Explore: October 2013

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10 posts from October 2013


6 Haunted Hiking Trails

Foggy forestWhat 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.

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Astronomy: Observing Highlights for November


Comet ISON continues to zip toward the sun, making its closest approach on November 28. Until then, you can look for ISON on November mornings in the southeast before sunrise in the constellation Virgo. ISON will head toward Virgo’s brightest star, Spica, passing it on the mornings of November 17 and 18. At the end of the week, look for ISON just to the right of Mercury and Saturn. A tail, if visible, will extend back up toward Spica. After it passes the sun it will enter northern skies during the early evening. Its magnitude is still only in telescopic range, but observers hope that it will be a binocular or naked-eye object by late in the month.

Another comet, Comet 2P/Encke, is currently brighter than ISON. Encke should reach its peak brightness at around magnitude 7 (binocular range) by the end of November. On November 24, both the comets will be visible in the same wide telescopic field of view (1 ¼ degrees apart) in predawn hours.

On November evenings the winter constellations, including Taurus and Orion, are rising in the east. Just behind them is Gemini, where Jupiter is currently found. The giant planet stays in late evening skies for much of fall. On November 21, look for Jupiter pairing with the moon as they come over the eastern horizon.

In the west, Venus is still prominent as it shines more brightly than any other natural object in the night sky except the moon. The moon and Venus pair up on November 6 as they both float in front of the Milky Way.

On November 3 a hybrid solar eclipse occurs, but in order to see any part of it in the United States, you’ll have to be on the east coast.  Places such as the Florida coast will see a slim partial eclipse, while totality will wait for the other side of the Atlantic, crossing over the heart of Africa and ending as an annular eclipse in Somalia.

Three meteor showers occur in the month of November. The first meteor shower is the South Taurids, which peaks on November 4/5. The next week is the companion North Taurids, which peaks on November 11/12. The last and best known of the November meteor showers is the Leonids. Unfortunately, this year the Leonids’ peak on November 17 coincides with the full moon, which reaches 100-percent lit the same night. 

(Comet ISON has been glowing with a green gas as it nears Earth. Credit: John Chumack)

HS_KellyWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.


World’s Toughest Peak? Ed Viesturs Compares Climbs

Ed Viesturs Hands down the greatest American mountaineer of all time, Ed Viesturs has set an unwavering example for climbing success. Along with a lifetime of achievements that include bagging all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen, Viesturs is known for his unparalleled leadership and countless acts of high-altitude heroism, which define him as a mountain among men.

This world-class climber and influence to mountaineering guides around the globe is also a best-selling author of four books. His most recent, The Mountain: My Time on Everest (Touchstone, October 2013), is a collection of never-before-told accounts of his trials on Everest, and perhaps a way of saying goodbye to a mountain he successfully summited seven times. 

We spoke with Viesturs about the most crucial part of an ascent, a serendipitous meeting at the top of Everest, his onetime resemblance to Alfred E. Newman, and which mountain was his toughest climb.

What do people misunderstand most in terms of climbing Everest?

I think today the misunderstanding is that anybody and everybody can climb the mountain. That for a certain amount of money, somebody will take you to Everest, and whether they're going to carry you or pull you or drag you, somehow money will get you to the top. Everest is not easier today than it was in 1953. It's not lower.

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4 Must-See Alpine Lakes of the Western U.S.

Ingalls LakeAbove the tree line, alpine lakes accompany breathtaking views of barren moonscapes, majestic mountains, and vast wilderness below. Rugged peaks and saddles frame these gentle bodies of water making us appreciate the natural features even more, a symbiosis that feeds into the sublime. Often, these lakes are located far from the bustling trails of America's busiest parks. They lie just a few miles further, or a few thousand feet higher that most hikers are willing to go. This makes them retreats from the retreats, special places that allow for solitude and quiet reflection.

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4 of America's Most Easily Hikable Views

Kid celebrates a summit

A few months ago we shared a list of America's 6 Most Dangerous Hiking Trails, which chronicled hikers freezing, falling, and dehydrating themselves to ill health or worse. Aren't there more reasonable hikes with some similarly spectacular views? Take away the glory and the danger, and you're left with these safe, easy hikes to beautiful places. So grab your camera, and leave your signal flares and avalanche shovels at home. . . because you're going to enjoy these. 

Taft Point, California

This Yosemite hike takes only an hour or two. After barely breaking a sweat, hikers are treated to a generous view. From west to east: Cathedral Rocks, the face of El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. Plus, there's 180 degrees of Yosemite valley thousands of feet below.

Ute Trail, Colorado

Famous for its 53 hikes over 14,000 feet, Colorado can be intimidating. However, the National Forest around Estes Park contains a number of trails that are both easy and exciting. Hiking to Dream Lake takes only two hours and involves a climb of under 500 feet. From the lake you can look east and see the end of the Rocky Mountains, where dramatic peaks give into the plains extending into the infinite flatness of the Midwest. To the west it's nothing but mountains.

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Gear for Long, Dark Nights

Cold and dark conditions shouldn't stop you from camping during winter. Just be sure to pack the right stuff. Here are some suggestions to help you brighten the experience: 

MH tentA good cook tent, like MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR's Hoopster, makes a warm hangout for up to six people. Its innovative design, in which fabric functions as frame, provides stability against high winds and inclement weather. If your crew is hardy, you can use the Hoopster, designed with a removable floor, as a sleeping shelter for four. $600 Petzl headlamp

With the Tikka RXP, PETZL took its reactive-lighting technology and applied it to a smaller, lighter-weight headlamp. The glow automatically adjusts to the degree of darkness you're in, reducing glare and battery usage. Depending on the situation, your beam will be focused, wide, or medium. $95 MSR stove

Equipped with a radiant burner, a heat exchanger, and an internal pressure regulator, the MSR Reactor Stove impressed us with how quickly it got things boiling. In winter, splurge on the $30 hanging kit so you can suspend the stove in your (adequately ventilated!) tent. No more making the cook freeze outside. Choose a 1-, 1.7-, or 2.5-liter system. $170 to $200, depending on size

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Yosemite: Off Limits

Yosemite 1

A long time ago, I took my very first trip to Yosemite. It was so long ago that there were still matchbooks in the hotel rooms. On the cover was a picture of Half Dome covered in snow with the words: "YOSEMITE. OPEN ALL YEAR." It made me laugh. The idea that anyone thought nature was something that could be left open or closed down seemed so preposterous that I've kept that matchbook all these years. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so funny.

During the stalemate in Washington, nature became a pawn, something that was opened and closed to the public at will. And that makes me sad. During the three years my family lived in Yosemite National Park, fall always marked one of our favorite times of year. Labor Day meant the end of Yosemite's crowds, when traffic jams and noise were replaced almost overnight by quiet, serenity and peace. For those lucky enough to experience the park in October, with its still warm days and resplendent fall color, Yosemite seemed especially blessed. But not this year.


This year, no one was happy. Not the law enforcement rangers. They were charged with the duty of keeping people out of Yosemite Valley and enforcing the rules about the park’s shutdown status. Not the scientists, maintenance workers, interpretive rangers and fire specialists who woke one morning to find they were “non-essential.” Certainly not the employees of Delaware North Companies, Inc. (DNC ) who work at the shops, restaurants and hotels that cater to Yosemite visitors. Already hovering at the bottom of the pay scale, many of these people make it only because DNC helps subsidize their living expenses. And certainly not the visitors. They were greeted at the gate by one lone employee who hands a piece of paper stating that they may drive the highways, but the park itself was closed and that pulling off the road, even to gaze at the scenery, was forbidden. 

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5 Dangerous Hiking Mistakes

Male hiker resting his hands on knees, exhaustedStanding 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. 

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What's Next for Yosemite & National Parks?

Pondering the future of national parksWe've all heard the news by now: Yosemite National Park, on its 123rd birthday, was closed indefinitely due to the government shutdown. But as the shutdown continues, what will come of the rest of the country's 401 national parks, monuments, and federally managed sites? Here's the skinny on what will change, what will remain the same, and what you can do to let your voice be heard. 

Tourists vanish. Across the nation, national parks welcome an estimated 750,000 tourists a day. And in Yosemite, tourists coming from around the world to witness Half Dome and El Capitan must first pass through gateway communities like Mariposa, Oakhurst, Mammoth, and Sonora, to name a few. These small towns, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, require a steady flow of tourists, which fuel 5,700 private-sector jobs and generate a $360-million-a-year industry. On any given day, the park hosts 15,000 tourists, and October is one of Yosemite's most popular months for weddings. A stoppage in tourist flow could be catastrophic to small businesses. 

Many of these small communities have already seen reduced numbers of tourists due to the Rim Fire that decimated the nearby Stanislaus Forest. The shuttering of Yosemite only compounds the financial and economic problems faced by these small towns — and other towns across the country that depend on tourists traveling to National Parks. 

Oil drilling continues.  Parks across the country may be closed to backpackers, climbers, sight-seers, and naturalists, but according to Climate Progress, oil and gas drilling will continue on public land, unchanged and — now that the EPA is vastly reduced — unchecked. Over ninety percent of the EPA's 16,204 employees will be furloughed as a result of the shutdown, severely limiting the scope of the agency's protection power.

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Observing Highlights for October: A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse and the Approach of Comet ISON

October 2013 Orion and Winter Constellations ChumackA penumbral lunar eclipse can be a trick to see. Unlike a "regular" lunar eclipse, the moon never passes into the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, and therefore the dimming of the moon is slight and difficult to detect.

For those in the United States, a penumbral eclipse will already have begun on October 18 as the full moon rises. The farther east you are, the more likely it is that you’ll see a change in the Hunter’s Moon. The event will end soon after moonrise.

Observers are eagerly awaiting the appearance of Comet ISON, which will put on its best show in November and December. But for those who want to get an early peek, get up before sunlight in mid-October and look east-southeast. Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, and reddish Mars will be just one degree apart on October 14, with Mars about one degree above and to the left of Regulus. Use binoculars or a telescope to look the same distance and direction above Mars to find Comet ISON.

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