Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Occasional Definitions: Asbestos Suit

Handy to have in case of stove accidents. Provides insulation and fireproofing. More useful with older, white gas stoves that are more likely to explode. Also nice for those in the habit of spilling fuel on themselves. A frequent need for one of these is a good indicator that maybe you should find another hobby.

From: Fire In Your Hand

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Occasional Trails: The Cougar Traverse

  • Name: The Cougar Traverse
  • Location: Pasayten Wilderness of northern Washington
  • Length: 242 miles
  • Best season: Mid-July to mid-October
  • Features: The longest wilderness route in the lower 48 states. A loop. No road crossings, no resupply, no backtracking.
  • Permits: (1) Ross Lake National Recreation Area camping (free), (2) U.S. Forest Service hiking (free), (3) Trailhead parking (Northwest Forest Pass).
  • Info at:

This trail might make you crazy with lust for the backcountry.

Along the western edge of Washington's Pasayten Wilderness is Ross Lake, a deep reservoir on the Skagit River, bounded in turn on its west by North Cascades National Park. Canada caps the north edge of the 50 mile wide, 20 mile deep, 530,031 acre wilderness. The last few miles of the Pacific Crest Trail live here.

If you count you'll find almost 150 peaks over 7,500 feet, and 160 bodies of water. Part of the new 1200 mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail calls this place home as well.

Green west-facing slopes covered by fir, cedar, and western hemlock butt up against sunny, dry, grassy-brown eastern slopes supporting pine and larch. Farther east you'll find large swaths of tundra with acre after acre of wildflowers.

Want to visit the largest population of lynx in the lower 48 states? Stop by. You might say hello to a grizzly too. Then there are mule deer and moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and possibly a stray cougar. Or gray wolf. No, really. Plus the typical marmots and hooting blue grouse.

You can even stumble across a few historical remnants. Like an odd long rectangle scraped clean by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s for a landing strip. Still visible. And resting quietly, the remains of a forgotten mine. A tungsten mine on Tungsten Creek. How the tons of equipment got there is something to wonder about.

To the west, 4400 feet above blue Ross Lake, is Desolation Peak. In 1956 writer Jack Kerouac spent a summer at the fire lookout there, inspired by poet Gary Snyder. The stay featured in two of Kerouac's works, "Desolation Angels" and "Dharma Bums", some of his best writing. Although this peak isn't on the route, no one will scold if you stop by.

In fact this isn't an official trail in any sense. Mike and Kristy Woodmansee created it and dropped it into their 2003 book "Trekking Washington" as a long challenge, far from anywhere else. Their difficulty rating is "toughest", as it would be if done in the recommended 10 days.

You can do that if you like or make your own route. There are many trails here and more than enough to see: Freezeout Lake, Elbow Basin, Big Face Creek, Joker Mountain, Devil's Park, Devil's Dome, Devil's Pass, Devil's Creek in the western half. Sound interesting? There's more to the east: Horseshoe Basin, Topaz Mountain, Cathedral Peak, Wolframite Mountain, Tungsten Lake.

And if you do this trip you'll find something else, the trail of 2006's Tripod Complex Fire, which erupted that July and burned through 175,000 acres before making a September exit into Canada where winter finally killed it. After a fight.

So, think you can have fun here?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fooning Around

If I have a spoonlike shallow scooping implement with pointy things on one edge of it then I can call it anything I like.

I can but I won't, because someone else has done that work for me. And today I'm feeling especially lazy.

The same as every day, but that's none of your business, is it?

So what should we call our spoonlike shallow scooping implements? Well, last week it was "spork." Other names that work are "foon" and "runcible spoon". Let's say foon this time.

I'm in a foony mood anyway.

Feeling foony yourself? OK, let's go. Let's get disposable. Disposable and grassy.


Yep. As in bamboo. Bamboo is a grass. And you can make foons from it. And other things. Even flooring. But let's not eat off the floor right now.

Back to foons.

I haven't used any of these, but they look like fun. I may even be tempted to get one of these midget foons (see the photo). Well, wrong. It isn't a foon. Or a spork. Or a spoon, runcible or otherwise. Even though the seller calls it a "Bamboo Reusable Spork". It's another kind of implement entirely, with a spoon on one end and a fork on the other.

Kind of like a conjoined twin of two unrelated critters.

It's short. Way short, at 3 1/2 inches (9 cm). But that's good, right? Has to be light, and it's short, so it won't take up much room. Just what an ultralighter needs. Not one who eats from a bag like I do, but I could change. Maybe. For the right foon.

So here we are with an item by Greenfeet that is "solid bamboo and is reusable...made from organically and sustainably grown bamboo." Two bucks apiece. Pretty good.

Too small? Try their "Bamboo Knife Fork & Spoon Set" for $6.95. "Made from a single piece of organically grown bamboo Each piece of this bamboo flatware set is hand shaped, finished, burnished and polished to a satiny feel that's a delight to touch." Probably by elves, but they don't say.

Like to throw stuff away? Want to watch it decompose? There's a set of "All-Occasion Bamboo Disposable Sporks." Get 24 for $9.50 and cheat. No one says you have to throw them away.

A little goofier (maybe not) is the "Bamboo Kid's Utensil Set". Fork and spoon for $7.25. Same materials. You can buy a set and pretend you're younger than you are. Most people do anyway. I won't tell.

Other stuff: bamboo forks or spoons in bulk. Bamboo plates.

And corn-based plastics if you prefer the white creamy smoothness of genuine plastic. "...derived from corn grown in the U.S.A. They are fully biodegradable in commercial compost facilities."

Mmmmmm. Commercial compost facilities.

I can hardly wait to start eating from something that's not a bag. Maybe. We'll see.



Bamboo Reusable Spork

Bamboo Knife Fork & Spoon Set

All-Occasion Bamboo Disposable Sporks

All-Occasion Veneerware Bamboo Plates

Spork From Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Like A Stick With Teeth


The word gets around.

It's used everywhere. For art studios. Jokes. Blog names. Clothing companies. Planetary defense strategies.

What is a spork? It's like a spoon with teeth. All the better to hurt yourself with. There is a spoon-like bowl, and on its tip there are tines to poke food. Like all hybrid devices, the spork has a hard time justifying its existence. Because it doesn't work very well for doing much of anything.

Except for

  1. being a joke, or
  2. inspiring conversations, or
  3. starring in jokes.

But that isn't because of anything the implement does. It's because of the name. In other words, it's all marketing.

Who says poetry isn't important? It is. There is poetry in the name. Spork is a one-syllable poem with more punch and 15 times fewer syllables than any haiku, yet it invokes an infinite regression of images with that single sound.

I had an English teacher in high school. Whatever the female version of dolt is, she was. Call her Asinina. Tried to convince us one day, while explaining onomatopoeia, that "bush" was an example. If it was, then spork would be better. Round, gentle, and spoonlike yet tangy and with points, not to be ignored, fork-like. Spork.

In my world spork is a fine word. Much better than the phrase "cutting spoon", which a 1908 precursor was called. Even better than "foon", though not by much. Spork describes intent while foon is better at illustrating results.

Spoon-fork versus fork-spoon.

People carry sporks to go backpacking. I've never understood why.

But then I've never understood why people take bottles of wine either. Or steaks. Or eggs. Or even those $10 freeze-dried plastic-flavored meal kits.

A spoon always worked for me.

Until one trip, when I forgot it.

Then I used a stick.

Like eating soup with a knife, if I'd had soup, but I didn't, so it was fine.

Now I don't carry anything, not even my 1/10th ounce (3 g) MRE superlong spoon, which is the bestest spoon there is for digging food out of a bag.

But now I suck food from the bag I "cook" it in. Much better, and it took only 25 years to figure this out. First I boiled food in a pot, ate from a plate, and washed up. Then hot-water hydrated in a ziplock bag, digging in with a spoon and getting the spoon and my fingers dirty. Then, after years of this, realizing that I could tear a corner off the bag and squeeze the stuff out.

No cleanup at all, hence my current sporkless, spoonless, simpler life.

Did you know that fork (forca) was originally a "forked instrument used by torturers"? We'll continue this later.

"Then, by elevating the spork into the sky (this spork would have to be really big, so it could be seen from outer space), standing it on its handle, it would be a floating billboard demonstrating our technological achievements. The aliens would then look at it and say, 'Hey! They've got a really big spork!!', and would withdraw the attack."



How Products Are Made: Spork

Joachim Nordwall's Light My Fire Spork

Spork at Wikipedia

Sporks Are Godlike


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Few Wee Brown Squares

Next season I'm going to give 'er hell.

Always seems to happen. Plans, up front, look good. So clean. So clear. Head out and do it right for once.

In the middle of it all it gets less clear. Life is all compromise. So is backpacking. You have to make the most important choices right when you have the least time to think and plan and choose the best of anything.

In other words, you have to grab at whatever goes by and make the best of it. "When you are up to your ass in alligators it is difficult to remind yourself your initial objective was to drain the swamp."

Food is one area where you can't wing it. You have to eat what you take, and you learn to take what you can eat. So far I'm moving more and more toward preparing things at home and eating them as-is on the trail. In other words: pre-made, pre-cooked, pre-packaged, ready to eat. Not store-bought at $20 a pound.

One cooked meal a day is my goal, with the other two meals something I can both eat and enjoy, without a stove. Oh, can't forget point three: the food has to keep me going too.

I wrote earlier about shortbread. That works.

This time it's about brownies. They work, and they taste like chocolate. How can you beat that?

So next season I'm going to give 'er hell.

I mean this season.

Late last summer I did a longish short trip. About five days. I carried some nitro brownies. Last day of the trip I ate a slab of my home-baked brownies for breakfast. A little dry and crumbly, but OK otherwise.

That was about 8 a.m.

At 2 p.m. I stopped for lunch, only because it was the last water I would be passing for a while, and so the last chance to cook. I had hiked uphill all day, even taking a wrong turn and putting on an extra three or so miles, and I still wasn't dying of hunger.

Brownies work. For me. They contain everything but vegetables: protein, carbohydrate, fat (lots), eggs, milk, peanut butter, and most important, that yummy chocolate flavor.

Here's about how I make them. The point is to use no water, instead substituting oil, and keep them as dry as possible.

Main ingredients

3 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups cocoa powder
1 36 ounce jar peanut butter
3 cups dark brown sugar, honey, or equivalent in cooked raisins or other sweet, dried fruit
4 cups flour
6 eggs

  • Peanut butter: I use Adams, which is made of peanuts. Period. You can get it salted or not, smooth or crunchy, even organic.
  • Flour: I use whole wheat. A matter of taste. You can try white flour, adding dry oatmeal or using other grains.

Optional ingredients

1 tablespoon salt
orange peel
powdered milk

  • Honey seems sweeter than cane sugar, so you might want to use less. I haven't tried using fruit as a sugar substitute in brownies, though I have used a lot of fruit in some other things.
  • Orange peel gives a nice kick to the flavor. You can try cinnamon too.
  • Extra oil is handy. Use whatever liquid cooking oil that you prefer. Add as much as needed to get the right texture and calorie count.
  • Powdered milk adds protein and sugar. You can add a cup or two. If so you'll probably need more oil to compensate.
  • Salt: not needed, especially if you add powdered milk, but you might like the taste.

Dry ingredients

  • Mix together cocoa powder, sugar, salt, orange peel, and flour.
  • If using honey or stewed fruit for sweetness, do them in the next step.

Wet ingredients

  • Remove peanut butter from jar and stir until it is all blended.
  • Add vanilla, eggs, honey or stewed fruit and blend.

Do this

1 - Combine ingredients:

  • Work dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then knead thoroughly until everything has a consistent texture.
  • If it ends up looking too dry, sparingly add cooking oil and keep kneading. Repeat this until you have a soft, slightly moist bowl of brownie mix. All the moistness is due to the oil. Do not add water.
  • Too much oil will run off and puddle during baking. Too little oil will result in crumbly, dry, powdery brownies.

2 - Prep the oven:

  • Heat to 350 degrees F (180 C).

3 - Fill the pan:

  • Pat all the mixture onto a cookie pan. The heavy aluminum foil oven liners are fine for this kind of baking. They have a small lip which prevents crumbs and oil from soiling the oven. You might need two.
  • When done you should have a slab of brownies mix about 1/2 to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.5 cm) deep.

4 - Bake:

  • Check after 15 minutes. Get to the point where the corners and edges of your brownie slab just start to brown and dry out. This might take longer, up to 20 minutes or so, because you have a big slab and not a small pan as is more usual.
  • Keep watching, be careful, and don't burn your brownie slab.
  • When it starts to brown, remove from oven and let cool.

5 - Finish:

  • After brownie slab is cool, cut into smaller slabs. If you know what you need you can cut meal-sized chunks. Otherwise shoot for whatever seems reasonable.
  • After cutting you might need a spatula to help pry the cut brownies from the pan, but there should be enough oil in the mix to prevent sticking.
  • Store in freezer.


On trail, carry brownie pieces individually wrapped in heavy zip lock bags. (One day's worth in each bag.)

The best bags are brand name, quart sized freezer bags. They don't puncture or let oil migrate through their sides.

Lightweight bags (like sandwich bags) will let odors and oil through, and may contaminate your pack and gear. (If you don't think so, then smoosh up some potato chips and put them into a sandwich bag for a couple of days, then check on them. The OUTSIDE of these bags will be oily.)

T&T Almond Fudgies (The recipe I started from. Posted by bettyboop50 at May 15, 2001)

Adams Peanut Butter

Hardtack (If you want to try a hardcore trip.)