Tag Archives: Gear tester

Gear Review: Hilleberg Keron tents

What is it? Hilleberg the Tentmaker Keron 3, Keron 3 GT and Keron  4. If someone were to ask me today what kind of tent I want, it wouldn’t take half a second to reply the Keron series tents from Hilleberg. After testing in the Colorado Rockies, then trusting them on Expedition to the Summit of Denali, I would conclude simply that these tents are the best in the business. We were dry during rains on the lower mountain, and protected from raging winds and sub-zero temperatures on the high mountain plateaus. The double door design made living in close quarters easy to manage, and the added vestibule on the GT allowed for the versatility of storage or protected working space. The design was thought out, down to the yellow mesh and internal fabric increasing the amount of light inside the tent during daylight hours.

Camp 3 on Denali. We built it up to handle the storms. We were very comfortable in our Hilleberg tents and Millet sleeping bags.
Camp 3 on Denali. We built it up to handle the storms. We were very comfortable in our Hilleberg tents.
Camp 3, 14,000 ft. camp. We didn't know it then, but we would wait out several storms here.
Camp 3, 14,000 ft. camp on Denali. We didn’t know it then, but we would wait out several storms here.

Who are these Tents for? I can easily see this tent excelling in any climate or conditions. As an explorer and climber, I can’t think of a season or location I wouldn’t trust a Hilleberg tent to keep the elements at bay. As with any 4-season capable tent, the total weight is more than what you would want for a strictly back-packing tent, but the durability and protection make the weight worth the effort.

Pros: Very impressive durability in extreme conditions, with an attention to minute design features that make a world of difference. Easy to set up, and solid once they are. The removable internal tent with yellow fabric brightened days where being outside was not an option. More than a handful of climbing teams used the external tent as a cover for the kitchen, and the GT option made for a great design to ensure cooking in a sunken kitchen was safe.

Cons: The entire 8 For 22 Denali Team could not think of any cons. On our 27 days on Denali and many training trips, these tents stood up to all we through at them. We didn’t break any part of any of the tents and they came off the mountain in as good of shape as we started with. We can’t say the same for most of our gear.

Overall gear rating: 4.8/5.

Denali weather tents

2015 VetEx 8 For 22 Climb for the Fallen

When 7 military veterans and 1 media person decide to climb North America’s tallest mountain together as a team, amazing things start happening, sponsors step up, and each team member prepares with everything they have for this opportunity of a lifetime. This expedition was awarded a grant from Millet as part of their Millet Expedition Program (MXP).

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Dan Wiwczar, Chris Kassar, AJ Hunter, Nick Watson, Daniel Pond, Nathan Perrault, Demond Mullins, John Krueger. The 8 For 22 Climb for the Fallen Team.
Dan Wiwczar, Chris Kassar, AJ Hunter, Nick Watson, Daniel Pond, Nathan Perrault, Demond Mullins, John Krueger. The 8 For 22 Climb for the Fallen Team.

We finalized our Denali team roster after the 1st Annual VetFest (Veteran Ice Climbing Festival) in North Conway New Hampshire this January. The team would be made up of:

Dan Wiwczar, an army vet from New York, A.J. Hunter an Army vet from New Hampshire, Demond Mullins an army vet from Pennsylvania, Daniel Pond a USMC vet from Colorado, Johnny Krueger a USMC vet from Colorado, Nathan Perrault a USMC vet from Colorado, Chris Kassar , media from Colorado and myself, Nick Watson an army vet from Colorado.

Continue reading 2015 VetEx 8 For 22 Climb for the Fallen

Gear Review: Meal Kit Supply Meals Ready To Eat

MRE 3

What is it? Meal Kit Supply makes meals that are ready to eat upon opening the package. These meals are as convenient as it gets when it comes to having minimal time to prep and minimal resources available. Our “8 For 22” team used these meals on Denali during our summit push due to how time consuming it was to melt snow for water at 17,000 feet in elevation. Continue reading Gear Review: Meal Kit Supply Meals Ready To Eat

Mountaineering can offer vets a chance to get out of their ‘own head’

The Denali 7: Dan Wiwczar, John Krueger, Nathan Perrault, AJ Hunter, Nick Watson, Daniel Pond, Demond Mullins.
The Denali 7: Dan Wiwczar, John Krueger, Nathan Perrault, AJ Hunter, Nick Watson, Daniel Pond, Demond Mullins.

There’s something about veterans and the call of the mountains.

Sure, the adventure and the adrenaline and everything that comes with being outdoors is a big part of it.

But perhaps nowhere else in the civilian world is that single-minded sense of mission and clarity of focus — so much a part of military life — more evident than when a team of climbers makes a bid for a high-country summit.

“Military people just tend to get it,” says Army veteran Nick Watson, who has guided climbers for more than a decade and founded Veterans Expeditions in 2010. “I hear it over and over again: ‘This brings back everything I loved about being in the military, and none of the crap I hated.’ ”

It’s easy to see why, Watson says. It’s about “being part of a team and doing something exceptionally well, the focus to accomplish the mission and being part of something bigger than themselves. And there’s a certain element of danger. It all comes together on the mountain.” Continue reading Mountaineering can offer vets a chance to get out of their ‘own head’

July 9th – 15th, 2014 Veterans Fly Fishing Expedition

A Veterans Expedition adapting the concept of “LRRP”, Long Range Reconnaissance and Patrol to Expeditionary travel and Fly-fishing in wilderness Alaska.

Vet fly rods

From the trip log of July 9’Th, 2014. “The team assembled in Dillingham. We had a map briefing and reviewed LRRP mission goals. We had a question and answer period then everyone got busy packing waterproof bags with the minimal amount of camping gear, clothing, and fly fishing equipment needed for our expedition.”

The fly-fishing LRRP concept was a brainchild of Nick Watson co-founder and Director of “Veterans Expeditions.” He wanted to involve military veterans in expeditionary planning, travel, and fly fishing in a much more profound way than being passive recipients of a “fully guided fly fishing trip”. Nick wanted veterans to experience something more authentic, something with an “edge” that you could feel viscerally and not something “canned” with passive participation.

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Nick wanted the Veteran participants to “own” the physical challenges and to experience the wilderness profoundly. The LRRP fly-fishing trip was born. We’d travel light, scout waters about which little was known, rely on each other as a team, and with a little luck catch some wild fish on the fly!

The morning weather briefing forecast  challenging weather but the rain and low clouds lifted enough for visual flight and 8 of us in float planes departed for the bush. We flew into the headwaters of a river deep in the wilderness where Nick had reason to believe that we’d experience complete solitude in an alpine setting where the team could assemble rafts and form teams of paddlers. Then we’d train for the mission.

From the aircraft we scouted the hazards of the upper river and all were awestruck by the remoteness and beauty. The team foresaw the complexity of navigating the shallow channels and the challenges of route finding through passages choked with Cottonwood tree sweepers and tangled root wads.

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For 2 days Nick and the participants trained as paddle teams on the headwater lake. To descend the outlet river we had to get the teamwork right. The paddle training was critical to the success of the LRRP because unlike a guided raft trip where a guide, alone controls the river navigation -in a paddled craft much more teamwork is involved applying power and steering strokes.

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Fly rods were rigged and the angler/veterans who each had different amounts of fly-fishing experience practiced the techniques they’d need to augment their rations with fresh fish protein. For this type of fishing they cast large streamers imitating baitfish and took some hungry Arctic Char.

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From the log of day three. July 12, 2014. “We formed up, into paddle teams who’d stay together for the critical downriver portion and shoved off paddling down lake toward the outlet river through a series of rain squalls. We savored the alpine headwaters environment but were eager for the pull of the current downstream. Down lake there were gusty winds off a snowfield but we gathered confidence as paddle teams. At the outlet some Chum Salmon and a few pods of Sockeye were staged but our focus was on safe wilderness travel so we passed up on that fishing.

We had a LRRP safety meeting at the outlet where the river gathered strength. We discussed what we’d seen in the inbound aerial reconnaissance: ”narrow swift channels, log jams, overhanging willow sweepers, a few rocks, and some flood scoured gravel bars”. We had not seen very many easy- “no brainer” route choices. We decided we would try to send a scout boat ahead whenever the channel outcome was in doubt to prevent pinning a raft against logjams. Then we began the descent. The outcome was unknowable.

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I can’t speak for the rest of the team but “I was very anxious”. I’ve done enough descents of rarely run and never-run rivers & creeks in Alaska to know that they don’t all “work out”. This one, although we’d scouted it from the air, might kick our butts if there were major channel obstructions combined with fast current. I knew that the combat Veterans probably had a higher threshold for adrenaline and the unknown than I had.

The teamwork they had developed earlier was critical and hour-by-hour they scouted and ran narrow channels. I’ll never forget the state of alertness of all members of the team. There was not much slack in what the river offered them. There was a slim line between running a “good line” down river through the sweepers and capsizing a boat and needing a rescue. We paddled down a river about which little is known.

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No surprise that the guys dug deep and coordinated control of the boats through the narrow channels, eddies, & hazards. There were some “nail biter moments” where once you’d cleared the obstructions with your own boat then you considered the rescue options if your pals behind were in trouble. Although no one else mentioned it that day, my adrenal glands had all the stimulus they needed.

Each camp was different and we adapted to what we found. We had camps with good fishing and camps where we worked overtime to catch dinner. We had some of the most scenic camps of our lives. We even had camps without any biting insects where a person could sleep under the stars.

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Like a military campaign; dealing with gear weight is a large part of Alaskan expeditionary planning. In the case of the Veterans Expedition we had the initial constraint of fitting our gear & body weight into high performance, bush capable, aircraft and then the further constraint of moving the gear across the landscape by muscle power. Obviously with these very fit veterans the muscle part of moving gear was not a big issue but weight would be a big issue in boat performance. The heavier the boats the less maneuverable they’d be in the narrow river channels.

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What gear to leave behind to improve boat performance? Food & clothing obviously could be cut back. From the earliest stages of planning we considered what our shelter options were with respect to travelling light.

To sleep in tents or no tents? We opted to travel without tents to save forty pounds. We planned to sleep in Black Diamond Bivy sacks clustered under 2 communal  shelters.

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The fishing was a challenge for the entire trip. It was never “stupid”, never easy, and while we released the small char we eagerly cooked some larger fish to feed the crew.

In the evenings the camp was pitched and the flag raised. In the mornings the flag was properly folded and stowed for travel. This was a flag recently retired from military duty aboard aircraft flying medevac missions in Iraq and Afganistan. This was flown to honor the soldiers that had served in order that some could experience the vastness, solitude, wildness, and freedom of America’s wildlands.

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We paddled on and searched for fish- finding them generally at the confluences of tributaries. We were early in the season and the migratory Salmon & Dolly Varden Char were just beginning to arrive in this watershed. Then we explored a tannic, tea stained, creek where baby Mallard ducklings rested. An explosion rocked the water as a Northern Pike attacked a mouse pattern fly.

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We paddled on to our final camp aware that good fortune allowed these men to have survived hostile military actions. They re-entered civilian life and brought all their training & passion for teamwork together with their love of the outdoors to accomplish the Veterans Expeditions Alaska Long Range Reconnaissance & Patrol mission safely and successfully.

Mark the Man Rutherford
The author and our leader on this expedition, Mark Rutherford.

VetEx Whitewater Program Expands Colorado Trips

 

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Nonprofits to provide wilderness experience for veterans

Posted  by  & filed under Press Releases.

Veterans Expeditions, a Colorado-based non-profit that reconnects service members to one another, the land they fought for and outdoor employment opportunities, will take its second Browns Canyon expedition June 21-23.The rafting and climbing expedition is in partnership with Friends of Browns Canyon. Dvorak’s Raft Kayak and Fish Expeditions will be the outfitter and will provide guiding on the river for 15 participating veterans of diverse abilities and eras from around the country. Lee Hunnicutt of Salida is the trip coordinator.

2013 VetEx Browns Canyon crew
2013 VetEx Browns Canyon crew

“Our first such mission in June 2013 was an unqualified success, and we want to build on that,” said Hunnicutt. “Veterans Expeditions co-founder and friend Nick Watson and I share a belief based upon our own individual experiences recovering from the effects of combat and the difficulties faced while trying to reintegrate into civilian society. Each of us, and countless others, found the solace we sought in the outdoors. Wilderness provides an opportunity to view your life in relation to something far greater and can help you find or create a stable center inside you, one that you can revisit when needed. This concept has proven itself over and over, from Outward Bound to Veterans Expeditions. Lives are changed for the better by the wilderness experience.”

2014 VetEx Browns Canyon crew
2014 VetEx Browns Canyon crew

According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, 22 veterans take their own lives each day. Many more struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, lives upset by multiple deployments, financial difficulties and delayed benefits.

Watson, a former Army Ranger, recruited participants from the VetEx community. In 2013, VetEx ran more than 30 trips across the United States, getting hundreds of military veterans outside and earning the honor of 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year.

“The time spent out with all these veterans and all these service stories is nothing short of awesome,” said Watson. “Veterans let their guards down with one another, and out came the stories of war and civilian life struggles and success.”

This trip is fully funded by donations at no charge to the veterans. 100% of funds raised go directly toward trip expenses, with no administrative fees or salaries.

If you know a veteran who might be eligible for Veterans Expeditions, or to volunteer or contribute, please contact Lee Hunnicutt at lee@leehunnicutt.com or Nick Watson at Nick@vetexpeditions.com.

About Veterans Expeditions

Veterans Expeditions is a veteran led, chartered non-profit in the State of Colorado. Veterans Expeditions has an independent board and operates nationwide. Their mission is to empower veterans to overcome challenges associated with military service through outdoor training and leadership. Learn more at www.vetexpeditions.com.

About Friends of Browns Canyon

For years, a local coalition comprised of recreationists, sportsmen and local businesses have been working to protect Browns Canyon. The Friends of Browns Canyon, along with bipartisan lawmakers, are working towards permanent protection of the approximately 20,000-acre area.

Learn more at www.brownscanyon.org.

2014 Browns Canyon VetEx crew
2014 Browns Canyon VetEx crew

National Geographic Society: Innovators Project

Nick Watson: Bringing the Wilderness Solution to Vets

Mountaineering provides a powerful boost to veterans returning from war.

National Geographic Society
THE INNOVATORS PROJECT
Text by Mark Jenkins

 

A climber suddenly falls into a crevasse and Nick Watson dives into the snow with his ice ax. The rope goes taut and Watson, a bearded, muscled man, digs in like an anchor, and the climber is caught.

“You OK?” shouts Watson.

There is no answer from the climber down in the hole. He is unconscious or injured, perhaps bleeding.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out!” yells Watson anyway.

In a matter of minutes, Watson has tied off the dangling climber, slammed two stakes into the snow, and set up a five-to-one pulley system. Using his own body weight, Watson gradually hauls the injured mountaineer out of the crevasse.

Back on the surface, the unconscious climber suddenly awakes. “Wow! That really works.”

It was a simulated mountain rescue—a teaching scenario for a group of former soldiers, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, all standing in the snow.

“This is the way you save someone’s life,” says Watson.

He’s talking about basic crevasse rescue techniques, but he might as well be talking about the organization he founded, Veterans Expeditions, or VetEx, a nonprofit that takes veterans into the outdoors.

“Vets often go from a world with deep camaraderie, commitment, and excitement to a world where they are isolated, at loose ends, and bored,” Watson says in explaining the concept behind the program. Watson speaks from experience—he is a former U.S. Army Ranger—and he knows just how psychologically perilous the military experience can be: Veterans commit suicide at more than twice the rate of civilians.

Having worked as an alpine guide and a counselor in wilderness therapy programs for over a decade, Watson, 40, also believes in the healing force of nature and was convinced that a vigorous outdoor experience would be tonic for veterans, a way for them to “reconnect with fellow soldiers, get outside, and push themselves in a healthy environment.” VetEx—created with another veteran, Stacy Bare—was the outgrowth of that conviction. In its first year, 2010, VetEx took 16 veterans into the mountains for climbing; in 2011, it was over 100; in 2013, almost 300.

Things changed for me when two of my Ranger buddies killed themselves. These were guys I grew up with. I was there in seconds after they shot themselves, but there was nothing I could do.

By consciously replacing the fellowship of arms with the fellowship of the rope, VetEx hit on a novel remedy for readjustment to civilian life—a soldier by soldier, hands-on approach that larger veterans organizations like the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) couldn’t provide.

In Watson’s family, joining the military was part of the natural progression of manhood: One grandfather served in World War II, the other in Korea; his father served in Vietnam. He spent over four years in an elite Army unit, the Third Ranger Battalion, on numerous international deployments.

“I pushed myself in the military and had many intense experiences,” says Watson, “but things changed for me when two of my Ranger buddies killed themselves. These were guys I grew up with. I was there in seconds after they shot themselves, but there was nothing I could do.”

He left the Army soon afterward, but it took years for him to recover from the trauma of those deaths. He traveled around the country, worked seasonal jobs, and slowly found solace in the wild. “A therapist I was seeing at the time, a very wise woman, said something that changed my life: ‘You aren’t your experiences; you are how you process your experiences.'”

Thoughtful and passionate, with a sturdy body and three fingers missing on his right hand from an oil rig accident, Watson has been running the organization on his own since 2011, when Bare moved on to direct the Sierra Club’s veterans programs in New England and North Carolina. “We’re a grassroots organization,” says Watson. “It’s friends telling friends.” VetEx has only one paid employee—Watson—and calls on volunteers to run the outdoor “meetups” throughout Colorado.

“Our biggest challenge right now is funding,” says Watson, who relies on his partner, journalist Chris Kassar, 37, to work as VetEx’s unpaid “PR and ‘Fun’ Raising Director.” Keen shoe company and Kahtoola Snowshoes are their only equipment sponsors. “We get new vets outdoors every month, and we’re changing their lives. We don’t need a lot of funding, just enough to keep going.”

Watson, who was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for 2014, along with Stacy Bare, says his goal is to get thousands of vets outdoors by 2020, training veterans to lead trips all over the country.

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Stacy Bare, a former Army captain and Bronze Star recipient and VetEx co-founder, climbs Mount Rainier in Washington State. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS KASSAR

 

“Immediate, Intense Trust”“What Veterans Expeditions does, at its core, is re-create the positive aspects of the military without all the negatives,” says Demond Mullins, 32, an Army veteran who saw combat in Iraq in 2004-2005.Meeting up with Veterans Expeditions was so important to Mullins, a professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, that he flew across the country just to spend a couple of days climbing with fellow vets. In the snow-covered Rockies above Leadville, Colorado, they practiced technical mountaineering skills, such as moving as a roped team, self-arrest with an ice ax, crevasse rescue, crampon technique, and ascending fixed lines.Mullins has participated in more than a dozen adventures with VetEx. “On every trip I meet new vets,” he says, kneeling in the snow at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), adjusting the carabiners on the climbing ropes for a crevasse rescue scenario. “There’s always this immediate, intense trust. We have the same point of reference. We know what it’s like to put our lives on the line for each other.”Mullins, who is built like an Olympic sprinter, loves being outdoors, “working as part of a team, relying on one another—things we all learned in the military, but [now] without the threat of violence.”Epidemic of SuicideAccording to a VA report last year, 22 veterans kill themselves every day in the U.S., double the number of suicides among nonveterans. In 2012, 349 active-duty soldiers killed themselves—more than the 295 who died in combat in Afghanistan that year. Statisticbrain.com reports that 4,487 American troops died in Iraq, about half the number of soldiers who kill themselves every year. In Afghanistan, 2,229 Americans have died; more veterans than that will kill themselves at home in the U.S. before Thanksgiving this year.

One in five veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq and a stunning 30 percent of Vietnam vets have PTSD.

The U.S. military is aware of the problem, if uncertain what to do about it. The VA has set up a crisis hotline and a website offering help through direct phone contact, online chats, and other resources, but VA hospitals are notoriously backlogged and slow to respond to veterans struggling with mental illness. Brigadier General David Harris recently wrote on the Eglin Air Force Base website that “it is important for us to re-address topics such as suicide prevention and awareness.” He encourages friends and family to be alert to the “clues and warnings” of potential suicide, such as depression, drug or alcohol abuse, impulsiveness, and reclusiveness. “When we observe our wingman appearing depressed … request help early on.”

Clearly, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans aren’t the only ones overwhelmed by despair: Almost 70 percent of suicides among veterans are by Vietnam War soldiers, 50 years old or older, a community that suffered a particularly hard return to a society that was largely hostile to the war they fought.

And suicide isn’t limited to those who saw combat. A recent Department of Defense study, citing heavy drinking and depression as root problems, found that almost 80 percent of suicides are by soldiers who did not experience combat. A 2014 report in JAMA Psychiatryrevealed that almost 20 percent of Army enlistees struggled with depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or “intermittent explosive disorder”—a condition characterized by uncontrollable attacks of rage—before they joined the service.

And then there is the pervasiveness of post-traumatic stress disorder. One in five veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq and a stunning 30 percent of Vietnam vets have PTSD. Other soldiers have returned home with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), often caused by the concussive force of an improvised explosive device (IED). Unlike scars and amputations, these are the “invisible injuries” of war.

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Nick Watson teaches crevasse rescue to veterans in Leadville, Colorado. PHOTOGRAPH BY CAROLINE TREADWAY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

 

Gut-Level UnderstandingLuke Adler, 28, who served in Afghanistan in 2007-2008 and 2009-2010, is in Leadville for the climb. He is wearing his military-issue camo backpack and heavily insulated khaki military pants made for the extreme cold. In Afghanistan, he had been hit by IEDs twice and has a TBI. “This is the thing,” he explained, as he adjusted a pulley system for hauling up an injured or unconscious climber: “You do epic things in the service. It’s life or death. When you come home to civilian life, you really miss that intensity.”After he got out of the 82nd Airborne, Adler returned to his parents’ home in Iowa and fell in with what he describes as a “bad group of vets” who were using drugs and alcohol to get through the day. “It took about a year to straighten myself out. I realized all I was doing was hurting myself and everyone who loved me.” Currently enrolled at Colorado State University, he is preparing to become a high school social studies teacher.All of the vets on the Leadville outing experienced combat. Here in the mountains, they fall easily into conversation with each other about their service. It is a singular brotherhood. Their experiences were too difficult for their civilian counterparts to fathom.Samantha Tinsley, 34, earned a degree in international relations before joining the service as an enlistee, not an officer, and was deployed all over the world for a decade. John Brumer, 27, led his own 12-man squad through the mountains of Afghanistan (and is now starting his own brewery in North Carolina). Robert “Robbie” Hayes, 28, and John Krueger, 26, were in the same unit, fighting together in Afghanistan’s opium-ridden Helmand Province. Lee Urton, 32, a former Marine, was part of the initial invasion of Afghanistan and says he “lost something in the war, but I would never take back a minute of it.”It’s a common sentiment. They have suffered, but they have no regrets about joining the military. Each man and woman did something that the vast majority of Americans will never do: defend their country with their lives. One participant sketches a scene of combat with just a few words and everyone immediately knows what he’s talking about. They nod in agreement. There is no need for apologies or bragging. “They get it,” as Watson says. “They understand each other on a gut level.”

The Climb 
The next morning, after a day of training in the snow, the VetEx team snowshoes to the Tenth Mountain Division hut below the west ridge of 13,209-foot (4,026-meter) Homestake Peak. This hut is a fitting redoubt for the team to organize their attack on Homestake, only intermittently glimpsed through the swirling blizzard.The Tenth Mountain Division was created during World War II specifically to train soldiers in winter survival, skiing, and mountain warfare. The division trained at Camp Hale, built at an elevation of 9,300 feet (2,835 kilometers), 17 miles (27 kilometers) north of Leadville. In 1945 the Tenth Mountain Division breached the Apennine Mountains and played a pivotal role in the liberation of northern Italy. Some 4,000 “ski troopers” were wounded, and 992 lost their lives.By now the vets, many of whom scarcely knew each other 24 hours ago, are good friends. They’re sharing their life stories and scheming to go climbing together in the near future. Wars are fought outdoors, and returning to the outdoors is a salve.The night before, as we bunked in the homey Leadville Hostel, Watson had told me that “something happens on these trips that I never saw with civilians. There’s this incredible bond that forms, this connection. These men and women need each other. They were trained to work together toward a common goal, and that’s exactly what mountaineering is all about.”

Picture of Nick Watson talking to veterans
Nick Watson (on left) sits with veterans Demond Mullins (center) and Lee Urton (right) as they talk about the impact of mountaineering and climbing on veterans. PHOTOGRAPH BY CAROLINE TREADWAY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
This summer, the vets of VetEx plan to attempt Mount Rainier and Mount Hood. In 2015 they’re mounting a difficult expedition to 20,322-foot (6,194-meter) Denali in Alaska, the highest peak in the United States. Watson, along with Chris Kassar and vet Dave Lee, 35 (who served in the modern Tenth Mountain Division in Bosnia), are heading to Denali in two weeks to attempt the West Buttress route as a scouting mission.As for Homestake, after hours of climbing, the team is stopped by a howling whiteout and forced to turn back before reaching the summit. “Couldn’t see a thing,” Watson said afterward. “It was great training. Just like military”. 

Outdoor Retailer Show: a military veterans perspective

Keen shoe display at the Keen Booth

I spent last week in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Outdoor Retailer Show. I was there to find out what outdoor companies are working with military veterans and to remind companies to consider veterans in their marketing of outdoor gear. My goal was to partner my veteran non-profit (Veterans Expeditions or VetEx) with any outdoor company who recognizes military veterans as an educated consumer of their outdoor gear. I was also looking for the latest gear to test and review.  I was looking for companies who identified with my mission and wanted to provide gear to the veterans who come on VetEx trips. I was to report back what I found in an Elevation Outdoors Blog. I walked into the enormous Salt Palace with open eyes and ears. This is what I found.

I met with the good folks at Keen to thank them for providing shoes for VetEx veterans and talked further to see if Keen could continue to support the footwear needs of VetEx. Turns out Keen will continue to support VetEx’s footwear and wants to see veterans as Keen Ambassadors. I can’t tell you how good it feels to sit down with an outdoor company and be treated fairly and with respect even though I am not some outdoor big-shot hucking myself of anything that might kill me or claiming first ascents around the world. I am just an ordinary veteran who found peace in the outdoors and wants to share the outdoors with as many vets as possible. Keen gets it though because we “inspire” the folks at Keen by just being military veterans who want to build community through the outdoors.

Boa Bindings make Louis Garneau snowshoes a snap

I went to a sushi lunch provided by the folks at Backbone Media. It was a good opportunity to eat some great food and get some time with new products from Boa and Louis Garneau. I was impressed with the Boa bindings used on the snowshoes offered by Louis Garneau. The snowshoes were all very light with the Boa binding and the running snowshoes (center snowshoes in photo) were the lightest snowshoes I have even felt. The unique binding allows for one handed in and out operation. For veterans with hand or upper body disabilities like myself, the one handed operation is very appealing for its simplicity and ease of operation. Stay tuned as I have been promised a demo of these snowshoes when they are released this coming fall. We will have the vets at VetEx put these snowshoes and their cool bindings through a gear test and review. We will let you know how theses snowshoes stack up after solid use.

Next I met with Verde PR and got the lowdown on Julbo eyewear, K2, Madshus, and Metolius. Stay tuned on gear reviews from these companies and their products. I am hoping to get more eyewear to test from Julbo and start the conversation for them to become the eyewear provider of VetEx. Good eye protection is so important in the high mountains and most of our veterans lack a pair of solid sun glasses.

Kahtoola Microspikes see an upgrade

It was on to the Kahtoola booth for happy hour and a talk with Danny Giovale, the owner of Kahtoola. There was a large crowd gathered at the Kahtoola booth and they were giving away lots of microspikes and snowshoes. I watched them give away pair after pair. The most gear I witnessed being given away all week at the show. Danny and I sat down for a chat about how far VetEx has come. Kahtoola was VetEx’s first gear sponsor and they have been backing us since we started. I was reminded of just how down to earth Danny Giovale is as well as his entire Kahtoola gang. You will not find better people in the outdoor industry than these folks. A refreshing, made in the USA company that truly supports military veterans. Can’t say enough about the people behind such great outdoor gear. Happy to hear there will be new things coming soon from this Flagstaff Arizona company. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. Their microspikes are one of a kind and the standard for in between season mountain travel.  The snowshoe binding releases from the deck to provide instant traction to your boots.

One of my last stops was to the folks at SteriPen. You know, the ultraviolet backcountry water zapper. SteriPen was very interested in helping get vets outside. They make a special SteriPen for Special Ops that I will be testing very soon. SteriPen will also donate these cool water purification devices to VetEx for our expeditions and trips. Very cool of these guys to come in and help us out with a product that will give us clean drinking water in the backcountry.

So thats a wrap on the Outdoor Retailer Show from my military veteran perspective. I will also be testing gear from Patagonia, Mountain Hardware, Mammut, and many others. Clif will be making sure our veterans have the snacks to get us through the next backcounty challenge and beyond. I thank all the outdoor companies helping military veterans achieve their outdoor goals!

By Nick Watson, Former Army Ranger and Co-Founder of Veterans Expeditions (VetEx)

 

 

 

 

 

Gear Review: Marmot Silverton Jacket

 1. What is It? The Marmot Silverton Jacket. The color is Fern/Wintergreen. The jacket retails for $495. It is a hard shell built to withstand big mountain weather without the weight and bulk of most Jacket’s in this category. http://marmot.com/products/silverton_jacket

2. Who is this Jacket for? The Marmot Silverton Jacket is for the back country skier and snowshoer who wants a premium shell to keep them dry and protected from mountain weather. The jacket performed well on Mt. Rainier this April during many snow storms. The jacket also kept me dry in rainy Seattle. This Jacket shines as an all around versatile piece of gear for the high mountains and the city raincoat.

3. Pros: I like the pockets (2 waist pockets, 1 chest pocket, and 1 left arm pocket). I like the zippers on the jacket, pockets, and pit zips. They have always worked without hassle. I like the protection the jacket offers.

4. Cons: The jacket has few cons. This Jacket has a fitted fit which works in some cases and not others. In my case the jacket fit me great except for the extreme high mountain winter weather type conditions. I would want the next size up for 7,000 meter peaks or higher.

5. Overall Gear Rating is a 4.5 out of 5. This is the perfect 4 season mountain jacket to keep you dry.

6. This jacket is in my pack for anything the Colorado high country can throw at me.

Photo by Chris Kassar

This jacket was reviewed by Nick Watson

Gear Reviews by Veterans Who Know Gear

Photo by Peter Cameron

Gear reviews will be written by military veterans who have been using and testing gear as they train with VetEx for upcoming expeditions, races, and events. The criteria for the reviews has been created with knowledge and experience of both military deployments and wilderness guiding. We bring a very practical approach to our reviews. Please note that the gear being reviewed may have been purchased at retail, pro-dealed, sponsored, etc.

Gear Review Criteria:

1.  What is it?

2.  Who is it for?

3.  Pros

4.  Cons

5.  Overall Gear Rating

6.  Is it in my pack?

 

VetEx Co-founder Nick Watson is the primary gear tester for VetEx, and we will gladly post gear reviews from any and all military veterans who want to post their reviews here.

Gear Tester Bio, Nick Watson:  

Nick served 5 years as an Army Ranger with 3rd Ranger Battalion from 1991-1995.

Nick graduated from numerous advanced leadership and survival schools to include Airborne School, Ranger School, S.E.R.E. Survival School, Non-Commissioned Officer Primary Leadership Development Course, Combat Lifesaver, and Field Sanitation. He was involved in numerous international and national deployments. Nick has been working as an Outdoor Professional since leaving the army. He is a graduate of the Recreation Management program at the University of Vermont and has held numerous jobs in the outdoor industry to include: National Park Service Park Ranger, NPS Biological Technician, Trail Crew Boss, Wilderness Therapy Instructor, Field Director, Wilderness Guide, etc. That is 20 years of outdoor experience. Nick is an “all-arounder” who enjoys the challenge of the outdoors paddling, mountain biking, road biking, hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, climbing ice and rock, and most of all he enjoys those epic long days high in the mountains. His gear reviews focus on practical, real world application and function of each gear item. If Nick carries it in his pack, you want it in yours!

 

Photo by Scott Ostrom

Gear Tester Bio, Livio Ciciotti:

Livio Ciciotti is a native of Upstate New York where he grew up playing football and working on local farms bailing hay. Since moving to Colorado in early 2012 he has really found his home in the high country. Livio is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology where he studied Graphic Media and Communications. While attending RIT, Livio enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves, in the Infantry. Livio hoped to one day become a Marine Infantry Officer but due to a serious accident he was not able to fulfill that ambition. He served six years with India Co. 3rd Battalion 25th Marines. While serving in the Infantry Livio attended Tactical Small Unit leaders Course as well as Combat Life Saver Course and Combat Hunter Course. In 2010 Livio deployed to Southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan where he served as a Vehicle Commander and Team Leader. Livio was promoted to Sergeant and served as a squad leader before his contracted ended in 2012.

Livio loves getting high in the Colorado Rockies on isolated trails where he can enjoy the outdoors to the fullest.

Photo by Scott Ostrom

He continues to learn and advance his outdoor skills with Veterans Expeditions. His favorite part of the VetEx experience is sharing the trail with the “Brotherhood” as he calls it. “It’s a commitment that we owe each other and ourselves as veterans to stay connected and to support each other.”