2016-07-25

Stone tool in the Whites

While I was doing the presidential traverse, I also found this stone:

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You can see about 5 prismatic blades have been knocked off this stone. This pattern, broken one next to the other in exactly the manner you would use to make a sharp edge, as I understand it, is very unlikely to occur "naturally" meaning, without a deliberate attempt to make a tool by an animal. Given the location (the white mountains) Chimpanzees or similar are pretty unlikely, so I'm going to assume it's Human made.

I'm by no means an expert in this, but it's fun to consider what it might be given what I do know.  The stone is maybe 10" long, so a largish cobble. You can see from the picture that it's a bit granular. The first question is whether the stone or the flakes (the pieces broken off this stone) were what the person was making, or the cobble with a sharp edge was the goal.

It's hard to know. If it's a blade core it's monfacial, and apparently wasn't that great because they stopped before using up much of the stone. I'm more tempted to think that it's actually a hand-axe. It seems large/heavy for that, but it is in the range I'd want to use to cut down a tree.

I just thought it was a neat find, and wanted to share. If anyone has better guesses as to what this artifact is, I'd love to hear.

Presidential Traverse

Angie and I spent about a month hanging out in the white mountains. I wanted Angie to get above treeline to experience the amazing views. Angie got the idea of doing a presidential traverse... but then she was having trouble with her arch, so she decided she couldn't do it. Well... it sounded like a fun challenge anyway, so Angie dropped me off at the head of Pine Link Trail and went off to hike Washington on her own, while I started my traverse.

Lets start with the photos! Technical details later.

Photos

These are in chronological order, looking ot forward and back from each peak. The whole traverse is incredible views, but I thought the photos forward and back from each peak might be illuminating to someone trying to do it. (I left out Washington peak because it's so busy up there I didn't want to hang out to get photos).

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View backwards from Madison.
This shot is looking down Hawker Ridge trail towards pine link trail where I came up. The first hills you can see just behind the mountain I'm standing on is the trail, the cliff in the center of the picture that's part of that ridge is "blueberry cliffs" which is probably a bit over half-way up Madison

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View of Adams and Washington in the background from Madison

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View backwards of Madison from Adams

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Me, squinting in to the sun on top of Madison... Wondering if I've really got the juice for another 6 peaks

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View of Jefferson and Washington from Adams

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View of Adams from Jefferson

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View of Clay (technically a minor summit) and Washington from Jefferson

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My shoe had a small hole in the toe when I started and it was getting larger, so I decided to patch it up on top of Madison. An S-shaped leather needle and a little linen twine are invaludable for this sort of thing... This patch held for the hike, and a bit more use as well. The string wears out quickly, but It'll hold for 50 to 100 miles, and you can do it about 3 times before the shoe just loses too much structural integrity. IMG_20160712_163900.jpg View of Washington from Clay (technically a minor summit)

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View of Clay and Jefferson from Washington

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View of Monroe from partway down Washington

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View of Washington from Monroe, you can see the lake of the clouds in the middle of the ridge between the two, the hut is hidden from view in this image

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View of Eisenhower from Monroe. The run from Monroe to Eisenhower is long knife-edge ridge, absolutely beautiful... and long.

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View of Monroe and Washington from Eisenhower

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View of Pierce from Eisenhower

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I'm starting to get pretty burned by now, I put on my shirt and hat on the way down Washington, but I couldn't stand to button my shirt and my chest just kept burning with the low angle of the sun.

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View of Eisenhower from Pierce (a bit below the top actually, there's no view from the top)

There is no real view from Pierce down to Crawford, so I don't have a picture of that.
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I got a little sunburned, and a little tired, and had an amazing time.

The Route
A presidential traverse hits all of the mountains named after presidents in the presidential range. Some people do it as a 3 day trip, and some do it as a long one-day day-hike. The trails are very rough, with a lot of clambering over loose talus, so it's hard to do as a 1-day hike... but awesome. The mountains are Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. Interestingly Jackson (past Pierce) isn't named after a president, so isn't required for a "presidential traverse". They say the traverse is 23 miles and 9000 feet of climbing, but that's before you hit every peak on the way (which I did). Peaking adds a little mileage, but a lot more vertical.

Gear
I carried hiking poles, my waxed 5.11 shirt, a sweater, my hunting ball-cap ('cause I'd lost my tilly hat, I have a new one now though), a 40 oz water bottle, some nuts and energy bars, and my normal ditty bag with repair kit, headlamp, iodine, compass, etc.... and of course a map.

Time
We guessed that I'd move at about 3 miles per hour, probably just a touch faster... and thus starting at 8:05 (when I actually walked away from the car... on my second try as I'd forgotten something), going 23'ish miles (maybe a couple more due to peaks) I should finish at about 8:00.

I walked out of the woods on to the street at 8:05... no kidding.

I'm bragging a little, but I want to make sure this is clear to anyone planning to do this hike. The white mountains are very rough terrain, and folks who know the area often will say things like "I generally figure 2 mph for backpacking... except in the whites". I was the fastest person on the trails that day... no-one passed me, and many balked at how fast I flew past them. On the AT I did 4 mph while hiking, 3 mph average for the day, with a backpack. To keep 3mph total average here, with a daypack and no need to hike the next day, I was pushing. The northern end is much much rougher trail than the southern end, so it did get easier, which was nice. Up until Clay or so the rare opportunity to walk at 4 mph on flat or half-jog down a lazy slope was an amazing chance to rest... usually I was clambering over rocks trying not to hurt myself.

Water
I filled up at basically every water crossing I passed, drinking my fill and topping up each time. As a result water was no problem. There was water on the way up Madison, at Madison Hut between Madison and Adams, then a trickle between... I think it was Jefferson and Clay, then a water fountain on Washington, again at lake of the clouds, and there's a spring between Eisenhower and Pierce. I didn't find I needed more on the way down Pierce.

Still, I ran in to some trouble with running out of breath, heat, dehydration and hyponatremia. For running out of breath and heat, I'd slow down just a little... usually not stopping just dropping from maybe 3 to 2.5 mph while rock scrambling up talus... for example. For dehydration I always had enough water, I was just sweating it out, so I was drinking as regularly as I could. For hyponatremia I was carrying a block of Himalayan rock salt that I would suck on occasionally when I felt like I needed it... and of course was eating salty snacks as well.

Ride home
Angie agreed to pick me up in Crawford notch (thanks Angie!), and she even brought Pizza! To synchronize I texted from the top of each mountain, where I was, and the current time. They didn't go through until I was almost to Eisenhower, but at least when she got them she could predict when I'd come out.

Conclusion
Amazingly I actually felt okay the next day. I was sore for sure, but I was only out of commission due to sunburn (my own screwup), and not from the hike. I'm not a hiking pole fanatic, but I love them when I know I'm pushing my abilities, and they were invaluable on this hike. I ended up using them till 2/3'rds of the way up Madison, then stowing them on my pack. Then, when the trail got smooth between Jackson and Clay I pulled them back out, and kept them out for the rest of the hike (there are other sections of talus, but it wasn't worth putting them away again for these shorter sections). This worked perfectly, and my knees weren't sore at all the following day.

2016-07-11

Pot Hanging Methods

So, while I've been cooking on fires for some time. Being out east again is making me experiment more with how to cook on fires. I wanted to share a few interesting experiments.

I mentioned a while back that cooking over a fire in the eastern U.S. often means cooking with wet wood. Wet wood needs more air to keep it burning, so you need a good open fire to make it work well. There are a lot of methods for accomplishing that.

Pole and Arm

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There's a pole that's been hammered in to the ground. In to this pole I cut a notch, then I lashed the arm into that notch so it would stay in place. Note that a forked stick would also work, I just happened to have a nice green stick that wasn't forked, and some twine, so I did it this way. There's a notch on the end of the arm (very hard to see in this photo) for the pot to sit in so it doesn't slide down the stick if you raise or lower it. There's also a piece of twine tied from the far end of the arm to the base of the pole using a rolling hitch on each end, to adjust it you just tilt the arm and re-adjust the rolling hitch a little.

This was my first time trying this setup and it worked better than we expected actually. It's convenient if you don't have a lot of wood available, but note that if you're fire is of any size you'll need the wood to be green. It's also nice in that there is no twine over the fire, which has a bad habit of burning up.

Tripod
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I've posted a lot of photos of this setup before. It works well with one catch. The string above the pot will melt or catch fire (depending on material) if the fire licks up over the pot too much. Using a metal or wooden hook (you can carve a wooden hook pretty quickly) can help some though. This is actually what we use most often.

Two poles and arm

Sadly I lack photos of this one, we did this on a recent backpacking trip on which we didn't bring a camera. Someone else had actually set it up and left it, so we used it with our own pot hangers. The idea is simple. It's like the pole and arm, but with two forked poles both hammered in to the ground, one on each side of the fire, and the pole goes across them. Now you have a similar problem to the tripod, you need a way to adjust how high your pot is. Take a stick with a small side-branch so it'll hang over the pole. Now, cut it to length, and carve notches in to the stick so the pot bail will sit in the notches. You can adjust the height of the pot simply by moving it from notch to notch... this is how we cooked after a heavy rain while backpacking, and it worked very well actually.

3 rocks

If you have a plethora of rocks, and a larger pot or frying pan this method can work well. It does tend to take more fire-tending though and is more of a dry-weather method usually. Take some 3 rocks and place then so you can balance your pot on top, the space between then can then be laced with sticks and fed ongoing as things burn. You'll need to use smallish sticks, but it lets you very tightly control fire temperature and can work very well for more complex cooking. Note that stakes work very well in place of rocks

Burn it down to coals first

When it's a bit dryer I do this a LOT, because well... I'm lazy. This dish was cooked this way in fact:

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I've been looking for a picture that makes it obvious but basically I burn it down until I just have some of the larger logs left, then shift them around until they are lined up well to hold the pot over the fire. Note... sometimes you can do this even over a full-fledged fire as well, by balancing logs across the sides of the firepit, but be ready for your logs to burn out.

This is ideal if you have a frying pan which can't be hung... but burning the coals down is going to require more wood for sure.

Put the pot on the side of the fire

The simplest of all answers really. This is great for boiling water, but if you try and cook something, be ready for it to burn on one side and stay raw on the other. For pots of boiling liquid whatever is in the liquid will tend to burn to the side of the pot. That said... It works, and I've used it to cook all sorts of things.

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A stove

I'm throwing this in just because people forget it's an option, it's a wood stove. They are really silly in some areas, and absolutely awesome in others, it all depends on what you have to burn, and what your other options are. I love mine and used it tons on the west coast, but have barely used it on the east coast. I suspect it'll get plenty of use again once we make it out west again.


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Last notes

There are many more methods, but that's a quick tour of stuff I've tried. I'd love to hear if anyone else has other methods they've tried that did or did not work.