camping


Last weekend I took the Pathfinder Club on our annual spring camping trip. We camp four times per year, twice in the fall, and twice in the spring. Twice with just our club, and twice with the conference (camporees). Yes, four twices makes four, and I’m sure you can figure that out.

We had several goals for this camping trip. The first was to prepare for the competition at the upcoming conference camporee. We’ve been working on this during the last couple of meetings, but there were some parts that just had to be done on a camping trip.

For this competition, the kids are divided into teams. We will be fielding two teams. They are each given a series of compass headings, and if they follow them correctly, they will find their victim. The first order of business is to render first aid to said victim, who has suffered a simulated head wound, burned hand, and sprained ankle. Unlikely as that is, it could still happen.

While part of the team is doing that, another part of the team must build a fire and brew some pine needle tea (which is not bad!) They also need to build a shelter using a 6’x8′ tarp and not more than 25′ of rope.

Then they take down the shelter and use the tarp to build a make-shift stretcher, on which they carry the victim out.
They are judged by how well they do each task, not on how fast they do each task.

So we learned the first aid, navigation, and shelter building during the past three meetings. I saved the tea-making and stretcher-building for the campout.

I had seen plans for a DIY backpacking stove online and thought it would be perfect for the tea-making part. I asked the conference if it would be OK, and they said it would be, provided I sent an email out to everyone with a link to the plans (so it would be even). Here the link if anyone cares.

One of my friends works at a place where they build stuff out of sheet metal, and since I wanted a couple of these, I thought I’d build one, and ask him if he wanted to build one too. He passed the request to a co-worker who punched the plans into one of their laser cutters. Bingo, out came a dozen stoves. 🙂

We tried it out over the weekend, and it worked remarkably well:

Stove in action

Stove in action

The advantage it affords over a DIY alcohol stove is that you don’t have to carry fuel – it burns pencil-sized sticks, and those are lying around all over the place. The disadvantage is that wood fires make a lot of soot which blackens the cookware. So we’ll need some bags for these.

A second goal was that we invited Peter Wannemacher from the Limington Lanterns (a Pathfinder Club in Maine) to join us for the weekend and teach us the Sign Language honor. He is an excellent teacher, and we learned a lot of ASL. I almost think I could communicate with a deaf person. The kids really enjoyed having him, and they learned an awful lot as well. Some of them already knew quite a bit which surprised me.

The third goal was for us to finish the Wilderness Living honor we started last fall. For that we needed to collect drinking water using two methods. In the past we have collected rain water from a tarp, and we have filtered water from a stream. But I like to mix things up a bit and try new things. Since I was a child I have known about the solar still technique, but had never tried it, so we gave that a go.

To make one, you dig a hole, place a cup in the center, and add a bunch of wet material around the cup. Then cover with transparent plastic, weight the edges of the plastic with rocks, and place one rock in the center of the plastic sheet right over the cup. The sun evaporates the water which condenses on the underside of the plastic, runs down the the weighted center, and drips off into the cup. I bought a nice, large piece of crystal-clear plastic for $4.00. We got about a fifth of an ounce of water. Yeah. $20.00 per ounce is a little pricey!

Maybe if it had been hotter outside it would have worked better. Too bad I didn’t take any pictures of it.

Last weekend the Pathfinder Club had the first campout of the spring. The Milano family had invited us to camp at their place, and I thought that was a grand idea. They have a small stream running through their property, and Warran (one of the staff) wanted to teach the Gold Prospecting honor. He wanted us to camp near a stream, and the Milanos had one. Done deal.

There were two problems with that plan, but we overcame them both. The first was that we could not get the trailer closer than about 300 yards from our camp site. The second was that those 300 yards were very wet. And by that, I mean that it was basically a swamp. I arrived early Friday with Beth and Ana, and we set about the task of building a small bridge over the first major puddle. Then we started hauling stuff to the site in a wheelbarrow.

A couple hours later, the Stokes clan arrived, and they helped haul stuff too. Everyone else arrived in waves. We got everything out there and set up before it got dark, but it was an awful lot of work making that happen. I can tell you that I was one tired dude.

Which made for good sleeping. I don’t usually sleep much when camping, but when I get tired enough, lying on the ground doesn’t get in the way of sleeping. Much.

We got up around 6:30, and made breakfast. After washing up, we began our church service. The kids led the song service and told a Bible story. Then I taught a short lesson using False Hellebore and a Dandelion. Then Jean Cadet, a guardian of one of my Pathfinders arrived, and he preached a short sermon.

Jean Cadet led our worship service

Jean Cadet led our worship service

After that, we began working on our supper. The plan was to build a lovo – a pit in the ground which we loaded with food (mostly root vegetables) and hot rocks. The food was wrapped in banana leaves.

Veggies wrapped in banana leaves in our lovo

Veggies wrapped in banana leaves in our lovo

And then we buried it.

Burying the lovo

Burying the lovo

We actually lined the bottom of the hole with quart-sized rocks, built a fire on top of them, and added more rocks to the fire. Two of the girls lit the fire using a magnesium fire starter (simlar to a flint and steel). They were pretty stoked when that fire got going. The pit had been dug and the fire had been started right after breakfast. We added the food after our church service.

Once the food was buried and the fire was out, we drove out to Mount Kearsarge. One of the older Pathfinders had never been to the top of a mountain before, so I thought we could not finish the year without hiking to the top of one. That was a problem we could fix.

The gate to the park was closed, so we had to hike almost a mile up to the regular parking lot. It was steep too. We took several rest breaks, and then hit the trail to attack the summit.

Up Mount Kearsarge

Up Mount Kearsarge

Climbing mountains can wear you out!

Rest Area

Rest Area

Along the trail we saw this rock. I suppose it marks the halfway point from the parking lot to the summit. Of course we had started out hike well before the parking lot, so that meant we were more than halfway when we reached this point.

Halfway mark

Halfway mark

Ana takes in one of the views well below the summit.

Ana takes in one of the views well below the summit.

At one point, the snow and ice was pretty thick on the trail. It was slippery in places too!

Snow and ice on the trail

Snow and ice on the trail

Here we are at the summit. Or very close to the summit. It’s kind of flattish up there making it hard to tell.

Group shot!

Group shot!

We decided the summit must be by this cairn.

We conquer!

We conquer!

It took about three hours to get to the top, and only one hour to get back down. Nobody stopped to rest on the way down. One kid twisted his ankle though, so it was slow going. I was going to carry him out, but he is one stout kid, and my legs simply refused to lift him. So he had to hobble down on his own. I stayed with him though.

Root plus tent.

Root plus tent.

The kids were way too tired to do anything too physical when we got back to camp. We unburied the food, ate supper, and made S’mores. Then the kids went to bed without complaint. They let me sleep until 7:00. I started waking them up around 7:30.

We ate breakfast, washed the dishes, and knocked out our Camping Skills honors. At 10:00am Warran showed up to teach Prospecting.

Warran teaches Prospecting

Warran teaches Prospecting

He took a look at the stream and decided that there was almost no way there would be any gold in it. There was no sand at all in the bed, and the stream did not originate in the mountains. If he had told me that ahead of time, I could have chosen a different stream, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. He had a backup plan though. He brought some pay dirt (which he had spike with some bits of silver and a little bit of gold). He dumped it into a kiddie pool and added water from the stream. Then showed the kids how to pan.

Panning for gold

Panning for gold


They were pretty stoked to find silver, even though they knew it had been added artificially. He explained that this pay dirt was way richer than what you would find in nature. Still, it’s good to find what you’re looking for so that if you ever do need to find it, you know what it’s like.

With that wrapped up, we struck camp. This time there were plenty of kids there to help haul it all back through the swamp to the trailer so it went a lot faster.

Here are a few more shots from this weekend’s camping trip.

Baking Bread-on-a-stick

Baking Bread-on-a-stick


In the shot above the kids were baking bread-on-a stick. I usually buy some of that biscuit dough in a cardboard tube – the kind that pops open when you bang it, or twist it, or peel off some of its outer cover. One biscuit slice gets wrapped thinly around a stick, and then it’s roasted over a fire. I love making it, and so do the kids.

After they were all in bed, I set the camera up on a tripod and tried to get an “art” shot of the dying fire.

Hot Coals

Hot Coals


I only took one shot. The camera was actually in the fire pit, and I didn’t want to mess around with it in there for too long.

Meh.

We took the Pathfinders camping at the Hancock Campground in Lincoln, NH this weekend. I led the 2:00 wave here, and some other staff left Concord around 5:00pm with the rest of the kids.

Of course the late wave didn’t arrive before the sun set, so the early wave did all the work of setting up the camp site. There were eight of us (four adults and four kids), but it all went pretty smoothly. We had it set up before dark.

We spent the evening around the campfire singing some songs, and I sent the juniors to bed a little before 10:00pm. Everyone else followed around 11:00.

In the morning after breakfast, we walked over to the Pemigewasset River. We couldn’t see it from our camp site, but we could sure hear it.

At the Hancock Campgrounds

At the Hancock Campgrounds

We were waiting for two other club members to show up, but since they were running pretty late, we didn’t wait too long.

Pemigewasset River

Pemigewasset River

We loaded a couple of backpacks with Ramen noodles, Easy Mac, and instant soup, and then headed across the Kancamagus Highway to the Lincoln Woods Trail. This is where a suspension bridge crosses the Pemi.

Suspended Over the Pemi

Suspended Over the Pemi


We were already on the correct side of the river, so we didn’t need to cross it, but who can resist the allure of a pedestrian suspension bridge?

We hiked in three miles to where Franconia Brook empties into the Pemigewasset. We stopped there for two hours, cooked our noodles, ate them, and threw several rocks into the river. This kids were having a blast. I had originally planned to have church there, but the river was too loud. I figured we’d find a place on the trail on the way back (which we did).

Our next stop was Franconia Falls.

Franconia Falls

Franconia Falls


This place was really cool, but it about scared me to death. The kids were not showing wet slippery rocks above frigid rapids the respect I thought they deserved. After five minutes of this, my nerves couldn’t take it anymore, so I rounded them up and we headed back down the trail. But it was a totally awesome place. I plan to go back some day when I have fewer kids with me, or kids who know to be scared of falling in.

We didn’t take as many rest stops on the way back to our camp site. David needed to scout the area around our site so he could set borders for the “Bible Smugglers” game we were going to play when it got dark. We made it back in plenty of time.

David set the boundaries while some of us cooked spaghetti for dinner (also garlic bread and salad). After we ate and washed up the dishes, the kids began playing Bible Smugglers. Basically, they have to memorize a verse from the Bible at their home base, and then try to sneak to their other base without getting tagged by the other team. If they make it, they have to write the verse in a notebook (including book, chapter, an verse). After 20 minutes they switch sides and do it again.

While they were doing that, the adults lit a fire and we had some S’mores. The kids joined us for that after they were good and tired. That’s also when David played a game of blindfolded chess against Connor. David won.

Evening the Odds

Evening the Odds

I had everyone in bed by 11:00 again. We got up at 7:00, made breakfast, ate it, cleaned up, and then made sack lunches. Then we put the lunches in our cars and broke camp. Sandy was getting closer, and some of the staff were anxious to get home sooner rather than later. We left at about 10:30.

There were no mishaps other than a few minor cuts and one kid with a migraine, so I’m going to chalk this one up as a success.

I was delighted that we managed to get all the tents dry before we struck them. We did have to give the flies of most tents thirty minutes of sun on their undersides to clear up condensed moisture (from breathing). I had one kid tell me she didn’t breath all night, so her fly was dry. Hmmm. I checked it anyhow, and it did need to be spread out on a picnic table. I was sure glad to get them all dry in the morning. It would have been pretty hard to dry them during a hurricane.

I’d better post this while we still have power (Sandy is blowing outside).

I am still alive and well, but it would be hard to tell that lately from my blog. I have been busy, and I have not taken very many pictures. I guess it would be fair to say that my camera drives this blog. It would also be fair to say that this blog drives my camera.

Fall has peaked and ebbed here. I was able to catch some of it, but not nearly as much as I wanted to.

Ripe hawthorns (Crataegus spp)

Ripe hawthorns (Crataegus spp)

Sandogardy Pond

Sandogardy Pond

American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Northfield Town Forest

Northfield Town Forest


The colors here were a lot more vivid in real life. They got better when I switch the camera’s white balance setting to “cloudy” vs “automatic.” It’s probably still on cloudy, as that’s not something I usually think to check.

At the beginning of this month the Pathfinders collected food for the needy. Last week our Church’s Community Services director came in and we helped her sort and store it. We also packed up a couple of boxes for people who requested them. I handed my camera to one of the kids, and he took several shots for me including this one.

Packing a box

Packing a box


I think he did a great job.

That was the same day we did the President’s Challenge Fitness Test. That includes five events – the mile, the shuttle run, V-sit and reach, curl-ups, and push-ups. I always participate in the test with the kids because I think it sets a good example. My own challenge to them was that I would give a dollar to any kid who could beat me in the mile. I also told them that if they wanted to beat me, they would have to run the entire mile, because that’s what I was going to do. I figured I’d be out six or seven bucks, but that motivator only cost me one dollar. I wish it had cost me fifteen. Maybe if the motivator was “whoever is less sore than me tomorrow” it would have.

The day before all that we had our annual induction service. It served as our church service, and I had a ton of work to do to get ready for that. It went pretty smoothly except that I had double-booked one of the parts to two kids. I also forgot to alert the person who had signed up to be the scripture reader that day ahead of time. Sigh.

David played in two more chess tournaments since I last wrote. One was a “quick” tournament where the players had 20 minutes per game. He placed second in that one. The other was a “standard” tournament – his first. In a standard tournament each player gets more than 60 minutes (they had 65 unless I am mistaken). As a result of that tourny, he now has a provisional standard rating – 1843. That’s pretty good. It’s the best rating in his local chess club, and I think he said the 11th best in New Hampshire.

On the heels of all this, we are going to go camping this weekend. I bought all the groceries tonight. I still haven’t packed my things (and Beth has not yet finished packing). Tomorrow I will buy the last few remaining items (such as ice).

The weather is supposed to cooperate, so hopefully I won’t have to dry tents while Sandy blows through New England.

Our Pathfinder club attended the Northern New England Conference 2012 Fall Camporee last weekend. The theme was “I Can Do All Things” which is the beginning of Philippians 4:13. The rest of it is “through Christ who strengthens me.” We learned about dealing with handicaps, but I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

We arrived around 5:00pm, and it was pouring rain. I had the kids pitch their tents, and they did so with alacrity and efficiency. Maybe they find the rain compelling. 😉 When I put the tents away, I always place the fly inside the canopy and spread it out on the floor, just in case it’s raining when we have to pitch it next time. It paid off this weekend. Once they spread the tent out and the rain came down through the screen roof, it landed on the fly as they got the poles up and the tent raised. Then we would carefully pull the fly out, trying to keep all the rain that had collected on it from spilling into the floor. That’s not very difficult to do – just raise the corners before dragging it out. Thirty seconds later, the fly was on top of the tent, and the floor was still dry enough that a couple of paper towels were sufficient for finishing that job. Pouring rain, but dry (on the inside) tents was a good way to start the weekend.

Next we set up the canopy shelters. We had two of them this time, and I just love that. Two are more than twice as good as one. We designated one of them as the kitchen, and the other as the dining room. In no time at all we had the whole camp set up.

Kitchen (foreground) and Dining Room (background)

Kitchen (foreground) and Dining Room (background)

The Keene club was gracious enough to feed dinner to everyone (they are located pretty close to the campground). We found their shelter and had some spaghetti.

Dinner with the Keene Conquerers

Dinner with the Keene Conquerers


As you can see from this photo, my lens fogged up, for all the photos I took Friday evening.

After the evening program we returned to our campsite. I sent the kids under 13 to bed at 10:00pm, and the teens helped me anchor down the canopies (that was neglected during setup).

In the morning I had one of the teams fix breakfast. I had three new staff members on this trip, and they were all fantastic. The two ladies brought an innovation that I just loved. When the kids woke up and needed to use the restroom, she made them bring their toothbrushes and take care of that then and there. Yes, even before eating. That saved a second trip and an enormous amount of time.

With the help of the new (and old) staff, we had breakfast cooked and eaten, the dishes washed, the kids in uniform, their tents straightened, teeth brushed, hands washed, and ready for flag raising in record time. I think this was the first time we have ever had all that done on time. After flag raising we returned to our campsite and were ready for inspection.

Show me your uniform shirts!

Show me your uniform shirts!


We passed the inspection with flying colors. There are two aspects to the inspection: the campsite, and the personal inspection. I believe we got a perfect score. 🙂

Then we assembled for a parade.

Ready for the Parade

Ready for the Parade


Then we had a church service, during which the kids got to try things to simulate a handicap. Here, Beth is trying to draw a smiley face with no hands.
Beth draws a smiley face

Beth draws a smiley face


We also tried drawing the smiley face while blindfolded. It was a real… “eye opener” for the kids (and for the adults).

After lunch we went through the “round robin” activities. My friend Peter was teaching sign language.

Peter Wannemacher teaches ASL

Peter Wannemacher teaches ASL


He is an exceedingly gifted teacher. I didn’t think it was possible to learn all 26 letters (and twenty numbers) in under ten minutes, but man… Peter led us through it with such skill that almost everyone there had that part down pat. He explained where the signs came from which really helps when it comes to remembering. He had everyone’s attention. I wish I could teach the way he did.

Another activity involved trying to find your way around without the use of your eyes.

Finding her way

Finding her way

After supper we went back to the pavilion for the evening program. In our conference, the Saturday evening program is presented by the clubs. It is always one of the highlights of the trip. Our skit was received almost exactly as I thought it would be. Punchline. Confusion. Understanding. Laughter and applause. David said it was the most terrifying two seconds between his delivery of the punchline and the commencement of the applause.

After the evening program we gathered around a campfire. The kids roasted marshmallows and enjoyed one another’s company.

Fun around the campfire

Fun around the campfire


We would have had S’mores, but I forgot to buy Graham crackers. No one complained though. I tried to make up for it by making a dump cake in my dutch oven (which you can see in the fire pit). Dump cake is an incredibly simple recipe that any idiot ought to be able to make it, which is why I failed so hard at it Saturday night. All you do is dump in some peaches, a box of cake mix, and a pat of butter. Do not mix. Set it in the fire and wait until it’s done. Somehow I managed to get the ingredients in backwards. I have no idea why I did it that way, but I didn’t figure it out until it had been in the fire for ten minutes. I fetched it out, stirred it up, and put it back on, and it came out kind of OK. But not nearly as good as it could have. Everyone in the club was super nice to me about it though, and all of it was eaten (except the bottom quarter inch which was jet black and stuck fast to the bottom of the dutch oven).

In the morning four of my staff shepherded the kids through more activities while three of us stayed behind and packed up the kitchen. By the time flag lowering came around we were almost ready to go. All we had to do was strike the kids tents and make sack lunches for the ride home. We were out before 1:00pm, which is to say, in record time.

Before we went, we posed beneath this spectacular tree.

Central NH Flames Pathfinder Club

Central NH Flames Pathfinder Club


The campground owner took this shot of us. I found out later that she is selling the property, so this could have been our last trip there. If it was, it was sure a great trip, even though it rained off and on during the entire stay (and no one complained! What a great group of people!)

I spent yesterday and a good portion of today backpacking with some of the Pathfinders in my club. Last month I taught a class on backpacking during Honors Week, but no one can get the patch until they have actually gone backpacking. We checked that box today.

When we got to the trailhead, we noticed that Google was there.

One of Google's Street View vehicles

One of Google’s Street View vehicles


I had never seen one of these before, and frankly, I was never expecting to. While we were still getting our backpacks out of the cars and paying the use fees to the US Park Service, the Google guys popped out of the forest. They gave some of the kids a partial can of Pringles. I think they were just as excited about having gotten something from the Google guys as they were about getting Pringles.

We set out a little after that, and not far up the trail, I found a neat little spot where the trail comes close to the river. We cooked our lunch there, and the kids all seemed to enjoy the stream. David found a perch in the middle of it, and none of the kids could figure out how he got there. Hint – he can jump farther than they can.

David relaxing in the middle of the stream.

David relaxing in the middle of the stream.


Perhaps two hundred yards upstream from there, the trail crossed the river. We forded it with no issues. David crossed it expertly, but some of the kids were a tad nervous.
Fording the stream

Fording the stream

We hiked up, and up, and up. I guess we went in about 2.5 miles which doesn’t seem like much, but with seven kids in tow (plus four adults), and all of them carrying more gear than they should have, it took a while. My plan was to hike all the way to East Pond. I have been there before, but by approaching it from the south. We were coming in from the north. All the while, I was looking for a suitable place to pitch our tents and spend the night, and that was a tough job.

The forest there is loaded with deadfall, and we were hard-pressed to find a place big enough to pitch a tent without it landing on a log. I looked at several places, and then pressed through some really thick hemlock and found a flat, mossy place. It was nice – but I suppose we would have to classify it as a bog. But bog is better than log, so we found the driest places available, pitched our tents, and stowed our sleeping bags in them.

I found some winter berry (Gaultheria hispadula), which I had never seen before. I knew it was in one of my books, but couldn’t recall the name until I looked it up at home.

Winter berry (Gaultheria hispadula)

Winter berry (Gaultheria hispadula)


This is in the same genus as wintergreen, and like wintergreen, it is edible. Most white berries are not, and since I didn’t know this plant, I did not sample it. I will next time though. The books say it tastes just like its close cousin.

I also found this bright red mushroom.

Mario's mushroom

Mario’s mushroom


I have no idea what kind of mushroom it is, and I haven’t looked it up yet. I think it looks like one from any Mario Brother’s video games, so I’m just going to go with that for now.

While pitching the tents we met one minor disaster. One of our tent poles broke. I effected a repair with some duct tape from my pack, and some “available material.”

Tent Splint

Tent Splint


This repair was incredibly effective, and I was rather pleased with myself for having made it. I will have to address it on a more permanent basis soon though.

With our tents pitched and bags stowed, we continued up the trail unladen (for the most part).

We didn’t make it all the way to East Pond as I had hoped. Before we got there, turn-around time arrived, so I turned us around and we went back to camp to begin cooking supper while we still had light.

We beat the sun back to our tents and began supper prep. I boiled up a bit of penne pasta with some broccoli, mushrooms, and garlic that I had dehydrated late last week (just in time). Then I tossed in some olive oil. It was very good if I do say so myself.

Mmmm... this was good.

Mmmm… this was good.


The penny stoves performed pretty well. I did learn of one drawback to using isopropyl alcohol vs denatured alcohol – isopropyl leaves a lot more soot. Everyone (me included) had black all over themselves by the time they were finished handling their pots. It scrubs off the pots easily enough, but I’ve still got it around my fingernails and in my fingerprints. But I think the visible flame (denatured burns with an invisible flame) was well worth the sooty downside.

We didn’t build a campfire. That was partly because there was no good place to sit in the bog without getting wet bottoms, and partly because we were trying to engage in “leave no trace” camping. I don’t think we left a trace either, and I’m pretty pleased about that.

We turned in around 9:00pm, and I got up around 6:30. I ran into some regular wintergreen in bloom – it quit more than a month ago at my house, but I guess the higher altitude made it bloom later here.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)


Sorry for the darkness of that shot. It was handheld, and I was in a hurry (nature was calling). I would have gotten a better shot if I had taken the time to set up the tripod and lengthen the exposure time, but… I had to go!

When all the kids were up, I had them strike the tents and load up again. The plan was to hike back down to where he had eaten lunch the previous day. The bog was nice (really! no bugs, and not nearly as wet as one might imagine) but I wanted to eat in a slightly drier spot. That exercise took about two hours. The tent that I repaired has a somewhat porous floor, so Beth’s “pillow” got wet. She stuffed all her clothing in a pillow case, and that meant that all the clothes she had other than her PJ’s were very damp. So she hiked out in her jams.

The stream was just as nice for breakfast as it had been for dinner. I had pancakes (as did several of the kids). Others had oatmeal, and some had dry cereal. We loaded up again at 11:30 (it was a late breakfast) and in thirty more minutes found ourselves at the cars.

Now I have the tents pitched in the back yard to dry the bog off of them. With any luck, I’ll be able to take them down tomorrow, and consider repair strategies for the broken one.

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