After much contemplation and planning, the boys (13&10) and myself decided to go on a 3 day backpacking excursion. A couple nights before we left, the youngest approached me and asked for it to be a 4 day trip, so I obliged at the consent of the spousal unit and the eldest manchild. The extra day had very few logistical changes due to just adding an extra day's rations. All else was the same.
A few years ago I planned a backpacking trip with the our Boy Scout troop. We decided that the same area would be a great place for us to explore, so that was set. Mt youngest asked to go to all kinds of unusual place to backpack, but driving to Alaska just wasn't in the cards. We reviewed Topo maps and hiker reviews of the area and decided an hour and a half drive to the site was going to be optimal for finding and setting up camp. The National Park we chose is situated directly adjacent to a fairly large reservoir, so I brought some fishing gear as well.
The plan was to follow the trails onto a peninsula in the lake and bushwhack our way 2.5 miles to the lake. The topo maps showed a very steep grade down to the lake so we were unsure of how to get right to the area we wanted to use. There were water sources in the area on the plateau of the peninsula, so we had water no matter what. Once we came to the drop off, we could decide from there where to camp.
We started packing after watching the weather guessers forecast for the weekend. For lodging, the youngest and I chose Skeeter Beeter hammocks from Grand Trunk with a tarp for cover, with the eldest choosing to use my 3.5# backpacking tent. Both boys opted for summer weight sleeping bags. Youngest used a Suisse Gear 50 degree bag and the eldest a USGI jungle bag. I grabbed a fleece bag liner and decided against using a ground pad insulation layer. We all have Cocoon inflatable pillows. The eldest and I brought our lightweight backpacking camp stoves with backpacking Isobutane canisters and nesting LiTech Pot and pan. Everyone has a LiTech aluminum cup and a couple water bottles, one metal, one Nalgene. We each had water bladders as well. The eldest and I had 100oz Waterbeast bladders and the youngest a 50oz bladder. I carried a Katadyn Hiker Pro with hydrolink adapter for the bladders and the eldest carried a Sawyer Mini filter. The youngest carried water tabs in case of emergency.
I carried my Trusty Osprey Aether 70 pack (full review soon), my eldest the Osprey Kestral 48 and the youngest had the opportunity to use the Kelty Redwing 50 that my Grey man Cache is in because it's home getting updated. We packed 3 days undies and socks, a pair of shorts and shirt for in camp and a swimsuit for the lake. We all wore synthetic clothes for the hiking portion of the trip.Everyone carried their normal camping headlamp and backup pen light, a small first aid kit, mess kit, small hunk of Gorilla tape, paracord, toiletry bag, compass and map, water shoes, wet wipes and ziplock bags.
I carried my EDC knife, the HK epidemic made by Benchmade. as well as a local knife maker's option that hasn't been well tested yet. Both minions carried a folder as well. I decided to forego a long arm due to weight and pack size restraints. I did carry the LCP in my pocket and carried the Walther P22 with an AAC can in my pack for critter control should we get ourselves cornered by an errant skunk or cottonmouth. There are no significant threats from wildlife in my area besides pit vipers and a few large cats. My Car kit was in the 4wd mini SUV the wife drives, so we could fight our way home if needed.
Food was the major consideration due to a few seemingly simple issues. My youngest son likes a girl, and she is a vegetarian. She has recently convinced him that he should be too. Ugh. So he wants to no longer eat red meat. Pescatarian to be exact. He eats fish like a maniac, but hasn't ever been a big meat eater. I was thankful that I had one 2010 case of MRE's left. It's the last of the 2010's on hand so I broke it open and doled out the vegetarian meals to the youngest and gave the eldest dibs on the rest. To fill in, I bought some Idahoan Loaded Mashed Potato dried packets. They use Textured Vegetable Product as bacon so little man was ok with it. I also bought some canned tuna salad snack packs for protein. The eldest planned the breakfasts, and Pop Tarts were on the menu. They are heavy, but it's easy and they will eat them. Amazingly enough, Pop Tarts roasted over an open fire are even better than in a toaster. We planned for 3 dinners, 4 lunches and 3 breakfasts. I chose only 1 MRE and decided that my favorite mountain house meal, Noodles and Chicken, would be my staple for the trip. For lunches we planned trail mix, fruit mix and power bars. In preparation for the trip, we stripped out our MRE's to only what they wanted. The drink packets were the most coveted item. Boys loved them.
For rain gear, the boys used Ponchos while I brought along my 5.11 rain jacket and Tru Spec wide brim rain hat. My regular Oakley glasses and Gemtech hat are standard equipment. Some of the sundries I carry in the woods to supplement the boys was a soft splint and wrap, Motrin, extra batteries, a pan to cook fish in, some oil and fish fry breading.
All wet, my pack was 50 pounds. The boys were 33 for the youngest and 37 for the oldest. I knew it was way heavier than I like, but with the boys being with me, some extra food and medical kit was a no brainer. 200oz of water didn't help.
The day before we left, we hiked about a half mile with full water in our packs to learn the heft and distribution. Upon reentering the house, the boys were pulling extraneous gear out of their packs quickly. In the morning we had a trip briefing, agreed that no fighting was required and that if they didn't behave they would be even more tired after doing pushups with a pack on. I briefed them on the plan to Pack in 3.5 miles in extremely rugged conditions with regular elevation changes from 500ft of elevation to 800ft in less than a mile. Bushwacking in the back country required even more care due to the wildlife concerns and trip/fall hazards. We reviewed our meal planning and water requirements as well as safety gear use. Whistles and lights on your person at all times, no wandering alone. Leave No Trace rules were reviewed and we put our packs in the wife's SUV for the trip.
At noon we pulled pitch and headed south. We grabbed a not so healthy lunch to ensure energy levels 1would stay up and arrived at the site at around 3pm.We unloaded our gear and made our way onto the fire road that would carry us 2 miles into the back country where we would blaze a trail or find a game trail that would suffice. I pushed the boys hard for the first day. I wanted them to sleep at night so I made sure they only made 2 rest breaks on the way to the back country. I stood by while they rested, but didn't take off my pack or sit down. Lead by example, if it were. We hiked the 2 miles back to the wooded cemetery where the fire road ends and dropped our packs to explore the area and the pre civil war cemetery. I found a couple trail leads and checked the direction of travel.
We grabbed our packs and headed off on a game trail. The boys were excited to be off the main trail and wanted to lead, which changed quickly when they realized the spider webs are a concern when leading. Dear old Dad took over and lead us back to an old deserted fire trail that hadn't been maintained in years. Many felled trees and sink holes covered the trail. It led us about 3/4 of a mile further into the back country. The trail ended at a clearing of sorts where the trees, mainly elm, had no undergrowth besides some scrub and thorns. We consulted the map and headed into the scrub looking for a game trail along a ridge. We found one and almost immediately my eldest manchild hit the dirt like a ton of bricks. He had tripped on a log. He brushed himself off and we started back into the woods. About a 1/4 mile later he noticed that he had lost his glasses when he took them off due to fogging. It had been drizzling all day and he had issues seeing. I was able to backtrack to the spot of his graceful dismount and he found them. Back on track.
We followed the trail another couple miles to a beautiful plateau area of almost no undergrowth. There was some grass, but no bushes or thorns for about a hundred yards in each direction. We explored it while checking the map and found a really nice camp site that hadn't been occupied in a long time. The boys chose to stay there and scout the trail to the lake that evening. We set up camp under threat of rain.
We scouted some trails down to the water and the boys chose one in particular that I told them wasn't viable, but they decided it was the one they wanted to try. The Pink sites are regular boat camping sites, the red is where we found the unmarked camp site. The blue trail is 400 vertical feet worth of 45 degree plus climbing in leaves and scrub. We found the lake to be inaccessible due to brush. The edge of the lake is covered in thick brush where we were. We headed out in the morning of the second day, and it was about noon by the time we returned from our little trek. We decided to stay another night in the same camp and explored all around. We found the local wildlife pond and refilled our water bottles. It seems that my water filter was at it's end of life and decided to die. Luckily we had 3x redundancy in that regard. We spent the rest of the day tracking wildlife, exploring thickets and game trails and learning the lay of the land for further trips on another day. We built a nice fire and had our meals heated on rocks near the fire. The boys had a great time and the weather was drier, yet a bit cooler than was forecast. That evening after dinner, I had the urge to use a cathole only to find that the carbon Fiskers lightweight trowel we use was missing. #2 owned up to forgetting it near the bottom of the ravine from earlier in the day. He and I set off to recover the lost trowel. It was right at the edge of the second slope, right at the drop off to the last sheer area. We only had to climb the 250 feet down and back to recover the precious poop trowel.
The forecast called for 79 degree days and 65 degree nights and we packed accordingly, but like many things, it ended up changing after we had planned. That night it got down to 53 degrees. I ended up sleeping in my rain gear since I was the one with the least effective sleep system. I still stayed cool and woke up shivering several times that night. The wind had picked up and exacerbated the issue.
First thing we did day three was to light a fire and heat up some water for drinks. Once warmed, we milled around camp for a couple hours cleaning up and doing some wood stacking for the next time. We struck camp and headed back into the regular area of the park. I tried to teach the eldest about leading and choosing a good path in the brush, but he was having issues keeping his direction constant. Once back on the path, the boys lead and pretty much left me for a while. I'd catch up with them on inclines and in rough terrain, but they did a great job spotting some deer and other wildlife. We came to the first intersection to find a huge mess of beer cans and trash. It seems the locals had a little party. 2 guys and a gal. One trekked 1.5 miles back to the trail in cowboy boots, one in Vans and the gal had hikers. They left a trail of beer cans and cooler tire marks that made my blood boil.
Manchild 1 decided he wanted to play Diva and wanted to go home. #2 was having non of it and we decided to go back down to the low country and camp near the stream for water. I pulled out an Anti Diva pack- Hersheys dark chocolate- and changed his mind once his blood sugar was back up. We set up camp in the rain and foraged for dry wood. This area is camped regularly so wood was at least 50 yards away when you went looking. The boys gathered a few dozen Geodes in the stream and chased salamanders. #2 found a couple caverns in the rocks and went nearly vertical up the hills to check them out. We found enough to get a fire going and #2 was already sacked out as soon as he was fed and his hammock was set up. I stayed up til 11pm to stay warm at the fire on a cold, rainy 55 degree night in the woods. Some English Breakfast Tea kept me comfortable. That night I slept on my raincoat instead of in it. Much more effective to keep the chill off.
The next morning we struck camp and climbed out of the ravine on the switchbacks. We smelled to high heaven, for sure, but we had a great time.