The First Real Shakedown Trip

This weekend, Ian and I went on our first shakedown hike together. Linda looked at the temperature and opted out. Once again, we kept it pretty simple. We drove out to the Berkshires and hiked from Jacob’s Ladder up to the October Mountain Shelter, a distance of about 7 miles. This was a nice easy hike and gave us an opportunity to check out some of our gear. A quick “out and back” overnighter.

Ian came out to Northborough from Boston Friday night and we packed our bags, then got up early on Saturday and drove out to the Berkshires. The drive out took much less time than planned, and then we hiked faster than I expected. Instead of arriving at the shelter at around 3-4PM, we got there just after noon. It was another nine miles to the next shelter, so we decided to stay put. That gave us about 6 hours to kill, so we spent the afternoon scrounging for deadfall and feeding a fire. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

The temperature was below freezing on Saturday, so the ground was frozen and “crunchy” with a light dusting of snow. It was easy to stay warm while moving, but the cold was noticeable if you stood still. The stream crossings were a little dicey as the rocks all had a nice coating of ice. The elevation was also minimal. It was about 1,000 feet up from Jacob’s Ladder, then merely a few hundred feet of up and down until the shelter.

It was a good opportunity to test out our cooking equipment. Ian brought a Jet Boil, while I decided I was going to fool around with my “back country boiler”. This is a cylinder that has a conical chimney up the center. It sits on a small fire tray and the water is between the outer wall of the cylinder and the chimney. You can burn solid fuel and also sticks and twigs. It holds about 2 cups of water.

I was thinking this would be my cooking gear on the trail next year. I could burn sticks I found at the campsites, and use the solid fuel tablets when everything was wet. It’s significantly lighter and a little smaller than the Jet Boil.

So.. we decided that afternoon to heat up some water for hot chocolate. Ian got out his Jet Boil and I got out my back country boiler. Things were going along pretty well. I got my little fire going and was dropping twigs and sticks into the chimney and dealing with a bit of smoke, but the water was getting warm.

Then I looked up and realized that Ian was sitting there drinking his hot chocolate and watching me work to heat my water. About ten minutes later I had my cup of hot chocolate (Ian had finished drinking his already) and as I drank it, I realized that I had dropped some pieces of stick and twig into the water as well as into the chimney.

As I sat there drinking my hot chocolate and spitting out little pieces of bark, I realized that while the back country boiler was kind of fun to futz with, it was going to get old pretty quick. Plus it rained Saturday night and the temperature warmed up to the mid 40’s so on Sunday morning everything was wet. No more dry twigs lying on the ground to use as easy fuel. I used Ian’s Jet Boil for my oatmeal on Sunday morning, and I think that is what I am going to go with on the trail.

Sleeping in the shelter worked out well. We’re both pretty happy with our bags and will probably stick with them. Ian wants to get a new pad, and some sort of lightweight tent. I brought my hammock, but decided to sleep in the shelter. I’m not to worried about shaking out the hammock as I have been using it for about 3 years and really like it. We both plan on replacing our packs and will do that in the next two weeks or so. We’re looking at Deuter and at Granite Gear.

Sunday morning was warm and wet. We packed up and as a last step went to filter some water – which led to this exchange:

“All we need to do now is get water” ( there’s a nice stream right next to the shelter).


“Can you get the filter?”

“I don’t have it, you do.”

“No, you packed it. I handed it to you to pack.”

“I thought you were just showing it to me. I didn’t pack it.”


“Well, I guess we’ll have to hold out until Dunkin’ Donuts. Good thing its only 7 miles.”

“Oh, here it is… I guess I did pack it.”

The names have been left off to protect the guilty. But, I guess we’re going to have to do better communicating next year.

Our next shakedown trip is in three weeks, and we’re going to do 5 to 7 days. We’re thinking of doing a stretch of the AT in Connecticut and New York. We’ll have to keep a close eye on the weather. A Nor’easter is headed this way tomorrow and they are predicting at least a foot of snow by Thanksgiving.

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