Monday, April 14, 2014

Two Life-List Outdoor Destinations in New England: Make Reservations Now

Thinking about your summer outdoor adventures? If you're interested in spending the night at one of New England's most iconic destinations, now is the time to make reservations. Here's what you need to know.

Baxter State Park: Chimney Pond
Home to mile-high Katahdin and its airy Knife Edge—New England's only true mountain
arĂȘte—Baxter State Park is tops on my list of life-list New England destinations. A range of camping opportunities are available in the park, but the most exceptional (and exceptionally popular) is found at Chimney Pond.

A hiker ascends the Cathedral Trail on the flanks of Katahdin. Chimney Pond is out of sight and below to the right.
Nestled adjacent to its namesake pond, below the soaring flanks of Katahdin, this backcountry campground features nine lean-tos and a 10-person bunkhouse, and makes a fabulously scenic base camp for tackling Katahdin itself.

Camping reservations at Baxter State Park operate on a four-month rolling schedule; you can start making reservations four months in advance of your camping start date. So, for example, you can start making reservation for August 15 starting April 15 (hint, hint).

Unlike the park's drive-in campgrounds, which can be reserved online, Chimney Pond and other backcountry campsites can only be reserved by phone (207-723-5140), in person, or by mail. The park office opens at 8 a.m. each morning.

As of April 14, Chimney Pond still had decent weekday availability through August 14, though Fridays and Saturdays were all but completely booked. As the weeks progress, expect less and less availability until your opportunity for a 2014 visit fades into dreams (and longer-term planning!) for 2015.

Lakes of the Clouds Hut
Perched nearly a mile high on the alpine ridge of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire's White Mountains, Lakes of the Clouds Hut is the most popular of AMC's eight high mountain huts.

Lakes of the Clouds Hut
With the summit cone of Mount Washington looming a mile away to the north, a vast network of hiking trails radiating in nearly every direction, and head-spinning views nearly everywhere you look, it's a backcountry lodging destination unlike any other in New England (and I've seen a lot of them). Plus it provides welcoming indoor shelter from the often fickle and/or ferocious weather that can descend on the ridge.

But—no surprise—a lot of people want to stay there. If your only availability this summer is on weekends, I regret to inform that you are out of luck—Saturday nights are already completely booked at this point.

If, however, you have some weekday flexibility, you still have some good options—and I encourage you to make reservations sooner than later. (This is especially true if you are interested in visiting in July and August, which are filling up fast.) You can make reservations online or by calling 603-466-2727 (Mon. - Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.).

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How to Sunburn the Roof of Your Mouth

You don't have to stand on your head facing the sun, mouth agape, to accomplish this unusual (and highly undesirable) feat. You just have to spend enough time huffing and puffing in blistering sunshine on one of Nature's most reflective surfaces: snow.

Snow reflects up to 80 percent of UV radiation, which means that you're not only getting zapped from above—you're also getting nearly a full dose from below. As a result, certain parts of your body you usually don't worry about are at risk of getting sunburned, including the undersides of your nose, chin, and ears.

Photo: Flickr Commons; SuperFantastic
And if you're gasping for air, mouth hanging open, on a long shadeless climb up snow-covered slopes, reflected UV radiation can even sunburn the roof of your mouth. (High-altitude mountaineers are at greatest risk of a blistered mouth, due to the prolonged exposure to sun on snow, plus the higher amounts of UV that occur at higher elevations.)

While I've never had the misfortune of a sunburned mouth, I can attest to the fact that having a bad sunburn on the underside of your nose around your nostrils is extremely unpleasant. Prevention, of course, is crucial, which means that you should always carry and regularly re-apply an effective sunscreen to all exposed skin. (And for those at risk of mouth-burn, focus on breathing through your nose and mostly closed lips as much as possible.)

For the face and head, my go-to sunscreen has long been one of the many excellent offerings from Dermatone that contain zinc oxide, which physically blocks UV radiation. (I keep a 1-ounce tube of Dermatone SPF 36 with Z-Cote readily accessible at all times.)

Also remember that your lips are also vulnerable to sunburn (a painful and swollen lesson I've also learned over the years). To protect them, you can use one of Dermatone's Legendary Tins (which also work well for the nose and ears) or caffeine-infused coffee-flavored lip balm, but a wide range of other lip balms are available with adequate SPF protection as well.

It looks to be an excellent spring skiing season in northern New England this year, which means that a lot of people will be on the slopes beneath a potent spring sun. Enjoy the fun, but don't bring home a painful and blistered memento of the experience!

Learn more:
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Best 0.1-Ounce Accessory for Camping in the Rain

It's raining, it's pouring, and despite your best efforts water is leaking into your tent. To keep you and your gear dry, you need to get it out. And the only way to do that is to mop it up.

You could use a camp towel, sock, T-shirt, or bandana—and I've used them all over the years—but the single-best solution is an inexpensive sponge. You know the type, the small cleaning sponges that measure roughly 5 by 3 inches and cost a few dollars for a multi-color pack of four.

Dry, each one weighs less than a tenth of an ounce. Having one in hand makes it much, much easier to remove unwanted water from inside your tent.

An inexpensive sponge also makes it easier to deal with a wet rain fly after a night of rain or heavy dew.

First roughly shake the moisture off the rain fly while it is still attached to the tent. Then use the sponge to wipe up as much residual moisture as possible. While it's impossible to get it completely dry, you can certainly remove significant moisture. This will help it dry faster if you have time (and rain-free weather), or save you from carrying extra water weight if you need to pack it up.

Soak it up.
One caveat on sponge selection. Do not use styles that have an abrasive side for scrubbing (most "kitchen" sponges), which can definitely wear the thin threads and fabrics on many of today's tents.

Learn more about dealing with heavy rain:
Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ride Like the Wind, Honk Like a Car: The Loud Bicycle Horn

Leave it to the treacherous roads and drivers of Boston to inspire somebody to create a bicycle horn that sounds like a car horn—and is just as loud.

The Loud Bicycle Horn
That somebody is Jonathan Lansey, who invented the Loud Bicycle Horn, a 23-ounce decibel-pumping unit that mounts to your bike tube just below the handlebars and can be thumb-activated while braking simultaneously. Per product specs, it combines two tones (~420 Hz and ~500 Hz) to mimic the horn sound of a compact car and outputs it at 112 decibels. That's equivalent to a typical car (or a loud rock concert).

In busy urban riding areas—such as Lansey's home streets of Boston—the potential value of this is clear. As he points out with several POV examples from his successful Kickstarter promo video (below), drivers immediately and instinctively respond to the sound of a car horn. For example, a blast of the horn is an effective way to alert (and stop) drivers blindly pulling out into your line.

The Loud Bicycle Horn attaches to the bike tube with some security-enabled attachment system (you need a special included tool to attach or loosen). A plug-in rechargeable battery provides ample honkage for roughly two months or more. And yes, it's legal for bicycles to honk like cars.

Seems reasonably priced at $95. As bike accessories go, especially one that might save your life, it's worth considering, especially if you ride a high-traffic route. If that's not where you ride, however, a Loud Bicycle Horn could quickly become overkill.

Ride on.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Peak Snow in Northern New England? (...and the Latest from Tuckerman Ravine)

Perhaps you've noticed. It's been a long, cold, snowy winter in the Northeast. And following yet another significant snowfall in northern New England last week, the effects of this Arctic season are clearly apparent in Sunday's snow depth map:

I keep regular tabs on this map throughout the winter (which is updated daily by NOAA until May 31). And though I don't have ready access to the trove of data that would confirm this, I posit that right now the Northern New England states have, on average, a deeper snow depth than at any other point this season.

Case in point are the small purple-pink splotches—colors I rarely see on this map—that can be spotted in New Hampshire's White Mountains and western Maine, among other places. These indicate snow depths of 40 to 50 inches. And those are just the snow jackpots in a huge swath of dark red that indicates snow depths of 30 to 40 inches.

Key takeaway? Lots and lots of snow for many weeks ahead. Unusually cold weather appears likely to linger for the rest of March (it's minus-16 degrees atop Mount Washington as I write this), which means that any significant melting likely won't occur until at least April.

As a result, hiking season will probably start late this year—I won't be surprised if substantial pockets of snow linger well into June this year in higher terrain—while it should be a prolonged spring skiing season in Tuckerman Ravine and other backcountry locations.

Speaking of Tuckerman Ravine... 
This iconic skiing destination routinely accumulates snow to depths of 50 feet or more as winds scour snow from the surrounding peaks and deposit it in the ravine. Right now it's almost certain to be holding a colossal amount of snow, and recent conditions have led to considerable avalanche activity and risk in many locations within the ravine.

If you're heading out, always, always check the current avalanche forecast from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, carry proper avalanche safety equipment (beacon, probe, and shovel), and know how to use them!

Recent avalanche activity is apparent in this March 14, 2014, photo of Tuckerman Ravine, including prominent crown faces and fracture lines (enlarged below). Photo: Mount Washington Avalanche Center

For a taste of skiing in Tucks over the years, check out this vintage film footage from the AMC Library & Archives:

And don't forget. The winter will end eventually. In fact, the vernal equinox occurs this Thursday, March 20, at 12:57 p.m. EDT.

Happy (almost) spring!

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Adjust for Declination

How to Adjust for Declination 

  • The difference between true north and magnetic north is known as the magnetic declination or variation.
  • If magnetic north is west of true north—as is the case throughout the Northeast—it’s a west declination. If east, then it’s an east declination.
  • To convert from a true bearing (one determined from a map, for example) to a magnetic bearing (what your compass shows), add a west declination or subtract an east declination. 
  • A mnemonic can help keep this straight in your head.
    •  “Empty Sea, Add Water” is shorthand for “MTC, Add W,” which stands for “Map to Compass, Add West.” 
    • “From map to field the proper yield is east is least and west is best.” This phrase translates to: “From true to magnetic, subtract an east declination and add a west declination.” 
  • To convert from magnetic to true, simply reverse the formula.

This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMCOutdoors along with the column "Show Me the Way: How to choose a compass."

(Photograph by iStock.)

Monday, March 10, 2014

If You Fall Into Freezing Water, Remember This: The Rule of 1-10-1

Developed by Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a professor at the University of Manitoba, this simple mnemonic might just save your life.

A scene from Cold Water Boot Camp
Cold-water paddlers are at particular risk of capsizing and going into the freezing drink (especially in the Northeast, where frigid ocean and lake temperatures lag far behind the warming weather of spring), but it can happen in other unexpected ways. A tumble off a boat dock, a fall through thin ice...all it takes is one freak incident to put you in a potentially life-threatening situation.

Giesbrecht has extensively studied the effects of cold-water immersion on the human body, so much so that he's earned the nickname "Dr. Popsicle." His research led him to develop the Rule of 1-10-1:

1 Minute: The Cold Shock Response
When you hit freezing-cold water, the first thing you experience is known as the "cold shock response." You involuntarily gasp for breath and begin to hyperventilate. This increased rate of breathing puts you at greater risk for drowning, especially if you panic. The key is to remain as calm as possible and focus first on getting your breathing under control before attempting to rescue yourself. The cold shock response lasts for about one minute.

10 Minutes: Cold Incapacitation
Once you have your breathing under control, you now have approximately 10 minutes before you lose effective use of your hands, arms, and legs. This is your window of opportunity to get out of the water under your own power. Once you become incapacitated, you lose the ability to swim and will drown if you are not wearing a life jacket. (Yet another reason why paddlers should always wear a life jacket.)

1 Hour: Hypothermia
If you are unable to extricate yourself in the first 10 minutes, your only hope is for others to come to your aid. Fortunately, you have more time than you might think. Contrary to popular belief, it takes at least 30 minutes for hypothermia to set in, even if you're submerged in ice-cold water, and generally at least an hour before you lose consciousness. (Lean and thin individuals succumb quickest; overweight individuals with a high percentage of body fat can last several hours.) Focus on keeping your airway clear and alerting others to your dire situation.  

For more, check out Dr. Giesbriecht's Cold Water Boot Camp, which features some great videos of cold-water immersion and more in-depth information about what happens to the human body in the minutes (and hours) following an icy plunge.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.