Hazards of Extreme Camping

By J.D. Adams


Seeking direction as a youth, I bought a compass and wandered into the savage heart of the wilderness. Oregon's history came alive as I retraced pioneer trails and skied cross-country to skyline camps. Now, grizzled and trout revering, I offer this to show that extreme camping is so much more than surviving the crux of desolation in wet shoes.

Many campers have thrived under hideous conditions, only to fall victim to their camping equipment. Mummy bags were named for their tendency to shift around on the occupant during the night, so you wake up facing an ominously shroud-like interior. Only by struggling absurdly with the sleeping bag can one return to the world of the living. Often during the struggle, everything in the tent containing Velcro will attach itself around the victim, creating a monstrous appearance. To behold such a shapeless, hulking form in the ghostly glow of moonlight filtered through the tent is quite a bizarre experience after a night of sitting around the campfire telling Bigfoot stories. The flailing around will eventually roll the tent over, impaling the occupants on camping supplies and covering them with loose oatmeal. Often deep sleepers won’t be aware of the claustrophobic near-death experience going on next to them until the tent makes a full rotation and the oatmeal has been fully distributed. Luckily, the modified mummy bag with a fuller cut is more comfortable and less likely to incite claustrophobic reactions.

Tents can function as rain collection devices, drawing moisture into the seams and through the fabric by a process still a mystery to camping scientists. Condensation and leakage combine to float the occupant, who may experience rebirth. Upon rising, the victim is met by gallons of super-cooled water holding in the tent fly such that amphibious regression is not unlikely. Experience with a good basic design like the freestanding dome tent will promote dry and comfortable slumber. Before setting up your tent, inspect the lay of the ground for where water may pool up, and look overhead for precarious snags and branches, as well as beehives. Be aware that during the night your tent may be assaulted by snarling raccoons or stampeding deer, and so a defensive placement is wise.

The priming of gas stoves typically produces a fireball that is great for trimming those bushy eyebrows, also giving a hard outdoorsy look to the face. Working the stove is always great fun, a bit like being an astronaut and firing the afterburners. Some people get into character, shouting terms like "throttle up!" and "more power!" as they operate the pump and valves to avoid the dreaded "flameout"! Overcooking is the result, like your mother's pork chops. Periodic cleaning of the stove hardware is necessary for easy starting.

Backpacks have come a long way from the L-shaped wooden frame and attached rucksack. The principle is still the same, to explore the limits of human endurance like Lewis and Clark on a bad day. The inner frame pack is more streamlined, allowing gazelle-like movement through the wilderness, and may be more suitable for skiing and climbing conditions. The external frame pack is usually the most comfortable for normal, hot or dry hiking conditions. Regardless of the type of pack, choose a model with wide, firm padding on the waist and shoulder straps, with its center of gravity as close to your back as possible. Backpacks with a zipper on the rear face of the main compartment allow for better access to items, but the older styles with a flap on the top enable extra items to be carried easily. Unfortunately, this encourages over-packing and top-heavy weight such that a peculiar and erratic hiking gait is usually employed to remain upright. Other hikers will be forced to backpedal furiously from the afflicted to prevent being injured by the spasmodic movements, often falling over logs and becoming entangled in rhododendrons.  

Skills for cross-country skiing are intuitive on the level and uphill, but prior to mastering the telemark and snowplow turns, the novice skier will tend to hurtle downhill out of control across the unsuspecting landscape, creating long swaths of destruction. Their approach is marked by the sound of snapping branches and the raucous cries of tormented wildlife, with elk and bear stampeding fearfully. The decision to stop is made with great grinding and crunching of frozen debris, there’s a brief fluttering of greenery, the skier disappears from sight, and for a moment all is quiet in the forest.

Cross-country skiing with a full pack combines the grace of drunkenness with the feel of a military exercise. Once mastered, expeditions can be launched into the high country, where an altered state will settle in from oxygen deprivation, and annoying songs may run through the head. Often giddiness will persist well into the later stages of hypothermia, which can only be cured by fishing.

Copyright 2006 by J.D. Adams

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