Sunday, April 30, 2017

Currently: April

Currently living/working in: We just wrapped up our 5-week spring teaching session at Fenton! It went so, so fast, but was so, so busy and tiring. We had kindergartners, 1st graders and 3rd graders this go around. Nonstop from Monday late morning until Friday at 1pm. Chock full of: campfires, tree identification, Leave No Trace, owl hooting, owl pellet dissections, nest building, bird watching, canoeing, hiking, wading (I only took the kids once this season because it was pretty brrr cold and the stream was too high for 4-ft people).

These kids eat ... a lot. 

Current mood: Our 300-foot cabin has been filled to the brim with packages from the tour’s sponsors and other supplies for the road and tour. Cluttered would be the best description for my mood. 

Currently excited about: Of course I am excited about the entire summer, but the most immediate agenda would be this week’s visit to Phoenix! I haven’t been there since 2011 and haven’t seen many of my Phoenix cronies since then! We present there Thursday 5/4 and Monday 5/8, but we have a whole weekend to visit!!!! (FYI Phoenix friends, happy hour gathering at the Mosher compound Friday evening for Cinco de Mayo!)
Tour flyer spotting by our friends at the Chandler REI! Can't wait to see Steph and meet her son!

Currently not excited about: I am certain we are going to forget something crucial while packing for the summer. 
Four out of the 5 packages we've sent ahead to pick up with the Superfeet van in Washington. 

Currently proud of: WE initiated this tour. WE planned this tour. WE make our dreams come true. 

Currently worried about: Mrs. Gibbles. We are leaving our unplanned cat at Fenton Ranch for the summer. Fenton Ranch is a flurry of activity in the summer with camp and just lots of people in and out. We installed a cat door for our cabin, but have arranged with a few people to make sure she is fed (when she is sick of catching field mice) and gets some belly rubbing occasionally. We’re not too worried and know she can fend for herself (since she did for God knows how long), but we will miss her and hope she doesn’t hate us for temporarily abandoning her. 
Who rescued who?

Currently thankful for: Tour giveaways!!!! We have some stellar prizes to give away this summer thanks to our gear partners!

Currently regretting: Not posting here on my blog for 13 days!!! I try not to let more than 7 days go without posting, but alas. I wrote for OTHER blogs (3 deadlines this week alone), just not here. 

Currently amazed by: The fact that it was 28 degrees here this Sunday morning with snow still on the ground and in just four days, we will be in Phoenix where it will get up to 100 degrees. 

Current confession: Our tour starts Monday (TOMORROW) and I don’t feel ready! I mean, we have the presentation down (I think), but packing has been a haphazard. We tried to be organized about it. Like I said, I am certain we are going to forget something. I’m also a little worried that we will be cramped in our Superfeet van! I mean, I’m forever grateful and I know we’ve “lived” in smaller spaces (i.e., our tent), but man we have a lot of tour supplies, giveaways, etc., to take around the country.
We exploded our boxes in the big house. Oy vey, there’s a lot of stuff. 

Current guilty pleasure: We dressed up as much as our wardrobe would allow and went to the Gala hosted by the private school for which we work. The gala benefits the school’s endowment and there was a live auction, with donated items like tickets to the Masters and a weeklong stay in Key Largo. We were particularly interested in the “weekend stay at Fenton Ranch” auction item. As a perk, teachers are allowed to come up to Fenton Ranch, but parents/school kids can only come up for the program we teach. Well, the weekend stay went for $6,500!!!!! How lucky we are to live here … 


Currently reading: Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.” This is the “bible” for mountaineering skills and it’s not really fun reading for me, but necessary since I am making a climb attempt of Mt. Hood this summer (Justin too, but he’s an expert) and I really need to brush up on my skills! 


Currently watching on Netflix: We finished Season 2 of “The Wire,” and that’s probably as far as we’ll get with it. We like it, but when we return to Fenton in the fall, I think we’ll find another show on DVD to try. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Denali Mountaineering Gear Review

This guest post is brought to you by ... Justin!

This time last year, I was in top shape, putting the final touches of gathering gear for my expedition to Denali.  This weekend, I took my first steep climb up my old training mountain with a backpack on.  What a year it has been!  You never know what life is going to hand you and how you are going to handle it. 

I am back teaching K-5 environmental education until the end of April. Keeping up with these kids is really helping me gain full strength back since surgery 6 months ago! In May, we hit the road for an epic speaking tour that will take us from Washington to New Hampshire and everywhere in between.  Of course while we are on the road, we will be camping and hiking as much as we can.  We are going to explore at least five new National Parks and attempt some more state high point climbs.  This will be the true test, as the ominious Mt. Hood is on our list (In 2014, I was forced back down Hood in an epic white out storm).  

As most of you know me, nothing is going to keep me from the mountains and sharing my passion for the outdoors.  I know my limits and will be continuing to train every day.  Denali is always on my mind and plans are in the works for a May 2018 expedition.  

My (loving and wonderful) wife has been bugging me to do a gear review and I finally got my act together! I will say that overall, I was happy with my gear systems for the climb. You can get visuals by watching my pre-climb video of my gear spreadI do feel blessed to have many gear partners that provide me with top-of-the-line gear.  This certainly makes the climbs a bit more affordable, manageable and comfortable. Do know that for any sponsored gear, all my opinions are my own. 
Without further adieu, I bring you my Denali Mountaineering Gear Review. There are a few things I might change for that future climb, but for the most part, I will bring all of these items again. Read on to find out specifics. 
Gregory Denali 100L Backpack
This pack was my home.  It proved invaluable and after 23 days of abuse, it still looks brand new.  I loved that there were ample pockets and several ways to get into the main pack with top and side zippers.  Huge side pockets that held my layers.  A big front pocket with a divider, plus aa bivy pad stashed inside, which was key for sitting around camp.  The hip belt was padded perfectly and had gear and sled loops, also loved the big hipbelt pocket.  The front panel of the pack is laminated and tougher, allowing me to sit on it.  Sitting on it every day didn't cause any problems to the pack or contents inside. The fit was perfect and the suspension never failed.
Gregory Alpaca 120L Duffle (this went on my sled)
This bag was abused, from the plane ride to AK and onto the glacier to being thrown around camp, on and off my sled, sat on every day and buried it for days at 11,000 feet.  It worked just great and kept my gear, food and clothing dry, being it is waterproof.  It was constantly covered in snow and does look like it has been through the ringer.  But it is still ticking and will be with me on my next Denali climb.  
Big Agnes Stagecoach Duffle 150L
I used this bag to transport my Denali 100 and all the gear that did not fit in the Alpaca Duffle to Alaska on the airplane.  This bag was great, as it had wheels and a retractable handle so I could pull this around the airports.  It stayed in Talkeetna and held my other camping gear that I was going to use after the climb.  Love this bag.  A great large soft sided travel suitcase.  

FOOTWEAR
Mountaineering Boots - La Sportiva Spantiks
I cannot shout loud enough on much I loved these boots.  I had been climbing in Koflach plastic boots and they were OK.  The Spantiks were incredibly warm and comfortable.  I never had a rub spot or single hot spot on my foot.  The liners removed easily and fit in the bottom of my sleeping bag with no issue.  If I did not bring down booties for camp life, I would have worn the liners around.  Other teammates did that.  

Snowshoes - Atlas Peak Series Serrate 24
I tested these snowshoes for Backpacker Magazine and fell in love with them.  They are meant for deep and steep terrain and they performed perfectly.  They have a built-in toe crampon and rear traction that stuck to the icy mountain. I never even felt them slip.  The wrap binding never froze up and would release and strap easily with no issues.  Unfortunately I had to return these to Atlas after my climb or these would be go to snowshoes for life! I will definitely either buy these myself, or get a pair similar.  

Crampons - Black Diamond Contact
Not much to say about these, as they are the best I have ever used.  Simple on and off and I would not use any others on a mountain expedition.  

Overboots  - Forty Below Purple Haze
These are the industry standard in my mind and I wore them while climbing above 17,000ft.  Paired with my Spantiks, Superfeet Red Hot insoles and Lorpen socks, my feet were never cold.  Some people did wear their overboots around camp if they did not have camp booties.  

Gaiters - REI Mountain Gaiters
Basic gators that are bit cheaper than other brands.  They got the job done and my crampons only nicked them once, so they are still usable!  

Insoles - Superfeet Red Hot and Merino Wool 
I thru hiked with insoles, so it only made sense that I would climb with them too.  The Red Hots were perfect inside my Spantiks and I could feel the heat penetrating back into my feet.  Plus, they are way more comfortable than the original insoles that come with my Spantiks.  I wore Superfeet's Merrino Wool insoles in my down booties as extra protection and to provide more warmth.  

Socks - CloudLine Apparel (light and medium combination) 
This was the first time I used CloudLine socks for a long expedition/hike. The Switchback medium cushion were great for the lower elevations just on their own.  I added the light cushion as I got a bit higher.  When I sweated, they dried out quickly in the bottom of my sleeping bag.  I never put on wet socks.  I also slept in a pair of medium cushion socks. CloudLine has expanded their line of socks, so they only thing I would change would be to use a pair of their ski & snowboard socks, and maybe their compression socks for camp time.

Lorpen Technical Expedition Socks
The Lorpen Expedition socks were key above 17,000 ft.  They have a lot more warmth with Primaloft insulation in certain parts.  They are very expensive, but your toes are too important, and I never felt cold.  

Booties - Exped Down Booty WB
I was testing this new product for Exped and was so glad to have them.  My team was very jealous of them and I got a lot of compliments.  They are a two-part system with an outside liner and warm down booties.  I wore the booties to bed paired with my CloudLine socks.  Cushy and warm. Actually, check out my detailed review of the booty here.
CLOTHING
Underwear - ExOfficio Give N Go Boxer
I started wearing these when thru hiking the AT and have not stopped since.  I wear them in everyday life, hiking and in the mountains.  If you don't have a pair, get one now.  They are the best.  I brought two pairs on the mountain and changed them once, about two weeks in, even though they didn't even smell yet!

Long Underwear - Patagonia Capilene Midweight and Lightweight Bottoms
I wore these at higher elevations.  They performed like they always do.  I have had these for some time.  Probably only needed to bring one pair.  

Pants - Marmot Scree Softshell Pant
Top notch!!  I wore these everyday.  They were the only pant I brought on the mountain.  I still wear them all the time for hiking, climbing, skiing, snowshoeing and just around town and the house because they still look brand new.  If I ever need to replace them, I will buy the same ones again.  But I don't foresee replacing them for a long time.  

Insulating Pants - Mountain Hardware Compressor Pant
Very useful around camp and I slept in them a lot.  I did wear them while climbing above 17,000ft.  

Shell Pants - Montane Spine Pant
I was testing these shell pants for Backpacker Magazine.  They were simple and protected me from every bit of moisture.  So lightweight and still look like new.  These pants are meant for the minimalist and packed down small into my bag when not in use.  Loved the hem where I could snap them closer to the leg.  My only gripe was that there was not zip fly.  It would been helpful to have my belay loop hang out of the fly when shelled up.  

Base layer - Patagonia Capilene t-shirt
Not much to say, but that I have had this short for 15 years.  Still going strong and will continue!  

Long Sleeve Mid Layers 
ExOfficio SoCool Hoody
This is always with me on mountain expeditions and some sort of hoody is an important piece of gear with the constant sun you encounter.  Mine is white and I was glad.  Always had it on either as a base layer or sometimes just alone when the sun was at its hottest.

Montane Allez Micro Hoodie 
Had this for a back up.  Wore it occasionally around camp when I took off my SoCool Hoody.  

Jackets
Arc'Teryx Proton LT Hoody
I was testing this jacket for Backpacker Magazine and it proved its worth.  I had this on everyday in some capacity.  Mostly when climbing over my SoCool Hoody.  It is wind and water resistant and breathed very well.  Great fit and hood.  The sleeves did get worn and have a permanent burn stain on the orange color from arm warp repels.  
MySoCool Hoody paired with the Proton Hoody

I brought this jacket with me on my thru-hike in New Zealand and have used many times after during the brutal Colorado winters.  I wore it about half the time climbing when it was cold.  It fit over my Proton Hoody very well.  Around camp it was always on me and I even slept with it on at higher elevations.  It is filled with 700 downtek.  Paired with my Proton Hoody, I never even took out my parka.

Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket
A super warm insulted jacket that I fortunately never had to wear while climbing.  It did make it out for a night or two while sleeping when the temps dipped below -30.

Columbia OutDry Ex Diamond Snow Shell
I was testing this jacket for Columbia and the looks I got on the mountain when I pulled it out were crazy.  Everyone was like what is that?  No way will that keep you warm, nor will it keep the elements out.  But I must say, this jacket was key and kept me both warm and dry thru driving snow, rain, hail and 50-80mph winds.  Bomb Proof!!  Love the ample pockets and the hood cinched perfectly.  It is not super compact, but well worth the weight-to-warmth ratio for this kind of trip.  I will be using this on every expedition. Pro tip: it is 50% off on Columbia's website now.  Sweet!  
Gloves
Black Diamond Shell Glove
I've had these forever. A very lightweight polyester/spandex glove that I wore a lot on the lower mountain.  It was very warm in the sun, but you still need to wear a lightweight glove.  

Outdoor Research Atli Gloves
These gloves with removable liners were on my hands a lot over 14,000ft.  They dried out quickly and that was crucial since we were constantly using our hands to build our snow walls and tent platform.

Outdoor Research Alti Mitts
These were meant for the extreme temps that would perpetrated my gloves and potentially given me frostbite.  Important to have, but I only wore these once at 14,000ft camp while digging out camp.  I was glad to know I had these with me for emergency.  You never know...

I also brought a no name sensor glove that I bought a Costco for $10.  These were great for inside my tent while looking at my iPad or Kindle!

Hats
Ball Cap with Brim
I wore my Gregory Trucker hat everyday while climbing.  With the sun always beating down on you this was a must.  I wore it in combination with every jacket and my SoCool Hoody.  

Mountain Hardwear Fleece Beanie
I wore this hat when the tempts dipped mainly around camp and sleeping at night. I lost this hat around 18,000 feet when the wind took it! :( 

The North Face Boreas Wind Hat
I wore this on bitter cold days at higher elevations and under my helmet when I had it on.  

Goggles - Stage Stunt Photo-chromatic
Only used these twice during driving snow and wind.  They worked great, plus inexpensive.  Just bought a pair for Patrice.  

Glasses - Jublo Dolgan
You will die without glacier glasses, seriously.  On my face every minute except sleeping.  You can't step out of your tent without sunnies.  These are one of the cheapest Jublo makes and they did get the job done.  Got some abuse with scratches, but I still wear them today, even after picking up a pair of more expensive Jublo shades for future trips.  You should also bring an extra pair of shades just in case you lose your first.  I brought Patrice's glacier glasses, but never had to use them.  
SLEEP SYSTEM
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol
This is a closed cell foam pad that I used under my inflatable pad for extra warmth.  You need this.  People also used theirs in the cook tent to sit on if they did not have a bevy pad.  It is also good for emergency and a quick setup if need be.

Therm-a-Rest Neo Air X-Therm Max
This pad is, in my opinion, a leader in the industry.  Made for extreme temps it has a R Value of 5.7 and a weight of 15ozs. Kept me ultra warm.  I probably didn't even need the foam pad with this.  

Pillow - Therm-a-rest Air Head Pillow
Love me a pillow and this was great.  People say you can use clothes for a pillow but when you are wearing all your clothing, you really can't.  My pillow is my luxury item on every overnight trip.  

Sleeping Bag - Big Agnes Crosho SL -20
I battled with myself for months about what sleeping bag to bring.  Being one of the testers for sleeping bags for Backpacker magazine, I have seen my share of successes and failures.  I had four bags at my disposal to choose from.  I am very fortunate to have Big Agnes as a gear partner and they paired me with his bag.  My only worry was that the space inside was not big enough for me and all my possessions. You have to sleep with everything (clothing, boot liners, water bottle, sun lotion) so it doesn't freeze.  My worries were erased after the first couple of nights.  I fit everything I needed to and the bag kept me very warm.  Too warm on the lower mountain.  It packed small enough and is still in great shape.  

COOKWARE
GSI Kung Foon Utensil 
I always praise the long handle spoon that attaches to chopsticks.  But I only brought the spoon and it did fine.  

GSI 1L Infinity Dukjug (2)
Great water bottles.  Had these for a while.  

Outdoor Research water bottle insulators (2)
Necessary to keep your water from freezing.  

OTHER EQUIPMENT
Trekking poles - Helinox Ridgeline Lever Lock
Very important while snowshoeing up to 11,000ft.  No need for ice ax this low.  The poles provided great support and helped with staking out my tent.  Make sure to add aftermarket snow baskets to your poles.  I continue to use these poles every day and love them.  

Ice Ax - Black Diamond Raven Pro 
Not much to say about this.  A great ice ax that has served me well over the years.  

Not the newest, lightest or most expensive helmet, but it gets the job done.  I only wore a helmet on a couple of sketchy sections where some could drop something on you and around windy corner wear rocks could coming flying at you.  

ESSENTIALS
Sawyer Stay Put SPF 30 Sunscreen 
Never leave home without this. I went through an 8-ounce bottle on the mountain and was so glad to have enough. Applied several times a day and it does not bother my skin or get in my eyes when sweating. You are going to get burnt no matter what, but I feel like my color was minimal. 

Beko 2013 Nose Guard
This is a nose guard that you attach to your sunglasses to protect your nose from the sun and wind.  I never used it, but it's so lightweight, it's easy to bring.  Instead just made sure I had plenty of lotion on. 

Sawyer First Aid Kit
I used Sawyer's kit and added what I needed for my personal needs to it.  I suggest you make your own kit too.  

MISC ELECTRONICS
Spot Gen 3
Great to keep contact with Patrice and the rest of our friends/family to let them know each day that I was safe.  It sends out a pre-typed message that shows my location and says "I am safe and climbing on."  I would typically send it out later in the day because sometimes we didn't know if the team was moving on or staying put. Patrice and I discussed this and next time I will bring a device like the Delorme inReach Explorer that allows for two-way communication (limited characters, but sheds a little more insight on how I am doing).

Garmin Fenix Watch 
I really didn't need to know the time when climbing, sleeping and resting, but it was nice to track mileage and see my elevation gain and loss. nix (1st generation)

Goal Zero Nomad 7 plus with 2 Flip 10 Rechargers
Not the best.  This panel would freeze over and not get charges to my devices or battery banks.  I was not too happy with this Goal Zero panel, but other people had better experiences. I would definitely recommend bringing solar power.
Big Agnes Power Loft with Joey
A great case to hold all my electronics and the Joey power bank that when fully charged could power back my iPad.

iPad Mini2 (32GB) with LifeProof case
Entertainment is key!!  You never know how long you will just sit around and wait out storms.  We did for too long.  Having movies and games was great.  I even took some videos with it and kept notes on it. But I actually wish I had more (I only loaded 2 movies on my iPad). 

Kindle Paperwhite
Another must!  I read 4 books and had more downloaded.  I got this just for this trip and have continued to use it.

Pentax Optio WG 2 Camera
This camera is meant for the elements.  I brought 4 batteries expecting them to freeze up.  I always kept 3 in my pocket to stay warm.  The first one lasted almost the whole trip.  I love this camera!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Cars Vans Cars Vans.

It's been a whirlwind of vehicles for us this month. In case you didn't hear about some of the excitement—and also because my head spins sometimes—I'm here to do a recap.

We sold our beloved "Wanderer" 1995 Chevy Roadtrek. We only owned it for 8 months and put 10,000 miles on it, but we knew it would sit this summer, then again next winter. It was better off in someone else hands and it was an easy sale because it was such a great little camper. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun and that will not be the last camper van we own.

Then we impulsively purchased a 2016 Chevy Trax. I've always been in the Chevy family, as my dad worked at GMAC for 30 years. I've also always been a new car kind of gal, as my dad had a revolving door of new cars when we were growing up. In fact, we never let our cars go over 80K miles! When I met Justin, he was more of a used car kind of guy, but we've compromised over the years. With our most recent car purchase, we debated going the used route, but we wanted to have that "do anything car dependence" for the foreseeable future, even if this one will sit in a garage all summer.  Plus, it's hard to pass up our "employee discount" deals with Chevy and well, J's nickname is Deal.

But, the real reason for this blog post is to introduce you to our summer ride: a 2016 Mercedes Sprinter Van courtesy of Superfeet. We'll call it the Supervan for now! When Superfeet first asked what we would be driving around the country for our speaking tour, we said it would be our Chevy Roadtrek. Well, our rep responded about Superfeet having this Sprinter passenger van that was just sitting unused. She took our requests for interior modifications and the van is just finished being built out by Northwest Conversions. This will be our smallest van space we've lived in, but it's AWD, reliable and flashy--muy bien for our summer tour. I keep pinching myself thinking how spoiled we will be driving around a brand-spanking new Sprinter from May 12 (we will pick it up in Washington a week into our tour) through July 26.
All photo credits go to Superfeet and NW Conversions


See you on the road soon!