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Teaching Wilderness Medicine in the Khumbu

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Tragedy and Purpose

In September of 1999, legendary mountaineers Alex Lowe, Conrad Anker, and David Bridges traveled to Tibet with the goal to ski down the 8,103 m (26,291 ft.) Himalayan peak Shishapangma.  They were part of the 1999 American Shishapangma Ski Expedition. The goal was to be the first American team to ski from the summit of an 8,000 m peak.

Bridges, Anker, and Lowe (left to right)

Unfortunately, tragedy struck on October 5 as they were searching for a route up the mountain.  A large serac broke loose 1,800 m (6,000 ft.) above them, resulting in an avalanche striking all three of them.  Anker survived with multiple injuries, and immediately began attempts to locate and rescue his friends. With the help of others, Anker searched for his teammates for the next two days. Unfortunately, they were unable to locate Lowe and Bridges.

Lowe was survived by his wife Jennifer and their three sons.  Following this tragedy, Anker spent a great deal of time with Jennifer and her three sons.  During this time, the two fell in love and were married in 2001 (Jenni Lowe-Anker wrote more on this in a memoir, it is also discussed in the film documentary Meru).  Together they formed the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation.  The Khumbu Climbing Center, or KCC, is a result of this foundation and where many of their efforts are focused.

The Khumbu Climbing Center

Located at around 3,960 m (13,000 ft.) in the Khumbu Valley, Phortse is a humble pastoral village that is home to generations of Sherpa climbers and to more Everest summiteers than anywhere else on earth.  Phortse lies off the traditional beaten path to Everest and is often overlooked, as it lies perched among the clouds resting in the shadows of the sacred Himalayan peaks. But if you look across the gaping gorge of the Dudh Kosi River as you ascend to the Tengboche Monastery, you will see a terraced knoll with stone structures scattered about.  It is there that the Khumbu Climbing Center found its home.

Khumbu Valley with Photse visible

Phortse (left mid flat area) with Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, and Ama Dablam in background

The KCC was founded in 2003 with the mission statement “to increase the safety margin of Nepali climbers and high-altitude workers by encouraging responsible climbing practices in a supportive and community based program.” For 2 weeks each winter, technical climbing skills, English language, mountain safety, rescue skills, mountain geology, and wilderness first aid are taught to students.  Prior student experience ranges from novice climbers/porters to Everest veterans, and to even the famed “Ice Fall Doctors” who painstakingly and courageously find a way through the Khumbu Icefall each climbing season to open the path towards the sacred summit of Sagamartha (Nepali name for Everest).  To date, over 800 students have benefited from this annual vocational training aimed to improve both their quality of life through better employment opportunities and their ability to stay safe as they work high in the Himalayas.

In addition to the annual training that occurs, the KCC has also offered specialized courses over the years including advanced technical rescue and advanced mountain first aid.  The KCC is dedicated to the village of Phortse and over the past years and with countless help, has tirelessly worked to build a permanent building in Phortse.  This building, which is nearing completion, will serve as the home to the KCC and will allow for expanded instruction, will provide access to both visiting Nepali and international climbers year round, and will also serve as a community center, library, and medical clinic for Phortse.  It is but one way that the KCC demonstrates their dedication both to the Phortse and all high altitude workers of Nepal.

Discovery, Reunion, and Collaboration

On April 27, 2016, climbers Ueli Steck and David Göttler were on an expedition to Shishapangma when they spotted two bodies that had partially emerged from the glacier.  Suspicion was high that they were those of Lowe and Bridges.  Shortly after, Anker’s phone rang with news of the discovery and after a description of the bodies, their clothing, and equipment, Conrad and Jenni were convinced that it was indeed Alex and David.

In response Anker said, “It’s kind of fitting that it’s professional climbers who found him. It wasn’t a yak herder. It wasn’t a trekker. David and Ueli are both cut from the same cloth as Alex and me.”

Regarding this discovery, Jenni Lowe-Anker said, “I never realized how quickly it would be that he’d melt out…I thought it might not be in my lifetime.”

Meanwhile in New Mexico, Dr. Darryl Macias, an emergency medicine physician who specializes in mountain/wilderness medicine, was returning home from teaching a wilderness medicine and dive course in Hawaii when he received a phone call.  “Ueli Steck found them!”

Dr. Macias and David Bridges were very close friends and climbing partners that had traveled the continent and Europe together.  Part of Dr. Macias’s desire to focus on, teach, and promote wilderness medicine was inspired and spurned by the death of his close friend David.  Soon after, Anker and Macias contacted each other along with others close to Lowe and Bridges.  Plans were made to travel to Tibet to lay the two to rest, with Dr. Macias serving as the expedition physician.

Shishapangma expedition to recover Alex and David

While emotional, the trip was a success and the group was able to locate Alex and David and lay them to rest according to local custom and practice.  During this trip, Dr. Macias learned about the KCC, its mission/purpose, and was invited by Anker to come and teach at the KCC.   With great enthusiasm, Dr. Macias accepted the invitation and traveled to Nepal in January of 2018.  He traveled there with two other physicians from the University of New Mexico International Mountain Medicine Center, Dr. Jake Jensen and Dr. Hans Hurt, to provide much needed medical education to the amazing group of high altitude workers that call Nepal their home.

(For more on Dr. Macias’s experience dealing the loss of a friend, his journey and experience into wilderness medicine, and his experience at the KCC see his MEDTalk. He starts at 1:31:00.)

Albuquerque to Phortse

Prior to departing, we (Macias, Jensen, and Hurt) discussed what topics we felt would most pertinent for the course. We knew that we would only have 8 hours with each group of 8-10 students, and wanted to ensure that all the information taught would be beneficial.  While we knew we could cover topics such as acute mountain sickness, high altitude cerebral edema, high altitude pulmonary edema, and hypothermia, we also wanted to teach more commonly encountered conditions.  We reviewed the current literature to make an updated list of the most common complaints encountered during expeditions and treks.  Ultimately, we created a small booklet full of illustrations and diagrams that was written in simple English for each student to keep. The booklet contained topics we wished to teach, along with extra topics we knew we wouldn’t have time to cover.

After traveling halfway across the world from Albuquerque to Kathmandu, we met with a small group of other KCC western instructors and flew to Lukla together.  Lukla is often referred to as the gateway to Mount Everest, as most expeditions into the Khumbu region start there.  It is also home to the world’s “most extreme and dangerous airport” as it lies perched on the side of the steep valley amongst 6,000 meter peaks.  From there we began our 3-day trek to Phortse, stopping in Phakding and Namche Bazaar along the way to acclimatize.  We also enjoyed great views of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and countless other peaks, often sipping “chiya” at quaint tea houses.  Our arrival to Phortse was a humbling one, as many locals were waiting at a stupa, which marks the entrance into the village.  We were warmly welcomed with cheers, hugs, and khatas (long flowing silk fabrics to adorn the neck) to mark our newfound friendship.

Entering Phortse

Shortly after arrival, the preparation began for the biggest group of students that KCC has ever had.  We assisted in teaching advanced climbing skill updates to the Nepali instructors and gave them a medical refresher course, as it had been years since many of them had received any form of medical training.   This also gave us a chance to test out our teaching strategies using various scenarios, demonstrations, and discussions prior to students arriving.  Based on their feedback, we made minor adjustments and added a few additional topic ideas to benefit the students.

For the remainder of the course, we taught students basic first aid in groups of 8-10 each day.  We began with personal safety, scene size-up, and going over the MARCH algorithm.  Other topics included wound care, blisters, orthopedic injuries, altitude illness, hypothermia, frostbite, and GI issues.  We opted for topic discussions, demonstrations, scenarios, and hands-on activities, eliminating standard PowerPoint presentations.

Jake Jensen and Hans Hurt teaching scene size up and safety

We found that many students understood English, though with variable fluency. With each class we taught we learned more Nepali, making our teaching even more effective.  At times our Nepali words were not perfect, making for many laughs (the Nepali word for knee is very close to a very different part of the male body). However, they understood us, and appreciated our efforts to use as much Nepali as possible.

Darryl Macias teaching how to splint

Each day to start we would have the group introduce themselves to us.  We would ask where they were from, what their medical training background was, and what their experience was working in the Himalaya. Through this, we found that only around 10% had had some form of medical training in the past.  This number was lower than the number of students that had climbed or been on expeditions to Everest and other 7,000 meter (~23,000 foot) and 8,000 meter (~26,000 foot) peaks.  This solidified the importance of our medical course, as for many it was the first formal medical education they had ever received, and it may be the only training some students ever receive.

Darryl Macias and Jake Jensen giving a lecture

Our main focus in teaching was in line with the mission statement of the KCC.  We continually emphasized safety and self-care during every topic we taught. Overall, our instruction was very well received and students did exceptional during the test day, demonstrating that safety was of the utmost importance in caring for ones-self and others.

We enjoyed our time in Nepal, and were glad we could contribute to the cause.  We were all humbled by the experience, and developed a deeper appreciation, respect, and love for the people, culture, and landscape of Nepal.  We all looked forward to a chance to return, unsure when that would be, and discussed how we could improve their education, preparation, and discussed the idea of teaching a Wilderness First Responder course to the more advanced individuals if we were presented the opportunity.

Macias, Jensen, and Hurt in Tengboche with Ama Dablam and Everest in background

We even recorded a podcast for the Wilderness Medicine Society, Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Live! where we discussed our experiences (starts at 20:03). We all looked forward to returning, but weren’t confident when we would have that chance…

The Return

As plans were being laid for the 2019 KCC course, Dr. Darryl Macias and I were contacted by the directors of the KCC.  We were happy to hear they were pleased with our efforts the year before and asked us if we would return.  We jumped at the opportunity, happy to take what we had learned the year prior to improve the education provided.  We would also take with us Dr. Nicole Mansfield, our current Wilderness, Austere, and International Medicine Fellow.

In addition to teaching a one day basic medical course to ~90 students, we were also asked if we could provide a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course to ~24-30 of the local KCC instructors who also serve as guides throughout Nepal.  Many of them had approached us the year prior with great interest in a WFR course and we eagerly accepted this invitation to provide them with additional instruction.  While there have been other Wilderness First Responder courses taught in the Khumbu Valley, this would be the first aimed to educate the local population that call it home.

Plans were made regarding how we could improve the education to the basic class and a curriculum for the WFR class was developed.  We created an online video library for the WFR students so they could start their learning prior to arrival.  We also began gathering the supplies that we would need to teach.  It was during that time that we realized that it would be best if we could provide them with a medical kit that would match their level of training.

After reaching out to many individuals and groups, we were thrilled when Adventure® Medical Kits responded and stated they would assist us by providing medical kits to the 24-30 local Sherpa guides that we would be teaching a WFR course to.  These kits, the Mountain Series Explorer, will be the perfect kit for this group.

The Explorer medical kits in the hypobaric chamber

The contents of the kit are excellent and is ideal for the WFR training that this group will receive. This donation will go a long ways to ensuring that this group doesn’t just have the knowledge, but also the tools to care for others in a wilderness/remote environment should the need arise.

Darryl Macias in the hypobaric chamber, supplementing kits with extra gloves and gauze. 

In addition to that, we also received additional funding from another source and will be able to provide very basic medical supplies to the ~90 basic class students and will also be able to add some supplies (survival, fire-starting equipment) to the kits provided to us by Adventure® Medical Kits for the WFR students.

Jensen kids making small kits for basic class students

Things have been extremely busy as we search out the equipment we will need to teach, record videos, refine lesson plans, and gather personal gear, but all in all this year is shaping up to be a fantastic one at the Khumbu Climbing Center, and we cannot wait to arrive and provide this much needed education to this amazing group of individuals.  Stay tuned for a follow up on how things went!

Packing the Explorer medical kits and other supplies

About the Authors

Jake Jensen, DO, DiMM, FAWM

Jake Jensen is an emergency medicine physician who completed a Wilderness, Austere, and International Fellowship program with the University of New Mexico. He enjoys teaching wilderness medicine at all levels and has also practiced and taught medicine in Haiti, Chile, and Nepal with plans to continue teaching nationally and internationally in the future.   He has a very loving and supportive wife who puts up with his antics, travels, and hobbies.  He also has 4 adventurous children that love the outdoors, help him pack for his trips, and look forward to when they can travel more with him.  In his limited spare time he enjoys backcountry skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, and simply sitting around the camp-fire.

Darryl Macias, MD, FACEP, DiMM, FAWM

Darryl is a professor of emergency medicine at the University of New Mexico International Mountain Medicine Center. He has been involved in wilderness and international emergency medicine development in Latin America, Europe, and Asia, and has lectured internationally. He is involved in mountain rescue and expeditions, but also enjoys taking his family on crazy trips throughout the world, seeking new adventures in life. You can hear his lively Wilderness and Environmental Medicine LIVE! Podcasts on iTunes and SoundCloud.

More Information

For more information on the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation and the Khumbu Climbing Center, click here.

To learn more about discovery of Alex Lowe and David Bridges on Shishapangma (also where quotes from Conrad Anker and Jenni Lowe-Anker were found), click here.

Below are the links mentioned above in the blog post along with a few additional ones. Highly recommend you take a look/listen at these.

Dr. Macias’s MEDTalk regarding his story of loss, journey into wilderness medicine, and what the future holds.  Starts at 1:31:00.

Link to the Wilderness and Environmental Live! Podcast where we discuss our experiences during our first trip to the KCC. Starts at 20:03.

Link to the Wilderness and Environmental Live! Podcast where we have a discussion, with the authors, regarding a recent paper that was published regarding the knowledge of porters in the Khumbu Valley when it comes to recognition and treatment of altitude illness. We also branch off and discuss other aspects of medicine and their well-being. Start at the beginning.

Link to The Mountain Dispatch, a biannual newsletter put out by the UNM International Mountain Medicine Center where we discuss last year’s trip to KCC.

Gasoline Geysering on the San Juan River, UT

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Spring of 2018, Canyon Country Youth Corps (CCYC) was asked to work with the Bureau of Land Management on remote sections of the San Juan River, removing and treating the invasive Tamarisk and Russian Olive. The remote work location required CCYC to break out rafting gear and hire a river guide to ensure the CCYC crew could float the lower San Juan safely with all the chainsaw gear, gasoline, and herbicide needed.

Gasoline Geysering

The Southwest gets very hot during the spring, especially with several days without cloud cover. This can create difficulties when working with machines and flammable fuels. Gasoline evaporates as it heats up, which creates pressure in a closed fuel tank, even when mixed with two-stroke engine oil. This pressure buildup in a hot chainsaw has caused a problem known as “geysering.” This is where a literal geyser, or small fountain, of gasoline shoots out of a chainsaw when pressure is released, like when removing the fuel tank cap. This gasoline geysering is exactly what happened while CCYC was working remotely on the San Juan River, a day down river from the put in, and a four day paddle to the take out.

Gas in His Eyes

It was the morning of the second day of work when a Crew Leader walked over to the Field Coordinator and Field Boss and calmly explained, “Will has gas in his eyes and says it’s hard to breathe.” The Crew Leader was advised to inform the River Guide, who was Wilderness First Responder trained.

The field staff grabbed their water bottles and hurried over to Will, who was found shirtless, leaning over a rock and splashing river water over his chest, shoulders, face, and mouth. He claimed his shirt was soaked with gasoline, his skin was tingling, and his eyes were burning severely. When his chainsaw geysered, he was wearing safety eye protection, but the gasoline reached his eyes anyway.

The Field Boss told Will to stand and put his head back, and they started pouring clean water over his eyes and eyelids. Another Crew Leader was advised to retrieve the large Adventure Medical Kit, knowing it contained a large irrigation syringe and eye drops. The Field boss continued pouring clean water over Will’s eyes and eyelids. Just moments later, the River Guide arrived with the Adventure Medical Kit and took over.

The River Guide used the large irrigation syringe to squirt clean water over and directly into Will’s eyes in an effort to wash out all traces of gasoline. Will said his skin was still tingling, especially in the direct sunlight, but his eyes remained the first priority. The CCYC backcountry communication device was on hold, ready to send an evacuation request. CCYC protocol is if loss of life, limb, or eyesight are at risk, an emergency evacuation is organized, which, on a remote section of river, would require a helicopter.

30 Minutes & 2.5 Liters

The rest of the crew waited anxiously; they rinsed Will’s shirt, they checked the chainsaw, and they waited for updates. To many people’s surprise, it took about 30 minutes and 2.5 liters of water for Will to claim the stinging was still present but less severe and his vision was not blurry. The whole crew breathed a sigh of relief. The River Guide advised Will to hold off on work the rest of the evening, to wash his skin with soapy water, and to sit in the shade.

Will rinsed his eyes again after dinner, and then applied saline eye drops. Will confirmed he was feeling better after the end of the day, and an emergency evacuation was not necessary. Thank goodness for the Adventure Medical Kit and for the River Guide who took over when necessary!

The entire crew was surprised at the amount of water and time necessary for Will to feel relief in his eyes. It was an adrenaline-filled morning; however, the entire crew learned a valuable lesson on the dangers of gasoline geysering and how to respond if geysering occurred again. The biggest lesson learned was how to prevent gasoline geysering and injury. Gasoline containers and chainsaws must be placed and stored in the shade when not in use. A STIHL chainsaw fuel tank can be checked through the translucent sides. If a tank is over ½ full do NOT open the tank. Instead, wait for the chainsaw to cool down, then open the fuel tank. When opening a fuel tank, a sawyer must not stand or lean directly over the fuel tank and must instead face away until pressure is released.

Thankfully, Will recovered just fine after the gasoline geysering incident, and the entire crew was able to continue their work on the San Juan River and enjoy floating to the take out. Without a doubt this was one of the most memorable trips for the CCYC spring season.

About Canyon Country Youth Corps

Canyon Country Youth Corps (CCYC) is a youth conservation Corps that trains up to 56 individuals every year on various conservation and restoration techniques. CCYC works across Utah completing projects primarily on riparian restoration removing Russian Olive and Tamarisk, which are common invasive species in Utah that crowd and destroy river banks.

As a result of Tamarisk and Russian Olive establishment, the river banks have become super-stabilized. This is not good for a healthy, moving river, which are supposed to have bends, curves, braiding, slow parts, and fast parts that change over time.

Tamarisk and Russian Olive also shade the river. This extra shade along an entire river results in significant water temperature cooling. This is detrimental to native fish populations that require a specific temperature range for mating and spawning.

With all the negative effects of Russian Olive and no foreseen circumstance of Tamarisk or Russian Olive being outcompeted by native plant species, mechanical and chemical removal has become necessary. This is where Canyon Country Youth Corps comes into play. Throughout the spring and fall seasons, CCYC works along various rivers using chainsaws, hand tools, and herbicide to remove and treat Tamarisk and Russian Olive.

Written by Natalya Walker

Backcountry Lemonade: Trans-Sierra Backcountry Skiing

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Old Man Winter Strikes Again

After 9+ months of planning, our Trans-Sierra backcountry skiing trip hung in the balance. Our intention was to tackle the High Sierra route, traversing from Shepherd Pass and ending up at the Wolverton trailhead in Sequoia National Park five to six days later. Unfortunately, the report from Eastern Sierra Avalanche seemed to get worse by the day.

After a dry December, January, and most of February, it appeared that Old Man Winter wasn’t completely asleep after all, and the largest storm of the year dropped 7 feet of snow right before we were set to depart.

Backcountry Skiing packing list

Sorting and resorting our gear, which included packing the Ultralight/Watertight Pro medical kit

Adapting to the Weather

After circling the wagons, our team of 4 decided to make the most of the following week and use the hut reservations we had made for Pear Lake in an effort to salvage some decent skiing. We left the Wolverton trailhead under blue bird skies and made our way into the cirque just below Pear Lake for one night of camping before we moved into the seemingly luxurious winter hut.

dinner at camp 1

Camp 1 at Emerald Lake

Despite having to adapt our plans from the more ambitious (and coveted) traverse trip, we had a phenomenal time. The skiing wasn’t amazing, but the people were and so was the terrain.

backcountry skiing

Skiing in past many signs of recent avalanches

Skiing up from our camp and looking out over the snow laden Sierra is an experience that any backcountry skier should seek out. Venturing out into the Tablelands of Sequoia brings you into some surreal scenery that is reminiscent of the European Alps.

mountains at night in snow

Camping under the moonlight

Backcountry Skiing Safety: The Right Training & Gear

As with any backcountry skiing trip, the risks need to be respected and calculated as much as possible. The knowledge that comes from Avalanche Trainings is useful but there is also a practical experience that must also be drawn from when making decisions in the mountains. Travelling with the proper gear and equipment (beacon, shovel, probe, first-aid kit, repair kit, etc.) is also essential.

skier assessing snowpack

Assessing snowpack

After the four days in the backcountry, we returned to the trailhead sunburned, sore, hungry, and tired. We were refreshed by the beauty of the Sierra once again and were already discussing plans for the following year. There is something about getting away into the backcountry that is good for what ails all of us. With the conditions at hand we made the best of the situation and created “backcountry lemonade” from the lemons the backcountry (and Old Man Winter) through our way.

backcountry noridic skiing

Looking out to the Tablelands and the Kaweahs

About the Author

As the General Manager of Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, Graham brings diverse experiences from many corners of the outdoor industry globe. With his guiding career, he has also filled operational and management roles for several leading adventure based companies in North America and South America. His love of travel and adventure is infectious and immediately evident as he assists SYMG guests in creating their perfect journey into the mountains he calls home. The backcountry skiing trip early this Spring is a popular touring option that ventures into the backcountry of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.

The Overlooked Adventure Gear You Need in Your Pack – Sunny Stroeer

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

10,000ft & Getting Dark

We are at 10,000 feet in the Austrian Alps, and it is getting dark. This is going to be the first time that I spend the night on the wall during a big rock climb, and it’s exactly what my climbing partner Hannes and I wanted: to break up our chosen weekend adventure’s 2500 feet of vertical rock-climbing into two shorter days with a deliberate bivouac on the route. We have planned the adventure meticulously, researching our route and packing overnight gear and food for two days. Everything has been working out exactly according to plan – until about twenty minutes ago.

“I thought the floor of this cave was supposed to be flat!” Hannes shouts over to me with exasperation in his voice. We have crested the top of the last difficult rope length of climbing and are now in a big cave system halfway up the wall, the cave system which we have been counting on to provide a good sleeping spot for us.

Surveying our sleeping quarters for the night. The cave we’d counted on wasn’t what we’d expected.

Turns out that yes, it is a massive cave that’ll protect us from weather… but sadly the floor is far from flat. Hannes and I are walking – precariously, still protected by our ropes – on unstable talus and slippery tundra, steeply sloping down towards the valley some 1600 feet below us, surveying the scene for a safe spot to put down our gear and unrope but not finding one. This will make for an uncomfortable night.

“Oh well. I guess it’ll be a full-value vertical experience.”

Over the Edge

I shrug my shoulders and get to work fixing anchors to the rock in the back of the cave, so we can securely hang gear from the wall and get set up to sleep suspended in our harnesses, ropes tight to prevent us from sliding down the steep slope below us. It won’t be comfortable, but it’ll be safe and warm in our sleeping bags.

At least that’s what I think, until Hannes fumbles his sleeping bag. I hear a muffled curse and look over just in time to see him lose his grip on the soccer-ball sized stuff sack. We watch in disbelief as the crucial piece of gear bounces down the talus, gathering speed, and rapidly disappears over the edge in an unstoppable arc towards the valley.

We look at each other in silence as cold reality sinks in. The temperature up here at 10,000 feet is supposed to dip into the thirties over night; the evening air is already chilling, and it’s not even fully dark yet. With semi-hanging sleeping quarters, there is no way for us to share the single remaining sleeping bag. We are both too tired and worked to consider climbing through the night for warmth. There is just one saving grace: while prepping gear yesterday, I decided to include a Survive Outdoors Longer® Bivvy in my emergency kit.

Waking up after the cave bivvy in the Austrian Alps

I am wearing much warmer clothing than Hannes, so he ends up using my sleeping bag and I spend the night in the bivvy.  To say that I was comfortable would be an overstatement, but this little lightweight piece of gear ends up singlehandedly saving the day – or rather, the night – in a situation that would have been infinitely worse had I not brought along the bivvy.

The cave bivvy, all packed up in the morning as we get ready to set out

The Ultimate Contingency Plan: The Escape Bivvy

That epic cliff-side overnight happened years ago, during my days of being a weekend warrior, long before I became a professional mountain athlete. Today, I climb and run for Mountain Hardwear; I am a high altitude endurance specialist, and epic missions are my jam:  48 hours non-stop around 22,838ft Aconcagua, 55 hours in a single push through the Colorado Rockies – that’s the stuff I love. Yet still today, as a professional athlete, guess which piece of gear always has a spot in my pack? The good old bivvy from Survive Outdoors Longer®.

I used the Escape Bivvy to take a much-needed trailside nap at 17,000 feet on Aconcagua while setting the women’s speed record on the mountain; to stay warm in poor conditions while being stuck behind a slow party while soloing the Grand Teton; to be safe on a light-and-fast speed mission along the Pfiffner Traverse in Colorado; and in a pinch, it once even replaced my -30F sleeping bag at Aconcagua’s basecamp for an entire night. But what’s more: despite repeated use of the Escape Bivvy in some of the most difficult and rocky terrain, terrain that would eat up run-of-the mill emergency blankets in the blink of an eye, I am still using the very same bag today that kept me safe years ago.

 

woman in escape bivvy

On the Pfiffner, still using the same Escape Bivvy that I bought in 2012

If there is an overlooked piece of gear that belongs in the kit of every side- and backcountry adventurer, it’s this: the Escape Bivvy is the ultimate contingency plan for everything from a sprained ankle to a lost sleeping bag. It’s in my kit, and it should be in your kit, too.

My gear setup for Colorado’s Pfiffner Traverse, a 76 mile cross-country route that I completed this past summer in ~55 hours (becoming the first woman to succeed on it in a single push)

About the Author

Sunny Stroeer is a rock-climber, mountaineer, and trail runner living on the road.  In the US, she splits her time between exploring the desert and bagging peaks in the mountain ranges of the west, but for part of the year she trades her Chevy Astrovan for a four-season mountaineering tent and travels the globe in pursuit of high places (and new perspectives, too!).

The Call of Adventure: Preparing for the Palisade Traverse and Beyond

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

There’s nothing like the call of adventure, especially when it’s calling you to push yourself. Adventurer Kevin McDermott shares how adventure got ahold of his life, where it’s taking him next, and what new gear he’s packing to #BeSafe. – Adventure Medical Kits. 

Working & Playing in the Mountains

Throughout the past five or more years of my life, pushing myself and testing my limits in the mountains has become my biggest passion.  It all began back in the summer of 2012 with my first season working on the AMC professional trail crew in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Facing endless hours and days of back-breaking labor, sleep deprivation, and suffering in such a harsh and unforgiving environment for two long summers forged me into the adventure-seeker and mountain-lover that I am today.  Since then, I have worked as a professional tree cutter and wildland firefighter for the US Forest Service in both Central Idaho and the Lake Tahoe Region of California, fighting blazing wildfires and running chainsaws for long hours in some of the harshest terrain and conditions imaginable across the western US.

When I wasn’t working hard in the mountains, I was playing hard in the mountains.  I soon found myself tackling serious climbing objectives and major summits in some of the most pristine mountain ranges in the country, from the Sawtooths of Central Idaho and the Tetons in Wyoming, to the Cascades of northern Oregon and Washington.

I fell in love with the exhilarating sport of ice climbing

I also naturally fell in love with the exhilarating sport of ice climbing, facing committing alpine objectives and steep snow/ice climbs throughout the Northeast.  Over the years and through countless adventures, I have come to realize that hard work and mountain climbing are in my blood.

The Drool of the Beast

Earlier this past winter, my friend Kellen Busby and I decided we would test ourselves on a route with one of the toughest ice climbing grades we had attempted to date.  This route is known as ‘The Drool of the Beast’; a fairly short, but very steep and thin ice flow through a narrow chimney of rock, tucked away up in Mad River Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Joining us on this climb was our new-found friend and climbing partner Joe Miller.

The Drool of the Beast

Making our way a couple of miles up the steep and winding trail, we approached the base of the climb.  Our initial thoughts upon first glance of the route were hesitant at best.  It was definitely steep, and much thinner than we expected.  After a brief period of forethought and reluctant hesitation, Kellen stepped up to the plate ready to face the challenge that lay before us head on.  Kellen made short work of the climb with a level head and skillful movements, and Joe and I hastily followed as the late-morning sun began to heat things up.

Upon descending back to the bottom of the climb, Joe began to talk with us about his work at Tender Corporation, maker of brands including Adventure Medical Kits and Survive Outdoors Longer. The company specializes in designing emergency outdoor equipment such as first aid kits, bivvies, shelters, and various survival tools.  He had also handed us both a S.O.L. bivvy, which Kellen and I had the opportunity to test out as we posed for a photo at the base of the route under the warm sun, lazily lounging in our new favorite survival bivvies.

Enjoying our new S.O.L bivvies

Scheming for an Adventure

As the winter passed into spring, Joe and I fell out of touch.  Kellen, Mac Weiler, and my Idaho friend Mike McNutt and I made an attempt of Mt Rainier in early June.  Though we didn’t make the summit, the trip opened our eyes to the incredible beauty and grandeur of these massive glaciated volcanoes.  Several months after our return, I discovered a couple of posts describing Joe’s recent big mountain adventures on social media.  The first described a technical ascent of Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48, while the second described a trip to high summits of the Wind River Range in Wyoming.  ‘Wow!  These are the kinds of adventures I live for!’ I thought to myself as I gazed in astonishment and pondered the possibilities.  My soul was already hungry for more big mountains to climb.  It wasn’t long before I sent Joe a message about coordinating a trip of our own, and so began the scheming for our next big adventure.

Joe’s ascent up Mt. Whitney had me hungry for a big adventure

Not long after this scheming began, so too did the training.  Miles upon miles of running each week led me to my first ever Spartan Ultra race in September, facing 30+  grueling miles and 60+ soul-crushing obstacles through the hills of Vermont.  Finishing in just over 10 hours, this was perhaps one of the hardest days of my life.  After endless miles of steep hills, mud, cold swims, and relentless obstacles, it took every fiber of my being to push onward to the finish line, even as my body approached the brink of total failure.  As hard as this race was, perhaps it has helped prepare me for even greater challenges yet to come.

The Palisade Traverse

Since my time working for the US Forest Service in the North Lake Tahoe region of California and exploring the High Sierras the previous summer, there was one place in particular that stood out in my mind: the Palisades.  Though I had yet to witness this pristine range of jagged peaks for myself, I knew these mountains were just waiting for Joe, Kellen, and I to answer the call.  Our intended route, the Full Palisade Traverse, ascends six 14,000 foot peaks and traverses the Palisade Crest in its entirety, covering roughly 8 miles and 70,000 feet of elevation gain.

Palisade traverse

The Palisades are calling Joe, Kellen, and I to go

When Adventure Calls

This route will test us, pushing our physical and mental limits harder and further than any challenge we may have experienced thus far (possibly even harder than the Spartan Ultra race).  Not only will we have the physical difficulty of the route to contend with, but the unforgiving elements of this high-elevation environment as well.  We are attempting this route in early November, when the days will be shorter and nights colder. When the sun sets over the horizon and the temperatures begin to drop, I’ll be glad to have my S.O.L. bivvy with me!  Though we hope to find a window of fair weather for the traverse, the possibility for inclement and unpredictable winter weather is certainly there.  The odds seem weighed heavily against us, but to succeed in such an epic challenge would be the ultimate triumph of willpower and endurance.  Regardless of whether or not we do succeed, this climb will prepare us for even bigger mountains and greater challenges going into the future.  When the time comes to answer the call of adventure, we will be ready!

10 Famous, Fearless, & Inspirational Female Adventurers

Friday, November 9th, 2018

There have been countless female adventurers across the ages. Whether they were heading off on their adventures yesterday or hundreds of years ago, their stories remain inspirational and educational. Below, I’ve looked at 10 of the most famous female adventurers. Learn from and get inspired by their stories, and maybe you’ll become the next great female explorer.

Historical Female Adventurers

Jeanne Baré

Jeanne Baré dressed as a sailor

Jeanne Baré was a trailblazer. Not only was she the first woman to complete a circumnavigation of the globe, she did so at a time when women were restricted from even going on an adventure.

Born in 1740, in the Burgundy region of France, she became an adventurer through employment as an assistant to the French naturalist, Philibert Commerçon. Commerçon traveled the globe for his work, and Baré followed as his valet and assistant.

In order to travel with Commerçon, Baré had to dress as a man – though, Commerçon knew she was a woman, having been involved in a romantic relationship with her. This means that not only did Baré risk her life by visiting far off lands, she risked it because it was illegal for women to travel on expeditions as she did.

Isabella Bird

Isabella Bird

Isabella Bird was born in Yorkshire, UK, (1831) but traveled solo across the globe. During her lifetime she is known to have visited China, Korea, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Kurdistan, India, Persia, Morocco, Turkey, North America, and Hawaii. This makes her easily one of the most traveled women of her time.

Bird isn’t just famous for being a great adventurer. She’s also the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the UK’s professional body and learned society for geography.

Though she suffered from insomnia, problems with her spine, and nervous headaches from childhood, Bird was assured and outspoken throughout her life. She was a keen reader and it was this that opened up her eyes to the wonders that existed beyond the UK.

In 1854, Bird was advised by her physician to take a sea voyage. She sailed to the US and never looked back from her spirit of adventure. It was this spirit that kept Bird travelling throughout her life, for she remained in ill health until she died in 1904 – just after returning from Morocco and while planning a trip to China.

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz

Krystyna Chojnowski-Liskiewicz was the first woman to sail around the globe alone

Polish sailor Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz holds the honor of completing a grueling, 401 day and 31,166 nautical mile trip before any other woman, making her the first female adventurer to sail solo around the world.

She used a 31.2 ft. long Conrad 32 sloop (a sailboat with one mast) called Mazurek to complete her journey. Mazurek was built by a team led by Chojnowska-Liskiewicz’s husband.

Chojnowska-Liskiewicz set off on her journey on February, 28, 1976, sailing from the Canary Islands. Having spent more than a year a sea, Chojnowska-Liskiewicz returned to her homeland on April, 21, 1978 – less than two months before Naomi James became the second woman to sail solo around the globe.

Annie Edson Taylor

Annie Edson Taylor posed with her barrel

Annie Edson Taylor went on quite a different adventure than our other famous female adventurers. While she did travel, it was over a considerably shorter, though no less terrifying, distance.

One of eight children, Taylor was born in New York (1838) to a flour mill owner. Training as a schoolteacher, Taylor later opened a dance school in Michigan, before becoming a music teacher. However, none of her educational ventures provided her with the financial reward and security she craved.

Taylor decided that the only way she could get these things was to become a famous female adventurer. She sought the necessary equipment and carried out tests before determining that she was ready for her adventurer. And so, on October, 24, 1901, Taylor climbed into a barrel, was dropped into the Niagara River and was carried over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. It made her the first person ever to survive a barrel fall over the Niagara Falls.

Modern Female Adventurers

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner

Austrian nurse, speaker, and mountaineer, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner is a modern-day female adventurer and winner of the 2012 National Geographic Explorer of the Year Award. She’s also the first woman to climb all 14 mountains over 8,000 meters (26,247 ft) without the aid of supplementary oxygen.

Born in 1970, she was a prodigious climber, having been on a number of tours by the time she reached her teens. Though she completed her nursing training, working as a nurse for a number of years, she never stopped climbing. This led her to become a professional mountaineer in 2004.

She climbed her first eight-thousander, Cho Oyu (found on the border of China-Nepal), in 1998 before climbing:

  • Makalu: 2001
  • Manaslu: 2002
  • Nanga Parbat: 2003
  • Annapurna I: 2004
  • Gasherbrum I: 2004
  • Shisha Pangma: 2005
  • Gasherbrum II: 2005
  • Kangchenjunga: 2006
  • Broad Peak: 2007
  • Dhaulagiri: 2008
  • Lhotse: 2009
  • Mount Everest: 2010

Kaltenbrunner climbed the final eight-thousander, K2 (located on the border of China and Pakistan) on August, 23, 2011.

Sunny Stroeer

Sunny by name and sunny by outlook, the free spirited Suzanne ‘Sunny’ Stroeer took a radical approach to turning 30. She gave up her material possessions and swapped the life she’d known for one as an adventurer.

Moving into an Astrovan, Stroeer is a mountain fanatic who loves big walls and is addicted to being vertical. While she may have given up on her material possessions, Stroeer hasn’t turned her back on society. Stroeer has a popular blog and Instagram account, where keeps her many thousands of followers updated with her adventures on a regular basis.

In 2017, Stoeer became the first woman to circumnavigate and summit Aconcagua in a single push, also breaking the base camp-to-summit female speed record by 29 minutes, all with a respiratory infection.

Hilaree Nelson O’Neill

Hilaree O'Neill - one of our female adventurers

Hilaree pulling first aid supplies out of the Ultralight/Watertight Pro. Photo Credit: Chris Figenshau

She may be a self-confessed ‘small person’ but Hilaree Nelson O’Neill is a female with a huge spirit for adventure. In fact, it’s so big that it’s taken her skiing and climbing to some of the most remote mountains on the planet.

She had an early start as an adventurer, picking up skiing when she was just three and waiting little longer to start climbing. However, it was after moving to the Chamonix Valley of France that her adventurer bug became a full-blown infection.

The result of that infection has seen O’Neill become the first woman to climb two 8,000m mountains in 24 hours (Lhotse and Everest), ski from the summit of Cho Oyu in Tibet, complete a ski descent of the Peak of Evil in India, and be named one of the most adventurous females on the planet by Outside Magazine

Jessica Watson

What were you doing when you were 16? I’m sure it was something daring, educational, and inspirational. But I bet it wasn’t as adventurous as what Jessica Watson was doing when she was 16, which is when Watson completing a solo circumnavigation of the southern hemisphere.

Watson travelled 19,631 nautical miles, beginning and ending in Sydney. It took the young Australian just under 7 months to complete her journey, having departed on October, 18, 2009 and returned on May, 15, 2010.

Cassie DePecol

How many countries have you been to? 5, 10, 20, 50? You might have visited plenty more than me but I bet you don’t get close to Cassie DePecol. Before she turned 28, DePecol had visited 196 nations.

196 countries isn’t just a lot of places to visit; it’s every sovereign nation on the planet.  DePecol set out on her travels on July 24, 2015. It took her less than 18 months for her to visit all 196 nations, as she visited the final country on February, 2, 2017.

This makes DePecol a double Guinness World Record holder, as she holds the record for:

  • Fastest time to visit all sovereign countries
  • Fastest time to visit all sovereign countries – Female

You might have some way to go to make it to the full 196 countries (heck, you might never get there) but let Cassie DePecol’s story inspire you and book your next adventure today!

Juliana Buhring

Last (but certainly not least of our female adventurers) is British-German writer and ultra-endurance cyclist Juliana Buhring. Not only was she the sole female to participate in the maiden Transcontinental Race from London to Istanbul in 2013, she was the first woman circumnavigate the globe by bike.

Born in Greece, Buhring was abandoned by her parents when she was four and moved from guardian to guardian – she lived in nearly 30 countries during her childhood.

Buhring set off on her record-breaking cycle run on July, 23, 2012, leaving from Naples without having any support or sponsorship, and almost no money to fund herself – she was only able to complete her trip after receiving donations.

Just 152 days after setting off, Buhring returned to Naples. She had cycled through 19 countries, across, 4 continents, and covered 18,000 miles. It was just reward that she was entered into the Guinness Book of Records.

Your Turn!

By taking inspiration from these famous female adventurers, you can embark on your own journeys and become the next famous female adventurer.

With the advent of Skype, Google Hangouts, and Slack making it easier for you to enjoy locationless living, you don’t have to uproot your life to fuel your love of adventure — simply move it to your current destination.

You are free to embark on adrenaline-soaked activities or become a trailblazer by visiting somewhere no one has ever set foot – like one of these places:

Even you don’t fancy going 10,994 meters (36,000 ft) beneath the sea and prefer more casual trips, just heading out on an adventure can help you to be more confident – as Caroline Paul explains in this TED Talk:

Whatever your chosen adventure, let these female adventurers inspire you to challenge yourself, get outdoors, and be safe!

About the Author

Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to giving through growth hacking. Visit the blog for your latest dose of startup, entrepreneur, and marketing insights. Check out Micro Startups’ Charity of the Month to find out about organizations doing great work in/around/and for their communities . Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.

Xpedition 90X – Making Antarctic History with an Expedition of Firsts!

Monday, November 5th, 2018


xpedition 90x vehicle

Airworks Compressors Corp. is embarking on an expedition of epic proportions, and Adventure Medical Kits is excited to be on board as the Safety Sponsor!

Xpedition 90X is a journey to the South Pole hailing from Edmonton, Alberta and will be making history in 2019 with the first single vehicle expedition, first hybrid vehicle expedition, and first Canadian-led driving expedition to the South Pole, carving a definitive place for Xpedition 90X in Antarctic history.

A 4-man crew, led by Airworks’ President Darryl Weflen, will venture together in a modified International MXT called ‘Rockhopper’ (affectionately named after Antarctica’s national bird), spending anywhere from 20 to 30 days in the most challenging conditions while testing equipment on the journey. Wrapped by William Huff Advertising in a futuristic steampunk-inspired design, and upfitted with Mattracks, extensive LED lighting by Partsking.ca, a custom-designed service body by Milron Metal Fabricating and a complex live tracking satellite system provisioned by GFI Systems, Rockhopper is already garnering much attention.

However, the main focus of this foray to the harshest continent on earth is to prove the ruggedness of Airworks’ new, Edmonton-invented, patent-pending technology: the G-Force Hybrid Drive System and showcase how Canada is leading the world with innovative, green technology. Rockhopper is being modified to contain a small diesel engine and electric motor system. The diesel engine will drive the generators as well as propel the vehicle, which will also utilize an electric propulsion assist system. Primarily marketed for military applications to convert heavy trucks and vehicles 5 tons and up to decrease fuel usage and heat signature while on deployment, the G-Force will be commercially available by early 2019.

The crew will be undergoing equipment, vehicle and cold weather training in addition to a series of first aid, emergency and crisis training. Adventure Medical Kits outfitted the team with vital first aid supplies, including the Professional Series Expedition Medical Kit and QuikClot.

Facing colossal hardships like crevasses, extreme temperatures, long days in close quarters and the unknown perils of a foray into the frigid, icy winterscape that is Antarctica, Xpedition 90X will push the limits of Rockhopper, the G-Force, and the crew.  Follow them as they make history!

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Xpedition 90X, Media & Marketing Director: Ingrid Schifer

Email: ingrid@schifandthecity.com  Direct: 780.850.8466 Office: 780.423.2114

Hip Hop in the Backcountry: Developing Soft Skills as a Leader

Monday, October 15th, 2018

Bonney Pass Part 1: 19 Hours & Counting

Its 8pm and we have been moving since 1am. Four of us are staring down the last steep section of Bonney Pass in the Wind River Range. Camp still looks so far away, everyone is exhausted, injuries are becoming big problems, and everyone is sharing in the feeling of defeat after having to turn around 500 feet short of the summit of Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s high point.

Our view from the top of Bonney Pass, with our camp far in the distance, almost too small to see

I rig up another anchor, put Ben on belay, look at Jenny, and without missing a beat we start rapping “I’m just pillow talking with a fish,” the silly lyrics of the song we have been parodying since the 2nd day on the trail. We all crack a smile and gain some energy; camp doesn’t look so far away anymore.

Leadership Training: Not What I Expected

I’ve been told by many people that I’ve got an intense personality. I am incredibly goal oriented and have a tendency to get a little bit obsessive about my goals. When I first joined the New Hampshire Outing Club my freshman year of college, I yearned to be like the senior hardcore leaders, who casually would grind out back-to-back death marches in between major school projects and studying. I signed up for Leadership Training (LT) for the club and got excited about the new skills I would learn. I thought they were going to teach me how to train harder, pack lighter, and fix every medical issue in front of me. Instead when I got to LT, I sat in a circle with my other soon-to-be leaders, and we talked about personal feelings and group dynamics – aka “soft skills.” That was far harder for me than any death march I had been on to date.

Soft Skills: More Important Than You’d Think

As I gained experience, I realized why the soft skills at LT were so important. When leading a trip, your first priority is getting everyone back safe and hopefully happy. Emotions and feelings play a big part in your physical nature and vice versa. When you have a group of people, creating trust, acceptance, and motivation will drastically help get everyone home safe and happy.

For the #BeSafeGannett Expedition, I was lucky enough to start gaining insight into the “soft” side of many of the members. Through the time we spent training and general preparation, I got an understanding of individual tendencies, confidences, humor, and ways to motivate. It’s the soft skills that helped me understand when to take a break, when to push a little bit longer, and what specifically to say (or not say) to get an individual home safely. It was even more exemplified as team members were understanding and acting on my above actions to make impacts on an exponential level.

Rap & Wildflowers

Silly little things can help out with forming group dynamics. Being into hip hop, I taught “trap arms” and rap lyrics to one team member (who was more likely to listen to Wicked soundtrack than wu-tang clan), while she in return taught me about wildflowers and the awesomeness that I would have overlooked. This strengthened a bond and helped create trust, respect, and understanding of each other (it also inspired me to take some super sweet pictures).

soft skills can get you to look at the wildflowers

Noticing the wildflowers can help you take some sweet pictures

20 Questions X 20

That wasn’t the only, nor the biggest, interaction which drove positive group dynamics. Right at about mile 5 we started playing 20 questions. By mile 10, we had to create a whole set of rules based around the reality of said object and in which realm said things were considered real.

We passed a lot of time and miles by playing “20 Questions”

Yeah, we nerded out, and that created a set of inside jokes we could lean on and utilize when we needed a quick pick me up during the remaining 50 miles of the trip.

Bonney Pass Part 2: Down in Time for Dinner

By 9 pm we had finally made it back to camp. Chelsea, being the caretaker she is, had dinner ready in minutes. We were totally worked, super gross, had been defeated by our main objective, and still had a 25-mile trek to the trailhead. A backcountry thanksgiving dinner, busting out a few bars about fishes, and some sentimental words on how well everyone did put everyone to bed with a smile and motivation to trek out in the following days.

P.S.

Some trail jokes will follow you all the way into the front-country. After our return from Gannett, I came home one day to find a fish-shaped pillow. My pup loves pillow talking with this fish! Just one more reason to appreciate soft skills.

My dog Cocoa pillow talking with his favorite fish

About the Author

Joe Miller is an alpinist residing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He serves on the Pemigewasset and Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue teams. Joe loves everything about the outdoors and can be found taking full moon laps up Cannon Cliff, ice climbing classics in Crawford notch, and slaying powder on his splitboard. Joe started working at Tender Corporation in 2015, as he loves the proximity to the mountains. When not outdoors, Joe lets his inner geek flag fly; he can be found holed up with his dog and cat, tinkering with electronics and computer systems.

Walking 60 Miles on Blisters – What I Learned

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

We asked Ben Pasquino of Team Tender what he learned from the #BeSafeGannett Expedition. He had some first-hand experience with painful blisters he wanted to share.

Let me preface this with, I should have listen to Joe Miller about my boots. Always listen to your team leader when he tells you to break in new boots before setting out on a seven day journey into the backcountry. Here’s some other lessons I learned:

Don’t Ignore “Minor” Problems

You know that point where you realize that there may be an issue (physically)? Yea, I realized that at mile 2 of our 60 mile round-trip hike into the backcountry of the Bridger Wilderness.

As we walked out to Photographer’s Point the first 5 or so miles of day one, I realized I had a hot spot on the back of both my heels. Knowing that this would be a long hike and there were bound to be hot spots, I thought nothing of it. That was my first mistake: ignoring what I saw as a minor issue.

Photographer’s Point was when I first noticed the hot spots on my heels

So I kept on moving, thinking that my heels would be fine. I had been running multiple miles in training for this and had never gotten a blister on my heels. It couldn’t be happening now. About 12 miles in, we reached Little Seneca Lake, and there I realized I had a much bigger problem than just hot spots.

I took my shoes off to rest my feet, and that was when I got my first look at the blisters, or what had been a blister before it popped and my heel rubbed raw. That was another clue that this trip was going to be much more difficult than I anticipated.

Gluing Blisters Works – But Brace Yourself

Let me give you some context for what happened next. In preparation for this adventure, I took a Wilderness First Responder course back in New Hampshire through SOLO Schools, and we spoke about applying tincture of benzoin to a popped blister, or flap, to glue the flap of skin back where it belongs and protect the area. They said it would hurt pretty badly, but let me be the first to tell you, it hurts more than just “pretty badly.” It hurts like hell, and I know, because I had to do it twice.

gluing blisters

Getting ready to apply some tincture of benzoin from my Ultralight/Watertight .7 kit

I pulled the tincture of benzoin out of my Ultralight/Watertight .7 and borrowed some GlacierGel from my teammates. After painfully reattaching the flap of skin over the blister with the benzoin, I covered the area with GlacierGel to protect the blister from further damage and minimize the pain.

In the morning, we hit the trail again. As you can guess, it was slow hiking for me.

Healing Is Slow

We made it to the Titcomb basin on the second day, and thankfully we had scheduled 4 nights there. I took advantage of the 2 full days of rest for my heels to recuperate, wearing flip flops all day long while we took lifestyle pictures and instructional videos for our social media and webpage. I knew that letting my heels dry and allowing a scab to form would give me my best opportunity to make the push up Gannett. The blisters definitely needed the full two days.

The blisters took some time to scab over

The morning of Gannett, I left camp about 30 minutes before my team did to get a head start, and we met up at the base of Bonney Pass. We ended up finishing that day about 21 hours later and coming so close to the peak that we could almost throw a rock and hit it, but the decision to turn back was the right one for the team.

It’s a Long Way Home

The next day we turned back to make our way halfway out of the back country and the feeling of, “oh I may have an issue” quickly became, “I definitely have an issue, I just need to make it out.”

I still managed to have some great moments on the hike out though. We stopped at one of the most beautiful swimming holes that I’ve ever been to, just on the other side of Island Lake. It was an amazing feeling to just go for a swim and clean ourselves off from the long week’s grind.

The last day was a bit of a haul, as the team made the decision to trek the entire 15 miles (ish) out of the backcountry and get to a point to where I wouldn’t have to wear boots anymore. They also helped me by sharing the load of my backpack and encouraged me to continue moving.

Smile & Learn

I made it out, obviously, but that day was absolutely exhausting. I was able to smile at the end, and I am still able to smile about the experience. However, I did learn a lot. Two things especially stood out:

  1. BOOTS… always go for a couple hikes in them before putting them to the ultimate test. I only wore them around the office a couple times prior to the hike.
  2. The key to controlling the blisters and hot spots is simple… PREVENTION! As soon as you start to feel it, even if (really especially if) it’s mile 2 of a 60 mile hike, apply GlacierGel or moleskin. If worse comes to worse (and do know that it’s going to hurt like hell) you can always use tincture of benzoin to glue the blister shut and back to the skin, but trust me – you don’t want to reach the stage where this is necessary.

Having said all that, I can’t wait for the next adventure and to learn how to be more prepared for anything that gets thrown into the mix.

My team supported me the whole journey

About the Author

Name’s Ben Pasquino, 35 years of age, and I’ve been pushing my limits for my entire life. It just made logical sense to try my hand at mountaineering for the #BeSafeGannett Expedition. Previously an NCAA swimmer, I became an ultra-marathon runner after college. A CrossFit athlete and coach for nearly 5 years, I’m no stranger to hard work and following training regiments with an end goal in sight. I’m also an avid hunter and fly fisher.

Backcountry Gourmet: How to Make Your Own Ultralight Backpacking Meals

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

Logistics Guru and Backcountry Chef for the #BeSafeGannett Expedition, Chelsea Miller helped her team stay organized and well-fed for a week spent in the Wind River Range. Below, she gave us the inside scoop on making ultralight backpacking meals and cooking techniques, as well as some recipes you’ll be dying to hit the trail and try for yourself. 

Backpacking Meals: A Balance of Taste & Weight

For our meals in the Wind River Range, I only had to boil water to make a tasty, nutritious meal!

At home, I love cooking elaborate meals with fresh ingredients.  This means that I often get a little too excited about backpacking meals and cooking, lugging potatoes, cans of coconut milk, blocks of cheese, and large pots on backpacking trips.  Much to the chagrin of my team, I also end up weighing down their packs.

For our #BeSafeGannett Expedition, I knew our packs would already be weighed down with the gear required for glacier travel. I wanted to minimize the impact food would have on our packs while keeping dinner interesting and nutritious. To do this, I opted for freezer bag style cooking. All of our ingredients were essentially instant and only needed to soak in hot water for five minutes before eating.  This meant that we only needed to carry a stove and a small pot in order to have a hot meal every night.

With all the gear we had to carry, my goal was to make our meals as light as possible.

Every night, I would boil a pot of water (we used this pot set and this stove), pour the water into the freezer bag holding that night’s meal, put the freezer bag in an insulator (I can’t find the exact one we used, and this one is much fancier than what we used.  Honestly, you can use foil insulation and duct tape to make a workable cozy.), and then wait for a long five minutes until we were enjoying a delicious hot meal.  (While cooking directly in the freezer bag worked best for us because we only wanted to carry a small pot for the four of us and not need to clean it each night, you can also opt to cook this right in a pot or in your mess kit.)

I prepped and cooked our meals in freezer bags, which was super convenient.

This process worked really well for us on the trail, and it only took me an hour at home to assemble meals for four for a week.

The Basic Formula

Building these backpacking meals felt like an Iron Chef challenge where the secret ingredient was dehydrated chicken, which was in every meal I made.  I wanted our meals to be well balanced and calorie dense.  Therefore, I followed a basic formula for every recipe: protein, instant carbs, dehydrated vegetables and spices.

As I just mentioned, I opted for freeze dried chicken, but Mountain House has lots of different options if you want to mix it up even more.  For a carb base, I used couscous, instant rice, instant potatoes, and rice noodles (depending on the meal).  All of these only need to soak in hot water, rather than foods that need to cook such as pasta, quinoa, or rice.  To pick a carb base that will work, make sure the cooking instructions either tell you to “remove from heat and let sit” or to boil for less than 3 minutes.  (Note: for the rice noodles, we cooked them separately then added them to the spice and chicken mixture.  We wanted to soak them and then drain off the water to make sure our sauce wasn’t too watery.)

For the Thai Peanut Noodles dinner, I cooked the rice noodles separately to drain off the water.

To every meal, I added dehydrated vegetables and chia seeds for an added nutritional boost.  In order to “spice” things up, I added things like curry powder, parmesan cheese, and garlic to create different flavors.

Backcountry Test Kitchen

As this was my first time cooking this way, I wanted to make sure the backpacking meals were going to turn out OK before we headed off on the trip. My first attempt, which was tasted by the team after an evening of practicing our ice axe skills on the snow patches left on Cannon Mountain, did not pan out well.  I attempted to make a Fettucine Alfredo with noodles that cooked in 5 minutes, and we attempted to make the meal in our individual bowls by divvying up the mix ahead of time, instead of cooking it all together in the freezer bag.  We were left with watery, yet still crunchy noodles in a rapidly cooling sauce. This was the last thing we would want after a long day of hiking in the Wind River Range.

I adjusted the cook time of my carbohydrate base and opted to cook in the freezer bag insulator, which led to more success. I sent Couscous Alfredo and Shepherd’s Pie along with Joe on his climb up Mt. Whitney in June, and Jenny and I sampled the Curried Couscous on a weekend trip through the White Mountains.  All of these test runs went smoothly; getting to test the recipes before we started on our trip helped me build confidence that these would actually work when we were on the trail.

Eating Our Way through the Winds

For our trip, I made each of the recipes below, opting to pack 2 nights worth of Couscous Alfredo, as it’s my favorite and I’ve never gotten complaints about packing more cheese and garlic.

Our first night on the trail, we eagerly tucked into the Couscous Alfredo.  Although we were starving, we all filled up quickly and struggled to finish the entire dinner. When packing our backpacking meals, I had split each night’s dinner into two freezer bags, as each freezer bag required a full liter of water, and our pot only has a 1.4 liter capacity. This ended up working to our favor, as after that first night, we had two dinners.  We had our first dinner mid-afternoon, around 4pm, and another a few hours later.  This worked really well for our team and allowed us to ration our snacks a little better.

Backpacking Meals

We enjoyed Couscous Alfredo our first night on the trail, with a great view of Little Seneca Lake.

Our final total food weight per person ended up being just over 15 lbs.  Altogether, the dinners I assembled came in at 12 lbs. total, meaning everyone only had to carry 3 lbs. worth of dinner foods.  Our breakfast/lunch/snack packs ended up weighing the most, coming it at around 11 lbs. per person. Our lunch/snacks included everything we would eat during the day, including: Clif bars, beef sticks, electrolyte gummies, Nuun tablets, and flavored tuna packets.

My teammate Jenny’s snacks laid out, ready to pack.

For breakfast, some of us opted for oatmeal while others had whole wheat English muffins with peanut butter and honey.  Next time, I’m going to pack a mix of breakfast options for myself, as I get very bored eating the same thing every day.  By our last morning, I couldn’t handle another peanut butter English muffin.

As we ended up hiking out a day early, we had an extra dinner that we were able to give to a pair of Continental Divide Trail thru-hikers who were thrilled by the lightweight meal and easy cooking instructions. All of the food prep for this trip went so smoothly, and all of our backpacking meals were so delicious, that I plan on packing food like this for all future adventures. This style of cooking also lent itself well to long days on the mountain. After our 21 hour summit day, it was so nice to only be a pot of boiling water way from our Thanksgiving-themed dinner.

Your Turn – Try Our Recipes or Give Them Your Own Spin

We were lucky that our team didn’t have any dietary restrictions, but all of these recipes should be adaptable for gluten free or vegetarian diets.  Many of my recipes were adapted from theyummylife – she also has a number of recipes for great instant soups! She also gave me the tip about adding Chia seeds to each recipe.

Feel free to be creative and mix it up! If you follow the simple formula above, the possibilities are endless. Let us know what your favorite combinations are so we can give them a try, or send us recipes for your favorite backpacking meals!

Couscous Alfredo

  • 1 cup couscous
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1 tbs Chia Seeds

Fried Rice

 

Jenny’s favorite part of Fried Rice was the cashews!

  • 1 cup Instant Rice
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ pkg Fried Rice Seasoning
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • ¼ cup nuts (Cashews or Peanuts)
  • 1 tbs Chia Seeds

Curried Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ¼ cup cashews
  • ½ cup dried vegetables
  • 1 tbs onions
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tbs raisins
  • 1 tbs chia seeds
  • 2 tsp garlic powder

Thanksgiving Dinner

  • ¼ pkg Instant Potatoes
  • ½ cup instant stuffing
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ pkg instant gravy
  • ½ cup dried vegetables
  • 2 Tbs dried cranberries
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 1 tbs chia seeds

Shepherd’s Pie

  • ½ pkg instant loaded potatoes
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 2 tbs onions
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbs Chia Seeds

Thai Peanut Noodles

  • ¼ pkg rice noodles
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 2 Tbs dehydrated peanut butter
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbs chia seeds

About the Author

Chelsea Miller grew up hiking and skiing in the White Mountains, which have always held a special place in her heart. She started working at Tender Corporation in 2015 in order to make the Whites her home. When she’s not hiking, rock climbing, or mountain biking throughout New England, you can find her day dreaming about her next big adventure. Recently she’s traveled to Thailand, Western Canada, and Germany, as well as deep into the Wind River Range of Wyoming as part of the #BeSafeGannett Expedition.