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La Sportiva Wildcats a hit with Pacific Crest Trail through hikers

BACKPACKING — Ultra light, ultra functional and ultra durable — those are the keys to gear that causes a buzz among through hikers on long-distance trails.

One group of hikers most of the way through their month's long,  2,650-mile journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, recently were comparing notes on their shoes at Washington's Chinook Pass. The durability winner in this group was the La Sportiva Wildcat trail running shoe, a Backpacker  Editor’s Choice item in the magazine’s 2010 gear review.

One hiker had 1,000 miles on his pair and they were still going strong.

While trail running shoes may be perfect for PCT through hikers, who are focused on speed and staying on the trail, they may not be the best for everyday hikers who may not be so trail hardened or who do more off-trail exploration.

Map shows forest areas closed by fires in Leavenworth-Wenatchee area

FOREST FIRES — The map above from the Wenatchee National Forest shows areas off limits to visitors because of forest fires in the Central Washington area.

The closures affect hikes in prime season and hunters out for Washington's early High Buck Hunt that opened Saturday.

Cool-headed backpackers evacuate Alpine Lakes as fires close in

BACKPACKING — After reading my post this morning about fire-related closures affecting hikers in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness,  Stephanie Akker of Kennewick emailed me the photo (above) snapped Saturday from the Colchuck Lake area as she decided to evacuate during the night to safety. 

I was happy to see your article on-line as I have been scouring for more info since we backpacked out of Colchuck, in the dark, Saturday night. 

Attached is a photo of the fire from our campsite on the north end of Colchuck.  We day hiked into the Enchantments Saturday after camping at Colchuck Friday night. We chose to evacuate after watching the fire grow dramatically over the course of 24 hours and also considering the proximity to the parking lot. 

Yes, we had to forgo our coveted permit, but felt it better safe than sorry. 

Read on for her photo of Colchuck Lake, a scene that helps you understand why it was no easy decision to leave.

Fires restrict access to Alpine Lakes Wilderness, other areas

HIKING — Many backpackers with coveted permits for the prime September season in the Enchantment Lakes area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in northcentral Washington are finding their plans up in smoke.

Area includes Eightmile Road, Colchuck, Stuart, Eightmile, Caroline, and Trout lakes, and the Windy Pass portion of the Enchantment area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness due to a fire burning Many Enchantment area overnight camping permits are cancelled. However, the Enchantment Basin itself remains open at this time with access via Snow Creek Trail. Please call the Wenatchee River Ranger Station for more information on which permits are cancelled.

See a photo and report from a backpacker who self-evacuated Colchuck Lake Saturday night as fires closed in.

Read on for the latest press release and details from the Wenatchee National Forest.

Fires affecting front country and backcountry

WILD FIRES from recent lightning storms on tinder-dry landscapes are an issue for people heading outdoors in almost every direction.

Here's a regional roundup from Mountain West News:

Thousands of lightning strikes spark hundreds of fires in Washington state
The 300-acre Cascade Creek Fire is the worst of the 200 wildfires sparked by lightning in Washington state over the weekend.
Portland Oregonian;Sept. 10
Wildfire in southern B.C. forces hundreds from their homes
Strong winds pushed a wildfire first reported Sunday afternoon across more than 200 acres in southern B.C., and more than 1,550 residents near Peachland were ordered to evacuate.
Vancouver Sun;Sept. 10
 

Evacuations ordered as wildfire burns on Wyoming's Casper Mountain
A wildfire first reported at 4 p.m. Sunday on the east side of Casper Mountain in Wyoming grew quickly to hundreds of acres and forced the evacuation of campgrounds and dozens of homes.
Casper Star-Tribune;Sept. 10

More evacuations ordered on Mustang Complex fire in Idaho
A level 3 evacuation order was issued for residents along the Highway 93 corridor from Quartz Creek to North Fork in Idaho on Sunday, as the Mustang Fire Complex moved closer to that corridor.
Ravalli Republic (AP);Sept. 9

Wildfire threatens resort in W. Wyoming
The Little Horsethief Fire that ignited Saturday afternoon grew quickly to 800 acres, and on Sunday, residents living on Snow King Mountain near Jackson, Wyo., were put on notice that they may need to evacuate.
Jackson Hole Daily;Sept. 10
 
Crews have 8,000-acre wildfire in Montana 51 percent contained
Fire investigators believe the 8,000-acre wildfire burning in Montana south of Livingston was human caused.
Billings Gazette;Sept. 10
 

Lightning fires erupt in Wenatchee Valley

PUBLIC LANDS — Last night's wave of thunder storms in Eastern Washington has sparked numerous fires in the dry canyons and forests near Leavenworth, Chelan and Wenatchee.   Here's the just-posted Forest Service report for details on locations, with the grim warning that high winds are predicted to fan the flames.

Read on:

With bear spray in pack, woman suffers bites from grizzly

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS —  The recent story of a bear protecting its cubs in the presense of humans calls for a review of basic procedures for walking in bear country:

  1. Bear spray is an effective deterrent to bear attacks.
  2. Bear spray is useless if not immediately accessible when a bear is encountered.

In Montana and Idaho, grizzlies are especially active this time of year looking for berries to put on fat for the winter, as displayed in the photo above snapped last week by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.

Hikers and especially stealthy hunters, such as archers, should be prepared for bear encounters during fall.

See a video on using bear spray effectively

See more tips for especially for hunting and fishing in bear country.

Fire restrictions loom for Labor Day weekend campers, hunters

PUBLIC LANDS — Fire danger as well as still-burning wild fires will be a major factor for some campers and hunters heading for recreation areas in Idaho, Montana and Washington during Labor Day weekend.   

Smoking, campfires and use of chain saws are restricted on most state and federal lands to prevent more fires. Access roads and trails to some areas are closed because of existing fires, notably in Montana and central Idaho.

For example, the Selway River Trail, popular with hikers and hunters in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, is closed this week as fire crews clear timber falling on the route in the Moose Creek District.

No major fires are listed on the Colville or Idaho Panhandle National Forests, but fire restrictions are in place.

Despite cooler temperatures, fire danger continues to be rated extreme in much of the region, said Joani Bosworth, spokeswoman for the Umatilla National Forest. 

National forest websites are the best all-hours sources for updates on fire-related restrictions.

Websites with updates on fires and restrictions include:

THROUGHOUT THE WEST

IDAHO

WASHINGTON

Edith Cavell’s Ghost Glacier crumbles, causes tsunami

PARKS – A hanging glacier that’s captivated hikers, climbers and tourists for as long as humans have explored Jasper National Park, Alberta, broke loose from its precarious perch on Mount Edith Cavell this month, according to a story with photos at Examiner.com.

The crash of ice created a tsunami from the Cavell Pond below that gushed out, ripping up a corner of the popular trailhead parking area and trails.

Luckily, the event happened early in the morning on Aug. 10 before visitors had arrived. No one was injured.

The Ghost Glacier is a smaller blue-ice glacier on the east side of Mount Edith Cavell, next to the larger Angel Glacier on the mountain's north face.

While glaciers are slowly disappearing around this globe, centuries of ice were instantly lost in this event. Park officials estimate 50-60 percent of Ghost Glacier crumbled away.

See a video report on the melting of the Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefields.

See a model of climate induced glacier change over 160 years.

Where is Mount Edith Cavell?  Click here.

Guidelines posted for hiking near mountain goats

HIKING — Reports of aggressive mountain goats have forced rangers once again to close some trails in Olympic National Park, where a hiker was gored and killed by a goat two years ago.

Hikers can play a role in preventing these otherwise docile creatures from becoming dangerous in their high-country habitat.  Here are guidelines posted by the Washington Trails Association:

The 50/50 rule: pee off trail, give goats a wide berth

If you only remember two guidelines around mountain goats:

> No matter how cute they are, mountain goats are still wild animals. It's up to hikers to give the goats a wide berth, even if they are standing close to, or even in, the trail.
  • Hikers should urinate at least 50 feet off the trail, preferably on rocks. The animals' attraction to the salt in human urine can bring goats closer to trails (and the hikers on them) than is good for either species.
  • Try to stay 50 yards (or about 150 feet) away from mountain goats at all times. For photographers, this means using a telephoto lens to snap your shots. Never try to approach or pet kid (young) mountain goats. No matter how cute they are, mountain goats are still wild animals. It's up to hikers to give the goats a wide berth, even if they are standing close to, or even in, the trail. If the trail doesn't permit you to go around, consider turning back early.

"If the goat wants the trail, give the goat the trail," Nancy Jones, a Visitor Services Specialist with the Cle Elum Ranger District, told WTA last year. "Back off. Give the goat the right-of-way. Go the other way." 

Photographer makes time; pikas respond

WILDLIFE — Most people just keep hiking through mountain talus slopes when they hear the squeaky whistle of a pika.

But Montana wildlife photographers Jamie and Lisa Johnson have learned there's much to be gained by parking in a pika hot spot and hanging out with the "rock rabbits."

Lisa and I spent the past several days camping in the Beartooth Mountains. The purpose of the trip was in search of Pika, a small animal that lives at altitude. We struck out at the start, but finally found a great place where (after many hours) we were accepted (or at least ignored) by the Pika.

We ended up with just under 800 images of Pika. Amazing mountain range, we also took many scenic shots.

Bear hunters join hikers, campers, berry pickers in mountains

HUNTING — Black bear hunting seasons opened Aug. 1 in portions of Washington, including areas in the North Cascades as well is areas in Lincoln County.

More bear hunting areas will open Aug. 15, including the area from Spokane north through Mount Spokane.

Although hunting-related accidents with othe recreationists are extremely rare, black or brown are not the best colors to wear while hiking or huckleberry picking during bear seasons.

The black bear season that mixes hunters with the most hikers, campers and berry pickers opens Sept. 1 in most of the areas of northeasthern Washington's Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.

  • North Idaho's black bear hunting seasons open Aug. 30.

Colville forest crews still clearing storm blowdowns

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NATIONAL FORESTS — Crews have reopened all the primary roads on the Colville National Forest since a July 20 storm leveled trees on roughly 4,000 acres of the 1.1 million-acre forest.  Most of the damage was on the Republic Ranger District.

Some of the seconary roads and trails are still plugged with trees that were toppled by the storm — or weakened so much that they're still falling.

Crews have cleared all secondary roads listed as "open" on the Colville National Forest Interactive Motor Interactive  Vehicle Use Map, said Franklin Pemberton, forest spokesman.  If a road was useable this summer before the storm but not officially designated as "open" to motorized use, crews will not be dispatched to cut out the blowdowns, he said.

"While all roads that were passible prior to the storm event have been cleared of down trees, it is important to note that there are roads that were washed out do to storm activity prior to this event that have not been repaired," he said.

A list of those roads can be found on the Colville National Forest Web site under Conditions: Road Report

All trailheads are open, but trails can still have trees down across them and potentially weakened trees that could come down.  More trees have fallen on some trails that have been cut out, he said.

"If you're a mountain biker or equestrian headed out on the trails,  you should bring a saw," he said.

Ten Mile Campground south of Republic (see photos above) remains closed and the Empire Lake dispersed campsites are also closed.

Updates: Republic Ranger District Office, (509) 775-7400.

Some Colville Forest area still inaccessible from storm

NATIONAL FORESTS — A week after a storm and brief surge of hurricane-force winds swept through the region, areas around Priest Lake and especially the Colville National Forest are still clogged with downed trees.

The good news is that powerline crews, government agencies and private citizens have been working their butts off with chain saws and equipment to make progress.  The bad news is that some areas are a big mess and still unaccessible.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area reports all campgrounds and facilities are open.  Priest Lake Range Station reported that some trails got "hammered" with blowdowns, but no specific reports were available. Forest trail crews and volunteers had just finished a logging out 192 miles of trails on the Priest Lake District the week before the storm struck, killing a man in his pickup in the Priest Lake area.

Generally, the Panhandle National Forests came out of the dangerous storm fairly well, said Jason Kirchner, forest spokesman in Coeur d'Alene.

But the Colville Forest's Republic Ranger District and portions of the Collville Indian Reservation, where assistance is still being requested, are a different story.

Here's the word from Colville Forest spokesman Franklin Pemberton:

The impact to recreation specific to the Republic R.D. from this event is severe. 

Crews have made significant progress on getting all of the main forest service (FS) roads open and "passible".  All of the main FS roads are passible for a full-size pickup truck, but motorhomes, camp trailers and horse trailers are not recommended.  Work continues to open all of the main FS roads completely to larger size vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines and is expected to be completed by this Friday.  Many secondary FS roads remain blocked by down timber and will be opened once all the main roads are completed.

Many roads to trailheads remain blocked and trail conditions are being reported as being blocked by down timber.  All campgrounds are open with the exception of Ten Mile Campground.  Crews will continue to work to open secondary roads that lead to recreation sites and trailheads, but there is no estimate of when this work will be completed.

Forest officials are still recommending that visitors to the Republic R.D. stay in the developed campgrounds and limit their travel on the forest as much as possible.

Contact the Republic Ranger District Office, (509) 775-7400 for specific recreation questions.

Hikers: check conditions before you head out

TRAILS — Heavy rain and lingering snow have created a few obstacles for hikers, campers and other heading into the backcountry this weekend. Best to check with Forest Service offices today to make sure your destination is reachable.

For example:

  • Hikers headed to Iron Mountain area east of Bonners Ferry will have to walk an extra half-mile to the trailhead because of a washout on Boulder Creek Road. The washout and lingering snow have kept trail crews from the area.
  • Glacier National Park’s Going to the Sun Road was blocked for three days this week after a dozen or so mudslides buried sections of the popular road for miles. It’s open again today. However, the park service says more bad weather is expected on Friday, with a flash flood watch issued for the park from noon to midnight. Heavy lightning, hail and wind up to 60 mph is expected.

Lingering snow has prevented trail clearing in some areas.

  • Idaho Panhandle crews have just begun logging out the Long Canyon area in the Selkirk Mountains northwest of Bonners Ferry.  But the Parker Ridge area above is still covered with snow.

Priest Lake: All 192 miles of trails on the district have been logged out, getting a big boost from the Back Country Horsemen, who cleared out 50 miles of trails in their annual Memorial Day campout work party.

Huckleberries are ripe in some low to mid elevations.

Free backpack cooking clinic Thursday at REI

BACKPACKING – Backpackers who are tired of Ramen and balk at plain instant oatmeal might benefit from the free clinc on backpack cooking basics Thursday (July 19), 7 p.m., at REI in Spokane.

Topics to be covered include recipies as well as preserving, preparing packing and cooking tasty meals that won’t weight you down.

Video offers primer on chosing trekking poles

HIKING — While a Sunday Outdoors feature story covers the value and issues involved with using trekking poles for hiking, this video offers a useful guide to selecting poles for your type of use.

Our family became advocates of using trekking poles while hiking long ago. They save your knees, ward of charging marmots (seriously), offer an upper body workout and come in useful for all sort of things, including a center pole for a tarp tent.

Bear aware: Tips for camping in bear country

WILDLIFE — The summer camping season is kicking into high gear, putting more people out among wildlife, including bears.

The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project offers basic tips to help campers avoid attracting bears, which can be dangerous to people and destructive to their camping gear.

Worse, a bear that finds value — notably food — in raiding camps almost surely will become a repeat offender that ultimately will have to be killed.

Click "continue reading" to refresh your memory on tips that come from years of case studies:

Long-distance trail proposed for region

OUTBOUND – Spokane hiker-biker Derrick Knowles is proposing formal adoption of a 1,500-mile trail linking routes in a loop through prized wild areas of Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The Inland Northwest Trail would range from the Selkirk Mountains to Hells Canyon and lead through six national forests and at least four wilderness areas.

It would include the Spokane River Centennial Trail and Columbia Plateau Trail as well as scenic trails along the St. Joe and Selway rivers.

Knowles says the route, which he’s been researching the route since 2007, would require about four months to complete, but could be done in segments.

Details on the route will be presented Monday, 7 p.m., at the Mountain Gear corporate office, 6021 Mansfield in Spokane Valley.

Banff National Park slashes staff positions

PARKS — Fewer people will be taking care of fish, wildlife and the land in Canada's Banff National Park this year.

Parks Canada has eliminated 49 vacant positions on top of other job losses in Banff National Park and employees are being warned not to publicly talk about the federal government’s budget cuts – or face disciplinary action.

That figure had not been previously publicly revealed, but the elimination of the 49 vacant positions is on top of 34 other “impacted” positions in the Banff field unit alone.

Read the Rocky Mountain Outlook story.

Permits required in Montana’s Anaconda Pintler Wilderness

BACKPACKING — The U.S. Forest Service says it’s changing from a voluntary permit system to requiring permits in the popular Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness in western Montana.

Wilderness rangers say a growing number of visitors to the area have been ignoring filling out voluntary permits and disregarding warnings about backcountry abuse.

Forest Service spokesman Brandan Schulze says the permits will give the agency an idea of trends in the area so actions can be taken to minimize impacts on the wilderness.

Schulze tells the Missoulian it’s also a way to inform visitors about leave-no-trace principles.

As part of the change rangers will start checking hikers for completed permits. Fines for failing to have a permit range up to $75.

National Parks offer free admission June 9

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks will be waiving entrance fees to celebrate Get Outdoors Day on June 9.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2012.

Offering  free admission to national parks and other federal lands has been featured the past three years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump.

Landers picks region’s top early season backpacking trips

BACKPACKING — With the snow still a few weeks from clearing off mountain trails, early season backpackers don't have to wait to hit the trail for multi-day trips.  The Inland Northwest has a good assortment of trails that some hikers have been enjoying since March. 

Here's my list of favorite early-season backpacking treks:

Bear aware: Tips for camping in bear country

WILDLIFE — The summer camping season is kicking into high gear, putting more people out among wildlife, including bears.

The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project offers basic tips to help campers avoid attracting bears, which can be dangerous to people and destructive to their camping gear. 

Worse, a bear that finds value — notably food — in raiding camps almost surely will become a repeat offender that ultimately will have to be killed.

Click "continue reading" to refresh your memory on tips that come from years of case studies: 

National Parks offer full week without admission fees

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks will be waiving entrance fees to celebrate National Parks Week April 21-29.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2012.

Offering  free admission to national parks and other federal lands has been featured the past three years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump.

Another study verifies bear spray beats guns

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — A Brigham Young University study has supported previous research indicating that bear spray is a more effective deterrant to a grizzly bear attack than a gun.

See the story about the research in the Billings Gazette.

See my story package on the use of bear spray plus a video on how to use bear spray effectively.

Top 5 skills learned in Spokane Mountaineers Backpacking School

HIKING – A few spots are open for the annual Backpacking School taught on Friday evenings over two months by the Spokane Mountaineers

School directors Jeff and Deb Harris offered good reasons for joining the classes. Students will learn and refine their skills in everything from gear selection and navigation to cooking and camp-making tips.

But the Harris's suggest the top five lessons to learn are more subtle:

  1. Know the limits and capabilities of your gear, your body and your mind and respect them.
  2. Tell others you trust about your primary plans, alternate plans and what time you are expected back.
  3. Being in the wilderness does not mean you are exempt from taking care of yourself.  Good hygiene and nutrition are still important.
  4. Be respectful of the landscape, wildlife and terrain you are traveling in.
  5.  In many situations, there are several ways to go about doing things.  Find something that works for you and have fun. 

The Backpacking School starts March 30.

Info: 879-5275, email jeffanddebharris@gmail.com

Visualizing the long-distance backpacker

HIKING — Hikers who tackle entire lengths of long-range trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail are called "thru hikers." 

Follow them on the Thru Hiking facebook page. 

Fly fishing, map and compass and wetlands on outdoor event schedule

OUTDOOR PROGRAMS — Here's a few outdoor programs to consider catching this week:

Fly fishing – “Match the Hatch Simplified,” free program by Oregon fly-fishing author Dave Hughes, 7 p.m., Wednesday (Feb. 8) at St. Francis School, 1104 W. Heroy, hosted by the Spokane Fly Fishers.

Map and compass – Free seminar on basics of reading a map and applying a compass for navigation, 7 p.m., Thursday (Feb. 9), at REI. Pre-register here to assure a spot.

Wetlands – The Pullman chapter of Ducks Unlimited will hold its annual fund-raising banquet for wetlands conservation on Feb. 12 at the Paradise Creek Brewery in Pullman. Tickets: Joe Ford (509) 872-3030.

Years of cleanup planned at Holden Mine above Lake Chelan

FORESTS — Backpackers passing through the Holden Village area between the Glacier Peak Wilderness and Lake Chelan will continue to seek a lot of heavy equipment activity during the environmental cleanup o fthe Holden Mine.

Federal agencies gave the formal OK to the project this week. The remedy focuses on the cleanup of hazardous substances, at levels toxic to aquatic life, in the mine ground water and mine drainage being released into nearby Railroad Creek. 

“Major construction in Phase I of the cleanup remedy should begin in 2013, and should take two years followed by five years of monitoring before Phase II of remedy construction will begin,” Holden Mine Cleanup Project Manager Norm Day said.