Sunday, January 4, 2015

NCT trip planning Part 1

Hey folks,

I hope your year is off to a good start. Mine sure is, I start a new career on the 5th so I am pretty excited.

Anyway, this past week off I had time to do some of the planning for a trip I have wanted to do for a couple of years now. A hike on the North Country Scenic Trail. This entry is just going over the maps and paperwork planning and that sort of thing. My gear planning, food and clothing will be along in future posts.

 I've talked about it before but to give a quick recap it is a trail, very much like the Appalachian Trail. The NCT stretches from North Dakota to New York State, not as popular as the AT just yet but it is longer. The trail cuts through Minnesota in the Northern part of the state, passes through part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and skirts Lake Superior before slipping off in to Wisconsin and points East.


The terrain where it cuts through was formed during the last ice age as was much of Minnesota including our famous lakes. A large portion of the trail section I plan to hike follows an area that was created by the leading edge of glaciers that covered this part of the earth so long ago.This terrain is called moraine and what it means is the area is a mix of varied elevations,bogs and lakes, and some rolling hills. I've spent a lot of time in this part of the state since my family cabin is right there and I am familiar with the ground and excited to see more of it step by step.


The blue blaze on the tree in the above picture is the official trail marking of the NCT. Hard to tell in the picture but in this stretch the trail is just about 8 feet wide.

I've done some research now, online through the NCT websites and forums, they even have a face book page for the Minnesota Chapters a great resource to get area specific questions answered by folks that not only hike the trail but help maintain it. I was able to purchase maps covering the areas I am interested through them as well. Give their page a look for more information at North Country Trail or visit the Minnesota chapters face book page here.

So, I sat down with the 2 maps and a great guide book "Guide to the North Country Scenic Trail in Minnesota" put out by Big Earth Publishing Company and planned a route.  The book is an excellent resource covering every aspect of the trail here in Minnesota. Mile for mile including service cities, access points and trail heads, interesting features etc...



I quickly found several easy day hikes available to me in the area I want to hike, close to my cabin and family if needed. I decided to  plan a grand adventure of a week long trip. I expect to spend 5 days (4 nights) on the trail covering about 45 miles of it in total. This would basically just press several of those day hikes into one long one. I know some experienced hikers can do 45 miles standing on their heads but this is a first for me. The last time I put on any serious cross country foot miles I was in my early 20's and a young Infantryman. All along my planned route are what I call "bail out points". Trail heads, parking lots, small towns, highway crossing and such. Places I know I can get to that have good cell service so I can make a call if needed and get help. I'm not planning to fail but I think knowing where my outs are if I need them is important.

Route selection.  It seems to make sense to start and stop at some kind of landmark that is hard to miss. The start point was an easy choice, the South Parking lot of Itasca State Park. The trail cuts right through the park and this lot. Itasca State Park is also the Headwaters of the Mississippi river and sees thousands of visitors each year. The end point will be at a camping area in The Chippewa National Forest right off Highway 34 between Akeley and Walker Minnesota, again, lots of traffic and visitors.

As an aside a hike of the trail across Itasca would be a great day hike and maybe even a good meetup for folks from the Bush Craft USA forums

Day One: South parking lot of Itasca State park East to the Amikwik campsite, about 12.9 miles. It's the first day so I will be fresh, this is the longest leg of the hike. The campsite should have 3 tent sites a fire ring and a privy and over looks a beaver pond. I will be filtering and boiling any water I collect on the way. Amikwik is Ojibwe for Beaver

Day Two: Amikwik campsite to the Nelson lake/Gulch Lake campsite, about 7.9 miles. Gulch Lake is a state run campsite, I will need to pay to camp here. 3 campsites, and other facilities available.

Day Three: Nelson/Gulch lake to Waboose Lake campsites, this section heads almost straight south. 9.7 miles Another established campsite with tent pads, fire rings, etc... Second longest leg of the trip. Waboose means rabbit in Ojibwe.

Day Four: Waboose lake  back Eastward to Sprinkle Lake Road campsite about 7.3 miles. 4 tent pads, fire ring and privy. The campsite is on a spur 60 feet off the trail.

Day Five, last leg: Sprinkle Lake Road campsite 6 miles to the Shingobee recreation area of the Chippewa National Forest, my pick up point. After pick up a celebratory meal in Walker then 45 minutes back towards Park Rapids and th cabin for a weekend of recovery at our lake.

As I said none of these legs are very long or challenging, this is a relaxing trip. I left lots of time and hopefully energy to be able to stop and explore along the way.

Thanks for following along so far!




Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy New Year!

As I was Up North visiting my parents during the New Year holiday I took the opportunity to get out on new years day for a quick day hike. Original plan was to go solo but my oldest daughter, and then my Step Father and Comet (his labradoodle) tagged along as well.

They live out by the airport in Bemidji, MN. cross their street is a big patch of stat land and some potlatch owned land as well. In short a nice little woods to walk through.

The temp for our hike was in the 20's and over cast. A slight wind but all together not too bad at all. I grabbed some survival kit stuff for my pockets, my water bottle and my Turley Green River knife and off we went.


Ok, in the above pic is the kit that I brought with. there are some gaps, calculated risk given that I was within 1/4 mile from home and everyone at home knew exactly were we were going. Cell service was excellent as well.

Top left is my orange REI Nalgene. orange so I can see it out in the woods when I set it down. Next is a little altoids kit: Wolf Creek Forge knife, exotac nanotstriker, boullion cube, 3 PJC's, some bandaids, a bic lighter and about 12 square inches of tin foil. A zebra mechanical pencil I just happened to have in my pocket. Finally a piece of an old army VS-17 signal panel about 18" wide by 3' long. As you can see it's blaze orange on one side, the reverse is hot pink. Very visible especially in winter conditions when the world turns pretty drab.

Upper middle is an emergency blanket and a UCO stormsafe match box with lifeboat matches inside. Next to that is a signal mirror I have been carrying since my days in the Infantry in Alaska. Below that is a piece of wetfire tinder, my SAK farmer with a ferro rod attached and, of course, the Turely.

In hindsight I should have grabbed the 25' coil of 550 cord I brought up too since I had room for it. I also need to get a nesting SS cup for that nalgene, that has been a need of mine for a while and I will be addressing it very soon with an REI gift card I got as a Christmas present.

Ok, gear all set and off we went!





Water Bottle fit perfectly in my Bushcrafters dump pouch by Badger Claw Leather works, thanks again John! You can also see how bright that panel is sticking out above my pocket.

We set out down the trail, with the 2 dogs with us finding any other animal tracks was tough but we managed a few.





 The dogs quickly found some predators left overs,just hidden under a thin blanket of snow.


 Hard to see in the following pictures but we found, rabbit, partridge and mouse tracks.



Comet, our companion, runs about 90 lbs. He's what I would call a pretty good sized dog. Here is a shot of him and one of his print next to my hand for a size reference. If I come across another variety of canine track in the woods be it wild or domestic, at least I can gauge it's size a bit better. We do have coyote and wolves in this area and the area of our cabin which is about an hour south near Park Rapids.




 I didn't set out to practice any skills, just get out in the clean cold air and enjoy a little hike. In that respect I was a success. The fact that my video game centered oldest daughter volunteered to come along and spend time out with Dad (and Grampa and the dogs) means it was an unparalleled success. I'm always happy to spend time out in nature and when I can share that with my loved ones I cherish the time even more.

I hope everyone can get out this year and enjoy the wilderness and nature, even if its just a small hike with your loved ones.









Monday, December 15, 2014

My latest piece of kit!

 Hey all, back again with another post on a new piece of kit. This is also my first post that will also appear on the Bush Craft USA blogs. So if you found my blog there and then made your way here, welcome! I’m always looking for new readers
I just got this little gem off an auction on ebay and I’m really happy with it. It is a tired and true old school repair kit. Lots of information on it on the web, you tube videos on its use, the whole deal.  It’s not my intent to reinvent the wheel and go in to detail on the use and operation of this item.
So, here it is a Stewart MFG Speedy Stitcher stitching awl. As a size reference, that is a Swiss Army Knife Farmer propping up the box in the bottom of the picture.

This one is an old one but is in perfect working condition! Check out the shipping date and postage cost on the box from when it was originally sent to the first owner. November 30th 1967 from Sportsman’s Post Inc. in Danbury CT to Chelmsford MA for the grand total of 10¢!


It comes to me complete with a bobbin of the course waxed thread and 3 needles: a #8 needle, a #8 curved needle and a #4 fine needle. The eye of the #4 is too small for the included thread so something finer would be needed to use that particular needle.

I am an admitted history lover and I found the included original instruction sheet and spare parts order form just as cool as the stitcher itself. My kids laughed because I spent more time looking at it than the tool.  Check out that original retail price, postage paid!

Sorry for any blurry pics and thank you for reading along!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hi folks!


I hope your holiday season is going well. We are in the middle of travel plans and Christmas shopping around here. Today was 50+ degrees here in Minnesota and we've now lost almost all of the snow we got in November. Here's hoping we still have a white Christmas.


I've been busy lately and happily so. I was asked to be the Den Leader of my son's Cub Scout Lion cub den right after we joined up. Wrangling 5 year old boys is tough but I love every minute!


I've got a gear review in the works for a new to me antique piece of kit. Also look for another entry from the Chow Hall in the near future looking at meal planning for a 3 day trip.


Anyone else like to drink hot tea on cold winter days? One of my favorites isn't expensive and I find it everywhere but I LOVE the taste:


I've never been a coffee drinker,I have to add so much cream and sugar to get it down I might as well just be drinking hot cocoa. I also don't have one of those subtle nuanced palates, I like bold strong flavors and this tea delivers!

I highly recommend it, give it a try with a little bit of honey and it will knock the chill right off you.


Monday, November 10, 2014

What to do this winter

Well winter has come a little early here in the Land of 10,000 lakes. Today brought our first snow fall of the season. A sticky, heavy, wet 6-8 inches or so.




To go along with my last post regarding Experience vs. Knowledge  may I offer a suggestion? How about taking some classes in bush craft skills online?  What if I told you they were completely free? sound too good to be true? Think again, my friends.




One of the best forums out there that pertains to bush crafting is Bushcraft USA, the link can be found on the sideboard of my blog. There are so many great threads on that board it's unbelievable. Trip reports, gear threads, vendors, and much more. One of the best features is Bush Class.




Bush Class USA




Bush class is an online course offering various classes on skills and techniques ranging from the basics through intermediate and advanced skills. They are taught mainly by Terry Barney of the Midwest School of Bushcraft. Terry is also a former Air Force Survival Instructor.  While Terry is the main man, many of the courses are taught by other amazing members of the forum.



These classes are done on your own time with no pressure. To earn your certification in each of the three levels you submit pictures or video of your completed class in the appropriate threads. In addition each to the skills each course requires a number of outings, many of which are "overnighters". They don't have to be done in order but one class does build on another so it is easier and makes more sense to do so.




Personally I wont be winter camping this year so my over nighters will wait until the spring thaw, but I will try to get out for some outings to hone skills during some of the milder days ahead.  The classes themselves, aside from those requiring fire craft can be done in the comfort of your own home, mostly.




A great way to gain some valuable experience with some skills to have if ever you should need them.



Friday, November 7, 2014

Knowledge vs. Experience

Facebook, for better or worse, created some really good discussion today  among my friends.  A few of them stumbled upon an online quiz to determine how long they would last in a survival situation.  While some of the questions were quite good, many of them were of the sort where the "right" answer would be easy to determine by the actual questions.

After a few points about how plant/pollen allergies would make thriving in the wild impossible for a couple of them even though they scored well, one friend had a very good observation.  She stated something about scoring well because she watches a lot of the survival shows on cable so she knew the answers. She then stated she wouldn't actually do as well as her score indicted because while she may KNOW how to survive she has no EXPERIENCE in a survival situation. Her skills are all theory and not actual practice.

I'm hoping that this post will act as a nudge for me in the coming long cold Minnesota Winter months to keep up with some skill practice.  I live in the city. The winters are long and cold here and it is very easy to curl up on the warm couch with television and the internet and while away the hours.

Ordinary days

This post, while I hope others will read, is mainly here as a reminder to me. A quick note to remind us to take note of even "ordinary" days. I'm just a budding blogger, starting out and hoping that I get better and better with each post. I'm not the story teller I want to be just yet, still perfecting my skills as a wordsmith.

The idea, then, is to take note of the small things, the ordinary things, we find outside and write about them.  Lets take a moment when we can, to notice things. On our way out to the car in the morning, or standing at the bus stop, walking the corner store, whatever. Perhaps, if we go out with the intent of writing about our experiences we might enhance them. We might become more observant, more critical, heighten our awareness even. We may think of things in a new way, question things we thought we knew, not to mention learn new things. Anything is possible.

If I can train my brain to the point that when I am out on a hike or a simple walk around the block or impromptu outing to look for interesting things...well I might just find them!

To me this is similar to my reason for taking a camera with me when ever I can. Hoping that I will take a picture that will rekindle the experience or feelings that I felt at the time of the photo.

Who know, if we take these notes and write them down someone, our family or students might look on these quick notes and observations and find them fascinating.

Now. To give credit where it is do, what got me on this topic was an article I found in the July-August edition of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine. It's put out by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and I absolutely love this magazine. This particular issue opens with an editorial by the editor in chief, Kathleen Weflen and its called "Take Note of Ordinary days". It speaks in more depth on just what I've blogged here and its what sparked this post.

Soon the weather here in the Northstar state is going to get down right cold. When we are bundled up like arctic explorers quick stepping into the next warm shelter or store I can't honestly say I will be able to notice much. From now until then, and as soon as I get acclimated again, I will endeavor to take better note, and post them here, of "ordinary" days.