Time Flies When You’re Having Fun In the Mountains

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Have you ever spent a weekend on the slopes when time flew by in the blink of an eye?  Do you ever get the feeling that time moves faster when you’re in the mountains?

Time Moves Fast in the Mountains

Einstein has an explanation: gravitational time dilation.

It’s all part of a theory you may have heard of: the Theory of Relativity. My layman interpretation of this part of the theory is that time, along with gravity, weakens as you get farther from the earth’s surface.

Scientist proved the theory by separating two synced atomic clocks at different altitudes.  Sure enough, the clock at the higher elevation came back with a faster time.

Now, in the big scheme of things the time difference is negligible (think nanoseconds), but it’s there.

The depths of the science that explains the natural world around us are limitless. The more we learn, the more respect grows for the intricacies of our world.

So the next time you head up the hill, think about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and know that gravitational time dilation is at play.


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This week in the US is Thanksgiving, a holiday to slow down, spend time with friends and family and enjoy great food and drink.

Thanksgiving Tahoe

It’s also a time to for us to reflect upon what we are grateful for.

We are very lucky to have the means and opportunity to live in an amazing mountain town in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Endless hiking trails, wilderness, forest roads and parks surround us.

Tahoe Kayak

We are also grateful that our lives allow us to spend time in the outdoors.  It wasn’t long ago that daylight hours away from work were unheard of.  A shift in priorities and a career change have allowed us to devote our days to the outdoors, and for the we are grateful.

The outdoor community around us, both in person and online that supports and inspires us everyday are something else we are grateful for.

Tahoe Truckee

This Holiday week, let us know what you are thankful for.

Trailside Tavern: Beer

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It’s a time-honored tradition to enjoy a sip of whiskey around the campfire, or a beer at the trail head after a long trail ride.  Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, can provide a welcomed reward at the end of a long day.

Trailside Tavern, Chris Binkley

This is the first in an on-going series, Trailside Tavern, where we will discuss the best backcountry bartender mixes, beers and spirits to reward yourself after a day in the woods.

Beer is most certainly one of the de facto choices for those pushing themselves in the outdoors.  Great after a day of snowboarding, and perfect after a hot day spent hiking.  The natural carbonation is uplifting, refreshing after the water drank all day in the trail.

Some even say the nutritional benefits help with recovery by providing magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, chromium and B vitamins.  Not to mention, the high carb content “liquid bread” provides.

The beauty of packable shatterproof canned beer, allowing us to carry it in, and crush the container once the contents have been consumed, is hard to beat.  (To learn more about the ingenious design of the aluminum can, check out this video.)


On a warm day we like to freeze one of our water bottles and nestle it deep in a pack, sticking the beer cans nearby to stay chilled.

With the craft beer boom in full swing it’s easy to find a can of beer for everyone in your party.  From a light watermelon beer to rootbeer flavored beer, to strong bitter IPAs, there’s something for everyone.

To top it off, the number of beers named after outdoor activities seems to never end.  Try a Sierra Nevada Torpedo, Bell’s Winter White, Mammoth Brewing’s High Country Pilsner, or the Base Camp In-Tents I.P. L.

Fireside Chat

Outdoor meccas like North Lake Tahoe are  even using beer as an enticement for getting out on the trail.  They’ve created the Ale Trail, connecting recreationists with pubs, bars and brew houses along or nearby popular trails.

Toss a can or two in your pack for your next adventure, and let us know what your favorite beer is to enjoy after a day in the outdoors.

Winter Trip Report: Donner Lake Rim Trail to Drifter Hut

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Donner Lake Rim Trail

We headed up Tahoe Donner to the Glacier Way trail head late Sunday morning, just as the snow storm was beginning to bear down. 

We don’t always get to pick the timing or weather of our trips, and we’ve learned to kit up and make do to make the most of our time available. 

We know this trail well, having taken it many times this past summer.

Parking at the Glacier Way Trail Head, we realized we wouldn’t be alone on the trail as two other cars were already there.  Gotta love dedicated Tahoe residents!

We began to make our way down the access trail, over light snowfall on the ground.  As we made our way up the first incline we felt the brunt of the wind beginning to pick up, knowing that the wind would be in our face until the first bend in the trail.  We swapped our sunglasses for goggles, zipped up our jackets and continued on.

Reaching our first breaking point, the picnic bench at Negro Canyon Overlook, we could barely make out Donner Lake below and I-80’s traffic moving up Donner Summit through the snow and clouds.

The wind was strongest at this point, and we briefly hesitated before deciding to move on towards the Drifter Hut.  Knowing we would be heading toward an indoor location (no matter how basic) made it easier to push through the steady strong wind and stronger gusts.

On we went, stepping through the shallow snow accumulation, which became snow drifts every so often.  We each pulled up our wool buffs to cover our faces, tucking under our goggles. 

While the wind was intense, my shell protected me, and the air temperature hovered in the low 30s.  Stopping behind a large tree I de-layered, removing my insulating puffy and moving forward with my base layer underneath my shell.

Being familiar with the trail, we knew where we were headed and knowing made us more confidant along the trail through the intense wind and snow.  We knew as soon as the trail began to drop and lead away from the mountain’s edge that we were close.  One hundred yards through a meadow, the first area we questioned if we should break out the snow shoes, and we were at the hut.

It’s funny how uplifting a simple little hut can be in intense cold, driving wind and snow.  Stepping inside, as the wind ceased, I was struck by the realization of how loud the wind had been in my ears.  I removed my shell, while Chris stayed bundled up.  We took off our packs, laid down our poles and took a seat on the benches.  The three large windows overlooking the Johnson Canyon helped to make the small room feel giant.  We turned on our radio, and listened to the local station for a bit before checking the weather to ensure no major updates.

Drifter Hut

We hung out in the hut for almost two hours, watching the snow pile up and the wind blow ever stronger, before deciding to head back.  Our little mountain oasis, as no one else ventured out as far on this day.

Drifter Hut

We packed back up our packs, opened some new chemical hand warmers and suited up to head back into it.

Snowshoe Donner Lake Rim TrailHaving carried in our brand new snowshoes, we knew we wanted to give them a try on the way out.  On the way in there hadn’t been sufficient snow to avoid damaging the snowshoes along most of the route, aside from the meadow just outside of the hut.  We expected to snowshoe through the meadow and then pack back up the shoes.  However, we were pleasantly surprised to find the snow piles didn’t end after the meadow.  We continued along the trail’s ledge, snowshoeing our way back.  It felt great to feel so stable and firm in piles of powdery snow.  We were making tracks, thinking of how miffed those who might head out early tomorrow morning may be to find our tracks in the ‘fresh’ snow.

Never having snowshoed before, it was a surprisingly easy feat.  Stepping just a touch wider than usually ensured I didn’t step over myself.  Powdery snow ensured any falls that may come would be softened by pillows.

Snowshoe Donner Lake Rim Trail

The picnic bench at the overlook came faster than expected. The snowshoeing lent a new sense of adventure to an activity my mind and body know well: hiking down a trail.

Turning the bend onto the access trail toward the trailhead saw the wind die down, and the snow rate slow.  With still plenty of snow on the ground below, we continued with our snowshoes. 

With the trail now as wide as a road, we were able to snowshoe side by side.  With the wind having let up, we were able to take off our goggles and pull down the buffs off of our faces.


Suddenly it felt downright spring-like, compared to what we had trekked through.

As we approached the parking lot, we were greeted by two very happy huskies whose owner decided the break in the storm was as good a time as any to get his dogs outside.  After playing with our trail greeters for a few moments we made it to the car, feeling happy and accomplished.

After the extra-day winters we’ve seen over the past few years we’ve been in the Tahoe area, it was great to break out the snowshoes so early in the season.


Winter Hiking Tips

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With temperatures dropping, daylight hours dwindling and the ground covered in snow and ice, many shun the hiking trails in favor of the ski slopes.  Winter hiking is an awesome way to hit the trail, get out the door and find some amazing winer wonderland views.  Here are some great tips to continue enjoying hiking all winter long.


Start off easy.

Depending upon the conditions, your winter hiking rate may be slower than on a warm summer day.  Plan a shorter hike, test out your winter setup and learn what is enough on a snow covered trail.

Plan for an early sunset.

With shorter daylight hours it’s a good idea to start your hike earlier in the day than you might normally in the summer.  Plan to be back to the trail head before sun down, though just in case, bring a flashlight or headlamp.  Even if you make it out before sundown, many canyons will put you into shadows long before official sundown time.

Check the weather.

Check the weather forecast, avalanche forecast, and road conditions before heading out.  Be prepared for the conditions forecasted, and know that in the mountains conditions can change quickly.

Layer up.  

Layer your clothing appropriately.  A wicking base layer, insulating mid layer and hardshell outer layer are key to successful winter hiking.  Remember that the term “cotton kills” is never more true than in the winter. De-layer as you heat up, and layer back up as you get chilled.

Use hand warmers.

Chemical, electric or catalytic hand warmers are a great stand-by to ensure your fingers and toes stay warm.  Also a great way to ensure your water bottles don’t freeze.


Pack it up.  

Carry a bigger pack.  You’ll need a bigger pack to ensure you can carry your layers as you de-layer while warming up.  Toss in some freezer bags to store your phone and other things that need to stay dry should the snow get deep  or wet.

Stay Hydrated.

Drink plenty of water, and stay hydrated.  It’s easy to forget to stay hydrated when the weather is cooler.  Keep your water bottles insulated in your pack, stored upside down to avoid freezing, and drink up often.

Wear the right footware.  

Don tall waterproof hiking boots.  A pair of nice mesh trail runners may cut it in the summer, though in the winter you never know what conditions you’ll find on the trail.  Ice, deep snow and puddles are all handled better by tall waterproof hiking boots.  Microspikes, Yakthax, gaiters and snowshoes are all tools that work best when combined with a pair of tall waterproof boots.

How Hiking, Biking and Camping Helped Me Win at Life

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Hiking, biking and camping aren’t just hobbies to waste my time with on the weekends.  These activities aren’t just an excuse to spend more time outdoors.  Hiking, biking, and camping all have taught me valuable lessons that I use in my everyday life.

Pick Your Line

While out on a trail, there is a concept known as “pick your line”.  Each step on a rocky dirt path, each pedal over a muddy trail is a choice.  Do you head toward that sloped embankment, or do you balance over the stacked rocks?  Pick your line, in that split second before your heal strikes the ground.  One wrong move, and you’re over your handle bars.  One wrong step and you’ve twisted your ankle.
Learning to make quick decisions on sketchy trails over and over again, puts you in a mental state to trust yourself.  You begin to feel comfortable making important decisions quickly.  You feel adept and quick on your feet.  You learn to trust.
Pick your line, and everything else falls in to place.

Where You Focus, Is Where You Will Head

When mountain biking, one of the first lessons learned is to focus where you want to go.  That advanced technical section up ahead that is beyond your ability? Don’t stare at it.  Don’t tense up about it.  Focus on that alternate section to the right.  Focus on where you are heading.  Where you focus is where you will head toward.
Off the trail the same rule applies.  What you focus on, what you spend your time on is where you will go.  Be careful where you focus your energy.

Always Be Prepared

We pack the essentials: a map, a compass, a headlamp, a warm layer, plenty of water.  We are always prepared.
Off the trail the same rule always applies.  Keep your cell phone battery topped off, dress for the weather, carry cash.  The little details of always being prepared often pay off.

Think it Through

When prepping for a camping trip we always think through the details: what will we eat, where will we sleep, what will we do?
Off the trail, thinking through the details sets us up for success.  What will we eat for dinner this week?  What do we need to buy to enjoy this dinner?  Does anything need to be prepped for the week?  The devil is in the details, and the details are realized when you think it through.

Plan For the Worst, Expect the Best

Our day hiking setup includes plans for the worst.  We don’t head out without enough supplies for worst case: to survive a night out in the cold. Though, we expect to have a gloriously photogenic hike in the sierras and be home in time to do laundry before work the next day.
Off the trail planning for the worst is a good m.o. to have.  Emergency fund in the bank account, shelf stable food in the pantry and backup generator in the garage.  I don’t plan to use these items, though should I need to, I’ll be a happy camper.

Keep Your Feet Happy

Dry non-blistered feet make for a happy day on the trail.  A day with blisters or cold wet feet make for a needless adventure.
Off the trail feet are still an important factor.  Making your way to an important interview with uncomfortable shoes on your feet is a recipe for disaster.  Always wear shoes that make your feet happy, and be ready for anything.

Become Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

I’ve learned that the days I push myself, a little farther than I was comfortable on a day hike or complete a sketchier climb than I thought I could handle, those are the days I feel accomplished.  I sleep well at night, and my confidence in my capabilities grows.
Off the trail pushing myself only helps me create the life I crave.  Moving across the country, riding my bike to work, seeking a new career.  These are the things that have set my life forward, toward the life I want.  These are also the things that made me uncomfortable, that forced me outside my comfort zone.

The Best Things in Life are Free

I can spend hundreds on the latest lightweight pack or hiking boots.  Yet, the best part of any day outside is the view, the smell of the pine trees or the new ability I found in myself.
Off the trail: it’s all too easy to spend money as a hobby.  To buy the latest jeans, or the better car.  Remembering that the best things are free: a walk in the park, a great homemade dinner, makes life all the better.

Know Your Tools

You don’t take anything hiking that you don’t know how to use.  A compass and a map are useless on the trail if you don’t know how to use them.  A camping stove won’t help you make dinner if you don’t know how it works.
Off the trail learning the keyboard shortcuts to the software program you spend eight hours a day in only makes you more efficient.  Learning how to maintain the vehicle you drive each day, only makes you a better driver.

Buy the Best You Can Afford

A poorly constructed tent will make for a very sad camping trip.  A leaking tent floor, and snapped tent poles are common failures for budget tents.  When you plan to use something frequently, it makes sense to buy the best you can afford.
Off the trail the same rule applies.  Buying the best skillet you can afford makes sense when you cook at home seven nights a week.  Buying the best comforter you can afford, that will last years, is better than buying a new cheap comforter every year.


“In every area of nature, efficiency is the law of the land. Efficiency just makes sense.The only thing I know of that doesn’t abide by efficiency is the human ego.” – Jay Schaffer
Efficiency is the law of nature.  Water flows downstream, plants grow toward the sun.  
Off the trail efficiency makes for a simple life.  Instead of piles of junk mail, unsubscribe and only deal with the necessary.  Instead of thousands of square feet of living space to clean, pair down to a smaller space for more efficient living.  

Live in the Moment

The biggest lesson of trail life is to learn to live in the moment.  Living solidly in the moment will allow you to appreciate the beauty around you, respond appropriately to potential disasters, and most importantly will bring joy to every movement.
Off the trial, living in the moment is more of a challenge though one worth rising to.  Finding the joy in a warm summer day, or the beauty in a new snowfall mean remembering to live in the moment.

El Niño: The Hype and The Reality

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El Nino is the topic de jour for those living in or obsessed with mountain life.  You can hardly scroll through instagram or listen to a weather report without hearing talk of El Niño.  Though, much of the El Niño hype ignores that facts behind what El Niño really is.

CA El Nino

Social media and morning weather personalities would have us believe that El Niño is a winter of epic storms along the west coast.

El Nino Sierra Nevada Drought

Yet, NOAA defines El Niño as a a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific.

If El Niño is warmer ocean water, why does everyone keep talking about El Niño?

El Niño can correlate with those epic winter storms we keep hearing about along the west coast.  However, that isn’t always the case.  NOAA has a great article that discusses past El Niño weather patterns, and shows that some years El Niño brings the epic winters and some years not so much.

Over the last few years, California has seen a growing drought develop.  The snowpack that the state depends upon for water throughout each year has been dwindling down to almost nothing.

El Nino California Drought

While drinking water resources are important, most are more interested in snow levels for riding and skiing which is why the imminent El Niño is a big deal in the Tahoe region.

Everyone is hoping that El Niño’s warm pacific temperatures will equate to piles and piles of snow throughout the west coast this year.  

The hype may just be optimistic outlook, manifestation, or wishful thinking, but heres hoping for a big winter!

How to Find Great Trails to Explore

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Our summer and fall have been focused on day hiking trails around the Tahoe area.  We’ve settled in to a routine of picking a trail, packing up our packs and choosing our layers the night before we take off on our exploration.

We’ve come up with a few tried and true tactics to choose great trails to explore.

How to Find Great Trails

  • Keep a trail “wish list”.  We use Evernote for this, though a simple word document would suffice.  As we come across tips from friends, or read an article about a promising local hike, onto the list it goes.  This list becomes a great reference point when picking out trails for the weekend.
  • Keep your eyes open.  Many times while hiking we find ourselves spotting other trails that we’d like to explore.  For example, from the top of KT-22’s peak you are looking down upon the Five Lakes Trail.  Once we get home we pull out our maps and find the trail, adding it to our list.
  • Use guidebooks.  We own one area trail guidebook, and use it as a quick reference for finding area trails.  Pick a book that suits your style (easy day hikes, backpacking, challenging hikes, etc.) and you can’t go wrong.  Its a great quick reference, complete with trail notes, maps and pictures.
  • Use your map.  As you become more experienced with your local trails and terrain use your map to scope out trails and destinations.  We will often pick a peak, pond or lake off of our map, and then research the best trail head or OHV road to access it.  This has lead to some great adventures, usually off the beaten path, so to speak.
  • Set your expectations and limitations appropriately.  Do you have to be back home before dinner?  Pick a trail nearby that isn’t too long.  Are you hiking with a friend new to outdoor adventures?  Pick a rewarding trail with plenty of views that won’t push her too far from her comfort zone.  Have you been pent up in the house for a week, and are itching to stretch your legs on a long challenging trail?  Pick a trail with some challenging elevation gains and great length.  Are scenery and views your big priority?  Use your guidebook to find the best views this time of year.  Decide what matters, then use your resources to find the right trail.  This past weekend we had plenty to get done around the house, but still wanted to get outside.  We picked a trail within a 15 minute drive of our home and took off.  We were back home by early afternoon, having clocked in 11 miles for the day.How to Find Great Trails to Explore

Our Love Affair with REI

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When we first began dipping our toe into the outdoor lifestyle, REI was our mothership.

We read Backpacker Magazine’s annual Gear Review edition and dutifully marched off to REI to purchase the basics: hiking boots, sleeping bag, tent, cooking set, etc.  All the latest and greatest.  We love to buy the best, and make it last.  REI was full of potential adventures around every corner.  REI

We loved their return policy, and it encouraged us to be impulsive with our purchases.  Interesting new shoes that you aren’t sure if you’ll like or use?  Go ahead and buy them, if at any point they don’t meet your satisfaction you can bring them back to REI, busted up, used, unused, with or without receipt, completely in need of washing, you name the condition they will take it back without an attitude.  It was amazing.  The first time that I took something back I was scared.  I thought they’d fight me on it, give me an attitude, but no; they cheerfully took my product back and gave me cash.  

Even better are the infamous REI Garage Sales, offering returned items at a steep discount, though at ‘final sale’ terms.  Reading the tags of Garage Sale items always make for great entertainment.  A tent returned because it wasn’t “cute enough” or a pair of well-worn boots on their last legs returned due to “reduced traction”.  Garage Sales provide the opportunity for deals, and great laughs.

As dutiful co-op members we were excited to receive our first REI dividend check, which was quite an eye opener.  While excited for our generous “free money” to spend, it was quite shocking to realize exactly how large a percentage of our take-home pay was going to REI.  We resolved to dial back the REI spending, and aim for sale items and Garage Sale purchases in lieu of whatever peaked our interest at the moment.

As our interest in outdoor activities grew, we began finding that the more niche products we were seeking were not carried at REI.  As an example, when we searched for a tent with an exoskeleton design, at the time, not one tent at REI fit the bill.  We began to realize that REI was no longer the defacto choice, and we began seeking other retailers.  Though, that famous no-restriction return policy always kept us coming back.  We were often willing to pay full retail at REI, knowing no matter what, if an item doesn’t work out we could bring it back.

tahoe tent camping

Then, REI made the decision that changed the game plan: they amended their return policy.  Restricting returns to items purchased within the past year only.  While this sounds reasonable, more than anything it spoke to the fact the REI was growing and now being marketed to the ‘everyman’ in lieu of the ‘outdoorman’.  When you aim to please the masses, the niche market often gets left behind.

Almost anyone who spends time outdoors can come up with an example of an item that failed after a year of use, that could justifiably be returned under REI’s former policy.

The new policy also came along with a whole new attitude from the return counter at REI.  While I haven’t experienced this myself, I’ve been witness to other customers being talked down to, belittled  and denied a return.  Of course, I made a mental note, and now know that should I need to return a purchase at REI I will need to come ready for a battle.

The REI return policy is still amazing for an outdoor retail store.  While claiming to be a co-op, in function they operate much more like a typical corporate box store and the shopping experience reflects that for good and bad.  I can walk into any REI and try on a dozen different hiking pants from various manufacturers, stocked in various colors and sizes.  Internet or local retailers aren’t able to provide that experience.  

To this day I still check REI when looking for new gear, though now weigh the price and return options against local and internet retailers.  My recent winter hiking boots came from REI, and I was willing to pay full price, knowing I could try them on in-store and return next year should they not meet my satisfaction this winter.  

As REI has grown to become a much larger company, and we’ve grown in our outdoor abilities, REI is no longer our retail mothership though does have a soft spot in our hearts as the store that started us on our adventures.

Trailside Treat: Fig Bars

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I’ve learned a few things over the years about myself.  I don’t like to eat a lot while hiking.  I like to eat ‘just enough’.  Just enough to keep me going, keep the miles under my boots, and the views before my eyes.

One of my recent favorite trail snacks: fig bars.

Mountainize Fig Bars Nature's Bakery

Let’s talk specifics about the fig bars.  I do not enjoy the standard Fig Newton variety.  I have learned that I love the Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars.  They are superior to the old standards in infinite ways. 

These fig bars come in what they call “Twin Packs”, with two small bars in each pack.  They are fresh tasting, but not too soft.  Filled with a variety of flavored fillings, including mango, pumpkin spice, peach apricot, blueberry, strawberry, and more.  (Even available in gluten free varieties.) These beauties are vegan and gmo-free with no scary ingredients.

I’ve learned that a twin pack on a trailside break is perfect, doesn’t sit heavy in my stomach, tastes great and I don’t have to choke them down, like most food while I’m on the trail.

Mountainize Nature's Bakery Fig Bar

These bars are just sturdy enough to hold their own in my pack.  Even if I bring one too many bars, and have a pack left after my hike, they are always in good enough condition to eat for breakfast the next day.   

Find a local supplier of these amazing treats here.  Or, often more convenient, find them on Amazon here.

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