Upward and onward!

A couple of weeks ago I took an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) course via The Mountaineers, and taught by the good people at BC Adventure Guides.

We spent a couple lecture days in Tacoma going over the materials, watching videos and getting a handle on avalanches in general.

Questions were asked and answered, coffee was consumed and one guy had the wrong classroom.

The following weekend we met for the field portion at Snoqualmie Pass.

Witchcraft, clearly.


Checked NWAC before leaving the house.

We marched up around Silver Fir Lodge to become acquainted with our avalanche beacons and to delve into companion rescue.

It didn’t take long to realize just how screwed you are if you are buried without a beacon.

In very little time at all we went from barely knowing how to turn the things on to locating buried beacons in the snow as a team.

If we had to find the same beacons using only probes….we’d still be looking.

Life and death right there. Seriously.

“And on the first day he dugeth a test pit and saw that it was good”


Checked NWAC before leaving (there is a theme here)

Today was about putting everything we learned together into a mini tour of Mt.Hyak.

We dug a couple pits and made many field observations along the way.

Whichwaysthewinda’blowin’? Howhardisshea’howlin’? Howmuchsnosa’snowin’?

With the NW slope of Mt.Catherine as our backdrop we focused on snowpack observations and field tests.

Our Rutschblock Test was particularly amusing and insightful.

Skiers curiously eyeballed us as they occasioned by, some even asked about our findings

Oh that reminds me, our “avalanche victims” deserve a round of applause as well…Daytime Emmys for everybody!

Through the woods

As we traveled back to the parking lot some ideas started congealing in my brain:

Reluctant to part with the money for a beacon…?

Experiencing firsthand the difference an avalanche beacon makes when trying to locate an avalanche victim is stunning.

If you don’t want to buy one, you could always rent one instead. BCAdventures offered rentals, as well as a list of retailers that rented beacons as well.

Remember: Money… you can’t take it with you!

“This is some serious s#!t buddy!”

Winter time travel in the mountains is inherently dangerous and many of our familiar summer routes bear grave avalanche risk in the winter months.

Sadly, some kill year after year.

Any loaded slope of sufficient grade can slide and various terrain features can exacerbate that risk.

Knowing how to choose terrain is probably the single greatest thing you can do to save your life.

I probably could have learned this stuff on my own…

Yeah I suppose you could, in theory.

I knew a lot of things going into this class, but I left it with more than I probably would have ever learned by myself.

Also, there is no substitute for learning from an experienced guide that can answer all of your questions… well, about avalanches anyway.

Would you take this course again in hindsight?


Der Rutschblock

Do you know avalanche terrain?

Maybe you are missing out on deeper backcountry because you are too cautious?

Maybe you’ve had one foot in the grave for years without ever even knowing it?

Do you know?

I highly suggest taking an AIARE 1 course in your area if you ever intend to travel in avalanche terrain. (aka teh intir mowntens)

If you don’t, you’ll be happy the person who digs you out did.

If you get dug out…

Happy Trails!




Handy dandy firestarters

I’ll tell you, not a lot sucks more than trying to get a fire started on a cold, wet day. Your boots are soaked, been practically drowning in chest deep undergrowth and you’d have an easier time setting fire to a waterlogged NERF football than getting any of the kindling around camp to burn. Yeah…things could be better, and they will be because you got a bic and a couple of these babies in the bag!


Some things you'll need

First lets start with the tools you’ll need; Pinecones, wax, egg cartons, a pot, and some source of fire and or heat.

Pinecones are easy enough to come by, any will work but I find Douglas fir cones fit in the egg cartons the best. Try and find cones that have the scales open, and most importantly, are very dry.

Egg cartons can be tricky if you don’t eat many eggs. If you’re not above it though, they can be very abundant in your neighbors recycle bins on trash day. Small paper cups or something similar would also work.

You’ll want a pot that you’ll never intend to use for any other purpose, because this project will essentially render it useless for anything else (unless you like waxy food or scrubbing pots) I made a visit to the thrift store for this one. $0.99 baby!

Wax can also be acquired cheaply at thrift stores. Every thrift store has a shitty candle section somewhere inside, some rack populated by giant, gaudy wickless abominations that have transcended time and space. Go for size and price here, you won’t need the wick. Plain old parrafin is available at some grocery and craft stores as well. (But lacks that musty 70s candle aroma)

Melted wax is poured onto the pineconesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lastly, heat.  You could feasibly do this inside on your stovetop, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have no regard for nice stuff, oh and there is the little issue of potential fire hazard. I just fired up the old whisperlite out in the backyard. You might look like you’re cooking up a batch of meth, but who cares, at this point the neighbors have seen you digging through their trash for egg cartons, you’re already on their freak list.

Now that you have your tools, the rest is pretty intuitive, though I’ll walk you through just in case it’s not.

Take your pinecones and stick them into your egg cartons, I put them in stem side down for a nice, snug fit.

Now let’s get your wax melting! First off, remove any stickers that may be on your candle, sometimes they hide one on the bottom. Don’t worry about doing anything with the wick.

Using my camp stove, the pot gets pretty hot pretty quick and the wax will start smoking some. Don’t be alarmed, this is normal (or so I think) however, at this point with the open flame is your greatest chance for a fiery accident. Probably best not to do this in the dry grass or around otherwise flammable things.

As the melt gets underway you might notice that the volume of wax contained in your musty 70s candle is too great for your thrift store pot, don’t panic, just take it off from heat before your pot runneth over. If you’re doing this on the stovetop, try a nice leisurely melt on just under medium heat to avoid many of these problems and to mitigate the risk of burning your house down.

Fun size!
The cuttin’

When you have your wax all melted, just pour it over your pinecones and let set. Wax is going to get everywhere unless you got a pretty steady hand, needless to say, put down a newspaper or something.

Voila! waterproof fire starters!

After they’ve hardened I cut them up into individual units and carry some along everytime I head out into the woods.

Alternatively, you could cut them up beforehand and use a pair of tongs or something to dip them into the wax, it’d result in a more even coating, but requires more work and patience than I usually care to devote to something I’m going to set on fire anyway.


With that being said, only one thing left to do….Flame on!

This will become…..
This! (results may vary)