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The Pulse
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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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2010: A Quick Pulse Questionaire

In which I ask readers: What the hail do you people want?

Dipping a line in the waters, Uinta Highline Trail, Utah. Pic:

Quick question here as we all dive into post-Holiday biz madness:

What subjects would you like to see covered in The Pulse for 2010?

Step up and swing in the comments section below. I'll try and provide.

--Steve Howe

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Monday, January 04, 2010 in: Survival, Questionaire
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No Holiday Rest for the SAR Crews

2009's Odometer Turns Over With a Flurry of Incidents

        Skiing in Bryce Canyon National Park. Image:

OK campers, while you - like all my editors - may have been on vacation over the Xmas Holidays, trouble - and myself - were not. Here is a novella-length list of the more stand-out emergencies:

Scottish Avalanches Kill Three, Injure Another
Ten days of unusually of cold, dry weather in the Scottish Highlands resulted in hardpacked snow overlain by a layer of surface hoar that became buried by subsequent snowfalls, forming a weak layer for slab avalanches, with tragic results. On Wednesday, December 30th, two climbers were killed in the Coire Na Ciste area of Ben Nevis, highest point in the U.K., one was rescued from Liathach in the Torridon Range, but later died, and two more were rescued from Beinn an Dothaidh. A search was underway Wednesday night for a fourth missing climber. Surface hoar and depth hoar are rare phenomena in warm, wet maritime climates like the British Isles, and apparently climbers have been caught unawares.

Seven Die in Italian Avalanches
On sunday, December 27th, two Italian tourists went missing in Val Lasties, in the Dolomites of northern Italy. The two apparently died in an avalanche. Seven members of a rescue team who were searching for them were caught by a gigantic slide that carried them 1,300 vertical feet down-slope. Four of the rescuers were killed. In another nearby incident, a 14-year-old German skiers was caught and died instantly. Avalanche danger remains high throughout the Alps.

The Trouble with Parachutes
On that same Sunday, two men took "speed gliders" to the summit of Quandary Peak, a very accessible 14er just south of Breckenridge, Colorado, and launched down the 2.5-mile East Ridge. Read Full Story...
Thursday, December 31, 2009 in: Survival, News and Events
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Escape to Oblivion

Ever want to chuck it all and sail away, like these two?

Merry Christmas campers! This holiday blog post comes in the form of a shout-out to two of my in-laws, Jeff and Nancy Kirstein. And why, you may rightly ask, is this relevant to Backpacker types?

Well, because wilderness travel is, at heart, all about escaping the drudgery of feedlot civilization and immersing yourself in the real world. You don't necessarily need a backpack to do that. Let us consider for a moment that most time-honored form of escape: sailing off into uncharted waters, ultima thule, 'here be dragons' country.

Throughout history, thousands of adventurers have weighed anchor and literally tried to sail off the edge of the earth. Erik the Red did it in 982 AD, when he discovered Greenland. Leif Erikson (Red's son), probably made it to the American northeast. St. Brendan the Irish monk navigator might have reached America in the 6th century. Chinese junks apparently landed in Brazil in 1421. Seventy one years later Christobal Columbo definitely washed up in the Caribbean, and Italian Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot to the English who employed him) tagged Nova Scotia on the North American mainland in 1487. And then there's Vasco de Gamma, Magellan, Francis Drake, Captain Cook, George Vancouver, Jack get the idea.

Yes, they were all global explorers, but the exploration was really a convenient excuse to escape 'syphillisation' and find something more exciting or rewarding - Just like it is for modern backpackers.

Well, Jeff and Nancy are following that proud tradition. Read Full Story...
Thursday, December 24, 2009 in: Survival, Humor/funny
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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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A Sport is Born

And clearly, X-gamers need to step it up.

Sigh. There are times when I wonder why I even bother to write about survival situations and techniques, given the human propensity to walk a tightrope edge between life and death, even in the most recreational settings. Clearly, some people out there want to die. As proof, witness the new Euro sport of Buggy rollin'.

And to answer your first question: No, the road is not closed to traffic.
To answer your second question: Yes, those posts are apparently concrete.
To answer your third question: I have no idea where you can buy the gear.

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Friday, December 18, 2009 in: Survival, News & Events
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Wednesday Rescue Round-Up

Mount Hood, Canyon Rescue, and the Tetons get a SAR HQ maybe

Hey campers! I’ve pulled my head out of…Gear Guide writing, and I’ve got a few hours before driving north to a surgeon’s consultation (I’m getting a stainless steel hip "resurfacing" this winter). Soooo it’s time to get back into rescue blogging. Here are a few recent highlights:

Mount Hood Again
One climber has been found dead, and two are still missing, after a trio set off up the Reid Glacier Route (Class II, 50-degree snow/ice) on the West face of 11,239-foot Mount Hood, America’s most-climbed peak. The group took off at 1 a.m. on Friday, December 11, expecting to be back about 2 p.m.. When they didn’t return, family members contacted rescue authorities.  Searchers found the body of Luke Gullberg next morning, below the Reid Glacier headwall. He had fallen, but later died of hypothermia. No rope or other gear was found with him, but searchers found a water bottle and glove they think was owned by one of his companions, and photos in Gullberg’s digital camera showed the party earlier on Friday, roped up and happy in sunny conditions.

Gullberg’s two companions, Anthony Vietti, 24, and Katie Nolan, 29, remain missing. Aerial searches of the mountain in good weather on Monday revealed no further clues.  Gullberg was the most experienced climber of this relatively experienced group. All three were devout Christians. The search has been halted several times by Hood’s infamous maritime weather, and the ensuing media frenzy has been accompanied by the usual ponderings about ‘crazy’ climbers, beacon use, and tax protesters screaming about costs.  The mountain is expected to get another two feet of snow over the next several days. Read Full Story...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 in: Survival, News & events
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Monday Morning Eye Candy

Eight reasons to be glad you're not a mouse, and the world's scariest hiking trail

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Sunday, December 06, 2009 in: Survival
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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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