Primitive and modern outdoor skills

Trip report, sierra forests


We wanted to get out and into the woods, practice firestarting, anmd do a bit of hiking.

Jess picked a spot by looking at Google maps satellite imagery. She made sure that it was in a national forest, so we could do fires and stuff without worrying about park rules. On the map it was on a dirt forest road, but with nothing nearby and we could see that there were other dirt roads spidering the area.

I decided it was more fun not to look at the weather :). I didn't check altitude or anything else. So instead we packed *everything*. We had snowshoes, ice-axes, the whole shebang. I also brought a machete, and we brought buckeye and saguaro sticks for fire drill.

We headed up friday evening, and with a couple of delays still got there ~11:00pm. The dirt road was rough'ish, making for a bit of fun in the truck :D. I used the low gear just for safety on descents, especially with the low-light and tiredness. We parked up off the road and went to sleep in the back.


The next day we drove a bit farther down the road, parked, and after a quick sighting, walked off down towards the joint of the valley we were in and another one. Having no maps I was a bit nervous about getting back to the car. We considered it on our way down and figured we could follow the river back up the valley, then cut right and intentionally hit the road a bit back from where we'd parked. That was the plan anyway.

The woods were interesting. It was mostly conifers, surprisingly brushy for an area that gets logged. The hills were relatively steep, but passable. Compared to mendocino it was almost easy, compared to nearly anything else... not so much. The forest didn't seem terribly healthy sadly. The trees were mostly young, large amounts of deadwood lay in heaps (not randomly like an untouched old-growth forest). The undergrowth trended towards sticky brushy stuff with little space for pot herbs and such.

When we hit the stream Jess had the presence of mind to look around and find some markers. She pointed out a redwood and an oak tree overhanging the river.

A bit down the stream I noticed there were marks on the rocks that looked like boots had slid on them. I found that pretty interesting. When I told Jess she pointed out bear markings on a tree next to me that she had just noticed. I had thought it was a boot because what I saw was moss scraped off by a what appeared to be a hard surface.
Not far down the stream we found more bear markings on trees, but also more boot prints. Sure enough, we were both right!

Right around there we also found this print in the mud, just in case we weren't sure about the bear yet:


We found a downed tree that we thought was redwood. Jess noticed that the inner cambium looked pretty interesting, so we stopped to poke at it. Jess quickly made a few feet of cordage and I slowly made about a bit over a foot :P. It was about the same resultant quality as unprocessed yucca, but a bit easier (and with no pounding). VERY encouraging. We didn't try it, but it felt like you could use it for spinning up fire. For trapping you could probably use the strips even before twining.

Eventually we got cold so after a snack we continued down to the valley. Our hope was that where the valleys joined we might have a bit of a wider valley and maybe some meadow where the rivers might delta a bit into each other. We were kindof looking for an area with wide diversity, the area we'd parked in was cool, but if we could find meadows or other types of areas as well, bushcraft would be a lot easier here.

As it turned out there was some almost meadow, but not flat and still under trees. As we got into the more open forest we started seeing more deer trails and the travel got MUCH easier. In the valley we found quite a beautiful river.


After sliding on the ice for a while and generally enjoying the river we headed back. With it being winter it was already getting somewhat late. The trip back was complicated somewhat as we hit the wrong swale a couple of times on the way back. It didn't look right and the compass bearing gave us a nice double-check. We used a combination of jumping swales and heading downhill to get back to the main stream we'd followed. This worked beautifully and we quickly found our way back.

When we got there it was already getting dark. I took a quick try at spinning up a fire with a hand-drill using buckeye on saguaro, and Jess lit up an a fire with a sparker so we could actually cook up dinner. We had tasty lentil soup with cheese. Jess thought to gather up boughs of whatever tree it was (fir I think?). Someone had cut a bunch and left them lying around, likely loggers or similar? Anyway, we gathered them up as a seat for use while we cooked and ate dinner. When bedtime came Jess decided she wanted to try sleeping on them.

There was a lot of deadwood left from logging. So we burned a fair bit of wood with no guilt (we actually cleaned up the area some). We kept the fire going most of the night, but at some point I went to sleep and it petered out. I was a bit cold after it went out due to my sleepingbag being worn out. Jess also got a bit cold due to a hole in the boughs where her hip sat. We slept fine though overall.

The next morning we decided we really wanted to spin up some fire, so after breakfast (cooked on a fire restarted from the coals of the previous night) we gave it a try. We both got pretty close, but neither of us succeeded. My closest was buckeye on buckeye, though buckeye on saguaro was clearly a good combo (if hard to find in the wild :P). We only had the gear for hand-drills so that's what we were using. I got good dust buildup relatively tightly packed and good heat, and I got plumes of smoke, but it didn't ignite.
Amazingly our hands didn't blister. Nathan, someone I met at earthdance several years ago, taught me a trick that I think was responsible. You clap your hands until they're red before you start, which helps give the same protection that blisters would.

Eventually ours hands were sore and tired (if not blistered). So we cooked up some split pea soup with salami for lunch on the existing fire, put the fire out, and went on a hike up the road. It quickly turned into a pretty tricksy road (had we been in the truck) and then into a trail. Up there it was a lot more open with fields and such. We heard some hunters not far away who fired at something (presumably deer).

The night before we'd actually heard dogs that appeared to be for hunting - they'd bark a lot in one location for a while so I suspect they were treeing something. Not sure.

Anyway - we drove home contented, full, and generally in much better moods than when we left on friday :). Our conclusion about the area is interesting, not bad, not terribly healthy, and we need to find a south facing slope.

More photos