Behind-the-Scene on the BFT

There were some photos and other material that never made it into my latest Black Forest Trail video.

In part, that was because the video was long, but also because some of the photos and a video needed a little more explanation. So I thought I’d give you the behind-the-scenes of my latest BFT trek.

Experiments in winter shelters

As much as this trip was about trying to conquer a trail nemesis, it also was a chance to test some gear and ideas on winter tarp shelters that would allow to use our hammocks. We learned quickly that some things worked and others were just down-right cold.

Josh lounging in his hammock in our first night shelter. Total success. We just needed a tarp to semi-enclose the fire and reflect more heat our way.

Our first night shelter used four trees, was quick to set up and cave-like, which helped us trap heat from our small fire at the entrance. Outside temperature was just below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside the shelter, it ranged between 40 and 50 degrees. Inside my sleeping bag, a balmy 60 degrees or so. Home sweet home.

I improvised some toggles using sticks to turn my pack rain cover into a small tarp to block up a drafty hole on our first night shelter.

The design allowed me to sleep through the night in relative warmth. Most people still think we’re insane, but that comes with the territory of telling people you’re going camping in the winter… with just a couple tarps and a sleeping bag.

Our next two nights were not as warm. We utilized basic lean-to shelters set at 90 degrees and there was no way of catching the warmth from our fire. Add rain and 30-mph winds on the second night, and you get the picture. But we were drier than the rest of the day.

Third night hammock rigging, and of course Blackbeard’s jolly roger.

Same deal on the third night (minus the wind), but at least that night I had some of my climbing slings and carabiners to help set up my hammock. Lessons learned: cave-like shelters good in winter, open lean-tos bad.

Making fire… or not

Our first night, I was really proud of myself. While Josh set up the shelter, I went to work preparing the fire. We had decided before we left we would try to make fire only with primitive methods, although both of us had matches and lighters. On our hike, I gathered dry grasses and other tinder for a fire bundle.

I swung the blade of my knife down. CLICK! Spark, but no ignition. Again, a quick flick of my wrist and steel clicked off the flint. The white spark spun through the air and caught the charcloth. A small red ember began to glow in the fading winter light. Quickly, I placed it into the fire bundle and gently began to blow on the ember.

Smoke. Then some more. Heavier breath on the ember. More smoke, then more, then POOF! Fire leaped from the grass. Add some birch bark and begin feeding the flames. Soon, a warm fire crackled at our shelter entrance. Finally, dry socks.

Second night, with rain and heavy wind, we dug into our supplies to use one of Josh’s emergency fire-starting candles. No messing around when you already know fire is going to be a challenge.

Third night, with bitter cold settling in, we used fire-starting sticks but I attempted to start a secondary fire for cooking using my flint and magnesium. I was showing off; could’ve just used coals from the fire. And here’s what you get when you show off unnecessarily… video quality isn’t good (need to teach Josh finer points of videography).


This photo is blurry because I had to use the digital zoom on my camera past the lens capability. I should’ve brought my film camera with the macro lens, but it was a casualty of weight cutting.

We saw more wildlife on this trip than almost any other I’ve been on in a long time. On the first day, a bald eagle flew over Pine Creek fishing for trout. Coyote tracks appeared along the trail. That night, we heard some coyotes in the distance.

On day two, more deer and coyote tracks. After the long slog up the mountain, near the top, a couple of deer stood on the trail and bounded into the forest as we neared.

A few miles later, a grouse launched into the air. Immediately after, two more took flight. Where’s a shotgun when you need one?

The next day, wildlife was scarce; plenty of deer and big turkey tracks. But then just after we had settled into camp and the sun had gone down, a strange bird-like warbling call pierced the night just up the small valley from our camp. We couldn’t tell if it was an owl or a coyote, but it sounded more like a large mammal.

The next morning we found bobcat tracks up the trail. And after our trip, we found the source of the strange sound. It was a bobcat’s caterwauling. If you want to listen, here’s a great YouTube video of large cat sounds.


This could be from an 1800s mining village.

And then there are just the odds and ends, especially some interesting photos. I found a large shingle of birch bark on an enormous dead tree. Fire gold.

I took this photo with my cell phone of Josh going through his stuff. I love the soft, blurry nature of it. It’s mysterious and impressionistic.

We burned socks. I broke two shoelaces and replaced them with improvised paracord laces. The top of my Nalgene water bottle broke. Josh melted his water bottle (goof put it too close to the fire! photo coming soon). My water filter clogged and we resorted to boiling water, melting snow, and sterilization pills. And, we learned that the basic hiking version of YakTrax are not suited for heavy ice.

I’d say we proved to be resourceful considering our troubles. And if you can laugh at yourselves while looking at the pictures afterward, then it most certainly was a successful trip.

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