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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

 

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.

Hilaree O’Neill: Remote Expeditioning with Adventure® Medical Kits

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Skier, climber, mother, and the first woman to climb Everest and Lhotse in a single 24-hour period, Hilaree O’Neill is an adventurer like no other! This spring, Hilaree accomplished her personal goal of climbing and skiing the “Peak of Evil,” a 21,165-foot mountain in the Indian Himalayas. Her team is the first party to ever complete a ski descent of the mountain. We asked Hilaree what the experience was like and how she prepared for the expedition. Here’s what she said: 

“From a Skier’s Perspective, Papsura Was Absolutely Perfect”

For most of my adult life, I have been a professional adventurer. Climbing, skiing, and generally clinging to the side of big mountains has always been my medium of choice. Often to access many of the places my passion leads, myself and my partners must be well versed in self-reliance. Expedition-style travel is especially tricky to plan for due to the length and remoteness of the undertaking.

Just this last May, I returned to a mountain that I had long been obsessed with in a very remote region of the Indian Himalayas. Along with two partners, I set out for a month-long journey to climb and ski Papsura Peak, aka the Peak of Evil. I had first seen the twin peaks of Papsura and Dharamsura back in 1999, on my very first expedition. From a skier’s perspective, Papsura, the taller of the two peaks, was absolutely perfect. This last May was my second attempt on the Peak of Evil and my 5th expedition to this region of India.

Photo Credit: Jim Morrison

It was about a four day walk to get from the nearest village to the mountain’s basecamp at 14,000 ft. From there, it was another 8,000 ft and nearly two weeks of acclimatizing and route-finding to reach the summit.

So How Does One plan for Such a Trip?

One of the first, and most important, things to consider is your medical kit. There must be some balance between being your first and best source of medical treatment should something go wrong and packing a manageable weight and bulk, as well as the effectiveness and accessibility of your supplies.

This is where Adventure® Medical Kits comes into the picture…

Prior to any expedition, I will take several different parts of my medical kits, pull everything out, and compile them into 2 to 3 different systems. In the case of our Papsura Expedition, I doubled down with Adventure® Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight Pro, as I knew we had porters to assist with our gear all the way to basecamp, and therefore we could have the relative luxury of a very extensive kit. From there, however, we were on our own.

Photo Credit: Chris Figenshau

At that point, we left behind the bigger medical resources at basecamp and brought individual smaller kits like the Ultralight/Watertight .7 that each of us carried all the way to our high camp. The experience I had in the area from my previous trips helped me know how to narrow down not only our supplies, equipment, but even our route to such an extent that we were able to laser focus on the objective at hand: a remote 3000ft, 50 plus degree face of snow and ice at high altitude.

When it came time for our summit push, we planned on paring our kits down even further to just one fist-sized medical kit, the Ultralight/Watertight .5, that would go in one of our packs as group medical supplies.

Of course, at each point along the climb we would further specialize what we carried with us based not only on size and weight, but also on being able to treat the most likely type of injuries, given our activities. For example, the trauma pack and the C-splint would make it all the way to high camp, while the burn pads, allergy meds, and bulk of the blister kit might get left at basecamp. The summit kit would include ibuprofen and other altitude meds augmented from the pharmacy at home, steri-strips, a single Survive Outdoors Longer® Survival Blanket, plus maybe the trauma pack and tape. We would rely on our ice axes or ski poles to fill the need of a C-splint, and extra clothing to act as tourniquets or slings should there be a need.

Of course, it’s impossible to plan for everything so, again, it’s a balance, and the best case scenario is to never have to use any of it. Fortunately, the most use we got out of our medical kits were the ibuprofen, lots of blister stuff mostly for our porters, along with triple antibiotic and the occasional Easy Access Bandage®!

On May 15th, We Went for It.

 

Photo Credit: Jim Morrison

Without a doubt, our trip to the summit proved to be one of the most intense and committing climbs I have ever done. For two weeks, we pushed hard every day until we felt we were ready to tackle the west face in single day push.

We arose in the darkness at 3am. We started the climb two hours later and moved continuously up the face for 9 hours before we finally reached the first reasonable spot to take off our packs and rest – this spot happened to be about 50 feet below the summit. After a long pause where we drank and ate and waited for the monsoonal clouds to lift, we finally tagged the summit and started our ski descent. While conditions were amazing for climbing, they were pretty rugged for skiing, and our descent took another 4 hours. All in all it was about a 20 hour day.

Photo Credit: Jim Morrison

By the time we crawled into our sleeping bags, we were exhausted – tapped both physically and mentally.  It took a few days of recovery for the enormity of our effort to be fully appreciated.  We were the first Americans to summit Papsura Peak and the first party to ever complete a ski descent of the mountain. More importantly though for me, I had stuck with my obsession and seen it through to the end!

 

Photo Credit: Chris Figenshau

About Hilaree O’Neill

The first woman to climb both Everest and Lhotse in a single 24-hour period, Hilaree O’Neill’s mountain adventures led Outside Magazine to name her one of the most adventurous women in the world of sports. For Hilaree, skiing is the gateway to possibility. She started skiing at age 3 at Steven’s Pass in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. She took a leap of faith shortly after graduating from Colorado College and moved to Chamonix, France, where she was introduced to the world of big mountain skiing and climbing. From there, the place for Hilaree was anywhere she could cut turns on mountain slopes: volcanoes in the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, in Mongolia, India, Lebanon, and first descents of the tight couloirs of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic.

Between expeditions, Hilaree O’Neill spends her time as a mother, adventuring with her two sons. In addition, her writing has been published in National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic’s “The Call of Everest”, the Ski Journal, Outside Journal, and several other publications. Hilaree continues to travel the globe, always looking for new ski objectives and honest suffer-fests.

Lost? The First thing You Should Do to Survive

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

1-hiker_overlooking-mountainscape

 

Heading out into the wilderness can be an amazing experience that allows you to explore remote areas and challenge yourself. As a smart adventurer, you’ve probably already taken the steps to prepare for your journey by bringing along the basics for survival and knowing the terrain. But anytime you’re a few hours off the trail or deep in the wilderness, you are assuming risk and should be prepared for potentially life threatening survival situations like getting lost or injured. That’s why it’s good to know some basic skills you can draw on when the going gets rough.

Taken from Wilderness First Aid and Survival download By Eric A. Weiss M.D. and Adventure® Medical Kits

First Rule of Survival: STOP TO SURVIVE

Stop sign

 

If you find yourself lost, hurt or in a survival situation, take a deep breath, try to relax, and remain calm. Don’t Panic

Use the acronym: S-T-O-P

S-Stop:

Do not travel farther until you assess your situation.

T- Think:

Should I stay here or move? What is the likelihood that I will be found here? How far am I physically able to travel?

O-Observe:

Look around and determine whether you can obtain shelter, water, and fuel for a fire at this location.

P- Plan:

Decide what you should do and take action. Staying put may be the best choice, especially if someone knows where to look for you.

If you’ve decided to sit tight and wait for help, this is a great time to start signaling for assistance.  We’ll cover how to signal for help in more detail in our next survival skills installment but consider adding a whistle to your gear. Many packs, like the ones from Deuter USA come standard with a whistle built into the chest strap. Or purchase this one and hang it from your pack.

The sound of a whistle will travel much further than your voice. Three sharp blasts at regular intervals is the standard distress signal. While you’re whistling, think about how you can make a shelter, find some water and get a fire started so can stay warm in the event of an overnight.

Other Survival Tip

A. Leave a detailed trip itinerary with someone you trust*

B. Never forget that your brain and your ability to remain calm and not to panic are your most important survival tools.

C. Make sure your personal survival kit is waterproof, compact and fairly lightweight, so you will carry it always like the Hybrid 3 Kit from Survive Outdoors Longer

D. Know how to use each and every item in your kit. Don’t wait till you need it. Adjust your kit to fit the appropriate outdoor environment that you are venturing into. (Mountains, desert, wet conditions, cold climate)

What’s in My Pack: Summer Skiing in the Tetons with Adventurer Thomas Woodson

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

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I have a pretty good streak for going skiing every month. 35 to be exact — every month since I moved west and started skiing. During these lonely summer months most of my friends have packed up their gear and look at me with insanity when I’m searching for partners. This leaves me on my own, hiking for hours, searching out the last glimpse of shrinking glaciers in the Rocky Mountains.

As a Wilderness First Responder, being out solo can create a challenging headspace. I try to use speed and lightness to create my own margin of safety. But I still carry a first aid kit like the Mountain Series Day Tripper. When you’re in an alpine environment, you’re your own first responder. Emergency response and evacuations take longer out there. So get prepared, the kits include professional quality supplies so it’s worth checking out. You read about many accidents from inexperienced hikers in these locations as well, so I want to feel prepared to assist others.

The SOL Thermal Bivvy is an integral part of my medical kit. Environment is a great concern during wilderness patient care, especially if trauma is involved. Having warmth and protection from the elements can make quite the difference. I also carry base layers in a dry bag, which provide ample warmth underneath a lightweight rain shell in the summer, or can be used to pad a makeshift splint or c-collar.

For communication outside cell range, I carry a SPOT Satellite Messenger with my trip plan tied in with my S.O.S. message. The optional rescue insurance is a plus as well.

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Miscellaneous things… For boot/binding repair when skiing, I carry a multi-tool, duct tape, zip ties and bailing wire. That combined with a ski strap can fix just about anything.

Here are more of my favorite items:

I’m stoked for more adventure and continue to encourage all of my adventure partners to sign up for a Wilderness First Responder course. See you in the mountains!

About Thomas Woodson

I’m a van based adventure photographer chasing film projects and snow storms across the west. My passion for photography overtook my design career after moving to Colorado. Working full-time chasing athletes around the world, I partners with brands to craft authentic stories of adventure. Despite a change in tools, design plays an active role in everything I do. www.thomaswoodson.com.

Prepare for the 2016 Hurricane Season

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

 

Rain and storm winds blowing trees

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

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

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

HOW TO PREPARE FOR HURRICANE SEASON

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Finding Water in the Wild – Survive Outdoors Longer Survival Tips

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

A male hiker refreshes with a drink of water while standing next to a river in a tropical jungle.

SURVIVE OUTDOORS LONGER- Survival Skills to know if your adventure turns into a misadventure.

Anytime you’re a few hours off the trail or deep in the backcountry, you are assuming risk and should be prepared for potentially life threatening situations like getting lost or injured. That’s why it’s good to know some basic outdoor survival skills. Follow our series for the Water, Fire, Shelter and Signaling tips you’ll need to survive.

Taken from Wilderness First Aid and Survival download By Eric A. Weiss M.D. and Adventure® Medical Kits

Finding Water in the Wild

In an emergency situation, you can live about 3-5 days without water. If survival forces you to drink from a stagnant or muddy pool, remember that is it better drink dirty water than to die of dehydration. Strain muddy water through a cloth or water-purifying filter if you have one.

Thirst is a poor indication of dehydration. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink. Drink plenty of water wherever it is available. If water is not available, it is best not to eat as the body needs fluids to process and breakdown food.

Look for water in low lying areas or a depression. In dry areas, plants with plenty of green leafy growth indicate a water source. Dig down a few feet and wait for water to accumulate in the pit.

Collect rainwater in your survival blanket and channel it into a container

Do not eat un-melted snow or ice. Your body gives up heat to melt the snow or ice and your mouth can swell and can prevent you from eating and drinking.

Do not drink seawater, alcohol or urine

WAtersill

Make a solar sill:

  • Did a hole about 3 feet wide and 2 ½ feet deep in a low area with good sun exposure.
  • If available, place green, leafy vegetation in the hole to increase the moisture content.
  • Place a wide mouthed container on the bottom of the hole.
  • Cover the hole with your survival blanket so that it dips down toward the center of the hole.
  • Secure the blanket with sand and dirt so there is an airtight seal.
  • Center a small rock in the middle of the blanket over the container. Water will condense on the underside of the blanket and drop into the container.