Sunday, December 4, 2011

Survival Movie Review: The Edge

I don't see myself devoting much time to giving reviews on books or movies, but since I had so much fun writing about 127 Hours I thought that I would write a review on another movie I have enjoyed for a while now.

The Edge came out back in the 90's, stars Anothony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, and takes place in the Alaskan bush. Anthony Hopkins plays Charles Morse, a billionaire who travels to Alaska with his wife in order for her to model in a photo shoot. When Charles and two others go on a plane ride, they crash and find themselves miles from where they told everyone they would be, and are left on their own to fend for themselves in hopes that they will be found.

Instead of continuing to give a plot synopsis, I'll explain why I enjoy this movie so much.

Although everyone knows that Charles is rich because of his ambition and ability to think critically, they all secretly think that he is a joke and that his money buys him everything he needs - except genuine friends. Charles comes across a wilderness survival book near the beginning of the movie, and is seen reading it while his wife does her photo shoot and at other various times. He is able to retain pretty much everything that he reads - which ultimately saves him.

Throughout the movie Charles is able to keep his head on straight, remember the material he read in the survival book, and take on the role of leader in his little group. Once a giant man-eating grizzly bear starts stalking them, the movie gets much more exciting. Both Charles and the antagonist of the movie are left alone to figure out how to take down this huge bear that wants nothing more than to eat them for dinner. At the pinnacle moment of the movie, Charles remembers reading about dead-falls, but realizes that they don't have the time or tools to dig a hole big and deep enough to make one work. So, without giving away what happens in the movie, Charles thinks of a brilliant way to take down the bear.

I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone, and would say that it makes my top 10 list for survival movies. I've watched it three or four times, and would feel fine watching it again tonight:) Check out the parental advisory to be aware of why the movie is Rated R.

Favorite quotes from the movie - all of which come from Anthony Hopkins' character Charles:
 "What one man can do, another man can do" 
"We're all put to the test...but it never comes in the form or at the point we prefer, does it?"
"Most people who die in the woods die of shame"
"Say it! 'I'm gonna kill the bear!!!'"
"Did you know that you can make fire from ice?"

***I've been very busy with school lately, but plan on finally compiling all of the info I have come across over the last three months to write my post about outdoors blogs. It's taking more time than I expected to really look over each blog and come up with a way to rate them. Promise it will be worth the wait though!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Does Customer Service Matter???

A few months ago I mentioned in my Yellowstone trip report that I made the dumb mistake of strapping my trekking poles to my pack without making sure that all of the locks on the poles were each tight and secure. Due to the fact that I strapped them right side up, two of the three sections of one pole unknowingly slid out. I'm pretty sure that I hiked for most of the day before my buddy first noticed that they were gone.

What can you do with one section of a trekking pole? Nothing. Think you can just go to REI and pay for a couple of replacements? Wrong. I reported to the NPS at Yellowstone that I lost them along the trail, and they gave me a form to fill out in case anyone finds them and brings them back to the backcountry office. I knew it was a long shot, but figured it would be worth it nonetheless.

I have really enjoyed my trekking poles since getting them. You can pick these up at REI for under $90.
I have no complaints at all so far.
After a couple of weeks I knew that they were a lost cause, and I decided to contact Black Diamond to see if I could purchase a couple of replacement sections instead of having to purchase a new set of trekking poles. I decided on my Yellowstone trip that I was no longer interested in using trekking poles unless it was for snowshoeing, so I knew that if I couldn't spend five or ten bucks on replacement parts, I was going to go a long time without having a complete set in my arsenal.

I wrote an e-mail to the customer service rep for Black Diamond, explaining how dumb I was, and asked what they could do for me. Here is the response I received the very next day:

My apologies for your troubles with your Trail back poles.  You are correct in that this is not a warranty situation but I appreciate you taking responsibility for the situation and it sounds like you know how to prevent it from happening again so I’d like to send you a pair of lowers at no charge. 
Just get me a good shipping address and I’ll get a set out to you.
Elmo-BD Warranty

Can you believe that? No charge for shipping. No charge for replacements. Not only did they help me out once, but another two times after that. There was some miscommunication when I told the rep what I needed, so when I got my package I only received two "lowers" instead of one middle section along with one lower section. Again, the rep apologized and sent a second package with the middle section. When I told him if he wanted me to ship back the extra lower he sent me, he told me to just hold onto it for a spare just in case I need it one day.

So here is the point of this e-mail: Does a company's customer service make a difference to you when deciding which company to purchase gear from? Does a return policy make a difference? Is it something you even look at before purchasing, or even look into after already having a product? I'll admit that I never look at a return policy until the poop hits the fan. Knowing how amazing Black Diamond treats their customers will forever make a difference for me. If I am ever debating between another product and a Black Diamond product, there is no doubt I will go for Black Diamond. I'll also admit that knowing that Black Diamond is based in Utah helps me want to buy from them as well...

Do you have any amazing, or less-than-impressive customer service stories? Share them with the rest of us!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trip Report: Yellowstone - Old Faithful to Lewis Lake, Day 3 of 3

Alright, last and final day of my backpacking trip in Yellowstone a of months ago...
Check out the other two days:
Day One - Old Faithful to Shoshone Lake
Day Two - Shoshone Lake, sites 8R5 to 8M1

Check out Geoff's take on things, and a few more photos here: Day One, Day Two, and Day Three
Final decent view of Shoshone Lake
Day 3: Campsite 8M1 to Lewis Lake

The morning of day three was the coldest by far. The night before I hung my underwear outside to dry out over night. I was happy to see them still hanging on the branches I hung them on, and was not surprised to find them frozen stiff (note to self - if you're going to rinse out clothes, and you plan on wearing them the next day, do this as early in the afternoon as possible so they can actually dry out).

It was only about forty minutes after all of us got up and starting getting our breakfast together that Jordan said "guys!" and had a look on his face like he saw something exciting. I thought he was just joking with us, and waited for him to chuckle or something. Then I looked at where he was staring, and saw this...

Geoff and I grabbed out cameras, excited to FINALLY see some wildlife! The moose was impressively quiet, and although it was aware of our presence, it didn't seem to mind us creeping up closer to get a photo. So exciting! Just as quickly as he walked through our camp, he disappeared through some brush about thirty yards away from us.

I was so happy to have finally seen some wildlife. To be completely honest, I personally don't see the purpose of visiting Yellowstone more than once or twice. There is an incredible amount of backcountry worth seeing, but I feel that the real pull to go there in the first place is to see moose, bears, elk, buffalo, ect. To see a buffalo on the side of the road is pretty cool, but to be in the backcountry when seeing wildlife is that much more impressive. Being miles and miles away from any help when seeing a wild animal brings with it a natural rush. Who knows if the animal is going to be o.k. with your presence, or may see you as a threat?

Although I love my backpacking trips, I always seem to hike with more anticipation on my last day. It's not that I look forward to the trip being over, I just look forward to being with my family again. For most of the day I played a psychological game with myself, trying to focus on just enjoying the hike instead of feeling anxious or rushed to get out and back home ASAP. Even though I felt like I was hiking a hair faster than the other two days, Geoff and Jordan proved otherwise. During the other two days the three of us hiked within talking distance of each other, and we (honestly I should say, rather, Geoff and Jordan) would wait for whoever was straggling behind (me...), but the third day I only really saw them when we started out on the trailhead, when they stopped by the river for a photo opp, and then whenever they stopped to wait for me.

 Interesting, Geoff and I have never really talked about "the last day phenomenon" when he tends to walk twice as fast, leaving me out of sight and out of mind. He did mention it in his post of the trip, assuming that I might have been annoyed by it, but I don't think it really bothered me at all really. It gives me an opportunity to just take the scenery in and get a final alone-time. It does make me more self-conscious though, assuming that Geoff may be bothered with me falling behind, but we will have to talk this out the next time we go on an outing together. Here is what Geoff said in his post:

I don't know why but the last day of a hike I always just push harder.  It isn't that I want to get out of the woods or even get the pack off my back.  I just feel like I can improve my time, like a runner that catches a 2nd wind.  Something that is hard to explain.  I'm sure it annoys Zach a little bit, he is the one always putting up with it.

We were forced to cross the river when finishing up Shoshone Lake. It was at this moment that I wished I would have had my camp shoes I posted about a few weeks ago. The water was cold, but the real problem was wearing a 40 pound pack while walking on sharp rocks. Having anything on my feet for protection would have made all the difference. I felt like I was the wimp when it came to crossing though. Jordan and Geoff didn't seem bothered by it at all.

It was also at this moment when we had to decide between taking the shorter route which would have taken us up and away from the river which connected Shoshone and Lewis lakes, or take the longer route which would follow the river the rest of the way until we connected to Lewis Lake. Although I wanted to save time in order to get out faster (remember, I still had an 8 hour drive home AFTER actually hiking out, and promised my wife I would be home before she went to bed), I grew tired of the indecision when weighing out our options, and voted to just stay close to the river. Although it added another 1.5 miles, I'm glad that we did. The scenery was gorgeous throughout most of the hike, and it was fun walking within view of the water.
The Tetons in the distance while at Lewis Lake
Once we made it to Lewis Lake, we soon stopped on the bank and I took the above photo of the Tetons. There is something about the Tetons that I can't really describe. Maybe it's due to the fact that it was at the Tetons that Geoff and I had our first backpacking trip together (and it was my first backpacking trip ever), or maybe it's because the feel at the Tetons remind me of, what I consider to be, my second home (the Grand Sierras), or it's just because the Tetons are so gorgeous - whatever the reason is, whenever I see the Tetons I get a serious longing to be there.
Lewis Lake, towards the trailhead
When we finally made it to the trailhead, I was honestly planning on hitchhiking to Old Faithful to get my car, and then come back to pick up Geoff and Jordan. I thought that the chances of Geoff's wife getting to the trailhead within fifteen minutes to a half hour of us arriving was slim-to-none, and that hitchhiking would get us out of there quicker. We had only been sitting there for maybe two minutes when Geoff's wife pulled up in their truck! When we got to the trailhead Geoff walked out to the road to flag down his wife, and it was only a minute or so after that when she drove by the turnoff. This was, by far, my favorite moment of the day:)

I've kind of started a tradition for myself, something I found myself thinking about constantly on our hike out that final day. The last two or three trips I've done have ended with a nice greasy hamburger, fries, and a coke. Something about not having to prepare such a high caloric meal just feels like heaven after going without any real comforts while on the trail. I should have done my research and found a good hamburger within Yellowstone, but ended up waiting until I got to Idaho Falls since I was crunched for time, and just bought a cheap fast food burger instead.

This was a really fun trip, full of adventures and hard-learned lessons. When I got home I took out the instructions for my MSR filter, and found out what a true idiot I was when packing. Thinking that every ounce counts, I left the instructions for the filter, and the scrubbing pad to clean the filter at home. All I had to do was scrub the ceramic element for about thirty seconds and the thing worked as good as it did when I used it before. I mistakenly assumed that when I boiled it before storing it, this would have taken off any sediment or contaminants. It took care of the contaminants, but not the grime that slows down the filter. Never again!!!!!

I put off writing this last post for several weeks after seeing that I wasn't getting too many views. I had a lot of fun with the previous posts about equipment and such, and will soon be posting about the best outdoors blogs I have found, as well as some survival blogs as well. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gear Junkie Revisited (Timberland's present to me)

A while back I wrote a post about a contest I won on Facebook where I wrote a joke about how Chuck Norris would use some amazing camp shoes made by Timberland. Gear Junkie held the contest, but I never received the prize.

Shortly after writing that post I received an e-mail from Gear Junkie, apologizing for the delay and promising that the camp shoes were on their way to me.

Two weeks ago I came home from school to discover a large box with my name on it. I opened the box and found present after present, all from Timberland!!!! Not only did they send me the camp shoes that I won on-line, but I also received a low-cut hiking/biking boot, a mid-cut gore-tex boot, a high-cut leather working boot, and a very light-weight day pack!!!! My wife was very entertained as each time I pulled an item out I said "NOOOO WAYYYY!!!", and was in complete awe that I was the lucky guy to receive such high quality products. It felt like Christmas in September!

Here are the sweet items I received. Can't wait to try them out to write reviews on Timberland's website!!!!

High-cut leather working boot

AMAZING gore-tex boot

View of the camp shoe when unzipped
View of the camp shoe when zipped up

Low-Cut hiking/biking boot

Very light-weight day pack

The purpose of this post is not to brag about all the cool stuff I received for free, but to show what great products Timberland has to offer, and to encourage others to participate in legitimate on-line contests. 

Needless to say, being in grad school does not give me much room to indulge myself with purchasing new equipment, so I am VERY fortunate to have these items added to my arsenal:)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Top 10 and Top 100 Hiking and Camping Blogs

I don't usually write quick and short posts, but thought that I would pass on this info I just came across today.

Two Heel Drive is one of those many outdoors blogs that I follow, and a couple of days ago the author posted his top 10 and top 100 hiking and camping blogs. He explains how he narrowed his 100 blogs down to 10, and why he feels that they are blogs worth reading.

Not sure if any of you are on Google Reader, but it is a GREAT way to subscribe to blogs instead of having to receive e-mails every time each blog is updated.

Check out the Top 10 blogs according to Two Heel Drive! There are other great resources on this website as well, including tips on starting a hiking blog (something I probably should have read before starting mine I'm sure...).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Survival Bracelets - more than just a fashion statement

More and more people are wearing these bracelets, and it seems like fewer and fewer people know what they are. I complimented a girl's survival bracelet several weeks ago, and she said "my what?" I repeated myself and she said "oh, why is it called that?" I gave a few examples of what the bracelet can be used for, and she looked at me like I was stranger than the fact that she was wearing a bracelet that she didn't even know the name (let alone purpose) of.

550 paracord is military grade cord first used during WWII on parachutes. Servicemen were able to use this cord from their parachutes for a number of different reasons. 550 means that the cord is able to support 550 lbs before breaking. Although it is fairly easy to see what several feet of rope can be used for, it's important to know that the cord gets its strength from the seven strands of two-ply yarns. So while the rope itself has several uses, the guts of the cord serves several purposes as well.

Here are several ways to use the cord:

  • Replacement shoelaces
  • Replacement belt
  • Clothes-line
  • Support line for shelter
  • Tying branches together for shelter
  • Trip-line for trapping game
  • Line for snares
  • Fishing line
  • Fishing net
  • Cord for a bow-drill (to make fire)
  • Tying splints
  • Tourniquets
  • Sewing threads
  • Emergency line to rappel 
  • Line to hang a bear bag
  • and literally anything you would need to use a rope for (as long as you have enough cord that is)
Easy to see why it's called a survival bracelet eh?

Make Your Own
There are at least two kinds of weaves to use when making a survival bracelet. The standard cobra weave, and then what some call the king cobra weave which is really just the standard cobra weave which is doubled back on itself. Here is a video for the standard cobra weave:

and here is the video I used for the thicker bracelet:

As the videos said, every inch in the standard bracelet equals one foot of paracord; every inch of bracelet with the king cobra weave equals two feet of paracord. You can see why it would useful to have 16 feet of paracord around your wrist. They didn't state this in either of the videos above, but if you need the cord in an emergency situation then you can pull out the core cord that the weave is tied around and the weave will simply fall apart.

Next time you see someone wearing one of these bracelets ask them why it's called a survival bracelet and see what they say. It has become pretty trendy to wear these. Although the trend may stay or die-out, the uses for 550 paracord will not. The cord is nylon, so it won't rot if it comes in contact with water.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gear Essentials - Choosing the right knife for the right occasion

There are several items that are essential when hiking, backpacking, or being in the outdoors, and a knife would be one of them. The reasons to have a knife on you when in the backcountry seems obvious enough, but I'll list a few just for fun: cutting, killing...that about sums it up:) There are many things you would want to cut (paracord, food, duct tape, ect), and in a survival situation a knife becomes arguably the most important item you could have. I will admit that I have secretly pictured myself taking down a mountain lion with a knife when it leaps to attack me, but am sure that my knife would remain in my pocket as I reach for my bear spray if a grizzly were to come around my campsite...
Not the best choice for lightweight hiking...
Choosing the right knife for the right occasion
A couple of weeks ago I read an article on-line about the worst choices made when purchasing equipment for backpacking. Several of the contributing authors agreed that their choice of knife was one of those poor choices. They said that they wanted to be ready for any possible scenerio, and assumed that the biggest and baddest survival knife would do the trick - even if it did weigh as much as their boots. Remember watching Rambo and seeing that awesome knife that had matches inside the handle? Yeah, one of the authors admitted to purchasing one of those.

1- Consider the weight
Knives vary in weight from just over one ounce, to as heavy and hefty as you can imagine. Here is the Gerber Mini Paraframe Knife. $10.82, 2 inch serrated blade, and weighs 1.6 ounces. You may not take down a bear with this mini knife, but you will be able to cut small branches and paracord. If you really want to make sure you are prepared with a serious knife then you could opt for one of those Rambo knives, or get the knife I received from my wife for Christmas - the Bear Grylls Survival Knife (11.2 ounces).
This is more like it
2- Consider the uses
What will you be using it for? Strictly hiking/backpacking? Survival and emergency preparedness?
A simple knife such as the paraframe may not start a fire for you by itself, but you have the option of getting the Bear Grylls Gerber survival kit which includes the lightweight knife along with an emergency whistle, waterproof matches, snare wire, emergency cord, and a cotton ball for a fire starter.
3- Consider the worst case scenario
You are better off being prepared for any situation that may come across your path, but be smart at the same time. How far are you hiking from any life-line (cell phone signal, any other people, ect)? If you are within walking distance from civilization, then you probably won't be needing to start hunting and gathering for survival, but if you are in the backcountry then you will need to bring your own life-lines. Personally, I want a simple knife for light-weight hikes, but also want those items that will get me out of a sticky situation (once again, the survival kit I mentioned above).

There are many other knives out there which would be great choices. Here are a couple other great knives you may want to consider:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Trip Report: Yellowstone Nat. Park - Old Faithful to Lewis Lake; Day 2 of 3

One of many pools in the geyser basin
***Click on photos in order to magnify for better detail
After falling asleep at the end of day one, I felt disheartened and frustrated by the set-backs related to my gear failing me. I hoped that a good night's sleep would help me feel better about the fact that I had two more days of hiking without an effective means of filtering my water, and I actually did wake up feeling much better about everything in general.

Day 2: Shoshone Lake (site 8R5 to site 8M1)
Due to the fact that we were forced to boil our water without another solution (other than skipping any sort of filtration), I woke up to one Nalgene bottle of filtered water, and one bottle of noodle water from the previous night. I remember reading in Backpacker (of course) that it's a good idea to drink the carb-rich water from cooking noodles instead of throwing it out, and thought that it would make more sense to use this for drinking water as opposed to boiling a new pot for drinking...

Sound gross??? Well, it was. The first couple of drinks weren't that bad, but by mid-afternoon I was pretty repulsed by it. I knew that we only had a limited amount of fuel for cooking, and that there was no way we would have enough to boil water for the three of us on the 1.5 canisters we had. I thought about it long and hard, and decided that the water in the stream was deep enough and adequately swift to just drink without a high risk of getting sick. Talk about a refreshing drink! Straight from the ice-cold stream. While it would have been nice to have the peace of mind my filter would have given me, I didn't feel concerned about the water I drank; but I knew that within the next 24 hours I would know for sure if this was a wise choice or not.
Jordan, Geoff, and yours truly from the boardwalk within the geyser basin
The hike on the second day started out with us going through the geyser basin, and it was definitely one of the trip's highlights. I've been to Yellowstone a few times and have seen Old Faithful work her magic time and time again, but there was something different about being in the backcountry with all sorts of bubbling water features - including a geyser that boiled and spewed water about every two minutes. Being all alone with no one else but my hiking companions really drove the uniqueness of Yellowstone home.
Throughout the hike on the second day we were on the lookout for animal life. Whereas on the first day we made plenty of noise (actually too much, in my opinion) in order to ward off any hiding grizzlies, we decided to not make any noise - realizing that scaring off any potential bears was also scaring off everything and anything else that lives and breathes. We saw our first wolf print in the mud, and were pretty excited. I wasn't paying much attention to the marks in the ground up to this point, but started to pay more attention after Geoff and Jordan pointed the print out to me.
Wolf? Cougar? We originally thought that this was a wolf track, but now I'm not too sure. What are your thoughts?
We made very good time, and got to our campsite at around 4:00, but not before being forced to cross through the stream that ran fairly close to our site. If the water wasn't freezing enough to make me lose my balance, the sharp rocks on my bare feet sure was. I was happy we only had about a ten foot section to cross, and was even happier that we found our campsite seconds after getting our shoes back on. Although painful on the feet, the last thing you want is to have to hike in wet boots; unless you want blisters and discomfort for the rest of your trip.

That evening Geoff and I spent an hour or so fishing in the heat, but didn't catch anything. That's the beauty of fly fishing though. I can sit on the bank of a river, casting to the same hole time and time again, and feel completely relaxed even as the sun burns into my skin. It also felt nice to put our 3-day fishing pass to good use, as well as using the extra weight our rods and fishing gear added. If I wouldn't have opened my fly rod case this second day then I wouldn't have noticed the love note my wife slipped into my case! The cool, fresh water may have worked wonders on my beat up body, but this little note did just as much good to my mentality. I worked through several obstacles in my thinking on this second day, and the note only helped that much more.

Although we hoped that the mosquitoes wouldn't find us on this side of the lake, we knew that they would be hunting us down here as well. I decided that the feeling of repellant on my skin, along with two days worth of sweat, wouldn't feel too good when in my bad the second night, and I chose to take a "quick dip" in the stream. I was worried about the freezing water, but soon realized after taking my clothes off that the water was nothing compared to the barrage of mosquitos that decided to use my back (and, uh-hem, back-side) as a landing strip. I tried to beat them away with my clothes, but only had about three or four corpses on my shirt as opposed to the couple dozen bites they gave me. I showed my war-wounds to Geoff when I got back to the tent, and I knew by his laughter that my back looked as bad as it felt. By the way, the water was cold enough to make my legs cramp up for a few seconds after getting back on the bank.

It's hard to describe the difference you can feel when being in the heart of a national park such as Yellowstone as opposed to being with hundreds of other tourists sitting around Old Faithful. Pretty sure that it's for this reason (among many others) that I continue to make plans for such trips. It was only about an hour ago that I added up the miles on the Teton Crest Trail for my next potential trip. I've only been back for a week and I'm already planning next years outing:)
***Really wish I would have taken more photos. I'm regretting not having any photos of the stream we crossed/fished...

Breakfast - Granola and Powdered Milk
Lunch - Mountainland Buffalo Style Chicken Wrap (would NOT recommend it...) and tortillas
Dinner - Ramen Noodles (straight from the package) and Jack Links Beef Nuggets
Snacks - Dehydrated (at home)Yogurt/Apples/Bananas and Snickers

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Trip Report: Yellowstone Nat. Park - Old Faithful to Lewis Lake; Day 1 of 3

Where we stopped for lunch on our first day
For about six months now my friend Geoff and I have been planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Originally we wanted to head back to the Tetons to experience another amazing trip as I reported on previously, but decided to hit a backcountry neither of us had experienced before. Geoff took the reins and planned a three day trip, scheduled just before we both start another semester at school.

Above is a map of the terrain we covered. We started at the Old Faithful area (tourist central), and ended up wrapping around the Shoshone Lake, and ended at the road next to Lewis Lake. In all we covered approximately 26 miles over three days. I'll be giving this trip report in three segments, one for each day on the trail.

Day 1: Mishaps and learning experiences
The first day started out simple enough. We spent the night before in a campsite inside the park in order to have an early start the next morning, and were able to get to the Ranger's office for our backcountry permit just after 8:00 a.m. Car camping the night before kind of messed with my head as we were still using our backpacks, yet enjoying the comforts (Elk steak cooked over a fire) of camping within a campground. It felt good to finally get on the trail and slowly start the 9 mile hike to our first backcountry site.
Geoff and Jordan pictured where we stopped for lunch the first day.
We ate lunch next to the river pictured at the top of this post, and enjoyed the solitude as we took our time eating and replenishing our water supply. The breeze felt great while sitting next to the water, and Geoff and I were tempted to get our fishing gear out in order to try catching something, but wanted to push forward since we still had plenty of miles to cover.

Geoff invited his brother in-law, Jordan, along with us, and I'm so glad he did. Geoff and I always have a blast, and Jordan only made it that much better. While I'm focused on keeping my pace up with both Jordan and Geoff, Jordan was actually reading and hiking at the same time! That guy cracked me up constantly as he has the type of personality where he is just naturally a funny guy.

Only about a mile into the hike I decided that I was done with my trekking poles (I've actually decided to only use them when snowshoeing from now on) as they seemed more annoying than useful. I think that I've tried to convince myself that I like them more than I do, and was happy to put them on my pack. At some point following lunch, one of the locks on my poles came loose and two of the three sections on one of my poles fell off. Since I was in back most of the hike, there is really no way of knowing when the poles came apart. This was the first mishap of the day...

By the time we got to Shoshone Lake all three of us were ready to be done for the day. We had to backtrack a little as we thought our campsite was on the opposite side of the cove, and when we did find our campsite we were a little surprised to find out that it was a good 200 yards from the actual trail itself. We were happy to see that we would be fairly secluded at our site instead of being right off of the trail (as it was in the Tetons), and appreciated that this is how backcountry sites are in Yellowstone.

We camped at 8R5 this first night after hiking past the OA's campsites.
When we got to our site I volunteered to filter enough water for all of our bottles, and was excited to use my filter again as it had been a couple of years since the last (and first) time I used it. I began pumping and pumping, thinking that it was taking longer than expected to fill up the six liter bladder I bought just for the trip. Frustrated, I screwed the filter on my Nalgene bottle so that I could see how fast it was filtering. I discovered that something serious was wrong with my filter, as it was only filtering a small trickle for every pump, and pushing the rest of the water back down the tube. After spending close to an hour trying to figure out what was wrong with it, I gave up and told Geoff that we would need to use his SteriPen until I could figure out what was wrong with my filter. Geoff whipped out his SteriPen, only to discover that the lithium batteries had failed him, and the pen was not working. Mishaps two and three...

We decided that we would just have to boil our water, even though doing so is inefficient on so many different levels.

Another section of the stream we hiked next to at various times
By the time we started to get our dinners ready the mosquitos were out on the hunt. It didn't take long before hundreds upon hundreds of mosquitos found our campsite, and were determined to make us as miserable as possible as we made dinner. Although I was smart enough to buy a bug net just before the trip, I thought that the little bottle of insect repellant (deet-free so it doesn't ruin your gear) I've had for a couple of years would do the trick. This is when I realized that deet substitutes just don't cut it. Mishap number four...

By the time we crawled into our sleeping bags I was pretty discouraged, and realized that I wasn't thinking right. Why would I get so worked up about my filter when I knew that we would be hiking fairly close to fresh water a few times each day of our trip? Why would I let a few small things mess up my head? This is when I realized a couple of important lessons: one - being with at least one other person in the backcountry will help you get a better perspective when things may go wrong (which Geoff did for me), and two - when fatigued from a long day's hike, it becomes much easier to become discouraged and to stop thinking straight.

What did I learn on this first day? When packing away trekking poles, make sure that all locks are tightly secured, and pack the poles upside down so that even if the locks aren't tight, there is no way that they will come apart. Also, bring a back-up filter cartridge and/or batteries for water - you can go weeks without food, but water is essential. Finally, when wanting to lighten the amount of weight you will be carrying on a backpacking trip, better forget leaving essential items at home, assuming that you wont need them (extra bug spray and, again, a way to filter your water).

I didn't take too many photos on this first day. Plenty more photos to come for days 2 and 3 though!

Meals for Day One:
Breakfast - Powdered Milk with Granola
Lunch - Mountain House Chicken Salad with tortillas
Dinner - Homemade spaghetti sauce (frozen, then thawed while on the trail) with Ramen Noodles.
Snacks - Snickers, dehydrated fruit rolls (actually yogurt that I dehydrated at home)
**As a side note, there is a quick fix to my filter, I was just too dumb to pay attention to the instructions when at home...and chose to foolishly leave the instructions behind.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Website Review: Gear Junkie

I've been following Gear Junkie's blog for several months now, and recently "Like'd" them on Facebook. Soon after adding them on Facebook I saw that they were having a contest to win these awesome camp shoes pictured below. What are camp shoes? When backpacking for miles and miles, it feels good to get out of your hiking boots to let your feet dry out, air out, and just take a break while walking around your campsite. Camp shoes don't need to be constructed like regular shoes because they are only worn for short distances around your campsite, so it would make sense for them to weigh close to nothing right? It may seem that way, but with the exception of wearing (in my opinion) some hideous Crocs or flip-flops, lightweight camp shoes are hard to come by. I digress...this post is about Gear Junkie....
How did I win these awesome camp shoes that actually zip up, making the shoe small AND compact? Below is my answer to how Chuck Norris would use this shoe.

Needless to say, I was pretty excited that my Chuck Norris knowledge finally paid off after all of these years:)

Go to Gear Junkie and check out the website. These guys have a very impressive list of gear reviews for biking, running, camping, climbing/mountaineering, food/hydration, women's gear, footwear, clothing, skiing/winter, biking, technology, ultra-sports, backpacks, boat/water, and misc. Seems like a lot of those categories overlap a little, but it makes more sense as you browse through each category.

"Like" them on facebook here and check out their blog here. I am a supporter of any site which makes finding quality outdoors gear easier, and can tell that these guys know what they are talking about. 

In closing, I have a few questions. Have I ever won ANYTHING in my life? No. Was I excited to win this contest? Yes. Have I received the shoes yet? Nope... I sent them an e-mail a couple of weeks ago, asking if I would have the shoes in time for my trip to Yellowstone which is now only a week away, but haven't heard back yet...

In a couple of weeks I should have a trip review of me backpacking in Yellowstone. Can't wait!!!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

TV Show Review: Expedition Impossible

When I first heard of Expedition Impossible I thought "oh great, another 'reality' TV show that tries to imitate how to rough-it," but after a good friend told me that I should try-out to be on this show next season, I figured that I should probably give it a shot.

I have been pleasantly surprised so far. The season starts out with thirteen teams of three's ranging from sisters to co-workers and friends, each making an attempt at winning $50K and a new Ford Explorer. If a team crosses the finish line last, then they are eliminated. The team to cross the tenth finish line first will win the money and SUV.

While at first glance it looks like another "Amazing Race," it is geared towards outdoor adventure instead of just racing through busy cities. So far teams have faced hiking up sand dunes, riding camels, paddling inflatable canoes, riding arabian horses, building and paddling rafts, using para-cord from survival bracelets, sleeping at an alpine base camp in freezing temps, rappelling, and miles upon miles of hiking. Although they don't hike more than 10 miles in one day, the challenges are enough to take seriously.

Although everyone competing are from everyday walks of life, on Team - No Limits is the famous mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer - the blind guy who summited Everest in 2001. I would be surprised if the producers didn't approach him to be on the show instead of the other way around. Seeing him on the commercials for the show is also another push I had to actually watch. Yes, he does have two companions helping him along the way, but he definitely has a disadvantage (ever tried riding a camel or horse blind?). In addition, this team brings real experience to the show. Erik was the only one I saw wearing gaiters during the trek through the sand dunes, and you can tell that these guys know what they are doing.

Will I try-out? I think that it would be a fun month-long adventure, but am not sure that splitting $50K and a new Expedition would be worth the hassel of rearranging my grad school schedule and finals. If the winnings were to be more like $50K for each team member I would really consider it.

The bottom line - I definitely recommend that anyone who enjoys the outdoors watch this show. There are several mistakes made that everyone can learn from if they are looking for them: one girl gets in a hurry and decides to not put her socks on for the last couple of miles and ends up with blisters painful enough for her to get some extra attention from the host; Eriks companions get rushed and leave him at the top of a winding staircase, thinking that they can do the challenge while he waits; one of the "Country Boys" has real difficulty hiking up hills - completely hindering his teams ability to push for first place; and several teams struggle in the cold to effectively use their para-cord to hook when all they needed to do was warm up their hands, think for a second, and take their time throwing the cord.

Check it out anytime on Hulu or watch it every Thursday at 9/8c on ABC.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gear Review: SPOT Connect

A specific piece of equipment has been catching my eye for at least the last three issues of Backpacker Magazine (funny/pathetic how their advertising gets me every time...). I have wanted a SPOT locator beacon for a couple of years now, but due to my current financial situation as a student, it is one of those many pieces of technology that will need to wait until after I'm done with school. When I saw the advertisement for the SPOT Connect I thought that I had found a better alternative that would give me an even greater justification to purchase such a devise following my graduation, but I'll let you decide which of these two devices is superior.

SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger
For a basic overview of what the SPOT beacon does, check out this post I wrote several months ago. The SPOT beacon is a small hand-held device which allows you to "check in" anywhere in the world (as long as the beacon has a signal from the satellite - caves and many slot-canyons don't). You pay for the device (about $80-150 according to the search I just did on-line), and then pay for the yearly service plan (basic is $100, and goes up from there). You have the ability to check in with loved ones through the SPOT tracker website, send "custom" messages via e-mail (have to set this up with a computer before your trip), inform your contacts at home that you need non-emergency assistance, and then you can also use the SOS button in case of a real emergency.

The Cost: Unit + yearly subscription = two charges. Depending on how many features you want to have access to, the subscription cost goes up. Only one-way communication if this is the only form of communication you have. Even if you are where you would have a cell signal, you won't be able to talk to anyone or text anyone unless you have your cell phone with you.

The Benefit: A peace of mind for your loved ones while you are in no-mans land, and a peace of mind for yourself if you were to be in a sticky situation.

SOS x 2: Cell phone has the SOS button, but the Connect has a button on the side as well, meaning that even if you lose your smart phone or it's charge dies, you still have a way out of whatever dire situation you find yourself in.

SPOT Connect
The biggest difference between the Connect and the Messenger above is an ability to customize your e-mails that you are sending home (also send a customized message along with your SOS so the authorities know what they are dealing with), as well as an ability to send text messages and to update your Twitter/Facebook status. Due to the fact that you are using a secondary device, you have more options and abilities. At this point you can use an iPhone, iPod Touch (HUGE surprise to me when I found out about this), or an Android with a 2.0 or newer platform. You have the ability to use every feature that the Messenger has, but much more. Right now the Connect device is roughly $150, and, just like the Messenger, you have a yearly subscription fee ($99) which will cost more depending on how many texts/e-mails you would like to send.

The video below is very informative, and quite amusing. I don't know who the guys are doing the interview, but the SPOT rep knows what he is talking about (for the most part). Be sure to pay attention to what he says about sending a customized SOS message. I'm not sure if he is being serious or ironic, but it's entertaining nonetheless.

Costs: Instead of only taking one device to use as an SOS when the poop hits the fan, you have to have the Connect AND your iPod/iPhone. If one of the batteries dies on either of these devices, there is no point in having the second one - unless, of course, you have a cell phone signal and can just call out. In addition to having to care for two devices, you are also taking more weight (a minimal 4.5 oz for the Connect) and more space being taken up in your pack. The pictures on-line are deceiving in my opinion. At first glance I thought it was a flat device, but it's not. It is still smaller than a smart phone, but is probably two or three times thicker.

Benefits: All the same features as the Messenger, only much better. If you are able to send a customized message along with your SOS ping, the authorities will know if they are dealing with a broken leg, someone who has fallen in a tough to reach location, or you are being eaten by a bear (which is what the rep said in the video...hahaha, "help me, the bear is almost to my organs as he has already exposed my rips and is working his way through my gluteus maximus"). Having two devices means you have twice the opportunity to get help and send status updates. If you have a cell phone signal on the trail then you can call whoever you want, if you don't then you can just use the Connect features. Almost like having a security blanket on the trail:)

Here is the promo video from SPOT. Although a little cheesy, it's still pretty informative. Does a good job of showing that this device is not just for your backcountry adventures.

The Bottom Line: Although the main purpose for me purchasing either the Connect or the Messenger is for my backcountry activities, they would both be very useful for road trips and really any possible situation. I feel that the Connect offers much more than the Messenger, and will hopefully be an owner of the Connect one day. The up-front cost of the device is a little steep (as with the Messenger), but the yearly subscription ends up costing less than most data plans for smart phones when divided between twelve months.

Here are a few reviews to read if you are interested: One, Two, and Three.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Outdoors Essentials??? Multi-Function Watches

For couple of years now I have lusted after an image found in every issue of Backpacker magazine. Every time I would open my latest issue, I knew that I would eventually come across the same advertisement for the same watch that fascinated my adventerous side, and this is what I would see...

The latest Casio Pathfinder is solar powered (which will last 5 months after being fully charged), includes an altimeter, barometer, thermometer, digital compass, and every other typical digital watch feature (alarms, timers, ect) only done better. For an MSRP of $450, this is a watch that any outdoorsman would lust after. Here is the point of this post though: Should a multifunction watch be included on the "outdoors essentials" list?

My logic in even wanting a watch such as the Pathfinder is the pure convenience of having so much useful information strapped to my wrist when in the backcountry. An altimeter (when correctly and frequently calibrated correctly) would give more accurate directions/locations when using a topo map, a barometer can be useful when trying to predict the weather (if you know how to use it), the digital compass would be convenient when wanting a quick reference for the direction you are traveling (although not the most accurate when compared to a mirrored compass like the one I use), and the solar power charge means that you are set when it comes to power (no having to worry about your battery losing its life in the middle of a trip [you should switch out your battery more frequently than required for this exact reason]).

In addition to the expensive features are the typical alarms and stopwatch - both would be very useful when on the trail. I still remember camping with a bunch of neighborhood friends a couple of years ago. They all had to leave right after breakfast the next morning, so I knew that I would need to get up at a decent hour in order to see them before they all took off. I woke up to the sun hitting the corner of my tent, and had an eery feeling that I was all alone although I went to bed with five tents surrounding me the night before. It was only 8 in the morning, but everyone was already gone! I felt like the crazy drunk uncle who everyone wants to avoid the morning after a night in the woods. I thought that I was getting up early enough, but only had the sun to wake me up. For this reason (and the fact that I typically want to get an early start on the trail when backpacking) an alarm on my watch would be perfect. No extra weight, very small, and conveniently located on your wrist whenever you need it.

The thermometer would also be very useful when backpacking/camping. I can't recall how many times I have woken up to a freezing face in the middle of the night, wondering if it was really below freezing, or if I was just a wimp. Having this feature on my watch would allow me to see how cold it really is at night so that I can see if my sleeping bag's temperature rating is more liberal than it should be (although I'll admit that there are small thermometers that are dirt cheap and very light/small which would be just as effective).

The downside? Price. How could a starving grad-student possibly afford a wrist watch that costs more than $300? Although there are other Pathfinder watches that are much cheaper to be found ($200 on REI), it's still an expensive watch. The solution? I was walking through REI when I saw a watch for $60. It was also a Casio brand, also had an altimeter/barometer/thermometer, and was pretty good looking. I don't know whether I will really use all the extra/expensive features on the Pathfinder, so why not buy a cheaper watch to see if the Pathfinder is really worth the money or not? Here is the watch that I found and later bought.

The bottom line: I wouldn't put multi-function watches on the "outdoors essentials" list. It is a fun and convenient extra gadget to wear around, but not necessary by any means. I will say, however, that any type of watch DOES belong on the list. Remember 127 Hours? Each and every one of those hours were counted by Aron Ralston while stuck in the slot canyon. Knowing what time it is may very well be the one thing that makes the difference between keeping one's sanity, and losing one's mind. Aron rationed out his water in order to make it last as long as possible. There was no way he could have kept track of time if he wouldn't have had a watch on him (high canyon walls and only a small window of direct sunlight would have made it impossible to tell the time). Some in hostage situations have also said that knowing what time it was made a huge difference (knowing the time of day gives one a small sense of being in control).

I know that I focused on the Pathfinder by Casio, but Suunto is also a very good watch, and may be more used by professional mountaineers than the Pathfinder is. As a side note, both the Suunto and the Pathfinder are BIG watches. If you prefer the more conservative, low-profile watch, these multi-watches may not be fore you.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Few Amazing Videos

Yes, I'm taking the easy route by sharing a few videos instead of writing a real post. My finals are coming to an end, and I should, in theory, be able to get back to my regular "weekly" posting within the next couple of weeks.

I saw this first video a couple of weeks ago. It took place all the way back in 2008, so I'm obviously not a rock climber. Seeing this video, in addition to the other videos in this post, makes me want to lose the 20 lbs I put on after getting married so that I can take on this physically demanding sport (although my love for backpacking will always be #1).

This second video features Ueli Steck and the same climber from the first video. Ueli (again, only recently discovered this video) is AMAZING. I had no idea that speed climbers even existed! What this guy does impresses me more than I can express. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people world-wide train for marathons each year, thousands also train for long bike rides, triathlons, swim meets, and many other sports which require absolute dedication, but what Ueli does is, by far, the most dangerous sport by far. Running up a mountain without ropes??? Crazy...

This last video shows Ueli breaking his own speed climbing record on the north face of Eiger. Don't know what Eiger is? Check it out here. Why the north face? The north face of mountains in the northern hemisphere is usually known as being the most difficult to summit (which is also probably why "The North Face" clothing line is called what it is). Watch this last video and be amazed.

If those videos aren't enough to inspire you, I have no idea what would:)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

A few years ago I flipped through this book too see if it was something that I would enjoy reading. After I realized that it was filled with Aron Ralston's "adventures," I lost interest and felt that he probably used his accident in Southern Utah as an excuse to shot (what he considered were) his amazing accomplishments, and to talk himself up. I'll admit that it was probably my own pride that I was using as a filter, and didn't really want to hear about a kid my age achieving more within one year of his life (by way of outdoors accomplishments) than I accumulated as a whole up to that point in my life.

As soon as I was done watching 127 Hours for the first time, I decided that it would be a good idea to give the book a chance. About two weeks after this decision, I found my thoughts constantly going back to different parts of the movie, wanting to watch it more and more, and being driven to the bookstore. Being in graduate school and on a very tight budget, making extra purchases are very rare for me, but I felt that this book would be a good investment for my bookshelf.

From the start of this book I decided to ask myself whether Aron was really at fault for the predicament he found himself in - caught between a slot canyon wall and chock stone he dislodge while hiking the Blue John Canyon within The Canyonlands National Park. Although the many different adventures found within the book annoyed me several years ago, and kept me from taking the book seriously, I found that these all gave me a great deal of insight into his personality, his mental preparedness, and his ability to accurately (or better, inaccurately) weigh the consequences of his actions.

There is a common theme I found throughout the book: Aron likes to be alone. He took (and continues to take) pride in his ability to summit Colorado's 14,000+ feet-high peaks by himself. When he isn't alone, he ends up making poor choices, such as: the time he was with his sister at Havasupai Falls and fell on a cactus; or the time he was with a couple other guys and almost drowned in the Colorado River; or when he pressured his friends to drop down into a steep bowl of deep powder when skiing, only to trigger a massive avalanche which almost claimed their lives. Even when he was at The Canyonlands, he chose to follow through with his plan to hike Blue John Canyon, despite the fact that two girls he thought were attractive tried to convince him to go with them on their hike. It is my own personal opinion that he felt that it would be more impressive to the girls he met, if he were to continue his solo journey. He didn't say it, but it was his pride in doing things by himself which ultimately lead to his demise.

I can dissect the entire book, but feel that doing so would take away from the enjoyable parts which left me wanting to stay up late to read every evening.

I didn't see how Aron could possibly grab my attention with his writing to the point where I wait in anticipation for him to finally cut his arm off (hope this isn't a spoiler for any those reading this). He did such an excellent job of writing with great detail, that you honestly felt like you were with him each night as he struggles to fight through the hypothermic conditions - all while unable to give his legs enough rest to finally fall asleep. As he goes through his routine of wrapping his legs with his climbing rope, as he puts his head in his rope bag, and as he tries with all of his might to get a few minutes of sleep before his next designated time to take a sip of water - all of these moments you feel as though you right there with Aron, each step of the way.

I got to the point where I asked myself if the next page would be when he would have his "epiphany" or not. Although it is easy for me to say that I would have cut my arm off a lot sooner than he did, I understood through his writing that I, too, would probably need to get to that extreme point of desperation where I realized that I was left with no other option then to take that final plunge. 

Hopefully none of this takes away from the experience to be had when reading the book for yourself. Yes, he was a hot-headed kid who took unnecessary risks, but at the end you come to realize that the previous risks he took gave him the courage to take that final risk which ultimately saved his life. Although I found myself asking why Aron made so many poor choices up to that point in his life, by the end of his story I understood that those poor experiences may very well have prepared him for that final pinnacle moment where he found himself stuck, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place."

(A short clip from Aron's original tapes while in the slot canyon)

*As an interesting side-note, Aron's book is no longer titled "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." The new edition which came out after the movie, and which I ended up purchasing (only because this was all that could be found on the shelves), is titled "127 Hours Between a Rock and a Hard Place."