Tag Archives: outdoors

Wapiti Wanderings

I wrote this last fall, but never posted it.  Now that I’m in Alaska, I am waiting to “earn” my residency before hunting due to the price of out of state tags.  In the meantime, I’ll bide my time thinking of last season, spotting wildlife while hiking and hopefully reading and hearing of friends adventures.  Until then, I’ll fondly remember last season…

Last fall was a huge learning experience for me in regards to wildlife.  I shot my first animal with a rifle, a North American Pronghorn Antelope, which interestingly is more closely related to a goat than an actual antelope.  I managed to also get a doe deer, and I thought I was figuring out some ungulate behavior and habits.  But the big one, the elk, remained elusive.

I actually hunted elk more than any other species this fall.  and while I saw lots of pronghorn, and many deer, the wapiti were real

Saw lot’s of mule deer, no elk.

hard to find.  Sure, I saw some tracks, some relatively fresh scat and plenty of rubs, all things I’d seen while hiking in the mountains.  But the actual animals began to take a mythological place in my mind.  I went where I thought they would be, where I would go if I was an Elk (clearly flawed logic) but they were never there.  I would talk to other hunters and they would casually mention seeing a herd of 40 that evening or two large bulls watching them from a ridge.  I hadn’t seen anything in over a month.

Chased these tracks all day!

An early fall snow storm gave me hope that the elk would be pushed out of the mountains and into my area.  A day of wandering through wet snow chasing tracks yielded fresh scat and a recent bed, but no elk.  I did have some mule deer walk by pretty closely and I was hearing shots all day, so someone was having luck, but it sure wasn’t me.

After a week of hunting deer, and getting my doe, I was back to seeking out the wiley wapiti.

As the season progressed, I was able to hunt a different area than my early season tag, higher up and I hoped, fewer people and more elk.

It seems that the problem with switching areas when hunting is that you have no idea where the animals are.  Four days of wandering, glassing (a fancy term I’ve learned for looking through binoculars for stuff, while generally not seeing it) and exploring led to nothing.  Some sign here and there, but most was old.

After spending an afternoon wandering around in the same area with my wife, where we saw my best friends truck, I invited him

I spent hours doing this. Note the homemade shooting sticks supporting my rifle.

over for dinner and we talked elk.  I wanted to know where these things were, how to find them and if he had seen anything in the area we were in.  We laughed about me stumbling upon his “secret spot” which I took as a good sign that I was at least in a good area.  He gave me some info on where he had seen elk up there before, when I might want to go and we overall encouraged each others efforts with a lot of excited stories.

The next night I was feeling inspired.  I left the house at 11pm, and got up to the parking spot that I’d been scouting from around midnight.  a previous bivy in the back of the truck had proven that it was a cold, snow drifty place to crash (I should have known this, given the years I spent living out of a pick up truck!) and given the time, I chose to just catch some z’s in the back seat.  My alarm went off way too early at 6am.  Still dark.  I dragged myself from under my down quilt, hunted through the front seat for  some layers and my boots and eventually pushed open the door to the truck.  I started hiking to the the spot that I thought I might be able to see some elk from.  Not far out, I heard the faint sound of an ATV.  I kept walking, hoping the motorized fella would roll on by when he saw my truck.

When the first opening appeared in the trees, I headed uphill, staying tight to the scrub pine and slowing my pace down.  I saw nothing.  I kept moving.

When I reached the outcrop of limestone, the sun was just peaking out to greet the day, I had begun to appreciate sunrises more this season. I sat, glassed, relaxed. There they were. The first elk I had seen all season, way far off.  The range finder showed them at 550 yds, way further than I felt confident shooting.  I watched them move, maybe a dozen elk, traveling down slope, through thin timber and brush.  and then they were gone.  Into a depression, a drainage or some other feature.  What to do.  I sat for a while, trying to find them in my binos. Pondering my next move.  Would they come to me? Should I move?  What the hell do elk do when they are moving anyway?  I figured I was better off moving, maybe I wouldn’t  find the same herd, but I certainly wasn’t gonna get one sitting still.

Learning to love sunrises, I saw elk on this ridge.

I scooted off my perch and walked downhill into some sparse trees, quickly arriving at the edge of a cliff band overlooking the valley below.  Meandering along the cliff edge I looked below me to see if any elk were in the valley.  The thought of actually shooting anything down there and having to haul it back up hill was intimidating, so I turned back along the trees and moved up the bench I was on.  The trees ended as I stepped out just a bit into an opening and saw them all, grazing not fifty yards away.  I quickly crouched and walked slowly towards a dead tree.  I knelt in what must have been cold snow, focusing on my breathing as I tried to settle my pounding heart.  I watched as the elk moved around each other, through some sparse trees, in and out of cover.  It felt like forever. Braced against a fallen tree.  Breathing.  Watching.  When I thought I had a good shot, I fired.  The herd scattered, fast and far.  I looked frantically to see my cow drop, stumble or slow, but they all ran.  One ran away from the rest of the herd, still close to me.  I watched the others while this single cow looked nervously around, apparently not seeing me.   The herd appeared content 200 yards away, while this lone cow stood and began grazing about 50 yards from me.  I shifted position.  I had missed my first shot.  Not this one.  Three steps and and down.

The perfect size cow to haul back to the truck solo.

I was amazed at the increased volume of guts inside an elk, even this small one.  After field dressing, I dragged the cow up hill to a small pass, passing where I had shot my deer.  I had learned the hard way from that experience that sometimes the fastest way between two points isn’t a straight line.  This time I had learned mornings alone in the mountains can be beautiful and rewarding.

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The Great White North, new adventures in life part 1.

2012 has already proven to be a year full of adventure.  I was exploring the backcountry of the Tetons working a NOLS winter ski course over new years, and after a day back home to do laundry, my wife and I packed the skis up and took a quick trip to Alaska.  The Alaska trip, while just a weekend blitzkrieg, held a larger purpose.  We have both been to Alaska in the summer, and there isn’t much to dislike about those adventures, even the mosquitoes, apparently known as the Alaska state bird can be managed.  But the Alaskan winter holds a reputation of cold and darkness that can crack even the toughest of people.  My wife was applying for a job in AK as the NOLS Alaska Director, and we wanted to be sure we knew what we were getting into if it came to fruition.  A weekend trip is really only a brief glimpse into what Alaska is in the winter, but it seemed better than nothing, and given the shallow and remarkably unstable snowpack in the lower 48 states, the record snowfall in AK was an appealing lure for our ski hungry psyche.

Nordic skiing in alpine glow, below Hatcher pass AK.

Our amazing hosts showed us the local food scene at Turkey Red in Palmer, an outstanding bistro.  After lunch we had an invigorating nordic ski adventure at the base of Hatcher Pass.  Cold (very cold) weather pushed us to classic skiing, at which I do not excel at all!  I had  a blast chasing Don and Donna around the hills and forest, and the short downhill parts were really exciting on those little skinny skis.

The next day we spent skiing the wind slab at Arctic Valley, a small Anchorage ski club run area on the Fort Richardson Army base.  Apres ski entertainment was provided by the local band Hot Dish in which our friend Dan plays banjo.  We went to Dan’s house for a moose roast that evening.

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Our last day in AK, we made the reasonable drive out to Girdwood to ski Alyeska ski resort, passing some mountain goats along the way by Beluga point.  The skiing at Alyeska was great, a mix of fresh and cut up powder and nice groomers.  We skied all afternoon and into the night, skiing the well lit trails until a few hours before our flight home.  We packed at the car rental return and began the trek home, once again proving that in Alaska you can do more in 48 hrs than you would in the lower 48, no matter what the month!

As you may have gleaned from the house for sale post Janeen got the job and we are moving to Alaska in April!  I’m looking forward to the drive up the ALCAN highway and the blog fodder it should provide, stay tuned for more.

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The wilderness as an escape or an engagement

People often say that they go outdoors to get away from it all.  Recently I’ve been wondering if we are approaching our outdoor endeavors with a skewed perspective.  When you ask someone who goes outdoors to recreate why they do it, they may reply with the classic cliche of escapism, but when pressed to describe their outdoor experience, they seldom describe the getting away from it all, and instead excitedly pontificate on everything that they get from and enjoy about the outdoors.

Fully engaged (we were dodging ice at the belay on this pitch), I returned home more engaged in my life.

A “sense of connection” “feeling alive”  “learning to communicate and deal with other people” “wonderment” “overcoming challenge”.  These are a few of the phrases that I hear in conversations with folks venturing outdoors.  To me, none of these sounds like an escape, but rather a deep and perhaps essential engagement.

In his timeless essay Briefing for Entry Into a More Harsh Environment, Morgan Hite lists eleven things that you learn or experience in the wilderness that apply profoundly to our front country lives, if we remember that they should.  None of them talk about getting away from that life we sometimes call “real life” but they are rather a call to action to engage in our front country lives with the same mindfulness that we engage in the wilderness.

I have to wonder, what if we looked at our forays into the wilderness for what they are, what they do have vs. what they get us away from? Would we then be closer to understanding the transformative potential of the outdoors?  If we approach our outdoor endeavors as a reminder of the engagement we hope to have with the world on a daily basis instead of as an escape from that world, would it bring us closer to self actualization and fulfillment?

In asking these questions I must start with my own reflections on time spent outdoors, here are some of the things that I realize more fully outside, and hope to carry with me throughout life:

There is beauty to be found everywhere. In the majesty of a grand vista or simply a cool and unexpected bug crawling in the grass nearby.

Found in the grass flyfishing with a friend, this was the coolest part of the day. I have to wonder what cool small things I miss by not being as engaged as I should?

In crumbling buildings and illuminated cities.  Sometimes that beauty challenges our perceptions of what beauty is, and this is a good thing, because seeing beauty in the little, everyday things helps us to appreciate the amazing world we live in.

We should take care of ourselves and each other.  In popular culture, going outdoors is often viewed as survival, and if things go badly, it can turn into that, but most of my experience outdoors has been thriving and feeling alive and healthy.  Why should we only find ourselves outdoors to survive some calamity? Certainly I don’t feel that each day in the front country is survival, yet I find it harder to take care of myself and others amidst the stimulus of the “real world.”  I value going into the wilderness to remind me to try harder at taking care of myself and others.  Recently it has been a harsh reminder that I am not doing this as well as I should.

Value the things you have and let go of those things you don’t.  The wilderness encourages us to take care of our gear, yet so many of my outdoor professional friends never change the oil in their trucks, or just buy a new piece of gear when they could repair something they have.  With the constant evolution of outdoor gear and the onslaught of advertising in the front country, it is easy to think you always need the newest flashy gear. I can certainly say that I consistently forget that I don’t need new things to enjoy my life.  Maybe it’s time to go run around outdoors to remind myself of this again.

Life can be hard, get over it.  Sometimes it storms on your outdoor trip, and sometimes your “real life” can be stormy.  In the wilderness you either deal with it or do something about it, I reckon we should do the same in the front country.

Art or disrepair? It's all in the how you look at it. Photo: Janeen Hutchins janeenhutchinsphotography.com

As I write this, I realize I may be paraphrasing Hite’s piece too much.  In the backcountry it can be easier to follow a well established trail, but often we are most engaged when we venture off on our own path.  There is no reason that this shouldn’t be true in everyday life as well.  Find those things that inspire and motivate you that don’t require being outdoors.  There are hundreds of outdoor activities and yet in the front country we often follow the path laid out by our cultures, communities and the mass media.  Choose your own path through life and enjoy the encounters with others you see along the way.  When you do find yourself on the path of “norms” be sure that they lead in a direction you want to go.

The wilderness can force you to be engaged in the world around you. I go outdoors to seek that engagement and to be reminded that I should seek it in my life in general. I can’t really escape from the front country. I have to go back eventually. Wouldn’t my life be more fulfilling in general if instead I found a way to be as engaged in the front country as the backcountry?  Would yours?

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Modular AVY Pouch Prototype

When Mike St. Pierre from Hyperlite Mountain Gear was hanging out at my house this summer I was throwing out ideas for all kinds of things when he playfully mentioned that it’s not the ideas that are the hard part of gear design.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of business or marketing experience, which I think is what Mike was alluding to.  Still, I threw out the idea of an ultralight ski pack, perhaps based on the Windrider pack they already make, and Mike seemed intrigued.  After reading that I had been taking the Windrider out on some ski tours, Mike suggested that his new Porter pack might be a better fit for skiing.  After a brief email exchange where I told Mike about some upcoming ski courses I would be working for NOLS, he sent me out the Hyperlite Expedition, the big brother to the Porter, and I agreed that I would prototype an Avy pouch that would attach to either the Porter or Expedition.

Hyperlite Expedition Pack. Photo courtesy of Hyperlite Mountain Gear.

The Porter/Expedition packs are no frills ultralight packs in classic mountaineering style.  The packs are constructed from the same Cuben Fiber hybrid as the Windrider, but features a beefier (but not bulkier) waist belt and shoulder straps.  The packs can be closed in either drybag style – creating a loop at the top, or with the removable vertical straps for a clean top.  Along each side of the pack runs a vertical daisy chain, to about halfway up the length of the pack.  On the rear of the pack run another pair of daisy chains, framing the rear panel.

I spent an evening this week building a Prototype Avy tool pouch that should work well.   Overall, I am happy with how this “first draft” turned out, though it wasn’t without its trials and a few ripped seams.  I can’t seem figure out pattern making yet.  I find it helpful for conceptualizing and laying stuff out, but my sizing keeps coming out a bit off.  Easily fixed at the sewing machine though!   It attaches securely with 3/4″ side release buckles and remains quickly removable.  The pack has three compression straps on the sides which should allow ski carry in the A-Frame method, which isn’t my preferred way to haul skis around when they aren’t on my feet, so I’ll continue to look at ways to incorporate a diagonal carry method with the new pouch attached.  After some testing this winter, I’ll send the pouch off to Mike and we’ll see if he can adapt my “train-of-consciousness” sewing job into a refined Cuben Fiber product worthy of his pack line.

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Filed under backcountry, DIY, equipment, Fabrication, gear, lightweight, MYOG, Outdoors, Sewing, skiing, ultralight, Uncategorized

Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips, a somewhat biased review

Get the book, go lighter.

I know Mike Clelland, he’s a friend, a mentor, and a pal.  We’ve hiked together and collaborated quiet a bit on various lightweight projects over the last six or seven years.  So here’s the deal.  Mike sent me a copy of this book.  Now, you might think that I would give him a swell review just because he hooked me up, but the truth is Mike’s got it right. You see, Mike see’s things differently than most folks.

Mike Brews up an a quick trip into the mountains in Alaska

This should be apparent from the awesome illustrations he draws that accurately depict technical details with humor and levity.  It goes beyond that though.  It goes beyond drawing a happy hiker with some neat trick of ultralight backpacking and some little boing marks.  Mike gets it.  He draws stuff he knows, whether climbing, skiing, mountaineering or ultralight backpacking.  And he’s always trying to understand it all better.  I have met few in the ultralight game who have put as much thought and trial into their system as Mike.  When it comes to influencing the hiking world to go lighter, it is easily argued that Mike C! has had as large an impact as anyone. Mike has taken the admittedly geeky world of lightweight and made it accessible to the common (wo)man.

His lightweight illustrations, first in Lighten Up! and now in his own book Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips have been a gateway to lightweight backpacking for the masses, he also scouted, proposed and championed the lightweight backpacking program at NOLS and has taught lightweight courses for NOLS and Backpacking Light.

He has inspired me to go lighter, and along the way I have been able to help him in small ways, like our common interest in the coffee system (tip #129 – we spent a fun afternoon weighing various coffee devices and brew methods).  My lightest trip ever has been with Mike, our packs both weighed in at 7.98 lbs for an overnight trip with stove, shelter, and two cooked meals.  It is Mikes desire to share what he has learned that makes his book so effective.  He uses his amazing talent for illustration to remind us that this backpacking stuff is supposed to be fun.

That’s the biggest selling point of this book.  It’s downright fun to read.  This makes the wackier of ideas (like #54 Make your own toothpaste dots, which work really well and are a great way to bring just enough paste.) easier to buy into and try out.  You can laugh at the cute drawing, and ponder the wisdom behind the tip.  With the tip format, Mike has allowed the reader to try different techniques on different trips with no need to do everything at once, fully engaging in my favorite tip, #6 Try something new every time you go camping.  A great model for learning by doing.

Whether your a pro lightweight explorer or just getting into the game, this book is bound to give you some new ideas to get out and try on your next trip.  It is a beautiful call to action to get out, travel lighter and learn by doing.

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Random Encounters

The mountains can bring people together, you learn to watch out for each other, to share and learn from your companions and to be friendly and welcoming to those you meet along the way.

Lower Jean Lake, Wind River Mountains, Wyoming

Two years ago a sales rep friend of a my buddy Kevin McGowan, the long time Outfitting Manager at NOLS Rocky Mountain dropped off a fancy new ultralight shelter off for us to look at from a start up company from Maine called Hyperlite Mountain Gear.  I have been coordinating the Lightweight program at NOLS for about six years now, so Kev handed me the shelter and asked me to test it out and tell him what I thought.  Due to a busy summer schedule, I “pawned” the testing off on another lightweight fanatic who was able to get out a bit sooner that I was.  I’ll post on my initial impressions on the shelter, but that’s not so much the story of the mountains and people that I want to share.

This summer I was cruising around the Wind River Range of Wyoming, what I consider my back yard, with an amazing group of people on a NOLS lightweight backpacking course.  Our community of folks was really tight and we had traveled the length of the Southern Winds through perhaps the most spectacular route you can do.  As we continued North, two of our hiking groups had a chance encounter with these nice fellas from Maine with some fancy ultralite packs.  They wanted to know if we were sponsored by Golite because so many of us had the Jam pack.  My wife Janeen, who was working the course with me and another Ryan explained the volume of Jam packs and that we were with NOLS.  She asked about their packs and this guy named Mike explained that he owned this ultralight gear company called Hyperlite Mountain Gear, and had built these packs.

The day they met. Photo Credit: Janeen Hutchins http://www.janeenhutchinsphotography.com

As Janeen and Mike carried on about the benefits of lightweight backpacking, it came out that I had a role in the NOLS lightweight program and that it would be great if Mike and his hiking buddy/sponsored athlete “Bama” swung by our house for a post course barbeque after they finished their trip.  Janeen offered some information on the cool places to go in the winds after they explained that they were coming from the summer Outdoor Retailer Show and a friend and colleague there had said they should hike in the winds before heading home.  They were headed the way we had come, and Janeen, being a savvy back-country woman, could describe the route blow by blow.

The scenic route.

There are a lot of ways to travel through the Winds, and that day my group took the scenic route.  We never saw Mike and Bama. I was excited that the students had been able to talk to them, see the gear they were making and hear about other ways of applying lightweight skills.  I wondered if they would actually give a call and swing by at our post course celebration.

Sure enough, the evening we rolled out of the field Mike gave a ring and we guided him into our house where we were hosting the course for our graduation.  We grilled up some grub and had an ultralight stove building clinic, I spent a bunch of time talking to Mike and Bama about the gear they build and the adventures they had been on, where they were from and what Mike hoped to do with Hyperlite.

This is the part I find so fascinating.  Here are these guys, Bama an accomplished thru-hiker, and Mike with a remarkable story of changing careers from the New York world of culinary arts to being the owner and designer of ultralight gear built in the USA, eating BBQ at my place in the small town of Lander Wyoming, after a chance encounter in the mountains.  The people we meet, the stories we share.  These are some of the things that are the most remarkable about the outdoors.

To hear the story of Hyperlite in Mikes words, check out this video.

I’ll also be publishing my initial impressions of two flagship pieces from Hyperlite very soon, stay tuned!

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Ice Tool and Equipment Case

Years ago, Black Diamond Equipment came out with a case for ice climbing tools called the ice box.  At the time I was deeply invested in the frozen world of vertical ice, I had a slew of gear, ice tools, crampons, ice screws, screamers (who participates in a sport that includes a device called a screamer!)  and various other accoutrement.  I thought the concept of the ice box was a good one, but I lived in a pickup truck at the time and worked in the mountains all summer to save enough money to rent a place in Ouray Colorado during the winter so I could climb ice.

I had some experience sewing my own gear and figured I could sew a similar case for far less than it was being sold by BD (they were charging way more when it first came out if I remember correctly). I spent a long day sewing this up at NOLS Rocky Mountain in Lander, WY before heading to the icy canyons in Ouray for the winter.

This piece was all scratch built, no pattern, a lot of brainstorming and quite a few seams being ripped and re sewn.  It has padded sides, using closed cell foam, can can easily store two sets of tools, a pair of crampons in the integrated pouch (and up to three additional pairs loose inside or in stand alone pouches), a slew of screws in a removable roll-up pouch, and there is a pocket for miscellaneous wrenches, picks, slings, spectre hooks and the like.  To date it is likely the most complex piece I have sewn.  It’s red too, so you can carry your gear around faster.

Here is what I came up with:

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New sewing machine

I just picked up a new (to me) sewing machine.  A Singer 20u53.  I’m real excited to have a machine at home to continue building and developing gear, and to improve my fabrication skills. I got the tension adjusted and have whipped up a few “proof of concept” pieces already.

I also recently met a NOLS instructor, David Nyberg, who has made a lot of his own gear with excellent execution, an inspiration to be sure!

Keep an eye out for posts on the stuff I’ve built in the past, and for the things to come…

New to me Singer 20u53 sewing machine with table, yee haw!

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Fire in the mountains

The Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler Review

As a tinkerer of gear, I really get excited when someone else goes for it and decides to build something they want that doesn’t exist.  In the case of Devin Montgomery that something was a wood fired boiler small and light enough to take backpacking in an ultralight style.  The entire story and evolution, from brainstorming and crowdsourcing design, to prototyping and ultimately production can be found at Devin’s excellent blog The Boilerwerks which describes the trials and tribulations and success of developing this unique device.

The Backcountry Boiler uses the chimney effect to quickly boil water.

One of the things that I like the most is that this was truly a project based on learning by doing.  Almost every step of the process was a new adventure for Devin.  In the end he produces a unique, high quality, functional and simple piece of equipment that works well.

The Backcountry Boiler is elegant in design and function.  It allows a backpacker to go with out fuel by burning found fuels along one’s route. The system consists of two basic parts needed to function and three light accessories; the boiler proper and the support or burner base, a heat resistant sleeve that allows the user to pick the boiler directly off the flame with bare hands, a small silicone stopper and a simple sil-nylon stuff sack that it can store in.

Weighing in at 8.8 oz complete on my scale, the boiler is heavier than some alcohol stoves but in the same weight class as many other wood burners.  Here’s where it makes up for the couple extra ounces over other systems: no need to carry fuel.  In addition, the boiler itself can be used as a water bottle with the included stopper!  By paring the kit down, the weight of the stove can be reduced even further.  Leave behind the stuff sack and you come in at 7.9 oz, the stopper and you are at 7.3, and just the boiler and the fire pan leave you with a svelte 7 oz. system.

The Boiler is made from spun, hard anodized aluminum, providing a more rigid construction when compared to titanium sheet.  This material also allows for good heat transfer and an acceptable weight in the ultralight stove category.

Wind makes the boiler burn hotter, and can be controlled by simply turning the intake in the base into or out of the breeze.

In field use, the Boiler proves to be surprisingly fast.  Boiling two cups (16oz./500ml) of water multiple times per day over six days on a NOLS Lightweight Backpacking Course, I consistently had boil times of 5 minutes or less at altitudes between 8000-10,000 feet, often using frigid water.  This volume of water is ideal for “boil in a bag” type meals, and is my preferred volume for hot drinks as well.  It’s important to note that the boiler doesn’t actually boil your food in the boiler its self, but boils the water to be added to your dehydrated meal in either a bag designed for this, or another container, perhaps your titanium mug.

This may be the only drawback to the boiler.  People who cook, rather than rehydrate meals will find the boiler unsuitable.

How it works

The boiler functions on the simple chimney effect.  A small fire is built in the burner base using tinder with the boiler already in place, though in practice I found it easier to light the fire and then place the boiler on the base.  Be sure that the stopper is not plugging the water fill hole, or the vessel could explode.

unburned fuel after a double boil

Once the fire is going and your filled boiler is on the base, turn the hole in the base into the wind, or if a really calm day you may need to blow into the hole.  Feed the boiler through the chimney in the top, I found that using sticks no bigger around than my somewhat meaty pinky or ideally about pencil diameter worked well.

The sticks should also be broken to a length no longer than the top of the burner to reduce flame height which results in wasting fuel.  On average, I could boil my two cups using just one handful of sticks.  For reference, when I hold my finger tips together in a circle, the diameter is about an inch and a half, but I have big hands.

The boiler burns very hot, so with small sticks as fuel there is very little ash, and once cold to the touch, the ash can easily be scattered to the wind.  Any partially burned sticks will be so small they will disappear in the environment, just be sure they are fully extinguished.

One of the great things about the boiler is that it can burn all most any type of combustible solid.  I even burned a piece of dried cow patty one night with no problems at all.  Grass, sticks, paper, cardboard, basically anything that can burn.  Devin even ships the Boiler in burnable packaging along with a tea bag and an instant coffee so you can try it right away, pretty cool.  There is also a wick system available to burn denatured alcohol, which would be useful above tree line or in areas that have mixed fire regulations like canyons.

For people cooking one pot, just add water meals, or “boil in a bag” food, the ability to travel without fuel is an unquestionable advantage in the field.  The Backcountry Boiler is an efficient, Eco-friendly (burns renewable fuels!) stove system that evolves the lightweight kit to the next level.

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Speed Goat stalking

The high desert of Wyoming hold secrets one might not expect.  A rich human history, both historic and modern is interspersed in the hills and rocks of what most see as a vast and barren plain.

Remnants of the uranium mining boom

An excuse to wander this dusty landscape doesn’t often present itself, with the lure of high, snow-covered peaks gleaming in the west over each rolling sage covered hill and rocky hoodoo.  These plains hide much from the cage trapped travelers on the highways north and south.

The antelope though, they don’t hide, not from the cars.  They stand on hilltops, eying the passing vehicle suspiciously, as though they are sizing it up, gauging its speed against their own.  Stop the car though, get out, and their gone.  Over a hill, down a draw, around a bluff.  Thus the importance of the stalk.

“Look for terrain features.” Scott had said, almost casually when I asked for advice on hunting the speed goats.  I would be going out alone, this first foray into the world of hunting, and to be totally honest, I had little idea what I would be doing.

My first day out was spent wandering around the hills and draws, spotting, attempting the stalk and spooking lots of antelope.  Learning, slowly, where they go when they sprint away.  By the end of the day I had chased a small herd for two hours, watching through binoculars across two draws as they grazed on a hillside, finally darting around the corner when I stood up from my hiding spot, succumbing to mild boredom.  They had remained in the open, and the terrain I was using seemed of little help in hiding from them.  In order to see them, I had to be up high, or down low, and I was generally in the open which does not it seems, help one’s ability to sneak up on the keen-eyed antelope.

They're over there, but how do I get to them?

Towards the end of my 1st day, I saw a small, yet deep ditch slithering up a wider draw, it’s deeper trough would keep me lower and if I crouched, I found I could keep my torso below the sage on the banks.  Could this be the terrain I should have been looking for?  I followed the ditch up the draw, staying low, moving slowly, until it petered out in some sage.  On my elbows and knees I peeked over the sage and saw a fine buck, bedded down in the hot afternoon sun on a ridge top at the end of my draw.  I carefully pulled off my pack, belly crawled to an opening surrounded by the strong-smelling sage and very slowly sat up, watching as the buck just lounged in the swaying grass one hundred or so yards away.  I had a doe tag of course, so there was nothing to be done but watch him and ponder the day.  This was my most successful stalk yet, he had no idea I was there and I knew I was close enough for a shot if I had the right tag.  Eventually he stood up, and I did too.  He looked at me and I dropped to my knees.  He ran right near me, not thirty yards away and stopped.  We stared at each other for ten minutes, he eventually trotted over the hill and off into the sunset.  I walked back to the truck.  It had been a good day.

Rock art at Castle Gardens

Rock art at Castle Gardens

On the drive home, I drove the western boundary to my area, unsuccessfully stalked a few more antelope on the more open plains and checked out the Castle Gardens, a cool hidden gem of a canyon with enough elevation  to support pine trees and a strange, pale talc like sandstone.

The area holds hundreds of petroglyphs from early Native Americans, dating back over a thousand years.  These people are thought to be the predecessors to the Apache and Navajo.  The area is stunning, both in geology with steep sandstone spires and canyon walls interspersed with juniper and with remarkable human history.  You can camp right there and it is a short walk to the petroglyphs, most of which have to be protected behind chain link fences due to vandalism.

It occurred to me in that spot that these people who left their mark on the sandstone walls so long ago, had good taste in campsites.  There was likely water here once, shade from the blazing sun, and terrain.  Terrain to hide game.  Smart.

One week later I was back at it.  the hot sun beating me down all day, walking in convoluted circles up, over and around the varied terrain of the gas hills.  Trying harder to stay in behind a rock here, in a ditch over there, up this draw and down that one.  A herd grazes in a basin surrounded by dark eroding rock to the north, rolling hills to the east, a drainage to the south and some sort of sedimentary hogbacks to the west.  I crouch and move from shallow draw to shallow draw, flanking the herd to the east.  I drop into a deep wash, up into the big sage brush when they spook and bolt over the hogbacks.  Damn it.  I walk through the head high sage and work up the draw between hogbacks.  As I glass from the ridge I see some mule deer bolt from the tall sage I had moved through, a nice buck and three does.  What spooked them I wonder?  I look harder through the binoculars but see nothing, later I would spot two coyotes sniffing the tracks of the deer.

At the top of the draw I see a small herd of four antelope two ridges to the north.  On my belly again I crawl to the top of the ridge and hunker down.  There’s no terrain here to hide me if I move, so I wait and watch.  Some thing spooks them.  I don’t think it’s me so I stay put and wait, they seem to be coming right to me, flying down the hill into the draw between us.  Will they come towards me or run somewhere else?  I wait.  One then two and now the buck and a final doe pop onto my hill, thirty yards at most, just the crest of the hill hiding me from their nervous glances.  My rifle rests on my pack, just a small move to raise it to my eye and put a doe into my sights.  And then they bolt again, down up over and across the plains.  I lay chase and watch them from a distant hillside, but the terrain leaves me exposed and they are far away.  I walk  back to truck, grab a cold drink from the ice filled cooler and check my watch.  It’s hot, I’m tired and it is getting late.  Another good day, should I call it quits?

As I walk around the truck, I see a wash between where I’ve been hunting today and where I was last week.  It’s just walking with a rifle I think, and that looks like some cool terrain.  I drop into the wash and work my way up until it grows choked with sage.  As I step onto the bank, I glance up and see ears and a black nose at the top of a hill.  I drop to the ground and stay still.  Glassing the doe to see if she saw me.  She climbs to the top of the hill and I watch her as she looks towards me but not at me.  I wait and watch.  Looking at the terrain around me, I weigh my options.  I can try to sneak back into the wash, or move towards the hill, hoping she won’t see me move and I’ll be out of her field of view when I get closer.  She makes the choice easy as she turns casually and drops over the hill, out of sight.  I run now, staying low towards the confluence of a small drainage and the wash.  When I reach the hillside I slow down, breathe, relax.  I know the pronghorn can’t see me now, so the stalk begins.

I climb the hill in a low crouch, at the top there is nothing.  No sign of the antelope, nothing, just another hill.  And so I walk, quietly and with purpose to the next hill.  Peaking nervously over the shoulder of the hill

I lock eyes with a buck antelope, and back quickly below the crest.

Did I blow it?  Where is the doe?  Where to now?  Breathe. Crouching again, I scoot around the other side of the hill, and there they are.  The buck I saw so close, and his harem of does, a half-dozen of them grazing calmly in a small depression.  I remember looking through the scope at the largest doe, easing the safety to fire so it wouldn’t click loudly, telling myself to relax, to wait until the shot was good, broadside.  I can’t remember if I was sitting, kneeling or prone.  She couldn’t be more than thirty yards away.  Exhale, squeeze.  The herd bolted at the report, she made it five yards and dropped.  Now I would learn how to field dress.

The learning and doing pay off, more learning followed as I field dressed my first animal.

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