Nothing beats a nice, hot shower after a hike….

Oftentimes during my several hikes, and especially whilst negotiating a particularly taxing climb, I had often wondered about the possibility of rigging up some kind of a shower system in the bush, that would help relieve the tremendously tiring and sweaty periods of any hike in the wilderness.

Unfortunately, all my thoughts remained as thoughts and I never had the time or patience to design something like that, until I found the very thing at my local hiking shop!

As you may have read in my past articles here, I am a sucker for MEC, a fantastic mecca for folks like you and me who are into any kind of leisure pursuit, be it on land, up a mountain, on the water or snow and ice.

There I found The Hot Tap wilderness shower pack. It’s a superb idea, and is capable of providing you with a very adequate hot shower for up to 10 minutes.

All you do is dunk the pump in water, light the propane burner and hey! presto, you have an instant hot water shower in the middle of nowhere.

What is it like in use? As always, I only comment on the things I have used personally, and this is one of them. It comes with it’s own fully illustrated instructions that are clear and easy to read.

The shower is able to give you around 8 to 10 minutes of hot water. I found it to be enough to remove the normal grime, sweat and tears of a normal hike….of course, with any shower, you really want to stand under it as long as possible, savouring the life-giving heat of the water on your body, but don’t forget, this is not the shower in your home, and so you have to get on with cleaning yourself rather swiftly before the water runs out!

Batteries for the pump are needed…if you forget to pack them, well, let’s just say your hot shower in the wilderness will remain a dream! I do know some of my friends who bought this unit have used rechargeable batteries, which last longer and can obviously be recharged when required.

All in all, a very, very ingenious item and well worth packing for your hike.

Click here to read more about this very useful hiking must-have accessory.

😉

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The disappearing world of the ‘shroom pickers…

 

Well, I think that should be “The disappearing ‘shroom pickers” really.

Because mushroom picking is the only thing that still remains from humankind’s ancient history. It’s the last remnant of the nomad life still remaining in the world, aside of the real nomads in places like Mongolia, the Sahara desert etc.  The last time where this kind of camaraderie existed, the gold mines, died out years ago….the freedom, independence and all the rest that comes bagged with this kind of life.

I’m fortunate in living in BC, Canada where a lot of the mushroom hunting goes on. Some time ago, I ventured out to the Charlotte Islands myself, or to give them their real name, Haida Gwaii…..mushroom hunting was the least thing on my mind at that time….I just wanted to get away from the rush-rush life of the city, and a trip to a far away place such as the Charlottes was too good to give up! Pity my wife, who ‘volunteered’ to stay at home!

It’s a long way away, and getting to the place all depends on how urgent your visit is. You can fly there from Vancouver via AirCanada which drops you off at Sandspit, or you could take the BC Ferry from Prince Rupert to Skidegate.

I had plenty of time on my hands, so I decided to take the more scenic and laid-back route, driving from the mainland to Port Hardy on Vancouver island, and thence the BC Ferry to Price Rupert as above.

The Haida Gwaii are an archipelago of 138 islands, 80 miles off the coast of northern BC and most of them are uninhabited, the native peoples having been moved forcibly when Canada first became populated by the white man.

Anyway, my idea was to travel alone and just camp by myself whenever the opportunity arose, but a chance encounter in a drinking place changed all that. nevertheless, I was still able to go it alone afterwards.

I met a guy in the bar who started small talk etc and very soon the topic of “where are you going…” came up, both from my side and his. I told him what I was planning to do, and he told me that he was there to pick ‘shrooms.

That intrigued me, as I’d never met anyone in person who’d done so, and we got talking further. He saw that I was interested, but I could sense a wariness about what he was telling me…he steadfastly refused to talk about where he  would be going, who with or when. And he was quite open about his secrecy, too. “Their places are as sacred to ‘shroom pickers just as the Vatican is to Catholics!” he said!

I asked him if he was going in his own. He replied that some of the pickers work alone, but he works with a gang, whom he’d be happy to introduce me to if I wanted….but he warned me that they were a rough n tough bunch and don’t take too easily to meeting strangers!

The next day, I met him again at the same bar, we had a few drinks and he said he was going to drive over to where the rest of his friends were camped and I could come with him. The camp was about a 30 minute drive away, in a quiet forested area just off a dirt road. Sure enough, when we arrived and I got out of the pickup, the few people who weren’t in their tents all suddenly stopped doing whatever they were doing…and started staring at us…well, not us, but ME!

My friend Jon winked at me and said “…told you so…”, relating to me what he’d said about strangers in camp etc. It was late afternoon by the time we finished talking and telling our own stories, so Jon asked if I wanted to stay with them overnight or a few days, which I jumped at….I was not going to give up this golden opportunity easily, I tell you!

During the next few days, I met and talked to, it seemed, a whole cross-section of people……from a group of Chinese who kept themselves to themselves, only mixing with the rest of the people if they needed to, a single mother with her 4 children, some Hispanics who couldn’t speak a word of english but were the happiest people on earth, judging by the smiles when they met me, a native Indian guy who’d been picking mushrooms for coming up to 15 years, an office worker who, like me, had become fed up with the rat-race and had taken to mushroom picking because “it paid the bills and let him be with the eagles and the wolves..”, a student who wanted to make some cash, two russian guys who were as inscrutable as they come, and many more such colorful characters.

I got talking the office worker, seeing as he had the same ideas as myself. I asked him why he gave up what was a very comfortable life, to live in the wilds. I knew what he’d say, but what the heck. And sure enough, his answer was text-book.

He explained that he’d been working in administration for over 20 years, and in that time, all he could see was that he was working himself to death….it was the same boring pattern that I escaped from myself….work, eat, sleep, work, eat sleep, work, eat, sleep….ad infinitum.

Here in the wilds, he said, there were no deadlines….no boss to answer to, no office politics, nobody to please but himself. He still had an apartment in downtown Vancouver which was paid for, so there was no problem with paying a mortgage or anything, but he’d rented it out as he was away for most of the time.

And he also confirmed that mushroom pickers were a very secretive bunch indeed…and rightly so, as the crop was very elusive at the best of times and one could make substantial money once a site was found.

Bc was not the only place in Canada where mushrooms could be picked in large numbers….when the crop in this area was depleted, they’d head over to the East coast, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan or the Yukon.

I also learnt that there some varieties of mushroom that could be grown artificially, but some could not, only becoming available in the right conditions in the wild.

I spent a total of 3 days in the mushroom pickers’ camp and in that time everyone had become friendly with me, knowing that I was a person who loved the wilderness just like them!

😉

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.wholeearth.com/issue/2100/article/145/migrant.mushroomers

3 most important items if you are lost in the wilderness…

By taking part in a pastime that necessarily involves an element of danger, we should always be prepared for times when the worst can happen.

Having a set of the important tools for survival is the first most urgent point.

Let’s have a look at these 3 items.

Knife

Compass

Fire lighter

Of course,it really depends upon where you are lost….if it is a barren area, or solid frozen snow-covered wilderness or the desert, then we may require a few other items than those listed.

If we are in a dense forested area or a jungle (very rare in N America!), then these items will save your life, if used correctly.

The knife is one thing you DO NOT want to lose when you’re hiking….it is said no matter how honed your survival skills, if you don’t have a knife, you’re chances of survival are very low indeed.

What can a knife do? Well, a knife can offer you:

  1. Immediate protection and self-defense while you construct more suitable weapons.
  2. The ability to quickly sharpen a strong stick to make a spear for hunting and for protection.
  3. The ability to cut fruits or edible green matter
  4. The ability to cut vines and/or animal hides into thin strips to use as cord so you can make or build things.
  5. The ability to cut and build a variety of primitive traps and snares to capture wild game.
  6. The ability to properly skin an animal and slice the meat 

The important thing about a knife is this….you cannot make a knife from raw materials if you are lost in the wilderness, period. You may be able to use things like broken glass for cutting edges etc but nothing as useful as a proper knife.

For this reason, I always carry not one but TWO knives, one is a folding one and the other a full length sheathed type.

Types of knives

There is a plethora of knives on sale for hikers and campers…it is up to you to make the correct choice and not be taken in by fancy marketing. First and foremost, my advice is not to waste your money on those Swiss Army knives…they may be good enough for the Swiss Army, but there are cheaper and better alternatives closer to home…we” come to that in a minute.

The best knives are those made of stainless steel…these will never rust and will keep their edges far longer than a non-stainless steel knife.

Also, the construction of the knife is of paramount importance….buy one on which he blade extends all the way back to the end of the handle….that will be a very sturdy knife compared to one on which the blade ends at the start of the handle.

A belt sheath is very useful indeed and ensures your knife will always be handy for immediate use.

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The next item in order of importance is a fire. No matter where we are stranded, a fire immediately raises your morale and composure, making us less likely to give up survival.

And we all know that having a fire going will keep dangerous animals away, as well as providing much-needed heat for warmth and cooking….in some cases, a fire may well signal your presence to those searching for you.

Again, as with knives, there are hundreds of suggested ways of starting fires, but from experience, let me say this much….if you are stranded in an area where it is very damp, or raining, or snowing heavily, the so-called primitive fire method is almost next to useless.

Picture the scenario…you are soaking wet, the air is damp or freezing, you are depressed at being in such a situation and any sparks you are able to create, soon disappear due to the amount of moisture in the air.

As well, in extreme weather, one is very likely to become quickly irritable and fearful, so starting a fire using friction or other primitive methods is very difficult indeed during times of emotional stress.

At present, there are 3 methods of starting a fire….butane cigarette lighters, matches and magnesium fire starters.

Matches

There are many kinds of matches available that promise the ability to light fires in any terrain or condition, but they all depend upon you having the very best, dry tinder, as well as being dry themselves.

If at all your matches get wet, then it will be almost impossible to use them…I have tried reusing dried matches that have been wet, but the material on the match head just crumbles off, so keeping matches dry is paramount.

Next we have butane cigarette lighters….these are very cheap and cost around a $1.50 each. Bear in mind that one of these little beauties, though cheap and simple, has the ability to light around a 1000 fires…that’s one fire a day for THREE years….buy a bigger sized one and you’re talking about over 4000 fires. Butane lighters are very reliable and will light up in the wettest weather…I have used them in rain, sleet, high winds and snow with excellent effect.

Finally, we have the magnesium method. This involves shaving thin strips of magnesium off a block and creating sparks from the flint by striking it with your knife. This can also be very good and reliable, as magnesium catches alight very rapidly.

From my experience, it pays to have all 3 with you, as then you have a fail-safe system. Undoubtably, the best method I can vouch for is the butane method.

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And then we come to the compass.

A compass is vital if you are lost. Even though you may not know zilch about map-reading or using a compass to find your way through to civilisation, it will at least allow you to walk in a straight line, hopefully to a road where help will be available.

Without a compass, your chances of walking in a straight line consistently are next to zero.

Always go for a decent compass….you can pick some up in dollar stores, but would you place your trust one of these? Not me!

There are very useful models available that have several life-saving features included in them…..some have the compass as well as a mirror (for signalling), a whistle (for attracting attention) and a small torch.

I have selected the very best items for you here, that I have used myself and that have proven their worth countless times over.

All these items can be purchased at Backcountry.com

SOG Knives Team Leader Knife

SOG Knives Team Leader Knife

The SOG Team Leader Knife exemplifies simplicity and versatility with its plain-edge AUS-8 stainless steel blade and no moving parts to gum up and fail in the field. The comfortable, no-slip checkered Zytel handle with lanyard hole and included leather sheath round out this simple, effective tool to ensure that you have every possible option for survival.    Price: $62…reduced from $103.45

Suunto MC-2G Navigator Global Compass

The Suunto MC-2G Navigator Compass features:

patented global needle that functions flawlessly anywhere in the world

large mirror

additional sighting hole

luminous bezel ring

magnifying lens

standard issue for Military Special Forces.  Price: $75.56

Ultimate Survival Technologies Strikeforce Firestarter

Ultimate Survival Technologies Strikeforce Firestarter.

WetFire tinder wrapped and stored in the tinder compartment starts without hesitation.    Price: $19.96

Matches and butane cigarette lighters can be purchased from any general store.

Cooking in the wilderness…where do we go from here…?

Like hikers and walkers the world over, all of us rely on lightweight cooking utensils that are easy to carry and easy to wash.

And unfortunately, these characteristics are only available, at present, with aluminium (or if you’re in the USA…aluminum!) cook ware.

All my pots, pans etc are made out of this stuff, aside of one or two stainless spoons I carry, out of habit more than anything else.

But what I noticed a few days ago when I was drying my pots gave me one hell of a fright….take a look at those photos below….it’s a paper tissue that I used to wipe dry my cooking pot.

 

Picture 779 Picture 778

 

And no, that isn’t dirt or anything else on that tissue….the pot was sparkling clean, with just a little water left on it’s surface……that is aluminium residue coming off with every wipe! So every time we cook in our pots, a little of that aluminium gets mixed into our food….

And you should know that aluminium residues coming off during cooking have been implicated in several problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.

So what do we do? In short, that’s a damn tough one to answer!

Throw away all our aluminium pots and pans, and what do we cook in then?

Unless we buy stainless steel stuff, but of course, that’s gonna make a change to how much we can carry, as I think I’m right in saying…correct me if I’m wrong somebody….that steel is heavier than aluminium, weight for weight.

Did someone mention Teflon? That’s been implicated with cancer recently…!

Anybody have any ideas?

:0

The cry of the wilderness…

Mt Everest Base Camp

Recently, it was the 60th anniversary of man’s first ascent of the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest.

Back in those days, what Tenzing Norgay and Hillary did was awe-inspiring. Fast forward to today, and it is nothing unusual, with the opportunity available to anyone who can afford the fees.

So what has resulted in the headline above….why does the wilderness cry?

It cries because hitherto it was untouched and untamed by man, it was a true wilderness….now it cries because it has truly lost it’s virginity…it has been deflowered in the most appalling ways in some places….and all because it has been opened up to massive visitor numbers.

Whereas at one time these places were havens for wildlife, now the same places are strewn with garbage, some of it so permanent that it will take many thousands of years to disintegrate back into the soils.

Getting back to Everest…what will it be like in 50 years time….or 25 years time…or even 10 years time, given the wanton despoiling of the region going on presently?

Without doubt, tourism in the region has multiplied exponentially over the past 10 years or so….nowadays, if a climber is in trouble, helicopters are able to mount a rescue even at heights of up to 26 000ft, something unheard of just a few years ago.

Very soon, many people believe that a helipad will be built on the South Col of Everest, supplying tourists with bottled oxygen and other aids to successful ascents of the mountain.

Helicopter lands at Namche Bazaar
http://www.flickr.com

The problem of such huge visitor numbers in an area that is not conducive to holding human habitation has reached a crescendo….climate changes have depleted the water supplies at these altitudes, and everywhere you go here, people are talking about the water supplies.

In answer to these worries, the Government is installing a 5 mile pipeline to bring water to Namche Bazaar, a small Sherpa town before the invasion of tourists. This water will hopefully dampen the tourist demands for hot showers and flushing toilets, but the worry is where will all this waste water go? A small stream in the area is now so contaminated with human waste that it is almost bursting at its seams with the stuff.

Namche Bazaar

At Base Camp, human waste used to be just buried hurriedly in a few inches of rock and gravel, but as the numbers of visitors grew and grew, it also became unmanageable….it wasn’t unknown for a person walking around the area in the early morning or late night, to step in human excrement.

That problem has thankfully been brought under control, in a rather primitive fashion…the waste is filled into plastic barrels and emptied into a huge pit a little way down the valley by porters. But now there are fears that this pit itself will start leaking its contents into the water-table of the area…

Human waste, empty oxygen bottles and other detritus piles up every day

Such problems can be solved quite easily…someone has suggested that just $500 000 a year can solve this problem once and for all time…compare that sum to the fee of $90 000 a climber has to pay to climb Everest, then you can see that there is more than adequate cashflow to improve the problems.

Further problems caused by climate changes also threaten the area, made worse by the lack of trees lower down in the valleys….these trees served as a natural sponge, soaking up all the annual flood water coming from the glaciers, but all the trees have now gone, destroyed by herds of livestock and cut down for firewood.

So now, when the glacial lakes do overflow, they threaten to wash away the Sherpa homelands.

Another problem of the human excursion into this area is how careless the climbers are when they leave….a recent team of 25 porters sent up to the area around the summit by the Nepalese Government found over 300 tons of waste…and even more shocking, five dead bodies of team members. The government estimates that since the 1920s up to the present day, the period during which climbing has increased in the area, the bodies of over 100 climbers lay strewn along the routes to the ascent. When bodies are identified, the families are always asked if they would like their relative’s body back, and overwhelmingly the relatives refuse, due to the extremely high cost of bringing the corpses down. So the dead are left where they lie….an example is the body of climber Scott Fisher, who lies up there still….

Body of climber Scott Fisher frozen to death near Everest summit

The changing weather has also affected tourism…increasingly these days, Lukla airport, which is the gateway to the Everest region, has to remain closed to flights due to the constant cloud cover that has become de-rigeur nowadays.

Lukla Airport

As a way to overtake this problem, a new road to Lukla is being built, in order to guarantee a flow of tourists to the region, but many believe these new roads are being built with the aim of maximizing income from the tourists, with no attention being paid to the disastrous consequences of landslides and soil erosion that this network.

There is a ray of light amongst all this doom and gloom. Over the years, the Sherpas grew wise to the amount of income that could be earned in the area, so rather than act as porters themselves, they began to hire out the work to other ethnic groups in the area, paying them an absolute minimum and keeping the huge profits themselves. But although the new porters willingly accepted this new-found income, there were no facilities provided for them, resulting in huge numbers of deaths from injuries etc.

Bu recently, a group was set up by a former doctor to Chris Bonnington, who first climbed Everest in the 70s. The group has helped build porter shelters, health posts and warm clothing banks, which has resulted in a dramatic lowering of porter deaths.

And yet this move has not been welcomed by the Sherpas who now run the ascents, as they say that their porters have begun to ask for increases in wages which cannot be maintained. The truth of the matter is that the Sherpas were happy to exploit the poor porters for as long as possible, before this group, funded by foreign money, came about and upset the apple cart.

By opening up area such as these, mankind has made them accessible to laymen, but at what cost? What kind of world are we leaving for our children, where there is no wilderness left…nothing left untouched? What kind of a life would that be, where everything has been done…and noting else left to do?

It would be sad place indeed…and we are fast heading that way now…

My latest journal cum diary!

One of my other loves aside of hiking in the wilderness, is writing, and particularly writing in journals or diaries that I have either made myself, or embellished to my own taste.

And the beauty is that I don’t lose any writing space because of the embellishments, because they are only attached at one end, so all I do if I want to write on that page, is to turn the whole attachment over like a page, and write on the page behind!

Here’s my latest one…hope you like it!

PS if anybody wants to buy it, feel free to message me…I can always make another one for myself!

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