No love for the GPS?

In the classic “Ten Essentials” list published in the 1974 edition of Freedom of the Hills, two of the slots are reserved for a map and compass.  Modern versions bundle them into a single item under “navigation”, but the two are still considered the fundamental tools of wilderness navigation.  In the mountains an altimeter is also suggested.  Finally, a GPS device may be suggested as a supplement, often with warnings about the risks of electronics in the backcountry.

For the casual hiker this ordering of advice may cause more problems than it solves.  The reality is that as more people discover the outdoors, fewer of them can be expected to attain the same level of skills as those of yesteryear.  Being capable with a magnetic compass, a skill once considered fundamental, may soon be considered too much too hope for.  We are left with the less-savorable position of dealing with the world as it is, rather than the world as we would like it to be.

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Chamonix 2015, Days 1 and 2

In July of 2015 I found myself in Basel on business.  Only 4.5 hours by train from the Chamonix valley, and desirous to escape the heat wave made worse by the Swiss aversion to air conditioning (it’s not strictly illegal, just rather onerous to obtain the necessary permits), I took a few vacation days to fit in some alpine climbing.  By happy coincidence the mountain guide Mark Houston had an opening in his schedule and I was able to obtain his services for the adventure.

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Helmets: My Two Cents

Earlier this summer a question on the Great Outdoors StackExchange site led me to look further into the standards for climbing helmets.  The question itself, a basic “can I use my bicycle helmet for climbing”, was fairly simple and has been asked many times in many places.  The development of lightweight foam climbing helmets has also caused some confusion in this area, with even experienced people confused as to where these new designs sit on the spectrum from traditional hard-shell climbing helmets and ultra-ventilated bicycling helmets.

For example, one person wrote: “there are helmets sold as climbing helmets which are basically one-hit-wonders. Those are constructed similar to bike helmets that are meant to crack as they absorb the force of an impact. Once they are so compromised they are pretty much useless. A proper mountaineering helmet would be one built with high impact plastics and other shock absorbing features that allows them to absorb multiple impacts and keep on ticking.

My immediate thought was this writer has rather unrealistic expectations about both types of helmets.  As you’ll see at the end of this post, the relevant climbing (and cycling) helmet standards call for each test helmet to receive impacts in a few different spots (e.g. two on the crown, one on each side, etc.).  Contrary to many expectations, the bicycle helmet standards seem to have just as much emphasis on these “multiple impacts” as do the climbing helmet standards!  Additionally, most “hardshells” currently on the market are actually single-impact hybrid designs.  So, let’s dig into this a bit more…

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Shoulder Season

Lake Aloha

California’s Desolation Wilderness has far more trees than the name would suggest.  The choice of photo is purely coincidental.

To reach Aloha Lake from the Echo Lakes trailhead one passes through an area marked “mosquito pass” (at least according to one trail marker).  At the time we visited, snow still covered the higher elevations, though patches of broad-leafed plants gave hints to the insectile clouds summer would bring.  Hiking in autumn, or at least after the first snow, provides a welcome escape from mosquitos, and gear also stays much cleaner with a few inches of snow covering the ground.

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Orange Blossoms

My dwarf citrus trees have finally blossomed! Both the lemon and lime present a decent showing, and the orange has truly outdone itself. I can pick up the fragrance almost as soon as I step outside, but it is very delicate. There is also a mammoth geranium that is watering itself from the hose bib; it’s almost the size of a small tree. As soon as I get more planters, I think I will start taking cuttings.

Orange blossoms