Archive for 2015 May

An air mattress for the trail: REI Flash pad review

The REI Flash insulated air Pad is the third air mattress for backpacking I've tried since starting on the Pacific Crest Trail a couple of years ago, and, to be truthful, the first that really worked well.

Alternatives such as NeoAir, by the well-known brand Thermarest, and the Oak Street, by the great tent makers Big Agnes, both fell victim to punctures. Oak Street, despite being relatively heavy and looking formidable, and being placed properly on top of a groundcloth, still managed to develop a leak on the first night on the trail. Yes, it's rocky out there, but c'mon!  

And although it's possible to patch an air mattress, in my experience it's still going to leak some — and leave one deflated and chilly on the ground before the end of the night. 

The Flash, knock on wood, remains intact and frankly, amazing. Three nights ago I was camping near Mulkey Pass, at about 10,000 feet, on a night so cold that my wet boots froze even under the vestible of the tent, but on the pad in a bag (and bundled up, to be fair) I was completely warm and fine. In my long experience with Ensolite pads, I don't believe this has ever happened on a really cold night. 

The insulation works superbly well. The pad is a little awkward but not difficult to inflate, and easy and quick to deflate and store in its container bag. And it's not only the best, it's the least expensive that I've found among the air pads for backpackers. 

Looks a little bright, but highly, highly recommended. 



And of course, since it's REI, if it does fail — you can take it back. 100% guarantee. Other reviewers, from outlets large and small, agree on its virtues. 


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Baseball manager and Twain on global warming

It's kind of random, but that's the uncanny nature of pop culture — when one looks for developments and change about an issue, you never know what you will catch. 

From the LA Times, the manager of the LA Dodgers, Don Mattingly, wonders if drier air, due to the drought in California, could be affecting the anomalous number of home runs early this season. 

Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly has, at times, hypothesized that the especially dry weather means less drag on the balls. Maybe, he pondered, global warming is behind it?

"I don't know," Mattingly said. "But it was good to get a few [home runs] tonight."

It's worth noting that the California drought/global warming connection is suspected but not proven. 

In this context, there's also the impossible-to-forget Mark Twain remark — and an interesting hint from cartoonist Kevin Siers of the global warming/Middle East crisis connection:



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From Kennedy Meadows north on the PCT

It's May, and though California only recorded 5% of a normal snowpack, err, 3%, still that turns out to be plenty when climbing from the desert up the Pacific Crest Trail into the mountains, into the high Sierra around Cottonwood Pass and Horseshoe Meadows. I couldn't dawdle through this section, not while trying to keep my nephew Eli Huscher, here seen in a typical pose, in sight: 


More on this surprising section of PCT for the curious, bellow the virtual fold:

Trail touches the south fork of the Kern River briefly, then shoots up a pinyon'ed slope, through a burn, and into a vast openness, Beck Meadow:


At 716 you will come to a cross of the south fork of the Kern River, and find a great sign, not far from which, comes a special crossing:


Lovely for a walker to have the need to cross this river taken so seriously:


Arrived at this superb half-hidden campside, at mile 716, in mid-afternoon. Eli was long gone, so I couldn't stay, but I enjoyed visiting with Noah (in the shades) and Topher from Georgia, who said he had never been out west before. He plans to go on to hike the John Muir Trail to Yosemite. What a great way to first see California, to journey through the High Sierra!


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Cloudy Skies (and sunsets) from artist Leanne Shapton

For the Times' style magazine, T, a series of paintings by Leanne Shapton of the weather:


The paintings look a little untutored, as if it took the artist but a moment, but who knows and regardless, they still have a touching quality to me. 

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Throwback: the campfire at Pinyon Point

I mentioned in a recent post that I made a fire at Pinyon Point in the fall of 2013. I didn't plan to, I didn't know anything about this campsite, and would never believe after walking through barren dry sand desert with yucca and Joshua trees for ten or twenty miles that I would come up a ridge and into a thick pine woods. 

Nor did I mention that some genius made this fire/stove/kitchen/bedroom. Using two or three boulders and a carefully stacked wall of rocks with square gaps. So that as the fire burned down, warmth passed through to anyone sleeping across the rocks from the coals. Brilliant woodsmanship, by an anonymous genius, perhaps a John Muir, or an Ed Abbey. 

I like to try of who might be like that alive today, and my mind goes to the phenomal Chris Clarke, of KCET and at least one blog

But never mind — let me just thank the anonyous creator, whoever he is, for allowing me to make that one precious fire, and share it, as best I can. 



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Not again! Meteorologists abuzz about El Nino in drought

Last year at this time a huge wave of heat was detected propagating as the scientists say through surface waters from east to west across the Pacific. Ultimately a series of such "Kelvin waves"  went on to warm much of the tropical Pacific, and waters along the West Coast, resulting in huge changes in sealife.

Once in a while, on a schedule seemingly impossible to predict, what happens in the Pacific can drive a series of meteorogical events leading to great floods of rain along the West Coast. A big big El Niño.

"The great wet hope," as Bill Patzert of NASA likes to say. 

It didn't happen last year, and meteorologists this year, such as Daniel Swain of Weather West, sound a little abashed discussing the possibility again for this year. 

Well, as most of us are aware by now, that didn’t happen, and the projections from winter/spring 2014 represent a considerable forecast failure on the part of the models typically used to make long-lead ENSO [forecasts. Instead, the world bore witness to an El Niño event that barely reached the threshold for a marginal event–and, for the most part, didn’t exhibit the kind of ocean-atmosphere “coupling” we might typically expect. Persistent weakening of the easterly trade winds simply didn’t happen, and the incipient event just couldn’t sustain itself through the winter.

In short you can't trust the models. No matter how smart the researchers may be. 

As I reported recently, Jeanine Jones, a high-ranking official in the California Department of Water Resources also questioned the usefulness of those models in a long talk at a high-level national drought conference last month.

Further, she pointed out that the mere mention of the speculation of "the great wet hope" substantially reduces water conservation. 

Swain concedes that May is still too early to observe an El Niño event and alludes to a

Spring Predictability Barrier–the period during which long-lead ENSO forecasts remain challenging due to the chaotic nature of the ocean-atmosphere system.

Again Swain points out that — in short — you can't trust the models. As if to say, don't even roll that dice. 

Yet and still, he cannot help but be tantalized by the magnitude of the changes in ocean temperature that are being charted by a host of different research teams:


They're literally off the charts. Not to mention the strong westerly wind bursts, and the typhoon connection. Turns out the Pacific is in record-setting mode when it comes to creating Category 5 typhoons. We've had five already, and the first was an all-timer, with sustained winds of 160 mph. 

Here's what it looked like from the International Space Station. Super Typhoon Maysak:


The last time we had this many typhoons this early in the year? Jeff Masters

The global record for Category 5 storms is held by the El Niño year of 1997, which had twelve Category 5 storms–ten of them in the Northwest Pacific. The third Cat 5 of 1997 in the Northwest Pacific occurred on July 22, so we are more than two months ahead of that year's record pace. 

And of course, the El Niño of 1887-1998 was a Godzilla that literally changed the world.


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Secrets of the PCT: Pinyon Point

This doesn't look like much, does it?


This is a section of the Pacific Crest Trailsection F, heading north through the Mojave Desert.

Let me say I grew up far away from the desert and never thought I liked its lack of trees and aridity, but well, maybe I should have known better. Should have listened to my elders. For example:


This is a sort of plaza, at about six thousand feet, overlooking the vastest desert in Southern California. This area, which I'm calling Pinyon Point,has numerous sites in which to roll out a pad in beauty and serenity (and perhaps wind, for at its height, it does experience weather — that's why, I think, the pinyon pines grow so well there).

Yet it's all but unused. I made a fire there a year and a half ago, after a snowfall, and near as I can tell, the campfire hasn't been used since. I confess I kind of like it that way, so I'm not going to reveal the exact location, although readers who would like to know can write me, and I'll probably tell.

I was rolling up my tent this past Sunday, and heard a pair of PCT walkers stop and chat on the other side of a rock, not fifty feet away, and yet completely oblivious of my presence.

Let me show you a little more —


Yet it's not Half Dome, or Puget Sound, or Hanalei Bay, or the London Bridge. Is it?

Am I deluding myself? Maybe it doesn't look like much at all. It's hard to judge the places one discovers. Still something about this site, which I'm calling Pinyon Point, is to be loved.

Here's my fave tree, which launched a fascination with this species, the pinyon, on Sunday morning:


And here's the view southward out over the desert:


I don't know. Something here brings a person closer to everything at once, in the distance we can see. 

Saturday afternoon I took a nap in the warm sun and the edgy wind, and while half-asleep heard a bird I've never heard before. Wasn't a song. Wasn't even a call. Closer to an avian bleat. Couldn't see, can't imagine the species.

The breeze kept up, and so I just had to try and put it down in words:

listen to the wind
always blowing in
so strong
and cold on the skin

Let me add just one more pic, at a friend's suggestion:


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GOP takes climate change denial to the next level

The GOP's war on science gets worse, writes Elizabeth Kolbert, noting that the House GOP cut $300 million from NASA's budget for earth sciences (including climate) on the childish old theory that ignoring a problem will make it go away.

That same week The New Yorker, for which Kolbert writes, came up with an even wittier version of the same basic argument:


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Mojave Flowers

What is it about the desert that makes even the humblest of flowers so striking?


Striking to me, at least…and good for holding a place while I'm working up a proper post on a great little camp of the Pacific Crest Trail.

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Income inequality: Shocking facts, visualized

According to economic experts, for the first time in at least a hundred years, quite possibly ever, the American middle-class is losing ground. It's not just that the richer are getting richer, it's also "wage stagnation." Meaning that young people today cannot expect to surpass their parents, as young generations in the past could — and did. 

I've learned a lot about this subject putting together a panel to discuss it (in about a month — details below). So let me post some of the more notable data graphs I've come across in the next few weeks. Incomeinequalityriseandfallofmiddleclass

Steepest drop-off in recent American history, probably ever.

This comes from Emmanuel Saez, a UCBerkeley economist who works closely with Thomas Piketty, of Capital in the 21st Century fame. Saez was one of the first we at the Ojai Chat invited to our panel discussion on June 7th, but he politely declined, saying that he received countless such invitations, and couldn't possibly do any work if he were to make time to talk about it…as we will in Ojai on June 7th.

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