Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Backcoutry Essentials

Backpacking ten essentials: the first ten items in this list are the selections of essential backpacking gear which The Mountaineers refer to as The Ten Essentials and promote as critical and essential items which belong in your pack as insurance against the unexpected. Although you may not use all the backpacking ten essentials every day, they can be life savers in an emergency.
Also, if you shop with prudence, these essential gear items can be lightweight, as well.

Communication: 911 Service is available throughout Whistler.

Contact: Search and rescue through local RCMP, Whistler SAR can be paged through RCMP. We utilize helicopter rescue in most cases, and are equipped with long-line rescue equipment. Making yourself visible from the air in a open location can help, along with co-ordinates of your location.

Ambulance: Air ambulance service is available throught the Valley if your at a site that they can easily land. Availble though EHS. Usually about 1hr away.

Being able to call for help is essential, and can greatly add to your survival. Carry a cell phone, and charge it before you go. Most mountain top locations will have cell service in the immediate area. Cell sites are located at Black Tusk Microwave, Whistler peak, Alpine, Alta lake road. Valley bottoms tend to have poor coverage.

Also make sure you tell a responsible person where your going, and your time of return.

Making a detailed trip plan, and leaving it with a responsible person. One way to do this is preview your anticipated route in google earth, draw a path by clicking on the plot a path icon along your route, even plot campsites etc. by adding new placemarks, and then save as a .kmz file. Under places select your current route and right click on your route (save place as)
Open Google earth and click on examples
A route along the musical bumps
A planned campsite
A day trip to Russet Lk

A picture is worth a million words, and Whistler SAR can easily upload this file from your designated contact.

Conversely, it is generally inexperience and lack of good judgment that gets people into trouble. Not only must we have the proper equipment -- including the ten essentials plus four -- and know how to use them, but we must also cultivate knowledge and wisdom related to the backcountry activities that we engage in--thru self-study, courses, and leveraging off the experiences of others.

The most important essential , however, is not on the list--"Common Sense". Having the right gear is one thing, knowing how and when to use it is quite another. Most often, it's not a person's equipment that saves their bacon. It's their experience, know-how, and good judgment. Learn to be extra carefull, and not take extra risks toward the end of the day, or in remote locations.

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1. Map
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2. Compass
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3. Flashlight / Headlamp
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4. Extra Food
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5. Extra Clothes
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6. Sunglasses
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7. First-Aid Kit
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8. Pocket Knife
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9. Waterproof Matches
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10. Firestarter
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11. Water / Filter / Bottles
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12. Whistle
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13. Insect Repellents or Clothing
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14. Sunburn Preventatives
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1. Map | GPS | Altimeter
Always carry a detailed map of the area you will be visiting. If alpine scrambling 1:50,000 or otherwise navigating cross-country consider the 1:100,000--they reveal considerable detail. Local Maps 92J/2 Whistler, 92J/3 Brandywine falls, 92G/15 Cheakamus river cover the entire Whistler area. Available at escape route. For traveling on lower trails, many local maps are available in 1:25,000 scale with trails overlaid on them is a good choice, mountian bike maps are excellant with countours, and show almost evry trail in the valley. The point is to carry a map appropriate for the area you will be in and the activity you will be undertaking--and know how to use it ! GPS now have built in base maps. OK if you have lots of extra batteries for a day trip. The newer ones work in most places, and tend to work well in the forest if turned on and aqquired a position in a open area first. Altimeters are usefull for finding your elevation on a map, and to calculate how much vertical you've done.

2. Compass:
Carry a compass, at all times, in the backcountry--and know how to use it ! Some features to look for: 0 to 360 degrees, preferably, in 2 degree increments;
liquid filled, which protects the magnetic needle and its jeweled bearing and minimizes fluctuation; a base plate--3" to 4", in length-- which can be used as a straight-edge for taking map bearings and determining distances on maps; an adjustable declination to account for the difference between Magnetic North and True North. The compass responds to Magnetic North, whereas, maps are based upon True North. Therefore, the compass needs to be adjusted to compensate. An adjustable declination feature lets you turn a small screw to "permanently" adjust declination to match the geographic area you will be in, so that you don't need to calculate your bearing each time. Declination in Whistler is around 19.5 degrees east of Grid north, a fold-out mirror for sightings. The mirror allows for more accurate readings because you can position the mirror such that the mirror and the distant objective are both visible at the same time. A clinometer is useful for measuring vertical angles and, thus, measures slope steepness. This feature is helpful in determining avalanche potentials, and for determining position on a map.
The following compasses are lightweight and would be the minimum you would want to carry. They probably would suffice as an emergency gear item while backpacking entirely on trails.

Suunto A10; weighs 1 oz, 0 to 360 degrees in 2 degree increments; liquid-filled with straight-edge.
Silva Polaris; (same weight and features as Suunto A10).
For serious backcountry travel where map and compass will be used for navigation, the following compasses are recommended:
Suunto MC-2G Navigator; weighs 2.6 oz, has all the features itemized above, plus luminous bezel and markings.
Silva Ranger; weighs 3 oz, (same features as Suunto MC-2G, only without the luminous bezel).

3. Flashlight / Headlamp:
Flashlights and/or Headlamps are important even on day trips. You never know when you might need to spend the night or make that last mile or so after sunset, or due to a minor problem your running late! Here's some features to look for:
lights which are water resistant--they function reliably in all weather. Look for rubberized bulb housing and battery compartments, or at least adequate rubber gaskets. Lights which come with extra bulbs stored inside their housing.
lights which have rotating head or body as the on/off mechanism. Avoid lights with on/off switches which can accidentally be turned-on as it is jostled about in your pack.
Suggestions for a small, lightweight, high-quality hand held light:

Petzl Zipka; (3 AAA batteries) weighs 2.2 oz, built-in retractable head strap. Strong beam from 3 LED bulbs.
Black Diamond ION; (1 6 volt battery - included) weighs 1.1 oz, uses 2 LED bulbs.

4. Extra Food:
Whenever you go out, even for a day trip, bring extra food in case you are delayed by emergencies, foul weather, or just get lost. The mountaineers suggest a one-day supply. At the very least, bring one good meal more than what you need. The food should require little or no cooking. If your extra food will require cooking, make sure you also carry extra fuel for your stove.

5. Extra Clothing:
In addition to the basic layers you would normally take on an outing, bring extra clothing which would get you through an unplanned bivouac through the worst conditions you might come up against. Extra clothing means a little extra beyond what you would normally carry, just in case of emergencies. Synthetic or wool should be your only choice. Cotton kills.

In addition to the extra clothes, carry an emergency shelter such as a waterproofed tube tent or mylar Space Bag (or blanket). The Space Bag only weighs about 2.5 ounces but will completely encase you and keep you warm and dry. Another option is a VBL (vapor barrier liner ) like the Western Mountaineering "Hot-Sac" VBL. The VBL can be used on a regular basis to add warmth to your sleeping bag as well as serve as an emergency shelter. It's a little heavier than the Space bag -- 6.5 ounces.

6. Sunglasses:
Your eyes can experience damage from the intensity of mountain skies, ultraviolet rays, and light reflecting off of snow. As elevation increases so does the intensity of ultraviolet rays. Adequate eye protection is a must!

For traveling on snow, get a pair of glacier glasses with side shields which reduce reflective light reaching the eyes. Good, quality glacier glasses typically cost in the $50 to $150 range.

There are many other brands of sunglasses and glacier glasses which are less expensive and provide adequate protection. Shop around, but be careful. Try to stay with reputable brand names. Your eyes will know damage, long before you feel discomfort.

7. First-Aid Kit:
Carry first-aid supplies for minor injuries. In particular, carry plenty of adhesive band-aids and sterilized bandages, because they can't be easily improvised in the woods. What to carry ? A good book to reference is "Mountaineering First Aid" 3rd edition, by Lentz, Macdonald, and Carline, published by The Mountaineers.
This booklet was used as a text when I took the Mountaineers' MOFA (Mountaineering Oriented First Aid) course. I use it now to refresh my memory. It is easy reading, small ( 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 inches ), brief ( 95 pages ) and inexpensive ( $8.95 ). It identifies what items to carry, as well as what to do in emergency situations.

Once you are familiar with the supplies you need, you can purchase a kit or make your own. If you purchase one, you'll most likely need to add to it ( items like CPR mask, rubber gloves, etc. ) since most commercially prepared kits are inadequate.

Also, If you spend any time in the backcountry, it would be a good idea to enroll in a mountaineering first aid course.

8. Pocket Knife & Tools:
Your basic backpacking tool kit. A good example of a single piece of gear which has multiple uses. For example, a Wenger "Master" Swiss Army Knife has a locking blade; "slip-joint" pliers/wire crimper/wire cutters; springless self-sharpening scissors; wood saw; nail file/cleaner; corkscrew; awl/reamer; can opener; cap lifter; tweezers; and toothpick--all at a weight of about 6 ounces. Swiss-Army knives are available with more and less features.
At a minimum, knives are useful for first aid, food preparation, cutting moleskin strips, cutting rope and making repairs. However, scrutinize your needs before you go out and buy a honker like the Victorinox Swiss Champ which has many tools you probably don't need and weighs 1/2 pound ! If you don't actually use a feature, then you probably don't need to be carrying it around

9. Waterproof Matches:
Carry matches which have been waterproofed or wind and waterproofed, or else carry extra strike-anywhere matches--along with something to strike them on-- in a waterproof container. Keep these matches separate from your regular match or butane lighter supply. Keep them available for emergency situations.
There are many commercially prepared waterproof/windproof matches available on the market, e.g., "Hurricane" and "Cyclone" brands of wind & waterproof matches and Coghlan's waterproof safety matches.

10. Firestarter:
Fire starters are useful for quickly starting a fire, especially in emergency situations. They are also useful for igniting wet wood. There are several commercial fire starters available: magnesium blocks w/striking flint; chemically-treated fire sticks, etc.
In addition, numerous home-made fire starters work just fine: plumber's candles (wax); compressed balls of dryer lint mixed with or covered with melted paraffin; small strips of waxed cardboard (from old produce boxes); small flammable containers--individual egg-carton cups filled with mixtures of wood shavings, wax, & lint; etc.

11. Water / Filter / Bottles:
Carry plenty of fresh water. If you are familiar with the area in which you are traveling, and can be sure that water sources are available, carry enough water to get you there.

If you aren't bringing your water from home or a public source, treat the water you draw from the backcountry, regardless of the source. These days, everything is suspect.

Use water filter, purifier, chemical tablets, or boiling to treat the water before consuming.
For transporting inside your pack, use lightweight water bottles, such as Nalgene 16 oz and 32 oz lexan polycarbonate or high-density polyethylene wide-mouth bottles. Some folks use other containers such as old plastic pop bottles. That's okay too. Be careful they don't crack and/or leak, though. Hydration resevoirs are good, but can be fragile if not properly protected, and turn your pack into a watery mess.

12. Whistle:
For emergencies: when you're lost, someone else is lost, or you're hurt and need help, etc.

A better choice would be a pealess plastic whistle like the Fox 40. It is ultra-light and very shrill.

13. Insect clothing or repellents:
I don't know about you, but summer really "bugs" me. Three ways to deal with the biting flies, mosquitoes, knats, etc. are to (1) let them eat you (2) use repellents or (3) wear clothing. Since the first option doesn't cut it, there are numerous commercial repellents on the market. Most of them are DEET based. REI Jungle Juice works okay but the stuff gets everything oily. There are many good creams but they need to be reapplied more frequently. There are extended duration DEET products which do not soak into the skin as fast and provide up to 12 hours of protection--such as 3M Ultrathon (now only available as "Hourguard 12" thru Amway).

14. Sunburn preventatives:
Remember, the higher the elevation, the greater the intensity of the sun. Although each of us has a different capacity -- a.k.a. different pigmentation -- for withstanding the sun's onslaught, the message is the same--the penalty for underestimating your need for protection is severe.

In sunny conditions, wear light-colored clothing and cover exposed skin, at least, with SPF rated sunscreen appropriate for you, at least 15. A big brimmed sunhat can save you from heat stroke and sunburn.

Make your own survival kit

The Pocket Kit
Fitting inside an altoids tin, this kit is easy to keep on hand at all times

This is ideal for anyone who wants to have the essential survival gear along each time they head into the field. Everything fits in the Altoids tin (above). It fulfills all the component groups except for shelter and protection, but add a survival blanket to your pocket and you'll be covered.

Fire and Light
From left to right: Steel striker with Mini-Match magnesium fire starter. One side of the starter is magnesium and the other is flint. You scrape shavings off the former and then light them with a spark from the latter. Waterproof-windproof matches with a striker, placed in a mini zip-seal bag, then rolled and taped. 5 Tinder-Quik fire tabs, which light even when wet. They're great for stuffing in all the extra spaces of a survival tin to eliminate rattling. Candle. I cut a 1/2-inch-diameter emergency candle down to the height of the Altoids tin, so it fits in one corner. Photon Micro-Light II, a bright LED flashlight.

Water and Food
From left to right: Water bag. A Reynolds Oven Bag does the trick, cut down to fit in the tin, with a 1-quart marking as a guide for using iodine tablets. 20 Potable Aqua water purification tablets, repackaged in a mini glass vial. 50 feet of braided fishing line wound on a round sewing-machine bobbin. Fishing tackle kit in a plastic tube. Inside are assorted hooks, swivels, and split shot. 10 feet of 24-gauge snare wire.

Signaling and Navigation
From left to right: Custom-made signal mirror. Commercial versions are all too thick to fit in this kit. I used a durable, ultrathin piece of plastic called mica (locksmiths slide this between a door and jamb to push the lock back). I glued on a piece of Mylar film, rounded the corners, and made a sighting hole. 20mm AA liquid-filled button compass. It's the best-quality instrument that will fit in the tin.

Tools and Medical Supplies
From left to right: Commando Wire Saw, a small survival cable saw. 2 X-Acto knife blades, without the handle. You should always have a real knife on your person; these blades are for backup. Small packet of antibiotic ointment. 2 butterfly closures.

From left to right: Several yards of nylon string. 2 magnetized sewing needles for sewing or making an emergency compass (floated in water on a leaf, the needle will face north). Small piece of glue, cut off a glue-gun stick. Small laminated card with instructions for water purification tablets and fishing knots. Fresnel magnifier. This lens can start a fire by magnifying the sun's rays to a point on your tinder, causing combustion. Safety pin, for repairing clothes and straps. 2 feet of aluminum foil for making a cup, signaling, cooking fish, etc.