Tag Archives: Camping Skills
Six miles down a slot canyon with no possibility of going back up, we came to a creek bed junction. We knew we were making a loop back to our starting point 11 miles further on but had different concepts of which direction we should go. My intuition and brief memory of looking at the map in our hiking book said we should go clockwise and thus turn right. Alex’s memory on the other hand said to go counter-clockwise and thus take the canyon to the left. With no trail markers or foot prints to guide us, this would be the time to take out the map and find the correct trail. One problem, however, the book and map were back in the car!
Needless to say, it was some tense moments as we tried to figure out the correct course. I’ve always counted on Alex’s sense of direction but was pretty sure we needed to head down stream at this point. Alex, on the other hand, grew frustrated by my questioning his judgment. (This is a classic dynamic for fathers with young adult children. After years of your being in charge of everything, you want them to take more control. They on the other hand want to feel in control and also be respected by you. It’s an evolving relationship dance that can easily lead to toes being stepped on.) To make matters worse, we both knew that we wouldn’t know who was right for at least another 11 miles up the trail. Running low on water in the desert heat and sun made it all that much more stressful. If we did pick the wrong trail, we would have to retrace our steps the next day and then do another 11 miles to get out. And all without much water!
Needless to say, it was an anxious night’s sleep camping along the dry stream bed 5 miles up from where we hit the junction and wandering if we had made the right choice. We were all pretty exhausted from the day’s pack in and nervous about our dwindling supply of water. Starting out the next morning, it wasn’t until about 3 miles further up the trail that we saw our first signs of other beings in the area. While they appeared to be days old, seeing horse tracks and manure was encouraging. When hooking into another creek bed, we then found running water, deeper slot canyons and some spectacular water falls. Alex was right, we were on the right track. While we were able to laugh about it later, next time, we will all need to be sure that we have a map!
One of my favorite memories with Alex was the first time we went backpacking when he was in preschool and then hanging our bear bag that evening. You’ll hear the story on the video, as well as, watch the teen version of Alex hanging his own bear bag. The key to a good bear bag is to get it as far out on a limb as possible. That can be difficult in Colorado sometimes where the pine trees aren’t too tall in higher elevations. Selecting a tree a good distance from your campsite is the most essential part as bears have a great sense of smell!
Perhaps the most iconic skill of dads camping with their kids is the ability to start a fire. While there are many products you can buy to increase your chances (including old fashioned lighter fluid), it always impresses your kids when you can do it with the wood around you and with just one match.
The key to any good fire is lots and lots of kindling. While it takes time getting it split thin (especially when it’s cold and wet out), it’s a classic example of patience and time spent up front saves you a lot of time in the long run. In this video segment Alex was using wood that was out in the rain for days on end (in this case we bought chopped wood in town as there wasn’t going to be much at the altitude we were camping). Chopping off the wet wood exterior reveals a dryer interior that’s perfect for kindling when split small enough.
As for fire structure, you’ll see a tepee in the middle with a log cabin style around the outside. About a month after filming this, we found an article in the September issue of Men’s Health entitled, “Build The Perfect Campfire”. It shows the tepee/cabin structure as well and has some great illustrations. And just in case it doesn’t work, it’s always a good idea to carry along a fire starter in your camping equipment!
As for your kids, one of the earliest thrills a younger camper can have is lighting the fire. It ranks up there in rites of passage as a child measures themselves against their dad. Once you’ve taught you preschool child a healthy respect for fire (I used to rope off an area around the fire or wood burning stove), you can then teach them how to strike the match and get it going. As they age, let them build the structure and then move on to splitting kindling and eventually chopping the wood.