Climbing Mt Washington in the Winter

The training is done, the gear packed, and the stoke is on… all is ready. Sure, the forecast could be better, as often is the case on the deceptive 6288′ Mt Washington — the highest point in the Northeast and notorious for its extreme weather — but the winds should remain less than hurricane force and the ambient temperatures might actually top out above zero. It’s a go.

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Mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest

Leaving North Conway, New Hampshire, we drove for three hours or so, my friend Brett Fitzgerald taking the wheel. Meeting up with two more friends, Brett’s brother, Corey, and co-worker Alek Pouliopoulos (we’re all mountain guides for Brett and Corey’s company, Northeast Mountaineering), we made our way to good old BOS and at 7:30 that evening we left the ground together on a Jet Blue flight bound for Portland, Oregon. Roughly six hours later we landed safely, and somewhere along the way we concocted this crazy plan to eat a late night breakfast and go on an adventure when we landed — instead of getting some rest. And by, “go on an adventure,” I mean climb Mt. Hood. It was late, we were up, so why not? We’d kick off our ten-day work/play Pacific Northwest-conquering mission with bang so off to Hood we went. After abusing ourselves at an IHOP.

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Wilderness Compass Navigation Primer

2018 UPDATE: Since this article was first written, many things have changed for reasons of simple improvement or ease of use. In fact, this material has matured greatly since the time of this writing and there have been dozens of refinements. Take my Wilderness Navigation Course if you want to get more detailed information (compasses also available for sale on the course page). For now, two of the more important changes are as follows:

  • Book time is measured using 3 minutes per 100 feet of gain, plus 3 minutes per tenth of a mile. This makes the math a lot easier.
  • I stopped recording a back-bearing in parentheses. Instead now relying on the sheer simplicity of using “black to get to back.”

Now, here is the original article:


Two of the best ways to ensure you don’t get lost in the woods is to always know where you are and where you’re headed. If you know those two things you’re not lost. It doesn’t even matter what basic tools you use to know these two bits of information. Knowing is knowing. You might be a GPS user, and that’s okay, or you might use a map and compass only, and that’s fine as well. Since the common argument is that a GPS might malfunction or run out of power, HikeSafe recommends using a Map and Compass combination as one of the ten essentials — items you shouldn’t be without in the mountains.

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Madison in a Whiteout

March 7th, 2013, The Saturn Expedition: We thought of everything! The most prepared for a hike we had ever been. I’ve been hard at work training to be a mountain guide and am successfully applying what I know and have learned. Yep we had it all: Corrected compass bearings for every segment and dog-leg of the entire above treeline portion of a Presidential traverse; A back bearing for Madison; A GPS tracking our progress (in case we needed to make a step-by-step retreat, and to evaluate my compass work after the hike — which ended up being spot-on for what we did travel); We had six planned bailout routes, not including our entry, across the range, especially in the north; And a friend willing to get us at any of them; We even had a firsthand, up-to-the-minute MWOBS weather forecast and current conditions delivered to us by phone — nice to have some friends in high places when attempting something like this in sub-par conditions. We had so much of the minutia covered, a PLB and all sorts of gear designed to help us in an emergency of just about any sort, we had it all, and more… but we didn’t finish. What on earth went wrong?

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Metamorphosis of a Hike

On the trail I have time to think about all manner of things. One such thing is the psychological aspect of hiking — since it fascinates me, especially as it relates to my hike du jour. I have concluded that to realize and understand my own thoughts and emotions as my hike progresses, the easier it is to motivate myself and push on when suffering the lesser stages, so to speak. I’m cognizant of certain phases I progress though as the day wears on, and this knowledge helps me get maximum enjoyment out of the best parts.

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Using a Hydration Bladder in the Winter

I really like using a hydration bladder in my pack (I use a rugged 3 litre PLATYPUS system). I find it’s so convenient, I tend to stay more hydrated. In the winter, however, freezing temperatures can lead to hydration system failure — critical parts can become blocked with ice. Being a determined sort of person, I refused to let that little issue stop me. And side-mounted bottles, albeit nearly foolproof, lack appeal to me. Thus, I have come up with a handful of techniques that, when used in concert, lead to problem-free winter hydration bladder usage. It’s having my cake… and eating it, too.

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