More Desert Stuff, Rainier, and the Winds

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Above – Sunset in Chesler Park

Bottom of post –  A long exposure of the Milky Way using the Polarie tracker in Chesler Park

Wow, it’s been a month and a half since my last post.

Lots of stuff happening, and I’ve been letting things come as they may.

My last trip that I wrote up about, Capitol Reef’s Lower Muley and Halls Creek Narrows, is now live in the newest issue of TrailGroove here - http://www.trailgroove.com/issue15.html?autoflip=109

I also wrote up a nice primer on water filtration and purification, and what options are out there. Hopefully it’ll lead to some informed decisions on what will work best for their trips. – http://www.trailgroove.com/issue15.html?autoflip=11

I am also giving away a Patagonia Houdini Jacket through TrailGroove this month. Check out Aaron’s Blog here for more info – http://www.trailgroove.com/entry.php/44-Patagonia-Houdini-REI-and-TrailGroove-Giveaway

Oh yeah, last thing. Check out that cover photo and back page photo for Issue 15. Yeah, that’s mine :-D

Alright, on to the trip reports.

Since my Capitol Reef Trip, I decided I needed a little bit of snow in my life, so I climbed La Plata Peak the first weekend of May. It was still fairly snowy, requiring snow shoes until it got steep above the trees, and even then, some sections were soft enough to require them, but we made do without them. My partner for that trip was very slow, and it took forever to get to the top, but we made it. He is planning on doing Denali in a year, but considering that was his first successful snow climb ever, and his lack of knowledge and his pace, I’m pretty sure it’s more fantasy than reality, but hey, who knows. I wish I had the time and funds to climb Denali next year, but I don’t.

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Above – On our way up La Plata – Shot with my Theta 360 camera

After that I took two weekends off before my Memorial Day trip. The whole idea was to backpack the Under the Rim trail in Bryce Canyon. After taking off after work, I drove to Escalante where I car camped and tried to see the newest Camelopardalids meteor shower behind intermittent clouds, finally giving up around 2AM and getting some sleep. The next morning I drove the rest of the way to Bryce, just to be told by the rangers that they closed down a significant portion of the backcountry because someone had food in their tent and a bear swiped at them in the night. In my defense, I had tried to call the day before to check on backcountry conditions, but nobody answered the phone, so I decided to go anyways. Apparently a lightning strike had knocked out the power and the phone lines for the national park, which is why nobody answered, and they were still out when I got there, so the whole thing was just pure bad luck. I decided to still stick with the plan and backpack the section that was still open, camping near Swamp Canyon. The next morning I hiked out, hitch-hiked back to my car, and then day hiked the fairyland loop in the northern portion of the park.

After day hiking, I decided I had had enough of Bryce and their backcountry shut down, so I headed towards Capitol Reef to finish hiking the upper portion of Muley twist canyon. I ended up camping at the west end of the major canyon that the burr trail runs through, and shot stars most of the night, waking up to my alarm a few times to get some different shots of the milky way with the help of my new polarie tracker.

The next morning I woke up, drove the rest of the way to Upper Muley. Instead of parking at the designated 2WD spot, I continued on along the stream bed, eventually making it all the way to the 4WD trailhead near the Strike Valley Overlook. Not bad for a 91 Honda civic with 4.5″ of clearance.

I day hiked Upper Muley, which was very cool. The upper section had no less than 5 significant arches along it, and the rim route was spectacular. I wish I would have had the time to backpack and camp along the north end of the rim route. It was amazing.

After getting back to my car, I drove the rest of the way home, begrudging the fact that I had to work the next morning instead of being able to explore the reef a little more. I think I have a new favorite national park.

The weekend after that, I headed back to Utah for my final desert trip of the season. I had secured an overnight permit for Chesler Park, and I wanted to explore the western section of the needles that I hadn’t seen yet. We decided to make the trip start/end at Squaw Flat campground instead of elephant hill, making the route a little longer, but allowing us to see some sections that we missed on our last trip. Chesler Park was beautiful. It had long grass, lots of wild flowers and flowering cacti, and some spectacular sandstone. We had our permit for CP5, which is the last campsite along a sandstone ridge in the middle of the park. Along that same ridge we found a historic cowboy camp, which just added to the experience of camping in the park.

After dropping off our stuff in camp, we day hiked to the joint, a narrow slot canyon like passage from Chesler Park to the area below it where the 4WD road allowed access to the park (from elephant hill to Beef Basin). After exploring some more, we headed back to camp to have dinner, watch the sun set, and shoot some more star photos (again, I brought the polar tracker) and woke up a few times during the night to shoot photos.  Unfortunately, it had to be a short weekend trip, so the next day we hiked out, and drove back to Denver.

Last weekend, Father’s day weekend, I continued my tradition of taking my daughter camping. This is the 4th summer I’ve taken her camping.  As always, it was a blast, with lots of s’mores, stories, and games.

Now, for the plans.

Sean O’Rourke, who I met in Ouray a while back while ice climbing, is an awesome guy with a climbing lifestyle that I definitely envy. Earlier this spring, he mentioned he was having issues getting a permit to climb rainier solo, so I made the offer that if he wanted a partner, I’d fly up there and climb it with him. I’ve done harder (see Operation Dark Snake in 2013 and my report about Gannett in 2010), but I knew it would still be a challenge. Sure enough, I got a few emails from him at the start of June, and we nailed down a weekend in July for a summit attempt. It’ll be my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, so I am definitely excited. I’m also excited to finally get to climb with Sean, although I know he’s going to dust me unless I train hard.

Other stuff in the bag is a few 14ers next weekend (trying to hit 10k feet of gain in 48 hours) and tentatively taking Alex on a trip to the Sand Dunes for some “Daddy/Daughter” time the weekend after that. It’ll be the first multi-night camping trip I’ve taken her on, so I’m hoping it goes well. She seemed to enjoy last weekend quite a bit.

Next comes the Wind Rivers. I’ll be heading up to Lander to backpack a new section of the Wind Rivers I haven’t seen before, and maybe catch a summit along the way.  I’ll be backpacking with Aaron, so I’ll have some good company for that trip as well.

After the winds and Rainier, I have no plans. At all….

I guess I’ll have to find something fun. Maybe spend a few weekends taking Alex on local trips or backpacking a few sections of the Colorado Trail, and I’ll figure out a Labor Day trip too. For Labor Day, a few idea’s I have floating around is Granite Peak in Montana, maybe another trip to backpack something in the Winds or the Tetons, maybe a 14ers trip (Chicago Basin could be done in a long weekend). Who knows?

MAKE EACH DAY A NEW HORIZON

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Posted in Uncategorized

Capitol Reef and the Waterpocket Fold

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Above – Just before sunrise just north of the Halls Creek Narrows in Capitol Reef National Park (looking northwards).

Below –  One of the many cactus blooms i saw during my latest trip to southern Utah. 

After three days down in the southern leg of Capitol Reef and the Waterpocket fold, I have decided that I am really impressed.

- Halls Creek Narrows is just awesome! As good as Buckskin Gulch and the Zion Narrows, but with no red tape for overnights (walk in permits are free at the visitor center).  It’s shorter at only ~3.5 miles through it, and the water during my trip was around 3 feet deep in the deepest sections you have to wade through.

-Lower Muley twist canyon is pretty awesome. Some of the largest alcoves I have ever seen. Almost completely dry, so I was glad that I stashed water at the upper trailhead.

- Brimhall Natural Bridge (a double arch) was actually a bit of a scramble to get up to, which wasn’t expected (but then again, I didn’t read up on the trail). It wasn’t too bad of a hike, just unexpected squeezing and friction climbing. The area near the arch was a great lunch spot.

- As good as my idea to self-shuttle with my mountain bike, I keep forgetting that any significant bike riding after hiking for three days isn’t the most comfortable activity :-P

I think I am going to write up this trip for Trailgroove for the next issue. It should be pretty sweet.

Also, Osprey will be posting a piece I wrote along with some photos. I think it’s a pretty good piece, so I’ll post a link to it when it goes live.

Unfortunately, no more desert trips have been planned from now until Memorial Day when I’ll be doing the under the rim trail in Bryce. However, I will be training for the Colfax Marathon between now and May 18th, so that’ll keep me busy. I also am apparently receiving an unknown 1 lb. package from Ricoh on Monday. Maybe it’ll be a Theta 360 camera for Spherical Report 360!!!

I wonder what i could do for the spherical report. Maybe a spherical photo from the tops all the peaks, passes, and canyons this summer.

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Posted in Backpacking, Biking, TrailGroove Magazine, Uncategorized

Desert Season

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Above – Just before sunset near the Dollhouse in the Maze

Below – Looking into Jasper Canyon in the Maze

Oh, how I love the spring desert season. It’s so nice to escape from Denver and head out to the middle of nowhere in southern Utah and northern Arizona, exploring bits and piece of the Colorado Plateau. My March trips turned out excellent, and I was treated to some amazing weather for both the Grand Canyon and for the Maze district of Canyonlands. It’s pretty crazy how remote the Maze district is, taking over 4 hours from Green River, UT to get to the golden stairs where we started my second trip. Aaron wrote up a trip report here with some awesome photos.  

Two weeks after going on those trips, I needed more, so I headed back out to Canyonlands, hitting up the Needles district and hiking Salt Creek from Cathedral Butte to Peekaboo, and then hiking west to see Druid Arch and out through Elephant Hill. I had hiked Salt Creek two years ago, and although it was familiar, it was fun to see it again, seeing even more Indian ruins and petroglyphs than I saw last time. However, I hiked downstream instead of upstream, which made navigation much easier, and instead of continuing along the salt creek north, we headed west into lost canyon, which was absolutely epic.

After getting back, I found out the next day that I had a new job offer, with some better benefits, so I decided to celebrate with another desert trip just before starting up the new job, this time exploring the lower section of capitol reef along the Bullfrog-Notom Road. The weather is again looking excellent for the trip. After that, I’m looking forward to finally doing the Under-the-rim Trail in Bryce, and finishing off the spring desert season with yet another trip to the Needles District to see the rest of Chesler Park. 6 desert trips should keep me satisfied till next fall, and until next fall, I can do some more exploring of the high country as it melts out from the winter.

In the latest issue of TrailGroove, I wrote up some tips for deserts trips for the trail tips section here.

I also got a chance to check out Pat’s Backcountry Beverage System and their brew and soda concentrates. Simply put, they taste like a fresh beer/soda, and its much lighter and eco-friendly than hauling around a bunch of cans/bottles around the backcountry. I also wrote up a full review for the magazine, which can be seen here too

There’s a few other things I’ve got in the works with Osprey Packs and Golite, so hopefully those will come to fruition soon enough. Let’s just say I’m excited about what the future may hold :-)

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Posted in Backpacking, Planning and Prep, TrailGroove Magazine

Grand Canyon planning

DSC04092Above – Grand Teton and Table Mountain, seen from Fred’s Mountain pass

It’s been awhile since if wrote up anything, mostly due to the fact that buying and then setting up a house is way too much work. I am now a homeowner, and now that everything has settled down, I hope to be able to bring some more trips for everyone to read about this summer here and in TrailGroove.

I was able to get out for a few small trips this winter including the Ouray Ice Festival which is always a blast. I also had multiple articles published, including my teton trip, my Utah highline trip, the 4 pass loop, layering in the cold (two parts), and how I put together my first aid kit (and why)! Check them out in Issues 11, 12, and 13.

My first trip of the spring/summer is another trip to the Grand Canyon. The route looks to be around 50 miles of backpacking, plus potentially up 14 miles of additional day hiking if feel up to it. The route is from Hermits Rest to Hermit Rapids, then along the Tonto Trail to the Bright Angel Trail, down to the Colorado River again to cross at the bridges, and then back to the south rim via the South Kaibab Trail.

Apparently the Grand Canyon backcountry rangers aren’t use to people wanting to backpack more than 10 miles a day, and I received multiple warnings from them that I should reconsider my trip. Quoting the email I received from Ranger Welles “The itinerary you proposed is difficult for even the most experienced Grand Canyon backpacker”. I wonder if they are oblivious to the multiple ultra-runners that run the canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim in a day (41-47 miles and over 10k’ of gain, depending on the route)

Last spring I backpacked to the river in 3 hours, and backpacked from the river to the south rim in 5 hours, with energy and time to spare. The only “difficult” day planned this spring is the last day, which is 14 miles and ~5k’ of gain from the river to the rim, which I anticipate taking between 7-8 hours at a mild pace.

After the Grand Canyon, I am planning to meet up with Aaron, the editor and owner of TrailGroove, for some fun in the Arizona Strip and then Canyonlands. We also decided to plan a second trip to the needles section to see Chesler Park in early April too.

As for my plans this year, I am eager to finally backpack the Under-the-rim trail in Bryce Canyon, run my first marathon (The Colfax Marathon), the Wind River Highline trail in Wyoming, and the Wonderland Trail in Washington state. I am also going to try to start section hiking the Colorado trail, which I had planned on doing before my surgery last spring, and throw in some 14ers for taste when I decide I need some altitude. If this summer turns out half as well as last summer, I’ll be ecstatic!

Posted in Planning and Prep, TrailGroove Magazine

Getting Educated

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Above – Buckskin Gulch, AZ

Winter has finally hit the Colorado high country, and I’ve been laying low for the last month since life has been pretty busy. This last weekend I headed up the foothills west of boulder and completed a Leave No Trace Trainer course. I have always felt like I practice good land ethics while in the backcountry; however the trainer course has opened my eyes to some better practices. Now I know that there were still a few things I should be doing a little differently, and will try to implement them on future trips. If you have the time, I highly recommend taking a course. Local courses can be found using the calendar on the LNT.org website.

I also decided to take a Wilderness First Responder course this fall. Even though I have had formal advanced first aid training through Lifeguarding, river guiding, and Boy Scouts, I have never actually taken a formal course on wilderness specific medical best practices, and again I have found it well worth the time. You are only as effective as the tools you bring with you, and the lightest tool you can bring is knowledge. As a result of the course, I’m going to be modifying my first aid kit a little bit. However I think I can get away with only adding a few items and keeping the weight down. Aaron has expressed interest in a first aid kit primer, so that will be coming down the road at Trailgroove.

Speaking of Aaron, he decided to write up part of the Utah trip we took last spring to buckskin gulch. The trip report along with photos from both of us can be seen here – http://www.trailgroove.com/entry.php/38-Hiking-Buckskin-Gulch-A-Belated-Trip-Report

Another cool thing I found was that I was selected again for September’s spot at FreePhotoCourse.com’s contributors’ gallery. I’ve already mentioned before how much I like how his site is laid out to help teach some basic photography skills, and I recommend reading through his primers.  – http://freephotocourse.com/contributors-photo-gallery.html

Right now the weather for the upcoming weekend is looking really good, so I think I’m going to get after a few more 14ers in the snow, and maybe break out the fat bike. Below are a few good photos of the fat bike during the gravel grinder last month. This thing is too much fun!

Posted in Biking, Planning and Prep, TrailGroove Magazine

Move

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I love the video below. It reminds me of last fall, I was training hard at the rock gym 4 days a week, and going out every weekend that the weather was decent, getting ready for the Bozeman Ice Festival and ice season.

Things are a little more complicated now since my shoulder is still healing up, but this just makes me feel motivated. Get out there and do something on a daily basis.

My shoulder is oddly feeling really well today, even though it was hurting enough last Thursday that i postponed the White Rim trip for a few weeks. I think the weekend of rest did it some good, so I decided to sign up for a 50 mile gravel grinder this Saturday, and I’m going to run a 10k race on Sunday.

Posted in Uncategorized

Operation Dark Snake (and another TrailGroove article)

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Before I get on with the trip report, I wanted to post that I had another article published by TrailGroove. This time on how to take care of your feet. Let me know what you think – http://www.trailgroove.com/issue10.html?autoflip=9

The latest issue of Trailgroove is one of the best ones yet, and I’m happy to say that the magazine has gotten so much attention that Aaron has decided to publish 9 issues a year instead of 6.

Secondly, I was unaware that I was selected for the May 2013 contributors spot for a few of my photos I submitted to freephotocourse.com. I like their website, and their online photography course is very well done considering it’s free. It goes over the basics very thoroughly.

http://freephotocourse.com/contributors-photo-gallery.html

Alright, time for the trip report

I am not normally one to practice civil disobedience, but Culebra Peak has a very long history of being problematic. I feel that the restrictions that the ranch owner puts on recreational use are not reasonable. Sure, it’s better than the access issues that have plagued the region in the past, but is still absurd. Mountains should have unrestricted access, not just for the people that have extra money to burn to pay some landowner off so they unlock their gate.

The route up Culebra through the ranch is also kinda boring. While looking at the route, I started wondering if there was some way to make up a route from a nearby road that wasn’t within the massive ranch property. After looking a bit, I found the themountaininstitute.com’s description of a long trail less cross country route. The route looked good, and I got very excited at the possibility of bagging a bunch of 13ers along the way. I knew that I wanted to do it this summer, and I just needed a good weather window near a full moon. September is normally a good weather month for alpine climbing, and last weekend initially was set up pretty well for making an attempt.

However, I made two mistakes. I tried to go stupid light, and didn’t carry what I would normally need if something went wrong during a trip as long as this, and I didn’t rest up as much as I should have before going for it, only getting 5 hours of sleep on Thursday, and another 5 hours Friday night.

The drive down to the start of the hike was uneventful, and I found the “trailhead” without any issues. Within 30 minutes, a truck came by as I was getting my pack prepped. Two guys and a girl from Breckenridge were in it, and asked if I was going for ODS, plainly stating that they were not out there to go hunting. Two of my friends were going to join me too, but they weren’t able to show up until much later. I thought about heading up and hiking through the night, but I was already tired and needed some sleep, so I slept in the car at the start, and started up the next morning around 6. Along the route I found 2 other people that had started just before I arrived the night before, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was another group or two that went up Thursday night and finished before I got there. It seems like the route is the dirty little secret that everyone knows about, but nobody talks about.

The route follows an obvious ridgeline, and the mountain institute site does a very good job of describing the route. Essentially, stay on the highest ridgeline the entire way from Mount Maxwell to Culebra and you’ll make it there. To prepare, I made a quick datasheet for the peaks and their coordinates, and printed off some topo maps of Google map terrain screenshots. USGS quads do exist for this area too, and can be found online.

One thing that isn’t readily available is accurate route mileage and elevation gain. I have read conflicting reports, and I wanted to nail down what the actual route entails.

Some quick directions first, you’ll want turn off highway 12 at the well signed road towards Purgatoire Campground, then go 3.7 miles along County Road 34, where you’ll see a designated camping spot and a road that goes over the north fork of the Purgatoire river and parallels the west fork of the Purgatoire. This road is actually in very good shape considering it’s an old mining road and doesn’t get a lot of traffic, and any vehicle with some decent clearance should be able to make it up 3/4 of the way to the top, and any stock 4WD vehicle should be able to make it up to the top. The road is 2.85 miles, and gains approximately 2125′ to get to the end of the 4WD road. There are lots of pull offs and sites that are appropriate for camping along the 4WD road. The road ends at tree line, and there are a few cairns that start heading up the ridge towards Mount Maxwell, but it’s a pretty obvious route straight up the middle of the ridge to the top of Mount Maxwell. The top of Mount Maxwell is another 1.15 miles, putting you at 4 miles total from the 2wd start, and a gain of 3780′.

From the top of Mount Maxwell, you can see your entire route in front of you, with the massive mound of Culebra in the distance. You can also see the Blanca and Crestone groups to your north and the Spanish Peaks to your east.

After Lomo Liso, the route starts to get harder and slower. If you get to the saddle between Lomo Liso and Miranda and you’re having trouble with the route, TURN AROUND.

Miranda is the most technical peak along the route, with a few easy 3 class moves. I choose to side hill around it, and climb some fun slabby crack climbing to get to the top, but the ridgeline has a knife edge and some exposure, but it’s short. Lots of scrambling before and after the 3rd class parts.

After Miranda there’s point 13565, which is easy, but steep on the south side, and then you’ll be on the slope of point 13701, the last big climb to Culebra. As tired as you’ll be at this point, don’t side hill around the north side, but go straight up the ridgeline, maybe just east of the ridgeline if the wind is kicking. Once you’re at the top of point 13701, its smooth sailing to the top of Culebra. If you side hill, you’ll run into some very rotten rock near the saddle.

For my trip, it took me just over 12 hours to hike from the start to the top of Culebra, 85% of the time I was above 12,300, and 40% of the trip was above 13,150′. The total elevation gain was 11,644 ft., and the total elevation loss is 7224 ft. For the return trip, those figures should be about the same, meaning that you will have over 18,000 feet of gain over the entire trip. The mileage will also be around 15.3 each way, giving a total round trip distance of 30.6 miles.

With these stats in mind, remember that the longest standard 14er route is the Barr Trail on Pikes Peak, and that’s only 7500 feet of gain and 26 miles RT on a well maintained trail.

The gain will obviously be less if you choose to traverse around the 13er summits, but there aren’t many chances to do that. Maxwell and De Anze can be traversed, avoiding ~300-400 feet of gain each time. The true top of Lomo Liso can also be bypassed, but you’ll be within ~100 feet of the top anyways, so just go for it.

If you’re like me, almost 12,000 feet along 15 miles of mostly off trail travel in 12 hours will make you pretty tired. I knew I should have brought my bivy gear, but I didn’t. In hindsight, that bivy sack, pad, and sleeping bag (around ~2 lbs total for the lightest stuff i have) would have been worth the weight, so if I ever do this again, I will definitely bring some bivy gear and plan on sleeping a few hours along the route before heading back.

Something to also note is that you will need to carry all of your own water because there is no water along the ridgeline, but there is water well below the ridgeline on the west side,  just north of the road Google maps calls “whiskey pass road”. Its almost 1000 feet below the ridgeline route, below a small crashed airplane you’ll see while traveling south of DeAnza Peak. While out of the way, its better than getting severely dehydrated if you failed to plan your water consumption correctly. You may ask why I know about this, and the reason why is because we took a different route back to avoid the wind and fog that battered us on the ridge overnight and most of the morning. It was definitely a longer route with more elevation loss/gain, so i would avoid it and just go along the direct ridgeline route as much as possible.

Please email me if you want the datasheet I made and/or the GPX files of the Culebra route. I don’t want to publicly post them, but I’m happy to share them.

Here is a Google map link to an overlay of the route

Posted in Alpine, Planning and Prep, Rock, TrailGroove Magazine
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