Monday, February 28, 2011

Some win and some lose. I won.... Twice.

Yesterday my friend DB and I took a rather eventful hike, eventful meaning unexpectedly life threatening! The weather was beautiful and was a sure sign that spring is approaching; the sun was shining, birds were chirping, and streams swelled from snow melt. We moved at a fast pace for reasons unknown, we credit hiking in winter for improving our hiking speed, and quickly reached the top of Storm King Mountain.

From there we walked along a ridge and down into a deep valley. DB and I decided to stop at the bottom of the valley so we would have the energy to hike out in time. There we had lunch and relaxed for awhile near where a few streams converged. It was very nice.

After that we began hiking back up the mountain we came down and stopped to check out a rock face that DB wanted to see is climbable come warm weather. DB is a rock climber first and a hiker second but still one of my favorite people to hike with. While getting ready to head back to the trail I pointed out a rock face that was near vertical but looked scramble-able. (No that is not a real word…) After consulting the map and seeing that we would link up with the trail at the top of the ridge we decided that we’d be stupid and head off trail to climb rocks that we could have very easily fallen from. It sounds even dumber when I type it. Luckily all was fine and it was pretty damn cool…

DB making his way up the rock scramble

At the top of the ridge I stopped to take some pictures before moving on. They came out pretty well.
View of Butter Hill from the ridge
Once I was done taking pictures we set off for the last leg of the hike back to DB’s car. This is wear it gets bad. The trail ran around the mountain halfway to the top and gradually declined. The first half of was covered in wet snow but fine. As we advanced it became icier and icier until we got to a point where a frozen water fall cascaded down from the top of the mountain, over the trail, and then down the mountain a bit. Having no way around, we climbed the snow next to a point where there was uncovered rocks where we would could do a controlled slide to a part where there was a tree branch and rocks to grab and then shimmy back onto the trail. DB slid first and after slow careful work made it off fine. I sat on the ice and slowly slid on my butt down to the uncovered rocks and tree branch. Everything was fine until the branch snapped. I began sliding at high rate until my torso spun and the sliding stopped. Some how I managed to grab onto another branch wit my left hand in a blind adrenaline rush. I laid there on my back holding the branch, looked at DB, and laughed out of sheer excitement and lack of words. I slowly shimmied back on the trail and we continued on.

The trail from that point on was incredibly narrow and at times the ice forced us to walk on the edge. It went from a hike to a slow cautious walk that involved cutting down snowy gullies, treading lightly on sheets of ice, and crossing a frozen bridge. All this on a mountainside. I am sorry to say I have no pictures of the ice over and numerous frozen waterfalls on the trail. DB and I were way too involved with guiding each other and negotiating the frozen trail safely. When the trail became slightly more level I began saying how the near slide down the mountain was the climax of my day. As soon as I finished speaking I realized I spoke to soon. The ice beneath my foot gave out causing me to fall on my side and begin sliding down the mountain feet first. Problem: there was nothing to stop me. It was a straight shot for around 25 feet into some trees and deadwood. Suddenly the slide stopped almost instantly. Again, I laid there for a second so the adrenaline high would stop and realized I somehow I managed to hook my arm in a frozen footprint. I, again, managed to cheat injury or worse.

Soon after we were off that trail and near the car. I felt no pain and couldn’t get my mind off the events on that trail. The adrenaline high was powerful and I kept spontaneously giggling and shaking my head at our stupidity, our luck, the excitement of the situations. We got back to the car, unloaded some gear, took a picture, and went home. I left that day unscathed, tweaking on adrenaline, and seeing every aspect of life better than I did before. 

Well almost unscathed

Monday, February 21, 2011

Trip Report: 2/20/11

Those of us in the New York-New Jersey area are aware that we had a few days of late March weather just last week. Those of us in the New York-New Jersey area also know that we are covered with snow again and rather upset about it. Knowing this weather would come to an end soon, two friends and I went hiking to take advantage of the nice weather.

I laid out a pretty easy route about three and half miles long. My friend EB has limited experience and my other friend JS had no real experience so I figured that was more than enough. We got to the trail head at around 12:30, much later than I would have liked but we made it back to the truck before dark so it was not a problem.

We started with a bit of a climb to a rock outcropping that looked over some of the forest. Due to the fact that the trail up also acts as a small stream it was a little icy but luckily there were no mishaps. At one point we lost the trail, admittedly it was my fault, so we climbed the steep rocky side of the outcropping until we met the trail again at the top. It wasn’t the safest thing to do, but I thought it was fun….

The rock outcropping we climbed known as Almost Perpendicular

Once we got to the top we took a quick break and got moving again along the ridge. When EB claimed the ice on the trail was “treacherous” JS and I began mocking the statement and saying it would only be “treacherous” if there were pirates on dinosaur back. Just then JS slipped and took a spill on the ice. We swallowed our words after that.

The view from Almost Perpendicular
EB taking a break at the top
JS checking out the view
The three of us continued on chatting sometimes and in silence at other times enjoying the hike. We stopped at a good mid-point for lunch that even had a bit of history to it. The story goes like this: The year is 1774. The British and American forces in the region are fighting one another for control of the colonies. A man by the name of Claudius Smith sees an opportunity to exploit this situation and make good money. Claudius and his three sons began stealing horses and cattle from the people of the area and selling them to the British Army. Since Claudius and his sons become enemies to the locals they hid out at rock formation known today as Claudius Smith’s Den. There they would have a lookout on the top that could see the area for miles around while the over-hang below housed their horses. When fighting in the region ended the gang made their violent living by raiding homes and farms, often killing the inhabitants. In 1779 Claudius Smith was captured and hanged.

After lunch EB and I consulted the map and I gave them a choice: The longer way or the harder way. JS didn’t much care; he is in good shape and was enjoying himself so either was fine with him. We left the decision up to EB who decided to take the shorter route because none of us wanted to get caught out in the dark. Better safe than sorry.

We continued on while talking to each other and enjoying the peace. Having done the trail before I knew the remainder of the hike was rather uneventful. We set a comfortable pace and headed onto the last leg on the hike. Near the end we came across some turkey vultures sitting in the branches of a tree. While distracted I almost stepped in a large pile of deer feces and fur and quickly jumped off to the side. I was surprised at the size of turkey vultures when they are close. They really are pretty big birds. As we were taking pictures the flock began to take off and slowly fly away. EB and I tried pretty hard to get some good pictures of them. She was the only successful one. When we gave up on trying to get pictures I quickly realized while the pile of deer waste and fur was there and why a flock of turkey vultures were there. Ten feet off the trail was a deer carcass that had been torn open. JS and I approached it and began snapping close in pictures, EB stayed on the trail. Who can blame her? It was interesting to see nature taking its course and I was fascinated.

The pictures below are graphic. If blood or gore disturbs you do not scroll down further.

Turkey vultures in a tree

Discovering the carcass
Fascinated like two 6 year-olds

"Ohhh no more Bambi!"
Soon after we got back to the truck, put our packs in the back, and headed home. All in all, it was a nice leisurely hike with some of my favorite people.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fresh meat.

Tomorrow I'm taking out someone who's never really hiked before and someone with more limited experience. Hopefully all will go off as planned and it'll be a great time! Expect to see a trip report!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Overview: Minimalist Backpacking Pack

DISCLAIMER: This setup has not been fielded yet; it was taken on a hike to accesses weight, comfort, and maneuverability. Contents are susceptive to change and suggestions are very much appreciated.

I’d like to start by saying I have not done any minimalist backpacking, however when the weather becomes warmer I do plan on beginning it. With that intention I setout to create a pack that has the essentials, equipment with multiple purposes, and is light. The idea is to “rough it” to a degree that doesn’t surpass my skill level to the point that I’m in danger while still pushing me out of my comfort zone.

I started at the core of backpacking: the pack. I chose a Medium ALICE Pack because of their durability and the fact that with limited space I won’t pack unnecessary gear. Despite what many say, the pack is very comfortable for me.

On the outside I have two 1-quart canteens and a backpackers trowel behind the middle cargo compartment hollow.

Let’s go through the compartments.

 In the top storm flap I have a poncho, 100ft. of rope, and a baggy with 5 sections of nylon cord measuring two and half feet long and 4 stakes.

The poncho would double as raingear and a shelter system when used with the ropes and stakes to construct a lean to or A-frame style shelter.

In the left most external cargo compartment there is my General Preparedness Kit and my Becker BK11.

My General Preparedness Kit is packed in a dry bag and has everything from tools incase of emergency to basic gear used to carry out camp chores.

Found in the middle external cargo compartment is my medical kit and primary water filtration system.

And in the right external cargo compartment I have extra socks and toilet paper, both packed in dry bags.

Toilet paper  in dry bag and trowel
Moving on to the internal compartment I have my food and pocket stove at the top in a stuff sack with an extra pair of hiking pants and a thermal top and bottom packed in a dry bag bellow.

Clothing items in dry bags
Beneath I have a USGI wool blanket that would be my sleep system coupled with debris from the forest floor that I would use to make an insulator between myself and the ground.

Altogether without food the pack weighs 23 pounds which is heavy for a minimalist pack. When hiking with it I was very happy with the weight and thought it was much less but I guess that’s because the ALICE pack handles the weight so well. I figure with around three days of food it would weight in at around 27 or 28 pounds which is a weight I’d like to decrease.

I would love to see suggestions in the comments that can help me choose gear and decrease pack weight. Thanks for reading! 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Proving grounds.

I'm planning a hike this weekend where I will test my minimalist backpacking kit. It won't be overnight, which sucks, but it will show me what needs to be reworked. After I will write an after action report and review my minimalist backpacking loadout. I REALLY am looking for suggestions, tips, ideas, all that stuff so please check back here a day or two after this Sunday and let me know what you think!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Review: Military Surplus Bear Jacket

 NOTE: The Bear Jacket is also called the Bear Shirt and the Bear Liner.

Being that it is the middle of February you most likely already have a heavy-weight fleece jacket that will keep you warm in the bitter cold. The problem with heavy-weight fleece jackets is that they usually cost big bucks and not all of us can afford to spend a hundred or more dollars. Rather then letting a low budget limit your outdoor activity in the winter, I will offer you a solution that will keep your body warm and your wallet fat. This solution is called the Bear Jacket.

Me wearing my Bear Jacket
I will begin by saying the Bear Jacket IS military surplus. As I’ve said in earlier posts, military surplus gear is not low quality. Many people mistake real military surplus gear with the cheap far-east imitations that are low quality and will quickly fall apart. The Bear Jacket is GENUINE mil-surp.

The Bear Jacket is very warm. In fact, it is so warm that on a hike on 22F day I had it unzipped because I was to hot and sweating. This is due to the fur-like insulation material that lines the inside of the jacket and the two slit pockets for your hands. It is similar to faux-shearing that you may have seen on the collars of other jackets except it is softer, longer, and warmer.  The designers realized that over heating could become a problem so they added armpit vents that are made out of breathable and durable water proof nylon. These do a great job of letting out heat while keeping the elements out, something zipper vents do not offer. Nylon also reinforces the shoulders, the two 6 inch wide and 7 inch deep chest pockets that are secured by Velcro closures, and the bottom of the forearms. This lets you carry out camp tasks with the confidence that nothing will rip through your fleece. These reinforced areas are not vents and have insulation underneath.

Inside insulation
Note the gap in the insulation where the nylon armpit vent is located

Insulated full-zip collar

Reinforced shoulders and chest pockets

Reinforced shoulders and forearms
This is a simple jacket, in a good way. Like most mil-surp, there’s nothing too fancy to worry about failing. It has Velcro closures at the end of the sleeves which allows you to adjust how tight you want the cuffs around your wrists. This is nice if you are wearing gloves. The zipper has never snagged or came undone and has two long nylon pull tabs to make operation easy with gloves or mittens. The pockets are also designed for use with gloves and have large openings. Those are the only features the Bear Jacket sports. The only draw back is the  Bear Jacket's packability, whether you roll or fold the jacket its still the size of a small bedroll.... Other then that there are no drawbacks. Like I said, simple.

 Simple, warm, and durable, the military surplus Bear Jacket can be found new for around $15.00 and used for as low as $6.00! It is not a cheaply made imitation; it is just cheap in price. The Bear Jacket is one of those gems that you come across for that price rarely. Even if you already have a heavy-weight fleece, it cannot hurt to pick up a Bear Jacket.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Well my trip this weekend I mentioned in the post below was cancelled so I'll use the time to post a new story.

You learn something new everyday.

This weekend I'm going camping with my hiking group and I'm pretty excited. We'll be working on cold weather first aid and survival so it'll be fun to test my knowledge and learn some new skills. When I get back I'll post pictures and talk about what we did. The only specifics I know at the moment are that we're going to make campfire chilli. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm......

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

90% mental, 10% physical.

Whether your on a day long jaunt on the trail or lost and low on food, its 90% mental and 10% physical. It truly is amazing how much our body can endure when needed and I'm a firm believer in the idea that you won't know what you can do until you need to do it. Obviously there are conditions that will break you and every one of us has a breaking point, but I feel as long as your body is still functioning then you can go on. It will hurt, you can injure yourself if things take a turn for the worst, and I'd only recommend pushing yourself that hard if you had to, but it could be done. If you believe you can keep going, you'll keep going.

Even in a casual situation I've seen typical seeming girls from my outdoors group out-perform some friends I've taken on other trips who think of themselves as "tough." The girls went in knowing that all they had to do was keep walking and perform certain camp tasks when we arrived to our site. That with an understanding that, no matter how experienced, you are out of your element and must be aware of your limits and surroundings made for a backpacking trip enjoyed by everyone.

Other groups of guys I've gone with seem to have had the idea that they were in complete control and were in no danger. Needless to say as a result it ended with frequent breaks due to the fact that they were trying to move to fast and did not expect the terrain, one of them falling due to moving to fast, cutting the whole next day out because they were exhausted from being up until midnight (I was up as well, but knew I'd be fine the next morning and I was), and other campsite mistakes such as not hanging a bear bag because they believed it was not necessary and that I was worrying too much.(Worrying too much is an ironic accusation because when a strange noise puzzled us in the middle of the night one of the guys got scared and set up a tent in the lean to...) One even chose not to bring a sleeping pad and then chose not to at least sleep on a bed of leaves. He regretted it. Later that morning the garbage bag began to stink and leak. I suggested we switch off carrying it out, they replied saying they rather leave it in the woods and that I was the only one who cared about Leave No Trace. I had to carry that stinking mess out the whole time. The whole trip for me sucked since I was used to being with people who know what they're doing. By the end of the trip we were all annoyed with each other and communication really was not at its best. Did I mention we only covered 5 miles TOTAL? It really was not Lewis and Clark's expedition here...

It's the mind set. The second trip I mentioned with the guys failed because they had the wrong ideas and I didn't speak up enough to correct them. They went in thinking it'd be a leisurely camp out, by their standards it was not, and that bothered them. Frustration mixed with carelessness were the two main problems. Both could have been fixed in the beginning if we all took a minute to stop and gather our thoughts.

Since then one of the guys on the failed trip and I hike together quite often. Now I would love to backpack with him because he has a decent amount of experience, has the mindset, and is a very good friend of mine. Come warmer weather we definitely will and I'm confident it will be a great time.