Homer's Travels: Camp #3: Camping Preparation Canyon

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Camp #3: Camping Preparation Canyon

A fellow camper.
For my third camping experience I chose to go to a small park in the Iowa Loess Hills.  I'd been to the park, Preparation Canyon State Park, a few times before.  I'd hiked passed the campsites.  For my third camp I chose one of two new campsites tucked back into the canyon and farthest from the parking area.
Note: The map linked to on the park website is old and not accurate.  There are brochures at the camping parking iron ranger with a newer, more accurate map showing all the campsites.  A copy of the map can be seen here.
I had a few new things to try out on this camp: a different brand of backpacking food, a different way to start fires, and a new sleeping bag.

After getting to the campsite parking lot the long way - there was a road closure that made me take a circuitous route to the park entrance - I slathered on the bug repellent, hoisted the backpack (20 lb - 9 kg), and hiked the short 1.37 miles (2.2 km) to campsite #10.  The campsite was at a large circular clearing at the end of a trail.  The grassy clearing had a picnic table but no fire ring, only a blacken spot on the ground where other campers had built fires.

My campsite.  The slope doesn't seem very obvious in this picture.
The clearing was not level and sloped up quite a bit.  I walked around looking for a place to pitch tmy tent.  I noticed an area where the grass had been worn down to bare earth.  It was roughly the size of my tent and appeared to be flat enough to put up the tent.  The tent went up in record time.  I guess the third camp is the charm.

I spent the rest of the late afternoon exploring the flowers and insects and reading.  I took a few pictures that I added to my 2010-2016 Preparation Canyon State Park Google Photos Album.

Dinner time arrived and I boiled some water to make my Backpacker's Pantry potatoes and gravy with beef.  This was my first Backpacker's Pantry meal, my others had been Maintain House brand.  This was also my first with potatoes.  The first thing I noticed with my first spork full was the texture of the potatoes - gritty and not very potato-like at all.  I've had instant potatoes before but these were not great.  It was hard to get past that.  Add to this the tiny cubes of diced beef ... I would've liked larger chunks.  I finished the meal but it was not that easy.  Before I pass judgement on all Backpacker's Pantry meals, I will have to try a Mountain House meal with potatoes.  That will happen my next camp sometime in September.

A colorful beetle.
After eating dinner the shadows began to get longer so I set out to light a fire.  I was a bit nervous since there really wasn't a fire ring to contain the fire like my other campsites had.  I would have to be careful.  My last two campfires had gone well except for the whole starting of the fire thing.  It had taken some thirty minutes each time to get a fire started.  This time I came prepared with something to help: cotton balls and Vaseline.

I'd heard about this method on the internet.  You coat the cotton ball with Vaseline which is petroleum jelly.  I'd collected my wood, bark, small sticks, and dry grass.  I made a bed of dry grass and put the jellied cotton ball on the bed and tried to light it with my lighter.  It wouldn't light.  This surprised me a bit.  I took the cotton ball and stuck it it the end of a stick so I could hold it over the lighter flame.  It took a while but it finally lit up.  I think I may have had too much Vaseline on the ball.  I put the now burning ball on the bed of grass and covered it with bark, small sticks, and smaller pieces of wood I found around camp.  The fire lit right up - so much easier than my first two campfire attempts.  Jellied cotton balls will be in my fire making kit from now on.

The closing credits of my Hiker's TV.
I spent the rest of the evening tending the small fire and reading my book.  That's one advantage of reading on a tablet - you can read in the dark.  As the sun went down the stars began to come out.  I was going to stay up later to see the stars but I didn't account for one thing - it was getting cold.  I usually have a half-zip or a long sleeve shirt in my pack but for some reason I'd left them out this time.  By about 9:50 PM I was getting cold despite the modest heat coming off the campfire.  I saw some of the early stars but the more spectacular field of stars I was hoping for will have to wait for my next camp.

I put out the embers of my fire and crawled into my tent and got in my bag liner and my new Western Mountaineering Highlite sleeping bag.  The bag is a 35°F bag compared to the 60°F bag I was using.  It's a down bag making it warm and very light.  The bag weighs a pound, 3.2 oz (90 g) less than my old bag despite being warmer.  I'd been worried that it was going to be too warm for this time of the year.  I'd thought I would probably sleep on top of the bag.  Turned out I was wrong and I slept in the bag and liner all night.  I read some more before I went to sleep.

With each camp I do, my sleep gets better.  I still wake up in the middle of the night a few times but the sleep between those wake-ups seems deep and fulfilling.  I woke up around 6:00 AM - a result of getting up at that time everyday to feed the dog.  Overnight a few things happened.  First, there was a lot of dew on the outside of the tent.  There was an equal amount of condensation inside the tent -  a common issue with single walled ultralight tents.  I also noticed that I had shifted over the night.

I'd thought the tent was on level ground but I suspect it was not quite level.  The bottom of the tent is a slick surface.  On top of that floor is my blow up sleeping pad which is also a rather slick surface.  On top of the sleeping pad is a rather slick sleeping bag.  Add all this together and I had slid during the night.  The foot of my sleeping bag was touching the side of the tent and had gotten wet.  It wasn't too bad ... just a little damp ... but down looses its insulation properties when it gets wet.  I will have to be more careful in the future which means when I wake up in the middle of the night I need to check to see if I've shifted.

The heavy dew on the grass along the trail.
I got up and had my camp packed up in about thirty minutes which seems to be the norm for me.  The hike back to the car was a wet one.  Everything was covered in heavy dew.  My shoes were soaked by the time I got to the car.  Fortunately it was a sunny day and everything could go out on the deck to dry out before I put it away.  Can't wait to have to carry wet stuff and putting it back up wet the next night ... I am being a bit sarcastic there.  It will not be pleasant and I kind of dread it.  I suppose it's nothing I can't get used to and get over.

Next camp will be in September ... not sure where.

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