Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Life is busy, busy, busy

It has been a very busy life for me lately, hence the lack of bloggery. After the holidays, I spent 10 days in the field collecting specimens, in West Texas. This included a stint of days where the lows were in the teens and highs in the 30s. The cold and dry temperature is a recipe for hypothermia, if you don't pay attention and stay well hydrated and active. Dehydration is a common cause of illness and death when it is both cold and dry and you are being active. Fortunately, everyone stayed hydrated, healthy, and mostly warm. I learned a few things about being in the field, when it is going to be that cold, I think I will share them.

1) Layers, gloves, hats, and waterproof boots are a MUST. It shouldn't HAVE to be said, but I've said it, because a couple of people on the crew showed up without gloves or hats, a huge no-no.
2) FIRE. In a desert environment, any dry brush or cactus will most likely burn very hot and very fast. Keep this in mind, at one point while considering if I could survive at night, I realized I would do okay. The first reason, I had a way to make a fire, both a spark igniter and a nice torch flame and windproof lighter. Second, I know that any dry brush or even some of the green stuff, would burn hot and fast. If stranded, I could easily locate enough to last a night, if I started early and worked in a progressive circle and if I kept my fire small. The heat given off, by even a small fire, is more than adequate to keep your warm, not comfortable, but warm.
3) Alcohol. First, alcohol and guns don't mix, so don't do this. But, if you are planning a cold weather camping trip, I do suggest you pack a small bottle of your favorite firewater. I failed to pack a flask of rum and regretted it for the entire trip. A quick nip before bed time, would've improved my ability to sleep, and it has been proven to provide at least a warming sensation. If you take it easy and have the rest of your gear and shit in one bag, it can make an unpleasant situation more pleasant.

A few bits of gear that always make it into my daypack when hiking in rough country:

1) A good sharp knife, both a large knife and a small one. A small Swiss Army Knife (SAK) is very useful for the tweezers, for pulling cactus spines out of your hand, after you go ass over kettle.
2) A source of fire. Lighter and an emergency flint or sparklite. Also some good tender. Quiktender works great, so do the little Coleman wax firestarters. For those on a budget, a double ziploc baggy full of dryer lint works like a champ. A dry bird's nest or some herbivore excrement can work as well (this also works as great fire fuel).
3) Food. I always carry lunch and dinner, in addition to energy bars, sugary snacks, and a salty snack. If you stretch and ration accordingly, you can live for two or three days on gear like this.
4) Water, always MORE than you think you'll need. Pack some tea bags too.
5) First aid kit. I keep a basic in my pack and our crew carried a more extensive, hiking oriented first aid kit.
6) Paracord or 550-pound cord. 100 feet of it, and two load bearing carabiners. This is for emergency rappeling or building a shelter or building a litter/travois to carry a wounded person out on.
7) An extra layer of clothes and an extra pair of socks.
8) Emergency space blanket (for when the layer is only helping some)
9) Flask of good rum or whiskey (for when the going gets really rough)
10) Flashlight and spare batteries. There is no reason to be without a GOOD and BRIGHT light these days. AA powered LED lights, are bright enough to signal aircraft and see your way in the dark.
11) A compass, and a general sense of the direction of your camp and the direction you are traveling.
12) A bottle that can be heated. My high density plastic Nalgenes work great for carrying water, but poorly for heating it up. Sure would be nice to make a tea or a freeze dried soup you stored in your kit, over your fire, right? Except, you have nothing to cook in.
13) A Katadyne hand pump water filter system. Surprisingly, it is easy enough to find water in the desert (here's the tip, follow the animal tracks, they are going to food or water). If you run out, a hand pump filter can save you a little of trouble when you need some water. During my time, I located two fresh water springs, which produces running, ice cold water, that wasn't drinkable without iodine tablets, boiling, or filtering. Boiling is the easiest method, but a backpack pump is light, easy to use, and can be a real life saver, plus the water doesn't taste like ass.

Those are just a few tips and I will try and post a few more at a later time.