Anything that did not fit under another heading...
If you have comments, questions, corrections, praises, or whatever, or just want to get in touch with us, please send us E-mail at feedback at ericandlucie.com. We respond to all e-mails. Sometimes, if we're in the bush, it can be a few days (weeks?) before we get to our mailbox, so be patient.
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Omega Pacific is now helping us to gear up for some of our snow and ice climbs. Did you know that in addition to carabiners and nuts - which they are well known for - they now make technical ice tools, mountaineering axes, pickets, and screws? We've been using their Bulldog ice tool on a number of alpine ice outings in the last couple of years and we love it: simple, straight-shafted, light, and so cheap! Lucie took them to Bolivia as her only technical tools and she swears by them. The pick is surprisingly effective in water ice as well. And I am not saying this just because they gave us another set! Also, if you haven't tried their ice screws, go get one: the latest model has an aggressive tooth design that makes them easier to start than the famed BD Express. The non-foldable crank knob does get a bit in the way for racking but actually provides a more positive cranking action. They're becoming a favorite on our rack.
Five Ten is also helping with some of their climbing shoes. They recently got us each a pair of their new "Southwest" model; it features a dual hardness outer sole around the forward edge to improve micro-edging power. The sole is also designed to be flexible in the longitudinal direction to provide good smearing as well. We used them a lot at City of Rocks where many of the climbs require this delicate combination of technical edging and smearing. I must say we were impressed with the shoe: incredibly secure smearing, despite (or maybe because of) the stiff front sole. I think that the relatively stiff sole actually eliminates the feeling of slowly creeping off smears that I often have with thin-soled slippers. At Red Rocks, they were great on the steep and relentless edging of the Black Velvet Wall.
GU Sports has also agreed to help us with preferential pricing on their GU products. We've been addicted to their Chocolate Outrage GU energy gel ever since we first tried it several years ago. Eric in particular had always had trouble maintaining a steady blood sugar level on long climbs, and energy gels have made a tremendous difference. We would never get on a long route without a good supply of these. Besides, chocolate GU is just sooo yummy!
Links: Climbing, General
- Gary Clark's North American Classics. A very nice collection of top quality climbs with photos and trip reports.
- Brad's PiquaClimber site has trip reports and really good pictures of climbs throughout the western US. And he's moving to Silverton, Colorado! Lucky guy...
- The Los Alamos Mountaineers. They introduced us to climbing. Great site with links, trip reports, etc...
- SummitPost is a mountain climbing oriented info exchange site. Covers mountains worldwide.
- Cascadeclimbers.com has all kinds of beta about climbs in the Cascade Range. A good place to search for recent condition reports, particularly on alpine snow and ice climbs in the Cascades.
- Chris McNamara's SuperTopo site has up-to-date (and free) info about various climbing areas in the Western US. His topos (which you must buy) are the most detailed ever produced (actually sometimes too detailed... the forest from the trees sort of thing).
Links: Climbing Conditions, Route Information, and Weather
Southwestern Colorado Ice Climbing:
- Very nice Ice conditions page from Skyward Mountaineering.
- The Ouray Ice Park, a great resource for ice climbers in the Southwest. There's no better place to quickly and safely learn ice climbing. They also have a few words about current conditions, both in the park and around the area.
- Avalanche conditions report for the Southern mountains, from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).
- Ten-day weather forecast for Ouray, CO, from the Weather Channel.
- This Ouray web cam shows the entire town from the south.
Wyoming Ice Climbing:
- Ice conditions in Cody, WY, with pictures, from coldfear.com.
- Another conditions page at Southfork.com.
- Ten-day weather forecast for Cody, WY, from the Weather Channel.
- Downtown Cody web cam.
Canadian Rockies: Conditions
- The best source of local climbing conditions is the "live the vision" message board.
- Will Gadd's page gives conditions (winter only) and other info about ice climbs in the Canadian Rockies.
- New conditions page by Rockies Ice Specialists, a local guiding company.
- Polaris Guiding also has a very useful conditions page on their site. Mostly general observations (i.e. not about specific routes) organized by area.
- Check out our Canadian Rockies Ice page for links to avalanche and weather forecasts, and web cams.
- Another message board at waterton.blog.
- Infrequently used message boards can also be found on the websites of the Calgary Mountain Club and the Alpine Club of Canada.
- Dave Stephen's site has a good collection of trip reports with pictures for a good number of climbs in the Canadian rockies..
Canadian Rockies: Weather and Avalanche Forecasts
- Access detailed forecasts from Environment Canada for several locations in the Canadian Rockies directly from our clickable area map.
- Weather system maps from:
- Satellite image animations for Canada from:
- Avalanche bulletins from the Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA). Also accessed from our clickable area map.
- Useful beta and climbers' comments about the most popular routes at climbingredrocks.com.
- Real time weather observations at the visitor center, and Weather forecast for Blue Diamond.
- Web cam: looking Northeast at the Calico Hills from the visitor center.
- Official site for the Red Rocks National Conservation Area. This site has detailed information about camping and climbing (including the phone number for late exit permits).
- Official site of the Clark County library.
- There have been some good news recently, but Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas, one of the best multi-pitch climbing areas in the US is still in danger of being severely impacted by developers (even more than it has already, that is)! More info at www.redrock.org, or when at Red Rocks, stop by the Blue Diamond library or the Post Office.
Links: Climbing Advocacy, Access, Conservation, etc...
- There have been some good news recently, but Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas, one of the best multi-pitch climbing areas in the US is still in danger of being severely impacted by developers! More info at www.redrock.org, or when at Red Rocks, stop by the Blue Diamond library or Post Office.
- The Access Fund, of which every climber should be a member.
- The Natural Resource Defense Council.
- The Nature Conservancy.
- The Sierra Club.
Links: Life on the Road
- If you have a laptop, wireless internet access (WiFi) is quickly becoming the easiest way to access the web while on the road. Hotspots are all over the place, some free, some not.
- Incomplete, yet useful state-by-state directory of free RV dump sites across the US and Canada. No longer available for free on-line... you can buy it on a CD ROM. F%#k!
- So, you want your own bus? Check out the ads at busnut.com, or busconversions.com, or Coach Conversion Central. On that last link, find Paul Gaboury's second bus for sale: a gorgeous GM4905!! The conversion is almost identical to ours, which was Paul's first.
I've had some questions about the camera gear we use, so here it is. Before we started this trip, we'd been using exclusively old-fashioned slide film in a variety of cameras, both SLR's and point-and-shoot styles. Just before the trip, Lucie correctly pointed out that film processing and organizing slides while on the bus would likely be a nightmare, not to mention an expensive one. Assuming about three 36-exposure rolls of slides per week for about 90 weeks (the expected duration of our periple), and a conservative $17 per roll, including processing and mounting, the total expense is a whopping $4590! This more than pays for a computer and high-end point and shoot digital camera.
In the few years before the trip, digital photography had considerably evolved, to the point that for amateur users like us, and using standard gear and supplies (i.e. not the professional grade), the superiority of film had all but disappeared. A variety of cameras were now available from reputed brands, with resolutions up to the 4 Megapixel range, which I would consider good enough even for on-screen projections (assuming that high resolution LCD projectors will become available at some point in the future). The up-front investment is substantial ($500 to $1000 for a good camera, plus a good $2000+ for a decent laptop computer), but once equipped, you can take as many shots as you want for free, and discard all the bad ones without thinking about it twice. Add to that the ease of organizing, archiving, and viewing, and our mind was set.
We spent a fair amount of time researching the various cameras on the market. Our primary requirements were:
With these criteria, there weren't that many options. We compared the few potential cameras based on reviews, sample images, and tests available on the internet (there are very well done, comprehensive test results with full resolution sample images produced in controlled conditions on a variety of sites; I particularly like Digital Photography Review).
We decided to go with Canon, primarily for image quality reasons: their cameras appeared to consistently outperform the competition in color fidelity. From the research we did (November 2002), I'd say that the Canon G3 was at the time the best compact digital on the market. Unfortunately, it is a fairly large body - as compacts go - and is quite heavy. Also, it features a flip-open LCD display, which is too much too handle and too fragile for climbing in my opinion. The next step down in Canon's line was the PowerShot S45. It is essentially a compact G3, which uses the same software and sensor. The body of the S45 is very small, easy to handle, and relatively lightweight. The operation is straightforward, even with only one hand, but the camera offers a full range of manual overrides, and semi-automatic and fully manual modes. At 4 Megapixels, it more than satisfies our requirement for resolution. It offers a 3x zoom (35-105, in 35mm equivalent). The compromise is a smaller and slower (f2.8-4.9) lens, with a noticeable loss of sharpness around the edges, and more pronounced barrel distortion, compared to the G3. The battery/data storage compartment is remarkably well designed.
After a few months of use, we managed to break the LCD display on that camera while descending Mount Hood, probably from having the camera (in a soft case) bang against an ice axe while both were hanging from Eric's pack. We don't know for sure. Repairing may be an option (likely expensive) but to this date, Canon refuses to provide an estimate of repair costs. Damn them for that!
We needed a quick replacement, so we bought the successor to the S45, the Canon PowerShot S50. This is basically the same camera, except for a very slightly higher resolution sensor (5 Megapixels instead of 4). Note that in my opinion, the sensor on the S45 was a better one (seemed to provided more saturated colors than the S50). I have yet to find the energy to perform a side-by-side comparison to confirm this (the S45 still works, but without the LCD, you cannot navigate any of the features anymore). The difference in resolution is negligible: 20% more total pixels, or 10% more linear resolution. The only reason we got the S50 is that the S45 is not widely available in the US (we ordered the first one over the web). We try to learn from our mistakes, so we custom made a rigid case by inserting a rigid plastic box inside a Lowe soft camera case. Keeps the LCD out of harm. Works like a charm.
For storage, we carry two 256MB Flash cards. This is enough to hold more than 200 images, stored as full resolution, high quality JPEGs. For those who worry about data loss in JPEG processing, the camera can also store images in RAW format. We have not used this. The difference in quality is too small for me to care.
In conclusion, I must say that we have been totally sold on digital. With a good quality camera, we've found the image quality to be generally as good as what we used to achieve with slide film in compact cameras. The ability to correct the exposure and color balance after the fact is great (particularly in difficult light conditions as is the norm in amateur climbing photography).
Our reservations about battery life were somewhat unjustified. We always carry two spare batteries, and keep them warm in an inside pocket in cold weather. For ice climbing in particular, this is crucial, as a cold battery will give you only a few shots worth, instead of well over 50 with a warm battery. This approach has worked for trips up to 5 days in the backcountry. For longer trips, we've been looking for a good solar charging solution. Haven't found it yet.
The shutter lag is still an issue in my opinion, but fortunately climbing is not a very dynamic activity so it hasn't been too much of a problem for us. Think twice about going digital if you need to shoot more dynamic subjects!
Also, digital sensors do not perform well in very low light conditions. Long exposures at night produce very noisy images. This is a limitation of the current technology (noise in the sensor itself), not an attribute of one brand or the other. Camera manufacturers use various software tricks to reduce this noise but the fundamental problem is always the same.
Being able to easily access and view you photographs on the computer is a great improvement from the huge piles of slides that rarely get seen, even when well organized. And of course, maintaining this web site would be all but impossible were we using slides (scanning is VERY time consuming).