Archive for March, 2009

Winter Camping Gear Test Trip

Living in Florida there is no way to properly test winter camping equipment. Hence I had booked a 4 day weekend trip to the Grand Targhee skiing region in Idaho near the famous Wyoming ski resort of Jackson. The trip starts out testing patience more than anything, as my last leg from Denver to Idaho Falls was cancelled due to a blizzard in Denver! So I get stuck at the Denver airport for almost 24 hours. Time to sleep and to work on that Panamerican Peaks fund-raising email campaign – courtesy to the free wireless Internet at the Denver airport.

Finally I make it to Idaho Falls on Friday and check out the local ski rental shops. meet some very friendly locals in the ski shops, among them Big Mike (who had been on Denali) and Lars (who had been on Mt. Logan). They give me some good tips for winter camping and also for a good area for my gear shakedown trip. In the hotel I spread out all gear prior to packing it into my Gregory Denali Pro backpack:

Winter Camping Gear prior to packing

Next day I drive up to the Pine Creek Pass (6764ft) and park the rental car. From here I start with snowshoes as nobody around here has the Silvretta Alpine Touring binding I would need for my Scarpa mountaineering boot. (Good to know that ahead of going to Logan.) The 50 pound backback weighs heavy, but otherwise conditions are good as I set out around 2pm.

Setting off into Targhee National Forest with winter camping gear

I hike along a ridge up & down the ridgeline with views down to the Driggs valley. After 2 hours I reach a nice saddle between two high-points and descend into an untouched winter forest. This will be a good spot for the campsite, as there is a severe weather alert for a winter storm moving in with 30mph winds…

Setting up the tent in a flat spot in the forest

I also get out my MSR Dragonfly expedition stove and start to cook some tea and hot soup.

First time use of my stove

Now I still have some time to explore the ridge line and the nearby surroundings. Without the backpack I feel like I’m flying up the hill. I also take a few pics with my iPhone and from the ridge I have a signal so I can send them to my wife just for fun. Coming back to the tent prior to darkness there is snowfall which makes it eerily quiet in the forest.

Snowfall in forest at dusk

After a reasonably good night sleep I prepare to hike out in what has become quite stormy conditions. In the forest there is a foot of fresh powder; crawling uphill with the heavy pack is hard work and you sweat quickly. Then you step out on the ridge and the 30mph wind hits you with blinding snowdrift.

Bundled up for the hike out in winter storm

Normally I don’t cherish such conditions, but in this case it is actually a benefit, as the most extreme Idaho weather at 7000ft is still only a warm-up compared to Logan and Denali conditions at 19.000ft.

Back at the parking lot I need to clear the fresh snow off the car and shuffle some snow to get out. But I’m happy about the gear test. Most of my gear is now functional, including my new mountaineering boots, with only minor adjustments around the camping, cooking and some clothing.

4 comments March 29th, 2009

Ride on a recumbent

The single-most important decision for the Panamerican Peaks project is the choice of the bike. I estimate I will spend about 8 months on / with this bike, so the decision about the bike is important. After some research I have decided to take a leap of faith and go with a recumbent!

A few weeks ago I visited a local recumbent bike shop and did a test-ride on a few different recumbents. One of those was a trike, actually very intriguing, ultra-comfortable and stable; the Catrike felt like a combination of couch and race-car:

Test ride on the Catrike recumbent

However, a trike has some disadvantages: You sit very low, which means you get overlooked easily and can’t see over parked cars in city traffic for instance. You take up more space on the road, which can be a problem if riding on a road without shoulder. You also don’t have much of a shock absorber, which can be very hard when riding on bumpy roads – which I can expect in Alaska and in many places throughout South America.

I finally set three criteria:

  • 2 wheel recumbent (no trike)
  • Under-Seat Steering (more comfortable)
  • Same-size front + back wheel, preferably 26″ (spare parts)
  • One model which fulfilled all criteria was the Challenge Seiran, manufactured by the Dutch Challenge factory. This is the model which Stefan and Pius had used on their Panamerican ride. As it turned out, I ended up buying Stefan’s bike – likely this will become the first recumbent to ride the Panamericana twice! I flew to Europe to see family and friends, and also to pick up the Seiran directly from Stefan in Zuirch:

    Challenge Seiran - this bike has already done the Panamericana!

    After disassembling it for transport in the airplane it is currently being assembled and over-hauled. I can’t wait to put some training miles on this bike in April!

    Add comment March 26th, 2009

    NG Adventure – photo journey contest

    I just submitted my Panamerican Peaks project to the “name your dream assignment” photo journey contest sponsored by Lenovo and Microsoft on National Geographic Adventure.

    You can vote for my project by giving me a “Pic” vote here or clicking the logo below!

    Add comment March 19th, 2009

    Risk and Mitigation

    When I first mentioned my plan to one member of my family, the response was this: “Why would you risk losing your life, wife, kids, and job for such a trip?” You don’t hear those concerns every day – so I considered this sentiment very seriously, asking myself questions like these:

  • What are the risks on this trip?
  • How can they be mitigated?
  • Are the rewards outweighing the risks?
  • Here are some thoughts on the nature of the risks:

      Environmental: This category includes weather hazard, animals (like bears in Alaska and Canada), cold, high altitude, glacier and crevasses, sun-burn, etc. Most of these risks can be mitigated by proper preparation (physical training, mental preparedness, emergency and medical kits, etc.), equipment (clothing, climbing gear, roped glacier travel, bear spray, etc.) and sensible behavior (adapting plan to weather conditions, precautions with food, avalanche avoidance, etc.)

      Crime: This category includes petty theft, robbery, violence, etc., especially in toursim areas. Of course, a biker stands out and is a relatively easy target for criminals in cars or on motorcycles. That said, there are plenty of biker trip reports online and in book form, and I have yet to come across a single one where such a risk materialized with serious personal consequences. Mitigation: Sensible behavior and precautions against theft, avoid crowded tourist spots, learn from books and locals which areas to avoid.

      Political: This category of risk includes kidnapping and murder by politically motivated extremists (such as FARC in Columbia), terrorists or drug- and gang-related violence (recently very severe in Mexico). This may be the most difficult risk to assess from the outside. Mitigation: Anonymity and low key appearance, avoid areas which are considered too risky. For example, the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia is avoided by most. Another example is Pico Cristobal Colon in Columbia, which is considered inaccessible due to local Indians and drug-cartels, neither of which are welcoming to any outside intruders, especially not tourists. No peak or project is worth dying for! It may be good to consult with experts like Robert Young Pelton who specialize in traveling to dangerous places.

      Traffic: This includes all risk from cars, trucks, motorcycles etc. I consider this the biggest risk on this trip, due to the length of the trip (~25.000km) as well as the varying and presumably often sub-standard road conditions (no shoulder, lots of traffic, etc.) Mitigation: Riding in daylight only, visible jersey colors and flag-pole, avoid big cities, passive riding, bike helmet, anticipate that others don’t see you, etc. In 40 years of bike riding I haven’t been run over by a car or truck, so there is hope!

      Medical: Disease, Food or Water Poisoning, Insect or other animal bites etc. Mitigation: Immunization, Water Purification, general precaution in the wilderness…

      Much of the above can be further mitigated through travel insurance and other paperwork. Just in case, I also did set up a will (I used and can highly recommend it).

      Of course, there is the risk (or rather the certainty) of losing my job. Hardly any employer will grant a 1 year leave of absence, so I had prepared to resign and make do without income for 1 year. As it turns out, I was let go at my last employer in February, so I had a little extra time for preparation – timing was on my side in this case! The question is what kind of re-integration into the job-market will await me in mid 2010; hopefully the economy will have bottomed out before then and on its way to recovery…

      Other aspects have to do with personal relations and family life. This is something everyone has to reconcile with his/her own situation, and I can’t generalize much on this point. I do believe that frequent communication with loved ones makes a big difference. The world is small, both for telecommunication and also for travel. For example, I am planning to bring iPhone, wireless computer (email, Skype, Blog, etc.), and GPS, which will allow frequent communication and also tracking of my location from most places. I also plan to fly home a few times while on the trip so as to not be away from loved ones for too many months at a time. Hopefully this will mitigate the risk of alienation and relieve stress in personal relationships originating from the fact that I physically won’t be home for a while.

      Now as for the rewards aspect, I may have to contemplate that in a separate post another time…

      3 comments March 17th, 2009

    Sponsor a Mile – Riding for Charitable Cause

    A main purpose of the Panamerican Peaks project is to raise funds for a charitable cause.

    Why Bother? Traveling makes me see just how privileged I am to have been born and raised in a free and prosperous society. Many people along the way do not have the health and/or means for even the most basic human rights such as Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness! Giving and helping is very rewarding! I have decided to dedicate all funds to Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

    Why Doctors Without Borders? Just like the Panamerican Peaks extend beyond many borders, so does the help offered by Doctors Without Borders. They are active world-wide and in many of the Panamerican countries (see International Activity Report for the Americas in 2007). MSF is an international independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters, and exclusion from health care in more than 70 countries. A private, nonprofit organization, MSF was founded in 1971 as the first non-governmental organization to both provide emergency medical assistance and bear witness publicly to the plight of people it assists. MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

    What your donation can do? For the cost of just your next latte you can feed a malnourished child for one month! An amount you likely give as tip to the waiter serving your next dinner can provide clean water to 50 refugees for one month, and for the cost of the entire dinner you can vaccinate all 50 of them against deadly epidemics! See here for examples of what else your donation can do.

    Sponsor a Mile: My ambitious goal is to raise one dollar for every km of the Panamerican Highway – or $25.000 in all.

    Donating through this site is simple, fast and totally secure. It is also tax-deductible and the most efficient way to make a contribution to our fundraising efforts. Many thanks for your support– and don’t forget to ask your employer for a matching donation and forward this to anyone who you think might want to donate too!

    Your donation makes a difference! Thanks for your consideration.


    Add comment March 12th, 2009

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