Dropping the eco-ball: camp stove manufacturers

I’ve camped with folks who really love the JetBoil system. Others have endorsed JetBoil’s products online. It’s true that the JetBoil stove can certainly can put a hot steaming mug of caffeinated goodness in one’s hand very quickly on a cold morning.

However, the JetBoil system uses a proprietary propane/iso-butane fuel mix; on their website, they state “we cannot claim safe operation with any canister other than our Jetpower brand of fuel.” A closed, proprietary standard, to be sure.

Strike One.

Their fuel canisters are not refillable, either, being designed only for one-time use. Yes, they are recyclable, but who among us knows off the top of their head where they can go nearby to recycle these canisters? This type of helpful information does not appear to be present on the JetBoil website.

Strike Two.

Landfills: let's not fill 'em up so fast.

Landfills: let’s not fill ’em up so fast.

Years ago I made a commitment to not buy disposable/nonrefillable products if there were alternative products available. Products that are disposable or are not designed to be reused merely clog the landfills and enlarge the aggregate ecological footprint, our per capita impact on the Earth.

Therefore, when recently replacing my trusty old Coleman stove, I did not purchase a JetBoil system.

I wrote to the JetBoil folks and asked the question, “Do you plan to produce a fuel canister that is refillable and/or can the JetBoil connect to a larger fuel distribution system such as a one-gallon propane tank?”

This morning I received the following response from Kristen Headley at JetBoil Customer Service:

“At this time our canisters are not refillable. However the canisters can be recycled anywhere that will recycle steel products. When recycling we do recommend that you puncture the canisters before sending them to be recycled. This can be done with a common can opener.”

Ms. Headley’s response is quite disappointing, if not also shocking. It tells me nothing that I don’t already know, plus it evades my question. Apparently JetBoil does not plan to adopt a universal system that allows for reuse. It is also not clear to me why I should puncture the fuel canister prior to recycling. Quite frankly, the last thing I’m willing to do is to puncture a pressurized fuel canister. In fact, the Northeast Recycling Council, a non-profit organization, advises the public that “The individual consumer should never attempt to puncture, incinerate or otherwise vent [a] fuel canister except through its normal intended use.”

The NERC goes on to state, “…the canister may be recycled in some communities if accepted in the recycling program or at the household hazardous waste collection site.”

Grabbing pine (keeping the bench warm), when we should be on the field.

Grabbing pine (keeping the bench warm), when we should be
on the field.

Strike Three. YOU’RE OUT!!!  (Go grab some pine, meat.)

There’s two big ifs wrapped up in this problem of recycling nonrefillable fuel canisters. Most people will have to drive to one location to buy their proprietary one-size-does-not-fit-all fuel canister, then drive to another location to recycle those same canisters — if they can find one within a reasonable distance and if that recycling location accepts spent fuel canisters. (Only 1 in 6 recycle centers does so within 50 miles of my home.) To say nothing of using more gasoline to accomplish these tasks, most people will, I’m afraid, just throw their spent canisters away, thereby adding to the landfill problem.

Until JetBoil and other campstove manufacturers adopt product policies that incorporate zero waste and a more open design approach to fuel type, canister reuse, and fuel distribution systems, I cannot in good conscience buy or endorse their nonrefillable products.



October’s Mt. Shasta Ho-Down: Distilled Spirits

Hiking, mountaineering, fishing, camping, food, wine, and blogspeak. Not to mention miles and miles of driving and flying – for all of us except Tom C., who lives (no, exults!) upon the proud flanks of Northern California’s premier volcano, Mt. Shasta. That’s what’s in store for us outdoor scribes one juicy weekend next month.

Wait a minute – blogspeak?

Well sure! After all, we outdoor bloggers have to have something in common to talk about.

The 1st (Known) Outdoor Bloggers Conference, October 2006 (where @winehiker elects himself camp cook because, presumably, he doesn't want to eat Moose Turd Pie).

The 1st (Known) Outdoor Bloggers Conference
♦ October 2006 ♦

(where @winehiker elects himself camp cook because, presumably,
he doesn’t want to eat Moose Turd Pie.)

We’ve been lurking on each other’s blog sites. Heaven knows why. But now we’re enjoying a rather spirited excitement about our pending rendezvous.

Why are we planning a rendezvous? We don’t really know that, either. But I’m sure we’ll figure it out, and have a lot of good outdoorsy fun doing it.

What follows is a boiled-down slumgullion from our recent correspondence. Call it “collected threads from us bloggerheads.”

Tom M. of Two-Heeled Drive: Hey Tom, we need some advice on the environs around Shasta. What can you tell us about fishing/hiking/camping locales around the mountain, and are any of these close enough to nearby trailheads that the mountaineers in our midst could still get in some time on the slopes? For now Horse Camp is OK, but we’re not averse to car camping.

Tom C. of Trout Underground: Horse Camp isn’t a wholly bad choice; no fishing up that way, but the hike in from the Bunny Flats trailhead is relatively easy, so people can come and go. And obviously, access to the mountain is pretty good. Downside is that leaving and going does require a hike in/out and a 20 minute drive to town.

There are many other choices. One good choice is Gumboot Lake, which offers campsites (car camping), good hiking opportunities, and (not surprisingly) a lake. Very pretty setting. I wouldn’t suggest this during the summer due to crowding, but think it might be vacant in October. It’s at the far end of a pretty little river canyon and is a bit farther from town than the 20-minute drive to the Horse Camp trailhead. Surrounded by ridges with nice views, lots of trees.

Hiking-type activities could include a hike up Castle Crags and even some climbing (5.6 or so) at the top. Obviously, there are a few bazillion other hikes available, but I lack the finger power to list them all here.

A couple other thoughts…

First, my house is on the road headed up Mt. Shasta, and – provided that eBomb guy stays away from the cats – bloggers are welcome to stop by and access the wi-fi broadband that permeates the place. (Naturally, all outgoing posts will be edited for [Tom] Chandler-friendly content.)

Second, I’m willing to host a barbecue here at home if it works out. Have Weber, will eat.

Third, I’m not sure if I’ll be camping with the group or out doing other things, but it sure would be nice to have a chance to talk blogging. You know, an opportunity for me to steal everyone else’s blogging secrets.

Finally, Chris Carr (co-owner of Mount Shasta Guides and monster telemark skier, mountaineer, etc.) will just be returning from a conference in Boulder, and has offered to help out or even meet up and answer questions about the mountain, and what to do in the area. That’s gold, baby.

Russ B. of Winehiker Witiculture: I’m with you, Tom Chandler. Winehiker does BBQ and talks blogging! “Gumboot Lake” sounds more quintessentially attractive to me, too, than “Horse Camp” which, to my mind’s eye, smacks of equine ploppage…

…well, I probably wouldn’t mind either place, just as long as there’s no turds in the middle of my Sa-turd-ay….

I’m also hoping to get an early start on the road Friday myself, since I prefer to have camp set up and dinner inside me before dark. I have room for one passenger plus gear; I have most camping equipment, including a 3-person tent, a brand new 1-gallon propane tank/2-burner stove combo. John [Fedak of fedak.net], since it would appear Tom Mangan is driving his own car, perhaps you and I can pal up together.

Tom M.: I like the idea of Gumboot lake, too. Any dissenters?

Tom C.: Are the mountaineering types on board with this? As much as I’m into comfort, I’d hate to unnecessarily deprive anyone of their chance to get mangled by falling rock while freezing to death.

Panther Meadows (campground high on Mt. Shasta) also offers the potential for car camping while still preserving the chance to freeze to death. (I’d have to check with the Forest Service to make sure it’s open.) Not quite the all-around site that Gumboot is, but better if you harbor a desire for hardship.

Finally, I understand someone offered to cook for us on Saturday night. Do we want to do that at Casa Chandler?

Adam M. of GoBlog: I take it you mean us [mountaineer types]. No problem. If we end up going, it will be a quick run up and down. Gumdrop sounds fine. Especially if I bring my boy.

Tom C.: OK. Gumboot it is. To create a little drama for your blogs, we can always photoshop a bear attack picture or something.

Russ: Tom C., how many driving miles is it from Casa Chandler to Gumboot Lake? I propose that it may be better, logistically, to assemble for BBQ at your place on Friday night and enjoy dinner in camp on Saturday.

For Saturday dinner (and after I get a hike in), I’m tentatively thinking of a Thai-style menu, complete with Dutch oven and garden-grown produce:

  • Baked Chili Fish with Fiery Thai Salsa (hint: this dish may contain freshly-caught trout)
  • Carrot Soup
  • Cucumber Salad
  • Ginger-Pineapple Noodles
  • Vino rosso (definitely NOT Thai-style)

Gosh, I hope that’ll do y’all. Comments? Questions? Aversions to food that isn’t brown or white? :)

Tom C.: Probably 20-25 minute drive. The Friday at Casa Chandler schedule works for me, though let’s see if there’s even support for the Friday barbecue. Could be the majority won’t make it.

The menu is OK, though you’ve made no mention of the pine needle garnish, dirt sauce, or mosquito sprinkles that accompany every outdoor meal.

I plan on liberating several float tubes (those inflatable armchairs used by fly fishers to nap in on warm days when they’re supposed to be fishing a lake). A hike on Saturday sounds like the group choice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sneak in a little fishing around the edges.

Still, keep in mind you’ll need a California fishing license if you want to fish, and they’re definitely NOT available up at Gumboot Lake.

Rick McC. of Best Hikes: Where do I sign up to become a “wine hiker”? (I was thinking bland dehydrated mashed potatoes.)

Just in case you one day want to take the meetup to Canada, certainly I would first suggest Mt. Assiniboine. You must hike or helicopter in to one of the finest vistas in the world. No road access. Accommodation is a choice of inexpensive rustic cabins, a lovely campground or expensive mountain lodge. Fine dining is available at the restaurant there. You would fly in and out of Calgary. Logistics are a breeze as this is such a popular tourist area.

Something to chat about over the Baked Chili Fish.

[Editor’s conclusion: apparently we’ll all find it convenient to forsake the hiking boots in favor of debauched and reprehensible float-tube stupefaction. Some may not agree with me, but it sounds better than Vegas.]


Bad wine, maybe, but good camp shower

Reuse, recycle. Party down, clean up. Novel idea!

Reuse, recycle. Party down, clean up. Novel idea!

I’ve just got to laugh at the ingenuity of bright minds. Along with how to make a Five-Cent Wedding Band and How to Get a Free Yacht, the Instructables collaborative website suggests that we can recycle empty wine bladders from boxed wines by turning them into solar showers that we can use to stay clean while we’re camping.

And that’s just one use. How about an inflatable pillow? A Camelbak-style water bladder? A sleeping bag insulator for homeless people? At the Instructables website, you can even find out how to clean a box-wine bladder and “get the funk out.”


Trailside crew brew

Enterprising though they may be, Starbucks has yet to figure out a way to bring their franchise to the trail.

May they never do so!

But heck, we coffee-guzzling wilderness lovers need not fret: now we can enjoy Java Juice which, according to their website, is “a pure coffee extract that turns into a bonafide cup of 100 percent organic, and certified Kosher, Arabica coffee when mixed with either hot or cold water.”

Java Juice: your main squeeze when in camp.

Java Juice: your main squeeze when in camp.

Kurt Rapansek of the National Parks Traveler explains:

…for those who need a punch of caffeine in the morning, one that actually tastes like a rich cup of coffee, Java Juice meets the need. It comes packaged in these little squeeze bags, similar, but larger, than the ketchup packets you get at fast-food joints. Each half-ounce packet contains enough coffee extract for a cup of coffee between 12 and 16 ounces, depending on how strong you like it.

I’m thinking I need to be rethinking my inefficient, very messy, and not-nearly-so-volumetric French press routine! But now all I need is a JetBoil system – one that doesn’t have throw-away gas canisters.

This post courtesy of ThisNext.com, which bills itself as The Best Show-And-Tell Ever.


Reaching the Pinnacles of early Spring

This past weekend, I led a group of hikers over the singularly unique trails of Pinnacles National Monument. There’s something about this place that attracted me – really gripped me – right from the start. Could it be the Spring wildflowers? Could it be the bat caves? Or, possibly, the chance to see California Condors on the wing? Maybe the wildlife, the chiseled trails, the far-off vistas? The tunnels, coves, grottoes and groves? Perhaps the rock itself?

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle's High Peaks.

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle’s High Peaks.

It is difficult to pick out any one thing about Pinnacles that makes it so attractive, but in combination, a weekend camping and hiking experience at Pinnacles is so magnetic to me that I can’t ever resist wanting to bring other people there to share the experience with me. And you really do need at least two days to experience the full magic of Pinnacles. So, for the 5th straight year, I reserved two contiguous campsites at Pinnacles Campground for a weekend of outdoor fun and frolic in this uncanny, holy place among the hoodoo rock.

The end of March is a fine time to be at Pinnacles, too, when the wildflower blooms are beginning to peak and before the heat of Summer arrives, which it always does at Pinnacles well before it hits the San Francisco Bay Area. Having chosen the last weekend of March each of these past five years, it has been interesting to note the differences in wildflower blooms from year to year. This year, the weather has been much wetter than normal, and as a result, the wildflowers at Pinnacles haven’t quite cranked up to their full showy potential.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t see them! In fact, many species of wildflowers were popping out there on the trails, beckoning to us to take a look as we passed by them. From buttercups to blue dicks, bush poppies to golden poppies, indian paintbrush to indian warrior, and purple lupines to purple witch nightshade, there were quite a variety of wildflowers to see – just not as many of them as I’m used to seeing.

But it’s only going to get better as the rains taper away and Spring gets more than just a foot in the door. I hope to return to Pinnacles in the next few weeks just to note the difference. If you can, dear reader, snag yourself a campsite and go there for a weekend, before the 90-degree days of late April begin to fade Pinnacles’ many blossoms.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.