Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold Complete the First Ascent of the "Fitz Traverse"

I know this is not a climbing blog, but I think an alpine traverse like this one is well worth a look. It is certainly an impressive achievement.


The route involves climbing across the ridge-line of Cerro Fitz Roy and its satellite peaks in southern Patagonia. This ridge-line involves climbing Aguja Guillaumet, Aguja Mermoz, Cerro Fitz Roy, Aguja Poincenot, Aguja Rafael Juárez, Aguja Saint-Exúpery and Aguja de l'S.


They completed the traverse in five days despite bad weather, simulclimbing most of the way. Now, if you thought you had managed to cut down your own gear list, check out what Caldwell and Hannod brought:


Camping Gear:

  • Two backpacks (35L and 25L)
  • A Black Diamond First Light Tent
  • One sleeping bag which they shared. They had no sleeping pads, but brought an insert that zipped into the sleeping bag to close it off and make it large enough for two people.
  • A stove with three fuel canisters. Since a pot is not mentioned, I’m assuming it was a combined pot/stove system like the MSR Reactor or the Jetboil.

Technical Gear:

  • One ice tool
  • Two pairs of aluminum crampons
  • One ice-screw
  • Two #2 Camalots each (I’m assuming the C4s)
  • One #3 Camalot
  • Two sets of stoppers
  • A 60m 9.8mm lead line
  • A 80m 6mm tag line
  • Three ascenders/locking pulleys (Petzl Micro-traxion, Kong Duck and Futura)
  • Six quick-draws
  • Fourteen slings

And that’s it. Now, as a result, they slept very little, and admit that they would have to reevaluate their gear for their next alpine climb, but wow!


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cody Lundin Fired From Dual Survival

Well, looks like Dual Survival is down another person. First it was Dave Canterbury, now it is Cody Lundin. It appears that Cody was not willing to do some things on the show that the producers wanted, so they told him to hit the road. I wonder what they were asking him to do.


Here is the statement released by Cody:

Dear Campers,

Unfortunately, I have been fired by Discovery Channel for differences over safety and health concerns on the show and will no longer be a part of Dual Survival.

Although I’ll miss elements of the show, what I’ll miss the most are my fans and the opportunity to teach - on a global level – life saving skills, indigenous culture, and values of integrity and respect toward our natural world.

I have received numerous letters from viewers. Many are from kids, or their parents or grandparents, describing in detail how the show has changed their lives. It has brought families together, inspired kids to go outdoors, and motivated moms and dads around the world to take that family camping trip, many for the first time. If I can use a TV show to encourage people to turn off TV and turn on nature, I have done my job.

Thank you all very much for your support over the years. Be safe and prepared, and maybe I’ll train with you in the woods some day!

Stay classy,
Cody Lundin

I think it is a shame Cody is gone. I think he is one of the few people in the TV survival game that walks the walk instead of just talking the talk. It is not clear if this will mark the end of Dual Survival, although I think it is unlikely. Perhaps they will find someone who better fits the role. According to Rocky Mountain Bushcraft, Discovery says they are looking for a new perspective on survival. Perhaps we will see a new season with new personalities. You can see Discovery’s response here.

For a more recent update from Cody, you can see Dual Survival Clarification by Cody Lundin and New Host Announcement and Cody Lundin States That Discovery Channel Lied About Why He Was Fired From Dual Survival.

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Backpacking and Bushcraft Gear

The other day I shot a short video going over my backpacking and bushcraft gear. Since my three season and my winter gear are so similar, I decided to combine the two in this video. I’ve left out of the discussion task specific equipment such as hunting gear, climbing gear, snowshoeing gear, etc, as they get added onto the equipment you see in the video. This gear list will allow me to stay in the woods anywhere from an overnight to an extended stay.

I tried to provide all of the weights of the gear in the video because I think it is very important. Without keeping track, it is very easy for your pack weight to balloon up. When you hold an item in your hand, it rarely seems heavy, but together it all adds up. Keep in mind, there are only 16 ounces in a pound. Since my approach to the woods involves mobility, I try to keep the weight as low as possible while still preserving the functionality of the gear.

To summarize from the video, my three season weight (down to 32F or 0C) is 12 lb 7.1 oz. My winter weight (down to 0F or –18C) is 12 lb 8.8 oz. The weights are very similar because the only major change is the sleeping bag. My down winter sleeping bag compresses to and weighs about the same as my old synthetic three season bag, keeping the weights similar. If I use the thicker winter sleeping bag (down to –25F or –32C) and the larger pack, my base weight would be 16 lb 14.8 oz.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trip Report: Mt. Washington Solo Winter Summit 2/8/14–2/9/14

For a second year now I have tried to do a winter summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. If you guys have been following the blog, you know that I failed in my first attempt last year. You can read about that report here. Mt. Washington having some of the worst weather on earth, with some of the highest wind speeds ever recorded, last year I got stopped above the tree line by hurricane force winds. Unfortunately, I had missed my window on that trip. This year I was determined to make an attempt on the summit whenever the window presented itself.

My plan for this year different from last year in several ways. Similarly to last year, I was carrying my overnight gear, and planned to camp below tree line near Harvard Cabin, until the weather was good enough to proceed above tree line. The difference this time was that I decided that if the weather was good enough on the first day I would push all the way up to the summit and then overnight on the descent. That being said, if the weather was not good, I would overnight on the first day, and push to the summit on the second o third day.

Another difference in this year’s plan was to reduce the weight of my gear. Last year I brought too much insulation. It kept me comfortable, but I knew I could get away with less. So, this year I decided to go with my 0F (-18C) gear, i.e. my Western Mountaineering Antelope MF sleeping bag, and my Patagonia DAS parka. That also allowed me to use my REI Flash 62 backpack. I also chose to leave behind my snow shoes. They would certainly be helpful, but not essential due to the lower amount of snowfall this year. Since the rest of my gear stays constant, these were the only major changes. That brought the base weight of my pack, not counting clothing to 15 lb 14.8 oz.

I set out from NY at 11:00 pm an drove through the night. At 6:30 am, I arrived at Pinkham Notch, my starting point for the limb. The sun was about to come up, and the temperature was a crisp –8F (-22C).


I started my climb. For some reason I was not feeling well. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or the fact that I had drank too much coffee, but I was feeling very nauseous and sick. I hoped that it would go away.

The first half of the climb is fairly easy. It follows he Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Pinkham Notch towards the summit. During warmer weather, one would follow this same trail all the way up the mountain, but this route is closed in winter due to avalanche danger. Instead, at the half-way point, during winter an alternate route is opened up Lion’s Head Trail. Coincidentally, this is the area where Harvard Cabin is located (with a minor detour). You can camp out in the forest around the cabin, making it a convenient base camp in case the weather I not cooperating.

Since this first section of the climb was easy, I was able to pay more attention to my surroundings. There were quite a few of these berries around.


Even though it was fairly cold, I quickly started to warm up. It created for an interesting phenomenon I call “frozen hairdo”.


Around 9:15 am I made it to the beginning of the Lion’ Head Trail. I stopped o eat, drink some water, and put on my crampons.


From there on the going got tougher. Until the top of the tree line, the trail would be very steep, and requires quite a bit of energy to climb.


So far it appeared that I was the first person up this way. On this section however, I was passed by three different teams doing the same climb. I kept moving up slowly until I reached the top of the tree line. There I ate again, and put on my shell and goggles.


Ahead of me I could see the different teams who had passed me, and in the distance I could see the Lion’s Head rock outcrop.



By 11:00 am, I reached the top of Lion’s Head, and could see the Tuckerman Ravine to the left and Mt. Washington to the right.



The visibility was good, and there wasn’t much snow accumulation, but the winds on top of Lion’s Head were brutal. It required significant effort to remain standing. When I reached this point I saw two of the other teams standing there. Both teams decided to turn back rather than continue. Ahead of me remained only one team. I decided to keep going. It was hard to take pictures because the camera would get blown away if I set it down, but I managed to wedge it between few rocks for this one.


With the high wind-chill, the temperature was starting to get very low. I was wearing the Julbo Sniper goggles, which are good at preventing condensation in such conditions by allowing adequate ventilation, but the down side was that they were not offering any insulation for my eyes. As a result, I found that my eyes kept freezing shut. They would start at the outer corners, and progress across the whole eye. I would have to stop often to pry my eyelids open.


Initially the going was easy, despite the strong winds. I was able to keep myself standing, and that’s all I cared about. Soon however, I reached the Alpine Garden, an area of some low shrubs. They functioned as enough of a wind brake to allow for the accumulation of significant snow. I started post holing pretty seriously, and it took me some time to make it out of the Alpine Garden.

By the time I started my climb towards the summit, I was overtaken by another team, who were moving faster than me. By this point I really wasn’t feeling well. The nausea was getting really bad. I was forcing myself to eat and drink along the way, but it was not making things better. I was also developing a bag cough. I’ve been dealing with a lingering respiratory infection, and the cold air was doing a real number on it. So, I just paced myself and kept moving slowly.


Little by little I kept pushing up until I got on the ridge towards the summit. Unfortunately, at this point I made a mistake. I pulled down my face mask so I could breathe more easily. I had it down for only a few minutes, but without my breath to keep it warm, it froze solid around my neck, and I was not able to pull it back up. For the remaining three hundred yards or so, I didn’t have any face cover.

The wind got even worse. By now the wind speed was around 80 mph, and with temperature of –13F (-25C), it gave a wind-chill of –56F (-49C). I was able to keep warm by moving, but just barely. Because I was not feeling well, I couldn’t move as fast as I would have liked, which didn’t let me produce as much body heat. Even so, By around 1:30 pm, I reached the summit and cold see the weather station. By now, several other groups had caught up with me.


A short climb over the hill, and I was at the summit of Mt. Washington.


They say that one a nice day there is always a line for the summit of Mt. Washington, but there wasn’t any this day. Like I said, several groups overtook me and made it to the summit, but everyone there was trying to shelter themselves next to a building so that they do not get blown away.




After taking the above picture, the guy who took it and his climbing partner noticed that I was starting to get frost bite on my nose. An area of it ad turned completely white due to the lack of face covering. I had to do something about it quickly. I got near one of the buildings, and pulled out my jacket-the Patagonia DAS Parka. I put it on, and pulled the hood forward, so that it shielded my face from the wind. I also ate some food and drank most of my remaining water. I had consumed almost two liters during the day, but it didn’t feel like it was enough.

Unfortunately, as a result of having to remove my outer gloves to do all this, my fingers froze to the point where I couldn’t feel or move them above the joint where they connect to the hand. I couldn’t properly hold my ice axe, so I switched to the trekking poles, which I cold sort of grasp. I would much rather have an ice axe in such conditions, but it is not much use if you can’t use it properly. I then started on the way down.


I descended very slowly. I was feeling awful, and I didn’t want to risk making any stupid mistakes. I also had to change my plan for the descend. Initially, I had planned to come down the Glen Boulder trail further to the west. It seemed like an easier descend, but would keep me above tree line longer. With the condition of my face, I didn’t want to risk the exposure, and opted to go back down the Lion’s Head trail, which was steeper, but as a result would get me below tree line faster. I just had to move very carefully and deliberately.

I reached the tree line around 3:30 pm. I ate again and finished what remained of my water. Half of it was ice by this point, but it was not fully frozen.


Eventually I made it to the Harvard Cabin area. It was nearly dark by the time I got there. I was dehydrated, and felt very sick.

I picked a spot, laid out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag. I didn’t want to bother setting up my tent. I thought my time would be much better spent rehydrating and eating.


I got in the sleeping bag and started up the Kovea Spider and began melting snow. I forced down two litters of water and some food before going to sleep around 6:30 pm.


The area around this cabin is one of the few places where you are allowed to camp in the area, so there were some other people in the woods. All of them, including the caretaker of the cabin were very disturbed that I would sleep out in the woods without a tent. He expected the temperature to go down to –15F (-26C) and was convinced I would freeze. After a lot of reassuring, they let me be. I knew I might have an uncomfortable night, since my bag was only rated to 0F (-18C), but I am used to pushing the rating on my sleeping bag, so I wasn’t worried.

Apparently everyone in the area worries a lot because people do get in trouble often. I heard that during the night they had to rescue a team from the mountain because they weren’t able to get down fast enough. Luckily they had a SPOT locator with them, so SAR was able to land a helicopter hear them and get them out.

No such problems with me though. I put on my parka, put a hot water bottle in my sleeping bag, placed all electronics in the bag as well, and went to sleep. I was surprisingly warm all night. The pee bottle was of great use as I had to get up about four times due to all the water I drank. Not having to get out of the sleeping bag each time made the night much warmer. I woke up around 7:30 am because some of the other people were making noise. 


I ate breakfast, packed up and headed down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.


A few hours later I was out. Doing the trip in two days rather than three like last year, definitely made it harder. It forced me to do the ascent with no sleep and very little rest. However, I was determined to take the opportunity to summit whenever the weather allowed. With the possibility of snow on Sunday, I couldn’t risk it and end up like last year. In the end the strategy succeeded.


So there you have it. It took me two tries, but I managed to finally do a winter solo summit of Mt. Washington. It took a lot out of me. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I was feeling better. I also regret not being able to descend using the Glen Boulder Trail, but I couldn’t risk it under the circumstances. Who knows, maybe next year.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Scott Expedition Successfully Completes Round Trip to South Pole

Last October I wrote about a team setting out to retrace the round trip journey taken by the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott in 1911-1912. As we know, Scott perished along with his men on the return trip from the pole, after being beaten there by the Norwegian team lead by Roald Amundsen. Well, it appears that now the team of Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere has successfully managed to retrace Scott’s route to the pole and back, completing the trip in 106 days.


Unfortunately, on day 70 of the journey, Ben and Tarka had to call in for a supply drop, dissolving the unsupported status of the expedition. Until that point they had hauled all of their supplies, but were unable to travel fast enough to reach their next food depot; a tale strikingly similar to that which ended Scott’s life.

There are a lot of parallels between this expedition and Scott’s original one in 1911. One of the ways in which the two expeditions were different is the equipment used. Ben and Tarka used modern tools and clothing, as well as applying modern techniques. It is extremely unlikely that they would have gotten anywhere near to success without those advantages.

scott 2

scott 8

scott 6

scott 9

A surprising dissimilarity, which interestingly made this current expedition much harder than the 1911 one was not only that it was undertaken by only two men, but also that they had to pull much heavier loads for much longer than Scott’s 1911 team members. The reason for that is that much of Scott’s equipment was moved towards the pole by teams of men and horses who then returned rather than continuing to the pole. As a result, Ben and Tarka were pulling 440 lb each from the beginning, compared to the 200 lb pulled by each of Scott’s men, which they only started pulling once they reached the Beardmore Glacier.

Even though this expedition used modern equipment and techniques, it is hard to say if Scott’s journey, to that extent of having a small team of men pulling all of their supplies and equipment to the pole and back using this same route, is possible. At some point there is only so much weight a man can pull. There have been some studies done on the subject, and while people equipped in the manner of Roald Amundsen and his men were able to complete the same journey without serious problems, the team attempting to do it with Scott’s equipment and techniques had to be stopped due to health issues resulting from extreme weight loss.

Anyway, congrats to Ben and Tarka for this remarkable achievement. You can view much more information about the expedition here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sub-Arctic Winter Bivouacking - 1955 US Army Training Film

Recently someone posted a link to this 1955 US Army training film about sub-arctic winter travel and living. I found it to be very good, and wanted to share it with you.

A lot of the methods outlined in the film are very similar to modern hot-tent camping. Of course, a lot of the information is provided in a typical “easier than it is actually going to be” manner, characteristic of such training films. It has a lot of good information however, and I think it is worth watching. I would have loved to see more emphases on how to do things in less than ideal situations. For example, how to camp when it is not practical to maintain a fire. I imagine many soldiers found themselves in such situations.