Thanksgiving Week vs. The Feather Pack Jacket

When word came through that EMS was releasing a new and improved version of the Feather Pack jacket (men’s/women’s) to call me excited would be an understatement. I’d been eyeing a couple of down jackets for a while, as an alternative to my synthetic puff jacket—to use as an insulating layer on colder hikes, or as a belay jacket while ice climbing—and the Feather Pack appeared to fit the bill. It’s lightweight, packable, and warm. Moreover, it’s a handsome looking jacket, as fit for a day in the mountains as a night on the town. Which got me thinking: How can I appropriately test-drive such a versatile piece of outerwear?

Just like autumn in the northeast, the week of Thanksgiving is a time of change. It opens with a bit of work, transitions into family time and a day of feasting, and culminates in the form of a beautiful long weekend—the perfect opportunity to get outside. And so, to put the Feather Pack to the test, I’ve invited it to Thanksgiving, adopting it as my go-to jacket for the week, to see how it performs in town and country alike.

Wicked early on the way into work. | Credit: John Lepak
Wicked early on the way into work. | Credit: John Lepak

Monday and Tuesday: Commute, Work, Commute Again

A short work week is a work week all the same, so Monday is about putting the Feather Pack to the test on my heavy-duty commute. From my home in the woods of western Connecticut, getting to my office in New York City each day is a haul. Being on time means leaving before the sun rises, and any outer layer I’m bringing along needs to deal with two different climates. The temperature in the city tends to be incrementally warmer so what works on a freezing-cold Metro-North platform may be a bit heavy once I get into town.

Good news for the Feather Pack—it’s lightweight and it packs down well so, when I needed to shed on the subway or on the sidewalk, it fit right into my work bag.

Cold fingers but pretty warm otherwise. | Credit: John Lepak
Cold fingers but pretty warm otherwise. | Credit: John Lepak

Wednesday: Meal Prep

Each Thanksgiving, as sure as there is turkey and mashed potatoes, there’s an aspect of cooking Thanksgiving Dinner that moves the show outside. Occasionally, a warm fire or grill is involved, but more often than not, it’s shucking oysters and littlenecks en masse for a stuffing, a stew, or to just eat straight-up—this is New England, after all. It’s a bit wet and a bit cold so a warm layer is critical. The Feather Pack made a nice addition to this year’s wetter-than-usual shellfish prep session: the insulation did its job—I was toasty—and the durable water-resistant coating held up well against a little bit of rain.

Warming up after a breezy 5k. | Credit: Hans-Peter Riehle
Warming up after a breezy 5k. | Courtesy: Hans-Peter Riehle

 

Thursday: Run. Then Eat.

If you’re a glutton for punishment, the best way to kick off a day of overeating is with a little bit of exercise. Enter the traditional Thanksgiving morning road race. Since I’ve been running it, the Newtown Turkey Trot has been a cold affair, with temperatures rarely above freezing. Getting out of a warm bed and going out into that is a neat trick. I threw the Feather Pack on over my running clothes before leaving the house with a plan of wearing it until it was time to run and then throwing it back on once the race was through.

This year, while the day was a balmy 44° under partly cloudy skies, the wind was up and it felt a whole lot colder. The jacket was absolutely perfect during warm ups—super warm against the wind chill. Five kilometers later, it was back on again, keeping that body heat close.

Gearing up at the base of Thrills and Skills. | Credit: John Lepak
Gearing up at the base of Thrills and Skills. | Credit: John Lepak

Friday: Crag Day

The leftovers have been packed away, the kitchen is clean, and the day is free. With the masses in town, shopping their little hearts out, it’s finally time to get out and really run the Feather Pack through its paces. A couple of laps at the local crag are in order.

We headed up to Saint John’s Ledges in Kent to do some top roping on the long, slabby Upper Ledge. The Feather Pack, not nearly as weary as I from all of our activity the previous week, was again packed neatly away into my bag.

Typical of late-season rock climbing in New England, it was cold, and once we reached the base of the ledges—accessed via a short, steep section of the Appalachian Trail—the Feather Pack came right out. It was handy keeping warm while setting up the anchors and belaying. The roomy hood—also very warm—fit over my helmet, a Black Diamond Vapor, quite comfortably as well.

Carry out what you carry in. | Courtesy: Katharina Lepak
Carry out what you carry in. | Courtesy: Katharina Lepak

 

Saturday: Family Time

Getting out needn’t be a physical challenge all the time, and more mellow terrain makes access easier for the whole family. A local park or preserve with some easy trails is a great way to be outside together. Connecticut’s share of the Appalachian Trail offers several easy, scenic stretches along the Housatonic River that fit the bill perfectly.

Being a cooler day on less trying ground gave me good reason to try the Feather Pack in an active way. It also afforded me the opportunity to try it on over a baby carrier, complete with a baby strapped to my chest. I’m happy to report that both the jacket and the baby provided ample warmth.

 

Warming up on a quick break, trying to beat an incoming winter storm. | Credit: Katharina Lepak
Warming up on a quick break, trying to beat an incoming winter storm. | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Sunday: Take a Hike

Closing the book on another successful Thanksgiving weekend also means the opening of the holiday season, and the countless tasks and to-do’s that come with it. A couple of miles in the woods is the perfect reset before diving into all of that.

An impending winter storm meant staying local, and getting out early. I hit the Zoar Trail, a 6.5-mile loop trail in Newtown’s Lower Paugussett State Forest. For a shorter trail, the Zoar Trail offers a little bit of everything: river views, a waterfall, rock hopping, and a decent bit of elevation gain—a good test for an insulating layer like the Feather Pack.

I donned the Feather Pack leaving the house and wore it on the ride out, packing it away at the trailhead. Hiking the Zoar Trail clockwise gets the majority of the climbing out of the way early. I hoofed it, trying to beat the storm. Near the crest of the last hill, I stopped, put the Feather Pack on, and took a breather. As it had all week, it delivered the warmth. I took a drink, had a quick snack, and moved on.

The second half of the loop trail skirts the edge of Lake Zoar. It’s generally flat, so I threw the jacket back on to finish the hike. Soon after, the freezing rain moved in, and I again got a chance to test out the DWR coating. A few miles later, I was warm, dry, and in my truck headed home to watch the snow.

Verdict

The Feather Pack jacket held its own over the course of a long holiday week. It excelled as a resting insulation layer—Whether it was a quick water break on a hike or a longer stretch belaying a partner up a climb, it trapped escaping body heat and kept away the cold. It also served itself well as an around town jacket. As part of the test, I wore it everywhere, from hustling to an office in Manhattan to picking up a turkey in rural Connecticut and it never felt uncomfortable or out of place—a testament to its design, equal parts form and its function.
The best endorsement I can give it though, is that when Monday rolled around again, as I was stepping out into the predawn morning to scrape the ice and snow off my truck, the Feather Pack was the jacket I grabbed. And it’ll be in my pack when I’m back on the trails this weekend, too

A State-by-State Guide to Giving Tuesday in New England

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday—so much of our time (and money) around Thanksgiving is spent trying to find the perfect gifts for friends and families that it’s easy to lose sight of the organizations working to make our communities better. In recent years, the idea of Giving Tuesday has become popular, reminding us to support the organizations protecting our crags, keeping our waters clean, advocating for open spaces, and exposing the next generation of outdoor lovers to our favorite sports. If you’re in the giving mood, here are some New England outdoor non-profits that could use your support.

EMS_RI_SUP_W0A8796

Rhode Island

It makes sense that the state nicknamed the Ocean State is home to awesome water-based organizations. One of the most notable is Save the Bay. Turning 50 years old in 2020, Save the Bay is a 20,000-member-strong group dedicated to protecting one of Rhode Island’s most valuable natural resources, recognizable landmarks, and playgrounds for paddlers and surfers: Narragansett Bay.

Another ocean-inspired Rhode Island organization that will be amped if you hang ten (or more) dollars on them this holiday season is Spread the Swell, which is working to share the stoke by offering free, non-profit surf camps to underprivileged Rhode Island kids.

While the Ocean State is best known for its surf, it’s also home to some of the best bouldering in New England. Spot the Southeast New England Climbers Coalition a donation and assist them in their work to help protect and establish access to crags, along with maintaining popular destinations like Lincoln Woods.

EMS-LAKE-PLACID-0182

Massachusetts 

The Pan-Mass Challenge is synonymous with summer in the Bay State, as cyclists push their limits on a variety of rides, raising money for a cause everyone is on board with: defeating cancer. Go the extra mile this year by donating, fundraising, or committing to volunteer at the August event.

Helping keep cyclists safe as they train to tackle the Pan-Mass Challenge’s 187 miles and 2,500 feet of climbing is the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike). Help MassBike keep the wheels in motion toward creating a more bicycle-friendly state with a donation or by volunteering your time.

Investing in the sports we love is about more than merely maintenance and access. Chill Boston introduces underserved youth in the Greater Boston Area to board sports such as snowboarding, SUPing, and surfing. Drop in and hook them up with a donation to keep our board-based sports healthy and diverse, while also teaching young people valuable life skills.

2019-01-EMS-Kemple-Conway-1284_Cabin_Map

Connecticut

Connecticut is home to outdoor activities as diverse as its landscape, ranging from hiking to rock climbing to cycling. A donation to the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) can put a spring in the step of the Nutmeg State’s hikers. The organization is committed to connecting people to the land to protect Connecticut’s forests, parks, walking trails, and open spaces for future generations.

Enthusiasts of Connecticut’s high and wild places will want to tick a donation to the Ragged Mountain Foundation (RMF) off their list. The RMF currently owns 56 acres of land in Southington, Connecticut—including Ragged Mountain—and is focused on stewardship, protection, and public access to the state’s cliffs and crags.

The Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program (CCAP) provides the state’s youth with an organized state-wide cycling league, allowing them to grow within the sport and develop values and skills that transfer to other parts of their life. Ride into the holidays feeling good with a donation to this great group.

EMS-Burlington-0265

Vermont

Locally grown food, amazing craft beer, and outstanding outdoor experiences are commonly associated with Vermont. One of the orgs aiding Vermont in sustaining this reputation is CRAG Vermont, which is dedicated to preserving access to and maintaining the state’s climbing resources, along with giving hungry and thirsty climbers a place to play. Help CRAG Vermont over the crux with a donation this year.

Vermont is a destination for mountain bikers from across the US and Canada. The Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) consists of 26 unified chapters dedicated to advocating, educating, and promoting mountain biking in the Green Mountain State. Your donation will facilitate the trails remaining fast, flowy, and flush.

If you think of Vermont’s mountains as more white than green, check out the Vermont Backcountry Alliance (VTBC) this Giving Tuesday. Cutting a check to the VTBC helps keep the state’s legendary tree skiing properly maintained, while also protecting and advancing access for human-powered skiing.

021219_NConway_IceClimbClinic_SeanSime-244

 

New Hampshire 

It’s no surprise that the Granite State is a mecca for New England climbers. Friends of the Ledges is an org focusing on stewardship and access to the climbing found in the eastern White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine. Keep this awesome group sending in the future—they secured nine-acres of land critical for access to Cathedral Ledge and Whitehorse Ledge in 2019—with a donation this year.

Accidents happen in the mountains to even the most experienced hikers, climbers, and skiers. If you happen to have a mishap in the White Mountains, you’ll be glad you came to the aid of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR) with a donation this year, as they assist various agencies with search and rescues in the region.

If you pedal your bike in central or southern New Hampshire, you’ve likely spent time on the techy trails built and maintained by the Friends of Massabesic Bicycling Association (FOMBA). A donation to this awesome org helps keep their relationship with Manchester Water Works rolling, and access to these terrific trails open.

20180731_EMS_Adirondacks_Kemple--2_Hike_Thunderhead_CompassTrek

Maine 

Maine is home to the only national park in New England: Acadia. The first U.S. national park originally created by private land donations, you can join in the park’s philanthropic tradition by becoming a member, making a donation, or volunteering with Friends of Acadia—a group helping to preserve, protect, and promote the region’s only national park.

Another incredible private land donation (and the Northeast’s best hope for a second national park) is the 80,000+ acres donated by the co-founder of Burt’s Bees known as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. While you probably can’t match enormous donations such as this, you can help preserve and protect this parcel by joining or donating to the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, taking part in the tradition of selflessness and generosity that birthed this area’s creation

If you’ve ever climbed Mount Katahdin and marveled at the wildness of Baxter State Park, you owe a debt of gratitude to Maine’s 53rd governor, Percival Baxter, who gave the park to the people of Maine with the mandate that it remain forever wild. Get in the giving spirit of the former governor with a gift to the Friends of Baxter State Park, who are working to preserve, support, and enhance the wilderness character of the park.

Do you know of another nonprofit that could use some support this year? If so, leave it in the comments so our readers can check it out.


How to Leave no Trace on Winter Adventures

Backcountry use in the winter is gaining popularity, and for good reason: The solitude is greater, the views are wider (when the weather cooperates), and there are fresh, beautiful layers of powder to play in. Advances in backcountry skiing and snowboarding equipment and better access to Federal and Public Lands have driven more people to become cold-weather outdoor enthusiasts.

But all this increased use can lead to greater impacts on the landscape, wildlife and others seeking similar experiences. Winter can leave resources and wildlife more vulnerable to the damage of recreational users and there have been cited issues with trash, human waste, excessive noise and disturbances to wildlife that can be easily avoided with some knowledge of Leave No Trace principals.

In general, Leave No Trace encourages visitors of the backcountry to treat the outdoors with respect and limit the impacts of recreation on the environment and wildlife within it. For the most part, the guidelines are pretty straightforward and can be applied to varied seasons and conditions, but there are a few changes you should be making to your LNT practices in the winter.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

Planning & Preparation

Planning ahead is especially important in the winter because it increases our safety and enjoyment while minimizing damage to vulnerable backcountry resources. Poor planning or underestimating conditions can result in putting yourself at risk and lead to damaging natural and cultural resources. Venturing outside in the snow is attached to higher risk. Extreme temperatures and wind, fast-changing weather, elevation and avalanches can lead to emergencies like frostbite and hypothermia. To manage your risk and prevent environmental damage, take the following actions:

  • Educate yourself on conditions in the area you’ll be traveling and always ensure you’re prepared with appropriate gear and proper clothing.
  • Monitor snow conditions frequently. The night before, the morning of, and at the trailhead if you’re able.Mountain-Forecast.com is a great resource to find accurate reports for specific peaks or mountain ranges. Weather can change quickly in the mountains and understanding your timeframe can be crucial. Wind draws heat from our bodies, making it feel much colder than it is, so be sure to check the wind speed too. Prepare for extreme weather by bringing extra layers, a headlamp, emergency hand warmers, and fat-heavy snacks.
  • Don’t rely on electronics for navigation. Keep headlamps, phones or other battery-operated devices close to your body heat and consider carrying an portable battery pack if you’re out overnight. Choose waterproof maps and have an excellent understanding of how to read them.
  • Backcountry skiing preparedness is a bag I won’t open here, but you should be highly experienced and carry proper emergency equipment (avalanche beacon and shovel).
  • Don’t go out alone and always let someone know what your plans are. Even the experienced outdoorsman or woman shouldn’t take on ambitious routes solo in winter conditions.
Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

Backcountry Waste

Ever come across a wad of toilet paper alongside a popular trail during the Spring melt? It’s not pretty, and certainly not ethical. In the winter months, we need to give extra consideration as to how we pack out our trash and human waste during backcountry visits. Human waste (poop!) has serious impacts on ecosystems, so we need to do our best to properly dispose of it to ensure the area is not compromised when the snow melts. While the objectives of proper human waste disposal are pretty straightforward—minimize chances of polluting water sources and spreading disease, while promoting healthy decomposition—this can be much harder in the winter due to the temperature:

  • Use established toilets when possible. Some land management areas will continue to maintain trailhead and backcountry facilities in the winter. Research prior to your trip.
  • Scatter your liquid waste. Always urinate away from the trail and established camps. To help naturalize the area, throw some fresh snow on top (for your dog too).
  • Be prepared to carry out your poop. That’s right, the best way to Leave No Trace is to take ALL of your waste with you. Decomposition of solid waste is much tougher in the winter months and the ground is much too cold to dig a proper hole, so instead it ends up in a pile of snow. It simply freezes until the snow melts and results in potential ecological damage and spread of disease. The best way to dispose of waste in a sanitary and socially acceptable way is by using a WAG Bag (which contains a gel to help break down waste), or something similar. It’ll likely freeze inside the bag, making it easier to pack out until you reach a trash receptacle (not a pit toilet). Dogs typically don’t do their business in the proper LNT area, so it’s especially important to carry theirs out too. Check out the Poo Vault for safe and odorless packability. Check local regulations for recommended methods on high peaks.
  • Dig a cat hole as an alternative. At the very least, human and dog waste needs to be buried in a 6- to 8-inch cat hole at least 200 feet from water sources, camp, and trails. Be aware if you’re in a direct drainage where water will flow in the spring by looking at the vegetation and slope of the surrounding area. All toilet paper should be packed out in a separate ziplock covered in duct tape to help be discreet.
  • Pack out all trash. Minimize your waste and weight by choosing foods that won’t freeze and repackaging when necessary. Always carry extra ziplocks to pack all of your food waste out, this includes compostable food scraps like apple cores, fruit pits and banana peels. Practice good trail karma by picking up any micro-trash (small pieces of wrappers) left behind by others and help keep spring runoff free of plastic.
Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

Path of Travel

We are simply visitors of the backcountry and we want to avoid any damage to the land as we travel through it. While it may appear that surface vegetation is protected by snow in the winter, the routes we take now will impact the trail later. By traveling on packable snow we can prevent soil erosion and the development of unintended trails.

  • Travel on durable or packed snow. By packing down deeper snow or walking on ice (using MICROspikes), the surface vegetation underneath is left unimpacted and our tracks will simply melt away come spring. If you’re breaking trail, gently shake snow-weighted trees and avoid avalanche paths, steep slopes, cornices and other unstable snow.
  • Separate ski and snowshoe tracks. Be courteous to others by establishing hiking, snowshoeing or biking paths separate from skin tracks used by uphill skiers and split-boarders. When ascending, yield to downhill traffic. If you are a skier or snowboarder, courteously avoid coming down the hiking trail.
  • Avoid creating new trails. In muddy spring conditions, do your best to stay on the snow, or walk in the middle (yes, in the mud!) to avoid creating new paths and damaging trailside plants. Watch out for thin snow where you may fall through.
  • Respect other adventurers. While the camaraderie of groups in the outdoors is a powerful thing, many skiers/riders/hikers/mountaineers come for the solitude. Keep noise to a minimum and help promote a cooperative, supportive culture by sharing safety information offering help when needed.
Courtesy: Dave Moore
Courtesy: Dave Moore

Camping

The great thing about camping in the winter is the surface area is coated in snow so our impacts are minimal. We’re left to our own devices to create a safe and comfortable campsite using the appropriate gear and the following strategies:

  • Camp on durable snow at least 200 feet from water sources. Stay clear of the trail and prep your site by packing down snow to create a durable surface for your tent (don’t forget longer stakes!). Choose a flat spot away from avalanche paths, steep slopes, and cornices. Trees can provide an ideal spot sheltered from the wind.
  • Dismantle any snow shelters or wind breaks. Naturalize the area before you leave.
  • Use huts or shelters where available. There are many backcountry shelters available for use (some require a fee) to make your winter camping experience more comfortable. Always leave them in better shape that you found by cooking outside when possible, sweeping before you leave and carrying out all trash to prevent mice intruders. Be considerate of other users and follow any instructions relating to the shelter.
  • Minimize campfire impacts. Where fires are permitted, use an established ring or keep them small. Cut only small dead or down trees and burn all wood to ash. Be sure all fires are out completely and leave a clean site by clearing your ash and never burning trash.

Curious to learn more? For the complete list of LNT practices, see here.


How to Keep Warm in the Winter Wind

Shorter days, colder temperatures, and the possibility for wicked weather are all factors to be considered when getting outside in the winter time. The winter wind is one such factor that, if unaccounted for, can sour even the bluest of bluebird days. Here are some tips to help keep you warm when the temps are down and the wind is up.

killington

Be Prepared

The first and best thing to do when considering a winter excursion is to be prepared. Local weather and trail conditions reports are critical, as is understanding how the wind—and the windchill factor—can affect temperatures. One useful tool is the National Weather Service’s Wind Chill Chart, which uses sustained wind speed and temperature to calculate the amount of time skin can be exposed before frostbite begins to set in. This is super important, especially for those fast-and-light, alpine-style objectives, where spartan packing lists may cause an important item to eschewed for the sake of weight.

Cover Up

Exposed skin is the most vulnerable to frostbite when the windchill index dips down—so cover it up! Boots, pants and jackets are obvious but make sure to also wear gloves and a hat. A good balaclava or neck gaiter are also essential to protecting your face, which is almost always exposed in other circumstances. Ski goggles, in addition to keeping your eyes out of the wind, limit exposure as well.

Pack Hand Warmers and Start Them Early

As the body cools, circulation slows, and the extremities—starting with fingers and toes—become extremely susceptible to freezing. Nip this in the bud at the trailhead by stuffing your gloves and boots with hand warmers. Do yourself a double favor by packing extra gloves and socks and stuffing them with activated hand warmers from the get-go. Should you wind up losing a glove or getting your socks soaked, you’ll have warm replacements ready to go.

2019-01-EMS-Kemple-Conway-6851_Snowshoe

Layers on Layers

Layering is always important while traveling in the mountains but when the wind is up, it’s doubly so. A wicking base layer will keep you dry while an insulating mid-layer will help trap your body heat. On top of those as an outer-most layer—while moving, at least—should be a waterproof, windproof, hardshell jacket. Hardshell jackets are designed specifically for conditions like the biting winter wind—they tend to be lightweight and packable too, so they’re not too much to throw into a pack until you need it. Finally, have a packable insulated jacket to pop over everything else to keep that heat in on breaks. As an added bonus, the air trapped between each layer also acts as additional insulation.

Eat and Hydrate Well

Before heading out into the cold, fuel up with a big meal. It’s more energy to keep you moving and digestion helps bring the body temperature up. While you’re out, keep hydrating—it’ll encourage circulation and spread the warmth to vulnerable extremities.

Warm Up from the Inside-out

Warm up from the inside-out by carrying an insulated thermos full of something hot. A little coffee, tea, or plain-old hot water can make a huge difference, raising core temperatures and spirits alike in the coldest of conditions. Alcohol, despite it’s common renown for cutting the cold, is best avoided when the windchill factor is severe as it actually causes the body to lose heat faster—so save it for the aprés.

TK_EMS-Conway-6432-CH

Stay in the Lee of the Wind

When the wind is really bad, do what you can to stay out of it. In most cases this is as simple as staying in the woods but above treeline it means being strategic about route selection and where to take your breaks. Use natural and artificial features like boulders and cairns to catch your breath—the relief of even a minute spent out of the wind can make all the difference, mentally as well as physically.

Keep it Moving

The best way to combat frostbite when the windchill factor is high is to keep moving. Aerobic activity keeps the heart rate up, increasing circulation and spreading critical warmth to vulnerable fingers and toes. Remember to capture that body heat and keep your core temperature up while resting by throwing on an additional insulated layer.


How to Stay Warm While Sleeping Outside

Growing up, I had the fortune of having parents that took me camping. I had a thin foam sleeping pad and a 50-degree kids sleeping bag. I never slept well and I always froze at night. I thought that’s what camping was!

Turns out, I was wrong. Lucky for me, as I’ve gotten older and more experienced I’ve learned a lot about staying warm and comfortable while sleeping outside. For the past three years I’ve spent more than 100 nights a year sleeping under the stars. I get really cold really easily and I take my sleep seriously—I want to be comfy out there! Following these tips can go a long way toward keeping you warm and comfortable, and getting a good night sleep.

2019-01-EMS-Kemple-Conway-0662_Camp_Scene

The Basics

Step one: Get yourself a weather-appropriate sleeping bag. Duh. But something many people don’t think about is that the ground conducts tons of heat away from your body. The barrier you put between you and the cold earth plays a big role in how warm you’ll be. A foam pad is a good start. If you sleep cold or the temps are low, making the step up to an inflatable and even an insulated sleeping pad makes a huge difference. Pay close attention to the pad’s R-valueto know exactly how warm and insulating it will be. Not all pads are created equal. And don’t forget that sleeping pad insulation is additive, meaning on real cold nights or if you’re sleeping on the snow, stacking a foam sleeping pad and an inflatable pad increases the insulation even more.

TK_EMS-Conway-9106

Debunk the Myths

Some people will tell you that you should sleep with hardly any clothes on, or even naked, to get the most out of your sleeping bag and that this will keep you warmer in the end. Those people have never slept outside, in the cold, naked in their sleeping bags.

Their theory isn’t totally baseless, though. The idea is that by wearing extra layers inside your sleeping bag, you crush the loft of your bag and thus take away from its insulating capabilities. It may seem like the best thing to do on a cold night would be to bundle up in all your layers then squeeze yourself into your sleeping bag, but if you’re wearing too much you can actually compromise the effectiveness of your sleeping bag’s insulation (not to mention your comfort). You can definitely wear some of those layers to bed (there’s no need to get in naked), but don’t wear so many that you feel your sleeping bag squeezing back in on you—Leave enough room for the down to expand to its full loft.

Keep these other tips in mind before heading to bed:

  • Keep a pair of “sacred socks” in your sleeping bag so you always have a warm and dry pair for sleeping. Never get in your sleeping bag with wet or cold socks.
  • Wear a hat. It’s not a myth that you lose a lot of heat through your head! Consider wearing a hood too, if necessary.
  • Make sure all your layers are dry. Dry clothes equal warm clothes.
  • If you’re winter camping or in really low temps, consider puffy booties, pants, and/or a jacket to sleep in. These are like mini sleeping bags for all your appendages and can work wonders! They’re also great pillows if you don’t sleep in them.
  • If you’re sleeping bag is too big for you and has extra space that you aren’t filling with your body, consider stuffing extra layers in those areas so your body can heat the air around you to keep you warm rather than losing all that warmth to dead space in your bag. This is especially helpful for shorter folks in longer bags. Keep those toes warm!

TK_EMS-Conway-9169

Feed the Fire

Staying warm is all about keeping your internal furnace burning throughout the night. We’ve talked about insulating that furnace and now we’re going to talk about fueling it!

Eat a snack

Having some calories in your system right before bed gives your body fuel to burn and helps keep you toasty. If I’m not in bear country I like to keep a Snickers bar with me while I sleep. This gives me quick burning sugar for immediate warmth and the protein in the peanuts keep the burn going a while longer.

Drink something warm

The best way to get warm is to start warm. A hot drink helps warm you up from the inside. My favorite: Brew peppermint tea and put cocoa mix in it. If I want extra calories I’ll put in a scoop of butter or some light olive oil. Have you ever tried hot cocoa with peanut butter mixed in? It’s like drinking a Reese’s and adds some bulk to keep your furnace burning.

2019-01-EMS-Kemple-Conway-0050_Camp_Cook_Tent

Use a hot water bottle

Fill a small water bottle like a 16oz Nalgene with near-boiling water, put it at the foot of your bag and relish in your new personal sauna. If you’re super cold, hold the bottle between your thighs, right on your femoral arteries—Warming that blood as it circulates will keep the rest of your body warm.

Take a lap

My dad always said I had a heater in my tennis shoes and would send me on a little run if I complained of the cold. I might not like to admit it, but he was right. A brisk walk before bed, a set of jumping jacks, a quick dance party, or shadow boxing routine—whatever you need to do to get the blood pumping to keep you warm right before you tuck in for the night—can go al long way. Again, the easiest way to get warm in your sleeping bag is to already be warm when you get in it, but if you’re already in your bag you can simulate this by contracting all your muscles as hard as you can and then releasing them several times.

Bonus points: Go pee!

Seriously. I know it’s cold and dark out there. But go do it. Your furnace works really hard to keep all that liquid inside you warm, and when it’s doing that it has less energy to keep the rest of you warm. It may seem like getting out of bed will actually result in you being colder when you get back in, but the result is often surprisingly the opposite. Don’t hesitate to get up and take a leak.

 

Do you have other creative ways of staying warm? Have you found a sleep system that works well for you? Share your ideas in the comments below!

W17_Camp_Chill_Socks_Kemple---EMS---F17--7300


Ghost Towns of the White Mountains

Did you know that there are ghost towns in the White Mountains? The best known of them is Livermore. Incorporated in 1876, it was a thriving logging town for 50 years before fire, flooding, and deforestation led to the community’s abandonment. Today, exploring the town’s crumbling foundations, stone cellar holes, and still-thriving apple trees is a must-do for any ghost town aficionado or lover of White Mountain history. Easily accessible from Sawyer River Road, mark it as your trick-or-treat destination this Halloween.

5ffb2a4c6a590501e79a9570708245bb

Old Livermore

The history of Livermore is deeply rooted in logging—its establishment shortly followed the founding of the Grafton County Lumber Company and the Sawyer River Railroad by the Saunders family. Bounding Waterville Valley, Lincoln, Bartlett, and Albany, Livermore was geographically huge (75,000 acres), comprised mostly of trees that the lumber company intended to harvest.

The community itself, however, was quite small. At its peak in the late 1800s, Livermore was a thriving logging town with a railroad, sawmill, blacksmith shop, post office, school, and 18 homes—along with the Saunders family’s part-time home, a lavish 26-room mansion. By 1890, the town’s population had swelled to 155 residents; The town even encompassed a separate area called “Little Canada.”

But shortly thereafter, Livermore was on the decline. As was the case with many similar towns, fire and floods eventually sealed Livermore’s fate—the sawmill burned down three times in the town’s short history while torrential rains and flooding in 1927 wiped out sections of the railroad and bridges.

Following the flood, the mill closed, all but 12 acres (which are now privately owned) of land were absorbed into the White Mountain National Forest, and the population declined precipitously. Between 1935 and 1937, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) removed the railroad and buildings, leaving behind just the foundations. In 1951, the state legislature revoked Livermore’s charter, leaving the town to be reclaimed by the forest it once was established to log.

The wall of a pumphouse in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck
The wall of a pumphouse in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck

Livermore Today

Livermore’s remains are still easily accessed today, just not by railroad. Rather, Livermore is best accessed via Route 302 and Sawyer River Road, just a few miles outside the village of Bartlett. About two miles up Sawyer River Road, just after a modern cabin, is a pull-off. From the pull-off, a short walk downhill toward the Sawyer River leads to the best preserved ruins—most notably the red brick foundation of the powerhouse as well as a broad cement structure that was once the sawmill. On the other side of the road, there are several cellar holes with solid stone foundations which are easily found by looking for the flat spaces on the hillside. A little further up the road is the cement foundation of the community’s school house.

Although this map is not to scale, we found it very helpful as we tramped around the ghost town. Be on the lookout as well for the town’s historic apple trees, which are still—some 100 years later—producing bountiful crops of what are now heirloom apples.

Remnants of a sawmill in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck
Remnants of a sawmill in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck

Livermore & Mount Carrigain

Much of the land that once produced the raw material for Livermore’s sawmill is also accessible today. Looking at a map of the Grafton County Lumber Company’s holdings, one quickly notices many familiar 4,000-footers—most notably the Bonds, Hancocks, and Twins. However, one mountain feels particularly entertwined with Livermore: Mount Carrigain.

The most obvious reason for the association of Mount Carrigain with Livermore is that the most popular route to the mountain’s summit—Signal Ridge—is accessed via Sawyer River Road. In fact, many unaware hikers have probably driven right past the remnants of Livermore on the way to the mountain, oblivious to the region’s rich history and fascinating historical site. The other reason for the linking of these two entities is that Livermore locals explored Mount Carrigain on early AMC-sponsored trips using the railroad line for access, as written about in an 1879 edition of Appalachia, the AMC’s journal of mountaineering and conservation.

The foundation of Livermore's schoolhouse. | Credit: Tim Peck
The foundation of Livermore’s schoolhouse. | Credit: Tim Peck

Other New Hampshire Ghost Towns

Livermore is the best known of the White Mountain ghost towns, but there are plenty more for the interested hiker. We even discovered what appeared to be a cellar hole on a recent off-trail excursion on the way to Guy’s Slide. If you’re looking to explore other abandoned towns in the area, Passaconway is a great place to start; Russell-Colbath House is conveniently located on the Kancamagus Highway and is now run as a museum by the United States Forest Service. Another interesting site is the remains of Thornton Gore—a town that, during the late 1800s, consisted of 26 homes, a school, a church, and a mill—which is located off of Tripoli Road near Russell Pond Campground (It’s an awesome trip to tack onto a hike of the Osceolas).

Have you visited one of the White Mountains’ ghost towns before? If so, tell us your best tips and must-visit places in the comments below!


Death and Haunting on the Crawford Path

June 30, 1900, William Curtis and Allan Ormsbee set off to make the 8.5-mile trip up the Crawford Path—w new but relatively well-established trail—to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) annual meeting being held at the Summit House, a hotel on Mount Washington’s summit. By day’s end, both were dead.

Many ghost stories begin with a true story. This one is no exception.

William Curtis, circa 1870
William Curtis, circa 1870

In a story as old as mountaineering, Curtis and Ormsbee knowingly hiked into a fierce storm. Despite deteriorating weather and a warning about the conditions from two guides descending the Crawford Path, Curtis and Ormsbee continued toward the summit. On Mount Pleasant—known today as Mount Eisenhower—conditions were poor; the men signed the summit register adding “Rain clouds and wind sixty miles—Cold.”

As Curtis and Ormsbee forged ahead into the storm, their absence at the meeting created anxiety among the AMC members on the summit. Vyron and Thaddeus Lowe, two respected guides (and the trailbuilders of Lowe’s Path on Mount Adams), set out in search of the men. Their search was short lived. High winds quickly extinguished the Lowes’ lanterns and a thick coat of ice covered the top of the mountain. Realizing the danger of conducting a search in such conditions, the two retreated to the Summit House.

Meanwhile, as conditions worsened, Curtis and Ormsbee’s strength waned. They sought shelter in the scrub spruce near the edge of Oakes Gulf where the Crawford Path meets the Mount Monroe Summit Loop Trail. The body of William Curtis was found near there the following morning.

At some point, Ormsbee continued on. He made it within sight of the summit buildings on Mount Washington. His body was discovered there the next afternoon.

Many ghost stories begin with a true story. This one is no exception.

The duo’s deaths set off shockwaves in the northeast hiking community, particularly because 63-year-old Curtis was among the most accomplished hikers in the country. Considered “the founder of athletics in America,” he had taken to mountain climbing some 18 years earlier. An account of the tragedy in Above the Clouds—a newspaper published on top of Mount Washington from 1877 to 1908—reported that Curtis regularly “climb[ed] alone in all kinds of weather,” and was “confident…in his strength and skill,” as well as “perfectly fearless.” Ormsbee, by contrast, was a newcomer to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Just the week before, he made his first hikes in the range, ascending Mount Lafayette, Whiteface, Passaconaway, Tecumseh, and Sandwich Dome.

Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives
Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives

While their bodies were brought down the mountain on the Cog Railway, local lore hints that the spirits of both men remained on the mountain. In the aftermath of the tragedy, a wooden cross was erected to mark Ormsbee’s final resting place, a bronze plaque commemorating Curtis was placed on a boulder on the saddle beneath Mount Monroe, and a since-removed shelter was placed on the saddle connecting Mount Monroe to Mount Washington.

He was found the next morning huddled in a cupboard under the hut’s kitchen sink, clutching an axe.

The legend about Ormsbee’s cross is that passing hikers critical of Curtis and Ormsbee’s decision to forge ahead into the storm are pushed or knocked over by an unseen force. Not wanting to tempt fate or raise the ire of Ormsbee’s spirit, AMC staff got into the habit of saying, “it could have happened to anyone” when passing the site where Ormsbee perished.

As for the plaque, AMC croomembers at Lake of the Clouds Hut—which eventually replaced the shelter constructed following the tragic hike—found Curtis’s plaque detached from its rock beneath Monroe and sitting on the hut’s threshold. As detailed in the book Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire, author Marianne O’Connor details how the croo repeatedly returned the plaque to the boulder, only to find it again in the hut’s doorway. Eventually, the plaque was bolted to the wall in the hut, hopefully putting an end to this ghostly episode.

2381253911_e1f98c8bb2_o

Neither superstitious sayings nor bolted plaques put an end to the ghost stories, however. Guests at AMC’s Lake of the Clouds Hut in the 1930s claimed to see a menacing face peering into the hut’s windows while other visitors felt the sensation of an icy hand gripping their shoulders in the middle of the night. Others reported hearing footsteps come up from the hut’s basement and doors opening and closing, despite the whole hut being in bed. But these are just bumps in the night compared to what one AMC croo member, who was staying there solo, experienced. He was found the next morning huddled in a cupboard under the hut’s kitchen sink, clutching an axe after a terrifying encounter with a ghostly face leering at him from each of the hut’s boarded-up windows.


Guy's Slide: Adirondack-Style Slide Climbing in New Hampshire

Ascending Mount Lincoln in Franconia Notch, Guy’s Slide is an Adirondack-style slide climb located in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Best climbed in the fall when the water in the approach brook is low and the foliage is prime, Guy’s Slide should be on every slide aficionado’s list this season.

What is Slide Climbing?

Combining aspects of hiking and rock climbing, slide climbing has long been a popular activity in the Adirondacks and has only gained steam since Hurricane Irene created new slides while also lengthening, widening, and steepening existing ones. Drew Haas’s book, The Adirondack Slide Guide, encompasses a staggering 91 slides—but with the exception of a few well-traveled slides (Owl’s Head and Mt. Tripyramid’s North Slide), there is little enthusiasm for slide climbing in the Whites.

What is Guy’s Slide?

Guy’s Slide is named after Guy Waterman—a famous northeast author of books such as Forest and Crag and Yankee Rock and Ice and the first person to hike all the New Hampshire 4,000-footers in winter from all four compass points—who popularized climbing the slide in the mid-to-late 70s. Since Hurricane Irene in 2011, Guy’s Slide has opened up a bit and is now a wide slab that offers a fantastic adventure climb up Mount Lincoln.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

How Do I Get to Guy’s Slide?

The most challenging part of Guy’s Slide is getting there. From the Falling Waters Trailhead in Franconia Notch, hop on the Falling Waters Trail as it ascends next to Dry Brook. Along the trail, you’ll criss-cross the brook several times, passing multiple beautiful cascades. At the final cross-over, where the Falling Waters Trail begins a series of long switchbacks up Mount Haystack, leave the trail and begin rock-hopping up the brook.

Although there are usually some downed trees that hinder progress, the going along the brook is mellow, at least as far as off-trail hiking goes. After about 30 minutes, the Brook opens into a secluded alpine bowl bookended by Mount Lincoln on the left and Mount Haystack on the right, with Franconia Ridge connecting the two. While a new, wide slide ascending toward Mount Haystack is on hikers’ right, you’ll want to look straight ahead to pick out Guy’s Slide in the distance.

Near the back of the bowl, Dry Brook continues up Mount Lincoln. Find the brook, then thrash up it for about another 30 minutes. This section is steep and overgrown and likely to be the low point of your day. However, things will greatly improve as the brook transforms into an open slab and you pop out at the bottom of Guy’s Slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

What’s the Climbing Like?

Guy’s Slide begins on a slab atop the approach gully, ascending up Mount Lincoln for 1,000+ feet. There is a nice natural bench at the base of the slab—making it an ideal place to grab a snack, dry off after the approach, and get your climbing gear together. The slab broadens as it rises toward the ridge, offering mostly fourth-class climbing with the occasional easy fifth-class move sprinkled in. You’ll need to negotiate numerous small grass patches to link the large slabs together; Since this is a drainage, the grass is routinely wet which can lead to wet shoes and add a little spice to the slab climbing.

About two-thirds of the way to the ridge, the route doglegs left for a few rope lengths below a short section through some trees. Here you’re likely to hear the voices of hikers above. You’ll also become pretty easy to spot for hikers enjoying the view of the Kinsmans and Cannon, so plan on having an audience on the top third of the route. Just below the ridge, you’ll encounter a scree field that’s about a rope-length long. Use caution on this part of the climb; it’s pretty loose. If inspired, consider climbing one of the short pinnacles guarding the ridge instead.

Guy’s Slide is all adventure climbing, with no fixed route up the slab and no bolted anchors. In fact, you’re unlikely to see any evidence of other climbers and hikers. Just follow your nose for route finding and gear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

What Do You Do When You Get to the Top?

Upon topping out, hikers have two main options. One is to head south on Franconia Ridge toward Mount Haystack and then descend via the Falling Waters Trail. A longer option is to head north on Franconia Ridge, ascending Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette on the way, then descend via the Greenleaf and Bridle Path trails. On nice days, the latter option is the way to go, allowing climbers to bag two 4,000-footers along the way and scope the foliage from atop Franconia Ridge.

What Do I Need to Climb Guy’s Slide?

Approach shoes, a light alpine rack, and a 30-40 meter light rope like the Beal Zenith 9.5mm are ideal for parties planning on moving while roped together. Since the route wanders up the slab, some slings to extend gear are useful to prevent rope drag. Finally, a helmet is a must given one section of loose rock near the top as well as the hundreds of hikers traversing Franconia Ridge above you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

When’s the Best Time to Go?

Fall is definitely the best time to climb Guy’s Slide. The bugs are gone, the foliage is prime, and the friction is perfect. Pick a day after a dry spell and the ascent up the approach brook should be manageable, too. Then, once you’re on the slab, enjoy a unique perspective of Mount Lincoln in solitude.


Hiking by Helping: The Art of the Support Team

When my husband Troy told me he wanted to hike Vermont’s 272-mile Long Trail with his friend Brock, I was surprised. 

Troy and I have been hiking together since we met on the Appalachian Trail in 2017, and we’ve barely been apart for the last three years. But the Long Trail is a tough hike, and I knew I’d have a hard time keeping up with those long-legged men. So instead, we decided that I would support them on their journey by meeting them at trailheads in our van, providing food, drink, clean clothes, and dry socks. The Long Trail is remote in places and it would take an entire day to hitchhike into a town to resupply, wash clothes, get cleaned up, and hitchhike back, so keeping them fed would save them a lot of time and energy. By meeting up with Troy and Brock at regular intervals, they were able to make more miles and even take an occasional day off to rest.

Brock and Troy standing at the AT/LT trailhead in Williamstown, Massachusetts. | Credit: Karen Miller
Brock and Troy standing at the AT/LT trailhead in Williamstown, Massachusetts. | Credit: Karen Miller

Our planning began with the Guthook hiking phone app (an electronic guidebook), along with the Green Mountain Club’s Long Trail paper map, and a Vermont Gazetteer geographical guide, which allowed me to figure out which roads would be the best places to meet them, along with services, campgrounds, and grocery stores near the trail itself. A day before they started their hike, we went to Walmart and stocked up on all of the food they’d need for three weeks on the trail. And on August 23, I left them at the Appalachian Trail/Long Trail trailhead in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where they would hike a few miles to the Vermont border, the southern terminus of the Long Trail, and continue north until they reached Canada.

Troy and I have been hiking together since we met on the Appalachian Trail in 2017, and we’ve barely been apart for the last three years. But the Long Trail is a tough hike, and I knew I’d have a hard time keeping up with those long-legged men.

The Long Trail traverses almost all of the Green Mountains’ major summits, including Glastenbury Mountain, Stratton Mountain, Killington Peak, Mount Abraham, Mount Ellen, Camel’s Hump, Mount Mansfield, and Jay Peak. Our first meetup was to be at Kelly Stand Road, after 3 ½ days that included their first major climb, Glastenbury Mountain. The two hikers had big smiles on their faces when they saw me at the van with snacks, beer, and a cleanup station. We discovered a small camping area just down the road, where I served the hungry hikers barbecued chicken and coleslaw before turning in for the night. In the morning, Troy and Brock filled their food bags for another four days while I cooked them breakfast, and they were back on the trail in no time at all.

Troy and Brock filled their resupply boxes with food and supplies before they set out on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller
Troy and Brock filled their resupply boxes with food and supplies before they set out on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller

Our next meeting point was Clarendon Gorge, just a few miles from our friends’ home in Rutland. They had invited us to stay for the weekend, which was plenty of time for the hikers to take showers, rest, and resupply their food bags while I washed their clothes and shopped for our next meetup. After their “zero” day, I dropped them back on the trail and they “slackpacked”  nearly 18 miles into Killington, where I met them at the Inn at Long Trail for dinner. At this point the weather was turning colder and wetter, and Brock was getting discouraged. By the time the two had hiked into Brandon Gap a few days later, Brock was ready to head home. We were sad that he wasn’t enjoying his trip, and we hated to say goodbye, but that’s all part of life on the trail. Troy immediately got back on the Long Trail and hiked to Middlebury Gap, our next meeting place.   

By meeting up with Troy and Brock at regular intervals, they were able to make more miles and even take an occasional day off to rest.

Middlebury Gap is about halfway to the Canadian border, and this is where the hike becomes more difficult. Troy decided to take two days off before he would do the big push to the end of the trail. We stayed at Branbury State Park where we took walks, napped in our hammock, ate shrimp and grits, and watched an old Danny Kaye movie on my laptop. Troy was feeling well rested and strong as I dropped him off on the trail again. 

The next few days he would summit Mount Abraham, Lincoln Peak, Mount Ellen, and Camel’s Hump. On September 11, when I met him late in the evening at the Winnooski River, I could see he was exhausted, and cold. I cooked him a pot of Italian tortellini soup, and he slept long and hard into the next morning. I suggested he take another day off, but he was eager to go on, so after a breakfast of bagels with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers, he got back on the trail to do 37 more miles to our next meetup, climbing Mount Mansfield’s infamous Forehead, Lips, and Chin, along with Madonna Peak and Whiteface Mountain.

Nothing better than a cold beer after several days on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller
Nothing better than a cold beer after several days on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller

When we met at VT15, we took a day off at Elmore State Park, and after getting cleaned up we drove into Waterbury to visit the Green Mountain Club, Ben & Jerry’s, and a laundromat. At this point, Troy was well into the groove of the Long Trail, and eager to finish his trip. After going over the maps he decided he wanted to hike straight through to Canada, where I would meet him at the northern terminus, a place called “Journey’s End.” So the next morning after a hot breakfast, I left Troy at VT15 for the last 51 miles of his hike, while I hung out at Millbrook Campground in Westfield, just a 12-mile drive to the trailhead.

I felt closer to him than ever, knowing that being there for him helped him hike longer and stronger, and brought him back to me safe and sound.

On September 15, Troy hiked several short but steep climbs before his last big summit to Jay Peak. A few miles later, the trail became smoother and greener. “It’s like everything was improving as I got closer to Canada,” laughs Troy, remembering his last hours on the Long Trail. He arrived at the northern terminus at 5:11 p.m., and then took the approach trail to the Journey’s End parking lot where I was waiting for him in the van. My hiker man looked tired and cold, but he smiled broadly when I ran down the trail to embrace him.

To celebrate his success, we drove to Jay Village Inn for the night, where Troy enjoyed a well-earned sauna, shower, and a hearty meal of seafood and fine wine. After a good night’s sleep in a soft, warm bed, we talked about our hiking/supporting experiences over the last three weeks. I felt closer to him than ever, knowing that being there for him helped him hike longer and stronger, and brought him back to me safe and sound. We’re not sure where our upcoming adventures will take us, but next time, perhaps he’ll be supporting me!

Troy’s trail angel waits for the hikers’ arrival at Brandon Gap. | Courtesy: Karen Miller
Troy’s trail angel waits for the hikers’ arrival at Brandon Gap. | Credit: Troy Allen Lair