Editor’s Pick: North Cascades Weekend

Destinations Editor Kristin Smith loves this shoulder-season overnight on East Bank Ross Lake Trail in Washington’s North Cascades National Park.

“Ross Lake” by mthaeg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The burbling call of a bald eagle rings across the water, echoing off the glass-smooth reflection of Genesis Peak. A moment later heavy wingbeats sound overhead; I turn just in time to watch the eagle launch from the snagged top of a hundred-foot Douglas fir, skimming low over the rocky lakeside before vanishing up a narrow valley. It’s my second eagle spotting of the day as I pick my way along the shore, dipping in and out of thick evergreen forest as I traverse the schist and ancient basalt that cups 23-mile-long Ross Lake. With fall shading into winter the peaks above are already draped in snow; I’ll be glad for my zero-degree bag at camp tonight. For now I continue winding up the narrow valley, water to my left and cliff-studded forest to my right, the last of the autumn leaves crunching beneath my feet.

Turn by Turn

1) Descend from the East Bank Trailhead to Ruby Creek. Cross the creek, turning left just after the bridge.

2) At mile 2.8 go west to reach the lake (and campsites, if you’re looking for an easy overnight), then follow the main trail north to Hidden Hand Pass.

3) From the pass, wind down through dense forest to the shore, paralleling the edge of the water through a few sections of narrow trail and drop-offs before reaching the Rainbow Point Campground at mile 9.

4) Retrace your steps the next morning to return to your car.

Campsite: Rainbow Point

With sweeping panoramas of the bright turquoise lake and jagged peaks above to either edge, this narrow beach is a hard spot to beat. There are only three sites, so a reservation is advised for the busier months–shoulder season and midweek trips, though, have little to worry about. The sites have backcountry toilets, and fires are allowed during low-risk times of the year (check with the ranger station before heading out). Make sure to bring bear hang gear, as they’re often spotted in the area.

Poets on the Peaks

You’ll wind past two of the most important literary sites in the North Cascades on the East Bank Trail: Some of the most influential writers of the Beat movement spent summers as fire lookouts on the mountains above Ross Lake. Sourdough Mountain, on the opposite shore, was brought to vivid life in the poetry of Gary Snyder, who spent several summers as a lookout before he was banned due to his anarchist political views. Closer to camp, a spur trail from Lightning Creek (7 miles past Rainbow Point) leads to Desolation Peak, where Jack Kerouac spent a summer as a lookout; he wrote about his time there in Desolation Angels and in his more famous work, The Dharma Bums.

Trailhead 48.7076, -120.9781 Season Spring, summer, fall Permit Required Contact North Cascades National Park

Difficulty 1/5

https://www.backpacker.com/trips/editors-pick-north-cascades-weekend Backpacker

Recipe: Triple Berry Crisp

Wow your hiking partners with this simple yet delicious dessert.

The sun may be setting earlier, but you don’t have to crawl into your sleeping bag just yet. This warm and comforting dessert will keep the camp party going just a little longer. Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

2 cups freeze dried strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries

2 teaspoons of honey

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 packet of True Lemon crystalized lemon

1 cup of old fashioned oats

½ cup of dark brown sugar

1 packet of coconut oil

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons of honey

Instructions

At home:

  1. Pack all ingredients in separate leak-proof containers.

In camp:

  1. Combine berries, honey, vanilla, and lemon in a skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick and bubbly (about 7 to 10 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Clean out the skillet and add oats, cooking on low to medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add in dark brown sugar, honey, and coconut oil.
  3. Spread oat mixture across pan bottom and continue to cook for another 5 min. Remove from heat and set aside. The crisp will harden as it cools slightly. Once it’s reached a granola-like consistency, slide the disc onto your fruit berry mixture or crumble it on top. Enjoy warm. 

https://www.backpacker.com/membership/recipe-triple-berry-crisp Backpacker

Shattered on the Pacific Crest Trail

When they wake up broke, broken, and far from home, how do thru-hikers find the will to go another mile?

Editor’s Note: We usually focus on the pleasures of a long-distance hike. We tell ourselves the pain will dissolve into a march of panoramas from Mexico to Canada. But the truth of thru-hiking is that it is brutally physical. This excerpt from recently published Journeys North by Triple Crowner and PCT trail angel Barney “Scout” Mann follows his northbound Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in 2007, tracking his experience and those of fellow thru-hikers Blazer, Dalton, Ladybug, and 30-30. Their stories map the glory of the trail but don’t look away from the fear, money issues, and injury that underwrite the experience. And any hiker will recognize the ties that bind this group of travelers. Those considering a long-distance trek ought to know that to travel thousands of miles by foot is to race both the season and the body’s unfolding demise. Every mile has to be earned until, eventually and reliably, something in the body or mind gives. But it’s what hikers do next that defines their hikes—and themselves.

Beginning of the End

Friday, September 7, 2007

The bridge rattled and shook. Through the soles of her feet, Blazer felt the 1,800-foot span jerk as if there’d been an earthquake. She braced herself, pressing her back hard into the railing, and shut her eyes tight. The semi roared by, missing her by inches. Its whoosh sucked her and her pack sideways on the narrow roadbed.

The Bridge of the Gods. Even the name sounds like a rite of passage. Forty miles east of Portland, it spans the mighty Columbia River. Anyone walking across the bridge is acutely aware that the roadbed isn’t asphalt, but an open metal grate. Those who dare to look down see the Columbia’s roiling swells far below their feet, barely obscured by a gossamer lattice of steel. It feels like walking on air.

The bridge is barely wide enough for two lanes, let alone a sidewalk or shoulder. Any ten-foot-wide load requires 24-hour advance notice, a pilot car, and a traffic stoppage. Hikers cross at their own risk—and pay fifty cents for the privilege.

Blazer clung to the outside rail, hating that open grid. In all of her twenty-five years, she’d never experienced anything like this. Looking straight ahead the whole time, she repeated to herself, “This is temporary. People do this all the time.”

Welcome to Washington. Only 500 miles to Canada.

The Ballad of Blazer

It was hard, but finally Blazer broke down and called her brother Ian. She’d stretched her dollars as much as she could—skipping overnight town stays, skimping on gear and town meals. An off-trail friend had helped her stretch a two-month budget to almost four, but the words still felt like sawdust in her mouth. “Ian, I’m nearly out of money.”

The last time she’d seen Ian was when he boarded the bus in Yosemite. That was on the 64th day of her trek. Ian had hiked with her for four weeks, cherry-picking a PCT highlight, the Sierra Nevada. This morning, her hand shaking in the chill air, Blazer had written “Day 128” in her journal. Ian was five years older than her and he’d been the first to tell her about the Pacific Crest Trail. He must be all shaved and clean by now, she thought, but I doubt he smiles as much as he did in the High Sierra. Ian listened to Blazer describe her plight. As soon as it sank in, he said, “You made it this far. You’re not giving up now.” He sent her $500.

Teetering on her financial tightrope had felt worse than any thousand-foot climb under a late-summer sun. I want a trail life like everyone else, with motel stays and town meals, she thought. But she knew $500 wasn’t enough to see her to the end, even if she lived like a monk. She would manage to feed herself and squeeze in with four hikers in a room in town overnight, but her rain jacket needed replacing—the zipper was broken—and that wasn’t going to happen. I’m not asking Ian again. She and Ian had overcome a lot of history to bond in the Sierra. I’d sooner quit the trail than jeopardize that, she thought.

Blazer (right) and Gail wait out the wetness in Ulrich Cabin, Washington.

Racing Winter

On Tuesday, September 11, Blazer journaled: “Today I saw Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier. We hiked around Mt. Adams. I’m stressing about returning to life, to bills and no money!” With nary a gap she went on, “Reunited with Dalton. I’m so glad to be here right now, even though I am sore and tired. About 20 days left.”

They hadn’t hiked together since Blazer left Dalton at Walker Pass. She’d needed to double-time for two days to meet Ian for their hike through the Sierra Nevada. That was back on day 41. Now, ninety days later, both were excited to see the other. She wanted to reach out and tug his bushy amber beard. Both found it hard to believe how long they’d hiked apart. Blazer had been sexually assaulted when she was younger, and for four years before her hike, she had brushed off every request for a date. Dalton was the one who had cracked that shield, the reason she’d become open to trusting men again. At times they’d shared a tent or bed at a motel, but never kissing, never touching. For Dalton, amid the reunion joy, one aspect was bittersweet—he’d heard the trail scuttlebutt about Blazer and her brother’s friend Marcello, with whom Blazer had hiked for three weeks in Oregon. Dalton tried to shake off the feeling of visiting an ex-girlfriend happy with a new partner.

They filled their miles in southern Washington with stories—each had so many. Dalton told her about a dinner at a rustic resort where he’d asked for a big mound of complimentary dinner rolls and the waiter brought him a “freaking mountain.” They exchanged High Sierra tales with Dalton groping to describe the grandeur: “The mountains were storybook. I half expected a unicorn to run across the scene.”

Dalton also brought up their last night together on Walker Pass, how he’d stayed up most of the night. How he’d heard her sobbing. She’d tried so hard to be quiet, but Dalton was only ten feet away and they were both cowboy camping. That is so like Dalton, Blazer thought, finding a way to be there for me, but not letting on. Hearing him talk, Blazer felt like they’d never parted on the trail. Tale by tale their stories rebuilt the implicit trust they’d once had in each other before she’d dashed off ahead to rendezvous with Ian.

There was one thing Blazer did not need Dalton to tell her: why his guitar was gone. Like so many others, he had culled his last ounce of frivolous weight before crossing the border into Washington. At the same time, worried about snow, he beefed up his gear, making room for down mittens, a ski mask, and a second pair of long underwear. Washington was where the trail got serious again. It not only marked the return of big ups and downs, but parts of the trail were as remote as the High Sierra. As the guidebook says, Washington is “real wilderness, not wilderness in name only.”

Around Blazer and Dalton, the change in leaf colors marked the transitioning season. The yellows of the larches and aspens screamed, “Hurry!” The reds of the vine maples and huckleberry bushes warned, “You’ll have to stop soon.” Daylight was pinched at both ends, the weather was deteriorating, and everyone’s bodies were finally signaling that the abuse must end. It was like being squeezed in a vise.

I knew the feeling well. My wife—trail name Frodo—and I were 10 miles ahead of Blazer, hoping she’d catch us soon. We met her early in the hike at a trailside McDonald’s and from then on, our paths crossed regularly and our bond grew. Soon, she started calling us her trail parents, even though she kept us in the dark about her finances.

Like Dalton, my wife and I also made some changes to our gear. We swapped out our two-pound Tarptent for our four-pound Big Agnes, bombproof against expected freezing rain and big enough to bring both our packs inside. We bought new rain pants and gloves, and Frodo bought a double-layered cap. After that crazy day when we both shaved our heads to mark the PCT midpoint, Frodo’s hair was growing in frustratingly slow and it was hard to keep her head warm. We switched our alcohol stove for a canister stove. I’d backpacked for over 40 years, closing in on 10,000 miles, but this was the first time I felt like I was on the eve of a beachhead invasion. Blazer saw us ship odds and ends home, but she had to work with what she was already carrying.

After a few days hiking together (and still trailing Frodo and me), Blazer and Dalton ran headlong into 48 straight hours of rain. This rain was of a different stripe than what they had previously experienced in Oregon or California, much colder and more penetrating. Worse, they had to camp on an exposed ridge—it was the only usable flat spot in four miles—and the wind howled. All night, Blazer tossed fitfully as rain pinged her Tarptent, gusts finding every crack. Shivering, her mind spiraled into overtime. I’m going to die. The next morning, she journaled: “The worst morning of my life!” Both her shoes and socks were frozen stiff. It took hours before she could feel her fingers.

Between the weather and the diminishing daylight, Frodo and I were frequently driven into our tent. With more time to spend writing our online journal, Frodo called me out: “It’s time for you to ‘fess up—you need to write about your trail injuries. You wrote about mine.” Just north of the Oregon border, Frodo fell like a tree and her two front teeth struck a rock. One tooth was knocked out of its socket and the second broke in half. It was a miracle a dentist in Ashland could save those teeth, but even so, strangers still greeted us on the trail with: “Frodo, how are your teeth?” Now she wanted people to know that I, too, had suffered.

I had cracked a rib at Man Eaten Lake. My bare feet slipped on a mossy rock and I crashed hard on my chest. Hiker pride meant I didn’t tell anyone for two days. For two weeks that meant to cough, to breathe deep, or even to laugh, I had to press a hand hard against my chest to lessen the pain.

Two months earlier, just after Wrightwood, California (PCT mile 360), Frodo heard this whump behind her and turned to see me sprawled, embarrassed, on the ground. My shoe caught on a root and I fell, ripping my pants above the knee and opening a gash. If we’d been in a city, I might have gone for stitches.

Earlier still, in the Laguna, San Jacinto, and San Bernardino Mountains, a muscle knotted behind my right shoulder blade on cue every day at 1 p.m. It disappeared somewhere before the Sierra. Starting in Oregon, both my Achilles tendons had been so tight in the morning that I had to shorten my steps for at least the first forty-five minutes on trail. And I won’t speak of all the blisters and lost toenails. Everyone had those. So, Frodo, that’s my list of trail woes. Now are you happy?

The author and Frodo cover the PCT’s home stretch.

The Pain Train

Understand pain and you understand the trail. In Southern Oregon, a young man jumped on to the trail, planning to “section hike” the entire state. After leapfrogging with us for a few days, he stopped by one morning at a quarter before 6 a.m. as Frodo and I were breaking camp. “Can I ask you a question?” We must have looked like trustworthy, parental types—from his voice we knew he was sharing something in confidence. “Sure, go ahead.” He leaned in close. “So tell me, when does the pain stop?”

Frodo and I burst out laughing. He was so sincere, and with such hope. But what else was there to do? Pain was as much a part of this hike as the pines, the Douglas firs, and the thick-bark cedars. Because the truth is that the pain never stops, it merely ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s loud and angry. Sometimes it’s quiescent. Sometimes it’s eclipsed by the wonder of the people on the trail.

That section hiker was lucky he hadn’t asked Switch. Switch and her husband had hiked the Appalachian Trail seven years before. So when they hiked the PCT, they were the experts. During the first few weeks someone asked her, “When do you stop hurting?” Switch looked at him, paused, and said in a deadpan, “Three months.” She saw the wheels turning around in his head. The guy nodded, as if thinking, I can handle that. Then she gave the full answer. “Three months after you get off the trail.”

To hike a long trail, you have to learn the truth about pain. There are two kinds: pain that can be tolerated and pain that must be dealt with. Failure to recognize the second puts you in peril.

Snow and hail greet the stragglers in northern Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness.

One Bad Step

By the time Blazer and Dalton had reunited, Tony was eight days ahead of them. He was focused on the finish line. That particular morning, he was six miles north of Mt. Adams, camping just before the third branch of Muddy Creek, the one with no bridge. He was only there because Allegheny, his current hiking partner, didn’t like to travel at night. That’s how it came to pass that Tony camped for the first time with Ladybug and her hiking partner, 30-30.

Ladybug seemed taller than her 5’5”, and younger than her 50 years. Her bright brown eyes, straight nose, and well-proportioned face might have graced one of the marble statues atop the Acropolis—appropriate for her Greek lineage. She spoke with a Southern accent and had the long arms of a competitive swimmer, which she’d once been. On the PCT she found hitchhiking a snap.

A thousand miles south, Ladybug had taken a bad spill and broken her right hand in a nasty spiral fracture. The cast had to stay on for eight weeks. At the time, she’d been hiking casually with 30-30. Now Ladybug couldn’t even pack her gear. Staring at the prospect of a one-handed hike, she knew she needed help. “What do you think, 30-30?” He didn’t think twice.

Even with assistance, the pain was staggering at times. It was hundreds of miles before it subsided and the bones knit back together. But Ladybug didn’t consider quitting—she had made a promise. Her sister Cheryl had died nine years before from breast cancer. In her last months, she confided her biggest fear, “I’m worried no one will remember me.” Ladybug made her sister a promise: “You will not be forgotten.” She had dedicated her hike to her sister and was raising money in Cheryl’s name for hospice care for people with cancer. A broken hand would not drive her off the trail. By the time Ladybug reached Washington, the cast was gone and the pasty flesh on her arm had tanned.

Tony knew none of this when, at dusk, Ladybug and 30-30 pulled into camp. He and Allegheny had already turned in, and the four spoke only enough to establish that they had each previously hiked the Appalachian Trail. Ladybug and 30-30 were also in a pre-celebratory frame of mind. With only a few hundred miles of Washington left, Ladybug knew she was going to finish.

The next morning it was time to cross the third branch of Muddy Creek. Allegheny left first and negotiated a narrow, slippery log over the stream. The Muddy was fast and deep, its milky-white glacier runoff obscuring a jumble of boulders jutting from the floor of the waist-deep flow. Fifteen feet long and three feet above the water, the log bowed under Allegheny’s weight, but he was loathe to wade through the icy water on such a cold morning. He was well out of sight when 30-30 crossed, using the same route. Then came Ladybug’s turn.

This is no big deal, she thought. I’ve done so many log crossings. She put one foot in front of the other, as 30-30 watched. Then she felt the log bow. He saw her hesitate. Should I be doing this? Should I turn back and wade across? Her debate ended abruptly. Whoosh. The soles of her feet flew off the log. She dropped three feet, and her left leg slammed into a submerged rock. The blow shattered her tibia and fibula—in that moment, she knew that she’d broken her leg. Flailing her arms, she fought to keep her head above the rushing water as 30-30 hurled himself into the icy flow to reach her. When he pulled her head and shoulders out of the water, she shouted, “My hike’s over!” He quickly shot back, “Don’t say that.”

Broken Dreams, New Promises

When Tony arrived at the stream, Ladybug was still lying in the water. She refused to be moved or touched, but Tony and 30-30 were afraid that she’d go into shock. Once they’d helped her out of the stream, the two used a fireman’s carry—their hands crossed and grasped beneath her rear end—to carry Ladybug as gingerly as possible back to where they had camped the night before. She screamed the whole way. Once there, they laid out a Therm-a-Rest pad and made a nest out of their three sleeping bags.

They were deep in the Mt. Adams Wilderness of the Cascade Range—the closest civilization was the sparsely settled Yakama Indian Reservation. They had no cell coverage, nor any idea where the nearest ranger station was. Two miles ahead, barely warranting a number, was Forest Road 5603. “I’ll go for help,” Tony said. 30-30 would stay with Ladybug.

When he reached the road, Tony found Allegheny sitting on a rock. After he explained what had happened to Ladybug, the two pored over their maps. What a crap shoot, Tony thought. Which way to go? The guidebook maps covered such a narrow corridor. He took off, jogging east, because the maps indicated that at a crossroads three miles away there might be a ranger station. Allegheny would man the trailhead, ready to flag down any vehicle coming from the opposite direction. Back at camp, 30-30 gave Ladybug ibuprofen, but it did nothing for the unbearable pain in her left leg. She could only lie there, alternately crying and whimpering, not knowing how soon Tony would bring help.

The sun was high in the sky when Tony reached the crossroads. When he saw what was left of the building, he was crestfallen—there was only a cracked concrete foundation. He caught his breath and then continued east. Finally, Tony saw a car belonging to an off-duty Yakama Reservation policeman. The officer had no radio service or way to contact the outside world, so they started driving back to Allegheny. On the way, they saw a logging truck and flagged it down—that driver also had no radio contact, but offered to drive to the nearest town. “I’ll send medical help,” he said, and then mentioned it was 30 miles away.

When the car reached the trailhead, Tony hurried back to the campsite. He let 30-30 and Ladybug know how soon help might be there, then turned right around and went out again. He wanted to be there to lead in the rescue crew. By this point, Tony had walked, jogged, or run at least 10 miles. It felt like it had been days since he had come upon Ladybug and 30-30 at the Muddy Creek crossing.

The weak sun had passed its zenith when a Yakama Tribal ambulance finally arrived. Two EMTs and four members of the Yakama Nation Foresters hiked back to where 30-30 was waiting with Ladybug. The EMTs then went to work stabilizing her leg. She pleaded for painkillers, and couldn’t believe it when they answered, “We can’t. We’re not authorized.” Next, they loaded Ladybug onto a stretcher and headed back down the trail to the ambulance. Taking turns in teams of four, they inched ahead in 200-yard increments. The trail was narrow and depressed, like a trench, and the stretcher carriers fought to keep their balance as they continuously bumped against the sides. Even with the Therm-a-Rest and sleeping bags helping to cushion her, Ladybug continued to beg. “Please give me something.” Worse, she was losing circulation to her left foot.

They were close, a quarter mile from the road, when two burly paramedics from the town of Yakima arrived in the heart of the afternoon. Finally, finally, painkillers. Finally, some measure of relief for Ladybug. Back at the road, they planned to transport her by ambulance. But they’d grown increasingly worried about the state of her foot. If gangrene set in, she might lose it—or worse.

They called in an army helicopter.

At the Yakima hospital the next morning the doctor told her, “I can’t count how many places your leg is broken. It looks like a bomb shatter.” He minimally set and cast it so she could fly home. 30-30 was there—after Ladybug left in the helicopter, a sheriff had driven him over 50 rumbling miles of washboard and potholes to the hospital. Before he left to head back to the trail, he made a promise. “I’ll hike with you next year. I’ll help you finish.” No matter how unlikely that seemed, given the state of her leg, she made him write it on her cast. “I’ll hike with you next year. —30-30.” A few days later, she flew back home to Ohio. Her husband Bruce had paid for a full row, all three seats. He sat just across the aisle. Ladybug stared at 30-30’s promise as the plane took off.

Eighteen screws and two plates. That’s the hardware it took to wire her bones together. One doctor said, “You’ll never hike again.”

Ladybug closed her ears to the naysayers. From her wheelchair in rehab, she stayed focused on a piece from her plaster cast. When the doctor cut off that first cast, Ladybug had insisted, “Make sure you give me this part.” It held 30-30’s promise to hike with her the next year. She was determined to hold him to it.

Author’s Note: I’m often asked: “How do you prepare for a thru-hike?” I point to my head. “You have to really, really want to do it. You have to be mentally tough. Some part of your psyche has to become a clenched steel fist.” Perseverance—Blazer, Dalton, Ladybug, and 30-30 had it in spades. But that doesn’t guarantee success. There’s an old truism about the best things in life, whether a strong relationship or a thru-hike: You have to earn them. And while the journey may be the destination, as is often said, sometimes you can’t fully understand what it took until you’re standing, beaten up but beaming, at the end.

Barney “Scout” Mann is a Triple Crowner and trail advocate. This year, we dubbed him the “elder statesman of the trail.” With this new book, Journeys North, we’re ready to add another title: master storyteller. 

https://www.backpacker.com/stories/shattered-on-the-pacific-crest-trail Backpacker

BACKPACKER Reader Picks: Car-Camping Comforts

This gear will take your next trip to the next level.

When you make a purchase through our site, we may earn a commission.

Building a kit for car camping offers more freedom than dialing in a typical backpacking loadout. After all, the only limiting factors are how much gear your car can hold, and your imagination. Here are five products that BACKPACKER readers have vetted for frontcountry adventures.

Want a chance to test gear for BACKPACKER? Sign up to be a Basecamp member today.

https://www.backpacker.com/gear/backpacker-reader-picks-car-camping-comforts Backpacker

Deal of the Week: Kelty Cosmic 0°F

This sleeping bag will keep you toasty on cold winter nights.

We know that winter camping can be intimidating, mainly due to low temps and the cost of the gear that’s supposed to keep you warm. But the Cosmic 0°F is one of the rare sleeping bags that will get the job done at an attractive price, and now it’s on sale for 40 percent off on Kelty’s site. Its 600-fill down may not pack down as small as competitors, but the Cosmic offers plenty of warmth on frigid nights. Plus, it’s hard to turn down a 0°F bag—usually a luxury item in any backpacker’s kit—when it’s offered at only $155.97.

https://www.backpacker.com/gear/deal-of-the-week-kelty-cosmic-0 Backpacker

State Parks Are in Danger of Becoming Victims of 2020

Hit hard by coronavirus and historic wildfires, California needs visitors to ensure its state parks recover.

Sugarloaf Ridge, pre-fire

Charred chaparral litters the hillsides of California’s Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, where the Glass Fire torched 75 percent of the park’s 4,800 acres. Above the hillsides are “the skeletons, if you will, of the trees that were killed in the last fire” in 2017 says John Roney, the park manager at Sugarloaf. 

Fires have always been part of the natural ecosystem of the West, but the next looming crisis is completely human-made: With user fees down due to both the wildfires and the COVID pandemic, park managers are forecasting budget shortfalls, leaving some observers to worry that state budgets could be balanced on the backs of the parks.

This year, more state parks closed due to COVID-19 and wildfires in California than in any other state. Thirteen of the state’s parks are currently shuttered either due to wildfires or COVID restrictions. California draws from a state parks enterprise fund, in which all park-generated revenue stays in the park, to pay for infrastructure. If fewer visitors are coming, that means less money flowing into the parks’ coffers.

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget for next fiscal year includes $150 million to help make up for the loss of funding, but advocacy groups still anticipate a significant shortfall. That’s worrying both for California, which is relying on the general fund after facing more closures than any other U.S. state in the past year, and the 75 million annual visitors to those state parks. It could be more than a year before Big Basin Redwoods State Park reopens, and many other state parks like Butano, Julia Pfeiffer Burns and Henry W. Coe are closed until further notice.

But there are several ways around this issue, a few of which California has already adopted since the Great Recession in 2008. The state’s experience with the previous economic crisis could offer a roadmap out of this one.

However, the state does still have some options, some of them adopted in the wake of the 2008 recession, to help its parks keep the trails clean and the lights on. Besides the enterprise fund, California also partners with a dedicated nonprofit organization, the California State Parks Foundation, which received more than $8 million in contributions in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

If that’s not enough, Margaret Walls, an economist with Resources for the Future, worries that California may increase park fees to balance its accounts—a move which could keep lower-resourced communities out.

“It’s really important to keep parks accessible for people who don’t have much income,” Walls says. Instead of raising entry fees, she suggests upping prices for things like campsite and boat rentals, which don’t bar entry to low income visitors. In a normal year, California’s state parks would play host to about 75 million visitors, with rental and use fees making up around a quarter of its budget; If the state is able to funnel hikers and tourists into its functioning units (including, partially, Sugarloaf Ridge), that cash could go a long way.

While California’s state parks have a steep climb ahead of them, Sugarloaf Ridge’s John Roney remains optimistic. In the ashy meadow near the Hurd Ranch section of the park, “there’s green rushes already sprouting through, just about ten days after the fire, without any rain.”

“That just struck me,” he says. “We’ve been here before, and we got through it. We’ll get through it again.”

https://www.backpacker.com/news-and-events/state-parks-are-in-danger-of-becoming-victims-of-2020 Backpacker

The 4 Best Hardshell Jackets of 2021

Stay warm and dry with this season’s most bombproof shells.

There’s no quicker way to ruin a fourth-season hike than getting caught in a rain- or snowstorm without the protection you need. If you’re the kind of hiker who hits the trail no matter the conditions, you need a good shell to keep the weather out. Luckily, we’ve picked eight of the best on the market. Armor up and get out there.

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The Votes Are In: Wolves Are Coming Back to Colorado

With the narrow passage of Proposition 114, Colorado is set to become the first state in US history to reintroduce wolves by voter action.

Colorado is set to become the next state to reintroduce wolves—and the first to do it without federal intervention—after voters there passed Proposition 114 by a thin margin on Thursday.

Proposition 114 instructs Colorado’s department of parks and wildlife to take steps to reintroduce wolves west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023. It also prohibits the state from placing land use restrictions on private owners in connection with wolf reintroduction, and requires the state to compensate ranchers for losses due to predation.

The ballot measure was controversial from the outset, drawing opposition from, among others, the Colorado Cattleman’s Association, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife threw their weight behind the initiative, as did the Global Indigenous Council, a handful of wildlife biologists, and the former chair of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

The tone of the race changed dramatically in January, when Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed the presence of the state’s first wolf pack in nearly a century. While opponents seized on that fact as proof that wolves were naturally migrating into Colorado and that reintroducing them would be a waste of money,proponents of the measure argued, with scientists’ support, that the wolves were unlikely to form a sustainable population.

The measure took on a further sense of urgency for supporters at the end of October, when the Trump administration announced it was ending federal protection for gray wolves and returning their management to the states.

While a statewide survey conducted by Colorado State University in 2019 estimated support for wolf reintroduction at 84%, the actual race was much tighter. The “yes” vote led by about 20,000 ballots, or 0.7% of the vote, when opponents conceded on Thursday, with much of the support coming from the Front Range as well as southern and western counties like La Plata, San Juan, and Summit.

With Proposition 114’s passage, Colorado is set to become the first state to reintroduce wolves by voter action. In a press release, Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund and one of the measure’s primary architects, said that Colorado’s citizens “took politicians out of the picture.”

“Now, together with biologists, ranchers, wildlife watchers, and hunters, we will lean in to craft a future where co-existing with wolves is a widely shared value. We will put science to work to build understanding and trust. As we do, wolves will quietly get to work, restoring balance to our western wildlands and vitality to our elk and deer herds,” he said.

In an emailed statement, Coloradans Protecting Wildlife, a group formed to oppose Proposition 114, said that it stood “firm in its belief that the forced reintroduction of wolves to Colorado is bad policy.”

“The election results demonstrate that nearly half of Coloradans agree with us,” the group said. “We hope these election results show proponents, lawmakers, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife that next steps must be taken in a measured, responsible way.”

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