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Fall puts me more in the mind of cooking than camping, but while I have some applesauce bubbling on the stove, let me take a little time to talk about storing your camping gear over the winter.  Unless you do cold weather camping, all of your gear is going to be just sitting around for a while.  A little work now will make you a happier camper come warm weather again.

Tent — Make sure your tent is completely dry before putting it away for the winter (unless you happen to like the smell of mildew).  If you aren’t certain that your tent is dry, find a sheltered space like a garage, or your living room if you can work around it, and set your tent up there for a couple of days.  Your nose will thank you come spring.

Sleeping Bags — As with your tent, make sure your bags are completely dry.  Store them outside of their stuff sacks, suspended from a hanger, so they keep their pile (fluffiness) and therefor their insulating properties.

Sleeping Pads — Same deal as with sleeping bags: dry and unrolled.  Keep the air vent open so any latent moisture can get out.

Cooking Supplies — If you’re like me and keep a box of dishes and cooking implements specifically for camping, make sure you go through and clean every thing and take out any edibles that may have made their way into the mix.  There are few things worse than reaching into a box for a measuring cup and pulling out a moldy orange.

Clothing — Wash out all that old campfire smoke to make way for next year’s.  Watch out for crickets!

Have a happy fall, everyone.  Get out there and do something fun!

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We think of summer days as being sunny and warm (and sometimes they even are!), but when it comes to summer nights, things can get mighty chilly.  Even in the summer, nighttime temperatures in Olympic National Park can get down in the lower 40s, even below freezing.  Out by the coast, fog can blanket the land in chill damp for days at a time, and higher elevations mean you’re that much closer to the freezing void of outer space on a clear night (and the stars are that much more beautiful because of it).

No matter the reason, not being prepared for a cold night can lead to uncomfortable, fitful sleep, and potentially cranky campers the next day.  Here are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way that can help ensure you have a warm and cozy night.

Use an appropriate tent—  For camping in the summer, you shouldn’t need anything more than a three season tent, but which tent you have still matters.  Try not to use on that’s bigger than you need.  Your body heat will keep your tent warmer than the outside air, and the smaller the space to heat, the warmer it will get.  Also keep in mind your tent’s construction.  The tent I use for camping has great ventilation–the top couple of feet underneath the small rain fly is netting–but that also means all my body heat goes right out the top of the tent!  Not very cozy when you’re camping in Yellowstone and it snows in June.  Such a situation is not hopeless, however: draping some towels or a windbreaker over the netting makes a huge difference, or if you’re really ambitious you can knit yourself a tent-cozy.

Wear appropriate pajamas—  Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it came from a plant, don’t wear it to bed.  Cotton and linen are very light and comfy–and horrible at retaining heat!  Synthetic fibers are good at keeping you warm, and great for keeping you dry.  Animal fiber, be it from sheep, alpaca, goats, or rabbits, is even better for warmth, but not as quick-drying (you’ll be warm, but you might also feel a little clammy.)  Also, tighter fitting pajamas keep you warmer than loose ones.  And, no matter how counter-intuitive it seems, wearing multiple layers inside your sleeping bag will actually make you colder because your body heat will be soaked up by the clothing instead of being held by the insulation on your bag; in a mummy bag, you’ll actually be the warmest if you sleep naked!  My camping pajamas are the only pieces of clothing I have bought specifically for camping: a set of wool-synthetic blend long underwear (which I also use for layering when I’m not sleeping.)

Get off the ground— Aside from being hard and often lumpy, the ground is also cold.  In the same way a down jacket insulates you from cold air, a foam or inflatable sleeping pad traps air that is heated by your body and insulates you from the cold ground.

Fill up empty space— A snug sleeping bag is a warm sleeping bag.  Mummy bags are so warm in part because they are so skinny and hug your sleeping body.  I, unfortunately, do not have a mummy bag.  What I have is a hand-me-down, well made, rectangular REI bag that used to be my father’s (which means, since he’s a good 7 inches taller than me, that it’s bigger than I need.)  Even when I zip it up all the way and cinch the top drawstring tight, there’s a lot of empty space inside, meaning a lot of air to heat.  I fix this problem by bringing my wool sweater and sometimes my next day’s clothes into my sleeping bag with me.  I don’t wear them, I use them to fill up the empty space.  Then, in the morning, or if I have to get up in the night, I have a nice preheated sweater to wear.

Preheat—  Speaking of preheating, it always helps to warm yourself up a bit before hopping into a cold sleeping bag.  Take a walk around the campground, or drink some hot chocolate (but not too much, unless you want to be forced to go look at the stars at 3am).  If you have a fire, rake out the coals–it helps put out the fire faster and also releases a lot of heat you can soak up.  I always put on my long-john pajamas under my clothes an hour or two before bed, then all I have to do is take off my outer layers and I’m still nice and warm.  Consider eating a small snack before bedtime so that your metabolism can keep you toasty.

Hopefully these tips can be useful to you in your cool weather camping adventures.  What other ways have you found to keep warm at night in the great outdoors?

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As I write this post I am relaxing in the Hurricane Coffee Company, in Sequim, drinking a delicious iced raspberry mocha and enjoying their complimentary wi-fi.  Camping-buddy Lavon is off at a family get together elsewhere in town, giving me the perfect opportunity to reflect on our just-completed camping trip to Deer Park.

I have heard Deer Park called “the most beautiful primitive campground in the state,” and I believe it.  It’s 16 sites are located 5,400 feet above Port Angeles, where sub-alpine firs give way to barren alpine meadows on Blue Mountain.  Choosing a site (if there is much choice left when you get up there) can be difficult: do you want an open site on the west side of the campground, exposed to icy winds but with incredible views into the interior of the Olympic Mountains, or would you prefer a site on the east side, bordering a lupin-filled meadow and sheltered by fir trees?  Our choice was made easy: when we arrived at 2:00 on Thursday afternoon there were four sites left, two of them walk-in, all among the trees.  We took the one with the most level tent pad, site 14.

As soon as we had set up camp, the clouds, which had been obscuring our view of the mountains around us as we drove up the gravel Deer Park Road, began rolling over the ridge we were on.  Aside from giving the place a mysterious air, they also made it frigid, the damp kind that goes through everything.  I never got warm in my sleeping bag that night.  Before bedtime, though, we drove to the very end of the road at the top of Blue Mountain–or, almost the top.  We walked the rest of the way to the summit on a loop nature trail.

There are few benefits to being unable to sleep.  One of them, though, has to be getting to see the sun rise, and to watch it rise on a perfectly clear morning over a sweep of mountains from on top of a mountain yourself is a magical event.

The weather remained clear for the rest of the day.  At nine o’clock we hit the trail that runs along the ridge-line between Deer Park and Obstruction Point. (The latter is accessed via a dirt road from Hurricane Ridge.)  The trail immediately drops 400 feet to a saddle, then climbs for 3.5 miles and 1,000 feet past an impressive variety and number of wild flowers, through high forests and meadows, to a large meadow and a barren ridge below 6,434 ft Maiden Peak, where we turned around.  It was one of the most worthwhile hikes I have ever taken.

High meadow below Maiden Peak

From this barren ridge you can look into Maiden Peak's cirque and out over the Strait of Jaun de Fuca

Lavon points to our destination, visible from the trailhead

We returned to the campground around 2:30 and spent the rest of the day relaxing.  Despite the sun, the air at that high elevation was a chilly 58 degrees in the middle of the afternoon.  I wore my wool sweater for the rest of the day, but, thanks to some tent rearranging, spent the night warm and comfortable and woke up the next morning well after sunrise.

More information on the campground, as well as tips for camping in a primitive campground are to come.  In the mean time, enjoy some wildflower pictures:

stonecrop on top of Blue Mountain

lupin in the meadow behind the campground

columbine along the trail

lupin and bear grass in the high meadow

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Friday morning saw camping-buddy Lavon and myself heading out to the Olympic peninsula for a weekend of camping.  The plan was to spend two nights at the Hoh rainforest, with a roughly six mile hike up the river as our Saturday activity.  First things first, though; Friday was also an eventful day for our little town: the grand opening of our very own Trader Joe’s.  We stopped in on our way out of town and experienced live music, hula dancers, and something I’d never seen in a grocery store before: lines 15 people deep in which every person was cheerful and smiling.  We picked up some of Joe’s Spicy Chai Latte just-add-water mix, which turned out to be quite tasty and an excellent thing to take camping because it meany we could have chai without bringing along milk.

It’s 160 miles from my house to the Hoh, so we made a couple of stops along the way.  The first, at Hurricane Coffee in Sequim, is a stop we make nearly every time we pass by.  The place has a really nice atmosphere and some pretty delicious coffee and bagels.  Later, we had a picnic lunch (falafel with olives, capers, tsaziki, and tomatoes in pita) at La Poel, a small peninsula that sticks out into Lake Crescent, which, I learned on this trip, used to contain a truck stop with cabins and a tavern, but now just has picnic tables and fire pits.  No overnight camping is allowed at La Poel, but it makes a tranquil mid-day retreat.

As we passed through Forks, Lavon and I started planning an imaginary Twilight themed ice cream shop.  We had fun thinking up flavors to go with books we’d never read until we came to the turn off to get to the Hoh…  where we were stopped by a ranger.  He informed us that there was a mother elk that had just given birth and was charging at people, so they had to close the area.  There went that plan.  We turned around, made our way back through the Twilight Zone–I mean, Forks–and headed to the coast to camp at Mora, right across the Quillayute River from La Push.

There appears to be some force in the universe that is constantly driving me towards Mora.  I have camped there four or five times, yet only one of those times was intentional.  When other campgrounds are full or close, Mora is where I end up.  And I don’t mind, because Mora is actually my favorite campground of any that I’ve been to.

So we snagged site 31 at Mora, a cozy little site with a tent pad set back in what Lavon called a grotto made of vine maple and elderberry bushes.  Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent mapping out the campground, which took quite a while as there are nearly 100 sites between five irregularly shaped loops.  Loops C and D were closed because the campground wasn’t very busy, and A hardly had anyone in it, so we got to walk into a whole bunch of the sites to really get a feel for them.  #18, in loop A, had this really cool stump in it:

For dinner we had sausages with sauted onions and mushrooms and polenta (perfect camp fare: hearty and delicious), after which we went a mile further down the road to its end at Rialto Beach, where we watched the waves under a darkening grey sky.  Back at camp, my home-made fire starters worked reasonably well.  I wish I had taken the time to fill them up further with wax so they would burn longer, but they got the job done.

Sleep that night should have been easy.  There was a lovely chorus of frogs, and while our neighbor did snore, he was far enough away not to be a nuisance.  The rain that started around 11:30, on the other hand, was a problem.  Our lovely little tent grotto sent large drips hammering down on the tent’s rain fly, making a terrible racket.  The noise, along with my constant worry that all our stuff would become soaked as it touched the edge of the tent, kept me awake, though I know I did get some sleep, and probably more than I thought.

The rain was still going come morning, though by that time it was more of a heavy mist.  After breakfast, when we had saturated a towel mopping up small puddles in the tent, we decided to cut our losses and pack up.  When I lifted my sleeping pad off the tent floor, I discovered a small lake waiting underneath.  By some miracle I had remained dry for the night, but I doubt I would have remained so for a second one.

We made our way home, tired and damp, but still glad we had gone.

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While I work on my map making skills so I can show you all some more results from my trip to Staircase two weeks ago, let me tell you how excited I am about my next planned camping trip–and it’s not even in the Olympics!

Next weekend I’ll be chaperoning somewhere between ten and fifteen junior high students from the church youth group on a “Rock and Roll” trip, meaning we’ll be going rock climbing and river rafting.  I’m going because I know how to belay.  (I’ve actually taken a group of junior highers camping and rock climbing in the same spot we’ll be going to when I worked for a summer at Tall Timber Ranch.)  The other half, the river rafting, I’ve never done before, and I’m both excited and a little nervous to do it.  It’s not that I think I’ll drown, I just don’t want to get wet and cold.  I know, I’m a sissy.

It is my plan to be thoroughly over prepared for this trip.  Most of the gear will be provided by someone else, but I still intend on bringing most of my camping supplies–just in case, right?  And anyway, when you’re responsible for a bunch of younger teens, it never hurts to have some extra stuff, which is why I’m bringing two sleeping bags and three waterbottles, as well as extra sweaters.

Those extra sweaters might turn out quite handy, if I am to believe one of the ladies who went on the trip last year.  Apparently all the guys were warm, but the gals, who were informed by one of those guys that it wouldn’t get too cold on the trip, were all freezing.  I’m not surprised.  Staying warm is always my biggest problem on camping trips, which is why I fell in love with wool last year.

Wool is amazing!  I don’t understand why it’s gotten such a bad rap.  It’s warm, durable, doesn’t hold odors, and isn’t even itchy if you get stuff that’s been handled well.  Last spring I bought myself a set of wool/synthetic blend long underwear and it pretty much saved my life when we were camping in Yellowstone in June and the temperature dropped to around 25 degrees every night and it snowed half of the days we were there.  I recently knitted myself two sweaters out of 100% wool, and let me tell you, they are warm and comfy and not scratchy at all.  I have a feeling they will come in quite handy next weekend.

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Hello internet-land.  I don’t have a lot of information to impart to you this week, just a few rambling thoughts on how we’ve been getting ready for camping season.

This morning Lavon and I went down to the laundromat in downtown Silverdale to wash her sleeping bag.  I’ve seen various recommendations regarding washing sleeping bags, ranging from be careful to it’s really not a good idea and breaks down the pile (fluffiness) of your bag.  But even REI, who was in the latter camp, admits that if your sleeping bag is getting dirty and gross you’d be better off washing it and being clean.

Well, Lavon’s bag wasn’t gross, but it was dirty, and had lost a lot of its pile, so we packed it down to the laundromat where it could take a ride in one of the big front loading washers, since the absence of an agitator would be gentler on the fabric and stitching.  While it was washing we popped next door to have breakfast at one of my favorite places to get camping rations: Pip’s Bagels.  They make a nice variety of bagels there fresh every day, as well as their own flavored cream cheeses.  My favorites include pesto bagels and sundried tomato bagels, and I love their spinach-artichoke cream cheese.  If you like sweet bagels (I’m not a big fan myself), the orange cranberry poppy-seed are also quite good.

After breakfast it was back to the laundromat and about an hour in the dryer at low heat with some tennis balls (for the sleeping bag, not me–I don’t think the attendant would have liked it if I’d gotten in the dryer.)  I don’t know how much good the tennis balls did as they didn’t have a lot of room to bounce around.

The sleeping bag is now a lot cleaner, and it looks a little fluffier, though it’s kind of hard to tell.  I’m sure it will be nicer to sleep in now either way.

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Campfires and I don’t always get along.

There, I admitted it.  I tell myself and others that I’m great with fires.  In truth, they tend to burn up all the newspaper I use to light them and then take about 15 minutes of babying before I have a stable fire going.  I think my problem might be over confidence (in the fire): I just expect it to instantly light the big pieces of wood I put in there, with the help of insufficient kindling.

So this year I have resolved to build better fires.  To work towards that end I made some fire starters today.  They were really easy and totally free, thought they did take a bit of time and effort.  They might not end up being free for you (I have a lot of random stuff lying around my house!) but they will at least be pretty darn cheap.

Here’s what you need:

An empty egg carton

Sawdust (or scraps of wood and some tools to make sawdust)

Candle stubs

(extremely messy work bench not required)

I didn’t have any sawdust readily on hand so I made some using a rasp on a scrap piece of wood (Lavon made a bunch of it, actually.)  We also made pretty little curly wood shavings with a plane.

I put some of each into the egg carton divots.

Then I lit a candle (It’s an old communion candle I got free from church.  They get changed out every month.) and held it sideways over the sawdust so the melting wax would drip over it.  I put the match I used to light the candle in one of the divots for good measure–why waste it?

Let enough wax drip over the sawdust to make a good coating–we don’t want any of that highly flammable material to escape!

Wait for the wax to harden up and then cut all the pieces apart.

They’re small, so I’ll probably use two or three per fire, but it’s hard to argue with free, and it’s so satisfying to make something useful.

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