Monday, December 24, 2012

Last Minute Gift Idea - Give Something Back!

Still hunting for the right gift at this late hour?  Consider the gift of adventure and giving back!

You can purchase Wilderness Volunteers' gift certificates good for any of the 2013 projects, from Minnesota to Arizona, West Virginia to Montana, Vermont to Alaska, Hawaii to New Hampshire. Your recipient(s) will be able to select a project from the list of more than 50 service projects to decide which is best for them. You'll be providing an adventure that engages all the senses in a beautiful, natural setting, while doing meaningful work for public lands. They'll return home with pictures and stories to be shared and remembered for a lifetime.  The perfect gift for the outdoor enthusiast in your life!

Friday, December 07, 2012

2013 Summer/Fall Schedule Released!

Goat Rocks Wilderness, Gifford Pinchot NF (2012)
We are super excited to announce the release of the full 2013 Service Project schedule!  It is a record setting year as WV will give something back in more wilderness areas in a single year than ever before, with trips from Hawaii to Vermont, Alaska to Texas and many, many areas in between.

We'll need your help to ensure that we complete all the tasks that our agency partners are asking of us, so head on over to our projects page to read more about each of the 2013 service trips and sign up for your top choice before it fills up.  **Also note that supporters of Wilderness Volunteers get early placement for their desired projects.

We can't wait to get on the trail and give something back with you and your friends and family! Check out this interactive map of where our 2013 projects or view the projects by date.

Any questions? Shoot us an email at

My Trip at Denali

from left to right: Jenny, Alvin, Tim, Jim, Debbie,
Hannah, Karen, & Donna
By Donna McParlan
This adventure was spectacular for so many reasons. Since this was my first trip to Alaska and first project with Wilderness Volunteers, I really did not know what to expect. After flying to Anchorage from Chicago, my husband Tim and I hopped aboard the Alaska Railroad to Denali National Park. The train’s huge windows allowed us to view mile after mile of gorgeous scenery and wildlife on the way to the park. Once there our job was to break new trail on the Savage River Alpine Trail.

Building the Savage Loop Trail
Using hand saws, pulaskis, shovels, cutters, loppers, and canvas bags, we sawed shrubs, cut bushes, pulled up tundra sod, moved rocks, and hauled dirt. We worked long, hard days, but the reward was the result of our work. Our home for the week was a large platform tent with a wood burning stove at the back of the Savage River Campground. Debbie Northcutt and Bill Sheppard, our leaders, are experienced and professional. Bill, our chef, planned and prepared a variety of wholesome meals, taking trail cuisine to perfection. Across from the platform tent was a shower house with flush toilets for use only by the Park Service trail crew and the volunteers. So although our environment was remote and wild, our accommodations were civilized!

Mt McKinley above the clouds from our worksite
The weather for the week was a mixed bag. Temperatures ranged from highs in the 50’s to below freezing at night. We had rain on and off and snow on more than one day but some sun almost every day. Our views were of wide open tundra with the expansive Alaska Range all around, huge braided rivers, and brilliant fall colors of red, orange, and yellow. We saw abundant wildlife while on the trails and from the buses--Dall sheep, moose, caribou, and bear. Our volunteer group was a friendly, hard- working, and interesting bunch, diverse in age and from all over the country, and we enjoyed working side by side with the Park Service Trail Crew, who appreciated our efforts.
With this adventure behind me here’s what I will expect on the next one: a week of hard work in the great out-doors, breath- taking scenery, a feeling of accomplishment, and considerate and interesting people with a sense of responsibility to give something back.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

WV in the News

Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela Nat'l Forest, WV (2012)

For the second straight year, Wilderness Volunteers spent a week clearing trails in West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest - this time in the scenic Dolly Sods Wilderness.  The trip was a success, as we maintained several miles of trail and rehabilitated half-a-dozen campsites (amidst glorious fall foliage!). Needless to say, the US Forest Service is eager to see us return in 2013.

And so are our volunteers, especially this one, who has found inspiration in WV service projects to get involved with trail maintenance in his local community.  Visit to read more and learn what it's like to spend a week "Giving Something Back" with Wilderness Volunteers.

And stay tuned for a list of WV's 2013 Summer and Fall projects, which will be announced in early December!

Friday, November 16, 2012

An Agency’s Praise of WV

by Ruth Scott, Wilderness Specialist, Olympic National Park

Beginning with its creation in 1997, Wilderness Volunteers began to play a vital role in the stewardship of America’s wilderness lands. This is nowhere more apparent than in Olympic National Park where, under the inspired leadership of John Sherman and Debbie Northcutt, Wilderness Volunteers began “to give something back”. The beauty and wild character of the Olympic Wilderness attracts many visitors, resulting in the trampling of fragile vegetation and erosion of life-giving soils, especially adjacent to wilderness camp areas where expansive areas of bare ground can develop. Camp area rehabilitation and revegetation with native plants has been a successful action used at Olympic to restore the wilderness resource as well as the wilderness experience for visitors. Wilderness Volunteers, since its inception, has been critical in this effort. 

Ruth Scott
The first field season following its founding, Wilderness Volunteers began a revegetation project in Olympic’s high country at Hoh Lake with John Sherman directing the efforts of the crew together with me in my role as the park’s wilderness specialist. The excellent work of the volunteers continued annually: in subalpine areas at Royal Basin, Seven Lakes, Hurricane Ridge, Upper Lena and Lake Angeles, in lowland forests on the East Fork Quinault River and Boulder Creek, and on the coast for the largest of the wilderness revegetation projects – a four year venture at Norwegian Memorial. Most of these projects could not have been completed without the many dozens of Wilderness Volunteers that contributed over 5700 hours of labor, scarifying acres of compacted soil and planting tens of thousands of native plants. The outstanding guidance of leaders Gayle Marechal and Ed Hill on many of these trips enhanced the experience for volunteers and provided a dedication and continuity that made work with the organization one of the highlights of the year for Olympic National Park staff. The experience and commitment of returning volunteers such as Susan Meyer, a seven year veteran, have proven to be an especially valuable asset.

The stewardship relationship between Wilderness Volunteers and Olympic National Park will continue, ensuring that together our precious inheritance of wilderness is passed on unimpaired to the generations that follow.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Great Old Broads' Wild for Wilderness Online Auction Wraps Up Soon

Our friends, the Great Old Broads for Wilderness have a terrific online auction that's live now! The "broads" have over 300 unbelievable deals on outdoor adventures, art, books, services, footwear, outdoor gear...and much, much more.  And the best part is, all proceeds go to this great organization working to preserve and protect our wild lands for future generations.

Bidding ends this Sunday evening, November 11th, so make sure to visit the Wild for Wilderness online auction soon.  It will certainly get you in the mood for the Wilderness Volunteers online auction, coming this March. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Relative Risks

What are the biggest backcountry hazards? Most of us have safe, fun adventures in the outdoors, but knowing what the risks are can help us plan safer trips and reduce problems once we are out there.

We tend to freak out over some risks that are unlikely, while not taking other common risks as seriously as we should. For example, folks worry about going in to bear country but stumbling is much more likely to kill you on the trail.

What are the relative risks of outdoor adventure? In ascending order (in the United States):

-Bears: According to Wikipedia, 25 people have been killed by bears in the past ten years. Stay safe by making noise as you move through the area; yelling "Hey Bear!" warns the shaggy bruins of your approach.

-Mountain lions: Cougars, pumas, jaguars (they are all the same large cat) kill an average of one person and injure six each year opportunistically pursuing their instinct to stalk moving targets. Don't hike alone at dawn or dusk when the risk is highest, and if you find one stalking you, stand your ground, yell, wave your arms, and hold your pack over your head to appear larger. They will quickly realize you aren't prey.

-Snakes: Approximately 10 people are killed each year; most from eastern and western diamondback rattlesnakes. Most snakebites occur when handling snakes, so steer clear of the vipers and keep your hands and feet out of holes and cracks.

-Other people: National parks average 12 murders per year. Stay safe by hiking away from suspicious people, and wear bright orange during hunting season. Give up your wallet if necessary, but fight back if attacked.

-Insects: Around 50 people die each year from allergy to insect stings. If you've had a reaction to a sting in the past, carry an epi-pen with you in the backcountry and know how to use it.

-Lightning: According to the National Weather Service, an average of 50 people are killed by a lightning strike. Only 10% of people who are struck are killed, leaving 90% with vairous degrees of disability. July is the deadliest month. Get below treeline before an approaching storm rolls in. If you are stuck in an exposed location, crouch on your pack or sleeping pad and stay at least 20-feet from other people (a bolt can run from one person to another). Administer CPR to anyone struck without a pulse.

-Animal collisions: This can happen on your way to the trailhead. Crashing into a deer or larger elk or moose kills approximately 200 people and injures thousands more each year. Stay safe by slowing down and being alert to animals especially as evening approaches; 75% of collisions occur in the dark.

-Poor judgement/preparation: Approximately 1,100 Search & Rescue missions each year in the national park system are necessitated by errors in judgement and insufficient experience. Know your skills and limits, plan ahead, drink enough water, wear appropriate clothing, and don't be so set upon a course that you can't change your plans when conditions change.

-Heart Attack: Altitude, vigorous exercise and stress can trigger cardiac arrest and accounts for almost as many deaths in the backcountry as drowning. Half of all heart attack victims will die before help can be summoned. Your best defense is to stay in shape with a regular routine of aerobic conditioning and have regular checkups with your physician. If you experience pressure in the chest, right arm or jaw, take a baby aspirin.

-Drowning: Playing in a river that is too fast, being swept into a waterfall, swimming in cold water -- all are recipes for drowning. Don't cross fast-moving rivers that are more than knee deep (and unfasten your the waist/chest band on your backpack before attempting your crossing). Don't enter a slot canyon when rain threatens, stay away from that lovely waterfall, and don't swim in hypothermia inducing water.

-Falls: Unroped falls are the outdoors' number-one killer, and most victims are hikers, not climbers. Accidental falls are the biggest killer in the national parks due to trauma from the fall (broken neck, internal injuries, head injury, etc.). Falls can combine with water to add to drowning deaths. Assess the risks of exposure in your pursuits realistically, and don't be talked into putting yourself in danger.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Plan to Give Something Back in 2013!

The 2013 Spring Project Schedule is up!

New this year are projects in the King Range National Conservation Area in California, and the Goshute Peak Wilderness Study Area and Alta Toquima Wilderness, both in Nevada. New takes on some favorites include the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park project which will be on the historic Mauna Loa trail high on the mountain this year (instead of on the beach), and the Canyonlands National Park project at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Volunteers who maintain trails and eradicate invasive plants are crucial to our public lands who face an increasing decline in funding and paid crews. These are projects that would likely go undone without volunteer labor; you are needed!

The summer and fall projects will go up on the website during the first week of December.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Taking Care of Your Gear

Now that our project season is drawing to a close, it's a good time to make sure we store our gear properly.

Sleeping Bag: Take it out of the compression stuff sack and store it in the big cotton sack it came in or in a king-sized pillow case. If it's really dirty, launder it first using a special soap like Nikwax tech wash. Use a front-loading commercial washer to prevent the damaging action of the agitator in top loading machines, turn it inside-out and select a cold gentle cycle. Run it through the rinse cycle again after it's finished to remove any extra soap. Dry it in a large commercial-sized dryer on a low-heat setting. Use tennis balls in the dryer to plump up down bags or take it out of the drier every 20 minutes and manually move the down clumps to break them apart. Dry until the bag is fluffy. Leave it out for a couple of days to finish drying completely, and then store it as above.

Hydration-system: Rinse thoroughly and wash with hot soapy water. Use a flexible brush to clean the tubing and a bottle brush in the bladder. Create a bleach solution by putting a few drops of bleach in a quart of water and let it sit in your bladder and tube for awhile. Dry thoroughly by draining the hose completely and hanging the bladder with  a clean towel stuffed inside. You can also store yoursystem in the freezer until your next trip if you have room.
 Water filter: Using clean water, rinse all parts of your filter thoroughly. Use a flexible brush to clean the hoses. If your filter can be backwashed, run clean water through it,and then sanitize with a weak bleach solution and let dry completely. If you have a ceramic filter, scrub gently with a clean scrubby and sanitize with a weak bleach solution by pumping the solution through the filter. Dry completely before storing.

Tent: Shake out your tent and make sure it is completely dry. If it's really dirty, you might need to clean it by setting it up and hosing it down. Use a soapy sponge to wipe the walls and floor and rinse thoroughly. Make sure poles are sand and dirt free. After it's dry, store loosely in a large pillowcase.

Hiking Boots: Brush off boots with a stiff brush. If needed, rinse with clean water while brushing. Dry completely out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources (this might cause them to shrink or soles to melt). After dry, put some baking soda inside to absorb odors and stuff with newspaper. If the leather parts are looking dry, moisturize your boots with special products to prevent cracks (consult your boots manufacturer for recommended product). Store them in a cool dark place until your next adventure.

Take care of your gear so it will be ready the next time you are heading out the door to explore wild places!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Reenie and Jack are Back

Reenie and Jack Knudson are Wilderness Volunteer's participants that did a month-long journey in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness this summer, and they recruited friends to donate money to Wilderness Volunteers based upon the number of portages they did during the trip. We received $600 in donations in their honor. Congratulations and thanks to Jack and Reenie for their successful trip and support!

Here is a short report from Reenie about their trip:

Epic is a good word for the trip!  We battled flood waters all the way, sometimes stuck in a camp because we couldn't get anywhere near the portage entry; we did portages knee deep in raging waters, fought our way up rapids that at times seemed determined to push us back over huge boulders, and sheltered from about 18 inches of rain.  It was without a doubt the most difficult BW trip we've taken.   However nature in all her fury and beauty was there to admire, and I've never seen such wildflowers.  135 miles, 28 portages.

I can't wait to hear what their next adventure will be!

Friday, September 07, 2012

Grand Staircase-Escalante Awaits...

In September 1996, President Bill Clinton established the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by reading a Presidential Proclamation at the rim of the Grand Canyon. I was there, standing 20 feet in front of the President, hyperventilating with excitement. In my 20 years as an activist in the environmental community, being at that event was one of the highlights of my career.

This year, Wilderness Volunteers' annual service project, an ongoing cooperative effort to remove invasive Russian olive trees from the Escalante River corridor, will be in the field just a few days after the 16th anniversary of the National Monument's establishment.

Because of my affinity for the area, and in the national interest of these magnificent public lands, I've co-led several service projects in this area...and it keeps calling me back year after year! With it's deep redrock canyons, ribbons of precious riparian waterways, and vastness beyond the visible, one could explore (and many do) this area in a lifetime and still be enchanted by both new nooks and crevices and old familiar haunts.

If you've got some free time this early Fall, September 23-29, there is still space remaining to join our group on a backpacking adventure you'll never forget. See Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on the Wilderness Volunteers site to sign up. It may be one of the better decisions you'll ever make!  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Quote of the Day

Occoquan Bay Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, VA (2012)

 "Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled." - Henry David Thoreau

Monday, July 23, 2012

Building the Continental Divide Trail - WV Style!

Volunteer and blogger Rob Wilbourn tells his story in words and photos from his recent service adventure in the Gila National Forest, west-central New Mexico. You can read and see his post here. Special thanks to Rob for letting us cross-post, and thanks to all volunteers spending time out on trails and other service projects in 2012!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Trail Food: Green Chili Enchiladas

In honor of our  Pecos Wilderness project near Santa Fe (July 22 - 28), we're featuring a recipe for Green Chili Enchiladas.This recipe is suitable for cooking over a camp stove, and can be adapted for backpacking (see end).

 This easy, yummy entree features New Mexican-grown green chilies and be warned -- they're addictive.

Start by chopping a sweet yellow onion and sauteing it in a bit of butter or olive oil until the edges start to turn golden; set aside.

Next open a can of green enchilada sauce and add it with two cans of chopped green chilies to your pot. 

While the sauce is heating, use a frying pan to heat up some corn tortillas with a generous topping of cheese. I used a blend of cheddar and jack cheese. Heat over low heat until the cheese is melted.

Assemble the enchiladas by putting one or two of the cheesy tortillas (stack them) in your plate, add some onions, and cover with the green chili sauce.

Add, some salsa and maybe even some sliced avocado if you happen to have one.
Yummy. Dig in.

This recipe will serve five or six.

You can adapt this for breakfast by adding scrambled eggs to the enchiladas.

Recipe: Green Chili Enchiladas

1 yellow onion, chopped
2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 can green enchilada sauce (15 oz)
2 cans diced green chilies (4 oz)
12 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded cheese of your choice
Optional: sliced avocados or guacamole, sour cream, cilantro

To adapt this recipe for backpacking:

This recipe is an easy one to take backpacking if you have a dehydrator (you can use an oven on the lowest setting (~200 degrees)). Make the green chilie sauce (above) at home and dry it in a dehydrator until you have green chilie leather. It took about 5 hours in the dehydrator when I did it, but will depend upon your dehydrator or heat source. When done, roll it up and put it in a ziploc bag. My favorite backpacking salsa is 505 Southwestern, especially the Honey Chipotle salsa. You can order it online in single serving packages suitable for backpacking.

In camp, add enough boiling water to make the sauce saucey and follow the directions above.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

What Your Survival Kit's Been Missing...

  Flathead River, Bob Marshall Wilderness, MT (2005)

Think emergency bandage, water filter, fire starter, blow dart fletching, fishing bobber...

This does all that and more.  It's available at any local pharmacy.  It weighs mere ounces. And it rhymes with "crampon" but doesn't go on your feet. 

And, according to the guys over at The Art of Manliness, it's worth throwing in that survival kit of yours.  Read on here.

Have other tips on being resourceful in the backcountry?  Share them with us.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Creativity and backpacking

There is a brief review of a study done by Ruth Ann Atchley on nature and creativity in a recent Huffington Post article. The study showed that the backpackers were 50% more creative after four days in the outdoors.
"Atchley discussed the value nature provides to the human mind: 'Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses,' she said."
I love reading about creativity and this article caught my eye. Atchley reconfirms how beneficial being in back-county is. Have you noticed a calming effect on your trips?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wilderness Volunteers Seeks Development Coordinator

Wilderness Volunteers is hiring!

Position: Development Coordinator. We’re searching for a dynamic, enthusiastic and skilled individual to add to our growing program. The Development Coordinator is responsible for achieving the fundraising goals of Wilderness Volunteers. This is a full-time position, salary pursuant to experience. Location is flexible; must be able to work remotely. Occasional travel required. Outdoor leadership experience a plus. Applicants should have experience in nonprofit fundraising.

Interested applicants should submit a resume and a one page cover letter stating your interest in the position and why you should be selected. Please send both as .pdf files to with Development Coordinator in the subject line. Deadline June 30, 2012. No calls please.

Primary Responsibilities:

-- Manage membership/partner program
-- Grow donor base, cultivate major gifts, manage annual endowment campaign
-- Manage sponsorship program (corporate and retail)
-- Coordinate online auction: solicit donations and sponsors
-- Work with ED to develop Board fundraising capacity
-- Work with ED to identify and write grant proposals
-- Produce annual report

This list is not comprehensive, but reflects primary aspects of the position. Wilderness Volunteers is an at-will employer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Russian olive removal in Escalante River gains national attention

Those of you who've followed Wilderness Volunteers for a while know that one of our longest-running service projects is the effort to restore southern Utah's magnificent Escalante River by removing the invasive (and rather thorny) Russian olive tree. Since 1999, we've coordinated volunteer activities with recently retired Park Ranger Bill Wolverton from the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (downstream) and since 2003 with Botanist Amber Hughes from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (upstream). Wilderness Volunteers joined a recently formed coalition called the Escalante River Watershed Project to coordinate efforts throughout the drainage, providing groups of volunteers and scientists to work in remote locations from headwaters to major side canyons downstream. ERWP consists of private landowners, local business alliances, public land agencies and a host of government and nonprofit interests.

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recognized the effort and accomplishments of the greater project as part of the President's America's Great Outdoor Rivers. The declaration reads in part "Healthy rivers are a pillar of the President's and Secretary's vision for America's Great Outdoor Rivers because rivers offer 'close to home' recreation (boating, swimming, fishing, camping, hiking) and rivers provide important habitat and migration corridors for fish and wildlife. River connect communities to natural places like parks and wildlife refuges." You can read the Interior's proclamation here.

Wilderness Volunteers is featuring two Russian olive removal projects this fall in southern Utah. Our project with the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Sept 23-29 begins and ends with a thrilling off-trail backpack 6 miles deep into the Escalante Canyon where we'll  base camp near the mouth of Boulder Creek. Our second Escalante River project, Sept 9-15, just downstream from the Hwy 12 river bridge, only has two spaces remaining. Please join us to be part of a very special effort to restore this great river.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Portaging for Wilderness Volunteers!

Reeni and Jack Knudson, adventurous Wilderness Volunteers participants from Prescott, AZ, are planning to cross the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) from end-to-end in June. They are reaching out to the WV community to give them motivation and raise money for Wilderness Volunteers by asking you to pledge money for each portage they will make on this approximately 175-mile journey. A portage requires them to move their boat from one lake to the next and can vary in length from a few rods to 680 rods (a rod is 16.5 feet and is the traditional unit of measuring portages).

Reeni & Jack Knudson in Chile
There are more than 40 portages on the planned route, which starts at Crane Lake in the west, and will end about 30 days later at South Fowl Lake to the east. Renni and Jack, who have years of experience doing shorter trips in the BWCAW, are doing the trip unsupported and have been dehydrating food for the trip (they hope to supplement their menu with fresh fish) while working on being in top condition. Some of the lakes they will paddle include Vermillion Lake, Loon Lake, Lac La Croix, Iron Lake, Crooked Lake, Moose Lake, Knife Lake, Saganaga, Gunflint Lake, North and South Lakes, Rose Lake, Mountain Lake, and another Moose Lake, and many more. They plan to begin the journey on June 1st and be finished by June 30th.

Along the way, they will paddle through placid lakes and flowing rivers, listen to loons and wolves calling, carry their canoe and gear over some rugged land and sleep under the stars in this vast lake-studded wilderness!

Show your support for this worthy expedition and Wilderness Volunteers by making your pledge to Reeni and Jack by email  (KnudsonRnJ(at) with the subject "A Pledge for Wilderness Volunteers."
Wilderness Volunteers is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, TIN 91-1821692 Contributions may be tax deductible up to the limits of the law.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hanging Bear Bags, PCT Style

Jasper Nat'l Park, Canada (2009)
Our inaugural trip last year into West Virginia's Cranberry Wilderness - 1 of 8 projects in the east in 2011 - led us into the middle of 90,000 acres of beautiful hardwood forest, which up until 2007 was a black bear sanctuary boasting nearly 1 bear per square mile. (By comparison, Shenandoah National Park, home to one of the greatest concentrations of black bears in the country, is estimated to hold upwards of 1.5 bears per square mile). As with any trip in bear country, securing our food from bears - as well as raccoons, chipmunks, and possibly bigfoot - was a top priority.

Heavy duty bear boxes are generally the preferred method of choice, particularly when you have a group of hearty and able mules and horses to carry them and your food into camp. With no trails in the Cranberry graded for pack animals, we turned to the tireless Forest Service and their strong and able backs for assistance.  Short on bear boxes, we improvised.

Enter the PCT method, which requires only 50-60' of rope, a carabiner, 1-2 stuff sacks, and a sturdy 6" long stick.  (And a tree of course).  Unlike the usual method of simply throwing a rope over a limb and tying one end to a nearby tree (and hoping that a bear doesn't pull the taut line - and the food bag - down to the ground), the PCT technique allows the rope to hang freely, tension-free from the limb, eliminating the risk that a critter will wreak havoc in your backcountry kitchen and spoil your next meal.

Here's a great step-by-step tutorial on how to use the PCT method, which came in quite handy during our stay in the Cranberry.  It will take some practice to get the hang of the clove hitch, but once you do you'll appreciate the simplicity and utility of this approach.  We certainly did and we'll be using it again when we head to the Monongahela's Dolly Sods Wilderness this October. 

Have suggestions on how to improve upon the PCT method? Or suggested alternatives? We're all ears! 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

River, History & Wildlife in the North Fork John Day

It was the Spring of 2009 when I co-led a Wilderness Volunteers trip for the first time as an employee. Seeking a special experience, I chose a previously unexplored part of the country for me, and with a co-leader I trusted -- Gayle Marechal, whom I'd met as a participant ten years earlier in the backcountry of southern Utah.

The North Fork John Day Wilderness is centered around the Wild & Scenic North Fork John Day River in northeastern Oregon. While it's huge larch and pine trees were the initial attraction, I was equally impressed by the beauty of the river and the evidence of the area's mining history. Old miner's cabins adjacent to the river were rotting away and being taken back by the wilderness while the big, crystal clear river carved its way through the steep vegetation covered canyon.

While Gayle took lead on all things food related and worked with volunteers closer to camp, myself and others in the ahead work crew cut back very overgrown vegetation and removed downed logs from the main NFJD trail downstream. Unexpectedly, my most memorable moment of the trip came on the last work morning when I spooked not one but two black bears well ahead of me and on the other side of the river. Although very excited, I managed to get a picture of the cinnamon-colored bear standing on the opposite hillside. I'd never seen such a beautiful and strong creature and it made my week!

This year's project to the North Fork John Day Wilderness, July 8-14, has a few spaces remaining. Our leaders Dean & Laurie Twehues are eagerly awaiting their chance to get back into this wonderful place, meet new folks and show off one of their favorite wild places too. Hope you can join them!        

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Pale Blue Dot...

In the spirit of Earth Day, courtesy of the late Carl Sagan...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Come See Us at REI in Northern VA on April 25th

Yosemite National Park, CA (2006)

Volunteers Mike & Jen Leonard and Rick & Marge Volpe will be at the REI Store in Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia from 7-8pm on April 25th to share their experiences "Giving Something Back" with Wilderness Volunteers. They'll cover the basics of what we do, how you can get involved on one of our 2012 projects, and what you can expect on a "volunteer vacation" in America's national parks, forests, and wilderness areas. For more information and to register for this free event, click here. All are welcome - invite your friends and family.

Interested in spreading the word at your local outdoor store? Just ask the store manager or outreach director. We'd love the help! And stay tuned to the blog and newsletter for information on presentation materials and some simple steps to pulling off a successful event.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Q&A with WV's Executive Director, Dave Pacheco

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN

How was WV founded? Who handles the day-to-day operations? Why take a trip with us? What can volunteers expect on a trip, and what can we do to be good wilderness stewards on our own time? Find out the answers to these questions and more on Camping Gear Outlet's Lost in the Woods blog.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Getting into Shape

After you sign up for a Wilderness Volunteers project, you should start ramping up your fitness program to be in the best shape possible for your trip. Having a goal, like getting ready for your project, is a good motivator for working out. Being fit and strong is a great way to prevent injuries in the field, and to make sure you aren't struggling to keep up with the group.

However, there are many fitness myths out there. Test your knowledge and then get moving!

John Moeller getting ready
Myth 1. Stretching prevents injuries and improves performance.
Contrary to this wide held belief, studies show that starting slowly and warming up while engaged in your activity is preferable to stretching before beginning. Static stretching temporarily decreases strength in the stretched muscle by as much as 30% for up to a half hour. And in several large-scale studies, static stretching did not reduce injury over those who didn't stretch prior to working out.

Myth 2. Guzzling water and electrolytes prevents cramps. 
Cramps weren't related to hydration in two studies where both the well-hydrated and less-hydrated were equally likely to experience cramps. It is believed that cramps are due to exertion, fatigue and the accompanying biochemical processes. Again, starting slowly and then ramping up activity seems to help prevent cramping.

Myth 3. Taking ibuprofen before a hard effort prevents sore muscles afterward.
Competitors who popped ibu before distance runs were just as sore as those who didn't take the pills. More troubling, they displayed more blood markers of inflammation than the other competitors. The thinking now is that frequent use of NSAIDS blunts the ability of muscles to adapt to exercise. Save the ibuprofen for legitimate injuries or afteruse soreness. Muscle pain is part of the body's training response.

Myth 4.  No pain, no gain.
This myth holds the most potential for harm. While you should expect to have some degree of soreness a day or two after working out, this is very different from having pain while you are working out. A fitness activity shouldn't hurt while you are doing it, and if it does, you are either doing it wrong or already have an injury. Don't work through the pain, experts agree. They say that if it hurts, stop, rest and see if the pain goes away. If it doesn't go away or increases after you start to work out, see a doctor.

Tell us what you are doing to get in shape for your trip.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Whales at Angoon

Humpback whales migrate from the warm waters near Hawai'i in the winter to the Alaskan waters each summer (2500 - 3000 miles!). The scientists at The Jupiter Research Foundation's Humpback Whale Project objective was to make Humpback whale vocals available online for both the research community and the public. They began by putting a solar powered radio buoy near Puako on the Big Island, and later were able to install one near Angoon, Alaska (Favorite Bay).

The Wilderness Volunteers  project on Admiralty Island (where Angoon is located) is timed so we have the great fortune to be able to view these incredible animals. The humpback is known for its spectacular breaching, flipper-slapping and tail lobbing which makes for great whale-watching.

Listen to these magnificent creatures on The Jupiter Research Foundation site at this link.

View a video about the installation of the buoy in Angoon.

Find out more about the Wilderness Volunteers project on Admiralty Island.

Monday, March 19, 2012

2012 Spring Projects are Filling Up!

Spring is upon us and WV's first two trips of the 2012 season are underway as of yesterday in Moab, UT and Arizona's Superstition Wilderness.

And there are plenty more to choose from this spring that are still in need of volunteers just like you - help restore sea turtle habitat in Hawaii, eradicate invasive plants in California, reconstruct hurricane-battered trails in New Hampshire, help maintain a precious archaeological site in Utah, and more.

Get all the details here. And as always, send any questions to

Friday, March 02, 2012

Come See WV in PA!

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For the third year in a row, Wilderness Volunteers will be out and about at the 2011 Calvary Outdoors Expo this Saturday March 3rd in Souderton, PA - just 30 miles north of Philadelphia. Last year's event attracted nearly 10,000 attendees and an even bigger turnout is expected this year. The event runs from 10am-5pm. Special thanks to WV'ers Marge and Rick Volpe for organizing the WV exhibit.

Click here for directions.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Ten Essentials

Common sense and good planning go a long way toward preventing emergencies in the backcountry. But sometimes, despite our best preparation, things go wrong.

According to Wikipedia (what did we do before Wikipedia?), the "Ten Essentials" were first described by The Mountaineers in the 1930s. According to The Mountaineers, the list was made to address two questions: Can you respond positively in an emergency? and, Can you safely spend an unexpected night out?

Certainly everyone who is headed into the outdoors should carry necessary gear, and it is even more important for group leaders to make sure that appropriate items are present in case of an emergency.

The Mountaineers have revised their original list of items to be a list of categories. These are:

1. Navigation -- always carry a detailed topo map in a waterproof covering, along with a compass. Know how to use your compass. While GPS units are nice tools, they can break and/or need more batteries than you have. Do not rely solely on them. Route descriptions can be helpful, but do not rely on them to be accurate as any one location can look significantly different from year to year.

2. Sun Protection -- Sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, a brimmed hat and appropriate clothing.

3. Insulation -- This is extra clothing. It depends, somewhat, on the conditions you can expect where and when you are there. These are extra layers needed to survive the long hours of an unplanned stay. At the minimum you should have an extra top layer and good quality rain suit. Consider an extra pair of socks and wool hat.
4. Illumination -- Always carry a headlamp or flashlight with some new batteries/bulbs.

5. First Aid Kit -- Carry and know how to use the items in your first aid kit, but be prepared to improvise splints or dressings. At a minimum, you should have gauze (roller and 4x4s), adhesive bandages in various sizes, butterfly closures or steri-strips, triangular bandages, good quality tape, scissors, soap or disinfectant, a large syringe for irrigation (or dedicated zip loc bags), gloves for body fluids isolation, and paper/pencil.

6. Fire -- Firestarter and a filled lighter/matches can save your life and be used to signal rescuers. Firestarter is necessary to get wet wood to burn and can consist of candles, chemical heat tabs, canned heat or dryer lint. In cold climates, it makes sense to always carry a stove/fuel.

7. Tools -- Knives are indispensable, and multitools with pliers are even better. Shoelaces, parachute cord, cable ties, webbing, small sewing kit and duct tape can fix almost anything.

8. Extra Food -- While you can survive for several days without food, you'll be more comfortable if you have some in an emergency.

9. Extra Water -- When I'm hiking with folks, there is much discussion on just how much water will be needed and a desire to not carry one extra drop. But in an emergency, you'll need extra water beyond what you've designated for the hike. Always carry at least an extra liter per person. Also, don't rely soley on a hydration system (like a Camelbak(r)); you'll need a way to give water to the hurt person as well as be prepared if your bladder springs a leak. While having a method to purify water is nice, any water is better than none.

10. Emergency Shelter -- A jumbo plastic trash bag and/or reflective blanket to shelter you from rain and wind can help prevent hypothermia

It's a good idea to have all these items in a daypack even at home; you can grab it in any emergency or in case of a zombie attack and have a leg up when fleeing. Seriously, it is a good idea to have all these items assembled ahead of your planned trip and ready.

What other items do you deem essential in a backcountry emergency?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Isle au Haut

The largest, most familiar part of Maine’s Acadia National Park, the part donated to the nation by George Dorr, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and other wealthy Easterners, is located on Mount Desert Island, just off the coast from the town of Ellsworth. Much less familiar is the part located on Isle au Haut (“eye-la-hoe”), a two-mile wide, six-mile long island located on the outer edge of Penobscot Bay. Although easily visible from the summit of Cadillac Mountain on a clear day, Isle au Haut nevertheless requires a two hour drive from park headquarters followed by a 30-minute ferry ride. Not surprisingly then, whereas the more familiar part of Acadia, for all its beauty and history, doesn’t feel like a wilderness experience, the few square miles of park land on Isle au Haut richly elicit that sense of quietude and timelessness that lovers of wilderness appreciate.

Six years ago in September, my wife Robin and I, along with four friends, launched our sea kayaks into Webb Cove from Deer Island, dodged lobster boat traffic, and island hopped our way through the Stonington archipelago across East Penobscot Bay to Isle au Haut’s Duck Harbor. For three nights, we camped in park service lean-tos and explored, by foot and kayak, the island’s spruce forests, quiet bogs and rocky beaches. We enjoyed views from cliff-side trails down into tiny steep-walled coves where Atlantic surf crashed against the island’s rugged east shore. We paddled, a bit cautiously, among herds of imposing gray seals, sometimes called horsehead seals for reasons that were obvious to us as their faces bobbed up from the waves around us. And we visited the general store in the year-round community (pop. 65) on the northeast corner of the island, closest to the mainland, a community portrayed beautifully in Linda Greenlaw’s book The Lobster Chronicles.

The WV crew that will spend a week on Isle au Haut in September are in for a rare and wonderful experience. There are just a handful of lean-tos on the island and, for most of the summer season, visitors are limited to a three-night stay. The solitude and natural drama of this small island off the Maine coast are very special, even considered among the many special places that WV’ers get to visit.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Take Gandhi's Word For It!

Cranberry Wilderness, Monongahela Nat'l Forest (WV), 2011

I recently came across these words in a book I've been reading:

"To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves." - Mahatma Gandhi

Well put. Each time I step into the woods for a week with Wilderness Volunteers, I find myself slowing down, reconnecting, and rediscovering. It's a priceless experience, and it's just one of many reasons to lace up your boots, strap on a pack, and head off on an adventure service project with Wilderness Volunteers. With week-long volunteer service trips in national parks, forests, and wilderness areas from Hawaii to Alaska, Maine to New Mexico and most everywhere in between, there's a trip for everyone and plenty of earth and soil in need of digging and tending!

I'll be swinging a pulaski and tending the trail in West Virginia's Dolly Sods Wilderness in early October - just in time to catch the onset of the incredible autumn colors in some beautiful country. It's reinvigorating just thinking about it and sure to be memorable.

But you don't have to take my word for it - take Gandhi's. And rediscover the great outdoors and yourself this year. Join WV in "Giving Something Back" on any one of the 50+ volunteer service trips available in 2012. Check out the complete project list and sign up here.

P.S. For more on the rejuvenating powers of WV, read self-proclaimed "WV Junkie" Nancy Cappelloni's account in the Winter 2011 newsletter.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Woodenshoe Canyon, Dark Canyon Wilderness, southeastern Utah

During last Spring's WV service project in the Dark Canyon Wilderness of southeastern Utah, I heard the strangest and most interesting of sounds. Each night, in the evenings and early mornings I heard a repetitive "boop, boop, boop", akin to the monotonous pinging of a submarine's sonar that we've all heard in movies. Throughout the week our group was perplexed; was it a frog or toad down in the creek bottom, or was it a bird we've never heard before? While it remained a mystery during our trip, it wasn't until later in the Fall that I uncovered the answer. While assisting on a Fall migratory raptor count in western Nevada, a raptor expert produced a very cool app on her phone with hundreds of bird calls. As we carefully listened to each nocturnal bird call, suddenly I heard it loud and clear "boop, boop, boop" over and over again! Turns out, the Northern Pygmy Owl, most active at dawn and dusk, is native to all of Utah, and tends to perch high in evergreen trees on canyon slopes, which are aplenty in Dark Canyon. Listening to and learning about new critters like the Northern Pygmy Owl is one of my favorite things to do on WV trips, and it's a big reason I go from state-to-state to immerse myself in new places and to discover ever more new branches on the mysterious tree of life. Consider joining WV on this year's adventure in Woodenshoe Canyon, Dark Canyon Wilderness, May 13-19.

 Photo by Jack Binch, Sandy, UT on

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kootznoowoo Wilderness, Admiralty Island, Alaska

This year, Wilderness Volunteers is offering its second project in the Kootznoowoo Wilderness in cooperation with the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. This is a beautiful remote wilderness with coastal forests of Sitka spruce and western hemlock situated along the inside passage. Bald eagles by the hundreds are in the treetops along the beaches, harbor seals, Stellar seal lions and humpback whales feed near rafts of sea ducks. The forest floors are thickly covered with mosses and blueberries, but the island is best known for its brown bears.

The PBS series Nature featured a show on these bears this week.

Watch Fortress of the Bears on PBS. See more from Nature.

If you have ever wanted to see bears, this is your opportunity!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hey...What's Hedwig Doing Here?

A snowy owl in New Jersey

In keeping with the recent raptor theme, here's a neat article on a fascinating development taking place right now in the northern United States. Birders call it the snowy owl irruption.

Translation: a lot of snowy owls.

Unless you've been to the Arctic or have simply been lucky, you likely have only ever seen a snowy owl on the big screen next to Harry Potter. This year, however, folks across the country from Boston to Seattle - even Hawaii- are seeing snowy owls in record numbers. (I recently saw one near a reservoir in northern New Jersey - my second in four years - and needless to say it was truly an incredible sight.) Estimates place the number of snowy owls now wintering in the US at a few thousand - far exceeding the numbers usually found here at this time of year.

Read on to learn what may be behind this influx, where they can be seen, and how many owls it takes to make an "owl jam" in Missouri.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Flight of the Goshawk

Did you ever wonder how large birds are able to fly through trees and miss all those branches? The BBC posted this video of a Goshawk flying through increasingly small spaces in slow motion. Fascinating!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Moose Tracks...(Not the Ones in Your Freezer)

Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, ID (2010)

Ever wonder whose tracks those are on the trail? Or what the difference is between a dog and a wolf track, or a black bear and a grizzly bear print? (Which could be useful...) Check out "Off the Beaten Path", a short article in Audobon's September 2011 issue which profiles top wildlife tracker Mark Elbroch - one of only 16 people in the US with a specialist certification - and offers a view into the fascinating, competitive, and controversial world of wildlife tracking.

Read on to learn more about this growing hobby, the role it plays in conservation efforts, and whether those tracks belong to a Douglass squirrel or a gray one.