Personal Locator Beacon

ACR Personal Locator BeaconThis is an ACR GPS Personal Locator Beacon, or “PLB” for short. It is my safety net when I go out solo on long backpacking trips.

Here’s how it works: If I had an accident that left me unable to walk out of the wilderness, I extend the antenna and press the button to activate the help signal. An internal GPS receiver acquires my GPS coordinates and the PLB transmits them along with my personal identification code through satellites to an NOAA station (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The NOAA station then calls my emergency contacts (friends and family phone numbers that I’ve registered beforehand) to ensure that I am indeed out in the wilderness and it’s not a false alarm. They then contact the local Search and Rescue team, which would initiate a rescue operation – knowing my exact location.

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Winter Camping in the West Needles

Winter Camping

Lured by a full moon and a forecast of clear skies, this last weekend I went backpacking for two nights in the West Needle Mountains in the San Juans near Silverton, Colorado. This area is incredibly photogenic; from my campsite on a 12,200 ft ridgeline, I enjoyed broad vistas of the Needle Mountains, the West Needles, and all the peaks of the Molas Pass area.

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Interview with Kenzo Okawa

Kenzo Okawa

Kenzo Okawa is a mountain photographer in China with an amazing portfolio of images from the Siguniangshan, or Four Girls Mountains. I discovered Kenzo’s work years ago on SummitPost.org, where he is a regular contributor. Kenzo was gracious enough to answer my questions via an email interview, as follows.

Be sure to check out Kenzo’s photo collection at his online gallery and also at his SummitPost gallery.


Judging from your photos, the Four Girls Mountains are incredibly beautiful and spectacular mountains. What kind of travel/trekking is required to get to the locations where you photograph?

The altitude of Four Girls Mountains is not as high as Nepal’s Himalayas, and some mountaineers call them “An ordinary part of lesser Himalayas.” But the mountain appeal is not decided only by altitude. I think that Four Girls Mountains are not stunning mountains, but they are particularly beautiful mountains. A town lying at the foot of the mountain is Rilong town, Xiaojin County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, China.

It is around 31 degrees of north latitude, 103 degrees of east longitude. Three hours by range airplane from Shanghai to Chengdu of Sichuan Province. And 7 hours by bus from Chengdu(Chadianzi Bus Station) to Rilong Town.

Because the altitude is not high, from the town it is easy to access the locations where I photograph. Usually it takes one day by walking or horseback.

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Andrew Skurka & the Great Western Loop

“On November 3, 2007, Andrew Skurka became the first person to complete the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop, an ambitious journey that links the American West’s great long-distance hiking trails to traverse 12 National Parks and over 75 wilderness areas. Skurka, 26, completed his expedition by walking an average of 33 miles per day for 208 straight days, covering a distance equivalent to 262 marathons or twice the distance between Boston and San Francisco.”

Great Western Loop

This trek blows my mind. 33 miles a day. 208 days! Just the planning for this trip alone would be a monumental project, not to mention actually DOING it!

Andrew would be appalled if he saw me and my enormous backpack with 20 pounds of camera gear. I take a slow pace and enjoy relaxing and spending more time in each place I go, but I still dream about what it would be like to thru-hike a long trail. How would it feel to hike through the desert for weeks on end and then ascend up into the lush mountains? To experience first hand the great range of landscapes and climate on a continental scale?

Andrew’s excellent and extensive trip reports from his Great Western Loop adventure shed some light on the experience.