Monday, December 30, 2013

New Season of Survivorman–UPDATE!

UPDATE: I have to be honest guys, I have no idea what is going on. It appears that without any advertising, at least any I have seen, the Discovery Channel premiered the new season of Survivorman on January 1, 2014 at 9:00pm. The episode was titled “Grenada Jungle”, and for those of you who missed it, it can be seen again this Sunday, January 5, 2014 at 2:00pm.

It looks like the show will air on the Discovery Channel on Wednesdays at 9:00pm, the following episode, “Frigate Island” will air on January 8, 2014 at 9:00pm.

To make thing more confusing, despite the continuing commercials on the Science Channel, which is owned by Discovery, it does not appear that the new season of Survivorman will air there at all. The commercials were quite clear that the new season will premier on January 7, 2014 at 10pm on the Science Channel, but the TV guide on the DVR is not showing any Survivorman episodes in that time slot.

I wish I had better answers for you. I have no idea why Discovery is turning the premier of this very anticipated show into a mystery quest.

I’ve left the old post below.

I’ve been a bit reluctant to post about this because there has been so little advertising about the show, and the release date keeps getting pushed back, but I’ve seen enough commercials about it, so I figured I would mention it. The New season of Survivorman will premier on the Science Channel on January 7, 2014 at 10pm.


Whether you count this new season as season four or five depends on how you counted the two Survivorman 10 Days episodes. I think they were treated as part of season three, which would make this new season, season four. It was originally scheduled to premier in December of this year, but there was a delay resulting from an injury Les Stroud sustained while filming an episode about looking for Sasquatch.

I have not been able to find anything about this new season on the Survivorman website, and there is no current schedule showing the premier on the Science Channel website. However, on television, I have seen quite a few commercials about the new season, but am yet to see any footage from it. I am not sure exactly what is going on. I would have expected a lot more publicity. Maybe the release will get pushed back even further. All we know for sure is that there will be another season, and that it will feature an episode with Les Stroud’s son, and an episode about him searching for Sasquatch.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trip Report: Bear Mountain 12/14/13 – 12/15/13

Last week we had a few days of decent snow, so when the snow started falling, I decided to do a little trip. As with most winter trips, the biggest problem for me is actually driving to the mountains. My original plan was to go further north to a lake with the hopes that it would not be completely frozen and I could do some fishing. Unfortunately, the roads were not plowed, and with the snow continuing to come down, there was more than a good chance that even if I made it there, I would not be able to get the car out the next day. So, I drove to a spot near the forest, and parked on a street that I expected would be plowed. From there I set on foot.


My adjusted trip goal was to climb up to one of the ridges and get above the tree line, camp up on the mountain, and then come back down the following day.

There still wasn’t too much snow accumulation, and there was even some running water, which would have been a huge fuel saver. Unfortunately, there was none further up the mountain.


The elevation increase was rather quick, and after a few hours on walking, I started to reach more exposed area.


Soon after a I found a sheltered area where I could stop for lunch. I didn't bring my usual tortilla wrap type of stuff because it is hard to make and eat in the snow. I opted for bars which I would eat without too much hassle and while keeping my gloves on. While I was searing only liner gloves, they make a big difference, especially when there is wind. 


After this quick stop, I kept heading up, until I was on top of the ridge. It is not particularly high, but the winds were pretty severe. They served to sweep away most of the snow, which made walking easier.


The sun didn’t come out from behind the clouds all day. I figured it would get dark quickly, so I decided to set up camp. I found a flat are to the side of the ridge, where there had been very little snow accumulation, but the wind was not bad. It was to be home for the night.


I made a small fire for cooking and melting snow. Usually I don’t like to use a fire while it is snowing because the heat tends to melt the snow and get you more wet than you would be without the fire. In this instance however, the weather was not bad, so I didn’t mind. I still kept the fire small. It was enough to dry my gloves and cook my food.

It continued to snow on and off the whole night. I set out earlier than I ordinarily would have because I was worried about being able to get my car out. I just retraced my steps back.



My worries were for nothing. The car got out just fine. Despite the snow the weather was rather warm. The lowest it fell down to was 23F (-5C) during the night.


Nothing special to report on this trip. Just a bit of fun in the snow. Sometimes it’s fun to get out without doing anything too serious.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Beginner’s Guide to Winter Camping and Bushcraft

Winter has come! For many, it signals the end of camping and bushcraft until spring. For may others, even experienced outdoorsmen, it signals a change in camping and bushraft. Backpacks get replaced by cars, snowmobiles and toboggans, loaded with a ballooned gear list, of large tents, wood stoves, and copious amounts of clothing. To a person who is thinking of venturing into the woods during winter for the first time, the task seems daunting, requiring that one either gives up on the idea, or else acquires large amounts of new and different gear, as well as adopt new methods of camping.

Well, I decided to write this post to tell you that winter camping is not some extreme pursuit, nor does it require a change in the way you camp. In this post I hope to go over some of the considerations regarding techniques and gear for moderate winter camping. By moderate winter camping, I mean wilderness pursuits that do not require specialized skills, i.e. no ice climbing our mountaineering, no glacier travel, etc.


A while back I did a post called Beginners Guide to Affordable Bushcraft and Camping Gear. In there I provided a list of links to other articles that I have done on beginners three season camping and bushcraft. In this current article, I will be building on those foundations.

Before you continue reading, please remember that what you see here is my style of winter camping. It is certainly not the only one, and it is not for everyone.  For me winter backpacking, camping, and bushcraft are not different than in any other season. My focus is on mobility and portability of gear, in order to facilitate travel over difficult and diverse terrain. My winter camping mirrors my three season camping. I backpack into the woods, sometimes for a considerable distance, until I reach the chosen location on the map. I then set up camp and spend the night there. In the morning I pack up and get moving again. You can see my trip reports for more details. So, when you read this post, keep that in mind. My way is certainly not for everyone. If you are looking for information on traveling with a sled, and staying in large canvas tents, heated with wood stoves, you will not find my approach very useful. You can find numerous good sources of information on that style of camping. In this post however, I want to tell you that you are not restricted to that style of camping, and that there is another way. If like me, you are interested in being able to comfortably carry your winter gear in a backpack, and travel over diverse terrain where a sled will not go, or to places where there is no fuel for the wood stoves, or simply want to get into winter camping without a huge investment in gear, then hopefully this will be of some help.

The last thing I will say before starting the gear discussion is that you should make every effort not to use the fact that it is winter to forget everything you have learnt about gear selection and woodsmanship. Winter is no excuse to pile up every imaginable piece of gear “just in case”. Your gear selection process should be no different than when doing it during any other time of the year. After all, if you were out camping in 35F (2C) in the fall, how many changes are required to do it at 20F (-7C) in winter? What about at –10F (-23C)? The difference is one of degree (excuse the pun) not of kind.

The easiest way to start winter camping is to just do it. That is how I started. Little by little, you will figure out your own little methods and tricks to make the stay more comfortable, but the basics are not that different. When starting out, don’t go too far into the woods, and don’t go out in temperatures much lower than what you are comfortable in. Gradually you will be able to push your own boundaries, and most importantly, overcome your fear and need to bring out excessive amounts of gear just because “it is winter”.


Perhaps the most important consideration in winter camping is your clothing. In my opinion, the most important thing to realize about your winter clothing is that it is not that different from your three season clothing. Now, that is contrary to most of the conventional wisdom that you will see in many books and websites. If you have been reading on the subject, by now you have become familiar with people dressed like spacemen, with numerous layers, anoraks, heavy coats, etc. This type of clothing might be excellent for car camping, snowmobile travel, pulling a toboggan or sled along a frozen river bed, or for sitting by the wood stove inside a spacious tent, but it is horribly inadequate for the type of winter woodsmanship I am discussing here. A woodsman who is mobile, and travels through the woods on foot, carrying all of his gear on his back, requires a different clothing system, and it closely resembles that of a backpacker during the rest of the year.

Your winter clothing system is not complicated, and it does not require you to purchase a whole new set of clothing. Since your winter trips will resemble your three season trips, the clothing is surprisingly similar. Your winter clothing is comprised of your three season clothing, with the addition of one, or possibly two pieces.

I find that people almost always underestimate just how much heat their body produces when working and traveling through the woods, even if the travel does not involve any special or extreme exertion. To account for this heat production, and prevent getting drenched in sweat, the approach I use focuses on creating what some call an “action suit”, which will allow you to remain thermally neutral during periods of high activity. Just like with your three season layering system, you have a wicking base layer, an insulating layer, and possibly a shell layer to protect you from snow and wind. The insulation in the action suit is supposed to be the minimum required to keep you thermally regulated when moving. In most conditions that requires very little because even in extremely cold conditions the body produces very large amounts of heat. It is not uncommon to see people skiing to the South Pole in just a base layer. If you wear all of the three season clothing that I listed in the post to which I linked earlier on Beginners Guide to Affordable Bushcraft and Camping Gear, you will most likely end up being too warm. It will serve you as an action suit in even very cold conditions, and in most cases you will have to end up using it without the secondary fleece layer. A possible additional piece of clothing you may want to use in this action suit, aside from your three season clothing is a pair of thermal long johns. I find them unnecessary in all but the coldest conditions, but you may feel better with a thin pair like the Patagonia Capeline 1 thermal underwear.


Now the question of course comes, “what happens when you stop moving”? That is where the additional clothing comes into play. When you stop being active, let’s say when you are done setting up camp, and sit down to cook dinner, your body heat production drastically decreases. To compensate for that, you need a thick outer jacket that you can put on on top of all your other clothing.

However you want to think of your clothing system, whether it be in the way I have described, or simply as wearing a lot of layers to keep warm, the reality is that during most of your trip, your heavy insulation will not be worn, but rather stored in your backpack. As I mentioned earlier, when you are active, your body will produce a lot of heat, which means that ultimately, you will be wearing very little clothing. As a result, bulky and heavy parkas of decades past simply will not do for the style of winter camping I am describing here. The moment you start moving, you have to remove that jacket and place it in your pack. If you can not do that because of the size of the jacket, then it is not much good. The ability to pull out the stationary/heavy insulation and put it on the moment you stop moving, and subsequently take it off and quickly pack it away once you are ready to move on, and do it in an efficient and fluid manner is of extreme importance. This outer coat has to be not only warm (a task easily achieved), but also very compressible and light weight. That is not a concern for someone who is car camping, or traveling on a snowmobile or with the use of a sled, but for the woodsman carrying his gear on his back, it is of paramount importance.

I have written all of the above, just to say that all you need when it comes to your winter clothing is your three season clothing (wicking base layer, insulating thin fleece layer, thicker fleece or puffy layer, rain shell) and a big puffy jacket which is light and easily compressible, so that it can be stored in your pack while moving, and put on while you are stationary. The jacket I use the most is the Patagonia DAS Parka. I find it offers good insulation for most weather conditions while compressing well and having reasonable weight. There are many other good options currently on the market, which utilize all types of fill, some synthetic, some down. Ultimately, the exact materials are not crucial. They have all been used successfully by experienced woodsmen. You just have to make sure the jacket you get is warm, and that it can compress easily to fit in your pack once you start moving.


The only other thing to touch on, aside from the obvious – bring a hat and gloves, is winter boots. Again, there is a lot of talk about mukluks, pac boots, and all sorts of designs, but in my opinion, they are either inadequate or complete overkill. For most winter conditions, your regular backpacking boots with a good pair of wool socks will serve you just fine. Unless you are going out in some extremely cold conditions, or climbing ice, nothing more specialized is needed. Remember, there is no need for your winter trips to drastically differ from your three season ones, and as a result, very similar footwear will be needed. Do not be tempted to buy heavily insulated soft boots (mukluks) which are designed for travel on level ground, or specialized mountaineering boots, designed for ice climbing. Both tend to be inadequate or overkill for travel over diverse terrain.

Lastly, related to the boots, is a pair of good gaiters. Gaiters attach to the boots, and go up your leg (I would suggest knee length ones). They keep snow out of your boots, and keep snow off your pants. I use a pair of REI Havenpass eVent gaiters.

For a more in dept look at what I use, you can have a look at the following posts:

Ultimately, my advise is - don’t over think it. You have been out during winter before; you have been in the woods during cold weather. Dress warmly, be smart, and you will do just fine. If you find your clothing to be inadequate, turn around and go home. Don’t get caught up in gimmicks about the perfect material or the perfect clothing, whether it be the most modern miracle fiber or some alleged sacred knowledge of someone’s ancestors. Most options available on the market have been thoroughly tested and work fine. The things I mention above are just tips designed to make your trip easier, and to ensure that you remain mobile while in the woods.


Just like with your winter clothing, your winter gear does not have to drastically differ from your three season gear. If you are reading about winter camping, I assume that you have at least some experience with three season camping and have the appropriate gear. If you are unsure about your three season gear, have a look at what I use:

Your winter gear will simply reflect some modifications to your already existing three season gear. As I said earlier, do not be tempted to use “winter” as an excuse to pile on gear. Any changes will be in degree, not in kind.


The first modification which will be needed is to your shelter. I strongly believe that your shelter system should be capable of keeping you comfortable during winter without the help of external heat sources. Having a fire for extra warmth is a nice thing, but with the technology we have at our disposal today, there is no excuse for being reliant on such external heat sources. If your shelter system is not capable of keeping you comfortable, let alone alive on its own, then I would recommend you take a long, hard look at your gear choices. From my experience, not much is required to meet these criteria.

Your shelter is comprised of three elements: the tent/tarp, the sleeping bag, and the sleeping mat (or if using a hammock, an underquilt).


When it comes to a tent/tarp, winter camping can be accomplished with just about any variant. As you know, my preference is for an open floor tent. That way I do not have to clean snow from the floor, while at the same time, I get good wind protection. That being said, most tents, or a low pitched tarp will get the job done. People often go over the top and immediately get a “four season” tent. The reality is that unless you are climbing Denali, or crossing a glacier, such a tent is not needed. Tents like that are designed to withstand extreme winds and snow fall, conditions you are unlikely to encounter on a regular winter trip. Most three season tents, or a well pitched tarp will handle the conditions without a problem. The shelter you use for your three season camping will be sufficient for most winter use. If you are an area where the winters are so extreme that a regular shelter can not survive, then you don’t need my advice on the subject.

The sleeping bag is a different matter. You need one with a proper rating. As you know from your three season trips, sleeping bag ratings are subjective, but try to be within the range of temperatures you are likely to encounter. This may very well necessitate that you buy an additional sleeping bag. However, be honest with what you need and what you already have. Have a quick look at the winter temperatures in your area, and then have a look at the temperature rating of your three season bag. There is a good chance that you already bought a three season bag with a 15F (-10C) rating, just in case. If winter temperatures in your area rarely drop below 20F (-7C), then is there a need for a new bag? Do not be tempted to go out and buy the heaviest arctic bag you can find. Remember, everything you bring has to be carried in your backpack, not to mention that it costs money. There is a good chance you may be able to manage just fine in winter with your three season bag, or by simply adding a cheap fleece liner which you can buy in most outdoor gear stores. If you do in fact need a dedicated winter bag, there are many good choices on the market. Just like with jackets, they are made in all sorts of materials, with all sorts of fill, from synthetic to down. All of them will work fine for our purposes (here I am assuming a standard design mummy sleeping bag). The general rule of thumb is that the less a bag costs, the heavier and less compressible it is. You will have to find your own balance on the budget v. weight scale.

Your sleeping mat is also very important. Insulation from the ground will make a big difference, especially in winter. Sleeping mats come with an R rating. On the US scale, a R rating of 4 and above is considered appropriate for winter camping. Not too long ago, the only available pads were closed cell foam ones. Back then, in winter we used to simply bring two closed cell foam pads, which had a R rating of about 2 each. The same approach works just as well today. Whatever pad you use for your three season camping, can be converted for winter use with the addition of a closed cell foam pad underneath. If you have the cash to spend, there are pads on the market today with high R ratings. I use a Therm-a-Rest Neo Air XTherm, which has an R rating of over 5. I use it for my three season camping as well because it is light and packs down very small.

That’s all there is to it. The only other tip I can give is to use a pee bottle. Having a dedicated bottle in which you can pee during the night without having to get out of your sleeping bag makes a huge difference. Every time you get out of your sleeping bag, you lose all of the accumulated heat, which you then have to spend time re-establishing. A pee bottle will keep you much warmer. I use a collapsible Nalgene bottle for the purpose.

There are other additional tips, such as carrying snow stakes for easily securing your shelter in snow, or bringing a small piece of closed cell foam to use as a seat, but those are all things you will work out along the way.

Water Storage and Purification:

Another part of your gear which will require modification is your water storage and purification equipment.

The first aspect that might need to be modified, is the water containers which you use. It is preferable to use wide mouth bottles and containers, which will reduce the likelihood of the water freezing the bottle closed. Your standard Nalgene bottles work well, as well as the wide mouth collapsible bottles made by Nalgene. I stay away from hydration bladders altogether because the water freezes in the tubes way too easily. Some people have managed to make hydration systems work by insulation the system, but I prefer to stick to regular bottles. One 1L Nalgene bottle and one 2L collapsible Nalgene bottle serve me well on virtually all trips. At night, if you expect low temperatures, keeping the water bottles in your sleeping bag is a good idea. In the alternative, burry them in the snow. The water will be cold in the morning, but will not be frozen.

The second, and more significant change is the water purification method. Unfortunately, most filtration and purification devices fail in winter, or seriously underperform. Filters are at the greatest risk. Once they get used, the water trapped inside the fibers or ceramic element is at great risk of freezing. Once that happens, the filter element will be damaged, making the filter of little use. Chemical treatments like Aqua Mira still work, but in cold weather they are significantly slowed down. Make sure to follow the instructions for cold weather use. Additionally, I prefer water purifiers in solid form rather than liquid, due to tendency of liquid water purifiers to freeze. UV devices like Steri Pen work just as well in the cold, but their batteries die much faster. Make sure to account for that.

All of this however is not as large of an issue as it might first appear because in winter, liquid water is hard to come by. Most often, you will end up melting snow or ice for water. As such, it is easily purified by boiling. Of course, that will require you to bring adequate amounts of fuel. This is what I do. I also bring a few chemical treatment tablets, in case I want to save fuel.


The first change to the stove you use, is what I mentioned above – you will simply need more fuel. Melting water requires fuel (unless you have a fire), and cooking in cold weather uses up more fuel. Make sure you plan accordingly, but don’t go overboard. After your first or second trip you will know how much fuel you use per day, and you can make more accurate calculations.

The second change is to the stove itself. While most stoves can be pressed to give some type of service during winter, an efficient stove has to have certain features. The main issue with most stoves commonly used during three season camping is the fuel they utilize, and how they utilize it.

Alcohol stove, which work great for three season camping, struggle in winter. Since alcohol requires vaporization in order to burn, it has to be heated before it combusts. While that is not difficult to do, the heat generated, is often very inadequate. You can easily have a stove working at full blast, while the water never coming to a boil. Even if it does, you will use large amounts of fuel.

Stoves which use pressurized fuels in a canister equally suffer in winter. Those small stoves like the MSR Pocket Rocket, which mount on top of a fuel canister require pressurized gas in order to operate. The problem is that in cold weather, most of those gases remain liquid, failing to gasify and generate any pressure. Even the best fuel mixes, like those used by MSR, which are 30% propane and 70% isobutene have a hard time working. Propane will work in cold weather, but will get used up quickly. The remaining gas mixture, will not readily gasify. The solution is to use a remote canister stove, which has a vaporization tube, allowing for inverted canister use. In effect, by inverting the canister, you begin to use the fuel in its liquid form. The liquid fuel passes through the vaporization tube, turns into gas, and is then used by the burner. I use the Kove Spider stove all year round, which is of this design. The MSR Wind Pro is another good option.


Lastly, you can get a white gas stove. Basically, these stoves run on a liquid petroleum based fuel. It is pressurized by a hand pump. Then, much like with the remote canister stove discussed above, the fuel passes through a vaporization tube, before being used by the burner. Both MSR and Primus make good stoves of this design. Such stoves can operate in any weather, even in extreme condition. They produce a lot of heat, but in turn tend to be heavy.


All that being said, just like with most other gear, you can probably make due with less than ideal equipment. Regular canister and alcohol stoves get taken out during winter all the time. Clearly with some care they can be made to work. Simply keep in mind what I have told you here, so you are not surprised when the performance is less than expected or more care than usual is required.

Other Specialized Winter Gear:

The above changes to your gear, I consider essential to winter camping and bushcraft. There are other items which I consider non-essential for beginner winter camping. They are nice to have and will expand your range and capabilities, and after you have spent some time in the bush, you will decide which ones you need, but there is no need to get any of them when first starting out. Such items include snow shoes, crampons, ice axes, regular axes, saws, etc. I can dedicate a whole post on each piece of gear, as there is much to cover, but that is beyond the scope of this post, or your need as someone who may just be starting to camp in winter.

Snowshoes make travel in deep snow much easier, and recent developments in snowshoe technology have made them efficient, and easy to use tools. However, they are not essential. If the snow is deep, you simply will not be able to go as far into the woods as you originally planned. For the beginner, that might not be a bad thing.

Crampons, properly fitted to the shoes you use, are also great tool, and so is the corresponding use on an ace axe. However, unless you are climbing some serious inclines, you can get by fine without them. Be careful in icy conditions, take your time, and cover less distance. If you want a bit more traction, a simple device like the Kahtoola Microspikes which slide onto your boots, will work very well for a normal trip.

Axes and saws are similarly thought of as essential to winter camping and I keep seeing larger and larger variants being carried, but I do not believe them to be necessary. As I mentioned when it came to the shelter system, I strongly believe that your gear should be sufficient to get you into the woods, let you stay there in relative comfort, and get you safely out, without the need for external heat sources like a fire, or any other type of shelter or tool building. These tool remain in our consciousness from a time when technology was in such a state that a fire during the night was what kept you alive. That is no longer the case. If your gear does not allow you to complete your trip without necessitating the construction of any devices or reliance on a fire, then I would recommend that you take another look at it. Don’t get me wrong, I like having a fire. It makes things more comfortable; but I do not need it. I have means to cook my food, melt snow for water, and keep myself warm at night without the need for processing large volume of firewood. I also understand if an experienced woodsman wishes to impose such a reliance on himself for purposes of adventure, but if you are just starting out, your focus should be on efficient use of your other gear, not on building large fires. If your other gear is properly selected, your choice of axe or saw will not matter much, and you will have plenty of time to experiment with different ones and see what suits you best.

For a more detailed look at what choices I have made when it comes to this other gear, you can see this post:

Everything else, you will learn along the way, and figure out what you need and don’t need. You will gradually learn not to get in your sleeping bag with wet clothing, to keep your compass close to your body so that the liquid does not form bubbles, to select food you can eat without taking off your gloves, and to keep your batteries in your sleeping bag so that they do not die. That however takes time. The things I have listed above, I believe are sufficient to start you out winter camping. Use your common sense, be careful, and do things gradually. Most importantly, do not let fear force you into drastic alterations to the way you camp. You should still be able to travel the same way you did during the rest of the year, carrying your gear on your back, and reaching the places you want to see.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ice Axe Finger Rest Modification

This past winter, many of my trip reports featured an ace axe. The one you’ve seen me carry is the Black Diamond Raven Pro. It is a regular mountaineering axe (to be distinguished from dedicated ice tools).

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Such an ice axe is typically used in several ways. The main way is what you see in the picture above, which is the hold it by the head and plunge the shaft into the snow. This gives you stability as well as an anchoring point in case of a fall. The ice axe can also be used to cut steps into ice, and to self arrest by sticking the pick into the snow and leaning on the shaft if you are sliding down a mountain…all things beyond the scope of this post.

Another way you can use the axe, and for which the modification I am about to discuss applies, is to use it for climbing steep terrain by swinging the axe to stick the pick into the ace, and then pulling yourself up by holding the shaft.

Well, I had some issues with this technique, which admittedly is not the ideal use of such an ice axe. The problem is that when you are holding the shaft, and trying to pull yourself up, your hand slides down and loses grip very easily. I found it practically impossible to pull myself up a slope using that technique. I just couldn’t get a good enough grip.

So, last year I spent some time talking to some of the teachers at my local EMS climbing school, and several option emerged. The first, is the traditional way, which is the use a leash. A leach is attached to the head, and around your wrist. If it is short enough (no longer that the shaft), then when pulling down the leash will keep your hand from sliding off. I am not a fan of leashes because I like to change the hand in which I hold the axe often, so that solution was out for me.

Another approach was to use grip tape, which one of the instructor uses. He insists that it works well for him, but I found that when plunging the shaft into the snow, the tape loosens.

The final solution was to attach some form of a finger rest onto the shaft of the ace axe. It is a feature you see on virtually all ice climbing tools, allowing you to hang from the shaft without your hand sliding down. The problem was that Black Diamond does not make any type of finger rest for this type of axe. The solution was to take and modify a Petzl Nomic ice tool finger rest (Trigrest).


Once attached, the finger rest can be set in place by pulling down the lever in the front. Then, when not in use, you can release it by pulling the lever back up, and reset it further up the shaft so that it is out of the way when plunging the shaft into snow.



The Petzl Trigrest went on quite easily. It was the perfect dimensions from side to side. The only problem was that it was a bit too long from front to back. The gap created was large enough to prevent the finger rest from locking down securely. It’s an easily solvable problem. I simply put a bit of grip tape on the inside back portion, and wrapped it in wire so it stays in place securely. Any other type of filler material will work.


This simple modification, in turn allows the modification for the axe, when then allows for it to be used as a climbing aid by offering a secure hold when trying to pull yourself up.


I’ve been very happy with the result, and have been waiting since last winter to share it with you. Now that the snow is back, I figured it would be a good time. If you have been dealing with the same issue, there is an alternate solution, and that is to get an ice axe like the Petzl Sum’Tec, which incorporates some features from ice climbing tools such as the finger rest, and an angled shaft. The reason why I decided not to go that route is because of the added weight of those axes. They are however a good alternative.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hunting Pressure; Survival Hunting; and Why I Hunt the Way I Do

Well, this year’s big game season is over in my area. I did two four day trips, and several day trips during that time, with no luck. In this post I just wanted to touch on a few things that crossed my mind while sitting and waiting, and perhaps a few things that have come to mind for you while reading my posts.


You probably noticed that a good portion of my hunting trips involves backpacking into the woods until I reach my desired destination. On the last two trips I shared with you, out of each four days I was out on each trip, two were spent getting into and out of the woods. Unquestionably, by doing so, I have decreased my chances of a successful kill by 50%. I have effectively cut in half the time I have to hunt on each trip. So, why bother? Why not just hunt closer to the edge of the woods?

The reason is hunting pressure, which became crystallized for me on one of my day trips (which I didn’t share with you). On that trip, I took the day off from work. It was a Monday, a little over a week after opening day of rifle season. I drove to a forest that I had scouted previously. There was a spot about half an hour walk into the woods, where I had seen clear signs of a buck. There was a ridge overlooking the area, which would make a great place to set up. So, I got to the forest half hour before sunrise, and walked in, heading towards the ridge. As I was nearing the location, I spotted another hunter heading up the ridge, about 100 yards ahead of me. We waived at each other, and I moved on. I figured I would go to the other end of the ridge and try my luck there. When I reached the area, I spotted another hunter on top of that end of the ridge as well. I decided to go to a different location all together. As I walked along the bottom of the ridge, I counted four hunters, positioned on the ridge, close enough so that they would be able to maintain a conversation without shouting. They didn’t seem to know each other.

I moved on, aiming for another high point overlooking a nearby valley. When I got there, there were already two hunters occupying the area, sweeping different directions. Eventually I settled for a lower position wear the valley, where I spent the day waiting and glassing. Not a single shot was taken the whole day. You can see the distribution of hunters (the ones I ran into) in the map below:

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In an area of under a square mile, there were seven hunters. The blue cross marks my location, the red crosses mark the locations of other hunters. This was on a Monday (not a holiday) at sunrise, eight days into the hunting season. I can not even imagine how many hunters shared the area on opening weekend. There must have been more firepower there than on the beach at Normandy.

Unfortunately, there are certain realities which limit what I can do, and intimately determine the way I hunt. The above example is very typical of the hunting pressure experienced on easily accessible public lands. If you do not manage to fill your tag with one of the first shots on opening day of the season, your chances of success plummet. The hunting pressure on the area is so high, that all of the game is either taken quickly, or more realistically, it migrates to areas where there is less hunting, either due to the inaccessibility of the terrain, or hunting regulations.

There are two ways to get around this problem. The first is to hunt private land. If you own enough land, you can hunt it freely, without high hunting pressure created by multiple hunters. That significantly increases your success rate. Similarly, if your private land blocks out a piece of public land, making it hard for other hunters to reach it, you can hunt it with equal success. For those of us who are not large land owners, the only other way in to go deep into the woods, where other hunters are not willing to travel.

Since I am not a land owner, my only solution is to travel deep into the woods. I find that about ten miles in, and you are usually the only one hunting the area. Of course, that requires highly portable gear, not just so you can get into the forest, but so that you can carry out an additional 100 lb of deboned deer in the event of success.

This lead me to think about hunting in a SHTF survival situation. A while back I did a post about hunting and gathering enough resources to live long term in a survival situation. Many of the responses were by people who felt the need to assure themselves that they could do it, complete with examples of how much game they can kill or trap. I didn’t address those concerns there as the post was not in any way related to the effectiveness of hunting or gathering, but the above situation got me thinking. How much success would a person have hunting if their favorite hunting area looked like the above map? Remember, that was a very regular Monday. What if large numbers of people were hunting the forest in an attempt to feed their families. Unless you own a lot of land, and have come up with a way to protect all of it. the likelihood would be that the high hunting pressure would either drive all of the game out, or that it will be hunted to extinction within weeks of this hypothetical SHTF event.

Anyway, these are just some of the things that crossed my mind this season.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ultimate Survival Alaska Season 2 Starts December 15, 2013 at 9PM

Ultimate Survival Alaska is back for season 2. It starts this Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 9PM on the National Geographic Channel.


For those of you who didn’t see season 1, the show takes a group of outdoorsmen, and puts them in a location in Alaska. They then have a certain amount of time to reach a predetermined location. They have only the gear they can carry, and a limited supply of food.

This season it looks like they have made some changes, and will have pre-determined teams, such as woodsmen, mountaineers, ex-military, and endurance athletes. The above picture shows the ex-military team. I think it might add an interesting element, to see the different approaches takes. Here is the description from National Geographic: 

They are some the toughest, most extreme survivalists from across the nation. In the second season of Ultimate Survival Alaska, four teams — woodsmen, mountaineers, military veterans, and endurance athletes — go head-to-head in an epic arctic competition that only National Geographic could inspire. Dropped in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness by bush plane, with only their raw, die-hard ingenuity and the gear on their backs, they’ll navigate through treacherous glaciated river valleys, barren ridgelines, and high mountain peaks, battling hunger, hostile predators, and perilous weather conditions along the way. Like the original National Geographic explorers, for those who succeed there is no grand prize, just the well-fought pride of having conquered the grueling challenges that Mother Nature can throw at them. It's an epic competition series where the only prize is survival.”

I enjoyed the last season, and look forward to this one.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Trip Report: Sundown Forest Deer Hunt 12/5/13 – 12/8/13

I’ve been trying to get out as often as I can this past few weeks, before the season runs out. I just did another four day trip in the same area as before, with equal lack of success. I am not going to bore you with another detailed trip report, as it will be too similar to the last one I did. In broad strikes, I spent the first day walking into the forest, approximately seven or eight miles.

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The major difference between this trip and the one you saw on the last trip report was the temperature. This time around it was quite a bit lower, at around 18F(-8C). As you can see in the picture, on part of the hike in I was wearing my Patagonia Nano Puff in addition to my fleece.

When I reached the area I wanted, I set up camp. I used the same camp the whole time I was there, walking back and forth to the areas I was hunting.


The only difference in the equipment I carried on this trip as compared to the last one was a thicker jacket; my Eddy Bauer First Ascent Peak XV. Ordinarily I would not carry such a thick jacket in temperatures like these, but there was a lot of sitting around for hours at a time, which required the additional insulation.


After a few days with no results, I spent the fourth day making my way out of the forest.


That’s pretty much the end of an unsuccessful season. I saw a few does this time around, and I had hoped that they would be followed by a buck, but it didn’t happen, probably because it was too late in the season. There are antler restrictions in this area, so I couldn’t take a shot.

I was fairly happy with my backpack arrangement. At first I was looking for a more modular pack, so that I could go in with a smaller pack, containing just my gear, and then if I had to carry out a deer, to expand the pack to accommodate the extra volume. I decided to wait on the pack, and just use my Gregory Palisade 80. My worry of course was that even though the pack is large enough, and has a good enough frame to carry out a deboned deer, it would be empty on the way in. The solution was pretty simple. I just left my sleeping bag and jacket uncompressed, so they filled the pack on the way in. When compressed, the pack is left half empty. Obviously all this wasn’t an issue this season. The rest of my backpacking gear has been tested over many years, and worked fine. As far as the few hunting items I had with me, it is hard to say much about their performance considering that I was not successful.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dude You’re Screwed! Premiers Dec 8, 2013 at 10PM

Dude You’re Screwed! is the newest survival show from the Discovery Channel. Stupid name, I know. We’ll see how the show actually turns out.


The show is based around five survival experts. Here are the credentials provided by the Discovery Channel:

  • Terry Schappert, a Green Beret, A -Team leader, medic, sniper and close combat specialist
  • John Hudson, an Extreme Survival Instructor for the UK Royal Air Force
  • Matt Graham, a primitive skills expert and a desert survival instructor
  • Jake Zweig, a former Navy SEAL, certified in Surface Warfare & as a dive safety officer and helicast master
  • Tom Moore, a veteran Army Scout, bush craft master and wilderness guide

Each episode one of them will be dropped in a remote area of the wilderness without being told ahead of time where that will be. He then has 100 hours to make his way out. The other four experts will do some backseat driving, watching the progress on a television set, and commenting along the way. From the description, the show gives me a Bear Grylls vibe, which is not a good thing, but I’ll watch and see how it turns out.

The show airs this Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 10PM on the Discovery Channel right after the Naked and Afraid two hour premier.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Naked and Afraid Season 2 Starts Dec 8, 2013 at 8PM

That’s right, Naked and Afraid returns for season two. The new season is set to premier on December 8, 2013 at 8PM on the Discovery Channel.


For those of you not familiar with the show, the premise is that one man and one woman are dropped off in the wilderness. They are each allowed to bring only one tool, and nothing else. By nothing else, I mean, not even clothing. They then have to survive 21 days. The “no clothing” rule understandably seems to limit the show to areas where the temperatures will not cause immediate hypothermia, such as deserts and jungles. In season one, some of the people managed to make it, others did not.

Season two premiers with a two hour episode, where they will actually have four (4) people trying to survive together. I think the show is quite good at demonstrating the difficulties created by starvation, as well as the psychological impact of such a challenge.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Trip Report: Sundown Forest Deer Hunt 11/16/13 – 11/19/13

On November 16 dear rifle season opened in my part of New York State. So, I planned a four day trip into the woods to see if I can actually get one. I will not keep you in suspense; I came home empty handed. Regardless, I figured I would share the trip with you.

My plan was to hunt the southern section of the Catskill mountains. Specifically, I headed for the southern tip of Sundown Forest. I like the area because it offers relatively flat ground, at least what I would consider flat for these mountains, and I have previously spotted deer sign in the area. The down side of the area is that it has antler restriction. Generally speaking I am restricted to taking six pointers and up.

I intended to spend the opening day, Saturday, backpacking into the forest. I would set up camp, and then hunt the following two days, making my way out on the fourth.

So, on day one, I got to the forest and started making my way in. I would be bushwhacking the whole way in, trying to use the terrain features to make my way.


The are has some beautiful forest, starting with beech and hickory, and eventually transitioning into pine.

As you can see from the picture, I was carrying my Gregory Palisade 80 pack. That’s not because I had any extra gear. The pack was largely empty, and I had to leave my sleeping bag and jacket uncompressed to fill up the empty space. I brought the larger pack in case I got a kill. That way I would be able to carry out the meat.

I made my way into the pine forest, which was more open, and kept my eye out for signs. I didn’t have a specific spot in mind, so I had to figure out exactly where I was going to hunt. After some searching, I noticed a pattern in the direction of travel of the deer. There were a few rubs and crossing points that gave me the general direction.




It wasn’t sign of a huge buck, but it was a place to start. There was also some scat which looked like it may belong to a buck, although it was at least a few days old.


I made good progress, and in the early afternoon, stopped for lunch close to the part of the forest where I planned to hunt the next few days.


With sunset being at 5PM, soon after I started looking for a good camp site, which would offer me a direct route to an area where I could hunt in the morning. The fresh bear scat in the area gave me a pause, but it was too late to change plans.


I set up camp, and got dinner ready. It was a warm evening. I was a bit surprised, considering it had been snowing earlier in the week.


I spent the rest of the evening marking my way from camp to the spot where I was going to hunt in the morning, using biodegradable marking ribbon. Even though this is relatively open forest, if you travel out 50 yards from your tent, you will lose sight of it; 100 yards out, and you will have trouble making your way back.


Ironically, before getting into my tent for the night, I heard and then noticed that a bunch of turkeys were roosting in the trees next to my tent. The irony being that the Fall turkey season ended the day before. It’s as if they know, and come out to mock us.

The night was also warm. I had brought my Western Mountaineering Antelope MF 0F sleeping bag, which was overkill. Another thing I didn’t expect was the rain that started coming down during the night. I woke up around 5AM, and it was really coming down. When the sun came up, I got out to briefly to pick up my food bag, and then hunkered down in the tent, waiting for the rain to stop.


I hoped in vain that the rain would stop, but it just kept going. I personally don’t mind the rain, and typically backpack while it is raining, but the deer tend to bed down in weather like this, which makes spotting one difficult, particularly where I was. I came to this part of the forest because I think it is an area where the deer travel between their bedding areas and their food sources. The food sources usually tend to be fields and farms on private land, but I figured I can hunt them while they are on the move. Since they weren’t moving, there was nothing to hunt. When the rain didn’t stop after a few hours, I decided to get out anyway, and spend some time in the area I wanted to hunt.


As expected, no luck. I spent the rest of the day in the tent. I had myself some lunch in bed, and read from the book I had brought. I usually don’t bring things like books, but I expected periods of inactivity, and wanted to keep busy. The book? Early Riders: The Beginning of Mounted Warfare in Asia and Europe, by Robert Drews. If you like his other books, you’ll love this one.


I spent the rest of the day taking naps, reading, eating, and getting up to pee. When the sun started going down, I cooked dinner.


The following day was more of the same. The rain continued, getting even heavier at times. Fog blanketed the ridgeline where I had set up camp.


I mostly stayed in the tent and repeated the routine from the previous day.


I got out of the tent a few times to scout around and look at different spots. The trick in these forests is to find an area that is open enough where you can take advantage of the rifle, and be able to place a shot before a deer comes too close. Mostly, it was just a way to kill time.


Then, once again cooked dinner when the evening came, and went to sleep.


During the night the rain got even worse, turning into a storm. I figured I would have to walk out in some pretty bad weather in the worming and try to get out of the forest. However, around 4AM, the rain stopped. By the time I had packed up camp, you could even see some sunshine making its way through the trees.


It was day four in the woods, and I had to make my way out. I wasn’t in a rush however, so before starting, I spent a few hours early in the morning calling and waiting.


After being unsuccessful, I set out, heading west, and hoping to hit a ridgeline which would then take me out of the forest.


Eventually I made my way out of the pines, and entered into the deciduous part of the forest. I kept the rifle at the ready just in case. As a general rue of thumb, the moment you put the rifle away, you will accidentally run right into an eight pointer and beat yourself up for the next year. As I was walking, I noticed some fresh deer scat.


I was making good time, so I decided to stop again and spend a few more hours hunting the area. I set up near a dead tree, called, and waited. The weather was nice, and the ridge I had set up on was getting some nice sunshine.


After about two hours, I got up and continued on my way out of the forest. It was a very disappointing trip. Out of full four days, I only ended up hunting for a few hours on the last day. Not a good way to start the season.

For those of you who are interested, I had my usual backpacking gear with me. The “hunting” additions you can see in the picture below.


The rifle is a Savage 11-111 F in .308 with a Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40 scope. I also had a pair of Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x25 binoculars, a small bottle of doe urine, some marking ribbon, a Primos bleat in a can call, a Primos grunt tube, some T.A.G. bags (the B.O.M.B. kit) along with a few zip ties, and some Nose Jammer spray.

So, that’s it; a very uneventful trip. I wish I had something more interesting to share with you, but I don’t. I did get a chance to catch up on sleep, so I suppose that’s a plus.