Friday, February 12, 2016

It's High Time!

It’s High Time

Book, flying off Everset, Dave Costello
Flying off Everest
I just finished reading “Flying off Everest” by Dave Costello. His fascinating book is about the two Nepali men, Sano Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa, who decided to climb Mount Everest together, jump off the top and paraglide down to the confluence of the Dudh Khosi and Sun Khosi River. From there they planned to kayak to the sea. 

But there is a catch, or two. For one there were insufficient funds, and no equipment. Oh, and no permission. Then there was the small problem that Babu who usually lived at lower altitude had no technical climbing experience and suffered from altitude sickness. Not such an advantage for an ascent of the World’s highest peak. The other had climbed Everest before but couldn’t swim, and had never kayaked before. You just know it’s going to end badly. 

I enjoy discovering about people who quietly take off and do something, simply because they want to. They make something happen, even if it’s not always precisely what they had originally envisioned. 

As the late Doctor Mike Jones said “You conceive the idea, you plan it, you carry it out and you get a great feeling of satisfaction.”

book, Canoeing down Everest, Mike Jones
Canoeing down Everest
Mike Jones conceived the idea of kayaking down Everest. In 1976 at the age of 24 he set out with a few friends to paddle the Dudh Kosi River from its melt-water lake source 17,500 feet high on Mount Everest to its junction with the Sun Kosi River. 

This set a new altitude record for kayaking. It was also rather steeper than anything they had paddled before. The Colorado River through Grand Canyon falls 10 feet per mile. The Dudh Kosi falls 280 feet per mile. 

You really get a real sense of his youthful exuberance from reading his book “Canoeing down Everest.”  (That of course is the old British usage of “canoeing” to describe “kayaking”. Those who enjoy a single bladed paddle in Britain get their fun “paddling Canadians”. I’ll say no more.)

Mike Jones had a series of amazing adventures with his friends because that's what he wanted to do. After great success on a number of significant rivers before and after including the Dudh Kosi, sadly one adventure went astray. In 1978 Mike Jones perished on the Braldu River in Pakistan, trying to save a friend. 

In his memory Mike’s parents Molly and Reg set up a charity, now part of the Winston Churchill Travel Scholarship. It is for “people doing expeditions, with preference given to kayaking and youth”. Dave Manby, who paddled with Mike Jones on the Dudh Kosi and also the Braldu, came up with the idea of a memorial Rally: the Mike Jones Rally, and organized it for ten years, hosting thousands of paddlers for riotous wet weekends in North Wales, white water kayaking the River Dee at Llangollen in cardboard kayaks with everyone dressed up as… well, you get the idea. These events raised significant funds for the charity. The rally still thrives, no longer on the Dee, but instead I believe mostly on the Tyne.

40 years after that first kayak descent of the Dudh Kosi River, I’m happy to see Dave Manby still out there and active. He has even been remastering the original film of the 1976 Everest Descent. He has made a huge contribution to the kayaking world, not least in taking disabled people on whitewater, and helping young paddlers fulfill their dreams. Likewise the legendary Mick Hopkinson, probably the most experienced in the 1976 team, is still out there making and playing waves in New Zealand and USA. I’m glad Mike Jones made such an impact, but sad that he was not around for longer.

But what of the two Nepali with the idea they conceived? Fast-forward to 2011: “Let’s climb to the top of Everest, jump off, paraglide to the river and paddle to the sea.” There is undeniably a poetic completeness about such a trip, from the word’s highest point above the sea, down to the sea. 

If their plan succeeded they would start kayaking at the place where Mike Jones and his team finished theirs in 1976. The Sun Khosi River is forceful here, with serious rapids, so what were these guys thinking? Lakpa could not swim. He had never sat in a kayak before. No problem, we’ll paddle tandem: really? I won't spoil the story; it's a good one and very well told in Flying off Everest.

Thank you Dave Costello for bringing this story out! It’s a great read! 

These two books do make a great pairing to read together:
Flying off Everest” by Dave Costello, Lyons Press, 2014
"Canoeing down Everest" by Mike Jones, Hodder & Stoughton, 1979

Open a new book! It’s High Time!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Roseate Spoonbills in Florida

Roseate Spoonbills

One thing I love about kayaking in Florida is occasionally spotting roseate spoonbills, feeding at the water’s edge, resting in the mangroves, or flying overhead. One of the most outrageously colored birds of Florida, the roseate spoonbill's rich pink coral color intensifies in winter as mating season approaches. But what appears as a flash of brilliant pink at first glance is in fact a gradation of color which includes white plumage, pink, bars of dark cerise, almost red-pink, and a patch of yellow.
A roseate spoonbill in the mangroves on Weedon Island FL

Roseate spoonbills, along with many other exotic Florida birds, were hunted for their spectacular plumage. The feathers were used to decorate ladies hats, boas and ornamental fans. The species became so rare in North America that by the early 1900s there were less than 50 pairs surviving. Thankfully laws to protect the birds, outlawing collection of the feathers, led to re-population, mostly by birds moving in from South America. Now there is an estimated population of more than a thousand pairs. 

Spoonbills feed by dipping their bill vertically into the water and swinging their head from side to side so the long bill can scan a wide arc for food. Crustaceans such as shrimp, small fish, insects and small mollusks are the main diet.

The spoon-shaped bill that gives the bird its name

Their bill is strangely shaped like a spoon, leading to its name. Shrimp, rich in carotenoids, gives the feathers their distinctive pink color. Without this component of its diet the feathers stay white, as they are in young birds

The strange head of a spoonbill

Florida Bay is the sea kayaking area where you will most likely see colonies of roseate spoonbills, but individuals and small groups may be spotted almost anywhere in Florida. The images here are from Weedon IslandPreserve in Tampa Bay, where you can rent kayaks from Sweetwater Kayaks.

Flamingos at Seattle Zoo

Flamingos are often associated with Florida, but mostly they are only seen as the smaller garden ornament species. Flamingos are related to spoonbills, and have a similar color plumage resulting from a similar diet. Flamingos have a very different shaped bill, and they feed with the bill upside down in the water. Real flamingos are rarely spotted in Florida, and when they are they are most likely to be individuals escaped from parks. If you see a bright flash of pink in the mangroves it will almost certainly be a roseate spoonbill.

For kayaking trips in Southern Florida, check out my book "Guide to Sea Kayaking in Southern Florida", (Globe Pequot Press). 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Putting it Together after Outdoor Retailer summer 2014

Outdoor Retailer at Salt Lake City can be an intense experience. It'll leave you fried unless you practice a little moderation. There’s so much to see it’s difficult to come away with a clear picture of what’s new, what’s for you, or how many friends you've caught up with! Here is a palette of summer 2014's offerings for 2015.

Approaching Salt Lake

To my delight I ran into Karl Kohegan at Kokatat. He showed me Kokatat's new modular dry-suit, the Idol. It’s in two pieces, a top and bottom that simply zipper together. No bulky roll of fabric, and no struggle to climb inside. The challenge for such a system is sealing the meeting of the two ends of the zipper so they don’t leak.  
Karl Kohegan (left) shows me the Idol dry-suit

Kokatat solved this with an ingenious watertight locker box positioned at the end of the zipper. Clamped shut it seals the gap. 

Here is the locker box to seal the zipper ends

So, gone are the days when you torment yourself deciding whether to carry both drysuit and paddle jacket on expedition to allow for changing weather. Now you can take both in one.  With the top half of your drysuit functioning as a dry-cag, you can enjoy the freedom of bare legs whenever you wish. Simply zip on the legs to have a full dry-suit when you need.

Complementing that revolutionary modular system, Kokatat also designed a fully modular accessory and pocket system for their Poseidon PFD. Look out for the Idol and Poseidon from January 2015.

Working with Point65 take-apart plastic kayaks and SUPs... modules that clip together to form solo, tandem or longer kayaks, I know how easy it is to throw the sections of a kayak into the back of the car for transport. 

How to carry modular SUPs or take apart kayaks when your car is full?

But sometimes there is conflict for space when you need to carry camping gear too, or fill your car with passengers. Then a trailer is the most energy efficient thing to have so you don’t need to burn the extra gas to car-top your kayaks. Tom Dempsy, who I have known since he became one of the founders of LiquidLogic Kayaks, developed his own special brand of trailers, Sylvansport

In a trailer of course. Tom Dempsey with the GoEasy trailer

These extremely versatile trailers exploit Tom’s experience in the world of roto-molded kayaks as well as his considerable engineering and design talent. Watertight storage in roto-molded lockers are accessible via kayak-style hatches, and you can go for as basic or as deluxe a system as you wish. Tom's full-comfort Go trailer blossoms into a luxury tent with sleeping platforms in addition to loads of cargo space.

Together... Go Easy (left) and the Go trailer (right)

The smaller GoEasy trailer can be fitted with bars to carry up to four one-piece kayaks, or you can simply stack your modular Point65 kayaks in the trailer bed, and your kit in the watertight locker. This utility trailer metamorphoses with the modular addition of the Roost Explorer 2-person camping pod that adds as a top platform to the trailer, which hinges up as a tent like a wedge on top. 

The Go Easy trailer by SylvanSport

When not in use the trailer stands on end with tow-bar detached for compact storage. These trailers are stylish, well engineered, ready for action, and made entirely in USA. Very cool!

Returning to Point65 and a Swedish engineering perspective, the new item in their line is a spine-protecting back-pack… or to be precise, a whole range of them. Originally designed in Sweden as a way to protect your expensive lap-top in case of a spill when cycling, the packs were safety-tested in Germany to discover they perform to the highest rating of any purpose-built spine protector on the market! So they’re used for motorcycling, skiing, mountain biking, and skateboarding as well as just looking the coolest on the city street.

Point65 spine-protecting backpacks

Richard Ohman of Point65 could be seen at intervals throughout the Outdoor Retail Trade Show beating volunteers across the back with a baseball bat. The impact is spread so well you feel just a gentle push forward and you only feel about one-hundredth of the blow when wearing the backpack. Without the backpack? No volunteers.

The Point65 backpack protects your back and your laptop

These backpacks have been hiding well for maybe fifteen years, but now under Point 65 you will see them coming out and about from next spring, on the backs of photographers and sportspeople as well as protecting precious electronic devices on the road and in the office.

So… today's summary, a great new dry-suit innovation, a look at some special trailers, a new launch for a unique backpack from the company known for its and a sideways glance at take apart kayaks. A good show.