A few months back, I plucked the Pioneer Badge from the Hat O’ Scouty Joy, which gave me incentive to plan a multi-day backpacking trip with some fellow Wilderness Travel Course grads. In several weeks of planning, plus three days and two nights on the trail in the Sequoia National Park backcountry, I knocked out all ten of my requirements! In honor of that lofty achievement, I present you with this MEGA-POST OF PIONEER BADGE DOMINATION:
1. Explain fully and demonstrate how you would choose a camp site, considering a safe water supply, possible hazards, comfortable living, and the program desired.
Our original plan was to saunter in an easy 5.6 miles on-trail from Wolverton and camp at Alta Meadow, but in the name of possible water-enhanced views, we decided to push on off-trail towards Moose Lake. It was getting late in the day and folks were getting tired, so we considered making camp on a lovely (though mosquito-ridden) flattish ridge – however, while this perch had ample room, it didn’t have water, so we pressed on. Shortly thereafter, we were rewarded with an even better ridge spot – it was not only easy on the eyes, but also allowed us to follow Leave No Trace (LNT) principles like camping on a durable surface (i.e. not directly on vegetation)…and there was a small meadow and tarn a short walk away where we could filter water to our heart’s content. To avoid the hazard of varmints invading our food supply, we locked everything up in bear canisters and enjoyed one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever set eyes (or tent) on.
2. Take part in a primitive camping trip of at least two nights to an approved site. Share in planning for food, shelter, housekeeping, and other program activities. Take an active part in carrying out the plans.
A few months back, I spearheaded the idea of getting away over the July 4th weekend, and thus nabbed the backcountry permit from SEKI, researched our route, and coordinated with my fellow backpackers, sorting out carpooling, gear-sharing, and shared meal duties. I felt like 50% camp counselor, 50% mountain guide, and 100% anal retentive planner-person.
3. Help plan well balanced menus for the trip, with food easy to carry, keep, and prepare. Help buy and pack the food and arrange it in camp for safe keeping.
The more I backpack, the more I tweak my foodstuffs. For this trip, I helped coordinate two meals for the six of us: breakfast before our hike (see below) and dinner the first night on the trail. For the latter (a faux Indonesian peanut-veggie-noodle thingie), we divvied up ingredients to spread the weight out and besides it being a bit, errrr, al dente, everyone seemed pretty pleased (although that could have been the whiskey or brown butter rice krispie treats adding to the vibes). For my personal stash, I’m starting to lean towards using more fresh foods and – if I’m ready to take my backpacking nerdery to the next level – possibly even buying a dehydrator. However, pre-packaged stuff remains the backbone of my camping diet. I’m learning, though, that some things just don’t travel well – an entire brick of cheese (next time I’ll take a few sticks) and corn tortillas (I’m going to sandwich them in between circles of lightweight cardboard), for instance – and that I need to halve some of the quantity sizes (instant mashed potatoes, just-add-water soups) to make individual portions. What’s never leaving my pack? Swedish Fish. POWER FOOD.
4. Roll and tie properly your bedding and other personal equipment for transportation. After arriving in camp, prepare a comfortable sleeping place for yourself, with all personal equipment neatly and conveniently arranged.
I finally have this alllllmost dialed in! I take a small backpacking pillow (but also pack extra clothes into a stuff sack, since I normally sleep with two pillows), sleeping bag (I’m now considering stoking the fires of my gear-dorkery with a down quilt for warmer-weather camping), and a sleeping pad (I just added a non-insulated summer pad into rotation and fell in love with it on this trip). Once the tent is up, I blow up the air pad, throw in the bedding, and pull out my separate “tent bag” – a wee little drawstring bag that contains my contact solution, contact case, ear plugs, and ibuprofen. If I’m carrying a book (for the 2% of times that I actually read the damn thing), I’ll throw that in there, too. Voila! Ready for the sleeps.
7. Prepare a weather chart and make forecasts before and during your trip, showing how accurately you can predict local weather conditions.
Here’s an example of where technology wins – I was able to just mosey over to Weather.gov, pinpoint our exact camp locations for nights one, two, and three, plus check the weather at an alternate camp location, and presto! Forecasts for dayyyyys.While on the trail, we paid attention to any incoming clouds (afternoon storms are fairly common on high peaks in the Sierras) – luckily we were low enough to miss any of this mountain-made weather) and had the option of checking barometric (air) pressure, a common feature of nicer watches. If the pressure took a nosedive (i.e. when weatherpeople dance in front of a colorful radar map and mention an ominous “low pressure front moving in”), we would have known that we were in for some degree of foul weather.
9. Pitch a pup tent, baker or other small tent. Help with construction and care of any one of the following: outdoor stove or fireplace for cooking; temporary shelter of canvas, ponchos, or thatch materials at hand; latrine; cache; incinerator or grease pit; primitive outdoor shower; lashed table.
Small tent: pitched! Three times, in fact – thus is trail life when you’re on the go. As far as all of this “construct” business – one of the rules of LNT is that you don’t build stuff in the wilderness (including in our case, fires – le sigh). In lieu of constructing something, I a) chose a LNT-approved bathroom site, digging my cathole six inches deep and packing out my waste, b) picked a very lovely large, flat rock for our kitchen / dinner table on the ridge, and c) made my own personal “primitive outdoor shower” with baby wipes and a lot of wistful imagination.
12. Help cook and serve at least one meal for your group using one of the following fires: quick hot fire, reflector fire, coals for broiling, ashes for roasting, bean-hole fire, barbecue fire.
You might recall that little bit above where I said that we couldn’t build a campfire out on the trail. (Le sigh, again.) What we did, instead, was use our backpacking stoves to cook communal meals (above, our pre-hike brekkie at the Visitor Center; I totally spaced on taking pics while we cooked dinner on the ridge – might have been the aforementioned whiskey).
13. Help prepare an evening campfire program based on something connected with your camp site. This may be history or legend concerning the place, the stars overhead, or interesting things around you.
While in the Visitor Center picking up our backcountry permit, I bought a star wheel and was very, very, very, very excited to bust it out the first night on the trail. Once the sky darkened, I whipped it out, blurted out a few random constellations, with some people kind of joining in…and then we all went back to our al dente noodles. The next night, I passed out at, like, 9pm to the sound of my campmates looking at the stars. I feel like my mediocre star…ummm…”program” the night before inspired said gazing, so I say this counts.
14. Start a collection of songs, poems, and stories for use in various camp activities, such as campfire, hiking, housekeeping, rest hour.
There is a time and place for camp songs (most times, most places), but I held back on dropping my Boom-Chick-A-Boom knowledge during this particular trip. However, if you want to get your sing-a-long groove on, here’s a list of some of my favorite Camp Songs. [That picture up there has nothing to do with singing – I just figured you’d like something nice to look at for this section of the post.]
15. Make a list of personal equipment needed for troop camping. Decide what can be made from inexpensive materials, and make at least two articles.
If you want to check out my general packing list, here you go: CAMPING PACKING LIST
As far as making things from “inexpensive materials,” one thing I did at the start of the year was buy a verrrry cheap blue closed-cell foam sleeping pad for $10 and cut it in thirds to create three “sit pads” for myself and two friends – cheaper than the fancy ones, that’s for sure! If you stare at the photo above, you may also notice in the bottom center that I “created” a sunglass case out of a sock. That’s some trail magic, folks.
PIONEER BADGE: COMPLETE!!!