Backpacking Stove Review- Bushcooker Titanium LT 1

Bushcooker Lt1 Titanium Backpacking Stove

Manufacturer: Four Dog Stoves, 25909 Variolite St., NW, St. Francis, MN 55070
Year Released: 2009
Listed Weight: 2.5 oz.
Actual Weight: 2.3 oz.
Height: 4”
Diameter: 3.5 “
Stove material: Titanium, made in USA
Price: $80.
Warranty: Limited. Lifetime warranty on burnout and workmanship.
Manufacturer URL: http://www.fourdog.com/

Lt 1 Set up in Upper Photo
Lt 1 Set up in Upper Photo

Background:
I have been a backpacker for 45 years, completing a through hikes of the Appalachian Trail in 2007, and the PCT in 2010. I consider myself a “lightweight” backpacker. I generally hike in New England, where there is an abundance of wood fuel and kindling for fueling backpacking stoves.

Field Conditions:
I have used the Bushcooker Lt1  on a canoeing trips,  day hikes, on a porch outside the kitchen, on the picnic table at our rustic Maine “camp”, and now for over 3,000 miles and over 6 months of backpacking.

Why the Bushcooker Lt I ?
I am huge a fan of wood-burning stoves. I have two stoves that have served as primary heat for my house for the past 31 years, and another at my Maine camp. I have owned and used two Sierra Zip stoves for a couple of decades. I modified one of those stoves to reduce the weight to 10 oz., by substituting titanium parts, and used the stove daily for the first 200 miles of my 2007 AT thru-hike.
I am an enthusiastic subscriber to the concept of using dry, dead wood for fuel. I have practiced building fires of all types, and have no problem with the fact that wood smoke particulates blacken the outside of a cook pot. The smell of wood smoke is actually appealing to me, and I am not repelled by the fact that cooking with wood is likely to permeate your clothing with that odor, or fragrance, as you see fit. If you are a clean freak who is bothered by black pots, and “eau-de-smoke” cologne, then you’ll be challenged by a Bushcooker relationship.
I have been using my own home-made double walled wood backpacking stove for close to a year and a half now. My blog article- The Evolving Backpacking Wood Stove,  has received over 16,425 and  the accompanying YouTube video has seen 30,165  hits to date.
In 2009  Don Kevilus, owner of Four Dog Stoves, supplied with two models of his US made titanium multi-fuel backpacking stoves  and have been using them even since.

Design:
This review will focus on the Bushcooker Lt1. The stove is shaped like a tiny metal volcano, with 4 support stand fins protruding from the top. It is made from 7 pieces of titanium. If you look down into the center, you see a straight walled inner burn chamber, with a multiply-finned disc which serves as the bottom of the burn chamber, designed to maximize turbulence and improve combustion.

Inside View
Inside View

Air to fuel the burn is through a series of holes in the lower outer wall of the stove. There are additional holes at the top of the inner sleeve which channels additional air into the flame path. The whole stove fits neatly into a Snow Peak Trek 700 titanium cooker, which itself weighs 4.8 oz., with lid, a setup that protects the stove in a backpack.

Don also supplies a titanium windscreen. Notice the modification to the SnowPeak mug, which  I purchased from Four Dog Stoves , consisting of two additional tabs spot welded near the top of the unit which allows for a titanium wire that serves as a bail/handle that  allows me to hang the stove over existing campfires, or to easily move the unit.

Field Use:
The usual constraints about burning of wood apply here. It is not as easy as you think to strike a lighter to some dry looking twigs and have a boil rolling in 5 minutes. It takes practice to get good at building fires. Lots of practice is best. The secret us to use very thin wood. Start small. We are talking initial twigs the size of pencil lead. I shred dry white birch bark, get it to flame, then add a pinch of tiny branches, let that flame, then put in a pinch every 2 minutes, until critical mass is achieved.
Now comes the best part. This is not just a wood stove. It is specifically created to burn fuel sources one uses while backpacking: denatured alcohol, yellow bottles of gas-line antifreeze, solid fuel tablets (Esbits or Coghlan), and even charcoal.

To Burn Wood:
Gather dry grass, leaves, shredded birch bark, toothpick sized twigs, and small pieces of wood no thicker than a pencil. Place a small amount on the bottom of the inside, light a shred of birch bark, throw it in, and then brush the little pile in there against the burning bark and it should catch. Once the flame start to get higher, and it does very quickly with dry material, you can add more. I usually do it at two minute intervals to start.

Lt 1, SnowPeak 700, and custom windscreen/cozy
Lt 1, SnowPeak 700, with windscreen

The pot supports allow sufficient room between the top of the stove and the base of the cook pot for you to to insert more fuel without removing the pot.

To Burn Alcohol:
The stove is manufactured to accept a low profile container for alcohol use. Don initially recommended using a lid from a shoe polish container, which holds approximately 1 ounce of alcohol. Simply place the lid on a stable surface, fill it with alcohol, and light it. After about 10 seconds, the flame reaches its maximum height, and then you place the stove over the lid and watch the magic, if it is not sunny and bright out . New models of the Bushcookers can also be supplied with an alcohol stove that can be either placed inside the burn chamber, or used alone in conjunction with the supplied windscreen and 2 tent stakes.   An alcohol flame is next to impossible to see if broad daylight, and caution is urged in these conditions, as many a hiker has been burned reaching in to relight their alcohol stoves, only to painfully realize that there is a vigorous flame established. Ask me how I learned about this!

To Burn Charcoal:
There is usually ample unburned charcoal present for most backpackers to utilize if they frequent campsites that have received prior use, present in fire rings. The non-uniform nature of this charcoal does complicate use, and my recommendation is to begin to experiment with charcoal fires by taking along a few commercial charcoal briquettes, until you learn the ins and outs of this system.
It takes me 4 standard briquettes to fill the LT1. The technique is then to set up burning alcohol in the tin, and then place the stove ( filled with charcoal) on the burning alcohol. Why not  capture the heat that is lost to the atmosphere in igniting the charcoal by heating up a cup of water in your cook pot and enjoying a hot drink while the charcoal starts glowing ?
Some may question, “Why charcoal?” and the the answer is baking quick breads, biscuits, muffins, and even cookies. You can employ a commercial Bakepacker or the Outback Oven here, or even make your own, a topic I have addressed in  my blog entry- Even More Baking on the Bushcooker.

Lt 1 Boil Times with 16 oz. of water in SnowPeak 700 Trek Ti ( with lid). No wind conditions at time of testing. You should be aware that metals vary in their ability to conduct heat in terms of boil times. For the same amount of water, aluminum pots boil the fastest, followed by anodized steel, then titanium, with stainless steel the slowest to transfer heat. Wider bases cook faster than narrow ones.

I  got the quickest boil times with alcohol, employing less than 1 oz. of alcohol to reach a boil in 4 minutes and 20 seconds. It should be also noted that the LT 1 working in alcohol mode is more efficient than at least one  standard cat-can type alcohol stove.  The same 2 cups of water took 5 minutes 40 seconds to boil in my Etowah  stove, obtaining a 30 percent reduction in burn time with the LT1r.  The Bushcooker kept  burning the remainder of the 1 oz. of alcohol for a full minute and 15 seconds after it reached boiling, suggesting that less alcohol would be needed to achieve a boil when compared to a standard cat-can style alcohol stove.

Using dry wood, I was able to boil  2 cups of water in 7 minutes and 20 seconds, from scratch- meaning striking the match.  I  generally ignite birch bark tinder and start adding wood fuel. Field conditions may add additional time, due to collecting the wood, and even prepare it for burning, if wet conditions are encountered.

One feature of the LT 1 that assists with damp wood use is to combine fuel types in the chamber.  If I really want to get the fire going quickly, I dribble 3 or 4 CC’s of alcohol on top of the pile of wood inside the chamber and ignite.  If fact, I recommend that the user carry a small bottle of alcohol to use as a primer in the stove.  It helps with learning to get good at fire buildingy, and later may be used exclusively where wood fires are not permitted, or if it is soaking conditions out here.

Charcoal burn times would be equivalent to those obtained by alcohol, as alcohol is used to kindle the charcoal pieces.  Note that may charcoal experiments have the charcoal glowing for 45 minutes, providing plenty of time for baking, or even grilling.

Boil time with 1.5 fuel tablets ( Coghlan) was 8 minutes 10 seconds ( 1.5 tablets). One Coghlan tablet weighs 0.2 oz. It should be noted that the traditional Esbit tablet weighs 0.5 oz.

ADVANTAGES:
Weight: At 2.3 ounces , the titanium Lt 1 blows any other backpacking wood stove in terms of weight. It even trumps the weight of some commercially obtained alcohol stoves, and is way ahead in weight you put it up against stoves with fuel canisters, or need to carry around a 12 oz. bottle of alcohol.
Adaptability: The LT 1 stove fits into several commercially obtained pots: the Snow Peak Trek 700ml , the Tibetan Titanium 700ml, the Evernew 640ml , and the Evernew Pasta Pot Small, thus adding no additional space in a backpack. There are also no restrictions in taking it on an airplane. Use in wood-burning mode should greatly expand one’s ability to extend the stay in wilderness situations that can be cut short by lack of fuel resupply opportunities, as is the case for hikers using fuel canisters, liquid fuels, or relying solely on alcohol.
Baking Ability: Enabled via the use of charcoal or even solid fuel tablets, with the addition of 2 lightweight aluminum cans and a handmade cozy. What could be better than ramping up to occasionally indulge in fresh-baked carbos on an extended trip ?

Grilling Ability: Grilled Spam anyone?

Grillin' up Spam
Grillin' up Spam

I recently  engaged in yet another use of the new Bushcooker Lt 1 stove: the grilling option. Skewering a 1/2-inch thick slab with my Mora knife I was delighted to discover that the width of the slice allowed me to fit it between the pot mounts.

Heat/Comfort Source: People have been congregating around fires for millenniums. The proximity to controlled fire is calming and pleasing. After boiling in cold or wet conditions, you can continue to add wood and build up a bed or coals that can heat you, particularly if you use a poncho for rain gear. Simply sit over the stove, drape the poncho around your outstretched legs, and make a gas escape hole around the back of your neck. This set-up will allow one to raise the temperature inside the poncho several degrees, which is sometimes all you need to start to feel comfortable.

Bug Repellant: A traditional technique used to ward off mosquitoes is the smudge fire. Using this stove in wood mode allows one to add wet organic material such as pine needles, or forest floor duff to generate clouds of smoke. On a recent canoe trip to northern Maine with particularly bad mosquitoes, we ran the stove straight out for several hours on a daily basis, moving it around on the picnic table to suit the wind conditions.
Lifetime use: What’s to wear out with titanium? The ability to nest the stove in a lidded pot protects the pot support fins, which might be damaged if they were to snag an article of clothing in the pack.
Quiet: No whirring motor, or jet engine whooshing here, just the occasional pop of cracking wood.

DRAWBACKS:
Compromised use: You have to know how to build wood fires to enjoy this stove, even if you just need to get a couple of ounces of wood to burn. The more you practice building fires, the better you will get at using this stove in wood mode. Wood mode is not the fastest way to cook, and you must take the time to gather up wood before you sit down and fire up the stove in wood mode. One practice I’ve used that help me out is to pocket some dry birch or such while hiking during the day. You will be challenged to burn wood in wet conditions, and it takes experience to do so.
It Billows Smoke: In wood mode, you will encounter clouds of smoke. Some people object to this.
Black Deposits on Cooking Pot: Going to happen. Some people go to extremes like rubbing soap on the bottom of their pot and washing it off send they get home. I let my pot blacken, and store the pot/stove in a small black Cordura roll top bag I had made for my unit, to keep the pot from blackening my gear in the backpack. The bag is big enough to store dry kindling, fire starters in the bottom.  I occasionally scrape off the built-up creosote with the back side of my knife, or a sharp edged rock.
Restrictions on Use: In some protected areas of National Forests, “fires” are not permitted. Switch to alcohol/tabs in those situations.
Need to remember to bring vessel to burn alcohol: Remember to add the lid from a shoe polish can, or Four Dog’s alcohol unit when using alcohol mode.
Burns Holes on Wooden Base: Be sure to put a flat rock, or metal cover of some type under the unit if you are placing it on a wooden structure, such as a picnic table.
Initial Cost: Titanium is expensive, although one has to consider the true lifetime cost of any alternative stove that requires repeated purchases of fuel cannisters and such.

Overall Impressions:
This stove should satisfy the requirements of resourceful backpackers who are interested in adapting their fuel conditions to varying backpacking environments.  I am recently a convert to combining fuels depending on the field conditions, what  have in my pack, and what I can garner while hiking.

The big drawback to using wood stoves out on the trail is what to do when there is no decent wood to burn or if there has been rain for days. The ability to carry alcohol or fuel tablets to burn within the LT 1 helps one deal with that.

Lobster Lake canoe trip – Part 3/final

The sunrise this third day indicated a possibly clear day.

Sunrise from  Odgen Point
Sunrise from Odgen Point

By six am I had the first two of our six pots of coffee happily bubbling away.  Nearby a family of ducks were frantically nabbing what I assume were tiny fish that were hanging out near the edge the sand.
It wasn’t long before Pat was up and we had the three smudge pots in full force again, with bad mosquito mojo on the rapid rise.

Dave is a master at whipping up excellent breakfasts, and this pound of bacon was served up with a killer batch of pancakes , butter, and maple syrup.

Dave with the Big Pan
Dave with the Big Pan

After a few more coffees, we started talking about the history of the early settlers of this area. Catholic missionaries were the first to wedge a toehold with the natives, who eventually were “converted” and started the slow acculturation slip that eventually left them as lost souls with each foot in separate worlds.

While stoking the smudge pots, we bumbled our way to a huge, and even possibly accurate idea- that the Catholic Church’s early growth in the Great North Woods was not the result of any sort of religious awakening on the part of the natives, but might have been solely due to the missionaries’ ability to generate huge clouds of incense which repelled mosquitoes and black flies! We thought we were really on to something and were stunned that this concept was not included in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller “ The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”.
My quick online search revealed that both the Catholic, and now those Johnny-come-lately Wiccan, churches still use incense, which they both burn in a “thurible” or “censer.” The thurible holds burning charcoal (or wood) to ignite the incense and hangs on chains so that it may be swung by the priest when censing people, or mosquitoes. You just know they were swinging that censer to increase the oxygen flow to the charcoal , fire up the coals, supercharge that incense, and get that cloud up to size .
So, here’s my current Christmas wish item, available online from Invictus Alchemy.

Censer
Censer

“This brass hanging censer is 3″ diameter and over all 6″ high. Very effective. Comes with chain as well. Sized for cones and charcoal, available immediately at just $11.85 ! I wonder if I can get a titanium model to take backpacking? I am also going to field test some frankincense or maybe that old-school myrrh stuff.

We’re into it. Here’s a shot of Pat getting ready to head on over and cense the outhouse!

Ancient religious ritual in progress
Ancient religious ritual in progress

View down Lobster Lake
View down Lobster Lake
The circumnavigation of Big Island was the major excursion of our day. We fought the wind and the waves and headed south down the east side of the island, even exploring a beach where we picked up some dry firewood.
Around Big Island
Around Big Island
 We stopped to fish for a while in the coves at the south side but didn’t even get a nibble. Eventually we caught the wind at our backs, and spent the return back to our site with the two canoes lashed together as we drifted back on the tailwind.

Our hopes were high for the afternoon wind to be strong enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay, but we soon learned that a gale force blow would be needed for that to occur. Within minutes of settling in at the picnic table, a gust of wind tore the tent stakes out of the ground and the tarp battered the table, dashing pots, pans, and cups onto the sandy ground. But those pesky mosquitoes came right back.

Later, we all went swimming to clean up, wash off grime, and escape the bugs.

Clear swiming pool
Clear swiming pool

In the end, it’s all about food, shelter, clothing but mostly about food, which is what has appealed to me about this trip. At lunch today, a wonderful idea fell from my mind right onto the picnic table.
It started Hank was hacking a slice of Spam from a 12 oz. can. I. cringed when I realized he was actually placing an uncooked pinky-grey slab on a decent slice of multigrain boule.   I’m a proud fan of grilled spam and after Hank offered me use of the stuff, I rapidly engaged in yet another use of the new Bushcooker Lt 1 stove: the grilling option. I skewered a 1/2 inch thick slab with my Mora knife and was delighted to discover that the width of the slice allowed me to fit it between the pot mounts.

Tom grillin' Spam and boilin' up soup
Tom grillin' Spam and boilin' up soup
And then even greater satisfaction came my way when I was able to place my pot of soup on the stove to reheat, even as the Spam slice was grilling away to perfection. For me, “Opportunity is the mother of invention”.

We were out early the next day, as Hank had a musical engagement with his band, All That Jazz, at the Elm Street Grill in Camden at 6 PM. It was raining again as we departed, but the wind was mostly at our backs. There was enough wind to generate whitecaps, and we had to be careful to keep the canoes from being broadsided by the waves as we eventually found the inlet to Lobster Stream, and meandered back to the car, where we quickly loaded the gear. Once inside the car, we proceeded to deal with the hundreds of mosquitoes that found their way in.

When we eventually reached Millinocket, it was about 11 AM, and we hit the Appalachian Trail Cafe for lunch , where I spotted Paul “Old Man” Senechal, who I was familiar with from my travels on the Trail . Paul and I commiserated a bit about this year’s wet hiking season, but he was making good money with lots of AT shuttles, and told me he spent 11 hours shuttling hikers the day before.
He also said that this was reported to be the first year in recent memory that the mosquitoes were attacking full force in downtown Millinocket, a town hit so hard by the recent economic downturn that Main Street ‘s storefronts are now more empty than full.
Anyone who want to make some quick money up Millinocket way should seriously consider opening up a boreal division of Holy Smoke Supply Central. I definitely would have spent big stocking up on the good stuff for my next trip up these parts.

Bye!
Bye!

Lobster Lake canoe trip – Part 2

We awoke to rain and an initial tent exit strategy that required me to somehow clear out a hunkering carpet of hundreds of mosquitoes poised against the front screen who were intent on getting into our tent.
I was first up at around 6 AM, when I proceeded to fire up Hank’s Coleman gas stove and fill and cook up three percolators of coffee.

Espresso machine and eager clients
Espresso machine and eager clients

Nine pots later we felt we had enough. Here’s a brief video clip of Hank on mucho caffeine.
Eventually Dave and the other two rolled out their sleeping bags, and after multiple cups of coffee, with the overflow safely housed in Pat’s antique thermos, Dave prepared an excellent breakfast of orange juice, scrambled eggs and cheese, sausage, and tortillas.
We were faced with day two of incessant, unrelenting attacks of mosquitoes from everywhere we turned. Eventually we all retreated to the tents where my supposedly quick entry reduced me to screaming when I realized that close to three dozen drill-bit-mouthed visitors were the new tenants of our tent. It took about 15 minutes of Hank and I crushing them against the wall of the tent before we felt safe in there. Bloody mess for sure.
Then Pat and I spent two hours after breakfast carving spoons, while the master carver Hank mastered both a spoon and a knife in that same time.

Master carver Hank
Master carver Hank

We initially split slabs out of an old chunk of cedar.

Pat's production gets a critical eye
Pat's production gets a critical eye

Then we employed the axe to rough out spoon shapes, followed by thousands of tiny knife strokes, to slowly process our utensils.  Hank searched out several small abrasive rocks that we used as scrapers to smooth the surface. Two hours of this went by in a flash, with me all the while generating billows of mosquito -repellent smoke from the Lt 1 and the LT 2 titanium backpacking stoves. Pat was a master at firing his home made Bushcooker stove, and the little trio of smoke and fire machines made life around the picnic table bearable.
Hank discovered that the two pools of rainwater that were collecting in the low points of our tarp could be successfully retained by pressing a grommet on each edge of the fly, and collecting them in our canteens and cooking pots.

“There isn’t one part of me that hasn’t been bitten,” said Hank.
It was the truth. Hank exposed his arm in the tent when I counted 9 bites on just 1 square inch of his forearm, and he had been extra careful about covering himself up (Ed. Note> When Hank returned home two days later, he discovered that he also contracted a nasty rashes from poison ivy.). Multiply the 9 by his total skin surface area ( typically noted to be 3,000 square inches) , and I’d guess he was bitten close to 27,000 times. Seems about right for what I saw.

Later that afternoon we watched two large canoeing parties approach our site. I was really anxious that they would occupy the Ogden South site adjacent to us. The first group of four canoes was a convoy, which were leashed together and dragged down the lake via the assistance of a motor on the first canoe.

" Just keep on chugging by..., please  ???"
" Just keep on chugging by..., please ???"

They went right by .
The second group was a different story. It looked like Club Med was headed right for us, an armada of 5 cooler-laden canoes complete with babes in bikinis, bare shirted guys with party hats, and even one young man paddling leisurely as he reclined on a lawn chair that was propped up in his canoe. They drifted back and forth up the lake clueless, and headed straight for the campsite next door, and well within earshot of our tents.
Pat suggested we quickly erect up some signs along the flavor of “Life for Lifers” or “Felons Are Friends”. I agreed to intervene to attempt to move them down the lake to a more remote site. Our plan was for me to pay a friendly visit to the site and inform the group that I was supervising a trio of newly released violent prisoners from the Maine state prison
who were here in an effort to begin their adjustment period. Thankfully, they moved on without my intervention and we never saw them again.
Then Pat and I were going to canoe around Big Island, but my Highgear watch registered that the barometric pressure had dropped to 29.62 just it started to pour (The normal, average sea-level pressure is about 29.92 inches.).
By 4 PM, much harder rain began to fall, which I’d accurately term a deluge.
Soon Hank, Dave, and I retreated to the tents. Within minutes, Hank was sleeping by my side, and Dave was snoring away in his tent on the other end of the site. Pat was sawing real wood and cursing under his breath about some vexing event.
We dodged the rain and it was my turn to cook supper. I built a big fire and let it burn down to a bed of thick coals. Then on went two foil wrapped packets of sliced summer squash, onions, broccoli, and cauliflower. A little olive oil , salt, and pepper improved the taste. The main course was steak, marinated in oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and feta cheese.  The steaks were grilled over the coals and a paste of green and black olives, feta cheese, oil and vinegar was spread on the top. The feed was accompanied by fresh biscuits that were successfully baked in my reflector oven. Of course, I served up 8 mini Whoopie Pies for dessert.
All in all, it was a very satisfying rainy day here on Ogden Point. Our little competent group had no problems at all dealing with the rain or the repeated threats our quiet little world being over run by two phalanxes of noisy campers. I even had my very own wooden souvenirs ( Note it is a practical object) to bring home.

My cedar spoon
My cedar spoon

Lobster Lake canoe trip – Part 1

Four brave men explore the depths of the Maine’s Great North Woods, or at least a small mosquito-infested clump of it.
Who needs weekends?  It has taken me almost 7 years of retirement to realize that I can schedule excursions and adventures during the week.  This past Tuesday at 5:40 AM,  my mates Pat, Dave and Hank hefted a couple of handmade cedar and canvas canoes to the top of my Voyager and departed Lincolnville for points due north.
On hour later our first stop was superb, at Dysart’s truck stop , where “Breakfast is served 24 hours a day with your choice of 4 kinds of homemade bread toast!” I chose Daisy’s Baked Beans instead of home fries with my 3 egg Greek omelet.

Maine breakfast at its best
Maine breakfast at its best

Then it was motoring straight up I-95 to the Medway exit, through the almost defunct East Millinocket, then the equally delaminating Millinocket and onto the Golden Road, a private pathway that extends from Millinocket all the way to the Canadian border.  Our rich experience there was limited to poking along no faster than 35 mph while we dodged  massive ruts, axle busting craters, and sealed up the windows to avoid the 30 miles of choking dust at the end.
Eventually had to pause at the Caribou Checkpoint, register,  and cough up $82 for toll use of the road ( it’s private) and camping fees for the group.
After unloading at the Lobster Trip Boat Launch lot , we put in at 11:00 am, where we hit the real world of the Maine backwoods where we were greeted by choking clouds of buzzing, ravenous mosquitoes, who would be our constant companions for the next 4 days of outdoor life.

The two canoes swallowed up the loads of gear easily, and we meandered along the 1 mile of Lobster Stream, entered the Lake itself and headed across Shallow Bay to Ogden Point, where we snagged a superb campsite along a sand spit that jutted out into the breezes. View Larger Map

We unloaded the canoes, set up two tents, and immediately proceeded to engage in our main campsite activity for the next three days, which was tending fires, which was to be our only hope for dealing with the biting swarming, mosquitoes.

Our campsite
Our campsite

We were continually stoking the fire ring with grasses, wet conifer needles, and leaves, and entered the world of the permanent smudge fires. 
Later we resorted to swimming to relieve sliminess, and also to escape the bugs. Ah, the pure enchantment of the aftermath that comes from conquering the dread of cold water on your bare skin.  What can compare than bathing off the grime and sweat of a humid warm day, in the surroundings of clear lake water in a giant bathtub surrounded by black mountains?
Pat prepared a supper of grilled chicken legs, and assorted garden vegetables.

Dave cutting wood, Pat's supper grillin'
Dave cutting wood, Pat's supper grillin'

For dessert he roasted fresh apples, raisins, and spices.  Hank contributed part of an aerosol can of whipped cream.
Pat shared a dramatic rendering concerning the apparent the lack of  engagement of many “outdoor enthusiasts” in actually setting foot in the outdoors. Pat and his 5 man band of outlaw brothers hail from New Jersey, which explains why he is fully capable of immediately stepping in for the wildly successful, but unfortunately dead, shopping channel pitch man Billy Mays.

Maybe part of the low numbers here had something to do with the cloying humidity and rain?  
Hank was instrumental in purchasing and improvising a rain tarp that we successfully deployed over out picnic table.

The boys tried some fishing off the point, but it was really just an excuse for them to get out into the wind and escape the biting flies.

Where's the fish?
Where's the fish?

The fishing remained unproductive for the extent of the trip.

The background noise for the whole weekend was the incessant high pitched whine of mosquitoes.

Our first day at camp was truly an exercise in carrying out skills associated with and the appreciation of unstructured hours of hanging out in the wilderness.

Canoe camping with a new woodburing backpacking stove

I was supposed to be up to Lobster Lake today, starting a three day canoe trip, but it got postponed. We’ve moved it to next week. We could not deal with this record rain, it has not stopped. Should be a good trip, food and coffee will be featured, plus I hope to be testing a new titanium wood backpacking stove, the Bushcooker Lite, which was just released by Don Kivilus, of Four Dog Stoves, out of Minnesota.   Here is a shot of the stove:

Bushcooker Light 2
Bushcooker Light 2.

This stove is only 4 inches in diameter and 5 inches high and weighs 3.5 ounces.  Don has engineered it so that it burns alcohol, solid fuel tabs, charcoal, wood, or any available biomass. I’ll have videos and a full report after next week.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway – Final day/8

I woke up with a startle after I remembered that it was my 37th wedding anniversary and that I had just spent the night in a tent with Mike Gundel instead of my wife Marcia.  Or was it tomorrow?
We had our last breakfast together.

Gus the cook
Gus the cook

Gus and Beck had eggs, and Mike and I each had another  wagon wheel pancake with bacon.

Mike and the wagon wheels
Mike and the wagon wheels

The river this last day was holding maximum water, with many more audible feeds streams swelling the flow rate.  It broadened out as well.
Mike and I had many chances on whitewater today, as we successfully dealt with two major sections of Class II rapids in the 12 miles of river this morning.  In the end, we only had two really close brushes with swamping our canoe, along with the usual numerous near mishaps. Both times Mike and I abandoned the canoe, jumping out into the rushing waters.  We eventually pushed,  pulled,  and leaned the craft over enough to slide off the partially submerged ledges. A few times, we  careened off serious boulders that we did not have the time, experience, or both to avoid.
We’ve finished the trip in 8 days.

Uncle Tom and Captain Mike complete the trip
Uncle Tom and Captain Mike complete the trip

Canada is in sight.  The takeout is right before the bridge in the village of Allagash on the Canadian border, within sight of the confluence of the Allagash and mighty Saint John rivers. After we hauled the canoes up to shore, we walked up a hill.   The first house west of the river is Evelyn McBride’s place. Even though it was approaching noon it was cold out.

Cold morning
Cold morning

We knocked on her door as instructed by the shuttle service. The local outfitters park their customer’s cars on Mrs. Mc Bride’s property so that the cars will be near the landing when customers finish their trips.  Evelyn charges $2 per day for parking and $1 for landing.  Mrs. McBride lives alone.

Evelyn McBride
Evelyn McBride

She told us that her husband died 30 years ago, had been in the lumber business, and that she was 92 years old. She was a Pelletier, and the Pellitiers had owned this river frontage for several generations and formerly operated the ferry across the river where there is now a bridge and the canoe landing.    Mrs. Mc Bride appears to be to be related to most everyone in town.
After we placed the canoe on the rack of Mke’s car, he reviewed some visual history from our trip on the river.

“Damn, I lost the crown of my tooth!”  exclaimed Mike, just as he was enjoying the the cheeseburger special and fries at Rock’s diner in Fort Kent.

Crowning moment at lunch
Crowning moment at lunch

We were eating an early lunch.
Mike and I had been reviewing the partial list of challenges that we have faced over the course of the week:  the remote location, lack of personnel to rescue us if we encountered an emergency, black flies and mosquitos, below freezing temperatures, incessant wind on the big waters, rain, wet feet ( daily), cuts on my hands, hot temperatures and humidity, a sleep deprivation experiment involving a wild mob of 23 Russians, black and blue hip from slipping and falling on the rocks ( Mike only), bare miss of hitting a canoe broadside that had crossed out path at the last minute while we were exiting a rapid, reversed waves on the river due to high winds, at least one day of steady 30 MPH winds that halted our forward progress at 10 AM.
The Allagash trip would pose most, or all,  of these challenges to anyone. Note that the list above does not even include our lack of technical skills needed in the rapids.  Mike and I  worked very well as a team, and Mike revealed that after taking in Gus’ s advice he sometimes was reciting the Lord’s prayer after only counting to three.
We both feel that we’ve received much more from being in the outdoors than we expected.  Up here, Mike and I  strengthened an already deep bond that began way back on that rope belay on Hurricane Island when Mike held me from the end of the rope on the ground, and I swallowed hard, leaned forward , gave it all up, and flew into the sky.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway – Day 7/8

It is 26 degrees at 5:30 AM.  Water that was left out was frozen, with white frost riming our gear that was out.
Today we traveled with Gus and Beck.  We somehow, without speaking directly, coordinated our departures so that both canoes pushed off from the shore together at 7:30 AM.  Made sense, actually, as we’d help each other today.
Parts of the trip this early morning allowed us to lazily drift the river, gliding past huge elm trees that are so isolated here that they have managed to escape the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease.

Drifting on the deadwater
Drifting on the deadwater

Even not paddling moved us forward, as the current now is stronger.  The air was cool, with the wind still dormant.  At one point while the sun was shining down on us, Gus reminded us, “ It doesn’t even get any better than this, guys.”
The river is moving faster now, after it has gathered increased water from the many streams that have been feeding into the main channel for the past several miles.
By 10 AM, we had completed the third of a mile portage around the majestic Allagash Falls after traveling just three miles on the river.     Mike and I followed Gus’s canoe today, studying his every move in our attempt to improve our whitewater skills.  Gus’s main advice if we get ourselves stuck in a bad place in the rapids was, “ Count to ten and say the Lord’s Prayer.”  Gus added that most of the time, you don’t have to do much of anything to move a canoe off a rock. Unless the canoe’s exact mid point is fully engaged, some principle of physics eventually releases the canoe.
For the whole trip , I had been nervous about this final stretch, as it lists two sets of Class II rapids.
Gus is the real whitewater deal.  Gus has told us he had been certified as a whitewater instructor with the American Canoe Association, was the instructor for the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society, and works part time in the summers running rubber rafts loaded with paying clients for one of the rafting companies up in the Forks, which runs trips on the Kebnnebec and Dead Rivers.    It was uncanny how Gus appeared out of nowhere to assist us.  Just his quiet, steady presence was enough to improve my confidence.
We were fighting wind and pushing through shallow waters again today.  As we approached the roaring Allagash Falls, a warning sign appeared on our right.

Danger ahead!
Danger ahead!

We eventually beached the canoes, when Gus told us that it might be possible to move the canoes even further downstream, cutting the portage distance.  Gus took all of us up the hill where we eventually found the path down to the shore. What I saw looked scary as hell.  Gus explained that, “You have to get the canoe right in here, because just a bit downstream is the falls.  You have to hit this.”   He explained that he was confident he could get a fully loaded canoe through the rapids, multitude of boulders, and weave across the river in time to avoid a trip over the falls.  He had done it before.
So Mike and I watched Beck and Gus push their canoe off upstream and confidently maneuver their craft right over to our feet.  There was no way that Mike and I could pull off what Gus just accomplished, so Gus offered to stern our canoe with either Mike or I in the bow. I graciously relinquished the front seat to Mike, and watched him and Gus smoothly execute the serpentine watercourse.

Mike and Gus make good.
Mike and Gus make good.

Mike told me that when approaching an obstacle Gus told him instructions like, “ Give me two strokes and a draw.”
We four carried each of  the two canoes over the portage trail, which was much easier on the shoulders than with just two people carrying the one canoe. It took no time to move everything to the put-in site below the Falls.
Down the trail on the portage we encountered a party of 8 men who were struggling to portage their gear, which included numerous coolers and four outboard motors, which appear to associate themselves with many additional gasoline jugs.  There are no marinas here that sell gas, mainly because there is no service of any kind on the whole 92 miles of the AWW.
We fished , or lounged a bit beneath the forty foot Falls.  Here is quick video on the action. 
We could reach the cars today and head home if we wanted to, as the vehicles  were only 13 miles away in Allagash village, and we had the whole afternoon to get there. Both groups decided to stay on the river another night;  Gus and Beck because they planned it that way, and Mike and I because it just made more sense to stop this afternoon.  We still had to drive home after we loaded our vehicles. Incredibly, home was five or six more hours south.
We stopped at the Big Brook North campsite.  It was early enough that I made up a pot of Darkstar.

Perkin' up.
Perkin' up.

Tonight I made a super pasta meal, rehydrating a pint of tasty tomato sauce with meat, cooking up the ziti, adding parmesan and cheddar cheeses, and finishing it all off with a half a Whoopie pie.
Tomorrow would be our last day in these woods.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway- Day 6/8

Mike and I awoke to below freezing temperatures. All of the gear that was left out was covered with frost.  I had ice in my Tiki-Man water bottle, so it got down to the mid-20’s.  The sky was dark when we exited the tent at 6 AM.
While I  began to cook breakfast of sausages and pancakes it started to rain, and cold rain can’t be ignored out here.
Mike and I quickly put up the rain tarp over the ridge pole, and I staked out the corners.

Croque Brook site under rain
Croque Brook site under rain

We needed to get some warm food into us, as it would be cold on the river, which had a version of sea smoke rising from the surface.
By 7:45 AM we had eaten, washed dishes, organized and pack up most of our gear.  I retreated into the tent to warm up in my down sleeping bag.  Out plan was to leave this  Croque Brook campsite and the cover 15 miles to Allagash Falls to stay  there for the night.   Mike had no dry shoes left so I showed him how to put plastic bags over his socks to help keep his feet warm.

Mike feet a-stylin'
Mike feet a-stylin'

There were more headwinds to content with again today.  On the way downstream, we stopped to fish an hour or so at the confluence of the Musquacook Stream and the Allagash. We didn’t have much luck, but I walked past a large painted turtle on the shore.

Later, we stopped at the Cuniff Depot campsite where Mike fished and I wandered in the woods until I found the remains of two rusting Lombard Log haulers, 10 to 30 ton machines that could haul 300 tons. Logs were hauled on sleds in trains of four to ten sleds, at speeds of 4 or 5 miles per hour and 20 miles per hour down hill.  Eighty- three Lombard steam log haulers were made, and  were mostly used in Maine and New Hampshire but three went to Russia.  Lombards  were phased out with the advent of the trucking industry in the 30’s.   I took two photos of them, but later learned that my Panasonic digital camera was internally fogged and that the photos were unacceptable.  I was able to successfully dry out the camera in three hours by keeping it in a shirt pocket.

We didn’t make it to Allagash Falls today.  The cold wind was just brutal in the afternoon.  The river was widening out at this point, and the flat light and wind was making it impossible to see into the water and we were hitting many stretches where the water was so shallow that we were fetching up on the bottom.  Our only action was to push and grind ourselves ahead by planting the tips of the paddles into the gravel and muscle ahead. We also learned that the water level on the river at this time of year was unusually low, due to a lack of snow cover up here this past winter.

We planned to take a break at Michaud farm campsite.  The ranger came out to greet and sign us out, as this was the official end of the AWW.  He mentioned that “ Your friend [Gus]  is here, and wanted me to tell you that it is OK for you to share his site tonight.”  We learned that Gus was actually guiding Beck’s first Allagash trip.  She was from Swanville, ME and had always wanted to do the Allagash.  It was fun to share the site with them with the talk all about canoes, past trips, and winter camping.
The temperature kept dropping all afternoon.  At one point I had three layers of Ibex wool under shirts, then a Pendleton wool dress shirt on under my Patagonia Puffball jacket. I had a wool hat and gloves on.   I put on my rain pants over my wool long johns and heavy long pants for extra warmth. Even so, I was fighting to maintain warmth.
After Mike and I had  warm supper of hot dogs, beans, cole slaw , brown bread, and freshly baked chocolate cookies everyone retreated to the tents early.

It’s freakin’ May 30th and it may snow tonight here!   We are truly in the North Country, with the Canadian border less than a full day’s paddling ahead.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway – Day 5/8

The Russians are history.
This morning we were approached by a Ranger in a motorboat headed south.  He was headed to the bridge at the end of Umsaskis to intercept the flotilla, which has been merrily violating a expanding list of rules that justified booting them off the AWW, including lying about their group size.  The limit for one group is 12 people. They had 23.  They had reassured the Ranger at the dam that they would keep the 12 person units apart, and would not camp together on the same site.  We learned that in addition to our complaints about the significant dent they made on our own wilderness experience, the Eastern mob also did not communicate back to the Ranger at Churchill Dam that they wrecked a canoe in Chase Rapids. They had left the two pieces in the water.  Another set of canoeists went back to the dam and reported the damaged Old Town Discovery canoe ( illegal again) . This caused much aggravation to the Rangers there who initiated a search of the river, as they did not know if they were facing a potential drowning. There appeared to be even more violations that the Ranger was keeping to himself.    [ Ed. Note:  Mike e-mailed Katahdin Outfitters (KO)  after he got home inquiring (and complaining) about the Russian horde.  They were the commercial service that was transporting the Russians to and from the river. Mike heard back from KO that Russians were picked up by their drivers at Michaud Farm, where the Ranger there would not let them continue.  They settled with KO about the wrecked canoe after a bit of haggling.  KO told Mike that they would not rent to the Eastern wave again, even foregoing income in excess of $1,000 on renting those 12 canoes, paddles and life jackets.  The owners thanked Mike for his report about them.]

After our brief night of about 4 hours of sleep, Mike and I made a quick oatmeal breakfast and were on the water by 6:30 AM.  The wind was up even at that hour, but was at our backs, which resulted in us moving ahead another 20 miles today,  as we cruised over Long Lake and Harvey Pond.
Mike and I stopped to fish for an hour or so at the remains of the Long Lake Dam, where we had another portage.

Lock Dam remains
Lock Dam remains

It was here that we spotted our first and only canoe, being ferried around the rapids by one familiar face.  There are just over 1,000,000 people in Maine, and what are the chances that I’d know one of these folks?  I spotted Gus Szabronski, of Searsport.

Beck and Gus
Beck and Gus

Gus and I go back to 1978 when he plumbed my house.  He is an outdoorsman, and we had even camped in neighboring tents together on the snow in Greenville on January 13, 2005, at the send off for Winterwalk for the Wild.  I’m even quoted in a Boston Globe article about the event.
While we had some hard knock whitewater lessons today, we did manage to keep the canoe afloat through it all.  Additional challenges on the river today were the the strong winds, which kept changing direction on the river, constant sub crosswinds, and at least three scary encounters with those guys in 20’ canoes with outboard motors.

Heading downstream
Heading downstream

Here is one scene: picture two men, each barely competent white water novices, are struggling to keep their 17 foot canoe pointed downstream.  Two sounds are prominent in the background:  loud wind whipping the tops of the evergreen trees back and forth on a frenzy, and the rushing roar of white water which is no doubt amplified in the narrow river corridor. Occasionally there are places in the river that are low enough for us to scrape the bottom of and even halt the progress of our craft.  The flat light and rippled surface  are combining forces to make it impossible to see into the water to estimate depth.  Add  the additional carom/video-game effect of trying to aim for a tongue of clean, safe water between two dangerous and exposed rocks. We’re factoring in the flow of the river pushing us around at the same time the winds are moving us side to side.  For the past couple of hours, Mike and I have done fairly well at learning to let the flow of the river move us through the best places, with minimal steering on my part in the stern.  That has all changes as the wind is blowing up a gale on this new section of rapids, and I’m terrified!  Instead of slipping into the right spots, we’re missing them, careening off rocks and twice getting dangerously caught up on them.  Twice we had to  just jump into the cold water, grab the bow and stern ropes,  and wrestle it out of harm’s way, as we were slipping and sliding over the slimy rocks on the bottom.  And as we rounded one turn there loomed  three of the 20 foot outboard blocking the main watercourse, with no apparent movement to at least slide aside to let us pass.  After we picked a spot that would permit us to  escape ramming two of them, we committed to a less favorable line, but just as we were already moving through that narrow opening,  the third canoe decided at that moment to cross right in front of us!
I yelled at them, “ Get out of the way!”
Thankfully we just missed them, but as we were told, “You will face innumerable challenges on this trip.”  We just didn’ t think this sort of nonsense would be included.

It is really exhausting to pull so hard on the paddles, move as quickly as you can, shout out directions and moves, and then repeat.  I think I’m going to call my canoeing partner Mike Marvel.  He’s unshakeable.

And easy to cook for.  Mike has what I’d term conservative  food preferences.  I didn’t need to pack any extra coffee.  Mike told me he tried a cup once in college, “ I didn’t like it.  It was bitter and tasted bad to me.  Why would I ever have another cup?”
I have all the hummus to myself.
The good news is that Mike packed Oreos and chocolate chip cookies.  He also brought along a bag of little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, that he put in the cooler to keep firm. Bless him when he tore open the $2.95 bag of real day glow orange Chee-tos. Who thinks up these genius food concepts that endure generations?  I asked Mike to tie me up a new fly that looked just like a Chee-to to commemorate the trip.

For lunch, Mike cooked up a true-to-life version of the Boxcar Hash.

Mike hashing it up
Mike hashing it up

This time he used sausages and ham instead of bacon.  I even toasted a whole wheat bagel over my Uncle Tom model wood stove after I perked up another batch of Darkstar coffee.
We made camp early,  two miles downstream from Round Pond at the Croque Brook campsite after surviving the Round Pond Rips.  Here is a video of me in the process of drying out.  Mike and I were in good spirits after another day of adventures.