Monday, January 30, 2012

Cold Weather Lving: Sleeping Warm

For this post in the series on cold weather outdoor living, I’ve decided to address a vitally important topic—sleeping warm.  If you aren’t sleeping warm, you will struggle to rest well, and proper rest is crucial for recovering from the exertion and cold challenge you put your body through during the day. 

Start with a warm sleeping bag.  When you first get into your frigid sleeping bag in the evening, take a moment to wildly flail your limbs about for a bit.  The movement will generate body heat, quickly warming your sleeping bag, making for a toasty evening cocoon.

Sleep on a warm bed.  I prefer to use a two-pad system for cold weather camping, and will take the extra weight even if I’m backpacking unless I need to go really light.  The benefits I get in my sleep are well worth it to me.  On the bottom I use a Therm-A-Rest Z Lite foam pad to insulate from the cold ground.  The closed cell foam will also not soak up moisture that is bound to accumulate in a frozen, snow-covered tent.  On top of this I use a Therm-A-Rest Trail Lite lightweight air mattress.  This provides additional insulation, keeping me warmer, is not in direct contact with the wet floor of the tent, and also adds some extra comfort to the equation.

Keep your sleeping bag warm all night.  If you’re having trouble maintaining warmth in your bag as the temperatures dip in the early morning hours, it might be worth the weight and expense to use a body warmer or two in your sleeping bag.  A good body warmer lasts up to 18 hours (which means it will still be warm when you’re fumbling to light the stove in the morning) and pumps out tons of heat.  If I’m not careful, often I’ll toss one in my sleeping bag and wake up sweating.  It’s not something I use every night, but it’s a good trick to have up your sleeve.

Stoke the fire in the middle of the night.  Your body is your furnace, and calories (especially fats) are its fuel in cold weather.  If you wake up shivering, “put a log on the fire” by eating a bit of high-fat food before going back to sleep.  I stash a small quantity of chocolate or cheese near the head of my sleeping bag for just such an occasion.  I’ve also known folks who take shots of olive oil at night or put half sticks of butter in their hot cocoa before bed.  Do whatever it takes to keep the furnace going throughout the night.

Sleep in your clothes.  A bundle of clothes makes a great pillow at night, but don’t forget that clothes also do wonderful things to keep you warm when they’re on your body.  Anyone who perpetuates the myth that sleeping in less clothes keeps your warmer has obviously never actually slept outside.  If you’re cold, don’t be afraid to throw on that puffy jacket, extra hat, or even liner gloves.  You’ve got the clothes; you might as well use them.  I tend to change any necessary clothes in the relative warmth of the evening, sleep in most or all of my clothes, and then wake up dressed and ready the next morning.  This not only saves time but also ensures that I’m in all my layers, already warmed by my body heat, for the coldest part of the day.  Be careful about chafing during the night, as a bit of broken skin or a rash can turn into big trouble if left untreated.  Well-made outdoor garments tend to have intelligently-placed seams to avoid this issue when sleeping in your clothes.  For example, Patagonia Capilene base layers are stitched with no seams in the arm pit, a place I’ll commonly chafe when sleeping in other clothes.

Sleep synthetic.  Don’t get me wrong, I think down sleeping bags are great things—they pack well, and the warmth-to-weight ratio is incredible.  However, if you’ll be out for more than a night or two, rest assured that everything in your tent will slowly start to soak through.  Because your body is warm and your breath and sweat are both wet, any items in your tent or in close contact with your body will absorb a bit of moisture.  Over time, this moisture build-up will drastically reduce the effectiveness of your down.  Synthetics, however, are not as severely affected by moisture build-up and also dry more readily. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cold Weather Living: Hand Wear

Having just finished snow camping and ice climbing in New Hampshire, I’ll be posting up a short series on winter travel and camping skills.  For the first installment, I have a few things to say about keeping your hands warm.  I have fairly poor circulation and I’ve got a lanky build to compound the problem, so keeping my extremities warm is always something of a challenge for me.  This is especially problematic since things like lighting a stove and placing an ice screw require a fair amount of dexterity.  What follows is a sharing of my experience on how to keep your hands warm and your fingers working when the mercury dips below freezing (or even below zero).

First, some basic principles.  Warm hands and feet are a direct result of proper thermoregulation as a whole.  In general, if your hands are cold, it is likely the result of low core warmth and not a direct result of poor hand insulation.  This is the reason for the saying, “if your feet are cold, put on a hat.”  The warmer you keep your body on the whole, the easier it is to keep your extremities warm.

This is accomplished by the intelligent layering of clothing appropriate for the conditions and activities.  The goal is to have enough layers to stay warm without ever actually sweating.  If you start overheating from exertion, it’s time to take off a layer.  If you’ve stopped to take a break, put a layer on right when you stop, before you have a chance to get cold.  This system gives you the best odds of staying dry, which helps you stay warm.  The same principle applies to a handwear system—keep your gloves dry and layer appropriately.

Handwear should be selected based on the anticipated level of exertion, environmental conditions, and dexterity needs.  The handwear system appropriate for skiing differs from one for hunting.  There are a few options for systems, but there’s only a few possible components:  liner gloves, uninsulated gloves, insulated gloves, and mitts. 

Liner gloves are useful when extra insulation is needed below another glove layer, when dexterity is at a premium, or when conditions are mild enough or exertion high enough that other handwear is actually too warm.  Liners by themselves might be a good choice for a cold weather run or a high-output ice or mixed climb, where other gloves would just get soaked with sweat.  Liners are also good for use under a lightly insulated glove to provide extra insulation and a layering option, depending on conditions.  Finally, they can be used underneath a mitt for very cold conditions when dexterity is only necessary occasionally and for short periods.  In short, liners are an important piece of handwear.  Cold weather running or high-output ice climbing are ideal applications for liners alone.

Uninsulated gloves are a good choice when there will be lots of handwork, but the output is not great enough or the conditions mild enough to get away with using a liner instead.  Often, this can take the form of a relatively cheap leather work glove that you might find at a hardware store.  Fleece-brushed leather gloves are nice if you can find them, or you can pair the leather glove with a liner.  Consistent application of mink oil keeps the gloves supple, sticky, and waterproof.  Uninsulated gloves are a good choice for moderate-output ice climbing, high output skiing, and construction.

Insulated gloves are standard fare for mild to moderate conditions, moderate output activity, and moderate dexterity.  Insulated gloves will generally work for most tasks, but will not necessarily shine in any particular category.  They make a good all-around selection and when paired with a liner can work for most tasks.  Insulated gloves with a liner are great for most skiing, ice climbing, and winter hiking.

Mitts are reserved for when dexterity is not required, output is particularly low (lots of standing around), or conditions are harsh.  A good mitt paired with a liner or lightweight glove offers a reasonable system for staying warm but allowing for short periods of dexterity-intensive activity in which only the liners are worn.  A mitt system is suited for use at camp, hunting, or any other pursuit with ample amounts of inactivity.  They can also be used for particularly brutal conditions while mountaineering.

System management is crucial for the success of your handwear.  First and foremost, gloves should never touch the ground.  They will instantly become cold and wet, and therefore much less useful to you.  Unused gloves should live in your pack, or better yet, inside your jacket, where they will stay warm and dry out if you have sweat in them or otherwise gotten them wet.

Just as important as keeping your gloves off the ground is keeping them dry.  The biggest problem here usually comes from sweat, not the environment.  Avoid sweating through gloves by choosing the lightest gloves possible for the task.  Carry multiple gloves or lines so you can change them out when they become wet.  Make sure you start the day with warm, dry gloves.  They should be hanging in a warm place at home the night before your outing, or staying with you in your sleeping bag if you are camping.

Finally, if your handwear doesn’t seem to be up to snuff, you can always “cheat” and use hand warmers (though I feel that avoiding frostbite is hardly cheating).  If you go this route, I recommend using Hot Hands brand hand warmers over the Grabber brand.  Hot Hands last longer, get hotter, and stay warm more consistently.  Many gloves have hand warmer pouches on the back of the hand to accommodate warmers.  These are great if you need to use your hands.  However, if you don’t need as much dexterity, I find that my hands stay warmer placing the hand warmer in the palm of the glove instead of on the back of the hand.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mount Washington

A video blog today--check out Susan and I climbing Mount Washington, New Hampshire via the Lion's Head route:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

AIARE Level 1 Course Complete!

This past weekend Derek and I completed our AIARE Level 1 course on Mount Washington. This course taught us how to recognize avalanche risks, negotiate potential avalanche terrain, and do basic avalanche rescues. We had some pretty epic weather in my opinion - temps regularly into the negative single digits with wind chills 20 to 30 below Fahrenheit. We broke down and got a motel room for one night when the low was forecasted to be -15 degrees.

Overall, I feel pretty good about what we learned as well as how I did out in those conditions. I have not really been digging the freaking cold here in New Hampshire and would be happy to call it quits. I'm trying to improve my attitude a bit so I can make the most of our time here, but mostly I just want to go home. Still, there is a definite "type two" fun factor to be had (not fun now, but fun later in the retelling of tales).

Today we are resting up for an attempt on Mount Washington tomorrow. We'll be hiking the Lion Head trail to get to the top so that I can feel a bit more comfortable before we try summitting via one of the ravines which require technical ice climbing in addition to the hike. I guess we'll see how it goes, eh?  

Anyway, here are some new pictures of a few of our adventures. None from the AV course we took, but there are some pretty views of the areas we've been climbing. Will try to be a bit more positive in future postings. Thanks for reading :)

- Susan

Our tent after the first snow storm

Frankenstein Cliff through the epic snow/sleet mess

True dirtbagger style: brushing teeth in the parking lot of Dunkin' Donuts

Hiking into the Frankenstein Cliff area for some ice climbing with better weather

The rail road trestle we hike over to get to some of the ice climbs


Most delicious bacon egg sandwich. Would have been better on a biscuit, but can't find any place with biscuits here. Makes me miss the South a bit. I really wanted a biscuit. And maybe some sausage. (yeah, gave up on the vegetarian thing again)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Recipe: Pad Thai

Pad Thai is definitely one of the more elaborate things I've ever cooked in the field, but it's totally worth it.  Similar to Peanut Butter Pasta, this is another recipe that can be made more or less involved in many different ways.

Pad Thai


Rice noodles or ramen



Soy sauce

Brown sugar

White vinegar

Canned/vacuum-sealed chicken
Red pepper


If it will be consumed within a day or two, the sauce can be prepared ahead of time.  Combine 2 parts soy sauce, 2 parts brown sugar, and 1 part white vinegar.  Store in a leak-proof container (I prefer mini-Nalgene bottles).

At camp

Boil the noodles according to package directions.  If you're using ramen, get rid of the seasoning packet.  (Use it later or just ditch it all together.  No one really needs that much sodium and MSG in the same sitting.)  When the noodles are cooked, drain them, add the sauce, juice from the lime, peanuts, and return to heat until all ingredients are heated thoroughly.

I strongly recommend you add some of the extras to this dish, at least red pepper and garlic to taste.  As usually, white sugar or honey can be substituted for brown sugar.  A fried egg or two is also a classic pad thai staple.  This can be prepared in a separate pan and added at the end.  Chicken is also nice.  Carrots can be added while cooking or at the end with sprouts to make a great cold garnish.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the Thirteenth

There are no pictures to speak of today (it was way too wet to have a camera out).  However, I do want to put up a quick post just to say that attitude is everything.

When I woke up this morning, it was a bit warmer than usual (probably about 25 degrees, which is warm for the coldest part of the day in New Hampshire this time of year).  Unfortunately, despite being that warm, the stove was exceptionally finicky this morning, taking a solid 20 minutes to finally get properly lit.  This extra time resulted in me getting caught out in freezing rain trying to cook breakfast and brew up hot drinks for the day.  Once we finally got ourselves fed, we also had to shovel out a path for and then push our car out to get started on the day's drive to the climbing.  (Thankfully the road was plowed; it was just the un-parking that required some muscle.) 

To top it off, today's forecast called for 12 hours of sleet and freezing rain, at temperatures a bit below freezing.  There is little more miserable than conditions like those, pretty much guaranteeing not only cold,but also sopping wetness.  Wet and warm is bearable.  Cold and snowing is great.  Cold and rain is just a suck-fest.

As we drove to the crag, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as the precipitation grew steadily heavier, the wind increased, and the thermometer read 27F.  When we arrived at the trailhead, Susan and I spent some time debating whether we even wanted to get out of the car.  I did not relish the idea of two days in a row with no climbing, but it seemed that wisdom might be the better part of valor in this situation.  We looked around the recently plowed parking lot, noting only two other parties of climbers, both from out of state.  Clearly, the locals weren't crazy enough to climb in such conditions.

We decided to give it a whirl anyway.  At the very least, we could figure out the approach hike and know where the climbs were.  We also reasoned that if the weather did cooperate, we could always take advantage of it. 

By the time we reached the base of the climbs, we were cracking jokes and maybe even smiling.  The rain was rapidly changing to snow and was not getting any worse.  I spent a good deal of climbing time just brushing snow off so I could see the ice, but ultimately, we had a pretty good day out.  Things certainly did not go the way I expected, and I was psyched that we could maintain a positive attitude in order to put ourselves in a position to be lucky.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Recipe: Pesto Mac 'n' Cheese

This one is an old stand-by, super easy to make, incredibly tasty, and requires next to nothing in the effort department.  While I don't use actually macaroni noodles, you certainly could.

Pesto Mac 'n' Cheese


Block of Cheese
Pesto Seasoning Packets

At Camp
Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Meanwhile, cut the cheese into cubes.  Drain the pasta, retaining a little water (this will serve as the base for the sauce).  Return to heat and mix in the seasoning until the pasta is coated thoroughly.  Add cheese and serve.

As should be obvious in such a simple recipe, the cheese is a big player in this dish!  I prefer to use a white Italian cheese, such as mozzerella, provolone, or parmesean.   The length of time you need your ingredients to last before use will affect your options.  If you will be using the cheese immediately (like for the first night's dinner), shredded cheese is extraordinarily convenient.  If it will be a few days, the harder the cheese is the longer it will last without refrigeration.  I prefer a block of parmesean as I can get it to last a week or more without refrigeration if needed.

A couple other notes about cheese:  It will keep longer if you don't touch it.  For example, if you have a two-pound block of cheddar that's going to get used in both calzones and burritos, when you cut it the first time, avoid direct skin contact with any cheese that you are saving for later.  Your natural skin oils speed the spoilage process.

Second, clean up is much easier if you don't actually melt the cheese under heat in the communal cooking pot.  Instead, at serving time add the cheese to each person's individual bowl.  It won't be quite as warm and melty, but you also won't have burnt cheese in your oatmeal the next morning because you couldn't clean the pot well after dinner.

Finally, veggies, canned chicken, and crushed red pepper are all great additions to this meal.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First two days of ice, in photos

After a chilly night spent at a rest area in Vermont, we're finally in New Hampshire.  Here's a quick pictorial look at our trip thus far:

Somewhere in New Hampshire, yesterday morning.

A view of Mount Washington from the west.
Home for the next couple weeks
Smiling?  It can't be that cold.

On the 5-minute approach to the North End of Cathedral Ledge

Rappelling in the dark after the first day of climbing.
A bit chilly last night at the end of the day.
A little skepticism about today's agenda.
Susan following "Thresher" (WI 3).
Happy to hug the anchor tree at the end of the climb.
Dinner in the making.
Rotel and bean burritos (salad style) for dinner.  Eat your heart out Chris Latham.
Taking advantage of the wifi at McDonald's

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Trip Planning: Stay Connected

As I write this post, Susan and I are somewhere in southern Virginia on our way north up Interstate-81.  Consequently, I feel the topic of this post is quite relevant.  It’s a simple matter of how to stay “plugged in” while on the road.

For the short excursion, the smart phone rules.  Voice, SMS, internet, email—pretty much any modern device will keep you in the loop.  However, there are definitely times when a keyboard and a screen that doesn’t force you to squint can be useful things to have at your disposal.  A laptop is an obvious solution, but how to get internet access and power?

When on the road for extended periods needing  to get work done, the first goal is to secure a power source.  The simplest way to get power is to take advantage of the fact that you’re already putting out plenty of electricity in your vehicle.  A power-inverter will do the job.  Better yet, some vehicles (like our road trip transport of choice, a Toyota Matrix) come with built-in power outlets.  Coupled with a car charger or two for the phones, we’ve got all the juice we need to keep our electronics charged as long as we’re moving. 

For the less mobile times of the trip (like when we’re camping and climbing but only driving a few minutes a day, if at all), it becomes much more important to take advantage of the time the car is on to charge up the electronics.  However, eventually you’ll start to run low, and if you’re camping, you’ll have to go somewhere to recharge.  Usually, I try to do this at the same time that I’m looking for internet access.

Wifi internet is growing increasingly ubiquitous in many areas of the United States, but in general, you’ll either have to pay something for access to a secured network or resort to “war driving” in search of free wireless signal.  The trick is to know where you can reliably get free internet pretty much anywhere.  The answer is McDonald’s.

Every McDonald’s in the United States offers free wifi service accessible from inside or outside the building.  One of the first stops I make when rolling into an unfamiliar town is usually a McDonald’s parking lot.  As a general rule, McDonald’s likes to make it easy to find their establishments, and it only takes about 5 minutes to figure out where everything else is in town (such as the local library, which also usually has internet access and power).  The only downside to the McD’s plan is that the interior frequently does not have power outlets in the dining area, meaning you can’t plug in like you could at a coffee shop, library, or other establishment.

Sometimes, though, it can be inconvenient at best to find wifi signal.  Or perhaps, such as in my present situation, someone else is driving and you’re just along for the ride.  It can be nice to have internet access while making progress toward your destination.  Enter the smart phone tether.

Most major cell phone carriers offer a tethering option for use with smart phones with a data plan, effectively turning your cell phone into a truly mobile internet connection.  A fee of $15 or $20 a month will give you internet access that many times is better than the local library, provided that you have 3G signal at your location.  Fortunately, most major interstate corridors are populated enough that 3G signal isn’t often hard to come by.

But what about when you don’t have 3G signal?  As long as you still have bars, you can get a good deal of information through SMS and voice signal.  For example, facebook allows you to receive SMS (text message) alerts when notifications appear on your profile.  You can also update your facebook status via text message (as well as twitter, and many other providers).  For the truly intrepid, you can even get email via text message.  All you need to do is set up your email account to forward mail to your cell phone number through an SMS gateway, which you can then reply to via SMS.  For example, if AT&T is your cell provider, you can forward mail to your phone number by setting your email forwarding to the address [10 digit number]

What if you need to find information from the web, not just stay in touch via email or social networking?  Google comes to the rescue here with 2 extraordinarily useful services.  The first is “Goog 411,” Google’s free voice-prompt automated 411 information service.  Just dial 1-800-goog-411 (1-800-466-4411) and you’re connected to the 8 best search results, with options to connect the call, text message you the appropriate information, refine your selection, and a host of other fast, useful, hands-free tools.  Unfortunately, Google discontinued this service at the end of 2010 as it was actually intended to be a research project on voice-command technology, not a long-term Google technology offering.  However, Bing recently released a similar product, “Bing 411” (1-800-bing-411 or 1-800-246-4411).  It does a decent job, but requires a lot more time and effort to get to the information you want thanks to a much more involved verbal menu system.  However, if you have a reasonably strong cell phone signal, you can still get info from the web.

Alternately, you can use Google’s text service, which often requires no more than one bar of cell signal (much easier to come by than 3G signal in the places I tend to go).  You can send a variety of selective searches to Google via text message.  Just enter a query (for example, “weather north conway, nh”) and send it to 466453.  Instantly, you’ll get a weather update for that area.  The service also works for movie listings, phone-book directories, sports scores, word definitions, and other searches, each with their own special command set accessible just by texting the word “help.”  By far the one I use most often, though, is the weather forecast, which is a convenient way to confirm what the clouds are telling you while you’re in the field.

If you’re totally out of cell coverage, you’ll have to resort to some sort of satellite technology.  Sat phones certainly have a place in extended expeditions far afield, but they’re an expensive investment if you’re going to be in relatively civilized areas, which in this case includes most of the continental U.S.  In that case, the SPOT satellite messenger may be a good option.  The handheld messenger device offers a variety of services via GPS, including sending emergency and SOS messages to local search-and-rescue units, location updates to friends and family, as well as the ability to send text messages, facebook statuses, and twitter updates.  This is all available for a yearly fee depending on the services provided.  The only downside is that the SPOT still cannot receive communication in any way, a distinct advantage still provided only by sat phone.

But how do you keep your electonics powered up in the field?  The short answer is to leave it off unless or until you need it.  However, if you’ll be gone for an extended period or anticipate frequent use, Goal Zero offers quite portable solar charging options for mobile devices.  Whether for better or worse, it’s possible to stay connected most anywhere on the planet now.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Road Trip Begins...

The count down it OVER!!!

Today is my last day of work, and tomorrow I'll drive up to Tennessee to meet Derek at his parents' house - then, we'll start our journey with ice climbing in New Hampshire for the rest of January.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Recipe: Brownie Scramble

I really like dessert.  I see no need to deprive myself of it just because I'm out in the mountains.  Here's a time-tested classic that requires almost no prior planning.

Brownie Scramble

Box of brownie mix

At Camp
Empty the box of brownie mix into a pot or pan and combine with 1 to 2 cups of water.  Add water until you have achieved a consistency on the gooey side of fluid.  Place the pan on the lowest possible heat (a mean feat on most camp stoves) and stir like mad for about 5 minutes.  The result will be a semi-solid but glorious tasting mess that hopefully didn't burn to the bottom.

Go crazy!  Try adding peanut butter, cream cheese, nuts, or anything else that sounds good.  It will be hard to go wrong. Keep in mind that this recipe uses an entire box of brownie mix, or the equivalent of a whole 9x13 pan of brownies. It's best shared among 3 or 4 hungry individuals.  Also, quick clean-up post-enjoyment is a must.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Stand2Pee Give Away!!!

A couple weeks ago I did a Ladies' Gear Review for the Freshette, a urinary director which allows women to pee standing up. Well, Stacy Kwan from Stand2Pee saw this post and she has a better offer - learn to pee standing up without any assisstive device!
 Stacy is the lead spokesperson for, and she has put together a instructional DVD filmed and produced in LA. Stacy has graciously offered a 50% discount on her Stand2Pee instructional DVD. To take her up on this offer, simply email her at so she can provide you with the coupon code.

If that wasn't enough, she has also offered two FREE copies of her training DVD - one for me (sweet!!) and one for one of my readers.


Here's how to enter the raffle for a FREE Stand2Pee DVD. Comment on this post for each of the following things to enter to win (make one comment for each entry):
  1. Tell me why you would like to learn how to pee standing up (I may give bonus points for crazy stories, i.e. 'I squatted to pee and sat on a cactus')
  2. Follow my blog!
  3. "Like" Stand2Pee on Facebook and let them know you heard about them from my blog.
  4. "Follow" Stand2Pee on Twitter and let them know you heard about them from my blog. 
  5. Share this Give Away on your own blog, Facebook, or Twitter (one entry for each share)
The winner will be asked to provide a product review - on your blog, on Facebook, or on the Amazon listing for the DVD. Stacy is available for advice and pointers to anyone who wants to try it out. She is super friendly so don't be shy!

I'm off to wait by the mailbox for my DVD!!