Hiking in California:
a suggested calendar


Back to hiking in California | Back to Travel | Pictures of these hikes
If you live in the Bay Area, this is a suggested calendar of hikes.


Factors:
  • Snow melts in June/July on the high mountains
  • After snow/ice has melted (eg on Mt Shasta's "Avalanche Chute") chances of avalanche/rockfall increase in any steep chute, and chances of crevasses increase in crossing any glacier
  • Days get shorter and colder in September on the mountains and bad weather becomes more likely
  • There is usually fog along the coast between May and September (you'll never want to see again what you've seen on a foggy day)
  • The landscape of the Bay Area is pretty ugly in the (rain-less) summer
  • After several months of no rain, lower-altitude areas (e.g. Yosemite) have no waterfalls, lakes, etc, thus not really worth it (you'll never want to see again what you've seen in a very dry season)
  • Rule number one: before you go, always check out the weather forecast using a reliable source (e.g., the government-operated Weather.gov or NCEP). Or just use this very convenient grid.

Hike Best season Worst season Difficulty
Pt Reyes Winter/ Early Spring Summer *
Anything on the coast Winter Summer *
Death Valley Spring Summer *
Mt Tamalpais Spring Summer *
Mission Peak, Ohlone Wilderness Spring, Fall Summer *
Portola Redwoods Spring, Fall, Winter Summer *
Big Basin Spring, Fall, Winter Summer *
Yosemite High Country Jul-Aug Oct-Nov **
Mt Shasta Jun-Jul Aug-Sep *****
Yosemite Valley (Half Dome, El Capitan) Jun-Jul Sep-Nov ***
Kings Canyon and Western Sierra Jul-Sep Winter ****
Mt Whitney Jul-Sep Winter ****
Eastern Sierra (Bishop area) Jul-Sep Winter *****

Are you physically fit?

This suggested calendar is also taking into consideration the fact that one needs to train before getting into the most strenuous hikes, a fact that many inexperienced hikers tend to forget. I call "the REI generation" the crowd of casual hikers who want to do the most epic hikes no matter how little training they got. The REI generation (which includes young people, yuppies, retired people, surfers, rock climbers, and just about anyone who lives in California and is physically fit) is getting more and more fascinated by the epic hikes, the Half Dome or Mt Whitney hikes that experienced hikers talk about. But often the "REI generation" doesn't have the time or the patience to get in shape before attempting those epic hikes. The result is a growing number of permanent injuries (people who can't hike anymore because their knees or ankles always hurt). Another result is that the rate of failure is very high even for hikes that are not particularly technical (e.g., Half Dome or Mt Whitney). An even less pleasant effect is that fewer and fewer people enjoy these epic hikes: how can you enjoy a hike that lasts 10-15 hours, that you will suffer from the very beginning and that will leave you sore legs for weeks? Most people do Mt Whitney so they can tell their friends "I've done Whitney" not because they want to enjoy the hike. It is important to realize that there is a big difference between "hiking Mt Whitney" and "hiking Mt Whitney AFTER four months of gradually more difficult hikes".

The only way to train properly is to hike. You shouldn't jump from the beginning of that calendar to the hikes at the end, and assume that it is equivalent to doing all those hikes in that sequence.

A gym is not a good way of training for hiking. When you hike, every step is uneven. The stress on your muscles, ligaments, nerves, bones, skin (not to mention your psyche) is completely different from the (almost inexistent) stress that they receive in a gym. The gym is an artificial environment: it is to the oudoors what fast food is to a home-made meal. In a natural environment the pace varies all the time. The grade changes all the time. Altitude and temperature can be major factors. A gym is in no way a substitute for the real thing. Also, the psychological factor is very important: ideally you should get to the point that you don't even realize that you are hiking, and this is only 50% physical. Only by hiking long distances does your mind get used to... hiking long distances. Also, resistance to stress, exhaustion, temperature, etc can be built only by "doing it". "Training" in a gym (a concrete building inside a city) is indoor exercise, that does little to prepare you for outdoors exercise.

Exercising in a gym can actually be detrimental and even plain dangerous. In a gym, you mainly develop muscles. Thus your body feels that it is in shape. But the reality is that your body is in shape for doing... what you do in a gym; not necessarily for the outdoors. Some muscles are strong and tell your body that they can do a strenuous hike. But there are countless muscles and ligaments that have not been stressed in a gym and will be stressed in a strenuous hike. If you are simply out of shape, your body tells you "stop and go back". If exercise in a gym has given you strong muscles, your body will not get any alarm signal. Many people get sore body parts and injuries (and serious ones) precisely because they exercised in a gym: they fooled their body into thinking it was in shape for a strenuous hike, when in fact only some muscles were. On the other hand, if you hike for months, you may not develop big strong muscles, but you stress, little by little, all the parts that need to be stressed. It is the classic story of natural and artificial behavior: artificial behavior is never a substitute for the natural one. Exercising in a gym could be the reason that you screw up your knee or ankle for the rest of your life.

Last but not least, a gym does not train you for the common sense that you need on a trail. It is mostly gym regulars who make me roll my eyes in disbelief, as they show up totally unprepared: not enough water, not enough food, no headlamp, no walkie talkie (all things that you don't need in a gym) but... a state-of-the-art cell phone.

The best thing that you can do to improve your hiking performance is to stop going to the gym. Save your money: stop going to the gym, and start hiking. It's healthier, a lot more fun, and it's even free!


Marathon vs hiking

Plenty of people run a marathon (in the hundreds of thousands). Only a handful of them could do an average mountain hike. So if you have done a marathon, don't even think for a second that you are fit for the outdoors. The marathon is a highly organized event that runs through paved roads and concrete buildings. The route is mostly flat. There is virtually none of the physical stress due to the uneven terrain of the outdoors. The general rule is that three kilometers on flat terrain equal one kilometer uphill, and that two kilometers on asphalt equal one kilometer on non-paved terrain. A marathon is 42 kms. It is the equivalent of a 15-20 km hike on a rolling-hill terrain, i.e. what i would consider an easy-to-medium hike. (Of course, the speed at which you run it makes more or less challenging). Last but not least, the psychology is wildly different: if you fail a marathon, there are plenty of structures to help you get home. If you fail a hike, you're stuck in the middle of a forest or on top of a mountain. The pressure is totally different. No, if you have done a marathon, you are not ready for a serious hike.

Rock climbing vs mountain hiking

If you are a rock climber, think twice before embarking into any of these day hikes. The mindset is, in my opinion, wildly different, no matter how physically fit you think you are. First of all, my experience is that these are two very different sports. Hikers are basically people who love nature and adventure. "Nature" stands for lakes, waterfalls, creeks, wildflowers, birds, etc. "Adventure" stands for roaming vast territory, studying the topography to find out the route, dealing with countless different types of terrain, from wading creeks to (free) climbing boulders.
Rock climbers tend to think of physical effort as an intense but short event. The physical effort required by hikes is typically much longer. It is more about endurance over long periods of time than physical strength.
Even from the viewpoint of safety, i found that rock climbers tend to panic more easily than hikers. Rock climbers are used to act in a protected environment (rope, helmet and the likes). When they have to cross a creek or jump over talus rocks or even climb rocks, they are the ones who hesitate first. My experience is that rock climbers are more likely than hikers to get injured and lost when hiking in the wilderness (just like hikers are more likely to get injured when they try rock climbing).
Rock climbers and hikers argue which of the two sports is more of a mind-game (i.e. requiring intelligence). As a hiker (and, alas, a mathematician), i think that hiking requires a lot more intelligence, but of course i'm biased. If you are a rock climber, though, remember this: when you are really into the wilderness or climbing a 4,000 meter mountain, you are hours away from your car. If you get lost or get hurt, you are in real trouble. Whether it requires more intelligence or not, remember that this is wildly different from rock climbing a few minutes away from your car, from a paved road and from a telephone. Personally, i think that hiking requires two levels of planning: micro-planning (deciding where you put your foot next) and macro-planning (deciding which route to take), neither of which is obvious for
So the psychology is wildly different. In fact, i tend to think of rock climbing and hiking as opposite sports. If you are a rock climber, think twice before doing what i do.

Class 1,2,3,4...

A class 1 route is a normal walking route. Class 2 is rarely referred to a trail but it would be a very steep trail, or, better, a very steep cross-country route. Class 3 means that you cannot walk it: you have to use your heads to get over boulders or to keep yourself from sliding down a gravely slope. Class 4 usually means that you cannot do it without rope and gear. It is dangerous enough that, even if you can do it without gear, you risk your life. Class 5 means that you cannot do it without gear, no matter who you are; and you probably die if you fall. I routinely do class-3 routes. Most of them have very good handholds: even if you slip, you don't get hurt. There are, however, class-3 routes that are very exposed and/or don't offer good handholds. In that case the mere attribute "class 3" can be misleading. By the same token, there are class-4 routes that are not exposed and that offer lots of good handholds. In that case a class-4 route is not as dangerous as it sounds. And, of course, snow/ice can make an even bigger difference.

Camping

One of the worst obstacles to enjoying the wilderness of California is how difficult it has become to simply camp near a trailhead. Many people will never enjoy the parks and forests that their taxes support because they will turned off by campgrounds that require a booking well in advance. For day hikers who just need to sleep a few hours before an early start, it is also annoying to have to pay steep prices for a campground that offers facilities that they will never enjoy. If there is a national forest near your trailhead, check whether you can camp for free in the forest. As long as you can park your car safely, you are usually allowed to camp anywhere. You do need a campfire permit if you want to have a campfire.
I cannot give you tips for camping near trailheads because what i do is probably illegal and i could get in trouble by publicizing it.
Regardless of what the laws say (not even a professional lawyer can keep track of them), i encourage you to camp in environmentally friendly ways. In my humble opinion, you don't disturb nature if you: 1. sleep in the car, 2. pitch your tent on asphalt, 3. pitch your tent in a picnic area, 4. pitch your tent right on a trail, 5. get a site in a campground. Whether these are allowed under the current laws when you read this is beyond my ability to doublecheck. The law is often friendlier to greedy private business and to incompetent government bureaucracy than to the environment.
It is sad that so many people never visit their parks and wilderness (it belongs to you, not to the agencies or to the corporations that run the campgrounds) simply because it's too difficult to camp.

Recommended hikes

This page has a list of my favorite hikes in California. They are ranked (in the right column) to respond to the most frequently asked question.

High-altitude hikes

For hikers who do not enjoy carrying crampons and ice axes, the Sierra peaks are open basically only from july till early september. June to august is an ideal time because days are long and storms are rare. Depending on how much it snowed in winter, the best month for hiking on the Sierra peaks is either july or august. September is borderline: days get shorter, temperatures drop, bad weather becomes more frequent and dangerous.

Always start very early, before sunrise, if you want to summit a big mountain: 1. You avoid being in the hottest part of the hike during the hottest hours of the day; 2. summit before 1pm which is when chances of lighting and rock fall start increasing exponentially; 3. get down before sunset (much safer to walk in the dark when you just started than when you are tired at the end of the day).

Acclimating properly is 50% of the secret to success. Alas, acclimation does not last more than one or two days, so you have to re-acclimate before every trip to the high mountains.

This page has the list of my favorite Sierra hikes.


Equipment

I pride myself with having bought all my equipment from 99 Cents Only stores and Payless Shoes stores and Big Lots stores. I am not the right person to ask "where should I buy this or that?" or "what is the best brand for this or that?". All my hiking equipment combined is probably worth less than $50.

This website allows hikers to trade equipment.


To backpack or not to backpack?

The vast majority of the California hikes described on this website were done as day hikes (all except one). You don't need more than one day if you get in shape. The problem is precisely... getting in shape. If you are in shape, you can do 30-35 kms without suffering and with plenty of stops, and maybe even 40-42 kms (and i have done as many as 48 kms in one day), and get to see amazing things with no need to camp away from the car and no need to carry heavy backpacks. Just get an early start (before sunrise) and you can cover long distances in 12-14 hours, even including several breaks (i routinely take hundreds of pictures on my hikes, as you can see at Pictures of California hikes, which means that i stop hundreds of times during my "lightning-speed" hikes, which means that the speed is not really that high).
Backpacking has a simple drawback: the more you carry, the slower you go, and therefore the more you have to carry. It is a vicious loop that does not lend itself to going too far (unless you have many days available). Very often backpacking means hiking rather short distances because a) it is tiring to carry tent/sleepingbag/gears at high altitude, and b) the following day you are dead tired even before you start hiking. I can easily reach destinations (on day hikes) that friends who backpack have never reached. For hikes in this range of distances, failure rates are inevitably higher among backpackers than among day hikers.

Of course, some people just enjoy camping in the wilderness for the sake of camping, not hiking, in the wilderness. In that case the goal is not to reach the top of a mountain but just to sleep under the stars (no matter how far one went).

Just be aware that you could have probably done a much longer, more comfortable and more rewarding hike by carrying a lighter backpack (no tent, no sleeping bag, no camping gear, minimal water/food) if you were in better shape.

Psychologically, a day hike is much more stressful than a backpacking trip. When you backpack, your tent is never too far. When you day hike the same distance, your tent is in your car: you have to make it all the way back to the parking lot to get anything that you may need. A day hike requires a mindset that you are really (really) on yourself for the whole day. If anything happens, you have to make it all the way back to the car. No surprise that older people tend to backpack: experience tells them that "things" do happen, and age tells them that the number of things they may need is huge.

That said, I have great respect for backpackers who cover long distances over many weeks: then backpacking is a necessity. But those hundred-kilometer hikes are not what this webpage is about.


A note on dangers/ wildlife

California bears have not killed anyone in decades. There have been only 12 bear attacks between 1980 and 2000, none resulting in deaths. Mountain lions have killed one person between the mid 1990s and 2007. Over the same period of time, rattlesnakes have killed 10. There have been 2 reports of attacks by mountain lions in ten years, versus 800 rattlesnake bites EVERY year. See this page.

The vast majority of injuries are unrelated to animals: Yosemite has had more than 1,000 emergencies in 2010, of which only five were animal-related... and these were all rattlesnake bites (not counting cars destroyed by bears). Rattlesnakes are found all over California. Mountain lions are not as numerous as rattlesnakes, but they roam bigger territories and, yes, they too are to be found all over California, except at high elevations and in the deserts. Best of all: more people are killed by dogs than by mountain lions. On average, one American is killed every year by a dog. The number of injuries caused by dogs is virtually infinite. See this page. California bears live mainly along the Sierra. Despite widespread paranoia, nobody has been killed by a bear in California since 1875. Bears are way less dangerous than ticks. Before you panic, put things in perspective: you are much more likely to be attacked and injured by a dog in your own neighborhood than by a rattlesnake in the wilderness. And you are very unlikely to be mauled by a mountain lion, and almost certainly will never be attacked by a bear.

That said, it is a good idea to study what to do in the event you meet a mountain lion, bear or rattlesnake (especially rattlesnakes):

If you are hiking in the spring and early summer in areas with creeks and ponds, you should be much more concerned about mosquitoes than bears or lions. Many parts of California (including the Bay Area) are also infested with ticks.

On average ten people die in Yosemite every year. Usually, drowning accounts for more than 50% of the deaths, and rock climbing is a close second. Traffic accidents are more frequent than animal attacks. Nobody gets killed by animals. Yosemite gets more emergencies because of heart attacks than animal attacks.

By far the number-one enemy for hikers in California is not an animal but a plant: poison oak (also this website).

I admit that i tend to overlook the danger of high altitude. I consider myself blessed that i was born at high altitude (on the Alps) and that i visited so many places at high altitude (from Tibet to the Andes). So i am a bit reluctant to admit the danger of high-altitude sickness. But do read this Scientific American article for the other side of the coin.


A note on dangers/ storms

On average, lightning kills 49 people each year in the USA, way more than grizzly bears, mountain lions and rattlesnakes combined. A rule of thumb is that most thunderstorms on the high mountains of California happen between 2pm and 4pm, so, first and foremost, plan your hike to be out of the summit way before 2pm. Summiting a mountain when there are black clouds around is way more dangerous than facing a bear or a mountain lion. Whenever you are above the tree line and there are clouds hovering in the sky, you are in serious danger of being struck by lightning. So the first rule is to run down to the tree line and mix with the lowest trees. Lightning will typically strike the tallest object, so don't stand near the tallest trees. If you are still on top of the mountain, the "tallest object" would be you: crouch in a way that your heels touch (search for pictures of "lightning crouch"). Lightning spreads through the ground and might kill you even if it strikes away from you. Crouching is a way to make yourself smaller and minimize chances of a direct strike, and the heels have to touch so that a ground current can flow through your body before reaching vital organs (if you are lying prone on the ground, the current will traverse your whole body, and if you are standing up it will go up one leg and go down the other leg). The time between the thunder and the flash is a rough measure of how distant the lightning is, but electricity travels so fast that it is usually pointless to count the distance: if you see the lightning, you "are" in the electrical field of that lightning. Danger persists about 30 minutes after the end of the storm: the sky is still full of electricity and just waiting for a tall object to discharge. It is also a good idea to keep your hands over your ears: if lightning strikes nearby, you might have permanent damage to your hearing. Your backpack obviously does not help when you are trying to protect yourself from lightning, and any metal object (hiking poles) or electrical object (camera, GPS, phone) is an excellent electrical conductor. If you are inside a tent during a thunderstom above the tree line... you probably shouldn't be. There is nothing that "insulates" you. In fact, air is an excellent insulator: if lightning propagates through kms of air, imagine what it can do through tiny tents. There are different opinions on whether lightning is more likely to strike near water or not (it should): to be on the safe side, stay away from creeks and lakes. But, truth is, there is little that you can do to reduce your risk of being hit by lightning when you are in a thunderstorm. The good news is that only about 10% of lightning victims die, and, as of 2014, i couldn't find any death by lightning of a hiker in California in the 21st century (check for yourself the NOAA website).

A note on dangers/ humans

I have never had a problem with animals, nor have any of my friends. On the other hand, in 2015 someone stole my tent in Death Valley and in 2014 someone stole my friend's headlight on Forrester Pass (and these are just the most recent events). The only animal you have to fear is Homo Sapiens.

What to pack

My friend Ksenya (way more responsible than me) has prepared this checklist of what to pack for a day hike and camping trip.

Books and maps

I personally don't trust any book, map or website that still uses the ancient imperial system (feet, miles, etc). All the new USGS maps (as well as the new signs inside the national parks and forests) use the metric system, like anywhere else on this planet. The most popular maps and books are way obsolete, no matter how many of your "experienced" (i.e. old) friends own them. All maps were revised over the last few years by the USGS. Any page that uses feet and miles is very likely to be using obsolete data.

As of 2013, Caltopo allows to print/email maps in PDF format, and Topoquest is still free of charge.

There are now many websites devoted to hiking. Again, beware of anyone who still uses feet and miles: her/his distances are probably wildly inaccurate. And, if i were you, i would be skeptic of trip reports that focus on what the hikers had for breakfast and that mention nothing of the way to reach the trailhead or the route around a ridge.


A note on water

As for water (perhaps the number-one concern in the USA), natural water (the water found in nature) is the water that we have been programmed to drink by millions of years of evolution. The bottled water that we buy in a store is not "natural" (despite of what the label says) but very artificial: it comes from a chemical factory. Most bacteria that live in natural water are harmless. Most minerals are actually useful (thus the business of "mineral water"). The fear that Americans have of natural water goes back to a well-publicized event of the 1970s, when a group of people got sick. They blamed the water, and started a nation-wide panic, but it turned out that the cause of their disease had not been the infamous "giardia" but simply dirty hands (US citizens rarely wash their hands before eating, and *that* is definitely a bad habit). See this article. I and most of my friends have been drinking natural water (the water of creeks) and never used tablets or filters for more than 20 years, and never got sick once. We wish we could say the same of food served in restaurants.
(Also be aware than when you filter water from creeks and waterfalls you may be removing harmful germs but you are also certainly removing the "commensal" bacteria that your body needs in order to stay alive (read "In Good Health? Thank Your 100 Trillion Bacteria" in the New York Times or "How Bacteria in Our Bodies Protect Our Health" in Scientific American), and, if you are the kind who uses antibiotics for anything, your body desperately needs those bacteria: totally worth getting giardia. Before you use anything that kills bacteria, especially the bacteria found in natural water, read Martin Blaser's 2014 "Missing Microbes", written by the director of the Human Microbiome Program. Every time you filter natural water you might be missing a chance to live a longer healthier life).

And a note on water containers!

Nothing pollutes more than plastic. Plastic pollutes when it is made, when it is used and when it is recycled. Please consider leaving your plastic at home instead of taking it to the wilderness: eventually you WILL lose your favorite plastic bottle, and it will stay there forever. I have found plastic garbage (mostly in impeccable conditions) is some extremely remote parts of the planet: very few people lose their plastic bottles in those remote places, but those "very few" are immortal, and eventually become "a lot". There are metal and glass bottles that are just slightly heavier. It is not true that metal and glass containers pollute too: you will not found aluminum cans or glass bottles in the same place where you find mint-conditiond plastic bottles because cans decay rapidly with heat and water, and glass breaks/melts and returns to its condition of sand.
If you don't care about the damage to the world that you will cause the day you drop/lose your plastic bottle, at least care for your health: plastic releases poisonous toxins into your drink. Small quantities, sure, but you would not drink those toxins if i poured them (in even smaller quantities) into your drink.

Environmentalism

Some readers have complained that, for someone who seems to like nature so much, my pages are not environmentally-friendly enough, e.g. i routinely complain against rules and regulations in the wilderness.

First of all, the idea that only an exclusive club of super-fit hikers with availability of spare time can enjoy the wilderness is an elitist ideology that reminds me of the worst of Hitler's ideas. I would like the wilderness to be open and easily accesible to everyone, not only to those who are physically fit and can take several days off and plan ahead. It goes against all i belief in that elderly or handicapped people are de-facto banned from the wilderness and "permits" for the wilderness are handed out only to those whose job allows them to a) plan ahead and b) take time off. This "elitist" view of wilderness is very annoying to me. Furthermore, the quota/permit system and the unlimited number of signs telling you what "not" to do makes the wilderness more similar to a concentration camp than to a park/forest. Hence i am in favor of building Swiss-style highways (tunnel, bridge, tunnel, ...) through the major national parks and national forests (with exits corresponding to trailheads to the main attractions) so that even a man on a wheelchair can get a taste of the wilderness. And i am in favor of totally abolishing any quote/permit system. Rangers should simply get a decent job and stop behaving like nazist bureaucrats in a concentration camp.

The alternative is what we have today: a system that discourages people from enjoying the wilderness (that they pay taxes to maintain, by the way).

The environmental fundamentalists get hysterical when they hear of anyone wanting to build a highway through some wilderness. They accept the roads that have already been built but they view as anathema any new road. It is hard to understand the logic. It is great that our ancestors did something to preserve the wilderness by establishing parks and forests. But it is also great that they built roads to get there. This very same environmentalists don't mind using Tioga Rd to get to the eastern Sierra. It's a bit of a psychological mystery why it was ok to build all those roads before they were born but it is no longer ok after they were born.

I also feel that environmental fundamentalists go too far in trying to preserve and protect the environment. They perceive a tourist eating a sandwich as disturbing the environment. Their ideal seems to be to preserve the planet as it is forever. But this goes against nature. Nature is continuous environmental change, which in turn causes natural selection and evolution of species. They seem determined to stop natural climate change and even the evolution of species. Basically, the world should be preserved for eternity as it was when they were born. It is ok that it changed and evolved for millions of years, but now that they were born it must be frozen in time. The same animal species must exist forever. No new animal species must be created. The temperature of each region on Earth must remain the same forever. And so forth. If this is not tampering with nature, i don't know what it is. They are trying to overturn the fundamental laws of nature: climate change and evolution. Somehow a tourist who eats a sandwich is viewed as damaging the planet, but an environmentalist who wants to stop the two most natural processes on Earth thinks of himself as protecting nature.

I view this environmentalists as an odd psychological phenomenon. Basically, they think there are two categories of beings: humans and nature. Humans are not part of nature, but enemies of nature. Then they put themselves outside the category of humans, like some sort of gods who are in charge of oversee how things work between those two categories. They don't realize that their own actions for protecting and preserving the environment goes very much counter the natural flow of the Earth (that has never ever tried to preserve or protect the environment, and has in fact always relied on catastrophic event to shape the environment). A human who builds a highway through a piece of wilderness is doing what a beaver does on a creek or a spider between two twigs. And the rest of the environment is simply supposed to adapt to it, or die, just like it has been for billions of years.

I concede of course that humans can alter the environment on a scale that is much bigger than what the Earth has experienced before. And i see environmentalists as a balance to the excesses of, say, greedy and selfish industrialits. To me it makes perfect sense that the human category includes both: one compensates for the other. But i would be worried if one prevailed over the other and we entered an age of environmentalist fanaticism, which is what is happening today. For example, rangers are unelected officials that make decisions with no oversight that affect millions of citizens. That *is* a form of dictatorship. Put it this way: if the price to pay is that only four people will ever see a spectacular feature of a national forest, then the price for "protectng" that national forest is too high.

At the same time, i certainly do not want millions of reckless tourists to cause long-term damage to the wilderness. However, many of the rules that have been enacted by those unelected officials are puzzling at best. For example, in national parks it is illegal to sleep in your car in a parking lot: they want you to use the official campgrounds. It seems to me that a person who sleeps in her own car is affecting the environment a lot less than a person who pitches a tent. There is even a rule that forbids hikers to defecate on Mt Whitney. However, there is no rule forbidding SUVs into national forests: the same person is free to drive an SUV to the Whitney trailhead, but not to defecate during a hike on the mountain. What cause more long-term damage to the environment, an SUV or feces? Which one is more likely to kill wildlife, an SUV or human feces? California parks mandate that food be stored in bear lockers, but Yellowstone mandates that food be store in the trunk of your car: which one is it? Many of these rules seem to be erratic, as it is typical of bureaucracies whose main goal is to feed themselves. There is only one road that crosses Yosemite: it is slow and dangerous for both humans and animals. Wouldn't it be better to have a superfast highway that would only take 20 minutes instead of one hour and a half? Wouldn't that reduce both pollution and danger?

Mules are allowed on several of the main trails: a mule train that plies a trail causes an environmental damage that is dozens of times bigger than the hiker who hikes that trail only once a year. Why not abolish mule trains? And, by the way, why the paranoia about protecting bears and keeping them while by the same people who have no problem taming, training and riding mules and horses? What makes a bear or a deer so much more special than a mule or a horse that we go out of our way to protect the bear's and deer's freedom but care absolutely zero about the mule's and horse's freedom?

Hence forgive me if i express unorthodox views on the way that national parks and national forests are run, and if sometimes i equate them to concentration camps; and if i treat environmentalists like nature haters (not lovers).

The result of this complex system of rules and regulations is that thousands of citizens are being turned into de-facto criminals: we drive way faster than the speed limits because we don't have good highways (or trains) to take us where we want to go in a reasonable amount of time; we camp in hidden places where rangers will not find us because campgrounds are full or ridiculously expensive or, quite simply, crowded and noisy; we don't get permits to hike because we can't afford to plan ahead or to spend an extra day to go to a ranger station; and we ignore the vast majority of wilderness closures because they defy common sense.


Environmentalism/ Part II

The idea behind environmentalism is to protect the wilderness for future generations. Having climbed all over the Eastern Sierra (the highest mountains in California), i have to wonder what exactly we mean by "protecting". Millions of trees are dying and nobody is doing anything about it. Is this what we mean by "protecting?" The tree line is constantly shifting towards lower elevation because at higher elevation the trees are more vulnerable and are dying by the millions. There are certainly many causes, but one is human-made, and, no, i am not referring to climate change. I am referring to the environmentalists who oppose paving roads and building helipads. The reason that no forest is dying on the Swiss or Austrian Alps is simple: botanists and scientists in general can quickly access an area affected by a problem. Californian environmentalists have made sure that no scientist would ever want to visit a dying forest because it takes days of hiking. What is causing the death of the California forests is the opposition by by environmental groups to the construction and paving of roads. Both on the east and on the west of the Sierra Nevada the trailheads often start from low elevation. You literally start from the desert to climb Mt Williamson, the second highest mountain in the state. The most popular trailhead in Kings Canyon is located at Roads End, an ugly location that is mostly famous for its tropical heat in the summer months. From any of these trailheads the hiker has to walk hours before entering what an ordinary person would call "the wilderness". There is no reason why the trailhead couldn't be located 5 or even 10 kms further inland. The road to get to the trailhead is often a problem too: the trailheads for Mt Williamson are on brutally unpaved roads, which de facto require a 4WD vehicle. No wonder that i have never met a botanist in one of those forests up in the mountains whereas i met several on the Alps. No, we are not protecting the wilderness for future generations. First of all, we are doing it for the very tiny percentage that will be athletic enough and will have enough time to hike those distances. Secondly, "doing nothing to save the forest" is not my definition of "protecting the forest". Thirdly, future generations are more likely to be grateful for Manhattan than for the Roads End trailhead.


This website uses the metric system, like 95% of the world's population.