Primitive and modern outdoor skills

Trip to Henry Coe (A.K.A testing tarps in a hurricane)


Our backpacking trip turned into one night car-camping, sleeping in what was probably the biggest storm of the year here, while testing brand new tarps, in annoying soil that wouldn't hold stakes.

There was wind, there was rain, there was soil we were trying to stake into washing down the hill. Apparently it was 1.21" rain in the last 24 hours (not THAT much). It was barely raining when we arrived, and stopped before we left, so most of that 1.21" was probably in 12 hours ~8pm to 8am. The bigger issue was wind. It's hard to find past weather, but I'd say that it was gusting well over 40mph. It turned out one of Jess and my tarp poles was aluminum. Well, it's now permanently curved. The pole that bent was from my tarp-tent. I've used it through several major storms before, and I've read of the same poles being used in storms at the foot of Everest and bending nearly 90 degrees without problems. This time the tarp poles were bending badly enough that we switched to hiking poles to keep the shelter up enough that we could be under it.

Well, this resulted in some histerical laughter and was definitely fun - just in a very cold and wet sort of way. Jess and I made it through the night resetting up the tarp regularly, coming out fine but damp. Chris and Zoe more intelligently availed themselves of the back of our pickup, abandoning their brand-new tarp rig for the evening. In the morning, after packing up the wet gear we decided what we really wanted was nice hot food and cocoa.

The trip was not exactly a success, but it was not exactly a failure either. We learned that bendable poles don't work in serious storms. We learned my pole was aluminum. We learned that groundhogs are still the best stakes (Chris' Ti stakes pulled out even more easily). We learned that even the best stakes won't hold in soil when the soil turns to mush - although a full toolbox put on top of the stake sure does help :P.

This was Jess and my first trip with Jess' new Cuben tarp. It doesn't stretch at all, which was interesting. I think it means it shocks the stakes harder, but it also means it doesn't sag through the night. Jess found it meant you had to pitch slightly differently because it doesn't have spring to it and your not aiming to overtension the same way. Her tarp is 10' by 8.5', so very roomy, that wasn't an issue. We had tons of space to be away from the edges. It also stayed almost entirely dry on the underside, I'm not positive that the dryness isn't caused by this tarps lack of tiny holes yet, but I think it's actually that it doesn't have good nucleation points. basically, water doesn't condense on it easilly.

Our biggest mistake was probably flying the tarp. Jess has tie-outs on 6 points (each corner and one on each side) with knots set up so we could tension them. Using these leaves the tarp flying about 6" off the ground. This is *great* in downfalling rain where it gives you a bit more headroom and helps with airflow. It's terrible in side-blown rain. Oops. Additionally we set the peak a bit too high, which probably caused it to catch too much wind. We should've been aiming for the lowest pitch we could stand. One last thought is that possibly a lower angle on the end stakes would've helped reduce tension.

In any case, much was learned. We made it through the night. Now all our gear (including our damp sleepingbags) is drying. Jess is curled on the couch taking a nap.