Posts Tagged ‘camping’

Will I suffocate if I sleep in my car?

September 2nd, 2011 7 comments

I have been asked several times now whether I “camp” by sleeping in my car.  After all, Sam is a wagon, so it seems like there should be enough space, right?

The reality is that I don’t like sleeping in cars.  I tried it once a few years ago with my old Outback in a national forest in northern Minnesota, but the experience was quite unpleasant.  Condensation built up on the windows, the air inside was quite cold, and I couldn’t open any windows because of the swarming hordes of blood-sucking mosquitoes waiting to get in.  Actually, a few did manage to get in, presumably through the ventilation system.  Not a good night’s sleep.

Still, that was then, and this is now.  I decided to give it another try in a campground in Grand Teton National Park.

One of the nice undocumented things about the 2010 and newer Outbacks is that the rear seats folded down are at the same level as the front seats folded back.  One needs only to remove the headrests to create an eight-foot long, nearly flat surface.

The rear seat folded down mates perfectly with the front seat reclined back

The key word there is “nearly,” since there were still some annoying bumps to contend with.  I got out my excellent Exped UL7 air mattress and put my sleeping bag on top of it.  All of the rest of my gear got pushed off to the side.

Yes, you can sleep in an Outback

The evening started off well.  The temperature was comfortable, Sam’s cabin air filter kept the mosquitoes from entering via the ventilation system, and I had a great view of the stars through the moonroof glass.  I drifted to sleep.

A couple hours later, I jolted awake with a horrifying thought: could I suffocate by sleeping in such an enclosed space?  A bunch of frantic web searches on my smartphone turned up no reliable reports of people suffocating in cars where there had been no sources of carbon monoxide.  Lots of people have died from leaving their cars running, but it seems that nobody has ever died from sleeping a night in a non-running car.

Just to be safe, I opened a door for a while to do an air exchange before going back to sleep.

I survived (obviously), but I started to wonder: if we assume Sam’s interior is perfectly sealed, how long would I be able to survive on the air inside?

Let’s assume that Sam’s cabin volume is 102 cubic feet.  I have about 20 cubic feet of gear, and I myself occupy about 12 cubic feet.  That leaves 70 cubic feet of air.

There are two primary suffocation modes to worry about: hypoxia and CO2 poisoning.  It turns out that humans notice high CO2 levels — they are perceived as being very unpleasant or even painful — but humans are very poor at detecting low oxygen levels.  For this scenario, I’m going to assume that I’d wake up if CO2 levels got dangerously high, which leaves only low O2 levels to worry about.

For simplicity, I’m also going to gloss over the fact that I was camping at 7,000 ft of elevation.  Compensating for the lower oxygen levels at altitude is left as an exercise for the reader.

Thanks to a handy page at Oak Ridge National Labs, we see that the formula for calculating maximum residence time based on oxygen levels is:

T = (V) (21 – L) / (100 n C)

where V is the volume of air in ft^3, L is the acceptable lower limit of oxygen in percent, n is the number of people, and C is the oxygen requirement per person per minute.

I’m going to assume that I’m a healthy adult male, so L is 12% and C is 0.007 ft^3 min^-1. Recall from above that the volume of available air is 70 ft^3. Plug in the numbers:

T = 70 * (21 – 12) / (100 * 1 * 0.007)

= 900 minutes

= 15 hours

I’m not going to be sleeping in there for anywhere close to 15 hours, so I think I’m safe.

Will I be doing more back-of-the-car camping?  Doubtful.  I really, really like being able to sit up straight in my tent without hitting my head on the ceiling, something that’s impossible in the back of the Outback.

Yellowstone and the search for solitude

August 31st, 2011 Comments off

I knew that Yellowstone would have hot springs and wildlife, but would I be able to find solitude there as well? The numbers didn’t look promising: america’s first national park sees over 2.5 million visitors every summer.  Still, it’s a big place, larger in area than Rhode Island, and I thought my goal was achievable.  It would simply be a matter of figuring out where to go.

Old Faithful was not the place to get away from the unwashed masses. I had pictured the geyser being in some remote location, perhaps a half-mile hike from some dirt-lot trailhead in the wilderness.  Nope.  The reality was an enormous paved parking lot packed full of cars, trucks, and RVs.  There was enough parking there for a shopping mall, and a large one at that.

The geyser itself was in the middle of a large wood boardwalk, which was an arc set back from the aperture about 100 ft and circumscribing about 240 degrees.  Between eruptions, the boardwalk was fairly empty, but near show time, it was packed with people.  In most cases, the throngs were many rows deep.

I stuck around for two eruptions, and each time, I was amused by how many people chose to experience the event via the screens of their digital cameras instead of living it in the present.  I admit to some guilt in this regard, but I did pry myself from my technology long enough to enjoy the moment as well.

The masses of people watching Old Faithful erupt at Yellowstone

So, Old Faithful was fun to watch but in no way provided solitude.  I pressed on deeper into the park.

To the west of Old Faithful, the park road curved north.  Along the way, it passed a small parking lot at a location known as Biscuit Basin.  I decided to stop.

The namesake biscuit-shaped formations were destroyed in a fit of geothermal activity a long time ago.  Remaining were numerous pools of hot water, each one uniquely colored from minerals and microbes.

Hot pools, including Sapphire Pool, at Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone NP

An extensive network of boardwalks snaked through the area, both to protect the visitors from the hot geothermal features and  to protect the features from the visitors.  The numerous, numerous visitors.  No solitude there.  A different approach was needed.

I knew that I would be able to find solitude in the backcountry, but I wasn’t feeling much like backpacking.  Maybe it was my recent Denali experience; how could other places compare?  Part of it was also a general feeling of exhaustion, which was compounded by the fact that I had already been (car) camping for a few days.

In the end, I decided that I would regret not backpacking at least one night in Yellowstone.  I might never have another chance.  I plotted out a short out-and-back, about 11 miles round trip with just 1600 ft of total gain, got my permit, and set off.

It didn’t take long to reach my campsite for the evening in Seven Mile Hole — just a couple of hours — but in that short stretch I saw incredible beauty.  I had my DSLR along, so I was able to capture a bit of it, but I don’t think I did the sights justice.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone as seen from the trail to Seven Mile Hole. The river, center, was about 1000 feet below the point where this was taken.

I passed five other hikers on my way in. That was the extent of my contact with humanity: I saw nobody on my hike up and out of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone the next morning.

It took a while, but I found solitude in Yellowstone.


June 29th, 2011 4 comments

The grizzly was chewing on what appeared to be grass as she looked me in the eye.  To her left and right, her cubs alternated between feeding on the vegetation (maybe berries?) and rolling around.  I stood my ground, awestruck at the scene before me.

Hi there Mrs. Bear

It was my first time seeing a grizzly bear in the wild, let alone a mother with her cubs.

Don't get between mama grizzly and the cubs

Then again, I’m leaving out a couple important details, the two most pertinent being that I was 80 meters away from the bears and that an electric fence separated us.  It was hardly a wilderness encounter.  Instead, I was on the perimeter road of the tent camping area at Lake Louise Campground in Banff NP, Alberta, Canada.  The crowd that had gathered on the road was the thing that had tipped me off to grab my cameras.

Not quite wilderness

I felt sorry for the people trying to snap photos with cell phones

Even though the setting was a bit artificial, it was a great sight.  The bears were truly wild.  The fence was not bear-proof – it’s a deterrent more than a barrier – so there was still an element of danger.  And anyway, I’d rather see the grizzlies in a setting like that than in my backcountry campsite.

Mama bear again

The only disappointments about the experience had to do with the photography.  First, the light wasn’t very good.  Second, it seems that my AF often decided to lock on to the grass in front of the bears rather than the bears themselves, so a number of frames turned out unusable.  Third, and most significant, was I decided to run my 1.4x TC on my 70-200/2.8, which significantly impaired that otherwise tack-sharp lens. (In case you’re thinking “Wait… don’t you have a program that’s supposed to fix blurriness?” well… yes, but the blurs here were focus blurs, not motion blurs.)

Bear cub stands on its hind legs

So, yeah.  The photos were a bit underwhelming, but my first big-mammal experience of the trip  was a reasonable success.