My friend Larry who I took on his first ever backpacking trip in July, which was just a quick overnighter, finally had some days off that coincided with mine again. In an attempt to escape the smoke that has been hanging around my area, we decided to go to the Caribou Wilderness which is in the Lassen National Forest, east of Lassen NP. We stayed for four days and three nights. I learned a lot of new things on this trip. The weather was supposed to be very windy, and the low was supposed to be 40 at night. It did get down exactly to 40 each night. I had a new thermometer that records the lows and highs. It was about 65-70 during the day. Winds were always blowing 15-20 and with gusts to 30 knots although most of the time we didn't feel the full effect since we were in the woods.
The Caribou Wilderness has gentle, rolling, forested terrain for the most part, with cinder cones sticking up here and there. It also has a ton of lakes of varying sizes. It is east of Lassen NP. It is a great place for beginners or for people who just want nice walking through the woods without having to climb up big hills. I would recommend stopping at the ranger station in Chester and picking up a map of the forest roads, as it would have saved us some trouble both coming and going if we had done so. We did stop at the ranger station we just didn't take a map . We saw zero people for the four days we were out there and no cars were at the trailhead when we arrived. When we left someone had set up a camp at the trailhead with two horses tied out but the people were nowhere to be seen.
Monday morning I drove 1.5 hours to Sacramento and picked Larry up at 0700. We got to Chester and stopped at ranger station. No wilderness permit is required for this area, and amazingly, the area is exempted from the current fire restrictions and campfires are allowed. I wasn't really happy about this as I never make a campfire and am rather paranoid about them, and having the restrictions makes the decision for me (only applicable when I'm with someone, and this is only the second time ever I've had anyone with me), but...anyway. We got to the Caribou Lake trailhead about 12:30. The forest roads that you travel on are almost totally devoid of signs and we had to hunt around and backtrack a bit. But the roads, even the dirt ones, are in good shape and would pose no trouble to any regular cars.
At the Caribou Trailhead we started our hike. I had planned out a general area to go, the trail is well defined and easy to follow and, unlike on my solo hikes, here was someone to talk to, so we were jabbering away. After a short while I wondered why we were switchbacking up the side of a small ridge that I hadn't seen on the map. And we were going more northwest than west. I looked at map and realized that we were not at all on the trail I had thought we were on. I thought there was only one trail from that trailhead. There actually were two, but on my map the second trail was covered by a thick red line that marked the border of something, maybe the border of the wilderness area. So I couldn't tell there was a trail there and had been complacent thinking there was only one. Still, no problem there were lakes along that trail too!
We hiked about six miles and ended up at Jewel Lake. There were a couple of campsites where people had made firepits and some seats out of rocks on the west side of the lake which was somewhat sheltered from the wind. We decided to set up camp in one of the sites and cook and sit around til bedtime at the other site. Larry had gotten one of the Walmart 32 degree sleeping bags since our last trip. It really does seem like a great bag for the money and is light, but when I looked at it I was worried that it might not be good down to 40 for him, so we were trying especially hard to make sure the wind was totally blocked for him. He doesn't have a hammock or tarp yet, so we set him up with my new cuben with doors. We were trying to set up with the side toward the wind really close to the ground so that his butt wouldn't be hanging below tarp coverage.
Ok, now here is where I really learned something. I have been reading now and then on these forums about using the VEE configuration for the tarp end lines instead of just tying off right at the tree. And how this prevents interference between the tarp and the hammock lines. I really didn't understand because I've never seen any issue with my tarp and hammock lines interfering. So I've just always been tying off at the tree and using prussiks to attach the tarp to the ridgeline. BUT...upon setting up his hammock and tarp with the tarp real low..I saw the problem. The ground in some places was hard to get stakes into and we had to put rocks on top of them to keep the wind from pulling them out. We got it all set up nice and taut and low and he got in the hammock and his weighting the hammock immediately caused the stakes to come ripping out of the ground. I was stumped for a minute and then I remember that thread about the VEE and the tarp/hammock line interference. The lightbulb came on. I think the effect was exacerbated by the fact that the cuben tarp has a longer than standard ridgeline, at 12'. So, I was able to change the suspension on both tarp's to vee's at both ends where the line goes around the trees and back to the tarp pullout. And the prussiks still work for adjusting the tarp along the line. Actually I totally cut the middle of the ridgeline out, so we went from continuous to non continuous ridgelines. Then having the hammock suspension line go up the middle of the tarp V's, no more problems. However as a side note, I think I've about had it with the prussics. I love them and have all my guylines on both tarps made with purssics on the tie out end for easy adjustment. However for some reason on this trip, they were locking up a lot, and then even when they didn't, I was getting like rope burns on my fingers when sliding them . I think its just because there was so much more fiddling around then usual, due to having two setups and then trying to really get things right for the wind. Luckily having the prussiks doesn't preclude using other methods of tying like the clove hitch or tautline hitches.
I swear we took more time and energy setting up our camps each time than we did hiking. It really showed me how overwhelming this all seems to a newcomer, as I've been slowly learning over years (and still consider myself somewhat a novice) and Larry is trying to assimilate it all at once.
The next thing was that I have been using pads on the last few trips instead of my underquilt, because I want to learn how much I need to stay warm in case I have trips where I am uncertain about the tree situation. I have been using just a shoulder to mid calve length of waffle pattern 25 inch wide and about 1/2 inch thick pad but on my last trip I was slightly chilly at 45. So this time I got an additional shoulder to butt length of 20 inch wide 3/8 inch pad and was trying a method to keep them stacked. I at home had attached four pieces of velcro to each pad to keep them aligned. Well the first time I went to unattach them (of course I wasn't smart enough to do that at home, had to wait til in the field) the velcro all ripped off the waffle pad. So I poked some holes in both pads and used mason line to keep them together. It only needed to keep them positioned until I sat on them, after that they stayed in position relative to each other even with my tossing and turning. I was plenty warm on all nights with this, even without a foot pad, which I found odd. Well, I was using my High Sierra Sniveller quilt, which is rated to 5 or 10 degrees or something crazy. Normally I'd have been using my Nest as a quilt, but we were using it for a underquilt for Larry. He slept in my Traveller the first night because he used the Hennessey on our last trip and I wanted him to try a different kind. Plus the Hennessey is too short for him really. I would say that staying arranged on the pads inside the Hennessey was quite annoying, although not near as bad as I had thought it might be. The traveller has a double bottom to slide the pads into. As I get more practice with the pads I'm actually beginning to prefer them in some ways to the UQ( I know heresy, don't shoot me!). For one thing they seem to totally block the wind if my butt is peeking out a little lower than the tarp edge. For another thing I have luxurious sit pad to fold up the side of a tree to lean back against while lounging.
Ok so anyway I need to get on with this, it's getting ridiculously long! The wind died down somewhat and we were sheltered in our little bowl like area and Larry wanted to have a fire so even though I was paranoid we did and it was nice. Running my hands through the ashes in the morning to make sure it was out was not nice (did I mention I was paranoid ). We both slept pretty well. Larry was still trying to use his sleeping bag zipped up which was making it hard. I had mentioned but forgotten to demonstrate to him visually using the sleeping bag as a quilt. Larry really liked the openness, ease of entrance and exit, and the extra length of the Traveller versus the Hennessey.
The next day we hiked out to Turnaround Lake which wasn't very far. Once again it was extremely windy. Turnaround Lake is quite large and we went all the way around it looking for a sheltered site and found on the west side a real nice area. This time Larry insisted that I use my Traveller and he used the Hennessey. So we put the Nest on the Hennessey for him. I showed him how to use his sleeping bag as a quilt although he seemed skeptical. I had told him that if he got a cold spot to stuff his sit pad or a piece of clothing at that location. In the morning he said he had gotten a cold spot and using his jacket there had taken care of it. I looked at the underquilt and saw that I had forgotten that there are loops on the side of the Nest to run the side tie out lines of the Hennessy through. This keeps the sides of the quilt up around you, which is important because with the integrated bug net of the Hennessey, you can't reach around and just pull it up into position. I had forgotten that totally. He was however delighted at how much easier it was using his sleeping bag as a quilt versus trying to zip it up!
The next day we wanted to get pretty close to the trailhead, since on the fourth day we'd have a long drive home. So we hiked til we got to Emerald Lake. This is a small but very pretty lake. Wind was still howling even worse than before although the forecast has said it was going to calm down that day. It never did. The west side of the lake looked like it would be more sheltered so we crawled around the rocky shore to make our way over there. There was a campsite there that someone had used before. There was another spot that really looked even more calm but we both agreed there was some spooky feeling about it .
Once again we took what felt like forever setting up our stuff. This was my fault because he said he wanted to try to set up his site by himself and I was watching from my hammock and accidentally fell asleep and he initially set up his hammock at like a 70 degree angle. When I woke up the tarp was up but it was kinda messed up and I was groggily wondering why even though the trees were close together, his hammock tree straps looked like they were 12 feet up the tree. So we kinda had to start all over. Heh..and the whole time the wind was howling. I was really a little worried it wasn't going to die down, but it eventually did, although it was still breezier than our sites the other two nights. But the lake was beautiful. Larry had brought a fishing pole and some worms but hadn't used it yet, so we sat on the bank and he fished and I watched birds and looked at all the prints at the waters edge. Everywhere we went we saw prints that I kept thinking was a dog but it would have had to be real big. And don't dog prints have their claws visible as they can't retract? If it wasn't dogs it had to be mountain lion is all I could think??, but I kept that thought to myself. We were set up a little closer to the water than I generally prefer and there was a game trail going right through where we set up, although we didn't up our hammocks across it. Seemed like a good bet that we'd have all kinds of animals checking us out at night as they came to get a drink. An Osprey (i didn't know at the time but looked it up later) circled around our lake and periodically sat in a tree. I was lucky enough to be looking right at him when he dove with a huge splash into the water, but he came up empty handed.
I slept like a baby..it was the best sleep I've had in a long time. The tarp was making a lot of noise but it wasn't bothering me a bit. Larry slept pretty well but for about 30 minutes in the middle of the night he thought something big was walking around right outside his hammock. I asked him why he didn't ask me to look over from my spot. He said he did ask at that time if I was in my hammock (he thought I might be walking around making the noise) and that I answered "yes" and says he told me that he thought an animal was there but I don't remember it.
So the next morning it was a short hike to the trailhead and then the 3.5 or so hour drive back to Sacramento to drop him off and a hour and a half more for me to get home. We did get totally lost upon leaving the trailhead, and ended up wandering around the national forest making our way south towards the highway. The forest roads were really nice though and we saw a weasel of some kind! I think it might have been a pine marten but I'm not at all sure.
It was a great trip! I loved learning some new things about my gear and also about paying attention to where I'm going on the trail even when it seems easy and there is conversation going on. And I'm really happy that Larry enjoyed his first multiday trip.
Sorry this is so long, and also for some reason I didn't take as many pics as usual, I seem to take more when I'm by myself!