Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Camping: Return to Dead Crow

It was a little over two years since the last time I camped at Dead Crow campsite on Kayostla Beach in Olympic National Park..  Personal health and other issues have kept me benched from other recent trips so it was nice to get back to camping with old friends.  I have been camping there off and on with the same people for over 15 years now.  The rustic trailhead is behind national park and timber company gated roads now so it was a pleasure to discover that we got the nod to enter for free under the condition that we left with some garbage from the beach, surveyed the area for tsunami debris, and kept watch for wreckage of a fishing boat that went down in a storm last week.

The trail is only a mile and a half long but it still kicks my butt!  It was in very good condition with very little mud this year although the tree roots and downed trees across the trail were challenging.

Every year I go on this trip, there are improvements made to the camp.  This year it was hot water.  One of my friends, Bruce, attached a home made copper heat exchanger with some plastic tubing to one of his 5 gallon buckets, now converted into a hot water tank.

We also got to break away from our usual roasted Cornish game hens to cooking a big roast beef on a spit.  It was excellent!

I decided to spend a little time with some bushcraft experimentation and got an Inuit kudlik going using saved bacon fat, some saturated paper towel, and a beach rock.  It burned well for a long time.

We played a few rounds of beach golf, walked, feasted, and told tall tales into the wee hours of each  night.

It was a good time to unwind and relax from the day to day stress.  This is a tradition that I hope to see continue a long time.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Bushcrafting: Making My Woodlore Style Knife

I have been an avid member of various outdoor forums ever since the internet became available to me.  Currently, I am a regular contributor and supporter of BushcraftUSA. I have always been a tinkerer with my outdoor gear and this forum has inspired to be much more.  I admire the custom works of many of the knife makers on BushcraftUSA.  Those who make the Woodlore style knives have had me wanting one of my own. 

This is an original Woodlore knife made for Ray Mears
The prices of these knives are reasonable from the makers  (~$300 to $500 US) but the wait times/lists are long and it could be two years before one can get a custom knife made.  There is also a thriving secondary market of regular resellers who charge or auction off these knives for about double what the makers are asking.  The reselling is a bit of a scam and I find it distasteful.

As I am an impatient sort and not  interested in filling opportunists pockets with cash I don't have, I decided to make my own Woodlore style knife.  I should say that I am actually putting a handle on one, the blade blank can easily be purchased for a small amount of money.  My blade blank comes from the reputable UK  knife maker, Bernie Garland.  It is a traditional Woodlore blade made of hard 01 carbon steel and has a Scandi grind.  The wood scales are bird's eye maple and come from Nova Scotia, the liners are brick red G10, and the mosaic pins and lanyard loop I ordered from a knife supplier online.

It took me about a month to gather all my knife parts and the supplies I would need to put it all together.

Having no experience at all other than the making of of some of my other little bushcrafting projects, I watched how to videos on Youtube and read instructions off various sites on the internet.  Once I got down to work, the process didn't take that long although there were snags along the way.  Having limited power tools, basically a circular orbital hand sander, a cordless drill, and a Dremmel rotary tool, it was a challenge.  What I would give for a drill press, band saw, and a belt sander!  Here are a few pictures taken during the construction.

I often had to improvise like using my palm sander upside down clamped to my workbench.  This project was often physically demanding (I spend five hours just filing and hand sanding the profile of the knife handle).  In the end, it came out better than I thought it would.  I posted my own "how to" instructions thread on  BushcraftingUSA in the hopes that it would inspire others lacking the skill set and tools just like I did.   The knife will soon become my inseparable companion on all my future bushcrafting trips.  Here is the finished product.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Sanrenmu 710, the Poor Man's Sebenza

Normally I am not a big fan of folder knives but I do own a few.  Folders are the most practical for EDC (every day carry).  My Swiss Army Camper model often fulfills this role.

 Lately I have been reading about a prolonged controversy regarding Chinese knock-offs/counterfeits of a well loved Chris Reeve USA made knife, the Sebenza 21. 
Chris Reeve Sebenza 21
This is not a new issue as it is well known that the Chinese government does not enforce flagrant violations of international patents, copyrights, and trademarks on a variety of counterfeit products being produced in China.  It is my belief that a knife produced with or without a counterfeit maker's mark with the intention of deceiving customers is both illegal and immoral.  This is where I draw the line, however, there are many people who feel that copying any knife design is blatantly wrong.  The lack of a clear definition of what is right or what is wrong, is what generates all the heated discussions on this subject.

 In the bushcrafting community, it is accepted practice for custom knife makers to copy the basic design of the much beloved Woodlore knife, designed by Ray Mears and Alan Woods.  There are dozens of clones of this knife made by reputable knife makers and I will be making my own this winter.  None of these custom knife makers produce their own versions with the intention of fooling potential customers that their knives can be passed off as the original Woodlore.  There is almost an infinite variety in materials being used to produce theses knives including the knife steel itself.  The collectors of folders see this differently...the design is sacred and should not be copied!

I always had the impression that most manufactured  knives from China were of poor quality.  I acknowledge that I was ignorant and wrong.  Sanrenmu(SRM) is one  Chinese company that produces extremely good quality knives.  In fact, Sanrenmu manufactures knives for popular US based knife making companies like Buck, Spyderco, and CKRT.  Sanrenmu also produces its own line of knives for both domestic and export markets.  The knife which has sparked so much debate about copying, is the SRM model 710 because its basic design resembles the Chris Reeve Sebenza 21, hence the nickname "the poor man's Sebenza".

Sebenza 21 on top, Sanrenmu 710  bottom
At this point I would like to add that the Sebenza 21 costs approximately $400 US and uses a titanium frame while the SRM 710 costs under $20 and is made from a good quality stainless steel.  While there are other Chinese counterfeiters out there using the same materials and maker's mark as Chris Reeve, SRM puts it's own trademark on the 710 and has made no attempt to pass it off as one of Chris Reeve's knives.  Both of these knives are framelocks with handles made to fit the width of a hand comfortably.  Consequently there is very little room for a different looking handle and this is also demonstrated in other company's framelock knives such as the CRKT Drifter.  My personal opinion is that the SRM 710 was probably inspired by the Sebenza's basic design and that's it.  I see this knife no differently than the bushcrafter sees a Woodlore clone.

Intrigued by all the furor over the SRM 710, I ordered one.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. Both the blade and handle are made from a 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. The blade (a hollow grind, 2.67 inch long) came super sharp, swings smoothly, and locks solidly into place with no lateral movement.  The handle is comfortable and the whole knife ,at 3.25 oz,  feels substantial but not too heavy and is well balanced.

You may legitimately ask me if the purchase of this SRM 710 has kept me from needing or wanting to buy a Chris Reeve Sebenza 21 because it is considerably cheaper and my answer is an unequivocal no, quite the opposite.  The quality of the SRM is so nice, it makes me really want to try a Sebenza.  However, if you are on a budget and will never be able to afford a Sebenza 21, I highly recommend the SRM 710.  What ever you decide, please don't buy a knock off Sebenza 21 as it is not only supports unethical counterfeiters but they are of poor quality and  literally dangerous.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Bushcrafting: Making a Firesteel Handle

I have a Finnish puukko (a small Sami/Laplander knife) which is amongst one of my favorites.  It is made from deer antler, birch, leather, and has a hand forged carbon steel blade which is very very sharp.  I have always wanted to make a firesteel handle to match one of my knives and this knife seemed to be a perfect match.  It looked like it would be a pretty uncomplicated job and it was!

I had deer antler left over from other projects so all I had to do was scrounge up some birch from a nearby woods and find a little leather.

I cut and trimmed everything and then into the vice with a some glue.

A little shaping with a rotary tool and some hand sanding and it all came together.  I wanted to keep it a little asymmetric because it was the best way to leave a little character in the antler and it gives the whole firesteel a rustic and natural look.

Lastly, I finshed it with a little mineral oil and a glossy wood finish and I installed the firerod.  I went with a misch metal rod rather than a harder ferro-rod because I prefer seeing the shower of sparks that a misch metal is known for.  I should be able to generate all the sparks I need by rubbing it on the spine of my carbon steel blade.  Here is the finished result.

Crafting this little firesteel has convinced me to attempt an even more ambitious project.  Stay tuned to see me create Woodlore bushcrafting knife.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Watching My Father Turn into a Zombie

I'm sorry if this rambles but I feel compelled to save my thoughts.

My father, my first hero, and my role model, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year.  He probably had it long before it actually got named but it is very evident now.  He is a very proud man and extremely intelligent.  It was his intellect that managed to fill in the gaps in his memory and allowed him to function without too much trouble.  I have kept him at home, his wish, for as long as possible and perhaps a little longer than it should have been.  Now things have progressed to the point where I must take this noble man and see him put in a care home, his personal nightmare and now mine too.

Let me tell you a little about him.  Born just before World War 2, he grew up in northern Ontario as a plumber's son.  His love of the outdoors was passed on to me as was his love of geology, travel, and golf.  He worked his whole career in the mining industry, and retired from being a long term planning  engineer at one of the world's largest open pit mines.  He would suffer no fools lightly but was generally a very sociable fellow.

My dad, son, and I before a hike.

I suppose there is a time in everyone's life when they discover that their parents are not super human and in fact fragile.  It was ten years ago when I realized how vulnerable my dad had become.  My mom had gotten really sick and they were forced to move from the home and hometown, in which I was raised, to a city where there was better healthcare available.  As she got sicker, something in him broke.  I went from seeing my father as a rock to me being the person he turned to for support and reassurance.

I can't say that I have been the greatest son.  I wish I could have spent more time with my parents.  With a family of my own, my own health concerns,and a demanding job, I have had to prioritize.  My parents were too stubborn to allow us to move them closer and so my infrequent visits have caused all too suffer.  My distant relatives have labelled me as a negligent son and so would my wife and kids have an entirely different, but equally unpleasant, label for me if I dropped everything to just be a dutiful son full time.  Life is a fine balance.

So as I make plans to see that my dad is taken care of the best way I possibly can.  He doesn't want to be a burden and he never will be, he's my dad.  I get to watch as this horrible disease takes him slowly from me.  Everyday another piece of him is gone and one day all that will be left is his body.  My father is slowly becoming a zombie.  It is pure agony to watch it happen.  He deserved better.  My mind plays games wondering whether he is as terrified as I am or if at this point the Alzheimer's has made him blissfully ignorant.  I have selfishly wished for him to have a heart attack in hopes that it would give us both a release from this ongoing hell.  I really don't know if I have the strength to visit him when there is nothing left.  You would think that knowing others who have gone through similar tragedies in their life would make me feel better and not so alone but it doesn't. It's too personal.  My wife and kids give me strength.

Give the people you love a hug and let them know how much you appreciate them.  I wish I had something more original or uplifting to end this entry on but my tank has run dry.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Guns: Call me a hypocrite!

Although I was raised in a hunting family and enjoyed the activity, I have always been a supporter of stronger restrictive gun laws and tougher punishments for gun related crimes(I'm still very committed to this one).  It's easy to come to this conclusion when you see so many highly publicized and violent rampages on national media.   I have many American friends with opposing points of view and it took me a long time to realize that you can't take the firearms out of their society because it is part of their culture.  It's really no different than telling me I can't celebrate Christmas. 

Coming from Canada, the almost cavalier attitude and unnatural comfort  of Americans towards something that is highly regulated up here can be very disconcerting...especially when one sees someone cleaning their handgun on the picnic table at a rest stop right next where where my   innocent family is eating their lunch unawares.  I understood the collecting aspect, the hunting aspect, and even the thrill of just shooting a firearm for fun but my perspective hasn't changed much when I have discussed my concerns online with some delusional people who rationalize the need to carry because they see a boogeyman  behind every bush.   It's those paranoid few that send shivers up my spine!

I had my chance to fire a selection of what would be considered restricted firearms in Canada in Las Vegas last week and I really enjoyed it.  The activity was in a very controlled environment with some very qualified instructors supervising it.  My comfort level with these guns has since risen to the point that I wouldn't mind doing it again and perhaps taking some  Canadian Firearms Safety Courses and applying for a Restricted Possession and Acquisition License with the aim of enjoying a little target shooting of my own.  The process is long and quite limiting but I think it's for the best.  To those of you getting freaked out at the prospect of a firearm in my hands, be comforted in the knowledge that I have owned and used them before and will abide responsibly by the laws and rules of our country.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Under the Volcano: Chapter 2

I have been watching feed from the Tolbachik volcano on the Kamchtka Peninsula ever since it started to erupt.  It has got to be my favorite type of eruption, an effusive fissure eruption.   Every summer, I have found myself on the side of some volcanic feature and inspired by Tolbachik volcano, I have decided to write about a few more of my favorites.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

I have driven across the flat and dry volcanic Snake River Plain in southern Idaho several  times and always regretted never visiting Craters of the Moon National Monument.  It is a little out of the way from the major interstate highways of the USA  but then again, so are most of the interesting volcanic features I have visited before.  Last summer I got my chance and it was well worth it.

Craters of the Moon National Monument consists of 400 square miles of basalt  lava fields originating from a "Great Rift".  Eruptions along this rift come from a series of fissures that generate spatter cones and effusive lava flows.  There are also a series of monogenic cinder cones some of which, like Inferno Cone (see picture below) can be climbed by the public.  The most recent erruption was approximately 2100 years ago.

The expansive and flat lava flows contain tree molds and some of the largest lava tubes I have ever seen.
I was fascinated by a distinguishing and a unique feature of the Blue Dragon flow, the youngest flow in the park.  The lava is covered by scales that give off a blue sheen.

Craters of the Moon National monument is at 5900 feet altitude and is almost always windswept.  The lack of cover and the heat sink nature of the black basalt can make it also a very hot place to visit.  Despite these conditions, I enjoyed my time there very much.


I have visited Yellowstone at least five times and keep being drawn back.  Yellowstone is a fascinating to me not only because of its seemingly endless local volcanic and hydrothermal features but because of the fact that the hotspot which created them, is also responsible for many of the large geologic formations  throughout the pacific northwest.  These include the flood basalts of Snake River Plain and even the Columbia River Basalt Group, one of the largest trap formations in the world.
Columbia River Flood Basalts
 When you have seen all of this, calling Yellowstone merely a "super volcano" doesn't seem to justify the magnitude of eruptive material that has been created by this hotspot.  It is mind boggling!  Yellowstone itself is a series of overlapping and sometimes nested caldera type eruptions on a massive scale.  The youngest caldera is filled with the remains of many more recent effusive and sometimes explosive events.  Eruptions at the current location has ranged from phreatic to those producing lavas all all varieties, basalt to rhyolite.  Yellowstone resides on the continental divide, currently one of the thickest parts of the earths crust on the North American Plate.  The massive magma chamber, which was once fed by the hotspot, is still full of plastic hot magma possibly left  there from previous eruptions of the distant past.  Insulated within the rock of the crust, magma can stay hot for milenia.  This magma chamber is at a very shallow depth such that water coming in contact with it has created the world's largest collection of hydrothermal features which include geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots.  Below is a small sample of some of the geology that can be seen within the park.

Ubiquitous "Old Faithful" geyser
Upper Geyser Basin Path
Grand Prismatic Spring
Mammoth Hot Springs
Fountain Paint Pots boiling mud pond
Roaring Mountain Fumarole Field
Overlapping columnar lava flows at Watch Tower Falls

There are two resurgent domes within the Yellowstone caldera which have been growing lately.  This has been a source of concern amongst sensationalist media types but they are a common feature in most  active calderas around the world.  Resurgent domes are known to inflate and deflate routinely and are not a good  indicator of an imminent volcanic eruption.  The National Park Service and the USGS (United States Geologic Survey) monitor the volcano constantly with various types of sensors.  There has not been any sign of a significant increase in sulfur dioxide emissions or increased seismic tremors(earthquake) in focused swarms, key indicators of a possible eruption.  Experts say that the likelihood of a big Yellowstone eruption is 1/730,000 every year.   I hope this debunks some of the fear generated by media...sorry doomsday preppers!

Aside from the geology, I also love visiting Yellowstone for it's rustic charm, abundant wildlife, and beautiful mountain vistas.  Yellowstone is just too large to see everything in one trip.

Newberry Caldera/Volcano and Medicine Lake Volcano

Although these two volcanoes reside in two different states, they are both situated just east of the Cascade Range and volcanic arc, they are both essentially shield volcanoes with extensive associated monogenic cindercone fields,  they are both atypical shield volcanoes in that they have produced both basalt flows at lower elevations and rhyolite flows at higher elevations, and they both have lakes within their calderas.  It is likely that both have multiple small magma chambers rather than just one.  Both of these volcanoes seem to be on an area of crustal extension with eruptive vents running along fault lines moving from the oldest in the southeast to the youngest in the northwest.  The last eruption at Newberry was approximately 1400 years ago and the last eruption at Medicine Lake was approximately 900 years ago.

I had the pleasure of camping inside Newberry Caldera next to East Lake.  Newberry is in central Oregon.  The caldera itself is filled with obsidian shards from various rhyolite flows and this can make walking in unsuitable footwear treacherous.  There are several hot springs along the sides of both lakes in Newberry Caldera.

Central Pumice Cone across East Lake
Big Obsidian Flow
Lava Butte
Medicine Lake Volcano is in  northern California and has Lava Beds National Monument on its northern slope.

Medicine Lake Volcano on the left and Mt Shasta distant right
This volcano is well off the beaten path but its numerous lava tubes makes it a destination for adventurous spelunkers.  I discovered this monument more by coincidence than on purpose as it was on my planned route to Reno one spring.  In Lava Beds National Monument the final battles of the Modoc War (or Lava Beds War) were fought between the local native American Modoc tribe and the US army  in 1873.  The lava beds were known as Captain Jack's (the Modoc leader) Stronghold and the lava tubes and ridges provided an effective defense during the two battles which were fought in them.  The combination of history and geology has made Lava Beds National Monument a fondly remembered destination for me.

Devil's Homestead Lava Flow
Lava tube entrance with Schonchin Butte cinder cone behind

Stay tuned for more volcano goodness as I have visited many others and I intend to see many more.