Risk managers: Taking calculated risks to live a life of adventure. Written by MK McDonald

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Mountains inspire opposing feelings. Feelings of being tall and small simultaneously. Ego can reveal itself while mountaineering and in my experience, any extreme sport for that matter.  In contrast, there are also opportunities to become vulnerable, trekking on the outside of our comfort zone.  How do you find balance when there is so much going on externally and internally when attempting an unknown summit (Direction, safety, maslow’s hierarchy of needs, beauty and nature, photos, meeting like-minded folks,etc)?

In the last 10 years, I’ve finally started to realize while summiting and not summiting, I’ve become a risk manager. Although my parents describe my brother (we go on a lot of hikes together) and I as risk takers.  We are aware of the risks, but we push ourselves anyway. The stories about having to bail out on a hike, I believe are my favorite stories. The last time this happened that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face because it was blizzarding so hard.(Last year, December 22nd on Pikes peak). My brother is born on the winter solstice and he always plans a “death march” as he calls it. This year we just went camping and stayed up to watch the meteor shower! Everyone thought we were nuts when packing up the car and it being snowing and freezing outside. We got to Penitente Canyon, presently a beautiful popular climbing spot with American Indian petroglyphs and Virgin of Guadalupe painted high on a canyon wall left there by Los Hermanos Penitentes, a Spanish religious sect that favored Penitente Canyon for its solace in the 1880s. This is how the canyon got its name.  Anyway, it was like the heavens opened up, the sky was clear, and it really wasn’t that cold (-4 degrees).

The last major trekking trip I went on was to hike two 14ers in the same weekend… Wetterhorn (class 3) and Handies (class 1) with my best friend Nikki.  Needless to say we rocked it on Wetterhorn, on the top it got sketchy. In fact a gentlemen, thank goodness for him, caught us going up the class 4 route. He said “where are you guys going.” And I was like” uh, to the top!” On the right trail we approached the top by climbing up a steep wall, definitely stepping/crawling outside our comfort zone.  At the top we took real selfies of our bare butts.

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The next day we had planned to do our first sunrise summit on Handies peak, a considerably shorter hike than Wetterhorn.  We got lost in the dark, took a wrong turn and felt pretty dumb.  We couldn’t bag an easy class one … whoops!  The sunrise was gorgeous, we were safe and we were still very high up.  You never know exactly what will happen in life as mountaineers and risk managers but we are aware of the outcomes. Keep pushing your comfort zone but know when to bail. Also, learn how to read a map, bring one, know where you’re going!  Understanding your ability and what your level of acceptable risk is, is an important first step before heading out on your next adventure.

MK is an Art Educator, Yogi, Colorado Native, Snowboard Instructor in the winter and Raft Guide in the summer. On her free days she is often travelling, trekking, camping, backpacking, taking a walk with hippopotamus (a special brown dog) hot springing, and all the outdoor things.  In the summer months you’ll find her in a foreign country or living in her 1970 red VW van down by the river! 

Follow MK’s adventures on Instagram!

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Happy 2018 Wanderers!

Bidding 2017 adieu wasn’t a difficult task for the general population, and we are stoked about the possibilities of awesomeness that 2018 will hopefully bring. Our family has some amazing (A.Maz.Ing.) adventures already planned this year that we are excited to share with you and we have some fun stuff coming to Live and Let Wander as well!

We’ve enlisted the help of some fellow wanderers, adventurers, photographers, travelers, and all around cool folks from all around North America to contribute to the blog and share their general badassery with us all. We’ve either enjoyed following their stories via the interwebs, adventured with them IRL, or admired them from afar, so we are thrilled and appreciative that they are going to be sharing their outdoor love with Live and Let Wander.

Here’s to many new adventures, good memories, and a lot of love in 2018!

Happy Trails!

Elisa & Matt (& the crew…)

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October in Colorado!

Every few weeks we realize that our list of short term adventures is beginning to run out and we have to sit down to plan the next dozen.  I always schedule a fall hike because well it’s the best time of year.  The bugs are not as nagging, the nights are cool and the views are stunning!  This year instead of adventuring in one of our usual north east locations we decided to use up a few of those airline miles that were burning a hole in our pockets and head to Colorado.  

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The trip included myself, Poria (my trail wife, ha), and his questionable friend. It’s not that I question whether or not Poria was friends with him but more the decisions that his friend made.  That being said, once you generally understand him and his decisions begin to make more sense the more you’re around him.

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Since we booked for early October we knew every destination was dependant upon the weather.  Snow on top of a 14er was a real concern for some of the more challenging routes.  We also tossed around the idea of visiting a backcountry hot spring, sand dunes, and squeezing in some rock climbing.  As the date got closer snow started to alter our decisions more and more.  Luckily I stumbled across an invaluable resource, 14ers.com.  To add a boat load of luck into the mix, they were having a meet up during the same time we were scheduled to head out there.  Snow basically cleared up in the San Juan wilderness (location of the meet-up) and options really opened up.  

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We landed and drove through the night to Lake City, which didn’t feel much like a city, but did have the nicest people I have ever met in my life.  We snacked on what little food we had and headed up our first CO 14er, Wetterhorn.  Yes… we went from sea level to 14K+ with little sleep and little food.  Yes… we know it wasn’t the best idea, but we did take our time and planned to turn around if anyone had bad altitude sickness.  The trek was beautiful and we met some awesome locals.  All in all- a huge success. 

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On day two, we decided we take the advice of our new friends and bagged Redcloud and Sunshine Peak.  The wind was tremendous but thankfully there were only a few clouds in the sky.  Due to a late start we ended up hitting Redcloud much later than we had hoped to but both the weather report and the sky said we’d have clear skies for the remainder of the day so we pushed on.  Instead of backtracking, we followed the route on 14ers.com into the bowl on the North West side of Sunshine. and back to the trail head.

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The snow rolled in early on day 3 and we drove slowly back to Denver for a city day, which is out of our norm but there wasn’t enough snow to play in and there was too much to summit in without proper gear.  The city day included an escape room which proved to be intensely exciting.

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On the last day we headed up to Boulder and Eldorado Spring to hike and hang out before shipping back home.  This trip was much different from our normal fall backpacking but hey… different is good!

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Making backpacking fun for toddlers!

Some people find backpacking gear a logistical nightmare. When you first start backpacking you try to pack for unexpected weather, and every situations under the sun or storm clouds. After backpacking for a few years you begin to trim down the gear you thought you needed when you started because you released you can get through so many situations without every piece of gear.  That works great until you decide to bring along a 5 year old and a 3 year old and your dog. With kids you have to keep them comfortable and good gear can go a long way to help with that. The only problem is that all of that gear has to be carried.

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Our carry situation included a 5 year old who can only carry only 4 lbs.  Mom who had to carry the majority of the gear and dad who had to carry a 3 year old and the tent.

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We had just enough room for all of the gear and and everyone was excited to get on the trail.  We reminded ourselves that kids don’t particularly want to walk for miles on end but instead play and adventure.  On our trip we stopped often. We stopped at the first river crossing about 30 minutes in to drop packs and throw some rocks.  We soaked our hats to keep cool and our pup jumped into the river. We snacked and headed out.  Short breaks will help raise their spirits and keep them excited. We kept that order going and let the boys set the pace and decided the length of our breaks.  Keeping them involved in the decision making process helps to keep them interested.

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If you cared enough to read this then you probably have not taken your children backpacking before which means you are probably in need of gear.  Here is what we did for some gear. Weight was the single most important factor, followed closely by cost. We went to our local family owned outdoor store (Ramsey Outdoor store for those in NJ) for some new gear for us and picked up a few cheap no namers off Amazon for the kids because let’s face it they don’t know the difference. You can get the kids lightweight summer sleeping bags and inflatable sleeping pads(essentially pool rafts) off Amazon on the cheap.  To be honest we opted for thermarest pro-light sleeping pads not as cheap but much better quality and they come in kids sizes.  For a hiking family it was a worthy investment.

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Car camping would have been much easier but we decided to give our boys the real experience of going deep into the wilderness and spending the night with no one around.  They got a taste of backpacking and they can’t wait to get back on the trail!

What’s on your adventure bucket list for 2018?

I really like to consider myself as someone who lives in the now. I try to cherish the precious moments in the present, not dwell on the past, and just take things as they come. But, I also can’t deny that I am a bit of a type A planner when it comes to our adventuring schedule. It’s not uncommon for me to start planning our next trip while a few days into the one we are on. I am always thinking about places I want to see and things I want to experience! And, as each year comes to an end, I tend to revisit and add on to my bucket list. My long list is, well…long. But, here are a few on my short list that I thought I’d share. Maybe you’ll get some ideas for adventures to put on your own list in 2018!

 

  1. Iceland
  2. Hike Mt. Etna
  3. Get my scuba certification
  4. Vacation in Europe for an entire month
  5. Hike to Havasupai Falls
  6. Vacation on a houseboat
  7. Go skydiving…again
  8. Hike a 14’er
  9. Go on a road trip from San Diego to Yosemite National Park in an RV
  10. Stay in one of those over water bungalows on an island
  11. Eat octopus in Greece
  12. Go rafting in Grand Canyon
  13. Drink a pina colada on every US Virgin Island
  14. Spend a month in Hawaii
  15. Hike Macchu Picchu

 

Xo Elisa

 

I heart the PNW.

Every year we try to venture out to new mountains. That being said, some mountains keep calling us back.  One of our tricks to venturing out every year on a budget is flying into different hubs which usually drops the cost of airfare dramatically. That works well for us because we are able to fly out of NYC. We fly into different hubs and then drive and drive to hit up different mountains.

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2017 brought on copious amounts of snow in the north west and luck was on our side.  We flew into Seattle for about $330, hopped in the car and drove 4 hours north to hit up Whistler. We stayed at the hostel and enjoyed feet (yes feet) of fresh powder. The hostel in Whistler is about $30 a night and one of the best I’ve been to.  The powder in the PNW is not the powder I’ve come to love in Colorado, but it’s still fun. It has the name ‘cascade concrete’ for a reason. Our first day of riding the back bowl was still closed and we lucked out on day two when we hiked up to earn some turns in virgin snow.  After two days of bliss, our luck only continued.

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We drove 4 hours south to ride at Mt. Baker. Mt. Baker had just been closed for 5 days because a killer storm came thru and devastated the roadway up to the mountain. Baker is truly a boarder’s Mecca and our luck was unprecedented. The mountain was steep, the powder was deep, and the food/lift tickets were cheap. This was my first visit and Baker definitely made its way into my heart. I don’t normally repeat visit a mountain, but I definitely plan to go back to stay for several days in the future.
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We finished off the trip by meeting up with fellow Deuter ambassador, John Soltys, to do some snowshoeing around Mt. Rainier in an area named Paradise. He hooked us up with Tubbs snowshoes and the full guide experience. Our luck still did not run out and we had a bluebird day, which is a stranger to the PNW.  Since we had to catch a plane back to NYC that night, the trip was relatively short but amazingly beautiful. John is out in the PNW weekly and he is no stranger to Mt. Rainier and the area around it. He took us out for a few hours and turned it into a lifetime of memories and information. Snowshoeing in Paradise quickly added Mt Rainier and the Wonderland trail to my bucket list.

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We were sad to leave, but the PNW did not disappoint and there is so much exploring to be had.

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Till next time PNW…I will be back.

Preparing for the trek up Mt. Whitney

I have been backpacking on and off for over 15 years. Throughout college, it was something we did occasionally but it was when I finished college and started working full time that the trail really began calling me. Backpacking was always my thing and when we became ambassadors for Deuter, doors into the outdoor industry opened up for us.  We now had contacts with other amazing ambassadors from around the country. So, when fellow ambassador Benny Haddad of Sea to Summit Productions put out an open invitation for a mountaineering trek up to the summit of Mt Whitney, it was a quick yes… and then a quick realization that I knew very little about mountaineering. Here are some of steps I took to prepare for this journey.

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Those who know me and have gone backpacking with me know that I do everything I can to not be the one the holds everyone up. Immediately after agreeing to take part in the trip, I decided to take a two day beginners mountaineering course to get the basics under my belt. For those in the northeast, New Hampshire’s White Mountains provide the most severe conditions available, so I decided to take my training there. I had to act fast to get my training with an ice axe and crampons while there was still snow available. Google quickly pointed me in the direction of NorthEast Mountaineering, who offers guided services, training and even lodging in their bunk house.

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The two day course started off in the Bunk House with how to dress and pack for a cold weather expedition which I was mostly familiar with and then it moved outside. Outside, they went over proper fitting of the crampons, how to hold and walk with the ice axe, general spacing while walking and how to keep a slow but steady pace. From there, we went over self arrest techniques from multiple positions and different techniques for walking with crampons both up and down the mountain. We skipped the bunk house and decided to camp at a local fire tower. The views were amazing and the 6 miles out and back was worth every step.  Day two went into some more advanced techniques that we probably weren’t going to need for Whitney but it was good to be be opened up to the concepts.  They included repelling, building snow anchors and glacier travel. The course did not disappoint. The basic techniques were reviewed enough times that even five months later, when it came time to climb Whitney, we remembered them well.  

 

 

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My everyday life is lived at around 700 ft elevation, which makes climbing to 14500+ ft a real concern for altitude sickness. From what I’ve read, the only things you can really do to try to avoid it is drink more water and eat more than usual on your trip.  The last tip was to breath faster than normal to increase the oxygen you’re taking in. Aside from learning the basics, I began physical training 6 days a week. Before I started training, I considered myself an active person, but I never exercised. I built myself up to 3 and 6 mile runs. I would do a 3+ mile run on Monday and Wednesday. The 6 mile run took place on Saturday mornings.  On my runs, I would add interval sprints up hills and they try to continue jogging on the flats.  On Tuesday and Thursday I would head out on the mountain bike and try to hit trails with decent climbs to engage different muscles in my legs.  Finally, on Wednesday I hit the gym. I focused more on a circuit style of training that involved push ups, pull ups, weighted step ups (30lbs), squats (30lbs), crunches, planks, supermans, and leg presses. The focus was mostly legs followed by core/back with sets of 20 in each exercise.

 

 

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You’ll never be able to plan for everything you’re going to experience on the trail but if you put the effort in before hand you can at least feel confident that you will be able to get yourself through the majority of the issues that arise.

Amazing pictures captured on our Mt. Whitney trek by Benny of Sea to Summit Productions.

–Matt