Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Gourmet Backcountry Food for Backpacking

AAI Backpacking guide Jeff Ries has a great advantage over our mountaineering guides. If you take out your rope and your harness and your pickets and your cams, suddenly your pack is a lot lighter. Some might argue that perhaps that weight shouldn't go completely away. Perhaps it should be replaced with food. Really good food.

Jeff has been cooking gourmet food on his backpacking trips over the last few years and has put together the following blog about how to eat really well in the mountains. Yeah, it might be a little bit on the heavy side...and if you're looking to lighten up then this won't be for you. But if you're okay with carrying a little extra and want to eat well, then check it out...
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Before leaving the trailhead, I like to have everyone enjoy the option of a treat from a nice bakery and offer everyone a scone or something similar. On the hike in on the first day I offer grapes and bing cherries at the first rest stop. They are a bit heavy to carry further but the water and sugar content are both well appreciated.

A good first lunch is some fruit and pastries, rather than a larger meal that could slow strenuous activity. I prefer eating a little around 11am and a little more around 2pm, so I offer snacks like fruit, gorp and energy bars. Gourmet crackers with flavored cream cheese, like Laughing Cow products work well.

It doesn't take as much effort to carry a little more weight to the first camp, I splurge a bit with beef stroganoff on the first evening. I grill some fillet mignon medium rare a couple days before the trip; it will cook the rest of the way just before it is served. Then I cut it up into 1 inch cubes and freeze it. It will keep other foods cold on the hike in. I cook a stroganoff noodle mix and then add fresh sour cream, a little white wine and then the fillet mignon. The rest of the wine is served with or before the meal. If it is cold and rainy, I also serve soup. If it is hot and the climb has been tough, it is a good time for Frito's or baby carrots dipped in french onion dip (made with the rest of the sour cream). Variations I have used for the first evening include grilled salmon instead of fillet mignon and apple slices dipped in carmel dip as the appetizer.

For the next morning, eggs and hash browns work well, especially with some tomatoes. I always have some flavored oatmeal for people who don't like to eat eggs. A little ham and/or cheese is nice to put in the eggs. I boil some water for tea, coffee or hot chocolate before the main course.

The second lunch is a good time for fresh fruit; apples or oranges. I also like to provide some quality dinner rolls or flavored bread (last trip the bakery had spinach feta) with some flavored cheese spread.

Dinner on the second night is a good time for ham as it keeps well for 2 days and a night (as long as temperatures are not too hot). I serve soup if it as cold and cold beer if it is hot. If I have a campfire, I wrap some potatoes in foil and put them in or by the fire while cooking fresh broccoli. If there is no campfire, I slice the potatoes and boil them. Chocolate covered blueberries make a great dessert.

The rest of the trip breakfasts offer a choice of precooked Mountain House scrambled eggs with bacon (sometimes with potatoes - the skillet selection), flavored oatmeal, granola and of course coffee/tea/hot chocolate.

Lunch on the third day includes flavored wheat thins with extra sharp cheese and salami. If there is any fresh fruit left over, we finish it up today.

The third night's dinner is time for something that keeps well for a few days. I prefer precooked flavored chicken breasts in a foil pouch, available at some grocery stores. I serve them with instant flavored potatoes and baby carrots. Chocolate covered espresso beans are a hit with the coffee drinkers.

Beef steak nuggets, Bakers breakfast cookies and dried fruit (different types) make great lunches an later days of a trip. Bagels and cream cheese also keeps well. Soup is always nice when it is cold and stopping for a long lunch, I sometimes build a campfire to warm bodies and dry clothing.

For dinner on the fourth and subsequent nights, I offer a variety of Mountain House brand freeze dried dinners. I want the backpackers to try different entrees so I bring several 2 serving choices. If anyone is still hungry after emptying the foil pouch in which it cooks, I add an envelope of instant potatoes and the appropriate amount of boiling water to make sure everyone has had enough. This keeps dish cleaning to a minimum as there are no dishes to clean these nights.

--Jeff Ries, AAI Backpacking Guide

Monday, September 15, 2014

Film Review: Vertical Frontier

Mount Everest is deeply embedded in the minds of climbers and non-climbers alike all over the world. People think about it constantly.  We hear it all the time: "what do I need to do to climb Everest?"

Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. But that's not what's made it such a household name. No, instead, it was the countless books and documentaries that have been produced over the years describing the gruesome details of expeditions gone wrong, and the heroic efforts of climbers on successful ascents. Popular culture lore helped to create the Everest that exists in our minds...


And while there are other mountains that the collective climbing psyche is fixated on, there are few that have seen so many popular culture references. And fewer yet that have hundreds of documentary films chronicling the tales on their flanks.  Mount Everest is an international household name.  It was the scene of many heroic alpine struggles...but there are other places that deserve such an honor.  One of those places is Yosemite Valley.

Like Mount Everest, Yosemite holds an important place in the history of climbing. It is where modern rock climbing evolved the furthest, the fastest.  And it is a place where technical skill and big wall proficiency is still at the cutting edge.  One great difference between Mount Everest and Yosemite is the fact that there simply have not been as many popular culture explorations of the place and its history to climbers.

Vertical Frontier, subtitled, "A History of the Art, Sport and Philosophy of Rock Climbing in Yosemite," is a Mount Everest style documentary built for the masses.  But unlike many of the Everest documentaries, Vertical Frontier caters to climbers as well as to non-climbers, making it one of the rare films that is entertaining to both audiences.

Vertical Frontier is a slick PBS-style feature documentary narrated by Tom Brokaw that tells the story of climbing in Yosemite from the first forays onto big features in the 1800s to a battle between climbers and the National Park Service at the turn of the century.  In between these two bookends, the film follows the development of climbing skill and technique by chronicling the important ascents over the last 100 years.

Much of the film is done in a standard documentary format; a format that easily allows the filmmakers to tell the story. And though engaging, climbing history is fraught with emotion and one-upsmanship. This, unfortunately, doesn't always penetrate the documentary style.

The capstone of Yosemite's story in the film is the "coming-together" of climbers after a flood seriously impacted the valley's tourist infrastructure in 1997. The National Park Service proposed a change in Camp 4, the campground used by generations of Yosemite Climbers. They wanted to build a new lodge at the historic site.  The last minutes of the film are quite different from the rest, as they are filled with emotion as decades worth of climbers pull together to save the place that provided them with such inspiration.

This 2002 documentary won the "Best Film on Climbing" at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2002 and at the Kendall Mountain Film Festival in 2003. The film won first prize in the Mountaineering Category at the International Mountaineering Film Festival at Teplice nad Metuii in the Czech Republic in 2004.  Additionally, it won the "Viewer's Choice" award at the International Festival of Outdoor Films in 2004 and the "Best Cameraman" at the Tbilisi International Mountain Films Festival in Georgia in 2006. It may be one of the better-awarded documentaries of its type...


Many of the films we see on Youtube or at the Banff Film Festival today are about people pushing standards. They are often slickly produced and are extremely entertaining. But they don't usually give us a glimpse into what came before the climbers on screen demonstrating their acrobatic skills.  Vertical Frontier provides this and is extremely entertaining for it...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sprained Ankles: Don't Do More Damage by Rushing Recovery

Ankle sprains are among the most common injuries, and unfortunately, they are more often than not, not well cared for. An article by health writer Jane Brody in the New York Times explains the dangers of not taking really good care of even a minor sprain.

She writes: “A sprained ankle is one of the most common joint injuries, prompting many people to consider it 'just a sprain' and not treat it with the respect it deserves. The too-common consequence of this neglect is a lasting weakness, an unstable joint and repeated sprains.
Given that some 25,000 ankle sprains occur each day in the United States, it is worth knowing how they can be prevented and how they should be treated.”

Under treatment means that 30 to 40 percent of people with simple ankle sprains develop chronic long-term joint pathology.

Experts say that after a sprain the ankle should be immediately immobilized to protect the joint and allow the injured ligaments to heal: at least a week for the simplest sprain, 10 to 14 days for a moderate sprain and four to six weeks for more severe sprains.

You can’t simply use pain as a guideline, because often times pains eases up or goes away in cases in which there is still a lot of ligament healing to be done.

Brody writes, “As with other such injuries, the recommended first aid for an ankle sprain, to be started as soon as possible after the injury, goes by the acronym
RICE:

R – for rest,
I – for ice,
C – for compression,
E – for elevation.

In other words, get off the foot, wrap it in an Ace-type bandage, raise it higher than the heart and ice it with a cloth-wrapped ice pack applied for 20 minutes once every hour (longer application can cause tissue damage). This should soon be followed by a visit to a doctor, physical therapist or professional trainer, who should prescribe a period of immobilization of the ankle and rehabilitation exercises. An anti-inflammatory drug may be recommended and crutches provided for a few days, especially if the ankle is too painful to bear weight.”

See her article for more details on care and healing:
http://tinyurl.com/mhj8oj

Brody writes on health every Tuesday in the NYT’s Science Times section.

Dunham Gooding

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Route Profile: Chimborazo's Stübel Glacier Route


Chimborazo rises from Ecuador's altiplano. AAI Collection. 


Chimborazo is Ecuador's highest peak. It is a massive, five-summited mountain rising nearly 11,000 feet above Ecuador's central valley in the western of the country's two parallel cordillera. It is visible from Colombia in the north, from near the Peruvian border in the south, and from far out on the Pacific Ocean. This is a much more complex volcanic peak than most all others of its type, showing many faces that offer a wide range of challenges to alpine climbers.

In recent years, climbs of Chimborazo have been more treacherous due to climate change, which has caused massive glacial melt resulting in extreme rock fall danger. However, a new route has been developed thanks to the guiding community in Ecuador, which avoids this threat.

Routes On Chimborazo

Almost everyone who has climbed Chimborazo has done so by one of four routes on the mountain's southeast side: The Whymper Route, the South Ridge, the Thielman Glacier direct, and the Thielman Glacier approach to the South Ridge route (the last two pioneered by AAI guides in the late 1970s). More recently and for a period of several years, those routes fell out of shape because of sequential seasons of low snow fall and warmer temperatures which combined to create rock fall issues. 

In that period AAI moved to the north face on another route that AAI guides established in 2007.
However, since then an active volcano in Ecuador's eastern cordillera has been in an intermittent but fairly steady state of eruption for several years. The ash that it has thrown into the atmosphere has been deposited in significant amounts on Chimborazo's north face, accelerating snow melt and making the route extremely icy. With belays required on a large percentage of its many pitches, the north face is not currently a practical option. Climate change has continued to result in melting ice and poor conditions on the normal route on the southeast side as well. 

In 2014, AAI guides took part in a successful expedition to find a new safe route to the summit. This new route, which we will return to in 2015, leaves from the Plaza Roja, near the Carrel Hut (currently closed for renovations) and climbs the Stübel Glacier. The Stübel Glacier route not only provides less risk but also more adventure, as climbers camp with the help of porters rather than use mountain refuges.
The new route (in black) and the abandoned section, which passes under El Castillo, a cliff band known for rock fall. AAI Collection

The Climb

Climbing Chimborazo requires at least seven days of acclimatization, which AAI achieves through strategic excursions and climbs of peaks like Cotopaxi and Cayembe, or for more advanced climebrs, Illiniza and Antisana. After completing this period of acclimatization, we spend a refreshing night in a hacienda in the 9000-foot (2750m) central valley. The next morning we drive up Chimborazo's flank to reach a small lodge at 13,200 feet (4023m). It sits in picturesquely on a grassy plain below Chimborazo and allows us to enjoy a good rest day and views of the altiplano surrounding Chimborazo and nearby Carihuarirazo (also known as Chimborazo's Wife). The high elevation keeps our ongoing acclimatization robust and is another perfect intermediate step up from the central valley as we prepare to move to the hut on Chimborazo.

The next morning we make a short drive through grasslands to the south side of the mountain and then continue higher to the Plaza Roja (4,852m / 15,914 ft) located close to the Carrel Hut. From there, it takes us about two hours to walk to the Stübel Camp (5,050m / 16,564ft ) where we spend the afternoon preparing for the climb the next day. Climbers help carry equipment to camp, while porters carry the tents and water.

Starting the climb at about midnight, we follow the Stübel glacier until it joins the Castle Saddle (5,500m / 18,044 ft). This new variant to the normal Castle Ridge route, free from rock fall, makes it a much safer line to the top. From the Stübel Camp it normally takes eight hours to get to the Whymper summit. By the time we reach the 18,500 foot level (5640 m), we will have surmounted most of the technical challenges on the mountain, and on the remainder of our route we will ascend compact and moderately angled snow. We reach Veintimilla summit at 20,500ft, where we could see Tungurahua (an active volcano often erupting). From the Veintimilla summit, we take our last short rest before traversing to the main (Whymper) summit. This final push takes 20-30 minutes, depending on the amount of recent snowfall. The summit crater area is a vast one that is normally covered in its entirety either in soft snow or nieve penitentes.

From the summit the panorama encompassing Ecuador's many other glaciated peaks is superb, and the views during the climb, the intricacy of the route, and the variety of moderate technical challenges encountered make this ascent of the world's highest equatorial summit an important achievement for both developing and experienced alpine climbers.

The descent to the Stübel Camp takes three hours. After returning to the camp, we pack and descend to Plaza Roja, or we will stay another night if necessary. We'll head back to Quito, or if we have an extra day because good weather facilitates an ascent on the first of our two summit days, we will return to the central valley and then travel east, part way down one of the major routes to the Amazon Basin. We will stop in the mountain valley town of Baños where the lush vegetation is home to an unusually large variety of orchids, butterflies, and hummingbirds a dramatic contrast to the flora and fauna of the alpine zones where we've been travelling and climbing. Based in a comfortable hotel near waterfalls and natural hot baths, we'll enjoy swimming, relaxing, and exploring the Rio Pastazas Canyon that flows with some drama (waterfalls!) to the Amazon. A bicycle descent of part of the canyon is an option. On our final afternoon, we'll return to Quito and look forward to a final celebratory dinner and a chance to review the highlights of our diverse and exciting trip together.

A group of AAI climbers in 2014 on the top of Chimborazo. Craig Hore.

If you're interested in climbing Chimborazo via the new route, email info@alpineinstitute.com or call 360-671-1505. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Children's Book about Mountain Guides?


Yep, you bet. Mark the Mountain Guide is a book for kids about Mountain Guides. The video doesn't give us the whole story, but I bet that the guide gets all of his climbers safely across the Grumpy Gorge!



I ordered both this book and a sequel to this book a couple of years ago. I have to say both of the books are quite good and my children really enjoy them...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Mug Dilema

Well, it's not really that much of a dilemma. A few years ago, somebody suggested to me that one could save space and go lighter if he ditched his mug for hot drinks. The idea was that you're already carrying water-bottles...why not use those instead?

So I did. I ditched the mug and started to drink all of my hot fluids out of my Nalgene bottles. This worked for awhile, until I found out about polycarbonate and Bisphenol A.

If you've had you haven't heard some rumblings about this, you've probably been in the backcountry too much. This controversy set the outdoor blogs and forums on fire a few years ago.

Essentially, many water bottles are made out of polycarbonate. The problem with this is that the bottles may leech Bisphenol A into the contents. This is exacerbated in hot liquids, older bottles, or in bottles that you store fluid in for a long period of time.

The problem with Bisphenol A is that this estrogen-like chemical has been linked to breast cancer and the onset of early puberty. Studies have also raised concerns about the effect of such feminizing hormones on men, such as breast enlargement or dropping semen counts.

So after finding out about this, I wasn't that psyched on my water-bottles any more. I know that many companies have taken steps to keep this chemical out of their bottles, but I didn't want to chance it. As a result, I invested in a little metal water bottle, which mostly worked well.

It was always a bit difficult to hold the plastic bottles after filling them with boiling tea. This was much worse when I used the metal bottle. Indeed, I actually made a little cosy in order to comfortably hold the bottle.

And so all was well for a time... But then it happened.

Inexplicably, I put a plastic water-bottle into my pack instead of a metal bottle. I don't know why I did this. And the bottle I put in the bag wasn't from one of the well-known bottle manufactures. No, it was from a gear rep and it had a company name on it...

I didn't think this would matter. It looked just as heavy as any Nalgene bottle I'd carried in the past. But it turns out that it wasn't. When I put my hot water into the bottle, it changed shape and became something all together different.


A bottle melted out of form by boiling water.

This had never happened to me before, so I was a bit shocked. I didn't expect the bottle to melt.

The moral of the story isn't that I've gone back to carrying a mug, but instead to say, check your bottles with hot water in them before you take them into the backcountry, If there's something weird about them, it's better to know ahead of time than during a trip...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 5, 2014

Vertical Limit: An Instructional Video?


Hold your breath! Okay, you can let it out now. There wasn't that much a reason to hold your breath, because the 2000 film, Vertical Limit is dumb.

It has been discussed here in the past and in many other climbing forums and blogs. There is no other way to put it...

Vertical Limit is stupid.

Maybe I should make this a little bit more clear. Vertical Limit is perhaps the most ludicrous climbing film of all time. There is not one iota of truth or reality in the entire movie from the beginning to the end. And in many cases, the storyline is so outrageous that it is actually comical.

So a small group of climbers decided that the best way to use the content of this film was to make an instructional climbing video out of it. Hilarity ensues...


--Jason D. Martin