CocoaConf Yosemite

When I first heard about CocoaConf Yosemite I couldn't believe there was a conference designed around three very different things that I love: Apple, Photography, and the outdoors. I enjoyed the experience so much that I went back for seconds this year and had an even better time. The conference is returning for 2017, and I'm very much hoping to attend next year.

It's hard not to feel inspired in Yosemite National Park. Spending time outdoors has always been a great way for me to recharge, but the serenity you can experience in Yosemite Valley is quite unique. There really is nothing else like it. If this were just a tech conference then Yosemite would still be a very special setting that people would get a lot out of. But CocoaConf Yosemite is more than that. It's a place to focus on the human side of working in the technology industry and why what we do with technology matters to other people.

When I came to Yosemite last year I spent some time after the conference exploring the park. I had a chance to hike around by myself, which was a unique experience for me: I almost never go out hiking on my own. But it lead to some of the most amazing things I've had happen to me on the trail, like getting snowed in above Yosemite Valley!

Snow! I woke up around 6am with a foot of snow outside my little backpacking tent.

Snow! I woke up around 6am with a foot of snow outside my little backpacking tent.

Getting out and hiking by myself was actually pretty far outside my comfort zone. But that also fits the theme of the conference, which really focuses on learning more about yourself. Pushing myself lead some amazing experiences, including witnessing the most amazing sunset I've ever seen, above Half Dome. A picture of the sunset from Cloud's Rest is my favorite picture that I've ever taken. But it's not just the picture I like, it's the experience that it represents. Talking to people in the valley to get ideas on where to hike to. Planning the hike and determining if I could make it safely to where I needed to go. Being totally isolated, knowing I was the only one witnessing this in person up in the snow, but being able to share the experience with people later through photographs. And knowing the whole time that I was out there doing something new that I enjoyed. Such is the power of exploring the outdoors, that just one sunset can mean so much to you.

Sunset from Clouds Rest, overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Sunset from Clouds Rest, overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

While I was exploring Yosemite that first year I had a few books with me. I read Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender, as well as Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull. Both books taught me a great deal about leadership that I don't think I would have understood as well outside of a place like Yosemite. The conference and the environment were the perfect backdrop for listening to these types of stories.

This year leadership was a central theme at the conference, as well as another trait I wasn't expecting: vulnerability. I had started reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown before the conference and I kept marveling at the similarities between what was being discussed in the conference talks and the themes of Brené's book.

Daring to be mediocre. The only thing between you and what you want to do is doing it. Be a little wild because we are in the wilderness. Be your own replacement. Challenge yourself. Having empathy for the point of view of others.

Many speakers told stories of using 31 day challenges as a way to coach yourself into doing something you were interested in but not comfortable getting started with. It takes courage to start something new, especially something you don't know you'll be good at. Daring to be mediocre helps you take a step towards something you want to achieve but are having trouble getting started with.

But the biggest takeaway I had from Yosemite this year was community, and how important it is. Sometimes it's easy to forget in the interregnum between WWDC's just how special the community is around the technology industry. The tech community is one that I think can be of immense service to others. I was so impressed by the talk Christa Mrgan gave on Civil Comments, a tool that is actually helping change people's behavior and positively influence the nature of discussion online. That's the type of impact we can have on the world, and I think it's a perfect example of why CocoaConf Yosemite is so great. It's about inspiring you to make a difference, in your team, in your company, in your community, in the world.

CocoaConf Yosemite is the best experience I've had at a conference. If you haven't been I highly encourage you to go. I'm hoping to return again next year.

A Thru-hiker's Pantry

Another key part of planning a thru-hike is preparing your meals and food pick ups. You don't have to carry all of your food for the entire trip. Usually you can mail some ahead to a camp or post office, or buy extra along the way. Picking what to eat is important because your body needs fuel while you're hiking. There's different estimation formulas for how many calories you burn per hour of hiking, but its a lot. If you eat 2000 calories in a normal day, plan on nearly double that during a strenuous backpacking trip. The last thing you want to do is be caught starving because you didn't bring enough food to keep your body going.

In addition to packing plenty of food, it needs to be light enough and compact enough to fit in your pack without adding too much extra weight. In many cases when you are traveling in bear country you are required to pack your food in a bear canister like the one in this picture on the top left.

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The bear canister is both a blessing and a curse. Its heavy, and difficult to pack, but it also forces you to think critically about all of your food items.

The food in the image above is everything I'm bringing for the first 8 days that I am on the trail.

1) Breakfast

The first meal of the day is always important. You generally want to eat something large to get your metabolism going. When I am hiking though I tend to bring something to eat right when I wake up, and then a few things to much on during the first few hours of the day. I find that having a constant stream of energy keeps me going longer and feeling better.

For breakfast I'm bringing a combination of pop tarts, clif bars, and various energy foods like Stinger gummies or energy gels. I'll eat the pop tarts or clif bars first, and keep the other smaller items for later.

2) Lunch

Lunch is usually pretty simple. I'm bringing plenty of crackers, and a mix between summer sausage and chicken. Getting protein out on the trail is hard, so anything like chicken or tuna that can be packed along is a great value.

3) Snacks

I want to always have something to snack on when I need more energy. Nuts are a great snack food because they're so calorie dense. So are raisins, beef jerky, and of course extra Clif bars.

4) Dinner

I'm taking a mix of cold dinners that require no cooking, and hot dinners that require you to cook or boil water. The cold dinners are pretty simple: Tortillas, Peanut Butter, and Nutella. The hot dinners are a bit more exciting. Tortillas are also an essential ingredient in making quesadillas, so that will be one meal. I'm also a big fan of Mac and Cheese and Chicken (MCC), which gets you plenty of protein and tastes delicious on a cold night after a long hike.

5) Coffee

Unfortunately taking coffee on a low impact backpacking trip is a bit of a nonstarter. You can't leave the used grounds out on the ground to attract animals, so your only option is to pack the grounds with you. Instead of worrying about that, which would be extremely messy and frustrating, I'm just taking some espresso beans that have been covered in chocolate. This'll get me my coffee fix and my candy fix at the same time. This is a great trick if you're looking to bring coffee on the trail but unsure of what to do about brewing and grounds.

All of this then gets to fit into that bear canister and into my backpack. There's an identical set of food waiting at my resupply point too. Of course, this won't stop me from buying a cheeseburger in town along the way, if I can find one, and I'll absolutely be craving a taco when I get back, but this should be enough to keep me going along the way. In the backcountry, food is fuel to keep your body going, but you can still have a little fun with it if you want to.

16 Days, 210 Miles, 1 Bag

I'm about to set out on an exciting adventure to hike the John Muir Trail, a thru-hike from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney in the California high sierras. I've been on plenty of backpacking trips, including several very long ones, but this will be my first thru-hike. Thru-hiking means you hike an entire trail start to finish. While the JMT isn't quite as long as the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail, it still presents the same challenge which is you need to carry everything you need for the while journey with you, as well as plan your food resupply stops along the way.

Selecting gear for a long backpacking trip, especially a thru-hike, is very important. There needs to be a balance between weight, size, utility, and at least a modicum of comfort. Here's a breakdown of the gear I'm planning to bring with me, as well as some explanation on the purpose and thoughts behind some of the items.

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1) Accommodations. 

When you're backpacking you have to bring your home with you for the whole journey. For the 16 day trip my home will include a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent, a Western Mountaineering UltraLite sleeping bag, and a Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad. I picked these items because they're the lightest, most compact at a good price, provide great protection from the elements, and are warm and cozy.

2) Clothes.

You don't have many chances to do laundry on the trail, but you also can't be carrying many changes of clothes either. Because of this, I'm bringing one change of clothes only - plus a third pair of socks. Socks are one of the most important items when you're hiking long distance and I'm very particular about the ones I bring. I've got three pairs of Teko socks, which is a brand thats served me well for many hundreds of miles.

One other important point about clothing is the notion of layering. When the temperatures change the easiest way to control your body temperature is through adding or subtracting layers. My clothes system consists of 4 layers.

- Baselayer, Capilene t-shirt

- Midlayer, Capilene zip-neck t-shirt with long sleeves

- Shell, GoreTex rain jacket which is wind and water proof

I'm bringing two mid layers on this trip so that I can double up on long sleeves, which also allows me to leave the bulky/heavy fleece behind. The zip-t also lets you control your body temperature even closer, since you can zip up/down the collar and roll up/down the sleeves to adjust warmth. This should be fine as long as the temperature doesn't drop below freezing during the day. At night, I can just jump in my sleeping bag to stay warm.

I'm bringing two bandanas, which also serve many purposes. You can use them for first aid, towels, cooling rags, wash cloths, etc. They are extremely useful.

3) Camera

One of the main reasons I go backpacking is to take pictures. I'm bringing a Canon 6D DSLR, which has a full frame sensor that will be ideal for landscape. My workhorse lens will be the 24-105 F4L, but I will also have a 300 F4L for wildlife. Keeping the camera powered will be difficult, so I'm packing 7 total batteries as well as the charger, which I may be able to use periodically at staffed camps. I'm also bringing plenty of memory cards, in small-medium sizes so that my risk of losing photos is low if a card fails. Camera gear represents the bulk of my pack weight, but capturing memorable images is worth it so I am bringing it all with me.

4) Electronics

Normally when I go out in the backcountry I put aside technology and avoid the outside world. On this trip I intend to do things a bit differently. I'm bringing my iPhone, which I intend to use for a few purposes, and a Kindle Paperwhite with plenty of books stocked up on it. I'm also bringing a GoalZero Nomad 3.5 solar charger to keep both devices powered. There won't be any cell coverage where I'm going, so I won't have to worry about disconnecting from the outside world. But I am interested in seeing how I will use those devices in the wilderness. I've got a few apps that I'm excited to try, like Peaks, Night Sky, and Project Noah (an app for tracking the sightings of plants and animals). There are also practical reasons to bring the phone and Kindle. A Kindle weighs less than one paperback, so its a major savings in weight. An iPhone is also a virtual swiss army knife. It can double as a backup flashlight, GPS if you get lost, First Aid manual, emergency contact device, backup camera, voice recorder, backup map, etc. For the extra few ounces its absolutely worth bringing it on the trail.

5) Miscellaneous

The rest of what I am bringing are the simple odds and ends to keep me going on the trail. I have a basic first aid kid with pain medication and an ace bandage. A cut-in-half tooth brush and a micro tooth paste (you really don't need that handle on the tooth brush). Micro Pur, a set of small tablets, for purifying water. Chapstick and Sunscreen. Some cash for buying food along the trail, or hitchhiking in an emergency. A headlamp, watch, knife, sunglasses, and water bottles round out the smaller items. And of course, a map and compass too :)

One of the best items to have in your kit is concentrated camp soap. Just one drop of "camp suds" can wash a whole pot. A whole bottle can wash a 747. Just a little goes a long way, which is important if you want to do laundry or take a bath out in the wild.


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Carrying all of this will be my Osprey Variant 52 backpack. The Variant is more of a climbing approach pack and winter ski/snowboard pack than a long distance hiking backpack, but there's two main things I like about it. The first is that it has a flat back panel, which is more my style. The mesh panel curved packs don't fit me well. The second is that it's fairly minimalist and simple. It's a standard internal frame sheet pack, which is very light weight, with a single large compartment for arranging all of your gear. It carries well, looks great, and is very durable.

If you're ever out in the wilderness for a few weeks, this should be all you need to survive and have a wonderful experience in the outdoors. I can't wait for the trip, and I'll be sure to post plenty of pictures once its over.