First Tooth: The Pain and the Glory of New Routes in Indian Creek

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by Luke Mehall Photos by Braden Gunem

Perhaps more than any other climbing destination in the United States, Indian Creek will leave its mark on you. The stout, often painful cracks, rarely allow their suitors to escape without a cut, scrape, or bruise; proof of the struggle, a badge of glory to return home with. This battle often becomes addictive. After one returns from The Creek, he is either determined to never return again, or return as soon as possible. There’s a certain kind of magic is this masochistic pursuit.

The addiction now affects hundreds, maybe thousands of crack addicts. At first it was a small number; now they even come from all the way across the pond, Europeans, desperate to get a hit, a shot at crack climbing glory. And then there are the lifers, like us, just trying to find that same feeling and high, we experienced long ago. But like a true fiend, it takes much more than the original dosage to replicate those same sensations.


I remember those first Indian Creek climbs: They defined the essence of struggle. Even Supercrack, with its wide hand jams, worked me to the maximum. One climb I tried in my early days, Binge and Purge, just right of the ever-popular Incredible Hand Crack, was the perfect metaphor for Indian Creek climbing. Read More →

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The Lunchroom: An Interview with Chris Parkhurst, MSR Vice President

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So what does one do as the VP of MSR?

Herd cats.

No, really, it’s about providing structure and guidance. We have a very talented team and my job is to make a platform for everyone to be successful. On the MSR team you have a really nice balance of engineering geeks, pure users and people who like to tinker. And you have very diverse backgrounds. They all have interesting perspectives of how a product should work. You get some hardcore engineering expertise and hardcore user knowledge, and I think when that comes together it can be pretty cool.

How did you get your start in the outdoor industry?

I got my start with K2 snowboarding. I joined them when they’d just started doing some sourcing overseas, so I did a lot of sourcing of snowboard boots and apparel. Then I was eventually national sales manager, then brand director. That was ‘97-2005. It was a great time to be in the winter sports industry—lots of energy, growth, and a desire to push the limits.

What drew you to MSR?

The history of the brand and what it stood for. It’s incredibly cool that you had an individual [Larry Penberthy] whose whole purpose was testing gear; his intent wasn’t even to manufacture gear at the time in 1969. He just wanted to improve the safety of others in the alpine climbing community, and what spawned from that was this notion of: I know what’s wrong, I know how to fix it and I’m going to create a better solution. To this day, these values are ingrained in MSR. Read More →

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Backcountry Dog Etiquette

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Allie, a young Labrador, enjoys her first excursion into the Mount Baker backcountry

Allie, a young Labrador, enjoys her first excursion into the Mount Baker backcountry

During a recent ski tour to Table Mountain in the Mount Baker backcountry, three friends and I rescued a lost dog. It was an hour before sunset on a cold December afternoon and there were no other people in sight when we spotted the shorthaired mutt searching for her owners. As the shivering, disoriented animal limped higher up the mountain, away from the parking lot, it became clear that something was wrong. One member of our group, Kirsten, attracted the timid dog with an avocado sandwich. Kirsten phoned the number we found on the dog’s identification tags and was able to get in touch with the owner, who was waiting in the cozy Heather Meadows lodge, about a 30-minute hike from our location. The dog was not able to run through powder because of some bloody cuts on her feet, so Kirsten and I carried her in our arms while skiing. Soon we came to a firm skintrack that was easier on her paws and she was able to run next to us the rest of the way to the ski area boundary, where we met the grateful owner. This incident highlights the importance of proper training and dog etiquette in the backcountry. Here are some things to consider before you take your puppy into the snow.

Dog Safety and Comfort

First and foremost, make sure your dog is comfortable in cold weather and can travel safely in the snow. Avalanche rescue dogs are commonly larger, furrier breeds like German Shepherds or Golden Retrievers, but that doesn’t mean your Labrador or Blue Heeler should stay home. If you have a small, shorthaired breed think about buying a brightly colored doggy jacket, which has the added benefit of making your dog visible in the snow. Pay special attention to the dog’s paws because soft snow often gets jammed between the pads, causing painful cuts and bruises. Some handlers will even slather Vaseline between their dog’s toes to prevent this problem and others will purchase dog booties made specifically for this purpose. Also, if you are planning an extended tour, remember to feed your dog a bit more water and food than normal. High-protein foods are particularly important because the dog will burn more energy thanks to the cold temperatures and hard work. Read More →

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MSR Winter Backcountry Poles: Behind the Gear

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©Earl HarperMSR Senior Design Engineer Blake Andersen answers a few questions about the design and performance of MSR Backcountry Poles.

Who were MSR Backcountry Poles engineered for?

MSR Backcountry Poles are designed for winter backcountry travelers who want a high performance adjustable pole that won’t slip, and makes no compromises in weight, stability or ease of adjustment. That could be mountaineers, skiers, snowshoers, or splitboarders who rely on their poles for efficiency and safety through many types of terrain.

The inspiration came from our president who walks an impressive distance every day with poles. He recognized the need for lightweight, positive-locking poles that were easy to adjust. After finding the current offerings lacking, he asked me to come up with a better solution.

What were your design goals with the Backcountry Poles?

The primary driver for this line of poles was the refusal to compromise—in user experience and the poles’ reliability. The winter backcountry is an often unpredictable place and the last thing you want to worry about is whether you can trust your poles—your support tools. So we worked hard to make sure the solutions we created for the easy-adjusting locking mechanism didn’t compromise the performance, strength and durability of the poles. We focused on those areas because that’s where we saw user frustrations with others on the market.

What makes their locking design unique?

The SureLock System is different in that it doesn’t use a friction-based mechanism to fix the sections together, like a flip- or twist-lock. Instead, it employs a lockpin-and-hole design for “positive-locking performance.” In other words, your poles can’t slip. The length that you set them is the length that they will remain. When you put weight on them while bootpacking or crossing slick logs, they won’t collapse beneath you; you won’t get to camp and realize that one of your poles is an inch shorter than the other.

To refine the design, we made the pole shafts tri-lobe shaped so the sections wouldn’t rotate while you’re adjusting, allowing consistent alignment.

Why did you add a Trigger Release on certain models?

The Trigger Release is unique. It allows users to easily adjust the length of their poles on the fly—without really changing their hand position. It’s typical for a backcountry user to “choke up” on poles with each switchback, or to make them shorter on steep bootpacks or longer on the flats. But it would be impractical to stop and adjust poles that often. This seemed like a compromise to us. If the pole was so easy to adjust that the user didn’t have to stop or change hand position, it would be a game-changer. After countless brainstorms and prototypes, the Trigger Release system was finally born.

What materials make up the pole shafts?

The aluminum that we use for the pole shafts is a custom blended high-strength aluminum exclusively developed by our supplier. It has a higher yield strength than most “aircraft-grade” aluminum used by other companies.

What other unique design elements went into the poles?

If I had to pick a favorite design challenge, it would be the releasing strap. The idea that a user should be able to adjust their poles without compromising their hand position got us thinking about backcountry skiing. Typically, skiers take their hands out of their straps when they head into the trees. That sounded like a compromise. Skiers do it for safety: if a pole gets caught, it can yank you hard enough to cause injury.  If we could make the strap in such a way that it could never yank you hard enough to hurt you, you wouldn’t have to take your hands out of the straps. The releasable strap is the first step in the disassembly of your poles for maintenance—and allows you to ski without compromise.

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School’s Out for Winter: SnowSchool’s Outdoor Science Classroom

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This January, 70 elementary kids filed out of Boise’s Bogus Basin Nordic Center in groups led by SnowSchool volunteer guides. They were bound for the surrounding wilderness and the educational wonders it held. As they ventured through the forest on snowshoes, they caught glimpses of Treasure Valley and the Seven Devils Range in the distance. Along the way, they stopped to learn about the area’s plants and animals, discuss its ecosystem, and conduct a snow pit analysis. For many students, this was their first time snowshoeing—and their first visit to a national forest.

For 10 years, the SnowSchool has aimed to introduce students, often those underserved, to winter’s landscape and ecology, and foster an appreciation for nature, as well as a healthy, active lifestyle through snowshoe recreation.

Every year, the national program hosted by Winter Wildlands engages approximately 28,000 students at 45 independent sites across America’s snowbelt. The science-based program seems enough to make adults jealous. Read More →

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Fine-Tuned Forecasts: Northwest Avalanche Center Launches New Website

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Story by Kate Hourihan / photos courtesy of NWAC

Between all 20 Avalanche Centers in the U.S., and many others worldwide, no two organizations deliver a daily avalanche forecast in exactly the same way. While there are many overlaps in language, iconography and general structure, each avalanche center ultimately has its own format. And because of this, as research evolves in understanding how to best to keep people safe from avalanche danger, avalanche centers have the ability to fine-tune how information is delivered to users through forecasts.

In December 2013, the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) launched a new website. In addition to a visual face-lift, new mobile capabilities, and a more user-friendly interface, significant changes were made to how the daily avalanche forecast is broken down and presented to users. The re-design was influenced greatly by the Colorado Avalanche and Information Center (CAIC), whose design most closely resembles NWAC’s and relies on may principles originally defined by the Canadian Avalanche Center (CAC).

NWAC had specific intentions behind the  re-design.  The main goal, explains Program Director Scott Schell, was to create targeted forecasts applicable to various user types in order to reach everyone who might use the site—from “newcomers to the backcountry with little or no formalized avy education, to outdoor professionals and everyone in between.”

While the previous approach used a one-page forecast to explain many layers of weather and risk complexity, this new site structure aims to organize the various chunks of forecast information intentionally. Thus it uses the following tiered navigation tabs as a guide:


The three tiers described above are visible on the forecast page in the forms of tabs, which let different user groups choose how much detail they want out of each forecast. The basic summary always appears first, with clear and direct language giving new-comers (or those who don’t read through the entire forecast) the most pertinent, straightforward information right away.

Read More →

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Sitka- Running Wild

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Story by Adam Andis/ Video by Alex Crook

I used to imagine Alaska as a vast, wild expanse. In my mind, this state was full of immutable glaciers, unsummitable mountains, and impenetrable forests. I had always assumed that Alaska’s remoteness and immenseness protected it from the forces that had forever changed my childhood home in the Midwest.

Now that I live in Alaska, I’ve come to realize that the Alaskan wilds are just as fragile as any other. It is just fragility on a larger scale, but the threats, in fact, loom even larger.

I live in the small island-town of Sitka. We only have about 14 miles of road; the rest of our 100-mile by 30-mile island is jagged peaks, deep fjords, and dense forest. Incidentally, the coastal brown bears in the area outnumber the people who live on the islands here in the southeast, but we all get along well enough. Read More →

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Backcountry Splitboarding in Chile: Nevados

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Photos and Story By Steve Weiss

It was my first time in this foreign, beautiful country of Chile to splitboard and, it would be the first time ever attempting to summit a peak and fail, multiple times.

Nevados over my left shoulder

Nevados over my left shoulder

The Chilean Andes are unforgiving – windy, wet, and cold – even when the sun is out on a bluebird day. They are considered the 2nd tallest mountain range in the world, sitting just below the Himalayas. Because of its incessant high-powered wind and at times bombproof surface, you can find yourself seeking a peak and being pushed off it. Nevados, a volcano that is located just outside of the Nevados de Chillan resort is the epitome of being forced for multi-attempts.

Nevados is a volcano that is located just above the resort of Nevados de Chillan Northeast from the last chairlift, Mirador. When first arriving to Las Trancas, the town adjacent to the Nevados de Chillan resort, and hearing about its glory and fantastic snowboard lines, we knew we had to get it. We had heard stories of people being denied success because of the habitual wind so we had planned on at least getting denied once. What we didn’t plan for was how many times it would really deny us. Read More →

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MSR Backcountry Cafe: Basics of Dehydrating food

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In this episode of Tim and Christine Conners’ Camp Cooking TV, they dive into the basics of dehydrating food for the trail. They cover the reasons for dehydrating your food and explain how to prepare some of your favorite foods for the trail. If you want to lighten your pack and make great tasting food on the trail, dehydrating your food is a great technique.

For more of Camp Cooking’s mouth-watering camp recipes be sure to  check out Tim and Christine Conners’ bestselling series of books. You can find more information on their website,

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Packrafting the Alatna River: The Wilds of Gates of the Arctic National Park

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Photo: Will Rochfort

Story and Photos By Heather Balogh

The plane sputtered through the water and smoothly sailed into the distance, leaving the five of us standing on the banks of Circle Lake, watching our only link to civilization fly in the opposite direction. Our bush pilot had just dropped us in Gates of the Arctic National Park, near the Arrigetch Peaks in Alaska. We were literally hundreds of miles from anything, and the silence was truly deafening.

Our crew– comprised of Will, Amy, Shannon, Drew, and myself– had been planning this trip for months. Will and Drew had originally heard of Gates in 2007, but it had taken a few years to find a group of people that were interested in going so far off the grid. After a few discussions, we agreed on the adventure: packraft 60 miles of the Alatna River over the span of a week. None of us were familiar with packrafting, but it seemed logical; we could hike if we wanted to, and would be able to cover more ground by raft than we would by trekking through the trail-less park. Thus, the adventure was born. Read More →

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