Transporting bows

Well, I've been living in the truck since may now. One of the single most annoying things is the "long stuff" storage down one side of the bed of the truck. This has included at various times: Atl-atls and their darts, bows, bow staves, arrows both loose and not, a folding bow saw, etc. The best location for this pile of long items has been balanced on top of the wheel well on one side of the bed of the truck, where the space is hard to use for anything else.

The problem is, every time you move things around in the truck it all slides off the wheel well and then you have this annoying game, while crawling under the platform to put everything else back, of trying to balance that stuff and hold it in place while you slide other things back. The other option is to remove it all every time something adjascent is removed, and put it back again. Super annoying.

Well, at the primitive skills gatherings and elsewhere I noticed some time ago many people simply put a large PVC pipe on their roof, and store things in there, so I'm giving it a try.

The pipe is a bit over 7 feet long, 6" in diameter. It's made with 2 male/male adapters and 2 screw-top caps. This allows me to get into either end of the pipe, so that arrows that slide to one end can be retrieved. Right now it has 1 bow-stave, 1 stick-bow, and 2 recurves, as well as some arrows. The recurves take up a lot of the space due to their... well... curve, so there's not much space left. While you could fit quite a few stick-bows. I made it over 7' so it could fit a full-sized atl-atl dart. So far I've liked darts closer to 6', but Jess is tall, so it seemed like I might as well make it long enough in case one of us decides they like long darts.

The pipe is tied to the roof with 2 small hose-clamps running around the roof-rack bars, and 2 large ones running around the pipe. The large clamps interlace with the small clamps. This does let the pipe rock a little, but it seems pretty secure, we'll see!

BTW, there's a trick to doing this. When you glue together PVC you usually use this primer stuff that preps the surface for the glue. Most of the joints in the pipe I just made are short of being slide all of the way on. One of them is all of the way on. I think the difference is that the one we slide all of the way on we skipped the primer, this leaves the surface smoother allowing it to slide together more easily. If you are using it to hold water the absolute perfect seal might matter, but for my use very very near air-tight is plenty good enough for me.

Their is one catch, which is that I need to purchase a large pair of slip-jaw pliers to open the caps. Also, since I purchased the pipe and fittings rather than managing to scrounge them it's about $100 in parts. Still, that's not much for the headaches it'll save, not too mention the bows getting a lot less beat up being nice and safe in their own compartment.

Also, our truck is now like 7'6" tall... oh well, we already didn't fit in parking garages. We'll see how it affects gas-milage. EDIT: I added 2 more hose-clamps, one on each roof-rack bar. The two hose-clamps on each roof-rack bar are on opposite sides of the mount for the bar, separating them by maybe 4 inches. The hose-clamp around the pipe goes through both, thus giving it some stability so it doesn't rock back and forth.


Saving a shirt

I had an old white dress shirt that had 2 burn marks on it from overheating in a dryer. I liked the shirt, made of a relatively thick cotton/poly blend with a tougher weave than you usually see in dress shirts, but it was no longer usable as a dress shirt. Jess and I were chatting one day and realized I could save it by just dying it. So, today, finally did it!

This is RIT black.... yes, that's what I said, black. I love the color it came out, but whatever it is it definitely is NOT black. I followed the directions pretty carefully. I used half a bottle of RIT in a 5-gallon bucket filled maybe a quarter of the way with hot water (just a touch hotter than tap water, right at the edge of burning my hands), and a 1/2 cup of salt. Stir constantly for 45 minutes. Next I rinsed the shirt out with warm water until the water was running near clear (not actually clear, I got bored). Then I ran it through a washing machine with a little soap and salt.

The only funny thing is I think the shirt shrank just a tiny bit. I'd swear this shirt used to fit perfectly and now it's just a tiny bit tight. Still, it's good enough and now the shirt is usable again as a general wear shirt, or even a casual dress shirt. We'll see how colorfast it is.

So, assuming it lasts I'd call this a success. This was my first ever dying project, as in general I don't care much what my clothing looks like. But the white stains to easily. So, now I can keep the shirt presentable much more easily. Why throw things away, when you can reuse them.


Yellowstone is like a zoo (but better)

Jess and I only spent a few days in Montana, but they were awesome. See http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2013/12/theres-cold-and-theres-cold.html and http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2013/12/buffalo-field-campaign-bfc.html

On our way to the North gate of Yellowstone park we passed a group of bighorn sheep! Sadly, I lack photos. Just down the road from them was a bighorn sheep crossing sign - apparently they didn't get the memo.

Our plan was to go to Yellowstone for the Volcanic activity. We figured we'd seen buffalo and such. We didn't have time to really hike around for a few days like we normally would, and we figured we wouldn't just pass a Wolf while driving around or something.

Well, we quickly found the Buffalo, a lot of them:

But we also saw Mule deer (no pictures), and Elk:


Most ridiculously though, we DID just drive by a wolf! The photo is bad enough that I won't bother posting it. A couple of days prior we'd seen what we thought was a wolf, after seeing a wolf I'm pretty confident that was a Coyote. You will never mistake a wolf for a Coyote, the whole body-build is different, and while I expected a large animal they are larger than I expected.

Right after we got into the park we decided to go on a short hike down to the steaming river near the entrance. We saw some Coyote's up on the hills and were following all of the cool tracks. Soon we found these. My first thought was wolf, but then I thought no way it's too huge! But no, this is one of the most distinctly canid tracks I've ever seen. Check out those oblong toes, the narrow foot (relatively speaking), the small surface area of the main pad, and those huge non-retractable claws!

In fact if you look closely their is no meltout at all. And in fact there was significant hoar frost the night prior from the steaming river nearby making it look smaller than it really is if anything. It had snowed the day before, and given the quantity of frost these tracks were almost certainly less than 24 hours old

These prints were all leading away from the river. When we got to the river there was a kill out on the ice. It had a femur that could only have belonged to a cow or a Buffalo, given the location it had to be Buffalo. The joint was enormous. We scared off a coyote that was feeding off the few remaining bits of the carcass. This is clearly where the wolves were coming from. A few ravens and magpies were picking on the carcass as well.

Later actually, while looking at the Volcanic springs we watched a Magpie chase down, kill, and eat a small songbird. I had no idea they were THAT carnivorous.

We're pretty sure this was a mother bird, it's chick (verging on juvinile) was yelling at it the whole time from a nearby tree

And just after this we saw our first snowshoe hare. Sadly, no photos of that one either.

So, apparently if you want to see wildlife like... in the wild... and you don't want to walk very far or sleep in the woods, go to Yellowstone. It was great seeing this many animals where you could see the animal right *there* and look at the print it had JUST left in the snow. My ability to identify all these animals (and anything related) made a huge jump.

There's cold, and there's cold

I grew up on the east coast, in Massachusetts. I go snowshoe backpacking up in the Sierra every so often in the winter. I've built a snowcave in 7 degree weather. Jess is pretty similar, though she also spent a couple of years in northern Maine. Anyway, despite this we had a bit to learn in Montana.

At the Buffalo Field Campaign it was cold. It turns out that that valley is one of the 3 coldest spots in the lower 48 states. -40F is a routine daytime temperature. It was only -10F to -20F while we were there. Also the wind there is a major factor. Dealing with cold is one thing, but doing it routinely is different. My boots weren't quite warm enough but worked okay. It was amazing to learn that pack boots will actually keep your toes warm and comfortable at -10F with no trouble at all, and probably down much colder (if you dry the liners out every day).

Next though we went up to the North Entrance of Yosemite (many hours of driving on Ice. Montanans basically go the speed limit on Ice because they are used to it, on the flip side it's consistant ice and rarely glare due to the cold. Luckily I have a lot of experience drifting corners on dirt roads so this wasn't that big of a deal)

For various reasons we ended up getting there in the evening, so we found a dirt (snow) road up into the National Forest. I carefully parked the truck on a bit of a hillock facing downhill, so we could roll start her if the battery had issues (or ran out of juice before it started). We bundled up and made a quick dinner using some of the more instant food we had around.

In bundling up I put on my tights and a pair of puffy pants. I also put on a thin marino wool shirt, my normal marino sweater (usually all I use), my down vest, AND my backup warm jacket. I also had on my balaclava and hat, and puffy mittens with gortex covers. I was not overly warm. Jess did a little better as she has a ludicrously warm vintage down ski jacket from the 70's  That was passed down to her.

We just wanted to get in and warm up, so we didn't light a fire this evening, instead we pulled out the alcohol stove. After a number of tries we realized it simply wasn't volatile at this temperature, there was NO vapor at all to light on fire, so the sparker didn't work. As I reached for the lighter I realized that wasn't going to work either. I have a few emergency matches (the truly light-wet type, not just the "waterproof" ones), but not many. Instead I stuck the lighter in my armpit ::BRRRR:: and waited for it to heat up. I then used this to light a candle, and used the candle to heat the alcohol until I could get it to very slowly and carefully light with the lighter (still wouldn't light with the sparker).

Now, I always knew lighters were not a great plan for this sort of weather, but what I didn't know was that a sparker couldn't light alcohol. I ran into this once before actually on my first backpacking trip over 10,000ft. There I sat trying to get my stove to light for something like 20 minutes as the temperatures plummeted. I had believed then that it only got to about 20 that night, in retrospect I think it probably got below zero that night (I'd spent it behind a rock to block the wind, in a nearly new Feathered Friend's 10F sleepingbag with some extra clothes on). So, if you use alcohol I HIGHLY recommend carrying a few backup matches. A sparker is not a good backup for truly cold weather.

We ate and drank some hot tea sitting in the cab of the truck, so we wouldn't get too chilled. Then we crawled into the back of the truck. I have a 5F down quilt that needs some futzing to get the down to the right spots, and Jess has a 10F down bag that really needs to be washed and is kinda flat. I'm using a gossamer gear sleepingpad, Jess has a thin one from them and a thicker but crappier foam pad. We were both also on top of a 7.5 lb felt blanket Jess made that we had spread across the platform of the truck. Lastly, the truck was closed up of course, giving us another 10 degrees or so, and blocking the wind.
We both slept fine, but in almost all of our gear and not too toasty. Our cores were fine, but both of us had numb toes come morning. As we got up we looked and realize neither of us had managed to keep our feet on our pads overnight... no wonder!

(3-inch long ice-crystals hanging from the ceiling of the truck cap)

Miracles of miracles the car turned over. The starter motor wouldn't reliably engage (glad I was on a hill), but it'd engage to turn it over once or twice and then disengage. The momentum jerk of starting it spinning again seemed to re-engage it, so it took a number of key turns before the truck started. I didn't want to roll-start it except as a last ditch, as we were on a steep snow-covered hill.

-40F is really where everything breaks down. We didn't so have to deal with this temperature, only ~-25F. Propane boils above -40F. Toyota red antifreeze in a normal mixture fails at -34F. Isobutane boils at -10F, and butane boils at 10F.

We ran into some other interesting problems too. When it's only getting really cold at night you can keep liquid water around. If you've got a large container and it's in the cab of the truck for instance it won't usually freeze overnight. There's some insulation there and a lot of heat from when we had it comfortable, it'll last through a 10F night no problem. When the day's high is -15F or something this doesn't work. Even with the heaters going much of our stuff in the front stayed solid frozen for days, even with driving for hours and hours. While we were sleeping the night it dropped to -25F I had some hot tea in a thermos, I drank some of it and what remained froze solid... in a thermos.

I learned a lot, and ironically this made me want to be in the cold MORE so I could learn more about how to deal with it. Good clothing is critical, glove *liners* are a must. Mittens to go over the liners are also a must. It turns out that having a properly shaped balaclava is crucial. Jess' worked well, but mine is unshaped around the nose. This meant that my breath escaped between the balaclava and my cheeks, thus directing it over my sunglasses which subsequently frosted over. This was okay but only because when we were in high wind it was only -10F, so I could leave the balaclava off my nose. Had it been colder with that kindof wind my nose would've been in danger.

Oh, I should mention that had the alcohol not lit we had a whitegas stove around, which is designed for using in cold weather. We just didn't want to dig it out. I assume we would've had to preheat that as well though of course.

Anyone else have some tips for cold weather? I mean really cold weather, when things like insulating your water bottle don't really help you for long.


Fire and snow

Jess and I were camping up in the mountains on our way out toward Montana, and the good spot we found was quite snowy. We wanted to cook up some meat that evening and thus really wanted to start a fire. So, that's what we did:


ALL of the wood was wet, there was no hope of finding dry wood. There also wasn't much tinder around.

A quick primer in starting fires in the snow. The first step is to make it so the the melting snow doesn't sap all of the energy straight out of your fire. Fundamentally fire is about getting a chain reaction. When trying to get it to light up you want as much of the heat from what you have burning so far to go back into the stuff you want to burn as you can, to keep the chain reaction going and building. The easiest way to do this is to lift the fire up out of the snow so it doesn't sap out all that energy. To do this we started by building a platform of sticks. This is just a layer of sticks layed side-by-side, and then a second layer on top of that. 2 was plenty. In really deep snow this platform may slowly work it's way down into the snow, I've heard of using green bows under it to keep it up, but I can't say as I've tried it yet.

Next I stripped some of the driest needles I could off a dead branch still attached to a tree. These needs were *just* dry enough to actually burn very very slowly. I placed these on the platform. Jess had gathered the driest tiny twigs she could find off some nearby fallen trees (for some reason the sticks on the standing trees were like rubber that day, totally soaked). I piled these twigs on top of the pine-needles and lit the needles. There was little wind, so it required a little blowing to keep the needles going.

Next we started piling on more and more twigs, worrying less and less about dryness and more about volume as we went. The more outer layers should be dry by the time the fire gets there, and there's more energy to spare to dry them out. Then we started going to larger and larger wood, and building up more of a Tee-Pee shape. The classic "Tee Pee" approach to building a fire is *extremely* effective, but I find that if I build it all up before lighting I usually knock it over and get really frustrated. Instead we usually start with a heap of smaller stuff, often we just keep going with the heap, but in more difficult weather such as that day the Tee-Pee really helps.


One of the tricks to making all of this work is to use LOTS more wood than you think you need, at every stage. Build it several stages past where it's burning at the time. You need the wood to start drying long before you expect it to burn. The extra layers also serve as a bit of a shield holding a bit more heat in the center to help your chain reaction. Normally this would just be a waste of wood and you'd end up with a ridiculous bonfire that you can't cook on. But, if your wood is really wet and keeping a fire burning is hard, something closer to a bonfire is exactly what you want. Once you have some really hot coals you can just collapse it all and use it like a normal cooking fire (unless say, you're in pouring rain and a bonfire is the only way to keep it going).

We *did* use a lighter on this one. But using only a lighter, when everything was wet, we were soon burning logs we were literally digging out of the snow. Maybe someday we can get an on-the-spot built hand-drill to work in this weather... getting closer!

Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC)

Jess and I went up exploring into Oregon and then shot East out across Idaho and up to Yellowstone. Some friend's Jess met this summer work for the Buffalo Field Campaign http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/. So we figured we'd drop by and say hi for a couple of days. To be clear, the "Buffalo" field campaign is about the American Bison (not technically a buffalo, though that's it's common name) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_bison.
I'll be honest. I kindof expected a cool group of folks, but a pretty heavy dose of the sort of environmentalists who think anyone who isn't Vegan is a terrible person, and that sort of thing. I was completely mistaken.

Turns out it's a pretty varied group, and in particular a good portion of involved folks are not only meat eaters, but hunters themselves. The organization has been around for a while (and made a real difference in that time) and as a result they really have their ducks in a row. The BFC's reasons for being against the Buffalo hunt are much more nuanced than simple "don't kill the fuzzy things", and their way of fighting is by 1) gathering hard data through rigorous field work and 2) educating people (hunters, ranchers, lawmakers, park officials etc.) about the issues and being involved in the debate. The site here at West Yellowstone is one of their jump-off point. People stay here all year, including Yellowstone's extremely harsh winter. It's early December and is likely to hit -40F (-40C) this week. They gather data every single day on the buffalo's movements, and actions taken by agencies, hunters, etc. involving the buffalo.

IMG_20131204_093514 (This is a couple of kids Jess met this summer actually, who were also at the BFC).

I'm sure I can't do it justice, and the arguments get pretty complex, but here's the short short sinopsis of the general points:

The Yellowstone Buffalo are not allowed outside of Yellowstone. If they leave they are driven back in with paint-ball guns and the like, a process called "hazing". If driving them back fails, they are killed. The National Parks manage the number of buffalo precisely, taking any "surplus", through a combination of hunting permits, and slaughtering the buffalo themselves. What the carrying capacity is seems to be one point of debate: http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/faq/howmanybuffalo.html

The other major point of debate is Brucellosis. A disease which slightly reduces the healthy birth-rate of calves in cows, and has less impact on Buffalo. Brucellosis is the primary "reason" that Buffalo are killed when they leave Yellowstone: http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/faq/whatisbrucellosis.html. However, the scientific backing for this seems to be slim to none. The real issue is more likely that ranchers don't like buffalo damaging fences and competing with cattle for range. A reasonable thing for ranchers to dislike to be fair. The ranchers then put pressure on the government toward this end. Unfortunately to date no-one has come up with a functional/practical way to make it beneficial for landowners to let the buffalo range.

A bit of quick background for those who don't know. The buffalo were intentionally nearly made extinct in the United States as a way to win the battle against the plains Indians. By removing their primary food supply the U.S. government hoped to force them into submission. To accomplish this they payed hunters to by the head for slaughtering buffalo in an attempt to completely exterminate them. http://all-that-is-interesting.com/post/5631232781/the-near-extinction-of-american-bison-in-the-1800s. Most of the results of the hunting (meat, bones, hides) went unused, though hides were often sold for a small amount of money.

Here's a timeline (though a cryptic "extermination began" describes the program) http://www.fws.gov/bisonrange/timeline.htm. Here's a great explanation and set of pictures http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/news-near-extinction-american-bison

Sorry I'm lacking cool photos of Bison. Jess did go on a patrol and saw 26, and we went on some awesome hikes, but we both forgot to take pictures. Anyway... The Buffalo Field Campaign is a pretty neat organization if this is the set of issues you care about.

Thanksgiving on the road

Jess and I were wandering up towards Oregon and decided it would be really fun to have a thanksgiving dinner. We stopped by a grocery store and picked up some brussel sprouts, 3 types of pickles, some apple cider, some hard apple cider, and some sauce for meat we already had in the truck.


Near ashland we found a road out to the National Forest called "Dead Indian Memorial Road"... sadly appropriate. Down this road we found a good spot to camp. It was pretty chilly and there was ice on the ground when we got there. We lit up a fire, and had a wonderful little feast out in the woods. The sky was super clear and we watched the stars as they moved through the sky that night.


We both agreed that listing out what we were thankful for was pretty pointless. It's all so good.


DYI: new backpack

A while back I noticed that my backpack was on it's last legs. See http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2013/11/review-granite-gear-serrano-25l-daypack.html

After some minor foibles I decided I should just make a pack myself. So after an afternoon of thinking I dove in, and here's the result so far.

I just got it to a usable state, there's certainly more to do to really make it nice.

My goal was a day pack around 30 Liters, large enough for a good-weather weekend backpacking trip, or a week of civilization travel with a laptop and change of clothes. I had a painter's drop-cloth lying around, so I took a shot with that and some webbing I picked up at a hardware store.

This is a simple 3 panel pack, 2 side panels and one panel that wraps around as the front/bottom/back. The side panels fold over at the bottom creating a side pocket, and a lid is stitched to the top. There's a drawstring around the top as well. My eventual plan is to add drawstrings to the pockets for water-bottles, and compression lacing up the sides of the pack. I also want a second ring to attach the lid-hook to for when the pack is overfull.

I attached the shoulder-straps with D-rings both top and bottom in case I decide I don't like my first quick-hack design. The shoulder-straps are stitched over the D-ring on the top, and the bottom is a standard slider (sadly plastic, it's what the hardware store had).
The top of the pack is rolled down several inches and stitched again, this gave me extra reinforcement for the shoulder-strap attachment that I knew would be one of the most stressed spots on the pack.

(Front of pack)

Note also the shoulder strap D-rings are stitched to the pack over seams, so for example the attachment points on the bottom of the pack are actually sewn directly to the bottom as well, not just the side. I'm hoping this helps keep it form tearing out of the fabric.

So far I'm a little sad that I didn't use canvas for the straps instead of nylon webbing, just for my own aesthetics and generally avoiding adding more plastic to the world when this pack wears out. Otherwise it's looking like a pretty good first attempt!

This is the first backpack I've made, and I have no illusions that my first pack is going to be anywhere near perfect. This is an Alpha pack made quickly out of cheap materials (<$10.00 worth I believe). I expect to wear it out pretty quickly, but how it wears out and how I like it in the meantime will hopefully give me good information for how to build a good Beta out of more costly fabric.

We will see!

Review: Granite Gear Serrano 25L daypack

By my reckoning this pack is about 3 years old. And to be clear I have put it through the ringer. Around June or so the zipper failed on one side, it's been getting sketchier and sketchier. Sometime in August I realized how bad the seems were and restitched several of them to keep the pack together long enough for some SAR work. I'm finally retiring the pack today.

My uses:

  • I carried it to work daily until I quit work. With a laptop in it most days, often jogging, usually cycling.
  • When I travelled in civilization I would stuff it packed with a change of clothes, sandals, food, presents, laptop, etc.
  • For gear-heavy day-hikes I'd carry this pack with snacks and water
  • For weekend 1-2 night trips in warm weather I'd overfill this pack as a weekend backpack. These trips frequently involved heavy bushwhacking.


(This was a trip in Mendocino involving some really heavy bushwhacking and swimming a river several times)

Granite Gear background

Jess has a Granite Gear Meridian Ki which she adores. so much that I actually bought the men's version and used it for a bit before needing to get rid of all my gear. Those packs are for another review though. Granite Gear got their start with A.T. through-hiking packs. They several one of only a few models of pack under 3 lbs that will last the entire length of the trail. The numbers are increasing elsewhere, but ULA and Granite gear were the first really good packs of their ilk. The founders have shown up every year at "trail-days" a backpacking festival on the A.T. and repaired through-hiker's gear for free (any gear, not just theirs). As a result they understand failure modes better than most.


Wear life

This pack doesn't quite live up to Granite Gear's deserved reputation for robust gear. It's more solid than most packs. In particular the slightly odd shaping of the pack and zippered opening put less stress on the zipper than most designs would, that said... it has a zipper which is virtually always an issue. The fabric is entirely reasonable for this weight of pack, but repeated overstuffing does eventually tear out the seams. I can't really ask *more* from a pack in the price-range and it met my needs for absolutely constant use for 3 years and all the abuse that entails. For most people this would be a life-time backpack. But it's certainly not perfect either and a more robust pack would be nice.


At 25 liters this pack is an incredibly useful size. It carries well massively underloaded which is a very important feature in my book. As a result I carried with everything from a laptop and power-cord, or lunch a rain-coat and a water-bottle, all the way up to a minimal bivy shelter, wood-stove, food for 3 days, warm-coat, etc. on a trip in Lassen. That said, my conclusion is that for my use-case 30 Litres would fit the bill better. At 25L I often overstuff the pack for travelling, as a SAR 24 hour pack, or as a weekend backpacking pack. The extra 5 litres would give me the space to fit that extra bit of food or a minimal shelter into the pack easily. IMG_20131103_113806
(Prepping for our impromptu trip in PA a couple weeks ago)


This pack *looks* totally typical, but the shape is odder than it looks at first glance. Note how the zippered panel goes 2/3's of the way down. It almost looks like it goes to an outer compartment and not the primary one. This, actually, is a really good feature. You can pack really tightly and the stress ends up on the fabric rather than the zipper. You can also get WAY more in the pack than it looks like, that front "bump" gives a huge amount of extra space. It took me a bit to realize it, but basically after the pack *seems* full you can still easilly get a pair of jeans, a shirt, and probably a snack in there. This is part of why the pack carries so well empty, that space slacks out easily leaving some tension in the rest of the pack to help it hold it's shape and keep stuff from shifting. This is especially nice while jogging.


I purchased this pack due to external water bottle pockets, a *real* hip-belt with pockets on it, and minimal other pockets in the pack. The hip-belt pockets are wonderful and amazingly didn't wear-through (in contrast to my ULA Circuit). I usually keep a sighting compass, a salt crystal, a headlamp, maybe a sparker, and often iodine in the pockets. This stuff just stays there all the time basically regardless of what I do, and it's always handy while walking or hiking. Having a broad belt is also really nice, when the pack is optimally full, meaning about 3/4 the belt will actually take quite a bit of the load. It's not critical, but definitely nice for long walks. For running a decently wide belt IS critical. The back panel is a thin foam with bumps covered with mesh. This is pretty good. I did tear the mesh some in the time I owned the pack, but in general it rarely caused a problem. It probably helped a bit with getting air to my back, but I'm not actually sure as that's not something I worry about very often. Oh, the mesh over the padding on shoulders kindof frays out a tiny bit, and the mesh itself chafes somewhat, such that if you want to wear it without a shirt, and your shoulders aren't thick-skinned it can be kindof unpleasent.

Water bottle pockets

I don't use water-bladders myself, so this is critical for me. Also, it's nice to have occasionally to stuff a coat into. They aren't quite tall/deep enough. When the pack is empty they carry water bottles very very nicely. When the pack is overstuffed though the bottles get pushed out sometimes, which can be annoying when you have to chase it down the mountain on a rocky scramble.

External Attachment Points

This pack has some tiny little stretchy draws intended for an ice-axe. They are very light while in fact amazingly working quite well for a real ice-axe (I've done this a few times). My only warning though is watch the back of your head, depending how the pack is loaded you may have the spike at the butt end of your axe disturbingly close to the back of your head.

The attachment points work for tons of other things though, and you can pull the stretchy bit off and just throw something else through the nice little webbing loops. Particularly nice is that an ice-axe or hiking poles strapped vertically too the pack do not have to take up the water-bottle pocket and neither do they block entrance via the front lid.


It's a good pack, and for someone with similar criteria to me I'd recommend it. That said it's still on the market I'm not going to get another one. I've decided I'd prefer to move towards canvas and leather. For me a pack like this wears out quite quickly so it's a bunch of plastic to throw in a landfill every 3 years. Canvas or leather is biodegradable and also a lot more repairable. Additionally I've decided my backpacks should not have zippers, particularly for main compartments. Zippers are just to unreliable and hard to repair for my taste. A draw-string is easily field repairable given a knife, a stick, and some fiber, so is most the rest of the pack for that matter particularly if you add a needle to the mix, and a zipper just isn't. After a few attempts to find a pack I decided to build my own, that article should hopefully be coming soon.

(If you decide to get one, please use this link and it will help fund our blog... thanks!)


Impromptu Fall Backpacking


Jess and I have been in Pittsburgh, PA, as mentioned in some previous posts. The last few days we've been hanging out with our friend Greg. This weekend we decided to go backpacking. The obvious first question was "what do we need?". We're in a season in PA now where it drops below freezing every so often. Jess and I have seen snow since getting here. So, our answer was a tarp, twine, sleepingbags, and pads. Later on headlamps and an extra fleece were added as nice-to-haves as well. Minimalism has more uses than just reducing the weight of your pack. There are tons of uses to knowing what you can get away with carrying. Understanding what you actually need can let you go on trips when it's not possible to scrap together a more standard kit.


Greg borrowed 2 sleepingbags and 2 pads from a friend. He had some MREs someone had given him in his basement we used for food. He also had a 11x13 tarp, a smaller tarp useful for a groundcloth, a couple of lengths of twine, a lighter, a sparker, and headlamps for all of us, and an extra fleece for Jess. Greg had basic gear for himself of course. Jess and I had our daypacks, which we'd flown with carryon as our only luggage with no intention of backpacking. We also each had a wool sweater, rain coat, long pants, wool t-shirt, good hiking socks, a hat, and warmish shoes all of which we'd brought as basic clothing just because we knew it'd be cold'ish here. Jess also had tights, and I had a down vest. We packed our clothing and sleepingbags in trash-bags, I tied a closed-cell-foam pad to the outside of my daypack... and we were good to go.


We got a late start so it soon got dark on us, maybe 3 miles in. Everyone in our group enjoyed night hiking though so we continued to over 6 miles before camping at a nice Shelter. The trail was surprisngly difficult to follow at night actually. Not that hard, but there were a lot of crossing roads that would've made for a long of wrong-terms and backtracking with no light. I used a red light a lot time to check blazes, just to be really sure that I didn't lose the trail. Eventually we did use white headlamps though as the light was really failing and there was no moon yet. This trip wasn't about proving anything anyway.

(Photo of Greg hiking behind me)


At the shelter we started up a fire and heated up our self-heating MREs. The MREs these days are surprisingly good actually and we had a lot of fun figuring them out. I made a little hot lemonade using my steel water bottle and the lemonade packets from the MREs... no-one else wanted it for some reason, and we talked late into the night.

The next day we had more MREs for breakfast and a beautiful hike out. Given that Jess and I had come to Pittsburgh with just our daypacks with the purpose of going to a wedding it was great to be able to get out with our friend with just a few bits of borrowed gear.


Review: Tacoma as a camper

We've had Jane (our truck) for some time now, and it just occured to us that we should write a review. The reason this is worthwhile isn't to talk about how great our truck is, but for others thinking of doing something similar there are some details that aren't necessarilly obvious until you try it. So here goes.
We've had Jane for a couple years. I've been living out of the truck since mid may, so about 5 months now. Before that we used her regularly for trips to the mountains, including ski and backpacking trips.

Besides driving places and carrying out junk around with us we have two major additional uses for this vehicle. The first is as a place to sleep in urban areas. The second is as a place to sleep in remote areas in inclement weather or when we don't want to deal with setting up a shelter.

Jane is a manual extended cab 2002 Toyota Tacoma with a 2.7L engine a 2.5" lift I installed myself and a sleeping platform I built. With that dealt with lets get down to the nitty gritty:

The Good


IMG_20130529_100223.jpg High clearance is AMAZING for boondocking. Recently I was driving across Nevada. The clouds had been making "it's going to rain" patterns all day. It was late and I was ready to sleep. As I drove down the highway I saw on the side a pulloff with a tiny dirt road leading off into the desert... so I took it. In just a couple minutes I was out of view and sound of the highway in the middle of the nowhere in the beautiful Nevada desert. After a nice evening walk I curled up in the back of the truck for a great night's sleep.

This is an extremely common story for us. Not driving late at night is a major reason we got the vehicle originally. These sorts of locations are our favourite campsites. The ones where we can really get out and away from people. Where no-one will bother us. Where we're already at a great spot to start hikes, gather food, etc.

415152_847018007009_4807803_36857374_574476063_o In these cases I need a vehicle that I know will have no problems on my way in. This is where the clearance comes in handy. Jane is a little overkill for this type of case and any reasonable truck or higher-clearance van is sufficient for the bulk of locations. Though I've certainly used the additional clearance a few times. OHV parks can be a great source of boondocking locations for example.

In the Nevada story given the weather there's no way I would've gone down that road without a decent offroad tire and 4wd in addition to the clearance. Had it been a torrential downpour that road could've easily turned to mud, and I'd be stuck waiting for it to dry up... or worse the spot I was in could flood too with my vehicle immobilized. Even after it dries up rain can easily turn a drivable road into a boulder field.

The point is, I don't just need a vehicle capable of getting into great camping spots, but also of capable getting out again. It's not like 4-wheeling where we'd have a friend there to pull us out. The nature of boon-docking is that necessarily no-one knows quite where we are, since we're basically always out searching for campsites. Because of that it's important to have a vehicle that's a little overbuilt. I should note that we also have a small pile of recovery gear such as a highlift jack, saw, and strong rope, along with some decent knowledge of how to use it. The photo below is my clearing a log off a road using a jerk strap.
Note that a low range is absolutely critical. It's all the more so because we slightly upsized the tires (giving the diffs and axles slightly more clearance and the truck a little more traction and flotation). I find myself using low-range particularly frequently in reverse, which is higher than 1'st. Often if I've stupidly gone down a hill on a steep dirt road I end up having to back out. Without a low-range the engine would just die, or even if I could manage to move I'd probably smoke the clutch and move too fast thus running into something.
As a minor note the non-stock rear bumper you see in all the photos has been pretty useful. I've backed into trees a couple of types by accident with no damage being done.


The platform we've built is really nice. As it turns out it's sufficient to fit two stacked rubbermade boxes underneath, and requires no support structure which would take weight and space. This has been huge for me, and even more useful now that  Jess has moved in as well. We gave in and got a storage unit so we can swap out some of our stuff occasionally because even pairing it down we just have too many interests to fit it all. But, as we slowly get organized we can fit not only enough stuff to camp and eat delicious and cheap food, and do SAR, but also some space for gathering, crafts, archery equipment, etc.
Note that the hightop cap is really necessary for this setup to work well. Otherwise we'd have so little space in the sleeping area that it would be really annoying getting in and out.


The windoors are a huge advantage. We frequently reorganize things in the top by opening them and reaching in. In good weather if we aren't stealthing we'll open them up for sleeping as well, which can be very nice. We use the sliding screen windows a lot as well, especially in colder  weather where we want the truck cap to breath a little, but we don't want it so drafty.
The carpeting inside the cap has several unexpected advantages. It seems to discourage condensation, so the cap doesn't drip even if we close it all the way up on a cold or rainy night. The carpeting also adds a bit to the insulation ability of the cap, allowing the two of us to heat it up with our body heat in below freezing weather to warm enough we can be relatively comfortable out of our sleepingbags naked. It's not warm not enough to sleep without a bag, but it makes things a lot safer if our bags are compromised or we're wet, it's also just nice. Lastly it works as the passive side of velcro! This means we can stick things to the inside of the cap like curtains, a net to store our curtains, my pee bottle, etc.

Extended cab pickup truck:

Tailgates are AWESOME. It's a place to sit, a place to cook, etc. It means that as soon as you park you've got a surface to work on. It's stable and even extremely useful for woodworking.
Having a seperate cab and sleeping space has some major advantages. For example, if we have something smelly in the back for a short time, we don't smell it in the front. I don't like to put a gas can back there, but it's an option. The heater can warm up the front much faster due to it's size.

We got an extended cab so we could pick up hitchhikers. This and giving rides to friends has come up a number of times, but an additional advantage is the ability to have food and such in the cab. On long roadtrips shotgun can reach around and grab some food or water making everyone happier during the rive.


Seperate cab and sleeping space

The cab and sleeping space are totally seperate. This means it's not uncommon to wake up in the morning in the cap and look out and see for example that there's snow on the ground and then realize that your shoes are in the cab and there's no way to get to them. It should be noted that on the 2003 model with double sliding windows I could get from the cap to the cab directly by removing the removable front window of the cap. Sadly I don't fit through the rear window of the cab on the '02. oops! Bla

Insufficient space

We still have a storage unit. I've toyed with putting an additional rack over the cab with a basket so we can carry more stuff, but that would impact gas milage and it's not clear that it's worth it. Also, we have to watch the weight bringing us to the next point.

Engine is kindof small

Usually this isn't a problem, but it does mean that we really can't tow at all. You have to be pretty aggressive with shifting as well and I've found myself running her at 4000rpm for a time once or twice to keep her going at a safe speed up a hill which will no doubt shorten the engine's lifespane. If it weren't manual it wouldn't be drivable at all when loaded. It also means that when you get her stuck it's trickier to get her out without burning the clutch. This has also limited how much we can load her down with. Adding a roofrack for example wouldn't help us much since we're limited by weight. And lastly it means I can't put any more armor on the truck to protect her when I do something stupid offroad.

It's tall

The hight is sufficient with the lift, oversized tires, hightop cap, roofrack, and highlift jack on the roof, that we can't fit in parking structures. This is a very rare annoyance actually, but it's bothered us once or twice at the airport where we can't fit in short-term parking. On the upside, we can spot the truck across a large parking lot no problem, and it's *still* shorter than many vehicle on the road.

Other Modifications


I added a 12V socket in the back that's always on, this is EXTREMELY useful. I can run a laptop and sit on the tailgate or lie in the back, or I can charge my cellphone overnight.


We have a compass on the front dash. I often look at it when I get a little turned around just to figure out whether a left turn is north or south. For this it really doesn't need to be the precise at all, which is good since the engine creates a variable magnetic field, so it'll never be really precise. I can't tell you how many times I've been driving down a road and said "I wonder if I made a wrong turn" looked down and see I was driving 180 degrees off.

Broken door dinger

I intended to bypass it but instead accidentally broke the button. It's a little button on the door that tells the truck if the door is open or not. I like to listen to music while doing some tasks by opening the doors and cranking the stereo... this works poorly if the car is going "YOUR DOOR IS OPEN, YOUR DOOR IS OPEN, PLEASE CLOSE IT!" So I broke that switch. Having broken that switch also caused the automatic dome-light to stop working, but we never used the auto-mode anyway because it blows your night vision when you don't want it too.

Keyway "mod"

The keyway also broke such that you can now remove the key while it's ACC mode. This is really useful actually since it means I can unlock the back of the truck while leaving the radio playing or my laptop running off the front sockets. In an automatic this feature would scare me a little... 'cause what if the key falls out and you can't turn the car off! But in a manual you can always just kill the engine easily enough.


Overall this has been an amazing vehicle for us, both when living in a house and when living in the truck. I can't see ever owning a vehicle with this purpose that isn't 4wd and high-clearance, and even the extra lift has been completely worth it for the extra safety factor it gives us. The gas mileage is great, and having it be compact enough to get down tiny roads is incredibly useful. I love the lack of power windows and such and the ability to do things like roll the windows down after the car is off. If we were to do it again Jess and I agree that we'd probably go for the larger 3.4L 6-cyl despite it being marginally less reliable. I'd also try and find one with break-away mirrors. So far we haven't smashed one of ours, but it make me nervous having them hard-mounted to the body.
The vehicle is relatively subtle. It's obviously a lifted truck so not super subtle in some cities, but out in the country it's a vehicle people expect to see in random places. This is very useful when stealthing.

Gas milaage is about 19mpg. Not bad for an offroad house. Will we live in it forever? No, probably not. Will we keep using similar vehicles for camping, road-trips, and even months of travelling? It's pretty likely, at least until we decide to do everything by mule ;D.


In Civilization for a bit

Jess and I are reuinited and visiting civilization for a bit. Right now we're in the Bay Area, but we'll be in Pittsburgh in a couple of weeks. We have some social functions to attend, and now that both of us need to fit in the truck we have a great gear-reorganization that we plan to dive into today.

Our more detailed plans cease about here. We've been discussing trying to find some land within a few hours drive of the bay area to hole up for the winter in a walltent or similar, work on a couple projects, and play with a slightly less nomadic way to live with the land. So, if you have leads on that it'd be awesome if you drop us a line or comment here! We're also certainly open to other outdoor activities like say leading trips, horse logging internships, rescue-related work, etc. We've got a little time before it'd be nice to know where we're headed next.

Jess is still readjusting to concepts like indoor spaces, and hopefully doesn't get TOO used to it :P. She learned a ton of fascinating stuff this summer (I find it fascinating at least) that she wants to share here on the blog. So, hopefully there should be a lot of interesting content on the more primitive end of things coming soon. Topics like tanning hides, making buckskin clothing, dealing with a month of rain with no tarps and little other shelter, wild foods, small towns, group dynamics, etc.

Advanced Swiftwater Rescue

I took another rescue class. This is the third class in a set of 3. TRR, SRT-1 and now SRT-A. TRR is Technical Rope Rescue. SRT-1 is swiftwater rescue technician level 1. And this class was the Swifwater Rescue Technician Advanced class. You can see my previous two posts for the last two classes:


Unlike SRT-1 I don't think everyone needs to take this course. This class is intended really only for rescuers. While it's awesome to know more and I wouldn't discourage anyone, it's just not necessary for most people to have these skills. I took the series mostly out of curiousity and interest, but also so I could bring back some of the knowledge to my team CalESAR (which doesn't do swiftwater rescue), and lastly to rack up a few cool certifications that might help me get neat jobs. The end result is that I'm now certified to be in the water for complex rescues, such as those in class 3 rapids. So that's kindof cool.

Day 1

This was a 3 day class. We started by practicing swimming rapids and moving around in the river. I actually picked up a lot more about how water behaves. I was quite surprised to find that I could swim up eddies only a couple of feet across... pretty cool! Once again It's driven home that while brute force helps, it's rarely the best answer in rescue.

Here's a cool action shot of a class-mate. I believe this is while practising moving across a river.


We also did a few scenerios in the afternoon involving relatively simple rescues rapidfire. We had a few interesting occurances. I yet again learned that being IC is hard. I was trying to do the right thing and not get into the water much, but our class was only 6 people. We couldn't see the victim. I sent 3 to investigate and kept 3 as backups to see what happened. Well... basically the 3 dove into trying to rescue them and they had a very hard time calling back to shore for resources. In the end, I should've gone out to the island given the limited people available... oops! Lesson learned.

Later on in another scenerio. I ended up doing a live-bait rescue in some relatively heavy rapids, that was pretty fun. We'd tried to cross a rope but my first throw failed. IC at the time suggested a live-bait and asked if I could do the swim. It was on the edge for what I could do reliably (not that dangerous, just hard to actually get where I needed to be), but it worked... yay!

In the process of course we practiced throwbagging, live-bait rescue, swimming rapids, lassoing patients, and simple/fast river-crossing techniques (say, a quick rope across the river at an angle that people ride on caribeaners).

Day 2

I may have the order of events wrong, but I'm having trouble remembering for sure. In the morning we reviewed knots and the like, and a bit before lunch we rigged a highline tyrolean as a way to control a boat in the river. In the photo we were pretending the river was too wide to throw across, so we were using a combination of live-bait (me) and someone on the other side throwing to safely cross the rope farther than the person could throw.

The highline lets you get point accurate in the river on a platform, making the rescue a lot more static which is always good. It's a LOT of setup though, so no good if the patient isn't "stable" (in swiftwater this means head above water). It took us about an hour total to get set up, about 30 minutes of actual rigging after 30 minutes of discussion and gear allotment. The picture at the top is actually of me as we're crossing the highline. To get it across we used throwbags.


I was the first in the boat and quickly found that while it looks like the rope would decide where you are in the river, it's not that simple. The rope only does anything when taut. The thing to realize is not all of the water in the river is going downstream, when in an eddy nothing is pushing the boat downstream and the rope goes slack. So while this rigging helps enormously with controlling the boat and holding it in place in rapids, it has to be augmented by paddling and an understanding of what's going on in the river to make it work.

We also played on riverboards a bit, which is a great way to help understand the river, and a useful rescue tool as well.


That evening we had a night search planned. It was snowing on us by this point. And one group managed to lock themselves out of their car due to a "feature" where it sometimes decides to lock itself. So, we helped them break into their car again (hooray for carrying lots of tools in the truck) and everyone scooted off to find themselves dinner.


I realized as I warmed up during the drive that I had entered cold stupid. That is, I wasn't thinking very straight anymore due to being cold. I missed an easy toss earlier that day due to cold hands, and now it was catching up to me. I'm really glad I had a drysuit. Eventually I found a place to eat and stuffed my face as fast as I could, I was starving presumably from burning calories to stay warm and swim in rapids. Then I grabbed a cup of hot cocoa at starbucks and chilled out for a bit. I felt a lot better by the time I drove to the site for the night search.

The night search was on a calm piece of river. Our instructor Zach, realizing it was cold, restricted the IC to only using those of us with drysuits (2 people) as water rescuers, the rest had to stay on the bank. The bank rescuers actually found the victim, but since he was right next to the water decided to hand off medical to us and they ran up and started rigging for a low-angle extraction. After a lot of huffing a puffing and of course some mistakes we got the guy out safe, and no-one got too cold.

Day 3

On the 3'rd day we did no water at all. Instead after some administrative stuff we went to a different site and rigged a highline with a midpoint drop for actually lowering people. This highline being fairly sloped could also be properly termed an "offset" line.


Note the control line running from the highline down to the rescuer in the photo. That's the midpoint drop. If you look at the photos from my TRR class we didn't do the midpoint drop, instead we adjusted the tension of the highline to lower and raise the rescuer.

That technique works well in some situations, but you can see here the sides of the canyon are too steep to slack the highline, it would rub on the rocks.

Below is a photo of me operating the control line. There's also a "tag" line on the top side of the highline used to control where the carriage is on the highline. That is, the tag-line controls left-right, and the control-line controls up-down.


This was a pretty interesting class. I didn't have a lot of expectations going into it, but I definitely learned a lot and I'm really glad I took it. I feel a lot more confident about my understanding of more complex rigging and water rescues both. That said, if you aren't into Rescue this is probably not the place to spend your time and money.


As an interesting side-note I discovered that campgrounds in Tahoe in the off season are essentially free. They don't have Iron Rangers (places to just drop your money) and you are expected to pay a campground host who will stop by your site. Well, in the off season there is no host, so no way to pay for your site even if you wanted to. As a result I boondocked one night at a site I found during my WFR course a while back, and the rest of the time slept in campgrounds for free.

More photos: https://www.facebook.com/sierra.rescue.7/media_set?set=a.584466978280483.1073741891.100001515572160&type=


status update

What's up with us.

Jess is out of the woods and is more than just alive, she's quite healthy. It turns out she ate exceedingly well, though was pretty cold on her project. I'll let her fill in the details.

I went to Rabbitstick and long-story short ended up in Washington with Jess instead (oh DARN! :P). Sorry to anyone who expected to see me at Rabbitstick, it was pretty last minute (As in negative 12 hours). I stayed with Jess in Washington for 5 days mostly processing wild foods that are surprisingly abundant this time of year and helping out at a nearby seed farm. It was pretty awesome. We had a meal that was (excepting salt and pepper) entirely from the local area, and where Jess at minimum saw each thing as it was processed. Most of it she picked or gathered. Such good food!

I'm currently in the Tahoe area in Truckee for a second swiftwater course (SRT-A). The temperatures are dropping below freezing sometimes in Truckee, but closer to 65-70's daytime. This class is going to be interesting. It's basically "now you know some ropes and swiftwater lets do crazy stuff". I'm excited. The first day is tomorrow. I've got a (I really hope) good drysuit, and since I'm getting all this training I got myself a rescue lifejacket 'cause it seemed silly not to have one. After the swiftwater training I'll be heading up to meet up with Jess for real this time at Saskatoon Circle (the primitive skills gathering). That's a week long, then we'll probably stay a few more days to get organized and then get down to the bay area to swap things around in the storage unit (maybe move it to another place) visit folks and then go to a couple of weddings.

Jess and I are currently researching wall-tents. I just spent all evening on that. Google wins it turns out on this front. I looked at 12 different companies or so and they were basically descending in awesomeness as I went down the links pages. If anyone is curious, the winner so far seems to be Davis, who makes some sweet wall-tents. We'll see how it all pans out though, we may go used. No doubt there will be some wall-tent posts in this blogs future.

I still need to research portable (but not backpacking) wood stoves. 3 dog is on the list already. There's another someone suggested as well but I forget the name.

Jess and I are toying with the idea of holing up for the winter somewhere and doing a bit more of a homesteading'ish thing in terms of being in one place. That will make things like processing animals and putting up food a lot simpler than I've been dealing with and we expect it to be cheaper as well. Jess has a lot to teach me and it'd be interesting to test out a slightly different lifestyle. I've finally got hunter's ed and just got some broadheads, so we could make a go of seeing how much we could get off the land. It's a bit late in the season to start really trying to put up food but oh well. We're thinking somewhere not super cold since we haven't been preparing all summer. If anyone has places that might work and not cost much let me know. We have one possibility so far, we'll see.

Just hanging out with everyone up in Washington I got a much better idea of how one would actually live off the land. Combined with what I've been doing the whole thing is making more and more sense. The picture doesn't look quite like I imagined, but I will have to think more before I can describe how.


Hiking and Backpacking in Mendocino

A while back Jess and I looked at what search terms brought people to our blog. One of the top searches was "hiking" or "backpacking" in mendocino. It turns out that very few people do this, and of course, even fewer blog about it, and people are curious. Our previous posts are just specific trips, so I thought I'd write an overview of backpacking in Mendocino National Forest.


Our past posts

have been about the "upper lakes" region. Mostly we were hanging out to the south-west of Lake Pillsburry (a reservoir). This summer I decided to go exploring and checked out Hull Mountain to the North of that, as well as some of the area around 162 and even farther north of that.


For the bulk of backpackers I can summarize this post very easilly. There's a reason no-one posts about backpacking in Mendicino National Forest. Terrain-wise, Mendocino is one of the most difficult places you can backpack. If you don't read this blog, take a quick perusal and you'll see that this is not said lightly. I'm no stranger to tough terrain. If you are looking for a walk down a maintained trail and a clear campsite. This is not the place for you.

If you are looking for somewhere where you will not see ANYONE else. Where you can drive deep into the forest. Where you can follow deer trail for miles, build shelters, and really challenge your abilities on steep terrain and through dense brush, Mendocino might be just your place. Just watch out for the pot grows. I've never run into one myself, but they are definitely out there.

For backpacking in Mendocino there are just a few major points.

  • There are (nearly) no trails
  • It's steep
  • The water is hard to get to
  • The brush is often VERY dense


There has recently been an effort to build some honest-to-goodness marked trails in the forest. I personally know of one such trail, though in Covelo at the market there (sadly I forget the name) they have a packet of several of the trails they've been trying to make official.

That said, functionally? There are no trails in 99% of the forest. This means that if you don't want to walk where you could just drive (there are lots of roads), you need to bushwhack, and this brings us to most of the other points in this post

It's very steep

IMG_20130807_165813 IMG_20130807_170844

Most of Mendocino National Forest is very very steep. I often find myself sidehilling on deer-trail on terrain where I can just barely walk without sliding down the hill. I am now extremely skilled at walking on steep terrain, to an extent where I'm perfectly comfortable walking where most folks, even who do backcountry, would likely want a rope. The soil over most of the Forest is only a very very thin layer of loam. Just under this layer it varies from nearly sand to quickly rotting rock. So the footing is never solid on these steep slopes. The best footing is usually just behind a tree, so you're moving in quick steps on a sliding hillside from behind one tree to behind the next - carefully placing the edge of your foot into the slight depression made by a deer trail.

There are ridges of course, and there are rivers. This brings us to the next point

The water is down there


As you drive through the forest, you will see almost no water. The lakes and such that exist have campgrounds around them, so are no fun for backpacking. So why so little water? Southern Mendocino is nearly desert in many areas. So here it's not so surprising. If you are good at finding water you'll find small trickles and such in streams occasionally even in the dry season. There *is* water here. In Northern Mendicono there's a lot of water, you can see it by the trees that grow there. What took me a while to figure out is where the water was.

I'm a little dense sometimes, but eventually I realized that I couldn't find the water near a road because the water is all at the bottom of steep walled canyons. The roads don't go into these canyons and instead skirt the edges up much higher. In the northern part of Mendocino there's actually quite a bit of water around for pretty much the entire year! You know how I mentioned the soil being sandy? Well, this means the water runs through it quickly and carves it away quickly. This is likely the cause of the extremely steep slopes. As a bonus though, it means there are beautiful waterfalls in virtually every stream.


The brush gets very dense

It's hard to get a picture conveying dense brush, but here's an attempt. Here's Jess in a very open area, in a drainage. P1000069

When I say very dense I mean that it gets dense enough that two fit people used to bushwhacking took about 2 hours to go 1/4 mile and came out completely and utterly exhausted and somewhat bloody. We're talking walking 4 feet off the ground on top of brush and pushing it over in front of you because it's *slightly* to close together to walk though, but still has trunks barely smaller than my wrist. If it's slightly farther apart the trunks are large enough they can't be pushed over and you're reduced to belly crawling on your side between them, dragging your backpack behind you. These are the worst where it's dry.

In the north there's more water, so there are more often comparitively open forests rather than dense manzanita. The tradeoff is that there seem to be steeper hills. In general the going isn't too bad as far as brush if you are under dense tree cover, but often those areas are extremely steep. Also, at some point you need to get to water, which probably means sliding down slope, or you may need to traverse a southern slope to get to the next ridge. Be careful and make sure you have the skills or equipment necessary to get back out of the valley if you go down. I've walked for 3 hours downriver without seeing an easy escape route.

In the south about halfway up northern slopes there are often open fields. These are the best campsites as it's dry and open and there's water access (down a very steep hill). Besides this any upland area, south-facing or tops of hills, are nearly impassable. Because of this Jess and I prefer to travel via the drainages where you'll need some bouldering skill, but it's generally passable at least.



I promise that I'm not trying to keep the forest to myself. It is gorgious. If you want to challenge yourself with some really awesome bushwhacking, and go somewhere where you will not see any other people at all, Mendocino is absolutely amazing. Every time I go I get to see wildlife. The northern end where it's a long drive to get into there are a lot more game species and they are a lot less flighty so you get to see deer and the like.


One awesome bonus is that it's a National Forest, NOT a park, and much of it is not useful for logging. This means you can go out there and do things like build shelters without breaking any rules, as long as you use already downed wood and don't remove any from the Forest without a permit, something like a survival shelter is pretty legit, and of course Hunting and trapping is fine. So if you're looking for a place to bushcraft, and you're up for a bit of a challenge, I highly recommend it.

Final Note

I believe previously we stated that it didn't rain in the summer. This is false. I was rained on twice in August. Rain is rare, and it'll pass fairly quickly, but it DOES rain on rare occasions, and when it does the temperature drops. Just be aware.

I tend to take pictures of water, so these are not very representative. I lack good photos of a lot of the really brushy/deserty areas (most of the park), sorry about that. Still, these are something.


These little birds will flit down the stream over and over again in front of you.

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