Thursday, December 13, 2012


Innovation.  Webster's dictionary defines it as "something newly introduced" or "a change in the way of doing things".  There is a reason I contacted Tim Patterson, owner of RIGS Fly Shop and Guide Service, this past February, asking him if he would consider offering guided tenkara fly fishing trips.  RIGS has embraced tenkara from the get-go.  Not only did they introduce the first and only guided tenkara trips in Colorado (yes, they hired me in the process), they also grabbed the ball and ran with it.  In the ensuing months, the RIGS staff has done extensive R&D in the development of new and innovative tenkara lines, to include a floating line and a weight-forward nymphing line, as well as new tenkara fly patterns and techniques.  And I admire my team for their willingness to take chances and push the envelope.
One reason I feel fortunate to belong to the RIGS staff is that they respect the traditional tenkara methods, and at the same time are looking at new and different ways to offer tenkara to inexperienced fly anglers or experienced western fly anglers who are looking for something different.  One size does not fit all, and that philosophy is one that I've come to realize is very true.  We all fish different water and conditions.  We all come from varying backgrounds and experiences.  Having a fly shop and guide service here in Colorado that recognizes that diversity within the realm of tenkara is a godsend.

A case in point is the new tenkara nymphing line, designed and offered by RIGS...

Today I took a day off from my teaching duties and spent some time on the Arkansas River testing the new weight-forward tenkara nymphing line, a RIGS exclusive.  This 12'6" line is comprised of sections of high-vis multi-colored flourocarbon line, with a section of heavier line toward the tippet end of the line.  The hi-vis indicator sections, coupled with clear running line sections, allow for maximum depth control and added strike detection without sacrificing visibility.  I found the knots between sections to be a very good way to monitor depth, as the knots gather more light and are a bit more visible than the line itself, especially in low light conditions, which is common on mid-winter late afternoons on your favorite ice-free tailwater.  This line, teamed up with an unweighted to weighted nymph, turns over nicely, and delivers the fly to the water with ease and still allows you to keep much of the line off the water.

During my testing today, I partnered this new line with one of my self-tied Killer Kebaris.  The line performed as advertised, and the results speak for themselves.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Rhythm of the Vise

There are those evenings at the fly vise when things just come together.  I've been tying a lot of flies lately, to the tune of at least a dozen a night lately.  It's all part of a larger project that'll come to fruition in early January at the Denver fly show.  What I'm getting at is that there's a certain "rightness" to spending an hour or two at the vise, getting everything right, and putting together some really great flies.  It's not like the planets have to align, and that you have to do this in the light of a full moon.  All it takes is an open mind, quality feathers, and touching turns of wire and Shetland yarn.  Some really good music and a glass or two of Colorado microbrew don't hurt either.  Allowing a perfect hen pheasant soft hackle to spread like a tiny flower around a barbless hook, wrapping with precision, and finishing that fly with care is time well spent.  May your winter tying be as rewarding as mine.      

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Of Bucks and Browns

I may have mentioned this in the past but autumn is far and away my favorite time of the year.  It's when two of my passions come and hunting.  I continue to be amazed at the life I've been fortunate enough to have, and the backcountry I have just outside my front door.


I spent a few days hiking the rocky ridges and draws, brush-busting through stands of Gambel's Oak, and still hunting the ponderosa pine covered mountainsides.

On the next-to-last day of my hunting season I connected with my buck with a 150-yard shot across a little valley.  I was lucky enough to have our oldest daughter, Rachel, there to help me field dress him and drag him out to the truck.  Luckily, this year I didn't have to pack him out on my back with multiple trips to and from the carcass.  What a blessing!

One tradition we have is for fresh deer heart after a successful hunt.  This year was no different.  I marinated the heart from my deer for a day, sliced it up into three cutlets, and threw them on a raging hot grill, along with peppers and onions.  What a feast!

A few days later I found myself with a tenkara rod in my hand, in the company of my good friend Eric Lynn, owner of Mountain Ridge Gear.  We had poked our way along a hair-raising jeep road to a piece of private water in the canyons near my home.  We returned to a mile-long stretch of water, just a dozen feet wide, that's always filled with eager brown trout.

Here's Eric, having the time of his life...

Yours truly with one of many browns caught that day!

Enjoying a late fall indian summer day in the canyons with tenkara rods in our hands!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tag Soup

Tag soup.  I can't eat elk meat this fall, so I'll just cook up my tag.

What in the world does elk hunting have to do with tenkara?  Well, the unsung other half of Tenkara Tracks is devoted to lightweight (bordering on ultralight) backpacking, and THAT has everything to do with how I hunt elk.

I headed out alone into the Stomping Grounds last Friday morning, knowing that eventually I might be joined by my good friend, Eric Lynn, and his son, Levi.  I carried my life, and my rifle, on my back in a prototype ultralight pack made for me a number of years ago by Patrick Smith, my rambling partner on many an adventure.

There's nothing flat about my elk hunting country.  It's either up or down.  It's uphill all the way in, from a trailhead at 9,200' up to the highest glassing perch at timberline, which at this latitude is nearly 12,000 feet above sea level.

I spent Friday burning my legs and lungs, reaching camp shortly before supper time.  On the way I bumped a cow moose, with her calf in tow, hidden in the willows. 

The sun drops quickly, and so does the mercury in the thermometer at this elevation.  It was pitch black when I heard Eric and Levi nearing my tiny camp.  An experienced mountain hunter, Eric had led his teenage son through four miles of off-trail alpine wilderness in the dark to find me.

The next day proved to be both beautiful and elkless.  We positioned ourselves high so we could glass, but there were no elk.  Taking of advantage of my time in the wilderness, I got caught up on writing.  This was actually the highlight of my weekend, as my field notes have been neglected for several weeks.

With an absence of elk, we concentrated on knocking down a couple of snowshoe hares in the vicinity of camp.  I connected in the dark timber northwest of camp, and then Eric and I teamed up for a short bunny hunt a bit later.  With two snowshoes in hand, we settled in for an evening of living off the land and fire watching.

Dining on snowshoe hare legs, deep in the Colorado wilderness.  Living life at its fullest!

The next morning was devoted to bushwhacking our way down off the high country, after a warm morning in camp.

Getting ready to head down the mountain...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why I Tie

It's been said by the best authority that you only need one fly...ever.  And it's also been said that to tie or fish anything more than that, you're likely doing it much more for yourself than you are for the trout.  Perhaps there's more truth in that than most of us would like to admit. 

However, I submit that there are other worthwhile reasons to tie, and to tie a bunch of patterns.  Sure, I tie (and fish) way more than one pattern.  And a lot of that is done for purely selfish reasons like my need for peace and quiet, the relaxation that only a fly vise or a reloading press can provide, or the fun that comes from adding funky twists to established fish-catchers.  But the one very rewarding thing that has come from my fly tying is that I also tie for my friends. 

I have a tight knot of friends who have been with me through thick and thin.  They've backpacked, skied, hunted, frozen, burned, fished, and rambled with me all over the Colorado Rockies. On occasion, I have entrusted them with with my own children in the backcountry. They would give me the shirts off their backs, and I would do the same for them.  So, until the time comes to do just that, I'll be content to send them a handful of my flies from time to time. 


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lite-Brite Sakasa Kebari

I made an online comment this evening about how I had spent some time this afternoon tying up what I had previously called my "Summer Kebari", while our youngest daughter, Libby, played with her Lite-Brite on the floor next to my tying table.  The Lite-Brite just happens to have been invented by my friend and author, Reg Darling's, father-in-law Burt Meyer.

After my online comment, TJ Ferreria, who works for Tenkara USA, replied that I should call my fly the "Lite-Brite Kebari".  After a little chuckle, I realized that TJ was making perfect sense!  Is my fly light?  YES!  Is it bright?  YES!  Not to mention that here's our little girl, sitting on the bedroom floor next to me, playing with Mr. Meyer's invention (the same toy I played with over 40 years ago), his daughter married to my friend Reg, whos writing has entertained, inspired, and captured me for a number of years.

Good grief!  Sometimes this old world and its happenings are simply amazing! 

The Lite-Brite Sakasa Kebari!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Writing About What I Write About

Driving across the high elevation shortgrass prairie of northwestern Fremont County today with Jason Klass, we wiggled our way into a conversation about the content of our respective blogs, both of which are based on tenkara.  The talk centered around what we write in our blogs, and why.  As for Tenkara Tracks, I've purposely chosen to write more about how tenkara feels, rather than provide how-to instruction on fly tying, casting, reading water, or any of the zillion other things that I could provide instruction for.  There are plenty of websites and blogs devoted to that, and they're doing a fine job for the most part.  I would much rather write about my tenkara experiences.  How it feels to hike down from a high lake in the pouring rain and pounding hail, hoping you don't get struck by lightning.  How it feels to have an ever-so-slight breeze behind you as you cast upstream, watching kebaris land on the water as they only can with that faint breeze.  How it feels to anticipate what that fish will look like, in the moment between when it takes your fly and your first glimpse of it, your only indication that it's a really big one being it's quivering pull on the tip of your rod.  Yes, I'll still throw in a gear review now and then, but look for more of my experiences in the backcountry, and less how-to.  Now, I have a whole day of fishing to think through, and it sure was a grand day in the canyons.  More on that soon!  

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Marrow of the World

Photo by Chris Harvey

…"the Rocky Mountains is the marrow of the world," and by God, I was right. Keep your nose in the wind and your eye along the skyline.”
--Del Gue, Jeremiah Johnson (the film) 

Marrow.  Deep in your bones, that place in your body that keeps you immune to the things that will harm you.  The marrow of the world.  That place in the world that keeps you immune to the things that will harm you.  It’s home, a place of protection and peace.  Mine is a 74,401-acre expanse of granite, tundra, golden aspens, subalpine fir, bristlecone pine, pocket water, high lakes, brutal storms, sunshine, brookies, cutthroats, grouse, snowshoes hares, and microscopic wildflowers.  Bighorn sheep and mountain goats bounce on the talus above timberline, and elk, moose, and mule deer range between the krummholz and the bottom of the creek canyons.  Black bears, coyotes, and mountain lions work the shadows and the night.  I’ve been coming here since before it was even federally designated as wilderness, in the summer of 1978 when my parents dropped me off, alone, on one end and two days later I showed up back at home.  It was handy, because the southern boundary was only two miles from our home. That first solo trip across this place set the stage for over three decades of hunting, angling, and rambling in my own little piece of the Colorado Rockies, and what I’ve come to claim as my own “marrow of the world”.
We each have our own marrow. This just happens to be mine.  Each of us have those special places where we recharge our batteries, challenge heart, lung, and muscle, and breathe deep.  It may be a desert canyon, a snowfield of unbroken powder, or the quiet corner of a city park.  Wherever your marrow may be, please seek it out often, get your head and heart back on track, and fill your soul with peace and strength.  Those are all things my own marrow has given me since before I could shave.  It’s a magnet, a force that pulls me back home often.

Here’s hoping you find your marrow and visit it as frequently as you can.  It can be a place of peace and introspection.  It can be home.  Go there, fill up, and come back each time a different and stronger person.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Zen and the Sprit of the Nanopool

During the summer, I had a chance to take my tenkara rod, and guide others, to a wide variety of Colorado high country water.  I fished ripping, reddish-brown freestones blown full of summer rain, in which the only places a trout could survive were the leeward side of boulders in the deep recesses of nooks and crannies out of harm’s way.  I fished relatively big (on the tenkara scale) tailwaters, so deep and fast I could barely shuffle my 130-pound body halfway across without being torn off the bottom and deposited in the next larger river forty miles downstream.  And I fished slow, meandering sections of meadow water, working the cutbanks and oxbows with hoppers.  But the greatest joys of my summer were seeking out the tiniest blue lines on the map and on the ground, and putting dry flies on pools no bigger around than a skillet.  I call them nanopools.  The fact that tenkara makes fishing these spots not only possible, but productive, made it all that much better.

What is a nanopool?  Well, they come in all shapes and sizes, but most of them are so small they usually only hold one fish.   They occur on only the smallest streams.  Streams that you can easily spit across and ones you really don’t need even hip waders for.  Late in the summer they shrink even more, as the snowfields on the peaks melt and evaporate their way into nonexistence.

Trout holding in nanopools are feisty and will smack just about any dry fly you put in front of them.  They will hold at the far end of the plunge pool, and the edges of the pools where they can feed but remain hidden.  If you catch one, you’d better move on because he was the only one. 

 Luckily, small mountain streams are dotted with nanopools and you can spend a while day fishing just a half-mile of water, letting the spirit of the nanopool take you away as you lose all sense of time.

Seek out these tiny streams and pools, and you’ll be as addicted to them as I am.  Be ready to spend most of your time on your knees or hiding behind boulders.  The water is so clear and shallow that you must use all the stealthy skills in your quiver to remain unseen.

Tiny places in an immense landscape…what’s not to love!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Time to Think

One aspect of the simplicity of tenkara is that it gives you more time to think.  Less gear means more time to tune into the alpine aquatic world around you.  Less does indeed mean more.  I realized this once again while picking apart pocket water on the East Fork of the Cimarron River in southwest Colorado, scouting some water I'll guide clients on in early July.  Quality time spent on streamside inspections of adult Yellow Sallies squirming their way from under round stones.  Spending mesmerized moments with stonefly shucks on wet boulders.  This tri-forked river is alive with stoneflies, and I'm darned lucky to be here. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Somebody Left the Oven On!

I went out with Eric and Levi Lynn yesterday, sharing a little canyon with them.  Levi caught his first trout on a tenkara rod!  I cannot remember a hotter day up there (who left the oven on?), but it sure didn't slow down the fishing!  The name of the game was terrestrials.  It's a whole lot of fun to watch feisty browns smash hoppers, beetles, and spiders.  The best fly for me was a black foam beetle, tied up for me by Karl Klavon, a friend who lives in Fresno, California.  Thanks for the bugs, Karl!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Canyons

Here's a short video I shot last week with Patrick Smith.  Patrick is the founder and former owner of Mountainsmith, one of the original Colorado outdoor gear companies.  Patrick now owns Kifaru, International, based in Wheatridge, Colorado.  He and I have had many adventures together in the backcountry over the years.  Recently, I introduced him to tenkara and he's never been the same since! 

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Heart and Soul of Tenkara in Colorado

Over the Memorial Day weekend I was fortunate enough to spend three days hanging out at RIGS Fly Shop and Guide Service in Ridgway.  I had a chance to meet Tim Patterson, owner of RIGS, and Matt McCannel, RIGS head fly guide.  We will be offering guided tenkara trips for the first time ever in Colorado, and Tim, Matt, and I are the first three certified tenkara guides in the state.  These are exciting times for tenkara in Colorado!  We were joined by Daniel Galhardo, founder of Tenkara USA, and the one man responsible for bringing tenkara to the west in modern times.  We were able to take Daniel and his wife out to a tiny stream and really show them the beauty of southwestern Colorado.  I brought along my good friend, Eric Lynn, owner of Mountain Ridge Gear, and the group had a simply fantastic time!  For more info on guided tenkara trips in the southwestern Colorado Rockies, visit us at RIGS Fly Shop and Guide Service!

Eric Lynn, Matt McCannel, Me, Tim Patterson, Daniel Galhardo.
(Photo courtesy of Daniel Galhardo)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fishin’ Buddy Chest/Lumbar Pack Preview

I’m going to call this a PREview, rather than a REview. I’m doing so mainly because this pack is a creation that I’ve been involved with from the start. I probably have more of a subjective opinion on it than an independent reviewer!
The Fishin’ Buddy is being produced by Mountain Ridge Gear in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mountain Ridge Gear owner, Eric Lynn, and I have a long history of backpacking and fishing the backcountry together. Several years ago we hatched the idea of a lightweight, simple, versatile fishing pack that could be used both with and without a backpack, and that would be manufactured in the US. Our initial discussion was held on the banks of a tiny trout-filled stream in the central Colorado wilderness. I remember sitting there thinking that the small nylon pouch hanging from a lanyard around my neck, safety-pinned to my shirt, was a beginning, but that we could design something that could do so much more.  Eric had been on his own quest for such a pack, so we put our heads together and started talking.

After countless trail miles, dozens of campfire discussions, and lots of trout later…fast forward to deep winter in February 2012. Eric and I had skied up a snowed-in two-track, hauling pulks loaded down for a few days of winter camping. While we sat around the wood stove, sipping Jamesons and listening to snow sift onto the tent, we decided to kick the Fishin’ Buddy project into high gear. What you see here is the product of all of that planning, design, and on-the-water testing. We think we have a fishing pack that has everything you need and nothing you don’t.

The Fishin' Buddy is completely compatable with any full-sized backpack or day pack.  Shown here with a Kifaru Spike Camp backpack (2,300 c.i.).

Worn as a chest pack, the cross harness is very secure.

The Fishin' Buddy is a very versatile pack.  Show here worn as a lumbar pack, using the integrated, hidden waist belt.

A fold-out hook-and-loop panel on the front of the pack makes organizing flies and fly boxes easy.  It's completely adjustable with the paracord/cord lock system.  The front compartment also features mesh tippet pockets and handy, zippered storage.  The inside front panel is show here with a Simms Patch fly box, which can be mounted inside or on the hook-and-loop fly patch on the outside of the pack.

The roomy main compartment can hold a variety of larger items such as fly boxes, line spools, tippet, camera, small water bottle, snacks, etc.  Both compartments feature waterproof zippers.

Although not designed specifically for tenkara anglers, the design of the pack is very "tenkara-friendly".  Two loops on the bottom of the pack allow up to two tenkara rods to be stowed and carried there while hiking.  This is especially handy when fishing on the go while carrying a backpack.  Simply pull your rod off the bottom of the pack, deploy it, and start fishing!  Shown with my 11' Iwana and 13'6" Amago, both produced by Tenkara USA. There's also a bungee cord on the bottom so you can stash a shell or windshirt.

Streamside tools are easily attached to the front of the pack, using the military-inspired MOLLE webbing.  This keeps them handy, and doesn't poke holes in the fabric of the pack.  A handy hook-and-loop fly patch on the front easily accomodates a ripple foam fly patch or a fly box like my Simms.

Mountain Ridge Gear will have these versatile, lightweight, minimalist packs up on their website in the next few days.  They're made right here in Colorado, USA, by a veteran-owned small business.  As co-designer, I realize I'm biased, but I think this one's a winner!

Dimensions (stuffed):  10.75" x 6" x 7"
Capacity:  420 cubic inches
Weight (includes cross harness and waist belt):  1 pound
Retail Price:  Check Mountain Ridge Gear's website soon!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ah, Spring!

Sitting here in bed this evening, listening to Yes perform Roundabout on Spotify, I took some time to reflect on just how very lucky I am.  I'm guilty, as I think we all are, of getting so wrapped up in work and daily minutia that I don't take time to count my blessings.  I have rewarding work, an awesome family, beautiful daughters, and a wife who lets me go out and chase wild trout in even wilder country on a regular basis.  I'm also very fortunate to have a wonderful river and canyons holding tiny streams closeby.  Little "blue lines" as Tom Reed would say.  And lastly, I have spring!

Spring.  That time of year around these parts when the first hummingbird shows up at the lonely feeder outside the kitchen window.  A time when it's 25 at night and 70 by noon.  You have to run the heater in your truck in the morning, and the air conditioner on the way home from work.  A time of phenomenal caddis hatches on the Arkansas River.  A time when those caddis and the blue-winged olives share the same air above the water.  I think, perhaps, that the time between my last day of backcountry skiing and Memorial Day is one of my favorite times of the year to fish.  What about you?

Friday, April 20, 2012

How Tenkara Got Its Hook In Me

An online acquaintance of mine, Karel Lansky, recently had a contest on his excellent blog, Tenkara on the Fly.  He was looking for a winning story about, among other things, how anglers discovered tenkara.  I didn’t participate in the contest, so I thought I’d write a bit about how tenkara got its hook in me.

First, I need let you know that I’m a backpacker, of the lightweight variety, verging on ultralight.  I’m a backpack hunter who totes both a rifle and a traditional bow.  I’m a backpacking fly angler, and before that, several decades ago as a teenager, I backpacked my way into the Colorado backcountry carrying a yellow Eagle Claw Trailmaster pack rod.  It’s always been that way for me, hauling my life around on my back.

There are really two men to whom I credit my discovery of tenkara.  Back in 2009, when I read Ryan Jordan’s stories about tenkara over at, I was immediately interested in tenkara.  I took a good look at what Ryan was writing and posting in some videos, and I thought “HEY, I GET THIS!”.  I already held Ryan I very high regard as an ultralight backpacking expert.  About that same time I also noticed Daniel Galhardo’s writing, and climbed on board his website at Tenkara USA.  Shortly thereafter, I got my first tenkara rod, the collaborative project that Ryan and Daniel put together to produce the Backpackinglight/Tenkara USA Hane.  And that was it.  That Hane rode in my pack all over the Colorado backcountry and I’d hate to put a number on how many cutthroat, brown, brook, and rainbow trout it has taken.  Later, I stumbled upon the likes of Jason Klass, Karel Lansky, ERiK Ostrander, and others, who have really taken my knowledge to new levels.  Recently I had a chance to fish with Jason Klass and Daniel Galhardo in Rocky Mountain Park, and meet tenkara anglers from all over the Centennial State.

Along the way I found a hunger to tie my own tenkara flies, and I’ve since found it to be an extremely rewarding way to expand my knowledge of tenkara.  Taking a big brown from a tiny stream with a fly you’ve tied with the deer hair from last year’s buck is just simply amazing!

All told, I don’t really know if I discovered tenkara or, in a long and winding way, if tenkara found me.  It fits so well within the muscle-powered, lightweight, low-impact, minimalist ways I was already living in the high country.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New Gear, Warmer Weather!

Each year I spend part of my spring break backpacking and fly fishing. And guess what? It just so happens that’s exactly what this blog is all about! This year I’ll be stepping off into the wild with several pieces of tenkara gear and backpacking equipment to test. Some of them are never before seen prototypes. Some of them are items that have been around, but are things I haven’t yet wrung out.

Here’s one such item. Chris Stewart, over at Tenkara Bum, recently sent me the Daiwa Kiyose 30 SF rod for backcountry testing. This rod is designed with the backpacker (that’s me) in mind. I’ll be fishing this rod and testing a few new lines in the process. Stay tuned! I’d like to see if it can keep up with the now-discontinued Backpacking Light/Tenkara USA Hane that I have…a rod that’s caught an awful lot of backcountry trout the past two years.

Daiwa Kiyose 30 SF tenkara rod...a backpacker's special

Also during the next few days I’ll be taking the Fishin’ Buddy chest pack out for a spin. My good friend, Eric Lynn, owns a Colorado company, Mountain Ridge Gear. MRG produces American-made packs, pouches, tactical gear, and now a chest pack specifically designed for the backpacking and day-tripping angler. Eric and I have knocked around this idea for over a year, and it’s great to now have the first Fishin’ Buddy for a field test.

Eric Lynn, owner of Mountain Ridge Gear, and I (Mt. Evans Wilderness, Colorado)
(note my Backpacking Light/Tenkara USA Hane rod stashed on the front of my Kifaru Koala)

I plan to continue to burn my Emberlit stove for trailside lunches or tea. That stove is so handy and light!

Lastly I’ll take my best friend Patrick Smith along to see if I can teach an old dog some new tricks. You see, Patrick has yet to try tenkara after 45+ years of backcountry angling. He’s finally leaving his rod and reel at home, and taking my 11’ Iwana on this trip. I’ve tied him up a good selection of tenkara-specific flies, stashed both furled and level lines for him, and gotten plenty of SD card space freed up in my camera to record history taking place.

We're heading out in the morning.  I can’t wait!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Vargo vs. Emberlit Wood Stove Comparison

I thought I'd post a short explanation of why I've chosen the Emberlit over the Vargo wood stove.  Last weekend I had a chance to try out the Vargo streamside during a day-long tenkara outing.

Both stoves are ultralight, compact, and effective.  My choice of one over the other has a lot to do with the diameter and length of sticks they will burn.  In a previous review on this blog I showed how the Emberlit can burn sticks that are a nice diameter and relatively long.  The Vargo cannot do this, and must be fed with considerably smaller sticks.  What this requires is more constant tending of the fire.  I do like the way the Vargo almost assembles itself, since all of the pieces are joined by hinges.  It's a little more tedious assembling the Emberlit, although not difficult at all.

I was able to break some juniper, sagebrush, and narrowleaf cottonwood sticks up into pieces that were small enough to fit inside the stove, but it required me to really stick with it and keep it stoked.

Another feature I like about the Emberlit over the Vargo is the placement of the ventilation/draft holes.  The Vargo has a ventilated floor which gets covered and clogged up with ash and pieces of wood, and the side placement of those holes on the Emberlit seems to draft better and more effectively.  In all, both stoves are great ultralight woodburning trailside stoves that allow you to have unlimited fuel that doesn't have to be carried in your backpack.  Emberlit gets the nod on design and fuel size.

A big thank-you goes out to Randall Haynes for loaning me his Vargo stove.  Thanks, Randall!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Anything Goes

This is the time of year around here when anything goes!  Some days it seems we're on the early edge of spring, and other days we still realize it's winter.  Last weekend I was lucky enough to have a day of sixty-degree weather and some time to return to a little semi-desert canyon in which I've spent an enormous amount of time over the years. 

The fishing was slow, but I was fortunate enough to have a nice brown hit my very first cast, smacking a Killer Kebari that I had just tied a few days prior.  Holding out for a little bigger fish, I returned him to the creek without a photo.  I spent the rest of the afternoon with only one more fish in hand, but I sure had a wonderful time listening to the voices in the water and getting my head cleared of winter cobwebs.  Along the way I had time to test the Vargo titanium hexagon wood stove.  In all, it was a warm, relaxing, productive day in many ways.

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!