Why should you ‘Plan Ahead & Prepare’

The backcountry is as unpredictable as it gets.  Like other remote regions throughout the United States, living and traveling in the backcountry of the Inland Northwest often results in interacting with the dynamic nature of the land we are traveling within.  These factors are delivered from experiencing unpredictable weather patterns, possible wildlife encounters, forging swift cold rivers, traversing in avalanche terrain, navigating wildfires, missing rock fall, and so many other factors – all of which are simply out of our control.  All we can do, is use the skills we have developed and our best judgment to not be irresponsible or complacent.  The beauty in that which we might fear are the lifelong lessons that these moments create.  In fact, it’s why we go out there to RE-create, and furthermore, it’s why SOLE uses these environs as our preferred classroom setting.   It is in these novel educational settings SOLE participants are provided real challenges, with real consequences and as a result are able to truly develop personal character and grit, while simultaneously providing opportunity for those we serve to master outdoor skill and leadership competencies.

Because of the stated unknowns, as our partners at The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Skills and Ethics often say, it’s best to Plan Ahead and Prepare for what may arise.  Many outdoor enthusiast do not adequately prepare before venturing out. Best case scenario, they become a case study for us to consider to not repeat the same mistakes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always end well.

Why should we Plan Ahead and Prepare?

Wildfires are unpredictable and may require signifcant re-routing. Photo credit: Inciweb

Let’s investigate further based on a recent article from Rich Landers of The Spokesman-Review that underscores the “why”and serves as an excellent case study.  Click here to read the article for a personal account of being unprepared in the backcountry.

As we can see, more than 100 individuals were trapped, uprepared in what could have been a potential deadly situation.  As luck would have it, there was someone that did have military training, cell phone coverage, and a smart phone application all of which assisted in getting the group out safely. What would have occured had the technology failed and/or they not had the leadership to assist them?  Obviously, the outcomes would have been much more chatostrophic.  So that is why, when dealing with any backcountry environment we need to Plan Ahead and Prepare, so we can thrive, not just survive.

 

How to ‘thrive’ not just survive…

First, let’s take a look at the 4 considerations that are critical to any backcountry user.

  1. Create and use a Travel Plan.
  2. Understand what to do when lost.
  3. Utilize an effective layering system.
  4. Pack the 13 Essential

Knowing how to use a topo map and compass is essential for any backcountry user – especially when technology fails.

Simply put, a Travel Plan IS your first line of defense.  It let’s folks know where you are going, and how long you will be there, and when you will return.  When heading out to the backcountry it’s always a good idea to leave a plan of your trip with friends or families.

Good info to include in the Travel Plan:

  1. Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) – when you are leaving.
  2. Destination – include trail numbers, road access, etc.
  3. Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) – when you are returning back.
  4. Copy of Route – include maps as appropriate.

What should I pack?  

Along with the 13 essentials (see below), but also appropriate clothing and gear to deal with inclement weather should the need arise. Layering systems are the norm for backcountry travellers consisting of largely polypropylene and wool clothing fabrics as the go-to. Yes, even though it’s hot during the day and it’s summer you can STILL get hypothermic.  An effective layering system can provide effective thermo-regulation allowing the backcountry traveler to stay cool and warm when necessary. It is important to note, cotton is not a great fabric for when the mercury begins to dip and will only serve to strip heat away from your body once wet promoting heat-loss and possibly leading to hypothermia. We will explore heat-loss and how to regulate it effectively in the coming submissions. A good consideration for most days is while it may be hot most summer days, when traveling in the mountains it can go from hot to cold and wet rather quickly.

An effective layering system is a must any time of the year in the backcountry to deal with the cure balls that good ‘ole Mother Nature delivers. Photo Credit: outdoorgearlab.com

Understanding the Layering System…

So, with not know exactly what the weather is going to do, a simple clothing/layering system for your upper and lower body for backcountry excursions throughout the year in mountainous regions should include:

  1. Sun/bug protection (top/bottom). Convertible zip-off pants are great. They provide adequate sun/bug protection and can be zipped off to keep cool when needed. Also, long sleeve button up sun shirts are great for the same reason. Often, some models are vented to be more comfortable in hot weather while also provide adequate coverage. It is also a great idea to consider a sun hat (baseball style or wide-brimmed – the later has better protection), sunglasses with a retaining strap, and most certainly sun block! Like inclement weather, sun itself is a real environmental threat so when venturing out into the backcountry we want to prepare accordingly.
  2. A wicking layer (top/bottom). Lightweight polypropylene is ideal. It’s designed to wick the moisture directly from your skin to the outer layers and dries quickly when wet.
  3. Insulating layer (top). A common mid-weight fleece works well. This layer will serve to trap air and keep you warm when needed. You can find them at most gear shops and even thrift stores. Wool will also work well, which can be found at Army Surplus stores.  You say it’s hot.  What happens when you have to spend the night, and the temps drop.  Yep, it can even snow in the summer in the lower 48.
  4. A waterproof shell (top/bottom). “Rubberized” coated nylon works well when not active; they trap heat when moving versus transferring heat from the body – causing you to sweat. Again, the goal of a layering system is to effectively trap and move heat when necessary. Therefore, we recommend a waterproof-breathable shell layer. Also, it is important to note, there are other options out there on the market that work well besides Gore-Tex, which are far more affordable so we recommend shopping around.
  5. A wool or fleece hat. While it’s a myth that you body loses most of your heat through your head you can transfer a fair amount of heat there if not covered so we recommend throwing one in your pack.

A simple day backpack can provide ample room for all the gear that you will need when things go from bad to worse.

13 Essentials…

The following 13 items should be included in your pack at all times in case of an emergency or if you are unexpectedly caught out overnight.  You may not use all of the essentials on every trip, but they could keep you alive in an emergency.

  1. Topo Map – Let’s face it technology like iPhones and GPS’s are great, but they fail. A topographical map is fail proof method to navigate the backcountry.  Learn how to use the map efficiently or it will add needless weight. Place it in a plastic zip lock bag and carry a pencil to triangulate.
  2. Compass – Get a reliable compass from a name brand like Silva.  Make sure it has  a straight edge.  Know how to use your compass or it is useless weight.
  3. Flashlight – Headlamps are great, but small bright flashlights are sufficient. Make sure you have fresh batteries in your light before you leave and pack enough extra batteries to last your trip.  Many people carry an extra bulb as well.
  4. Knife – Pocket knife, sharpened to your liking.  Multi-tools are great, as are knives with two good blades.
  5. Lighter / Matches – Wooden, strike anywhere matches, waterproofed in a good waterproof container are great.  Lighters can fail if not kept dry.
  6. Fire Starter – Two 3 to 5 inch hard wax candles work well.  In the Inland Northwest we have the great fortune of having birch bark which works great.
  7. Extra Clothing – Bring an extra set of clothing suited to the worst possible conditions you could possibly encounter for the area and time you are visiting.  Including a beanie is a great idea!
  8. Extra Food – High energy foods, such as Power Bars or even a Snicker bar are great.
  9. Water – One liter minimum, and way to treat water is a great idea.
  10. First Aid Kit – There are many good first aid kits available commercially, or you could build one yourself.  Always consider carrying it in a waterproof container.
  11. Sun Protection (sunblock / sunglasses) – Dark lenses with 100% UVA and UVB protection, or nearly so. Zinc oxide or sun block with SPF 15 or higher is preferred.  Waterproof or “sweat proof” sun block recommended.  Don’t forget a sunhat and long sleeve shirts in sunny climates and/or summer seasons.
  12. Emergency Shelter – A small plastic tarp or two large plastic contractor bags will keep the wind and rain off ofyou.
  13. Signal Devices – Many hikers carry a whistle and a mirror.  Discarded CD disks can even make an adequate signaling mirror.  When in survival situation getting found often relies on using other methods beside your voice.

When your lost do the right thing – STOP.

You’re lost, now what?  STOP.

S – top – When you’re lost there is nothing worst that continuing down a route that you “think” may pan out.  It most situations (non-threatening) staying in one location can be best so rescuers can locate you sooner.

T – hink – When you’re in your “reptile brain” it’s pretty easy to go to “fight or flight”.  It’s important to not flip your lid, and stay in your pre-frontal cortex, so you can rationally and logically consider your options at present, and what will be needed to thrive down the road.

O – bserve – Once you are grounded, consider your options.  Do you have enough available resources around you to sustain you and your party, and what can be used?  Are there any actual threats to life or limb which require your immediate attention? What is the best method to signal for rescue?

P – lan – Once you have weighed your options make the most sound plan possible.  Consider all the perceived and actual risks that could result in decisions presented.  When time is available provide ample opportunity to shoot holes in your plan, and re-work to come up with the best plan possible solution that will allow you to thrive until the Calvary arrives.

Backcountry “know-how” goes beyond just having the right gear. You should know how to use it, when, coupled with the right leadership skills. Photo Credit: Seth Quigg

SOLE teaches outdoor living and travel skills such as the ones mentioned here during much of its day-based and expedition-based backcountry programs – in addition we offer stand-alone outdoor skill workshops. For more information on SOLE’s programs and/or to register for an upcoming SOLE Experience go to www.soleexperiences.org or contact us at info@soleexperiences.org or 928.351.SOLE.

See you out there,DennisonTeaching
Dennison Webb, M.A.
Founder | Executive Director

 

Be Bear Aware

When fall arrives, it is a beautiful time to explore our local wildlands and is feasting time for all creatures – great and small – including our local bears.  As such, it’s imperative that we take Bear Aware principles with us into as we journey into the backcountry to bike, hike, paddle, camp, hunt or fish.

In the fall of 2016 several grizzly attacks occurred in Montana (see video here – caution graphic material).  This encounter happened on the heels of two other additional grizzly attacks of hunters in the same state.  What was once a rarity (to see a grizzly in the wild, western backcountry) is becoming more prevalent due to the success in the conservation of the species, and the loss of habitat that it calls home.   In addition, black bears can also be troublesome and often more unpredictable and can lead to unwanted encounters.  Whatever the species, it is imperative that when we venture into the wild, we must remain vigilant and be bear aware.  

With winter fast approaching, bears are quite active in the fall storing reserves for their upcoming hibernation.  Folks often aren’t sure how to minimize their contact with a bear when exploring our wild landscapes.  So, to assist with this, we will share some Leave No Trace Outdoor Skills and Ethics  that we utilize (and teach) in the field, which are supported by our partners at The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.  We hope this information will help you minimize and mitigate this risk, and allow you to enjoy the remaining days of fall in the backcountry.  So let’s get started!

 Plan Ahead and Prepare:

As the first, of 7 Leave No Trace (LNT) Principles, Plan Ahead and Prepare often serves as the foundation.  It is a really good idea to spend some time and review the specific wildlife regulations for the area that you will be visiting, and even calling the land management agency of where you will be visiting.  Some questions to consider when doing so:

  • Do you require bear canisters and/or require that you store your food and other “smellables” in a particular manner?
  • Has there been any recent bear activity in the area that you will be visiting?

The old adage, a fed bear, is a dead bear” is true.  When we travel in the backcountry it is essential to minimize bears encounters and their contact with human food.  Once bears have been introduced with human food they will continually seek it out as an easier food source, leading to continued encounters.  This is called habituation. On most occasions, this leads to a bear being “taken down” (e.g., killed).  This also includes selecting appropriate campsites, disposing of waste properly, considering appropriate food / smellable storage, and overall respecting wildlife.

Choosing an Appropriate Campsite:

BearmudaTriangle_0.jpgA good consideration is to local open space areas to camp versus those that are densely vegetated to allow for more awareness for both you and the bear of each other’s presence.  In addition, you may consider the “bear”muda triangle (see image to the right), which positions your cooking, shelter, and food storage area 100 yards from each other.

Dispose of Waste Properly & Appropriate Food / Smellable Storage:

bearhangAnother important LNT Principle is Dispose of Waste Properly.  This can affect whether or not we lure in one of our furry friends, and can be counterproductive.  For example, while broadcasting grey-water may be a common practice when considering this principle, it can also spread the odor when doing so on land.  Not ideal in grizzly country.  Therefore, other considerations can include digging a sump (6-8″ deep) to dispose of grey-water from cooking, cleaning and brushing teeth. Read more from our partners at Leave No Trace here.

When considering storing food and “smellable” items (i.e., sunscreen, toothpaste, deodorant, lotions, chapstick, etc.) some land management agencies in bear country allow backcountry users to utilize bear hangs (see image left) in lieu of bear canisters.

If you do decide to go old school, and “hang a bear bag”, there are definitely some considerations to take.  You’ll need to consider an appropriate set-up, including specific location, appropriate distance (e.g., minimum of 5′ x 5′ x 12′), durable “bear bags”, rope, and some know how.  Review some additional tips from The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics here and check out the image above to help get you started.  In addition, if you choose the bear hang method, make sure that the area that you are visiting actually has trees!  Alpine areas like those with tundra where bears can frequent do not, so you’ll need to make adjustments to your bear storage considerations.

If the terrain you will be traveling in is not advantageous to a bear hang and/or the land management agency does not allow bear hangs in their food storage allowances, you will have to either purchase or rent a bear canister.  There are several great models, and if you don’t want to purchase one and won’t use it frequently you can actually rent them for a nominal fee from a land management agency or gear shop.  After all, they are kind of spendy!  If you decide to go this route and are venturing into the our neck of the woods, in the Selkirks, Purcells, or Cabinets feel free to contact us to rent one directly from us!

Respect Wildlife:

As one of the 7 principles of Leave No Trace, and an awareness of what exists out there, one might think it should go without saying – Respect Wildlife.  Still it’s worth noting.  Here are some tips to assist you in doing just that.

  1. When traveling in bear country make noise!  Yelling, “Hey Bear!” is the go-to, but should be done on average of once every 5 – 10 seconds.  Some people recommend every 30, however, you can carry a lot of ground in 30 seconds and your voice doesn’t carry too far in dense vegetation or near a noisy mountain creek.  In addition, when entering dense vegetation, around blind corners, and near loud creeks we recommend to also add some clapping to really let you presence be known.  One of the main contributing factors to unwanted bear encounters is alarming a bear, and catching them off guard.  Not a great scenario, especially when it’s a healthy sow with cubs.  While we all love to have those pristine, peaceful moments in the wild, it’s important that when traveling in bear country to also minimize encounters for their sake and yours.
  2. Travel in groups of 4 or more.  It has statistically been shown that hiking in groups of four or more is safer while traveling in griz country, however one could argue that it may be a wise practice in any type of bear country.
  3. View at a distance.  Bears can cover a large distance in a short amount of time.  While they are amazing to view in the wild, putting real estate between you and a big ‘ole bruin is a good thing, so use binoculars at a distance.  To give you some perspective, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service a grizzly can cover 50 yards in 3 seconds, or 40 miles and hour.  That’s faster than a racehorse over short distances!  Learn more bear encounter facts from the Fish and Wildlife Service  here.
  4. Effective use of bear spray to deter an encounter!  Bear spray has proven itself to be quite effective, and often the last resort.  However, it is only as effective as the actual user.  We recommend that you research what type of bear spray to purchase, and educate yourself on how to use it.  Here is a great little introductory video from Rich Landers of the Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA) on how to use bear spray effectively, and here is a great powerpoint from the United States Geological Survey on bear spray.  Also here is an excellent blog entry written by Todd Wilkinson that shares evidence-based research on bear encounters and the use of bear spray.

Blog support from our partners at The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: http://www.lnt.org

For more information and to become more backcountry savvy, consider taking one of SOLE’s Leave No Trace Courses, or design your own!  These courses allow participants to learn and master these skills in the environment that they will be traveling in.

See you out there,
Dennison Webb, M.A.
Founder | Executive Director

2015 Summer Programming Update!

campfireWe don’t normally send out seasonal programming updates, however, our summer 2015 season has been met with a tremendous drought sparking wildfires across our local and regional course areas. While SOLE continues to work diligently to run all courses on schedule in specific locales, modifications and even cancellations have been made to mitigate this backcountry risk.  We have made these hard decisions based on the hard evidence which exists ‘out there’, which were recently supported by recommendations presented by local United States Forest Service (USFS) districts.  These decisions will ensure that our clientele’s safety needs continue to be paramount, as well as, support local and regional land management agencies which active fire suppression efforts.   If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 2.13.18 PM

More specifically, as shown in the image above we have several wildfires in our course area(s) including the 6,147 acre Parker Ridge fire (in the Selkirk Mountains due North of Sandpoint, Idaho) and the Clark Fork Complex which includes the 2,143 acre Scotchman Peak fire (in the Cabinet Mountains due East of Sandpoint, Idaho), and the 576 acre Whitetail Peak fire. Also, we have numerous “hotspots” which are being currently tracked.  Many of these wildfires were sparked by lightning as summer thunderstorms rubbled through over the last few weeks and months.  For the most up to date information on local wildfires, including evacuations, road closures, and community meetings go to InciWeb.

The SOLE family extends our sincere gratitude to those on the front lines and those affected.  

There is no doubt about it our current fire danger is extreme, so if you are planning to venture into the backcountry please exercise caution.  Also, please contact you local Forest Service or other land management agency to get the most up to date information prior to heading out. These agencies can give you all pertinent information including current and active wildfires, and specific closures.  

Lastly, when recreating please minimize your impact by using outdoor skills and ethics supported by SOLE and our partners at the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Skills and Ethics.  If you are interested in learning more please consider signing up for a Leave No Trace course.  SOLE is currently offering a course on September 25th for National Public Lands Day.   All proceeds collected will go to support SOLE’s Youth Scholarship Fund.  Go to the SOLE Calendar to view a complete listing of all upcoming course offerings.

Stay safe and happy trails,DennisonTeaching
Dennison Webb, M.A.
Founder | Executive Director

Don’t Spark That Wildfire!


Caveman-CampfireThere’s something about that ubiquitous campfire.  It just draws us in, and there is nothing like sharing tall tales, kinship and laughter around a campfire.  That said, campfires also have their drawbacks, especially when they are misused.  In fact, campfires can scar and sterilize the ground, and their remnants can be left behind for thousands of years.  Not to mention – wildfires.  The reality – as many as 90 percent of wildfires are caused by humans.

This summer is of special importance as we enter a significant drought for much of the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the country.  In fact, our fire season is definitely going to be one worth noting as the current conditions are showing us (see the USGS figure below to see how dry it is).  So what can we do about it?  Simple.  Follow Leave No Trace Principle #5 from our partners at the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

11167851_823146357782356_1712455768355791733_nPrinciple 5: Minimize Campfire Impacts

Fires vs. Stoves: The use of campfires, once a necessity for cooking and warmth, is steeped in history and tradition. Some people would not think of camping without a campfire. Campfire building is also an important skill for every camper. Yet, the natural appearance of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires and an increasing demand for firewood. The development of light weight efficient camp stoves has encouraged a shift away from the traditional fire. Stoves have be come essential equipment for minimum-impact camping. They are fast, flexible, and eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition, and they Leave No Trace.

Should I build a fire?

  • The most important consideration to be made when deciding to use a fire is the potential damage to the backcountry.
  • What is the fire danger for the time of year and the location you have selected? n Are there administrative restrictions from the agency that administers the area?
  • Is there sufficient wood so its removal will not be noticeable?
  • Does the harshness of alpine and desert growing conditions for trees and shrubs mean that the regeneration of wood sources cannot keep pace with the demand for firewood?
  • Do group members possess the skill to build a campfire that will Leave No Trace?

Lessing the impact when campfires are used.

Camp in areas where wood is abundant if building a fire. Choose not to have a fire in areas where there is little wood at higher elevations, in heavily used areas, or in desert settings. A true Leave No Trace fire shows no evidence of having been constructed.

What about existing fire rings?

The best place to build a fire is within an existing fire ring in a well-placed campsite. Keep the fire small and burning only for the time you are using it. Allow wood to burn completely to ash. Put out fires with water, not dirt. Dirt may not completely extinguish the fire. Avoid building fires next to rock out crops where the black scars will remain for many years.

What exactly is a mound fire?

Construction of a mound fire can be accomplished by using simple tools: a garden trowel, large stuff sack and a ground cloth or plastic garbage bag.

Follow the simple steps below:

  1. Collect some mineral soil, sand, or gravel from an already disturbed source. The root hole of a toppled tree is one such source.
  2. Lay a ground cloth on the fire site and then spread the soil into a circular, flat-topped mound at least 3 to 5 inches thick. The thickness of the mound is critical to insulate the ground below from the heat of the fire. The ground cloth or garbage bag is important only in that it makes cleaning up the fire much easier. The circumference of the mound should be larger than the size of the fire to allow for the spreading of coals. The advantage of the mound fire is that it can be built on flat exposed rock or on an organic surface such as litter, duff or grass.

What about a fire pan?
fire_pan.jpg
Use of a fire pan is a good alternative for fire building. Metal oil drain pans and some backyard barbecue grills make effective and inexpensive fire pans. The pan should have at least three-inch-high sides. It should be elevated on rocks or lined with mineral soil so the heat does not scorch the ground.

What about firewood and clean-up?

Standing trees, dead or alive, are home to birds and insects, so leave them intact. Fallen trees also provide bird and animal shelter, increase water holding capacity of the soil, and recycle nutrients back into the environment through decomposition. Stripping branches from standing or fallen trees also detracts from an area’s natural appearance.

  • Avoid using hatchets, saws, or breaking branches off standing or downed trees. Dead and down wood burns easily, is easy to collect and leaves less impact.
  • Use small pieces of wood no larger than the diameter of an adult wrist that can be broken with your hands.
  • Gather wood over a wide area away from camp. Use dry drift wood on rivers and sea shores.
  • Don’t bring firewood from home. Either buy it from a local source or gather it responsibly where allowed.
  • Burn all wood to white ash, grind small coals to ash between your gloved hands, thoroughly soak with water, and scatter the remains over a large area away from camp. Ashes may have to be packed out in river corridors.
  • Replace soil where you found it when cleaning up a mound or pan fire.
  • Scatter unused wood to keep the area as natural looking as possible.
  • Pack out any campfire litter. Plastic items and foil-lined wrappers should never be burned in a camp fire.

Fire Safety

  • Provide adequate supervision for young people when using stoves or fires.
  • Follow all product and safety labels for stoves.
  • Use approved containers for fuel.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Keep wood and other fuel sources away from fire.
  • Thoroughly extinguish all fires.

Taken from www.lnt.org.  See more at: https://lnt.org/learn/principle-5#sthash.4DbzezMB.dpuf

Join me on Saturday June 13th for a Leave No Trace Awareness Workshop or later this summer for a Leave No Trace Trainer Workshop!

DennisonTeachingStay safe and happy trails,

Dennison Webb, M.A.
Founder | Executive Director