Adventure Nomad

Adventure Nomad

Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Life Less Ordinary

I once led a normal life.   Some would call it ordinary.  For a while, it was what I wanted... and then it wasn't.  So I quit my job as an airline pilot, sold the house, sold the sports car, and got out of the ratrace.  This was four years ago.  My life is full and I haven't looked back. 

How can I help make 2012 a year where you can live beyond the ordinary?  First of, don't quit your job unless you have a sound financial plan.  Here are some ideas I've picked up over the years:

Stretch Yourself
You've got to start somewhere.  What are you doing for your next vacation?  Maybe it's time to get a little dirty, sweat a little and challenge yourself.  Maybe set a goal for yourself.  Instead of sitting on a beach in Bali, maybe you can trek in Nepal.  Do something different.  If you're a runner, maybe buy a mountain bike and learn the skills to ride offroad confidently.  Stretch yourself both mentally as well as physically.

Approaching the Summit of Mt. Chola (6168m) in Sichuan, China.
You Got to Pay Your Dues
Every adventurer starts out with smaller challenges, building experience with small mistakes.  Want to climb a big mountain?  First learn the skills: rock-climbing, ice-climbing, snow craft, rope work, etc. Then practice the skills by taking small, weekend trips out into the mountains.  Accumulate experience: find out what works, what doesn't.  Finally, train physically to accomplish your goals.

Trekking the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Make a Plan, Write it Down
For me, I can only plan it if I can write it down, and clearly see the steps needed to get there.  I have a big whiteboard divided into 12 blocks for the coming 12 months.  I pen in the goal and then pen in the various things I need to do to get there (buying equipment, training, etc), refining it as I go along.  For me, planning for something that's going to take place in, say five years, would not be a plan at all.  It would be a dream.  I need to write it down which solidifies it, makes it real, as if to say, "this is going to happen!".
Kayaking the Pahang River from Source to Sea, Malaysia.
Sponge up the Right Information
Read everything you can about what you want to do.  This is part of preparation.  Libraries and the internet are a wealth of information.  Sometimes, there's conflicting information.  If this is the case, find a guru - someone who's ideas and philosophy resonate with yours, and follow them.  Google them and read everything they have written, email them, if necessary, to find out their latest ideas, or to get some tips.

You are not the same person you were yesterday as the person you can be tomorrow.

Have a great 2012!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

iPhone 4s Camera... Wow!

It's been said that the best camera is the one you have with you (originally from Chase Jarvis) and the iPhone 4s camera brings you one step closer to ever-ready, high-quality image capture. 

These are the specifications for the iPhone 4s camera:
8 Megapixels
30mm approx focal length (it's about the same as the iPhone 4)
F/2.4 fixed aperture
Face detection autofocus
Tap to focus
Tap and hold to lock focus and exposure
LED flash (on, off or Auto)
Electronic image stabilization in both camera and video mode

The iPhone 4s, as an all-in-one device, is a boon to ultra-lightweight travelers like bicycle tourists and I took a risk and brought my iPhone 4s as my only camera on a recent bike trip to Malaysia.  It was the first time I'd put camera and video on my new iPhone to the test.  Needless to say, it was not perfect, and I learned quite a few things.  Here's what I got:

A journey from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, Malaysia, via the Central Highlands.  4 days, 400km, 17,200' of climbing.  Shot entirely with the iPhone 4s.

Here are some tips from what I learned:
Turn on your camera quickly by double pressing the home button twice (IOS 5).

Don't 'zoom in' by pinching the screen.  The camera uses a digital zoom which degrades the image.  Use your legs to walk closer or crop the image later in post production.

Tap and hold to lock focus and exposure.  If you don't like what you see, reposition the camera slightly to brighten or darken the image and tap and hold again.

If you haven't bought your iPhone 4s yet, get one with lots of memory (32G or 64G).  Video capture eats memory!

The camera lens is vulnerable to flare.  Flare occurs when sunlight hits the lens directly and washes out contrast and detail.  Shade the lens with your hand and be careful not to let you hand get in the picture.

The image stabilizer is only good for stabilizing hand-shake, mostly on static shots (oops!)

When panning, or otherwise moving the camera around in video mode, do it slowly to minimize the jello or rolling shutter effect.

Find a better way to stabilize the camera.  Maybe with the Joby Gorillamobile for iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S which also comes with a nice protective bumper.

The iPhone 4s is not going to replace my DSLR.  I have faster, easier and more control over my DSLR than the iPhone 4s' camera.  But for fast and light adventures, the iPhone 4s has proven itself to be a capable camera!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Top 4 Travel Must-Haves To Keep You Healthy

These are my top 4 travel must-haves.  They have multiple uses and purposes and can often replace more than one item in your travel kit.  These are what I use at home and take with me everywhere I go to keep me healthy. 

Silver Sol

I've gone from being a skeptic to a convert (see my original blog post here).  Silver Sol is a broad spectrum antimicrobial.  What that means is that is kills germs, bacteria and fungus.  Think about it.  That means possible protection from SARS, malaria, dengue, Hepatitis C, AIDS, influenza, diarrhea or dysentery, athlete's foot and a whole host of other fungal, viral or bacterial infections you could get (the full list is available here).
I use Silver Biotics from American Biotech.  That's the liquid stuff.  It's not effective if you use it topically for issues like athlete's foot.  For that, you'll need Silver Sol gel, which is more concentrated and stays on your skin longer.  For external problems, I just use tea tree oil, which is the 3rd item on this list.
Personally, I just buy the liquid Silver Sol, transfer it into a small spray bottle and keep it in my toiletry case.  I put 4 squirts in my mouth (about a teaspoon) after I brush my teeth (twice a day).
Silver Sol has replaced the anti-biotics, alchohol swabs, antiseptic cream and diarrhea medication from my first aid kit.
Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap

Dr. Bronner's Castille Soaps have been around for ages.  They come in a solid soap bar, or liquid in a bottle, and come in a variety of scented flavors.  I buy the peppermint liquid soap and transfer it into a smaller, leak-proof, plastic bottle.

They are organic and natural and hence they are great when used outdoors (with the possible exception in bear country because of the scent in the soaps).  I use it as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid and deoderant.  Here's the official Dr. Bronner's list of what you can do with it.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea Tree Oil is an essential oils from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia.  It is often used for its anti-fungal and anti-septic properties.  It is used externally, and should always be diluted.  It should never be consumed, although small amounts used in toothpaste and mouthwash is ok.  Be careful using this stuff around pets as it can be toxic to cats and small dogs.

These days, I'm biking a lot, and in the humid conditions here, I'm prone to fungal infections like athlete's foot.  Tea Tree Oil can be mixed with Silver Sol for a potent anti-fungal treatment.  I haven't tried this yet, but it's on my list.  I mix a few drops of tea tree oil with my Dr. Bronner's soap in a small plastic bottle and use it when I shower.  It's light enough that I can still use it as toothpaste if I need to.

Gloves in a Bottle

Gloves in a Bottle is not a moisturizer.  It's a shielding lotion that bonds with the outer layer of your skin.  Having said that, for me, it works like a moisturizer on steroids.  It seals in moisture, and helps to protect minor scrapes, abrasions and burns.

I was turned on to this stuff after my Aconcagua climb, where my skin cracked and split at the nails.  This was painful and made it hard to work on the mountain with my hands.  On Everest, my Sherpa and I used this stuff successfully with no problems during our two month long expedition.  I use it on my face, body and scalp; and it can also be used on lips as well.  My wife used it in lieu of a moisturizer on her face when she biked from Lhasa to Kathmandu earlier this year.  Despite the harsh, dry conditions, she said her skin never felt better!

Most of these items can also be purchased at  Iherb is pretty good if you are shipping overseas.  I'm not sure what the prices are, but it may be worth comparing.  Also, if you are new to iherb, use this discount code to get $10 off you first purchase: KOH756

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bottles vs. Hydration Bladder

Which is better for mountain biking: water bottles or a camelbak style hydration bladder pack?  It's an age old debate that I'll try to answer for myself for the upcoming Cape Epic mountain bike race.
Running on Empty at the Tour de Timor
To answer the question, I need to look at how much water I'll need for the ride, and also where I'll be riding.

Bottles are typically 750ml each, and if you can get two bottles on your frame, that will set you up with 1.5 liters (1.6 quarts).  Bottles are a great option for rides or races where you can refill your bottles mid-ride.  For the occasional longer ride, you could stuff another bottle in a jersey pocket and hope it doesn't fall out.

Hydration bladder packs start at 1 liter and max out at 3 liters, the size and weight of the carrier pack increases with the bladder size.  A 2 liter bladder is a good choice for most situations, and 3 liters is a must for a long day out with no chance of refill.  Bladders are the natural choice if you cannot refill mid-ride.

Terrain and Location
The main problem with bottles is that you need a relative straight and smooth section of trail where you can take a hand off the bars to reach down and grab a bottle for a drink.  Needless to say, this takes a bit of skill, and as I learned from my recent trip to Drak Park with literally hours of continuous singletrack, it was difficult to get a drink without stopping.

The second major issue with the bottle is that all sorts of crap gets thrown up and gets around the spout of the bottle; buffalo crap, cow crap, pig crap, goat crap, chicken crap...  you get the idea.  The mouth piece from a hydration bladder typically sits around my shoulder, and is affected much less than the bottle on my down tube.  Here in South East Asia, there are all sorts of diseases can one can pick up and that is enough reason to use a hydration bladder here.
Aid Station at the Tour de Timor
Bottom Line
For me, I prefer to use bottles wherever possible.  I think I ride faster with bottles than with a hydration backpack.  I think getting as much weight off my back is also a good idea.  For the Cape Epic, with aid stations 30-40km apart, I'm probably not going to get enough water just by using bottles, so I plan to use a combination of a 1.5 liter bladder (filled with Hammer Perpetuem or Endurox Accelerade ) and a 750ml bottle to give me a total capacity of 2.25 liters.  I hope somebody who's been there can tell me if this is a good idea.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Drak Bike Park: As Good As It Gets!

With 65km of groomed and maintained singletrack, Super D and downhill courses, is Drak Bike Park as good as it gets?

Drak Bike Park is situated on the Indonesian island of Batam, just a 40 minute ferry ride south of Singapore.  Drak (short for 'Durian Kang' or Durian River) Bike Park lies in the area to the east of the lake formed when the river was dammed 20 years ago for the fresh water needs of the island.
Drak Trail Map
The park had it's beginnings when a rider from Singapore, Stewart Ong, came to Batam over 20 years ago for work.  He rode the farm trails and wanting more, began creating trails in the nearby park.  Today, he works in conjunction with the community and state park authorities and created the Drak Bike Club, which maintains and operates the Bike Park.
"The Gap".  Image Courtesy of Drak Bike Park
There are many challenges building trails in South East Asia.  The dense jungle canopy drops leaves and heavy rains often topple trees over trails and erode trails.  Stewart and his crew work full time maintaining the trails when there are no customers.
65km of singletrack trail at Drak Bike Park.  Photo by Stewart Ong.
How does does one go about riding in the park?  First of all, get in touch with Stewart by Facebook.  Stewart will book you on one of the morning ferry services from Singapore to Batam (on the weekend, it is either the 8:20 or 8:50am; on a weekday, only the 8:50am ferry is available).  He will meet you at the Batam ferry terminal, and take you and your bike to the club.  At the club, Stewart provides a simple breakfast or snack while you change up, and then head off to ride.  There's a time difference of one hour between Singapore and Batam, so it still seems quite early when you begin your ride about 10am Batam time.
Laura negotiating some 'adventure' singletrack trail.  Photo by Stewart Ong.

All riders are guided for safety and security.  Faster riders get to follow a motor bike, and it was fun trying to keep up with a powered bike through the singletrack trails.  Stewart normally takes riders on a scenic 10km warm-up ride along singletrack farming trails which crisscross padi fields and along the lake shore.  Then the trail dives into the park's gem, 65km of maintained singletrack trails.  In addition, there are other 'ride-able' trails around the park, such as unmaintained 'adventure' singletrack and motocross trails.
Photo by Luki Gunawan.  Courtesy of Drak Bike Club.
Stewart's crew will meet rider's with a lunch pack and cold drinks at a prearranged lunch stop.  After the ride, showers and a snack await.  If you aren't staying the night, Stewart will send you and your bike back to catch the ferry back to Singapore.  Drak Bike Club has enough beds to sleep 24 riders in 5-6 rooms, so an overnight stay with more riding the next day is encouraged.  Note that each ferry has a limit of only 12 bikes, so if you are coming over in a bigger group, it has to be split-up over 2 or more ferries.

Cost varies, depending on the number of riders and how long you stay.  For large groups, the cost is about SGD$80 per rider for a day, and includes park entry fee, guide, all meals and drinks.  The ferry ticket costs SGD$50, and you have to pay another SGD$10 for bike handling.  For overnight stays and longer, it's more cost effective as you only pay for the ferry once.  Contact Stewart or Drak Bike Club for details and cost.

So back to the question: is Drak Bike Park as good as it gets?  For South East Asia, my answer is yes :o)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lighten Up!

I'm in the process of lightening up my Giant Anthem X.  I'm hoping a lighter bike will save me some energy for the upcoming grueling Cape Epic Mountain Bike Race in South Africa.  So how does one go about building a light bike?

300g Savings or more: Frame, Fork and Wheels
The best place to start is obviously in the 3 biggest, heaviest and costliest components.  If you haven't bought a frame yet, it's best to start looking at your needs and then a frame that will fulfill those requirements.  Carbon frames are where it's at for racing.  For daily riding duties, a more durable aluminum or titanium frame may be more suitable.  I chose to get a more durable aluminum frame and pay a slight weight penalty over a comparable carbon frame.

The Wheels are the next best place to spend money if you're trying to shave weight.  The wheels rotate, and a lighter rotating weight saves more energy than a static weight elsewhere on the bike.  Depending on where you are and what you can get, wheels come pretty light.  I bought a Stan's ZTR Crest wheelset and replaced the stock Shimano XT wheelset, saving 360g of rotating weight in the process.

The fork is the third major piece of this puzzle.  My Fox F120 RL is a heavy fork, and there are lighter options, but I like the way 120mm rides.  Rockshox's SIDs and DT Swiss XRC are a couple of lighter forks you could look at.

200g Savings: Drivetrain, Brakes and Tires
Drivetrain, brakes and tires aren't really the place to get creative to save weight.  Pros run the standard SRAM XX or Shimano XTR drivetrain and brakes.  If your budget doesn't stretch that far, look at the SRAM X0 or Shimano XT equivalent.  They may not be as light, but are often more durable.

While it is possible to go really light on tires, a lighter tire may be more puncture prone, and may be less grippy, thereby eroding your confidence and making your overall slower.  For the Cape Epic, I'm thinking of using Continental Protection X-King 2.4 up front and a Continental Protection Race King 2.2 on the rear.  Not really light, but low rolling resistance and good puncture protection.
KCNC Ti Pro Lite Seatpost
100g Savings: Seatpost, Handlebar, Stem and Pedals
The savings here are modest, but this is where you can get creative and still save about 100g for the handlebar and seatpost each, and 50g for the stem by replacing them with lighter aftermarket parts.  Pedals like Crank Brothers Eggbeaters are about 100g lighter than the Shimano equivalent and their Ti version is even lighter.  Taiwanese companies, like KCNC, are coming up with products like the KCNC Ti Pro Lite 8000 SeatPost , which at about 160g and a cost of about $100, is getting some rave reviews.  KCNC also makes a nifty stem and some lightweight handlebars.  Shop around and you can find even lighter carbon parts, but how light do you dare to go?

Keep in mind that there is no free lunch.  With lighter parts, comes a higher chance of equipment failure.  Lighter equipment can be more flexible, more prone to damage when knocked around and more likely to break or fail.  Assess your needs and the risks of going light.
Mt. Zoom Top Cap/Stem Bolt Combo. 4.7g.
10g Savings: The Small Bits
Swopping out some small bits like the seatpost clamp, top cap/stem bolt, jockey wheels, Ti rotor bolts, Ti QR skewers, etc can save between 10 - 30g each.  Swop out a few of these, and the savings are over 100g. 

2.5g Savings: The Bolts
Aluminum bolts for bottle cage bosses, brake levers and other non-load bearing places, Ti bolts for everywhere else.  Savings are about 2.5g per steel bolt swopped for a Ti bolt, more for an aluminum bolt.  It starts to get expensive here and its up to you to decide where to draw the line.

Remember, should you decide that your current steed is still too heavy, you can remove the Ti bolts and other lightweight bits and transfer them to your new bike.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Howz it Ride?

I've been riding my 2011 Giant Anthem X for over a month and I think I can give it a pretty good review.   The Anthem X is my 3rd full-suspension bike, the other 2 being Santa Cruz Superlights (yes, I've had 2 of them!).

Note that we chose to buy the 2011 Anthem X over the 2012 Anthem X, which was available, because the 2012 uses a new tapered head tube size (1.25 - 1.5") and we couldn't get a fork for it at the time.
2011 Anthem X frameset.  Note the bottom bracket/crankset position directly in between the bottom two pivot points.
Probably what most people want to hear about is the suspension, and in Giant's case, it's the much lauded 'Maestro' suspension system.  It's all about the links and where they are placed.  Maestro places the bottom bracket/crankset directly in between the two bottom pivot points of the suspension system.  The result is a bike that is super efficient, and in theory, should eliminate pedal bob.  In practice, the bike still bobs a little.  I don't know why or how.  Maybe it is just not possible to fully eliminate it.

I've paired up the 4" Maestro rear suspension with a 5" (120mm) travel Fox F120 RL fork up front.  The combination of an efficient 4" rear and a longer travel 5" front feels really good to me.  This gives me an overall lighter, efficient pedaling bike, with the ability to ride technical descents confidently.  By putting on a 5" fork on a bike built for 4", it reduces the head-angle slightly.  I've noticed that when leaning the bike, it doesn't turn as telepathically as my old bike, which had the same head angle on a 4" fork.  Nevertheless, it is still a quick steering bike, and overall, I prefer the stability and slightly dulled steering response of the longer fork.

Is is all good?  Not quite.  I have noticed quite a bit of rear end lateral flex.  This could be because of a number of things, but I suspect it is because of the longer suspension linkages.  I've ridden the Pivot Mach 4 which is super stiff, and I suspect that it is due to the short linkages on it's DW suspension system.  The Giant Anthem X, has a more 'lively' feel. If you ride technical terrain a lot, then the Pivot Mach 4 would probably be a better choice, but then again, the Anthem X (frame with rear shock) is supposedly more than a pound lighter*.  

The other negative point is that the stock bike is quite heavy.  Although ours came as a frameset, our LBS built it up with stock Giant parts and sold it to us at stock complete bike price.  Out of the shop, it weighed about 12 kgs (26.5 lbs).  By comparison, our Superlights (with racing tires and lots of carbon bits) weigh in at 10.5 kgs.  Buying a frameset from Giant and building up your own bike would seem the way to go, but that puts you a distinct cost disadvantage.  In any case, my wife and I have decided our Anthem's need to be put on a diet and lose some weight.  It's expensive, but we are in the process of trimming off whatever excess weight we can afford.

The bottom line is that I do like my Giant Anthem X.  I bought it primarily as a marathon XC race bike, but I also wanted something I could ride for fun on technical trails, and something durable I could travel with.  In the one month we have been riding and racing the bikes, we have had numerous brake problems, broken shifters, bent rotors and a broken pedal, but no frame and shock issues.

Is this bike right for you?  Multi-pivot bikes have come a long way, and frankly, they are more alike than they are different.  They all try to do the same thing: make the rear wheel travel straight up and down, while trying to eliminate pedal bob and brake jack.  In the end,  the right bike choice will have more to do with how YOU feel about the bike rather than technical specifications or reviews ;o)

*Giant doesn't publish the weight of it's frames.  That's lame, and I think that any manufacturer who doesn't publish the weight of its frames either doesn't want you to know what it is, or their manufacturing process can't get the bike weights consistent enough to have them published (Near as I can figure it from internet searches, is that my Small sized Giant Anthem X frame and shock weighs about 5 lbs even).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Resistance is Futile

Camel and Handler at Sunset.  Nikon D300, 18-200mm, F/14, 1/400, ISO200.
Getty Images is one of the big players in the stock photography business.  however, their new contract terms have seen pay going down, and an increasing loss of control over how their images are to be managed.  This new contract has therefore met with a lot of resistance from photographers.

While I love making the images, I'm less enamored by the business end of things and have caved and signed the new contract with Getty Images to manage my stock photography collection on Flickr

I'm in the process of uploading the images to Getty, and getting releases resigned, and so it's going to be a while before I find out if this relationship is worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

To Buy Or Not To Buy

I wonder if any other Apple fans are as disappointed as I am over Apple's announcement last night about the new iPhone 4S?  I'm kind of bummed out.  I wanted an iPhone 5.  A couple of features I was expecting were a bigger screen, and a stainless steel back; kind of what this mock up from looks like:

Image from

There's no doubt that the new features on the iPhone 4S are welcome, but they could have used those same features on the iPhone 5.

Today I'm looking into the Samsung Galaxy S II to see how it could fit into my lifestyle.  IPhone 4S, really?  Come on Apple!  You can do better!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's been a strange journey...

My entry into the 2012 Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa sent me on a quest to find the perfect mountain bike to complete the event on.  I wanted something light, tough, efficient... hmm, then again, who doesn't?

I basically wanted a bike to replace my aging Santa Cruz Superlight, a bike that has been my loyal and unfailing companion through many adventures and travels.  The Superlight has a reputation for being simple, reliable and light; and the bike I was looking for would have to fit those shoes and more.  Was I asking for too much?

I'm a bit of a bike snob, and my search took me on a journey of bike discovery: exotic full carbon racing frames, hand-crafted, long-travel enduro machines, 29ers and more.  I never thought I'd end up with a mass produced, aluminum Giant Anthem X.

My 2011 Anthem X frame is built up with a Shimano XT groupset and wheels, and a 120mm Fox fork holds up the front end.  It rides great, and so far, it looks like it's filling the shoes of my old Superlight nicely.  The only caveat is that is is a bit of a porker.  Out of the shop, it tipped the scales at 26lbs (12kg).  I'm hoping I'll be able to lighten it up a bit over the coming months for racing.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Vision 2030 Singapore

Vision 2030 is an initiative by the government of Singapore to explore the opportunities in sport to best contribute to the future development of the people, communities and country.

There are seven sub-committees or 'areas of discussion':
- Balance to the Rhythm of an Urban Lifestyle;
- Future Ready;
- Futurescape;
- Generation Z;
- Organising for Success;
- Silver Generation; and
- Spirit of Singapore.

I've been asked to sit on the Futurescape Sub-Committee, which explores creative and innovative use of space for sport in the future. I feel honored to be one of only two athletes on the panel, and I feel lucky that adventure sports has a voice in the future of Singapore sports.

Take a look at the Vision 2030 website, and if you have any suggestions, click on one of the 7 areas of discussion to leave your feedback, or drop me a comment below.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Green Corridor

The Green Corridor is the nickname given to the disused railway line in Singapore when the Malaysia-Singapore KTM trains ceased operations on July 1 2011.  In Singapore, there's great potential for this corridor of land which runs from the North of Singapore (Woodlands) to the South (Tanjong Pagar).  

Here's a quick look at The Green Corridor from Holland Road to Bukit Timah Road

In the South of Singapore, this corridor runs through a highly urbanized area. Like other 'Rails to Trails' efforts, I'm hoping that Singapore will retain this corridor of land for 'active transportation' use - an alternative means of transport for commuters to walk or bike.  Ideally (for me anyway), this green corridor would extend from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve all the way to Tanjong Pagar.  This would give opportunity for people to bike to work downtown, or to the Nature Reserve in Bukit Timah.

The government of Singapore is looking for ideas with what to do with this land.  Support The Nature Society of Singapore's effort to keep The Green Corridor.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Future Camera Now

I had a look at the Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) system a while back. Back then, I wasn't interested in shooting video, and the bodies I looked at required composing using the LCD screen on the back of the camera, which is not ideal outdoors in bright sunlight.
Panasonic GH2

I'm now having a serious look at the Panasonic GH2.  I think that more than any other camera today, the technology and ergonomics of this camera represent the future of digital imaging.  It's small and light, two very important characteristics for travel and adventure (hiking, biking, climbing) photography and videography.  One thing I learned climbing Mt. Everest: it doesn't matter how good a camera you have if you can't take it with you.  My Nikon D7000 is great, but it's bulk and weight meant I couldn't take it with me to the top.  Weight is important for obvious reasons, and bulk affects the view of my feet and body position when climbing as I use a chest pouch to carry the camera.  Less weight and bulk means a slimmer, less intrusive profile with the chest pouch. I probably wouldn't be able to carry the GH2 to the top of Mt. Everest either, but the weight and bulk is significantly less than the D7000. 

Shooting video is something new to me and  After seeing the video that my sherpa, Jamling Bhote, shot of me on Mt. Everest (video at bottom of article), I've become interested in doing more.  There's information on a moving picture that just cannot be conveyed in a still image.  In a still image, you could get a sense of speed, wind or movement, but other things, like how it feels or intensity of the moment are more difficult.

The D7000 does shoot video, but it's not as straightforward as Nikon marketing would like you to believe.  First off, the sound quality sucks, so you'll need to buy an external mic (which I have done).  Secondly, because you are forced to use the LCD on the back of the camera to compose, there are limitations in bright sunlight, and you may need to use an add-on LCD viewfinder (like a Zacuto Z Finder) which adds significant weight and bulk to the DSLR setup.  Ok, you get the idea.  It's doable, but with the added complexity, cost, weight and bulk, the whole setup is too much for travel and adventure.  Sure, you could argue that the image quality I'd get from the D7000 vs. the GH2 would be higher, but since I haven't got the GH2 (yet), I can't counter that argument (yet).

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mt. Everest Photography Equipment

Greeting the sunrise just above the First Step (8500m) on the North Ridge of Mt. Everest.  It had been a cold, windy night.  Panasonic LX3.
Expedition photography has to be one of the toughest things to successfully capture on film.  Fatigue, extreme weather and lighting conditions add up to make the task challenging.  Most people have some idea that weight is important, and they try to keep it lightweight.  I have to add that weight is very important, and you shouldn't overestimate your ability to carry something, like a big DSLR, to the summit of Everest unless you have the experience to know you have the strength to do it.  The other important, but often overlooked factor, is the means by which you carry your camera.  I carry my DSLR in a 'Chest Pouch' that is easily and readily accessible.  Camera backpacks are great for hauling your gear from lone location to the next, but if you have your camera in a backpack, you won't have many shots in between locations because it will take too much time and effort to get it out to take a shot.
Bali, our expedition sirdar, walking beneath a serac on the East Rombuk Glacier on the way up to Advance Base Camp.  Nikon D7000, 16-85, 1/640, F/13, ISO 200.
For Everest, I brought my 'newish' Nikon D7000 with a 10.5mm fisheye, 16-85mm, 70-300mm lenses, a small tripod.  I carried this from basecamp up to Camp 1at the North Col (7000m).  Above Camp1, I used my Panasonic Lumix LX-3.  Here's a big tip:  I gave my sherpa (Jamling Bhote) an LX-3 as well, so he could get photos of me.
Everest Basecamp (5150m), China.  My tent is the one closest to camera, the white tent is the dining tent, the green tent is the toilet tent (Oops, too much detail?).  Everest has a shroud of cloud over the top in the back.  Nikon D7000, 16-85mm, 30 secs, F/7.1, ISO 800.
Here's what I learned and what I would do different:

Jamling turned out to not only be an excellent photographer, but a fine videographer as well. The experience has got me interested in shooting more video.  I'd bring a Panasonic GH2 instead of the D7000.  It's probably the best combo video/stills camera on the market today.  As a bonus, it's also smaller and lighter than the D7000, and the Micro Four Thirds lenses that it uses are smaller and lighter too. 

Lenses are a highly personal choice.  If I were bringing the D7000 the next time, I would bring my 12-24mm ultrawide and a 50mm F/1.4 instead of the fisheye and 16-85mm that I brought this trip.  But, as I said, I'd go with the GH2 next time, and I'd go with the 7-14mm and a big-aperture short- telephoto lens.
Jamling finishing breakfast at Camp 2 (7600m) on the North Ridge of Mt. Everest.  Panasonic LX3.
I could possibly carry the GH2 as high as Camp 3 (8300m), but above that, I'd still need something lighter.  Instead of the LX3 that I brought for my summit push, I'd use a GoPro instead.  I did not anticipate temperatures being so cold that I would not be able to unzip my down suit to pull out my camera, remove my goggles so that I could see the LCD, turn into the wind to snap a shot.  With the GoPro, I could set the interval timer to take a picture every 'x' number of seconds, and put the camera on my head, and hope that some of the shots would be useable.  If the weather turned out to be good, I could use the GoPro like a 5MP still camera anyway.
Here I am sitting on the very tippy-top of the world!  Image is a still captured from a video sequence with the Panasonic LX3.  The whole sequence is in the video below.
Probably the only thing I would do the same is to give my sherpa a camera.  I was lucky that my sherpa, Jamling, was so talented.  Here's a short video of the climb.  Most of the video and stills of me on Everest were taken by Jamling:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Everest Summit Day

Traversing the North Ridge of Everest at about 8700m on the way to the summit.  Photo by Jamling Bhote.
The previous summit day of May 26th had been perfect, clear skies with hardly any wind, and quite a few climbers had topped out successfully.  Our own little expedition thus far had been meticulously planned, and our five members were feeling strong and well acclimatized, primed for our own summit attempt.  And that’s when things started to go wrong for us…

Jamling traversing the North Ridge of Everest with the summit in the back.
We arrived at Camp 3 (8300m) the day before at about 3pm.  Although the morning had been hot and still, by afternoon, the skies had darkened and snow had begun to fall thickly.  That snow would make the going more difficult during our push for the summit.  After setting up the tents, sorting out our oxygen, and getting some dinner, there was just enough time to grab a 2-hour nap before waking up for our summit push.

The weather forecast for May 27th predicted little to no wind, unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case.  Stepping out of the tent, the wind was a rude shock.  It was like a punch that took the breath out of you and made you want to immediately seek shelter. Unfortunately, there was no hiding from it, and we would find the wind to be unrelenting.  I headed upwards into the darkness.

There are a number of dead bodies along the way up Everest. Their presence are a stark reminder of how fragile human life is at this extreme altitude.  ‘Green Boots’ is the name given to the first corpse climbers would encounter at the end of the section known as the Exit Cracks.  The trail is narrow and climbers have to either step over him or gingerly around him.  He was reputedly a sherpa from Darjeeling who died on descent.  To survive, I would need to be smarter than him, or stronger, or just plain luckier.
Climbers tackling the challenging First Step (8500m) at sunrise. Photo © Jamling Bhote.
It felt windiest and coldest on the ridge just before dawn.  A few teams were huddled on the ridge just before the technically challenging First Step, trying to find some shelter from the wind, but there was none to be found and we moved on.  As we tackled the First Step, the sun was rising.  Once the sun was up, we felt better, but the wind remained the same cold, unrelenting force.
Jamling waiting our turn at the Chinese ladder of the second Step (8600m).  The wind ripping it up at the top of the step.  
We cleared the infamous Second Step at 8600m with surprising ease, and continued our traverse of the North Ridge to Mushroom Rock where we stopped to take our first break in 10 hours for something to eat and a quick drink.  It was here that we learned that only Esther, myself, and our little group of Sherpas remained.  All the others in our expedition had turned back.  We called up expedition leader, Jamie McGuiness, who said that if we were feeling ok, we could continue. 

Jamling (6-time Everest summiter and my personal Sherpa) and I had a quick discussion and agreed we were good to go on.  We got our ass in gear and reached to summit 1 1/2 hours later (27th May, 2pm Chinese time).  What followed though, would turn into quite an epic.
On the fixed ropes of the final snow slope near the summit with Pujung and Tawa behind.  Photo © Jamling Bhote.
It turns out that I was the only member to reach the summit that day with my sherpas, Jamling, Pujung, and Tawa (who wanted to summit and joined us from Esther’s group when Esther was forced to turn back just 1 1/2 hours from the summit).  The wind, consistently fierce throughout the climb, had burned my eyes when I needed to remove my iced-up goggles to climb the technical sections.  Sitting on the windy summit, they had deteriorated, and I could barely see the ground to descend.

What followed was a series of complicated tandem rappels with the 3 sherpas assisting to get me down.  They are my heroes.  Fortunately, I got my vision back after descending a bit, and was able to make my own way down slowly.  We got back to Camp 3 by sunset.
Jamling and I on the summit of Everest, 27th May 2011, 1:55pm Chinese time.  The wind is a little too strong to remove our goggles and oxygen masks. Photo © Jamling Bhote.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

30 Days of CrossFit

I've just concluded a month of CrossFit (well, four weeks to be exact), and well, I'm sold on the whole concept - CrossFit workouts and a Paleo (well... Paleo-ish) diet.  You may have seen my earlier post on CrossFit.  It kind of goes hand in hand with The Paleo Diet concept.

At the end of three weeks, I put on 2.1kg of muscle.  I  went from 63.5kg to 65.6kg while my body fat stayed the same.  That's pretty impressive results for me, as I'm a pretty hard gainer/loser.

Even more impressive is this other guy who started out at about the same time as me.  He started out weighing 130kg, and he's lost 10 kg after three weeks.  So the CrossFit/Paleo concept seems to work the body towards a caveman hunter/gatherer ideal: lean, strong, and durable.

Like all intense workouts, it's strong medicine, and I'm glad to be taking a break and heading off to climb Mt. Everest in just a couple of days.  This will be my last post for a couple of months as I won't be able to update the blog from China.  Sorry about that.  But if you'd like to follow the progress of the climb, I should be able to make updates via Twitter.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Supplements For High altitude Mountaineering

UPDATE: With the exception of the liver tablets, I no longer take or recommend these supplements.  Please standby for an updated post to find out what's working better for me in 2014.

Since my earlier post: Nutritional Supplements For Climbing Mt. Everest, I've learned a lot, and what I now take is significantly different, hence the need for this update.  I under-dosed a lot of the supplements in my previous post, and they didn't have the desired results.  Here's what I'm taking each day and am bringing to Everest.  As lunch is usually on-the-go, I take these in divided doses during breakfast and dinner:
Yum! Goes well with Argentinian steak. Photo by Jamie McGuiness
Mutivitamin x 2 - Now Adam (I've tried a lot of multis.  These are cheap, simple and work well for me)
Fish Oil x 4 - Controlled Labs OxiMega (double strength fish oil, reduces inflammation, 'thins' the blood, and serves as fuel)
Probiotics x 1 - Now Stabilized Acidophilus (needs no refrigeration)
Antioxidants x 2 - Now Super Antioxidants (phytoflavonoid formula.  Sometimes I don't get enough fruit and veggies)
Liver Tablets x 4 - Beverly Ultra 40 (for red blood cell production, boosts amino acid profile, and can serve as fuel.  I'll carry some extra (up to 12 per day) of these as well)
Vitamin C x 1 - Now Vitamin C-1000 (antioxidant, and reduces cortisol at night)
Mitochondria Energizer x 1 - Jarrow MityQondria CoQ10 (keeps the mitochondria fired up and become more efficient at producing energy)
Glucosamine x 1 - GNC TriFlex (joint care)

I also carry some digestive enzymes and use as required (if I have to eat a lot of carbo (rice, pasta, breads), I get gas, and the digestive enzymes help with that): Now Super Enzymes (the tablets work better than the capsules).

Specically for Everest, I'm also taking these adaptogens to help with better oxygen utilization and performance:
Garlic x 1 - GNC Triple Garlic
Ginkgo/Eleuthero x 1 - GNC Gingko Biloba Plus
Optygen HP x 4 - on climbing days

Fuel and Recovery:
  • While climbing, I use Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem, which uses soy protein instead of whey, and does not contribute to ammonia load.  Perpetuem comes in both solids and powder.  I prefer the powder which dissolves into my water bottles.  If I need solid food, I use Hammer Bars.
  • Post climb, I recover with Hammer Nutrition Recoverite.
  • I'll also bring some MRP (Meal Replacement Powder), to help maintain my bodyweight while on the mountain.
I buy most of my stuff from iHerb, and if you are a new customer, make use of this discount coupon for $5 off: KOH756

Monday, March 28, 2011

Peak Training for Mt. Everest

It seems there is no one 'best' way to train for climbing the big E.  With less than a month to go, Esther Tan, my team mate for Everest and fellow North Face athlete, took part in the Aviva Ironman 70.3 last weekend here in Singapore and placed 1st in her age group; also on our expedition is Grant Rawlinson, who is newly married (congrats dude!) and wakes up at 5am to  get in some quality training time; two-time Everest summiter and fellow Singaporean Khoo Swee Chiow, who will also be climbing the North Ridge of Everest on a separate expedition this Spring, is busy with his family and only has time for the treadmill at his gym; our guide, Jamie McGuiness, who is amazing at altitude anyway, is doing no training whatsoever.
CrossFit Prowler Push. Photo by Laura Liong.
As for me, the most of my long, hard training has been done.  After climbing Aconcagua last month, I promptly got the flu and was sick for a week.  When I was well enough to resume training, I was left with exactly one month before Everest.

It has always been part of my plan to 'peak' my training with some high-intensity work, and then taper off with some 'high-altitude' training.  With a month to go, I've combined the 'peak' and the 'taper' together.  I feel that CrossFit is the ideal training tool for this.  It's very high intensity, but also very short.  Which means that I'll reap the benefits of the high intensity work, but it won't leave me shattered and require a long recovery period. 
Training at '17,000 ft'.  Hypoxico generator and altitude tent on right. Photo by Laura Liong.
I've also bought a Hypoxico Altitude Tent and accessories which allow me to sleep and train at simulated altitude.  As time grows nearer to my departure, I'll gradually add in more 'high-altitude' training sessions, while reducing the CrossFit sessions.

So with less than two weeks to go, I hope I've got my bases covered between CrossFit and my 'High-Altitude' Training ;o)

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Cult of CrossFit

Pulling the sled around the block at CrossFit Singapore.  Photo by Laura Liong
Tucked away in a Kallang industrial estate amidst motorcycle workshops is a small, gritty gym.  It's called Crossfit Singapore and it's run by 32-year-old Kevin Lim, or 'Coach' as he is called by his 70+ members.  The gym has been running for two years, and its members pride themselves on having the most intense workout of any commercially available program.  "Your workout is my warmup", they like to say.  Indeed, having followed the program for just over three weeks, I can attest to it's intensity and it's effectiveness.
Coach Kevin cranking out some pull ups.  Photo by Laura Liong
Workouts range from gymnastic movements, olympic weightlifting and sprinting.  Among the more unusual tools used include sleds to pull loads around the block and monster truck tires.  Workouts are constantly varied, so the body doesn't get used to them, but they are also very short.  The longest workout is about 25 minutes, and a typical workout lasts around 15 minutes.  The key is the intensity, and Crossfit can really ramp it up!  For those 15 minutes, your heart will be working at near maximum capacity!  It's an intense blend of strength training and aerobic conditioning, and is definitely not for the faint of heart!
CrossFit Culture.  Photo by Laura Liong
CrossFit has its roots in founder Greg Glassman's garage about 40 years ago.  It has evolved to become the world's fastest growing fitness movement with a culture of its own.  Its gritty, no frills, take-no-prisoners style is not for everyone.  About 80% of new participants drop out.  Practitioners who stick with the program include not only elite armed forces all over the world, but also grandmothers looking for a way to boost functional strength and have a more active and productive life.

How can this be?  Can grandmothers really participate in workouts that "are universally regarded as being the toughest workouts in every athlete's experience."?  Coach Glassman says that "the needs of our grandparents and soldiers differ in degree, not kind.”  Those needs would be to build a broad and general functional competence, in such movements as squatting, picking things up off the ground, putting things overhead, pulling ourselves up, running, and jumping.  The key to the all-inclusive nature of CrossFit's training program is the ability to scale, or tune the workload to match each individual athlete's abilities.

Richard performing the Snatch, an Olympic weightlifting movement practiced in CrossFit.  Photo by Laura Liong
How does one get started in CrossFit?  The best way is to start is with an affiliate gym to learn the movements.  If there isn't an affiliate gym nearby, go to  The WODs or Workouts of the Day are posted online.  Instructions and videos are also available on the website to help learn the movements.  Most importantly, take the first few workouts easy.  Scale down the loads if you need to, and take the time to learn the mechanics of the movement.

One thing is for sure, CrossFit has changed the way I train.  Permanently.

CrossFit Defined:
CrossFit is a strength and conditioning system built on constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity.  The aim of CrossFit is to develop total fitness as defined by these ten physical skills: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 Equipment List for Climbing Mt. Everest

Fresh off Aconcagua and with Everest looming right around the corner, I'm scrambling to get my gear cleaned, organized and packed.  I'd like to thank The North Face for their support and for providing much of the needed gear for the expedition; to Rudy Project for providing eyewear; and to Hammer Nutrition.  I also need to thank many of the local shops in Singapore for stepping forward to offer discounts for gear: All Sport (Petzl headlamps and ascenders), Camper's Corner (Black Diamond Climbing Equipment), Outdoor Life and X-Boundaries.  Thanks also to Silkair for the extra baggage allowance.

My Equipment List for Climbing Everest in 2011
  • Sleeping
  • -20 Sleeping Bag - TNF Solar Flare
  • -30 Sleeping Bag - Shehe (Borrowed)
  • Mattress Inflatable - Thermarest Ultralite (old)
  • Mattress Closed Cell - Thermarest Z-Lite
  • Pee Bottle - Nalgene 48oz flexible canteen 
  • Inflatable Pillow - for BC and ABC
  • Clothing for Summit
  • Down Suit - TNF Himalayan
  • Fleece Bodysuit - MH Powerstretch Suit (zips match down suit)
  • Mitts - TNF Himalayan
  • Backup Mitts - OR Alti Mitts
  • Gloves - OR Alti Gloves
  • Socks - Smartwool Mountaineer 4 pairs
  • Boots - Millet Everest GTX
  • Balaclava - OR Gorilla
  • Beanie - TNF
  • Clothing for Lower Mountain
  • Bibs - TNF Mammatus Bibs
  • Softshell Top - TNF Kishtwar
  • Rain Jacket  - TNF Triumph
  • Rain Pant - TNF Venture Full Zip
  • Down Jacket - MH Subzero SL Hooded
  • Puffy Vest - TNF Redpoint
  • Puffy Pant - Patagonia Micro Puff
  • Fleece Tops - 2 lightweight TNF Tops
  • Fleece Bottoms - 1 lightweight stretch
  • Trekking Pant - TNF Paramount Zip Offs
  • Gloves - FA Guide Gloves
  • Boxers - 6 pairs
  • Long Underwear Tops - 3
  • Long Underwear Bottoms - 2
  • Buff - 3
  • Bunch of misc tee shirts, shorts, socks, hats and gloves
  • Trekking Boots
  • Eyewear
  • Rudy Project Guardyan (with Cat 4 lens)
  • RP Guardyan (in goggle configuration with clear photochromic lens)
  • RP Kalybro goggles (with clear and lazer bronze lenses)
  • Climbing  
  • Backpack - TNF Prophet 65
  • Ice Axe - BD Raven Pro 65cm
  • Crampons - BD Sabretooth SS
  • Harness - BD Couloir
  • Ascender - Petzl Ascension (left only)
  • Descender - BD Super 8 (frozen ropes can be a pain to squeeze through an ATC)
  • Locking Carabiners - 2 Petzl Attache 3D
  • Carabiners - 3 Camp Nano 23
  • Misc webbing, tape and cord
  • Trekking Pole - REI Peak UL
  • Headlamp - Petzl Myo RXP with lithium batteries
  • Backup Headlamp - Petzl Tikka XP 2
  • Emergency Headlamp - Petzl E+Lite
  • Eating and Drinking 
  • Cup/Bowl - GSA Fairshare Mug
  • Spoon - Brunton Ti folding spork
  • Water Bottles - 2 16oz and 1 32oz Nalgene Widemouth Bottles 
  • Thermos - TNF 0.5 liter 
  • Nutrition
  • Fuel - Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem
  • Recovery - Hammer Nutrition Recoverite
  • Bars - Hammer Nutrition Organic Bars
  • Vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements for 60 days
  • MRP - ON Oats and Whey for protein, carbs and fiber
  • Electronics and Cameras
  • DSLR - Nikon D7000 with 2 batteries, 10.5mm, 16-85mm and 70-300mm lenses
  • Compact Cameras - 2 Panasonic LX3s with 5 batteries
  • Tripod - Slik Sprint Mini
  • Phone - iPhone
  • Solar Charger - Brunton Solaris 12
      • Personal Hygiene 
      • Sunscreen - Banana Boat SPF 80 x 2
      • Lip Balm - Banana Boat SPF 35 x 2
      • Soap/Shampoo/Toothpaste - Dr Bronner's Peppermint
      • Wet Wipes - BC and ABC 
      • First Aid
      • Silver Sol - broad spectrum anti-microbial in a small spray bottle
      • Diamox - 250mg x 20
      • Ibuprofen - 400mg x 12
      • Paracetamol - 500mg x 10
      • Dexamethasone - 4mg single dose HACE
      • Nifedipine - sublingual HAPE
      • Melatonin - sublingual 2.5mg x 60
      • Cough Syrup

        work in progress...

          Saturday, March 5, 2011

          Cerro Aconcagua

          A climber at sunrise on Aconcagua
          It was our first morning at Basecamp Plaza Argentina.  I was awakened by the thumping beat of an approaching helicopter coming in to land.  I popped out of my tent to see a man being assisted into the helicopter.  Later, I would find out that he was a Polish climber with severe frostbite.  His partner was still missing on the upper mountain *.  It was a reminder that Aconcagua, considered by experienced mountaineers to be an easy 'walk up', should never be underestimated.

          Frostbitten Climber Being Assisted to the Helicopter at Basecamp

          Aconcagua, at 6962m, is the highest mountain in the Americas, as well as the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalaya.  Esther Tan and I chose to climb the False Polish Glacier Route on Aconcagua with Project Himalaya as preparation for our Mt. Everest bid next month.  We wanted to get some high-altitude experience, and get some training value (but not do something so hard it would leave us drained, physically and mentally, for Everest), as well as to evaluate Project Himalaya, as they would be managing logistics for our Everest climb.

          Esther (back) and me carrying a load up to Camp1.  Photo by Jamie McGuiness/Project Himalaya
          I wasn't disappointed.  Jamie McGuiness from Project Himalaya has a wealth of information that he is ever willing to share.  Having done mainly technical rock and ice climbs at lower altitudes, I knew little about high-altitude mountaineering.  Jamie quickly brought me up to speed on things like high-altitude medicine and acclimatization, as well as provide many small tips that only someone with extensive experience at high-altitude can provide.
          The Guru: Jamie McGuiness
          After spending four nights acclimatizing at Plaza Argentina, we left for the higher camps.  This being a non-technical climb, we were lightly loaded, carrying just crampons, but no ropes, harnesses or pro, and I didn't even have an ice-axe.  This worked out well.  The climbing, as expected, was basically a slog, but it was one tough slog at altitude, and it was made harder by unpredictable weather conditions, and an unseasonably wet and cold summer.
          Ice crystals in the wind high on Aconcagua
          On the bright side, I did manage to summit, and made a quite a few friends along the way :o)

          Summit, Aconcagua
          More photos on the climb Here.

          *The missing Polish climber was found dead near the summit of Aconcagua on March 2nd.  The 6 climber deaths on Aconcagua this season makes it one of the most deadly on record.