Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Our hearts go out to all those impacted by Hurricane/tropical storm/super storm Sandy.  Reports this morning detail flooding, electrical power out to 6.2 million people, fires that burned out of control, and snow measured in feet rather than inches piling up along the Appalachians.  More than 40 people are reported killed in the U.S. eastern states alone by Sandy.  And it is not over yet.

In New York City, some areas have no running water, and Governor Cuomo is telling residents to not just clean but to sterilize everything that was exposed to flooding.  The concern is that the flood waters contained raw sewage. 

Along the New Jersey coast there is devastation.   Locals report that they don’t expect the coastal areas will ever be the same. 

Again, we are reminded how important it is to have at least basic emergency supplies on hand.  It will be several days before some people get electricity back.  We have seen this time and time again in recent years.  Hurricanes have stripped away our modern conveniences.  Earthquakes have downed power lines.  Blizzards and ice storms have shut down power for not just days but weeks.  Tornadoes have leveled towns.  As much as we would like to think that we are above all this devastation, the reality is that nature is bigger than we are. 

We are humbled this morning as we continue to hear reports of the damage caused by Sandy.  As those in the East are helping each other and starting already to rebuild, we in the rest of the nation should ask what we can do.

One of the best ways to help in times of emergency is to be prepared in advance of the hard times.  That way you will not be a burden to disaster relief efforts and you can even help others out.  It really does not take that much to make a huge difference.  Have some spare food, clean water, first aid supplies, and the ability to take care of necessary tasks like cooking and boiling water without depending on electricity and natural gas.  Then find some neighbors in need, and be part of the solution rather than the problem.

Mother Nature has shown us over and over again in the last few years that she is not going to spare us.  While we see yet another saga of her fury playing out back east, let’s do what we can to get ready for when she throws her darts in our direction.  Be a part of the solution rather than the problem. 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to those in need.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tips for Winter Backcountry Fun

Sledding in the park around the corner from your house has probably taught you a few things.  First, snow is tons of fun.  Second, wet equals cold.  Third, hot chocolate and a warm house are really useful once the wet and cold have set in.

What does that say about going deep into the backcountry in the winter time?  Yep, it is LOTS of fun.  Yep, wet kills.  Third, that hot chocolate and the warm house are not an option anymore.  There may be no easy escape from the elements.

There are plenty of safe ways to enjoy the backcountry in the winter.  But you have to think ahead.  Planning equals surviving.

Planning at home:

Before you leave, do your homework.  Where do you plan to go?  What sorts of conditions might you encounter?  What is the weather forecast?  Will you have LOTS of snow?  How long will you be gone?  How will you get there?  Who have you told the details of your trip to so they can watch for your return?

Life savers:

·         If you are going any significant distance from the car, take a zero degree sleeping bag along.
·         If you are going to be around slopes, especially slopes steeper than 30 degrees, get avalanche training before you go.  This is a MUST.
·         Always--not most of the time--not just when you are planning the big trip--ALWAYS pack a reliable snow shovel.
·         Have extra layers and replacements for mittens and socks.  Remember, wet kills.  Even sweat can kill.  Several layers of material that insulate when wet, along with a waterproof shell are much more effective than one heavy coat.
·         Understand the warning signs of hypothermia and know how to treat it without the warm house and hot chocolate!
·         Know how to build a variety of snow shelters that can be adapted to a variety of snow conditions.
·         Wear eye protection.  Goggles are best, but at least have sunglasses.  Blowing snow and ice can really claw at your eyes, and the sun WILL blind you by burning your retinas. 
·         Will you need an ice ax?  Snowshoes?  Crampons?
·         You will need gators.  Count on it.  Wear gators.  They could save your life but at least they will save your toes.
·         Take a face mask (even if it is just a bandanna).  The wind will turn your nose and cheeks into frosty the snowman very quickly.
·         Avoid tree wells.  Tree wells?  Yep, that deep pit of soft snow around the base of a tree that is sometimes invisible to the eye.  These can be more than twenty feet deep.  How would you like to be buried upside down in one of those?  It happens.
·         Snow caves make you invisible.  If you want to be found, then put up a flag, make a lot of smoke, or otherwise be seen.  You will not be found in a snow cave.

Helpful tips:

·       ·         Get warm before you get cold.  This means that if you feel yourself starting to cool, or if you are slowing your activity for a while, then put on additional layers while you still feel warm.  Don’t wait until you are cold to take action.
·        Warm hands and feet by doing the snow dance.  Swing your arms vigorously and clap your hands while stomping your feet as quickly as you can.  This will bring life back into the fingers and toes quickly.  It does take energy though.
·          Keep your hat on.  No duh, huh?  Seriously, just do it.  Trap that heat that is trying to escape.  Why do you think you have (had?) hair anyway?  It is not just to look pretty.
·         Drink before you are thirsty and eat before you are hungry.  Seriously.  In the winter we don’t feel as thirsty due to the cool air, but dehydration makes it hard to stay warm.  It takes a lot more fuel to keep warm too.  Stay fed.  If your pee is yellow, you are NOT drinking enough water.
·         You WILL need a way to melt snow for drinking water.  While you are at it, why not drink that water hot?  Keep in mind that lighters don’t work well in the cold or when wet.  Also, many types of camp stoves don’t work well in the cold.  Know your stove, and consider the value of using a 180 Stove with a snow pan.  It provides plenty of heat from natural fuels regardless of the temperature.  It does not have any valves or O-rings to fail in the cold.  It is as reliable as your ability to burn twigs.
·         Shelter is everything.  Wind sucks heat away from your body.  If you are taking a break, then find a sunny place out of the wind.  If you are setting up a snow camp then do the same.  I know it can be tempting to camp where the views are vast and the snow has drifted into nice “snow cave” mounds.  But you will have to contend with the wind if you do.  Choose a spot a few paces into the trees where the wind does not blow.
·         Mittens are much warmer than gloves.  This is because fingers need a buddy to stay warm and the airspace holds heat better.  Likewise, don’t wear tight clothing and make sure your toes have room to swim a bit.  That wiggle room really helps.
·         As you hike, expect your trail to be hidden by blowing snow.  Can you find your way back with no trail?  Can you find your way back in whiteout visibility?  Watch the lay of the land and memorize major land marks.  Use a compass to know what direction you are going and know how to use it to get back out.
·         Take a tarp.  It will provide a wind break when critical.  It will give you a dry place to sit.  If you are spending the night, it gives you a dry place to sleep.  You can use it as a roof on a snow pit.  A lightweight tarp with the reflective “thermo” side has a hundred uses in the winter if it has one.
·         Stay dry.  Did I mention that already?  Stay DRY.  Rule #1.  STAY DRY.  If you get wet, then GET DRY NOW even if that means standing naked in the snow for a few moments.  GET DRY.
·         Oh, and if you need to “go”, then do it.  Don’t lie in your warm sleeping bag all night dreaming of a cozy toilet.  Just do it.  Get up.  Get dressed.  Put on those snowshoes.  Take the effort.  You will get more sleep in the long run.

What else might you need to know?  Start small and work your way up to the bigger trips.  You will learn lots about snow conditions and how they impact skis or snowshoes.  You will also learn that in the winter, you don’t need to go as far to escape the people, and everything looks pristine with a white blanket of snow.  Experience will be your best teacher, but make sure you let someone know where you are going and when you will be back and take a friend.  Everybody needs somebody sometimes.  Most of us could use a friend most of the time!

Oh, and have fun!  Get out there!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Flowing With Nature

Have you ever tried to swim upstream in a river that had even a mild current?  Sure, it makes for great exercise, but it is a bit hard to get anywhere.  How much more pleasant is it to drift with the current and enjoy the changing scenery?  Your journey becomes nearly effortless.

Why the river talk?  We can approach nature in two general ways.  We can swim upstream, fighting against nature.  Or we can flow with nature. 

Some enter nature with a little bit of fear.  After all, at first, nature can seem foreign and even somewhat threatening.  There are no walls or locks to hide behind.  And natural areas can be really BIG.  What is out there?  Might one get lost!  What if bad weather comes or wild animals?  As one lady put it, “There is not even anyone around to hear me scream!”  Such apprehensions are real enough and not entirely unfounded.  Nature is very different from the cities and houses that most of us live in.  And the unfamiliar can be scary.

The uneasiness of the inexperienced often leads them to overcompensate and try to make nature as much like our closed-in kitchens and bedrooms as possible.  This struggle against the “real or imagined” threats of nature can really diminish the experiences we have when we first experiment with hiking or camping.  Swimming upstream is good exercise, but it makes it hard to get anywhere.

There is another way.  Flow with nature.  Work with nature, building the understanding that the natural ebbs and flows of wild places can not only carry us to new and wonderful experiences, but they can even be nurturing.  But to flow with the natural world we have to learn a fair deal about it.  We have to become more familiar with the rhythms of the land.  We need to develop wild skills and understand how nature can provide perfectly for all our needs. 

One of the best ways to do this is to STOP DOING so much.  Sit down.  Breathe.  Observe.  Watch the leaves as they dance in the wind.  Enjoy the changing light as the sun slips from the sky.  Enjoy the antics of the squirrels and birds.  If you are really blessed, you might get to watch deer or coyotes as they go about their business.  What can we learn from such experiences?  Volumes, that’s what.  But at first, we may only learn to be still and to breathe.  Seems simple enough doesn’t it?  But I know many who struggle extremely to do nothing. 

Once you find your balance and meter, then you will start easily learning the other skills you will need to flow with nature.  This is a life long journey and one of the most rewarding journeys anyone can take.  Be careful though.  You might just fall in love.

When hiking just above tree line one late spring morning, a wild snow storm blew through.  I had a light day pack and a jacket and all I needed to weather the storm (at least if one counted all the resources that nature had to offer).  But I observed the weather carefully, and found little threat in the passing storm.  So I hiked on enjoying the absolute wonder of the snow and the wind and the changing scenes.  It was a glorious experience.  Had the weather been more dangerous, I was prepared to take shelter.

The storm stopped just as I approached a small rock cabin perched near a high mountain lake.  The cabin had been built to provide shelter from the rages that nature often throws at this particular collection of high peaks.  Out from the cabin came two rangers who had hid from the storm.  They were burdened with heavy packs stuffed with enough gear to make a camel cower.  Upon seeing me approaching wearing shorts and with only a light pack, they thought it necessary to teach me a lesson.  I received quite the reprimand for my lack of preparedness.  I was warned of hypothermia and many other (very real) dangers that do in the unprepared.  After delivering quite a tongue lashing, the rangers continued struggling down the steep, slippery  trail with their mountainous loads.

What the rangers failed to see was the gear that I carried between my ears.  The storm was no true threat and I had enjoyed it immensely.  And I was prepared.  I carried less weight on my back because weighty knowledge is light.

The rangers were right.  Sudden storms have killed the unprepared.  Hypothermia is very dangerous. 
But they were also wrong.  Nature offered plenty of insulation and shelter for one who knows how to work with nature.  And I had an experience that I have treasured for the last 20 years; hiking free and light in that glorious storm. 

They hid.  I flowed.  I wonder if they have treasured their memories of the same late spring morning….

Don’t be reckless, but learn to work with nature rather than against it.  Gain the skills to encounter nature on new levels.  Be self-sufficient and free by storing up the gear between your ears!

Friday, October 19, 2012


Thanks for reading the 180 Tack blog!  We will be exploring all things outdoors, here:  wilderness sports, outdoors fun, living with nature, backpacking, mountain climbing, skiing, snow caving--if it is outdoors, it is on the agenda.  Find here all sorts of great tips and anecdotes. 

But more than that, 180 Tack is about heading in a new direction; doing things a better way.  Here you will also find lots of information about sustainable, balanced living, self-sufficiency, emergency preparedness, and how to safely get out of those tough spots. 

We like to promote a lifestyle that leaves this world a little better than we found it, from caring for nature to encouraging our fellow human.  Join us in the path of improving our world by living better, one person at a time.  Let’s build thoughtful community together and have as much fun as we can along the way.

How better to start than to return to nature.  We will explore the wonders of the natural world, and learn from each other how better to encounter them.  As we do, we will discover ourselves. 

Nature is not the other “out there” that we need protection from.  Nature is our true home and it calls us back.  Back to balance.  Back to fun.  Back to joy.  Back to understanding and wisdom. 

And here is the first tip.  GET OUT THERE!  Breathe it all in.  Start living by doing.