28 February 2011

A Tale of High Adventure, sort of...

I have a story about what I paddle, if you've time to hear it.

It was over twenty years ago, January, and it was cold. We were living in Virginia then, on some property that ran along the Little River about 13 or 14 miles from the Little River Dam. We connected with several hundred other acres and it wasn't uncommon for me to be bummin' about with my longbow in hand.

Light snow, maybe two inches on the ground, very windy, I was making my way along the river's edge. As cold as it was the ground, or the muck rather wasn't frozen hard and I kept sinking near to my knees in the goop. The dam was about eight miles downstream, they had been letting the river run for about three days, the water level was low and the area I was walking would normally be about two or three feet under water. Trying to pick out solid places to place my next step I saw a flicker, a glint of something.

The sun was at about one o'clock. Strange place for metal I distinctly remember thinking as I bent over to see what it was. I pushed some snowy muck aside and the run of metal slightly curved. What the hell? I kept pushing and moving the junk until the shape of a large canoe could be seen in the mud. Aluminum gunwales, wide, maybe 3' wide, must have been 17 to 19 feet long. I was struck speechless, here I was at least seven maybe eight miles from the nearest boat launch and this section of river had near cliff faces 80 to 100 feet tall, usually underwater at this point as well. How it got there I didn't know, to be completely filled with mud and cattails four feet high growing throughout I figured it must have been there for quite a while.

Curiosity had me though and I had to know what kind of shape it was in. I wasn't prepared to do the excavation at the time so I hiked the six miles back to the house, wondering the whole way.

The next day I hiked back, packing a shovel with me. I started in as soon as I got there, I think I dug that thick heavy mud for about five hours, I kept checking the thing as I dug, saw no obvious holes, it was clearly an aluminum canoe, looked like an old Grumman. Finally after several hours I was able to lift it and drag it. I was done up though, even though I was in great shape and held the enthusiasm of youth that canoe and that river were flat kicking my butt.

With what I had left I pulled it to the rocks at the base of the cliff, letting it drift in some water I didn't see any rushing in. Pulling it up on shore and using some 550 I had in my pack I tied it to a tree and headed home. Back then I was working grave yard and my shift would be starting later that night.

About a week passed before I had a chance to hike back to the lost canoe as I was calling it. I'd hiked it enough that I knew it would take me about two hours to get there. Based on what I knew of that river and a topo the canoe was about eight miles from the dam and the boat launch there. I strapped a paddle to my pack, told my wife to meet me at the dam at 2pm that afternoon. She rolled her eyes but said she would.

It was 26 degrees that morning and the skies were not looking kind. The wind was rolling out of the North West and was wet and crushing. I set a brisk pace, excited to see just how this was gonna turn out.

I made it to the canoe ahead of schedule, about the same time I arrived the heavy snow flakes begin to drop. I tipped that old canoe, catching water in it and sloshing it about then dumped it.

There were no seats, there was some old fabric long rotted away where the seats used to be. Nothing but wispy strips of it left, the bars where the seats used to be were somewhat close together. Pulling a spare jacket out of my pack I fashioned a bit of a seat. Lashed my pack to the front seat, pushed off and started paddling downstream. Eight long miles in a January snowstorm in a canoe that hadn't turned water in who knew how many years. Did I mention I was young?

I was less than half a mile from where I launched when the snow started going sideways, the wind was howling and I was having a heck of a time tracking a decent course. I noticed water in the bottom, not a huge amount but definitely there, and rising.

I doubled down on the paddle and really started pushing. Despite my predicament I was grinning from ear to ear. Moments like that tend to get me bent, wind howling, dropping temperatures, near frozen water, visibility disappearing, no sane man would do this I said to myself, smiling even bigger. Nothing like getting near the edge to make your heart pump.

Water was getting deeper, it was getting close to the tops of my boots, I had been pushing the paddle so hard I wasn't paying attention. That's when I saw them. The fore and aft of this canoe is a hollow enclosed compartment but there is a section about two inches wide that is not closed. The interior of these compartments are Styrofoam. Little balls of it were all in the water and the mice. Yes, mice, my guess it they had nested in those compartments during the week I had left the boat on the bank. Three, four, five, maybe eight as I lost count. They were swimming around the canoe and around my legs! I went for the bank at speed, using the paddle to flip mice out when they got close to me.

I was wet to the knees by the time I made it to the bank. Sloshing out I yanked her hard onto the rocks and rolled it back and forth until I was able to flip it. Water and mice and styrofoam came pouring out and I had to make a decision.

I wasn't sure how much I'd covered, it could have been another two miles it could have been another six. Paddling a canoe full of water and mice in the middle of a blizzard can play tricks on the mind. Should I keep going or abort and hike out? It was cold, snowing and in general damn nasty. At the same time I was now soaked, either by river or sweat, I was soaked.

I was looking the canoe over trying to figure out where the water was coming in from, I found it in the seam of the bottom. There were some missing rivets near the Stearn at the seam and the pieces of aluminum were pulled slightly apart. I made my decision. I swapped ends, putting the stern forward and paddled from what would normally have been the front seat, my weight keeping the front up and slightly out of the water and paddled like my life depended on it, as it actually did.

Two hours later and two more shore stops to flip the canoe I made it to the landing at about four pm. Dark was coming on and I was beginning to freeze. My legs had lost feeling, my hands my back, motor control was slipping and I was not grinning.

The sight of my wife at that landing sitting in the truck was like stepping up to a roaring fire. I didn't care how pissed she'd be because I was hours late, for once I was looking forward to hearing it!***

That was 20-something years ago, me and that canoe have done things and gone places most folks in kayaks won't go. Class III didn't make me blink, wide open water, not a problem. It's been painted, bent, wrecked, dropped, fallen out of a truck, had a tree dropped on it, froze solid and sun baked. In some ways that old canoe reminds me of me, beat to hell but somehow still tripping.

I've got 'er out now and I'm stripping the paint from the last time the kids decided to paint it. There's not a single inch of surface that isn't dented or dinged now. I've re riveted the seams several times, built new seats every three years. I've paddled all my kids across river and lake in that canoe before they were a year old. Brought deer out of the back woods, crossed the Boundary Waters and traveled down the Cloquet River every spring in it. I've moved her across the country, paddled waters in eleven different states, slept under it in a ravaging down pour and once we even used it as a sled down a long hill covered in good powder.

I know there are lighter canoes, better performing canoes, better looking canoes out there, and some day I'll probably buy one of them, maybe when I can't portage this 90 pound monster anymore. This boat has stories though and you just can't buy that.

So, while she might not look like much, she's mine and man oh man have we got memories!

22 February 2011


My PSK (Personal Survival Kit) is a bit of a system. While the heart of the kit will fit in a cargo pocket and will get me through most anything, I prefer to carry it attached to my bottle carrier. It provides a light weight fully functional system for the basic survival necessities. It'll address the requirements of shelter, water, fire, food and so on.

I want to state that I do not proclaim this set up as the best, the one the only, the perfect, the have to have or any other intarwebs mumbojumbo. This is the kit as I carry it that has worked for me and covers MY basics, that does NOT mean it will cover your basics. I don't need the chairborn commando shock troops screaming "doodz, you gots no xxxx or yyy". It's my kit that serves my needs.

Here is what the over all set up looks like.

In this image the heart of the system is separated from the bottle carrier. The sling for the carrier is a triple braid of 550 para cord. The knife is a BK 11, emergency whistle with compass and thermometer.

Inside the top of the bottle carrier I stash about 18' of 2 strand twisted 550 cord.

Pulling the Guyot 38oz bottle out, I have two stainless steel glacier cups, one nested on either end.

Inside the front pocket of the carrier I keep a brown poncho that will serve as an emergency shelter, or a ground cloth or as a *gasp* PONCHO!

Now, lets dig into the heart of the PSK.

Once opened you can see the layout, no real rhyme or reason, just the way it fits together.

Inside this white box there are a number of items, as you can see I keep a spool of 8wt with the box.

 Inside I keep fishing line, saddle stitching, sewing kit, folding scissors, ferrel-tite hot melt, a three blade "Woodsman" broadhead, fishing lures, extra leaders and hooks, flies, sinkers, a nail, snare wire, safety pin and some electrical tape. The hot melt I use to fuse the broadhead to a makeshift spear for gigging, traps, small game and so on, even used it on a fish or two in the past.

The first aid portion is pretty straight forward.

Space blanket, firesteel, piece of hacksaw blade, duct tape, small clip on LED light.

Tweezers! Damn handy actually, from pulling thorns from my hide to picking up things like eyeglass screws.

Kit put away again.

When attached to the bottle carrier it makes for a lightweight way to carry everything I might need in a last ditch sort of emergency. In addition to this I usually carry a few items directly on my person, attached to me. Knife, firesteel, compass and more often than not those are the ones I actually use. I don't break into the PSK very often but it's there if I need it.

20 February 2011

The Modern Aversion to Winter...

It's detrimental to healthy living, this much I do know, the aversion and dislike of the cold months I mean.

It's not hard to find a plethora of modern science papers and opinions expounding on how winter brings on depression. They cover everything from reduced light causing depression to actual hormonal changes because of winter. I'm sure with all the degrees and PHDs expounding on the topic it would be rather difficult to disagree with the opinions and theories. I intend to do just that though. I won't be writing a paper, I'm not a doctor, don't play one on the television or on the internet, but how about some common sense? It isn't 'Winter' that causes a darn thing in this equation, it's man and his continual attempt to create life of the ultimate comfort in his opinion, regardless of season. To all things there is a season right? So why does man toil at removing them from his life? It's this toil that leads to the problems, not Winter itself.

Because Calvin Rutstrum said it much better than I can I'll quote him here:

"Man has largely been fighting the natural elements instead of adjusting to them since first he wandered away from nature's indispensable benefits. He has endeavored with tragic failure to substitute an increasingly artificial and consequently not a particularly happy life for his natural heritage."

"And since the urban population lives in homes that are essentially machines, their travel is primarily in machines. A snowstorm- natural and magnificent as it can be- tends to foul up the mechanized order of life, until season after season, urban life maladjusted to winter, sags into a kind of chronic discontent."

Rather succinct in explanation when delivered in such a fashion. Man is doing it to himself, winter has nothing to do with depression or how we feel, rather the feeble attempts by man to live beyond winter's touch causes the negative feelings, removing the natural world from a natural life is disharmony by definition. Rather than adapting to it, the effort instead is spent trying to avoid winter. How much healthier a man, steadily living through winter, adapting by way of correct clothing, continual exercise via the out of doors, rejoicing in the the beauty and austerity of the fourth season? Instead of avoidance, living in accordance provides for a much healthier aspect, it's a matter of perspective and engagement.

Our health and mental acuity are not static, they ebb and flow dependent upon the challenges faced. A body at rest that rarely expends energy, will have little energy to expend. A mind rarely challenged will not readily adapt and process through a challenging line of thought. As Rustram said, Use it or Lose it. Many people willingly shut themselves indoors come winter, poor air and little physical activity leads to illnesses and mental malaise. "Don't go out there, you'll catch your death of cold!" How many times have you heard that one? More of the ever encroaching army of Nannies hell bent on removing all of "their" perceived dangers within our society. Never mind the fact that the people who spend inordinately large amounts of time outside in winter fall ill to colds and the flu at a pace dramatically less than those who spend it indoors. Much like everything else the "Nannies" don't like, be it guns or knives, facts be damned in their crusade to "baby-proof" our society. As a friend of mine says, "Mind your business and quit ruining my life!"

Life is what you make it, this applies to the fourth season as much as it does to the other three. To think we can shut ourselves away through a season, artificially control our climate and pretend winter does not exist or to try to ignore it is folly and as folly usually does, it brings discontent to our winter. Better to live within it, embrace it, find its beauty and fuel the mind and the body with it. Life is not all sunshine and flowers, trying to make it so will end in nothing but disillusioned depression. Stop trying to change the world, learn to live in the one we have.

15 February 2011

Townsend Whelen

Continuing the theme of Nessmuk, Kephart, and others I wanted to highlight Colonel Townsend Whelen. Not so much his extensive writing on ballistics, cartridges and so on, but more his personal reflections and philosophy on wilderness and woodsmen.

He is an interesting character to be sure. Born in 1877, with a blue blooded lineage from Pennsylvania, little ambition as a youth he did however have a fondness for the wild places. He said later in life,  "early on I seem to have formed a desire to wander off by myself into unfrequented country." This foundation led to a life of adventure, from his time in in military service to hunting and exploring much of Canada, the Rocky Mountains and the Adirondacks.

Throughout his life he would take off into the wilderness for months at a time, living off of the land and traveling large swaths of pristine back country. One of the early stints was into British Columbia and this is what he had to say regarding his setting out:

"I gathered a little outfit which consisted of my .40/72 Winchester rifle, a .30/30 Winchester Model 94, the necessary ammunition, a light tarp 8x11 feet which I made, a pair of Army blankets and a poncho, a set of nested camp kettles, and practically nothing else.

At Ashcroft (British Columbia) I bought a saddle horse for $25, two pack horses for $15 each, a stock saddle for $25, two sawbuck saddles for $5, and $25 worth of grub. An old prospector showed me how to pack the horses and throw the diamond hitch. The next morning I started out over the Telegraph Trail, bound for northern British Columbia." 

He went on to live in the wilderness there for several months and wrote about it after the fact. While living in the wilds he learned how to take care of himself and began to gather his knowledge on shooting and wildlife. He returned to Philadelphia in 1902. After taking an account of his financial situation he found that the adventure had cost him about ten dollars. He published his first article in 1901, he wrote for the duration of his life, his last work published in 1961, the same year of his death.

His camps were primitive but functional affairs, preferring a bedroll under a lean-to tarp of his own design to any tents. His belief was the tarp was good enough down to twenty below, he liked an open air camp. His lean-to design which he called a "Hunter's Lean-to" ultimately went into production in 1925 at Abercrombie & Fitch, which at the time was the premier outfitter of outdoors gear. They sold it as the "Whelen Lean-to" and it has been known as such ever since.

The following are my favorite quotes from "Townie" as he was known then.

“Yet the mass of city men, stalking their meat at the crowded market instead of in the green woods or the cool marshes, put up with existences of quiet desperation. Their incessant anxiety and strain is a well-nigh incurable form of disease.”

“How sensible is it to spend all the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable years? Not everyone may fully heed the summons of the farther places, of course. But many who think themselves shackled to civilized tasks are held only by such deceptive strands of habit, inertia, environment, doubt, resignation, lack of confidence, and often by a general misunderstanding of the make-up of man.”

“Scientists remind us that nature intended human beings should spend most of their hours beneath open skies. With appetites sharpened by outdoor living, they should eat plain food. They should live at their natural God-given paces, un-oppressed by the artificial hurry and tension of man-made civilization.

"The cost of a thing is the amount of life required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. When one has obtained those essentials necessary for well-being — food, shelter, warmth, and clothing, there is an alternative to struggling through steel jungles for the luxuries. That’s to adventure on life itself, one’s vacation from humble toil having commenced.”

Whelen was the epitome of an outdoors-man, consummate hunter, rifleman, more at ease in the wilds than most folks are in their own living rooms. He left behind a wealth of wisdom and knowledge in his writings. The two best in my opinion being On Your Own in the Wilderness along with Wilderness Hunting & Wildcraft. 

While his largest impact has been on ballistics, centerfire cartridges and rifles he left an indelible affect on woodsmen far and wide.

14 February 2011

List, list, everywhere a list...

Seems like everyone has a Top Ten list these days, from Letterman to Wired magazine, everyone has a Top Ten. The Boy Scouts of America have a top ten essential list too, and I disagree with it.

This is the BSA list of essentials, taken directly from the Scouting Magazine listing. http://www.scoutingmagazine.org/issues/0403/d-outs.html

Product Descriptions for The 10 Essentials

  1. Pocketknife or multipurpose tool. Victorinox SwissTool, BSA No. B01786, $79.95. Yeoman Swiss Army Knife, No. B01252, $46.25, www.scoutstuff.org.
  2. First-aid kit. Scout Camper First Aid Kit, No. B01092, $18, www.scoutstuff.org.
  3. Extra clothing. Mountain Hardwear eXtend Zip T, $50, www.moutainhardwear.com. Patagonia Capilene SW crew, $34, www.patagonia.com. Ultimax by Wigwam socks, Cool-Lite Hiker, $8.40, www.wigwam.com.
  4. Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries. Black Diamond's Moonlight, $29.95, www.blackdiamondequipment.com. LRI Photon II Micro-Light, $15.99, www.photonlight.com.
  5. Rain gear. Frogg Toggs Pro Action Suit, $74.95, www.froggtoggs.com.
  6. Water bottle. Nalgene water bottles, No. B02327, $9.50, www.scoutstuff.org.
  7. Map and compass. Silva pocket compass with magnifier and rubberized protective case, No. B01782, $27.95, www.scoutstuff.org.
  8. Matches and fire starter. Waterproof striker and waterproof heads, No. B01848, $2.45, www.scoutstuff.org. Coghlan's Emergency Tinder, $2.95, www.rei.com.
  9. Sun protection and sunglasses. Tilley LTM7 Airflo hat, $68, www.tilley.com. Coppertone Sport Ultra Sweatproof Dry Lotion (SPF 30), $9.99, www.coppertone.com. REI Polarized SP Glacier Glasses, $55, www.rei.com.
  10. Trail food. Richmoor Pineapple Chunks, No. B01621, $1.35. Gorp, No. B01620, $1.35, www.scoutstuff.org. PowerBar Energy Bites, $1.35, www.powerbar.com. Honey Stinger Bars, $1.69, www.honeystinger.com.
One of the puzzling issues is the Top 10 lists appear to be different at the BSA, depending on where you go for information. Here is another example:

Scouting's 10 Essentials Checklist
1. Whistle
2. Pocket Knife or Multipurpose Tool
3. First Aid Kit
4. Extra Clothing (3 layers)
5. Rain Gear (Poncho - Type varies by expected Weather)
6. Water Bottle(s) (At Least 3 - 4 Liters of WATER)
7. Flashlight (Small, lightweight)
8. Trail Food (Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich / Beef Jerkey, Energy Bars)
9. Matches and Fire Starters ((For boys with the Fireman's Card))
10. Sun Protection (sunscreen, Chapstick, hat, sun glasses)

So what is wrong with this picture? It's supposed to be the list of items every outdoor person should include in his or her pack. The original list was devised in the 1930's by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based hiking,climbing, and conservation organization. Let's take it apart from top to bottom.

1. Pocket knife or multipurpose tool, great in concept, not so much if challenging field work is at hand, like procuring enough wood to get through a cold wet night. Trust me, you won't be using the fancy little saw in a multtool or a SAK for more than ten minutes for making serious wood for an over night stay. An axe and buck saw or at minimum an axe would be required. So why no axe on the list? I'm guessing political correctness had at least little something to do with it.

2. First Aid Kit. Okay so is this a bad idea? Well what they require in the kit is boo-boo mending items, band aids, sunburn cream, this sort of thing. Should it be in the top ten then? Yes, but it needs to be more robust and include a gear first aid kit as well.

3. Extra Clothing. I can see extra socks, an extra outer and inner layer so this isn't so bad. If you take an unexpected dip in the drink then dry clothes are critical, especially in sub freezing conditions. In cold conditions over exertion leads to sweating, stop exerting and when you start to cool down you'll freeze. Extra base layer is the minimum.

4. Flashlight or Headlamp and extra batteries. Does this qualify as a true top ten item? Batteries only last so long, overall usefulness short of being lost in a cave is questionable to me. I'm not one who'll travel the deep wood at night. Good way to break a leg or lose an eye, not to mention getting yourself completely lost. Make camp, which in my world, still includes a fire. Better to bivouac safely than wander the wood in the dark.

5. Rain Gear. I'll address this in my own list.

6. Water Bottle. Okay I agree with this one, instead of the colorful plastic BSA bottles I'd suggest a stainless steel single wall bottle that you can place in the coals of a fire to boil water or to cook in.

7. Map & Compass, agree here, provided the skills to use it are there.

8. Matches and fire starter, completely agree with having fire starting capability, at least two methods. I would ask here however, what it is the Boy Scout will be burning as the list does not include the tools required to procure firewood in any realistic quantity.

9. Sun protection and sunglasses, head cover is a great idea, don't necessarily disagree with that, don't believe it's a top ten item though.

10. Trail food. Hmm, well the modern scouts recommend "trail food" in prepackaged vacuum packed packages. If it's all ready to eat I guess that's okay, and since they don't include cooking pots or mess kits in their top ten list, clearly a warm meal over a warm fire is out of the question. No vessel to cook in and no way to procure wood short of snapping twigs for hours. Hope the granola works boys.

The second list leaves off navigation in lieu of such critical items as a small flashlight or chap stick. Neither list has a pack to carry all the listed stuff, looks to me like that should be a required piece of kit.

Let me say that I am not attacking the BSA, I was a Scout as a boy for a while and I enjoyed it. However, that is not to say that the motto of Be Prepared is being lived up to with that Top Ten List. It goes even beyond the BSA though, nearly every preparedness group, site, location or Chairborn Commando has a suggested Top 10.

Each their own and I hope those lists prove robust enough should the need arise.

My list, it's based on fulfilling the basic requirements to stay alive and years of actual use. It is NOT a survival list, it is a list of critical to me items that I can make my way with and have few to no problems. It is not a bunch of shrink wrapped stuff in the bottom of a sack that's there to make me feel better. It is a list of kit that gets used and gets me from surviving to thriving in the wild.

1. Pack. Got to have a means to carry the rest of it, needs to be big enough to hold it, comfortable enough for me to carry it, durable enough to handle the terrain you will be in. Bushwacking is tough on gear, off the beaten path requires a bit of beating, usually you and the gear bear the brunt of it.

2. Shelter. Usually a tarp/tent & poncho with a reflective blanket affixed to it. Affix extra 550 cord here as it makes it easy to carry and you can use it in the rolling or folding up of your shelter. You'll always have cordage if you do this and cordage is a fine thing indeed.

3. Fire Starter. In my case a solid Firesteel lashed to my belt and placed into a cargo or pants pocket. After years of toying with and practicing every method I could find when it came to fire starting, I'm convinced that the easiest and most reliable is a good firesteel, the ability to use it, and of course, not lose it!

4. Axe. The one tool to rule them all. With an axe you can do just about everything and do it easier than with a knife. Wood enough for overnights spent in hostile climes is damned hard to produce without the appropriate tool, be it an axe or packable buck saw. For versatility the axe wins in my world.

5. Cooking Pot or Mess Kit. Yes, really. Boiling water is critical as drinking tainted water will do you under with a quickness. Having the ability to boil water and cook a hot meal, not to mention make COFFEE, isn't just required for survival, it's required to keep me human. Inside this pot, a 20 cup percolator, I stuff dry food that I used for one dish meals. Oatmeal, pasta, rice, pinole, pemmican, coffee, tea. There is nothing quite like a good warm meal & a cup of coffee under a dry shelter with a drying fire popping aloud for company.

6. Navigation Ability. Most commonly a map & compass, some use a GPS, others use the stars and the sun. Learn to navigate, not only is it useful for survival and wilderness living, every Man should be able to do it.

7. Bedroll. This can be a common wool blanket or a high end sleeping system. Sleeping directly on the ground is not advised for a lot of reasons. A reasonable bedroll to match the prevailing conditions makes my essentials list. I keep a spare base layer in my bag, change into before sleep and out of in the morning. Keeps the bag clean on the inside and lets me air out my daily wear.

8. First Aid Kit. You need this not just for boo-boo repair though, take a class, learn what it takes to deal with more than just the common cuts, abrasions, minor burns and splinters, your life might depend on it. Your first aid kit contents should match your relative skills. Your first aid kit should also cover some basic repair to your gear as well. Needle, thread/dental floss, tape, file and so on. It needn't be over cumbersome but it needs to cover a lot of potentialities. This kit can easily hold some hooks, sinkers and line needed for a fishing kit.

9. Knife. Simple, fixed blade full tang that keeps a good edge and easy to refresh the edge thereof.

So what is 10? Some folks would put signaling equipment here, whistle, mirror and so forth, others would have another outer layer or rain gear. Still others would suggest a means to put meat, fish or fowl on the menu and I don't disagree with them.  My shelter is a poncho so it's also my rain gear. I wear wool and carry spare base layer in my sleeping bag. As for signaling, well this is where we'll just have to agree to disagree, it's not on my top ten. It might or might not be in a pocket, it just isn't on my top 10.

10. It depends on the season really. Heavy bugs or deep snow? Buggy times I'm taking either a mosquito net or a repellent. Deep winter, probably a 24" Buck Saw, as efficient as the axe is, the saw is more so when it comes to bucking wood for an all nighter.

At the end of the day The List needs to include things you not only need but know how to use. It needs to be functional, portable, and durable. Things purchased in shrink wrap and not removed, generally speaking only fulfill one of those requirements. Why or who said it needed to be 10 isn't known to me. Guess it was just an easy way to remember things.

Whatever path you take, if you take a path to the wild and woolly be prepared for eventualities, have the skills necessary and a cool head. Everything else will work itself out.

So are the Boy Scouts wrong?
Nope, the troop leader carries the rest of it...

13 February 2011

Albert Faille Forgotten Pioneer

Albert Faille was born in Duluth Minnesota in 1887, he was a lumberjack, trapper and guide until World War I. After his service he migrated to Canada in 1927 where he set his camp on the Nahanni River.

Faille was a supreme woodsman, having spent nearly his entire life in the wilderness and on the water Faille excelled at woodcraft and navigation. In winter he trapped fur bearers, the fur of which he sold each June at Fort Simpson. At the time Fort Simpson was a trading post at the junction of the Mackenzie and Liard rivers.

In summer he tramped the backwoods with a canvas pack or canoed still to this day unnamed streams, in winter he traveled via sled dogs through uncharted wilderness. Fallie covered ground that few if any white men had ever seen.

An unassuming man who lived alone his entire life, a loner but from all accounts a very personable and friendly fellow. He was optimistic regardless of the conditions or situations he faced, a cheerful disposition especially noted after long stints alone in the wilderness.

In the 1950s he appeared in several documentaries centered around the Northwest Territories. Unable to pen a logical in their minds reason for Fallie living where and how he did they settled on the idea that his search for gold was his motivation. For those that knew Fallie the reality was quite different. It was his love of the wilderness, the wild places, fast mountain streams that kept him there and going upstream each spring. Though he did prospect and search for a lost gold strike on the northern Nahanni river it was not what drove him.

The below eighteen minute documentary was shot in 1962 when Fallie was 73 years old and making another run up the Nahanni river, a four hundred mile trek. One of the pieces that makes this film exceptional was his portage around Virginia Falls, they are twice the height of Niagara and he portages his supplies, fuel, boat motor and up up and over them. He builds another boat and continues upstream, an amazing feat.

Fallie was a woodsman's woodsman, as comfortable in the wilderness as he was in his own skin. He penned no books, left little to nothing for us to follow regarding his life. You can find the tales if you look and they are worth searching out.

Some stills from Nahanni:

The film will play best if you follow the link, it doesn't seem to want to play correctly as an embed and to watch the whole thing you'll have to follow the link. The portaging scenes which are the best parts start at about 7:40. The video is well worth the time to watch.

Watch more free documentaries

07 February 2011

Wisdom of our Forefathers

It never ceases to amaze me, the amount of wisdom that can be found in the thoughts and words of our forefathers gone before. Nessmuk (George Washington Sears) penned a wonderful small book called Woodcraft, and The Adirondack Letters over one hundred years ago. He wrote for Field & Stream magazine and he was the father of 'ultralight' backpacking, canoeing, and camping, he was also a devout conservationist before the word was commonly used.

He stood five foot three and weighed in at just over one hundred pounds. His favorite canoe weighed less than eleven pounds, in which he completed a two hundred and sixty six mile trek through the Adirondacks.

He was the eldest of ten children and the smallest. He had an Indian friend as a child whom he knew as Nessmuk, the pen name would later become synonymous woodcraft and the favorite of many wood's bums everywhere, yours truly included.

Sears penned Woodcraft in 1884 and it has never gone out of print. It's now part of the public domain so if you don't want to purchase a copy you can download it for free from several sources.

Nessmuk has been an inspiration to me since I first read Woodcraft when I was a small boy. The fascination with field, forest, and stream has never left me, a true constant my whole life. There is something to be said for a foundation built about the wild places. A certain preservative of character is distilled from misty mornings, campfires, crystal streams babbling secrets in unknowable tongues and still, quiet, serene snow. Wild places for a wild boy, none should do without.

Sear's was possessed of a quiet logic and wisdom and he passes it along in his works which are still very much worth the read.

For brick and mortar breed filth and crime,
With a pulse of evil that throbs and beats;
And men are withered before their prime
By the curse paved in with the lanes and streets.
And lungs are poisoned and shoulders bowed,
In the smothering reek of mill and mine;
And death stalks in on the struggling crowd--
But he shuns the shadow of oak and pine.


George Washington Sears 1821-1890

You may have faded from us old friend, your spirit has not.

05 February 2011

Winter Shelter Building with Wee Bushcrafters

Our weather broke, we've been single digits or less and suddenly we have a heat wave! It got clear up 28 degrees Fahrenheit today. Warm enough to get some of the little ones outside.

I've got four of 'em, two boys and two girls with my third son due in March. We are all active outdoors year round but the temps of late have been just a bit too much for the youngest two. They've been itching for an outing and I was ramped up to get out with the new pack as well.

The snow was deep but it's been deep for a while now, I broke trail with no snowshoes so they could follow me with relative ease. One of the better things about Dad, or so my daughter told me as we trekked out, she apparently approves of my path breaking ability. We went about a half a mile behind the house and close to the Superior National Forest boundary. Trudging through the snow was taxing but I wasn't uncomfortable, the Timber Cruiser rode well and I had no binding or discomfort at all. Having everything contained in the pack instead of just strapped to it makes a huge difference.

Depth of the snow...

I wore a wool base layer, standard BDUs, a wool longhunter shirt, mukluks and gaiters. Snow hit waist deep on several occasions. Had this been an over night stint I certainly would have worn wool all the way around, since it was a day trip and the temps were pushing 30 the cotton BDUs were fine.

This is where we decided to build our shelter, it doesn't look like much but it turned out great...

Youngest son and I set to digging out. I know several folks commented on the amount of work involved in digging out but it really is the best way to do it in my opinion. Shed a few layers because you are going to heat up. It's great cardio! No matter how cold it gets, ground temps don't really get below 28ish degrees, when the air temperatures are well below that the ground is like a bit of a heater. Not to mention the fact that snow walls work just fine. If you do sweat heavily you need to swap into dry clothes when the activity is over.

 Digging out complete.

First part of the shelter up, this one is going to have a reflective wall as well, but it will be catercorner from the fire in order to bounce the heat back through the whole shelter.

Youngest daughter starts in with the pine bough lounging area, my son was gathering them for her while I started in on gathering wood for the fire.

She's right proud of her work.

Son is finishing up the reflective wall.

Dad finally got the fire and lunch going for the hungry Bushcrafters in training.

Some views from inside the shelter.

The dogs have joined us.

The following images were taken at distance, the shelter nearly disappears..


Happy lil' Bushcrafters.

My daughter is a Kung-Fu champion.

Great time was had, couldn't ask for better kids.
The pack did great, I did not have any problems with it. Obviously a mile total isn't much, but in that kind of snow it was something.