Sunday, February 19, 2017

January 28-February 5, 2017: UNM Diploma in Mountain Medicine

In late January I had the opportunity to complete the winter semester of University of New Mexico’s Diploma in Mountain Medicine, offered through their International Mountain Medicine Center. This is an intense program designed to offer the highest level of mountain medicine and rescue skills and is open to physicians, mid levels, nurses, and paramedics and is internationally accredited through ICAR, UIAA, and ISMM. The program consists of 200 hours of both online and practical sessions and is world class.

I flew into Albuquerque late Friday night and early Saturday morning I met up with the eleven other students in my class, a diverse set of physicians from across the country. Saturday morning we met on the UNM campus where we were tested on knots and had our gear inspected. Following some didactics we headed outside where we tested climbing gear and recorded failure forces on carabiners, ropes, prusiks, etc. From there we headed into the Sandia foothills for field airway lectures followed by education on using a Stokes litter. After a brutal patient scenario using the Stokes off trail through the cholla and prickly pears it was on to an end of the day gathering at the UNM Emergency Department Chair’s house. 

Sunday morning it was out to the foothills again. We spent the day reviewing personal and rescue anchors, followed by rappelling and ascending. It was a good chance to unlearn some bad habits and to work on ascending, which I had never done before. We had the opportunity to use both prusiks as well as my favorite, using a Grigri and a ropeman. 

Monday morning it was back out onto the rock, but this time for rescue rope skills. We learned to set up both lowering and raising systems. We became familiar with multiple rescue belay devices, but in keeping with a light and fast approach favored by the program we spent more time using a scarab. We built haul systems with mechanical advantage set ups, going from 3:1, to 5:1, and finally to 9:1 systems. We also learned systems for lowering two rescuers simultaneously. 

Tuesday was on to southwest Colorado. We split into two groups, with six of us headed to Ouray and the other six to a cabin up at Red Mountain Pass. Much of the day was spent on the drive to Ouray. That evening we had a lecture on hypothermia followed by the infamous hypothermia lab. I was one of two volunteers for our group who had to first strip to a pair of shorts, followed by being doused in cold water to speed cooling, and finally buried in snow for 20 minutes. I was then placed in a hypothermia wrap, but didn’t truly warm up until a hot shower.

The following morning was a highlight of the trip, where we headed to the Ouray Ice Park for a morning of ice climbing. We learned how to climb with ice tools and crampons, place ice screws, v thread anchors, as well as raising and lowering from a top belay position. This day was truly a treat with beautiful weather and great ice. We then drove up to Red Mountain Pass to a cabin. We dug a quinzee as well as some trench shelters and several of us slept outside in these.

Thursday we spent the day in the field getting our AAIRE level 1 certification. We covered team and partner searches as well as learning to understand the snowpack by digging snow pits. We then ran a night multiple casualty scenario to wrap up the day. Many of us spent the night outside again.

On Friday we packed up and headed into Silverton to coordinate with their EMS/SAR group in the most avalanche prone terrain in the lower 48. A chopper equipped with an avalanche beacon came in and coordinated with us for a rescue scenario. From there we headed up to Molas Pass for another large, multiple victim avalanche scenario. Throughly exhausted, we then drove back to Albuquerque.

Saturday we went to the Sandia Mountain crest where we covered low angle rescue work and reviewed crevasse rescue. It was also a chance to review some of our techniques for the practical exam which was to occur the last day. I spent the evening reviewing rope systems before turning in.

Sunday was the last day of the semester. We were back into the Sandias onto the rock for some review in the morning followed by practical skill testing. Our skill testing required timed anchor building with a rappel, a timed rope ascent, building a rescue belay followed by converting it to a haul system using a 3:1/5:1/9:1 mechanical advantage progression, and then demonstration of the Kiwi Coil. We finished the day with our evaluation followed by dinner at the program directors house.

This was a spectacular and intense semester. I still have a midterm to take and then will be starting the online portion for the summer semester soon after. The class is top notch with outstanding faculty and I look forward to working on reps with ropes this spring so that I can head into the summer session well prepared.

Monday, February 13, 2017

January 20-21, 2017: Fish Creek Cabin, ID

Jen was down in Texas visiting Monique for the weekend, so the kids and I decided that an overnighter up at the Fish Creek Cabin was in store for the seven of us. Unfortunately, we were not very speedy in getting packed and ready for the trip and as a result we didn't leave until well after lunch, arriving at the trailhead around 1:30.

Wyatt and Slate took off down the trail and we did not see them again until we arrived at the cabin several hours later. The other six of us skied in on the road, planning to drop into the cabin from the north. We started off with everyone on skis except for Boone, who road behind me up the unplowed road in the gear sled. A little ways into the climb Laurel decided that, "I didn't know this was uphill all the day". She decided she wanted to ride in the sled too and given the rapidly advancing afternoon I agreed this was a good idea.

The six of us skied down to the cabin around dusk. Wyatt and Slate had been waiting for us for some time by the time we arrived. We got the fire going and began melting snow for water while everyone dried out.

Dinner was "camping pizza". We then spread out sleeping bags over every available corner of the small cabin before turning in. Story time was from the Chronicles of Narnia before the narrator (me) fell asleep.

Morning dawned cloudy with a balmy temperature in the low 20's. We fixed an egg and bacon omelet and assembled our gear. By 8:30 we were loaded and headed out.

Wyatt decided to accompany us this time was we climbed up to the road. From there it was all downhill back to our car. The seven of us had a great time, having logged yet another winter cabin trip.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

December 29, 2016: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

 January has been a very busy month, and as a result I have inexcusably fallen behind on my blog. To get back on track I would like to share a daytrip the boys and I took to Carlsbad Caverns in December.

 We were down in Texas visiting Jen's family for Christmas. The oldest boys have long wanted to go to Carlsbad Caverns, and it seemed as though we had the perfect opportunity to do so.

We left Lubbock  early and made the 3 1/2 hour drive to the caverns, arriving just after the park opened. We descended by the natural entrance and enjoyed walking through the  Big Room tour. We then took the elevator back up to the surface to eat lunch before heading back down the natural entrance a second time to go on the Kings Palace tour.

The Kings Palace tour takes you through a part of the cavern that had been historically open for the self tour, but due to vandalism was taken and placed on ranger only tours. It takes you through unbelievable draperies, stalactites, stalagmites. The boys enjoyed this portion of the tour fantastically. After we finished it up we walked back out the natural entrance before heading home. The four of us had a fantastic time enjoying the caverns and the boys are wanting to return for some of the wild cave tours in the future.

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016: Year in Review

The year has gone by fast, and as I'm going to be visiting family in Texas for the next week I feel like I can officially draw my outdoor adventure year to a close. I'm surrounded by the masses of humanity in the Denver International Airport and as a means to maintain my sanity I thought I would turn my thoughts towards the outdoors.

First, a quick recap of the year. For the second year in a row I was fortunate enough to spend 38 nights outside. This breaks down to seven nights canoe camping, four nights of backcountry skiing, five nights in the raft, twelve nights backpacking, one night bike packing, and the remainder car camping. I had kids out with me overnight on all but two of these nights.

Favorite trips this year included our family expedition to the Boundary Waters, the boys' and my overnight canyoneering trip in Palo Duro Canyon, and lastly having the opportunity to take my father in law and one of his close friends out on their first overnight rafting trip on the Salmon River.

The kids and I unfortunately were not able to take our annual yurt ski trip this year due to the 188,000 acre Pioneer Fire damaging the Idaho City yurts that we enjoy. However, the trip I missed the most not being able to take was a multiday raft trip with just Jen and I. This had become a tradition that due to scheduling and kids we were not able to enjoy this year.

Reviewing our goals that we had set back at the new year we had a mixed bag. We did manage our trip to the Boundary Waters and it was even better than I could have imagined, with adventure, hardship, difficult weather, teamwork, and a fantastic display of the northern lights to cap off our last night of the trip. I made it into the Seven Devils again, but not to summit He Devil (it was buried in snow). Unfortunately our plan of summiting Mt. Adams as a family did not happen because of schedules.

What about next year? Well, hard to say. This next year will be a big transition in the Griffis family as one of our daughters who has been in Texas the past year or so will be coming home. She is excited about getting back out in the woods, so it is my hope that we will get to spend plenty of nights under the stars.

May 2017 be a year of fantastic family campfires, sleeping bags and tents, and most importantly memories. Remember parents, we don't get these years back. Enjoy your kids in the great outdoors while you still can. Explore the hills and woods close to you. Take time to teach your kids to get out on their own two feet and away from the ubiquitous internal combustion engines. Stretch yourselves as a family and do more than you think you can. There are plenty of things in our lives that we can put off, making memories with our kids is not one of them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December 16-17, 2016: Fish Creek Meadows, ID

Wyatt, Colter, Zane, and I set out on what is one of our favorite trips every year, skiing into the cabin up at Fish Creek. The four of us drove up to the trailhead where the temperature was hovering around 9 degrees and loaded our packs. Wyatt decided he was wanting some solitaire and so he skied in ahead of us while Colter, Zane, and I set a little slower pace.

We arrived at the cabin around 3:00 while a cold snow continued to fall. We hauled wood in wood from the pile and the boys got to work getting a fire going in the wood stove. I put my skis back on and headed out for another 45 minutes or so before arriving back to a significantly warmer cabin.

The boys and I fixed pizzas for dinner, smelted snow for water, and then pulled out our overnight gear. Cold air seeped through the many holes in the drafty old cabin as we settled in to read. Finally, around 8:00 we turned off our lanterns and headed to sleep.

Morning dawned quite chilly, our thermometer read -3F. I headed outside to take a few pictures. The skies were much clearer than the day before and another few inches of snow had fallen overnight. The sun began to rise over the Gospels to our east and lit up the sky with an incredible palate of colors.

The boys and I fixed bacon and egg burritos for breakfast before packing our gear and sweeping out the cabin. We brought in a few more loads of wood and then headed out. The temperature had only warmed up to about 5F by the time we were putting our skis back on.

Wyatt decided he wanted to ski the outer loop and pick up a few extra miles while Colter and Zane weren't feeling quite as ambitious. Wyatt headed out alone while the other three of us backtracked a bit to shave off a little extra distance.

The boys and I made it back to the car around 11:00. I was just getting ready to head out to look for Wyatt when he came up to the car. We had a great time with wonderful solitude and beautiful if nippy weather. It marked another successful trip into the cabin.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Planning a Family Expedition: Part 3 "Feeding the Crew"

I have long spent time imagining different family trips in my mind. I will spend time studying maps, looking at guidebooks, thinking about gear, or looking at available space on the calendar. The thing I avoid, perhaps even dread, is food. Assembling a menu is by far my least favorite and the most daunting part of any family expedition.

Why is this? In daily life I like to eat. But, for some reason the idea of feeding the eight of us in the backcountry for an extended period time can seem overwhelming. Too many options, too much expense, too many questions.

Ah, but there is light on the horizon. The past few years I have sought to simplify my menus and make use of bulk freeze dried food. Instead of relying on expensive preprepared backpacking foods that tend to be unpalatably salty I have assembled 3-4 meals that I can make myself from bulk freeze dried meals and then just rotate through these on the trip.

So, how does this work. On our most recent expedition we spent eight days canoeing through the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. This trip required quite a bit of food to keep the eight of us fed, and enough variety to prevent mutiny. To accomplish this I picked two breakfasts, two lunches, and three different dinners which we alternated through.

For breakfast most of the kids like oatmeal. I bought a couple of big packages of old fashioned oatmeal from the grocery store (I brought 10 servings for each meal) and then had different freeze dried fruits (apples, blueberries, and strawberries) and cinnamon that we could mix in. For our alternate meal I mixed bulk freeze dried eggs, mozzarella, and hash browns and then added flavor packets (Scrambled with Ease) to help flavor it. The different flavors helped provide variety.

Lunches alternated between Wheat Thins and pepperoni and wheat thins with hummus mix. The Wheat Thins are relatively resistant to breaking and have long been known as "camping crackers" to my crew. We then supplemented with granola bars, freeze dried fruit mixed with almonds, and then Cliff Bars and Luna Bars for my wife and I.

We rotated three dinners. First were bean burritos. This consisted of freeze dried beans, mozzarella cheese, whole wheat tortillas, and flavored with premixed Mexican seasoning packets. The second meal was whole wheat rotini pasta mixed with freeze dried tomato paste, mozzarella cheese, texturized vegetable protein (beef flavored), and seasoned with season salt. Finally, our last meal in the rotation was dried minestrone soup supplemented with texturized vegetable protein and whole wheat tortillas. We had sides of freeze dried carrots and broccoli to go with the meals (sounds gross, but was delicious).

We ordered nearly all of our bulk freeze dried food through Honeyville. I am sure there are a great many other bulk freeze dried producers, but we have found their quality to be consistently high. The hummus was made by Casbah and we ordered it through Amazon. All others items were purchased at our local grocery store.

There are an innumerable number of ways to skin the cat of expedition food preparation, but this one has worked well for us with a minimum of food refusal. It also made packaging food for our crew relatively easy and lightweight. We have further adapted these meals to our regular backpacking trips as well. Let me know what other ideas you may have stumbled upon.

About Me

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I'm a father to seven young children and a husband to my beautiful wife Jennifer. I work as a family physician in a small rural hospital in north central Idaho. We enjoy learning more about our Lord as we explore His creation.