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Old Hipster - The Final Post

Last in a series of over-sharing dispatches on musculoskeletal health

Hey campers, here's a quick last update on my post-hip-surgery recovery for the half-handful of you who've been following along - and readers who may be facing a similar operation in the future.

Last Wednesday I had a three-week follow-up doctor's appointment. The X-ray (at right) shows the implant is aligned and calcifying into place. Cool! I was worried because, as I began to get more mobile after 11 days of bed rest, I could feel shifting in the joint. I was worried that the implants were breaking loose.

Apparently it was just the stretched tendons, ligaments and muscles that result from surgery. "No problem, that's normal," said Dr. Poole.  It'll all tighten up quickly if I rehab conscientiously. The main thing I've got to be careful of is dislocating the joint because of the loose ligaments. So the doc lifted most of my activity restrictions.
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Sunday, March 21, 2010 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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Beginners Guide to Winter Camping, Part VI: Advanced Snow Shelters

Quinzhees and Igloos

Alright campers! Just in time for your weekend practice, here’s my penultimate installment to the Beginner’s Guide to Winter Camping: Advanced Snow Shelters – meaning quinzhees and igloos.

By ‘advanced’ I mean they take some practice to build correctly. It's probable that your first attempt will not end up in a usable campsite, but your second attempt probably will. This isn’t rocket science, and once you waste some effort on a failed shelter, you’ll definitely remember mistakes the second time around. But snow shelters are often worth the trouble, especially in subzero conditions, where they're much warmer than a four-season tent. Since imitation is the easiest form of learning, I’m hyperlinking to some great footage of quinzhee and igloo building – including the classic 1922 documentary Nanook of the North, one of the milestones of in-the-field  filmmaking history.

Quinzhee is an Athabaskan native term for a hollowed out mound of snow, kind of like a beginner’s igloo. They work great for areas where the snow is fairly shallow, or isn’t firm enough to make blocks. This is because you can gather loose snow from wide areas, and once it’s been shoveled, piled and packed, and allowed to set up, powder snow hardens through a process called sintering. The downside is that quinzhees are twice the effort of a snowcave simply because first you have to dig and pile. Then you have to hollow it out. It takes two people about 3 or 4 hours to build a quinzhee, which makes them better for multi-night camps than travel-thru overnight use.

First, find a spot where you know the underlying ground is flat, mark out a circle, and pack it down hard or dig it to ground level. Then shovel snow onto the circle to form a pile about six feet high and 10 feet wide, packing each layer down a bit as you go. Once you’ve gotten the pile big enough, put small sticks into the snow mound, shoving them to a one-foot depth. Let the snow harden for at least an hour, and then begin digging out the pile, using the sticks as a guide to make the snow walls thin (and hence safer if they collapse) while also keeping them thick enough to stay up. You should be able to see some light through the walls, since snow is fairly translucent. Read Full Story...
Friday, February 12, 2010 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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Beginner's Guide to Winter Camping, Part III: Planning Your First Winter Camp-out

Plan right and you're bound for the best winter camping experience possible.

        High Camp, 17,200 feet, Denali, Alaska.  pic:

Smart backpacking always involves planning, and in winter this becomes doubly important simply because cold temperatures are less forgiving of mistakes than most summer environments (outside of Death Valley, anyway).  In fact, winter is an excellent time to get into the habit of good trip planning, and organize your information resources so you can carry those safe habits into summer. So, class, in preparing for your first winter camping trip, here are your assignments. Suggestions in the comments section below get extra credit:

Pick your area: Choose a destination you’re familiar with, or at least one where trailhead access is simple and routefinding is straightforward. Stay close in to trailhead, you don’t need to go any farther than required for solitude, quiet, and land management regulations. If you need exercise, you can always explore around camp. If you really want a longer trip
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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Beginner's Guide to Winter Camping, Part II

Gearing Up for Your First Winter Overnight


We humans, Desmond Morris’s “naked apes”,  are not engineered to live in the elements without clothing and shelter. This goes double in cold weather. We need gear, and without it we can’t last long in temps below about 50 Fahrenheit, much less sub-freezing conditions. Hence this point by point gear guide to staying toasty in the winter woods. Techniques (equally important) will be covered in a later installment.

Money Tips: Fair warning, winter gear can get expensive. But hey, life’s expensive. Everyone complains about the price of outdoor gear, but we also complain if it’s too heavy, or doesn’t have enough pockets, or doesn’t fit well, or isn’t made of space age materials - and especially if it doesn't keep us warm. You CAN save money on winter gear, but you have two choices: Go heavy or buy used. If price is a problem (and it always is) then rent the gear, hawk eBay for deals (there are lots), or carry heavier, bulkier, cheaper gear. If the ground’s flat and the snow’s firm, you can haul a sled to deal with the resulting weight and bulk.  Even a toy plastic sled will work if you rig the traces right and pack the weight low, and toward the back, but on steep or sidehill terrain, sled-hauling is a nightmare, and techno sleds that are suitable for this terrain are expensive in their own right.

Head:  Thanks to numerous small blood vessels close to the surface of your scalp, you can lose more than 50% of body heat through your head. For winter camping purposes, think of your head like the radiator on your car. Cover it, and your engine runs warm. Expose it, and the engine cools.  Strip the hat when you’re climbing hard up a steep hill, and when you’re sedentary in winter temperatures, keep your head covered. I usually carry a bandanna/sweatband or an ear-warmer headband to wear while I’m hard on the move. Then, during stops, I’ll don a thick wool hat with a synthetic liner. For hanging around in... Read Full Story...
Sunday, January 24, 2010 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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Beginner's Guide to Winter Camping; Part I: Get Outside! You Are Not a Groundhog!

Our Rocky Mountain Editor drops some wisdom and gets you inspired in this beginner's guide.

      Igloo at 14,200-foot camp, Denali, Alaska   pic:

It’s that time of year again, time to think about winter camping. And why was I not posting this in December or early January, you ask?That’s easy!  Because the dark winter solstice sucks even for Eskimos, and in most regions there wasn’t enough fluff to give the snow-dusted look that makes winter attractive. Let's face it, darkness and brown forests do not pluck the heartstrings unless you’ve got a really, really bleak psyche. Besides, there were Christmas leftovers to eat.

Now we’re rapidly approaching the cusp of February, when celebrity rodent Puxatawny Phil, like myself, traditionally sticks his nose out of the hole. Shadow or not, I’m not going back down that tunnel. My burrow’s getting skanky and I could use some fresh air. I suspect you could too.

So, here are my recommendations for those readers who've been wondering about winter camping, along with some motivational tips for old hands trying to polish their Inuit/Yupik cred. I’m breaking this into six dispatches to offer more detail and give y’all the tools to actually do this, rather than just offering the usual internet fluff-up. First off…

Planning and shakedown:
[]Make this fun: Choose your trip wisely. Spend some time thinking about where you’d like to go. Use this time for motivation, fantasy, and good planning. You won’t have to get all punch-it-into-the-hinterlands misanthropic, because five-star spots that are a zoo in summer are deserted in winter. Pick a beautiful, sheltered destination that doesn’t involve steep avalanche-prone hillsides, or ice-choked stream crossings, and isn’t far from retreat.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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Surviving is a strange and wonderful thing

A video exploration of the link between skill and survival value

Yes campers, there are valuable lessons on survival here (along with a few understandable expletives) but I'm still trying to process it all.  First the schadenfreude. Then the inspiration. Enjoy your MLK weekend! We'll get serious in the next post. --sh

via: Today's Big Thing. Read Full Story...
Saturday, January 16, 2010 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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Help Haitians Survive

Too many cameras and not enough food: Change that.

Hey Campers: Normally I’m not a cause-oriented guy and this isn’t a cause-oriented blog. But we do cover Survival, and right now that’s a very relevant subject considering the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. This disaster that hits close to home - about 600 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, to be exact.

Haiti certainly didn't need this. It's a country already ravaged by poverty and corrupt dictators, where the poorest often eat mud cookies because they can’t even afford staples like rice or corn. You'll be hearing tons about this situation from the media, but it's the same old problem: As the old Police song "Driven to Tears" goes: "Too many cameras and not enough food."

The scale of this disaster makes the problem of logistics overwhelming, triage in it's most pressing form. Right now the biggest needs are for rescue personnel to extract victims from the rubble, medical personnel to help the injured, transportation to get those resources to the island, and money to pay for those operations.

People are being asked NOT to send donations of food or clothing that would arrive too late and merely end up in piles that needed sorting. Later there might be need, and a pipeline, for all that, but not now.

Like any freelance writer,  I live month to month, and assignment to assignment, but I just donated $100, roughly the price of a pair of high-end sunglasses, or a weekend of lift tickets at a ski resort. I challenge you readers to do likewise. My money went to Doctors Without Borders.

Below is a short list of aid organizations that have experience and personnel on the ground in Haiti, and have a proven track record for effective use of donations.  Give what you can, and if you or someone you know has the skills and experience to make a difference in this situation, inquire as to how you or they might effectively volunteer. The effects of this disaster aren’t going to go away soon. Thanks for your time. – Steve Howe

Doctors Without Borders

Medicine for Peace


Hospital Albert Schweitzer

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Thursday, January 14, 2010 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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Some of My Favorite Things

In which I answer a reader question from last week's survey

Campfire map scribbling. October in the Absarokas. Pic:

Last week I asked readers what they’d like to see in this blog. I’ll try and address those responses one at a time, in between some other subjects.

First up: “I like the occasional updates on gear you're testing but how about something on the old reliable type of items you just can't do without? --Chris”

Well, for the most part I don’t have a lot of “old reliable” items, except for boots that  fit my weird feet, because most older gear isn’t as good as the new stuff. Never was; never will be. When you test a ton of gear, in direct comparisons, you realize that often the "old favorite" you were in love with is just nostalgia, the "golden sieve of memory," and the fact that you haven't sampled much of the market. But I’m not big on the latest and greatest either, because I’ve been testing gear for 20 years, and I’m seriously jaded.

That said, here’s what I’m currently in love with, and will probably stand the test of time:

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Monday, January 11, 2010 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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New Year's Resolution: Learn to Use Your Safety Gear

With tales, and links to user manuals for map, compass, common beacons and GPS receivers

Big Wilderness, Little Human. Approaching Conness Lakes, Sierra High Route. Pic:

Three recent incidents illustrate a common phenomenon: Hikers not knowing how to use the emergency equipment or skills they’ve got. Hey, we all get careless occasionally, but some of us get spanked much harder than others for the lapse. To wit:

Four times over the last half of December, rescue teams in Colorado had to chase after false Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) alerts that went off in the vicinity of Berthoud Pass, a popular roadside ski touring area in central Colorado. Each time, there was no emergency.

All alerts were from the same beacon, an older, non-gps-enabled model that only narrowed the search to a 12-mile radius. Local authorities assumed the alerts were from someone who didn’t know that PLBs mobilize everyone from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to the U.S. Air Force (Rescue) Coordination Center, to the local rescue team. They issued a press statement asking the person to call them for instructions, or stop using the device. The alerts stopped. Spank level: 0 of 1. Total skate.

On November 28th, Robert Sumrall, 67, got lost in sub-freezing conditions in New Mexico's remote Black Range despite being a fit, experienced hiker -  who’d been lost and found before by searchers. He carried food, water, a sweatshirt, jeans, a 38-caliber pistol, and a GPS, in part due to the previous search incident. Unfortunately, Sumrall got lost again, this time on a November/December hike at  8,200 feet elevation with no cold weather gear, flashlight, or firestarting materials. Searchers looked for seven days as 10 inches of snow fell on the region, temperatures plummeted to the high 20s, and winds hit 20 mph.
Sumrall apparently either couldn’t or didn’t  use the GPS  to retrace his way to trailhead, because he ended up nearly 15 miles from his parked car, and was found by sheer chance when... Read Full Story...
Tuesday, January 05, 2010 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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Solstice SAR Roundup

Heads up! In this season of hope and joy, there's plenty of trouble if you want it.

Tis the season for celebration, campers, because we've turned that solstice corner. Ever since 12:47 p.m. on Monday, your days - and your daily outdoor fun window - have been getting longer, not to mention warmer, courtesy of earth's 23.5-degree axial tilt relative to its orbital plane. But it's still winter, and that cold, hard fact is reflected in a lot of recent mishaps.

While the media continues to handwring about the three unfortunate climbers on Mt. Hood, there was no shortage of similar occurrences which didn't make the headlines. They all serve to show us the reduced safety margin that cold, short days, and harsh weather bring this time of year.

Last weekend a Kirkland, Washington couple who were skiing and snowshoeing in Mt. Rainier National Park got stranded overnight and survived by building a snowcave. A major search was gearing up, but they walked out on their own.

Another couple, training for a March adventure race near Aspen, Colorado, got caught in gathering storm when they failed to locate the Goodwin-Greene Cabin south of Aspen Mountain Ski Area.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009 in: Survival, News & events, Skills & tips
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