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Mt. Whitney via the East Buttress 5.7 Route: Our 28-Hour Summit Day

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

This past June, I summited Mt. Whitney via the East Buttress 5.7 route with my friend Joe Miller (whom you may know as a member of #TeamTender). This ended up being by the far the hardest trip of my life……so far. Read more about this grueling but amazing epic below.

Worked, Sore, & Likely Dehydrated

The old saloon doors swung behind us as we made our way through the crowded bar. We had just limped our way around the dusty streets of Lone Pine California looking for a bite and a beer, and we decided on Jacks Saloon. It was June 8th, and we had spent the last 32 hours working our way up and down California’s Mt. Whitney. We were excited to have just summited the highest peak in the lower 48 states but were absolutely worked, sore, and likely dehydrated from the unplanned 28.5 hours tent-to-tent adventure. It was not long before I started nodding off mid-conversation, and before I knew it was lights out back at the motel. The next day we slept in and started our drive back across the desert to catch a red-eye east. As we drove I could not stop thinking about the exhausting but totally rewarding epic we just had.

2 Days Earlier

On June 6th, we left Whitney Portal around 6am and started our approach up to Upper Boy Scout Lake. The approach starts off really mellow with a series of sandy switchbacks and creek crossings, but after a few miles starts to get steep as you approach the famous Ebersbacher ledges. This is a series of exposed scrambles that can be a bit spicy with heavy packs. In one section you have to cross a no more than six inch wide section with a steep fifty foot drop and lots of open air staring you down. Per usual, Joe effortlessly walked across showing zero sign of fear or even mild discomfort. I, however, can remember wondering what the climb ahead would be like if we were already running into this type of exposure.

After a few miles and some poor talus field navigation, we arrived at the Upper Boy Scout Lake. This beautiful alpine lake area is spectacular, covered with scattered pines and surrounded by the Eastern Sierras. We set up camp next to a stream, well protected by a large boulder wall. Outside of some overly friendly Marmots, we ended up having the entire area to ourselves. We had an early dinner and were sleeping before the sun went down. The next day was summit day.

Our camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake

Our base camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake

Summit Day

We woke up before sunrise, sorted gear, and made an attempt to eat. Not sure if it was the early start or the altitude, but I struggled to stomach a Clif Nut Butter bar. We made our way up a short talus field and then to a series of endless moraines on our way to Iceberg Lake. I will never forget seeing the route for the first time when we rounded the last moraine before the lake. Mt. Whitney and the needles towered over the entire valley.

Our plan was to do the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney, which has been rated anywhere from low fifth class to 5.8.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, I spent countless hours reading the guide book and scanning trip reports on Mountain Project. The consensus was that we would need around a half day to complete the route, and we packed accordingly. As we passed Iceberg Lake, we ran into a guide and his client. We chatted with them about the route and made our way to the base of the wall.

The First Pitch

I agreed to lead the first pitch which is supposed to go at a straightforward 5.5. I took a few seconds to decide on the correct start and opted for a steep, left-facing corner. I traversed left out onto a large flake and started working on placing some gear. However, as I transferred my weight, the entire flake started to pull off the wall. As you can imagine, this was terrifying and made for an exciting first pitch. I gingerly traversed back to the start and opted for going straight up the corner.

About a quarter of the way up the wall it was apparent that I was on the 5.8 alternative start rather than the easy 5.5 corner. The corner had a few amazing lay backs and airy moves, and while I usually have no issues on 5.8, the altitude had me breathing excessively hard. I felt my legs starting to shake towards the top of the pitch. The constant grind of the Ice Axe on my pack on rock did not help with the nerves. Finally, I reached a small ledge and built an anchor to belay Joe up.

Joe scaling a rock wall

My climbing partner Joe, nailing it as usual

Gaining Altitude (and Ice)

Joe easily led the next pitch, and we were starting to feel pretty good about our time and even joked about being back in camp for lunch. That’s about the time that we began to start running into some scattered patches of snow and icy cracks. The third pitch looked easy enough, but the icy cracks made everything harder and made for some serious slow going.

Throughout the next couple pitches, we both found ourselves digging out snow and ice before placing gear.  After some route-finding misfortune and many leads by Joe, we arrived at the Peewee. The Peewee is a massive, ominous-looking block that is easily recognizable from a few pitches away. Once we arrived there, we felt a lot better knowing that we were on route. We took a few minutes to eat, and I broke out my Adventure® Medical Kits Hiker kit to take some pain killers for a mild altitude headache. That is when I realized that I had less than five ounces of water left and only a couple ProBar Chews. We looked at the guide book, picked our route, and Joe set off to lead a problematic-looking hand crack.

When the 4th Class Talus Field Becomes 5th Class Climbing

The guide book said to go left after the Peewee, but we must have went a little farther left then recommended. Instead of reaching the easy 4th class talus field, we ended up turning the planned 8 pitches into sustained fifth class 14 pitches. Throughout the upper pitches, we kept expecting to hit the talus field. I must have asked Joe “How’s it look up there?” or “Is it fourth class?” fifty or so times. But each time we ran into more fifth class climbing. Each time we regrouped at the belay and got back after it.

Mt. Whitney – 14,505′

After 14 hours on the wall, we finally reached the summit around 8:30 pm, just as the sun was setting over the High Sierra. After some high fives and obscenity-laced proclamations, we celebrated, threw off our climbing shoes, and snapped some pictures. I was ecstatic to have just finished my longest and most technical alpine climb.

We were running on empty from the lack of water and food a few pitches back. We were so desperate for water that we filled a hydration bladder with snow and shoved it in our jacket hoping for it to melt as we made our way down. Our celebration and sense of accomplishment was short lived when we started to scout our decent route.

On the summit of Mt. Whitney

Pumped to reach the summit of Mt. Whitney as the sun set!

Rerouting Our Descent

Our plan was to descend the Mountaineer’s Route, which is a steep, class three snow gully that dumps you back at Iceberg Lake. We walked over to the top of the route and quickly gave it a collective “nope.” The snow which had been melting all day in the sun had now frozen and was looking more like a W2 ice climb. It would be extremely dangerous to descend frozen at night, and arresting a fall would be nearly impossible.

We were left with only one option: to descend the standard Mt. Whitney Trail which leads back to Whitney Portal. For us, this meant hiking back down to the trail junction and then hiking back up to clean up camp at Upper Boy Scout. Since we did not plan to use this route, we had little knowledge of it and had written it off as merely a hiking trail. This ended up being more than 14 miles and meant dropping from 14,505 feet to around 9,000 feet at the trail junction, then back up to 11,350 feet at camp, and then back down to the parking lot at 8,375 feet.

Besides running on no sleep, food, or water, things were going pretty well.  Then around 1am we ran into Mt. Whitney’s famous “chute.” This is a large, steep, and exposed 1,200 foot snow gully. During the day, this route could be easily glissaded, but for us it was frozen wall of ice.

Bivvy at 11,200′

After a few hours, we reached the bottom and desperately searched for water and a flat spot to bivvy. We found some glacial runoff, filled our bottles, and made our way down towards a large rock garden. We found a bivvy spot and began setting up. At this point we had been on the go for more than 19 hours, and the temps had dropped into the low thirties. I put on every layer I had, laid down a Survive Outdoors Longer® Emergency Blanket as a tarp, and then got in my S.O.L. Escape OD Green Bivvy (Joe had the Escape Pro Bivvy). We were extremely fortunate to have the bivvies, as they were key in preventing almost certain hypothermia.

After a few hours of nodding in and out of consciousness, we were disturbed by large swaths of hikers making their way to the chute. For the next 6 hours, we made our way back down, up to our camp, and then down again to the car. We answered the question “how was the chute and did you summit” many times as we passed weary eyed hikers making their way up.

32 Hours Later

We arrived back at Whitney Portal looking worse for wear and settled for the comfort of a burger and cold beer at the Whitney Portal Store. My pants were ripped, my hands looked like raw meat, and I was pretty sunburnt, but overjoyed to have completed the climb. Joe was an absolute monster and just put his head down and pushed through the pain and fear.

This trip solidified the adventure partnership that Joe and I have built over many years of exploring. We pushed each other and ultimately worked in sync to keep it together when things got hard. I am sitting here on a dock over a thousand miles away from Mt. Whitney, but I can’t stop thinking of the beautiful Sierra’s. Now it is time to figure out what’s next.

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.

Treating Hypothermia with the SOL All Season Blanket at the AR World Championships

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

During the 2017 Adventure Racing World Championships, Team Adventure® Medical Kits‘ captain and team medic Kyle Peter helped save a racer’s life using the Survive Outdoors Longer® All Season Blanket. When one team came into the transition area he was at with a racer suffering from severe hypothermia, Kyle jumped into action to treat him until medical help could arrive. 

On the Last Leg

It was the final night of the 2017 Adventure Racing World Championships.  The sun had just set, and I was sitting at the final transition area just outside Casper, WY.  The top 5 teams were coming off of a relatively easy paddle leg in their pack rafts and onto their bikes for a simple ride over Caser Mountain to the finish line.  Teams were smelling the barn and moving quickly to finish the race and battle for the top 5 spots.

Team Adventure® Medical Kits getting their bikes ready after finishing the paddle leg

“The athlete was completely unresponsive…”

I was cheering on a team from France when I quickly realized one of their 4 teammates was bundled up in the front of a 2 person raft in soaking-wet emergency blankets.  Running to their assistance, I found the athlete was completely unresponsive to slaps on his face.  Severe hypothermia was in play here, brought on by a combination of 4 days of racing hard, sleepiness, wet conditions, and 55 degree temperatures.  My Wilderness First Responder skills kicked in!

Team Adventure® Medical Kits’ captain and medic Kyle Peter was the first responder

We carried his limp body up the boat ramp and put him into the back of a trailer.  I knew we need to call for help and get him as warm as possible.

Teammates gathered around their friend

“The All Season Blanket really helped save this man’s life”

Folks started to spring into action.  Some were boiling water, others called 911, while others ran to get warm supplies.  His teammates and I removed his wet clothing, put him in dry clothes, and got him in a “burrito” hypothermia wrap.  We had multiple sleeping bags, hot water bottles, and his feet warming on my stomach all to help him regain heat.  We used a proto-type Survive Outdoors Longer® All Season Blanket that I had with me to reflect back any body heat that started to return. The heat reflectivity and durability of the All Season Blanket really helped save this man’s life, as he slowly began to regain consciousness.

Kyle used  a prototype of the All Season Blanket as the outer layer of the burrito wrap to reflect any heat back to the patient

After 30 minutes, the ambulance arrived and took the patient to the hospital, where he spent the next 2 nights recovering from a near fatal case of hypothermia.  I am so thankful that I was prepared with the All Season Blanket and was able to help the racer come back from the hypothermia and recover 100% with no permanent damage.

Emergency personnel arriving at the race to take the patient to the hospital

About the Author

Kyle Peter, captain of Team Adventure® Medical Kits, has captained teams to 1st place finishes in 4 consecutive United States Adventure Racing Association’s National Championships (USARA) and to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishes in the World Championships. Since 2003, he has raced in over 140 adventure races with more podium places that he can count, making him one of the most experienced and successful USA adventure racers on the circuit today.  Whether Kyle is paddling his surf ski in the American River or mountain biking in the Sierras, he strives to get outside every day to maintain his physical fitness as well as his mental sanity. Also the team medic, Kyle is a certified Wilderness First Responder so he’s prepared to look out for the health of his teammates or other adventurer racers whenever emergencies occur.

The Survive Outdoors Longer® All Season Blanket is now available for purchase at www.SurviveOutdoorsLonger.com

Oh, That Will Never Happen to Me… Rescued off Moat Mountain Traverse

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

When Ben Cargill’s leg shattered during his descent of Moat Mountain, his survival in the frigid, snowy weather depended on the preparedness of himself and his friends to keep him warm and stable until help could reach them. 

December 9th, 2017 began as a typical early winter day. The skiing wasn’t all that great, but the preseason stoke was still high. So naturally, I needed an outlet for said stoke that didn’t involve skiing the same strip of snow 50 times. We were due to receive our first major storm of the season later that afternoon, so I decided to join some buddies on the iconic Moat traverse that frames the Mount Washington Valley’s western edge. Consisting of 3 peaks (South, Middle, and North Moat), the whole ridge spans a distance of about 9.5 miles. With such a relatively short distance to cover, we had planned to be finished by midday, just in time to try out a new brew pub that had just opened in town. Little did I know these plans were not meant to be.

The view from the summit of Moat Mountain

The tallest of the three peaks tips the altimeter at about 3100′, with the shortest peak in the range just barely rising to 2700’. All summed up, aside from their aesthetic value, to me these peaks were nothing special. Born and raised in the valley, I had hiked and biked them numerous times, but never actually run the whole range in one session. Herein lies the first lesson to be learned.

Lesson 1: Familiar terrain can provide a false sense of security, negatively affecting how prepared you are.

Both my companions on this day opted for the fast and light approach, showing up with nothing but running vests with some water and an extra layer. I on the other hand, tend to adopt the better-safe-than-sorry approach. Sure it might mean I have to carry an extra pound or two; however, I always thought it’s a small price to pay to survive the unexpected.

Now fast forward to the summit of South Moat. We’re about 7 miles in to a 9.5 mile run, just about to begin our final descent to tailgate beers. Up until this point, the run had been about as expected. Mixed rock slabs and water ice covered the trail with just a slight dusting of snow to keep things interesting. Sure, this made the descents more challenging, but nothing careful foot placement and some micro spikes couldn’t solve. I will admit, it was at this point in the run I came to the conclusion I was suffering from what I call “new gear syndrome.” Instead of packing micro spikes (which would have made all the difference), I had opted for the lighter, more svelte nano spikes. For those unaware, micro spikes are constructed with ¼ steel spikes, whereas Nano spikes are only designed with teeny little carbide pins, making them much better suited for running on rolling terrain.

We began our descent at 11:51am. The descent began with bare slab rock.  We collectively decided to remove our traction rather than risk tripping or grinding down our spikes. This was mistake number two of the day, a lesson we only learned in retrospect.

Lesson 2: Burning through a $60 piece of equipment is far more favorable than a $1500 ambulance bill.

Like many folks before us, we opted to take a quick video for Instagram points. I thought it would be cool to run behind my companions to give a follow cam perspective. Of course after several seconds of doing this, it occurred to me that this is an excellent way to roll an ankle. Satisfied with my footage, I put my phone away, made an attempt to catch up, and then as fate would have it, my day got a whole lot worse.

It all happened so fast.

As best I can remember, I was just about caught up to the group when I noticed I was beginning to slide. Attempting to stop, I did my best to rotate my torso to maneuver myself off the ice slab- this worked, almost. Though half my body stopped, the other half did not. In the blink of an eye I felt the unmistakable snap, crackle, pop of a broken bone. (Later, as I would find out, it was not just broken, but completely shattered.)

An x-ray of Ben’s leg, which suffered a tib/fib fracture

Initially, the pain wasn’t the worst in the world. Though my leg was arched to left at an angle that clearly indicated a tib/fib fracture, I thought the situation was salvageable. It was not. Within two minutes, the excruciating white hot pain of a shattered bone sank in. Coupled with the shock from an injury this severe, I was beginning to accept the fact that for the first time ever, I was going to have to swallow my pride and dial 911.

As a local, I’ll admit I always harshly judged those requiring rescue unfortunate enough to have their story printed in the paper. I used to joke to my companions that if I were ever injured in the backcountry, I would rather be rolled out of the woods than suffer the shame of being carried out for the community to read about in the local paper. Now, while I was lying on the side of a trail in massive amounts of pain, to be concerned with such a thing seemed almost trivial. That was when I learned my third lesson of the day.

Lesson 3: It does not matter how familiar you are with the terrain or how confident you are of your athletic and technical abilities; accidents can happen to anybody. Period.

As the pain got worse and I began to lose body heat through conduction, the situation seemed to deteriorate. In addition to dealing with a severe injury, we now had to cope with preventing hypothermia and the fact that it was starting to snow. Originally we had planned to be off the ridge well before the storm was supposed to hit, and of course we were running, so none of us really brought much in the way of extra layers or provisions for that matter. Fortunately, regardless of the activity, I have an almost obsessive tendency to over prepare. I had no less than 3 extra layers and enough food and water to last the night if absolutely necessary.  For all my friends who constantly give me a hard time over my unnecessarily heavy pack: survival situations such as this are EXACTLY why.

In the aftermath of this accident, I’ve made it a point to stock all my packs with a Survive Outdoors Longer® Emergency Bivvy, first aid kit, and emergency blanket. None of these items require much real estate in a pack or weigh that much. In this case, I will forever be grateful that one of my companions (who also happened to be a PT) was prepared and brought a Survive Outdoors Longer® Emergency Bivvy.

Keeping warm with extra layers and a Survive Outdoors Longer® Emergency Bivvy

Given the fact that rescues, no matter how far from the trailhead, can take HOURS in the backcountry, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to be caught without an emergency blanket. These things weigh mere ounces and cost next to nothing. A small price to pay for something that can be lifesaving as it was in my case. Had we not brought an emergency bivvy, I would have likely reached a dangerous stage of hypothermia.

To put things in perspective, South Moat is not a tall mountain. The trail is not difficult, the average hiker could make the summit in less than two hours. The accident occurred just below the summit, which is about 2.4 miles from the trailhead. After realizing we could not splint our way out of the situation, one of my friends called 911 at 12:04pm. Then we called my Dad. My father, an avid outdoorsman like myself, reached us in about two hours.

Stabilizing Ben and preparing him for transport as the snow fell

The first EMT got to me around 3pm. It took about half an hour to take my vitals, splint and realign my leg, get wrapped up, and loaded in the stretcher. It took another 4 hours to get carried to the trailhead. By then, the snow storm was in full swing, making a litter carry even more challenging than it already is.

Carrying Ben out on a litter through the snow

Finally arriving at the ambulance at 7:30pm, I arrived in the ER around 8pm, and was in surgery shortly thereafter.

Conclusion

This event was by far the most extreme case of pain and suffering I’ve had to endure. Suffering a terrible broken leg is bad enough, but add the elements and a 4 hour carry out to the ordeal? It was an absolutely miserable experience. This accident was humbling; it reminded me just how crucial it is to be adequately prepared in the backcountry, no matter how short the trip.  Had we not been as prepared as we were, the outcome would have been very different.

It was also incredibly mind blowing just how many people it takes to carry a litter, even if over a short distance. It took 23 volunteers from 3 organizations, not to mention the efforts of some kind hikers who stopped to give aid to get me out of the woods.

The carryout via litter took 4 hours

So, if you’re going to take anything away from this story, it’s be prepared for anything! I learned a lot of lessons the hard way that day.

  1. Although any injury is miserable, just remember it can always be worse. In this case, I was fortunate enough to be with friends who had first aid training and an appropriate level of preparedness. The accident could have occurred farther away from the trailhead, I could have been alone, we could have had no cell service, the weather could have been worse. I consider myself lucky.
  2. Always bring a cell phone! Yes, we head into the outdoors to avoid technology, but these devices are absolutely crucial in an emergency situation. Save the social medial for tailgate beers, as a dead phone is just extra weight. We needed a cell phone to dial 911, then to maintain contact with the fish and game officer organizing the carry out.
  3. Rescues can take hours in the backcountry. It took over 8 hours to get to a hospital from the site of injury. Think of all the time it takes for rescuers to find out where you are, to call volunteers for a litter, and then simply to reach you. Conveniently, my injury occurred at noon on a Saturday. Now imagine that happening miles away from the nearest trailhead late in the day with no cell service. The best thing you can do is utilize the physical and mental tools available to you to avoid being in a situation like that in the first place. Take a first aid class, check the weather, and research your route. The best defense to an unexpected situation is preparation.
  4. Accidents can happen to anybody at any time, regardless of your skill level. I pride myself on always being prepared, on knowing when to turn around, on my physical fitness, etc. No one is immune, always leave your plans with someone, and when possible, recreate with friends! I can’t imagine how scary it would have been if I had to wait for rescue alone.

Acknowledgements

There are A LOT of volunteers needed for a successful rescue. All said and done, it took 24 individuals to carry me out of the woods. Although I would have preferred to not have had this accident occur at all, I am incredibly fortunate that it happened the way it did. If you think about it, to have professional medical staff on the top of a mountain with you after less than 3 hours is impressive.

Volunteers carried Ben down from Moat Mountain through snowy, icy conditions

I’d like to acknowledge Conway EMS for their assistance in putting my leg back together and NH Fish and Game Officer Alex Lopashanski for his efficiency in organizing enough people to carry a littler. I’m grateful for the efforts of some hikers who not only stopped to donate layers, but also hiked all the way down to the litter, then all the way back up to help carry me out. I’d also like to thank the efforts of the volunteers with Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR) and the Mountain Rescue Service (MRS) for carrying me out of the woods. To my two friends accompanying me on the run, Sean and Matt: you guys are amazing friends. I consider myself to be truly lucky. Credit is also due to all the amazing staff in the orthopedics office at memorial hospital for putting my leg back together. A big shout out to my dad whom, upon hearing of the accident, left work immediately to come help me out, making it to us in record time. And of course, a massive thanks to my family and friends for assisting me during the recovery process. You’re all amazing people.

Stay safe out there friends.
Ben Cargill

About the Author

Born and raised in the White Mountains, Ben learned to love the outdoors at an early age. An avid backcountry skier, he spends his free time constantly searching for that next epic line. When there’s no snow on the ground, he can usually be found jumping rocks on his local mountain bike trails. He currently works for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Pinkham Notch, NH.

SheJumps’ Wild Skills Junior Ski Patrol at Crystal Mountain

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Written by Wild Skills Director, Christy Pelland

On December 16, 2017, SheJumps Wild Skills hosted Junior Ski Patrol at Crystal Mountain a day camp where girls learned mountain safety and first aid while working with the strong women of the ski patrol community and SheJumps volunteers. Throughout the day, participants were taught a range of outdoor skills that are utilized by ski patrollers to keep the mountain safe. Topics included first aid, avalanche control, snow science, weather stations, toboggans, avalanche rescue techniques, avalanche dogs and much more. There was also plenty of snack breaks, high fives and unicorns delivering hot cocoa!

The day started at 9:30am with registration, meeting team members, filling our pockets with snacks (Thank you Clif Bar!) and making Junior Ski Patroller cards. Teams consisted of 8 participants, 3 SheJumps volunteers and 1 Crystal Mountain pro patroller.

At 10am, the teams headed to ski patrol headquarters located at the base of Crystal Mountain. We entered in through the ‘Ski Patrol Only’ entrance and cozied up in the patrol locker room for a briefing by ski patrol director, Kim Kircher. Kim talked about what ski patrol does, how they educate the community, the skier’s responsibility code and more. After a Q & A, teams toured the aid room and witnessed patrollers in action as a skier was cared for.

By 10:30am, Teams Blue & Orange were headed to the summit and Teams Purple & Green over to Campbell Basin. All teams started the morning station set with First Aid which was housed in tents provided by our generous partner, Big Agnes. Patrollers led demonstrations in prevention and care of injuries – role playing situations which included making splints and stopping bleeding. A big thank you to our program partner, Adventure® Medical Kits for providing all the gear needed in order to create this part of the event. Also, for giving each participant a first aid kit & emergency blanket!


Next up, teams learned about snowmobiles, toboggans and why patrollers cache gear on the mountain. This station set included finding caches and learning how to load & maneuver the toboggans. Many girls I talked to said driving and riding in the toboggans was their favorite part of the day!

I bet you’d like to know the secret to pulling off successful youth events in the mountains? Well, get ready for it: UNICORNS DELIVERING HOT COCOA! That’s right, our team of 4 unicorn delivered piping hot cocoa complete with whipped cream & sprinkles to our 32 participants, 20 volunteers and 6 pro patrollers.

Lunch was included in this event and consisted of everyone’s favorite: PIZZA! Crystal Mountain recently installed a wood fire pizza oven in Campbell Basin Lodge and OH is it amazing! Our crew annihilated 12 large pizzas and 2 giant bowls of pasta before heading back out into the snow.

After lunch, each team was greeted by a unicorn carrying avalanche beacons, probes and shovels. The unicorns gave instructions about the Buried Treasure Hunt and patrollers lead the team in how to properly conduct a search. At SheJumps, we strongly believe in education and fun – our events blend both of these elements to make for the safest and most entertaining adventure possible. After tracking down the buried treasure each team uncovered their booty: a BCA beacon & box full of donut holes. Special thanks to Backcountry Access (BCA) for providing all the beacons, probes, shovels, slope meters and crystal cards for this event.

Once the girls had their fill of donuts, all teams hiked thru the trees into a secluded area of Campbell Basin. This was a challenge for some of the girls who have never done this level of side stepping and technical skiing/snowboarding. Yet all made it and were greeted by enthusiastic high fives. After all were settled into the snow, Kim Haft led a presentation on the avalanche dog program at Crystal Mountain sharing many interesting aspects about the dogs such as how they are trained and how the dogs like to spend their summer vacations.

Once Kim was done answering questions, we turned our attention to Christina Hale & Kala who were located on the slope above us. Everyone sat in silence as Kala charged across the hill searching out the scent. In seconds she’d found it and began frantically digging – pulling up the sweater that had been buried earlier that day. Christina loudly praised Kala as did the rest of us – it was quite the sight!

As we exited the area, we were treated to a stash of fresh pow!


The afternoon station sets included touring the weather stations and avalanche prevention. At the weather stations, teams learned how data is gathered and how to find & read weather reports. This station also included lessons on snow crystals and the science behind them.

The avalanche prevention set included seeing the different control routes at Crystal Mountain as well as stories of past avalanches. Teams discussed terrain assessment, the human factor and the importance of making good decisions.

There was a lot of information covered during this day but teams still found time to do a bit of free skiing – some even ran into unicorns!

At 3:30pm, all teams gathered for wrap up which included certificates for completing the day and a sweet swag bag filled with a watertight first aid kit from Adventure® Medical Kits, SheJumps lip balm by EcoLips, and Clif bar notebook.

Our goal with SheJumps Wild Skills is to see girls learning, having fun and connecting in an encouraging environment with amazing instruction and support from female mentors. We want Wild Skills to be an experience they will remember, one that will spark a lifetime of passion for the outdoors and will remind them that they are capable of anything. Giving participants, young and old, the opportunity to learn skills in a fun yet challenging setting develops perseverance and fosters confidence. Thanks to all that helped make this program come to life!

This was the first event of it’s kind for Wild Skills and we’re looking forward to bringing it to other mountain communities this season including Big Sky, Sun Valley and Alta. If you’re interested in bringing Junior Ski Patrol to your local hill – contact Wild Skills Director, Christy Pelland cpelland@shejumps.org

Special thanks to our partners:

Crystal Mountain Resort

Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol

Clif Bar

BCA

Yukon Trading Company

Big Agnes

High fives to our photographers:

Ryan French

Blake Kremer

Big up to our videographer, Max Chesnut for capturing the magic!

Hail, Puddles, & Lessons in Backcountry Tenting

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

What would you do if hail started pelting your head when your miles from civilization with only a tent for shelter? Keep reading for a humorous account of how a fellow adventurer handled this situation and to hear what she learned about handling weather in the backcountry. – Adventure® Medical Kits

You Should Visit Middle Velma Lake in Desolation Wilderness

A beautiful sunset over a lake

Middle Velma Lake (after the hailstorm)

The surroundings are absolutely stunning. On a recent trip to the lake with friends, we were lucky enough to get this amazing sunset on our last night. It was a beautiful and peaceful moment following a less than enjoyable hailstorm that had taught the three of us a few things about outdoor preparedness.

I would like to think I am the type of person who reacts very calmly when things don’t go as planned in the backcountry. Looking back on that last day of our trip, I wouldn’t say I was freaking out; however, I also definitely wouldn’t say I was making decisions that were helping our situation. I certainly wasn’t prepared.

Earlier That Day

The view from our campsite

“Let’s swim to the island one more time!”

It was a gorgeous day and we had already swam out to the island earlier, but Ashley was very excited to do it again. Audrey and I agreed to go with her, but once we got knee deep in the water we both chickened out. There were dark grey clouds rolling in, and I was worried it might lightning and thunder again as it had the day before. What I should have been worried about was that our tent fly was off, a hailstorm was about to hit, and we had ingeniously pitched both our tents in what was soon to become a massive puddle… But I didn’t know any of that yet.

After we decided not to swim to the island, it started to lightly sprinkle. We briskly made our way up to our campsite to put our rain flies on.

The Next Hour

At first, we were really excited.

“It’s really raining – this is so fun! We should rig a little shelter up so we can cook dinner underneath it!”

“Great idea! I have this blanket, and we can unravel this survival bracelet to use as string and tie it up to these trees.”

Our initial excitement at the rain

I am sure there is a really easy way to unravel a survival bracelet, but it took us forever. When we finally got the string loose, it became apparent that I had no idea how to “rig a shelter,” and the two strings were so short that we finally abandoned the shelter and dinner idea all together. At this point, the rain was being accompanied by marble-size hail balls that caused us pain by landing on our heads, so we decided to get in our tents.

Once we got into our tents, there was a sense of relief. However, although we were no longer getting pelted with hail, we were soon all a little worried. Would the hail continue to get bigger and bigger? I cannot speak for Ashely and Audrey, but for me that was when the fear set in a little. Can Tahoe get golf ball size hail? Ashley and I started laughing nervously about the time her car was totaled in Omaha from a hailstorm.

The hail thankfully didn’t get any bigger, but we quickly ran into our next problem: We had strategically placed our tents in very soft dirt. The spots looked so soft and nice to sleep on because they were dried up puddles. By the time we realized what was going on, it was too late. I unzipped the tent to see how high the water was and was shocked to find that under the rainfly our backpacks were sitting in a 6” puddle, and my shoes were floating.

The puddle where our tent originally was

We needed to move our tent as soon as possible. The bottom of the tent zipper had turned into a very floppy dam that, if it broke, would flood our tent immediately. Thankfully, we managed to get the tent moved without breaking the zipper dam. We ended up relocating it to the most uncomfortable location ever, but at least we knew it wouldn’t flood again if the hail and rain came back.

What I Learned…

From the Rain

Take precautions to keep your gear dry. Always have your rainfly on, no matter how sunny it is, and don’t unpack your sleeping bag/pad until you go to bed. If we had been on a walk (or swimming to the island again!) when the hail hit, our tent and sleeping bags would have been soaked. Line your backpack with a garbage bag or have your clothing in a waterproof dry bag. We had garbage bags over our backpacks, but that didn’t protect our clothes inside the bags from the puddle. Just in case your sleeping bag does get wet, bring an extra lightweight bivvy or survival blanket. Oh – and choose high ground over sleeping comfort when you’re pitching your tent!

We were really lucky. Not all our clothing got soaked and we had enough dry items to go around for the three of us. The temperature that night only dropped to maybe 50°. We had an uncomfortable last night sleep and a lot of gear to dry out, but it could have been much worse. What if everything got wet and it dropped to below freezing? If that had happened, would we have considered hiking out 5 miles down 3,500 ft. to Emerald Bay in the dark? No thanks.

Our gear drying out from the storm

From the Hail

Pack supplies for a sturdy shelter (and know how to rig one!). Before heading out on a trip, you should always keep an eye on the weather for the area you’re heading to so you know if you need to change plans due to approaching hail or thunderstorms. However, severe weather can occur unexpectedly and come on quickly, as we experienced, leaving you little time if you’re miles from civilization and underprepared. The first thing you should do in a hailstorm is seek shelter.

We were too far out to take cover in a car or any sort of building, but we certainly could have prepared more by covering our tents with a shelter rigged from a heavy duty blanket or tarp and some paracord. Set at an angle, this would have provided our tent with more protection from the rain and hail. As we discovered, it’s probably best to rig shelter before it starts actually raining and hailing.

A Couple Other Very Important Tips

  1. Don’t bring multi-colored quinoa backpacking; it takes forever to cook and tastes terrible if undercooked.
  2. Do eat Mac n’ Cheese after a hailstorm with your friends!

The three of us ready to head home!

Prepare for the 2016 Hurricane Season

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

 

Rain and storm winds blowing trees

The  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 2016 to be an active hurricane season according to data from the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Hurricane season is six month long and begins in June. Gulf Coast and Atlantic states are usually the most affected by hurricanes.

The predictions for hurricane seasons are based on three factors according to the NOAA¹:

  • Water temperatures  in the Atlantic and Caribbean
  •  El Niño or La Nina weather formations
  • Patterns of atmospheric patterns like strong African monsoon that have been responsible for high hurricane activity in the past

HOW TO PREPARE FOR HURRICANE SEASON

To prepare for a hurricane, you should take the following measures²:

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Know your surroundings.
  • Learn the elevation level of your property and whether the land is flood-prone. This will help you know how your property will be affected when storm surge or tidal flooding are forecasted.
  • Identify levees and dams in your area and determine whether they pose a hazard to you.
  • Learn community hurricane evacuation routes and how to find higher ground. Determine where you would go and how you would get there if you needed to evacuate.
  • Make plans to secure your property:
  • Cover all of your home’s windows. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8” marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
  • Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.
  • Be sure trees and shrubs around your home are well trimmed so they are more wind resistant.
  • Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Reinforce your garage doors; if wind enters a garage it can cause dangerous and expensive structural damage.
  • Plan to bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down.
  • Determine how and where to secure your boat.
  • Install a generator for emergencies.
  • If in a high-rise building, be prepared to take shelter on or below the 10th floor.
  • Consider building a safe room.

²Ready.gov is an excellent and sited source for emergency preparedness.