Monthly Archives: December 2012

Winter Food and Backcountry Fun

gothicGood food adds a lot of fun to backcountry adventures. Sure…good friends and good conditions are essential…but without adequate food, um–let’s face it–I get hangry (that’s being so hungry that I’m angry; hence: hangry). I notice that if I have good, healthy snacks easily available on long hikes and ski tours, I usually avoid getting to this point. I just wrote an article for the Survival Skills website called “Cold-Weather Survival Snacks: Lightweight but Loaded.” You can usually find me with at least several of the items I wrote about stuffed into my pockets: nuts, seeds, dried fruit, jerky, or PBJ rolls. But snacks are snacks, and if I’ve eaten enough good snacks and had enough water to drink en route, I don’t usually arrive at a destination hangry…but I’m always happy to pitch in and get a good backcountry hut meal going.

One of my most memorable hut trip meals was the one a group of us carried in to the Gothic hut near Crested Butte. It was a friend’s birthday, and we had our backpacks stuffed for the occasion.

gothic hut

For breakfast, we had the most amazingly gut-busting concoction with ingredients including egg beaters, tater tots, bacon, and cheese. It all started with Deb cooking up the egg beaters:

hut food 1

Then, we layered the tots on the bottom, eggs, bacon, and cheese on the top:

hut food 2

After a while in the oven, the thing was a cheesy-bacony-yummy mix:

hut food 3

On this breakfast, we could have hiked and skied for a week straight, but it at least got the birthday boy and a few of us to the top of Belle Vue for a nice powder ski down back to the front door.

bill on belle vue
Final advice: Forget the bacon, eggs, and cheese…unless you’re going on a hut trip.

For more nutritious cold-weather snacks, see my article on the Survival Skills website:
“Cold-Weather Survival Snacks: Lightweight but Loaded”
When you’re out for extended periods of time in the cold weather, it’s important to think of food as fuel. But you don’t want your backpack to be as heavy as a brick, as carrying a heavy load will make you need even more fuel to help keep you going…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Adventures in…Acclimatization?

climbing la tourHmmm…best acclimatization memories? As if suffering through lung-burning sessions for the sake of climbing is fun? Actually, getting ready for a big outdoor adventure can be pretty inspiring. The process of preparing to do something challenging can be as memorable as achieving it. I’ve done sprints up steep mountain slopes, gone on enduro-mountain bike rides, and gotten up in the dark to do push-ups and sit-ups before work. But some of my favorite training memories are the ones I’ve shared with friends.

A few years ago, I spent a few weeks in Chamonix, France in late-November/early-December just as the snow started falling. Conditions weren’t good enough yet for full-on skiing…the snow-cover was thin and spotty. But my friend Andy Parkin needed to train for a solo winter expedition he was taking to climb a new peak in the Himalaya. Since I was there, I got roped into his acclimatization routine. Each day, we set off on a new grueling adventure, but even in the midst of it, it was all really, really fun. We climbed up to the top of mountains and enjoyed them all to ourselves, as the ski lifts weren’t yet open. And when we got hungry, we looked around for mountain huts that we could pilfer for food. At this one, we found a whole box of frozen muffins…just a few minutes inside of my jacket, it was thawed out.

muffin find

We ski toured with heavy packs of gear so that we could ice climb:

traci macnamara climbing

And we always had totally awe-inspiring views as the reward for our efforts. Here…the clouds parted above Vallorcine:


And we got to watch the sun go down from high up in the freezing-cold Berard Valley.

berard valley

Andy’s out on another climbing expedition right now, so I’m wishing him well and hoping that he’s acclimating nicely in Nepal!

Want to know more about how to acclimatize effectively for high altitudes?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“Survive High Altitudes: How to Acclimatize”
If you’re a flatlander and you’d like to go on a hiking or backcountry camping adventure at a high elevation, you can do a few things to acclimatize successfully to high altitude conditions. Acclimatization, or acclimation as it’s sometimes called, is the process by which the human body adapts physiologically to different environmental conditions…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Improvised Splints: From Your Living Room to Way Beyond

I recently wrote an article for the Survival Skills website about how to make an improvised splint in a wilderness setting. But making a splint isn’t something that you want to try out for the first time in the backcountry when you or your buddy’s hurt, right? That’s what I thought…so we decided to practice splint-making right here, in our living room. And here are the results:

We wanted to make a practice splint using what we might really have with us or in our backpacks, so for the padded portion of the splint, we used extra clothing, including shirts and bandanas:

splint 1

For the rigid component, we decided to use trekking poles:

splint 2

And then to fix and immobilize the splint, we chose a long-sleeved hoodie shirt, tying the arms around my neck to make a sling:

splint 3

I felt like this splint needed more padding and more clothing to fix it securely, and then it would have done its job stabilizing an injury and protecting it from further harm. But just in case I ever have to make a splint or deal with an injury in the backcountry, I hope I have a good wilderness first aid kit…and a good friend with me!

Want to read more about how to make an improvised splint?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“How to Make an Improvised Splint”
A splint helps immobilize part of the body when it’s injured to reduce pain and to prevent further injury. When you or when someone in your groups gets injured in a wilderness setting, you may not have access to all of the items that a doctor would use to make a splint in an office setting…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

The Avalanche Triangle: Terrain, Weather, and Snowpack

avalancheIf you hike or ski or snowshoe or snowmobile in the backcountry, you need to be avalanche-aware. Thankfully, the Vail-local ski community has bonded together this winter to offer a series of avalanche awareness sessions, which are free and open to the public. Even though I’ve been through the Avalanche I course, I decided to attend the sessions, as it’s good to take and re-take courses to stay sharp. The first session focused on the Avalanche Triangle, the three key factors that contribute to avalanche danger: terrain, weather, and snowpack.

Terrain: There’s plenty of steep terrain around here in Vail, Colorado, and since most avalanches occur on slopes that range in steepness from 30-55 degrees, you don’t need to ski Mont Dolent in the French Alps, below, to put yourself in danger.


Weather: Factors like wind, temperature, and snowfall, all contribute to avalanche danger. So plan ahead before you go out in the backcountry on snowshoes or skis…it’s not all that smart to be caught out in steep, avalanche-prone terrain in the middle of a white-out.


Snowpack: As the snow falls, it settles in layers of varying strength and weakness. Understanding avalanches takes a lot of common sense and willingness to curb risky behaviors, but there’s also some snow science involved. Digging a snow pit to look at the snowpack will reveal a lot about the history of the snow you’re walking on or skiing over.


While terrain, weather, and snowpack are the key factors contributing to avalanche danger, you–the human factor–are the most important element in the middle of the triangle. At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to make the final decision about going into an potentially hazardous area or going home.

Want to know more about the Avalanche Triangle?
Read my article on the Survival Skills Site:
“Avalanche Survival: Know the Avalanche Triangle”
If plan on going outside to hike this winter or spring in snow-covered terrain, you need to consider avalanches as a viable hazard. An avalanche occurs in mountainous or even hilly terrain when snow and ice suddenly cascades down a slope…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Alpine Sister Gets Her Cramp-on!

shawna macnamara cramponsMy sister lives in New York City, and she basically gets after it, whatever it is. Whether she’s attending a Volkswagen rally in her VW Vanagon, making a pot of chili in her Crock Pot, or hiking in the Alps, she goes for it, fully.

A few summers ago, I hooked her up with one of my friends who is a French mountain guide in Chamonix, France. He had her climbing ice in no time (above, right) and joining the throngs of alpine mountaineers on early morning glacier treks.


Of course, all of this activity required mountaineering boots fitted with crampons. Despite having little experience walking with spikes on her boots, she wasn’t afraid to hang out on the top of a razor-sharp summit ridge:

shawna macnamara 2

Next task? Climbing Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest peak. The hike to the summit involved very crampon-necessary slopes such as this one:

mont blanc climb

And a few icy sections such as this one, in which crampons were instrumental:

shawna macnamara 3

Finally, she stood on the summit of Mont Blanc and looked around, across the borders of France, Italy, and Switzerland:

shawna macnamara 4

But reaching the summit only took about half the day; the descent was equally steep…

descending mont blanc

…with icy, snow-covered slopes.

final descent shot

Proper gear–including crampons and ice axes–and proper technique were essential to the success of these adventures. But the desire for some good, sisterly fun inspired them all. Thanks, sista!

Want to know more about how to choose the correct crampons for your alpine hiking and climbing adventures?
Click here to read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“Crampons: Types, Uses, and Tips”
When you’re out hiking in steep terrain and icy conditions, crampons may be essential to your survival. Crampons are sharp metal spikes that attach to footwear, enabling hikers and climbers to travel more safely over snow and ice…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara