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 and sleeping bag 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.

I will be updating this post with the datasheet and the GPX files of the Culebra route as soon as I get around to them.

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

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

The Teton High Route

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It’s been a week since I got back from Grand Teton National Park and the trip met all my expectations. It was a little more difficult than I thought as I underestimated the amount of total gain. I made another data book, which can be found under the data book tab, and I will upload my GPX files after I’ve had a little more time to review them and edit out any defects (occasional skewed gps readings)

I drove up Friday after leaving work a little early. The Labor Day traffic going north was bad as I expected, but defiantly better than I70 west. As soon as I got past Fort Collins, the traffic disappeared, and I made it to the trail head a few miles past Flagg ranch a little after midnight without a hitch. After scouting out a decent spot to lock up my bike, I headed back to Flagg ranch. I figured nobody would care if I just slept in my car in the parking lot, but around 3am, the night watch woke me up. Apparently they don’t allow anyone to park in front, but he ended up leaving me alone as soon as I explained I was just waiting for the alltrans shuttle. If I would have done it again, I probably would have slept in my car at the trailhead, and then drove back to Flagg ranch in the morning before the shuttle came. The trailhead was quieter and darker, and would have made for a better night’s sleep.

Day one went just as planned. The shuttle picked me up at 7am, and I made it to Home ranch in Jackson by 9:45. I noticed on the shuttle that there was so much haze that you couldn’t see the mountains from Jackson Lake Lodge. I had a taxi pick me up here, and by 10:15 (a little later than I would have liked) I was at the trailhead. My worries about the haze disappeared when I realized that it was sitting in the valleys, and mountains were clear. The weather was perfect with cloudless bluebird sky and I ended up hiking till sundown, making it 19.5 miles to sunset lake just before it got dark enough to need my flashlight. The haze made for a very colorful alpenglow sunset as I hiked past Buck Mountain in the Alaska Basin.

Day two started off late and slow, which set me back for the rest of the trip. Because of the long drive, I only got 4 hours of sleep Friday night, so I ended up turning off the alarm that woke me up at 6:30, and I didn’t get up till after 8:30. After making breakfast and packing up, I got on the trail at 9:45. The weather stayed perfect, but it was a little slow going since I had to deal with some decent elevation gain over the first few miles, and the looseness of the 1000′ of gain to go up the south side of Table Mountain didn’t help either. After making it to the top of Table Mountain, I headed back down, losing over 3000′ before finding my next trail over Fred mountain pass. The hike down was enjoyable since I had a nice conversation with a local that had just finished hiking Table Mountain, and a group on horseback offered me a cold beer during the descent, which I couldn’t pass up. After hiking over Fred mountain pass and down to Leigh creek, I was set back by finding what seemed to be a major creek with a large watershed completely dry, and I was out of water. I also had found a blister on my toe, so I set to fixing it. While I was fixing it, a couple on horseback came down the trail. They told me that it was just a dry spot where the creek went underground, and that there was plenty of water just up the trail before having to climb up to granite basin. After my foot was fixed, I started the climb up to granite basin, and found a nice meadow ~2 miles before the basin to make camp at sunset.

Day three started off around 3 am when a few raindrops woke me up. I didn’t bother to set up my tarp and was just sleeping in my bivy sack with all my gear next to me. I was too groggy to put my tarp up, so I just pulled it out and draped it over me and my stuff, tying it off to my bivy to make sure it didn’t fly away if the wind kicked up. I woke up again at 6:30 when my watch beeped at me, and I got my stuff together, ate breakfast, and set off just before 7:30. When I had checked the weather on Friday, the weather looked great for Saturday and Sunday a 0% chance of rain, and gradually changed with 10% forecasted for Monday, and 40-50% showers on Tuesday. Apparently the storm moved in early, because I got hit by the rain at 8am, and lasted most of the day, getting heavy at times. It let up for a little bit while climbing up Dead Horse pass, and started again as I headed towards Nord pass. At the end of the day going over Nord pass, I stopped several times to admire the low lying clouds as the sunset, and took the video posted below. Soon afterwards I realized how far behind I was, and I needed to make up a few miles in the dark. That idea went out the window as I descended towards bitch creek. Heavy fog moved in after the sunset and the trail disappeared. The fog was very thick and disorientating, and I really didn’t want to bushwhack in the dark  in the very wet (and slippery) hills that lead down to the main creek, so I found a half decent spot and made camp.

I woke up extra early the next morning, knowing it was going to be a long day. I wanted to be at my car by 3pm for the drive home, and I was still behind where i wanted to be. The trail was still lost, and it was still very wet. Luckily the rain was gone, and stayed away for the rest of the day. After reviewing my map vs where i was based off landmarks, I realized that I should have probably veered right further up, and I could see where the trail should meet up with the main creek at the base of the valley. Not wanting to backtrack and waste time trying to find the trail, I set off straight towards where I believed that the trail would come out at the bottom of the descent. I found the trail like I thought, but I was soaked from all the wet brush. That trail lasted for another mile and a half, which luckily was most of the gain to get around Red Mountain, and then disappeared again as I headed towards Young’s point. After getting over the pass near youngs point, I decided that I would just head straight toward the last pass, avoiding the full elevation loss going down to Grizzly Creek. I only ended up avoiding around 200′ of gain, and there were a few steep sections that I had to descend, and gaining the elevation to Conant pass off trail was difficult, but I managed to make it to Conant pass just after noon, finding the trail just before the pass. If I didn’t have to make up time, I would have rather just navigated off trail to grizzly creek, where I probably would have found the trail that led to Conant and made the climb a bit easier. After Conant pass, I dug down deep and went into speed mode, covering the last 16 miles in less than 6 hours, which included a stop to change out socks near Berry Creek, a few water bottle fill ups, and running into a bear and a wolf on separate occasions. I made it to my bike at 6pm sharp, and biked the last few miles to my car, putting me at 26 miles for the day. For a reward, I had a 12 pack of soda chilling in the cooler in the back, and I stopped at the Ramshorn in Dubois for a very tasty burger and fries on the drive home. I wasn’t able to make it all the way back without stopping and sleeping a few hours outside of Rawlins, and then sleeping a few more hours near Virginia dale, CO. I woke up just in time to witness a beautiful sunrise (I’ve always loved the Virginia dale area near the state line), and made it back to Denver and pulled into work for a full 8 hour work day.

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The most memorable pieces of the trip was Alaska basin, Hurricane pass, the green lakes area just north of granite basin, and the area between Nord pass and Camp Lake. Berry Creek was very exciting, even though I was trying to move fast, I still was able to see a black bear and had my first wolf sighting.

In retrospect, I think I would have been a little more relaxed doing it in 4.5 days. For an alternate route, hiking east from Nord pass will drop you into Moose basin, which will give you a few different routes in the remote areas of Owl and Webb canyon. I think using either canyon as an alternate ending would be fun, and might make for a slightly easier last day.

I also didn’t realize that the Tetons dry up so much in the late summer. Maybe it was just from the low snowpack, but there were several extended dry sections that I pointed out in my data book. Also late summer mean almost no wildflowers. The local I hiked with down Table Mountain said that if I wanted to hike during wildflower season and get the most of the seasonal water runoff, early July would be a better time as long as it wasn’t a very heavy snow season the year before. Insects were nonexistent for most of the trip (except the swarming ladybugs at the top of Table Mountain), and the only part of the trail that felt crowded was actually the Table Mountain trail, which I found surprising. Apparently in the Teton valley, hiking Table Mountain is like hiking the easier 14ers around Denver, since it’s one of the highest peaks in the Tetons that doesn’t require any resemblance of technical climbing and offers a great view of the Grand. Otherwise I only ran into a fellow hiker occasionally, and I did not see anyone on my last day until I started biking along Grassy Lakes Road.

Posted in Backpacking, Planning and Prep, TrailGroove Magazine

Aspen 4 pass loop, GTIS half marathon, and another 14er

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Three weeks ago I was fortunate to have a decent weather window, where the weekend before was stormy and wet. I invited two friends to backpack the aspen 4 pass loop with me, a hike I had heard a lot about, but have never been to the area to hike, backpack, or climb.

The route circles around the maroon bells for ~26 miles, going over; you guessed it, 4 passes as it completes the circuit. The trail it fairly rocky the entire way, and has some gorgeous overlooks. I think the view of the back side of the maroon bells from frigid air pass and the view of Capitol and Snowmass from buckskin pass were the two best moments of the trip. I found myself scouting the different lines of the 14ers, especially Snowmass for a climb next winter, and I’m excited to go back and climb all of them eventually.

Two weekends ago I ran my first half marathon. I finished in 2 hours 26 minutes, which isn’t exactly fast, but considering I was running at 8,000 feet and it was my first half marathon, I think I did pretty good.

Then last weekend another weather window opened up from the monsoon rains that have been hitting the mountains the last few weeks. I took advantage of it by climbing Mount of the Holy Cross with my old co-worker, Xavier. We hiked the halo route, which circles around the mountain, taking the notch mountain/holy cross ridge route up, and the north ridge down. We had perfect weather the entire day, and finished the route in less than 12 hours.

I also finished up the tubeless conversion of my Pugsley.  Overall, I lost over 2.5 pounds of rotating mass off the bike. Both tires are now tubeless running to 120tpi Surly Nates. I also upgraded my front rotor to a 180mm for better braking and upgraded my cassette to a XTR 11-34 cassette to cut a little more weight and give me a little better gearing for steep hills. I replaced the chain while I was at it, so the bike is all ready for getting down and dirty, or maybe sandy ;-).

Next for the bike will be building my own wheels and I’m considering switching my crankset to give me a 1×9 setup. I’ve always wanted to build a set of wheels from scratch, but I think I’ll wait till spring and see how the bike does in its current setup.

The Teton trip is coming into focus. I’ve figured out a way to self-shuttle from Flagg ranch to Teton pass, and I’ve taken the day after Labor Day off work to make it work. Just a week and a half till I drive up there.

Posted in Alpine, Backpacking, Biking, Planning and Prep
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