Saturday, December 6, 2008

Father and daughter on Buford Mountain

My daughter Natalie (who is 10) and I just got back from an overnight backpacking trip to Buford Mountain. Buford Mountain is in the same general are of the Ozarks as Taum Sauk, Bell Mountain, and Council Bluff Lake, all of which I've blogged about recently. The terrain is very rocky with occasional glades from which there are views.

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The entrance to the park is straight south of the peak, just off Hwy U in the above map. In fact you can see the first part of the trail in that map as well. It looks like a road that comes off of Hwy U and goes straight north and then ends. In fact it appears that you used to be able to drive closer to the mountain than you can now. The current parking lot is right off U and the first part of the trail is along the old road. In the trail map below you can see a place called "old lot". That's where the road dead ends and the trail begins. It appears it used to be a parking lot for hikers to leave their cars.

Buford is a fun mountain to climb because once you get on the trail it's nearly a straight shot north and you are at the top in under an hour (I probably could have done it in 30 minutes but Natalie can't go that fast).

Natalie and I didn't start until quite late at night because we got off late. So it was all night hiking. The moon wasn't full but it was fairly clear while we hiked and so it was surprisingly light. We used my little LED light to keep from tripping on rocks. We got to our camp site at about 10pm.

As you can see from the map the peak is fairly flat and that's where we camped. I planned to camp there because it was the only flat spot and we were going to be sleeping on the ground rather than in hammocks (it's amazing how convenient hammocks are in terms of site selection). It was forecast to be in the 20s overnight and so I worried a lot about us getting cold.

Now I have to laugh at myself because I made some of the same mistakes I was joking about in my post about heavy weight backpacking. I was so concerned about my little girl getting cold that I ended up carrying too much weight. But at least it was me that was being burdened down and not her. I'll go through what gear I brought and what was useful and what was just along for the ride.

First of all I should point out that in a winter backpacking trip the parent is going to be carrying quite a bit of the child's gear. If I don't like to carry more than 20% of my body weight then I really shouldn't expect a child with immature bones to carry anything like that much. Now Natalie weighs 50 pounds soaking wet so I want her to carry less than 10 pounds. In the summer that's easy. In the winter it's hard so I carry a fair amount.

We own a very old child sized down mummy bag from my wife's childhoood. It's an REI bag that dates to the 70s I think. But down lasts a long time and when you fluff it up it has a lot of loft. It weighs 42 ounces which is a lot for a down bag, even a child's down bag. I'm guessing it was originally a zero degree bag. When Natalie is fully snuggled in it it's hard to believe she could get cold at night.

Of course when winter camping there is always the issue of cold face since your face has to be exposed to the cold air so you can breath. Natalie handles this by wearing her stocking cap to bed and then pulling it down over her eyes and almost over her nose, leaving just enough space to breath.

For myself I think I hit on a good but different solution. I have a down coat with a hood that zips off. I snuggle my quilt under my chin (so I don't breath into the down quilt) and wear the hood to bed. Then I sleep on my side and turn the hood so that it covers most of my face. I can see just a sliver between my pillow and the edge of the hood.

Part of the weight I was carrying was an extra pad for Natalie. Since I knew the ground was going to be rocky I brought the Big Agnes air pad for me and I a Therma-Rest Trail Lite in size small (48 inches) for Natalie. The terma-rest pad weighs about 20 ounces. Interestingly it seems that they don't make that size any more. In addition I wanted each of us to have two CCF pads, one for under the air mattress and one for over the air mattress. I own a full length RidgeRest and I bought her a short one. She carried that one (it's only 9 ounces). It's designed to be a torso-length pad but for her it works as a full length path since she's only 48 inches tall. She used that under her air pad and she used the NiteLite pad (that I use for my pack frame) on top of her air pad. I used a Walmart CCF pad for under the Big Agnes and the RidgeRest for on top. So in total we had 6 pads of which I was carrying 5.

I also decided not to carry an ultralight stove. I had heard that the best kind of stove for cold weather is a "white gas" stove. So I called my mother and asked her to send me my SVEA 123R that I had received as a scout. It was used when I got it but it 25 years ago but it still works great. It's one of the most popular backpacking stoves ever made.

The stove comes with it's own windscreen and a small pot (1 1/2 cups) and potholder. However I wanted to use a larger pot so I just took the burner.

The burner itself is an interesting piece of engineering. When you open the fuel cap to fill it you can see a long wick curled inside. It runs up through the neck up to the burner. To get it started you can put some fuel in a little dimple at the base of the neck and light it. This will heat the neck and pressurize the stove. Some people carry a separate bottle of fuel (or even alcohol) just for this purpose. But there is an even easier way to do this in cold weather which I tried on this trip. In the morning the stove was very cold but I was warm. I held the base in my hands and it absorbed heat from my hands which created pressure inside the stove. Then I turned the key and fuel began gently bubbling up. I lit this fuel and in a few seconds the stove was roaring away. Truly a brilliant design! But it's not lightweight by modern standards (19 ounces).

When I bring an alcohol stove or an Esbit stove I carry the stove (and windscreen and pot) in a ziplock container that I can use for measuring water for meals. In this case I decided to carry the large windscreen I made for my woodgas stove. I decided to carry this in a Lexan water bottle I owned. I know these aren't lightweight but it was a convenient way to carry with windscreen (rolled up small) and it still left room for my candle lantern and matches.

We also mixed our hot cocoa in this Lexan bottle so at least it served some useful functions. The candle lantern was just along for the ride though. We had originally intended to read Watership Down to each other at night but since it was so late we left it in the car (Natalie had read to me while we were driving) and went straight to sleep when we set up camp so the lantern wasn't used at all. It only weighs 6.2 ounces so I can't feel too bad about that.

But the biggest waste of the trip was an extra blanket I brought. It was one of those "last minute worried parent" kind of things. I saw it in my car and just threw it in so we could us in case we got cold. But with our sleeping setup (including my down jacket which I could take inside the quilt for extra warmth) it served no purpose. It wasn't even very lightweight at 22.8 ounces. It's meant for picnics. I did roll it up as a pillow but that's a pretty heavy pillow!

In the "minor wasted weight" category I have two entries.

1. I realized afterward I had brought four extra pair of socks! Now two would make sense: extra liner socks and extra wool socks. But in addition I brought one more pair of wool socks and some sealskinz waterproof socks. I suppose I could be forgiven for the sealskinz since there was a (remote) possibility of snow that night and so keeping my feet dry would have been important in that case.

2. Upon arriving home I realized I had also carried my water filter. Now that was just along for the ride. At this time of year you won't find any liquid water so a filter is superfluous. I just hadn't realized it was at the bottom of my food bag!

I did bring more food than we needed and also more water but I don't count that as a waste because you never know when things will go bad and you might need to spend a few unplanned hours in the backcountry. Having not enough food or water in that case makes a bad situation worse.

In the morning after our cocoa and eggs (actually quite tasty! could be the added MSG I suppose) we hiked some more. We didn't have a lot of time because Natalie had an commitment back in Chesterfield at 1:30 but we did make it to the second peak north of the main peak. We stopped in a glade and rested. It turned into a really nice day. There seem to be a higher proportion of hickory trees on this mountain than I have seen on other mountain in the Ozarks (although there are always plenty). The whole trail was littered with hickory nuts. One thing that was really cool were all the Frost Flowers that had formed during the night. We didn't get a picture but here is one I stole off the web. They seem to grow around the stems of dried plants most often. They are amazingly delicate, fragile even. We wanted to bring one home but we ended up crushing it by accident. I have no idea why they get so beautiful. Many are quite large and the shapes are quite varied. The picture below isn't as pretty as most of the ones we saw.

In my next blog entry I'll talk about cold weather clothes: what I currently use and what I want to change for my future winter trips.


Grant said...

Frost flower? Never heard of it. Looks like some one blew their nose farmer style and it froze in the air.

You guys are pretty dang brave being out there in the freezing cold. I wouldn't expose my nose or any other part of my body to the outside world. I don't even want to go out to the car to drive to pick up Chinese food in the winter.

I'm kind of a weenie, huh?

Ashley said...

I already completely idolized Natalie, but wow! What a trooper!

I don't think the Frost Flowers look like snot, but they are quite beautiful.