After a long snowy winter many climbers and hikers are chomping at the chance to get on some dry Spring rock and trail. Unfortunately right around this time many insects are chomping at the chance to chomp on us! Namely:
In this post I’d like to share some of my favorite strategies to keep the dreaded “bug season” from keeping you from enjoying what it is you do in the mountains! To combat these four little buggers we will use a four-pronged approach! First…
Step 1: The first line of defense should be clothing. Everyone knows long-sleeves and pants are preferable for bug protection but they seem so hot when the temperature and humidity is high right? Well some long-sleeve options actually feel cooler than going shirtless! Here’s my current favorite tops when dealing with an onslaught of bloodthirsty insects and warm temps!
I have a detailed review of this staple of my outdoor clothing kit here, but the gist of it is every New England climber (and possibly every climber/traveler everywhere) should own this piece. Solid UPF protection and bug protection in a super comfy hoodie. Win win win.
Step 2: I’ve used this stuff on my clothes from Peru to Okinawa to my home-state of New Hampshire with a season blatantly called “bug season” and I’m 100% convinced it is the most effective and safe option for true bug protection. You can Goggle all the research in the world on this product but I’ll just leave the highlights here:
It is for clothing/gear/shoes… not skin.
It dries in a few hours after treating and is then 100% safe to humans, no “leaching” into your sweaty skin
It lasts for weeks even with washing (I only treat my “bug season” outfit once a year each Spring)
While safe for almost all mammals it is not safe with cats for some reason. Do not spray your cat with this.
Pro-tip: treat your approach/hiking shoes and you will likely never find a tick crawling up your leg unless the grass you walk through is higher than your shoes. Treat your hiking pants and shirt and wade through fields of ticks with little worry. You can pick up a bottle cheap on Amazon here.
Step 3: Generally bug season in the US is from early April to early May but in the White Mountains it’s a usually a little later, and Spring we’ve had some prolonged late season cold and snow that has pushed it back a bit further than normal. I’ve only seen two ticks on my so far and haven’t seen my first mosquito yet, while southern NH is probably getting into the thick of it as I type this. Also biting things are most active an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. Climbing mid-day might help reduce bloody interactions.
Step 4: I have long carried a small 4 oz bottle of DEET as a last resort when all the above measures fall to protect from an onslaught of thirsty flying things. Both products are effective, but Picaridin is showing more appeal as it is definitely less toxic to both us and the plastics/nylon we come in contact with. Regardless of which you use, I recommend trying the first three steps on my list and carrying a small bottle of this as a “last resort”.
Protecting yourself from biting insects and the diseases they can carry should be more thought-out then just stepping out of the car and soaking yourself (and your kids) with an aerosol can of bug dope. Hopefully some of these tips can help keep you bite-free while you are out doing what you do!
Even though we are into our fourth week of Spring, Winter is certainly holding on here in Mount Washington Valley where we received 4 inches of snow just yesterday! While I haven’t hung up the skis or ice tools yet (planning an alpine ski tour for this Thursday) I figured I better get my season recap out there because before we know it Spring will actually arrive and I’ve got a busy line-up of early season rock climbing objectives and gear reviews to work on!
This winter started off in epic fashion with over 50 inches of snow recorded on the summit of Mount Washington in October! This set us up for some great early ice season conditions and I kicked my season off on November 15th with the first of the season ascent of Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs.
After one more trip up Standard and a bit of a thrutch up an early season Dracula I found myself climbing the Black Dike three times in a month! All three times were memorable with the highlight being the third trip where I beat my own personal time on the route (90 minutes) and had the amazing opportunity of my friend Dave Dillon of Chase The Summit shooting the climb with his drone. I’ll cherish this footage forever Dave! Thank you!
November saw over 60 inches of snow on Mount Washington and in-hindsight I found myself wishing we had scheduled some early season avalanche courses, we definitely had the conditions to run a couple!
Our first avalanche course started on December 14th and our last one ended on March 31st. All in all Northeast Mountaineering had a record breaking 179 students take an AIARE course with me this winter! Taking my first avalanche course was such a pivotal moment in my life back in 2003 and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to help these participants get on a path of learning how to manage risk in our amazing snowy environments! I’m also grateful to have been able to work alongside Grant Price who was a fantastic co-facilitator and who I learned quite a bit from over the season. To all of my students this past winter, thank you!
There were two stand-out moments for me during the avalanche course season. The first was a complete failure in my own group management strategies that resulted in getting a student into a very uncomfortable and risky situation. I’d been teaching people how to look out for Human Factors and Heuristic Traps for over a decade and found myself anything but immune to their ability to cloud our judgement and steer us to make poor decisions. I shared some of this humbling tale in this post if you are interested in more details.
The second stand-out was triggering and getting carried in D2 size slab avalanche while guiding a back-country ski trip into Tuckerman Ravine. Despite fearing a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking I shared that experience in this post.
Reviews and Giveaways
Through-out the winter I got to review some really awesome gear including the new Petzl Nomics, the Arc’teryx FL-365 harness, and the BightGear Caldera Parka. I have a few more reviews almost finished that will post soon. The review section of the blog has definitely grown over the last two years! I’ve got quite a few giveaways planned for this summer and every footwear review will have a chance to wind some of that amazing Friendly Foot! Let me know in the comments if there is something you would like me to review and I’ll try to get my hands on it!
Granite Backcountry Alliance
My only regret is I didn’t get to explore more of the Granite Backcountry Alliances glade projects! I got two runs in at the locals favorite Maple Villa Glade and one super fun trip off the Baldface Knob… the stuff GBA is doing is nothing short of incredible for the New England BC ski community… if you haven’t checked them out and considered contributing or volunteering please do so!
Course Suggestions for Spring
Even though mid-April is approaching I still have an ice climbing course booked for this upcoming weekend, and a back-country ski course on April 16th. Based on the current Higher Summits Forecast and the amount of snow we have on the ground it’s shaping up to be an EPIC alpine ski season (knock on wood). It will likely be pretty late when the Mount Washington Auto Road is able to open but as soon as it does I will be getting my annual season pass again… if we are lucky we will have a couple weeks of being able to access alpine skiing via the road through May!
All that said here’s a couple courses I teach you might consider to add some skills to your kit before the summer rock climbing season goes full swing!
Backcountry Skiing or Ski Mountaineering: Whether objective based (Gulf of Slides, Great Gulf, Monroe Brook) or skills based (crampon & axe use, route planning, protecting/rappeling with a rope) or a mix of both there is still a lot of snow up there and it is great to get on it while we can still ski all the way back to the car! Reach out to me if you’d like to plan something!
Wilderness Navigation– This 8 hour course covers a lot more than just map & compass skills. I start with Improvised “Survival” Navigation, then work up to advanced compass & map skills, and introduce modern web-based tools, and still leave time for a 3-4 hour field session! Check with me on availability before booking at the above link!
Self-Rescue for Recreational Rock Climbers– Can you escape a belay? Ascend a loaded rope to aid an injured lead climber? Create a counter-balance rappel and bring that injured lead climber back to the ground? That’s what we will learn in a one-day self-rescue course. We can run this course rain or shine, and if you want to follow more than single pitch routes you should acquire these skills! Contact me first to check on my availability then we can get you booked through Northeast Mountaineering at this link.
Other plans include growing my Tech Tips page… what do you want to see? Leave a comment below and if it’s a skill I can demonstrate I will! I’m also working on a webinar to share CalTopo/Avenza (smartphone trip-planning and navigational tools). I will likely offer this as a 2-3 hour course a couple nights in May/June. If that’s something you’d be into make sure you are subscribed!
Special shout out to Northeast Mountaineering for juggling all the crazy logistics of running a small but super busy guide service and avalanche course provider. Considering the amount of business that came through that little ole’ Bunkhouse in Jackson, NH things went incredibly smooth with only the most minor of hiccups along the way. Huge thanks as well to Ortovox for having me on their athlete team for another year, I am so honored to represent a small part of this amazing company! And stoked for another year with DPS Skis! I put so many miles on my DPS Tour 1 Wailer 99’s, and this was my first season with the Phantom Glide treatment… I will write a full post about that experience and have some video to share as well! Stay tuned for that. Finally thank you to Revo for supporting me with the best sunglasses and snow goggles I have ever worn. I didn’t know how quality lenses performed until I partnered with this company and I’m stoked to represent them all over the mountain!
Well I guess that’s pretty much it. It ain’t over yet but man it has been an AMAZING winter! Go enjoy a little bit more of winter… bug season will be here soon enough!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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I’m fortunate to be able to review about a half-dozen of the industry’s best belay jackets each winter. Chances are from December to April I’m spending 5-6 days a week climbing frozen waterfalls or teaching avalanche courses up on notoriously cold Mount Washington. This gives me a lot of field time to put these jackets through the ringer and form some opinions which I am happy to share with you to help you navigate the myriad of choices out there!
Some impressive numbers from BightGear that speak to this process:
WEAR TESTING BY THE NUMBERS
2016 – Over 1.2 Million vertical feet of wear testing by our guide team of primary fabrics used in 76 sample prototypes to build 19 different styles.
2017 – Reached over 48 million vertical feet of wear testing and use of 143 prototypes by our team of 60+ guides, and thousands of RMI climbers on Mt. Rainier.
2018 – On target to reach over 100 million vertical feet of testing with the launch of the Bight Test program on mountains and outdoor playgrounds around the world.
Pretty cool right? Having learned all this I was more than happy to receive the BightGear Caldera Down Parka for a demo. After a month of testing in a variety of conditions I feel I can fairly share my opinion on this piece. In the realm of down insulated belay parkas the Caldera easily competes with the best in class options out there! Let’s start with the most noticeable then finish with the minutiae.
How Warm Is It?
BightGear stuffed this parka with over 6 ounces of 850 fill power HyperDRY™ Goose Down. That’s a lot of high loft quality down, and the result is a parka that feels like a nice sleeping bag for your torso. By using more I-beam baffles in the construction of the parka (vs sewn through) BightGear completely eliminates cold-spots. The arms and hood feel just as lofty as the torso which I prefer in this “over all” type parka. I’ve worn this over my other layers down to -16 Fahrenheit while demoing snow pits at 4,400 feet on Mount Washington. Even after an hour of standing relatively still while teaching the basics of snow-pack evaluation I was kept toasty.
How Dry Is It?
The BightGear Caldera uses a silky 20D nylon rip-stop with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish. Most of the days I tested the parka were in temperatures well below those where I would encounter any liquid precipitation. I did expose it to a rather drippy ice climb a couple weeks ago and noticed water beads off as expected with a DWR finish. I also wore it over a soaked soft-shell jacket following a deluge of an ice climb and it dried me out quite quickly without feeling like it absorbed to much of the moisture. I’ve become a huge fan of the DWR treated down used in this parka as I believe regular down would quickly become a wet lump of non-insulating feathers under similar conditions.
How Light and Pack-able Is It?
BightGear lists the weight of a size large at 646 grams (22.8 ounces). My home scale weighed my large in at 640 grams (22.6 ounces). This is within an ounce of other similar style/priced options. It easily stuffs into my Hyperlight Mountain Gear waterproof stuff sack and if packing space is at a real premium I can use my extra small compression stuff sack to get this down to the size of a 32 ounce water bottle!
BightGear included a lot design choices to further make the Caldera one of the best down parkas I’ve ever tested. The hood fits perfectly over my climbing helmet and is well stuffed with down making it a comfortable place to retreat in the harshest conditions. The brushed tricot lining on the inside collar is super cozy when in “full turtle” mode. This same lining is in the well positioned hand warming front pockets. Articulated elbows make this jacket fit great over my other layers and the PowerStretch cuffs seal out cold and snow while playing in deep snow. There are also two stretchy inside stash pockets that can hold gloves or a water bottle.
It is clear that the BightGear Caldera Parka was designed by working mountain guides. It has everything you want in a big down “puffy” and nothing you don’t want. Of all the down parkas I have tested this one stands out as a top-pick for many reasons, not the least of which is the “half-sleeping bag” type feeling you get when you slip this on over your other layers. If you are looking to upgrade your belay jacket this one would be an excellent choice!
Exclusive 30% Off Discount!
I am super excited to be able to offer my readers a 30% off discount on ANY thing from BightGear’s Website! While I can not post the code publicly here all you need to do is shoot me a DM through Instagram, a PM through Facebook, or go old school and shoot me an email at email@example.com! This discount is only good until April 1st, 2019 so don’t delay!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for purpose of review.
Our little Hydroflask family is growing! It started with the orange 21 oz Standard Mouth Insulated Bottle that I bought about 5 or 6 years ago. This has served as my wife’s gym bottle and my “light cragging” water bottle quite well. I then bought my 40oz Tall Boy, which has carried everything from ice water for relaxing on the beach in the summer to hot mulled apple cider for Fall/Winter day hikes. A couple of years ago I picked up a first generation food flask (far left) which kept soups and chili’s hot while winter climbing on Mount Washington and ice climbing in Crawford Notch. Just recently Hydroflask sent me their updated version of the 12 oz Food Flask and a 16 oz Insulated Coffee Flask to review.
So what makes Hydroflask different from all the other water bottle/tumbler companies out there? Well that would be the TempShield™ double walled vacuum technology that keeps drinks hot or colder longer than the competition. I wanted to try to quantify this statement with a little informal testing. Granted this is not some “double blind” research but it illustrates the point. First test…
Keeping Hot… Hot
I had experienced it many times before finding my coffee or tea still piping hot 4-5 hours into a sub-zero climb on Mount Washington. More recently I’ve used the Food Flask to keep soup & chili hot for a mid-day hot lunch sans stove while ice climbing or back-country skiing. To illustrate this I added just boiled water to a room temperature 12 oz Food Flask.
I then placed this in my freezer at -10°F (-23°C) for about 4.5 hours.
Impressively the water temp was still quite hot. In real life practice you can get better results then this when using the Hydroflask for food or drink. First, you can “pre-heat” the container by filling it with boiled water while heating up your food or drink separately. Then dump the hot water and immediately put your hot drink/food in and seal the container. Second, the container gets even more insulation when carrying it in my backpack surrounded by puffy insulating layers of clothing. Finally, if it’s a hot meal like chili or soup I tend to not open it until I want to consume the whole container (lunch time). Having it open for only a few minutes in arctic temperatures and moderate winds will see stored heat quickly lost!
Keeping Cold… Cold
I have also discovered that this much insulation can keep my ice in solid form for multiple pours of a refreshing beverage while hitting our local little pond beach or a town music festival. It’s almost hard to believe how effective these can keep ice. For this informal experiment I packed the same room temperature 12 oz Food Flask with ice from our freezer, sealed it, and sat it on our kitchen table overnight. We are currently burning wood so our house is sitting around 70 degrees (yay shorts in the winter).
Around 1:30 pm the following day (19.5 hours later) I remembered I was doing the experiment, moved it to the kitchen counter, and opened it.
I’m confident that if I reran this for 24 hours there would still be some water in frozen form at the end of the 24 hours! So how does Hydroflask insulate so well? It comes down to their patented TempShield™ technology. I spare you the nitty gritty and just say that not all “double walled” constructions are created equal. If you are interested in some of the finer details you can read about it here.
Finally of note with this updated 12 oz Food Flask is the more rounded “pill shape” design and leak-proof design. This packs in my smaller ice climbing packs quite well and I haven’t had a single leak during over fifty miles of trail and thousands of feet of climbing.
I also have to say I love finding products that not only work well for my family but are made by companies committed to giving back, especially when it comes to our natural resources! Through “Parks For All” Hydroflask is currently providing over $110,000 in grants to help protect, restore, and provide access to various park projects. You can learn more here.
World Surf League Partnership
I’m not a surfer, but I have quite a few friends (and one kick ass niece) who is, so you surfer types can read up on what this is all about here.
Hydroflask stands behind their products with an excellent warranty. It’s not a “drop it off a thousand foot cliff get a new one” type warranty (I’m personally glad those types of warranties are becoming a thing of the past) but one that truly stands behind the craftsmanship yet maintains a slight bit of realistic expectation. You can read the full details here.
Disclaimer/Exclusive Reader Discount!
First off you should know of the 5 Hydroflask models I’ve talked about the updated 12 oz Food Flask and 16 oz Insulated Coffee Flask were provided by Hydroflask to review. The other three models pictured in the first pic were purchased with my own money. Getting a couple samples has not influenced my opinion on these items in any way!
Second, Hydroflask has already started offering free Holiday Shopping on all orders, no minimum purchase! You can find the daily code for free shipping at the top of Hydroflask website. Then you can also enter “ALPINESTART18” in the cart and get an extra 10% off your order (minimum order of $20). The free shipping and 10% off codes work together! I just tested it to buy myself a 16 oz Insulated Coffee Flask since the purple one they sent me works better for my wife!
A water bottle or coffee mug is such an essential for our daily lives. Once you start using a quality one from a company like Hydroflask you quickly realize that design matters. Whether replacing that old funky plastic gym bottle or realizing you can have hot soup 4000 feet up a winter climb without firing up the stove there is most definitely a Hydroflask model that would be a nice addition to your kit (or your friends & family’s kits). These make awesome holiday gifts and as such will be included in my 2018 Holiday Gift Guide coming out at the end of the month. Thanks for reading!
Spring in the White Mountains is here! After a long snowy winter many climbers and hikers are chomping at the chance to get on some dry rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and trail running. Unfortunately in a couple more weeks many insects will be chomping at the chance to chomp on us! Get your bug defense program up and running before “Black Fly Season” gets underway!
In this post I’d like to share some time tested strategies to keep the dreaded “bug season” from keeping you from enjoying what it is you do in the mountains. To combat these little buggers we will use a four-pronged approach! Clothing, Repellent, Timing, Location.
The first line of defense should be clothing. Everyone knows long-sleeves and pants are preferable for bug protection but they seem so hot when the temperature and humidity is high right? Some long-sleeve options actually feel cooler than going shirtless! Here’s my current favorite tops when dealing with an onslaught of bloodthirsty insects and warm temps!
These two pieces are super breathable and basically come with me on every adventure from April to September! For some lightweight breathable hiking and climbing pants check out the ExOfficio BugsAway Sol Cool Ampario Pants.
We will look at two layers of repellant. One for your clothing/gear and one for your skin. Without question the most effective insect repellent is permethrin.
Between wearing the proper clothing and treating it with Permethrin I rarely need to apply DEET to stay bite free but I do carry it as insurance during the worst feeding frenzies. A small application behind the ears and back of the neck can make leading a rock climb much more bare-able when those alpine gnats come out. Since I use it sparingly I tend to only pack the smallest of bottles like this great .5 ounce one from Sawyer. There are lots of size options for both spray and time-released lotions on Amazon.
Finally timing and location can help avoid the little nasties. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk so you could plan to be inside during those times. If you only have time to climb around dusk you could pick crags with consistent breezes. Some of my favorite destinations during the peak feeding season are Square Ledge in Pinkham Notch, Profile Cliff in Franconia Notch, Table Mountain off of Bear Notch Rd., and higher elevation stuff like Huntington Ravine (beware of those alpine gnats though). Avoid the low lying swampy areas during peak feeding times.
Pawtuckaway State Park, Stonehouse Pond, Longstack, lower Shell Pond, and even the North End of Cathedral Ledge can all be particularly nasty just before dusk during the peak feeding season. If you are walking through fields or tall grass on your hike out just assume you’ll pick up a few ticks and do a quick check at the car. I once skipped a tick check before driving home from a hike in Madison, NH and discovered 7 ticks crawling up my bare legs while driving (I wasn’t wearing my treated hiking shoes that day or wearing any repellent).
You can pick up most of the DEET and Permethrin products I suggested and support local businesses while in the White Mountains at these great shops!
Southern New England is already seeing the tick and mosquitoes appear which means we only have a week or two in the White Mountains before bug biting season starts for us. Now is the time to shore up your insect defense plan! To get your started you can enter to win a 3 oz bottle of Sawyer Premium Maxi DEET Insect Repellant. You can enter multiple ways through this link below!
While I’m not super excited about how commercialized our holidays have become I do get stoked on seeing big discounts on gear that I own and love. I subscribe to quite a few gear companies emails and I’m combing them all for the best upcoming sales on specific items I have either reviewed or would love to own. I will also be specific on what the actual discount offered is! None of the “up to x percent off”… I hope you find this list more personal than your average marketing email, and if you have any questions about any of my suggested products please let me know in the comments!
Have a great Holiday tomorrow and be sure to #optoutside on Black Friday! I will be standing by REI’s great initiative on Friday and am pledging to myself and family that I will be 100% “radio” silent (and outdoors). I will continue this with Part 2 and be sharing deals I find around Cyber Monday and Tech Tuesday so stay tuned and…
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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Today I finished a Wilderness Navigation Course I ran for the MWV Career and Technical Center adult education series. This was the first time I’ve run this 8 hour course as a multi-day course by having two 2 hour evening classroom sessions followed by a 4 hour field session. Despite a slight scheduling conflict within the marketing material the curriculum split up well in this format and we had a great course. I look forward to continuing to offer this course through this venue each season!
You can book this course privately or with a group of friends! Cost is determined by group size so the more involved the lower the cost! Details can be found here. Use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout for a chance to win a free guided adventure!