By Kerry McClay, National SnowSchool Director for Winter Wildlands Alliance
“So the snowpack is only about 20% water?!” It’s a bluebird day at Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area in the Boise National Forest, and a group of students from the local high school are standing in a 5 ft deep snow trench they’ve dug themselves. Marching out into the forest on snowshoes they’ve used depth probes, density cutters and spring scales to measure snow-water equivalent (the estimated water content of the snowpack), and are discussing their findings with a snow science graduate student from the nearby university. The low water content of the snowpack is coming as a surprise to a few of them. Later these students will analyze snow crystals with macroscopes, cut snow blocks to make an igloo, and eventually take their findings back to the classroom to compare it with historical snowpack data. This is SnowSchool and through this program 28,000 K-12 students are annually introduced to the wonders of winter!
Remember your high school snow science class? Right, didn’t think so. Though mountain snow supplies up to 80% of the water in many communities in the western United States, it remains an understudied topic among scientists and the general K-12 population. To fill this void Winter Wildlands Alliance has been developing the SnowSchool program for nearly 10 years. Historically most of the participants at SnowSchool’s 45 sites have been fifth graders, but Winter Wildlands Alliance has recently piloted a new experience for middle and high school science students. Thus a program that was originally conceived as a simple snowshoe field trip for elementary school kids has evolved into a hands-on learning experience based on space-age science. Read More →
Photos and story by Laurel Miller
Although I’m a native Californian, I grew up skiing Colorado. This is because my parents met while students at Colorado A & M (now CSU) in the mid-50s, and they were avid skiers. My dad was finishing up veterinary school, and my mom was on the barrel racing team. Although they chose to move West to open my dad’s large animal practice, Colorado to this day retains a stronghold on their hearts—something that was passed on to my brother and me in utero (I can only presume).
My dad’s obsession with the Rockies began when he was pre-med and trying to obtain residency for vet school, courtesy of the GI Bill. A World War II veteran and Arizona native, he moved to Colorado and worked summers as a wrangler on various ranches, which was a convenient way to indulge his combined loves of horses and the high country. The U.S. Ski Patrol visited Dad’s high school when he was a senior, looking for recruits for the 10th Mountain Division. At that point in the war (1944), the Army was no longer looking for experienced skiers; rather, they wanted to train their own. Camp Hale, the Army training facility, was located between Leadville and what is now Vail, on the Tennessee Pass. Read More →
By Eric Larsen
On May 6th 2014, I reached the Geographic North Pole after what I can only describe as the most difficult 53 days of my life. Sitting in my chair now, with the perspective of time and distance, I am amazed that I was able to persevere long enough to be successful. After all, no one had completed a North Pole expedition since 2010 and comparatively few over the span of polar history.
In 1995, Reinhold Messner, easily the most accomplished mountaineer of all time, called his unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole, the horizontal Everest. While over 6,000 people have summited Everest only 250 people have traversed the Arctic Ocean from land to the Geographic North Pole—less than 50 of those traveling unaided and un-resupplied (meaning pulling all your food and supplies from the start without the assistance of sled dogs, kites or any mechanical device).
To understand why this particular adventure is so difficult, you need to know a little more about the Arctic Ocean itself. It’s huge—5 and a half million square miles (that’s larger than all of Europe) and plunges to the depth of 14,000 feet. Temperatures range from a balmy just-above-freezing in the summer to nearly 80-below in the winter. Eight countries frame the Arctic Ocean: Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada and the USA (Alaska), but perhaps the most unique feature of all, is the fact that nearly the entire ocean is covered in a thin sheet of ice. Because all that Arctic ocean ice is floating on water, it does all sorts of crazy things due to wind tides and ocean currents. The ice is broken up into sheets or pans that can be up to several miles wide. Pans can crack and form open sections of water called leads. Or they can collide together. Freeze and refreeze forming pressure ridges, rubbled ice, vertically heaved slabs and every other possible combination. Read More →
Photo from the 1991 MSR catalog debuting the WaterWorks Total Filtration System
In 1991, MSR took the plunge into water products to answer the needs of backcountry travelers for more user-friendly and trustworthy solutions to gathering safe drinking water.
One of these initial offerings was the MSR Dromedary™ Beverage Bag, a rugged, collapsible bag to tote your water as you roamed. The other was the now-legendary WaterWorks Total Filtration System—a highly engineered pump filter that was more effective and so easy to use it changed how people filtered water. Today, the MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter is its evolutionary descendent and remains the world’s favorite backcountry filter for its plain and simple workhorse reliability. Read More →
The natural landscape is a dynamic place, and therefore so too are the qualities of the water supplies that flow through it. While an undeveloped water source may seem clear and clean, it can be carrying waterborne pathogens, microscopic agents that cause illness in humans. Popular backcountry camp spots are obvious high-risk zones, but places like the high alpine that see little human or animal traffic can actually be pretty low-risk. Still, the simple truth remains: The only real way to verify that your water is safe to drink is to treat it. And the effort it takes to treat water is minor compared to the complications of illness. Read More →
The boulder field, photo by Whitney Oliver
Story by Hilary Oliver
When it comes to hiking, there are mountains—and then there are the mountains that haunt your fantasies. The legendary peaks that don’t come so easily. The ones with iconic shape, or stunning cliff faces. Longs Peak in Colorado’s Front Range is one of those mountains—one of the most scenic and challenging summits to bag without technical climbing.
I fell in love with Longs as a 16-year-old hiking it in jeans and a cotton T-shirt. We ran out of water. I ripped a hole in my jeans and got super cold near the summit. But the scenery and the experience hooked me. I’ve gone back several times since—with more mountain savvy and better clothing, for sure—which makes the experience a little less Type-2 fun. Here are my tips for making it to the top via the Keyhole Route and have fun doing it. Read More →
Story and photos by Laurel Miller
A creek-chilled beer (or beverage of your choice) is a just reward at the end of a long day on the trail, but what to do when you’re craving something sweet that doesn’t come from a bottle (and no, Gummi Bears don’t count)?
Summer and early fall are the best times to bust out a backcountry dessert because at no other time is the array and diversity of seasonal fruits so abundant and appealing. Depending upon climate, space, and other logistical considerations, trail desserts can be as simple as fresh berries with store-bought biscotti, to grilled stonefruit with vanilla syrup, and mascarpone. In previous posts, I’ve provided details on how to curate and stock your backcountry kitchen, but the beauty of dessert is that it can be prepared at home, and doesn’t require special equipment or a strong back. And that, quite frankly, is pretty sweet. Read More →
Lab supervisor Zac Gleason enumerates how many viruses are alive in a water sample.
Behind every MSR water treatment and hydration product is a team of scientists dedicated to researching, developing and testing the latest in water treatment solutions. Established in 1997, our on-site microbiology lab is crucial to MSR’s water program and the safety and reliability of our products. Initially founded to ensure quality control, today the lab’s world-renowned efforts stretch into research of new technologies, testing and development for the U.S. military, and contracts with nonprofit organizations working in developing nations.
The lab is located at our Seattle headquarters, in close proximity to our production lines, and is staffed by seven scientists with advanced degrees in chemical engineering, biochemistry, microbiology, environmental science and cellular and molecular biology. The world inside this small space is fascinating, with an incredible amount of scientific knowledge. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look inside. Read More →
Anyone who has spent time in the backcountry knows how transformative a wilderness experience can be. For over 20 years, the Big City Mountaineers have used wilderness mentoring expeditions to transform the lives of underserved urban youth, instilling critical life skills through backcountry experiences. In July, MSR category director Chris Barchet took some time off work to volunteer as a mentor and guide, and share his passion for the outdoors with those who wouldn’t have access to it otherwise.
For some youth, the five-day backpacking trips are their first glimpse into the backcountry. “They want to be there,” says Chris, “but they have to learn to commit to the responsibilities of it all. Read More →
By Scott Rinckenberger
When I was invited on a mission to spend two weeks climbing and skiing the Ruth Gorge in Denali National Park, I knew I’d have to bring some pretty serious equipment. Fortunately MSR was willing to help outfit the expedition. I’m exceedingly thankful for the gear, but that’s not all I picked up from the MSR HQ before my departure. I also ran into a long time friend, and while I was being told to “be safe” by nearly everyone who heard the plan, it was the words from my friend Diane which put me on the right track for the trip – “Listen to the mountains.”
Our plans included climbing lofty alpine walls in the Ruth Gorge, and climbing summits from their less-technical sides for some dizzying ski mountaineering descents. If you’ve never seen the Ruth Gorge, it is one of the world’s truly remarkable landscapes. The granite walls rise up 5000′ almost vertically from the glacier, giving the Ruth the feeling of an amplified version of Yosemite, with a floor of perpetually moving ice, and the tallest mountain on the North American continent as it’s source.
I was joined by Alaskan locals Tobey Carman and Cortney Kitchen, Jackson Hole native Patrick Wright, and my longtime skiing and climbing partner, Matt Henry from Washington. As the official photographer for the expedition, I’ll let the photos tell the story.
After a three day wait and our share of beers in the town of Talkeetna, which serves as the jumping-off point for flights into the Alaska Range, we were granted a brief weather window and were able to get a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight to the Ruth. Photo: ©Scott Rinckenberger
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