Knapsack Subcommittee, May 30 - June 1, 2003

Present: Steve Wilson, Andy Johnson, Jim Watters, Brett Casebolt, Bill Flower, Frances Reneau, David Reneau Barry Bolden, Lou Argyres, Melinda Goodwater, Jindra Goodman, Doug Goodman, Dan Kozarsky, Carol MacFarlane, Cathy Dezendorf, Nancy Mathison, Diane Cook, David Roberts, Cahit Kitaplioglu, Boz Rai, Mary Hess, Matt Hahne, Jocelyn Miller, Jan Keith, Sharon Goldau, Lucy Daggett, Thomas Meisner, Henry Leinen, Anne Muzzini, Kathy Wells, Tony Rango, Kath Giel, Raymond Pisano, Lasta Tomasevich

A remote yet spacious ridgetop camp at Lake Chabot Park, with a commanding view of the surrounding hills and on down to the city lights of the Bay Area, was the setting for the first Knapsack Subcommittee training weekend. Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, we sharpened our skills and enjoyed the camaraderie of our fellow leaders.

Friday evening, the festivities began with a potluck dinner and then an excellent presentation with scenarios by Frances Reneau on effective communication between trip leaders and participants.

On Saturday morning after breakfast, Subcommittee Chairman Andy Johnson discussed the essential "Trailhead Talk" that must be presented before every Sierra Club outing, ensuring that everyone on the trip is on the "same page."

Next up was sanitation and hygiene. David Roberts reiterated his long-standing mantra that hand washing is the first and foremost method to prevent the spread of intestinal illness among trip members: everyone on the trip must wash their hands with soap and water prior to serving on the cook crew and if possible, directly after using the "toilet." The use of an antibacterial hand sanitizer is an adjunct to handwashing.

Good food is critical on a backpacking trip; Cathy Dezendorf, Lou Argyres and Carol MacFarlane each led teams through the mystery of turning bags of groceries into an orderly assemblage of meals which were then expertly compacted into bear cans. Very neat! We all subsequently feasted on these tasty backpack concoctions that evening and at Sunday lunch.

Speaking of lunch, Melinda Goodwater served up her renowned dehydrated Chinese Chicken Salad for Saturday lunch. Uum, good! And thanks to Melinda's husband for chopping all those vegetables.

After lunch, Tony Rango discussed the principles of Leave No Trace (LNT): Plan Ahead and Prepare; Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces; Pack It In, Pack It Out; Properly Dispose of What You Can't Pack Out; Leave What You Find; Minimize Use and Impact of Fire. He also discussed Outdoor Cooking techniques (Kitchen Selection, Setup and Organization) and presented more information on Hygiene and Sanitation.

Turning to official Knapsack Subcommittee business: Trip sign-ups are at 87%. Perhaps more beginner's trips are needed for next year, to bring in more new backpackers... Leaders were reminded to make sure that all participants sign release forms and everyone, including trip staff members, must have a completed medical form.

Steve Wilson will have several equipment sets available at his south San Jose home so that South Bay leaders won't have to drive to Oakland pick up sets from Jim Watters. Both Steve and Jim hope that all returned sets will be clean, and don't forget to make notes of what items (i.e.: stove parts, repair kit and first aid kit contents) need to be replaced, refurbished or restocked. Note that there are no longer any prescription drugs in the first aid kit, except for an epipen.

The question of what is a co-leader was discussed. What duties differentiate an assistant from a co-leader and oughtn't we be giving recognition pins to assistants too?

Kathy Wells told us of the Task Force that has been formed at the National Outings level aimed at improving the quality of Outings trips and increasing trip participation by Club members. It seems that club membership has risen to over 700,000 members but participation on trips has dropped.

Conservation Component: conservation is, after all, the reason the Sierra Club exists, and we must remind ourselves to include this aspect on our trips. The conservation issues don't necessarily need to be specifically about the area you will be hiking, but could address an issue that participants will notice while driving to the trailhead, such as urban sprawl and air quality in the Central Valley. Gail Solomon is the Conservation Officer for the Knapsack Subcommittee and she would be most happy to furnish leaders with relevant material for your trip. As John Muir said: "our goal is to make advocates of participants." The National Outings website has a guide to establishing your Conservation Component. Check it out. Another useful internet tool for finding location based news about the environment is Zoomer, which can be accessed from

Saturday evening, Jim Watters gave an account of the history of Sierra Club Outings.

Sunday morning dawned clear and full of possibilities. Bill Flower presented a number of challenging trip scenarios, actual situations culled from his years of leading. How would you react if a trip participant (or even a mutiny of several participants) wanted to hike out a day early, or disagreed with your campsite selection? What if after an exhausting day of hiking, a participant set up his/her tent in a pristine meadow and ignored your entreaties of moving to a less fragile location? Or how about, just an hour after you had finished stuffing the bear cans with trip food, a brand new applicant called and said he/she is allergic to peanuts and must be accommodated? What if a major world event happened while in the backcountry and only you knew about it. Would you tell anyone else, and risk the breakup of the trip?

Next, Steve Wilson led us through discussions of lightning and how to avoid it; proper acclimatization techniques and how to avoid, minimize and recognize the various types of altitude sickness; and water treatment in the backcountry: all water used for Outings cooking/drinking/washing must be treated or filtered. Of course, each participant can decide on whether to treat their personal drinking water, but find out before the trip begins if anyone is allergic to iodine. Be aware that iodine is not effective treatment for all illness-producing waterborne organisms, such as cryptosporidium. Not to belabor handwashing, but there is semi-scientific evidence that giardia is not as prevalent in Sierra streams as commonly thought, and that most hikers that contract giardia get it from their asymptomatic fellow hikers that failed to wash their hands before handling food.

After lunch, Andy Johnson demonstrated the fine art of knots. He showed us the many uses of the Figure 8 knot, and if you are knot-challenged that is the one easy knot to master to get you through a trip. The Prusik knot is good for setting up a tarp, and the Weaver's knot will impress trip participants who have a broken shoelace. A carabiner or two are quite useful and the use of webbing is beneficial to trees when hanging food.

As the final exercise in backpack skills, Andy led us through the technique of using a rope to cross a river or creek. You really had to be there to appreciate Andy's skill, but a few points to remember are that it will take at least an hour to complete a crossing and it is best to wade a stream wearing your boots with no socks. Also, be sure that the rope is on the upstream side of you when crossing, and while in the water keep your feet directly under you and don't cross your feet or hands. The pack hipbelt should be disengaged for quick jettisoning of the pack if necessary, although some hikers prefer the extra stability of the fastened hipbelt. Fast moving water over the knees is usually unsafe and another crossing location may be a better option.

Steve Wilson, weekend impressario, sends his thanks to:

Frances Reneau for a fantastic exercise on communication that was educational and fun.
Jocelyn Miller for bringing all that commissary gear over from Oakland. Is that kerosene I smell?
Lou Argyres, Cathy Dezendorf, Carol MacFarlane for giving awesome presentations on backpacking menus and bear can packing. All three do it differently, all had great tips, and it all works! Also for all the food buying, packing, cooking, and cleanup.
Melinda Goodwater for incredible chicken salad that she serves on trips.
David Roberts for bringing drinks and preaching hygiene. Wash those hands!
Tony Rango for timely presentations on Leave No Trace TM, and backcountry kitchen set-up, safety, and impact. Also for handouts on hygiene and lightning and allowing us to use them.
Kathy Wells for a great Conservation handout and tips, proving that it is very easy, almost effortless, to include a Conservation component on your trip.
Barry Bolden for the kerosene stove training.
Bill Flower for setting up and running the exercise on scenarios and helping with stove training.
Jim Watters for a truly inspirational twilight talk on the history of the Outings Program, as well as the display of knapsack artifacts.
Andy Johnson for running scenarios, teaching ropes, knots and stream crossings, reserving the campsite, and a thousand other things.
And of course Thanks to all the attendees who came, learned, cleaned, organized, and had fun networking with their fellow leaders. I left safe, happy, and inspired.

Andy writes:
Steve forgot to include one other person... himself. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the best Knapsack meeting/training/party in recent history, and it happened because one person saw through an idea with singular determination and admirable skills of persuasion. Steve deserves a loud round of applause for his above-and-beyond efforts to bring this weekend together.

The Fall meeting is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 28, 2003.

-minutes prepared by David Roberts