This was our campsite in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The “black” triangle in the top center is Brokeoff Mountain (also known as Mt Tehama). This was at 4am. We had just woken up to an “alpine start”, to try and summit the peak while the snow was still hard, before the sun came out and turned it into something too slushy to ascent in. The moon had just set in the West behind that ridge – and its afterglow still leaked into the sky, leaving only the brightest stars visible.
When out in the backcountry, especially in the winter, you can’t really count on having any marked trails. We spent a good amount of time studying maps of the area, identifying the trailhead, waypoints and landmark features before we even left home. We also researched recent trip reports from others and talked to the rangers on the phone to better understand what to anticipate on the ground. Then we plotted our planned route with waypoints on the map using the Garmin software on my laptop. We loaded the map and route onto the GPS. And then also printed the map on paper and laminated it so it wouldn’t get damaged in the snow.
On the trail, it took us way longer than our most liberal estimate as we got lost quite a few times and had to backtrack and re-evaluate our plan a few times. Eventually, the GPS battery died. We had 4 more sets of backup batteries between the two of us so that wasn’t an actual problem. But a GPS can stop working for various other reasons.
So we decided to use this as an opportunity to sharpen our compass-based way-finding skills. Paper doesn’t run out of power 😋 Not so fast, however. We hadn’t checked our compasses closely. Both of them had developed bubbles after years of use. Maybe we left our packs out in too much heat without realizing it. But that meant it became very unreliable to sight using the compasses.
So we finally switched to the last fail-safe. Using landmarks (and elevation using the solar altimeter) to locate ourselves and chart our progress. That turned out to be quite easy as there were a lot of streams that served as natural guide-rails. We emerged exactly where we had parked our car within +/- 10ft error. That was a little surprising but quite awesome.
Always carry extra batteries for every electronic device you rely on. Always have an analog backup if possible. Spend some time thinking about things that are most likely to go wrong and have mitigations in place.
Seattle is a growing city with a lot to offer with all its wilderness parks, great restaurants and bars and nightlife. However, just 25 miles in any direction, you experience things I always thought you would need a vacation to access. My wife and I have internalized the Seattle lifestyle and incorporated a lot of backcountry and outdoors into our life. We don’t take the car to work. But we do take the car to get out there where people don’t usually go and enjoy nature on a weekly basis. Here’s what Seattle looks like as experienced via half-day and full-day ventures into it’s surroundings:
When you start counting the stuff within a 0.5-4 hour radius of the city, coupled with the clean crisp air and beautiful city itself, the bar is set pretty high when you decide to go someplace on a vacation!