Sunday, August 15, 2010

Horace Kephart

"The less a man carries in his pack, the more he must carry in his head."
--Horace Kephart

Kephart was the real deal --living, and writing, in the wildest part of the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, before it was a park. He helped establish the park, and the Appalachian Trail. You can still buy his book, because while gear and materials have changed quite a bit, mountains, rivers, flora & fauna have not changed much. Don't miss the cycling page with the Balloon Silk Tent, Japanese Rubber air bed, Down Quilt, etc. These have inspired the current ultralight hiking (and often biking ultralight in a funny, to me, way) guru Ray Jardin of the book "Ray Way." Sadly, Mr. Kephart was killed in a horseless-carriage wreck at age 69. Hooch may, or may not, have been involved.

Camping and Woodcraft (1906)
by Horace Kephart
Chapter VII

The problem of what to take on a trip resolves itself chiefly into a question of transportation. If the party can travel by wagon, and intends to go into fixed camp, then almost anything can be carried along - trunks, chests, big wall tents and poles, cots, mattresses, pots and pans galore, camp stove, kerosene, mackintoshes and rubber boots, plentiful changes of clothing, books, folding bath-tubs - what you will. Such things are right and proper if you do not intend to move often from place to place. But in any case beware of impedimenta that will be forever in the way and seldom or ever used.

It is quite another matter to fit out a man or a party for wilderness travel. First, and above all, be plain in the woods. In a far way you are emulating those grim heroes of the past who made the white man's trails across this continent. We seek the woods to escape civilization for a time, and all that suggests it. Let us sometimes broil our venison on a sharpened stick and serve it on a sheet of bark. It tastes better. It gets us closer to Nature, and closer to the good old times when every American was considered "a man for a' that" if he proved it in a manful way. And there is pleasure in achieving creditable results by the simplest means. When you win your own way through the wilds with axe and rifle you win at the same time the imperturbability of a mind at ease with itself in any emergency by flood or field. Then you feel that you have red blood in your veins, and that it is good to be free and out of doors. It is one of the blessings of wilderness life that it shows us how few things we need in order to be perfectly happy.

Let me not be misunderstood as counseling anybody to "rough it" by sleeping on the bare ground and eating nothing but hardtack and bacon. Only a tenderfoot will parade a scorn of comfort and a taste for useless hardships. As Nessmuk says:
"We do not go to the woods to rough it; we go to smooth it - we get it rough enough in town. But let us live the simple, natural life in the woods, and leave all frills behind."

An old campaigner is known by the simplicity and fitness of his equipment. He carries few "fixings," but every article has been well tested and it is the best that his purse can afford. He has learned by hard experience how steep are the mountain trails and how tangled the undergrowth and downwood in the primitive forest. He has learned, too, how to fashion on the spot many substitutes for "boughten" things that we consider necessary at home.

The art of going "light but right" is hard to learn. I never knew a camper who did not burden himself, at first, with a lot of kickshaws that he did not need in the woods; nor one who, if he learned anthing, did not soon begin to weed them out; not even a veteran who ever quite attained his own ideal of lightness and serviceability."

"To equip a pedestrian with shelter, bedding, utensils, food, and other necessities, in a pack so light and small that he can carry it without overstrain, is really a fine art."

Camping and Woodcraft (1906)
by Horace Kephart

Your thoroughbred camper likes not the attentions of a landlord, nor will he suffer himself to be rooted to the soil by cares of ownership or lease. It is not possession of the land, but of the landscape, that enjoys; and as for that, all the wild parts of the earth are his, by a title that carries with it no obligation but that he shall not desecrate nor lay them waste.

Houses, to such a one, in summer are little better than cages; fences and walls are his abomination; plowed fields are only so many patches of torn and tormented earth. The sleek comeliness of pasture it too prim and artificial, domestic cattle have a meek and ignoble bearing, fields of grain are monotonous to his eyes, which turn for relief to abandoned old-field, overgrown with thicket, that still harbors some the shy children of the wild. It is not the clearing but the unfenced wilderness that is the camper’s real home. He is brother to that good old friend of mine who in gentle satire of our formal gardens and close-cropped lawns, was wont to say,
"I love the unimproved works of God."