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

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

10,000ft & Getting Dark

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

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

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

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

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

Over the Edge

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

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

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

Waking up after the cave bivvy in the Austrian Alps

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

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

The Ultimate Contingency Plan: The Escape Bivvy

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

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

 

woman in escape bivvy

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

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

Working & Playing in the Mountains

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

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

I fell in love with the exhilarating sport of ice climbing

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

The Drool of the Beast

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

The Drool of the Beast

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

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

Enjoying our new S.O.L bivvies

Scheming for an Adventure

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

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

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

The Palisade Traverse

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

Palisade traverse

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

When Adventure Calls

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