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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir

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Travel

Apr 25, 2019

A Hike Without a View

The allure of the outdoors comes from the unexpected challenges mother nature throws our way, where the lows accentuate highs. Luckily, the good days usually far outnumber the bad ones.

WRITTEN BY

Noah Allen

Those of us that have spent any amount of time on outdoor adventures know that sinking feeling when things don’t go to plan. Opening the trunk to find only one hiking boot, a stray roadside nail causing a flat while pedalling along, or getting above the tree line to realize that the freezing rain you wished away hasn’t cleared and the next two miles of exposed rock is now a treacherous ice rink. When encountering the lows, it can sometimes be difficult to see how far you have come. However, in the woods, it often comes down to just you, and you alone, being the only one who can make your situation better by finding a way over, under, around, or just right on through every obstacle.

Noah Allen on the descent from Nippletop. Unhappy with the wet conditions as more rain moved in.

“Luckily, the good days usually far outnumber the bad ones.”

No hiking boots? Looks like your Crocs are getting a little bit more action than driving to the trailhead today, thank goodness they have that heel strap.

One flat tire? Flip the bike over on the nearest lawn and get the patch kit out. Patch blows out and then you flat the rear too? Curse the asshole who is out to get you, and ride home on the rims, they can take it.

Icy exposed rock? Well, sometimes a win is walking off the mountain unharmed.

View of Ausable Lake with fall foliage just peaking through at lower elevation.

The allure of the outdoors comes from the unexpected challenges mother nature throws our way, where the lows accentuate highs. The internal motivation for the next adventure comes from that need to crest the next hill and freewheel down the backside of the monster you have conquered. Luckily, the good days usually far outnumber the bad ones.

This past October I made my way across the Champlain Valley through the recently harvested corn fields to the Adirondacks at the height of leaf peeping season. I had left early from the Green Mountain State before the sun rose to get across the lake and to the trailhead near the Adirondack Loj located at 1250ft above sea level. There my hiking partner and girlfriend was waiting in the parking lot with her friends, all local New Yorkers, still sipping on their morning coffees.

Noah Allen and Becca Miceli on the descent from Nippletop, posing together on a slippery section on the way down.

“Nothing has taught me the same independence and confidence as my outdoor mishaps and successes”

The primary goal of this hike was to take in the stunning change of colors that draws millions of tourists to the northeast every fall. However, today this popular trailhead parking lot was not even near half full. Unfortunately, the weather was not looking good and it seemed many tourists were pursuing other options today. But we chose to roll the dice, cross our fingers, and hope that the views cleared by the afternoon seeing as how the sun was already poking through.

Two hours later after several miles and layer changes we reached the first minor peak. By this point, low veils of mist have descended to approximately 3000ft and we are officially in the clouds. The clear views below us provide some encouragement to push on with the hike with our fingers still crossed.

An hour later we reach the first high peak over 4000ft and nearly miss the occasion because the cloud cover is so thick. Equally disheartening is the muddy trail leading onward.

After another hour and half of dodging wet spots and mud pits, we reach the second high peak, Nippletop mountain, the highest point of the hike at 4,600ft. So far we have covered 7.5 miles and been on the trail for almost 5 hours and seen absolutely nothing but impenetrable fog obscuring the glorious fall foliage.

Jenna Robinson on the peak of Nippletop with a homemade sign to mark the occasion.

From here it was all downhill back to the trailhead, but only in the physical sense. While disappointment pervaded the group morale it was overridden by the outstanding accomplishment of a 15-mile hike with almost 5000ft of elevation gain and two more high peaks crossed off the

46er challenge. This particular hike was chosen for its famed beauty in no matter the time of year. While we were unfortunate with the weather and felt somewhat robbed of observing the physical beauty, it wasn’t all bad. It was Another precious day was spent in the mountains with friends, pushing ourselves, and learning how to draw out the small joys of disappointing situations.

The challenges that present themselves to outdoorsman are a part of the job. The challenges that present themselves day to day are just part of life. I add nothing new by repeating “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” but as a lifelong outdoors person, I can say nothing has taught me the same independence and confidence as my outdoor mishaps and successes. In fact, all the misadventures simply add reference points to understand how things could get worse, and when things are bad, surely it can only get better.

Cover photo: The view from Indian Head, one of the best spots in the Adirondacks for fall hiking.

All photos courtesy of the author.

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How-To

Sep 09, 2019

How To Choose A Safe Whitewater Rafting Company

Whitewater rafting is a unique experience in nature, filled with adrenaline and excitement. Recently though, we have been reminded of the real risks involved.

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WRITTEN BY

Benjamin Baber

Last year, headlines from around the world were plagued with tragic river accidents. Four Americans passed away on a rafting trip in Costa Rica. Two Australians passed away in separate kayaking incidents in Nepal. The southeast U.S. alone had four separate whitewater kayaking deaths. And these examples are only a small sample of the river tragedies that occurred in 2018.

While some accidents are unfortunately inevitable, there are many situations where an accident can easily be avoided. Unfortunately, most countries lack standardized rules that you might expect from within the whitewater industry. This is more common in less economically developed countries. However, it’s important to stress this doesn’t mean that all companies in less economically developed countries are unsafe. You just have to set a few basic standards, and know how to pick the best one! No matter where you are in the world, there are a few basic things to look for in a rafting company to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable whitewater experience.

Rafting in Morocco. Photo: Ben Baber

Leader to Participant Ratios

The whitewater industry has general safety standards for guide-to-participant ratios on commercial rafting and kayaking trips.  

A safe industry standard on a fourteen-foot raft is one guide to every six participants. Most companies won’t live up to this standard, but if you want the safest experience – this is it! Ask your company what their leader to participant ratio is! 

It all boils down to this – any raft can flip. When that happens, one guide is expected to rescue the raft, re-flip the raft, then save each participant. If you are one of those participants, do you want to be the sixth person to be rescued or the ninth? The better companies will reduce the number of people in the raft to keep the weight balanced, the trip safe, and to maximize the rafting experience.

Kayaking carries greater risk than rafting simply due to the fact that the participants are in control of their own boat, rather than a trained guide. Instead, the guide is usually in their own kayak telling you how to manoeuvre from a separate craft. Industry standards recommend a ratio of one guide to every four participants for kayaking and canoeing. However, this ratio may decrease and become 1:3 or even 1:2 as the whitewater gets more challenging and consequential.

Read next on TOJ: A veteran river runner turns 70, and heads off into the Peruvian wilderness to raft the Rio Marañón, the headwaters of the Amazon.

Safety Boats

Safety boats are your best friend on the river. If a participant falls from a raft, they run the risk of being swept away by the current. This is when the safety boat shines. It will pluck you out of the water and give you a safe ride back to your raft or shore. It is a recognized industry standard to never have a single-boat trip. If there are only enough customers to fill one boat, then there should always be a safety kayak or safety raft along with the participant-filled raft.

With multiple rafts on the river, there should always be a safety kayak or safety raft to support the trip. This may pose an extra financial burden for the rafting company, but it is a small price to pay to increase participant safety. Problems sometimes arise when companies try to cut corners, perhaps deciding to take a guide off the water and undercut the competition by 5 dollars. If your company doesn’t have a safety craft, find out why.

In some locations, it has become standard for single or half-day trips to not have a safety boat when they have 2 or more full rafts. The theory here is that the other boats on the river will provide safety for one other. This is a debatable standard, but in some locations, you might not be able to find a company that uses safety boats for shorter trips. Certainly for multi-day trips, no matter how many rafts, there should be a safety boat.

Rafting in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

Cut-Off Levels

Every river rises and falls according to snowmelt, rainfall, or changes in upstream dam release. It can happen with the changing of the seasons, or it can happen in ten minutes with changing weather patterns. Companies should have a set cut-off limit for each river they operate on. This cut-off level should be based on their own expert knowledge of that river.

One good way to double-check a company is to find out the cut-off levels for several other companies running that river. Call them up, send them an email, check their website – whatever you need to do to find out. If your company’s level is much higher than the competition’s, ask why! Is it because they have more experienced guides and provide more safety kayakers or rafts? If not, it may be a money-motivated decision that could translate to a dangerous experience for customers.

Equipment

Properly maintained and up-to-date equipment is a vital part of whitewater safety. All participants should wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD), closed-toed shoes, and a helmet. If the guide hasn’t checked that your equipment is fitted correctly, don’t get on the water.

The shelf-life of most outdoor gear is around 10 years. You can use this as a guideline when deciding which equipment will keep you afloat and keep your head intact.

All PFDs from the United States must be approved by the United States Coast Guard. They will be marked to show they have been through a standardized testing process. You will see this written as “USCG Type V.” Any product from Europe must have a certification “EN ISO 12402-5 / 12402-6.”

Find out more information on IOS standards relating to PFDs here.

For Helmets, look for the CE standard CE EN 1385. This ensures your helmets is suitable for whitewater and has been tested accordingly.

Further reading:

Buying a canoeing & kayaking helmet – what does the CE mark really mean, and Sweet Protections guide to Helmet testing.

Whitewater Kayaking in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

Alcohol

It is forbidden for guides and participants to consume alcohol on the river. Intoxicated participants can pose as much of a threat to the safety of the trip as an intoxicated guide. Take note of the company’s alcohol policy, and if you have any concerns that your guide or another participant may be intoxicated, make sure to raise those concerns.

Qualifications

There are various different qualifications for whitewater guides. From the British Canoe Union, to the American Canoe Association, to Rescue 3 International. The trouble is that certifications cover different skills according to the river and country in which the certification process took place. However, no matter how much the certifications vary, every guide should have a minimum of a swiftwater rescue certificate, a First Aid/CPR certification, as well as some sort of whitewater guide certification and/or in-house whitewater training.  

Conclusion

Whitewater activities are risky. There is no way around it. However, with proper training, skill, equipment, and experience, this risk can be mitigated. Take the time to research the company you go with, and make it a lasting memory for the right reasons.

Rafting in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

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