Tuesday, January 12, 2016

When Murphy Shows Up For Laughs

Ah yes, it's that brilliant time of year when business slows down and I can get some free time to get away with my boys. Unfortunately one of my boys is injured and couldn't make our last outing. He had an interesting interlude with an elliptical machine on New Years eve and is recuperating on crutches. The oldest man child is feeling just fine, so he and I decided to take a trip to our favorite patch of woods and scout some new camp areas and test some new equipment. The weather forecast was less than inviting with constant rain and cooling temps, but Momma wanted us out of the house for the weekend so we acquiesced.

Friday Morning I was perusing the weather forecast and seeing that if we left early on Sunday, we would be fine to miss the most inclement weather front of the year so far. A big Alberta Clipper is heading straight towards us. It looks like we were going to wake up to light wind and some flurries as the temperature dropped all day. Not a huge issue, but something to be aware of. We packed accordingly and layered in proper fashion for the temps and rain. We both chose to forego a rifle for hunting and instead packed a pistol in case a ferocious tree rat attacked or we tripped on a rabbit.

For shelter,  he chose my old el cheapo backpacking tent and a jungle bag with and added fleece liner. I went with my standard Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter hammock and Browning 20 degree sleeping bag. I also brought two SilNylon tarps. A large 14 x 12 for shelter in the rain and a 10 x 7 lightweight model for my Hammock cover. My son decided to upgrade his ground pad for the colder weather so he dropped his lightweight summer closed cell pad for an inflatable 1" thick pad. I used the Klymit Static V Lightweight inflatable pad that has been nothing short of brilliant for insulating the bottom of my hammock from the elements.

The trip consisted of a 1.5 hour commute that turned into 3 hours with construction, followed by a 3.5 mile backpack slog in the muddy terrain. We arrived at a camp we've been to before but never used. Being that the season is over we expected to be alone at the furthest marked camp from the entrance. Someone had done some upgrades to the seating and fire ring so we decided that this was the place to be. Our regular location was another 1.5 miles but the dark and wet muck made us decide to change venues.

We set up camp, got a great fire going and started processing wood with our new tools. My son struggles with making a fire so I helped him process and baton enough wood for a decent start. Everything was soaked so I started splitting a chunk of cedar I found for some decent fire starter. He started the fire all by himself and did a great job.This is the first outing for my new Husqvarna small forest sized axe and folding buck saw so we quickly made use of them for the task at hand. My son's headlamp went dead twice during this procedure and he was quickly out of batteries. It seems he forgot to charge them after his last outing. This brings us to our first issue of the trip. I offered him my last set of batteries and had one extra set for myself. We ate a small meal and turned in. Winter brings early bed and late mornings.

We both got up at dawn and immediately got the fire going again. Our processed wood from the night before was soaked from condensation and hanging fog. We split some new wood and processed it out to tinder and kindling so we could get breakfast going. What a glorious breakfast it was!
See that cedar on the bottom left? Cedar smoked applewood maple bacon. The 13 year old ate his weight in bacon and even downed a pop tart as well, I stuck with just bacon and English breakfast tea.

After breakfast, we went on a great 3 mile hike to see some new camping spots I'd heard of but had never seen. They were breathtaking. Huge ridges overlooking the river and a few lakes. One in particular was very inviting with a single narrow entry point and sheer vertical drop offs on all other sides with the river directly below.

 We returned to camp in the early afternoon and gathered wood for our evening meal and the expected rain and chill. We had barely began when the rain started. It was light at first but soon transformed into a monsoon like deluge. At the first sign of rain I set up the large tarp for shelter at the edge of the fire ring and covered the wood processing area as well. The large tarp was almost too large and was difficult to get set up right in close quarters where the seating was. The fog rolled in and made for a interesting accommodations.

 My son begged me to let him sit in my hammock for a while to relax and I heard snoring shortly after dark, which is near 6 this time of year. I processed wood most of the night and found a rather large white pine that was perfectly seasoned and barely large enough for me to carry to the camp site. It had a lot of resin in it and kept me warm until 11pm when I kicked my son out of my hammock. I threw on a bunch of wood and watched the fire from inside my hammock. I set up my son's jackets to dry in the heat of the fire. At about 11:30 the wind shifted and sent our jackets into a large puddle near the tarp shelter. This was bad. Issue #2. We now had soaked jackets. Mine is a synthetic Carhartt, so not a big deal for me, but he had a cotton hoodie and a rain jacket. I had sent him to bed with my under armor cold gear base layer to keep him warm so that was the only up side.
 Foggy and dark campsite. Our jackets are hanging on a stick under the tarp.

Fast forward to 3:30am. My feet are FREEZING! What the heck is on my feet? I kick up and feel the tarp has water or something in it and has stretched down into my hammock. Kick again and hear an odd sound. That's not water! It's SNOW! I look out of my shelter to see 3 inches of white stuff covering everything. Evidently, the weather forecast changed and my wife had sent me an update, but there is little to no service in the area I'm in. It's 20 degrees out and falling fast. All my equipment is soaked and frozen solid. My son's jackets are frozen solid. This is bad.

I kick his tent and wake him up. He's cold. He left his headlamp on and it's dead. I'm on my last set of batteries as well. The snow is blowing sideways. I start striking camp immediately. He's getting his things together in the tent and I tell him not to come out until he's all packed up in there. Everything is swelled up with ice and snow. My tarps don't fit back in their containers, my paracord knots are frozen solid and won't come undone so I start cutting them free. My knit hat is soaked but I keep a spare in my sleeping bag. I put it and a wide brimmed waterproof hat on and hand the Carhartt jacket and gloves to my son. His gloves were also soaked and frozen in his tent. I have my synthetic fleece base layer as a jacket. We get everything packed and head to the truck at 4am as the temperature steadily drops and the wind howls. This was the best decision I made the entire trip.

The wind, snow, water and ice has conspired to drop numerous trees onto the trail and fire road to further impede our progress in the 3" and counting snowfall. I kept a blistering pace to keep us both warm. My son is in an after school running club so he's having no issue keeping up. I'm carrying a pack that weighs close to 60 pounds due to the added weight of snow, water and ice covered gear. There is also flooding from the torrential rain the prior night. My son used my Phone to light his way and we made it easily but my hands were pretty cold from the wind with no gloves. We stripped off our wet tops and climbed into the truck. The 10 mile trip to the highway was the most eventful drive of my life. Trees were down in the road and we had to drive around and over them multiple times. My Phone was pretty spent, so no pictures of the snow or travel home.

Here's what the storm looked like after it passed my area. Joe lives north of me in the great white north, but the storm tracked right to his area.

When Murphy shows up, you better have a plan, because I know many people who would have hunkered down and gotten themselves in trouble in the same situation. It was 16 degrees when we returned to the truck and in the single digits that night with a -15 windchill. The only reason we didn't get in trouble was because we sped up when we were cold and slowed when we started sweating. This was the perfect situation to show that training and knowledge can be the difference between discomfort and disaster when things go wrong.

What went wrong?
Weather changed drastically.

Why did that impact us?
- Didn't take proper care of our equipment. Frozen jackets, hats and gloves.
-Not enough batteries.
-Marginal sleeping gear

Consider a time when weather forecasting was non existent. People prepared for the worst all the times. We no longer think in those terms. The "known" trumps the unknown. Sometimes it can bite us. In 2 weeks I'll be camping near the same area and I plan to make some adjustments to my kit.

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