Hanging My Frozen Butt

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:

IMG_5449That 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.

IMG_5452Deciding 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).

10557045_10206008539523003_1864665843689961571_oThere’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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo we set up our stuff and took a quick post-tire break, and made a light lunch before heading off to hike.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mallet above would play an important role in the morning. Pay attention.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIts 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.

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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.

10850122_10204692592452762_4683450161012786616_nMeanwhile, I am told, the trail got easier after the first few hills, less snow on the trail, but with a few frozen streams to cross.

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.

IMG_5456It 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.

IMG_5451OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe intrepid backpacking group returned to camp around 5, and we sat around talking and sharing stories, and began making dinner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI made one of my favorite trail meals so far, all on my Fancy Feast Stove and my titanium plate. Here’s how:

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s about time I hiked the Appalachian Trail…

Not the whole thing, mind you. That takes a long damn time and from what I’ve read, somewhat of a masochistic tendency on the part of the one doing the hiking.

 

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And no, I don’t mean the kind of “appalachian trail hiking” done by our former governor, Mark Sanford. He was “liking the Argentinean Tail” – if he hadn’t been using a Verizon cell phone, that mistake never would have made the news.

98% or so of my hiking has involved a single night in the woods. I put my toe in the deep end last year, and stayed out for TWO nights (yes, two!).

The thing with backpacking is most of the work is the same, whether you go out for one night or five. The only real difference is the amount of food you carry. Not a big deal except when you get HOME, there is always the post hike cleanup. Even worse if you got rained on. Everything is wet and sweaty and dirty, and all you did was spend a night in the woods. Plus, there’s all the driving. Hiking is more fun when you can spend at least ONE day just walking. No getting to the trail head, or getting TO the car and driving home. Just get up, walk walk walk, rest when needed, and finally find a place to sleep. Its much more peaceful that way.

So, last year, after hiking strictly one-nighters for two years, I took a three day, two-night trip on the Foothills Trail in South Carolina. The FHT is like an “appalachian trail lite”, or so I’m told. Ups and downs, rivers, waterfalls, ridge lines, etc., but only 77 miles long. If you can do the whole thing that’s about what you might do between resupply stops along the AT, so it makes for good practice.

My hiking friends this year were saying, “Hey you know what would be fun? Lets do that foothills trail thing again this year”. So, we have a couple of three-day trips planned out. Hopefully the walks will let me know how I’m doing, hike-wise and fitness-wise. This will lead up to the fall, when we have some three night sections of the AT to do. THREE nights. That’s (1) Drive, walk walk, sleep (2) walk walk walk walk, sleep (3) walk walk walk walk, sleep (4) walk walk, Drive.

I’m a little apprehensive at this point, but we have all summer to get in shape and stuff before heading out on the grand adventure. I don’t really like summer hiking, so I will have to find another form of exercise to get in shape and stay there. I don’t like bugs and sun and heat and sunburn and sweating to death miserably, in general. When people talk about 3-season hiking, my mind goes to “fall, winter, spring”, NOT “spring, summer, fall”.

As crappy as Facebook is, with all the people whining and fighting about every little thing all the time (it really is like high school), I’ve gotten the chance to talk with a lot of hikers, even some published authors of hiking stories, and it makes me happy to talk about our mutual interests and share experiences.

Fun at the hospital

Everyone can agree going to the hospital sucks. Whether you fell off the roof trying to take down that damn inflatable snowman after Xma$$, or whether you’re having strange pains, or even if your doctor just wants to have some fun and run strange instruments through your various orifices. Hospitals suck.

So why not have some fun?

So, the wife and I drive to the hospital with our kid. After sitting in the main waiting room for a while, they take us back to the registration desk. I send the kid on into the second waiting room, where we always wind up after paying. The desk clerk is taking her information and asks the wife “is your primary contact still Mark?”

I look at my wife and ask, in a surprised voice, “Baby who is that?” And the clerk has an “oh shit” look going on. My wife starts laughing, and tells me to stop joking around. The clerk sighs audibly and says, “oh thank goodness, I’m like, not this again, hahaha”.

Now I’m shocked. Because I didn’t expect that. But given the skankiness of some people, I’m really not surprised.

So, after a fleecing by the hospital, they send us back to the main waiting room. I have to get the kid, and she’s sitting alone in the second waiting room near a couple of old people. I look at her and say,

“Come on, they’re not going to let you sit in here because you’re all contagious and stuff”

My kid, who doesn’t miss a beat, hops up and says, “okay!” I think the old man is asleep or watching TV, but the woman has this look on her face that says, “holy shit, what did I just catch?”

See, hospitals can be fun.

An encouraging word

I made a joke on Facebook recently, concerning the FitBit craze. “I bought a FitBit, but it didn’t seem to be working right. I returned it to the company and they sent me a refund with a note: ‘You bought the wrong product, what you need is the UnFitBit'”. fitbit-zip-140321 I look at the FaceBook posts of my hiking friends, who always seem to be going somewhere. Several of them live in Columbia, SC and there are lots of great after-work spots that they can hike on without having to drive for hours. There’s not much like that around where I live, and the places that exist are pretty flat and uninteresting after a trip or two.

Theres a local “running club”, which is easy to become a member if you are a masochist that likes to wake up at 4am, go run, and then come home, shower and go to work. I’m sorry, but after running I just want to pass out and not have a heart attack. Putting on some clothes and going to work just doesn’t fit in with my post-exercise world view.

So, lately it’s been back on the DreadMill in the corner, staring at the wall. Because on my last hike I was disappointed I was once again in the back of the pack (okay – to be fair some of the group weren’t even wearing full packs. I wanted exercise and the full backpacking experience). I have a couple of hikes coming up that involve lots of miles through rolling hills, and the last thing I want to do is be thinking “I’m exhausted and this sucks”, 6 hours into a three day hike. Hiking has it’s own ups and downs. There are usually points at which I’m ready to give up and go home, but then we hit a good view or stop for the night and talk around a campfire, or lounge around for lunch by a river, and everything just is so much nicer.

 

DSCN1763 I made a few hiking videos of my own recently for the enjoyment of friends and family, over on my Vimeo site. This was one of them, but you can find several I have done if you are so inclined:
 
 

 
I have them on my iPad, which fits nicely on the top of the DreadMill, so while I am sweating and panting I can at least have something to look at besides the wall. But after looking at my same videos over and over for a week, I started to want something else to look at. Fortunately theres a LOT of AT hikers out there, and cameras are small, powerful, and have great batteries these days so it’s pretty easy for one guy or a couple to make some great videos.

Walking on the DreadMill for 40 minutes is a lot more enjoyable with some decent videos. One I watched today was this one:
 

 

The music is pretty good (even though it’s Christian Rock – I figured this out on the second song. I’m not much of a fan of Christian rock but the second song just went SO well with the video, I might have to pirate it from somewhere), and the camera work is awesome. They just capture so much of the trail life, it’s amazing. I’ve never hiked any of the AT myself, my goal is to start little pieces maybe this fall. But, hiking has some pretty universal issues; there’s heat and cold and rain, making food, crossing rivers, dealing with bugs and sweat and dirt, traversing difficult terrain, and shelter. I can see my own experiences in some of their travels, just a little. And all in all they stick it out to Katahdin, and even though its kind of a jerky, stop action sort of ending, you know just what is going on in front of the trail sign. I won’t ruin it for you…
 

 
Spiderman’s video is pretty good, and he takes Chuck Norris with him. I’ve been told to take something along on my travels, something different, something that makes me, me. I really haven’t found it yet, but so far I’m doing really short trips. About the only odd thing I took was my child’s stuffed tree frog, which I though would make a good pillow. It didn’t it was HOT and kept sliding out from under my head.

The last one is part of a fund raising campaign to make a full length AT movie. The camera work on this on is also pretty good, even using voiceovers and titles which I thought was nice. The quality is good, but the film is short. Its almost insane the distances these people cover in just seconds on screen. Watch the video, in just 16 seconds he covers the AT section in Georgia, which is about 75 miles.

I hope through all of these you can find your own motivation, if you’re a hiker. If you’re into writing or sailing or video games, it’s probably not going to help you, but if you an outdoor type, maybe some of the videos might help you get going and plan your own great adventure. For the time being my great adventures are limited to about 3 or 4 days, but as I look down the road I can see them approaching, and only hope I can get in better shape and enjoy them myself.

markamoungus