“Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was.” NLT
Brother xl2600i thread injector
I’m a bit of a tinkerer. In fact I made and sold thousands of alcohol stoves over the years while operating End2End Trail Supply. Wood burning sheet metal stoves, no problem. Anything metal was my forte. Even so, I always admired anyone who could create something from fabric.I never thought I would be able to sew projects like the folks at Hammock Forums and Backpackinglight. I decided to give it a go and bought myself the above pictured Brother xl2600i for my birthday a few years ago, and then it sat, probably mostly due to my lack of confidence. I visited my good friend John Donewar back in March and saw his projects and sewing space and finally decided to give it a go this past July. Now I’m bitten by the DIY bug and I’m here to say if I can do it so can you.
I started out making stuff sacks and small (pin cushion size) pillows, and there’s a good reason why folks start out with these simple projects – you get familiar with the machine and how to sew a straight stitch. In fact, 90% of the DIY projects out there just call for the ability to sew in a straight line. In my opinion learning the functions of the machine and why it might not sew properly were tougher than actually sewing (hint: most of the problems I came across were from improper top tension and improperly wound bobbins). Once I got the hang of it, sewing became quite cathartic. I become absorbed by the hum of the machine and the flow of the fabric.
I will outline some of my projects to date, and include any links I think are applicable. My first project of any real size was a bug net affectionately know as the Fronkey Bug Net, named after it’s creator Fronkey, of course!
Fronkey Bug Net
I bought the no see um from DIY Gear Supply, and the design is basically a hem at the bottom for a length of shock cord, and a couple of hems up the side. Best of all, I finished it in about a half an hour! Final weight came in at 7.3 ounces, including stuff sack.
By now I had become obsessed with a camo hammock setup, and decided to knock off a camo Asym style tarp made from some 1.1 silnylon I purchased from Ripstop By The Roll. Using a pattern found at DIY Gear Supply this project was a breeze!
Asym camo sil tarp
Self tensioning guyline
With stuff sack, ridgeline, and guylines with self tensioners the tarp setup weighs 6.8 ounces. Throw in a couple of MSR groundhog stakes and the kit weighs 7.8 ounces.
Well, what good is a camo tarp without a camo hammock, so I tapped Dutch over at Dutchware for some Argon 1.6 fabric. Once again, just a few straight seams and the hammock body was done. The ridgeline and whoopie sling suspension was made from 7/64″ Amsteel from Redden Marine, the toggles were cut from aluminum arrow shafts, and the camo 1″ webbing for the tree huggers came from Dutchware as well. I whipped up a bishop bag (basically a stuff sack with openings on both ends) from some Momentum 90 I had laying around and viola, she is fini. Or so I thought.
Camo Argon 1.6 hammock
Yup, it’s camo!
That’s when I decided to sew up a ridgeline organizer, ala Dream Hammock.
Papa Smurf Dream Hammock style organizer
I like the idea that I can slide a water bottle in the middle so I don’t have to fumble in the dark. The weight of my whole hammock rig including hammock, ridgeline, whoopies, toggles, tree straps, ridgeline organizer and bishop bag comes in at 15.7 ounces.
By now my skills were improving and I took on a project that I must admit I was quite nervous about – a down under quilt. I love my Hammock Gear under quilts, and was going to pay for a custom super ultra light summer UQ to go with my 50° top quilt, but I thought, “why not give it a try”. I found a very detailed description of an under quilt someone had made at hammock forums, and decided it didn’t look all that bad. Once again I tapped Dutch for some Argon 67 in Coyote Brown for the inner shell, and Argon 90 in camo for the outer.
Inner shell color
I went with 1″ baffles and 3 ounces of down, and according to Catsplat’s UQ Calculator my under quilt should be good down to 51°. I slept in it shortly after finishing, and it got down to 52°, which kept me plenty warm sleeping in only sweat pants and a tee shirt. Best of all it only weighs 8.5 ounces!
Here’s the whole rig:
100% DIY camo hammock rig
Shortly after finishing my UQ my buddy Matt asked if I would make him a full length 20° UQ in the same colors as mine. I challenged myself and was able to make it in one day! Whew! I made it from Argon 90 inside and out and filled it with 11.5 ounces of 850 fp down.
20° full length UQ
It weighed in at 20.6 ounces and should be good to 19°. So far Matt’s tests have given a big thumbs up! Now if I can get Paul’s UQ done I can get on to making my silnylon rain gear, heh heh.
When I hiked the West Canada Lakes loop last year in New York states Adirondacks I instantly knew this was a place of solitude and immense beauty. I also knew I had to share this special place with my closest hiking companions. I put the offer out and Paul Cummings, his son Brian, and Josh Gordon were able to make it. Brian also brought along friends Micah, Antonio, and Ian, all first timers. We met around 5 am, and after many miles we finally hit the logging road into the wilderness. About 6 miles in (and after dodging a logging truck) we finally made the trailhead at Pillsbury Mountain. We were hiking by about noon (maybe later – just a little fuzzy in my memory bank), and as the trail started it’s steady uphill climb the boys were off like a shot! Paul and I took our time, letting the boys get a slight lead, although I’m sure I couldn’t have kept up even if I wanted. Ha, ha, let ’em run – I want them tired at camp. At about 1.7 miles the trail crests the hill, and the boys were taking a break waiting for the geezers to catch up.
First rest break, French Louie Trail junction
With the hard part of day one over, it was time to enjoy a nice stroll in the woods. The trail heads generally down-hill, with the occasional wet area. Between the junction of the French Louie Trail and Cedar Lake there is a washed out bridge, a rickety bridge, and a washed out dam at the junction of the Northville-Placid Trail.
Rickety trail crossing
Trail maintenance is a little light in this section, but that didn’t seem to matter because all too soon Cedar Lake appeared before us, showing just a sample of the beauty to come. As we approached lean-to #1 a small group of college students on the last day of their wilderness adventure appeared. It was just a little too crowded for our liking, so as the rain started to come down we made a beeline for lean-to #2, just 10 minutes further down the trail (and the better location in my opinion). Not long after we settled in the rain decided to get serious.
I will say, I love sleeping in the rain. At home I’ll crack the windows so I can hear the rain on the gutters, and in the woods the sound on my tarp is like a lullaby that soothes me to sleep. What a perfect ending to a perfect day. I’m back home in the wilderness.
Early to bed and early to rise – blah blah blah. Anyone who’s ever known the comfort of being cocooned in a hammock on a cool morning knows that morning always comes way too early. Oh well, guess I’ll greet the morning, knowing that it’s Friday and I could be working instead – not!
Good morning Cedar Lake!
Mountain House scrambled eggs with ham on a tortilla, along with a hot cuppa tea sweetened with honey got the old motor firing on all cylinders. After everyone ate and packed up Paul shared from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Nice to always remember Jesus (the Word) has always been there in God’s plan for our salvation.
Once again the morning started with an uphill climb to get the blood flowing. This section of the trail was the nicest from a ease of hiking perspective. We spent most of the day with soft trail underfoot and only the occasional blow-down.
The plan each day was to leave camp around 9 am, and get to our next destination around 2 pm. In between the boys generally hiked ahead, waiting for the rest of the group at predetermined spots on the trail. I’ll usually give them something a mile or two down the trail to shoot for, and they get to that point about ten minutes or so ahead of the rest of us. At one point we gathered at a stream crossing and it was great fun to watch the guys laughing and having a good time.
Soon enough we hit the famous South Lake Bridge, immortalized by many a camera toting hiker. Last year I spotted a family of otters here, but this year we had to be satisfied with the calling of the loons. No matter, the views of South Lake from the bridge are nothing less than God-breathed and food for the weary soul.
Approaching the South Lake bridge
A few minutes after the bridge and we were at the South Lake lean-to. I think next to Cedar Lake number 2, this is my favorite on this loop. The view is awesome, and if you like to fish or swim you can access the lake directly in front of the lean-to.
Wading and fishing at South Lake Photo courtesy of Paul Cummings
While some of us were checking out the lake Ian decided a fire was in order.
What’s really cool about getting to camp early is being able to stay as busy as you choose. My choice was to lounge, others fished, while others just stayed busy doing a whole lot of nothing.
Sunset fishing at South Lake
Still, when dark finally arrived, we were tired (ok, at least I was). Other than being awakened by the sound of a pack of coyotes howling in the middle of the night I slept well.
Morning, oh glorious morning! Same routine, different day. And what a great routine – wake up, eat, pack up, spent time in devotions and hike. What could be simpler, what could be better? Can I get paid to do this, because if that job opens up I’m there!
Morning devotions Photo courtesy of Paul Cummings
Paul once again shared from the Book of John, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It is only through the grace and truth (and mercy) of Jesus that we can truly be called children of God. He is the way, the truth and the light!
Reluctantly we left South Lake, but if I have my way I will be back someday. After a short hike we passed West Canada Creek lean-to and regrouped at the rebuilt West Canada Creek bridge. Here we left the Northville Placid Trail and started up the French Louie Trail.
Bridge across West Canada Creek
Looking north at West Canada Creek
French Louie was a trapper from the late 1800’s whose trap line ran roughly in the area we were hiking. Our destination this day was Pillsbury Lake, and that is where French Louie spent his last night in the forest. In February of 1915 Louie hiked into the town of Speculator and rented a room, which he paid for with a trout. He fell ill on the evening of February 27, 1915 and by the next morning had passed away at the age of 85. Fortunately there would be no illness among our group of hearty travelers.
The trail at this point follows a generally uphill course, and as I mentioned last year becomes a bit less maintained. There were many more large blow-downs in this section that made for a little slower going. Paul and I finally caught the boys at the turnoff for the Sampson Lake lean-to, which brings me to something I noticed from day one – there is signage for all the lean-tos! Last year I mentioned that most of the lean-tos had no sign showing where they were located, but this year every single one was marked. Sampson Lake previously had a shovel blade nailed to a tree, but no more! Now if they just get the junction signs at West Lake and West Canada replaced – just sayin’!
Junction with the side trail to Sampson Lake lean-to circa 2012
Junction with side trail to Sampson Lake lean-to circa 2013
After a short break we were off again. I told the boys to wait up when the trail turned into a woods road. What the boys didn’t know, and what I failed to explain was that an old woods road doesn’t always look like a road. Sometimes the only indication you get that the trail was a road is that the trees on either side of the trail spread out a little. Anyway, we didn’t catch the boys again until the turn off to the Pillsbury lean-to. Fortunately they caught sight of the lean-to sign when they decided to wait for me and Paul.
Old woods road
Once again we would spent a wonderful night camped out at a beautiful Adirondack lake. I pitched my hammock sans tarp, Paul used his Titanium Goat bivy for the first time, and Micah decided to cowboy camp. There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars on a cool evening.
Micah cowboy camping like a boss Photo courtesy of Paul Cummings
You can tell when summer is drawing to a close, because you wake in the morning and a mist shrouds the lake as the warmer water does battle against the cool night air. Then as the morning progresses it’s a God inspired play of nature, with the fog retreating, exposing creation in all of it’s glory. I’ll take a ticket to that show any time!
Morning mist on Pillsbury Lake
After eating a warming breakfast of ramen noodles and canned chicken (couldn’t get pouches), and packing for the last time, we once again settled our minds and hearts as Paul read from John, “He said, ” I am The voice of one crying in the wilderness; Make straight the way of the Lord.”. That cry is as important today as it was for the Israelites in John’s day. While we wander a crooked path through the (West Canada Lakes) wilderness, it’s important that in our day to day lives we walk a path of “good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom”.
Parting shot – Pillsbury Lake lean-to
Our walk out could be summed up in two words: short and fast. We only had 3.5 miles to the trailhead, and most of that was either level or down-hill. We hit the trailhead and our vehicles somewhere around 11:00am. I had a low front tire on my truck, and a couple in the parking lot offered me their air pump. Turns out Elijah read WWTS in preparation for his trip into the West Canada Lakes.Thanks for the help brother!
I was really glad I had the opportunity to share this special area with the guys, and would absolutely return again. We hiked for 4 days, covering 22 miles and only saw the college students on day one, and one other camper on the last night. We passed absolutely no one out on the trail, and had the lean-tos to ourselves each night. If your looking to get away and find solitude and great scenery, this might be your trip.
As an added bonus, Brian Cummings put together an awesome video compilation of the trip. Enjoy!