20 September 2011

Bushclass USA

I've made reference to this in prior posts. Since the second leg of Bushclass is kicking off I thought a better description was warranted.

Bushclass started back in January of 2011, a course of thirteen required lessons and five electives. Hosted and sponsored at Bushcraftusa.com. Multiple instructors and contributors led all who wished to participate through the lessons and electives. Individual work reflecting accomplishments and completed lessons were required to be posted. A work at your own pace course, you could do the lessons and electives in any order, once complete then five outings, one of which has to be an overnight trip, where you demonstrate what has been learned. 

The entire event was well worth doing, not only is it an opportunity to learn, half the enjoyment was seeing and studying the student's submissions. Did I mention it was free?

Here is a list of the lessons and electives for Bushclass Basic:

1.Feather Sticks and Shavings

2. 5 Man-made Tinders
3. The Twig Fire
4. Four Basic Bushcraft Knots
5. Improvise a Cooking Implement from Metal
6. Knife Sharpening
7. 2 Strand Twist with Man-Made Materials
8. Braiding Man-Made Materials
9.Set a Tarp Shelter
10. Make a Simple Snare
11. Tree Id and Uses
12. Cook Bannock with Fire
13.Make a Pot Hook
14. Five Outings
Twig Bundle Fire
Make a PSK
Whipping Rope and Tool Handles
Make a Ridge Line
Make a FAK
Flint & Steel with Char cloth
Paracord Bracelet

Since you work at your own pace, Basic isn't closed and can still be started and completed by anyone who chooses to do so. 

Bushclass Intermediate is starting now, here's the current list of lessons, electives have not been identified yet.

1.       Use a firesteel on 5 natural tinders
2.       Make a splitwood fire
3.       Make a shelter from improvised materials
4.       Hand sew a ditty bag
5.       Cook a meal over a fire
6.       Lashings
7.       ID 3 poison or dangerous plants
8.       Make an insulation bed
9.       Demonstrate 4 fire lays
10.   Make an improvised saw
11.   More knots
12.   Make and use natural charcloth
13.   10 outings, 3 must be overnight
14.   7 elective lessons

Bushclass is unique to my knowledge, I've not seen or heard of another effort like it on the web. The instructors led by a retired former Air Force Survival Instructor, are topnotch folks. The participants have all be great and honest efforts put forward by all. It doesn't cost you anything other than your time. The classes are open to all members at bushcraftusa.com. I encourage everyone with even the slightest interest to jump in and check it out, I'm confident that just about everyone will enjoy the process and who knows, maybe even learn a few things.

Completion of the courses gets you a certification, and an opportunity to show your support and your accomplishment by way of rocker tabs for the Bushcraft USA patches. 

It's free for all members of the forums, for more information check the Bushclass sub-forums found here:

19 September 2011

Grouse, it's what's for dinner!

I got away late this afternoon for some time afield with my longbow. Our archery season opened for deer and small game on the 17th but i wasn't able to get out until today.

There is something rather primal about wandering hill and dale with a longbow in hand. The warmth of the wood, the glint of the sun in the heavy grain. Lightness of hand, quiet, simple, lethal. 

Over the years I've tried taking Grouse on the wing and I confess to having been stumped in the past. Normally the flush is fast and their gone or into cover long before I can line up the shot. Today was a bit different, I picked the movement up early. Moving fast through the underbrush as he saw me too. I was prepared though and when he took to wing I let fly and connected.

Grouse, it's what's for dinner!

14 September 2011

Bushcraft Outfitters & Their Tarps

I've been buying products from Bushcraft Outfitters for a while now. I've always had great service, very fast shipping and everything I've bought has been as described and met all of my expectations.

There are two items I want to talk about. Both were used during my recent Boundary Waters trip and performed flawlessly.

Let's start with the 10x10, specifically the Multicam variant.

From their website:

  • 70D 1.9 oz nylon ripstop fabric
  • Urethane coating (1-1.25 oz per sq yd)
  • Fire retardant
  • IR compliant
  • Tabs: 16 perimeter and 3 ridge line
  • Weight (includes stuff sack): 2 lbs, 8.25 oz
  • This premium mil-spec material has many advantages over the standard backpacking/camping tarp. The MultiCam® fabric has up to five time the amount of water repellant coating of other tarps, which producs a more durable finish.  Unlike other standard backpacking tarps, this material is also fire retardant, as well as IR compliant.
The IR compliant is irrelevant for my uses but our active duty service members may find use for that, indeed, I don't know of another tarp on the market right now with that as a feature. No, for me the key features are: 

1. 16 perimeter tabs, these incredibly strong and strategically placed tabs absolutely drive the usefulness of this tarp through the roof. No matter the set up or the situation I've found them to be exactly where they needed to be for my uses. Using them is very easy, from a traditional method of running a cord through them, to my preferred method of putting a 'bite' of cord through the tab then a twig through that, they all worked.

2. The 1-1.25 oz of Urethane coating per square yard, yeah, it works and man o man was I happy to have that level of protection in the Boundary Waters. The temps had dropped into the upper forties, the rain was steady and heavy through the morning. I was bone dry and happily snoozing in my hammock under that tarp. The Multicam fabric offers up to five times the water repellent coating of other tarps, from my experience with other tarps, this is not an exaggeration.

3. Fire retardant, this is a key piece for me as almost all of my backwoods overnight and extended trips include open fires. Longfires in the winter with the tarp as a reflective back drop. This feature is of paramount importance for me.

This is an image from under the tarp, sitting on my hammock. As you can see, the water beaded the outside of the tarp but the inside remained bone dry.

Day in day out this tarp was easy to use and resilient, it blocked both the rain and the wind. I can't say enough good things about this product. Kudos to Bushcraft Outfitters for carrying this made in the USA tarp.

The second tarp, which my compadre for the trip used, was the 5x7 Multipurpose Emergency Survival Tarp or M.E.S.T. as they call it on their website. In this case it's the woodland variant rather than the Multicam. Specs for the M.E.S.T.:

  • 70D 1.9 oz ripstop nylon
  • Urethane coating
  • Tabs: 10 total
  • Weight: 10 oz.
The tabs, 10 in total, similarly to the bigger 10x10, were in all the right places with the same strong stitching found on the bigger tarp. It's super light and folds up very small. The Urethane coating was sufficient to keep out the rain and it worked very well. The size is just right for an emergency shelter, when hit by an unexpected overnight or just to get out of the rain on a midday hike. 

You can't go wrong with either tarp, for durability, functionality, light weight, they've got it all in one package. From prior experience usually something had to be sacrificed, to save weight durability went down, to have great water repellent capability either weight went up or they were very noisy. These are the best tarps I've used and would recommend them to anyone who spends time in the outdoors and prefers open vistas and versatility of tarps over tents. To my knowledge these are exclusive to Bushcraft Outfitters and are not available from any other vendors. Great product, great price, great company to do business with.

08 September 2011

The Waters of the Soul...

“For me and for thousands with similar inclinations, the most important passion of life is the overpowering desire to escape periodically from the clutches of a mechanistic civilization. To us, the enjoyment of solitude, complete independence, and the beauty of undefiled panoramas is absolutely essential to happiness.”
—Bob Marshall

Bob said it much better than I can muster. To me, it is the independence, the solitude, along with the wild places that are most appealing in life. The quiet natural world speaks a universal language that if you listen closely enough to, you’ll find it soothes the soul in a manner than no modern contrivance of man can. These are the primary reasons that led me to the place I now live, there are other secondary reasons to be sure, for the most part driven by the condition the world at large finds itself.

"Up North is a certain way the wind feels on your face and the way an old wool shirt feels on your back. It’s the peace that comes over you when you sit down to read one of your old trip journals, or the anticipation that bubbles inside when you start sorting through your tackle box in the early spring.

Up north is the smell of the Duluth pack hanging in your basement and the sound of pots clinking across the lake. It’s a raindrop clinging to a pine needle and the dancing light of a campfire on the faces of friends.

Up north is a lone set of cross-country ski tracks across a wilderness lake and wood smoke rising from a cabin chimney. It’s bunchberries in June, blueberries in July and wild rice in September.

Each of us has an up north. It’s a time and place far from the here and now. It’s a map on the wall, a dream in the making, a tugging at one’s soul. For those who feel the tug, who make the dream happen, who put the map in the packsack and go, the world is never quite the same again.

We have been Up North. And part of us always will be.”

-Sam Cook as quoted from his book "Up North."

For those who’ve spent considerable time in the North Country that passage from Sam Cook probably rings a few bells. It’s not just a place, it becomes a state of mind, a way of living really. After a time, I've come to realize that the way I view and experience the world 'outside' my chosen place to live has changed. Noise and lots of it is the best way I can describe it I guess, along with the hustle and bustle, a strange sense that everyone seems to be hell bent on frustration, either being so, or making sure someone else is. I've come to hate leaving and when I am gone I long for the quiet places.

Water is amazing. If there was ever an inter-connective substance in this world it must be water. All life depends on it in one fashion or another, it flows, falls, covers and crests over much of the planet and the inhabitants thereof. It's also my preferred word to describe the soul. From a moment to another it can rage and run, it can be cool or hot, lay flat and placid, calm and smooth as glass. Water reflects much as the soul reflects, the inner workings of a man. Sometimes cloudy, murky, perhaps bitter, another clear and still, yet another a boiling and seething rage.

Because of this I've come to believe one can feed the soul through time in and on the water. Sounds crazy I guess, but I cannot deny the affect that this time spent, has upon my demeanor, my mood, and my thoughts.

There is a place, deep in the North Woods, where I go to find the things that cannot be found, the act of searching, is all that is really required. A place filled with the wonder of the North Woods, and the quiet waters of the Boundary Wilderness.

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

A trip to the Boundary Waters Wilderness is a bit of a complicated affair. The BWCAW is 1,090,000 acres of wilderness, over 1,000 individual lakes, with more than a 1,500 miles of canoe routes. This was the place of my latest foray into the wilderness.

Morning launch onto Brule lake. Weather was clear, one of those crystal September days, in the low 60s. This was a single pack trip, my Frost River Timber Cruiser was absolutely loaded to the hilt though, and weighed in around 65 pounds. Part of this was my fault, as I chose to take some things I find rather enjoyable, like a fourteen pound cast iron skillet. I know, and yes I felt and paid for every ounce of it on the many portages of this trip. Still, in the end it was worth it. More on that later.

Paddling away from the entry point and the beauty starts right away.

The leaves are starting to change already, Quaking Aspens were starting to turn.

Heading North West to our first portage, some four miles away.

We fished periodically along the way, friend of mine who went along for this trip caught this hog of a Walleye. 

About half way to the portage we stopped for a breather on an island. The wind was really starting to pick up and making progress was getting challenging. 

Skies were mostly clear, it really was a beautiful day, even with the wind, which was whipping the water up at a pretty good pace.

Running out of water and coming up on our first portage, a short one needing little effort.

About twenty minutes later we were back on open water, though not for long, another short portage was coming up.

Took a few minutes to float along with the wind at my back before the next portage.

Shot of the portage. Most of them are like this, abrupt hard stop on some boulders and a path into the dark woods.

Open water again and a short couple miles to our first camp, clouds on the horizon were starting to get heavy. A warning of what was to come on the next day.

Some images of the first camp site. We had quite the view out over the lake across a point of an island and the far side.

Dinner was the walleye, fried in my Grandmother's frying pan. That pan has been in the family for sixty plus years. I could not begin to guess the number of campfires it has seen, or how many meals have been prepared in it. I know I used it heavily on this trip, virtually all main meals were prepared in it, along with Bannock bread.

This was my first time using a gravity feed water filter. I cannot say enough good things about these. My old pump is going on the shelf, gravity feed is the only way to go.

Some pictures of my shelter and hammock. This was to be the typical set up for the trip. The BushCraft Outfitters tarp worked flawlessly through out the trip, as did the Skeeter-Beater Pro hammock.

View from the hammock.

Night came on at about 8:20, had a nice view to the east but not the west unfortunately. Spent some time around the fire and called it a day.

Might be tough to tell from the images, but it was raining the next morning. It would hammer for fifteen to twenty minutes then blow out. It did this all day and made for difficult travel. We had four lakes and three portages to cover, none of them were done dry. Still managed to get some bacon and eggs together for energy for the very trying day ahead.

On the water and on the way to the first portage, which was an easy one. Later we'd have a 147 rod portage over very rough terrain. Up down and over boulder, hard turns mud and overhanging trees and limbs. It was one of the worst portages I've had to make. Because of this I put the camera away as I was concerned about busting it on a bad spill, not to mention the rain.

Some of the scenery on the way to our next campsite, wish the pictures of the Loons had come out a little better.

We got to our camp late in the day, not a lot of light left so our shelters went up quickly and I tossed dinner together which was Spanish rice and chicken.

Next morning I wasn't feeling breakfast, we set out to explore the lake and do some fishing. Our packs were heavy and we decided to eat through the weight, releasing any fish we caught.

The weather on Winchell was fantastic in the morning and we had good paddling until the end of the day. The paddle back to camp was into the wind and very challenging.

The pictures of the family of Otters were not the best. I was too far away for the zoom on my regular lens to get in good and tight. I hadn't put the 300mm in the canoe for the day and they took off before I could get close enough for some really good pictures.

Took a break from the wind on the lee side of an island on the way back to camp.

We got back to camp late, and I was so tired I forgot to get a pic of dinner. Beans, long grain wild rice, and steak tips. Was a dang fine meal. Night was coming on again and we had south facing camp so the sunset pics were not available yet again.

The next morning we went heavy on breakfast, it was going to be a long day. We had four portages in front of us, a 27, 200, 37, and a 25. We were both dreading the 200 and knew we'd need some energy. Nine eggs and a pound of bacon!

Some Loons on the way.

Coming up on the first portage.

Back on open water for a few minutes, then the beginning of the 200 rod portage.

This is the type of terrain typical on that 200 rod portage, though some of it was quite a bit worse. A 'rod' is an old English form of measurement and equals 16 feet, making a 200 rod portage 3,200 feet.

There is nothing so sweet as the sight of the open water waiting at the end of a long rough portage.

Back on open water but not for long.

Looking up from the bottom of a steep portage.

Resting at the end of the last portage and then back on the water.

Some of the scenery along the way to our next camp.

Eagles and some Turkey Vultures I think.

Some images of my shelter and the camp.

Over the days we'd spent so far, I'd been showing my compadre some typical tarp and hammock set ups. Here are some pics of his final efforts. I loaned him my BushCraft Outfitters survival tarp for this.

Supper was fried summer sausage and some Spanish rice. While many might think me crazy for carrying such a heavy pan, and I know there are lighter ways to go, I really enjoyed using Grandma's old pan up on the Boundary waters. Cooking was a breeze and clean up was a snap.

We finally got a campsite facing the sunset. The following images are just a few of the total number I took. Couldn't put just one of them up!

We got an early start the next morning, the scenery was simply stunning. It was our last day and we were gifted with the serene beauty of the Boundary Waters.

Ending where it began.

This was a very memorable trip, and will be back again next year if not again later this year. Once you've paddled the Boundary Waters, you can't help but return. It calls, as does the wilderness in general to the souls seeking what can seemingly only be found in the far reaches. We are all but lengthening shadows cast by a sinking sun, go and do, the memories last forever.