Chill: Gorilla post hike review.

Before my February 7 degree hike I reviewed the Chill Gorilla tarp – the replacement for my older Hennessy Hex tarp. I was pleased with it in general.

First, the Chill Gorilla is a bulky tarp. The same bulk as the older hennessy hex tarp, about twice as bulky as their smaller silnylon tarp, but it has more coverage and the fabric is heavier. It packed well for its size.

The first night I put the tarp up I had some issues with my lines. Not Chill Gorilla’s fault at all, but the tarp has some weight to it, and if you’re using a continuous ridgeline, just throwing some lines around the tree and pulling doesn’t work the best. The solution would have been some Dutchware Tarp Flies, which I had on my other tarp and didn’t want to move. So, my bad, but know that hanging the thing can be an issue.

Unlike the Hennessy tarp, the Chill Gorilla has no pockets for the tie-out lines. This was sort of a pain in the butt during my trip, as I was fighting lines when hanging the tarp.

Once hung, the tarp was large enough to offer plenty of protection from the elements, and I was using a 10’6″ hammock with a ridgeline. Because of wind and cold, I put a Grizz Beak door on each end. the beaks worked very nicely on the Chill Gorilla, providing coverage all the way around and leaving me with no way in, so I crawled under one side on all fours. The tarp is black, and although it doesn’t keep out all light, it does a nice job at darkening your sleep experience if there’s a full moon or something.

I used 4 tie-out stakes. I just wrap the line around my MSR Mini-Groundhogs. I really want to put some line locks on the end though. I have them on my silnylon tarp and love them. Just tie off the stake and pull. You have a weight penalty of maybe 5 grams for 4 of them, but you get much easier setup when it counts, like in rain or snow.

Packing up was as easy as putting up. I had to shake off the ice (it was 7 degrees) from the inside from condensation, but the ice wiped right off. I didnt really worry about the lines, just tried to stuff them in before my hands froze.

Yet more Trailtertainment. It’s movie time!

Since I haven’t been hiking recently and I don’t have any new gear to make, I’m kind of stuck with nothing to talk about. I’m going back to a previous post I made on putting movies on your iPhone. I’ve run into some… issues.

AnyDVD was, for YEARS, the Go-To movie decryption and copying software. It ran in the background, stripped the copy protection from discs, and allowed you control over your movies. Region coding? Gone. Forced previews? Gone. Unskippable sections? Gone. Put movie in drive, play movie. The best part was, with a single click, you could copy that movie onto your hard drive. With free software like Handbrake, you could turn those 5gb (or 32gb blu ray!) files into 1 or 2gb files, perfect for itunes and your phone on the trail.

Here’s the problem: AnyDVD shut down last year because of legal issues in Antigua. So they’ve moved to…well, no one really knows, but some think Russia. But – they have a new name called “RedFox” and are selling the same software. Here’s the kicker: Have you ever tried to convince your credit card company to let you buy a license for software from Russia using a Chinese payment processing company? No? Well, give up now. It’s all but freaking impossible.

BUT – RedFox will accept BitCoin, the preferred digital currency of shady transactions around the world. BitCoin has legit uses too, but it’s not popular yet because of it’s volatility. Its a bit like trying to buy something with a stock. Bitcoin trades like securities instead of money, so its value fluctuates. That $100 you had last week? Well it’s worth $85 this week, but next week it could be worth $105. Which is the reason it will remain a fringe currency probably for a while.

Bitcoin is actually easier to use than I thought it would be. You set up an account with an exchange, buy your coin and store them in an online or offline “wallet”, and then send them to the merchant. The problem, much like paying for Russian software with a Chinese payment processor, is getting your bank to let you pay for the damn things. There are some frustrated people online that say their credit card companies won’t even let them buy bitcoin because of chargebacks.

So, in order to buy your DVD copying software, you’re going to have to jump through a few hoops. Interestingly enough, although AnyDVD is strongly linked to DVD Piracy, the people running the company don’t like to be associated with it. A company statement was basically saying they want people to be able to copy movies that they own, in order to back them up or play them on different systems.

So, I started poking around on the net. It seems there may be an alternative… MakeMKV and Handbrake.

MakeMKV is a software that seems to strip DVD files without the need for a separate copy-protection breaking system, unlike cloneDVD or Handbrake. The problem is, it becomes a two-step operation. MakeMKV strips the files into single file packages, but iTunes won’t play it. You have to use something like VLC player or HandBrake (both free) to convert the file (again) into something iTunes will be happy with. I have been using HandBrake for several months with no problems. It works pretty well for free stuff.


I tried it with the DVD movie “Up” since I own it, and I know Disney encrypts the heck out of their stuff. For brevity’s sake, it is also a shorter film, only 96 minutes.

It took a few minutes, but it finally spit out a series of files, 10 in total, containing various versions of the movies and previews. I opened Title 00 in Handbrake, since it was the largest and I figured it had to be the movie and not something else.

It opened the Title 00 file just fine, and with a few clicks I told it what size I wanted it, and where to put it. After about 40 minutes of processing, it produced a nicely done 1.5GB file for the movie “Up”. Very satisfactory, although a bit clunky.

Now – onto something a bit harder: Game of Thrones. GoT is an Episodic disc, with some forced closed captions. Each disc has 2 episodes on it, and when people are speaking foreign languages, the English captions are displayed for those of us that don’t speak Dothraki or Volantian.

MakeMKV opened the files easily enough.

Now, on to HandBrake for processing and adding the forced captions for English languages. That took the longest to figure out when I used it the first time. There is a “Foreign Language” option, which you would assume applies to things like Klingon and whatever. But you want to pick English and “Forced Captions Only”, as well as “Burn In”. You want the translated captions saved as part of the film so they are always on.

Handbrake handled opening the files well enough, with no issues. After about an hour, it finished. Success.

So yes, the freebie method works. Why do I still suggest AnyDVD if you can get it? They have regular updates to try and make sure you can always copy your DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. When companies come out with new methods to try and keep you from doing what you want with your property, the team at AnyDVD tries hard to fix it so you can do the conversions.

As always, only copy and convert movies you OWN. Copying movies you don’t own (like netflix and redbox) is obviously a copyright violation and can get you into trouble.

Netflix is now allowing certain movies to be downloaded and played later on your device, so all this may be moot for netflix rentals. BUT – if you own a big collection of discs, and want to back them up or take them with you on vacation or into the woods, this is the way to do it. You will lose a little quality converting movies, but you’re watching on a phone, so its obvious you’re not looking for cinematic quality anyway.

Trail Entertainment… old school style.

I wrote a month or so back about converting DVDs to phone size for in-tent entertainment on cold winter nights. When you’re spending 12 or 13 hours in a tent, you need something to do besides look at the ceiling.

Someone on one of the facebook groups mentioned weather radios the other day. The question was something like, “What do you guys use for a weather app?”

My typical smart-ass response was: “I look up”. Of course, I try to follow smartass responses with actual information, so I said, “I generally don’t worry about the weather, because there’s not much you can do to change it. If it rains, put on the raincoat. If it’s cold, put on more stuff.”

That’s really about all you can do. For weekenders you generally know what the weather will do, because you checked it before you left home. You have already determined if there is a chance for snow or thunderstorms or hot weather. If you’re really good, you’ll check the weather around each shelter for the night you’re supposed to be there, and you can kind of figure out based on elevation what you will be facing.

But for the long distance hiker, it get more difficult. 20 days from now, there’s no way to know if there will be severe thunderstorms. The Weather Channel App is great if you’re in cell service range, but you also have to know about where you are in relation to the closest town that the app will show you.

Another response to the same thread was, “I carry a small radio”. That made sense to me. They make little FM radios that fit in the palm of your hand and are slightly larger than the AAA battery that goes in them. I have read that cell phones have FM receivers built in, but some companies won’t turn them on. Apple doesn’t have one or won’t turn it on… a pity, because listening to FM on your phone would be nice in a pinch if you needed local news.

I also remembered reading a thru-hiker’s story. He had a little shortwave morse code transmitter he made himself. His goal was to talk to someone over it, from every state he walked through. At night he would toss a little weighted bag over a limb, with his antenna, and try to talk to people.

Shortwave is pretty cool. Where else (okay, the internet) can you listen to people from around the world. Shortwave was the international news before there was cable, before their was even TV. I’ve even used it to talk to people over seas using only 8 watts of power, back when I had a converted CB radio. It’s a fun medium but can require a lot of fiddling. It’s nowhere near just picking up a phone and hitting “play”, or even scanning a few seconds to find your favorite FM station. The shortwave band is between the AM dial and somewhere around 26mhz (your car radio ranges from 88-108mhz. If you could turn your car radio down to between 2 and 15… thats the range of most international shortwave stuff). I listened to Radio Croatia the other night. Now, it’s bad AM radio, so yeah, that’s what it’s like listening to. Music comes across pretty poorly, and voice sometimes isnt much better, but it can be interesting.

So, I happened to find this online:


It weighs 6 ounces, has shortwave, AM, FM, and scans the weather band. It runs off 2 AA batteries OR your USB phone battery pack. Pretty cool for in-hammock entertainment or just weather stuff.

The only problem these little radios suffer from is bad antennas. The antenna length should be around 1/4 of the meter band you’re listening to. Something to do with the speed of light vs. the frequency of the signal… but if you’re listening to a station around 7mhz, that’s the 40 Meter band. at 1/4 that, your antenna should be 10 meters, or 30 FEET long for best reception (actually, a 40 meter antenna would be perfect, but no way anyone is putting up one of those).

In my old listening days, I would just stretch a long wire out of the window and clip an alligator clip onto the end of the built-in antenna. That still works today, if you cared to haul around a little loop of wire and turn your tent into the biggest lightning rod in the woods. But of course, the weather channels should tell you all that, if you can’t be bothered to look up. Interestingly, Winter is the best time for shortwave listening. Something to do with the atmosphere and the position of the sun affecting it. I don’t remember it all, but it’s kind of nice that the time you’re huddled in the tent the longest makes for the best time for in-tent entertainment via the oldest form of electronic voice communication.

Hike Your Own Hike…. dumbass.

“Hike Your Own Hike” is a philosophy of sorts. It originally meant “do it the way you like”, or something like that. Plenty of hikers on facebook will use it to say that, usually at the end of threads that begin, “Hey what’s the best _____” (stove/camera/pack/sleeping bag/etc.)

Often there is a serious debate and then someone will say, “Well I use ___, because it seems to work the best for me, but Hike your own hike”. All well and good, because after all, gear choices are pretty varied and personal. Some people like the speed of a JetBoil stove, whereas some people prefer the weight savings but sometimes more finicky behavior of an alcohol stove. Some like hammocks, some like tents.

But there’s always a post or to where you know the “dumbass” is implied. Much like a southern woman saying “bless your heart”, sometimes there’s an unspoken “bitch” at the end. Or when you don’t share someone’s beliefs and they scream “I’ll pray for you”, you know there’s a “to burn in hell forever” muttered under their breath. So, Hike Your Own Hike can sometimes have a negative connotation to it.

One of the most common HYOH(D), or, “Hike Your Own Hike (Dumbass)” posts I see, are the ones about GPS or GPS apps. Someone will post something to the effect of “Hey which GPS do you recommend?” or “Which app seems to have the best GPS features?”. It’s a lousy topic for a post anyway, as most people will recommend the GPS that they have, and most people haven’t tried more than one or two. I’ve been using GPS units since 2002 or so. My first one didn’t have maps. My second had a limited 4mb of memory and very basic maps with a black and white screen. My most recent one has an SD slot and up to 32GB of memory with colored maps and aerial photos. Hmmm…which would I recommend?

But there’s always someone who interjects something completely away from the original topic.

“Which GPS do you use and is it a good one?”

reply: “GPS can fail! Only use a map and compass!”

OR something like:

“Which is more useful for keeping a phone charged, a solar panel or a battery pack?”

reply: “Unplug! Leave all the gadgets at home.”

Invariably there’s the HYOH(D) post in there somewhere, the post that implies you should do it your own way, but if you don’t do it MY way, you’re an idiot.

“What do you recommend, hiking boots or shoes?”

reply: “Well Boots are totally out. Most people are moving away from shoes. Only a masochist would still wear shoes when trail runners are lighter, breathe better, and still wear well in camp, so you don’t need camp shoes like flip flops. But if you still want to wear heavy shoes instead of brand Y trail runners like me, then HYOH”. And there it is, the “Dumbass” is implied.

The problem is, some people can get really offended if you call them on it. It’s best to leave well enough alone. Typical of the GPS posts: screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-3-12-19-pm

A well composed, easy to understand post. What GPS do you use? Also a typical reply, with decent information. Doesn’t answer the question, but doesn’t get asshole-ish about it. Presents an alternative HYOH without the  implied Dumbass.


Unfortunately I made the mistake of calling out a different response. Typical of the “Do it my way or you’re an idiot” crowd. I made a reply about “Why do people feel the need to inject completely irrelevant information or opposite opinions into a post asking for information. A couple of people replied similarly, and the thread disappeared. Then I get a private message:


So… when someone posts a HYOH(D) post, realize that they may get really upset when they are called out. Best to let the (D) HYOH people just spout off their stuff and go about their business. Otherwise the admins get in on the whole thing. And everyone knows how facebook group admins behave.



The Donner Party Hike Review…


Damn early in the morning on February 3rd, 8 of us left Columbia, SC to head up to Damascus, Virginia. It’s amazing to me that parts of Virginia are that close, as it was only a 4 hour drive. We had planned a 3 day hike in February, in part because the winter here has been so mild.

A few days out I checked the weather, and found it was supposed to be down around 20 the first night. Cold, yes, but not completely unbearable. Two days later I checked again. The weather was supposed to be 15 degrees and windy, with temperatures all day Saturday right around Freezing. Then I changed the name of the hike from the sublime “AT Hike into Damascus Southbound” to the more intimidating “Donner Party Hike”. Surprisingly we only had one drop out at that point, due to illness.

Our shuttle dropped the 8 of us at the AT Crossing at Elk Garden, along Virginia Highway 600. It was the last time we would see people until Sunday at lunch.


Hiking were (back) Thomas, Mike, Me, Michelle, Leslie, Dorothy, Jim, and Paul (in front).

Even though we started at around 4500 feet, we had to ascend to just over 500 and cross the balds at Whitetop Mountain. The wind was cold and at times relentless, and snow covered parts of the landscape around us. The rest of the afternoon was spent mainly going downhill towards Lost Mountain Shelter, with a stop in the middle of the trip for lunch.

I normally don’t cook lunch on the trail, but I heated some water and made a hot drink and ate my cliff bar, trying to stay warm. I fell behind like usual, looking for geocaches and generally enjoying myself. I tend to try and wander into camp right about dinner time so there’s not much down time.

When I was about a mile from shelter I ran into the rest of them, everyone had stopped by a small creek, and had set camp up. A group decision had been made to abandon going uphill to shelter, in favor of a campsite lower on the mountain, close to water. It turned out to be a good move.

Temperatures seemed to be dropping rapidly (or maybe we were sweaty and now we were standing still) as we set up our stuff and made food.

My choice of meal was the AlpineFAire Mesquite BBQ Chicken and Rice. I don’t really recommend splitting it up the way I did. I got too much sauce in mine, so it was like a little chicken and rice in a bowl of kraft BBQ Sauce. It was way too thick. I didn’t eat the other half the next night. My Squishy Bowl smelled like BQ sauce for the rest of the trip.

After dinner we hung around the smoldering fire of mostly fireproof wood, and then retreated to the warmth of our tents. It was cold at first, but after fighting the hammock into submission and getting my covers just right, I had to get out and fix my underquilt because my butt was cold. Then I got all comfortable again and had to get out and pee an hour later. Finally, blissful sleep.

If you’ve never woken up to ice crystals on the inside of your tent, you’re missing out on something. My Taco Wrap hammock performed admirably. The little mesh window worked great, but at some point in the night seemed to ice up a bit. And when I rolled over away from it, I breathed right against the wall of the tent, making another small ice sheet, which froze the edge of my down covers to the side of the tent.

When I finally heard Thomas getting a fire going, I got up and peed again. It was cold. Really really cold. Jim told us the temperature was ten degrees by his hammock. One of our party didn’t want to get up until it was warmer. Twenty minutes later she was told the thermometer now read near 7 degrees, so she might as well get up.

Breakfast consisted of my first successful trailside pancakes, coffee, and bacon bits that I warmed up in my little pan. It was the best trail breakfast I think I’ve ever done.


We strolled out of camp about 830 or so, having a shorter day and all day to do it. The first trudge was up the hill over a mile to Lost Mountain Shelter. It was a nice big campsite, but situated on a hilltop without much protection from the wind. The Privy would have been nice, and we never checked the water source, so I don’t know if it was flowing or not. I explained our camping destination to the rest of the group, and people began spreading out like they tend to do. This day was a long and arduous one, up and down some sawtooth hills, including a series of short steep ups and downs that seemed designed as a leg workout. Thankfully the last part of the day was a mostly gentle downhill towards Feathercamp Branch. I ran into Michelle about halfway through the day, and we sat by the trail for lunch. I heated some water and made some tea. It was nice to make a hot drink and rest by the trail while trying to warm up.

Feathercamp was a nice surprise. I expected a little stream and maybe some cramped campsites, but it was a huge area right off the Virginia Creeper Trail, next to a river. Apparently popular in the summer, it was mostly abandoned now. As we set up, some rangers showed up and warned us about the fire danger and asked us general questions about where we were headed. They asked us to burn any trash that we happened to pick up, as people liked to come in and leave stuff lying around. It rubbed one of our group the wrong way, as they had a truck not 100 feet from the camping area (this part of the VA Creeper trail had a gravel walking/roadbed that they had driven on), and they could have easily hauled out a few things.


The evening was much warmer, and the threatened rain never showed up. It sleeted on us sometime during the night, and melted everywhere except when it was on our tent covers. The last day was a hard climb up 700 feet over some hills, and then down over 1000 feet into Damascus. Somehow Michelle and I missed the split in the trail and went up and over the Iron Mountain trail. It was higher in elevation that the AT and the track took us maybe as much as a half mile longer. But when we realized the mistake, we also discovered that the trails converged again later, and stuck with it.

Damascus was a welcome relief, and we met everyone a few people at a time. Since it was just lunchtime, we stopped at a local place before heading home, and had a nice hot meal than didn’t come from a bag.



The Movie is here:

The Donner Party Hike

You know you’re in for a hike when you see the weather report and wind up jokingly renaming it “The Donner Party Hike”.

If you haven’t seen the weather channel movie “The Donner Party”, at least google it. The Donners and several other people headed west around the turn of the century (the 1900s, not the 2000s). They took a shortcut hoping to get to California for better land than everyone else that started the same time. So, by trying to cheat, they got seriously behind. A lot of the wound up dying, and their was a disagreement on the trail that wound up in a stabbing. They spent the winter eating the cattle and each other.

A few years back, we were discussing this ill-fated trip while trying to plan a hike in the South Carolina Upstate, and were wondering what parts of people might be tasty in such an event.

So – when we recently planned a hike from Elk Garden to Damascus, VA the weather wasnt bad. Mid 40s and a little rain. Then the rain disappeared from the forcast and they dropped the temperatures to the high teens overnight.

I’ve never slept out in the teens overnight. I’m anticipating waking up to an ice palace inside the hammock. I’ve been into the high 20’s before, but the teens are another thing entirely. I have a feeling our group is going to be the only group of idiots out this weekend in this particular section. They’re predicting a little snow Saturday night, and there is already a little snow where we are going. Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be through the worst of it.

This weather is drunk. Last weekend it was 60 on the trail. This Saturday it will barely get above freezing all day. How do you even get water when it’s freezing? I’ve never had to chop water before.

But, if worst comes to worst, I’m taking the pork rub. Wish me luck.

Apparently there’s also some sort of sporting event this weekend? I might miss it.

Chill, Gorilla…

One of the things I have been needing to replace for my camping experience was my Hennessy Hex Fly. It’s a big tarp thing that goes over my hammock, shaped like a squashed hexagon. I have two:

One of them is asymmetrical – which means the ends are cut a little shorter on opposite sides/ends. It works great with the hammock, which is also asymmetrical, but it doesn’t work so well with the Grizz Beak.

My older hex tarp (also a Hennessy model) is a larger, heavier hexagon that is the same on the ends. It gives more room and works better with the Grizz Beaks. It’s also starting to leak. There are spots here and there about the size of dinner plates where the water will definitely come through. They are near the edges, but it seemed like a good time to replace it.

Online, I saw the Chill Gorilla tarp mentioned by a few people.


Not only did it come with a little bag and tent stakes, but it has a cool gorilla logo on it, and it costs about half what the Hennessy tarp costs.

Here is my Amazon Review of it:


Light, easily packable, waterproof. Not so great for cooling gorillas, despite the name. Gorillas don’t like being in small enclosed spaces covered up, even if you tell them to chill. They shred the fabric with ease and then maul you. Best to use on section or thru-hikers that only smell as bad as a gorilla.

A more full review:
I have been hammock camping for four years now, in weather from snowing to 80 degrees. My first rain fly was the Hennessy Hammock stock Asymmetric tarp. It’s a tiny POS, throw it out or pay for the upgrade. For an Honest Comparison:

I hung up my Chill Gorilla, and put my Hennessy Asymmetric Silnylon tarp on top of it. Although they have the same ridge line length, the chill gorilla is about 3″ taller on each side (measured from the ridgeline vertically towards the ground). The Chill Gorilla is also symmetrical, unlike the hennessy tarp. One end on each side was close to a foot wider than the hennessy tarp. This would account for the extra few ounces of weight.

I have a hennessy poly tarp as well, it was my older tarp and started losing water resistance in spots. My old Hennessy poly tarp is about the same size and weight of the Chill Gorilla, but the Gorilla tarp is easily half the price. I use Grizz Beaks on my tarp ends. They work MUCH better with symmetrical tarps than asym tarps.

Now for the down side:
One of the things I like about Hennessy tarps is they have little pockets on each corner for the tie-out ropes. Each time I take out my chill gorilla, the lines are a tangled mess. When you’re wanting to get your tarp up in the rain, it’s nice to have a tight, neat package. I’m thinking of making little line bags that tie on the corners.
The Chill Gorilla also packs almost TWICE as large as the Hennessy SilNylon tarp. I think its a combination of thicker fabric and the slightly longer ends, but it completely fills one of the orange dry sacks from walmart (the three pack from outdoor products), whereas the hennessy takes up about half the bag.
This DOES need to air out when you first get it. It has a strong chemical smell, almost fishy, but hang it in the carport for a day or two and the smell goes away. Get a larger stuff sack: like every hammock, tarp, and tent ever produced, once you get it out of the sack, it’s never going back in.

I hung it up outside today, and installed a Grizz Beak on each end, to test it out.


I immediately came to a few conclusions:

I need to lengthen the tie lines for my Grizz Beaks (the brown doors on either end. By doing so, I can tie the doors on opposite ends of the hammock to a single tent stake in the middle. Right now I’m using way too many tent stakes.

I need to seriously redo the tie lines on the tarp itself. I had used reflective 550 cord (which came with it) and metal clips on the ends. This tarp in its sack weighs just over 2 pounds! With the grizz beaks and the sack for everything, it weighs in at a hefty 2.5 pounds. I cut off the heavy paracord and the metal clips and saved 2 ounces. I have some strong, light line on the way from Amazon, and hope to redo the whole suspension on the thing and make it very light. I’m going to forego the metal clips on the ends and just tie the beast off. Eventually I want some plastic flip locks but I don’t have time to get those right now… Maybe I’ll harvest them from my other tarp until spring.