n.halberg Author Nick likes skiing, canyoneering, climbing, backpacking, and generally any other outdoor activity even though he isn't spectacular at any of them. He was born in Sacramento, grew up near Chicago, and loves living in a state with world class recreational opportunities just out his backdoor. When in civilization, Nick loves cooking (but more so eating) food, reading adventure books, and watching American soccer. He's anxiously awaiting the day Sacramento Republic FC becomes a part of MLS and he can finally watch his hometown team on TV.

Winter Hike to Lake Blanche

On any given weekend, the road up Big Cottonwood Canyon is dominated by skiers and boarders headed to get their powder fix. More than a few cars will pull off to the side of the road on the first bend of the S turn, however. They are headed to a more secluded day in the Wasatch, and some are finding it at Lake Blanche.

Blanche is one of the most popular hikes in the canyon and strikingly beautiful, or so I’ve been told. Just a few weeks ago, I set out with my friend Claire to see how it holds up to the hype.

Our day was perfect- blue skies, warm (for February at least), and no fresh powder. Within fifteen minutes of closing our car door, we were approaching the split from the large, mildly graded main trail to the narrow, steep footpath leading up to the lake.

Since the heavily trafficked trail hadn’t seen much snow, the path was beaten solid for us and we ditched our snowshoes. The road was nearly full of cars, but we saw others only intermittently and never had to dance that awkward tango of maintaining the appropriate distance between parties.

The trail is more or less a straight shot back and up into the canyon. It maintains a medium grade for the majority of its three miles before steepening out near the top. We gained 2,700 feet of elevation along the way, but the serene atmosphere helped me forget the altitude. Birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and I fully expected to see Bambi run by us at any moment.

At least, until we hit the last quarter. To my great misfortune, I spied Sundial Peak, the mountain that borders the lake, poking just over the ridge in the background. I thought we were getting close, maybe five more minutes.

Forty minutes later we were still trekking. Up near the top, the sun crept over the far ridge and landed on the snow, softening it. Until this point, the hike had been in shadow, keeping the trail nice and firm. Now, every step was a roulette spin as to whether or not we’d end up crotch deep in snow. The hiking turned to trudging, but the view increased exponentially.

We persevered and soon were topping out and enjoying the flat ground. The lake is completely snowed over and could be hard to pick out if we didn’t already know where it was. Sundial stood proudly in the background, urging me to think of warmer weather and a time when I could return to climb it.

After the traditional end-of-hike Clif bar and pictures, we started the return trek to the car. On the way down, we saw the fresh tracks of the split boarders we had seen at the top, and we couldn’t help but be a little jealous. Still, by the time we were cozy back in the car, our consensus had become clear: Blanche was not an overrun, over-hyped trail. It was worth it.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Nick Halberg

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Rack up on Secondhand Gear

One thing we all wonder when taking on outdoor activities: where am I going to find cheap gear? Gear is an expensive part of outdoor recreation, and the most valuable. Ever tried mountain biking without a bike or skiing without skis? Not possible. Online shopping is good enough for getting the random bits and bobs you need and can offer some competitive prices, but for those important purchases, like new bindings or a different pair of climbing shoes, nothing can beat in-store service.

Feeling and interacting with your gear is critical for checking the fit and functionality. Also, having an expert consult you on which style they prefer, or which brands to avoid is beyond helpful especially for new buyers. While major stores like REI have big selections and helpful staff, they have only brand new, full retail price equipment. Those of you not wanting to sell an organ or skip meals for a year to pay for that new kayak may want to start looking at gear consignment stores.

These are places where people, usually professionals in the industry, sell their gear through a third party. The store takes a cut and the seller gets the rest. This means that almost all the gear will be used, albeit in pretty good condition, and much cheaper. The selections fluctuate based on what the store receives at that time so it’s worth checking in a few times if they don’t currently have what you’re looking for.

Around Salt Lake there are a couple gear consignment stores worth visiting:

2ND TRACKS SPORTS

2927 E 3300 S, Salt Lake City, UT

2nd Tracks Sports, as the name might imply, specializes in used ski gear. They have enough boots to outfit an army of centipedes and an entire room designated to skis. The workers are very informed and can help you find what kind of skis you’re going to need. Depending on what style you get, prices for skis and binding can range from just under $100 to $700. They also offer services like waxing and mounting bindings. If you don’t want to buy skis, you can rent a pair for $130 for the season or $25 for the day. Racks on racks of parkas and snow pants take up the left side of the store. Sprinkled throughout are beacons, probes, and snow shovels for your backcountry set up. This is definitely the place to go if you’re looking to add a cheap pair of skis to your collection or just get started in the sport.

INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT

3265 E 3300 S, Salt Lake City, UT

Although IME is not a gear consignment store, it is niche enough to warrant mentioning. Packed into a single room strip mall store is everything you could need for climbing or mountaineering. As you walk in, you’ll immediately see coils of brightly colored rope lined around the top of the front desk area. To the left, a wall of climbing shoes. To the right of that a small collection of canyoneering specific packs and rope bags, which are hard to come by. The back counter blocks a display wall chock full of every kind of climbing anchor, crampon, and miscellaneous technical gear you could ever reasonably need. Finally, the right wall of the store is dominated by extreme cold weather gear for high elevation camps. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and friendly.

THE GEAR ROOM

2258 E Fort Union Blvd, Salt Lake City, UT

The Gear Room is a local shop opened up by two brothers who love the Wasatch. The store lies on the spectrum somewhere between IME and 2nd Tracks. It is a consignment/used gear retailer so the prices remain relatively low. The selection circulates pretty regularly so you can either score a great deal or strikeout completely. Getting a deal here takes persistence, but new climbers can definitely score. $100 will get you shoes, a harness, a carabiner, and an ATC; everything needed to start hitting the gym. For more experienced climbers, used carabiners, quick draws, and climbing anchors dot the wall. Just make sure to double check the security before climbing on them. The whole left wall is covered in packs and skis. While the ski selection isn’t as big as 2nd Tracks, they still have a decent amount and the prices are competitive.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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#AltPoliticalActivism, Outdoor Industry Joins the Political Fight for Public Lands

The border between Zion National Park and Springdale, UT, separates more than just federal and private sectors. It draws the line between the outdoors and the outdoor industry. All along the main road in Springdale companies sit, drawing their business from the millions of visitors who flock to Zion every month. Here you can buy food, there you can rent gear, and over here you can get a tour guide.

Even away from national parks, companies produce and sell huge amounts of gear and apparel to meet the demands of an increasingly outdoorsy population. The outdoor industry is a massive entity driving around $646 billion in consumer spending, employing more Americans than the finance and insurance industry (6.1 million compared to 5.8 million) and growing five percent a year on average. However, it doesn’t matter if that company is located in New Jersey or New Mexico, both rely on a central asset: the outdoors.

When this comes under attack, so does the livelihood of every outdoor company. Instead of sitting idly by, many companies have taken action against environmentally destructive policies and campaigned for legislation to protect natural areas. Lately, this political activism is on the rise. More and more companies are feeling the urge to speak up, and still more are acting on that urge.

Just a few weeks ago, more than 100 of the industry’s biggest names committed to fighting for public lands together, signing a “Protect Our Public Lands” petition. The North Face, Patagonia, REI, and the Outdoor Industry created and signed it, and many others issued statements calling for governments (both state and federal) to recognize the cultural and economic significance of wild areas and favor legislation supporting them.

In the past, companies in the industry did not directly unite like this. In establishing Bears Ears National Monument, for example, Patagonia worked separately from other companies to run their campaign. Environmental director Rob Hunter explains how they “used all [their] modes of communication to reach [their] customers” and inform them about the need to conserve Bears Ears. They also shot a movie, “Defined by the Line”, starring climber and conservationist Josh Ewing with the aim of “combining our sport interest, in this case climbing, with our conservation interest, in this case public land protection.” No doubt, both these efforts helped push Bears Ears into the eyes of a much larger audience, securing its protection as a national monument.

Now, companies are combining forces and ramping up their political engagement. Those who signed the “Protect Our Public Lands” petition called for the Utah state government to stop their efforts to privatize Bears Ears. Utah leadership is preparing to sue the federal government to remove the designation — which they call a gross abuse of power-, and place the land under the state control.

The “Protect Our Public Lands” petition best sums up worries of many outdoor companies when it says that if public lands are given to states they “might sell them to the highest bidder.” It again summarizes the general consensus of the industry with the words “public lands should remain in public hands.” The Utah have government has not heard these worries, despite the use of previously successful tactics like petitions and social campaigns, which were both used to establish Bears Ears as a national monument. A more aggressive form of activism is needed, and a few companies are answering the call.

Founder and former Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf issued an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune calling for Outdoor Retailer (OR), the biannual outdoor industry trade show to “leave the state in disgust” if changes are not made. Shortly after, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, echoed Metcalf’s statements and threatened that, “Patagonia’s choice to return for future shows will depend on the Governor’s actions.” Patagonia’s current CEO, Rose Marcario, stands with the founder’s words.

While the current Black Diamond CEO is not planning on leaving, Patagonia is inspiring others to follow their lead. Twenty years ago, Metcalf organized the effort to relocate OR and, with one of the largest outdoor companies backing him, the odds are good it’ll happen. The economic ramifications for Utah will not be light. Each year, OR brings in about $20 million in direct consumer spending. More importantly, it marks Salt Lake City as the outdoor industry’s home base. Losing this could seriously deteriorate the $12 billion outdoor industry residing in Utah. Essentially, OR provides a lot of leverage for the industry’s fight.

This kind of ramped up action is indicative of the way companies are getting involved politically today, and Twitter has become their soap boxes. Any political developments contrary to the pro-environment beliefs of these corporations is sure to provoke a few negative tweets. The North Face, for example, tweeted about the protection of public lands using “#ProtectOurPublicLands” with a link to their statement. They even took a stance on the Women’s Marches, tweeting “We stand with the incredible women on our team and all over the world marching for equality today.” Chris Steinkamp, executive director of Protect our Winters (POW), views Twitter as another means of political activism. His initiative, as stated on the organization’s website, is aimed at “mobilizing the outdoor sports community against climate change.” His biggest target as of late? President Trump, who himself denies the existence of climate change. Frustrated that traditional petitioning methods weren’t working, Steinkamp decided to “go after him on Twitter.” POW’s “Twitter Blizzard” inspired over 5,000 tweets at the then president elect to urge him to maintain the Paris Climate Agreement. A quick scroll through POW’s feed today will show similar attempts at smaller politicians to address climate change in their decisions.

POW is also launching a CEO Alliance this year, which will connect CEOs from companies who want to do more to make a difference but aren’t sure how. “Businesses are now understanding that it is their responsibility to speak out,” Steinkamp says. “It’s one thing to get a company to sign a petition, but getting a CEO to stand up, it personalizes it and there is more commitment.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Duke

The group doing perhaps the most work politically is the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). Unlike most members of the industry, OIA is not a traditional company. They don’t sell goods or market experiences, rather they advocate for the betterment of the industry as a whole. They are the closest thing to an industry-wide lobbyist group the outdoors have.

Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the OIA, says their main job is to, “[bring] together the collective voice of the industry so we can achieve more as a unified industry and have a larger voice than if individual companies chart their own course.” Their very existence is a testament to the increased political activism within the industry. They have an office and permanent staff in our nation’s capital and hold an annual Capitol Summit event with leaders of the industry in D.C.

“We have seen threats to public lands in the last few years, and we’ve definitely seen efforts by some leadership in Congress to suggest that we should sell them off,” she says. As the threat increases, more and more companies are willing to stand up.

Even smaller, local companies are finding ways to get involved. While most cannot run major campaigns they can make significant differences in their communities. Snowbird Ski Resort, for example, recently hired an environmental director, who helped the resort launch a carpool incentive program called RIDE. By rewarding those who carpool or take public transportation, they are taking a stance to fight against the chronic winter inversion. The flame under these companies is partly what’s going on in Washington, but also because of their customers’ reactions to it.

Photo courtesy of Chris Segel

“People are understanding millennials and understanding what makes them tick,” Steinkamp says. “We are speaking to 35-year-old skiers and snowboarders, and those guys care. They want the brands they spend their money on to care, too.”

Mass social campaigns, films, petitions, and a unique utilization of social media- all organized by ski bum, tree hugger, and dirt bag-founded companies — have given power back to these people. They are fighting, harder than ever, to protect the places that define themselves and the nation as a whole. With an industry almost twice the size of the oil and gas industry backing them, it’s fair to say they’ve got a fighting chance.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

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Outdoor Retailer Leaving Utah?

On Dec. 28, President Barack Obama designated 1.9 million acres of land in southern Utah- Bears Ears National Monument, checking off one of the lame duck’s final moves as leader of the free world. Almost immediately, Utah Republicans swore to disestablish the monument, calling it an abuse of presidential power and disregard for the will of Utahns.

Governor Gary Herbert plans to “challenge [Obama’s] action appropriately through the many administrative, legal and legislative avenues available.” While Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes aims to, “file a lawsuit challenging this egregious overreach by the Obama Administration.” Whatever the medium, the intent of Utah Republicans is clear: do away with Bears Ears.

Ironically, this conflict erupted just weeks before the winter edition of Outdoor Retailer 2017, and it triggered a backlash from major outdoor companies. Black Diamond founder and former CEO Peter Metcalf published a scathing op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune, criticizing Governor Herbert and other Utah Republican leaders for waging an “all-out assault against Utah’s protected public lands and Utah’s newest monument.”

Metcalf called this agenda “antithetical to our industry” and threatened that “this trade show will depart with the expiration of the current contract in 2018 unless the leadership ceases its assault on America’s best idea.” He goes on to further say that Utah’s public lands are a large part of the reason OR was moved to Salt Lake and that an attack on those lands is an attack on the outdoor industry as a whole.

Shortly after, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, published a press release echoing the ideas behind Metcalf’s op-ed. Chouinard similarly criticized Governor Herbert for having, “spent years denigrating our public lands, the backbone of our business, and trying to sell them off to the highest bidder.” The Patagonia founder also said that his company would not be returning to OR next year if Utah leadership’s stance on public lands did not change, citing how Governor Herbert has “created a hostile environment that puts our industry at risk.”

Although Metcalf and Chouinard hold no formal power over the location of OR the influence their businesses hold is enormous. It is very likely that the precedent set by these behemoths will be followed by multitudes of companies as well.

This would be a massive blow for Utah. The outdoor industry generates $650 billion nationally, $12 billion of which is in Utah. It also hosts about 120,000 jobs across the state. Losing the outdoor industry’s most eminent trade show for conservation reasons could have a significant impact on those numbers. Also, losing OR means losing the roughly $50 million in direct spending generated every year from the conference.

Utah boasts some of the most incredible landscapes on Earth. The state is a hub for outdoor recreation and renowned as one of the wildest places to get outside. Outdoor Retailer is the affirmation of these beliefs, but without changes or a resolution to this conflict, it is almost certain to make that affirmation some place else.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Claire Simon

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The Mountaineering Opthamologist, Doctor Geoff Tabin

I pulled out my phone to investigate what was responsible for the buzzing in my pocket and saw a number I’d never seen before calling from Salt Lake. It was Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, returning my call for an interview. Within just a few minutes, I found myself deep into a conversation about one of my favorite climbing spots near my home in Chicago.

I could hardly believe it. Here was a man who was one of the early few to climb all seven summits (completed in June 1990), was part of the bravely harebrained group that invented bungee jumping, and has a seemingly biblical power to cure the blind — and he was talking to me about good ol’ Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

In an attempt to steer the conversation back on track I asked how it is that such a decorated alpinist/adventurer gets involved in cataract surgery. What followed is a conversation I am likely never to forget, one that I will do my best to immortalize here.

Tabin, known simply as Geoff in those days, graduated with an MA in Philosophy from Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship. During his time there he took full advantage of “Indigenous trust funds,” which were remnants leftover from the days when Oxford encouraged their students too go out into the world and “civilize” it. To Tabin, these were his tickets atop some of the world’s most impressive mountains. Through these funds, Tabin traveled far and wide, climbing to his heart’s content.

One such trip was to New Guinea, where his friend David Kirke from the Oxford Dangerous Sport Club, a group of a few dozen extreme sport athletes who pioneered the most absurd challenges imaginable, encouraged him to try the native rite of passage known as vine jumping.

Although Kirke was wrong about vine jumping starting in New Guinea, it actually began in the nearby island of Vanuatu, the club was inspired. They decided to urbanize the native challenge. Using bungees from an aircraft carrier, Tabin and colleagues sent a lucky (or perhaps foolhardy) few over the edge of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England.

The jump and subsequent bungee parts were a wild success, however, the heavy, slick cords made it impossible to hoist the rider back onto the bridge. There the rider dangled, long enough for a local paper to snap some pictures. Soon, stories of the absurd stunt traveled far and wide, all the way across the Atlantic to an American TV show called “That’s Incredible.” They requested the club come out to Colorado and recreate the stunt, but Tabin recalls his pals’ resistance. “They said there was no sport in it,”  Tabin recounts with a chuckle. “They had proven it could be done so to them the sport was gone.”

Regardless, the club set out to the United States and performed the first ever televised bungee jump off the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado. After, they packed up their bungees and headed to the Bonneville Salt Flats. If there was no sport left in bungee jumping, they decided they better do something worthwhile in America. Catapulting themselves between two cars, they managed to get a wheelchair (and rider) up to over 60 miles an hour, a new world record.

Primarily a mountaineer, most of Tabin’s trips took place in the Himalayas. Perhaps his most historic trip was his ascent of the last unclimbed section of Everest, the Kangshung Face. It took three attempts before Tabin himself finally stood atop the infamous East Face in 1988. Although he wasn’t the first to do so, he was on the mountain supporting the 1983 crew that managed to ascend the face for the first time. It is considered to be one of the most difficult routes up the mountain and is rarely attempted.

80s Nepal, the foremost climbing country in the Himalayas, was not much better off than most third-world countries. It was here, in the disheartening villages, that Tabin realized his passion for, “the moral, philosophical underpinnings of healthcare.” He witnessed a cataract surgery on a woman during one of his Everest expeditions and was amazed at the power it had to transform her life.

Returning to the U.S. to attend medical school at Harvard University, Tabin realized he wanted to return to Nepal, only this time it wasn’t to climb. It was on this return trip that he met Dr. Sanduk Ruit, a leading cataract surgeon from Nepal working on a pioneering surgery.

With Ruit’s new method, surgeries became cheaper, faster, and simpler than ever. Using a small incision, Ruit was able to clean away the buildup causing the cataract and install a secondary lens to refocus the vision. Tabin was convinced this was his calling. With Ruit, Tabin started the Himalayan Cataract Project.

The project’s goal was to help combat blindness in Nepal alone — a goal soon surpassed. Under the two men’s guidance, a multitude of different training programs for adults or youth were implemented in Nepal. Within a few years the Project had treated  nearly 300,000 people in Nepal. Looking back, Tabin realized that naming his organization the Himalayan Cataract Project was a mistake.

“At the time, the need in Nepal was so great, some 255,000 people were backlogged for these surgeries. We saw this as a life endeavor” Tabin recalls. With serious dedication and effort, however, the project has spread far across Nepalese borders. The Himalayan Cataract Project now works not just in other Himalayan countries like Tibet, but all over Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa too.

Today, Tabin’s life is still packed with adventure, although of a different kind than in his college days. Instead of jumping off bridges or climbing big mountains, he is traveling a large part of the year doing the work he loves in the most disparaged countries. He doesn’t have much time for big expeditions anymore which is why he loves living in Utah. “You can skin up a mountain, ski down, and still be at work by 8 a.m.”

But he does manage to find a few days here and there for some larger trips. A few years ago in Africa he was able to sneak off for six days to casually climb Kilimanjaro with a paraplegic veteran, an expedition that sums up his character.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photos courtesy of Geoffrey Tabin

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How To: Purify Water

The most appealing aspect of backpacking is undoubtedly the remoteness. Few things are better than entertaining the fantasy that you are the first person to trot down that lonely dirt trail in a very long time. The last thing you want is for your range to be limited, and one of the most limiting factors is water.

The sticker about water is that it’s heavy, very heavy. Trying to pack around all your water for a week’s trip is absurd. You’ll find a broken back and dehydration before the remote peace and solitude you set out for. This means that gathering water as you go is your only option, and to do this safely you need to purify it. Fortunately, there are more than a few ways to do this.

The age-old tactic is boiling. Once water hits the magical 100° C (212° F) mark, it will begin to boil. It is at this temperature that all the nasty microbes that would result in a week in the outhouse are killed off, and the water becomes safe to drink. At higher elevations water boils at a lower temperature. There’s a whole bunch of technical, sciency stuff behind this, but the gist of it is that less atmospheric pressure means less energy to boil the water, and less energy means less heat. In order to ensure all those microbes are dead, you should boil water for longer at higher altitudes.

This tactic works very well in the winter. Grab some ice, or snow if no ice is available, and melt it down. You have a warm, safe drink ready to go. In the summer, this is the opposite of what you want. Why take that nice cool stream water and heat it up when it’s already baking hot outside? Boiling also requires some kind of stove. Although there are lightweight cook systems out there, they all are heavier than most of the other purifying techniques.

The next most common practice is using a pump purifier. This is a reliable, long-lasting method of combating dehydration. Essentially, a small tube extends into the water source and sucks water up into a big filter and then spits it out, all clean and pure, through another tube into your water bottle. You are safe to drink that water immediately and it will be as cold as the source you pulled it from. However, pumping enough water for several liters quickly becomes tedious and tiring and the pump itself still weighs a decent amount.

The last solution, and my personal favorite, is a chemical purifier. These come in the form of iodine drops or chlorine tablets. They are specially sold at outdoor retailers for purifying water and have explicit instructions on how to use them. Do not buy a bag of chlorine and start DIY purifying your water. You will be DIY poisoning yourself. These purifiers are lightweight, easy to use, and require very minimal effort. However, they do take time to work. You will not be able to drink your water immediately after adding it so some forward thinking is required.
Whatever your trip, don’t be limited by water. There is more than enough H2O spilling around the backcountry for you to take advantage of.   

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Retort Cooking Meals

Early morning sunrises are best enjoyed with a warm cup of coffee and … oatmeal? Ugh, not again. There are only so many days a person can reasonably wake up and eat brown mush without going crazy. Sometimes, a full meal is worth a little extra weight. Retort cooking is by far the best way to do this during the winter, and below are a few of the simplest meals to satiate your hunger and keep you away from that natural cement.

Breakfast- Boil Bag Eggs

This meal can be as simple or intricate as you like. All that is absolutely required are a few eggs. Crack them straight into the bag and squish around until scrambled. If desired, add your favorite fillings. Personally, I’m a fan of ham, cheese, and jalapeños. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal tight. Immerse in boiling water and make sure the bag doesn’t touch the side of the pot, or it will melt. After five to ten minutes, remove the bag. The egg will be formed into an omelet shape. Feel free to fork it or go after it like a burrito.

Lunch- Bacon Mac ‘N Cheese

The beauty of retort is that very complex meals can be enjoyed in the wild in almost no time at all. This is certainly one of those instances. At home, cook however much bacon you prefer until very crispy. Crumble and set aside. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a pan and add equal parts flour. Stir for roughly five minutes, watching the butter so it doesn’t burn. Slowly add milk and continue whisking. Keep adding until butter-flour mixture is fully incorporated and is just a little thicker than water consistency. Stir in grated mozzarella and cheddar. Season with salt, pepper, and ground mustard, then add bacon and cooked macaroni noodles. Bag into individual portions and then reheat in boiling water when ready to eat.

DinnerBeef Stroganoff

At home, sauté onion and mushrooms in a large pot until soft, then remove. Cut sirloin steak into inch-sized cubes and coat in flour. Brown in the same pot with a little oil and butter. Add a cup of beef broth, some salt, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil then simmer for 15 minutes covered. Add the onions and mushrooms back into the pot and add a little more flour and broth. Bring back to a boil and simmer for another 20 minutes to finish cooking beef. Bag into individual portions. Once ready to eat, reheat and stir in a couple spoons of sour cream. Pour over noodles or eat as is.

Dessert- Camp Apple Pie

Buy and individually bag apple pie mixture. Heat in boiling water and pour into a mug. Crumble over graham crackers and brown sugar. Simple as pie!

 

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winter cooking in the backcountry

You have just finished a seemingly endless day of snowshoeing up to Lake Blanche. You are cold, exhausted, and starving, but it is 5 p.m. already and the sun has just a few rays left peeking over the far side of the valley. What you need is a warm, big bowl of something delicious to spur your camp set-up; but nothing sounds more unappealing than cooking a traditional meal while your hands slowly turn to icicles. Luckily, your friend has come prepared with retort meals to save your stomach (and hands).

Retort is a method of cooking where all food is prepped at home and put in bags to reheat in boiling water. It is by far the easiest and most efficient way of getting a meal out of your backpack and into your mouth. Although fairly simple, here are a few tips to make the process even smoother.

  • The looser the meal, the faster the reheat time. This means soups, chili, sauces, and broths are ideal.
  • Cut up large chunks of food. Big pieces of meat, potatoes, vegetables, etc. take a longer time to reheat. Cutting them down can shave minutes off your cook time.
  • The more surface area the meal has, the faster the cooking time as well. Squishing the food down into a flat pancake will heat more food and will ensure that terrible cold center disaster does not happen.
  • Always double bag foods when transporting. Nothing, and I really mean nothing, is more unpleasant than finding frozen chili strewn throughout your gear six miles into the backcountry.
  • Get a stove that can hold a large pot. Nobody wants to have to cook one meal at a time, and even less people want to be the last person to eat. Also, don’t let the bags touch the sides of the pot. This is sure to melt them.
  • Plan and prep at home. Spending an hour in the warmth of your kitchen cooking and bagging a meal means spending fifteen or twenty minutes in the cold snow before you can eat it.
  • Not every part of your meal has to be reheated. Bring a bag of Fritos, some cheese, lettuce, and sour cream. Add warmed taco meat and you have yourself a nice bag of walking tacos.
  • Use Ziplock or Glad freezer bags. Both these brands don’t use BPA in their products and the freezer bag will hold together better in the boiling water.

From here, the possibilities really are endless. I have seen people reheat whole steaks they grilled at their house, bring all the components of a real ramen out and add the hot broth, even soft boil eggs. Since you are camping in cold temperatures, you need not worry about food spoiling. Bring the milk, meat, and cheese! Be liberated by having a way to cook good food in the beauty of snow-covered mountains. If all else on your trip hits the fan, at least you’ll remember the curry you had sitting next to frozen Lake Blanche.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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Fat Tires Expand — Mountain Biking Season

Ah, winter. The most wonderful time of the year. Snow on the ground means the skis come out, the lifts start moving, and everyone is happy. Everyone, that is, except mountain bikers. For them, snow on the ground means the end of a season and the beginning of a long wait. Trying to run a trail with even a little of that white stuff on it can be disastrous. Fortunately, there is a solution, and it comes looking like the monster truck of mountain bikes. It is the fat bike.

At first glance these bikes seem pretty standard. Handlebars, check. Seat, check. Frame, check. Tires, woah. This is the central difference between and mountain bike and a fat bike. A typical mountain bike tire is about two to two-and-a-half inches wide. A fat bike tire is usually four or five. Any other major differences on the bike, like a wider frame and specialized braking system, basically just accommodate this extra width.

Clearly a more massive tire and heavier bike means you will not be going as fast as you would on a traditional bike, but that is not the purpose of a fat bike. The key factor provided by larger tires is accessibility, not speed. Wider tires mean more tire contact with the ground and more cushion. This allows the rider to gain better traction and “float” across terrain previously impassable.

Because of this unique ability, fat bikes were quickly nicknamed snow bikes. The big, grippy tires certainly help open up new realms of biking like high alpine riding, but fat bikes don’t have to just sit in your garage all summer.

Any terrain that is either too rough or too slippery for a traditional bike is perfect for a fat bike. Be it rock gardens, flooded trails, hard packed snow, or fresh powder, the fat bike takes it all with ease. Improvements in frame design and material have transitioned the once touring specific beast into something that can now be used as a replacement to your traditional bike in many cases.

The best example of this is the introduction of suspension. Early fat bikes were locked solid, and although beefier tires slightly offset the bumps, it was not nearly enough. Now, however, front or double suspension bikes are available to the masses for a hefty, but not insurmountable, price. If you are willing to invest three to five grand for a new, shiny dual suspension fat bike, you’ll open yourself up to a whole new variety of trails.

The Iditarod Trail Invitational was the original jumping point for fat bikes. Every year, one week before the sled dog Iditarod, skiers, trail runners, and bikers are invited to tackle the 1,000 mile trail. Although it had been done on traditional bikes before, it was not easy. At least half the time the snow made the trail impassable, forcing riders to drag their bikes. The large tires of the fat bike, however, can handle the trail with grace, and is now the standard.

If you’re not quite up for a thousand mile battle across Alaska just yet, there are still ways to get out and enjoy your fat bike. For the more competitive, there is Frosty’s Fat Bike Race Series, a nine to twelve mile snow race that takes place in January on the Wasatch front. The more relaxed adventurer can rent a fat bike from Outdoor Adventures for $30 a day ($60 for a weekend) and hit up either Guardsman Pass or the Bonneville Shoreline trail for some cool winter views.

Although the tires may seem comically large, the fat bike is one of the best ways to get out and explore. Any terrain in its path will likely be conquered. No more will a ride be riddled by annoying stop-and-carry spots and no more will mountain bikers dread the day snow falls for the first time. Thanks to the fat bike, winter really is the most wonderful time of the year again.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Gessie Eaton

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Hiking the Subway — What You Should Know

We were a motley bunch. Between the five of us we had one broken (and un-casted) wrist, three wetsuit-less fools, and one amateur who had never done so much as a rappel before. I knew the risk was high, and despite my most tremendous efforts, I could not shake the doubt that crept into my dazing mind. A wrong turn, a bad hold, a slipped foot — SCREECH! We stopped. Out the front window I could see the headlights illuminating “Wildcat Canyon Trailhead.” We had arrived; we were at the entrance to the Subway.

Immediately the doubt drained away only to be replenished by a surge of adrenaline and excitement. As we placed our first steps on the trail the freezing morning air bit at our bare legs, but with each step I couldn’t help but think of all the hurried research I had done the night before and the men who has first set foot on this remote route.

Crossing over the slick rock and continuing to descend toward the beginning of the canyon, I did not once think of a lack of wilderness. In fact, had it not been for our guidebook we almost certainly never would have found the canyon at all. Even with the book our directions sounded like something out of “Treasure Island: “continue fifteen feet across the slick rock until you pass over a large, fallen Ponderosa Pine tree.” There was no shortage of “where to now” questions.

Many wrong turns later and we finally were standing at the bottom of the first descent. In front of us was a small trickle of a creek. Little did I know, I would come to fear its icy grasps. Progressing further, we came upon the only possible spot you could really go the wrong way once you enter the canyon. Putting our 90 years of combined knowledge together, we spent a careful fifteen minutes checking directions against compasses and logic. We agreed, the trail had to be left.

An hour later we returned to the junction soaked, freezing, and grumpy. We went the wrong way. If you find yourself at the bottom of the canyon facing your first T-intersection, DO NOT GO left. There is nothing but despair and aggravation hiding around that bend.

On the right track, we began to hit a rhythm. The rappels were handled with ease by all able-bodied participants, and for the hindered, we set up an ATC. The swims, however, were much worse. Without a wetsuit, the water was stingingly cold. Submerging fully meant succumbing to a cold-induced headache comparable only to drinking a liquid nitrogen milkshake.

The day before, picking up our permits at the ranger station, they warned us of this. Our permit was even highlighted and underlined in the section where it details wetsuits as “mandatory but not required.” I thought this confusing, and already surpassing my budget for the trip, opted to not invest the $30 for a rental wetsuit. Standing on the other side of the 15-foot swim, slowly regaining brain function, I very much regretted not spending the $30.

The deeper into the canyon we got, the better I felt. The water had not warmed at all, but the sun was high enough to at least provide the illusion of heat. Incredible features appeared before us.

Photo by Reeves Coursey

Photo by Reeves Coursey

We traversed through slots just narrow enough to brush your shoulders on, rappelled down waterfalls, swam through crystal clear potholes, and even stepped thigh deep into quicksand. It was a true adventure.

As it is, though, all good things come to an end. Taking our classic picture at the actual subway part of the Subway, we said our last goodbyes and started the rather normal, and comparably boring, hike back to the trailhead.

Approaching the car a few hours later I looked around at our group. If we were motley before, we were decrepit now. Full of sand, covered in blisters, soaked to the bone, and smelling absolutely rancid we stood there with the giddiest, most ridiculous smiles on our faces. It took no words to communicate what we all felt. That was gnarly, but we all knew we’d be back to tackle it again as soon as we got the chance.

Follow Our Lead

Trailhead: The trail starts at Wildcat Canyon Trailhead (which appears on Google Maps if typed in) and ends at Left Fork Trailhead (also map-able). If you have two cars it is a good idea to leave one down at Left Fork and shuttle up to Wildcat Canyon. They are on the same road and only about a twenty-minute drive apart.

Trail: The beginning of the trail is very confusing and requires route finding. You can purchase detailed guides in Springdale or Zion itself. It would be impossible to make it into the canyon without one of these. Once in the canyon, there is only one possible place to get lost, otherwise it is a relatively straight shot through. After exiting the canyon, it gets a little more confusing. Follow the river for a good distance until eventually cutting off to the right and scrambling almost straight over the side wall of the canyon.

Permits: Because of its popularity, only a few permits are given out each day for the Subway hike. You can either apply for a regular permit (which must be done three months in advance and costs $5 for the application) or a last minute drawing (which must be applied for a week in advance and is very, very hard to get, also $5). If you’re lucky enough to get a permit, you must go to a ranger station the day before to pick it up and pay the additional fee (anywhere from $15-$25 depending on the size of your group). (https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/subwaypermits.htm)

Additional: If it is not the middle of summer, or if you are prone to getting cold, you need a wetsuit. The hike is far less grueling and more enjoyable with one. Making the naive mistake to tough it out was idiotic and potentially very dangerous. Do not attempt to do this hike later than August without one. In addition, a 60-foot rope is critical. You will not complete the hike without it. If you are nervous about the hand over hand rappelling, then bring a harness and ATC as well. A dry bag to keep a change of clothes in is also advisable.

Photo courtesy of Reeves Coursey

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