Tuesday, July 30, 2013

1804-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition Documentary

This National Geographic documentary about the Lewis and Clark crossing of the American continent was recently posted on YouTube. I figured I would share it with you before it is taken down. The documentary is quite good, although it lacks detail as can be expected from a 45 minute film. The 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition is one of the finest examples of long distance wilderness travel and outright courage.

Embedding of the video has been disabled by the poster. I was able to do it through some magic, but if it doesn’t work, just follow the link to the YouTube channel:

If you are interested in the subject, I would recommend reading the book Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, by Stephen Ambrose


Or, if you have the time, you can give a go at reading the original Lewis and Clark journals from the expedition. You can obtain a free copy here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Using Trekking Poles to Pitch The GoLite Shangri-La 3

Recently I have decided to start using trekking poles, mostly because of issues I am having with my knees. I have resisted them for a long time because I don’t always need them, and I certainly do not need the extra weight. I was not happy about the concept of bringing extra weigh that might end up being strapped to my pack for most of the trip. So, when I decided to get trekking poles, I knew that I would have to offset the weight somewhere else. That way even if I didn’t use them in their primary role as poles, and just carried them strapped to my pack the whole trip, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

The traditional place where one would offset the weight of the trekking poles is to get rid of the some of the tent supports. That is easy to do with some shelters like the MLD Trailstar, that can simply utilize a single trekking pole for pitching. The shelter I use however, the GoLite Shangri-La 3 is more complicated. It is a larger shelter, with a height of 62 inches, and requires a longer center pole than what a single trekking pole can provide. I knew from the beginning that in order to use my trekking poles to pitch the shelter, I would have to somehow connect them.

The poles I chose for the task are the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork. I bought the 2012 model, but the current 2013 model should do just as well.


The poles weigh exactly 16 oz, and can extend to 130 cm each. The poles use a flip lock mechanism which allows you to collapse the poles while at the same time holding them securely in place when extended.


My approach to using the trekking poles as a center pole for my shelter required that they have sections that can be separated. There are many models which can do that, this is just the one I chose because it had positive reviews. My thinking was to take the two poles, remove the lower section from each pole, and then use a connector piece to attach the poles to each other.


In the above picture you see all of the components of my system, ready for assembly. I have removed the two lower sections from the poles (right), which leaves each pole with two sections (left). On the log between the two parts of the poles you see a small piece of white plastic. Initially I intended to get a replacement lower section for a Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork pole and cut a piece of it to use as a connector, but I found a piece of pen which worked just as well.

To assemble the pieces, I just place the connector in the end of one of the poles, and close the lock.


I then insert the other end of the connector into the other pole and close the lock. Here I have fitted the two poles so that they come completely together, but that is not necessary.


Once the poles are connected, you can use the locks between the remaining sections to adjust the height of the combined pole.




The set up seems to work very well. I have not had any issue of the poles slipping, and they appear to be strong enough for the job. This past weekend I used the poles for my shelter, and in the morning there was absolutely no sagging or any other problems.


In terms of weight, as I mentioned above, the poles weigh 16 oz. The aluminum center pole that comes with the Shangri-La 3 weighs 11.2 oz. With the added weight of the connector piece, by replacing the center pole of the shelter with my trekking poles, I am adding a total of 4 oz to my pack weight. While not perfect, I think it is a good compromise. In effect, I am getting a set of trekking poles for just 4 oz. So far both the poles and the shelter set up have been working very well.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Trip Report: 7/20/13 – 7/21/13

This past few weeks the weather here in NY has been horrible. It has been very hot (at least way too hot for my liking), and the humidity has been equally high. It has put a serious damper on my backpacking trips. It’s just hard to get motivated for a ten mile trip into the woods when you are sweating uncontrollably three minutes after you have gotten out of the car.

Despite that however, I decided to go out this past weekend. I had some new gear I wanted to try out. It wasn’t going to be a serious trip, but I just wanted to go a few miles into the woods to see how everything worked.

For starters, I have a new sleeping pad, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm. It is a replacement for the NeoAir All Season that I have been using for the past year. We’ll see how well it holds up during long term use, but I was very impressed by how small it pack when compared to the All Season.

I also have a set of trekking poles, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork (2012 model). Hopefully they will help with my knees. I also want to use them as the center pole for my GoLite Shangri-La 3 tent, so I can save on weight there.

I also wanted to take out my O/U 12 gauge so I can put a few shells through it to loosen the mechanism.

Anyway, I set out in the morning. It didn’t feel too warm when I started out, but the humidity was very high, which made things miserable.

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I didn’t go far. I just bushwhacked for two or three miles in, so I wouldn’t bother anyone with the noise I was about to make. I dropped off my gear and had a snack.


Then I just had some fun shooting different loads with my CZ Upland Sterling. The action has been a bit stiff, so I wanted to shoot a few more boxes through it to loosen it up some more.


As warm as it was, I wasn’t in the mood to keep a fire burning all evening long. I set up the tent using the trekking poles, which worked very well in that role. I’ll have a post with more details about the set up later. After that I just took apart my shotgun and occupied myself with cleaning it.


I spent the rest of the time taking pictures for a few post I have been meaning to make. It is a time consuming activity.

In the morning I just packed up and made my way out.

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That’s it. A short trip so I can make sure all of the new components of my gear work the way they are supposed to. Everything worked well. I was very happy with the fact that the trekking poles could be used as a center pole for the tent. This mean that the addition of the poles to my gear adds almost no weight. The XTherm pad also worked well; again, I have to see how it does long term. I hurried back home as the heat was seriously bothering me. I think we spend a lot of time worrying about cold weather backpacking, but the heat can be just as challenging, and I must admit, I much prefer winter camping.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Photograph of an Indian Fishing, 1923

The photograph was taken in 1923 and shows a Hupa Indian fishing with a net.


Clearly the location has been prepared for such fishing, with scaffolding allowing him to stand over the water and lower the net.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Wilderness Navigation: Obtaining Free Topographic Maps Part 2

A while back I did a post about how I obtain free topographic maps. You can see the post here. At that time a few of my readers made me aware of another source of free topo maps called Gmap4. Since that time I have been using the Gmap4 site to plan my trips, but I have never posted about it because until recently I was not able to figure out how to print maps from it. While I was able to locate the maps that I want, whenever I tried to print them out, I would just get a blank page. Unfortunately, the site does not have its own print function, so you have to use the browser’s print option. I’ve tried several browsers, but they have all printed out nothing but blank pages for me.

A few months ago I figured out a way around the problem. Last week Section Hiker did a post about Gmap4, where he went into great detail about the site and the different functions. Since I am not a big GPS user, most of those functions do not matter to me, but it did remind me to write this post and explain how I print out the maps in case anyone else is having the same issue as me.

To use the site just go to Gmap4 at http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.html Once you are on the main page, click on “Start Gmap4”.


This will take you to the world map page. Once there you can use the map two different ways. You can either zoom and move it around until you find your desired location, or you can just use the search function from the “Menu”.


This will open a search bar where you can type in your desired location. It doesn’t have to be an actual address. You can type in the name of a mountain, a lake, etc. In this case I will search for “Friday Mountain, NY”.


Click any of the options next to the search bar such as “List” or “Search”. and you will be taken to your location, or the site will display a list of available matches.


Once you have found your location, there are many different things you can do, such as creating a plotting a route, creating a .gpx file for your GPS unit, or you can change the type of map being displayed. The one you see above is the “t1” map, but you can also use the “t2” map which will give you the same “My Topo” maps I talked about in the last first map tutorial on finding free maps. For more details on the options as they relate to GPS use, you can look at the Section Hiker post.


Another feature which I have found very useful is the ability to obtain directions to any location on the map. Let’s say that you have found the location on Friday Mountain, and you want to get directions to a particular location on a nearby road, in this case “Denning Road”. All you have to do is move the pointer near the location to which you want directions and right click on it. A window showing the GPS coordinates will appear, and on the bottom it will have an option to get direction to or from that location.


Now that you have found your desired area of the map, and have found directions to the location, it is time to print out your map. This is where I originally had a problem with the website. The way i got around it is the same way I was able to obtain the pictures for this post.

To print, look at your keyboard. Above the arrows, near your right hand, at the very top of the keyboard (or someplace else depending on your keyboard configurations) there is a “Print Screen” button. With the window featuring the map opened, press the button. This will create a copy of the full screen image. Then, open the Paint program on your computer. Select “Paste”. The map image will now appear in your image software. You can now save or print the map using that software.

Well, that is as far as my knowledge of technology has taken me, and these are the features that I use. It is a great site an it is free to use. Much thanks to the developer.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How to Modify a Plastic Mora Sheath; Guest Post by WI_Woodsman

A while back a noticed a post by one of the Blades and Bushcraft members, WI_Woodsman on how he modified his “crappy” Mora sheath. I though it was a great project, and eventually asked him for permission to re-post it here. Luckily he agreed. The project shows a redesign of a Mora #1 or #2 plastic sheath, so that you knife can actually stay in the sheath rather than coming loose all the time. Here is the post:

Well it eventually happened! A while back the belt attachment finally wore off my Mora Classic #1. Honestly, it's the only complaint I've ever had with the early Mora knives. It seem as though the Swedes are either prone to hanging their Mora's from a button or they have incredibly thin belts. Over the years I've forced my belts through the flimsy plastic attachment until it at last ripped off... Inevitable as this may have been it has given me an opportunity to improve on an otherwise flawed design. I could have just thrown away the sheath but as much as I hate that sheath I grew attached to it, I just couldn't simply discard it! So the following is my solution.


First I cut a piece of leather to attach the new belt loop to as well as.


I cut it to size an stitched it up tight, I left the knife in so it would contour and provide friction to the handle as well.


Then I cut off the excess leather.


Using a punch I put two holes for the strap.


I cut another strip of leather and dyed it black to match the rest of the sheath and laced it through the holes. (Sorry 'bout the random stuff in the back ground...)


Then I twist the the grain side in.


I then cut the straps to size and make a slit in one strap and trim the other side at an angle to make it easer to pull it through the slit.


(OK, I hope the pictures and description of the attachment makes sense) Place the slit over the other strap.


Wrap the angled tap around the slotted tab once.


(Here's where that angle tab makes this process easier...) Now I pull that angle tab through the slot. Use a pare of needle nose pliers to really YANK that angle tab through the slot. (You can see the marks left by my Leatherman on my tabs.)


No problems! Only solutions! My Mora Classic fixed and better than it was originally I'm looking forward to using it for many, many more years to come.


Thanks for checking out my this little project, I hope it helps you or gives you a better idea. I'd be interested to see your Mora sheath mod!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Technology and The Modern Woodsman

Last month I wrote a post about a concept I called The Modern Woodsman. You can read it in full here. Before I get into the current topic it might be worth giving a recap of the concept itself.


The Modern Woodsman: an individual who is able to undertake long term, long distance trips, deep into the wilderness, only with supplies one could carry and what could be gathered from the surrounding environment. The equipment and skills used are guided by their actual practicality and are not restricted by any historical period limitations or aesthetic factors. The trips undertaken occur in the present, within the context of our current society, laws, and regulations.

The Modern Woodsman is able to navigate through the bush; he can travel over varied and difficult terrain and during any season and weather; he can properly plan the supplies needed for an excursion of a particular duration, both in terms of the resources that must be brought and what can realistically be obtained from the environment through which the travel will occur. Most importantly, he is not limited to the technology or skill of any particular time period. He uses technology, skills and equipment based on efficiency and practicality. He applies modern hunting techniques, modern understanding of nutrition, and modern climbing, mountaineering, and packrafting techniques. His equipment includes tools that are best suited for the task without consideration for nostalgia and sentimentality. The gear is centered around portability, so that it can be transported over long distances and difficult terrain. The skills he implements are designed for efficiency, not showmanship, and while his equipment is modern, it is designed to function over extended periods of time. His expeditions are not theoretical in nature, but occur in the present, within the guidelines and laws of our modern society.

With the above summary of The Modern Woodsman in mind, some questions have been asked about what technology is acceptable to use within this concept, and what technology should be excluded. Honestly, your approach is as good as any, since I am making up the concept myself. However, if you are interested in my thoughts on the subject, I’ll share them with you.

The simple answer is that the only limitation on technology is the rules and regulations of the jurisdiction within which the trip or expedition is taking place. That would eliminate most of the absurd examples, such as using dynamite to clear out a path through the forest, or fishing with grenades. All other technology is fair game for The Modern Woodsman. Technology of any kind and from any time period can be used to achieve the goal of the expedition.

Of course, the answer is more complex than that. While not limited by the concept itself, a large amount of technology will be excluded from use due to practical considerations. Remember, part of the definition of The Modern Woodsman is that he or she can undertake long term, long distance trips, deep into the wilderness, only with supplies one could carry and what could be gathered from the surrounding environment. The technology used has to function within that framework in a practical manner. The technology utilized has to be justifiable in terms of practicality when it comes to reliability, weight, and the benefit it offers over simpler technology. 

For example, why not use a chainsaw instead of an axe? Well, in most circumstances, the chainsaw would be impractical. It offers a significant advantage in terms of performance, but the combined weight of the chainsaw and fuel drastically limits its portability. On a trip that requires carrying the equipment on one’s back for 20 miles into the woods and then 20 miles out, the limitations of the chainsaw become evident. Similarly, on a trip of long duration, the necessity of fuel provides a significant disadvantage when compared to a simpler tool such as a hand saw or an axe. For me, those limitations would make the chainsaw a piece of technology that has limited uses for The Modern Woodsman. 

Another, more relevant example is GPS units. As you guys know, I use one to record my trips, but do not use it to navigate. A GPS unit offers wonderful advantages over more traditional navigation methods with map and compass, but it also has limitations which might render it impractical for certain types of trips. The main limitation is the reliability on a finite power source. A good GPS unit will last for about two days of careful use with a set of batteries. In cold weather that time decreases. So for a trip that will last a week or more, quite a few batteries have to be carried. So, as far as technology for The Modern Woodsman, such units, for me at least, fall in a category where they are useful technology that can be effectively utilized, but should be backed up by simpler methods and technology just because of their limitations.

A third example is modern stoves. I find them to be very beneficial to The Modern Woodsman. Under some circumstances, when traveling through woodland, their use is marginal, and their reliance on fuels that have to be carried, significantly limits their utility. Under different conditions however, when you have to cook food while it is raining, or have to melt snow for water when you are above tree line, a stove is an indispensable item and has a secure place within the gear of The Modern Woodsman.

It should also be noted that the practical utility of each type of technology will change with time, as the technology evolves and is perfected. It is quite possible that within 10 years there will be GPS units that can run for a month on a set of batteries, and portable chainsaws that can be strapped onto a backpack. Such innovations will change how we view the practicality of those pieces of technology and may make them more useful for The Modern Woodsman.

While at first glance this lack of limitation on the use of technology might appear strange, especially when compared to the more stylized outdoor pursuits such as bushcraft, traditional camping, etc, the practical limitations result in a very familiar outdoor experience. We can see it today in modern hunters, climbers, and backpackers, who utilize practical available technology to achiever their goals. The applicability of technology to The Modern Woodsman will always be measured on a scale, where planning and realistic evaluation of the conditions which will be encountered and the goals which must be achieved will guide the selection process.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Photograph of a Prospector Camp, 1887

The photograph was taken in 1887 in Deadwood. It shows two prospectors.


Clearly it has been a successful hunt.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

I hope everyone had a good 4th of July. May we never forget this amazing act of defiance and the sacrifices of those who made it possible.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ultralight Fishing Kit – Spinning Rod Set Up

Some time ago I decided to get somewhat more serious about fishing and started looking for a good ultralight fishing kit. Now, for years I have had an ultralight fishing kit that comprised of a line spooled around a plastic bottle with some lures inside. My goal this time, in order to go with my “getting serious about it” theme was to find an ultralight fishing set up that was an actual full fishing kit, complete with a full size rod, reel, tackle, etc.

After some searching, I found equipment that was to my liking. I figured I would share it with you here. For this post I will be focusing on my spin fishing kit. Also, it should be mentioned that this fishing kit is designed for fresh water fishing in small bodies of water. My primary fishing is in streams or small lakes I encounter when backpacking. If you are going after large fish, you will need something more robust.


The rod is St Croix Triumph TRS60LF4 Travel Spinning Rod. It is 6 feet in length, and I opted for the fast action graphite version. It comes apart into 4 pieces for easy transport. When disassembled, it is 18 inches in length. The full rod weighs 3.2 oz as measured (even though it is listed as 3.5 oz). The rod is designed for up to 8 lb test line and cost me $100.00. Honestly, I didn’t look too much. 3.2 oz seemed very reasonable to me for a rod. I am sure you can find lighter products out there if you looked more.


The rod case is one that I made myself. It weighs 1.5 oz, and you can see the tutorial here.

The reel is an Okuma Ultralight UL-10 spinning reel. It was the lightest reel I was able to find, and when I purchased it online I was worried that it would be a toy, but I was pleasantly surprised. It really feels like an actual reel. It has three ball bearings, and can handle line from 2 to 6 lb. I spooled some 4 lb line on it, of which the reel can hold 115 yards. The reel weighs 5.4 oz, and 5.8 oz with the line spooled on. It cost me only $18.00. 


The tackle is limited, not in number of pieces, but in that it is focused on small freshwater fish. Depending on what you are after, and how blessed you have been with luck, your tackle will vary. Mine is contained in a small box. It is comprised of several hooks, split shot, swivels, snaps, and a decent assortment of lures. I also have several floats and flies for some different techniques with which I am not good at all. The total weight of the tackle is 2.8 oz. The cost will depend on what pieces you have.


In all honesty, I am a horrible fisherman, so any advise I give you here will most likely be wrong. That being said, the lures I use the most are spinners and plugs.


That’s the entirety of my ultralight spin fishing kit. The tackle and reel are stored in a small bag and are kept in my pack. The rod in the case is strapped to the side of my pack.  



The total weight of my ultralight spin fishing kit is 13.6 oz with the bag which holds the tackle and reel.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Traditional Finish Log House Construction

This is a video showing the construction of a log cabin using traditional Finnish techniques. While it is not in English, it is well worth watching as it demonstrates numerous techniques.

The skill level of the builders is amazing. It is also interesting to see them use axes with traditional Finnish design.