Girl’s Best Friend: From Paralyzed to 46er

If you had hiked Porter Mountain with 6-year-old Ryley Riggs a couple weeks ago (it was his 26th of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks), your biggest thought might have been, “Wow, this dog is in better shape than I am.”

And, you would have probably been right.

Ryley, along with owner-slash-best-friend Amanda Riggs, has been hiking for most of his life and has put down more miles than most humans. Especially considering that, at least briefly, he was paralyzed.

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We thought someone had tried to break into the house.

On a regular January morning in 2015, Amanda and Riley went up Owl Head lookout in Elizabethtown, New York. The five-mile round trip was hardly even a hike, compared to the 20-plus milers the pair had taken on in the past. They returned home later than morning, and then, Amanda left for the day.

When she got home that evening, Ryley was shaking uncontrollably and clingy. “We thought someone had tried to break into the house,” Amanda told us. Clearly something was wrong, but at the time, Amanda assumed it was external. By the next morning, when he showed no improvement, Amanda took Ryley to the vet, where he was diagnosed with a simple pulled muscle in his back – some medication and a heating pad should do the trick.

But by the following morning, things were far worse. Ryley was completely unable to move his back legs, paralyzed in the lower half of his body.

Back at the vet and after an X-ray and CT scan, Ryley was shown to have a compressed disc between his vertebrae, a consequence of IVDD, or intervertebral disc disorder. “We pretty much had the choice of leaving him paralyzed or giving him a chance to do surgery,” Amanda said. It was an easy decision.

He’s a totally different dog out there on the trails…

Ryley during his first hike post-surgery.
Ryley during his first hike post-surgery.

After a three-hour surgery and a day of rest later, Ryley was home with Amanda, but the hard part was just beginning. Aside from providing constant medication, Amanda and her boyfriend spent time every few hours moving Ryley’s still-immobile legs, carrying him outside to use the bathroom, and eventually bringing him to physical therapy three days every week. On top of all that, a harness he wore to help him walk created a hotspot on his stomach that became infected and required 13 stitches and a drainage tube to remedy.

But for Amanda, all of this was worth it. “He’s a totally different dog out there on the trails; he just loves being outside,” she said. “It really means everything to him.” Unwilling to lose her hiking partner, Amanda gave up her own trail time for months while Ryley recovered.

A week after he got home, Ryley’s legs started to take weight, and eventually he began to walk. Then in June 2015, five months after surgery, Ryley was back in the mountains, taking shorter hikes at first, and very quickly worked back to his former self.

Amanda and Ryley
Amanda and Ryley

Amanda, already an Adirondack 46er, hopes to see Ryley finish his high peaks this summer and fall, something that almost wasn’t possible. Luckily for them both, Ryley is back at full strength, hiking as much as, if not more than, he was before the surgery and showing no signs of ever having slowed down.

“He jumps over sticks and up rocks and over boulders like any other dog,” Amanda said. “It’s crazy!”


4 Must-Try Tips for Light Vacation Packing, According to a Backpacker

As both a “touristy” traveler and a solo, middle-of-nowhere backpacker, I have found that these interests, unsurprisingly, are from two different worlds but overlap in a handful of ways. For example, when I go to more popular destinations, like my three-city European tour with a group of college students last winter, I found that many of my fellow travelers felt the need to pack five pairs of dress shoes, 10 evening outfits, 50 scarves, and piles of toiletries (and no, I am not just talking about the ladies). Meanwhile, I became known as the “backpack girl.” That’s right: just my Osprey on my back and my carry-on pack strapped to my front for several weeks of travel. And, while my companions were fighting over space in the elevator to stack their luggage, I was sprinting up the steps of the hostel and getting the first pick of the bunks.

You don’t have to ditch every amenity in order to travel practically for your European holiday or Cancun resort trip. However, taking a few tips from those that do this as a hobby can dramatically help in shedding some extra luggage weight.

1. Consider getting a backpack

Yes, that’s right. Even if you have never hiked in your life, a pack is a great option – and might even inspire you to take up backpacking! Depending on the length of your trip, you will be looking at a 40- to 65-liter model. I am personally a fan of Osprey for their durability, functionality, and comfort, as well as their women-specific line. I also find it helpful to get a smaller daypack, for both a carry-on and a day-to-day pack. Look into getting an 18- to 25-liter daypack; Marmot, Osprey, and EMS models are a great place to start.

Having an extra little tote that stuffs into its own pocket is also convenient for shopping, as well as for storing dirty clothes or shoes in your larger pack. Note: If a backpack is definitely not for you, Osprey also has great rolling luggage options, available through EMS.

2. Get some hiking shoes

No ifs, ands, or buts: If I have to hear one more individual complain about how their feet hurt, but they keep on wearing those support-free but fashionable shoes while walking hours through the Champs-Élysées, I will personally drive them to get a pair of Keens or Superfeet. Unlike these other styles, a good pair of walking/hiking shoes will keep you supported and ache free.

And, before you say how your ballet flats or Keds are just “so much lighter and easier to travel with,” just remember: being lightweight means that you can feel every little nook and cranny in the road. So, instead of bringing 10 pairs of shoes to switch out every day because of blisters and hotspots, just get one pair of trusty hikers. Believe me, they are even worth the time it takes to unlace them at airport security.

3. Think carefully about your “unmentionables”

Besides carrying the weight of all your cotton undies, re-packing dirty underwear is just, well, gross. This is why I switched to Ex Officio underwear. Just pack two to three pairs of this quick-drying and wicking miracle fabric; then, every night, wash your used undies in the sink with some shampoo and hang them up to dry. In the morning, you’ll have clean and dry underwear.

I also use this tactic with my socks: Get two pairs of sock liners and two to three pairs of merino wool hiking socks, known for their ability to both wick away moisture and stay stink free. Again, just rinse out the liners every night, and hang them up to dry. The liners will keep the wool socks fresher for longer, and you don’t have to carry the weight of 20 pairs of socks for your three-week vacation!

4. Ditch the jeans

I won’t bemoan you for bringing one pair of your favorite skinny jeans for a night out on the town. But for day-to-day travel and tourism? Jeans are too heavy, and the cotton is only comfy for about the first 10 minutes of touring the Colosseum. Therefore, consider getting some pants or shorts that are made of a quick-dry and a little bit stretchy material. My favorite pair for travel is the EMS Compass Pants, available in sizes for both men and women. These are stain and wrinkle resistant, and the fabric is a four-way stretch material that moves with you. If you are going somewhere chilly, just add a merino wool base layer underneath.

 

And, there it is! Just a few tips that might make you rethink the supposed “essentials” for your packing list. If you are looking to lighten your load, you don’t have to ditch your favorite items. However, investing in a few new products may make your trip less about lugging your luggage and more about the adventure.


Redlining the White Mountains

Red Lining Patch...you know you want one! Image retrieved from White Mountains Red-Lining.

There is a grand project afoot among New England’s most accomplished hikers; it is one that transcends lists, the short-term, and affords years of exploration and challenge. Among those few hikers is my friend, Bill Robichaud. After repeatedly climbing the same mountains, he left the most trodden trails and set out to accomplish something remarkable: To “redline” New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

The objective of redlining is to hike every bit of every trail on a particular map. The term is derived from using a red marker to indicate completed hikes. In Bill’s case, he has ambitiously chosen to redline the AMC’s White Mountain Guide, which features approximately 1,420 miles of trails. It’s a big deal.

I recently caught up with Bill to chat about his project, what it means, and all it entails.

Q: The idea to hike every mile of every mapped trail in the Whites—did it just come to you, or was it a nagging, sort of ongoing thought that you couldn’t suppress? Tell me about the moment when you committed to it.

Bill: After finishing the 4000-footers in New Hampshire, I felt stagnant, and needed another hiking game to play. Sometime in early 2013, I read about redlining, and upon finding and filling out the spreadsheet, saw that I had quite a bit of it done (~30%). There and then, I set myself a goal to get to 50% by the end of the year.

Q: Is yours a solo project, or do you invite friends to hike with you?

Bill: It’s definitely not a solo project, though I have done a fair amount of it alone. See what you’ve done… now I’m going to have to go back and see what I’ve done solo, and what I haven’t… thanks Justin! I’ve met a bunch of amazing people that are working toward the same goal, and have even managed to turn one staunch opponent of it into a redlining fool.

Bill, crushing it on top of Mt. Madison with his rime-covered EMS Fader Jacket

Q: You’re a big fan of EMS. What’s your favorite piece of gear for redlining?

Bill: My EMS Hyperion Jacket. It’s been my go-to piece of cold weather gear since I bought it. The jacket strikes the right balance between insulation and wind protection. When I get too warm going up hill, I can vent it quickly, while being protected from any wind that happens to be rolling through.

Q: Before this project, you spent your days on high peaks and rugged, steep trails. Now you’re all over the place. Has it at all changed your perspective of the White Mountains?

Bill: It sure has! Before, I thought of the White Mountains in the context of the 4000-footers, and found that it became very limiting. Once I started looking at the bigger picture, I came to realize just how much more there was out there. There are SO many beautiful areas that I would have completely neglected if not for redlining. Robert Frost wrote of taking the path less traveled, and it having made all the difference. To say that getting off of the popular trails and into new areas has made a huge impact would be a grievous understatement. I feel like I get to know the mountains better every time I’m out, and it becomes less like leaving home to go there, and more like going home.

Q: You’ve just finished a long day of hiking and the barkeep asks what you’ll have. Your answer?

Bill: Beer! Hiking burns a lot of calories, and beer replaces some of them. It’s also one very tasty reason to come out of the woods after a four-day backpack. Wintertime calls for stouts and porters, summertime calls for ales and pilsners, all the time calls for Belgians. I generally gravitate toward local offerings and microbrews as a whole.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Bill: The biggest challenge has been the short spur trails, ones that I may not have done when I was initially in an area. For instance, in June I hiked into the Pemigewasset Wilderness to pick up three sections of trail that were left hanging, the junctions of which I’d passed by numerous times. To hit the first new trail that day (the 0.2 mile Guyot Shelter Spur), I hiked 12 miles over the three peaks of the Bonds. The new trail mileage for that day was a whopping 2.9 miles, for 30 miles of hiking.

Q: That one unexpected surprise—the thing that really put a smile on your face and made it all worth it so far—what was it?

Bill: While there have been many unexpected surprises, but one really sticks out and reminds me to this day why I do what I do. In early January 2013 while working on my Winter 48, my friend Mike had organized a Meetup hike to Moosilauke. The rest of the group bailed, as there was rain forecast, but we stuck to the plan and redlined out Glencliff Trail. We did get rained on a bit, but it was never terrible. Reaching the socked in South Peak, we resigned ourselves to having no view from Moosilauke itself. But on our approach the sky brightened above us, and we popped out above the clouds, an undercast all around, the high peaks poking out like islands in the sea. This was my first experience with this phenomenon, and it was truly unforgettable.

Q: EMS has stores all over New England. Which one is yours? Do they know what you’re up to?

Bill: I usually frequent the store in Portland, though since I find myself in Conway so often, I’ll stop there too. When I come in to stock up for a backpacking trip, or pick up some random things, the employees will usually ask what I’m up to, as far as the trip I’m preparing for. They have no idea the true extent of my madness.

Q: Surely you envision the final mile. Do you already have in mind the last trail you’ll hike to complete your redline?

Bill: I have a few trails in mind, some easy with a good view at the end of it all, and others pure torment for all involved. Seriously though, I’d like to pick something that my parents will be able to join me on, it would mean a lot if they could be there for the finish.

A patch of False Hellebore (Indian Poke) along Haystack Notch Trail, 5/15/14
A patch of False Hellebore (Indian Poke) along Haystack Notch Trail, 5/15/14

Q: How long will this take you?

Bill: It’s taken a bit over four years to get this far, and I’ve only really been concentrating on it for the past two. I’m hoping to finish off the slightly less than 300 miles I have left in 2015, and am looking toward an Autumn finish.

Q: There are a lot of web-based resources for hikers these days. What’s your favorite?

Bill: Do I have to pick just one? I’ll give you a couple.

TrailsNH.com — Aggregator of all things Northeast hiking related, trail conditions, road closures, weather, stream gauges, you name it. More features are being added all the time!

Newenglandtrailconditions.com — While TrailsNH pulls from this site, it’s a worthy resource in its own right. The archived reports are super helpful, especially in the winter and shoulder seasons, and for obscure trails. You might find a few reports of mine.”

Special Notes:

As of Sunday February 8, 2015, Bill has completed 81.5% of his redline, with only 266.6 miles left to go. He would have been a bit closer to his goal, but he slept late on Saturday.

Although Bill is redlining the White Mountains, he sort of isn’t—he’s using a black marker to indicate completed trails on his map. Go Bill.

If you’d like to continue the conversation with Bill, you can reach him through his blog. And show him some love by liking his Facebook page, On a Path With Heart.


6,800 Ascents of Mount Monadnock...and Counting

From the 48 Four Thousand Footers to the 52 With a View, New Hampshire is a great place for hikers to add new mountains to their tick lists. Not Larry Davis. Since 1984, he’s maintained an almost daily routine of climbing Mount Monadnock. At some point this spring, he’ll summit the mountain for the 7,000th time. In terms of total vertical feet, that’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest over 400 times.

Larry Davis (far right) poses with Willem Lange (second from left) and two members of the "Windows to the Wild" crew at the summit of Mount Monadnock.

Last fall, Larry’s story was featured on “Windows to the Wild” on New Hampshire Public Television. On a perfect October afternoon, Larry made his 6,819th summit of Mount Monadnock accompanied by Will Lange, the 79-year old host of the program.

Let that last sentence sink in for a moment.

A 54-year old man climbing a mountain for the 6,819th time with a 79-year old man following him every step of the way.

This accomplishment is a testament not only to Larry and Will’s dedication, but to the “hikeability” of Mount Monadnock that makes it the second most climbed mountain in the world. As Larry says: “Mount Monadnock has something for everybody, from little kids to senior citizens and everywhere in between.” This is not to say that Monadnock is an EASY summit. At 3,166 feet, it’s not a walk in the park. Like any New Hampshire peak, there are a few rugged sections where footing can be dicey and weather is always a factor. Still, compared to other mountains on the aforementioned tick lists, Monadnock is accessible for just about anyone with the ability and desire to challenge themselves. And with views of Boston on a clear day, hiking Monadnock has its rewards.

While Larry’s accomplishment is rooted in his own personal desire, he recognizes that his story has impacted others. In the “Windows to the Wild” piece, you can see the pleasure on Larry’s face when he talks about how his accomplishment has inspired people to set goals of their own to be more physically active. For Larry, it all started with the lofty goal to hike Monadnock 84 times in 1984. That year, he climbed it 106 times and proved to himself that he was capable of much more than he ever imagined.

Personally, I think that’s the best part of Larry’s story. He didn’t set out to climb Monadnock 7,000 times. He simply wanted to challenge himself. Whether it’s your career, your personal relationships or your lifestyle; nothing shakes up your daily routine like setting a challenging goal and holding yourself accountable for achieving it.

Set enough goals and shake up enough routines and there’s no telling where you’ll go, how far you climb or how interesting your life can be.

Mount Monadnock offers some spectacular views on clear days.
Mount Monadnock offers some spectacular views on clear days.

Presidential Traverse Under the Super Moon

We stepped out of the brush for, as far as I could tell, the last time, and clicked off our headlamps. It only took a minute for my eyes to adjust to a full moon. It floated off to our right, casting long shadows across the alpine tundra in front of us, easily bright enough to keep us from stumbling on every rock, but the peaks ahead were just silhouettes along the horizon.

Any mountain that advertises itself as having “the world’s worst weather,” must obviously be a pretty serious objective in the daylight. So for me, it was obvious. Of course! Let’s try it in the dark!

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Known for it’s sudden mood swings, abnormal cold, and extreme winds, Mount Washington has never been an objective for the faint of heart and certainly not when it’s undertaken as the crown jewel of a 22-mile Presidential Range traverse. But any hike becomes a completely different experience when it’s done without the aid of the sun. Visibility is the first and most obvious thing to go. Visibility to see incoming weather, the trail, the summertime views. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, the mountains at night are surreal. Try your hardest, no matter where you go, to get a cool, clear night. As it gets dark, the most spectacular views very quickly shift from below you, to above you.

The Mount Washington Observatory as seen on a night time hike in early September.
The Mount Washington Observatory as seen on a night time hike under the supermoon earlier this summer.

But probably the most important piece of gear that you can bring on any hike like this is a good headlamp. True, we didn’t use it for the majority of our late-night trek, but having something you can count on is essential. Any who knows, maybe you’re brave enough to try a hike even without moonlight. My pick: the Petzl Tikka R+. The active lighting technology is not only extremely cool, but incredibly functional when you’re going back and forth from looking at the cairn in the distance, to the trail at your feet, to the map in front of your face.

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And definitely try and time it so that you can experience both sunset and sunrise from up high. With a Prezi Traverse, you probably won’t have much of a choice, but on anything shorter it’s worth watching the sun go down on one side, only to have it come up on the opposite side hours later. It’s a strange realization and proof of all those astronomy lessons you got in school. Not to mention just being above the treeline for sunrise or sunset is one of the most spectacular displays of color and light on earth. Imagine having both of them rolled into one hike!

It might not hit you until later on, but the next thing that goes is your stamina. Those of us who can’t survive completely on hiking also can’t disrupt our entire sleep/wake cycle days in advance to become nocturnal. So by the time we finished in Appalachia the next morning, I had been awake for approximately 28 hours, the last 15 of which had included nine peaks and 8300 vertical feet of elevation gain. Add another six hours until we got home, and I was destroyed.

Food was my best solution. Don’t plan on having a sit-down meal at 2:30 in the morning, instead bring a lot of little, energy-dense snacks that you can pick on every hour or so to keep your sugar levels up and mind entertained. I did it with a good supply of Honey Stinger Waffles, Cliff Shot Blocks, and Snickers bars.

Also have a good supply of water. What’s normally available in the Appalachian Mountain Club huts along the way, becomes a little harder to get once the huts are shut down and everyone’s asleep for the night. In an emergency, it’s there, but I’d rather not barge in and risk upsetting anyone not as crazy as I am. A 3 liter Reservoir, topped off at Mizpah Spring Hut before it got too late, came down to it’s last few sips as I was strolling into the parking lot the next morning.

Any hike you think you know becomes something totally new after dark, just as long as you’ve done the right planning and have all the right equipment for it. Give it a try, take your favorite daytime hike, sleep in a little bit, and head out just before dark. And if you’re up for the challenge, a beautiful night entirely above treeline on the Presidential Range is a spectacular take on the nightlife.


Chesterfield Gorge: Adventure at its Easiest

They may not be on your adventure bucket list and they’re easy to take for granted but local outdoor places like parks, wildlife preserves and bird sanctuaries deserve our respect. That said, I’m willing to bet that there are some local outdoor places in your community that you’ve driven by a thousand times but never gotten around to visiting. We have plenty of excuses–we’re busy, we’ll do it next weekend, it’s for tourists.  Because these outdoor gems are so close to home, we may even wonder how good could they be?

The Chesterfield Gorge is located on the westbound side of Route 9 in Chesterfield, NH–less than 7 miles from my house.
The Chesterfield Gorge is located on the westbound side of Route 9 in Chesterfield, NH–less than 7 miles from my house.

Since moving to Keene, NH in 2007, the local outdoor place I’ve most wanted to visit but always found an excuse not to check out is Chesterfield Gorge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my wife “we should go there someday” as we whizzed by on our way to or from the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market. It wasn’t until earlier this summer when we finally pulled in, with nothing but the clothes on our back and seven years’ worth of curiosity.

Trail Sign

That’s the beauty of most local outdoor places–you don’t need a lot of gear and the toughest decision you have to make in your trip planning is where to go for ice cream or beers afterward.

Trail

Another great quality of most local outdoor places is you don’t have to be a serious or experienced outdoor enthusiast to enjoy them. In the case of Chesterfield Gorge, the  trail is well-marked and quite easy to access for hikers of all ages and abilities. If you’re bringing little ones, you’ll be happy to know there are fences to block them from the 20′ drop to the gorge below.

Falls Distance

I can’t guarantee that every local outdoor place you visit will be an unforgettable experience but going someplace you’ve never been before is the surest way to position yourself for a pleasant surprise. Less than 10 minutes after leaving the Chesterfield Gorge trailhead, my wife and I found ourselves gazing at a fascinating waterfall that we never would have expected to find such a short distance from downtown Keene.

Pool

Relaxation is another hallmark of local outdoor places. Whether you’re picnicking with your family in an urban oasis like Central Park or exploring the trails of an Audubon Society nature preserve, you’re blood pressure and stress level are sure to benefit.

Flip flops

If you’re lucky, you’ll even find a place to kick off your shoes and dip your feet into water so cold, it makes you forget how hot you are, what time it is and why you never got around to visiting this local outdoor place sooner. For my wife and me, our spontaneous trip to Chesterfield Gorge has been one of the highlights of our summer and we can’t wait to go back when air is crisp, the mosquitos are gone and the fall colors are exploding. It’s less than 15 minutes from our house so really, we have no excuse.

What’s your favorite local outdoor place? Leave a comment and tell me about it!


40 Years of Osprey Packs History in 14 Photos

It looks like our friends at Osprey Packs are celebrating their 40th anniversary with the same thoroughness and enthusiasm that they create their functional, comfortable and beautiful products. Which is to say, they’ve got every detail covered. As I write this, their #Osprey1974 photo contest is happening where they’re giving away 40 packs in 40 days.

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They’ve got a cool looking 40th anniversary logo that appears on limited edition, commemorative packs:

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And as I write this, their 40th anniversary party is in full swing at the Outdoor Retailer summer show complete with the largest pack I’ve ever seen.

Osprey Packs making a BIG impression at the 2014 Outdoor Retailer summer show.
Osprey Packs making a BIG impression at the 2014 Outdoor Retailer summer show.

All these promotional fireworks are fine and good but what has impressed me most about Osprey Pack’s 40th anniversary celebration is the video series I just finished watching: Osprey Packs–40 Years In the Making. This four-part series tells the story of Osprey Packs’ success with a level of transparency I’ve never seen before and frankly still can’t believe. It’s beautifully shot, informative as can be, and surprisingly hilarious in places. You don’t have to be a huge Osprey Packs fan to enjoy this series but you do need more than 40 minutes to watch it in its entirety.

If you don’t have that kind of time, here’s my five-minute recap with 14 screen shots of what I consider to be some of the most telling, interesting and downright fascinating moments in the four-part video series.

Episode 1

“My personal philosophy is I enjoy life more if I’m surrounded by things I’ve built myself.” Soft-spoken and unassuming, Osprey Packs founder Mike Pfotenhauer will never be confused with Steve Jobs personality-wise, but when it comes to passion for his product and the process involved with creating it, I have to believe that Mike and Steve would have seen eye to eye on a lot of things.

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In Episdode 1, we learn that in his early years, Mike built everything from bike frames and redwood canoes to his wife’s maternity clothes before deciding to “focus” on packs in 1974. I put focus in quotes because according to the video, Osprey Packs designed everything from bicycle battery packs and wheelchair cushions to a prototype of a “backpack, surfboard tent carrier” for O’Neill.

Mike with his wife and Osprey Packs co-owner Diane Wren.
Mike with his wife and Osprey Packs co-owner Diane Wren.

As the business grew, so did the pressure to find a workforce that was not prone to skipping work when the surf was good or the Grateful Dead were in town. In 1990, Mike and company moved to Dolores, Colorado.

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Dolores, Colorado is a quiet town of 800 people, many of whom had already worked in the building Osprey Packs moved into that had been previously occupied by W.L. Gore.  With just $5,000 in receivables and a small army of new recruits, Osprey Packs embarked on a period of rapid growth that eventually required them to move to a larger facility in nearby Cortez, Colorado in 1999.

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With four seasons and a wide variety of terrain within a two-hour drive for year-round gear testing, Cortez has proven to be the perfect corporate headquarters for Osprey Packs.

Episode 2

The nostalgia trip continues in Episode 2 with a look back at how the office staff grew from 9 people in 1999 to 75 people today.

Mike in the center posing with his lean and mean team in the early 1990s.
Mike in the center posing with his lean and mean team.

Episode 2 also offers a revealing look behind the present day curtain of Osprey Packs where we meet people from all departments of the company and get a feel for the passionate, yet irreverent corporate culture where work and play are pursued with equal enthusiasm. The best evidence of Osprey Packs’ anti-ordinary culture is the footage taken at Mike’s 60th birthday party where the feel-good scene of Osprey Packs employees enjoying each other’s company is comically punctuated by intermittent clips of Mike struggling to free a Jello-O shot from its plastic container. After watching this scene, it’s easy to understand why Osprey Packs made Outside Magazine’s 2008 list of Best Places to Work.

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The festive vibe of Mike’s 60th birthday transitions to the sobering reality of the challenges Osprey Packs faced in the early 2000’s that are candidly explained by CEO Tom Varney. Production struggles, late delivery, high retail cost, inability to grow quickly enough to meet demand all lead up to the agonizing decision to follow the overseas manufacturing path already taken by Osprey’s competitors. The tension and sadness is embodied in the stark image of the last pack to come off the Colorado assembly line that was signed by all of the remaining sewers.

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From this lamentable moment the scene changes to present day Vietnam where Mike moved his family in 2003 to personally oversee the establishment of Oprey Packs’ new office and manufacturing facilities in Ho Chi Min City.

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Amidst the scenes that paint a vivid picture of Vietnam’s frenetic culture that is the polar opposite of Cortez, Colorado, Mike lets us in on the deep irony he felt about his decision to move his entire family to southeast Asia: “I protested against the war in Vietnam. I never imagined that I would go to Vietnam willingly and do business there. It was the last thing I ever imagined.”

Episode 3

Of all the marketing buzzwords that are bandied about in blogs and Powerpoint presentations, “transparency” is the one that few companies have the courage to pull off. Transparency demands that a company be confident enough in its product and secure enough in its own skin to provide customers with an unfiltered view of the organization–warts and all.

In Episode 3, we meet pack designer Le Nhu Quyhn who matter of factly explains the stunning differences between access to outdoor recreation in the United States and Vietnam.

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WHAT?

A pack designer who doesn’t camp? How is that possible? How does that WORK?

Well, as Mike calmly explains: “I think in some ways Quynh’s lack of experience in the end use of the product can be helpful in that he looks at the problems more objectively. He questions some things that might seem obvious to me and shouldn’t be obvious and therefore together, I think we come up with some pretty interesting ideas.” 

The transparency doesn’t end there. Osprey Packs takes you inside the manufacturing facility where Account Manager N.H. Kim explains how a typical hydration pack will have 100 patterns while the same size hydration pack from Osprey Packs will have 300 patterns. After describing how more patterns provide the customer with a more natural shape as well as improved function and convenience, Kim candidly describes what it’s like to work with Mike.

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The rest of the video takes you on a tour of the production floor where seamstresses describe their hours and the working conditions that they all seem to genuinely enjoy.

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In addition to showing that his overseas employees are treated fairly and respectfully, Mike proves that his skills as a pack-maker are still sharp after forty years.

Episode 4

After the detailed tour of the Vietnam office and manufacturing facilities, Mike returns to Colorado in Episode 4 to talk about how the Ho Chi Minh City office and Cortez, Colorado offices work together. Having each office work while the other office is sleeping, creates a situation that Mike describes as “around the clock development.” The time zone and distance are not without challenges to the production schedule–a situation Osprey Packs has admirably addressed with state-of-the-art video conference technology.

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The scene shifts to Mike standing before a lineup of 15 child carriers representing the different styles and improvements he and his team have made over the years.

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Beginning with the first edition where Mike admits: “Some of it doesn’t make any sense, I can’t remember what we were thinking,” the scene cuts to a rapid-fire breakdown of added features including drool pads, a built-in contoured bucket for the child, foam pockets on the shoulder harness, engineered buckles, air flow for the child, hydration sleeve, removable diaper pad, sun protection and rain protection…” It’s a humorous segment that showcases Mike’s deep knowledge of his product as well as his waning patience for the documentary film process where he states: “these are 15 of over 50, but I don’t think we want to go into THAT much detail.”

In the spirit of the transparency that is so evident throughout this four-part series, I will say that the remainder of Episode 4 includes some justifiable chest-thumping about Osprey Packs’ organic growth in the U.S., explosive growth in China and ongoing commitment to innovation and exceptional design. After some entertaining speculation about the future of pack design from various Osprey Packs personnel, the video closes with Mike describing the difficulty he has always had with defining the vision or mission statement of Osprey Packs:

“I’ve never been able to give a very good answer for that. I downright refuse to because I can’t put my finger on it. I think our vision is better defined by what we’ve done and the actions we’ve already taken.”

In the end, we’re treated to a scene of Mike looking relaxed and reflective while sitting in a sample room, surrounded by “the things he’s built himself” as he simply exclaims:

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I’d like to look back at this and go ‘yeah,this all made sense.’ 

I’m quite sure that millions of customers around the world would agree that Osprey Packs make a lot of sense. Their vibrant colors leap off our pack walls, their exceptionally designed suspension systems make it easy to adjust the fit to your body and their thoughtful features make the sport of backpacking even more enjoyable.

Whether you’re an Osprey fan or not, I hope this recap has given you a greater appreciation for one of Eastern Mountain Sports’ most popular brands. If you’re inspired to experience Mike’s work for yourself, check out our full assortment of Osprey Packs at ems.com or stop by the store nearest you for a personal pack fitting.

Thanks for reading and Happy 40th Annniversary, Osprey!!

Best Water Bottles For Outdoor Activities

If I remember correctly, my first purchase as an EMS employee back in 2003 was a wide-mouth Nalgene bottle. It’s a blue one with a black cap, and it’s certainly showing its age these days, though I’ve covered most of the dings and scratches with stickers. When the fact that I’m still using a water bottle that is MORE THAN A DECADE OLD sinks in, I bet your first thought will be “ew,” followed closely by “why hasn’t this weirdo invested in a new bottle already?” But I promise I do have others—a pretty large collection of them, actually—and that blue one isn’t the only one I regularly use. (Also, if you ask me, it’s a great example of how well-made Nalgene products are!)

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In fact, my water bottle collection sprawls from my refrigerator (where I always have a few cold ones on standby) to a water bottle drawer in my pantry to my desk at work. They are of various shapes and sizes, and made of a variety of materials. And almost every single one of them has a distinct purpose. So if you find yourself a little overwhelmed by the number of bottle options presented to you, either in our stores or on ems.com, here are some examples of which type of water bottle I like best for each activity.

For climbing, camping, and everyday thirst quenching…

…I prefer either a classic Nalgene or a Hydro Flask bottle. Nalgene bottles are great not only because they come in a bunch of different sizes, shapes, and colors, but also because they’re virtually indestructible, so I know that if I accidentally drop my bottle at the crag it’ll stay intact.

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The one drawback to a Nalgene, however, is that it won’t exactly keep your water cold. So if I know the weather is going to be particularly hot, I’ll opt for a Hydro Flask bottle instead. Thanks to their double-wall construction, these bad boys keep water cold for 24 hours and they’re available in sizes from 18 oz all the way up to 64oz. If you’re in the anti-plastic bottle camp, Hydro Flasks are an especially great choice for you, since they’re made of stainless steel. This also makes them more durable.

For (road) biking…

…the choice is clear: bike bottles. The options here are significantly narrower, and it really just depends on what size bottle you want and if you want one that is insulated or not. (For mountain biking, you’ll be better off with a biking-specific hydration pack.)

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An added benefit of bike bottles is that they are convenient in many other areas, too—since they’re made to fit in narrow bottle cages, they tend to also fit really well in car cup holders and the molded-in drink holders in most kayaks. The “jet valve” in CamelBak bottles makes it easy for you to drink while you’re riding–just squeeze the bottle and keep on chugging.  PRO TIP: If you like your water as cold as possible, fill your CamelBak Podium Chill halfway with ice cubes and then put the bottle in your freezer the night before your ride. The next day, top the bottle off with water and and it will stay cold for hours.

For hiking…

…it’s usually between a Nalgene bottle and a hydration pack for me. But these collapsible bottles are also a great option, especially if you’re really into saving weight and space in your pack.

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For yoga (and more everyday use)…

…a bottle with a straw is the best. Yoga classes that make you thirsty also tend to be fairly fast-paced, so you don’t want to have to waste time unscrewing the cap on your bottle just to take a sip. With a bottle like the Camelbak Eddy, it’s so quick and easy to grab a quick gulp that you can do it without even coming out of down dog if you want.

Bottles with straws are also great for everyday use, especially if you’re the type of person who tends to end up wearing more water than you actually drink with a regular bottle.

So there you have it, my personal guide to staying hydrated during your favorite outdoor activity. No matter which bottle you choose, just be sure to fill it, drain it and repeat OFTEN–especially during the summer.

Do you have a water bottle that’s worked well for your over the years? Leave a comment or share a photo on the Eastern Mountain Sports Facebook page


5 Must Try Backpacking Recipes from Dirty Gourmet

After putting so much thought and consideration into planning your backpacking trip, choosing the perfect gear for the weather forecast and packing your pack for optimal load efficiency, it’s easy leave dinner to Chef Boyardee, Dinty Moore or a dehydrated backpacking meal. For sure, all of the above are viable options but not for the ladies of Dirty Gourmet. Mai-Yan and Aimee are on a mission to inspire gourmet outdoor cooking by providing easy camping recipes and ideas. I discovered their blog a few weeks ago and was blown away by their culinary masterpieces they create specifically for camping, backpacking and bike touring.

 

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Mai-Yan and Aimee are on a mission to make good food a part of every outdoor adventure. | Credit: Hilary Walker.

“Our criteria for backpacking meals is familiar,” they said. “They must be lightweight, nutritious, made of non-perishable ingredients and require only one pot. That said, it’s important to us to be creative and have fun with our food.” Although they said pre-packaged backpacking food can be great, with the time and energy, it’s even better to customize your meals to your individual taste.

To help you “go beyond hot dogs and rehydrated sludge and discover your gourmet potential” on your next adventure, Mai-Yan and Aimee were kind enough to share five of their favorite backpacking recipes.

 


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Coconut Curry Soup

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 30 grams coconut cream powder (1/2 a packet)
  • 1-2 cubes vegetable bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • A handful of rice noodles
  • A handful of dehydrated veggies
  • 2 cups water

Method

At home, combine coconut cream powder, bouillon, curry powder and cayenne in a small zip top bag. In another bag, portion out your noodles and dehydrated veggies.

At camp, boil the noodles and dehydrated veggies in the water. Once the veggies are re-hydrated and the noodles are tender, stir in the coconut cream mixture and serve.

 


Breakfast Couscous

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup couscous
  • 1/3 cup dried milk
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • 1 tablespoon salted shelled pistachios, chopped
  • 2-3 teaspoons sugar
  • A pinch of cardamom
  • 1 1/3 cup water

Method

At home, combine couscous, dried milk, raisins, pistachios, sugar, and cardamom in a zip-top bag.

At camp, boil the water. Stir the ingredients into the water, remove from heat, and leave covered (without peaking) for 5 minutes. Serve hot.

 


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Broccoli Cheese Rice

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 package broccoli cheese soup mix
  • ½ cup boil-in-a-bag rice (parboiled)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dehydrated veggies (optional)
  • 1/2 cup pre-cooked chicken (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, crushed chips, or crushed nuts (optional)

Method

Bring water to a boil, place bag of rice into water.

When rice is cooked, remove from water. Turn stove off, but leave hot water in pot.

Add soup mix and loose rice back in, along with any optional additions. Stir to combine, then cover.

Let set for about 5 mins. Top with parmesan, nuts, chips, or breadcrumbs, for crunch.

 


loaded-mashed-potatoes

Loaded Mashed Potatoes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup instant potatoes
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated fire roasted veggies
  • 1/8 cup bacon bits
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • Slices of parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Salt to taste

Method

Bring water to a boil, and turn off heat.

Add dehydrated fire roasted veggies to water in pot and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Put instant potatoes in large bowl and pour water with veggies into the bowl. Mix so no powdered potatoes remain.

Garnish with bacon bits and slices of parmesan cheese.

 


peanut-ramen-noodles

Peanut Sauce Ramen

Yield: 1 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pack of instant noodles with seasoning pouch
  • 0.85 ounce pack of powdered peanut butter
  • 1/8 cup dehydrated veggies
  • 1 pinch of red chili flakes
  • ¾ to 1 cup of water

Method

Put water in pot and add noodles, seasoning powder, chili flakes and dehydrated veggies. Bring water to a boil, and then lower heat to simmer contents for 3-5 minutes.

Add powdered peanut butter and stir well. Serve immediately.

 

What’s your favorite one pot backpacking meal? Leave a comment and do your part to make the backcountry a tastier place to be.

 


Introducing Kids to Outdoor Adventure: Advice from Cragmama

I’m not a big fan of most “mommy bloggers.” I know their intentions are noble and their efforts are nothing short of remarkable but the vast majority of them fail my “Come on, now” test within 30 seconds. The “Come on, now” test is my personal Geiger counter of authenticity/reality that doesn’t respond well to ultra filtered images of perfectly coiffed “15-minute meals” and “super easy craft projects” that look like they were conjured by a sparkle fairy princess on Prozac.

“Come on, now.” – NO one has that kind of time, especially the hard working moms that I know.

On the opposite end of “Come on, now” is “Holy crap, that’s fantastic” which is where Erica Lineberry would reside if she JUST blogged about hiking, climbing and camping. It just so happens that Erica blogs about hiking, climbing and camping with her crag baby–and as of just eight weeks ago–cragBABIES. Erica’s Cragmama blog documents her and her husband’s efforts to raise children who “don’t remember their first time climbing, camping, hiking, etc. They don’t remember it because to them being outdoors enjoying nature is something their family has always done.”

Erica Lineberry aka Craigmama with her family in their natural element.
Erica Lineberry aka Craigmama with her family in their natural element.

Erica’s blog features no-filter photos of her growing family doing the best they can to live healthy, active lives packed with as many fun experiences as they can handle. I like Erica’s blog because it’s filled with creative ideas that anyone can do. Her writing is inspiring but she doesn’t claim to have all the answers. She shares her victories as well as her challenges all with an air of gratitude and self awareness that’s hard to find in the “Everything is awesome, especially me” blogosphere.

I first connected with Erica two years ago when she agreed to review our women’s EMS Longtrail 60L pack. With Mother’s Day coming on strong, I thought I’d ask her for her best advice for anyone (not just parents) who is interested in introducing kids to outdoor adventure. Cragbaby #2 has Erica pretty busy right now, but she agreed to let me comb her blog for cool ideas to make the outdoors second nature for kids AND the adults responsible for their safety and happiness.

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Dirt Is Good

Erica is a big believer in letting her kids get dirty. Let’s face it, dirt is a healthy by-product of just about every outdoor sport so you may as well embrace it and avoid future drama. To introduce her son to the fine art of making mudpies, Erica duplicated a DIY project that made it easy for her son to have a blast making a mess of himself without trashing her house.

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Start At Home

Just as babies have to crawl before they walk, it’s important to expose them to outdoor fun where they’re most comfortable. To keep her son occupied with “self directed play” while introducing him to the natural wonders all around him, Erica has him create simple art projects using leaves he collects himeself in their yard or at the local park.

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Make Things Interesting

A simple egg carton became a treasure chest of pine cones, acorns, pine needles and colorful rocks that Erica challenged her son to find while they’re out and about. To her son, he was just having a good time scouring the area for treasure. For her Erica, she was laying the foundation for longer excursions that eventually became 5 mile hikes.

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Make Learning or Overcoming Fear Fun

The photo above says it all. Easter is over, but you can easily hide small toys, dollar bills or other treats in climbing holds to give your little climber an extra incentive to dig deep and get after it. This is such a cool idea because while it takes effort to earn the prize, the fact that it’s hidden decreases the odds of a tantrum if he fails the first few times. There may be a prize at the next hold, they’re may not. That’s why you have to keep on climbing!

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Savor the Journey Not the Destination

Parents plan, toddlers laugh. Over the last few years, Erica has learned to enjoy the moment because with young kids, you never know how long that moment will last before a minor accident or age-appropriate mood swing will cut the day short. Also, when a 3-year old is setting the pace, it’s a good time to relax and appreciate the little things you’d ordinarily miss when you’re focused on the summit, a goal or a best time.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 12.15.51 PMBabies Are Very Adaptable

In her post about camping with infants under age one, Erica makes a bunch of awesome points to quell the fears of parents who have been conditioned to be over-protective  for fear of being “bad parents.” “The sooner you get him or her out and exposed to new situations, the more equipped they will be to deal with change in the coming months.”  I think that makes a ton of sense and like the photo above, the sooner you get your kid to help out with chores, the less those chores will seem like work. There are so many small jobs involved with setting up a camp site that small people can do and gain a sense of accomplishment from.

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“External Motivators” Are OK

Erica is not down with bribery but she has no problem with “a small treat here or there as a reward for an accomplishment.” A couple of gummy bears after a big uphill push or after an acceptable time on the trail or milestone achieved keep little hikers motivated and happy.

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Know When To Dial It Back

Little kids are pretty good at letting you know when they don’t like something or are no longer having fun. If they’re protesting the effort level of the activity, slow down or try an easier route. If they’re protesting the activity itself, there’s nothing wrong with doing something different (bug collecting, bird watching, frog spotting) and trying the other activity another day.

I mentioned that this post wasn’t just for parents of small kids but ANYONE who is interested in helping to inspire the next generation of outdoor adventurers. I can’t stress enough how much I mean that. Especially in a world where technology is king, entitlement is queen and nature is generally ignored by the general population if not mocked outright like the Toys ‘R Us commercial below. You don’t need to have kids of your own to introduce kids to the outdoors, you just have to care.