Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Trip Report: Classic Backpacking 1/24/16 - 1/25/16

This advice is not intended for the tenderfoot, for he should never attempt to "rough it," and that is just what it means to "travel light," for when making long journeys over land, carrying the camping outfit and food on one's back, one must leave behind all of those little articles which are so necessary for the comfort of the tender one. The instructions given here are for the hardy outdoor man, inexperienced in bush life, but with a desire to learn of the methods employed. I give my own methods of traveling and camping out, and if others think they have better ways, they should remember that we woodsmen are all cranks and that their modes might seem as absurd to me as mine do to them. Elmer Harry Kreps, 1910

I know that this is probably more trip reports than you guys want to see, but since I am doing this Classic Backpacking thing as an experiment, I think it’s important to share what I am doing as much as possible.

My goal for this past weekend was to do another three day trip. I took Monday off, and planned to start out on Saturday. We were supposed to get a snow storm on Saturday, and my plan was to go into the woods right before the storm hit, so I could try camping in the type of weather which I imagine is the most difficult to do when Classic Backpacking, where it would be difficult to maintain a fire at the same time as sheltering yourself from the elements. Unfortunately, the storm hit earlier than expected, and I couldn’t get the car through the snow. Ye olde Camry just wouldn’t budge. So, I waited for the snow plows, and started out on Sunday morning. Most of the roads into the mountains were closed, so I had to keep driving north until I found one that wasn’t.

I started out around 9 am, low in elevation, with my plan being to move up the mountain until I found an area with more resources, i.e. pine.

The snow was knee deep. I didn’t bring snowshoes because I don’t have any period appropriate ones, but travel wasn’t bad on account of there being no ice layer that I would have to punch through.

The weather was supposed to be warm, going up to about 32F (0C) during the day. However, I figured something wasn’t right with the weather predictions, as when I left the house it was 9F (-13C), and it was certainly colder in the mountains. As a result, I brought and extra sweater, and wore my wool pants and a cotton anorak over my top layers, mostly to keep the wind from cutting through the wool layers.

Since I was bushwhacking, some of the terrain was pretty tough to get through. There were many stream beds that had been covered with snow, making it hard to figure out where to place your steps. It was a time consuming process.

Eventually I reached a small patch of pine. The time was shortly after 1 pm. I selected a sheltered spot, and started setting up my camp.

I used the same stick-bed method from last trip. Initially I tried doing it just with pine boughs, but it was going to take way too much to complete because the boughs were compressing a lot.

The next step was to gather some firewood. I knew the night was going to be colder than on my last trip, so I gathered some extra wood. Before I left for the trip, I contemplated bringing my boy’s axe to make the gathering of firewood easier, but at the last minute I decided against it. I wouldn’t be able to utilize it fully because as on the last trip, I wasn’t willing to start felling large trees. For the wrist-thick firewood which I was likely to collect, my hatchet was more than enough. 

The wood gathering was slow going. I was looking for dead wood to process, and slogging through the snow in search of dry pieces protruding from the snow was time consuming. The hatchet made quick work of it though.

I kept gathering firewood for some time, adding to the pile, and stopping from time to time to hydrate and have a few crackers. It took me approximately two hours to set up camp and to gather the firewood. It was faster than I expected, and I was mostly ready for the night around 3:30 pm.

I took care of some minor tasks, and near 4 pm I was ready for the night. With sunset at 5 pm, I had some extra time. I usually like to time it so that I am done setting up right as it gets dark, but I got done early this time. That meant I had to keep warm for another hour or so before going to sleep. I put on all the clothing I had, put on my dry gloves, and got the fire going, drying out my wet gloves and cooking dinner. 

As usual, at sunset I wrapped myself up and went to sleep. At first things went well. I slept for a few hours, but abound 8 pm I woke up with the fire out and me shivering. The rest of the night was very unpleasant. The temperature dropped down to about 5F (-15C). Sleeping for any period of time became almost impossible. Unlike on my last trip, where I could get the fire stoked up, get my body temperature up, and then sleep for a few hours before I got chilled, this time, I would get cold the moment the fire died down. I was up every half hour to feed the fire. With sunrise at 7 am, it was a very long 14 hours of night. 

The problem wouldn’t have been as bad if I was using large logs that I could toss on the fire. Larger logs can burn for two hours or so before needing tending. With the wrist-thick wood I had though, half an hour of burn time was about the most I could expect. 

Overall, a very miserable night. When I started out with this Classic Backpacking  thing, my goal was to explore the origins of backpacking. Well, this is not backpacking. This is a “survival” trip. Sure, I can do it, but there is nothing enjoyable about it. Even if I was willing to start bringing down large trees for firewood, it still wouldn’t be a fun experience. 

I’ll have to come up with some other options for cold weather backpacking. Steve Watts contacted me last week, and recommended a cotton lined down comforter. They were certainly available at the time, and are mentioned by some of the authors. It doesn’t seem like they were a primary choice for many at the time, but they would be period correct, and might solve the issue. A woven fur blanket might also work, but the cost is too much. Anyway, I’ll keep thinking about it. 

One of the worst problems is getting up to pee. It’s a whole procedure, where you get very cold, have to stoke up the fire, warm yourself back up, then wrap yourself again. You can’t tell because of the facemask, but I’m frowning. 

So, I made it through the night, packed up, cleared up the camp site and headed back. It took me about an hour of walking to get completely warmed up.

As with last trip, some of the gear was not exactly period correct. I’m still using a water bottle with a plastic cap, my anorak is a cotton nylon blend (85% cotton-I believe) and has a zipper, my boots are still my regular boots, etc.

Anyway, there are still things to work out, especially when it comes to the sleep system. I’ll figure something out eventually. 

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