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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Prepare For A Photo Expedition

Tom Bol offers his insight on how to get ready when you’re going to be out for more than just a day hike

Labels: How-ToGear

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Guanaco and mountains: Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile.
I taught for years as an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). A typical 30-day course started with issuing gear and packing food for the entire expedition. NOLS had developed formulas and recipes that could be nutritional, lightweight and tasty using whole grains, flour and sauce mixes. With these rations, we could make cinnamon rolls, quiches and falafel burgers. An excellent resource for planning your backcountry rations is The NOLS Cookery, edited by Claudia Pearson.

The lightest-weight food options are freeze-dried foods by companies like Mountain House. These meals weigh 10 ounces and only need boiling water to prepare. They’re more expensive than boxed macaroni and cheese, but if weight is your main concern, freeze-dried meals are the way to go.

If you’re planning a long trip—two weeks or longer—pay attention to your rations. Spending time in the backcountry requires a lot of energy. Your appetite will grow as you spend more time in the field. Also, if you plan to go to higher elevations, choose foods that sound appealing. Altitude dampens your desire to eat and drink. Everything takes more work with less oxygen at high altitude, and eating becomes more of a chore than a desire. We once brought thousands of energy bars on a mountaineering trip to India. Early on in the expedition, they tasted great. But as we got higher on the mountain, I began to dislike the bars. By the end of the trip, I could barely choke one down without getting nauseous!

Glenorchy, New Zealand.
How To Charge Batteries
Today, more than ever, we’re electronically connected with the world. Cell phones, iPods, laptops and digital cameras all need power. For a short trip, you only need to bring an extra battery for your camera. But what if you’re going on an expedition for a week or longer?

I have come to love lightweight, portable solar panels that roll up into a tube for transport. They come in a variety of sizes and weigh around a pound for the large version and 6.5 ounces for the small version. They come with a car lighter adapter; you just need to buy a car battery recharger for your specific camera battery. In direct sun, recharge times range from two to five hours, depending on the camera battery style.

Putting It All Together
Last summer, I helped teach a unique photo workshop. Unlike other workshops, this was a backcountry photo workshop where participants hiked with all their gear into a remote part of Alaska. I taught this class with Colby Coombs, the owner of the Alaska Mountaineering School, an authority on backcountry travel and a veteran of countless expeditions. We started the trip by outfitting everyone with lightweight camping gear and narrowing down our camera gear to the necessities. Our goal was to hike into the south side of Denali to find new, original angles of this often-photographed peak.

We started our hike with 35-pound packs and a slight drizzle falling from gray skies. After gaining some elevation, we established camp on a tundra ridge with small ponds in the foreground. Now we only needed the weather to cooperate.

On our second morning, we woke to crystal-clear skies and the mighty Alaska range stretched out in front of us. Denali was towering over the rolling tundra hills. We spent the morning creating images of Denali reflected in the tundra ponds. Later, a black bear wandered by camp. And the best part? We were the only photographers there, and our images were unique. Backcountry photography is well worth the effort.

If there’s one piece of gear that’s absolutely mandatory for any photographer trekking in the backcountry, it’s the Spot Satellite GPS Messenger. This compact device is easily packed and carried, and in the event of an emergency, it can send a message via satellite letting a predesignated contact know where you are and what your situation in. You can send an SOS, a message that calls for help but lets the recipient know you’re not in a life-threatening situation, an “I’m okay, just checking in” message or a custom message. The Spot also lets your contacts track your progress in real time by sending your position every 10 minutes for 24 hours or until you cancel it. It’s a truly indispensable piece of gear! List Price: $169. Contact: www.findmespot.com

You can see more of Tom Bol’s work on his website at www.tombolphoto.com.


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