Gear Review 2: Hammock / Hammock Camping
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Luke Sierrawalker Team Spiderbark
Begins: Jun 2, 2012
Date: Sun, Nov 25th, 2012
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While out on the pct I've camped every night in my hammock, with two exceptions only (see below), and even during a lot of resupply stops. Even though I had set myself the challenge to spend every single night in the hammock I had secretly expected much more difficulties than I've actually encountered. Therefore my verdict is that for the most part the pct is very well suited for hammock camping.
The following might give future pct hammock campers a better idea of what to expect and how I've been using my hammock (an unofficial ultra light version of the Exped Ergo Hammock that is pretty much the same as the version available, except for lighter fabrics and a smaller fly. It's weight is about 2 pounds including ropes and fly). I hope there will be an ultra light version of this hammock available soon, so that more hikers might enjoy it's comfort and the benefits of hammock camping on the pct.
To me one of the most handy features of the Exped Ergo Hammock has been it's extraordinary flexibility in regard to places where you can suspend it. This is due to the fact that the ropes are fairly slack (that is there's not too much horizontal tension) and are attached above your head. That means for one thing you can also use thinner trees and branches (such as Joshua Trees or tall Manzanita bushes in SoCal) and for another thing you can also suspend the hammock on a single tree (between two branches or on one overhead horizontal / not significantly upwards pointing branch). Also, there's a pretty wide range of spacings between attaching points that are suitable. I can honestly count on one hand the places where it's been challenging to find a camp spot; mainly I've just camped right where I was tired in the evening next to the trail or where my tenting buddies found a flat spot.
The Ergo Hammock currently available in stores might be considered too heavy by most aspiring pct thru hikers, but there's a chance to save weight by not carrying a pad (and possibly a ground cloth). I've been using the frame / back padding of my ULA Epic backpack in combination with my down jacket as insulation material inside the pad sleeve of the hammock, and that has worked really well (I've stayed reasonably warm at sub freezing temperatures, using a -5C / 23F rated down sleeping bag). Besides, it makes it a lot easier to get out of the sleeping bag on a frosty morning if you can pull out a pre-heated down jacket from underneath! I've usually hung the dry bag of the Epic with my gear and food onto one of the hammock ropes (secure from critters, plus the shaking of a bear getting at my food would have woken me up, I guess), while the frame has been in the pad sleeve of the hammock.
I think I've enjoyed extraordinary sleeping comfort on the entire journey and a lot of freedom in regard to campsites to choose from. Setting up my camp has usually been just as fast or faster compared to tents, except maybe when I've had to use the tarp / rain fly. That one takes a bit of time with unfavorable surroundings, and I haven't been carrying stakes, thus have had to hammer in pieces of wood in places with a lack of other attaching points (such as roots, surrounding trees and branches). But really, I've pitched the fly on maybe 5 or 6 nights in 4.5 months!
A lot of hikers have anxiously asked me "what are you going to do in the Sierras?" and "how are you going to sleep in the desert?" when I mentioned my hammock camping in Oregon. After having hiked those sections I can say the following:
This has actually not been too challenging a section at all, though there are some stretches with no camping opportunities (that is similar for tents, though, in the rocks and boulder fields). Places not suitable for hammock camping (above tree line or otherwise treeless) were generally restricted to a couple of miles before and after the passes. In the worst case this would require a little bit of scheduling or some extra miles down to the tree line. But for some reason we always got below tree line at the end of the day anyways, so for me this was not an issue.
One of the two nights not spent in the hammock has been in the Sierras, though, and that was on the side trip to Mt. Whitney, where we camped at Guitar Lake at the base of the mountain, which is just above tree line. It would be well possible to camp at Timberline Lake, one mile further down the trail (though camping is not permitted there) or halfway between those lakes in the steep boulder field with the last trees. But my hiking buddy couldn't camp there with his tent, thus for the sake of an early start for the summit together I got asylum in his tent.
Actually there is no real desert along the pct (just some semi desert and chaparral) and my guess is that probably more than half of this section is somewhat forested (Tehachapi, San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains, as well as around Mt. Laguna). Even at lower elevations, below the forest, there are plenty of trees down in the canyons (Deep Creek, Mission Creek, Agua Caliente Creek, Long Creek, Hauser Canyon and some more) with excellent hammock camping opportunities. Therefore, for the most part of this section there might just be some scheduling or some additional miles required (bear in mind, though, that as southbounders we've been doing 25 miles a day on that section; it would be trickier if you do significantly less). Oftentimes hammock camping opportunities are around 20 miles apart (see list below).
I had to experience the indignity of sleeping on the ground the second time at Sunrise Trailhead between Scissors Crossing and Mount Laguna. There were no trees there but I spotted something that looked like a cattle yard and under normal circumstances I would totally have suspended my hammock there. However, due to a pretty severe snow storm there was no camping whatsoever and we sought shelter in the outhouse...
I tried to recall good hammock camping areas in southern SoCal, hoping this might help future hammock hikers (in a northbound order, with Halfmile's mileage):
16 Hauser Canyon
20 Lake Morena Campground
24-27 Cottonwood Valley and Boulder Oak Campground
37-38 Long Canyon
40-49 Mount Laguna area
53 Pioneer Mail Picnic Area
77 Scissors Crossing
101 Barrel Spring
108-109 Canada Verde Canyon
111-113 Agua Calliente Creek Canyon
115-116 Agua Calliente Creek Canyon
120 Lost Valley Spring
126 some trees right next to trail
128.5 some trees
140 Nance Canyon
152 trees near hwy 74 and Paradise Valley Cafe
168-194 San Jacinto Mountains, on and off
219 Whitewater Canyon at the Preserve
226-308 Mission Creek Canyon pretty much to Deep Creek Hot Springs, on and off
314.5 Deep Creek Canyon
317 some trees
329 Cleghorn Picnic Area
335.5 some trees in Little Horsethief Canyon
342 Cajon Pass
362 northwards, with a few extended treeless areas around Agua Dulce, Antelope Valley and Tehachapi Pass to Kennedy Meadows.
This list is not complete and most likely contains some errors, but might give you an idea.
Resupply stops where I camped in the hammock as well were the following (southbound order):
Elk Lake Resort (stealth camp)
The Callahan's Lodge (in their gazebo, very comfy!)
Burney Falls Campground
Drakesbad (stealth camp)
Chester (stealth camp)
Sierra City (in the backyard of the great Red Moose Inn)
South Lake Tahoe (at the Campground by the Lake)
Mammoth Lakes (at the campground in town)
Kennedy Meadows (at Tom's place)
The Andersons (in the manzanita forest in their backyard)
The Saufley's (between two beams)
Idyllwild (at the campground in town)
No matter your style of camping on the pct you will sometimes be obliged to search for a suitable spot. With a tent / tarp you are restricted to level and flat spots, with a hammock to trees / sturdy bushes. But I think overall with a hammock you have more options, with the exception of SoCal.
Luke's Little PCT Journal
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. The PCT passes through 6 out of 7 of North Americas ecozones.
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