Mountain Changes?

Grab your bear can or camp chair, kick your feet up and chew the fat about anything Sierra Nevada related that doesn't quite fit in any of the other forums. Within reason, (and the HST rules and guidelines) this is also an anything goes forum. Tell stories, discuss wilderness issues, music, or whatever else the High Sierra stirs up in your mind.
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cgundersen
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Mountain Changes?

Post by cgundersen » Wed Jun 27, 2018 1:50 pm

OK folks, I know that many of you have been hanging out in the Sierra appreciably longer than I have, but 1972 certainly puts me in the upper echelon, and there have been significant changes both in the mountains themselves (think: shrinking glaciers), as well as in administrative controls (wilderness permits were unheard of when I started backpacking), choices and quality of gear (internal frame packs?) environmental conditions (fewer pika) and wilderness "ethics". In fact, if you're philosophically inclined, the only constants in life are: change and taxes (and mortality). But, I'm most interested in what you feel are the most significant changes that you've witnessed in the great Sierra Nevada. Good or bad.
Cheers,
Cameron

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CAMERONM
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Re: Mountain Changes?

Post by CAMERONM » Wed Jun 27, 2018 5:25 pm

-fields of grey or red dead trees
-central valley dust smog on the Sequoia side
-central valley night sky light pollution
-no more gross Bernard's dehydrated food or "bug juice"
-more duck down, less goose down
-no more snake-bite kits
-greatly improved 395
-no more mildewed cotton tent smells
-no more lengthy leather hiking shoe break-in periods
-trail runners
-did I mention trail runners?
-trekking poles
-no more trimming borders off of USGS quadrant maps
-higher Sierra Club fees
-Colin Fletcher?
-I sort of miss my SVEA 123

summer class of '69

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wildhiker
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Re: Mountain Changes?

Post by wildhiker » Thu Jun 28, 2018 12:19 am

The GOOD:

Permit system, although a pain to navigate, has actually controlled overcrowding and made many of my favorite destinations in Yosemite less crowded, less trampled, less polluted and more wild.

Bear canister - heavy, but lets me sleep peacefully at night. So great not to have to get up in the middle of the night to chase off a bear.

Outlawing campfires at high altitudes (and removing all the fire rings) has again improved the wildness.

Lighter - much lighter - equipment allows me to keep backpacking into "old age".

Better sources of information - like HST - to plan trips.

Better transportation options for one-way trips, such as the YARTS bus in Yosemite.

The BAD:

Concentration of use on marquee trails like the JMT with spillover effects on nearby areas - I blame social media.

Wildfire smoke! I now have to plan my trips around where the wildfire smoke is at the moment and be willing to change plans at the last minute. Never worried about that 40 years ago.

Smog wafting up from the valley has also increased.

Fashion - people who fetishize their gear and clothing in the backcountry. Really, who cares?

-Phil, Sierra class of '70.

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oldranger
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Re: Mountain Changes?

Post by oldranger » Thu Jun 28, 2018 11:46 am

Since I started in the 50s, what wild hiker said plus--More people, fewer horses and cows (up until 86 there was still cattle grazing around Comanche Meadow in Kings Canyon NP.) More maintained trails in the old days (at least logged) on forest service land (because there was no wilderness the FS used chainsaws so they were much more efficient) and with cattle grazing the trails below treeline were kept open. Many a TR refers to trying to follow old trails.

Personally the big change other than the lighter gear that Phil mentioned is that in 1980 I stopped wearing levis when hiking!
Mike

Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!

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Re: Mountain Changes?

Post by AlmostThere » Fri Jun 29, 2018 11:25 am

I hate chainsaws. Too much junk to take - forget it without mules, just not going to happen. Give me a crosscut any day. Watched someone smoke a chainsaw with a too-short bar trying to get a Jeffrey off the trail just last weekend...

Better clothes, lighter gear, better food.

Altho, I saw a skinny little guy who told us he had a 140 lb pack - and I believed him. Huge, obviously military surplus, stuffed to the max -- and not including the two bear vaults he had bungee'd to the front of himself. He was (not exaggerating here) doing about two miles a day. I doubt that he was really backpacking - another case of someone trying to disappear into the wilderness. I bet we'll find his gear someday out there, just as I found a weathered old external frame, a big plastic bin full of old food items, pile of cans and bottles... and motion sensor lights, tarps and other signs of semi-permanent habitation. This is another thing that seems to be on the upswing. Homeless people making the attempt at just staying out on public land. I saw a fellow who had well past exceeded the 14 night limit in a NF campground, homeless and living in his camper here and there until a ranger threw him out and then he'd go find another NF campground. I've heard from some of the folks who have inholdings in the wilderness that there was a guy using the PCT to roam up and down in the off season breaking into cabins and stealing things... he was caught, finally.

Fewer people interested in being stewards of the wilderness, more people interested in vacationing in the mountains and then forgetting about it entirely. The whole "theme park" attitude -- have heard people complain about the roads, the delays due to having to use a pullout while traffic goes by, this than and the other as if the agencies are all so well funded that they can hire someone to install plumbed restrooms instead of pit toilets. People who know the rules because they are on trailhead signs, on the back of their wilderness permit, are spoken out loud to them, and just do not care to follow them. Or they know better, but leave their "friends" in distress and hike off, leaving them to the whimsy of nature or kindness of strangers, instead of hanging with them and helping them get back home alive.

The stupendous sense of entitlement some tourists have almost make me want to disappear into the wilderness and never come out myself... every time I drive Kaiser Pass Road, I end up shaking my head for half the drive.

Mountain bike tire tracks. where they should never go.

Toilet paper. Everywhere.

Crowds. 66 resupply buckets per week go out to Muir Trail Ranch. On the other hand - the thru hikers are probably the only reason places like Vermillion still have half their income....

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Re: Mountain Changes?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Fri Jun 29, 2018 12:39 pm

I have only been in the Sierra since 1996, so some of these observations are backpacking in general.

Technology! The biggest change. The GPS "track" enables hikers who really are not qualified to go off-trail. Social media. Seems the "big name" trails are mostly used. More interest in doing well known "bragging rights" routes than simply going out and exploring. Blogging while on the trail. Ear-buds to listen to music instead of listening to nature. Light up the night with head lamps. PLB- good in lots of ways, but bad in that self-sufficiency less important. Socialization seems more important than a wilderness experience. Not all backpackers, but more than there used to be. But I admit, that I just LOVE Google Earth, my computer spreadsheets for trip planning, electronic maps, my little I-pod for music at night, and, of course, High Sierra Topix and all the wonderful CDEC data on the web. And I also just love my little digital camera. Now I can take 200 photos each trip, instead of 24 or so. Never will drop another roll of film in the river, all photos lost forever.

I have really seen the rise of solo hiking and getting information from the internet and books, rather than the large organized groups in the past, who offed instruction as well as organized trips.

More international backpackers. I used to see very few.

Lighter gear has broken the old "rules" about what is really needed. No more 60 pound packs, heavy boots, etc. The flip side of lighter gear is that it is not made to last a lifetime. Thus the explosion of outdoor gear manufacturers and backpacking "consumerism" and a "use and throw away" trend in gear. In the old days, we actually made a lot of our gear ourselves- now you can buy anything and everything.

I think also that part of the "light and fast" trend is enabled with technology. I see more backpackers with minimal ability to survive extended foul weather or an injury in a remote area. Perhaps they think the PLB is a substitute for being a bit more prepared. But on the whole, the lighter philosophy has allowed me to keep going!

Bark beetle damage (huge impact in the Rockies), climate change (there go the glaciers), what happened to all the wildlife? Much reduction in fish stocking in the backcountry lakes. Emphasis now on native species, netting fish to supposedly "save" the frogs. Chunks of El Cap falling off. Seems to be more swings in weather. Significantly warmer waters and nutrient load- I now see algae where it never was. More polluted water.

Dwindling public funding of resources. Campgrounds used to be free. More fees that nickel and dime us to death.

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Re: Mountain Changes?

Post by cgundersen » Sat Jun 30, 2018 10:35 am

Hi everyone,
Thanks for chiming in; frankly, the overall tone appears to be a bit depressing in terms of the changes we've been witnessing, and I'm not sure that there is anything that can be done to reverse a lot of the trends mentioned above. At the same time, I can add that if one does get off those "well known" routes Daisy mentioned, you can get away from a lot of the other "chaos" (including, TP) that attends those routes. So, in one sense: thank goodness for the JMT, etc, because they allow one to find a bit of peace elsewhere............Cameron

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Re: Mountain Changes?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Jun 30, 2018 6:47 pm

The popular routes are already extending beyond trails; for example SHR. As long as people "name" a route, whether on or off trail, and put up a GPS track on the internet, and "sell" the route (blog or send photos on social media while on the route), more will come. When I did sections of the SHR over 15 years ago (Roper's guidebook only, no internet), there were no cairns or signs of use and a lot of solitude. Then I did the entire route in 2010 and there were cairns and faint "trails". That route was intended to be fluid and with lots of variations; the GPS tracks now make it set in stone.

Each person may actually be doing less damage nowadays, because of hiking shoes with less aggressive soles, more use of stoves instead of fires, and the tendency of the PCT and JMT hikers to camp at established campsites hardly more than 100 feet off the trail. On the other hand, I really feel there is an "attitude" problem and less acceptance of wilderness ethics. Ignorance can be fixed with education; poor attitude less so.

I would also like to remind people that in the 1970's and earlier, the air quality in general was much worse. It was also the "good old days" that hunted species to extinction and exploited the wilderness. It will take work to keep things from back-sliding. Unfortunately, there is a lot of environmental backlash right now and a political climate willing to go backwards.

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Re: Mountain Changes?

Post by oldranger » Sun Jul 01, 2018 6:37 am

AlmostThere wrote:I hate chainsaws. Too much junk to take - forget it without mules, just not going to happen. Give me a crosscut any day. Watched someone smoke a chainsaw with a too-short bar trying to get a Jeffrey off the trail just last weekend...
I understand that view. I used to log all the 4 trails within 1 1/2 miles of Roaring River with a chainsaw that I had to carry. In 83 a huge snow year the Roaring River Ranger and I carried enough gear to log from the station to Commanche Meadow with a chainsaw. In 86 an unusual year in which there were avalanches everywhere I logged every trail in the Sugarloaf drainage single handed after I was given a large saw with a 36 inch bar. Packing a mule with a special saw box and plenty of wedges and gas turned a 4 week job with a crosscut into 4 days before there were more than a couple of people in the area. I still had to do multiple cuts to get thru a 4 1/2 ft red fir across the trail. I would have done all the trails in the Roaring River drainage that year except my boss and the Chief of Maintenance for Kings canyon came into the station and when we got to the huge pile of avalanche debris up Cloud canyon they insisted on doing all the cutting. Now on forest service land because of their restrictions on the use of chainsaws many trails do not get logged for years at a time and virtually never in a timely fashion that eliminates user trails going around downed trees.

I applaud those of you who volunteer to do trail work and clear what you can but reliance on volunteers and crosscuts is just not very efficient. It seems to me in the long run that using a crosscut carried on foot to creates more damage to areas adjacent to trails because of user created reroutes than when a couple of people with a couple with horses and mules could cover many more miles of trail in much less timen early in the season when hardly anyone else is on the trail.

Anyone one burning up even a small saw on a big tree is doing something wrong or has a cheap saw.
Mike

Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!

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Re: Mountain Changes?

Post by rightstar76 » Sun Jul 01, 2018 7:32 am

So many differing viewpoints. Lots of varying perspectives. Discussions like these make HST a great forum. :)

I think there is more self-centeredness in the mountains. YT and social media have made it possible for people to be the star of their own shows. For some hikers this includes excess testosterone. There are many videos with obligatory bloody wound scenes after descending a steep cross country route. It almost is like a new rite of passage with bravado. Also, many hikers seem more goal oriented than in the past fixated on completing various routes designated by three letters. Not that's necessarily bad. As AT pointed out, it does provide essential income to remote businesses which, without the large number of hikers, would close their doors.

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