Tech tips by Alaska Mountain Guides
Since 1992 Alaska Mountain Guides (AMG) has been one of the premier adventure guide services in Alaska and around the globe. Programs include: climbing, trekking, skiing, and sea kayaking adventures as well as outdoor leadership and technical skills courses for university credit. Join them for a climb of Aconcagua or Kilimanjaro, a kayak trip in Baja or Glacier Bay National Park, or an accredited semester of Wilderness Education in Nepal, Mexico or Alaska.
Please visit them at http://www.alaskamountainguides.com/ or call 800-766-3396
Kelty tech tips are provided by Alaska Mountain Guides (AMG)
Good decision-making leads to safe and fun
Whether hauling loads to the mini van or on your back up Denali, it makes sense to be as efficient as possible. Making smart choices on the gear you take, and utilizing each piece of equipment for as many uses as possible, is critical and in the end is part of overall good risk management. In this article we will discuss some guiding tips and practices that contribute to positive outdoor adventures.
At Alaska Mountain Guides we have spent almost two decades refining our techniques to cut weight and to make each piece of equipment as multi-functional as possible. This is one of the reasons we use Kelty Gear. On our recent fundraising climb of Aconcagua with the Canadian Heart Association, our guides utilized the Kelty Cloud Pack, the lightest expedition pack on the market. Every ounce is critical on a 23,000 ft mountain. We also utilized the light, but strong Kelty Orb 3 & 2 tents for this expedition. These tents handle the high winds and demanding conditions found at altitude and the double vestibule designs allows us to use them as cooking shelters forgoing the need for an extra cook tent. Kelty tents are the only ones we use for our expeditions and courses!
The most important aspect of any trip is safety and to this end we always carry the gear we need to be prepared. However, as fun is also a critical part of the equation, we don’t want to be buried under a mountain of gear. What to take and what to leave is knowledge that only comes from experience.
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Packing your Sea Kayak
Packing a touring kayak may seem like a frustrating and never ending game of Tetris, and to some degree it is. Rather than getting discouraged when looking at that huge pile of gear on the beach, think of it as a game best played with patience and strategy. He are a few tips to help you build a strategy, and pack your craft appropriately and safely on your next expedition.
Don’t put your sunblock in the drybag that fits nicely in the stern. Have items needed during the day go in the boat last, so as to be retrieved as easy as possible. Same goes for first aid kits, lunch, extra warm clothes, tarps, field guides, etc. Day hatches and deck bags are great way to stay organized and be quick on the draw with the camera and binoculars.
The heaviest objects travel best, closest to the lowest center of gravity in the kayak. This is near our body in a solo, and between the paddlers in a tandem. Ideally heavy objects (water bags, bear cans, etc.) travel in hatches closest to a bulk head, and the lighter stuff (drybags, tents, etc) can utilize the space at the bow and stern. Always balance a heavy object with equal weight across the center line of the kayak, or else you may wonder why you keep veering in one direction all day! You may choose to have a heavy stern in following seas, or weight the bow in a crosswind, but always experiment trimming your boat in mild conditions.
Avoid the Voids:
Everything must go somewhere. Everything must go somewhere. This is your mantra! Every little shape has a particularly great place it will fit in a hatch amongst all your other gear. You just need to find that special place. Tent poles lay well in the keel line of the boat, pushed way towards the bow or stern. Fuel bottles (or wine bottles) nest well next to a skeg box in a rear hatch. The only place that bear can may fit is directly under a hatch cover. Visually seeking out the nooks and crannies that will swallow all the little items you have is the key to getting it all in. One strategy for packing the first day is to lay out all your gear in the shape of a kayak, next to your boat. This promotes the visual organization, and inventories every shape. Get in the habit of packing your boat the exact same way, every day, and it will become second nature. Make SURE you compress as much air out of items like drybags and sleeping bags as you can, and invest in some good drybags and compression sacs. If you have particularly small hatches, consider repacking that drybag AFTER you get it into the hatch.
Be Tarp Smart!
A lightweight waterproof tarp may be a sea kayakers’ best friend in the coastal temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska’s panhandle. Some means of shelter should be included in your kit on any outing, and the pack-ability of modern nylon tarps makes it hard to justify going without one, even on a day trip.
The following are a few suggestions for expedition kayaking with your tarp:
- Make sure it is the last piece of gear that goes into your hatches, that way it can be the first thing out.
- Practice setting up your tarp as fast as possible with the help of a buddy. When you pull into a camp at the end of a rainy day, you can quickly have a dry place to unload your gear into.
- On a lunch break, just take your tarp and with a few buddies, huddle underneath it like the parachute in fifth grade gym class. You will have dryness, and WARMTH, in minutes!
- On the wettest of days, your tarp can provide a dry sanctuary for setting up and taking down your tent. This takes the haste and stress out of setting up tents in a downpour, and ensures your tent body will stay reasonably dry. Same goes when its’ time to take it down the next day.
- Keeping a tarp set up over your tent gives you more space for gear, and helps to keep gear & tents from becoming saturated with water, thus adding weight you have to paddle around!
- Most importantly, make sure to stow your tarp in a way that it will be easily unpacked and deployed. This means coiling and tying up your guy-lines so they won’t be a tangled mess next time you need it in a hurry.
And, I will sum it up with a recent observation I have had on the ability for tarps to actually deter inclement weather. If you set up your tarp every time you make a camp, your days will be far drier than if you wait until it begins raining to set it up. Likewise if you forget your tarp on your next trip, it may be your rainiest trip yet! This is sound and proven advice from one of the wettest places in North America!
Iodine use for water purification
Iodine is one way to treat water in the backcountry and a great choice when weight is a concern. We use Iodine Crystals that can treat up to 2000 gallons of water. One good system for using iodine is as follows. Always have 2 water bottles. One is for the treated (clean) water and the other is where the treating is taking place. The treated bottle needs at least an hour if the water is warm and longer if cold. When it is done, pour it into the clean bottle. This pouring dissipates the iodine vapors and improves the taste of the water. At this point you can add powdered drink mix to flavor the water if desired. Never add it during treatment because the iodine can bind with the drink mix and the water will not get purified. Now you can fill the treatment bottle and add more iodine.
Comfortable sleeping on the snow
AMG guides recommend a 2 sleeping pad solution for snow camping. One of the pads being a full-length foam pad (Ridgerest or similar) and the other is a ¾ length inflatable pad. This system makes for comfortable and warm sleeping while on the snow, and the foam pad can useful for other things during the day. Non-absorbent foam pads make great seats in the snow kitchen or as splints during a first aid situation.
Minimizing stops while thermal regulating
Being able to regulate body temperature quickly without taking off your backpack is important and saves time. The easiest garments to remove are hats and gloves. I often grab my hat and stuff it down my shirt for easy on and off access. (Some guides use a carabineer on their pack to clip hats and gloves to) Hats can warm or cool quickly. With gloves I either stuff them in my shirt or, if skiing, pull them over the tops of my poles. After these are off I start to pull up sleeves, unzip every zipper, and as a last result stop and take a layer off. When stopping after an uphill workout, remember to put those layers back on quickly. It’s much easier to stay warm then to get warm.
Don’t lose your gear while snow camping
Every night while camping in the snow we make an organized pile of all the group gear that will spend the night outside. We place this pile in the center of camp and circle if with upright skis, poles, ice axes, etc. This way if it snows overnight we can still find the gear.
Have a Secret Stash
When traveling in a foreign country it is important to have a secret stash: a backup copy of your passport and credit cards, along with extra cash. Consider making an electronic copy of your documents and emailing them to yourself. In addition, keep a photocopy of your passport, other documents, and extra cash deep inside your luggage.
Positioning Your Climbing Equipment Rack
When climbing chimneys or large off-width cracks make sure to put the rack on the outside. It sounds obvious, but many people have a preferred side. Keeping the rack on the outside makes for easier access and it is less likely to snag on the inside of the crack.
Know Your Rack
When on the sharp end of the rope, you want to be prepared and not waste time trying to find a particular piece of gear. Racking climbing gear requires serious organization. Everyone does it differently, so take some time to try a few different options. Pick a system that works for you and use every time.
Mountain / Glacier
The Right Harness
When traveling in steep or glaciated terrain you often have to add or remove leg layers but don’t have the option of completely removing your harness. Having a light-weight alpine-style harness, such as the Black Diamond Alpine Bod, allows you to quickly and safely remove the leg loops without having to remove the harness or undo tight webbing buckles. Padded harnesses are often unnecessary and uncomfortable in alpine and glaciated terrain.
The Right Harness
Here is a useful technique for folding climbing skins for the backcountry skier or snowboarder. Take a sharpie and mark the center point of the skins on the glue side. When folding the skins, grab this center point in one hand and pull it though your thumb and forefinger. The thumb and forefinger form a grove which makes the glue sides of the skins align correctly against themselves. This technique works especially well in windy conditions.
A great practice for alpine climbing is to clip your ice axe leash into a locking carabineer on your harness instead of looping the leash around your wrist. By attaching your ice axe this way, you can plunge the ice axe into the snow and have the use of both hands while remaining on a self-belay. This comes in handy when passing anchors, changing layers, getting into your pack, etc. It also eliminates the need to switch the leash from hand to hand when changing directions. Using this technique also assures that in the event of a fall, your ice axe is with you.
A good practice when traveling on glaciers is to use a second locking carabineer attached to your harness to connect to the ice axe leash and prussic. Leaving the first locking carbineer solely dedicated to the climbing rope. Traditionally the prussic, leash and climbing rope are all attached to the same carabineer. This system is dangerous because in crevasse rescue situations, the climber must open the carbineer to remove the prussic line, thus exposing the climbing rope. Using a second carbineer means you can access the prussic cord without ever exposing the climbing rope.
Sea Kayak Tech Tips
- Keep socks and base layers dry on wet trips by layering them like a sandwich between your mattress pad and sleeping bag while you sleep. Damp stuff should be dry by morning.
- When paddling in windy conditions, edging the kayak will reduce its tendency to weathercock (turn into the wind) and make things much easier for you. To do this: lift your downwind knee slightly to trim the kayak slightly towards the wind. Maintain this edge as you paddle along and the kayak will track much straighter (no rudder needed!).
- Landing a loaded kayak smoothly in surf shouldn’t require prayers or luck. As you approach the surf zone, look behind you for incoming waves. As each wave approaches, back-paddle aggressively to meet it. When the wave passes underneath your hip, start paddling forward until the next wave approaches. Repeat this process until you find yourself on the beach, upright and smiling.
- Marine reflective tape is a great way to make your kayak and your paddle more visible on the water. A strip along the edge of each paddle blade, and short strips on either side of the bow and stern of your boat make a huge difference.
Melting Snow To Get Water?
Melting snow for all of our drinking and cooking water requires between 200 and 250ML of white gas per person per day. We don’t want to carry too much (8 pounds per gallon), or too little fuel.
Kelty has always tested sleeping bags to make sure that our customers are warm and comfortable on their adventures. Now we’ve adopted the European Norm (EN) 13537 test process which provides a standardized comparison method for all sleeping bag brands so that it is easier for you to choose the right sleeping bag for your needs. The two temperature ratings listed are “Comfort” and “Lower Limit”. “Comfort” is defined as the temperature that a standard woman (60 kg / 132 lbs) will be comfortable at versus “Lower Limit” which is the temperature that a standard man (80 kg / 176 lbs) will be comfortable at.
Sharing Tent Anchors
When setting up multiple tents, it’s best to share stakes/ anchors. Place all tents in a row side by side with all entrances facing the same direction. The side ties can actually tie to the tent next to it and the front and back ties can share a common anchor with the tent next to it. This system will reduce the number of anchors we need to carry. To further shave weight, use small nylon stuff sacks filled with snow and buried as a lightweight snow anchor.
Tent Anchors - Check Them Frequently!
Tents are strongest (and quietest) when the fly is tightly staked out. As guides and instructors we always check the tent anchors and guy lines anytime we are going to leave camp and every evening before bed. We also put extra snow on anchors so they do not melt out during warm days.
We teach students in our courses to visually check that tent guy lines are tight and anchors are secure every time they walk past their groups’ tents. This awareness and attention to detail is critical to keeping tents secure, particularly during periods of inclement weather.
Tent Anchors - Big Rock/Little Rock
To make a strong tent anchor on hard or rock ground where stakes don’t work, we use the big rock little rock system.
We tie the guy line to a smaller rock and then place a large rock, or pile of rocks, on top of the line directly behind the small rock leading to the tent. The small rock acts as a chock stone and cannot be pulled under the bigger stone. This creates a strong and effective anchor in areas where it is difficult to get a good anchor otherwise.
Tent Guy Line Knots
At AMG we set up the guy lines on all of our tents the same way using a slider knot to attach the line to the tent. The slider knot is a self-tightening knot that can be adjusted by moving it up and down the line. This allows the line to be tightened without retying any knots. On the other end we tie a loop that can be girth hitched to any anchor. It’s important that all tents are tied the same. Nobody wants to get out of bed in the middle of the night to tighten lines and find a random knot that requires a gloves off retie.
In our experience, it’s the small things that contribute to successful trips. Of course it’s important to tie the knots correctly, but it’s equally important to remember to tighten the tents before leaving for the day. A loose tent fly can cause tent failure and ruin a trip. If this happens at high camp on Aconcagua, it can have life threatening consequences.
In future articles we will address valuable protocols and processes as well as the technical tips to guarantee fun and safe outdoor experiences.