May 1, 2013
The classic film Deliverance immortalized the American tradition of canoes, river canyons, guitars and banjos—but less remembered from the film, and the novel that preceded it, is its very premise: Four men were out to see one of Appalachia’s last free-flowing rivers—the fictional Cahulawassee—months before a scheduled dam project forever disrupted its flow. This fate, or something similar, has befallen most major river systems on earth—and though we often lament their loss, we continue to dam, divert or otherwise mar or destroy our last remaining wild rivers. But a few untamed giants remain, like the Amazon, the Arctic-bound Mackenzie, the Yukon of Alaska and Canada and the Lena of Siberia, one of the longest rivers in Asia. Even a dammed river can remain an enduring symbol of its landscape, as do the extensively developed Mississippi and the Nile. But such hydro-developed rivers may face other threats, especially overuse of their waters, which can eliminate a river entirely. Even that soul of the American desert, the Colorado River, is reduced to a pitiful trickle as it enters its own delta, in Mexico. Following are six of the most beautiful but most threatened rivers worth seeing while they still flow.
Length: 1,749 miles.
Discharge: 172,200 cubic feet per second.
Main threat: Planned hydroelectric development.
This Southeast Asian river’s days of unfettered youth and unbridled flow are probably numbered—for big plans are in store for the Salween. This mighty system begins as a Himalayan dribble almost three miles high in Tibet and, eventually, empties as a jungle-brown behemoth into the Andaman Sea in Burma. Though the Salween is currently a free-flowing river from source to sea, that is almost certain to change. China has plans to build 13 dams on the Salween, while Burma has long been discussing installation of several hydro projects. Though construction activity has been stalled for years, it seems probable that the Salween is fated to become a long escalade of concrete walls and reservoirs. In February 2013, the state government approved the construction (PDF) of six planned dams, which have generated huge civilian opposition and are the crux of a brewing eco-socioeconomic battle. Opponents to the projects have dispersed anti-dam petitions and even attacked survey teams scouting the dam sites. If you have plans to visit Burma, float the Salween now, before dams mandate laborious portages and before the villages along its shores are drowned. Boat tours can be arranged through many travel services, while some visitors explore the Salween’s course via bicycle.
Europe’s second-largest river after the Volga, the Danube is remarkable for the many cultures it touches, and the many borders it crosses, en route from the Alps to the Black Sea. The Danube has been characterized as dividing, uniting and defining Central Europe. So said Guy Raz, an NPR reporter who traveled the length of the Danube in 2002, documenting as he went its history, current culture, ecology and future. The river’s source is in the Black Forest of Germany,while it gains much of its volume from the Alps. It’s a fine way for a river to begin—but things get complicated for the Danube the more countries it touches. Government conservation efforts may be hampered by the Danube’s very diversity—for the river, which the World Wildlife Fund has called the “most international river in the world,” literally absorbs the direct runoff of 18 countries—including the war-scarred Balkan nations and the industrial landscapes of parts of Poland, Germany and Hungary. Named in 2007 as one of the ten most threatened rivers in the world, the Danube offers a variety of beautiful trip opportunities. People may cycle tour the length of the river, traveling as they go either through or near Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and many more nations. Or they may walk the gentle valley of the Danube, among vineyards and orchards, past Transylvanian castles and through great cities like Belgrade, Budapest and Vienna. Or they may explore this great river by boat.
Length: 382 miles.
Discharge: 23,490 cubic feet per second.
Major threat: Overuse of water for agriculture, which threatens salmon and other fish species.
Though hardly more than a stream when compared with recognized river giants, the Sacramento is economically and ecologically one of the most important watersheds in America. It enters the sea as grandly as a river can—past San Francisco and under the Golden Gate—while far upstream, the Sacramento’s waters provide habitat for the most southerly and one of the largest West Coast populations of Chinook salmon, which migrate upstream to spawn each year. The river’s water also feeds much of California’s agriculture industry, which in turn helps feed much of the world. Just one major barrier—the Shasta Dam—blocks the path of the Sacramento, and adventurers wishing to canoe or kayak this stream have at least two options: They may take the arguably wilder and more scenic route and paddle the upper branch, which passes among the beautiful volcano country of Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta. Or they may put in somewhere downstream of Lake Shasta and float the “Lower Sac,” through almond and walnut groves, past expansive rice fields, through California’s capital city of Sacramento, and, finally, into the river’s delta. The Sacramento is already heavily tapped, but controversial plans to build a “peripheral canal” to feed local and distant agriculture could severely impact the already struggling fisheries of the Sacramento, and many conservationists fear the Sacramento and its salmon will not last the century.
Length: 1,476 miles.
Discharge: 27,086 cubic feet per second.
Main threat: Dwindling fish species and overuse of water.
Australia’s longest and most massive river, the Murray flows from the Australian Alps southeastward and into the Southern Ocean near the city of Adelaide. Like nearly any river in a dry and thirsty land, the Murray is a critical life source—both for native fish and wildlife, like the barramundi, dolphin and the man-size Murray cod, and for local agriculture, including southern Australia’s famed wine industry. Though dams and locks cross the river at numerous places, the Murray is nonetheless a popular destination for paddlers—some of whom may float the entire river. The Murray is a gentle waterway, broad and slow for much of its length, and is relatively welcoming to novice river paddlers—though it does have a few whitewater sections. The future of the Murray is in question. The river’s flow is naturally erratic, and in dry years it has failed entirely to reach its end. As demand for the Murray’s water grows, climate change is expected to become a major stressor on this threatened river.
Length: 1,450 miles.
Discharge: 21,700 cubic feet per second.
A classic “exotic stream,” in which a river’s water originates almost entirely in lands far upstream, the Colorado begins in the Rockies but is famed as a symbol of the American desert. The river has famously carved its course deep into the copper-colored earth of Utah and Arizona, creating deep, steep canyons, including the Grand Canyon. The river’s outlet is technically and historically in Mexico, where a vast delta of braided streams once entered the northern reaches of the Sea of Cortez, supporting such species as the spectacular but now severely depleted totuava, a 200-pound ocean fish that once spawned in huge numbers in the Colorado Delta region. However, the Colorado scarcely—if at all—reaches its end anymore, most of its flows being withdrawn for use by some 40 million people. Some of the Colorado’s water is actually pumped out of the river’s drainage boundaries and into California for agricultural use in the desert. Other portions are used to water lawns and fill desert swimming pools. The best ways to experience the Colorado are by canoe or raft—though certain sections of the river feature dangerous rapids. Another option is to hike into the Grand Canyon—and remember: Bringing along stringed instruments is a fine tradition, but picking out “Dueling Banjos” by the riverbank is an exhausted musical cliché. Pick another song.
Length: 2,637 miles to head of Finlay River.
Discharge: 349,968 cubic feet per second.
Main threat: Possible hydroelectric development.
The Mackenzie drainage system receives the precipitation from almost 20 percent of Canada’s land area and abuts that of the Yukon River, the Fraser, the Columbia and the Churchill. Measured from the head of the Finlay River, the Mackenzie is one of the longest rivers in the world. However, many people—and canoeists—discuss the Mackenzie only in terms of its main branch, an un-dammed 1,000-mile run that flows north out of the massive Great Slave Lake. This river’s remote location has made it largely immune to many of the threats that have affected other great rivers—and almost certainly, the Mackenzie is one river system that will never dry up at the doings of people. And while the Mackenzie itself remains un-dammed, several hydroelectric projects have been built on its tributaries and there is growing interest in tapping into the energy of the Mackenzie’s main stem. Still, the Mackenzie drainage offers among the greatest wilderness experiences left on earth. Probably the best option is to let the river do the work and float downstream via canoe, raft or kayak. Where to start is the question. Some adventurers may start on the South Nahanni, while others may tackle the Mackenzie beginning at Great Slave Lake, a roughly month-long trip of probable bear encounters, wild camping and excellent fly fishing. Because it may someday be hydro-developed, the Mackenzie has been named among Canada’s most threatened waterways. For now, though, this Arctic giant remains one of the world’s freest, cleanest, wildest rivers.
April 24, 2013
America is, as we’re told, the land of the free—and for tail-wagging, four-legged travelers that were born to run, road-tripping across our vast country of fields, mountains, forests and campgrounds might seem like a dream vacation.
But visiting America’s most treasured parks and other places of natural heritage is not so easy for people with their dogs in tow. Leash laws and full pet prohibitions are so ubiquitous that for anyone hoping to tour America’s national or state parks, it may be easier to check the pets into a kennel before hitting the road than trying to bring them along on vacation.
This seemingly draconian crackdown on man’s best friend is not without good cause, however. Off-leash dogs may harass, chase and even attack and kill wildlife of all sizes and sorts. Deer, moose, birds and many other animals are regularly hounded by free-running pet dogs. Just a few examples: In 2010, an off-leash German shepherd killed a pair of fox pups just outside the Trout Brook Valley nature reserve in Connecticut. Also that year, a dog that had escaped its home in rural Colorado was seen chasing elk and harrying the animals into the middle of a river until a wildlife officer shot and killed the pet. Last spring, dogs near Talkeetna, Alaska, attacked and injured a newborn moose calf—a common occurrence in the Far North. In Florida, uncontrolled dogs are a frequent cause of death of the protected gopher tortoise, while in the Southwest, desert tortoises have reportedly been chewed on by free-roaming dogs. Uncontrolled pet dogs have also attacked endangered bighorn sheep in the California desert. Domestic dogs—whether fully feral or simply pets off-leash—cause huge losses for the livestock industry, too. In 2009, dogs killed roughly 60,000 sheep in the United States, according to the Department of Agriculture and the American Sheep Industry Association.
Other times, dogs off-leash are injured or killed. In November, a relatively rare Florida black bear attacked and injured a chocolate Lab that had been let into the woods to run by its owners. A similar encounter with a bear almost resulted in the death of a golden retriever in Massachusetts last year. Mountain lions, coyotes and even deer have also attacked free-roaming dogs. In national forests and lands of the Bureau of Land Management, dogs are often allowed to run off-leash—but hunters may also use these areas. In January, a pair of pig hunters in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara shot and killed a 40-pound mutt named Billy, who was running off-leash. Pet dogs have also stepped into steel-jawed traps, which can be legally placed on national forest lands in some places, like the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
The problem is global. Off-leash pet dogs attack swans and deer in England. In parts of Australia, dogs on the loose are one of major the predators of koalas. A poodle recently came trotting home with a mortally wounded kangaroo joey in its mouth. In the 1980s, a single off-leash pet dog in New Zealand killed between 600 and 800 kiwis out of a small population of 1,000 in just six weeks. A recent study in Tasmania found dogs to be the second-greatest source of wildlife mortality after cars.
In the United States, the problem is reportedly growing worse every year. Attacks on other dogs and people occur, too, and for these reasons, authorities have been cinching up leash laws. Virtually no state or national park allows dogs to run off leash—not even in backcountry areas. In San Francisco, the vast urban parkland of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), for example, has been ground zero of ongoing bickering between leash law proponents and dog owners bent on letting their pets run and romp. The thing is, the park, while potentially a haven for off-leash dogs, is also a refuge for native wildlife—like the threatened Western snowy plover. Numbers of these birds have long nested in the dunes at San Francisco-area beaches and, as discussed in the Outside blog Adventure Ethics, may be chased off by uncontrolled dogs.
Brent Plater, the executive director of the nonprofit organization Wild Equity Institute in San Francisco, says just last week two goslings were killed by off-leash dogs at Crissy Field, a beach area within the GGNRA. Plater has been working for years with several other groups to help the Park Service develop a leash law plan that seems fair to everyone, and he notes that the GGNRA has “some of the most generous leash laws of all the national parks” in spite of being home to several threatened or endangered species. At this point, Plater feels the best proposal would be to enclose off-leash dog areas with fencing. That, he says, would be “the perfect compromise and solution” to a battle that pits “a handful of dog owners against everyone else.”
The controversy, he adds, is not simply about people and dogs and whether both have equal rights on public lands.
“It’s about whether we want to take a precautionary approach and avoid problems before they happen by fencing off dog areas, or whether we want to take a reactive approach and punish people after the fact, and hopefully fix the damage [their dogs] cause,” he explained.
Julie Young, a federal wildlife biologist and also an assistant professor at Utah State University, has studied the impacts of feral and off-leash dogs in the United States and in Mongolia, where she analyzed the impacts (PDF) of domestic dogs on an antelope called the saiga. Young says the impacts dogs have on wild animals are far greater than most pet owners realize.
“If your dog chases a deer, and it’s near a popular trail, it’s probably not the first time that deer was chased—maybe not even on that day,” Young told Off the Road.
Young says a paper published in 2008 in the Natural Areas Journal reported that off-leash pet dogs in Colorado had driven deer and bobcats away from popular hiking trails where they had once been known to occur. In Utah, Young says, sage grouse and mule deer can be common targets for harassment by dogs. Other times, pet dogs kill livestock—and this, says Young, “can have a secondary effect” of bringing wrongful blame upon coyotes—or wolves—in northern states and Canada.
Maureen Hill-Hauch, the program director of the American Dog Owners Association, takes a surprisingly stern approach to leash laws and believes pet dogs need to be kept on leashes anytime they’re outside of a confined private area.
“We’re all about responsibility, and a responsible dog owner keeps their dog on a leash and collar,” Hill-Hauch said. “If you want to let them run, then let them run in your backyard or at a tennis court, where you can lock the gate.” Very few state parks allow dogs off-leash, Hill-Hauch says—”and rightfully so.” She believes dog attacks on people and the harassment of wildlife are more than enough reason to require that pet dogs be restrained at all times when on public land.
“My dogs have never been off their leashes,” she said.
So, where can travelers go with their dogs? Almost everywhere—for dogs are allowed in most parks, state and national. However, rules here are strict and, if you’ve entertained ideas of boundless romping in the woods with your pet, you may be in for a serious letdown. Consider Yellowstone National Park, which prohibits dogs in the backcountry, on trails and on boardwalks, and requires that they be leashed at all times, if not caged or locked in an attended vehicle. In Yosemite National Park, they are likewise prohibited in the backcountry and most trails. They are permitted on paved trails and paths, and most of the park’s 13 campgrounds allow dogs—though only on a leash six feet long or shorter—and, yes, a person must be holding the leash.
Want to go hiking? Figure you’ll just tie your dog up in camp for the day? Sorry—but that’s generally forbidden. In other words, driving through a park with your dog shouldn’t be a problem. But if you hope to fully enjoy the woods and wilds with your best four-legged friend, a national park may not be for you. Note that Acadia, Shenandoah, Grand Canyon, Cuyahoga and Great Sand Dunes national parks have been named as among the dog-friendliest of America’s national parks, mainly for their relatively lax leash laws.
Want to go backpacking? Dogs generally aren’t allowed in the backcountry of national parks. However, national forest land is often a romping ground for pet dogs. In developed areas and developed campsites, leash laws are the norm, but in the backcountry, your dog can, at last, run free.
Resources on pet-friendly travel destinations provide a rough breakdown of the rules.
April 12, 2013
As 2013′s Major League Baseball season begins, that sage advice from the cornfield whispers truer than ever: If you build it, he (or she) will come.
The cross-country stadium hunter, that is. There are thousands of them, traveling city to city, spending their summers and their money on the road with the fanatic’s goal of visiting as many as they can of North America’s 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. Some ballpark chasers, as they’re often called, manage the grand slam of the stadium hunt—hitting all the parks in a single season. Those more ambitious have aimed for doing the tour in one month or less.
But most chasers devote their lifetimes to the pursuit, as Craig Landgren is doing. The 32-year-old Cincinnati Reds fan lives near Seattle, has visited 14 active stadiums and aims to see the rest in coming decades. Landgren is also the founder of BallparkChasers.com, an online community base for baseball fans with a penchant as much for stadiums as the game itself. He launched the website and the organization almost five years ago.
“I kept meeting people who had the same goal as me, to visit all 30 of the stadiums,” Landgren told Off the Road. “I decided there should be a community for this.”
Today, there is. BallparkChasers.com has 1,500 members. They use the site as a resource for tips and suggestions on how to most efficiently and most enjoyably make the Can-American stadium tour—including hotel and restaurant suggestions for each city and suggested multi-stadium weekend routes. Members also use the site as a social networking tool for meeting other ballpark chasers, often at games. Many ballpark chasers have become pen pals. Others have become best friends. Some are baseball newbies, while others have seen hundreds and hundreds of games.
For a few especially ambitious chasers, the pastime is not just a goal but a race—and among these people, records are kept. One member of BallparkChasers.com, for instance, named Josh Robbins, holds the so-called “land record,” having visited every stadium in 26 days without traveling by air—an achievement made especially difficult by such outlying baseball cities as Miami, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area and, especially, Seattle. Another member, Chuck Booth, holds the all-around fastest record of 23 days—several of these, obviously, doubleheaders. Booth describes the journey in his book The Fastest Thirty Ballgames: A Ballpark Chasers (sic) World Record Story, which he co-authored with Landgren.
Another stadium-hunting baseball fanatic, from Annapolis, Maryland, plans to ride a bicycle to every park in the country. Jacob Landis, 23, left home several days ago and will be pedaling the entire 10,500-mile stadium circuit, with van support. The journey may take 175 days.
Roberto Coquis and Judy Pino completed the stadium tour in 2009 with their months-old baby, Sofia.
Bob DeVries, of McHenry, Illinois, became a ballpark chaser in 2009. DeVries lost his wife, Shawn Marie, to a heart condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia in 2008 when she was 35. In 2009, DeVries spent all spring and summer touring the nation, visiting every stadium by September 6, four days before the anniversary of Shawn Marie’s passing. It was a way of keeping himself busy and focused while distracting himself from the alone time he suddenly had to face each weekend, DeVries, 49, told Off the Road. In 2010, the Cubs fan repeated the journey—this time with media coverage and a fund-raising effort for SADS.org, an organization dedicated to understanding and preventing heart-related deaths like that of Shawn Marie.
DeVries says the stadium tour cost him between $17,000 and $20,000 each of his two years on the road. He said the easiest region to tackle is the Northeast, where one can feasibly see a game at every stadium in a week. Some regions of the country, meanwhile, must be approached carefully.
“I made sure that the Astros and Rangers were both at home when I went to Texas so I wouldn’t have to go back again later,” he said. “I did the same thing in Florida and in San Francisco.”
Like so many ballpark chasers, DeVries says his favorite stadium in the country is the Giants’ AT&T Park. His least favorite is just several miles away, across San Francisco Bay—the ogreishly named O.co Coliseum. When The New York Times recently scored each park using Yelp ratings, the Toronto’s Rogers Centre came in last (though it’s still the finest Major League park in Canada, no contest) and O.co landed at number 29—the worst-rated stadium in America. High on the list were the historic Fenway Park of the Boston Red Sox—now the oldest active stadium in the Major Leagues—and Wrigley Field of the Chicago Cubs. Oriole Park at Camden Yards—built in 1992 and considered the first of the new wave of American baseball stadiums—came in fifth, while the Pirates’ PNC Park in Pittsburgh was named as the favorite.
Over the past 20 years, the baseball road trip has enjoyed an extreme makeover. Prior to the early 90s, many stadiums were drab and dull, or simply lacking in visitor amenities. Then, the Baltimore Orioles opened Camden Yards. The park was clean and efficient but with a retro brick-and-ivy look that evoked the good old days of classic American baseball. The Orioles had built it, and the fans came. Attendance spiked. Other cities followed suit, and 22 stadiums have since received splurgy makeovers, turning from crusty old venues of aging bleachers and spilled beer underfoot into semi-swanky tourist attractions.
As new stadiums continue to appear through the seasons, even the most accomplished ballpark chasers may find reason to take to to the road again. Currently, there is talk of moving the Oakland Athletics to a new home in San Jose. Some retired stadium hunters, too, will probably retrace old steps when parks receive renovations, which are forever in the works. Still others who have seen every active park, according to Landgren, make it a goal to repeat the feat, this time seeing their favorite team—not just any teams—play in each stadium. Some are looking to expand the chase into Japan, where Major League games have been played. A few look to an entirely other level—the Minor Leagues—and begin a whole new hunt in a land of smaller crowds, cheaper seats and players who aren’t millionaires.
The ballpark chase goes on.
Tips for the Tour: Following are a few suggestions for how to make the stadium tour (no skipping Toronto, Seattle or Miami!) at minimal cost and stress and with minimal backtracking.
Beware of rainouts. If you must race onward from a rained out game in order to catch other games for which you’ve already bought tickets, you will be forced to return later for another try. A rainout in Colorado could potentially be devastating for your summertime stadium tour.
If you’re driving, rent a hybrid car and reduce your gas costs.
When possible, visit two stadiums in a day. This will buy you time for later down the road.
For places with multiple teams within a small region, like Florida, the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California and the Northeast, try and visit when each club is in town.
Camp. It’s cheaper than sleeping in hotels.
Don’t go too fast, and save time to see the highlights of each city. This may be the only time you’ll visit them.
April 8, 2013
The concept is alluringly simple: Leave your home, your television, your laptop, your job, put on a backpack and walk from Mexico to Canada.
That, in a sentence, describes the experience of walking the Pacific Crest Trail. Usually called the PCT, this epic foot trail meanders 2,650 miles through three states, from Campo, California, to E.C. Manning Provincial Park, in British Columbia. Many thousands of people walk some portion of the trail each year, whether in California, Oregon or Washington, while several hundred attempt to go the full distance. Hikers intending to do so must be fit, brave, ambitious and—at least for a while—unemployed. They must also undertake some serious planning as they begin what will likely be the greatest outdoors adventure of their lives. The PCT is one of America’s three great long-distance north-south hiking trails, along with the Continental Divide and the Appalachian trails. The PCT passes among the world’s largest trees, some of the most fantastic rock formations and one of the driest deserts. It crosses one of North America’s largest rivers, and traverses a wide range of climates and landscapes, from low-lying to deserts to craggy high country to well-watered, mossy forests.
Most people who hike the PCT walk south to north, and for them, the adventure is about to start. Most will depart before May. This allows them to begin when the desert temperatures are still mild and progress northward rather in sync with the warming weather. The April-May start time also works out especially nicely by putting northbounders at the south end of the Sierra Nevada just as the high country snowpack really begins to melt, and if they stay on schedule they should pass through the Pacific Northwest before the first autumn snows.
Jack Haskel, a staff member with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, told Off the Road that several thru-hikers are already a few hundred miles into their walk.
“It’s been a low-snow year, which makes it a decent year to get an early start,” he said.
Hikers must handle some paperwork before they begin—but, happily, bureaucratic obstacles are quite minimal. The PCT Association will grant a PCT Long Distance Permit to anyone planning to walk at least 500 miles of the trail. This document is free, takes two to three weeks to process and paves the way for a hiker to walk every inch of the PCT.
Logistically speaking, now comes the fun stuff—bears, food supplies, dangerous terrain and running out of water. Haskel says there are, in particular, two waterless distances of about 30 miles in the Southern California desert where hikers must tote gallons at a time.
Once hikers reach the Sierra Nevada, a simple water filtering pump can be used at any of hundreds of lakes and streams along the way—but rations now become the biggest priority. North of Kennedy Meadows, hikers cross not a single road for about 200 miles and, unless they trek off-trail to a town, may need to carry with them some 60,000 calories of food a person. Such deliciously laden hikers are gold mines of goodies for black bears, which don’t pose much of a physical threat to people but may easily rob hikers of their supplies if they leave them unguarded—even for just a few moments, whether day or night. Bears, Haskel warns, can be especially problematic near the Rae Lakes in Kings Canyon National Park and in Yosemite National Park’s Lyell Canyon. In places, a plastic bear canister is required—and hikers would be wise to carry one of these bear-proof food containers throughout their journey.
About 1,000 people apply for thru-permits each year. Between 500 and 800 individuals attempt the journey. Fewer than half of them finish each year. The average thru-hiker will take about five months to walk the entire trail, averaging 20-plus miles a day after factoring in rest days. Haskel says many hikers begin at a pace of 16 or 17 miles per day but, by the time they reach Oregon, “are basically doing a marathon every day.” He says the PCT is “an amazing workout” and that thru-hikers can expect to arrive at the finish line “skinny” and, perhaps, fitter than they’ve ever been. Thru-hikers, by virtue of their lifestyle, become voracious eaters, burning 5,000 calories or more per day and, when they’re able, regaining this energy through glorious, face-stuffing feasts. Fortunately, hikers will encounter towns with quality stores and restaurants every few days for most of the PCT’s length. The PCT Association’s website offers guidelines and strategy suggestions for resupplying along the trail.
One need not be starving—just bored of couscous and curry—to stop and eat one of the most famous meals along the entire PCT, the Pancake Challenge at Seiad Valley Store and Cafe, on the Klamath River in Northern California. The Challenge consists of putting down five one-pound pancakes—a feat that perhaps only a thru-hiker (or a black bear) could ever manage. Walking Man Brewing Company, in Stevenson, Washington, is a popular watering hole for PCT hikers. Haskel also recommends Paradise Valley Cafe, near the San Jacinto Mountains in Southern California, popular among hikers for its burgers.
A small fraction of PCT hikers—perhaps just several dozen people—hike the trail north to south, starting at the Canadian border and walking to Mexico. Such southbounders often opt for this route plan due to their calendar schedule; if they cannot break away from school or work until June, they simply can’t begin the journey in the desert, where June temperatures can be crushing. They will also have a poor chance of reaching the Canadian border before winter if they depart from Campo in late June. But hiking in this direction introduces some unique challenges. Most southbounders start after June 15—but even then, much of the trail will still be covered with snow. Southbound hikers can expect not to see the trail itself for snowy sections as long as one mile or more. Thus, getting lost is likely, and many southbounders carry GPS devices for this reason. By July and August, the high country snows will have mostly melted—but October will be just around the corner, and the highest passes of the entire journey lie very much toward the end of the trail, in the Sierra Nevada. Forester Pass—at 13,153 feet—is the giant of them all. It stands 780 miles from the finish line, and southbounders generally aim to cross this beautiful but potentially perilous obstacle before October.
From here, much of the remaining country is desert, which by autumn is mild, dry and beautiful. Many southbounders slow to an easy pace here, Haskel says, as the race against winter is over. Fifteen to 20 miles a day—child’s play for hikers who have come all the way from Canada—brings them in a month or two to the Mexican border at Campo, where a taco—plus a dozen more and a few beers—may never taste so good.
The trail runs 2,650 miles.
The trail leads through 26 national forests, seven national parks, five state parks and three national monuments.
The trail’s midpoint is at Chester, California, near Mount Lassen.
The highest point along the way is Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada, at 13,153 feet.
Fewer than 200 hikers finish the PCT each year.
About 5 percent of thru hikers walk north to south, considered the more challenging direction.
The first person to thru-hike the entire trail was Richard Watson, in 1972.
The fastest time was set in 2011 by Scott Williamson, who hiked north to south in 64 days 11 hours, averaging 41 miles per day.
A few speed hikers have finished so-called “yo yo” hikes, reaching the end, then turning around and walking the entire PCT again in the opposite direction.
Cyclists may attempt a bike-friendly, 2,500-mile parallel route called the Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail.
March 20, 2013
If you think flying is stressful, just imagine how the experience must impact an innocent, unknowing dog or cat when packed away in the cargo hold of a commercial jet. Air travel, in fact, is not just stressful for animals. It can be dangerous, no matter how smooth the landing, timely the departure or friendly the flight attendants. Conditions in the cargo hold of commercial jets are not always friendly; temperatures can fluctuate wildly, noise can be tremendous and air pressure can drop significantly, and pets that are checked into this dark space beneath the passenger cabin sometimes die. In 2011, thirty-five pets died while (or shortly before or after) traveling on commercial flights with U.S. airline companies. Nine animals were injured and two lost entirely. And in 2012, 29 pets died, 26 were injured and one was lost. These numbers should be considered in context; the U.S. Department of Transportation says that two million animals travel on commercial flights each year.
More pets have died in recent years on Delta Airlines flights than on any other airline, according to mandatory incident reports provided by U.S.-based airlines to the Department of Transportation. In 2010, 2011 (PDF) and 2012, Delta Airlines was responsible for 41 of the 97 reported animal deaths. Multiple publications have reported that Delta carries more pets than competing companies, which could explain the seemingly high rate of incidents reported by the airline. A media relations official with Delta Airlines declined to comment for this story.
United Airlines reported 12 animal deaths in 2012 among six airlines that reported incidents.
Almost never is corrective action taken following these incidents. Indeed, fault may often lie with the passenger—such as when animals with pre-existing health problems are checked as baggage.
Kirsten Theisen, director of pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States, believes air travel is simply too stressful for most animals, especially when they are placed in an aircraft’s cargo hold.
“Flying is frightening for animals,” says Theisen. “They can sense the pressure changing and they can tell that something is happening, and that’s scary. Flying is frightening if you don’t know what’s happening.”
Theisen recognizes that many people today wish to include their pets in family vacations, but she strongly suggests leaving animals at home, in trusted hands, if at all possible. Theisen says reports of pets being lost, injured or killed in transit are increasing, if only because human travelers are increasingly taking their animals along for the ride.
“More and more now, families consider their pets to be members of the family and want to include them on trips,” Theisen says. “Unfortunately, airlines don’t consider animals a member of your family. They consider them cargo.”
Theisen recommends that travelers with pets “do their homework” before flying. She points to Delta’s website, which provides lengthy and detailed information on the possible hazards for pets traveling by plane. Delta, like many airlines now, prohibits pets as checked baggage between May 15 and September 15, when high temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere produce extreme dangers for pets stashed below the passenger cabin. Delta also says it will not carry pets in the cargo hold during periods of extreme weather, whatever the season. The company’s website also states that it will not accept animals as checked baggage if the high temperature at any location on a flight’s itinerary is forecast to be below 10 degrees or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
In other words, just that an airline accepts your animal as checked baggage does not mean that conditions will be comfortable or safe for an animal checked as baggage.
Unforeseen hazards can arise once a plane is loaded and prepped for takeoff. On airplanes that have been delayed after leaving the terminal and parked on the blazing tarmac, temperatures can escalate dangerously. Pets have also died due to low temperatures. In 2010, two dogs and a cat perished due to extreme cold in transit, according to the Huffington Post. One of these animals was a hairless kitten named Snickers. The cat’s owner had paid a $70 fee to ensure her pet’s swift removal from the plane. However, it reportedly took baggage handlers 50 minutes to remove the kitten’s kennel from the cargo hold. Snickers died shortly thereafter.
Nearly all animal incidents reported to the Department of Transportation involve pets in the cargo hold. But in 2012, a pug died inside the passenger cabin on a flight from New York City to Salt Lake City that was delayed before takeoff. KSL NewsRadio of Utah reported that a flight attendant told the dog’s owner to keep the pug’s carrying case under the seat throughout the 45-minute delay. The dog reportedly began panting in its confined space and, later during the flight, was discovered to be dead.
Pugs, in fact, are one of several breeds now prohibited on many airlines because of their natural vulnerability to respiratory stresses. They are among the brachycephalic dogs and cats, commonly called snub-nosed, or pug-nosed. Brachycephaly is considered a disorder in humans and many other species, while for a number of dog breeds, the condition is a natural variation. In addition to pugs, boxers, English bulldogs, American pitbull terriers, chow chows and about a dozen other breeds are brachycephalic. At least four cat breeds—Burmese, Persian, Himalayan and exotic short-hair—may also be defined as “snub-nosed.” These animals, more frequently than others, may have breathing problems or difficulties when placed in the stressful conditions of an airplane’s cargo hold and face a relatively high risk of in-flight suffocation as a result. Of 189 flight-related animal deaths reported by the Department of Agriculture between June 2005 and June 2011, ninety-eight were brachycephalic breeds, according to The New York Times.
Delta, American, United and many other companies have strict regulations regarding brachycephalic cats and dogs on their flights. A company called Pet Airways launched in 2009 to cater to pet owners, and about a quarter of the airline’s animal passengers were snub-nosed breeds. Pet Airways did not last long, however. The company, which received some poor customer reviews on Yelp, was showing signs of financial distress by early 2012, according to the New York Times. The company has since ceased operations.
Owners of non-pug-nosed breeds should not be caught off guard. In February 2011, a 3-year-old Labrador retriever reportedly arrived safe and sound an hour past midnight in Singapore on Delta Flight 281. The dog was placed in a baggage storage area, was reported to be in good condition at 5:35 a.m. but was found motionless in its cage at 6:20 a.m. In late July of 2011, a 6-year-old yellow Lab died while in the cargo hold of a Delta flight from Pensacola to Baltimore, with a stop in Atlanta. On the second leg of the journey, the aircraft was delayed for hours in Atlanta and was eventually cancelled entirely. The dog was later found dead in its kennel. A year later, in September 2012, a 2-year-old golden retriever named Beatrice died of heatstroke on a United Airlines flight from New York City to San Francisco. The dog’s owner, supermodel Maggie Rizer, wrote on a blog that the airline acted with dishonesty and callousness after the dog’s death—though the airline reportedly refunded the $1,800 that Rizer paid for Beatrice’s travel. Still other animals bite or chew themselves bloody, presumably unnerved by the stresses of travel. Still others have been lost entirely—like two cats in 2011 whose kennels were discovered open and vacated upon arrival at their destinations. Neither has been reported found.
Current regulations require that airlines—those based in America, anyway—report all incidents involving animals. But Theisen explains that a troubling loophole excludes from this requirement any animals traveling for commercial purposes. Thus, animals that are injured, lost or killed while in the hands of an airline need not be reported if they were being shipped from a breeder to a retailer, or to a new owner, or to a dog show.
“If your dog is at that moment technically not a pet, then it doesn’t need to be reported if something happens to it,” Theisen explains. She adds that the deaths, injuries and animals missing numbers reported by the Department of Transportation are certainly not comprehensive and that many incidents slip quietly, and legally, under the radar.
Suggestions to Keep Your Pet Safe When Flying
- Visit your veterinarian to be sure your pet is fit to fly.
- Don’t fly your pet during the hot summer months.
- Arrange for direct flights. Transfers increase the chances of delays, which can cause stress to animals contained in the cargo hold, and other mishaps, like a pet being sent to the wrong destination.
- If possible (it depends on the animal’s size), purchase your pet a space in the passenger cabin.
- If you must check your pet into the baggage hold, remind airline staff and baggage handlers that there is a live animal on board to ensure gentle handling. Also ask baggage handlers during your check-in that your pet’s cage be placed in a well-ventilated space, and be sure your pet has water.
- Don’t fly snub-nosed cats or dogs. These animals die on airlines, often of respiratory problems, more frequently than other breeds.
- Leave your pet at home if you will be returning soon, and look forward to a happy reunion of wagging tails and hearty purrs.