Hammock Stealth Camping – Failed!

Ever since the spring of this year, I had been dreaming of doing some hammock stealth-camping at a particular spot. The site is located along one of my favorite trails.  I’ve walked past the spot many, many times, and have always loved it.  It is a secluded location.  The trail winds across the breast of two, small, man-made lakes in the middle of the woods.  On more than one occasion I’ve kicked back and enjoyed a lunch on its edge, while the water washed quietly near my boots.  This seemed to be the perfect place to string up my hammock and spend the night.

I waited patiently for an opening in my schedule.  Spring turned into summer and still I just couldn’t seem to get away.  Then, as the calendar turned to September, I finally saw my chance.  Even though it was the middle of the week I felt I could do it since I didn’t have to start work right away the next morning.

twin lakes8I packed my gear, drove to a small parking lot where I knew I could make it back to the lake by sundown.  I was pumped with visions of relaxing in my hammock at the edge of a secluded dam in the middle of the woods.  Since it’s not a designated camping spot, I knew that I’d have the entire place to myself.

At 5:20 pm, I set foot in the woods.  The trail is relatively flat and made for easy walking.  The hike was just over two miles.  I took my time, did some exploring, and made it in about 40 minutes.

As I reached the small dam I felt exhilarated.  It’s a beautiful, lonely spot.  I had passedtwin lakes2 no one along the trail and didn’t expect to see anyone all night.  I took in the beauty for a few minutes while I downed some water.  I then began the task of looking for the perfect spot to hang my hammock.

The trail leads across the east side of the breast of the dam. I was hoping to set up there.  However, only young saplings reached upward at the edge; nothing large twin lakes3enough to support my hammock.

I moved along the north edge and started pushing my way through the underbrush.  I was immediately greeted with the stench of rotting flesh.  Something had died nearby.  It was awful.  I didn’t want to stay there, so I kept moving.  But as I stayed along the water’s edge, walking became difficult.  Not only was the area thick with thorns and briars, but the ground was sloshy from the rains. My boots sank to the ankles with each step I took.  It was not very welcoming.

Finally reaching the west side of the dam I got out of the thick mud.  A smalltwin lakes5 breast divides the second, smaller dam from the larger one.  I had hoped that the west side would offer a good location.   It is a beautiful spot.  An old dead tree extends from the dam, holding a very large nest at the top.  The scene was quiet and peaceful.

I continued my search for a suitable location.   More than anything, I wanted to set up my hammock in “porch mode” and lay back and enjoy the waning sunset.  However, there were no large trees near the edge.  Only small saplings, more mud, and mosquitoes.  There were plenty of mosquitoes.

I walked up and down the breast looking for two trees. I needed two trees.  I’m in the woods and I just want two trees.  One would think that’s an easy find in the forest.  Oh, there were plenty of trees around.  But, none at the perfect distance apart near the water’s edge. Had I brought my tent I could have easy pitched it on the breast.  Note to self: hammocks aren’t the cure-all of camping.

I finally realized that I wasn’t going to be able to camp at the water’s edge.  So, I retreated back into the thicket.  Yes, there were plenty of trees spaced perfectly apart, but from the thicket I could barely see the water.  Plus, when I say “thicket” I mean thicket.  I almost needed a machete to get through.  And, word of my intrusion had quickly spread among the mosquito population.  Their welcome wagon came out in force.

I dropped my backpack and started to string my hammock.  But, I was no longer excited.  This was not what I had come for.   I had wanted to relax at the water’s edge, not retreat into my hammock to escape swarming insects. I had hoped to listen to the water, not the hordes of diving insects intent on feeding on my flesh.  The mud, thorns, and mosquitoes had stolen the romance.  I wasn’t having the fun I had hoped for.

I glanced at my watch.  I had exactly one hour of sunlight left.  I swatted at the mosquito on my wrist and glanced around at the thicket where I was trying to set up camp.  While looking down at the raccoon scat between my feet I reached a conclusion: bail.  Sure, I could stay the night here if this was a “have-to” situation.  But, it wasn’t a have-to.  It had started out as a “want-to,” but had quickly became a “not-so-much.”

twin lakes7I repacked my belongings and double-timed it on the trail.  In about 30 minutes I had reached my Ford Escape. I threw my belongings inside and in less than a minute I was on the road.

Twenty minutes later – with only ten minutes before sunset – I reached another parking lot.  Not far away was a designated shelter/camping area.  I had stayed there many times.

Strolling into the designated camping area, I quickly found two tall trees spaced perfectly apart. There was no mud, no mosquitoes, no thorns and no vista that was just out of sight.

Under the beam of my headlamp I strung my hammock and made dinner.  My stealth camping adventure didn’t go as planned.  But, at least I was in the woods – which is never a bad thing.



Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.



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