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.