5 Tips for Traveling Stress-Free With Your Outdoor Gear

When traveling abroad in search of adventure, packing duffel bags of gear to put on a plane can be one of the most stressful parts. Between over-packing, losing bags, breaking gear, or just not getting to your destination with everything you thought you needed, a lot can happen between point A and point B. But, there are ways to eliminate many of these issues. So, follow these tips to keep things as simple and stress free as possible.

Courtesy: Holidayextras
Courtesy: Holidayextras

Watch for Extra Fees

You have to consider a few factors when you’re flying with a lot of gear. First, make sure you are thorough in the flight planning process, so nothing gets damaged and you don’t end up needing to pay more than you had anticipated.

Specifically, pay close attention to baggage policies. Is a checked bag included in the price of your super-cheap ticket to Iceland, or is the add-on charge going to run you another $100? Many airlines also don’t include carry-on bags. If you plan on needing one, check the airline’s policy before you book.

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Protect the Pointy Objects

Climbing gear can be notoriously heavy and sharp—two characteristics that aren’t the best for airline travel. But, with a little thought and planning, traveling with climbing gear can be a breeze.

Pack ice axes, crampons, ice-screws, and any other sharp gear in your checked bag, because you won’t be able to carry it on the plane. Keep these items in stuff sacks or separate compartments away from clothing, climbing ropes, tents, and other soft materials to avoid any unwanted tears or core shots.

Check the Scale

Nobody likes showing up to the airport with an overweight bag. The fees are a pain, and re-sorting your gear in front of the check-in scale is an embarrassing waste of time when you’re in a rush.

For starters, make sure your luggage stands up to the size requirements for both checked and carry-on baggage. Don’t be the person trying to shove a full-size backpack into the overhead compartment.

At home, be sure you know the weight limit for your checked and carry-on baggage. Then, pick up a cheap baggage scale, or throw your bags onto the bathroom scale. As a tried-and-true technique, weight yourself first, and then, weight yourself again while holding your bags and wearing your backpack. Simply subtract your body weight to determine the weight of your baggage. Overall, it’s a bit easier than trying to balance anything on a small bathroom scale.

Still overweight? When packing heavy gear, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Ahead of time, plan out climbing gear with your partners, so you don’t bring more than necessary. Sharing a trad rack and distributing the group gear to even out the load can save a lot of weight.

As another option to offset the weight of a checked bag, put small but heavy items like cams and carabiners into a carry-on bag. And, if you are on a winter trip with lots of outerwear, try wearing some of your bulkier, heavy clothing in the airport to save space.

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Follow the Rules

The TSA discourages camp fuel, and in taking it along, you could lose your stove for good. So, empty and thoroughly clean out your fuel bottles before flying. Giving your stove a cleaning isn’t a bad idea, either.

Make sure to pack your pocket knife or multi-tool in your checked baggage, as knives are not allowed in carry-on luggage. When packing your camp lighters, however, put them in your carry-on. Interestingly enough, they are prohibited in checked baggage, unless they are in a DOT-approved container. Additionally, leave any aerosols at home, including bug spray in a can and bear spray. These cannot be brought along in your baggage.

When you’re traveling internationally, you’ll find that some countries take serious measures to keep out invasive plant species, as they can negatively affect the local ecosystems. New Zealand, for example, screens incoming travelers’ luggage as they go through the customs process. If travelers failed to clean their gear, customs confiscates it upon your arrival at the airport.

To avoid losing all of your camping gear, clean everything thoroughly before packing it:

  • Remove the dried soil from your boots.
  • Hose-off all parts of your tent, including the stakes, which often hold a lot of soil.
  • Check your pole baskets for any caked-on dirt.
  • Then, let everything dry completely before you pack it up.
Courtesy: Doug Letterman
Courtesy: Doug Letterman

Keep It Safe

It’s not uncommon to sweat bullets as you wait for your bags to come off the carousel. But, broken or missing gear is only one expensive problem. It’s a far bigger issue to get to a distant location just in time for a trip, only to realize you’re missing the essentials.

So, label all of your gear in a unique way, in a place where it can be read and where it won’t be rubbed or broken off. As a tip, use something like Eagle Creek’s Reflective Luggage ID Set. Paper gear tags, however, are not strong enough. Don’t be afraid to use a permanent marker to put your contact information directly onto your bags.

If you paid for a budget flight, especially an international one, several airlines won’t insure your bags. As a note, most non-budget American airlines usually include it. Gear is expensive, so it might be worth picking up temporary travel insurance, if you don’t have it already.

In travel, hold onto your luggage tags and receipts. Have proof that you handed over your bags to an airline, especially when traveling with expensive items.

It’s also not a bad idea, depending on where you’re traveling, to use a TSA-safe luggage lock. Don’t use a regular lock, however. It’s almost guaranteed to be cut off during an inspection. TSA locks, instead, can be opened by officials and then placed back on once you leave the airport.


Alpha Guide: Skiing in Tuckerman Ravine

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Who says the East doesn’t have bigtime, open backcountry skiing? A classic not just among Northeast skiers, Tuckerman Ravine is a serious challenge for all skiers and boarders.

“Skiing Tucks” is a rite of passage for almost every East Coast skier. The glacial cirque offers some of the best terrain east of the Mississippi, with high alpine conditions, steep chutes, and cozy gullies. The birthplace of “extreme” skiing in the 1930s and ’40s, it’s now the East’s most well-known and highly traveled backcountry skiing destination. Amongst its beautiful, rugged, and powerful terrain, its rich community, and addicting atmosphere, Tucks keeps the locals and the travelers alike coming back year after year.

The trip is easily done in a day, but staying multiple days allows for more skiing, earlier starts, and bigger weather windows.

Quick Facts

Distance: 2.9 miles to Tuckerman Ravine Floor, one way.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: December through April; best February and later.
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea?recid=78538 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Parking and trailhead access to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail are at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center located on Route 16 between Gotham and Jackson. Weekend parking fills up quickly, but an overflow lot is located just south of the Visitor Center. Stop in the Visitor Center for last-minute supplies, trail conditions, and weather information before starting your ski up the trail.

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Credit: Andrew Drummond

The Approach

Follow the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center for 2.4 miles to the Caretaker Cabin at Hermit Lake Shelters (44.13269° N 74.85318° W). From the Visitor Center, the trail switchbacks before straightening out for a sustained climb to the intersection with the Huntington Ravine Trail. From there, you’ll pass the Harvard Cabin Fire Road junction before climbing to the Hermit Lake Shelters, where you’ll finally gain stunning views of the ravine. Chat with a Ranger or stop into the Caretaker Cabin for up-to-date weather, snow, and safety information before heading up into the ravine. From the Caretaker Cabin, continue up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for just over a half-mile to reach the ravine’s floor.

While skiers can hike or skin to the floor, once you choose your runs for the day, climbing on foot is necessary to get to the top of the steep slopes. It is strongly recommended to climb up what you intend to ski down to get an accurate view of the conditions and terrain. Remember that the runs are always changing due to the amount of snow and how the snow fills into each run.

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Credit: Andrew Drummond

After Your Ski

The fastest and most enjoyable way down is the Sherburne Ski Trail, which is accessible from the Caretaker Cabin at Hermit Lake. This trail is roughly three miles long, would equate to a “Blue Square” in difficulty at your local ski resort, and, at the end, drops you off at the south side of the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center parking lot. The “Sherbie” is also a great objective when avalanche danger is high for the day, or if you just want to go for a quick ski tour. As spring progresses, however, Sherburne’s skiable area decreases. So, keep an eye out for a cross-cut back to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail when the coverage gets thin.

If you are looking to spend the night, check out the AMC Hermit Lake Shelters for a winter camping experience and quick access to the ravine; Harvard Cabin for a cozy, rustic night halfway up the trail; or Joe Dodge Lodge next to the trailhead for a bunk, a shower, and a meal.


The Runs

Courtesy: Colin Boyd
Courtesy: Colin Boyd

Hillman’s Highway

Aspect: East-Northeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 40 degrees
Vertical Distance: 1200 feet

Hillman’s is slightly removed from the main “bowl” and is located under the Boott Spur Buttresses. Get a great view of the run from Hermit Lake Shelters’ visitor deck. Easy access is found by heading up the Sherburne Ski Trail from the Caretaker Cabin. Points of reference on Hillman’s include “the dog leg,” the skiers’ left-hand curve near the bottom; the top of “the Christmas Tree,” an area of vegetation to the climber’s right of the slide path that, when filled with snow, looks like a Christmas tree from a distance; and the fork near the top of the run, where skiers have a choice of two different variations.

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Credit: Jamie Walter

Left Gully

Aspect: East-Northeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 850 feet

The ravine’s left-most prominent run is Left Gully. In the ravine, this run is often the first and last to be skied over the course of the season, as its northeast orientation helps the slope hold snow a bit longer due to decreased sun exposure. The top offers two general entrances to get into the run. When climbing up the gully, look to the right for a steeper entrance, or continue straight up for a slightly more mellow one. About halfway down, the run narrows a bit before making a left turn to drop you back into the bowl.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Chute

Aspect: East
Steepest Slope Angle: 50 degrees
Vertical Distance: 750 feet

Chute is easily identified by the hour glass-shaped choke point near the center. The steep entry funnels skiers through this 30-foot-wide point into open skiing and lower slope angles below. Use caution when climbing through the choke point, as skiers (and their sluff) may be descending. A great spot for a rest on the way up or down, a natural bench is under the rock buttress to the climber’s left of the choke point. It’s ideal for taking a minute to decide whether to keep going, to have a snack, or to take in the great views across the ravine.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

The Lip

Aspect: Southeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 750 feet

The Lip is located on the climber’s right-hand side of the headwall, where a gap in the steep wall of rock and ice lets skiers sneak through and make big, open turns into the bowl. When skiing into The Lip, trend to the left to avoid going over the icefall area. The Lip becomes progressively steeper as you ski into it; this decreases the visibility of the run below you, until you reach the steepest pitch. As such, find visual landmarks as you climb up, and use them as a route-finding tool on the way down. All eyes are on you when you’re skiing The Lip, so make it count!

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Sluice

Aspect: South-Southeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 50 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

Sluice is found between The Lip and Right Gully. Its entrance is steep and has a tricky double fall-line, when the obvious ski run dictates one direction of travel, but gravity wants to take you in another. A good reference point for this climb is Sluice Ice, a cliff that holds vertical ice a few hundred feet up from Lunch Rocks. Use caution with your route-finding in the spring, as ice begins to shed as the temperatures rise. Skiers finish the run by skiing to the left side of Lunch Rocks.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Right Gully

Aspect: South
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

The most prominent gully on the south-facing wall is Right Gully. Because of their orientation, this run and Lobster Claw see the most sun in the ravine, so keep this in mind when searching for the perfect soft spring corn. Though it’s a bit shorter than some of the others, the consistent slope angle and half-pipe-like feel make this a favorite. A great place to scope out the line, decide whether to keep climbing, or have a snack is on the natural bench that forms under the climber’s right side of the slight choke point, just under halfway up the run.

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Credit: Andrew Drummond

Lobster Claw

Aspect: South
Steepest Slope Angle: 40 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

Once you locate Right Gully, look a few hundred feet to the right to find Lobster Claw. This run is under the ravine’s Lion Head area. Slightly narrower than Right Gully, the slope angle is a bit mellower and gets about the same amount of sunlight. Lobster Claw is home to quite a bit of vegetation and can often take longer to fill in enough to be skiable. When the ravine is crowded with skiers, however, Lobster Claw is often a less-crowded option. Use caution exiting the run, because plenty of rocks and trees sit below the main part of the gully.


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The Kit

  • Your avalanche rescue kit and the skills to use it are crucial when you’re traveling into the ravine. A popular combo is the PIEPS DSP Sport beacon, Black Diamond Transfer 3 shovel, and Black Diamond QuickDraw 280 probe.
  • Though they are not a substitute for crampons on steep slopes, Kahtoola MICROspikes are useful on lower-angle trails, or if you have to hike with your ski boots on a slick surface.
  • The slope angles in Tuckerman are steep! Having a small, lightweight ice axe, like the Black Diamond Raven Ultra, and knowing how to use it are extremely valuable tools for steep skiing and can add a bit of extra security.
  • An ultra-portable sunscreen like the Beyond Coastal Natural Lip and Face Sun Protection will help protect your face from burning while skiing in the ravine. Remember that snow is highly reflective and can amplify the effects of your goggle tan to a very unpleasant point.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Keys to the Trip

  • Avalanches are real and happen very regularly in the ravine. Check out the Mount Washington Avalanche Center forecast online in the morning, before you head into the ravine, and then, check in with USFS Avalanche Rangers or the AMC Caretaker for up-to-date beta on the best spots of the day.
  • On the way through North Conway, stop by Frontside Grind Coffee Roasters for a hot brew and bagel before you start your climb.
  • For beers and burgers after the trip, check out Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. and Tuckerman Brewing Co.
  • For some early morning pre- or afternoon post-skiing yoga, check out the yoga classes at The Local Grocer. This is a great way to both warm your body up before a big day and recover after by stretching and keeping your body moving before the car ride home.
  • North Conway has many quirky shops that are unique to New Hampshire. Some of my favorites are the candy counter and hot sauce aisle at Zeb’s General Store; Dondero’s Rock Shop, where any geological nerds can find local and global samples of rocks and minerals; and Beef & Ski for truly bangin’ sandwiches.

Safe to Climb: Reading Weather Reports for Mount Washington

White Mountain weather is notoriously dangerous. Thankfully, the Mount Washington Observatory (MWOBS) is up to the task, working every day to monitor these conditions and keep us safe. An invaluable resource, their reports help us make informed decisions for our backcountry trips and increase our margin of safety in the mountains.

Located at Mount Washington’s summit, 6,288 feet above sea level, MWOBS sees some of the world’s most intense weather events. There, six full-time weather observers and meteorologists work in shifts around the clock, delivering forecasts, collecting data, and maintaining weather instruments during extreme events.

Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory
Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory

“Our forecasts are the only forecasts produced by experts on the summit, who live and breathe this extreme weather every day, and hence are the most reliable forecasts by far,” said MWOBS Senior Meteorologist Mike Carmon. “You can find plenty of other forecasts for the higher peaks of the White Mountains out there. But, those are purely automated by a computer model and very often underestimate the extreme weather above treeline in the Whites.”

Since mountain weather constantly changes, don’t expect to see a 10-day forecast on the Observatory site. “The biggest forecasting challenge is the extreme nature of Mount Washington’s weather, and how inherently difficult it is to predict extremes in the world of meteorology,” said Carmon. Instead, you can expect detailed, short-term forecasts with supplementary real-time data.

Through the Observatory website, you can quickly get information on current summit conditions and a summit and valley forecast. For experienced weather enthusiasts, it further provides more detailed data.

Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory
Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory

How do I read the forecast?

The Higher Summits Forecast particularly benefits local recreationists, such as hikers, skiers, mountaineers, and backcountry campers. Additionally, organizations like the U.S. Forest Service, New Hampshire Fish and Game, Appalachian Mountain Club, and Mount Washington State Park use it for critical decision making.

The forecast begins with a meteorologist’s summary for at least the following two days and indicates what conditions to expect. This information provides important details about high- and low-pressure systems, temperature gradients, and precipitation potential. Ultimately, it lets you determine how the impending weather will affect your adventure.

To cut to the chase, look below the summary for the cloud cover, precipitation, temperature, wind, and wind chill. This data is broken up between day and night.

Aimed at helping visitors and tourists, the Mount Washington Valley Forecast offers more general information specific to the surrounding lower elevations. Oftentimes, it follows the Summits Forecast’s trends but is substantially less intense. If the forecast calls for winter-like summit conditions, the Valley, however, might be hot and sunny. The main lesson in these circumstances is, never trust lower-elevation weather to represent the summits.

Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory
Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory

What’s it like on Mount Washington right now?

As another resource, real-time weather data covers both Mount Washington’s summit and various locations around the Whites. This type of information particularly assists those traveling to or near the reporting weather station.

The Current Summit Conditions page includes a vertical temperature profile, wind, temperature, humidity, pressure data, and current visibility. A graphical representation additionally displays trends from the last 24 hours. Incredibly valuable to winter climbers and skiers, this technical data helps anyone planning to travel to Mount Washington’s summit.

The Mount Washington Regional Mesonet compiles real-time data from the White Mountains’ other remote weather stations. While not as advanced, these unmanned stations have basic data on current temperature, wind, and humidity across a wider area.

Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory
Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory

How do they do it?

“The fact that our weather station is still manned 24/7 is probably what sets us apart the most from your typical weather station,” explained Carmon. “Most weather stations, these days, use almost entirely automated instrumentation and are unmanned. However, the nature of our extreme weather still necessitates a manned presence on Mount Washington 24 hours per day and 365 days per year.”

To make everything work, MWOBS relies on durable, state-of-the-art weather instrumentation, complex IT infrastructure, and vehicles to transport staff throughout the year. Over time, these costs add up.

“Seek the Peak is the Observatory’s largest annual fundraiser. So, it is the single, biggest event that contributes directly to the work of the Observatory,” Carmon said. “The contributions made through Seek the Peak go directly to keeping the station functioning and providing the most accurate weather forecasts possible.”

Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory
Courtesy of: Mount Washington Observatory

What other weather resources do hikers have?

The Backcountry Weather page, run by the AMC, lets travelers look at weather data specific to their locations. Before visiting an AMC hut, lodge, or campsite or any nearby location, be sure to check the destination’s specific weather.

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s Avalanche Advisory critically assists anyone traveling on the mountain’s east side from December through May. During the winter, the daily avalanche forecasts touch on snow and weather, trail and route conditions, and avalanche danger ratings.

The National Weather Service offers comprehensive forecasts, weather models, raw data, and radar pulling from numerous remote and unmanned stations. While it isn’t usually able to match the MWOBS Higher Summits Forecast’s accuracy, NWS is useful within your trip-planning toolbox.

 

Remember, you are responsible for your own safety while traveling in the mountains. Using these weather reports is just one way to help you make good decisions and be prepared for Mother Nature’s most extreme days.


Against All Odds: 5 Common Alpine Flowers in the Northeast

Credit: Patrick Scanlan
Credit: Patrick Scanlan

When I first started venturing into the alpine zone, the obvious captivated me. The absence of large trees, the swaths of exposed rock, the strength of the wind, the view (or lack of one) around me, and the perspective that came with it kept me coming back for more.

Everything in those environments seems big and expansive. But, every time I came back, the closer I looked, and the more I found. And, the colorful alpine flowers that dot the summits exemplify nature’s beauty and resiliency in such a harsh environment.

Alpine Adaptations

It is no easy feat to come back every spring after a winter of heavy snow, arctic temperatures, and hurricane-force winds. However, plants growing in an alpine ecosystem have adapted over time to survive.

For instance, growing close together in clumps or mats helps the plant retain heat and allows wind to pass over with minimal disturbance. As well, growing low to the ground protects the plant from deep, wind-packed snow. Some also have thick, wax-coated leaves, which retain water in shallow soils and aid in protecting the plant from high winds.

How to Spot Them

When you search for wildflowers, make sure to be environmentally conscious. Though these plants have evolved to withstand extreme conditions, they are fragile to human contact. So, when looking for these flowers, stay on the trail to avoid trampling other alpine plants and take only pictures.

If you are headed into the alpine zone, generally above 4,000 feet, you will be able to find many of these species. In New Hampshire, for instance, these flowers can be found in the Presidential Range, Franconia Ridge, Mount Chocorua, Mount Cardigan, Mount Monadnock, and on bald summits.

Over in Maine, they can be found in Baxter State Park, the Bigelow Range, the Mahoosuc Range, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Mount Abraham. When you’re in Vermont, alpine zones exist on Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump. As you venture into New York, you can find them on Whiteface Mountain, Algonquin, and Mount Marcy.

Alpine Flower Guide

Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Diapensia lapponica, a.k.a. pincushion plant: This densely-growing plant has five-lobed white flowers extending no more than a few inches above the soil. These bloom from June through July.
Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Geum peckii, a.k.a mountain avens: The mountain avens’ yellow flowers have five petals. Depending on the environment, the plant’s height can be between six and 20 inches. Flowering from June through September, this species is only found in the White Mountains and Nova Scotia.

Courtesy: Sally Baldwin
Courtesy: Sally Baldwin
Rhododendron lapponicum, a.k.a lapland rosebay: This low-growing plant that forms mat-like clusters has five-lobed pink-purple flowers with long stamens. Lapland rosebay is generally between four and 12 inches tall and flowers from May through July.

Credit: Caitlin McDonough
Loiseleuria procumbent, a.k.a alpine azalea: Alpine azalea forms short, bushy patches that only grow a few inches off the ground. Its crown-shaped flowers are bright pink and white and bloom from June through August.

Courtesy: Aaron Emerson
Courtesy: Aaron Emerson
Potentilla robbinsiana, a.k.a. dwarf cinquefoil or Robbins cinquefoil: Forming small clusters in sheltered alpine areas, this plant’s flowers are five-petaled and yellow. Flowering during a two-week window in June, dwarf cinquefoil is extremely rare and can only be found on Mount Washington and Franconia Ridge.


Lessons from a National Park Chief Ranger

The last time I saw Dan Pontbriand, he was preparing for a Maine-bound vacation, securing a couple of kayaks to the top of his truck with a healthy collection of bowlines, mules, and half-hitches. I knew he wasn’t thinking about the kayaks coming off the truck at highway speeds, but rather about a scenario he’s seen many times: tying a critically injured patient onto a backboard while hanging off the side of a cliff in one of our many National Parks. 

Over Pontbriand’s 31-year career with the National Park Service, he has officially been called a Protection Ranger, a District Ranger, and a Chief Ranger in nine different parks, including Grand Teton, Olympic, and Sequoia National Parks. He has held leadership roles within the Park Service pertaining to wild-land fire fighting, law enforcement, search and rescue, and even served as the Chief of Emergency Services at the National Park Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

PontbriandGrowing up in Auburn, Maine, Pontbriand became interested in the outdoors as a Boy Scout and through spending time in the woods with his father, an avid outdoorsman. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1979 from the University of Maine at Machias. This helped him kick off his career with the National Park Service that year as a River Ranger, a job in which he spent his days paddling and patrolling the Snake River in Wyoming. But not long after, Dan began to experience the thrill of intense mountain rescues.

Pontbriand said the most difficult search and rescue missions were the ones without an ending. One of these cases happened when he was a ranger in Olympic National Park. Pontbriand received a call about a missing hiker from Germany who had split up from his partner when misinterpreting the map’s distance calculations as kilometers instead of miles. Dan said that when he and the other rangers got the word, “the weather had already turned for the worse – typical Olympic Mountains winter weather: wet, cold, overcast, day after day after day.” Pontbriand and other rangers, including a NPS-trained search dog, searched for over two weeks in the most remote regions of the park, but unfortunately, the hiker remains missing to this day. 

After responding to countless other rescues and searches during his career, Pontbriand has learned many lessons about managing risk while exploring and adventuring. His insight and wisdom, like that of many rangers you may meet during your next park trip, are extremely beneficial for both staying safe and making the most out of your National Park experience.

“There are so many causes as to why people get into trouble while visiting a National Park. Most problems arise when people fail to plan properly and simply do not know what their physical abilities are.”

Pontbriand
Pontbriand briefing a ranger regarding the search area for a as the district ranger at Olympic National Park.

According to a 2009 study, there are on average 11 search and rescue events in National Parks on any given day. “There are so many causes as to why people get into trouble while visiting a National Park,” Pontbriand said. “Most problems arise when people fail to plan properly and simply do not know what their physical abilities are.” He added that sometimes it’s as simple as visitors not taking advantage of the enormous amount of information the Park Service provides. 

Assisting a capsized U.S. Coast Guard rescue team during a storm while they themselves responded to a small capsized sailboat off the coast of the Olympic Peninsula was one of the most intense rescues Pontbriand responded to.

“While en route, I heard the Coast Guard order a HH 60 helicopter to transport our rescue team to James Island to effect the rescue [of the Coast Guard team]. It was the only helicopter that had the power to fly in those conditions,” Pontbriand remembered. “The lone surviving [Coast Guard] crew member was rescued from a cliff face just as the morning light was illuminating the island.” 

According a Pondbriand, another Coast Guard helicopter was able to pluck the sailors from the deck of the doomed sailboat. “If someone had asked me if it was possible to pluck two people off the deck of that boat in 50-foot seas, I would have said it was impossible. Yet, it happened.” 

Pontbriand
Floating the Snake River as a River Ranger in a raft at Grand Teton National Park.

Dan’s job isn’t all exciting rescues. The amount of exploring he’s been able to do in some of the lesser-known national areas has been another highlight of his career. Only around 50 of the nearly 400 units the National Park Service maintains are National Parks. The rest are made up of National Seashores, National Monuments, National Historic Parks, and more, many of which have historic, cultural, recreational, and scenic opportunities just as valuable as the ones we’re so familiar with. According to Dan, “These 350 areas get far less notoriety and visitation [but] are all special places with secrets ready to be discovered.” 

Examples of these lesser-known national areas include El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico, Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, and Buck Island Reef National Monument in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Like National Parks, these smaller areas also offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities, including camping, hiking, climbing, and snorkeling.

The U.S. National Parks are undoubtedly special places with diverse natural features, wildlife, culture, and climates. Rangers like Dan are a wealth of information and experience and are a valuable resource at your fingertips whenever you visit a park. Talking with a ranger might help you find that pristine and uncrowded swimming hole or the perfect location for your time-lapse Milky Way photograph, and they might give you the advice you need to stay out of the next search and rescue report during your trip! 


4 Tips for Improving Your Leadership in the Backcountry

Group dynamics in the backcountry change constantly, often as a result of the major variables involved in decision making: the members, the activity at hand, the collective skill level, the acceptable level of risk, and goals.

In most cases, any recreational outdoor group has a trip leader. Whether that person is a professional guide from the EMS Climbing School or an avid weekender with the most experience in a group of friends, he or she plays a vital role in managing those variables and, of course, having fun.

Whether you are a seasoned trip leader, or if you are ready to take the first step into such a role, these tried-and-true skills are essential in the backcountry.

1. Identify your leadership style, play to your strengths, and understand your weaknesses

There are numerous known leadership styles, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. Like the Adirondack High Peaks or the White Mountains, none are better or worse than the others – they are just different. Are you someone who is naturally vocal? Or, do you spend less time explaining, and lead the group by your own example? Do you work more effectively with a co-leader or by yourself? Do you help lead the group to a decision on their own? Or, do you tell them what the decision will be ahead of time?

All of these attributes, then, can be used effectively in different situations. While honing the skills that allow you to lead well, think critically about how you act and what tools you can use to continually improve.

2. Develop a keen sense of when to assume a dominant leadership role

Don’t be afraid to be a dominant decision maker, especially if the trip plan includes a higher level of risk and safety is a concern, but realize that nobody likes a dictator. In a less risky situation, try observing what decisions happen naturally within the group without your input, and remember that subtle suggestions can go a long way.

Talking through a situation with others can open up multiple options and helps prevent overlooking vital information or observations. Along this line, while a high-performing group may not feel like it needs someone in charge, an experienced leader might notice this and then use it to facilitate good communication and discussion amongst all members.

3. Delegate tasks throughout the trip

As a leader, it is impossible to do everything yourself, and if attempted, this can make for a lousy trip. Many times, the toughest tasks aren’t what’s directly at hand but, rather, being able to complete them efficiently without losing the ability to stay on schedule.

A perfect example of this is the transition between breakfast cleanup, campsite breakdown, and hitting the trail. I have seen this process become slow and sloppy multiple times, especially with individuals who haven’t spent time in the backcountry together before. Here, an effective leader might recognize this problem, visualize what needs to get done, and delegate accordingly.

4. Keep your goals realistic and open-ended

Nobody likes to go home after an outing without completing the one goal they set out to do. Even worse, your friends may not want to go on a trip with you ever again! Especially if you are planning a longer adventure, it can be extremely rewarding to set different stages of goals: one you will certainly achieve, one you will likely achieve, and one you may not achieve. Not only does this let everyone leave feeling satisfied, but it further builds excitement and drive for returning to complete anything you weren’t able to accomplish the first time around.

Remember that if you aren’t the designated leader, your role within the group is equally as important. Speak up, share opinions, and ask questions if something doesn’t seem right or if you are making observations that no one else has made.

 

One of the most valuable ways to become an effective leader is to learn from and be led by one. Eastern Mountain Sports Schools offer trips and courses with some of the most experienced and knowledgeable leaders around. To book a course or find more information, visit http://www.emsoutdoors.com.