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