MSR Backcountry Cafe: Easy Appetizers for the Exhausted

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Story and Photos by Laurel Miller

American gastronomy has been responsible for some memorably mediocre finger foods (or canapés, hors d’ouevres, or appetizers, if you’re so inclined). Despite this, we’re all familiar with the ubiquitous cheese ball, spinach dip (served in a hollowed out loaf of sourdough) pigs in a blanket, and, if you’re of a certain age, rumaki.

Having inhaled my share of spinach dip in this life, I’m not trying to be an asshole. But it is possible, even in the backcountry, to create starters that are easy, on-trend, and free of processed ingredients. The point of appetizers, as the name suggests, is to stimulate the appetite. Providing a balance of flavors and textures is the key to making them work, as are good-quality ingredients (which don’t require much in the way of prep to make an impact). Read More →

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One Punch Higher: Ski Mountaineering on Mexico’s Volcanoes

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Q Mexico city and Dia de Muertos

Story by Holly Walker / Photos by Zebulon Blais

Maderno was flooded with ghouls, vampires and comic book characters.  It isn’t unusual for this pedestrian street to be bustling, but this strange cast had packed themselves into the street like sardines for the Saturday before Dia de Muertos (a Mexican holiday celebrating passed family and friends). I was in the thick of Mexican culture. Known for surfing, spicy food, tequila and Mariachi music, Mexico is an unlikely destination for a ski adventure. But, where there is snow, there can be skiing, and Mexico is home to some very high, snow-capped volcanoes.

Still, as I took in the scene of one of the biggest cities in the world, I wondered how I had gotten here. A month earlier, I was having dinner on a sunny patio in Pemberton when my ski buddy Jasmin Dobson told me there was snow in Mexico. “Snow?” I said. “That means skiing, right?” We laughed and finished our burgers watching the sunset over Mount Currie. I had only ever dreamed of surfing the Pacific Coast of Mexico let alone ski there. After dinner, research ensued and I found justifiable evidence that it existed – high up on volcanoes over 17,000 ft. I sent an email to Zebulon Blais, a ski mountaineer that I had met up on Denali. “That sounds ridiculous… when are you thinking?” he asked. Read More →

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MSR Backcountry Cafe: Spiced Eggplant and Tomato Stew

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One of my favorite things about cooking on the road is collecting spices from each place I travel. New flavors and aromas add excitement to my daily meals, and I love always being on the lookout for things I’ve never seen or tasted in marketplaces.


What’s even better than buying fun new ingredients? Being given them by new friends!

When my husband Tyler and I were in Athens, I was gifted a bag of spices by our couch surfing host, Miwa, who knew how much I love to cook. It wasn’t a Greek spice mix, nor one of Japanese descent like our host herself, but rather one that smelled of India. Miwa didn’t know exactly what it was called, but she said it was one of her favorites. I was honored to receive such a gift. Read More →

Roping Up

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Click on the Photo to Open Gallery

Story and photos by Keenan Murray

A brotherhood of devotion. Sinuously dangling in the breeze, it is the last connection and the vehicle of strength from one friend to another. Out of respect for the thin line of life, I cherish it — take care of it, for I know that it will guard against more than an unexpected meeting with the stone cold ground. The words of Royal Robbins run through my head: “Climbing is a great game — great not in spite of the demands it makes, but because of them. Great because it will not let us give half of ourselves — it demands all of us. It demands our best.” Not only is the team physically bound together by the rope; it is the mental, emotional, and almost spiritual connection to one another that can be a saving grace. The steadfast presence when mother nature wants you all to herself, and an unfailingly reliable extension of the will to be alive. The façade of life in a mediocre world is ripped away and what is left other than the climbers? The stark black and white reality of life and death, the last real, slim connection to it and the reminder of how wonderful and fragile it is on the edge. It is a sobering reminder that we must return to earthly confinement, and a hopeful thought that we can return to this place where time no longer exists, only breaths. Only clinging to the idea that with this companion we can make it back to this altered, genuinely human, state of being.




 Keenan Murray works as MSR’s Dealer Rep for the Pacific Rim and International territories. His love of alpine climbing was sparked by a NOLS course to Canada’s Waddington Range in 2011. Two instructional courses with the American Alpine Institute in the summer of 2012 opened his eyes to Washington’s potential. Shortly after, he escaped the dangerously hot summers and disastrously cold winters of Oklahoma for climbing and ultra running in Washington State.


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MSR Backcountry Cafe: Trail Treats, Part 2 – The Parking Lot

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Story and Photos by Laurel Miller

Some of us eat to live, others live to eat (admittedly, it’s a First World luxury to be able to make such a distinction). If you’re of the latter persuasion, it’s hard to dispute the psychological and satiety benefits of high-fat/protein/complex carbohydrate post-exercise snacks that go the extra mile.

Want to ensure a surplus of stoke at the end of your next outing? Take some inspiration from the below list, and make the traditional parking lot scarf-session just as memorable as the rest of your trip. Obviously, you’ll need to menu-plan and store or pack accordingly, depending upon climate and duration of trip. If you’re feeling especially motivated, fire up a grill if there’s one available at the trailhead, or use your camp stove.

  • Toss freshly made or packaged popcorn with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, smoked paprika, and sea salt. Tip: Hot popcorn is also wonderful with a sweet-salty mix; try combining salt with Muscovado sugar, which will get slightly melty.
  • Serve sliced apples with honeycomb, aged Cheddar, and cured ham or prosciutto. Pair with an apple brandy like Calvados or Reisetbauer, or a great domestic version like Clear Creek Distillery’s.  Read More →

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A Beginner’s Guide to Packrafting

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P: Will Rochfort

Story by Heather Balogh

Prior to arriving in Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska, my packrafting expertise solely relied on a 45-minute escapade at a neighboring lake back home in Colorado. Sure, floating around the pond gave me a sense of confidence in the buoyancy of the rafts, but that was about all I walked away with in terms of packrafting knowledge. Since packrafting is an up-and-coming sport, I’d like to save other beginners from the trouble we encountered while becoming familiarized with the boats on the Alatna River. Not everyone should suffer as we did!

What is packrafting?
In short, a packraft is an inflatable individual raft that can pack down to such a small size that it can fit inside a pack while backpacking. Once hikers reach a river, they can remove the raft from their pack, blow it up with the included inflation system, and let the adventure continue on the water. The boats do add some weight to backpacks since the raft, spray deck, paddles, and PFDs weigh roughly 8.5 pounds, but it is worth it. Hiking and rafting allow adventurers to see more terrain and cover more mileage while still traveling under their own power. Read More →

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MSR Field Reports: 2013 International Snow Science Workshop – Grenoble, France

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by Jane Mauser

In October I represented Mountain Safety Research at the 2013 International Snow Science Workshop in Grenoble, France. MSR has been a contributing sponsor of the ISSW for the past two years. A handful of MSR employees attend the workshop to learn more about snow science, share products relevant to snow travel and rescue, and build on our relationships in the snow safety community.

This year’s event brought an impressive turn-out of snow science professionals from all over the world. There are seems to be new avalanche forecast and education centers popping up around the globe and many of them were represented at ISSW. My personal interest is in communication and education of snow safety, so I gravitated toward those posters, abstracts and presentations. It was great to see so many presentations promoting education and communication through a more practical application of snow science. I also attended a couple presentations on managing snow and the impact of climate change. Read More →

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Alpine Climbing in Afghanistan

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Click Photo To Open Gallery

Story and photos by Dylan Taylor


This central Asian country is well-known for drone strikes, Taliban, poverty, drugs, corruption, and… alpine climbing?

Indeed, since the fall of Taliban leadership in 2002 climbers have been returning to the Hindu Kush and Pamir ranges of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. The Wakhan is a narrow 300km-long finger of northeast Afghanistan, separating Tajikistan to the North from Pakistan to the south by a narrow band of river, road, and rugged mountain only a few dozen km wide at its narrowest point. For those captivated by tales of the Great Game – the intrigue and espionage era that pitted the British empire against the Russians in the 1800’s, you’re advised to read up on it the Wakhan corridor features prominently.

Most friends and family whom, when asked to picture Afghanistan, imagine a dusty, inhospitable, destitute, dangerous land where armed bandits and Taliban grow opium and threaten the peace of villagers and foreigners alike. In many respects these gross generalizations may be correct. Afghanistan is indeed a messed up place. It’s an unstable and insecure country, hovering on the edge of collapse. But it’s rich in culture, history, and of course rugged alpine peaks.

I’ve been to Afghanistan twice now: once with Danny Uhlmann, Ben Mitchel, and Cece Mortenson in May 2012 then with Mick Follari and Aidan Loehr in September 2013.

A desire for true adventure, in which we would face unknown terrain, people, and outcomes, was the catalyst for our expedition. With no logistical infrastructure in place, climbers visiting the Wakhan must struggle the old fashioned way to get equipment, transportation, permits, and food/logistics in order. There is no tourist infrastructure available. How many spectacular parts of Planet Earth can still boast of that? It takes patience, hard work, and hard cash to overcome  every bureaucratic and logistical hurdle between the border and the village of Ptukh – 100 bumpy dusty miles up the Wakhan where a two day walk brings you to base camp.

We experienced adventures more difficult, unpleasant, harrowing, and amazing than we ordinarily would in places more traveled and more known, like the Khumbu, or the Andes, or the Alaska Range, etc. But our security was never threatened, and we were met with kindness, hospitality, and not a small amount of greed.

On my first trip to Afghanistan,  Cece, Ben, Danny and I festered for a month on the Issik Glacier with hardly enough food (slight miscalculation on rations back at the Bazaar in Dushanbe), and lots of bad weather. But during brief windows we got some good turns.  We charged hard towards virgin summits when the weather was good, and we retreated in fear when it was bad.  The snow was often crusty,  and  sometimes unstable,  we had to turn back just shy of three separate summits. We couldn’t even put our skis on till over 4000m,  so we were thrilled to get powder turns down steep couloirs on Koh-E-Pamir (6310m) and Koh-e-asp Safed (6150m). One of the most memorable moments of our expedition was the discovery of fresh Snow Leopard tracks (less than 5 minutes old) on the Issik Glacier, intersecting then following our own skin track.  We never saw the mysterious and rare cat, but it undoubtedly saw us. Seeing the tracks from such a rare animal gave us warm fuzzy feelings, but noting that the tracks followed our own in a suspiciously “stalking” manner made my spine tingle.

When I returned to Afghanistan this past September with Mick and Aidan as partners, our aim was to investigate the climbing potential in the Big Pamir range – again around the Issik Glacier area. Koh-e-Pamir presents a super-worthy objective in the form of a 3000 foot granite buttress on its northwest side. We dreamt of climbing this feature, but then found that it hardly gets enough sun per day to balance out the remarkably cold temperatures we felt up high in September. Fortunately, the range is dotted with plenty of unclimbed peaks, faces, buttresses, and couloirs, so we made quick work of a previously unclimbed 6050m peak (we haven’t named it yet!) before turning our attention to a dramatic northeast facing 3000 foot ice and granite wall un an unclimbed 5850m peak.

An elegant 600m ice line wove its way up through a lower rock buttress before transitioning into a complex corniced ridge leading to the summit. It looked interesting, difficult, and long. We tried it twice and were defeated twice. Damn. The crux ice pitches were far steeper than we expected, and the ice was insecure and un-protectable at the crux.  But we were rewarded with pitch after pitch of sold ice and good granite above. Sometimes you know its not your day. We chose to leave bivi gear behind and climb fast. but we didn’t move fast enough. After climbing about half the route in 12 hours, we still had another 12+ hours to go before reaching the summit, then a long, and unknown rappel descent into no-mans land would have awaited our exhausted team.  The Afghan Pamir is an unforgiving place. Rescue is not an option. A broken ankle or worse could mean the end for all of us, not just one. It would take weeks to get to definitive care. We rappelled down.

I’ve been asked if I’ll go back. I still don’t have an answer. Afghanistan is far and away the most memorable place I’ve visited. The landscape, the people, the challenges, the sights and sounds and smells – they all leave an indelible impression on my memory. There’s something amazing about this place. Because of the rural poverty, the corruption, politics, and bureaucracy, there’s also something more exhausting and soul-destroying about this place than any other. Afghanistan has changed and educated me, and I hope I’ll be a better person for it. I also hope that the local population has benefited from our visits – we’re the only Americans they’ve ever seen, and we’re not Military. As tourists, we inject a sizably amount of revenue into the local economy – more so than any other industry or government service. If tourism grows, so will the local economy, and perhaps that will bleed off into increased local security, less tolerance for the Taliban, better education, and more goodwill and friendship towards future visitors. Where will you be going next summer?


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MSR Backcountry Cafe: Speck Pasta

Posted by & filed under Soul.

Story and Photos By Tara Alan

A few years ago, my husband Tyler and I were cycling through Europe. After pedaling up the Alps through expensive-but-gorgeous Switzerland, we coasted down the mountains and entered a paradise for hungry, food-loving touring cyclists like us: Italy.


Besides taking breaks each day for gelato and cappuccinos, we often stopped at the market, where we picked out groceries to cook for supper. One afternoon, during a long, gorgeous ride through the regal Italian lake district, we stopped at a discount supermarket and bought a bag of spinach and ricotta-filled pasta, a few kinds of meat and cheese we’d never heard of, and a bottle of cheap red wine.


Just a few miles down the road, we grew hungry, and were unable to resist our curiosity about the meat we’d just purchased. So, we busted into our grocery stash, pulling the brown hunk of plastic-wrapped cured meat out of our snack pannier. This was “speck,” a juniper-seasoned smoked prosciutto. We couldn’t quite figure out how to eat it, and thus ended up gnawing on it, cave-man-style. The sweet, salty, smoky meat was our instant favorite. Read More →

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Revelations: Revealing the Angel

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Story By Graham Zimmerman

Southwest of Denali, deep in the nederlands of the Alaska Range rises a valley of giant granite walls. They are known as the Revelations and have a reputation for beautiful hard climbing and terrible weather. In June of 2013 Scott Bennett and myself visited these mountains in search of new rock routes on beautiful peaks.

We arrived in Talkeetna just as a legendary high pressure spell was coming to a sharp close. The clouds were closed in and we spent five days waiting in town until we were able to fly into the range. Luckily for us, many successful teams were flying out after sending the west buttress of Denali and we had a constant stream of friends both old and new arriving in town. It also gave us plenty of time to dial in our logistics.

Flying out, photo by Scott Bennett

Flying out, photo by Scott Bennett

Due to it being the later part of the season we were not able to land a fixed wing airplane on the Revelations Glacier, forcing us to hire the Talkeetna Air Taxi’s R44 Helicopter to insert us into the range. Unfortunately the payload of the R44 is far lower than that of their airplanes, so instead of the usual heavy load of food and kit we had to pare it down to the absolute bare minimum. Our gear was the lightest we could imagine affording, our food was only the most calorie-dense. Read More →

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