6 Exercises for an Injury-Free Ski Trip

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, November 5, 2013

6 Exercises for an Injury-Free Ski Trip

As winter approaches, ski bums are checking off tasks on their ski season prep list: choose your resort, make green travel plans, choose sustainable equipment. But no matter how early you bought your lift ticket or gear, a pulled muscle or injured knee can still ruin your trip (or season). In Washington, The Inner Circle Gym’s Adam Vognild teaches ski conditioning classes to help participants get their muscles ready for the backcountry skiing, downhill skiing, and snowshoeing season ahead. “People don’t get hurt on the first day of their ski trip,” says Vognild. “They typically get hurt on the third or fourth day, when they don’t have the endurance to keep going.”

If you’re serious about getting in shape, working with an instructor or trainer is key, Vognild said. It may be hard to believe, but there is a wrong way to do squats, and “you only get so many bad repetitions before you hurt yourself.” Check out gyms in your area to see if they offer dry land training courses, or discuss your needs with a trainer who can give you tips for safe and productive exercise.  

Vognild shared with us six important components of dry land ski training, and recommended a few basic exercises to get started: 

1. Strength: To prepare your leg muscles for the slopes, Vognild recommends a simple classic: the squat, or the single-leg squat. “A strength set of any exercise routine [should be] loaded to the point where you can’t complete more than six repetitions at a time while maintaining proper form. This repetition structure will increase muscle strength and is usually done with a two-to-five minute rests between three-to-five sets of repetitions.” 

2. Strength-Endurance: Strength-endurance exercises should focus on beginning to utilize the cardiovascular system, rather than building muscle. Exercises include lunges, sit-ups, and push-ups in sets of 12 or more reps over roughly 45-150 seconds. 

3. Endurance: “Making sure you have a reasonable amount of cardiovascular training is important,” says Vognild. Running, biking, swimming at a low enough intensity to be maintained for hours can help to build endurance and get you ready for the season. For those starting from square one, Vognild recommends starting with a brisk walk several days a week, and slowly adding volume.   

4. Power: In Vognild’s class, participants do squat jumps and split jumps to increase power. You can also try short sprints at maximum effort, hill sprints, and stair climb sprints, all “explosive movements utilizing fast-twitch muscle fibers often throughout the entire body.”5. Balance: “Balance is key,” says Vognild. Improve balance by repeating movement that will require stabilization. Jumping, landing, standing, and squatting on one leg can all help to improve balance.

6. Mobility and Flexibility: “Become more mobile and flexible so that you can maximize your range of motion.” To increase flexibility, stretch quads, hamstrings, wrists, and try the downward dog yoga position. 

“You should make a point to include every component of conditioning into your workouts throughout the week,” says Vognild. “The goal for all of these workouts is to be consistent and, over time, to add volume and increase resistance.” 

For more exercises and tips, see Vognild’s more detailed description of The Inner Circle Gym’s dry land training program.

Read online at SierraClub.org

6 Haunted Hiking Trails

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, October 30, 2013

6 Haunted Hiking Trails

What better way to celebrate Halloween (and work those old trick-or-treating muscles) than to set out on a haunted hike? Many of the country’s trails have rich and creepy histories, and you’d be surprised at just how many ghosts have apparently chosen to spend the afterlife spooking unsuspecting hikers. This year, celebrate the holiday on one of these six trails, then share its spooky story around the campfire. 

1. Norton Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains, NC: Some claim the Great Smoky Mountains are home to more ghosts than any other national park on the map, and the Norton Creek Trail hosts one of the more terrifying. Utlanta, or “Spearfinger,” an ogress of Cherokee legend, is said to roam the area, appearing as a harmless old woman and tricking unsuspecting children out of their livers. As the story goes, she was ultimately defeated by the Cherokee, but hikers who are particularly attached to their internal organs might get a chill from this creepy tale.

The easily frightened can take comfort in knowing the trail is also stomping grounds of a friendly specter. The ghost of a murdered settler is said to lead lost hikers to safety with his lantern. Even if you don’t encounter ghosts, the trail winds past several old cemeteries, and you can even pitch your tent in one of the official backcountry campsites — among the crumbling ruins of an old town.

2. Batona Trail, New Jersey Pinelands, NJ: The marshes of Southern New Jersey are said to be home to the Jersey Devil, a kangaroo-like creature with the yellow eyes, the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns, and a forked tail. If that sounds like your kind of beast, then the 49-mile Batona trail is for you. Since the 1700s, thousands have reported seeing the Jersey Devil, and those who live near the Pinelands claim to hear the creature’s screams late into the night.

3. Transept Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ: The ghost of a bereaved wife and mother mourns the loss of her husband and son at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Both visitors and rangers report having seen the Wailing Woman, who appears dressed in a white dress with blue flowers and (as her name suggests) floats along the Transept Trail crying. This ghost story also serves as a sobering cautionary tale; the Wailing Woman of the Grand Canyon is said to have lost her family to the canyon in a fatal hiking accident

4. Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic National Park, WA: The depths of Lake Crescent are home to many secrets, and are rumored to be the watery tomb of many lost travelers. And like any good lake, it has a Lady. The Lady of Crescent Lake is said to be ghost of a murdered woman whose body washed up on shore several years after her disappearance. This particular woman caught the public’s attention because her remains had undergone the entirely natural but creepy-looking process of saponification, giving her a mummy-like appearance. The 8-mile Spruce Railroad Trail follows the water, giving you ample opportunity to spot the apparition. 

5. Grouse Lake, Yosemite National Park, CA: Visitors to Yosemite’s Grouse Lake often report hearing wailing as they approach the water. Some point to Native American folklore, claiming the cries are those of a young indigenous boy who drowned in the lake. But don’t be a hero; as any good horror movie fan knows, you should resist the urge to investigate the sound, as those who dive in apparently don’t make it out.  

6. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY: With more than 400 miles explored and “no end in sight,” Mammoth Cave boasts the country’s longest cave system, and an impressively haunted history. The cave system has seen more than 150 documented paranormal events, and is home to several ghosts. Rangers having reported seeing the ghosts of guides past, including frequent apparition Stephen Bishop. Bishop was among the slaves who were the first cave guides, and the National Parks Service credits him as “unquestionably one of the greatest explorers Mammoth Cave has ever known.” Visitors also claim to have heard the coughing of the long-dead patients who met their end in the cave when Mammoth served briefly as a tuberculosis hospital in the 1800s. Visit Corpse Rock and listen closely to hear their death rattles yourself. 

Read online at SierraClub.org

5 Dangerous Hiking Mistakes

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, October 14, 2013

5 Dangerous Hiking Mistakes

Standing atop a hill after a long and grueling hike, it’s easy to feel invincible. You’ve pushed yourself to your limits, survived nature’s sometimes unpredictable conditions — what could stop you now? 

Turns out, it could be a number of simple beginner mistakes or time-saving shortcuts that even experienced hikers are guilty of taking. Even the most trail-hardened can be caught unprepared. Lisa Hendy, Yosemite National Park emergency services program manager, and Todd Duncan, Sierra Club program safety manager, share some of the most frequent and preventable mistakes hikers make on the trail — and some tips for staying safe: 

1. Underestimating the trail: This one is more common among beginners but can have disastrous consequences for anyone. Be honest with yourself. Think about how often you hit the gym and choose a trail that is realistic for your party’s ability level. There’s no shame in starting out easy and working your way up to more difficult hikes, but there may be a bit of embarrassment in turning around when you hit a wall on the first hill. So do your research: Many national park websites include handy guides to their trails that provide length, elevation, and difficulty ratings, and there are more hiking handbooks available for all skill levels than can be named in this blog post. 

2. Failing to prepare: Both Hendy and Duncan agree, being unprepared is one of the most common missteps made by hikers of all skill levels. “One mistake can change the face of everything,” says Hendy. “For example, this time of year, heading out for a day hike with only a light jacket and a headlamp could be fine provided everything goes well. However, if you twist your ankle and are out overnight, that could be a miserable mistake.” Gather the 10 essentials, anticipate changes in weather or emergencies that might delay your trip, and pack accordingly

3. Going alone: While a solo hike in itself isn’t automatically dangerous, Hendy says the most common mistake made by experienced hikers is taking off alone without notifying anyone. Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back. Many experienced hikers recommend investing in or renting a personal locator beacon (PLB), which can help rescuers locate you in an emergency. But remember, just because you’re easier to find doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safer. Hikers carrying PLBs should still trek carefully and tell someone ahead of time where they’re going. 

4. Traveling off-trail: Even if you have hiked these woods a thousand times, are a licensed cartographer, and were born on this very trail, a hiking trip is one time when it might be best to take the road more-traveled. Though many hikers safely practice off-trail hiking, most acknowledge the added dangers that come with it, as well as the specific preparation required to stray from the beaten path. Unless you’re prepared to hike off-trail, it can be a pretty reliable way to get lost or injured (or both).

5. Abandoning the plan: While turning back before you reach the end of the trail can be frustrating, it beats having to make camp unexpectedly. Hikers set turnaround times for a reason, and you don’t want to be caught unprepared as the sun goes down. Keep an eye on your watch, and determine when you’ll need to begin heading back to safely reach your car or campsite. 

How can hikers of all skill levels ensure they’re taking all of the precautions necessary for their trip? Hendy has a few hard and fast rules for a safe hike: “Plan ahead and tell a friend the plan. Tell your friend who to call if you do not return on time. Plan for something to go wrong and delay you. Always bring a headlamp, an extra small snack, and a layer of clothing that can keep you warm if you are delayed.”

Read online at SierraClub.org

John Muir Trail Hike Raises Funds for Student Aid

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, September 25, 2013

John Muir Trail Hike Raises Funds for Student Aid

As the weary hikers rested under the trees after a long day on the John Muir Trail, Pitzer College philosophy professor Brian Keeley read from Jack Kerouac’s account of climbing Matterhorn Peak: “In no time at all it was two o’clock in the afternoon and the sun was getting that later more golden look and a wind was rising and I began to think ‘By gosh how we ever gonna climb that mountain, tonight?'”

Like Kerouac, the hikers in Pitzer College’s John Muir Trail hiking group faced a daunting challenge: to traverse 230 miles on the John Muir Trail in just 27 days. In July, college President Laura Skandera Trombley was joined by several current students, Professor Keeley, a parent of a Pitzer undergrad, and two alumnae in celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary with a hike to raise funds for student aid. The hikers, who were chosen by lottery, raised nearly $55,000 for first generation scholars awarded the John Skandera Memorial Endowed Scholarship, established by Trombley last year in memory of her father.

“My father had a great love of nature, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll hike to pay homage to him and raise funds for financial aid,'” said Trombley. “It seemed to make a great deal of sense.”

The scholarship honors the life of Trombley’s father John Skandera, an elementary school teacher who passed away in 2010. This year two students were selected to receive the scholarship, funded in part by the sponsored hike. Donors made both one-time contributions and per-mile sponsorshipsTrombley, who’d hiked portions of the trail herself in college, proposed the trip to two students who organized the hike.”They loved it and asked if I’d be willing to join them,” Trombley said. “With little hesitation or thought I said ‘sure.’”

The group suffered their share of setbacks, including the theft in the night of a hiker’s boot by wild animals (some thick socks and another hiker’s tennis shoes made for a quick fix until the next supply checkpoint), and an ankle injury that resulted in a 16-mile pack mule ride to medical care. But despite the occasional hardship, the trip left a lasting impression on the hikers.

“It’s spectacularly beautiful,” said Pitzer alum Lisa Gellar, ’76. “My log, every day, just said ‘unbelievably beautiful.’”

In the evenings after dinner the hikers took turns reading aloud from their “library,” several accounts of similar hikes by literary greats, including Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and some of Muir’s own writing.

“To be reading about [John Muir’s] descriptions of the same mountains we were in while we were there, I was struck by how similar they were, the plants and animals and the views,” Keeley said. “The physical environment hasn’t changed much.”

Undergraduate student Lisa Hirata, ’16, remembers the moment Muir’s words began to ring true to her own experience.

“At first I didn’t relate at all, but your priorities in that first week really change, from ‘I’m so dirty, I need a shower, I wonder what’s going on in the outside world’ to really feeling comfortable in the outdoors,” she said. “[After reading Muir’s work] you think ‘yeah, my feet really hurt,’ but it helps to hear how in love with the land he is, how at home he is in nature.”

The trip was such a success, both for the participants and for the scholarship fund, that Trombley says they’re considering a second hike next year.

Professor Keeley remembers people were eager to support the hikers when they learned of the trip’s good cause.

“[The scholarship] opened a lot of doors for us,” Keeley said. “If we were talking to people and trying to get information or help with something, when they heard that we were doing this for first-gen college students there were people we ran into who said ‘I was a first-gen college student’ or ‘My parents were.’ They really liked that the president of a college was out doing this kind of thing for students and future students.”

Read online at SierraClub.org