Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Ten Essentials

Common sense and good planning go a long way toward preventing emergencies in the backcountry. But sometimes, despite our best preparation, things go wrong.

According to Wikipedia (what did we do before Wikipedia?), the "Ten Essentials" were first described by The Mountaineers in the 1930s. According to The Mountaineers, the list was made to address two questions: Can you respond positively in an emergency? and, Can you safely spend an unexpected night out?

Certainly everyone who is headed into the outdoors should carry necessary gear, and it is even more important for group leaders to make sure that appropriate items are present in case of an emergency.

The Mountaineers have revised their original list of items to be a list of categories. These are:

1. Navigation -- always carry a detailed topo map in a waterproof covering, along with a compass. Know how to use your compass. While GPS units are nice tools, they can break and/or need more batteries than you have. Do not rely solely on them. Route descriptions can be helpful, but do not rely on them to be accurate as any one location can look significantly different from year to year.

2. Sun Protection -- Sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, a brimmed hat and appropriate clothing.

3. Insulation -- This is extra clothing. It depends, somewhat, on the conditions you can expect where and when you are there. These are extra layers needed to survive the long hours of an unplanned stay. At the minimum you should have an extra top layer and good quality rain suit. Consider an extra pair of socks and wool hat.
4. Illumination -- Always carry a headlamp or flashlight with some new batteries/bulbs.

5. First Aid Kit -- Carry and know how to use the items in your first aid kit, but be prepared to improvise splints or dressings. At a minimum, you should have gauze (roller and 4x4s), adhesive bandages in various sizes, butterfly closures or steri-strips, triangular bandages, good quality tape, scissors, soap or disinfectant, a large syringe for irrigation (or dedicated zip loc bags), gloves for body fluids isolation, and paper/pencil.

6. Fire -- Firestarter and a filled lighter/matches can save your life and be used to signal rescuers. Firestarter is necessary to get wet wood to burn and can consist of candles, chemical heat tabs, canned heat or dryer lint. In cold climates, it makes sense to always carry a stove/fuel.

7. Tools -- Knives are indispensable, and multitools with pliers are even better. Shoelaces, parachute cord, cable ties, webbing, small sewing kit and duct tape can fix almost anything.

8. Extra Food -- While you can survive for several days without food, you'll be more comfortable if you have some in an emergency.

9. Extra Water -- When I'm hiking with folks, there is much discussion on just how much water will be needed and a desire to not carry one extra drop. But in an emergency, you'll need extra water beyond what you've designated for the hike. Always carry at least an extra liter per person. Also, don't rely soley on a hydration system (like a Camelbak(r)); you'll need a way to give water to the hurt person as well as be prepared if your bladder springs a leak. While having a method to purify water is nice, any water is better than none.

10. Emergency Shelter -- A jumbo plastic trash bag and/or reflective blanket to shelter you from rain and wind can help prevent hypothermia

It's a good idea to have all these items in a daypack even at home; you can grab it in any emergency or in case of a zombie attack and have a leg up when fleeing. Seriously, it is a good idea to have all these items assembled ahead of your planned trip and ready.

What other items do you deem essential in a backcountry emergency?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Isle au Haut

The largest, most familiar part of Maine’s Acadia National Park, the part donated to the nation by George Dorr, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and other wealthy Easterners, is located on Mount Desert Island, just off the coast from the town of Ellsworth. Much less familiar is the part located on Isle au Haut (“eye-la-hoe”), a two-mile wide, six-mile long island located on the outer edge of Penobscot Bay. Although easily visible from the summit of Cadillac Mountain on a clear day, Isle au Haut nevertheless requires a two hour drive from park headquarters followed by a 30-minute ferry ride. Not surprisingly then, whereas the more familiar part of Acadia, for all its beauty and history, doesn’t feel like a wilderness experience, the few square miles of park land on Isle au Haut richly elicit that sense of quietude and timelessness that lovers of wilderness appreciate.

Six years ago in September, my wife Robin and I, along with four friends, launched our sea kayaks into Webb Cove from Deer Island, dodged lobster boat traffic, and island hopped our way through the Stonington archipelago across East Penobscot Bay to Isle au Haut’s Duck Harbor. For three nights, we camped in park service lean-tos and explored, by foot and kayak, the island’s spruce forests, quiet bogs and rocky beaches. We enjoyed views from cliff-side trails down into tiny steep-walled coves where Atlantic surf crashed against the island’s rugged east shore. We paddled, a bit cautiously, among herds of imposing gray seals, sometimes called horsehead seals for reasons that were obvious to us as their faces bobbed up from the waves around us. And we visited the general store in the year-round community (pop. 65) on the northeast corner of the island, closest to the mainland, a community portrayed beautifully in Linda Greenlaw’s book The Lobster Chronicles.

The WV crew that will spend a week on Isle au Haut in September are in for a rare and wonderful experience. There are just a handful of lean-tos on the island and, for most of the summer season, visitors are limited to a three-night stay. The solitude and natural drama of this small island off the Maine coast are very special, even considered among the many special places that WV’ers get to visit.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Take Gandhi's Word For It!

Cranberry Wilderness, Monongahela Nat'l Forest (WV), 2011

I recently came across these words in a book I've been reading:

"To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves." - Mahatma Gandhi

Well put. Each time I step into the woods for a week with Wilderness Volunteers, I find myself slowing down, reconnecting, and rediscovering. It's a priceless experience, and it's just one of many reasons to lace up your boots, strap on a pack, and head off on an adventure service project with Wilderness Volunteers. With week-long volunteer service trips in national parks, forests, and wilderness areas from Hawaii to Alaska, Maine to New Mexico and most everywhere in between, there's a trip for everyone and plenty of earth and soil in need of digging and tending!

I'll be swinging a pulaski and tending the trail in West Virginia's Dolly Sods Wilderness in early October - just in time to catch the onset of the incredible autumn colors in some beautiful country. It's reinvigorating just thinking about it and sure to be memorable.

But you don't have to take my word for it - take Gandhi's. And rediscover the great outdoors and yourself this year. Join WV in "Giving Something Back" on any one of the 50+ volunteer service trips available in 2012. Check out the complete project list and sign up here.

P.S. For more on the rejuvenating powers of WV, read self-proclaimed "WV Junkie" Nancy Cappelloni's account in the Winter 2011 newsletter.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Woodenshoe Canyon, Dark Canyon Wilderness, southeastern Utah

During last Spring's WV service project in the Dark Canyon Wilderness of southeastern Utah, I heard the strangest and most interesting of sounds. Each night, in the evenings and early mornings I heard a repetitive "boop, boop, boop", akin to the monotonous pinging of a submarine's sonar that we've all heard in movies. Throughout the week our group was perplexed; was it a frog or toad down in the creek bottom, or was it a bird we've never heard before? While it remained a mystery during our trip, it wasn't until later in the Fall that I uncovered the answer. While assisting on a Fall migratory raptor count in western Nevada, a raptor expert produced a very cool app on her phone with hundreds of bird calls. As we carefully listened to each nocturnal bird call, suddenly I heard it loud and clear "boop, boop, boop" over and over again! Turns out, the Northern Pygmy Owl, most active at dawn and dusk, is native to all of Utah, and tends to perch high in evergreen trees on canyon slopes, which are aplenty in Dark Canyon. Listening to and learning about new critters like the Northern Pygmy Owl is one of my favorite things to do on WV trips, and it's a big reason I go from state-to-state to immerse myself in new places and to discover ever more new branches on the mysterious tree of life. Consider joining WV on this year's adventure in Woodenshoe Canyon, Dark Canyon Wilderness, May 13-19.

 Photo by Jack Binch, Sandy, UT on