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Buried alive

In case you are ever wondering what it is like to be buried alive in an avalanche, this video shows you how terrifying it would be.

19 firefighters killed in Arizona wildfires

From  CBC News

Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said that the 19 firefighters were a part of the city’s fire department. The crew killed in the blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona.

“By the time they got there, it was moving very quickly,” he said.

He added that the firefighters had to deploy the emergency shelters when “something drastic” occurred.

“One of the last fail safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective … foil-type fire-resistant material — with the desire, the hope at least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive it,” Fraijo said.

“Under certain conditions there’s usually only sometimes a 50 per cent chance that they survive,” he said. “It’s an extreme measure that’s taken under the absolute worst conditions.”

Outside Magazine has a feature on how dangerous of a job it is

THE NIGHT AFTER I leave the Mill Fire, the hotshots begin a controlled burn on the north side of the canyon. But then the winds pick up: 15-mile-per-hour gusts start blowing downhill, threatening to carry the flames onto the canyon’s southern slopes. By this point, the fire is at 25,000 acres.

Cowell and Eric Rice, one of Cowell’s two foremen, leave the crew to scout a corner of the canyon where the winds are particularly volatile. Above, a helicopter launches napalm-filled pellets into the brushy draw between the road and the main fire, an attempt to coax a fuel burnout before the winds get stronger. Ten engines are parked on the road, ready to hose down any sparks that blow across the stream into the southern side of the canyon.

That’s when things go haywire. Around 7:30 P.M., a gust sends the fire down toward the line, blowing burning leaves over the engine crews. Some land on the exposed necks of firefighters, sizzling in their sweat. Others float into the dry chamise thickets at the base of the canyon’s southern slopes. A strap of fire begins running up from the creek bed.

Cowell grabs his radio and barks to Moschetti, the other foreman, “Get ’em up, Brad. We’re going after the west flank.” The spot fire runs from bushes to gray pines: one, two, four acres. In the creek bed, the crew members are boot deep in the stream’s tepid water, waiting for three guys from an engine crew to drag a hose up the cut bank that separates them from the flames.

Rojas and a swamper scramble up the cut bank and, with another hotshot crew, use chainsaws to bore a three-foot-wide hole in the brush—just big enough to drag a hose through. The engine crew follows behind, shooting a beam of water over Rojas and into the 15-foot flames roaring ahead. It’s steep, 45 degrees in places, and covered with stones the size of a baby’s head. Rojas yells “Rock!” when he knocks them loose; they come tumbling down the mountain at the other hotshots, who are widening the break.

Alicia Miller brings up the rear, using a rake to sweep away the leaves lodged in the scree. Between her and Cowell, who’s up front with Rojas and the sawyers, some 40 hotshots and engine-crew members are working on the line at a frantic pace.

At 11 P.M., the crew hooks over the top of the spot and starts building line down the eastern flank and back toward the creek. Rojas is mowing through the brush when a flare-up sends a wash of embers overhead. Behind him, Cowell yells, “RTO! RTO!” It stands for reverse tool order, which basically means get the hell out. The crews power through the brush to the top of the spot, where they pause to catch their breath.

Burning mountains surround them, and Cowell has to make a decision. They either gamble and try to put out the spot fire by building a firebreak directly on its eastern edge, or they back off and take the line up to the ridge top. Option two is safer, but it gives the fire a chance to gain momentum. Cowell sends Rice downhill to scout. The foreman climbs a tree, sees emergency lights flashing 500 feet below, and hears another hotshot crew’s saws screaming in the night. The fire looks manageable. “We can do this,” Rice radios to Cowell.

“Tirso, you’re on,” Cowell says to Rojas, who fires up his saw and starts building line downhill. Not long after midnight they finish. The spot’s contained, and the Mill Fire won’t grow another acre.

Why the Bounty sailed (and sunk) in Hurricane Sandy

When the Bounty went down during Hurricane Sandy, millions watched on TV as the Coast Guard rescued 14 survivors—but couldn’t save the captain and one of his crew. 

As the drama of the Bounty’s final hours unfolded on CNN and the Weather Channel, seamen and landlubbers alike were asking the same question: what was a square-rigged ship doing in the middle of a hurricane—a storm that had been forecast for days? Sailors pointed fingers at the captain, Robin Walbridge, insisting that his poor judgment and bravado were to blame. It’s true that Walbridge had tempted fate before. In each instance, some combination of skill and luck had returned the ship home safely.

But the full answer to why the Bounty sank was much more complex than a captain’s rash decision. It was a story decades in the making, a veritable opera of near misses and fantastic schemes involving a dogged captain, a fiercely loyal crew, and an owner who was looking to sell. And in the ship’s last act, an unlikely new character had emerged: a young woman with Down syndrome who, perhaps inconceivably, held the key to the Bounty’s future.

Leaking antiquated broken down sailing ship sails into Hurricane Sandy.  What could go wrong?

The Grey Owl’s Expedition Gear Guide

Since we are still planning to do a hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin, we have been picking up some gear for the trip.  A lot of people have been asking us what we are taking so here is the quick list of gear that is going.

Backpacks: To carry the gear, we have some frameless backpacks with hip straps.  You can spend a lot of money on these and after reading around, we think we found the right balance between comfort, durability, and price.

NORTH 49® CYCLONE BACKPACKS

If I was walking the Appalachian Trail, I would definitely have purchased a more expensive backpack but it’s only a day and we are only taking so much stuff.  I bought our bags on clearance for $30.  They are 40 litres and have the external straps I want.  They should do the job. 

Tents: Wendy and I are staying in a three man tent we bought for $16 from Wal-mart.  They had a loss leader going this winter and we got it then.  It’s light and just big enough for the two of us.   The tent opens up and hopefully we will be able to sleep under the skies rather than under the fly.  If it does look like it could rain, we’ll be fine underneath it.

Ozark Trail Tent

If I was going camping rather than backcountry hiking, we would have gotten something larger and higher quality.  Weight and size are a factor.  Also the price was insanely cheap ($16 on sale).  If it doesn’t last, no harm done but the reviews online were pretty solid.  It’s no where near as durable as a tent from the North Face but then again, it won’t be asked to do much more than keep the mosquitoes or drizzle off of us.

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Mark is staying in a one person tent from Eagle’s Camp.  It is small but it will be only him and his bag.  I don’t know how long it will last him but once he gets to big for it, it can be used by Oliver at the cabin.  Either way it is really light and since Mark will be carrying it in and out, he will appreciate the weight.  We bought some ropes to add as guy wires which opens it up a bit.  It’s small but it is light.

We did waterproof and seal the seams and upgraded the tent pegs to something lighter and more likely to stay in the ground.  If the weather is miserable, we should be okay.

Sleeping bags: Mark had a sleeping bag but Wendy and I wanted new 1.5 pound sleeping bags.  We picked up two at XS Cargo for $10 each.  We will have sleeping foams as well.   Walmart is charging $20 for their sleeping pads but we bought ours at a liquidation place for $3.  We also bought some compression straps so the sleeping bags take up as little as room as possible.

For lighting, Wendy bought me a new headlamp for my birthday and both Mark and Wendy have headlamps and lanterns  We also have a flashlight and Nite Ize LED zipper tags on our backpacks so if we wonder out in the dark, we can be seen.

For the kitchen, we have a Primus Classic Trail Stove and Primus fuel canisters.  Stoves have their own fanboy culture which I understand but for the price, it can’t be beaten.  I know this isn’t the stove to use when it’s winter but since we are doing the hike in July, we should be okay.   It also has a five star review on Amazon.com so it seems to be doing the job.

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Coleman also has a propane stove which uses their fuel.  The big advantage was that you can get the propane at almost any store while you need to get fuel for the Primus at a specialty store like Cabela’s, MEC, REI.  The disadvantage of the Coleman stove is the weight of the larger canister and the stove itself.  in the end it made more sense to go with the Primus stove which is small enough to be tucked into our cooking gear.  Of all of the things we have purchased for this hike, the Primus Classic Trail Stove is my favorite.

For backup we have a Magic Heat Stove and canisters.  I picked them up because they were cheap, good for winter travel, and lightweight.  I don’t expect to have to use them but we will take them depending on the weather forecast.  If it is going to be nice, we will leave them but if there is a chance of rain and the idea of fighting with wet wood doesn’t appeal, then we will take the backup stoves.

As for the camp kit, years ago Lee gave Wendy a great camp set.  We picked up three sparks and we are set to go.

As for water, I have talked to a lot of people who had drank right out of Kingsmere Lake with no side affects.  There are giardia warnings about the water so we will have some water filters.  It’s way cheaper using purification tablets but I am told they are disgusting.  Since we are walking along side the lake, we will be using collapsible water bottles to keep weight and volume down.

Food: Basically MRE’s.  We have been to Cabela’s weekly testing out one or two of them each time.  We will eat some snacks on the way in, have a nice dinner (well away from the campground to keep the bears away) and then a big breakfast in the morning on our way out.  Hopefully we get going in time to be back in Waskesiu for a late lunch before heading back to Saskatoon.

Clothes: I went out and invested in some decent hiking shorts and shirts this summer.  As a friend of mine told me that chafing is not something that you will want to do while on the trail.  We also went to Cabela’s and got tested by the Dr. Shoal’s machine for the kind of insoles we all need.  While the custom Dr. Shoals insoles are right there, a row over are competitor insoles designed the same way for a fraction of the cost.  They make hiking boots feel a lot more comfortable and will hopefully make the trip more pleasant.

Technology: We won’t be taking much technology along although we will have a GPS, binoculars, and some cameras.  The idea is to keep the weight down as much as possible but at the some time we want to have some photographs and video.  I don’t expect to have cell coverage on the hike but it won’t matter as our phones will be turned off.  We will have our multi-tools and a hatchet with us but I don’t know if that is considered technology or not.  In case we do get some rain, we have some gadget bags which are essentially waterproof zip lock bags for gear.  It says that you can submerse them but I’d rather not.  What they do a good job of doing is if a tent or bag does leak, your stuff will still be safe.

We bought everything local.  While MEC had a good price on some stuff, by the time we calculated shipping, it was less expensive to get something at Cabela’s and Wholesale Sports.

The problem hasn’t been getting the gear that we want, it’s the issue of realizing that everything we do take is going to have to be hauled in and hauled back out.  Let me know if you have some suggestions in the comments below.

A Brawl at the Top of Mount Everest

Sherpas vs. climbers

While the reports coming off the mountain are still vague at best, what is known is that three climbers were involved in what officials are calling a ‘thrashing.’ Ueli Steck of Switzerland and Simone Moro of Italy were two of the climbers at the 24,500 foot mark when the altercation occurred.

As far as what can be pieced together at this point, the Sherpa guides who assist climbers with their trek allegedly claim that they had called for a halt to climbing so that ropes could be put in place across an ice face. Steck and Moro deny that the orders were sent up and continued their climb toward Camp 3, apparently unleashing an ice fall that hit the Sherpas laying the ropes below.

In an interview with BBC, Steck claimed that his three-man team was nearing Camp 3 when the conflict occurred. The team continued on to the upper camp. Issue arose, however, when they chose to descend to Camp 2 to – as Steck put it – “finish the discussion.” At the lower camp, the three climbers were met by a group of over 100 angry Sherpas who began to beat them and throw rocks at them. In addition to the beating, the three climbers claim that their lives were in danger had they not left the lower camp. In fact, Moro had a pocketknife thrown at him but, as Steck stated, “luckily [it] just hit the belt of his backpack.” Steck was clear in stating all three climbers were able to escape with no serious injuries.

At least the climbers will have a unique story to tell when they get back down to base camp.

Traffic congestion on Mt. Everest is getting worse

Congestion on Mt. Everest has people looking for unique solutions

The world’s highest peak is so crowded with climbers that some are seriously considering installing a ladder on the famed Hillary Step to ease congestion. While the ladder is intended for use for those descending from the peak, the proposal still casts Mt. Everest’s long-running overcrowding issue into stark relief. 

Here is more on Mt. Everest’s traffic problems

Traffic jams, rush hour–yes these concerns not only apply to the upcoming holiday weekend, but also to the highest mountain in the world. The only difference being that on Mount Everest, those inconveniences could totally kill you. Four climbers have died on Everest in the past week, not because of the treacherous mountain, but because there were too many people on it at once creating a “traffic jam.”

That jam will only get worse this weekend as guides are once again expecting the peak to be overrun with around 120 climbers, reports The Associated Press’ Binaj Gurubacharya. “This is the last chance for climbers to attempt to reach the summit. If they can’t, then there is not going to be another opportunity this season,” an Everest official said.

No word on if Mayor Atchison thinks more bridges on Mount Everest will make the traffic congestion go away as he does in Saskatoon and Vancouver.

Arlington Beach Marina

Marina at Arlington Beach

How to grill up the perfect steak

Over at the cabin blog, I put together a guide to grilling up the perfect steak.

Cuts of steak

I am ashamed to admit it but until an intervention at Le Beefteque in Toronto I used to order and cook my steaks until they were well done.  No marinade, no prep.  We just slapped them on the barbecue and overcooked them.  That meant that I wasn’t really a big steak fan as who likes to eat overcooked beef.  

A couple of years ago I finally got serious about how to prepare and cook a steak.  It starts with the right marinade, a Jaccard meat tenderizer, cooking it perfectly, letting it rest and so on and so on.  

This year I finally got my act together wrote it all up in one post.  Let me know in the comments if I have missed anything or have anything wrong.

Sunset over Last Mountain Lake

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Revelation: A visual poem

Remains of a River: source to sea down the Colorado

From October 2011 to January 2012, Will Stauffer-Norris and Zak Podmore hiked and paddled from Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains to Mexico following the Colorado River system from its farthest inland source to the sea, filming and narrating on the fly. The resulting film, Remains of a River, is an unforgettable story of friendship, adventure and environmental degradation.

The 2013 Grey Owl’s Cabin Expedition

A couple of months ago I was surfing the web and saw this great post by explorer Alistair Humphries on micro adventures (it also caught National Geographic’s eye) and it started me thinking about life and my life when we lived in Calgary.

I loved Calgary.  My bedroom looked out at the Rocky Mountains and it seemed like I was only hours away from adventure whether it be in the Banff National Park or in Kananaskis.  Closer to home there was Fish Creek Provincial Park which had it’s own element of adventure for us as kids.  We hiked, explored, drank water we shouldn’t have (it looked so refreshing coming off the mountain), and even fed deer out of our hands (friend’s timeshare had a sign up that said, “Don’t let deer inside the building” which I have always wondered if that went up before or after a deer came into a room).

Ever since moving to Saskatoon in 1984, adventure was something that you experienced somewhere else.  Our zoo isn’t fierse and every time I drive by “Mt” Blackstrap, I struggle with momentary depression.  Adventure without hills?  Pffft.  It can’t happen.

The adventures that I have had since moving to Saskatoon are urban ones but in other cities.  Exploring south central Los Angeles alone and at night.  Riding the subway in Chicago into the most violent neighbourhood in the United States.  Breaking into abandoned churches and apartments to hand out cigarettes and make connections with homeless people during the middle of winter.  Having breakfast in a stairwell to stop a local gang from using it to move drugs.  It’s something but not what I was looking for.

A couple of weeks ago I started to talk to Wendy and Mark about doing something this year.  Mark will be 13 and Wendy just turned… ummm… she looks 25.  After the usual suggestions of camping (umm, we have a cabin) were tossed out, I suggested we walk the 20 kms to Grey Owl’s Cabin in Prince Albert National Park.  I figured it would take us 5 hours but according to the video below it took the Saskatchewanderer over 8 hours.

This is the hike.

2013 Grey Owl's Cabin Expedition

As far as a backcountry hike goes, it is really easy.  It’s only 20 kms each way, it’s impossible to get lost and there are some backcountry camping spots that do include bear caches.  While we are in black bear country and we will have to cook 100 metres downwind of our campground, there isn’t a lot of danger.  The plan is to camp at the Northend Campground, make camp and then head to Grey Owl’s cabin.  It looks easy but again it was an eight hour hike according to the video and some articles that I have read.  Personally I would like it to take us around 6.  I always assumed that there would be others on the trail but after reading some of the accounts of the hike you are often totally alone out there. 

To start the process, we need some backcountry camping gear which sent me to Wholesale Sports, Cabela’s, and MEC.ca for advice and information on what to buy and bring along with us.  Do we want a light weight stove or cook with fire?  Do we want to boil water, chemically treat it or use a filtration system.  What’s more important, saving weight or sleeping comfortably?  Mark insists that he wants his own tent and plans to carry his one person tent up there with him.  We’ll see how that one works out.

We will be taking the plunge on June 15 and 16th which is before Waskesiu gets too busy and yet there is still a chance for some cool evenings.  The funny part of the trip is that last year I watched this video featuring Ben Saunders planning The Scott Expedition using Basecamp and thought it was pretty cool.

Wendy, Mark and I are using Freedcamp to use do the same thing albeit on a much smaller scale.  So it will be our micro-adventure for 2013.  A 40 km walk in the backcountry where we will see a fraud and bigamist’s cabin that he shared with a beaver.  Now I need to go and find expedition sponsors.  Anyone have a contact with Land Rover or The North Face?

Close encounter with a polar bear

 

A Scottish filmmaker spent three seasons following a polar bear family in the wilds of the Svalbard Islands in the Arctic, but he never dreamed that this might happen. “The idea was to get close to polar bears and do it safely,” Gordon Buchanan told “BBC Breakfast.” “But because they are a dangerous animal, they do see us on occasion as food. I just wanted to be on the ice, by myself, and have a close encounter.” As it turned out, the encounter was a bit closer than he had hoped–terrifyingly close. 

Buchanan said the camera crew, which was shooting with a long-range lens from 273 yards away, was basically laughing at him.

“It was a strange mixture of terror and comedy because it just felt like a monumentally stupid thing to do,” he said. “But it was incredible.”

The Scott Expedition

In the last 100 years, twelve people have stood on the moon, more than 500 have been into space, and more than five thousand have climbed Everest. Yet the journey Captain Scott and his team died trying to complete a century ago remains unrealised. No one has ever walked from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again.

In 2013, Ben Saunders and his team mates Alastair Humphreys and Martin Hartley take on arguably the most ambitious polar expedition in the last century: the four-month Scott Expedition – the first return journey to the South Pole on foot, and at 1,800 miles, the longest unsupported polar journey in history.

Here is a video of one of their training trips to Greenland.

Why bother leaving the house

Ben Saunders wants you to get out of the house.