Bankhead Forest Group Hang Trip Report 23-26 October, 2015

About twice a year we try to have a group in the Bankhead National Forest.  This is an ideal location because there is a large area to car camp for both hammocks and tents and we can also take small groups hiking in the Sipsey Wilderness during the day.

Wolfpen Hunter's Camp

Wolfpen Hunter’s Camp

I was so excited for this group hang until last week when I learned of a fire in the area. Conditions have been very dry without any rain in the forecast and a fire had been reported burning in the middle of the Sipsey Wilderness.  From my understanding, there are limited actions that can be taken in a national wilderness – even when it concerns wildfires and I was concerned that this would have a large impact on our plans. A flurry of messages was exchanged, a scouting trip was conducted, conversations were held, and the decision was made to go forth as planned.  I am so glad that decision was made as we had a great time.

Of all the people attending the hang, I live much, much, closer than most (maybe the shortest distance?) and when I finally arrived at Wolfpen Hunters Camp on the south side of Cranal Road, I was greeted by several that had driven much further than me but had beat me to the group hang by several hours. Greetings were exchanged, gear was set up, and much relaxing was done while others continued to flow into the area. This process (arriving, greeting, setting up, and relaxing) was the theme for much of the weekend. We also had several tents in the area as the Wild South volunteers also set up there for the weekend. In fact, a fire ring was removed from under one of the Wild South volunteer’s hammocks and moved a short distance and we also ensured that all combustible materials were raked a good distance away from the area.

As we sat around a SMALL campfire, most of us caught up with the others we have not seen in many months while other new friendships were made.  Of course, many jokes, stories, and maybe a couple of lies were told as the night progressed. Many of us were also initiated into the “Roasted Peep Society.”  Instead of roasting marshmallows, hold a marshmallow Peep over the fire until the sugar coating on the outside begins to melt.  Remove it from the heat and blow on it.  The sugar will caramelize but the inside is still melted.  They are pretty yummy.

We were also treated with “Tales from Thomas” as he spoke of the history and stories of the area as he has learned from relatives and others that have lived in the area for many years. He grew up in the area and spent much time in the woods as a child.  He also has relatives that actually lived there before it was Bankhead National Forest. By speaking to this generation, he has learned much of the history and things to see that are not labeled on any map. Sadly, much of this history is being lost as the older generation perishes and should be captured in some form while there is still time. But I digress…

Friday night was cloudy with a very small chance of rain – so I decided to sleep without my tarp which was something I have never done before.  I kept hearing about how great it was to sleep tarpless, but I have never tried it. All was great until I woke up to the sound of a very light rain.  I hopped up and slid the tarp out of my snake skins and quickly staked it out.  Of course, the rain did not last very long, but I left the tarp up the rest of the weekend.

Early Saturday morning the light rain had stopped and people slowly wandered to the group gathering area for coffee and breakfast.  We were glad Kirk and Austin were there the night before, but sad to see them leave and think football was more important than a group hang.  We did manage to take a group picture before they left, though.

Saturday Morning Group

Saturday Morning Group

Since most of the Sipsey Wilderness was closed due to the fire, a “meeting of the minds” was conducted and a plan was made for some sights to go see.  Just as we were about to leave, we had a VERY SPECIAL guest – our very first female participant of the Bankhead Hang.  (Go Charlotte!)  Just to note: any female is welcome as we do not discriminate whatsoever, but for some reason up to this point all of our participants have been male.  Once again, greetings were exchanged, gear was set up, and then we loaded up for our adventure. What an adventure it was!

Just down the road from Wolfpen and a very short hike, we came upon a concrete “dipping vat.”  These are located throughout the area and were built by the government in the early 1900s to “dip” the cows in order to control ticks by mostly an arsenic solution (doesn’t that sound healthy?).  This one was dated 1919 and there was also an old well nearby. Hopefully the well was used to fill the vat, and not drink from since it was very close to the dipping vat.

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Our next adventure was further down the road and we followed Thomas and parked at one of many blocked/old roads in the area without any sign or description. We headed down the old roadbed “off trail” meaning this wasn’t a maintained trail, but you could see a resemblance of a trail from people walking the same path.

Old Roadbed

Old Roadbed

After some time, we went “off – off trail” meaning we were heading in a general direction without any trail whatsoever.  Downhill we went, playing follow the leader and picking our way through vines and thorns. After what seemed much longer than ¾ of a mile, we arrived at this huge shelter area where we enjoyed lunch.

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Deer tracks covered the soft ground and we spent some time taking pictures and enjoying the sights of the area. After lunch, we went just around the corner to another huge bluff, where it was sickening to see the destruction caused by people digging out the ground looking for artifacts.  Of course, this is illegal, but that doesn’t stop some people. Several of the locations in the area had been dug down to depths of six feet and there wasn’t hardly a single place under this bluff where the ground was level due to all of the digging.





We worked our way back to vehicle taking several breaks due to the nearly 300 ft. change in elevation – most of which was “off-off trail.”  We also stopped by Kinlock Shelter where a group picture was made, Native American petroglyphs were viewed followed by a stop by Kinlock Falls. I have been to these places previously, but for many in our group it was the first time.

Kinlock Shelter Group

Kinlock Shelter Group

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

While most everyone headed back to camp, Thomas was kind enough to show me a spring that I had asked about on a map. You wouldn’t find it by accident unless you were REALLY lost and I wouldn’t drink out of it, but I’m always interested in different areas I find on the map and was happy to find this one.

Old Spring

Old Spring

Saturday evening the world renowned “Hate Beans” were made, consumed, and appreciated by all.  A huge “thank you” goes out to Todd for making them for us.  I think they should be called “Love Beans” because there’s nothing to hate while you are eating them. Another night of sitting around the fire hearing a few more jokes, stories, and maybe a couple of lies as we enjoyed the evening.

Sunday morning was different than any other morning I have EVER had while in the woods.  First, a cell phone went off.  Not once, but twice.  OK, someone had an alarm set and forgot to turn it off – but we won’t mention any names, will we Wayne?  Then, as the Wild South volunteers got up, a car alarm went off.  At that point, I just got up as it was after sunrise and I knew I wouldn’t be going back to sleep.  THEN as I was enjoying my coffee and the somewhat stillness of the early morning, I hear a guitar and someone singing.  Then a harmonica. Now, I’m not against music by any means, but before 7 in a crowded campground MAY not be the time or place.  Maybe it’s just me….

A light rain moved in and the forecast was for more rain.  That’s great for the forest fire, but not so great for hiking.  People began to pack up and leave.  Goodbyes were exchanged and the crowd dwindled while the rest of us sat under the large tarp enjoying the company and not really wanting to leave.  After a couple of hours, we all decided it was time to leave, so we packed up, ensured the fire was completely extinguished, and said our final words until next time.

Oh, and the fire in the Sipsey Wilderness? We didn’t have any smoke in our area until Sunday morning and I couldn’t smell the fire until I was on my way out after 11 am on Sunday.

There was also a rumor of a Bankhead Winter hang in a few months – possibly late January.  Keep posted for details and I hope to see you there.

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Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve

I had the pleasure of hiking at the Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve in Northwest Alabama this past weekend. This place is amazing for several reasons.

One of the reasons this place is amazing is the scenery.

The Preserve is situated around a complex of small sandstone canyons in the upper portion of the Cane Creek watershed of the Tennessee River basin. The area has rugged topography that includes a number of waterfalls, creek cascades, boulder fields, and rock shelters. The hiking trail that descends to the main Cane Creek Canyon has approximately 350 feet of elevation change from ridge top to creek level. It is listed as “moderate” in difficulty. 15 miles of marked and maintained trails lead the hiker to scenic canyon overlooks, rich wildflower areas, creek access points, pioneer cabin sites, and other natural, cultural and archeological features.

Another reason this place is amazing:

The 700 acre privately protected and maintained scenic natural area is open year-round during daylight hours at no charge for hiking and other outdoor educational and recreational activities…. The property has been granted official status as a nature preserve through a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy of Alabama.

The very friendly couple that owns this property is amazing. When you arrive, you must sign in and then sign out when you return. Laminated maps as well as trail/geology descriptions are available where you sign in (and on the Facebook page). There are hiking trails for all ages and fitness levels. Water stations and privies are located throughout the preserve and are labeled clearly on the map. Benches are located in various locations if one needs to rest a bit. Of course, “Leave No Trace” principles apply to all visitors. Camping is only allowed for groups such as Boy Scouts or other outdoor educational activities – it’s best to contact them with questions prior to arrival about camping.

The REAL reason this place is amazing is it is a beautiful, privately owned preserve. The trails are very well maintained, and while not “blazed,” every intersection is very well labeled and very easy to follow. The preserve is always open (during daylight hours) and doesn’t charge admission. No donation bucket is visible, but the owners may take a donation if offered. I know I wanted to contribute after seeing the beauty of this area and how well it was maintained and organized.

As of 10 October, 2015, a bridge was out on the main road coming from the highway, but they offered an easy to follow alternate route that took me straight to their location. If you are headed that way in the near future, that is something to keep in mind. Here is their address: 251 Loop Rd, Tuscumbia, AL 35674.

All quotes are from the “Friends of Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve” Facebook Page (

I will be going back in the near future. This place is amazing!

Here’s just a sample of the scenery available.





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One Hundred

This was written four years ago while watching the sun rise from a hospital room.  I do apologize for the length, but read it all, please.  Thank you.

One Hundred. What is it? Is it just a number? Is it different than any other number? I mean, one hundred dollars really won’t set you up for life financially. Most people have more than one hundred friends on Facebook. Some people can hold their breath for more than one hundred seconds. Most movies are longer than one hundred minutes. So why is one hundred different? Let me tell you about a very special one hundred.

This story begins as a tale of two people. Although not related by birth, they had formed a special bond as “step-sisters,” and this is where our story begins. Skylar and Lauren had one of those love/hate relationships that was really all love – it was just too much fun to pick on each other. One would play jokes on the other, and the other would respond with a friendly insult or two. They grew so close that they referred to themselves as “sisters for life.”

On Friday, October 7, 2011 the story takes a turn, and this is really where the story begins. Skylar was taking Lauren to her car so they could both go to their respective jobs. This was probably something that they had done more times than they could count. It was just another day doing another thing that didn’t seem any different than any other day. They probably made plans for that night after work, or the next day, or even next week. I can guarantee that what happened instead was NOT in either one of their plans. It wasn’t in their friends, family, or community plans either. But sometimes things happen we don’t plan for or want to happen, and those things can turn your world upside down. This did.

Without giving the details (because they really don’t matter), there was a horrific accident. In that single vehicle accident were two very special people – Lauren and Skylar. Both Lauren and Skylar were ejected from the vehicle by the force of the accident. In the aftermath of the accident, two things were immediately clear. First, all of the plans they made were suddenly changed. Secondly, there were two very seemingly different outcomes of the “SFL.”

It seems that Skylar was killed instantly by the impact, and somehow Lauren’s life was spared. Why? I can’t understand the reason behind it. But I can explain what happens next. The normal accident things happen. Police and medical experts were called to the scene, and they probably responded and did their jobs like they do every day, repeating duties that they could repeat in their sleep. They were living their lives not knowing that they were witnessing the very beginning of something that can only be described as a miracle. I’m sure that there are aspects and things about this story that I don’t know. I’m just telling you my version and what I know.

So I’m eating a late lunch on Friday at 2 PM. My phone rings, and I receive the news of a wreck, and there are no details. I start praying because that’s all I know I can do. A few minutes later, I get another call and hear that Lauren is being transported by Med Flight. I work less than 10 minutes from the hospital – so I leave work, assuming we are headed to the same place. On the way I am praying because all I know is that there has been a wreck, and my daughter is in serious condition. I am in baby panic mode. I just need to see her and know how she is.

I arrive at the hospital, go to the emergency room, and inquire about Lauren. Of course I have to wait a few minutes. After what seemed like hours, they send someone out to get me, and they take me back to another mini waiting room. It’s just the nurse and I. She sits down, and I fear the worse. She informs me that Lauren in getting a CAT scan and that Lauren has multiple serious injuries, but that she is responsive. Another seemingly forever goes by and they come and get me to take me to Lauren. We meet in the hall coming from different directions. I will never forget the sight of Lauren when I first saw her. Daddies should never have to see their daughters like that. I go to her, touch the bottom of her foot – at this time the only area I figure is not hurt — and gently say, “Hey Lauren.” To my surprise, she looks over, sees me and replies, “Hey, Dad.” I ask her how she feels and how is she doing. Her reply is “I’m just chilling.”

“Just chilling?” Seriously? Does she know she’s been in a serious accident and ejected from the vehicle with injuries serious enough to require med flight? Does she know she is lying in an emergency room? Yep, she does. As the onslaught of doctors, tests, and activities ensues, one thing becomes very clear. Lauren has been blessed. I can’t explain why. I have more questions than answers. I’m hurting. In one way, I am so relieved, but at the same time in mourning for her best friend.

As the doctors and the results start pouring in, I am in shock. Lauren, who is “just chilling” has injuries that are unbelievable. She has a fractured skull, broken ribs – three of them — a broken collarbone, and a broken pelvic bone. Her liver has small tears, and she is bleeding internally, She has a bruised kidney and bruised lung. A small section of her lung has collapsed, her eye is nearly swollen shut,  and she has more scrapes and bruises than I can count. But then other results follow the initial report. EVERY injury that she has IS serious, but in some way it is “ideal.” For instance, you really don’t want a fractured skull. But if you HAVE to have one, you want one like Lauren has that is very small and can vent pressure as needed so to reduce the chances of surgery. The list and examples go on and on. The injuries – all of them – are serious injuries, but they have happened in such a way that they are the “best case scenario” for that particular type of injury. More results continue to come back and they are the same. It is serious. Many of her injuries could turn bad very quickly and require surgery, but right now, the doctors want to wait, see what happens, and do more tests. They inform me that about five or six hours after being admitted to the hospital, they are moving Lauren  to the surgical intensive care unit. She’s no longer a trauma case, but  she needs to be monitored very closely so she can be whisked away at a moment’s notice to the operating room if that is needed.

I have to leave my daughter’s side, knowing I won’t be able to see her for hours – and then only for a few minutes at a time. I’m hurting emotionally, and she’s hurting mostly physically, and we are forced to say our goodbyes. She tells me, “Dad, I’m gonna be OK – I’m a fighter.” I walk out into the waiting area and am shocked by the outpouring of love and support from friends, family, classmates, and community. It appears as if we are having a revolt in the hospital. We have taken over the place there are so many people there. We have our first visitation hours in ICU, and I go see Lauren. She already seems to look better. I tell her that there are tons of people outside that want to see her, and she says that she wants to see as many as possible. The nurses and staff are wonderful – they allow us some extra time to allow many friends and family to see her.

After countless visitors, it is time to do and witness one of the toughest things I’ve ever seen. After hours of her asking, Lauren is informed by Skylar’s Dad that Skylar did not make it. It wasn’t fun to see, and I can’t imagine what he felt when he had to tell Lauren. She takes the news in typical Lauren fashion. After a few tears, she starts making us laugh as she tells us of things that the two sisters for life had discussed.

I have a conversation with the doctor, and he gives me an update on Lauren. They are still very worried about the injury to her head and liver, but if everything continues as it has been, there is a possibility that Lauren may not have to have any surgery. None. This is almost unexplainable with her injuries. By Saturday morning, this is confirmed by the various specialists treating Lauren. She will make a full recovery, and I prepare for an extended stay at the hospital. As expected, the next few days are a blur: visits with friends and family, short visits with Lauren, and coordinating as many people seeing Lauren as possible because that is what Lauren wants. By lunchtime on Saturday, it becomes official – unless something drastic changes, Lauren should be able to heal completely without any surgery.

Every time I see Lauren over the next couple of visits, she shocks me. The rate at which she is healing is unexplainable – a word I have used a lot this week. By Sunday morning – IN THE ICU – I am told that Lauren will be moved to a normal room AND should be able to attend her best friend’s funeral. I am so thankful but absolutely shocked. Of course, the word spreads quickly, and Sunday is a flurry. Flowers, balloons, cards, pictures, friends, and family come pouring in – but just right so it doesn’t overwhelm Lauren.

On Monday as we are prepping to take Lauren on a very difficult trip, the doctor comes in, and we discuss the details. He gives me very direct and precise directions. I ask the doctor if there is a “curfew” or time she needs to be back. He looks at me and says, “I don’t know that she has to come back.” WHAT? Are you freaking kidding me? Unexplainable. We decide (actually Lauren decided) that it would be best to return to the hospital after the funeral for the night and leave the next day, so that’s our plan.

We take Lauren and she does great. Keep in mind, she has only walked to the bathroom from her bed – a distance of about ten feet – since being in the hospital. That is amazing in itself. She gets to the funeral and decides she is walking with her family, and she doesn’t need the wheelchair. And she does it. She walks in and out of the church and to the car unassisted (but with a very nervous dad watching very closely). Unexplainable.

By Tuesday morning I’m sitting here typing this as I’m watching my last sunrise from this room. I’ve had many conversations in the past couple of days and have seen many things that I don’t understand and can’t explain. They are truly unexplainable. Although this has been lengthy, it doesn’t even begin to include everything. It would take too much time but I can tell you this: I have seen multiple miracles in the past few days.

One hundred. What is it? It’s just a number. Why is this one hundred different than any other one hundred? Because God was in TOTAL control, and I saw how He can orchestrate the universe and use tragedy for His good. It’s something I have heard about over and over again, but when you see it, it is unexplainable. Everything that has happened since Friday afternoon has taken less than 100 hours. The effects of the past 100 hours reach much further than my family and my daughter’s friends. Their story has literally spread all around the world thanks to prayer chains and the internet, and the message it shares should not be taken lightly.

One hundred hours ago my daughter and her best friend were acting like they would on any other day. Since then, there has been tragedy, triumph, victory, and miracles beyond belief. One earthly body was lost while the other was protected from serious injury and injected with healing power that does not come from this world. As one wise man has said more than once – “I can’t prove it, but you can’t prove me wrong, either.” Lauren has endured more pain and suffering than I have ever endured while cheering those who come to comfort her. I have heard more laughter than tears.

In the past 100 hours, my daughter has healed at rates that are unexplainable. Medicine and science can’t explain it. Yes, God has given individuals the knowledge and skills need to test and treat the broken, and I really appreciate that. But in the big picture, the doctors have only run some tests and prescribed medicine. That is very important and I’m thankful, but THE doctor has done the healing. It can’t be explained any other way.

In the past 100 hours, I have seen relationships instantly healed where there has been years of bitterness. In the past 100 hours, I have seen a community realize that this world is not the prize and that this afternoon is not guaranteed. In the past 100 hours, I have seen the most perfect funeral where at least twenty people have made a decision to follow Christ and search for the real prize. I have seen how we are to take what this world gives us – imperfect and painful –  and filter it through God and reflect His Glory.

In the past 100 hours, I have felt the comforting effect of prayer more than I have at any time in my life. I know this situation has been soaked in prayer, and it shows. Yes, we will miss Skylar Ann Mays, and that hurts. But Skylar lives on. Her legacy and story continue. It has made eternal changes, and she’s up dancing and singing with God and rejoicing with us that we are here to share her story.

In the past 100 hours, I have been changed. We should all have been changed by what we have seen. That’s what Skylar would want. Her leaving this world for the next is painful, but in the end, it has brought healing, reconciliation, and more miracles than I can count, and it all reflects the awesome power of God.

Please don’t let your next 100 hours be like your last 100 hours.

Trust me, one hundred – it’s much more than a number.

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How NOT to pack like a Noob for an Overnight (or two) Backpacking Trip

During the first several backpacking trips I found myself digging through my backpack looking for an item that I “knew” was in there, but didn’t know where. Believe it or not, there have even been a few items that I thought I had packed but I had not, while having unnecessary duplicates of other items. I quickly realized my backpack was packed incorrectly – or at the very least – inefficiently. Hopefully what I share below will keep you from making some of the silly mistakes I made in the beginning. Also, if you have additional ideas or questions, please feel free to use the comment section. I welcome your comments on any of my posts. I like feedback!

First, make a packing list. This may seem too simple, but it’s really the most important step. It is important to write the list down and go over it several times (and even the next day) to ensure nothing is missed. One method is to make the initial list in chronological order from the time of getting dressed for the trip to the moment of return to the ride home. List EVERY item “skin out” (This means items things are worn/carried, not only the items put into the backpack.) Don’t forget emergency items such as a first aid kit and signaling devices. Some people chose to make a comprehensive list on Excel that can be easily adjusted according to the season and length of the trip and there are several web based programs as well. Either electronic method may be time consuming initially, but because the information is already assembled it is very quick and easy to plan for future trips.

If reducing your pack weight is an idea of interest, the first step would include buying a cheap digital scale and listing the weight of EVERYTHING on your packing list. This will be a huge assistance when cutting down the total pack weight – something that may be addressed in a later blog post. Another advantage to weighing EVERYTHING is knowing the total pack weight before packing the very first item. THAT’S helpful!

Second, (after the complete packing list is made) and just before starting to pack, gather everything together in one location and organize as much as possible, not forgetting to include carried/worn items in a separate pile. Basic categories such as Packing/Storage, Shelter, Cooking, Clothes, Tools, Health Items, Water, and Food are good basic categories to use. By looking at everything in categories, it has been helpful to remember items such as batteries, knife, light, etc and to ensure I only carry the items needed. Before the first item is packed, plan where each item will be located for the most convenient access at the needed time and always carry items in the same location unless you decide to make a change. This will reduce the amount of time spent searching for items when they are needed.

Third, pack in reverse order, checking items off the packing list as you place them in the pack. The items needed last (sleeping insulation, spare clothes, etc) should be at the bottom of your pack and the items that may be needed first/quickly should be on top or somewhere with easy access. Also consider the center of gravity of your backpack. Heavier items should be carried from the middle of your back toward your head packing it closest to your body within the backpack.

Finally, your packing list should be all checked with the exception hiking clothes and items not carried in the backpack. Be sure to check around and make sure nothing was left out.

Below is an example basic load and placement and are listed in the order of being placed in the backpack, from first to last:

Backpack: Ohm 2.0 with sweat bandanna on right shoulder strap

Pack Liner: Trash Compactor Bag. Everything that needs to stay dry gets packed in here.

Main compartment – (inside trash compactor bag)

  • stuff sack containing sleep shorts, sleep shirt, spare socks, and spare underwear

  • Top Quilt in stuff sack

  • Bottom Quilt (loose)

  • Hammock and suspension

  • If these are all the items that MUST stay dry, the trash compactor back is then purged of air and the top is twisted and folded over.

Main compartment – (on top of the sealed trash compactor bag)

  • Bag containing First Aid kit, Emergency signal device, Health and Beauty Aids, etc)

  • Food in a gallon Ziploc bag inside the Ursack food bag (with any hiking snacks removed)

  • Cook kit minus fuel

  • Rain gear/light jacket if needed

  • Tarp on very top.

Small mesh pocket inside pack

  • Small insect repellent

  • Fire kit

  • Head Lamp (unless dusk/night hiking)

Back mesh pocket

  • “poop kit” consisting of hand sanitizer and toilet paper/wipes in a waterproof bag

  • Tarp Stakes in bag

  • Map

Right Back Pack Pocket

  • Water bottle (Gatorade Bottle)

  • Refletix Sit Pad (secured by strings on the side of the pack)

Left Back Pack Pocket

  • Water Filter (Sawyer Squeeze)

  • Fuel (denatured alcohol in a sealed container stored in a Ziploc bag)

Right Hip Belt Pocket

  • Camera with Stick Pic

  • Compass (attached to pack)

Left Hip Belt Pocket

  • Hiking Snacks

Attached to outside of pack

  • Temperature Gauge (top left side)

  • GPS (top for best signal)

By packing this way, every item has a “home” and it is very easy to find. Also, all of the items that may be needed first/quickly are on top or easily accessible, while the items that won’t be needed until it’s time to set up camp are further down in the pack.

How do you pack? Suggestions? Comments?

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PADI Rescue Diver Class and real world application

In my never ending quest of learning and becoming a better SCUBA diver, I took the PADI Rescue Diver course several weekends ago. I learned and practiced skills that I hoped I never would have to use.

During the course, we learned self-rescue (don’t become another victim), recognizing and managing stress in other divers, emergency management and equipment, assisting tired divers, assisting panicked divers, and finding/rescuing unresponsive divers underwater.

Two of the things we learned (and practiced) were bringing a diver up from underwater and “towing” a diver in on the surface. I used both of these skills this past weekend. I’m sure I could have handled the situation without the training, but I was more prepared and confident in my ability to provide assistance and I reacted calmly and effectively because I knew what to do and how to handle the situation.

The first real scenario was diving with another diver for the first time. She had stated previously she was working on her buoyancy, but had done well during the dive maintaining the same depth and had stayed close to me the whole time. We arrived at the surface toward the end of our dive a short distance away from the exit point. We had been monitoring our air during the dive and I knew we both had around 800 psi remaining. Since I dislike surface swimming in SCUBA gear, I suggested we descend to around 10-15 feet and swim toward the dock and she agreed. As I descended, she passed me and descended to the bottom of the quarry – a depth of over 50 ft. I waited for her to establish her buoyancy and ascend back up to 15 ft.

I observed her at the bottom of the quarry. She was kicking quickly while remaining on the bottom. I knew with the amount of air she had remaining, her current depth, and with her physical exertion she would run out of air rather quickly if she didn’t ascend. I waited for a minute and she had not made any progress.

Was this situation life threatening? Probably not, but it could have been rather quickly considering the amount of air we both had remaining. As her buddy, I should have been within an arm’s reach in case she needed assistance. With these factors in mind, I made the decision to provide assistance. I used the training I obtained during the Rescue Diver course to act quickly, descend, assist, and we safely ascended to the surface where we swam back to the exit point.

Scenario number two was assisting a diver at the surface. She (another diver) had experienced a regulator malfunction while at depth and it (rightly) spooked her since this was not her normal regulator. She was shaken by the experience more than usual because during her last dive several weeks prior she had experienced a regulator malfunction with a different regulator set.

She ascended with another diver and was ready to come out of the water while he needed to remain with the other divers. She wasn’t panicked, but could use some assistance swimming in and could use some verbal reassurance. I was still wearing my wetsuit from the previous dive. Once I confirmed my intention to provide assistance, the other diver descended and I communicated with the diver on the surface while I put on my fins. I swam toward her on the surface communicating the whole way. Once I arrived at her location, I fully inflated her BC and used one of the towing techniques I had learned to bring her to the exit point.

Life threatening? Definitely not. But I knew how to handle the situation and had practiced the procedures for providing assistance at the surface and towing another diver and didn’t have to improvise or wonder what to do. Once again, because I knew WHAT to do, it made the process much easier.

So, do I consider myself some type of hero for these actions? Not in any way, shape, form, or fashion. I give all the credit to my instructor and the PADI Rescue Diver course for teaching me what the appropriate actions are and practicing them until they became second nature. Because I had the knowledge and skills, I knew how and what to do and it made these two situations second nature.

I am always striving to be better and SCUBA diving is not any different. I can always learn, improve, and be a better diver in the future than I am now. I highly encourage all divers to take the Rescue Diver Class as you will be more prepared and confident in your ability to provide assistance calmly and effectively should there be a situation when these skills are needed.

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My first DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Project – A hammock stand!

After reading about a portable and easy to make hammock stand, I finally decided to make one. There are several threads about this on – the original thread is here: There are many other threads that incorporate different options although the basic construction is the same. The advantages are that this stand is relatively light, easy to make, and the materials are affordable. There are also several disadvantages as well. It is not built for swinging in the hammock, it can be unstable in high winds unless staked down, and care must be taken (several methods are available) to ensure the legs don’t spread out too far because you will find yourself on the ground….

I am not a carpenter or handyman. My tool selection is rather small and this is actually the first thing I have made as an adult “from scratch.” So I did LOTS of research and planning prior to construction. Here is a list of the items I purchased from my local Lowe’s Home Improvement Store.


The cost of the materials was $57.31 not including tax.

I began by trimming each board to 7 feet long. While this is higher than the recommended length of around 6 feet, it gave me some flexibility when I use the longer pole (more on that later). I can always trim off the bottom of the poles if they are too long.

Once I had the poles the correct length, I marked and cut the angles for the ends of the boards. By using the correct angles, the poles support each other and do not allow the poles to spread out any further than the desired 45 degree angle. The end result is that the distance between the feet of the poles are equally spaced 5 ft apart and the angles between each poles are also 60 degrees each. By all the spacing and angles being the same, this spreads out the force equally. The two poles that rest against each other are cut at a 22.50 degree angle and the third pole that rest on the other two legs is cut at a 45 degree angle. That allows all three to fit snugly together.

1 2

I then marked and drilled the holes in each board to match up to the placement of the gate hinges. Having another set of hands and plenty of space makes this step easier. I first connected the two poles that rest against each other and then attached the third pole. (measuring and checking twice and drilling once was very important here). I did have to slightly enlarge the holes in the gate hinge with a 5/16′ drill bit to allow the bolts and quick link to easily fit through the holes. As a note, the bolts on the poles that rest on each other (the ones with the 22.5 degree cuts) do not need to be tightened too tight if you plan on transporting the stand as pivoting the legs become difficult.

Once each tripod was assembled, I attached the quick link to one of the holes in the gate hinge and used some spare cordage I had at the house and tied a loop using a blood knot. I then used the loop to form a prusik knot on the pole and used the quick link to secure the other end of the loop. The pole was then suspended under the tripod. It is important that the pole attaches directly underneath the hinge to keep the force directed straight down when weight is applied.

I then suspended my Warbonnet Blackbird ( by running the straps around the pole on the outside of the cordage and used a Dutch Clip ( to secure the strap back to itself. I tested outside on the grass just in case there was a failure. I slept in it several times and it feels very solid. After this picture was taken, I have sprayed the pole with flat black paint and also stained and sealed the wood just for appearance.


My original plan was to use two 6’ sections of top rail, but my local stores didn’t carry it in stock and I didn’t want to pay the shipping cost. The 10.6’ section works well for one of my hammocks, but is too short for my tarp (for outside testing) and my other hammock. I’m still searching for two 6’ sections for use with those items. By using two six foot sections, I can easily disassemble and transport in my car with the back seat folded down.

As a note, care must be taken that the legs are placed on a nonslip surface (in my case either grass or carpet). If this stand is set on slick surfaces such as concrete, tile, hardwood, etc, stress will be added to the tripod possibly causing failure. Some people suggest placing rubber chair/table tips on the ends of the poles to prevent this but I have been unable to find any the correct size.

If you decide to make one, PLEASE do your homework and research first. And of course, hang no further than you are willing to fall….

Posted in DIY, Hammock Camping, Report, Testing | Leave a comment

Video trip report 

Last weekend I went on a hiking trip and have already posted the written trip report from that experience.  I wanted to try a video trip report, so I filmed some footage and have edited it into my very first video posting.

You may see it here

Comments and suggestions are always welcome!

Posted in Backpacking, Hammock Camping, Hiking, Report | Leave a comment