Monday, June 8, 2015

So Much For My Solo

This past weekend I was supposed to go on my solo hike. Unfortunately, this past week I was home sick with a fever and icky bleeding throat sores courtesy of Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease. Yeah, I know, that’s something 5-year-olds get.

Anyway, by the time the weekend arrived I was still running afternoon fevers and decided it would be best to reschedule. I’ve already picked out a new weekend in August and now I have even more time to prep for the trip.

Despite being sick during the week, I was feeling well enough to go for a couple of day hikes towards the end of the weekend. On Sunday, I went up to the summit of Ben Lomand from North Fork with a friend and today I went up to Malan’s Peak on my own.

The hike up Ben Lomand was fantastic for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is that I got to see some moose!


Okay, so it's hard to see it in this photo, but there is totally a moose between those two big trees. It had been a little closer, but I was too freaked out to take a photo then. There was another moose later in the day, too. 

Another reason the Ben Lomand hike was awesome was that I was able to scout out another leg of the backpacking route I want to take -- AND it was way easier than I thought it would be. We made it to the summit in 3 hours. 

Summit!

On the way back down we got to see a wicked cool snake



Going up Malan's Peak today was super mellow. There were a lot of wildflowers blooming, and I noticed a natural spring that I had never seen before.








Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Prepping for the Solo Trip

In about a week and a half, I'm going to head out on a solo backpacking trip. Since this is my first solo trip, I'll only be gone for 3 days and 2 nights. Still, there is a lot to prepare for mentally and physically. Below is my checklist of things I need to prepare for the trip. As I complete my checklist, I'll write up posts and add links below so you can pick and choose what you might want to read about. 

Route Planning
The first thing I need to do is plan my route and share that route information with reliable friends who can be my emergency contacts if something happens. The route plan will need to be detailed enough that these friends will be able to find me if I don't come back on time -- but it will also need to have a reasonable time frame for them to know when to worry (or not worry). Check back for a link here on how to get high quality topographic maps for free.

My very old, very heavy Gregory Pack
Gear List
I already have most of the gear I need for this trip, although I am definitely looking forward to getting some newer stuff at some point. Some things on this list are pretty obvious, like a backpack, while other items might be things that folks could easily forget, like sunscreen. When I have my list ready, I'll link it here for folks who might like to check it out for their own trips. I'll also add some gear reviews after my trip.

First Aid Supplies
This really fits under the gear list, but since I make a customized first aid kit for any adventure I go on, I thought it might be nice to go into some detail.

Clothes
Candy is the only food I need! 
I won't need a lot of clothes for such a short trip, but I'll post the list of clothes here along with an explanation of why I'm bringing what I'm bringing.

Food
I'm going to test out a couple new recipes and dehydrated meals on this trip. Once I'm all packed up I'll post my food list here along with the recipes and reviews of the dehydrated meals.

Water
The route I have in mind is a ridge route that is usually very dry in the summer, which means I might need to have water drops prepared. However, since we've been having a late/strange spring, there may still be enough snow on the trail for me to collect water along the way. I'll have to watch the weather closer to my trip and plan for my water then.

Fitness
Don't worry, I've been working on this long before now. Still, I thought it could be helpful to write about how you can prepare physically for a backpacking trip. I'll write up a basic fitness plan and post it here in a bit.

Safety
Women who backpack alone seem to have to deal with more safety concerns (real or imagined) than their male counterparts. I will certainly be taking certain safety precautions during my trip, but honestly, I think I face more real danger from other humans when I run in my neighborhood than when I'm up in the mountains. Regardless, I'll post a bit about safety and what precautions I am taking here.
No, really. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Anniversary Weekend

This weekend, Derek and I celebrated our sixth year of being married. Here are some photos from our hike on Lone Peak.

Mountain Lion Tracks

Yes. This is May in Utah... 

Lone Peak in the Distance

Derek!

Thunderstorms rolling in

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Learning to Ski

This season is my first time skiing as far as I can remember. I say, “as far as I can remember” because I did go skiing once when I was a kid but I might have gotten a concussion because I hit my head and now I don’t remember anything from that day… anyway.

I've started off with backcountry skiing, meaning that I have to “skin up” any terrain I want to ski back down. This is great for getting in a work-out, but not so great for learning to ski downhill. Essentially, I end up skiing uphill for an hour then downhill for 15 minutes. You see the problem? In the six times I've gone backcountry skiing, I've gotten to ski down maybe 12,000 feet total.

Despite the lack of downhill practice, I’m glad I have started learning to ski on a backcountry setup. It has helped me get my cold weather systems dialed and toughened me up quite a bit. With that experience, I was much more appreciative when I finally was able to go to a resort this past Wednesday. In one day, I exceeded all of my prior downhill experience, getting in a total of 14,400 feet.

Skiing at the resort was very different from skiing backcountry, but both experiences taught me a lot. Here are a few of the more humorous lessons I learned from each style…

3 Lessons from the Backcountry

1. Caffeine is your best friend. Until it isn't. Caffeine is a beautiful drug that will help you wake up and get stoked in the dark, pre-dawn hours. But too much will make your heart palpate, your whole body sweat with a sickly smell, and if you are really unlucky, it will make you poop your pants. Not that I have any experience with that or anything. I’m just saying. It can happen.

2. Cold will numb the pain. Have no fear when hurtling down the mountain at unnatural speeds. You may totally wreck and yard-sale your body and skis across the slope, but you won’t feel a single bit of pain. Until you warm back up that is.

3. You will learn to look forward to the screaming-barfies. What are the screaming-barfies, you ask? I’ll tell you. When your hands and feet go entirely numb and your body says “Oh crap I’m about to get frostbite,” it suddenly pumps your limbs full of blood and adrenaline to aggressively warm them back up. Warming up might sound nice and indeed it is good, but the sensation is akin to shoving your hands in a bin of white hot sewing needles, and you feel the need to scream and barf at the same time. Hence the name screaming-barfies. I usually cry and laugh hysterically when this happens, because it’s horrible but at least I’m about to feel my fingers again.

Three Lessons from the Resort

1. Humility. Nothing will make you feel more humble than being out-skied by a toddler. In fact, every toddler you see will ski better than you. Those short, brain-heavy snot machines can barely walk, but they can ski like freaking ninjas.

2. More Humility. When other skiers on the gondola see your rad backcountry gear, they will immediately assume you are a hard core bad ass awesome skier. Don’t worry about this. They will discover the truth as soon as they see you wedge your way down the slope…

3. Don’t get upset by the skiers who get too close to you. Either they are as bad as you and can’t control themselves or they are way better than you but you are just too unpredictable to effectively avoid. Only rarely is it because they are a jerk. And that’s usually when they’re a 12 year old boy on a snowboard and trying to show off for you, at least until they realize you are old. 

All joking aside, I feel like I am finally getting a handle on this whole skiing thing. By the end of my day at the resort, I was charging the churned-up, partially iced-over blue hills with a manic grin on my face. Sure, I still had one or two epic looking wrecks on the way down. But while most of the other resort skiers had abandoned the slopes for hot cocoa in the lodge, I was gaining mad new skills and having a blast. Before I close out today's post, I have one last lesson to share. 

Number One Lesson for Skiing Anywhere

1. Be Avalanche Aware. Everywhere. Every time. When we ski in the backcountry, it is more obvious that we need to be aware of the dangers of avalanches. We always take our beacons, shovels, & probes, and we always check the snow conditions - before and during the trip. While you do not really need a full backcountry setup to ski safely in a resort, you should still be aware of the danger. Avalanches can happen, even at a resort and certainly in the nearby out of bounds areas. 

While we were at the resort on Wednesday, a young snowboarder went out of bounds and triggered an avalanche which took his life. It is a heartbreaking example of why everyone who recreates on snowy slopes needs to be educated regarding the avalanches and why even at/near a resort, you need to be avalanche aware. 

Those of us in the Ogden area can take advantage of the Avalanche Awareness Course offered by Weber State University. I highly recommend it. 

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.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Trip Report, How We Didn't Epic The Pfeifferhorn

 Intro

As I sit here to write my report from this weekend’s trip, half of my face is numb from my most recent dental visit. I came off of the Pfeifferhorn with two chipped teeth, one cracked tooth, a tweaky neck, and dented helmet. This trip could have been an epic (in the bad way), but thankfully due to some luck (because nothing is ever always in our control), a lot of technical skills (pretty much all Derek’s), and a couple of “calm bombs” (dropped on me), we didn't.

There are always lessons to be learned in the mountains, some more obvious than others. I hope this trip report provides a few of those lessons vicariously.

The bowl below the Pfeifferhron in Maybird Gulch.

The Report

Everything is Awesome!!!
Derek’s watch chimed at 6:00 in the morning. We were huddled in our slightly damp sleeping bags, pressed against each other for warmth. Between the high altitude and the cold night, we hadn't gotten much sleep. We had arrived the night before in the midst of a short winter storm, which pelted us with icy snow in 30 mile per hour gusts while we set up our tent. Still, we were in good spirits that morning as we prepped breakfast and sang the Lego song, “Everything is Awesome!”

Armed with full bellies, hot Gatorade, and our alpine gear, we set off to climb the North Ridge of the Pfeifferhorn, an 11,326 foot peak in the Lone Peak Wilderness. For the first pitch we took the snow couloir start, following the right-hand variation. The couloir started as a walk and sneakily became a snow climb.

When the terrain became somewhat technical, with thin snow over rock, Derek found a good stance for a belay with a gear anchor. He tossed me the rope and brought me up to him before he did a short pitch to get to the top of the saddle. We continued on rock terrain for the second  and third full pitches.

Pitch 1, Snow 
It was after Derek led the fourth pitch that we ran into some trouble. Derek had just put me on belay so I could follow the pitch and join him at the next stopping point. We were within easy shouting distance but not within sight of each other. As Derek tensioned the line, I got positioned in a small, left facing corner which was the start of the pitch.

I had just barely stepped up when an impact on my head slammed me down and forward. A startled yell ripped from my lungs. I had been hit by rockfall.  I froze, laying against the dirty rock face in front of me, waiting to see if more rocks were coming. I tasted blood in my mouth.

I called out to Derek, my voice annoyingly wobbly, “Are you okay?”
When he didn't immediately reply I called louder, “Derek! Are you okay?”
More snow.

He called back, “I’m fine, are you okay?” His tone let me know he was a bit confused.

“Yeah… I just got hit by a rock,” I yelled back at him.

I was pretty sure that I was, in fact, okay. I was still tasting blood, but my spit was merely discolored, not bloody. I thought I must have just bit my tongue, but my whole mouth hurt so I wasn't sure. I hadn't blacked out when the rock hit. At least, I didn't think I did. My helmet felt funny though. I couldn't feel any major cracks, but it wasn't sitting right on my head.

I called up to Derek, telling him I was going to take my helmet off to look at it. He told me to keep it on and asked if I felt okay to climb. I did, so he told me to climb up to him so he could check my helmet (and my head) himself. I started climbing.

I struggled in the corner and told Derek that I didn't think I could climb it, just due to lack of skill rather than injury. He quickly rigged up a 3-to-1 haul to assist me up the challenging bit. With Derek’s assistance on the rope, I quickly made it up to his belay stance on a nice-sized ledge.

Once I was standing next to him, Derek locked my belay and checked me for damage. He found a dent and a skid on my helmet from where the rock hit. When I told him the helmet didn't feel right, Derek realized that the webbing suspension on my helmet had unwound, absorbing the force of the impact. Yay for helmets! Even though we didn't think I had any serious injuries, Derek checked my C-Spine just to be safe. He also checked my mouth and found one of my chipped teeth along with where I bit my tongue.

After a quick discussion, we decided we should bail off the mountain and get me to a dentist. The chipped tooth didn't look too bad, but all of my teeth were throbbing a bit and my neck was stiffening up. Beyond that, I was mentally taxed. I had been hit by a rock that I didn't see or hear coming and that had me anxious.

The First Rappel

At the edge of our belay platform was a giant horn. Derek would lower me down one side until I was in the snow couloir below, then he would complete a counter-balanced rappel off the opposite side to join me after cleaning the gear from our anchor. This couloir would hopefully be easily-descended snow terrain which would bring us back to the first couloir from our first pitch. Derek sent me down with the climbing rack in case I didn't make it the whole way and needed to build an anchor. Hopefully we wouldn't have to leave any gear behind.

We had a bit of a false start when I panicked after being lowered maybe 15 feet. And when I say panicked I do mean a full on crying fit, complete with running nose. The terrain I was being lowered over had a fair amount of loose rock, and I was worried about it knocking loose on top of us. Derek brought me back up and dropped a calm bomb on me.

He pointed out our options. 1. We could finish the climb and use the traditional descent to get down. Since were weren't too far from the top that was quite reasonable, although we would probably be hiking home in the dark. 2. We could go down the way we came, but we would definitely have to leave gear behind. Probably a few hundred dollars’ worth of gear. 3. I could stop crying and we could finish the rappel. This option would get us home the fastest.

I chose the third option. Derek lowered me again, and after checking below us for other people, I began cleaning off any rocks that the rope could potentially pull down on us later. Everything went perfectly fine. I did my "happy chanting" to stay calm (meaning I muttered the Lord’s prayer over and over).

The rope made it the full distance of the rappel but when I landed in the couloir, I discovered a problem. The snow was entirely facets - tiny crystals of instability. The snow was also quite shallow, covering very slick, smooth rock. With few options, I built myself a mini-anchor and waited for Derek to join me. I began visibly shivering.  

Derek rappelled to a spot just below me. This couloir was at about a 50 degree angle. Between the condition of the snow and my lack of experience, Derek knew that down-soloing was not an option for me and short-roping me wouldn't work either. We were already moving slowly enough that we couldn't stay warm. I was also not eating because of how much pain it caused, further hindering my body’s ability to stay warm. If we didn't get moving fast, we were going to end up with frostbite.

The Second Rappel

Derek traversed over to a section of rock and found another secure horn to rappel on. He brought me over on a gear anchor before rigging his own rappel. Once he finished his rappel, he would give me a fireman’s back up. I got on rappel next and cleaned the anchor.

This rappel got us down to better snow, just a short distance away from our first couloir. Derek coiled the rope and we down-soloed the remaining snow to the base of the climb and hiked back to camp. As we began to move more quickly, we both warmed up although Derek still had no feeling in his toes.

The Pfeifferhorn
At camp, we took turns hydrating and packing. Derek got some food and I attempted some Gatorade. The Gatorade stung like lemon juice in a cut so I went back to water. I rubbed my tongue against my teeth and found a second chipped tooth. Derek looked at it and discovered what appeared to be a crack in my tooth. I mentally cringed at the dental bill to come. It was good we bailed.

We hiked 4.5 miles out and called a dentist for an emergency visit as soon as we had cell service. Derek eventually regained feeling in his feet, which were slightly frost-nipped.

What We Did Right
We stayed within shouting distance of each other. Not always possible, but definitely desirable.
We had appropriate safety gear (helmet, rope) and used it.
We both had basic medical training which helped us assess my condition accurately
We both had technical climbing skills. Derek was able to help me through a challenging section because he knew how to do a 3-to-1 haul. He also knew how to lower me safely on a gear anchor before completing a counter-balanced rappel over a horn. We both knew to back up our rappels with auto-blocks and of course make good gear anchors.

What We Could Have Done Better
We should have eaten at the last belay platform. We both lacked sufficient calories to stay warm on the descent and that platform was an ideal spot to stop and eat.
We should have had better layering systems. My hands got cold and wet early on because of my poor glove choice. On the ascent, we also both got cold because we waited to put our puffy jackets on until we were up at the saddle where there were higher winds. We should have put more layers on before we got cold.

Where Did the Rock Come From?
On the fourth pitch, Derek climbed a bit to climber's right before trending back left. He did not find many loose rocks on the pitch, especially compared to the preceding pitches. Since he was leading, the rope wasn't super tight as he trailed it behind him. We think there must have been a snow covered loose rock just a few feet above me, and when Derek tensioned the rope to belay me up, the rock was dislodged. It could not have been too high up or else he or I would have heard it tumbling down or whizzing through the air.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Reading Non-Fiction

I have always struggled to read non-fiction, preferring romance novels or other fiction instead. Last year I made a resolution to read 1 non-fiction title per month. I started myself off easy, reading books like “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” and “No Riding Bikes in the House, Without a Helmet.”

Books I Meant to Start Reading...
While these books were certainly non-fiction, they were also narrative style tales, making them more interesting to me right away. I love a good story! It got me in the right frame of mind to pick up some less fluffy reads like “Mini-Farming: Self-Sufficiency on ¼ Acre” which is now one of my favorite books (seriously, after borrowing it from the library, I then got a copy as a house warming gift, bought a copy for my brother, and got my best friend to buy herself a copy, too).

I only succeeded in reading 8 non-fiction books in 2014, but that’s 8 more non-fiction titles than I've ever read in a year unless I was being forced to by school or work. I loved it and I felt smarter because of it.

This year I decided to make the same resolution, which a minor tweak – I selected the books to be specifically useful for my upcoming trip to Patagonia. It’s now the end of the first month and I’m nowhere near finished with my first book, “The Wilderness First Responder Manual.” However, I have (embarrassingly) already read 6 romance novels. Clearly my failure was not due to a lack of time…

 For February, I’m going to tweak the plan once again and read a more narrative style non-fiction to get back into the mindset of reading for learning instead of just for fun. For Christmas, I bought Derek the book “Beyond the Mountain” by Steve House. I think this will be a much more enthralling read, and I am already looking forward to getting started.

Anyone else tweaking their New Year’s Resolutions?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Gear Review OR Trailbreaker Pant

When it comes to clothes, I’m not much of a girly-girl. I prefer performance over looks, and I despise the entire shopping experience. When I do get new clothes, I look for pieces that will be durable and multi-functional. If they happen to look good too, then awesome. But it’s more important that they can take a beating and do what I need them to do.

With that in mind, I have been testing out a new pair of pants for my winter wardrobe. I have the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker Pant. Technically, this pant is designed for back-country skiing. For that task, it has been fantastic. I've worn it a few times now, in heavy wet snow and in powder. I've also taken it out snowshoeing, hiking, and even alpine-style rock climbing.

With those experiences in mind, here is my review of the Trailbreaker Pant.

Pro’s:

This pant is a durable softshell designed specifically for back-country skiing. Even though OR did not intend it for rock climbing, I've found it to be remarkably resilient, holding up to rough rocks and the occasional bush-whacking.

It has reinforced scuff guards and is waterproof up to the knee, water resistant everywhere else. So far the pant has done an excellent job of keeping me dry, even in thigh-high, wet snow.

Other features include side zips for ventilation, boot zips, snow gators, and four zippered pockets. One of those pockets includes a clip and pouch for your beacon – sweet! The side zips are fantastic, helping me avoid getting sweaty on the up-hills and keeping me warm on the down-hills.

 I especially love the back pockets that are down on the backs of the thighs. I stash my Freshette in one pocket and my snacks in the other. Those two zippered pockets are awesome!

The pants are nicely fitted with articulated knees, allowing for great freedom of movement with a slim cut. The cut makes it easy to move around without feeling like Ralphie’s little brother, and has the extra bonus of looking good. I know I said I don’t care much about my pants looking good, but hey, it is a plus when it happens and it happens with these pants!

Con’s:

I’d say the only thing I don’t like on these pants is style of the opening on the front two pockets. While I enjoy how deep the pockets are, and I love that one of them has a dedicated beacon pouch, they are set very high on the waist, zippering flat across. This makes for a small opening that is hard to get into. I have to lift my jacket out of the way, take off my gloves, and do an awkward hip-hand shimmy to get in there. I looked at the men’s version, and those pockets are set lower, with an angled openings. I imagine that doing this to the women’s pant may reduce the depth of the pocket, but what’ the point of having a pocket if I can’t get my hand into it anyway? The men’s pockets are a much better design in my opinion.



Summary:

Overall, I am a huge fan of the Outdoor Research Women’s Trailbreaker Pant. It is a highly functional pant providing freedom of movement, useful features, and a solid fit. It is exactly what I want for this season of back-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking, and it looks like it will have the durability to last me many seasons to come.

If you are looking for sizing beta, I think the fit for these pants is fairly true. The size small is perfect for me and I am 5'7" at about 120 lbs.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Susan's New Year’s Resolutions 2015

I haven’t posted my NYRs on our blog in a couple of years, but I’ve still been keeping up with them. I have always enjoyed planning and goal setting, so NYRs are a lot of fun for me. I totally understand that NYRs don’t work for a lot of people. But I love them. It must be the librarian in me.

I think one of the reasons that NYRs do work for me is that I make them very specific and mostly achievable (I confess, I have sandbagged myself with some ridiculous goals on occasion). So, instead of resolving “I want to be healthier this year,” I make goals about how exactly I can do that – for example, “I will train for and run in a half marathon this year.” I tend to have an overarching resolution or theme to guide my goals, but in the end it is the specific, actionable goals that I track.

With that in mind, my overall theme for my 2015 Resolutions is to be physically & mentally ready to make two separate expeditions to Patagonia, Argentina. One will hopefully be the winter of 2015-16 with the Weber State University Outdoor Program and the other will be 2016-17 with a private party.

I like my resolutions to be multipurpose, so I love that this theme will also help me be healthier, expand my knowledge, and motivate me to keep my finances in the black so that we can actually afford these two trips.

It’s also cool that this will be a two year process – with my second trip being more demanding than the first. My plan is to use year 1 to prep as though I’m going on the more demanding trip, so it’s like a test run for the year that I think will be more challenging.

So, without further explanation or rambling, here are my 2015 New Year’s Resolutions.

By the end of the year, I will:

1. Be able to lead 5.8 in mountaineering boots. First step = buy mountaineering boots. I sold my old ones because they were a poor fit & expected to be able to buy new ones right away since we live next to freaking Salt Lake City. Annoyingly, none of the retailers here seem to think women climb, and I’ve had an impossible time finding any boots that I can try on.

2. Be able to comfortably hike 15 miles with a 55 pound pack. Roughly.

3. Have gone on multiple solo backpacking trips, including a week long solo backpacking trip. I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, but surprisingly, I haven’t done much backpacking and unless I’m trail running I always have folks with me. I want to get my systems dialed and be totally comfortable backpacking by myself.

4. Have read a whole bunch of relevant non-fiction books. I have the list already, but it might grow so I’m going to hold off on posting it here. I will add book reviews on my writing blog as I complete them, as a way of holding myself accountable to this goal.

5. Have my gear ready. I’m going to be carefully selecting and testing the gear that I think I will need on this trip. I want to make sure that
I not only have the right gear for the job, but that I know how best to use it, maintain it, and repair it in the backcountry. Similar to Goal #4, I’ll be posting gear reviews on this blog to keep myself accountable.

6. Be able to converse in Spanish. At least the basics, anyway.

Those are the major goals. I have a few other things like sticking to the budget that Derek and I set for the year, but I’m not going to add those as resolutions because they are really just daily life responsibilities. When I am tempted to veer off of them, I’ll just chant “Patagonia” in my head until the temptation passes :)