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Dec 07 2010

Ten-11, day 3

Took another solo tour on Sunday that started as trip to the pool for a workout. As soon as I turned onto the freeway my eyes saw the crest of the Sierra around Anderson Peak. There had been fresh snow up high and the sight beckoned like it always does when the sky is blue and the trees are freshly frosted.

Part of the beauty of going on a solo tour is you can investigate new terrain without having to consult with anyone on which way to go at each fork. I can meander and look for landmarks that going with a group might prevent. Part of the goal today was going to be to learn about the lay of the land between Tressel peak and the trailhead for Pepper’s Run. It is densely forested and relatively flat so there aren’t a lot of features to go by. The presence of a stream leading into Donner Lake meant there were bound to be tributaries and with the snowpack in mush mode creek crossings were potentially hazardous.

From the top of Tressel Peak I could spot the east face of Mt. Judah, barren of ski tracks. There were debris tracks from the Sugar Bowl ski patrol bombing the cornice, but no slide action and no one had tempted fate either. Bummer. I was hoping to admire somebody’s tracks there already. There were some tracks visible on the Lake Run trade route beneath Donner Peak, but they looked like snowmobile ascent tracks, not ski tracks. For slednecks, I must admit their tracks defined a fairly sporty route.

On the way up to Tressel Peak I took a few minutes to do a simple, cursory look at the new Tracker 2 avalanche transceiver from Backcountry Access, and the new 3 Axes from Arva. I won’t get in to the minutia because I haven’t taken the time to tabulate it, but it will be forthcoming. But I will say that I was psyched both beacons offered what is becoming a standard — an elastic tether which can clip on to the harness provided, or to a belt loop on your pants. I’ve definitely switched over to the pants mode of carrying a beacon, with it stuffed in either a cargo pocket, or my hip pocket. I’m so over chest harnesses and having to deal with what layer to put them on, or under.

The only factor I measured today was the range when the receiving beacon was parallel with the axis of the transmitting beacon, a.k.a. maximum range. The 3 Axes first recognized a signal about 31 paces away, or approximately 25 meters. It locked on to the signal a few meters later (23 meters), meaning it maintained distance and direction without flinching from then on. Response seemed fast and accurate.

Next up was the Tracker 2. I’ve heard from competitors that the range BCA is claiming for their new Tracker 2 is not, mmmm, calibrated. As I was about to experience, perhaps that is true. In other words, the value displayed on the screen doesn’t accurately represent the actual distance. Indeed, when Tracker 2 first recognized a signal I said “No Way!” immediately. The reason was two fold.

First, there was no way I was only 40 or 45 or whatever meters away those first few numbers were when it acquired the signal because I knew I was further. A lot farther than I expected with a beacon called Tracker, and about twice the range of the 3 Axes. I paced it off at about 48 meters. It looked like more. I even turned off my cell phone to make sure that wasn’t creating a false signal that the Tracker 2 was interpreting as a signal. No difference, it still picked up the signal from a lot further away than I was expecting. And it locked on within 2 meters, which means it has a useable range of 45 meters. The numbers weren’t exactly accurate when I was that far away, bouncing between 60 and 45 until I was about 25 meters away, when it was saying 30 (the Axes said 40 for the same location) and by 20ish meters it seemed fairly accurate. Some folks think that the numbers need to be accurate, and I would agree that the closer your get, the more accurate they should be. But at the limits of range I’m willing to cut any beacon some slack for not knowing if the distance is 60 or 50 or 45 when the signal is weak. Just knowing it sees a signal is good enough. I’ll confirm or deny range and more details on accuracy later next week after I take a more comprehensive look at both beacons. (I confirmed those distances were real on my calibrated range on Monday. Tracker 2 had a max range of 53 meters with a solid signal by 46 meters. 3 Axes had a max range of 28 meters, locked on by 26.)

For now, it was enough to get out, spark my interest, and make some turns after burning a good sweat to the top. Andrew would be proud, I even set track up the ridge using a competitive ascent angle. Ordinarily I prefer a mellower, meanderthal track, but it didn’t make sense today. I wouldn’t be doing laps, so there was no need to set a track for easy repeats, and with grippy mush, even my 80mm straight Glide Lite skins provided plenty of grip. Besides, I needed to exercise the climbing pegs a bit so they didn’t rust in place from lack of use and since I only had time for one climb, might as well rev the heart a bit for a better workout. I held a consistent pitch of more than 20 degrees for at least 500 vertical feet. Nothing Olympic, but a great climb followed by some great turns, and some hideous survival turns that seemed prudent to avoid injury and turning a nice tour into a survival epic. No need to do that in my back yard, better to save those for a more compelling objective than a workout with skis.

© 2010