Posts Tagged ‘backpacking’

Final 24 hours in São Paulo. Quite excited, to say the least; just getting final bits and pieces together. A quick visit to Casa de Pedra where we did some wall traversing, slackline and bouldering for an hour or so. Not long but it was nice to see everyone at the gym again and get a little more exercise before we leave. Final packing of the bags – not everything in the rucksacks, but into a couple of large duffle bags (aside from our summit packs which we will use as hand baggage). Our flight to La Paz will last four hours, as we have a change at Santa Cruz. We will arrive in La Paz at 8pm local time.

From GoOutdoors.co.uk – rucksack guide

Everything will of course go into the rucksacks – I have an 85L and Natalia a 75L pack. There are ways which you can pack to make things easier in terms of accessing everything and distributing the load so it’s all nice and balanced. We find that putting the sleeping bag and the foamless sleeping pads makes it easy to get to them through the bottom zipper at night when we camp. Anything else that we might need at night can also go down at the bottom; heavier stuff going into the middle and also close to the spine – this helps keep the centre of gravity close to your body rather than unbalancing you. Food, cooking kit and long term water supplies are good candidates for here. Wrapping lighter weight items around these is a good way to stop things from moving around when you are going, and then everything else that we might need to access quickly (headlamps, med-kits, sunglasses, rain jackets/shells etc) closer to the top where you can get at them.

Ice axes and other long poles can go on the outside.

Plenty of places online which provide advice about packing rucksacks – REI is a good place to start (http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/loading+backpack.html) as does Gooutdoors.co.uk (http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/expert-advice/rucksack-guide), with a good overview of rucksacks and their common features, and how to pack them, and also (very importantly for the larger rucksacks) how to fit them so the weight is transferred over your body properly.

I wish I had something more exciting to post! But unfortunately, the last few days have been slow and a bit uneventful. Although in slow times is usually when I start to plan things… so here’s what has been on my mind.

I’m so close to completing my first traditional rock climbing rack. I have a bunch of cams and passive protection, got a great deal on some used alpine draws (thanks Mountain Project!) and all I needed was a rope. I have been racking (haha! no pun intended) my brain on what specific rope to get. Who knew ropes could have so many aspects to them!

Ropes can be: various lengths and diameters, dry treated or not, bi-color or single color, single rope or double rope, and more. I had settled on getting a work horse rope, that was dry treated. Basically, a 60m rope around 10mm thick with dry treatment in case it gets wet.  I had a couple options but was struggling to find a good first rope for under US$200. I figured even though it’s nice, I’ll wait to save a little more money and let the weather improve. Then I walked into work. There was a deal going on for a brand new (a rope is something I would not buy used) Petzl Nomad 9.8mm Dry Treated Rope. Green. Not that color mattered. I wish I could share the price but since it was a special for our company, I can’t. Needless to say, when I saw that price it felt like a sign that it was time to get a rope. Plus, I figure we’re not the only company with this deal and there was a big disclaimer on the form that said “ALL BACK ORDERS WILL BE CANCELLED.” I’m placing my order tomorrow.

A note on prices. $200 may seem, to some, a lot for a rope. For someone in my job position, it feels like a lot. But a rope is your safety, your life line, your only means of not dying when you accidentally slip off the holds. So then I rephrase the question: is your life worth $200? Sure is.

As the summer gets closer and I look forward to my months with Adventure Treks I also look forward to the 3 weeks I’ll be spending in Oregon. I can’t decide what to do! Without a car, transportation might be tough but Oregon seems to have a fairly decent daily bus schedule to some of its more popular locations.

I originally wanted to try my hand at mountaineering. I’ll most likely be without a partner though and must confess to my absolute lack of mountaineering skills. Vertical places are beginning to feel like home, but steep snow slopes are still a foreign world to me. I figure I’d head to the Three Sisters Wilderness Area and try my hand at one of the sisters. They are quite beautiful. Yet May in Oregon might still leave the slopes covered in snow and ice. And I still don’t own any crampons or ice axes. It’s still in the back of my head, but the sisters are slowly fading.

Instead, I’ve set my sights on Smith Rock. A rock climbing mecca in Oregon, this seems like a much better option. Tons of sport climbs with some trad mixed in, over 1,500 routes, and climbs so above my skill level I don’t think I’ll get bored in any amount of time I spend there. While I’ll be going without a partner, I can offer a belay and a local beer to hopefully convince someone to climb. A bit of dirt-bagging, but it is bound to be a blast.

I still want to try my hand at some mountaineering though. I just have to convince my friend to drive to Mount Thielsen. Check out Summit Post’s description of this “lightning rod of the cascades” (although the website seems to be down currently). Supposedly its a long non-technical day climb with an 80 foot 4th class scramble to the summit. Then when you look down the north side – a 2,000 foot drop. Talk about exposure! Cross your fingers that this will all get done – then these blog posts will go from planning to action!

Summit of Mount Lafayette, NH

Previously, I talked about the need to really watch where you going and also the need to pay close attention to the weather and also about the need for good footwear and preparation. Here are the last couple of points I learned from backpacking that have helped me in everyday matters.

To plan or not to plan?

I usually err on the side of a basic plan, but that’s how my brain works. It’s Saturday and you have to run a bunch of errands. You have to go to the bank, the pharmacy, grab a book from the library, and do your laundry. Do you make a small plan, and know approximately how long each location will take you? Find out how far each location is from the other. Perhaps putting your laundry in and then heading out of the house will save you time than doing your laundry when you get home. Plans can help you accomplish more in a smaller period of time. When completed successfully, plans can also leave you feeling more confident and accomplished during the day.

Not everyone plans, though. I sometimes glamorize those of my friends that don’t ever plan and seem to trust their instincts that “everything will work out”. Perhaps they have some gene that all the rest of us lack. Either way, lack of planning isn’t for everyone – but a degree of flexibility is instrumental. Those that wing it have a ton of flexibility in getting things done – that road closure, the store being closed or other delays don’t phase them too much. Yet, with an extremely rigid plan with specific timetables; that road detour could be disastrous to getting things done and your morale for the day.

My philosophy is to plan as best you can with flexibility intertwined into the plan. You’ll need about 20 minutes at store? Add an extra 50% for any delays. And if all your running around is planning on taking you 2 hours and you get back home in half the time – the reward is twice as sweet!

Knowledge is Confidence

With all the things I’ve mentioned above, there is a certain theme that runs through them all. Awareness. A heightened awareness regarding your surroundings, your plans, routes, knowledge of weather, possible delays, and ultimately, a better understanding of yourself and what you’re capable of. When we make realistic, achievable plans, we get that much closer to our larger, seemingly impossible goals. As our knowledge increases, so does our understanding of the world. The old adage is “knowledge is power” – but if there is one thing I learned from nature it’s that we are powerless. Nature can strike us down at any moment if it wishes. I’d rather use “knowledge is confidence”. With more knowledge we can be more confident in our endeavors and with that confidence we can change plans on the spot, reevaluate the situation and make a more informed, strategic decision to reach our goals. With knowledge and confidence we can push ourselves and be prepared for any situation.

I hope to use all these strategies on our around the world trek and I can only imagine we’ll learn many more along the way. In the mean time, as we plan for our departure in 2014 we always look to our community of supporters for tips, tricks, help and thoughts on what we can do to make our journey more smooth.

Lastly, a quote. Accomplishing this journey will take a lot of willpower. An influence for me was a man I met while working for Apple, Inc. in Boston who continually pushed people to be their best and inspire themselves and others around them. As Dan Adams from Athletic Capital says: “Be your own hero.” We can do this everyday of our lives if we only choose to.

Every once in a while I find myself in an urban environment and I have the sense that I’m just as alone or without a safety net as if I were miles away from civilization in the back country. While out in the wild, you begin to hone in on some skills that come naturally, and some that you have to work for. It is these skills that can help you change the tides in your favor in while out in the wilderness. Likewise, they can turn a potentially bad day in the city to a good one.

Previously, I talked about the need to really watch where you going and also the need to pay close attention to the weather.

Here are the next two points I learned from backpacking that have helped me in everyday matters.

Proper Footwear

You’re about to embark on an 18 mile, round trip day hike through rocky terrain. Or you have a meeting downtown which requires you to walk 8 blocks through a poorly maintained part of town. What your day entails changes what footwear is best.

For those of us who don’t have to go very far, or are in public transportation or our cars most of the time don’t have to worry too much about footwear. But when you have that lunch across town and need to walk a distance – are your leather shoes really a good fit? Sure, you’ll get there in one piece, but will they? Or will you be comfortable? Switching into a pair of sneakers can change your whole day.

When out in the wilderness, terrain can change drastically and footwear is of the utmost importance. On loose rock, you’ll want ankle support. On flat, well-kept trails, your trail runners or minimalist shoes will probably be fine. In urban settings, we usually see people change their shoes during the winter months when they commute with boots and then slip something more comfortable on when they get to work. Do you pay attention to your shoes or do you just wear whatever is in front of you? Test it out! If you haven’t commuted in sneakers before, try it and see how you feel.

Be Prepared for….

Everything! And no, I don’t mean carry a gun everyday because who knows when the zombie apocalypse will happen. But be prepared for as much as you can. For everyday in an urban setting, knowing basic things like what subway stations, trains or roads might be closed can make an easier transit. Out on the trails, know what “bail trails” you have available. A Bail Trail is the term for any possible “outs” you would use in case the situation got really bad. On my recent trek through Devil’s Path we found out we were over our heads with a lack of gear and used a “bail trail” to get out of a potentially bad situation early.

Preparedness is a huge topic. This section could be expanded into a book all on its own. Instead, I’ll keep it simple. If you’re not sure if you need your rain jacket or not – take it. Can’t decide whether to bring that extra pair of gloves or not? Pack ’em. This needs to be done within reason (no one should bring a kitchen sink on a backpacking trip or to work), but being aware of what you might or might not need can change a soggy, unhappy day to a pleasant one. I’ll use a quote an Uncle of mine once said: “It’s better to have it and not use it than to not have it and need it.”

Every once in a while I find myself in an urban environment and I have the sense that I’m just as alone or without a safety net as if I were miles away from civilization in the back country. While out in the wild, you begin to hone in on some skills that come naturally, and some that you have to work for. It is these skills that can help you change the tides in your favor in while out in the wilderness. Likewise, they can turn a potentially bad day in the city to a good one. Here are the first two of six things I learned from backpacking that have helped me in everyday matters.

Watch where you’re walking.

“Hey! Watch where you’re going you jerk!” Who, especially for those in New York City, hasn’t heard that pleasant little phrase before? You might have even said it yourself to that young teenager texting while he walked in a blind b-line straight for you.

A little more attention to your next footstep or to the next block can create a world of difference. By paying attention you’ll be able to navigate around that huge puddle that was waiting to ruin your new shoes. Or by looking the next block or two ahead you can quickly change your route instead of getting stuck at that road block up ahead.

This may seem basic, and your response might be: “I always watch where I’m going”. I know, I always ‘feel’ like I pay attention to where I’m going, but I still manage to do things that could be avoided. In the end, we’re all in some sort of rush and we all have to move quickly – paying a little more attention to your path can help you move more efficiently without getting frustrated.

Weather, Weather, Weather

Most people I know watch the weather on their phone or computer and have a vague idea of what a meteorologist said about the temperatures. That’s my default, too. Then I go about my day. 60% chance of rain? I’ll bring my umbrella. It’s great that we not only have that technology at our finger tips but the fact that it is updated to frequently as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s helpful!

Great view, but the increasing clouds were a sign to get off the mountain

But what about when that freak storm rolls in? Or an unexpected confluence of cold and warm weather start to rub against each other and it’s happening right over where you are? Could that have been avoided? Unless there are minute by minute updates, and you are checking those updates (I imagine most aren’t following so closely), our phones can’t save us in these situations. What can save us however, is a little knowledge about the weather and being aware of it.

While we look at our phones, our greatest indicator is above our heads – just look to the sky to see what’s happening! Are the clouds turning dark and have a rolling feature to them? There’s a good chance for some wind and rain on the way. Do you see enormous, anvil type clouds with winds coming from that direction? You could be in for a thunderstorm. Perhaps your scope of vision is far less – but you notice that the sky is now gray and the temperature is dropping? I’d have an umbrella handy in that situation.

Sparse clouds - march onward! (Photo credit: Paul Amy)

Take a look at a couple of these websites and learn a little bit about clouds, weather and what certain changes mean – it might keep you dry right before your big client meeting.

Scienceray – Very visual and easy to understand

US Search and Rescue’s basic website on weather prediction

Instructables – Predicting the weather with clouds

Read on for more tips!

Nothing too extreme here, the story and adventure is over, so now it’s time to evaluate the gear!

The good:

Marmot “Never Summer” Sleeping Bag

I’ve relied on this wonderful down sleeping bag for a couple cold-weather trips now. Rated at 0 degrees F, it’s always a pleasure getting cozy in the bag and waiting to warm up. Once enough body heat radiates around the bag, I stay toasty warm all night. An added plus is that the bag can also zip from the feet up so that in warmer weather you can vent out the extra heat. The only downside that I noticed (and that other reviewers had mentioned), is that the bag can collect water fairly easily. Keeping the bag dry is of the utmost important, and more attention must be paid to water than you might with a synthetic bag.

Rab-Polartec Hat

When I was learning how to climb trad in New Paltz, NY, I spent a couple of minutes looking around it’s must-see climbing store, Rock and Snow. On a rack with what seemed like a thousand other hats, I pulled out this thin little $15 hat and tried it on. From there, well, the rest is history. It wicks water beautifully and traps in heat like no other. On cold days when biking to work, it fits snugly underneath my helmet. I’ve also been using it as my “dry” hat – the hat I put on when I stop for a rest and I’m sweating. It keeps me warm and helps dry out my hair.

Check out the Thermarest Z-lite and it's conforming features!

Mountain Hardware Liner gloves

I actually don’t know the name of these gloves – I only know that they have the famous Mountain Hardware “nut” logo on them. I picked them up at an REI Garage sale to be used as liner gloves inside my mountaineering mittens. Within or without the heavy-duty mittens, these thin gloves stand their ground. I’ve used them skiing and cold-weather hiking and they withstand a fair amount of wetness before I feel it on my hands and it affects my comfort level. In drier climates they are fantastic at wicking away moisture from hands and keep them happy and dry when dexterity counts. Great biking gloves.

Thermarest Z-lite

Really? Thirty US Dollars at REI? What a steal! The reviews of everyone else live up to the quality of this sleeping bad. You can see in the picture how it conformed nicely to my rocky, uneven bed and left me comfortable and warm all night. The way it folds up, along with the egg crate design makes it great to sleep on or simply use it to rest against a tree. Must-have for any backpacker, alpinist or adventurer.

MSR Pocket Rocket and GSI Soloist

A classic low-cost stove for any outdoor enthusiast, I was unsure how well it was going to do in the cold, snowy Devil’s Path conditions. From set-up to boiling (we melted and boiled snow), we were ready to eat within 15 minutes. The GSI Pinnacle Soloist (or Dualist) make this setup a great pair as the stove conveniently fits inside to pot. Easy to store, carry and assemble. Although for the 360Extremes expedition,

Oodles of Gear

I’m not sure how this will work at high altitudes or extremely cold temperatures.

Patagonia Capilene 2 pants

I got these randomly for Christmas but they are now my go-to for a warm base layer. I can wear them, sweat a bit, rest, and they will be completely dry without donning or doffing any layers. As with anything Patagonia, it stands up to it’s quality, now it’s time to see if it stands up to the test of time.

The Bad:

Polyester “heavy duty” pants

Never buy outdoor pants at Kohls or Walmart or any department store that has an outdoor department. Others may have had better luck at these stores with layering pants, but I, sadly, have not. The polyester, “work-mans” outdoor pants got wet and didn’t dry at all. Thankfully, I had an extra pair.

EMS Wool Socks

For around the house, lounging and casual wear – I love these socks. They’ve kept me warm with my Merrell Barefoots and compress enough to wear with my Miura climbing shoes on cold days. However, on this trip, they really didn’t stand up on their own (pun intended?). Once they got a little wet, they stayed wet well into the next day and nothing worked for drying them out. I’ll keep them and continue to use them, but extra care will be taken to keep them dry. Update: days later after returning home, I found a hole in one of them….

My trusty "Never Summer" front and center (well, to the left).

The Ugly:

Sorel Timberwolf boots – cold when standing still, bad grip

Let me start by saying that for the price, these boots are great. I’ve had bad experiences with boots and most of the time my feet are cold and wet. The great thing about these boots is that my first experience with them was the Devil’s Path (see what happened to my Merrell Isotherm 8s after hike number 2), and I only had one small blister on my big toe, left foot. So point one for comfort without breaking in. Second, they kept my feet dry the entire time despite wet, sometimes slushy conditions. If I was moving, my feet were warm and dry. Here’s the ugly: when I stood still, my feet got cold quite quickly. Maybe some sweat had condensed inside (I didn’t seem to notice any dampness), but either way, my feet got cold.

Second, durability. After what happened to my Merrell’s, I wanted firm soles and durable boots. These seemed to deliver both – the soles were firmer than most boots and the material had few seams. These all seemed like great features, again, especially for the price. The ugly that threw me off was not either of these things – I still hold they boots can be great light weight mountaineering boots (I have yet to test them with crampons) – but the lack of traction. I found myself slipping more than I felt comfortable. The more I walked, the more I lost some confidence in the boot’s traction. I’m not about to throw them in the “retired” bin just yet though. After all, I’ve only tested them once! I put these in the ugly category because they need further review.

Marmot Bastione Jacket

Another REI garage sale buy, and for $60 it seems like I couldn’t go wrong. I love Marmot, and the reviews I quickly read about the jacket seemed overall positive. The jacket’s fleece liner with shell seemed of good quality and well constructed. I used when I was out skiing once and there did not seem to be any big flaws. All good things, right? In the end, when I stood still, this jacket did not provide a lot of insulation. To be short, this is a great around town jacket/shoveling the drive way but it’s bulkiness, weight and seemingly lack of insulation left me doubtful in bringing it on my more extreme outings.

When all's said and done

Our Humble Abode

When I finally peeked my head out of my sleeping bag, I could hear a wind blowing through the trees. When we fell asleep there was no wind, so this was not a good sign – wind = cold. After scarfing down some oatmeal and warm water, we put on our boots and packed our stiffened bags. Our pants from the day before, frozen solid, remained horizontal. Despite my best efforts to dry my gloves, they too were frozen. Wearing them was out of the question. I would have to face the day without them.

Right before taking off we took a look at the map. Our options were to continue up Sugarloaf and try to make it to Devil’s Tombstone campground or at least our original Mink Hollow lean-to for another night. Most of our gear was already wet. Our spirits, despite sleeping well, were quite low as we had at least two descents ahead of us and descents were what got us the most wet. We also had the option to bail. In the valley between Twin and Sugarloaf mountains the red Devil’s Path trail intersects with the Blue trail which leads to roaring kill parking area. The last thing we had to consider was the 90% chance of rain and snow that was supposed to start that evening.

Were we willing to risk a couple more dangerous ascents and descents today? Would we be risking hypothermia by staying an extra night? If we did stay, did we have another “out” in case things got bad? To those reading; what would you have done?

Before we left the cave we decided we were in over our heads and did not have the technical gear to complete the full path. Considering we only made it a third of the entire path on the first day, the next 3-4 days were too unknown – and too treacherous – to venture into confidently. All we needed was some freezing rain that afternoon, plus below freezing temperatures at night, to leave us really in a dangerous situation.

That last descent down Twin turned out to be extremely precarious. Thin, icy trails with rocks on the uphill side and steep slopes going down hill forced us to walk slowly and carefully. Glissading (mountaineering term for sliding) stretches were much longer than the descent down Indian Head, meaning we were picking up a lot more speed. On top of long stretches of sliding, the trail often took switch backs; which meant if you didn’t hit the turn just right there was a good chance you’d miss the

Down Climbing backwards was often needed

trail and go sliding down into trees. This proved twice as dangerous for the second person as the first person would clear the snow, leaving a trail of slippery, exposed ice. At one point we had to face backwards and down climb a steep, icy rock face, carefully holding onto a small tree as our only anchor. Sweating, wet, and panting for a breath after barely an hour of descent, we were happy with our decision that it was time to go. When we finally reached the intersection of trails in the valley, it began raining.

As we drove away, I took one last look at the Catskills. The summits of the mountains were obscured by thick clouds, with larger, grayer, more ominous looking clouds quickly rolling in. As I pointed out the sight to Paul, we both exhaled a sigh of relief that we were again warm and safe. For all we know, we just skirted out of the path of the devil before he would really unleash some hairy conditions on the mountain. The rain only fell harder as we drove further away.

Usually when Paul and I go on adventures, we complete them. This Devil’s Path taught us some valuable lessons – most importantly, the thought of underestimation and it’s dangers. When traveling

Confirmation that we made the right decision

into the wilderness, especially during the dangerous months for that specific environment, you can never over prepare. Even over packing, despite carrying a heavy pack, can save your life if the gear is practical to the journey; that extra liter of water, the crampons you might not use, the waterproof shell. It can all become valuable depending on the situation that presents itself. Lastly, we learned how even the most unassuming hills and mountains can be dangerous places. The most mild winters at sea level can drastically change after a few thousand feet of elevation.

Most of all, it left me wanting more. I can’t wait to get back outdoors.

With the adventure said and done, we were grateful for the experience and the chance to get out of the house. In my last post on the Devil’s Path, check in for a mini-gear-review session with the good, the bad, and the ugly of the gear I used.

Devils Path, Part 2: Descents

Posted: February 21, 2012 by None Smith in English, Training
Tags: , , , ,

In the previous Devil’s Path post, I spoke about the ascent (going up) of Indian Head and the similar Twin mountain. Full of ice, snow, rocky ledges and steep slopes – an overall dangerous situation without crampons or an ice axe. Let’s see if I can convey the even more precarious descent of the two.

Despite our nasty ascent of Indian Head mountain, we traversed the summit and confidently began walking down the path that would lead us to a valley between Indian Head and Twin mountains. That confidence was immediately dashed against the rocks as I took my first tumble. I slipped quickly on the steep ice, falling on my side. As I righted myself onto my back and butt, I realized I was still moving, and even worse, picking up speed. As I quickly approached a rock slightly on the side of the trail, I readied my legs and braced for impact. With a grunt and a sudden stop, I had successfully stopped my descent. Grateful, I took a deep breath and realized this was going to be way more dangerous than the steep ascents. We had to self arrest all our falls on a rock strewn trail without ice axes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love adventure and the thrill of doing exciting outdoor challenges, but this was

Slippery, exposed ice

becoming serious. A wrong fall, a missed self-arrest, a slip off the trail could quickly result in serious injuries. The gravity of the situation began to weigh heavily upon us.

On the summit of Twin mountain (the ascent of Twin was very similar to Indian Head; see last post), we decided to take a look at the map and see how much longer we had ahead of us. After some quick calculations it turned out the ascent and summit of Twin took longer than we imagined. In the last two hours we had barely gone one mile. To arrive at Mink Hollow lean-to we still had three miles to go. It was already approaching late afternoon and within a couple hours the sun would begin to set, and the temperature drop. Descending and ascending these icy slopes would not be easy, or any safer in the cold dark.

We weighed out all the options. Three miles wasn’t that far. Twin’s summit is around 3600 ft (1097m). Sugarloaf, our next objective rises to about 3800 ft (1158m). The ravine between them drops to below 3000 ft (914m). Finally, the lean-to at Mink Hollow, goes down a couple hundred feet from Sugarloaf’s summit. So over the course of three miles we had to descend 600 feet, ascend 800, traverse the ridge to he summit and then descend a couple hundred feet. At the pace of our ascents and the dangerous speed we could pick up on our descents it seemed like a bad idea to continue. Yet, we were indecisive because the mileage didn’t seem that much – what’s three miles? We knew we had to go somewhere because we would have been really uncomfortable sleeping on the summit of Twin (as well as broken a few laws). I looked closely at the map and noticed something that I hadn’t seen before. I pointed it out to Paul. Just past the summit of Twin mountain was a little dot with the word “cave” next to it. I told him let’s start going down, check out the cave and come to a better decision. After a couple sketchy slides and a squeeze through a small rock passage, we found the cave. Small, but with rocks on all sides and a 12+ ft overhanging rock to protect us from rain, wind and snow. We discussed it all over again, and checked the time.

After the cave we took a right on PN (Blue)

5pm. The sun was going to set any minute now and, reluctantly, we admitted we were done with day 1. Cold, tired and wet, we huddled in the back corner of the cave, the rocks already covered in a layer of thin ice crystals. It reminded me vaguely of Cory Richards‘ tent in his award-winning movie, “Cold”.

We tried making a fire. Even the dry wood left over from previous campers was covered in ice and wouldn’t light. By 7:30pm we were in our sleeping bags trying to stay warm. Paul described the situation best, “Now that I know my sleeping bag is keeping me warm, I’ll be comfortable. I think it was the anticipation of being cold and waiting out the night that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t think I’d have a chance to sleep.”

Luckily, we did fall asleep. All night. Despite getting kicked in the head once by Paul and the normal waking-up-to-adjust-your-position, we slept relatively well. Even enough to discuss our dreams that we remembered. Ironically, I dreamed about being in a warm, desert-like country. When I awoke, it was still just a dream.

Devils Path, Part 1: Ascents

Posted: February 19, 2012 by None Smith in English, Training
Tags: , , ,

We were excited for the adventure that lay ahead of us as the taxi drove away from the the Devil’s Path trail head at Prediger Road in Platte Clove/Elka Park. After leaving our car at the end point of the Devil’s Path on Spruceton road in West Kill this was the opposite of the point of no return – it was the point of complete return. At 12pm we picked up our packs, didn’t leave a trace of our presence at the trail head and away we went towards our first summit, Indian Head mountain.

The trail started out a little above 2,000 feet (approx) and had no snow on the ground. It was mostly

Trailhead signs at Prediger Road

flat. Spirits were up and we reached the first trail intersection (blue and red) with such speed, we figured this was going to be a breeze. Despite the New York Times article and the hype, we figured, “It’s the Catskills, all under 4000 feet and it’s been a warm winter – we got this.” We planned on reaching the Mink Hollow lean-to, 9 miles away, for our first shelter. We ended up only making it half way there.

The snow slowly increased, but to no more than 2 inches maximum. There were patches of ice, but nothing to worry about. The trail, heading south, met up with an old dirt road and we turned west to head up the ridge. According to the trail guide I found on cnyhiking.com, we had three steep ascents (with three view points) before reaching the summit. It was on the first steep ascent that we got a taste of what we were in for for the next 2 miles.

Ice. Pure, smooth, silky, ice. Hide that ice under 2 inches of snow with inclines of 40-50 degrees (sometimes more!) and you’ve got a treacherous path where every step can cause a slip. The three ascents left us sweating, breathless, and covered head-to-toe in snow. We didn’t have ice gear (ice axe, crampons, rope) as our preparations and research left us with the impression that ice wouldn’t be a problem (or non-existent). On one particular ascent, the ice-covered rocks became near vertical. We relied on protruding rocks and roots for handholds and carefully placed our feet to maneuver our way up the cliff. We would go one at a time, as if on belay, and advise the other on the best route.

We were quickly learning not to underestimate these unassuming mountains and hills of upstate New York. Our margin of safety was getting smaller as we realized a sprained ankle or twisted knee would mean trouble.

Half way up, as I was standing on a precariously small rock shelf, one hand on an uneasy root, the other hand searching upwards for a suitable hold, our taxi driver’s voice rang in my head. “You guys have cleats or crampons, right? I hear it’s icy up there.” Locals always know best.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve really been pushing myself while climbing in the gym. Most mornings I have been waking up with “fat” hands and hurt joints – some fingers hurting more than others. From what I’ve heard and read about, there’s a good chance my tendons are getting stressed and my

An Icy Climb

calluses are building up on my skin. The physical feeling has come with a profound sense of satisfaction, feeling actual changes as my climbing ability improves. On that ice-strewn precipice, the feeling quickly slid away. The cold snowy tree branches and rocks were getting through my gloves and chilling my hands. My already sore tendons and muscles were contracting under my skin and each grip on a tree root cramped the muscle under my thumb. The ascents, on top of being dangerous, were becoming painful.

As I ascended another rocky outcrop, I hung to the right of the trail as it provided trees to hold on to for a ways up. The left side contained only icy rocks with steep drops and little to no hand holds. Just like that, the Devil’s Path toyed with us and the trail switched on itself. I was now standing in front of rock ledges full of ice and no places for my hands and the trees and hand holds were on the left hand side. Behind me, a 4 foot drop to the ledge below. With another small ledge below it, along with another below that. If I fell, there’s a good chance I would keep sliding. Looking up the trail, I was left with little choices. I had to get to the left hand side where there was better snow and something to hold on to. I placed one foot out into the middle of the trail. It seemed stable. I readied my stance and began to move my body weight on to my left foot. I saw the tree I intended to grab.

I stepped out onto the trail, planted my right foot and tried to grab the tree as steadily as possible. As with any other fall we experienced, it was surprising and uncontrolled. Both my feet went out from under me. Before I could fall any further my fingertips wrapped around the base of a small pine tree. I scrambled my way into a semi-steady position and slowly made my way up to solid snow.

Finally, we reached the summit of Indian Head mountain. We approached a ledge that provided an expansive view but around 10 feet from the ledge, Paul slipped. Flat on his back after yet another uncontrolled fall, we decided to stay away from getting close to any ledge – no matter what view it afforded.

On the summit we followed a narrow trail full of short evergreen trees. With snow everywhere it was

Bobcat Track; enlarge for detail

truly a magnificent sight. To add to our appreciation that thus far nothing serious had happened we began to notice a consistent set of foot prints. After close inspection, Paul, extremely knowledgeable in wildlife, gasped in surprise at what we had found. With four pads and no claws they were definitively cat tracks. The only wild cat that lives in the Catskills area at this elevation is the North American Bobcat. Since it had snowed earlier in the day, and the tracks were clear in the snow, it was obvious that the cat was here very recently. We were elated at our find and picked up our pace to hopefully get a glimpse of this solitary creature.

The ascent of Twin mountain provided much of the same difficulties Indian Head gave us. We had already learned the important lesson – never underestimate inclines and never underestimate the winter months. They can provide surprises at every turn. The devil of this path truly was a wily one.

For the technical: without ice, I would consider the steep ascents class 4 – with ice, WI1.

In the next post on the Devil’s Path I’ll describe the even more dangerous descents down Indian head and Twin mountain

Preparing for the Devil’s Path

Posted: February 16, 2012 by None Smith in English, Training
Tags: , , ,

“Well, if we reach the Devil’s Tombstone campground by the end of day one we can definitely do it in two days.” Paul mentioned to me as we discussed the upcoming trip.

Unfortunately, this trip was been up in the air as of a some days ago. Paul (of Tamandua Jungle Expeditions), recently caught a cold of sorts while he was in Nagarhole National Forest in Karnataka, India. As of Saturday, he said it wasn’t going to happen – he was too sick. I had also been depending on him for the car ride to the Catskills from New Jersey. The window of opportunity was closing and I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to attempt my long sought after trail during winter months.

We were planning on leaving on Wednesday. On Monday, I received a phone call as I was eating dinner. “Hey man, I just got a cold-weather sleeping bag from my cousin. I’m feeling a lot better, I think the symptoms are passing. We’re good to go. What do you think, two days?”

With 14,000 feet of elevation gain and loss over the course of 24 miles, I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to take us longer than two days. And that’s if it doesn’t snow.

The path was named as such by Dutch explorers. I paraphrase, but from what I’ve read they said, “Only the cloven-footed devil could traverse these mountains to escape the world of men.” So we’re going to try our might at this path.

As Ben and Natalia prepare for their Bolivian Mountaineering training in a couple months, I am doing what I can to keep up with their training and make sure my wits are about me while in the mountains. As I prepare my gear for the Devil’s Path, I think this will prove a worthy challenge and a good training ground for the expedition. We will be donning and doffing our packs at multiple peaks, climbing on hands and knees, pulling on roots and rocks to make our way up the cliffs. None the less, we will be traversing 7 mountains over 3500 feet. We’re expecting a tough challenge and hopefully some exciting surprises.

The trip will be a nice escape from work and suburban life. It’s a chance to finally put my hands on some real rock. It will also be a worthy gauge of a lot of skills that will come in handy on the expedition such as packing, pack weight, food, thermo-regulation, keeping warm, wind protection and more.

Local Maps

For all you gear junkies, here’s the gear I will be bringing. Feel free to critique.

Shelter and Sleeping:

Backpack – The North Face

Marmot Never Summer Sleeping Bag – Rated 0 F

Food and Water, Mmm.

Z-Lite Sleeping Pad

MSR Hubba Hubba 2-Person Tent

Food and Cooking:

MSR Pocket Rocket Stove

GSI Pinnacle Soloist Cooking set

Ramen Noodles

Homeemade GORP

Instant Oatmeal

An old Italian camping recipe that consist of (all raw) Tuna, Roman Beans and Onions with Salt and Pepper. Before you judge, try it – its great trail food with a ton of protein.

Around 5L of water each.

Clothes:

Two pairs of synthetic thermal underwear (tops and bottoms)

A Fleece (or two)

Assortment of Gear

Marmot Bastione Jacket for camp

3 Pairs of Wool Socks

Rain Pants

Outer Synthetic Pants

Merrell Isotherm 8 Winter Boots

Other gear:

Books and Maps

Compass

Knife

Headlamp (Princeton Tec Apex)

Firestarters and more

Paul will also have a water filter that we will use along the way.

As you read this, we’re probably already on the trail, on our way the Devil’s Tombstone Campground. I’ll be trying to send tweets along the way with updates, but I’m no 100% if I’ll get service. Either way, @normrasmussen and check out where we are!

As an added bonus, my brother-in-law recently got rid of his old Camera, a Canon EOS RebelG – an old SLR. It’s a great knock-around camera and I’m excited to test it out on this trip!

New Camera!