Training: Rust Never Sleeps The animals we pursue are fighting for their lives, getting wiser and stronger while we sit in our warm, comfortable homes, getting weaker. Although a joke, there’s some truth. Hopefully, we’ve used the winter months to become smarter, more durable humans, and now it’s time to knock the rust off and ramp up our training. Success last season guarantees nothing this year; only dedicated effort over time helps consistently slant the odds in our favor. Spring sets the tone for the year, both mentally and physically. Focused training develops & refines skills creating confidence allowing us to react on split-second gut instincts. Hike, hunt, forage, and fish. Take the lessons from last year and develop new skills while polishing existing ones. The fast pace of summer will quickly consume us, so now is the time to lay the foundation, build reps and chart our course for the year. Gear Locker: Protekt Energy & Hydration: Don’t Cramp my Style Fueling yourself for rigorous trips in the mountains is as much about sustaining mental function as physical capacity. The wilderness is unforgiving to the ill-prepared and weak. There is no equity or fairness, only meeting the challenge and rising to the occasion to achieve your goals or failing in the attempt. For years, I’d struggled with leg cramps during backcountry trips and other endurance events. The issue put me in a deficit and at times threatened my safety while in technical terrain or compromised my mobility in remote settings. I remember sitting on the ground rubbing my thighs on one trip, willing them to stop cramping as I tried to stand up. During these excursions, I’ve also experienced the fog of cognitive decline, missing shots, making poor decisions, and taking too much risk. On one remote fly-in hunt, the best navigator in our group said he didn’t know where we were as he referenced his map while hiking back to camp. I’d never seen him this way and understood at that moment how far out we’d put ourselves. Depleted after twelve hours on the move, we’d pushed past our reserves and were cognitively impaired. Over time, I’ve managed these backcountry afflictions with awareness, medical advice, diet modifications, lessons from friends, and becoming a more active participant in my backcountry fueling. I’ve never been loyal to any “supplement company,” figuring they were all pretty much alike, and suffering as I have, I’d tried most of them in a quest to improve performance. Last year I started experimenting with the Protekt series of products at the recommendation of a friend. I know the guys over at Protekt, and each is a stud in their respective outdoor disciplines, so I figured I’d give them a try. From the unforgiving desert South West to the Arctic slopes of Alaska and the rugged mountains of the West, I didn’t struggle last year as I had previously. After almost a year of trials, from hunts to ski touring and daily workouts, I feel I’ve found some supplement solutions to my backcountry woes. The lack of cramping has been apparent, but more subtly, was how the Protekt Hydration and Energy kept me steady, with consistent energy and no crash. Upon reflection, I also realized my cognitive functions were better during grueling trips allowing me to perform closer to my expectations. Last fall, on day four of the trip and day 21 of my elk season, I was firing physically and mentally on all cylinders. Reacting quickly near dusk, I was able to assess the situation, maneuvering swiftly into position, and place a lethal arrow and follow-up shot in quick succession, dropping a great bull within 85 yards. I attribute that primarily to my training but also being fueled correctly kept me cognitively strong in the mountains. The Protekt liquid stick packs are unique and require no mixing, which is fantastic with cold water where powders clump. They possess no sugar and are easy on my stomach even after several retched days of choking down backpacking food. I also like the flavors, which is important if nauseous from altitude or exertion. My observation is the Protekt products have helped me perform and recover better from my training and adventures this past year. This past year at the end of a long day I even created a backcountry cocktail from a few of my favorite flavors of Protekt. If so inclined, below is my world-famous Mountain Margarita recipe for at home or in camp. Required: 1. A 32 ounce Nalgene bottle and a good attitude 2. Take one packet of Pineapple/ Coconut or Lemonade Protekt 3. Add two ounces of your favorite tequila (Hornitos Black is a favorite) 4. Add 16 ounces of filtered mountain water 5. Add one cup of snow; if available 6. Shake vigorously, sit back and enjoy Protekt www.protekt.com Protekt Energy Stick Pack $20 Protekt Performance Hydration Stick Pack $20 The Closet: The Wind Layer; A Force Multiplier My crampons bit aggressively into the ice and wind-hardened snow while the self-arrest ski poles offered additional insurance. Winds howled out of the North, at times pushing me around on the narrow ridge as I gained elevation. Nearing the top, I hunkered down out of the wind behind a small cornice, unclipping my bow from the pack. The harrowing climb had made me question my motivations for hunting Mountain Goats alone in the December backcountry. Easing along the ridge, I scanned for the small herd of goats I’d spotted from below almost 3 hours before. The rut was in full swing, and the mature billies would be hanging around the larger herds. I knew from past experience they wouldn’t move in this wind or time of day unless pushed. The mountain dropped precipitously into steep cliff bands, avalanche chutes, and uncertainty to my left. The slope to my right was more manageable, with benches and wind-scoured slopes where the goats had been feeding on exposed grasses and lichen. After 20 minutes or so, I found the herd and maneuvered in above them, sometimes having to drop off the left side of the ridge to avoid detection. Settling in behind a rock, I took up my vigil, waiting for the animals to put themselves in a vulnerable position. I’d been on the go since before sun-up, and it was good to take a break after 6 hours. I hoped to arrow a goat and be off the mountain before dark. Winter days in Alaska are short, so the window of opportunity was narrow. I felt a sense of urgency, knowing I still had a long ski and a river crossing to get me back to my truck. Moving my cramponed boots under me, I crouched as the group of Mountain goats began feeding uphill in the afternoon light. Nocking an arrow, I waited in anticipation for the opportunity I’d worked so hard to create. A mature, wooly, pissed stained monarch of a billy began feeding under me as I clipped my release to the bowstring. As the beast came broadside and looked away, I slowly rose and drew my bow. This hunt perfectly illustrates the performance of a technical clothing system when combined with the understanding of heat loss. Knowing an opportunity could develop quickly on that ridgeline, I didn’t want to put on my puffy jacket and pants, feeling they’d make me too bulky to draw my bow or maneuver over the technical terrain. Instead, I relied on the wind-stopping layer to limit convective heat loss and keep me warm in conjunction with other clothing. Wind will quickly strip away body heat if you’re left unprotected outdoors, and that loss accelerates when you or your clothes are damp, say, from a strenuous hike uphill. Understanding convective cooling and how to counter its forces allows you to adapt your layering to the situation to stay warmer in the field. On the goat hunt, it was very windy and cold. I was wearing a thin wind shirt over my base layer and under the active insulation, along with a pair of Windstopper tights under my softshell pants while moving. I layered a hooded Windstopper jacket on top to provide additional protection and warmth as I climbed and hunted the ridge. The wind layer is a critical yet misunderstood layer in a technical clothing system. It protects you on chilly mornings or late evenings and sheds light precipitation, preventing you from having to stop and put on rain gear. Windstopper shells also breathe better than rain gear, providing better moisture management, reducing sweating and dehydration. There are numerous options of wind stopper garments, from simple wind shirts weighing only a few ounces to fully-featured jackets. Quality Windstopper shells often feature lightweight stretch fabrics, usually quiet enough for close-quarters hunting, and are durable for backcountry abuse. Applying a Windstopper shell in cool, windy conditions is often sufficient to cut the chill and provide warmth while not being bulky and restricting movement. Some may feel a wind layer is redundant, served adequately by the rain jacket, but I disagree. Most rain gear doesn’t have enough stretch, hindering movement when hiking, needlessly tiring you out, and can be loud, making it unsuitable for close hunting set-ups. Rain gear is excellent in inclement weather but is not overly durable to contend with the rugged terrain in the wilderness. I don’t want to wear out my rain gear needlessly hiking through heavy brush and blowdown to have it fail me in an afternoon thunderstorm when it’s needed most. Rain gear is also often more expensive than Windstopper options and should be kept in reserve for the wettest conditions. For me, a Windstopper shell or simple wind shirt is a workhorse in my backcountry clothing system. The numerous options available allow me to tailor this layer to the weather I expect to encounter. I can bury a wind shirt deep in my clothing for good breathability and temperature regulation with minimal bulk or use a Windstopper shell to protect me from the elements and rough terrain. Whatever the season or activity, I feel a wind layer always has a place in a technical clothing system. Minimalist Pullover: Patagonia: Airshed Pro Pullover $129 https://www.patagonia.com/product/mens-airshed-pro-running-pullover/24191.html?dwvar_24191_color=ALPB Minimalist Gore Windstopper Jacket Gore Wear: Spirit Jacket $150 https://www.gorewear.com/us/en-us/spirit-jacket-mens-100716 Simple Windshirt Black Diamond Equipment: Men’s Deploy Windshell $180 https://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/en_US/product/deploy-wind-shell-mens/ Fully Featured Gore Windstopper Jacket Sitka Gear: Mountain Jacket $279 & Vest $179 https://www.sitkagear.com/products/mountain-jacket/optifade-subalpine Media: Fieldcraft Survival Episode 278 John talks with Austin Lester about developing outdoor skills, training protocols, mindset, risk mitigation along with some epic tales. Warning; colorful language is often used while relating harrowing stories. The Word: A Stoic Approach to the Mountains I woke to the dreadful sound of rain hitting the tent. This morning marked day five of a seven-day solo Dall sheep hunt in Alaska. The weather had been pleasant the day I hiked into the valley, and I’d spotted a few young rams above camp. Since then, the fog had dropped to the deck, with rain and wind my constant companions. Mornings in the backcountry are tough for me, only made worse by inclement weather. Strong black coffee and self-respect are usually the two things that get me to sit up and face the day. The thought of crawling out from a small tent and being assaulted by inclement weather can challenge us all. But the Stoic says, “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” After embracing the sting of cold snow and wind on my face, I settle into the rhythm of the day. Gone are weak thoughts of complacency and failure. Energy builds, and I focus on the task at hand, resolving to face the challenges as they present themselves. Our mental attitude is paramount to success and often makes or breaks a trip. Don’t fool yourself; everyone struggles with these attitude issues, often internally, sometimes every morning in the privacy of their mind. One of my favorite books is Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot by VADM. James B. Stockdale. He was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam war, suffering eight years in a notorious Vietnamese prison. Admiral Stockdale was tortured repeatedly over those years, spending four in solitary confinement. He relied on all his training to survive, and maybe most important was his study and knowledge of the Stoic philosophers. This provided him the mental fortitude to deal with the isolation, fear, and physical pain from torture to endure and ultimately beat his adversaries. “If it is endurable, then endure it.” The book provides insight into a man’s mind, who’s fighting for his life and his fellow prisoners. A man who took the learnings from academia and lived the ideals of Stoicism in a deadly environment. “Circumstances don’t make the man; they only reveal it to himself.” There is much to be gained from those pages for everyday life and the apparent “hardships” we face in the wilds. Facing yourself in an austere wilderness can be challenging when stripped of society’s false luxuries and noise. Often it takes a few days or even a week to settle into the committing and uncomfortable environment of the backcountry. I’ve had to confront who I thought I was and wanted to be numerous times in the mountains, having to make conscious decisions about my mindset and actions. I’ve discovered these remote trips provide far more than a physical challenge or attainment of a tangible goal. These trips force us to mentally grapple with ourselves in stark reality and live up to or fall short of meeting our standards. For me, the stoic approach to the mountains is healthy and honest. There’s no bull shit to get in the way. We either succeed, or we don’t. This incredible challenge is what I love and sometimes despise about the wilderness. Unlike Admiral Stockdale, we have the luxury of coming home after each trip and assessing our performance. It’s then on us to apply the lessons and consciously go back for continued growth.