Entries to Win Afghan

Sign up to receive the Books Leaving Footprints Newsletter. Comes out occasionally. No spam. No list swapping. Just email me! jhyshark@gmail.com Previous gifts include a short story, a poem, and coupons. Add your name, and don't miss out!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hanging the Cache

cache hanging in treeOne of the tasks that must be done in camp every night is to hang the food to keep it safe from the critters. In areas where there are a lot of campers, some animals have gotten smart enough to chew through a cord that you have tied off to an adjacent tree, thus releasing the whole bag to fall to the ground.

I've recently learned what is known as the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) method of hanging the cache which solves this problem. Today I wanted to be sure that it would work with an adaptation that we made a number of years ago after watching a red squirrel climb down the rope to reach our food bag (and he ate all the chocolate! Hey Ratty, maybe it was Mr Nutz's grandad). So we have been using a combination of a cord and a plastic-coated dog cable ever since then. The next day we watched the squirrel try to climb down the cable and learn that he could not hold on to it! We liked that!

So, the bottom line is that I made one adaptation today, but I will need to shorten the cable and lengthen the rope to make this really work, because the bag in this picture is only about 7 feet off the ground, which is not high enough. But a shorter cable will fix that, and we need a new cord anyway because this one is getting frayed.

Here's how it's done.

I use a bag for the food, a plastic garbage bag liner, an 18 foot dog cable (that I plan to shorten to about 13 feet) [EDIT- I shortened it to 7 feet], a 25 foot 1/8 inch nylon cord (which I plan to replace with 30 feet of cord) [EDIT- I chose 32 feet], a small red bag to store the cord, a keychain carabiner (does not need to bear weight), and a stick that I pick up each night.

Of course, you always look for a suitable cache tree near your campsite, but preferably not too near. It needs to have a branch that is at least 15 feet off the ground, strong enough to support the bag weight at a distance of at least 3 feet from the trunk of the tree. It should have no small trees nearby or leaning wood that small animals can run up to get at the food. I went to the cemetery to do this demo because there is a nearly perfect tree there. Perfect trees are found much less often in the woods!

rolled cable cable-rope joincarabiner

Here is the cable and the cord rolled for storage, but not in their small bag. I have tied the cord with a bowline to one end of the cable after sawing off the clip that used to be at that end. Then I taped the cable clamp and cable end so that there are no loose cable ends to catch on anything. At the other end, I've retained the clip that came with the cable (which will clip to the food bag), and added the carabiner.

clove hitch

Then I find a length of stick, about 1 inch diameter and 12-15 inches long. Here is another place where I differ from what many people do. Lots of people put a rock in a small nylon bag tied to the cord as a weight to throw over the branch. I'll tell you why I like the stick, and not the rock-in-a-bag in a minute. Then I tie a clove hitch around the stick, and I think it works best if the hitch is not right in the middle of the stick.

clove hitch on stick

I do this for two reasons. I think it is easier to throw the stick with the knot farther from your hand. But more importantly, if the stick snags on something it is easier to pull free if the knot is not in the middle.

So now I have a stick tied to a cord which is tied to a cable. I throw the stick over a tree branch (if I'm lucky, without too many failed attempts). The weight of the stick will carry the cord back down to where I can reach it again. (If it catches on the bark, I can usually keep flipping the cord and the weight will bring it lower with each flip). Here's why I like the stick with the clove hitch. Even if the stick gets caught somewhere, the clove hitch will eventually pull loose and you can get the rope back down. A camper convinced me to try the rock-in-a-bag method one summer, and... A tree in Wisconsin still has a very nice little nylon bag of mine with a rock in it caught in a fork. Do you know how hard it is to break even a thin nylon cord? Marie and I finally managed to break the string that was on the bag, but don't even ask how long this took...

OK, I now have a branch with a cord over it. Then I pull the cord till the cable is over the branch. Then I clip the little red bag on the end, pull it up just off the ground, fasten it loosely and go fix supper! So, you are wondering, "why the intermission?" Well, if we are cooking in the evening, we don't like to wait too late to hang the bag. It can be very difficult at dusk. So I do the cache tree as soon as we pick a campsite. By hanging the little red bag on it I can easily see where it is in the woods. Do you know how hard it is to find a rope hanging on a tree in the near dark?

first loop for the slipknotAfter dinner, all the food goes in the orange bag(s), lined with a plastic bag (scent barrier, water protection). Tie a knot in the cord of the bag. A slip knot will work if you make it the way I am showing here. Basically this just pulls the loop of the knot up from the string between the loop and the bag, rather than from between the loop and the end of the string. If you do it the ordinary way it will just slip all the way out to the end of the cord, lowering your bag considerably.

loop of slip knot ready to pull the cord throughslip knot completed

Then clip the food bag on the cable clip (not the carabiner). Pull the bag up. You want it to end up at least 3 feet from the branch, and 10 feet from the ground, but for now, pull the bag up to the tree branch. Slip the loose end of the cord through the carabiner. Take the stick (if you are doing this alone, you need to already have the stick at hand, in a pocket or something, because you are now holding the food bag in the air!) and tie a clove hitch around it with the loose end of the cord, as high up as you can (knowing the double loop method of tying this knot is very handy here).

Slowly let the cord out again until the stick lodges against the carabiner, which will hold the bag up high, and the loose end of the cord will just hang to the ground.

Here is the bag close up, with the stick lodged against the carabiner.

PCT cache stick against the carabiner

Here is the bag from a bit farther back. As you can see, there is no cord tied off to the side.

In the morning, just pull the cord to bring the stick back down where you can reach it, slip the stick out of the clove hitch, and lower the bag to the ground. Pretty slick, Slick! It was complicated to explain it all, but once you do it a few times, it becomes very routine. One of the first questions we ask when choosing a campsite is, "Is there a cache tree!"

PCT cache hanging

P.S. Shhhh.... it's my birthday

Hike Planning Report
Checked out all that I showed above.

Filled half the dehydrator, made another shopping list, and went to the store and bought it all.

And lest you think that bears aren't smart enough to figure out ropes, see So You Think Your Food is Safe


Julia said...

Happy Birthday!!!

And what a great gift to give on yours. Next time I have to store my food up I will use your tips.

Rick (Ratty) said...

Great tip! I love reading stuff like this. I knew about hanging the food from a tree, but I wondered what prevented any animal from climbing down the rope.

I wondered why Mr. Nutz was able to defeat me so easily. Grandpa Nutz must have taught him everything he knew.

Happy Birthday!

Grampy said...

Very interesting indeed. I'll have to tell my Father in law about the dog tie. You could hang a bird feeder from it too.
Thanks for the info.

rainfield61 said...

This is the very first time to know the trick. Your trip is not as simple as I think.

Shhhh, happy birthday.

WiseAcre said...

Happy Birthday, you thing from another world, you.

...Porky Pig

Nice Cache. If a squirrel can't get to it than I don't know what could.

betchai said...

is it your birthday? Happy Birthday.

I will forward your post to my cousin, this is very interesting. I know before they went backpacking and they forgot to bring a bear proof canister for their foods, they hanged their items on top of the tree like a hanging cache, and the night they felt the black bear visited them smelling their feet, in the morning, they found their cache no longer hanging the tree. am thinking they may have not hanged it properly or the bear just outwit them.

happy birthday again.

Sharkbytes said...

Hi all- outwitting the animals is important both to protect our own food, but when animals get used to free food from humans it leads to problems which may end up with the animal needing to be moved or destroyed.

Julia- use whatever you like... we think our methods are well tested!

Hi Ratty- most animals don't figure it out fast enough- one night in a campsite and then the bag is gone the next day. Mr. Nutz grandad lived in a very busy established campsite, and he had had lots of practice.

Grampy- I think that it might help with a bird feeder, but in a permanent set up wouldn't the squirrel just learn to jump to the feeder? Maybe a cable with a floppy baffle?

rainfield- Don't you have to hang your food there? No big animals that will steal it?

Hi WiseAcre- Wow, thanks for the compliment! I AM alien in so many ways!

Betchai- if they were camping in a popular location where the bears got used to people having food bags then only the very best bear canisters seem to be protective enough. If they were more remote, then they probably did not hang it correctly. Well, I've never had the bears smell my feet thank goodness! We once chased a bear off that had gotten a bag that I hung poorly! I learned my lesson that night.

Sharkbytes said...

And a big thank you to all for the Birthday wishes! I had an extra diet Coke to celebrate!