Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Boone Fork to Beacon

If yesterday was about the fall colors I guess today is about water. Both Sunday and Monday I've had to carry extra water to drink since sources were far apart. Not today. There was water everywhere. 

At 5AM this morning I was awakened by a gentle rain. There are really only two times I dislike rain while hiking. One is while I'm setting up camp and the other is while breaking camp. Neither activity takes more than about 20 minutes so all I need is a quick break in the showers. I feel back asleep and waited out the rain. After all I did about 28 miles yesterday so today should be an easy 20 or so I thought. 

Less than a quarter mile from camp I encountered Boone Fork. At first I thought it would be a rock hop but half way across I realized I was going to get wet. I finished the crossing in knee deep water. It actually did not feel all that cold and I was feeling good about all the fords I knew were ahead of me. 
I stopped after about a mile and had breakfast on a rock outcropping. I had walked down a side trail to Hebron Falls but I didn't find it all that impressive so I looked for a drier spot. 

I continued on the Boone Fork Loop for 3 miles before getting on the Tanawaha Trail. The trail started out pretty easy and past through pastures and open fields as it approached Grandfather Mountain. The closer I got to Grandfather the more I was sure Tanawaha meet roots and rocks. This is a difficult trail. Some parts are seldom used as it is somewhat over grown in sections. A few places I was only able to walk about 1 1/2 miles an hour. 

Late morning I stopped and talked to a couple from Rakeigh. They had been hiking a few of the trails in the area. They gave me the latest weather report. When I left I had expected a littl rain Tuesday and then cooled temps toward the end of the week. They said that had changed and snow was now in the forecast. 

I walked along and thought about the new forecast and decided to check the weather on my phone. I didn't see snow but I did see a 40% chance of rain for the next couple of days. What was more disturbing was the daytime high on Friday. It was only 38 degrees!  Yips. Now cold is one thing and rain is another but both together in the mountains of NC can spell disaster. So I started thinking about options. 

I could hike at least one more day but that would put me in the middle of Wilson Creek Wilderness where it would be hard to get out if I had to. I also needed to think about who could come get me. Then I remembered Trail Trash and his new bride were heading home from their honeymoon. I hesitated to call but decided to ask anyway. When he answered the phone his first words were "you need a ride?" Well it wasn't like I had rescued him off a trail before. He said it would be awhile and I said anytime will be okay with me. 

I slowed down my pace a especially enjoyed Rough Ridge. The views are spectacular on top. As I looked out at the landscape I could see the lead edge of the front moving in. 
Everyone I met was bundled up and several were talking about how cold it was and how it was going to get colder. I was comfortable in shorts and a long sleeve T-shirt. I don't know what the temperature was but this fellow was enjoying a nice spot in the sun. 
About 5PM I arrived at Beacon Heights and as always when I hike early I was second guessing my decision.  Well in two and a half days I had covered 57+ miles and I enjoyed some outstanding views. I also know that these mountains have been here thousands of years. They will be here when I can come back. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Deep Gap to Boone Fork Trail

Monday is the day I normally spend time with my three year old grandson Henry. So several times today I thought about what he and I would be doing. One day he will be ready to take a trip with me. I'm looking forward to those hikes. 

This morning I woke up to the sound of traffic on 421. That steady drone of car engines. I quickly left that behind as I hiked parallel to a section of the parkway that was closed. This section was described as most trail. Well the first half was. The second half was mostly road walks. As the cars speeded by I kept wishing to be back where all I heard were my foot steps and the occasional buck snort. 
After Blowing Rock I was back on all trails again. I saw a few people near Cone Memorial Park. Other than that I've been pretty much alone. I'm just walking along and enjoying the fall colors. I don't think they could be better. I even found an apple tree to get a snack   
I'm not real sure about today's mileage. There were a few new sections open and I missed where I planned to camp. So I'm thinking about 28 miles. That will be the longest day this trip. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Check-in/OK message from SPOT EZ Hiker

EZ Hiker
Latitude:36.15014
Longitude:-81.73276
GPS location Date/Time:10/21/2013 18:47:12 EDT

Message:Out on a week long walk from Horse Gap to Mount Mitchell on the Mountain to Sea Trail!

Click the link below to see where I am located.
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If the above link does not work, try this link:
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Horse Gap to the Continental Divide on the MST

WhT a weekend!  What a wedding!  Trail Trash and his new bride Emily married at Sugar Hollow Retreat. It was a great time and my vegan lasagna and cheese cake was a hit. Totally screwed my stomach up but all the vegans and vegetarians loved it. My sisters want the recipies. 

My lovely bride decided I needed some hiking time. So on the way home she dropped me off at Horse Gap on the MST. My plan was to stop at Pbillip's Gap but I was thee by 4 o-clock and decided to hike on. 
I stopped for supper at the spring house in Jefferies Park. Made a pot of Mac and Cheese since it wouldn't take long. Dumped a package of tuna on top.  The esbit can stove worked great. While supper cooked I got a couple of liters of water from the spring. No water for the next few miles. 
Tonight I'm camped near the Continental Divide. Not as big a deal as the one out west but I'm happy to be here anyway. 

I covered 14.25 miles in just 6 hours. Tomorrow is my biggest day. To get to Cone Park it will be 26 miles. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Check-in/OK message from SPOT EZ Hiker

EZ Hiker
Latitude:36.24004
Longitude:-81.50107
GPS location Date/Time:10/20/2013 19:12:38 EDT

Message:Out on a week long walk from Horse Gap to Mount Mitchell on the Mountain to Sea Trail!

Click the link below to see where I am located.
http://fms.ws/EJ5My/36.24004N/81.50107W

If the above link does not work, try this link:
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EZ Hiker

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Trail Salsa

It's been a rushed week to say the least. Over the weekend I spoke about backpacking to three different groups. On Saturday afternoon I was at Woodfield Scout Preservation with Webelos Scouts and their parents. From there I drove to Hagan Seabase where I slept to the sound of a gentle rain all night. At first light I put up a second tent for my demo and it poured. However I still had a great time with the group of adult Scouters taking the IOLS class. 

Back home that night I did an on line interview with Scout Circle. My internet died about 40 minutes into the podcast. However it was my iPhone that came to the rescue. We finished the conversation and then I spent the next several hours thinking I could of done better. 

All week long I've been cooking. Not much in the way of trail food. My son Trail Trash is getting married this Saturday and I'm cooking supper for all the bride and groom's friends and family Friday night. By the way the bride and groom are Vegan. Got love a challenge like that when normally I cook everything Paleo. What's on the menu?  We're having lasagna with cheese cake for desert. It's amazing what you can do with a few cashews. 
I like to surprise my Scouts with interesting foods when we go backpacking. A few trips back I carried in a bag of corn chips. Of course you need salsa to go with them. Below is the recipe. How did the boys react?  At first they were a little skeptical but after one of my braver Scouts tried it out, it disappeared quickly. It also is good served over a bowl of beans and rice. 
Ingredients

1/3 cup  Sundried Tomatoes 
1⁄2 package Taco Mix 
2 tsp  Dried Onions 
2 tsp  Cilantro Leaves 
2 tsp   Sugar 
2/3 cup  Water

At Home: Chop tomatoes a fine as possible (they'll rehydrate better). Put all ingredients except the water in a zip lock baggie. 

In Camp: Add the water about 30 minutes to an hour before you are ready to use. 

I like plantain chips. They hold up better than potato chips in a pack. My grandson Henry (age 3) likes the Trader Joe's brand with monkeys on the package. He calls them monkey chips. 

Hope you enjoy the salsa. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dealing with Philmont Bears

My original plan was to present Amsteel 7/32" rope as a light weight alternative to the Philmont ropes.  However as I did my research and talked with one of their rangers from last summer, I found the practice of using lighter rope has been discontinued.  In looking for an explanation it became clear one major problems with the thinner rope was the ability to haul heavy loads up on the bear cables.  Not that the rope could not handle the load, it was the Scouts unable to pull the load on such thin rope.  My crew always wrapped the cord around a stick but evidently this didn't work when other crews tried it.
So the question would be why were the bear bags so heavy?  After all there should only be food, sun screen, insect repellent and a few other smellables.  But from my last trip out I remember that is not always the case. One major source of weight is drink bottles.  On the east coast we seldom worry about a water bottle that has had Gatorade or some other drink mix in it.  Our bears are a little more cautious of humans and have an easier time finding something to eat other than electrolyte replacements.  At Philmont, the bears regularly chew up Nalgene bottles that have been used to mix Gatorade.  As a result, all bottles used for drink mix are hung each night.  Now an empty bottle is not that big a deal but think about a crew with six boys and they all have two bottles full of water to haul up on the cable.  My suggestion is have each boy bring only one hard plastic bottle (other water containers should be soft sided like a Platypus) designated for drink mix.  Around 5 PM remind them to drink whatever is in the bottle.  This way all the bottles hung on your bear line are empty. 
Another source of weight could be the goodie bag. Philmont gives you an ample supply of food. Boys that are not big eaters or whom are picky eaters may not eat as much food as they are supplied. Some leaders believe in cooking all the food they are given. There is a good rationale for that line of thinking. The members of the crew are hiking a lot miles and need calories. But if it gets cooked and not eaten then you have more weight to carry. And this is messy weight. I've found it is normal for backpackers not eat a lot the first couple of days. Don't worry as long as they are eating something. About day three or four they will start to eat. They will be hitting the hiker boxes at every camp looking for snacks. Watch the nut butters. They will usually go for them first. 
Philmont also requires you to carry their bear bags.  They are not heavy and with the abrasive dirt they are exposed to it is probably a better idea than trying to use your own.  I would suggest having individual stuff sacks or large plastic zip lock bags for each boy to store his smellables.  This way in the morning each crew member simply retrieves his bag from the bear bags instead of spending time sorting it out.  Remember at Philmont the daytime temperatures can approach triple digits so hiking early and enjoying the midday shade makes a lot of sense.

And when you see a bear at Philmont, make a lot of noise.  Yes everyone wants to take a picture and send it home to worry mom.  For the sake of the bears, scare them off as quickly as possible.  For the most part they have lost their fear of humans.  Philmont's policy (at least when I was there) is three strikes and you are out.  If you see a bear with an ear tag, it made one mistake.  If it has two tags, it messed up twice.  You will not see any with three tags.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Shelters at Philmont Scout Ranch

It seems like an appropriate day to talk about shelters at Philmont.  First of all tents are one of the heaviest pieces of gear at the ranch.  Even their new tents are almost four pounds.  But again let me say that Philmont gear has to be built "bombproof" to withstand the use it gets from the hundreds of Scouts that visit each summer.

The other reason is it is pouring rain today.  A tropical low is riding up a front through North Carolina and dumping on us.  Normally I wouldn't give this a second thought except DOT is in the process of paving the road that leads to my driveway.  My wife left the house a little while ago and called to tell me all the water on the new street was flooding our drive.  So I just finished walking up the road to take a few pictures of the soon to be new ditch across my driveway.  Looks like either DOT or I will have to be burying some pipe to route off the water.  Sure hope its them.

Now for tents at Philmont.  When we attended in 2009 I asked about a fly with a bug tent underneath.  The answer was very clear about their requirements.  First, for youth there should be at least two to a tent unless there is an odd number of Scouts.  The preference is for two adults to a tent but they were a little more flexible on this point.  The reasoning is that there is limited space for tents in the campsite.  Secondly the tent or shelter has to be fully enclosed.  There are sometimes afternoon rain storms that could possibly blow water into an open style tent and wet a Scout's gear.  With temperatures dropping into the low 40's at night it would be an uncomfortable night.  Floors do not have to be attached to the tent but be advised, the ground in the campsites is bare and hard.  Water will puddle but fortunately not long.

After considering several options for shelters we decided on Tarptents.  I already owned a Cloudburst II and had access to two others.  We checked www.tarptent.com and decided to purchase two additional tents.  The Squall II looked like a good choice.  Both tents were in the 34 to 36 ounce range.  The Cloudburst II uses its own poles while the Squall II uses a trekking pole for support.  The Cloudburst II could be set up quickly with three stakes and the Squall II is set up with 4 stakes. 

Philmont requires a dining fly just in case of rain.  I've been to the ranch twice and I think it only rained briefly one afternoon while we were still in base camp.  However there is always the chance and its best to "be prepared".  Instead of their tarp and poles we elected to carry a 8x10 silnylon tarp.  We used hiking poles to support the center and staked it out in a modified "A" frame.  It was a little tight to get all of us under the tarp, but we really only used it to store our packs at night.  Weight of the tarp in a stuff sack is 17 ounces.  The weight of the poles was free since most of us used hiking poles.

Our crew consisted of ten members.  There were six boys and four adults.  As the crew gear came together we were able to hold the amount each member carried to about two pounds.  Here are a couple of pictures displaying our packs.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lightweight Insulated Mess Kit

I spent most of yesterday afternoon working on a presentation for lightweight backpacking.  One of the segments is about packing and gear errors that Scouts tend to make.  Recently a young man decided to transfer to our Troop.  His mom was so happy to hear that we were going backpacking the very next week. She said he had just gotten a new mess kit and couldn't wait to try it out.

Over the years I have seen a lot of mess kits.  They usually range from the official BSA model with a frying pan, cook pot, plastic cup and dish.  There is also a knife , spoon and fork set to go with it.  I've also seen my share of the heavy metal military surplus kits.  Come on.  Enough is enough.  What does it take to eat a meal prepared in the patrol's pot?  Nothing but a bowl and a spoon.  After a few trips I can usually talk the boys into an old margarine tub and a plastic spork from KFC.

A few years back as we prepared to go to Philmont, I decided to make each crew member an insulated mess kit.  I made a quart and pint size bowl and the pint ended up being the one the boys liked the best.  Two of my assistant leaders are still using ones I made.

So here is what you will need:

1- Rubbermaid Tagalong Screw Top Container
Some foil bubble wrap
Foil type duct tape
5 minute epoxy
scissors
ruler


Cut a piece of the bubble wrap 4"x13.5".  Mark one of the long sides into eight equal segments.  Counting from the bottom corner, number the marks 0-9.  At each end make a mark 1 7/8" from the bottom.  Also make a mark at 1 7/8" above marks 2, 4, 6 and 8.  Connect the marks to form a series of triangle like in the picture below.

Cut out the triangles and fold the cozy together.  Using the container as a form may be helpful.  Use 1" strips of tape along the length of the cuts to hold the foil together.  Cut a circle of insulation to fit the cap.

Using a sharpie and a 1/4 cup measure, add water to the container and mark the outside of the container for measuring.

Mix the epoxy and spread on the outside of the container on the bottom and under the rim.  Slide the insulation in place.  Smear epoxy on the cap and apply the circle of insulation.  Give each a slight twist to spread the epoxy.

The results is a neat little insulated mess kit that with a cut off spoon (to fit inside) that weighs less than 2 ounces.  Clean up is a breeze.  Add a little hot water, place spoon inside, replace cap and shake.  Cleans up like the dishwasher back home.  One word of caution, be careful when you open the container after washing.  The hot water expands any air in the container so there will be some pressure inside.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Personal Gear for Philmont Scout Ranch


I know exactly what you are saying.  It’s not my gear that’s so heavy, it’s all that crew gear that Philmont makes us take.  Well there is a lot of truth in that statement but it’s not the whole truth.  Philmont’s gear is heavy out of necessity. With hundreds of boys using it week in and week out, it wouldn’t hold up unless it was built bombproof.  We’ll talk about that later but let’s take a look at your personal gear.

Pack: It is a known fact that larger, heavier packs carry a large load more comfortably.  It is also true that if there is room in the pack, a few (or more) extras will find their way into that empty space.  Philmont suggests a 4800 cubic inch pack I assure you a pack that is about 4200 cubic inches or even smaller will do the job.  The pack I carried in 2009 was 3200 cubic inches.  It had no frame and held everything I needed on the trek.  It did attract a lot of attention from other Scoutmasters that where tired of lugging around expedition packs.  Whatever you carry just make sure it is in good condition before the trip.

Pack Cover:  Many hikers like a pack cover.  With the older heavy canvas type packs every drop of water makes the pack that much heavier.  If you have a cover and like it by all means use it.  If you are using one of the new lightweight packs made of dyneema or nylon then you might want to use a pack-liner as an option.  Get a heavyweight plastic bag big enough to hold your sleeping bag and clothes.  When packing, you simply stuff your bag and clothes into the plastic bag and twist the top and stuff it down the side of your pack. This is all I ever use anymore and my sleeping gear and clothes stay dry even in all day down pours.  If you can find unscented compactor bags, they will work just fine.  If not Gossamer Gear carries pack liner bags on their website.  Don’t waste your money on a silnylon liner, they are not totally waterproof.

Another advantage is that when it starts to rain you don’t have to stop and cover your pack.  At night you will put the packs under a tarp to keep them dry.

Sleeping Bag: I quit carrying a sleeping bag a long time ago.  They felt too restrictive and I never had the correct one for the overnight low.  I now carry a sleeping quilt.  It simply drapes around me and allows me to add insulation without disturbing the blanket’s loft.  A quilt or bag rated for the mid 30’s should work just fine during the summer at Philmont.  I also carried a torso length pad.  Yes my feet hang off but I don’t find this to be a problem.
Sleeping Clothes: Philmont is very careful when it comes to their bears.  They prefer that the bears do not feast of young Scouts that have spilt food on them-selves during the day.  So, sleeping clothes are required.  I carried a set of polypropylene long underwear but if you are carrying a 20-30 degree bag, gym shorts and a t-shirt will be fine.

Hiking Boots/Shoes:  The first time I went to Philmont I wore a pair of full leather boots.  If you had told me on the next trip I would wear lightweight trail runner I would have laughed at you.  Well, I laughed up and down ever trail we hiked because my feet felt so much better.  With a pack under 25#, heavy boots just are not needed.  Okay, you have weak ankles and don’t want to risk turning them over.  The truth of the matter is with boots unless you lace them very, very tight, you can still roll your ankle.  With loose trail runners I have found on a misstep, the shoe rolls and my ankle is not forced over.  Now for the big plus, in trail runners (non gortex) my feet breathe better and as a result stay drier.  Drier feet equal fewer and most of the time NO BLISTERS.  Consider it.

As with boots, trail runners need to be fitted properly.  Buy them a size larger than normal.  As you hike, your feet will swell.  This increases the friction between your feet and the shoes causing blisters.  Whatever you are going to wear, start wearing them now to make sure they are going to be comfortable on the trail.

 Sneakers: These are to wear at some of the program areas.  They will be more comfortable than boots.  But if you are wearing trail runners then you are all set and don’t have to carry them.

Socks: Bring 3 good pair of hiking socks (wear 1, carry 2).  Medium-weight in boots and light -weight in trail runners should be fine.  I wear Wright Socks Merino Wool (made in Burlington, NC.).  If you wear liners, that’s fine.  Just be sure that when you purchase your boots you get fitted with the liners on.  Remember as you hike your feet will swell.  If there is not room for the expansion, you will blister.

Underwear: How can I put this?  I don’t when I hike.  I wear hiking shorts with a liner (like swimming trunks).  If you wear underwear, it should be synthetic.  A compression type will prevent chaffing.  Just bring/wear one pair.  You will several opportunities to wash clothes on the trail.

Shorts: Nylon woven shorts or gym shorts will work fine.  Do not bring cotton.  You will get wet and cotton will take forever to dry.  I know your Mom just said to carry extra pairs so you can change if you get wet.  That’s fine but will Mom be carrying the wet clothes in your pack?  If you are wearing them they will dry much quicker.  I like Nike running shorts. 

Hiking Shirt:  Philmont says a short sleeve shirt.  I disagree.  I recommend wearing a lightweight long sleeve shirt.  This will give protection from the sun as well as any annoying bugs without having to rub on all sorts of protection.  Remember the temperatures will be much like here.  The difference is the humidity will be about 17%.  No matter what you choose make sure it is a wicking material.  I find the Columbia Omni-Wick works great.  Again one should be enough.

Hat:  You will need sun protection so bring a hat with a brim.  A baseball style cap will do just fine.  I have started wearing Head-Sweats.  They make their caps out of CoolMax.

Long Pants: In the evening it gets cool quickly at Philmont.  The days may jump to 100+ plus but the nights can dip to the low 40’s or below.  Bring a pair of pants to wear around camp plus you will need them at some of the program areas.  DO NOT BRING JEANS!!!  A pair of lightweight woven nylon pants will well.

Jacket: A fleece or puffy insulation jacket will work.  It only needs to be a lightweight jacket.  After hiking and participating in program all day you will not be up late.  If you do get cool you can always layer with your rain jacket.

Toboggan Cap: I carry a fleece cap but I’ll leave this as an optional item.  It does make the evenings a little more comfortable.

Gloves: Yes it is summer.  However a lightweight pair of glove liners feels real good as the temperature drop in the evenings.  Mine weigh on 1.5 ounces so I don’t mind carrying them.  Polypro is best but a cheap pair of wool gloves will work just fine.

Rain Gear: Bring a lightweight rain jacket and pants.  You may want to consider a set of Dri-Ducks.  Your rain gear can also act as extra layers if you get cold.  It’s also something to wear when you wash clothes.

Eating Gear: A bowl and a spoon is all you need to carry.  An insulated plastic food container and a lexan spoon are ideal.  I’ve made them out of quart and pint containers and the boys in my crew liked the pints the best.

Water Bottle: Camel Backs and the like are fine but I have found that I can never keep up with how much water I have left.  Water is important but it also the heaviest thing in your pack.  A one liter and a two liter platypus style container should be sufficient.  Fill the one liter when there is plenty of water on your route and add the other two liters when the route is dry.  If you work it right, you will use all your water just before your next source.  If not you are carting too much.  One of the jobs the navigator will have on your trip is to identify how far it will be to the next water source. 
Other Personal Equipment: A small flashlight (powered by 1 AA battery) or a headlamp.  One or two cotton bandannas (this should be you only cotton).  A small tube of chap stick will come in handy.  A toothbrush and a sample size tube of toothpaste.  If you want, some crew members might carry sunglasses.  A whistle (in case you get separated from the group, but that better not happen).  Hiking poles are useful but not essential.  A camera for taking pictures and a small stuff sack to store your small items.

Okay, that pretty much sums up the personal gear my crew took to Philmont.  The base weight of the pack came to 7 pounds and 3 ounces.  I’ll be adding in the crew gear over the next couple of days.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

It Takes a Monster Pack for Philmont!

Don't be distressed by the title of this post.  That's a comment I hear over and over each season as Scouts get the word they are going to New Mexico for a week to ten days of backpacking.  Four years ago I was in the position that some fortunate Scoutmasters are in right now.  One leader recently contacted me and explain an "old timer" in his Troop declared that there was no way to do it with less than 50 pounds.  I called him back and assured him that that information was not totally accurate.

That leads us into today's post.  The crew leader for my trek and a couple of the other boys were determined to go as light as possible on their 2009 trek.  After all two of them had been shaving ounces off their pack weight for a couple of years and were determined not to carry a heavy pack again.

As with other crews we planned a number of shake down activities with the crew.  I'll never forget the first one.  One of the other adults that had three previous trips to Philmont under his belt showed up with a 49 pound pack.  I looked at it leaning against his vehicle and asked why such a big pack.  The reply was "that's what it takes to hike at Philmont".  I rolled my eyes and pulled my 18 pound pack out of the backseat of my car.  His reaction was "why did you bring that pack?'.  "Because that's what I'm taking to Philmont", was my response.
This was one of the first shake down hikes on the AT in Virginia

Over the course of our practice hikes, I spent a time showing the hows and whys of light weight backpacking.  While the boys were eager to take advantage of most all of my suggestions, I found my friend with the 49 pound pack was a little reluctant.  He did change a few items like his eating gear went metal to light plastic, he changed to a single wall tent and he finally got the concept of collecting water multiple times a day instead of starting out with three liters of water in the morning.  In the end we shaved over 15 pounds from his pack.

So what was his reaction to the lower weight?  The last night on the trail as we sat around the final campfire he had this to say.  "This is my fourth trek at Philmont Scout Ranch.  Each one is special in its own way.  This one is special because with my lighter pack it is the first trip where I didn't need a bottle of ibuprofen just to get up in the morning.  If I ever get to come back you can bet my pack will be even lighter."

The pack is still big but a lot of weight has been removed
No you don't need a monster pack for Philmont.  Over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting the things our crew did to have light comfortable packs as we hiked through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Simple Chicken Can Esbit Stove

As you can tell I've been off the trail for a few weeks.   That doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about my next hike.  Fall is the perfect time to get out and hike but somehow every year life seems to throw me a curve that becomes more pressing than a good walk.  Yesterday I found out my dog Bonnie has a tear in her knee joint.  A 73 pound Golden Retriever needs good joints so later today I'll call to set an appointment with the vet for our next visit.

Anyway I've been working on an idea for some time for a new stove.  Last year BSA decided to ban homemade alcohol stoves and discourage the use of alcohol as a fuel.  Over the years alcohol has been my fuel of choice.  First it burns clean.  There is no soot on the pot at the end of supper to scrub off.  It is readily available.  I have never walked into a town and not found alcohol.  Either an outfitter had some behind the counter, the hardware store had a can or in one town in Vermont I got it at an auto supply.  But I can understand BSA's decision.  Methyl alcohol is a serious poison not only when ingested but can over time be absorbed through the skin.   Another problem is that because it burns so clean it is hard to tell if the stove is lit.  I had a friend injured when someone attempted to refuel a stove that was still burning.  No the stove did not explode but flames traveled up to the fuel container and created a fire that landed my friend in the burn ward.  so for these reasons I no longer cook with alcohol.



however one of my favorite alcohol stove I made over the years had a damper in it to lower the heat and simmer a pot for 20+ minutes.  Talk about a hit at an AT shelter.  Everyone there wanted to know how I could cook so long on so little fuel.  That stove cooked meal after meal for Trail Trash and me when we thru hiked the AT in 2010.  So the quest has become to find a reasonably safe fuel that is light in weight and a stove that will simmer.

Looking at the more popular fuels didn't do much to inspire me.  I don't like propane stoves.  While lighter than some others I just can't get past dropping those steel canisters in a garbage can.  They are easy to use and very fast but that one obstacle has steered me away from them.  Yes they can be recycled but not easily where I live.  Seems the local government here thinks landfills are still the way to go.

For a short time I pulled out my old Whisperlite.  Enough said there.

I tried a Bush Buddy stove.  Yes is does solve a number of problems but unfortunately I'm not a great fire builder.  I lack the patients it takes to collect all the little pieces of wood to start and maintain a fire for that long.  One of my assistant scoutmasters cooks on nothing else but it just wasn't what I required to replace my old alcohol set up.

So decided to try Esbit.  It gives a fast hot flame and is a very light fuel.  A tab weighs about a half ounce in the package and burns for 13 minutes.  Now all I needed was a way slow the down the burn.  A review of a small stove that allows you to simmer with Esbit seemed to how the answer.  I purchased one of the tiny titanium stoves and gave it a try.  It worked great!  Just one problem, it requires a separate pot stand.  No that may not seem like much of a problem but after a couple of different set ups I decided it was time to make my own stove that would also act as a pot stand and fit easily into my MSR kettle for transportation.



After several attempts I came up with this design.  It is a chicken can from the canned meats department.  I've drilled 15 half inch holes around the top and 2 quarter inch holes at the bottom of the can to allow air to circulate.  A half cube burned for over 12 minutes and raised the temperature of a pint of water 110 degrees.  That should be enough to bring one of my dehydrated meals to a nice simmer.  I've got an over night coming up in just over a week. I'll let you know how it performs in camp.