Service with a smile

January 31, 2007

smileIt’s been my observation that outdoor equipment companies flat-out stand behind their products better than any other manufacturer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining!

Despite the fact that their products are subject to a lot of wear and tear, most outdoor gear companies take a liberal view of their warranties. At least that’s what I’ve seen so far.
I’ll give you a couple examples.

A few years ago I was backpacking in Big South Fork when my MSR Dragonfly stove broke. (This was in my pre-ultralight days. The Dragonfly is a heavy stove.) When I returned home I called MSR’s product service department. The conversation with the guy on the other end went something like this:

Me: “My Dragonfly broke on my backpacking trip.”

MSR: “Really? Oh gee, I’m really sorry! When do you need to use it again.”

Me: “In about a month.”

MSR: “Hmmm. That’s not enough time to make an exchange. I’ll tell you what, I’ll call (name of local retailer) and tell them when you come in they need to give you a new one.”

And just like that, a few days later I had a brand new Dragonfly.

Recently, I had a similar experience with Outdoor Research. I was checking out their Web site when I came across their Lab Rat program, which is a way to give feedback on their products.

I figured I’d give it a try, but didn’t have expectations that anything would come of it. I posted a review of their Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters. I have had reasonable but not spectacular satisfaction with them and I tried to give an honest assessment.

In my review I mentioned that the Velcro was coming apart from the binding. A couple days later I received an email from a customer representative, telling me that if I wanted to return them, all I needed to do was call for a return authorization.

The gaiters are sitting next to me now and soon I’ll send them off to see what happens. From what I’ve seen so far I’m pretty sure they’ll be fixed up just fine.

These companies are smart. That’s effective marketing. The other day, when I saw a pair of OR’s Meteor Mitts on sale, with that Lab Rat experience fresh in my mind, I didn’t hesitate to buy them.

Now I have another test for an outdoor company and it will be interesting to see if it plays out in the same positive manner.

Today I sent my Black Diamond Terra CF trekking poles back to Utah. One of the poles snapped at the lower, binary locking mechanism on my last hike.

According to Black Diamond’s Web site, I didn’t need a return authorization; just send them in. I thought that was a bit odd. But they have a one-year warranty and I can prove I bought them less than a year ago. In fact, I bought them at the company store in Salt Lake City on the cross-country trek Mrs. Cutter and I made in March.

I’ll report back when I find out what happens.


Hiker blog wins big time award

January 31, 2007

John Muir Trail BlogThe Newspaper Association of America awarded an Edgie Award (that’s Edgie, not Wedgie!) to the Fresno Bee for its John Muir Trail blog.

Four writer/photographer teams were given the enviable task of hiking and blogging a section of the JMT last August. Each team spent eight days on the trail, which was divided into four sections so that the whole trail was covered.

If you only have time to check out a little of the site, at least see this video, which does more than give a nice recap of the project. It gives you a wonderful sense of the misery and joy the eight, mostly-novice hikers experienced. It also offers some inspiring insights into why people hike.

Here’s writer Diana Marcum described her hike:

“It’s harder than you think it’s going to be, but you’re tougher and more capable of things than you ever imagined.”

This site is more than just a collection of blogs, and it’s easy to see why it won an Edgie.

The hand-wringing can stop

January 29, 2007

Chimney Rock - photo by Kathy1976A number of people in North Carolina were nervous (and rightly so) when the owners of Chimney Rock Park announced they were planning to sell their property to the highest bidder. The fear was the privately-owned park would be turned into a luxury housing development, or worse.

The owners listed it for $55 million and turned down a $20 million offer.

But here’s the good news:

“The state has bought Chimney Rock Park for $24 million, Gov. Mike Easley will announce during a news conference today in the park.

“An private donation helped boost the price the state was willing to pay, said Charlie Peek, spokesman for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.”

The answer is yes

January 24, 2007

Several months ago I asked, “Is now offering podcasts?

Now it’s finally official.

I’ll subscribe and give the latest two a listen. Let’s hope they’re better than the first one.

I’ve been thinking of putting together a review of hiking-related podcasts, so BackpackingLight’s entry in this field will give me a good excuse to finally do that.

Hiking defined

January 14, 2007

Hiking is just walking where it’s okay to pee.

Demetri Martin

Innovation at work

January 13, 2007

Gardenville at Ultra-Lite Skunk Works has a fascinating step-by-step look at how he created an ultralight backpack with a pocket for a pair of snow shoes.


Rock and Roll Cataloochee-Koo

January 11, 2007

Rock and roll hoochie koo
Lordy mama light my fuse
Rock and roll hoochie koo
Truck on out and spread the news
Done got tired of paying dues
Said goodbye to all my blues
Lordy mama, light my fuse.
© 1970 by Derringer Music, Inc.

I couldn’t get that stupid song by Rick Derringer out of my head Saturday while my younger son and I hiked to Big Cataloochee Mountain in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

There’s a line in the song that starts out, “Getting higher all the time.” To be sure, the lyrics don’t have anything to do with hiking, but on Saturday, our hike was getting plenty higher all the time.

Big Cataloochee is one of the peaks of the South Beyond 6000. Finally, after not hiking a mountain on this list for more than 6 months, I was finally bagging another. But in the end, I think it bagged me.

We started at Mt. Sterling Gap, which is on the eastern edge of the park near the tiny community of Mt. Sterling, N.C. The gap is at an elevation of 3,888 feet. Big Cataloochee stands at 6,155 feet. Though that’s a difference of just 2,267 feet, the total elevation gain of the hike was 5,206 feet, with most of that coming in the first 2.3 miles.

Profile - Big Cataloochee Mountain

This was a hike that kicked my butt.

The last half mile to the peak was off trail and about 600 feet up. Deadfall, sticker bushes, and the steep terrain made getting to the top a challenge. But fortunately there was a trail of surveyors tape markers that helped lead us to the top.

By the time we finished the 16.3 mile hike we were both pretty beat, though I’m quite certain my 50-year-old body was feeling more beat than Landon’s 16-year-old body.


If you’re too young to remember Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo, or are old enough to remember and want to relive your youth, here’s a classic 1973 performance. But be careful. This is one of those songs that sticks in your brain in autorepeat mode.