Great Pumpkin “Hang”

Last weekend I got away to central New Hampshire for another NEHHA hammock hang. We were over in a cove at the end of 5 miles of dirt road, tucked down at the base of Mount Cardigan, on 270 acres of private land.

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This is a view up to the northwest over the back side of what is known as Firescrew.  In the earlier part of the last century there was a huge forest fire in the region, and the top of this particular mountain produced a “firescrew” hundreds of feet tall where the winds swirled coming over the ridge. The forest has regenerated and re-grown to the point that it has already been lumbered over at least one since then. Our hostess’s property runs up along that first ridge going up Firescrew, and then much further up this ridge [behind where the picture was taken] and then off to the right a good ways. 270 acres is a sizable bit of property. We were camping in a hemlock grove quite far down this hillside, about on the left-hand edge where you can see that there’s a stream valley before it rises back up to ridges on Firescrew.

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We had about 35 hammocks scattered through 4 or 5 acres of the grove on both sides of a “singing” stream that tumbled along a deep-cut bedrock course just below us that provided incredible background music to fall asleep to.

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In the second photo, my AMOK Draumr is the green tarp on the right just past my friend Chazz’s “SuperTarp”… You can see why it would be called that.

It was down to 23°F when I got up Saturday morning. However, I had slept completely warm and toasty, and in perfect comfort in the Draumr. The difference between the experience on the ground, even in a tent, is extraordinary. My only problem was my inflatable pad blew out one of the seams between the baffles while I was setting up Friday afternoon. It was sort of like having two loaves of French bread stuffed down one side of the pad. Then around 4 AM, I heard a “Fwupht” and the adjoining seam blew out. This had me rolled over to the left hand edge pretty badly, but I was still able to fall back asleep until around 6:30.

Typically of me, I didn’t actually end up taking that many pictures because I was having too much fun. Quite a few of this crowd are very accomplished backcountry chefs, and food just kept rolling off the fires, the stoves and grills, and the Dutch ovens. I had brought along the chain saw just in case, and I logged quite a bit of standing deadwood to assure that we left our hostess with more wood than we used. This ended up being a good idea, since we needed a four-inch bed of coals just for the 35 packages of chicken breasts with brussels sprouts, potatoes, onions, carrots, and bacon the one of the guys “casually” through together. And bacon… Did I mention that one of the other folks brought 16 pounds of smoked bacon? A-yuh.

This is the second time that I have hung with these people, and I’m even more convinced now than I was before that this is something I will want to continue to participate in. I turn 66 years old next Friday, so I know my limits, and I won’t be planning on anymore events before spring. It is simply too cold for my blood after this point.  However, come April, I’ll be back “hanging” with these people… Just for the food.

Gear “Hammock”

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I wonked together a smallish gear hammock out of an old zip tent bag to hold some of the camping clutter. I just ran a piece of line through the little gather behind one of the zippers right from end to end, cut off the handles, and hung it from the cinch buckle on my AMOK hammock to the hang tree.
I’m going to get the seamstress here in the village to sew some daisy chains to those strap remnants on the front, and sew an 8″ x 14″ no-see-um netting pocket below the zipper on the backside-inside. [I have a whole el cheapo tent to strip for parts and materials… Three bucks at a yard sale with six different sets of poles… none of which matched the tent].
Next time I hit some place for some Zing-It Dyneema line, I will trade out the cord for a whoopie-sling that will make it adjustable in length. I have plans to buy a $10-DIY bag of large enough fabric samples that should give me some sil-poly to toss a little sewn-on weather “tarp” over the top. While I am in no real rush because my camping season is just about over for 2015, it will be a nice addition come spring.

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It is surprisingly roomy… More so than the photos show. I have an 11 foot Dutchware hammock and suspension, my toilet kit, my rigging/lines bag, as well as the hat and the pillow all stuffed in there. It packs down to the size of a RedBull can.

Tree Table Mk.2 [usable]

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Rummaging in the Room of Requirement behind the Moosenut Falls Development Labs produced a piece of 1/16th” aluminum salvaged from some long forgotten microwave. At 6″ x 11″, already indentation formed, and with a nice lip at the end to prevent anything from slipping off, it proved a decent piece for the next iteration of the tree table.

Five holes added with the drill press, together with five minutes worth of filing, provided a very sturdy, and useful platform. [ I added an extra hole that may have to be enlarged to accommodate the handle of a long titanium spoon]

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20 ounces of water in the cook cup, and a fully fueled Trangia-style alcohol stove caused no appreciable “droop”.

I would still like to find a similar weight piece of aluminum that could be cut to 8″ x 10″… I think I would prefer that the windscreen be able to sit fully on the platform without drafting up from underneath. The added width might also let me use the heavy duty MSR Whisperlite bottle-fuel stove by hanging the pump bottle off the webbing… that thing will boil water in just over two minutes.

One side benefit is that for field use it would be the work of only a few moments to find a curved branch or a forked twig that could be slipped behind the webbing in between the carabiners and that would let you hang a keychain/microlight for illumination if you need to cook after dark.

One more reasonably successful piece of gear to haul along and try-out/demo at the hammock hang in a couple of weeks.

Working on My Sleep System

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Last year I made some small steps in upgrading my sleeping gear.  The first was a purchase of a ALPS Razor “sleeping bag liner”… This is the orange and black item above. It is essentially a super lightweight, fleece sleeping bag, and is perfect for summer night sleeping, whether used open as a quilt or closed as a bag. It came in at just over a pound and a half and stuffs down to the size of a tomato juice can.

The camo piece is a mil-spec, Gore-Tex Bivy bag. It is part of a USDoD tri-system that includes a winter-weight down bag, and a secondary bag/liner. Altogether they make for a military grade, but very heavy, sleeping system. By itself, the bivy is really nice. Waterproof, breathable, tear-resistant… I thought it was a great alternative to actually carrying anything in the way of a tent [especially since my style of camping involves avoiding inclement weather if it all possible].  The final add-in was the blue 5 x 7 tarp from WallyWorld. This is widely regarded as the best $10 tarp you can find. It certainly doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the highend, catenary-cut tarps, but it is coming in at a fraction of the price.

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After I got these units, my forum scanning introduced me to the Ozark Trails 250 32° ultra-lightweight down bag that could sometimes be found down at WallyWorld. Because of that “sometimes”,  it took me a couple of months to actually find one. However, when I did, it was on red tag clearance and only cost me $59. [They now appears to have gone completely out of stock**, but it would never hurt to keep looking… This is a great bag for under a hundred dollars ]. Chinese made, 90% duck down, nice zip, snug hoodie, it gives about 1 1/2 inches of loft, but even in the upgraded 250 version [some contain less fill and were marketed as a 200] the 32° rating is probably grossly overstated… You’re going to be comfortable to something more like 40 to 45° depending on whether you’re a hot or cold sleeper. Still this is also a very nice bag for the price. I’ve used it quite a number of times now, down into 40° weather, and been very comfortable. It comes with an included compression sack and stuffs down even smaller than the ALPs.

The advantage to the system as it let’s me “mix-and-match”. Even the bivy works as a sleeping bag alone in mild weather, it can then be paired with either or both of the actual bags, and each of those can be used alone or together depending on this season, and the situation. For early and late season camping I have two different old-fashioned mummy bags that are rated down to 15° and 25°F.

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Of course, this year, I have found myself drawn into the wonderful world of hammock camping, so the bivy bag and the little 5 x 7 tarp have become somewhat superfluous. Most people use a tarp that is matched to their hammock length for weather protection. Mine came with one that was specially designed to fit ideally. Now… the latest, and greatest thing in hammock camping is top and “under” quilts… TQs and UQs, that replace the need for a sleeping bag. The thought is that with a sleeping bag the down beneath your body is compressed to zero loft and becomes essentially useless. The UQ is strung under the hanging hammock, and snugged up against your bottom fully lofted. The TQ is gathered at one end to create a foot box just like a regular mummy bag, and is otherwise just used as a blanket or regular quilt. Some people have multiple sets of quilts to accommodate seasonal needs. For me this was just too expensive… I have been using the opened-out ALPs and the OT250, and been completely satisfied in my new AMOK Draumr hammock and tarp setup.

The final piece above is more directly related to hammock camping. A couple of weeks ago someone discovered that Costco was marketing a down throw for $19.95, that with a little DIY skill could be converted into a decent quilt of either kind. People have been going crazy grabbing them up and breaking out the thread injectors.

It seemed like too good of a deal to risk missing at that price, so I had an out-of-state friend pick one up for me [there are no Costcos in Maine]. Mine ended up being a dark bronze color they call “Copper”. I just hand-sewed grosgrain loops to the bottom end and ran a piece of micro cord with a cord lock through those to create a second layer TQ that I can use inside the Ozark Trail, or one of my older, standard mummy bags, to grab another 10 or 15°. Best of all, if I pull the cord out, I’m back to having a perfectly nice couch throw.

Patience and creativity has netted me a 5-piece sleep system for a total cost of only $150  [We are going to ignore the exorbitant cost of the AMOK].  This is way less than any decent sleeping bag, and certainly less than any of the TQ/UQ setups available. Plus, I have far more flexibility by pairing things up than I would with any individual, high-priced down bag. My final overnighter of the season is coming up in a couple of weeks, when I go over into the White Mountains of New Hampshire for another hammock hang. As we close in on the date, I will simply pick the setup of bags that seems to be the most efficient for the temperatures forecast.

** I maybe wrong.  it appears to still be available mail order...   10/28/15 “unavailable”