Lifestyle bullshit: Yeti Rambler 18oz

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Yeti, the reigning king of lifestyle, is a good place to begin.  Like Starbucks and Red Bull, Yeti created a broad market where none existed before, for something almost no one knew they might want.  Like Red Bull, but unlike Starbucks, Yeti has grown and sustained themselves with social media content that is both entertaining and makes a substantive contribution to the world.  Like Starbucks, but unlike Red Bull, the folks in Yeti’s virtual world (and real world) actually use the product itself.

The smallest Rambler bottle holds 18 ounces of liquid.  It is an exceedingly well-built and handy container.  It retails for 39 dollars.  In short, it has all the hallmarks of a lifestyle item; aesthetic appeal, everyday utility, and just enough expense to be attainable for many yet still exclusive.

I bought my Rambler a few weeks ago, when I had some unexpected and ill-gotten funds (selling shed antlers) and a coupon for a local store.  As a spillproof coffee container for driving to work, and for lounging around the house with a one-year old, it has performed as well as I expected.  It has exceeded my expectations in just how long and well it keeps things cold and hot.  Returning to a hot car after a full summer day to find one’s coffee still full of ice cubes is a very nice thing.  The Rambler handle even makes it a convenient kid toy, and there are plenty of youtube videos which will explain exactly how tough it is, and can more than withstand being hit against rocks for the amusing ting.

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While the Rambler is light for the performance it provides, it is too heavy for the backcountry.  It would make a nice thermos for day trips, when it isn’t left in the car.  The screw lid is easy to drink from, but isn’t spillproof over rough roads like a good travel mug.  The threads and dual o-rings also gather a lot of condensation, which can drip coffee on ones nice shirt.

Overall, an expensive but worthy upgrade over the 16oz widemouth nalgene and beer coozy which has for the past decade been my standard.

Outdoors and Lifestyle

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Apgar permit office, 10 minutes after opening, July.

Visiting Outdoor Retailer a few weeks ago brought it home to me just how huge a percentage of the outdoor industry is given over to what I’d call lifestyle gear and pursuits.  As a dedicated elitist asshole since my teenage years I find it hard to say “lifestyle” without a permasnear, but having Little Bear around as well as trying to be more broad and ecumenical in my outlook has tempered that, a little.

I define lifestyle outdoor gear as something optimized for everyday city or front country activities, rather than backcountry or a specific sport.  Some sports, like downhill/area skiing, are almost inherently lifestyle sports, which explains the cross pollination between the two.  Another example is SUP.  I still find it’s existence outside tidal environments the height of absurdity, but when LB and I are at the local beach of an evening the appeal of being able to cruise around after work is obvious.  They’re the water version of an Electra cruiser, and on a societal level are surely a better use of hundreds of dollars than a PS4.  Therefore lifestyle outdoor stuff gets a pass, even if it isn’t just a gateway to proper, backcountry outdoor pursuits, and even if the hipster car campers and dayhikers have this summer made Glacier more crowded than ever.

IMG_0382LB, car camping, Many Glacier.

All of this is to say that we all, hopefully, spend a lot of lifestyle time blending the outdoors into daily life.  Hikes before work, bike rides and floats after, dinners picnics, even walking or biking the long way to the pub rather than driving counts.  Life is more fun this way, sneaks in more exercise, and is a way for those of us who take a functional paycut to live in certain places to maximize any given season.

So, as a way to kickstart the celebration of this blogs 10th anniversary (coming in early December), sell out, and kill more innocent pixels I’ll take the next few days to highlight a few awesome lifestyle items which have over the next few years made my life a little better.  Exciting.

Packrafting’s zeroth law

We didn’t make it to the Packrafting Roundup this year, something I’ve regretted ever since, but babies get sick a lot.  Thankfully Moe Witschard took a video of Luc Mehl’s presentation of packrafting safety, so all of us who were not there can hear it.

I could not agree with Luc more.

Canyoneering is comparable to packrafting in that it’s a sport which doesn’t demand skill to get into serious situations.  Canyoneering has grown faster, I’d assume, due to the relevant terrain being so close to big population centers, and because the cost of entry is considerably less.  There have been quite a few canyoneering fatalities in the last decade or more, most of which have been preventable and/or in retrospect stupid.  If folks don’t do what Luc suggests, namely slow down and learn at a sustainable pace, more packrafters will almost certainly die.  This is especially relevant with packrafts becoming less expensive and more widely available.

In a wilderness context swimming is often an unacceptable risk.  Just like with backcountry skiing, I’d like to see the dominant narrative transform from how do we do ___ with as little chance of dying as possible, to how do we maintain an almost nonexistent possibility of dying, and still do ___ ?  I’ve only had two semi-close calls* packrafting, which I attribute to being very afraid of moving water, and very unafraid to admit it and act accordingly.  The later is easy, or easier, solo or in a very small group, which is almost the only way I’ve ever packrafted.  It can be tough to, for example, univite someone with bad judgment from a wilderness trip, but sometimes that needs to happen.  This example is a digression from Luc’s central point, but is a complimentary example of the tough topics packrafting needs to talke about with itself.

Thanks Luc.

*First was a hasty log portage on Rattlesnake Creek in the first month I had a boat, second was Spencer’s (excellent) swim on the South Fork in 2014.

Concerning broification

Broification: a trend in outdoor adventure sports/activities, which results in an increase in the perceived average level of mastery within a given pursuit, thus dissuading novices from pursuing any nascent interest.

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If you don’t already read Hansi Johnson’s Universal Klister I’d suggest you start, as it’s one of the most authentic outdoor blogs around.  Mr. Johnson does a bunch of stuff outside, from skiing to biking to fishing to hunting, and is deeply involved in trail and recreation advocacy and local politics (in Duluth, MN and the upper midwest).  He has a longitudinal, multifaceted perspective on the industry, and a habit of telling things as they are, which makes him an ideal candidate for inventing and disseminating the term broification, which I attempted to define above.

Johnson views and pursues broification from the perspective of an access advocate, and I would assume, as a dad.  He sees the artificial inflation of things like skiing and biking as a wedge which will separate current practitioners from future ones, and make city and town governments less likely to see outdoor pursuits as future assets.  When the predominant vision of mountain biking involves 1% terrain* and a riding style which exacerbates erosion it understandably ceases to be an example, both for many new riders and for towns who might be looking to build trails as part of a development strategy.  That >2000 dollar mountain bikes have become commonplace, and that quality <1000 dollar bikes less common, only underlines this problem.

That problem being, a significant part of the appeal here, from fishing across to overlanding, skiing, and backpacking, is being a member of an exclusive group.  Not exclusive because others are excluded intentionally or because of socioeconomic factors, but because membership is gained via skill.  That skill is had from time invested in learning the activity, and with that skill comes an enlightened perspective on the world.  You’ll hear it everywhere in the outdoor realm; ____ (cyclists, hikers, etc) are better people.  More trustworthy.  Easy to get along with.  Kinder.  The  depth of friendship with a new acquaintance is often pushed years forward if said acquaintance is made on a backpacking trip or 100 mile ride or powder day.

Johnson’s original post got a big boost last week when it was picked up by Adventure Journal.  There’s a not inconsiderable amount of irony here, as A-J would make about any top-ten list of broifying publications.  Johnson’s post led with a photo of snow-caked blue jeans, A-J a group of mountaineers way the hell up on a snowy peak.  Two decades ago living the dream entailed an old pickup and 50 dollars from the lumber yard.  Today it’s a Sprinter and “custom” mods, starting at 50,000 dollars.  The perception that things of this nature are essential, important, or even the end goal of outdoor activities is probably good for selling stuff to the initiated, but I agree with Johnson that a secondary effect is putting off a certain percentage of newbies.  Why this is a problem is another subject entirely, but I do think it is a problem.

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I’m far from convinced that the language of advertising in the outdoor industry is the most important factor.  Public land access and the structural/societal reasons why outdoor recreation remains a white and affluent world are far more significant, long and short term.  That said, broification is real.  It is real because it is a problem, and it is a problem because people lie.  They lie in advertising, and they lie on social media.  They, meaning me, lie right here though I try to not do it too often.  Outdoor sports are awesome precisely because of their accessibility.  Anyone reading this, baring significant disability or medical issue, could with a few years of hard work climb iconic, cool stuff.  Probably not 5.14, but definitely hard 5.11.  Anyone with the inclination to learn and the motivation to get out and progress could within 4-5 years do a trip like this one, as pictured above.  Anyone with a decent bike and a year or two of hard riding can go out and ride the Whole Enchilada, walking only a handful of places.

Publications and companies who artificially inflate reality may ultimately be shooting themselves in the foot, both by reducing their potential market, and by radness fatigue.  Authenticity is in the social media age a precious commodity, and broification is if anything inauthentic.

*Both in terms of skill to ride and more significantly the distribution of said terrain across the planet.

Glacier is deep

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I’ve got an important history with this place, going back into my childhood, so it was a particular pleasure to see the most remote corner with someone who had only been around a time or two.

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The secret is that on the western edges Glacier starts at 3500′, and while the corridor of sub-alpine possibility is between 6 and 8 thousand feet, it doesn’t take much for any intervening valley to dip well below the brush line.  Spaces aren’t big just due to miles, or to vertical drop, but because of how unfathomably irksome it might well be to get over there.

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That being the case, it can still be shocking just how hard and time consuming it can be to get over there.  Most of the details I laid out two years ago, and all of the time estimates, I still believe, but we did not nail all the details, which put 100 hours beyond us.  I may also revise my statement that the southern half will prove tougher than the northern, at a later date.

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Somehow it seems appropriate to leave the Glacier Divide Route unfinished, for now.

The worst best trail

No question, the Highline is the worst of the very best trails in Glacier. On the one hand it’s extraordinary scenic, cutting a bold traverse right along treeline through one of the steeper walls in the park. You almost always have complex, 5th class crags above you, and steep green slopes (and the road) below you. On the other hand the popular part of the Highline is, when down out to Granite Park chalet and down to The Loop, as we did, almost all downhill, and with easy access comes lots of people. Lots of people; M counted over 40 in view early on, and I bet close to a thousand hike at least the first few miles on any sunny summer day. Passing is a nuisance, and the miles beat you with unexpected rapidity, as most of the dirt is hard as asphalt. The Highline is the alpine sacrificial lamb of Glacier National Park, as it may be the furthest many folks every get from a road in the alpine, and hopefully the noise and visual pollution are justified by the visual and inspirational value the experience provides.

I have fond memories of first hiking it when I was 9, when the last mile across the final basin to the chalet seemed very long indeed.  Had we been more clever we would have done the route backwards, or gotten a very early or late start, but instead we went along with the hordes,  and M saved the day by hitching back up to get our car, rather than rely on the very overburdened shuttle.  First time visitors to the area should by all means do this hike, but should not make the mistake of thinking it will be a lonely experience, or that the extent to which the frontcountry crowds here extend from the road is replicated many other places in the The Park.

Bear aware, maybe

Last week a Forest Service law enforcement officer, Flathead native, and longtime recreator in bear country was killed by a bear near West Glacier.  According to rumor, and the local paper,  the bear was probably a Grizzly, and the gentleman collided with the bear while going quite fast down a gentle, tightly forested descent on his mountain bike.  The bear reacted out of surprise and fear, and the injuries were quickly fatal.

DSC00601Grizzly sow and cub, center right, a comfortable 3/4 mile away.  M photo.

There is a longstanding and vigorous campaign around here, and in the Yellowstone area, to be “bear aware.”  As presented in the handouts you’ll get in national parks, the signs you’ll see on forest service land, on the posters you’ll see in local stores, being bear aware means carrying bear spray, hiking in groups, storing ones food wisely, sleeping away from said food storage, and being careful when hiking near food sources or in noisy areas.  As a matter of public policy it is important to have a soundbite-friendly version of this to which neophytes are likely to pay attention, but I cringe 50 times a summer when I see folks sauntering around with spray clipped to their packs, out of reach and available for accidental triggering.  Spray certainly deters attacks, and for every such attack surely gives 100 hikers the poise necessary to not panic during a close encounter.  Incidental, indoor discharge is also responsible for the temporary evacuation of a building or two every summer, and while its effects aren’t deadly, bear spray is nonetheless a potent weapon carried around with a carelessness unacceptable in any other context.

Frankly, while it is unrealistic to expect the millions of tourists who roll through the Crown Ecosystem to undertake sufficient research to form their own opinions of what being prudent in bear country entails, anyone who spends a lot of time in the bear woods without plenty of research is doing themselves a disservice.

Living here, and being in those woods on a daily basis, one is almost obligated to become inured to the hazard.  This past Saturday, on a routine 2 hour hike with Little Bear, on a trail I’ve biked in the past, we came upon a black bear off in the bushes at 30 yards.  Another black bear was right behind it.  I watched them, for less time than I would have had I been without a child in a backpack, and then yelled a little to scare them off.  And they complied by disappearing in the opposite direction.  Bears probably aren’t common in this area, Grizzlies especially, but it is 10 minutes from home, and 300 yards from a group of houses.  Bears don’t easily live among us, but they live far closer far more often than most people imagine.  Grizzlies included.  Certain activities, like mountain biking, are no doubt more probable than others to produce a bad encounter, but more time spent out there increases the likelihood of running across the wrong bear, in the wrong place, and at the wrong time.  When it happens, as it did last week, neither bear nor human may be doing anything miscreant and incorrect.

R0010682Sow griz and two cubs, at a comfortable 1.5 miles.  I later saw them at a less comfy 120 yards.

So the first thing for proper bear awareness is the admission that bears kill humans, and not always when they are a sow with cubs or protecting a kill.  The probability is low, but it is possible that while you are out in the woods a bear might kill you through no fault of your own.

Next, admit that certain activities are less safe than others.  Anything high velocity, quiet, off trail, in the fall during hyperphagia, and in a group of less than four increases the probability of a bad injurious or fatal encounter.  Read Herrero’s Bear Attacks, and all the great data kept by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, and decide for yourself, but in my mind the evidence here in overwhelming.  That said, at least 50% of the time I am personally out in Grizzly country I’m doing at least two of these things at once, and not infrequently all of them simultaneously.

I’ve reconciled myself with that because my reading of the research tells me that the most significant factor in keeping bear encounters from turning wrong is not doing anything stupid.  Be aware of the area you’re moving through, read the situation when you do encounter a bear, and act with cold rationality.  Most of the time all this entails is not getting any closer, acting confident but non-threatening, and allowing the bear to figure out what you are.  My closest sustained encounter with a Griz was during the 2012 Bob Open, hiking through Pretty Prairie around dusk.  I was on high alert, because dusk is good time for bears, especially in the long days of spring, and that area is a good place for spring bears, with big south facing meadows and lots of deer and elk.  True to expectation, I came upon a bear as I emerged into meadow.  It took a good minute or more doing a quarter circle of me at 30 yards, standing to better look and smell several times, before winding me and running off, quickly.  I did nothing but stand still, made possible by not panicking, as I was on bear alert.  It’s worth noting that these days I would probably not hike so late into the night, alone, in that particular place at that particular time of year.  Bears can be almost anywhere at the most unlikely time, but fear evenly applied across settings sucks focus from when it can be best put to use.

Beyond this, bring spray if you want to.  It has a good track record, so long as it isn’t too windy or raining hard.  I still find the fragility of the nozzle disconcerting, and believe that 80% of folks who carry spray are putting themselves at net greater risk, due to the frequency of accidental discharge (spray on shoulder strap, alder pulls trigger, spray in face, blind hike out).  Also bring a firearms if you want to, provided you’ve trained the hell out of it.  Plenty of incidents in Alaska where a good shot saved someone from a good mauling.  That said, 75% of the rafters I saw on the South Fork of the Flathead in early August two years ago had 3-5 pound revolvers in chest rigs, and I’m very skeptical that many would have been able to shoot them well enough to do any good under duress.

IMG_0782Griz print in the Almost-a-Dog chimney, Norris Traverse.  Bears go where they want, often in very improbably places.

In summary, being bear aware is mostly about being self-aware, though having a decent knowledge of what bears do at different times is also important.  A good nights sleep in bear country shouldn’t be the result of ignorance, or even worse, a bunch of Tylenol PM.  It should be earned, over time, and while that doesn’t help the policy makers much, concerned as they must be with greatest good for greatest number, proper knowledge built on a body of experience is nonetheless the only way to really get there.  No shortcuts.