18 November 2014

The Dry Run Part II

I woke early the next morning and groaned when I though about crawling out of the warmth of the bags. The condensation was remarkable and coated the tent walls heavily, the cold was bitter and biting at my nose.

One of the things I'd started doing some time ago was 'drying clothes' in my sleeping back through the night. It's a simple concept and I only do it with base layers. Basically just putting them in the bag they dry out from the body heat, it also means not having to pull on cold layers in the morning.

Once in my clothes I crawled out of the tent. The falling snow hadn't done much more than dust what we had, no real accumulation.

The night prior I'd spent some time reading up on the basic functions of the new camera. Unlike most cameras I've owned this Sony actually has a built in user reference on what certain functions do, I'm not even a amateur photographer so a lot of this information was worthwhile to me. Having read about certain functions I set about getting a few pictures of the night sky since there was still an hour and half before dawn.

All I did was set it to 'bulb' which left the shutter open for 30 seconds. I think there are some other settings but it got the desired effect for the most part. This was with the camera on a little tripod, not a very good one either. I've got some more reading to do to figure out how to optimize but overall they were not too bad.

Much of day two had scenery that looked like day one, only colder.

As stated I also brought a couple day packs to try out while hunting away from camp. One of them was the FR Summit Boulder Junction. I like this pack an awful lot and enjoyed using it. One of the things I learned though was that it rides much much better with a sternum strap. It was simple to fabricate one and wish I'd gotten a picture but didn't think of it at the time. I just pulled the shemagh under the straps across the middle of my chest, pulled tight and knotted up. This worked like a charm and was actually more comfortable than a normal sternum strap because it was much wider and thus spread the weight better.

I had lunch in the field which was simple, another MH.

Later in the afternoon a nice snow storm buzzed into the area.

Soon enough I was headed back to camp, another day of winter in the winds having stripped away the build up of everyday life. I was feeling much better on the whole but I was also feeling the effects of calorie deficiencies. My 2800 calories a day wasn't enough to counter the cold and the activity level. I'd need to rethink content.

Back at camp I decided to get a fire going. Originally my intent was go the duration without a fire, well that got chucked.

I'm not a huge fan of fire prep in the dark but I hadn't pre-laid a fire so I had no choice. I usually do this but hadn't this time and I regretted it. I made a note in my notebook chastising myself to the error. When possible, always have fire fixings done, it's just good sense.

The Turley Whelen did what it does and fire prep was done. One of the things I like most about this knife is the length of the blade and the depth from edge to spine. It's perfect for shavings when your material can be placed with one end in the hollow below your clavicle and the other end on the ground. You can use two hands on the knife, one on the handle and the other nearer the point. This gives exceptional control for shaving making and you can really get a pile of them with a quickness.

Not long after that, with a good spark on a steel and a nice piece of birch to help it along...

I warmed myself by that fire for a while, drying out my outer layer. The set about getting dinner done. I snapped a few more pics and thought this one was particularly nice.

I was tired and unceremoniously hit the sack. It was colder than the night prior. I was out of easy at hand water. Any clothing or hats that were not wool were frozen hard and pretty much worthless. Sleep came quick.

Some time in the night I woke up to howling winds. It wasn't snowing but man the wind was hitting hard. I was happy to see the shelter seemed rock like. There's something about being in the middle of adverse conditions with minimal security but a tent and feeling secure in that tent that makes sleeping in hard conditions easier for me. I know that seems counter intuitive but some of my best sleep has been had in bad conditions while under a tarp or in a tent.

Drifted off wondering what tomorrow would bring.

17 November 2014

The Dry Run

As part of the 'Planning an Adventure Part II' I spent last week and through the weekend on a dry run of the wolf hunt to determine what will work and what won't.

  1. Primarily I wanted to determine how miserable I'd be if I tried the trip in mid/late December without a wood stove along to heat the tent. Originally I was planning on hot tenting but then I got on the fence about that and decided to see if several days without heat in a tent would be too uncomfortable.

  2. I wanted to evaluate a new to me camera (Sony DSC-RX 100)

  3. Additionally I wanted to see how challenging it would be to use the sled in some very rugged terrain.

  4. This trip I wanted to go as lite as possible but with adequate gear/supplies to go a minimum of 5 days but capable of stretching to 7.

  5. I also wanted to evaluate my planned food consumption against activity levels in deep cold.This meant Mountain House food and not a pound O bacon!
I'd planned on 2800 calories a day and picked the MH based on a minimum of 100 calories per ounce and found there are a couple that run much higher than that. The Breakfast skillet for example, meant to be used with a wrap, weighs 4.73 ounces but runs about 800 calories per bag. Nearly 200 calories an ounce and it taste pretty good too!

Clothing was merino wool base layers, Kryptek Cadog pans, Kryptek Aquillo hyper dry down puffy and a wind break jacket, for additional security I took my wool pullover as well. I didn't pack any extra clothing other than my sleeping base which is just another set of merino.

Sleep system was a 25 degree down bag from Kelty, my HPG Mountain Serape as an over bag, and I took a Ti Goat bivy. Thermarest ridge rest pad.

Tent was the Mountainsmith Mountain Shelter LT.

Stove was MSR Whisperlite International.

Primary pack was Kuiu Icon 7200 and I packed a couple day packs to try out.

Because I knew I'd be crossing a mostly frozen river I took the LaCrosse Aerohead 18" boots instead of my normal pac boots.

Weather indicated snow every day, temps topping out in the low 20s and lows in the single digits.

Heading in.

Once across the river the hike back to the camp site is about a mile and a half, that walk was uneventful.

After getting camp set up I headed out for an afternoon walk up the river with the intent of climbing the ridge line a mile up and circling back west and south then back into the valley returning to camp.

As is the norm for the northeast Minnesota back country you find beaver ponds in every other valley it seems. This one was rather unexpected, there was nothing on the maps to indicate it was there, in fact there wasn't supposed to be anything but a small creek. It would appear Mr. Beaver has been living up to the busy as a beaver moniker.

He was fun to watch, his small pond was losing the battle with the ice though he was fighting the freeze up. He had two holes left and would swim from one to the other and then claw/climb around the edges though his effort was futile, the ice would inevitably win.

Back down through the drainage towards the river I followed multiple deer tracks, crossed many lines of fox travel, the temperature was dropping though and an ominous feeling overtook me as the sun settled behind the mountain. I shrugged it off and headed for camp.

It would seem that no matter just how far back into the wilderness you go, you will occasionally find the hand of man, pun intended.

As I rounded the bend in the valley floor there was a flurry of red about a hundred yards further upriver. It darted from the edge of the ice into the tree lines. I stood and glassed, sure enough there was a fox working the area. He came back out close to the edge and became fur, he's going to make a nice ruff around the hood of my youngest daughter's parka.

Food was my priority when I finally made it back to camp. I hit the pump on the fuel bottle and connected to the Whisperlite, chicken and rice was on the menu!

Not long after dinner a light snow began to fall, and thus day one ended.

It didn't take long for me to realize I had a condensation problem with the set up. The bivy over the bags was wet on the exterior. My breathing was putting a lot of moisture into the air which would then freeze on the tent walls, but the bivy wasn't freezing it was just wet. The HPG bag was quite damp as a result. I stripped the bivy off the bags thinking it was partly to blame.

In spite of the dampness I was toasty warm to the point that I shed my socks. One of the benefits of the HPG Mountain Serape as an over bag, its synthetic insulation, while wet still provides warmth but more importantly it kept the down bag dry and free of dampness. The system worked.

Part II coming later this week.

04 November 2014

The Redeye, A Thinking Perch from 30,000

Somewhere between Minnesota and Pennsylvania at around 30,000 feet I contemplate the world. Our nation attempts to change its fate at the polls, chaos reigns seemingly everywhere I look. Some things I used to believe I no longer do, faith once had I have no more.

Meanwhile back at the barn Old Man Winter stretches out of his slumber. Snow flakes fall lazily, in no hurry to meet the ground, they flip and twirl as they descend. My wife sits by a fire knitting a hat for youngest son who no doubt is making whir whir whir noises as he pushes his fire truck through a pile of partially dismembered action figures and overturned cars, robots, blocks, and dinosaurs.

Oldest son is perhaps on the phone with a girl, or not, eldest daughter has likely gone down to town, youngest daughter is on the computer and more than likely second son looks out at the sky with his father's eyes, gauging if the morning will call for a shovel.

My family is nestled in the home I've made, warmed by a fire in the stove I put in, burning wood I cut, split and stacked, having eaten a dinner I grew or killed for. Insulated and isolated from a world gone mad and if not then surely on the brink of.

My brow furrows and I look down, through the clouds at the cities below. This trip like so many others will determine the next turn for my company, and where we go from here. We'll discuss many things and none of them will completely take my mind from 'back home'. I am reminded of a Chris Knight song;
Well I'm thankful for the things I have, and all the things I don't. I've got dreams that will come true and I got some that won't. Most the time I just walk the line, where ever it goes...
 Next week I'll walk into the November woods with a narrow time line and a diminished chance of putting venison in the freezer. The Minnesota DNR has limited this year to one deer and buck only. There are a lot of reasons for this, and if an industrious soul wanted to dig a little he'd find a 50% reduction in the number of white tail deer in Minnesota in less than ten years after a stated goal of reducing it by 9%. For more on this go to Audit the MN DNR!

So with a diminished opportunity and a tight time line I'll put a rifle in my hand and put my face in the wind. A man, a husband, a father, a soul in search of wild nourishment for the body and the spirit. I'll drift the ridges and the hollows, the thickets and the cuts. I'll track and read sign, I'll feel my spirit soar with the hawks above, who too, are looking for their supper.

My senses will sharpen, my mind will become more alert, the dust left by spreadsheets and conference calls blown away, the primal man will rise and take to the trail in search of prey and in that moment I will indeed be alive and aligned within the circle, the cycle of life.

As those days pass I know my mind will wander from time to time, to the world beyond my world, and I know I'll cringe a moment and look back to my task at hand. If for a brief time I will escape to what I think of as the real world, to my dream in the trees as it were.

We hit rough air and started to climb again, must have rewrote that line three times as a result. I marvel as I type, connected to gogo inflight internet on a computer that might weigh a pound and a half, a traveler model smaller than most. Two decades ago I bought a monstrous desk top that ran close to $3000, with perhaps a tenth the power of this one, my how things have changed. Yet with all of the technological marvels released to the world, the breakthroughs and accomplishments I wonder are we better? Is it a more stable and safer world in which to live? Are we more prosperous? Are our lives easier? I recall then, going to work and going home and unless something exploded I wouldn't be called, I wouldn't receive an email, no contact would occur and the next morning I'd walk into an office with a cup of coffee and fire it back up. The only thing that is the same now is the coffee.

There is no real limit to the length of the work day, the yoke that is a 'smartphone' the fence that is Outlook email, these things that did not exist then but now do to supposedly make our lives easier have not done so, they have not made us more productive within an eight our day, they've made our days sixteen hours some times. I work until I cannot hold my eyes open and then I stop, I start again when I wake. Have our technological marvels helped us? Or have they helped to enslave us?

I need the wind and the cold to wash these things away. When Old Man Winter finishes stretching and finally gets down to the business of making winter I'll walk arms wide into that maw of driving snow and frost, it will for a freezing skin flaying moment cut away the world, leaving in that wake a realness, a cleansing instant of stark reality that fulfills me, I will howl into that gust, a guttural primordial scream of 'alive'.

02 November 2014

Rebuilding the Rifleman's Camp

Several years ago I knocked together a semi-permanent hunting camp. Below are a couple of the photos taken after the effort.

It worked fine and I've used it several times since I built it. I wanted to redo it in anticipation of our deer season opening next weekend. I also wanted something that wasn't tarp dependent and suitable for turning into a Mor's Supershelter. There are numerous write-ups on the web regarding these shelters, and there's a couple posts I've done on them in the past.  One of the earlier ones that I built worked so well I couldn't sleep in a bag, it was too hot! That trip can be found here, A Double Overnighter.

So for this upgrade to the Rifleman's Camp I started by reinforcing the frame, removing the gear deck and collecting logs. All of the logs were either on the ground or standing dead. Once the frame was solid I started stacking and shoring up the logs.

Once mostly done with this part and knowing I wanted to use birch bark for shingling and waterproofing I set about collecting it from dead birch trees.

It's a pretty straight forward process. Using my hawk I just sort of unzip the bark in a straight line from as high as I can reach to as low as possible. As you can see below, large pieces can be harvested this way. Most of the time the bark is the last thing to rot in a birch tree before it falls.

Sometimes I get tears and end up with individual pieces which is okay because I can use them as overlaps, when two pieces come together you place these pieces over the seams.

Here's what the shingling process looks like. I start at the bottom, I also make use of logs to lean against the bark on the frame which holds the shingles in place.

Once I've covered it to my satisfaction I placed several more logs against it to keep everything in place.

As for the ridge pole I covered it repeatedly with birch bark, layer after layer making sure to put sheets over seams. When I was satisfied I covered much of it with loose soil and then a layer of moss. While it's unlikely a ember from the fire landing on the bark would ignite it I do the dirt and moss as an extra precaution. Overtime the moss will take hold, though sometimes I've had to add multiple layers on to get that to happen.

I also closed up the ends, using a method for building a wikiup, standing sticks and logs against each other to form a wall. Several layers of differing sizes, one placed in the gap the last two left and so on.

I also rebuilt the fire reflector. It's a combination of stone and wood, there are braces behind each stack of wood. It's held in place via tension from the horizontal sticks wedged between the trees with the upright support on the inside creating the tension.

Some shots from the inside looking up at the roof, the logs, bark and overhang. When I am ready to hit the sack in this shelter later this winter I'll stretch a sheet of clear plastic across the front, end to end, roof to ground. With a long fire the heat will radiate through the plastic and remain in the shelter.

Showing the depth and length.

With the time change sunset was coming earlier than I am used to, running out of time before I could put the finishing touches on it. Still need to fill the bedding area with leaves, lots of them. On this I'll put a all weather reflective tarp, reflective side up obviously. Then my pad and so on. Overall I am satisfied with it, still have a few other things to knock out and finalize but it's ready to go.

Thanks for taking a look!