First of all, thanks to everyone on this forum for all of the great information that helped me to be able to successfully camp using my hammock. I just did my second camping hang on Friday night on the slopes of Big Indian Mountain in the southern Catskills. Unfortunately, several things went wrong on this trip causing me to have to hang in a less-than-ideal spot. The moral of the story: just because hammocking lets you hang in a wide variety of locations doesn't mean you should do it (at least not on your second hang).
A few traffic jams combined with an unanticipated rain storm left me on a steep slope with dusk approaching. I was also hoping to find a spot that was relatively clear of underbrush, but the entire area was thick with ferns, saplings, and shrubs. In the Catskills you have to camp at least 150 feet from a trail, so I couldn't just spot a good location as I was walking -- I had to head off into the brush and hope for the best. Not wanting to get caught in the dark or another downpour, I decided to just hang on the steep, bushy slope. I had never hung my hammock on anything but level group in perfect weather before, so I was very anxious about my prospects.
I found an open spot fairly quickly, but there was an elevation difference of three or four feet between the trees, and there was a big rock on the ground right between them. I would normally never hang above a rock like that, but I didn't have a lot of time to search around as it was getting dark quickly and the temperature was also dropping. Fortunately, I had built my suspension system imagining that I might have to do something like this one day, so was strong enough to give me peace of mind even over rocks on a 30-degree slope. I use climb-spec 1" webbing for tree huggers (4000 lbs strength) doubled 7/64" amsteel (1600 lbs X2), and climbing caribiners (28kn). My hammock is an ENO DoubleNest, rated to 400 lbs.
For rain cover, I used a regular blue polyethelene 8x10 tarp, stretched diagonally. Luckily, it had stopped raining by the time I got to my campsite or I probably would have gotten soaked putting up the tarp. It was pretty difficult pitching it on a steep grade like that. The uphill side was nearly level, and the downhill side was nearly vertical. I eventually tied the downhill side to a tree to raise it up a bit. I had only brought two stakes, so I was forced to pitch it diagonally, even though a straight rectangular tarp pitched off-center (5 feet on the downhill side, 3 feet on the uphill side) would probably have been better suited to the site. Next time, I'm going to bring six stakes, just in case. They are aluminum and weigh practically nothing.
The hammock itself was easy to hang, but it was very difficult to traverse the slippery, steep ground while setting up. I'm lucky that I didn't take a full-on spill down the mountainside. If I had dropped my bear canister, it probably would have ended up a few hundred feet down the slope, if it had stopped at all. By the time I was done setting up camp, it was nearly dark and my fingers were pretty cold. I hadn't expected it to get that cold, but I had planned for it anyhow. I slept in a +30 F down bag with a silk liner. For botttom insulation, I used a full-length CCF pad, 72"x24", 1/2" thick. That kept me nice and toasty all night, probably down into the low 40s F. I decided not to bother with the bug net since I was going to pull my mummy bag hood tight, and I hadn't noticed a lot of insect activity in that area.
It didn't rain for the rest of the night, even though the leaves would shed their accumulated droplets every time the wind blew. I intentionally hung on the east side of the ridge, a few hundred feed from the crest, so wind was not a problem in terms of warmth. I was much more comfortable this time than I was on my previous trip (more on that in a different post, probably) thanks to the addition of a structural ridge line. I don't find my pad to be uncomfortable at all, despite what many others have said about CCF pads in hammocks. I don't know whether I have a particularly good pad -- it's the "long" version of REI's basic blue CCF pad. I slept so well that I even had a dream that I was trying to fit my CCF pad into the pad pocket of a Big Agnes sleeping bag while watching Barack Obama on TV giving a speech about the economy. I don't have a Big Agnes bag, but maybe this is a sign that I should do my part to stimulate the economy by buying one.
The next morning, I was dry, comfortable, warm, refreshed, and without a single bug bite. I had to wait until the sun came up over the mountains before I could get out of the bag, though, because my clothing alone wasn't warm enough. A fringe benefit of hanging on a steep east-facing ridge is a good view of the sunrise. I spent Saturday bushwhacking to Mt. Fir and then back to the car. FYI: an enormous CCF pad tied to the outside of your pack makes it really hard to walk through underbrush, and it doesn't do any favors for the pad either. I ended up tying my tarp around the pad, since the pad cost $25 and the tarp cost $6.50.
All in all, I feel that I was able to handle all of the curve balls pretty well. I had already planned ahead for most of them -- I just didn't think they would come at me all at once like that, and on my second trip no less. The Boy Scouts have it right: always be prepared. I would say that the most serious problem was slipping and sliding all over that wet, steep slope. That could have ended very badly for me, and I was very lucky that I didn't have a serious fall. I was very thankful for my big, heavy, solid boots which gave me as good of a grip as I could have gotten on the boggy ground. I still think it was safer than walking all the way back to the car in the dark on a wet trail, or blundering around in the underbrush with my headlamp trying to look for a better site. Do any of you have experience hanging on steep/slippery slopes like that?
I've attached a few pictures I took in the morning. In the second and third ones, you can see how unevenly the tarp is pitched. The ground looks a lot less steep than it seemed at the time, though.
Again, thanks to all of the posters here on hammock forums for showing me the road ahead so that I wasn't caught completely unawares.