Last Saturday, we arrived home late from a lovely visit with Ms. Treva and her handmade trees and a necessary trip through the Axis of Evil (aka Walmart). After hiking through a snow-covered pasture and along a creek bed earlier, it was necessary to remove my woods-tromping britches and boots and pull on some appropriate about-the-house loungewear.
As I shed said layers, The Diane turned ’round and espied my awesome purple base-layer paired with my most favorite wool sweater and immediately began giggling.
“What?” I asked.
“Hahaha, that looks like some sort of superhero outfit! Hahahaha!” she replied.
The ensuing twenty minutes resulted in over a dozen blurry images; due to Diane’s uncontrollable fits of giggling. At long last, and at the expense of my dignity, I present to you all… The Woolen Unicorn: Champion of the Underdog, Enemy of Corporate Greed and Political Ineptitude. Capable of sparking cooking fires with a single match, dressing out a deer without powertools, and scootering over any obstacle!
The world needs more people with this frame of mind–not just artists and musicians, but more PEOPLE.
Huh, mebbe we should make our elected officials couch-surf and ASK for their paychecks, no?
The New Year has passed and, unfortunately, I was unable to spend New Year’s Eve as I really wanted–out on the trail. Monday brought 3 or so inches of snow and, not wanting to lose track of a trail I’m unfamiliar with, I chose to postpone the trip. Then I realized, frak, my friend Nixapotamos was headed here from the East Coast and would be here on Saturday. And the Neighbor is headed out of town on the 11th and I’ll be critter watching. Hmmm, my window of opportunity was shrinking. Quickly.
Instead of pondering this wee conundrum further, I opted for an impromptu overnighter at the Natural Bridge in Kaintuck Hollow. And when I say impromptu I mean I decided at 2:45 p.m. and was out the door by 3:30. This would work out well and be more of gear-test trip than anything. In recent weeks I’d accrued a new pack, larger cooking pot, a solid fuel stove, and a new sleeping pad. Might as well make certain everything was up to snuff, right?
I texted the Neighbor to let her know my plans and ask her to mind the critters for the evening and the following a.m. ‘Lo and behold, she was in the mood for a little light hike in the snow that evening. She decided to go with and so plans morphed from there. She would drive us (yay for AWD Hondas!) and pick me up the following morning. Perfect.
Since I’d already been prepping for several days on the trail, all I had to do was gather all the necessary things into the pack, check critter food and water, and head out the door. Sweet. Trail time!
Off we went. Kaintuck Hollow is just a few miles down the road and part of our local section of the Mark Twain National Forest. There are several trails within Kaintuck, but most online maps and information show the Acorn section located in the SE corner. The Natural Bridge is in the upper, N area about .5 miles from a small parking area. Like so much of the Ozarks, there are pine forests interspersed among predominant hardwoods. The approach to Natural Bridge is almost all pine changing to hardwoods as the trail continues on, up, and over the cave opening.
We hiked back to the Natural Bridge, but the lower area in front of it is a bit open and, at this time, was covered in snow. I wanted an easy overnight, so we hiked about halfway back down the trail to a pre-existing fire ring in amongst the pines. Nice. You could feel the temp differential between here and the front of the cave and, overall, it would be much warmer (relatively speaking) than out in the open.
Daylight was waning as the Neighbor and I agreed upon the next day’s meet-up time. I unshouldered my pack as she headed off and started in on fire making. When we’d left my place it had been about 27°F. Down in the hollow of Kaintuck the temp was probably around 24° and dropping as the sun set. We had a cold front headed in, with lows forecasted in the mid-teens. Perfect temps for testing cold-weather gear. Thankfully, in winter, there are rarely any fire bans in our area. There are some trails in the Ozarks which prohibit burning (if I recall correctly, the Ozark Trail section through Johnson’s Shut-ins is one), but for the most part you’re welcome to have a cheery fire at your campsite, even off-trail. Just don’t be stupid about it.
Problem was, it was bloody cold. Had been bloody cold, and wet, too, for several days. Mind, I’m not an amateur at fire starting and I knew I’d have a bitch of a time getting a decent blaze. But, I figured, meh, just get the frozen twigs and stuff thawed a bit and they’d burn just fine, right?
Everything was frozen.
I started off with lint soaked in hand-sanitizer and twigs. The twigs would burn for a bit, I’d add some slightly larger wood, then it’d all burn out. Damn. Next I tried dry fat wood with magnesium shavings. No dice. Finally, I tried Esbit tabs (solid fuel) and still nothing. Well, frak. Oh, well, hell with it, I had fuel for cooking, I’d just double up on hot nomz and go to bed earlier. And I turned to pitching my little solo tent before I completely lost light.
My Kelty Crestone 1 isn’t free-standing, so a bit of forethought is required when pitching it. Also, it’s small and can be a bit cramped for even my not-very-large 5’5.5″ frame–I can’t sit upright without my head rubbing the top of the tent. And it requires a number of stakes to get both the tent and the fly taut. But, I’ve had it for years, took it on The Flamin’ Texas Roadtrip of ’08, in fact, so pitching it is pretty old hat.
And I was excited, I would finally give the Big Agnes sleeping bag and pad a test-run in truly cold temps! A 15° bag, plus an insulated air core pad, and my trusty, cut-down blue foam pad.The R value of the two of them together is greater than 5! Dear Lord, I’d be sleeping in divine comfort on the trail, excellent.
So, I turned to my pack to grab the…oh.
Guess what I forgot?
Lovely. I am an idiot. Oh, freakin’ really? REALLY?! I’d have called the Neighbor but guess what? NO. CELL. SIGNAL. So I didn’t bring the phone. I brought the SPOT locator in order to let the Better Half know that I’m ok–but it only sends pre-designated messages. Ergo, nothing doing but staying put.
Ok, it was going to be stupid cold in a few hours. The ground was already cold. I couldn’t get anything to burn, but I had plenty of stove fuel and plenty of water and plenty of things to put in hot water to consume. In addition to the base layer and wool sweater I was wearing I had a polypro layer in my pack and–miracle of miracles–I’d grabbed both a package of hand warmers and a package of toe warmers. Also, extra wool socks. And a down jacket. And a wool beanie and puffy gloves. And a TurtleFur neck gaiter. I was stacked for cold weather. Except for getting up off of the ground.
Wait a minute. Ha! Garbage bag!
Ok, so many of you know I’m a survival skills nut. I’ve written before about Mors Kochanski, Les Stroud, and Cody Lundin–thing is, you don’t learn just from reading their books or watching their films. You have to get outside and practice the skills they discuss, using the items they recommend having with you, when you don’t need them. The which of the why, despite trying to be as lightweight as possible, I still carry an axe and multiple fire tools. And then other things–a mylar blanket, an emergency candle, and a 55 gallon trash bag.
I spent the next 20 minutes crawling around stuffing a 55 gallon garbage bag full of leaves and pine needles. It wouldn’t be as cozy as an insulated sleeping pad, but it would insulate me from the ground and provide some cushioning.
Now, Big Agnes bags do not have fill in the bottom, logic being that you’re going to be laying on it and crushing the loft of the fill material. No loft equals nothing to hold in heat, therefore you’re lugging around unnecessary weight. Of course, this makes it extra important to remember your goram sleeping pad, but we’ve covered my idiocy already.
Mylar blankets can save your hide, but they don’t breathe. Meaning moisture that you perspire and respire gets trapped. Over a shockingly short period of time you’ll find a remarkable amount of water dripping onto you from the mylar. So, to combat cold transference and puddling, I put the mylar blanket in the bag, but under me.
The last trick involved the hand and toe warmers. Key to staying warm is keeping your core and extremities warm. I layered the toe warmers between two pairs of wools socks. Holy cow that worked incredibly well! Toasty toes, oh yes. The hand warmers went between the baselayer and the polypro layer at my kidneys. Throughout the night, before I really fell into good sleep, I moved them back and forth between my kidneys and spine.
I crawled out of a very icy tent around 8 the next morning, the sun just then peaking over the ridge to the east and shedding some sunshine onto my campsite. It’s amazing how much moisture the human body sheds and I discovered, very quickly, that my little tent did not vent very well. Of course, it most likely would have helped had I openend the vent tunnel, but the dewfall had been heavy, even with the sub-freezing temps. Needless to say, there was a wedding cake crust of ice crystals all over the rainfly.
The Neighbor showed up about 9:30 looking amused at my camping hair; then stunned when I mentioned that I had managed to forget the sleeping pad. Apparently, the temp had dropped into the high single-digits and while I can’t say it was the most comfortable overnight I’ve ever spent in a tent, it certainly wasn’t the worst. That’s another story for another time.
So, to recap, I am, in fact, a dumbass who managed to leave the house without a sleeping pad for an overnight that got down to 9°F. Because of survival skills and survival gear, I was able to make the best out of a potentially dangerous situation and stay warm, if not comfortable.
Now, may the snarky comments and heckling commence.
Oh, the joys of camping and hiking. I’m a sucker for being out of doors, for cooking with fire, and not seeing another human being for days on end. The better half, on the other hand, thinks it’s silly to sleep outside: “I live in the country; why would I sleep outside when I have a perfectly comfortable bed in my house?!” Fortunately, she both indulges and accepts my odd need to be outside.
Yesterday REI had their big “winter sale”. For those of you unfamiliar with why this is any sort of a big deal, REI sells a lot of their returned merchandise at very steep discounts. Reason being, REI has an incredible return policy. You can return pretty much anything, even if it’s been used. For example, I purchased a not inexpensive pair of hiking boots a couple of years ago. Due to my rather serious orthopedic issues, the boots became almost impossible for me to walk in about a month after they were purchased. I was able to return them and use the credit for a different pair of boots–a pair, I might add, that have remained comfortable and usable.
At any rate, lots of good things are returned, many not even out of the original packaging. So, usually, the big REI sale is a fun party if you like or need gear. Unfortunately, yesterday’s sale was, initially, a bit of a bust. The neighbor and I rolled out of the boonies at 6:30 a.m. in order to make it to St. Lousy by 8:00 a.m. The roads were slick and snowy, so we arrived late. Not a big deal, right? Meh. Apparently there had been 200 people queued up before the store even opened. And all of the good used stuff wasn’t in bins–it was simply scattered throughout the various departments. Ugh. And who the hell do manufacturers base the cut of their pants on? Really? Not everyone is a 5’8″ skinny/muscled Amazon. Hiking pants SUCK for this very reason.
After wandering about looking for a good deal and not really finding anything (I was looking for a watchband and an altimeter), I was ready to head out with just a couple of items: Esbit tabs, a neck gaiter, and a spare compass. However, the neighbor says, “Hey, did you see that Osprey pack that’s half off?” Oh, crapapotamos. Of course it was a medium, of course it was a 50L bag. And, of course, there was actually NOTHING wrong with it–it had been returned because of a “broken zipper on the inside”. Turns out, the zipper wasn’t broken, it just didn’t have a pull–and it’s not supposed to have a pull. My other Osprey bag, a Manta 30, has the identical zipper with no pull. Duh. So, yeah, I left with a new pack.
Now, reasonably speaking, I did, in fact, want a larger bag for winter camping. The Osprey Manta 30 is positively perfect for most of my camping because I carry a hammock, tarp, RayWay quilt, TiCup, and SuperCat alcohol stove in warm weather. Super, super-light gear. But in winter, well, staying warm simply requires more stuff. More stuff just won’t fit in the Manta. Ergo, new bag.
Last night turned into a “gather all the things!” kind of evening. Out came the 15° BigAgnes and 2.5″ insulated core sleeping mat. The REI Halfdome 2 was packed in and, ugh, just too heavy. Called the neighbor, “hey, you coming down tonight? Would you bring the Kelty?” The neighbor had been experimenting with it over the summer and turns out she didn’t much care for it. Ok, so the Crestone 1 was packed in. Ahhh, much better. Drybag of spare winter clothes (wool socks, base layer, down booties), first aid kit, hiking kitchen, weather radio, SPOT locator, map, compass, beanie, neck gaiter, etc. It holds ALL THE THINGS!
Today has been “reducing all the weight”. For those of you who hike and camp in multiple seasons and for multiple reasons, y’all know how varied some of your kit may be packaged. But for three or four days of rough backcountry you really want to keep your gear as light as possible. Honestly, the vast majority of my hiking and camping has been either car or scooter based. Car camping means you can carry all sorts of comfort items: chairs, coolers, etc. Scooter camping has to be light, but not ultralight. There’s room for a dual fuel stove and a 2-person tent and a camp chair and decent groceries. But on foot? Nope, you cannot carry all the things. You have to reduce things down to the barest minimum. Add in cold weather and that task becomes even more challenging.
Now, so many people seem to equate GEAR with SKILLS. Allow me to scream at you this simple fact: GEAR ≠ SKILLS! SKILLS > GEAR. Period. Bear with me for a moment as this is my most favorite rant. Skills keep you alive. But acquiring skills requires practice. Bear Grylls may have been a boon for testosterone induced reality TV, but much of what he does on camera would result in most of us being either very, very injured or very, very dead. So, no, Bear Grylls isn’t teaching anyone about skills. You want to watch skills in action, watch Les Stroud (Survivorman). To learn what skills you need, you really need to read. Yet there are so many survival skills books out there that you’d be crazy to try and read all of them. But, I will recommend two:
These are two very different books written by men with vastly differing viewpoints, the which is the why of the recommendation. I enjoy Lundin because he emphasizes not relying on specialty gear and Kochanski is all about practicality. What they both emphasize, however, is the importance of a) knowing yourself and b) knowing your environment. You have limits that your hiking partner or buddy or life partner does not and vice-versa. But understanding your limits is of utmost importance.
I’m a gimp. I possess a number of physical limitations. I was a gimpy kid, too. Surgeries with the Shriner’s Hospitals, braces, special shoes. Bladder surgery for double-collecting ureters. Then a spinal stroke in 2002. Being able to walk, much less hike, is a proverbial miracle–one that I am quite thankful for each and every day, btw. But physical motion, the conscious effort of watching where each and every step goes, takes its toll. And so an ideal hiking day for me tops out between 5-7 miles on rough trails. You may be a 20 miler on a bad day, but I have to work with my limitations rather than against them–and that enables me to get out there and DO. So, self-awareness, understanding personal limitations, and skill acquisition have been crucial to my ability for enjoying the outdoors.
With all this in mind I’ll quote Mr. Kochanski, “The more you know, the less you carry.”
It’s easy to cut down the heavy weight items: smaller tent, lighter sleeping pad, smaller hiking kitchen. Shedding ounces, however, can be difficult and oftentimes expensive. But ounces add up quickly. So, since I have ALL THE THINGS right in front of me, I’ll go through and provide an overview of what I carry. Mind you, there are a couple of items I carry that most may not: a SPOT locator and a weather radio. For me, adventuring alone especially, these are indispensable safety tools.
|Pack||Osprey Aura 50||3.000|
|Tent + poles||Kelty Crestone 1||4.000|
|Sleeping bag||Big Agnes Lulu 15° Petite||3.200|
|Sleeping pad||Big Agnes Insulated Air Core 20x66x2.5 R-4.1||1.500|
|Ground insulation||Blue close-cell foam, cut down R-1.4||0.400|
|3L hydration bladder||Osprey Hydraform reservoir||0.560 empty2.800 full|
|Cup||SnowPeak 600 Ti Cup w/silicone HotLips||0.200|
|Pot||SnowPeak Trek 1400 sans skillet lid||0.300|
|Stove||Esbit Ti folding stove||0.025|
|Fuel||Esbit solid fuel cubes3pk x 4|
|Silverware||LightMyFire Spork Little||0.017|
|Tea/coffee infuser||TheTeaSpot Tuffy silicone tea infuser||0.125|
|Bowl||Guyot silicone 500mL||0.170|
|Meds, Ibuprofen, Super glue, 2% iodine tincture, VetWrap, 4×4 gauze, band-aids, Moleskin, Q-tips, Neosporin ToGO, QuikClot, Dental floss (floss only), Hand sanitizer, WetWipe, Toothbrush & paste||0.210|
|Shovel||Army surplus folding pocket shovel w/case||0.250|
|Axe||Gerber Gator Axe II w/Saw||1.625|
|Trekking poles||Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Fiber poles||1.075|
|Knife||Morakniv Companion Heavy Duty MG||0.250|
|Lint based||Drier lint + hand sanitizer (highly flammable!)||0.250|
|Fat wood based||Fat wood shavings + magnesium shavings||0.125|
|Matches||Strike anywhere matches in waterproof container||0.125|
|Fire starter||Magnesium + striker||0.125|
|Radio||Eton FR160B solar/handcrank weather radio||0.700|
|Emergency locator||SPOT satellite GPS messenger||0.325|
|Columbia hardshell, Marmot 800 fill down jacket, Sierra Designs wool turtleneck, Polartec base layer, wool socks, quick-dry undies, Wrangler rugged wear ripstop cotton cargo pants, insulated rubber palm gloves, Columbia winter gloves, Bula wool beanie, TurtleFur neck gaiter, Sierra Designs down booties, Patagonia P26 hiking boots.||6.000 total2.000 in pack|
Total Pack weight
|22.800 less food & clothing on person|
And a word about “brand names”. In the course of determining the weight of various items, it’s very helpful to know exactly what an item is, who makes it, etc. In order to comprise this list I was able to Google most of my gear and find the manufacturer’s listed weight. Which was helpful since my kitchen scale is off in the better half’s kitchen and not here. Also, I’m really not much of a brand whore, more an incredibly cheap heifer. Over time, though, I’ve become rather talented at buying things on clearance and post-season and used.
Mind, companies who make outdoor gear, most of the time, really do make good, quality stuff that’s suited to a particular activity. So, if you can find what you need on clearance, who cares if it’s from two seasons ago? Lighter is lighter and it’s good to find the right item for a given task. I’ll probably write more on this particular topic when I get back, in addition to a trail report and a discussion of FreezerBagCooking.
I’ve not spent nearly enough time out and about the Missouri backcountry of late–ready to get out, get on the trail, and enjoy the flora and fauna. And ignore people for bit.
Until the future, there is a mess in my living room!
I initially wrote this as an assignment for a class. We were to pick a decade between 1910 and 1940 and imagine we lived at that time. The focus of the paper (and of the class, for that matter) was the technologies of the era; it was History of Technology, after all. Never one to think inside the box, I was inspired to have a conversation as my grandmother with someone she knew slightly–someone you’d run into at the Post Office or the general store, for instance–the cousin of a neighbor, perhaps.
Mind, my grandmother was born ’round the turn of the 20th Century in very rural Southwest Mississippi. She inhabited a far different world than that which we currently comprehend. She also passed away when I was about six and so my memories of her are nothing like the representation I created. But, perhaps I got it right? Perhaps not.
It was a fun, entertaining bit of writing. So, I’m sharing it with teh interwoobies. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed authoring it.
Oh, our place? Well, we’re a few miles west of McComb, Mississippi. Yes, Smithdale, yes. It’s a pretty nice place we have here. There’s our dairy, we have a dozen Guernseys that we milk twice a day, two 5-acre cornfields and sixty acres of pasture. And pine trees. Lord, but do we have some pine trees!
No, no, we don’t mind being so far from town. Why, we have everything we need right in Smithdale. A general store, a post office with a telephone, even a railroad spur. Two churches and family to spare, and some we’d just love to spare, bless their hearts!
Conveniences? Oh, I don’t know. Daddy, that’s Mr. Quincy, my husband, bought us a brand new cookstove just this summer. Oh, my, yes. It’s taken a bit to get used to it, you know. Cookstoves are a lot like folks, they each have their own peculiarities. But it makes things much easier, what with all the children. It’s so much larger than our old three-burner, and we can cook up a mess of baked goods like you wouldn’t believe! But it took Mr. Quincy and his brother three whole days to get a new wall up in the back kitchen once we moved that stove in. It heats quite a lot more than our old stove and, well, you know how steamy our summers are here.
Well, Daddy works over the hill at Mr. Pink’s sawmill. I suppose he’ll inherit it, eventually. He’s already thinking as if he has—silly man, talking about improvements and electric motors and all. I mean! I hear folks talking about how everyone will have electric out here in just a few years. Lord, the times we live in. Those new diesel locomotives about frightened me out of my wits when we went to Gloster a few months ago. I’ve never seen such a thing! But Daddy is determined to convince Mr. Pink that a diesel engine for the sawmill is just the thing to improve business. But we’ll see. Personally I try to not hear any of that ol’ business talk; it’s just so dull and all the boys get to disagreeing. My, but it just ruins Sunday dinner!
Oh, yes! Every Sunday. We take turns hosting, of course. One week Ms. Letha, that’s Mr. Pink’s wife, my mother-in-law, will host. The next week I will, and then Mr. Quincy’s sister-in-laws. Well, just the two, since they’re close. Lordy, but it’d be a hassle to have to go all the way into McComb to have Sunday dinner with his sisters. Why, that’s almost twenty miles! But they do treat us to some wonderful suppers when we are able to make it into town. And they have radios! Oh, my, but it is nice to set and listen to the Gospel Hour. It’s hard to believe that it’s possible; though I suppose we all thought the same thing back when we could first cable the Continent.
No, no, Mr. Pink has the only truck in Smithdale. Goodness, we aren’t millionaires out here. That’s the Major and his folk over in Gloster. He owns the railroad and ‘bout half the state, they say. But, he seems to be fair in his dealings with Mr. Pink. Those two are birds of feather—almost as bad as Daddy. They get together and discuss “progress” and “business models” and the “future”. Well, you know how women folk are supposed to be ignorant of such things, but I’ve often suspected that if they’d just be quiet for five minutes and listened to how well a handful of women run a kitchen, not to mention bossing all the children and the colored help, well, they just might learn a thing a two about “organization”.
Lordy, when I was a girl I recall how excited everyone was that there’d be a railroad spur coming right here, to Smithdale! But, really, it was just for the lumber! Takes it right to the Major’s depot in Gloster. We kids were so disappointed. Though my brothers, to tell on them a little bit, were known to hop the train and ride around all day instead of working when they thought Mother wouldn’t notice. I always wanted to do that! But I know Mother and Poppa, both, would tan my hide! These days I worry about my boy Sonny doing the same thing. Isn’t that funny?
Now that the new spur goes through Liberty, Smithdale, and McComb, why, our little community is all kinds of growing. So much work for the men, what with the sawmill and the railroads—I suspect Mr. Quincy is going to want to expand the dairy. But I told him, Quincy Leon Adams, there is no way on earth I’d stand for more milk cows. It’s enough work as it is, milking those cows before the break of dawn and at the end of the day, and farming our feed plots. I told him, Quincy, a dozen cows is enough! Not unless you hire on some help! Well, he claimed that we should just make more hired help. So help me, I wanted to smack that man!
Five children already, but only two boys, that’s right. They’re good, helpful boys. And our girls, oh my! They’re out in the mud and the dirt and chasing the chickens every bit as much as Sonny. Lord knows I shudder to see them chop stove wood, and lug water in from the pump, but goodness knows I can’t right now, not in my condition. Most days it’s about all I can do to get Daddy his breakfast in the morning and remember to put the cornbread in his lunchpail.
Well, it’s been quite pleasant speaking with you, too! Be sure and tell your folks I say hello and we hope to see you back soon! Don’t be away so long!
Someone was asking me the other day about, “How can you camp in the winter?! It’s cold!” This isn’t the first time I’ve ever been asked this, by far. However, this is Missouri–ticks, anyone? Winter camping (and hiking and backpacking) can be just as enjoyable as fall/summer trips out of doors, it simply requires a bit better planning and some additional skills.
PMags (Paul Magnanti) has written about the best why, what for, how come, and how to for “lightening up” on the trail as I’ve ever come across. And, believe me, over the years I’ve read probably 5,000 pages on the topic.
With the advent of a new year upon us I’m hitting the trail. True, only for three or four days, but when your ass has been on the hiatus that mine’s been this year, let’s just say I’m damned well ready for some John Muir time.
I’ll probably write more on this topic in the next few days. It really depends upon how the old skull is firing and how much work ’round the HiTechRanch v2.0 I accomplish ‘tween now and New Year’s Eve.
But, stay tuned. I’ve a handful of things to get off my chest and a couple of somewhat epic announcements coming in the New Year. 2013 is shaping up to be, God willing and the creeks don’t rise too much thanks to Global Warming, an interesting year.
In the meantime, this is the internet and so here is a picture of a cat. Monster-kitteh has gone on to the great kitteh beyond, but pics are great memory triggers.