Archive for backpacking

Lines and Boundaries

Posted in howto, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by demigorge

More lessons for the handler than the dog.

Assuming you’re not going to dump me in the middle of the desert with nothing but dunes and mirages for as far as the eye can see, I’m pretty comfortable getting around with a topo map and a compass. Even more so if it’s a recent topo map and a compass bigger than a button.  So when someone sets up a griding  sector we’ve never been to before I think literally nothing of it. It’s just another day at training where we wander through the woods trying not to fall all over ourselves and put Grom in the best possible place to make his little discovery.

Because he and I are in the middle of our testing process we use every opportunity to practice the skills we’re going to need, not only on a test, but in a real search. So the problem was set up like a light brush test, and everything about it was a dress rehearsal for the actual test we’d be running soon. Most importantly was getting an area topo map, defining our sector, and developing our strategy.  Rarely do we get to respond to a search in an area we know well, so making sense of our surroundings quickly becomes a real asset. This is the map of the area, with the redzone being the new sector. The blue line indicating my plan, and incidentally what I thought I did at the time.

So we set out along the road on the south side of the sector, which I have determined in 200 meters to the west end where my unmarked boundary should run along a drainage. This is the boundary I have chosen to work first since it’s an easy shot almost due north to the stream, which is my north most boundary. It should be a simple task of counting 120 steps and then turning north.

Looking for a drainage

When I get to 119 steps I look around and realize I don’t see a drainage to my right. In fact what I see to my right is flat, wide, and open. But if I walk another 30 paces, there’s a nice drainage right beside it. Simply put, I think it’s a good thing my counting ability is not being tested because I would have failed that part.

But if you look at the GPS track that recorded my path, as well as the path of two other people who worked the same sector, you’ll notice we all overshot the boundary. One of those tracks was actually recorded by the person who was looking at the GPS as he was walking the line, and even he missed the boundary.

what actually happened.

It did not turn out to be a huge issue in this case. Even though we were out of our sector, and technically didn’t know where we were at the time, all the dogs were able to put their noses on the subject. So it didn’t affect the outcome of the problem, but it did point out a couple of things for me.  Not least of which is that this is how you get holes in your grid pattern.

More importantly though,  I need to put a little more trust in my pace count. Even having a GPS will not always put you exactly where you want to be.  Also, If you go looking for a terrain feature, you will find it. But it, and consequently you, may not be where you think you need to be.

Sit! Staaaaaaaaayyyy.  Wait for it.  Good Boy!

(The second half of this post will be posted later)

Dolly Sods Adventure

Posted in howto, life with a working dog, pets with tags , , , , , on August 30, 2010 by rattlerjen

I just had to get out of the house and away from the traffic, responsibilities, and people.  It was time to hug some trees and burn some calories.  It was time for a backpacking trip.

In the past my german shepherd, Heidi has been my companion on such adventures.  Heidi is going on 11 years old now; her old bones just aren’t up for the trek anymore.

So, I figured it was time to take the pup for a backpacking spin.  First thing was to test the little guy with the dog pack.  I quickly threw it on him empty and strapped him in.  Grom took a few spins in circles chasing after the dangling straps before getting distracted with a chew toy.  That was easy.

The dog pack instruction manual said he could carry up to one-third his body weight; nearly 20 pounds! Since Grom is only a puppy, I put a meager four pounds into his packs. He was carrying his own water, food, and snacks for three days.

We are all packed up and ready to hit the trails.  Like my snazzy bright orange cape?

Looks like Grom’s favorite things to do was climb around on the rocks and check out the awesome view.

A smart dog takes a lot of naps on a backpacking trip.  The packs sure give a nice extra cushion.

The little guy doesn’t seem interested in group shots.

Don’t let me have you believe that he slept most of the time.  This is what he was like most every time we stopped.

It was a fantastic trip.

Here are a few things I learned backpacking with a dog.

Tips for backpacking with a dog.

  • Walk your dog several times with his packs on.  Be sure to start out with them empty
  • Pack extra food for your dog, he is going to burn many more calories than normal.  I bring about 1/3 more food for each meal, plus two extra meals
  • Bring dog snacks with you.  I like duck or turkey jerky.  Make sure its the good stuff.  Your pup will need rewards for listening to you in the great outdoors.  Snacks are easily kept in a treat pouch or chalk pouch with a draw string or closure that keeps it shut tight and hung from the shoulder strap on your pack.
  • Don’t take your dog out camping if it will get below 40 degrees F at night unless he has thick fur and is used to being outside in the cold.  Our domesticated pups can be as whimpy as humans when it comes to temperature.  Consider bringing a camping bed for your dog.
  • You will need lots of extra water for your dog.  Be sure to offer water to your dog often, he cannot cool off as easy as you can.  Teach your pup on walks to drink out of a water bottle or whatever you will be using on the trip before you go.
  • Keep your dog on a leash, even in the middle of nowhere.  I ran into several people with dogs after hiking for five miles straight without seeing a soul.
  • Make sure your dog has the come command down no matter how much he wants to do something else.  A deer bounding across the trail could very well end with your dog yanking the leash out of your hands and getting lost.  I trained my dog to come to the emergency whistle attached to my pack.  I always had one nearby.
  • Make sure  your dog has been trained to stay near you off lead.  There will be a few areas on the trail that you may need to unhook your dogs leash for safety. I found that scrambling up rocks or crossing streams with a dog ended up with either my dog stumbling or myself on my butt in the middle of a stream.
  • Keep watch for others on the trail.  Get yourself and your dog off the trail to let others pass.  Some people are afraid of dogs, are new to backpacking, or are off balance.  They will appreciate the courtesy.

Lyme Disease?

Posted in Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on July 13, 2010 by rattlerjen

I have been a bit slow on posting this week as I have come down with something.  Needless to say, I went to the doctor yesterday for a Lyme Disease blood test and some antibiotics.  I will have to go back again in two weeks to get retested as the tests are not reliable this early in the infection.  Has it been 3 or 4 weeks since I pulled that tiny engorged tick from between my toes?

In honor of the millions of bacteria that are systematically being marked and executed by giant globulous blobs patrolling my veins, I bring you:

Pictures of the accused:

Lyme bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi)

That tiny little Deer tick

The havoc those tiny little things often (but not always) cause:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • muscle and joint aches
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • a rash that may not appear until 30 days after the bite (can be seen as early as 3 days)

You got it folks, the same list of symptoms for nearly anything else a person can think of.  Lesson is to go to the doctor ASAP.  These little corkscrews can permanently damage your nervous system, heart, and even eat holes in your brain if left untreated long enough.  I will keep ya all updated on the results.

How to make a One Match Fire

Posted in how to, howto, Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , , , on June 22, 2010 by rattlerjen

Fire is an important thing to have in a survival situation.  It allows you to stay warm, boosts morale, cook food, and purify water.  It is not as easy to make as you might think.  In a survival situation, or even when backpacking in the woods, one match is all it should take.

Here, we learn how to make a one match fire from our favorite outdoor guru, Rob Speiden.

First, you must gather kindling and tinder.  tinder and kindling

Tinder should be light and fluffy.  This is what the match will light on fire.  People who get good at making fire are able to get tinder to alight in flame with a single spark.  This takes lots of practice, but can be done.  We shall be prepared, so no firebowes mate.

Bark that peels like paper from a tree such as cedar or birch, cotton dipped in Vasoline, char cloth, and lint from the dryer work well.  Unfortunately,  leaves do not work very well because they burn at such a low temperature it takes an enormous amount to light the kindling.  Gather far more tinder than you think you need.

Kindling are dry branches and twigs as big around as your thumb or smaller.  Only gather these from the dead lower branches of trees, not from the ground or they are likely to be wet.

If it snaps it is dry if it is green or wet it will bend.

Gather several armloads.  Then go back and gather more.  No one ever gets enough of this stuff.  Break the kindling into 6 inch lengths.

Find two forked sticks and break them off about 6 inches from the fork.  Shove these guys in the ground about a foot away from one another.  Now, break a twig off of a green branch and lay it across the two forks.  You want the branch to be green as you want it to resist burning for a long time. It will look like you are about to rotisserie a chipmunk.  (I heard they are quite tasty.)  Don’t jump the gun folks!  You are going to need this little frame to build your fire on, so put that rodent away.

Start building a little a frame house with the six inch lengths of kindling.  Make sure you have provided for airflow and enough room in the structure for your hand.  Pile it on. Remember, there’s not really any such thing as too much kindling.

The most important part of fire making:  Sit back and watch all of your hard work BURN!

Survival Weekend: After Lunch

Posted in Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by rattlerjen

The buffet, it was massive!  Really folks, you probably could have ordered a few pizzas and been done with it. There were three kinds of sandwich meats, four cheeses, deli mustard, onion rolls, creamy potato salad, bagels, donuts, gatorade, soft drinks, chips, cookies, and food galore.

On our packs went and waddle waddle waddle our feet shuffled.  To the other side of base camp our destination was.  To a graveyard in the middle of a forest, creeeeeeepy!  Down a trail and up a creek was the path to take.

I don’t think this trail is on the map.  Bullocks!

No problem, just look at the nice beetle that clicks and pops like popcorn. DISTRACTION!  How is that for self defense!  BOING!

We split off into multiple groups to try different routes.  I decided to tag along with a newer volunteer in our organization.  This was the very first time she had done orienteering.  It was a perfect opportunity for me to learn more.  Rob must have sensed trouble and decided to tag along with us.  (I could get lost in my own sock drawer.)  We let the new woman do all of the navigating.  I succeeded in clearing up a bit of navigation confusion, Yay me!  Then proceeded in confusing us both a minute later.

We stood at a joining of two drainages, which is the correct one?

Rob is the Awesome.  He taught us a few new skills so that we were able to figure it out ourselves.  All you have to do is point your compass up each drainage and determine the bearing it follows and match that to the map.  Spiffy!

I learned that most trail maps are out of date and possibly useless; topo maps are the bomb.

The cemetery turned out to be a charming little plot of a half a dozen old stone markings surrounded by a little metal fence like what you would see around a really nice garden.  The area past the graveyard opened up into a gorgeous bright green meadow.

Rob started pulling bark off of a dead cedar tree.  GOLD!  I stuffed a ziplock bag full of the magical paper thin strips.  We gathered together with the others under a tiny canopy of trees.

That is when we found out what the heck was in Chris’s bag.

Are you sure this is big enough?

She came prepared man!  The whole team could probably use that thing as a shelter.  After teasing our poor team member, we decided to have a bit of fun.    At her expense of course.

We learned three valuable ways to make a shelter:

Shelter burrito,


and Lean-to.

When constructing your shelter of choice don’t forget your pink string.

This of course matches your pink knife, pink water bottle, pink clothing, pink….

*Cough* umm yeah.  What were we talking about?

Up Next, How to Make a Fire or How not to burn yourself.

The Rule of Threes

Posted in pets, Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by rattlerjen


3 SECONDS – (MIND) the time you have to decide to escape or take action on an immediate danger.

3 MINUTES – (AIR) the average time you can survive without breathable air.

3 HOURS – (SHELTER) without it, time before you start dying from hypothermia (cold) or hyperthermia (heat).

3 DAYS – (WATER) the time before dehydration can claim your life because lack of water.

3 WEEKS – (FOOD) the time before you cannot do any daily necessary task because of lack of food.

3 MONTHS – (HOPE) the time without meeting anybody else before a solid depression catches you.

Our instructor suggested that we add something to 3 Seconds.lauren sleeping


Less than 3 seconds of shut-eye behind the wheel could kill.   Don’t believe me?  Close your eyes for 3 seconds and imagine you are driving at 55mph.  It’s a long time!

This is especially important for Search and Rescue Teams.  Typically a call comes for teams in the middle of the night after a full day of 9 to 5 work.  That call in the middle of the night might mean that the volunteers will be awake all through the night and possibly the next day tromping through the woods with full packs on.

If you are tired, it is better to get back in the car for a nap rather than a drive home.


If you keep in mind the Rule of 3’s before leaving for an outing, you will always be prepared.

How to Learn from your First Orienteering Outing

Posted in Dog diary, life with a working dog, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on June 8, 2010 by rattlerjen

Go back and do it again!

I had so much fun getting lost yesterday (yesterdays post here) I decided that I was going to try the course again.  Remember how I missed my intended route to the orienteering marker by overshooting the first ridge?  This time I went back with my dog and tried to navigate the course in a different way.

I turned my gps tracking on and stuck it in my backpack to record my steps.  Out came the map and compass to have one more go at it.

navigation plan My plan was to walk down the trail to the creek and go over the first saddle in the ridge.  (like I was supposed to do yesterday.)

Then down the drainage on the other side to the road.

Up the road then West to the large drainage that runs south to the second stream.

Up the stream to the marker.  Take picture of dog at the marker.

Stay dry.

Then up the stream to the first drainage.

Follow the drainage up to the clearing at the top of the hill and head Northeast.

Eventually I would run into the trail crossing my path, a catching feature, or I would run into the road, a collecting feature, and follow that to the trail.

Simply take the trail back to the parking lot.

I also planned to get the dog quite muddy, wet, and muddy again.

This time, I think I did a pretty darn good job.  Here is my gps track.

It was very useful to take a slightly different route to the marker than the day before.  I was able to properly recognize features found on the map.  I also now can really see the saddle that I missed yesterday.  The middle of the saddle is so long and flat that it does not look like a saddle at all.  If I had not payed attention to my pace count closely, I would have missed it again.

I would highly recommend trying this as practice for map and compass navigation.  Much was learned the second time around.

Oh, and the muddy dog:

How to Get Wet and Lost

Posted in Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on June 7, 2010 by rattlerjen

So, this is how you practice using your map and compass.

german shepherd search dog

First, have someone with you who has told you knows how to use a map and compass really well.

Give them a map, compass, and GPS filled with waypoints for an orienteering course.  Then, in the parking lot, find someone who is not going with you to chose a waypoint for you to hike to.  Find out later the friendly guy in the parking lot is in the military and runs marathons for fun.

Also, make sure you have an absolutely adorable german shepherd puppy along to bound through the brush and laugh at your clumsy two-legs.

Copy your coordinates down and plot them little suckers on the map.

Make sure to use a nice big purple marker so as to obscure all land features around plotted point.  Now, plan you route noting all topographical features you will pass.topo map

Then, notice none of the topographical features as you mindlessly wander passed them.  Be sure to concentrate on counting your steps so as to estimate exactly how far it is to that ridge you were aiming for.  Get distracted by a couple of funny smelling plants and a particularly attractive mushroom and forget what number you were on.

Completely forget why you were counting in the first place and start wandering a bit further downstream.

Remember all of a sudden you were looking for a place to cross the ridge on your right at some point around here and start looking.  Walk a bit further south until you find a lower point on the ridge. Just, assume this is what you were looking for and climb up the hill.
map trailFigure out that you completely blew past the first saddle and walked down to the second saddle twice as far south.  Be elated when you find the road crossing your line of travel and immediately forget why this was important.  Make sure at this point to try a different navigation tactic known as following a bearing.

Only do this across the largest and steepest number of hills possible along your route believing that doing so will magically take off all the pounds you have been trying to lose for the past 5 years.  After fully committed to plan, realize that climbing hills is exhausting with a 30 pound pack.  Also recall that your favorite fast food restaurant is on the way home and you are likely to eat enough food to gain an extra 10 pounds.

Next, encounter a massive thunderstorm!


Drenched, you start muttering to yourself.

“The marker should be here.  Maybe we are still south of it.  Perhaps we should walk upstream for a bit?  The marker is supposed to be at the narrowing of the canyon.” Trudge, squish, trudge, trudge, squish.  This explains the drunken squiggles on the left side of the map.

Notice your “teacher” is  clearing his throat with a smirk and setting the bezel on his shiny new watch to time something.    Suspect he is up to something.  Find out later that you passed the marker and he is timing how long it takes you to figure it out.

While walking back, notice how one hill is curved and the other has a steep side jutting straight out towards the stream.  If  you had only looked at that before you would have walked right back to the marker.  Now, don’t be too hard on yourself, you are learning here.

Take obligatory pictures with wet dog next to the marker.

Now, get lost trying to find your way back to the car.

Shelter Burrito

Posted in Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , on May 31, 2010 by rattlerjen

Here is a wonderful way to keep yourself warm in the woods when in a pinch.  Gather tons of dry leaves and pile them on one side of a tarp.  Fold tarp over the leaves.  Then lay on the tarp and roll yourself into a leaf burrito.

AHHH, now doesn’t that look warm?

Once I catch up on my sleep, I will post more of survival training from this weekend!

Battle of the Survival Stoves 1

Posted in Product Review, Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , on April 25, 2010 by rattlerjen

Every once and a while I get in the mood to test some of my survival gear head to head. With our survival overnight on the horizon, I thought it might be nice to check out two of the most commonly carried stoves on our team.

Esbit Stove

There are two versions of this stove.  One is sold as the emergency survival stove.  It is sold as a flat piece of metal with a package of fuel tablets with it.

The other version is what you see here.  The stove folds up into a nice little package that fits nicely in your pack.  There is even room in there to store the fuel tablets and even a few waterproof matches.  Again, I don’t see the point of the emergency version as you have to carry that stuff anyway.  No space is saved with the flat folding Esbit.

The first thing I noticed is that it was very easy to open and set up.  The fuel tablets were a joke, however.  They were difficult to light, blew out easily, and did not even get close to boiling a cup of water before becoming consumed.  FAIL.  Note, tablets that come with the stove are a joke.

Pack some aluminum foil to block the wind.  The stove does not protect the fuel from the wind at all.

The Esbit provides no stability for anything put on top.  I am not sure what kind of cooking ware the designers of this stove expected a person to carry with this stove, but nothing I carry would work for this thing.  I suppose I could put my backpacking fry pan in my survival gear….

I expect a stove that can at least boil one cup of water.  This stove:  FAIL.  For now, I will blame that on the fuel tablets.

Cup Stove

This sucker does not exactly fold into a nice small package, but you can use the inside of it to store all of your fire lighting equipment.  I was disappointed there was nothing provided to place the fuel tablets on.  On a bare patch of ground, much of the heat would have been lost to the ground.

This stove came with the same lame fire tablets that are sold with the Esbit stove.  They were hard to light and never boiled the water in the cup that CAME WITH the stove.

I loved the stability provided for the cooking pot.  I think this stove squeaked  by as a winner due to the wind blocking ability and stability.

In short, both stoves need better fuel tablets.  Neither was well thought out for survival situations.

Both Failed to boil water, which was just sad.  Future blog:  Testing different brands of fuel tablets.

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