Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tools of the Trade

Cold Steel Trail Hawk

Head weight:  12.6 oz.
Handle weight:  10 oz.
Total weight:  1 lb. 6.6 oz.
Head length:  6.75"
Cutting surface:  2.5"
Handle length:  21.75"
Price:  $36.99, plus shipping

My Trail Hawk in the foreground, and Mojo Slim's in the background.
During a recent extended weekend of backcountry skiing and winter camping in the central Colorado Rockies, I had a chance to look at several splitting axes, hatchets, and tomahawks. This was also the first time I had a chance to take out my Cold Steel Trail Hawk. Some months ago I had purchased the Trail Hawk, and I spent some time customizing it. This work included applying an antique patina to the head, using mustard, vinegar, and paper towels. This process is explained here, and a number of other sources.  I also removed the set screw that attaches the head to the handle, smoothed and flame colored the handle, and applied a coffee grounds and stain finish. It took quite a bit of time with wet/dry sandpaper and steel wool to finally get the head in the shape and finish I wanted, but I think it turned out pretty well. The final step was to sharpen the head shaving sharp with wet/dry sandpaper and a mouse pad. I am not completely satisfied with the handle, but it’s quite functional and will work until I can finish a new handle.

Two Cold Steel Trail Hawks during some recent backcountry testing (above) and some of the tools we had in camp (below).

Why in the world would a lightweight backpacker carry a tomahawk? I’ll make a short story long. For some of my summer rambles I wouldn’t take it at all. These are my lightest weight trips. All I ever need are my own two hands to break off squaw wood to feed a tiny fire, or at the most my feet to stomp thumb-sized wood into pieces for my Emberlit UL stove, my Kifaru wood stove, or a tiny campfire if there’s a fire ring. BUT, I also venture out into what I call “shoulder season”. Early spring and late fall. For those times, I need a way to split up arm-sized pieces of wood that I’ve cut with my Fast Bucksaw or my Corona folding saw. I’ll be found carrying a larger Kifaru wood stove…either a small stove or a medium stove. Having the ability to split those arm-sized pieces of wood in half is a must. In late fall I’m also out hunting deer and elk, and having a ‘hawk with which to split the pelvis of a big bull is pretty handy. Couple all of that with the ability to pound tent pegs with the hammer poll, and you have a very handy backcountry tool. Move even later in the year when I’m winter camping and backcountry skiing alone or with one partner, and the ’hawk really comes into its own. Burning a Kifaru large stove in my Sawtooth shelter, I can take rounds of beetle killed lodgepole pine or dead standing aspen, up to 5” in diameter, and split them up with the Trail Hawk. Winter camping with nighttime temps dropping down below zero requires a LOT of stove wood. I have been pleased with the velocity at which I can split wood, provided by a longish handle and a relatively light head. The Trail Hawk will also split up kindling just as well as my Gransfors-Bruks Mini Hatchet, but at a fraction of the cost of the latter. I also have the ability to easily remove the head from the handle if I want to make wood shavings for tinder, using the head as a hand tool. I plan to carry my Trail Hawk on many more backcountry trips!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Emberlit UL Camp Stove Review

This blog really has two components that compliment each other. Tenkara fly fishing and ultralight backpacking. They have much in common. Some of the things I’ll do from time to time is showcase ultra light backpacking and fly fishing trips I take, explain low-impact minimalist camping techniques, and review pieces of gear that catch my eye.

I’ve often wished for an ultralight wood stove that I could use OUTSIDE my shelter. I already own several Kifaru wood stoves specially designed to burn INSIDE my shelters. However, having one I can assemble in a flash trailside was something missing in my pack. Enter the Emberlit-UL camp stove.

Emberlit UL Camp Stove
 Emberlit-UL Camp Stove
Weight:  Stove:  5.45 oz.; pouch:  1.05 oz; Material:  Titanium
Price:  Stove:  $55.00; stainless steel small pot supports (titanium were backordered):  $5.50; plus shipping.
Customer Service:  Excellent (fast shipping)
Overall Rating:  Excellent

There are a number of lightweight woodburning stoves on the market. However, finding one that feeds from the side and folds completely flat was something I was looking for. Emberlit has a very innovative stove, and during a recent weekend of backcountry skiing and winter camping I was able to test my new stove.

The stove comes in five pieces, plus an optional support for smaller pots. It all fits in a small pouch, constructed of rubberized nylon.

The thing I really love about this stove is the ability to feed it from the side, making it possible to slide long sticks into it.

The stove is very strong. I’ve heard about folks putting a dutch oven full of water on top of one. I have the titanium model, but it’s still strong enough to support the same weight. My little Snow Peak Trek 700 pot full of snow didn’t weigh much!

All in all, this little stove has a permanent place in my pack. I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome during my initial test. Ultralight weight, compact, efficient, minimal ash output, great workmanship, and a simple minimalist design. A winner!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Written Moments in Time

For nearly 30 years, I've kept a field journal.  Any time I've ventured out into the backcountry, even if it was only for a day, I've made notes.  These notes have been written mostly in cheap 3"X5" pocket notebooks, bound with wire, and usually worn around the edges by the time I filled one.  A few years ago I discovered the same notebooks with fancy, waterproof paper and plastic covers.  I have all of them bundled in small stacks, wrapped in rubber bands, and hidden in a drawer in my gun safe.  Whatever current journal-in-progress I have is kept somewhere close like my dresser top, reloading bench, or in my day pack.  Sometimes I've recorded descriptions of my surroundings in the mountains, and other times I've simply written in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way, just getting down on paper how I was feeling at the time.  Many times I've pulled out one of my journals and re-visited a place or time in my past.  It's a way for me to pull back those thoughts or places and run them through my mind all over again.  Here's an entry from July 2010, when I had backpacked alone up into a high valley that I've been going to since I was in high school...

July 20, 2010

A quote from Craig Childs (author) - "Each of us is born to a particular place, a landscape that lies in our oldest memories.  Some of us remain in our places, while others flee.  I am one who remained...we carry our memories into this place as if cupping water in our palms, guarding them as we walk.  When we stop to rest, we open our palms and drink."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My First Killer Kebari

A day or so ago I tied my very first Killer Kebari.  I tie it just a bit different than some, but the outcome is about the same.  These were a lot of fun to tie, and I have a bunch more to do.  Thanks to Chris at TenkaraBum for offering his one-fly kit.  It's a great way to try out a new fly without getting in over your head.  Well, I'm sold on this fly.  It's a proven fish-catcher and fun to tie.  I think it's time to get in over my head!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Winter Canyons

I have a lot of fun slipping a day of fishing in between cold snaps during the winter.  Every so often we have a few days of sunny, relatively warm days when it gets above freezing during the day.  It's on those days I sneak out of the house and into one of our little canyons.  The fishing can be slow, but just feeling the cold water on my legs and the warm sun on my back is enough!


Welcome to Tenkara Tracks!  Tonight I'm launching my new blog, with the hope that I can share my experiences in the backcountry.  One of the things I love most is heading out with a week's load in my backpack and my Tenkara rod in my hand, seeking out those special little spots in Rocky Mountain wilderness where wild trout thrive in bone-chilling waters.  Follow along, share with me, and let's make some tracks!