Walk completed August 28, 2011

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Building Stamina in Utah

One mustn’t set off on a 1200 mile walk without being in good condition, and over the past four weeks my friends in the Outback Hiking Club of Southern Utah have provided good encouragement for me to get back into shape.

Photo by Barry B.

The southwestern United States offers some of the most incredible land formations on Earth. What may appear as desert wasteland when viewed from a speeding automobile transforms into amazing, and sometimes eerie, scenery when approached in a pair of boots. Slot canyons, natural arches, petrified sand dunes, and candy-striped hills are virtually everywhere, all waiting to be explored.

Photo by Barry B.
 Exploration isn’t easy, because there are few trails and fewer landmarks. There is so much incredible scenery that it all starts to look alike. Turn around three times, and you may not find your way back. Did I come up through that drainage on the left, or the one over there? Was that the hill I skirted, or was it the other one? Wasn’t the sun on the other side of that canyon earlier? A good map and GPS are a necessity, or better yet, a friend who knows the area.

Photo by Ann S.

Due to the arid climate, vegetation is scarce – so don’t look for that distinctively bent tree to use as a guidepost. Animal life is also scarce, but occasionally a deer or rabbit might show itself. An owl is a special find. Snakes and desert tortoises are rarely seen, but we know they are out there from the tracks they leave in the coral pink sand. Tracks in the sand also betray the presence of coyotes and mountain lions, but you won’t see any of them unless you get lost and run out of water. Dinosaur tracks are sometimes seen in ancient muds now turned to stone, but I’m told that that the dinosaurs have all disappeared. I think they’ve gone to Hollywood to star in movies. Most plentiful are small lizards, always doing pushups on rocks.

Photo by Bonnie Allred
After hiking three days a week for four weeks, my legs are almost back to their former condition. I’m now at the point where I believe I could actually start out on a 1200 mile walk, and let the first few dozen miles complete the strengthening. But I suspect that my friends in Utah will have a few more stamina-building hikes in store for me when I return in another month.

Photo by Bonnie Allred

For more information on hiking in southern Utah, see http://www.ohcosu.com/

© 2010 Ken Klug

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Angel's Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Angel's Landing
 With the approach of Halloween, I thought it wise to enlist an angel for protection from ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night. And where better to recruit an angel for that purpose than Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park.

The primary rock of Zion Canyon is sandstone deposited millions of years ago by winds when the area was similar to the present-day Sahara, and then buried by ancient seas whose sediments reacted with the sand turning it to stone.  Much of the sandstone has eroded away, and what remains has unusual shapes.  Angel’s Landing is a narrow fin of sandstone rising some 1800 feet above the floor of Zion Canyon. A 2½ mile trail leads to the summit.

The trail starts innocently enough as a wide footpath of moderate grade, providing sweeping views of Zion Canyon as elevation increases. 

Refrigerator Canyon

The trail then enters a narrow riparian slot commonly known as Refrigerator Canyon due to its decided drop in temperature. From there, rapid elevation gain is achieved by a series of tight switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles, emerging at a saddle known as Scout’s Lookout. Beyond the saddle, a narrow, treacherous route steeply ascends the arĂȘte to the highest ridge where angels are said to land.

Angels can be difficult to find, so it’s always a good idea to have some help when trying to recruit one. My help took the form of my wife, Janet, and our two English friends, George and Ann. I knew that George and Ann would be up to the task, because they had previously helped with some of the End to End logistics, and are planning to walk with me a bit in England to be sure that I don’t get lost among the pubs. Janet has quietly followed me around the world, usually putting up with every crazy adventure I’ve conceived, but she has put her foot down when it comes to walking across islands or climbing towards heaven on narrow ridges in search of angels.

As George and I set off alone up the arĂȘte, cheers of enthusiastic support came from Janet and Ann. “Did you leave the car key?” “Is your life insurance paid?”

View from the Top
 Undaunted, George and I proved our testosterone by ascending ever higher along the precipitous route. We imagined ourselves scaling Mt. Everest as we scrambled over areas where even the slightest slip would hurl us to our doom. What valiant souls we were, risking our very lives for the chance to meet with an angel. Higher and higher we climbed – at nearly 5,800 feet, we were far above the highest peak in Britain. Gasping for oxygen in the thin air, we passed over the final ledge to the top. But there were no angels. They had obviously been scared away by the dozens of people having lunch on the summit: old people, young people with small children, fat people, thin people – every one of them oblivious to the sacrifice George and I had just made for the chance to find an angel.

Having failed to find an angel, George and I merely shrugged our shoulders, and descended back to Scout’s Lookout, concerned about the prospect of having to face the Halloween goblins alone.

No Angels on the Summit

© 2010 Ken Klug

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Yosemite's Sentinel Dome

I decided that before winter arrives in the Yosemite high country, I should attempt the one mile walk from Yosemite’s Glacier Point Road to the top of Sentinel Dome – a 500 feet elevation gain topping off at 8,100 feet. This is a walk I was unable to do in June.

North and Basket Domes (L) and Half Dome (R)

Towering 4,100 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, Sentinel Dome is one of literally thousands of granite domes projecting from the great Sierra batholith commonly known as central California’s Sierra Nevada range. Of the dozen or more domes lying within just a few miles of Sentinel Dome, the most famous are Half Dome, North Dome, Basket Dome, and Mt. Starr King.

The Sierra batholith is a huge expanse of granite shaped like a blimp. It has an exposed surface area of about 25,000 square miles, and is thought to have an internal volume of some 150,000 cubic miles. Many years before I was born, plumes of molten magma rose deep beneath the earth’s crust, much like weather balloons might fill an airplane hanger. Their ascent stopped by the impenetrable roof, the magma plumes retained their balloon shapes as they slowly cooled into what we now know as granite.

Meanwhile, the Pacific tectonic plate was bulldozing into the North American tectonic plate, lifting the Sierra Nevada range as if it were a trap door hinged on the west – its western side gently sloping to California’s central valley, and its eastern side dropping precipitously to the Owen’s Valley. Within the trap door, the granite balloons went along for the ride, producing the highest mountain range in the continental United States. Mt. Whitney, near the batholith’s southern end (210 trail miles south of Yosemite), rises to 14,493 feet above sea level. Note:  For anybody interested in climbing Mt. Whitney, you should do so soon, before global warming raises the sea level and correspondingly reduces Mt. Whitney’s calculated elevation.

A few million years of rainstorms and a glacier or two eroded the top 6 or 8 miles of the mountain crust, exposing the Sierra’s great granite balloons. No longer restricted by the hanger’s roof, and having had the great weight of the upper crust removed, the granite, itself, continued to rise, complementing the uplift caused by the colliding plates. Geologists call this process “isostatic orogeny” in a futile attempt to make their science sound sexy. Just as a weather balloon expands as air pressure against it diminishes with altitude, the granite balloons expanded as the weight of the overlying crust eroded away. But granite doesn’t like to expand very much, so it cracked in concentric layers, much like the layers in an onion. A few more rainstorms and glaciers peeled away some of the outer layers, leaving the rounded tops we now refer to as domes.

About the time William Shakespeare was putting the final touches on Hamlet, a tiny seed from a Jeffrey pine was blown into a small crack on the top of Sentinel Dome. Finding some soil that had also been blown into the crack, the seed sprouted. Irrigated by years of winter snowmelt, the seedling grew into a stately Jeffrey Pine whose image was forever preserved by Ansel Adams in one of his famous photographs.

But nature is never finished. In the late 1970s, California was hit by several years of severe drought. Despite the efforts of numerous hikers who hand carried literally thousands of bottles of Perrier to the base of the pine, the famous Sentinel Jeffrey Pine died. It is unknown whether the pine died from the stress of the drought or merely from old age. Or maybe it was the Perrier. I hear that part of President Obama’s stimulus package includes a grant to scientifically prove that the tree’s death was actually a result of George W. Bush’s failed policies. What remains certain, however, is that the tree is no longer emitting vital signs.

The dead tree continued to stand for another 25 years, until 2003, when it morphed into a log. The log still lies atop Sentinel Dome, insulated from fire and far from the forest soil whose critters cause fallen trees to decompose. The primary natural risk the log faces is a well placed lightning strike, an unlikely event since it is no longer upright. In the 30+ years since its death, the once noble Sentinel pine has been subjected to more damage from tourists than from nature. In California’s arid climate, the log will probably remain where it is for 150 years or more.

In the meantime, other seeds have blown into the Dome’s cracks.  Several have germinated – perhaps some are even descendants of the famed Sentinel pine. What are now thirty or forty year old trees may someday achieve the grandeur of their famous ancestor.

© 2010 Ken Klug

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Recovering at Home

I realized today that my prior posting was from the hospital’s recovery section, and some of you might conclude that I’m still there. To the contrary, I apparently offended a sufficient number of the medical people by my previous postings that they unanimously voted me off their island. So I’ve been home for two weeks now; surprisingly, Janet hasn’t yet voted me off this island.

It has now been three weeks since the surgery, and I’m slowly working my way back to some degree of fitness. I’ve been walking three miles a day for the past week – not all at once, but rather one mile three times a day. That’s a long way from the mileage which will be required for the End to End walk, but over the next few months I hope to not only extend the distances, but to actually walk while thinking of things other than the stresses on my body.

It’ll still be another 3 or 4 weeks before I can lift anything, or even open a window. Until my sternum heals completely, I’m not able to carry even a light day pack. As a result, real hiking is still out of the question, and my walks are limited to strolls around the neighborhood. But still, I’m getting out and don’t have to put up with daytime TV.

As you may have noticed, I have updated my blog’s introduction to reflect the new date planned for next year’s walk. Because I will be starting earlier next year than I had planned for this year, I’m planning to walk from south to north. The route is the same – only the direction is different.

Finally, I want to thank all of you whose emails and cards have meant so much over the summer. It hasn’t been an easy time, but as so many of you have pointed out, it’s only been a minor detour.

© 2010 Ken Klug

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Recovery Day 5 -- Random Thoughts

A long-distance walker’s thoughts dwell mainly on satisfying primal needs like shelter, food, and water. If weather or trail conditions become challenging, they may assume prominence, as will the condition of your feet, legs and other body parts if any of them malfunction. For obvious reasons, my heart has recently supplanted thoughts of other needs while hiking.

My heart valve has been repaired, so I’m no longer thinking about that. I’m out of intensive care and now in a recovery room where the hospital staff is still attending to all of my primal needs. As a result, I have far too much time for random thoughts. I’m like a community activist on a grant.

One of my random thoughts is how medical people are a lot like legal people. Being a highly-trained lawyer, I know a lot about legal people, and the past few weeks have taught me a quite a bit about medical people. That makes me fully qualified to compare them. It also makes me fully qualified to run for political office. I understand that in Britain the phrase is “stand for election” rather than “run for office.” In view of the tubes still protruding from several bodily orifices, I would do much better standing in Britain than running in the U.S. But I digress.

Some legal people and medical people may be insulted by the comparison, but I mean no disrespect. My point is that both professions customarily utilize multi-syllabicated terminology in lieu of ordinary words. Why do medical people speak of laceration when they mean “cut,” hematoma when they mean “bruise,” catheterize when they mean “shove a tube up,” and hemorrhoidal discomfort when they mean “pain in the butt”?

Legal people use big words too—not because we understand them, but because we charge by the hour, and the longer it takes us to say something, the more we get paid. Medical people aren’t paid by the hour, but rather by how many of those little boxes they can check on the billing slip. The random thought occurs to me that medical people use unintelligible words and coded invoices so nobody will know what disgusting procedure they actually performed.

Regardless of their motivation, the utilization of cryptic and bombastic language by the legal and medical communities is an unfortunate convention to which I long ago avowed never to subscribe. With that in mind, I call upon the medical community to cease its word-mongering obfuscation, and provide the same degree of verbal transparency as practiced by other noble professions. Politicians, for example. I realize that there is a fine line between being a community activist and being a hemorrhoidal discomfort, so issuing this challenge involves some degree of personal risk. After all, the other side is armed with needles. And tubes.

I think I’ll keep having random thoughts until I actually get out of the hospital and back on the trails. I suspect the medical people are as eager for that to happen as I am.

© 2010 Ken Klug

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Surgery Update -- Heart Valve Surgery 101, Recovery day 3

My surgery was Monday, and I’m pleased to report that the surgeon was able to repair the mitral valve rather than replace it. I’ve been in intensive care since then because the medical people are continuing to watch my vital signs. I’m doing my best to keep having vital signs for them to continue monitoring.

I know that some readers are curious to know exactly what is involved with heart valve surgery, so this posting will cover the details. If you are at all squeamish, I recommend you close your browser and wait for the next posting, or at least take a mild sedative before proceeding.

The heart valve job involves four separate steps. Step One is going to sleep. Medical people always like to start with something easy, and I’ve had a lot of practice with this step, starting when I was a child. I sometimes still practice during the afternoon at my office with a law book resting on my lap. This revelation may alarm some clients who pay me by the hour, but I assure you that I bill such time at only half my standard rate. You are not allowed to proceed to Step Two until you have successfully completed Step One.

Step Two is waking up. This step is very important because otherwise the medical people may think you are dead. Now, those of you who are not as well-versed in medical procedures as I am may think this second step is easy. “After all,” you might think, “Ken has also been practicing waking up since he was a child.” But that’s where you miss the point. When I was a child, I always awoke to sunlight streaming through my bedroom window and birds merrily singing outside. It was the start of a whole new day, with exciting things to explore and new discoveries to be made. Now that I’m over 60, it‘s always dark when I awake, and the most exciting discovery is that I had not wet the bed, no matter how full my bladder feels.

When you try to awake from a valve job, the first thing you notice is that tubes are protruding from every bodily orifice except your ears. “How many tubes?” you might ask. Thousands. “How can that be?” you ask, while wryly counting the number of your own bodily orifices and subtracting two. Once again you show your naivety, because you have forgotten that the first thing medical people learn in school is how to create new bodily orifices for the sole purpose of attaching tubes.

While you, the patient, are trying as hard as possible to complete Step Two so as not to be mistaken for the departed, your mind is distracted by the tubes protruding from all your old and new bodily orifices, and like any reasonable person you start to count them. You might as well be counting sheep. Except that sheep are easier to count.

The reason you can’t actually count the tubes is that, while you were engaged in Step One, the tubes became entangled. To avoid counting a tube twice, you’ve got to trace each tube from its source to its destination through a Gordian knot of tubes.

At this point, I must digress. When I was in the army, I flunked knot tying. Back then, we needed to learn how to tie knots so, among other things, we could string telephone wire between headquarters and outposts. I was so inept at stringing wire that I was the sole cause of the U.S. Army abandoning the landline telephone system and moving to satellite communications.

When I started climbing mountains, my good friend and mountain guide extraordinaire, George Dunn, co-owner of International Mountain Guides, spent untold hours trying to teach me rope management. That is the only thing George ever failed at, because whenever I get within arm’s length of a rope, it coils itself into an unrecognizable mass of spaghetti. This wad of rope has become known in the mountaineering community as the Ken Klug Coil.

Mountaineers have attempted to alleviate the difficulties resulting from the Ken Klug Coil by using different color ropes. I know that many of you always thought that mountaineers were just trying to be fashionable with all their pinks, purples and yellows, but in reality different color ropes were invented because mountaineers couldn’t rely on the Army’s satellite system to protect themselves from falls.

The medical community isn’t as creative as the mountaineering community, because all of their tubes are the same clear non-color. Perhaps medical people are able to trace each tube to its end by visually identifying the bodily fluid within each, but for us patients, that’s a disgusting task. So, with all the tubes hopelessly entangled in a Ken Klug Coil, repeated attempts to count them are in vain, and the patient will unavoidably nod off, even without a law book in his lap. Unfortunately, at this point the medical people don’t charge half rate.

The patient’s vain attempts to untangle the tubes himself are inevitably met with further entanglements until the patient becomes more restrained than Houdini. Eventually, the medical people mercifully conclude that they have had enough fun and remove some of the tubes, slowly freeing the patient so he can actually write the check to pay the bill. With the tubes removed, the patient is now fully awake, and ready to move to Step Three.

Step Three is walking. Medical people require that you walk right after surgery because it’s the only way for them to confirm that all of your body parts have been put back. “Aha,” you think, “Ken should be good at this one. After all, Ken has also been walking since childhood, and he’s got us all convinced that he actually may attempt the End to End Walk someday.” But once again you miss the point. The point is: hospital gowns that give new meaning to "Mind the gap."

No self-respecting walker would moon everyone he passes. Well, if truth be told, there was a LEJOG walker a few years ago who not only mooned everyone, but gave the Full Monty. That worked exceptionally well in liberal England, where he was given a meal and a bed each night courtesy of the local magistrate, and was then sent on his way the following morning. But upon reaching more conservative Scotland, he was given a bed for six months, thus delaying his walk. I’m not sure how liberal or conservative things are in hospital hallways, but I don’t want to risk being sentenced to a six months stay.

With a sufficient quantity of safety pins and adhesive tape, I am now braving the hallways. As you know, I had originally intended to walk 1200 miles this summer. Right now I’m happy to walk 1200 inches. It’s surprising how difficult it is, what with dragging those tubes and all. I’m told that each day I will get stronger and stronger, and that the hospital staff will push me to walk farther and farther, until eventually I can reach their collections office and pay the bill. That’s Step Four.

© 2010 Ken Klug

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Yosemite's Four Mile Trail

With my valve job scheduled for the end of August, my thoughts naturally turned to the Yosemite trails. Yosemite National Park’s 1200 square miles are crisscrossed by 800 miles of maintained park trails. I have hiked about 600 miles of those trails, so I searched my mental inventory for a scenic trail which my heart could handle. I settled on the Four Mile Trail, which, in my opinion, mile for mile, step for step, is the best trail in the park.

Built in 1878 by James McCauley as a toll trail, the Four Mile Trail ascends 3200 feet from the Yosemite Valley floor to Glacier Point by 59 switchbacks, varying in length from 12 feet (No. 18, counting from the gate at the bottom of the trail) to about a mile (No. 7). The trail was riginally 4 miles long, but in 1923 the National Park Service realigned tt to lessen the grade, resulting in a present length of 4.6 miles. The former name remains nonetheless.

Some parts of the old Four Mile Trail can still be found, although now overgrown by nearly 100 years of vegetation. 130-year old dryrock walls, reminiscent of the dryrock walls in Britain, still line the trail’s former switchbacks. For scenery, nature and history the Four Mile Trail can’t be beat. It is my favorite trail in the park, as my car’s license plate attests.
The trail not only offers jaw-dropping views (a trait common to most Yosemite trails), but with its diverse vegetation changing both by season and elevation, the trail presents a new experience on every hike. The lower part of the trail passes though old, stately oaks interspersed with dogwood, whose lovely white flowers harbinger the coming spring, and alders, whose golden leaves in autumn glow when backlit by afternoon sunshine. A little higher, the manzanita’s delicate pink flowers in springtime upstage its polished, brick-red branches so coveted by decorators. In late summer, the manzanita’s flowers mature into bright red berries on which bears feast by the bushel. At the trail’s highest elevations, pine and cedar provide both shade and fragrance on a hot summer day. Stellar’s jays, finches, grouse, woodpeckers, squirrels, chipmunks and lizards are commonly seen along the trail. Less often, deer, bear and bobcat show themselves.

At Glacier Point, the Four Mile Trail connects to the Panorama Trail, which in turn connects to the John Muir Trail, providing a 16-mile loop with 4500 feet of elevation gain and loss—completing a perfect training day for Britain’s End to End Trail.

I typically hike the Four Mile Trail a dozen or more times each year, and until May, the trail always provided new and different joys. In late May, hiking the trail became less fun as I struggled to reach a point about 2/3 of the way up (2,000 feet of elevation gain), beyond which the trail was closed due to snow. In early June, I could ascend only about 500 feet before my heart stopped me in my tracks; in late June, I could barely ascend 100 feet. The Four Mile Trail had become something more to me than a joyous walk through the forest—like a miner’s canary, it provided an early warning of my failing heart valve.

Alas, I am presently unable to ascend from the valley, but my heart is strong enough to do the reverse. So, today, Janet dropped me off at Glacier Point. While she took the hour’s drive to Yosemite Valley, I visited with my good friend Ranger Dick, one of the few Yosemite rangers fortunate to reside at Glacier Point. At 9:30, I started the descent, and at the same time, Janet began ascending from the valley. As expected, we met halfway—descending the steep trail requires sure footing, and always takes as long as ascending.

As always, the Four Mile Trail was in shade, but typical California sunshine bathed the rest of the park. Temperatures in the Yosemite Valley were in the mid-80s. Yosemite’s famous waterfalls, which run full force in May and June, have faded to a trickle. By September, many of them will be dry.

While not my typical Yosemite hike, getting back on the trail allowed me to clear my lungs and revitalize my spirit; or, as John Parsons might say in his Lejog Plod: yes, it was another good day.

© 2010 Ken Klug

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pt. Lobos, California

With temperatures in Yosemite Valley approaching the high-90s (35 C), and my heart not wanting to climb to the cooler elevations, I decided that hiking on the California coast would be a reasonable substitute. California is a lot like Britain, with ample coastline and mountainous interior. Except that the California mountains are higher, the sun always shines, and drivers keep to the right (i.e., correct) side of the road. Sometimes.

Pt. Lobos is a State Reserve on California’s central coast south of Monterey, not far from where the Pacific tectonic plate dives under the North American tectonic plate. As far back as I can remember, the colliding plates have been uplifting granite which was formed deep under the earth’s surface 80 million years ago, juxtaposing it with younger and shallower sedimentary formations. All the while, relentless ocean waves erode and shape the rocks into various forms, leaving numerous secluded coves, cliffs, and beaches. These conditions are unique on Earth, except for all the other places with rugged coastlines, such as the British Isles. Britain also has pubs and castles along its coast. California never needed castles, because it has no pubs worth defending.

Just a mile north of Pt. Lobos, the ocean depth reaches 1,000 feet. It is scientifically possible to measure the depth in meters, but you need a long yard stick to do so. The Monterey Canyon, lying just 6 miles offshore, reaches a depth of 7,000 feet. (I think that’s something like a million fathoms, but I’m not exactly sure what a fathom is.) The upwelling of nutrient rich waters from such great depth creates a food chain which supports a diversity of marine life visible from the trails: harbor seals, sea lions, elephant seals, sea otters, gray whales, cormorants, pelicans, gulls, and fish of all colors and sizes. You can also view the marine life by scuba diving, but be sure to bring along a can of great white shark spray so you don’t become part of that food chain. Hint: If you are diving at Pt. Lobos and there isn’t any marine life visible, you aren’t exactly alone.

There are eight miles of trails in the reserve, winding through thin forests of Monterey Pine and Monterey Cypress which thrive in the coastal fog, but which would wither and die in the sunny, hot savanna a mere mile or two inland. Also thriving in the fog are lizards, rabbits and deer, along with the occasional mountain lion and rattlesnake whose main job is to keep the lizards, rabbits and deer alert. I’m told that mountain lions prey only on the old and the weak, a fact which presently causes me some concern. For the first time in my hiking life, I’ve become part of the balance of nature.

Off trail excitement is provided by the most plentiful shrub in all of the reserve: the ubiquitous poison oak. It also thrives in the fog, but like most Californians, it really wants to be in the sunshine. So although the shrub is rooted in the off trail underbrush, it has an uncanny ability to extend its long, sweeping branches into the one sunny spot not overgrown by competing vegetation: the trail. Generally, its branches reach out at waist level, ready to fondle the bare arm of a passing hiker. But to keep things interesting, an exceptionally low branch occasionally strikes out at the hiker wearing shorts, or a strategically placed high branch assists in wiping the sweat from your brow.

The effects of coming into contact with poison oak are not felt immediately. Usually, an itchy red rash develops in a few hours, turning to an oozing, blistery mess that spreads over the skin in a day or two. But that’s not all bad, because focusing on the rash will invariably lead you to discover the ticks you picked up while on the trail. Poison oak is nature’s way of protecting you from Lyme disease.

After a day communing with nature at Pt. Lobos, I’m ready to face anything.  My anything will be meeting with the cardiac surgeon in a few days to schedule the valve job.

© 2010 Ken Klug

Thursday, June 24, 2010


In January I was found to have a leaky heart valve. The cardiologist thought it could be treated by a few pills. That didn’t surprise me, because I had entered that decade of life where a daily regimen of pharmaceuticals becomes the norm. Despite the intake of pills, my activities have continued unabated – I work out on the stair climber or treadmill at the gym regularly, and I continued to snowshoe, hike, or cycle every weekend. I wasn’t particularly training for the End to End walk – it’s just what I do.

In late May, I was back in Yosemite for a week of hiking. It was great to be on trails that I hadn’t seen since last fall. But the trails that had previously welcomed me – indeed, had pulled me – now repelled me. I made very poor progress, even while the trails lured other hikers who streamed past me. It was as if Yosemite was jealous of my plan to trade its charms this summer for those of another. Hiking in Yosemite is not for the faint-hearted – trails are long and steep: 2,000 – 5,000 feet elevation gain for a typical day’s hike. Stretches of a thousand feet of gain per mile are not uncommon. But for the first time ever, the trails rejected my every advance. I attributed my heavy breathing to a recurrence of asthma.

I visited my doctor for a prescription to control the asthma, and he sent me back to the cardiologist, who sent me to a cardiac surgeon. I met with the surgeon yesterday, barely a week before my scheduled departure to Britain. It seems that the minor valve leak has worsened. Rather than pumping all of my oxygenated blood through my aorta for circulation to working muscles, my heart is pumping a large volume backwards through my faulty mitral valve. Although not yet at a flow to distract the BP engineers from their current project, the leak means my heart is functioning at very low efficiency.

The cardiologist said the condition will not improve on its own, but there is no present emergency. My strong heart muscle is presently capable of allowing me to lead a normal life – a normal life of shopping at the mall, watching TV, and stamp collecting. But extraordinary activities such as mountain climbing or marathon running cannot be supported by the leakage. If I were to engage in such extraordinary activities, my leaky heart would have to work extra hard to oxygenate working muscles, resulting in an elevated heart rate, ending in failure. Although I didn’t ask where he thought the End to End walk fell in the ordinary/extraordinary scale, he predicted that I had a zero chance of completing the walk under present conditions.

It appears that my choice is between dying of boredom and dying of a broken heart. Boredom can’t be fixed. But my heart’s valve can. Analyzing the problem with the usual risk/reward assessment on which I base virtually all of life’s decisions, fixing the valve sooner rather than later appears to be the right choice. The surgeon did not disagree, because he would rather repair a valve in a strong heart than a weak one, and my heart would probably atrophy if I were to start collecting stamps. Besides, his oldest child is entering college next year and he has tuition to pay.

So it is with great sadness that I must postpone my long anticipated End to End walk until next year. I know that my dashed dreams of doing the walk this summer are minor in comparison to the dashed hopes that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people experience every day, but I am broken hearted nonetheless.

What was intended to be a daily blog of my journey through Britain will temporarily be transformed into a series of periodic reports on the progress of my recovery after surgery – likely to be scheduled in a month or so. For those of you who would rather follow the reports of a JOGLER, tune in next year – same time, same place. In the meantime, I’m hoping that Yosemite will forgive my infatuations with another and welcome me back soon.

© 2010 Ken Klug

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The late A. Wainwright commented that he especially liked the English Coast to Coast walk because it had a definite beginning and a definite end. It was that simple explanation that made me understand why I enjoy walking across islands. In the Sierra Nevada, I’m never quite satisfied. No matter where I am, no matter how spectacular the scenery, there always comes a time when I must stop and turn around. I must retreat. I must deny myself the opportunity to explore further. If only I could see over the next ridge…. And the one beyond that. There’s no satisfaction in turning back.

Ah, but there is magical satisfaction in walking across islands. I start with my toes in the ocean, turn 180˚ and walk until my toes touch water again. There is a sense of accomplishment. No retreat. And since I’m a walker and not a sailor, I’ve gone as far as I can possibly go. There’s nothing left to explore.

But what am I exploring? I could see much the same scenery through a vehicle windshield. Not totally the same, mind you, because legs can travel to places where tires cannot. But sometimes I walk along the same paths that vehicles follow. So, it’s not the scenery that I’m exploring.

It’s the people. You can’t meet people when moving along inside a metal cocoon. Motorcyclists know that. Motorcyclists waving to one another seems universal – a fleeting moment of contact with a fellow traveler not normally experienced from a car. But it’s still a fleeting moment.

Walkers have time to chat. Meet a fellow walker on the trail, and a simple greeting as often as not turns into a 5-minute conversation. Sometimes longer. And for the long-distance walker, the conversational opportunities multiply with folks met in pubs, B&Bs, or campgrounds. When we walk we explore not only the land under our feet, but the people we meet.

The solo walker is an island in the sea; isolated, but not lonely. Like islands everywhere, we are constantly swept by waves – waves which, grain by grain, deposit experiences and expand our personal shores. And as we explore geographic islands, we discover more about the islands we are ourselves.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Decision

I love to walk, and I love to walk long distances even more. My long distance resume includes Wainwright's Coast to Coast in England, the West Highland Way in Scotland, the Irish Coast to Coast, and the Shackleton Crossing of Antarctica's South Georgia Island -- the latter being only 25 miles, but the most difficult trek I've ever done. When not on a long distance walk, I train in Yosemite National Park. You can't find a better playground than Yosemite, and it's in my own backyard.

So why would I trade a summer's hiking in Yosemite for a walk in Britain? I had narrowed my summertime hiking holiday to two alternatives:

1. Walking the world famous 210 mile John Muir Trail -- whose start in Yosemite and finish on the summit of Mt. Whitney are both within a few hours' drive from my home; or

2. Walking the lesser known (at least in the U.S.) 1200 mile End to End Trail from John O'Groats to Land's End -- from the northeastern tip of Scotland to the southwestern tip of England.

To decide, I weighed the advantages of JOGLE against the disadvantages of the JMT:

Advantages of John O'Groats to Land's End:

• Summers in Britain are less dry
• No dust on the trails
• No real mountains
• Midges are small
• More beer in a pint
• A 3-month holiday from work

Disadvantages of the John Muir Trail:

• Rain gear goes unused

• Some trails may have snow
• At least 50% of the trails are uphill
• Bears are large
• No pubs
• A 3-week holiday from work

So there you have it. Stay with me over the summer, and find out if I made the right decision.
Email me at My1200milesummer@gmail.com

My Yosemite backyard: