How (not) to hang food

August 24th, 2009 by scott and becky

We awoke to a cloudy day with questionable looking weather, however, by the
time we finished breakfast the sun was shining. We were still moving pretty
slowly – with a late start and headwinds slowing us down.

By 6:45 pm, we pulled into the Bunnell campground at Atikokan. We must have
looked confused, since a friendly couple called over to us to offer a site
beside theirs. Just a patch of grass and a picnic table, but it was all we
needed. Later, we discovered that up to three tents were allowed per site,
so we decided to share a site with Wendy and Peter. This made for a very
cheap camping night, at only $5, including free firewood and nice hot
showers.

This also gave us a chance to visit with Wendy, Peter and their friendly
springer spaniel Casey. They had just returned from a 19 day trek into
Quetico Provincial Park, which sounds spectacular. Lots of little lakes,
fishing and beautiful solitude. Another inspirational couple; they retired
early and are spending much of their time in the wilderness of Canada and
the U.S.

As dusk approached and dishes needed doing, the mosquitoes came out in
force. This was the worst bought of mosquitoes we have experienced since
Labrador. Fortunately, we had the mosquito head nets.

We were slow moving when we awoke, and a heavy dew left everything quite
wet. We still try to avoid packing up the tent and tarp wet, which
definitely slows us down on a damp and overcast day. Our plan was for a
long ride, leaving only a short relaxing ride into Thunder Bay the next day,
but this wasn’t in the cards. A strong headwind and rolling hills made for a
very slow day.

Before lunch, we crossed paths with an Albertan couple riding a tandem.
Wendy and Andy were out for an afternoon ride, enjoying the quiet road and
pretty scenery. After sharing a few trip stories, we learned that there was
a restaurant up ahead that had free Wireless Internet. We had not
anticipated any services on the road, so the restaurant was a nice
bonus, and Internet meant we could let the people with which we are staying
in Thunder Bay know when to expect us. Of course Internet is always a time
sink, so we had a longer lunch break than originally planned.

With the slow going and clouds threatening to release some wet stuff on us,
we opted to pull into the Rest Area at Huronian Lake. It turned out to be a
nice little rest area – certainly adequate for camping for the night – and
the lake was not too cold, such that we enjoyed a quick dip to rinse the
road grunge off of us.

After dinner, we decided that we would try a new method for hanging food. In
the past, we haven’t had a lot of luck figuring out how to hang it high
enough – rarely succeeding in getting it more than 6 feet off the ground.
Finding a tree with a horizontal branch which is strong enough to hold our
food, cooking gear and toiletries, and is at the correct height always
proves problematic.

In our latest method, if you can find trees the right distance apart, the
branch height is almost immaterial. Here
is how we did it.

What you need:
2 pieces of line long enough that one line will go up one tree to the height
you need, across to the second tree, and back down, plus have enough spare
for tying down. So, let’s say the hanging height is 4 meters, and the trees
are 8 meters apart, you would then need at least 4×2+8=16 meters of line.

1 pulley wide enough to fit the line. (In a pinch, a loop tied in the rope
will work, but the pulley makes things much easier when dealing with heavy
bags).

1 square shaped rock about 2 inches across – in a pinch a round rock with
do.

The procedure:

1. Identify two trees between which you wish to hang food. Ideal trees are
about 2 meters apart and have solid branches 4-5 meters high.

2. Take one line (line A) and tie the rock around one end of it.
Caution: If you don’t tie the line to the rock solidly, the rock will
slip out of the line when tossed – possibly ending up in the middle of the
woods or worse hitting something you don’t want to hit. Trust us!

Rather than a large rock, we also tried to use a mesh bag full of
smaller rocks. This worked well for the tossing portion of the procedure;
however, the bag was easily caught on branches. In the end, it jammed on a
branch 5 meters in the air, and we were forced to abandon it along with
several feet of our precious rope!

3. Coil line A ensuring there are no knots or snags in the line.

4. Stand on the non-rock end of line A, so it doesn’t get away from you.

5. Using your line-rock throwing skills, toss the rock end of the line over
the branch of the first tree (tree A).
This will take some practice to perfect. Again, trust us!

6. Use the weight of the rock to ease the rock end of the line back to the
ground. You should have both ends of the line in your hand with the bight
looped over the branch. Untie the rock.

7. Secure the ends someplace so you don’t lose them.
Trust us!

8. Repeat steps 2-7 with the second line (line B) and second tree (tree B).

9. Tie one end of line A to one end of line B, using a smooth knot (a reef
knot works well).

10. Tie a bight (loop) into line A on the same side you tied A to B and
secure the pulley to the bight. The placement of this knot should be such
that it ends up in the middle of the two trees when the line is tightened.

11. Take the free end of line B and run it through the pulley.

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12. Hold on to the free end of line B and gently pull on the middle of
line B such that it feeds line A from tree A to tree B. Keep pulling until
the knot is at ground level. Note that as you do this the pulley will rise
out of reach, hence the need to be holding onto line B through the pulley.

13. Untie the knot between ropes A and B. You should now have rope A strung
between the two trees, and rope B fed through the pulley with both ends on
the ground.

14. Adjust rope A to ensure the pulley is in the middle of the two trees.
Securely fasten both ends of the line to the attached tree trunk. (A few
wraps and some half-hitches usually works well).

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15. Secure food to one end of the line B, and use the other end to raise it
between the trees.
If your food bags are heavy, this can be a challenge. Our approach has
been to have Scott stand under the bags and push them up while Becky keeps
the line tight. Once the bags are above Scott’s head, he comes and helps
Becky raise them to the top. We are carrying 35-40 lbs (15-18 kg) of food
and related stuff.

16. Secure line B to a tree.

17. Fall asleep, secure in the knowledge that your food is safe. (Unless
you’re in Yellowstone Park, where the bears know to chew through lines until
the food falls to the ground).

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If you look really close, you can see the bags hung nice and high in the air.

Rainy Lake cottage to Atikokan – 117 km, 6h40 min
Atikokan to Huronian Lake Rest Area – 75 km, 4h 30 min

Elevation Profile
Download GPS Track in GPX format

2 Responses to “How (not) to hang food”

  1. Friedel Says:

    How funny – you met Wendy and Peter too! Now I know what you meant in your email :) Aren’t they great people? Their thoughts on dehydrating food really inspired us for future, shorter bike tours.

  2. scott Says:

    Several people have asked why we hang pots as well as food. It’s something I always have done, ever since I started hiking in bear country, but it seems logical. The U.S. Parks service has a good page on bear safety, which recommends hanging anything which might smell of food, including garbage, which I forgot to list. (While cycling we can usually dispose of it somewhere before hanging our food, but I certainly hang garbage when in the backcountry)

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