How we organize and store our backcountry gear at home

General, Travel

There are two main reasons why it helps to neatly organize backcountry gear:

1) everything in its place and a place for everything makes it easier to find things and you “lose” things less often

2) unpacking completely and packing each time before an outing ensures full awareness of the gear on you, important discussions about choices to make, an opportunity to inspect things and better chance at weight management.

We move around a lot so our solution had to be portable and modular, nothing could be too heavy to lift or carry, and transparency and easy access was important. Here’s how it works.

The main building blocks of this system are the 6 plastic bins. We shopped around for the right size – these fit very well inside a closet, are shallow enough to make sure everything is visible, and roomy enough that hiking poles and ice axes can also fit it, along with sleeping bags and tents. It’s very hard to overload them, so anyone can carry them comfortably with two hands when moving.

All personal hiking stuff (layers, gloves, hats, sunscreen, gps etc) goes into one bin. All personal climbing stuff (helmet, prussiks, belays, pulleys) goes into the other. One bin contains all the group gear (tents, ropes etc) and the other contains food, meds etc (food backs, stove, blue bags, wipes etc).

The backpacks are always completely emptied, nothing in any pockets. And they are hung on the hooks, which frees up all the space above and below them for other storage.

The top shelf contains the snowshoes, hiking boots, climbing boots, shovels, ice axes.

Hanging in the middle are the various upper layers – fleece, soft shell, goretex shell, down jacket.

Before a trip, the bins all come out and are opened and then we pick what we need from each one based on the checklist.

Con: Drawers would be easier. But it would make it very hard to move. So it was a necessary compromise

What do you think?

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Shooting the lava flows in Hawai’i in 4K HDR

General, Travel

I spent several hours near the volcanic lava flows in the Big Island of Hawaii. I am trying to share those videos in 4K HDR and it’s been fascinating to learn how hard it is to access today as different OSes and devices will render a different variant depending on various factors.

Here’s the 4K HDR version. If you are on a phone, open this in an app as the browser might cap out at a lower fidelity version.

And here’s the regular version to compare. If you see no difference between the two, then you are viewing them both in standard dynamic range.

Offsetting CO2 from flights

Travel

So if you are a frequent flyer types, here’s some quick back of the envelope math.

About 50k miles a year usually corresponds to gold status with most airline programs (star alliance, skyteam etc). I haven’t done any rigorous calculations yet but it appears that flying that much would generate about 13 tons of CO2. Now offsetting your footprint is ridden with a lot of moral questions and arguments that I am not going to get into. But it seems to cost about $10-$25 to offset 1 ton of CO2. So if you fly 50k miles a year, that’s about $200/yr to offset it all, give or take. Put another way, a single San Francisco to London round trip will be about 3 ton of CO2, offsetting which will cost around $50.

So in general, for about 5% of your economy ticket price, you can do some good that kinda seems to even out among some dimensions you choose.

I don’t know of good options to do that but I ended up using GoldStandard just to try it out in case anyone is interested. And if someone knows some other offsetting resources they like, please share!

When I almost lost my hand

Travel

For those who were following along at the time, it’s been 5yrs now since I almost lost my right hand!

For those who came in later, here’s what happened. This may be a little graphic so please only continue if such content doesn’t bother you.

I caught an infection in Tanzania that started developing symptoms on my flight to India. But I went straight to a wedding first, which is the main reason I had flown to India that day ☺️

Next morning my hand was very swollen and it hurt very bad – like a semi truck had just run over it. I also started to develop a fever. Went to the doctor who said I needed to be operated on right away.

8hrs later I was on the operating table inside a hospital in Mumbai, under general anesthesia, and the surgeon made an incision in my hand and drained all the pus and then closed it up. That was the easy part. 🤞

We didn’t know what the infection was and my fever raged on. My hand hurt like hell. And every 6-8hrs they had to remove the bandages, stuff a bunch of gauze and cotton deep into the hand cavity and squeeze out the pus like we squeeze out toothpaste. There was no anesthesia involved in this step. It helped me understand pain, my thresholds for pain and offered me a great opportunity to practice integrating into discomfort rather than fearing it. I remember how traumatizing those days were – to feel the pain, to know that more is coming at regular intervals, and the powerlessness around it. Also in an interesting way, I think my family was affected more by it then I was. I was never shrinking or crying or squirming during the procedure. I had mostly resigned to it and was mostly detached from it. Mostly! 😛

4 days later we got the culture results and the right antibiotic started to work. My fever was finally coming down and I could think again. But my hand still was no where close to healed. I could see raw flesh and the deep cavity every time the bandage was taken out. I didn’t think that was ever going to heal. Funny the narratives our brain can tell us 😆 I had to leave my hand raised in a sling to avoid accumulation of fluids. I started doing my tasks and working on my laptop etc with my left hand. I had accepted a future where I didn’t have use of my right hand and had simply moved on. (And you guessed it right, I’m right handed 🤓)

After a month of daily change of bandages and cleaning, I was amazed at how much the body starts to heal. The cavity was closing in, new flesh had formed. And I was also able to finally close my fist again. It then took me 1yr of physical therapy to get my grip back. And now, after 5 yrs all I have left is a scar and memories!

Lesson learned: don’t pluck feathers off dead flamingoes 🦢 😇

Finding the Beauty in Failure

General, Travel

Elevation: 10,600ft / 3,200m

Standing just below the summit of Mt Hood in Oregon, we are looking up at the climbers making the final approach. This is one of my favorite pictures. This is a picture of me not summitting Mt. Hood in Oregon.

We had been training for the whole season. Mt Hood is an excellent training hike for other higher, glaciated climbs in the area. We drove up from Seattle and arrived at the trail-head at 10pm. Then we slept in the car. We woke up at 2am. It was very very windy and quite cold. We started going up at about 3am. Alpine start. My body was cold. I was very exhausted and sleepy. And every part of my being told me to get back in the car, turn on the heat and sleep till sunrise. But the right thing is often larger than us.

So ice axe in hand, crampons on our shoes, we commenced climbing on the icy incline. It was steep. A very perfect mountain in many ways. If I was asked to draw a mountain when I was 3, this is what I would have drawn. Straight inclined edges. Ending with a nice tip on the top.

At 5:30am we paused for a bit. The light was beginning to break over the horizon. It was beautiful. Surreal.

We continued climbing, and we finally reached this spot. 4,400ft / 1,300m of climbing on full deep snow.

This was just below the bergschrund. It was dangerous to continue. It was too icy. And too busy. Too many people. One slip by you or someone else and you could go tumbling down the gully.

To continue we’d have to rope up. We didn’t have time. We had to get back down in time to meet some friends for brunch at noon in Portland. And we had absolutely no cellular network. So we couldn’t get in touch and let them know we would be late. So we decided to turn around.

We had failed at our original goal of summitting. But we got the gift of extra time to enjoy this spot. It was awesome. You could smell the sulphur mixed with the icy alpine air. It’s an active volcano. And that’s when I took this photograph using my 70-200mm lens.

Coming back down was fun. And we made it to brunch on time. We were exhausted. And had built up an appetite. And the food tasted delicious.

We sometimes focus so much on the end goal, we forget to notice all the gifts we receive along the way. Almost never is a failure a dead-end. It always opens an opportunity for something else. If we can adapt, adjust our goals, then we may end up turning failures into cherished successes.

I am glad I didn’t summit Mt Hood that day. I was able to shoot one of my favorite pictures as a result. The mountain still stands. And I’m still alive.

Testing binaural audio

Travel

I am trying out a new technique for capturing audio in the field. This involves putting one microphone inside each one of my own ears. These two microphones then capture independent audio tracks which is an exact reproduction of the sound waves hitting each individual ear.

The shape of the ear coupled with the fact that my own head gets in the way of some of the sound waves, results in a very unique audio signature that my brain then uses to recreate a spatial interpretation of the scene around me.

I tried uploading to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube but the audio channel was not being reproduced. Turns out it was getting re-encoded as a mono sound track, and just being repeated on each channel rather than preserving the original independent tracks.

So here is the raw file on my own server. Put on some headphones and play this video. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Breakfast in India at a highway stop

Photo, Travel

1. Gaathiya (yellow fried dough things)

2. Jalebi (orange/yellow sugary syrupy thingy)

3. Mircha (fried hot peppers with salt)

4. Cha (hot tea)

With two sides:

A) raw onions

B) pickled carrots

The flavors work so well together, at many different levels, despite the simplicity. The hotness of the peppers is accentuated by the heat of the tea, and the salt somehow blends with that intensity while the gaathiya creates the neutral grounding and the jalebi keeps bringing a glimpse of the sweet.