Off Belay: La Cueva del Aguila – Guatemala

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Exploration in a pure sense is an elusive quarry.  Men such as Shackleton , Cousteau, Norgay and Hillary picked some of the biggest and brightest fruits on the proverbial exploration tree in efforts that were hardly free from struggle or pain.  This begs the question: Does the twenty first century still offer new exploration for the willing and able to make their mark?

The answer is yes.  Enter rural Northern Guatemala and a pair of adventurers stocked with climbing gear on our way south to Patagonia.  With our faithful Land Cruiser taking a relentless beating, we made it to the town of Lanquin near the beautiful waterfalls of Semuc Champey.  One ridge from the town there is a village situated along a flowing, jade-hued river shrouded by thick jungle on either side. High above the twists of the river, the smoldering cooking fires of women and the chipping machetes of men, rises an enormous limestone rock face.  Reaching nearly 300 meters, the wall is framed in dense green vegetation and is threaded by industrious jungle vines descending from its pinnacle.  Approximately, three fifths up the cliff is the looming shadow of a beautiful, gaping cave pockmarking the rock face with personality and mystery. Read More →

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Anchor Replacement: For the Love of the Desert

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Mark and I were young college kids in search of gold in the Western Colorado red rock desert. Gold as a metaphor of course, but to us it was more valuable than gold: a first ascent, a chance to climb something that had never been done before.

We did our first-first ascent together the week before in Escalante Canyon, a haunted place that was the host to sheep wars in the Old West days, and is reminiscent of a scrappy, chossy version of Indian Creek.

Now, we were back, hungry for more. What we found was a climb called Oh Shit, well, that’s at least what we called it. Mark said, “Oh, shit” moments before taking a 30 foot headfirst whipper onto a red alien, landing just a few feet above the ground. After the whipper, he sent me up the perfect, but dirty dihedral, and I cleaned the crack off, aiding my way up and finally reaching the top of the line.

But, alas, despair, there was already an anchor. This was not a first ascent. Maybe a second ascent, but who cares about a second ascent? Worse yet the “anchor” was a small block wrapped with webbing that was older than we were. Reluctantly, we began our careers in anchor replacement, and placed a proper two-bolt anchor next to the sketchy relic from the 1970s. 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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MSR Backcountry Cafe: Building Your Backcountry Kitchen

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Story and photos by Laurel Miller

Even if you’re content to subsist primarily on reconstituted meals in the backcountry, there’s always room for improvement (it’s amazing what a dash of soy sauce or dollop of peanut butter can do, for example). If you genuinely enjoy the challenge of creating healthy, delicious fare while out in the back of beyond, having a well-stocked portable kitchen will serve you well.

The first consideration, of course, is keeping your kitchen kit lightweight and compact. I’m a fan of stashing things in labeled Tupperware containers, which necessitates organization and renders your supplies durable and (mostly) waterproof. If you’re going to be on the river or in a clime with high humidity or rainfall, stashing your kit in a dry bag is a good extra precautionary step.

Of course, you can buy handy kitchen kits with specialized camping utensils, so my advice is to purchase one, and then add to it. Why bother? Because, just as with a first-aid kit, you’ll want to personalize it to your needs.IMG_2781

The following are tips on storing, stashing, and stocking your backcountry kitchen. I’m not going to address cookware, as what you carry depends upon the type of trip, destination, and your personal preference/weight-bearing capabilities. Read More →

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Snowy Mountain Lodge & The Strait Couloir

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By Riley Leboe

The first week of February I met up with 3 Armada Skis teammates: JP Auclair, Ian Provo and Kalen Thorien, Salt Lake City-based photographer Jim Harris and Powderwhores Productions filmer Noah Howell for a weeklong ski touring trip to Snowy Mounain Alpine Tours. On assignment for Backcountry Magazine, we made the journey to Blue River, BC, Snowy Mountain’s Caribbo Range location.

Our guide for the week was Steve Ludwig, lodge owner and one of the most experienced guides in Canada. Steve has over 31 years of experience; with his knowledge of the area we had exactly the man to lead the group. Steve and partner Dana have poured their hearts into this lodge. They truly love ski touring, mountaineering, guiding and showing new groups around the terrain they call home. Steve’s insights, stories and history really made this more than just another ski touring trip.

Riley_Leboe_Snowy_Mountain_Group_Touring_1 Read More →

Off Belay: High-Altitude Mexico

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After nearly three weeks of sun and surf south of the border, we were itching for some elevation and knew just where to find it. To the surprise of many, North America’s third tallest peak does not lie in one of Alaska’s formidable ranges, but instead 250km to the west of Mexico City. Pico de Orizaba is a standalone volcano with a staggering amount of prominence. The mountain dominates the surrounding countryside, and simply needed to be climbed.

Our siege of the mountain began with a pitstop in the small town of Tlachichuca to gather supplies and a bit of beta from the reputable Señor Reyes, proprietor of Servimont, the classic European-style climber hostel in the heart of downtown. After collecting our intel, we embarked on a roller-coaster two-hour drive up to 14,001 feet where the Piedra Grande Refugio stands and our acclimatization process began.


I would be lying if I said our acclimatization process was all day-hikes, mountaineering stories, and games of chess. Due to the fact we had spent the last month-plus at sea-level, we had a long way to go to adjust our bodies to the thin air and lack of atmospheric pressure. Señor Reyes’ recommendation was for us to hike down 2,000 feet to the tree-line the first day, as opposed to up. Of course, ever confident in our bodies physical capabilities we chose to ignore his advice and within 18 hours at elevation I was unable to hold down food or drink. Carson was able to squeak by without any major ailments beyond a small headache; I had no choice but to retreat back to town at lower elevation for a night of rest and eating as it would be impossible to tackle an 18,490 foot peak on an entirely empty stomach. Read More →

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Eric Larsen: Thoughts on Staying Warm in the Most Extreme Cold

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By Eric Larsen

People assume that because I spend much of my time in polar regions that I must enjoy being cold. The truth couldn’t be any further from the fact. I like being warm, just like everyone else. The only difference: I like being warm in really cold places. But there’s also a catch, I don’t like being hot in cold places either. I’m kind of like the polar version of Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

To achieve the perfect arctic equilibrium while traveling is no easy task and it requires careful diligence and following a few simple rules.

1. Be the onion.  Back in the day, we would throw on a huge down jacket, go outside and call it good. Sure we were warm, but there was also a gallon of sweat that pooled up inside as well. Today, were smarter understand that being warm as important as the ability to wick moisture away from our bodies. Dressing in layers allows for clothing to have different levels of moisture wicking and insulation. There is no such thing as cold weather just not enough layers. Read More →

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Off-Belay: Beating the Early Winter Blues on Mt. Lemmon

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Photo Credit: Ben Neilson

Climate change has likely altered previous conceptions of the winter season timeline. If you’re from the Pacific Northwest as we are, you have learned to be patient because winter will come, but chances are it’s not going to be on time.”

Regardless of where you’re from, all winter freeriders have been granted a couple of extra dry months absent of white, fluffy precipitation. So, what’s a mountain brother or sister supposed to do while their skis or boards sit waxed, tuned and ready to go?

Our trick for survival during the early winter season blues is to head south.  Enter Mount Lemmon, an elevated craggy oasis perched high above the city of Tucson, Arizona.  Ascending from the desert floor takes one through five distinct biomes ranging from giant Saguaro Cactus stands poised in full salute to a distinct alpine setting clustered with quaking aspens.  The expansive views stretch one’s eyes over three separate states and southward toward Ole’ Mexico, culminating the journey from the burnt landscape thousands of feet below. Read More →

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Eric Larsen Heads for North Pole on ‘Last North’ Expedition

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On Saturday, polar explorer Eric Larsen departed Northern Ellesmere Island and began skiing across Arctic ice on what could be the world’s last unsupported ground expedition to the geographic North Pole. Eric and expedition partner, Ryan Waters, are attempting to break the 2006 expedition speed record. To do so, they’ll need to cover 500 miles of ice in less than 49 days, traversing by skis, snowshoes, and at times swimming through semi-frozen slush.

Because they’re not receiving outside help, the pair is pulling all of their food and equipment—nearly 350 lbs—in sleds, which also serve as rafts. They’ll have to eat an incredible amount of calories per day, avoid polar bears and navigate dangerous shifting ice.


Eric is a veteran to extreme expeditions. In 2010, he became the first person in history to complete expeditions to the South Pole, North Pole and summit of Everest in a 365-day period. In 2006, he completed the first-ever summer expedition to the North Pole. He’s making this expedition for reasons beyond setting the record. As the Arctic ice melts at increasingly faster rates, becoming less stable each year, he believes expeditions like this will be impossible in the very near future.

We’re proud to support Eric and Ryan with MSR equipment tailor-made for extreme Arctic conditions (MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes, Flight 2 poles and the XKG EX stove). The Summit Register will offer exclusive content on his progress, including voice and video updates supplied by Eric from the ice. Check out our Facebook page for expedition facts. And please join us in wishing the team safe and speedy travel.

Click here to listen to Eric’s report from the ice Sunday night of day two.



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Terrible Skiing: An Ode

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Photos and Story By Evelyn Spence

Over my three and a half decades as a skier, I’ve witnessed a lot of things and been to a lot of places, from Alyeska to Vermont, from heli to hut. But before I stepped off the bus at Mongolia’s Sky Resort one January, I’d never seen a man skiing in pink swim goggles. I’d never seen a woman tucking with a Louis Vuitton crossbody purse flying behind her. I’d never seen a group of kids passing around a bottle of vodka while standing in the middle of a groomed run, nor a teenage boy plucking his eyebrows while waiting in line for a rifle range that’s inside of a ski lodge. I’d never seen a girl walk through a building with her skis still on. As a longtime lover of mountains and adventure, this was the farthest I’d flung myself so far.

And I’d never been so cold in my life.


I was in the Land of the Blue Sky to explore the country’s first ski area, which was built in 2009 by South Korean developers and then bought by a mysterious conglomerate that dabbles in beer, vodka, mining, construction, cashmere, and real estate. Mongolia’s economy, fueled by the discovery of natural resources like copper, was and still is growing like double-digit wildfire; I heard that there were already two Lamborghinis in Ulan Bator, and the woman with the flying purse probably purchased it at the sparkling new Louis Vuitton store just off Sükhbaatar Square. At the VIP building at Sky Resort, there were $4,000 Lacroix skis for sale, and someone told me that they’d already sold six pairs. Lots of new money in a very old, very nomadic place. Read More →

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