Monday, January 31, 2011

How to // Training & Conditioning for Backpacking

When we went on our first backpacking trip (of our adult lives anyway) in 2009, we covered only four - mostly flat - miles in the first day. I was pretty out of shape at the time and became a sweaty mess almost as soon as I hit the trail. The trip was still great, because backpacking is all kinds of rewarding. Had I put a little bit of energy into training though I might have avoided a lot of needless suffering.

The more you work before the trip, the less you work on it.

The core of my personal training program is regular distance running and bike commuting. I love the outdoors and I hate being in the gym - so I've chosen sports that keep me outside

1) Walking/Jogging

Any exercise is better than no exercise. Just getting up and moving around for sustained periods a few times a week is enough to kick start your metabolism and give you a huge energy boost. You're not going to be able to work your way to peak performance without breaking a sweat - but walks around your home or the occasional jog are a good way to get started on your way to fitness. If you're injured, they're also a low impact way to get yourself moving as well.

2) Running

It was not love at first sight for me with running. I started running to train to climb Mt. Whitney. I didn't begin with a program, I just tried to go out and run for as long as I could. I stopped a lot, I was sweating a lot, and it generally just made me feel bad about myself.

After about three months of awful things started clicking for me though. I'd go for my required run and then challenge myself to do more. Now, trail running is just about my favorite thing to do. Powering up big hills and flying down the other side fills me with pure child-like joy. On long distance runs I've literally began crying tears of joy for no reason. Once it clicks, running is amazing.

Pacing is Key

The key that unlocked running as pleasurable activity was finding a gear I could lock into a sustain. The tendency I've seen early on is to run way too fast especially at the start of a run. Expect to start at a pace around 13:00 to 15:00 minutes per mile. Learn to listen to your heart and lungs like you would a tachometer and keep it out of the red or you'll burn out your lungs and your legs.

Walk Breaks

The first question most people ask me about running is "Do you take walk breaks?". The answer is a resounding yes! To illustrate why: try hold your arm up to your side for 15 minutes. Now do the same thing, but every 5 minutes, put your arm down for 10 seconds. You probably didn't have to actually do that to know that it's a lot easier if you take just a brief pause to rest your muscle. The muscles in your legs react the same way, giving them just a few quick breaks makes a big difference in recovery and performance. As counter-intuitive as it seems you actually run faster by taking short breaks.


Cycling is perhaps my favorite way to get in my exercise. It can be as easy as you want it to be or as intense as you want it to be. Need a break? The bike keeps you going. The beeze in your face keeps you cool and dry unless you're really getting after it.


If there was one thing I would add to my training program, it would be swimming. There is a reason the most in-shape people I know are swimmers/surfers. Swimming can be done in any weather (if you have a heated pool) - unlike running. It's impact-free so you can stay injury free, also nothing builds up your pipes quite like swimming does. Swimming is especially valuable for high-altitude backpacking.


Cross-training is anything that isn't part of your base cardio workout. It could be yoga, or weight lifting, or kickboxing class, or zoomba. It should be low impact and center around some kind of resistance (even if its the resistance of gravity/your own body like yoga). I personally like doing yoga because I find it relaxing and it engages muscles that would normally get neglected. If one of your goals is to lose weight, balancing cross-training and cardio will help you do that.

Pro Tip: Make a Plan

There are lots of great resources online for making a good training plan once you understand the foundation they're all based on.

Beginner Training
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
XT 30m Walk Off 15m Jog 15m Jog Off Long Hike


Intermediate Training
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
XT 30m Run 1hr Bike 30m Run 1hr Bike Off Long Run or Hike

Notes: Alternating running and biking keeps the impact lower. For cross-training I like yoga, it practically feels like an extra day off. Take additional days off if you need them too, just not the Long Run. The short runs build strength and the long run builds endurance.

Advanced Training
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
30m Run/XT 45m Run Bike Ride Track Run Bike Ride Off Long Run

Notes: At this point you should be able to take on just about anything. This is my also my marathon plan so it more than qualifies for backpacking training. The bike rides are 2, hour long easy rides (my commute to work actually). This is a lot of exercise so best judgement is key. Listen to your body and make judicious use of extra rest days. I frequently skip my Monday run after a big Sunday Run.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Found Friday: Mega Reading List

The last few weeks have been pretty big for the outdoor world with The Outdoor Retailer showcase in Salt Lake City, Utah last week. Plenty of reports have been coming back too of some awe inspiring winter adventures that most of us can only dream of attempting not to mention plenty of tips and outdoor advice.




Want your blog or website feautred here? Email me at: and I'll put you on my reading list.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Discussion: Hiking in the Dark

Hiking by Headlamp before dawn on the Mount Whitney Main Trail.

This morning I was reading that trail runners who run around dawn and dusk are most vulnerable to bear attacks. While bear mauling is seldom an issue on my hikes it did remind me exactly how terrifying it can be to hike just after dusk, because while bears might not be on the prowl in my territory there area Coyote, Mountain Lions, and Boar all of which under the wrong circumstances can be dangerous.

My memories of hiking after dusk are torturous, scanning the moonlit vegetation around me occasionally catching the reflections of a pair of eyes watching me (usually harmless deer) and constantly looking over my shoulder.

Yet my memories of pre-dawn hikes, while the dangers are exactly the same, are substantially more fond. Perhaps it is because I am hiking in the dark by specific design, perhaps the hikes that require such an early start are simply better, but for some reason I feel the exact opposite about hiking in the dark in the morning.

And that's the funny thing about it. While my imagination is playing games with me in the evening as I’m "stuck" on the trail trying to work my way back to safety, the exact opposite tends to be true in the morning. Pre-dawn morning are ambitious, exciting, and raw.

Has anyone ever had a close call at night or share a similar fear of hiking after dark?

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Brief Note

Hey Readers,

You might have noticed posts have been a bit sporadic recently. In truth i've been pretty bad about getting outside recently, which has made it more difficult to find topics to write about. Recently my days have been filled more with building shelves, hanging photographs, and building ikea furniture for a new apartment than stomping down muddy trails.

We have managed to take advantage of the unseasonably good weather and take a couple hikes though up Mission Peak, and Mt. Ellen in Memorial County Park. These hikes have also given me a testing ground for a few new gear reviews including:

I have managed to keep fairly true to my running schedule and I'm getting back in shape for Mt. Whitney in the spring. Expect plenty of new content coming up including more discussion topics, a new how-to, and plenty of trail reports including some of the remaining reports from the fall trip to the Pacific Northwest. I've also stocked up plenty of content for a mega Found Friday.

I also used the little break to do a little bit of updating of the blog on the back end, mostly to make some of these photographs easier to find in searches. However you might also notice a new automatically generated "related posts" section at the end of each post which replaced what I was previously doing manually.

Feedback is always greatly appreciated!

Regards, Chris

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Discussion: Hiking in the Rain

Water drops collecting on Redwood Sorrell, Henry Cowell State Park

Last year I broached the topic of camping in storms and decided that storms were fun so long as you were huddled in a tent listing to the monsoon millimeters away from you beating on your rain fly.

I've reversed my opinion on this now and actually feel like hiking on a stormy day, provided you have the essential gear, can actually great experience and a more memorable one as well.

A little rain never killed anyone, plus the discomfort of being wet can be mitigated by wearing proper gear which will keep you bone dry. Yet trailhead parking lots are all but vacant on an afternoon that even threatens to storm.

Having the “essential gear” certainly excludes a good percentage of the hiking population. I don’t know too many hikers besides myself with rain pants. Navigating the roads to reach the trail head can also be a bit of a burden, if not an outright hazard. Certainly this plays into the equation as well.

The payoff though is open trails, which you can have all to yourself, all day. Trails shrouded in an atmosphere which is totally unlike a bluebird day. In the hills patches of clouds will roll through, reducing visibility to only a dozen or so feet in any direction with only the faint black shapes of trees around. In the valleys rivers swell with storm water, and waterfalls reach peak volumes.

As the storm clears the lingering remains of clouds get trapped giving the mountains a misty, dramatic look. The crisp, clean air, after the storm opens visibility up for miles and miles. and the cloudy skies make for spectacular sunsets.

If you are comfortable hiking in the rain, what got you to that comfort level?

If you’re not, what do you think it would take to hit the trail during a storm.

Monday, January 10, 2011

How to: 8 Tips for Hiking in the Mud

muddy trail
The deepest boot prints have been left in the "shiny" mud with the highest water content. The water flowing along the trail would make the best path of travel.

Winter in my favorite time to go hiking, the trails are quiet, unfortunately they also get pretty sloppy after rain sufficiently soaks the hills. Mud can be a serious deterrent for many potential hikers so I'll give you a few tricks to manage the muck and have a safe, enjoyable hike:

  • Carry Trekking Poles - Not only to trekking poles make you a stronger hiker by saving you energy they help you jump small mud puddles or help distribute your weight as you balance across them. If you slip you can use the trekking poles from preventing you from getting personal with a puddle.
  • Tie Your Shoes - Pretty obvious, right? Mud season is the time to be especially sure to tie em' nice and tight so they don't suction off in deep mud.
  • Go with the flow - If it's so wet that water is running on the trail it can be a good thing because the real sticky stuff will run with it leaving firm ground under the water. You'll also be doing a good thing for the environment by preventing erosion on the edge of the trail.
  • Avoid Shiny Mud - The sloppiest mud is going to have a slight shine to it from water molecules reflecting light. Shiny mud has the highest water content which will most likley make it the deepest and stickiest. Jump it or go around (be careful not to walk off trail, the environment is very fragile in mud season).
  • Slip, Don't Slide - Smaller strides will help you keep your balance and keep slips small. When you do slip, just try to relax and go with the slide and maintain balance to avoid a dirt bath. Overreacting will cause you to fall which is the fastest way to ruin your hike.

Perhaps the worst part about the mud isn't dealing with it on the trail but dealing with the aftermath. Here are some tips for the cleanup:

    muddy boot print
  • Clean your Boots - More than just messy, mud can actually damage a good pair of leather boots. When the muck dries it dries out the leather too causing it to crack and lose its weatherproofing in the season you need it most. Cruel right?
  • Convertible Pants - Many hiking pants are convertible, which means they have a zipper at the knee (or just below it) to convert them to shorts. I personally never wear them as shorts normally but mud is most likely just going to cover the pant leg and not the shorts. Simply unzip the muddy legs back at the trailhead and take off.
  • Paper or Plastic - It's not a bad idea to start keeping some plastic shopping bags in the car to store mucked up boots and pant legs. Lining the trunk with a plastic tarp is the more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic bags and really only needs to be cleaned once at the end of the mud season.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Goals for 2011

Every year I personally compile a list of things I'd like to do and around Thanksgiving I start to go over that list and see how I've done. This past year that list motivated me to Climb Mt. Whitney, take a two week vacation to the Pacific Northwest, go backpacking as much as I could, and hit as many local trails as I could.

I have my new personal objectives as always, but I also have objectives for the blog. I think of them as more or less my new years resolutions. So after a week of looking back on 2010, it's time to look forward to 2011.

Get people excited about the outdoors

Being on the radio on New Years Eve taught me something, and not just how to make publicly embarrass myself in front of a large audience. It taught me that people are reading. I suppose my ever growing web statistic might have told me this as well, but something about recognition from a mainstream media outlet (okay, KPFA is HARDLY mainstream) turned the lightbulb on in my head that people really do read this blog.

Since people are reading I feel obligated to provide something worthwhile. I experimented a little bit with a new format last year on my trail report for Russian Ridge and I'd like to begin revising blogs to provide more of a resource for finding trails, and getting people excited about the outdoors.

Reach a larger audience

Part of getting people excited about the outdoors is motivating them with compelling stories, vivid photograph and confidence building how-to's. The other part is getting out in front of them with it. One of my goals for this year is going to be to market this blog a little more, its something I've done very little of but which is a necessity.

Broaden Content

More local trail reports, more local backpacking trips (can you believe I only did one local backpacking trip last year?), more gear reviews. More importantly though I'd like to broaden my horizons a little bit. That includes some winter trips, and hopefully in the summer some classic multi-day backpacking deep in the Sierra.

I'm also vowing to get out to the easy bay more often and cover some trails over there. I've been truly terrible about visiting parks to the east. For that matter the omission of several classic bay area hikes like the skyline-to-the-sea trail and Mt. tamalpias from Stinson Beach need to be remedied.

What I need from you

Unfortunately I can't improve the content here too much without feedback. I can only guess at what readers like to see most. So if you see something I'm doing right and you don't want it to change or you'd like to see something added let me know at

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Favorite Photographs of 2010, Part II

Yesterday I posted photos 25-50 of from my favorites taken in 2010. Yesterdays set was mostly composed of photos which I had received positive feedback about but which I wasn't totally happy with or with which I find technical flaws. Todays set represents the best of my work from the past year, photos which I find both visually pleasing and technically sound. They represent my fondest memories and favorite adventures.

I hope you enjoy, feedback is always appreciated.

Timms Creek
Small Waterfall on Timms Creek. Big Basin State Park.

Butano Redwoods
Shafts of afternoon light on ferns in the Redwood Forest. Butano State Park.

Orange Flower, Point Reyes
Flower in a Foggy Coastal Forest. Point Reyes National Seashore.

Last light at the end of summer. Arastradero Preserve.

Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter
Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter. Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Sunrise South Tufa
Sunrise on South Tufa. Mono Lake.

Crater Lake Rim
Clouds creeping over the rim of Crater Lake. Crater Lake National Park.

Hurricane Ridge
Stormclouds over autumn forest on Hurricane Ridge. Olympic National Park.

Burroughs Mountain
Clouds clinging to Burroughs Mountain after a passing storm. Mount Rainier National Park.

Punchbowl Falls
Fall Foliage in Eagle Creek below Punchbowl Falls. Columbia Gorge.

Ruby Beach
Shafts of afternoon light on Ruby Beach. Olympic National Park.

Young Lakes
Unopened Corn Lily on the banks of the Young Lakes. Yosemite National Park.

Mt. Muir
Sunrise on the Mount Whitney Trail. Inyo National Forest.

Roosevelt Elk
Roosevelt Elk near Golds Bluff Beach. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Mount Wittenburg
Coastal Fog in the Forest. Point Reyes National Seashore.

Climbing Mt. Whitney
Climbers Headlamp in the Early Morning on the Mount Whitney Trail. Inyo National Forest.

Mount Rainier
Reflections of Rainier. Mount Rainier National Park.

Tufa Castles
Sunrise on Tufa Castles. Mono Lake.

Fantail Lake
East Side of Mt. Conness above Fantail Lake. Harvey Monroe Hall Natural Area.

Miners Ridge Trail
Old Growth Redwoods on the Miners Ridge Trail. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Heritage Oak
Heritage Oak near English Camp. Almaden-Quicksilver County Park.

Point Reyes Coast Trail
Bush Lupine on the Coast Trail. Point Reyes National Seashore.

Golden Poppies
Golden Poppies in Almaden-Quicksilver below the distant Sierra Azul. Almaden-Quicksilver County Park.

Summit Lake
Clouds over Ritter from Summit Lake. Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Russian Ridge
Green Grass of winter in Russian Ridge. Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Favorite Photographs of 2010, Part I

Each of my trips is equal parts hiking/nature and photography. So as a fitting way to wrap up the year I've gone through the thousands of photos I took from January to December and selected some of my favorites. These represent the second half of my favorites from 2010. Part II, tomorrow, will have my very favorites!

Clark Lake
Sunset on Clark Lake. Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Wizard Island, Crater Lake
Wizard Island from the South Rim of Crater Lake. Crater Lake National Park.

Pacifica State Beach
Wave Cashing into Rocks. Pacifica State Beach.

Second Beach
Sunset on Second Beach. Olympic National Park.

Second Beach, La Push
Rocks on Second Beach. Olympic National Park.

Ohlone Regional Wilderness
Murietta Falls Trail mired in fog. Ohlone Regional Wilderness.

First new leaves of spring. Almaden-Quicksilver County Park.

Mission Bells
Spring Wildflowers. Mission Bells. St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve.

East Bay Hills
Grazing cow in east bay hills. Mission Peak.

Santa Teresa County Park
Sunset and Spring Poppy's. Santa Teresa County Park.

Wildflowers in the Hills. Edgewood Park & Preserve.

Coyote Peak
Stormy Sunset near Coyote Peak. Santa Teresa County Park.

Mount Conness
Fading light on Mt. Conness. Yosemite National Park

Redwood Sorrell
Dew on Redwood Sorrell. Henry Cowell State Park.

Silver Lake Trailhead
Incoming Storm in the Eastern Sierra. Ansel Adams Wilderness.

4-mile beach
Sea Stacks near 4-Mile Beach. Wilder Ranch State Park.

tufa spires
Tufa Spires at first light. Mono Lake.

Spuller Lake
Submerged Boulders in Spuller Lake. Harvey Monroe Hall Natural Research Area.

Henry Cowell Redwoods
Trail through the Redwoods. Henry Cowell State Park

Upper Rogue River
Pummice Potholes on the Rogue River. Siskiyou National Forest.

Fall in Paradise, Mount Rainier
Fall Colors in Paradise. Mount Rainier National Park.

Dragonfly, Dog Lake
Dragonfly Hatchlings on Dog Lake. Yosemite National Park.

Stout Grove
Gnarled Redwood Bark in the Stout Grove. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

Avenue of the Giants
Avenue of the Giants. Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Nisqually Glacier
Nisqually Glacier rolling off Mt. Rainier. Mount Rainier National Park