Sequoia National Park

Northern Bailey Range, Mount Olympus in background, Olympic National Park.

Photo Gallery: Celebrating National Parks Week

By Michael Lanza

This is National Parks Week, a good time to contemplate the writer and historian Wallace Stegner’s famous quote: “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Are you planning to visit a national park this week or this year? Here’s a gallery of photos from several parks I’ve visited (including Olympic, photo above) to offer a little inspiration.

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Mount Rainier National Park.

Will the National Parks Bring Their Backcountry Permit System Into the Digital Era?

By Michael Lanza

Last month, a storm caused a power outage at Mount Rainier National Park during a two-week period when rangers received about 2,000 requests from backpackers and climbers for backcountry permit reservations for 2016. (One of those requests, coincidentally, was mine.) The outage sparked a “critical failure” of the park’s reservation system, forcing management to abandon it and announce they would issue permits only first-come, first-served for all of 2016—not convenient for anyone traveling a distance to explore Rainier’s backcountry or thru-hike the Wonderland Trail.

Rainier’s crisis throws a spotlight on a larger dilemma facing the National Park Service: In an age when we can swipe and click to purchase almost any product or service, many national parks have plodded into the Digital Era with an archaically 20th-century system for reserving and issuing permits to camp in the backcountry—a system involving snail mail and fax machines. (If you’re not old enough to remember the 1980s and 1990s, Google “fax” on your smartphone.) At some parks, you must actually still show up in person, stand in line, and hope for the best.

Finally, though, it appears the national parks are making a bold leap into the 21st century, a change that should make exploring the backcountry of most parks—or at least getting permission to do so—much easier.

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Seven People, One Mountain, and Hundreds of Kids Getting Outdoors

By Michael Lanza

I first tied my son, Nate, into a climbing rope when he was four or five years old. As I stood next to him at the base of an easy rock climb in Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, belaying him on a top-rope, he gazed up at the wall of granite rising more than 100 feet above him and started scrabbling upward. He got maybe six feet off the ground—I could still reach up and touch him—then stopped and asked me, “Is this as high as Mount Everest, Dad?” I said, “Yup, I’m pretty sure it is.” Satisfied with his accomplishment, he told me, “Okay, I’ll come down now.” And I lowered him back to the ground.

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Climb Mount Whitney With Me and Help Kids Get Outdoors

By Michael Lanza

I still have a few spaces open on my team’s guided climb of the highest peak in the Lower 48, Mount Whitney in California’s High Sierra. Three readers of The Big Outside have signed up to join my 15-year-old son, Nate, and me for a four-day ascent of the Mountaineers Route on Mount Whitney, April 15-18. We’re doing it to raise money for Big City Mountaineers, an outstanding organization that introduces urban kids to the outdoors through backpacking and other adventure-based programs.

But the deadline is fast approaching to register for my climbing team and join me on a guided climb of California’s Mount Whitney.

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Banner Peak above Thousand Island Lake on the John Muir Trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness of California's High Sierra.

Ask Me: What Clothing Do You Recommend for August in the High Sierra?

Hi Michael,

I have been enjoying your adventure posts immensely; keep up the great work!

I lead hikes for the local chapter of the Sierra Club in Tucson, and in mid-August we’ll be doing a 7-day backpacking adventure in the High Sierra. We’ll be accessing the John Muir Trail, with elevations ranging from 9,000 to 12,000 feet. How cold can it get at this time of year and what clothes/protection would you recommend? Would a light windbreaker over a fleece with gloves and hat be sufficient? Or would you recommend a down jacket, etc.?

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