Eddie Bauer / First Ascent, Karakoram 20 Sleeping Bag

By Christophe Noel

For many people, the Eddie Bauer name evokes images of khaki pants, braided leather belts, and perhaps even a fine selection of throw pillows for the well-appointed suburban home. It is true, Eddie Bauer offers those things and much more, but they can also lay claim to some of the most advanced backcountry apparel and equipment available today. Those items, branded with the First Ascent logo, mean serious business. Designed with direct feedback from world renowned mountaineers like Ed Viesturs and Peter Whittaker, First Ascent products are ready to take on any backcountry endeavor you throw at them from your local wood to the icy ramparts of Mount Everest.

The Karakoram 20 sleeping bag from First Ascent is one of the finest sleeping bags on the market. Inspired by Eddie Bauer’s mountaineering bags from the 1950’s, the Karakoram’s vertical torso baffles provide a unique structure that moves with the sleeper for maximum warmth and comfort. As is fitting of a premium bag, the materials are top notch with 20-denier Pertex® Endurance Shell fabric wrapped around 850 fill premium European goose down. A full-length draft tube protects the entire length of the zipper from the ingress of cold air, and a neck baffle prevents warm air from exiting the bag at the shoulders. The well defined foot box, and highly sculpted hood maintain their shape even amidst the most restless sleep sessions reducing troublesome cold spots. It’s a masterfully crafted sleeping bag. Weighing in at just a shade over two pounds it is also exceptionally light and packs down to a tight bundle barely larger than a football. For the space challenged traveler, the Karakoram 20 is an excellent option.

In an era of frequent cost and corner cutting, it’s clear First Ascent is uncompromising in their pursuit of excellence. No detail was overlooked in the design or construction of the Karakoram 20. During our testing sessions, the Karakoram performed flawlessly proving it belongs in the rarified air of the world’s best apparel and equipment manufacturers.



KTM 1190 Adventure, Taming the Beast?

By Christophe Noel

Almost a decade ago, an orange beast escaped from the dunes and rocky tracks of Africa’s Dakar Rally and took up residence in the civilized garages of motorcycle enthusiasts the world over. This race-inspired animal was the KTM 950 Adventure and it became an instant icon. Since then, the adventure bike scene has exploded with almost every manufacturer dipping a toe, or diving headlong, into the mixed-surface market. With the competition edging ever closer to reaching the bar set by the 950 and subsequent 990 Adventure, KTM has uncaged another animal with the newly released 1190 Adventure.

The 1190 Adventure is not just a punched-out 990, it’s an entirely new machine. Riders have long praised the 990 for its rawness and ability to produce adrenaline-pumping horsepower. The 1190 promises the same thrill, but with a level of refinement and precision that seems to be KTM’s new forte. If the 950 is a ferocious animal, think of the 1190 as a beast less likely to bite your hand off.

There are not too many motorcycles in the adventure segment with a superbike engine stuffed under the seat. The 1190 Adventure is built around KTM’s powerful 1195cc, 75-degree V-twin engine that rips out an impressive 151 horsepower. Twist your wrist with too much enthusiasm and you’ll dig a furrow fit for a row of corn. Taming all of that power is a new ride-by-wire ECU with four programed riding modes: Sport, Street, Off-Road and Rain. Traction control further reigns in the power with three settings for Sport, Street and Off-Road. For those wanting to evoke the raw fury of the old Adventure, the traction control can be switched off completely. Suspension settings are tuned on the fly with an optional Electronic Dampening System (EDS). Riders can chose from Solo, Solo with Luggage, Two-up, and Two-up with Luggage. If nothing else, there are plenty of electronic options to keep you occupied.

All of this power and poise is packaged in a bike that stripped of its color and markings could be  almost anything. To some dyed in the wool KTM loyalists, this could be problematic. KTM even succumbed to the beak when designing the front of the 1190 Adventure. It would seem that no bike is admitted into the adventure bike category without a prominent proboscis. At any rate, it’s a striking motorcycle.

These are interesting times in the motorcycle industry. BMW’s newly released R1200GS is now pumping water for the first time in 90 years, and KTM is wiring their bikes with more electronics than Sputnik. Some have argued that KTM’s new flagship adventure bike pushes the brand further towards the tarmac and away from their dirty roots. There is no doubt that in the last few years their orange letters have adorned some impressive road machines from their 1190 RC8 R superbike to their X-bow car. The 1190 Adventure is clearly aimed at the massive number of highway biased riders throwing a leg over adventure bikes, but who’s to say those adventures are less significant than the off-piste romps? Has the beast been too tamed? For those of us in North America, we’ll have to wait until 2014 to find out.


Overland Journal: Summer 2013 Preview

The Land of Butch and Sundance: Bolivia by Dual-Sport, Bill Dragoo

Vehicle Feature: FJ45 Crew Cab Pickup, Chris Collard

Knobbies: Dual-Sport Tires, Overland Journal Staff

Sand Raiders: Egypt in two 1940’s Willys, Sam Watson

The Summer 2013 Issue of Overland Journal will also feature:

Leather Boot Comparison, Christophe Noel

To See the Elephant: North America’s Emigrant Trail, Chris Collard

and much more.

The Road Less Traveled: The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway

Story by Christophe Noel

Every spring in the craggy peaks above Silverton, Colorado there can be heard an unmistakable clatter as heavy plows labor to free high altitude mountain passes from the last of winter’s snow. Sunlight dances on racing creek waters as they flow from the melting snowfields to the lush valleys below, and alpine flowers push forth to make the most of their brief growing season. High above, ravens rise on warm air currents, their inky shadows racing across the mountainsides. It is a magical scene, a virtual postcard in motion.

To experience the splendor of the Rocky Mountains of Southern Colorado, one need only drive the short 65 miles around the famous Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. This iconic route begins in Silverton, climbs over Cinnamon Pass to the mountain hamlet of Lake City before circling back and over Engineer Pass. Along the way it passes through historic ghost towns and verdant mountain meadows, while winding amidst towering mountains and crossing countless streams and creeks.

At the entrance to the Alpine Loop sits the mining ruins of Animas City. A once thriving operation employing thousands of ambitious miners, all that remains today are humble cabins, vacant slabs of concrete, and errant piles of rusty industrial era metal. After a short visit to Animas City the road narrows, showing only a brief section of rocky scrabble before rising well above the trees to eventually top out over Cinnamon Pass. Here the air is thin, the views never ending, and the adventure still yet to unfold.

Shortly after descending off Cinnamon Pass, a short diversion to American Basin awaits along with a veritable sea of wild flowers. Said to contain the most dense growth of alpine flowers in all of Colorado, American Basin is a stunning backdrop for an alpine picnic. Handies Peak looms overhead reaching over 14,000 feet into the sky.

As the road reaches eastward, occasionally presenting a mildly technical switchback, the terrain opens up, exposing creeks and alpine lakes—the namesakes of the only small town in the area, Lake City. This charming little town offers a couple of eating options, a chance to refuel, or a nice night’s stay at a cabin or campground.

On the return trip, the gravel road climbs progressively, passing narrow roads leading to destinations like the Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peak trailheads. Eventually, the road ascends quickly to acquire the summit of Engineer Pass. Well above the treeline at over 12,000 feet, the adventure begins in earnest atop Engineer with a narrow descent back to Animas City.

Without trying to detract from the unique beauty of the Alpine Loop, Colorado is full of similar driving experiences. It is a land of unimaginable beauty. For the traveler, it is also rich with opportunity. Hot springs, and mountain hikes abound as well as dozens of other mountain adventures. In the small towns of Durango and Ouray, charming restaurants and breweries always welcome weary travelers.

As routes go, the Alpine Loop isn’t as remote as the Canning Stock or as long as the Road of Bones. It doesn’t offer the challenge of the Darien, or the culture of the Wakhan Corridor. It is however, nearly smack dab in the middle of North America and one of the most travel worthy routes any overlander could hope for. It is accessible, flanked on all sides by immeasurable opportunities to explore, and a must-do for any overlander via any means possible. It is a beautiful stretch of a road less traveled.