Monday, October 28, 2013

High and Dry


***An Excerpt From Girl Gone Wild***

A dirty little secret of the outdoor world is just how rarely people abide by the rule of hanging their food or even storing it at some distance from their camp. More often than not they store in in coolers, trailers, vehicles, tents, or backpacks. In brown bear country, this is stupid and dangerous. In black bear and cougar country, which is most of everywhere else, it is only slightly less stupid and dangerous. But here’s how it happens. First, you do not see any bear or any other animals for that matter which makes choosing not to hang your food seem reasonable. But the lack of apparent wildlife is probably because humans are big and noisy and smelly even if we are trying not to be, not because they are not there. There is plenty of wildlife watching your progress down a trail that you will never know are there, and unless they are hungry or you manage to stumble into their young, they will probably go out of their way to avoid you. Unless they are hungry. And something is always hungry.

The second thing that happens is that you find yourself in a place with nothing to hang something from, this is a peculiar irony of the tundra areas of Alaska. There are vast u-shaped valleys carved by the slow progression of glaciers over thousands of years that, now exposed thanks to global warming are covered in bright fields of dense, soft tundra. Beautiful, but not a tree in sight. With no place to hang food the best you can hope for is good storage someplace down wind of your camp, you have to let the hanging thing go. Alternately, you can find yourself camped in such large trees that even the lowest branches are far too high to reach with even a weighted line, or you do not have enough line to make the pitch. Again, out of luck, and not entirely ones own fault.

The last thing that happens, and it is this kind of experience that can cause people to give it up entirely, is that it can take an entire evening to get the food bag hung. Food is heavy and oddly shaped, which means that you need something relatively accessible and sturdy to hang it from. I can spend a good half and hour looking for the right kind of branch an appropriate distance from camp and then another half an hour or more trying to toss a line, often with one end tied around a rock or shoe, over the branch. Have you ever tried to send a pair of shoes over a telephone line? Sometimes you get it in one shot, sometimes it seems impossible.


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