Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trip Report: Cook Forest State Park, PA 5/25/13 – 5/27/13

This past weekend my girlfriend and I went to an early 1900s lodge in Cook Forest State Park, near the Clarion River. While being in the woods is not her idea of a good time, she picked this particular vacation because she knows I like it. As it turned out, this area seems to have quite a few old cabins where people stay.


It wasn’t the type of trip where we would do any serious travel through the woods. We mostly hung out in the area and by the river.



We lucked out with the weather. While I understand it was raining in NY, we had sunshine the whole weekend. I took some pictures along the river for you guys.







It was good to spend some time in the woods without any particular goal in mind and without returning exhausted.


Anyway, that’s it. Not one of the usual trip reports, but it was a good bit of fun in the woods, so I figured I would share it with you guys.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Classic Camping – What Is It And Why Should You Care?

Heads up, this is going to be a rant. If you don’t like such things, avert your eyes.

Classic Camping is a term that has gained popularity recently. A main driving force behind it has been two men, Steve Watts and Dave Wescott. Both men are very accomplished in the field of primitive technology, and have been teaching on the subject for many years. Their expertise in the field covers everything from Neolithic technology, to early 20th century technology and skills.

So, what is Classic Camping? Since the definition of the term comes largely from Watts and Wescott, we have to look to their writings for the definition. According to an interview given by Steve Watts, Classic Camping, encompasses the camping methods and style of the late 1800s through the 1920s. It involves the use of iron tools, canvas tents, and wool clothing. As Mr. Watts explains, it is the time period when the woodsmanship skills of the past intersected with the technology of the early 20th century. In particular, it is the act of leisure camping. It is the point in our history where woodsmanship skills and camping stopped being necessary tools for explorers, hunters, soldiers, and loggers, but rather become a recreational activity for city folk with free time and money to buy a Ford to take them to the camp site.


Washington, D.C., or vicinity circa 1920. "Dr. A.A. Foster and family of Dallas, Texas, in auto tourist camp."

While Watts and Wescott use a lot of phrases such as “Modern camping is what you do to get some place, classic camping is what you do when you get some place”, and it being the “true way to camp”, the reality is much simpler and less full of flowery language. Classic Camping is RV/car camping early 20th century style. It usually involved huge amounts of heavy equipment, designed for comfort, not for travel. Camp was typically set up right next to the car, with a canvas tent in which “you could stand in to put on your pants”, cast iron pots, table, chairs, etc. The focus was to sit around the camp fire, cook large quantities of food, and I suspect partake in some good quality liquor.


The above picture is from last year’s Woodsmoke Classic Camping (and sadly, bushcraft) gathering.

Sounds like a good bit of fun. Granted, it is far removed from my practices in the woods, but to each his own. If that is what gives one enjoyment, why not? I certainly do it from time to time myself.

Well, for one, there is the annoying remarks about how this was the “golden age” of camping, or how this was “true camping”. I must admit, I find the assertions annoying, as I would hardly call the practice the “golden age” of anything. That's not the main issue however. I am sure I also make similar annoying remarks about my chosen style of camping.

What really bothers me, and the reason why I think you should care is that some people, including Steve Watts and Dave Wescott have been pushing to connect their concept of Classic Camping with woodsmanship and bushcraft. I have to say, the notion of equating Classic Camping with woodsmanship and buschraft, or for that matter even implying a connection greatly upsets me. It upsets me because I am very interested in woodsmanship and bushcraft, and in my evaluation, Classic Camping has nothing to do with either.

If you want to hang out in a huge canvas tent in the parking lot, and cook large amounts of food in a dutch oven so you and your friends can hang out by the fire and tell stories, that great; but don’t pretend like this is woodsmanship or bushcraft. It is not. It wasn’t in 1900, and it isn’t now. All that Classic Camping represents is a bunch of city folk from the early 1900s with disposable income, hanging out by the side of the road on the weekend cooking barbeque and pretending to be woodsman. I am quite sure that the actual woodsmen of the time, you know… the ones that actually were in the backwoods hunting, trapping, exploring and logging had very few good things to say about the city car campers that descended on the woods in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Or perhaps they weren’t upset at all because those woodsmen were actually in the woods and never managed to run into the parking lots where all this “classic camping” was taking place.


The above picture is from last year’s Woodsmoke Classic Camping gathering.

Bushcraft has suffered enough in the past few years. It has gone from being the pursuit of learning of wilderness skills, to a backyard barbeque by fashionably, yet retro dressed people. The implication that bushcraft has turned into nothing more than car camping does not need to be reinforced by outright making it so. Nor does the term “woodsmanship”, which many have started using in recent years to distance themselves from the car wreck that bushcraft has turned into, needs to get dragged into this. Let’s be honest, setting up a canvas tent in the parking lot and lighting the barbeque is as much woodsmanship as hooking up the RV to the sewer system. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many things one can learn at a Classic Camping gathering. The skills demonstrated there however are tangential and not directly connected to Classic Camping itself. They are remnants of what woodsmanship used to be before people decided that they want to play woodsmen without enduring any of the hardships of actually being in the woods.

All of this is even more troubling because of the commercial interests that have aligned behind it. For those not familiar, Steve Watts and Dave Wescott run the Woodsmoke gathering, one of the largest in the country, which in turn is backed by Bushcraft USA, the largest bushcfraft forum/store. The result is a focused and directed push to equate classic camping, bushcraft, and woodsmanship into a perfect money making, gear selling, $300 per person bargain basement priced ticket, ego fluffing amalgamation that can then be spoon fed to every armchair “woodsman” in the country. It almost brought tears to my eyes last year watching poor Tim Smith trying to give a tortured explanation about how the terms are connected.

Now, I am fully aware that I am powerless to stop any of this from continuing. I just beg those involved, please, please, just leave one term untouched, so that those of us who actually go into the woods, and try to live off of equipment and resources we carry under our own power, can use with some degree of pride. You can have bushcraft. The term has already become a parody, but do you have to take “woodsmanship” as well? It’s not going to make the barbeque in the parking lot any more woodsy. All it will do is force the rest of us to have to come up with yet another term which you will then try to co-opt in order to make your paying membership feel like “real” woodsmen.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying any style of camping. If that gives one the greatest satisfaction, then it is an activity equally worthy of pursuit as any other. However, we don’t need to pretend that Classic Camping is bushcraft or woodsmenship, let alone “true” woodsmanship. It is not. it never was, and as long as there are people who actually go into the woods and spend time there, it never will be. 

Alright, rant over. Back to scheduled programming.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mykel Hawke and Ruth England Are Coming Back to TV in a New Survival Show, Get Lost

Remember the survival show Man, Woman, Wild, where Myke and his wife had to survive together in different locations around the world? Well, it seems like the show is coming back under a different title, Get Lost.


There is no clear release date, but it will start airing sometime in 2013 on the Travel Channel. Very few details have been released about the show, but it is definitely in the works. Here is what Myke Hawke released on his Facebook page:

“OK, it is Officially announced, The New Show for Travel Channel is called Get Lost with Ruth England Hawke & Mykel Hawke. Can't say more just now other than it is good stuff and the next level! Thanks to Travel & Bill, Tremendous & Colleen and Jeff & Crew! And of course to the Sergeant Major for being so brave and our lad for being so strong.”

I know people have different opinions about survival shows, but I have to admit, this was one of my favorites. I look forward to the release of the new one.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wood Trekker’s Gear Wish List

My birthday is coming up in July, and I have had a few questions about what I want as a gift. It got me thinking about new shiny gear that I’ve been wanting. I figured I would share the list with you guys. The items are listed in no particular order.

Stone Glacier Solo Backpack


The Stone Glacier Solo pack is manufactured by a small company that specializes in ultralight packs. It’s primary purpose is to serve as a hunting pack. What makes it well suited for that task is the fact that while it looks like a regular internal flame pack, it is actually an external frame pack. Stone Glacier uses what they call Krux Frame system. To this frame, which forms the full back of the pack, you can attach different pack, the Solo being one of the configurations. Of course, if you are purchasing the pack, you would need to get it with the frame. This feature allows the pack to be pulled away from the frame, creating a load shelf where you can place a game bag.

krux solo loaded

The pack and frame together come on the expensive end of the price scale at $559.00. You can get the pack without the flame for just $274.00, but that wouldn’t be much use unless you already have the frame. The pack and frame together weigh only 3.63 lb. While that is not lightweight for a regular pack, it is extremely light for hunting packs.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad


Quite a mouthful, but the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is the latest design from Therm-a-Rest. It is an inflatable pad designed for four season backpacking. It offers amazing insulation, at an R-value of 5.7, while at the same time coming in at just 15 oz for the Regular size. The mattress comes in sizes S, M, Regular, and L. I am 6 feet tall, so the Regular size fits me perfectly. The NeoAir XTherm costs about $190.00 for the Regular size, and can be purchased just about anywhere including REI.

Julbo Sniper Goggles


The Julbo Sniper goggles are an attempt to solve the ever present problem of fogging when using goggles in cold temperatures. Julbo has solved the problem by allowing adjustment to the lens so that air can freely circulate, thereby preventing fogging. I have wanted to try them for a while because I’ve gotten so frustrated with other goggles and glasses, that I rarely use them anymore. The Julbo Sniper goggles come in two configurations. One is the more expensive option with what Julbo calls a Zebra lens, which is supposed to adjust brightness according to the amount of sunlight available. They also offer a cheaper model which comes with three interchangeable lenses. I’ve been interested in the cheaper model, as I prefer simplicity. The lower cost model will set you back $120.00 while the top end model will cost $160.00. 

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles


This past year I have been debating about whether or not to take the plunge into the trekking pole market. I’ve never liked using trekking poles because I like having my hands free, but this past year I have been having a very hard tile with my knee. Many people have recommended trekking poles as a way to solve, or at lease alleviate the problem.

From what I have been able to find the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles are the ones that would probably suit me best. They are relatively light weight at 17.2 oz for the pair, while at the same time being strong enough for serous four season use. They are collapsible and have good locking mechanisms based on what I have read. Additionally, the locking mechanisms seem to allow for the removal of the lower section, which is a feature I plan to utilize for potentially replacing the center pole of my Shangri-La 3 with a combination of the two trekking poles. The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork cost about $160.00.

So there you have it; Wood Trekker’s gear wish list. All of them are items that I have been eyeing for some time, but have not bought any of them because of the hefty price tags. I’m sure that one by one they will make their way into my gear eventually.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Council Tool Releases a Velvicut Boy’s Axe

Ever since Council Tool released their full size and Hudson Bay Velvicut axes, people have been asking about whether they will release a boy’s axe. They had promised that one was in the works, and it is finally here. Council Tool is calling it the “Bad Axe Boy’s Axe”. :)

The axe reportedly has a 2.25lb head, and a handle length of 28 inches. Now, I know Council Tool lists their handle lengths prior to fitting, so it it is like the other Council Tool axes, the fitted handle will probably end up being closer to 26 inches in length. The handle is made of hickory.

The Dayton pattern head is made from the same 5160 steel we have seen in the other Velvicut axes, and will be heat treated to approximately Rc 51-56.

The axe costs $140.00 and will start shipping out early June of this year. You can place your order now with Council Tool here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Trip Report: Sundown Wild Forest Turkey Hunt 5/11/13 – 5/12/13

In the state of New York, May is spring turkey season. As such, when I had some free time this past weekend, I gave it a go in the hopes of filling one of my tags. Here in New York, hunting of turkey during spring season is only allowed from half hour before sunrise till noon. You can only hunt toms (well actually only bearded birds-some hens have beards as well), and you can only collect two birds total, and it can not be on the same day. Anyway, enough for background.

Most turkey hunting is done is rural areas, near open fields, power lines, or roads, where the birds like to gather, and where food is plentiful. Unfortunately, those areas are usually on private land, or are completely overrun by people trying to get a shot at a turkey. As an alternative, I decided to go to a location in the mountains where last fall I had noticed some turkey sign (actually a friend of mine noticed it). Hunting for turkey in the mountain is more difficult because they are more spread out, there aren’t any open areas where you can get long range shots, and you can not carry equipment like decoys up there with you. In my opinion however it makes for a more interesting experience. The mountain I chose is the Van Wyck Mountain which is located in the Sundown Wild Forest in the Catskills. You may remember the area from a trip report where the guys from Blades and Bushcraft and I searched for the crashed airplanes. You can have a look at it here. The plan was to go to the area on Saturday, bushwhack up the mountain for most of the day, so I can get to possible hunting locations deep enough in the forest so that the birds would not have been disturbed by people, spend the night there, and then set up for the hunt on Sunday morning.

So, on Saturday I got in the car and drove up to the forest. It was raining when I left. I had expected some rain, but by the time I got to the forest, and had taken a few pictures, the rain started seriously coming down. To make things worse, the trip started out with me having to cross a river, which had gotten quite large due to all the rain this past week.

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There was no clear way to cross. Even with rock hopping, I would still have to get submerged. I figured that it wouldn’t be a big deal because my GoreTex boots are waterproof, and quite high, so some water wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately, as I started trying to make my way across, I lost my footing and stumbled into the water. I got wet up to the knee, and my boots were filled with water. It would be wet boots for the rest of the trip.

On the other side the terrain immediately became very steep. For close to an hour, I had my face right over the ground. I wasn’t terribly happy with my shotgun sling. While it is comfortable to use on level ground, on the steep terrain it allowed the shotgun to swing too much.

Eventually I made it up the steep terrain and onto some more level ground. At the same time the rain started to ease up, and under the tree cover, you could hardly notice it. From the very beginning, I started seeing a lot of deer scat. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve seen so much of it. If they ever open a spring deer season, I know where I will be.



Still no sign of turkey though. As the rain slowed down, I was able to take off my shell. They say GoreTex is breathable, and I’m sure it is on some level, but when it is this humid, it just can not move the moisture out quickly enough. That being said, there is no other material I would rather have in the rain.

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The terrain was starting to open up a bit, making it better suited for turkey. I continued to scan the ground. Hey Ross… why are you wearing hunters’ orange during turkey season? Because I want to make it very clear that I am not a turkey while traveling to the location. Between the orange hat and the yellow pack, I figured I had it covered.

For this trip I used my REI Flash 62 pack. I was carrying very little gear, which I will go over later, so the pack was mostly empty. I brought it because it serves as a good frame for carrying out any kill. The floating pocket in the front allows for secure attachment of bags to the frame of the pack, even though I’m sure it was never intended to fulfill that role.

After some scanning, I spotted some turkey scat. It was from a hen, and it wasn’t particularly fresh. I was starting to get worried that this area was just a feeding ground for turkey in the fall but that they had moved to a different location to mate.


I kept climbing up the mountain for a few more hours. All of a sudden, to my four o’clock position, I heard the familiar helicopter sound of a turkey flying off. I turned, and what looked to be a hen took off from the bushes no more than ten yards away from me. It shot up like a pheasant. Unfortunately it was after hunting hours, and I couldn’t confirm the gender of the bird while it was in flight. After it took off, I searched the area, and found some scat.


While the rain was making it hard to judge, this scat was a lot more recent, and there was a bunch of it in the area. My optimism started to grow. All around the area there were these green plants you see in the picture. I’m not sure what they are, but it crossed my mind that the birds might be feeding on it. It looked to have small tubers as roots. The one in the picture is the way I found it. It was not pulled up by me.


I kept going. I was keeping my eyes open for a nice clear spot where I might be able to hunt the following day. As I was searching, I spotted something through the trees. It was one of the airplane crash sites. By complete accident, I had stumbled across it.


If I had to navigate to the location, it would be a challenge, but I had stumbled upon it by dumb luck. I continued up the mountain, and eventually reached a semi-clear area where I noticed a good amount of turkey scat. I know, I know, it’s a very poop centered post. It was still hen scat, but I figured it was worth a try.


By this point the rain was coming down again pretty hard. I decided to stop and look for a place where I could spend the night.

For this trip I had come with very little gear. I had no tent or sleeping bag. In fact, all I had was my day kit, a water bladder, my Trangia stove, a box call, my shotgun and some ammo. Sorry for the poor quality of the picture; the camera had gotten wet.


In part my gear choice was made in order to create a challenge, and in part so I didn’t want to carry too much weight up the mountain. Other than what you see in the picture, I had my regular three season clothing. You can see more details about it here. My shotgun is a Mossberg 500 20 gauge. for this hunt I was using a Mossberg turkey choke and Remington 3 inch, number 6 shot, 1 /1/4 load shells. The box call is just a regular one I grabbed off the shelf. I still can’t use a mouth call, which would be a much lighter and more compact option. I’ll keep practicing. I had a small DIY pot support for the Trangia, and I didn’t bring any extra alcohol other than what was stored in the Trangia. The black bag you see in the picture is just my food (and spoon).

Since I stated that my focus in posts related to hunting will be backpack hunting, I feel I should mention that the shotgun I am using is not ideal for this type of hunting. The Mossberg 500 is cheap, and it is reliable. It’s a good gun. For turkey hunting, at least in New York State, you have to use a shotgun, and it has to be either 20 or 12 gauge, using shells with shot size of between number 8 and 2.

Wow, what does that mean? If you are not familiar with shotguns, the gauge is the size of the diameter of the barrel. The larger the number, the smaller the diameter. So, a 12 gauge shotgun has a wider barrel than a 20 gauge one. Gauge is determined from the weight of a solid sphere of lead that will fit the bore of the shotgun, expressed as fractions of a pound. So, 1/20 pound ball fits in a 20 gauge shotgun barrel. 

On the other hand, the size of the load represents the size of the pellets that are shot out of the shell. Unlike a rifle, a shotgun shell typically shoots out numerous small balls that spread out in a cloud, instead of a bullet. The larger the number, the smaller the balls, but the more of them there are.

All that being said, the Mossberg 500 20 gauge shotgun weighs 6 lb 11 oz. That is a heavy gun. It weigh as much as my tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag combined. It is not fun to carry. Unfortunately, there aren’t much better alternatives. It may seem like getting a single shot shotgun, something like the H&R Topper would be a much lighter option, but surprisingly, it is not. If we are looking for serious hunting shotguns, we have to start with a gun that among other things has adjustable chokes. A choke is the tightening of the barrel at the very end. The tighter the choke, the more it squeezes the shot pellets, allowing them to keep a tight pattern over longer distances. On most hunting shotguns, you can change the chokes by screwing in new ones. Well, the lightest H&R with adjustable chokes is the H&R Topper Deluxe, which weighs 6 lb, with the synthetic stock. Not much lighter. There is a lighter 20 gauge shotgun by Benelli. It’s called the Benelli Ultralight, and comes in at 5 lb. Unfortunately, it also comes with a $1700 price tag. I have not been able to find a good solution to the problem.

Anyway, the rain was coming down, and I was looking for a place to camp out for the night. I found a group of trees that blocked the rain quite effectively. I got to work, adding additional branches as cover, and some more on the ground. The result was a tiny shelter that would keep the worse of the rain off.


There would be no fire on this trip. I wasn’t planning on it from the beginning. My decision was made even more sure by the wet conditions. Making a fire in such wet weather will fill the forest with smoke, assuring that every animal in the vicinity will run away. Not exactly the best idea when hunting.

To cook I had brought my Trangia Mini. I chose it over my other alcohol stoves because I didn’t have to bring a separate fuel bottle, as the Trangia stores the fuel inside. I also brought a light DIY pot stand and an aluminum foil windscreen. The plan was to boil some water for a Mountain House dehydrated meal. That’s exactly what I did.


The night was cold. In fact too cold. I got very little sleep, and twice I had to light up the stove to make some warm tea. I was surprised that the stove had enough fuel to get the job done, but it did. Being wet is just no fun. It makes things much worse. Even though I had managed to keep my insulation relatively dry, a lot of my clothing was wet, and so was everything around me. Let me be clear, there is no clothing that will keep you warm when you are wet. The parts of me covered in wool were just as cold as the parts of me covered in fleece. Wet is wet, and wet is cold. I spent the night shivering.

In the morning, I picked out a spot, sat near a tree and started calling. I heard another hen clucking, but no toms. I sat and I sat, and then I sat some more; the entire time trying not to move. I didn’t have any decoys, nor did I have special clothing. The only thing I brought was my gloves to cover my hands and a face mask. Coincidentally, I used the face mask during the evening to keep the massive amount of flies that were in the area off my face, and then during the night for extra insulation. After many slow hours, noon rolled around. Before I packed up, I took aim and…


… boom…


That’s one dead turkey. At this rate I’ll have my tags filled in no time. Even though it wasn’t a successful hunt, I was happy with the trip at this point. I had managed to locate several areas where there were turkeys, I saw one in the woods, and heard several others. While the night was miserable and I didn’t get much sleep, I had made it through. Now it was time to head back home. This is when the trip turned into a humiliating fiasco. But, before that, here is a picture of some strawberry plants:


The weather had improved. It was still cloudy and there were some rain drops, but overall, the rain had stopped. Assured that I will be out of the forest in a few hours, I confidently set out down the slope. I knew that the airplane site I had encountered was a bit east from where I started, so I decided to keep slightly west in order to return to the same location. It turns out “slightly” is not a good measurement when it comes to navigation.

This part of the mountain is surrounded by rivers on three sides. On the bottom, running from east to west is the river I crossed at the beginning of the trip. On either side of the mountain are rives that run north to south all the way down to the third river. Well, after a few hours of walking down the slope, I started to hear a river on my left. That shouldn’t have happened. The only thing I could think of was that I had drifted too far east, and was getting close to the river running from north to south. I shifted my direction west, but again, started to hear water. Could it be that I was already back down to the river I crossed initially? I tried to find an area where I could actually reach the water to have a look, but the slopes dropped off abruptly. They were to steep for me to go down, especially since I wasn’t sure of my location. I tried walking in what I though was an east and west direction along the river to find a crossing point. No luck. It just made no sense, and now it was starting to get late in the day.

With me, I had a small button compass that I keep on my pocket kit. I know it sounds ridiculous when you hear stories about people not trusting their compass, but that’s exactly what I had been doing for the last few hours. I was trying to go south, but my compass kept telling me that south was to the east (according to me) and up the mountain. It made no sense, so I decided it was a cheap little compass and there was something wrong with it. At this point however, after hours of fumbling around, I decided that I must indeed be very wrong about what I thought was my location. I stopped, pulled out the map and compass, and started from scratch. After quite some time of thinking this through I figured it out. Here is the GPS recoding on my tracks that I downloaded when I got back home:


It confirmed that my new plan had been right. Let me try to make some sense of it for you guys. Below you can see a reconstructed map of the trip.

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The blue line is the route I took up the mountain and to the location where I finally hunted. It is also the way I though I was heading down the mountain. My real route down the mountain is shown in red. Due to carelessness, I failed to maintain my direction, and simply headed down the slope. Unfortunately, I headed down the wrong slope. As you can see, the slope from the southern side of the mountain converges with the slope form the west side of the mountain near the location where I had spend the night. A small deviation at that point set me down the wrong side of the mountain. Since I was not paying attention to my bearing, I didn’t think much of it. The green line is the route I took once I figured out what had happened. As you can see, I overshot my route up the mountain because I wanted to make sure I was on the southern slope. It unfortunately lead to a much tougher river crossing.

By the time I started on the proper route, the sun was going down. Soon it was completely dark. It’s a good thing I had a small flashlight in my pocket kit. Otherwise I would have had to spend another night in the woods. Navigation in the dark was very difficult, especially because of the steep terrain, but I managed it.

Eventually I reached the river, the one for which I was aiming. Unfortunately I had stumbled onto a portion that had a rock outcrop on one side and a swampy area on the other. I was way too tired to try circling around to look for better spots. I decided to cross right where I was. This is the best I could do in terms of taking a picture of the river with the flash on my camera.


I stepped into the water and moved forward. Suddenly, one of my legs plunged into much deeper water than I expected. I fell down to my waist. I lost my balance and got swept by the river. Fortunately, the deep portion soon ran out, and I hit some rocks. I was then able to stand up and cross the rest of the river without much of a problem. I’m not sure if all the rain the previous day had risen the level of the river, or if I had just selected a particularly deep spot to cross. Either way, the one right thing I did was to put everything from my pockets into my pack. Even though it is not technically waterproof, it kept everything dry when I fell in the water. That’s the reason you are now able to see the pictures.

I knew I was almost out, and I pushed through the brush. Something flashed in the distance and caught my eye. It was a sign by the side of the road.


Few more steps and I was out. Just by dumb luck, I could see the car from where I was standing. I was finally out…then I got lost driving on the way home.

Here is the elevation profile of the trip. The first bump is the one where I went up the mountain. Everything else is my misguided efforts to get out.


As you can see, I went up the mountain, then down the western slope to the river, then back up the western slope, and eventually down the southern slope.

So, lesson from all this… do as I say, not as I do. Don’t get complacent. It is the easy parts of a trip that will create problems for you because that is when you are paying the least attention.

Overall, not bad. I did hurt my right knee pretty bad, but I didn’t notice it until I was out of the woods. I’ve been hopping around for the last few days.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Backpacking With a Rifle – Hunting and The Modern Woodsman

The outdoor community is certainly a fractured one. That is nowhere more evident than in the divide between backpackers and hunters. Earlier I wrote about the concept of the Modern Woodsman, and the attempts I have made to combine different outdoor disciplines into a cohesive set of skills that can be applied by woodsmen in this day and age. Hunting is the furthest outlier. It is the hardest for most people to reconcile with all the other outdoor activities. Many backpackers are also climbers, and even fishermen, but mention hunting at an Appalachian Mountain Club meeting and you will be greeted by eerie silence, or try posting about hunting on Backpacking Light, and watch the ensuing flame war. 

For that reason I have avoided posting anything about the subject on this blog. I know many people dislike the activity, and I am certainly not a big enough hunter to feel the need to write much about it.

At this point however, I have decided to change that. There are a few reasons. For starters, lately I’ve started getting a bit more serious about hunting; not more successful, just more serious. I also want to be able to share some of my hunting trips with you guys without having to avoid the subject. I think there is interesting information that can be seen from hunting trips that can be applicable to backpacking and other outdoor activities, even if hunting is not your thing. Lastly, there has been so much negativity about guns lately that I wanted to try to show a different aspect of that. I want to show that they can be reliable and useful tools in the hands of responsible person, and that they do have a role to play in the outdoors.


Now, hunting is a very large subject, and it is practiced by different people in many varied ways. What I will write about on this blog is related to the type of hunting that can be integrated into my concept of the Modern Woodsman. In particular it is a type of hunting sometimes referred to as backpack hunting.

Hunting, just like buschraft can be done in different ways, and as long as they comply with existing regulations, they are all equally valid, and a matter of personal choice. Here on the eastern coast, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of what I would call day hunting. It involves setting up close to a road or your house, quite often using a tree stand or a blind. It is not unusual for people to maintain a feed plot on the land in order to attract animals to the location. The hunt then consists of going out for the day to the prepared location, hunting, and then returning home. By now you guys know that that is not my style.

The type of hunting that interests me is, and I think fits the concept of the Modern Woodsman is what I referred to above as backpack hunting. It involves traveling on foot deep into the woods, carrying all of your equipment on your back. You then hunt in an area that may be unknown to you, and without any previously made preparations such as tree stands or blinds. If successful, you pack the meat out on your back. Such a trip typically lasts more than a day, and can go on for weeks. Judging by people’s trip reports, this type of hunting seems a lot more prevalent out west. Backpack hunting can also involve opportunistic hunting, where the hunt is not the main objective if your trip. In that context, hunting can be used to supplement resources during a trip, much like fishing or gathering.

The reason why I prefer this style of hunting is that it fits within my concept of the Modern Woodsman, in that it allows me to use it to further my ability to travel deep into the woods over longer periods of time. It also better fits my understanding of fair chase.

Fair chase is a concept in hunting that has some varying interpretations. The underlying factor in it however is the desire to give the animal the chance to beat you. You want the odds to be stacked in such a manner that a kill is never guaranteed. From my observations, animals are not stupid. They like the easy life, just like we do. That is why so often you will see them in populated areas. For every squirrel I have seen in the woods, I have seen several hundred in the city. For every deer I have seen in the backwoods, I have seen several dozen walking in front of my car on the road. For every turkey I have seen in the woods, I have seen a dozen walking through a farm field. And finally, I am yet to encounter a bear in the woods, but I have certainly seen them eat through people’s garbage cans. Animals go where the food is, and where travel is easy. That is typically areas populated by people. I remember Ron White telling a joke about how if hunters want to be successful, they should just invent a bullet with headlights and a loud horn attached to it. That way the deer will just jump right in front of it.

Going deep in the woods to hunt offers an additional challenge, not only because you have to get there, but because the animals are much more rare in those areas (there are species that are an exception) and are certainly less accustomed to people. You are hunting on their ground. While I can’t say that this is a “better” way to hunt, it is the one that appeals to me the most.

Backpack hunting involves some different considerations than other types of hunting mainly because you have to transport your gear deep into the woods. I’ve found that unfortunately, a lot of the hunting industry is not geared towards this type of hunting. The standard seems to be that bigger and heavier is better. While that may be true for more localized hunts, it presents a problem when you are trying to find equipment and techniques for hunting at the end of a three day trip in the mountains. In my hunting related posts I will try to focus on what I have found useful with respect to this type of hunting.

Hunting is certainly not for everyone, nor should it be. People who hunt do it for different personal reasons. When I write about the subject it will not be with the intent of converting people, but simply relaying the information I have managed to find. Also, when I write about hunting, I use the term loosely. You will notice that most of my hunting involves nothing more than me just walking around in the woods carrying a gun.

Which brings me to my last point, I am a horrible hunter, and don’t know much about the subject. Take everything I write about it with a huge grain of salt.

Friday, May 10, 2013

GoLite Shangri-La Tents Are Back in Stock

As you guys know, I currently use the GoLite Shangri-La 3 as my main tent. In the past I used to use the Shangri-La 5. I am a big fan of both tents. I often get asked where people can find them, as they have not been available on the market.


For those not familiar with the issues, a while back GoLite decided to pull all of its products from distributors, and start selling only in house through their website. As a result, their products virtually vanished while they were resetting their production. I often get asked where people can buy the tents, and there was no good answer.

Well, finally, they are being produced again, and can be purchased from GoLite directly. There are two things you should note. The first is that the tents now come with the nest (floor and mosquito netting) that fits within the tent. In the past you could purchase only the flysheet, which is what I did, but that is no longer an option. The ability to purchase only the flysheet was a cost saving option, especially for people like me who never use the nest. Now, you may think that including the nest as a part of the tent will increase the price, but that leads me to the second thing you should note. As a result of it’s distribution mechanism changes, GoLite has literally cut its prices in half. A tent that used to cost $600 can now be purchased for $300. When I bought the Shangri-La 5 flysheet, it cost me about $300. Now, for that same price you get the flysheet and the nest. If you don’t like the nest, just toss it out, or keep it for when the wife comes camping with you.

On top of that, through May 27, 2013, GoLite is offering a discount of 15% on all items plus free shipping on orders over $100.

So, if you have been wondering where to get any of the Shangri-La tents, you are in luck. They are available again directly from GoLite, and at very reasonable prices.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Showdown on Mt. Everest – A Team of Climbers Assaulted by Sherpas

If you follow any of the mountaineering publications, by now you are fully familiar with the incident that took place this season on Mt. Everest. For those of you who don’t follow such events closely, here is the summary:


This past month three well known and accomplished European climbers, Ueli Steck, Jonathan Griffith and Simone Moro had planned to attempt a new route up the South Col of Everest. They were climbing on the Lhotse face without ropes, in order to acclimatize for the attempt and were at about 23,000ft (7,000m). At that point, a team of Sherpas began setting ropes for a commercial climbing expedition. The ropes were being set in a manner that passed perpendicularly to the line of ascent of the European team, which they needed to take to reach their tents above Camp 2. When the team crossed over the ropes, the Sherpas appear to have become very upset, leading to the exchange of words. It is not clear exactly why this happened. Some have speculated that some ice fell on one of the Sherpas, but no injuries were reported. The exchange seems to have gotten more heated when one of the European climbers offered to help set up the ropes.

The European team returned down to Camp 2, where they were met by a crowd of several dozen Sherpas, and assaulted. Simone Moro, in an interview, states that they would have certainly been killed if it wasn’t for a number of other western climbers who intervened at that point, stopping the Sherpas. Steck, Griffith and Moro then descended to base camp using a more distant route to avoid meeting any more Sherpas.

The incident has been very shocking, in large part because no one can seem to come up with a justifiable reason for the excessive violence used by the Sherpas. Even if Moro and his team mates were rude, an assault by dozens of Sherpas is hardly justified. There does not appear to have been any actual impropriety on behalf of the European team. All of their actions, even if not ideal seem reasonable under the circumstances. We’ll never know exactly what was said, but words alone, regardless of how heated or rude, can hardly account for the over the top response.

I think the incident also points to long standing tensions between alpinists, and tourist/commercial climbers. Mt. Everest has become a tourist attraction, with commercial enterprises employing large numbers of Sherpas to bring paying customers to the top of the mountain. There is often tension between these organized enterprises and alpinists who climb by themselves and do not follow the established routes. I think this incident is one example of this tensions coming to the surface in an unjustifiable way. And lastly, perhaps another layer of tension underlies the whole issue, that of the history of the Sherpas and their status. While initially starting out as simply cheap labor for foreign expeditions, used to carry large loads of equipment, Sherpas over the years have come to represent some of the best climbers on Everest. As part of commercial enterprises, they often literally drag paying tourists up and down the mountain. They have developed a well earned reputation. Perhaps encountering western climbers working above them without ropes hit a sensitive spot. No matter, none of this incident can be justified, and I think it will have unfortunate repercussions for alpine climbing on Everest. Moro and his team have already abandoned their attempt as a result of the incident, and have no plans of returning, at least for now.

Monday, May 6, 2013

New Survivorman Episodes Are in The Works

Yes, that’s right. Survivorman will be returning for a new season-eight more episodes. It appears that Les Stroud has signed a contract with Discovery for another season and filming will start in a few days. It will be some time before the episodes are on the air, but I’m glad we have more on the way.


Here is what Les had to say on his Facebook page about the project:

IT'S OFFICIAL!!!!!!!! yep - you guessed it - as of a couple of days ago I finally officially signed with the networks .... and in less than two weeks I head out to: FILM BRAND NEW SURVIVORMAN SHOWS!!!!!! heres the technical info: I continue my long standing relationship with Discovery Channel US and The Science Channel US to bring you 8 brand new episodes of Survivorman. In Canada I am venturing into an exciting new relationship with Blue Ant Media's Travel and Escape channel an I am really looking forward to a network full of passionate and exciting and talented people geared to making great documentary TV! Around the rest of the world I am hopeful that my already existing partners will continue to jump on board so that my friends in places like Europe, Australia, South America, Asia and further beyond can continue to enjoy the exploits of the Survivorman series.

Now heres some very cool info - for two of the episodes I will definitely be taking my 16 year old son Logan out with me!! Now what i can tell you is that he is better at playing Call of Duty than he is at getting a fire going so it is going to make for some intense times when his rude awakening occurs after two days without food in the middle of the woods! As for locations - only one has actually been confirmed at this point and I know that Web Girl wants to get another contest going so that you can guess the locations for Survivorman swag. As for the format of the shows - I will continue with the core essence of what it takes to make a Survivorman show - ten days completely alone in some of the most beautiful yet harsh and remote places on the planet. I can only hope that you all will continue to take these journeys with me. I think you can expect them to make it to air by the end of this year!! Well, nothing left to do now but get out there!!!!......L

I think that the fact that his son will be there with him for a few of the episodes is very cool and will make things more interesting.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Modern Woodsman – Concepts for Redefining Tradition

For those of you who have been following my blog over the years, it has probably become clear that I have had a hard time defining my place within the outdoor community. While my approach and my relationship to the wilderness has always been clear in my mind, it has been challenging to find a group that shares my approach to woodsmanship. That is why you have seen me post on subjects that are not ordinarily found on the same blog or forum; from mountaineering, to backpacking, to bushcraft, to fishing, etc. I have been trying to fit my relationship with the wilderness within all or some of these groups, eventually giving up in the attempt, and focusing on the things that for me best define woodsmanship.

What am I rambling about? I’ll try to explain. This post, or more precisely, this concept, started to bounce around in my head about six month or so ago when I watched a video by Dave Canterbury about a concept he called the 21st Century Longhunter. In his project, Dave Canterbury set out to create a modern version of the traditional longhunter. If you are not familiar, the longhunter is a term used to describe an 18th century hunter or explorer who undertook long term, long distance expeditions into the American wilderness. The term was originally applied to hunters from Virginia who ventured into Tennessee in order to hunt for furs and large game. Later the term began to be used for explorers and back country travelers who undertook similar long distance trips into the wilderness. These men would establish a camp deep in the woods, with the help of equipment carried by their pack horses (two for each man according to accounts), and from there traveled (a lot of the time on foot) in small groups, or at times even alone, over great distances, getting as many resources from the land as possible, and traveling only with the supplies they could carry. 


The above is a picture of Mark Seacat, long distance hunter and mountaineer.

When I saw the project, it struck me as being exactly the thing I had been searching for. The concept of the longhunter very closely mirrored my desired relationship with the woods, and my concept of woodsmanship. The thing to which I had aspired, was precisely that: being able to undertake long term trips, deep into the wilderness, only with supplies one could carry and what could be gathered from the surrounding environment.

Unfortunately, my excitement soon turned to disappointment, as Dave clearly had a different idea for the project than I did. While I had hoped that he would present a modern version of the longhunter, fully re-envisioned with modern skills, equipment and techniques, Dave instead focused on recreating the 18th century longhunter as he was with artifacts and equipment that could easily be purchased today, such as using a shotgun as a muzzleloader, or using oilcloth instead of oiled canvas.

Even so, the project had helped define in my mind the concept that I had been trying to pursue during my time in the woods. After giving it some thought, my lack of creativity lead me to call the concept “The Modern Woodsman”. In this post I will try to give a definition for the term and explain how it is connected to the activities about which I have been posting about over the past few years.

For me, as mentioned above, the modern woodsman is a person who is able to undertake long term trips, deep into the wilderness, only with supplies one could carry and what could be gathered from the surrounding environment. He is able to navigate through the bush; he can travel over varied and difficult terrain and during any season and weather; he can properly plan the supplies needed for an excursion of a particular duration, both in terms of the resources that must be brought and what can realistically be obtained from the environment through which the travel will occur. Most importantly, he is not limited to the technology or skill of any particular time period. He uses technology, skills and equipment based on efficiency and practicality. He applies modern hunting techniques, modern understanding of nutrition, and modern climbing, mountaineering, and packrafting techniques. His equipment includes tools that are best suited for the task without consideration for nostalgia and sentimentality. The gear is centered around portability, so that it can be transported over long distances and difficult terrain. The skills he implements are designed for efficiency, not showmanship, and while his equipment is modern, it is designed to function over extended periods of time.


The above is a picture of Andrew Skurka, long distance backpacker.

In effect, the modern woodsman is a reinterpretation of the longhunter in his role as a back country explorer. It takes the longhunter and imagines what skills and outdoor equipment he would have used had he had the resources and information at his disposal that we have available to us today in terms of the outdoor community. Imagine Daniel Boone or Lewis and Clark if they had the ability to select their gear from what was available to us today and with the knowledge that we currently possess.

For many years now, I have been trying to fit the concept of the woodsman that I outlined above into one of the existing outdoor communities. In my opinion, there hasn’t been a good fit. From what I have seen, each community embraces a particular aspect, but then rejects the rest. To give a few examples, the backpacking community embraces long distance travel, modern equipment and techniques, as well as modern understanding of nutrition and trip planning. On the other hand however, the backpacking community largely rejects off trail travel, use of natural resources, hunting, etc. The bushcraft community focuses on using natural resources and developing related skills, but largely rejects modern equipment and techniques, and often involves huge amounts of gear that is not portable over long distances. The mountaineering community has developed methods and techniques for traveling over very difficult terrain, but again makes little use of natural resources, hunting, etc. 

Over the years, I have bounced around between the different groups, and have tried to use the skills and approaches from each one of them and combine them to create what I see as the modern woodsman. To be sure, during that time I have encountered people who have taken a similar approach to woodsmanship, and even though they each have their preferred discipline, they have employed skills and techniques from all the different communities in the pursuit of the woodsman I have described. Each of them is certainly much more accomplished that I can ever hope to be, but I have looked to those people for inspiration. Here I am referring to long distance hunters like Mark Seacat, long distance backpackers like Andrew Skurka, and mountaineers like Conrad Anker. While focusing on their chosen field, each of those men has implemented cross disciplinary skills, techniques and equipment in order to undertake long distance and long term travel into the wilderness.

Altitude Everest Film Project, 2007

The above is a picture of Conrad Anker, climber and mountaineer.

It is important to note that I am not pointing to the above people as a way of saying that each woodsman should be equally involved in hunting, backpacking and mountaineering. Learning from all those disciplines and applying the techniques they have developed however is important.

Why do I write this? Well, as the title indicates, I hope to offer this concept as a tool for redefining woodsmanship in the modern context. My experience has been that too often woodsmanship is defined in terms of what was, or what will be (in some post apocalyptic bug out situation) rather than what is. As a result we too often become historical recreationists or preppers in our attempts to become woodsmen. I don’t think that is necessary, and as I have written in a previous post, woodsmanship can be so much more if we embrace the knowledge and technology that we have developed over the years. I think we spend too much time dividing ourselves by discussing who we are not, and what stylistic choices we have made in defining our woodsmanship, instead of looking at all the people who spend extensive amounts of time in the woods and learning from them. We focus too much on trying to recreate some mythical woodsman of a past golden age, instead of trying to expand and embrace woodsmanship as what it can be. The concept of the Modern Woodsman should allow for the existence of woodsmanship now, today. We do not need to live in the past, or in some post apocalyptic future in order to be woodsmen. We don’t need to live in an imaginary world where we pretend it is the 19th century, nor do we need to imagine ourselves as future survivalists, living on squirrel meat in the woods behind the house while fighting invading communist armies in order to be woodsmen. Now, today, there are woodsmen amongst us. This weekend, their next vacation, they will be in the woods, using everything we have learnt and developed as outdoorsmen over the centuries, to accomplish wonderful things, in many ways far surpassing what was possible ever before.

It is in pursuit of this concept that I have been attempting to write here on this blog over the past few years. My hope is to provide for the theoretical possibility of a modern woodsman, who is not constrained by the confines of tradition, dogma, fashion, or sentimentality. To write of a woodsman who is focused on practicality, both when it comes to skill and equipment, who pushes the boundaries of woodsmanship by embracing the developments in skill and technology that other woodsmen have pioneered, regardless of whether it was done a hundred years ago or yesterday. To imagine a longhunter who sets out to survey an unexplored wilderness over the mountains, and can do so by using outdoor equipment we have available today, can plan his food rations using modern knowledge of nutrition, can travel over mountains and difficult terrain using modern mountaineering techniques, cross rivers with modern packrafting technology, and yes, perhaps supply food for himself along the way with the use of modern hunting and fishing techniques and equipment. Most importantly, to write of woodsmanship that exists today.

This is certainly not a model that would be appealing to everyone, nor should it be. My only goal is to put it forward as a possibility and to explain what I have been doing so far, and will hopefully continue to do. The idea of the Modern Woodsman is something that appeals to me, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject with you in a more concise manner than I have done before.