The post Quehanna Eastern Loop appeared first on Gossamer Gear.]]>
I got out recently for a relatively high mileage weekend trip. My goals were to complete the Quehanna Trail, to test out some wet condition hiking adaptations, and to fine tune my iPhone battery management. My hike took place in mid May, following a week with several inches of rain.
For those of you not familiar with Quehanna, it is an area and trail system in west central PA, in the Moshannon State Forest. The main Quehanna Trail (QT) is roughly oval and is about 75 miles long. There are both West Cross-Connector (WCC) and East Cross-Connector (ECC) Trails that cut off the ends of the oval to make shorter loop hikes possible with no car shuttles. The eastern Quehanna region has quite a few additional trails that create even more possibilities. In winter, it’s a nice venue for snowshoe backpacking trips.
Quehanna is mostly a raised plateau, about 1000 feet higher than the surrounding country. As drainages come down off the plateau, fairly steep-sided valleys have been cut over time. The QT ranges from up on top of the plateau, where the hiking can be nice and easy for a bit, to descents down into or ascents up out of the hollows and drafts. There is little or no switchbacking, so the trail is a good workout, though the most you have to go up or down at a time is about 1000 feet of elevation change.
One of the things I love about Quehanna is the variety of ecosystems you pass through, including low scrub, bogs, forest, and open meadows. Water is plentiful and the drainages are often very pretty. Wildlife is abundant, and includes elk, deer, black bear, porcupine, grouse, and turkeys.
To complete the QT, I needed to hike some segments that could all be covered while hiking the 41 mile “Eastern Loop”, combining the eastern 31 miles of the main QT oval and the 10-mile ECC. I planned to drive in on a Friday night to a trailhead in the middle of the ECC, hike south on the ECC then counterclockwise on the QT for 27-28 miles over a full day Saturday, then finishing the rest of the QT and northern ECC miles on Sunday, before heading home.
To do this, I needed a light kit and an early start on Saturday, or I’d be night hiking for sure. For a light kit, I used my GG Murmur, a minimalist tarp, a poncho groundsheet, and a sleeping quilt rated to 40 degrees. Because temps were predicted to get into the 30′s at night, I added a down vest at the last minute and was glad I did. I wanted to have a hot dinner and hot coffee in the mornings, so my cooking system was a simple Esbit tray and titanium windscreen paired with an aluminum greasepot and Reflectix cozy.
The conditions were very wet, with raging streams and standing water frequently encountered on trail. Perfect for me to test a couple ways to deal with wet foot woes. I’ve found in the past that my feet blister nicely if they get macerated in wet shoes and socks for very long. For the Saturday miles, I used Hydropel ointment to coat my feet when I woke up, then put on my usual sock liners and wool hiking socks inside mesh trail runners. My feet were in and out of water all day long, including one above-knee-water crossing of Mosquito Creek and two drenching thunderstorms. While my feet were often cold from fresh cold water entering my shoes, when I checked my feet at the end of 15 hours of hiking I was pleasantly surprised to find no blisters and minimal “pruning” of the skin. On Sunday, I tried Sealskinz “waterproof” socks over liners instead of the Hydropel. While these were not, in fact, waterproof for me, they excluded much of the water and kept my feet considerably warmer with the frequent stream crossings I encountered. I’d use both systems again.
I normally use an iPhone 5 on trail to check my position with the Gaia GPS app, to take photos, to read books, and to listen to music. On this trip, I was careful to make sure I always put the phone back into airplane mode after a GPS check, and was able to determine over the 2 days that with this care, checking position every hour or two, and taking quite few photos, that I used just a bit less than 1% of battery life for each hour the phone was turned on (turned off at night in camp). On Sunday I additionally listened to music for 3 hours, and found that I used 5% of battery life per hour of listening. These parameters will help me plan for how to manage battery life for a JMT thru hike I have planned in September.
As it turned out, I hiked south from the trailhead about a mile on the ECC by headlamp on Friday, cowboy camping in a pine grove. I woke up on the early side, feeling chilly, and was on trail with a misty rain starting to fall just after 5:30 AM as dawn was breaking. Turns out there was a frost, so I experienced colder temps than predicted. In those early hours of the day, wildlife viewing is best, and I saw a half dozen deer and a few turkeys in the first hour on trail. Eventually the sun came out briefly mid-day, just after I had forded raging Mosquito Creek, where it looked like a bridge used to exist but had been washed away by some of our big spring storms.
With the arrival of afternoon, the clouds came back, and I had a couple thunderstorms come through, so that I had to get out my poncho-groundsheet and use it in poncho mode. The rain brought out the colors of spring flowers like my favorite trilliums, and also some rain-loving salamanders. It was good that I had started so early, as I was able to get to my intended destination without needing a headlamp, although I did use one to set up camp and get dinner prepared.
On Sunday I did not get going quite as quickly, but was still on trail by 6:30. The cool grey skies of Saturday were replaced by sunshine and gentle breezes for just perfect hiking weather. I navigated Laurel Draft (an up), Saunders Draft (a down), and Porcupine Draft (an up), before getting back up onto the plateau for the last few miles. Had a nice overlook view along the way. All in all a great weekend to be back on trail, even with the wet conditions.
This post was written by Trail Ambassador Rob “QiWiz” Kelly. You can follow all of his adventures at QiWiz.net.
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The post Three Days at Savage Gulf appeared first on Gossamer Gear.]]>
Along the southern edge of the Cumberland Plateau in TN lies an area known as South Cumberland Recreational Area. The SCRA encompasses Savage Gulf and the Fiery Gizzard Natural Area, gotta love the names of these lands. I’ve hiked both areas several times and always in late fall for the spectacular fall foliage color. Last fall I began wondering what Savage Gulf would look like if stripped of all the leaves…I knew a springtime trip was in order.
Skip ahead a few months, I found myself planning a three-day trip for four backpackers from four different states, I would also be leading the trip, this was a first for me as I am a solo backpacker who usually avoids groups.
We were to meet at the Savage Gulf Rangers station at a set time before obtaining our permits and beginning our hike, Mother Nature had a different idea and threw in a little weather with cause to keep an eye on the sky. After delaying our start time by a couple of hours due to a tornado watch we finally set foot on the North Rim trail and nine easy miles filled with views of the Gulf where we would hike the next day.
Late afternoon light rain, gave way to a cooler and breezy air before reaching Hobbs Cabin where we would tent camp the first night.
Day two brought a clear sky and an early morning start while descending over a boulder-strewn trail into the Gulf.
For the first three or some miles we could hear the rush of water, reaching the creek bed and finding it completely dry. Upstream 100-yards or so the water disappears underground through a sink. The water does not resurface within the Gulf, most likely not until it merges with other underground rivers before reaching Georgia or Alabama.
This day’s goal was Stone Door a 100 plus foot crack in the escarpment once used by Native American’s allowing for easy passage from the rim of the Plateau to the Gulf.
In all of the South Cumberland area the view from Stone Door is worth the trip. This was the first time I have ever been there when it wasn’t in full on fall color. Even though the color wasn’t there I wasn’t disappointed.
From Stone Door we retraced our path four miles to the Stagecoach Historic Trail and a gentle ascent to Stage Road campsite for our second and final night. The Stagecoach Historic Trail was once a toll road built in the 1840’s connecting McMinnville to Chattanooga, TN. Sections of stacked stonewalls are all that remain.
Next morning we arose early packing up in fast fashion to begin our hike across the South Rim Trail back to Savage Gulf Rangers Station.
This fall I will again go back to SCRA for my annual submersion of fall leaf color.
This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador JJ Mathes (JERMM). You can follow all of her adventures at JERMM’S outside.
The post Three Days at Savage Gulf appeared first on Gossamer Gear.]]>
The post Four Seasons on the Allegheny Front Trail appeared first on Gossamer Gear.]]>
If you do enough backpacking, it’s likely you’ll come across a trail you keep coming back to again and again. For me, that has been the relatively new Allegheny Front Trail (AFT). The first time I hiked it, I declared to my backpacking companions I was going to complete it in all four seasons within the year, which is exactly what I did. Often times in the past as I’ve hiked a particular trail, I’ve wondered how different the experience would be in another season. Changes in the foliage affect views and how one perceives the trail, while weather and temperatures can affect moods. With the AFT I was going to find out.
Located in Moshannon State Forest in central Pennsylvania, the AFT is easily accessible within a few hours drive from most of the mid-Atlantic. It’s a 40ish mile loop, with a connector trail heading down the center and splitting the loop into east and west sections, each of which could be a 30ish mile loop of it’s own. I consider the AFT to be a mild-mannered trail, yet it manages to maintain enough variety in views, elevation changes, and forest environments to keep even the most veteran backpacker interested. Highlights include several vistas along the southeastern section as the trail traverses the edge of the Allegheny Plateau, regarded as some of the finest views in Pennsylvania. In the northeast quadrant, the trail follows several streams, the highlight for me being as it traipses along the rhododendron covered Benner Run. In the northeast the visual draw is Moshannon Creek, its startling red color, the result of past mining in the area, showing the human impact to the region. To the west, the trail follows the pleasant Six Mile Run, and for a stretch wanders through tall straight pines where the area was reforested by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In the south, the trail becomes swampy and damp as it coincides with the Mosse-Hanne Trail within the boundaries of the Black Moshannon State Park.
My first time around the AFT was in the glorious colors of fall. There are recently logged stretches of the AFT, but this means the fall colors of the young growth surround you within a few feet of eye level. Other stretches are the opposite, having my favorite Mid-Atlantic forest environment – broad areas with a full canopy above, a heavy forest floor covering, and very little in-between in the understory. Here the forest floor is covered in either the muted golds and browns of ferns complimenting the canopy colors, or contrasting brilliant reds of blueberries. I may be biased because I love fall backpacking, but this was my favorite season on the AFT.
Winters in the mid-Atlantic have the challenge of short days, some snow on the ground, and close to freezing temperatures. That was the case for my second time around the AFT. Fresh snow and cold winds blowing across the semi-exposed Allegheny Front brought on some cranky moods, despite the fact that the lack of foliage allowed for mostly unrestricted views along the entire stretch. The previously boggy southern section was frozen solid, making for easier walking, although snow-covered bog logs made for slick spots that required extra care. The biggest change came in the last mile or so of the trail, just when we could almost see the cars – what had previously been a pleasant walk along a level grade in the fall was now a frustrating battle against snow and ice-covered rhododendron that literally had us crawling on our hands and knees to pass on through. This was the most challenging season on the AFT.
Spring brought a new direction to the AFT as I headed counter-clockwise this time. The weather was damp and rainy, guaranteeing a wet slog through the southern section of the loop. But as spring rains do, it brightened the greens of buds and new leaves and darkened the brown and gray tree bark to provide fantastic contrast. Fiddleheads, may apple shoots, and blueberry bushes contributed to bright greens bursting out on the forest floor. I could almost see the fiddleheads of the ferns unfurling as the weekend progressed. Trilliums, my favorite spring flower, were out in full bloom, along with the brilliant yellows of barren strawberries. There was something about spring that added a vitality to the trip, as this seemed to be the easiest season to complete the loop.
Late summer in central Pennsylvania can be almost fall-like, yet in mid-September the trail still presented itself in a different manner from fall of the prior year. This time I started on the eastern side of the loop, whereas the prior three times I had started on the west side. The tall undergrowth would at times make stretches of the trail feel totally unfamiliar, even though this was my fourth time hiking it. Areas that had previously been wet underfoot were dry. Much warmer temperatures made climbs a touch more miserable than I had remembered, and some of the miles seemed to be more draining in the heat and humidity than they had in other seasons. Again it may be my personal bias against warm humid weather, but summer seemed to take the most energy to complete the loop.
Tackling the same trail in a variety of seasons and with alternate itineraries turned out to be a wonderful experience, and one that I would highly recommend.
Information on the Allegheny Front Trail can be found online at: http://alleghenyfronttrail.info and http://www.pahikes.com/trails/allegheny-front-trail.
A free copy of the latest printed AFT map may be obtained from the PA DNR by calling them at 814-765-0821.
Books with chapters on the AFT include: AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic: A Guide to 30 of the Best Multiday Trips from New York to Virginia by Michael R. Martin and Backpacking Pennsylvania: 37 Great Hikes by Jeff Mitchell
This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador Brian Horst who is a co-organizer of the DC UL Meetup Group.
The post Four Seasons on the Allegheny Front Trail appeared first on Gossamer Gear.]]>
The post Rainbow Bridge North Route – One of the World’s Great Treks appeared first on Gossamer Gear.]]>
One of my all-time favorite backpacking trips is the Rainbow Bridge North Route. It’s remote, rugged, challenging, and very, very scenic. The hearty souls that walk this route see epic panoramas, breath-taking views, historic ruins, chiseled canyons, and beautiful desert riparian areas.
Less well known that the South Route, the North Route is also on the Navajo Nation. The trail is located in Utah just north of the Arizona border northeast of Page, AZ. The trail is approximately 19 miles, depending on how close to the trailhead you get on the very rough access road, and has about 3,500’ accumulated elevation gain. The path traverses the northern flank of rugged 10,200’ Navajo Mountain. The trailhead elevation is 5,350’ and the hike ends at Lake Powell’s Rainbow Bridge at 3,750’.
Compared to the South Route, the North Route is considered more scenic, has more water sources, and has more camping options. I’ve hiked a lot of great places and this one’s definitely in my top 3 very favorite treks. I’m a huge fan of colorful sandstone canyons and also like remote, wild places. This hike offers the very best of both. The trailhead is as remote as any place you’re likely to find in the lower 48 states. Don’t expect to see any other hikers on this trail until the very end at well visited Rainbow Bridge.
Some of the hike is more route than trail and careful attention is needed to avoid getting off track. There are no sign posts and only one trail junction. Frequent cairns are very helpful. The trail was built by local guides with limited resources so it’s very different construction that what you’re probably used to seeing. The trail varies from flat slickrock, to rocky tread, to loose sand. Many of the climbs into and out of the side canyons are very steep with one almost a class 2 climb.
The best time of year to do the hike is mid-March and April. Expect snow in the winter, excessive heat in the summer, and limited water sources in the fall.
All mileage is from the official trailhead. Add 1 – 2 miles for the rough road unless you bring a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle.
The easiest way to hike the North Route is to do an in & out hike over 3 – 5 days. While the trailhead is difficult to find, this option eliminates the need for a shuttle. For a great 3 – 5 day trip. It’s recommended to hike in to Bridge Canyon to set up a base camp (mile 11.5, 1 -2 days) then day hike (12 miles RT) to the Bridge and back.
Another option is to hike in on the North Route and out on the South (Rainbow Lodge) Route, setting up a car shuttle between the two trailheads. This is a 40 mile trek that would take 4 – 7 days. It’s a good idea/courtesy to ask permission from the local Navajos for permission to park your vehicles. A small fee to watch your vehicles is appropriate.
But the way I do this trail is to leave our vehicles at Lake Powell’s Wahweap Marina outside of Page, AZ and hire a shuttle to take us to the trailhead. Then, after 2 – 3 days of hiking, when we reach Rainbow Bridge and Lake Powell, we hire a boat to take us back to the marina. The 2 hours boat ride though spectacular Lake Powell is amazing. Total cost for the camping, permits, shuttle, and boat ride in April 2014 was $180/person.
Only hikers that are very strong, experienced, and that go ultralight should attempt this route in 2 days. There’s a lot to see and explore so don’t hesitate adding an extra day or two.
As you’ll be right on the Arizona/Utah border, be sure to specify the time zone when making plans.
I use Betty Price at End of Trails Shuttle (928-355-2252) to drive us the 2 hours to the trailhead. The route goes through some remote Navajo land and it’s a very scenic drive. Betty stops at the historic Inscription Rock Trading Post for one last stop before dropping you off near the trailhead. Call Betty for current pricing. Cash only. The access road gets worse the closer you get to the trailhead so you’ll need to plan to walk the final 1 to 2 miles. There is no water or facilities at the trailhead.
Permits must be obtained from the Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation Department:
The cost is $5/day to hike and $5/night to camp. Allow 6+ weeks for processing if requesting by mail. Payment is by money order only. Permits can also be more easily obtained by stopping in Page, AZ at the Antelope Canyon office.
The boat ride is arranged through Wahweap Marina (888-896-3829). Call and reserve “backpacker” one-way tickets. You will need to plan to be at Rainbow Bridge on a day and time that the tourist boat will be there. The boat runs infrequently in the spring so make this step one of your trip planning. If you have 6 – 7 people in your group, it may be more economical, and give you more flexibility, to charter a private boat through marina’s Executive Services.
Pre-trip camping is available at Wahweap Campground, just a short distance from the marina and the shuttle meeting location. Laundry and showers are available at the campground store.
The trailhead is the end of the road with a small circle turnaround area. After 1 mile, the trail drops into beautiful Cha Canyon. We usually plan to drop our packs here and day hike downstream. About a half mile down on the right is a small Anasazi cliff dwelling. This is a great canyon to explore so take your time and hike 2 – 4 miles down canyon.
At mile 3.5, you drop steeply into Bald Rock Canyon which makes a nice first camp on a 3-day trip. There is reliable water here in the Spring months. After climbing up and out of the canyon, you’ll have great views of scenic Navajo Mountain and will pass an old deserted Navajo hogan. It’s fun to stop and respectfully view the old structure and ponder Navajo life of yesteryear.
The hike between Bald Rock Canyon and Oak Canyon offers both challenges and breath-taking views. At mile 6.5 Surprise Valley/N’asja Creek makes a nice camp with reliable water. At mile 7 you reach Owl Bridge on the left – a large natural sandstone bridge. I often have to look back to see it so it’s easy to miss. The toughest climb out of a canyon is at mile 8. The trail seems to go almost straight up and is sketchy in spots.
Oak Canyon, with the most reliable stream, is at mile 10. Camping space is limited but there’s room for 2 – 3 tents. For a small group, this would make a great place to stop. The climb out of Oak Canyon is long and steep. The trail goes up and down strenuously for the next 1.5 miles before dropping down on a rocky trail into the pretty Bridge Canyon with lots of trees and places to camp. There’s a great site about 150’ past the creek crossing.
The trail follows the creek in Bridge Canyon through a very scenic riparian area with towering canyon walls for the next 4.5 miles. At the junction with the South Route trail at Redbud Creek, the trail veers to the right to go to Rainbow Bridge. There is lots of good camping here and reliable water. After a mile or so as Redbud Canyon begins to narrow, the trail climbs up to the right and stays high. This is an easy turn to miss as you’re walking on slickrock.
The trail passes a couple of gates and rounds a large side canyon at Echo Camp and suddenly awe-inspiring Rainbow Bridge comes into view. The best photos are taken from this vantage point. It’s pretty cool to be able to walk underneath the massive arch and realize that no photo can capture its grandeur. It’s another half mile to Lake Powell and the boat docks. Restrooms are available there.
If you ride the boat out, know that the wind will make the ride chilly. Use full sun protection (sun screen, hat, sunglasses, etc).
If you’re planning a vacation in the Southwest, this is a great hike to combine with Buckskin Gulch, a visit to the Grand Canyon, or to Zion National Park. It is strongly recommended that you bring maps and a loaded GPS. Know that Navajo Mountain is big enough to make its own weather so prepare for unexpected weather regardless of the forecast. Don’t underestimate the challenges of this hike. It’s a great trip but give yourself sufficient time to explore and enjoy the journey.
Here’s a map and GPS waypoints: http://hikearizona.com/map.php?GPS=20651
Here’s the NPS write-up and directions to the trailhead: http://www.nps.gov/rabr/planyourvisit/upload/RainbowBridgeNorthTrail052909.pdf
This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador Dave “Lucky” Brunstein. You can follow all of his aventures with the BCH Meetup Group in Phoenix, Arizona.
The post Rainbow Bridge North Route – One of the World’s Great Treks appeared first on Gossamer Gear.]]>
The post Wild Walks in the United Kingdom’s National Parks appeared first on Gossamer Gear.]]>
The United Kingdon’s Lake District National Park is 885 square miles with a width west to east of 33 miles, and from north to south 40 miles. It’s small, compact and scenic as heck. Add in easy access with good road and rail links and it’s also very popular, and very busy.
For the backpacker it offers superb walks and an ideal training ground for English backpackers to get prepared for longer walks in the Scottish Highlands and beyond.
But the backpacker seeks often to be more alone, to immerse in the landscapes and escape the crowds. Well, even the busy National Parks can have out of the way parts that offer great backpacking and seclusion.
In the Lakes the area North Of Skiddaw (one of the few 300ft Peaks in the Park) is one such place. In the spring of 2013, the author visited it for an overnight hike for the first trip of the year. Late snow clad the summits and ice axe and crampons were still needed (crampons and trail shoes work but don’t push your luck or think it’s recommended). Few venture to this area on a weekend let alone mid week, and with planning, a wild walk in a pathless wild area is easily found here. This is in a National Park with 14 million visitors a year, and that’s despite having the highest rainfall in England.
Other United Kingdom National Parks are the same. Once off the beaten tracks you can soon lose the crowds and enjoy the space to yourself. Wild camp overnight and it’s likely to be all yours for the night to enjoy. While day hikers retreat to the valleys and a warm bed – but miss the dance of light and shadow over the mountains as the sun sets. Their loss – your gain.
My last trip of 2013 led me to the Peak District National Park – which is the 2nd busiest National Park in the world, with 22 million visitors per annum and 16 million people living within an hour’s drive of it. Yet my friend Andy and myself found a remote spot to wild camp and escape the day-to-day stress of life and immersed ourselves in the Great Outdoors.
We crossed rivers, scrambled up rocky outcrops and enjoyed those spots the day-tripper will ignore due to needing to get back to the car and home.
So don’t count out National Parks on busy weekends when planning walks. Just go to the less accessible areas and away from the most visited summits and enjoy the park still.
This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador Martin Rye. You can follow his adventures on his blog Summit and Valley.
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The post Ultralight Canoe Camping appeared first on Gossamer Gear.]]>
Many people have the image of a heavily loaded canoe, where a paddler/camper can bring everything. Others think of floating down streams, often exchanging long serene glides over flat water, with moments of terror as rocks, eddies and small flumes throw the canoe wildly off course. Still others think of paddling to a small island and setting up a base camp for paddling around a larger lake, unencumbered by gear and lazily fishing for anything that cares to bite. And there are those that think of traveling across waterways, down rivers and up streams, constantly moving from one camp to another.
These are all parts of canoe camping. It is an outdoors experience different from hiking. It is basically using the same UL camping gear as used for hiking, with the addition of a couple small dry-bags and compression/dry bag. Yet, the pack and gear has changed little.
My basic UL pack is one purchased from Gossamer Gear, the MiniPosa…it is the same one used for a lot of my hiking. An old tarp that was cut down a few years ago making it lighter, though it wasn’t ever heavy in its original 18oz form…it’s the same one I use for hiking. The pad is a bit of a luxury at 13oz,and, is the same one I use for hiking longer trails. The 800FP down bag keeps me warm at 32F and weighs 1pound, 11oz. Using an old SVEA 123r, it is possible to cook meals, and sometimes on cold mornings, warm my shelter. Again, this is all the same gear I use for hiking, it is all UL gear…well, ‘cept maybe for the old SVEA.
Canoe camping has grown in popularity over the past 15 years. There are more people on the waterways and is probably due to the increasing age of the population generally and other factors: lighter weight/easier handling of boats(in and out of the water,) less large and bulky gear needed to be carried (UL has gone more mainstream,) and the decreased cost of “plastic” boats($300-400 kayaks.) For older people and younger children, canoe camping means a possibility of high mileage days in relative comfort; of still being able to enjoy wild scenery; of the low possibility of being overtired at the end of a day. Older folks can avoid the pain of blisters, aching knees and/or other injuries often associated with hiking long distances. For people with foot problems canoe camping offers a solution for getting out, sometimes the only solution.
Canoe camping is a skill beyond all the UL hiking and camping skills you know. Skill with paddling come mainly through practice but it helps to know a few basic strokes. A basic forward paddle, the long sweeping paddle needed for turns, a back paddle, and how angling a paddle affects the boat and your grip. How to get into and out of the boat without getting wet (this is the one I have trouble with.) These are basic skills that only require a few minutes of practice to have successful results with.
Camping requires practice, too. (I won’t try to reiterate what others have written on how to lightening a pack.) Most of the skills needed are well within any beginners reach. Sometimes, when racing down a stream filled with white water, boulders, rocky shelves and falls, canoe camping can be more challenging than hiking a trail. Different from climbing a rocky peak, it can be as dangerous, perhaps more so, since more people die from drowning than falling off a mountain. A few special concerns, since you are near water.
Always, use a personal floatation device/life preserver. Canoes and other small boats, by nature, are not very stable. Accidents happen in a second. Have a PFD handy whenever you go paddling. Wear it if you feel the least uncomfortable on the water.
Cold water and wind, the energy expended while paddling, can leave a paddler open to hypothermia even in 50 degree weather. Know the signs and avoid it. Have a sweater or rain jacket handy. If you are paddling and you get cold, you will be doubly cold when you stop to camp. My gear includes a good fleece or wool sweater. Both types of sweaters get wet, both retain keep enough insulating value to make them worth it. Leave the sweater under your seat or sit on it when you don’t need it. Other than during summer, you likely will.
Leave white water to the younger crowd. A portage around class III and greater runs is a bit of work, but much safer, usually. Especially if you are not really equipped for the conditions you might encounter along these stretches. Longer flat-water boats do not maneuver well enough to handle these conditions. Floatation bags are usually not carried. Helmets are not usually carried on UL camping trips. Longer flat-water paddles are harder to handle in close quarters than short, light paddles; you can feel the loss of leverage/power needed for the short, quick maneuvers needed for white water. Or you might simply lack experience. In colder weather special wet suits/dry suits and other types of specialized equipment are often needed, just to stay warm. The more specialized canoe equipment is often unavailable to a UL camper. He just doesn’t carry the extra weight. Pack-rafts are becoming popular, but make sure you have a repair kit handy.
After a long paddle, using the different muscles for a portage lets you continue on. Portaging uses legs and feet , instead of torso and shoulders, and, an opportunity to get off your rump. I feels good to stand and walk on solid ground for a change, but, it also leaves you open to getting cold easily by expending energy from all parts of your body, leaving little left to keep you warm at camp. Total exhaustion is an easy avenue to getting cold.
Staying warm while wet can be difficult and the calories burned can be very high. Especially if you manage to dump the canoe and are dripping wet. Bring more food than you think you need. Food fuels the body to generate heat and maintain energy. A longer paddle will burn between 4000-5000 calories a day, or about the same as a 10 hour hike. Hiking and canoeing are different activities, but can be as strenuous.
Judge weather and temperature accordingly. Lightning can be deadly if you are caught out on an open lake. Head to shore when you hear thunder approaching. Pull over and get out. Standing under a lower tree will provide some cover from the wind and rain, and, you will not likely be struck by lightning. Often storms are preceded with a blast of cold air and you can find yourself paddling hard, yet cold and wet from spray, not daring to stop to get a rain jacket on. Think ahead of the weather. Paddling will involve about a 10 minute delay to being on shore, safe from an electrical storm. Thinking ahead is necessary to stay out of trouble.
Avoid ice choked water. Sometimes, ice can form bridges, dams and shelves over otherwise open water. A current can drag a paddler under it with severe results. Snow and rain itself is not usually a problem, but sliding under ice can be deadly. Thin ice near shore can cut flesh and damage a boat. Currents can pull as well as push around eddies. Eddies will often spin your boat towards the center. Upwells can make your boat unstable and try to send you swimming. Avoid getting sideways in the middle of a heavy current against any obstacle, you are sure to get wet getting away from the pin.
During rainstorms in a canoe, there is no cover. Be prepared to bail the boat if you get stuck in a sudden downpour. Sponges, pots, and pumps can all be used. Often trees will mediate the downpours when hiking. You can do close to the same in a canoe, pulling up, under a larger pine, for example. Expect to get wet in a canoe and know how to stay warm when wet. On a serene paddle across a calm lake, it is just a relaxing paddle. Wet, cold and windy paddling is often just miserable work. Setting up a quick UL camp lets you dry out and explore an area a little. Take a break if the weather is against you, it is sure to change.
Windy weather can raise large waves on a lake. The winds and waves can conspire to push the boat in odd directions near shore and around points. Avoid paddling in these conditions, if possible. Sometimes, you need an extra day to dry out after such a run. Sometimes the sun is shining and warm, but a 30knot wind makes paddling difficult, at best. You’ll be better off in camp. Do not be afraid of being blown off a lake. It is a mark of good judgment, never shame, if/when it happens. Know when to quit and simply wait out a storm.
So, what gear do you need for canoe camping? Basically, NEEDED gear is simple. A standard hikers backpack, a canoe/PFD and a paddle. For UL canoe paddling, again, it is the same gear, but smaller, lighter boats are used. My UL pack will weigh about 20 pounds, but I double this load with a canoe and boat gear.
The basic canoe is required to go paddling, but what constitutes a canoe? A kayak works. An 80 pound “duck” boat works. An old rowboat works. There are too many definitions for what a canoe is, let alone the combinations with gear used for any one definition to be used. The definition I use for canoe camping is anything that will float, can be paddled and can be carried (portaged.) From pack rafts, kayaks, canoes to row boats, all have been used. Of course, the boat should carry you and your camp gear. Insure you have the capacity to carry at least 250 pounds in a solo boat.
My personal favorite is a low profile solo canoe, about 12’6”(4 meters) long. This is paddled using a double paddle or “kayak” style paddle. Small at 12’, easy to maneuver through small streams and waterways of the Adirondack’s in New York, it is light enough to be portaged at 21 pounds. Sitting near the bottom, “kayak” style, and the low profile means high stability and the winds are mitigated. I have used canoes as light as 8 pounds (skin on frame boats) and as heavy as 95 pounds (older aluminum canoes.) Rowboats are often wider and somewhat heavier, but these are better on fishing trips. They work well on larger lakes with short portages, too. Packrafts are easy to carry at about 6 pounds, but don’t handle larger bodies of water well, nor winds. So, don’t feel limited if there is no actual traditional canoe available. It is all canoe camping.
A UL canoe and related gear should weigh less than 25 pounds, but, you don’t need to go ultra light. The portaging equipment, paddle(s), PFD, spray decks or skirt, and, 25’ of mooring/dragging line brings the weight up to 24pounds from the 21pounds I mentioned for the boat weight.
On most water, a paddle is needed, obvious until it is forgotten as I did once. The traditional canoe paddle is what most people associate with paddling. There are many styles available. On smaller streams or when headed upstream, paddles are often traded for a 7-12’ pole for polling the craft. A kayak paddle or double ended paddle means you can stroke on both sides of a canoe, alternately. In some cases, webbed gloves or “hand paddles” can be used effectively (pack-boats.) Rowing lets you use the more powerful legs to assist locomotion, but facing backwards. On some boats a lever system lets you row facing in the direction of your travel. On narrow streams, it is often possible to grab sticks, branches or scrub to move forward, mostly used through swamps and bogs. Some boats are propelled by leg or hand power turning a propeller or paddle wheel. (It is not my intent to recommend one method over another.) Some form of propulsion is needed when on the water.
On some streams the water is too shallow for boats. Headed upstream, against the current, you may need to drag the boat behind you as you wade through these shallows. This is called “lining”. Some boats have special eyelets mounted near the bottom of the bow to allow this. This is actually more work than hiking, but is often the easiest way through some sections.
Of course, any boat needs a PFD for every person. The life preserver can be a simple pad, vest, or jacket. In most states a life preserver is required. In New York, it is required to wear a life preserver in cold weather. With the proper selection of boat, paddle and life vest, these can be integrated into a general camp system (using the life vest as a sleeping pad, the boat as a shelter “base”, and/or the split paddle as pole for a tarp staked over the boat.) On most sites a simple tarp shelter is good enough. Bugs are always a problem near water, though, bring a piece of netting to rig over your head and shoulders.
Portaging with a canoe means carrying more weight than is normally carried when hiking. Minimally, this includes the weight of the canoe, life jacket and paddle. Spray decks, poles, sails, masts, etc all need portaging too. Keep it simple, for maximum weight reduction. The most common portaging option is the yoke. Usually set at the mid-point of a canoe, this means arranging paddles and life vest so they do not fall out as you hike. Often, a strip of Velcro is used to secure the paddles ahead of you on a crossbar or thwart with the PFD clipped behind you. Using the yoke means that you carry the entire weight of the canoe/gear and pack. For most trips, a 10 pound base pack, 8-10 pounds of food, 2-5 pounds of water, and 25 pounds of canoe/gear means a total load of 45-55 pounds. This is good for a week long canoe trip. Hiking 55pounds down a trail is always work, though certainly possible.
Try to remember that on canoe trips, it isn’t necessary to carry that weight the majority of the time. It is certainly possible to do 35 miles on a mixed day: hiking around 7 miles and paddling the rest. But, portaging is always more effort than hiking. Do not mistake enthusiasm with ease. Carrying 55 pounds for 10 miles will always be hard with a boat. The boat will pick up wind, twisting it and the hiker out of line with your walking. Even with a 12’ boat, it is work in a 20mph cross wind. Packrafts are lighter and more easily portaged, once deflated. They just get stuffed in or on the pack. Sometimes, it is just as easy to carry them inflated. Fortunately, most portages are short, usually less than a mile and often a matter of 100 yards or less. Two people can often just carry a larger canoe over their heads, each carrying a pack. The trick is getting it up, together.
There are ways around carrying the whole weight if the trail is good enough to support wheels. On some canoe trails (an example is the Northern Forest Canoe Trail-740 miles between Old Forge, NY and Fort Kent, Me) there are many portages and some of the longest can be wheeled. My twelve foot boat used in this example, has a detachable yoke. Both wheels and the yoke were brought to do this on the trail. The weight penalty for the yoke was only 10oz. The weight penalty for the wheels (the stern mount detachable type) was 2#2. Total for both was 2#12 where at least one item was not in use. Sorry, no easy way to do dual purpose with the wheels set up, yet. A light boat, with a light pack and a short, quarter mile portage makes some trails possible to do without a yoke or wheels. Centering the boat over one shoulder is possible for short trails, but it’s tough on your back for longer ones. Some portages are accomplished by simply dragging the boat over the trail, though it isn’t something to try with an inflatable pack-raft.
I am a fan of wheels. Canoe wheels come in two basic varieties. The first is a set of stern wheels, attached to the boat. This allows you to carry a pack on your back and wheel about half the weight of the boat/gear in one hand.
The other type of wheel centers on the canoe allowing it to be pulled or pushed. Usually the heavier option, center wheels can often carry the entire weight of the boat, gear and pack. This was used a lot with my family.
Sounds like a plan, right? Well, not really. Portaging up hills to mountain lakes and ponds over rough trails is difficult. On the best uphill trails, ALL of the weight is against you, regardless of what type of wheels you have. And, coming back downhill, it will push you down the hills. On a rough trail, even the light duty, rear mounted “tag-along” wheels still get stuck on rocks and in gullies. And the longer “tag-along” means sharp turns are often more work than carrying the canoe, sometimes.
The center style wheels are nearly impossible to handle on rough trails because they tend to whip the bow sideways whenever they hit something, due to the mounting position. And center wheels do not allow as much freedom of movement, up & down. For many good trails larger wheels are better than smaller, but they add weight. There are many home built “carts” that can be used. Using a pair of bicycle wheels mounted on a wooden frame, these are often the heaviest option. But, these let large amounts of weight to be carried in the boat. Family camping is certainly possible: one larger boat with center wheels and a second small boat with tag-along wheels. Often, trails are not wide enough to allow center wheels. The ones you can use on trails, often only 24-36” wide, make the boat top heavy and difficult to handle on sloped trails. Pick your trails with advanced knowledge of the conditions you expect to encounter. Without such knowledge, bring a yoke; a narrow canoe can go almost anywhere that is walkable.
A big trick to canoe camping is keeping everything dry. In a low profile boat, the use of spray decks is highly recommended. A spray deck is a covering over the top of the boat, designed to deflect water from entering the canoe. Rain is deflected, too. A pack raft greatly benefits from spray decks. The spray decks keep direct sunlight off your legs and gear. And provide a dry area for reading maps, etc while paddling. On larger canoes, often these are skipped and are rarely purchased as an add-on when a canoe is bought. On longer camping trips they are worth having since they provide a lot of protection for you and your gear. Any open boat suitable for portaging can make use of a spray deck.
On kayaks, there is a built in deck, so a spray skirt is used, instead. This is often attached to the paddler, completely enclosing the paddler/cockpit. Some canoes often skip both items, simply supplying a grated deck for supporting gear off the bottom, with a tarp draped over. The traditional Adirondack Guide Boat is like this. In any case, water will likely get into the canoe body, even if it is when the paddler is getting into or out of the boat. In every case, paddling a canoe means you will encounter water. The gear in it will be subjected to water, too. Sort those items that must stay dry and make provision for them to stay that way.
Some places, both online and at various boat shops, offer dry bags that are packs. These are designed more for complete safety against water than ease of carrying, though. An UL paddler will reject these on weight, alone. On longer portages, ie, in excess of a mile, they get uncomfortable to carry. Using a more familiar light weight pack feels much better on the back. Carrying a light non-waterproof pack and using two dry bags works almost as well as the dry-packs. A single pack liner, like a garbage bag, will leak after a couple days, unless care is used loading and unloading it. Snags, abrasion, sand, sharp corners on gear can all leave the bag punctured and prone to soaking water. Even trash-compactor bags do not fare well. Water is the enemy! For the light weight canoe camper, it is easier to use separate dry bags, insuring that the sleeping gear and food will remain dry. Other gear should be selected for addition into the food bag or another dry bag, it is usually not much. My kit is simply two or three dry bags in my pack.
Begin by separating items that are allowed to get wet and those that need water protection. The sleeping bag, cloths and evening/morning jacket go into one dry bag. This is usually a dry bag/compression bag. Food goes into another dry bag, along with those items that need to stay dry: water treatment(Steripen), spare set of batteries, pills, spices, etc. This is a plain dry bag. For most of the rest of the gear, it doesn’t matter. Stove, pot, fuel bottle, water bottles, tarp, bear line & rock bag are a few items that occasional immersion will not hurt. My pad is often closed cell foam and makes up part of the frame of my pack. Does it matter if this gets wet? Not really. (It also adds a little floatation.) Depending on the duration of a trip, other gear can be added, of course. If your flashlight isn’t waterproof, toss that in. A book doesn’t generally fare well if it gets wet, add that, too. This weighs a bit more, a few ounces due to the dry bags, but is well worth it to keep essential items safe the from water. The worst case is to carry a third dry bag for odd items. Again, the boat usually carries the extra weight the majority of the time. I much prefer the PU coated bags to silnylon. Silnylon bleeds moisture if it remains wet for any length of time. Nothing like soggy oatmeal for breakfast!
Choosing a good campsite is often a hit or miss selection. The campsite you find may be on or just off the beach. Seeing a campsite from the water can often be more of a problem than selecting it, unless you have a good map marking the location. Sometimes campsites are labeled but don’t count on it. At any rate, and assuming a site is found, it may be too unprotected to do a paddler much good in a wind or rain storm. A storm that lasts two or three days is not uncommon. (Again, I won’t reiterate what others have written about how to set up a good campsite.) Assuming a site is found, the paddler is often confronted with decisions. In good weather, no decisions are needed. In poor weather, there are some things a paddler can do.
Poor weather, cold and/or windy, means avoiding camps on the beach, open fields or near the water, if possible. Beach campsites are usually open to rather severe changes in the weather. Unless the weather is good, it’s likely condensation and winds will conspire to leave the tarp or tent wetted in the morning. And, that is not the only problem. A down bag, the UL hiker’s choice, can easily be degraded by water from dripping condensation and humidity, even under a tarp. Drying it out will be difficult, because the bag will likely not be aired out during the day, it will be packed for paddling. Of course, stopping for more than a toilet stop, it is certainly possible to dry a bag out. Synthetics may appear better for this, but, carrying them on a portage, with the higher volume requirements and greater weight, can be annoying. I try to spend a few extra minutes in camp, insuring my bag will be as dry as possible before packing it. Heat will generally dry things better than none. Draping the bag around your shoulders helps quite a bit to dry it out in the morning while drinking coffee.
Winds and condensation can be difficult to predict. Mostly this is caused by the interaction of the water and land temperature. Generally, the tendency is to drift any mist or water vapor towards a water body at night because the water is warmer than the air. During the day it will be from the water to the shore or camp. The larger the body of water, the more likely this is to happen. Prevailing winds, mountains, and ridges all will influence this air flow. Camp at least 10-15 feet above water level, if possible. Chances are, there will be more condensation the closer to the shoreline the camp is set up. Pack up and leave early, before the winds can change. The goal is to stay as dry as possible at night. Your clothing should be hung out to dry, but drifting fog and mist can sometimes leave them wetter than when they were hung. Monitor them, and depending on conditions, you may want them under cover when you go to bed at night. And, it will save you a quick trip out to get them when you realize it is raining. Have a bandana ready to sop up dew when you break down camp. Dampness has a way of permeating everything inside a dry bag, so, avoid putting wet stuff in one. Build a fire before sun up, if it is possible. Of course, that also means preparing for a fire the day before. If building fires are OK in the area you plan to go, the heat will often drive any dew away, or, keep it down to tolerable levels. The slight change in temperature caused by a fire can often prevent a lot of condensation.
On lakes, it is often calm around dawn. Waking, making breakfast and packing early is great for taking advantage of the ideal paddling conditions found then. But this means packing in the dark. Plan to break camp early, you can make a full breakfast after paddling a couple hours. But, I need my coffee, soo…for me, this doesn’t happen too often.
The calm weather conditions hold for the evenings, also. So, sacrificing one ideal paddling condition, or the other, is often needed.
In evenings, general wind flow will be from land to water and doesn’t contain the same amount of water vapor. This means canoe trips will often go in phases, long paddling days of 35mi or more, using the morning & evening calm, followed by shorter days of around 20 miles. Or, a more constant pace of around 30 miles per day can be maintained by sacrificing one of the morning or evening paddles. Be aware that finding a campsite in the dark can be difficult, as can be setting up in the dark and finding fire wood. I often stop a couple hours before sundown to cook supper, set up camp and hanging a bear bag. Hanging a bag after dark can be a challenge. I prefer the mornings for paddling.
It is certainly possible to put as many as 30 or more miles per day on a trip. Or simply enjoy the slower pace of floating down a calm river. Many of the watersheds, marsh lands and waterways the wife and I have enjoyed are very different, even in the same general area. The size of the water can vary between small streams you cannot turn the boat around in and open lakes, all in an hour or two of paddling. To us, all of it is just a pleasant canoe trip.
Finished cinching my pack and grabbing the bow hand-hold, I am prepared for this, the last, portage. Portaging for a quarter mile makes me sweat, even though the air temp is only 42F and my trail cart works well. Paddling down-stream in wind is small effort, as I think of the landing, the last for this trip. Ahhh, I can finally see it. Setting up my last camp further up the landing is like any other camp, with few challenges…lots of practice this trip. It’ll rain tonight, or, at best, I will have that blasted Adirondack style mist in the morning, again.
Today is my last full day, I think. My boat is covered with interlocking scratches, some of them deep. I think she’ll be fine, as I stroke her bottom, feeling the roughness of her hull. Funny, I started the trip with a boat, now it is a “she.” Anyway, we are at the end of our journey…wow, I really just got started, I think! I don’t remember the two months on the watery trail, each day different from the one before, each day like the one before. I avoid thinking of each grating contact that made her scratches…ignoring the pain of each tooth jarring impact with stumps, trees and rocks. I remember the blue sky, the waves, the wilderness, the rain, cold nights and warm fires… Well, today I’m paddling home.
This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador Jim Marco who plays in the Adirondacks.
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