Archive for the ‘Camping’ Category.

Hammock Camping Thoughts

Reminder: I also have a blog over at that has occasional trip reports.  I posted one last weekend about riding the Mountain Loop Highway.

Hammock camping at the Suiattle River

I’ve been camping with my Hennessey Hammock for 10 years now.  I’ve used it snow, hard rain, and in warm summer conditions.  During that time I’ve spent more time fiddling with hammock gear than the rest of my camping gear combined. In the end I just bought the accessories that I should have gotten in the beginning: a good down underquilt and top quilt.  The underquilt is a down blanket which hangs underneath the hammock to provide insulation that doesn’t get compressed.  Without one the hammock is pretty chilly if temps are below 60F outside.  The quilt wraps up high around the hammock and is the warmest and most comfortable setup for the hammock.

I started to think about the real costs of the hammock with this gear and was a bit stunned at how expensive the setup really is.

Costs and weights for my hammock setup (weights are measured on my kitchen scale):

Item Cost Packed Weight
Hennessey Ultralight Asym Hammock $200 1100 grams (2.4lbs)
Jacks R Better Nest Underquilt (bottom insulation) $290 710 grams (1.6lbs)
Rab Quantum Top Bag (top quilt/sleeping bag) $103 (on closeout) 500 grams (1.1lbs)
Total $593 2310 grams (5.1lbs)


Costs and weights for a bivy setup:

Item Cost Packed Weight
Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy $239 930 grams (2lbs)
Thermarest Neoair Regular (bottom insulation) $150 400 grams (0.9lbs)
Rab Quantum 400 Sleeping Bag $140 (on closeout) 850 grams (1.9lbs)
Total $529 2180 grams (4.8lbs)


Both of these are lightweight setups suitable for one person camping down to around freezing.  The sleeping bag prices are based on current closeout Rab bags from, non-closeout prices on comparable bags are easily double that.  The pad and sleeping bag used for the bivy setup are also ideal for tent camping (when sharing shelter with someone else), while the Hammock underquilt and top quilt are more special purpose items.  The bivy also works in more places, the tent limits me to camping with the trees.  Either setup just about fills a small Ortlieb pannier when packed.  There are cheaper and lighter bivy options, I have this one because I got a very good deal on it ($20 lightly used).  If I were buying a new one I’d look at the $90 REI Minimalist.

You can use a hammock with a sleeping pad and a normal sleeping bag, but it isn’t nearly as comfortable or lightweight.  I think that it is a good way to try out a hammock, but if you get into a hammock I’d expect to upgrade to at least a nice underquilt over time.  I don’t think I could recommend a hammock to someone on a budget, a lightweight tent or bivy is a more flexible setup to buy into.

Despite all of that I love my hammock.  If you can afford a good hammock setup I don’t think you’ll find a more comfortable night of sleep.

If you are into hammocks and are under 6′ tall get the Rab Quantum Top Bag while you can.  This is a sleeping bag with no insulation on the bottom.  I slit the bottom sheet in half and hemmed it (which took about 30 minutes) and ended up with a very nice top quilt for half the price of any other option.  A quilt is ideal for the Hennessey Hammocks because it is hard to zip up a sleeping bag from inside the hammock.

Back to the CdA National Forest

John, Pat, and I had such a good time in the Coeur d’ Alene National Forest in June that we decided to go back this September.  Andre was interested and came along.  To fit the trip into a 3 day weekend Andre and I flew out from Seattle and borrow bikes from John and Pat.  We flew in Thursday night, drove out to the base camp, did a long ride on well established roads on Friday and a short ride exploring side trails on Saturday.  Saturday night Andre and I flew back to Seattle.

Our last trip turned from car camping into bike camping from a conversation that went something like this:

John: How far will we be from the car at the end of the day?
Alex: About 5 miles?
John: Why am I carrying all of this camping gear?  Let’s just ride back here.

This time we didn’t even kid ourselves with bike camping and went whole hog with the car camping.  John and Pat brought along a lot of food for us, two big stoves, a folding table, a pop-up shelter, 4 tents, more sleeping bags that you could imagine, and tons of other gear.  Andre and I just had to bring a little clothing, snacks for the day, and sleeping bags.

Thursday was chilly but it didn’t rain on us.  The first half of the ride used a route that Pat came up with, and took us to the same lunch spot at Magee Ranger Station that we visited before.  We started climbing immediately, but the first half of the climb was a good warm up with about 1000′ gained at 5-7% grade.  The second half was probably twice as steep on and worse condition roads.  The descent into Magee started a bit bumpy, but then we found some nice roads that were great to roll down.

The weather was colder than any of us had expected, but luckily not colder than what we had planned for.  At every stop it seemed like we were adding or removing jackets to keep comfortable. 

After lunch we had planned to follow our June route up to Spyglass Peak.  I was worried about getting that high in elevation and suggested my “wuss route” option.  It looked roughly the same length, but I thought it would keep us 1000′ lower in elevation.  I didn’t check any topo maps to figure that out though, so it ended up having just as much climbing.  It had good views though, and the descent ended about 2 miles from our campsite and kept us off of the only “busy” (meaning 2 cars an hour) road in the whole national forest.

On Saturday we went up what we call “John’s climb”.  We drove out on this road in June and John kept commenting on how nice of a climb it appeared to be.  This time we found it freshly graded and were enjoying the climb up.  Maybe 1/4 of the way up there was an interesting looking spur, so we followed that.  It was gated closed and isn’t used in the summer (only for snowmobiles in the winter), so it was quite grown over and involved some hike a bike.  We found an old building foundation, a tiny dam that must have been used to provide water for the building, and some good riding and hike a bike.  From there we followed a maze of closed roads (some with dead ends) back to camp.  The ride was probably less then 10 miles long, but the slower pace and interesting conditions were a nice change from Friday.

Thanks to John and Pat for loaning Andre and I gear and feeding us like kings.  Andre and I were brainstorming on where we’d take them for similar riding near Seattle and came up empty.  Spokane is lucky to have such a huge and little used national forest just a bit over an hour from downtown.  I’m guessing I’ll visit it again at least once next summer.

Friday’s Route: or GPX
Saturday’s Route: or GPX

Kayaking the Broken Group Islands

Christine and I spent 5 days of our summer vacation kayaking camping in the Broken Group Islands, off of the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

The Broken Group is an archipelago of more than 100 small islands inside Barkley Sound. 8 of them have camping, and the camping is only open to paddlers (no motor boats or sailboats). The islands do a good job of buffering the Pacific Ocean, so the paddling is mostly very calm and flat. The whole area is preserved as a national park, so there is a lot of wildlife and little in the way of buildings. At the same time it was once a very vibrant area of villages for the First Nations people of BC, and there are a lot of artifacts to be found from that time.

We used the guidebook Kayaking the Broken Group Islands: The Essential Guidebook to plan our trip. I think everyone that we met there was using this book. It was a good resource and had details about each of the islands and what to look for on them.

On our first day we parked our car at Toquart Bay and took the water taxi from there to Sechart. This saved us an open crossing (one that we’d have to do later in the trip) and let us get a head start into the islands. Sechart is also the only source of fresh water near the Broken Group, and where most people who are renting kayaks start their trip.

On that first day we explored the inner islands that are closer to Sechart. I was really interested in visiting a large lagoon between Jacques and Jarvis Islands. There are four entrances to the lagoon and we came in through one of the largest ones. The lagoon was very calm since it is protected almost all the way around, and we watched the birds and enjoyed checking out the tidepools. On our way out we took a very narrow passage that Christine was convinced didn’t really exist until we had passed through. I love being able to slip through those narrow passages on a kayak.

On our way out we made a decision to go to Dodd or Willis Island for the night instead of Gibraltar. I had planned on avoiding Dodd and Willis because our guidebook said that they were the busiest islands and popular with guided trips. On the other hand they were well located to set us up for a short day getting to Clarke Island (where we wanted to stay for a couple of nights), and the ranger had told us that the islands weren’t too busy. As we paddled past Dodd we thought we saw about10 campers and maybe should check out Willis. While padding the channel between Dodd and Willis we saw our first whale of the trip, what looked like a humpback off in the distance by the north end of Willis. We hurried over to get a second look, but didn’t see it surface again. We found the campsite on Willis and were initially disappointed by the crowds (about 30 people were there, including two large groups),but found a quiet but compact site with our own little patch of the beach. The couple near us was kind enough to share their beach fire too.

This was an important lesson in camping in the Broken Group. The campsites are close together and you don’t really get much privacy there. On the other hand the other people paddling the Broken Group are from all over the world and are full of interesting stories,so by the end of our trip we were enjoying finding other people. Just don’t go to the Broken Group if you want to camp by yourself.

The fog really moved in quickly that night, and by the time we were eating dinner you could barely see a little island just off of the campsite.

The next morning we got up pretty early and made a fast trip paddle down to Clarke Island. I think our favorite part of that paddle also turned into the most frustrating. We were paddling through a small channel between Turret and Trickett Islands that is beach at low tide and has water at high tide. We both really enjoy paddling in 6 inches of clear water and looking down at the intertidal life. Having a white sand beach below really made the sea stars, crabs, and other creatures in this area pop with color. We floated around there for 30 minutes or more. The bad part was that just as we were thinking about heading on I reached into my bag for the binoculars and heard the plop of something else falling into the water. I didn’t think anything was missing, but 20 minutes later discovered that we had lost our VHF emergency radio. I went back and looked all over for it, but it was gone.

We got to Clarke Island pretty early in the day and found a great campsite out on a point. We setup the tent on a grassy bluff above the point, but there was a great shared fire pit down in the sand, and a nice table made up with driftwood right in front of our site. The sun was out so Christine decided to enjoy some sunny beach time and I took my kayak out to the water to paddle around and practice rolling my kayak. A few hours later we took an impromptu paddle around Clarke Island and loved the scenic beaches on the west and south sides of the island. We also saw our second whale of the trip, a humpback that was closer in to us and just north of Clarke Island.

In the evening we shared the campfire with our neighbors and shared a lot of good stories and laughs. A great part about the Broken Group was having a lot of privacy during the day when out on the boat, but getting to know people in the evenings.

We had decided to stay for 2 nights on Clarke Island, which made our next morning very relaxed. Christine slept in, and then we had a leisurely breakfast before heading out on a day paddle. Our goal was to go to Wouwer Island and find the sea lions that we would occasionally hear. I was worried about the crossing over to there because it is a bit more exposed, but the seas were pretty calm and it went quickly. Wouwer did deliver and we found some rocks that were covered in Stellar Sea Lions.

We paddled around to the other side of the island hoping to get into a giant lagoon called “The Great Tidepool”, but the tide was too low and there wasn’t any good access. However we did find this sea lion who was looking calm and happy.

On the paddle back some small Dolphin entertained us during the open water crossing to Benson Island. We stopped thereto collect driftwood for the campfire. Some neighbor’s on Clarke told us that this was a good source of firewood, and they were right. There were plenty of pieces that were small enough to burn safely and dry from sitting high on the beach. That night Clarke Island was quite a bit emptier, with only a few groups camping. We had a large dinner and enjoyed a good fire, while getting to bed early.

We had a long paddle planned for the next day and got up pretty early to get started. We were planning on going to Hand Island, about 8 miles away, and camping there. Hand is always busy because it is the gateway island in and out of the Broken Group (going to Toquart Bay, where we had parked), and most people stay there on their first and last nights. The paddle to Hand mostly covered areas that we had already paddled and went pretty quickly. It was a really foggy day which made it a bit difficult to get motiviated, and we had both made the mistake of skipping breakfast to optimize our use of the tide. We got to Hand around noon, but hungry and ready for a pot of coffee.

Hand was a disappointment. We didn’t really like the campsites and there was a motor boat illegally camping there. During our meal we decided that maybe we should press on and camp at the Stopper Islands instead. After lunch we did enjoy the shallow waters that were full of bat stars and other sea stars just north of Hand Island.

The paddle over to the Stopper Islands goes on another exposed area called the Davis Channel. It was a little rougher during our crossing and there weren’t really any good beaches to pull over and take a break on. We were happy and tired when we got to the Stopper Islands.

On the South Stopper Island we found a very nice couple named Peter and Linda who were having a cup of tea. They invited us to join them and I think it was really a highlight of the trip for both Christine and I. Peter and Linda had lived all over the world (just in the last 10 years they had lived in Greece, England, and BC) and had been living and working on sailboats most of their lives. They recently decided to move to a house and had settled in BC. They sold their sailboat, but couldn’t give up the water, and in retirement were enjoying day paddles in a pair of kayaks. They both had a great sense of humor and tea lasted for a couple of hours of really fine conversation. It was a great way to finish off an otherwise ho-hum day.

The campsite where we had tea was a bit exposed and windy, so we decided to check out the one on the other side of the island. I’m really glad that we did, it was beautiful. There wasa rocky beach (it was nice to get away from the sand for a little bit) and two large clearings in the woods. One had a good firepit, and the other was great for our tent. We setup kitchen near the firepit, ate a feast of a meal, and played a game of hide the food with the resident mouse who was determined (but unsuccessful) to share in our dinner. I think most people pass through the Stopper Islands, but I have to say that it was one of our favorite campsites. Peter and Linda had been exploring this area of the sound quite a bit on their day paddles and had a lot of good things to say. I could see spending more time in this region on a future trip.

We woke up on our final morning to a steady rain. We hadn’t really planned on this the evening prior, but luckily everything important was properly stored and covered. We had another quick morning of loading up the boats and a short 2 mile paddle back to Toquart Bay, where we finished our trip.

Planning: Seatrails makes a great kayaking chart of the area. It shows the distances popular points and it is easier to read than the official chart that the Canadian gov’t publishes. The guidebook listed above was really helpful. One tricky thing is that you need to bring all of your own water, we brought 10 gallons of fresh water but only used about half of that by being careful when doing dishes.

It does take a long time to get there from Seattle, despite being fairly close geographically. Figure 8 hours of driving. We broke it up a bit by staying at a motel in Port Alberni the night before starting our paddling trip.

We spent 4 nights there, and I think that is a good amount of time. On the other hand I could easily see spending 8 nights there and not getting bored. With some of that extra time I’d have explored the Pipestream Inlet and other areas around Toquart Bay.

Regrets: I wish I had taken more photos, especially of the human companions that made our trip so great. I also need to come up with a better system for carrying and using the camera on the kayak.

We stayed for 4 nights in Tofino at the end of our trip, and that was too long. The paddling up there is great, but otherwise it was an expensive touristy beach town. We rented from Tofino Vacation Rentals and I would not rent from them again, our house was poorly equipped and was missing wifi, despite having had advertised that it came with it.

Coeur d' Alene National Forest

(photos just in case you don’t have flash)
John, Larry, and I all wanted to get in a good ride this summer, but didn’t have a week to dedicate to something like our 2007 Gifford Pinchot tour. We decided that a long weekend ride would be a good idea. We always make John come west, so this time we headed east and picked the CdA National Forest as our target. John invited Pat along too, bringing the group size to 4.
Way back in March or April we got a personal guarantee of good weather from John with our mid-June riding date. Last week it became obvious that this wasn’t going to happen and that rain was likely. The rain changed our parking location from being the corner of the forest to one of the central campgrounds. That made our first evening’s ride to our campsite much shorter.

On Friday morning we woke up to light rain, but as we ate lunch it began to clear and dry out. When I told John that we’d be ending the day about 5 miles from the car again he asked about just ditching the camping gear and turning it into a slightly longer day ride. That seemed like a good idea, so we rode back to the car, ditched gear,and started the loop.

We started near Huckleberry Campground right in the middle of the CdA National Forest. Pat really liked how Spyglass Peak looked on the map,so we concentrated on that part of the original route. The highlight there was a short but steep climb (seen on the map above between miles 25 and 30) followed by a long ridgeline descent.

Getting to Spyglass Peak meant riding to Magee first. The route to Magee is over an easy saddle (Leiberg Saddle) followed by a really nice descent through Tepee Creek and the meadows along it. This creek runs through a narrow valley with a wide meadow that must flood every year. The road is above the meadow and creek, giving you very nice views into the area below. It really reminded me of areas of Yellowstone National Park,only this valley wasn’t overrun with tourists.

We reached Magee around lunch time. Magee consists of 4 historic buildings and a backcountry airport where a ranger office used to be. We enjoyed a nice lunch there before heading uphill towards Spyglass Peak. The climb up towards Spyglass was almost perfect and a marvel of good surveying. It was steep,but not too steep (around 9% grade). The gradient was consistent and the road conditions were excellent. We saw a few moose on the way up. At the top we got to a ridgeline with good views in all directions.

The descent down the ridgeline was fun. The descent was a much lighter grade and just felt like it went on forever (if you look on the map above it looks like we were descending for about 20 miles before the next major climb). Once in a while there would be a half mile climb or so to get some more altitude. Since we were riding along the ridgeline we’d get views to the east, then cross over and get some views to the west. The weather was dynamic up there with areas of rain, sun, and sometimes both at once. The roads were a little damp (good for keeping the dust down) and had no washboard. It really made for some fun riding.

CdA National Forest is a maze. Every few miles we’d come to a N-way intersection and have to figure out our next turn. At Stull Saddle we ran into one thing that really threw us off. Pat looked at his paper map and said “we want to take 812 back to Leiberg Creek”. I looked at my GPS and said “I drew out this red line that we should follow”. It looked like the line might also follow 812, so we trusted Pat’s map and headed down 812. A mile or so down I kept slowing down and looking at the GPS and John asked me what was wrong. We weren’t on the red line, but I decided to trust the map more than the line.

We knew that we made a wrong turn when we got to a sign that said “Magee, 3 miles”. Oops! We turned uphill and did the climb up to Leiberg saddle again. There we found 260 which connected back to Stull Saddle. On the descent down from Leiberg Saddle we found the other 812. That mistake cost us 10+ miles, but they were enjoyable. If you go to the CdA National Forest I’d bring a GPS and the forest map, and still give yourself a little time to get lost.

The road back to our campsite seemed a lot longer on the way out than the way in. We made it back to our car and the camp area around 7pm, 10 hours or so after we left. A good long day on the road: roughly 65 miles and somewhere between 7,500 feet and 11,000 feet of climbing depending on which mapping software you trust. I think the 7,500 number is probably about right.

Saturday morning on the drive out we took some other very minor roads and saw more areas which are ripe for exploring. I really get the impression that you could park somewhere central and setup a base camp and find a new excellent loop every day for a week without duplicating much scenery. That would all be while staying on the labeled roads and ignoring the dozens of unmarked side roads and singletrack that we saw on our route. We made future plans to do exactly that. John and Pat are very lucky to have all of this great riding only a bit over an hour away.

Appendix A: Water Filters
This what water filtering looked like for us in 2007:

Roughly 3 minutes of annoying pumping for every 1 liter of water that you want.

This is what it looks like now:

30 seconds of going by the river to fill a bladder full of water. 5 minutes of waiting for gravity to do it’s work and filter 4 liters of water for you, during which time you can eat lunch, chat, or just enjoy the sun. It is a huge improvement. We brought along MSR and Platypus gravity water filters. Both use the same filter cartridge and technology. The MSR one has a nicer “dirty water” bladder, but doesn’t come with a “clean water” bladder (so it is $20 more expensive once you buy one of those). Either option is great.

Appendix B: CdA vs Gifford Pinchot

Gifford Pinchot has better scenery. We didn’t see anything like this, this, or this in CdA. The volcanic backdrop of Gifford Pinchot just adds more dynamic scenery to the picture.

Gifford Pinchot has more pavement.

CdA has more roads. It is a real maze in there, and you can pretty easily build loop routes of almost any length that you’d want. Our route had more out and back than we planned due to taking the “wrong” 812.

CdA seemed to have more wildlife. We saw many moose, a coyote, a few deers, and tons of birds.

Both are great and neither had much traffic.

Appendix C: Making a fender with campground materials

  • Reverse the dummy bolts in the rack mounting bosses on your seatstays so that they stick out a little bit.
  • Tie sticks to those bolts and the seattube.
  • Cut a few holes in a tyvek envelope (I brought this as a saddle cover), freeze dried food bag, or other trash and tie it to the sticks.

Appendix D: We need a name…

This isn’t touring, because we didn’t carry our gear. It isn’t mountain biking because the terrain wasn’t that technical and we went more miles. I guess some people call it “Adventure Cycling”, but to me that is the name of a magazine about bicycle touring. This is my favorite style of riding, and there isn’t a name for it.

Appendex E: Other links

5 days on Ross Lake

Christine and I just returned from our first kayak camping trip, a 5 day paddle on Ross Lake. Ross Lake is in the North Cascades, about 3 hours northeast of Seattle. The lake is 24 miles long, a mile or two wide at the most. It is not directly car accessible, so it stays pretty quiet despite being close to both Seattle and Vancouver.

The portage from Diablo to Ross Lake.

To get there we drove up the North Cascades Highway to Lake Diablo. We put our kayak in at Lake Diablo, then paddled 5 miles to the base of the Ross Dam and paid $25 to Ross Lake Resort to portage us and our gear up to the lake. There are alternative ways to get to Ross Lake, but this is the easiest method if you have your own boat.

Storms move in as the sun sets over Cougar Island

The lake is surrounded by mountains and there are tons of camp sitesalong the shore or on the islands. We reserved 4 nights worth of them and set off for our first one atCougar Island. Cougar Island was about 3 miles from the dam (don’t forget that we had already paddled 5 miles along Lake Diablo).Itwas a great campground with only two sites set on opposite ends of the island. We had a neighbor, but barely heard or saw him. At Cougar Island we became aquianted with what we called “feet fish”. We later learned that they are a bait fish that were illegally introduced about 6 years ago. There must be millions of them in the lake now, and you couldn’t go swimming without them swarming around you.

We were greeted that evening with a thunderstorm. Those are always fun and exciting for us because Seattle rarely gets them. The storm blew through quickly, didn’t get anything too wet, and cooled it down nicely for dinner.

The next morning was Monday and I woke up to thick fog. The lake already seemed quieter with much of the weekend traffic having gone home. We were due to move toTen Mile Island, about 7 miles up the lake. We choose a longer route and stopped by both Big Beaver campground for lunch and Devil’s Creek for a exploration. Devil’s Creek is a very deep canyon that you can paddle about a mile into. It is incredible looking up at these cliffs going right into the water and it felt 15 degrees cooler in there (nice on a hot day).

Inside Devil's Canyon

It was already 3 or 4pm by the time we got to 10 mile island and 2 of the 3 camp sites were taken. The last one was very exposed,right next to some loud campers,and didn’t offer good kayak parking. We decided to look around and found a much nicer site at Dry Creekand set up there (it is okay to move sites if you tell a ranger what is going on). The new site had great views on 3 sides of water and mountains, and a lot of space for our gear. We stayed at Dry Creek for two nights, using the day in between to go for a short hike and to get in some relaxation.

Wednesday came along pretty quickly and it was time to move again. The lake felt deserted at this point, the only people around were those who were staying the week. Our paddle back down to Spencer’s (our next campsite) was very quiet and we only saw one or other boats. The day was hot and we took a pretty exposed route to check out a waterfall across from 10 Mile Island. By the time we stopped for lunch it was 2pm and we really needed a cooldown swim. We hung out at Rainbow Point (with more feet fish than we had seen anywhere else) for a couple of hours, then headed onto Spencer’s.

Collecting driftwood for the fire

Spencer’s was another really nice campground. It offered two sites and both were pretty private. Ours had a great swimming area and a lot of open trees. I wanted Christine to try out hammock camping, so we didn’t setup the tent here. Pretty shortly after arriving we started to hear thunder and it began to rain. It rained on and off that evening, but left large enough dry areas for us to make dinner and enjoy one last camp fire.

Spencer's campsite.  This is a pretty typical Ross Lake campsite, including a huge bear locker for food and gear.

Sunset over Spencer's

I woke up pretty early in the morning to more thunder. Everything was pretty wet (except for us), so we packed up pretty quickly and headed out. The lake was silent and calm and we had a nice and quick paddle back to the dam and our portage home.

We took our time heading back to the car on Lake Diablo. Neither of us really wanted the trip to end and were enjoying the scenery. Lake Diablo is glacier fed (Ross Lake is not) making it both colder and greener than Ross Lake. We thought about camping another night on Diablo, but the best looking camp site was taken so we just headed back to the car. When we got back to Seattle we learned that we missed a week of record heat.

I really enjoyed Ross Lake and expect that we’ll return in a couple of years. It was a great first kayak camping trip because the paddling was easy and we didn’t need to worry about tides or currents. The campgrounds were mostly excellent. It was the perfect mix of relaxation, swimming, and staying busy. The only thing that I’d change if we went again would be to take less stuff. The kayak fits way more gear than a bicycle or backpack, but that doesn’t mean that I need to bring more than I’d take for cycling or hiking.

More photos

Car/Bike Camping on the Suiattle River

Scott organized this point83 trip to the Suiattle River. Until 3 years ago there was a car accessible road that followed the river and went up to three National Forest Campgrounds, tons of hiking trails, and lots of great old growth forest. The 2006 wind storms flooded the river and washed out the road and a bridge in some key locations. Now you can drive halfway up the road, then walk or bike into the campgrounds.

This changed 3 very busy campgrounds into three very remote areas.

12 of us drove up to the trailhead and rode in. Since we were only riding 8 miles this afforded us the luxury of bringing a lot of stuff. I brought two stoves and a lot of food. Rogelio brought Monica on the XtraCycle (she hurt her wrist and wasn’t supposed to ride a bike). Andre brought ice cream sundae makings to share with everybody. Derrick brought a chair, fishing gear, and a lot of booze. Kalen, Clair, Ryan, and Caroline brought a lot of food to share, including a few pounds of bacon and some home made goat cheese. Was it car camping or bike camping? The line was blurry.

The road up is very easy to navigate on a bicycle. It’s a little sandy in spots, but no one had any real trouble, even those on 23mm tires. There are few sections that were walked. There is almost no climbing to speak of.

We went to the second camp ground and had the whole thing to ourselves. The winning feature of this campground is a large lean to over an established fire pit,nice and scenic access to the river,old growth forest,and no visitors. The first campground is only 2 miles in from the trail head and still gets a good number of walk in visitors. We rode past it, but I saw at least 4 tents in the woods. The 3rd campground is after a lot of blowdown (making it harder to visit) and pretty grown over. There was one camp established there, and they had been up there for 5 days without seeing anyone.

We arrived at camp early and had most of the afternoon to enjoy ourselves. We played in the river, some of us drank too much, and there was a lot of fanastic food and laughing around the fire. No one stayed up too late or woke up too early. We had another huge and varied meal in the morning (bacon, ice cream, scotch oats, coffee, breakfast burritos, hash browns, fruit salad, corn dogs) before rolling back down to the cars. Just as we were leaving camp a light rain started, but otherwise we had a cloudy and dry weekend.

Christine was supposed to come with me, but hurt her foot on Friday and had to skip this trip. I hope that we can return later in the summer because I think it is about the easiest and most approachable backwoods bike camping imaginable. She would have had a great time, and it might give her more context for my love of bike camping.

Old double track makes for very nice riding.

Hardcore Rogelio hauls Monica on his XtraCycle

The major obstacle

Andre gets the photo up the ramp (photo by Scott)

The lean-to makes this a great group site

Sulphur Creek Campground (we didn't stay here), photo by Scott

A little hike a bike (photo by Scott)

Derrick tries to go fishing

Kalen enjoys the scenery while filtering water

Lee "invents" water logging.  He throws driftwood into the river and...

...Andre hucks rocks at them.

The logs got bigger and bigger

Clair gets involved

Derrick kept the drinks flowing...

Good evening fire

The river in the morning

Bacon in the morning

More breakfast (photo by Scott)

Breakfast Ice Cream.  Dry ice kept it cold all night (photo by Scott)

Back down the ramp

Homeward bound

This group is getting pretty creative with the S24O rigs, so I took some photos. Hover over these photos (or almost any photo in my blog) for a description.

Scott's Karate Monkey.  The roll under the handlebars has his bivy, bag, and pad.  He also carried Monica's gear, hence the heavy load in the rear.

Lee sports the porteur rack up front and homemade buckets in the rear.

Offroad XtraCycle carried Monica and a lot of gear.

My bike with way more gear than I'd need for a week, and this was just one night.

Andre’s photos:
Scott’s photos and commentary:
All of my photos:

First bike camping of 2009 — North Fork Snoqualmie River

Map of our area, click for a large version

Friday after work Andre, Andrew and I biked up the North Fork of the Snoqualmie River searching for camping spots. None of us had been very far up the river before.

The first section of the road is called 5710 and gives you access to Hancock and Calligan Lakes. It’s a really nice stretch of road with no traffic and good surface conditions. Beyond that we merge back onto 5700 which is more heavily trafficked (this means a car every hour or two) and looser gravel.

We had a few areas to check for camping in mind. There are two valleys that go into the National Forest, Phillipa Creek and Sunday Creek. We didn’t explore Phillipa Creek and Sunday Creek had snow right at the trail head. Across from Sunday Creek was an old road which looked promissing, but it ended at a broken bridge. This would be a decent camp spot most days, but it was a little damp on Friday. We kept heading up the main road until we got stuck in snow at the Lennox Creek turnoff. There was another (loud) group camping here, so we turned back. At this point it was getting dark and we needed to find camp pretty fast.My GPS showed an abandoned road a couple of miles back, so we checked it out.

The road looked like it hadn’t been used in a decade or two. It was very overgrown with shrubs and trees, but we pushed our way through. The area by the river was pretty nice and had an open spot for dinner and some good trees for hanging our hammocks. Andrew found a nice soft spot for his bivy. We made a quick dinner, enjoyed a small fire, and went to bed.

Themorning air was chilly andafter a bit of tea wehit the road and head back to the car.The blue skies of Friday night had been replaced with a low fog. The roads were clear andthe slight downhill trend made our ride back a little faster than the one the day before. At 9:30 we reached the car andwere heading home.

Ilike Friday night camping because you still have a full weekend for other stuff too. I look forward to exploring this area more in a month or two when more of the snow has melted. This would have been a great area last year because the bridge which makes it accessible cars had been washed out. Now it is open again and there is more traffic.

Blue skies and clear roads on Friday evening

Abandoned bridge across from Sunday Creek Trailhead

North Fork around river mile 20

Turning around at the snow

Evening fire and dinner.

Morning view from our campsite.  Not too shabby.

Andrew takes my bike for a spin

Andre fixing a flat on Saturday morning

All Photos

Brief Gear Reviews

We’ve done a lot of camping this summer (much of it car camping…not something that we normally do)and I this is my summary of camping gear reviews.

Feathered Friends PenguinSleeping Bag

Last year we bought a Feathered Friends Penguin sleeping bag. It is a made in Seattle rectangular down sleeping bag. The cool thing about this bag is that you can buy an accessory ground sheet which holds two sleeping pads, making it into a double sized sleeping bag. Our bag is an older model (it was a rental)with thicker fabric, but it still packs down to a reasonably small size. It is larger than my down mummy bags, but smaller and lighter than two down mummy bags or any single synthetic sleeping bag that I’ve seen.

We’ve used it for 5 or 6 nights this summer so far and it’s been great. Our bag is rated to 15 degrees which works well for me, but Christine finds it a bit warm. That isn’t too much of a problem because the bag has zippers on each side, so we can each adjust the blanket as we want. We’re using it with Exped DownMats which are really thick (7 or 9cm, vs 3cm for a “luxury” Thermarest) and which also pack down to nothing. The groundsheet was made for Thermarests, but works fine with the Exped pads.

This bag wasn’t cheap, but it is really well made and the design is great. The whole setup (Feathered Friends Penguin, ground sheet, and two DownMats) is the closest thing that I’ve had to sleeping on a real bed while camping.

Kelty Trail Dome 4 (and REI Garage Sales)

The Seattle REI has an Garage Sale area where returned items are sold at a vast discount. I always check this area first when I’m buying something. REI has an incredible return policy and people return things for all kinds of insane reasons. A couple of months ago I bought some Sidi Dominator 5 cycling shoes there for $10 (that is 4% of retail)because the returnee couldn’t get the cleats off of the shoes.

For our trip last weekend there was a forecast of rain. I thought we might want something with more headroom than our TarpTent (by far the best backpacking tent that I’ve used) and which was freestanding for this and other car camping trips. The REI Garage Sale area came through again and I picked up this tent for $50 (normally $170, currently on sale for $120). It had been setup once and then packed up and returned. The rain fly hadn’t even been unfolded.

I think it was returned because the sizing is really misleading. The 4 implies that this tent can hold 4 people. I don’t think that is physically possible,but it is a nice size for 3 people and very roomy for 2. As with all of the Kelty products that I’ve owned it is well made. Nothing too fancy,just nice basic construction and design. All of the seams were sealed and it came with a nice little gear hammock which is useful for holding a flashlight at night. The biggest downside is that the rain fly has no vestibule of any sort. We tucked our shoes under the tent to keep them dry overnight.

It did rain on us during our trip and the tent kept us dry. It breathes well if you tie out the rainfly. At $50 it is a bargain. At $120 it is still a bargain for someone who wants a decent car camping tent. At 10lbs it is too heavy for me to consider taking on a bike or hiking trip, but maybe it will become our kayak camping tent of choice.

Hennessey Hammock UnderCover and UnderPad

I’ve been using these hammocks for about 6 years. They are really great for solo camping. The hard part is keeping warm from underneath because the sleeping bag compresses underneath you. A sleeping pad can be used inside the hammock, but is sort of fussy and doesn’t wrap around your sides (like the hammock does), so you get cold spots there. There are dozens of websites on methods for keeping warm in a hammock.

This year I’ve been trying out the Hennessey Hammock UnderCover and UnderPad. The UnderCover is a tarp (like the rain fly) which fits underneath the hammock. It hangs down slightly lower than the hammock, creating an air pocket. The UnderPad is just a piece of thin padding which fits there to add insulation.

The setup works pretty well at keeping me warm. I’d say that it makes the hammock good to around 40-45F, where I find it chilly much below 60F by itself. Combined with a sleeping pad I’m sure it would be good down into the 20s.

It makes setting up the hammock much more complex than just using a pad. The UnderCover kind of gets tangled up in the stuff sack and you need to sort it all out again. The side lines for the hammock need to be threaded through the UnderPad and UnderCover before being staked out. I always mess it up. Getting in and out is also more complex. The UnderPad has a slot in it that you climb through, just like the hammock. Then you push the pad aside and get through the hammocks slot. Then you push everything back together.

Packed up the whole thing is great. I can fit my sleeping bag, the hammock, the underpad, and everything else related to sleeping in a moderate sized saddlebag.The saddlebag, hammock, pad, and sleeping bag together weigh 6lbs.That plus a handlebar bag up front for my camera, food, and a change of shorts is enough camping gear for a couple of night bike camping trip.

So I’m torn on this setup. It is a lot more complexity in setup for minor gains in comfort compared to a sleeping pad. It is more compact when packed than my sleeping pad, but the difference isn’t huge.

Primus Gravity EF Stove

REI-Outlet and Sierra Trading Post both have this on closeout for about $45 (normally it is $75). Sierra Trading Post has two versions, I bought the slightly more expensive model with a piezo starter. I was attracted to this stove because I wanted something which could better support large pots (for group backpacking orcar camping trips) than my Jetboil. I also wanted it to use the same fuel canister type as the Jetboil. The Primus delivers on both fronts.

I tried to measure fuel efficiency of this vs a Jetboil and couldn’t get reliable numbers. If I used a Jetboil GCS pot (1.5 liters) on both stoves and measured how long it took to boil 500ml of water then the numbers were pretty similar. It takes around 2:30 and 3-4 grams of fuel. With infinite time I would do more accurate testing.

The Primus stove has a much larger burner so the heat is better distributed (nice when making oatmeal or rice) and it also simmers quite well. It isn’t as no-fuss as a Jetboil for packing and unpacking, but it is a lot easier than the gasoline/white gas type stoves. You just unfold the legs, thread on a fuel canister, turn it on, and press the ignition button.

It works great with large pots and frying pans because the fuel canister is remote from the burner. This stove was used to make our favorite camping breakfast and it does a better job than the Jetboil at it. That breakfast is steel cut oats (soak them overnight, 2.5:1 water:oat ratio) served with sauted apples and raisins on top. The JetBoil tends to burn the oats in the middle of the pan, but the Primus did not.

The JetBoil PCS is still my favorite stove for backpacking and cycling due to it’s small size, no-nosense setup, and fast and efficient boil. For car camping (and maybe kayak camping?) I think we’ll get a lot of use out of this Primus. Having both along is nice for larger meals.

A side rant. It is really hard to find camping pots and pans that aren’t coated with Teflon. I’m surprised, since the dangers of cooking with teflon have been known for many years now. The dangers go up with heat, and the camping stoves and thin pans tend to make concentrated hot spots.

Light My Fire Mealkit

At $20 it is expensive for a few pieces of plastic, but I had just won a $100 visa card in a drawing (I never win anything, so that was a nice surprise) and decided to splurge.

The MealKit is triangular plastic bowl with a plate that fits on top. Inside you’ll find a spork, a little cutting board, another bowl/tea cup, and inside that a bowl that seals. It all packs up neatly into a 6 or 7 inchtriangle.

The teacup is kind of ridiculous as a cup, but works nicely as a bowl for oatmeal or soup. The spork is fine, although I prefer my Snow Peak Ti one. The surprise winner for me is the little cutting board. It has holes which let you use it as a colander to drain off pasta water. It is the perfect size for cutting up an apple, mango, or a piece of cheese. On a bike camping trip I could see bringing the cutting board and no other part of the kit. Lots of practicality, little weight, and it takes up almost no space.

Would I buy it again? Maybe. My only complaint is the price. If I didn’t buy one I’d probably make a copy of the cutting board.


I own too much gear. It’s hard coming up with one setup that works well for backpacking (usually as a couple), bike touring (usually solo), and car camping (usually in a group). This is the summary of what I’m using for each:

Backpacking (for two):

  • Shelter: Tarptent Rainshadow II
  • Bed: Feathered Friends Penguin, two Exped downmats
  • Cooking: Jetboil PCS

Bicycle Touring (for one):

  • Shelter: Hennessey Hammock with Super Shelter under-pad.
  • Sleeping Bag: Western Mountaineering, 20F
  • Cooking: Jetboil PCS

Car Camping (for two):

  • Shelter: Kelty Trail Dome 4
  • Bed: Feathered Friends Penguin, two Exped downmats
  • Cooking: Jetboil GCS plus Primus stove plus a stainlessfrying pan from our kitchen.

The Fiberglass Anniversary

Christine and I spent the last 3 days in the San Juan Islands (a group of islands in Puget Sound, a couple hours from Seattle) celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary. We camped at Spencer Spit State Park, which is one of my favorite campgrounds for it’s private campsites and good location and scenery. We had a very relaxing weekend.

I think the most exciting aspect of the weekend, and the one that triggered the title, was picking up a used tandem sea kayak. We’ve been talking about getting one for years. We’ve taken paddling classes, rented them, gone on guided trips with them, but we’ve never owned one. Now we do.

We went on three different paddles over the weekend and enjoyed the solitude, quiet, and wildlife. Spencer Spit was a great place to re-aquaint ourselves with paddling as the waters were gentle and the scenery and wildlife were plentiful. Last night we took it across the island to MacKaye Harbor and that was a bit more challenging and probably above our skill level until we re-take the kayaking safety courses.

I look forward to many years of kayaking and kayak camping with Christine. I don’t think we could have had a better ninth anniversary.

Socked in at Vanson Lake

This past weekend Christine and I met our friends Nate and Sam for some camping and hiking near Mt St Helens. We met Friday night at a public campground with the goal of hiking Saturday up to Vanson Lake, camping there,and hiking around the area. On the map the area looked like it had many possibilties with many small lakes and potentially good views to the south and into the Mt St Helens crater.

The Vanson Lake Trailhead is a challenge to get to. You have to drive about 20 miles(over an hour)on logging roads, most of which are private and not very well mapped. Our guidebook had limited directions and the road numbers were often missing or disagreed with the numbers printed on our maps. Luckily I had a new GPS with detailed topo maps of the area and it helped out greatly. The most frustrating and also humorous part of getting lost on these logging roads was finding both sides of a locked gate — why lock the gate if both sides are freely accessible? One benefit of traversing this maze of logging roads was the promise of solitude, not many folks seemed to get this deep into the forest. This is unusual for an area just a couple of hours from both Seattle and Portland.

We got to the trailhead around 11:30 and started the hike in. The weather was chilly (around 45F)and damp, but there were hints that the clouds were lifting or burning off. The trail started in very nice forest, it appeared to be second growth but wasn’t too thick with underbrush. At about half a mile into the trail we started to see snow. I was expecting snow at some of the higher elevations (maybe near Vanson Peak), but it what remained appeared to be at the lower elevations.Luckily none of it was too deep and it was pretty easy to follow where the trail ran underneath it.

We pretty quickly reached Vanson Lake and found the best (and I think only) camping area. It was even chillier here than at the trailhead and damp, the clouds were just above us. The lake was small and beautiful. The camping area was next to one of the streams that feeds the lake and had three or four good tent spots and a couple of old fire rings. Christine and Sam were chilly, so we set up the tents so they could hang out in the warmth of their sleeping bags. Nate and I made some lunch and then hiked to the top of Vanson Peak (700 feet higher) to see if there were any signs of the clouds lifting. The trail up to Vanson Peak was nice with no snow (odd that the last snow was at lower elevation) and tons of wildflowers. Unfortunately the visibility was terrible. The trail sides were steep and dropped away quickly, it looked like there would be some wonderful views.

When we returned to the camp we found that the clouds were dropping and rolling in above the lake. It was incredibly beautiful, but not helping Sam and Christine get any warmer or lifting their spirits. We decided that the fog had won,so we packed up and hiked out.

On the way down the logging roads we looked for potential places to camp instead of going back to the campground. The best candidate was on an open bluff with nice views looking down to Riffe Lake. There was a stream to gather water from nearby,but it was covered in brush and completely inaccessible. So we ended up back at the campground, one spot over from the one we had stayed at on Friday.

It was a good weekend, even though it didn’t go as planned. There was a little disappointment at not actually camping at Vanson Lake and missing out on the great views that were hiding behind the clouds. On the other hand it was really fun to see Nate and Sam and to spend some time in the woods with them. I’d love to explore this area some more and even hike up there again. It area might be a good candidate for some weekend bicycle touring/exploration. The views from the the logging roads looking south to Mt St Helens reminded me of my bike tour in the region a year ago, just about 15 to 20 miles south of this point.