Archive for the 'Mountains' Category



Lost In The Wilderness: One Man’s Five Day Fight For Survival

BY Herschel Smith
1 month, 1 week ago

California:

For one California man, what began as a day fishing trip quickly turned into a five-day fight for survival.

Mike Vilhauer, 58, went fishing Aug. 6 at Lower Sunset Lake in Alpine County when he noticed he wasn’t catching any fish. Deciding he needed more bait, Vilhauer, butterfly net in hand, left on what he thought would be a short trip to find some grasshoppers.

“I was just zigzagging up and down the mountain,” Vilhauer told ABC News. “I didn’t see anyone for quite a while.”

After a few hours, Vilhauer said it began to get late, and he decided he should probably head back to the fishing site. “That’s when the fun began,” he said.

Vilhauer began to make his way towards what he thought was the fishing site. But with darkness upon him at about 8 p.m., he decided to make shelter under a pine tree, covering himself with pine needles and willow branches in an attempt to stay warm. Vilhauer attempted to call 911, but a weak signal thwarted his efforts.

Vilhauer continued his search for the help on Thursday. Weak from his lack of food and water, he adapted what he called his “survivor man routine,” drinking water out of puddles, regardless of what else was in the puddle.

“I thought ‘I’m going to keep walking, I’m going to get back to my wife,’” said Vilhauer, who lives in West Sacramento.

After trying to find a way back the whole day, Vilhauer came across a stream and began to follow it before the sun began to set. Setting up a camp of tree bark and needles, he slept for another night in the open wilderness.

He was crushed to find on Friday morning that the stream came to a dead end. “At this point I’m thinking ‘Man, this is looking bad,’” Vilhauer said.

Vilhauer continued to wander in circles on Friday, unsure of where he was or where to go next. Exhausted and hungry, he set up camp under a large rock.

“I hadn’t slept at all,” said Villhauer, “It was cold and I just tried to keep moving around. It rained every night.”

Saturday morning brought no relief.

“I hadn’t eaten since Wednesday morning,” said Villhauer, “I was so weak, I could only do so much before getting too exhausted and having to lie down.”

Grounding himself underneath the rock, Villhauer tried to build up his strength. He decided he would try to climb up the side of the ridge, only to find out that every time he thought he had reached the top, there ended up just being another peak ahead.

Suddenly, Villhauer could hear helicopters in the distance. One flew overhead, but kept going, leaving Villhauer “disheartened.”

“It was a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Villhauer, “I thought, ‘You know what? I’m done. This is it.’”

“I was thinking about my family and my wife and all of the stupid things I’d done to get myself into that position,” said Villhauer.

“And then, after 10 to 15 minutes I decided ‘No. Hell no. I’m not going to give up, I’m going to get down to that stream and I’m going to sit there and wait until somebody finds me,’” he added.

Villhauer made his way back down the stream, drinking out of puddles along the way, and made his way back to the rock.

He picked up a piece of driftwood and began writing his last words to his wife.

“I put all of these thoughts down, I had to continue on another piece of drift wood,” Villhauer said.

He then used cypress needles to spell out “HELP”, saying “I figured if I don’t make it, at least I gave it my best shot.”

Sunday morning, Villhauer had just had his first meal in five days – a dandelion – when he heard the helicopters again.

“I got excited, I started waving around my blue shirt on a stick,” said Villhauer as the helicopter kept repeatedly flying over and then leaving.

“It was a big rush, and then the letdown. A big rush, and the letdown,” described Villhauer, who assumed that the choppers were operating on a grid system, so once they deemed the area clear they would not be returning.

“I figured, if they hadn’t seen me yet, I was in here for the long haul.”

The choppers returned and began circling Villhauer, when he suddenly heard a bark from behind him. It was a search dog leading one of the rescue teams that had been looking for Villhauer since Friday.

After five days in the wilderness, he had been saved.

Folks, as I have pointed out so many times, carry a day pack / patrol bag.  Twenty pounds can save your life.  You need: (a) a gun, (b) fire starter, (c) a tactical light, (d) 550 cord, (e) water, (f) a heavy rubberized poncho, and (g) a compass.

With the gun you can protect yourself, with the light you can see at night, with the fire you can prevent hypothermia, with the poncho and 550 cord you can make shelter in under two minutes, you need the water to live and you need the compass to navigate.  You may even go comfortable and carry along a few energy bars.

Why is this so hard?  Why do people go into the wilderness unprepared?

Living In The Field Part II

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 4 months ago

I had promised to follow up my Living In The Field with Part 2.  Beginning with tents and tarps, weight mitigation gets very expensive, and then even with big money there are detriments to living in a tent.  When I wake in the morning regardless of the outside temperature (although it’s worse in the cold), the inside of the tent is soaked with condensation.  This cannot be avoided, even with the mesh at the top of the tent that allows it to “breath.”

This is a feature of every tent I have ever owned.  Furthermore, in the rain the entire system gets soaked, including the floor, and it’s a mess to put inside a backpack, potentially developing mildew and adding to the weight of your backpack until it’s dry.  As I explained in What Happens If Your Bugout Gun Breaks, there is another option.

The most useful form of covering for me has been a 12′ X 12′ piece of vapor barrier I obtained from a housing contractor.  I used Gorilla tape and grommets from Lowe’s to toughen up the edges and make it amenable to use with trekking poles.  In order to assist with runoff of rain, I made sure to put a grommet in the very middle of the tarp.  I simply find a tree and make use of 550 cord to lift the middle of the tarp above the sides.  It folds up tight and very quickly, and you’re back on the trail without much fuss.

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Find a friend who is a housing contractor, get some vapor barrier, and purchase $15 worth of parts from Lowe’s to make this tarp.  It’s the best one I have ever had, and it just takes some time to prepare it.

Speaking of trekking wet, I have done this so many times I wouldn’t be able to count them.  I spoke to this in the first article.  I made clear that it you’re out in the woods in a driving rain, you’re going to get wet.  Period.  There is no way to avoid it.  But in order to set the framework for this point I’ll let someone with more authority than I have make the point for me.

From David Miller on Awol on the Appalachian Trail:

I’ve been playing a game with my rain jacket.  The cold rain is no match for the heat that I am generating, so I get completely wet from sweat anyway.  I loosen my shoulder straps so I can worm out of the sleevesof the sauna suit one arm at a time while walking and without taking my pack off.  It takes a few minutes, but I’m covering ground.  About the time I finish, the rain picks up again, and I have to wiggle back in, still walking.  I must’ve done this eight times … I wake to the sound of thunder and rain on the tin roof of the NOC bunkhouse.  I hit the train about 10:30 after abandoning the fantasy that the rain would go away.  The walk from NOC is the longest continuous uphill so far, going from 1723 feet to 4750 feet in six miles.  The downside of dropping into towns is the climb out.  The trail is a stream.  Rain comes down in a heavy, continuous barrage.  My defenses – a hooded rain jacket, gaiters, and Gore-Tex pants and shoes – only hold for about two hours.  My shirt, pants and socks are all wet … The rain continues, and shows no signs of letting up.  I get chills once I stop walking, so I have some hot food and jump into my sleeping bag with wet clothes, testing the theory that body heat dries them out.  8 am: It’s been raining for more than 24 hours.  Sleeping in wet clothes is good for the clothes but bad for the sleeping bag … and even with a rain cover my pack slowly absorbs water from the space between me and the pack.

Those of us who live in the East don’t need to be told what NOC stands for.  I’ve been there many times.  My experiences have been much the same.  The coldest, most driving rain I ever experienced was at Jones Gap in the mountains of S.C. in December of 2012 (this competes with one experience at Cold Mountain in much the same conditions).  My poncho was absolutely waterproof, and yet at the end of my trek into the gap I was soaked to the bone from my own sweat.  That was the only time I have ever been in the wilderness and unable to get a fire going (partly because of poor planning).  Fortunately I had dry clothing and an Isobutane stove – and the tarp described above to keep me dry.

I hate to get all engineer on you, but in terms of mass transfer, unless there is a driving force or a differential in conditions, there won’t be any evaporation of your sweat.  The notion of “breathable” rain gear is ridiculous.  Regardless of whether the weave of the fabric can allow the water droplets from sweat to pass through, if the air on the other side is saturated (and when it’s raining it’s 100% relative humidity), there is no physical force to move the droplets through the fabric.  Breath-ability is nice for other kinds of parkas (when it’s not raining), but the holy grail of hiking dry in the rain is fantasy to experienced backpackers.  It just doesn’t happen that way.

Regarding coats and jackets, my favorite one has been the Mountain Hardwear Exposure II Parka.  I like it for the heavier fabric and especially for the hip length design with a drawstring around the midriff.  It has a snow skirt that zips to keep snow out (and for that reason it has been a favorite of ski patrol in the Western states), and the skirt helps to keep wind out where waist length parkas tend to suck in wind at the bottom.

The parka is good for rain for about two hours, and wind forever.  Of course, as with all functional and well designed products, this parka has been discontinued.  Mountain Hardwear has opted to focus on the city crowd who wants sleek, light parkas for walking back and forth from the parking deck to the office.  Years ago there was the 60/40 parka that had a cult following.  I was part of that cult.  Sierra Designs discontinued it (what did I tell you above about functional gear being discontinued?), but it’s available today, just for a very elevated price.

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My daughter models my Mountain Hardwear Exposure II Parka.  It’s a bit big for her.  That’s her jeep.  I have a truck.

I think I spoke to head cover in the previous article, but I’ll mention it again.  Ball cap style cover is fine for most conditions, but always needed whether from protection from the sun or warmth.  In winter I like my soft hat.  The one below drops in the back and provides warmth for my neck.  This has served me fine down to temperatures in the single digits and heavy wind.

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Mountain Hardwear hat, warmth in low temperatures and heavy winds.  I am generally a proponent of good gear, and Mountain Hardwear makes most of it very well.

I don’t think I said enough about weight in the previous article, and I said nothing about backpacks.  I have seen a number of so-called 3-day rucks, and frankly I’m unimpressed with all of them.  They are not tall enough to put the weight up high and provide meaning to having hip straps.

For a backpack to be any good it needs to be designed to couple with your body as a system, placing the weight on the hips (with the hip straps) rather than the shoulders, thus setting the center of gravity for the weight you’re carrying on your back over the legs rather than throwing your upper torso off balance.

Most 3-day rucks have hips straps, but are short enough that the hip straps wrap around the belly, providing no support at all for the weight.  It looks ridiculous and doesn’t supply any benefit.  If the backpack doesn’t place the weight on your hips, it’s worthless and will eventually hurt you.  Your spine isn’t designed for the compressive forces of humping a ruck around in the field with heavy weight being borne on your shoulders.

Folks who thru-hike the AT learn to shave micro-ounces off of their load.  They will carry a children’s toothbrush because it weighs less than an adult toothbrush.  With enough days in the field anyone begins to think the same way.  I like fixed blade knives, but they weigh too much for me to believe that they are the only option.  I use a tactical / utility folder with a serrated edge.  This tool can cut, chop, or stab.  Also, large fixed blade knives get in the way of my body movements, especially if I’m traversing steep terrain (which I usually am).

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My Ka-Bar Tactical Folder.  The soft sheath is suitable for attachment to molle straps.

A word about water purification.  Other than removal of turbidity and use of a ceramic filter I am not a fan of other means of purification such as tablets (although I know that some people use them regularly in the field), as there is a health effect on the thyroid of overdose of iodine.  Filtering removes protozoa (Giardia and Cryptosporidium) and Bacteria (e.g., E. Coli), but not viruses.  Boiling removes all problems.  So does bleach.

Treating Water with a 5-6 Percent Liquid Chlorine Bleach Solution

Volume of Water to be Treated Treating Clear/Cloudy Water:
Bleach Solution to Add
Treating Cloudy, Very Cold, or Surface Water: Bleach Solution to Add
1 quart/1 liter 3 drops 5 drops
1/2 gallon/2 quarts/2 liters 5 drops 10 drops
1 gallon 1/8 teaspoon 1/4 teaspoon
5 gallons  1/2 teaspoon 1 teaspoon
10 gallons 1 teaspoon 2 teaspoons

There are good reviews of water filtration equipment, and I recommend that you study the literature and see what you would like to try.

Water is very heavy (1 g/cc), and carrying it exhausting, so backpackers and hikers look for ways not to carry it on their backs.  Speaking of weight, the heaviest component of any kit in a tactical situation will be a weapon and ammunition (stainless steel has a density of 7.94 g/cc, brass has a density of 8.7 g/cc, and lead has a density of 11.34 g/cc).

I have a bag of 1600 rounds sitting near me at the moment, and for those of us who are weightlifters, it’s way heavier than a 45 pound York plate.  You’re not going to hoist that bag of ammunition on your back and traipse around the field with it very far.  Multiple guns and excessive ammunition aren’t going to be a feature of long term operation in the field.

And back to water, I passed an AT thru-hiker in Damascus, Virginia, last summer, and asked him what he was doing for water.  He had tried filtration for several weeks, but now he said when he sees water he “face-plants” in the water.  No filtration, no tablets.  Thus far, no problems.

I think he is risking extreme sickness, but I do understand adjustment to the various things in the local water.  From the age of 14 – 21 I worked at a Christian camp in the mountains of S.C. (summers and weekends) shoveling gravel, digging ditches, driving tractors and trucks, baling hay, driving jeeps, training and doctoring quarter horses, and doing maintenance.  We drank untreated local reservoir water, and when anyone new came to work with us they were usually sick for about two weeks.  We all got accustomed to it, adjusting our bodies to the source of water.

Speaking of this camp, there is one more thing I wanted to mention.  We hunted rattlesnakes and copperheads because otherwise we would lose horses to snake bites (they would be out of commission for a while if they lived).  I have been bitten by a Copperhead before.  In the hospital they used a syringe the likes of which I have never seen before, and the shot in my hip took about a minute to get all of the antivenin into my system.

My dog has also been bitten by a Copperhead, and her paw swelled up the size of a softball.  There was no treatment given to her except antibiotics.  Animals tend to do better than humans with snake bites, but if she hadn’t been 82 pounds she probably would have died.

At the time of my dog being bitten I did some research into antivenin and its cost.  It’s very expensive, and it’s formulated by injecting livestock with small doses of venom, usually in Mexico, and extracting the blood products after some period of time.  It has to be refrigerated and has a shelf life, and some outdoors outfitters have a stock available because snake bite it such a high risk (e.g., rafting companies for the New River or Ocoee River, for example, both of which I’ve been down).

Giving it to humans is risky because the blood products can carry stray bovine proteins that can be harmful to humans (because of poor QA in Mexico).  It’s only administered because the snake bite risk is higher than the risk of harm from the antivenin.  Dogs aren’t considered important enough to administer antivenin.  They’re on their own, as we are if we are bitten in the field without immediate medical care.  If you’re a couple of days hike from help, or if you’re solo backpacking and get bitten, you’re going to lose appendages, and you will possibly perish.  A Copperhead bite means amputation.  A Rattlesnake bite means death.  Be wary near water.

And continuing to harp on the issue of weight, this report from China is interesting.

A man from Sichuan Province recently made Chinese headlines for using several “bug-out backpacks” following the April 20 earthquake in Ya’an.

Li Yonggang, a 39-year-old freelance worker from Tianquan County, was interviewed by Southern Metropolis Daily.

After the magnitude-7 quake hit, Li ran out of the house wearing only his underwear, according to the report. He went back inside to get dressed, and brought out a large pack weighing nearly 55 pounds. He had prepared another four bugout bags for everyone in his family, except his baby son–his wife, mother, and two daughters each had their own pack.

Li’s bag was the biggest; the smallest belonged to his 6-year-old daughter, and only weighed 11 pounds. The packs contained tents, sleeping bags, clothes, food, a compass, gloves, headlamps, and even surgical suture kit, the Daily reported.

Li took the big backpack to his father-in-law’s home, and set up three tents.

“I’m completely self-sufficient. I don’t burden anyone,” Li told Southern Metropolis Daily.

Li said that his family did not have to worry about lack of food, as the packs contained dry crackers, army-style cans, and tablets to purify water. He had also hidden 220 pounds of vacuum-packed rice in his house. Six days after the quake, he still had not asked local authorities for any food supplies.

Li’s parents were born in the 1940’s in China and experienced horrifying famine in the years 1959-1961. “Many people died of starvation during the three-years of famine. At least two relatives told me how that they had to eat human flesh from dead bodies to survive the famine,” he told the Daily.

After Li experienced the Wenchuan earthquake five years ago, he was haunted by his parent’s experiences and determined to try to protect his family. Li began learning about survival.

He purchased the necessary supplies, prepared the five backpacks, and rented three cabins in the countryside for his children to use as survival practice sites.

After the latest earthquake, Li told the Daily that he learned a few lessons. “I had too many cans. In case of a real emergency, we wouldn’t be able to walk far with that much baggage.”

Weight is everything, but it isn’t more important than making sure that you have a plan, gear and weapons, even if it’s all imperfect.

Prior:

Living In The Field

Surviving The Apocalypse: Thinking Strategically Rather Than Tactically

Tactical Considerations For The Lone Wolf

Living In The Field

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 5 months ago

Max Velocity, Mountain Guerrilla and American Mercenary all have great posts about gear, rucksacks and living in the field (and MV has a followup article here).  These men all know a generous amount about their subject and I won’t try either to repeat their views here or to disagree with any of it.  However, I had considered writing about my own experiences in the field (I have spent a copious amount of time in the field) and landed on an option where I simply provide a running list of things I do and don’t like (and do or don’t advocate).  The reader can weigh in with his own observations.

I’m a fan of travelling light, although every time I pack I carry too much and my backpack is heavier than it needs to be.  When you end up not pulling an item out of your ruck the entire trip, and in fact don’t quite know what you would have used it for anyway, then you probably shouldn’t have packed it.  You managed to haul it around in the woods for several days, or worse, up and down elevation changes, for no good reason except to place it back where it came from in the clauset or on the shelf.  That’s a sinking feeling when your body is sore and tired.

Speaking of weight, one item I carry and always use is cordage.  You can purchase 550 cord in rolled up lengths of 50 feet for just a few dollars just about anywhere now, including Lowes or Home Depot.  550 cord is light and strong, and is one of the better choices for your ruck.

I’m not a fan of primitive fire techniques or seeing just how bad you can make it for yourself and still survive.  For example, I carry matches, lighters and ferro rods.  What I have also found is that if everything is wet, or if you make camp late and don’t need to spend a lot of time building the fire (and need to focus more on gathering fuel), it helps to carry a piece of charcoal for every night you expect to be in the wilderness.  One piece of charcoal can help get the fire going, allow you to do other things, and ensure that a little wind won’t ruin your night.  You need to consider stay dry bags for such important things.

I have been backpacking in rain so heavy that nothing would burn regardless of what I did.  If I had gotten a fire hot enough to dry the wood as I placed it near the fire so that it could be used as fuel, I could have had heat that night by feeding fuel closer to the fire depending upon its dryness.  Unfortunately I didn’t take my charcoal and it was a cold, wet night afer wasting precious energy for two hours nursing a fire that was destined to go out anyway.

Speaking of Biblical downpours, I have been out in them before.  In such weather I don’t care what you wear – rain gear, poncho or whatever.  You’re going to get wet.  Prepare to make camp early enough to get your clothing off and hang it, dry it or simply keep warm by jumping in your bag.  Accept that you’re going to get very wet and stay very wet, and work with it and expect it instead of letting it work against you.

If you get a down bag it’s going to lose its loft if it gets wet.  That may not be a problem in Western climates, but East of the Mississippi this is always a concern, even in the dead of winter.  I have a North Face Polarguard bag that allegedly carries me down to -5 degrees F, and I’ve laid in a puddle of water before (due to bad campsite selection in a driving rain) in that bag and stayed very warm.  When I say -5 degrees F, that doesn’t mean that it’s comfortable that low.  It’s comfortable down to 10 or 20 degrees F.

I like layering clothing, and I particularly like fleece for cold weather.  It doubles as a pillow if I don’t need it to sleep in.  I use a wind and rain parka for an overlay on my fleece in the wet, cold or windy weather.  Also, layering allows you to strip down to the bare essentials when sweating during the hike, and then put layers back on when the night falls and it gets cold.

I am an advovcate of trekking poles for balance, assitance in carrying your load, and traversing rough or wet terrain (such as rivers or creek beds).  I didn’t always use trekking poles, but when they became fairly popular I hiked with one friend who used a single pole.  For my next time in the wilderness I purchased one myself and couldn’t decipher what would have come over me that I didn’t purchase two.  In my estimation they are now an indispensable part of my wilderness experience.

I always carry a firearm, and I don’t skimp on the gun.  I usually carry my .45, but have carried a .40 before (and I would certainly carry my .357 magnum).  Carrying a rifle and the ammunition necessary for operations in the wilderness means carrying an awful lot more weight, and truer words were never spoken than to say that this relies on resupply and R&R.  You bet it does.  Don’t daydream that you could be an operator in the wilderness in perpetuity without aid from others.  It won’t work.

Boots are everything to the wilderness experience, and again, I don’t skimp.  Good waterproof boots are an indispensable part of survival.  Be careful when camping or hiking around water.  Snakes are out in the Eastern U.S. (and need to drink like the rest of us), and a bite from a Rattlesnake or Copperhead in the far flung places I go means death.  Lay down and wait for the end, because there’s nothing you can do.

I’ll mention one more thing before ending Part 1.  Cover.  Marines call it cover.  I don’t go out of the house without cover for my head regardless of the weather, temperature or conditions.  I need it for protection from the sun because of my balding head and close hair cut, and for times when it’s cold I need it to keep me warm.  Find yourself something you like and something that suits the function to which you will put it, but make a habit of using cover if you don’t already.

I’ll follow this up with more discussion at a later time.

Range Day And Camping Trip

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 7 months ago

Pickens, S.C., Range day, because shooting is a persishable skill.

My oldest son Josh.

He uses a modified Weaver stance.  He is better with a pistol than I am, but I still have him beat as a rifleman.  Below, Heidi is by the fire trying to stay warm.

My son Joseph is drinking coffee by the morning fire.  We were on the Foothills Trail in South Carolina up around Jocassee Gorges.

Obama: Poverty Causes Gun Crime

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 11 months ago

Mr. Obama on the violence happening just blocks from his own home.

In one of the more dramatic moments of the half-hour special that covered topics on young voter’s minds ranging from the skyrocketing cost of student loans to guaranteeing equality for same-sex, Calloway read a comment from Chicago native Raven, who described her city as a “war zone.”

Calloway asked the president not only how he responds to charges from New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg that both Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are talking about gun violence but not suggesting any action, but also how he would personally respond to this epidemic if re-elected.

“Raven comes from my hometown and Chicago has seen a huge amount of gun violence, especially among young people,” said Obama. “What I’ve said is that we’ve got to have an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach. We have to enforce our gun laws more effectively. We’ve got to keep them out of the hands of criminals. We’ve got to strengthen background checks.”

Obama said his administration has done a lot of those things, but what also needs to be done is work with local law enforcement groups and faith groups and community organizations to ferret out that broader sources of violence in those neighborhoods.

“I live on the South side of Chicago,” said Obama, who maintains a residence in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood, in which tony homes sit just beside some of the city’s most economically challenged areas. “Some of these murders are happening just a few blocks from where I live. I have friends whose family members have been killed.”

Clearly a personal issue for Obama, the president got more solemn when talking about the upswing in violent deaths in the city after decades of decline. “What I know is that gun violence is part of the issue,” he said. “But part of the issue also is kids who feel so little hope and think their prospects for the future are so small that their attitude is, ‘I’m going to end up in jail or dead.’ And they will take all kinds of risks.”

With that level of nihilistic thought, the president said we have to ask if we’re providing those children’s parents with enough support from an early age, and are those kids getting early childhood education so that when they walk into school every day they feel they can succeed? “If they’ve got mental health issues, are they getting the kind of services and counseling that they need early on?” he said.

“Are we making those investments in those young people so that by the time they’re 11, 12, 13, 15 … they can make responsible choices because they feel they’ve got something at stake?”

Ah.  There it is.  Man is a tabula rasa.  Pour enough money, support, education and counseling into him and he’ll turn out okay.  Take the guns away and give them some money.  That’ll fix ‘em.

But I’m just wondering about that trip I took this last weekend to Jocassee Gorges.  We passed all manner of poor, impoverished folk on our way, and homes that would hardly have qualified to be in the inner city of Chicago.  They would have been condemned.  But the people weren’t uninitiated or killing each other.  They all had guns, and it was bear season (with dogs), and in Greenville, Pickens and Oconee county there were more than 800 bear hunters active in the area.  We were carryng guns too.  Here is a picture of Jump Off Rock at Jocassee taken by my son Joshua.

Guns and poverty, but no crime.  Well, enough of my anecdotal observations.  Let’s turn to something more scholarly (via Scotty Starnes).

The recession of 2008-09 has undercut one of the most destructive social theories that came out of the 1960s: the idea that the root cause of crime lies in income inequality and social injustice. As the economy started shedding jobs in 2008, criminologists and pundits predicted that crime would shoot up, since poverty, as the “root causes” theory holds, begets criminals. Instead, the opposite happened. Over seven million lost jobs later, crime has plummeted to its lowest level since the early 1960s. The consequences of this drop for how we think about social order are significant.

The notion that crime is an understandable reaction to poverty and racism took hold in the early 1960s. Sociologists Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin argued that juvenile delinquency was essentially a form of social criticism. Poor minority youth come to understand that the American promise of upward mobility is a sham, after a bigoted society denies them the opportunity to advance. These disillusioned teens then turn to crime out of thwarted expectations.

The theories put forward by Cloward, who spent his career at Columbia University, and Ohlin, who served presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter, provided an intellectual foundation for many Great Society-era programs. From the Mobilization for Youth on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1963 through the federal Office of Economic Opportunity and a host of welfare, counseling and job initiatives, their ideas were turned into policy.

The 1960s themselves offered a challenge to the poverty-causes-crime thesis. Homicides rose 43%, despite an expanding economy and a surge in government jobs for inner-city residents. The Great Depression also contradicted the idea that need breeds predation, since crime rates dropped during that prolonged crisis. The academy’s commitment to root causes apologetics nevertheless persisted. Andrew Karmen of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice echoed Cloward and Ohlin in 2000 in his book “New York Murder Mystery.” Crime, he wrote, is “a distorted form of social protest.” And as the current recession deepened, liberal media outlets called for more government social programs to fight the coming crime wave. In late 2008, the New York Times urged President Barack Obama to crank up federal spending on after-school programs, social workers, and summer jobs. “The economic crisis,” the paper’s editorialists wrote, “has clearly created the conditions for more crime and more gangs—among hopeless, jobless young men in the inner cities.”

Even then crime patterns were defying expectations. And by the end of 2009, the purported association between economic hardship and crime was in shambles. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, homicide dropped 10% nationwide in the first six months of 2009; violent crime dropped 4.4% and property crime dropped 6.1%. Car thefts are down nearly 19%. The crime plunge is sharpest in many areas that have been hit the hardest by the housing collapse. Unemployment in California is 12.3%, but homicides in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Times reported recently, dropped 25% over the course of 2009. Car thefts there are down nearly 20%.

In shambles.  Just like Obama’s economy.  And just like the consulate at Benghazi.  And just like our strategy in Afghanistan.  And just like trust and confidence in government honesty after Fast and Furious.

There you have it.  Impoverished or rich, I think I’ll keep my guns.  They have nothing to do with the choice to commit violence.  That’s a moral choice.

Prior: Obama Calls For Renewal Of Assault Weapons Ban

Michael Yon’s Mountaineering Photography

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

Those familiar with Michael Yon’s work remember him as much for his photography as his journalism – his snapshots in time that will be forever remembered because of his work.  But he has gotten better, technically speaking, with his photography.  Check out his Moonshine on Ama Dablam.  The photograph speaks for itself.

It’s a nice break from war coverage, especially for those who, like me, are fans of backpacking, mountaineering and adventure hiking and racing.

Turkey Pen Gap, Pisgah National Forrest

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 11 months ago

Smith’s backpack beckoned, saying “You know you can’t leave without me.  You know you need me.  Come.  Come to me … you have no choice.”

2009E 136

So Smith picked up his stuff again, hit the trail with Josh, and took in the beautiful vista.

2009E 138

Packing Army (Marine) Style

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 12 months ago

From Islandpacket.com:

Army_Training_AT

Drenched in sweat, Army Capt. Aaron Hall peeled off his soggy socks and applied a liberal dose of foot powder before slipping on a dry pair and rallying his troops back to their throbbing feet. For an outfit used to being ferried from fight to fight in armored vehicles, a 50-mile march through the Appalachians was a little much.

Perhaps no unit better exemplifies the challenges presented by the Army’s transition from desert warfare in Iraq to rugged mountain campaigns in Afghanistan than the 3rd Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade, whose tanks and Bradley assault vehicles were among the first to rumble into Baghdad in the 2003 invasion.

Under a 2007 plan to grow the Army and diversify its forces, 4th Brigade is the only mechanized unit being ordered to ditch its tanks and Bradleys and relearn how to move through a war zone on foot.

Which is how Hall and his soldiers found themselves zigzagging through the mountains of north Georgia, trying to cover 50 miles in three days. Even after serving last year as a platoon leader in Iraq, Hall wasn’t used to that kind of exertion.

“Whenever they said ‘road march,’ it was pretty much get in your Bradleys and ride 20 miles,” said Hall, 28, of Canton, N.C. “Now, it’s put on your boots and your rucksack and start walking. We’re our own transportation.”

Commanders say the retooled brigade should be ready to deploy again late next year.

About 40 percent of the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment’s soldiers are holdovers from the unit’s previous incarnation as the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment.

After the unit returned from its third Iraq deployment in December, its tank drivers, gunners and mechanics transferred to other units as the switch to light infantry took hold. Many infantrymen trained to fight with Bradleys, tracked vehicles that resemble small tanks, stayed and now are getting used to fighting on foot.

As a mechanized infantry unit, each soldier had a designated seat in a vehicle. As light infantry, a rifle company of 135 troops has just five vehicles — Humvees and trucks — to share.

1st Sgt. Chad Brown learned to count on the Bradley’s speed and lethal weaponry during his three tours in Iraq. His soldiers would travel to drop-off points shielded by the vehicle’s thick armor, then conduct foot patrols under cover of its mounted machine gun and 25 mm cannon.

“Going from mech my whole career to light infantry, there is a concern of, ‘Oh man, where is the heavy firepower?’<2009>” said Brown, 34, of Kingsley, Mich. “I’ve been shot at sitting in Humvees and in Bradleys, and obviously I feel much more comfortable sitting in a Bradley.”

For soldiers used to the protection of armored vehicles, getting them comfortable with the added exposure of maneuvering on foot is mostly about back-to-basics training, as that’s how troops just entering the Army learn to fight, said Maj. John Grantz, executive officer of the 3-15 Infantry.

Captain Hall is doing Marine-style humping.  But wait … WAIT … WAIT!  Maybe not.

In the interests of prompting, promulgating, promoting, protracting and prolonging highly destructive inter-service rivalries, I must ask the question, “where is the body armor?”  You know, that extra 32 pounds of weight (with the IBA) that drags you down?  And I see a day-pack (with hydration), but not the full backpack that comes in at 75+ pounds.  Tisk … tisk …

Recall our Marine in Helmand with 120 pounds plus a mortar plate? khanjar_ii

Okay, so much for the internecine rivalries.  I will be out of pocket for the weekend carrying a little bit less weight on my back through the Pisgah National Forrest and avoiding anything electronic or web-based including this web site.  Have a great weekend.  Go Army!  Go Marine!

Marine Team Wins Wilderness Challenge

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

My boys and I are fairly athletic.  I have been told that I need to include more pictures – my content is too “linear,” so this should break it up.  Below are pictures of (1) me and (2) a certain Marine (older brother taking the picture) before boot, SOI, fleet and then deployment to Iraq, somewhere near Mt. Mitchell, N.C., looking at the magnificent vista.

dad.jpg

marine.jpg

 A few months later we were rafting the Ocoee with challenging whitewater.  I have also rappelled, and there isn’t much in the outdoors we don’t feel fairly comfortable doing.  I might do fairly well at the Wilderness Challenge.  Then again, perhaps not.  U.S. and NATO Armed Forces teams did the Wilderness Challenge as an expedition race.

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — The Marines are this year’s Wilderness Challenge champs.

A four-person team comprising leathernecks stationed all around the country ended the competition Saturday with a first-place showing in the two-day event’s final (and arguably most punishing) race: a 14-mile, largely uphill slog through West Virginia’s share of the Appalachian Mountains. They knocked it out in 2 hours and 26 minutes.

A team representing the Navy took second place overall, finishing less than two minutes behind the leaders’ total time. Last year’s champs, a Coast Guard crew, earned third place this year, more than 15 minutes off the Marines’ time.

Navy and Coast Guard teams also placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

The top Air Force team finished in seventh place; the best Army showing was good for 12th.

The Wilderness Challenge, now in its seventh year, is billed as a team outdoor adventure competition for all five branches of the armed forces.

Forty-six squads — including four representing NATO — participated. The top NATO team placed 14th.

The event is held each fall along the New and Gauley rivers in southern West Virginia, about an hour south of the state capital, Charleston. It consists of six races spanning nearly 54 miles overall: one on bikes, two on foot and three in the water.

Saturday’s competition began at 7:15 a.m., soon after sunrise, and ended with an awards presentation more than 12 hours later.

West Virginia claims some of the most beautiful mountains, forests and landscapes in the world.  This race should be a good one for some time into the future, until West Virginia destroys their beautiful state with mountaintop removal coal mining.  Then it might have to move to any one of a number of expedition race locations around the country.

Congratulations to the winners.  They set the standard, and I expect the same from the Marines in 2008.

From the Crest Trail

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 10 months ago

Somewhere on the Crest Trail, Sandia Mountains, New Mexico, November 16, 2006.  Hiking at 10,000 feet elevation kept me winded most of the time.

Sandia 0311.jpg


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