Dayhike to Deam Wilderness

July 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday I set out on a quick day hike with my son Cameron.

We decided to make a trip to the Deam Wilderness in the Hoosier National Forest, to scope out a potential Camping site near the Terill Ridge Pond and maybe a few that are beyond that near Monroe Reservoir.

It has been so hot lately we have not been out nearly as much as I had hoped this summer. Temperatures were still planned to be in the 90s but we decided to make a go of it anyway. We left about 8 Sunday morning (about an hour later than planned) but it turned out to be perfect. Cam wanted to take subway in for lunch and it turns out that subways don’t open until 9 on Sundays. It takes about an hour to get to Bloomington so we picked up lunch at a subway in Bloomington near the trailhead. After lunch was secured we finished the 20 minute drive to the Hickory Ridge Parking Lot.

We hiked back to a cool old cemetery that is about 2 miles from the trailhead. The Deam wilderness was occupied with homesteads from the 1820’s until around I believe around 1940. I know there are still some old homestead remnants around that I hope to hike to someday. The Terill Ridge cemetery is one of 2 with in the wilderness that I am aware of. You can find head stones from the 1800’s to the 1990’s pretty cool to see that kind of history all in one place.

From there we headed down a trial about 3/4 of a mile and found the Terill ridge pond and the campsite near it. For such a short hike we will have to check it our some time.

We headed down the trail hoping to find some of the other campsites that are supposed to be back there. After about another 3/4 of a mile we found another site at the top of the ridge very close to Monroe reservoir. We could hear the boats in the distance. This was a beautiful area among some old growth trees with a great breeze so we decided to sit down and eat our subway sandwiches.

After eating lunch we were starting to get a little tired and it was starting to get hot and very humid, they had actually had a little rain in the area that morning. Not enough to help with the drought but certainly enough to really increase the humidity level under the tree cover. We decided this would be a good spot to head back from since everything from here was heading down a very steep hill towards the lake and that would mean a very steep climb back out. Maybe next time we thought. On the way back we saw a cool little turtle and a cool looking butterfly (It could be a moth for any insect experts out there, I will never claim to be an expert on bugs)

We made it back to the parking area, put our packs in the van got a drink and headed up the fire tower. It was a clear day and the tower has some of great views of the area.

In the end we hiked probably a little under 7 miles but it was a great day. It always good to spend a day just me and Cameron plus we did not see another person the whole day on the trail so it felt like everything was there just for us!

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MYOG Freezer Bag and Pot Cozy

July 12, 2012 Leave a comment

A while back our local Lowes had a roll of Reflectix on sale so I picked some up to make a few cozies for our pots and a couple of envelope style that would hold our freezer bag meals. I also made a bowl / cup out of one of the Ziploc 2 cup containers.

I must say these all work exceptionally well. they really hold the heat inside. Construction and working with the Reflectix is very easy. It is flexible but will still maintain its shape, it can also be cut with scissors or a razor knife with ease. I’m not going through the step by step instructions on these because there are so many out there. However if anyone has a request to see the step by step instruction let me know and I could do that in the future.

The first item I made was the freezer bag cozy. I made them a little oversized so I could fit 2 meals inside. I thought it would save some weight by only having 1 with us or 2 when we have the kids, plus keeping both bags together in one cozy should help keep the heat. I plan to make another one smaller for solo cooking, that will be about the size of a quart size bag. Construction was as easy as could be, I measured the bag size based on the outline of a gallon size ziplock bag. Don’t forget to add enough length that can fold over to form the cover. I attached velcro to keep the lid closed. The cozy comes in at 12″ x 12″ and 3.3 oz

I also made a few pot cozies. these are made by First cutting the Reflectix at the hight of the pot to create the sides and then cut the bottom out to size and tape them together. I like to use duct tape on the inside but the aluminum tape on the inside. I have also made a lid for each one in the same way.

Here is a version I made a version for our walmart grease pots. it comes in at 5.35 oz with the cozy and the grease pot.

My latest cozy project involved a 2 cup Ziplock container with the screw on lid. I created this to be used as a bowl or cup. I made the bottom portion of the cozy the same way I made the pot cozies above. What i did different with the lid is actually glue a small piece of Reflectix cut to fit into the indent of the screw on lid. The cup weighs in at 1.4 oz alone. The cozy adds 1.0 oz for a total of 2.4 oz. I can say that it works great, I used this cozy on our last trip. It was not that cold out but everything we put in it stayed hot.

Categories: MYOG Tags: , , ,

Backpacking Breakfast

July 11, 2012 Leave a comment

On our last hiking trip I think I may have discovered a new favorite backpacking breakfast. I know a lot of people skip this and go with pop-tarts or some kind of breakfast bar but I really like to have something hot when I wake up on cool mornings.

This recipe is something we actually stumbled onto by accident, with some things we already had when preparing for our last trip. We had several packages of plain instant cream of wheat. I personally am not a huge fan of non-flavored cream of wheat so I started looking for ideas of what to add to it. We had recently revived an order from Minimus and one of the things we got to try were the individual honey packets and I thought that sounded pretty good. We had also just made a stop at REI for a few items when we decided to try the Just Stawberries brand freeze-dried strawberries. They are expensive but they taste awesome!

I put it all together and happened to be pleasantly surprised with the results.

I boiled water for 2 packets of cream of wheat and added them to my DIY 2 cup ziplock bowl w/ cozy ( I’ll post the review of it later), at the same time I added one packet of the honey and a hand full of the freeze-dried strawberries. I let it sit for a few minutes while I got the coffee ready and it was ready to go.

It comes out to about 300 calories for the breakfast at about oz 3.1oz

Water Treatment System

Before our first backpacking trip probably the most difficult decision we had was what water treatment system to use. I looked at many blogs, customer reviews, YouTube videos, message boards you name I looked. What I found is that there are no shortages of opinions and everyone likes their particular method, but it really comes down to your own personal preference. Here is how we got to our decision and ultimately what works for us.

Essentially there are 5 basic categories of water treatment options in the back country.
1. No treatment at all
2. Chemical
3. UV Light Filter
4. Pump Water Filter
5. Gravity Water Filter

Option 1 was easy to eliminate. We are nowhere near any water sources that I would trust without some kind of treatment. I don’t know how much is hype vs. reality but the thought of one of possible stomach bugs does not appeal to me in any way so I am willing to spend a few minutes treating my water.

Option 2 I really like how lightweight the chemical treatments are and if I was traveling in an area with clear water sources I would consider this option . However as I considered no filter options I thought of many of the water sources here in Indiana where we would likely hike. In the spring it is easy to find small streams with clear water but in late summer many of those dry up. At that point we would have to look at the muddy bottom rivers and lakes. With the amount of silt in each of them I thought I would much rather have a filter of some kind. Plus my wife had already made the statement that if she was going we needed a filter. The other issue I have with the chemical treatment is that if I am able to pull water from clean mountain sources I don’t want to add flavors to the water that i will have to cover up with something else, it kind of defeats the purpose to me. That is not to say that I won’t always carry at least a couple of the tablets in my pack for a backup treatment, but I’m not sure this will become my primary method.

The UV light in option 3 I still find interesting. We did actually purchase a Steripen Classic on clearance for a very good price but I have not actually used it yet. I does feel strange to place my faith in a small light in the water but this is a very proven system that is used commercially so I am confident that it will work. Having something that relies on batteries for your water source is a serious drawback but it seems that many people have had great success. I do really like these as well if I was hiking in an area with known clear water sources I think I would consider this over chemical treatments.

Options 4 and 5 are both similar except that one uses a manual pump and the other uses gravity. The pumps offer more options for the filter media. Ceramic filter, activated charcoal or hollow tube seem to be the most common options available. Ceramic filter seem to be easy to clean, activated charcoal will pull out any unwanted flavors, and hollow tubes are by far the fastest filter rate. Gravity filters really only seem to offer the hollow tubes. When I first started looking I thought it would just be my wife and myself hiking and I probably would have gone with a pump filter. However the more we talked about backpacking our kids really started to show an interest I started to consider how much water I would be pumping for 4 people when we would all go. I actually found a video on YouTube (Water Video) of a family that started to backpacked together and as he discussed how much he had to pump for the whole family I decided it would be a gravity filter. On a side note if you are considering backpacking as a family he has a few good videos that tell their story that actually helped us decide to go forward with family backpacking.

Ultimately we decided to go with the Sawyer 4L Gravity Filter System. It is a hollow fiber filter that essentially works by having many tiny straw like structures together that are large enough for water to flow through but not large enough for particles down to the size of bacteria to flow through. If you want the scientific details their website has plenty of information.

I don’t think it is the lightest option out there but it is very versatile with a good flow rate and durable. We ordered ours from REI but I know many retailers actually carry these filters so go with your retailer of choice. I chose it because of the high flow rate and no pumping was required. I also liked the versatility of the filter as it can be used as a hydration bladder, it has the valve on the clean bag that allows you to easily fill water bottles, plus without any other water bottles I can have 8 liters of water available. I could also just carry the dirty bag and filter to filter directly into camelback bladders or any bottle.

I was excited when it finally arrived from REI. Admittedly that is not much of a statement because I get excited with any gear order. My first impression was how big this actually was. At the point when we received the filter I was still used to getting packages and then shocked at how small something is. Both water bladders will hold 4 liters so they need to be good size, they measure about 10 inches wide by 21 inches long. The water bladders feel very sturdy and look like they will hold up to some serious use.

With everything I need to operate the filter (2 bags, hose, filter and 1 gallon ziplock bag) the filter comes in at 17.2 oz, dry. I know that i am never going to get all of the water out of the filter so I did a quick filter and drained as much water as possible and re-weighed the filter at 18.25 oz.

Setup and Use
Set up and use could not get easier.
1. fill the gray “Dirty” water bag and hang from a branch or set on a rock
2. Attach one end of the hose to the dirty bag and allow water to flow.
3. Attach the other end of the hose to the gray side of the filter. That is the only end with a female fitting so it is impossible to get it wrong.
4. Wait for water to flow from the filter and then attach it to the blue clean water bag. The blue bag just has to be below the gray bag for it to work.
5. Sit back and relax while the water flows from the dirty bag to the clean bag.

Tips
Filling the dirty water from a shallow source is difficult to impossible unless the current is moving swiftly. the first time I used the filter I cut a Gatorade bottle in half to pour water into the bag. The second trip we used it I cut down a light weight 20oz bottle to take with us but I think the best option will just be to keep the filter in a Ziploc bag and use the Ziploc to scoop water if necessary.

I have not tried it yet but for our next trip I am going to try a pre-filter for the dirty bag. I am going to try the pre-filter I saw on JERMM’s Blog that uses the toe of a pair of pantyhose. I think that should keep the debris from building up in the dirty bag

Field Use
The first time I used the filter on a backpacking trip was a serious test to the filters ability. We were on our first family backpacking trip. I found a small creek near our campsite but because if recent rains the water was pretty muddy. I set everything up just like I had practiced and the water coming out of the filter was clear as it could be. That really gave me the confidence that this filter was doing its job. I filtered several bags and filled all of our water bottles plus filled the dirty bag so we could filter at camp. I also took this filter on the recent trip with my wife to the Smoky Mountains. For just the two of us it was a little bit of overkill to have that much water capacity but it was nice that I only had to make one trip to a water source and we would have plenty of water.

Unfortunately I didn’t time how long it took to filter a full bag but the claim of 1 liter per minute from the manufacture seems pretty close. It was less than 5 minutes for each time I have used the filter.

Filling water bottles or pots with the spigot on the clean water bag was great. I would hang the bag from a tree at the campsite and could just pull down on the handle to accurately pour the water at any speed I wanted. I know this adds some weight, but this is a great feature.

On our trip in the smoky mountains I used the clean bag as a hydration bladder, mostly just to try it. I did not have any issues with leaking and it works as well as my camelback bladder. With the 4L capacity I can see where it might be easy to overfill it for what you actually need at one point but it is nice to know that if I needed the capacity its there.

Cons
Really there are very few cons to this filter setup and really they are nitpicking.

As I mentioned this is a little more than what I need if it’s just myself or even for 2 of us. I could use smaller bags as the quick connect hose is compatible with the camel-back, It could also be compatible with other brands I just don’t have any to confirm that for sure. I have really started looking into Sawyer Squeeze filter for these situations. I recently saw a review on ( Sticks Blog), and I think I am convinced to give it a try for solo hiking or day hikes, vs. buying smaller bags

Another potential draw back is the warning to not let the filter freeze. apparently with the hollow fibers freezing can damage the filter. If you are hiking anywhere that could have below freezing temps some care would have to be taken. For an extended winter trip I think I would need to look at a different water treatment option

This setup does not filter small enough to remove viruses. This is not uncommon for many filters. If i was hiking in area that I had a virus concern I would need to use the Steripen or a chemical treatment. Sawyer does make a version identical to my setup that will filter out viruses but the flow rate is about half the speed and the cost is almost double. If you are planning to do a majority of hiking in areas with a heavy virus concern it may be worth it.

Maintenance
It comes with an attachment that connects to a sink that will back flush the filter with tap water. I have done this after we get home from each trip, and it really shows just how much dirt is removed from the water.

If the flow rate slows down the filter can be backflushed in the field. Just attach the filter to a full clean water bag and squeeze the bag. the clean water will push the dirty water from the filter and clean it out. I actually backwash the filter after each use just to make sure I never have any issues.

After our last trip I cleaned out the inside of both bladders with a couple of Efferdent tabs just to give them a very through cleaning.

Other than backflushing the filter the only other future maintenance could be to replace the o-rings on each of the male fittings but that is something easy to do that could be picked up in the plumbing department of any hardware store. I don’t know how long they will last but I can’t see these o-ring wearing out for several years of hard use.

Overall I love this filter it works great and it works fast. The filtering is effortless, just hang the bags and you can do something else. After two trips these bags show zero signs of wear so I think they will last for a long time. Sawyer has a million gallon guarantee, obviously I am nowhere near that but at around 50 liters so far it shows no sign of slowing down.

Big Creek Loop (GSMNP)

July 7, 2012 1 comment

We recently took a trip to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for a 2 night backpacking trip. We decided on the Big Creek Loop that I found through backpacker.com. It was a 16 mile hike that sounded pretty cool. Parking at the trailhead was super easy. It is actually a very large picnic area just past the Big Creek Ranger Station and about 15 minutes from I-40. There is a small camp ground as well with about 12 sites. Nice to know if we ever plan a similar route so we could stay there and avoid the hotel the night before.

I went through our gear lists a food and really felt like we cut back significantly but we still started with my pack at 38lbs (fully loaded with food and full 32oz Gatorade bottle) and Katrina’s at 21 lbs (also fully loaded with a 32oz Gatorade bottle). We still have much to learn on reducing our pack weights. My goal from here out is to get both under 20 lbs.

From the trailhead we started down Big Creek trail towards campsite 37. We stopped at midnight Falls for a little swimming. Katrina decided to sit on a large rock. I’ll say my wife had the better plan at this point! I knew the water was cold but after jumping off the large rock and into the deep swimming hole, the water was almost cold enough to make you forget how to swim! The water was cold enough that it took me a few seconds to catch my breath. I did at least feel refreshed.

From there we walked the half mile down the trail and had lunch at the Mouse Creek Falls on a large rock. The area at the base of the falls was very beautiful and a great place to stop for lunch.

It was about 3 miles from there to campsite 37. It was a very nice area right next to the creek with plenty of flat areas for tents. From talking to a few other people it is a very busy site on the weekends but for a Thursday night it was not bad. We also learned from our neighbors about a great day hike from this campsite to the top of Mt Cammerer. Looks like it is about 5.2 miles each way and it is supposed to be a beautiful 270 panoramic view of the Pigeon River from a stone fire tower. We will have to check that out another time. After dinner we sat back and relaxed just enjoying the sounds of the creek.

The next morning we headed out Swallow Fork Trail towards Mt Sterling. We had less than 6 miles so we took our time getting ready and figured it should take about 7 hours to hike at the worst case. It was about 11 so I was thinking we would be at camp around 5 or 6 at the latest. At this point I should mention that my wife has suffered from a migraine for over a year, we probably should have postponed the hiking portion of our trip as she had just spend almost 2 weeks strait in our bedroom with the blinds closed and the lights off. She had a few good days and the doctor has encouraged exercise so we thought it would be ok. About 1 mile into the day her migraine was really kicking in causing her to be dizzy and nauseous. We had to stop about every 400 yards and she was continuing at a crawl, we joked that we were going in reverse at some points. To her credit even with her discomfort she just kept moving. We finally made it to the Mt Sterling trail junction at about 7pm (4 miles hiked in about 8 hours). We stopped at the trail junction, which was an awesome place for a break with a very wide open grassy area, laid out the tarp so she could rest for 30 minutes. The problem we were now facing was a 1.6 mile hike to our campsite and at this rate it would be 10 pm before we made it. We moved as much from her pack as I could and into mine, to help speed through the last mile. After the 30 minute rest and the lighter pack we did make it to Campsite 38 about 8:45.

Katrina’s head continued to throb all night and she did not sleep at all, but not wanting to spend another night on top of the mountain and knowing the pace we kept the day before we set out. Unfortunately the morning was foggy so the views from the fire tower were not that great, but it was still a very nice campsite.

To help with the walk out we again loaded up my pack as much as possible. The walk down the mountain was steep and definitely the most rugged terrain we had experienced so far, By the time we finished we were exhausted, Katrina because she hadn’t slept and me from a very overloaded pack but we made it. I weighed my pack back at the van and with almost no water in it I was at 45 lbs. One thing I learned is that around 40 lbs. is where my cutoff is for comfort and I want to go much much lower in weight. So now my quest to go lightweight has started. I’ll keep you up to date as we go. The second thing we learned is that in the backcountry is no time to mess with your health. We were never really in no danger, Katrina was just very uncomfortable but it does make you think how far away from the car you are and how long it would take to get help. All in all it was a great trip but in hind sight we should have gone with a short out a back trip to campsite 37.

First Family Backpacking Trip

July 2, 2012 2 comments

After our vacation to GSMNP in July, I had started researching as much as possible, reading a few books, spending hours on REI.com, campmor.com reading reviews deciding what equipment to buy. I was addicted. It seemed like we recieved packages every other day from countless online retailers. Pretty much everything I got for Christmas was backpacking related. (not sure that will change anytime soon 🙂 ). Here in Indiana last winter we had one of the mildest winter I ever remember, so we took advantage with a few day hikes here and there to test out some of the gear. Now we just had to pick a time for our first trip and spring break was looking like the time. Weather permitting we were going to head out to the Deam Wilderness in the Hoosier national forest for 2 nights.

I spent weeks trying to put together a good gear list for the trip, and then hours trying to organize everything laying it out in individual piles. Food was our biggest challenge, I really had no idea how much we would eat, plus this was going to be the first trip for my son, daughter and my wife so I didn’t want to leave them with a bad impression. We finally manage to get everything packed up and ready to go. We head out to Deam, about an hour drive from our house, the 4 of us plus our dog Peyton. My pack was about 45 lbs, the kids and my wife were each about 25 lbs. The hike in was farily easy about 4.5 miles to a camp site near Monroe Reservoir, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous for early April in Indiana.

After we get camp set up, a few things I realized. Bringing the dog with us on our first trip was probably a mistake, he actually did very well but the few times he decided to pull a little to hard or got under everyone’s feet setting up just added to the stress. I should mention that he is a 100 lb lab so when he pulls or gets under your feet you notice. Even with my list and my attempt to cut back on our gear, I can already see we brought too much with us. Third I realize that I need to cut about another 20 lbs but this I need to cut from my gut not from my pack! Most importantly I realize as we are all sitting around the fire with no cellphones (our kids are 17 and 13) no TV, no ipad, no video games, just the sound of nature and us hanging out as a family that we have really stubled onto something good here.

The second day after breakfast we decide that we would set out for a dayhike to a cave about 3 miles from our campsite, ate lunch and came back to relax around camp. The same theme still stands out, we are really having a great time as a family, even the dog is easier to manage. Although I continue to realize that we brought WAY TOO much food!!! and way too much stuff.

Overnight we had a pretty good storm roll through, and it was good to see our tent setup was successful. The rain held out long enough for us to pack up and head out before the skies opened up and it poured the entire way back to the van.

Over all the weekend was a huge success and great learning experience. We could have cut our food in half and still brought food home. We certainly brought too much with us, even though I read countless other accounts of others that did the same thing. I don’t think you can ever get the understanding you need until you try it out for yourself. Most importantly the family time was absolutely priceless.

Hello!

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I am fairly new to backpacking as an adult. I had a few overnight backpacking trips a boy scout many years ago. I was always interested and have always loved outside activities, we frequently went camping or day hiking  but never overnight in the back country. Then on a family vacation last year to GSMNP last year, looking a map with backpacking loops, I told my wife  I would love to do that for a vacation. She said she would go, and I took the green light and started research and buying equipment. I have since become a addict reasearching and buying gear.  Not quite as much actual hiking as I would like but that will come.  I have found so much information from the many blogs out there and I hope that I am able to create something here that someone might find useful in the future.

My goal is to hike the JMT with in the next 5 years and eventually thru hike the AT. Other than that  I just want to hit as many different hiking trails as possible and continue to pass my love of the outdoors to my children.

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