There a hammock group or two near me that do several group “hangs” around the state. A “Hang” is a camping event for hammock people, I guess called that because they all hang from the trees.
One of the “hangs” is called the “frozen butt hang” because they hang in the winter when it’s cold. I’ve camped in the cold before, but never over established ice and snow. This weekend I did my own Frozen Butt hang.
Our hiking group had originally planned to go up to Ellicot Rock in the Uwharrie Forest in North Carolina. However, due to the presence of possible snow and ice and downed trees, I decided at the last minute to move our hike to Uwharrie Forest to finish what had begun in January as an attempted thru-hike of the massively long Uwharrie Recreation Trail, a whole 20 miles. The Rangers at Ellicott said “no one should camp overnight out here right now”. The rangers at Uwharrie said, “The snow is mostly melted, you won’t have problems here”.
Ha. Driving up, this is what we saw:
That is not exactly “mostly melted snow”. Yeah, it melted, but it re-froze into ice, so we were camping on a skating rink. We had the woods almost to ourselves, with the exception of one group that took off when we arrived, and another group that looked to be in for the long haul.
Deciding not to carry all our crap, and to better stake a claim on this particular site, we unpacked and set up our tents. Why carry the things if you don’t plan to use them? Sans tent, under quilt, top quilt, and tarp, my pack felt a lot better. This was my first trip out with my new pack, and I was happy with the way it carried, especially after I almost RAN OVER IT because people couldn’t decide where exactly they wanted to camp, and we had to move cars twice (and change a tire that was going flat).
There’s nothing like changing a tire in the freezing cold and having the car slip halfway off the jack, and having to push the car back on the jack, and then giving up and getting ANOTHER jack and setting it back up.
Its nice when the hiking gods smile down on you. The truck that took off when we arrived apparently abandoned camp because they were mostly through drinking. There were beer cans everywhere, but these three were still full. Thomas kept them for later, even carried them about 6 miles. He never drank them – just lugged them around. I guess he missed the pack weight.
The trails were a bit more icy and snowy than we expected, especially from a ranger saying the snow had “mostly melted”. I guess maybe at the ranger station 20 miles away it melted and was gone. But here in the woods, the stuff melted and re-froze, leaving us with the equivalent of a bobsled track to walk on in places.
Being low on the “I really would like to try and break an ankle” side of things, Kim elected to give up and return to camp. I returned with her to help start a small fire and gather wood for the coming evening. We figured the returning hikers would enjoy the fruits of our labor and maybe make us dinner or something.
Gathering wood for the fire turned into “lets gather wood and also help improve the site”, because among one of thew things in my trunk happened to be my chainsaw. I don’t have a good place to keep it at home, so it stays in the trunk of the car. Besides, you never know when you might need a chainsaw. So we broke it out, cleaned up some fallen dead trees around the camp, burned some of them, and turned other tree parts into stools.
*disclaimer – we only ran the saw for a little while, while no one else was around. we also only used it on dead stuff that was already on the ground, rotting and generally in the way. I have since been told that chainsaws are generally a bad thing, so – my apologies, from now on it stays in the car. No need to lick glass or get your underwear in a twist. The sawdust came in handy, however. It served a good purpose in some of the icy spots, preventing slipping.
It wasn’t long before our “small fire” seemed to take on a life of its own. There’s something addicting about screwing with the fire. You just have to keep messing with it, adding wood, improving it. At one point flames were shooting into the air over eight feet from the ground.
The stools we cut had a great looking pattern in the wood itself. I’m not sure what it was, but the tree was shot through with this green star pattern. Every log we cut off the big pine had this pattern in it.
At home, pour some blackened seafood seasoning and some Old Bay spice in a little biggie. Get a frozen piece of salmon in a package or ziplock bag. Also bring a pack of honey (try a restaurant) and a single-serving size bowl of Idahoan potato flakes (open the bowl, dump flakes into a ziplock bag.
At camp: Boil a few dumps of water on your stove. While the water is heating, scoop out some honey with a knife, and warm over flame. Spread honey on fish (which should be thawed by now, since you put it in your pack this morning). Coat both sides and sprinkle the spice mix on fish.
When the water boils, dump some in the potato mix and stir, all in your squishy bowl. Dump some water in your other squishy bowl containing some drink mix like tea or Chai Latte or something.
Relight the stove, put titanium plate and foil on stove and put on the fish. Flip carefully mid way through, cooking fish all the way done. If you like bread with your food, you can let a half bagel sit as a lid over your potato bowl or your drink, and the steam will warm and soften the bagel.
Have a pint jar of your favorite Potent Potable on the table as well, to enjoy with or after your fish and potatoes. Bon Appetit!
After enjoying the fish and such, we got to sit around the fire and talk, watching the wood burn and talking about hiking trips and such. Thankfully, no one talked about cannibalism this time, which I attribute to a distinct lack of Mike Millers on this trip.
One of the things about ending your hike at a real campground, is the ability to spoil yourself by bringing obscene amounts of stuff with you, things you would never bring on a true backpacking trip. Like a chainsaw, pop-up shelter, rubbermaid tub full of various foods, and enough starter logs to make a fire big enough to burn a witch. The canopy came in useful, as it started raining on and off after dark, and about 3 am, it stayed raining until we left.
Jason finishes his steak. He was thankful for the incredible amount of coals the fire had created, and took some out to cook his food with. The steak was tasty (but my fish was better).
Theres a saying:
Always respect hiker midnight. Hiker midnight (you should know by now) is a period after 9 pm when one should use their “library voice” and generally quiet down and not disturb tired hikers who are sleeping, aiming to get up at first light and walk off into the dawn.
There needs to be another saying: Always respect hiker daybreak. An extension of Hiker Midnight, there should be a rule about not getting up and making noise before 6, unless you have to answer a call of nature. Around 3am the rain started up in earnest, pattering on my tarp roof like little feet or something. At 415 or so I was awakened by a horrible banging noise, as if a 4 year old had gotten into a set of pots and pans in a large kitchen. I sat straight up and said, “what the heck is that!” (and sitting straight up in a hammock is no simple feat). The hammer I mentioned earlier was being used to disassemble a cot for some ungodly reason in the middle of the night. By 530 I was well and truly up, and managed to make it to the sheltered table and start breakfast. I had a simple diet of cappuccino, bagel and trail mix or something, as I was too tired from lack of sleep and being woken at 4am to remember exactly what it was.
With the cold rain and foul weather expected most of the day, we said our goodbyes and everyone packed and left by 9 or so. Uwharrie and the weather demons once again defeated us. Despite two trips, we have yet to conquer this trail.
A few things I learned:
Car camping will spoil you. It’s not altogether a bad thing, but I’m warming up to it, where before I was a purest. As long as there’s SOME hiking involved, I’m more willing to go on a car camping trip.
Plain cheap-ass aluminum wal-mart tent stakes SUCK in frozen ground. I bent mine into paper clip shapes trying to pound them through the ice and sub-zero tundra. I bought some MSR Groundhog stakes which should be a big improvement. Hope to get to test them soon, just not in frozen ground.
People are nice around Uwharrie. Last time we arrived the Bigfoot people gave us wood, when we had very little. This time we were cutting wood for the fire and our camping neighbors showed up and let us cut some logs right off the back of their truck. I’m very impressed with this place.
Listen to your instincts. Originally the hike was planned at Ellicot. There was some whining and wailing and gnashing of teeth when I decided to move it due to weather. Given the simple terrain yet bad conditions, it was enough of a wake-up call to say, “Ellicott would have been much worse”. When there are reports that nearby trails had damage, and Rangers are telling you not to go camp there overnight, and your brain is saying, “we’ll probably be okay”, WAIT. Go somewhere else. The trail will be there next weekend. The few os us that stuck with it and went on this trip (6 out of the original 14) were happy with the change in venue.
Winter camping is nice. No bugs, less people, and the campfire is very nice to hang around. IF you have the gear, I really encourage you to try it. Plus, there’s the looks you shock and admiration you get showing people your tent in the snow and saying, “oh yeah, I slept out there. No problem.”