Peter Potterfield, author of "Classic Hikes of the World," answered your questions on hiking.
Peter Potterfield: Hello, this is adventure journalist Peter Potterfield, author of books and magazine pieces on hiking and backcountry travel. I'm ready to answer questions (or at least try to) on hikes, gear and adventure travel, so let's get started.
Phoenix, Ariz.: We're planning a girlfriends hiking trip up to the top of Mount Humphreys in Flagstaff in late May or early June. We live in Phoenix, and the peak is part of the San Francisco Peaks mountain range, just 2 1/2 hours north of us. Typically, the mountain gets freaky weather, i.e. thunderstorms with dangerous lightning and even snow, even in July. What gear would you recommend and how much time should we allot for the trip? I know it can be done in a day and once made it to the treeline at 11,000 feet. This time, we'd like to get to the top. I also need to acclimate myself to the altitude. Can I avoid any problems with that if we arrive the night before the hike? Thanks! -Pam S., 44 years old
Peter Potterfield: Most people do this route in a day, and altitude is a common complaint. At more than 12,600 feet, this is Arizona's highest peak, and not one to be taken lightly. You'll need to be prepared for all weathers, even prepared to turn around if the weather turns serious. As for acclimatization, the best way to do that would be to camp above 5,000 feet for a couple of nights, allowing your body to adjust to the thinner air. The potential for serious altitude sickness is not great, however, on a day trip, as the idea is to get down to lower altitudes quickly before serious complications can set in. My advice: get an early start, pre-dawn, by headlight.
Sun Prairie, Wis.: In August of 2009 I'm planning a retirement trip with 10 or 20 of my closest friends. We are going to walk across England at Hadrian's Wall. Should we walk west to east or east to west?
Peter Potterfield: The 80 mile walk that follows the Roman fortification known as Hadrian's Wall is a terrific route, bisecting England from Newcastle to Solway Firth, near Carlisle. You can hike it in either direction, although the prevailing tendency seems to be west to east, ending in Newcastle. It comes down to personal preference, and the direction you support company takes. Most people on this route have their bags shuttled to the next accommodation by an operator; there are several good ones, some go west to east, some the opposite.
Prescott, Ariz.: My wife and I will be staying at park lodges in Yosemite and Sequoia in early fall. What 6 to 8 mile hikes would you recommend in both parks?
Peter Potterfield: In Yosemite, I think some of the best hikes are up in Tuolomne Meadows, a beautiful alpine environment, many in the six to eight mile range you are looking for. Elilzabeth Lake, under Unicorn Peak, or Evelyn Lake, or Cathedral Pass are all good hikes south of Highway 120, and Tuolomne Falls and Gaylor Lakes are good ones north of the highway. Yosemite is your best bet for shorter hikes, as some of the best routes in Sequoia are much longer and require more time.
Ponce Inlet, Fla.: I will be 50 and my girlfriend 60 03/09 when we hike the South Island of NZ. We are booked for the Milford Trek & to heli-hike Franz Joseph Glacier. We are both from FL and concerned about our fear of heights getting in the way. We are not phobic--she's just concerned about the swinging bridges over chasms & I'm mainly concerned about crevices on the glacier. Any advice is greatly appreciated!
Peter Potterfield: I think you'll do fine. The Milford is a beautiful but moderate route, and there's a guided option available. Consider that, as it gives you more comfortable lodges and attentive professional guides who know the trail like their own backyards. That takes any uncertainty out of this world famous walk. The trip up to the Franz Joseph should present no problems, either. The helicopter ride is half the fun, the Kiwis are nuts about helicopters, they use them all the time, sometimes just to blow the cold air off the fruit orchards in a freeze. The guides will make sure that you're safe while on the glacier, so it will be an experience you won't forget. The South Island has a number of great hikes, out of both Wanaka and Queenstown, and you'll find the New Zealanders to be friendly and relaxed, the food and wine top notch.
Saint Louis, Mo.: My husband and I are planning a hike into the Grand Canyon in March, 2008 to Havasu Falls. We are taking our 10 year old son along, so my questions are directed at preparing him and keeping him "motivated" along the 10 mile hike. What walking/hiking techniques are best to teach him to physically handle the hike, and how to I keep him motivated along the 10 mile route? While the hike is not constantly changing elevations, it is the length of the hike that I am concerned about. We have been preparing him by hiking with him 3 miles at a time with a 5 miler planned in the near future. Thanks! Julie
Peter Potterfield: I took my 10 year old god son on a three day, 15-mile hike in the Cascades, and it was a trip he's never forgotten, so I'd say go for it. Just remember he's not going to have the stamina you have, it's just not possible. Best would be to break the hike into two five mile sections, or pick another hike that's a bit shorter, say six or seven miles. Then, plan on a slightly slower pace and more frequent breaks that an adult hiker would need. Bring lots of quick energy snacks, such as granola bars, to keep the kid's blood sugar up. In my experience, most kids rise to the challenge, and soldier on even if a bit fatigued. There's nothing better than exposing a young person to the joys of wilderness travel, it can change a life
San Francisco, Calif.: I just signed up for a 10-hour day-long hike in the Grand Canyon in May. What are the best ways to prepare and train? And, what should I be sure to bring vs. what should I leave at home? I'm not camping, just staying at a hotel.
Peter Potterfield: For the long day hike you describe, training should not present a problem. Just start walking right now, right in your neighborhood, even just a half hour a day, and gradually work up to an hour or so a day. When you're able to hike two hours (try to work in some hills as you get stronger) you'll be in decent shape. Do the 2 hour walks twice a week for two weeks and you'll be well prepared for the 10 hour hike in the canyon. On the hike itself, bring plenty of water, and the right outerwear and rain gear in case the weather changes suddenly. But most important is to ensure you have comfortable, light-weight hiking boots—well broken in on your training walks.
North Bergen, N.J.: What recommendations do you have about hiking in Nepal?
Peter Potterfield: The hike to do in the Himalaya is the Everest Base Camp Trek. It's 35 miles through the greatest scenery on earth, a trip you'll never forget. Comfortable lodges now can be found along the route, and a competent Sherpa staff will make sure you are safe and comfortable during the trek, whether you're staying in the lodges or camping out higher up. Altitude is the primary consideration, but the pace is slow, only four to five hours walking a day to allow for acclimatization, so at worst most people suffer only mild headaches. If you find the altitude to be a real problem, and that can happen, you can stop and enjoy the scenery at a place like Thyangboche, at 12,000 feet, instead of going all the way to Base Camp at 17,500. But most people recover after a day or two of rest and are able to keep going. I recommend going with a competent, North America based guide service; I recommend several proven guide services in my book, Classic Hikes of the World. Experienced guides are crucial for novices on this hike as they know the difference between oridnary discomfort and dangerous altitude sickness.
Seattle, Wash.: My brother and I are avid hikers in the Pacific NW but haven't ventured much outside the area. Your book has inspired us to make plans. Which was your favorite hike and why? What hike would have been #24? Is there a second book coming out? And are you doing any speaking engagements this year?
Peter Potterfield: Picking a favorite hike is like picking a favorite child! It's not easy. I think the best hike for me and everyone else may be the one we're planning next, because it's not so important where we go but that we be sure to get out and go hiking. For me, the American Southwest is a special treat, and both the Grand Canyon National Park (South Kaibab Trail) and Canyonlands National Park (Chessler Park Trail) are two of my favorite places for hiking. Yes, It was definitely deciding on the top routes for Classic Hikes of the World. If there had been more space, I think I would have included another hike in the Canadian Rockies, such as the Tonquin Valley, and another in Europe, in the Swiss Alps. And yes, I'm just about to embark on a 20 city slide show tour, so check classichikes.com for cities and dates
Alexandria, Va.: For my sister's 60th birthday, I'm planning on a long (3 or 4-day) girls' weekend, in late spring or early summer 2008. Can you suggest any locations where we'd be able to take several scenic hikes of a few hours' duration during the weekend? The hikes would need to be somewhat easy, since my sister has had problems with the medial meniscous in one knee. I'd like a place where our accommodations would provide a bit of luxury for the birthday girl. We'd be flying or driving out of the Washington, D.C. area, so I'm open to suggestions anywhere in the continental US. Thanks!
Peter Potterfield: Quite close to the DC area itself you can find great easy day hikes in Shenandoah National Park, where Skyline Drive makes for easy access to the trail heads, and that makes it easier on the knees. For a luxury base, think of flying to Vancouver, BC, and making the short drive up to Whistler. This famous ski area has all the luxury you could ask for, and during summer, the surrounding mountains and meadows make for world class hiking. Or, consider the comfortable Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite National Park. Right in Yosemite valley, the hotel makes a luxurious base from which to take easy day hikes around the meadows and trails allover the valley floor, or venture up to Yosemite Falls if the knees are holding up.
Bellbrook, Ohio: My husband and I would like to plan a week long vacation that would involve staying at a base town/city, with terrific day hikes within short driving distance. Would love to go to international locales.
Peter Potterfield: There are many great places to make a base from which to go on day hikes, and if you're open to international travel, all the better. One of my favorites is in Grindelwald, Switzerland, where there are great hotels and you are literally surrounded by stupendous Alpine hiking in every direction. One of my favorite hikes out of town is take the teleferique up to First and then hike up to Lake Bachal. Day hikes are a tradition in the Alps, endowed with some of the best mountain scenery anywhere, so you can't go wrong. Another international destination perfect for day hikes is the village of Chalten, in Argentine Patagonia, accessed via Calafate City. Wonderful day hikes radiate out from the village, many offering views of mountain peaks such as Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. The moraine below Cerro Torre is one of the most memorable day hikes in Patagonia. Finally, consider Queenstown, New Zealand, where you can enjoy the civilized lifestyle of the city and be a few minutes drive from a number of great walks, a few hours from classics such as the Milford Track.
Sebastopol, Calif.: My sister and I (ages 55 and 58) would like to go on a 10-14 day trek in the Himalayas. We are somewhat restricted as far as dates as she is a college professor and has off the summer and most of December. We are both in good shape and can deal with pretty rustic conditions. Money is somewhat of a consideration. Can you recommend a good location and/or company to work with? Thank you.
Peter Potterfield: This is similar to an earlier question, so I'll risk repeating myself: The hike to do in the Himalaya is the Everest Base Camp Trek. It's 35 miles through the greatest scenery on earth, a trip you'll never forget. Comfortable lodges now can be found along the route, and a competent Sherpa staff will make sure you are safe and comfortable during the trek, whether you're staying in the lodges or camping out higher up. Altitude is the primary consideration, but the pace is slow, only four to five hours walking a day to allow for acclimatization, so at worst most people suffer only mild headaches. If you find the altitude to be a real problem, and that can happen, you can stop and enjoy the scenery at a place like Thyangboche, at 12,000 feet, instead of going all the way to Base Camp at 17,500. But most people recover after a day or two of rest and are able to keep going. I recommend going with a competent, North America based guide service; I recommend several proven guide services in my book, Classic Hikes of the World. Experienced guides are crucial for novices on this hike as they know the difference between the usual discomfort and dangerous altitude sickness. If budget is a consideration, look for guide services that offer local guides and camp staff.
Peter Potterfield: Thanks for participating. If you more questions, or want to know more about my new book, Classic Hikes of the World, or my upcoming 20 city slide show tour of North America from Feb 5 to April 17, see classichikes.com.