crossings. Sandals, for the most part, don’t provide any better traction and far less protection for your feet.
- Look for “strainers.” Strainers are low-hanging branches, pieces of wood or other obstacles overhanging the banks. Don’t cross upstream of these. If you do and slip, the current could take you into one of these, where you could be trapped between the strainer and the current. The current will eventually push you underwater and trap you there.
- Look for chokepoints. These are narrow, deep sections of a river where the current picks up speed and the water level tends to be deeper. Don’t cross here. The current will be too strong and could sweep you off your feet.
- Eddies can be helpful. Water in eddies moves slowly, and if the water isn’t too deep eddies can be a good place to stop and rest during an arduous river crossing.
- Examine rocks and waves. Water downstream from a rock moves slower than other places, and like eddies, can be a good place to stop and rest. “Standing waves” are similar — they are places where water is rushing over an obstacle, like a rock, giving the appearance of a wave. I’d say be careful here, though, as these can also hide deep pools. Whatever you do, don’t cross over the whitewater portion of a standing wave. This is where the water is moving the fastest.
- Use your trekking poles or some other walking stick. This will give you three to four points of contact with the river bed, not just two. A pole will allow you to probe the ground in front of you so you can identify deep holes, obstacles or shallower places to cross.
- Cross as a group. If there’s two of you, one person can lead and break the current while the person behind follows. By linking arms, you can help each other stay upright. If there’s three of you, form a triangle. These are even more stable than a single line.
I use a lot of these techniques during water crossings. I also found, when crossing the Gunnison River in Colorado, that it’s smart to mark your crossing if you plan on going back the way you came. I did this by building a small cairn (a man-made, conspicuous rockpile) from rocks I found on the shore.
One mistake people make, in trying to keep their feet dry, is hopping from dry point to dry point at any cost. It’s a good way to get stranded in many cases. Sometime you just have to find the gentlest part of the stream and walk through it. That way, you get moving quickly and avoid the possibility of losing your balance and falling in the river, or worse yet, hitting your head on a rock.
My two cents, in addition to some great info from sectionhiker.com.
Got any other thoughts? Respond here or e-mail me.
Ah, to have young legs again. Knees that don’t creak, swell and ache. I imagine a few of you know what I’m talking about.
I’ve been busy doing somewhat athletic things since I was in high school, and upped the intensity quite a bit since my 30s. But just like the parts on a machine, sometimes your body’s joints wear down.
Those aching joints can make fun jaunts over open terrain seem more daunting as we age. Especially the steep inclines going up and down.
Fear not, creaky traveler. Good news awaits.
A few years ago, my brother introduced me to trekking poles. The concept is pretty simple: The poles look a lot like ski poles. As you’re hiking, you use these poles to motor along, kind of like using two walking sticks instead of one.
To some, this might sound a little silly. If you’re walking on a trail, why would you use poles? Your legs should be enough, right?
But think about it like this: Cross-country skiers use ski poles to help power themselves along paths that go up, down and on level ground. This is the same thing, except you don’t have the benefit of skidding along snow on skis. You’re using your arms to help power you forward.
There’s a few benefits to this. First, it helps take pressure off your knees. Going uphill, it gives your leg muscles a boost. Saving energy in your legs will benefit you down the road and leave you with more muscle support for your joints as your trek nears its end. Second, it can help absorb some of the impact you feel as you go downhill (going down always hurt the most for me). Third, using your arms in conjunction with your legs can, if done right, add an extra aerobic benefit to your day.
As I’ve gotten used to them, I feel that it’s a good way to keep a rhythm going when you’re into the long-slog portion of a hike. When speed is of the essence (say, when trying to beat the weather), establishing a rhythm can be pretty important.
My knees have been in decline for quite some time, so any break I can give them on the trail I’ll take.
The poles themselves can be pretty inexpensive or quite costly. So shop wisely. I have a pair I bought (Leki Makalu titaniums) that were about $130. But when another pair I previously owned had one pole fail, I was forced to go to a local Walmart and buy a $15 pole there. The mismatched pair has lasted just fine, though I still prefer the Lekis.
Most are telescopic, and have either a “twist-lock” or a “flick-lock” design. Both sets of mine are twist-lock, which are pretty decent, but I hear the flick locks may be more reliable.
Anyway, it’s something to consider. If your knees and other joints are giving you some trouble but you still want to get into hiking, do some shopping, pick up a pair and try them out. They’ve been a valuable part of my gear for many years now.
Got any good hiking tips? Give me a shout here or e-mail me.
Many outdoors tourist destinations seem to be pretty far from where we live: Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Tetons, and so forth. But there’s a few places that are within an easy drive from Oklahoma City and could make for an interesting long weekend experience.
So here’s my first suggestion: Check out Capulin Volcano National Monument.
Just west of Clayton, N.M., the monument itself is just one of many ancient volcanic peaks that dot northeastern New Mexico.
As you’re leaving the Oklahoma Panhandle, one of the first signs of the volcanic history of this area is just north of Clayton. Rabbit Ear Mountain towers above the otherwise flat landscape that surrounds it, but it’s a taste of what’s to come further west. Within an hour, you’re driving in an area with large, grass-and-tree covered hills that belie what this place once was.
Once thing you notice right off: There’s no farms out here. Instead, there’s lots of ranch land. But the ground is simply too hard to plow. Black rocks pepper the ground, giving further hints of the area’s once violent volcanic past.
The hills and small mountains in the area around Capulin were all once highly active volcanoes. From ground level, it’s harder to tell. But atop one of these mountains you can see the craters and ancient lava flows that most geologists estimate are more than 60,000 years old.
The best vantage point of Capulin Volcano. At 8,182 feet above sea level, it’s one of the highest points in the area. A two-mile paved road allows motorists to drive to the top, see the views and hike around the crater rim (there’s a 1-mile trial around the rim). The entry fee to drive to the rim is $5 per vehicle and lasts a day. At the base of the mountain, there’s a visitor’s center with more information about the volcano and its history.
The thing that intrigued me about Capulin is you just don’t think of New Mexico being a place where you’d find volcanoes. Washington state, Hawaii and Alaska come to mind. But not New Mexico, and certainly not this close to Oklahoma. I think that’s what makes it so intriguing to me, and any other person with an interest in science. For kids who have the science bug, I can’t think of a closer place that would stir the imagination more than Capulin.
After checking that out, you can drive back east into Oklahoma, then head north to Kenton. From there, you can camp at Black Mesa State park, hike up to Black Mesa and enjoy the views of the state’s highest point.
Capulin also makes a nice side trip for people heading into ski country.
One last note: A lot of the things I write about here include some very vigorous outings, and I know not everyone is up for that. This, however, is a cool outdoor destination that can be enjoyed by just about anyone, regardless of their fitness level or outdoor acumen.
It’s about six to seven hours to get to Capulin, a pretty easy drive over a long weekend. If you go in the fall or winter, expect mountain winter conditions.
Need some more information about it? Check out the National Park Service’s Web site here: http://www.nps.gov/cavo/index.htm
A co-worker sent me a link that I found both fascinating but also disheartening.
Newswise.com did a write-up about a University of Illinois-Chicago study about outdoor recreation and support of conservation efforts.
The theme of the story showed that people who partake in “vigorous outdoor activities” such as hiking or backpacking tend to be, down the road a few years, more likely to financially support conservation efforts.
Conversely, those who didn’t were less likely. Sounds like a no-brainer. To appreciate the outdoors you have to go out and enjoy the outdoors and really learn what it’s all about.
But the bad news didn’t end there. As it turns out, according to Newswise, not all outdoor recreation is created equal. The study also showed that people who go into the outdoors as more casual tourists or go fishing don’t have any more inclination to support conservation efforts than anyone else.
This actually makes some sense. People who walk up to the rim of the Grand Canyon (without hiking down and back) or drive through Yellowstone aren’t engaging in “vigorous” outdoor activities. In terms of fishing, much of it is done on a bank, on a boat or from some other shoreline or river with easy access. So there goes the strenuous thing again.
Some might take issue with the study, because it defined support of conservation efforts as giving to four environmental groups: the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense. Judge for yourself on that subject.
But here’s another nugget: The demographic most likely to give is white, college-educated, higher income and over 35 years old. So, it’s somewhat small number of people promoting conservation that may be shrinking given the current economy, Newswise reported.
But here’s the scariest thing in the Newswise article: It mentioned a previous study these same researchers did in 2008 concerning outdoor recreation. In that study, it noted a steady drop in outdoor recreation dating back to the 1980s. At the same time, there was a rise in the usage of video games, Internet surfing and movie viewing.
What does this mean? From what I gather, appreciation of the outdoors starts young. If people don’t learn it early, they don’t care later when they’re adults.
So consider this little story: I was scrambling up a rocky hillside in the Quartz Mountains one fine fall day, reached the top and enjoyed the view. Then I looked down and saw spray-painted graffiti on the rock and crumpled beer cans all over the place. I’d like to see less of that.
I’ve heard friends gripe about their kids locked away for hours playing video games or being on the Internet. So try this: Instead of blowing big bucks on a new video game console or an iPhone for little Junior, spend a little cash on a couple of backpacks, a tent and some gear and take the young ones out on an outdoor adventure. Enjoy the quiet, the solace and the wildness of the outdoors. Repeat as necessary. You might raise a hiker, a climber or maybe just someone who thinks about the land long enough to want to take care of it.
Here’s the link to the Newswise article: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/557026/?sc=lwtr;xy=5025201
Any thoughts? Love to hear ‘em.
Learning from mistakes seems to be a theme for me. I read something that goes like this: Making right decisions comes from experience. And experience comes from making bad decisions. So I’m going to tell you a story, then make a confession.
A group of hikers was going up Colorado’s 14,060-foot Mount Bierstadt recently. All were relatively new to high altitude hiking, and this time of year is borderline winter that high up. So high winds, blowing snow and below-freezing temps are the norm, with the possibility of snowstorms always present.
A couple of people in the group wanted to turn around, but did not communicate that in a way the third member of the group could understand. They were separated to some degree, and the third guy thought they meant they were going to take a different route to the top.
This third individual had never been on this mountain. He decided a more direct route would be better. Before he knew it, he was on top, but his friends were nowhere in sight. They’d already started heading down long before.
Apparently, he lost his way going down. And then he fell.
The good news is that he survived the fall. The bad news is that he dislocated his shoulder. With darkness setting in, he had to hunker down for the night and wait until morning for rescue. It came, as his friends noted his lateness and called for help. Search and Rescue came in the morning, flew him out via helicopter and the will man live to hike another day.
He’s fortunate that the weather more or less held out. But he wasn’t dressed or equipped for a night out. That, however, wasn’t the biggest problem here.
The error? Getting separated from the group. And, on the other side, the group allowing him to be separated from them.
Some people hike and climb solo, and hopefully they are prepared for those risks. By being part of a group, you’re lessening risks. Therefore, if you’re separated form your group, risk rises quickly. If you’re in a group and someone gets hurt, there are people there who can treat the injury, set up a place to hunker down (if needed) or go for help. If you’re alone, there’s no support available.
I have a couple of personal stories on this subject.
The first involved a trip in New Mexico where my group of five got separated into three groups. My sister-in-law (a marathoner) and I were way out in front and summited the peak first. My wife, alone, was about 15 minutes behind us. And 15 minutes after that, two friends of mine finally made the top. In that last group, the husband was seeing spots and the wife would later complain of nausea. Both were indications of mild altitude sickness setting in. In hindsight, it would have been better to wait on everyone else, monitor everyone’s well-being and, if needed, take action to combat potential health problems.
I was feeling really strong that day, so I wanted to blast up the mountain. Looking back, I realize we may have gotten away with one there.
The second story goes back to last year’s Mount Yale experience. I wrote about it about a month ago. In that case, our group was all over the mountain, mostly in pairs. I was alone, got quite sick and had a devil of a time getting down. No one knew about it because no one was within a mile of me.
While these stories deal with high country environments, don’t be fooled by Oklahoma’s seemingly more tame landscapes. Plenty of people have gotten into trouble in the deep woods of the state’s southeast or the rugged crags of the southwest. And can you imagine being stranded alone at Black Mesa, spraining your ankle, and then see the weather turn for the worse?
So I’m learning from my own errors, gaining experience and hopefully in the future making good decisions. One good decision: Stick with your group.