I was slapping myself stupid trying to get all the mosquitoes. There was a nice breeze coming off the lake and the fire was helping keep them down a little, but I was still getting eaten alive.
I threw another piece of wood on the fire. It was some leftover wood from last year’s hurricane that had blown down during the storm. The red pines that came down around here were huge old trees, but growing in sand a lot them just tipped over.
Back in the cabin, the woodstove hasn’t been used in months. I think back to all the winter nights when I really would have liked to see the fire. But my stove doesn’t have any glass in it, just a big black box. A little bit of light is nice when the sun goes down at five in the afternoon. » Continue Reading.
If all has gone according to plan, while you are reading this Saturday morning I will be having breakfast with my friend Vinny. Vinny sprained his ankle on a trail run some weeks ago and has been nursing it back to health. As many of you surely know, a sprain can be a tricky thing, more severe and with a longer healing time than a broken bone, so it is taking some time.
I’m hoping that by this morning I will find Vinny has recovered sufficiently to be able to join us for a hike into Lost Brook Tract. But this is no certain thing, for there have been setbacks. Vinny wrote me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that he had “pushed too hard” with some sort of activity and was paying the price. Those of you who have met Vinny through my previous Dispatch should not be surprised to hear this. Vinny doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy to sit around and knit afghans with his ankle elevated, peacefully waiting for it to heal up. » Continue Reading.
A cast-iron pan, a quart pot and a tea kettle. It’s hard to believe that I spent six months pretty much just using those three utensils to make all of my meals. And it’s not that I had been eating out a lot or eating unhealthy meals, but with only a little propane stove to cook on, I got by with the bare minimum of dishes. Plus it was really hard to wash dishes with no running water.
Another writer told me to use spray bottles to do the dishes. Put warm, soapy water in one and clean in the other to save on water, since I was filling a five-gallon jug every couple of days and hauling it to the cabin. It was a great idea and definitely saved on water, but I found that using the spray bottle to rinse was just not effective. The wash bottle was great, but I still just ran the spigot on the jug to rinse. » Continue Reading.
I hope you got the idea from the Dispatch two weeks ago that I put a premium on cooking real food over saving weight when I’m in the wilderness.
It’s no contest; I love to eat well when I camp, no matter the circumstances.
Admittedly Lost Brook Tract affords me a real advantage because we have a lean-to and a fire ring with which to maintain a permanent base camp. In fact during our first summer trip there, in addition to lots of tools, supplies and the makings for Shay’s Privy, we hauled in a primo cooking setup. It consisted of a large, heavy-duty two-burner stove, tubing, a propane gas distribution pipe and a screw-on lantern at the top.
Some hiker noticed my load at the trail head when I hauled in the propane tank, one of those deals you usually see mounted on the front of an RV. Their look of scorn and derision was forgotten as soon as I fired this deal up for the first time. » Continue Reading.
I’m sure there’s been plenty of people in my life who wanted to tell me to go jump in a lake. Well, for the last two days, I’ve had to do just that. The temperatures have been well into the nineties, hot, hazy and humid. It’s exactly the type of weather I left Florida to avoid.
Around ten last night, I took Pico down for a swim. As hot as I was, I can’t imagine how hot a dog could be in weather like this. After throwing a stick a few times, I let Pico chew on his temporary toy and I just sat in the water. The lake was calm, with no breeze to speak of. Even though it was hazy, some stars were out and lights from Vermont were reflecting on the almost-glass surface of the lake. The mosquitoes were bad, so I sat in water up my neck and was glad that the horseflies had at least taken the night off. » Continue Reading.
It’s probably safe to say most everyone who has ventured into Adirondack woods or waters in the last 50 years has at some time used a Coleman product. The company once sold Skiroule snowmobiles, Hobie Cat sailboats, and even its own pop-up trailers – but most recreationists are familiar with some of the smaller Coleman products: coolers, canoes and other small boats, sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, and the ubiquitous camp stoves and Coleman lanterns.
The company was founded in 1900 by William Coffin Coleman, known as “W. C.”, and a former school principal working as a typewriter salesman who founded the company while earning money for law school. Coleman’s obsession with a lantern that burned a bright white light is matched by legions of Coleman collectors, who pour over the company’s American made designs (Coleman was born in Columbia County, NY and moved to the mid-west) and trade stories and knowledge. » Continue Reading.
For hard core backpackers pack weight is a serious game, especially in challenging and endurance-taxing terrain like the Adirondacks. Every pound you take on the trail is additional effort. Every extra handful of ounces somehow magnifies the inevitable crushing drain on personal will that, after an extended day with miles yet to go, can cause you to feel as Jacob Marley must have, shambling on through eternity.
For some, saving weight elevates to a competitive and expensive sport, with ultra-light this and featherweight that. Lemme tell you, that gear costs. For the most extreme disciples of light-weight backpacking the quest becomes quasi-religious (and I can arguably drop the “quasi” part). I’ve known people to cut down pencils to save a tenth of an ounce.
We all join the faithful at one time or another: who among we Adirondack hikers has not at least once felt a surge of joy and self-congratulatory satisfaction all out of keeping with the situation when we drained our last water, feeling and hearing our bottles jiggling around oh-so empty, oh-so mercifully airy? “Ha! I’m light now, thank God,” we say to ourselves. » Continue Reading.
My recent article here at the Adirondack Almanack about a man attacked on the toilet by a black bear appeared to elicit several comments suggesting that carrying firearms is a viable protective measure for possible bear attacks in the Adirondacks. It was never my intention to insinuate this; I just thought it was an amusing backcountry-related story.
Before I find myself liable for any incidents involving bears and firearms, it may be instructive to examine black bear behavior and the possibility of suffering from a fatal attack in the Adirondacks. I certainly do not want to be responsible for the backcountry becoming a new “wild west,” with everyone packing heat, and eager to use it at a moment’s notice. » Continue Reading.
Praise the fates! Throw your arms skyward! Since we last got together I have undergone one of the greatest miracles of this or any other life, a staggering experience, a profoundly humbling event, a happening that left me weeping with joy and gratefulness, trembling with disbelief and awe almost beyond description: I just spent three days on Lost Brook Tract, in late May, with unseasonably warm, sunny, humid and windless conditions and as far as I can tell I suffered two black fly bites.
Those of you who do not understand why I am raving about that should forget the Almanack and go peruse the Perez Hilton website instead. » Continue Reading.
Memorial Day weekend is over. It was beautiful weather, the campground was full, and I’m exhausted. After working three fourteen hour days in a row, I’m glad the campers are gone, even though we didn’t really have any problems with the crowd. Lots of guys talking about fishing, wondering where to get ice and firewood, and wondering how long they can extend their weekend.
I like working in the campgrounds, even though dealing with the public is often unnecessarily stressful. Drive slow, be quiet and keep your dog on a leash. It’s not that much to ask, but many people find it difficult to follow those simple rules. But what I love about my job is the chance to be on the trail crew. They pay me to hike, and I have to pinch myself every time. » Continue Reading.
There was a loon swimming off the beach this morning, its haunting call reminding me of years past. In college, I lived on one of the several Loon Lakes here in the Adirondacks. It was great until the loons showed up, all six pairs of them. They wouldn’t shut up all night.
I know from experience that loons are smart animals. As large as a goose, but barely able to walk, their black and white body with red eyes are an iconic part of the Adirondacks. I used to monitor banded loons and their nests, and after a few weeks of kayaking around them, I was often treated to the loons swimming under my boat and tagging along on the weekly paddles. » Continue Reading.
The day has been long, and the trail treacherous. Mosquitoes feast on fresh blood due to a tear in a headnet. A water bottle leaks, the dribbling down a pants leg appearing like a non-stop accident. Equipment lies strewn along the trail, spewing from a rip in a backpack. Blisters, covering each foot, scream in agony with every step.
If only there was some product that could fix all these problems and save this trip from certain disaster. Something like, duct tape, for instance. Duct tape is one of those universal, jack-of-all-trades tools, like the hammer and the crowbar. Since the 1940’s, this tape has had more uses than any other invention known to man, with the exception of fire, the internal combustion engine and the Internet. This wondrous invention is not only useful at home though, but in the backcountry as well.
Duct tape has a myriad of uses for backcountry enthusiasts. These range from the practical to the down-right zany. It can be used to repair damaged equipment, prevent frequent hiking injuries and even, in some cases, cure sleepless nights.
Duct tape can often be used to fix equipment in the field. A leaking water bottle? Slap on some duct tape over the hole. Ripped stuff sacks? Tape it up. A rip in some insect netting of a shelter? What could mean a very uncomfortable night in the Adirondacks, can be easily repaired with a little duct tape when needle and thread are just not plausible.
Duct tape is a great addition to even a well-stocked first aid kit. Although it can be used as a bandage, its greatest utility is in preventing blisters. Covering “hot-spots” on the feet with duct tape can forestall a painful blister from forming. And if the preventive care is not taken, covering a broken blister with a bandage followed by some duct tape creates an effective barrier that might just be still on the feet a week after returning home.
In addition to the conventional uses of duct tape, there are some more inventive uses.
For those in tick country, duct tape makes a useful way of neutralizing these disease-carrying parasites. Since the exoskeleton of ticks makes them nearly impossible to crush, sticking them on duct tape is an effective way to remove them from the field. Just stick their backs on the tape and watch their legs continue to wiggle, sometimes for months afterwards. The same can be done for fleas too, but taking a bath once in a while is probably just as effective for these little pests.
Under some circumstances, duct tape is useful when sharing a lean-to with someone who snores. If yelling, stamping your feet or poking the offender fails to bring the desired results, then a small piece of duct tape just might do the trick. Just do not tell the irate snorer where this idea was obtained upon their awakening.
Even equipment and clothing can be made with duct tape. These are inexpensive, waterproof and somewhat durable. In an emergency, wrapping duct tape around oneself can result in a fully insulted and waterproof barrier to the environment. Those of Italian decent or others with lots of body hair should refrain from this except in the most dire emergencies though.
Plans for equipment can be found on the Internet, such as this one for a backpack. Despite the stated advantages, I think I will stick to a store bought backpack, just to be on the safe side.
Carrying duct tape is always an issue. Some throw lightweight hiking to the wind and simply toss a whole roll into their backpack. This is pure folly; I have never heard of anyone so unlucky to require an entire roll on a single trip. Carrying only the amount likely to be used is a better strategy. But, where to put it?
In the past, I use to wrap some duct tape around my Nalgene water bottle. When I abandoned the use of these water bottles, wrapping duct tape around collapsible water bottles became impractical. And wrapping the tape around sport drink bottles led to the tape picking up dirt and other particles due to the bottles unsmooth surfaces.
These days, hiking poles make convenient places to wrap a sample of duct tape. Just wrap some tape up as far on the pole as possible below the hand grip. Placing the tape higher on the pole prevents it from getting dirty and insures it is ready to use should it be needed.
Duct tape is one of the few inventions whose brilliance suggests divine inspiration, like Velcro and Gore-Tex. No backcountry adventure should head out on the trail without some duct tape squirreled away, just in case it comes in handy. And I assure you, it will eventually.
Photos: Backpack, with duct tape on hiking poles, at the intersection of the Five Ponds and Sand Lake Trail in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.
A war is raging in our wilderness areas, and the Adirondack Park is slowly becoming ground zero. Invaders from faraway lands are gaining a foothold in the Park’s interior, where the native inhabitants are woefully unprepared for the coming onslaught. Unfortunately, backcountry enthusiasts are the unwitting foot soldiers for these invaders.
Exotic invasive plants are sprouting up far away from their usual haunts on lawns and along roadsides. Exotic invasive species are non-native species, typically introduced to an area by humans, either purposely or accidently. These species exhibit traits allowing for fast growth, rapid reproduction, swift dispersal and tolerance of many different habitats. These traits facilitate colonization and eventual subjugation of much of the native vegetation. » Continue Reading.
It was early June in 2011 and we were planning our first extended visit to Lost Brook Tract, to take place over most of July. Our plan was to explore part of the land, try to find at least one side of our property lines, evaluate different bushwhack routes in, haul enough gear back to establish a permanent base camp and rebuild the lean-to which was on the verge of collapse, its roof having long ago caved in.
Another part of the plan was to make camp ready for visitors. We expected a couple of my relatives to maybe come up for two or three days. We expected a dinner date on the land with Vinny McClelland. And then we expected Shay. Amy has a brother, Dan. Shay is his wife. They have two young children, Sofie and Jonah. Dan, Shay and family are not hard core hikers and bushwhackers like we are. With Lost Brook Tract being a bona fide wilderness experience it was incumbent upon us to give some thought about how to best accommodate and provide for the needs of more ordinary campers like them.
To be honest my concern had a narrow focus. Dan is not exactly a wallflower. He is a triathlete and marathon runner who has hiked in the Adirondacks with us before. Three years ago I sent Dan and Amy on a two-day hike from The Garden to the Upper Works via the Great Range. One of Dan’s boots fell apart on the way up Pyramid and he completed the hike with a boot on one foot and a collection of leather and rubber held together with duct tape on the other. Dan’s charitable, warm and loving references to me during his descent of Saddleback have become treasured family lore, although sadly they cannot be repeated here. Meanwhile if I have learned anything over the years of being a parent it is that there is no bipedal creature better equipped to thrive in the Adirondack back country than your average small kid, so Jonah and Sofie were no concern either.
That left Shay. Now I don’t want to mislead anyone. I wasn’t really worried about Shay. She may not be an avid hiker and camper but she has chutzpah. Shay typically tends to doubt herself more than anyone else does, denying that she can or will do something. But more often than not she eventually does it anyhow. Summiting a High Peak was a “No” until she did Giant. Winter camping has always been an unequivocal “No,” accompanied by a whiff of tone that suggests she thinks Amy and I are disturbed. But now I notice a “maybe one night” in her lexicon. There are, however, some hard lines in the sand.
As one gets to know Shay she becomes more and more precious, a primary reason being that she is one of those extremely rare people who is completely authentic. There is never any nonsense or posing with Shay. This is coupled with a lovely, self-effacing verbosity. Shay has a remarkably innocent way of just coming out and saying whatever she is feeling. If there happens to be a line in the sand related to any potential adventure under discussion, Shay will state it succinctly and unquestionably. So for example when Dan and Shay were planning to car camp in the Central Adirondacks not too far from our new property and I was talking to them about spending a couple of nights in the wild with us, Shay’s denial of any interest in using a hole in the ground to take care of her business was laid out in clear terms.
Already having charged myself with considering the welfare and comforts of potential guests of Lost Brook Tract, I reassured Shay – perhaps a little too reflexively – that we would have a lovely, cozy, clean privy with a real seat waiting for her when her family arrived. As I recall this assurance was met with a “heh heh,” but I could be misremembering. In any case I’d said it and so there it was, left in the air, needing to be fulfilled.
Considering that the closest one can get a car to Lost Brook Tract is something over four miles away and two thousand feet down, I had made a non-trivial promise. But I was damned if I was going to break it, so I began to sketch out a design. I wanted to come up with a privy that was light, yet strong enough and private enough to do the job. Amy and I also added a requirement that it be a composting privy.
With Amy’s help I arrived at a design that seemed clever enough. The bottom two feet and the roof would be reasonably canonical but made with light pine waterproofed to within an inch of its life. The whole top of the seat area would hinge off for composting purposes and an opening in the back would facilitate air flow. Between the bottom and the roof there would be nothing but four 2 x 2 posts with screening stapled between them. The door would be a lightly framed screen door. At the top on each side, nestled under the roof, we would have red and blue waterproof tatami-style mats rolled up that could be rolled down between the posts for privacy, creating an ambient purple lighting effect not unlike a fortune telling parlor.
This level of thinking began to move the project target from functional-and-not-unbearably-heavy to downright toney; the whole thing evolved into an intentional testament of my love for Shay, a deep and affecting love that has quite frankly grown to immense proportions. So we really went for it. Amy added a Japanese pattern fabric for the bottom half of the door and a neat battery-powered LED light. We rounded it out with various hooks and niceties, candles and a laminated Hebrew prayer about healthy orifices. The final design… well, we’re talking a Taj Mahal of back country privies. All that was left was to get the materials back there and actually build the thing.
Discretion being the better part of valor I decided to pre-build Shay’s privy to see if the design made any sense. I cut the wood, sank a few screws, held the rest together with duct tape and erected most of it. Now, our neighbors have learned to give us a wide berth. For example we design and operate an elaborate haunted house every year for the Green Bay Packers (don’t ask) and we typically build, stage and test new props, devices and scene elements in our driveway starting in late summer. It’s usually quite a mess. I’ll never forget the time our next-door neighbors, desperate to sell their home after months of trying, held an open house on the same afternoon we were perfecting our exploding walking dead effect in a front yard littered with body parts, blood and clown suits. The grateful look in their eyes spoke volumes. But I honestly think that watching a full-sized outhouse go up out in front of our garage was the last straw for a few of them.
The design seemed to work; so far so good. But then came the dis-assembly and as the parts piled up it became evident that my clever weight-saving strategy had left us with only a couple hundred pounds to haul miles into the middle of nowhere. And that was before the waterproofing changed the light pine into not-as-light-pine.
Haul it we did. Including the hand tools and other gear we needed five trips and brought in an estimated six hundred pounds of camping supplies and privy components (thank goodness we had three adult teenage boys to help). My first pack load was close to ninety pounds and left me propped against the lean-to, near death. The second trip was worse. In addition to another fifty pounds of boards on my pack and about the same weight in hardware and tools in Amy’s pack we each took one end of a bundle holding all the seven foot lengths of wood. I hope by now that readers, recognizing my unqualified expertise and sage wisdom, will believe me when I tell them that there is nothing more pleasant than bushwhacking four miles uphill with a thirty-pound collection of seven-foot-long lumber. My affection for a certain young woman to whom I am not related by blood – and who I hope is reading this – was given a proper and thorough test that day.
Tribulations or not, at last we had all the materials back on our land. We found a perfect spot, elevated, in good soil and sheltered by a large rock wall. Amy dug the hole, leveled the ground and we assembled Shay’s palace with hand tools (those of you who possess the latest power drill really need to feel the wonderful sensation of a screw grabbing into wood under the influence of a big, beautiful hand auger). It was a joyful experience and we were very proud of our labors. The second picture you see accompanying this dispatch is our youngest son staring with what I hope is amazement at the result (sans roof).
A few days later Dan, Shay, Jonah and Sofie arrived, hiking in with us on a beautiful day. Our triumph in revealing the privy was somewhat overshadowed by Shay’s discovery that a statement I had apparently made assuring her that the camping area was “open,” perhaps evoking a nice big Wisconsin prairie field in her mind, was patently false. This was an understandable miscommunication on my part; after all I am an Adirondack type and so “open” to me means I found a twenty-square-foot area in the woods for a tent that is actually sort of flat and sort of clear of trees. You can find such openness on Lost Brook Tract if you look very hard. But despite the fact that Dan and Shay spent an afternoon terraforming a tent site, the visit was perfect. The kids had a great time throughout, the weather was spot on and the privy was a star performer – as was Shay, who in all seriousness was wonderful throughout a truly wild back country experience.
I know you are reading this dear… be careful: these kinds of adventures are catching.
Photos: Assembling Shay’s Privy, and the The Finished Product.