Big Bear equipment shake-down

After the completion of our quilt, we had finished our three-piece ultralight equipment extravaganza, which also included the Tarp and the Net-tent for bugs. These were all designed by Ray and Jenny Jardine, ultralight backpacking and Pacific Crest Trail experts.

Now we had to try out our new gear, but where to go? The possibilities were limitless, with Simon’s new backpacking library full of options (as well as Jess’s book – Day Hikes in Los Angeles).

We wanted to get on the Pacific Crest Trail as soon as possible but at what point and in what capacity? With Gabriel at 14 months, we knew we had some limitations. Not having camped with him yet, we were unsure of whether or not he would enjoy himself. We were also treating this as an equipment shakedown, to understand how our new gear worked.

So we settled on car-camping at Big Bear Lake, CA, at the Pineknot Campground on the southern side of the lake. On the northern side is a trail Simon wanted to try called the Cougar Crest Trail, which crosses the Pacific Crest Trail.

Our camp
Our camp

Right at nap-time, we installed Gabriel’s new front facing car seat, and headed off on our journey to Big Bear Lake, arriving at about 1pm. We travelled through the vast, depressing city of Los Angeles and neighboring sprawl before turning on to the 330, which winds its way up the 7,000 feet plus to Big Bear Lake.

We got lost but eventually found the campground, and checked in. Much to our surprise we had scored a terrific campsite in a no-vacancy campground due to a last-minute cancellation.

Gabriel pushing the stroller in the forest
Gabriel pushing the stroller in the forest

While Gabriel played, engrossed by the car door and wheels, we took turns scouting for good places to camp, keeping in mind our need for soft, level ground, privacy if possible, and nearby trees to pitch the tarp if possible. We laid out the groundsheet in a couple of different places and took turns laying down on it to get an idea of the vibe. Pineknot Campground is mostly on sloping ground, so our eventual site choice had a bit of a slope but not that bad.

We set up the tarp, using our garden-shop bamboo ‘trekking poles’ for sticks where needed. It came up beautifully and we all took turns admiring our DIY glory.

Tuna casserole rehydrating
Tuna casserole rehydrating

The next exciting experiment we had planned was to test out our first dehydrated meal, a Tuna Casserole (a recipe passed down by Simon’s Mum). Weeks before Simon cooked up a large batch and tossed it in Jess’ dehydrator over night. The result was a sort of breakfast cereal version of tuna casserole: large dry flakes accompanied by bits and chunks of peas, carrots and brown rice. It smelt terrific even though it was dried and we had high hopes. Now was the time to taste it and we were both excited and scared.

Jess set up our trusty stove and set out to rehydrate it. Just covering the tuna casserole with water she set the flame to high and watched the pot come to a boil while she stirred in her hopes and dreams for a delicious meal. About 20 minutes later it was done and it was absolutely delicious!

The full setup
Tarp, net-tent and quilt

Then as the sun began to set, Gabriel had a last play with the car while Simon cleaned the dishes. Then Jess took Gabriel to the tarp to get him prepared for bed, followed shortly thereafter by Simon. Surprisingly Gabriel had an easy time falling asleep and had a pretty normal night. Surprising because the campground was very noisy with stereos, loud partying and general people having a good time. We were in bed at 8pm so we didn’t mind, and everyone seemed to quiet down by 10pm or so.

At 5:55am Gabriel demanded to be returned to the car to continue learning about all the buttons, wheels and panels. Simon obliged while Jess set up the stove for some fresh-brewed coffee. Since we were car-camping, one of the cheats we allowed ourselves was a proper French press-style coffee in the morning. What luxury! Combined with the pre-mixed oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins and we really enjoyed our hearty breakfast.

Gabriel and Jess kept exploring the car while Simon broke down the tarp, net-tent and sleeping quilt. Major success! We were very warm in the quilt, both having to kick off our socks and sleeping in pants and t-shirts. The temperature didn’t really get that low but it felt great to be toasty warm in our home-made equipment.

Father and son
Father and son

After camp was packed, we headed out to the Cougar Crest Trail so we could hike the 2 mile trip to the Pacific Crest Trail junction. We made it up with Gabriel inside the baby carrier pretty much the whole way, passing hordes of what sounded like Korean tourists who were having a fantastic time, each carrying expensive trekking poles, GPS receivers and radios.

The hike was beautiful. When we reached the PCT we took a quick look around and then settled in for a snack. We heard some clip-clopping and down the path came two guys riding huge horses and a pack-mule. They stopped and we had a chat about the condition of the trail, Gabriel staring at the enormous creatures.

On the way down Gabriel must have walked about 20 minutes, enjoying every moment of it until Simon said, “you know, you can sit down and have a rest whenever you want, right?” Gabriel stopped at the next shady spot and pointed at the baby backpack carrier, so we put him back in and had a very good walk back down to the car.

Gabriel and Jess trying out the tarp

Things we love about our new home-made gear:

  • Lightweight yet still sturdy enough for a toddler
  • Sets up with available trees / rocks / sticks
  • Completely unique at normal campsites
  • Incredible ventilation – the breeze blows through the tarp and netting
  • The “Draft Stopper” strip on the quilt, as well as the foot box both exceeded our expectations
  • Dehydrated food was very light and quite decadent, considering we were camping

Things on our list for next time:

  • Lighter sleeping pads
  • A way to get the bear canister to strap on the outside of the pack
  • Thermal underwear
  • Rain clothes for everyone
  • Sun-proof breathable clothes for Gabriel
  • New shoes for Gabriel
  • New lightweight breathable clothing
  • Warm hats
  • Sewing kit and silnylon repair kit

All in all, we were very happy and the trip was a huge success. We felt very connected with our equipment and it felt like a real achievement to have built our own gear. Next we are hoping to actually hike some of the real PCT without the aid of a car!

On the PCT eating an apple
On the PCT