In defense of drinking unpurified water

I wanted to post this just so I'd have it to refer to as it's such a common topic of conversation for outdoors enthusiasts
So, everyone you talk to will tell you that it's (in a basso important voice) "Very important to purify your water when in the backcountry". Okay... great. And before we get rolling, let me be clear, I'm not saying to stop doing that! Your risk, your body, your hike. I just want to explain the facts, and my views on the issue.
Now, try backpacking in the Sierra and chatting with some of the Rangers who've worked up there 20 or 30 years. Guess what? A lot of them don't treat their water.
Okay, so why the disconnect, what's going on here?
I'm going to leave cryptosporidium out of the conversation entirely, as most popular filters in the US don't work for it anyway, it's a moot point. So lets focus on Giardia, as that's the one everyone is always worried about. Note though that there are a LOT of bacterials, a lot a lot, and that these are more common than Giardia. You should be suspicious whenever a friend says "Oh yeah, I got giardia once, on this weekend trip from drinking the water, we had to leave the next day". Giardia's onset is not 24-48 hours, it's more like a week (see facts/citations below). Gastrointestinal problems can be a pile of different things. Shigella bacteria for example.


  • Giardia is basically limited to the digestive tract [1]
  • Giardia rarely hits you in less than a week [2], but can occur after 3 days [4]
  • Giardia is the most common NON-BACTERIAL cause of gastro-intestinal diseas [3]
  • Giardia can be caused by as few as 10 human sourced giardia cysts [4][5]
  • Giardia is highly temperature sensitive. Both cold and warm temperatures kill it. [4]
  • Giardia can cause no symptoms at all [3][4]
  • Ill effects for healthy individuals are restricted to discomfort, dehydration, and vitimin deficiencies. [4]
  • Standard treatment is a round of antibiotics [5], though healthy individuals usually pass it within a month [6]
  • The disease is most infectious within a species, but does appear to species jump fairly easilly [4]
  • Giardia is primarilly acquired via ingestion of infected human waste [5]
  • Untreated Giardia can cause more interesting complications [6]
  • Most of the symptoms of Giardia can be caused by dehydration - my citation? If you've been badly dehydrated you know what I'm talking about.
  • I'm having trouble finding the citation now, but there have been a couple studies done basically saying that the vast majority of all cases are human-human direct cross contamination. This was particularly in the setting of backpacking. Additionally some water studies have found that while it is there in some rivers, it's not incredibly common.

My thoughts

To me, drinking water directly from a river or lake is a very important experience. It's a spiritual or religious thing for me. For the same reason as I try and reduce my gear such as on my recent Lassen trip. When I went back to find my knife, I knew that place. I had bonded with it deeply, spiritually. Every piece of equipment and gear between me and that environment gets in the way of that experience for me. The feeling is stronger with a locally built shelter than a tarp, and stronger with a tarp than a tent. So, to me, it's worth a certain risk - even beyond weight savings - to drink the water straight.
Giardia is very easy to treat. I'm having trouble finding a reliable citation, but there's a LOT of anacdotal evidence that grapefruit seed extract (as well as a number of other simple treatments) are extremely effective. There are no lasting problems if it's fully cured, and some people even become immune [3].
So, will I get sick from Giardia or something else in the water? Yeah, it's not unlikely. On the other hand, most likely I'll treat it, be sick for a week, and that'll be that. To me, that's worth a lifetime of drinking pure sweet water straight from the source, and not fiddling with gadgets to do it. We'll see if my opinions change if I get sick.
And for gosh sakes, if you are going to go to all of the work to treat your water, Wash your hands!. Wash with water (and not in the stream... duh), and some soap. Interestingly actually, water is more important than soap.
My point here is just to say, consider the risks. This is always true, but when it comes to "medical" conditions people seem to shut off their brains and just listen to what they are told. Think about not only how likely something is to occur, but how bad would it be if it did? And *reconsider* for different places you might be. The risk of getting Giardia in the Sierra is relatively low, but where there are beavers, or worse muskrats [4], it increases. Outside the US is a whole different ballgame. The likely result is also a lot worse if you flew deep into Alaska by bushplane, and don't know any local treatments or have the right stuff, than if you're on a weekend trip and it won't matter until next week when you'll have to take 2 days off work and sit on the toilet a lot.
One more little point. If you are thirsty and you are not going to get pure water soon... seriously, consider the alternative to drinking that water? I personally drank from what amounts to a hog-wallow without treating (I actually scared the hogs off). I am alive here today, and in fact didn't even get sick. I'm not sure how I would've faired against the heat-stroke had I not drank that water, probably poorly.
So, as always. HYOH (Hike your own hike), make your own decisions, judge the risk for yourself, and deal with the results of those decisions.

  • 1: http://www.who.int/ith/diseases/giardiasis/en/index.html
  • 2: http://diarrhea.emedtv.com/giardia/giardia-facts.html
  • 3: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/g/giardia/stats.htm
  • 4: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CDEQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwater.epa.gov%2Faction%2Fadvisories%2Fdrinking%2Fupload%2F2009_02_03_criteria_humanhealth_microbial_giardiafs.pdf&ei=2NAfUt6yCMn5iwKS2YHoAQ&usg=AFQjCNEmHfmYayouSXiZPx5sqWwilOuLQw&bvm=bv.51495398,d.cGE&cad=rja
  • 5: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6105a2.htm
  • 6: http://www.bccdc.ca/dis-cond/a-z/_g/Giardiasis/overview/Giardiasis.htm

Since I wrote this post I moved to the east coast, relatively near the Appalachian Trail. If you look at the statistics on people thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, they are pretty overwhelming. It's very easy to get sick here. 

The Sierra has fairly few people. The water is often coming from places that people rarely go. You're deep enough in so most people around are knowledgeable, hunting is illegal, so they are careful about burying their scat. Lastly there are comparatively few deer and more importantly almost no beaver. Beaver are known to be a major carrier of Giardia.

Here Beaver are common and finding toilet-paper near a stream is sadly a daily occurrence. So, living out here I do treat my water. I may change my mind again, but for the time being I'm taking the conservative approach.

Look at where you go, get educated, decide what risks you want to take, and make your own decision. If you don't want to do all that, just filter and don't worry about it.

Update 2
I've actually returned to drinking almost entirely untreated water, even on the east coast. I still haven't gotten sick. Since Angie and I hit the road we've barely treated our water. We drank water straight from lake Michigan, as well as random streams, rivers, and lakes in the Ozarks, Adirondacks, Green Mountains, and White Mountains.


Random stuff

One more post in this flood of posts :)

Here's a new pot-stand I made for car-camping. My old one (the one I used on the AT) was getting pretty janky, so I finally made a new one. It's just coat-hanger and trap-wire. IMG_20130826_141029

I was swimming in a nice swimming hole. A few other folks were there, when I went back to my truck there was a nice girl in her car who offered me grapes and apples that she had just picked. What an awesome breakfast! IMG_20130820_115829

Actually, the day prior to this a guy randomly gave me a CD of 60's music at a gas-station, it's a mix CD, good music. People are so cool

A few repairs to my knife-sheeth. I also stuck a button compass on it as I'm often out with nothing but my inhaler and the knife - and sometimes it's overcast and it gets hard to tell direction. It's nice to have the backup. Note that the button-hole is actually braided into the twine, this is MUCH easier to get open and closed than the old design. IMG_20130821_125923

My old backpack is on it's last legs. I have plans to replace it, but it needs to last me a *little* bit longer first, in particular for some SAR activities in yosemite this weekend. So, I reinforced the seems that are tearing out. This is an Granit Gear Serrano. It's 25 liters and my general workhorse pack. It went to work with me every day for about 2 years, it's done a number of heavy bushwhacking trips and been ludicrously overpacked several times. A great pack that's seen better days. My next little pack will almost certainly be canvas so it can take the beating better. IMG_20130826_152105

I suddenly had an idea a couple nights ago. I made curtains for each of the rear windows, they have velcro to stick to the inside of the cap. The velcro keeps sticking to random stuff, and they were just floating around loose in the truck. It suddenly occured to me that a little cargo-net to store them would be really cool! I learned netting a while back http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2012/12/netting.html, but I'd never had a use for it. So, I sat down one evening and made a net, then sewed it to some velcro. This net makes me WAY happier than it should. It's so nice to make your home a bit more homely and well organized. IMG_20130826_202817

On a similar note here's a tiny pocket I made myself to store my inhalers and headlamp in the back. They kept rolling around and weren't easy to grab when I wanted them. IMG_20130826_202733

Lastly, here's a picture of a toad I found while going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It scared me since it made snakelike noises when it moved. This guy is a little bigger than my fist (and no my hands are not small). IMG_20130826_204413

Bushcraft in Lassen National Park/Forest


After my swiftwater class I wandered my way north on 49. I don't really have a reason, it's just what happened. Eventually I found myself outside Lassen National Forest. I stopped by a ranger station and picked up some large-area maps, they aren't topo, but they have all the little roads.

I decided to park in the Forest just outside the park and hike in on a trail that was supposedly there. Longtime readers may remember my last ... well, I did something pretty similar again. I thought about it and decided I didn't want to carry much. Below is a picture of most of the gear, it's missing stuff in my pack's hipbelt pockets and on my body.



  • external frame pack
  • drysack
  • sleepingbag
  • wool sweater
  • sorong
  • jurkey, 2/3 jar of nutella, tortillas, 4 energy bars, small bag of nuts
  • Emergency bivy
  • Basic repair/fire stuff (firestarting, sharpener, needle, spare meds, etc.)
  • belt knife
  • ~40 ft of twine
  • compass
  • monocular
  • rock-salt
  • stainless steel water bottle
  • plastic water bottle
  • cellphone
  • meds
I was wearing
  • wool socks
  • shorty gators
  • cotton canvas shorts
  • cotton/polyester blend canvas shirt (5.11)

You'll note a lack of things like shelter, raingear, much warm clothing, a sleepingpad, or any cooking equipment. It had been cold the night prior (not sure how cold, but pretty chilly, maybe 40s), so I wanted a sleepingbag as backup just in case.

I had a pretty fun hike. It was hot so I was shirtless the whole first day exploring the cindercone, lavaflows and such. I was also in search of volcanic glass, you can see how it could form. This is closer to a chert, but you can see that it's starting to break the right way. It's got too many bubbles and is too inconsistant to be useful though, sadly.


During the hike someone asked me if it was worth hiking to the top of the cindercone. Judge for yourself

IMG_20130824_112313 IMG_20130824_110426

I got kindof sunburned actually. Once I realized this I started looking around and saw some mule's ear. I chewed it up, spit it out and put that on it. I knew mule's ear wouldn't hurt me to chew, and that when you mush it up it gets kindof gummy so might work like other moisturizers. It worked quite well. The burn hurt a bit to touch, and that evening and the next day it wasn't even red.


I also found some delicious Gooseberries. Yum! These might actually better be called currents (they are closely related) in any case, they were delicious.


Lassen is hard hiking due to the sand, especially in the northeast side where the cindercones all blew their tops. After maybe 14 miles I was sufficiently exhuasted that it was time for bed. I got out to national forest again (still many miles from my truck). The sky was threatening so I needed to do something about rain. I had no rain-gear or shelter except an emergency bivy. My backup plan was to slit one side and the bottom of the bivy and string it up as a makeshift tarp using the twine. As it turned out though my shelter worked out great, and only took maybe 2 hours to build.


In the Sierra downed trees often rot so that the middle turns to dust but the outside takes longer. As a result you can pick up these sort of panels of rotting wood. This is about as perfect as you could ask for for shelter building. I found several such trees next to each other and a less-rotton log to use for one side of the shelter.


After these pictures were taken I spent some time chinking all the holes. This took at least as long as building the primary shelter. I figured I'd already protected myself from the wind. My goal now was to reduce air circulation so I could actually heat the inside up somewhat and use it as an insulating layer. This sort-of worked, but not as well as I hoped. I'll keep chinking in mind earlier in the process next time. You want it as sealed as possible. If I'd had a shovel I would've burried the whole thing.


I had originally grabbed the sorong for gathering things I found and carrying them. As it happened though it worked perfectly as a door to try and cut down the air circulation further.

I started by trying to sleep in this shelter with just the canvas shirt, shorts, shoes and socks on. That didn't quite work, I was definitely okay and would've probably even gotten a little sleep but I couldn't get comfy. Next I tried putting my wool shirt over my legs... that was a waste of the wool shirt. I swapped the canvas and the wool shirts. I still couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep (I'd been trying for maybe 3 hours by this time, fidgiting with the shelter and tweaking my clothes). So I put on the wool shirt and the canvas shirt over it and I broke out the emergency bivy. I figured I still wasn't using the sleepingbag, I was only using gear I typically carry on a dayhike, so if I actually slept and was happy with that it was an accomplishment. This was downright comfortable! I slept for a solid 3 hours before waking up.

I usually sleep for 3 hour spells when out backpacking. Generally I get up and pee, shift things back into position if I slid down a hill or whatever, roll over, and go back to sleep. So generally I wake up two to three times a night. So 3 hours means everything is hunky-dory for me.

On my next cycle I slept 2 hours. Not bad, but I was starting to get damp from the emergency blanket. I was pretty damp when I got up. The temperature outside was still dropping as well. That said, I had 5 hours of sleep. If I didn't sleep the rest of the night that'd be a pretty good success. I got between an hour and two hours more that night in shorter segments. The last time I got up and went back I shivered for a while in the shelter, but warmed up again in not too long. I finally got up at 7:40 after stalling a bit waiting for it to warm up outside. It was still chilly at this time so I shivered for the first half mile of hiking. I'm always cold when I get up in the morning though and it was a good healthy tooth chatter, I wasn't cramping up at all and it definitely wasn't the nearly hypothermic shiver that threatens to stop if you get colder.

It didn't warm up much the second day. It sprinked several times and actually broke out into an honest-to-goddness rain one time for a couple minutes. I just wore the canvas shirt the whole day buttoning and unbottoning as needed. The rain was short enough that it barely got wet. Had I gotten wet I had the wool shirt, which even soaked would keep me warm enough as long as I'm hiking. Personally I get cold when I sleep and I'm very cold in the morning, but once I'm moving I get very warm.

For me, this trip was a huge step. This is the second time I've ever been comfortable sleeping out in not super-hot weather without a sleepingbag. It's also the first time I've built a shelter on the fly out of need, and the first shelter I've built that I think would have a hope of keeping me dry in a normal rain.

As yet one more bonus I found not only gooseberry and guessed at a sunburn treatment. I also found lichen that you can eat like spaghetti (NOTE: I've never done this, Jess has and explained it to me recently). There's a fire-ban on so I couldn't make a fire to cook it unfortunately. Still, gooseberry and licken for dinner, and a shelter I could've slept in with no other gear and been fine. In short, I almost could've lived a day or two out there.


An aside for anyone thinking of doing something crazy like this. I'm not going to say don't try this at home, the point of this blog is largely to encourage people to just try things. But please be careful:

  • I know my warmth requirements very well.
  • I know my personal signs for hypothermia and am good at recognizing them.
  • Note that even with the above I *still* had a sleepingbag, canvas shirt, wool shirt, and emergency bivy. I was hoping to use none of these, and I was very glad I had them.
  • I know I can dry out clothes and gear. This is critical for doing without raingear in particular. I discovered accidentally that this isn't true of everyone when my brother's sleepingbag bad been wet for 2 nights running with no change. I slept in it and it was bone dry in the morning.
Please, if you're going to do something like this bring extra gear and/or make sure you understand your needs and signals and the weather extremely well. It's your call what margin of safety you want of course, but if you decide you went with too much you can always go again with less.

Just to illustrate that not everything went smoothly, I managed to leave my knife in the shelter. I drove around to the other side of the park and did a midsized dayhike the next day to get it back. Happily I found it though, YAY!

One last thing, I upgraded my phone recently, and now it can do "sphere" photos. Here's the first one I ever took


The reason I quit my job

Surprisingly, I think almost everyone I talked to "got it". I think that's because I hang out with some unusually awesome people. For anyone who didn't though, this is the single best explanation I've seen. Thanks Bill Watterson, you still help clarify life for us all

I don't usually repost, but this is worth it.


Vixen talking to her kits

It's pretty hard to hear, it's the best I could get with my cellphone, but if you turn it up and use headphones you should be able to hear it.

I'm pretty sure that this is the sound of a Vixen (female fox) talking to her kits. Each time I heard this sound it was right after almost a peeping sound, the sound of her kit I assume. This would mean that what I was hearing was the sound of kits that were old enough to come out of the den and play, but still young enough that their calls sound like peeps.

This recording was taken just outside of Yosemite on route 140 where I camped last night, next to a river. I went looking for the den in the morning (including crossing the river etc.) and was unable to find it. I'm not a good enough tracker and there was a LOT of background noise in the area, the soil was all either too hard or too soft to hold a really good track, so I couldn't locate a path to follow back.

In any case, if you're curious maybe you can actually hear it. It sounds like a choking noise (it's actually quite a horrendous sound). I was able to get the whole call because I started recording after hearing the "peep" that preceeded it each time.


Swiftwater Rescue Technician course

I recently took a Swiftwater Rescue Technician (SRT-1) class from Sierra Rescue of Rescue 3 west.


You should take this course

First, I highly recommend this class for anyone who spends time around water, or in the backcountry. The rest of my family nearly died on a backpacking trip not all that long ago up in the white mountains when they got caught by a hurricane (I wasn't with them on that trip). The tiniest of rivulets grew into barely crossable rivers. Steep hillsides became 6 inch deep running water across the whole hillside. They had to do *many* river crossings on or past the boundary of reasonable safety just to get out from where trees were falling around them threatening to kill them another way. My family did it and got out alive. This situation is not that likely, but now I can look at that river and judge when I will lose my footing, or whether I can swim it based on having actually been in rapids. This is a really good thing in my mind.

In other words, if you read this blog with intent to DO any of the stuff we do, this course is probably for you.

Sierra Rescue

Second, a shout out to the Sierra Rescue folks. Julie and Don were both amazing. One of the fireman in the class said it was the single best class he'd every taken. I don't know if I can qualify it that broadly (I'm lucky to have taken a lot of really good classes), but it was extremely well taught, and a lot of fun, and I learned tons.

The course

So, what is a Swiftwater Rescue Technician course? The course is aimed basically at two demographics. The first is professional rescuers (e.g. fireman) who might have as part of their jobs to pull people out of rivers. The other is lay-people who work around rivers and bodies of water and are likely to end up performing a rescue of opportunity. For example white-water raft guides, or folks who work for fish and wildlife.

The class started off with understanding the river. The had us swim around quite a bit in class 2 rapids. The idea is to understand how the river moves, where the eddies are, and how you can use all that to your advantage. One big surprise for me is that while being a strong swimmer is helpful, it's absolutely not necessary. Basically, if you are crossing a fast-moving river you need to swim effectively enough to move significantly slower than the river. Then you use the river's current to push you across by angling your body properly. As long as you are going slower than the river you'll succeed in moving sideways. Similarly sometimes you go faster swimming downriver, the main goal is just to be going faster so you have some momentum to punch past things that would stall you if you moved at the speed of the river. This is so much the case actually that probably the strongest swimmer in the class had the most trouble. They had to get over the idea that they could just swim where they wanted to go. The photo at the top is of someone learning to swim through the wall of an eddy using a barrel roll.

Next we did wading. One of the keys to swiftwater is to *never* put your feet down if you are moving. You don't put your feet unless you are absolutely still. So wading is okay as long as you aren't moving at all. The idea is that most swiftwater rescues are hands-on. The instructors theory is that you have a very very short time to get the person's head above water. If you have to do anything technical chances are it's going to be a recovery and not a rescue. So if you possibly can do it safely, just get in and get hands on. The picture below is of us using a wedge technique, this is great for creating a giant eddy behind you for someone else to work, or to drag a victim across.


Then we did throwbags, which they stressed are useful but are way overused and overtrusted. One of the things this drove home to me is that if you expect to save someone with a throwbag, you darned well better practice a LOT. It's easy on land, it's really hard in the river. Another interesting thing to note is that generally you don't haul the person in, instead you just hold the rope, often letting out a little slack to swing them to shore, preferrably in a nice eddy.

Another rule of the swiftwater rescue is you never tie anyone to anything. Their are two exceptions. The first is a live-bait harness on your lifejacket. The second is a victim who will probably drwon if you lose them. The live bait jacket is a specially designed quick-release loop of webbing so you can drop whatever is tied to you if something goes wrong. It's called live-bait I think because it's usually used to tie a rescuer to a throw-bag. The rescuer then jumps in... so they are in the water on the end of a line, like bait on a hook. This is super awesome for deeper water. Instead of hoping your victim will grab a rope you can just jump in and grab them directly, then have your mates on shore swing you back into shore.

This picture is of two people helping pull one over and off of a strainer (the rope in the picture is holding the strainer in place, not a person). 1097155_566405390086642_1759719230_o

We also went over using boats, and paddling boats around the river. By this time Julie had discovered that I was thinking of doing some raft guiding eventually and decided to teach me how to raft. I've canoed and whitewater kayaked before. The boat moves a bit differently, but it's basically the same

Even more fun than the boats is using riverboards which we practiced surfing on to help build a better understanding of the river and currents. A riverboard is like an extra floaty boogy board. You wear flippers with it and move through the river using the flippers and often your arms as well. You can surf standing waves with them. They are in fact used for rescue as it gives you something to hand the victim when you get to them so they jump on that instead of drowning you. It also gives you a great view of the river.

And of course we covered some rope stuff. They stressed that generally ropes aren't the answer, but if you can't get in the water or use a boat safely you don't have a choice. We practiced pulling someone's head out of the water with a rope in the case of a foot entrapment, and then trying to free their foot with a second rope. We did this with Julie actually in the water pretending to drown. We also practiced pulling someone off a strainer (one of the rare cases where it's okay to tie something to them... in this case we laso'd them under the arms). And we practiced lasoing someone who was going down a river.

This is the easy way to cross a river (if you already have a tension diagonal line): 1119814_566406566753191_2087021167_o

Overall the biggest thing with ropes is understanding how angles multiply forces and using that to your advantage. I already knew this from technical ropes, though even then one trick (mentioned in the swiftwater course) I only picked up due to discussions with another nerd in CalESAR. If you take a rope and pull it taught between two objects, if you push sideways on the center of the rope your force is multiplied infinitely. As you push sideways the angle decreases and the factor drops. By 120 degrees it's 1:1. This is really bad if you are trying to hold a rope straight and something (like a person in a river) is pulling it in the middle, and you need to account for it. On the other hand it's awesome if you want to move a car and all you have is a long rope.

We also did a bunch of scenerios. We had two groups for most of the time, my group was working with Julie, while the fireman worked with Don. Julie and Don are both white-water rafters having done a TON of rafting. Don has done first ascents all over the world. Don is also a firefighter though, and being male tends to use more... macho techniques, so that fit made sense. Julie is actually the owner of Sierra Rescue. Anyone, our group spent our time saving Julie for the most part, wading in and dragging her out, swimming her out, lasoing her, etc. We did live-bait and swim-outs with each other as well. At the end we did a scenerio with everyone.... We basically "killed" everyone (oops), the mistake was trusting one of the victims to help (the rescuers had him paddling). I was one of the backup's with a throwbag downriver - though was upriver from where everyone "died".

Final takeaways:

  • I'm a LOT more comfortable around rivers and fast-moving water now that I have the ability to judge what is safe.
  • I'm probably going to try whitewater raftguiding sometime. 'cause I mean... why not?
  • Everyone who spends time around water OR in the backcountry should take this course. Seriously, how much do you spend on gear? For a surprising number of people this is a drop in the bucket compared to their gear budget.
  • Physics is awesome, and so is water.

Here's more photos: https://www.facebook.com/sierra.rescue.7/media_set?set=a.566404206753427.1073741881.100001515572160&type=3


Stone age pack list

Author: Jess

The time to actually go out in the wilderness is coming up soon, so I thought I'd give you all a glimpse of my pack.

Jess with (mostly) stone age gear
(Edit: mbrewer added the photo)

here's the list:

Buckskin tunic
Buckskin skirt
Buckskin leggings (basically pants without the crotch, which attach to the garter belt to keep up)
Garter belt (not pictured, for holding up leggings and menstral pads)
Felt vest with buckskin sleeves (borrowed)
Two tanned adult coyotes to be tacked into a rough vest with buckskin thong
Tanned coyote puppy to be sewn into a hat
Barktan belt

Foot wear:
Rawhide buffalo sandals
Felt booties (For cold weather)

5.75 pounds of dried berries
About the same amount of dried buffalo meat
About 6 cups of dried mussels
2 cups mussel bullion
a handful of roots
a few California bay leaves
a bit of salt
A coconut of duck fat
A gourd of maple syrup!
Other things I'm forgetting. :)

Felt blanket (7.6 pounds, which is on the thin side)
Tanned sheep skin

Pack basket (Dogwood staves, rawhide netting, buckskin and felt pack straps and buckskin tump line)
Clay pot (borrowed, mine broke in the firing)
Coconut bowl
Alligator juniper spoon
Fire kit (Salmon skin wrap, hand drill kit made of buckeye and canadian flea bane, bow drill kit)
Journal (One of the not stone age items)
Menstral pad (Not pictured, Stuff with dry moss and tie to garter belt to use)
Bow (Beautifully handmade by Brewer out of hickory.  The string isn't primitive and I don't have any arrows, so it's not super practical... especially since I can't draw it to full draw length yet, but I want to bring it so I will assuming the pack isn't too heavy)
A water gourd

Tool kit:
Bone fish hooks (horse mane will be used for the line)
Bone awl (for mending)
Cattail fluff for tinder
Bow drill socket (borrowed)
Mussel shell (for drinking from very small streams)
Save pot with deer fat, bear fat, yarrow, plantain save

It currently weighs in at 24 pounds before the food and bow.  Not ultra light, but not as heavy as I expected

Things I'd like to have that I don't:
A more reliable way to start fires.  Hand and bow drill can be really reliable, but I need to practice more to get there.
A hip belt.  These basket packs just don't really work with a hip belt in any simple way so I'll have to make do with the tump line and shoulder straps

In less happy news one of the two goats in camp fell and tore the ligament in his leg.  He'll probably have to be put down as fully severed ligaments don't generally heal without surgery and his job in life is to be a pack goat.  He's a sweety though and it's really sad to see him go.

Anyway, to the mountains!  See you next month.


I'm not dead yet!

Author: Jess Mink

This summer has been way more intense than I was expecting.  I'm still in Washington working on a crazy stone age backpacking trip.  The idea is we spend most of the summer preparing and then go out into the woods for three weeks with only stone age equipment and wild food.  I'm currently frantically sewing the last of my clothing, trying to get straps onto my pack and making bags to hold all the food I've collected over the summer.  Well, almost.  I'm currently in Seattle for a friend's wedding, but I do have a moccasin on my lap.  It's been a lot more work and time than I expected to build all the gear and I have a lot more respect for the things I use on a day to day basis now.  Especially blankets.

It's been fun though and a bunch of pictures of the first half of the summer have been posted here.

Hopefully I'll be disappearing into a true internet black hole in the next week or two for the actual backpacking trip part of this crazy adventure and then, maybe, will have time to write all the blog posts I have queued up in my head.  Sorry for the radio silence.

Oh, and here's a movie about what I'm doing.


Making fire

I realized that I've never posted photos of using a bowdrill. Well here it is.

For the record this was done with a pine bough drill (yes, pine... it works no matter what people tell you, as long as it's seasoned) on I believe a saguaro root board, though I'm not positive. The handle there is a an elk bone Jess gave me for our dating anniversary a couple of years ago.

The secret is to get the motion really smooth before you go at it. You start by carving a tiny hole and getting everything to move smoothly. For example, this drill isn't perfectly straight so I had to carve a point at a slight offset and very pointed at the top or it would bump "thoompa thoompa" as it spun, using up my energy and wiggling unnecessarilly. IMG_20130801_191016

Note my hand position, it's wrapped around my left leg. This is absolutely key. The shin-bone helps to stabilize your hand so you can keep everything still enough. IMG_20130801_191008

Once it's burned in a little stop and cut a notch to center. The dust is going to build up in this notch, pack, and hopefully ignite IMG_20130801_191302

I don't have any pictures of spinning up the fire, it's just me so I can't work the camera at the same time. Basically go easy and get it smooth, speed up a little so you're getting dust. If you're sqweeking push down a tiny bit harder, just hard enough for it to stop squeeking. If the twine slides on the drill you can often push just a touch with your thumb on the twine. It's not in the picture here but the twine is attached with a constrictor hitch on the far end, and a clove hitch on the near end. This way I can get it at just the right tension when I start by adjusting the clove hitch. I then hold the clove hitch and if I need a touch more tension I'll push with my thumb sideways on the twine just a little. Once you've got some dust you might want to speed up a little. Suffice to say that smoking doesn't cut it. Keep going until the smoke is pouring out, or you can see a red ember. If the smoke is really pouring stop and take a look - if the pile of dust keeps smoking you've got it.

This particular board and spindle combination is interesting. I found that I HAVE to go fast. I can get a coal very very quickly out of this combination with lots of dust. The trick is that it makes dust SO fast that it's hard to get it hot enough before I just have yet more dust. So, you need to dump energy into it kindof fast. Each combination of woods will have a slightly different property this way. I've started enough fires at this point to say that the problem I'm noting with this combination is very rare, usually you just keep at it nice and slow and you'll just turn out little bits of dust, and eventually it will ignite.

Once it's ignited, I take that pile of dust and dump it into a tinder bundle. This one is dry moss that fell off a tree. IMG_20130801_190348

Hold it tight squishing it a little to make sure the tinder is tight against the coal. It depends on the tinder, some tinder needs to be opened, others need to be squished. Generally opening it when you make the bundle and squishing it a bit is what you want. Blow gently, then harder, then harder, your hands will start to get hot, keep going until it ignites. It'll go up fast, so be ready to put it in your fire and throw some more tinder on it. IMG_20130801_191638

And build up your fire! IMG_20130801_192209

Small projects

While I've been tanning and building bows, I've of course been working on small projects in between as well. I thought it might be fun to share a few of my recent ones.

I've been using 4 plastic containers as water jugs. They all originally had handles that eventually failed. I've been playing with different ways to make handles. This is just paracord. The orange handle is a constrictor knot and then a simple serving of half-hitches. The 3 black ones all have a constrictor knot and then various other knots I wanted to try to push the sides of the handle to opposite sides of the opening, thus reducing the pinching of the hand when carrying. One has a straight serving instead of the pretty half-hitch serving - I was curious how it would look and feel. I think that one may be my favourite. Surprisingly the constrictor side very occasially slides a touch, so next time I do one I'll probably try something else to fix that side in place better. IMG_20130802_131604

I got this knife a little while ago, it's an ESEE4 that I'm quite fond of. It came with this tactical sheath. IMG_20130801_162619 I found I really like the sheath design as far as the string attachment point goes. The twine on the far-side makes 2 belt loops, allowing you to wear it horizantally which is great for trail-running, and means it doesn't get in your way when you sit down. If you run the string through the other way you can wear it vertically. This also makes it super easy to lash to a pack. Only one problem... it's plastic and apparently wasn't meant to be used. After a short time no matter how hard I cranked the screws my knife would fall out if I jumped off a 4 foot drop or something. So, I made my own. It's welted the full way around to make a really flat sheath. I used a failed attempt at a sling (the strings were the wrong length) for the twine. It has two pieces of twine. One has the same purpose as on the original sheath, the other goes once around the handle and ties the knive into the sheath. Since these photos I modified it a bit adding a stick as a toggle-button to the tie-in so I can release the knife one-handed. IMG_20130801_162534 IMG_20130801_162538

Everything I read says I should use a bow-stringer. I've been doing the step-through method since my dad taught me how to shoot as a kid. Supposedly it can twist the limbs on a recurve. People keep saying my bow is a nice antique and I should stop doing that or I'll damage it... so I made myself a bowstringer. It's just a piece of leather cut right with some holes, and a piece of paracord. The far end is a simple loop that fits the string knockpoints. It's simple, but it took several tries to get right IMG_20130802_162521

My two bows (a 55 lb and a 45 lb recurve) were getting beat up in the back of the truck. I had an already damaged wool blanket lying around, so I sewed it into a couple of sleeves. Then I took some linen twine and made some thick linen cord and stitched that to the top, here's the result. IMG_20130803_125430 IMG_20130803_125437

Some projects coming soon. The bridge on my guitar seems to be slightly damaged. It's plastic and the high E string has worn it down far enough that now that string buzzing. I want to make it a new bridge. Bone should improve the tone as well. That should be a is a pretty doable project. The only problem is that I need a piece of bone. I might be able to trade for some at Wintercount, find a fresh kill while hiking, or something similar. I also just got bits to make some arrows. These are aluminum, but I couldn't get them in the right spine premade, I figure it's good practice anyway... Eventually I want to make my own wooden ones, so I start with aluminum.

As for future posts, I finally finished softening the two deer hides. The second one was only 4 days end to end, bucking and all, progress! That one is also a beautiful thin doe... looks like it was killed with a spine shot to the neck, so the hide has no holes. The super thick one needs a presmoke and another softening, but the doe is absolutely perfect right now. There's a fire ban on making smoking difficult, but hopefully I can find a solution and smoke them soon.