Tag Archives: outdoors

Cutting down history

10 Jan

22 Absolutely Essential Diagrams You Need For Camping

12 Nov


22 Absolutely Essential Diagrams You Need For Camping

From survival to s’mores, here’s everything you need to know to ensure a flawless camping trip. posted on June 17, 2013 at 2:27pm EDT

1. How to Build a Campfire

How to Build a Campfire

2. Tent Tips

Tent Tips

3. Everything You Need to Know About the Technicality of S’mores

Everything You Need to Know About the Technicality of S'mores

4. How to Estimate Remaining Daylight with Your Hand

How to Estimate Remaining Daylight with Your Hand

5. Snacks to Pack

Snacks to Pack

6. What You Can Do to Repel Mosquitoes

What You Can Do to Repel Mosquitoes

7. How to Sleep Warm

How to Sleep Warm

8. How to Survive Hypothermia

How to Survive Hypothermia

9. Backpacker’s Checklist

Backpacker's Checklist

10. How to Rig a Tarp

How to Rig a Tarp

11. How to Get Your Dutch Oven to the Right Temperature

How to Get Your Dutch Oven to the Right Temperature

You can very easily adapt recipes you can make in a kitchen oven to an outdoor dutch oven.

12. How to Identify Animal Tracks

How to Identify Animal Tracks

13. Know Your Stargazing Events This Summer

Know Your Stargazing Events This Summer

14. 10 Easy Fire Starters

10 Easy Fire Starters

15. Kayak Camping Checklist

Kayak Camping Checklist

16. A Guide to Hammock Camping

A Guide to Hammock Camping

17. Guide to Spider Bites

Guide to Spider Bites

18. Checklist for Car Camping

Checklist for Car Camping

19. How to Make Shelters in Survival Situations Using Nature

How to Make Shelters in Survival Situations Using Nature

20. How to React to a Wildlife Encounter

How to React to a Wildlife Encounter

21. Tarp Tips

Tarp Tips

22. Know Your Poisonous Plants

Know Your Poisonous Plants

Deaf and blind man hikes the Appalachian Trail

25 Sep


Deaf, blind AT hiker gets help in Bethel

Submitted photo

From left are Appalachian Trail hiker and special service provider Roni Lepore of New Jersey, AT hiker Roger Poulin of Winthrop, and hikers Paul Austin, Molly Siegel of Bethel and Samantha Southam of Bethel. Lepore and Poulin, who are both deaf, were helped through Mahoosuc Notch in Riley and Grafton townships by local hikers.


Alison Aloisio, Sun Media Wire

Oxford Hills |

Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 11:52 am

BETHEL — A deaf and nearly blind hiker is nearing the end of his 2,185-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, and several Bethel residents have been helping him out as he approaches his goal.

Roger Poulin of Winthrop was born with Usher Syndrome, which affects vision and hearing and causes problems with balance. He is blind in one eye and has only tunnel vision in the other.

He set out on his journey more than three years ago, accompanied by Roni Lepore of New Jersey, who serves as what is known as a special service provider.

Like Poulin, Lepore is deaf. They met in 2007 at the Helen Keller National Center in New York while attending a Deaf-Blind Interpreters Training Seminar.

Poulin told Lepore about his dream to hike the AT, and he also said he needed a special service provider to go with him. Poulin said he wanted to do the hike in part to show others who are deaf-blind that the dual disability doesn’t have to stop them from taking on challenges. Lepore, a hiker herself, agreed to go along.

After doing a lot of research and taking camping classes, the two were prepared for their adventure — and for however long it took them to complete it.

Poulin used trekking poles to help him with his balance, as well as arm and shin guards, safety glasses, gloves and a helmet. Climbing over all the rocks, roots and other obstacles on the trail resulted in frequent falls, and he often ran into low-hanging tree branches.

He communicated with Lepore using American Sign Language. The two went by the trail names “Adventurous Cane” (Poulin) and “Rambling Shamrock.”

Along the way, Poulin said Aug. 30, they met many hikers who were amazed at his progress. It was slower than what he had first anticipated, however.

“At first, I thought that I could complete it in six to eight months, perhaps nine months” like blind hiker Bill Irwin, author of “Blind Courage,” Poulin said. “When I began hiking from the Springer Mountain (Georgia), I became frustrated so quickly when I realized that I couldn’t keep up with other hikers and hikers passing me most of the time. I had to change my entire view of the hiking world … I do not have to force myself to fit with the ‘mold’ of normal and sighted hikers’ ability.

“I reframed my thinking by focusing on my needs, well-being, and safety to hike. If I need more time to get through, it is OK. It was not easy in the beginning. Over time, it became easier on me to accept that I hike on my own terms — Deaf Blind Time. I give all what I can do to get through in one piece, then I am contented that I know that I do my best to continue with hiking and be patient to reach my dream. I didn’t expect that it would take more than two years, but if it takes four years to do it, then it is OK with me.”

When the pair arrived in Maine in June, the going got tougher.

Poulin described his experience in an interview at Bethel Outdoor Adventures, where Jeff and Patti Parsons and Molly Siegel have been among local outdoorspeople providing them with lodging and assistance.

“Maine is very challenging to hike compared to other states that I hiked in,” said Poulin, who signed his description to Lepore, who in turn typed it out on a laptop computer. “On the trail, there are many exposed roots, large-sized boulders, muddy/bog/boreal fields, steep to climb down especially wet and slippery rock/trail.

“Prior to the White Mountains and Maine, my daily average of miles to hike was between 12 to 15 miles a day. Upon my entrance into the White Mountains and beyond, my daily average dropped to 5 miles a day. By encountering this challenging terrain on the trail, I work hard to negotiate and get through. My body works very hard and I get pretty exhausted by end of day. The weight of my backpack creates another challenge for me to go over the challenging terrain as well due to my balance issue.

“When I first came to Bethel Outdoor Adventure in June, I met Jeffrey and Pattie Parsons. I asked them to shuttle us to the Grafton Notch State Park. My original plan was to hike 95 miles from Grafton Notch State Park to Route 27 in Stratton — around 10 days of hiking.

“I met them again a few weeks later, in July, to inquire where we can find a store to replace my broken bicycle helmet. Somehow, it led us to discuss my AT hiking plans with Jeff and Pattie and all of us got involved to get some help from the Bethel Outdoor Adventure with my hiking challenges.”

Poulin’s original timetable fell by the wayside.

“I had to exit in Andover when I experienced severe case of heartburn and dizzy vision,” he said. “I didn’t expect the terrain to be that daunting. I had to get off the trail to get some rest,” he said. “We had to change my hiking plans several times” and finally completed the section Aug. 28.

Poulin got some extra guidance from Siegel and others through the Mahoosuc Notch.

“From Grafton going south, it goes through the Mahoosuc Notch,” Poulin said. “It required special hiking plans since my SSP didn’t feel comfortable going in without support person(s). The blind hiker, Bulldog, in 2010, went through that area and it took him 9.5 hours to get through 1.1 miles of Mahoosuc Notch. With Operation MNOB (Mahoosuc Notch Or Bust) comprised of three hikers (Molly Siegel, Sam Southam and Paul Austin), we were able to get through without major incident within 4.5 hours.”

Siegel had helped Poulin and Lepore earlier with a re-supply hike. For the Mahoosuc hike, she and the others hiked two miles north on the trail and met the pair headed south.

“Roni let him know if there were dangers,” Siegel said. “We didn’t have to do that much. We took some of their gear.”

To warn Poulin of potential danger, such as a hole, Lepore would tap on one of Poulin’s poles to get his attention and then sign a warning.

Siegel said she enjoyed the unique circumstance of hiking along without a steady chatter among the group, which provided more opportunity to take in the natural surroundings.

She also said she was impressed “at how aware (Poulin) is of his surroundings, how well he uses his poles, and what a good system he and Lepore have to make it all work.”

Poulin and Lepore left Bethel on Saturday for the last leg of the hike — 114.5 miles from Route 15 in Monson to the summit of Mt. Katahdin, via the 100-Mile Wilderness.

Poulin was asked what he would do when he finishes his journey.

“People have been asking of me to write a book sharing my experiences of the past three years,” he said. “To be frank with you, all I think about is taking one thing at a time — to reach the northern terminus of Mount Katahdin. Once I conquer the Mount Katahdin, then I can start thinking about how to share my experience with the world. The reason for that is that I sustained an injury to my rib cage that forced me off the trail last July (2012) and ended my hiking season. Therefore, I want to focus on my ‘last haul.’”

He said he’s grateful for the help he has received while in the Bethel region.

“These folks at the Bethel Outdoor Adventure are like my family!” he said. “I feel very welcome and being part of the community. These people make efforts to communicate with me in any way they are able to via paper/pen, smartphone, laptop, email, gesture, etc. I am a lucky man meeting the Parsons and folks of the Bethel Outdoor Adventure and Bethel. They make an impact on my hiking experience by giving me some support. I may never know how much progress I might have made otherwise in Maine if not for them.”

To follow Poulin and Lepore’s progress on their final leg, see their blog.


Survival Lessons From a Book

12 Mar



10 Wilderness Survival Lessons From Hatchet

by Brett on March 11, 2010 · 51 comments

in Manly Skills


The other day I was sorting through some old books and stumbled upon a childhood favorite, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The last time I read it was nearly 15 years ago, so I decided to read it again for old times sake. For those of you who haven’t read Hatchet, the basic plot is this: A teenage city boy named Brian Robeson crashes in the middle of the Canadian wilderness while flying in a bush plane. The pilot dies, and the boy lives. All alone in the wilderness, Brian must learn how to survive in the wild for 54 days with nothing but a hatchet.

I discovered a few things while re-reading Hatchet. First, the story is just as good and entertaining as it was when I was 12 years old. It’s truly one of the best books for boys. Second, Hatchet is a super quick read. You can finish the book in one sitting if you want. I definitely recommend reading it this weekend. It beats surfing the web mindlessly. Finally, while Hatchet is a work of fiction and wasn’t written as a how-to survival guide, we can learn a lot from Brian Robeson on how to stay alive in the wilderness. Gary Paulsen tested everything he had Brian do himself, to make sure the story was authentic.

As a boy I made mental notes of what Brian did to survive; every boy secretly dreams and wonders about whether he’d be up for such a challenge. I couldn’t help taking away some lessons this time around, too. Here are 10 wilderness survival skills that a man of any age can glean from Hatchet.


Take Inventory of Your Supplies

It kept coming back to that. He had nothing. Well, almost nothing. As a matter of fact, he thought, I don’t know what I’ve got or haven’t got. Maybe I should try and figure out just how I stand.

Everything you have on your person is a potential survival tool. When Brian did his inventory, he had a torn parka, shoes, his trusty hatchet, a $20 bill, a pair of jeans, and a t-shirt. Not much. But with some creativity and ingenuity, he used a shoelace to fashion a bow and arrow and the $20 bill and hatchet to start a fire without matches. Follow Brian’s lead. Take advantage of everything you have.


Get Your Head Right

Brian had once had an English teacher, a guy named Perpich, who was always talking about being positive, thinking positive, staying on top of things… Brian thought of him now- wondered how to stay positive and stay on top of things.

Maintaining a positive attitude is perhaps the hardest and most important wilderness survival skill to develop. Studies have shown that when people adopt a positive attitude “their thinking is more creative, integrative, flexible, and open to information.”  Moreover, positive people tend to bounce back more quickly from physical sickness and injuries than people with negative attitudes. These two traits- creativity and physical resiliency- are essential to survival.

When you’re alone in the wild with little or no provisions it’s easy to slip into depression and feel sorry for yourself. But pity parties won’t get you anywhere as Brian learned after one particularly rough night:

He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work… When he sat alone in the darkness and cried and was done, all done with it, nothing had changed. His leg still hurt, it was still dark, he was still alone and the self-pity had accomplished nothing.

In a previous article, we discussed the fact that resilient men have an internal locus of control. They’re the masters of their own destiny and tend to handle stress well. Those with an external locus of control curl up into a ball and cry big crocodile tears about how bad they have it. Which man do you think is going to survive when their back’s to the wall?

While you should maintain a positive attitude while lost in the wild, you don’t want to delude yourself into thinking that things are better than they really are. First, you only set yourself up for disappointment when things don’t go your way, and second, maintaining a realistic outlook will keep you from getting complacent. You always need to be planning and working as though you’re in your situation for the long haul.

In short, hope for the best, but plan for the worst.


Learn to S.T.O.P.

With his mind opened and thoughts happening it all tried to come in with a rush, all of what had occurred and he could not take it. The whole thing turned into a confused jumble that made no sense. So he fought it down and tried to take one thing at a time.

A key to Brian’s survival was that he did something that wilderness survival experts recommend without even knowing he was doing it. He frequently S.T.O.P-ed: Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. Throughout the story we’ll find Brian frantically attempting to complete a task. For example, when he tried to make a fire for the first time, he rushed the whole process and kept coming up empty. Frustrated, he stopped and deliberately thought about what was needed to start a fire. After observing that he didn’t have adequate oxygen or air for combustion, he made a plan to blow on the sparks when they landed in the tinder. And just like that he had fire.

The key to surviving in the wilderness is keeping yourself from panicking. Sometimes the best thing you can do in a survival situation is to do nothing and just think. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted effort.


Small Mistakes Are Magnified in the Wilderness

Small mistakes could turn into disasters, funny little mistakes could snowball so that while you were still smiling at the humor you could find yourself looking at death. In the city if he made a mistake usually there was a way to rectify it, make it all right. Now it was different…

In the wild, small mistakes can kill.  If you break your leg in suburbia, you’ll just have to prop your foot up on a pillow for a few days and hobble around on crutches. An inconvenience, but you’ll get by. Now, break that leg in the middle of nowhere and you have a world of problems. You won’t be able to walk, which means you won’t be able to hunt. If you can’t hunt, you can’t eat. If you don’t eat, you die. All because of a stupid broken leg.

There were a few moments in the book where Brian made some small mistakes that could have created huge setbacks. Eating and puking the “gut berries,” not adequately protecting his shelter which allowed a porcupine to inject a couple dozen quills into his leg, and getting sprayed in the face by a skunk. Many of these mistakes could have been avoided if he was simply more careful.

Granted, completely avoiding mistakes isn’t possible, but you should limit them as much as you can. Taking the time to S.T.O.P can definitely prevent most blunders. Staying constantly vigilant will help, too.  Be aware of your surroundings. You never know if you’ll end up face to face with an angry mother bear or a raging bull moose.


Carry a Good Tool

Brian took the sack and opened the top. Inside there was a hatchet, the kind with a steel handle and a rubber handgrip. The head was in a stout leather case that had a brass-riveted belt loop.

The hatchet. That tool literally saved young Brian Robeson’s life. With it, he made a fire that offered warmth and protection at night and created spears and arrows he used to hunt for food. If he didn’t have that hatchet, Brian would have been bug food in just a few days. Any cutting tool would come in handy out in the wild. Even a lowly pocket knife. But if I were out in the wild, I would want a quality multi-tool like a Leatherman. I own one and they’ve come in real handy during my outdoor excursions. However, a new multi-tool has recently caught my eye, and I’ve put it on my wish list. The Atax puts Brian’s hatchet to shame. This thing does it all. It’s an ax, a skinner, a hammer, a wrench, a compass, and get this, an arrow launcher. Put this in the hands of a crafty, able-bodied man, and he’ll not only survive the wild, he’ll conquer it.


Know How and Where to Get Clean Water

It was water. But he did not know if he could drink it. Nobody ever told him if you could or could not drink lakes.

People often underestimate the importance of water in a survival situation. Your body can still function with little or no food for weeks, but go without water for a few days and you die. Water isn’t hard to find. It’s everywhere (well, except for deserts). The problem is finding clean water. Lucky for Brian he crashed in the middle of the Canadian wilderness right next to a clear, pristine lake. He could dunk his head right into the water, drink it, and not get sick.

You’ll probably not be as fortunate. Most wilderness survival experts recommend boiling water before drinking it to kill any harmful pathogens. This technique, of course, assumes you have a pot on hand. If you don’t have a pot, several techniques exist to procure drinking water like collecting rain or creating a water still. It’s also possible to create filtering systems with things you have on hand, like a t-shirt.


Make a Safe Shelter

Protect food and have a good shelter. Not just a shelter to keep the wind and rain out, but a shelter to protect, a shelter to make him safe.

After finding water, finding shelter to protect you from the elements should be your next priority. Take advantage of your surroundings when creating a shelter. Rock overhangs make excellent shelters. That’s what Brian used. If you don’t have a rock overhang nearby, you’ll need to use materials like limbs, leaves, and pine boughs to make a shelter. A lean-to is an easy and popular wilderness survival shelter. Other shelter designs exist and each one has their pros and cons.


Find Food

He had learned the most important thing, the truly vital knowledge that drives all creatures in the forest- food is all. Food was simply everything. All things in the woods, from insects to fish to bears, were always, always looking for food- it was the great single driving influence in nature.

Most of the book describes Brian’s attempts to procure food. He spent the bulk of his time scavenging for something to eat. He starts off gorging on a strange berry that makes him puke. After that, he discovers raspberries growing in the wild and adds them to his menu.

But man can not survive on fruit alone. Brian’s body needed protein to give him strength. He found his first dose of protein in the form of raw turtle eggs. They were hard to keep down at first, but he forced himself to drink the nourishing substance. Soon he added fish and birds to his diet. You can prepare to feed yourself in the wild now by becoming familiar with edible plants, berries, and roots. Moreover, learn how to create rudimentary traps to capture small game.


Know How to Start a Fire Without Matches

He swung harder, held the hatchet so it would hit a longer, sliding blow, and the black rock exploded in fire… There could be fire here, he thought. I will have a fire here, he thought, and struck again- I will have fire from the hatchet.

Fire provides warmth, light, protection from animals and insects, and a rescue signal. Fire is also a big morale booster; almost like a companion. That’s what Brian noticed when he created his first fire. “I have a friend, he thought – I have a friend now. A hungry friend, but a good one. I have a friend named fire.”

When you’re in a wilderness survival situation, don’t count on matches. Even if you have them, windy and wet situations will render them virtually useless. Thus, it’s essential that a man know how to start a fire without matches. Brian got his fire going by striking his metal hatchet blade against the quartzite in his shelter. You should try learning several methods so you’re prepared for any situation. In addition to knowing how to start a fire, you should also know how to build a campfire appropriate for your different needs.


Prepare a Signal

While he was working he decided to have the fire ready and if he heard an engine, or even thought he heard a plane, he would run up with a burning limb and set off the signal fire.

In the wild, surviving is your top priority. Your second priority should be to get the hell out of there and back to safety and QuickTrips. Fire works as a great signal. Brian prepared a fire lay that he could light quickly as soon as he heard a plane. A reflection mirror is another great option. While you can purchase a special signal mirror, any shiny, metallic object could work in a pinch. You can also create search signals by using rocks which contrast with the ground’s color to spell out “SOS” or “HELP.” The letters you create should be at least 3 meters tall in order for pilots to see them from the air.

Our winter ascent of Mt Bierstadt

2 Jan

Woke up at 530am. On the road at 615am. Threw some Explosions In The Sky on while driving west out of Denver


We finally get up into Aprapaho Natl Forest around 8am

The road was closed so we didn’t get to drive to the trailhead. We strapped on snow shoes and had to hike 1.5 miles of switchback mountain road just to get on the trail. Notice the road sign behind me.

To cut a few switchbacks out we set off straight up a few hills. Here’s looking down one of them that w came up.

That peak way back there is where we were headed.

On the way we passed through the highest elevation marsh in CO



As we got higher the snow shoes had to come off and the cleats went on

We came from below that tree line on the lower right

Sawtooth Ridge in the background

We didn’t actually go all the way up. Because of the extra 1.5 mile run-up we were behind schedule. If we peaked then we’d be coming down by headlamp. With no competition and nothing to prove we turned around just above 13,000ft and went to a bar

Oh and here’s what it looks like when someone goes from 600′ (TX) to 13,000′ overnight.

Anyway this was the motivation. It’s amazing what a guy will do for a beer.



Other misc pics

The Nature Cure

28 Nov


Outside Magazine, December 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning

These days, screen-addicted Americans are more stressed out and distracted than ever. And nope, there’s no app for that. But there is a radically simple remedy: get outside. Florence Williams travels to the deep woods of Japan, where researchers are backing up the surprising theory that nature can lower your blood pressure, fight off depression, beat back stress—and even prevent cancer.

I was supposed to be listening to the cicadas and the sound of a flowing creek when a Mitsubishi van rumbled across a small steel bridge just downstream. It was probably depositing campers at a nearby tent village, where kids were running around with their fishing poles and pink bed pillows. This was nature, Japan style. I was in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, a 75-minute train ride northwest of Tokyo, with half a dozen other hikers out for a dose of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. The Japanese go crazy for this practice, which is standard preventive medicine here. It essentially involves hanging out in the woods. It’s not about wilderness; it’s about the nature-civilization hybrid the Japanese have cultivated for thousands of years. You stroll a little, maybe write a haiku, crack open a spicebush twig and inhale its woodsy, sassy scent.

“People come out from the city and literally shower in the greenery,” our guide Kunio explained. “This way they are able to become relaxed.” To help us along, Kunio—a volunteer ranger—had us standing still on a hillside, facing the creek, with our arms at our sides. I glanced around. We looked like earthlings transfixed by the light of the beamship. Or extras in a magical-kingdom movie. Kunio could have been one of the seven dwarves. Elfin, with noticeably large ears, he told us to breathe in for a count of seven, hold for five, release. “Concentrate on your belly,” he said.

We needed this. Most of us were urban desk jockeys, including Tokyo businessman Ito Tatsuya, 41, standing next to me. Like many Japanese day hikers, he was carrying an inordinate amount of gear, much of it dangling from his belt: a cell phone, a camera, a water bottle, and a set of keys. The Japanese would make great Boy Scouts, which is probably why they make such fervent office workers, logging longer hours than almost anyone else in the developed world. They’ve even coined a term, karoshi, meaning death by overwork. Since he began lollygagging in the woods and picnicking on octopus, Ito’s shoulders seemed to be unclenching by the minute.

“When I’m out here, I don’t think about things,” he said.

“What’s the Japanese word for stress?” I asked.

“Stress,” he said.

WITH THE LARGEST CONCENTRATION of broad-leafed evergreens in Japan, mountainous Chichibu-Tama-Kai is an ideal place to put into practice the newest principles of wellness science. In a grove of rod-straight Japanese red pine, Kunio pulled a thermos from his massive daypack and served us some mountain-grown, bark-flavored wasabi-root tea. The idea with shinrin-yoku, a term coined by the government in 1982 but inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, is to let nature enter your body through all five senses, and this was the taste part. I stretched out across the top of a cool, mossy boulder. A duck quacked. I was feeling pretty mellow, and tests would soon validate this: between the beginning and the end of the two-hour hike, my blood pressure had dropped a couple of points. Ito’s had dropped even more.

We knew this because we were on one of Japan’s 48 official Forest Therapy trails, designated for shinrin-yoku by Japan’s Forestry Agency. In an effort to benefit the Japanese and find nonextractive ways to use forests, which cover 67 percent of the country’s landmass, the government has funded about $4 million in forest-bathing research since 2004. It intends to designate a total of 100 Forest Therapy sites within 10 years. Visitors here are routinely hauled off to a cabin where rangers measure their blood pressure, part of an effort to provide ever more data to support the project.

The Japanese have good reason to require unwinding: In addition to those long workdays, pressure and competition for schools and jobs have helped Japan achieve the third-highest suicide rate in the developed world (after South Korea and Hungary). Ten percent of the country’s 128 million residents live in greater Tokyo, where rush hour is so crowded that white-gloved workers shove people onto Metro trains, leading to another coinage, tsukin-jigoku—commuter hell. On top of all that, the small island nation trembles and yaws with more than 1,500 earthquakes a year. The tsunami that hit in 2011 killed 20,000 people, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a triple meltdown, and now some of the country’s prized rice has radioactive cesium in it.

So it makes sense that Japan’s scientists are in the vanguard of knowing how green spaces soothe the body and brain. While a small but impressive shelf of psychological research in recent decades suggests that spending time in nature improves cognition, relieves anxiety and depression, and even boosts empathy, scientists in Japan are measuring what’s actually happening to our cells and neurons. Led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki from the University of Chiba and Qing Li from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, they’re using field tests, hormone analysis, and new brain-imaging technology to uncover how the magic works on a molecular level. Once we know that, it’s news we can use.

“The Japanese work is essential, a Rosetta stone,” says Alan C. Logan, co-author of the recent book Your Brain on Nature. “We have to validate the ideas scientifically, through stress physiology, or we’re still stuck at Walden Pond.” Americans have often relegated nature to the romantic realm of Thoreau and Abbey. Viewing it as medicine is still largely foreign. “Studying the impact of the natural world on the brain is actually a scandalously new idea,” says Richard Louv, author of the 2008 bestseller Last Child in the Woods—the book that minted the term nature deficit disorder—and The Nature Principle, his 2010 follow-up about adults. “It should’ve been studied 30 to 50 years ago.”

But the Japanese evidence is appearing at a good time. Books like Louv’s, combined with an explosion in new digital distractions and malaises, are helping to define a cultural moment, what might be called a new slow-nature movement. We are rediscovering our inherent biophilia—what Harvard entomologist E. O. Wilson and Yale social ecologist Stephen Kellert defined as humanity’s affinity for nature. And we see now that we have become what John Muir described as “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.”

Indeed, in 2008, the world reached a curious milestone: more people lived in urban areas than outside of them. In the U.S., urban areas grew faster in 2010 and 2011 than suburban regions for the first time since the 1920s. According to Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows, the average American spends at least eight hours a day looking at some sort of electronic screen. Then we try to relax by watching TV. Bad idea. Research shows that this only makes us crabbier. Logan asserts that, since the age of the Internet, North Americans have become more aggressive, more narcissistic, more distracted, more depressed, and less cognitively nimble. Oh yeah, and fatter.

And don’t think you’re off the hook if you exercise outdoors. You are quite likely still tethered to civilization. Perhaps you’re strapped to a heart monitor or headset. Admit it: Have you brought your phone? Are you clocking wind sprints? Sure, you are deriving some mental and physical benefits, but evidence is mounting that to get the most out of nature, you really need to be present in it, not distracted by your own great story of self.

I reflect most of these trends. I spend too much time sitting inside. I maintain multiple social-media platforms, and I’ve recently moved from idyllic Boulder, Colorado, to Washington, D.C. Now my morning walk takes place directly under the flight path of Reagan National Airport. I dodge surly bike commuters and professional dog walkers, then cross a car-clogged parkway that sets me grumbling and obsessing over my fate, my relationships, and my kids’ new schedules, which require military precision and Euclidean traffic calculations. When I walk under a bridge to get to something resembling a trail, I pass graffiti that reads PUSSY FUDGE. I’m feeling a bit. On. Edge.

IF THE JAPANESE EMBRACE of forest therapy can be attributed to one man, it’s Miyazaki, a physiological anthropologist and vice director of Chiba University’s Center for Environment, Health, and Field Sciences, located just outside Tokyo. Miyazaki believes that because humans evolved in nature, it’s where we feel most comfortable, even if we don’t always know it. “Throughout our evolution, we’ve spent 99.9 percent of our time in natural environments,” he says. “Our physiological functions are still adapted to it. During everyday life, a feeling of comfort can be achieved if our rhythms are synchronized with those of the environment.”

To prove it, Miyazaki has taken more than 600 research subjects into the woods since 2004. He and his colleague Juyoung Lee, also of Chiba University, have found that leisurely forest walks, compared with urban walks, yield a 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a seven percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate. On subjective tests, study participants also report better moods and lower anxiety.

As Miyazaki concludes in a 2011 paper, “This shows that stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy.” And the Japanese eat it up, with nearly a quarter of the population partaking in some way. Between 2.5 million and five million visitors walk the Forest Therapy trails each year.

The science is so convincing that other countries are following Japan’s lead in studying and promoting nature as a cure. Lee just got hired away by the South Korean government, which is pouring more than $140 million into a new National Forest Therapy Center, expected to be completed in 2014. Finland, an empire of boreal spruce and pine, is also funding numerous studies. “Japan showed us that there could be cooperation between forestry and medical fields,” says Liisa Tyrvainen of the Finnish Forest Research Institute. “Now we are conducting similar research.”

I met up with Miyazaki at the country’s newest proposed therapy site, Juniko, a leafy network of trails and lakes near northern Japan’s Shirakami Mountains. The scientist was swatting mosquitoes from his face and neatly trimmed gray hair. In fact, he wasn’t looking relaxed at all. He was worried that the trail might be too muddy for his latest experiment, which would inaugurate the new field version of a brain-oxygen measuring, near-infrared spectrometer. He was kicking rocks out of the way and overseeing the setup of a netted, canopied mini-lab. The next morning, he and Lee would bring 12 male college students here, to measure their brain activity and vital signs after walking and sitting and generally forest bathing. They’d repeat the experiment in downtown Hirosaki, a city of 175,000 about two hours away. I would serve as one of Miyazaki’s stressed guinea pigs.

With the details worked out, several of us retired to a quiet restaurant across from Hirosaki’s Dormy Inn. We removed our shoes and sat cross-legged on the floor while Miyazaki distributed a baffling array of dishes involving runny eggs, seaweed, and gelatinous balls.

“Why do the Japanese think about nature so much?” I asked Miyazaki, who was preparing to eat his modest slab of manta ray.

“Don’t Americans think about nature?” he asked me.

I considered. “Some do and some don’t.”

“Well,” he mused, “in our culture, nature is part of our minds and bodies and philosophy. In our tradition, all things are relative to something else. In Western thought, all things are absolute.”

Maybe it was the sake, but he was starting to lose me.

“The difference is in language,” he continued. “If I ask you, ‘A human is not a dog, is it?’ you say, ‘No, a human is not a dog.’ In Japan, we say, ‘Yes, a human is not a dog.’” The great sensei of nature studies peered at me over his chopsticks. I was reminded of the story of the Zen student who asks his teacher, “How do you see so much?” and the teacher responds, “I close my eyes.”

Miyazaki, I understood, was like a koan, impenetrable. But you had to trust that the guy was onto something.

ON THE MORNING OF the forest experiment, the college kids and I took turns sitting in the mobile lab at the trailhead. The boys were skinny, sleepy-eyed, and unfailingly polite. As if we were receiving sacrament, we placed hard cotton cylinders under our tongues for two minutes, then spit them out into test tubes. Once analyzed in a lab, these samples would reveal our levels of salivary cortisol, a stress hormone made in the adrenal cortex and sent to the brain. Lee, exuding calm and efficiency, hooked us up to other electrodes and devices that would track changes in blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate, gauging our physiological responses to the forest and the city.

These are standard measurements the team has used for years. But today they also pulled out the new battery powered spectrometer, which, when deployed, gave me a sensation of leeches sticking to my forehead. It’s designed to measure hemoglobin levels (a proxy for blood and oxygen) in the prefrontal cortex. This is the brain geography that deals with cognitive and executive functions, such as planning, problem solving, and decision making. When aggregated, these metrics paint a picture of our bifurcated nervous system.

The researchers want to know if being in nature gives these frontal lobes a much needed rest. When we are relaxed and at ease in our environment, our parasympathetic system—sometimes called the rest-and-digest branch—kicks in, stimulating appetite. This is why food tastes better in the outdoors, explained Miyazaki. But the constant stimulus of modern life triggers our sympathetic nervous system, which governs fight-or-flight behaviors. And triggers it, and triggers it. A long trail of research dating back to the 1930s shows that people with chronically high cortisol levels and blood pressure are more prone to heart disease and depression.

When it was my turn to wander through the forest for 15 minutes, I was happy to break free from the wires. The loud pulse of cicadas echoed through the woods. Light filtered gently through the beeches and Japanese horse chestnuts, and the earth smelled like, well, earth. An elderly couple ambled by, assisted by walking sticks and a bear bell. I was briefly mesmerized by a yellow butterfly. I could see why Juniko is a candidate for the country’s next forest-therapy station. Local and park officials are seeking the designation because, where there’s forest therapy, there are tourists and their yen. Miyazaki may have a mystical side, but what drives him is the data he gets from these parks. It’s a convenient arrangement.

This isn’t an entirely new idea. Beginning in the 1970s, researchers at the University of Michigan, led by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, noticed that psychological distress was often related to mental fatigue. Modern life demands what the Kaplans call sustained directed attention on tasks both important and mundane—checking email, working a desk job, finding a parking spot. What leads to resting our brains’ directed-attention function? “Soft fascination,” explains Rachel Kaplan from her plant-filled university office. This is what happens when you watch a butterfly or the sunset or rain. You can’t help but stop multitasking or kvetching. That’s why Kaplan recommends a decidedly nonathletic approach to the outdoors, at least at times.

“When you’re pursuing a sport, you get cardiac points, but you’re not necessarily getting nature points,” she says. Research by her colleague Jason Duvall suggests that when you are distracted outside—running with an iPod, say—you may be more irritable and impatient later, less able to stay on task, focus, and plan than your nature-engaged peers.

Studies by the Kaplans and others show that after short walks in greenery, or even spells of looking at nature images in a lab, subjects’ directed-attention capabilities at least partly recover—people perform significantly better on cognitive tests and report feeling happier. They behave less selfishly when playing computer games. Turning down the front-brain disco ball also seems to improve creativity. And the more time in nature, the better. A recent pilot study by psychologists Paul and Ruth Ann Atchley of the University of Kansas and David Strayer of the University of Utah found that after three days of hiking and camping in the wilderness, participants in an Outward Bound course improved their scores on tests of creativity by 50 percent. “I’ll admit I’m a believer that there’s something profound going on,” says Strayer.

Yet, it’s been hard to see inside the brain to observe these processes at work. Neuroscientists want quantitative visuals. That’s starting to happen, mostly in labs in South Korea and the U.S. Studies have shown that when subjects look at pictures of nature, hemoglobin levels drop in the prefrontal cortex, meaning that the home base of executive function has switched a few lights off. (Similar effects have been seen in the brains of Tibetan monks, who appear to dim their brain wattage through meditation.)

Where’s the action going instead? To other parts of the brain, like the insula and the basal ganglia, says Kaplan protégé Marc Berman, now at the University of Toronto’s Rotman Research Institute. These are areas sometimes associated with emotion, pleasure, and empathy.

Berman has recently begun using functional MRI to watch people’s brains as they look at images of nature through virtual-reality glasses. “What we’re trying to find out is, what does a restored brain look like, and what does it look like as it’s getting restored?” says Berman. In the real world, filled with real nature, he would expect the effects to be even more pronounced. Miyazaki and Lee, with their hemoglobin-measuring spectrometer, intend to find out.

TWO WEEKS AFTER OUR experiments at Juniko and Hirosaki, Lee sent me preliminary results from my brain spectroscopy. Brightly colored squiggly lines on a graph show that my oxyhemoglobin concentrations indeed appeared lower in the forest than in the city. Lee said that results from me and the college boys would require more analysis, but for first-time field work he was optimistic. “I am very excited,” he said.

The results didn’t surprise me. My urban peregrination hadn’t been nearly as pleasant as the soft green trails of Juniko. Downtown Hirosaki is, like a lot of midsize cities, more functional than attractive. Walking on the hot asphalt, I passed four parking lots, two taxi stands, a bus station, and two loudly idling buses belching fumes. The results showed that my nervous system had responded. My systolic blood pressure had dropped six points after walking in the forest; obligingly, it went up six points after walking in the city.

But how long do the feel-good effects of nature last? Are they simply wiped out by the first traffic jam or cell-phone ditty?

One of Miyazaki’s collaborators, Qing Li, an immunologist in the department of hygiene and public health at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, had the same question. The chairman of the Society of Forest Medicine, a small but growing international group of academics, Li is interested in nature’s effect on the human immune system. A person’s natural killer immune cells (NK cells for short) can, like cortisol and hemoglobin, be reliably measured in a lab. A type of white blood cell, NK cells are handy to have around, since they send self-destruct messages to tumors and virus-infected cells. It’s been known for a long time that factors like stress, aging, and pesticides can reduce your NK count, at least temporarily. So, Li wondered, if nature reduces stress, could it also increase your NK cells and thereby help you fight infections and cancer?

In 2005 and 2006, Li brought a group of middle-aged Tokyo businessmen into the woods. For three days, they hiked in the morning and again in the afternoon. By the end, blood tests showed that their NK cells had increased 40 percent. A month later, their NK count was still 15 percent higher than when they started. By contrast, during urban walking trips, NK levels didn’t change.

Since most of us can’t spend three days a week walking in the woods, Li was curious to know if a one-day trip to a suburban park would have a similar effect. It did, boosting the levels of both NK cells and anticancer proteins for at least seven days afterward.

What was going on? Li suspected that trees were important. Specifically, he wondered if NK cells are affected by “aromatic volatile substances,” otherwise known as scents, sometimes called phytoncides. These are the pinenes, limonenes, and other aerosols emitted by evergreens and many other trees. Scientists have identified 50 to 100 of these phytoncides in the Japanese countryside and virtually none in city air that’s not directly above a park.

This wasn’t a totally left-field idea. Studies have attributed healthful properties to soil compounds like actinomycetes, which the human nose can detect at concentrations of 10 parts per trillion. And since the mid-1990s, researchers have been studying pinene for its antimicrobial properties and limonene, which is given off by citrus and other trees, as a possible tumor suppressor in cancer patients.

To test the phytoncide theory, Li sequestered 12 subjects in hotel rooms. In some rooms, he rigged a humidifier to vaporize stem oil from common Hinoki cypress trees; other rooms got nothing. The results? The cypress dwellers had a 20 percent increase in NK cells during their three-night stay and reported feeling less fatigued. The control group saw almost no changes.

“It’s like a miracle drug,” said Li.

It sounds hokey that evergreen scents—the kind of thing given off by those cardboard trees dangling from the rearview mirrors of taxicabs—could help us live longer. But Li found similar results with NK cells in a petri dish: they increased in the presence of aromatic cypress molecules. So did anti-cancer proteins and proteases called granulysin, granzymes A and B, and perforin, which act by causing tumor cells to self-destruct. Li’s olfaction theory is unconventional, but it contains some of that Zen five-sense wisdom. While American researchers are mostly showing people pictures of nature, the Japanese are pouring it into every orifice.

Li invited me to his lab to have a sniff. The building was practically empty—the medical students were on break—and eerily dark, the result of power shortages in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

He held up a small cinnamon-colored glass bottle filled with oil. “This is very toxic!” he said, giggling. “It’s very good but very toxic.” Phytoncides, from the Greek and Latin for “plant” and “killer,” are antimicrobial compounds that ward off pests. At low levels, though, we find them pleasant, and sometimes we don’t consciously detect them at all. Li believes that, while being around big trees in forests offers us the greatest benefit, flora from other landscapes, and possibly even houseplants, release these substances, too.

Before taking a drag, I stuffed my right arm into yet another blood-pressure machine. Then we unscrewed the cap of the forest elixir and I inhaled. The oil gave off a nice pitchy, vaguely turpentine scent. We put the cap back on and read my blood pressure again. It had dropped 12 points.

I looked at Li, who nodded delightedly. “This is a very big effect, bigger than people get with pharmaceuticals,” he said. “In fact, I use a humidifier with cypress oil almost every night in the winter.” You don’t need to harvest your own, Li said. Standard health-store aromatherapy oils work fine.

“What else do you do?” I asked the middle-aged man with the bowl haircut.

Clearly, Li gets asked this a lot. He had a small list. “If you have time for a vacation, don’t go to a city. Go to a natural area. Try to go one weekend a month. Visit a park at least once a week. Gardening is good. On urban walks, try to walk under trees, not across fields. Go to a quiet place. Near water is also good.”

My morning walk back in D.C. was transforming before my eyes.

WE DON’T NEEDA scientist to tell us that flowers and chirping birds make us feel good. But if the benefits of getting outside are so intuitive, why don’t more of us do it? Nature-based recreation has declined 35 percent in the U.S. in the past four decades, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. We underestimate the curative effects, or perhaps we’re just too readily beguiled by the easy entertainments of technology. But will having more data about how nature works on our bodies lure us into the woods? We know we’re supposed to eat more leafy greens, but most of us don’t.

The kale analogy is pretty apt, because it turns out that even when we don’t enjoy spending time in nature, like during lousy winter conditions, we benefit from it just the same. At least that’s what Toronto’s Berman found when research subjects took walks in an arboretum on a blustery winter day. The walkers didn’t really enjoy themselves, but they still performed much better on tests measuring short-term memory and attention.

Japanese researchers understand our draw to nature, but American researchers understand our pull away from it—our distractions, inertia, and addictions. They want to help motivate us, to make our doses of nature so palatable and efficient that we hardly notice them. This is the next frontier in forest-therapy science, all aided by brain imaging.

Berman, for example, wants to figure out exactly which features (ponds, trees, biodiversity) yield the biggest bang in the brain. The idea is that once researchers know more about what makes our brains happy, that information can be fed into public-policy decisions, urban planning, and architectural design. The research has profound implications for schools, hospitals, prisons, and public housing. Imagine bigger windows, more trees in cities, and mandatory lie-on-the-grass breaks.

This approach, of course, is classically Western. Manipulate the environment; feel nature without even trying. As for me, I’m going to be looking for a more East-meets-West approach. I’ll try harder to quit checking my text messages and instead watch for rock bass jumping in the C&O Canal. Scratch and sniff some pine cones. Run my hands through the moss. Maybe even drink a little bark tea.

After all—yes, I am not a dog.

The World’s Toughest Survivors

22 Nov


The List: The World’s Toughest Survivors

by brendan leonard on November 20, 2012 · 5 comments


Was traffic unbearable this morning? Boss not appreciative of your work? Did that damn barista put too much foam on your latte?Cool, maybe some of these folks will sympathize with the hard day you’ve had. Like the Chilean miners who spent 69 days underground after the mine they were working in collapsed, or the guy with the broken leg who crawled five miles back to camp after he was left for dead.

How tough are you? Probably not this tough:


Ernest Shackleton
When the going got tough: In 1914, Shackleton’s crew intended to attempt the first Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a crossing of Antarctica over the south pole. Then their ship, the Endurance, was trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, stranding 28 men.
The tough: Hung out for nine months, but then the ice crushed their ship, so they took lifeboats and camped on the ice for six months eating seal meat and eventually the expedition dogs, until an ice floe suddenly split and they were forced to take the lifeboats to nearby Elephant Island, in freezing water and -20 F temps. From there, Shackleton and five men took four weeks’ worth of supplies and launched a 22.5-foot lifeboat for an 800-mile trip to South Georgia Island, where they hoped to get help at a whaling village. After 16 days of navigating based on dead reckoning, the men landed on South Georgia, but on the wrong (unpopulated) side. Shackleton and two other men crossed the then-unmapped, unexplored island in 36 hours. After several attempts over the course of three months, Shackleton eventually returned to Elephant Island to rescue the rest of his crew. All crew members survived. The first Antarctic crossing would not happen for another 40 years.



Aron Ralston

When the going got tough: In 2003, Ralston was descending Blue John Canyon, a technical slot canyon in remote southern Utah, when a chockstone shifted, smashing his right arm and trapping him.
The tough: Stood in place with his arm stuck behind the boulder for 127 straight hours, running out of food and water and eventually drinking his own urine. Cut his own arm off with a dull, cheap knockoff multitool, rappelled with one arm, and hiked many miles out of the canyon.



Joe Simpson

When the going got tough: In 1985, Simpson and Simon Yates climbed the then-unclimbed west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes and, on the descent with more than 3,000 feet to get to safety, Simpson slipped and broke his leg. Yates tied their ropes together and began to lower Simpson, which went well until he unknowingly lowered Simpson off a cliff. Hanging free from the face, Simpson tried to communicate with Yates, who couldn’t hear him in a worsening storm. Pinned in his stance and slipping, Yates eventually cut the rope between the two, dropping Simpson 150 feet into a crevasse below. Thinking his friend was dead, Yates dug a snow cave for the night, and descended and returned to camp the next day. Simpson, however, was not dead.
The tough: Unable to climb out of the crevasse, Simpson rappelled deeper into the glacier, where he was able to escape through a small ice roof. Then he spent three days crawling and butt-sliding the five miles back to camp without food and water, at times hallucinating.



Beck Weathers

When the going got tough: Weathers attempted to summit Mount Everest in 1996, part of the fateful disaster that year. He was unable to see and stopped at the South Col, waiting for guide Rob Hall to return and take him back down the mountain. But Hall was stranded higher on the mountain and never returned.
The tough: Open-bivied high on the mountain in a blizzard. His exposed hands and feet were severely frostbitten, but he was able to make his way back to Camp IV, where Anatoli Boukreev found him and alerted fellow climbers to put Weathers in a tent. Seeing the condition Weathers was in, the climbers thought he would certainly die and tried to make him comfortable in his last hours. He spent the night in the tent, unable to feed himself, drink water, or rearrange the sleeping bags he had been given to keep warm. The next day, he was found still alive, and was helped to walk to Camp II. After one of the highest-altitude helicopter rescues ever, Weathers had his right hand, all the fingers on his left hand, parts of both feet, and his nose amputated.



“Los 33” Chilean Miners

When the going got tough: In 2010, a copper and gold mine near Copiapo, Chile, caved in, trapping 33 miners 2,300 feet underground.
The tough: Waited. They made their emergency rations, intended to last two to three days, last two weeks. Seventeen days after the collapse, a drilling team started to bore holes to attempt a rescue, and when their drill bit came back up from one of the holes, they found a note attached to it, reading “”Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33″ (“We are well in the shelter, the 33″). The men organized and decided on a democratic, one-man/one-vote system, and worked together to keep morale up. After 68 days underground, rescue efforts paid off and a capsule was sent down to retrieve the first of the miners. Over the next 24 hours, all of the men were returned to the surface. All survived without long-term health effects.



The Three Mexican Fishermen

When the going got tough: In October 2005, Lucio Rendón, Salvador Ordóñez, and Jesús Vidaña and two other men set out from San Blas, a small Mexican fishing village near Puerto Vallarta, in a 28-foot shark fishing boat without a radio. They ran out of fuel and drifted out to sea. For nine months.
The tough: Drank rainwater, caught fish with engine cables, ate raw seagulls, played air guitar, sang ballads, and tossed overboard the bodies of the two other crewmembers, who they say refused to eat raw fish and starved to death. In August 2006, a Taiwanese fishing boat saw the boat on its radar and went to investigate, then pulled the men onboard.



Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa

When the going got tough: In October 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the Andes, killing more than one-fourth of its passengers. Twenty-nine people survived, then eight of those were swept away in an avalanche. Survivors were left with little food and no source of heat, at an altitude of 11,800 feet. WIth much trepidation, the eventually resorted to eating the flesh of some of the dead. They survived two months.
The tough: Trekked for 10 days through the Andes with little “food” and a homemade sleeping bag to find help and initiate a rescue for the remaining survivors.



Sophie the Cattle Dog

When the going got tough: Jan and Dave Griffith were in their family yacht off the coast of Queensland, Australia, when their boat was caught in a storm. Sophie Tucker, their cattle dog, fell overboard. The Griffiths turned the boat around and backtracked in the rough waters, and couldn’t find any sign of Sophie.
The tough: Swam five nautical miles through shark-infested waters to St. Bees Island, a tiny remote volcanic island ringed by reefs. Sophie, a house dog, roamed the island for four months, apparently living off baby goats until rangers saw and caught her, reuniting her with the Griffiths a few days later.



Juliane Koepcke

When the going got tough: LANSA Flight 508 left Lima on Christmas Eve, 1971, flying into a storm over the Peruvian Amazon. A lightning bolt hit one of the plane’s fuel tanks, ripping its right wing off. As the plane started to go down, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke’s mother turned to her and said, “This is it!” Koepcke’s row of seats ripped out of the disintegrating plane at about 10,000 feet.
The tough: Regained consciousness in midair, falling headfirst toward the canopy of trees. Koepcke woke up on the floor of the rainforest with only a concussion, a broken collarbone, a gash on her leg, and a small cut on her arm. But she had lost her glasses and one sandal, and was wearing only a thin dress with a broken zipper. She started to walk, looking for a creek and following it downstream, eventually finding wreckage from the plane and some of the crash victims. All of the other 91 passengers died. After 10 days of walking through the forest, she found a small shelter with a boat, and waited there, cleaning her maggot-infested wounds with gasoline. After a few hours, lumber workers found her at the shelter and took her seven hours by canoe to a lumber station, where she was airlifted out.



Tami Oldham Ashcraft

When the going got tough: Tami Oldham Ashcraft and her boyfriend were 19 days into a 30-day crossing of the South Pacific in 1983, delivering a sailboat from Tahiti to San Diego, when they ran into a Category 4 hurricane. The boat rolled and flipped end over end. The main mast snapped, Ashcraft was knocked unconscious below deck, and when she regained consciousness, her boyfriend was gone, his safety line severed. The boat’s electronic equipment didn’t work and the boat was partially flooded.
The tough: Wanted to die. Weak from blood loss, Ashcraft sat for two days, then got out a sextant, figured out her bearings, rigged a makeshift sail, and tried to find currents to take her to Hawaii. Forty-two days of solo sailing and drifting later, she pulled into Hilo Harbor.



Julian Ritter, Laurie Kokx, and Winfried Heiringhoff

When the going got tough: Painter Julian Ritter launched his 45-foot yawl from Santa Barbara on February 2, 1968, fulfilling a lifelong dream of traveling by sea and drawing inspiration for his paintings. He picked up various guest crew members during his travels, and when he left the South Pacific island of Bora Bora on June 17, 1970, the crew was Ritter, Laurie Kokx, and Winfried Heiringhoff. They planned to reach Hawaii in 30 days. Then things started going less than smoothly: The motor, starter coil, oil pump, generator, battery, and radio all broke down or died. The boom fell and barely missed Ritter. The stitching on the sails started to loosen. The boat started to leak and take on water.
The tough: Pumped 75 to 250 gallons of water out of the boat every day. Ran out of food after 40 days adrift. They scraped algae from the hull and made soup from it, and caught a few jumping fish and squid to eat. After 87 days adrift, a U.S. Naval ship spotted the boat  and rescued Ritter, Kokx and Heiringhoff, who they described as “living skeletons only four days away from death.”

REI’s 10 Essentials

26 Sep



The Ten Essentials

Knowing the Ten Essentials is good. Carrying the Ten Essentials is better.




Updated Ten Essential “Systems”

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter


Classic Ten Essentials

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

The original Ten Essentials list was assembled in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for climbers and outdoor adventurers. In 2003, the group’s updated “systems” approach made its debut in its seminal text on climbing and outdoor exploration, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (The Mountaineers Books, 2010), now in its eighth edition.

Why create such a list? The book’s editors explain: “The purpose of this list has always been to answer 2 basic questions: First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend a night—or more—out?”

Packing these items whenever you step into the backcountry, even on day hikes, is a good habit to acquire. True, on a routine trip you may use only a few of them. Yet you’ll probably never fully appreciate the value of the Ten Essentials until you really need one of them.


1. Navigation

Map and compass are now viewed as 2 components of a navigation system. Add a wrist altimeter, toss in a GPS and, well, you can see how the systems approach to the Ten Essentials can easily total more than 10 individual items.

A topographic map (in a protective sheath or case) should accompany you on any trip that involves anything more than a short, impossible-to-miss footpath or frequently visited nature trail. Handout maps, the type offered at visitor centers or entrance stations, usually provide only simplistic line drawings of trails and do not show the topographic details necessary for route finding. If, for example, you stray off the trail or need to locate a water source, you need a topo map.

A compass , combined with map-reading knowledge, is a vital tool if you become disoriented in the backcountry. Have high-tech GPS receivers made compasses, with a history that dates back to 12th-century Europe, obsolete? No. A compass weighs next to nothing and does not rely on batteries. So even if you’re a techie who relies heavily on a GPS for navigation, a traditional compass is an indispensable backup. Note: A compass equipped with a sighting mirror can also be used to flash sunlight to a helicopter or rescuer during an emergency.

An altimeter is a worthwhile navigational extra to consider. It uses a barometric sensor to measure air pressure and provide a close estimate of your elevation—information that helps you track your progress and determine your location on a map. We say “estimate” because when weather changes, air pressure changes, and such a change can cause an altimeter’s elevation reading to fluctuate even if it remains stationary.

If you travel regularly in the wilderness, consider taking a class to learn navigation techniques in depth.


2. Sun Protection

This involves sunglasses, sunscreen (for skin and lips) and, for optimized protection, lightweight, skin-shielding clothing.

Sunglasses are indispensable, and you’ll need extra-dark glacier glasses if you’re planning prolonged travel on snow or ice. All sunglasses sold at REI block 100% of ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB)—a key function of quality lenses. UVB rays, the rays that can burn your skin, have been linked to the development of cataracts.

Wraparound lenses keep light from entering the corners of your eyes and also help buffer eyes from wind. Factors influencing your choice of sunglasses include lens types, frames, fit and, of course, fashion.

When choosing sunscreen , health experts advise choosing 1) a formula that offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of least 15, though SPF 30 is recommended for extended outdoor activity and 2) one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

A sunscreen’s SPF number refers only to its ability to absorb sunburn-causing UVB rays; measuring how it performs against age-inducing UVA rays is a topic under discussion at the Food and Drug Administration. Active ingredients considered most effective against UVA light are avobenzone, ecamsule, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

The biggest mistake people make with sunscreen? Applying too little, dermatologists say. A thin application diminishes your protection. So glop it on; 1 ounce is needed to cover the arms, legs, neck and face of the average person. Depending on many factors (time of day, sweat and more), you should reapply as often as every 2 hours. And don’t overlook SPF-rated lip balm.

Lightweight, synthetic sun-protection clothing comes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). Skin-care experts say using clothing to shield your skin is a good sun-protection strategy. Your activity level (and resulting perspiration) and the temperature are the factors that will determine if you choose to wear pants or shorts (or long sleeves vs. short sleeves) while outdoors. You’ll still need sunscreen for your face, neck and hands.

3. Insulation

Conditions can abruptly turn wet, windy or chilly in the backcountry, so it’s smart to carry an additional layer of clothing in case something unexpected (you get hurt or lost, for example) prolongs your exposure to the elements.

The authors of Mountaineering suggest this strategy: “Extra clothing should be selected according to the season. Ask this question: What is needed to survive the worst conditions that could be realistically encountered on this trip?”

Common options include a layer of underwear (tops and bottoms), an insulating hat, extra socks and a synthetic jacket or vest. And yes, humans lose significant heat through their heads. Thus, according to Mountaineering , it’s smart to pack a hat or balaclava “because they provide more warmth for their weight than any other clothing article.”


4. Illumination

Headlamps are the light source of choice in the backcountry. Reasons:

  • Hands-free operation (their No. 1 advantage over flashlights)
  • Low weight
  • Compact size (so they occupy minimal space in your pack)
  • Long battery life (in models using light-emitting diodes, or LEDs).

High-output LEDs (the 1- and 3-watt varieties) provide light output that is comparable to the output of incandescent bulbs, even those that use pressurized gas (xenox, halogen and other intensity-boosting gases). Because LEDs can handle rugged use (no filaments to break), offer vastly superior battery life and are perpetually evolving to higher levels of performance, the vast majority of headlamps these days are LED models.

It’s easy to overextend your stay on a picture-perfect mountain. If you’re trying to hustle out of the backcountry in dwindling light or trying to set up camp as the last bit of blue drains from the sky, a headlamp is an invaluable aid.

Many headlamps also offer a strobe mode. It’s a great option to have for emergency situations. Headlamps offer their longest battery life while in strobe mode.

Flashlights and packable lanterns also have value. Some flashlights cast very powerful beams and are useful for signaling during emergencies.

Always carry spare batteries—and if your light is equipped with an incandescent bulb, also carry spare bulbs. Every member of a backcountry party should carry his or her own light.


5. First-aid Supplies

Pre-assembled first-aid kits take the guesswork out of building your own kit, though many people personalize these kits to suit individual needs. Any kit should include treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, pen and paper. Latex gloves also deserve consideration. The length of your trip and the number of people involved will impact the contents of your kit. It’s also a good idea to carry some sort of compact guide to dealing with medical emergencies.


6. Fire

Matches headed into the backcountry should be the waterproof variety, or they should be stored in a waterproof container. Take plenty and ensure they are kept dry. Convenience-store matchbooks are often too flimsy and poorly constructed to be trusted for wilderness use. Save yourself some frustration and tote reliable matches on every trip. Mechanical lighters are handy, but always carry some matches as a backup.

Firestarter , as the name implies, is an element that helps you jump-start (and possibly sustain) a fire. Of all the classic Ten Essentials, it is probably the one least commonly carried by wilderness travelers. But should you get stranded overnight in the boonies and you start to shiver, you need the means to build an emergency fire.

The ideal firestarter ignites quickly and sustains heat for more than a few seconds. Candidates include dry tinder tucked away in a plastic bag; candles; priming paste; heat “nuggets” (chipped-wood clusters soaked in resin). Even lint trappings from a household clothes dryer can work.


7. Repair Kit and Tools

Knives or multitools are handy for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making kindling or other emergency needs. A basic knife should have at least 1 foldout blade (more likely 2), 1 or 2 flathead screwdrivers, a can opener and (though some people will call this a luxury) a pair of foldout scissors. The more complex your needs (if, for example, you are leading an inexperienced group), the more options you may want in your knife or tool.

If you carry a self-inflating mattress, you probably do not carry a repair kit for it. Typically, the only people who do are those who have endured a puncture deep in the backcountry. Depending on your outlook on Murphy’s Law, it’s an item worth considering.

Here’s a classic tip for carrying the basics of a poor-man’s repair kit: Wrap strips of duct tape (the universal fix-it product) around your water bottle or trekking poles so you can repair who-knows-what in the backcountry.


8. Nutrition (extra food)

Always pack at least an extra day’s worth of food. It can be as simple as a freeze-dried meal, but it’s even better to include no-cook items with nearly infinite storage times: extra energy bars, nuts, dried fruits or jerky.

The process of digesting food helps keep your body warm, so on a cold night it’s smart to munch some food before bunking down—just don’t leave animal-attracting leftovers inside your shelter.


9. Hydration (extra water)

Mountaineering suggests always carrying at least 1 water bottle and a collapsible water reservoir. You should also carry some means for treating water, whether it is a filter/purifier or chemical treatment.

When beginning extended travel along a ridgeline or in alpine conditions, consult your map and try to envision possible water sources. Try to resupply at the last obvious water source before beginning a stretch of unpredictable water availability.


10. Emergency Shelter

Shelter is a new component in the updated Ten Essentials, one that seems targeted at day trippers. (Most overnight wilderness travelers already carry a tent or tarp.) The thinking is, if getting lost or injured leaves you stranded in the backcountry, something is better than nothing if you have to deal with wind or rain. Options include an ultralight tarp, a bivy sack, an emergency space blanket (which packs small and weighs just ounces), even a large plastic trash bag.


Beyond the Top Ten

Earlier I mentioned an altimeter as worthy candidate to consider as an add-on to the updated Ten Essentials list. Here are a few others:

  • Insect repellent: Your most effective options are: 1) Lotion or spray repellents containing DEET, and/or 2) Clothing that has been treated with permethrin.
  • Whistle: For summoning help, it will outlast your vocal chords.
  • Ice axe: For safety when crossing snow fields.
  • Communication device: Two-way radios, a cell phone or a satellite telephone can add a measure of safety in many situations.
  • Signaling device: As noted eariler, some compasses come with sighting mirrors. If yours does not, consider taking a small mirror to signal rescuers in an emergency.
  • Knowledge: Having items in your pack has no value unless you understand how to use them. As one search-and-rescue leader told us, “People talk about the Ten Essentials, but the most important essential is between your ears.”


Final Thoughts

Even though you may only occasionally use a few of these items, carrying the Ten Essentials on all your backcountry excursions is a smart move. They serve as the antidote to the unexpected, like the seatbelts in your vehicle.

The Ten Essentials can also form the core of your home (or car) emergency-preparedness kit. They are all about safety, advance preparation and peace of mind. They could potentially save your life.

Experiencing Awe Improves Well-Being and Personal Awesomeness

25 Jul


Experiencing Awe Improves Well-Being and Personal Awesomeness

by brendan leonard on July 9, 2012



Experiencing awesome things can make you more awesome, according to a recently published study. More scientifically, standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon can change your perception of time, make you less materialistic, and alter your understanding of the world, according to a recent study. So can going backpacking in the Tetons, or climbing El Cap, or kayaking a big river, or any other method of experiencing perceptual vastness. Awe is often experienced in nature, or when we encounter things we think are unfathomable.

The study, to be published in Psychological Science, examined what happened when test subjects experienced feelings of awe — which is different than happiness. Awe, according to research, has two features: Perceptual vastness, or the understanding that a person has come upon “something immense in size, number, scope, complexity or social bearing,” and the stimulation of a need for accommodation, meaning it “alters one’s understanding of the world.”

Researchers from business schools at Stanford and the University of Minnesota conducted a series of experiments to determine what happens when we experience awe, compared to a feeling of happiness. The findings:

“[The experiments] showed that awe, relative to happiness, engenders a perception that time is plentiful, curbs impatience, and inspires a desire to volunteer time. These outcomes have been related to well-being, suggesting life satisfaction itself might be affected by awe.”

“Eliciting a feeling of awe, versus a neutral state, increased perceived time availability, which in turn led participants to more strongly prefer experiential over material goods and view their lives as more satisfying. [The experiments] also found evidence of mediation: Greater perceived time availability mediated awe’s effect on momentary life satisfaction and participants’ choice of experiential (over material) products.”

Also interesting: Although awe increased participants’ willingness to donate time, it did not increase their overall generosity, or willingness to donate money. But still, they were more awesome.

Photo of the Grand Canyon by Shutterstock

America’s 100 Best Adventures according to NatGeo

12 May



America’s 100 Best Adventures



Surf the Lost Coast
Bike the Death Ride
Hike Half Dome
Hike the Sierra High Route
Paddle Santa Cruz Island
Mountain Bike the Tahoe Rim Trail (& Nevada)
Bodysurf the Wedge
Raft the Forks of the Kern
Ski Mountaineer Mount Shasta



Bike From Durango to Moab (& Utah)
Climb Ouray
Ski Scar Face
Hike the Colorado Trail
Run the TransRockies
Ski Silverton Mountain
Race the Leadville Trail 100
Backcountry Ski the 10th Mountain Division Huts
Bag Fourteeners in the Weminuche Wilderness
Climb the Diamond on Longs Peak



Kiteboard the Keys
Paddle the Everglades
Swamp Tromp in Big Cypress National Preserve
Dive Freshwater Caves
Fly-Fish for the Florida Keys Slam



Canoe the Okeefenokee



Kayak the Na Pali Coast
Hike the Muliwai Trail
Kiteboard Maui’s North Shore






Hike the Salmon
Snowkite Camas Valley
Raft the Owyhee River (& Oregon & Nevada)



Climb Red River Gorge



Kayak the Maine Island Trail
Canoe the Allagash



Sail the Manitous
Wreck Dive Lake Superior



Dogsled the Boundary Waters
Race the Arrowhead 135
Canoe the Boundary Waters
Hike the Superior Trail



Paddle 340 Miles of the Mighty Missouri—Nonstop



Hike the Bob Marshall
Climb Granite Peak
Ice Climb Hyalite Canyon
Fly-Fish the Spring Creeks of Paradise Valley
Backpack Glacier National Park



Get Fit at a Navy SEAL Immersion Camp
Bike Across America
Learn to Fly a Wingsuit
Backpack the Pacific Northwest Trail
Bike the Continental Divide Trail


North Carolina

Paddle the Outer Banks
Learn Paddling at Nantahala Outdoor Center


North Dakota

Bike the Maah Daah Hey


New Hampshire

Ski Tuckerman Ravine
Hike the Traverse


New Mexico

Fly-Fish the Pecos
Horsepack the Gila Wilderness



Heli-Ski the Ruby Mountains


New York

Canoe the Adirondacks
Climb the Gunks




Four-Wheel the Steens
Kiteboard the Columbia River Gorge (& Washington)
Ski the Wallowas




Hike the Roan Highlands
Raft the Ocoee




Float the Big Bend of the Rio Grande
Boulder Hueco Tanks




Raft the Green River
Scale Red-Rock Towers
Paddle Lake Powell
Backpack the Hayduke Trail
Canyoneer Grand Staircase-Escalante
Hike the Zion Narrows




Ski Inn-to-Inn on the Catamount Trail




Transect the Olympic
Climb Mount Rainier
Hike Glacier Peak
Sea Kayak the San Juan Islands




Ski the Birkebeiner



West Virginia

Raft the Gauley River




Hike the Winds
Climb the Grand Teton
Backcountry Ski Teton Pass
Kayak Lake Yellowstone
Hike Yellowstone’s Wild Southwest

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