Snow Can’t Stop Us

So per usual it’s been awhile since we updated this, but we have been out a few times since the last time you heard from us in February. It was a tough winter around here; long and cold, and we’re paying for it now with how atrocious the roads are around here. Our latest mini-trip however was in the middle of February, where the cold and snow could’t stop us from having a good time. Scott, Frank, and I ventured once again to Mount Toby to visit our previous campsite, a place where the three of us hadn’t visited together as a group in over two years.

We caught a break with the weather, as the mercury climbed above freezing for the first time in quite some time. There was however a fair amount of snow on the ground, which only made the trip that much more challenging and interesting. Having camped in the snow previously we were well-versed in the challenges it would present us, but this being only a day trip we didn’t need nearly as much gear with us. Our objective was to go out, have a good hike, and try out some of our new gear, with the ultimate goal of individually making fire. It would prove a tough task.

After a roughly two hour scenic hike, we arrived at our old campground. Along the way we all grabbed some dry wood, bark, and miscellaneous tinder to try and make our fires with. The three of us chose our areas at our old campsite and got to it.

Frank chose the most difficult path with his fire and attempted to start it using the fire bow method. To Frank’s credit, amazingly he was almost able to get one going despite the tough conditions we were in, but it was not to be, and he ended up going a more conventional route after at least an hour of giving the fire bow a go. Scott was able to get his fire going quite quickly, but as we learned shortly after it was roaring he had used a propellant (which will go unnamed). I (T.J.) do have to say though that if it hadn’t been for Scott’s fire I probably would have lost multiple toes, as my boots were soaked through and I was feeling it.

That leaves me (T.J.), and I’m not proud to say it but I had zero success getting a fire going. I chose to use the magnesium shaving and striker method, and much to my chagrin I could not get any of my tinder to catch. I was able to get the magnesium to catch, but it seems the tinder I gathered just wasn’t dry enough to get anything to start. Disappointing, but hopefully I will be able to perfect the craft very soon.

After a few hours up at our campground and some much needed drying off, we packed up our things and hiked our way back out. The hike out only took about 45 minutes and was pretty easy as we were able to use our imprints from our hike up. We did have videos and a few photos from the trip, but rather unfortunately my (T.J.) netbook hard drive crashed and the materials were lost. A bummer for sure, but plenty of opportunities for more. More will be coming in the form of a three day camping trip this upcoming Memorial Day weekend, when the three of us plus a few significant others once again descend on Mount Toby for a great weekend of camping and hiking. Stay tuned for that post coming (hopefully) soon.

New Year, New Ambitions

With the flipping of the calendar about one month ago, the new year has begun, and so has our itch to get back out in the woods and do what we love to do. So far this year has been much stormier and colder than last, so for now we’re in a holding pattern, but within the next few weeks we’re hoping to test out some of our new gear.

We acknowledge that we haven’t gotten out as much as any of us would have liked in the last year. It’s easy to make excuses, and ours is really that life happened. Graduations, classes, new jobs, new homes have all contributed to our schedules really never lining up to get any trips together. This year we are going to do our best to make them happen. Our plan (at least mine anyway) early on this year is to try and get out at least once a month to visit both old and new places, even if it just be a simple day of backpacking. Some of these trips may be in conjunction with or in addition to trips that I take with the local four wheeling club I am a part of, North Shore Jeeps.

The theme for our trips this year is to pack as conservatively as possible. Better put, we’re aiming for a minimalist approach. What this means is we’re putting more of an emphasis on packing only essential items, many of which will serve multiple purposes. We will be taking this approach for a number of reasons.

The first is to test ourselves and our skills. We’ve found ourselves in a number of situations, ranging from snow and below-freezing temperatures to freak 80 degree days in the middle of March, climbing mountains covered in snow and ice in shorts and t-shirts. The one constant throughout all this though has been the large amount of gear that we bring with us. The advantage to this is that we are always prepared and seldom find ourselves without an item we need. The drawback though is the amount of gear we have to carry and the limited space we have with which to bring it with us.

This brings me to reason two: space. As we’ve made note of, the Jeep isn’t the biggest vehicle on the planet, so even with just three of us and our gear things get pretty snug pretty quick. I’ve taken steps to help in this area by installing a roof rail system from a 1997 Ford Explorer onto the hard top of the Jeep. In the coming weeks I will be ordering a roof rack that can be installed to this rail system, which will allow us to store a large amount of gear on it as opposed to trying to cram it all in the cabin with us. He’ll never admit it, but no one is happier about this than Scott. No more taking the back seat out and sitting on our gear for him.

Lastly, but not to be overlooked, is our recent desire to partake in survival situations. Recently we have taken an interest in shows like Survivorman, which as some of you know features survival expert Les Stroud in various situations marooned in the wild. Subsequently, Frank and I have also taken an interest in putting together survival kits, comprised of various items essential in a “worst case scenario” situation. Since we have not the training nor experience in these types of situations, we want to start off slow and hone our skills in this area. We don’t ever plan on purposely needing these skills, but it’s far better to be prepared for them through first-hand experience.

On that note, look for our next blog post to feature some of the survival kits that we have put together, as well as a demonstration of how well the equipment we’ve chosen has performed. Also look for us to be testing some additional equipment we’ve picked up (new tent, camera tripod, emergency bivvy, just to name a few) to see how easy, convenient, and effective the items are.

Happy trails everyone.

We’re baaaaaaack

Hello everyone. We know we’ve been away for far too long, but now we’re back, and if you ask me, we’re better than ever. A lot has changed since we last posted on this website: I (T.J.) have graduated from UMass and am working as an editor for a local magazine; Frank has also graduated from UMass (a semester early I’d like to add) and is working as an executive recruiter for a local firm; and Scott is about to begin his senior year at UMass (the beginning of the end). As you can imagine, things have been a little busy for all of us, and finding time to do the things we love most has become harder than any of us have wanted. We’re gonna do our best to change that.

Also important, the Jeep has undergone some changes as well. Much has changed since our last trip to Gilford, NH, and all of it has been done to make our trips easier on both us and the Jeep. In August of 2012, the Jeep received a transmission swap after the slave cylinder once again bit the dirt and I (though not totally confirmed) ground first and second gear attempting to get it off the highway in a mighty blaze of glory. So combine possibly destroying first and second gear with its already grinding third gear, and something had to give. After much deliberation over selling it or fixing it, I stumbled across a cheap transmission/transfer case combo on Craig’s List from a 1994 YJ, and in it went. (I’d like to add that literally four days before the slave cylinder incident, the sending unit shit the bed and spewed gas everywhere, costing me close to $600 to fix. Believe me I put a lot of thought into getting rid of the thing.)

Since that point, I have installed a 1.25″ spring lift and .75″ shackle lift; sold my Smittybilt front bumper and installed a stock Jeep TJ front bumper; gave it some new shoes in the form of 245/75/16 (~31″) General Grabber AT2s on Rubicon Moab wheels; installed JKS sway bar disconnects to help improve articulation; installed some Daystar extended bump-stops to prevent rubbing due to the added flex; undertook the TJ-upper-door-to-YJ-half-door mod to run half doors with the hard top (just for the summer) with the help of the president of the Jeep club I’m a part of; threw on a full-length recovery rear bumper and CB radio to get it up to snub with the requirements of said Jeep club; installed rocker guards to help patch the rust in those areas; and installed some junkyard roof racks from a 1999 Ford Explorer to the hard top to help transport our camping gear, thus leaving room for someone to actually sit comfortably in the back seat. Here are some before and after photos for a comparison:

The Jeep in May 2012

What the Jeep looked like last summer, before the lift and other recent modifications.

A shot of the patched rocker panels and the modified TJ upper doors.

A shot of the patched rocker panels and the modified TJ upper doors.

Jeep power lines

What the Jeep looks like now after a two inch lift, larger wheels and tires, and all the other modifications I’ve made recently.

Needless to say, it’s a whole new animal. This past weekend (August 24-25), Frank and I headed back to our old stomping grounds of Mount Toby State Forest and tested out the more recent modifications, those being the sway bar disconnects and the roof racks. This is the first time I’ve wheeled the Jeep with the sway bar disconnected. I’ve wheeled it since the lift and the tires a few times, but having the sway bar disconnected made an unbelievable difference. It no longer felt like it was going to roll over on the slightest incline, and was able to keep all four wheels firmly planted when climbing obstacles it never could have in the past.

So, check out the video at the top of the page for a look at what Frank and I were up to this weekend, and stay tuned in the next few days for a subsequent post and video of Frank showing off his rock climbing gear and abilities, shot first person using my GoPro Hero 2 camera. You won’t be disappointed.

Video of part one of our trip to Gilford, NH

Hey everyone! The three of us hope everyone was able to enjoy the recent lovely New England weather like we did.

Now, back to business. Follow this link and check out the video of part one of our camping/off-roading trip to Gilford, NH. Check back in the coming days for a write-up about our trip and for a video about part two of our trip to Gilford featuring our trip to Belknap Mountain. Also be sure to check out our Facebook page for pictures from the trip.

Video of our latest trip to Mount Toby State Forest

Hey everyone! Follow this link and check out the video of our latest trip to Mount Toby State Forest in late February!

Also, be sure to keep an eye out in the coming weeks for pictures/video and a post about our Spring break trip to New Hampshire! We wish we could be more specific about where exactly we’re going, but we’d be lying if we told you we had any idea at the moment.

Shutesbury State Forest (Posted by TJ Houpes)

A dull, boring winter has kept the three of us from using the Jeep to its full potential and hitting some snowy trails. Finally enough snow (a whopping four inches) fell on January 12 for us to go out and have some fun, so we packed up some gear, jumped in the Jeep, and began our next trip. All three of us decided that it was time for a change of scenery, so instead of Mount Toby State Forest we decided to check out Shutesbury State Forest in Shutesbury, Mass.

The entrance we used was only about 20-25 minutes from campus and a fairly easy ride down Route 202. We all thought it was worth noting that on the road to the entrance is a tiny house with a signs with the writing “Da Luv Shack” on it. We checked it out, and it pretty much looks like what the sign says. We were all a little apprehensive after this but regardless we pushed forward. We entered the forest through gate NS4 which was conveniently open and made our way down the main trail.  There was nothing too difficult about getting in other than a little bit of ice beneath the snowfall, but it was so minor we didn’t even need to use 4-Lo to get around.

The forest was beautiful with all the snow cover. It was a very pleasant and peaceful ride, albeit a little boring for our tastes seeing as in the past we’ve driven up flowing streams and over decently-sized rocks and hills. It was nice to just be able to cruise around and check out the sights and views without having to worry about getting caught up on a rock or stuck in a rut. We meandered our way down the main trail and checked out a few of the offshoots, many of which were either closed or too small for the Jeep to fit down. Those not of this variety brought us deeper into forest and led us to even more trails, most of which were also impassable.

Eventually we jumped out of the Jeep and explored a little once we were about as deep into the forest as we could get. T.J. jumped out and immediately began to grab some shots of the Jeep (what a shocker) while Frank and Scott checked out a clearing near the border of the forest and Cowls Tree Farm (W.D. Cowls, Inc. Land Company is a local forestry business in North Amherst, Mass.). We spent about 45 minutes to an hour checking out the sights before jumping back in the Jeep and heading back towards the entrance. Before we left we decided to check out the tree farm, only to find the path leading to it to be too tight for the Jeep due to recently fallen trees. We managed to move one out of the with the help of the fancy new Smittybilt front bumper that T.J. installed (shout out to the D-ring mounts in particular).

All in all, all three of us feel it was a very successful trip and an even better way to kill a Thursday afternoon. We’re hoping that many of the closed and currently impassable trails will be open in the spring so we can do even more exploring and see what other goodies Shutesbury State Forest has to offer.

Be sure to check out our pictures from this trip on our Facebook and Flickr pages as well.

Mt. Toby State Forest, Oct. 14-16, 2011 (Posted by TJ Houpes)


We were once again back at it in Mt. Toby State Forest during the middle part of October. Aided by our experiences from the first trip, getting into the forest and making camp was a breeze. This time we were looking to check out one of the areas in the southern part of the forest: Bull Hill. Though not as tall as Mt. Toby (1269 feet), Bull Hill (937 feet) peaked our interest because of the decently challenging route with which to get there. Plus all three of us had a weekend to kill and were looking to have some fun.


As mentioned, setting up camp was a piece of cake this trip. We used the same location we did on our first trip, and Frank set up the same rope system we had used previously. Different this time however was the length of our stay: three days as opposed to two. Accordingly we packed more clothes and more food. Extra clothing was especially important this time around as it was once again raining for the majority of the time we were in the forest and during our trip there.

Unfortunately this trip we arrived at the forest a lot later than we did on our first trip (around 5:30 pm) so light was an issue. We set up our tent as fast as we could, and Frank and Scott immediately began working on a fire. Things went a lot smoother this time around in that area, and Frank and Scott got the fire going in no time. After a nice dinner of hamburgers and buffalo burgers, we decided on our plan of action for the following day (what trails to take, what supplies to bring, etc.), relaxed by the fire for a few hours, and hit the sack early to start the following day in the same manner.


Our day started early on the 15th, and we decided it would be fun to mess around with the BB-gun rifle that we brought along with us this trip. We walked about a mile southeast of our camp and found a campfire site with a bunch of empty beer bottles and cans and took turns taking aim at them. After spending about an hour just messing around, we made the short walk to Powerline Trail and headed due south to Bull Hill.

Having walked Powerline Trail before, the three of us knew what to expect in terms of slick rocks and extremely hilly terrain. After walking the trail for about half an hour, we linked up with the path leading up to Bull Hill. There were a few tricky sections on Powerline Trail though, especially toward the end where the path became very swampy and we needed to work our way through the woods and around. The tough parts are half the fun though so no complaints out of us. There was one stretch where we did get pretty lost attempting to create our own shortcut though, but we don’t have to talk about that.

Much like the trail leading up to Mount Toby, the path leading to Bull Hill was a series of switchbacks. These however were a lot longer than the ones leading Mount Toby despite Bull Hill’s lower elevation. This trail was a much more scenic one though, and because of Bull Hill’s lower elevation the actual hike to the top was fairly easy and enjoyable. Once we made our way out of the forest section, we hit the final stretch and were at the top of Bull Hill.

The area surrounding the “peak” of Bull Hill looks like it’s in the middle of some sort of construction project. There are lots of downed trees and forested areas, and because of this the actual appearance of Bull Hill isn’t anything special. It doesn’t seem like the clearings and downed trees could have been caused by a storm or other weather occurrence, and the three of us figured it might be a forestry project through UMass since the university uses sections of the forest for its environmental conservation classes.

Our return trip was unfortunately not as easy as the trip going because Powerline Trail was an uphill walk back to our camp. And toward the end of our walk back it began to rain (as it always seems to do when we’re in the state forest) making us rush back and get our gear into the dry tent. All in all, the trip was about 6 miles total, and took us about three hours there and back. It was a worthwhile way to spend an otherwise boring Saturday afternoon.


The rain passed about half an hour after we got back to camp making it easy for Frank and Scott to get the fire started again. Other than the little bit of rain on Saturday afternoon, the weather was exceptional for a weekend in mid-October. All three of us took turns chopping up wood to keep the fire going and keep ourselves entertained. The rest of the night went much like our first trip, with us cooking dinner over the open flame and relaxing until we felt like heading to bed.

The next morning, we took down the tent and packed all of our things back into our bags and formed the human conveyor belt and loaded everything back into the Jeep. The trip out of the forest and back to campus was once again a breeze, but it’s worth noting that the foliage in just two weeks had become a lot more intense and noticeable. We arrived back on campus around 12:30, just in time to catch the Patriots game.

Check out our Facebook or Flickr pages for photos of this trip as well as others we’ve taken.