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Searching for "Skills_"

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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.
Read Full Story...
Tuesday, December 22, 2009 in: Survival, News & events, Skills & tips
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A simple primer for staying out of trouble at sundown

                                                       Sundown in saguaro country.  Pic: Howe

Hey campers, sorry for the delay, but I just now came up for air after shepherding several features through the sausage-making process for a March issue, uploading a pile of video files from Alaska, and writing up Gear Guide and Editor’s Choice tests for April. I was going to summarize some recent backcountry accidents, but I got beat to posting by a freakin’ dog! That is so not right.

At least I managed to get in a few short trail runs during the week, mostly by blasting out the door way too late in the afternoon and racing darkness back to trailhead. This is a theme for many winter exercise junkies, and that’s reflected in numerous recent search incidents where victims got caught by nightfall, then had to endure the resulting hypothermic suffer-fest. Hence our lesson for today.

A gearless overnight bivy is always miserable, but in winter, it can be life-threatening, even in so-called ‘warm’ environments. There are far fewer people out on local park trails and bike paths, so you can’t count on help just happening by.  And in most U.S. latitudes it’s now dead dark from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., so if you do get stuck, you can expect about 15 hours of serious frigidity.

Read Full Story...
Saturday, December 05, 2009 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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The non-winter survival blog

Dry tinder is the least of your worries on Thanksgiving weekend

I always suspected that one of the biggest things I could do to improve my long-term survival odds is to make it through the Thanksgiving holidays without permanently gaining five pounds. So today I began what I call the Post-Turkey Training Series, where I'll attempt to do a long bike ride every day through the weekend in order to counteract the gravy and stuffing.

Read Full Story...
Friday, November 27, 2009 in: Survival, Skills & tips, Strange/funny
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Season of the hamster

Reflections and tips on winter bike training

I'm always torn at this time of year. On one side, there are the happy holidays, when you get to see family, go to parties, eat and drink and generally overindulge. On the other hand, the cusp of mid-winter also heralds cold, wind and long dark nights, which is cool if you're a vampire (and who isn't these days?) but not so good if you're into exercise, the outdoors, and adventure - and have a job.

But with physical training, it's all use it or lose it. And at my age, consistency means everything. It's hard to battle back into shape after a slack period. Combine these challenges with the seasonal evils of eggnog, Christmas fudge and Tivo, and the holidays could easily lead to a future of elasticized pants and Walmart scooters. Consequently I'm working hard to exercise daily in the brief daylight hours. Since my rural locale has no gyms, rarely sees skiable snow, and my  hip's too trashed for trail running (at least until my upcoming joint replacement) that leaves biking, or specifically, winter biking.

This is a tough transition for me. Cycling has never been my favorite sport, and over the years I've become  addicted to combining exercise with adventure. To quote the the famous tightrope walker Karl Wallenda "Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting." But I'm trying to readjust that attitude because fate and calcium dictate that I'll be biking a lot over the next year. Still, after a great summer of adventures from Alaska to Switzerland, it's tough to return to mere hamster wheel training.
Read Full Story...
Monday, November 23, 2009 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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The Leonids Return

Heads up night owls! Killer meteor shower on Monday night!

   Meteors over Capitol Reef. The small streaks are shooting stars; the red streak is Mars.  pic: Howe

Start napping now, so you can stay awake on Monday night, when this old, well-used Earth is getting ready to hurtle at 147,000 miles per hour through the thickest section of tail debris left by comet Tempel-Tuttle. The collision could generate one of the best meteor showers in recent history - or maybe even a disaster of blockbuster proportions, kind of a lead-up to 2012 or whatever Nostradumus catastrophe is currently fashionable for cable TV 'history' channels.

But it'll probably just be a great sky show. And even if it does presage the end of the world by explosion, invasion, or alien viruses showering from the heavens, wouldn't you rather watch it all from atop some scenic ridgetop, wrapped in a blanket with your honey and a few bottles, instead of chewing your nails on the couch and listening to talking newsheads screech about stock market implications of the apocalypse?

Yes! Obviously! So here's your field-trip assignment campers: Read Full Story...
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 in: Survival, Skills & tips, Wierd/funny
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Lunchbox's Disaster Roundup

The beloved star of our in-book feature "The Predicament," Lunchbox the Cadaver Sniffing Dog, brings you a round-up of this week's outdoor predicaments, disasters, and near-misses

[Ed. note: This is the first post from Lunchbox—impressive for an animal without opposable thumbs, so be kind.]

Lunchbox here—you may remember me from "The Predicament" in BACKPACKER's magazine. I'm pretty cute, in an ugly-dog sort of way, but you don't want to meet me out on the trail. They call me out when things go wrong and everyone suspects the worse. But there's a lot you can do to avoid that: Let's take a look at this week's predicaments to sniff out what we can learn. Read Full Story...
Friday, October 23, 2009 in: Skills, Weird and Funny, Survival, Lunchbox Disaster Roundup
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Grand Canyon Summer

The Big Ditch had its share of rescues and deaths this season

As of press time, at least six actual hiker/backpackers had died in the canyon. Here's a brief recap of the more interesting incidents. Common themes  were solo travel, and/or lack of advance preparation - such as obtaining current information, carrying enough water, leaving a route itinerary, or getting a required permit. I hope these brief sketches will help others avoid similar mayhem, but I'm buried with magazine work right now, so visit the Grand Canyon National Park's Hike Smart page for specific tips.

April 30th: Three young men, Mark Merril (16), Joey Merrill (22), and Saif Savaya (16),  jumped into the spring-swollen Colorado River at Boat Beach near Phantom Ranch, where the main corridor trails cross on the Silver Bridge at River Mile 88, and attempted to swim across the swift current that runs through Granite Gorge. The trio were visiting the park in a 30-person Baptist church group on their annual Grand Canyon hiking retreat. All three were swept into Bright Angel Rapids, a swiftwater section that runs beneath the Bridge. Mark Merrill's body was found a mile downstream on May 1st. The other two weren't located until May 15th, below Boucher Rapids, over ten miles downriver from where they jumped in. Read Full Story...
Thursday, October 15, 2009 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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Smarten up

A smarmy checklist of 8 steps that would prevent most searches, rescues and deaths in the woods

Hey campers, I've been reviewing the summer's more interesting and/or instructional rescue incidents and basically yawning over 95% of them. Not to minimize the pain, suffering and pathos of the several dozen unfortunates who died or were injured by falls, heat stroke, hypothermia, or kayaking accidents this summer, but the vast majority of mayhem was caused by what park rangers call 'vacation brain', and what outdoor writers call 'the naturalist's trance.'

Basically, you're in the glorious outdoors, ecstatic to get away from urban or career hell, and you relax, watching the clouds, listening to bird calls, rippling water, and wind blowing through the pines. And then suddenly it's dusk, you're not sure where you are, the temperature's dropping, and it's started to rain. All of a sudden nature's not so fun.

This does not just occur to urban refugees btw; The modern ski-town crop of lycra-sheathed hardbodies has had their share of 'training mishaps' this summer, setting off on hammer trail runs without map, compass or awareness, and scrambling peaks in ultralight, ultra-clueless style.

Since survival is all about avoiding survival scenarios, not perservering through them, it's fairly easy to stay out of trouble (most of the time) using a few simple measures. This is not rocket science: Read Full Story...
Tuesday, October 06, 2009 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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The Guiding Life: Part III

Thoughts on leading a dozen guests through big, bad wilderness

Yo Campers. I've returned from guiding and am back in magazine mode (i.e. stuffed in a closet, pounding keyboard). But here's a a quick recap of my last foray through Zion and Bryce before I dive into assignment catch-up lest the editor's spank me.

Leading a 12-person group was awesome, and demanding, even with a solid assistant guide and a full compliment of upstanding, understanding hikers. For one, with any large group there will be differences in athleticism, pace, temperament and desire. Some people want to hammer. Some want to contemplate. Some are curious about geology and natural history, while others just want to ogle pink rock and blue skies. More people equals more variation in said parameters, but  you've got to keep everyone reasonably together, happy, interested, involved, and last but definitely not least, safe.

This can be a balancing act, and it requires reading each person subtly, especially when high temperatures and sun suddenly make a straightforward hike rather trying, as they did in Bryce. Taken as a whole, the week reminded me forcefully that leading groups is all about fun, but it's no simple walk in the park. Read Full Story...
Wednesday, September 30, 2009 in: Survival, Skills & tips
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