måndag 31 augusti 2009

Pushing the limits - Using the Bushbuddy above the treeline

With a little practice using a woodburning stove in the forest should not be a problem in any weather. Above the treeline, in arctic conditions, it is a different matter.
Will you be able to make a fire in this surrounding? - Kåppatjåkka near Abisko

Before going on a trip to Abisko I did some research on this topic. The best resource I have found when it comes to firemaking in the arctic comes from Yngve Ryd. For several years he has interviewed Saami people from Swedish Lapland and documented their knowledge of fire and other topics. This has resulted in many interesting books on particularly sharply defined topics such as snow, predators and in this case fire: "Eld, Flammor och Glöd - Samisk eldkonst". Unfortunately, as far as I know, it is only available in Swedish.
For the Saami, making a fire was a matter of life and death. This is a very interesting book, not only for those interested in making fires, but anyone interested in Saami life in general.
As a complement to this book I also discussed with people on Utsidan.se to tap into their experiences and it turned out I wasn't the first one to use the Bushbuddy in the Scandinavian mountains. Harald Igesund in Norway told me he had used the Bushbuddy on several trips in northern Scandinavia and came with very useful advice. I was ready to give it a try (With my MSR PocketRocket as a backup.)
Experience report from Abisko and Hemavan
My experiences from last summers short trips to Abisko and Hemavan showed that the best fuels above treeline in order was:
1. Arctic Bell Heather
2. Dwarf birch
3. Crowberry
As a fire starter I used birch bark that I had collected previously, however I also once collected some cottongrass and used as tinder. It works well if you have enough of it and it's dry.
Arctic Bell Heather

Fantastic fuel - Burns like petrol (Well, relatively speaking)

This was the best fuel I found. However, I only found far up north near Abisko. It is also recommended as fuel in the arctic in John Wiseman's book on survival.
Dwarf birch
This is a very common plant in the Scandinavian mountains. It is present almost everywhere, except the high alpine areas. Birch branches contain some kind of oil which means they burn pretty well even when moist.

Dwarf birch (Picture taken by Kim Hansen, downloaded from Creative Commons)
Crowberry is even more common than dwarf birch. It doesn't burn as well though.

Black crowberry. take the dry grey branches. Photo by Ante Aikio from Creative Commons.

Other fuels

There are probably a lot of other fuels available. Willow will probably work very well. According to a Saami man in Yngve Ryds book you can even light green willow directly if slice it thinly. Juniper bushes should also be very good. The best bushes are often found next to rocks.

Beyond the limit

If you go really high up there is almost no vegetation at all available. For these circumstances you need to either bring fuel from the valley or perhaps use Esbits. Four small Esbits should be enough to boil 8dl of water. The pot stand on top of the Bushbuddy works quite well as an erzats Esbit stove. A big thanks to Harald Igesund for this valuable tip. In the future I will try to publish some pictures on this setup.

torsdag 27 augusti 2009

The Bushbuddy - Notes on fuel in the forest

Since I'm on parental leave (Or more correctly, completely busy taking care of my children.) it is only fitting that my first real blog post should be dedicated to one of my leisure time interests, lightweight backpacking , and more specifically to my favourite piece of gear: The Bushbuddy woodburning stove.

Warming baby food in Liljansskogen, Stockholm. Even a trip to a park can become a small adventure with the Bushbuddy.

Andy Howell comments on the site that it is the best piece of gear that he has ever bought. I agree with him. I am an incurable firebug and the Bushbuddy allows me to make a fire almost everywhere with litte effort. There is something about making a fire that connects you with ancient man and fills you with inner peace. The idea behind this stove is that you can cook your meals using fuel that you collect in the surroundings, instead of carrying it with you. This can save a lot of weight if you are on a longer trip. You also save money since you don't have to buy fuel. In the long run this alone will pay for the stove. Weight and economical savings is not the main reason I like the Bushbuddy though, it is the pleasure I get from succeeding in making a fire in different surroundings, the joyful hunt for good fuels and the beauty of the double burning flame.
The Bushbuddy at work in the archipelago outside Stockholm

Fuels - my findings so far
The crux of the Bushbuddy is of course that you have to be able to make a fire, and the most important aspect of this is being able to find and prepare good fuel. Most people will find this a nuisance, I find that it is this challenge that makes it so fun to use the Bushbuddy. It takes experience and often some extra time. In wet weather it is of course extra difficult. To start with, a few basic rules can be useful:
  1. Use dry fuel - Obvious perhaps, but even with experience I often fail here if I'm short on time. It usually pays to look longer and find some twigs that are really dry.
  2. Use small size pieces in the beginning - This is always the best for starting a fire. Once the fire gets going you can switch to larger sticks.
Fuels in the taiga
I live in Sweden and mostly use the Bushbuddy in the forest. We have lots of spruce and pine and you can often find birch as well. With these trees around you really can't go wrong.
With spruce in sight a fire can normally be started within a minute or two, regardless of weather. Just take the dead "crispy" small branches that sit next to the stem of tree. They are normally dry even after days of raining. If sufficiently dry they can be lit with a match without tinder. Once this gets going, it normally doesn't take more than a minute, continue with thicker (Less than 1cm wide) dry branches from the spruce. One or two branches is normally enough to boil a liter of water. The disadvantage of Spruce is that the fire can throw sparks. This seems to be less of an issue with small twigs.
These small spruce trees are not very good as fuel, they are more adequate as christmas trees, but the roedeer is nice. An experienced hunter will also notice the antlers of the roebuck behind.
This is more like it. A hare sitting next to enough spruce fuel for a dinner for 10!
Pine is not as good as Spruce to start the fire, but it is better once the flames are strong. Again, collect the thinnest branches on the stem. These are not as well protected from the rain, so tinder is mostly needed. A special case of pinewood is the the so called "Fat pine". This is the king of all wooden fuels. A real pleasure to the senses. This is dry wood with a lot of resin in it. You can often find it in old dry stubs. The wood is slightly darker and has a nice turpentine smell. With a little whittling, you can make a feather stick with so thin "feathers" that it can even be lit with a fire steel. This requires a knife and some skill with the steel though. The dry pine cones are also excellent fuel and can be found a plenty when the weather is sunny.

Filip explores a small pine tree
Birch is a lovely tree. It's bark has had a multitude of uses in the Nordic countries. It was used for roofs, shoes, backpacks, kitchen utensils and many other things. There is even a special word for it in Swedish, "Näver". Selling birch bark on rolls was even a major source of income in Swedish Lapland. It is the best fire starter that I know of. Just be sure to take the bark from dead trees, otherwise you damage the tree and it gets an ugly black mark, if it survives. When I find a good supply of birch bark I always try to stock up so that I'm sure to have some when I'm in a hurry next time. It does not weigh much anyway. Birch bark burns even when a bit wet, but is of course best completely dry. To use with a fire steel you need to rub the surface with a knife to make the sparks catch. Reasonably dry, thin, twigs also burn very well. They contain a lot of resin.
A mountain birch (fjällbjörk) near Abiskojåkkå in Abisko National Park, Swedish Lapland. Do not take bark from this one! It's alive! (It is not allowed to take bark from dead trees either in this national park.)
Leave no trace
Please keep in mind that making a fire and collecting firewood is not allowed in all places. Especially when the weather is dry it is often forbidden to start a fire, even in a Bushbuddy. You should only collect fuel from dead trees, and even this is not always allowed in some national parks. Please, DO NOT peel birch bark from alive trees. There are normally enough dead trees around anyway so you can get some from those.

onsdag 26 augusti 2009

The Bearable Lightness blog

At least two people have proposed that I should have a blog. That must mean that a large part of the world is hungry for my wisdom, so I guess I cannot disappoint them. Who am I then? I'm an engineer located in Stockholm with a keen interest in software, security and outdoors life. If you are interested in Lightweight Backpacking or Software development you will be able to find some of my thoughts here. I am lazy by nature and don't like to carry too much weight around, either symbolically, when it comes to overcomplicated software development or physically when lugging a backpack in the mountains. However, there is a limit to how light you can go in order to be comfortable and secure. This is what I call The Bearable Lightness. This blog will explore some of these limits through discussions on ultralight gear and ultralight secure software development methods.
I initially do not intend to blog regularly, but rather write something when I find that I get feedback from people that indicates that I should publish some of my thoughts.