AcadianX Paddling the Atchafalaya Basin
Preliminary Trip Schedule for 2021
This is a preliminary list of possible trips AcadianX may take on in 2021. This list is not set in stone but just a suggestion. These trips will only happen if there are enough dedicated people to make it happen. Usually about 3 people. If you are interested in taking on one of these trips or have a suggestion for a trip you would like to take, please do not hesitate to let us know. As usual AcadianX will provide a guide and handle all the planning and logistics leaving you with nothing to stress about except getting yourself ready and showing up.
|Month of Travel||Location||Trip Type (Route)|
|February||Everglades NP||Paddling Trip (Wilderness Waterway)|
|March||Death Valley NP||Backpacking Trip (Telescope Peak, Cottonwood/Marble Canyon Loop)|
|April||Olympic NP||Backpacking Trip (Shi Shi Beach to Cape Alava)|
|May||Yosemite NP||Backpacking Trip (High Sierra Camp Loop)|
|June||Kings Canyon NP or Sequoia NP||Backpacking Trip (Rae Lakes or High Sierra Trail)|
|July||Rocky Mountain NP or Maroon Bells||Backpacking Trip (Teton Crest Trail or Northern Traverse)|
|August||Grand Teton NP or Glacier NP||Backpacking Trip (Teton Crest Trail or Northern Traverse)|
|September||Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore||Paddling Trip (Lakeshore)|
|October||Big Bend NP||Backpacking/Paddle Trip (South Rim, Marufo Vega)|
|November||Smoky Mountains NP||Backpacking Trip|
Situational Awareness in the Backcountry
What is Situational Awareness?
If you are around me enough you will hear me harp on situational awareness. So, what do I mean by this? Part of managing safety in the outdoors (or anywhere for that matter) is being constantly aware of the current conditions and changes in those conditions. I first learned about this in the military when training as a Navy SEAL. Based on the constant life threating nature of our business, developing a strong situational awareness mindset was paramount. Situational awareness can be defined as the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status. Basically, it is the Sherlock Holmes trait. Now by no means do I expect people to run around the backcountry solving crimes but putting yourself in the mindset can be an invaluable tool and best of all this mindset can be learned.
How does this Apply to the Backcountry?
In backcountry navigation, experienced navigators both respect and are wary of using GPS device or app to navigate. It happens more than not that you see backpackers “heads down” following their tiny screens unaware of their surroundings. When you are trying to find your way in the wilderness and you simply follow the GPS device, you end up ignoring the visual cues from the terrain around you and “situational awareness” as well as safety is diminished. To combat this, let us look at a situational awareness strategy that you can follow while navigating in the backcountry that I found in the book “Mountaineering – The Freedom of the Hills” by the Mountaineers.
- Observe – Start by observing your surroundings and updating your mental map of the landscape. Where have you come from? Where are you now? Where are you going? What are the dangers?
- Orient – Correlate the surroundings with the physical map to see if they are in agreement. Study myriad details, including slope, sun position, ridges, and terrain features. Then confirm your understanding using multiple tools from the navigation toolset. Confirm the elevation with an altimeter, the cardinal directions with the compass, and your position with GPS.
- Decide – Where do you go from here? Decide on your next steps.
- Act – Hike on! And maintain your heightened sense of situational awareness by repeating the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act cycle with close observation and by continually updating your mental map while moving through the landscape.
Maintaining your situational awareness goes far beyond its use in navigation but in all aspects of your backcountry experience to include the safety of yourself and your team most of all. If you are the team leader or the guide, your job is to constantly be situationally aware of the following:
- Weather – The current and pending weather.
- Time – The time of day and how many hours of daylight are remaining.
- Distance – The remaining distance to your destination.
- Landscape – Where you are on the map, the type of terrain, your environment, and your elevation.
- Team – How many people are with you and their current location.
- Emergency – How to contact help, where to find help, best possible evacuation route.
- Resources – Current status of equipment, food, people, etc.
- Condition – The current condition of yourself and everyone else on your team regarding their health, warmth, energy level, attitude, physical condition, etc.
By doing this you are maintaining a high level of situational awareness, which in turn, will help keep you on track and your team safe, thus giving everyone the chance to have an enjoyable experience.
How to Improve your Situational Awareness?
Situational awareness is a skill and like any other skill you can train yourself to improve on it. But there lies the trick, you must train at it. Here are 10 generic ways to practice expanding your alertness, not only in the backcountry, but in your everyday life as well:
- Learn to Predict Events – The most effective aspect of Situational Awareness involves the ability to project the future actions of elements around you. After you have been able to identify elements in your environment and can comprehend the situation, it is time to take your Situational Awareness one step further. Use this information to think ahead and determine how it will affect future actions and events in the environment.
- Identify Elements Around You – The first step in achieving Situational Awareness is to become aware of the important elements in your environment. Start by noticing the threats to safety that surround you. Then expand your awareness to other non-threatening elements such as navigational cues. This is the most basic level of Situational Awareness where you begin to monitor, detect, and recognize multiple situational elements. These include objects, events, people, and environmental factors. Basic Situational Awareness also requires you to notice the locations, conditions, and actions of the elements around you. This may sound overwhelming, but do not worry. These are skills you already use on a daily basis. The first step is designed to help you expand and improve your perception of what is happening around you.
- Trust Your Feelings – Disorder within your family or a gut feeling that things are not right can cause you to lose proper situational awareness. This clue is one of the most reliable because the body can detect stimulus long before we have consciously put it all together.
- Limit Situational Overload – Overload causes distraction, increased errors, and high stress. Prioritizing and delegating tasks and minimizing surrounding distractions can improve survival during times of overload.
- Avoid Complacency – Assuming everything is under control will affect your vigilance. You must actively keep yourself in the right mindset. When things are slow, or tasks are routine complacency usually occurs. The worst part is the slow creep of complacency is hardly ever noticed except in hindsight. Continue to challenge yourself and those with you to be prepared for contingencies. Do a mental check every now and then.
- Be Aware of Time – Time is an important factor in mastering Situational Awareness. The pace of your environment is constantly being changed by the actions of individuals, task characteristics, and outside elements. When unplanned events begin to arise, be sure to make the necessary changes to your schedule and goals to help you survive.
- Begin to Evaluate and Understand Situations – The next step in involves understanding multiple elements through the processes of environmental pattern recognition, subtle landscape changes, interpretation, and evaluation. Use this information to determine how it will affect your goals or your safety. This will help you build a comprehensive picture of your immediate surroundings and a better understanding of Situational Awareness.
- Actively Prevent Fatigue – Fatigue affects your ability to watch for possible danger or difficulties. Try adjusting your work routine and imposing sleep discipline to prevent wake cycles longer than 18 hours. Make sure you get at least 5 and preferably 8 hours per day of sound sleep to minimize sleep deprivation.
- Continually Assess the Situation – When you are in the backcountry always be prepared for changes around you. Continually assess and reassess the situation to determine if you are giving yourself the best possible chance for success. Learn what nature, the land, and new tasks are telling you, before you find yourself in a difficult situation.
- Monitor Performance of Others – Be alert for changes in the performance of those around you caused by physical overload, stress, and mistakes. When changes are needed, take action by speaking up and helping out. A weak link in your team could be the difference between success or failure in the backcountry.
AcadianX in Glacier National Park
Magnetic Declination Explained
When you look at a map they are oriented as north is facing the top of the page. The north that is in that direction is known as “true north”, which means that it points directly towards the geographic North Pole. A compass on the other hand, actually points toward “magnetic north” which is slightly in a different direction than true north and that difference can vary depending on your geographic location. This difference is known as magnetic declination and is usually expressed in degrees either east or west of true north. In order to correct this, you just need to make an adjustment to the heading on your compass.
There is a line where magnetic north and true north both point in the same direction. This line is known as the line of zero declination and as of 2020 it currently runs from eastern Minnesota through central Louisiana and is noted in the picture below as the 0° line.
If you are located west of the zero line, then true north will be somewhat west of magnetic north and this is known as “east declination”. And the opposite is true if you are east of the zero line, then true north will be somewhat east of magnetic north which is known as “west declination”.
Changes in Magnetic Declination
Magnetic declination varies both from place to place and with the passage of time. As a traveler cruises the east coast of the United States, for example, the declination varies from 16 degrees west in Maine, to 6 in Florida, to 0 degrees in Louisiana, to 4 degrees east (in Texas). The declination at London, UK was one degree west (2014), reducing to zero as of early 2020.
The magnetic declination in a given area may (most likely will) change slowly over time, possibly as little as 2–2.5 degrees every hundred years or so, depending upon how far from the magnetic poles it is. For a location closer to the pole like Ivujivik, the declination may change by 1 degree every three years. This may be insignificant to most travelers but can be important if using magnetic bearings from old charts or metes (directions) in old deeds for locating places with any precision. The map in above picture shows declination for the year 2020 for the contiguous 48 states, and it will be accurate to about half a degree for most locations for a range from 2017 to 2023.
To get the current and 5 year projected magnetic declination for an area the NOAA has a great mapping tool for finding this out. You can find it here:
- NOAA Magnetic Declination Mapping Tool
Adjusting Bearings for Magnetic Declination
As stated above, dependent on which side of the zero line of declination you are on will let you know whether you need a west declination or an east declination adjustment. If you are east of the zero line then you will have a west declination, and the opposite is true if you are west side of the zero line because you will now have east declination. Examples of each can be seen in the picture below.
East Declination – When you are west of the zero line of declination remember that your declination is east. Your true bearing is the measurement in degrees from the line to true north to the line to your objective. However, the compasses magnetic needle is pulled toward magnetic north, not true north. So instead it measures the angle between the line to magnetic north and the line to your objective. Based on the example in the figure below, this magnetic bearing is 15.6 degrees less than the true bearing in Mt. Rainier. To get the true bearing you would just add 15.6 degrees to the magnetic bearing.
West Declination – When you are east of the zero line of declination your declination is west. Based on the example in the figure below, this magnetic bearing is 16.3 degrees more than the true bearing in Acadia NP. To get the true bearing you would just subtract 16.3 degrees to the magnetic bearing.
Adjustable Declination Arrow
Adjusting for declination can be simple in theory but when put to practical use in the field when it really matters can cause a lot of stress on the mind and can lead to errors in mental arithmetic leading to possible serious consequences. An easier way to handle this is to upgrade your compass to a model that is equipped with an adjustable declination arrow instead of one with a fixed orienting arrow. This feature allows the declination arrow to be set for any declination. This will then allow the bearing at the index line to be set to your true bearing.
Modified Declination Arrow at Home
If your compass has fixed orienteering arrows, you can easily modify it by attaching a thin strip of tape to the bottom of the rotating housing to act as a modified declination arrow. Trim the edge of the tape into a point and place it to where the end is pointing as in the example in the figure below.
Taking a Bearing in the Field with Magnetic Declination
In order to take a bearing with magnetic declination in the field you simply follow the same procedure as you would normally, but you would now align the magnetic arrow with adjustable declination arrow, or the taped arrow as opposed to the orienting arrow on your compass.
This information was taken from our training course on Backcountry Navigation. If you would like to know more follow the link below and register for the course. This course will teach you everything you need to know about navigating yourself through the wilderness.
AcadianXU Backpacking 101 Series – Backcountry Navigation
AcadianX in Yellowstone 2019
Mental Health Benefits of Hiking in Nature!
“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves,” wrote John Muir in Our National Parks. Clearly, John Muir understood the intrinsic value of spending time in nature. So, when Muir followed up by saying, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks,” he was clearly on to something.
Along with Muir, many of us recognize that hiking in nature is good for the body, mind, and soul. Walking through the woods while observing colorful birds and foliage, smelling the aroma of spruce and pine trees, and listening to a soothing running stream simply clear our mind and make us feel good. Lucky for us, doctors and researchers agree. Study after study shows there are many mental health benefits to spending time hiking in nature.
Hiking in Nature Reduces Rumination
Those who ruminate or focus too much on negative thoughts about themselves can exhibit anxiety, depression, and other issues, such as binge eating or post-traumatic stress disorder. In a recent study, researchers investigated whether spending time in nature affects rumination, and they found that hiking in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts.
In this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through an urban environment and a nature environment. They found that those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment, which took place in a grassland near Stanford University, reported lower levels of rumination and had reduced the neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which is associated with mental illness. Those who walked through an urban environment didn’t enjoy these benefits.
These researchers indicate that our world is becoming more and more urban and that urbanization is linked to depression and other forms of mental illness. Visibly, simply removing us from an urban environment to spend time outdoors where there are fewer mental stressors, less noise, and fewer distractions can be advantageous for our mental health. (Gregory N. Bratman, 2019)
Hiking While Disconnecting from Technology Boosts Creative Problem Solving
According to a study by Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer, creative problem solving can be improved by disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. In this study, participants hiked while backpacking in nature for approximately four days and they were prohibited from using technology. They were asked to perform tasks requiring creativity and complex problem solving. They found that those immersed in the hiking excursions had increased performance on problem-solving tasks by 50 percent.
Researchers indicate that technology and the noise of urban areas constantly demand our attention and disturb us from focusing, which taxes our cognitive functions. Thus, when we’re feeling overwhelmed from the stressors of urban life and being plugged-in 24/7, nature hikes can be strong medicine. They reduce our mental fatigue, soothe our minds, and help us think creatively. (Atchley RA, 2012)
Hiking Outdoors Can Improve ADHD in Children
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common disorder among children. Those with ADHD generally have trouble staying focused, are easily distracted, exhibit hyperactivity, and have difficulty controlling impulses.
Raising children with ADHD can be perplexing for parents. Nonetheless, great news has emerged from the medical and scientific world. In a study conducted by Frances E. Kuo, PhD and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, researchers found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” reduced their ADHD symptoms. Thus, according to this study, the benefits of exposure to nature can extend to anyone with inattention and impulsivity.
Doctors conclude that simple changes that involve green activities or settings can improve attention. For example, increasing exposure to a window seat with a green view, participating in an afternoon nature hike, or simply playing ball in the park can ease unwanted ADHD symptoms. (Frances E. Kuo, 2019)
Hiking in Nature is Great Exercise, Which Boosts Brainpower
We’ve all heard the expression healthy body, healthy mind. Hiking outdoors is an excellent form of exercise and it can burn 400 to 700 calories an hour, depending on the difficulty of the hike. An added benefit is that hiking isn’t as hard on our joints as other forms of exercise, such as running. Also, it’s proven that those who exercise outside are more likely to stick to their exercise programs, which makes hiking an excellent choice for those hoping to integrate exercise into their daily lives.
The mind and body are naturally connected. Exercise helps to keep our brain cells nourished and healthy. In fact, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia, aerobic exercise might improve memory and cognitive ability. In the study, they found that aerobic exercise increased the hippocampal volume in older women. The hippocampus is a part of brain associated with spatial and episodic memory.
Not only does exercise improve cognitive ability and possibly prevent cognitive decline as shown by the study, it can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem, and release endorphins (feel-good hormones). It’s astonishing that a physical activity as simple and low-cost as hiking can provide so many mental health benefits. (Lisanne F ten Brinke, 2019)
Hiking is Now Prescribed by Doctors
Has your doctor ever told you to “take a hike?” This isn’t a phrase that we typically want to hear, especially from our doctors, but they actually have our wellbeing in mind. Progressive doctors are now aware that people who spend time in nature enjoy less stress and better physical health.
According to WebMD, more and more doctors are writing “nature prescriptions” or recommending “ecotherapy” to reduce anxiety, improve stress levels, and to curb depression. Plus, nature prescriptions are becoming more accepted by traditional health care providers as more research shows the benefits of exercising and spending time in nature.
The state of California is traditionally one of the more progressive states in the area of alternative health. As an example, the Institute at the Golden Gate has been leading the charge to promote ecotherapy through its “Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP)” initiative. In this program, community organizations work with health professionals to improve the health of their parks, and to promote the use of parks as a passageway to health for the people who use them. (Sorgen, 2019)
Hiking Makes You Happier
Research shows that using hiking as an additional therapy can help people with severe depression feel less hopeless, depressed and suicidal. It may even inspire those suffering from it to lead a more active lifestyle.
For those who don’t suffer from depression, hiking still offers mental benefits. “Being out in nature, away from the business of our daily lives and technology, can allow people to connect with themselves and nature in a way that brings about peace and a sense of well-being,” states Leigh Jackson-Magennis, REI Outdoor Programs and Outreach New England Market Manager. (Sturm J, 2012) (Neunhäuserer D, 2019)
Some research suggests that the physical benefits of hiking extend far beyond cardiovascular health, and may even go as far as to help cancer patients recover. In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine researchers measured oxidative stress (thought to play a role in the onset, progression and recurrence of cancer) rates of women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer before and after hiking. The study found that long distance hiking trips may improve the antioxidative capacity, which helps fight off disease, in the blood of oncological patients. Another study showed that breast cancer survivors who exercised regularly — many in the form of hiking — believed that physical activity complemented their recovery from cancer treatment. (Knop, 2019)
Hiking May Help PTSD in Veterans
A new University of Washington study aims to test the benefits of wilderness hiking among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. This comes as REI pledges $1 million to fund a new health and nature initiative at the university’s College of the Environment. In an article published by REI it outlines research efforts to advance understanding of how time spent in nature improves well-being, REI is pledging $1 million to support the launch of a new initiative within the University of Washington’s EarthLab that will study the link between human health and time spent outdoors.
The new initiative, Nature for Health, builds on existing bodies of work and has grown out of years of collaboration and conversation among university researchers and leaders in the outdoor, nonprofit and governmental communities. Within the health and nature initiative, veterans will be key partners. (O’Brien, 2019)
- Atchley RA, S. D. (2012, 07). Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. Retrieved from PLoS ONE: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0051474
- Frances E. Kuo, P. a. (2019, 07 15). A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448497/
- Gregory N. Bratman, J. P. (2019, 07 15). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Retrieved from Preceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: https://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567
- Knop, K. (2019, 07 15). Sport and oxidative stress in oncological patients. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22095321
- Lisanne F ten Brinke, N. B.-K.-A. (2019, 07 15). Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume in older women with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomised controlled trial. Retrieved from British Journal of Sports Medicine: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/4/248.abstract?sid=ecff0a48-d4fd-4a9d-b34a-156ca915a79e
- Neunhäuserer D, S. J.-K. (2019, 07 15). Hiking in suicidal patients: neutral effects on markers of suicidality. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23953873
- O’Brien, S. (2019, 07 15). Can Hiking Help Heal Veterans with PTSD? Researchers Seek to Find Out. Retrieved from REI Co-Op: https://www.rei.com/blog/hike/can-hiking-help-heal-veterans-with-ptsd-researchers-seek-to-find-out
- Sorgen, C. (2019, 07 15). Do You Need a Nature Prescription? Retrieved from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/nature-therapy-ecotherapy#1
- Sturm J, P. M. (2012, 07 15). Physical exercise through mountain hiking in high-risk suicide patients. A randomized crossover trial. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22486584
AcadianX in Eagle Rock Loop 2020
How to Pack Your Backpack
Packed efficiently, a backpack can swallow an amazing array of gear. But what goes where? There’s no one right way to pack. Lay out all your gear at home and try out different loading routines until you’ve found what works best for you. Use a backpacking checklist to ensure you have everything and make notes on your list about what worked well (or poorly) after each trip.
This article offers packing tips and explains the proper way to manage your payload. A well-loaded pack will feel balanced when resting on your hips and won’t shift or sway as you hike with it.
Packing can be broken down into three zones, plus peripheral storage:
- Bottom zone: Good for bulky gear and items not needed until camp.
- Core zone: Good for your denser, heavier items.
- Top zone: Good for bulkier essentials you might need on the trail.
- Accessory pockets: Good for essentials you’ll need urgently or often. This includes the brain (top section of the pack), side pockets, and hip pockets.
- Tool loops and lash-on points: Good for oversized or overly long items.
Visualize stacking cordwood. You’re laying down rows, not building columns: Fill nooks and crannies until you have a solid, stable load—and be sure weight is equally balanced on each side. Tighten compression straps to streamline your load and prevent it from shifting as you hike.
Sleeping Bag First!
What comes out last, goes in first, because your sleeping bag is the last thing you’ll need at the end of the day. Plus, having a large, light item at the bottom of your pack perfectly sets you up to be able to pack your heaviest gear at the center of your shoulder blades. So, first thing’s first: put your sleeping bag at the bottom of your pack.
Put the Weight Where It Needs To Be
There are a few tricks that keep the aches and pains of hoisting 40-pounds of life necessities up mountains at a minimum—namely properly distributing the weight you’re carrying. Lightweight items go in first—on top of your sleeping bag. This includes clothes, and other odds and ends. Your heaviest items (bear canisters full of food, pots stuffed with food and clothes) and the bulk of the weight of your pack (including water bladders) should be centered between your shoulder blades and close to your back. Then, fill in the rest of your pack with middle-weight gear (first-aid, stove, water filter, etc.) further away from your back and in the middle of the pack—filling in the excess space.
Use Your Brain
The brain—aka the zippered pocket at the top of your pack—is your best friend. Keep everything that you need quick access to during the day here. Sunscreen, snacks, GPS, a headlamp, or an extra layer of clothing belong in your brain. Keeping these necessities where you can have quick access to them will undoubtedly save you from time spent on the side of the trail dissecting your pack, just for a tube of lip balm.
Keep It Together
Invest in some small zippered bags (not plastic bags, because that’s wasteful!) that can help keep smaller items wrangled together. Put your silverware in one bag, toiletries in another, and snacks in another. That way, you won’t be digging through your pack at sunset trying to find a fork when your hunger level is at a strong 10. This is also a great way to cut down on bottles and containers that you won’t need out there. Just squeeze foot powder, sunscreen, toothpaste, into baggies (we can recommend plastic bags for these messier items).
Say No to Backpack Ornaments
Sometimes, not everything fits inside your pack. Tents can be awkwardly shaped and hiking poles can impale your pack—leaving you with gear to attach to your person externally. Luckily, most packs are equipped to handle these scenarios without leaving you looking like a backcountry Christmas tree—with gear dangling all around you (and getting in your way). Attach your tent or sleeping pad to the bottom of your pack horizontally, and use side straps to lock your poles down vertically. Whatever you do, attach external gear in the direction that maintains the integrity of your packs’ shape—because nothing is worse than walking down a trail hitting every tree, shrub, and person that you pass by. Remember, it’s all about staying balanced.