Gear Review: SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) Survival Gear and BIVVY SACK GIVEAWAY!

September is National Prepardness Month so it was well-timed that I received a handful of SOL products from Adventure Ready Brands. The company was founded in 1973 in Littleton, NH and manufactures the world-famous insect bite treatment, After Bite®, a full line of well-known insect repellents such as Ben’s® and Natrapel®, first-aid such as Adventure Medical Kits® and Easy Care First Aid kits, survival products with Survive Outdoors Longer®, and burn remedy products such as AfterBurn®.

In the following video I show the features of the products I received and share some opinions on them. Adventure Ready Brands does not sell direct to customer so I tracked down some outdoor retailers that have these items in stock and provide direct links to the products at these retailers below. These are affiliate links, so if you do end up buying something after using the link I will see a small commission at no additional cost to you. Hey, thank you! Thank really helps keep this blog going!

SOL Rescue Floating Signal Mirror from Backcountry.com

SOL Rescue Floating Signal Mirror (Two Pack) from Amazon.com

SOL Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter from Backcountry.com

SOL Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter from REI.com

SOL Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter from Amazon.com

SOL Stoke Pivot Knife & Saw from Backcountry.com

SOL Stoke Pivot Knife & Saw from REI.com

SOL Stoke Pivot Knife & Saw from Amazon.com

SOL Stoke Camp Hatchet from Backcountry.com

SOL Stoke Camp Hatchet from REI.com

SOL Stoke Camp Hatchet from Amazon.com

SOL Emergency Bivvy with Rescue Whistle & Tinder Cord from Amazon.com

To enter the giveaway for a brand new SOL Emergency Bivy Sack just click the Rafflecopter link below for all the ways you can earn entries! Contest at 11:59pm EST on September 30th, 2021! Good luck!

SOL Emergency Bivvy GIVEAWAY!!!

CONTEST OVER! Congrats to Angel L.!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Media samples were provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.

Gear Review: Adventure Medical Kits MOLLE 1.0 Trauma First Aid Kit

I’ve been sent a few of the new models from Adventure Medical Kits to review and will be sharing some thoughts on these models the next few weeks. The first one I am covering is the MOLLE Bag Trauma Kit 1.0. Reviewing a first aid kit is a bit of a challenge as a big part of my role as a climbing guide is to avoid and prevent injury before it occurs. However with over 16 years of guiding and volunteer rescue experience I have some opinions of what should be in a first aid kit, so I hope to share some of that experience with you if you are in need of a first aid kit. Let’s start with a pretty solid disclaimer:

The absolute best thing you can do to prepare yourself for a medical emergency in the wilderness is take an actual Wilderness First Aid Course. No first aid kit, book, or self-study, can better prepare you for handling an injury or illness in the mountains than a quality course taught by professionals on the subject. I highly recommend the amazing instructors and staff at the renowned SOLO Schools in Conway NH. They offer courses all over the country so please consider finding one that you can make it so you will be better prepared for the unexpected!

Now for the details of this kit, let’s start with the manufacturer basics and an inventory of what is included:

Revie

Manufacturer Description

MOLLE BAG TRAUMA KIT 1.0 Be ready for anything when you’re in the field with the AMK Molle Bag Trauma Kit 1.0, designed to work with your tactical modular bag system and to equip you with the supplies you need to venture 1 – 2 days away from your base. The 2-foot QuikClot dressing included stops life-threatening bleeding fast, while the bandages, dressings, and medications enable you to address other wounds, bleeding, and fractures or sprains, while keeping the patient comfortable as you make your way back to camp or await rescue.

  • Stop Bleeding Fast
    Control bleeding with QuikClot® hemostatic gauze, which acts on contact to stop bleeding five times faster. The gauze is impregnated with kaolin, a mineral that accelerates your body’s natural clotting process.
  • Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide
    Know how to provide life-saving medical care. Written by wilderness medicine expert Eric A. Weiss, MD, this book includes over 50 improvised techniques and 100 illustrations for treating outdoor injuries and illnesses.
  • Manage Pain and Illness
    A wide array of medications to treat pain, inflammation, and common allergies.
  • Metal Buttoned Straps
    With integrated metal buttoned straps, this kit easily attaches to your favorite gear for easy access.

KIT DETAILS

  • Size:7.87 x 5.51 x 3.54
  • Weight:.9 lbs
  • Group Size:1 Person
  • Trip Duration:1 – 2 Days

Supply List

  • 3 – Triple Antibiotic Ointment
  • 8 – Antiseptic Wipe
  • 3 – After Bite® Wipe
  • 4 – Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer (Aspirin 325 mg)
  • 2 – Antihistamine (Diphenhydramine 25 mg)
  • 4 – Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer (Ibuprofen 200 mg)
  • 4 – Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer (Acetaminophen 500 mg)
  • 1 – Petrolatum Dressing, 3″” x 3″”
  • 1 – Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide
  • 1 – QKCLT Z-Fold Gauze 2 Ft
  • 2 – Trauma Pad, 5” x 9”, 1 ea.
  • 3 – Adhesive Bandage, Fabric, Knuckle
  • 5 – Adhesive Bandage, Fabric, 1″” x 3″”
  • 2 – Sterile Gauze Dressing, 4″” x 4″”
  • 2 – Sterile Gauze Dressing, 2″” x 2″”
  • 1 – Sterile Non-Adherent Dressing, 3″” x 4″”
  • 1 – Cloth Tape, 1/2″” x 10 Yards
  • 2 – Bandage, Butterfly Closure
  • 2 – Latex-Free Glove
  • 14 – Moleskin, Pre-Cut/Shaped
  • 1 – Bandage, Elastic, Cohesive Self Adhering, 2″”
  • 1 – Splinter/Tick Remover Forceps
  • 3 – Safety Pin
  • 1 – EMT Shears, 4″”

Here’s a short video where I open the kit up and go through the contents with some comments:

Opinions:

As mentioned it can be difficult to review a piece of outdoor gear that you hope to not use, and are less likely to use with proper preparation and planning. That said a first aid kit should be part of every outdoor enthusiasts “kit”, and this one is well designed for military and hunting/fishing use. The ballistic nylon is coated and the bag itself feels quite robust and weather resistent. It’s a good baseline in your emergency preparedness plan but there are a couple items I would add. The most obvious for me is a SAM Splint… since the description specifically mentions the contents “address… fractures or sprains” I think a SAM Splint would have been a great addition. Granted, those who have gone through a quality Wilderness First Aid course will learn multiple ways to implement splinting material, and you can easily add one yourself for around $15 from Amazon.

The other addition I’d like to see in most first aid kits is a disposable CPR mask. Granted, you need training to use a CPR mask but these disposable masks cost less that $1 each and I think they belong in every first aid and attached to every set of car keys in the country. If you would like to become certified in CPR you can easily find a course from the Red Cross here.

One of the best things included in this kit is the book, “Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide” by Eric A. Weiss, MD. This updated book is over 200 pages long and is in a great format. I especially like the “Weiss Advice” insets and “When to Worry” side bars… This is a great book to brush up on your skills after a Wilderness First Aid course or to pre-study before you take your course!

Adventure Medical Kits MOLLE Trauma Kit 1.0 Review

Some other opinions around these details:

Size (listed above)… this is a big kit for most hikers/climbers/skiers… this is well suited for military/hunting/fishing or as part of your vehicle/home emergency preparedness plan.

Weight– Less than a pound and can be even lighter if you leave the book at home.

Group Size– Listed as “1 person” this is where I feel AMK is underselling the kit. This is definitely a “group sized” first aid kit in my opinion, suitable for 3-4 people for a few days.

Duration– Same as above, listed as 1-2 days I think this kit is suitable for up to week long trips (especially if you supplement it a little bit with personal first aid items).

Summary

This first aid kit is specifically designed to attach to “MOLLE” type packs making it great for those who already use these style of packs (mostly military/law enforcement and some hunting/fishing enthusiasts). It is probably not the right choice for ultra-light hikers, climbers, trail runners, etc (no worries I have a couple other models to review soon more geared to that user-group). There is plenty of extra room in the ballistic pouch to add your own additional items (mine would be SAM Splint, EpiPen, extra headlamp, a couple glow sticks, and a bottle of iodine). If you are already a MOLLE user or looking for a solid kit to add to the “go bag” this is a good place to start!

Purchase: You can find the Adventure Medical Kit’s MOLLE Bag Trauma Kit 1.0 at here at Cabela’s.

A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above support the content created here at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

Space Available Wilderness Navigation Courses!

Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target .4 miles through dense forest.

I’ve partnered with the Appalachian Mountain Club for years to teach my own custom 8 hour Wilderness Navigation course and one of the three scheduled courses are sold out but there are some spots available for the June 19th and Sept 25th courses. You can see more details and reserve you spot at one of these two links:

June 19th

https://activities.outdoors.org/search/index.cfm/action/details/id/126518

September 25th

https://activities.outdoors.org/search/index.cfm/action/details/id/124874

I also offer this course locally on a private basis through partnership with Northeast Mountaineering. Rates for that can be found here:

http://www.nemountaineering.com/courses/wilderness-navigation/

I also can travel outside my local area to offer this curriculum to high school and college outing clubs. Just send me an inquiry at nealpinestart at gmail dot com (or use the contact form on my “about page”) for details.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Gear Review: Epic Water Filters Outdoor Nalgene Bottle

Over the last few months I’ve been using the Epic Water Filters Outdoor OG Woodsman water bottle and I’m ready to share my thoughts on it. Basically this is a traditional 32 ounce Nalgene wide-mouth water bottle with a super convenient and effective internal water filter.

This system could not be any easier to use. Simply remove the lid with the attached tube and filter, fill the bottle with water whether from faucet or stream, put the lid back on, flip up the mouthpiece, and drink! The water flows through the filter and tube with little effort on the part of the drinker.

The lid attachment point is robust, far stronger than the flimsy attachments that often break on traditional Nalgene bottles. The included Nite Ize steel carabiner allows easy attaching to the outside of the backpack if you prefer that style of carry.

Here’s a short YouTube video I made about this bottle:

Summary/Who is this for?

Who doesn’t need a water-bottle and safe drinking water? This is a much more environmentally friendly and cheaper option than buying bottled water. Perfect as a daily use bottle for work and the gym I also consider it part of our emergency preparedness kit. Hiking, back-packing, rafting, hunting and fishing are all sports where a water-bottle and ability to treat water is a must. This bottle combines the two in a simple and effective way and has now become a part of my everyday kit. This would also make a great gift for any outdoorsy person in your life and has therefore earned a spot in my upcoming Holiday Gift Guide!

For a complete list of everything the included Outdoor Filter removes you can review this PDF.

Purchase direct from Epic Water Filters

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

How to Prepare for a Winter Hike in the White Mountains

Winter Hiking Tips White Mountains

A quick look at hiking forums online confirms what I am expecting… unprecedented new winter hikers will be visiting the White Mountains this winter. In order to help these newcomers more safely enter the sport of winter hiking I’ve compiled a list of resources and advice below.

Weather

Likely the single most over-looked piece of information prior for a first winter hike is obtaining an accurate regionally specific weather forecast. If you are planning a winter hike in the White Mountains you should consult the Higher Summits Forecast for a few days before your planned hike and the morning of! Things change fast in the mountains and the forecast is published around 4am which should be in time for you to get an accurate update before you leave the car.

Gear

The second most likely mistake to make is not bringing the right equipment. Every one on the hike should at a minimum carry “The Ten Essentials“. I’ll list some of my personal recommendations below and add some opinions/advice.

Cell Phone– While this one isn’t officially on the list it should be. The mistake is thinking this can replace any of the other 10 essential items. You should not rely on having service or any battery life left. A mapping app does not replace a physical map. The phone’s flashlight does not replace a real headlamp. Cell phones are susceptible to cold weather, so they should be kept warm, inside a chest or thigh pocket. Most importantly, leave the car with a fully charged phone and immediately put the phone on AIRPLANE mode! While on airplane mode you can still take pictures and use the phone’s GPS chip to track your hike if you are using pre-downloaded mapping apps. If you are not on airplane mode your battery we die quickly as your phone searches for a signal in out of service areas.

Personal Locator Beacon– With cell phone service not guaranteed many experienced hikers are choosing to invest in a personal locator beacon (PLB). While a bit expensive (what insurance isn’t) a PLB works through a satellite network so you can request help, or let worried family know you are just running a little late, from virtually anywhere. The best kind of PLB’s allow for two way communication and custom messaging. It’s much easier for search and rescue to respond when we have a message about what the actual emergency is. One of the most popular models on the market that can do that right now is the Garmin InReach Mini.

Headlamp– You might think you can finish the hike before dark but everyone in the group should carry their own headlamp. For serious winter hiking I like headlamps that can really throw some light and perform well in the cold, like the Petzl Swift RL Headlamp. A more budget friendly option would be the Petzl Actik Headlamp. I actually stuff a Petzl Zipka Headlamp into my first aid kit as a back-up headlamp for when someone forgets theirs. I also use lithium batteries in all my headlamps for long life and excellent cold weather performance.

Map– The AMC publishes 6 great maps that cover the entire White Mountain National Forest. You could also learn how to make your own custom maps for free on a website like CalTopo.com, if you have your own quality color printer (or have UPS Store/Staples print them for you). Do not solely rely on your cell phone app to keep you from getting lost. Battery life can quickly drain in cold temps and we do reach temperatures below the operating range of the phone display’s.

Compass– Figuring out direction is the most basic part of wilderness navigation and there is no better way to do that than to use a compass. A solid basic model is the Suunto A-30L Compass. My personal all-time favorite professional grade compass is the Suunto MC-2 Pro Compass. Don’t know how to use a map & compass together to properly navigate? Take a quality Wilderness Navigation Course and/or get a good book on the topic!

First Aid Kit– There are lots of commercial first aid kits of various sizes and quality. For the last two decades I’ve started with the Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight and Watertight Series, the .7 size, and supplemented it a little. I’m also happy with a new My Medic Solo First Aid Kit I’ve started carrying. Any first aid kit I grab I usually stuff some extra medications in it, a spare Petzl Zipka Headlamp, a small knife, a fire-starter, and some chemical hand warmers.

The rest of the list includes; extra clothes, food, water, sun protection, etc.

Timing

Many rescues, accidents, and near misses share something in common… late start times. Darkness comes quick in the winter months so an early start increases your overall safety and leave wider margins for unexpected mishaps. Many experienced winter hikers prefer to hit the trail right at dawn. Starting a 4000 footer at 11am is riskier than starting a 4000 footer at 7am.

Knowing when to turn back

One of the hardest skills to develop as a new winter hiker is determining when to turn it around and head back towards safety. We want to be challenged and meet success on our hiking trips but we must be careful to always balance the delicate risk vs reward scale. Many books and articles have been written on the topic of lost life in the Presidential Range and greater White Mountain Region. You can learn from these tragedies and remember to stay humble… we are all prone to making mistakes. Some books on the topic worth checking out:

Not Without Peril

Where You’ll Find Me <- my short blog post about this event is here

The Last Traverse <- currently reading to review

Guided Instruction

For many the best way to get into winter hiking is to do so with people who are already experienced at winter hiking. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a very long history of helping people learn to recreate in the mountains safely and responsibly. They have tons of courses and guided hikes designed for the aspiring new winter hiker.

If you’re goal is to travel above treeline in the winter there are a host of well established guide services that offer quality programs and can rent you the specialized equipment you might not want to purchase yet as you’re just dipping your toes into the sport of winter hiking (like plastic mountaineering boots, crampons, mountaineering axe, etc). Better yet their guides will teach you how to properly pack, adjust layers during the day, walk with crampons on, self arrest, with an axe, etc).

Here’s is a list of some of the most known companies that run trips in the White Mountains;

Northeast Mountaineering <- disclaimer I work for this company

EMS Schools

International Mountain Climbing School

Ragged Mountain Guides

Synnott Mountain Guides

Redline Guiding

Chauvin Guides

Acadia Mountain Guides

REI Adventures

(if you are a guide service that leads winter hikes in the White Mountains and were not included in the above list please contact me to be added)

Get Educated

Other than the knowledge you can gain from the above guided experiences there are two skills every hiker should obtain early on in their hiking career, Wilderness Navigation Skills and Wilderness First Aid Skills. While you can learn some of these skills from sources like YouTube nothing beats hands on training with quality instructors.

More Info

Check out the Hike Safe website. It has great information to help you plan your hike including “The Code“. Also please consider purchasing a Hike Safe Card from New Hampshire Fish and Game. This purchase adds crucial funding to a very tight budget for search and rescue in NH and might help you avoid incurring the cost of a rescue should you need one.

From NHFG website:

It is important to note that people may still be liable for response expenses, if they are deemed to be reckless or to have intentionally created a situation requiring an emergency response.

Summary

Winter hiking is an amazing sport and one I have enjoyed for over thirty years. It can be magical, beautiful, spiritual, exhilarating, and grandiose. It can also go from a fun outing to dangerous and deadly quite quickly. My best advice is to start off slow, read some books or articles on it, seek advice from quality outdoor retailers, join a hiking group, start with smaller hikes and save Mount Washington or the Franconia Ridge for when you’ve got some experience under your belt. Maybe hire a guide or instructor and take a formalized course. Most importantly though… please come home at the end of your hike.

Winter Hiking Tips White Mountains
The author enjoying a cold day up on Mount Washington a few winters ago

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. If you make a purchase through one of them the author receives a small commission at no additional cost to you. The author is also a guide who works for Northeast Mountaineering, which was listed alongside other guide services in the area. You are responsible for your own safety. The use of any information in this post is at your own risk.

Gear Review- Rocky Talkies

Communication is crucial to safe backcountry travel, and nothing helps improve communication than a quality set of radios. This past summer I received a new pair of Rocky Talkies to review and after 6 months of hard use I’m ready to share my thoughts on them!

Durable

Right out of the box I could feel how durable these radios are. First there is the shatterproof front screen that is transparent for the LED display. Then there is the removable rubberized case for all-around drop protection. The case fits so snugly I didn’t even realize it was removable until I really started to dig into the radio after months of use. There isn’t much reason to remove the case unless you’re carrying spare batteries (more on battery life later).

Rocky Talkie Review

In addition to having all this drop protection the radio comes with one of the most robust tether systems I’ve ever seen on a radio. A full strength Mammut Wall Light carabiner attaches the radio to my shoulder strap (or on my harness gear loop when not wearing a pack), and a metal snap-link auto retracting tether acts as a solid back-up and allows the radio to easily stay in reach.

Rocky Talkie Review
Photo by Kirsten Gehl

For water resistance the radios carry an IP56 rating, meaning they are splash-proof and snow-proof but should not be fully submerged. I’ve noticed no effect after having my pair routinely exposed to heavy rain or waterfall spray while guiding waterfall rappelling trips all summer so I have a fair amount of confidence in this level of resistance.

Clarity

The second feature that caught my attention was during my very first test run. I was standing at the top of a 200 foot waterfall and my co-guide was at the bottom as we prepared to send our guests down the rappel we had set up. I called him to make sure we were good-to-go and his response came back clearer than any radio, including some of the expensive and bigger radios I have been issued for search & rescue. The audio quality of these little hand-held radios far exceeds any of the other radios I have tested. It almost doesn’t sound like a radio, and sounds more like a 5 bar LTE connection with a modern smartphone!

Rocky Talkies Review

Simplicity

There are only five buttons, which makes this radio incredibly easy to use right out of the box. No need for programming, though you can use advanced features to add privacy codes. A power button, channel flipper, push-to-talk, and volume up and down. So simple! With these buttons you are able to scan all channels, lock and un-lock the radio, change between high and low power, change channel, change privacy codes (CT, DCS), and check battery life.

Range

This was one of the hardest features for me to truly test as I am almost never that far from my clients or partners. Alpine rock climbing in Huntington Ravine we are always within 60 meters of each other. This winter back-country skiing that distance can increase to a maximum of a half mile… still way within the suggested range. So I’ll share the claims and some of the great info Rocky Talkie has released to help address this popular question.

This is a 2-watt radio… the strongest watt option available that doesn’t require a license to transmit on. The antennae is fixed, which is something I like as other radio models I’ve used have removable antennas that often have been loose (and once almost lost).

Rocky Talkies Review
Image from rockytalkie.com

Rocky Talkie makes these range claims:

Line-of-sight: 25+ miles
Mountains: 1 to 5 miles
Forest/Hills: 0.5 to 3 miles
City: Up to 1 mile

Rocky Talkies Review
Image from rockytalkies.com

To further illustrate how the range of these radios, and many radios in general, are effected by the terrain they are being used in they published this excellent blog post addressing this topic.

Battery Life

I found the battery life to be substantial, especially for such a small radio. My informal testing showed the battery would last for over 12 days of use while guiding both waterfall rappelling and rock climbing trips. These were 5 to 8 hour long trips were radio use was light. Based on that I would expect I could easily get 3-5 cold backcountry ski tours in before needing to charge. It charges with a USB-C to USB-a cable (included).

Some more info on battery life from the manufacturer:

The Rocky Talkie has a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 1550 mAhrs. Battery life is dependent on how frequently the radios send and receive signals. With normal usage, the battery can be expected to last 3-5 days (assuming the radio is used 8hrs/day). The battery will last over 120 hrs when in standby mode (the radio is on but not transmitting or receiving signals). The battery life was tested in high power mode (2 Watts), so you can expect a slightly longer battery life on low power mode (.5 Watt).

Dedication to Rescue Teams

Rocky Talkie has pledged to donate $2 of every radio sold to search and rescue teams. They are giving $10,000 every year through an annual award and through a grant program. That kind of support from a manufacturer is really appreciated!

Summary

Rocky Talkies Review

For under 5 ounces this might be one of the best things you could add to your outdoor kit when it comes to overall team safety. The rugged feel of these radios inspire confidence in their longevity. The crystal clear audio instills confidence that the message I am sending or receiving will be understood. While there are a lot of handhelds on the market these days, you’d be hard pressed to find many other options that were obviously designed for with the climber and skier in mind!

Video

Purchase

As I finish this review I see that they are currently sold out… not surprised as I’ve watched outfitters and rescue teams across the country snap these up. The guide service I work for, Northeast Mountaineering, has purchased a fleet of 10 for our guides to use this winter! They should be back in-stock by early November, so you can subscribe to their email for notification of the restock here.

10/15/20 UPDATE! They are back in stock!

Purchase Here

DISCOUNT!

Use “AlpineStart10” when checking out to get 10% off!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Media samples were provided for purpose of review.

Trip Report: Mt Jackson 7/21/20 (Alex’s 1st 4K, Arcophobia and Pooping in the Woods)

Yesterday my son Alex (age 8) and his best friend Alden (age 9) completed their first 4000 footer climb in the White Mountains. We have set a soft goal for them to complete the 48 4000 Footers by the time they enter high school. I originally got into blogging years ago when I started Adventure With Alex to share trip suggestions and tips on hiking with infants and toddlers. When Alex was too big to carry up mountains I suspended that blog to focus more on Northeast Alpine Start. Now that he is embarking on this endeavor we will share our trip reports and lessons learned here. Our hope is to help others on similar paths learn from our successes and our mistakes as we work on this challenge together. So without further ado here is my report on our first 4k and some of the challenges we needed to manage, like pooping in the woods and arcophobia (fear of heights), and how we managed both.


July 21st, 2020 Mt Jackson (Elevation 4’052)

Around 9 am we pulled into the AMC Highland Center for last minute use of facilities. Everyone was encouraged to try and “go” even if they didn’t feel they needed to. Alex would later share he was hesitant to use the public bathroom after a few months of exercising increased awareness due to COVID. By 9:20 we were on the Webster-Jackson trail.

Hiking the 4000 Footers
Alden at Alex at 9:21 am at the Webster-Jackson Trailhead, the first NH White Mountain 4,000 footer challenge begins!

We passed the Elephant Head Spur trail and minutes later Alex started to complain about stomach pain. I let him know it could be early hike “nerves” since he was questioning his ability to climb a bigger mountain (his previous biggest hike was Mount Chocurua via Champney Falls Trail), or he might need to make a BM. He decided to push on.

By the time we reached the short side path to Bugle Cliff he told me he had to go. We found a bit of privacy about 200 feet from the trail and I coached him on the methods we use for handling this necessity of nature. Despite feeling like he had to go fear of someone seeing him prevented him from success and he decided to get back to hiking. He reported the stomach pain had subsided a bit, so maybe it was just nerves.

When we reached Flume Cascade Brook the discomfort was back and he wanted to try again. We again found some privacy 200 feet from the trail and brook and had another failed attempt to have a “movement”. Back on the trail we continued up to the Webster/Jackson split, and took the Jackson branch.

Hiking the 4000 Footers
Feeling pretty good at 11:07 am at the Webster-Jackson branch split

Hiking the 4000 Footers
On the Jackson Branch Trail, 11:10 am

About a mile from the split the trail steepens and we were faced with the second big challenge of our trip.

My wife has pretty acute arcophobia (fear of heights). The AMC White Mountain Guidebook describes this section of trail as “ascends steep ledges, with several fairly difficult scrambles”. This would be considered “Class 2” terrain by the Sierra Clubs hiking classification system (occasional use of hands necessary). The boys and our dog Jack were handling the scrambles with just a bit of coaching and spotting. My wife Michelle though was quickly experiencing a lot of emotional stress as a result of her arcophobia.

I could see in her face and by her body positioning she was stressed. What might feel like casual scrambling for many was something very different for her. I tried to offer some help, but I also knew she sometimes does not like me talking to her while she figures out how to make progress. Only 100 feet from the summit she was ready to quit, close to tears, and terrified of the prospect of having to come back down this way. My son and I encouraged her to finish the next 100 feet with us as there might be an easier way back down.

Hiking the 4000 Footers
Michelle and Alden negotiating the final slab moves before reaching the summit. The steeper scrambles on the Jackson branch trail are just below this point and out of view.

On the summit the celebration waited while both Michelle and Alex rested. Alex was a bit distraught as he knew his mother had been scared on the last section. After some hugs and talking we ate some lunch and I consulted the map. It was 12:50 pm. It had taken us 3 and a half hours to summit against a “book time” of 2:25. That extra hour was due to two lengthy attempts at having a BM, and multiple more small breaks that are not part of my usual hiking pace. For future reference I’m noting that we averaged a “Munter Rate*” of 3.

Hiking the 4000 Footers
Resting on the summit of Mt. Jackson having made it up the final scrambles

*Munter Rate is an amazing way of estimating hiking time. For more info check out this article or download this app that I use!


Hiking the 4000 Footers
Summit photo just before descending

While the shortest way back to the trail head is back down the Jackson branch, I knew my wife would really struggle with some of the “difficult scrambles” she had made it up. I looked closely at the contour lines under the Webster Cliff Trail and the Webster branch. They were not as close as the contour lines under the Jackson branch, which meant it should be a less steep option. This would add a mile to our trip, but likely be less of a down-scramble than the Jackson branch. As a group we discussed this option and reached consensus that we should add this mileage, and likely an hour to our day, if it meant less technical.

Hiking the 4000 Footers
Our route with directional arrows added

We left the summit of Jackson at 1:12 pm and started down the Webster Cliff Trail. Soon after leaving the summit we reached a bit of a scramble, but it was not as bad as the scrambles at the end of the Jackson branch. We slowly negotiated it then hit the relatively easy walking ridge that connects over to Mt Webster. A mother Quail and two of her chicks held us up for a moment while they sat in the middle of the trail. Just before reaching the Webster branch trail junction Alex told me it was time, he had to go.

Hiking the 4000 Footers
A nice section of walking, 2:20 pm

We made our way off trail to a secluded spot. With some effort Alex was finally able to move his bowels. We buried his waste and packed out the used wipes in a Ziploc and rejoined Michelle, Alden, and Jack on the trail. Relieved to not have stomach pain anymore we ate some candy and started down the Webster branch happy to be heading in the direction of the trail head now.

At 3:50 we reached the beautiful cascade and pool that is part of Silver Cascade Brook. I couldn’t resist a quick swim and jumped in. The water was cold and crisp and while I would be hiking the rest of the way in soaked shorts and trail shoes it was 100% worth it.

Hiking the 4000 Footers
A waterfall and pool along Silver Cascade Brook, 3:50 pm

The rest of the way out was a bit slow going. Michelle’s right knee was hurting, feeling worse than her left knee that she injured a few years ago. This was her first significant hike in a few years and we both regretted not grabbing any of the pairs of trekking poles we had sitting at home. We will not forget them next time!

As we closed in on 8 hours of hiking I was amazed at how well the boys were doing with the final “slog” part of the day. Their conversations about Fortnite and YouTube had them laughing and giggling for the last couple miles. Alden would often check on Michelle as she was being extra cautious for the last bit of trail. We reached the parking lot at 5:40 pm, had a round of high-fives, and headed straight for ice cream.

Lessons Learned (What would I do differently next time?)

  • Earlier start time. A typical Munter rate of 4 would have this round trip loop take 4.5-5 hours (close to book time). Assuming a slower rate of 3 would get us closer in our planning to the actual 8 hours and 20 minutes that it took. I would prefer to hit the trail closer to 7 am.
  • More encouragement to have a BM before hitting the trail. Kids can be very shy about doing this in the woods, so talking about it before hand can help make them more comfortable.
  • Pack a trowel… burying waste without one is not an easy task.
  • Trekking poles for Michelle on every hike
  • Pure water instead of hydration mix for the kids, both kids felt regular water would have been better on nervous stomachs.
  • Dog food for Jack… we remembered snacks for him but he didn’t get his breakfast in the morning so was probably really really hungry. We will be buying him a dog pack soon, any suggestions?

Hiking the 4000 Footers
Near the end of the hike, one tired (and muddy) Jack. Pic courtesy of Michelle

Summary

Both boys were really proud of their accomplishment. The idea that there are 47 more of these mountains to attempt felt slightly overwhelming. We decided we will also start working on the “52 with a View” list so that we can have some lighter days mixed in with the big days. Alex has already climbed Mount Willard, Potash Mountain, and Mount Chocorua from that list.

Coming soon we will be sharing our gear lists for these climbs and how we tweak what we are carrying. Stay tuned!

View the Garmin Connect GPS Activity HERE

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links support this blog.

Climbing in the Age of Covid-19

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus


I pulled into the parking lot below Whitehorse Ledge minutes before Bob pulled in. This was my first time coming back to climbing since an injury at the beginning of March followed by an on-going pandemic that generated stay at home orders and strong social pressure to not partake in riskier activities while the local medical centers braced for over-whelming traffic and struggled with sourcing enough PPE and ventilators if things got as bad as they might.

It had been a long and sometimes difficult two months. First, recovering from a painful injury that left me unable to do much more than walk slowly on flat ground. Second, once I felt like I might be able to turn a ski, deciding alpine Spring skiing would have to wait for 2021.

So it should go without saying I was excited to be tying in with one of my longest lifetime friends and climbing partners but it wasn’t without a little trepidation. My family had kept our circle very small and tight and a couple hours on a cliff with Bob was definitely a cautious step forward that I hoped would bring us more and more to normalcy as things evolve with the pandemic.



We had talked about how we would protect each other and manage not just our climbing risk but the risk of spreading a virus that has managed to bring the country to its knees with its ease of transmission combined with how many potential asymptomatic carriers could unknowingly start an outbreak.

When Bob got out of his truck we went without the typical firm handshake or bro hug while gearing up. My rope, his rack. We both used our own hand-sanitizer before shouldering our backpacks and hiking up to the cliff. We walked, almost without realizing it, about ten feet apart instead of shoulder to shoulder like we’d done for hundreds of days of climbing together.

I stacked the rope while Bob racked up slightly further away than normal. We decided Bob would lead the 9 pitch mellow slab route for a few reasons. He had been out climbing a few times already and was feeling pretty good. I didn’t know how I was feeling on rock post-injury and having such a long break from climbing. We also wanted to get back home to our families early and this route definitely climbs faster when not swapping leads. Perhaps I also thought this would mean less handling of gear… most of the pitches were run out slab climbing so I was only cleaning 4 or 5 pieces of protection per pitch, mostly just quick-draws.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
Bob starts up pitch 2 of the Cormier-Magness route

We reminded each other that no gear should go into our mouths. This is a natural habit for climbers when cleaning and leading climbs and a habit we wanted to be conscious to avoid. At each anchor I clove-hitched myself in a bit longer than normal, finding it easy to keep about 6 feet between us. Instead of directly handing Bob his gear back I would long-reach over and clip it to his end of the rope. We both reminded each other not to touch our faces.

At the third anchor I donned my disposable face-mask I was carrying. While I might believe both Bob and I are not spreading this virus we can’t be 100% certain at this point, neither of us have been tested for antibodies and even if we had been the jury is still out on exactly what any of those results would truly mean in terms of both immunity and potential to spread. The main reason I wanted to don the mask was to put myself into my potential clients shoes if I end up going back to work this summer.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
At the “smile” belay after linking into Beginner’s Route en-route to Standard Route Finish, a great-link up Bob suggested we do

Current CDC guidelines recommend masks or face coverings if you can’t stay at least 6 feet away from people. I’ve sat through a number of great webinars hosted by the American Alpine Club, The Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guide Association about how climbers and guides should move forward during this pandemic. Both the company I guide for, Northeast Mountaineering, and most guide services I know who are starting to operate again, will be requiring some type of face covering when social distancing is not possible (essentially at belay’s, fitting harnesses, etc).



Two hours after starting up the face we reached the top. I laid what gear I had cleaned from the last pitch on the ground for Bob to collect and stepped back to coil our rope. After stuffing the rope in my backpack and changing out of my climbing shoes we both used our hand-sanitizer again and started our hike back to the parking lot. We then jumped in our separate cars and drove a few minutes to the lower viewing area of Cathedral Ledge for a post climb beer (we brought our own) and to watch two parties getting after it on the cliff, one party on the Beast Flake and one on Camber, two of the cliffs classic hard routes. No one was on any of the easier trade routes.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
The view from the top of Whitehorse Ledge with Echo Lake below, Mount Kearsarge on the left, Cranmore Ski Mountain in the middle, the Green Hills Preserve to the right, and the beautiful Saco River Valley all around

After some great catching up and the cold refreshment we made tentative plans to start climbing together again once a week. We expressed gratitude to each other for an awesome morning of climbing and then parted ways. No high fives, no fist bumps, no bro hugs. Just a smile and a wave. When I got home I left my climbing gear and rope in the trunk of the car, changed my clothes, and showered, before hugging my kids. I waited a couple days before collecting my gear from the trunk and putting it back into my gear room. It felt good to be climbing again, even though I was doing things a bit differently than before.

Resources:

https://americanalpineclub.org/news/2020/5/1/climbing-in-the-covid-era

https://www.accessfund.org/open-gate-blog/climbing-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

https://amga.com/coronavirus-update/webinars-resources-members/

See you in the mountains (when they are local and mellow… for now),

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links support this blog

Wilderness Navigation Online Course May 9th! (New course May 24th)

Wilderness Navigation Online Course Map and Compass


In 2008 having been on a few search and rescue missions for lost hikers I looked around for a quality navigation course and couldn’t find one I thought was comprehensive and effective, so I decided to create my own curriculum. I’ve since taught this course over 50 times for organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club, Tin Mountain Conservation,  Eastern Mountain Sports Schools, Kennett High School Adult Education Series, Northeast Mountaineering, and for private high school outdoor programs like The Brooks School.

I’m excited to say I can now present the classroom portion of this course in an online live interactive format and I am announcing my first ever online Wilderness Navigation Course for Saturday, May 9th, from 9am-1pm EST. (NEW COURSE IS MAY 24th- invites have been sent to first 12 on waiting list)

So what will be covered in the course? Here’s a look at the curriculum:

Curriculum

Improvised (Survival) Navigation Techniques

Proper use of a Magnetic Compass

Reading Topographic Maps

Locating your position using terrain association

Locating your position using single-point resection

Location your position using triangulation

Navigating by altimeter

Navigating in a white-out

Creating accurate trip plans and estimating hiking time

A brief introduction to online mapping and smart phone app integration (this topic will be offered in detail in another online course soon!)


Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target .4 miles away through dense forest.

Course participants will also get a copy of the presentation for future reference and an invitation to connect to a private Facebook group to discuss any of the course content down the road as questions come up or information is forgotten.

For this first run I am limiting the class size to 10 students. (Class size increased to 12) If you are interested please read the next section carefully before registering!


Wilderness Navigation
Prior course participents learn how to use Terrain Association to located their position then confirm their beliefs with solid Resection and Triangulation compass skills

Student Requirements

Experience: You do not need to have any previous training or experience with navigation, reading maps, or using a compass. While this is an entry level course previous courses have shown me that even self described “experts” learn easier and better ways for performing some of these skills in this course.

Time Commitment: This course will run on Saturday May 9th from 9am-1pm EST. (New course is Sunday May 24th from 9am-1pm EST) You will need to be available during that time to fully participate.

Equipment: You will need a laptop or computer connected to the internet. While you could attend the course via a smartphone I think you will benefit from a full size screen. You will need a base plate style compass. I am a fan of these two models, the second one being my personal all time favorite compass and the one you will see me using throughout the course.

Suunto A-30L Compass

Suunto MC-2 USGS Mirror Compass <- my preferred compass

You will also need to be able to print three sheets of paper, two in color. There will be a single lesson worksheet and a color topographic PDF (both 8.5 x 11) emailed to you shortly after registering along with the invitation to the Zoom meeting. You will also receive instructions on how to print a local topographic map. Most of us have gotten familiar with Zoom over the last few weeks. If you haven’t attended a Zoom meeting yet do not worry, it is super easy and I’m happy to walk you through it 1 on 1 prior to the course so you are not stressed about that aspect!

Optional Equipment: A ruler or straight edge is handy but not required. A topographic map of your area can be helpful for a couple of the self-guided outdoor sessions.

There will be a couple self-guided outdoor sessions to keep us from sitting in a chair or staring at a computer screen for too long, so you will also need access to some “outside”… hopefully no one reading this is 20 levels down in a bunker right now.


How to Register/Tuition

If you meet all those requirements and would like to attend just fill out the short contact form below! I can answer any additional questions you might have and once I confirm I still have a spot available I will send a tuition ($50) request via PayPal or Venmo, your preference.

Cancellation Policy

If I need to cancel the course for any reason at any time a full refund will be made. If you need to cancel earlier than two weeks prior to the course for any reason a full refund will be made. If you need to cancel within two weeks of the course a 50% refund will be made. If you need to cancel within one week of the course no refund will be made.


I am really excited about my foray into online instruction. I love teaching adults the variety of mountain skills I’ve acquired over two decades of guiding people in the mountains and this is a method I’ve wanted to try for years! I have other courses in the works, perhaps the most requested from a lot of my avalanche course students, is a course focused on online mapping and modern smartphone integration. While I love using tech responsibly in the mountains you must acquire and practice the fundamental navigation skills if you don’t want to find yourself in a spot because your tech failed!

So that’s it! Let me know if would like to sign up by filling out the short contact form below! Also please share this with your outdoorsy friends who might be interested!

EDIT: 5/25 WOW! I’m humbled that this course SOLD OUT in less then 24 hours! Fear not I will schedule another one very soon! If the demand is there I could even offer this on a weekly basis. If you are interested in this course please fill out the form below and I will add you to the list and notify you when the next course is scheduled! (second course invites have been sent to first 12 on waiting list, feel free to join the waiting list using the form below to receive notifications of openings and new courses)

See you in the mountains (when we are back to traveling),

Northeast Alpine Start



Disclaimer: No course online or in person can guarantee your safety. You are solely responsible for any outcome resulting in following information or advice in this post or in this course. I strongly discourage any non-essential travel outside of your home while we are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Please stay local while practicing these skills. Affiliate links help support this blog. Thank you.

Staying Healthy While Staying Home

I thought I’d share what our family has been doing to stay healthy during these challenging days. I’m in no way an expert on nutrition and holistic living but I’ve noticed we’ve been doing some pretty positive things since the stay at home order.

Outside Time

staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
One hour a day of outside time

First is getting the whole family outside for a minimum of an hour every day. Following an injury at the start of March I haven’t been able to go on strenuous hikes so to be honest these short nature walks with the family have been great. We walk our dirt road neighborhood or drive a couple miles to a relative’s paved neighborhood so the kids can ride their bikes. We’ve also started going to the Fryeburg Fairgrounds once a week which is a fantastic spot to ride bikes and play some frisbee as it has so much open space the dozen or so families there are easily able to stay distanced. One thing I’ve changed is I’ve started carrying my first aid kit 100% of the time, even for just short walks. While we are practicing very low risk outdoor activities we should still be prepared to handle unexpected scrapes and minor injuries!


staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
Family bike riding (and dog running) at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds

PSA: The White Mountain National Forest is for the most part, “closed”. Details here.

staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
Staying Low and Local… short nature walks near home are the best option right now

Healthy Eating

I used to think my career as a climbing guide would keep me active enough I could eat whatever I wanted as I was getting plenty of exercise. Having crested 40 reality has caught up and following a period of inactivity post injury I’ve really cut out some of my favorite indulgences. We, like many, are cooking more at home then we ever have. We do take-out about once every two weeks both to give us a break from cooking and to support some of our favorite local restaurants.

staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
Lobster salad inside an avocado with a little bit of our family’s favorite seasoning, thanks for this idea Mom!

The one food we’ve been eating a ton of lately is avocado. It’s on toast for breakfast in the morning and often in what ever veggie or turkey sandwich we make for lunch. I have to thank Absolutely Mindy for the tip about “Everything But The Bagel” seasoning… It is amazing on avocado and eggs! Most recently it was the serving vessel for some lobster salad we made with left-over lobster meat.

Nutritional Supplements

We’ve been drinking a lot of orange juice and taking our daily vitamins. I also put in for another order of Gnarly Nutrition, this time adding the Performance Greens to our pantry. This stuff is so delicious and packed with so much goodness! You can see my full review of a lot of their product line here!

staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
A scoop of this in a fruit smoothie takes it up a notch!

Culling clothes, toys, and gear

We’ve spent a lot of time going through the kids clothes, toys, and gear. We’ve been able to donate outgrown clothes and toys through our local COVID-19 barter/trade Facebook group and it’s been great freeing up space and decluttering our living spaces.

So that’s it! Anything you’ve been doing more (or less) of during these strange days?

Stay healthy and see you in the mountains when they re-open!

Northeast Alpine Start

 

Affiliate links help support this blog.