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…


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.


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.


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.


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


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.