Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gear Review: SPOT Gen3

Cost= $150-$170

There's a huge difference in backcountry and frontcountry communication. On the front range, we're used to having 4+ bars of 4GLTE, constant, uninterrupted access to social media, rapid text messages and emails. Step out into the woods, mountains or whatever backcountry scene appeals to you- and you lose a lot of that advantageous, reliable communication. I like to do a ton of solo camping, hiking, kayaking and backpacking- and the thought of running into trouble out in the backcountry without any way of contacting for help scared me. During a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park's Baker Gulch area, a dangerous storm popped out of nowhere and i was caught above treeline, by myself. That's a big no-no. What would happen if I slipped and fell while scrambling down some of the boulders? What would happen if I were half an hour away from my car and a tree fell on me, pinning me to the ground? Those worst-case scenarios above along with hearing news of a solor hiker gone missing on the notorious, Long's Peak led me to buying a SPOT Gen3 Global Satellite GPS Messenger.

For $150 (I picked up mine for $75 with a $75 rebate), you get a weather-proof, backcountry communications device with the ability to track your location as you trek, send custom preset messages to others, reach out to friends/family if you need not-so-serious help and most importantly, contact SOS search-and-rescue if you're in a life-or-death emergency.

After purchasing the beacon, you need to subscribe to monthly --or yearly-- plan for satellite service. The standard rate is $15 per month and includes all the one-way communication benefits listed above, I purchased an additional GEOS Member Benefit for an additional $2-$3 per month. As a GEOS Member, you're insured up to $100,000 per year, in search-and-rescue costs that my apply including pricey helicopter-evacuations. That's an absolute no-brainer to pay $17.95 a month for all that trusty security and extra insurance.

The SPOT Gen3 allows you to track your progress as you fill your craving for wanderlust in the backcountry. Turning on tracking mode, your exact location frequently gets pinpointed on an impressive map on your own personal, SPOT adventures site. This can be helpful for loved ones and friends to follow-along as well as give you the chance to see accurately where you trekked. A custom message function allows you to shoot-off a quick message to your predetermined contacts, and even your social followers on Twitter and Facebook. Spot's interactive, easy-to-use mobile app for both the iPhone and Android market, offers easy, on-the-go customization of your messages and who gets contacted for what, along with mobile-tracking, which is fun to go back after a paddle or hike and see where you were once returning to the trailhead.

Have a nervous loved-one or mother? The "I'm Okay!" check-in button sends a quick update with your location to ease the nerves on your favorite supporters who may worry where the heck you are in a massive national park. The red SOS button (hidden under a removable cover), is why I snagged up a SPOT Gen3 beacon though. After coming face-to-face with situations that were precarious and could have led me into deep trouble, I realized just how crucial it was that I carry a beacon. You can be the most cautious, prepared adventurer in the world but if you're out there solo and you get hurt, who knows exactly where you are? No one. Fear not, thanks to GPS satellite technology, SPOT has you covered. As soon as I strapped my beacon onto my backpack on a recent backcountry snowshoe hike in the Arapaho National Forest, I immediately felt at ease knowing that if I needed help- I could get it. Even when traversing through steep terrain surrounded by tall, lodgepole pines, the SPOT's signal still made it through fine when checking- in and tracking. I bring this everywhere I go, county parks, state parks and our country's legendary national parks.

  • Small, super light-weight and durable. 
  • Water proof, snow proof. 
  • Very easy to use and see that the device is functioning properly thanks to blinking LED lights. 
  • Included strap and carabineer allow for endless opportunities of use no matter what outdoor hobby. 
  • Fast, reliable one-way communication to satellites. 
  • Easy to sync up to social media accounts, easy to set-up who will be contacted in an emergency, check-in or minor assistance event. 
  • Inexpensive extra insurance that will save your life. 
  • Very long battery life. Takes AAA batteries, meaning no worry about finding an outlet the backcountry. 
  • Works anywhere in the world, tested and true in Iceland on a 14-day trip.
  • Subscription service can be paid in yearly-full or month-to-month. 
  • SPOT's subscription service cost is at a disadvantage compared to rival competitors like the Delorme inReach (inexpensive and flexible, pay-only-when-you-use-it) and ACR ResQLink (no subscription service needed). 
  • Only one-way communication at times might be frustrating, unlike with the two-way, Delorme inReach. 
  • Like any beacon, you must have a directly clear path above in order for transmission to satellites, this may be tricky in a thick forest. 
  • No flashing strobe light once SOS mode is activated for search-and-rescue seen on the competing ACR ResQLink. 
Bottom Line:
Buy it, there's no reason not to and there's no excuse, really. A $75 item purchase plus a subscription cost of under $15 a month for reliable, last-resort help? This is definently one, rugged piece of outdoor gear you need to have in your cache. Fun fact, since its introduction a few years back, SPOT has helped rescue more than 4,697 outdoor enthusiasts from life-threatening situations.

Buy one here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Driving Through Arapaho Bay, CO

I still cannot believe just how flippin' beautiful Colorado is and how lucky I am to live up in the mountains of Grand County. Last week while skiing at Copper Mountain with Caitlin, I was carving a bit too aggressively and the DIN settings on my bindings were, well let's just say...scary low which meant when going off of a small bump to catch some air- my right ski snapped off instantly. I came down, landed and twisted on my right foot, felt a pop nasty and slid down the hill on my back head-first. Thank God I had a helmet on. Days later, I can barely walk, I'm in constant 10/10 in pain, I must have torn something so I'm heading to the hospital in Steamboat Springs very soon. With hiking, snowshoeing and sadly rock climbing out of the picture until further notice; I'll resort to exploring around Colorado via my wagon. I live near this massive gem called the Arapaho National Forest --which neighbors Rocky Mountain National Park. Within its boundaries is the Arapaho Bay, located in a far corner of Lake Granby. Above the clear cold water, the Indian Peaks range shows off some of its prominent assets like the Twin Peaks, Mt. Acoma and bordering Watanga and Hiamovi Mountains. Before dinner came at 6pm back at YMCA of the Rockies I wanted to take a quick drive-through it, obviously I was dreaming of returning once I'm back on two-feet confidently. I entered off highway 34 just as you're approaching the town of Grand Lake, into the Arapaho National Recreation Area. I followed a 10-mile dirt road covered in icy snow that winds along the lake past tall lodgepole pines and curvy exposed rock faces. The views at sunset were jaw-dropping and gave me the chills. Again folks, we are ridiculously lucky to live on a beautiful planet like this. If you don't have all-wheel-drive or 4x4, I'd wait till the road clears so you're not stranded. Saab all-wheel-drive wagon for the win. Enjoy the photos.


On the iPod...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hiking Peaks 1 & 2 of Snow Mountain in Granby, CO (12 pictures)

Today, after finally getting used to the altitude and thinner air, climbed some elevation! Nearby Snow Mountain has five peaks, offering stunning views of Rocky Mountain National Park off in the distance, the Continental Divide and Berthoud Pass on the close horizon. The weather forecast for Granby, Colorado called for a thunderstorm with snow to happen around 5/6pm so timing was a bit crucial on this hike. At our stopping point on top of Peak 2, we were at 10,336ft. With the temperature dropping, windy picking up and dark clouds creeping across the mountains, we headed down. Next up on my goal list: climb a 12k or 13k footer, maybe even Berthoud Pass in the snow or Devil's Thumb. Woot I'm excited! The GoPro HD Hero shot some great pictures too. (Read more to see all the photos which can then be enlarged by clicking on them.)


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hiking Baker Gulch in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO (6 pictures/1 video)

For my second trip to the close-by RMNP, I chose to hike up the Baker Gulch towards Baker Pass and Mount Baker. The trail went upwards the entire way, through boulder fields, pine forests, streams and tight switchbacks. About 2.5 hours into the hike (which was around the mid 9,000ft level), a massive storm came over the mountains bringing dark clouds, strong winds and snow. Tall broad 11,000-12,000ft mountains like Bowen Mountain and Mineral Point lay on the near horizon. Without any of my alpine gear/snow gear and no SOS personal locator beacon <--definitely buying one soon, I turned around and tried to get off the high elevation as soon as possible. The last few minutes when I was at ground level walking towards my car, the wind had gotten so strong that trees were smacking into each other. Crazy stuff. It's important to realize when your personal safety grows at an elevated risk and stop. Next time I have a full, good-weather day I'll complete the trail. Photos below and video were shot with a GoPro HD Hero. The video shows a cool panorama of the view from high up on the trail, and that last photo shows exactly why I was in a hurry to get down to the trailhead. The topo map is from the fine experts at NatGeo(Read more to see all the videos and pictures, which can then be enlarged by clicking on them.)


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hiking the Waterfall Trail in Granby, CO (8 pictures)

One of the numerous hiking trails located on the 5,200 acres that is YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch. (Read more to see all the photos which can then be enlarged by clicking on them)


Monday, October 20, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Just Ranch in Granby, CO (11 pictures)

My new job, located at the YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch, sits on more than 5,200 acres of pure, Colorado wilderness with rolling hills, steep mountain peaks, rich forests and cold rivers and streams, Most of this land in which I live and work on, is untouched and undiscovered. Alongside an old, deep gold mine, are two homesteads from the late 1800s. Some of the first residents of this region in Grand County, lived on this property. Looking left provides with you views of the Continental Divide while directly ahead lay the Just Ranch, finished in 1885. Bunk houses, chicken coups, tool shops, cow barns and tons of old farming equipment. History still stands here. (Read more to see all the pictures which can then be enlarged)