Saturday, June 30, 2018

Avoiding & recognizing altitude sickness - and What you can do if it strikes

 The following (including the photo, below) are courtesy of the Garmin/inReach blog.

Prior to and during your climb:

  • Avoid alcoholic beverages while flying and traveling to base camp
  • Try to spend at least one night at the trail head (two nights would be ideal)
  • Stay hydrated – drink lots of liquids, even before reaching base camp
  • Prepare well for where you will get water on the trail and have the gear necessary to collect water and make it safe to drink
  • Consider adding electrolyte solution (such as a sports drink) to some of your container to replace electrolyte losses
  • If you are not hungry while climbing, you are probably not adequately hydrated

Pace and breathing:

  • Start slowly during the first hour, and maintain a pace that you can sustain for 24 hours (if needed in an emergency) to reduce your early glycogen burn rate.
  • Resist the competitive drive. It gets folks into trouble later in the day at altitude.
  • Consciously work on breathing in time with pace and develop a rhythm of steps and breath. At higher altitude (for example, around 27,000’) your breathing ratio will change to 2-4 breaths for one step.
 Read the rest at: Tips for Preventing Altitude Sickness

inReach: Assisting a Hiker Experiencing High Altitude Sickness


 "They rose early the next morning to get to the trailhead and begin their 5-day hike. The group reached their first camping spot around noon at an elevation of about 10,700’.

"Karen said she got sick following dinner. She didn’t realize that this was the first sign of altitude sickness. Karen and her friends discussed the possibility of heading back, but they decided to see how she felt in the morning. Karen had brought supplemental oxygen, which she used that night, and she kept consuming liquids to stay hydrated and went to sleep.

"Karen woke before her friends to have a good breakfast and drink fluids with electrolytes. She decided to carry on with the hike, but in hindsight, she knows now that she wasn’t in the state of mind to make a sound decision.

"Her recollection of events is blurry from this point on. The group reached the summit of West Maroon Pass (at 12,500’) around noon. “I remember it was beautiful, but I started to decline. My friends told me I was stuttering and shaking all over,” Karen said.


"The friends took turns helping Karen climb down and carry her pack. Karen has no recollection of this portion of the journey, but as she descended, they reported that she began to feel better. Still, she was out of breath, so they kept giving her supplemental oxygen. Around 4:45 p.m., about 3.5 miles from the car, Karen stopped, went stiff, fell to the ground, hit her head, and began to vomit and have a seizure.  "

Read the rest of this article to learn how the inReach satellite tracker and communicator helped save Karen's life.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Why have I been absent here for so long?

I destroyed my shoulder after an epic mountain bike crash in November 2014 and had seriously major surgery right before that Christmas.  Details of the extensive slicing and dicing below (click mages to enlarge).

Surgery was followed by 2-1/2 months immobilized in a brace, then physical therapy rehab for most of the rest of 2015.

Unfortunately, the rehab focused only on the shoulder and left the rest of the body to get stiff and weak. That caused a series of injuries that occurred as I was struggling to get back in shape over 2016 and half of 2017

The text, below, is from a note to my physical trainer Kerry Scharf who has helped me work through the process.

You will note that the big lesson in all of this is that recovery from a serious injury requires PT that treats the entire human, not just the specifically injured part.


OK this is to refresh your memory of the chain of events that lead up to today. Please bear with me because the background is relevant.

As you might remember in early November 2014 I had an epic mountain bike crash at Anadel that essentially destroyed my right shoulder.

Then, thinking that the shoulder would be okay if I just shook it out and limbered it up, I went for a run. A car speeding into a service station nearly hit me. I dodged out of the way and tripped headlong at a full sprint into a utility pole. With the damaged shoulder. I got up. Cursed out the driver and jogged home.

But that was the final blow for a shoulder that has had serious injuries, separations, and tears, that started in wrestling in college. While in wresting practice in 1969,  I had a serious separation which included a complete separation of the collarbone at both ends.

Being young and foolish I ignored doctors orders… medical care at the time was not so good because all I was given was a cloth shoulder harness that looked like a bra missing important pieces. I did not go back to wresting, but played soccer as the starting fullback.

My shoulder was subsequently injured in a white water rescue/inspection dive which I was involved with as a volunteer scuba diver with the New York State police. I managed to get twisted in the undercarriage of the car while doing my job in a swollen stream.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Hello InReach Explorer+, Part 2

In Part 1 (Goodbye Spot, (Hello InReach Explorer+) Part 1) I explained why I use a GPS tracker and why -- after years of using a Spot device -- I punted on that particular device.

Spot could do four things:
  1. track me in a lot (but not all_ places, 
  2. allow me to send a preset message to people preset on a web page before a backpack, 
  3. allow people to view a pass-word protected page plotted with my position, 
  4. and had an emergency SOS feature that could send a signal..
However, the Garmin InReach Explorer+ offers the following 10 capabilities, some of which have multiple features. From a strict operational capability standpoint, The Explorer+ is far, far more useful and valuable.

In one single unit, you get two-way SMS text messaging...


....a fully functional GPS unit with a set of built-in 24K scale US maps & Canada, and maps of Mexico at lower resolution.

The SOS feature is interactive and allows communication with search and rescue.

In addition, the unit comes with the free Earthmate app that pairs with your mobile phone to allow easier access on a larger touch screen to all the Explorer+ features.

 The maps on the Earthmate app are okay, and a great improvement over the Garmin GPS displays that were state of the art back in 2012 when I wrote this article: iPhone & Topo Maps App Offer Freedom From Garmin Oppression. 

However, the Earthmate app maps still are not as clear and usable as the Topo Maps App in that 2012 article (image below). I plan to continue using that app as well as carrying a physical map and compass ... just in case.

Navigating the Explorer+ is not via touch screen, but by use of the arrow dial and other controls. The screen Explorer+ screen is the size of a large postage stamp: about 1-5/16" wide as can be seen in the next image where I have over-laid a transparent ruler on the screen.

Costs and subscriptions

Spot:  $199.99/YR or on a months basis $19.99/MO ($239.88/yr.

There are a variety of plans which can be accessed at this link (prices for U.S. users).

The Freedom plans allow you to suspend billing for months that you do not use it. Those plans, however, are more expensive on a monthly basis.

I chose the Recreation plan which will cost me $299.40/year and completely believe that the additional capabilities from the Explorer+ are well worth the extra $8.33/month.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Goodbye Spot, (Hello InReach Explorer+) Part 1

Part 1 of 2: Goodbye Spot

Spot 1.0
I do a fair amount of solo backpacking and, for years, I have been traveling with Spot which is a GPS tracker/locator that allows friends and loved ones to track me on a password-protected map and can call for help if needed. 

In addition, because of my experience with law enforcement and search and rescue, I realize that  pinpointing my location means that I don't endanger the lives and well-being of others if something does go wrong.

I've written about that last issue several times.

I've used version 1.0 and  2.0 with satisfactory results.
Spot 2.0

Goodbye Spot

As I prepared to get back to the Sierras after a lengthy recovery from a disastrous mountain biking injury that virtually destroyed everything in my right shoulder, I naturally made Spot a priority.

During my lengthy recovery, Spot released a third version. I was prepared to buy this until I realized that Spot's product had grown more expensive while falling behind competitive products in functionality.

The final straw that sent me in search of a replacement came from Version 3's mediocre customer reviews from Amazon purchasers.

Yearly subscription.

While Spot's functionality has remained the same across the three versions, the price has increased from $49.95 per year to 149.95 with automatic renewals.

In addition that, the subscription automatically renews, but the company does not notify subscribers before their credit cards are charged. In addition, canceling a subscription involves a time-consuming search because the Spot site does not include a link anywhere to accomplish that.

It takes a user significant time to learn that the cancellation policy is hidden in the small print of the Terms of Service (ToS).

Further, while a user can subscribe online, the ToS states that cancellations must be done by a phone call to customer service, and further must be done at least 30 days before the renewal date.

But wait! There's MORE!

I tried calling customer service four times beginning about six weeks before my Spot subscription was due to expire.

The phone connection quality was akin to two tin cans and a bit of rotten string. I was cut off three times. When I finally got full conversation, it seemed as if I was talking to someone from Mars. As it turns out, the Martian can't do anything, and so had to transfer me.

Cut off another three times.

When I finally got to the cancellation Martian, all I got was an up-sell and run-around. That was when I announced that I was recording the call and unless he canceled the subscription immediately, I would call American Express and initiate a chargeback.

Finally a cancellation.

And, for what is it worth, my personal experience has taught me that Visa and Mastercard will jerk you around forever on a disputed charge such as this, and frequently fail you.

I've not needed this sort of help very often, American Express has stood by me.

Next: Hello InReach Explorer+ (And why I picked it.)

Monday, May 28, 2018

A proper in-line water filter to save weight, time and hassle.

NOTE: All items written about in this article were paid for by Tactical Trekker. No consideration, review items or any other consideration were offered or given by any brand or any representative of any company.

Getting a backpack down to fighting weight is almost as hard as keeping off the personal pounds as the years go by. One of the ways that Tactical Trekker found is to get rid of the hand-operated water filter pumps.

Back in 2013 we found that we could shave off 12 ounces in a single whack by using an inline filter.

Not only is the inline filter lighter, but saves time and hassle.

Instead of squatting awkwardly at the edge of a stream and cranking at the pump lever for what seems like an eternity, a quick-disconnect allows me to dip my entire Camelbak into the water to fill it. Seconds instead of minutes and minutes. 
Sawyer inline filter part of their "Squeeze" products: easy to use, lightweight
I keep my Camelbak 100 carabinered to the outside of my backpack for easy access and to allow it to dry without getting anything else wet.

Now that I've moved past the epic shoulder injury, physical therapy and a series of non-shoulder injuries, I'm preparing for the first backpack to the Sierras and need to reduce weight even more.

Before the mountain biking accident, I trimmed my pack to 40 pounds. Now that I am older and only recently regaining full strength and endurance, my goal is 35 pounds for the trek scheduled for June 22.

Just in time for this comes the Sawyer "Squeeze" -- an inline filter that needs no hacking and offers very little resistance. for $49.95 at Sportsman's Warehouse and other outfitters, the Squeeze adds all of the fittings I had to hack to the McNett in 2013.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Aquamira Frontier Pro Max personal water filter

Tactical Trekker is back following a devastating shoulder injury in early November 2014 that tore everything in my right rotator cuff -- all tendons torn, some 100% through. Bicep tendon damaged so badly it had to be cut and relocated on anchors at the top of my humerus.

Following that was major surgery, 6 weeks immobilized in a brace, 7 months of physical therapy and ... finally strength training which is putting me on course for a return to the Sierras in a couple of months.

That slowed TT posts down.

But here's the first new one in many months ... and I'll be keeping up a lot better from this point forward.

Almost three years ago, I hacked the Pioneer Pro water filter and liked the results very much: Hacking The Pioneer Pro Water Filter McNett Water Filter Hack = Crazy Good.

As it turns out, Aquamira, the company who made the Pioneer Pro, created a new model that is a cinch to use without needing the hacks I created.

Unfortunately, the amount of effort needed to suck water through the filter is far harder than with the original model I hacked.

So hard that this would not be suitable for warm or hot weather hikes where moderate to high water consumption is vital to stay hydrated.

I've emailed the company to determine if I somehow got a model that was defective. But I have not heard back.

I cannot recommend this new model. $49.99 SRP

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lightweight Trekking Pole That's NOT a Lightning Rod

Trusty White Alder trekking pole. I've just made my way over a pass in the
Hoover Wilderness Area on the way to Summit Lake in 2012

I've written frequently about the quest to slim down my backpack. 50 pounds was my standard for many years since I seemed to be able to haul that anywhere without any problem. But that began to get old as I entered by sixties, so I slimmed it down to 40 pounds by my 65th birthday last year.

One of the areas I have looked at was my trekking pole I fashioned more than 20 years from a White Alder limb left over from some trail clearing. I looked at lighter alternatives -- primarily aluminum alloys and carbon fiber. But both of those are electrical conductors.

Another word for electrical conductor, especially at high Sierra elevations, is "lightning rod." I have had my own close calls and have friends who have been struck and injured or killed:

Shoulder Injury Prompted Reconsideration Of My Old Trusty White Alder Pole 

It's easy enough to become a crispy critter while trekking with a lightning rod, so  I stuck with my old White Alder pole. 

Then, in early November 2014, a catastrophic injury to my right shoulder requiring extensive surgery has made me take a new look. I am still in physical therapy and may or may not recover quickly enough to get back to the Sierras this year.

I was recently cleared to hike with a day pack of 15 or 20 pounds. But with the recovering shoulder and muscles that are only now being rebuilt after being totally immobilized for the first 2 months, having a lighter trekking pole has moved back up to the top of my list.

In addition, the White Alder has continued to develop a severe curve as it ages and dries.  Compare the photo of the pole above to this one taken just yesterday:

Trusty White Alder pole no longer straight.
After extensive searching, I have been unable to find an alternative to metal and carbon fiber.

Inspiration From An Unlikely Place  

Inspiration from polymer handles.
Yard work is not my favorite task. But I got an idea while I was looking at the objects that were leading me to drudgery.

Note the polymer handles on the yard rake (left, next to the big wide shovel) and shovel (center, background.)

So, with this inspiration in mind, I headed to the local hardware store and bought a yard rake and a leaf rake, both with polymer handles.

Easy Basic Rake Hack

This is not hard:

Drill out the rivet. 

Pull off the  tines. 

Voila! Trekking pole.

Drill out the rivet. This is the yard rake
which turned out to be heavier
and longer than needed.
I found the smaller leaf rake handle to be perfect. And it weighed 14 ounces. The White Alder weighed 1 pound, 14 ounces. The weight-lightening task of slimming down a pack is usually one of saving a few ounces here and there. 

Getting a one-pound savings in one fell swoop is a victory. And will make hiking easier as my shoulder recovers.

Adding a crutch tip to the open end will add another ounce. No big thing.

Leaf rake before ...

... and after, the leaf rake becomes a lightweight trekking pole
without being a lightning rod.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

My Physical Therapy Goal

I'd like to get back to the shape I was in a days shortly before my epic shoulder catastrophe.

Below is is my parody -- left (in many ways) -- of GOP House member Paul Ryan's 2012 photo shoot for Time magazine. (WaPo: Best weight-lifting-in-backwards-hat shot of Paul Ryan yet).

Top Ten Reasons For High Sierra Mountaineering

  1. Stars! More stars than even God can count. The Milky Way really IS milky.
  2. No straight-pipe Harleys bleeting like the dying farts of wounded warthogs.
  3. Early dawn, late sunset. 
  4. Rattlesnakes and bears are mostly down below the tree line. So are almost all of the people.
  5. No cell service or WiFi.
  6. Knowing the meaning of genuine silence. 
  7. And the pure voice of the wind which runs rampant up high.
  8. Solitude.
  9. No text-distracted drivers.
  10. No Kardashians.
  11. To be continued.

Monday, February 16, 2015

This Rugged Case & Fantastic Topo App Let You Replace Your GPS And Camera With Your iPhone

Eliminating unnecessary weight makes a trek easier and a lot more enjoyable. I've written extensively in this space about ways to shed ounces that can save a lot of pounds (iPhone & Topo Maps App Offer Freedom From Garmin Oppression, Hacking The Pioneer Pro Water Filter)

 In my case, I've been able to replace both my GPS and camera with my iPhone.

The retractable tether attached to this Snow Lizard case
allows quick easy use of your iPhone as a camera or GPS.
 Right-click image to enlarge.
This is a total net weight success because I don't like leaving my iPhone at the trailhead and had been carrying it -- turned off -- as dead weight in my pack.

The solution, pictured at left, took a couple of years, new product intros and some MacGyver hacking to be ready for its first test last July (2014).

The test was successful and allows me to replace both my GPS and my camera with my iPhone.

In The Beginning ...

My journey started in 2012 on a summit of Mt. Langley Climbing Mt. Langley: Slow Ascent, Lightning Descent.

I carried both my Garmin and my iPhone 4 loaded with TopoMaps App.

I found that the iPhone got satellite lock faster, held it better in forested areas and was equally accurate as determined by unequivocal landmarks on a paper topo. And it performed flawlessly at 14,000+ feet. The iPhone app had other advantages over the Garmin as described here.

Then, in late December 2012 on a trek to the California Matterhorn, I also found the iPhone GPS performed perfectly at -20 degrees F.

But to eliminate the keeping the iPhone handy while also being waterproof and safe from damage then became the issue.

In Search of WaterPROOF ... (As Opposed to WaterRESISTANT)

Before I could use my iPhone to replace anything, I had to protect it from weather, dirt, fording streams and the rugged demands of things like Class 2 and 3 climbing. And my own clumsiness since I have always been able to sabotage myself with my own two feet.

Early on, I found any number of ways to keep the iPhone dry and safe from dust and mud (Lok-Sak: Passes The Home Drowning Test) but keeping it from getting smashed and broken is another story.

Snow Lizard SLXTREME 5/5S.
 Right-click image to enlarge.

My first purchase was a Mophie case to protect from shock with the added advantage of extended batter life.

But the Mophie was not waterPROOF and the material covering the screen too thin to protect the phone's faceto the extent needed by a trekker who is oh so capable of falling on his face while fording a stream (True story. Silver King Valley, Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, 2012)

Plus, getting the iPhone in and out of the Mophie case was a hassle.

Coupled with this was the fact that there was no wasy way to keep the phone handy for easy consultation with GPS positions.

And while the Garmin had a carabiner, that was still a bit awkward for frequent GPS referencing ...  clip, unclip, clip (rinse, repeat)

The solution to rugged, waterPROOF and convenient started with a new iPhone 5 and the Snow Lizard case pictured above.The SLXTREME 5/5S has a suggested retail price of $149 but I bought mine at Amazon for $99.

In addition to being waterproof to 3 meters (about 6.6 feet), it's easy to get the phone in and out of, and a 2550mAh batterypack. It has a solar cell on one side for trickle charging (see image on right).

The covering of the solar cell is rugged in its own right as attested to a thrashing it got during an intense climb over a steep granite boulder-filled ravine climb in 2014 that left a brand-new pair of boots scarred.

The case also comes with excellent optics so you can get great photos with the iPhone camera ... under water or out. And save more weight by leaving the camera at home unless you are after huge resolution images.

Usability: Some MacGyvering Required

Maximum usability requires that both GPS and camera (now in one unit along with campsite reading material) need to be easily and readily accessible. Security against dropping and breaking/losing the device is also vital.

Snow Lizard case as deployed.
Solar cell oriented to sun.
Right-click image to enlarge.
Carabiners are secure but  not convenient. And like neck straps (convenient) tend to flop around while hiking.

No one needs a bunch of loose gear slapping and thudding ... or getting caught in brush and slamming against rocks.

While still in the inelegant stage, my solution to usability and security (pictured at right) came by combining the Snow Lizard case with a retractable tether.

 Because I am right handed, the tether is  attached to my backpack strap.

Let The MacGyvering Begin

To work properly, the Snow Lizard case had to be attached high on the shoulder strap to keep it clear of the armpit and yet still easy to grasp.

It also has to be secured against flopping around. The short loop of small black bungee cord in the image, above, works well despite its inelegance. It keeps the case secure without obscuring much of the solar cell.

Geer Keeper retractable tether
Right-click image to enlarge.
I bought a "deluxe" Geer Keeper from Amazon for $24.99, but none of the provided attachment mechanisms would work for the vertical strap on my backpack.

However, the snap attached to the top of the Gear Keeper (at left) detaches to provide an attachment point that can be combined with a Tri-Glide adapter from McNett (below).

McNett Tri-Glide adapter
Right-click image to enlarge.

To make this work requires the use of four small zip ties to attach the top of the Gear Keeper to the bottom of the Tri-Glide adapter once it is snapped shut.

Then the top of the Tri-Glide is attached to the backpack's load-lifter strap (below) and snapped shut.

Again, not elegant, but secure and functional.

Four zip ties and a Tri-Glid adapter attached to
backpack load lifter strap. Scratches on Gear Keeper
body from first trek with case.
Right-click image to enlarge.

Attachment point for Snow Lizard case.
The Snow Lizard case comes with an attachment point (right)  and carabiner, but as mentioned above a carabiner reduces easy access to using both the camera and GPS. Using the carabiner also makes everything hang down lower and gets in the way of arm motion.

The Gear Keeper has a split-ring attachment, but that also adds to the "hang-down" problem.

Gear Keeper attached to Snow Lizard case. Photo taken before
first trek.

Right-click image to enlarge.
A medium zip tie replaces the split ring and helps with the hang-down issue.

4 Ways The Snow Lizard Can Be Improved

1. Create a retractable tether that would snap on to the Snow Lizard Case or mount snugly to the carabiner mounting point. Either of those would also improve the hang-down issue.

2. Make a clip that mounts the tether to a backpack strap without the need for dramatic zip tie acrobatics. Use a clip that is secure but can be removed from the strap without excess difficulty.

Attachment point not rugged enough.
3.Strengthen the Snow Lizard case attachment point. The current one is vulnerable to ending/cracking/snapping. While the current attachment point may be suitable for casual activity, it does not seem to be as rugged as the rest of the case.

Belt attachment for Snow Lizard case.

Right-click image to enlarge.

4. Provide a strap-mountable clip for the case. Snow Lizard current offers a belt clip which can be had for $19.99.  (left)

However, other than hysterically re-manufacturing the clip in my workshop, I found that it could not practically be hacked to be mounted on my backpack strap.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Find reality before reality finds you

This post is voice dictated because I still haven't recovered the use of my right hand. Significantly, had to cancel ice climbing and the California Matterhorn expedition for this holiday season.

I've realized that my devastating shoulder injury was just reality catching up with me  before I managed to recognize its face.

And that I should have recognized the face long before now.

Up until all of this I always had the image that I charged the hardest, I charged fastest, I fell down. I got up and played hurt and was always the first up the mountain ... and that that would always be the case.

In the last few years of mountaineering in the Sierras I've always been competitive and I was never going to let some of those twentysomethings beat me to the top. 

Most times that didn't happen. By the time they got up to the top I had already staked out the best campsite had my tent set up and was warming up an MRE.

Reality was there of course, I just didn't want to recognize the face.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What incredible difference a couple of years makes

On this day, two years ago, this is a photo I took as a group of us slogged through 40 mile an hour winds and temperatures below zero heading up to the 12,300 foot California Matterhorn. 

We eventually turned back around 9,000 foot elevation because the avalanche conditions were growing far too dangerous. The previous week before our expedition two people have been killed in an avalanche is at Alpine Meadows in Donner ski Ranch. We decided not to take a chance because the mountain was always going to be there.

For my part I was signed up to tackle that same route again this weekend. And that of course was clobbered by my rotator cuff. In fact I just finished a walk outside in 40 mile an hour winds and 50° temperatures and felt tired when I got back. It was only a mile, but I've been flat on my back almost for a week and half of that was being totally drugged out of my gourd with heavy duty narcotics and Anastasia. 

But the contrast between today's walk and the one two years ago was very telling and damn close to breaking my heart. However, my surgeon says I have a good chance of being able to tackle the Matterhorn again year next December. Maybe.

Hacking the Breg sling in order to save my brain

Please note that this post as well as others regarding my shoulder surgery have been done using voice dictation. I have made every effort to edit various artifacts and strange translations and hope that I have caught them all.

Yesterday, one week after the surgery, I had all the exterior stitches removed from my shoulder. I also got a great show and tell of the arthroscopic photos dealing with the extensive remodeling, repair and rehabilitation of the interior of my shoulder. It was a great set of photos I'm hoping to be able to post here in the future.

Strangely enough, the biggest problem that I have been dealing with from the very moment I woke up from the anesthesia, was the pressure that the sling strap was pressing on my left carotid artery.