Monthly Archives: September 2012

Hiking and Bear Safety: Survive a Black Bear Encounter

The black bears around Vail, Colorado are stocking up on food for their winter hibernation. The aspen leaves are turning gold and falling to the ground, and the nighttime temperatures have already started dropping below freezing. Yes–we’re all excited that snow will soon be falling, but before that, all of the bears will go to sleep, and we won’t see them again until the spring…when they come out hungry and ready to eat anything anyone leaves in an unlatched trash can.

If you encounter a bear on the trail, take these precautions to prevent a bad bear encounter: “Survive a Black Bear Encounter,” a recent article I wrote for the About.com Survival Skills website. After reading the article…check out this YouTube video in which a hiker gets a bit too close:

Hmmmmmm…maybe the person who made the above video should have given the bear more room…especially since he mentions that cubs are near, and it also sounds like children and others are nearby.

Want to know more about surviving a black bear encounter?
Read on:

“Survive a Black Bear Encounter”
Eight different types of bear species exist, but the American black bear is one of three bear species that hikers will encounter in North America. More often than not, black bears will turn and run away from approaching hikers, but sometimes they’re startled by hikers or they’re protecting cubs, and they can become aggressive…click here to continue reading

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Avoid Burns in the Backcountry with a Good Camp Kitchen

For some reason, food seems to taste better in the backcountry. Maybe a hard day’s work makes it seem so, or maybe I just have more gratitude when I sit down on the ground to eat. It’s fun to cook a meal or make a pot of tea in a kitchen that I’ve carried on my back into the middle of nowhere. I like the sounds of a hissing stove and a crackling campfire.

Above, right, I’m making bacon at a not-so-backcountry campsite near Indian Creek, Utah, but I got to thinking about all of the different camping kitchen setups I’ve shared with friends over the years after writing an articled for the About.com Survival Skills site titled “Prevent and Treat Backcountry Burns.” Cooking in the backcountry–despite its joys–poses several burn dangers: hot pots, an open flame or campfire, boiling water, limited tools and resources, to name a few.

After writing that article, I felt thankful that I’ve never had to treat a kitchen burn victim in the backcountry. I felt even more thankful after I looked back at some of my camp kitchen photos and spotted some seriously shifty stoves and other burn dangers. First of all…here’s our winter camping ski kitchen at Halfmoon Pass, on the way to ski Mount of the Holy Cross:

I cooked some really cheesy pasta that night as three of us lay in the tent. It was storming outside, and the vestibule was packed with stinky boots…and the stove. In a warmer environment, my friend Cece hangs out by our stove, in the middle of what I’d call a backpack explosion:

The Alps kitchens are always my favorite…here’s my friend Andy relaxing after a day of climbing in the Aiguilles Rouges, waiting for a pot of snow to boil. We were up high and didn’t have a good water source, so we had to scratch snow from a dirty little patch and melt it for water.

This Alps kitchen at the Envers des Aiguilles hut above Chamonix’s Mer de Glace was pretty sweet–we were able to put the stoves on the picnic tables for a solid cooking surface, and we could get water from the hut…and we had a pretty stunning view while we cooked.

Some of these camp kitchens look more burn-proof than others, but all of them provided some of the yummiest, cheesiest pasta and most refreshing cups of tea I’ve had anywhere in the world.

Want to know more about backcountry burn prevention and treatment?
See my article on the About.com Survival Skills site:
“Prevent and Treat Backcountry Burns”
Burns are among the most common camping injuries. Camping and cooking in the outdoors can be dangerous, especially if you plan to cook over an open fire or if you light a campfire for heat…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Survival Brew: Pine-Needle Tea

I came up to my favorite backcountry getaway this weekend and just took some time to enjoy the natural world that surrounds me up here. As I drove south on Highway 24 from Minturn to Leadville, the aspen leaves were an explosion of yellows, oranges, and fluorescent greens. I parked my car at the trailhead and hiked in, walking through a healthy pine forest–one that’s luckily avoided the beetle kill that has plagued so many other pine forests here in Colorado.

Green pine trees surround me once I’m at the backcountry cabin I take care of for some friends of friends who have moved away. I hear birds singing in the trees and squirrels chirping out their alarms as I approach.

I got to thinking about these pines–how they’re good for a lot of things when they’re healthy: wood, food, and a yummy treat: pine-needle tea. When I stayed up here during the winter, I melted snow for water, and it always had a sweet pine-needle taste. I’d scrape down into the snow to get the cleanest snow for water, but I’d always gather up pine needles too, since they fall to the ground along with the snowflakes.

Now, I actually enjoy the taste of pine needles. So when I’m surrounded by a pine forest, I can’t resist gathering up some green needles for tea. I add the needles to boiling water once I’ve got it going at full boil, and I let it boil with the water for about two minutes. Then I remove it from the heat to let it stew for a few minutes.

I like to add a bit of honey or agave nectar to my pine-needle tea, which makes it a sweet, hot brew. And…it’s rich in vitamin C, so I guess pine-needle tea could theoretically prevent scurvy, which is good to know, you know…just in case you ever needed to know that.

Want to know more uses for pine needles, branches, bark, and sap?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills site:
“Several Survival Uses of Pine Trees”
Pine trees have several survival uses including an edible bark, sticky sap, and needles that can make a vitamin-rich tea or bedding for a makeshift shelter…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Bumps, Scrapes, and Bruises

I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve broken bones or gotten big blue bruises doing the things that I love to do in the outdoors. Of course, I avoid injuries…but I sometimes get beat up despite my efforts to remain safe and unbroken.

I’ve been mountain biking more lately, and the slow-speed crash was the culprit that got me on a recent trip to Fruita, Colorado. I saw the rock that I knew I’d hit. So I slowed down. But then I couldn’t get my foot out of my pedal fast enough. I tilted sideways. Slowly. Then–bam!

I landed on my side, and my left arm and knee took most of the hit. But since I was still moving–ever so slowly–I slid just enough when I hit the ground to fill the scrape with dirt and sand. I felt resigned, like I wanted to lie down and go to sleep in that spot, but my partner was beyond shouting distance, so I got back on my bike and kept pedaling as the blood began to ooze from my gritty wounds.

Luckily, we had a first aid kit with us, so we were able to clean up the scrapes and get them protected from the elements. Even so, I felt a little bit like a wimp when I wanted to turn around and go home, even when I later cleaned the wounds for a second time and saw the nasty blue bruises that I’d hide for the next two weeks under long-sleeved shirts and ankle-length pants.

Want to know more about how to clean abrasions in the outdoors?
Check out the article I wrote for the About.com Survival Skills website:
“Clean and Care for Abrasions in the Backcountry”
Follow these steps to keep minor scrapes and cuts from becoming a major problem when you’re in the outdoorsclick here to continue reading

Photo credits:
Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Animal Tracks and The Tracker

Tom Brown Jr., a.k.a. The Tracker, runs a tracking, nature, and wilderness survival school located in New Jersey. He’s written many, many books about outdoor survival, animal tracking, and the philosophy that guides his approach to the outdoors. In the article I just wrote for the About.com Survival Skills site, “Essential Survival Skills Books by Tom Brown Jr.,” I profile five of his books most relevant to survival skills, including the Field Guide to Wilderness, the Science and Art of Tracking, and the Field Guide to Nature and Survival for Children, among others.

As far as animal tracking goes, I’m not a hunter, but I’m always on the lookout for animal prints. I like to know what’s wandering around in my neck of the woods. A few years ago, I was stunned to wake up at a campsite and find mountain lion tracks that had appeared sometime during the night. But when I see the tracks photographed at the top right, I just have to smile. Think you know what animal those tracks are from?

I’ll give you a hint…you’ve probably already guessed that the tracks are from some sort of bird, and that the bird lives in a cold climate. I’ll tell you that the bird lives in Antarctica, but it’s NOT a Skua, an Antarctic bird known for its scavenging ways:

Look at these tracks again. Notice that the tracks seem to be from a bird that’s walking–not hopping along. The tracks look like they’re dragging along a bit, and they’re not too far apart, so the bird probably has short legs, and it might be on the heavy side.

Did you guess penguin? If so, you’re CORRECT. I took a photograph of these penguin tracks one day when I was out Nordic skiing on the Ross Ice Shelf, near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. I worked in communications with a contractor for the National Science Foundation and got to see penguins in their natural surroundings, but I also saw them here, at what’s was called the penguin ranch–a place where scientists corralled them together for further study:

If penguins also make you smile, here’s a final photograph that my friend and co-worker Zondra Skertich took of a beautiful Emperor Penguin with Mount Erebus in the background:

Want to know more about The Tracker, Tom Brown Jr., and his books?
“Essential Survival Skills Books by Tom Brown Jr.”
Add these books by Tom Brown Jr. to your survival skills reference library…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara and Zondra Skertich.

Purifying Water in the Backcountry

I went on a backpacking trip last week up Vail, Colorado’s Pitkin Creek drainage. Even though we camped up high, we were able to find water easily from a nice stream. However, water isn’t so easy to find in other landscapes, such as this one in Utah at Canyonlands National Park’s Salt Creek:

When I went backpacking in Salt Creek, we found a mostly dried-up creek and some murky water:

However, we knew that we’d find at least one good water source because we checked in with the ranger station and read the notes from recent campers who’d found this sweet desert oasis:

My outdoor adventure gal-pal brought along her portable water filter, so we were able to replenish our water here for the three-day trip.

Purified water is essential to outdoor survival, but it also makes nice noodle dinners!

And…perhaps even more essential than noodle dinners? Coffee–along with a good book in the backcountry.

Want to know more about purifying water in the backcountry?
Check out the About.com Survival Skills site:
“Three Ways to Purify Water in the Backcountry”

Water is a basic element of human survival, but it often needs to be purified before you can drink it in the outdoors. Here are three ways to purify water in the backcountry…click here to continue reading