Half Dome by the Numbers

I see things in numbers. Must be the engineer in me. It was no different when a few members of the 234th Intelligence Squadron and I hit the trail determined to hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. So here are the numbers of our Half Dome hike:

33, 319   number of steps to top of Half Dome and back (Sam counted)
9,600      elevation, in feet, gained and lost to top of Half Dome and back
16           number of miles to top of Half Dome and back
9              number of hours to top of Half Dome and back
1              numbers of time I feel it necessary, in my life, to go to top of Half Dome and  back

0410     time we left the house
10           number of minutes we left late
0700     time we hit the trail
90           number of minutes we hit the trail late
1              number of couples lost (left) in parking lot so we would no longer be late

45.24     money I spent on gas because someone forgot their wallet
28.32     money I spent on pizza and soda because someone forgot their wallet
12.18     money I spent on refreshments because someone forgot their wallet
1               number of people that, in the future, will ensure no one forgets their wallet

16           liters of water drank by three of us
3               additional liters of water one of the three should have drank to prevent passing out due to dehydration
1              amount of ‘good’ smacks it took to bring dehydrated person back to reality

400   distance in feet of the final ascent of half dome
2         number of cables the average person needs to make the final ascent and descend half dome
1          number of cables one of us needed to descend half dome (obviously not having a wallet makes it easier to descend half dome)

5 hikers spent 9 hours crossing 16 miles, reaching a summit of 8,694 feet and returning to the valley floor, resulting in 1 glorious trip.


The 2 Schmucks Glossary

When you start backpacking, chances are you will consult a trail guide to help you choose your destination. Trail guides are great but they are often written for people who are “in the know” about backcountry etiquette. After reviewing this Glossary for Schmucks, you too will know what in the hell a trail guide is talking about.

  1. Back Country: anywhere there is no sign of civilization and beyond the range of Day Hikers.
  2. Bear Box: large, lockable cabinets generally painted brown and located in developed campgrounds such as the Whitney Portal; designed to keep bears from consuming your toothpaste.
  3. Boulder Hopping: a required activity for the purposes of negotiating streams, creeks, rivers, and ponds; requires balance and; in many cases, a towel.
  4. Coniferous: evergreen trees such as pines
  5. Day Hike: a hike that generally takes only a day (4 hours or less) to complete.
  6. Day Hikers: individuals who carry only a small bottle of water, just stepped off of a chartered bus, and are dressed suitably for the nearest strip mall coffee shop; aka Tourists.
  7. Deciduous: trees that lose their leaves in the fall, such as oaks and maples.
  8. Fire Permit: a piece of paper you acquire online to present to a Forest Ranger so they can blame you in the event of a fire.
  9. Foot Bridge: replaces boulder hopping and sometimes spans larger rivers and streams; designs vary between a complex structure that can accommodate trucks to a single plank of wood over a damp rut.
  10. Forest Ranger: identified by funny hats, these creatures can be found in their natural habitat of Ranger Stations; activities include selling books, issuing bear canisters, and signing wilderness permits that will be discarded as soon as backpackers leave the station.
  11. Gentle Rise in the Trail: damn lies from trail guide authors.
  12. GPS: global positioning system; curious location device that requires a master’s degree in geography and computer science to operate.
  13. Interpretive Loop/Trail: a short hiking trail that features markers where tourists can look at both coniferous and deciduous trees as well as wildlife such as Forest Rangers.
  14. Leave No Trace: a backcountry concept that mandates backpackers leave a campsite with no trace of human activity…such as a discarded bear canister.
  15. Loop: a trail that takes you in a big circle.
  16. Out and Back: a trail that is not a loop, but goes in two directions: out and back.
  17. Ranger Station: conspicuously marked with large yellow signs that reads: Ranger Station; contains trail maps and bear canisters for backpackers as well as displays of stuffed wildlife such as foxes, birds, and Forest Rangers.
  18. Switchbacks: zigzag portions on trails that reportedly to make it easier to climb an aggressive hill; results in dizziness, profuse sweating, and strings of obscenity-laced rants.
  19. Trailhead: starting point for any trail and usually features a parking lot.
  20. Trail Junction: the place where two trails meet and usually have signs with direction and estimated mileage to destination or next junction; designed to confuse backpackers as to which way to go.
  21. Trail Map: an area map that will show where backcountry trails start, end, and meet; sometimes contains topographical information on ridgelines and elevation or may be scrawled on a napkin.
  22. Topographical Map: apparently written in hieroglyphics, sometimes allows backpackers to discern their elevation and location; the closer the lines are together, the more misery you will suffer; aka Topo Map.
  23. USGS: United States Geological Survey; creates Topo maps for specific areas, scales, and backpackers who can read hieroglyphics; available at Ranger Stations and most camping specialty stores, can also be downloaded from the internet…Google Translate is of no help.
  24. Wilderness Campsite: any undeveloped campsite in the backcountry; generally indicated by a crude fire ring and usually recognized with glee after a day of backpacking.
  25. Wilderness Permit: the scrap of paper that allows you to backpack in the wilderness; aka fire starting material.

What is a Schmuck….?

RTWI get asked that all the time. Ok, I don’t really because the word “schmuck” is pretty universal. But, for Cam and me, it means something different. While it does retain a heaping helping of its traditional definition, it also goes a step further. For us, and as it pertains to our journey, a Schmuck is someone who is willing to throw themselves headlong into a life adventure without the slightest regard for obstacles or the fear of failure. Schmucks don’t fail. They learn. Schmucks don’t experience fear…OK that one is a stretch; but Schmucks don’t let fear get in the way.

Whether it’s a new job, learning a new skill, or like this entertaining little book will attest, in the wilderness; Schmucks are not afraid to get out of their comfort zone and push themselves beyond what they think is possible. As you will read in Vito’s Maxim: unless you are a little cold, a little tired, a little hungry, a little wet, a lot uncomfortable, and question why you are even doing this, then you are not on an adventure. You are on a vacation. And if you find yourself in the middle of a wilderness, whatever that may be for you, and you keep pressing on through the howling winds of discouragement and frustration; when all around are shaking their heads and scoffing; you punch through the looks and laughs and ridicule: then you, my friend, are a Schmuck.

We hope you enjoy this quick little read and find humor in our failures and successes…

To be thankful…

2 Schmucks on top of Whitney

As this year starts winding down, I always like to reflect on what it is that makes life great. A few observations from on and off the trail:

1. Friends, like Schmuck 1 who had led us on some epic adventures…

2. Family, like my wife and daughter who’s willingness to join and encourage us in our adventures makes them all the more enjoyable…

3. The created world that has brought us so much joy and wonder amd awe…

4. The Higher Power without whom, none of this would be possible.

I am grateful that a Regular Joe, such as myself, has the opportunity to experience the richness of nature and the depth of humankind found on the trail…and off.

And for that, I am truly thankful!

~Schmuck 2

getting to see Dewey Point….

20181110_111539          Schmuck 1 taking in the view from Dewey Point, Yosemite National Park.  

The last time we did the hike from Glacier Point Road to Dewey Point, the trail was covered in six feet of snow and the valley was socked in with clouds (as described in our forthcoming book, “The Road to Whitney”). On that cold winter’s day when WE broke the trail to Dewey in our snowshoes, we rewarded only with a hot lunch and more than few cross-country skiers trying to steal our thunder (also recounted in the book). Saturday, November 10, 2018 was an entirely different story….

We hit the McGurk Meadow trailhead on Glacier Point Road at about 8:40 am on Saturday. It was a crisp 29 degrees when the Two Schmucks and a guest hiker, Ron D., set our Dewey. The sun was shining and there was very little breeze. In other words, a perfect day for a hike in Yosemite. But, you know what they say, a miserable hike in Yosemite beats a good day at work! But, there was nothing miserable about this hike. It was great weather and even better conversation for four miles when we broke out of the trees and were rewarded with sweeping views of the valley from 3,300 feet. A thin layer of clouds lazed around the granite peaks adding to the serenity and beauty of the views. El Capitan stood sentry across the gorge and the Merced River sparkled on the valley floor as it made it way through the canyon. The three of us stood in silence, in awe of what we saw before us. After a few moments, we scrambled around the natural stone platform to see the views from different perspectives. It was like opening presents on Christmas morning as each perch offered something a little different from the one before. We felt privileged to experience the park this way, a sight we did not get to see on that wintry day so many years ago….a sight that many people do not see just by going to the gift shop in the valley. For us, the only way to really experience Yosemite is in a pair of good, trail-rated hiking boots (Remember Rule 1!).

Trail Rating: 2

We talked a lot about our trail rating system to help guide other schmucks, noobs, and the otherwise unfamiliar about the nuances of experiencing our national parks. The scale goes like this: 1 is strolling about Fresno’s River Park Mall and 10 would be grinding it out up Yosemite Falls with a full backpack and a damn bear canister. The 8-mile round trip from Glacier Point Road to Dewey Point and back is a solid 2.

From the road, the well-traveled trail descends through cool pines before breaking out into McGurk Meadow in all its golden glory. A wooden footbridge get you over a creek, which was frozen when we crossed it, and the trail skates along the meadow until a peaceful forest of tall pines and sequoias swallows you up again. You will also hit a couple of junctions that marks the trails and mileage to other attractions. But, you have never been to Dewey, go there first. Just follow the trail from the junctions and you will, almost at the last-minute, break out of the trees and into a clearing that leads to the natural Dewey Point platforms. You won’t be sorry!

Is this trail awesome for beginners? Hell yes. Why? Because there is nothing like actually getting to see Dewey Point…


A 2 Schmucks Carol

Three months before thaw,
When all through the woods
Not a hiker was stirring,
Except those in snowshoes

Backpacks were stored
In closets with care
Ensuring good gear
When spring time was near

Schmuck 1 and Schmuck 2
No packs on their backs
Were hiking concrete
And filling their sacks

For Christmas was nigh
And gifts must be bought
For hikers in woods
With no care and no thought

When, what to my wondering eyes
Should appear
REI, filled with camping and hiking
And backpacking gear

I turned to Schmuck 2
And said with a laugh
Our prayers have been answered
We’ll be done in a flash

We filled our sacks
With gear of all kind
We filled our sacks
With no better find

Then off we flew
To wrap our treasures
All covered with cheer
And opened with pleasure

That night as we sat
By the fire that flickered
We both knew that spring
Could come no quicker

For once you have hiked
And suffered and flailed
Family is your compadre
And home is the trail


Santa Schmukicon

Two Schmucks Get a Mascot

We are pleased to introduce the newest member to our team. Our mascot – Schmuckicon!!

SchmuckiconIn the future, look for Schmuckicon on your favorite hiking and backpacking products as we begin “Trail Rating” everything from shoes, to food, to tents, to backpacks and more. You’ll even be able to find Shmuckicon on shirts and hats.

Schmuckicon is the symbol of the everyday schmuck that’s willing to hit the trail with nothing more than unfounded confidence, misguided perseverance and unhealthy intestinal fortitude. At the end of the day, Schumuckicon may be battered and bruised, but he takes great pride in concluding the hike and is better for the experience.

Keep an eye out for Schmuckicon in your area. Once you see him, you know Two Schmucks can’t be far behind.

Schmuckicon is a registered trademark, not to mention a mascot, of Two Schmucks. Any attempt to use or sell Schmuckicon for monetary gain will be met with swift and severe punishment from one or both of the Two Schmucks.

It’s All About the Shoes

Luckily, like the snow before and the rain before that, the ice storm didn’t last forever. However, now that the trail was muddy and covered in snow it wouldn’t take much to turn our uphill trail into a raging, downhill river; a fact that proved itself as soon as the ice turned to rain. Clearly I’m exaggerating when I call our trail a raging river. At best it was a gushing stream, which is still not good when you’re wearing hiking shoes made for Christmas shopping at the Glendale Galleria.

As the water ran over our boots and covered our feet with what was literally ice water, I remember thinking two things; first – my feet are frozen and I’m going to have to chop them off and second – there needs to be rules for backpacking and the first rule should be; It’s All About the Shoes.

Although my first pair of “backpacking shoes” were a Chirstmas gift from my son, I swear they were sewn by the Devil’s cobbler. They may have been called Trailgear but they were not trail-rated! They provided no ankle support, no gripping power and no water resistance. They were not good for hiking, and should never have been used for backpacking; but I am cheap and I owned them, so they were on my feet when the river came rushing down the trail. My feet would have been better protected in the box that had housed the shoes.

Don’t skimp on the shoes. Don’t try and save a few dollars by going with something that “should” do. Splurge on the shoes. Spend more than you normally would. Make sure they fit perfectly. Make sure they have soles that will grip when you boulder hop across streams in Los Padres. Make sure they will provide ankle support when you come crashing down the trail of Yosemite Falls. Make sure they can carry the load of an overstuffed backpack and a useless bear canister. Am I making my point here? Trust me when I tell you, It’s all in the Shoes. A lessoned I learned the hard way when at mile 6 of the Alder Creek Loop Trail, my shoes were filled with water and my feet were frozen.

Backpacking Lessons Learned the Hard Way…

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