“The first thing I learned was that the man who has water on the mountain is king,” says hiking enthusiast Dana Law. “Water is absolutely the most important thing you’ll have in Southern California, because this really is the land without water. When I saw my first mountain spring I was totally shocked. It’s the most amazing, unusual thing I’d ever seen.”
On Wednesday, February 13, Law will appear at the La Jolla/Riford Library to talk about his experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. “This is one of three national scenic trails; it encompasses the entire U.S. West Coast beginning right here in San Diego County at the border in Campo,” explains Law. “It’s a connection of mountains and desert roughly 2650 miles long, all the way to the Canadian border in Washington State.” Law, a self-employed fitness buff, has hiked 974 miles of the trail over the course of 22 separate journeys. He learned of the trail from another hiker in 2003 while on an 11-day, 140-mile “sea to sea” course from Torrey Pines to the Salton Sea.
Law experienced his first emergency on a hike in May 2004. “It was 80 degrees the day before and 80 degrees the day after, but it turned out to be 100 degrees on the day we left.” When the trio of men set out, they made a pact to speak up about any adverse condition or health problem. Several miles in, one man began to look sick. “He kept being a guy and saying, ‘I’m fine,’ but then he collapsed.” Law climbed to the top of the nearest peak and called 911. “He had to be airlifted with a helicopter. It turned out he had heat prostration. He was running on too little water.”
Law, who hikes Cowles Mountain twice a week with a 25-pound backpack to stay in shape, says he is “constantly morphing and tweaking techniques to survive.” In addition to finding the proper shoes (hiking boots are out, tennis shoes are in), Law thinks the most difficult hiking hurdle is the ongoing struggle to reduce the weight of his pack. “One of the first trips I took, my pack with water and food was about 45 pounds, which was much too much — I was totally wiped out after only a few days. In the Sierras I had a 38-pound pack with about seven days’ worth of food. An average pack these days shouldn’t be much higher than about 25 pounds.” New technology in hiking gear has helped. Law’s old pack weighed 4.5 pounds, but his new “ultralight” bag weighs only 2 pounds.
One danger for which Law has learned to prepare is hypothermia. “Staying dry is absolutely essential to your success and health and happiness. You don’t even have to be that cold — it could be 40 degrees and you might think that’s not freezing, but think of what your body temperature average is. If it’s 40 degrees and you’re wet and you start shaking, you could lose your life in the middle of nowhere.”
In Law’s experience, it’s heat that causes more problems than cold. On several occasions, he and his team realized that they had gone too far in hot weather. The worst of these may be the time when they covered 15 miles in one day across the Cajon Pass on the way to Las Vegas. “We went up 4000 feet in 15 miles, and it was incredibly hard. It was hot, it was miserable, it was the most challenging thing we’d ever done physically in our lives.” Of other hot-day treks, Law says, “I’ve had nausea and weakness. Sometimes I’ve collapsed at the end of the day and curled up, speechless in a ball for an hour.”
Oddly enough, at no time during any of his journeys has Law suffered a blister. He does not attribute this to his shoes (trail-running tennis shoes), but to the high state of physical conditioning he maintains. At 53, Law is the youngest of his hiking partners. Despite his conditioning and experience, he is not immune to making mistakes. While entering the southern Sierras, Law fell behind his friends and admitted he wasn’t feeling well. When they arrived at the nearest stopping point, Law passed out. “Twelve hours later, I woke up in the same position.” In this case, Law believes he had consumed too much water. “People get sick from drinking too much water. Remember the woman in that contest who died?” (In January 2007, a 28-year-old died after participating in a water-drinking contest on a radio station in Sacramento.)
Hiking enthusiasts love to trade information about their favorite gear, as evidenced on numerous online forums. Aside from his MP3 player, which Law says helps him get to sleep in his tent, the one piece of gear he treasures above all others is his bandanna. “You can filter water with it, keep your face covered, and wipe the sweat off.”
Dana Law, “Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail”
Wednesday, February 13
La Jolla/Riford Library
7555 Draper Avenue