I went on my first solo backpacking trip Wednesday night. I was trying out my new lightweight tarp that I made from a kit (see http://www.rayjardine.com if you’re interested). Because I’m not confident in my sewing abilities, I decided to go on a short overnighter to nearby Crowder’s Mountain State Park.
The good news is that the camping trail is only one mile long. The bad news is there’s no water available, so you have to carry every drop yourself, including enough to drown your campfire. One mishap complicated that mission. After carrying in about a gallon of water, I lost about a quart into my pack as I was setting up camp. Note to self: don’t use a hydration system with a too-efficient quick release valve as a water carrier. I had to scrimp on water but had enough left to get by.
I also tried out a new ultra-light alcohol stove, also homemade. It’s the Super Cat, made from an empty cat food can–hence the name. (You can find instructions on the Web, if you want your own.) It may become my regular camping stove–very light, simple, easy to light, pretty much foolproof. The firewood provided by the park was a little green, so I generated more smoke than heat from it after I burned up the dry kindling I gathered. I ended up cooking dinner over the excess kindling, then watching the barely scorched logs go out within a couple of hours. I used the Super Cat for breakfast.
Going camping on a weeknight in October meant I pretty much had the forest to myself, except for the critters. I heard more owls than I knew could co-exist, plus some assorted creatures I never did identify. One sounded like a squeaky wheel. Another sounded exactly like someone blowing too hard on a plastic recorder.
The tarp performed very well. The night was cool (upper 40s) and I was in a summer-weight sleeping bag (actually under it, as advised by Ray Jardine, the developer of my tarp kit), but I slept snugly and comfortably–well, if sleeping on a hard-packed sand and clay tent pad can ever be called comfortable. Next trip I’ll try stealth camping so I can choose a softer campsite.
One nice thing about a tarp is you can see out on pretty much all sides, so I was able to enjoy the sights at my leisure. The night was very clear, the moon a little more than half-full. In the resulting light the campground (which by day is a fairly usual Piedmont forest) was about the most beautiful place I’ve seen–brilliant silvery moonlight illuminated patches of trees, understory bushes, and autumn leaves, both fallen and falling. I could easily walk around without a flashlight.
One continuing theme for my future camping will be to reduce the weight I carry as much as possible. This trip I carried a pack that weighed 22 lbs. before I added the water. It felt pretty good until I packed in the water, which added about 10 lbs. I was glad the hike in was only a mile, especially since the first half is all uphill. Walking out the next morning was much more fun, with almost all the food and water gone.