Monday, March 5, 2012

Dog Sledding in Minnesota

The Southern Terrain recently completed a winter leadership program into the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota. The group consisted of several MBA students from Kellogg School of Management. The program was staged out of Ely, Minnesota on the border of the most visited wilderness area in the entire United States.

The group arrived late Friday night and shuttled to the cabins on the shores of Gegoka Lake, MN. The following morning we had a program brief and a gear review session prior to departing for the kennel. We feasted on a large breakfast consisting of french toast, fresh fruit, muffins, bagels, eggs and hash browns to ensure we properly fueled for the upcoming adventure.

We arrived at the kennel to the sounds of over 100 dogs getting excited for their journey. Each dog an Alaskan Husky, not a bread of dog by rather a type type best known for dog sledding racing and speed competitions. We donned our insulated boots, received a instructions from our champion dog sled racing leader, and harnessed up the team. We put the lead dogs on first followed by the team dogs and finally the wheel dogs in the back. The dogs each had a very distinct personality and they knew what their roles were on the team.

As we packed up our sleds the roar of the dogs created a buzz in the yard in anticipation of getting on the trail. With a load "alright" our dogs charged own the trail pulling our sled at maximum speeds. We navigated through the forests and into open swap areas that had been frozen over for the season. The fresh snow pack provided a nice cushion for the dogs allowing the sled to glide over small roots and trees. We continued through the single track trails stopping with the occasional "whoa" to give the dogs a well deserved rest.

We concluded the day on a frozen lake where the group worked together to prepare camp, tend to the dogs, cook amazing tortillas, and build a fire on the ice. The camp was set up with nice tents but the overall consensus was to sleep out underneath the stars. It was a long 22 mile day on the trail but warm beverages and hot dinner made it easier to sink into our bags for the evening.

The following morning we proceeded to work together to break down camp, and with one leader directing the effort the camp camp down quickly. We left and led our team of dogs at a frenzied pace through the trees with numerous "haw's" and "gee's". The snow was coming down in blizzard conditions and we made it back to base in time for hot soup and scones. The team said goodbye to the dogs and drove through the elements to get to the airport on time. This unique experience created a significant amount of group cohesion, camaraderie, and opportunities for everyone to experience something outside their comfort zones.

 Stayed tuned for our next adventure update.

Kevin Jackson I I 858.356.9411

Monday, February 13, 2012

High Altitude Training

Cerro Aconcague - Tallest Peak in the Americas

By, Kevin Jackson

From Sir Edmund Hillary to the weekend warrior we are always pushing our own personal limits by going farther, faster, and of course higher than we had even been before. Our quest to challenge ourselves is what is so fulfilling when climbing a peak, running a marathon, or sailing a long distance regatta. With all these challenges come risks, and none more dangerous than that of high altitude. Altitude is generally associated with extreme conditions such as avalanche danger, hidden crevasses, freezing temperatures, remote locations, and of course limited oxygen, and if not properly planned for can cause serious consequences. Whenever doing any hiking or climbing at altitude we always prepare ourselves to have the highest chance of success whether on Mt. Whitney at 14,505 ft. or Aconcagua at 22,841 ft. When referring to preparation we are talking about your physical training, your gear requirements, and your daily routine (fluid intake, Pulse Oximeter Readings, supplements, food consumption and understanding the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness) on the mountain to optimize your chances of success.

First of all what is high altitude? Altitude can be defined on the following scale: High (8,000 - 12,000 feet), Very High (12,000 - 18,000 feet), and Extremely High (18,000+ feet). There are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that correlate with susceptibility to altitude sickness. Some people get it and some people don't, and some people are more susceptible than others. Most people can go up to 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) with minimal effect.

Your physical training is the foundation required for any mountain climbing experience regardless of overall elevation. If you want to give yourself the best chance of reaching the summit specific training is essential. When training for altitude our programs follow that designed by Mark Twight, world renowned fitness training, mountaineer, and author of “Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast & High”, and focus on distinct stages of preparation. The training program revolves around multiple stages with increased intensity aimed to peak at the appropriate time before departure. The goal of the program is to develop the strength and stamina for sustained physical ability over long periods of time as well as increasing your anaerobic threshold (AT) for improved performance at altitude. Your stages of training include; foundation building, power training (PT), cardiovascular power endurance (CPE) (increasing your aerobic capacity), cardiovascular extensive endurance training & muscular endurance training (CEE) (long term endurance with moderate level of physical output), tapering & rest, and peaking. Examples of recommended activities include; PT – Squats, lunges, step ups, CPE – Mountain biking, hill climbs with pack weight, hypoxic swims, CEE – Distance running, 10 + mile hikes, cycling.

Proper gear and equipment is critical to your climbing success and overall experience. You can be the best conditional individual on the mountain, but without proper equipment you will never make it. Whether you are traveling alone or with an operator always ask for specific gear lists and be certain you have a good understanding of what each items is. I recommend creating a checklist for all items you will need, specific to your equipment, and use that as a guideline for packing. Your warmth is essential and even with the highest rated down garments it is recommended to bring hand and feet warmers for summit pushes. Preparing your kit and making sure you have the right equipment, the proper pack weight, and spare necessities (batteries, sunscreen, lip balm, patch kit, laces, hand held scale etc.) is all part of the preparation process. Know your terrain and consult your guide until you are comfortable with your equipment before departure.

Your daily routine on the mountain will make sure you continue to recognize how your body is adjusting to the altitude and provide early warning signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Your daily routine should include; meals, hydration, supplements, planning and altitude illness scorecard. Your diet plays a considerable role in your acclimatization process and the nutritional balance is essential to keep energy levels high. Almost everyone going to altitude loses weight, both body fat and lean tissue, as a result of energy requirements increasing 15-50% coupled with a loss of appetite. Calorie intake should be up to 6000 per day consisting of 400 grams of carbohydrates.

Hydration is the key to reducing AMS symptoms and facilitates proper acclimatization. The bodies fluid requirements at altitude increase significantly and 4-5 liters per day is the recommended daily intake. This is mainly caused by increased water losses from the lungs due to the increased ventilation of cold, dry air, physical exertion, as well as the diuretic effects of altitude alone. Remember to treat all water on the mountain to prevent Giardia and other bacterial infections.

Supplements, planning, and understanding the symptoms of AMS will reduce anxiety on the mountain and enable preventative methods to be used as opposed to reactionary. Specifically, Acetazolamide (Diamox) is a prescription drug used to prevent altitude sickness and aid in the acclimatization process. Additional supplements include Ginkgo Biloba, an over the counter herbal extract which increases oxygenation and blood flow. Additionally, endurance supplements, such as Cytomax and Endurox, can assist in reducing muscle fatigue and soreness. Finally, understanding the symptoms of AMS (nausea, headache, fatigue at rest, mild swelling in extremities, dizziness) and having a daily routine to reduce these symptoms. It is important to remember that most climbs include several days on the mountain and it is not a race to top but rather a well planned and disciplined process that begins when you make your commitment to conquering any peak.

Key Points to Remember When at Altitude

1 Drink 4-6 liters of water per day and at least one liter every 3 hours

2 Climb high and sleep low - It is recommended to climb no more than 1,000 ft. per day and a rest day should be incorporated every 3,000 ft. of gain.

3 Eat a high carbohydrate diet (More than 70% of your calories come from carbohydrates) while at altitude. Suggested snacks are raisins and other dried fruits, yogurt-covered raisins, banana chips, fruit chews, jelly beans, Chuckles, Gummier Bears, red and black licorice, granola bars, bagels, toaster pastries, and fig bars.

4 Eat at least one hot meal per day - Potatoes, rice, couscous, and noodles are typically easier to digest.

5 Do not drink unpurified water or melted snow because at altitude water boils before it reaches 212°F (100°C), the boiling temperature at sea level, it needs to be boiled longer than the 10 minutes necessary for

Kevin Jackson is the owner of The Southern Terrain, an elite adventure training and guiding organization in San Diego, California. To learn more about their global adventures, or corporate development programs in San Diego, call (858) 356-9411 or e-mail at

Monday, January 23, 2012

Avalanche Safety and Back-country Skills

Avalanche Safety & Back-country Skills
By, Kevin Jackson

Snow Cat Skiing & boarding in Chile
Valle Arpa
The lure of fresh powder and the chance to avoid the crowds makes backcountry skiing and boarding an ideal way to create that picture perfect day. On a recent trip to the Chilean Andes with The Southern Terrain we had the amazing opportunity to snow cat ski some of the most remote regions of the country and experience snow similar to what you would expect in Valdez, Alaska. However, with ideal conditions comes the danger of backcountry exploration. Thankfully, our team was prepared and prudent with our situation and we enjoyed possibly the greatest day of powder anyone has ever had. While our experience was surreal, all too often the results of backcountry exploration end in unfortunate situations.
Each year, avalanches claim more than 150 lives worldwide, and thousands more are caught in avalanches partly buried or injured. With the amount of snow fall we’ve had so early in the season the avalanche danger, particularly in the Eastern Sierras, can be high so please consider these important safety precautions and instructions when entering into avalanche prone areas. Particularly, how to test for avalanche conditions, what to do if you are caught in an avalanche as well as proper rescue techniques.
How to Determine a Safe Snowpack
There are numerous ways to gauge the stability of the snowpack without technical equipment. Firstly, watch for any cracks jetting across the surface or small slabs shearing off. Also, listen for "hollow" or "thumping" noises as you walk or ski across the surface. This indicates that there is a weaker layer underneath, leaving the surface layer prone to collapse. More reliable measurements, such as snow pits and shear tests, will help you predict more accurately how stable or unstable the snowpack is.

The most effective snowpits should be dug near potential avalanche starting zones, but without putting you or other members of your party at risk. With a shovel, dig a hole four to five feet deep and approximately three feet wide. Smooth the uphill wall until it is vertical and you can see the different layers of snow. By pressing your hand against each layer to feel its hardness, you can determine whether there are weak layers.

Shear tests

From the vertical, uphill wall of the snowpit, separate a column of snow without pulling it free from the wall. Insert a shovel at the back, uphill side, of the column and gently pull on the handle. If weak layers pull loose quite easily, the snowpack is very unstable. If it takes a few tugs on the handle before any layers pull loose, the snowpack is slightly unstable.
When conducting these tests throughout the day, pay attention to the slope angle. Most avalanches occur on slopes between 30 and 45 degrees, but can occur on any slope angles given the right conditions. You can measure the slope angle with an inclinometer, or you can "eyeball" it by dangling a ski pole by the strap and estimating the angle. Layers that seem strong on a 30-degree slope may be much weaker on a steeper slope. Also, remember that the shear test relies on the pull of a shovel, not the weight of a person. You can test this by standing or jumping on the uphill edge of the snowpit, but only if you already know the snowpack is stable after conducting a shear test.

Getting Caught in a Slide
When you realize you are caught in a slide yell and try to let go of ski poles and get out of your pack to make yourself lighter. Use "swimming" motions, driving upward to try to stay near the surface of the snow. When an avalanche comes to a stop the snow can set, and become as hard as cement, and unless you are on the surface, it is almost impossible to dig yourself out. If you are fortunate enough to end up near the surface, try to stick out an arm or a leg so that rescuers can find you quickly.
 If you are buried over your head, try to maintain an air pocket in front of your face by punching the snow with your hands and arms. Many avalanche deaths are caused by suffocation, so creating an air space is one of the most critical things you can do. When an avalanche finally stops, you may have only a few seconds before the snow sets and hardens, and it is important to hold your breath before hand as you may not be able to breathe after the snow compacts around you.
Above all, do not panic. Keeping your breathing steady will help preserve your air space and extend your survival chances. If you remain calm, your body will be better able to conserve energy.
Rescuing a Victim
If your partner, or someone you see gets caught in a slide, try to watch the victim as they are carried down the slope, paying particular attention to the point at which you last saw them. After the avalanche appears to have finished and settled, wait a minute or two and observe the slope carefully to make sure there is no further avalanche danger. If some danger does still exist, post one member of your party in a safe location away from the avalanche path to alert you if another avalanche falls.
Begin looking for clues on the surface beginning with the point where they were last seen. As you move down the slope, kick over any large chunks of snow that may reveal clues. Since equipment and items of clothing may have been pulled away from a victim during an avalanche, they may not indicate their exact location, but can help determine the direction the avalanche carried them. Mark these spots as you come across them. Once the victim is found, it is critical to unbury them as quickly as possible. Survival chances decrease rapidly depending on how long a victim remains buried. Treat them for any injuries, shock, or hypothermia if necessary.
For those using probes, begin at the point the victim was last seen at, and stand in a straight line across the slope, standing shoulder to shoulder. Repeatedly insert the probes as you move down slope in a line. Pay particular attention to shallow depressions in the slope and the uphill sides of rocks and trees, since these are terrain traps where they may have been buried.
When venturing into the backcountry be sure to have all the necessary equipment, check the local weather report, and notify the authorities of where you will be going. Above all be safe and enjoy the places you’ve worked so hard to get to. 

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Backcountry Skiing
Are there any signs of excessive wind loading on the slopes?
What have the weather conditions been like the past few days? Any large snow falls?
Do you have a good sense of the snow pack and have you done any snow pit or shear tests?
Have you noticed many fracture lines, heard "thumping" or cracking sounds, or hollow noises in the snowpack?
Are you keeping an eye on the orientation and steepness of the slopes as you cross them?