Monday, December 31, 2012

Another Below Freezing Nude Hike

It has been calculated that a naked man exposed to still air at or about 0 degrees C can maintain a heat balance if he shivers as hard as he can. However, he can’t shiver forever.  Cold Weather Survival, Ch 15, Pg 7

It always amazes me that my nude body can take the cold so easily yet, bundled up in full winter clothing, those same cold temperatures manage to send shivers of cold up and down my body.  Clothing, it seems, sends mixed and confusing messages to the regulatory system that controls how hot or cold I feel.  No matter the bulk of winter clothing I may be wearing, a cold breeze to the face will send my metabolism into high gear and suddenly I'm too hot.  Nude (or appreciably so) evens out the responses and I do find that I can withstand (and even enjoy) being nude in temperatures many of us would define as just being too damn cold.

The operant word in the above quote is 'shivers'.  As long as my body has not entered that first warning sign of impending hypothermia . . . the shivering . . . hiking nude in extremely cold weather is actually invigorating and not in the least bit uncomfortable.  The trick is getting out of the clothes in the first place!

Normally, a sunny winter day can actually do a lot to warm the exposed flesh of a nude person.  However, today the skies were deeply overcast and near twilight by the time I finished.

The afternoon started with temperatures right around 35F and soon dropped to 27F by the time I got back to my car and put some clothes on.

The way the frozen snow crunches underfoot, I'd be heard . . .
or I'd hear anybody else out there long before we met.

The hike wasn't a super-long one.  Only about an hour.  But it sure feels nice to absorb in the cold air and repel it with increased body heat.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Article: Strange and Secret Places on the Oregon Coast

Note:  Clothing-optional opportunities on the Oregon coast (especially Hobbit Trail-read further below)?  Rick

Originally published in the Oregon Coast Archives, Apr 7th, 2011

Published March 07
Stairway of 1000 steps at Short Beach
(Oregon Coast) - Oregon's coast is a different animal than the rest of this placid and pristine state. The area is rugged and battered by wind and rain, but it cloisters a load of pleasures and aspects not always obvious. Especially in the springtime, it's a mishmash of weather conditions, amenities you can't find at any other time, places to see with their own identity in this season, and wild, natural wonders to encounter.
In fact, it's recently become nicknamed the "Secret Season," or "Secret Spring."
However, at any time of year, there are places tucked away that will knock your socks off. Off the beaten path of 101, or perhaps even hidden in plain sight, these unusual beach spots are waiting to jolt the explorer with a bundle of features and facets that can create a kind of beach addiction. Once you find one of these strange and secret places, you’ll want to search for more.

Short Beach and its blob
Short Beach, Near Oceanside
One of the state's most enthralling hidden spots lies right next to Oceanside, just west of Tillamook. Look for Radar Rd. along the back road between Oceanside and Cape Meares, and you'll find the refurbished entrance to this stunning beach. Until recent years, the way down here was precarious and slippery, causing many injuries. But locals got together and created a "stairway of 1000 steps," which is heavy breathing-inducing in no time, especially on the climb up, but a heck of a lot nicer than cracking your skull (which a few tourists literally did before this was built).
First, you'll find the bulbous blob at the tide line, resembling the sea stack at Neskowin to the south. Wander here a bit longer, and you may see the waterfall coming from the side of the cliff, which hosts the lighthouse.
Legends abound here. It's said that at extreme low tides, there is yet another tunnel visible (like the one through the cliff in Oceanside). One version of the legend says there may be two tunnels here.

Secret Lincoln City Access
In a town where the beaches are all easily accessed and usually quite populated, there are virtually no hidden spots. But there is one deliciously, extremely clandestine beach access at the northern end of town - even if it doesn't necessarily guarantee you'll find yourself alone on this stretch of sand.
At the very northern end of town, between the casino and Road's End State Park, look for the sign pointing to NW 50th amidst the placid neighborhoods. Follow that to its end, where it meets NW Jetty, and you'll find an abandoned gravel "driveway" which winds its way down to the beach. Along the way, there's another tunnel-like path that looks a little like the famed Hobbitt Trail (see this article), although that doesn't seem to lead anywhere.
Down on the beach, it's the only access for about half a mile in either direction. There are some interesting rock features here created by a crumbling cliff, and the sand is pristine and more than a little pleasant.

Near Short Sand Beach (Manzanita)
Just a few files north of Manzanita, you'll find Oswald West State Park. But somewhere between that town and the state park, it's impossible to miss the striking vistas of Short Sand Beach (not to be confused with Short Beach, above) and the cliffs that form half of this crescent-shaped cove.
Pull over on one of the gravel parking spots off the side of the road, and there's the one-mile-plus hiking trail heading down to Short Sand. Walk down this trail a bit, veer to the left - instead of going down to Short Sand - and you'll encounter a totally different set of inclines and cliffs. Giant basalt structures form the various headlands here, with craggy shapes jutting up from the ocean and bundling together.
In one area, the sea boils and tumbles against a hidden cove, with black, jagged spires forming something akin to a creepy, post-apocalyptic cathedral (sort of reminiscent of the "Planet of the Apes" films). Another spot visible from these dangerous cliffs showcases more of the jagged shapes, this time with enormous holes and arches in them. Through these, you can see other headlands to the north.
Be extremely careful here, however. The drop-offs here are sudden and deadly. In fact, it was near here where a famed Hollywood writer and producer – the creator of “COPS” - died a few years ago, after falling off a cliff.

Hug Point
A few miles south of Cannon Beach you'll find Hug Point. A waterfall, several sea caves and a raised, grotto-like tide pool within another cave are all just a precursor to one of the coast's most fascinating spots. Not to mention that always-engaging remnant of a road going around the rocky point.
As you first enter, you'll spot the waterfall immediately to the south of you and a large sea cave. Inside, it's mostly debris and cobblestones, but there are strangely shaped cracks and shapes meandering into its far end. You can wander a little ways inside, and if you look closely you may spot one of the creepy, alien-looking insects that inhabit the large cracks.
On the southern end of this beach there's a point that's normally not crossable unless the tide is sufficiently low enough. In such a case, you'll find another cove and another sea cave. There are more rock slabs to play around on, many of which are surrounded by rich tide pools.

Hobbit Trail
It's so named because the eerie tunnel-like earthen walls that surround you at certain points upon your descent. But it's a place sometimes favored by creative-types from the Eugene area who often construct wildly imaginative structures from the natural objects lying around, like amazing gardens of rocks, things you might find in Japanese gardens, strange rune-like figures from stones or whimsical carvings in the sandstone.
Or maybe is it occupied by gnomes who scurry away from their constructions upon the approach of any human being?
It’s also the coast’s closest answer to a nude beach, where the privacy often afforded here allows some of the more underground culture folk from the valley (OK, we mean the hippies) to trot around au naturelle.
You can find this hard-to-spot trailhead about two miles south of Washburne State Park. There's a breathtaking trail from here that meanders a little over a mile through forestland and the occasional stunning viewpoint, eventually twisting and switching back periodically to wind up in back of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Two Nude Snow Hikes in a Row

Okay, so I may be a little foolhardy but I've been so long without getting nude in the outdoors that I just had to take the opportunity for a follow-on hike before the really cold temperatures put a damper in my activities.

Surprisingly, the human body does a really good job of adapting to the cold.  It feels great to wander about in as natural a state as possible.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A much needed nude snow hike

Find an isolated logging road and just go for it!
After five weeks going back and forth between Seattle and Wyoming for my employer (and finding limited opportunities to get nude on the High Plains), any excuse and free time meant I went off searching for time for myself to enjoy a nude hike for an hour or so.

Vantage Nude Beaches

One of many small beaches (marked by clumps of trees) overlooking
the scenic views of the Columbia River Gorge

Traditional clothing optional desert-terrain lakeside nude beach areas on the shores of the Columbia River in Central Washington State. Located just off the I-90 freeway NW of Vantage, Washington near the famous 'The Gorge Amphitheater.' The nude beach areas are located several hundred yards down the lake beyond the parking lot. Though technically not 'legal' it is a long traditional and accepted nude use area. Follow the popular trail along the lake starting next to the boat launch area. There is a mix of clothed and nude users. Weekends see numerous boaters and hikers. Weekdays are quieter. There are sand dunes, hiking and swimming options. Watch for Rattlesnakes. The DNR property along the lake is leased to a private group who allow nude use as long as everyone behaves and cleans up after themselves. Sheriff Deputies and PUD employees tolerate nude use and don't bother anyone...unless they are given a reason to don't give 'em any reasons.

  • Take I-90 over the Columbia River and up the bluffs to Exit 143, Silica Road and left over freeway.
  • Take the next left onto Vantage Road/Frontage Road.  Follow this nicely-paved road four miles down the bluffs to the parking area/boat launch at the bottom.
  • A Fish and Wildlife Permit or a Discover Pass is required to park and use the area.  A list of retailers nearby where you can buy a pass is here.
  • Park, go thru gate and follow a dry gulch on down.  Nudity is generally tolerated once out of sight of the parking area.  The beaches are a series of small beaches (each marked by a clump of trees).  The first beach is easily noted by a barren telephone pole with a birds nest atop.
  • For easier walking, bear left thru the gate to a gravel road and follow that down until you see a beach to visit.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Juniper Dunes - An Update

From the entry in my Clothing-Optional map at:

Desert sand with rare Juniper trees and other low vegetation. 19,860 acres with 3,920 open, 8,620 limited to designated roads and trails (area of critical environmental concern), and 7,140 acres permanently closed. The topography is characterized by flat or rolling relief caused by wind deposited sands and silts. Vegetation in the area is comprised of a mosaic of habitat type ranging from those dominated by sagebrush and rabbit brush to open grassland with scattered Juniper trees. Land use includes hiking, camping, hunting, & horseback riding. Summer temperatures can reach well over 100 degrees F and can plummet to near zero degrees or below in winter.

Impressions: Inside the fenced region (around fifty to a hundred square miles), the chance of encountering another person is extremely remote. I have never had it happen. The sign-in sheet gives an indication of the presence of any others. Usually, you will find that you are the only person(s) there. The dune area outside the fence often contains a handful of dirt-bike riders, which can be heard at a distance. This means that carrying a cover-up is not necessary. On nice days one can simply tank up on food and water, then head in with nothing more than a pair of sunglasses for the day and maybe some sandals if your feet are soft. Some care is prudent when entering the fenced area, however. Remember, you are on your own! There is no water available and there are no developed trails. Campfires are not permitted; only portable campstoves. Think WILDERNESS. If you're the sort with no sense of direction, it would not be at all difficult to get lost. The terrain consists generally of rolling hills for as far as the eye can see, with no towering landmarks to act as reference. Attention to detail is important, though you technophiles could instead tote a GPS receiver or a trusty compass. The best time to visit is in the spring, ideally soon after a rainshower. You'll find many plant varieties in bloom, giving the terrain a splash of color. Moisture makes the ground more firm for easier travel, especially on the roads. Second best visiting time is in autumn. The temperatures are moderate and there are a few plant varieties that bloom then. As in the spring, the air is filled with distinct scents. Summer temperatures can easily climb well over one hundred degrees F. The humidity is quite low, so it's not that uncomfortable as long as you have plenty of water. As in most desert climates, the temperatures can get significantly cooler at night -- dropping from a hundred-plus down to mid-seventies. One summer nuisance to be aware of are the invader species of plantlife. The cheatgrass is growing in areas, particularly widespread around the perimeter. This grass dies in early summer, leaving pointed seeds that work their way into everything. If you wear socks or closed shoes, you won't penetrate very far before being turned back. It's best to wear open sandals or thongs -- spring is about the only time one can travel barefoot, while the grass is still green. Just watch for the occasional patch of prickly pear cactus. Fortunately, the tumbleweeds and tackweed haven't established themselves too well yet in this area.

No water and no facilities, so bring everything you need.

Call the BLM office in Spokane before going out to be sure you can get access: 509-536-1200

Since that posting, access to Juniper Dunes has been problematical at best.  The traditional route into the wilderness had been via Peterson Road, a private road about five miles along the Pasco-Kahlotus Highway from I-12.  The owners of that road had cut off access on and off for years, sometimes threatening, sometimes bulldozing a berm across the road to prevent access to the wilderness beyond their properties. That was the quickest and easiest access that got you to the southern edge of the Juniper Dunes Wilderness.

The large, yellow mailbox that is the landmark to Peterson Road
Serious, "Keep Out" signage just inside Peterson Road

A Better Route Into the Wilderness

On my recent, job-mandated road trip to Montana and Wyoming I found myself driving back along I-82 near Pasco and on a lark (and overnighting in Pasco) decided to see if I could find a new way into the Juniper Dunes Wilderness area that did not illegally cross any private property.  Spending a few hours going over Google Maps of the area I came up with a feasible alternative  that seemed to show a trailhead parking area real close to the northern boundary of the wilderness.  I set off the next morning to see if sat. images matched reality.

The route:
Drive 23.8 miles from I-12 east on the Pasco-Kahlotus Road to the Snake River Road.
Take a left.
After 3.5 miles on the Snake River Road, take a left onto
Blackman Ridge Road, a well maintained gravel road.
At 2.4 miles, take a left onto Joy Road and follow it all the way down to the end.

The Juniper Dunes Ranch is about half a mile down Joy Road.
The property owner has allowed access over a short section of
land at the end of  that road.
How could I not resist getting a picture of myself nude at the rules sign?
However, I respected the property owners wishes which were ...
... access only during March, April and May.  The wilderness area starts
just beyond the cultivated area with the first set of dunes.
Since this route only leads to the Wilderness Area and not to the OTV parts of Juniper Dunes, many of the problems that caused disputes and closure of the southern access route (trail bikes, OTVs, noise, speeding dust, etc.) are ameliorated.  You can only go into the Wilderness on foot from the northern boundary.  The one and only time I have been into the Juniper Dunes Wilderness I never saw another human being for the entire day.  I look forward to getting back down there this coming spring after March 1st.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Home Maintenance a'la Nude and Health Update

Well, it looks like I missed some great get-naked weather these past 3-4 weeks.  I had a relapse and bad inflammation of my spleen.  It is finally under control and the fatigue is lessening.

I made it up to a long-scheduled clean-up party up at Scenic Hot Springs this past Saturday.  That was either a great idea or a bad mistake (depending on how you look at it).  Unfortunately, the weather was not exactly cooperating to remain nude for any length of time.  Coming back down the mountain Saturday night I was so exhausted that I stayed in bed most of the day through Sunday.

Today (Monday) I spend a lazy day out in my back yard doing chores in preparation for fall . . . gutters foremost, and it looks like I will have to replace a section before the rains start.  Best of all, I spent most of that time nude (including high up on the ladder.)

Cleaning Gutters
Catching sunlight is a great tonic to invigorate health.  I'm beginning to feel much better.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Skinny Dipping in the North Fork of the Skykomish: Sep 14th, 2012

Skinny-dipping in the ice-cold glacier fed waters of the Skykomish River

Hot, sunny weather . . . and a naturally-formed deep pool of icy-cold water at the confluence of two branches of the upper North Fork of the Skykomish River?  What better way to cool off?

It all starts with a jaunt exploring and updating my list of camping places along the Beckler River and the upper segment of the North Fork Skykomish River above Jacks Pass in the Cascades.  (Note: until I get around to updating the above webpage, Troublesome Creek and San Juan campgrounds (which suffered tremendously from the floods) are actually accessible with the reopening of the Index-Galena road from the Jacks Pass side).

No long hike today . . . I'd started out too late.  But upon crossing the FS63 bridge at the base of Jacks Pass where it crosses the North Forth of the Skykomish River, I'd noted that a great river-side camping spot had not been occupied yet.  So I zipped on in and claimed it for myself . . . at least for the day.

This spot is very popular, being right beside the ever-busy FS 63 bridge.
Not a great place to remain nude and out in the open as cars traveling FS 63 slow down on the bridge and look down to see if the site is available.  I'm not planning to camp here but as there are no reasonable and adequate pullouts nearby I do need a spot to park while I head over to the other side of the road (and bridge) to closed-off camp sites and the upper stretches of the river from the bridge toward Goblin Creek further north.  This spot serves me well.  

First order of business, the previous occupants left a mess of garbage on the site so I busy myself with a large trash bag to pick up bottles, beer cans and unburned aluminum foil left in the campfire ring.  A few cars do slow and pass by but with the trash bag, I'm obscure enough to bring into question whether I'm nude or not.  It's an enjoyable fifteen minutes of civic duty.  But there is a hike in my future ...

Atop the protective levee on the other side of the bridge.
The roadside site is coveted.  But the real, unseen gems in this area are the abandoned campsites on the north side of the road.  You used to be able to turn in and drive down into half a dozen tenting areas under old growth.  During the disastrous floods of Nov 2006 the river jumped the twenty-foot high levee and reeked havoc in the low-laying bowl that formed the camping area.  The Forest Service later bulldozed a berm across the entrance and let the area go fallow.  But that hasn't stopped intrepid campers from occasionally parking off-road somewhere and hiking their gear the couple of hundred feet into these great sites.

Toward the rear at the end of the levee, one of the higher tent sites opens onto the side tributary of the river.  On the other side of the tributary is an overgrown and hard to make out jeep trail that follows the open area beside the floodplain north to the river.

On the Skykomish floodplain
This river changes and re-sculpts the floodplain every year.   Since the floods, alders have taken root and flourished in the open . . . making navigating your way difficult except for the nearby open areas.   But there is almost a mile of floodplain that I remember exploring from the past, and to get in further I have to physically push myself through thickets of young alders.

One of many fords of the shallow flow of the Skykomish.
When I headed out earlier in the day, I knew that I'd probably be hiking riverside.  I assumed that my pair of well-used water-socks were in the car.  I was disappointed when I only found one of the pair in the trunk.  I went on without them, sure that I could do any fords barefooted.  Not a good idea as those shallow rocks are extremely slippery, the uneven bottom painful on bare soles, and plenty of places to twist an unprotected ankle.  Nevertheless, I made it over the first, second and third fords with a lot of patience and slow choosing of my steps.  If the river had been any higher or faster it would have been difficult keeping my footing.

Warming up after skinny-dipping

At the confluence of another couple of wayward branches of the river a deep, crystal-clear pool of water had formed . . . still water.  It didn't take much to convince me to remove the boots one more time and carefully step my way into the water.  Didn't last long for the water was simply to cold.  But for the few moments I was in there it sure felt good.  The sun warmed me up pretty quick once I was out of the water.

There were plenty of sandy patches around to make my own small clothing optional beach where I snoozed and drank in the sunlight.

Heading back to the car

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Huckleberry Picking a'la Natural-West Cady Ridge, Sept 7th, 2012

Every hike of mine has a highlight of some sort . . . the weather, wildlife, spiritual impact on the senses, even encounters and interactions with other people on the trail.  I often ask myself, "What did you learn from that hike?" . . . "What stood out and made it memorable?"  These highlights go on to become themes in my blog posts to add something more than 'I just hiked nude'.  Nude hiking is not just about taking your clothes off and wandering about naked in the forests . . . it is about deriving something special . . . mystical or spiritual . . . about your interaction with nature without the crux of clothing to immunize and separate you into a closed bubble apart from it.  Although I never envisioned it, picking huckleberries while 'stark-assed naked' atop a mountain certainly become the highlight of this most recent hike onto the ridges of West Cady.

When I manage to get out and up into the mountains for a nude hike I generally start out with a fuzzy idea of where I will go.  Mostly that is because I am looking for solitude and one cannot guess with any certainty just how busy a particular trail may be ahead of time . . . at least, not until you arrive there and count the number of cars already parked at the trail-head.

Having a desire to do a really long hike I found myself gravitating toward a trio of diverging trails deep in the wilderness . . . all sharing a common trailhead and parking area at the end of FS 63.  Any one of the three . . . Quartz Creek, Pass Creek, or West Cady Ridge . . . would give me a shot of getting onto a long wilderness trail and having it to myself.

There is another passion of mine involved with these particular trails, and that is, together, they form a backpacker's ideal dream of a doable loop trail that takes you well into some spectacular scenery and only requires two to three days to accomplish.  As this is also a pack trail route, it is popular with those going in on horseback . . . and I noted the two horse trailers just off the trailhead parking when I arrived. 

The West Cady Ridge-Dishpan Gap-Quartz Creek Loop, 26 miles

I've done the Quartz Creek segment a couple of times nude (and never met a single other person).  In 2005 I backpacked this route as far as Dishpan Gap (clothed, unfortunately) with a couple of other backpackers . . . overnighting in the Blue Lake area.

I've done the Pass Creek trail once in the nude and had to turn back before the steep switchbacks to Dishpan Gap.

And, West Cady Ridge is a trail I've started on a number of times . . . only to turn around for a number of reasons (late start, too many people, bears).  

I prefer ridgelines . . . always have because they get me high above the trees and into the intense sunlight and open air that I love.  However, the ridge of West Cady I had never gained and I was determined to see how far I could get this time.

At the trail parking area which serves three separate trails
Staying nude . . . I had been driving without anything on since leaving Monroe an hour earlier . . . was not a continuing option when I arrived at 9am.  I opted to be discreet and slip on a pair of shorts when I passed a couple of horse trailers and hobbled horses near the parking area. While I was considering if I would have the parking lot to myself and and going about making an educated guess as to where the occupants of all the other vehicles had headed, three ladies on horseback came around from the horse trailers toward the Quartz Trail entrance and that trail got dropped from my consideration.  In retrospect, four miles under the dense canopy of the Quartz Creek trail wasn't what I wanted anyway.

I chatted for a while with the ladies . . . all packing sidearms as they sat upon their horses . . . and got the lowdown on conditions.  Today they were taking Quartz Creek in as far as Curry Pass.  They had gone up West Cady the day before and had seen no one headed in this morning . . . though they did mention that a group of hunters were way up there hunting bear past Benchmark Mountain.  I had no illusions about making it that far on a day hike so I doubted I would run into hunters on the trail.  West Cady seemed like a good prospect.  I bade them farewell as they turned onto the Quartz Creek Trail and, as soon as they were out of sight, off came the the last vestige of clothing . . . my shorts.  Now I was almost ready to enjoy a trail . . . the West Cady Ridge one.

The West Cady Ridge Trail . . . goal today, Benchmark Mountain
Benchmark Mountain is eight miles one way . . . four hours at my normal pace (perhaps a little longer as I tend to dawdle).  A reasonable goal with such an early start.  Packing extra water, it was off, crossing the sturdy wood footbridge over the North Fork of the Skykomish River and onto the well-maintained trail.

The trail starts out pleasantly under wide open canopy
The trail starts out easy enough under old growth and filtered sunlight as the morning heats up but grinds onto steeper and steeper switchbacks that seem to go on forever . . . well past that point where a family of bears spooked me off the mountainside the last time I was up here.  In that first mile you gain most of the elevation of the entire hike . . . almost 2,300 feet.

Along the way I note the well-defined tracks of horseshoes going in and then coming out.  There were a lot of other tracks of boots on the trail but all were overlaid by the more recent indentations of horseshoes.  No one had been on this trail since the day before, and I assumed those would have been the hunters heading in.  I pretty much felt that I had this trail to myself.

The upward grind goes on and on, steepening ...

On the open ridge of West Cady
And then, suddenly, you are out in the open . . . on the ridge with gentle terrain seemingly along the entire ridgeline.    The views of nearby peaks (particularly Kye's and Columbia of the Monte Cristo peaks still patched with snowfields).  Glacier Peak is off in the distance and you can make out significant details of the peaks glaciers and voila!, Guardian Rock, a significant mark on the east face of Glacier.  I can also make out details of Gamma Peak  . . . another one of my long-standing hiking goals.

"Hike Nude" gets advertised wherever I can ...
Remember those hunters.  Well, I met them on their way back out . . . a rather sad thing for me as the lead hiker had a bear's head and skin draped over a piece of plastic atop his backpack while his buddies carried out very modern-looking, scoped hunting rifles.  I had seen them coming and stepped to the side of the trail to let them pass.  One of them quipped, "What happened to your pants?"  which I turned into a joke with, "Pants?  Pants?  I forgot them again?"  They continued on with a chuckle but I felt a little depressed about the bear they had slaughtered.  I have a hard time coming to terms with guns and hunting . . . even though I know there are innumerable folks who love to hunt.  I continued inbound letting the bright sunlight and gentle breezes cheer me up.

In the 90's this entire ridge area suffered a series of wildfires that decimated the old growth atop the ridge.  When the ridge recovered, smaller shrubs and bushes took over . . . and these open meadows take on a riotous melody of color in the summer.  Everywhere, just under the top layer of weathered topsoil, lays an thick carpet of nutrient-rich fire ash . . . and fruiting shrubs have taken to forming massive colonies of interconnected plants . . . . huckleberry shrubs amongst them, burgeoning reddened leaves as the summer ripens their fruits.

Blueberries I had seen lower down on the trail . . . though picked clean by previous hikers and certainly the bears who inhabit these slopes (with one less than the day before).  At first it didn't connect that these short, little shrubs were huckleberry shrubs . . . probably because while on the trail whatever fruit they may have produced had been picked clean.

Picking wild huckleberries
Just before the first significant drop into the saddle onto Benchmark Mountain I came across a huge, gentle meadow with an obvious footpath leading off the main trail . . . the whole meadow guarded by a isolated small grove of trees surrounding a cleared site complete with a campfire ring from past seasons.  Curiosity had me turning down that footpath toward a small rise and some large boulders suitable for taking a break upon . . . and my feet needed to be out of the boots for awhile to breath and un-tighten.

It was getting on in the day and I knew I shouldn't dawdle too long, yet this location was perfect for just enjoying the sun . . . and to boot, it was off the trail but commanding a great view of it a quarter mile away.  I relaxed . . . snacked on GORP . . . and lay back for a snooze.  Sometime later while wandering around in just socks I noticed all the berries on these shrubs.  Everywhere I turned, thousands of bushes laden with ripe huckleberries.  Couldn't pass this up . . .

I'd packed three bottles of water with me . . . two of them empty now.  So I spent the next hour in the middle of those meadows picking huckleberries and hoping I could get them back without turning them to mush.

This was bliss.  I could well imagine myself having pitched a small tent in the grove of trees and then having the entire afternoon to wander about Pollyanna-style and naked without a care in the world except to gingerly roll plump huckleberries between fingers and thumb to release from the shrub and drop into the neck of the filling water bottles.  I really did not have any idea how much time I spent in those meadows until I finally had no more room to stuff any more berries in my full plastic containers.  It was simply enjoyable.

On the saddle before Benchmark Mountain
Eventually you have to shake yourself out of the reverie and remember just how far you are from civilization and that it gets cold up here at this elevation once the sun goes down.  The boots went back on and I headed back to the main trail.  I hiked only a little bit further.  Though Benchmark was close, I still needed at least four hours to get back.  Reluctantly, I turned around.

Muted, filtered sunlight in the late afternoon
Hours later, back on the familiar trail coming off the ridge I slow down, knowing the trail-head is reasonably close.

The footbridge near the end of the hike
 . . . and then it's the foot-bridge across the river and a few moments more before coming out onto the trail-head parking area.  No one there.  It's a nice drive back out of the mountains and back toward Seattle . . . nude most of the way, of course.

Pecan-Caramel Ice Cream with Fresh Wild Huckleberries

... and the reward?  Why a bowl of ice cream topped with the sweet tartness of wild huckleberries. A week later I still have firm, fresh huckleberries in the fridge waiting to top cereal and dessert!

Getting to the trailhead:  Drive US Highway 2 to just west of milepost 50 (located between the town of Skykomish and the Skykomish Ranger Station). Turn north onto Beckler Road #65, toward Beckler River Campground. From US Highway 2 on FS Road #65, drive 15 miles and turn right on FS Road #63. Continue 4.2 miles to the trailhead, on the south side of the parking lot.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Turn Your Photos into Oil Paintings

Nifty site where you can upload images and turn them into realistic-looking oil paintings (amongst many other effects).

As you can probably tell, I've got too much time on my hands.  Monthly therapy was last week and I've been stuck at home for the few days needed afterward.

Nude gardening in my back yard
(wish there were a way to change where the reflection
would be but I do like the overall effect).

Weeding the rose plants

Hiking in the Cascade Mountains

Monday, September 3, 2012

How to Make a White Balance Adjustment to your Photos

I commented on a previous hike (and several other times) about adjusting the white balance of your images to get more pleasing results . . . especially of the skin tones.  Our eyes are remarkably flexible and nimble in interpreting lighting conditions to render what we see.  But cameras do not easily adjust necessarily the way we perceive things.  A picture taken in a room lit by an incandescent light bulb comes out with overly warm orange-casts while the same image under fluorescent  lighting may appear overly green.

Sometimes we want these effects . . . as in pictures taken during sunset for the vibrant red colors produced by ambient light that has taken the long way through the atmosphere and color-shifted down into the reds.  My favorite time to take pictures is in the late afternoon when the light from the sun is actually warmer (color-wise).

Getting out into the forests adds a slight wrinkle to photography . . . while the light from the sun may be good, it is reflecting endlessly back and forth off of a lot of green vegetation and leaves and that light is adding a slight green tinge to your photographs.  The same sort of thing would happen if you took a picture in the deep earthen tones of the badlands of Eastern Washington and wondered why everything took on a very 'tanned' look. What is needed is a way to shift the overall color-balance of the image back to "standard" sunlight . . . remove that greenish, or reddish or whatever tinge.  Adjusting the white balance during post-production is one easy way to take a major step in restoring what your eyes have seen.  I'm going to show you how to do that in two popular and free image editing programs . . . PhotoScape and G.I.M.P.

Both these programs are free and contain no annoying spyware.  PhotoScape is the easier to use while G.I.M.P. is a very powerful, almost clone of Adobe's expensive Photoshop.  Both will allow you to adjust the white balance of an image.

A Note on Image Editing:

The de'facto format for storing an image nowadays is the Jpeg format (the .JPG extension on your pictures).  JPeg is a lossy format, meaning that information is lost every time you edit and resave the image.  After a number of edits and saves a Jpeg image will begin to take on artifacts that degrade the image.  It usually takes quite a while for these artifacts to become noticeable so you want to make ALL your edits at one time before you save the finished image . . . or save the interim image in a non-lossy format such as BMP or TIFF.  Needless to say, use SAVE AS with a different file name rather than SAVE so that you always have the original image to start over with.  PhotoScape makes this easy as it saves the originals into another folder automatically for you.

A Reference to Something White

The camera doesn't know what is pink or green or blue or white.  It only knows about the color temperature of the light reflecting off of objects in your image . . . even if that reflected light has had a lot of green added from bouncing around in the forest canopy.  But if we have something showing in our images that we know the color, we can use that as a reference to simultaneously correct all the other colors throughout the image later.  White is the best choice since white is a combination of all colors and the easiest to use as a reference.

The white reference I most often use are my white socks (since I'm a nudist and rarely wear much of anything else).  It could be a white hat or something as simple as a white piece of paper or an index card placed somewhere in the image where it can be cropped out later.  In the images used as examples below I used a pair of white socks carried in my fanny pack as a white reference.

Adjusting White Balance in PhotoScape

From the publisher of PhotoScape:

PhotoScape is an all-in-one style photo editor with fun and ease of use. Major capabilities are: viewer, editor, batch editor, page, combine, animated GIF, print, splitter, screen capture, color picker, rename, raw converter, resizing, brightness/color/white-balance adjustment, backlight correction, frames, balloons, text, drawing pictures, cropping, filters, red eye removal and blooming
PhotoScape is free and can be downloaded here.

Before adjustment
Adjusting the white balance of an image is simple within PhotoScape.  Click the drop-down arrow by 'Bright,Color' and select 'White Balance'.  Note that there is also a shortcut key combo to accomplish the same thing . . . 'CTL-W'.  A dialog box comes up with instructions.  The box can be dragged out of the way if necessary.

After Adjustment
Find something white in the image and hover the cross-hair cursor over it.  Click to see the changes the program will make.  If unsatisfied you can click in a slightly different area.  When satisfied, click 'Yes'.  Make any other adjustments you may want and then save the image.  Make sure you select the 'Make backup copy ...' during the save dialog.

Adjusting White Balance in G.I.M.P.

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.
It has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.
GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.

GIMP has been described as the open-source version of Adobe's Photoshop, and like Photoshop, there is a steep learning curve to getting the most out of GIMP.   GIMP is sometimes slow and quirky in Windows (mainly because it was developed for the open-source community comprised mainly of Linux users and there have been a lack of dedicated Windows developers for GIMP).  However, the power of GIMP far surpasses the minor glitches that sometimes pop up.  GIMP can be downloaded here.

Before Adjustment
Within G.I.M.P. with your image opened,  select 'Colors' and then 'Levels' to open the Levels dialog.  This dialog can be a little intimidating but we are only interested in three buttons with eyedroppers near the bottom  . . . Black Reference, Grey Reference, and White Reference (Hint: Hover the cursor over each button for Tool Tips description).  Since white is the most common reference available in an image, click the outermost button,  Make sure the 'Preview' checkbox is selected.

After Adjustment
Moving the cursor over the image will change the cursor to a color-picker eyedropper.  As with PhotoScape, click in a known white area to preview the changes.  It not satisfactory, click a different area.

 G.I.M.P. saves in it's own proprietary lossless format, which is fine if you want to make changes in the future.  To save to the more common JPEG format you choose to 'Export' the image under the 'File' menu.

G.I.M.P. also has a handy facility to aid in post-production composition of your images . . . Guides:

Golden Means Gridlines overlain on the image.
Note how the axis of the torso is directly on one of the grids?
I've alluded to Golden Sections and composition before.  This handy facility aids you in cropping your images so that your subjects are situated in the most pleasing compositional arrangement.  Whenever you select or use the crop tool (it looks like a scalpel in the toolset), you have the option to overlay a grid over the selected area of the image.  Select a grid (or guide) from the dropdown box to the bottom right.  The goal is to crop (or move) your image so that the subject falls on one of the intersection points of the lines . . . or on the line, itself.

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