Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Winter" Camping at Governor Dodge State Park, Dodgeville, WI, December 19-20, 2015

Staying warm
 Regrettably, despite the unseasonably warm November, we didn't make it out camping once because of family obligations, football season and general laziness. As the warm weather continued into December, I began to become more antsy to get out again. Although the temperature would not get above freezing on Saturday, Sunday was forecast to reach the low to mid 40s (F), so I figured this would be our last chance to get out and to test the limits of our current gear.

Friday, December 18, 2015

High Cliff State Park Halloween Camground Event Weekend, Sherwood, WI, October 23-25, 2015

Every year, the Friends of High Cliff State Park host a Halloween Campground Tour in which campers decorate, sometimes elaborately, their campsites with Halloween decorations and crowds come to trick-or-treat. We camped at the park last year, and it was a fun, unique way to end our camping season, so we again booked a site early this year for the Halloween festivities.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Backpacking Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest, Boulder Junction, WI, October 2-4, 2015

Family picture at Concora Rd Trailhead
The Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest (NHAL) offers a number of recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, hiking, biking and winter activities. I previously wrote about a day trip we took on one of the canoe routes we explored in the NHAL. I look forward to further exploring some of those routes on multi-night trips, but we promised our daughter canoe camping was over for the season. Instead, we planned a backpacking trip on the Lumberjack Trail near Boulder Junction, WI.

Bridge over White Sand Creek Rd
The Lumberjack Trail (pdf map from WI DNR) is the only backpacking opportunity the DNR lists on its website of the NHAL, although there are probably others. The trail is about 12.5 miles long, including a figure 8 loop that offers 4 and 6 mile hiking, biking, skiing and snowshoeing opportunities. The trails are classified as intermediate, which I assume is rated for winter sports because it's an easy hiking trail that is wide and well-maintained. There are a couple stream crossings, but there are sturdy bridges, so there is no fording necessary. There are no established campsites, so if you want to camp here, be prepared to explore off trail for a suitable campsite. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hartman Creek State Park, Waupaca, WI, September 25-27, 2015

Taking advantage of a beautiful and warm late September weekend, we headed to Hartman Creek State Park where Lorraine could hike some of the ice age trail and where we could paddle and swim the Chain O' Lakes.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sylvania Wilderness, Watersmeet, MI, September 5-7, 2015

The Sylvania Wilderness is a small but beautiful Federally designated wilderness in the Ottawa National Forest with 18,000 acres of pristine lakes, old growth forests and spacious campsites. The campsites are available only by reservation either in advance or from the ranger station, so unlike the Boundary Waters, you can guarantee yourself a campsite even on holiday weekends. Having a reserved site on a lake without motor boats makes Sylvania an ideal holiday weekend getaway, so we reserved a site for Labor Day weekend. The sites were most interested in taking were either reserved or not reservable in advance, so I booked Perch 1 on Whitefish Lake.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Taking Amber to Amber Lake, August 15-22, 2015

We had such a good time last year in the Boundary Waters that I was ready to go back before we even got home. So this year we planned a full week with more travel than our first trip. After considering a number of routes, we decided to take our daughter Amber to Amber Lake. Here's a video and slide show I put together of the trip.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Roche-A-Cri State Park, Friendship, WI, July 24-26, 2015

Rock outcropping at Roche-A-Cri
A few weeks ago, my wife asked if I wanted to go camping over the next few weeks, and I responded that I would prefer to go to the backcountry or at least to some places we've never been. Her search found Roche-A-Cri State Park in Friendship, WI. After looking for it on the map, I became a bit concerned because it seemed to just be a tiny spot of green along the highway near a small town, but it turned out to be a pretty nice park.

Roche-A-Cri State Park was basically established to protect a 300-ft rock outcropping and Native American petroglyphs. The park has about 5 miles of hiking trails, 41 campsites and a creek that supposedly has decent fishing. The rock mound supposedly was an island in Glacial Lake Wisconsin about 15,000 years ago. Despite the park's small size, I recommend a visit and would camp there again.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

July 10-12, 2015, Wyalusing State Park, Bagley, WI

Wisconsin River
We spent the weekend car camping at Wyalusing State Park, which is at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. The park offers beautiful views of both rivers from the bluffs above, has about 14 miles of hiking trails, multiple playgrounds and has a signed canoe trail through the sloughs and down the Mississippi River. The camping accommodations are fairly typical of a state park, and there are two campgrounds. The Wisconsin Ridge Campground overlooks the Wisconsin River and has some nice views, but the campsites are wide open and right on top of each other. The Homestead Campground is, by comparison, more secluded and wooded. However, most of the sites are small and close to the campground road.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

July 3, 2015, Escanaba and Lost Canoe Lakes, NHAL State Forest, Boulder Junction, WI

I don't normally blog about day trips, but there is not a lot of information about canoeing in this area and not all of it is accurate, so I thought it would be worth writing about our experience paddling in the National Highland American Legion (NHAL) State Forest. 

As a compromise for missing out on Independence Day festivities last year, we settled on a mixture of day paddling and tourist activities in Minocqua, WI. After poring over maps of the area over the winter, I decided I wanted to try paddling/portaging around Lost Canoe Lake, partially because of the name and because there are a number of canoe campsites in the area. The NHAL offers a number of canoe routes (pdf) with both reservable and first-come campsites. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

June 15-18, 2015, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City, NC

Deep Creek
Since we've gotten back into backcountry camping, my wife and I have been wanting to take a real backpacking trip. We've done a few walk-in state park sites with our daughter, but we know from our day hikes that she's not up for more than a few miles without major complaints and delays. We made plans to leave her with my mom in Chattanooga as soon as school ended for the summer while we backpacked in the Smokies. Despite having lived a good portion of my life in Eastern Tennessee, I had never spent any time in the backcountry of the the Smoky Mountains, so I got pretty excited about the idea.

Bryson City, NC
I kinda wanted to stay away from the busy areas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, so I decided we would try to find a fairly easy loop on the North Carolina side. The Deep Creek area offers a number of campsites fairly close to the trail head, and there are a number of opportunities for loop routes. After much contemplation, we chose a few campsites that would make up about a 20 mile loop, and our plans were set. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

May 23-25, 2015, Sylvania Wilderness, Watersmeet, MI

Amber and Lorraine at the campsite marker
If you haven’t been to the Sylvania Wilderness, I highly recommend it. It’s nice to have a long weekend to enjoy the outdoors, but we often find the easy-to-reach destinations in south-central Wisconsin to be extremely crowded on holiday weekends. Fortunately, the Sylvania Wilderness is not overly crowded as we found out last Independence Day weekend, and you can reserve campsites in advance, ensuring you get a spot. Last year, we had a wonderful site (Birch) on Clark Lake, and you can read the trip report here. I heard good things about the eastern side of Sylvania, so I thought we should give it a try. I wanted a site on High Lake, but it seems neither of them are reservable, so I booked Ermine 1 on Mountain Lake.

By the end of last season, packing for camping trips was practically second nature, and I really didn’t even need a list. It’s amazing how quickly one can fall out of habits, so I was glad to have handy the lists I made over the last couple years. We packed up early in the week in anticipation of the trip and loaded everything up on Friday night so that we could make an early start on Saturday morning to avoid traffic, amazingly, we managed to get on the road by 6am.

Crooked Lake Boat Landing
The drive up was uneventful, and we managed to miss any heavy traffic. We made a pit stop at McDonald’s for Amber and me to get something to eat, and we stopped again at Sylvania Outfitters to pick up fishing licenses. I wasn’t really planning on fishing but Amber insisted. Anything to make her trip more enjoyable is worth it, so we brought some minimal fishing gear, which Amber promised to portage. After checking in at the Ranger station and watching the video, we headed to the landing to have lunch before getting on the water. Up arrival at the landing, we were bombarded by mosquitoes, so our lunch break was quite short.

Loon on Crooked Lake
The paddle through Crooked Lake was nice, and the weather was pretty much perfect. The breeze on the lake offered a nice respite from the mosquitoes. Crooked Lake is aptly named, as it is quite irregularly shaped with wide and narrow sections turning in all directions. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to navigate as most of the bays and sections are small and don’t leave the opportunity to stray too far off path. We managed to find the portage with little difficulty, and were pleased with the nice landings and short distance to Mountain Lake. I was a bit surprised that
Crooked Lake
most of the campsites were not easy to see without paddling right up to them, so I wasn’t able to really tell how many were occupied or get an idea of what they looked like without stopping. Nonetheless, we found our site with no problem, but we did find it occupied with about a zillion mosquitoes.

I think this was the most mosquitoes I have ever encountered. Thankfully, we brought the head nets, but we didn’t bring any chemicals. I really wish I would have brought the Thermacell to give it a try because there was hardly any breeze at our campsite on Saturday, and I have heard the Thermacells work great on calm days. Anyway, we were at our home away from home and had to make the best of it, so we put on the head nets and started about setting up camp.
Portage between Crooked and Mountain Lakes
Mountain Lake

GPS track for day one
We had to twist, bribe and threaten Amber to do camp chores, but she finally relented and “helped” with some of her chores. In the short term, it certainly would be easier to just do all the chores ourselves, but obviously we have a responsibility to instill some values and work ethic into our offspring. At the moment, though, I wished we could have left her to play video games with Grandma. Fortunately, the tension passed, and we all were able to enjoy ourselves.

Headed out to fish
I got a chance to take Amber out fishing in the boat, which was an accomplishment in itself because she has been expressing quite a bit of anxiety about fishing from the boat. After a quick attempt to fish from the densely forested shore, she quickly saw the merit of being out on the water and seemed to forget about most of her anxiety. We paddle around and fished a little, but we didn’t even get a nibble, nor did we even see a fish in the water despite having good visibility. First, I don’t really know what I’m doing or what to throw out there for which kind of fish, and there are
pretty strict regulations on all the lakes except Crooked in Sylvania. All hook barbs must be crimped and no live bait (or even scented bait , if I remember correctly) is allowed. Also, Amber gets nervous when we get close to shore as I guess she thinks we’re going to “crash”, so it’s difficult to fish the shoreline and weeds when she’s worried about getting too close. Anyway, I think she had fun.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was tortilla pizza! I don’t know if these would taste as good at home, but oh my, it’s a little slice of heaven in the woods to have a double- or triple-pepperoni pizza with crushed red pepper. If you haven’t tried this on your trips, you really should. If you need more info, post a comment and I’ll be glad to talk about it. Mmmmmm.
The downside to pizza in the woods during a mosquito hatch is having to eat walking around so the mosquitoes don’t carry you away. After having enough, I built a fire, and it really helped give us a break from the bugs. The fire pit area at Ermine 1 was not flat, and the ground was somewhat soggy, so it made sitting around the campfire in the Helinox a bit of a challenge as the legs kept sinking into the ground. I tried putting flat stones under the legs, but with the slope it made for unstable sitting. I think I might have to give the tennis/wiffle/racquet ball trick a try. Anyway, we enjoyed the fire until bedtime when we were back on mosquito fighting duty. They were bad enough that there was a constant buzz around the tent all night long.

I mentioned that the fire area was not flat, and neither was pretty much any part of Ermine-1, which I guess brings me to a review of the campsite. All the sites I’ve seen at Sylvania are pretty spacious, and Ermine-1 was no exception. Still, we had trouble finding a flat spot for the tent. There is some area near the water that would probably be my choice but the rules at Sylvania prevent from setting camp right on the water. I thought that I read that Ermine has numerous tent pads, but I would have to disagree. I guess you could find a number of flatish spots for 1-person tents, but event the best spot we could find had us sliding down our pads throughout the night. There are, however, numerous trees for hammocking, so any hammock campers will not have trouble finding trees from which to hang. The real challenge with the topography of the site was climbing the mountain (ok, so I’m exaggerating) to get to the throne, especially after the rain. The canoe landing was OK, but not great. The shore has a number of trees and is slightly elevated (a foot or two) from the water in places, so it limits the landing opportunities. When we first landed, we picked the place that looked the friendliest, but when I stepped out of the canoe, my foot sunk into some muck. No big deal, but we’ve certainly encountered nicer landings.
GPS track of our day trip
The plan for day two of our two-night trip was to day trip over to High Lake, about which I had heard many nice things, especially relating to the water clarity. After having a bacon and hashbrown breakfast, we prepared for the day trip by packing some snacks and the water filter. If I had known we would be gone so long, I probably would have wanted to pack the stove and a meal, but we obviously weren’t going to starve. The day trip involved 6 portages for a total of 306 rods (0.96 miles) and 6 lakes for a total of 7.6 miles. I started out feeling strong and energetic, but the royalex canoe just kept feeling heavier and heavier. By the last portage, I was having a bit of trouble heaving it over my shoulders and my back was getting sore. Come to think of it, this is exactly how I felt on last year’s Boundary Waters trip.

High Lake was really nice, and the water had a beautiful color. I had heard that you could see deep down, but the sun was right overhead causing reflections that made it difficult to see into the water except in the shade. In the shade, we could definitely see how nice and clean the water was. We decided to stop at one of the campsites, Raccoon, to check it out and to filter some drinking water. The site was fairly nice, but like Ermine-1, was not very flat. There was a nice flat tent spot pretty close to the fire pit, which is where I expect most people setup their tent. The real charm to Raccoon, in my opinion is that it is a prime swimming spot. It has a nice gradual slope into the water with a sandy, pebbly bottom. We didn’t swim as I was not about to expose my skin to the mosquitoes, but I imagine as summer progresses, the bugs will get better.
We didn’t make it back to camp until about 3 o’clock or so, and we were tired and hungry. Lorraine started on our meal while I took care of the gear and got a fire going. We decided on beef stroganoff dehydrated meal we (ok, Lorraine) made at home. Lorraine also dumped a bag of freeze-dried peas into the beef, and it was a big success. Even Amber was going on about how good it was and wanted seconds. I was so happy to see her eating so well. I hate that we typically have to throw much of her food away (ie, we have to pack it out) when we camp. We capped off dinner with re-hydrated cinnamon apples. Note that Lorraine picked up the peas and apples at Target, so it might be worth looking around your local big box stores for lightweight camping food options.
Dad and daughter
Ermine 1
After dinner, the wind picked up and we got some sprinkles, and amazingly, the mosquitoes nearly disappeared. Finally, it became easy to completely relax and take off the head net, which I was finding to be repressive. Gradually, the rain picked up, and it ended up raining pretty hard throughout the night and into the morning. Fortunately, it slowed down for our paddle out, but packing up a wet tent and tarp is never fun. Plus, some of our gear got wet because the slope of the tentpad resulted in us pressing into the foot of the tent, exposing it to rain. I feel like I need to repeat the lesson to myself (and my handful of readers): don’t shove your clothes into the corner of the tent, especially when rain is expected as the corners are often where water will come in.  Perhaps, I should take Cliff Jacobson’s advice and use an innie.

We were completely swarmed by mosquitoes, got rained on for about 12 hours straight, didn’t catch a single fish, and we still had a great time. In all, I think we traveled about 16 miles over two days. The highlight of the trip was watching and eagle and a loon interact on the paddle out. We suspect the eagle may have gotten to the loons nest or maybe the loon was just warning others about the eagle, but it was way cool to watch the eagle swoop down near the loon and hear the loon call out in response. I look forward to our next trip to Sylvania, and I think it’s a great warm-up for our upcoming Boundary Waters trip. I hope you’ll leave a comment or send me a message.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

May 8-10, 2015, Buckhorn State Park, Necedah, WI

Our family backpacking
We asked my wife what she wanted for Mother’s Day, and she said, “Good behavior.” Well, since we weren’t sure we could oblige her, we promised to fulfill her second wish of hiking and camping. Since she and I are planning to spend a few nights backpacking in the Smokies next month, I figured it would be a good time to get a trial run of some new gear and to help us solidify our packing list. There are not a lot of good backpacking options in southern Wisconsin, but Buckhorn State Park offers some walk-in sites that are far enough away from the car to make it feel like a backpacking trip. Unfortunately, none of those sites are reservable. Nonetheless, we decided to hope for the best and arrive as early as possible on Friday evening.

Campsite 4 at Buckhorn State Park
To our surprise, we found that all the sites we had previously marked as desirable were open, and we would virtually be alone as none of the sites were taken in the cluster including the one we chose, Campsite #4. Many of the sites, including #4, are right on Castle Rock Lake, which is somewhat unique for southern Wisconsin state park campsites. The site was listed as a 0.7 mile walk, which I never verified because I kept forgetting to stop the GPS upon arrival at the site, but it seemed about right. We quickly organized our gear, strapped our packs on and made our way to the site. Amber did surprisingly well and was happy with her pack weight of about 11-12 lbs. My pack weighed in at 29 lbs including a gallon of water and most of the food, and Lorraine’s weighed 25 lbs before she snuck a couple last minute items, including a two water bottles. Hopefully, we can figure a way to cut some weight off of her pack before our June trip.

Small beach at our campsite
 Anyway, we quickly arrived at camp, and I set up our new Zpacks triplex, rigged a tarp around the picnic table (and I do mean rigged), and hung the food bag to try to keep the little critters away. Fortunately, there are virtually no bears to worry about here, so we just needed a deterrent from raccoons. After I set up the tent, Lorraine and Amber made up the “beds” and got everything ready for sleeping. Darkness fell before I had a chance to collect firewood, so I opted not to have a fire as I really didn’t want to rummage around for wood in the dark. Our site was on the west side of the peninsula with a pond on the east side. The pond was full of active carp jumping around all throughout the day and night, and after nightfall, the frogs around the pond became very vocal making for a loud chorus of critter calls and splashing. The lack of fire coupled with the lack of comfortable seating led me to bed before ten o’clock where I was able to soak up the sounds from our small island of isolation.

Zpacks triplex
Overall the Zpacks triplex worked out fine, but I left camp that weekend without the warm and fuzzy feeling I had about it prior to the trip. I think most of my disappointment has to do with how tight it was for the three of us. Also, limited site selection left us on a slightly uneven spot with me on the low end, which seemed to lead to my pad getting squeezed against the door. I don’t really fit that well on a 20” pad, but it is doable. I had practiced setting up the triplex, which is essentially a trekking pole-supported tarp tent, at home, but I probably should have practiced setting it up on uneven ground. Although the site was fairly nice, there were not a lot of ideal tent pads partly because of some precarious looking branches and partly because of a large section of land being marked off limits to allow for restoration. I also had not counted on sandy soil, but fortunately I brought extra stakes including some MSR groundhogs, which proved sufficient. However, I don’t know how well they would have withstood a rainstorm in the loose soil. I think I might add a couple snow stakes to my pack in the future. Despite some disappointment about being cramped, the tent held up fine and I feel a little better about its durability and hope we’ll like it better as a two person tent on our upcoming trip.

Saturday morning I woke up before 7 with some soreness, so I decided to go ahead and get up. I had heard Lorraine shortly before that, but I guess I missed her before she went off for a hike. There aren’t a lot of trails at Buckhorn, but she did get a chance to take a quiet walk, which included seeing various critters, including a porcupine. Maybe there is something to be had from getting up early! After Lorraine’s walk, we had a backpacker’s breakfast of instant oatmeal with dehydrated fruit and nuts. I also nibbled on a little bit of beef jerky.

We brought the canoe, which we left on the car in the parking lot, and decided we would get in a paddle before eating lunch. Of course, Amber objected, but we didn’t pay any attention. We had originally considered paddling to our site, but I was worried that we might have trouble convincing Amber to get back in the boat after being comfortable, and strong winds and storms were predicted for Sunday morning. I didn’t really want to get stuck portaging the canoe back to the car, so we decided to launch from boat ramp E, which is north of Hwy G.

GPS track of our paddle
The paddle was somewhat uneventful, but we did see a number of birds and some jumping fish. Amber even said she loved canoeing while she was paddling in the seat next to her mom. She claims it’s because she could touch bottom with her paddle, so maybe her insistence that she doesn’t like canoeing is related to anxiety. The area is a bit confusing with numerous small islands and twists and turns, but I brought my phone with the Backcountry Navigator GPS app and a compass, although I didn’t have much of a paper map for the area. Even if one were to get lost there, the area is not that big, so I wasn’t worried. Once we navigated out of the islands, we made a loop under the Hwy G bridge to Amber’s amusement. We were surprised by dozens of active swallows under the bridge, so I admit it was somewhat entertaining.

After our 3.5 mile paddle, we packed up and headed back to the site for lunch. Amber had picked out $8 Mountain House mac ‘n’ cheese on our Cabela’s opening-weekend shopping trip, so we had that, along with rehydrated taco meat, shredded cheese and tortillas. It wasn’t bad, but the mac ‘n’ cheese had an excessive amount of sauce that we had to pack out. I must say that I like our homemade dehydrated food much better than the store bought stuff. 
Sunset over Castle Rock Lake
We promised a trip to the playground after lunch, so we hiked back out to the trailhead, where Amber begged to drive the two blocks to the playground. I had planned to walk but figured I would take advantage of some air conditioning, although it wasn’t really that hot. She played for probably about an hour, and after she couldn’t get the adults to join in anymore decided she had enough. So we made our way back to camp. Too full to eat supper, Lorraine and I abstained and Amber had some more oatmeal. I collected enough wood for a decent fire, so we were able to enjoy that, but it’s honestly not nearly as enjoyable without camp chairs. I think I might have to work the Helinox back into my pack. We also were able to end the evening with a nice sunset across the lake.

On Sunday, we were back on the road before 8:30 in an attempt to beat the predicted rain. We decided to stop and have a Mother’s Day breakfast at Buckhorn Cafe. It wasn’t bad, but it seemed to take forever. 

Overall, it was a nice trip, and we couldn't complain about the weather. I definitely think we will come back but probably not during the peak season as not having neighbors was one of the highlights of the weekend. Although we did hear music late Sunday night, we mostly had the feel of  a backcountry campsite with most of the convenience of front country camping.

Monday, May 4, 2015

First Aid

Note: This blog post is not intended as medical advice, nor is the author qualified to dispense medical advice. Consult a physician for such advice.

Recently, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading ultralight backpacking forums and have discovered that many people don’t really carry a first aid kit, and some consider a couple feet of duct tape to be their first aid kit. It seemed foolish to me, but one point that also came out of those discussions is that it’s even more foolish if you’re carrying around a bunch of first aid supplies that you don’t know how to use. So, I went through my first aid kit try to decide what to take, keeping in mind that I’m not only responsible for myself but my family, including a first-grader. I realized that I wasn’t really sure what scenarios would lead me to needing many of the supplies, so I packed a number of items because “you never know.” Of course, this is the antithesis of ultralight backpacking principles, toward which I am currently pushing myself.

That’s when I decided I could really use some training, so I signed up for a wilderness first aid class, which I completed last weekend. I took my class through Wilderness Medical Associates because of convenience and because it was sponsored through the local paddle shop Rutabaga. Although I’m now probably left with more questions than before taking the class, I have a better understanding of how I would approach a number of potential emergencies in the back country. The class really tried to emphasize a systematic approach to assessing the particular situation, including the surroundings, patient symptoms, vitals and health history, along with some rudimentary procedures for treatment.

Obviously, one cannot be a fully trained medical
Patient Assessment System
practitioner after a long weekend course, but the course did provide me with some confidence in how to approach potential emergency situations and even how to judge whether something is a true emergency. Many of these things may be common sense, and it’s likely that the end result or my “treatment” to many potential medical situations would have been similar without the course as it will be after taking the course. However, the course really provided some needed confidence and taught procedures for addressing these medical situations. For example, in the class we acted out a number of scenarios in which “patients” needed medical assistance, and in one scenario the patient had taken a fall and injured their abdomen and cut their hand. Victims were divided in categories related to how serious their injuries were, and in this scenario I encountered a woman who only had minor injuries but who was somewhat distraught. In the end, she only really needed a cleaning and a bandage on her hand, which is something that anyone with no medical training could do. However, our training taught us to assess the victim, reassure her, treat her most obvious/significant injuries and continue to assess her in terms of vitals, as well as medical history and a “head to toe” exam. In this scenario, patients were instructed not to disclose their abdominal injury until discovered by the first aid responder, so the assessment was critical, especially for those who “had” more serious injuries. Without follow-up assessment, patients with critical injuries may not receive the necessary treatment if serious injuries and their symptoms are not recognized.
Fake wound from a class scenario

For serious or life-threatening injuries, there are not many treatments for which this class trains its students. We were instructed in anaphylaxis treatment, stopping bleeding with and without a tourniquet, treating hypothermia, CPR and use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). Other than that, we’re basically at the mercy of the availability of advanced life support, and the course emphasized distinguishing when it’s time to “push the big red button,” which really has solidified my decision to purchase some type of emergency locator beacon.

It’s hard to express all the bits of knowledge I picked up during this class or to know exactly how it will affect my reaction to a medical situation in the back country. However, some of the more concrete take-homes or immediate realizations I had are as follows:

  • Everyone should carry more than duct tape for their first aid kit as it could save a life even if many of us will go our whole lives without ever encountering such a scenario. To me, it’s worth the extra ounces, especially since I’m responsible for a child.
  • It’s OK to bring a written guide to help you through some situations. The field guide we were supplied has some step-by-step instructions for handling assessments, and this could prove invaluable, especially if panic sets in during a crisis.
  • Bring sterilized bandages and a means to secure them to a patient such that it will provide enough pressure to stop a bleed. In one exercise, I realized an ace bandage works wonderfully for this, but I had trouble using gauze rolls and triangle bandages to do so. The ace bandage will stay in my kit despite previously considering ditching it due to not knowing what I would really do with it. They also come in handy for securing splints.
  • Know which medications are for which purpose. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is great for allergic reactions. Aspirin and ibuprofen are good for reducing inflammation and pain but tylenol will not reduce inflammation, although aspirin and ibuprofen are not recommended for bleeding patients
  • Talking with patients, reassuring them and assessing their current condition and past health history is crucial and could be the difference in saving them as opposed to hurting them. As an example, the instructor said she was terribly allergic to povidone iodine, and it could lead to worse outcome to treat a wound with iodine. Before giving any medication, talk to and obtain consent from the patient, and know that many organizations prevent their trip leaders from giving medication.
  • Monitor the patient’s vitals and mental health over a period of time to assess how their condition is changing.
  • Have a method to record this medical information so that it can be handed off to other medical practitioners.
  • Have a quick way to sterilize equipment. Alcohol wipes should work well.
  • Some additional tools that could be useful in a medical emergency include a large syringe for washing wounds, a garbage bag for biohazard waste, gloves for protecting yourself and tweezers for removing embedded ticks or even bugs from body orifices.
  • Carry a satellite-based emergency beacon, such as a personal locator beacon.

    Commercial first aid kits are a good place to start but should be customized
I would recommend taking a first aid class to everyone, and I especially urge those who frequent the back country and those responsible for children to improve up their skills and knowledge related to first aid. I’m sure that I’m forgetting something or will make mistakes if faced with an emergency, but I feel like the class gave me some basic skills and knowledge for how to approach first aid.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

April 17-19, 2015, Governor Dodge State Park, Dodgeville, WI

With another gorgeous April weekend forecasted in southern Wisconsin, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for another weekend camping trip. Camping at the state parks in April is probably my favorite time of the year because the crowds have not begun to form, the days are just long enough and there’s no insane heat wave to worry about. It can get chilly, but this weekend’s weather was about as good as any April weekend could be.

We arrived at Governor Dodge shortly before 7pm and was told the ranger station would be closing soon, so we hurried over to the campground to locate a suitable site. The downside to April camping at the state parks is that many do not take reservations, but there were more empty campsites than full ones. We basically let Amber pick the site, which she chose because of proximity to the park. We quickly checked in and got busy setting up before nightfall. Amber wasn’t much help, so Lorraine and I set up the tent, then I began rigging a tarp while she set up the bedding. The site was not ideal for our tarp, but I made it work surprisingly well. Once we were setup, I was able to get a fire going right around dark. I like that Governor Dodge sells kindling, making the need for splitting the firewood unnecessary.

It was a nice night, and the only eventful part was Amber freaking out over a spider that got on her leg. It’s funny (well, not to her), but she has a very unique scream for spiders. I was returning from the restroom when I heard the distinct sound of spider screams. Usually, she just screams and returns to normal, but this night she didn’t even want to let her feet touch the ground, so I found her standing on the picnic table bench begging to be carried around. I guess my little baby isn’t so grown up after all.

As is typical on spring camping trips, I wanted to try out a new piece of gear I had recently acquired, an Exped Downmat Winterlite. We all use Exped mats, and I really like them, and although I don’t have a ton of experience with different mats, they are more comfortable than any other I have tried camping or in the store. So, I was excited when I heard Exped was coming out with a new line of ultralight tapered mats. Since we plan on doing some backpacking, we all need to squeeze into a smaller tent for those trips. Therefore, I picked the medium size, which is about 20 in. wide. I knew this would be small for me, but hoped I could make due. Unfortunately, I found the mat quite uncomfortable and didn’t sleep so well. I convinced Lorraine to trade with me the second night, so she slept on it on Saturday night while I slept on her Downmat 7 (medium size). She too found the new mat to be uncomfortable and even slept in the car after getting up for a trip to the restroom rather than return to that mat. Meanwhile, I found her 20 in. downmat to be quite comfortable, especially for the small size. I also found that using my Zpacks sleeping bag as a quilt worked really well with the moderate temperatures we had. I ended up returning the Winterlite and ordered a Downmat UL 7. I hope it’s as comfortable as the non-ultralight version.

We had the entire day Saturday for hiking, canoeing and playing in the park. Saturday morning, Amber and I awoke to find Lorraine once again hiking, so we spent some time playing at the park. Once she returned, we had eggs, bacon and bagels for breakfast. We decided to paddle Twin Valley Lake, and Amber was interested in swimming, but the water would turn out to be too cold for that. We stopped at the beach, got out to “swim,” which turned to just be a calf-deep walk in the frigid water, and to build sand castles. We paddled four miles, and I found it refreshing to spend a couple hours on the water. We saw a number of birds and numerous turtles in water and sunning. The only challenge of the paddle was some high winds, which result in the squiggles in our GPS track, especially on the SW portion of the lake. Untrimmed and unloaded, it’s difficult to keep our 17 ft Prospector on course. Nonetheless, it was a nice leisurely paddle.

Paddling Twin Valley Lake

Nice bluffs visible from the lake

Sunday morning we packed up fairly quickly to avoid the rain we heard was forecast. Once we were done packing and with breakfast, we found the weather to still be pleasant with little hint of any storms on the horizon. Interestingly, Amber wanted to go on a “nature hike” to fulfill her requirements for a patch from the Wisconsin Explorer program. Every since she was a toddler, Stephens Falls has been one of her favorite places to hike, so she decided she wanted to go there instead of walking to the beach from our campsite. We packed the final items and drove down to Stephens Falls parking area. We walked to the falls, along the trail and back around the Lost Canyon Trail. Amber had enough walking, so we decided to call it a day and headed back home after picking up her patch from the Ranger Station. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Zpacks 10 ℉ Sleeping Bag Review

After all the trips we took last year, I feel really hooked on wilderness camping and hope to keep taking my family deeper into the wilderness. To help facilitate that, I’m looking to lighten my pack, especially for some backpacking. As a big (ok, fat) guy, it’s not easy to find an appropriately sized, lightweight sleeping bag. Fortunately, though, it’s not impossible. I picked up a Zpacks 10 ℉ sleeping bag over the winter and thought I would provide a brief review.

Zpacks 10 degree bag in Ventum ripstop nylon

I ordered an X-wide, X-long 10 degree bag in the blue Ventum. The bag is reportedly 66 in. wide and will fit around the neck of someone 6’4” tall. I measure 56” around my shoulder and 5’10” tall, so I hoped this bag would provide just the right amount of room for me. As you can see from the pictures, it’s a hoodless bag, so I wanted a little extra length to be able to pull it up around my head. I think it would have been fine to got with the long, but I don’t regret the extra length as I can fit my head in the bag, although I find it a bit suffocating to do for more than a few minutes at a time. The total length of the bag is right about 6 ft laying relaxed and lofted, and I measured the widest part of the bag to be 66" on the inside. The final measurement I made of the bag was a loft of about 6", although it was difficult to get an exact measurement. I’ve never had a high-quality down bag, and I’m pretty impressed with how the 900 fill power down lofts in these bags.

Full length zipper option
Close-up of zipper at last baffle

The other options I went with on the bag include a full length zipper and a draft tube. The basic bag is designed to essentially be zipped quilt, and Joe Valesko (founder of Zpacks) suggest sleeping with the zipper under you so that a draft tube is not necessary. However, I wasn’t sure how I would like that as I have not used a quilt before and am a restless sleeper. So I ordered the bag to be more like a traditional sleeping bag. I did find it a bit difficult to keep the zipper directly under me, but I’m not sure these additional options were necessary. Another reason I went for the full-length zipper is that it can be opened from the bottom to act as a vent. I plan on using this bag for all but the warmest months, so I wanted to have some additionally flexibility. When the zipper was kept toward the bottom, I didn’t notice any drafts, but when it was on top, I noticed that the draft tube did not exactly cover the zipper. It’s not incredibly stiff and is fairly narrow, so it doesn’t give the best coverage of the zipper. Obviously, the upside is that it’s not heavy. The bag, along with the cuben fiber dry bag, weighs 30.5 oz, so remarkably, I was able to find a sub-2 lb, 3 season bag to fit my large body.

I used the bag two nights inside a double wall tent (REI Half Dome 4) on an Exped Synmat 7 LW with temperatures down to about 27 ℉ according to Accuweather. On the first night, I slept without virtually no insulating clothes on except for my Merino wool socks, and I ended up being more than warm enough by the end of the night. However, I did have a bit of trouble warming up after catching a chill the first night. It probably took me an hour to warm up, but I don’t think that’s the bag’s fault as my skin was quite cold when I climbed in. I started out with a Polartec balaclava but found myself overheating after a few hours. I suspect that with some insulating underwear or additional light clothing I would be comfortable in this bag into the mid to upper teens. I don’t think I would push it to 10 degrees without some additional layers, though. I did expect the bag to bit a bit warmer than it is, but I should note that I don’t really have my system dialed in for 10 degrees, so it’s hard to judge exactly. I can say that it’s warmer than my Big Agnes Summit Park 15 ℉ bag, so I’m pretty satisfied with its performance.

I was initially concerned with the ultralight materials used in the bag, but I’m coming around to think this is the way to go. Zpacks offers this bag in two ripstop nylon fabric options, green Pertex GL or blue Ventum. I emailed Zpacks to find out the difference, and Joe told me his gut feeling was that they were very similar. Shortly after that, Richard Nisley reported on backpackinglight.com that indeed they are quite similar in both air and water permeability.

One thing that really concerns me, especially as a canoe camper, is keeping my gear dry. Cuben seems almost too good to be true, so I wanted to test out the dry bag that came with the sleeping bag. I recruited my 7 year-old daughter to help me with an experiment, and we decided to stick the sleeping bag in the dry bag in the shower for thirty seconds to see if any water would get in. I stuffed the bag in, closed the velcro, folded the closure three times and buckled it. We directed the water spray on top of the dry bag and adjusted it a couple times to ensure the water had plenty of opportunities to enter the dry bag. After taking it out of the shower, we dried the outside with a towel and inspected the sleeping bag and dry bag. The sleeping bag was dry without any noticeable moisture. However, we did notice that the velcro closure was wet, so I don’t know how much longer it would have kept the sleeping bag 100% dry. Nonetheless, I’m pretty happy with the results and am confident enough to continue using the cuben dry bag in my pack. I think I’ll give it another test toward the end of the camping season.
Soaking the dry bag

After the shower

My initial impression of this bag is extremely positive, and I don't see much that's not to like about it. Probably the biggest downside to this bag was waiting the five weeks it took to receive it. Plus, any bag with 900 fill down is not cheap. The upside, however, is that the warm to weight ratio of this bag is amazing. There are obviously trade-offs for the ultralightness. For example, you give up a hood, but a hood is not always necessary, and when it's cold a fleece or down balaclava can be worn. Another trade-off is in the durability of the materials. Although the 0.7 oz/sq. yd. ripstop nylon is likely durable enough, it's not going to be as strong or abrasion resistance as a heavier fabric. Even the drawstring used on the Zpacks bag is an ultralight option; I think it's about 1.5 mm in diameter and seems adequate for its purpose, but it's definitely smaller and feels less substantial than drawstrings on some of my other heavy weight bags, which range from 3.5 to 6 lbs. I'm also not in love with the draft tube, but it does seem to reduce drafts, especially when the zipper is toward the bottom. 

Ultralight drawcord and cord lock.

I look forward to putting this bag to this test in the northwoods this year and hope to report back after dozens of nights in it.