Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lost Maples Hike. Field Test: EmberLit UL Stove

November rolls around and here in south Texas we have a major changing of colors in a few parts of the hill country.  Lost Maples State Natural Area is home to a very uncommon growth of Uvalde Bigtooth Maple trees.  Late October through mid-November the foliage makes a spectacular change painting the valley with reds and oranges.  This was my second trip through the park with my oldest son, last year's trip being his first overnighter.  The weather was perfect...afternoon temps in the high 60's to low 70s and night time lows just below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  According to the park rangers we were about a week too late to catch the best of this year's change.  We still were blessed with some fantastic scenery and photo opportunities...

We set camp at the farthest point of the park's backcountry.  Nice and quiet and off the beaten path.  

After camp was set first order of business was getting my EmberLit UL stove fired up.  Here are the specs straight from the EmberLit website:

The Emberlit-UL (Ultralite) Stove. Weighing in at less than 6 oz (170 g) the Emberlit-UL stove caters to those who pay special attention to the weight of their gear. Made of pure titanium, the Emberlit-UL is just as strong and impervious to corrosion as its stainless steel brother but at half the weight. With use the individual panels that make up the Emberlit-UL may take on a slight warp. This is normal and doesn’t affect the assembly or durability of the stove. Likewise it comes with a lifetime guarantee… you’ll never wear this one out either. Despite the extra difficulty and expense of working with Titanium this stove is PROUDLY Made in the USA!

I ran this stove for well over 12 hours.  Assembly takes less then a minute.  It gets extremely hot extremely fast.  10 ounces of water boiled in about 4 minutes.  I was burning primarily cedar and some oak.  Being titanium it is not only light weight but after use it cooled down and was ready for disassembly in no time!  So if you were on the move and wanted to stop for a quick cup of coffee and needed to get back on the trail...this stove fits the bill.

Order one up and throw it in your pack, you'll be glad you did!

Want to roast some marshmallows?  The EmberLit has you covered!

Bacon?  Oh yeah...there's always room for bacon!

Another piece of gear I brought along was my recently purchased BCUSA 10x7 UL tarp in multi-cam. When packing up I realized in the supplied stuff sack the tarp fits perfect in my Mors style bush pot.  Here is the info from Bushcraft Outfitters:  Bushcraft Outfitters (BCUSA)

This rip-stop fabric is very lightweight with excellent tear strength and NanoSphere® liquid repellency.  The fabric has been processed to reduce air permeability, which creates excellent wind-break properties.  The NanoSphere® repellent finish is applied to the face side.  This product is typically used for outerwear and tents due to its strength, light weight and packability.
  • 40x40D Ripstop Nylon
  • NanoSphere® Treated
  • Tabs are mil-spec Coyote Brown
  • Thread is mil-spec Coyote Brown
  • Stuff sack included
  • Stuff sack cordage is 550 paracord with a USA made cord lock
  • Tabs: 12 perimeter and 1 additional ridge line (3 total with edge tabs)
  • Weight (includes stuff sack): 13.5 oz
All components of this tarp are 100% made in the USA.

Luckily we only had a few drops of rain all weekend but it was nice to have the tarp up just in case.  The wind was coming in pretty consistant from the East so it made a nice wind block as well.  The tarp is exceptionally well constructed and is a new permanent part of my gear.

For two and three day outings I would generally use my Frost River Isle Royale Jr.  With no water sources in this part of the back country we had to pack in all our water.  Therefore, I decided to use my CamelBak Mother-Lode with its 100oz bladder.  I forgot how comfortable this pack was.  I probably had room for another two days worth of food and water.   In a different environment where I could filter my daily water needs I could easily use this pack on a five to seven day trip.
Do more with less!

Fire prep for the weekend was a handled once again with my MP Forged Hatchet. 

The "Beaver" makes quick work of oak and cedar...from feather sticks to larger kindling.

Here is a shot of my oldest son and I with some great color in the background.  All in all it was a fantastic weekend.  The gear I brought along to test preformed flawlessly but more importantly some great memories were created for my son and I.

As always, thanks for coming along...your comments and questions are always welcome!  Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fire prep and little hot chocolate...

End of the week, time to make good on my promise to take my youngest son for a little dirt time.  It was off to our favorite spot for a little fire prep and something hot to drink.  Once we arrived at our "camp" my 4 year old went to work gathering twigs and I put my new Adventure Sworn Bushcraft USA knife to good use.  Any review you find on an Adventure Sworn knife will tell you these are serious tools.  And they are.  I couldn't be happier with feel and balance as I made quick work of some cedar into a pile of shavings.  

Mother nature provided some handy tinder.  I need to research and find out exactly what this plant is but the extremely dry, fluffy, feather-like ends remind me of thistledown.

A small handful should do the trick...

After the tinder and shavings I let my MP forged hatchet (which I have code-named The Beaver) handle the processing of some kindling.

A few minutes later...

This is the first time I've actually used this stainless steel cook pot made by Stanley.  It comes with a plastic tab on the lid which I replaced with a large split ring.  The single walled stainless preformed as advertised.  Once up to temperature and the water boiling the folding handle was barely warm.  For $14 at the local bog box store I think its a great piece to have in your kit.  It also come with two heavy duty plastic cups that nest inside.  Badger approved!

Waiting patiently....

Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set...$14
Packet of instant hot chocolate...$.99
Spending three hours in the woods with my son...priceless.

Thanks for joining us!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Forced patina using mustard...

I decided to try my hand at putting a basic patina on one of my fixed blade knives.  There are several different ways to do this.  A lot of people use vinegar.  Basically, any carbon steel blade will develop at patina over time from daily use.  The gradual change in colors and markings adds character to the blade giving it an old-world look.  I decided to speed up the process on my Blind Horse Knives Brumby-Lite
model and do a forced patina using good 'ol yellow mustard.

Here is the before picture...

This is after about 20 minutes of the mustard being on the blade.  You can see the acid already at work. I smeared on the mustard then used a piece of paper towel and my finger to smudge it around until I had what I thought would look good.  I really had no idea what to expect being my first attempt.

After a total of about 50 minutes on each side here are the final results....

Overall, the O1 tooled steel is slightly darker then it started and the random dark patina spots give it a look I'm happy with.  This was less then an hour of soaking in the yellow mustard.  I think I will put another coat on to darken it a bit more.

Here is a parting shot with a custom sheath I finished for it this week as well.  Thanks for looking!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Cool weather rolls in...time to hit the hill country

Occasionally this time of year in South Texas we get a couple days of cool weather...early morning temperatures in the 50's and a slight breeze out of the West.  It's heaven while it lasts but usually just Mother Nature teasing us as humid summer temps will return for one last run.  My wife and I were celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary at a bed and breakfast set back on an 85 acre ranch.  I was lucky enough to get out and do some bushwhacking and exploring in the hill country while she enjoyed some of the amenities back at the main house.

Sun setting over the valley this ranch is nestled in.  Typical Texas hill country scrub cedars and a variety of oaks.

Like a lot of current day ranch property remnants of the past in the form of old live stock fencing litter the valley.

We have more deer in Texas then people...or so it seems.  Take a couple hour drive just about anywhere and you'll see the small brown white-tails alongside the road, grazing in pastures by the dozen, even moving through the manicured lawns of sub-divisions eating Mrs. Jones' prized roses.  But something changes in a man when you get back in the hills, off the main roads and you start seeing signs of deer.  It must be the primal hunter/gatherer instinct in us.  I started seeing old droppings and old prints.  Then stumbled upon some fresh prints...very fresh.  The hunt was on.  Although on this day I was not hunting with rifle or bow but with my Nikon.  I was determined to stalk this deer through the valley or up the hillsides and capture him/her in my viewfinder.

Heading to the lowest part in the valley I find a dry creek bed opening up to a nice watering hole.  Seemed like a fine place to sit, wait and watch.

I wasn't the only one hanging out around the standing water.  These little scrub jays constantly scream at you as they zip from tree to tree in a nervous fret.

Exploring further up the hill I stumble upon a den with an elaborate network of holes.  This particular passage had considerable fresh dirt strewn about the entry.  I considered setting some snares for the weekend to see what might be using this hillside, but I was already on a mission and needed to stay focused on my deer.

Tough to tell how this buck met his demise.  Majority of the bones were still in the immediate area.   Vultures probably had a nice feast.  Larger predators, like a big cat or coyote, would have drug off most of the carcase.

A short while later my patience and slow stalking through the cedars paid off....GOTCHA!

In a flash she was gone.  She was bed down in a thicket of cedars and suddenly bolted out in front of me.  Her dull brown coat blending in perfectly.  They move with amazing speed through dense brush and barely make a sound.

Thanks for coming along...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fun with photo editing

Been playing around with some basic photo editing on the MacBook.

This year in South Texas the acorns are plentiful.  Limbs and branches on the oaks sag considerably due to the extra weight.  Years like this are called a "mast" year when there is such an abundance of crop.  There are a lot of theories of why one year can be so significantly different then another but currently there is no hard evidence or ways to predict which years will result in a mast year.

"Antiqued" and took the background out of focus on this picture of a cluster of acorns during a rain storm.  I like how you can see the water pooling on the leaf on the left...

Tweaked this picture as well.  This is a small primitive neck sheath I made from vegetable tanned leather and a piece of tanned animal hide of unknown origin.  The knife is an original Turley model 23 that I wrapped with jute twine to further the rustic look and functionality.

Have a few more random pictures I am working on...check back soon...thanks for looking.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tending to the garden...

Didn't make a whole lot of progress in the garden this year.  With such a hot and dry summer it was enough just to keep what we had growing watered and protected.  Why more people do not dedicate a small portion of their property for growing vegetables and herbs baffles me.  With the same amount of effort it takes to manicure, fertilize, weed and landscape your average suburban backyard you can have a nice size garden and provide your house with fresh food that you know exactly what went into making it grow.  If done right a modest food producing garden can be part of your existing landscape and not even take away from your yard.  Its also rewarding to spend some "dirt time" in the garden and away from the television and internet (of course I say that as I'm posting this on an internet blog...but i think you get my point).

With less water then you might expect cucumber do fantastic! In just a few weeks after sprouting...

 Eventually to these beauties....

Last year had a couple of great melons to harvest.  Unfortunately some rodents got to enjoy them before I did.  I will be cutting it close this year with this one...hopefully get a couple small melons before winter.

The herb box is nearly out of control. Thyme, chives, spearmint, oregano, chocolate mint, sage, rosemary and lavender pictured here.  Four or five mint leaves steeped for about 7-10 minutes makes a great tea.  My other favorite is the lemon verbena which is growing in another box you can see in the background.

As always plenty of these guys keeping busy in the garden...

Southwestern Ironclad beetle...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A walk in the woods...

Got out early this morning with my (almost) 4 year old son for a little walk.  We have a place not far from the house that is a couple hundred acres owned by the San Antonio River Authority.  They claim it will be turned into a park someday...for now its a great place for a morning of tramping through the woods.  I was hoping to harvest some prickly pear cactus fruit and a stalk from a sotol cactus.  I have heard the dry stalk from the sotol is great for making fire with friction so I want to give it a try for myself.  A few pictures from our walk...

Leaving the open trails we head into the thick cedars...long pants were a necessity for my little guy.  The tall grass is full of things with thorns, needles and stickers.

This area used to be ranch property long ago.  We stick to the animal trails that cut through the cedars and oaks.  If developed properly it should make for a nice park area.  Hopefully it takes the city another decade to get around to it.

And here was the find of the day.  Probably the largest shed I've ever found, especially for our little Texas hill country deer.  I've got a few special projects in mind for this one.

Generally for short day hikes I carry my Finnish gas mask bag.  I've added a shoulder strap pad from a Maxpediton pack and a loop on the side for a knife sheath.  Inside we have water bottles, a couple snacks, my usual PSK (which I'll detail in a later post) and of course my MP Woodsman.

My older son and I started clearing an area for a simple bush shelter last winter.  Most of it was still there including an area we spread strips of cedar bark over for my yellow lab (Mac) to lay on.  Much more comfortable then laying on a bed of rocks.

And finally the sotol cactus I had been in search of.  The stalk growing out of the center of this one was huge.  Close to two inches around toward the base, extending to about 10 feet in length.  Native people had many uses for this plant (commonly mistaken for a yucca).  The "heart" was dried, baked for up to 48 hours and made into an edible cake, apparently a good source of carbohydrates.  The sawtooth leaves are excellent for weaving and basket making.

Thanks for looking...