Articles for May 2014

“Moonshot” – Lock and load up for Alaska

“Moonshot” part 2.  “Lock and load up for Alaska”

“Moonshot” is a blog series by Heather Lavender, who’s Louisiana State University research team is headed to the wilds of Alaska to offer their expertise to help send a rocket to a moon of Jupiter!

Heather Lavender receives fire arms training in case of bear attack in the wilds of Alaska.
Heather Lavender receives fire arms training in case of bear attack in the wilds of Alaska.

I joined Dr. Brent Christner’s group in July 2013 and shortly after, Brent returned from an expedition in Alaska.  In his presentation to our group were pictures of bears, including a bear’s paw print found one morning in the camp fire ashes!   Despite, Brent assuring us that the bear in the picture was a black bear and reportedly not as aggressive as a grizzly, the only words I heard were, “bear.”  Black, koala, panda, grizzly, they all have the same last name, which means stay away, because not everyone can be Christopher Robin.  Due to even the small chance of a bear attack while in Alaska,  everyone on the next expedition would be receiving professional fire arms training.

Flash-forward to early spring when Brent asked that I consider joining the group bound for Alaska. I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough.  I’ll admit, I’m a science junkie.  I have never worked in a lab where I was not fascinated with an aspect of the research focus.  So, to be offered an opportunity to explore how microorganisms interact with the atmosphere around us…count me in!

It wasn’t long thereafter that I was learning how to hold, load and operate a 12-gauge shotgun.  If you’ve never held a firearm, a shotgun might not be your starting point.    However, for myself and fellow team member Erin Oliver, LSU junior and Charles S McCleskey award recipient, a shotgun was exactly where we started.  We met Sgt. Robert Knight at the Baton Rouge Police Academy firearm training facility and learned that using a firearm to protect yourself from a bear should be a last resort.   Hopefully, the rest of our preparations for Alaska won’t leave us near as sore and bruised.

Heather Lavender during classroom lessons.
Heather Lavender during classroom lessons.
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Erin Oliver, smiling prior to first target practice.

Look out for my next post where I will show how The Backpacker of Baton Rouge helped me pick out the perfect tent, boots and more great gear!

arabieaMay 12, 2014

“Hiking the Backbone Trail, Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana” by Anthony Arabie

Bluffs, River crossings, Scrubby Pines are not exactly what comes to mind when mentioning backpacking in Louisiana. However, that’s exactly what I found in the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness, which is located in Louisiana’s only national forest. Following the Backbone Trail, I was rewarded with a pleasant 7.6 mile hike (one way) that gave me a nice tease of hills without crossing any state lines, plus allowed me to test out both new pieces of gear and pieces that have become my “go-to” gear for many outings.

Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest strapped to an Osprey Aether 70
Kisatchie Hills Wilderness view
Kisatchie Hills Wilderness view

Since I parked at the southern terminus of the trail, I decided to hike the trail “there and back”, which allowed me to spend a few nights on the trail. Following circular arrows which blaze this established trail, I was able to get to my stealth camping spot, which was on one of the taller ridges. For this journey, I chose to carry the Flashlight 2 tent by Sierra Designs. This tent is extremely comfortable and spacious, even for taller campers due to its 42” interior height, 90” length, and 2 side gear closets. With its 3 pole design and using only 6 stakes, I was able to set up camp rather quickly, leaving me plenty of time to enjoy the views.

** I do have to warn you that this tent weighs in at 3lbs 6 oz., not making it exactly great for the “ounce counter”. However you can lighten the load by using your trekking poles instead of the two provided poles, and Sierra Designs also offers a lighter weight version (the Flashlight 2 UL). **

Backbone Trail marker
Backbone Trail marker
Sierra Designs Flashlight 2
Sierra Designs Flashlight 2

Shortly after setup, I was also able to make quick work of meal prep thanks to my trusty PocketRocket stove by MSR. This simple 3 oz. canister stove can pack quite a punch by putting off enough heat to boil a liter of water within 3.5 minutes. Combining this with the 4.2 oz. MSR Titan Kettle, I was able to make enough backcountry Pad Thai to satisfy me, even if I had my Appalachian Trail thru-hiker appetite.

MSR Pocket Rocket and Titan Kettle
MSR Pocket Rocket and Titan Kettle
Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy
Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy

Of course, camping isn’t camping without a fire, and even though it was roaring, I couldn’t resist pulling out my newest piece of gear, the 2 season Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy sleeping bag. This unique, garment-style bag features self-sealing arm ports that make reading a breeze, while you are enjoying the comfort of the 800 fill Duck DriDown insulation. It even has a stowable footbox, which allows making the move from fireside to tent super easy without having to get out of the bag.

The next morning, I was ready to put some miles in and hit the trail running. However since the trail varies from sandy and rocky sections, steep climbs, and gloriously packed tread, I was rewarded with fast hiking after huffing up the hills. I was also given a few water fords due to the trail crossing Bayou Cypre and its multiple drains. Since this was the case and that it rained the previous night, I was happy to be relying on  Chaco Z1 Unaweep sandals. I practically live in my Chaco’s, and my pack was pretty lightweight. If you are carrying a heavier pack or you are new to hiking, I would suggest a good hiking shoe (Merrell Moab Ventilator) or a backpacking boot (Vasque Breeze 2.0).

Water Crossing with Chaco's
Water Crossing with Chaco’s
Sandy Backbone Trail
Sandy Backbone Trail

Overall, I had a blast exploring this hidden gem of Louisiana, especially since this was my first time out there. If you want a longer trip, hook up with the Caroline Dorman Trail at the south end of the Backbone Trail, which will give you an additional 11.7 miles to the trip and ending you at the Kisatchie Bayou Campground.

As always, Happy Hiking!!

GoPro on an Osprey Aether 70
GoPro on an Osprey Aether 70

Written by The Backpacker Baton Rouge Store Manager, Anthony Arabie.  Anthony has worked for The Backpacker since 2008 with a couple of breaks to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and other adventures.

 

 

 

Field Test of the new Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy Sleeping Bag

Hello all, my name is Connor Roberts. I love to travel/camp, and I work at The Backpacker in my spare time.  Well I had a great opportunity to test the “better and different” Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy sleeping bag. During our last training clinic with the Sierra Designs rep, I was instantly intrigued by the imaginative features of their relaunched sleeping bag line. The Mobile Mummy piqued my interest more than the Backcountry Bed and Backcountry Quilt. The arm holes and ability to walk (hints the name Mobile Mummy!) are innovative, versatile features that separate this bag from the rest. Those were my initial thoughts, now on to what I learned about this bag while in the field.

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Over spring break, a few friends and I headed out to New Mexico to go camping in the Sangre de Cristos mountains. We had an absolute blast, but the weather didn’t always cooperate… The night before we got there, a cold snap came through and dropped close to a foot of fresh snow. We were prepared for temperatures in the 30’s, but this system dropped them into the mid-teens at night. Luckily for us, we outfitted ourselves at The Backpacker and were prepared to endure the tough conditions.

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The Mobile Mummy is a 3 season, 800 fill down bag. The temperature rating is 16-27°F. I don’t tend to get cold easily, but this bag kept me sufficiently warm- even when the temperatures dropped below 16°F. The arm holes did not allow any draft, seeing as they are self sealing. The zipper-less arm holes turned out to be a great feature for grabbing things, turning lights on/off, and reading while in the sleeping bag. An annoying, common feature of sleeping bags is the always snagging zipper. The double zipper refused to snag the entire trip due to the wide inside flap. I also really enjoyed the spacious top section of the bag. It allowed for me to roll around and get comfortable in my natural sleeping position. This freedom of movement in the upper body accentuates the only drawback of this bag (in my humble opinion), the constrictive hood on this bag. Although super warm, it made me feel claustrophobic and constrained. Now for the feature that has caused all the hype- the mobile aspect. The double zipper allows your legs to come out of the bottom of the zipper opening. The footbox then conveniently gets hooked up to allow an unhindered walk. Because I did not want to damage the brand new demo gear, I was unable to utilize the comfort and warmth of this bag around the fire and campsite but can imagine how great of a feeling it is to wear this bag around the camp fire.

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After spending a few nights up in the mountains north of Sante Fe, we all wanted to go south and enjoy some temperate weather. At Villanueva State Park, we found the warm, desert climate in which we could relax. After being holed up in the tent, I wanted to enjoy the multitudes of stars that night. In order to see the stars, I was required to sleep without the fly on my tent. This poses a distinct problem when it is cold at night. Although this arid landscape is hot during the day, at night the temperature drops quickly. When you are a warm cocoon in your sleeping bag, you condensate in the colder temperatures (why the fly is important for keeping the condensation out). This wetness will soak the down; therefore, crushing the loft of your bag (the feature that keeps you warm). Thanks to Sierra Designs Dridown technology, I stayed dry and warm all night- despite having formed considerable condensation on the bag. This feature makes this bag a piece of dependable survival gear.

I hope y’all enjoyed my findings about this great piece of gear. If you have any further questions, come visit us in the shop and pick the brains of our very knowledgeable staff.

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– Captain Red Beard

 

“Moonshot” – LSU Research Team Gears Up for their First Expedition to Alaska and Beyond!

I am Heather F Lavender, Research Associate with Dr. Brent Christner’s research group (http://brent.xner.net).  Our lab, at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA studies microorganisms living in permanently cold environments.

Throughout my career I have worked in several laboratories focusing on a range of microorganisms such as Klebsiella pneumonia, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  A common thread throughout past labs is that all of the work was performed in the lab.  I now find myself carrying out laboratory and field-based projects.  Within this blog, I will give my perspective of first time performing field work in the wilds of Alaska, gearing up with the help of The Backpacker, separation from family, living in a tent for a few weeks, and much more!

Drilling core samples
Drilling core samples

This summer we will sample the Matanuska glacier in Alaska to investigate the possibility that microbes are metabolically active.  We will join Stone Aerospace in Austin, TX as they test VALKYRIE for the first time outside the lab.

Valkerie Ice Penetrating Robot

(http://www.stoneaerospace.com/news-/news-valkyrie-phase-two-funded.php).  VALKYRIE is an autonomous ice penetrating cryobot, built by Stone Aerospace through NASA funding.  The long term goal of VALKYRIE is to deliver a science payload to Europa and Enceladus, both moons of Jupiter.

I hope you are as excited about this adventure as we are!  If so, be sure to follow “Moonshot”  on Geargut.com’s “Spill Your Guts” blog. Check back next week as I begin my journey by receiving fire arms training to protect myself and colleagues in the case of a bear attack and I head to The Backpacker to pick out tents!