02 March 2017

Redlining Yosemite

"Blahhh!" I screamed, as I furiously shook out my limbs and stripped off all of my clothing. I was standing in the middle of a trail in Yosemite National Park, stark naked and hyperventilating.

How did I come to be here? It started rather innocuously one evening at Rob's house. "I've got a project I'm working on that could use your help," he said. 

Then he opened a spreadsheet. 

As it loaded, I looked at him skeptically. A spreadsheet? I was used to dreaming and scheming adventures. What kind of a project were we talking about here?

"It's called 'redlining.' It's a thing in the White Mountains. Basically, it's a way of tracking every trail. Folks who hike or run every trail can, on the honor system, submit their names and get a patch and certificate."

The term redlining comes from the old-school way of marking a map with red marker over every trail one has covered. The more sophisticated spreadsheet could calculate the number of miles remaining, broken down by region. Tony Federer, the creator of the White Mountains spreadsheet, cleverly built in a bar graph function that gives a growing red line as one gets closer to completing each section.

I was skeptical about redlining at first. I am loathe to support anything that smacks of outdoor "consumption" rather than enjoyment. As noted in my post on FKTs, setting some arbitrary goal just to complete it and get bragging rights feels ego-driven and not meaningful, but then again, arbitrary goals can be a powerful means of personal exploration and drive.  It's not about the trails, per se, but the journey that can happen along the way.

In fact, I already had a Yosemite National Park map I had been highlighting for years and had dreamed of being afforded the opportunity to eventually see all 800 miles. This stemmed from a genuine desire to deeply explore a place very dear to my heart. Having a map or a spreadsheet was not a checklist, but a way of identifying where my next adventure could lead. 
Where might this adventure lead?

Redlining in the Rim Fire area.
Redlining is also a beautiful way to get off the beaten path. The White Mountains redlining site states,
One of the hopes of this website is to encourage hikers to give the most heavily used trails a bit of a break and use some of the trails that are lightly used. This is better for the trails and provides an uncrowded hiking experience.
After I took a crack at some edits to Rob's spreadsheet, Rob and I began planning runs to new places. We rarely saw people on the lesser-known trails, and even old-timers scratched their heads when we mentioned some place names. One run took us along a defunct railroad grade, complete with old ties, and past a waterfall I'd never heard of in seven years of living in the park! Other runs exposed me to old rock work, historic glass bottles, beautiful meadows, scores of wildflowers, and lots of unhabituated wildlife. I grew more interested in old use patterns and history, and I was delighted to get new views of familiar landscapes. 

Treasure found along the trail.
We are definitely not the first to come here.
Old trail markers.
Shooting stars for days.
New views of old friends. 
One of those redlining days took me to the southern part of the park, an ecosystem Rob and I had affectionately labeled "UFWOV" - Uniform Forest With Occasional View. The UFWOV is generally nice, rolling terrain that is ideal for running, with few visitors. I could get in a steady rhythm and zone out to my heart's content. As I climbed a gentle slope, I saw a strange sight: a squirrel laying in the middle of the trail, not moving away as I approached. I cocked my head in confusion as I peered at it. I could not see any marks of trauma inflicted by a large predator. In curiosity, I grabbed a nearby stick and poked at it to see if I could flip its body over to inspect its other side. It suddenly turned onto its back, reared its claws in the air and bared its teeth. I leapt back in surprise, then immediately remembered the danger of plague among ground squirrels in Yosemite.

That's when I screamed, stripped off all my clothing, and began to check my entire body for plague-carrying fleas. After a suitable check, I shook my clothing out once more, dressed myself, and continued on my run. I quietly rued redlining for bringing me to this place, then was grateful that this trail was so underutilized because no one had been around to witness my frantic, naked desperation. 

Despite my scary encounter, I doubt that plague squirrels are the reason so many of Yosemite's trails are underused. Some of Yosemite's trails are under-trafficked because they have long since stopped being maintained by the National Park Service. Rob and I, like the White Mountains folks, have heartily debated what is considered a "trail" for the purposes of redlining. We started by using the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Yosemite (#206). But what about the trails on there that have been obliterated by lack of maintenance or fire or forest succession? What about ski/snowshoe trails that are not listed on the NatGeo map, but are an important part of the recreational landscape for many months of the year? What about gated use roads to things like water tanks? Some are marked as trails on the map, while others are not; should we count all of them or just the ones marked in the map?

Until Rob and I manage to collect them all, the Yosemite Redlining Workbook is considered open-source. We'll update it as we get more information on different trails and as we better determine what to consider a "redlineable trail."
An unmaintained section between the Tuolumne Grove road and Aspen Valley road. It goes! Sort of.
When I moved away from Yosemite after eight years of living, working, and playing, I found myself just 130 miles shy of completing every trail. Of course, it will take many, many more miles to complete them, as many of them are in remote sections of the park that would require me to repeat miles I've already hiked. Last summer, for example, I went on a 25 mile run that netted me two "orphans" - spur trails to lakes that I hadn't explored on previous adventures: a total of just 1.3 miles of new redlining.
Small amount of redlining, large amount of enjoyment
It's worth saying that even when I complete all of Yosemite's trails, I'm not foolish enough to think that I will have seen "all" of Yosemite. To the contrary, I believe many of Yosemite's most beautiful locales are only found when one ventures off the beaten path. Plus, even familiar places reveal new surprises all the time, based on changes to the environment. Still, I will keep redlining, in search of what I don't yet know...and just might love.
Want to track your own Yosemite explorations? 
Here's the Yosemite Redlining Workbook.

*No, we're not offering patches or certificates.  This is just for fun and for our fellow geeky runner/hiker/number cruncher types. As such, there are no "rules" and we're not offering, documenting, or striving for firsts or accolades. If you finish all of them, KUDOS! Treat yourself to a beverage or high-caloric food of your choice. That's all.

**Please NOTE: Be aware that trails may be difficult to follow or dangerous due to lack of maintenance, presence of snow, spring run-off conditions, lack of reliable water, wildfire, or any other number of hazards. Neither Katie Wallace nor Rob Rives is responsible for any risks undertaken while in Yosemite National Park.
Special thanks to Tony Federer for the creation and open sharing of his White Mountains redlining spreadsheet, as well as the other fine folks at White Mountains Red-Lining: Ed Hawkins, Steve Smith, and Eric Rathbun.

A huge thank you and shout-out to Rob Rives for creating the Yosemite Redlining Workbook and continually inviting me and inspiring me to come up with new, novel adventures.

Do YOU have suggestions for our spreadsheet? We'd love 'em! Comment below!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Does this blog post evoke some sort of emotion or thought in you? Let me know!