Monday, April 14, 2014

First spring forage hike 2014

I went for my first plant walk of the season this week, and at the last minute decided to record how many wild edible plants I could identify in a few short hours.

I was delighted and surprised to fine 19 of my regular edibles available for foraging, or in fruit and soon to be available! 

I shot this entire video handheld with my S3, so please excuse the shakiness and wind noise while on the approach trail...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Thrills, Chills, and Spills: A "Plan B" Backpacking Weekend on Pennsylvania's Black Forest Trail

Known as the "Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania," the Black Forest Trail (or BFT)  in the Tiadaghton State Forest in north central PA lies three hours south of the Great Lakes.  Blazed orange along its 42 miles, the BFT features about 8000' of elevation gain, lots of streams, and lovely views.  The trail also features rugged wilderness terrain, treacherous stream crossings, and bears.  The name supposedly comes from the dense coverage of hemlocks and pines that once prohibited full light from penetrating the trees, hence the "black" forest.

Hiking the entire trail at once meant we would have to hike 20 miles on Saturday in order to fit the trip in a weekend, not to mention a 12 hour round trip drive.  I know there are some very hardy souls who think 20-30 miles a day with a loaded pack is a blast, but when backpacking, I usually hit my "fun threshold" after about 14 miles.  The posting mentioned that I had never been on this trail, so a sense of humor and a great attitude was a prerequisite to RSVP for this hike.

Craig and Becky at the Trail head

  The Mid-Atlantic Hikes Website (which is an amazing resource for backpacking and hiking trips in the area) outlined two different backpacking trips for the trail; the BFT North and the BFT South.  The northern route is the roughest with 5000' of elevation gain, but offers the best views.  The southern route is slightly less challenging with total elevation change of about 3500' up and down.

We originally planned to hike the northern circuit, but after some emails back and forth with someone who already hiked the trail, and who described the potential for a very hairy stream crossing over Slate Run during periods of high water, we opted for a southern circuit.  The total mileage would be about 23 miles, with a breakdown of seven to eight miles each day.

Being early spring in the mountains, and only three hours south of the Great Lakes,our group prepared for the worst, but still hoped we would have the warmer spring weather we craved.  The week prior to the hike, the weather report turned ominous; instead of 50* days and 35* nights, the outlook was

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

MLD Mountain Laurel Designs Gaiters Long-Term Review

I love these things. For anyone considering gaiters in general, or the MLD gaiters in particular, here is a video for you!  Please leave any comments regarding your thoughts here.  Happy Hiking :-)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Trail Pancakes with Maple Syrup; Wheat-free, Healthy Trail Comfort Food!

Good nutrition is so vital to our well being, and nothing starts the day better than a nutritious breakfast. Car campers tend to take breakfast very seriously;  drive through any established campground around breakfast time and your sense of smell will be positive assaulted by the scent of sizzling sausage and bacon and freshly brewed coffee.  Pancakes with syrup and scrambled eggs round out the feast.

On the trail, however, breakfast tends to be Boring with a capital B.  Oatmeal. Oatmeal with blueberries.  Oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins. Cream of wheat.  Blah, blah, blah. And I am sure that backpackers need waaayyy more nutritious calories than the car camping bunch.

Paleo Bread; Wheat free, made with Nut Flour
Hikers with a little more pack space and money may opt for something like freeze-dried Mountain House meals.  I find them delicious (YMMV!) but they are expensive and loaded with sodium and additives. Now that I am older and more frugal, I dry my own concoctions.

One food I am experimenting with is pancakes and syrup.  A very easy way to have pancakes on the trail is to simply dehydrate some cut up homemade pancakes, rehydrate in a zip lock with some boiling water, and add a pouch of syrup.  Yummy and almost like homemade.  But I liken it to junk food. Empty calories with no nutrition.

Since I am swearing off traditional flour-based foods, I had to find another option.  I found this bread recipe from Elana's Pantry and realized it would form the basis for some great healthier trail meals.  I followed the recipe and made the most delicious nut-flour bread ever.

Paleo Bread Crackers
The bread is a little denser than whole grain bread, and the recipe makes a small loaf.  A little small for anything but finger sandwiches, I thought this would be the perfect size for crackers.  Then I started thinking dried bread things with some kind of topping.  That led to the idea of a pancake-y trail food.  So I sliced up the bread extra thin and dried it on my fabulous Excalibur Dehydrator.  A few hours later I had nice, crunchy, yummy flour-free crackers.

The rest is easy!  Just toss some crackers in a quart-sized freezer zip lock bag and add a Tablespoon or two of real maple sugar.  When in camp, add a very scant amount of boiling water to the bag and cozy.  Within a few minutes you can enjoy something that is very similar to SAD dried pancakes, but without the guilt!

Happy Hiking!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Ten Backpacking Essentials

I really don't like to watch much TV. I really think it dumbs people down. Need proof?  Swamp People.  'Nuff said.

OTOH, I do use the tube to keep up on current events.  I don't like to read newspapers, because they take too much time; if I have some free time I would rather be playing in the kitchen, chatting up my Internet friends, or working on my blog.  So I listen to Headline News with Robin Meade in the mornings on my days off while I do housework or play on my computer.  She is just so perky.  And pretty. And I love how she walks on a treadmill while working at her desk.  I wish my job was that cool.

Anyways, I was listening to Robin discuss yet ANOTHER story of a day hiker getting rescued because they got lost in the woods without the proper equipment.  Really people, hiking in the woods is no joke! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Foraging Resources Continued: Determining Plant Families and Genus with Tom Elpel's "Botany in a Day"

Outdoorsy types are a breed apart from your "average" person. I have had some lengthy discussions with non-outdoor folks about why my idea of "fun" involves giving up the creature comforts of home in exchange for a camp outdoors. A camp that is hopefully not being invaded by the creatures of the forest. Like the bumper sticker says "if I have to explain it to you, you wouldn't understand anyway."

Joey and Jag sampling Spruce needles in Roaring Plains, WV

Growing up I always styled myself as a modern day pioneer woman; the idea of living off the land is so romantic, albeit in a rather masochistic way. I loved to play in the woods when other girls were playing Barbie dolls. My earliest recollection of foraging was about the age of 10, when a classmate introduced me to Sassafras tea. I was instantly hooked!

Learning to identify plants can be very overwhelming to the uninitiated. The easiest way to start is to learn from others. BUT, if you don't have a local plant enthusiast, please don't despair. Spend some time flipping through plant books that identify what is in your are in season now. Peterson's Field Guides are a good beginner i.d. book, along with some others that I mention in another post. The more plants you learn, the more easily you can determine the family/genus/species of other plants.

On my regular hiking or jogging routes, I may see a plant in fruit or flower that is unfamiliar. Upon return to my house, I look it up in my identification books, starting the tentative identification process. But what about those plants that just elude identification? Something that looks like it should be edible. A fruit that looks downright delectable but remains untouchable because I JUST CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHAT THE DARN THING IS!!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Trail Baking with a Foster's Pot, Caldera Cone, and Starlyte Stove

Backpacking is a lot of different things to different people. Ask a dozen backpackers what makes them love the sport, and you will probably get a dozen vapid stares.  Maybe you will get a couple coherent answers :-)

To me, backpacking combines several of my favorite things.  Foremost is celebrating nature.  There is no problem that can't be solved after pounding the trail for an hour or two. Why does this happen? Who knows, but my theory: when you are on the trail, away from people and external stressors, you focus on simply living.

Another reason I love to backpack is how it strips away creature comforts, allowing me to live like a cavegirl (with the best down quilts and cuben fiber stuff money can buy). Hmmm, okay, a modern cavegirl with a few creature creature comforts :-)