Wednesday, April 30, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 24 — Wanda Lake to Big Pete Meadow

The cold wind blew through the night and lashed us as we emerged from the tent in the morning.  We shivered while we ate breakfast and struggled to keep our belongings from blowing away as we shoved everything into our backpacks.  I got an early morning workout by sprinting after my cleanest pair of underpants as they cartwheeled across the rocky ground.  Above us clouds raced across the sky east to west, gathering and swirling around the peaks, quickly closing on the remaining swathes of blue sky.

“We might actually get a storm today,” I said.  The weather had treated us exceptionally kindly so far, no rain for over three weeks, every day warm and sunny.  But in all honesty, I’d been hoping for a storm.  I wanted Noah and Kai to experience a real lightning storm in the mountains, to feel the power of it, let the thunder rattle their bones… but I wanted to make it over Muir Pass and drop to a safer elevation first.  “We better hurry.”

We spotted a few marmots and a pika as we climbed, and we reached the pass while a few pockets of blue sky still remained.  We stood for a while, turning in circles to take in the panorama of gnarled granite and cerulean lakes.  “Welcome to the top of the world, boys.”  I put my arms around Noah and Kai and pressed them against my belly.

The wind tore across the top of the pass, and we took shelter to eat an early lunch on the leeward side of Muir Hut, a hermitic stone structure built in honor of John Muir by the Sierra Club in 1930. We bundled into our fleece as we ate, and clouds continued to gather and darken above us, swirling like a riotous sea.

We’d made it about a quarter mile down the east side of the pass when the first clap of thunder echoed against the mountainsides.  We dug out our rain jackets and pack covers, yanking them on as the clouds unloaded a shower of rain, and we continued winding downwards, the pattering of raindrops like tiny drumbeats against our nylon hoods.  Every few minutes lightning tore across the frenzied sky and thunder slammed against the glacier-carved cliffs.

We walked beside a headwaters stream of the Kings River, its water lunging over great precipices and falling in sheets only to crash against rocks and fall again.  Above us, the jagged peaks of Mount Powell, Mount Solomons, the Black Giant and others jutted up and tangled with the roiling storm clouds.  Everything—the air, the rock, the water—felt charged, alive somehow, and you could see it in the kids’ faces.

“This is awesome,” Kai said.  “Let’s be hobbits, Noah.”

“Okay.”  And they ran side-by-side through the rain.

Eventually we dropped below treeline, entering a sparse forest of lodgepole pine and aspen with lush shrubs and wildflowers growing beside the water.  We paused beside blueberry and gooseberry bushes, snacking on the sweet fruits, the rain easing to a light drizzle and the thunder rolling away to the west.

Noah looked up at me.  “Dad, don’t you love the smell of rain?”

I smiled at him.  “This is one of my favorite things, hiking in the mountains in the rain.”

“I like the smell of rain on plants,” Kai added.

We dropped more than two thousand feet before reaching Big Pete Meadow and finding a beautiful campsite at the foot of Langille Peak.  The Middle Fork of the Kings River meandered nearby, and as we set up the tent we spotted a doe and two fawns browsing on the wet grasses and shrubs.

The boys picked a cupful of blueberries, gooseberries and currents to make a fruit salad that we enjoyed with dinner.  As we finished eating, another rain storm rolled into the valley, and Pam and the boys got into the tent while I put on rain gear and washed dishes and secured camp.  Once everything was set, I walked into the middle of the meadow and watched the rain fall lightly all around me, the creek swollen with runoff, bits of low cloud drifting slowly up the valley like spirits.  The world was perfectly still.  Quiet.  I took a deep breath and turned my face into the drizzle, the small drops cool against my cheeks.

Eventually I joined the others inside the tent, where we wrote in our journals, read and played checkers.  “This is cozy,” Noah said.  “I love this.”

“What were your favorite parts of the day?” I asked.

Kai answered without a moment’s hesitation.  “The lightning and the rain.”

Noah nodded.  “I really liked hiking in the rain too.  And it was fun picking berries and seeing another pika.”  He turned to Pam.  “What about you, Mom?”

“Seeing the stormy sky as we hiked down into that gorge.  If felt so wild.  And I liked watching you guys pretend to be hobbit characters.”

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Firefly Time-Lapse Video

I enjoyed this video created with time-lapse photos of fireflies, and I wanted to share it with you.  We live in a cool world.  Now go outside and have a fun weekend.  Get some mud on your feet! 

From YouTube:  The Firefly Time-Lapse - Photography by Vincent Brady - Music by Brandon McCoy

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 23 — Colby Meadow to Wanda Lake

This morning as I cooked breakfast, the boys used the field guide to identify mountain gooseberries and wax currents, and they picked several of each for us to enjoy with our oatmeal.  The tiny red fruits added a freshness to the monotony of oats, and I wished we’d started eating them weeks earlier.

We spent the day hiking towards the headwaters of Evolution Creek, eventually leaving timberline and climbing into a high, rocky landscape scattered with lakes—Evolution Lake, Sapphire Lake and several clear, nameless ponds.  We pitched our tent on a bare, windswept knoll above Wanda Lake, the world around us ringed with knife-edged ridges and scabrous peaks—Mount Huxley, Mount Warlow, The Hermit and Mount Solomons—a wonderland of white granite monoliths and crystal water.

While hiking I’d spotted a few pikas, the first I’d seen on our trip, and Noah was disappointed that they’d scattered before he had a chance to see them.  So while Pam and I set up camp, he put on his glasses, climbed to a scree slope above us and sat patiently for almost an hour.  When he finally walked back into camp he wore a wide smile on his face.

“I saw two of them.  They’re so cool.”  He told us all about them, how cute they were, how they’d looked right at him, how it was hard to believe such a tiny little animal could live all the way on top of these mountains through the harshness of winter.  “And I really liked just sitting there watching them.  It would be neat to be someone who studies animals like that, like a biologist.”

“You’d be good at it.”  I was proud of him for having enough patience and curiosity to sit still and observe for such a long time, and his excitement was contagious.

That afternoon I explored the lake edge with Kai for a while as he carried out his ritual of catching frogs and spotting fish.  At one point I dove in the icy water, my breath catching in my chest, and I swam quickly back to shore and warmed myself in the sun.

As evening approached, heavy storm clouds gathered in the east.  The sky stayed clear above our camp, but the air turned chilly, colder than we’d experienced at any point on our trip, and I was thankful that I’d found Kai’s jacket.

We ate dinner as the sun set, watching the stony peaks soften to pink and lavender.  Despite the cold we stayed outside until the sky darkened, a million stars scattered above us, the moon hanging like a guardian over Muir Pass.

Finally we crawled into the tent and read about Bilbo Baggins.  He’d reached the Lonely Mountain and the dragon Smaug.  When I’d finished a chapter the kids begged me to keep reading, but I was struggling to keep my eyes open.  We snuggled together, huddled into our sleeping bags, wearing stocking hats against the cold.

Sometime in the night wind kicked up.  It blew through the mountains like a thousand dragons, rattling our tent and pulling a portion of our rainfly loose.  I crawled out into the cold night, secured all the tent stakes and tightened the cords that connected to them, my fingers stiff and uncooperative.  Then I stood and stared at the night, the moon bright enough to give shape to mountains and reflect off the lake’s surface, so many stars you could lose yourself in them.  I shivered.

The icy wind whipped the skin of my face, and I smiled.  This was why I’d come.  This was like those magical moments of my childhood, the mountains all wild and rugged and so much larger than me.  I felt small and ephemeral and alive… and I loved it.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

When Parents Are The Ones Too Distracted By Devices

This short story by Steve Henn is worth listening to.

“Having a teenager lost in his or her cellphone — texting friends and communicating with parents in monosyllabic grunts — has become a trope of the Internet age.  But teens are not the only ones distracted by their devices.”  Read or listen to the full story HERE.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 22 — Evolution Meadow to Colby Meadow

I got out of the tent with the first hint of morning, grabbed a water bottle, a Clif bar and a small bag of trail mix then headed back down the trail to search for Kai’s jacket beside Piute Creek.  The world was wonderfully still, plants wet with dew, the air fragrant and chilly.  Scattered wisps of mist hung above Evolution Creek, and dawn’s silver-pink fingers touched the margins of tree leaves.

As I crossed the creek on a series of stones, a doe and her fawn darted into the trees, making a racket and startling me as much as I’d spooked them.  I descended the thousand feet of switchbacks to the San Joaquin River before the sun had climbed high enough to burn the mountains’ shadows away, and I jogged the last few miles back to Paiute Creek, feeling light and strong without the burden of a pack on my shoulders.

When I reached our old campsite I searched around the areas where we’d pitched the tent and shared meals, but there was no sign of a jacket.  I walked along the creek where I knew the boys had played, looking behind rocks and trees, but there was nothing.  Then I walked circles around the whole area, worry starting to gnaw at my gut.  What if I didn’t find the jacket and we hit a storm?

But finally, after walking a few concentric rings around our campsite I spotted it, all wadded up and stuffed behind a rock, partially hidden by shadows and bushes.

“Knucklehead,” I muttered as I pictured Kai taking it off and shoving it down in this cranny before running off to play.

But I smiled.  I would have done the same thing when I was a kid.  We all would have, and I remembered how wonderful it felt to be caught up in every moment that way.  There have been some wonderful times since I’ve become a dad when my boys’ uncontained excitement about some aspect of the here and now, the charge of some new experience, has been startlingly contagious, taking me back to that childhood feeling in a way that is almost impossible for me without them.

So I had to hike eight extra miles.  So what?  Those moments were payment enough.  They fed my soul.  They were more than worth it.

I sat beside Piute Creek, chugged half of the water I’d brought and scarfed the Clif Bar.  Then I headed back up the trail.  Up was harder than down.  I walked fast instead of jogging.

I stopped again before the thousand-foot wall of switchbacks, drank more water and ate the few handfuls of trail mix I’d brought.  When I finally reached the top, I found myself walking beside a wide swath of blueberry bushes.  Somehow I’d managed to walk right past them twice before without noticing, but now a million berries stood out like a chest of pirate jewels spread before me, and I dropped everything to get my fingers on them.  At first I just ate, stuffing every tiny berry I could pick into my mouth, but then I drank the rest of my water and started collecting berries in the empty bottle.  I waded through the sea of bushes picking the small fruits for about half an hour before I finally walked the last half mile back to Pam and the boys.

I arrived around noon, and they were just sitting down to eat a skimpy lunch.  I handed them the bottle half full of berries, and the boys shouted.


“How did you get them?”

“These are so good!”

We finally left camp around one o’clock in the afternoon and walked a couple miles before taking a short break in McClure Meadow.  We hadn’t walked far, but the views in the meadow were stunning, Evolution Creek meandering through the field of bunchgrasses, Mount Mendel, Mount Darwin and a great knob of rock called The Hermit rising up like giants at the creek’s headwaters.

And we found more berries—first strawberries, a great cluster of them on a hillside that edged the meadow.  We walked back and forth through the pine duff picking handfuls and eating them.  Afterwards we found another cluster of blueberry bushes closer to the stream, and we spent a while feasting on them also.

We stopped to camp around five o’clock, tucking our tent into a jumble of great rocks above a rapid section of the creek.  I bathed in a pool, cold water rushing wildly past, and I howled at the cold and sheer fun of it.  The boys played in the water, and Kai actually managed to catch a fish in a bear bucket we’d emptied for him to play with.

As the sun set we let the boys build and tend a small campfire.  A waxing moon rose above The Hermit, and the world once again mellowed into that purplish hour when I’ve always felt real magic could happen.

Just before bed Kai pulled out a second front tooth that had loosened, and we walked away from the campfire so he could bury it like the first one, adding yet another small piece of himself to the wild Sierras.  It was chilly out in the darkness away from the fire, but Kai had his jacket.  He smiled at me like a jack-o-lantern, and I reached out to scuff his nappy hair.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, April 11, 2014

New Study Shows that Parents Worldwide Agree: Our Kids Need More Nature!

A large study recently revealed that 65% of parents in the United States feel that kids aren't spending enough time outside, and 82% feel that nature is very important to their children’s development.  Here at Mud on Your Feet we agree, and we want to do all we can to get more kids outside, wading in creeks, climbing trees and digging in the garden.  And we want you to join in.  Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.  What are your family’s favorite ways to share nature together?  Do you have tips for the rest of us?  What types of resources could we share on this blog to help you?

Read about the study in an article by Sarita Bhargava the Nature Conservancy HERE.

Use the Nature Rocks website to find nature activities for your family HERE.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 21 — Piute Creek to Evolution Meadow

The steep walls of Pavilion Dome cast shadow across our campsite until late morning, keeping the valley chilly, and the boys and I remained snuggled in our sleeping bags later than usual.  Ravens made a racket in the trees above us, and a couple sparrows darted from branch to branch along Piute Creek.

“Kai, we should start a documentary film studio when we grow up,” Noah said, his voice still scratchy with sleep.  “We could make movies about astrophysics.”

“Yeah,” Kai sat up a little, a big gap where his missing front tooth had been.  “About cowboys too.”

I tucked my face into my sleeping bag and smiled as they talked.  The film projects they were each imagining at that moment were so different that it made me chuckle.  Wormholes and gunslingers.  Quantum mechanics and lawless saloons.  They both sounded interesting.

When we finally broke camp we hiked upstream along the San Joaquin River for a few miles before reaching a steep turnoff to Evolution Valley.  Pam and I struggled beneath the weight of our new food supply and the midday heat as we trudged up a thousand feet of switchbacks, but finally the trail leveled out and we stopped for lunch beside a beautiful section of Evolution Creek, the water running crystal clear over wide swaths of granite, dipping into pools and scuttling across riffles, the banks lined by a company of pine and fir trees.

Noah and Kai had climbed the hill as if it was nothing (we hadn’t added any of our new rations to their packs), and after scarfing down a little food they ran along the creek and played.  It was such a huge difference from our first week when Pam and I would have had to practically drag them up such a steep section of trail.  I was proud of them… and a little jealous.

I looked at Pam and nodded towards the boys.  “I want some of what they’ve got.”

She shook her head.  “Not a chance, old man.”

We hiked another mile or so up Evolution Creek before spotting a perfect campsite—a wide open area beside the creek with large boulders for playing on and several inviting swimming holes.  I took a long bath in the creek then sat drying in the sun, and afterwards Noah and I played frisbee.

That night we decided to have a campfire, and I had just lit the kindling when Kai came over with a horrified look on his face.  “I don’t have my jacket.”

“What do you mean you don’t have your jacket?  You’re fleece jacket?”  Kai had been carrying a fleece jacket and a thin rain shell, and he needed both.  We’d brought the bare bones when it came to clothing.  Every item was necessary.

“It’s not in my pack.”

“Have you had it since we got here?”

He shook his head.

“So you think you left it at our last campsite?”  Every day before breaking camp I’d walked around and carried out a thorough search to ensure that we weren’t leaving anything behind.  I even had a name for it—my idiot check.  I couldn’t image that we’d left an entire jacket behind.

I looked at Pam.  “They were playing all over the valley this morning,” she said.  And it was true.  They’d run everywhere while Pam and I were packing up gear, and the sun had risen above the peaks during that time, heating the valley quickly.  Kai could have taken his jacket off far from the perimeter of my idiot check.

We searched all of our bags just to be sure, but his jacket was nowhere to be found.

“Kai, you’ve got to pay attention to stuff like that.  It’s a big deal.”  I was angry, but you could see he already felt terrible so I tried not to lay into him too hard.  “You’re definitely going to need that jacket, especially if a storm hit us.  You’ve got to be responsible for that kind of stuff.”

“I’m sorry.”  He looked almost like he could cry.

Pam and I walked over to stand beside the creek.  “Do you think he can make it without the jacket?”  I knew we barely had enough food to last to Whitney Portal, and the thought of backtracking and wasting a day made me feel sick.

She thought for a second then shook her head, and I knew she was right.  We’d been exceptionally lucky with weather.  So far we hadn’t even experienced a real storm, but several evenings had turned chilly enough that we’d put on every layer we’d  brought, and now we were heading towards the portion of the trail with the highest elevation.  Kai would need his jacket.

“I guess I’m backtracking tomorrow.”  I shook my head and stared at the river.

We sat by the fire that evening, but the missing jacket took a little fun out of it all.  What if I couldn’t find it?  Chances were that he’d be fine whenever we were hiking and his body was working hard enough to generate heat… unless we hit a really bad storm.  But what about evenings at camp.  If worse came to worst I figured he could just stay in the tent, wrapped inside his sleeping bag.  But what fun was that?

That night I dreamed of snow.  It was the only bad dream I remember having on the trail, and it was a short one, more like a quick image.  Snow was falling—big irregular looking flakes, more like the lace doilies I remember seeing in my great grandmother’s house when I was a kid—and on the ground it lay crusty and icy.  I was digging into the snow, my fingers stiff with cold, and I uncovered Kai’s face.  It was greyish blue and frozen, his eyes rolled back and empty, his mouth slightly agape and crusted with ice.

I woke with a start and sat up.  There was enough moonlight coming through the tent walls that I could make out the rough shape of things.  I reached over to peel open Kai’s sleeping bag and look at him.  He seemed normal enough.  I touched my hand to his forehead and found it hot, a little sweaty even.  I tucked the sleeping bag under his chin then crawled outside to pee.

The sky was a sea of stars.  Evolution Creek gurgled endlessly through the darkness.  And I shivered.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.