I don’t like carrying around big maps so I’ll often print off small, pocket sized maps before hitting the trail. See that box? It’s full of them. I’ll reuse maps until they fall apart from regular pocket-shoving. The problem is finding them again. When I have a giant pile like this (did I mention it’s not the only box?), how am I going to find that one specific map I’m looking for? Or even know if I still have it? There are two things I’ve wanted to do with this pile to solve these problems:
1. Scan everything into Evernote so that I have a searchable database of my maps
2. Organize the pile by park/location/whatever
This project has been haunting me for a while, but I’ve decided to take it on using my recently acquired Doxie One scanner.
I am frequently asked about how I go about planning my trips. My outings often take me to terrain that is not frequently visited, so information and beta can be hard to come by. I tend to be a meticulous, detail-oriented trip planner, pouring over pictures, trip reports, guide books, and maps before ever setting foot on the trail. In fact, I get a lot of joy out of that part of the trip process – there is nothing like spending a rainy January night with my Sierra maps spread out in front of me, dreaming of August summits.
When I get home from trips I dump my GPS tracks on top of maps, studying my routes on top of topo maps. It helps me build my map reading skills so that I can make better decisions and estimates when I’m planning my next trip or out reading a route in the backcountry.
Since I spend so much time with my nose buried in maps, I thought I’d share my favorite mapping tools and how I use them before, during, and after my adventures.
Casey wrote about some training hikes in Southern California, and that inspired me to think about good training hikes in the Bay Area. These are lower in elevation than the Southern California hikes and won’t prepare you for the affects of altitude, but they will help you understand how it feels to put in a long day on the trail.
Mount Sizer Loop (Henry Coe State Park)
If you’ve never hiked over 15 miles or over 4000 feet in a day I highly recommend doing this hike before committing to Whitney. I try to do it every spring as a benchmark of my hiking condition going into the summer. It is a 16 mile, 4500 ft of gain and descent hike at the minimum, and there are options to make it longer if desired.
In fact, hiking a long distance to anywhere in Henry Coe is good training. As I’ve said in this blog before, people don’t go to Coe to train for the Sierra, they go to the Sierra to train for Coe. Steep roads, east-west trails that pass over endless parallel north-south ridges, and the heat all conspire to beat you down. Learning how to make these kind of hikes bearable, and even enjoyable, was a triumph of my hiking career.
Sizer is the highest point in Henry Coe State Park and the hike along Blue Ridge is excellent – you can see deep into the park’s backcountry and find all kinds of interesting trees and wildflowers. One other reason I like this hike is that it can be done on fire roads only (the track I include here has one stretch of single-track trail), so it’s easy to avoid poison oak if you’re really sensitive to it. This hike will take you on the “Shortcut”, often cited as the steepest trail in the Bay Area. Choose your loop direction based on whether you prefer going up or down really steep trails. I prefer going up.
Kennedy Road is a trail that starts in the hills above Los Gatos and climbs up to the main ridge of Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. The stretch to the first trail junction is a steady uphill slog, and then you have the option of making a loop along some roller coaster rolling hills (gain 200 ft, lose 200 ft, rinse, repeat a million times) or heading to the summit of Mt El Sombroso. Sombroso is an uninteresting high point of the ridge, complete with a PG&E tower and wires and trees blocking 80% of the view. However, it makes a good turnaround spot for an in-and-out hike up Kennedy Road that will get you 4000 ft of gain in 12 miles. It’s also a great place to hike in the snow when we get the rare dusting in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Or, you can do a lollipop shaped hike by turning on Priest Rock Trail and connecting to the Limekiln trail. This gets you the same amount of elevation gain in 14 miles. If you’re feeling really ambitious you could do this loop with the additional side trip to El Sombroso. This will add on another 2 miles and a few hundred additional feet of gain.
Until recently, Rose Peak was known as the high point of Alameda County. That honor actually belongs to a slightly higher bump on a nearby ridge according to recent measurements. Rose, however, is the highest *legally accessible* point in Alameda County. It is along the Ohlone Wilderness trail about half way between Sunol and DelValle. The track I’ve included here is the slightly shorter Sunol approach via the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, coming in at 17 miles with about 4200 ft of gain.
Like most of these hikes this is best hiked in the spring since there is very little shade on the trails and it gets very hot and dry in the summer. The winter can be muddy. But the spring is usually beautiful with green rolling hills and wildflowers.
Monument and Mission Peaks from Ed Levin County Park
Mission Peak is an extraordinarily popular summit with hundreds of people hiking it each weekend. Most people, however, take the short approach from the Stanford Road trailhead. The longer and more difficult approach via Ed Levin County Park is, in my opinion, much more enjoyable since the trails aren’t busy. The most likely place you’ll see someone is on a hang glider soaring above. The hardest part of this hike is the first and last few miles where you climb from the parking area to the ridge. Once the steepest climb is done you can take the side trip to the quiet summit of Monument Peak, then follow the undulating ridge over to Mission Peak. After enjoying the view with the large crowds that will no doubt join you on the summit, you can retrace your steps back along the ridge.
There are some variations to this loop – it can be an in and out, or you can follow different trails up and down. In any case, is is approximately 14 miles long with about 3500 feet of gain. It’s not the most strenuous of these hikes but it’s a beautiful wildflower hike in the spring and if you love rolling ridge walks this is a good one.
Murietta Falls is also along the Ohlone Wilderness Trail and is not that far from Rose Peak. But this hike starts on the opposite end in Del Valle Regional Park. Just like the hikes in Coe, this goes up and over a few different ridges between the trailhead and the falls. Over the 15 mile round trip you’ll gain almost 5000 feet.
Although there is a bit more shade on this hike than the others, spring and winter are still the best seasons for this hike. The waterfall dries up easily so if you want to see water find a nice day about a week after a good rainfall. There should be water in the falls but the trails should have had some time to dry out.
This is kind of an unusual hike in that you have to do a lot of work to get to a place you can drive to. The loop I’ve included here is one of many options; there are so many trails on Mt Tam that you could probably hike this every day for a month and not do the same exact loop twice. Coming in around 16 miles with a bit over 3000 feet of gain, it doesn’t have quite the vertical oomph of the other hikes I’ve listed here, but it provides a different type of scenery than the stuff south of San Francisco. The Steep Ravine trail is rich with deep, damp shades of green. Starting at the ocean usually means a nice cool layer of fog to make the beginning climbs more comfortable.
When you get to the summit you’ll be joined by the picnicking families and tourists that have driven to the top. Grab a hotdog and cold soda from the stand. (Yes, this summit has a hot dog stand. Don’t expect that on Mt Whitney).
Once again, I’ll be attending the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market this January in Salt Lake City on behalf of BackpackGearTest.org. I can’t remember how many times I’ve attended; I think this will be my seventh visit, give or take a year. Recently someone asked me for some tips for making the most of the Show and I thought I’d publish them here for others who are looking for similar advice.
I’m always registered as media so this is definitely biased towards the people who wander the show floor – mainly other media and retailer reps. As for the booth-dwellers – I’m sure you have your own set of best practices (feel free to add your tips in the comments)! This is also based only on my experiences at the Outdoor Retailer Winter show. I’ve never attended the summer show since it is right in the middle of my Sierra backpacking season and the High country ALWAYS has priority at that time of year!
And now: How to Survive the Outdoor Retailer Show
15. Book Early
I know it’s too late for this year, but take heed: if you know you will be attending a show make sure to book your hotel as early as possible. Downtown hotel room rates soar to exorbitant levels during the show and everything fills up. If you wait too long you’ll be paying out the nose to share a corner of someone’s Motel 6 room floor. In fact, last year I got back and immediately booked my room for this year. I’ve got a room reserved for under $50 a night in a hotel a mere few blocks from the Salt Palace that is now charging $309 a night for the few rooms it still has available.
Of course, there is always the option of staying some distance from downtown but that just introduces more complexity and expense – car rental, parking, coordinating after-hours events, etc. I like to be able to get from my room to the Salt Palace and back quickly and easily, especially if I need to drop things off or change before evening events.
14. Attend the Demo Day
The day before the big show floor opens, Solitude Mountain Resort hosts a demo day for show attendees. The idea is that you can try out gear – skis, boots, snowboards, snowshoes, packs, etc – and get in some outdoor time before being cooped up in the Salt Palace for the next several days. It’s a lot of fun disguised as “work”. I’ve skied, done a snowshoe 5k, tried some awesome demo gear and gotten some incredible freebees and samples. It’s just a lot of fun. Don’t miss it. After all, while the gear is nice to look at on the show floor it’s a lot more fun to take it out in the snow to see what it can DO!
13. Bring a Backpack
As you wander the floor and go to meetings you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with samples, media kits, magazines, swag, etc. As a media attendee I don’t have a “home base” where I can stash stuff, so I bring a backpack. And not just any backpack. I bring my biggest daypack – an old Osprey Aura 35L (discontinued)- that has a frame and can carry some weight comfortably. I know you have something- we’re all outdoors folks here. Pick your favorite comfy pack and bring it along. You’ll want a place to stuff away your jacket and water bottle anyways – it’s cold outside and hot inside. I show up with an empty pack every day and return to the hotel with it full.
12. Schedule appointments using the floor plan
The Outdoor Retailer website publishes a floor plan well in advance of the show. Use it to schedule your appointments. If you’re taking them close together make sure they aren’t on opposite ends of the floor. One year I wore a pedometer and found that I walked almost nine miles a day running back and forth to appointments. That, plus the concrete floor of the Salt Palace, leads to some sore feet. Make sure you include the booth number in your appointment schedule so that you can find them without having to find a floor map kiosk.
11. Don’t book 100% of your time
There will be so many companies you’ve never heard of and you’ll stumble across gear and people with whom you will want to spend some time. Set aside plenty of time to wander the floor, browse, and strike up these conversations. I find that it helps to first approach the show floor systematically to make sure I don’t miss anything. For the first two days I’ll spend my free time weaving through the aisles, noting down booths to come back to if they are busy or I need to get to another appointment. I spend the second half revisiting booths that caught my eye.
10. Wear comfy shoes
That concrete floor I mentioned earlier – it makes your feet HURT by the end of the day. Most people in the Salt Palace, including me, are used to hiking/running/skiing/etc many more miles than that in a day but somehow I hurt worse after a day on the show floor. Complaints of sore feet are common. One of the sock manufacturers sometimes has free foot massages in their booth and there is always a line. Comfy padded shoes are a must. I’m convinced that the reason Crocs originally caught on their first year was because they handed them out to weary OR Show floor wanderers.
9. Water – bring a bottle fill it up
You’ll walk a lot. It’s hot and dry in the Salt Palace. There are water stations so bring a bottle to keep full. Stay hydrated. While you’re at it, swing by a bunch of the electrolyte additive booths (Nuun, Camelbak Elixir, etc) for a sample to add some flavor and boost.
8. Media Room
If you have registered as media and have the magical media credentials badge you have access to the secret media room. They have water and coffee and power outlets and tables and chairs and media kits. It’s a great place to duck away from the crazy going on on the show floor for a few minutes and regroup. There is a good wifi signal if you need to throw up a quick blog post or send an email and you can have quick meetings with your colleagues in peace (if they are also media credentialed).
7. Leave No Trace Drawing
Around noon every day the Leave No Trace crew does a drawing for a boatload of gear. Stop by the booth, fill out the card and answer a few questions for your chance. Must be present to win!
Don’t miss the smaller side ballroom where many of the newcomers are assigned booth space. It’s great fun to see some of the ideas and talk to the creators directly. Every year I see some of these small guys “graduate” to the main show floor (and many more fade away, never to be seen again). I remember when Keen was a tiny booth in that small room. Now they have one of the biggest displays at the show. Last year there was an alpaca farm booth with REAL ALPACAS! Possibly the cutest thing at the show. I made sure to regularly walk by and pet the fuzzy critters.
I haven’t bought a meal at the Salt Palace since my first year of attending the OR Show. There are so many opportunities for delicious (and free!) noms on the show floor that there is no need for that overpriced pizza or smoothie. There are too many appointments, too many things to see – don’t waste your time standing in line! While there is no guarantee that this year will be the same, here’s something to get you started.
In the morning, Royal Robbins is the place to be with their free espresso drinks and friendly baristas (leave ‘em a tip). Swing by the New Balance booth next for some fresh waffles with a generous selection of toppings. Lunch? Try the Vibram booth with their Italian country lunch of bread, parmesan, prosciutto and sparkling water. Starting around 4 pm the parties bust out and you can find snacks everywhere (check out the fondue at Jetboil’s booth!) Worst case, scout out the booth of your favorite trail munchie brand (and explore new ones), and make sure to cruise by whenever you need a pick-me-up. I usually scout out the Honey Stinger and Lara Bar booth right away!
4. Be Social!
The show is packed with all kinds of events. I try to never take an appointment after 4pm. That’s the magical party hour when the kegs come out and people stop concentrating and start networking. At the end of each day there are parties, drawings, special appearances, giveaways, etc happening at any number of booths. The show guide lists many of the ‘official’ parties but there are many more that just seem to pop up without warning. My suggestion: pay attention to the OR Show tag on twitter (#ORWM12 or #orshow) to keep up with what is going on. It also helps to have a plan – take a look at all the show publications ahead of time to know who is speaking where, what giveaways are happening, and who has the good beer and snacks!
Since it is all happening around the same time and the show floor is so huge it’s good to have priorities. It’s also a good way to sync up with others at the end of the day – for example, “let’s all meet at the 6:30 drawing at the Osprey booth!”
It’s not just on the show floor either – there are lots of after hour parties, movies, talks, tweetups, and more. Track the peripheral events going on around the show and attend what you can! But, jumping ahead to number 2 a bit, don’t forget you’ll be back on that show floor the next morning. I’ve found myself sacrificing some of these late night events in favor of down time and rest. I’m not 21 anymore.
3. Pay attention to the OR Show tag feeds on Twitter
There’s a lot of fun spontaneous stuff that happens throughout the show. Appearances, classes, giveaways, etc. Much of it is announced via twitter. Follow the show’s hash tag (#orshow or #orwm12) and check it frequently. I won a kickass Timbuk2 bag from Cordura last year (that I now use every day) simply because I happened to catch a giveaway tweet at the right time.
2. Scheduled down time
The show is exhausting. It’s four days (five if you go to the demo day) of GO GO GO. I treasure the downtime I get at the end of the day when I am back in my hotel room. It’s the time that I can catch up on my blogging, call friends and family, and get away from the massive crowds for a few moments. Recovery is really, really important for me. It often cuts into #4 but I try to maintain a healthy balance. I usually cruise the booth parties on the show floor and skip the late night events.
1. Network – the people are the best part!
Related to #4, but important enough to stand on its own, is networking. It happens outside of parties, too!
Whenever I walk onto the floor for the first time a feeling of comforting happiness comes over me. And it doesn’t come from the bright shiny gear and banners – it comes from the people. I always think, these are MY PEOPLE. They get me. They understand me. They don’t look at me like I’m crazy when I start to talk about the peaks I want to climb next summer. They disguise Patagonia dresses and Prana shirts and Chaco sandals purchased at REI as work clothes, too.
Take time to meet people, have conversations that go beyond the gear. You’ll find a shared camaraderie that I’ve never seen with any other industry show or conference. There is nothing like geeking out with a bunch of other people you’ve never met before about their favorite campsite on the John Muir Trail or their tricks to healing climbing callouses. In my opinion this is the best part of attending Outdoor Retailer. Don’t be shy!
I could go on and on about the Outdoor Retailer Show, but at this point I’ll open it up to comments. What is your advice for attending this event? What role do you attend under? What have I missed? I want to learn, too!
Confessions up front: I didn’t get to see the Wave. We did not get a permit. What is the Wave, you may ask? Well, go check out this link and then come back here. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Access to the Wave is governed by a lottery process, with only twenty visitors allowed per day. Ten are assigned via a lottery several months in advance, and ten are distributed via lottery the day prior to the permitted date. The advance lottery process is described clearly and in great detail here. The in-person lottery is a bit more mysterious so I thought I’d describe my experience for those planning on trying for one.
So how does the Walk-In lottery process for The Wave work?
In general I’ll say that it is handled quite well by cheerful and friendly volunteers. The atmosphere was nervous but fun as people waited around for the drawing.
1: Arriving at the Office
The drawing is at 9 am MST (DST in summer) and they open the office doors at 8:30. It doesn’t matter when you arrive – everyone who is there before the 9 am drawing has the same chance. Pay attention to the time zone issues with Northern Arizona and Southern Utah – there are always people who show up an hour late. The permits are currently issued through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. When we did it we had to go to the Paria Contact Station. I believe the location is based on time of year. Make sure you double check.
2. Submitting the Application
Due to the small size of the office they asked that a single representative for each group come in while everyone else waited outside. Each representative filled out a form listing the number of people and the names of the people in their group. If more than one person from a group filled out a form both would be disqualified – one chance per group. As the volunteers collected the forms they checked through the other forms for name duplicates. There is no benefit for people who have showed up multiple days in a row. Somewhere I read that you got an extra chance per day you’d showed up but that was not (or no longer) the case when we were there. In fact, as we stood around we chatted with a guy who was on his 5th day of trying for a permit. At 9 am sharp they stopped accepting applications.
3. The Drawing
Each form was numbered at the top. I believe there were 16 groups totaling around 45 people. The volunteers said this was a very low number (probably due to the weather). In fact, on the door they had a list of the previous month’s daily lottery entries and the numbers were closer to 70 people per day. They took out a bingo wheel and a box of bingo balls with numbers on them. They put the balls numbered 1-16 in the wheel and drew them.
In order to assign the permits they would match the number on the ball to a numbered application. So, if the first one drawn was an application for two people, they would get two permits and they would draw again for the remaining 8. If the next group was four, they would draw again for the final four. If they then drew a group of six, the group would have an option of taking the four and having to leave two people behind, or passing entirely. The process went on until the ten spots were filled.
Issues, Observations, and Suggestions
The Wave permits are clearly in huge demand. There are some simple changes I believe they could make to leave fewer people frustrated and make sure the permits are being issued to people who will actually use them. The big complaint I have about the way that permits are handled all boil down to one thing: there is no common sense applied. They know that there are significantly more people who want to visit than they can accommodate, but their process does not maximize the chances that people they give permits to will actually get to see the Wave.
First, the half of the permits that are pre-determined by lottery are just mailed out, never to be seen again. For all they know, none of the 10 people actually showed up that day. And they have people requesting them from all over the world, trying for anything. How many of them get the permit and then actually arrange to travel there? Meanwhile they have a room full of people standing RIGHT THERE who desperately want to go. I would suggest that if you get one of the advance lottery permits that you be required to pick it up in person ahead of time or forfeit your spot. Yes, it is inconvenient to have to pick up a permit, but I’ve done it a 100 times with minimal inconvenience. If you don’t pick it up by a certain time it can go into the pool for the people who are there that day.
Second, we were there during horrible weather. While collecting the applications the volunteers clearly said many, many times that the road was impassible to all but the most capable 4WD drivers and vehicles (even then, incoming storms were making things worse). However, that didn’t deter anyone from entering the lottery, that’s for sure. Sure enough, as the permit spots filled and I watched the permit winners get into their cars, they were all small rental sedans from Las Vegas – a Ford Focus, a Nissan Altima, etc. So great, they got the permit, but there was no way for them to actually get to the Wave. They were told by the volunteers: you will not get in there. It’s hopeless. Meanwhile, the handful of us with vehicles most capable of negotiating the conditions were stuck with nothing. Most likely the Wave saw NO visitors that day.
I’m glad I experienced the process so that I know what to expect. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get a permit, especially considering that the people who did get them that day probably didn’t even use them. The weather really skunked us in this whole area and we didn’t get to see much of anything. But what we did visit was incredible. Although the Wave is the big famous focal point of the area, don’t let tunnel vision take hold. There are miles and miles of unique scenery to explore in the area. I cannot wait to go back and visit in good weather. Even if we don’t get a permit for the Wave again, I know I could stay busy for weeks.
After a few conversations on the trail last weekend I thought it would be good to dig out this post from a little over a year ago. If you want your Gore-Tex to be in top shape for the winter season give it a nice spa treatment as described in the video!