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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Misadventures of Wolf Island

Another day and another adventure to share.  I recently received my first inflatable kayak and took it for an outing on one of the local lakes north of the Dallas area.  I've used the traditional hardshell kayaks and canoes but never an inflatable.  The one I ended up going with is the Sevylor Tahiti hunt/fish.  For what it is and the price point for it (roughly $120) I was pleasantly surprised.  Very stable and tracks relatively well through the water.  However, if there is a slight breeze you'll end up working your arms off to try and keep her straight.  Sevylor does offer a plastic skeg that others have said help with this.  They say that this particular kayak is rated up to ~400lbs and is a two person.  I took it out by myself with an additional 20lbs of gear and had no problems maneuvering though the water and around the shallow areas.

When I set out I had planned on paddling out to an island on the lake commonly referred to as Wolf Island.  My intent was to actually go there Saturday morning, explore the area, and then camp out on the island for the night.  Unfortunately I had other social obligations to attend to earlier in the weekend and didn't get out to the lake until Sunday.

The dashed line is the route I had planned to take to get out to the island.  The green being where I made it to and the red representing the remainder of the route that I didn't get to.  The reason that I had decided to stay relatively close to the shore isn't because I'm a bad swimmer, but because I don't care to swim that far.  The round trip distance would have ended up being almost 5 miles from where I launched from, and seeing as how I decided to sleep in I didn't launch until about 2:30pm.  The wind was blowing pretty regularly and enough to where the lake was white-capping.  At first when the wind kicked up I was slightly concerned with the possibility of capsizing.  However, the inflatable had one benefit over the hardshells by simply riding over the waves instead of cutting through them.

Till next time!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ready to roll -- or -- Jelly Roll?

September was definitely a busy and memorable month.  The heat wave here in Texas finally subsided and we got to go back to Colorado for some hiking and camping.  Despite not reaching the 12.5k peak It was still a great hike.  The water sources weren't there along the trail as I was hoping, and I wasn't in the physical condition I was hoping either.  Endurance wasn't a problem. Thanks to miles of bike paths in triple digit heat and eight years in the military as a "ground pounder" I was able to keep my wind.  What I soon realized on the trail is that I need to start working on core strengthening again.  It's easy to train for the weight you're going to carry on your back.  It helps build endurance, gets your legs accustomed to the weight, and is good to use as a benchmark before you leave.  If what you're planning to take in your pack weighs more than what you're able to carry then you probably wont make it very far and won't have as great of a time as you possibly could.

All effort exerted in movement originates from our core.  If we have a weak core then we have weak movement.  Just because you can squat the front end of a '78 Buick all day long doesn't mean that you can hump a 50lbs pack up the side of a mountain.  To maintain a good core we must first focus on maintaining good posture, but if you're like me and work 40+ hours a week behind a keyboard then posture is usually not high on our list of priorities.  I'm not going to go into all the different core training exercises that you can do just because there are numerous resources out there that already have the information ready for you to include illustrations.

Even though I didn't reach the 12.5k peak that I had intended I don't consider my trip to the Weminuche Wilderness a failure.  The only time I would consider a trip a failure is if someone didn't make it back home.

Also, for those of you who have been following this blog and are wondering about how the Vibram Five-Fingers shoes did; they work great.  The hardest part is re-learning how to walk naturally (ie barefoot).  Other than that they had excellent traction on dirt, rock, mud, and all the other types of terrain underfoot on the trail.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wet and wild or high and dry?

I finally got to go hiking in Colorado.  There were a few change of plans and a few interesting turns of events, but all in all it was a blast!

From every trip that we take we should always take an opportunity to learn something.  We got a late start and didn't make it to the top of the mountain before we started running out of daylight.

When the group got to the bottom of the mountain another hiker asked about the water sources on the trail and possible camping locations.  On the map the trail crossed a stream twice and went near another.  The creek that the trail crossed was dry in one spot and a slow trickle in another.  The other stream was about 50ft straight down.  He was only planning to hike with about 2 liters of water and hadn't been backpacking in 2 years.  Now, I had been training for this in Texas heat and the hike up and down that was about 6mi round trip I went through 2 liters of water and was still close to being dehydrated.  Luckily I convinced him to base camp that night and go up another trail to the Continental Divide Trail on another route the following day.

Lesson Learned from this?  Just because there is water on the map doesn't mean that there is water on the route.  When you're backpacking or planning on backpacking always prepare for the worst case scenario of not being able to have an available source of water.

And to my fellow hiker who helped remind me of this fact Thank You and hope your trip was a success!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A step in the right direction...

Before I get started on this week's post I just wanted to thank everyone for breaking two personal milestones.  Last month we broke 500 total views and we had over 100 views last month alone! Granted in the grand scheme of things that's not a whole lot, but it's a step in the write direction.

Speaking steps in the right direction... that brings me to this weeks topic.  Your feet.  Your feet are critical to having a successful adventure.  Having hiked countless miles on various continents and terrains the right footwear is paramount.  Regardless of what type of shoes or boots that you end up getting you'll definitely want to make sure of two things.  1) They're comfortable.  2) They're broke in.

The type of shoes that you get will depend on the type of activity that you will be doing.  If you're going kayaking you're not necessarily going to want to wear hiking boots.  Same goes for mountaineering.  You're not going to wear water shoes or sandals.  HINT:  Use a little common sense ;)

When I started backpacking it was on a budget, and the boots that were within my price range were military surplus jungle boots by Altama.  They have some pretty good traction, great ankle support, and very durable.  The downside is that comfort is pretty much out the window.  In the end it really all comes down to what works best for you.  Me personally I have a couple different pair of hiking footwear.  From Merrel hiking boots for packing out some heaving gear for the long distance.  I also still use my last pair of combat boots from the military made by Garmont.

If you just have your heart set on hiking in combat boots I would highly recommend the Garmont T8's.  When I first read about the T8 boot I was skeptical about the claims that there was no break in time required, but I had to put it to the test.  The last time that I went to Colorado to go backpacking I hadn't had the boots long enough to break them in, but according to their claims and the reviews this wouldn't have been a problem.  To my amazement after 15 miles, a 4,500 ft ascent, and with a 50lbs pack I had no blisters or hot spots.  These boots will set you back about $120 after S+H from Extreme Outfitters, but for a pair of boots that feel like regular shoes I for one think it's a pretty good deal.

Now moving on to more traditional hiking shoes.  Still being constrained to a budget I've had to choose carefully and do hours of research to hopefully come out with a good pair of boots or shoes.  So far the best that I've used would be by Merrell.  Again, staying around the $100 mark.  Great cushioning, mobility, and stability. 

A couple of years ago a new competitor came on the market making all sorts of extraordinary claims.  You may know these as Vibram Five Fingers.  Funny looking "shoes" with individual toes and looks like a foot with rubber tread.  I recently got a pair of these and I was pleasantly surprised.  I did a test hike around town with about a 20lbs pack and 3 miles of trail ahead of me.  Unfortunately because it is in town the "trail" was paved.  These shoes to me are horrible for pavement, but walking in the grass and on the dirt they're great.

So in closing always make sure that your shoes are going to be able to get you there and back and not kill your feet.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Keeping a weather eye (Part II)

I had not intended to write a follow-on to my previous post on weather.  However, in my research for my hike to Hossick Lake this Labor Day weekend I was interested to know what kind of temperatures to expect at 12,000 feet above sea level.  The technical term for the difference of temperature to expect at varying elevations is called Lapse Rate.  Like most things in science it's not an exact science, just a useful guideline on what to expect.

Lapse Rate
6.5 degree Celsius per 1,000meters
3.57 degree Fahrenheit per 1,000feet 

Now, my first attempt at this I found a lapse rate to determine the expected temperature difference of 6.5 degrees Celsius per 1,000.  What I didnt take into account was the all important "m" at the end of the 1,000.  Had I not noticed this my packing list would have been drastically different and for the most part useless. 

For an example I will show you the difference in calculations when you misread/misjudge/etc the specifics.  As I stated earlier I will be hiking to Hossick Lake in Colorado this September.  Unfortunately there's not an average temperature for Hossick Lake so I started with the closest city, Pagosa Springs Colorado.  The average temp for Pagosa Springs in September shows as an average high of 74.3f and low of 36.6f.  If we take these numbers and use what I thought was the correct lapse rate and do the standard conversions from Farhenheit to Celsius and back again here's what I got:

7.2k ft (Pagosa Springs) 74.3 / 36.6F or 23.5 / 2.5C
8.2k ft (Trail head)          61.7 / 23.9F or 16.5 / -4.5C
12k ft  (Hossick Lake)    11.3 / -26.5F or -11.5 / -32.5C

As you can see that would be what I would consider suicidal for anyone that isn't an experienced mountaineer.... Which I am not.  With those temperatures I would have needed some serious snivel gear.  So now that we have that scare out of the way let's look at what the actual lapse rate would be....

7.2k ft 74.3 / 36.6F
8.2k ft 70.8 / 33.1F
12k  ft 56.8 / 19.1F

Using the right formula makes a world of difference!  So now instead of packing a lot of heavy cold weather gear I can now expect temperatures that will be more suitable to recreational hiking.

If I haven't stated it before or if it's not been painfully evident yet let me say it now.  I am not a professional outdoorsman nor would I consider myself an expert.  Please do not take what I put in the blog as the gospel truth.  Always, always, always do your own research prior to going out and enjoying the great outdoors.  ALL THE GEAR IN THE WORLD WILL NOT SAVE YOUR LIFE IF YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO USE IT.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Keeping a weather eye....

Unfortunately none of us live in an area where there is perfect weather all year, and regardless of how much we plan the weather will always be a factor in the great outdoors.  I previously posted weather applets for various points of interest in the U.S. and while these are a good place to indicate when the best time to go and find that next grand adventure we must first and foremost be able to read the weather while we're out on the trail, water, or even driving.

While I'm not going to go into the specifics on telling you how to read the weather at this time (mainly because I feel that knowledge learned is better than knowledge given) I would implore you to take the time to learn if you haven't already.  There are many ways that you can go about this and with the technology boom that we've had over the past decade it has made this information literally available at our finger tips.  When it comes to trusting my well-being I like to keep it simple.  Just think of the old adage "All skill is in vain when an angel pisses in the flintlock of your musket."  Meaning that no matter how good you think you are with all the gadgets and gizmo's they require recharging.  So the best bet, in my humble opinion, is to read up on what signs to look for and use that in combination with something like Casio's Pathfinder solar rechargeable watch.  As the name states the watch face as small solar panels in it that are recharged by light (natural or otherwise).  On top of that it resets itself automatically by the atomic clock's radio signal, has a digital compass, altimeter, temperature, and barometer sensors built into it.... and it tells the time.  I realize this may sound like a shameless ploy to buy a watch, which it may be.  However, I have found that the barometer feature of this watch has given me ample warning ahead of any NOAA alerts that foul weather is afoot, and being in prime tornado country that can be the difference between safety and being caught with your pants down.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to take a short cut from reading through hundreds of pages of useful information:

  • A dropping barometric reading will typically indicate worsening weather.
  • A shelf cloud, no matter how awe inspiring, IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.  (These occur when a warm moist air mass meets a cold air mass forcing the cold air mass under the warm air mass resulting in the potential for tornadic weather.
  • Large anvil shaped clouds with a "beaver tail" are also not your friend.
  • High temps will suck the water out of you.... hydrate! hydrate! hydrate!  Once you have a heat stroke/exhaustion you become more susceptible to it time and time again.  Know your limits.
  • Conversely, just because it is cold out doesn't mean you don't have to keep hydrated.
  • High altitude fluffy white clouds in the winter are typically a good indication of snow.
Want to know more?  Take the time to research it, learn it, and learn how to apply it.  The SAS survival manual is a good place to start and not for just military/militia types who think it's a cool book to have because it's by a guy who was in the SAS.  Knowledge is power.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Equipment Check

Some people would assume that checking your equipment should go without saying.  However, it is a step that takes a few minutes and most of us overlook (Even me).  Regardless of what kind of trip you're planning, whether it is a simple hike at a local park, camping, backpacking, or a hunting, we all need to take the time to go through a check and test our equipment.  I prefer to check my equipment every couple of months to ensure that it's still in working order and that I still remember how to use it.

A good example of this would be something that happened to me today.  I recently put a new scope on my rifle got it all setup and bore-sighted.  Good enough and ready to put some food on the table right?  Wrong.  When I went to the range to check check the zero the first three were right on the money.  Then the grouping became increasingly erratic to the point I wasn't hitting the paper at 100 yards.  After a quick visual check of the firearm I then realized that the bracket that attached the scope to the rifle had come loose.  Had my friends and I actually gone pig hunting last weekend like we had planned then I would have been out of luck.

So as I said, set aside time to check your gear at least every other month.  Pull out your pack and check for defects, throw some weight in it and walk around with it to make sure that it will still function.  For this I prefer to load about 20 lbs over what I would ever normally take just to be on the safe side, because you never know when you'll be in a situation where you'll need to take on more weight; water is heavy.  Set up your tent, fire up the grille if you use one.  If you hunt, then check your firearm regularly.  Clean it, take care of it, take it to the range to make sure you're still zeroed at the desired distance.

....And remember the 4 P's: Proper Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance

Friday, January 28, 2011

Local wildlife has the right of way.

It's been awhile since I've updated this so I figured that I would tell you about a hunting trip that a friend an I went on over the New Year's holiday.  First off I hunt for food and not sport.  My buddy, Aaron and myself decided to take advantage of the weather and go track and bag some East Texas feral hogs.  We got to the site after dark, had just finished setting up camp, and had made no real effort to be quiet. Afterall who hunts at night? So we were sitting there in front of the tent reminiscing about the good ol days when we heard a commotion behind us. No more than 30ft away a group of hogs were crossing the fire-lane. When we shined our flashlights on them we counted at least 15 ranging in size from 100 to 350 pounds and of course the rifles were still in the truck. Apparently what had happened was that we setup out camp right where they come through to go from where they bed down to where they eat.

This brings me to two points that I should have remembered. One.... always, always, always set up camp before its dark.  That way you can look for tracks and signs of activity around your campsite. Very useful if your in big game country.  The second point to always remember is the local wildlife always has the right of way.

Till the next adventure, happy trails my friends!