Monday, February 23, 2015

Gear Review Icebreaker Flexi Chute

This is my first season skiing, and as such, I am slowly accumulating all of the requisite gear to enjoy my time out in the frozen landscape without freezing myself. I had my eye on the Icebreaker Flexi Chute the moment we stocked it over at Gear:30.

Although I knew I wanted to piece, I held off on purchasing it. Having just moved to Utah, money was still pretty tight and I had a couple of Christmas gifts I wanted to get for Derek. Still, I was pretty bummed when the last Flexi Chute was sold on one of my days off. I figured I would just get it next year.

I was surprised and excited on Christmas day when I discovered that Derek had in fact bought that last Flexi Chute from the store. My husband is freaking awesome.

Since then, I've worn my Flexi Chute on a couple of backcountry skiing excursions as well as on a few early morning jogs. Here is what I like about it…

Pro’s:

It is versatile. I can wear it a number of different ways to protect my face, my ears, or just cover my sweaty hair. I like it better than the typical winter face mask or balaclava because I can adjust it to suit my temperature regulation needs with one simple piece. Also, it’s nice to be able to run into the gas station without looking like I’m going to rob the place!

It handles moisture without freezing up. So far I haven’t had any issues with it getting frozen crusty, which was a problem with my old balaclava. If it gets too wet in front of my face, I just spin it around to a dry spot.

It’s natural. While I am constantly impressed by what humans can invent, it’s pretty neat to have a product manufactured from a natural fabric, merino wool. The merino wool feels soft like cotton but performs like a synthetic. All in all, that’s pretty awesome. It's also a bit easier on the environment to produce.

Con’s:

So far I don’t have any major complaints with the Flexi Chute itself, except for perhaps its name. Can we please just call this a buff? Holy mouthful batman!

It’s also worth noting that I found some reviews where folks asked for multiple sizes rather than the one-size-fits-all model. I imagine more sizes could be a positive thing. I have a pretty average sized noggin though, and it fit me just fine.

Summary:

I recommend the Icebreaker Flexi Chute for its versatility and performance. I have found it to work better than other things I have tried in the past, and I can’t wait to get outside with it some more.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Graaarrrr Mountain Kitty!!!!!

I take a fortifying breath before I step out of my warm car and into a cold, dark landscape. It is 5:45 am, and I hope to hike to the top of Malan’s Peak and back before I have to head into work later today.

Since we have moved here, Derek has hiked this peak in the pre-dawn hours numerous times, so I had thought this would be a reasonable goal for myself. But as I approach the trail head, I am struck by some major differences between Derek and me. Primarily, Derek doesn't get scared unless there is a reason to be scared. And second, Derek doesn't have night-blindness.

Despite the icky feelings building in the pit of my stomach, I start my hike. I can only see within a circle of grayish light cast by my headlamp, but it is just enough for me to see where the trail goes and to avoid stumbling on any rocks. As I follow this circle of light, the open trail progresses into a steeper wooded area. In my peripheral vision, I see a tall figure ahead. Startled, I look up, expecting to see a hiker in front of me. It is only the trail though, dark dirt against the lighter outline of trees around it.

I try to calm my pounding heart. As I continue to walk, two different voices begin arguing in my head: the Wimpy-Susan voice and the Bad-Ass-Susan voice.

Wimpy-Susan points out that I forgot to bring a back-up headlamp and if my current headlamp fails I could become completely lost, as I am literally blind in the dark. Bad-Ass-Susan reminds us that dawn is only an hour away, so surely if my (brand-freaking-new) headlamp fails we could just hang out until it lightens up enough to see.

Wimpy-Susan points out that I also failed to bring my pepper spray or a knife or anything really to defend myself against predators like mountain lions and sleazy old men. Bad-Ass-Susan reminds us that mountain lions don’t eat people and, for goodness sake, it is before dawn and below freezing, all the sleazy old men are home in their warm beds. Nobody is lying in wait to ambush me. No one was out here at all.

I ignore both my alter egos for a minute and continue walking, thinking for a bit about fear and anxiety. I wonder if Derek is ever scared of running into other men on the trail, and I suspect not. However, I also realize that there are people who would never hike alone during the day, much less in the dark. And here I am, doing just that.

Logically, I know that it is perfectly safe for me to be doing so. I have my headlamp, the right clothes, plenty of water, and a cell phone with service. I've hiked this trail before, Derek knows exactly where I am, it’s too cold for snakes, too populated for mountain lions, and too early for creepy old men. Yes, it is okay to be afraid. Many people would be. But yes, it is also safe to continue.

I felt a blissful moment of peace at this realization and stop to savor the moment before I start into a particularly dark, deep section of the canyon hike. When I stop, I hear what I couldn't hear when I had been walking and talking to myself. Footsteps behind me.

I freeze for one panicked second, picturing a crouching mountain lion, ready to eat me. The footsteps stop behind me. Human footsteps. I almost giggle I am so giddy with relief and a small bit of embarrassment. I turn, excited to have another hiker to walk through the dark with and hope they are going to the top of Malan’s as well.

My headlamp hits an empty trail. There is no one there. My anxiety rebounds, hitting me hard in the gut. I am certain there was someone behind me. I had heard them walking. I glance around the trail, looking for maybe a hiker who has stopped to pee and is sheepishly hiding from me or maybe the green glowing eyes of an innocent mule deer. Nothing.

“Hello?” I call out, my voice unsure. Still, nothing.

“Hey!” I call out, annoyed now because I am certain someone is there and just not responding. I had heard them behind me.

Wimpy-Susan is ready to start walking, no – running – back to the car. I wait for Bad-Ass-Susan’s opinion. She is mulling it over. Finally, she say f*** this, Malan’s isn't that cool anyway. Wimpy-Susan thanks the good Lord but then freaks out more because if Bad-Ass-Susan says it’s time to go home then there really might be a reason to be scared. Bad-Ass-Susan just rolls her eyes.

I resist the urge to run. I don’t really think there is a mountain kitty nearby, but IF there is then running would only incite it to chase me. Plus, I can't see well enough to run without tripping anyway. I stomp my feet as I walk to make myself sound as big and mean as possible.

I cross a trail intersection and take the lower path. I call out greetings a couple more times just in case there was a friendly human nearby. I get no responses and see no headlamps anywhere but I do still hear the occasional shuffle of someone else’s footsteps. There is someone or something on the trail with me. If it’s a person, they aren't responding to my greetings. If it’s a creature, it’s clearly not afraid of me. So, I do the only logical thing I can think of: I start making growling noises at my possible mountain kitty.

“Graaarrrr Mountain Kitty! I am big enough to eat you! BRAawwwwrrrrrrrr!” Yes. I really say that. Quite loudly too.

Shortly after, I hear laughter. A lot of laughter. Mother f***ers. There were at least two hikers somewhere on the trail above me now. Older women from the sound of their voices. I hear them mutter something to each other as they continue along the upper trail. They aren't using headlamps, so I can’t see them despite the lack of trees here. If I didn't have night blindness, I probably could see them.

I sigh. I debate telling them thanks so much for scaring the shit of out me (cause really? They couldn't just say hello back when I called to them?!), but I continue stomping my way back to the car instead. So much for facing my fears. I know, as I think about confessing to Derek why I'm home early, that I'll need to come back and try this again. Just... not today.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Gear Review Alpine Aire Foods, Pineapple Orange Chicken Dehydrated Meal


With mild trepidation, I packed my Alpine Aire Foods Pineapple Orange Chicken meal for a weekend adventure. I had been wanting to try the meal, but when I picked it up a friend of mine warned me that he did not care for the flavor. When questioned, he explained that it had been very bland.

I grabbed the food anyway, figuring that a bland flavor was better than an offensive one. I was being a bit lazy because I didn't want to bother with planning a different meal and purchasing/packaging all the ingredients. I was taking it on an overnight backpacking & alpine climbing trip with Derek. My pack was already up to 35 pounds, and I needed something lightweight but full of calories. This meal would do the trick. Also, I specifically wanted this brand over others because it has fewer artificial ingredients and less sodium.

Derek and I spent Friday afternoon hiking into the Lone Peak Wilderness Area to camp at the base of the Pfeifferhorn. On our way to our campsite, a winter storm rolled in, pelting us with snow and 30 mile per hour wind gusts. By the time we were finally huddled in our tent to make dinner, we were shivering, wet, and in major need of some food.

Derek fired up our MSR Reactor Stove to boil water for the dehydrated meal. We each had a packet which claims to serve two. Based on our usual calorie needs for this kind of trip, we estimated that I would eat 1/2 to 1/3 of my packet and Derek would eat my leftovers plus all of his own.

Our stove is the smallest version, and it could only boil enough for one meal pack at time, so we prepared mine first and Derek’s second. After pouring hot water into my packet, I carefully put the resealed pack upright inside my sleeping bag with me to keep it warm. It also helped heat me up!

It was a few minutes before the food was ready to eat. My first bite was (as warned) exceptionally bland. I hadn't stirred the food thoroughly (the instructions do say to stir) and soon discovered a couple pieces of food still dehydrated. Realizing my error, I thoroughly stirred my food and told Derek to do the same when he opened his packet.

It was a big challenging to stir without getting your hand messy as the food packets are rather tall. I would say that a long spoon would help or maybe carefully mushing the packet would work better.

After stirring, the flavor was greatly improved. I think the only flavor it lacked was any sort of saltiness, which is actually a good thing for a backpacking trip. Too much salt makes me exceptionally thirsty and that is not good when water has to be melted from snow.

The textures of the pineapple, meat, rice, and peas all felt like fresh food. None of it was mushy or chewy. It also looked like real, natural food – round green peas, yellow chunks of pineapple, cut cubes of white chicken, and grains of rice.

In the end, Derek ate his one packet (two serving sizes) of food, and I ate about 1/2 of mine. The packets were resealable, making it easy to pack out my leftovers.

Summary

I would definitely take this meal into the field again, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a lightweight, real food option for backpacking. Just be sure to stir it thoroughly before diving in.