Video: Discomfort in Antarctica

“I think I’m still figuring out where my line of comfort and discomfort is with climbing.”


5 Tips for Traveling Stress-Free With Your Outdoor Gear

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

Courtesy: Holidayextras
Courtesy: Holidayextras

Watch for Extra Fees

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

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

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Protect the Pointy Objects

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

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

Check the Scale

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

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

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

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

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

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Follow the Rules

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

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

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

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

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

Keep It Safe

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

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

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

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

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


The Day I Thought I Might Die

Zack asked me a pretty interesting question for the video this morning: “Are you scared?”

My answer was a bit of a surprise to me, but it would be the same as I write this now.

I’m not scared for me, per se. I’m not scared of getting sick, getting cold, getting blisters, or getting hit by a rock slide. I’m not scared of dying, not because the odds of summiting are low, and certainly not because I welcome death.

I’m afraid of failure. Not failing the summit. Who gives a crap? Four days ago, I spent an entire day with kids battling terminal illness. They are fighting for their lives, their families by their side.

I’m fighting for, all things considered, a fairly meaningless accomplishment. We’ll have about 20 porters carrying our stuff and setting up camps, and a guide to lead the way.

This isn’t chemotherapy. It’s not close.

I’m at ease about maybe not getting to the summit. Once my feet hit the trail tomorrow, I only have two options: up or down. I can’t control AMS, HAPE, or HACE, so I’m not afraid of them.

I’m afraid of letting my team down—this team with me and my Flowfold team back home. I’m afraid I pushed the limits of the crew with a 5.5-day ascent. I just don’t want to let anyone down. That’s really all I’m worried about.

Because that I can control.

Other than removing and cleaning up a few swear words (I apparently curse like a pirate when fatigued and stressed), this is verbatim from my journal, written during the trip. What you see below is exactly what I was thinking and feeling along the seven-day journey atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Sunday, March 4, 7:04 p.m.

High Camp, 12,539 feet

I thought I might die today.

But, I’ll get to that. Let’s start here: I summited. 19,341 feet. Check.

As predicted, I couldn’t sleep. At 10:30 p.m. last night, I took all my summit clothes that I had packed a few hours before and put them in my sleeping bag. I spooned them for about 15 minutes to get them warmed up. I got changed, packed up, and met the team for some tea, and we started our summit push around midnight.

It was a full moon but cloudy, so we went slow, working step by slow step under headlamps until around 6:30 a.m. By that time, we were meaningfully higher than we’ve ever been (I’d assume near 18,000 feet) but still hours away from the summit. It was right around then that I started to get emotional.

It had been a cold and dreadfully slow 6.5 hours, but the conditions were tough, and the mountain demanded difficulty. My toe warmers felt frozen at this point and may have been working against me. I was cold, very cold. But, as light started to hit the horizon, I turned behind me to see our porters lending a hand to other members of the Flowfold team by carrying their bags (on top of their own bags, mind you). They were holding the struggling climbers by the arms, encouraging them and even singing to them. I was blown away by the showcase of human spirit.

Although I had no signs of AMS [acute mountain sickness], several on the team were pushing themselves beyond the limits that any of us thought possible. It was was gut wrenching and heart warming at the same time. My heart broke for a member of our team who had to turn back. She fought so hard. Harder than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. I am amazed by her as I write this. But, the mountain was not worth her life. It was the right decision for her to turn back. It was a brave decision. Without the guides, I think two other climbers would have likely turned back with her. I’m not a spiritual person, but the guides were angels for us that day—myself included, as I would later find out.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

We continued to climb on well into the morning, until we reached Stella Point (18,885 feet). Although not the summit, this is effectively when the push is over. We had been told that it was just a short trek to Uhuru Peak, the true summit at 19,341 feet, and that Stella Point was the real challenge and even had the better views.

The views didn’t matter much. We summitted Uhuru in a whiteout and could basically only see the person’s heels in front of us. We all completely broke down in tears at this point. Zack was trying to interview me, but I was sobbing too hard to actually say anything. All I was able to get out was, “I’m just so proud of the team.” Then, I saw Matt crest the summit, porters by his side and Jerald, our head guide, singing to him. I walked over to him and embraced him with Chris and Adam. We stood there, holding Matt, all crying as he just kept on saying, “This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” I will never, in my life, forget this moment. I really hope Zack got it all on camera.

Up until this point, my climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro had been comparatively and relatively easy. But, I did not escape her without my own hardship. Ironically, everything went bad for me after I summited.

We took pictures at the summit but started heading down as quickly as we could. Conditions were worsening, and the normal six- to seven-hour summit push had taken us over 10. It was late to be on the summit, and we needed to get down, quickly.

I didn’t have goggles (the rainy season had come early, and no one was expecting conditions like this) and had to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the blinding snow. But, because of that, I couldn’t wear my balaclava to protect my face. My sunglasses would fog up, leaving me blind. So, I had to decide: Do I protect my eyes or my face?

“Luckily” for me, I had sort of prepared for this. I had purchased a specific type of sunscreen designed for high-altitude mountaineering. It was supposed to shield my face from the sun and wind. The wind was sending snow directly into our faces at this point. It was unrelenting. So, I lathered my face and lips with the sunscreen. A thick coat. In a twisted case of irony, I had saved this sunscreen for this very moment. I hadn’t tested it before. This could have cost me my life.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

As I started walking back down towards Stella Point, I made it about 200 feet before my lips and face started to burn. And, then, my eyes started to water. And, then, my face started to swell up. I didn’t know what was happening, but when both of my index fingers (the fingers used to put the sunscreen on my face) became red and burned like my mittens were an oven, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was having a reaction to the sunscreen. I’m on top of a mountain at this point, 19,000 feet up, and when my lips started to swell up, I thought I might actually die. In my mind, I just assumed my throat was next or my eyes would swell up, and I wouldn’t get off the mountain.

Remember when I said there was something spiritual about Jerald? I don’t really understand this next part, but here goes. Jerald was never around me during this hike. He was always helping other people. I was in good shape for the whole hike, so he didn’t need to pay attention to me. But, as soon as I realized I was in trouble, I got myself off the trail. I took off my hat and my gloves, and I used the rest of the water to wash my face.

I used my hat to wipe off as much sunscreen as I could, but I didn’t have a towel or any wipes or anything, and it all still burned. My lips were still swollen, and I was still terrified. Then, out of nowhere, Jerald appears with a full jar of Vaseline. A whole thing of it. What was he doing with that on a summit day? I lathered it all over my face, and the burning and swelling started to go down. My heart rate relaxed, and I continued onto Stella Point.

But, I wasn’t out of the hot water yet. Not even close. It’s hard to describe Kilimanjaro. She was mean. She was equal parts stunning and wicked. Beautiful and conniving. It was freezing cold, windy, and snowing on the way up to the summit. But, here I am, 19,000 feet up, having an allergic reaction to sunscreen, and the weather turns. From Stella Point on, from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., it was the hottest I’ve ever felt in my life. I cannot describe just how uncomfortable it was. All of us took every layer off. Long johns, fleeces, hats, and gloves, it all came off. There was this strange haziness everywhere. You couldn’t see without your glasses on.

I couldn’t see the sun, but it was the brightest day I’ve ever seen. It was blinding, and we were completely exposed. We were prepared for bone-chilling cold. We didn’t have bandanas or flat-brimmed hats on us. We were on the trail roasting, for over three hours with no shade anywhere. We were 18,000 feet up. Trees don’t live up there. To make matters worse, my face was covered in Vaseline. As I write this, my lips are swollen, and I’m in a tremendous amount of pain. I’ve been told I don’t look good. I don’t know what I’ll look like in the morning or whether or not I’ll need medical attention. I’m in rough shape and I’m scared.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Monday, March 5, 6:04 p.m.

Aishi Machame Hotel

I don’t think I need medical attention. My lips feel like they have a mix of chemical burn and sunburn on them and are extremely painful. But, I was able to shower and wash my face off. At this point, the swelling has gone down, and I’m no longer dealing with the allergic reaction. I simply have to deal with the burn. I have the feeling it’s going to be an uncomfortable few days flying home.

I’ve had a little time to reflect at this point, and the overwhelming feeling I have now is gratitude. I’m about to go have our last dinner with the team, and I’m so grateful for them. I’m so proud of them. They all fought so hard. I’m likely done documenting at this point and plan to soak up any time I have left with the team.

Bottom line, we survived, and this has been the single greatest accomplishment of my life.

Time to go home.

 

Editor’s Note: James Morin is the COO and President of Sales at Flowfold. This post has been excerpted from his blog post documenting the climb. Read the full post here

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Traveling Stress-Free With Your Skis or Snowboards

Planning a ski and snowboard vacation that requires flying can be just as daunting as it is exciting. How do you get all your beloved (and expensive) gear out there with you? Traveling with your gear is easier, and less nerve-wracking, than you might think.

Airline Policies

First, find out your airline’s specific policy on checking skis/boards which should be available on their website. Many airlines treat ski gear the same as regular checked luggage regardless of the longer dimension, although standard weight restrictions will apply. Typically, skis and boots are considered one checked item, even if they are in separate bags. Again, check with the airline you’re flying on for their exact rules and if you have any doubts, give the airline a call.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

 

Luggage

Invest in a good bag or hard shell case for your skis or snowboard. It may be the biggest cost up front, but you’ll spend more to fix or replace damaged equipment. Look for ski/board bags that are padded, sturdy, has wheels, and is larger than your gear (I use a 156 cm bag for my 144 cm board). Some bags might have room for extra gear and clothing, as well as boots. If not, pack those in a separate boot bag.

 

Pro Tip: Make your luggage recognizable with duct tape, stickers, patches, or ribbon. If you have the same bag as another person, it will be easier for everyone to make sure they go home with the right gear.

Packing Tips

Look up suggested ski packing lists and create a thorough one for yourself. Use packing cubes, stuff sacks, or compression bags to keep items organized and separated; You can then use them for dirty laundry.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Skis

Begin by strapping each brake down to keep the bindings compact and make packing around them easier. Use a thick rubber band or gear tie and be sure to position it over the top of the binding, not around the ski which would create pressure on the ski’s edges.­ If you have a bag or case with room for additional gear, separate the skis in the bag to better distribute weight. Strap a pole to each ski so they don’t interfere with other items and cover the tips (wine corks work great).

Snowboards

Remove the bindings from the board to avoid damage while getting jostled around by handlers and in flight. Use a crayon to mark where your bindings are located before removal. It’ll stay put while traveling and riding, but can easily be removed with the rough side of a sponge or finger nail. This will make set up a breeze. Pack the binding hardware and a tool or screwdriver in a zip-lock bag.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Helmet

While it may seem like a great idea to stuff your helmet in a checked bag and not drag it through airports, it’s recommended to carry it on the airplane with you. Although helmets are designed to withstand multiple minor bumps, they should only take one major hit and you don’t want that to be from a turbulent flight or rough baggage handling.

Boots

People are pretty divided on whether to carry-on or check boots. Carrying on can help reduce the weight of your checked luggage and ensure your boots make it to the mountain with you. However, boots are heavy, awkward, and can be a hassle in narrow airplane aisles and during layovers. Either way, stuff your boots with smaller items like socks, neck gaiters, hats and hand warmers to avoid wasted space. Sprinkle in a little baking soda or throw in a dryer sheet to keep things fresh.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Ski Clothes

It’s tempting to wear all your layers up on the plane in an effort to save space in your luggage…which isn’t a terrible idea if you have a short flight. But you shouldn’t need to wash all your gear by the time you land because you sweat through it already. Take one jacket on the flight, preferably a puffer since it can double as a pillow. If you choose to wear winter boots onboard, bring a pair of light slip-ons to switch into on the plane and while trekking between gates on a layover.

Street Clothes

Resist the urge to pack the same amount of street clothes you would for a non-ski trip. You’ll be spending most of your time on the slopes and in many mountain towns, ski clothes double as street threads. Remember non-ski socks and gloves, sunglasses and a swimsuit if you’ll have access to a pool or hot tub.

EMS -Winter Ski Mistaya Lodge -3760

Additional Recommendations

  • Book flights with layovers of at least one hour to give your skis/snowboard a better chance of arriving at your destination the same time you do.
  • If driving with others to the airport, have the driver drop-off all the gear and passengers at the airline’s designated entrance. The driver can then park the car and walk in bag-free. This also works on the return trip.
  • When you land at your destination and head to baggage claim, don’t panic if you don’t see your skis/boards on the carousel assigned to your flight. Most airports have a separate claim area for large and oversized baggage.
  • Research local ski shops and bookmark one or two in case you do forget something or need a tune-up or repair.
  • Worried the groomer skis you brought aren’t going to fare well after a dump fresh snow? Consider renting skis for the biggest powder day. Costs for a one-day ski rental are reasonable, and could make the difference between an okay and epic day. Be sure to get to the shop early or even the night before; They’ll be busy!
  • If you’re skiing more than a few days consider waxing your skis/board once during the trip, especially if there’s fresh snow.

Shipping Gear

An alternative to checking gear is to ship it to your destination ahead of time. Check with the resort or your accommodations to see if and how to ship it to them. You won’t need to haul your hard goods to and from the airport, but shipping gear is generally more expensive than checking it.

Visit your local ski shop and ask if they have any extra ski/board boxes you can snag. Have a backup plan if you make to the mountain before your skis do or your pickup location is closed because your flight was delayed and you got in late. Make arrangements or set aside time on your trip to ship the skis back before leaving. 

 

Don’t let the thought of flying with ski gear overwhelm you. Remember all options require some money, time and effort—whether it’s packing and checking luggage, shipping and picking up gear or visiting a shop to rent skis. But none have to be a hassle with a little planning.


Packing The Ultimate Lightweight Traveler’s Kit

As a hiker or backpacker, you know all about paring down your load to reduce weight. These same principles apply to lightweight travel. If you are ready to stop worrying about dragging around heavy luggage and paying expensive baggage fees, give these suggestions a try.

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1. Bags

Just like when you’re carrying all your gear down the trail on your back, the right bag makes all the difference when you’re traveling. By packing light, you no longer need wheels and telescoping handles to transport your belongings, and as an alternative, a shoulder-carried backpack makes you more mobile and quick.

However, there is a difference between a backpacking pack and a backpack for travel. Also known as conversion packs, these streamline the bag with stowaway straps, use zippers rather than drawstrings, and have wide openings rather than a top-loading design. Check out the Osprey Porter Series or the EMS Boda Conversion Series. Typically, conversion packs under 45 liters meet carry-on restrictions, but you’ll want to check the dimensions. Also, don’t forget a rain cover if you will be out in the elements!

2. Organizers

Use stuff sacks and packing cubes to keep your bag organized and clothing compressed to save space. With the many sizes and shapes available, you can customize a system for your specific bag and travel needs. Take a picture with your phone when you finish packing, so you can easily put everything in its place for the trip home.

3. Tops

Hikers and backpackers use layered clothing to keep themselves comfortable, and that concept is just as applicable to traveling. As today’s performance clothing lends itself beautifully to traveling, start with a washable, wicking base layer, such as the Icebreaker Everyday Lightweight Crew, a mid-layer like a hoodie or fleece jacket, and a soft shell, like the EMS Techwick Active Hybrid Wind Jacket. For warmer weather, a lightweight T-shirt can be your base layer, with another layer or light jacket on top for cool mornings or evenings.

Because of their odor resistance, wool layers are ideal for multi-day wear, and lighter shirts will dry quickly when washed out mid-trip. Wear your heaviest layers while in transit, if possible: It’s always a little chilly in airports and on planes, and you’ll save room in your backpack.

EMS-Hike-Compass-Pant-M-0461

4. Bottoms

Hiking pants make great travel clothes. They are lightweight and easily compressed, are hand-washable if necessary, and often have multiple pockets. Look for pants made of synthetic materials, such as the EMS Compass Line. In cold weather, consider adding a base layer below, such as midweight or heavyweight Techwick bottoms.

5. Underwear

Underwear can be a scary thing while you travel, so people tend to pack a lot of it. However, ExOfficio makes lightweight men’s and women’s styles that wash out easily in the sink or shower, so you won’t need to jam a ton into your backpack. You just need three pairs: One to wear, one to change into, and one drying after washing.

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6. Shoes

A good pair of sturdy lace-up hiking shoes will keep your feet comfortable all day, whether you are walking on cobblestone streets, doing some light hiking, or trekking across the airport. Merrell, Keen, and Oboz have dependable options. If you want a second pair, sport sandals, such as those offered by Merrill, Teva, and Keen, are great for warmer days or if you are near the water, and won’t take up too much room. Wear the heavier pair when traveling, and place the other in a lightweight stuff sack or plastic bag to keep your other items clean.

7. Socks

Traveling is not a time to skimp on socks, and with their breathability and odor resistance, wool styles from Smartwool, EMS, and Darn Tough can be worn for several days at a time. Wool socks are comfortable for adventures year-round and come in a variety of weights and lengths.

8. Outerwear

The options for packable outerwear have really exploded over the past few years, and they’re all ideal for traveling. Many lightweight down jackets pack into their own pockets, while feature-rich rain jackets do double duty as both a rain coat and a windbreaker. As well, don’t forget a lightweight wool or fleece beanie and gloves for colder weather.

Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits
Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits

9. Odds and Ends

Before you pack up, look through your hiking and backpacking gear for practical items that work just as well for travel as they do in the woods. Your Sea to Summit Lite Line Clothesline is perfect for hanging up your underwear and other items after you wash them in the sink. Don’t forget your spork for quick takeout meals. Fold-up water bottles like the Hydrapak Stash help you avoid high prices for bottled water at the airport and collapse down when you don’t need them. Finally, your AMK Ultralight First Aid Kit comes in handy for those minor injuries.

The next time you head out for a trip, simply look first to your hiking and backpacking gear to lighten your load. Happy traveling!