Thursday, July 28, 2011

Photo of the Week

Some of you may have been wondering why there was no Photo of the Week despite the fact that I'm back. The answer: I was waiting until today for this picture...

My fresh tattoo. An Eastern White Pine Tree representing my love for the outdoors and the experiences I've had there.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains: Mary's Rock with my parents.

Due to the kind of person I am while living in New Jersey, it’s pretty obvious that I hate most people I come in contact with. So naturally, when my family decided to take a trip to Virginia, I was happy to get away from the crowds of loud, crass, stuck-up, and selfish folks. I have always been a “Southern sympathizer” as some may still call it. My father and I actually share a dream of one day owning a small house in the South that we can, “go onto the porch and take a piss while shooting a rifle.” Many areas of the South offer peace, quiet, relaxation, damn-good food, and open spaces. It certainly can’t get any better, right? Wrong. It gets way better when you see the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sunset from Shenandoah Overlook in Shenadoah National Park.
My mother, father, and I went to Virginia planning to spend some time in Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful park that I personally didn’t hear much about until I began doing research. Shenandoah National Park is stunning and why it is not as well known as other parks is beyond me. It is also easily accessible to vacationers because of the location of the city of Front Royal. Hardly a city, Front Royal is a medium sized town that outside the town center is a historical rural community. Front Royal itself is located only 66 miles away from Washington D.C., yet the crowds, traffic, and homeless people stay there. If any reader decides to take a trip to Shenandoah National Park and needs a hotel, I suggest staying at the Holiday Inn Blue Ridge Shadows. The rooms were clean, the service was excellent, and the staff was very friendly and professional.

So being that I have outdoor experience, my father has basic outdoor experience, and my mom has none, it was up to me to plan a hike for us to do. I knew that the hike had to be somewhat easy, but I didn’t want it to be a walk over some hills with no views or points of interest. So I made the logical decision of finding a mountain and plotting a route for a limping Lyme disease patient, a 53 year-old man, and an overweight woman to hike up. It made perfect sense! (not)

The hike was from the Thorton Gap parking area to the top of Mary’s Rock. It was 1.5 miles to the summit, making it a 3 mile round trip. Distance-wise the hike was not long, but I made the mistake of underestimating the terrain. Although it didn’t faze me, my mom and dad struggled with the rocky nature of the trail and the incline. The weather also was against us in the beginning. When we arrived at the trailhead it began to rain. That together with the mountain breeze made it a bit chilly. I put my rain shell on and was fine, but because my parents didn’t have proper gear they put on sweatshirts and in my dad’s case a denim jacket. As we hiked, they quickly had to shed layers of clothes yet still find a balance where they could stay dry. About halfway up the mountain the rain stopped and left low-lying clouds that were at equal height to us. It made for very cool scenery to see clouds float between mountains and, at times, to hike through them. My goal of a scenic hike was partially accomplished before even reaching the summit.

Mom and dad at the beginning of the hike.

At this point the physical stress of the hike began to affect my parents. My dad pushed through and toughed it out, but my mom was angry and dehydrated. Having absolutely, positively, zero outdoor experience one of her biggest fears was peeing outdoors. Because of this, she was attempting to take in minimal amounts of water. Obviously a heavier person needs to hydrate more than someone of average weight, and she was not doing it which led to headaches, cramps, and frustration. I cannot say it enough, hydrate!

Dad taking a break on the trail.

Mom and Dad on the trail.
I scouted ahead for the trail that would take us to the summit while my parents slowly closed the gap between us. After about 20 minutes, I found the .1 mile trail to the summit; just in time for my parents. As we reached the summit the cloud-cover broke and the sun came shining through. Few things are more exhilarating than when the sun breaks through the clouds as you reach a summit. The view from Mary’s Rock was spectacular. It offered views of the ever-beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and the legendary Shenandoah Valley as a whole.

Mom and Dad enjoying the view.

Mom and dad at the summit.
In the end we reached the car and I felt I introduced what I love to do to my parents successfully. My dad expressed interest in maybe doing it again sometime and I feel my mom now has a better understanding of what I do out there, why I do it, and why I love it. My mom was proud of the fact that she climbed a real mountain once her anger subsided and I know it’ll make a good story for her to tell her friends. It was certainly a very good hike that I won’t soon forget, and hopefully neither will them.

Stay tuned for my family’s experience on the Shenandoah River!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Been away. News on whats to come:

Hey everyone! My apologies that I haven't been writing. I know that a lot of times I don't write for weeks at a time and I appreciate the fact that you stay involved. The reasons I haven't been writing are: 1) As I've stated, I'm getting over Lyme disease. I just did my first hike since the beginning of the ordeal last week so I really haven't had too much to write about. 2) I've been in the Shenandoah Valley on vacation with my family.

In the Shenandoah Valley (located in Virginia) I managed to get my parents in the outdoors. They both hiked and rafted on the Shenandoah River, so expect to hear about that in a little bit. I've also picked up a pair of trekking poles and the Camelbak M.U.L.E Maximum Gear. Reviews for both of those products will be posted as soon as I have put them through more trials.

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Photo of the Week

Sorry this is late everyone! I've had a lot on my mind from recovering from Lyme disease and helping to plan a family vacation to the Shenandoah Valley. A friend of mine reminded me to do it and as a result she's in this oh-so-flattering picture...

The classic "I'm so hungry I only look at my food" look we see on the trail  oh-so-much.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cover Up.

This is just a reminder about how important it is to cover up and take the proper precautionary measures against ticks.

Ticks are most often known for carrying Lyme disease, but do not be fooled. Ticks carry a multitude of illnesses, often infecting victims with more than one at a time. This results in an illness that is particularly hard to diagnose and to treat. Here's a list of the Center of Disease Control's tick-borne diseases with links to each one:

In the United States, some ticks carry pathogens that can cause human disease, including:
  • Anaplasmosis is transmitted to humans by tick bites primarily from the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern and upper midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.
  • Babesiosis is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and is found primarily in the eastern U.S.
  • Ehrlichiosis is transmitted to humans by the lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum), found primarily in the southcentral and eastern U.S.
  • Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern U.S. and upper Midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.
  • Rickettsia parkeri Rickettsiosis is transmitted to humans by the Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum).
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is transmitted by the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sangunineus) in the U.S. The brown dog tick and other tick species are associated with RMSF in Central and South America.
  • STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness) is transmitted via bites from the lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum), found in the southeastern and eastern U.S.
  • Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF) is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected soft ticks. TBRF has been reported in 15 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming and is associated with sleeping in rustic cabins and vacation homes.
  • Tularemia is transmitted to humans by the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Tularemia occurs throughout the U.S.
  • 364D Rickettsiosis (Rickettsia phillipi, proposed) is transmitted to humans by the Pacific Coast tick (Dermacentor occidentalis ticks). This is a new disease that has been found in
It is important that you seek professional help at the earliest time possible. If possible, save any ticks you pull off of yourself and send them to the proper professionals for testing. The results will tell if you should be tested for the infection.

The best way to fight tick-borne illnesses is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. Here are a few tips:
  • Where light colored clothing so ticks are easily spotted when crawling on you.
  • Where long sleeves and pants. Blouse boots or tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Tie back or braid loose long hair. Even with short hair, a hat or bandanna is recommended to cover your head.
  • Apply insect repellent to cuffs of pants and shirts. (DEET has been known to have adverse effects on synthetic fabrics)
  • When coming in from an environment that has potential ticks, throw your clothes in a drier on high heat. This ensures all ticks on your clothing will be killed. 
  • Conduct a tick check. Be sure to check your hair, ears, neck, armpits, groin, inner thighs, back of the knees, and everywhere else. A mirror is helpful for this if alone.
If a tick is found, remove it with tweezers promptly. Do this by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight out. You do not want to crush the tick. Do not burn or cover with Vaseline. This may cause them to borrow deeper or to regurgitate saliva, increasing chances of infection.

Do not take the tick threat lightly. They are more than an annoyance, they are dangerous. I am currently fighting Lyme Disease and I can tell you from experience, it is not fun. It has caused my right knee to become inflamed, which prevents me from walking or even fully extending my leg. I have a very heavy limp and am actually using crutches to get around to reduce strain on that leg. I have already had 90cc's of bacterial fluid sucked out of my  knee and it is again swollen to twice it's size. I have started the antibiotic treatment and am icing it everyday. In two weeks is my hiking groups departure date for a ten-day backpacking/canoe trip in Maine. Because of my Lyme disease and joint inflammation I am now unsure if I'll be able to go on this trip that I've been looking forward to all year. Needless to say, I'm heartbroken. We'll have to wait and see how this plays out. Wish me luck.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Using your watch as a compass.

So there you are, hiking along on your merry way until you realize that you have no idea where you are. It's not a problem though, you just take out your map, your compass, and- whats that? you say you forgot your compass? Okay, okay not a problem. Are you wearing a watch? You say you are? Terrific, I have a trick for you that will get you back on track. (Or back on trail in this case.)

For this trick to work easily, it's best to have an analog watch. (The kind with the minute and hour hands) If you have a digital watch, draw a watch face on the ground showing the current time.

If your in the northern hemisphere what you do is point the hour hand on your watch towards the sun. From there simply bisect the angle of the hour hand pointing towards the sun and the 12 with an imaginary line. The imaginary line points south.

With this information you now also know which way the other directions are.

If your in the southern hemisphere, point the 12 toward the sun and bisect the angle between the 12 and the hour hand with an imaginary line. This line points north.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Photo of the Week

I'm beginning a new post series that I'm simply calling Photo of the Week! It will be posted every Wednesday. These photos will only be taken by either myself or friends of mine. Each post will also include what the photo is of and who took it if it wasn't myself. Now that your aware, lets get started!

High Point State Park Obelisk in the Distance

Friday, June 3, 2011

Overview: Minimalist Backpacking Load-Out Refined

Overview: Minimalist backpacking load-out refined

Earlier back in February I posted about a minimalist backpack load-out that I planned on fielding in the warmer weather. Well, here we are in May and I’m happy to say that I did just that. Prior to fielding this load-out I assessed its contents on necessity and trip circumstances; I was surprised what I ended up with.

Allow me to elaborate on my thoughts while packing. I had a 6 mile in 6 mile out route planned with moderate terrain mapped out so the terrain and distance wouldn’t be an issue. I did this purposely because I was taking out a friend who had never backpacked before and another who had this trip as his second time backpacking. The fact that I was taking out inexperienced people who may have possible problems with comfort, be it on the trail or at camp, convinced me to pack light. The logic behind this was that if they needed me to take weight from their pack and put it into mine it was possible and if they were uncomfortable with their shelter conditions they could look over to me in my “minimalist” shelter and say, “Well, that nut-job has it worse then me, so I can suck it up.”

So there I was, standing over this strange load-out that I breathed life into. I was half impressed and half shocked.

I began with my father’s military issue web gear. It looked very trail-commando, but it was just what I was looking for. For those unfamiliar, web gear is a term used to address the Load Bearing Equipment (LBE) that the military uses to supply service members with a system that can hold ammunition, rations, and basic supplies on their person and readily available.

On the LBE I had:

  • A canteen pouch holding my canteen cup, canteen, and some chlorine dioxide tablets for secondary water purification.

  • A canvas pouch designed to hold M16 magazines. I used this to hold my wallet, cell phone, and car keys.

  • A butt pack that contained a first aid kit, change of socks, water filtration pump, and my General Preparedness Kit. Underneath the butt pack I had a poncho for raingear/poncho shelter with two 50ft lengths of paracord. On the side I had lashed my Becker-Ka-Bar BK11.

  • My food was stored in a stuff sack that was then lashed to the top of the butt pack.

  • A small pouch with my camera on the left shoulder strap

Altogether the whole system weighed 14 pounds. That is a huge difference in comparison to my original minimalist backpacking load-out that weight 23 pounds without food.
Items cut from original load-out:

  • Medium ALICE pack

  • One 1-quart canteen

  • 100ft rope and stakes

  • Trowel and toilet paper

  • Change of clothes

  • Sleeping clothes

  • Wool blanket

 The LBE makes this very comfortable, so comfortable that you barely feel any weight at all. When you begin to get tired the LBE load-out has one small problem: since the butt pack has the most weight and your muscles are sore, you feel as if someone is gently pulling down on the back of the LBE belt. As I stated, this is a very small problem that is easily ignorable.

Close up on the main part of the system: the butt pack.

The benefits of the LBE load-out far outweigh the drawbacks. Not only is it lighter than a framed backpack, but it provides a greater and more comfortable range of motion as well. Hiking with the LBE was much easier on my shoulders, back, knees, and ankles than hiking with a framed pack and I had everything I needed right within arms reach, opposed to having to stop and dig into my pack. When taking breaks I actually chose to keep the LBE on. I did this not because it was more comfortable, but simply because it felt as if you’re weren’t wearing anything at all once you sat.

As a “minimalist” shelter I used my rain poncho and paracord to construct a lean-to. I did this by tying a line between two trees that passed through the top grommet holes in the poncho and staked the bottom two grommet holes out with sapling branches. Possible thunder storms were forecasted but did not come so I cannot report on how it would have performed in rain. It did fine in moderate wind once I anchored down the middle of the bottom portion between the stakes.

Tempur-Pedic my butt, this is real comfort.

To keep me insulated from the ground I used a bed of dry leaves which worked quite well. Being that it was warmer I decided that I would sleep in a fleece and leave the sleep system’s home. As luck would have it, I forgot my fleece at home and I spent the night with sporadic shivers and turning to press each part of my body into the warm leaves. I fell asleep around 11:00pm and woke back up at 12:40am. From 12:40am to a little after 3:00am I sat up, watched the leaves blow in the trees, and enjoyed the peace. After falling asleep a little after 3:00am I woke back up at 4:00am and dozed in and out of consciousness as I watched the overcast sky grow into a shade of dark blue and listened to the faint chirping of birds that seemed to get closer and closer. Eventually I got up, got a nice fire going, and watched the fog lift off the mountains in the distance. Lack of sleep aside, it wasn’t a bad night.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bringing it back.

As you all can see, for a time there I stopped writing. I've learned it's hard to find the time to write while keeping up with other things in my life. But everyday I'd see the Blogger icon on my toolbar and thought how I've gave up. But I am not one to quit and giving up is not what I do. I will resume writing, and you can hold my word to it!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Be bear aware! An article for dealing with black bears.

Let's start with the bear facts...
  • Black bears are usually solitary animals that are most active at dawn and dusk.
  • Black bears have an excellent sense of smell and hearing
  • Black bears can run up to 35 miles per hour. They are strong swimmers and excellent climbers. Both adults and cubs will climb trees for food and to escape disturbances.
  • Black bears eat plants and animals. Their diet mostly consists of skunk cabbage, berries, wild cherries, acorns, and beechnuts. They also eat insects, small mammals, and dead animals.
  • Black bears are opportunistic eaters and will supplement their diet with food or garbage left out by humans.
  • Adult females average 175 pounds. Adult males average 400 pounds.
  • Not all black bears are black. They can be brown, light brown, and even blonde, white, and grey-blue.
  • Even during winter a black bear will leave its den to search for food at times.
  • Den sites include rock cavities, brush piles, open ground nests, and hollow trees. A bear will not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate in their den.
  • Breeding season is from late May to August, peaking in June and July.

Be bear aware!

 If you encounter a bear...
  • Do not feed or approach the bear.
  • Remain calm and make the bear aware of you presence by speaking in a calm, assertive voice.
  • Make sure the bear has an escape route. This insures the bear does not feel threatened and resorts to violence.
  • Make loud noises and look as big as possible to scare the bear away. If you are with another person stand close together and raise your arms above your head.
  • The bear may utter a series of huffs, make popping sounds by snapping its jaw, and swat the ground. These are warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away and avoid direct eye contact. DO NOT RUN.
  • If a bear stands on it's hind legs or moves closer, it may be trying to get a better view or detect scents in the air. It usually is not threatening behavior.
  • Black bears will sometimes bluff charge when cornered, threatened, or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, and slowly back away. DO NOT RUN.
  • If the bear will not leave head for nearby shelter. Remember that black bear attacks are extremely rare.
  • If a black bear does attack, fight back.
  • Report any violent, mischievous, abusive, or unusual bear encounters to your local ranger, fish and game warden, or the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Moving forward.

As I have posted earlier, I had been training for, and embarked on, what was supposed to be a 43 miles hike of the NJ section of the Appalachain Trail. Sadly, one day into the trip a member of my hiking group tweaked their knee and we couldn't go any further. I won't blame anyone because it is not the injured member's fault, but I was, and still am, very disappointed

I refuse to let this deter my adventures though! The day after I returned from the aborted backpacking trip I took a nice ten mile day hike to work out all that energy and to get a great hike. I learned something interesting on this hike: weather it's a flooded mine or a flooded trail, I always end up thigh deep in cold water...

Also, if you look through older posts you will find a minimalist backpacking set up. After modifying this load out a bit, I have come to a conclusion and will be fielding it this weekend. Check back then!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

T-Minus: 11 hours...

Tomorrow morning I leave with my hiking group to do 43 mile New Jersey section of the Appalachain Trail. I will be returning Sunday afternoon and will probably spend the rest of the day resting.

You can expect to see photos, stories, and more within the next few days after. Wish me luck!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Trip Report: 4/10/11 Geocaching, mines, and relics of the 1800's.

On a warm cloud covered day MB, JS, and I set out to have an interesting day on the trails. We headed off at noon to do some Geocaching and explore some of the abandoned iron mines and rail systems of the 1800’s in the region.

For those of you who don’t know, Geocaching is a form of modern day treasure hunting. It is a world-wide game in which someone creates a “cache” filled with all kinds of trinkets and a log book for you to log when you were there and what you thought about the cache when you found it. The cache is then submitted to the Geocaching website saying what the cache is by and a clue to its exact location, such as “in the base of a fallen tree, 20ft east of the mine entrance.” When you find the cache you take a trinket and leave one of your own that you brought from home. Many of the people who Geocache use GPS systems so they can program the desired cache’s coordinates into their GPS so they know when they are in the general vicinity of the cache. More can be found at

The first cache we went for was a cache the MB and I had tried in the past and never had found. The GPS system we were using that day was leading us in circles and gave us the run-around quite a few times. Talk about frustrating! This time out we were going in the complete opposite direction that we were going on our first attempt. The GPS took us across a clearing, over a road, up a small hill, a little bit to the west, and BAM! Right into the cut of a mine! GPS has redeemed itself….   for now.

After a quick search MB discovered the cache hidden in…. Wait… I can’t tell you that. We left our little treasure, JS got a free poncho from the cache, and we hiked back to the car. On our way back to the car we found an “adult magazine” in the unopened wrapper just lying on the side of the woods road. That just goes to show, you’ll never know what you’ll find while Geocaching…

Our next destination was a mine named Cranberry Mine. Before this hike I researched this mine and was really excited. It was a very large mine that was built into the side of the mountain so we didn’t worry about it being flooded. After its operation in the 1800’s it remained untouched until the park bought it, built a stone wall over the entrance and installed an iron door so it could be used for storage. Once Cranberry Mine was retired from storage the iron door was removed and it was open to the public for exploration.

When I was reading about the hike to Cranberry Mine it was made clear that it was accessible by an old mining road that was incredibly overgrown and hard to follow.

They weren't joking.
Hard to follow is an understatement. The first part we had to duck under fallen trees and evade thorn bushes but it was clear where the road was because of the depression it created in the ground. This part of the road then went down a steep hill, into a clearing, then up steep hill that seemed to be overgrown everywhere. We followed the map as best we could but had lost the road. Go figure. MB had left the GPS in the car so we did it the old fashioned, and my preferred, way: map and compass! We took a bearing and headed on our way. After a few minutes we linked back up with the mining road and continued along.

Cranberry mine appeared on a hill in front of us and was very impressive. It consists of two adits and a shaft at the top of the hill. The left adit goes back roughly fifteen feet then ends. The adit on the right has the wall with the open door built at the entrance. 

Cranberry Mine's two adits.
As we got closer to the mine disappointment fell over us. The open door was partially blocked by iron bars. Although it could still be easily entered due to the fact that intruders had removed the bars we decided against it. It turns out that Cranberry Mine contains bats infected by White Nose Syndrome, a fungal infection that has killed thousands of bats in recent years. A sign was posted that stated very clearly that the area was patrolled frequently and those who enter the mine would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We had to fight the urge to enter, turn around, and walk away. That was no easy task, but we did as the sign ordered.
Entrance to Cranberry Mine now closed
Sign warning visitors.

It didn't say anything about sticking the camera inside for a quick picture...
Some sources on the internet suggest that the mine may be reopened in the summer after the hibernating months but this has not been confirmed.

Afterwards we hopped in the car and drove to the next park over to check out the ruins if the Dunderberg Spiral Railway. The Dunderberg Spiral Railway was essentially to be an early form of a rollercoaster. The plan was to have tourists from New York City come up for the day and be loaded into two open-top railcars and ascend Dunderberg Mountain. Once at the top the railcars would stop and the tourists could get out and enjoy the scenery over the Hudson River. From there they would get back in the railcars to start their nine mile scenic trip down Dunderberg Mountain be powered only by gravity. Construction of the Dunderberg Spiral Railway (DSR) began in 1890 and was stopped in 1891 due to a lack of funding. In the one year of construction the workers created tunnels, cutouts through rock, and many graded sections which are still in excellent condition today, more than 100 years later. And all that was done with muscle and hand tools!

The trail following the DSR goes on and off the graded section taking the hiker to many points of interests. Most of the hike is a steep hike up Dunderberg Mountain rather than following the DSR in multiple circles around it. After setting out and beginning our hike we quickly came to one of the tunnels that the railcars were to pass through.

Ruin of the tunnel on DSR.

We stopped to look around and to appreciate the fact that many of men labored to build this all for nothing. At least they got paid.

MB looking defiant on top of the tunnel. 

This trail is ideal for moderate hikers because after the steep inclines and switchbacks you come to one of the DSR graded sections offering a nice flat walk along the would-be rail bed.

JS and MB making their way up steep section.
Flat graded section before an unfinished tunnel.
As we hiked along the graded section we came to an unfinished railroad tunnel cut into the side of the mountain. It had a ceiling of probably around 20 to 25 feet tall and was probably around 15 feet wide. I knew we were coming to it so naturally on the hike towards it I was excited. When we arrived we saw that it was flooded with water. This may have deterred some folks but this was just too awesome to pass up. How often does one get to venture into a relic of the late 1800’s? I looked at the floor of the tunnel and saw that it was mostly broken rock, unlike the flooded floors of mines which I find usually consist of seven feet of sunken leaves and are VERY dangerous. My urge of adventure was too much to overcome, it was decided: I was going in. I took off my fleece to insure that if I were to fall in I still had a dry insulating layer, double checked that I had a change of socks, unzipped the bottom of the legs off my hiking pants, put on my headlamp, and began to wade in.

Inside the unfinished rail tunnel.
The water was cold. It was so cold I could feel the muscles in my legs tightening, but it felt good to wade in water for it was the first time since I’ve done it since summer. The water came up to my knees and then started to reach up to my thighs. Then I remembered I left my bandana in my pocket and I planned to try my legs with it! I jammed my hand into my pocket to find a bandana that was wet…. only on the bottom. Phew…. I threw that to MB and waded further.

I posed for a few pictures and waded into thigh deep water where MB wanted me to come back. He had a reasonable concern for my safety that I understand. At least he was concerned, because I was definitely not. When I came out the warm air felt great on my legs that had a strange tingly feeling. As I dried off and got my gear together MB and JS found a Cache at the sight. We added a compass to the Cache and made our way back to the car.
Posing in the tunnel.
Venturing further before being called back.

Afterwards I was soaking wet and my legs were beet red. It was all worth it!
It was by no means a day of distance hiking but it was a long day of exploring and bushwhacking. A terrific day, doing something terrific, with terrific people. Gotta love it!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

It is almost among us...

As most of you probably know, I am still a student. Although this has its drawbacks, it has a benefit most non-students envy: Spring break!

Ohhhhhhhhh what a wonderful spring break it will be! The first day, this Saturday, is the first day of trout season! I literally will be gone fishin'.

The following Monday is the day me and two buddies head up to the Shawangunks for a hike. One of my buddies going I don't get to talk to very often and he's on NJSAR so he always has some cool things to share. I'll let you guys know how that goes.

Then on Thursday the event I've been waiting for begins. The first backpacking trip since November! It will be a 43 mile trek starting at High Points State Park and ending at the Delaware Water Gap.

Wish me luck and safety and I'll do the same for you. Now get out there!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sorry Readers!

Hey all!

Sorry that I haven't been posting much lately, I've been busy with school, work, staying in shape, and on top of all that, enlisting in the US Army! Phew! Busy, busy, busy! Luckily I have been finding time to go on weekend hikes but I don't want to overload you guys with trip reports on hikes that aren't too interesting to read about.

However, I am going on a four day backpacking trip in 12 days. A few members of my hiking group and I are hiking 43 miles of the Appalchain Trail from West Jersey to the Delaware Water Gap. You can bet that I will write a trip report for that! Since that will be the first time I've backpacked since November I will also use the time to refresh my mind before I write my reviews on the Marmot Trestle 15 sleeping bag, Eureka Spitfire Solo tent, and the Kelty Trekker 3950 backpack.

Also within the next two weeks a friend of mine wants to take a trip up to the Shawangunk Mountains which should also be rather interesting. It's amazing how you can start in in North New Jersey and if you drive 40 or 50 miles north your in a whole different world. Good thing it's that way though, I need to get out of Dirty Jersey!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: Esbit pocket stove

When it comes to backpacking stoves one must really consider many things. What their climate is, their altitude, are you cooking or just boiling water, how much cooking or boiling, is weight a big issue, is pack space a big issue, budget, and so many more variables that vary per individual. I find usually find myself alone or only heating a cup or two of water for myself, buying an expensive stove and carrying around canisters of butane fuel seemed foolish in my situation. I next considered an alcohol stove but decided that carrying liquid alcohol as fuel would become heavy and take up more pack space then I was willing to sacrifice. So with those things decided I narrowed it down to what I need: I'd be in a temperate forest most of the time so climate wasn't to big an issue, the stove needed to be small, light, and cheap while still being sufficient for at least one person. After some searching, I came to a conclusion. I chose an Esbit pocket stove.

The real beauty of the Esbit pocket stove is it simplicity. It consists of three pieces of plated tensile structures steel and runs on non-toxic solid fuel tablets. There's the platform and two folding "legs." The platform has slots through it to increase airflow to the burning fuel tablet causing maximum burn time and heat output. The steel legs can be set in two positions: put straight up or at a 45 degree angle. 

Esbit pocket stove in standard position

Esbit pocket stove with legs at 45 degree angle
The idea behind this is that when at a 45 degree angle heat will be deflected off the legs and at one particular spot on the bottom of the heated container being heated. The stove is very stable in both positions, but when the legs are at a 45 degree angle it makes contact with the stove towards the center of the heated container rather than to the sides as it usually does when the legs are set up straight. Obviously this would make the heated container less balanced so be very careful. 

What is really nice about the Esbit pocket stove is, well, it's a folding stove! When folded it is only 4 inches long, 3 inches wide, 3/4 an inch thick. This stove can easily fit any place in your pack or in your pocket. 

Let's talk about the fuel, shall we? Esbit produces solid fuel tablets designed for the Esbit pocket stove. Each tablet is about an inch long and half an inch thick and come individually packaged in a blister package.

Esbit fuel tablet in blister package
 Each have an approximate efficient burn time of 12-13 minutes. They light very easy, all you need to do is put the flame of a lit match or lighter to the corner of a fuel tablet for a few seconds. There is no sparks, exploding of cubes, or smoke. There is, however, a strange, almost fishy smell. Bear bait? Let's hope not. A feature I particularly enjoy is that they are reusable. If you've manage to boil your water with out burning a full cube you can simply blow it out and relight it when needed. The fuel tablets do have one negative feature: they tend to bind themselves to the platform of the stove. To remove binded tablets all you must do is scrape the tablet off or hit it with the hilt of a knife or multi-tool.

All in all, the Esbit pocket stove is good for those going Ultralite, soloists, and emergencies. What is really awesome is the price. The Esbit folding stove retails at $10.99 and a pack of 12 fuel tablets will cost $5.99, if you have ever have some spare money I suggest you pick one up and try it yourself.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Spring!

I'm sure most of us know, yesterday brought us Spring! I figured what better way to celebrate then a nice long hike and take in some of the unusually pleasant weather? I got to the trail head nice and early and embarked on one of the more peaceful hikes I've had in awhile. It was very nice.

The sun was shining...

The brooks were babbling...

And there was even some green to see!

Happy Spring everyone! Let hope for it to get really nice soon and lets get out there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Litter Bugs!

Prepare for ranting in 3....2....1.....

Nothing annoys me and ruins my joy on the trail more then coming across litter. There is absolutely NO excuse for it. Even if you feel that the garbage is "icky" it is up to you to pack it out. Here's a tip, if you think it may get "icky" it probably will. Make sure you plan accordingly and bring a plastic bag to put the "icky" substances in and carry it out. It could be a damn banana peel, natural or not, it doesn't change a thing. Pack it the hell out! Here's another tip for dealing with "icky" garbage, grow a pair. I've carried out a trash bag that leaked day-old Mountain House chocolate cheese cake (scary stuff, cheese cake was never meant to be dehydrated and made into backpacking food...) and smelled terrible but I'm still alive. It won't kill you, I freaking promise. Some people even pack out their own feces out in a bag on multi-day trips. Thats to be respected.

On my latest hike I left the park with a cargo pocket full of garbage... that wasn't mine. The fact that other hikers have to clean up after these slobs is outrageous. Water bottle wrappers, water bottles, candy wrappers, energy bar wrappers, tiny pieces of wrappers, plastic baggies, all of that stuff should not be found out in nature. Not only is it ruining the ecosystem, its ruining the experience of others. In my opinion, knowingly leaving behind trash is one of the most selfish, arrogant, and rude things you can do to the outdoor community. If your willingly leaving behind litter maybe you should rethink how you feel about nature. Chances are you probably really don't care.

Last Sunday when I came to the top of a mountain with a beautiful view I found clear plastic wrappers, candy wrappers, baggies, a little bag of potato chips, and more. It looks like someone took a small child up there and just let him discard his wrappers without care. This is almost to be expected in a young child, but whoever was supervising him should  have stepped up and taught him how wrong that really is. I get this disgusting image of some chubby little brat sitting there scarfing down a bunch of damn food packed by his mother and letting wrappers fly away in the wind. Rather than baby little Johnny, or probably fat Johnny, someone should have made him pick up his garbage, put it in his pack, and told him about how its up to us to take care of these lands, or at least taught him about respect and not dropping your crap where ever you want.

I implore all those who follow Leave No Trace principles ( to spread them to those who do not. At times we will break them, but it is important that we do what we can to keep nature how it should be.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Overview: General Preparedness Kit

As mentioned in a previous post I carry what I call my General Preparedness Kit or GPK as I call it. While many people carry survival kits and their basic gear, I prefer to take a kit that is multipurpose and packed in one dry bag rather than carry emergency gear and gear I’ll be using to carry out camp tasks in two different containers. By doing this I cut down on pack space being taken up and I know where everything is when I need it.

Size comparison between my GPK and an eating utensil

The contents of my GPK and their purpose are listed below:

Contents of my GPK

Water Purification Tablets: It’s important that you have a back up system in case your primary water filtration system fails. It doesn't take much to break a filter or for it to malfunction. Carrying water purification tablets assisted me when I went backpacking with the outdoors group I’m part of and our filtration pump broke. Although it took four hours for the tablets to fully purify the water, we did have enough water the next day to keep us hydrated on the hike out. There are two relating phrases: “Dehydration is a soldier’s worst enemy” and “An army marches on its stomach.” Without a back up filtration system you have two choices: dehydrate yourself or drink infected water and put your stomach through hell. Your choice.

Signaling Tools: This is very straight forward. I have a signal mirror for signaling other people when in distress in daylight and two chem-lights for signaling at night. Each chem-light lasts twelve hours, carrying two gives me two nights worth of signaling.

Maintenance Gear: I carry these in case of any minor equipment failure. Most items in this category are pretty self explanatory. A pocket sewing kit for clothing, a small role of duct tape for, well, anything, and silicone sealant for any rips in my tent or pack.

Warming Materials: In case of extreme cold or being caught out when not expected I have toe warmers for each foot, four hand warmers, and a space blanket.

Fire Making Material: It’s important to have three methods of fire starting. In case one fails, you have a fall back. And if that fails, you still have one more way to get fire going. I carry a butane lighter as a primary fire source, water proof matches as a second, and if all else fails, a magnesium block with a striker attached. In case there is no tinder available I keep an Esbit tablet in my GPK to get a small fire going in which I can dry real tinder to burn.

Compass: It’s important to know which direction you’re heading and more important to know which direction you’re not. I always have a compass on my person when in the outdoors but in the event that it is lost, which has happened to me, I carry an extra one.