Category Archives: Survival Skills

Maybe It’s Just Me


CIMG8719Lately I’ve been seeing turds everywhere. I’m not referring here to “turds” in the abstract sense of angry commuters taking it out on other drivers just trying to get to work or even too-busy mothers yanking their kids through the cereal aisle.

I’m talking about real, live turds. The human excrement kind.

Recently I saw a frozen one on the floor of a gondola cabin. I was beside myself with disgust. There it was, smooshed into the diamond plate, hidden (almost) behind the seat, as if someone just thought it would be okay to lay a douce while being whisked to the top of the mountain in a cabin that cost more than a new Chevy truck.

I couldn’t believe it. Some people. I mean really.

Then yesterday, after being out of town, I got a little surprise at my front door. What at first sight appeared to be a red rag like the kind you get in bulk at a service station turned out to be a pair of maroon panties. With a turd in them.

I didn’t know what to think. Were people really crapping their pants and leaving it on my front door step? I immediately wondered if this was something personal. Was someone trying to send me or my husband a message here? That’s so out of bounds I don’t know where to start.

Later that day I was talking to Scott, the Mountain Manager at Crystal. He said, “remember when you texted me about the turd in the gondi cabin?”

How could I forget? I was so disgusted. You’ll never guess what I found in cabin 8, I’d texted. A turd. F***ing people.

Scott laughed. “Turns out it was a rolled up towel.”

“Someone crapped in a towel and left it in the gondola cabin?”

“No.” He smiled. “It was just a brown paper towel. All rolled up and shredded.”

I was relieved to hear this news. A flood of relaxing fluid flowed briefly through my body. Then I remembered the present I’d found at my door that morning.

As it turned out my neighbor was standing nearby. I recounted the latest turd news to both of them. I told them about the maroon panties with black lace, how I’d thought at first it was one of those cloth rags used to wipe a dipstick, how I realized with shock and horror that in fact that wasn’t just dirt encrusting those panties, how I wondered if maybe I should be taking this personally.

My neighbor nodded. “Nala.”

“Your dog?”

He nodded again. “She’s disgusting.”

Turns out Nala had been eating his girlfriend’s underwear, and sometimes he didn’t know about it until the evidence went through her entire digestive tract. It had become quite a problem. Nala had chewed and eaten most of his girlfriend’s underwear and they’d recently had to make a trip to Victoria’s Secret to restock.

Needless to say, that might be a problem for Nala, but I was quite relieved.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe when you suddenly see turds everywhere you have to stop and take a good, hard look at yourself and wonder if maybe its time to put those rose-colored glasses back on.

Or perhaps I’m just ready for some good old spring skiing. This isn’t anything that slush bumps and perfect corn can’t fix. The forecast for the next few days looks perfect for continuing the current corn cycle. In fact, I think its about time to get out there and sample the goods.



Rowing Across the Atlantic

Pat Fleming

Pat Fleming

Listen now

Listen now

On January 23rd, 2013 Pat Fleming and a crew of three other rowers set off from the coast of Africa to row their open ocean self-supported boat across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. The crew collected data, weathered storms, broke oars, and survived the maddening doldrums until just a few days from shore the worst happened. They were hit by a rogue wave and capsized.

The mission of the Africa to the Americas expedition, sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, was to row their 29 feet boat 3659 nautical miles from Dakar, Africa to Miami. Along the way the crew collected data to be used for education and other purposes.
Their main goal was to inspire others to seek their own adventures in the outdoors. Pat and his fellow crew members rowing in 2-4 hour shifts day in and day out. The trip was to take 60-80 days. On day 73, only a week away from Miami, the boat capsized and the crew was unable to right it.
The crew about the James Robert Hanssen

The crew about the James Robert Hanssen

 Click here

Click here

Listen in this week on The Edge Radio as Pat joins me to talk about this amazing adventure Wednesday morning live at 8am pacific.

If you have questions for the show, email me at kimberlykircher(at)gmail(dot)com or call in live at 1-888-346-9144. Can’t listen live? All shows are archived within a few hours and available anytime. Click here to see the archives.
Please spread the word about this show. Share this post on your social media sites. The archives are quickly filling in with some truly amazing stories that need to be shared.Know someone who’d be a great guest on the show? Shoot me an email at kimberlykircher(at)gmail(dot)com.

Am I The Only One With Storm Envy?


While I wouldn’t wish a super-mega-franken-storm and all the aftermath and mayhem that goes with it on anyone, I have to admit something. There is a tiny, itty-bitty part of myself that is jealous. It’s that same devil-may-care self that usually gets me into trouble. Nevertheless, there it is. When I was a kid, I used to refer to her as “The Bad Kim”. Usually this reference came only after that Bad Kim did something horrid, when I was trying to convince my mom that she’d never be back to do horrible things in the future. Ever.

Bad Kim is shaking the bars of her cage. She wants to thrust her head into the leading edge of the storm and ride Sandy’s bowsprit. She wants to feel the beach shake beneath the raging surf and listen to the wind whip through the skyscrapers. Easy for me to say, especially as I sit inside in the Pacific Northwest watching the rain melt away our hopes of an early opening. Just have a look at Sandy’s snowfall forecast:

Small print: that brownish color is 18-20 inches of snow

Closer to home we’re expecting rain. We don’t call these weather phenomena storms; we call them systems. Storm would suggest snow, at least in the mountains. And we are decidedly not getting much of that. Besides, when the mother of all storms is brewing on the eastern seaboard, it’s hardly apropos to call a little wind and rain a “storm”.

Forecast for 6,300 feet at Crystal Mountain

Looks like the rain will sluice away that nice duvet of snow we had last week (thanks Corinne for that description). Oh well, who am I to complain? To those of you hunkering down as this behemoth descends, I apologize for my flippancy. After the water recedes and they turn the lights back on, might I suggest a trip to the mountains?

Are You a Thrill Seeker?


Skydiving: pure transcendence

We all take risks. Whether schussing down a snowy couloir or speaking in front of a group, we  have all known the feeling of pushing our own envelope. Stepping into our fear can bring moments of great enlightenment. The thrilling edge between danger and suicide found in today’s surge of outdoor adventures has replaced religious asceticism as the way to transcendence.

Jumping out of airplanes and flying off cliffs is the new Nirvana.

Marvin Zuckerman, a psychology professor from University of Delaware, termed the phrase “sensation-seeker” for those that search for novelty and excitement. Chemicals in our brain govern our risk reward calculus. When we enjoy a thrill, our brains are flooded with dopamine, our own personal pleasure cocktail. Dopamine sits on our shoulder woohooing and heehawing while we walk the thin line of danger. Other chemicals, namely MAO monoamine oxidase, temper that enthusiasm. MAO gobbles up the dopamine sluicing through our brain, all the while whispering into our other ear, telling us to “watch out, this could be dangerous.”

Turns out, dopamine to MAO ratios differ in each of us. Risk-taking behavior is 60% determined by our genes, while the rest is shaped by our environment. Thrill seeking tends to run in the family. And yet, it too, can be learned.

I am fascinated by this slackline between risk and reward. As predicted by neuroscientists and psychologists, as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for risk has diminished. Still, I score high on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking Scale. This test was developed to determine factors in all risk-takers, only one of which is thrill-seeking and adventure. But as we grow older, we develop more MAO, and that whispery voice warning us of risk grows stronger.

Find out where you stand on the scale. Just click on the image below to go to the test. Were you surprised by the results?


Getting Out Alive


What is Judgment?

Teaching Judgment at Stevens Pas

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, judgment is “the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.” In the backcountry that usually equates to knowing when to forge ahead and when to turn around. Having good judgment might help us decide when the risk is just far too greater than the reward. Judgment helps distinguish between what we need and what we merely want. The adventure will be here tomorrow, and our judgment can help us return another day to take it on.

How do you gain judgment without getting yourself killed in the process? Look at any aging adventurer and he or she will tell you about the time they almost died, or the time their climbing/skiing/parachuting comrade nearly bought the farm, or the time when, at the last minute, they couldn’t join their friends for a trip and someone got killed in an avalanche. It could have been them.

Experiences such as these–if we live through them–give us the ability to notice risk. We gain judgment by sheer proximity to death. The closer we get, the more humble and cautious we become. But then there’s the opposite effect. Being close to death can make us feel immune. Perhaps its like sugar to a diabetic, slowing them down rather than hyping them up. Maybe those that feel immune to death in the midst of it lack some important hormone, like insulin or humility.

Where Does Judgment Come From?

As a ski patroller, I’ve seen my fair share of accidents; some ending in injury, others ending in death. Does this lend me judgment? I think it has. Instead of feeling like I’ve cheated death and won again, I marvel that there but for the grace of God go I. This season I felt that especially, with the loss of such luminaries as Jamie Pierre and Sarah Burke and friends taken in the avalanche at Stevens Pass.

Some day I was going to ski Everest

When I was very young, I thought I could conquer the world. I was pretty sure that by age 20 I would be skiing Everest on a weekly basis. Give me a mountain, and I would ski it. Give me a river, and I would kayak it. Like any teenager I was oblivious to risk, and ready to take on the world. I was immune to judgment.

Then I developed Type 1 Diabetes, and all that changed. The first doctor I went to wasn’t an endocrinologist and didn’t know much about the disease. When I asked if it would kill me, he sighed. “While the threat of immediate death is controllable, diabetes does lead to a myriad of other complications.” He was kind enough to list them for me–heart disease, blindness, amputations. I imagined myself in a wheelchair, unable to walk, unable to see and really hankering for a bag of caramel corn. For the first time in my life I saw my own death. I grew humble in about fifteen minutes.

While living with a disease like T1D might temper one’s ability to take risks, it also taught me judgment. I was no longer immune. If I was going to work this hard to stay alive, I didn’t want to just throw it away in a risky ski descent. Not that I haven’t taken risks. I have. But I’ve also learned to listen–to really listen–to my fear. Fear is a gift reminding us that at the heart of it we want to live.

How do we develop judgment?

Stevens Pass Memorial

I’m not sure there is a single path to gaining the knowledge of when to go and when to retreat. No GPS unit worn on our sleeve can worn us when the risk is too high. No amount of gear, not an Avalung pack or an Airbag System or Avalanche Transceiver will grant us immunity to slides. Sure, we take classes and sharpen our skills, but when the risk gets too high, more often than not we go anyway. A few get caught, but many don’t. They can mistake luck for judgment, and it isn’t the same at all. Years of accumulated luck will eventually catch up with a person.

Judgment isn’t about years so much as it about experience. The more experience we carry with us–being sure to carefully glean the lessons–the more likely we are to make it back home. Because isn’t that the goal? Willi Unsoeld said it best when considering why he didn’t just stay in the wilderness.

Why don’t you stay in the wilderness?  Because that isn’t where it is at; it’s back in the city, back in downtown St. Louis, back in Los Angeles.  The final test is whether your experience of the sacred in nature enables you to cope more effectively with the problems of people.  If it does not enable you to cope more effectively with the problems – and sometimes it doesn’t, it sometimes sucks you right out into the wilderness and you stay there the rest of your Life – then when that happens, by my scale of value; it’s failed.  You go to nature for an experience of the sacred…to re-establish your contact with the core of things, where it’s really at, in order to enable you to come back to the world of people and operate more effectively.  Seek ye first the kingdom of nature, that the kingdom of people might be realized. -Willi Unsoeld

Often, we gain judgment through close calls. There’s nothing like a heart-to-heart with the Grim Reaper to bring about some calculated decision-making. What about you? How have you gained judgment in order to keep returning to the adventure you love?

Update from The Push to the South Pole


On January 17, 2012, for the first time in history, Grant Korgan, an adaptive athlete with a spinal cord injury, will literally “push” himself 100 miles (or 250,00o pushes) across the frozen landscape and his limits to the most inhospitable place on the planet – the South Pole.

The group is currently on track and battling the cold and extreme conditions. With temperatures in the 30-45º below zero range, cold injuries are the biggest concern. Since Grant’s circulation is limited below his knees, the group is carefully monitoring the temperature of his toes. Listen to this recent satellite phone call in which Grant discusses the extremes and what happened when the temperature of his toes dipped 9º below freezing. Click on the photo below to listen.

Grant Korgan, click on image to hear audio

Sounds like the conditions are pretty gnarly–no animals exist this close to the South Pole, the groups members must either be moving or inside the tent in order to avoid serious injury due to the cold temperatures. These guys are are real deal and Grant Korgan is inspiring.

You can help “push” the expedition along by donating to the High-Five Foundation and The Push campaign. Help Grant High-Five at the South Pole. Buy him a “push“.

Weekly High Five Report: High-Fives Foundation


The mission of the High-Fives Foundation, based in Truckee, CA, is to “raise money and awareness for athletes who have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community.”

Started in 2010 by Founder Roy Tuscany, who injured his spinal cord while skiing at Mammoth in 2006, High Fives has raised funds, secured alternative treatments and aided in the recovery of over fifteen athletes.

The Push to the South Pole, an expedition including two adaptive skiers, is sponsored by High Fives.

Also included in their programs is the very cool B.A.S.I.C.S. (Being Aware Safe In Crazy Situations) program, headed by the very rad J.T. Holmes. Check out the video here.

The foundation also offers REAL ANSWERS, a place to ask questions of athletes who have suffered injuries, as well as meet these personalities who have all chosen positivity in the face of hardship.

The Winter Empowerment Fund is an opportunity to help recovering athletes with the financial support necessary to get back in the game. Previous recipients include K.C. Deane who suffered a C-2 injury in 2010 while filming in the Tahoe backcountry. High Fives supplied the financial means for him to return to a professional level through physical therapy with Scott Williams, PT, OCS.

On August 10th, 2011, the High Fives Non-Profit Foundation opened the CR Johnson Healing Center as a service to commemorate the professional skier and beloved Truckee resident’s birthday.

The CR Johnson Healing Center is replete with physical therapy equipment used by healing professionals that High Fives works with.  Along with the Healing Center’s workout facility the Johnson family has generously donated an infrared healing sauna.

You can donate to the High Fives Foundation and make a difference for these athletes. Check out their website. These guys really do deserve a High Five.

Bravo guys.

Weekly High-Five Report: Ultimate Road-Trippers


The ultimate road trip

Everyone loves a good road trip. I’ve spent weeks cruising the backroads of the PNW and Western States, searching for snaking roads that lead to free camping spots by the river, or overgrown forest service roads with room enough for a girl and her truck. I’ve spent moonless nights at trailheads, in the parking lot of a ferry terminal, and the day-use only lot of a climbing area.

But I never spent a night in a Walmart parking lot.

Amy and Bracken Christensen on the road

On November 7th, 2010, Amy and Bracken Christensen of took off for the ultimate road trip. They outfitted their van with everything from a garage to a kitchen to a bedroom/living room and hit the road (and the trails and mountains and rocks) for a year.

That’s right. The newlyweds road-tripped for an entire year.

I first found Amy through her life-coaching blog Expand Outdoors, where she offers wisdom and strength for adventurous women. I knew, at first glance, that I had found a kindred spirit.

Last summer, when Amy and Bracken were traveling through Seattle, we met in person, and it was as if we’d known each other for years. I asked Amy about her immediate plans for the night.

“Oh, we’ll probably find a Walmart parking lot for the night.”

“Walmart?” I asked.

Amy explained that Walmart allowed cars to park overnight, many of their lots were lit and secure and in the morning they could freshen up in the bathroom inside.

The boathouse at sunrise

I asked her if they’d prefer to stay in our boat house. I didn’t want to downplay the awesomeness of a Walmart parking lot, but I figured they’d want to stay with us. Our boat house is actually the best part of our house–sitting on Lake Washington with a small apartment over the water. In the morning, they could see Mt. Rainier from the bed. Plus the shower rocks.

The couple accepted heartily. It was already dark, and finding a Walmart at 10pm in a big city wouldn’t be easy.

Plus, I got to see their van up close the next morning. With a hobbit house feel, the van contained tiny spaces and a-place-for-everything efficiency that only a year on the road can hone.

Last week Amy and Bracken completed their year-long road-trip. They traveled 23,000 miles, biking, hiking, running and climbing their way through the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park and everywhere in between.

This week a giant high-five goes out to Amy and Bracken Christensen for their adventurous spirit, willingness to explore the unknown and openly share their experience with the world. May the next 23,000 miles offer as much enlightenment.