Assateague National Seashore, Maryland
Assateague National Seashore is a narrow long protected barrier island that is in both Maryland and Virginia. The area was protected in 1965 and includes outdoor activites such as fishing, kayaking, hiking and camping.
Trails run along the island and pass through marshland, dunes and pine forest. One of the unique opportunties is the ability to camp in the backcountry.
Summit Name: Assategue National Seashore
Location: Berlin, MD
Latitude/Longitude: 38.15007, -75.17307
Date: November 20th, 2020
Admission: $20 NPS Fee
County: Montgomery County
Weather: Sunny, 40 degrees
On a Scale of 1 to 5
Last fall I had attempted to camp at Assateague NHS but a previous storm had wiped out several campsites resulting in no permits available. There are actually two types of camping at Assateague: established campgrounds (car camping) and backcountry camping. In order to camp in the backcountry you have to stop at the ranger’s station and get a permit. When getting the permit they require your state ID and your car make/model and license plate number. You also have to choose a site to camp.
There are six different sites available depending on how far you want to hike down the beach. The distance ranges from 2 to 20 miles depending on the site. Since the rangers issue permits, once a site is filled based on their capacity numbers, you have choose an alternative. Also note, certain sites are closed for hunting and you should reference the Assateague NHS backcountry web page for the current status.
Arriving at Assateague I stopped at the ranger station and picked up my backcountry permit which was $10 for a night. At the station they have a notebook that has each campsite with pictures and a description which was helpful in selecting a site. I drove down to the North Beach parking area and started to hike down to the Little Levels campsite. Along the way I passed a lot of 4WD and AWD vehicles (ORV permits) on the beach and it looked they were having a good time. There were also several people riding their personal horses on the beach. These are not to be confused with the wild horses that roam the island. Unfortunately the wild horses have a history of biting and stealing food as people can’t seem to resist just leaving them alone.
After a brief hike I arrived at Little Levels and quickly found a site with a half buried picnic table. Setting up the tent with the wind and using tent stakes meant for dirt proved to be pretty difficult. If your going to set up a tent, I recommend sand anchors or some alternative anchoring system.
I was losing sunlight quickly so I set up my radio and antenna and threw out a few CQ POTA’s with no takers. At this point it was dark and getting cold fast. I took down my antenna as I could see a wild horse getting tangled up it in the middle of the night. As the night went on, I realized I had bigger problems that I needed to deal with.
November in Maryland doesn’t exactly conjure thoughts of snow or cold weather. The last time I did any significant cold weather camping (sub freezing temperatures) was when I was in Boy Scouts.
I knew that sleeping in a desert like environment (beach with no shade or clouds) was a perfect setup for being cold. I had brought both of my pads (Thermarest Z-Lite SOL and Nemo Tensor) which gave me a combined R-value of 2.6 of insulation. These pads along with my 30 degree quilt I felt would be enough for the night with temperatures forecasted in 40’s with light wind.
On this trip I brough my temperature data logger to give me a better idea of actual temperature and humidity.
For the night I was wearing Patagonia Capaline base layer, a Nano Puff jacket, Buff, hat and gloves. I was going to bring my down jacket but left it at home. It became apparent very quickly that I was not warm enough for the night. I checked my data logger which showed 50 degrees and 61 percent humidity. I’m not sure why there was a discrepancy between a nearby weather source and my logger by 10 degrees.
I do know the humidity was very high which made the situation much worse than it should have been. Add a clear night with no clouds and sleeping on sand which is a huge heat sink which made for a long cold night. I stayed warm enough that I wasn’t getting hypothermic however an additional synthetic quit over my down quilt would have made things much more enjoyable.
A new technique that I wanted to try out was an antenna mast hiking pole 3D coupler that I had seen recently in QST magazine. A quick print on my 3D printer and I was ready to go. While the idea is excellent, the execution was terrible. My poles have seen a lot of use over the years. Add in some fine beach sand and well, you have a recipe for a stuck coupler. I was able to use the picnic table to finally get it undone.
In years past I have used tent line as a temporary way to stack my poles as a makeshift antenna mast (near the radio). Perhaps if you have brand new poles with zero sand, dirt or mud on them it could be a useful accessory. I later tried it on mountain summit with similar issues.
The next morning the beach was empty of cars or people which gave a nice Planet of the Apes feel to it.
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