Night Hiking

It’s started. On Thursday night The Bubbas sponsored a 4 mile round trip hike from the Carriage Road parking area on Route 52 on Mountain Street in Camden up to the Ocean Lookout near the very top of 1385 foot Mt. Megunticook. Sure it was crazy. It was pitch black when the three of us we started at 6:30 PM, and there were sheets of ice created from the overflow from recent torrential rain storms, plus it was 19 degrees out but I was looking forward to this hike as much as much as I can remember, and I’ve been walking in places that most American dream about in these past 6 months. I was really pleased that I kept up with the other young guys. It took us a couple of hours to get up and back, and when we made it to the top the skies had cleared and we had a clear view of stars in the black sky and the broad expanse of Penobscot Bay, with the Christmas-like lights of Camden Harbor way down below.

Get D- Get Outside !

The Vitamin D Solution: A 3-Step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health ProblemThe Vitamin D Solution: A 3-Step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problem by Michael F. Holick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another good reason to get outside is to increase your vitamin D level. The exhaustive data in this book led me to be taking 2,000 IU of D daily, after a blood test one month ago resulted in my doctor diagnosing me with a deficiency. This topic is big in the medical and health field right now. Holick is the lead proponent of the need for supplementation for those of us living in the northern hemisphere. He also has some very interesting takes on the current “demonization” of exposing one’s skin to sunlight, which he claims is one factor in the rising rates of inadequate or deficient levels of vitamin D. It is also enlightening to see how difficult it really is to raise one’s vitamin D level through diet alone, although it can be done by eating wild ( not farm-raised) salmon, and drinking multiple glasses of fortified mild or eating more than a quart of yogurt a day.I also learned that while it is really bad to get sunburn, it is really useful to be out in the sun enough to develop a tan, although certain skin types have to be careful in how they build up to tanned skin.

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Bushcooker LT1: Long Term Use Report

In 2009, I received a product from Four Dog Stove to test. The reader is referred to my 2009 review of the Bushcooker LT1 . That review details factual data about stove weight, size, and performance details, which will not repeated here. I consider this report the second installment about the stove- how it actually worked out for me over an extended trip.

I used the stove exclusively on my 2010 2,656 mile five and a-half month thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Here’s the complete setup I used to cook with:
From left to right: Snow Peak 700 titanium mug/cookpot with aftermarket lid I purchased from Jason Klas, who no longer sells the lids, but they can be obtained from Four Dog Stove. Next is the windscreen, then the LT1 itself, and an alcohol fuel cup. The lighter is there for size comparison. Everything you see nests into the pot, including a MSR coffee filter that I have not placed in the shot. Total weight for the kit is 7.2 ounces. I recommend that the kit be kept in a stuff sack.

This stove accommodates three fuel sources: wood, hexamine tablets, and alcohol. On a daily basis, I generally boiled 12 ounces for my morning cup of coffee, ate a cold lunch, and then boiled 16 ounces of water for my evening meal, and sometimes another 12 ounces for a hot drink.

What I didn’t expect was just how easy it was on this hike to find dry wood. Living in Maine, we deal with constant moisture when camping in the outdoors. In California, the PCT started with a 700 mile desert section. It never rained for the first two and a half months. Wood was everywhere, and it was bone dry, even when picking it up off the ground. Even in the desert, there were small bushes with dry branches littering the ground . So I started cooking with wood.  I was initially in no rush, and enjoyed making the small fires that kindled easily. However, there were sections of the PCT this year where there was no wood available, due to deep snow cover, it was illegal to use the scarce wood if it was available (High Sierra Nevada between 8,000-13,000 feet), or it was wet, really wet.

In areas where wood was no option I used hexamine or alcohol, either denatured, or a yellow container of gas-line antifreeze branded Heet.
I carried hexamine tablets for backup. I used Coghlan hexamine tablets. The other USA manufacturer is Esbit. Two Coghlans equal one Esbit. I was generally able to get 16 ounces of water to boil with two tablets, if it was not windy. Sometimes I was also just too tired to take the extra effort it requires to burn wood, and if I had enough tabs, I used them.
I used to use the top of a shoe polish container to burn alcohol under the stove but Four Dog supplied me with a metal cup. To switch to liquid mode, you fill the cup with alcohol, light it, than place the stove over the cup and place your pot on top.

With these three options, I was covered in any situation that came up. The Jetboil was a stove I saw a lot of on the PCT, but it requires a fuel canister that was very difficult (in a few places impossible) for hikers to source in parts of Oregon and Washington. With my three options, I never was without fuel.

The design of the Snow Peak mug allowed for another option: cooking on a camp fire.  I traveled with a group named MeGaTex, which was known for frequent evening camp fires, and several of us had pots that allowed us to cook directly in the fire pit and save any fuel that we were carrying.  Don Kivelus, owner of Four Dog, recommended that I have him attach a titanium wire bail to the pot, which made it easy for me to take a stick and move around or lift the pot in and out of a fire.

    How did my cooking kit hold up ?

Nothing broke, which was a welcome relief, because just about every other piece of gear that I used wore out, or became damaged in some fashion.

    Did my use of the kit change ?

Yes. The change I made was in how I used the LT1. The stove worked best not only with just wood, hexamine, or alcohol, but with combining the three fuels. For example, in Washington, it rained for five days in a row, so any wood was wet. I was running out of alcohol, but there was plenty of damp wood around. I discovered that I could find some relatively drier wood on the lower dead limbs on evergreen trees, or I could use my fixed blade Mora knife and split out some dry core wood. (These techniques can’t be explained here in brief form. For reference see Mors Kochanski’s “Bushcraft“, especially the chapter on Knifecraft). This wood was still too damp to kindle, but if I placed it in the LT1 and then dribbled alcohol over the top of the pile in the burn chamber, it would fire up. Once burning strong, even damp wood, added in small amounts, can burn.

Another unexpected application was to use the Bushcooker to start larger fires. In this situation, which came into play when we encountered wet wood, you take the LT1, put it in the fire ring, ignite a hexamine tablet inside the stove, and place the best kindling we could muster in there, which would eventually catch. Then I’d pile smaller sticks on top of the LT 1 and build up a large fire. The nature of titanium is that it has a higher melt temperature than steel, so there was no worry about the stove melting in the coals. When the fire died down a bit and was well established I’d fish the stove out, let it cool off and it was done. A caution is not to throw big logs on, or the stove might get damaged, or crushed.

-You might want to learn how to kindle small fires in different outdoor situations before you head out with this unit. If your fire building skills are good, you might find this stove just what you have been looking for. If you have never built fires before, I’d say the chances are strong that you will be frustrated, or will spend a LONG time getting water to boil. In the book The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else the author states that it takes 10,000 hours to master a complex skill. While I think it’s unnecessary to spend that much time to get good at fire building, it is a skill that requires lots of practice in varying outdoor conditions.
-Hexamine is not usually found in gear supply outlets. I had mine sent to me in 10 resupply boxes. If you are out for a shorter trip, it is not problem to obtain this fuel and keep a supply at home.
-You’d better like smoke. Some users are allergic, or even find it offensive.
-Alcohol is tricky to learn to use as a fuel. Great caution should be exercised, as it is almost impossible to see the flame in bright sunlight, which could result in getting burned. You also must allow the container to cool off when adding another charge of alcohol. If you don’t you could ignite the container as you are filling the burn chamber.
-Black bottom. Burning wood or hexamine results in soot buildup on the bottom and sides of the cook pot. While the black color might aid in heat transfer, it will rub off on clothing and gear. I always place the assembled kit in a black cordura stuff sack. Once in a while I scrape the crusted soot off, either with a sharp rock , or the steel part of a knife opposite the blade.

To wrap it up, I’m keeping this setup for future trips. I like the versatility of procuring and using three fuels, either alone or in combination. The 700 ml pot is just right for one person, and I actually savor the smell of wood smoke. The act of building a fire with my hands gives me great satisfaction, and the end result warms both my body and my soul.