Thursday, January 19, 2012

DEC Accepting 2012 Summer Camp Applications

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will be accepting applications for its 2012 Summer Camp Program starting January 28.

The summer camp program offers week-long adventures in conservation education for children ages 11-17. DEC operates four residential camps for youth ages 11-13: Camp Colby in Saranac Lake, Franklin County; Camp DeBruce in Livingston Manor, Sullivan County; Camp Rushford in Caneadea, Allegany County and Pack Forest in Warrensburg, Warren County. Pack Forest and Camp Rushford also feature Teenage Ecology Week, an environmental studies program for 14-17-year-old campers.

“As the parent of a son who spent a week at Camp Colby, I can personally attest to the quality of the camp experience for teenagers and the valuable environmental lessons learned at a DEC summer camp,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “Many DEC camp alumni have followed their interests into careers in the environment and wildlife conservation throughout our 64 years of operating DEC summer camps.”

Campers learn about environmental stewardship through hands-on experience in the outdoors. They participate in a wide variety of activities including fishing, bird watching, fly-tying, archery, canoeing, hiking, camping, orienteering and hunter safety education. Campers also learn about fields, forests, streams and ponds through fun, first-hand experiences in these habitats. DEC counselors teach youth conservation techniques used by natural resource professionals, such as measuring trees and estimating wildlife populations.

Changes for the 2012 camp season:

Youth camp attendees now range from age 11 to 13.

Teenage Ecology Week attendees now range from age 14 to 17 and will be offered at Pack Forest from weeks 1 through 5 and at Camp Rushford during week 5.

All four camps will run for seven weeks, beginning July 1.

Children who have attended camp in the past may register for any of the weeks within their age range.

Campers may attend for more than one week. The fee for the total number of weeks must be included with the application (Note: campers may not stay at camp on Saturday night, so parents should make alternate arrangements if two consecutive weeks are selected).

DEC is also encouraging sporting clubs, civic groups and environmental organizations to sponsor a child for a week at camp. Those groups who sponsor six paid campers will receive one free scholarship when all applications are sent together.

Applications from both sponsors and parents can be postmarked starting January 28, 2012. The cost for camp remains at $350 a week.

For complete information, including when applications will be accepted, visit DEC’s website or call 518-402-8014. Interested parents may also sign up for the camps’ listserve on the same web page, visit the camps’ Facebook page at “NYS DEC Summer Camps” or contact DEC in writing at DEC Camps, 2nd Floor, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York 12233-4500.

Photo: A fishing lesson at Camp Colby. Courtesy DEC.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: Cold Rain and Snow

Amy and I had tarried too long in town, visiting friends, getting a tour of a local art collection, enjoying a leisurely holiday pace. We did not start the long climb up to Lost Brook Tract until after 2 PM with a scant two hours of daylight remaining. It was an icy climb and even with trekking poles to help lever the ascent our progress was halting. By the time we were three miles in and two thousand feet up, nearing the junction where the way to Lost Brook Tract leaves any hiking trail altogether, it was close to pitch black with spotty freezing rain. We didn’t mind as hiking in the dark is fun. But we were about to be stupid… well, not so much “we” as me. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dan Crane: Backpacking Through Middle Age

Facing middle-age is a traumatic prospect for many people, more so for those who enjoy exploring the Adirondack backcountry. During this period of life, the wear and tear of many decades begins to erode the physical abilities of youth. This physical erosion puts increasing demands on the body from backpacking, making enjoying the backcountry more arduous, but not impossible.

Backpacking, with its heavy lifting, long hikes over aggressive terrain and precarious stream crossings, is typically regarded as an activity of youth. There is no reason this must be the case though. With a little determination, some minor adaptations and a sizable portion of luck, it should be possible to continue exploring the backcountry throughout middle-age and beyond.

Many changes within the aging human body negatively impact the ability to backpack through the backcountry. Collagen fibers within muscles and tendons become less supple, cartilage in the joints wears down and becomes more brittle, and back issues, such as degenerating disc disease, are just a few of the changes brought on with age. Although it may be impossible to reverse these negative changes (for now), there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects.

Training is important for anyone engaging in strenuous exercise, and especially important for older hikers. Preparing the muscles for the arduous physical activity accompanying backcountry exploration is a necessity for exploring the backcountry, as much as map and compass skills, properly fitting hiking boots and prodigious amount of mosquito repellant.

Regular aerobic exercise (such as running, cycling or swimming), combined with weight training (especially those strengthening the core and legs), should be performed for months before lacing up the hiking boots. Although these activities prepare the muscles for physical activity, there is no substitute for getting on the trail and doing some day hiking. If coming off a long down period, start out slow with shorter distances and lower backpack loads, working up to farther distances and heavier loads over time.

Stretching before exercising is increasingly important as the years advance. Stretching prepares the less supple muscles and tendons for the rigorous activity required on the trail. It is especially important after spending hours riding in a car before reaching the trailhead. Concentrate the stretching effort on the legs but do not forget other important area such as the back, neck and arms.

Another important way to deal with the negative physical effects of middle-aged involves reducing the weight of the backpack. The weight of a backpack places an enormous amount of stress on the joints of the hips and legs. By reducing its weight it is possible to reduce the amount of stress placed on these joints so they stay healthier over the long haul. Plus, a lighter pack is a major advantage when trying to outrun a hungry bear.

We are living in an age of technological proliferation, and the backcountry products industry is not immune. Many of the improvements include a reduction in weight, due to stronger and more advanced materials. Anyone who owned a backpack from the 1980’s and 1990’s can attest to their impenetrable yet weighty materials, like carrying a tank on one’s back. Although these heavy materials prevented the occasional rip or tear, they put a lot of stress on the back and knees. Today, the trend is using more advanced materials to reduce the weight of equipment including clothes, sleeping bag, tents, and backpacks.

Despite the best effort to train, stretch extensively and reducing backpack weight, issues pertaining to middle-age can persist. Middle-age is accompanied with some inevitable slowdown, which can manifest itself in a slower speed on the trail, a reduction in the distances traveled per day or greater weakness in carrying heavier loads.

All the squatting, stooping and crawling associated with backpacking takes a serious toll on the back and joints of middle-aged backpackers. Crawling in and out of a tent or other shelter, cooking hunched over a small stove and squatting while answering natures call are just a few of these activities leading to back, neck or leg strains. And there is nothing worse than losing one’s balance due to a muscle cramp while squatting over a cat hole.

Sleeping on hard surfaces such as hard-packed ground found in heavily used areas and inside lean-tos becomes more difficult with age. Anyone waking after a restless night without the ability to stand up straight is familiar with this pain. Thankfully, this pain can be ameliorated with the addition of a couple different sleeping pads. Camping in areas rarely (or never) used by others may be helpful in providing a more comfortable sleeping experience due to thick layers of leaf litter and other detritus not highly compacted by many years of use.

In addition to the physical changes accompanying middle-age, there is the inevitable decrease in eyesight. This decrease in performance due to age is called presbyopia. Presbyopia is a perfectly normal loss of close focusing ability due to hardening of the lens inside the eyes and usually begins occurring around age 40. Just in time to accompany the other physical limitations brought on by middle age.

Presbyopia can be compensated for by initially holding reading material further away but over time requires wearing reading glasses.

Presbyopia affects backcountry enthusiasts mostly through the reading of topographical maps. The faint print on these maps, especially the elevation numbers, are often difficult for even youthful eyes in the best lighting, let alone those in middle-age. The print on many handheld GPS units often proves difficult to read as well.

Reading glasses are useful for compensating for the effect of presbyopia. Unfortunately, transporting reading glasses through the backcountry is often difficult due to their fragility. Folding reading glasses are useful in compensating for this fragility.

Middle-age is definitely a difficult time for backcountry enthusiasts with its many physical changes. If you are dreading the coming of middle-age or frustratingly dealing with its impact on the ability to enjoy the backcountry, take heart, there is some hope as backpacking during old age is going to be much more challenging.

Photos: Middle-aged trees at Sand Lake by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

‘Open House’ Weekends at Camp Santanoni

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH), the Town of Newcomb, and the Adirondack Ecological Center have announced that historic Camp Santanoni in Newcomb will be open for three special long “open house” weekends this winter. Over these weekends, cross-country skiers and snowshoers will be able to visit the Gatelodge and Main Lodge, get short interpretive tours with AARCH staff, and warm up at the Artist’s Studio before the return trip. These weekends will be January 14-16, February 18-20, and March 17-18.

Camp Santanoni was built beginning in 1892 by Robert and Anna Pruyn and eventually consisted of more than four dozen buildings on 12,900 acres including a working farm, Gatelodge complex, and a huge rustic Main Lodge and other camp buildings situated on Newcomb Lake. Santanoni was in private ownership until 1972 and over the last several decades, in state ownership, it has gradually been restored by a partnership between NYSDEC, AARCH, and the Town of Newcomb. Santanoni is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

Camp Santanoni is one of the most popular cross-country ski destinations in the Adirondacks, and for good reason. The snow conditions are usually excellent, the trip itself is of only moderate intensity, and the camp on its remote lakeside setting makes for an interesting and most beautiful destination. The round-trip cross-country ski and showshoe trip is 9.8 miles on a gently sloping carriage road. People may visit Santanoni 365 days a year but these weekends are rare opportunities to visit the camp in winter, have a brief tour, and have a place to warm up.

As snow conditions so far in 2012 have been light, it is best to check in advance to make sure the road is suitable for skiing.

 


Friday, January 6, 2012

Paul Smith’s College VIC Upcoming Programs

The Paul Smith’s College VIC has issued their schedule for the remaining winter season. The VIC is located at 8023 State Route 30 in Paul Smiths. For more information about the events listed here or the VIC in general contact Brian McDonnell at (518) 327-6241

Sunday, Jan. 8 through Sunday, Feb. 19 – Winter Wonders Art Show and Sale

Local featured artists will display their nature themed art from 1-3 p.m. at the VIC. The first show of the new year, we will feature 8 artists showcasing their art in a variety of mediums including photography, watercolor, oil, and pastels. This will be the first show of the year. Each month, on the new moon, we will offer a new exhibit featuring 2 local artists. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 2, 2012

ADK Offers High Peaks Winter Lecture Series

Environmental authors Bill McKibben and Curt Stager will be among the distinguished speakers participating in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Winter 2012 Lecture Series at the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC). The Saturday evening lecture series begins Jan. 7 and runs through March 17.

McKibben, one of the leading voices of the environmental movement, is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. His books include The End of Nature, The Age of Missing Information and Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth. His Feb. 4 lecture, “Notes from the Front of the Climate Fight,” will focus on the global movement to address climate change.

Stager, a professor at Paul Smith’s College, is the author of Deep Future: the Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth, which Kirkus Reviews listed as one of the best nonfiction books of 2011. On Jan. 21, Stager will speak on “Climate Whiplash: What Happens After Global Warming?” While debate over global warming generally focuses on what may happen in the next 100 years, Stager will discuss the long-term climate picture.

Other lectures in the series will focus on winter birds, backcountry travel, avalanche awareness and moose in New York State. On the lighter side, the series will also feature concerts by Annie and the Hedonists and the Rustic Riders.

Winter 2012 HPIC Lecture Series

Jan. 7: “Winter Birds of the Adirondacks” with Joan Collins, president of Adirondack Avian Expeditions & Workshops.

Jan. 14: “Backcountry Travel” with Pete Fish, a retired forest ranger with over 30 years experience patrolling the High Peaks.

Jan. 21: “Climate Whiplash: What Happens After Global Warming?” with Curt Stager.

Jan. 28: “Basic Avalanche Awareness” with High Peaks Forest Ranger Jim Giglinto.

Feb. 4: “Notes from the Front of the Climate Fight” with Bill McKibben.

Feb. 11: “Moose in New York” with state wildlife biologist Ed Reed.

Feb. 18: “Adirondack Environmental History: It’s as Clear as Mud” with Brendan Wiltse, a Ph.D. candidate from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

Feb. 25: Music by Annie and the Hedonists.

March 3: “Introduction to Square Dancing,” with music and calling by Stan Burdick.

March 10: “Flora and Fauna of the Adirondacks.”

March 17: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with The Rustic Riders, an Adirondack-based acoustic group.

The High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) is at the end of the Adirondack Loj Road, 8 miles south of Lake Placid. For more information about the lecture series and other ADK programs, visit our website at www.adk.org or call (518) 523-3441.

The Adirondack Mountain Club, founded in 1922, is the oldest and largest organization dedicated to the protection of the New York State Forest Preserve. ADK is a nonprofit, membership organization that protects the Forest Preserve, state parks and other wild lands and waters through conservation and advocacy, environmental education and responsible recreation.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dan Crane: Solo Backcountry Exploration

One of the central tenets of backcountry exploration is never venture out on your own. The conventional thinking is hiking/backpacking is a group activity, where individual achievement must take a backseat to safety. This remains a well-held belief, but is it valid? Do the risks of solo backcountry travel outweigh the benefits?

There are many reasons for traveling through the backcountry in a group. Communal meals, sharing equipment, division of camp duties and basic human companionship are just a few advantages of trekking through forests and over mountains with other individuals. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 26, 2011

BurkeBeaner Coffee to Benefit Dewey Mountain

Home on holiday break from the World Cup circuit, Olympic biathlete Tim Burke has launched a limited-edition coffee with the Adirondack Bean-To. Proceeds from each bag of BurkeBeaner Hammer Roast sold this ski season will be donated to the campaign to build a new lodge at Dewey Mountain, where Burke learned to cross-country-ski race as a kid.

Burke went on to compete in two Olympics and to become the first American to lead the biathlon World Cup, in 2009.

“I support Dewey because of all the great opportunities it provided me,” Burke said. “This was the place I could come not only to ski but to be with friends, meet new people and live a healthy, active lifestyle. That was important to my childhood, and I’d like other kids to have that opportunity as well.” » Continue Reading.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Adirondack Forest Ranger Reports (Late Autumn)

What follows is the late-October through late-December Forest Ranger Activity Report for DEC Region 5, which includes most of the Adirondack region. Although not a comprehensive detailing of all backcountry incidents, these reports are issued periodically by the DEC and printed here at the Almanack in their entirety. They are organized by county, and date. You can read previous Forest Ranger Reports here.

These incident reports are a stern reminder that wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry and always carry a flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.

The Adirondack Almanack reports current outdoor recreation and trail conditions each Thursday evening. Listen for the weekly Adirondack Outdoor Conditions Report on Friday mornings on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1), WSLP (93.3) and on the stations of North Country Public Radio. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Outlook for Adirondack Ski Areas

It’s no secret that it’s been a difficult start to the ski season. Besides a notable lack of snowfall, the cold temperatures that ski areas need for snowmaking operations have so far been hard to come by.

I started my ski season on Thanksgiving weekend, when both Gore and Whiteface opened for the 2011-2012 season, and I’ve now got several days at both mountains under my belt. Although trail choices have been limited (both mountains are about 20% open as of this writing), conditions have been surprisingly good, thanks to efficient snowmaking plants and modern grooming equipment. You can check out my most recent visits to Gore and Whiteface here and here. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gear: A High Peaks Mobile Phone App

You and a friend finally reach the summit of Gothics, take in the glorious view, and begin to wonder what the names are of all the peaks around you. So your friend whips out an iPhone and starts tapping the screen.

Is he calling the local forest ranger for answers?

Not if he has installed the ADK46erNow app on his phone. Developed by Keith Kubarek, an enthusiastic Adirondack hiker, the app uses the phone’s GPS system to help people identify peaks in the viewshed of any of the forty-six High Peaks.

The app also contains basic facts about each of the High Peaks, including elevation and the feet of ascent and mileage from trailhead to summit; a logbook for keeping track of the peaks you’ve climbed; and links to the current weather at your location or at any of the High Peaks.

The program can be purchased for $4.99 at the App Store on Apple’s website. The hitch is that you must own an iPhone. I don’t, but I was able to download the app onto my iPod Touch to test the features in the office. Without the phone’s GPS capability, however, I was unable to use the app in the field.

The app’s home page has four options: “My Log Book,” “ADK 46er Now,” “High Peaks,” and “Weather.” The coolest feature, the electronic peak-finder, is found under the ADK 46er Now rubric.

If you select this option, your current GPS coordinates appear at the bottom of the screen. Three new options also appear: “Map,” “360-DegreeView,” and “Summit Stamp.”

For the peak-finder, select 360-Degree View. The screen turns into a clear window with a red vertical line running down the middle. It’s as if you’re viewing the landscape through the phone’s camera. When the red line bisects one of the High Peaks in the vista, the peak’s name appears at the bottom of the screen. The function can be used not just on summits, but whenever you have a good view.

One shortcoming is that the app can identify only High Peaks and only those within a five-mile radius. So if you’re on Mount Marcy, for example, it won’t tell you that the big mountain ten miles distant in the southwest is Santanoni Peak. Kubarek tried using a ten-mile radius, but the phone’s screen became too cluttered. He says he may give users the option of adjusting the viewing radius in a future version of the app.

You can get a better sense of how the peak-finder works by clicking this link to the developer’s website.

Other features include:

Summit Stamp. When you reach the top of a High Peak, it records the date and time of your ascent, the current weather, and your GPS coordinates.

High Peaks Sorter. It allows you to order the peaks by name, height, feet of ascent, or round-trip mileage to the summit. By selecting a summit, you can view it in a satellite image or on a topo or terrain map.

Map and Compass. The map function allows you to see your location on a topo map at any time. It also provides your GPS coordinates. You can activate the compass function by tapping the circular logo on the home screen.

For an overview of all the features of ADK46erNow, click here.

Kubarek says he expects to add new features this year, including one that will allow hikers to e-mail trip notes and Summit Stamps to their friends and family. Those who purchase the app now will be able to update it for free as new versions are available.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. For more of his gear reviews, click here.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Major Snowmobile Bridge Replaced in Perkin’s Clearing Easement

A bridge on an important snowmobile connector trail on the Perkins Clearing Conservation Easement Lands was replaced in time for the upcoming snowmobile season, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has announced.

The new bridge replaces the old, deteriorating Mossy Vly Snowmobile Bridge on the Carpenter Hill Trail which connects the Mud Lake Road and the Jessup River Road in the Town of Lake Pleasant, Hamilton County.

The Mossy Vly Brook snowmobile bridge provides a critical link between snowmobile trails on the conservation easement property. Historically, the bridge has been used as a bypass route around winter logging activities on the conservation easement property. Replacing the bridge eliminates the need for hazardous ice crossings by snowmobilers. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Mysterious Northwestern Adirondacks Noise

The Adirondack backcountry can generate some very peculiar sounds. A bobcat crying, a coyote howling and a pine sawyer chewing are just a few of the strange natural sounds of the remote wilderness. These sounds are often easily identifiable as having a natural source. Unfortunately, the sources of many others remain a mystery.

I heard one of these mysterious sounds several times in different locations in the backcountry of the northwestern Adirondacks over the years. This strange sound turned up again this summer at Cracker Pond, located in the remote part of the Five Ponds Wilderness.

The unexplained sound is a soft modulated hum. It is a subtle sound; often it is difficult to tell whether it is a sound or just a feeling deep down in the pit of the stomach. It is sometimes muffled, as if in the background, and therefore easily overlooked. The nature of the sound is hard to describe, but it is similar to the noise made by a boat crashing through a wave or wake of another boat.

This is not the first time I have heard such a sound. Similar sounds intruded upon several different backcountry trips over the last few years in the northwestern Adirondacks. The sound is not constant, as I have returned to the same locations multiple times without hearing it.

I heard this sound for the first time while visiting the Threemile Beaver Meadow in the western part of the Pepperbox Wilderness. At this time, I presumed the sound was from the turbines at one of the dams to the south along the Beaver River.

Unfortunately, my turbine theory appeared incorrect as I heard the sound at the top of Cat Mountain last year in the northern portion of the Five Ponds Wilderness. This mountain is way too far from the Threemile Beaver Meadow for such a sound to carry that far.

What could this sound be? Where is it coming from? Is it just in my head? If not, is it from a man-made source or a natural one? Does anyone have any theories about this sound? Unidentified flying objects? Clandestine hydrofracking operations? Any explanation from the absurd to the practical would be appreciated.

Strange sounds are a part of the backcountry experience in the Adirondacks. Usually these mysterious sounds have a natural source. Occasionally, an eerie noise is difficult to attribute to a natural phenomenon. Most of these remain a mystery; let us hope this is not one of them.

Photos: Cracker Pond, Threemile Beaver Meadow and View from Cat Mountain by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adirondack Family Activities: Lake Placid Peninsula Nature Trails

Though there are many places to enjoy throughout the Adirondack Park, the small village trails are often the sweetest treat for families with young kids or anyone just wanting to stretch his/her legs.

The Brewster Peninsula Nature Trails in Lake Placid are situated on a parcel of 133 acres of land purchased by New York State in 1960.

According to the self-guiding pamphlet produced by The Garden Club of Lake Placid (with help from the Adirondack Ski Touring Council and the NYS DEC, the Brewster Peninsula trails were heavily logged in the 1940s with the exclusion of a small 200′ strip of untouched lakeshore.

Our main purpose for being in Lake Placid is to shop but with all the holiday craziness we need to get outside so we are taking the snow pants, boots and coats for a stroll around one of the Brewster Peninsula trails. The ground is hard and not much snow but we just need some fresh air. When we arrive we diplomatically choose one of the three trails; Lakeshore (0.8 mile loop, Boundary (0.9 mile loop) or Ridge (rock, paper, scissors). We go the Ridge Trail.

The Ridge Trail is the longest trail at a 1.3-mile loop. We pass the entrance gate and watch for signs to the right. The main path is the old logging road. It is a wide, relatively smooth dirt road. The legs of my daughter’s snow pants are rubbing together reminiscent of corduroys squeaking. She informs me that they are talking to her. I ask what they say and she replies, “They want me to run.” We oblige.

My son sword-fights with tree branches that have the audacity to be in his path. The trees retaliate by dumping melting snow down his back. The path is a gentle incline and the new boots seem to up to the task.

One short, more popular path, is the Boundary Trail. This 0.9 loop trail intersects with the popular Jackrabbit Trail and leads directly to the west side of Lake Placid lake. This trail also leads to the Shore Owner’s Association (SOA) dam. Along that path are wooded footpaths, roots to explore and a beautiful view of the lake.

Look for interpretive signs along the way (designed by Adirondack artist, Sheri Amsel) as well as benches in case members of your party need a moment of solitude. Enjoy these trails all year long on foot, snowshoes or cross-country skies.

From Saranac Ave (Route 86) in Lake Placid, turn onto Peninsula Way, between Howard Johnson’s Restaurant and the Comfort Inn and drive about 0.4 mile. Follow signs for Brewster Peninsula. Parking and entrance gate is to the left. Trail maps are available at the trailhead.

Photo from the dam at Brewster Peninsula used with permission of Diane Chase, the author of Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 Activities(with GPS Coordinates), covering the towns of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene/Keene Valley, Jay/Upper Jay and Wilmington. Diane next guidebook of Adirondack Family Activities in this four-book series will cover the Adirondack Coast from Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga.

 


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review of ‘The Climbing Dictionary’

I’m a Johnny-climb-lately. After moving to the Adirondacks, I spent most of my outdoors time hiking, backcountry skiing, or paddling. I had no interest in rock climbing—until I finally tried it a few years back.

I quickly discovered there’s a lot to learn apart from the techniques of actual climbing: rope management, gear placement, belaying, anchor building, rappelling, and how to open a beer bottle with a carabiner.

And the language. Like most sports, rock climbing has its own lingo. A bumbling climber is a “gumby”; a perfect climbing route is “splitter”; a route over “choss” (loose, friable rock) is “mungy”; and “deadpoint” is the apex of a “dyno,” or jump move.

All this can be bewildering to a newbie (or “n00b”) who encounters such terms for the first time in articles, books, and conversation. Thankfully, Mountaineers Books has published a guide for the perplexed: The Climbing Dictionary (softcover, $14.95) by Matt Samet, a veteran climber and writer.

The book defines more than 650 terms from rock climbing, bouldering, and mountaineering. Many of the definitions are illustrated by drawings by Mike Tea, an artist who works for Black Diamond, a manufacturer of cams, nuts, and other climbing gear.

In most cases, Samet does more than just define a word; he illustrates usage with humorous quotes and provides word histories that are like small windows onto the history of climbing itself. Did you know that before climbers wore helmets they sometimes protected their heads by stuffing mittens and newspapers under wool hats?

Many of the words are merely useful, such as the names for gear (ice screw, etrier, deadman anchor), but others exemplify the wry, irreverent outlook on life that seems indispensible to people who risk their necks for fun. For example, someone who “craters,” or hits the ground after a long fall, is likely to become “talus food.”

Samet captures this spirit in his definitions and exemplary quotations. Here’s his entry for blog-worthy: “Any rock you’ve ever climbed, videoed, and shot photos of … and uploaded to the Internet. In alpinism, any diversion, no matter how insignificant, from an existing climb is usually blog-worthy.”

Sometimes, though, the author strains too hard at humor, especially in his quotations. He illustrates the use of headlamp with the following: “Dave-o and Sha-Nay-Nay had to open a bivy a half-mile from the car because they spaced their headlamps; then wolves ate their faces off in the night.”

Never mind that the non-imbecilic have no need for a definition of headlamp; the quotation fails to illuminate meaning and it fails to amuse.

That’s OK … we all have our gumby moments. If you love climbing, you should enjoy this book.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. Click here to read his article about climbing Chapel Pond Slab.