2016-08-30

Backpacking in the Aderondak High Peaks

Angie and I decided to go out backpacking in the high-peaks. It ended up being an awesome 5 day trip, with one zero day due to a minor sprain to Angie's toe, and a sore knee.

Just to give it a try I decided to skip the sleepingbag and just bring puffies, and see how that went. I also decided to go with only 1 pint of water capacity, just to give that a try on some non-trivial mountains (well, for the east-coast anyway). Here's the gear I carried:

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I have a sleepingpad because we were staying in the Adirondack shelters along the way, though we did have my poncho as a backup/emergency shelter should it be needed (and Angie had an emergency bivy as well). Here's the gearlist:
  • Sleeping:
    • Puffy pants
    • Down vest
    • Linen sheet
    • Closed cell foam sleeping pad
  • Pack
    • External frame pack
    • drysack
    • belts/twine to tie things to pack
  • Food/water
    • ursack (they require canisters)
    • 1 pint kleene-kanteen food container
    • folding spork
    • ... food
  • Clothing
    • Sweater
    • shorts (worn)
    • cotton dress-style shirt (for bugs/sun)
    • Tilley hat
    • silnylon poncho (with a mesh bag)
    • run-amocs (minimal leather moccasin with rubber sole)
    • 1 pair wool socks (worn)
    • bug headnet
  • Other
    • bandana
    • benadril, ib profen, and pill case for them
    • inhallers (I'm asthmatic)
    • kindle (with drysack)
    • Belt knife (tied to pack)
    • Headlamp
    • Pocket altoids-tin kit (not shown, carried in shorts pocket)
    • Keys with backup pen-light, himilayan rock-salt in pill container, and mini leatherman
And here it is packed up:

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Before you're all impressed with how little gear this is... It didn't quite work. There were 2 flaws.

First, it was colder than I expected, dropping in to the 4's. I would've been *okay* with this gear for sure, but I got a little cold and borrowed a corner of Angie's sleepingbag most (but not all) nights so I could really get a good nights sleep.

Second, they don't allow fires in the high peaks region! We were not expecting this. Luckily, angie had packed a more normal cookset including an alcohol stove, so we did all the cooking on her stove, and pot and never used my kleene-canteen.

As it turned out 1 pint of water was plenty for the high-peaks, even running ridges most of the time we were out... we didn't treat which helps. We would "camel up" before going up a mountain, just drinking water straight from the stream. 

Gear Disassembly: Climbing harnesses

My climbing harness was looking pretty worn, and it's pretty old, so after much research I gave up and went out and got a new one.

After buying the new one I started looking the old one over more carefully as to how it was built, I had my suspicious, but I wanted to see for myself, for sure, how it was really built. Seeing how it's built makes it a lot easier to see what spots really matter, and thus evaluate a harness for wear. So... without further ado, here's the photos I took as I disassembled the harness.

Note that this is just my muddling through, thinking, and playing around. As always don't take anything said here as advice, and certainly not EXPERT advice. Make your own decisions, I just thought it'd be interesting to share.

Here's the harness prior to disassembly (well, I'd cut a few stitches, but you get the idea):

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Here's the most interesting image. Fundamentally the belt is one piece of webbing with stuff sewed to it. The rest is just padding:

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Here's how that's assembled (or disassembled in this case).

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Note the single bar-tack holding the gear-loop in place. The gear-loop is really just the webbing inside the plastic tube.

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Before this time I had never throught critically about the structural integrity of the belay loop assembly. Note the webbing is wrapped with another layer of webbing at the critical point. Until that outer layer is worn through it seems pretty hard to wear through the webbing beneath. I'd seen stitching wear where the protective layer is sewn to the structural layer and gotten worried, in retrospect I could see how this was built and should've seen it was still sound.

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I was surprised at how well the rear haul-loop was attachaed. 4 bar-tacks and it goes fully *around* the belt. The bar-tack to the belt is just to hold it in place, and is fundamentally non-structural... interesting!

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Overall I think if I'd sat down and really *looked* at my harness I would've kept it a lot longer before replacing it, there really wasn't anything wrong with it yet. Oh well... that said I got a good deal on a new one, and the new one is sweet and comfy, so at least I didn't waste all that much money.

Again... this is just my own analysis of my safety, and of course other harnesses may be constructed differently. My intention is simply to help other people understand how their gear is built so they can make educated decisions as to when to retire them (or maybe even what to purchase in the first place).

Primitive Leanto


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Angie and I decided to try building a primitive shelter. I've built a couple of debris shelters before, but, it being warm and not needing to block wind or similar we decided to try a leanto. The thought was that if we could build the angle low enough, the leaves might stay on it better, and thus not require quite as many leaves as a standard debris shelter.

Before you go copying this shelter, note that it didn't really work... but probably could. More detail coming.

Construction

Step one was to put up the main frame. Sorry I didn't take in progress photos. Using an axe I felled one tree carefully chosen way off the beaten path, and as being too close to another tree. There was deadwood, and most of the construction was done with that, but we needed 2 large beams for the main structure, and those just weren't to be found.

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Using a folding saw we cut a couple of vertical poles with forks in them, and then using the axe I sharpened one end to a point and hammered them in. We cut the main trunk of the tree I'd felled in to the two main beams running from the ground and sitting in the forks.

Next came the cross-beams. Most of these were deadwood (those that weren't were limbs of the small tree). We considered lashing these on and tried several approaches, but then realized a better method. By breaking sticks with y's in them to the right length and placing them against the ground we could use the y to hold the cross-pieces in place... Here's a close-up to give a better idea.

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This method took a lot more pieces of wood, but we could use some real junk wood and didn't need twine of any kind. Pretty cool.

Once we had all the cross-pieces in place we started laying on the leafed branches from the tree we'd dropped, trying to cover the whole shelter with leaves attached to branches. This gave us a layer that should shed water better than normal leaf-litter, and gave us a base on which to pile litter so it wouldn't just fall through.

Lastly, we started piling on leaf litter from the surrounding area, spreading it evenly across the roof.

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Time to build

This was surprisingly fast. We're guessing maybe 5 hours? Knowing how to do it though I think we could get what we got done here done in about 3 hours. I was very excited about this. Most shelters I've seen would only be useful on your *second* night out, because generally you spent most of the day getting to where you now want shelter.

Tools

Gransfors small forest axe and a folding bow-saw.

We could've easily done it with just one or the other, without much cost to time. The saw would be my first choice in that situation, but the axe would work fine too.

Results
There was a light rain early in the evening and it was working mostly okay, but dripping a little in the middle. After some thought I realized why. Since branches well... branch, the center of the shelter is necessarilly more layered with branches than the edges. I think what happened is that we tried to make it nice and even when we were *done* resulting in a fairly thin layer of leaf-litter over a thick layer of branches in the middle, and a thick layer of leaf-litter over a thin layer of branches on the edges. Thus the edges are more water-proof than the center.

After dark the rain hit *hard*, we're talking serious buckets of rain. After a bit the shelter started leaking all over, it wasn't long before we saw this was not going to cut it and we abandoned the shelter to sleep in the truck like usual. The flaw was predictable... not enough leaf coverage. I've heard before that you need 3 feet of leaf litter. We were hoping the leaf covered branch layer, with all those leaves layed on flat just right to shed water, we could get away with less. That was probably accurate, but not with THAT much less. Another foot might've worked, and 2 more feet would've been a sure thing.

If you've ever built a debris shelter you know how hard it is to gather a lot of material. Initially it goes quickly with the material being right near the shelter, but as you exhaust that resource you go farther and farther afield until you've cleared 50 foot diameter circle around your shelter of leaves, and you're hauling them in from the edges. We spent maybe 1-2 hours covering this shelter with leaves, because of the distance from the shelter this time isn't linear with the amount gathered. So we're looking at about 6 hours hard work (given experience) to get a good shelter. That's on-par with a standard debris shelter... BUT, I don't think we actually had to get as much debris, and the shelter was solidly usable/re-usable by 2 people. The area we were in had a fairly thin layer of leaf litter, and in an area with thick leaf litter you could probably cut the leaf gathering time in half. I'm hopefully this method could yield total construction times of 3-4 hours... but I've yet to test it.

Oh, and lastly... dropping a tree was crucial to making this a relatively fast project. Doing it entirely with deadfall would take a REALLY long time. As it was we were foraging for wood 1/4 mile from our build site. So... pretty cool as a survival technique, but not something you could do routinely while out on trips.

Anyway... this was a pretty fun project. Some of the techniques I'd be very interested to try again.