Monday, November 21, 2011

The Timex E-Altimeter, a Subaru for your wrist

(editors note: the above video is pretty much an exact representation of my life, with or without this watch).

For some time I'd been looking for a more elegant altimeter option, preferably one that was analog. Although digital watches have their purpose, I've always been fond of pure analog or analog/digital hybrid watches for casual wear. The problem with analog altimeters is they are far less functional than their digital brethren. My Suunto Vector keeps dead accurate altitude, logs total ascent and descent in the mountains down to one meter increments, has multiple alarms including altitude alarms, timers, a thermometer, a barometer, and many other features. Quite simply, no pure analog watch can do all that.

Suunto Vector on Lower Wolf Jaw.

However, some (if not all) people would argue the Vector is about as stylish as a big yellow blob with giant numbers cannot possibly be. While I'm not exactly on GQs best dressed list with my Kevin Arnold eqsue styling, even I can't help but feel a little strange sporting the giant yellow blob to work, and it definitely isn't an after hours watch. So I was looking for something a little more versatile, I guess you could say I was looking for a lifestyle watch with some functionality. You know, kinda like a Subaru complete with with some climbing and environmental activism stickers and a roof rack, but for your wrist!


Analog altimeter watches are hard to find and the only option on the market was the $400 St Moritz Topo, a nice looking watch and one that on a good sale day could be had for closer to a reasonable $200. Still, I wasn't in love with the St Moritz. Suunto also made a few more elegant looking digital watches with stainless or titanium cases that functioned similar to my Vector, but they were still digital watches and they were almost 2X the cost of my $200 Vector, though they offered the exact same functionality. Then Timex came out with it's stylish E-Instrumets analog series, and I couldn't help but notice the E-Altimeter (along with the other models, which would make for an awesome single watch if all the features could be combined).

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

The Timex E-Altimeter is a very basic but very good looking analog altimeter. As matter of fact, though Timex makes excellent functional watches, you wouldn't know it was a Timex if the name wasn't on it. It's substantially built with heft and size you'd expect from a quality time piece. The face is wonderful looking with great depth and separation. Often, finely designed watches on the Internet lose the 3 dimensional separation that makes them beautiful and easy to read in person, and this watch is no different. The E-Altimeter is designed in Germany, so it's definitely a step up from your typical mass produced Asian wrist pieces.

Of course, it being a Timex has it's advantage...PRICE! Any of the E-Instruments series can be found for under $150 via a little shopping. The E-Altimeter usually sells for around $130-200 retail, depending on color and band material. As a watch affectionado without the deep pockets of a watch affectionado, I have no reservations in saying that if a much more affluent name brand put it's label on this watch it could justify selling it for 3-5X Timex MSRP!


The E-Altimeter isn't laden with functionality, it will tell you your current altitude, your max altitude and your minimum altitude, and of course the time. It has no alarms, chronographs or any other useful features beyond a backlit Indiglo display. I guess if I could add one or two features to it I'd probably ask for a way to calculate total ascent. Perhaps a 4th button that would show total ascent as a reading on the altimeter. Beyond that a chronograph would be nice.


While it's certainly not going to replace my Suunto for keeping detailed track of vertical feet in the mountains, it's the type of watch you can transition from a hike to a nice dinner with without going, "oh man I forgot to take this thing off." Sure the Titanium Suunto could do equally well, but I've always looked at digital watches as childish in a formal setting. If you view digital differently, go with the metal Suunto (X-Lander or Observer) as an all around watch since it cost about the same as a plastic Suunto and a E-Altimeter combined. Suunto makes a few more elegant but less featured digital options (the Elementum series) that cost about 3X what the E-Altimeter cost, which in my opinion is a little too much for too little!

As far as tool versus toy, I consider my altimeter my most useful navigation tool in the mountains and on the water. While on trails I can pinpoint my position based on contour intervals intersecting with the trail, off trail it's even more essential for navigation and positioning. Because altimeters work by adjusting to barometric pressure it is also a tool for monitoring storms in the mountains or on the water. Suffice to say, I always feel uneasy when I don't have my altimeter with me.

Even an analog altimeter can be used to monitor the weather. If you are camped and the altitude continues to rise, the pressure is dropping. If the altitude falls, the pressure is rising. This alone or coupled with cloud formations, wind patterns and other factors can give you a really precise look at the weather forecast without any outside data.

Which leads to the next reason the E-Altimeter is so nice, since I can wear it to work on a Thursday or Friday (without looking ridiculous) I will assure myself of having an altimeter over the weekend. All too often I arrive at the trail head wearing my Seiko chronograph, which I then debate taking off and leaving in the car where it could be stolen, or leaving on even though I really don't need it and could damage it. Of course, while some argue you don’t really need to keep time in the wilderness, I disagree whole heartedly. Even a basic watch is useful for many things, including orienting yourself and assuring yourself time to find and set up camp.

Hands on I really like the Timex E-Altimeter, it is dead accurate in elevation due to the digital altimeter with analog readout, it looks stylish, it is extremely well built and detailed, and it's equally functional at a formal gathering as it is in the mountains!

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionMy only gripe with the black version I got, is that the brushed metal does show scratches quite easily. As a matter of fact, I scratched the metal pulling on plastic at the climbing gym, something I never would have expected. The glass face, however, seems as scratch resistant as my Seiko, which has taken quite a few direct hits over the years. If you are concerned about scratching it up, I’d recommend the silver versions, which should hide minor scratches a lot better than the black version.

Although the Timex E-Altimeter it is primarily a lifestyle type watch, I really like the versatility of it, especially when taking multifaceted vacations where part of the trip is going to be outdoors and the other part is going to be more mainstream or urban activities. And I'm sure every hiker or climber has had to take a trip to some location for a wedding, funeral, bachelor party, or job function that also happened to be a prime outdoors location, with this watch no more juggling two watches or forgetting to take off the ugly yellow blob when going from the mountains to something more formal!

(all images and video of Timex products via Timex)


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Whiteface Ski Slides, Bananas Gone Ape Poo

Ascending the lower slabs of Whiteface Ski Slide #3
Traversing across the upper section of the lower slabs of Whiteface Ski Slide #3.


I once staked my own path to a Christian heaven arguing the absurdity that animals couldn't go to heaven. Because my confirmation teacher was unable to provide any meaningful proof he was more in the know than my own principles, it actually led to me dropping out of confirmation before my 3rd and final year. Anyone can make up a story, and in mine, dogs do go to heaven, and if not, they just become worm food like you and I!

So if I was correct so many years ago, Caney was looking down on us Saturday with a big smile on his face, saying, "how do you like those slabs now." Karma is a cruel bitch, especially when you blindly question the commitment and effort of those who have done what you have not.

A few months ago, George questioned how tough climbing a 5th class slab really could be. "What does it mean to climb a slab", "If a dog could do it, it can't really be climbing," -can it? "Dogs can't actually rock climb." As if rock climbing only involved the vertical pieces of plastic and gri-gri's found in your local gym! Of course it burned me up, mainly because till that point (and till this day) George had never climbed a harder route than Caney. It also burned me because that dog logged more vertical with me than any two humans combined and never put me at risk once, never quit on me, and always impressed me. Even days before he died of cancer that had spread to his spine, he left me thinking how could a cute little 50lb fur ball possibly be that insanely tough. Add in the fact George didn't really understand what exposure was and how it changed everything about a climb, and I was starting to steam on the summit of Slide Mountain on that May Day.

Caney had freakish technique coupled with the arrogance (confidence) of an elite climber, but he also had no fear of heights, exposure didn't scare him. It made no difference to him if we were 10 feet off the deck or 1000ft. It was climbing and nothing more. So, it was ironic that on Friday morning as I started to pull away for the Adirondacks, I went back into the house and grabbed my dog tag that memorializes the best trail canine ever, and Saturday was for him!

Caney At Lake Isabel
Caney before we entered the IPW and spent several days climbing and descending the glaciated peaks in the background.


What plans...

We spent about 3 months planning for the Trap Dike with a MacIntyre Range traverse. A really solid day that bagged five 4000ft peaks, and had Great Range like elevation changes, mixed with semi technical climbing. If you are going to put it all out for a single day of hiking, that would be the trip I'd do!

Then Irene came, the High Peaks closed, roads closed, the Trap Dike and Colden were among the many slides that grew or were entirely new in the Adirondacks.

Much meticulous planning down the drain. Still, my partners wanted to do something "technical" or as they put it, "the more technical the better." With Giant and Dix Wilderness closed as well, my eyes turned to Whiteface.

Slide bowl and summit
Slides and summit from the ski slopes.

Though, I personally thought the Dix Range and Macomb Slide was perfect for slide climbing virgins, Whiteface was open for business immediately. To me, it made more sense to plan for the most likely definitive option. Besides, with the exception of Ski Slide #1, most of the slides are rarely climbed. We’d be doing something that not a lot of people do very often, a real adventure. So while I was certain that the Dix and Giant Ranges would open shortly, I decided the bigger adventure would be Whiteface!



Men don’t do 2nd class slides...


Celebrating success!
Proudly displaying our redesigned grill.
Ironically, while gearing up at the Whiteface Ski Center parking lot, a group of 3 or 4 guys asked us what the easiest slide was. I commented the far left side, Slide #1, is the one you want, but mumbled under my breath (jokingly) that real men don’t do 2nd class slides. John and George laughed with me!



Aim, Colvin and I checked out Whiteface Ski Slide #1 on a recon mission a few weeks ago. Ski Slide #1 was definitely not "technical." It was mostly Class 2 climbing, with cruxes in the 3 range depending on your route selection. Even accounting for the fact we were climbing it just days after Irene dumped up to 8 inches of rain, the wetness just made it a little more scary, but not significantly more difficult. For the purposes of our more technical trip, it didn't fit the description of what my group was looking for. Slide #1 is perfect for dogs, and girls with a fear of exposure, but not a real adventure in the mountains for 3 grown men.

Grassy ski slopes wonderful for hiking
Ski slope ascent.



The best laid schemes of mice and men...
Ascending the lower slabs of Whiteface Ski Slide #3
Ascending the lower slabs.


After careful planning everyone was on board, the trip was thoroughly planned, and the route exactly as expected.

Whenever I plan a trip with people that are unfamiliar with the terrain, region or technical difficulties, I try to be as explicit as possible. Though not all the trips go as planned, very rarely do we come across a situation that wasn't thoroughly covered and re-covered. The preferred goal is to be self sufficient when I'm in the mountains. Even a well prepared trip can have a serious accident requiring rescue, but starting out behind the curve is just reckless; putting everyone, including rescuers, at risk for no reason.






Even the band must face the music...

Ascending the lower slabs of Whiteface Ski Slide #3
Ascending the lower slabs.
The moral is be careful what you wish for. While still low on the slide and solidly on the 2nd class terrain the chatter became, "how much steeper does it get." Or, "is there a secondary way around it."

Since the goal of the trip was technical slides, I actually never considered any other option but technical slides, and was prepared for anything that involved the slides, including bailing and rapping to the bottom if need be. I definitely wasn't bushwhacking to the top though!

As far as the difficulty of slide #3, I'm quite certain with the right partner and top rope belays, I could have gotten my dog, Colvin, to the top of the slide. He isn't the climber Caney was, but he will climb hard when on belay. So, without question, it was definitely climbable by humans wearing sticky rubber shoes!





Ascending the lower slabs of Whiteface Ski Slide #3
Ascending the upper section of the lower slabs.



Committing to exposure...

The problem, of course, is exposure. It separates climbers from non climbers. Making a few 3rd, 4th or even 5th class moves with the comfort of a 10 foot drop to flat ground is not very committing, but when you are looking down at 100ft run out falls, followed by a band of tightly packed spruce trees waiting to rip you to shreds and then 100 more feet of 60* slide below that, things change really fast. Basically, when you are looking at death or serious injury, the description of 2nd, 3rd or 4th class in a book becomes entirely irrelevant for that moment. Commitment is everything in climbing, and I've personally shit my pants plenty of times before either committing to a crux move or bailing and handing it off to my partner.

I'm not, at all, making fun of my partners, the slides were wet and slimy in places (expected) and much of the 2nd and 3rd class climbing was polished rock (also expected, and the reason for rock shoes). But the steepest climbing, the class 4 terrain, was actually pleasant. Other than the pine needles interfering with grip at the edges, the rock was grippy and dry going up the center. If I didn't have to fix the lines to the trees, I think the 4th class climbing was not only the most fun section, but also the safest. Unfortunately, I had to move to the edges to fix the rope, which made exiting back to the slide a bit dangerous for me.


Lower slabs Whiteface Slide #3
George traversing across the exposed wet lower slab on Slide #3.



Raybrook, we have a problem...

Preparing to climb Whiteface Slide #3 crux headwall.
John and George below crux pitches of #3.
Being what I thought was over prepared, we avoided a rescue situation, in spite of rescue being, briefly, a serious topic of conversation. One partner, John, wanted off the slab ASAP and decided to bushwhack 600ft through the band of trees in between Slide #3 and Slide #4. That in itself was a hell of an endeavor. Kinda like choosing death by 1000 slices over a single bullet to the head. Me, personally, I’m taking the bullet and sticking to the rock. There was no discussion, he made a beeline for the trees and we didn't see him till the summit.


George also wanted no part of the 4th class slabs, but I was able to get him to finish the slab, rather than take a steep and dangerous 'whack through the trees on 60* slopes. George was pretty sketched after a 10ft slide down some very steep terrain as he -also planning to leave me for dead on the slide- attempted to get to the tree band between slides #3 and #4. He did everything right during the slide downward, and didn't get too scraped up as a result. I then got him to traverse over to the crux pitch via a Prusik and a fixed line.



Once at the base of the crux pitch there was a small ledge for us to change to rock shoes. In hindsight, we changed to rock shoes 50ft above where were should have, and that probably was a factor in George’s uncontrolled descent. We used the ledge to re-organize our gear, have a snack and mentally regroup. He was pretty shaken up, so we took a sizable break.

George was cramping, probably from a combination of nerves, dehydration and lack of electrolytes. He was actually cramping so bad he couldn’t tie his rock shoes himself. I don’t think he was eating much on the slide, so I gave him an electrolyte tab for the cramps as we discussed the options of ascent or descent.

Once we were rested, I was certain George could get up this with the help of the ropes and rock shoes. Traversing across to Ski Slide #1 was foolish, rapping was equally foolish, more so since I'd have to lower him or counter rappel and then we’d still have a long miserable walk down the ski slopes.

Headwall
George on a headwall.
Unfortunately, the day of cragging I'd planned for Friday didn't happen, so we were a bit behind the curve with climbing and descending techniques. This definitely didn’t help matters. Had we descended, the down climbing on the first pitches was easy enough, but down climbing always seems harder. To me, the best option remained to finish the climb.

By the time we were done with the break, John had made it either to the summit or at least off the slabs via his long bushwhack. In either case he was calling down to us, and we were calling back to him. Apparently the second group on Ski Slide #1 felt we were in trouble, and subsequently left a note on my car noting (incorrectly) that they saw us on Slide #2 and to call them before dark...or else!

I’ve always noted that climbers and mountaineers tend to be very considerate, often without question sacrificing their own trip, their gear, and their own safety to help other people in need. Though I was a little curious as to why they thought we were in trouble, I appreciated the sentiment. John did give them a call back when we were on our way to Lake Placid for dinner.

With George and I still on the slide, the crux pitch -the 4th class terrain- was about 80-120ft of 60+ реж open slab. Starting to trust the gear, techniques and rope system, George eventually calmed down. After two rope lengths of fixed lines, he was able climb above the rope on his own, all while still on the open -runout- 4th class terrain.

I never intended for him to climb above the anchor on the static rope and Prusik, which I was using purely as a fixed line for ascent from below. Nor did I think he would decide to do that. And it was this section, on this setup, that I was actually most concerned for his safety were he to fall. The problem was, once he started out, I wasn't about to explain to him the issues with static ropes and high fall factors, assuming, of course, the Prusik didn't burn through. When you have a rope and you trust it, sometimes it's enough to calm you down to be able to make the moves you need to.

At the top of this pitch, George set up a fixed line for me since I wasn’t too keen on traversing out away from the several feet of pine needle covered slab. Unfortunately, I did not have another Prusik, and the Kleimheist, which I have probably never used in actual climbing, just wasn’t coming out correctly. I later realized the mistake I was making. Regardless, once above the needles the rope became unnecessary and the slab was nice and grippy.

This was the last section which we used the rope, and eventually made it up the remainder of the head wall to the top of the climb. The climbing again got wet and dirty, but also less steep. A few minutes later we had to contend with the heinous bushwhack to the top.

Ascending old Whiteface Slide #3
George on old Ski Slide #3. John and I climbed the new Spring 2011 widened section to the left.



It’s a love hate relationship...

Had we been able to traverse to Ski Slide #4 as originally planned and climb it's crux, we only had a short bushwhack to the summit trail. From the top of #3 we had at least 200 vertical feet of steep 'whacking. Two sections were vertical for me, including a vertical wall of moss cleverly disguised as rock, though my partner managed to find ways around them. It seems John also found this camouflaged wall of death, as he confirmed my description of it, and I saw recent footprints while ascending it. It took us about 30 minutes to climb that final 200ft, in comparison, the top of Slide #1 to the summit was a mere 10 minutes.

Though it’s the case on every bushwhack, this one seemed especially rough. The very trees we needed to pull ourselves over mud and moss covered rock slabs were also trying to rip us apart.

Short bushwhack between sections
Little bushwhack between slab sections. Nothing like the final bushwhack to the summit.

I went left, up the steepest of the slabs/walls. It was an easy 3rd class zig-zag that got me out of the trees and onto drier rock. George when right, and ended up on the trail a few feet to the north. Climb complete!



Final verdict...

Ascending the lower slabs of Whiteface Ski Slide #3
George on the lower slabs with another group below.


I personally had a great time. Though, as usual, the trip didn’t go as planned, 2 of us did climb Ski Slide #3. We can put that in the books as a success. I just have #2 and #4 to knock out. We didn’t descend the Lake Placid/Whiteface Brook Slide as planned. Apparently slides are a lot tougher than they appear, and neither of my partners had any desire to revisit one so soon. I didn’t argue much with the group decision to skip the LP Slide descent. I was fine with the 2 mile longer hike out and a bit more of a workout. Plus, while the LP Slide would have given us 30 minutes more of light, we were still bushwhacking in the dark. I’d prefer to just stick to the trail than lose an eye on a night ‘whack.

Summit Success - John Harkin
John on Whiteface

I let the guys take off ahead on the descent because, apparently, I have some issues with falling when I’m keeping ahead or keeping up on descents. After two spills, I gave them a 5 minute lead and met up at the bottom of the descent, about a half mile from the lean-to. I was surprised they were only two minutes ahead of me, and yet I hadn’t fallen once in the 2 miles they hiked in front of me. Within two minutes of catching them, I fell into waist deep ditch, which I threw myself out of and then hopped, skipped, crawled, rolled and flew 20ft down the nearly level trail till I could regain my balance. Fortunately it was the last of that.

After filtering water at the lean-to, it was a non stop trip to the car.

Once we got back to the flat or rolling terrain that is the Connery Pond/Whiteface Landing trail, John and I started alternating between jogging and speed hiking. We ended up averaging a little over 4.5mph for the last 3 miles. I estimated my pack was at 25-30lbs so I was happy with the pace. My body agreed Monday morning after repeating the loaded pack run up and down Lake Road to Ausable Lakes.

Back at the car, 10 miles, 7500ft vertical feet and 11 hours later, we were primarily concerned with dinner. Lake Placid Pub and Brewery was out, and Wise Guy’s in Lake Placid was in for a well earned burger and beer!

Sunset over Lake Placid
Sunset over Lake Placid from Whiteface Mountain.

Lessons learned...

1. It’s been a wet summer, and a wet few weeks. I would personally avoid the Whiteface Ski Slides in summers like this. This is the sort of endeavor best suited for a drought year like the summer of 2007.

2. Known but reinforced. You are only as strong as the weakest member of your group. Always plan around that. Never underestimate the challenge based on your least experienced members comfort level.

3. I would not recommend climbing a runout 3rd or any 4th class climb with exposure without first spending at least a day outdoor rock climbing. You can work on basic skills and techniques far better in the controlled environment of a rock crag than 600ft off the deck. Obviously, climbing on a top rope isn’t the same as soloing exposed 4th class terrain, but it is something to help put perspective on your climb.

4. Starting out over-prepared sometimes means you end up plain old prepared. Self sufficiency is a cornerstone of mountaineering and should always be the primary goal. I actually didn’t expect to be in the situation we were almost in, but I did think about it as a worst case scenario. In the end, it saved us a call to Ray Brook for DEC assistance off the mountain.

5. While rock shoes could certainly be justified for the crux pitches, I’m inclined to think a good pair of sticky rubbered approach shoes could be better provided you are experienced at climbing slabs and slides. This is because you often travel between wet moss and mud, followed by dry steep rock slabs. Switching shoes is impractical, but often a rock shoe isn’t right or a boot isn’t right for the terrain.

6. Do not underestimate slabs/slides. Unlike vertical or overhanging rock, they tend to not discriminate based on the climbers BMI (fat factor), but they require complete and total trust in your sticky rubber shoes and footwork. No pulling jugs, no false sense of security as you strong arm your way up. They are in a sense the perfect starting point for technical climbing, as they force novice climbers to realize how important the feet are in ascent. Climbing is often thought of as a world of upper body strength, but the reality is good footwork is the foundation to all

7. Exposure changes the game. A lot of trails in the High Peaks have similarly steep slabs but with only a 10 or 20ft fall potential. Looking down at 100-400ft or more of unbroken fall is a game changer in terms of mentally conquering the climb. Anyone planning a slab or slide climb should really consider their own tolerance for exposure before committing to a long climb.

8. Rock shoes, helmets and ropes. Whiteface Slides are steep enough that knocking rock loose could be a problem, however, the helmets actually helped with the bushwhack. Necessary? Debatable, but probably not overkill if your group isn't being careful to check for loose rock. Rock shoes (or sticky approach shoes) on the other hand were pretty much a requirement. The slides are seemingly polished, and the extra traction is never a bad thing. Ropes and harnesses, and the ability to use them can keep things from getting out of control.

Slideshow of additional images from the 2011 slide climbs on Whiteface Mountain. All images with Pentax K-5 DSLR and DA 21mm Limited or FA 43mm Limited lenses. 




Friday, October 14, 2011

Sunset on South Dix Mountain

Sunset over South Dix Mountain - Dix Mountain Wilderness
Aim and Colvin descending South Dix, one of the Adirondacks most interesting peaks.


I guess hanging out on remote summits waiting for the sun to set isn't for everyone, we still had a 4 mile hike back to base camp over herd paths -unmarked trails that may or may not exist or lead to your desired location. But even when I'm not setup for the sunset with my camera bolted down to a tripod, I still love the light that only comes at the start and end of the day.

We made it down safely, actually only needing our headlamps for the last mile. Aside from occasional blowdown, we didn't have any problems finding our way back till we got to a flooded area not far from the main trail. By this point we knew we were close based on the altimeter elevation, even if we couldn't find the herd path again, taking a bearing and bushwhacking to the trail wouldn't have been particularly hard.

Dix Mountain Wilderness is perhaps my favorite "high peaked" area in the Adirondacks. Fewer visitors, fewer trails (more adventure via bushwhacks and herd paths), some of the most scenic peaks in the entire Forest Preserve, dare I even say the entire Northeastern US.

However, relatively long approaches -some with only seasonal access- make this area far less traveled and photographed than other areas of the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

Dix, the highest peak in the Dix Mountain Wilderness, rivals the harder high peaks for length of approach with a minimum distance day trip being around 13 miles.  Elevation change is also fairly significant, with total gain loss near 8000 vertical feet, just for a single peak. It might not be under the umbrella of the High Peaks Wilderness, but it's definitely a High Peak!

The most interesting aspect of the Dix Mountain Wilderness and the Dix Range is the plethora of slide climbing opportunities. Ranging from Class 2 rubble piles, such as the Macomb Slide, to 5th class technical climbs, like the Hunters Pass slide, the Dix Range offers a little something for everyone.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Taking Dix from both ends can leave you with a Whiteface!

Aim ascending Whiteface Ski Slide #1

Following our removal from the Dix Wilderness by the DEC, we had to find alternate plans for the remainder of our vacation. Slide climbing had always been on the agenda for the second half of the trip, so with 3 major slide filled wilderness areas closed, my eyes turned to Whiteface.

Approaching and descending from a ski slope would seem to be easy. As you drive by them on the road you see grassy fields that look like a pleasant way to ascend and descend a mountain. Perhaps Whiteface is different than other slopes, but it was anything but a leisurely walk.

The ascent was fine. We actually took the Stag Brook Trail -lower and upper- which gained about 1500ft or so. This was in the trees, on a trail parallel to the beautiful rushing Stag Brook with it’s numerous waterfalls and cascades. I don’t know if Stag Brook is typically dry in summer, my guess is that it normally doesn’t flow quite this much. But following hurricane Irene, it was quite full and beautiful.

Stag Brook Falls

At the top of Stag Brook trail, we began the ascent via the ski slopes. Immediately the 80+F (26C) heat with high humidity became an issue. Mid summer heat and humidity in September, on a shadeless open slope = fun times.

Understanding why you ski down them!

The slopes are actually quite pretty, many wildflowers and butterflies to be seen during the ascent. We could also see our objective quite clearly. Both the summit of Whiteface and the slide bowl -or as my wife refers to it, the hell hole.

It was about 4pm when we finally got to the base of the slide. Slides 1 and 3 are immediately visible in the bowl. Just bear left and start up #1, #3 is slightly to the right (center). #2 two splits near the upper half of #1, and #4 appears to require some bushwhacking to gain the base, but nothing heinous. My next trip here I will be doing Ski Slide #3 and then traversing over to Ski Slide #4 to summit via the crux pitches of #4. For this trip though we just did the easiest of the four, #1.

The slide was relatively dry as a whole, but there were many wet sections and many streams of water flowing down. Mixed in were a few slimy sections. For this reason we zig-zagged around a lot of the slide seeking the driest terrain versus the easiest terrain. Typically, I look for the harder climbing on class 2, 3 and 4 terrain to make things interesting, but this time we ended up on steeper and drier sections because of necessity. Oddly, I usually feel like the climbing is easy, but on this slide I felt like it was steeper and more dangerous than the trip reports suggested. I might be getting soft, or I might just have been concerned about Colvin.

A concerned Colvin watches the ascent

Colvin climbed the class 3 slide with relative ease, but because of his extreme concern and loyalty for us, he put himself in dangerous positions several times by returning down from difficult sections to “assist” or encourage us. There were 3 sections where I roped Colvin. He was wearing his Ruff Wear Doubleback technical climbing harness, and I used a hip belay and 8mm static cord to give him a little assistance over some fairly steep sections that were above significant runout. In these sections, I felt a fall could become dangerous beyond the initial impact. It’s quite funny, really, but he is very comfortable climbing while roped. Whereas my last dog, Caney, who was a much better climber, almost human good on technical terrain, did not like being roped up.

Final ascent before bushwhack
The mental crux of any of these longer semi-technical climbs is the exposure. There are sections of trail throughout the Adirondacks with slabs this steep, or even steeper, but few involve looking back down at hundreds, or even 2000ft, of unbroken fall beneath you. There were few sections on this slide where there was potential for fall for even a novice climber with a grasp of fundamentals, but if a fall were to happen, it could be fatal. I would say that if you were to fall on the first 200-300 vertical feet of the slide, you could potentially fall all the way to the bottom without stopping depending on your path during the fall, though more than likely you would stop. The higher up you got on the slide, the less steep it became. In many spots any sort of significant fall was near impossible, and it was just like hiking any steep, slabby trail.

Climbing the slabs - Whiteface Ski Slide #1
Falling on a slab climb or slide is actually quite serious. More serious in my opinion than a beyond vertical rock climb with good protection. When you fall it’s not a matter of if you will hit something, but how far you will slide before you stop. Skin and rock don’t mix well. Even a minor fall can lead to weeks of healing. That said, I’m a confident, and I hope, a good friction climber, slabs have never bothered me, and I enjoy climbing them. Generally speaking, people either love or hate slab climbing. There is no middle ground.

The left side of slide #1, though not extreme left, is more ledgy with verticalish steps of 3-10ft. Staying towards the center is more a mix of ledges and slab, while far right is mostly smooth slab. In dry conditions, the right side seems like it’s the best route for friction climbing. In wetter conditions, the center left gives a nice mix of rest ledges with secure stances, dry friction, and good positive holds.

The extreme left, which would be on the treeline, is very wet, muddy and also slimy. I would not consider this an option unless it was already raining and you were using the trees for assistance. Even then, you might be better off towards the center or right sides.

While the easiest of these slides are really glorified hikes, and the hardest are technical rock climbs, I’d recommend people have some climbing experience before undertaking them. Also, I see a lot of hikers bring ropes with them while hiking, but few actually know how to use them. Figuring out a rope 750ft off the deck of a slide really isn’t the ideal place. Though I brought a rope, I did not bring human harnesses. I could have made a diaper harness from the webbing I had, but I think it’s a good idea to have harnesses for novice climbers and 100ft of rope, along with some webbing. Coincidentally, I did notice an old sling with a rappel ring on tree that had long since washed away. Apparently someone either descended the slide or got sketched and bailed on it.

Clouding In

When Aim, Colvin and I reached the top of the slide we were on the right side of the slide. We were greeted by a wet 15ft slab of about 45*, which was above a 5ft shelf. We scanned for a herd path before committing to the upper section but did not see one. I climbed the crack to avoid the slab itself, then I belayed Colvin up the slab. The left-center looked easier, like it went further into the trees, but it was also wet and I preferred the safety of the crack system in the slab above us.

The best part of slide climbing, the bushwhack!

Once at the scrub line, we did a quick check for a herd path of any sort. One could not be found. Knowing Aimee’s desire to be done with the slide and get to the summit, I let her forge a path through the cripple brush. About 10 long minutes later, we climbed the last 150 vertical feet to the power cable path, and ascended to the summit station. Having escaped any sort of injurious behavior on the ascent to this point, I promptly fell into a crevice while entering the tourist section of the mountain.

Thanks for the reminder!

The summit of Whiteface had been in the clouds for some time while we were on the slide. When we reached the summit things hadn’t improved. Views were 20 feet tops and the sun was just about to set. A few quick summit photos and then we pulled out the map. I took a compass bearing for the ORDA trail we planned to use for descent. In hindsight, this wasn’t necessary, the summit station viewing area is marked with direction markers for tourist to use when viewing the distant mountains. However, the only other time I’d been to the summit of Whiteface was skiing to the top in the winter and I had no idea where the trails were, as the ski route simply goes up the summer tourist road. Better to be prepared while in shelter than dealing with a map in 30 mph winds and fog. We headed south for the ORDA trail, pretty quickly we spotted yellow blazes, and were on the ORDA descent trail.

Aim and Colvin on the cloud covered summit

All I can say about the ORDA descent trail is HOLY $h!%!!! Wow! I was expecting some sort of paved tourist descent to the ski lifts, but this trail was in fact steep and interesting. It even had ropes set up to lower yourself down at least 3 sections. Though only one was really necessary.

Whiteface Slide #1

Unfortunately, this was the end of the interesting part of the day. Descending down the ski slopes in complete darkness, strong winds and occasional fog was interesting only in that we were not able to just plunge down the steepest slopes for a rapid descent. Having my mini headlamp, clearly anticipating a shorter day, I couldn’t see more than 30ft, so we took the longer moderate ski trails towards Little Whiteface, and then began a direct descent from Little Whiteface. (Coming back a few weeks later, I could see just how steep Niagara was, and was glad we didn't plunge down it's slabby decent).

Along the way, we crossed paths (literally) with a porcupine. While that was exciting in a horrific train wreck sort of way -we hate porcupines- the highlight of the knee busting, ankle twisting, back aching, filling loosening, brain jarring descent was seeing what I believe was a Fisher pop up in the grass about 50ft from us. His tightly spaced eyes and head movements led me to believe he was a predator, most likely a cat or weasel. He was directly downwind from the porcupine, and my guess he was hot on that bully of an animals tail...or rather head. 25 head bites later, that porcupine was going to be Fisher dinner.

The descent went on forever, and finally at almost 9 hours into the day we arrived back at the car. I’m not sure of the total mileage, but I’d guess it was only about 6 miles. The total ascent/descent was 7500ft, which equates to well over 1000ft per mile. What really took so long was the ankle breaker scree on the ski slope descent. It was like walking on baseballs placed neatly on top of golf balls. That night and the next day, we felt like we’d done three times that distance. Even Colvin slept most of the next day. I’ve done 20 mile, 12,000ft gain and loss hikes this year and barely been sore the next day, so I was truly surprised how punishing the ski slopes were!

Whiteface Slide #1

All in all, it was a good day and a great adventure. Add this to your options for life outside the High Peaks Wilderness, but do yourself a favor, trust me on the ski slope brutality and figure out another way down the mountain! Even if you have to carry a sledge hammer to the summit to break your own femur with and call for rescue, it will be better than descending the ski slopes!

Long term consequences of improper streambed reconstruction in the Adirondacks post-Irene

Stream reconstruction on Styles Brook. Jay, NY. All photos courtesy Adirondack Council.
The Adirondacks are unique in concept and design, and because of the very nature of the patch work of public and private lands, the suspending of the permit process following Irene was both necessary and dangerous.

While people refer to the Adirondacks as a park, they really are nothing more than patches state forest preserve co-mingling with perhaps the nations most regulated zoning laws on private land.

Gulf Brook. Keene, NY. 
This, however, is a problem because, perhaps, no where else does there need to be such a fine balance between the needs of the people that live and work within the blue line and remaining true to article 14 of the New York State constitution. The the APA and article 14 are perhaps an impediment to life in this region, but they have prevented the Adirondacks from becoming another Catskills of the state. The idea that regulations have hindered growth is foolish, rather, they have made the Adirondacks relevant to both tourist and exploiters alike. They have also made the Adirondacks relevant in the hearts and minds of people from all over.

When Governor Cuomo announced a suspension of APA permits for rebuilding, I winced. Not out of selfishness, no doubt did cleanup and rebuilding need to be swift and without "unnecessary" red tape, but like with anything in life, it needed to be done correctly.

Following that bold announcement, the DEC did enact detailed guidelines, but many towns and DOT divisions either didn't receive them or chose to ignore them. It's human nature to be given a long leash and stretch it as far as you can.

At issue is the fact that permitting processes have not been entirely suspended. Water quality standards are still in effect. Dredging and channelization should only be occurring where there is "imminent threat to life, health, property, the general welfare and natural resources." The straigtening of channels and other man made changes to various brooks and rivers is actually potentially a threat to human lives and property, under far less intense conditions than Irene brought.

During Irene, nature showed us how in control it still is despite our technology and repeated attempts to control it. The DEC, despite budget and staffing cuts, still employs many intelligent and passionate people capable of making correct decisions necessary for long term success. Many of those people live, work or recreate in the towns affected by Irene flooding, and they certainly do not want to hamper the process of reconstruction and flood prevention. So it amazes me that the town supervisors and residents are so gung-ho about ignoring APA-DEC warnings and doing their own thing with the idea it can be fixed later.


Roaring Brook, now a ditch with water.
Fixing it later means fixing it FOLLOWING the rest of this years tropical storm season and next springs melt off. Fixing it correctly the first time means less chance of future flooding from insignificant rain falls. Remember this storm was a 500 year flood, not a regular occurrence, even in a region that is one of the wettest in the US.

Unfortunately, the towns and DOT divisions are intent on assuaging the fears of the residents -whom are also their constituents. However, to even have a shot at protecting those areas from Irene like flooding ever again, it is estimated some water ways would have to be 20ft deep and 200ft wide and constantly redredged. This simply isn’t practical, and the state would be better off relocating those residents and businesses within the 100 year flood zone to a different location. Furthermore, even heavily controlled waterways still are subject to flooding. Quite simply, water doesn't play nice with human interference, and trying to make it do so is only going to lead to bigger problems.

Entirely forgetting about the potential environmental impacts of improper stream bed restoration, which include reducing or eliminating trout habitat  and preventing tree regrowth on the banks of these brooks and rivers. Historically we've seen what bad flood control projects lead to, just look at Katrina. The Army Corps of Engineers is often at fault for massive flooding due to poor engineering and planning. It’s entirely possible that these poorly engineered flood control systems and stream reroutes that the DOT is doing, could actually cause flooding issues on much smaller floods than letting the streams naturally flow, or at most reverting them to pre-Irene state.

I sincerely hope these towns in the Adirondacks aren't attempting a quick fix, only to deal with bigger problems in a few years!


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The Adirondack Councils statement of concern can be found here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dix Mountain Wilderness reopens effective 9/12/2011

More good news for all of us chomping at the bit to get back into the Dix Mountain Wilderness. Ok, that is pretty much me and a handful of people who need the 5 peaks for some patch. Nevertheless, the overlooked and under appreciated middle child of the Adirondack higher peaks wilderness areas is once again open for business and pleasure.

As a side note, my guess is the DEC never wanted to reopen the High Peaks as quickly as it did, but it bowed to pressure from the ADK and various local governments. After all, the High Peaks Wilderness complex is a cash cow for multiple towns in the Adirondacks. The Dix, however, was conveniently closed because it's monetary value to local governments is relatively small, while it's resource footprint for DEC staff was quite big during 73's reconstruction. With only the Elk Lake access point available, no local government benefited from revenues from hikers spending money while recreating. The irony, however, was that the Dix Mountain Wilderness saw relatively little damage and it's also the least trailed of the 3 closed areas.


STATUS OF DEC RECREATIONAL FACILITIES
September 12, 2011

AREA OPENINGS (9/12): DIX MOUNTAIN WILDERNESS and all trailheads along
Route 73 are once again OPEN, with the exception of the main Adirondack Mountain Reserve Trailhead at the Ausable Club.
DEC has now reopened the three wilderness areas and a majority of trails that were closed as a result of damage from Hurricane Irene. However, some trails remain closed in both the Eastern
High Peaks and the Dix Mountain Wildernesses due to significant amount of blowdown, washed  out bridges and eroded & cobbled trails .

TRAIL ADVISORIES (9/12): Trails that are not closed still may have bridges washed out and water levels in most rivers and brooks are at spring high water levels. Crossings may be impassable at this time. These trails may also have blowdown, eroded sections or flooded areas. Pay close attention as many trails have been rerouted to avoid heavily damaged sections and eroded drainages can be mistaken for trails. The ability to navigate with a map and compass
is important.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Route 73 from Exit 30 to Keene Valley is now open

Route 73, linking Keene Valley to the Northway (I-87) is now fully open. Initially only a single lane was planned to be open within 10 days, but the DOT, Governor Cuomo and private contractors put together an amazing feat and came out way ahead of schedule. Truly amazing based on the photos and descriptions of the level of destruction to Route 73.

Based on business numbers while the roadway was closed, it appears Route 73 truly is the lifeblood of Keene Valley. Business owners reported a 75% loss in business. However, this could also be attributed to the Adirondack Forest Preserve's; High Peaks Wilderness, Giant Mountain Wilderness and Dix Mountain Wilderness all being closed for much of that time. These happen to be 3 of the most popular wilderness areas in the park for 4 season recreation and contribute immensely to the local economies of surrounding hamlets. The Forest Preserve contributes over $1 billion yearly to the New York economy.

Full press release from Andrew Cuomo's office available here.

The red line on the map below outlines the section of Route 73 heavily damaged by Irene and now reopened to the driving public today. Good news, indeed, for leaf peepers, hikers, peak baggers, rock climbers and ultimately the business owners who benefit from the tremendous variety of recreational activities in America's premier weekend wilderness!

73 to KeeneValley

Friday, September 9, 2011

Scars of Irene on the Adirondack backcountry

This video is from the Adirondack Wild Center based in Tupper Lake, NY.

The aerial and ground based HD video is pretty compelling in both terms of destruction and the natural beauty of the Adirondacks. While watching it I couldn't help but be reminded why no matter where I am, I always seem to compare it to America's first wilderness -the Adirondacks.

Combined with the still images of the backcountry from the previous post, this should really start to put together the pieces of the puzzle that merely reading written reports left us unable to do.

Also of note, it appears this video was shot several days after the initial destruction, so things look pretty clean and orderly in the towns, in spite of the level of damage. Much of which was caused by relatively small streams jumping their banks. In Keene it was Gulf Brook, a stream that is less than 20ft wide most of the year, and that you can almost jump across in many sections just a few miles from Keene.

Those watching this from other parts of the country or world should be aware that the video covers a very small section of the New York State Forest Preserve, mainly the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness and surrounding towns. Though this is the most popular part of the Adirondacks, there are millions of acres that were largely unscathed from Irene, and also offer tremendous scenic beauty.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Images of the the aftermath of hurricane Irene on the Adirondack High Peaks and John's Brook Valley

I highly advise anyone with some backcountry aspirations to take a look at the destruction -and in some ways, improvements- to the Adirondack backcountry as seen through the lens of Brendan Wiltse.

Some great photographs of the damage in an area not yet open to the hiking public: Hurricane Irene damage to the Adirondack High Peaks, John's Brook Valley Region, including several new slides along existing trails.

I say improvements because anyone that has hiked the Orebed trail will certainly appreciate it is no longer a steep, slick, slabby tree tunnel, but it now has some views and the trail is more like a true slide climb than an eroded hiking path. I always hated that trail, even more so when the ladders were missing this spring and early summer. Sadly, the Adirondack Mountain Club Pro trail crew was putting in new ladders just before the storm. Much of their work destroyed and mixed in with rubble from the slides.

Oddly, while a lot of damage was also done to lowland approach trails that is not good, the potential new routes up slides, and the opening up of the terrain on existing trails actually looks like it is a long term benefit. It will be interesting to see first hand just how different the views are off the mountains of the Adirondacks.

Also from Brendan's blog:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Adirondack Park is still open for business post-Irene!!!

While en route to Whiteface Mountain and the Whiteface Slides on Friday (separate blog post/trip report), driving through Keene, Upper Jay, and many other areas of the Adirondacks, seeing the devastation created, in many places by relatively small innocuous brooks, really put things into perspective. Businesses, and worse, homes were destroyed. Peoples personal belongings put out to the curb or in there yards to be carted away. Beyond that towns pretty much cut off from the Northway and even other parts of the Adirondacks in what is the busiest month of the year. Labor Day through Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving, this 6 weeks is perhaps the most important of the year for the bottom line of businesses. Labor Day is gone, there is hope that the roads and infrastructure can be ready for Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving weekend to perhaps soften the blow.

There is tremendous misinformation about what is open, what is closed. And even on scene things were difficult to discern. 9N beyond Jay was closed last night, though I'd heard previously roads into Ausable Forks had reopened. 9N between Upper Jay and Keene is also open only to local traffic and because we already had made one mistake, we chose to not drive 9N to see how much of it is closed or if it is in fact passable all the way through.

That said, the Forest Preserve/Adirondack Park is open for business. There are over 6 Million acres of land inside the Blue Line (the line on maps that denotes what most people refer to as Adirondack State Park, though it is not a state park at all, it's really not even a park). Of that 6 million acres -an area the size of either Vermont or New Hampshire- the state owns or has easements to close to 4 million acres. Of that 4 million acres, only about 300,000 is closed. That means that all areas of the park, including Long Lake, Old Forge, Indian Lake, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Speculator, Cranberry Lake, and countless others are open and have outdoor recreation available.

However, the areas that are closed are being enforced, and I'd recommend really not testing the police powers of the NYS-DEC Forest Rangers or ECO's. I know these guys are nicer than your average cop, and they are probably the only law enforcement officers that I am generally happy to encounter, but they have all the authority and quite a bit more than a New York State Trooper. The difference is they don't approach you as a criminal as cops are trained to do, so people often forget they do have tremendous authority. Personally, I don't see why a forest needs to be safety inspected for my use, afterall, many of us are happy to hike or climb up unmarked routes in the first place. But I'm going to respect the authority of the state to do what it needs to do on the Forest Preserve, and also realize that many people simply do not have the backcountry skills to deal with the potential damage.

Nevertheless, there might be a silver lining to all this. Many people get fixated on "High Peaks" and forget that sometimes the little peaks are pretty awesome too. This weekend is a great opportunity to explore other areas. I recommend Catamount, Whiteface, Silver Lake Mountain, Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area, the (officially) trail less Jay Wilderness (if roads allow access, possibly not yet), McKenzie Mountain Wilderness, Sentinel Range Wilderness. These are all in the Lake Placid/High Peaks Region. Also, the Western High Peaks is open for business. This includes 7 High Peaks, and the wonderful, yet often ignored Ampersand Mountain.

Ampersand to me is the Adirondacks! It's perfectly positioned between the High Peaks and Nortern/Western Lake Country. What a view!

I cannot forget Debar Mountain, Lyon Mountain and St Regis Mountain, all a little further north and east or west. Or Goodenow, Vanderwhacker, and Mount Adams to the south.

One last note, Keene Valley business district is open for business. There are quite a few nice shops in Keene Valley, and the town is cut off from it's lifeblood traffic from the Northway. And with the High Peaks Wilderness on lockdown, no one really has a reason to visit Keene Valley. Worse, the DOT has put up a roadblock in Keene inferring that Keene Valley is closed. KEENE VALLEY IS NOT CLOSED FOR BUSINESS! If nothing else, stop by the Mountaineer for some shopping, eat dinner at the Ausable Inn and visit the Noonmark Diner for a piece of pie! It would be a shame to see any of these places close due to this. The Mountaineer is one of the friendliest most helpful shops I have ever dealt with, and the two restaurants are pretty tasty too!





Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wool, Natures Perfect Fabric for Outdoors Lifestyles




On a 4 day backcountry winter trip this February, my polypro (DuoDry) base layer smelled so bad I couldn’t even stand my own body odor. The problem with advanced synthetic base layers isn’t breathability, it’s bacterial growth. I’ve tried almost every big name brand wicking fabric over the years. Polartec Powerdry, Patagonia Capiline, Wickers, Coolmax, DuoDry and many others. I actually find that Champion branded DuoDry or Coolmax available at your local Target store is about as good as any of them, all at a fraction of the price of the big name brands. I know the brand snobs out there are snickering, but the truth is the name on the label adds nothing to the key component of a wicking layer -it’s ability to move moisture from skin to the air, and Coolmax is by far the best at doing this.

Over the years quite a few companies have come out with fabrics that are anti-microbial, however, few actually are stink resistant. There is one fabric that can be worn pretty much indefinitely without stinking, wool!

Wool is naturally hydrophobic, which makes it a good mid and outer layer for outdoor activities. But with nanotechnology applied to the fibers that same wool can become hydrophilic and wick moisture from the skin towards the atmosphere. Bearing this in mind, it’s not surprising that my recent gear upgrade to wool base layer wicking t-shirts has proved to be a smart choice.

I purchased some Wickers wool t-shirts, which are 50% wool, 50% synthetic. The combination works sort of like a modern wool sock with it’s mix of synthetic and wool blend. It wicks moisture away from the skin rapidly while also reducing odor.

I’m very very warm natured. It gets over 60F and I am ready for winter. Even in the winter I rarely need more than a very thin base layer or two, and I’ve been seen sweating profusely in below zero ambient temps when the winds were calm. The only time I like it to be warmer is when I’m paddling, swimming or at the beach, and even then I’m content with 75-80F maximum depending on the wind.

The problem with synthetics is they act like a Petri dish for bacterial growth, and that bacteria is on both sides of the shirt. When you take the shirt off you still smell like a rotten 4 day old sausage.

At this point I’ve had the shirts for almost 6 months, and I’ve put them through the ringer. Wearing them to the gym, playing with the dog at the park (which involves me running around since he’s a herding dog), outdoor sprint intervals, short hikes, all day hikes and multi-day trips where I wore the same shirt every day. On one trip I alternated between the two shirts over 8 days, including sleeping in them. On another stretch I went 5 days of intense activity in a single shirt, including 3 over a weekend where I didn’t shower or use deodorant (typical of a 3 day backpacking trip), as well wearing the same shirt around the house, it barely smelled offensive at all. A full synthetic shirt will stink in about 1-2 hours of intense activity. After 3 days you will consider burning it!

How did it breathe? Well, my gym workout usually involves doing hill intervals on the treadmill (5-8 minutes at maximum intensity, average 10% incline, at 6.0mph average x 4-5 reps). Usually my heart rate is at or above it’s maximum (based on age) during most of the session, lots of sweat dripping! I can only compare it to my cotton t-shirts I typically wear to the gym, but I was reasonably dry by the time I left the gym, and felt much less clammy during the workouts. With the “SynWool” combination appearing to move moisture away from my skin, I was also cooler than I typically am when wearing cotton.

On the trail the shirts breathe very well. They seem to breathe as well as typical synthetics under similar conditions, but not quite as well as Coolmax. Another neat feature of Coolmax is how fast it dries out, the syn-wool t-shirts don’t dry out Coolmax fast, but dry out almost as quickly as most performance synthetics I have used. The downside is they seem to be a little more stretchy when wet, such as hiking in the rain or taking an unexpected swim.

My biggest complaint of the wool t-shirts is their shape holding. It says on the washing instructions to machine wash and hang dry, but I found drying them at the lowest setting is useful for returning shape to the shirt. The neck, especially, seems to stretch under the pack straps.

As far as the feel of the shirts, they feel a lot like a thin cotton t-shirt. They are very thin and from the start I was a little weary of them holding up over the long haul. I definitely don’t think they’d hold up to bushwhacking or rock climbing. I’ve already ripped one when I took a decent slide down some roots. My skin looked far worse than the shirt, 3 months later there is still a healing scar, but I feel like pure synthetic wouldn’t have ripped. I’ve also put holes in the belly area from the pack belt catching. Overall, while they do seem durable enough to last a single summer season, it’s just too easy to get a pull in the material, only time will tell.

In comparison, initial impressions of some of my full synthetic base layers isn’t much more confidence inspiring, yet I’ve had many thin wicking shirts for 5+ years of hard use. Some are mildly pilled but none are ripped.

At full price, wool t-shirts range from $40-60+, or about $30-50 more than a typical synthetic wicking t-shirt, and still a bit more than your overpriced synthetic luxury brands mentioned above. Of course, unlike most textiles, these mostly seem to be made in the USA -for now. Perhaps that is worth a little premium. Having payed $36 for two t-shirts, I’m pretty happy with the investment provided they hold up. But before I go buying anymore of this wonder hybrid material, I’m going to figure out just how much durability comes with this perfect combination of natural and man made fibers.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Trail Dogs Gone Wild!

Over the last two months I have been dazzling you with tales of triumph over technical terrain with my trail dog, I figured it was time to show the proof. Unfortunately, I often hike with just the dog and I don't often have a chance to capture photos and videos of his exploits.

This is just a short video of my trail dog, Colvin, taking on some challenging Adirondack terrain. Even though he is afraid of heights, Colvin always puts 100% effort out for us.

His progress and ability on the trail isn't the result of some natural talent, but almost 18 months of very conservative and carefully planned incremental training. This slow careful training has enabled him to fully trust us in challenging situations and approach things with an attitude of fun.

At this point we still aren't letting him go without a spotter on the big ladders, but he is doing all the climbing himself, Aimee is just there in case he panics or slips. After a few more outings, I think he'll do just fine going solo.


Trail Dogs Gone Wild from Mountain Visions on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

K-9 on Rappel

K-9 on rappel

Scared shitless, that would be a good way to describe this. Of course, you are thinking, why the hell would you torment your dog. No, I was scared shitless. Looking down at my harness was a clusterfuck (a climbing term for a mess or log jam) of epic proportions. The only other time my belay loop/tie in point has ever been that busy was while aid climbing. The big difference between this and aiding, Colvin isn't aiders or a haul bag.

I'd planned this day for a while, starting back last Autumn when I re-purchased the Ruffwear Doubleback technical harness. Petzl used to make such a harness, for a fair price at that, then one day they stopped. A fairly recent addition to the Ruff Wear catalog, the Doubleback is the only harness not designed specifically for the needs of search and rescue or SWAT dogs. It's designed to be worn at all times, with hide-away leg loops and a strength rated tie-in point. It's basically a recreational climbing harness for your dog. In theory you could use it as a standard trail harness, but the chest pad and need to "double back" the threaded straps would make it highly inconvenient, and possibly uncomfortable for the dog. Colvin wears his only when I think I might need to rope or haul him.

We used the harness a few times this winter on semi technical terrain, and also hoisted Colvin in it to test the fit and rigging. Outdoors we used it in the Northern Presidential's, on terrain that is often underestimated by novice mountaineers and experienced hikers alike. If the terrain calls for an ice axe and crampons, roping the dog should be a serious consideration. While SAR comes out pretty quickly for humans, I'd prefer not to find out they won't come to rescue a dog. So being extra cautious is important. With this in mind, I practiced short rope techniques with Colvin on a short rope belay. The short rope wasn't really needed due to the conditions not being as snow covered as potentially possible. Still, it was good opportunity to test and refine a technique for more technical terrain when necessary.

I'd taken Caney, my previous trail dog, on the North-South Arapaho traverse (class 3-4/5.0) and up and down various glaciated peaks via snow climbs and scrambles around Lake Isabelle and Triangle Lake in the Indian Peaks; on Central Gully on Mount Washington (WI2, mostly snow), and on various slides, slabs and 4th class scrambles in the Adirondacks. So I know these dogs are capable of going places many choose not to take a dog, but I also know this all comes with a greater responsibility on me. Not only am I responsible for myself, I am also responsible for the dog on very challenging terrain. Practicing under controlled circumstances is the best way to assure everyone is safe.

My ideal test place for our first rappel was someplace quiet, secluded, without other climbers. Also preferred was a slightly overhanging face or a free hanging rappel, with high fixed or natural anchors at the top. The Gunks would have done the rock portion of my requirements quite nicely but finding solitude isn't always easy. There was a good chance Colvin would be squeaking and squealing, which he did, as we went over the lip of the cliff. The last thing I wanted to deal with was the cacophony of beta spewing climbers giving unhelpful advice.


K-9 on rappel

Though not well known nationally -due to being in the shadow of the Gunks- the Adirondacks have an immense amount of high quality technical rock climbing routes. And unless you seek out a crowd (the High Peaks roadside options), you will rarely climb with other people. 2,000 routes on 260 separate climbing areas 82 of which offer multi pitch climbing, all spread out over nearly 4 million acres of public land. For this project, Carl's New Baby, a bolted 5.10b on the Hudson River was just perfect.

Petzl Stop. Image: Petzl.com
Safety came in the form of 2 independent but equalized tree anchors about 5 feet from the cliff edge. There was nice clean rock before and over the lip. Aim backed up the first rappel with a top-rope belay topside. The second two rappels she only belayed me over the lip, where the best chance of something going wrong was. In the future I'd probably use a Petzl Gri-Gri, a Petzl Rappel Rack, or perhaps best, a Petzl Stop descender. If nothing else I'd add a carabiner to increase friction.






Petz Rack. Image: Petzl.com
Nevertheless, it took me a while to get everything to where I wanted it, or rather was comfortable with it. Not only was it about being safe, but also making the rappel as comfortable and smooth as possible for Colvin. A bad experience the first time could have left him unwilling to do it again.

Looking at all the anchors (3 in total, two ropes, multiple attachments) it was beginning to look overwhelming. After double, triple, and finally, quadruple checking everything I just said it, "I'm pretty nervous, my heart is pounding." A dog can sense your level of anxiety, and I was hoping to not have been that nervous. Colvin was already attached to my harness, I lifted him up and carried him to the edge, leaned back on my anchor and we were rappelling.

Once the instinct to grab the cliff for dear life was exhausted, Colvin, as with most dogs, gave up and became very calm and still. No squealing, no whimpering, no barking, and no flailing. I'm not sure he was relaxed, it's more a submission than anything, but my anxiety was gone after a few feet of descent.

During the first rappel, Colvin was attached directly by a single locking biner to my belay loop. I've seen this method used by SWAT and fast rope teams, however, he didn't hang far enough down and removing him from the harness was difficult once we touched down. I'd say this method would be better, if I went directly through my rappel biner while on lower angle terrain. Keeping him high on low angle terrain would keep him from bouncing into the rock.

For the second rappel, I used a tripled shoulder length alpine draw, with lockers on both ends to attach Colvin to my harness. I stabilized his rear leg loops with a 4 foot sling that I shortened. The rear loop tie-in isn't required and it's not truly a functional tie-in. What I mean is that it doesn't enhance safety, it's about comfort.  This setup worked pretty well and it seemed like he was in near perfect position, perhaps a few inches lower would have been ideal.

By the third rappel, I was having fun. The anxiety was gone, Colvin was doing awesome, and the setup was just about perfectly refined. Again, I had Aim belay us but just while we were getting setup on the edge. Once we were on the rappel rope and anchor, she was free to take the belay off and snap a few photos.

Aside from not having time to actually climb, it was a hell of a day.

K-9 on rappel