Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving in the Finger Lakes

Not an adventure blog, but I was away. And I didn't shower for 4 days... so it's enough like camping that I am posting.
I drove to New York to the Finger Lakes where my brother lives. He lives mostly off grid, at least his house and property are off the grid. He still uses gasoline and other modern infrastructure, so in the strictest view, he is still on-grid.
Some back ground, my brother has problems with modern society, rampant consumerism, and more than anything, authority. This doesn't make him far left or far right, politically. He considers himself right, as he identifies with the hard-working blue collar folks. However, he lives further left than most, but for different reasons. He contends that modern society as it 
 stands now cannot continue indefinitely, he is of the opinion that there will be a collapse, probably within our life time. He is a very smart, passionate guy. His opinions are formed with (albeit selective) research. The genesis of this world view of his stretches into the hazy past. He was enamored with 'My Side of the Mountain' growing up. He delved into wilderness survival with gusto, learning edible and medicinal plant identification - practicing his skills in and out of scouts. The second most important book to steer his thinking was 'The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight' by Thom Hartmann - a book dedicated to the theorized Peak Oil crisis. I read the book as well, and there are some very valid concerns. There are two schools of thought, one that Peak Oil is an unresolvable crisis, that once oil becomes economically unfeasible, that population levels will dramatically fall back to pre-oil levels (about 1 billion), meaning there will be a mass die off through war, starvation, lack of medical treatment, and lack of survival skills. This is the school of which my brother prescribes. The other thought process is that with a slow decline, people will be able to spin up other sources of fuel, hopefully renewable, to compensate for the disappearing "easy" fuel that is crude oil. I tend to fall in with this group, and that we won't see the squeeze of the need for a complete change to other fuels in our life times. Sure, I want my children's world to be a better place, but I think a slow transition to the next level will happen. Just from an economic view, once the demand for oil becomes price prohibitive other sources will be found.
Ok, enough back ground, getting off the soap-box.
Anyway, my bro decided to be proactive about it. He bought some property in NY on a side of a mountain. The 9 acres has a gorge with a typically flowing stream, a few nice pasture areas an old apple orchard and mixed hardwood and pine maturing forest. He built a cabin over five years ago. I helped some with that. He has added a porch and enclosed the porch as the kitchen. He is digging out the hill behind the cabin and plans on adding another room there. He plans on building a wrap around porch on the front of the cabin. On the property he has made a 20 by 20 work shop, several sheds, a horse barn (no horses yet), chicken house, pig pen, a small garden, and a root cellar.
I visit from time to time and it is like stepping back a hundred years (except the lighting). The water is collected from a rain barrel (the stream comes through a sheep farm on top of the mountain, so cannot be used), the LED lighting is powered off a few deep cycle batteries charged by solar panels - unless it has been exceptionally cloudy, then he runs a gennie for a few minutes to give them enough charge for the evening. The batteries aren't enough to run TV, computer, or anything beyond the LED and CFL lights nightly. Thanksgiving dinner was cooked on the woodstove, the turkey in the woodstove oven. 
On Friday I occupied myself in Watkins Glen, on the wine trail of Seneca Lake, and on the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail connecting Penn Yan to Dresden. The last an interesting trail I would like to bike and explore some more in the summer, or at least when there aren't hunters around. I found some interesting ruins off trail, I can never seem to stay on trails. I speculated that there was a towpath. The link confirmed my suspicions as well as explained there were some 30 mills, which must explain the helter skelter ruins I came upon.
I had no real high adventures. Hunting is serious business in these parts. I wanted to hit the Finger Lakes Trail, but some of it crosses private lands closed for the season, other parts cross public lands, dangerous in this season. I didn't have any blaze orange to sport and didn't want to mess up any one's shot by scaring their prey. Oh well, next time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Old Rag Backpacking

I met Anthony at his house after work on Friday afternoon. From there he drove to Heather’s house in Frederick. We set out in Heather’s Element, after stopping at the Coffee Company and Chickfila I drove. The directions were easy from Frederick: S340 to S522 to Sperryville and S321 to a right on Sharp Top Rd. Heather passed out in the back, after all week of working nights. Once there, she said the trip only seemed like it took five minutes. Anthony and I chatted, him keeping me awake and being the DJ.
We pulled into the lower parking lot - a blast of arctic air banishing the warmth inside the Element. We took some things from our packs - mostly warm layers of clothing. My layers consisted of: a blue long sleeve under-shirt, a T-shirt, a heavier pull over with pockets and a Mt hardware wind stopper jacket. I also wore a fuzzy hat and had the gloves out. The temperature was below freezing, but not by much. Heather talked Anthony into taking a fleece that she’d grabbed from the house on our way out of Frederick. Anthony had also purchased some smart-wool socks at REI a few nights before.
There was no envelope to leave the required $25 park entrance fee, but I did fill out a backwoods camping permit form. We headed up the road from the parking lot at about 9:30pm. By the soft glow of our headlamps we made our way up the black top road for nearly a mile until we reached the Old Rag parking lot, now closed to vehicles. We took the fire road up Weakely Hollow to look for a campsite, figuring the ground in the valley would be easier to find flat spots. We crossed the 4 bridges and the road begins sloping up a little bit, on this ascent a descent open area right off the fire road was seen. Anything further into the woods was shrouded by night.
Heather and I set up the tent. We always work so smoothly together. Nothing needs to be said, we just do what needs to be done. In no time the tent was setup, by headlamp and candle lantern. Inside Legolas lit the interior as we tossed our gear inside.
I hung the bear bag with help and an audience. After getting it lofted, we all climbed into the tent and crawled into our sleeping bags. I went to sleep quickly and slept soundly.
We woke before the sun crested the hills. The morning was brisk. We climbed out into the chill and broke camp, knowing Jim was meeting us somewhere. The sun slowly creeped down the hillside above us, finally warming us upon reaching down to us.
We put our packs on and hiked back towards the way we came. Over the bridges I saw Jim headed our way. He was a little mad as he couldn’t find us, and I had told him we were coming in Anthony’s car but had opted for Heather’s at the last minute. We walked back down the road to the vehicle to switch out some gear, pick up food for dinner, and redistribute the wealth. The parking lot was very full and there were quite a few people passing us going towards the mountain. 

After we loaded our packs we headed back up the road and after a quick stop for a picture at the bottom, we began the trail.

We took our time going up, allowing various day hikers walking faster than us laden folks pass us from time to time. The conversation was easy, and the couple miles quickly disappeared. Anthony did very well, though sweating profusely, we didn’t stop for any type of substantial break until we got to the first overlook, even that was less than 5 minutes. I was very impressed at how Anthony has progressed over the summer. Easter of this year Ant and I went on the Skyline and he struggled coming back from the waterfall, and crawled going back to the car up the road. This time he just kept going, keeping a very good pace too.

At the first real rock scramble Jim, Heather, and I kept our packs on, as we could shimmy, squeeze, or clamber up or around the crevice the trail surmounted. Ant took his pack off, and after some coaxing and some pulling got beyond the obstacle. While waiting, an older woman, maybe in her late 50’s fell off the slippery part of a rock going around the crevice. She fell about 5 feet on to her back. Jim and Heather both lent there medical knowledge, but she wasn’t hurt, or so it seemed, just shaken.
From this point on the trail became a series of scrambles, and climbs, some fairly easy, some a bit harder. At one point, after passing through the cave and the balancing rock a line formed on the trail, and wasn’t seeming to move. A narrow, quite rocky area, with a rope for an assist, was bottle-necking the trail. Jim became impatient and used an alternate, albeit, much harder, route... just the way he likes it! Heather also went that route. Anthony couldn’t have made it that way and choose to stand in line. I wanted to be there for Anthony, in case he needed a hand up, or a push up. Heather grabbed his pack from him, so it would be one less thing to mess with. While Ant and I were waiting in line and making our way Heather was helping a downward ho! group around the other way, passing packs down. Jim was helping some people up as well. In the crevice, Ant and I finally made it to the ‘technical’ part. On his first try he wasn’t hold ing the rope very well and slipped, on the second try I got a (unfortunate) good grip on his ass and heaved him up. Once he was cleared, I grabbed the rope and walked right up, with my pack on. It took him and I less than a minute to get up and through, still not sure why it was taking so long in the line.
Once beyond this, the hardest part, we made our way to a couple more false peaks, around a few more scrambles, to the top. We took pictures by the summit sign, then went and climbed up a boulder. A small pool of rain water stood on the top, and Heather and Legolas got a good photo opportunity. 

The sun was getting the late afternoon hue to it. We decided not to dawdle too much since we didn’t want to make camp in the dark again. We headed down the mountain, the elevation shedding quickly. My big toes hurting (note to self: cut your damn toenails jackass). Anthony decided he wanted a summit rock, some hippy chick heard him and handed him a piece of quartz. Not satisfied, he continued to search for a flat rock, Heather helped in his search.
The back side of the mountain is steep, and drops quickly to a fire road. There is a shelter and an out house at the beginning of the road. There were several camps of large groups, probably Scouts close at hand. That, as well as the water supply being rather far away, had us come to the consensus to head down to a side trail. Jim offered to run (quite literally) ahead to the path and find a suitable campsite. Anthony seemed a little worried that we would somehow lose him. I wasn’t concerned, and the day was getting late. Jim had the desire to have a fire for the evening and collect the wood and make the fire pit for us. We all set off, Jim disappearing around the next bend with easy speed. The next couple miles were very easy, on a well graded un-used road. We made good time to the cut-off trail. We crossed the creek at the beginning of the side trail, following it up into a valley. The ground looked very rocky, and I was wondering how far Jim had to go to find a suitable place for tents and bivy. Around another bend, and I beheld a raging campfire. We made our way to an empty beef jerky bag on a stick to mark the camp, had the fire not been visible. In camp Heather and Anthony setup the tent, after finding a good place for it. Jim setup a tarp and bivy shelter close by. I began making dinner. Cutting up and frying sausage, cutting up celery, onion, green pepper, and tomato and frying it in the grease of the sausage. While this was going on I began boiling the brown rice I had put water in at lunch. Note: [Next time put water in the rice at breakfast and soak all day. It took 20 min of boiling and the rice was still a tiny bit crunchy.] Added to the rice after boiling for a bit: crushed red pepper, tomato paste from a squeeze tub, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, and tabasco sauce. Had I known Anthony’s aversion to hots I would’ve added less and let each of us add to taste. He didn’t complain, and he ate it all though. The goulash turned out all right, but it was way too fuel expensive and heavy on the fresh vegetables.
All the time during cooking, after setting up his shelter, Jim gathered firewood. By the time dinner was ready he had a sizable stack... and this after breaking my saw, snapping the blade of it. Dinner was served and everyone seemed to enjoy it, human sumping the bits left in the bowls and cups. We went through the wine in no time, and passed around the flask while the sky got dark and the fire grew warm. After clean up and some rest Heather Anthony and I went to pump some water. Anthony seems to have an irrational fear of running out of water and drinking more that he actually does. Ant watched as I pumped 3 liters and Heather held the tube in clear flowing water. Back in camp we hung the bear bag and after banking the fire, headed to our nylon cocoons of warmth. A crawled into my bag, synched the draw string, and disappeared until the morning, falling asleep quickly, and only waking a few times to roll over. I didn’t slide, even though the slight slant we were on, Heather slide more toward Anthony as I was at the top of the hill. I was quite warm, hot even to begin with, in my liner and bag.
We woke around the time of first light. We took our time getting out of the bags, finally motivated by the need to pee and the desire for coffee. We boiled water to make oatmeal and hot chocolate and /or coffee for all in Heather's JetBoil. After breakfast I ran to the stream to fill up and clean the pump filter. I pumped three liters. I arrived home with all of it unused.
We broke camp and confidently strode back down the fire road, after letting Anthony take us out of camp as a training exercise. He needs to work on his awareness of where he is and how to get out. 

He crossed the path without realizing. These skills take time, and granted this path was much less used and more covered in leaves. But the blue blazes were still visible, just un-noticed by him.
We made our way back to the car with good conversation and into a lightening and warming day. The parking lot, was again packed full of day hikers. We hopped in the car and headed to second breakfast in Sperryville.
We drove back, tired sore but content with the achievement of conquering Old Rag in full pack.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lessons From Utah

Note: I write about gear after using it in the field. Some of this is reiteration from the journal entry, but I am more gear centric and less experience oriented in these blurbs.

10/11 -10/12/2010 The Narrows
As Jim and I did 2 separate overnighters in Zion, I will count them as different training hikes, as they were two vastly different adventures!
We began by getting a shuttle to Chamberlain Ranch beyond the northern border of the park, hiking down a private dirt road to get access to the beginning of the Narrows. I have written a journal concerning these events in another document, so I will just give the highlights here, and things I learned about the equipment I brought and food.
The pack was around 40 lbs, maybe a tic over. I brought 5 liters of water - 3 in Heathers Platypus and 2 Nalgens. It was a less arid environment in the Narrows (more like east coast humidity levels) so we ended up not having to pump water the entire time and ending with water to spare. The Platypus must be delicately placed in the pack or the hose will kink and you’ll be without water unless you stop, unpack your entire pack, unkink, and try again. Verily a pain. Jim’s water bag had a more inflexible tube and didn’t have the issue.
The Sprite tent is fantastic, plenty of room for boots and clothing, room in the vestibule for the pack. The tent is rather stake happy, and there seems to be a disparity between the foot print and the tent, I need to look at the directions to see if I’m doing it correctly before getting stuck in a monsoon, though I do want that to see how sea worthy she is.
The cook ware worked fantastically, nice and light-weight. I carried the 2 pots and larger lid. This was plenty for all our 2-person needs, and would probably be needed at times solo, so I will probably carry the same. Note to self: don’t forget utensils!! Luckily Jim had a knife/fork/spoon set to let me borrow a piece. Which remind me, the spork is great, but a 2 piece utensil kit, I think is necessary - leave the butter knife at home though... that’s what the folding knife is for.
Items borrowed and used from Heather (in other words, equipment I need to buy): compression Granite Gear water proof stuff bag for the tent, 3 water proof bags for toiletries, clothing, and general/emergency items, folding Buck knife, heavier rain/insulated pants, camp cup, Platypus water sac.
For dinner in the Narrows we went the pouch route - no waste or need of a sump - especially important since there is no good place for that in the canyon, in fact we were told to pee directly into the river (and poop in a foil bag), as that was more sanitary than a bunch of people peeing on rocks and getting a urine funk. Between that and the ranger telling us not to even pump water outside of the northern park boundary due to farm run-off, I was quite satisfied not having to use any water from there. The pouched food was tasty, however, the directions need to be modified and played with at home. Using the directions on the pouch lead to too much liquid, as we’re not boiling any off and rather bland noodles. The soupy cheesy liquid was delicious tho, and after a dehydrating day the salty liquid would be a good replenishment. I will need to experiment at home to get a good balanced consistency. Also I only used water, and didn’t add powdered milk, like I probably should have, as thickener. The added beef jerky was a much needed supplement to the concoction.
The next morning we tried huevos rancheros - freeze dried eggs. The stove immediately started burning the stuff, so there was that taste to sour the possible tastiness of it. Reminder to myself, there are a few tricks to Isopro cooking: turn it all the down to just above sputtering, don’t leave the pan sitting on the stove - to regulate heat even more hold it above the burner a few centimeters. Also we had a summer sausage, we decided to slice up half of it and fry it up - it was pure heaven in my mouth! By far the best way to eat it.
There wasn’t too much unneeded equipment lugged thru the Narrows - it was a bit warmer then expected, but safe to have warm clothing had I fallen in the water and got soaked. I didn’t use rain gear, though again it would’ve been needed had it rained (then again if rain was forecast we wouldn’t have been there), didn’t use the collapsible Nalgen Heather let me borrow (must buy her a new one since James promptly made it a smellable by putting Propel in it). Of the other things brought, I should have left the disposable hand warmers, sleeping bag liner, glow stick, shot glass, flask, and one of head lamp behind - I carried 2 head lamps and a candle lantern - none of which were used, as I was asleep before dark and awake after sunrise.

10/14 - 10/15/2010 The West Rim Trail
I bought a folding spork at the outdoor shop, since I left mine at home. I left this one in the car and had to borrow one from Jim’s set again.
The first day was fairly flat and we made excellent time. No blisters, no pain, no rain. The pack fit great, boots, socks, poles, knees gave me no issues whatever. This time we took the same amount of water as we did in the Narrows, however we ended up pumping 6 additional liters at the spring near camp (8) so it was obviously much more arid on the top of the canyon. It was also much cooler at night, there was a light frost. The sleeping bag and tent kept me snug - always wear comfy camp socks to bed, makes such a big difference.
The next day we had a couple hundred feet elevation gain, and then several (3) thousand feet elevation lose. My right heel began hurting and I started limping a bit. A small blister formed there. It may have been the sock/liner combination I had on, but tend to think it was just all that downhill. My knees were no worse for the wear, so I’m happy about that. Blisters now, mean tougher feet then! Knee pains don’t build calluses.
Other than that, I saw no additional equipment quandaries or unnecessary items.
We brought spaghetti for dinner, and a fresh onion to add. I didn’t have the gumption the evening before to put the sauce in the reusable container, so Jim carried it for naught, and I carried a full jar of sauce. The cooking of pasta is fuel intense, as well as messy. The onions were a nice touch, fried separately again - but we were not trying to conserve fuel. In fact we were trying to use it, as we knew we couldn’t take the canister home with us. I did notice, as it was breezy, that others had set up a rock wind shield for cooking. Even with this the stove would get blown out if the flame was too low, and burn the food if put higher. I could clearly see which way the wind was coming from while watching the water begin to boil - only one side of the pot would get the bubbles on the bottom and it took a couple minutes longer to boil. I need to make or buy a flame proof bib to go around the stove - I’ve seen other backpackers with these, and have found it is not a fruitless investment, but nearly required in some circumstances - plus directing the heat (especially to make boiling faster) will save a lot of fuel over time.
We tried the huevos again, but the twist was I brought flour tortilla wraps, unused BBQ chicken from dinner the night before, and hot sauce. Un-burned, they still were not very good, and rather expensive. Next time I’ll stick to oatmeal!