Monday, March 14, 2016

San Diego Mountain Man Rondy prep - Foul weather campout drill

This past weekend, I'd taken time off from work and planned a trip to Fremont Peak State Park for a camp out. Unfortunately, El Nino' had other ideas and decided to dump on Callifornia. I didn't want to waste the fuel to camp Fremont Peak if I could not enjoy the spectacular views, but decided to camp closer to home. Rain was still in the local forecast, though not as much as would be falling on San Benito County up north. Only 1/4" was forecast, so, I decided to make a drill session of sorts and do some wet weather camping at nearby Montana de Oro State Park.
Drill? Drill for what? Well, in a few weeks some of us from Central Coast Bushcraft are planning on attending the Modern Mountain Man Rendezvous being hosted by  Prepare-1, San Diego School of Survival,  and Wingman115.  Not knowing what the weather will be like in April, I thought it wise to get out and test my gear and skills in adverse conditions.
Just the previous day I'd attended a lecture by survival expert Mykel Hawke, and he'd made a point of the importance of training under all conditions. If you only practice in fair weather, you'll be behind the curve when bad weather strikes....think of it as "Stress Inoculation".
 "Train now...don't wait!" - Mykel Hawke 
I headed out to the campground and got a site with a bit of cover from some Willows. I pitched my tent and set up a tarp for a daytime shelter from the rain that was expected:
Montana de Oro Campground
Shelter from the rain
After setting up camp, I set about splitting kindling for the evening cook fire. To this end I'd brought along a new toy, the SOG SPECIALTY "Fasthawk" a small tomahawk with about a 2" cutting edge. A few minutes with this and it went back into the tool box. Might be light, might be portable, but it is too small for any kindling splitting. That tiny edge kept slipping out and the handle ended up doing the work of splitting. 
I'd also brought along "Old Reliable" my Mykel Hawke designed "Hawkchete". With a 23" razor sharp cutting edge, there is not fear of slipping out of the wood being split, and in no time, I had my kindling: 
The Hawkchete can deliver
As I worked about the camp, a family of California Quail hunted bugs in the fresh Spring grass adjacent to my camp, oblivious to my presence:
California Quail
In my next to last most recent blog, I'd discussed those inexpensive '80's style "Survival Knives" with the compass in the pommel. I brought one along which I'd received as a gift from my daughter Kay, and tasked it with carving and notching several tent stakes. I also made a feather stick, and later used the included ferrocerium rod to start my cook fire. This particular knife was a "Rocky Mountain Survival Knife, an AS SEEN ON TV type product:
 Carving tent stakes
Carving a Featherstick
Notching with "Sawback"
I was delighted when the blade remained firm in the handle and showed no signs of loosening. Again, I'm not saying that these knives are a wise choice, but, at the end of the day, it is SKILL that makes the difference. Practice and learn good knife handling skills and you can make any knife work for you. There are definitely better blades available, but if it is all you can afford, or if using one makes you happy, why let that stop you from getting outdoors on the trails? I say go for it!
It began to rain harder, and it occurred to me that my 35 year old dome tent was going to have a hard time coping with the rain, so I used the wooden stakes I'd carved to anchor my tarp over the tent and add another layer of protection"
Layering up
Evening rolled around and it was time to start the cook fire. I began with mixing camp bread and then baked it in the fire ring in my old school Boy Scout pan. I also made up a cup of hot chicken noodle soup. I dipped the camp bread into the cup, and it was HEAVEN on a cold, wet evening...tasted just like chicken and dumplings!
Chicken and dumplin's...sort of...
The warmth was short-lived as I'd forgotten my poncho and my parka was not treated with SCOTCHGUARD and was becoming saturated. I dug through my glove box and scrounged one of those disposable motel room poncho's but it was not much help....too short to cover my pant legs. 
As the fire died I climbed into my tent only to find water had seeped in, probably through the bottom seams, and now there were large puddles on the tent floor. As well, parts of my sleeping bag were wet, as was my pack and some of dry clothing in it.  I salvaged what dry clothing I could and used the wet clothing to mop up the water....GRRRRR!  As I did so, I remembered the words of a U.S. Navy survival trainer I'd met at a seminar several years before, "...there is no such thing as waterproof.....water can find it's way into anything..." Prophetic too, because I'd sealed my hiking boots in a plastic bag and left them outside, confident they'd remain dry. WRONG! They were thoroughly saturated the following morning. Another GRRRR!
Once I got off to sleep, things were not too bad. The bag was warm and dry bivvie sack outer had absorbed most of the water. Only difficulty came later in the morning when the call of nature dictated I leave the tent to pee. THAT is when I learned the boots were soaked, and necessitated removing my clean dry socks then donning wet boots.
The following morning I awoke to thick fog, but could see blue sky beyond and knew it would be a warm day. As I sipped my morning coffee I thought about Iz Turley of Turley Knives and a member of BUSHCRAFT USA. He's done some videos on his YOUTUBE channel in which he has failed at some task, and discusses that failure is part of learning. I pondered what lessons I had learned from the failings of this outing, and here are my thoughts:
1.  Weather forecasts are approximations. Only 1/4" of rainfall had been forecast, but it rained steadily all afternoon and evening...certainly more than 1/4".  Plan for weather extremes, bring appropriate gear, such as a poncho or rain suit. Apply SCOTCHGUARD to clothing. Do as much prep as you can. If you don't need it, great. If you do, you'll be that much further ahead.
2. Check tent seams and apply seam sealer before any wet weather camping outings. Invest in a tent with a bathtub bottom for dedicated wet weather outings.
3. Use plastic bags to seal clothing and other items stored inside your pack that can be compromised by dampness [fire kit].
4. Boots should be brought into the tent at night to keep them dry[er]. Carry a bag to put them in if mud is a concern. I am thinking one of those free grocery shopping bags is the ticket, and will fold down when not in use. A backup pair of boots is wise, if vehicle-borne.
5. Have a large mouth bottle, like a POWERADE bottle for a latrine to avoid leaving your shelter at night to urinate. 
As I started to drive out of the park, I stopped to admire the ocean and beach and the Spooner Ranch house, and realized that in spite of the rain and muck, it had been a fun night and a great opportunity to train.
Spooner Cove, Montana de Oro State Park, CA
 Happy Hiking!
[Goblin Ranger]



  1. Great adventure and learning experience. Water it the key to life, but can also make life a pain sometimes! If rain is in the forcast I have in the past set up on a slight incline and dug shallow drainage moats to carry flowing water away from the tent.

  2. I've heard of that trenching technique. I figured the Ranger's would take a dim view of me digging up the campsite, lol, but in wilderness, I agree, a valid consideration. I saw one of those Eureka TCOP tents at the SLO PREPAREDNESS EXPO and it has a tub bottom. Some hikers and campers on the Internet feel they only serve to retain water that leaks into the tent. I guess if you don't want to cope with rain in your tent, STAY HOME!