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Removing Russian Olive Trees: Collaborative Trainings in Escalante, UT

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Training 56 Youth in Conservation & Safety

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 that help the restoration of riparian areas and pinyon-juniper forests. In a collaborative effort to remove Russian Olive (an invasive tree) along the Escalante river, CCYC works with a Watershed Partnership and three other Conservation Corps of the Four Corners region. This collaboration has been in place for the past 8 years.

picture of team to remove russian olive

For 8 years, CCYC has collaborated with other corps to equip individuals for this conservation work

Invasive Russian Olive Trees

Russian Olive was originally introduced to the region as a riverbank stabilizer; it does the job well, too well. Unfortunately, it became an invasive species to the area, particularly on rivers. This means it was able to out compete native plant species. As a result of Russian Olive establishment, the river banks have become super-stabilized. This is not good for a healthy, moving river which is supposed to have bends, curves, braiding, slow parts, and fast parts that change over time.

Russian Olive also shades the river. This extra shade along an entire river, especially a small river like the Escalante, results in significant water temperature cooling. This is detrimental to native fish populations who require a specific temperature range for mating and spawning. With all the negative effects of Russian Olive and no forseason circumstance of Russian Olive being outcompeted by native plant species, mechanical and chemical removal has become necessary. This is where four Conservation Corps working together comes into play.

Remote Backcountry Work

The four Conservation Corps have divided and conquered Russian Olive all along the Escalante River. The Escalante River has some pretty remote sections requiring crews to work in the backcountry.

Teams often travel to extremely remote locations

This work can be a toll on the Crew Members and Leaders throughout the season as they work 8 days in the backcountry every other week cutting down thorny Russian Olive trees with chainsaws in the chilly fall weather. Running several Conservation Corps crews in the backcountry for several months requires an extensive training period.

Safety First

Safety is always the number one concern. The four Conservation Corps go through first aid training and become familiar with their first aid kits, chainsaw training, and herbicide application training. Crews also go through an emergency response training which includes meeting a heli-tech crew and talking about the process of a heli-evac and the requirements for clearing out a landing pad for a helicopter.

Emergency response training includes understanding heli-evac processes

The hope is an emergency evacuation will never be necessary. However, the extensive trainings aid the crews in feeling more prepared for safe living and working in the backcountry. They are given advise on how to stay positive and supportive with each other through a long season. And on a technical level they learn valuable skills on chainsaw work, herbicide application, riparian restoration techniques, and backcountry evacuation procedures.

8 Years of Conservation & Friendships

8 years later the large collaboration between the Watershed Partnership and the four Conservation Corps is coming to a close. This was a long, slow process, but fortunately the Escalante River has gone through initial treatment of Russian Olive. Following years will be dedicated to re-sprout treatment. Sadly, it means this year was the very last cross-Corps training. The work will slow down significantly and all four Conservation Corps will no longer be needed. It is a bittersweet end to a large collaboration where the Conservation Corps of the region where able to gain a network of friends, colleagues, and fellow explorers.

Written by Natalya Walker

Ice Fishing Safety with Nicole Jacobs Stelmach

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Fishing in all seasons is a non-negotiable for those of us whose hearts are dedicated to the sport and the lifestyle. But for me, braving the Midwest winter ice fishing season requires special preparation and safety measures to ensure preparedness for all weather and unforeseen encounters.

Minnesota Winters

Growing up in Minnesota, I was always aware of the dangers of being caught in an unexpected blizzard and kept my car and home stocked with extra blankets, hats, gloves, and emergency materials like hand warmers and thick socks. And now, being a mom, it’s more than just me I need to worry about keeping warm in freezing temperatures. It’s safety first, always!

Ice fishing with my family

Ice Fishing: A Lesson in Awareness & Patience

Ice fishing season is a lesson in awareness and patience in itself, as safety requires that we wait until the ice is a minimum of 4 inches thick before it is safe to fish on. It is important to always follow all safety recommendations regarding the safety and thickness of ice for fishing, walking, and driving and to check with the local authority at your location for any unique and avoidable circumstances. But, even with complete preparation and research, accidents do happen, and the best thing we can do for ourselves to mitigate panic and injury is to be prepared as well as possible for whatever situations might arise.

This is why I love using products from my sponsor Adventure Medical Kits and the Survive Outdoors Longer line. They provide high quality survival gear that is smart and portable, so you can adventure with confidence and without concern.

Personal Favorite: Scout Kit

One of my favorite products is the Survive Outdoors Longer Scout pack. This product provides all the essentials for cold weather survival packed into a small waterproof bag that can be kept on your person or nearby in case of emergency. You will definitely be grateful you kept this in your pocket in the event that you fall through the ice. The Scout contains a 2-person heat reflective survival blanket, a Fire Lite striker that can be started with one hand, and waterproof tinder that can be used to build multiple fires. A reflective Rescue Flash signal mirror, compass, duct tape and fishing/sewing kit are also included in the package. This survival kit packs a lot of punch in a pocket size container.

Wearing the Scout while fishing with my son

It is also possible to purchase the Survive Outdoors Longer Survival Blanket in regular or heavy duty. I highly recommend having a few of these on hand (at least one per person) for emergency use. They are affordable and can truly be lifesaving, and they will provide you with peace of mind whether or not you ever need to use them.

Being prepared for the unexpected is essential for outdoor adventurers and sports enthusiasts.  Knowing that this Scout pack is attached directly to my body allows me some comfort knowing that I have the essentials that could save my life, or the life of my family member or friend, in the event of a fall through thin ice.  I am incredibly grateful to my sponsors for allowing me to pursue my passion on the ice and on the water, and I am thankful that they have created these products to support safe sport and adventure.

Enjoying fishing with my husband

About the Author

Nicole Jacobs Stelmach is a wife, mother, and Professional Angler. She competed on FLW Bass Fishing League Great Lakes Series events in 2018 and has competed as a co-angler for multiple seasons on the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) Tour. Stelmach holds a degree in kinesiology and has first aid experience from her time as a first responder.

 

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!).

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.

A Few Words on Paddling Safety

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

It is too easy to be prepared – a few words on paddling preparedness. Whether you’re stand up paddle boarding in the Dominican or canoeing in Canada, practicing good paddling safety is easy to do and prepares you for whatever comes your way.

paddling safety gear

What paddling safety equipment do you regularly pack?

Accidents Happen

On a recent trip, I was reminded of the importance of paddling safety. I should have known better as I passed a group of less than thrilled women wading without their kayak. I was paddling to the Atlantic on a janky stand up paddle board (SUP) that I rented from the Dominican Resort we were staying at. As I approached the breakers, I watched a few Scuba instructors pull a sunken Ocean Kayak Fenzy from the bottom onto an old wooden skiff. Apparently the drain plug was missing in action… scary.

A few waves in, I had forgotten about the sunken kayak and was having a blast. On the next set, I saw a decent-size wave coming and started paddling hard. Before I knew it, I had out run the wave and gotten too far ahead of the breaker. The board started to nose dive, and I was swiftly bailing out. I jumped off, thinking I was clear of the sandbar, but I quickly hit the bottom in waist-deep water and got a pretty nasty cut on the bottom of my left foot.

As I paddled in, I pondered the fastest option for access to a medical kit. There was an overwhelmingly large line at the rental stand, and after seeing the quality of the boats, I could only imagine the medical kits.  I opted for walking all the way back to my room for a Mountain Series kit that I had packed in my checked bag. I had to walk a quarter mile back to the room barefoot, as I had left my sandals with my wife back at our chairs in the opposite direction. By the time I got back, my feet were black and the wound was covered in sand. Not good.

Are You Prepared for “What If”?

While my foot did not fall off (and I miraculously made a full recovery before happy hour started), it could have turned out much worse. And I could have been more prepared. What if it was worse? What if the bleeding was not easily controlled? What if I was not at a resort but on a remote lake, solo, deep in the Maine wilderness? Would it have been the same outcome?

Even minor injuries, left untreated, can become major issues in the backcountry

My point is accidents happen, and they can happen to anyone venturing into the outdoors. While experience helps, the outcome can be the same whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie who just rented a canoe for a short paddle. Think of all the times growing up or in present day when things could have gone bad but didn’t. Could you have easily been prepared if they had gone wrong? Let me help with some scenarios where a little paddling safety gear would go a long way.

Scenario 1: Family Canoe Trip

It is Memorial Day weekend and you decided to take your kids out for a paddle near the public campsite you rented. You rent a canoe from a teenager who barely got off his phone long enough to hand you the old life jackets and warped plastic paddles. It has been misting off and on all day, so you leave your bags in the car.

Ask yourself: How far do I have to go to reach my medical kit?

You paddle up the quiet, tranquil creek until you reach a large tree with a rope swing. Your overzealous teenager’s canoe reaches the bank before you get there. By the time you paddle up, he is halfway up the steep approach to the swing. Before you even realize what is happening, he is screaming and running back down the sandy slope to the water. As he gets closer, you see the swarm of angry bees converging on his head and shoulders. You think to yourself “at least he’s not allergic.” As the swarm dissipates, you can start to see noticeable swelling. Do you have some diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to help with swelling? Do you have some acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain? What if he got a large cut on his foot on the run back to the water? While this was likely not life-threatening, having a small medical kit would have made the paddle back much more comfortable for your teen.

Scenario 2: Post-Work Paddling

One more example for good measure. It’s a beautiful summer day in Banff, and you unexpectedly get off work early. You rush home, grab your SUP, and head down to the canoe club for a late afternoon paddle on the Bow River. You paddle a few miles up the gentle current, when you spot an osprey in a tree near the bank. You do your best to quietly paddle over and pull out your iPhone to snap a picture.

Even stand up paddle boarding has its dangers

As you use your second hand to zoom in, you lose your balance on the board and plunge toward the chilly water. In an effort to save your phone, you hold it above your head as you hit the shallow water.

Good news: you save the phone. Bad news: you hit your head pretty hard on a submerged rock. As you run your hand through your hair, you realize it’s bleeding a lot. By the time you get your board on shore, you can feel the blood running down your neck. You take your now-soaked shirt off and tie it around your head. By the time your back to the dock, the blood is soaking through your shirt.

Thankfully, the dock is near the center of town, and you have quick access to a medical kit/professional attention. What if you had been farther up the river? What if you had been in a more remote area? A half-ounce QuickClot gauze pad would have gone a long way.

Paddling Safety Made Easy

Accidents are bound to happen, but this should never stop you from exploring, adventuring, or just enjoying the lake with your kids. In this day and age, it is extremely easy to be prepared. While my preference would always be to have a full Mountain Series Kit in my dry bag, it’s not always practical. However, there are some other fantastic options out there that allow you to keep your paddling safety gear fast and light.

For the past 5 years, I have had a Watertight Pocket Medic kit stowed in the front pocket of my PFD. While I seldom took it out, I knew it was there, and it gave me the peace of mind when paddling out.

Recently, I upgraded this to the Ultralight/Watertight .3 Medical Kit. This kit weighs just over two ounces and can be a huge help when things go south. I couple this with a half-ounce QuickClot gauze pad, which is key for controlling bleeding.

I currently carry the Ultralight/Watertight .3 – it’s compact & waterproof

An even better option, which I think I will switch to, is the Ultralight/Watertight .5. While this kit adds an entire ounce (joking – it’s an ounce, get over it), it includes some key medicine such as diphenhydramine and aspirin. Bonus: the price comes in at just under twenty bucks.

Overall these Ultralight/ Watertight kits are perfect for stowing in a life vest, so you’ll forget they are even there until you need them (in which case, you’ll be glad you have it). When considering the weight, price, and stow-ability of these medical kits, there is really no reason to not be prepared by adding one to your paddling safety gear.

About the Author

Andrew Piotrowski is an all-around adventurer residing in Southeast Pennsylvania. He can commonly be found trad climbing in the Gunks, paddling the Chesapeake Bay, or trail running and backpacking in the Catskills. Andrew grew up running and kayaking but fell in love with the mountains on a few trips to the Adirondacks. Since then he has focused on alpine climbing and mountain running objectives in the Sierra’s, Bugaboos, and White Mountains. Andrew’s favorite training partner is his dog Calvin, who has helped him to log countless training miles. When not outside, Andrew enjoys Canadian Lager and gardening.

My First Time Mountaineering (and Other Firsts from Expedition #BeSafeGannett)

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

I’m not a mountaineer. I want to start off this post telling you that, because if there’s one thing this mountaineering experience taught me, it’s that you are stronger and more capable than you think.

The First Time I Heard of Gannett Peak

The first time I heard of Gannett Peak was about 9 months ago. Sometime around Christmas, I got called into a meeting, having no clue what we’d be discussing. The people around me start talking about awesome trips, mountaineering expeditions, and this remote mountain Frank (my boss) hiked in Wyoming, called Gannett Peak. Then they pulled up some images on Google. Wow.

Google image results for gannett peak

Some Google image results of Gannett Peak

This is where I need to pause and give a bit of background on me: I’m a 23-year old 100% New Englander. I was born and raised in New Hampshire, and I grew up hiking the White Mountains with my dad. The 4,000 footers have been my summer romance almost since before I can remember, and recent years have seen me moving deeper into winter hikes as well (Mt. Jackson = best winter day hike).

My point is that I’m a huge outdoor lover and hiker, but my glacier, rock-climbing, and mountaineering experience at this point were non-existent (though I did at least get some wilderness first aid training in last year). I’d never summited or attempted to summit anything higher than Mt. Washington (and that one was in the summer). I had never done anything that felt close to mountaineering, and I was not a mountaineer.

So I’m sitting in that meeting, staring at pictures of remote, gorgeous, breathtaking mountains, mountains like I have never seen before, and my mouth is watering, because it looks like hiking heaven. Not, of course, the kind of hiking heaven I pictured myself in, as I had no outdoor aspirations beyond finishing my 4,000 footer list and re-hiking all my favorites until I was over 80. But as they talk about Gannett Peak and decide they want to send a team up it, this crazy but totally impractical idea starts to go through my head though: I wish I could go on this mountaineering expedition.

That’s the moment Frank says, “Hey Jenny, would you be interested in going on this trip?”

Against my better judgment and all reason, I said yes.

My First Time in Utah

So flash forward through 9 months of training with my amazing team members (Joe, Chelsea, and Ben), and I’m stepping out of an airplane and standing in Utah for the first time. We’re headed to Wyoming (obviously), but we flew into Salt Lake City.

Taking my first step out the airport into SLC (I’m in the back)

At this point, I’ve already encountered a bunch of “firsts”:

  • First time holding an ice axe
  • First time successfully self-arresting with an ice axe
  • First time carrying more than 30 lbs. on a hike
  • First time tying an alpine butterfly, tying a retraced figure eight, and walking as part of a rope team.
  • First time wearing crampons (I hadn’t historically needed more than micro-spikes.)
  • First summer where I hiked more with other people than with my dad
  • First time working out more than 10 hours in a week

Regarding all of the firsts still ahead of me, I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, I was nervous and even a bit afraid of what lay ahead, as my complete lack of anything to base the upcoming experience on made me wonder if I would like mountaineering, if I had trained enough, and if I would let my team down.

My First Time in Wyoming

We grabbed a rental car and started driving towards Pinedale, WY, which eventually brought me to Wyoming for the first time. The first hour or so of driving, the state did not look at all what I expected it to look like. As the miles passed, the landscape slowly transformed, and a mountain range appeared in the background. THIS was why I had said yes.

My first view of the Wind River Range as seen from the car – mountaineering lies ahead!

The First Day on the Trail

A bunch of firsts happened for me during Day 1 on the trail, though I’m glad to say they were all good ones, overall.

My First Time Hiking with 45 lbs.

I’m 5’1” and not what you’d call built or even muscular, so needless to say when Joe said something along the lines of “everyone is going to carry at least 40 lbs., probably more,” I was internally thinking, “I am not physically capable of this.”

Training tip: take the thing you fear the most and make it your focus. Instead of avoiding it, face it head on. During training, I spent hours walking on rolling terrain with my hiking pack full of my sister’s workout weights, slowly building up how much I was carrying.

We put together our packs at our hotel in Pinedale and weighed each of them. Mine weighed in at 45 lbs., which may not sound so bad until you realize that’s over 35% of my bodyweight.

All our packs stuffed full and ready to hit the trail the next day

Difficult does not mean impossible though! My hours of training 100% paid off, and any worries I had about carrying the weight were gone by the time we made camp after our first day on the trail. I was tired and had a headache (more on that below), but I felt strong and excited for what lay ahead, not weighed down by what was on my back.

Day 1 on the trail we had the heaviest packs – they got lighter as we ate!

My First Time above 10,000 ft.

I broke my elevation record with almost every step I took on this mountaineering expedition, but a few times were especially noteworthy, and this is one of them. Altitude was one thing I hadn’t been able to train for, and it definitely did affect me, though thankfully not for long.

The first day on the trail, I immediately experienced shortness of breath, which lasted the first mile or so before my body seemed to adjust. We went about 10 miles that day, and in the last couple miles I experienced an increasing headache, which Chelsea and Ben also experienced. Although I continued to have an above-average struggle during the first mile of each day after that, I’m glad to say the headache never returned.

My First Steps in the Wind River Range

Western hiking is not the same as Eastern hiking, from the trails to the terrain. We started down the trail through a pine forest (not at all an unfamiliar sight to me), but after a few miles we emerged into a giant natural clearing absolutely covered in wildflowers. I’m a wildflower nut and (no pun intended), it was a field day!

I took a moment to enjoy the wildflowers (without my pack)

We passed through that field back into the woods only to come across an even bigger, more beautiful meadow. And so the hike went – although eventually we left the forest behind for good and passed into more open, rocky terrain, I will never forget stepping into those first few meadows or how, no matter how far along the trail we were, we never went far without being able to see the trail wander off in front of us. (In NH, you hike blind to what’s ahead of you 80% of the time.)

The First Day in Titcomb Basin

Two days of steady hiking brought us into Titcomb Basin, where we would camp for the next several days and from which we would launch our Gannett summit attempt. If you’ve never been to Titcomb Basin, you should go.

I jumped for joy when we made it to Titcomb Basin!

Looking one direction from our campsite, I could see Upper Titcomb Lake, Fremont Peak, and the Wind River Range fading off into the distance. The other direction, we were surrounded by rocky peak after rocky peak, almost all of which had snow on them somewhere.

The view from our campsite looking back towards Titcomb Lake

Cradled among these peaks, I could see Bonney Pass. I can’t say this was my first time seeing the pass, as we’d been staring at the mountains ahead of us the past two days, and I’m sure I saw it at one point – I just didn’t know what it was. From the perspective of a girl on her first mountaineering trip, all I can say is it looked steep. Really steep. I won’t say impossible, because I refused to close that door as I stood there, but it was certainly a lot steeper and snowier than I had imagined.

The view from our campsite looking towards Bonney Pass

My First Time in the Backcountry for Over 3 Days

We spent 3 days at our camp in Titcomb Basin. The day after we arrived we took as a rest day to review our skills, then the next day we went on a side adventure as we waited for the weather to clear up (more on that below), while the third day was our summit attempt. By this time, I was completely covered in a strange mixture of sweat, Natrapel bug spray, and sunscreen that I could no longer smell.

I had never been on such a long backpacking trip before, and needless to say I was rather dirty (as were my companions – I think Joe and Ben wanted to see who could be the dirtiest). I wasn’t sure what I’d think of being in the wilderness for so long, but I can safely say I loved it.

Spending 7 days in the backcountry proved refreshing and invigorating!

The deeper we want into the wilderness, the more my excitement grew. The views were amazing, but more than that there was something refreshing about being completely surrounded by nature, getting plenty of exercise, and spending all day outdoors, completely tech-free. I obviously prefer using toilets to tree stumps, but the trade was worth it on this trip, and I suspect I’ll find it worth it on any lengthy trips to come.

My First (Mini) Experience with (Real) Rock Climbing

Our second day in Titcomb Basin, Joe, Chelsea, and I decided to warm our legs by attempting to summit Fremont Peak, the third highest peak in Wyoming. The mountain was almost completely bare of snow, and the route consisted of what seemed to be a never-ending talus field.

Having spent some time in the Presidential Range of NH, I was not unfamiliar with rocky routes. However, this was by far the rockiest route I’d ever been on, as well as the most time I’d ever spent on a talus field, navigating my way through scree. Definitely watch your footing!

Chelsea and me scrambling up Fremont Peak’s rocky slope.

We must have been over two thirds of the way up when we ran into some dangerously-loose terrain. Joe went ahead to see if he could scope out a better route and came back with a sturdy but more technical option. In college, I tried my hand at the rock wall a few times, but most of my experiences with rocks came from the White Mountains, where I’d never gone on a trail above a class 3 scramble.

Fremont Peak was the longest I’ve ever spent going through a talus field

Joe said the route he found was great, but had one class 4 spot. If you asked any real rock climber, I’m sure they tell you that me pulling my way up and over that small cliff (which I successfully did!) was not rock climbing, but it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten!

My First Time above 11,000 ft.

Around that time, Chelsea checked her watch and said we were above 11,000 ft. My record was broken! We pressed on for another fifteen or so minutes only to run into a cliff – literally. Since we didn’t bring any rock protection, we headed back down to camp to do final preparation and get to bed early for summit day.

Right before we went to sleep around 5 pm, I also experienced my first hailstorm in a tent – we were glad the hail didn’t get any larger than it did!

The hail came out of nowhere and lasted 10-15 minutes

My First Time Bivvying (& Being Above 12,000 ft. & Being Belayed Down a Couloir)

We hit the trail at 1 am on summit day. Titcomb Basin was pitch black, lit only by our headlamps. We turned off our headlamps for a moment over our rushed breakfast and saw the most amazing view of the Milky Way I have ever seen.

After a mile or so of trekking to the base of the pass, we started up the steep slope of ice and snow. In the pitch black, we ended up veering too far to the right and getting off route. We came up off the ice field onto some rocks on a ridgeline, with a steep upward slope to our right and steeper downward slope to our left, where we were relatively sure the correct route up Bonney Pass was. After a quick discussion as a team, we decided our best course of action was to bivvy until there was enough light to see if we could lower ourselves down the slope to the left.

Though rather rocky, our bivvy perch had a great view!

Needless to say, it was cold. We were above 12,000 ft. (the highest I’d even been up to that moment!), sitting in the pitch dark on a windy, rocky ridge. I pulled on my extra layers and pulled myself into my Survive Outdoors Longer Escape Pro Bivvy. Straight up honesty here: This was the first time the whole trip I was truly scared. Something about not knowing where I was, sitting in the pitch dark, and losing feeling in your feet just sucks the sense of adventure right out of you. My bivvy kicked in though and my feet regained feeling as the light increased.

Packing tip: ALWAYS bring a heat-reflective bivvy or blanket, even on day trips – we would have been in a real pickle without ours!

With the light, Joe could see that we were just a steep couloir away from the route, so he took out the rope and got to work belaying us down. Having never been belayed before, I managed a not-so-graceful decent that involved smacking the rocks once and some nervous tears. Not all firsts are fun, but I’m happy to say that the 3 other times I got belayed that day, I quickly found myself moving from being nervous to totally enjoying it!

The second time I got belayed was on the side of Gannett – super fun!

My First View of Gannett Peak

Back on the right route, we soon found ourselves on the top of Bonney Pass, where I saw my first view of Gannett Peak (which was blocked from view the whole way in from being so deep within the range). Wow.

This was our first view of Gannett Peak

This was the moment all my enthusiasm that I’d lost while bivvying came rushing back in. Mountains are definitely my happy place, and all I can say of Gannett Peak is that the view is worth the wait.

My First Time on a Glacier

I didn’t realize I was on a glacier for the first time till I’d probably been on it several minutes, as the Dinwoody Glacier at first just looks like the other side of Bonney Pass – a field of snow and ice on a steep slope! Once we had made the initial descent down the back of Bonney Pass though, Joe stopped us so we could rope up.

After reaching the top of Bonney Pass, we headed down the Dinwoody Glacier

On our way up to the Gooseneck Glacier, we had to jump over one crevasse, skirt around another, and ascend a steep snow bridge over two large crevasses. Needless to say, those were all first for me.

Our rope team on the Gooseneck Glacier

If you followed our expedition, you know that shortly after reaching the end of the Gooseneck Glacier, we ran into a hanging snowfield that was quickly deteriorating. Joe sank up to his waist after just a couple steps, and he’s not a short guy. As a team, we came the difficult conclusion that we needed to turn around, especially as our current speed meant we’d be cutting it close to make it back to camp before dark.

Gannett Peak descent

Joe and Ben starting the descent of Gannett

Looking back on that moment, I’m glad to say we all know we made the right decision. It would not have been safe to continue with the glacier and snow in the condition it was in, and we made it back to camp just in time to gobble down our Thanksgiving-themed dinner as the last rays of light disappeared. I’m pretty sure I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

My First Time Mountaineering – It Won’t Be My Last!

I won’t go into the details of our hike out and other happenings from this mountaineering trip (though you should definitely check them out on our trip report!). But despite not reaching the summit, I walked out of the wilderness two days later and felt like I was glowing, despite having rather sore feet. I think if you’d asked me if I wanted to go do the whole trip again, I would have said “Give me 24 hours off my feet and eating burgers and ice cream, then YES – LET’S GO!”

What made my first time mountaineering so amazing? Obviously it didn’t hurt that I spent seven days in one of the most beautiful, remote places I’d ever been, but I think it was more than that.

Team Tender – from left to right, Joe, Chelsea, Ben, and myself – in Titcomb Basin 

I had an amazing, supportive, and fun-loving mountaineering team. I can’t convey how truly great they were, but I want to share at least one thing about each of them.

  • From rapping in the backcountry to belaying us down couloirs to making us stay ridiculously hydrated, Joe was everything you could ask for in a trip leader. If you’re headed out on a “first,” it’s vital you trust the experienced members of your team. Joe took his role seriously and always made sure to put our safety first, while also helping us have a good time.
  • The best tent-mate award goes to Chelsea! Not only was she an amazing backcountry chef who made sure we all had the nutrition we needed, but she also had a positive, can-do attitude perfectly coupled with a realistic look at our current circumstances, helping us to make smart decisions as a team when it counted most. If you’re going to sleep in the same tiny enclosed space with someone for seven days, make sure you pick someone as awesome as Chelsea! (Plus, she liked to go to bed early, so we both got waaaay more sleep than the boys did.)
  • Let’s just start with the fact that Ben has the best vision of anyone I’ve ever seen – he could spot wildlife or other hikers from miles and miles away! From reminding me to get all the points of my crampons in the snow to helping us lift the bear bags into a tree, Ben added a steady presence and relentless good humor to our team that made him a pleasure to travel with.

So here’s to first time adventures – I hope my story has encouraged you to pick one of your own! You will in all likelihood have to work harder and prepare more than you ever have in your life, but difficult is not impossible, and with a lot of preparation and a solid group of people, there’s not much you can’t accomplish.

That was my first time mountaineering, but if I have anything to say about it, it definitely won’t be my last! After all, there’s a whole lot of world out there, and Gannett Peak is definitely still waiting for me…

my first time mountaineering

My first time mountaineering on Gannet Peak is an experience I’ll never forget

About the Author

Jenny Hastings fell in love with hiking from spending hours in the White Mountains with her dad. She spends most weekends in the summer and quite a few weekends in the winter out on the trails. The #BeSafeGannett Expedition was her first experience mountaineering, and she was excited to rise to the challenge with the training and by developing her technical skills. She’s always looking for a new summit and ways to spend more time outdoors, whether on the trail or reading in her hammock.

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.