Expedition Tales

  • The Flicker Family History

    Flicker in action in North Cascades

    They are finally here: a wide version of our bestselling Flicker Quilt sleeping bag, AND a kids edition!

    Take a look at them on our website!

    Here is a little history on how the Flicker family of bags came to be.

    Two years ago, we launched the Flicker series of down quilt sleeping bags. They quickly became favorites of our staff and adventurers of all types searching for a light bag that could meet a wide variety of needs.

    The Flicker was a long time in the making. Our designers are always exploring ways to not only make traditional bags even better but also to create new designs. Their work has resulted in a wide range of bags, from the Penguin and Condor sleep systems to expedition bags for the coldest climates and the innovative and unusual Spoonbill. The quilt-style bag was an area of increased interest for outdoor enthusiasts looking for lightweight but adaptable insulation, so we began experimenting with designs that maximized versatility in a unique and effective way.

    At first, our designer spent over a year experimenting (a luxury of being a small company) off-and-on with the classical quilt design which had no zipper. In warm weather this design is perfect, because it is light and provides just enough insulation while not restricting movement. In cold weather, however, the open quilt is not ideal because every movement results in a gap between quilt and pad that steals heat and lets cold air in. He explored ways to attach this traditional design to the pad, but none of the approaches panned out.

    The breakthrough happened when our designer accidentally got stuck with a quilt during a particularly cold night. To keep warm, he ditched the pad attachment straps and simply tucked the bag beneath him. While this approach meant he was stuck on his back all night, it occurred to him that adding a few extra inches to the quilt would allow it to zip, which would drastically improve the quilt’s warmth and allow him to move around.

    The next morning he returned to the factory and built the first flicker prototype. From the beginning the goal of the Flicker was to save weight while maximizing versatility. This philosophy led to the design refinements that characterize the Flicker of today; a center zipper instead of an open quilt, and a cinch around the feet rather than a clunky fixed footbox.

    Throughout the exploration phase, our designer was also guided by a desire to balance weight with usability. The Flicker occupies the sweet spot discovered during the design process; the fabrics are light but durable, the design allows for many uses, and the zipper and cinch increase comfort and warmth without adding too many grams.

    Now, we added two new quilts to the Flicker Family; a wide quilt and a kids version. These new adaptations of a favorite design are the result of feedback from those who loved the original Flicker and a continuation of the creative and thoughtful design process that is at the heart of all Feathered Friends products.

  • 2016 Mount Rainier Permits Demystified

    Glaciers on Mount Rainier

    Planning for Mount Rainier isn’t just about gear, food, people, and conditions; we also have to think about permits.

    Summertime within Mt. Rainier National Park is truly stunning - from lowland forested trails to the massively glaciated alpine - it offers exceptional recreational opportunities. Being so close to Seattle, however, things get a little complicated if you are looking to experience the beauty by exploring the high mountain or staying overnight.

    Most years, getting camping permits to the most sought after locations within the park can test the will of most folks. Large chunks of the allocated spots are reserved months in advance, and the few that remain are left to a first-come first-served battle of the early birds.

    2016 is unique, however. ALL wilderness camping and climbing permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis (aka walk-in). Usually you put in a request for a climbing date or a Wonderland trail trip plan, and then reservations are processed by hand. Earlier this year, however, the old reservation system experienced a critical failure resulting in the loss of 2,000 odd reservation requests. The result is an atypical permit season - a great opportunity to get out on a whim! With that in mind, it is important to understand the passes, permits, and registrations needed.

    Climbing Mount Rainier involves glacier travel and spending a night on the mountain. If this applies to you, then you will need the following: a Wilderness Camping Permit and a Climbing Pass, which you use to obtain your Climbing Permit for specified dates.

    Climbing Pass & Permit

    According to the National Park website, a “Climbing Pass is required for anyone who plans to climb above 10,000 feet or onto any glaciers.” In other words, if you plan to go to go beyond camp Muir or Camp Schurman, or on a glacier, you’ll need a pass. Each pass covers your climbing fees for the rest of the calendar year and you can use it to register for an unlimited number of climbs that year.

    Once you have a Climbing pass, the day before or the day of your climb you go to a ranger station and use it (along with Photo ID) to reserve your climbing permit. The permit should go up the mountain with you. One way to think of it is the climbing pass is your admission fee for the year, and the climbing permit reserves your spot on the mountain during a specified time frame.

    Permits are first come first serve. Wherever you plan to go on the mountain, there is a set number of climbing permits allowed each day for each location, which means on the most popular weekends you would be best off going the day before to help ensure that you are not turned away empty handed. A climbing pass does not guarantee a climbing permit for the time that you want.

    The fees associated with the climbing permits support a variety of programs on the mountain that ensure the health of the ecosystem and the safety of human visitors. These include supporting the climbing rangers at the high camps, staffing ranger stations, flying human waste off the mountain to be disposed of properly, and protecting the alpine environment.

    In addition, According to the NPS website, “Climbing permits for Paradise area routes require registration at the Climbing Information Center at Paradise. Emmons/Liberty Ridge route climbs require registration at the White River Wilderness Information Center at the White River Entrance. Climbs initiated from the northwest corner of the park (Carbon River & Mowich Lake) must register with staff at the Carbon River Ranger Station.”

    For more information, check out these pages from the National Park:

    NPS Information on Climbing Passes

    NPS Climbing Pass FAQs

    Wilderness Camping Permit

    Planning to camp? Then you need a wilderness camping permit. These can be issued IN PERSON the day of or the day before your trip.There is also NO fee for these camping permits.

    Unlike the climbing pass, there are quotas for backcountry camping in the national park. During peak (ha) season, popular camps and zones can and do fill up. Suffice it to say: the early bird gets the worm. Pro tip: avoid the lines at 7am Saturday morning and claim your spot Friday afternoon. Heading out midweek? Chances are you will have far more options available, but it is still busy, so having a contingency camping plan is always a good idea.

    Get an overview of camping zones and zone capacity: Rainier Climbing Zones

    This means that if you plan to go over a glacier and camp, you need to have obtained three things: Climbing Pass, Climbing Permit, and Wilderness Camping Permit.

    NPS Info on Wilderness Camping

  • Global Exploration and Recovery: 2016 Greenland Mission

    Feathered Friends is a proud partner of Global Exploration and Recovery LLC (GEaR), a team attempting to bring home three Americans who lost their lives in Greenland in a World War Two plane crash.

    GEaR team puts Feathered Friends bags to use Feathered Friends bags get a little sunshine while at work in Greenland last year.

    In the next few weeks, the Global Exploration and Recovery (GEaR) team will be on their way to Greenland. They will be opening the next chapter of an incredible mission to bring home the wreckage of a US Coast Guard plane that crashed in 1942 and became buried inside a glacier. The saga of the multiple downed planes and rescue attempts are documented in the gripping New York Times best seller, Frozen In Time by Mitchell Zuckoff.

    GEaR’s part of the story began in 2012, when a team was assembled for the first reconnaissance mission to try to find the missing plane. Their efforts were soon dubbed the Duck Hunt, after the name given to the lost Coast Guard seaplane. Over the last four years new teams have gone back, and this year GEaR is equipped with state of the art technology and a talented team who want to find the rest of the plane and bring home the servicemen.

    The modern-day rescue attempts are the continuation of a saga that began in 1942, when Greenland became an incredibly important strategic location during WWII. The United States had just entered the war, and was trying to rush equipment and supplies to allies in Europe. The problem was, however, that the aircraft did not have adequate range to fly all the way across the Atlantic, so were forced to make shorter jumps across the arctic. Greenland was one of the most important stops, but its inhospitable climate made it one of the most dangerous places to touch down. It was and still is a landscape of wind, extreme cold, and desolate expanses of nothing but ice and steep cliffs.

    Jaana Gustafsson working on the ice in Greenland. Jaana Gustafsson working on the ice in Greenland.

    In November, during an early winter storm, a B-17 bomber and its crew of nine went down on the greenland ice cap. The crew was utterly unprepared for survival in cold weather, lacking gear, rations, and functional communication. They survived for weeks, however, through ingenuity, careful rationing of their limited resources, and strong leadership.

    Multiple rescue attempts were made, including flights to the wreckage by a small duck plane piloted by Lt. John Pritchard and radioman Benjamin Bottoms. They made one successful flight, rescuing two crewmen from the B-17 bomber. The next day they flew again, and picked up U.S. Army Air Corps Cpl. Loren Howarth. During this flight, however, a storm rolled in and the plane crashed somewhere along it’s 40 mile flight back to the ship.

    The three Americans were thought lost in the ice, until international efforts in 2012 found a section of the plane, but not the main fuselage that held Pritchard, Bottoms, and Howarth.

    This summer GEaR returns to Greenland in the hopes of finding the rest of the airplane to lay the foundation for a full-scale recovery mission, with the ultimate goal of repatriating the three men and returning them to their families back home. The team members are John Bradley, Francis Marley, Nick Bratton, and Jaana Gustafsson. Thier broad range of expertise, experience, and technical skills make them the ideal team.

    Feathered Friends is proud to support their mission with the warmest sleeping bags and jackets that are built to withstand the extreme conditions of Greenland.

    To learn more, take a look at GEaR's Website

    Read Zuckhoff’s riveting book. For a shorter overview, check out this book review from the Boston Globe.

    Or look at the Coast Guard blog.

  • 4th of July Reflections

    As we celebrate the 4th of July, we bring you a little reflection on what it means to design and make our gear in the USA.

    Feathered Friends Store in Seattle

    Seattle has been our home from the beginning. It all started in the basement of our founders’ home, and continues in our factory in the SODO neighborhood of Seattle and our retail space in South Lake Union. While the city has gone through major changes since we started in 1972, our philosophy hasn’t.

    To the greatest extent possible, we create each garment, sleeping bag, and comforter at our Seattle facility. Some of our pieces, like the Snowy Owl sleeping bag, take years of training and are completed by only one or two of our specialized sewers. Other items may take less time to sew, but every piece that comes out of our factory receives the highest level of care and attention to detail.

    In most cases, each piece is finished with a specific person in mind, their name scrawled across a tag as the item moves from the cutting room to the sewing floor, on to the stuffing station and through inspection.

    Sewing Machine ready for action at Seattle facility

    We want to make sure you’re getting the highest quality and longest lasting garment, bag, or comforter possible, and to do so we hire some of the best sewers and production staff out there. In a time when the average American changes jobs every four years, many of our production folks have been with us for decades.

    As an independently owned and operated company led by the original founders, we have oversight and control over all aspects of your down gear’s production, from design to final inspection. In addition to excellent quality control, we also strive for a minimal carbon footprint by limiting the shipment of materials before and after construction. As a result, we are are able to guarantee excellent quality and maintain a commitment to ethical treatment of our employees and the environment.

    We take great pride in what we create, and are humbled to be trusted by adventurers, explorers, and sleepers across the world.

    Templates for Hyperion Down Jacket

  • Where the Big Stuff Goes Down

    A trip report by Mark Pugliese on climbing in the Central Alaska Range.

    MarkPugliese- Alaska Camp

    As the plane banked my heart started racing and I thought “This is where the big stuff goes down.” We were flying into the East Fork of the Toke and the mighty West Face of Huntington dominated the window. I was seeing for the first time how truly massive this terrain was. Unfolding below us was an immense alpine playground of endless peaks, lines of ice, and crumbling glaciers. It would be a place to test ourselves and to find what we were both looking for in our climbing; a great adventure.

    In late April of this year Nik Mirhashemi and I flew into the Central Alaska Range with plans of climbing some commonly ascended classics as well as hopefully establishing some new routes of our own. With a pattern of warm and unsettled weather we decided to fly into the Tokositna glacier at the base of Mt. Huntington to attempt the Harvard route as a warm up for the trip.

    View from airplane in Alaska View during the flight in. Peaks as far as the eye can see.

    We landed, set up camp, met some awesome folks that had been there for a week or so and got some conditions reports. We were happy to hear that the conditions in the mountain were in good shape, but had to be aware that the weather was very unsettled. A party climbed the Harvard right when we arrived over the course of 5 blue-collar days, but the sunshine was accompanied by spindrift avalanches from new snow that were a constant, annoying, and dangerous reality.

    Camp below Macho Madness Camp below the cliff band that houses Macho Madness.

    The next day Nik and I spied a line that directly accessed the French Ridge of Huntington that looked like it would be a fun outing. We headed towards the base of a large granite buttress that then transitioned into a rock and snow ridge for roughly 1500ft. Despite climbing in and out of a whiteout, the route ended up being a lot fun and it was overall not too bad of a weather day. We established “Macho Madness” M6, 75 degrees 1500’ which is a cragging route right out of basecamp in the Toke. We topped out the route when it met the French Ridge, and were able to easily descend by down climbing steep snow for a few hours back to the glacier.

    Macho Madness's wall. "Macho Madness" m6, 75 degrees, 1500'. Follows the central buttress and snowfields to lookers right.

    After a rest day, the Harvard route was next on the agenda. Nik and I woke to spotty skies at 4am and decided to go for it. As we skied to the first steep section of glacier the impressive West Face loomed above us and we were both very excited. Face to face with the immense line of rock, snow, and ice, I felt a certain acceptance of risk; I was entering a very dangerous but life giving place. Over the next 24 hours I was going to do and see things that might scare me, but on the other side of the day I would come out potentially a different person. It was this kind of change and challenge that we came for.

    The route climbed incredibly well. Super fun ice runnels, classic rock pitches, and steep snow for hundreds of feet. It was not normal fun, however; it was the Alaska-type fun where it dumps snow for the entire 12 hours we were on route and when we are getting absolutely pounded by spindrift avalanches. The weather would always break for an hour or so whenever I would think about retreating, therefore inspiring us to push higher.

    We got through most of the cruxes before stopping for about 30 minutes at the base of the last one, The Nose pitch. The pitch goes at A2 so we knew it would take a bit more time than the previous pitches. I aided up the pitch in slings and set up a belay at the top of the steep section and settled in for the most uncomfortable belay of my life. As Nik jugged the pitch I got absolutely destroyed by spindrift. I donned my Feathered Friends Frontpoint Parka and goggles to keep me out of the elements as much as I could. As my legs went numb from the hanging belay, and the snow entered my goggles and jacket, I remember thinking this is what we came for. This is what you hear about when you hear stories from the badass hardmen of the Alaskan alpine. This is adventure. This is changing how I think about climbing and how I think about my life. This is what we came for!

    The excitement was marred when I heard Nik yelling and screaming that his crampon just broke while jugging the pitch. With the wind increasing and snow picking up, the mountain guide in both of us told us to reach the top of the technical climbing and take the West Face Couloir descent before we were ripped from the mountain. Which is what we did. But we felt good about our day; we battled through snowy difficult conditions and got a proper Alaskan alpine experience.

    Back at camp, Nik repaired his crampon and we set our sights on the last objective of our time in the Toke before bumping somewhere else in the range. Some guys that had been on the Colton Leach told us that a route called “Scorched Granite” (M7, AI6) looked like it was in. The route had been established by Josh Wharton and Will Mayo a few years prior, so we decided to go check it out.

    Camp Life in Alaska. Camp Life in Alaska.

    The climbing was spectacular getting to the base of the route, about 1000ft of WI4 in this absolutely massive ice runnel that makes up the lower portion of the Colton-Leach. We were able to do one simul block to the base of the route, fighting the calf burn of a thousand suns. From our vantage point the route looked good, thinner than it appeared from the base, but doable. It was Niks lead. Nik took the rack and started delicately stemming up this shallow iced up corner. He reported that that ice was significantly thinner than it appeared, not thick enough for screws, but the climbing wasn’t bad.

    He continued up the corner to about the halfway point of the pitch, he stopped for a bit, then continued. I assumed he had gotten some gear where he stopped but wasn’t sure. All I could see was was a fixed piece of cord in some snow at what looked like a good first belay. Nik climbed to the cord, and clipped a draw into the anchor, he leaned back to start testing the anchor while still on his feet and holding a tool. The anchor immediately blew and Nik lost the tool and was in the air. The pitch was so steep it looked like a sport whipper. I braced for impact, not sure if Nik had gear in, and what the quality of the gear was. I fully expected him to whip past me and factor 2 my 2-screw anchor.

    Luckily, Nik had 2 pieces in at the mid pitch mark, so he stopped suddenly as he hit a block half way up the pitch. All told it was every bit of a 50 foot fall. I was upside down wrapped in the rope, and he was upside down and screaming when the fall stopped. I thought he must have some sort of massive injury with the velocity he picked up while in the air.

    I fought his screams with mine yelling his name “Nik…Nik…NIK!” he stopped yelling and looked at me “Dude, I’m so sorry” he exclaimed, “I should have backed off the pitch”. I told him that I didn’t care what he should have done, it was done, I wanted to know what hurt on his body. I quickly lowered him to the belay and we made a quick assessment. His ribs hurt and his shin felt like it was bleeding. “You gotta be kidding me, that’s it?” I said. It was incredible, that was it, just a gash on his shin and some badly bruised or minorly broken ribs. We could not believe it. We threaded down the Colton-Leach, got to camp and flew Nik out to the clinic for some stitches that day.

    Looking back on the accident I am overwhelmed with how lucky we were. We had as good an outcome as you could ask for with the events that took place. With hindsight, we can see that the route was not in; compared to the the pictures published after the first ascent there should have been significantly fatter section of ice where Nik fell. Lesson learned, go with your gut.

    Nik and I grew a lot as partners that day; overcoming that level of stress and exertion will do that. We both have even more respect for putting ourselves in those situations now, and it will forever change how we look at potentially hard and dangerous pitches in the future. But once again, we got what we came for; a serious adventure. This type of climbing is inherently dangerous, since you could do everything right and just be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and get smoked by a rock. After the accident, these thoughts are very much in the front of both of our heads now, and hopefully will remain there. But in the end, we all accept those risks when we go into that environment.

    So although our trip was cut short, we are ok with it. We met some great people, had an absolute blast climbing together, and learned from the mountains. Cheers to many more trips to come Homie.

    Follow Nik and I as we head out on our first Himalayan adventure this fall! Thanks Feathered Friends for helping making this dream a reality.

    Instagram: @pugliese.mark and @mirhashtag.

    Cooking and staying warm in the Frontpoint Jacket. Cooking and staying warm in the Frontpoint Jacket.
  • Art in the Mountains

    Behind the work of Artist and Alpinist Nikki Frumkin.

    Sloan Peak painting by Nikki Frumkin

    This week our Seattle store just got even cooler with the addition of an art installation showcasing the work of local artist, Nikki Frumkin. We are hosting a little reception tonight (6/23/16 at 6:00PM), and her work will be on display through July 20th. If you can't swing by in person, here is an interview with Nikki about her art, Seattle, and her awesome adventures. .

    Mountains, Volcanoes and other high places. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, don’t be surprised to find Nikki sitting on her backpack surrounded by the snowy cascades and drawing in her sketchbook.

    What inspired you to start painting?

    I have been painting since I was a small kid. There is something inside of me that needs to represent my ideas about the world on drawing paper. When I moved to the Pacific Northwest three years ago, I found myself in the midst of the most stunning landscapes and mountains. They just begged me to climb and paint outside.

    I am lucky to have found what I love and do. A professor in college once told me my art would never go anywhere, but I’ve always know drawing and painting is part of who I am.

    How did you end up in Seattle, and how has this place influenced your work?

    I actually grew up in New York State which is so different than Washington. When I left New Paltz, NY I ended up in Seattle on a whim. I had no idea I would fall so hard for Washington. I like to joke that Seattle is like a mini Switzerland, embraced by the Cascades and Olympics. I feel really at home here.

    My art tries to capture the wonder I feel when I am in our mountains. Because our landscapes are so unique and beautiful it is really easy to feel connected to the wild here. I am so inspired by people who say my work speaks to their relationship with a mountain I have painted. Hearing that I have captured the magic of what makes someone’s favorite mountain unique is so awesome to me.

    Nikki Frumkin painting in the swiss alps

    Your paintings and sketches have gained a strong following on social media. How did that start, and how has the online community impacted your art?

    Social media (and instagram specifically) is a really powerful visual storytelling tool. It allows me and other painters, photographers, writers and artists to tell a unique story that might not otherwise be heard.

    I like to think people feel the joy of the mountains when they look at my paintings. I really appreciate all the encouragement I am getting when people leave kind words or buy art. It is such a joy to be able to make art and adventure in the wild.

    With so many beautiful things in nature that you could paint, why are mountains your primary focus?

    Mountain lines really captivate me. There is a powerful and calm energy in the mountains. I just can’t stop.

    Mount Rainier Painting by Nikki Frumkin

    When you make a new piece, what does the creative process usually look like?

    My favorite way to make a new painting is at camp, in the mountains! When everyone drops their packs for a lunch break, I usually pull out my sketchbook too. It is these moments in high places that drive me to keep painting and exploring.

    I almost always bring my sketchbook and watercolors with me into the mountains, even if it is only one piece of paper and a pen. The best times to paint are on lunch breaks or at camp. Then I like to wrap myself in my puffiest jacket and start drawing. I use strong black lines to capture the movement and energy of the mountains. If I am painting, I bring a water brush because it has a reservoir of water in the handle that allows me to paint without needing a cup of water. In this way following leave no trace principles is super easy.

    How do you balance outdoor adventure, art, and work?

    It takes a lot of energy! I usually adventure on the weekends because I am a preschool teacher at a play based program in Seattle that shares my values of learning through play and in nature. Luckily, I get to take time off preschool to go to the mountains and paint. I also make and sell prints and original paintings. I love to do commissions for people based on their favorite mountains and landscapes.

    Nikki Painting at Artists Point, Mount Baker

    What advice do you have for someone interested in painting outside?

    Just do it! Pull some pens out of that messy drawer in your kitchen and stick ‘em in your pack. If you can, get a friend to go with you so you can draw together!

    I wrote an article for The Outbound about how I got started trail painting. You can read it here: The Out Bound: How I took My Painting to the Trail

    What are you currently working on?

    I am working on a bigger painting on Mount Adams based on a ski tour we did earlier in the year! It was an awesome summit! The moment when you reach the summit and can see to the other side is humbling. On that trip I found the time to make 3 drawings in just two days of climbing and skiing.

    I am also have a few commissions in progress that I am excited about. Some from mountains I have climbed and others not.

    Head over to my instagram: @drawntohighplaces and my website www.drawntohighplaces.com/prints.

    Nikki Frumkin stretch at mount rainier

  • How to Have Fun Climbing Mount Rainier

    Rainier, Approaching camp muir

    Thinking about climbing Mount Rainier this summer season? Here are a few lessons learned the hard way. Text and images by Claire Giordano.

    Every summit bid is different, even on the same route. Each time we venture into the mountains we move out of our safe, comfortable, and controlled environments into a setting where we are surrounded by factors out of our control. From weather to snowpack to our fellow team members, the mountains strip away the conveniences and routines of everyday life and test our knowledge, resilience, and judgement. With so many unknowns, we have a much higher chance of success if we prepare for the factors that we can control.

    1. Prepare your mind as well as your body.

    Mount Rainier is one of the most stunning mountains in the country, rising from conifer foothills to its white snowy peak at 14,416 feet above sea level. It also has a reputation for being a bit of a sufferfest. In order to find the fun in this kind of ascent, our bodies and minds have to be up for the challenge.

    Before my climb, the majority of my training focused on strengthening my body. For six months I did one to two longer hikes each week with a heavy pack, increasing the weight by set increments. In between, I biked to work, did yoga, ran hills, and jogged stairs. I tried to keep as active as possible, while also listening carefully to the aches and pains in my body and taking rest days as needed. The months of preparation meant I could go into my climb confident in my body’s abilities.

    This confidence is only part of the preparation, however, because the mind has to be strong enough to motivate the body to work. Unlike my previous summer mountaineering trips, this one was cold...really cold (at least for me). 5 degrees fahrenheit ambient temperature and 50 mph winds. Cold enough that I had to leave a sweater in my pack wrapped around my water bottles, and my frozen bagel required a fair bit of gnawing and slobber to eat. There is nothing quite like cold to sap one’s motivation. And added on top was the darkness, thrilling and terrifying at the same time. At each crevasse crossing, my headlamp would dance shadows across of the icy walls, the bottom invisible below.

    In these conditions, the ascent became centered on maintaining focus as I put one spikey boot in front of the other spikey boot that always liked to trip me. My longer hikes (slogs) with my pack had prepared me somewhat for this, but ultimately it was yoga that helped me to stay focused and keep a good attitude. I turned to a repeated mantra, or a short phrase, to guide my focus, modulate my breathing, and keep my thoughts on the present moment. In staying attentive to the mist of my breath in my headlamp, the crunch of snow in my crampons, and the coolness of my ice axe griped in a thick glove, I was experiencing every moment. And while not every moment was a bonanza of joy, the overall climb was much more enjoyable because I kept a positive attitude.

    Mount Rainier, Disappointment Cleaver Route

    2. Food. Food. And more food.

    An ultra runner once told me that whoever can eat the most in the shortest amount of time wins. I think mountaineering also adheres to this theory. The surest way to ruin a fun day is to get too hungry and cranky. Not only does a hungry tummy make us pissed off at everything, but it also seems to reduce our mental acuity and focus. I can always tell when I am hungry because my inner dialogue shifts from “look at that pretty icicle” to “when will I be off this dumb slippery bad idea of a route?”

    Before you climb, spend a lot of time trying different foods on your hikes. For years I swore by protein bars of various manufacturers, until I tried to eat one that was frozen solid. Never again. I now go for bagels and other easy to eat carb and sugar loaded things like pastries, bread, dried fruit, nuts, and cookies or even some energy chews. The mountains have a weird ability to take away the appetite, so finding things you will actually eat is another foundation of a successful ascent.

    I stop every hour at most, and try to take in at least 300 calories. In the cold this was a lot harder, however, so I pre-loaded with a huge breakfast of oatmeal, nuts, and dried fruit. With that on board, I was ok eating only about 150 calories an hour to the top, and then switched back to normal intake amounts on the way down.

    My personal favorite: bagels. Bagels with peanut butter, bagels with salami, bagels with sirracha… anything that makes those carbs taste good, even when frozen-ish.

    Looking upon Camp Muir

    3. Learn how to pee in the cold.

    Ok, this one is mostly for the other adventurous ladies out there, but learn how to use a funnel. Many guiding companies will recommend this, and they are 100% correct. I will never, ever, ever have my bare butt out in 50 mph wind and blasted by ice pellets. Its is as unpleasant as it sounds. And you moon everyone, all the time, since you are stuck to each other with ropes and simply can’t wander far on a crevassed glacier. Not to mention that the de-layer and re-layering process is made 100x harder by a harness. So, trust me, it is worth it to put in the time and become a pro at peein like a man.

    Camp at Ingraham flats

    4. Become an expert napper.

    This is a skill best honed over many months, so start now. On my trip, I was the only one who got decent sleep, and it made a huge difference. I was much more chipper after our summit and nearly 10,000 vertical feet of descending than my teammates. I attribute it to my high school days of taking 30 minute naps during late-night study sessions. Like any other skill, napping requires practice to not only fall asleep quickly, but also to train the body to feel rested after only 30 min.

    I recommend learning some kind of meditation technique to help put you to sleep. This can be as simple as intentional breathing, or as complex as a mental check-in with each part of the body (or a body-scan meditation). While many people make summit pushes on zero sleep, even a few hours can make a huge difference in how energetic you feel, and how much fun you will be having once the adrenaline of the ascent wears off.

    practicing snow skills above camp muir

    4. Focus on your breathing.

    We take it for granted that our bodies will breathe. They do it all day, every day, for our entire lives. Sometimes, however, our bodies need a little extra help to do it right.

    At low altitudes and in everyday life most of us use only the upper portions of our lungs. Pause, and direct your attention to your next breath; does your chest or your belly move with each inhale? Most likely you used your chest and neck muscles only.

    At elevation the body has to work harder to supply the oxygen that our working muscles require. This means that one of the easiest ways to help your body perform is to use all of that available lung capacity by belly breathing. Instead of using the auxiliary muscles of the chest and neck to inhale and exhale, use the strong diaphragm and core muscles. Outwardly, this will look like your belly is moving in and out slightly as you breathe; this is the kind of using-all-my-lung-capacity breath we want in the mountains.

    This technique of diaphragmatic and regulated breathing is so important, it is taught to Navy SEALs. Before, during, and after combat many are trained to do the 4x4 breath, which is a simple breath pattern of inhale 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, exhale 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, and repeat. You may have to work up to a duration of 4 seconds, but practicing breathing techniques over time strengthens and stretches the body so it can breathe more efficiently, and focuses the mind.

    The second main technique to use on Rainier is pressurized breathing, or a forcible exhale every so often. I ended up doing one every ten breaths. To do it, purse your lips and force the air from your body, and exhale as long as possible.

    Focusing on the breathing maintains our attention and keeps us in the present, where we are more attentive and less likely to make a mistake. Happy muscles are muscles that have enough fuel and oxygen, so we need to do all we can to help them take us up and down the mountain.

    Mount Rainier peeps through clouds

    5. Take moments to look around.

    When climbing, I sometimes find myself in the zone of focused unfocused-ness. I am moving, aware, alert to hazards, but not truly present or observing my surroundings fully. I am in a head space oriented to ascent and descent. In these moments, I try to stop for a few seconds to look around me and notice; the colors of icicles caught in the first light of dawn, the scalloped surface of the snow, the way dark rocks silhouette against the moon. I stop, and remember why I am out here. I am here to challenge myself, to learn, and to enjoy the stunning expansive overwhelming beauty of the mountains.

  • Warmth for Two

    Penguin Double Bag

    Feathered Friends Double Bags

    When we started making down gear in 1972, Feathered Friends was a small operation run out of our founders’ basement. Each bag was a design adventure, from exploring baffle techniques to fabric choices and shape. The founders also had complete freedom to create what they wanted, from specialized alpine gear to versatile bags that could support a wide variety of outdoor pursuits. It was from this pursuit of versatility that the Feathered Friends double bags developed.

    At their inception, the doubles started as simple wide full zip sleeping bags that were favored by one person looking for extra comfort and space (or by the occasional two if half the party didn’t mind having a hood on their side of the bed). The next step was to make a groundsheet for the bag, and then to add a second draft tube to both sides of the zipper, so everyone stayed warm regardless of which side of the bag they got.

    As more and more people started using the bags primarily for two, the founders decided it was time to revisit the design and optimize it for versatility. The result are bags that have an optional and removeable hood and groundsheet, so they can be used comfortably by one or two people. This design is alive and well in our very popular double bags the Penguin and the Condor.

    The Penguin is a semi-rectangular bag and one of our best sellers. It has been on adventures big and small, keeping people warm in tents, vans, campers, and under the stars. Of the double bags, the Penguin is the lightest weight but still very warm, so it not only works for backpacking trips but is also at home in cabins or campers. The condor is similar, but features a full rectangular shape. With the optional groundsheet and hoods, you can build your ideal sleep system with exactly the features you need.

    The last double bag, and the most specialized, is the Spoonbill. Created 5 years ago in collaboration with climbers, the Spoonbill was made from the beginning for two to share on big wall climbs where space is limited and sharing body heat important. What makes the Spoonbill unique is not only the shape, but also the two hoods that are separate and cinch fully so each sleeper can be as warm as possible. Often, climbers will cut two closed cell foam pads and insert them directly into the bag for light padding.

    Check out our video to see how the whole sleep system works!

  • Roadtrip Reports: Arches

    Arches-Feathered-Friends-Journal

    “For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels.” Edward Abbey

    In 1956 and 1957 Edward Abbey was the park ranger for Arches, at a time before it had achieved National Park status and when the unpaved roads were more traveled by tumbleweeds and lizards than visitors. Now, the park is visited by 1.5 million people each year.

    Even with this incredible number of visitors, Arches retains its sense of awe and wonder. Of all the parks I visited, I saw more people here who were simply standing, observing, and marveling. You know you are somewhere special when a child’s expression of awe at the 290-foot expanse of Landscape Arch is mirrored on the face of the adults beside them.

    Exploring Arches is much easier than trying to navigate Escalante, as almost every hike starts and ends at the single paved road. The road can get crowded, and one of the biggest benefits of visiting on the fringes of the peak season is fewer people throughout the small park.

    If you are someone who likes to camp, the Arches campground is one of the best I have ever stayed in. Situated right at the end of the road, the campsites are nestled below red slickrock formations or look out over the distant mesas and La Sal mountains. The spectacular nature of the reservation-only campground means that the spots are all claimed early… if you know you want to stay, plan well in advance and expect to try to reserve your spot the first day reservations open.

    Sunset-sleeping bag-Feathered Friends

    If park service campgrounds aren’t your style or you’re on a last minute mission, check out the many camping areas scattered across BLM lands just outside of the park.

    Pro tip: I highly recommend an early start, especially later in the year. In past visits I started every hike shortly before dawn to take advantage of the cool morning temperatures and enjoy a few moments of solitude. This also allowed me to maximize the best light. Landscape arch is unbelievable in the morning, right as the golden light of dawn filters over the mesa. Delicate Arch, however, is best in the evening, but don’t expect to have the place to yourself; photographers and hikers usually line the entire natural bowl surrounding part of the Arch.

    When exploring the Southwest, Arches is on the top of my list every time.

    Delicate Arch and Eos jacket

  • Roadtrip Reports: Escalante

    Escalante, Boulder Airport sign with Eos jacket

    A bright blue fuselage sticks out of the sand and sagebrush, adorned with the words “Boulder Airport and UFO Landing site.”

    After hiking through sagebrush, stunted pines, and a light drizzle I finally arrived at the blue structure I spotted in the distance miles before. The man-made monolith is one of the many gems waiting to be found by intrepid visitors to the Escalante National Monument in Utah.

    The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was created in 1996 by Bill Clinton and encompasses 1.9 million acres of land. To put that in perspective, the monument is slightly larger than the entire state of Delaware. As a National Monument, the land is managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and is protected from many forms of development and use (but not all) and is open to more recreational activities than National Parks.

    There are a few things that make exploring Escalante an adventure, no matter where you are going.

    First, the road signs that say “high clearance vehicles only” are not kidding...my Subaru lost some paint along the way. Many of the access roads to hikes are unpaved, and a high clearance vehicle would increase the probability of getting where you want to. There were also some roads with such bad washboards I worried the car would shake apart then and there, but the rewards were worth it (and I guess a good test for the car’s durability).

    Second, finding the trailhead is an adventure in itself. Trailhead markers exist, but are not always easy to find and are rarely next to the road. Unlike National Parks where signs lead you everywhere and the best attractions are easy to locate, in Escalante the best hikes and trips require a lot of effort, time, and a willingness to go out in the middle of nowhere.

    With this in mind, the most accessible day hike is fortunately also one of the most beautiful. Lower Calf Creek falls gives a little taste of everything, starting with an incredible drive from Escalante. Leaving town, the road winds its way across a plateau of stunted pine trees, and then drops down into a magnificent and vast expanse of slickrock. The road continues through white, red, pink, yellow, and everything in-between shades of rock that are swept and contorted into flowing patterns and convoluted cracks. The best is yet to come, however, as the road takes you over a hogback…

    This part of the road is not for the faint of heart. At one point, the narrow two lane highway is a white knuckle traverse of a spine of rock, with big airy cliffs on either side. Get your most confident driver behind the wheel, enjoy the views, and marvel at the gumption of Utah road builders.

    Escalante-Calf-Creek-Falls-Sketch-SEO

    The hike starts a little farther along the road, and is well marked (for once) with a good sized parking lot that fills up quickly. I have done this hike three times now, and it never gets old. The trail meanders next to the creek, and I am always surprised at the verdant oasis of startlingly green plants nestled between slickrock cliffs coated in streaks of desert varnish. Keep your eyes out for petroglyphs on the distant walls and granaries perched high above the creek floor. The ultimate reward, however, is the tall waterfall at the end. The cool air is welcome after the sunny hike, and in the past the more intrepid members of my group have gone for a cold swim.

    Escalante has many other gems, from the boulder airport fuselage marker to slot canyons and crazy mountain roads with names like “Hell’s Backbone.” With the right sense of adventure and navigation, you can get to scenery as remote and stunning as you wish.

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