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Passing on your Passion to your Children

I am trying to avoid just re-posting other blogs, but I love the truth in this statement from Kristen Laine at AMC’s Great Kids, Great Outdoors

I’m aware of a paradox: The more we parents want to pass on a love of anything, including being active in the outdoors, the less we may get to do of it. But by taking the time to share it with our children, the more likely they are to learn to love it. And that makes the time we don’t spend doing our sport worthwhile.

Check out the rest of that blog post and her blog,  in general….

Enjoy your weekend.

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Ultralight Stove & Pot

As a mechanical engineer and a tinkerer, I enjoyed putting together my ultralight stove and pot system.  Homemade, ultralight, alcohol stoves are extremely popular on the Web.  So, I read up on many of the designs out there.  I found that the challenge is to find a stove that works well (efficiently) for a family or group…like boiling 6 cups of water at one time.  There are many designs and tests for alcohol stoves that boil 2-4 cups of water for one or two people, but good, fuel efficient stoves for groups are much less common.  A great understanding of the basics of these alcohol stoves can be found at http://zenstoves.net/Stoves.htm, so I will not discuss details here.

I built a few other stoves, but they never really worked well for 6 cups of water.  They burned out too quickly, heating lots of air rather than the pot of water, or they didn’t hold enough fuel to begin with.  I found this design by a prolific stove designer, Zelph, and I made a variation of my own.  It has worked very well with my 6 cup grease pot and homemade wind screen.  I have used it at 21F and 85F with no problems.

Included in our kit…

  • 6 cup aluminum grease pot available at Walmart and K-mart for $7
  • 11 oz “Aqua-pod” bottled water bottle – safely holds enough alcohol to boil about 24 cups of water
  • my homemade version of Zelph’s Fancee Feest stove.  The stove can be purchased here for $18 if you do not choose to make your own.  He also has some other large volume designs worth researching for your family.
  • a circle cut from an aluminum oven liner to go under the stove to reflect heat and protect the ground
  • a windscreen made of roof flashing…oven liner can work as well
  • small, 2.5 oz Tupperwear cup for measuring alcohol to match the amount of water to be boiled
  • a single leather glove as my hot pot holder
  • a backpacking can opener usually available at Walmart or Kmart
  • at least one mini-Bic cigarette lighter, individually bagged to stay dry

 All of this fits into the pot nicely….

For fuel I prefer Heet fuel line antifreeze in the yellow bottle.  It is very affordable at Walmart, in the automotive section.  The yellow bottle is clean burning methanol, but remember that methanol is poisonous.  (If you want to eliminate the hazard, Everclear grain alcohol will work (ethanol).  It is much more expensive, but you can drink any leftovers.)

Having such a lightweight stove and pot has been a real pleasure.  It’s so light that besides backpacking, we often take it on day hikes, scoop up some creek water, boil and enjoy hot chocolate or Russian tea.  As with all alcohol stoves being used with more than 4 cups of water, this stove requires patience.  It takes about 15 minutes for 6 cups to boil.  This slow pace is only a problem if someone has gotten dangerously chilled, which hopefully never happens.

You can put together your stove kit for less than $30 buying the stove from Zelph.  Commercial stoves of low weight start at about $40 without any fuel cannister or the pot.  As always, please post any questions or comments.

First Aid Kit

I mentioned in a previous post that my philosophy regarding first aid is to only take care items/supplies that you would really use or know how to use.  For everything else, the plan is to get out ASAP.  In other words, if a child gets very sick or severely injured, bundle them up as needed to deal with shock, and carry them out to the nearest vehicle or point where rescue personnel could assist you.

You the parent are at the greatest risk, if you are alone with your young kids.  My 8 and 10 year olds are fairly prepared to help me if I am hurt.  If I become unconscious, they know to bundle me up with my clothes and sleeping quilt and then to back-track toward civilization to find help or a cell phone signal (we carry a cell phone usually).

Here is what we currently carry for hiking or backpacking trips of a few days or less…

Clockwise from top left…

  • first aid wipes / alcohol wipes – to clean out, or around, a bad cut
  • sterile gauze – to cover or pack a wound too large for a band aid
  • medical tape – for large bandages and home-made butterflies
  • chewable Tylenol – for discomfort or fever on your way back to civilization
  • Band aids – for small wounds that need some cover
  • chewable Pepto Bismol – for upset stomachs (PLEASE READ WARNINGS ABOUT REYE’S SYNDROME RISK)
  • (not shown) – chewable Benedryl – for mild allergic reactions
  • (not shown) – bandana and string/cord (from food hanging bag) for splinting breaks or binding large wounds
  • (not shown) – epipens for severe allergic reactions, if necessary
  • (not shown) – inhalers for asthma, if necessary
  • (not shown) – medications specific to your family
  • (not shown) – emergency blanket (silver plastic) – we do NOT carry these, since, if the need arises, we plan to wrap up the injured with other items such as tent or sleeping quilt or clothes from other individuals

This kit has served us well on our fairly mild adventures, but I certainly do not make any claims that this is what’s best for you and your family.  Googling this topic will provide plenty of other thoughts.  I welcome any comments and discussion on this very important topic.

Trip Report: Panthertown Valley, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

This four night trip with a group of new friends is the one that really got the boys and me excited about backpacking while they are still young.  The combination of friends that love the outdoors and are patient with kids, the mild weather, and the beautiful and varied terrain made for a great experience.  Thanks to Bryan G. for these pictures (I did not take a camera on this trip.)

Where:
The 7,000 acre Panthertown Valley is located just northeast of Cashiers, NC and northwest of Lake Toxaway.  A few miles from Highway 64, one can access parking areas on the eastern or western edges of the valley.  Both parking areas are dirt, and less than “well maintained,” but, with some common sense, you can arrive and park most mini-vans and certainly any truck or SUV.  The paved roads that lead to both parking areas, are very curvy so mind anyone who gets car sick easily…leave adequate time for the last few miles to the parking area.  This web page has good directions for driving to either side of the valley from Highway 64.  (Note that during our visits in 2010, the parking at both locations was better than the older description on that site.)

Down in the valley, the trails are well marked, but this area can be very confusing due to the interlinking trails and lack of high vantage points.  A copy of this map is highly recommended.  Use of a compass is a plus but not really necessary because the trails are so abundant and well marked today. (You’ll hear old-timers talk about how poorly the trails are marked, but that is no longer true.)

When:
Our trip was July 8-11, 2010, a Thursday night through Sunday afternoon.  The weather was some of the hottest for this area, but I think 87F was probably the hottest we experienced.  The humidity was uncomfortably high making us appreciate the frequent swimming hole breaks.  Our coldest morning was 53F, but everyday it was comfortably warm by 9:30 AM.  A big plus for this time period was ripe blue berries, especially along the sunny rock faces of Little Green Mtn.

Positives:

  • The hiking trails are abundant and most are easy hiking for little ones. Some of the climbs are tough, but they are not that long.  The hikes on the valley floor are nearly flat.
  • There are plenty of opportunities to play in the water since waterfalls, pools, and wading areas abound.
  • Campsites are pretty abundant.  Since they are not shown on the maps, here are some to mark…
    • immediately downstream of Schoolhouse Falls…but this area can be crowded since the falls are very popular in warm weather
    • atop Little Green Mtn – my favorite because of the views (and blueberries in July), but you will have to bring enough water up from Schoolhouse Falls since there is no spring near this site
    • at Riding Ford Falls – tucked in the Rhododendron to your left as you step into the river and look upstream…almost hidden like the “Bat Cave” but big enough for 4 or more tents
    • several at the junction of Panthertown Valley trail(#474) and Powerline Rd trail (#451)
    • just north of the junction of Mac’s Gap trail (#482) and the Granny Burrell Falls trail (#488) – a beautiful, flat pine grove with tons of space for tents
    • around the giant camp shelter at the junction of the Granny Burrell Falls trail (#488) and the Great Wall trail (#489) – this site is sometimes used by local summer camps
    • several large sites are found along the Mac’s Gap trail (#482) between its western junction with Granny Burrell trail (#488) and its eastern junction with the Green Valley trail (#484)
    • there are many others, but these are the best I have seen.
  • The area is not heavily used, but you will usually see folks at the key waterfalls.
  • There are no fees for this area.
  • There are beautiful views to be had, if you are willing to do some climbing…up Little Green or Blackrock.
  • The echoes off of the top of Big Green, above the Great Wall trail are fun, but be warned the look-offs on top of Big Green are slim to none and very dangerous.
  • This valley is the headwaters of the Tuckaseegee River that, downstream, flows very wide through Bryson City, NC….it all starts in the Appalachian bogs of  this valley.
  • Waterfalls, waterfalls…not all very big, but lots of them.

Negatives:

  • In the summer, it’s very humid in the valley floor.  We sweated a lot when climbing with our packs.  Be patient with the little ones.
  • We experienced some mosquitoes at the Big Shelter, but nowhere else.
  • We had to manage short pants carefully to keep some dry for mornings since we were constantly swimming.  (We kept wet ones hanging on the outside of our packs and would change back into them just before going in for each swim.)
  • The water is all stained with tannins like green tea from the stagnant vegetation of the bogs…not really a negative unless you have a weak stomach.  (IT IS SAFE, but it looks strange)  Even after filtering, it retains a slight green tint.
  • We had one mild storm that lasted about 2 hours. Fortunately, we had just set up camp so we all relaxed in our shelters and chatted with our kids while the storm rained itself out.
  • As mentioned above, there is some risk to getting turned around, but you will be fine as long as you have your map.

This area is my number one recommendation for locals to backpack with their kids when the weather is mild.  I like it best when the leaves are coming off or are fully off of the trees because there are more views as you hike.  So, as always, please ask questions, then plan this trip and get out there with your kids.

Value Scale for the Weight Obsessed

If you are serious about cutting your gear weight, you need a scale to track your progress.  A friend of mine found this great value scale, the Taylor model 3831BL.  (The BL stands for Biggest Loser, for the TV series.)  It has a nice range, up to 6.6 lbs which will cover everything but larger tents.  (And you can usually weigh your tent in parts, separating the fly and/or poles from the main body.)  Plus it has a high resolution…tenths of an ounce or single grams.

This scale is available at datavis.com for about $16 delivered, or at walmart.com for about $20, but not in Walmart stores.  Happy gram counting.

REI Clearance Sale

REI’s awesome clearance sale officially starts on Friday, but they have already marked down the prices in the stores–all the good stuff will be gone by Friday. Scott was just there (the Asheville store) during his lunch hour and got wool socks for $3 and kids jackets for $20.

Clothing and Gear for a Cool Weather Hike

On our recent trip up to the highest ridgeline in the eastern US via the Woody Ridge Trail, we started out with very mild (55F) weather and hiked up into a harsh wind chill and and 3 feet of snow.

Fortunately, I was not really surprised by the weather change, but we did have to cut our trip a little short because Ben’s hands got very cold.

Here is what we took with us….

My 10 year old son, Ben, wore:

  • light hiking boots – these were soaked by the snow, but no problem for a short hike
  • wool socks
  • polyester short pants
  • long sleeve, polyester fleece shirt

Ben carried:

  • large day pack
  • over-sized stocking cap (to cover the ears and some of the neck)
  • wind shell
  • down insulated jacket
  • polyester wind pants
  • extra wool socks – which he changed into at the top/turn-around
  • bandana
  • head lamp
  • pocket knife
  • 2 plastic mugs and a spoon
  • water bottle, 1 liter, filled
  • camera

I wore:

  • light hiking shoes
  • wool socks
  • polyester short pants
  • long sleeve capilene (Patagonia’s polyester) shirt
  • pocket knife

I carried:

  • large day pack
  • wind shell
  • over-sized stocking cap
  • poly-fill insulated jacket
  • polyester wind pants
  • extra wool socks
  • camp towel – used to dry Ben’s feet when putting on dry socks
  • map & compass
  • head lamp
  • first aid kit (medical tape, gauze, alcohol pads, band aids)
  • emergency blanket
  • pot and alcohol stove kit – hot Russian tea was great
  • water bottle, 1 liter, filled
  • lunch (SEVERAL granola bars, mixed nuts, cheese sticks, Russian tea mix)

We could have used gloves for Ben since in the deep snow atop the ridgeline, he had to put his hands down frequently.

The only things we did not use were the first aid kit and emergency blanket.  I did not use my extra socks, poly-fill jacket or wind pants, but if we had stayed up on the ridgeline much longer, I would have had to put them on to stay warm.

As always, please ask any questions, or add your comments.