The MSR Gear that Got Eric Larsen to the North Pole

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By Eric Larsen

On May 6th, my expedition partner Ryan Waters and I reached the geographic North Pole after 53 grueling days. To reach the North Pole from land is a journey of 480 miles in a straight line, but the route is anything but direct. With sea ice moving and shifting due to winds, tides and ocean currents, the surface is constantly in flux. Huge pans of ice collide and crack in a screeching chug, chug, chug sound. There is an overall drift to the ice, too. The entire mass moves slowly from the pole toward Canada, the U.S. and Greenland. In fact, waking up each morning, we were usually quite distraught after checking our GPS—losing up to 3 miles of forward progress while we slept. Read More →

Flashback: The 1970 MSR Climbing Tower

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We’ve been looking through the original Mountain Safety Research Newsletter archives (1969-1982) again, and wanted to share this gem from the May 1970 issue announcing the new climbing tower. MSR Founder and newsletter Editor Larry Penberthy—always meticulous about setting the standards of safety through testing—built a tower structure for product testing and made it available to the public. It was free for Mountain Rescue groups, and only $1 per person otherwise. To use it, climbers needed to bring their own ropes and safety equipment, and make sure to follow the safety rules.

The May 22nd open house offered a chance to “see (and try) the new belaying techniques” and reservations were requested by phone, so enough “soda pop and cookies” could be provided.

Climbing Tower

To see more of the Mountain Safety Research Newsletter archives, visit http://thesummitregister.com/mountain-safety-research-newsletter-archives/. See something particularly interesting? Tell us in the comments!

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MSR Staff Picks: 5 Fast-and-Light Pieces

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This one is for the ounce-counters, minimalists and ultralight packers. We asked five MSR employees which pieces of gear they pack when the objective is to go farther—faster. These pieces represent some of our smallest, lightest and smartest products for minimizing weight without sacrificing reliability on high-adventure journeys. Read More →

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The Sherpa Support Fund

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The tragic death of 16 Sherpas in the April 18 icefall avalanche on Mount Everest has deeply affected the alpine climbing community. As families, friends and colleagues struggle with the sadness, many are also seeking and establishing ways to support the families left behind.

One such organization is The American Alpine Club (AAC), a longtime MSR partner whose mission is to “support our shared passion for climbing and respect for the places we climb.”

In the wake of the event, the AAC quickly responded by establishing The Sherpa Support Fund. The purpose of the fund is to lend aid and support to the families of the fallen climbers and the communities affected by this tragedy. We spoke with AAC Executive Director Phil Powers to bring you more information about the fund. You can join us in making a donation on the AAC’s website.

Why did the AAC respond with The Sherpa Support Fund?

As climbers, we care about the people who support us in the mountains we visit around the world. At the AAC, we felt we had the infrastructure and ability to mobilize quickly and help. We can make sure all the money goes where it should and we have the connections to make sure the organizations involved are coordinated.

What has been the donation response?

There has been an inspiring response and we have raised over $60,000. We plan to close the fundraising on May 30 so that we can turn our attention to making sure the money is spent well. I think we will easily surpass $75,000 by that date. It is an amount that can do a lot of good.

How will the funds be distributed?

The AAC has no real infrastructure on the ground in Nepal so we will be working with other organizations to make sure our funds are deployed well and in coordination with the efforts of several other non-profits who are trying to help.

We understand that the AAC is putting together a committee to help decide how to distribute the funds fairly and wisely. What kind of leaders are you seeking for that role?

I want a small group of people who care about the area and have a good ability to help us evaluate the right partners.

How can people get involved?

Certainly people can donate. There are several organizations doing good work here and I have a high regard for the American Himalayan Foundation, The Juniper Fund and the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation. And we can all look to our own personal practice and how we treat others. Personally, I am trying to do something for the people in Pakistan who I depended on during my climbing days there.

What are the next steps after the fund closes on May 30th?

My main goal is to make sure we convene the right people for conversations about long-term solutions. We are hosting a conference here, Sustainable Summits, in July on this very topic.

Please consider joining us with a donation to The Sherpa Support Fund. http://americanalpineclub.org/p/sherpa-support-fund

The AAC’s July Sustainable Summit of land managers, climbers, planners and scientists representing the world’s mountainous regions is open to all interested individuals around the world. For more information, visit: http://www.americanalpineclub.org/p/sustainable_summits

 

 

 

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BUILDING YOUR BACKCOUNTRY KITCHEN, PART 2: THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

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Story and Photos by Laurel Miller

I grew up in a family that embraced the convenience of freeze-dried meals and deviled ham when it came to camping trips. It wasn’t until a college spring break trip to Baja’s Bahia Concepción that I discovered it’s possible to actually, you know, cook while camping. We’d procured some scallops from the bay. My friend Caroline, an avid cook, sautéed them with garlic and chili flakes, adding a splash of her beer and a squeeze of lime to finish. I was gobsmacked—left to my own devices, I’d been subsisting on canned frijoles refritos and tortillas. That pivotal moment not only inspired me to go to culinary school; it redefined what I thought of as camping fare. Today, there are certain ingredients that are staples in my home and backcountry kitchen. In a previous post, I addressed how to curate a camp kitchen. Here, I tell you how to stock it.

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Tip:  I love trying regional foods, and when I’m traveling domestically or abroad, I explore markets for staples like spices, cheese, bread, olives, dried or fresh fruit—anything adds to my portable pantry. Here’s to a summer season free of freeze-dried.

5 Essentials for the backcountry kitchen Read More →

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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.

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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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