Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Staying Dry in The Rain Forest: Pre-Trip Report

Water is the enemy.

I’m not entirely sure that my profound fear of the life giving element isn’t pathological, but somewhere between a youth spent in the Boy Scouts and a few ill fated (and thoroughly rained on) trips to the Lost Creek Wilderness as a teenager I came to despise the stuff. Falling into lost creek two days from the car with my pack may not have helped much either. Regardless, fast-forward a decade later and you’d be hard pressed to find someone less excited about spending a day walking in the rain. You might wonder then, how a person who hates being wet so much could end up living in a tent in the rain forest for ten weeks. Oops. Or maybe not. As it turns out material technology has come up with some pretty sweet stuff to keep you keep you and your gear dry, and with a little bit of help from the folks at backcountry.com I think water and I might be able to make an uneasy truce.

The reason I’m telling you all of this is that come June 2 of this year, a team of myself and two other adventurous medical students will be heading to Madagascar for ten weeks to work with a group of French doctors to provide basic health care to a group of villages bordering the rain forest Ranomafana National Park on the south eastern tip of the island. Ranomafana was created in 1991, and set aside about 110,000 acres of richly diverse rain forest with the intention of both preserving the native wildlife and motivating the local subsistence farming villagers to not burn it for rice patties. Part of this deal was the establishment of a research station, and the beginnings of outreach to the twelve villages surrounding the park to assess what the villagers considered their most important concerns. Turns out that behind adequate land for farming, health care is their number two priority, and for the last several years a team of French-educated physicians has seen over 400 households and 2500 individuals to address basic health care needs such as caring for coughs, headache, stomach ache, fever, dysentery, malnutrition, malaria, as well as chronic problems with rat and flea infestation.

This is where we come in.

Starting in early June the three of us will be traveling with the health team to aid in the administration of medical care to the villagers, as well as educating village health care workers on topics such as sanitation, malaria prophylaxis, water treatment, and contraception. We’ll be hiking from village to village for the summer carrying not only the things we need to live out of backpacks for 7-10 day intervals between re-supplying, but also the medical supplies we need to treat the villagers. Needless to say with up to 160 inches (over 13 feet!) of rainfall annually, on top of me not wanting to get wet, we definitely don’t want most of what we’re carrying to get wet. It’s kind of a new dimension for me to be suddenly faced with depending on my gear to not only keep me moving quickly, comfortably, and dryly for my own reasons, but also to have a lot of people depending on the condition and timeliness of the things that I’m carrying. Having something break, leak, or come apart is really not an option, especially since we’ll be three days on foot and one more in the car away from the nearest place I could even hope to get something fixed. We’re depending on well designed and made equipment such as the Arc'teryx Naos 85 Backpack, and the Arc'teryx Bora 95 Backpack to carry big loads safely and dryly, and Granite Gear Drylite Rock Solid Compression Sacks, Granite Gear Dry Sacks, and GSI Outdoor Utility Dry Boxes to keep other supplies dry and protected.

Not the be overshadowed is the fact that the whole time we’re going to be backpacking in one of the most beautiful and undisturbed ecologies remaining on the planet. For the hiking aspect the team will be taking Black Diamond Alpine CF Trekking Poles to save the knees during a summer of heavy loads on mountain trails, and taking both a MSR Mutha Hubba 3 Person Tent and a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL-3 3-Person Tent to keep us dry and keep the packs light. We’ll also have some time to explore other parts of Madagascar and do some more backpacking there, so having the right gear so far from home is crucial to us not only getting the job done, but also having a blast in the process.

Ranomafana is truly an amazing place, with the opportunity to both have a great impact as well as great time, and we’ll keep you posted as our journey through the rain forest unfolds.

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Blogger jschristiansen said...

Very cool thing to get to do. It's pretty great that Backcountry helps make this kind of thing possible. Looking forward to following the blog of this group's adventures.

5/22/2007 3:43 PM

Blogger Ross Hanson said...

Thanks for your support! It's pretty amazing that Backcountry has helped us out so quickly and so much, this is really an excellent opportunity that they have made possible. We look forward to calling and mailing in progress reports, and we should have an excellent story to tell when we get back in August.

5/25/2007 1:25 PM


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