Hanging the Food Pack

by Richard Munn|Published 07-07-2006

At home in the city, entertaining ourselves is a simple matter. We park ourselves down on a comfortable chair in front of television, stereo or computer and sit glassy-eyed as corporate America infuses us with a hearty dose of culture.

When we are out paddling, we have to be more creative. The lack of convenient 120-volt outlets in wilderness areas means that we must resort to more old-fashioned forms of entertainment. We can read a book, play cards or sit around the campfire or tell our fellow campmates the same boring stories or lame jokes we have been telling them for years. However, these activities can only entertain us for so long. The book getsboring, or it gets too dark to read. We get beaten so badly at Euchre that it is necessary to retreat from the game, sulking and making excuses for why we trumped our partners’ ace. After we have regaled our fellow paddlers with our fish story for the umpteenth time, they will probably begin to wander away, muttering under their breath that they need to find a new person to paddle with.

When any of these things happen, and we begin to hunger for a dose of excitement, there’s always the one activity that can be counted on for inspiring an adrenaline rush and revitalizing the crew - hanging the food pack.

The first thing that we have to understand is that there are two classes of wilderness paddlers - pack hangers, and pack-hanging spectators. Occasionally the lines cross and a spectator will be induced into an action role, or vice-versa, but for the most part, people fall squarely into one or the other of these groups and happily remain as a group member for life.

The pack-hangers are the cheery, hard-working, organized, enthusiastic types who also volunteer for firewood collection, tarp hanging, latrine digging and other exciting campsite duties. The moment that supper dishes are done, these people can be seen walking around the site looking skyward. They are not checking for signs of foul weather; nor are they trying to add a turkey vulture to their bird list. They are looking up for one reason only – to find the rare and elusive pack-hanging branch.

The spectators, on the other hand, keep their butts firmly planted on the log next to the campfire, having another cup of coffee. They roll their eyes at the pack-hangers as they watch them scouting around for the perfect pack-hanging tree. Nothing will induce them to join the exercise. They are content to watch the event from the comfort and safety of their seat at the fire.

The pack-hangers meanwhile, are wandering around the site as a group, shouting, waving their arms and pointing upwards at any likely candidate for a pack-hanging branch. They eventually determine that none of the trees around the campsite are suitable and crash around through the underbrush behind the site, looking for a better choice.

The spectators roll their eyes some more and pour themselves another coffee, this time with a shot of Bailey’s.

More crashing and cursing is heard from the underbrush adjacent to the site, and finally the pack-hangers emerge, scratched and sweaty, announcing the discovery of a perfect tree configuration. They gather up the food packs and an assortment of ropes, cords, pulleys, counterweights and carabiners and head back into the bush.

The spectators smirk at each other and pour themselves another drink … this time pure Baileys.

The hangers by this time are gathered around the base of the proposed pack-hanging tree with their gear. The first pack-hanger ties a rock to the rope and after doing a series of stretching exercises, checking the wind direction and taking various sightings at the branch (which is 40 ft. above the ground) makes the first heave. The carefully tied knot somehow magically unties itself and the rock sails into the air and arcs down into the underbrush a considerable distance away. Criticism ensues about the first hangers knot-tying abilities and a search begins for another suitable rock. There being none to be found, the group has to trek down to the waterfront and retrieve a number of likely candidates of varying size and weight. The tossing exercise is repeated until all of these rocks have been lost. Squabbles begin, and the commotion finally lures the spectators from their fireside seats and bottle of Bailey’s to come and watch the spectacle.

It is at this point that some of the spectators may be induced to change roles and become part of the pack-hanging group. Certain that their rock-tossing abilities are better than the pack-hangers, and fueled by Bailey’s, they too begin to take part in the exercise.

Rather than take the trip down to the waterfront for more throwing rocks, the group decides that a short piece of tree branch will provide sufficient weight and tie it on to the end of the rope. Within thirty seconds of the adoption of this approach, the group is forced to come up with a strategy for getting that end of the rope from the top of the tree. The knot that that previously had a zero percent success rate is still fastened securely to the thrown branch (which is now hopelessly entangled in the limbs of the pack-hanging tree).

The initial rope recovery strategy always involves three people pulling on the rope, which is soon as taut as a bowstring. The entangled weight-log then frees itself and rockets towards the group at a velocity slightly less than the speed of sound. The group dives into the underbrush to escape the oncoming missile, and in spite of their somewhat less than perfect technique, congratulate themselves heartily for managing to extricate the rope from the top of the tree.

Knowing that lightning never strikes twice, a member of the group will always make a second attempt at getting the rope up by throwing the same log up in the air. Of course, the log sticks again and this time, no amount of heaving or tugging will loosen it. One of the group members is forced to climb the tree. The last climbable limbs is always ten feet lower than the entanglement point, and the climber reaches for his Swiss army knife. The owner of the rope has to accept that his forty-foot rope is now a thirty-two footer.

fifteen-minute debate follows, covering a wide range of topics such as:

    • Whether rocks or logs are more efficient throwing weights
    • Whether underhand or overhand throws are better<
    • Whether anyone wants to offer the use of their good rope for the pack-hanging exercise
    • Whether it’s worth continuing at all, or if the food pack should just be dumped on the ground at the waterfront.

The exercise again continues. At this time, the mosquitoes come out, and hangers and spectators begin to dance about and slap at themselves. The sense of urgency increases (as does the amount of criticism with each missed toss of the rope). Finally, some lucky soul manages to fluke a shot in a location that will put the rope and food pack just above the reach of a bear, providing that bear is still a cub, is partially blind, has a stuffed nose and is too arthritic to climb the tree. The fact that it is now dark out, and the evening mosquitoes are swarming convinces the group to lower their pack-hanging standards and they congratulate themselves on the good job.

It is at this point that the only person remaining at the campsite yells, "Hey, is the food pack already up? I just remembered my gorp’s in my day pack!"