Our first choice of "hike in only" campsite, right across the street, is off limits for camping until March, so went with plan B- a part of the Sierras we like to explore. Called ahead to the local Ranger Station and got the OK to do what we had in mind, once we picked up a Fire Permit from CDF in town. Loaded up the BoB's and hit the road early Sat morning
Takes about an hour to go from this to this
Our destination, a beautiful little lake. Unfortunately, access denied. Posted no camping until May
Tried to get close down some fire roads but it just didn't work out, and we didn't want to get into any trouble being somewhere we weren't supposed to be.
Since we only had what water we were going to carry, we needed to camp near some source. Using our detailed USFS map we identified several good prospects where big streams crossed or came near fire roads. Seemed each spot we thought looked good on the map had a camper already there! Who knew winter camping was so popular? After a few of those, decided to hike down stream a ways to see what we would find.
Sent my scout up ahead with one of these. These little radios are invaluable for stuff like this! A little heavy, but worth it I think, and kids love walkie talkies.
Here we are taking off, bound and determined to camp alongside this creek somewhere!
Seems we chose an informal shooting range as a potential campsite. We heard people shooting a ways off to the north from where we jumped off the road, and we were headed south, but some other folks started shooting very close to us from somewhere unseen, and I just wasn't comfortable there. Hiked maybe a half mile I would guess when we turned back. Rough terrain and the 45 lb pack made my hips hurt... whaa!!!
Drove back to the snowier part of the road in search of a campsite. It's afternoon now, and I know it gets dark early in the Mtns, and it's Winter. Almost ready to just pick somewhere at random and melt snow to drink.
The map showed a number of small streams deep into some logging country so we took off 4 wheelin' in the mud & snow. Now that was fun! My navigator saw some water running where the map said it would be, so we pulled into the trees to check it out. I can't tell you how valuable a map is for finding your way around.
Hiked upstream without the packs to see what we could see. We found running water, not sure if it was snowmelt or a spring, but it just sort of ran out of the ground and fed a little brook. It was clear & clean. Not sure that it's true but I was taught as a youngster that its always better to drink from moving water. The trees were too close to camp right there, and I didn't want to be right on the water anyway, just close enough to get to it. Sent my scout downstream this time, and he called back that he had found our spot! A nice little flat clearing downstream from where the little brook petered out under the rocks. Followed the creekbed a ways and found this, guess I wont have to try shelter building this trip! Looked it over and it seemed like it had some merit. Fire pit against the big rock wall probably reflected a good amount of heat back under the tarp.
The campsite. Chopped down a couple of small widowmakers above where we wanted to put the tent with the Cold Steel Shovel. I tried, but the tent was non-negotiable. Something about those thin nylon walls gives a sense of security.
Tent went up in minutes as usual. I bought that when I was 16 years old and it's still going strong. A few pinholes in the walls here and there, but it's been a darn good piece of equipment for 23 years. I think it's a Golden Bear brand?
Next task was to get ready for a fire. I tossed rocks from the creekbed up over a fallen log that would become our bench later. The kid set them up as a fire pit, and we went looking for firewood. Plenty of wood on the ground, but all of it was soggy. The kind of trees that grow here have living branches up high and dead limbs on the bottom. I think it's agreed that standing (dry) dead wood generally makes for the best firewood. Showed my boy to snap them off and he got quite a pile of thumb sized branches for us. I had a harder time finding bigger stuff for us to burn, but being that this was to be a "cold camp" once we were in the tent we didn't need as much wood to burn.
I'm really liking this shovel! Not as much heft as a proper hatchet but it did a surprisingly good job chopping wood.
Tried the Gerber Machete, too. Not as good a chopper as the shovel, but it has a saw. Don't think it would be a good choice for hardwoods, but was easy sawing through the soft sapwood on this pine. I sawed a circle around the outer half and then foot stomped it in two. I think the Gerber may have to get re-assigned to yard duty, and the shovel promoted to BoB rank.
With plenty of wood ready, hiked back up to the water source to load up. Here I'm priming the pump, and a video of my sidekick filling us up.
With the important stuff done we did a little exploring and shooting around camp. Before long it was starting to get dark and time to get the fire going. This is where we had a little camera fail. The good one with the flash somehow got left on in camcorder mode, and my cell is a poor camera in low light. It really wasn't as dark as the pics make it look, but we had to use a flashlight to get anything to show up.
Used a little PJ/Cotton Ball from my firesteel handle to catch a spark. Lit it on a rock, then lifted it with a stick into my firewood teepee.
Cut green (living) Manzaneta branches for cooking utensils. You can make a nice tea from the dry curls of bark of this shrub, so figured the wood shouldn't be toxic or anything.
Have had problems in the past with wild critters getting into our food. One particular little bastard raccoon knows how to open a locked cooler at another place we frequent. The little meat we had left was double sealed in ziplocs, and all of it raised up out of reach with some paracord. Also, practiced the habit of peeing at a different spot at the edge of camp each time one of us had to go. Was taught as a kid it can help to keep certain critters from wandering in to your camp sometimes.
Hit the sack early. Those shooters from earlier shot those guns all night. Seriously, all freaking night. Every couple hours, off in the distance... BANG! BANG! BANGBANGBANG!
I'm glad we moved. No pics cause of the camera issues, but we played with my night vision monocular. Does as good a job in the woods as anywhere, it's like having an invisible flashlight with the infrared spotlight on. Had a big half moon right overhead that would damn near blind you if you even got near it. Turning the lens to a blank spot of sky revealed stars you couldn't see with the naked eye. It's a cool little toy!
It got cold overnight, ground was frozen with little chunks of ice like rock salt when I got up. The Thermorest did it's job though, once or twice I woke up with a cold kidney or butt cheek to find that I had wiggled off the insulator onto the floor. I slept in Military issue polypro's, fresh wool hiking socks w/ Army wool socks over them, a fleece top and wool beanie. All wrapped up the the 3 piece Army MSS combo. The boy started out in sweats and ended up in his undies. The Army "Extreme Cold Weather" bag we put inside his larger Coleman bag was plenty warm enough for him. Well, that and having the metabolism of a 12 year old.
Zero heat left in the coals, so built up another fire. This time my hands were cold and I just used the peanut lighter on my car keys and some pine needles. Brought a little morning treat. There's just something about hot chocolate when your cold
Yeah, we're really roughing it!
Cooked up some sausage links on our manzanita sticks, brought some Bisquick to twist on a stick as bread, but neither of us was very hungry... to many smore's last night I guess!
Kid took care of some zombie pinecones while I started picking up camp. Here we are all packed up minus the tent, which we would just take turns carrying, and we didn't camp that far from the truck. The pack is a Military MOLLE II Rucksack, took off the Assault Pack for the kid to wear with both sleeping bags clipped to the top straps. Awkward and heavy for him with the two bags, but he's a trooper.
Had to walk out on the bridge on the way home