Thursday, November 8, 2012

The SAR 24-Hour Pack in Winter

The air is getting a little chillier, and hunting season is coming: it's the busy season for Search and Rescue teams.  Thinking back to November in prior years, this is the time when resources are stretched looking for lost hikers, missing hunters, and those who have wandered away in the night.
Search and Rescue in Winter

I also recall heading out to searches where searchers were vastly unprepared to deal with the weather, terrain, and other issues of conducting SAR in a winter environment.  I've seen people show up for searches in snow wearing sneakers and jeans - of course, they aren't carrying any water or basic survival supplies either. Yes, though it is hard to control what the myriad of volunteers bring with them, as SAR team members - we must do our best to be prepared for all conditions.

Though clothing and footwear is a huge component for venturing out into the woods, what I think we should talk about first is the 24-hour pack.  Yes, we could load all of our winter camping gear onto our backs, but as the weight adds up - the mission gets tougher.  Our packs must be comprehensive, yet light and agile enough to deftly maneuver through the brambles.

Here is a basic list for what I carry in my SAR winter 24-hour pack.  


  • Pack - Internal frame, about 40 liters 
  • Radio Chest Harness
  • Waterproof stuff sack for bivy system and spare layers
  • Waterproof bag for essentials 

  • Radio (with extra battery if available) 
  • GPS (with extra lithium batteries) 
  • Office: Notebook, pen, markers
  • Compass and protractor 
  • Flagging tape -multiple colors
  • String line (depending on mission) 
  • Headlamp (with batteries)
  • Small backup headlamp 
  • Powerful handheld flashlight
  • Reflective strip for pack
  • Safety glasses 
  • Tape measure 
  • Assortment of plastic bags for evidence collection 
  • Maps of area
 Ice and Snow: - traction devices from skis to crampons are mission and terrain dependent

  • Snowshoes
  • Microspikes
  • Crampons 
  • Ice awls
  • Trekking poles
  • Avalanche shovel 
  • 2 locking carabiners
  • 30 ' of tubular webbing or harness
  • 2 prusik slings 
  • Climbing gear as required
Survival / First Aid

  • First aid kit
  • Blood trauma kit in top of pack 
  • Fire starting kit 
  • 50' of parachute cord 
  • Toilet kit
  • Whistle
  • Large garbage bag
  • Knife

  • High-energy snacks (about 3,000 calories worth) 
  • Freeze-dried meal - boil in bag
  • 2 Water-bottles (no bladders)
  • 2 Water-bottle parkas
  • Chemical water treatment like aquamira 
  • Spoon
  • Liquid fuel stove and 2 Liter pot for cooking and melting snow - 1 per team [one person carries stove, other carries fuel, and another carries the pot]

  • Worn clothing - baselayer, midlayer, weather layer, hat, gloves, neck muff, boots, gaiters
  • Waterproof / breathable jacket and pants 
  • Puffy /belay jacket (for standing around) 
  • Extra gloves and mittens 
  • Extra hat or balaclava 
  • Spare pair of socks
  • Vapor Barrier socks
  • Glacier glasses or goggles
Bivy: Though you may not plan on staying out, you never know what will happen.  This is espeially true if you are sheltering in place with an injured subject.

  • Tarp or floorless tent like MSR twin peaks - one for ever two members 
  • Bivy sack
  • Sleeping bag (elephant's foot with puffy jacket works too)
  • You can also check out my idea of a multi-component SAR sleep system in a previous blog post. 
  • 3/4 ensolite pad (also handy for first aid)- use your empty pack for additional ground insulation 
  • Mylar blanket

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Initial Review of the OKC Ranger Little Bird Knife

Though my gear reviews are tediously long and comprehensive in their tests, this is my initial impression of the Ontario Little Bird knife.  Before lashing out at my general lack of cohesiveness and use of hardcore testing methods which snap blades in half, please remember that this is an initial review only.  
First of all - I have a lot of knives - a lot of them.  That said, I am extremely picky about the ones I carry.  Unfortunately, most of my knives sit unused and under-appreciated in boxes in my basement.   
There is something, when you first hold a knife in your hand, when you can tell it is meant for you.  Or perhaps you are meant for it.  Who knows what ancient chemistry awakens when we touch a fine blade?  Perhaps this is the "riddle of steel" after all.  

OKC Little Bird

Manufacturer: Ontario Knives OKC (Ranger)
Model: Little Bird II
Overall Length: 4.25 inches
Blade Length: 1.8 inches
Steel:  1095 carbon steel
Handle Material: Micarta (tan or black)
Weight: 3.8 oz
Sheath: Kydex
Why Did I Want This Knife?  
So, you may ask yourself, especially those of you with Crocodile Dundee knives, why I would actually want such a miniscule knife.  As a backpacker, SAR-team member, and general outdoorsman I have grown to love neck knives.  There is nothing handier than a fine blade around your neck - this becomes especially handy when you are wearing shell pants without pockets.
I also wanted this knife for personal protection purposes. Though I usually tote around a Spyderco Rescue as my everday carry, there are certain defense applications that a stout little blade like the Little Bird may excel at.
I've also been a big fan of Ontario knives for a long time.  Not only are they made in the USA, their plant is only a couple hours away from me in the scenic Southern Tier of New York State. I carried one of their Spec-plus knives when I was in the Army and they haven't failed me yet. 

Testing so Far:

  • General carry around neck around town and while hiking.  
  • Cutting parachute cord.
  • Cutting 4mm climbing accessory cord. 
Notes on this Knife (So Far): 
  •  The fit and finish is fine for a workhorse knife. On the glass-breaker pommel, the handle doesn't conform as nicely as I would like - but just a minor point.  
  • I have large hands, well at least my gloves are sized large or extra-large, and this little knife fits my hand fine.  The beefy micarta handle really conforms to my hand well, even with cutting tasks.  
  • The thick blade cuts nicely through nylon cord  - which is my primary cutting task.  I'll see how it works on wood.
  • The cord that came with the Little Bird is rather short for a neck cord.  I strung some 550 cord and tied it with a double figure 8 for a comfortable neck carry.  
  • In preparation for hiking, I attached a Ultimate Survival Jet Scream whistle to the neck cord. 

      Sunday, October 7, 2012

      Wilderness Survival Resources for Venturing Powder Horn Training

      As a consultant for the "Wilderness Survival" section for Powder Horn training, I thought that an online resource list would help Venturing and Scouting leaders.  If you have an additional resource that you feel would be appropriate,  please use the comment section below.  As always, keep the links appropriate for Scouting. 

      What is Powder Horn training?  Powder Horn training exposes Venturing leaders to different high-adventure opportunities from horseback riding to backpacking.  Check out BSA Powder Horn Training for more information on this exciting course.

      Remember the Rule of Three: You can survive ....
      • 3 minutes without air
      • 3 hours without shelter
      • 3 days without water
      • 3 weeks without food

      What are the seven survival priorities?  
      1. Positive mental attitude
      2. Shelter 
      3. Fire
      4. Signaling
      5. First aid 
      6. Water 
      7. Food

      Risk Management: 

      • For an introduction to hiking and backpacking safely, check out my article on the Ten Tips For Safe Hiking.
      • Components of a good trip/float plan: 
        1. Who is going? Include names, phone numbers, vehicles driven, and emergency contacts. 
        2. Where are you going?  List not only the destination, but the route traveled.  
        3. When? What is your rough time table, and when do you expect to return? 
        4. What are you carrying? List the types and colors of your crew's gear.
        5. Map I always leave a copy of my map at home with my travel route and times/dates listed.  

      Survival Kits: 

      Survival kit contents vary upon your environment and personal survival style. 
      Just walk into an outdoor store and you'll see just how much gear is out there.  It can be rather overwhelming when deciding what to buy, what to carry, and where to carry it.  In the following articles, I've addressed the basic essential items for survival kits and for what we should all carry with us whenever we venture outdoors. 

      First Aid: 

            A medical emergency can quickly catapult "first aid" to the top of the survival priority list (just under positive mental attitude of course). Though an online article is no substitute for actual first aid training, the following link from NOLS has outstanding information. 

            For those of you that have taken the American Red Cross "Wilderness and Remote First Aid" training class, check out the Wilderness First Aid Reference Guide.  


      You never know when you'll have to rig a tarp with a tautline hitch or rig an emergency rappel with a munter.

      Primitive Skills: 
      Carving a fire board for a bow drill with my Esee Izula
      Though food and water are low on the survival priority list, the ability to acquire food and water is essential for long-term subsistence. 

      Survival Shelters: 

               Everyone should be able to make a improvised shelter for the region in which they are traveling; the debris hut is an ideal shelter for most situations.  That said, the process of building a primitive shelter can be environmentally destructive and violate the principles of Leave No Trace.  For eco-friendly survival shelters, consider the following: 
      1.  Build debris huts in the Fall using fallen leaves as the weatherproof barrier on the sides of the shelter.  
      2. After a storm rips down live trees, use the boughs in a hands-on survival shelter demonstration. 
      3. Teach Venturers how to find improvised shelters that occur naturally: overhanging rocks, uprooted trees, and tree holes.  
      4. In the winter build quinzees and snow caves.  
      5. Emphasize that each person should carry shelter items with them in their survival kits.  A mylar space blanket can be easily rigged into a tarp when the weather turns foul.  

      A debris hut is the ideal wilderness survival shelter in most circumstances
      Once we have some snow on the ground, building a quinzee is a fun activity for Venturers. 
      Train Venturers how to find an improvised shelter like this uprooted tree. 

      Great Survival Books:

      "Wilderness Survival" Core requirements for the Ranger Award. 

      NOTE: (Before you begin wilderness survival, you must have completed the cooking, land navigation, and first aid core requirements.)
      1. Write a risk management plan for an upcoming crew high adventure activity such as a whitewater canoeing or rock-climbing trip. The plan should include nutrition, health, first aid, supervision, insurance, safety rules and regulations, proper equipment, maps and compass, in-service training, environmental considerations, emergency and evacuation procedures, and emergency contacts.
      2. From memory, list the survival priorities and explain your use of each in a survival situation.
      3. Learn about and then make a tabletop display or presentation for your crew, another crew, a Cub or Boy Scout group, or another youth group on the following subjects:
        1. Emergency signals used in the outdoors
        2. Search and rescue patterns
        3. Evacuation procedures and value of when to move and when not to move in a wilderness emergency
      4. Explain the following environmental exposure problems. Discuss what causes them, signs and symptoms, and treatment.
        1. Hypothermia
        2. Frostbite
        3. Sunburn
        4. Heat exhaustion
        5. Heat cramps
        6. Heat stroke
        1. Explain dehydration and the necessity of conserving fluids in a survival situation.
        2. Explain at least four methods of obtaining water in the outdoors and demonstrate at least two ways to purify that water.
        1. Demonstrate at least two different fire lays-one for cooking and one for warmth.
        2. Learn and discuss the use of fire starters, tinder, kindling, softwoods, and hardwoods in fire making.
      5. Explain and demonstrate how you can gain knowledge of weather patterns using VHF band radio and other radios, winds, barometric pressure, air masses and their movements, clouds, and other indicators.
        1. Explain the different rope materials and thicknesses that are best for wilderness use and how to care for them.
        2. Know the use of and demonstrate how to tie the following knots and lashings:
          1. Sheet bend
          2. Fisherman's knot
          3. Bowline
          4. Bowline on a bight
          5. Two half hitches
          6. Clove hitch
          7. Timber hitch
          8. Taut-line hitch
          9. Square lashing
          10. Shear lashing
        1. Explain the usefulness and drawbacks of obtaining food in the wilderness, including things to avoid.
        2. Prepare and eat at least one meal with food you have found in the outdoors.
        1. Make a list of items you would include in a wilderness survival kit and then make copies to hand out to visitors to your wilderness survival outpost camp.
        2. Using your list, make a wilderness survival kit. Explain the use of each item you have included.
        1. Set up a wilderness survival outpost camp and spend at least two nights and two days in your site.
        2. Use and demonstrate several knots and lashings from requirement (h) in your wilderness survival campsite demonstration.
        3. Know how to plan a wilderness shelter for three different environments and then build a shelter as part of your wilderness survival campsite demonstration.
        4. Have your crew, another crew, a Cub or Boy Scout group, or another youth group visit you in your outpost for a presentation you make on wilderness survival (at least one hour).
          (Note: Remember to use the Leave No Trace principles you learned.)

      Monday, June 18, 2012

      Snakes in the Niagara Gorge

      Who would have thought that the largest snake I ever saw in New York would be in the Niagara Gorge.  

      Yesterday I went hiking with a friend from the SAR team down into the Gorge.  Yes, we hiked under the guise of "physical conditioning" and getting ready for the work-capacity test, but in a place that is wild and unique as the Gorge - it is the best design I've even seen for a gym.  

      After descending the ailing Whirlpool stairs and making the rounds by the Flats we headed down the trail toward the old Great Gorge Railway stop in the rapids.  As an old hand in the area, I was leading the way and then something large moved on the ground just ahead of my feet. I stopped dead, then turned to Jamie, saying "look, it's a snake!" 

      We both stared at the slithering snake sunning itself on a patch of open ground.  Its unblinking reptilian eyes stared back at the two hikers, probably wondering if they were going to hurt it.  It curled itself into an S, as I grabbed my camera and began taking pictures - what a crappy day to not bring the good camera.  

       The snake was thick around the middle and close to four feet in length.  Sure I've seen snakes that big on the southern Appalachian Trail and in Panama, but wow!  This surely wasn't the garter snakes that I usually see.  

      Thoughts raced through my mind. Was this one of famed Timber Rattlers of the Gorge?  I thought they were extinct, but every now and then, somebody "sees" one.  Of course the head wasn't diamond shaped, nor did it have the famed tail that gives the Rattlesnake its name.  Maybe though, just maybe, this was a genetic variant...

      Of course, it could be something totally different. 

       I snapped a few pictures as we thought about what we were seeing; the snake retreated into a fortress of bushes and rock.  We talked about it for the rest of the hike, postulating what species of snake this was.  

      No rattle on the tail! 

      When I got home, I blew up the picture on my laptop and began researching what kind of snake we saw.  I was leaning toward a large Milk Snake, surely the largest I ever observed and with non-traditional colorings.  But then, I matched up the pattern with the Northern Water Snake.  

      Besides looking at several pictures online, I found a pdf of New York State snakes in the Conservationist quite helpful. 

      Whether it is a Milk Snake or Northern Water Snake, these snakes do not pose a danger to humans.  Yes, if they were threatened, they would bite you and it would hurt.  However, you aren't going to have to run to the hospital for anti-venom.  

      My advice for any kind of wildlife, is to watch it from a distance and wait for them to move - on their own terms. If you want to get close, buy a telephoto lens or go to the zoo.  
      Anyone who is more knowledgeable than I about snakes, reptiles and the lot are free to correct my guess.  I welcome it, a thing learned about nature is always appreciated. 

      If anyone is looking for great hiking in the Niagara Gorge, check out Hiking Trails Around Niagara Falls

      Sunday, May 27, 2012

      Preventative Search and Rescue in Zoar Valley

      Perhaps the problems with SAR teams, is that we respond after the event happens.  By the time we get the call out, arrive, organize, and venture out  - the subject is severely hypothermic and out of lifelines.  So what if we worked to prevent these wilderness accidents in the first place? 

      I like to call this activity Preventative Search and Rescue.

      Yes, our team has started doing outreach, letting people know they should carry the "10 Essentials" and always file a trip plan.  But -could we, as SAR volunteers, be doing more? 

      With over 4,000 acres of rugged terrain, the Zoar Valley Unique Area and  MUA (Multiple Use Area) is a treasure of Western New York and a place where one can experience pristine forests.  It is the perfect place to recharge from the stresses of the work week and reconnect with your natural self.

      However, over the years it has also become a favored place to "party."  (I'm not sure why I used quotation marks around the word "party" except to show that one person's party is a community's mess.)  One of the most popular places to party and hang out is the Big Falls on the South Branch of the Cattaraugus Creek.

      Yes, there are "No Trespassing" signs up
      For years, people have left the Forty Road access and walked upstream to The Falls.  The problem was - they were off State land and on private property while doing it.  Of course, this area is one of the more dangerous areas in WNY - numerous rope teams, SAR, Fire, and Law Enforcement resources had to be called out because of lost, confused, or injured individuals.  In a few instances, people died on the steep rocks and in the quick moving water.

      I'm not sure if I should even mention the vandalism and pollution left in the wake of many visitors.  

      Anyway, I am giving too much background here...

      The shale walls of Zoar Valley are beautiful in their fragility. 
      My SAR team partnered with The Nature Conservancy, the Nature Sanctuary Society of Western New York, and other private landholders to help protect this fragile area in South Branch of the Cattaraugus Creek Gorge.  We maintained a presence in this beautiful area and let people know of the dangers ahead and inform them that they should turn around.  

      As we inform flip-flop clad people headed toward the no-no zone that they are liable to incur a $250 day-use fee (AKA-fine) they turn around and look for adventure elsewhere.  I also realize, that there is one less person that will have to be rescued out of this gorge.  

      Yes, this is preventative SAR at its best.  

      Saturday, April 21, 2012

      Preparing for the Buffalo April Storm

      The offices of Buffalo meteorologists are once again abuzz with their favorite word- SNOW- but this time it is forecast for late April. Not that we hardy folk are strangers to unseasonal weather shifts, it is part of life here on the Niagara Frontier. 

      Of course, what really grabs out attention is when weather forecasters throw around the term, "It could be another October Surprise."

      As I look out my living room window at the budding trees in my yard, I realize that this statement is a means of urging precaution as much as it is a ploy to keep us tuned in to the TV just a little longer.  For what caused the destruction of the October Storm was wet snow clinging to our tree leaves; the limbs broke bringing down power cables across Western New York.  Some people were without power for two-weeks.

      The October Surprise storm taught us so much about ourselves, glued to the radio for a week, working together, and utilizing skills most of us forgot.  I lived in Lockport at the time and was disappointed that we were only without power for three days.  I am a backpacker and a bit of a survivalist - moments like those are what I live for. 

      Everyone should have a survival kit

      I had lanterns, sleeping bags, stoves, fuel, and food.  However, most people found themselves greatly unprepared. 
      So, what can you do to prepare yourself and your family?
      • Fill your vehicles up with gas
      • Fill up containers, and perhaps the bathtub, with water.  Plan on one gallon per person per day.  
      • Inventory your food supplies, plan on unrefrigerated easy to prepare food. 
      • If you have a generator, make sure it is in working condition and that you have enough fuel for it.  
      • Review how to cook and boil water without succumbing to Carbon Monoxide poisoning. 
      • Keep your cell phone charged.
      • Make sure you have a portable radio with batteries.  Information is key in a disaster.  
      • Have a few flashlights and battery powered lanterns.  Look for lights with LED bulbs- they are much more battery efficient.  
      • Check your battery supply.  Trying to find batteries was impossible during the October catastrophe.  

      If you want to know what to include in a survival kit, check out my article Prepare Your Family for Disaster: Survival Kits and Bug Out Bags

      Most importantly in any disaster, is to look our for other people in your community that might need help.  Granted, your family comes first, but make sure you check in on elderly neighbors.

      I love the snow, but I hate to see our community suffer.  I hope that the weather prognosticators are wrong on this April storm.  

      Tuesday, April 17, 2012

      Biking The Canalway Trail from North Tonawanda into Buffalo

      High winds, heat, and a potential storm - great day for a bike ride along the Erie Canal and Niagara River. 

      Though I'm not a cyclist, I like riding my bike for recreation as well as transportation.  Why am I not a cyclist?  Probably because I identify myself as a backpacker, a mountaineer, and a kayaker - those are the schema around which I base my life.  Also, I've never really embraced the cycling culture, I look ridiculous in bike shorts, my bikes are ill suited for what I do, and I don't hang out with other cyclists.  I'm just a guy that rides a bike. 

      Of course, I'm training to tour the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo next month so I guess I am kind of a cyclist; however, I wear my bicycling shorts underneath a pair of hiking pants.

      Anyway, I started from my home in North Tonawanda, weaving through the sleepy streets riddled with bike flipping potholes till I reached the relative safety of the Erie Canalway Trail, which is paved and generally car free.

      Niawanda Park was busy as usual with people holing hands strewn out across the trail - always keep a hand on your break and watch your speed.  Because of the wind, there weren't many cyclists out but a few joggers and walkers abounded. I even saw a roller blader: I didn't think people did that anymore. 

      A little while past the Grand Island Bridge and not quite to the LaFarge plant, I saw a curious sign.  One that has been there for a while apparently and one that I never paid any attention to. 

      I didn't pay much attention to it this time either, until I saw this sign: 

      Yes, the Town of Tonawanda succumbed to the marketing tactics of annoying road side attractions like South of the Border.  Anyone who has ever driven through the Carolinas know about their obnoxious signs which appear for hours before and after passing the tourist trap. 

      So what was there, warranting four signs - two in both directions - this:
       A short paved trail led to a shallow muddy flat with a sign stating "The Original Erie Canal" with a blurb about the foundation of the waterway on both sides.  Nice sign, but I'm not sure if this was the dedication spot or what, I'll have to find out more information. 

      I peddled down through Tow Path Park, Squaw Island, and Broderick Park before turning around.  All in all a good day. 

      A breezy day at Tow Path Park in Buffalo

      Sunday, March 25, 2012

      The Biggest Loser : Environment

      Everyone knows that Biggest Loser program on NBC, right? You know the one featuring morbidly obese people crying all the time and was created as a one-hour commercial for the weight-loss industry?  I propose a new Biggest Loser program, one which concentrates on limiting our expenditure of natural resources. We need to go on a diet from our wasteful ways, utilize renewable energy sources, and break away from the gas and oil corporations all together.

      Just imagine, instead of a weigh-in to see how much weight you lost, we measure your consumption of electric, gas, oil, and water. Perhaps the competitive nature of Americans, would "fuel" a new green revolution. 

      Now, all we need is a TV studio not owned by the fossil fuel addiction specialists.

      Tuesday, March 13, 2012

      Search and Rescue Bivy System

      Being up here in the somewhat frozen North and being a member of a SAR team, means that emergency bivouacs in the winter are a potential reality.  Yes, I could take the big Gregory Baltoro, throw in my Marmot Alpinist 4-season tent and my Marmot Col sleeping bag, but now my 24-hour pack is 12 pounds heavier.  Of course, it is a lot harder to walk through all that brush.

      So, what I needed was a lightweight shelter system, mainly because we don't PLAN on being out overnight.  Sure if we were planning on spending the night, I'd hump all that stuff back there, but realistically most of our SAR missions don't last overnight.  Generally IC, likes to bring everyone in and prevent further injuries.

      So, I've developed a system which is highly packable, lightweight, and that I've used in temperatures below freezing.  My test nights could be called - ALMOST comfortable.

      My shelter contains the following:

      Weather Protection: 
      • Waterproof breathable bivy sack - I carry the Marmot Alpinist bivy - weight 14 oz.  

      Warmth Layer:
      • North Face Elephant's Foot - 3/4 sleeping bag - weight 1 pound 
      • Adventure Medical Kits Thermolite bivy  - weight 6.5 oz
      • Puffy Jacket - this varies per the weather conditions, but it is whatever I have on hand.  

      Sure we could denude the forest of every pine bough, but most SAR-type folks have a bit of a "green" bent too. We can improvise.  
      •  We all carry partial closed cell foam sit pads - we can use this as part of our pad.  Mine is long enough to cover my upper torso easily. 
      • Use your empty pack as another part of the pad. 
      • Nests of leaves, and pine needles work well too - if you are in the snow though, this won't work. 

      Thursday, March 8, 2012

      I need an outdoor challenge to inspire me this year

      So for my HubPages account I am writing an article about the history of Appalachian Trail hiking. The History of Hiking the Appalachian Trail Of course as a thru-hiker myself ME>GA '98 I believe I have insight that many others don't have.  My one hub "An Appalachian Trail Thru Hike in Pictures" which showcases some pictures I took on my journey has been received moderately well.  I should probably tweak it a bit someday.  The problem is, that was '98 and I need to do something like that again. 

      Here I am on Katahdin during my thru-hike. 
      Sure since my Maine to Georgia thru-hike I've done A LOT of outdoor things, hiking on the FLT, becoming an Adirondack 46 R, paddling the Oswegatchie Traverse.  However, none of those things are as grand and as inspiring as hiking the Appalachian Trail.

      So, this year, before my child comes in August - I need to do something very cool outdoors.  However, because of saving money, it will have to be inexpensive and I'm not sure for how many weeks I can go.  Because of cost saving measures, I want to keep it in the North East.

      Anyway, here is a list of potential backpacking and canoeing trips:

      • Finger Lakes Trail - 560 miles - time needed about 28 days.  Heck it is the 50th anniversary of this trail this year. 
      • Long Path, 346 miles  - time needed 20 days 
      • Finish the Northern 176 miles of the Long Trail in Vermont - 10 days 
      • Paddle the Whitney Loop in the Adirondacks - 4 days
      • Paddle as much of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail as possible
      • Finish my Northeast 115 - most of what is left is in New Hampshire.  
      • Cohos Trail in NH 180 miles - new trail could be fun
      I don't know, maybe I could volunteer someplace cool.  If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

      For now, I go in search of adventure.... 

      If you are looking for a great outdoor site, full of information check out World Outdoor Web.

      Thursday, February 23, 2012

      Spring Kayaking is Coming!

      In preparation for my big move (around the corner) I mounted my Thule rack back to my car.  It is much easier to move .while it is on a vehicle than in one.  I was going to take it off right after the move, but...the River looks so inviting.  My kayak is calling - it wants to play.

      Of course, because this has been one of the warmest winters on record, I could have kayaked all year around this year.  That said, for those of you that don't know - COLD WATER WILL KILL YOU!  The water doesn't even have to be that cold, to get a great shock.  I'll be wearing neoprene and my dry gear until June, just in case.

      I really don't want the Coast Guard to fish my body out of Lake Ontario.  Come to think of it, I don't want them to fish anyone's bodies out this year (and no, I'm not referring that we just leave them there).  I'm sure the CG would appreciate not doing body retrievals this year.

      So what can you do?

      First of all - WEAR A LIFE JACKET!!!!!!!
      Yes, you dumbass, the one that swam the 400 fly in High School - that was 30 years ago.  I'm a lifeguard and I always wear my PFD - you should too.
      Second, file a float plan:
      Someone back home should know where you are going and when you expect to return.
      Third, Carry safety equipment:
      Extra clothing, water, food, headlamp, map, compass, whistle, flares, first aid kit, throw rope, bailing sponge, sunscreen,  rain gear.  If you are going into a wilderness environment, you should carry the 10 Essentials.
      Fourth, Dress for the season,
      Non-cotton clothing that retains its thermal properties while wet, a wide brimmed hat, kayaking gloves, neoprene boots, polarized glasses for glare. 

      So start getting your kayak and paddles ready, as it almost time to put away the snowshoes and get out on the water again.

      Crap, that reminds me - I need new neoprene kayaking boots.  The tread on my Teva Avator boots finally gave out. I have boots for warm water, but nothing to protect me from the cold too.  Any suggestions? 

      Wednesday, February 22, 2012

      Hiking the Gorges of Western New York: Niagara Gorge and Zoar Valley

      After feeling a little sick for the last two weeks, I haven't been out hiking too much at all.  Finally though, I am feeling a little better and decided to hit up some of Western New York's gorges in the last couple days.  It felt good to return to the trails and experience the beauty of our region. 

      Friday, February 17th, Niagara Gorge: I jut needed a quick walk, something to get my blood pumping and feel the invigoration that the outdoors offers.  It wasn't going to be a long walk, maybe just a few miles - it was just what I needed.

      I parked at Whirlpool, grabbed my pack with "The Ten Essentials" and headed down the rim trail toward the stairs to the gorge.  It was overcast, nothing uncommon for winter in the Buffalo area. Albeit the temperatures, today around 33 degrees, have been all too warm this winter.  I can't remember a winter with this little snow.  The trails were a little icy though so I slipped my kahtoola microspikes on for traction.

      I reached the bottom of the gorge and started to turn right toward Devil's Hole to come up that set of stairs, when I thought it may be a nice day to chill out by the Whirlpool.  I turned left.

      The water was that cool aqua-sea-green color, a color which has no match and can't be captured in photographs.  Though as I reached the churning of the Whirlpool and the channel of rapids that leads into it, the choppy water took on hues of pure white and shimmers of blue.

      I pulled out my closed-cell sit pad, put on an extra layer, and sat by the water for some time.  I'm always amazed, given the visitors to Niagara Falls, that there aren't more visitors down in the gorge.  With the exception of a Canadian fisherman across the way, I was the only one down there.  I did however, see fisherman along the trail as I headed out.

      When I reached the Whirlpool stairs to go back up, I was feeling pretty good and headed down toward my original departure point at Devil's Hole.  Though the trail was a little washed out in places, everything is surely passable and easy to follow.

      Though I was a little apprehensive about the stairs, given a couple of weeks of inactivity, I had no problem bounding up them.  Sure, I was a little more winded than usual, but I refused to take a break until I reached the top.

      For maps for a great  Niagara gorge hike, check out "A Short Hiking Trail into the Scenic Niagara Falls Gorge: Devil's Hole

      Saturday February 18th, Zoar Valley:  Our search and rescue team had mountaineering training at Zoar Valley a natural gorge of Cattaraugus Creek.  Zoar Valley is one of those wild places and a popular destination for fisherman, white water kayakers, hikers, and hunters.  One of our team's first calls was concerning Zoar, so we have to be prepared to get down there in any conditions.

      Our team parked near the access point on Forty Road, divided up climbing equipment, and split into three and four person teams.  We found the rough unmarked trail and headed toward the Knife Edge. 

      Many of us had been to the access point before, so we had the edge waypointed in our GPS units.  The trails back there are a twisted mixture of old jeep roads, game trails, and attempted bushwhacks.  The last time our team went back here, the trail we were following dead-ended in a tangled mess of honeysuckle and multiflora rose.  I think I still have scars from that one.  I won't tell you that I was leading the way either...

      After demonstrating the technique for our ascent and descent, we walked down the precarious knife edge.  Though I do higher angels than this unroped, as a team we have to make sure we can get down and up safely.  Also, the soft shale of Zoar is eroding and undercutting many of the steeper sections; you never know when the ground will give out beneath your feet.  It's nice to know that someone has your back. 

      We did a little training at the bottom of the gorge, discussing patient packaging and field improvisation techniques.  Of course, we had a little lunch and passed around a bag of delicious Hudson Bay Bread and venison sausage. 

      The walk up wasn't bad and I switched from tail end of the rope (the mule of the team) to lead position (the person that chooses route and employs anchors). 

      About half-way out of the gorge, it began to actually snow and blow pretty good. I kind of felt like I was up in the Adirondacks for a little bit.  Odd as it may sound, the blowing snow felt great.  A great opportunity for training in one of those hidden gems of Western New York. 

      Photo by Manon Paquet

      The following Sunday was indeed a day of "rest," though I used it for packing for my upcoming move.  Had I not been so busy, I would have driven over to Letchworth for a quick hike.  To hike all three in three days would be the triple crown of Western New York gorge hiking.  

      Wednesday, February 15, 2012

      An Environmental Lawnmower

      So, we are moving in a couple of weeks and I will have the most esteemed pleasure of mowing the lawn; it's been a few years since I had to mow a lawn.  Yes, though the banks and the realty companies tell you that homeowners have it made, it is the renter that smiles when his landlord is shoveling the driveway in a blizzard or mowing in a heat wave.

      Anyway, I have to buy a lawnmower...

      Of course, this is a small city lot, and I do have a machete.  Maybe if I ... nah, I  guess I have to get one.

      Am I now doomed to join the ranks of noisy lawn-destroying denizens that terrorize the peacefulness of the neighborhood?

      Of course, I could avoid those noisy contraptions, all the maintenance, and the yanking of my shoulder out of its socket.  Yep, I'm thinking about buying a reel mower.  And no, that is not a misspelling of "real."

      Now the last time I used a reel mower, I think I was 12 and the blades hadn't been sharpened since before the Korean War.  It was a pretty good workout from what I remember.  According to what I've been reading the new reel mowers are fast, quiet, require little maintenance, and best all are environmentally friendly.

      I found a website extolling the virtues of reel mowers  Green Your Lawn with a Push Reel Lawn Mower

      So far I am looking at a model from Fiskars with an adjustable cutting length.  

      Tuesday, February 14, 2012

      A Thought Regarding Outdoor Gear Maintenance

      So with the success with my one article on How to Wash and Waterproof a Softshell Jacket I decided I should write another article on how to take care of hardshell rain garments too. I think I will title this one "How to waterproof a rain jacket."  I should throw something in there too about DWR too for those google results.  Anyway, it got me thinking today about how we maintain our gear.

      How many of us in the outdoors, especially those of us with copious amounts of gear, actually take care of everything the way we should?  A part of me expects to replace a pack every couple of years, though realistically if I took care of it better and took it to be sewn when ripped, I could get many more years out of it.  The eco-conscious person inside me knows that I should try to stretch equipment as much as I can to avoid the production of new materials. 

      Then again, as an avid outdoorsman that always has the latest and greatest, I really like getting a new pack every couple of years.  Of course, do I really like it?  Maybe I am just following the fashion of the outdoor advertising industry.  With promises of going farther and faster, it is hard to ignore all those flashy images.   

      Of course, for those that know me, it isn't like I throw away my gear. Often I keep it as backup, donate it, or resell it.  Still however, I realize I am putting a bigger strain on the environment by feeding my gear addiction.  Anyway, I am going to try and maintain what I have as best I can in an effort to be greener.

      Of course, having the right stuff makes all the difference.  I wonder how many people have thrown out that goretex jacket "because it leaks" without every trying a product like nikwax to retreat the material.

      So check out my latest article on "How to Wash and Waterproof a Rain Jacket: Restore the DWR."  

      Thursday, February 9, 2012

      Search and Rescue Winter Resources

      Search and Rescue teams must be able to respond safely and effectively in cold weather search operations.  The following is a collection of resources for SAR teams responding to emergencies in winter environments.  If you have any resources that should be included on this list, leave a link in the comment section and I'll post it. 


      Carbon Country SAR winter gear list 

      US SAR Task Force Avalanche Safety 

      US SAR Task Force Cold Weather Injuries 

      US SAR Task Force Blizzards

      Firefighter Nation:  Preparation for Lengthy Rescue Ops in Cold Weather


      Princeton Outdoor Hypothermia and Cold Weather Injuries 

      Princeton Outdoor Guide to Winter Camping 

      Military Medical Operations in Cold Environments 

      FM 3-97.61 Military Mountaineering 

      REI: How To Go Winter Camping and Backpacking


      "Winter Backpacking and Hiking Gear List"  My personal winter backpacking gear list.

      "How to Start Snowshoeing: Winter Hiking on Snowshoes"  The basics of snowshoeing.

      "How to Wash and Waterproof a Softshell Jacket"  Getting wet in your softshell jacket? 

      "Water for Winter Wandering: A Backpacker's Guide to Safe Drinking Water in the Colder Months" Winter creates interesting challenges for obtaining and purifying water.

      "The Ten Outdoor Essentials" The basic gear list for doing anything outdoors.

      "Winter Survival Kits for Your Car" No, not SAR specific, but you never know what will happen while you are driving to a search.


      Preview Mountaineering The Freedom of the Hills HERE on Google Books.

      Thursday, February 2, 2012

      Friday the 13th Hike Along the River and a New Jacket from Mountain Hardwear

      Given Buffalo's general lack of snow this year, I was elated to wake up and see those outstanding white out conditions. Yes, today would be a great opportunity to test out my new Mountain Hardwear Victorio jacket. I never had a really high-end mountaineering shell before, so I am anxious to see how it performs. Though this isn't a formal gear review, more of a rambling actually, I'll be posting a in-depth review later for this jacket.

      I barely bundled up, but the high winds were perfect for frost bite on any exposed skin. Even just walking through my neighborhood and down to the river, I knew I'd have to "facemask up," grab my glasses, and don my gore-tex mitts.

      I ended up walking down my street, cutting across the tracks, and out to the walk way on the Niagara River. The untrodden walkway was thick with snow and ice, I was glad I brought my kahtoola microspikes with me for much needed traction.

      This is the closest place, along the river, near my house for a "nature" walk - I am thankful it is only a half-mile from my door. The mighty Niagara River is a place of magnetic attraction: I find myself hiking and lounging by it's shores, I kayak in warmer water months, and visit the Niagara Gorge as often as I can. Sure I love the wilderness of the Adirondacks, but it's great having a resource like the River nearby.

      The wind swept viciously across the open water of the river, driving ice-encrusted snow pellets into me.  For a while, I thought I was on a winter Adirondack summit.  Of course, as this jacket is for those Adirondack summits, it is appropriate.

      I reached the area where the Sea Bee and Marine monuments are and decided to test the flexibility of the jacket with that crisp newness still in it.  I bent my legs and traversed the monkey bars.  I was amused what any passerbys, if there were any, would think if they saw a grown man swinging on the monkey bars in the middle of a Buffalo snow storm.  After the monkey bars, I tested my mettle on the pull-up and dip bars.

      Though I am use to the extreme flexibility of soft shell jackets, this hardshell had a good fit and good flexibility.  Part of my wonders if I should have went up to the extra-large to give myself a little extra layering room.  Then again, I wanted a lightweight, slim jacket, and I can still fit my poly-fill jacket underneath.  If anything, it encourages me to maintain or lose weight.  It always sucks being between sizes...

      So, I pushed myself pretty hard walking with a quick pace and exercising out in the snow.  I was amazed that the inside of my jacket wasn't sweaty, Mountain Hardwear may be onto something with this new DryQ Elite waterproof / breathable fabric.  I wonder when I'll have to use the pit zips.  Who am I kidding, I sweat like a politician in an ethics seminar - I'll use them someday. 

      Despite being dry from not sweating, I am also pleased how windproof and weather proof this jacket is.  The gusty winds didn't penetrate the material and the snow and sleet, just bounced off the jacket like bullets on Superman's chest.  

      The hood was really cool too, in the many adjustments that made it conform to my head and the way it zipped up to protect a good portion of my face.  I was thinking, it would be a good jacket for casual winter use, when the weather outside is nasty, but you don't want to look like you are on an Antarctic expedition. 

      So: dry, warm, and comfortable - so far MHW's Victorio  jacket is doing well.  Let's see how it does up in the High Peaks in a couple weeks. 

      UPDATE: Check out my full review at:

      Gear Review of the Mountain Hardwear Dry.Q Elite Victorio Jacket

      Sunday, January 1, 2012

      The 1000 Mile Hiking Year

      Ahh yes, the New Year resolution: an expectation by all of us and the start of broken dreams and wasted energy.  Yet, year after year, we compile lists of promises which will surely be broken in a few weeks.  We pledge unending devotion to pursuits like weight loss, exercise, and stopping a myriad of bad habits; however, the reality of failure is constant plague upon our efforts. 

      There are those experts, the goal gurus I guess you could call them, which heartily offer their resolution advice on morning tv shows and websites alike.  Of course, with promises of controlling my destiny, they sucked me in with their gnarly graphics.  So what did I learn from these archetypes of advice givers? 

      Basically, in order for a goal to succeed is must be measurable, achievable, and personally meaningful. 

      So when asked casually this year what my resolution was, as is appropriate for end of year smalltalk, I replied simply, "hike more!"  As someone who identifies himself primarily as a backpacker and a hiker it is perhaps the only response which actually makes sense. 

      So how much more do I plan to hike this year?  I decided to make it achievable my giving myself the full year and measurable by assigning the value of 1000 miles.  

      Though 1000 miles seemed like quite a bit when I plucked the number out of the air, I though to my year on the Appalachian Trail when I hiked 2,160 trail miles.  Of course there were also about 350 miles in side trips while on the trail and an additional 300 or so for training hikes.  1000 miles will be easy, right?  

      Of course, some years later, I do have more pressures of work, family and other obligations - maybe it won't be easy after all.  Then again, 1000 miles over 52 weeks is less than 20 miles per week.  I can do 20 miles per week - no problem ( I hope).  At the very least if I don't quite make it, really what is the worst that happens when you don't fulfill a resolution?  The last I checked, one is not sentenced to torture in a distant level of hell for breaking this New Year promise.  In anything it is a good plan and perhaps a valiant effort.

      So, if anyone wants to join me  and start hiking themselves, check out my hub article on Hiking Fit for the New Year