Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Now on YouTube

You can now find me on YouTube. There you will find video gear reviews, trip reports and other hiking, backpacking and running-related videos. I will also post how-to videos and other skills-related videos, too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Windchill galore and upchuck reflex

It was a windy one this weekend. The campsite my scouts selected is only protected on one side - the east. And giving the local weather pattern, if weather is coming from the east you're looking at some serious precipitation comeing from the sky anyways. The site is on a peninsula and is exposed from the north, west and south. And there was wind out of the northwest this weekend.

Life got real for a few scouts as a result. Scouts were getting cold while they were eating dinner as a result as the temps dropped as radiant heat loss left the earth. The lack of clouds did not help this scenario. The temps bottomed out at -2(F) sometime in the early morning. This was the second coldest weekend of the season for the camp; the season low is a balmy -12(F) a few weeks ago that I was absent for.

Speaking of getting warm, here is a getting warm dance I learned at a scout camp in 2000. It is a little complicated and most folks can't hack it. But this scout was great at it, and his entire crew was, too.

I also joined a selective group of camp staffers who have been woken up by scouts in the middle of the night, a group that now consists of two persons. Sometime around 2:14 a.m., there was a light shining on the long side of my tent. "Wake up," the light said. "I threw up in the parachute." Great. I got up, opened the door and two scouts approached the small entrance. I sat up and shuffled my torso out of my sleeping bag.

The scout promptly relayed the pertinent information: he had woken up, vomited and managed to dispense the contents onto the snow instead of his bag, boot or other thing that would need to be cleaned. He woke up his buddy, drank some water, ate some gorp, got dressed and started moving to get warm. And that wasn't working. So I was called in, and rightfully so.

Camp policy on this situation is pretty simple: we are not a survival camp and no scout has to sleep outside he or she does not want to. Vomiting generally puts a scout into the category of not wanting to stay outside - it removes all the liquid and food from your stomach. Because digestion generates heat and provides energy to movement (which also generates heat), vomiting is especially troublesome because it is like taking a fuel bottle and dumping it all over the snow. This is not the first time a scout has vomited while outside in the course of the weekend. In 2008 or 2007, a scout vomited almost immediately after supper. He got cold and did not want to stay outside with his sick stomach and went in almost immediately.

So while I got dressed to the light of my headlamp, the scout woke up his father and we walked back to base camp, a series of two buildings about 1.5 miles away through a swamp and over a hill or two. I got to base camp around 3 a.m., and was back at my site about 20 minutes later. I stripped down to my base layers once again and crawled back into my sleeping bag. (The scout was fine - him and his father walked back out to our site the following morning to eat breakfast and pack up their gear.)

I never did figure out what prompted his upchuck reflex. My best guess is dehydration, although he said his urine was clear throughout the day. The dehydration was likely caused by eating supper without drinking water and not drinking water later in the evening before bed. The issue then is why did this occur at 2 a.m. and not earlier? I guess I'll never know.

As for gear, I changed up my gloves system this weekend, opting for the PowerStretch gloves as liners underneath the packable SD mitts. In previous weeks, I have used a pair of generic polypro liner gloves. As a further push of the mittens, I tried to do as many tasks as possible with the mittens on - pulling zippers, buttoning pants, pumping and lighting stoves, etc.

The results were mixed - I could pull zippers, pump and prime stoves and set up my tent with no minimal dexterity issues. Much to my surprise, I could even unclasp the Velcro closures that held the poles in place in my tent. I had issues closing the fly on my pants and fine tasks such as removing a match from a matchbox. Lighting the match, however, was no issue.

Although winter is not over yet, there is only one weekend left of scouts. I have a trip tentatively planned over spring break in late March, but my winter camping for this season is almost at an end. There issue with this is that so far I have not been able to effectively test the precipitation resistance qualities of the Sierra Designs insulating parka and softshell jacket that I have been testing throughout the season. Final and summary comments on these two garments, along with the Packable mitts is coming next week. I have already compiled my notes from the previous weekends and will be putting together a final product soon.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Finally, a comparison chart for insulating garments

Richard Nisley at BPL has put together a lclo comparison of various different insulating garments here (subscription not required). The chart is focused on Mont-bell garments; a good decision because its garments are warm for their weight, weigh very little for insulating garments and are reasonably priced. As it has been said for sleeping bags, your general feature options are lightweight, warm and cheap - you can pick two but cannot have all three. Montbell insulating garments are an excellent balance between these three factors. As a bonus, Mont-bell has a wide variety of insulating garments.

Like many, I have been waiting for a similar chart for a while. Also like many, I have not taken the time to truly sort out the volumes of data available on various garments to figure out what temperature each garment is capable of dealing with. I would gladly support entering and continuing this chart into BPL's Wiki to assist persons in researching insulating garments.

The most interesting find (and forum posts concur) is how significantly warmer the MB U.L. Inner Down Parka is over the Thermawrap parka despite the Inner Down Parka weighing five ounces less. The chart also demonstrates scientifically the difference in warmth between between the Thermawrap Parka and Jacket. The Parka uses 80 g/m^2 of Exceloft and has a hood, while the Jacket uses 50 g/m^2 of Exceloft and lacks a hood. I prefer the Parka because of my preference for hoods. I would only use the jacket is I was using it as a true inner insulation layer, such as under a hardshell and a larger insulating parka.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gloves anew

I wasn't going to buy any gear this month. And then I lost my mainstay gloves on Inauguration Day. Anywho, I finally broke down and went to Midwest and to my surprise, gloves were on sale. I went again with my pair of mainstays, the BD Windweights (formerly Jetstreams) and a pair of BD midweights (formerly Powerstretch). The windproofs are for winter, the midweights are for the rest of the year. My girlfriend also replaced her Powerstretch pair after leaving it at the Beatles museum in Liverpool a few weeks back. She received a pair of TNF Denali gloves but has been thoroughly dissatisfied with them and demanded a replacement.

The Windweights are great for winter use at camp where I have a constant need for use of my fingers. They are so good I recommended them to a friend at camp who rarely buys gear; the friend promptly purchased a pair and has had rave reviews ever since.

Running, again

I wiser man than I once told me that he would never stop running because it sucks so much to start up again. To him goes the inspiration to run the Twin Cities Marathon over the past two years, and his words always ring true when I come back from a break.

This break is a bit longer, almost four months. And yet it feels like I never really left. Running in the cold saps my lungs and time, but it feels right. My legs feel like they are churning at the same cadence, my breathing is still a relaxed 2:2 and I still never think I have enough time to finish my task at hand.

I'm going to head out for an 8-mile run today and then hit the weights. It will be my first longish run since the marathon, and it is a mere precursor to longer runs to come - runs that will reach 20 miles before the 50K. Whenever I leave my steps I always have the route in mind or at least moderately set. It prepares my mind for the time and distance to come. I hit my watch but rarely check it during the run - it takes me out of my element, removes my mental psyche from putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

I'm not sure how I am going to handle the 50K, and it scares me to think about those miles above 20. I have never done trail running, and the first time I saw a trail runner on the SHT I just about lost it. The man was flying up and down the hills near Tettegouche and his speed just floored me. How is he doing that, my hiking partner and I thought first to ourselves and then to each other after the mind filter gave way. Miles seemed endless back then, and they even do now - especially when the prospect of running the rugged trail comes to mind.

I will get some trail running in before the 50k, probably at Afton State Park where they run a 25K/50K race in June or July. The hills are steep into and out of the river valley, and it should provide a good training ground for the distances to come.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another weekend, and some interesting finds

The weekend was an odd one. Early last week, the low temps were above freezing and it rained Monday overnight into Tuesday morning. Around my apartment, the snow had disappeared; was the snow still around in the woods of central Minnesota?

Yes, yes it was. But only barely. The snow that remained was crusty and supported a person's weight. Only in areas of shade underneath coniferous trees was the snow powdery. My mukluks never had a chance to get moist - there was never any snow to stick to them. It was all firmly frozen to the ground. To get enough snow to bury a pot of water, a few of my scouts had to chop up the remnants of a collapsed snow shelter.

I opted to sleep in my warmer mummy bag, and older Marmot Col that is rated to -20 and holds the rating quite nicely. The reasons were three fold: first, I was ill and did not want to risk a fitful night of sleep; second, I left my insulated pants at home by accident; and third, hindsight would show that the low temp Sunday morning was 2F, 6 degrees colder than my previous low. Although I slept comfortably, I did learn than I need more insulation underneath me than a single shortie Ridgerest - I was warm above me but I could feel cold seeping to my back. This was confirmed by the frozen shape of my sleeping pad on Sunday morning.

Once again I slept in my MK1 with another person - to mitigate the condensation inside the tent, I opened the door slightly but left the mesh intact. I did not adjust the roof vents. Because ventilation is the best method to remove minimize from an area, it was necessary to open the door. Previously, I kept the door closed and the tent was a load of condensation inside even though the temp only got to 8F. Both nights, the air was still.

The method worked well. There was minimal condensation inside the tent, except on the downward-facing edge of the poles. Next time, I not leave the mesh open and I should have even less condensation. Although I know it is out there, BPL has an excellent article on managing moisture inside shelters (another must-read: Condensation on different fabrics). Surprisingly, no-see um mesh significantly impairs a shelter's ability to manage condensation. I had read this previous to this weekend, but wanted to see the results first-hand in the winter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

50K trailrace here I come - signed up for Superior Trail Race

Ultramarathons, here I come. I signed up for the spring Superior Trail Race 50K this evening after putting off registering for a few weeks. 50K is 31.4 miles, 5.2 more than a marathon and on a significantly differently path. The route is full of some of the larger elevation gains on trail, especially in the first five miles or so - because the route is an out-and-back, the last five miles or so, also.

That said, it is nothing I cannot handle - it takes patience, training and a mental attitude that I honed in the TC Marathon. I have been setback on my training because of a minor right ankle injury and a headcold, but I am back to running now and should be getting into some more serious training regimes ahead.

I am incorporating weight lifting into this training season, and I will get around to doing serious hill work eventually; I just need to find a good set of hills in my area that would accommodate my need to vertical gain. I am doing most if not all of the exercises recommended to me by my cross country coach in high school, and an emphasis on high rep counts at reasonable weights.

My brother has tentatively agreed to head up my trail crew - my faithful girlfriend will be unavailable for the weekend as she has other plans she must attend to. Trail crews will be allowed access at four aid stations along the trail - two on the way out and the same spots on the way back. For me, that is at mile posts 7.6, 13.3, 17.7 and 23.4. This will be a change of pace for me from the marathon, which had aid every mile and medical stations every three miles. His job: make sure I have water, salt and carbs. And stop me if necessary. He is a person whose judgment I trust in a situation such as this; a trust I know I can hold on to even in a severely depleted state.

Looking at the SHT topo map, there is no realistic way to get aid to a runner during those final 7.6 miles from the last aid station to the finish. That distance, 5.9 of which pushes the race into the ultramarathon category, are the miles I am concerned most about. Running in the TC marathon, my quads gave out at mile 16 and my hamstrings gave out at mile 21. At that pace, I'll only be two-thirds of the way through with the biggest descents before me en route to the finish.

Finally, I'm going to guess I'm going to go through at least two pairs of shoes before the race and finally kill my two original pairs of SmartWool adrenaline mini crews. We'll see when May comes.

If you're going to be in the area and would like to volunteer for the race, email Mike Perbix at mike.perbix (at) gmail (dot) com.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The snow is gone!

It is almost two weeks into February and green grass is all around. Only the artificial piles pushed from parking lots and driveways remain as a stalwart of the season that does not end until March 20. Temps in the mid 30s and 40s for going on 48 hours and rain Monday overnight eliminated the snowpack.

This leads to an odd scenario in backpacking. Wet and cold defines these periods. The weather is cold enough to warrant serious warmth layers but it is not cold enough where snow can be expected and softshell clothing can be relied on. Hardshell pieces, at least on the top, are all but required. BPL recetlty did an excellent piece did a comprehensive article on wet and cold backpacking (membership required), as the weather scenarios present tough challenges to backpackers - especially when the period of rain extends longer than 24 hours.

I haven't done a whole lot of walking in wet and cold - most have been cold and dry, warm and wet or warm and dry. Last April, however, I did venture up to Split Rock State Park for a weekend with my girlfriend - temps were forecasted in the mid 30s to 40s and rain and sleet.

My key? Take full rain gear, including low gaiters and shoes with waterproof/breathable liners - and take a shelter that you can cook in the vestibule or inside. Although we ended up hiking out Saturday afternoon (she was cold even after supper, bundled up and in a double bag with me), the trip was a success in understanding how to deal with wet and cold, not to mention hiking with a best friend.

On a final note, I have a monster head cold after sharing a tent last weekend with an ill staff member. I'm getting over it, but I went home from work today, took a nap and am plugging vitamin C and hot tea.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mid-season winter outing pushes bag limits

As I followed the weather for this past weekend, the estimated temps started in the 40s with a high chance of precipitation. As the week grew on the estimated high dropped into the mid 20s and the low was estimated to hit the low teens. And the wind would pick up. All in all, a great opportunity to be outside. The only thing that it was missing was some precipitation.

In my third installment of "How cold can I push my Hydrogen," I was determined to use the 30 degree bag despite lowered forecasted temps. The purpose of the experiment is to determine what I need to wear at what temps to stay safe throughout the night. If I can wear (insulating) clothes to bed, I can carry a lighter sleeping bag or quilt and be just as comfortable. It was also my first time out with my recently-acquired GoLite Ether.

I wore the Ether over my R1 Hoody all day - it was windy and the temps were colder than I anticipated. The hoods on both stayed up and never went down for long (the R1 not at all). The windshirt did an excellent job of cutting the wind and being breathable for the moderate exertion I did, but I needed the extra warmth from my softshell jacket throughout the afternoon.

I also left my puffy down coats behind this past weekend - my sole puffy insulation on my torso was my Thermawrap Parka (see sidebar - I adore this parka). I also did not bring another insulating hat out, instead opting to rely on my three hoods to keep my noggin warm (base layer, windshirt and puffy parka).

Weekends with the scouts typically require more insulation because there is more downtime - standing around while the scouts work on snow shelters, participate in team-building or other games or other tasks. Because of this, I was skeptical that my insulation would be sufficient come late evening.

My skepticism was (mostly) in error. I was plenty warm throughout the evening, and I made sure I moved around enough to keep blood flow up - the various skills that need to be taught require demonstrations and guidance that keeps one's metabolic rate up. The (mostly) part came in the nighttime during sleep. In bed, I removed my softshell clothing and windshirt and kept the rest of my lineup on - I added my Thermawrap pants as extra insulation for my legs. Once again, I slept with a single 57" Ridgerest and a generic closed cell foam chunk under my feet.

My toes got cold at about 3 a.m., and then again at 5 a.m. The first time, I removed my VBL socks to see if that was the problem - nope. My toes were cold again my 5 a.m. I ate a few hundred calories throughout the evening and maintained adequate hydration to help keep my body temp up. All of this worked fine and I had a very restful sleep - I was refreshed when my alarm went off at 6:35 a.m.

Finally, to all the Scouts and leaders who are now following this blog - Hello! and I hope you find what you seek and enjoy what you find.