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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.

Walking 60 Miles on Blisters – What I Learned

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

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

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

Don’t Ignore “Minor” Problems

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

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

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

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

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

Gluing Blisters Works – But Brace Yourself

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

gluing blisters

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

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

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

Healing Is Slow

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

The blisters took some time to scab over

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

It’s a Long Way Home

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

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

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

Smile & Learn

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

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

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

My team supported me the whole journey

About the Author

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

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.

Lessons from Gannett Peak: #BeSafeGannett Expedition Report

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

This July, four of employees headed into the Wind River Range of Wyoming to attempt to summit Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming. Joe Miller, Ben Pasquino, Chelsea Miller, and Jenny Hastings had the opportunity to put themselves and some of our products to the test at one of the most remote places in the USA. 

Team gear check before flying out for Wyoming – we carried a lot of important gear!

Day 1: Elkhart Park Trailhead to Little Seneca Lake
11.7 miles 1959 ft. elevation gain

Day 1 leaving the trailhead we were all smiles for the adventure ahead!

We set off from the Elkhart Park Trail head at about 8 am with big smiles on our faces. The terrain on our first day was pretty rolling and not too strenuous. As primarily East Coast hikers, we were thankful for switchbacks (we don’t find those often in the White Mountains); however, we were also quickly affected by the altitude. Ben, Jenny, and I found ourselves a little short of breath, dizzy, and with nagging headaches. Joe, who hiked Mt. Whitney in June, found that his prior trip above 10,000 ft. helped him acclimate quicker this time around.

Our first view of the high peaks came at Photographer’s Point, about 5 miles in. Those of you looking for a beautiful day hike in the area, we would highly recommend the trek to Photographer’s Point.

Photographer’s Point gave us our first breathtaking view.

After a quick break for lunch, we continued on through beautiful fields of wildflowers and past gorgeous lakes. We camped for the night at Little Seneca Lake, where the boys enjoyed some fishing, and Joe caught a Rainbow Trout.

Our first day was not without issues. A few miles in, we discovered that Ben had some pretty nasty blisters. This gave us a chance to break out our Ultralight/Watertight .7 and apply some blister treatment. Ben glued his skin back together with some tincture of benzoin (warning, he also discovered this hurts pretty badly) and bandaged himself up with some GlacierGel and Duct Tape. Take it from him, folks: definitely make sure your boots are broken in and fit well before undertaking a multi-day hike.

Ben patching up his blisters using his Ultralight/Watertight .7 medical kit

Day Two : Little Seneca Lake to Titcomb Basin
7.7 miles 1093 ft. elevation gain

We broke camp at Little Seneca Lake a little later this morning and made our way up mountain passes to Island Lake. From the pass above Island Lake, we got a great view of Bonney Pass, which would be our gateway to Gannett Peak. At Island Lake, we stopped to fill and treat our water using Aquamira. The water in the Wind River Range was pretty clear, so we didn’t need to filter out sediment. We only needed to kill any potential bacteria.

We drank a lot of Aquamira-treated water!

Hiking past the lakes and ponds on our way to Titcomb Basin, we encountered lots of bugs. On this trip, we all relied heavily on Natrapel. Natrapel is a Picaridin-based formula that will repel bugs for up to 12 hours and won’t damage any gear or synthetic materials.

Chelsea applying some Natrapel to keep the mosquitoes away

We also all had treated our gear with Ben’s Clothing and Gear, a Permethrin treatment, before we hit the trail for extra protection. One of the guys at the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale, WY informed us that the bugs were especially bad this year! Our insect repellent really helped though, and we were easily able to deal with the legendary bugs of the Wind River Range. As we trekked further into Titcomb Basin, the trees began to drop away, the sun became more intense, and we began to see more and more snow and rocks. At this point, we all transitioned into our glacier glasses and pulled out our brimmed hats.

We pushed as deep into Titcomb Basin as possible before setting up camp for the day. Joe found us a beautiful campsite sheltered from the wind and conveniently close to water. Make sure to look up camping regulations where you’re going – in the Bridger Wilderness, we were required to be 200 ft from trails and lakes and 100 ft from creeks and streams. We took a little longer getting up camp this evening, as Joe and Ben took some time building up a rock wall to block the wind.

Our camp at Titcomb Basin, where we built a rock wall for wind protection

We wanted to invest in this space because we were planning to spend a few nights here. We spoke to a few climbers coming down Gannett Peak and got all good news (the snow bridge over the bergschrund was still in good shape) and were advised by multiple people to start early. As the sun set in Titcomb Basin, we sat in awe of our surrounding and couldn’t believe we were finally here.

Day 3: Rest Day in Titcomb Basin

We decided to spend our first full day in Titcomb Basin as a rest day because the weather outlook looked better later in the week, and we were grateful for one more day to acclimate. On our rest day, we brushed up on our rope and glacier skills. We practiced tying alpine butterflies and retraced figure-8s, moving as a rope team, and making snow anchors with pickets. We also packed our summit packs to make sure we had all of our gear ready for the trek up Gannett Peak. Shortly after, heavy rains pushed us inside our tents, making us glad we opted for a rest day, rather than a summit bid.

After our short rain break, we took some time to test and photograph a few of our amazing products. Ben practiced using the Survive Outdoors Longer Rescue Flash Mirror to signal for help (he successfully signaled Joe, then Jenny and I ,from over a mile away while we were hiking back to camp at one point), and Jenny took advantage of the Adventure Bath Wipes to feel a little more human after some sweaty, dusty days on the trail.

Ben catching the sunlight with the S.O.L. Rescue Flash Mirror – it’s bright!

At this point, hikers started trickling back into the basin after their days on Gannett Peak. We met one very experienced mountaineer who not only gave us great beta on climbing Gannett Peak, but entertained us with tales of his world-wide adventures. One of my favorite parts of spending time in the backcountry is meeting fellow hikers; it’s always fun to trade stories, and they often inspire my future trips.

Both Grizzly and Black Bears make their home in the Wind River Range. Throughout our trip, we stored all of our food and toiletries (including sunscreen and insect repellent) in bear proof Ursacks. We chose these over bear canisters for our trip, as they were lighter and more convenient; however, often you can rent bear canisters from the US Forest Service if you don’t own any (in the White Mountain National Forest, you can borrow them for free). Responsible food storage in the backcountry is important both for your safety and the safety of the bear. On Day 1, we were able to hand our bear bags in trees (at least 10 ft. off the ground); however, in Titcomb Basin, we didn’t have any trees to use. While in Titcomb Basin, we hung our bear bags off boulders, roughly 200 ft. away from camp. Throughout our time in the Wind River Range, we also carried bear spray in case of any threatening bear encounters. It’s vital to do all of your cooking and cleaning away from your camp; this way bears and other critters won’t be attracted to the smell and will hopefully leave your camp alone. While we didn’t end up seeing any bears, we were glad to have been prepared.

Day 4: Freemont Peak and Titcomb Basin
5.91 miles 2047 ft. elevation gain

As the weather for today was still a little iffy, and the weather for the next day looked beautiful, we decided to push Gannett Peak off for one more day. We were very lucky to have a lot of time out in the Wind River Range, which allowed us to be flexible and wait for a good weather window.

Joe, Jenny, and I decided to get up at 5am for a 6am start up Freemont Peak (the third highest peak in WY). This peak is traditionally approached from Indian Basin, but we figured we’d give it a shot from Titcomb. We scrambled up scree and talus over 3rd and 4th class terrain to just over 12,000ft before heading back down. We ran into a wall (literally) when we encountered some 5th class climbing. As we didn’t bring any rock protection with us on this expedition, we scrambled back down, happy to have warmed up our legs and lungs for our push up Gannett Peak the following day.

Jenny and Chelsea on their way up Fremont

Back at camp, we rested up and hid from the sun, which was very strong at 10,000 ft. (remember to pack sunscreen – we were glad we did!). Shortly after second dinner (more on that ahead), I noticed some ominous clouds rolling into the Basin. We hastily put all of our gear under our tents and strung up our bear bags as thunder echoed around us. Shortly after we were safe in our tents, the rain quickly transitioned into hail! Our tents held up just fine, and Jenny and I stayed unaffected, if a little exhilarated, by the hail. Joe and Ben had opted for an ultralight, floorless tent (they used the S.O.L. All Season Blanket as a base).

The boys’ floorless tent worked great overall, but definitely let in some hail!

While their tent held up great and they were grateful for the reduced weight during our 40 mile round trip hike into Titcomb Basin, the hail ended up bouncing up into their tent and off their faces. They were certainly glad it was only pea sized! The hail subsided after 20 minutes or so, and we turned in for the night around 5 pm to prepare for our 12 am wakeup call.

Day 5: Gannett Peak Summit Bid
16.5 miles 5935 ft. elevation gain

On summit day, we got up at midnight for a 1 am start. We put on our crampons on a snowfield close to camp and were able to leave them on for the rest of the day. We got a little off route in the dark, navigating by our headlamps, and ended up scrambling most of the way up Miriam Peak before realizing we weren’t headed in the right direction. We pulled out our Survive Outdoors Longer Escape Pro Bivvies and waited for a little bit more sunlight to figure out our next move.

Joe in the Escape Pro Bivvy, looking at our route as the light increases

Once the sun had come up a little more, we realized that we were only one snow field over from Bonney Pass. We rappelled down from our bivvy perch to the correct snowfield and finished our ascent up Bonney Pass around 7 am. From the top of Bonney, we got our first view of Gannett Peak and its gorgeous hanging snowfield. To climb Gannett from Titcomb Basin, you have to ascend about 2,000 ft. up Bonney Pass, then descend 1,000 ft. to the base of Gannett Peak before making your final 2,000 ft. climb to the top. On the return trip, you have to climb back up Bonney Pass before making your final descent back to camp in Titcomb Basin.

We saw our first view of Gannett Peak from the top of Bonney Pass

Once at the base of Bonney Pass, we roped up to make our approach to Gannett Peak over the Dinwoody and Gooseneck Glaciers. On our way up, we had to hop a crevasse and cross a bergschrund on the Gooseneck Glacier.

Our rope team on the Gooseneck Glacier

By the time we were partway up Gannett, the snow on the glaciers had begun to deteriorate. Joe, who was leading our rope team, was post-holing up to his waist, and in the soft snow we were moving very slowly. About 500 vertical ft. below summit, we decided the snow was in too bad shape to continue and that we needed to turn around. At this point, it was already 1 pm and we had been moving for 12 hours. While this was a very hard decision, we knew we had to make it back over Bonney Pass and back to camp safely.

Gannett Peak descent

Descending Gannett Peak, shortly after we decided to turn around

By the time we got back to camp, it was nearly 9 pm – we had had a 20-hour day out in the mountains.

Turning around is always a hard decision, and not getting to the summit was definitely a disappointment for all of us. A number of factors kept us from getting to the summit, and we’ve learned a lot about glacier travel and how to increase our possibilities for success. In this case, our goal of getting out safely was paramount to our goal of summiting Gannett Peak.

Day 6: Titcomb Basin to Island Lake
7 miles 643 ft. elevation gain

We had a slow morning after our 20 hour day on Gannett Peak. We ended up packing up and leaving our camp in Titcomb Basin around 11 am. We quickly stopped at Mistake Lake, which the boys had heard often was full of Golden Trout. After an hour or so of fishing (and scaring marmots away from our bags and snacks), we packed back up and continued to Island Lake. At Island Lake, we stopped to refill our water in a stream, and Ben saw some enormous spawning Cutthroat Trout. The boys pulled out their rods and started fishing. Ben caught a beautiful trout before we headed on towards our campsite for the night.

Joe and Ben getting in some fishing at Island Lake

Just over the pass after Island Lake, we found a gorgeous camping spot by a peaceful pond overlooking the mountains. While our other campsites were stunning, this was one of my favorite campsites of the entire trip. Jenny, Joe, and Ben took a dip and had a blast jumping off rocks into the water. As this was a glacier-created lake, it dropped off rather quickly, making it great for jumping into. I opted to stay dry and warm.

Jenny enjoying a dip in a rather chilly lake.

That night we watched the sunset from a nearby rocky outcropping and used our head nets to keep the bugs away, especially over dinner.

 

Ben’s InvisiNet Xtra head net helped keep the bugs off us at night.

In the Winds, our dinners consisted of completely dehydrated freezer-bag meals compiled by yours truly. In this method, I used easily rehydratable ingredients which would cook quickly when we added boiling water. For a base, I used quick cooking carbs (instant rice, instant potatoes and couscous) with freeze-dried chicken and freeze-dried vegetables. We mixed it up by adding different spices. Some favorite meals were Alfredo couscous, Thai peanut rice noodles and Thanksgiving dinner. Keep an eye out for a upcoming blog post containing our favorite recipes!

Enjoying some couscous alfredo!

We ended up eating in 2 shifts. Our first night, I cooked up a large dinner all at once, but we struggled to eat it all. While we knew that we needed the calories, we filled up fast after a full day on the trail. We found it worked best for us to spread dinner out by having it in two courses. That way we could eat right when we broke for camp, then a little later before we had to put up our bear bags. Nutrition is such a personal thing when in the backcountry; you have to do what works best for you.

Day 7: Island Lake to Elkhart Park Trailhead
12.5 miles 1586 ft. elevation gain

When we began our final day in the Wind River Range, we weren’t sure that it would be our last day. We thought we’d go about 7 miles, set up camp, spend some time fishing, and head out the next day. As we began our hike, we realized that we were making very good time. At about noon, we ran into a US Forest Service Backcountry Ranger. While talking to her about other campers wildlife encounters (side note: when we were headed up Gannett Peak, we ran into a party that approached Gannett from the East on the Glacier Trail. They told us that they had been stalked by a Mountain Lion that morning! While it ended up prowling off, it was definitely a scary morning for them.), she mentioned off-handedly that we were only 6 miles or so from the trailhead. Taking into account Ben’s worsening blisters and our growing desire for a burger, we decided to push out that day. After Photographer’s Point, Joe (the fastest hiker in our group) decided to go on ahead and drop his pack at the car, that way he could come back and take Ben’s pack to alleviate the weight on his painful heels. We made it out by about 4 pm, excited for a meal in Pinedale.

One of the many things we learned on this trip was how important it is to take care of injuries and discomforts early. If addressed early, you can prevent little issues from becoming big issues. This kind of prevention ranges from taking care of your nutrition and making sure to eat well before you end up crashing (guilty) to noticing hot spots and blisters early in the trip. When you add 60+ miles and 50+ lbs. to small injuries, they turn into bigger problems. We were so grateful that we went into the backcountry with well stocked first aid kits. Joe made sure that not only did we have small personal first aid kits, but that we also knew everything that was in our group first aid kit.

Needless to say, we loved our Explorer medical kit!

After coming back from a trip like this, where we broke into our medical kits often for blister treatment and treatment for the effects of altitude, it is very important to revisit your kit and refill anything you used on your trip. Nothing is worse than getting out in the backcountry and realizing that you never restocked the piece you need.

Thank you to everyone for following our trip – we truly appreciated all the support and interest! If you have any questions about our trip or how to prepare for something like our trip, please feel free to reach out to us!

About the Author: Chelsea Miller

I’m always scheming my next adventure. Whether it’s this weekend’s hike or an after-work mountain bike ride, I’m constantly daydreaming about my next chance to get outside. I love trip planning, maps, and lists; after ticking off NH’s 48 4,000 footers, I know the trails of the White Mountains like the back of my hand. The opportunity to plan a trip to the Wind River Range was unbelievable. I’ve hiked and climbed all over New England and taken a number of trips across the country and the world to hike and climb.

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.

Surviving the Backcountry: Tips on Training, Gear, & First Aid Supplies from Expedition #BeSafeGannett

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

#BeSafeGannet – 3 Days to Go!

This Friday, July 13th, #TeamTender will board a plane with all their gear and head out for Wyoming on the #BeSafeGannett Expedition up Gannett Peak. To say we’re excited would be an understatement! Although our expedition won’t physically begin until we reach the trailhead on July 14th, for our team the journey began over 8 months ago, and each day of training and preparation has taken us one step closer towards reaching the summit, a goal we hope to have achieved in less than 10 days from today.

Team lead Joe Miller here to give you a snap shot of how our team has prepared themselves to #BeSafe on this expedition with months of planning, including everything from physical training to gear considerations to choosing a medical kit. I’m going to give you a look at what questions, criteria, and rules I use to help me and my team travel safe and prepared.

8 Months of Preparation

#TeamTender has put in a huge amount of effort preparing for this expedition. Trip logistics planning kicked off 8 months before the expedition start date, and training plans were initiated 6 months prior. If you have read my previous blog post on trip safety, you know just how much effort should go into any backcountry excursion. A trip this remote forces you to perform a lot more preparation in order to #BeSafe.

One of the most important pieces of our preparation was building and executing our training plans, as the best thing you can do to ensure safety on the expedition is to be fit and fast.  If you’re looking for a good resource on building your first training plan, I highly recommend “Training for the New Alpinism” by Steve House and Scott Johnson.  In addition to the physical training, a lot of preparation has gone into choosing our gear, building our first aid kit and preparing for emergency scenarios.

Gear Preparation

Besides fitness, gear is the next piece of preparation in trip safety.  I love gear. I mean I really really love gear. You should check out my truck: its gear central. From packs, to sleep systems, climbing gear, boots, layering, biking supplies, avalanche travel necessities, cooking systems, fishing supplies, first responder gear, and especially first aid and survival gear, my truck is a rolling closet of anything you could ever want on any adventure. I love to be prepared for everything.

New gear for two of our team included investing in a large pack capable of hauling 40+ lbs.

When picking out gear I look for a few specific criteria:

  1. How well does the gear support your goal?
  2. How much effort does this gear take to use?
  3. How reliable is this piece of equipment?

Criterion 1: How well does the gear support your goal?

Look at everything you are bringing and determine how well it supports and/or limits your achievement of your goal. The latter is fairly easier to determine. Does it weigh a ton? How much “just in case” logic did you use to justify that in your pack? How does it directly support your goal? Your goal should be 1) whatever objective you’re gunning for, and 2) getting back out alive. As the great Ed Vestures said “Getting to the top is optional – getting down is mandatory.” However, while “what if” thinking is sometimes helpful, it shouldn’t encourage you to pack for every extreme.

Criterion 2: How much effort does this gear take to use?

“Ultra-lighters” live by this one. Ounces add up to pounds, and that weight ends up on your back (or your adventure buddy’s pack). The lighter the better, but also refer to criterion number 1. Some things are absolutely worth their weight. If you’re trekking across a glacier like we will be, a rope and other glacier gear is mandatory weight (falling in a crevasse doesn’t need to be life ending). That being said, if you can minimize weight and/or use items for multiple purposes, you can cut weight elsewhere. For instance, I know I will need some cordage for anchor building material in crevasse rescues; this can also double as tent tie downs, splint material, and gear straps.

#TeamTender getting in some post-work rope training in preparation for glacier travel.

This criterion also holds true for ability to use – simple, easy-to-use items work better for a team. For example, while some super-duper ultralight stoves can shave grams off your base weight, it can take over an hour to cook dinner.  When you’re in need of some necessary food and cook time prevents you from going to bed earlier, is it really that helpful?  Everyone will have different views and gear priorities, and as with anything in life, a good balance is key.

Criterion 3: How reliable is this piece of equipment?

This is really a combination of criteria 1 and 2, but it warrants its own attention. On one of my earliest trips as a leader, I remember hauling back an old stove which had definitely seen many years of abuse. 3 days into the trip the stove stopped working in spite of copious amounts of fuel. Five hungry and tired boys waited impatiently as I stressfully dismantled, fixed, and reassembled our stove in an attempt to feed us all. Emergencies don’t happen when you’re alert and ready for them; they happen when you are tired, hurt, or have already made one or many bad decisions.

When heading out on a big trip like #BeSafeGannett, you should already know you can rely on your gear. This is not a time for testing out new products or systems.  You should know how your gear works, inside and out, and have relied on it before.  This way, you will know how to use it when you’re tired, injured, or just plain hungry.  I like to slowly work changes into my backcountry systems one at a time so nothing feels too foreign. If you’re going on a big trip, you better have your systems (and your teammates’ systems) figured out well in advance.

First Aid Kit Preparation

Because I want to know everything in my pack and limit my gear to the essentials, I personalize and rationalize everything I’m bringing with me – this also applies to my first aid supplies. I start with a base kit (for this trip I used the Mountain Series Explorer) and customize it out from there based upon what my team needs for a specific trip – in this case to safely climb Gannett Peak.

The Mountain Series Explorer kit contains first aid supplies to equip a team of 4 headed out for up to 7 days, which exactly fits our expedition.

When building a kit, it’s essential to consider the gear criteria I detailed above, but it’s more important to remember – you have to get out of this alive. Remember:

  1. Your #1 goal is getting out alive
  2. Your medical is important enough to be heavy, but not unnecessarily so
  3. Your first aid supplies need to be reliable

1. Get Out Alive

In the backcountry, medical support is very limited, and your #1 goal needs to be to get out alive. You should categorize every medical situation as life threatening, long-term debilitating, or minor. The first two categories should yield an immediate decision to evacuate and get to better medical attention. During anything life threatening, the goal is to support life until front country medicine is available. For life threatening scenarios, knowing CPR and what supplies should work to combat major bleeds, circulation problems, allergies, and environmental issues is imperative.  Any potential long term debilitation from an injury should be minimized. This includes spinal issues, preventing infection, and immobilizing fractures to prevent more harm. Anything minor should be addressed quickly so it doesn’t escalate into a bigger issue. I’m speaking in broad terms here, but looking at your first aid kit and analyzing whether its contents will help you get out of a bad situation alive is a useful exercise.

2. Weight vs. Contents

How heavy does a medical kit have to be? This tends to be the hardest part of building a first aid kit; it’s truly a balancing act. Often, first aid kits are too large, and used by those with little understanding of how to properly use the components of the kit.

Recently, I vetted my personal first aid kit with a combat medic.  Through this, I learned that proper training allows greater resourcefulness. As with athletic training, if you have proper medical training you can do more with less. Anyone intending to spend time in the backcountry should take a Wilderness First Aid course, such as those offered by SOLO Wilderness Medicine. For those wanting to peruse further backcountry medical knowledge, the Wilderness First Responder and Wilderness EMT courses are intensive and thorough.

Regardless of what medical training you have, ensure that you know how to use the items in your kit and that you are prepared to use them to take care of potential medical issues on your trip. Basic, easy-to-use supplies are often best, as you (or your team) may be able to use them without much training and for a variety of issues. Beware of having a single, bulky item that will only help you in a very specific scenario, especially if it is easy to misuse. Building your kit is a balancing act, and only you know what will work best for you.

3. Reliable Contents

You need to rely on your first aid kit more than any other piece of gear in the back country. You need to audit and refill your kit before and after your adventures. It takes a lot of thought and practice to maintain a reliable kit to ensure that you and your team know how to respond if any life threatening or debilitating event happens. Everyone on your team should know where the first aid kit is and how to use the supplies inside. Ensuring your components are worthwhile is very important; sterility for wounds, strong bandages that hold in place, and non-expired medications are key. Having quality medical components is something Tender Corporation takes great pride in.

Building a First Aid Kit for #BeSafeGannett

As I said before, I took the Adventure® Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer kit and customized it for the specific risks we will encounter in the Wind River Range. I prioritized supplies that will address life-threatening issues and found ways to use those same supplies for minor issues. I also added some items for more specific scenarios because I’ve personally justified their use-to-weight ratio.  Here’s some of what I’m packing for the group kit for the Wind River Range:

Emergency Plan: The first thing that goes into my first aid kit is a documented Emergency plan. I put this in a zip lock bag so it is still legible if it rains. This holds route information, evacuation routes, individual medical information, and primary insurance information. For Gannett, everyone has secondary backcountry rescue insurance as well. (If you’re an American Alpine Club member you get this with your membership!) Creating an emergency plan helps keep everyone on the same page.  Leave a copy of your emergency plan with a loved one, so that they can give it to the responsible rescue parties should they need to. Having an emergency plan should stimulate a conversation with your team on any pre-existing medical conditions that might impact care on the trail. This will also help you decide on any other specific items for your kit.

Gloves: Providing medical assistance can get messy.  Clearing an airways and dealing with other bodily fluids should not be done without a pair of gloves.

Diphenhydramine: Having Diphenhydramine medication is important for any allergic reactions which cause swelling to close airways. If someone is seriously allergic, they should have an epi-pen and you should know where they keep it. I also have some NSAIDs in my kit in case a patient’s personal preference is to take them. Having some form of anti-diarrhea medication is key for overnights. For longer backcountry trips, I also carry a few days’ worth of antibiotics in case something does get infected. You’ll need a prescription for these and should use under the direction of your doctor.

Dressings: Supplies to stop bleeding take up most of the space in my kit. Any major bleeding will cause issues in circulation, so it needs to be addressed immediately. I pack a few sets of rolled gauze, a couple triangle bandages with safety pins, self-adhering bandages, elastic bandages, medical tape, Easy Access Bandages®, tincture of benzoin, moleskin, and an Advanced Clotting Sponge. With this, I can take care of any major or minor bleeding issues. I’m not going to go deep into the intricacies of wound care, but here’s a reminder of the basics: apply direct pressure to stop bleeding, (if you need to go hands free create a pressure dressing), clean the wound to prevent infection and protect the wound from further risk of infection.

Support for Sprains and Strains: For major sprains and strains I utilize triangular bandages (remember, the ones I can also use to stop bleeding?) and straps from my pack. Beyond that, you can use your hiking poles, or sticks to splint and stabilize. I abide by the “RICE” approach for most issues that are not life threatening: Rest, Ice (or cool), Compress, and Elevate. More major issues that require immediate hospitalization are splinted, immobilized, and evacuated.

Shelter and Warmth: In case of hypothermia or for a make shift shelter, I have a Survive Outdoors Longer® Emergency Blanket. I can hypo wrap a patient with this, or create some shade or protection from rain if necessary. I’ll also have some strike anywhere waterproof matches for quick fire starting. If I’m not already on a climbing trip, some p-cord makes good use for splints and traction. Other survival gear includes a compass and water purification.

Signing Off

We hit the trail July 14th and will be sending updates from the trail whenever we can, which our trip coordinator will be sharing on social media. Make sure to be checking our hashtag #BeSafeGannett for the latest updates. We can’t wait to put all our training to good use and share this experience with you! – #TeamTender

 

Crossing Patagonia: Human & Dog First Aid on a 1,150 Mile Journey

Monday, April 16th, 2018

This year, adventurer Stevie Anna traveled over 1,150 miles with her adventure dog Darcie and two horses on a solo horse pilgrimage across Patagonia, a journey that took about three months. Two years of careful planning – including training in human and dog first aid – helped her #BeSafe and successfully accomplish her goal. We asked her to share about the expedition and how she prepared herself and her four-legged companions – here’s what she said! 

Exploring the Last Wild Frontier

I moved to Patagonia, Argentina, nearly three years ago where I fell in love with the gaucho culture and began working as a horse guide with Carol Jones, whose grandfather ran with Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid for some years here in Patagonia. After having experienced the slice of heaven that lies along the Andes Mountains, I decided to learn more of my new home by crossing it by horseback.

In a land that refuses to be explored by any other means, traditional horse-packing across Patagonia provides a traveler the chance to step back in time while exploring the culture and rugged, unforgiving landscape of one of the last untouched places on earth. This past November, I embarked on a solo expedition covering over 1,150 miles of Patagonia with my two horses Bandido & Sundance and my adventure pup, Darcie.

My adventure pup Darcie

My mission for this horse pilgrimage was to document the culture of this last wild frontier solo with my fur companions. I named the project Patagone. The native word here in Patagonia for foot, paw, or hoof is pata, and since we’d be traveling by all three, “Patagone” suited the journey perfectly.

The Patagone team: Darcie, Bandido, & Sundance

A Journey 2 Years in the Making

One typically thinks of the journey being the most difficult part of an expedition, however the preparation process proved to be just as much as a challenge as being on the trail itself.

I began preparing for the 1,000 mile journey nearly two years in advance. My list of things to learn ranged anywhere from how to shoe a horse to a crash course in dog first aid for my dog Darcie, as well as classes from a local doctor on first aid for myself.

Trail Safety: Choosing the Right Gear & Training with Experts

Through the years we’ve gone through a lot of gear and even a few makeshift solutions of our own, but there’s just some things that the trail can’t teach you. For that I turned to Andrea, the local veterinarian here in Patagonia who has been so gracious as to train me on emergency care for dogs over the past few months. We utilized all of the resources that Adventure® Medical Kits had, such as their Canine Field Medicine dog first aid guide, as well as an Adventure® Dog Medical Kit.

Together, Andrea and I came up with practical trail solutions that are easy to find in this part of the world and are often multipurpose for both Darcie and my two horses (for example: gauze, gloves, bandages, etc.). In addition to the Adventure® Dog Kit, the Canine Field Medicine guide also accompanied me on my journey, which proved an excellent resource guide and go-to manual for Darcie’s medical needs on the trail.

For myself, I found the Mountain Series Comprehensive medical kit to be perfect for weight and usability for my ride. Martin Buchuk, a local doctor here in Bariloche, Patagonia, helped with a crash course in outdoor first aid and running through how to use all of the supplies in my medical kit properly. Key points that we covered were dislocated shoulders from a bad fall from a horse, dehydration, deep wounds, and major injuries such as head traumas.

Looking through the Adventure® Medical Kit for first aid supplies

While having the proper equipment can save you and your dog’s life, it’s important to have experience understanding how to use the materials and medications properly for both you and your pet. Prevention is always key to a safe journey, but even at that, accidents can happen, so knowing your environment beforehand; taking first aid, CPR, or a wilderness first aid course; and knowing your medical supplies is crucial to staying safe in the backcountry.

Dog First Aid Packing List

 

A look at Darcie’s packing list for Patagone

For Darcie, I started with Adventure® Medical Kits Workin’ Dog first aid kit as a base and then customized it specifically for the expedition. The end medical kit included:

  • Nitrile Gloves
  • Splinter Picker: Great for removing embedded grasses that get lodged in-between paws as well as ticks.
  • EMT Shears: Good for cutting off dead skin from wounds as well as the hair around it. Cut hair around wound without lifting hair up. Should be cleared away without falling onto the wound naturally.
  • Cotton: Good for cleaning wounds as well as ears, etc.
  • Iodine: My vet suggested mixing iodine and the saline solution into one mix for cleaning out wounds.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Good for cleaning wounds and can be used to induce vomiting in case of poison consumption: 1 tbs per 10-15 lbs of dog. No more than 2 doses.
  • QuikClot® Advanced Clotting Gauze: Excellent for any deep wounds.
  • Hemostat Forceps: A must have for any major inquiry which requires you to pinch an artery, etc. The rule of thumb for heavy bleeding is 1. Direct pressure. 2. Elevation. 3. Pressing on a pressure point.
  • Instant Cold Pack
  • Irrigation Syringe
  • Saline Solution: It’s good to get a squeeze bottle of this with the top used for contact lenses so that you can apply a pressure when using this to clean out dirt from wounds.
  • Disposable Skin Stapler and Staple remover
  • Superglue: Can be used to close clean cuts.
  • Razor Blade: Used for clearing hair from a wounded area on the skin.
  • Antibiotic Ointment
  • Antiseptic Wipes
  • Alcohol Wipes
  • Antibiotics
  • Antihistamine: In case of any allergic reactions such as a bee sting.
  • Anti-inflammatory: I carried this primarily in case of a horse kick to the head to prevent any major brain swelling, but it is good to carry in case of any emergency in the backcountry.
  • Gauze Bandages
  • Sterile Dressing
  • Thermometer

While you can buy or even make many items that will keep your adventure pup safe outdoors, one should note that a lot of safety comes with the trust and bond you build with your dog, mutual respect, and some intense time spent in training. Commands can be one of the biggest lifesaver and preventative measures you can take in insuring your pet’s safety. Training your dog to be off-leash is crucial so that he/she knows how to behave. NOT CHASING WILDLIFE, ETC.

My First Aid Packing List

 

A peak at Stevie’s packing list for Patagone.

We ended up altering the Mountain Series Comprehensive kit for my specific journey, adding some medications and materials that would apply for the season and conditions here in Patagonia during my ride. My final kit included:

  • Bandages & Dressing
  • Cotton: Good for cleaning wounds as well as protecting your ears against the brutal, cold winds of Patagonia.
  • Gloves
  • Trauma Pads
  • GlacierGel®
  • Moleskin: These saved me on those especially long days in the saddle! They’re a must for any rider or hiker for preventing blisters or sores.
  • Oil of Clove
  • Temporary Cavity Filling Mixture: Excellent if you know you’ll be far out in the backcountry and away from the dentist office. It’s easy to apply and will save you from a world of pain.
  • EMT Shears
  • Splinter Picker
  • Thermometer
  • Medications: Acetaminophen, Antacid, After Bite® Wipe, Antihistamine, Injection for Anaphylactic Shock in case of bee stings, antibiotics, pain killers in case of major accident, Diamode, Diotame, Glucose Paste, Ibuprofen, and Oral Reydration Salts which are mandatory for any long journey where you’re at risk for dehydration.
  • Zinc Oxide
  • Scalpel Blade
  • Povidone Iodine
  • Syringes
  • Tincture of Benzoin Topical Adhesive
  • Triple Antibiotic Treatment

Journey’s End

 

Arriving at El Chalten, over 1,150 miles from where we began

After 85 days on the trail, the animals and I reached our final destination of El Chalten, Patagonia. We traveled over 1,150 miles over nearly three months to get to that point. One might call that a successful expedition in itself, but after seeing the potential dangers that had lain before us, hearing the history of other riders loosing horses to puma, colic, etc. or arriving to their endpoint with skinny animals, I pride myself more on the fact that me and my animal team completed the journey healthy, fat, and happy.

All the prior training and two years of preparation allowed us to reach our end goal together and without so much as a scratch. The few issues that we did have on the trail were minor, and the medical kits served them perfectly.

Treating Darcie’s paw using the Adventure® Medical Kit after she got poked by a wire fence

Patagone: A Story of People

I knew that the people of Patagonia were a kind and caring people, but during the ride my eyes were completely opened to the generosity of the people across the entire country. They opened their door to us, fed me and Darcie dinner (Patagonian lamb!), and always gave me plenty of pasture and roaming area for the horses. We actually ended our journey a bit fatter than when we had initially departed.

The best part of the journey? The people.

People always ask me what the best part of the journey was, and without hesitation I answer that it was the people, the people that helped me prepare and supported me during the journey such as friends, family, companies, and even strangers. It was the people that helped me during the ride, opening their door to me and my animals, and all the people who were there sending me kind messages of support not only during my ride, but even now after it’s been completed.

Everest Expedition Day 1: International Mountain Guides Update

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

International Mountain Guides’ 2018 Everest Expedition is underway! The Everest Expedition Leader sent us the below note from the teams’ first day on the trail. We’re proud to the be the official medical kit sponsor of IMG and can’t wait to hear more about this year’s journey to the highest peak in the world. #BeSafe out there! 

Hey Adventure® Medical Kits!

I just wanted to take a minute and say thank you again for all of the support you give IMG. As the Everest Expedition Leader I can tell you that the kits you give the guides, and the ones we use to cover the overall expedition, are absolutely invaluable. Clearly we hope to never need them, but it’s nice to know they’re there if we do.

Everest Team 1 on the trail to Namche. PC: Greg Vernovage

We’ve only been on the trail for one day but things are going great. The gear checks in Kathmandu went perfectly. We got the first flights out of Kathmandu and all safely arrived in Lukla today, which is huge. We’re right on schedule.  I’m with Team 1 in Phakding right now getting ready to head up to Namche Bazaar.  Getting up the ‘Namche Hill’ will be the team’s first test, but I have a feeling they’ll do just fine. Namche sits at about 11,000ft. so we’ll hang out there for a couple days and acclimatize. We’ll be at EBC in about 10 days. Team 2 led by Emily Johnston and Team 3 led by Craig John & Ang Jangbu aren’t too far behind.

It’s great to see everybody’s hard work come together. Lots of smiles and a good buzz in the air. It’s great to be back in Nepal!

IMG Guides and Sherpas are excited for the journey ahead! PC: Harry Hamlin

Thanks for all you do for us!

Greg Vernovage

IMG Everest Expedition Leader

Trip Safety: Don’t Get Stuck in the Dark

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Embarking on a backcountry adventure can be one of the most rewarding experiences. When all the planning, anticipation, and physical effort culminate in awe-inspiring views, you receive a feeling of escape not available in the front country. While one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to continually go deeper and find more remote settings, it’s not without its own perils. As a Search and Rescue (SAR) Member, I’ve seen firsthand how a potentially fantastic day can turn into the worst day of your life for you and your loved ones.

Adventures – no matter how amazing – are not without peril

Preparation is crucial for trip safety in your backcountry expeditions. This simple statement has so many layers to it; it’s easy to brush it off and assume you have done enough. Route planning, properly packing your bag, and even preparing your physical and mental fitness all go into preparation. Today I’ll touch on a couple trip safety tips that, when applied, can help prevent common mistakes for everyone traveling in the backcountry.

Trip Safety: Pack the Right Gear

Gear is sexy. You can read a million and half blog posts or YouTube videos on gear.  From reviews to proper load-outs, there is a lot to learn and it seems to keep getting more complex. However, the basics maintain true. Pack your 10 essentials (Don’t know what these are? Go check out REI’s great post on them). While I firmly stand by my alpine “light and fast” style and agree that the ability to move quicker adds safety, there are certain things that are worth the weight.

Illumination

Last summer, there were multiple rescues to aid hikers stuck in the dark. Even if you’re setting out at sunrise and you feel overly confident you can get your hike done in just a morning, please still bring a headlamp. It makes my wife happy when I get to eat dinner with her on a Sunday night, instead of setting out to rescue hikers stuck in the dark.

Pack a headlamp so you don’t get stuck in the dark

In that same vein, bring extra batteries, especially if you’re working on a big day. Fancy headlamps that use built in lithium Ion batteries definitely help cut weight, but when it dies, it’s dead until you get back to a charger. My climbing partner was the victim of exactly this scenario coming down a 30 degree scree pitch off Mount Temple (BANFF, Canada) at 3 am. Our fast decent turned to a crawl when we were reduced to one headlamp. Learn from our mistake.

First Aid Kits

First aid kits are our specialty here at Adventure® Medical Kits, and I love the fact that I have so many supplies at my disposal to build kits. I’m a huge fan of our Mountain Series Day Tripper Lite kit. It’s perfect for day trip adventures and isn’t overloaded with unnecessary supplies. It also has great organization and labeling; in a rush, you can find exactly what you’re looking for. Another option is the custom bag from the Mountain Series, which lets people like me build their own kit and label it as needed.

My med kit for day hikes: the Day Tripper Lite, QuikClot®, an elasticized bandage, and a C-Splint™

Regardless of if you build your own kit or use a premade version, go through it often. It’s incredible how quickly you forget you used something in the middle of your climb when things start going well again.  A couple things that I mandate in even the smallest med kit are an elastic bandage, some form of a splint, Diphenhydramine, Ibuprofen, a couple big gauze pads, a small roll of medical tape, and an emergency blanket. Knowing what is in your kit is almost as important as knowing how to use it! I highly recommend that every backcountry enthusiast takes a Wilderness First Aid course (WFA), where you’ll learn the necessary skills to administer basic first aid in the backcountry. This can make the difference between a scary and stressful hike out and a confident, enjoyable return to your car.

Footwear           

The Mountains are a rugged place. They require rugged footwear. Most likely your road runners are not going to cut it, and your designer flip flops won’t make it even half a mile. Choose a stiffer, more supportive shoe to give you better protection. Unless you have seriously trained your body, a minimalist shoe can cause you long term issues. Not only does having a supportive shoe protect your feet, but your knees, ankles, and hip will also thank you. Having proper footwear ensures your body is taken care of. There are tons of debates on whether it’s better to have waterproof shoes or not in the summer. Some argue the non-waterproof will dry quicker and breathe better.  In the winter it’s almost no question – go waterproof.

Allow stiffer boots and trail shoes some time to break in. Once they do, you’ll never want to buy a new pair.  The break in process shouldn’t be overlooked; the first couple outings should be a bit easier than your usual hike, as both your feet and shoes need to adjust. Definitely bring some extra moleskin or GlacierGel® for blisters during your break-in period. At the end of the day, waterproof or not, find a shoe which really protects your foot and ankle, gives you good traction, and fits well.

Clothing              

Dressing for a hike is similar to dressing for other athletic activities; however, you must take exposure into account.  Your clothing must work well for extended periods in inclement weather, high wind, or extended sun exposure. The age old saying in the backcountry is that “cotton kills,” as once cotton is wet, it doesn’t insulate anymore.

Take into account ridgeline walking, where exposure to the wind and weather can be intense

In the mountains you can get hypothermia year-round. To combat cold any time of year, dress like an onion – layers layers layers! There are three basic layers: a base layer to move sweat away from body, an insulation layer, and an external layer to protect from elements. The specifics obviously all change depending on the season, but the principals stay the same.

Pest Control

Know the pests in the general area. Bug bites are a really annoying. A bear bite can be catastrophic. Understand that you probably should bring some form of deterrent for bugs and bears if they are known in that area. Ben’s® Clothing and Gear is fantastic to treat you gear before heading out.

From bear spray to head nets to bug repellent, pack for the pests in the area you’re visiting

Packs

One thing the 10 essentials fails to bring up is how to carry all those things. A good fitting backpack is necessary. It’s worth investing in a durable pack to get you through years of adventures. The biggest aspect of any pack should be its fit. Different disciplines have slightly different requirements. For instance, my hiking bag has large, cushioned hip straps, so that the load will sit on my hip bones. My technical climbing pack has minimal hip straps as it will get in the way of my harness. Figuring out the proper size pack is also important (I’ve blown zippers in the backcountry from stuffing my pack too tight). I’ve also had back pain from under-filling a big pack and having the contents rattle around on a decent. Having a number of packs for different outings will keep your back happy and pain-free.

Choose a pack appropriate for your activity – consider both size and fit

Trip Safety: Know Before You Go

Having fun and enjoying the outdoors is best achieved when you are properly prepared. While carrying the proper gear will help mitigate potential issues, there are intangible things that are invaluable in preparing for a hike.

Know what the climate is like where you are going.

In the early spring my SAR team might have 4 rescues in a day, while mid-summer we get 1 in a weekend. Why is this? In the White Mountains, we’re only 2 hours away from Boston on the interstate.  On early spring weekends, weather in Boston may be sunny and warm, with no snow; however, weather in the Whites includes waist-deep snow and raging rivers fueled by the spring melt.  Check the weather and trail conditions where you’re going – don’t assume it’s the same as what you see from your front door.

Seasons can look quite different in different places – like snowy springs in the White Mountains

We live in a wonderful age where Facebook communities, Sub-Reddits, and Instagram posts can help you deem what true current conditions are.  Weather has different patterns in different locations; do some research and see what generally occurs in the area you will be traveling. The weathermen do their best but are often wrong. Getting caught in a surprise summer thunderstorm in the alpine is life threatening. Learn the basics in reading the weather and apply those skills with knowledge of the local weather patterns.

Set a turnaround time before leaving the house.

This should be a firm time in which you know you need to turn back. A turnaround time keeps you honest with how quickly you are actually moving. The mountains will be there another day, and setting the time before leaving the house keeps the emotions in check.

Let someone not on the hike know of your planned route.

Text/call right when you set off and right when you return. In some places people will put detailed notes on their car dash. This is especially helpful for technical routes, as it lets other parties know what line is going to be most crowded.

Account for elevation change.

Elevation gain is not easy, neither is elevation loss. Remember getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory.

Don’t just check the mileage – check the elevation change!

Don’t discredit what elevation change is on the hike. The general rule of thumb is every 1,000 feet of elevation change will feel like another mile on the hike. For example, if I hike 4 miles to the summit with an elevation change of over 2,000 ft., that will feel like 6 miles. So a seemingly 8 mile roundtrip hike can really feel like a 12 miler. Plan your hike accordingly. Know your party members and what constitutes a fun day.

Be realistic on where you and your party is at physically.

If you haven’t had a cardio day in months, and you don’t know what leg day is at the gym, pick a more introductory hike. Check your ego and build up to that big hike. There is no shame or pain in hiking something under your threshold. A carry out on rugged terrain with broken bones is pretty miserable. Even hiking a couple miles hungry and exhausted will make you not want to return to the mountains for a while.

Plan for sunshine, prepare for thunder.

You may blow through your hike as fast as you think, but you might not. Bring enough food and water for some extra hours. Think about exposure to the elements: some extra time in the sun or wind or getting caught in a rain storm can make for a miserable outing.

Conclusion

Backcountry travel is no easy task. There are so many variables which go into a good adventure. I’m constantly re-evaluating gear and travel techniques to help keep me safe and have a good time. From gear to pre-adventure prep, there are plenty of trip safety actions you can take to ensure you have a great next adventure.

About the Author

Joe Miller is an alpinist residing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He serves on the Pemigewasset Search and Rescue team, which has received some fame from the television show North Woods Law. 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 cats tinkering with electronics and computer systems.