Monday, January 26, 2015

Soldier Mountain Boot Camp

Without personal photos, I'm hard pressed to share the full scope of agony we newbies endured at Avalanche Training. I thought I could use backcountry skis to get on location. Wrong. Snowshoes was the ticket for anyone not used to 30 degree slopes iced over like Lake Michigan.
Ok. Got it now.
The first night, Friday, we assembled at a country church camp, to spread out our winter gear and sleep. We reassessed our heavy 24 hour packs, knowing shovels, snow probes and snow travel gear, along with high tec beacons would add to the weight.
Thank goodness I've been working out. Thighs were burning as we did maneuvers in waist deep snow, post holing at times. I can only blame it on the 30 pounds of food, water and gear that maxed out our systems.

A ten dollar pass on Saturday got us a one way lift up to the second mountain. Three learning stations were established. John taught us how to dig a body, hopefully in time and with enough finesse to prevent fatality. The v shaped conveyor system of extracting thick snow pack was both effective and wet when shovelfuls of snow landed smack in my face as I kept up with the guy in front. We got a chance to quickly assemble shovels from sections strapped to our packs. The brand that could convert to both "hoe" and "shovel" was best.
Brad taught us beacon specifics, how to flag a first victim before scurrying on in concentric circles to locate a second. This is when the beacons really proved their weight in gold. If a buried victim has a beacon, and it on, the chance of recovery rises dramatically. Its an acceptable expense for back country skiers. Note, you should never ski alone if you're in avalanche country.
Greg taught the third station, which dealt with organized probing of buried victims. We used poles that were ten feet tall and activated from two foot package with the flip of a wrist. Again, I was impressed by the technology.
The afternoon was spent in scenarios where we buried two canvas bags with beacons, then called on our competitors to find them. The double black diamond ski run was chosen for the descent. 
Exhausted, we returned to the parking lot, either by skiing or walking. Much of the descent I carried my backcountry skis which were way under equipped for such dangerous travel.

The cat track shown here looks benign, but steeply climbs to a ski patrol hut, then onward  to Playland.
Sunday, I tested snowshoes and realized that was the proper gear for that type of work.
Secured footing helped me stay above ground as I held the probe line after two scenarios provided training in both beacons and slow, steady 50 cm. search. After a row of probers followed steady direction from the Captain, my compatriot and I crawled uphill 50 cm. to reposition the line, right up the steep slope. Much of the time I had to squat and hold firm, realizing if a person was indeed buried, our emotions would be rising. Time is of the essence.
I'm thankful to be on the Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue Unit whose dedicated leader provide such excellent training. I practiced real time self arrest with my ice ax, not part of the regular programming.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Challenging Winter Weather at Survival Camp

As a Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue member, winter certification requires spending the night out and avalanche training. Because I've already dug and spent a night in a snow cave in previous adventures, I was allowed to construct a shelter of choice.

Below you see the 9x5 tarp pitched steeply beneath a very healthy pine tree. The link for the Youtube video is posted below.
I chose to shore up the tarp and provide insulation by shoveling snow on 3.5 sides. I slept quite warm. My sleeping bag is inside this bivy sack. Plus, I had 12 hour hand warmers. I slept in one layer of fleece, wool socks and beanie.

Others built snow trenches outside, but near pine trees laden with snow. Their roofs were flat tarps. During the night, after receiving an additional two inches of snow, it began to rain.

Suddenly a loud crash rose the dead. I listened for the cause. Bear are hibernating. I hadn't seen cougar or wolf tracks all day Saturday as I inspected 8 snow caves built by boy scouts.
Another avalanche descended nearby. Yet, the landscape was rolling. What could it be.
Then, much to my consternation, a monstrous slush ball hit my shelter and slid to the foot end.
Then I knew. The trees were giving up their snow.
By daybreak, the Crisco candle had been doused, but I was warm and dry. I eased outside and into the rain, immediately donning rain suit and boots.
It was then I learned the snow trenches were bombarded and failed. All the bedding wet.
Flat roofs proved too weak to withstand this weather.
Those in the caves fared better, though the makeshift plastic bag doors had collapsed.
The boy scouts hung sleeping bags to dry inside the huge dining lodge beside the fire. But, all were smiling. 
Lesson learned: a good tarp with plenty of anchoring loops is worth its weight in gold. 
One scout leader showed me his marvelous fire pit built from the inside drum of an old washing machine.

This is Sasha, one of our K-9 dogs in training. She gets purple booties to protect her paws from the sharp snow crystals.
Food abounded in camp. I ate home made chili with Troop 181. The boys had been divided into teams of two and built their snow caves. When I arrived for inspection, each team proudly showed me the inside. Some needed to install vents, some needed to reposition vents, some needed to clear out previously installed vents that had clogged with snow. I was quite impressed with them all.
See the video at: Winter Survival Camp

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Post Mission Shopping

After I caught up on my sleep, I went shopping on Sunday for some orange. I already had my orange shirt, but needed a stocking cap when my outer layers covered my shirt. Its important to be identified with the SAR team for logistics sake.
I also took a look at the sales in progress. High tec gear is expensive but will last awhile, so quality, vs. quantity is important.
The sales people were very helpful.
I found myself visiting four gear shops, Sierra Trading Post, Sportsman, Dick's Outdoor Gear, and Sports Authority and learned the sales have just begun.
In a few weeks, things are going to be way more affordable. I bought the hat and snow pants. See my other blog,
for more details on that new piece.
My wish list:
skins for backcountry skis
snow shoes
back country contactable shovel
base layer with Infrared technology

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Death by Degrees

Friday night I went on my first Search and Rescue mission. Three snowmobilers had become stranded, way in the backcountry north of Idaho City. One of the snowmobilers was lost and the weather was brutal.

The call out came at 7:15 p.m. We  met at the compound before at 8:00 p.m. A dozen people showed up and were assigned rides. Our gear was swiftly stashed in 902, one of two Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue vehicles. You can read more at their website here:

I had my backcountry skis, my twenty four hour pack, food and water, layers for skiing and my oversize Columbia jacket in case I had to spend the  night out. Also, I threw 6 -12 hour hand warmers and wool socks in my pack for the victim who reportedly  had nothing extra. We expected to find him hypothermic.
By 9:30 p.m. we were on location, in the nearest parking lot now serving as the Staging Grounds and our Operation Leader was gathering updates from the Sheriff.
Over the course of the night and subsequent day, SAR teams were deployed. Around 2 a.m the missing guy was located in a basic snow shelter he had built himself alongside a steep ravine, about 100 yards from his abandoned snow mobile. His legs were so cramped he could not walk. The next day he was helicoptered out of the 1,000 foot ravine.

After the three snowmobilers were debriefed it soon became evident that the crisis evolved in degrees. Only one was in shape or fully equipped for the emergency that had developed. I credit his savvy to being a soloist. He might have been fine on his own. But, he had met the other two in the parking lot and decided to accept their invitation to join them. I've learned many soloists tend to think of potential troubles and pack accordingly.

The other two, by slow degrees, mishandled the day.
One snowmobile burned oil. It ended up biting the dust because that issue was not attended to. However that individual did have matches and was able to start a fire at the top of the ridge.

The second guy ended up in the ravine, without map, low ankle socks, lost his good gloves when they fell out of his pockets. Thankfully, he had the good sense to stop and build a snow shelter when he found his legs cramping up.

My take on this whole drama is that one should always carry a survival pack, even when you only expect to be out a short time, especially when on a snowmobile. These machines became stranded 6 miles back, a long ways to walk out when darkness and disability descended.

Gear List

Matches, cotton soaked in petroleum jelly, tin foil (to provide dry base for infant fire), cigarette lighter and small hand saw for obtaining dry tinder from pine trees. Candles.

A 8 x 5 tarp for shelter. Building a snow cave takes lots of energy. Under a tarp you can light a candle and the roof will not drip on you. A small closed cell pad to rest on, to insulate yourself from the snow A knife.

Dry socks and gloves. A Hat.
Headlamp, flash light, batteries.
Snow shovel (get the kind that comes apart with a saw slipped inside the handle)
Cell phone. One guy was rescued on a previous mission because he held his cell phone up as beacon.

Water. A way to melt snow, probably in a metal cup.
Plenty of high calorie snacks. Its easy to underestimate how much food contributes to morale, immediate energy and warmth.

Maps of the area you are in. As last night's rescue played out, we learned just how inaccessible this guy was. If he had chosen to follow the ravine to safety, he would have been cell service, map or compass and we'd probably still be there, perhaps bringing out a body instead.

Sunglasses. The glare is hard on your eyes leading to further exhaustion.
Snowshoes if you can.

Of course, you could add other items as space allows. By having decent gear and wearing the correct clothing, backcountry adventure in snow is healthy.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Spud Drop in Boise

Last night a friend and I spent four hours walking around downtown Boise, listening to great music by live bands at two different stages, enjoying a heavy beat from piped in music on a third stage, passed multitude of booths selling everything from cowboy coffee to flashing tiaras.

Meanwhile, tons of restaurants remained open, serving brew and savory food, while other bands pounded out yet more tunes to those thawing out from 8 degree weather.

High above all this, a seventy pound spud hung suspended from a monstrous crane. Christmas lights lit dozens of blocks. Word was, 60,000 people would attend the event.

Right after 11, as we finished two huge pink sugar cookies, I saw a square black thing on the frozen sidewalk. Everyone was walking past, but I guess my "abandoned gear" mode stepped in and I stooped and picked it up.
A nearly new I-phone.
My friend and I hoped the owner's friend would contact us soon. No doubt if they realized it was missing, they would dial it up and arrange for retrieval.
Time passed. Soon the spud would drop. Tension rose.
We asked two cops on duty for the lost and found. None. Finally, the lost phone rang and the meeting arranged.
The tourquois hatted gal thanked us multiple times for finding her phone. Good Karma all around. Happy New Year, we said, hi fiving.

Now, the music came to a dramatic close. anticipation was high as we hurried to stand as close to the spud as possible. The brown tater loomed just below the bright moon.
Purple pin lights hit the spud. A few pink sparklers erupted beneath a store balcony. We waited, smiling, watching, cameras all aimed.
The thing descended. We watched. No one counted down. Soon, we thought, soon the count down would begin.
The guys behind let off some graffiti. I spun my free noise maker. The thing stopped. The spud hung there and people started leaving. We looked around. "Its after midnight," he said.
"Wow, seems anti-climatic."
"I know."
"Happy New Year, then."
We left. It was like an unfrosted cake, like a milkshake without the ice cream. Weren't you supposed to count down....10-9-8-7...? Then shout Happy New Years like fools, turn around and kiss everyone in sight?

Kinda left me hanging. Maybe that's the point. Like the spud, sorta hanging. I thought it would at least land. Oh well. Happy 2015!   


Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year Prep In Progress

I met a very interesting guy on my Alaska Adventure, over a year ago. He recently posted a comment to my other blog and I thought I'd share it with you here.
The Geo is still going strong, though I gave the bike away before returning to the lower forty-eight.
Happy New Year of Adventures to you young LADY.

We have had the strangest weather 2014. No snow, no cold.

This Winter's Hiking....PLB, Calk-Boots, Survival Gear, High Wind Thoughts

So what are you exploring this (So Called) Winter.......??? I have expanded my search for caves in this area. While wishing for a Spruce Hen for the pot, No joy there. And very limited joy in the cave search either. But, still good for geriatric fools to suck some fresh air, and keep ambulatory.

Have been making a serious effort to have the PLB with-in reach 24/7/365 even while sleeping inside
the cabin. Wearing calk'boots most all this winter, what with no snow, and vile ice.

Wanted to touch on Big Wind while in the forest. Nearly all of my hikes are either on the beach or in the deep forest. It can sometimes sound like a gun battle as the tallest trees catch the high winds and crash to the forest floor. The tallest trees here are Spruce, and most are standing dead, having been killed by Spruce Bark Beatles.

While the wind may be 60+ MPH across the tops of the trees, it is calm or slight breeze that is experienced by the hiker wandering the forest floor. Two thoughts, first beware of the clouds, if you can see them. And second keep a searching eye looking for groves of Hemlock, especially young Hemlocks that are 4" to 8" Dia. at stump height, as this is the safe harbor area in the forest with crashing trees.

Stay Safe

I met and filmed Sourdough, a very able survivalist thriving in a harsh land. One of the best memories is when we set off on a hike, after only chatting an hour or so, he handed me his camo automatic, and showed me what to do if, say, a griz got him between his teeth, the gun flew into the grass and I could avail myself of the weapon. "Semi-auto" he told me, "Don't set it on full auto."
"Yes, Sir," I had replied.

The town of Hope is on the far end of the Turnigan Arm,  where cruise ships go to seek whales and buffets set out by obliging high end chefs.

During our short time together, Sourdough and I formed a friendship that transcends vast miles.

May all your friendships grow over the next year, in 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cheap Energy Rant-Guest Post

I couldn't help but share this post from Facebook. Especially during this busy, cold time of year when many of us are rushing around, preparing for the holidays, it helps to take a breath and realize what our high strung life styles actually cost.
Let me know what you think.

I see a lot of rants on Facebook and elsewhere about Shale Oil, Fracking, "bleeding the earth", and on and on. I don't think a lot of us realize to what degree we all depend on relatively cheap energy, and to what extent it provides our American lifestyle. And this is just as true for a tree hugger on our West Coast, an Oil Worker in the Gulf of Mexico or a Fracking protester in New York. Think about this ....
1) Do you drive a car? Use a gas mower? No .... ok, have you ever flown in an airplane or taken a train run by diesel? Have you ever been on a motorized boat?
2) Do you use anything or own anything made of plastic?
3) If the US had no trucking industry (which depends on affordable fuel) what would prices at the grocery store be for those Vegan salads? Could you even get supplies you want at the Grocery store?
4) How much human pain and suffering would be caused by the US economy cratering if there were no fossil fuels? You really think Wind and Solar can ever make up the energy gap created if suddenly we just quit using fossil fuel? Think again.
5) Scientists say we maybe have influenced global temperatures upwards by possibly 2 deg in the last century. Should Yellowstone ever erupt (heaven forbid) global temperatures will DROP 10 degrees immediately and the effect will last at least 2 years (now that's a disaster). All major global warming models and predictions have been WAY off compared to the actual the fear that fossil fuels are killing the planet is just a bit overstated.
So ... a rant for a rant. I doubt any of us will change our opinions, but let's just try to be honest with ourselves and look around and see what is really happening.

written and posted on Facebook, by my dear friend Richard James Rynearson