You know the Scouts motto: Always Be Prepared. It’s something to remember for every mountain outing. Although, it took on new meaning for me last weekend while I was up ...
Have you lived in a city that creates and manages as many Natural Areas as Fort Collins does? Thinking back to all of the places I’ve lived, there have been parks for kids to swing, running trails and beautiful places to spend a sacred moment in nature, but I’m not sure I remember being in a city that spends as much energy and effort into Natural Areas as we do here in FoCo. Maybe I just wasn’t paying as much attention to it back then because I wasn’t blogging about it.
The Natural Areas Department’s mission is to conserve and enhance lands with existing or potential natural area values, lands that serve as community separators, agricultural lands, and lands with scenic values. Conservation of natural habitats and features is the highest priority while providing education and recreation for the Fort Collins community. The City’s Natural Areas Department manages 41 sites and over 36,000 acres locally and regionally, so there are a plethora of places to hike, fish, bike, walk your dog, bird watch, and whatever gets you outside. These make great natural experiences within short distances from neighborhoods making nature accessible to a variety of people.
Last month when I wrote about outdoor-specific volunteering opportunities, I discovered that you can adopt a Natural Area for a year to help with cleanup and maintenance. I’ve been thinking of ways that Fresh Air Fort Collins readers can get together – either by group hikes or events, and this idea came up! This week Fresh Air Fort Collins adopted Eagle View Natural Area to take care of.
Eagle View isn’t yet open to the public. The 90 acres (about 1/4 mile wide) that make up the space was acquired by the city in 2002, with plans to open to the public in 2008. But here we are in 2015 (essentially) and the space remains closed. What happened? Well, first – there’s a lot of rehabilitation that needs to go into this area. There’s a ditch that runs through the middle that needs to be re-aligned so that it’s more natural and meandering, and this needs to happen first before anything else. The stream design is a multi-million dollar project that was put on the backburner when the acquisition of both Bobcat Ridge and Soapstone Prairie happened at the same time and took priority. It was a case of limited resources and shifted priorities.
However! It will open! Eventually. The city has no obligation to open a Natural Area or stick to management timelines, but they will update the Fossil Creek Management Plan in 2016 (Eagle View is part of that plan). If you’d like to add your two cents about this space, you can keep your eyes open for the community meeting details to help out.
In the meantime, this Natural Area needs a lot of tending to. Because it’s not open to the public, it has become a trash field with garbage from the neighborhood construction build-out blowing over. Obviously trash isn’t good in any space, but this area is a raptor habitat with Bald Eagles, a variety of owls, and other small critters. It looks like they are living near a landfill at this point.
So, feel free to meet up with me, my family and friends to get this space back into tip-top shape. Every month I’ll schedule out a clean up day. You can get the info on dates and times from the Fresh Air Fort Collins Facebook Page. I’ll have events created so you can get in your RSVP. Depending on how many people come out, I’ll probably have some light snacks to share. We will have trash bags provided by the city, but these are things you’ll want to come prepared with:
- Sturdy shoes
- proper outdoor clothing
- work gloves or latex/rubber gloves
- water and snacks
- you’ll also want to make sure you hit the restroom before cleanup because there aren’t any facilities built in the area yet.
If we end up taking care of this area pretty quickly, we may end up adopting a few more areas too! I’ll be writing about our cleanup process every month as well. 2015 is the year we get our boots on the ground to do the dirty work in making a difference in Fort Collins!
Today’s post is just a little different! A podcast! Or, at least an audio interview – so whatever you want to call it. Last month an awesome blog reader, Jena asked if I’d be interested in participating in the Confident Capable Kids Summit for the Intentional Living Project as an expert to talk about how parents can get their kids outdoors more often.
I know this! If there’s anything I can say I know about parenting, it’s this (probably only this, but that’s another blog). It’s an important topic to me, so I happily agreed to help out.
On June 2, 2013 I was feeling particularly stressed out – too much work and not enough sun were dragging me down. I slapped my laptop closed and loaded my kids in the car for a hike. We hiked to the summit of Black Powder Trail, which was absolutely beautiful – wildflowers everywhere, bright green meadows and trees, the trail sparkling with flecks of mica, and a raging Poudre River below. We even came upon a large rattle snake on the trail.
The boys were troopers and loved every minute of it. At the summit, we made a pact to go on a mom-and-kids-only hike every week that summer. Hanging out in the mountains with my little scouts was just what this mom needed, and it actually changed my life. We hiked a different trail every week that summer going from Poudre Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Red Feather Lakes. We saw bears on the trail (really!), rattlesnakes, elk, water falls, and stayed in Estes Park days after the flood. It was a summer of countless adventures and it created a habit that I couldn’t break.
From that summer on, I was in the mountains every weekend – with my kids or without. It’s what made me want to take over this blog when Chloe left. It helped inspire my boys to enjoy the outdoors (maybe not as much as I do, but still). It was a pivotal moment that has made me who I am today and led me to aspire for a life of climbing rocks, rafting rivers, fly fishing for trout, and so much more.
I hope this post and interview inspires other parents to find outdoor adventure with their family. And with that, here are the interview notes for you! Also, after this, I’m never saying “absolutely” again.
0:56 – Hiking and camping are the big two outdoor activities that we do with our kids, but we also take them fishing and as soon as they are old enough, they’ll come hunting with us.
1:38 – talking about our summer of weekly hikes, which prevented the rut of them playing video games all day long.
2:33 – the challenges to overcome with kids on the trail include not over-estimating exertion and ability, and make outdoor adventures more interesting by creating a gamification process. Learn about tracking, what park rangers do, and wildflower identification.
5:56 – older kids are more interested in wilderness survival skills, which kids need to know anyway! Especially the things that they need to know if they get separated from you and lost.
6:48 – wilderness education gives them a sense of security and confidence to have more fun in the outdoors.
8:10 – the most important thing they need to know is what to do if they get separated from their family on the trail.
9:06 – hydration is 2nd most important because kids are more prone to heat stroke.
9:40 – involving kids in the trail decision process and how to narrow it down by things they want to experience.
11:07 – outdoor activities for the city options are available, too! The same gamification process applies to keep them interested in Natural Areas and bike trails.
12:00 – the benefits of taking kids on adventures include battling childhood obesity, and creating life-long healthy habits and outdoor lifestyles.
13:20 – it helps kids to develop a sense of confidence and a sense of themselves and who they are in the world, too.
13:39 – the positive impacts in our own family includes giving us an opportunity for dedicated conversation and time to learn together. They’ve learned life lesson experiences that include developing personal traits like tenacity and endurance.
14:50 – it helps me as their mom to get a break and have fun, to get out of typical mom-mode, takes nagging out of the day.
15:30 – how we’re addressing winter activities in our family is pretty much taking the kids out sledding since they aren’t interested in snowshoeing. I’ve learned not to push my kids into activities they aren’t into because it makes everyone miserable.
17:45 – suggestions on how to get the ball rolling comes down to being intentional and commit. Put adventure in your calendar!
18:42 – make sure you have all of the gear you need, layering clothes (not cotton!)
19:05 – start researching where you want to go! Find things along the way that will make it a fun outing, like a restaurant stop after a day on the trail. Or an ice cream shop by a bike ride.
20:07 – tips for parents on how to juggle it all includes live and die by the calendar, but it’s exceptionally important to me as a person to get on the mountain. Sometimes that means compromise by delegating father-son days and mom-son days so that the kids are still getting adventure with one parent, which is also very important.
22:00 – bottom line is to prioritize it just as you would commit to a family dinner.
22:45 – why are we so busy and not making time for adventure? The evolution of technology, which isn’t bad, admittedly has changed the lifestyles of society.
24:00 – to personally avoid burnout and business, I’m taking a full week off every seven weeks. This is being intentional in overcoming stress and obligation to always be doing something. Outdoor moments and breaks are easier because of this.
25:25 – we model life for our kids, so we need to teach them how to disconnect, and support each other in understanding that it’s OK to let some things go so that we can get some sun and trail time.
“The man who goes afoot, prepared to camp anywhere and in any weather, is the most independent fellow on earth.” – Horace Kephart, Camping and Woodcraft, 1917
This is the essence of wilderness survival – be prepared for any and all situations that may arise. There are graveyards full of people who thought, “it’s not going to happen to me.” From cross-country skiing at City Park, backcountry snowboarding in the high country, and mountaineering on Long’s Peak, Colorado adventurers are out there in the ice and snow living it up. As we should be! We should always be aware of potential wilderness dangers no matter the season, and we shouldn’t let that hold us back, but some of the risks dramatically increase in the winter. Nobody is immune from danger. Winter sports-related injuries send a lot of people to the emergency department for sprains, muscle strains, dislocations or fractures, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. It’s smart to think ahead and be prepared for what you’re getting into so Larimer Country Search and Rescue doesn’t get a call to start looking for you.
Here’s a complete list of things to consider before your next winter adventure, including lessons learned the hard way! Because apparently that’s how I learn best.
Before Hitting The Road
First and foremost, make sure you have a check-in buddy who knows exactly what trail or part of the canyon you’re going to be on, who you’re going with and their contact info, and what time you’re coming back. This is wilderness 101, but it’s terribly important to remember and keep up as a habit.
I love solo hiking and I often hit the canyon alone. After the mishaps of this last weekend, I realized how incredibly stupid that is in the winter. I have asthma, which is a condition that can be exacerbated by cold air. I was out snowshoeing at Joe Wright and had an asthma attack. As I was climbing up the hill to get back to the car, I started to feel like I was going to pass out. If I had, I would have been behind a huge snowbank in part of the canyon with little traffic and NOBODY would have been able to see me. Needless to say, I resolved to make sure I bring friends with on every snowshoe trip from here on out. Not only is this smart for people with medical conditions, but there’s nothing preventing any other physical injury like a broken leg, or some other accident. Four people is an ideal number for winter backcountry adventures. That way you can stick to pairs if something goes wrong.
With winter here, the daylight hours are shorter and you’re going to have to make adjustments for the season. You need to be off the trail and in your car before 5:00pm at sunset. Right around 5:00pm, not only is there no sunlight, but the temperature drops dramatically and frostbite/hypothermia risks increase. Tell your check-in buddy that you are going to be off by 5:00, and if you’re at the top of Cameron Pass, it will take you 2 hours to get cell reception outside of Poudre Canyon and you can call-in at 7:00pm. If you don’t make that call at 7pm, then it’s going to take Search and Rescue at least a few hours to get up to you and hopefully find you. The sooner this happens, the more likely you’ll be rescued. Hypothermia can kill you within three hours. So don’t be up there in the dark.
Always make sure you have a full tank of gas before going up the canyon, because you never know if you’re going to end up spending the night in your car or go on some crazy detour. This happened to me on my way back from Steamboat while scouting for our hunting trip. There was an accident that closed Highway 14 to Walden and everyone was detoured through dark county roads that were poorly marked. So many drivers got lost around the looping roads (because few of them had maps), and there was a whole lot of extra driving to get back on track. I was fortunate that I had made good decisions and filled up in Steamboat before coming back.
You also want to make sure you have an emergency box with proper fire-making tools. DO NOT COUNT ON PAPER SCRAPS TO MAKE A FIRE. I took my kids camping in Pingree this summer, just the three of us, and it happened to be the same weekend as all of those fatal lightning storms in Rocky Mountain National Park. We got to our campsite just as it started to rain. So, I had to set up camp and get a fire going in a crazy rainstorm with soaked wood. I made it happen, but what a pain in the ass. It was this trip that I realized how quickly paper ignites. It’s terrible for kindling because it burns too fast. Now I always keep a jar of petroleum jelly and a long-reach butane lighter in the car, just in case. Just smear that on anything and it will light and burn slowly. I also keep PET pellets (drier lint balls soaked in vaseline) in my fire-starting supplies in my backpack.
You should also keep an extra blanket in the trunk, an extra jacket, set of clothing layers, an extra pair of socks, dry boots (I do this in the summer, too), along with some extra food and water as well as jumper cables, towing straps and a shovel.
Guess what? Another first-hand experience with this one! Last weekend I was the dumbass that got my car stuck in the snow on Long Draw Road. It was technically open and I checked with the forest service who said it wasn’t plowed and be prepared, but the snow was deeper than it looked. Five super helpful people were digging me out, but I was too deep in. Fortunately I had two shovels, other people brought theirs over too, but it still wasn’t good enough – even after getting branches and rocks under the tires for traction. Thankfully I was towed out by someone with a winch on the front of their truck. I also learned to keep a case of beer in the trunk for Good Samaritans who save my ass.
If you find yourself stranded in your car, as it’s often the safest choice to pull over and stay put if winter storms create poor visibility or if roads are covered in ice, remember these tips:
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers and raise the hood of the car (if it is not snowing).
- Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area.
- Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing and blankets.
- Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
- Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe—this will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warmer.
- Do not eat unmelted snow because it will lower your body temperature.
- Huddle with other people for warmth.
This should probably be at the top of the list because of how important it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re at City Park or Cameron Pass, wearing proper layers is essential. Rule #1 DO NOT WEAR COTTON. EVER. Cotton kills.
As a rule of thumb, you should expect to be a little chilly when you first start out the day and when you take a break from an activity. After a few minutes of steady movement, your body will start to produce more heat. If you’re wearing too many layers to start with, you’ll most likely get too hot after about 15-20 minutes of activity. When in doubt, wear your warmest layer when you start your activity, but remove it at the first sign of overheating or perspiration. Also, don’t forget your extremities.
Cold weather can cool your core body temperature in four ways:
- Radiative Heat Loss occurs when your body heat simply escapes into the cold air due to lack of insulation.
- Convective Heat Transfer happens when the wind draws heat away from your body, especially from exposed skin.
- Conductive Heat Transfer occurs through direct contact with cold surfaces or liquid, such as sitting on the snow, wearing a sweaty shirt under your jacket or falling into a frozen lake.
- Evaporative Cooling takes place when perspiration evaporates, drawing body heat with it.
Wearing the proper winter clothing and being prepared for potential drops in temperature can reduce of all four types of heat loss. Be aware of and understand the Wind Chill Index to help with proper layering. This video clip shows how windy it gets up on Cameron Pass on a good day…
The Wind Chill index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed. It is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly, causing skin temperature to drop. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool. The Wind Chill Chart below shows the difference between actual air temperature and perceived temperature, and amount of time until frostbite occurs.
Here’s how you combine your knowledge of heat loss and the wind chill index into your outdoor wardrobe choices:
Synthetics and wool retain warmth even when wet. Wear long underwear that wicks away moisture, insulates well and dries quickly. Choose from microlight, lightweight or midweight versions based on the temperature and your activity level. A zippered top lets you adjust body heat as you stop and go. Base layer clothing is worn right next to your skin, as a top, bottom, or both. The main purpose of the base layer is to wick moisture away from your body during periods of activity, keeping you dry and providing some additional warmth
Good mid layers include a long-sleeved shirt or fleece vest. Worn directly over your base layer, the mid layer is designed to offer a slight boost in warmth without adding a lot of extra bulk. In moderate conditions, you may only need your base layer, mid layer and shell. For hiking and backpacking in cool, dry conditions you might wear your base layer and mid layer, keeping your shell in a backpack. If you start to get too hot, you can simply remove your mid layer and store it in your backpack, tie it around your waist (which I hate doing), or better yet – clip it to your pack with a carabiner or strap.
The outer layer is a waterproof, breathable shell jacket and pants keep you dry and fend off wind. This is especially important in the high country. It gets spectacularly windy in the Cameron Pass Area. It would be smart to look for windproof material. Even if you don’t need a jacket when you start the day, conditions can change quickly. Your jacket and pants will serve as your main protection from the elements, so it’s important to choose outerwear that will keep you dry and block the wind.
This includes hats (which need to cover your ears), two pair of gloves – a thick pair and thin pair of waterproof options or a shell/liner combo, face protection like a balaclava (for the wind – seriously, it’s bad up there), and gaiters to keep snow out of your boots. I’ve gone snowshoeing without gaiters. It’s fine if you’re on a packed trail. But if you’re breaking trail in the backcountry – don’t. Your boots and socks are going to get soaked.
Insulated, waterproof boots are best. They have thick soles, rubber or leather uppers and insulation. Wool or synthetic socks with wicking liners will keep your feet warm and dry.
You’re not going to need everything on this list during every outing. This is mostly for backcountry excursions. But it’s best to have it all on hand, because you won’t need things until you need them on the mountain. I plan on writing an avalanche-specific post as well, so that will go into more detail about some of these avalanche-safety items.
- Snowshoe poles (or trekking poles with snow baskets)
- Ice axe – learn how to self arrest and self belay. These are critical mountaineering skills in the high country
- Avalanche transceiver
- Snow shovel – you NEED this in both avalanche country and if you’re breaking trail snowshoeing!
- Beacon and probe
- Route description or trail guidebook
- Repair items – duct tape (small roll), pliers, nylon fasteners (tie wraps), wire, cord or prepackaged repair kit
The Ten Essentials – NEVER GO ON THE MOUNTAIN WITHOUT THESE, NO MATTER THE SEASON!
- Navigation – map (with protective case), compass, GPS (optional)
- Sun protection – sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses
- Insulation - Jacket, vest, pants, gloves, hat (see Clothing)
- Illumination – headlamp or flashlight, extra batteries (kept near body when cold)
- First-aid supplies – first-aid kit
- Fire – matches or lighter, waterproof container, fire starter (like the PET balls for emergency survival fire)
- Repair kit and tools – knife or multi-tool, repair items noted in section above
- Nutrition – extra day’s supply of food
- Hydration – water bottles or hydration system (insulated), water filter or other treatment system
- Emergency shelter – tent, tarp, bivy or reflective blanket
Health and Intuition
Of all of these things, this is what I have the hardest time with. I tend to second guess my gut instincts thinking that I’m not being adventurous enough. There is no shame in turning around if things aren’t feeling right, the shame is in having to come out in a body bag. We’ve seen so many reports of Search and Rescue going on body recovery missions. There’s no way for me to personally know if ego or ignoring those gut feelings had anything to do with their demise, but I do know that every time I push things too far, I end up getting close to making grave mistakes. This year I’ve been trying to learn that it’s OK to turn around, that it’s OK to give up on a trail halfway through, it’s fine to call it quits. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I’m on the mountain for my own enjoyment – not potential death.
You can have all of the tools and gear you need, but if you ignore your body, they aren’t going to do anything for you. Here’s what you need to look for when it comes to your body letting you know trouble is on the way.
Hypothermia is coined the “killer of the unprepared.” An unprepared person may become a victim at temperatures as high as 45*. Good clothing, adequate knowledge, emergency shelter, and emergency rations would prevent most fatalities from accidental hypothermia, which is why it has earned its coined term.
Hypothermia occurs when a person’s core body temperature drops too low, and it’s possible to get hypothermia at temperatures above freezing. When your body loses too much heat, common symptoms include excessive shivering, weakness or exhaustion, fumbling hands, confusion, memory loss and slurred speech. There are several phases of hypothermia, but continuous shivering is usually the first sign that you need to increase your protection from the cold or seek shelter. Prolonged hypothermia can be life-threatening.
Quick ways to raise your core temperature:
- Find shelter, especially from the wind, even if it’s just wrapping yourself in an emergency blanket or hunkering down beneath a tree.
- Remove any wet clothing and replace it with dry clothing, if possible.
- Focus on warming your core first, i.e. your torso, neck, head and groin. If another person is available, skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of clothing or inside a sleeping bag can transfer vital warmth to a person suffering from hypothermia.
- Drink heated beverages, such as hot tea or soup. DO NOT drink alcohol, as this could actually lower your body temperature.
Frostbite occurs when your flesh actually begins to lose blood circulation and freeze. Extremities like fingers, toes, ears and noses are almost always affected first. Exposed areas also tend to be affected first, but frostbite can occur without direct exposure to the air. Even if you have a safe core body temperature, your extremities could still be at risk, especially in severe cold and high winds.
Numbness and tingling in your extremities is usually the first sign of frostbite, although you may not actually feel anything. If treated early enough, frostbite is reversible. Advanced warning signs include white or grayish-yellow skin at the affected areas. Frostbitten skin may feel unusually firm or “waxy.” If exposure continues, the flesh will essentially begin to die, leading to permanent damage, which may result in the need for amputation. Remember: You might be unaware of frostbite, because once you have it, the frozen tissues are already numb. If your toes have been numb for more than fifteen minutes, you could already have early stage frostbite.
How to deal with frostbite (if medical care is unavailable):
- Seek shelter and warmth as soon as possible. Focus on warming your hands first by placing them in your armpits or between your thighs. Next use your hands to warm your toes, ears and nose.
- You may also immerse affected areas in warm water, but never use hot water.
- Do not continue walking on frostbitten feet or toes unless absolutely necessary, as this can increase tissue and nerve damage.
- Don’t massage the affected area too vigorously. Never use a hot object directly against the skin. Affected areas will be numb and you could easily burn yourself.
Survival is 80% attitude, 10% equipment, and 10% skill and knowledge to use that equipment. Hopefully this helps you as a reference before you head on out for your next winter escape, and gives you the confidence to have fun and be safe.