I just returned from what was originally planned as a two day trip to the High Sierras. I was wanting to test some new equipment that I would be using on an upcoming survival course in Idaho, taught by Ron and Karen Hood.
I knew the weather forecast was not good and included rain for much of the state and snow for the mountains. I was close to cancelling but I guess that sense of adventure kicked in. I figured it would only help to hone my skills if I could practice them in the rain and cold. Hopefully, I would live through the experience and be able to use the skills later on.
While driving along the highway looking up at the mountain range, I could see that there was still alot of snow left from the winter months. Dark storm clouds blanketed the peaks. I was beginning to have some doubts whether or not I should go ahead with my plans.
When I arrived at the trailhead, it was drizzling and quite cool. I prepared my gear, put on my poncho, and rather reluctantly, headed up the trail. I thought to myself, that if things turns ugly (they already were), I'll just turn around and go home.
My plan was to hike up the canyon then drop down and stay in a particular meadow that I was familiar with. I must have been very early in the season, because the higher I climbed, the more I strayed from the trail due to downed trees, snow and overgrowth. I had to clear away alot of frozen branches that were blocking the trail and my Battle Mistress was certainly receiving a workout from it. Finally, I came to what appeared to be an old cow camp complete with a crude table and frying pan. Just as I sat down to rest, it began to snow...hard. I started a fire, cooked some Ramen, and thought about the situation.
It was clear that to go on further would be a bit more foolish than what I had already been doing. After eating, I decided that I was going to head back down and call it quits. The snow was wet and heavy, and by then, was really starting to intensify and cover the higher slopes rapidly.
As I descended, the snow turned to rain but higher up it was still snowing quite heavily. Resting, I looked around to what appeared to be a fairly nice campsite. There were dry leaves under the trees for insulation and fire building, a few big rocks to block the wind, and a good supply of wood. I decided it may be safest for me to spend the night.
I found a horizontal branch protruding from a tree that was about four feet off the ground. I trimmed off the branches then using my blade as a drawknife, smoothed it to prevent puncturing the tarp. Using some heavy rocks, I sealed down the sides of the tarp. I also closed the two open ends by pushing small sticks through the grommets and "buttoning" them up. Finally I filled the inside of the shelter with a foot or two of dry leaves. That night, I would be using a bodybag/blanket combination to sleep in. There was plenty of room in the shelter for all my gear and considering the strong, persistant gusts of wind, the tarp performed quite well.
That evening, due to the moisture, I had a hard time trying to light the dry leaves with steel wool and cotton balls. Using a small piece of cotton and my sparking rod, I was able to light a candle and use it with good results. I soon had a nice warm fire. I ate an MRE, some Ramen, and made a hot drink with some orange powder mix. Hopefully, the food would provide some much needed fire in the "body furnace", helping me to keep warm through the long cold night.
View From Camp
By this time it was about 4pm and now snowing heavily at my elevation. I was considering packing up and leaving, but decided that it would be safer to stay put. That evening I kept pretty warm but woke up several times to the wind blowing against the tarp. Somtime early in the morning I woke up and noticed the moon was shining. I figured the weather was getting better and felt a bit of relief. One thing I noticed about the body bag is that it was collecting condensation inside. More than likely, the moisture was due to my wet pant legs drying off as I slept. Feeling that my breath may also be adding condensation to the bag, I tried to breathe to the outside of the bag through a small opening.
The next morning the weather seemed quite nice. The sun was shining and there were only a few clouds overhead. There happened to be some small, glowing coals from the night before, so starting a fire was quick and easy. I had some coffee, packed up my gear and headed back up the trail to look for the remains of an old saw mill I had heard about.
As I passed the cow camp I had found the day before, I soon came to a rather large stream. The water was high and covering every other rock that I planned to use for stepping across the stream. The water was moving fast and the last thing I wanted to do was fall in. I had no luck finding a log to use as a bridge, so using my walking stick, I broke off the ice that had formed on the rocks. I scooped up some sand and scattered it across the rocks for added traction. Making sure I unbuckled the waistband on my pack, I proceeded to cross the stream.
After a bit of searching, I found the remains of the old saw mill. I found a couple very old hand forged nails nearby and tucked them away in my kit.
Judging from the amount of overgrowth I was having to clear from the trail, as well as all the fresh snow that had just fallen, it was clear that that I would not be going any further on this particular trip. I turned around and started to head back down the trail.
When I arrived at where I had crossed the stream earlier, all the rocks were now covered by water. I made my way down stream until I found a log that formed a natural bridge. I took off my pack and started trimming off the branches so I could cross safely. After crossing, I felt as though the time had come to try out the ass rag. As far as I could tell it worked just fine.
After a short time on the trail, I began to feel sick and vomited. I've done this before and know that if I don't eat enough, then over exert myself, I lose my lunch. Soon I was feeling better and within a few hours had arrived at the trailhead.
This trip, I felt, had been a very good learning experience. I had the opportunity to practice various techniques and function under adverse conditions. All my equipment was put to the test and I felt as though it would all serve me well on the upcoming Tractor survival trip in Idaho. The Battle Mistress was put through its paces that included having to chop through frozen trees, pry logs apart for dry firewood, and clearing brush. She is happy as I sit here looking at her new edge and fresh coat of oil.
Copyright © 2001 by Eric Stoskopf.
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