Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

Backpacking from Mt. Magazine to Cove Lake, AR, 21-23 Oct 2016

25 October 2016

The High Adventure Team (HAT) of Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma had a really nice beginner/intermediate backpacking trip between Mount Magazine and Cove Lake, AR, last weekend.

Photos from the trip are here on my Google+ site.

Summary, 10.8 miles over two days, with about 1400 ft of altitude loss, and short gains, with mostly contouring.

We headed out from OKC around 1630 and got to Cove Lake around 1930.  It was dark, but the Scouts got tents and hammocks up very quickly.  We sat around talking for a while, and looked at the beautiful dark sky with the Milky Way perfectly clear.  Off to the east, we watched the Pleiades, followed by Sirius, and there was a glow on the horizon that was the Moon about to peek over. We saw a couple satellites.  One thing, there was some sort of bio-luminescent critter in the lake that glowed like a firefly.

The next morning, we got up, had breakfast, and packed up.  We drove up to the Corley trailhead to do a water recon and see if there was a good campsite around the halfway point of the trail, but didn’t really see either.  We decided on a clearing that had been recently cut near a natural gas facility.

A note on those.  We saw three others just like the one I reference above.  A natural gas pipe facility, and very nearby, an acre or more of trees are just bulldozed down with a rough road cut.  I figured they were for parking heavy machinery somehow used by the gas company.

Regardless, after our recon we drove up to Mt. Magazine, visited the visitor center, and went to the trailhead.  We had one vehicle shuttle to do, and we hit the trail.

Two things about this five-mile hike.  It’s a long way down (more than 1200 ft), and there is no water along the way, except in one pond we hiked next to.  There were several nice campsites (I waypointed them on my GPS, and you can see them on the terrain plot on the Google+ site).  Note that the campsites, except the one that was near the pond, had NO water nearby.  There were a number of streambeds that we crossed, but dry.

As we got closer to the five-mile halfway point, we noticed a number of good campsites. There was a decent one about 200 yards south of a point where the trailed joined up with a road for a short distance.  Gutter Rock Creek is a decent-sized streambed several hundred yards SW along that road, but again, it was dry.  Our campsite was in a stand of pine trees, and the trunks were perfect for our hammock hangers, and the copious pine needles were a thick and very comfortable bed for our tenters.  There were lots of rocks to sit on and cook on.

The next morning, we got up and had breakfast and headed out earlier than the previous day.  We had about another five miles to go to get back to Cove Lake. Once you get on the short stretch of gravel road, you find a new trail, with both the road and new trail heading steadily but not steeply up.  You level out at the Corley trailhead.  There is a sign there that points down the road, but the actual trail is west of the trailhead; exit the trailhead to the NW, and a short spur leads you to the trailhead near the bluff.

As you hike along to the north, you shortly come to the best view on the trail, that looks back at Mt. Magazine to the south.

The remainder of the trail contours or gently slopes down.  About a half mile from the Cove Lake trailhead, we crossed one stream with decent water in it, and then Cove Creek, with a LOT of water in it.  There were lots of campsites along the bluff with the good view, or in the forest as you get near Cove Lake, but most of them are dry.

This was a nice backpack, easy on our newbies, with decent views to reward our effort. 90% of the hike was in shade.

mtmagazine_terrainmtmagazine_altitude

Backpacking and Hiking Glacier National Park, MT, 16-23 September 2016

2 October 2016

Summary

50+ miles walking in Glacier National Park, MT, with an early departure due to lousy weather to see the Park.  Massive views otherwise, a lot of critters and critter signs, amazing lakes.

The photos for the trek are on Google+ here.

Want to go back already!

Getting There

I’ve been putting in for backcountry permits at Glacier for the past couple years, and this year we finally hit one in the lottery, with an itinerary Clark had submitted.  I quickly found out that United or Delta were my only choices for flying into Kalispell, MT, which was the closest airport to the Park.  $550 later, I was ready to go.

The team had decided to get to the Park a couple days early and dayhike, so we all came in for Friday.  Chuck and I headed out from OKC way early, and in Denver we had a delay due to an airplane problem after we launched for Kalispell.  The flight between DEN-FCA was stunning, we flew over East Yellowstone.  I will put up a separate blog post for that.  We got in about 1115, picked up Clark and Jason in Kalispell and had lunch, then headed to the Park.

Jason had found a very nice house that would sleep us all at Glacier Guides.  We dropped out stuff there on the way to the Park.

Dayhiking

We had a total of 17.58 miles dayhiking over three days.

First, we headed up to Avalanche Lake.  We were amazed that in late September, the trailhead parking was full, and then some.  There was construction going on the boardwalk part of the trail.  The trail up to the Lake was pretty easy, and there were a TON of people going up there.  We were on the trail from 1415 to 1700.  The trail starts on the Trail Of The Cedars, which is a loop boardwalk trail.  At several points you are treated to small cascades on Avalanche Creek.  Once at the Lake, you immediately transition from woods to a majestic wall around the south end of the Lake that had three ribbon waterfalls coming down a couple thousand feet. Photos were taken in quantity.  We hiked along the lakeshore, alternating between river rock and bigger rock hopping.  We got about halfway along the shore when we decided that it was getting dark, so we headed back.  We found a trail to the main trail; if we had realized that trail was there we would have made better time and more progress to the head of the Lake.

This hike was 5.86 miles roundtrip, and about 650 ft of altitude gain.  Highly recommended.

avalanche_lake

Saturday, we started the day by hiking a loop trail that ran by Sacred Dancing Cascade and McDonald Falls.  This was a pretty flat trail for the most part, except the part that goes by John’s Lake, where you get a little up.  The woods on the north side of McDonald Creek were deep and dark.  The Falls were very pretty, I climbed down about 30 ft to get near the surface of the creek.

This hike was 3.03 miles, and had a total of 500 ft of altitude gain, mostly on the south side of Going To The Sun Road to climb up to the Lake.

waterfalls_and_johns_lake

After the loop hike, we headed back into town to pick up Dave, then get lunch, then back into the Park for some more hiking.

This was not so much happy.  We had decided to drive up Going To The Sun Road for the views, and to hike to Hidden Lake.  On the way up, it started to rain, and the wind started to blow, and as we went up, the clouds came down, and in short order we were in a low-visibility situation.  We ended up at the Visitor Center at Logan Pass, looked around a couple minutes, then hitched up our rain gear and headed out.  It was raining, sleeting, and blowing hard enough that a couple times you had to push pretty hard.  The first part of the hike was over tundra, and was on a long boardwalk with occasional trail.  There are some pretty waterfalls to the north.  We got out to the overlook, and looked over a bunch of clouds below us.  We decided that the Lake would not be seen today, and headed back down.

The hike to the Hidden Lake overlook was 2.98 miles, with about 550 ft of up, and then 550 ft of down.

hidden_lake_overlook

We headed back to the house and met up with Lance and Luke, then headed into Columbia Falls for dinner and a grocery run.

The third day, we drove into Whitefish to do a bit of shopping for gear, then headed back into the Park for lunch and another hike.  For this one, we decided to hike up to Fish Lake.  I really wanted to see a moose, and figured that an alpine lake would increase the odds.  This hike was a very straightforward out and back off of GTTS Road, and it had a bit of a climb.  We crossed several streams along the way and back, and had some nice views of Lake McDonald from the trail.

This days hike was 5.65 miles round trip, with a gain and loss of about 1,200 ft.

fish_lake

After our hike, we returned to the house for some home-cooked spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread, and final packing for departure the next morning.

We had been checking the weather.  The next two days were nice, with rain predicted for Wednesday afternoon, and snow Thursday and Friday.  Snow was predicted for the southeast side of the park, which is very high.  We went into the Backcountry Office and talked with them about routing, and made a change to reflect a route I had tried for the previous two years, modified to a different camp site for Thursday evening.

Backpacking

Day 1

We had a really good breakfast before leaving, and got out of the house around 0900.  It was steadily raining (the forecast notwithstanding), and the drive on GTTS Road had not really improved view-wise.  On the other side, we broke out in sunshine (mostly), and turned north at Babb for the trailhead, near Chief Mountain very near the Canadian border.

We managed to hit the trail around 1030 after the drive in.  It was a perfect day to hike, with temps in the 60s, with the only downer a very stiff wind blowing into our faces.  We hiked along until around 1300, when we found a place that was both in the sun and in the lee of the wind behind some trees.  Lunch was very good!

The trail was well worn along here, although a bit narrow, and after a good descent from the trailhead, mostly flat.  We passed a Ranger station with about seven horses that watched us pass.  At this point, we started back into trees, and bounced up and down quite a bit.  We crossed the Belly River on a suspension bridge, ran into and talked to a Ranger, and hike along in pretty good shape.  We had the threat of rain but never really got any.

An unexpected surprise was a beautiful waterfall along the way.  Dawn Mist Falls is about 100ft high and was thundering and stunning.  If you miss the turnoff for the foot of the Falls, you get a good view from an overlook.

We motored into camp at the bottom of Elizabeth Lake around 1645.

We had secured food storage boxes at Elizabeth Lake, and an outhouse.  After storing our food bags in the boxes, we set up camp, and came back for dinner.

Glacier is sorta different in the food area.  There is a food area, and you are required to do all cooking and eating there.  The food area is very nice, with logs to sit on, and upended logs to use for tables.

I had Backpackers Pantry Santa Fe Chicken and Rice for dinner, with a couple cups of chicken noodle soup, and it was great.

It was around 50F when we got into camp, and in the mid-40s at bed time.

Our day was 10.3 miles.  Once you lose about 770 ft from the trailhead, you have a net gain of around 300 ft of climb by the time you get to camp, but the actual gain is probably 1000 ft by the time you factor in a number of intermediate bump ups (and downs).

Day 2

It was 38F when we got up.  Rather, it was 38F when *I* got up :).  The rest of the crew was up around 0700, I struggled out at 0830.  Oh well, I didn’t hold the group up, I got my tent down and stuff packed up when everyone else was ready, and I used a bit of existing hot water to make some hot chocolate.  I ate my breakfast (a bag of Frosted Flakes and a package of blueberry Pop Tarts) as we hiked along.

We headed down the trail towards Helen Lake.  The trail follows the north side of Elizabeth Lake, and contours up and down quite a bit below a cliff that feeds a number of small waterfalls.  There were a lot of sheep and goats up there.

We got to the head of Elizabeth Lake and took a break at the camp there.  The trail continued on towards Helen Lake, climbing steadily but gently.  We found a very pretty waterfall and decided to stop there and have lunch under a beautiful blue sky, with all that mountain around us.  After lunch, we continued up the trail, going another 150 grueling yards until we found the Helen Lake campsite :).  This site had a tall bar installed for hanging food bags.  We did so, set up tents, and relaxed.  We had this site to ourselves.  It was 5 miles and a net gain of just over 200 ft altitude at this point.

One of the highlights of the hike to Helen as seeing the dramatic Old Sun Glacier and a large Yosemite-class waterfall off to the north.

After a bit of resting, we went off on a dayhike.  There were trails heading south of the camp that looked promising, right up to the point that we were in an impenetrable network of brush.  There were lots of berries in there, and we wondered if bears were also.  We retreated and tried the shoreline, but no luck there.  So we headed to the north side.  We tried low first, then went a little higher and found a way through.  We contoured steadily up, and as Sun was starting to get close to Ahern Mountain to the west, we stopped and admired the lake below us, the snowfields to the west, the waterfalls across the lake, and Ahern Glacier above.  We headed back after a bit.  This hike was 2 miles total, and got us about 1/3 of the way along the lake shore.  We also had another 200 ft of altitude gain to get us above the lake.  If I get back there, I will make it a point to get up the lake farther.

Dinner for me was Mountain House Chili Mac, and it was very good.

Our total for the day was 7 miles, and about 400 ft of altitude gain.

Day 3

We awoke to a very overcast sky.  I had oatmeal and hot tea for breakfast.  The temp was 43F.  We couldn’t see any of the mountains around us, the clouds were only a couple hundred feet over our heads.  We headed out at 0830, back towards the tail end of Lake Elizabeth.  Again, it was a nice walk to get there.  It rained on us several times on the way.  We got into camp just afternoon, unpacked the food, set up the tents, and had lunch.  It continued to rain on and off, and the last temperature I checked, it was 45F.

We knew the trail we were taking Thursday started right out of camp on a suspension bridge over the Belly River, and we had been told by the Backcountry Office the bridge would be removed at some point this week.  A couple of us walked over there after lunch, and sure enough, the bridge was gone.  The suspension cables were there, but the deck was stacked up nearby.  A trail crew was busy building a new bridge approach.  They pointed us a bit upstream at a horse ford that was about three feet deep as a place to cross the next morning.  I note that I measured the water temp a bit later at 53F.

We also got a weather update from the trail crew.  The weather was deteriorating, with heavy rain expected were we were, starting later that afternoon, and several inches of sleet and snow higher.  Well…  The next day, we were headed 2000ft higher.  Most importantly, the clouds were going to stay right where they were, and the highs the next couple days were in the mid 30s where we were, and so quite colder 2000ft higher.

We kicked it around as a team.  One option was wading the stream, and taking an intermediate trail that went through Ptarmigan Tunnel, then into Many Glacier.  It was only a 1200 ft climb, but we would end up five miles from our shuttle car.  We could also just escape out the way we came.  We settled on that option.  Then it was noted that it was 1415, and we really couldn’t hike anywhere else, and it was a long time until sunset. So we modified the option, packed up, and headed out about 1515.

There isn’t a lot to say about this day.  The trail was a muddy, disgusting slog due to all the rain.  We had just eaten a good lunch and had a good rest after the five mile walk into camp, and it was mostly down, so we burned along.  We saw a lot of tracks, and a live moose, which was very cool.  Near dusk, we got to the last hill that climbed up to the parking lot.  We all slowed down some on that climb, and we got into the parking lot at 1930, just after full dark.  We had some tired legs.  In all, we walked 10 miles in 5 hr 30 min, which is 1.8 mph sustained, with backpacks.  Not bad.

In all, we hiked 14.8 miles that last day, with 600 ft of altitude loss over the first 13 miles, with an 800 ft gain over the last 1.8 miles.

As you might expect, the decision to abort the second backpacking trip due to weather while on the trail really bugged me.  It was the right decision, given that we had a likelihood of having trouble finding the trail on a high ridge, socked in, with a couple inches of snow.  The overriding thing was not being able to see mountains, which was the entire point of being up there.

The trail:  it was a muddy, disgusting mess.  All of our boots, and our rain pants, and some of our jackets, were covered in mud.  It really made the hike a lot harder, due to slipping around.

Regardless, we got to the parking lot, loaded up in the Suburban, and drove to East Glacier, where some good staff support work by Gayle found the team some very nice (overheated!) rooms at a local place, where we could spread out our wet tents and stuff to dry overnight.

We were so sweaty and wet, that not only did every window in the car fog up, the plastic covering the dash instruments fogged up also.

Critters

We saw quite a lot of wildlife, and signs of others.  We saw deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, fox, moose, a number of ducks and waterbirds, and elk while out on the trail.  We saw paw and hoof prints from elk and moose, bear, lynx, and cougar.  There was quite a lot of bear scat seen.  I would like to see a brown bear in the wild, maybe next time.

Water

We had no issues with water.  Even when we were not walking by lakes or camping by lakes, there were plenty of streams crossing the trail, and most of them could be pumped from.

Altitude

Glacier is a lot lower than Rocky Mountain NP, or some of the stuff we have hiked in New Mexico.  This is a plot of the altitudes of the various walks we did.  Note that when I moved the GPS track data over to LibreOffice, I swapped the order of the John’s Lake and Hidden Lake plots.

glacier-hikes-altitude

Getting Home

While we were at breakfast Thursday morning, we all checked on flights, and decided that a departure that afternoon would work.  We drove around the south end of the Park, looking at the clouds covering up the mountains. We drove into Whitefish and walked around downtown for a while after lunch, then headed to FCA.  We had some issues with incoming flights at FCA, which caused all five of us to miss our connections, which were the last ones of the evening, so we were all put up in hotels overnight.  Friday morning (after seeing one of the longest security lines I’ve ever seen), we all got out and home.

Gear Notes

My fully loaded pack, for five days, was 29 lbs.  My Helium 55 held all my gear internally (but it was tight!), and the pack rode well.

Food was good.  I almost forgot to get soup, but found some at our last stop before the trailhead.  Raegan had helped me by taking my two-person dinners and cutting them by half for the trail.

I needed to have replaced my water pump filter before heading out on this trip.  A new one is on the way right now.

My clothing was a good mix.  I would get into camp, put up the tent, and immediately put on my base layer and other long sleeved stuff, and I was warm enough.  I took a fleece jacket that I wore under my Frog Togg rain jacket.

Looking Ahead

I still have not walked on a glacier.  After hiking and backpacking on this trip, I think that I will aim at the trail in the Gunsight Pass area to try to get to Jackson or Sperry Glacier, or focus on dayhiking out of Many Glacier.

Optimus Cook System

20 July 2016

optimus

Raegan and the kids got me a new backpacking stove and pot for my birthday, an Optimus unit that is lighter than the Primus stove I have been carrying the past couple years.  This one came from Cabela’s, and was on sale for $60.

The pot has fins for heat distribution like a JetBoil, and the stove fits the usual isopro fuel canisters.  This weekend, I am going to do a fuel consumption test, but in the first checkout at home, the rig boiled 3.5 cups of water in 2 minutes 40 seconds, darned impressive.  I used it several times on the trail last week, and had similar performance numbers.

The 3.5 cups figure is important in that a typical backpacking meal takes around 2 cups of boiled water.  So that means one boil cycle gets you and your hiking partner dinner, and a nice cup of soup or tea, and then some.  If the meal is one of those that require 1.5 cups, then both of you get a cup of soup.

The burner folds sideways, and then the legs that hold the pot fold in half, and the burner gets very small.  Very cool.

The fuel canister fits inside the pot.  The folded up burner fits on top of it, then the pan/cup makes a lid.  One thing the rig needs is a rubber band to get it to all stay together in your pack (carry a couple, I found one on the trail, but it broke, probably due to the fins on the bottom of the pot).  A small strip of paperboard would probably solve that problem.

The stove and pot all weigh less than half of my Primus and pot combination.  Part of that is the very small size of the stove, and part due to the fact that the capacity is smaller (5 cups vs. 3.5) and the metal they are made of.  I like that the Optimus, fuel, and stove are one unit; my Primus was too big to fit into the pot with the fuel canister in there.

So far, I like this stove a lot.  Better performance and lighter, what’s not to like?  I might look at replacing the lid with a flat one to reduce the volume a bit more, but so far, I like it!

24 July 2016 Update:

I did a test of fuel use for this stove over the weekend.  The test conditions:  fill the pot (800ml) with tap water (about 60F) and heat to boiling.  I did five runs, and each took between 2.5-3 minutes to boil the water.

The total fuel used was 43 grams, which works out to 8.6 grams per pot, impressive.  But it is not apples-to-apples with the Primus, where I boiled 5 cups with 10 grams.  Doing some stoichiometry (thanks, Mrs. Guthrie!)  resulted in the Primus probably using around 6.7 grams of fuel for 800 ml, which was a little surprising.

I thought about it yesterday, and my theory has to do with time to boil.  I seem to remember the Primus boiling the water in around 5-6 minutes.  So I wonder if the extra fuel use is due to the higher BTUs produced by the Optimus and my running it at max, and some of the heat being wasted, while the water still boiled in half the time.  If I get a chance I will break a Primus out and time it with 800ml in it.

Still, the Optimus is a lot lighter and a  lot faster.  Given what I know about how much water I need on the trail, I think I will be able to stretch out one of the big canisters for a couple weeks, or even better, go with smaller canisters for a trip of up to a week.  My thinking here is a pot of water in the morning (a couple cups of tea and oatmeal), and another in the evening.  If I derate for colder water, that’s about 25 gms of fuel per day, or 12 days of use from a large canister.

Not bad at all.

Backpacking (most of) Segment 28 of the Colorado Trail

20 July 2016

Hike Summary: 19.3 miles of the last (or first?) segment of the Colorado Trail.

Photos from the trek are located on my Google+ site here.

Last week, the Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-West) High Adventure Team (HAT) backpacked most of Segment 28 of the Colorado Trail. This segment runs from Kennebec Pass down to Durango, CO.

My first plan had been to start at the Pass and walk the rest of the trail in.  However, the last couple miles of road to the Pass are pretty rough, and four-wheel drive with high clearance is recommended.  Since we were driving a couple 15-passenger vans, that didn’t sound very promising.  So instead I saw that FS Road 204 got to within about a mile of a trailhead, and Champion Road, AKA 171, would get us there.  I talked to a very nice young lady in the Durango Forest Service office, who told me that getting vans in there would not likely be a problem.

Getting There

FS 204 is about 15 miles from Junction Creek camp, where we stayed two nights prior to backpacking.  While half of the road is pretty decent, the other half is darned rough, and you can only drive about 10-15 miles an hour on it.  FS 204 connects to Champion/171 for about a mile.  You can park in several wide spots in the road where the Colorado Trail crosses 171, and there is plenty of room to turn around.

We had driven up to Durango in two vans and a truck.  We left the truck in Junction Creek camp with the permission of the camp hosts, which was very nice of them to let us do that.

The drive up there has some spectacular views of the Weminuche Wilderness and the Molas area.  It’s worth a drive up there if you are in the Durango area.

There are no facilities of any sort at the trailhead, and no water.

Day 1

The drive to the trailhead took a lot longer than I had thought it would, and we got there about 1115, and hit the trail around 1140.

There was a lot of green stuff on the trail starting right at the trailhead.  And flies.  Lots of flies.  They were annoying, and some bit.

We had lunch at a nice spot just above Fassbinder Gulch.  We hiked along and down, and didn’t see more than a trickle of water in the several creekbeds we passed.

At some point, we were somewhat above Flagler Creek.  We turned up Leavenworth Gulch, and there is a decent waterfall there that is about 75 ft tall.  The creek from the falls runs into Flagler, and that water looks solid.

We got to camp about 1630.

We camped at a small area near a bridge built over Junction Creek.  The camp has no tree cover, and was quite hot in the direct sun, but around 1800 Sun dropped behind the hill to the west and it started cooling off.

One interesting thing here, we found the remains of a small (calf?) elk at the north end of the camp area.

The obnoxious flies went away as soon as Sun went behind the wall, and started again as soon as Sun came back over the wall to the east the next morning.

There are not many places to hang a bear bag here.

The days hike was 5.62 miles, with 416 ft of altitude gain, and 2180 ft loss.

Day 2

This was a different day.  We anticipated a big climb and little water.  We broke camp and headed out about 1000.  The trail did not disappoint, we headed steadily upward all morning.  The trail was not steep, but it was steadily up.

We found a very nice spot for lunch at a high point near Sliderock Canyon, that had amazing views all around.

Right after leaving the lunch spot, we found a small stream where it crossed the trail in Sliderock.  There was a bit of a larger stream in the next turn, First Trail Canyon.  We pumped a couple liters of water from the First Trail stream, but I don’t know that it is reliable water; the pool we pumped from was about 10 inches across and a couple inches deep.

At the point between First Trail and Road End Canyons, you can look down the Junction Creek drainage and see Durango in the distance.  We had solid 4G service there.

As we came around into Road End Canyon, it looked to me like there was a former camp on the north side, but it was terribly overgrown. You have to keep going and make the turn at the end of the canyon, and the camp is about another hundred yards, between the two arms of the trail.  We hit camp around 1600.

This camp is in the trees and is very cool.  A low volume stream flows on the north side of the camp; the stream may be reliable through summer.  It was a stretch to get all of our tents and hammocks in there, but we got it done.  There is a nice fire ring with logs to sit on.

Our second day on the trail was 5.94 miles and 1650 ft of altitude gain.

Day 3

We got up and managed to hit the trail around 0930.  We didn’t see any water again until we hit Junction Creek at the bottom of big wall below Guda’s rest.  Before we left camp, we filled a couple of Platypus bladders and all of the water bottles.

We found a very nice spot for lunch above Deep Creek, right before the trail headed back to the east.  There were amazing views off to the south, and cell service was 4G along here.

At one point, we hiked into an area that was largely open, with a lot of scrub oaks.  We saw a number of bear scat, and Elaine and I smelt strong bear smell at one point.  I’m certain we were within tens of yards of a bear, possibly sleeping.

We hiked along until we were able to enjoy the view from Guda’s Rest, then headed down the big switchbacks there to Junction Creek (the first water since we left camp), and along to Junction Creek campsite.

Our last day was 9.9 miles, with 2760 ft of altitude loss.  We had some tired girls coming off the trail.

When we got off the trail, we sent the girls to the campsite at Junction Creek with two of our adults, and took the truck back up to the trailhead, then all of us drove back again.

It was a lot hotter there than we expected.  Forecasts before we left were in the mid 60s and mid 40s, which was consistent with the historical data at a SNOTEL at 10,000 ft a couple miles farther west.  We had temps in the mid to high 80s for highs, but at least the humidity was low.  We had zero clouds for the first two days, and a couple sparse clouds on Day 3.

I’m thinking it would be a dry distance for our Day 2 and 3 segments in August.  I drank every bit of my 2 bottles hiking to our second camp, so it would take another couple for staying overnight up there, not to mention not seeing any more water until getting all the way to Junction Creek.

Maps

Terrain

Altitude

 

Summary

This was a good beginners backpacking trip.  The Scouts did great, and handled the climbs and loads with ease.  We were kind of slow, but it doesn’t matter as we got into camp in plenty of time each day.

I’m very proud of the Scouts for keeping good spirits up in spite of the heat and the flies.

Bergan’s of Norway Helium 55

19 July 2016

I switched from my external frame Kelty to an internal frame pack back in 2011, and ended up with a Cabela’s pack that was about 90L. That pack has served me well on a couple dozen backpacking trips, and many other camping trips.

The Cabela’s pack weighs 5.75 lbs. When I was working on getting my pack weight down, that’s obviously a good chunk of weight. A couple months ago, the gear review issue of Backpacker magazine came out, and so I decided to read it to see what was available for less weighty packs. I also visited Backwoods, and a couple REI stores to see what they had.

One that caught my eye was the Bergan’s of Norway Helium 55 pack. It only weighs 2 lb 3 oz, so that’s darn near three pounds lighter than my Cabela’s pack. It also retailed for $180, which was about $100 less than comparable packs. After reading the Backpacker article a couple times, a couple online reviews of the Helium 55 (and the previous years version of it), and general reviews of Bergan’s products, I decided to give it a try.  I wanted to try it on, but they have limited places that carry Bergan’s  (one was north of Salt Lake City; I was reading the Backpacker magazine on the flight home to OKC from SLC, oh well…).  I ordered it online from Bergan’s, it shipped from Colorado, and was at the house a couple days later.  I had included two auxiliary pouches that are meant to be strapped to the outside of the pack, and add five liters of carrying space on the outside of the pack, each.

First thing, I transferred everything from the Cabela’s pack to the Bergan’s, and it all fit. Now, that doesn’t include food, or any shared gear I might be carrying, but there was still quite a bit of room in the Helium.  I looked at every seam and every surface, it seemed well put together.  The straps were a little thinner, the pads not as substantial as on the Cabela’s, but OTOH they padded where the thing touched me.  The fabric of the pack was a lot thinner than the Cabela’s, but it wasn’t strained either.

I took the pack on a shakedown hike with my Scouts a couple days later, it rode pretty well, but then I didn’t have it fully loaded up.

I had a three-day backpacking trip in Colorado coming up, and was largely living out of the pack for a total of eight days.  When I loaded it up for the trail, dry (i.e. everything but food and water), the total pack weight was 22 pounds.  When I loaded it with food and water and shared gear a couple days later, I was at 28.5 pounds, which is 60% of what I carried over the rim at Grand Canyon a couple years ago.  My back appreciates the weight reduction…  🙂

Here’s the pack after three days on the trail:

PackZoomed

The walking part of the trip was over 21 miles.  The pack felt as if it was an integral part of me.  I adjusted the torso length to maximum.  The hip belt was right on top of my hips, and tight enough that there wasn’t any slack that let the pack slide around as I turned. The pack had good ventilation as well; my back was sweat-wet, but the pack didn’t get any of that.

The side pockets:  WHOA!  At one point, I had both 1-L bottles, and the area map, in one side pocket, and my water pump, pack cover, and some thing I was carrying for someone else in the other, with room to spare. I love those pockets!

The pack has stretchy strings cris-crossed on the sides.  I never figured out how those work, so I took them off and stashed them.  I will revisit them later.

The lid was never completely full.  One thing I liked is that the lid has four adjustable straps.  For the first two days, I had our tarp between the lid and the main compartment, but on the last day I realized it would it into the pack with the rest of the stuff.

The pack felt comfortable walking.  I did have a hard time reaching my water bottles and map in the deep side pockets.  I moved the map to a pocket on my pants.  When I wanted a drink, I asked one of my fellow hikers to grab the bottle, then put it back later.

The zipper down the front never got bound up or seemed to be too tight to close.  It was kind of cool to unzip from the bottom and grab my tent out of the middle of the pack.

I would pack stuff in this order:  sleeping bag into the very bottom, then the pad (rolled up), then the tent fly, stakes, and tent body (rolled up, again).  The food bad and pot/stove/fuel next to each other.  The rest of the stuff on top of those.  I never got the collar at the top extended, so there was another bunch of space.

I think I can use this pack for five-day trips with no issue.  If it is colder and I need more clothing, the trade in space is that the food we carried on this trip is bulkier then what I usually carry.  I also have the two external five-liter pockets to add space.

I inspected the pack closely inside and out after getting home from the trip.  There wasn’t any damage visible, or areas to be concerned with.

I’m happy with the Helium, if just due to the weight savings.  The cost was pretty reasonable as well.

Lake Draper Trails

26 June 2016

A month or so ago, I took a group of Troop 15 Scouts out to Lake Draper for a 10-mile hike for the Hiking Merit Badge. It had rained quite a bit the evening before, so it was quite muddy. We were on the west and northwest side of the lake.

Today, I took another group out. We got there this morning at 0830, and were on the the trail close to 0900. It was quite warm.

Draper is an OKC lake. The Point 9 area had a water faucet, but it was marked as being not potable. I saw the same thing at Crystal Lake, also an OKC lake. I do not understand why the city does not provide potable water at those two lakes.

Regardless, we managed to find the trail on the west side of the area. We almost immediately ran into tall plant fronds that completely covered the trail. We found this at many places on the trail, vegetation growing all over the trail. There were also numerous places where trees had fallen across the trail. There was a huge amount of poison ivy and an equally large amount of brambles.

To top all of this off, we experienced the largest number of ticks that I have seen since my friend Darla and I hiked around Greenleaf Lake back in 1977, picking literally dozens of the little SOBs off of ourselves. This was worse.

The ticks were so bad that when we came to a road, I decided to keep the group on the road for the rest of the hike. We had to trade the shade of being under the trees for unrelenting sun, because of the hordes of ticks.

We found a trail at Draper named after someone; it had a sign.

I think the Draper trails could be very cool to hike, but they need a lot of maintenance. I saw a huge number of tracks of deer of all sizes, raccoon, possum, coyote, and bobcat. That explains the tick population.

I am going to do some asking around city offices as to what could be done to get the trails in better shape. If the vegetation could be cut back a couple feet across the trail, the trail we saw was in good shape for hiking. A trim would help keep ticks off hikers as well.

Backpacking Robber’s Cave State Park, OK

20 May 2016

Summary:  Six miles and 500 ft of backpacking a beautiful park with a group of great Girl Scouts.

Photos are on my Google+ site here.

Last weekend, the Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-West) High Adventure Team (HAT) had a Beginners Backpacking trip to Robber’s Cave State Park in eastern Oklahoma.

One cool thing, this was Edition 2 of this trip.  The first trip, about a month ago, maxed out and had a waiting list, so we did a second one.

We got to camp Friday evening around 1900.  We had reservations at the Equestrian Camp.  This was pretty cool.  We were at the south end of the camp in a large grassy area under big trees, with a couple picnic tables to sit at.  Very nice, real bathrooms (with showers), and lots of horses to look at.  The Ranger came and checked on us, and he let us know about the need for a backcountry permit that we were not aware of.

Here’s the skinny:  we wanted to leave our cars at the trailhead at the Cave.  That area gets locked up each night, but you can park there.  We scored a permit form from the park office, put all three of our cars on one form, and left it on the dash of one of the cars.

The next morning, we got up, had a trail breakfast, packed, and headed over to the Cave area.  There were a LOT of people there at 0930, including a Cub Scout Pack and at least three Boy Scout Troops.

We let the Scouts head up on the wonderful rocks to warm up a bit, then we shouldered our packs and headed out from the trailhead, which is on the south side of the parking area.

It’s a nice trail to walk on.  The last time I hiked it, I missed a turn that headed up hill, and the same thing happened to our girls.  We had lunch at the bottom of Rough Canyon, and took a shortcut up a road to get to Cattail Pond, and eventually found our way around the loop to Lost Lake.

What a beautiful campsite!  I hiked past Lost Lake a couple years ago.  It’s a great campsite, with tall, beautiful trees, pine needles all over the ground that are great to sleep on, a couple big fire rings, and that pretty lake in front of you.  I walked all the way around the lake, it was very peaceful.

The next morning we got up and hiked back to Robber’s Cave, played on the rocks for a while, and headed back to OKC.

There was a LOT of water around on this trip, numerous small streams, Lost Lake and Cattail Pond, and Rough Canyon.  We had little in the way of bug problems, but a couple of the girls ran across ticks.  There was quite a bit of poison ivy around as well.

This was a really nice backpacking trip.  A little altitude gain, a nice trail that was easy to follow.  It might be possible to get a 10-miler out of this trail, if you figure-8 around Rough Canyon.

Troop 15 Backpacking Horsethief Springs Loop, 15-17 April 2016

1 May 2016

Summary:  17.4 miles over two days of hiking, along with 2,400 ft of altitude gain (and loss).

The Extreme 15 patrol of BSA Troop 15 had a great 18 mile backpacking trip from Cedar Lake to Horsethief Springs to the Billy Creek trail system a couple weeks ago.

My photos are on Google+ here.

We met at First Presbyterian Church at 1600 and left at 1630 on Friday.  After a dinner stop in Sallisaw, we got into Cedar Lake at 2030, and stumbled around a bit to find a campsite.  We ended up on the north loop near a boat ramp and got camp set up quickly.  Everyone was crashed by 2200.  There is no cell service for AT&T down there.

We were up the next morning at 0800, packed up, and had trail breakfast to include tea, hot chocolate, and coffee.  We left at 0930 and stumbled around a bit to find the trailhead.  The maps and directions are not the best.  For reference, the trailhead is here:

Horsethief Springs Trailhead

The trail generally bounces around up and down until you cross Holson Valley Road, and then it’s a nice slope up.  We took the east side of the Horsethief Springs loop trail, which goes down into a valley through which flows Cedar Creek.  The Creek had plenty of water and would have been a good water source.

There is an extensive network of horse trails that look like they would be good for day hikers as well, in the valley and at some points closer to the springs.

The trail contours around, generally heading south.  We passed one or two small creeks that had good water, but several other creeks that were dry.

There is a decent climb of several hundred feet up to Horsethief Springs.  Trail maps provided by the USFS are not terribly clear, and even Google Maps representation of the Ouachita Trail is not correct.  Once you are up near the springs, you cross the Ouachita trail, and keep going up another couple hundred yards to get to the springs.  Just a note, we came back this way the next day, and then took the Ouachita west to the west loop, and maybe a half mile along the trail is another spur that leads up to the springs in a west approach.

Anyway, we had lunch up there and pumped water from the springs to refill water bottles.  The springs are surrounded by a big wall, but there wasn’t much flow so it wasn’t full.  Another area about 100 ft downhill was full and would be much easier to pump from.  There is decent AT&T cell service there.  We had coverage until we went back north over the ridge the next day.

We saw a Venture crew from OKC there, doing the whole loop with backpacks as a shakedown for a Philmont trip this summer.

After lunch, and seemingly innumerable visits to the potties, we headed out on the next let.  The trail down into the Billy Creek system is not marked.  You have to walk to the west end of the parking area, cross OK 1, and then walk farther west just a bit to find the trail down.

It’s fairly steep heading down the south side of the ridge.  We came to a nice camp area next to a small stream at a trail junction.  There was excellent water about 200 ft farther along the trail.  In retrospect, I think we would have been better to set up camp at that good water area.  Our camp was very near the trail where we were.  We had some nice steepish areas to our south, and we were completely out of the wind, which we could hear up in the trees.

We built a fire right before Sun went down, had dinner, and then hung a bear bag.  We hung around the fire for a while, and everyone hit the sack about 2100.  This day was a hike of 8.5 miles.

We had been watching the weather very closely for more than a week.  We had tried to do this same trip in May 2015, but 10+ inches of rain in the week before, then several more inches during the week, had cut off the trail at Cedar Creek, and perhaps some of the crossing creeks, so we didn’t even try.  There had been heavy rain forecast for Saturday evening and all day Sunday a week out,  but as we got closer, the storm system slowed down, and the rain was forecast to start Sunday anywhere from 1000 on.  So we decided to shake everyone out at 0630 Sunday, and we broke camp first, before breakfast.  That way we had a good chance of not packing in a rainstorm, even if we might be hiking in one.

We hit the trail for the return at 0730, and started the 600ft climb back up to the Skyline Drive.  It was pretty sweaty climbing up.  The air felt quite humid, and there wasn’t a lot of wind until we got up on the ridge.  The guys ate some snacks and rested a bit after the climb, and then we hoisted our packs again and headed down the trail.

When we left the springs area, we walked several hundred yards down to the junction with the Ouachita Trail, and headed west for a bit over a mile.  This part of the trail contours along the ridge, with some up, some down, some flattish.

Once we got to the junction with the west loop of the Horsethief Springs trail, we turned right and headed downhill.  90% of this was downhill.  We passed a number of equestrian trail junctions.  At one point, there was a “scenic loop” off to the left, that rejoined the west loop right before the loop junction.  We hiked past some tall Ozark rock formations that I would guess the Scenic Loop goes up and over.  I would have tried to have us take the loop, but the sky to the west was steadily darkening, and the wind was getting stronger.

One thing I’ve not seen before:  The Scouts were hiking along, and the adults were bringing up the rear.  We were hiking through a burned area, and came upon one of our Scouts, lying on his back, wearing his backpack.  We started talking smack to him, but shortly realized that he was… asleep.  It took some cajoling to wake him and get him on his feet.  He completed the hike just fine, but passed out cold in the car for the ride back.

We rolled back into the trailhead parking lot after having walked in drizzle for about a half hour.  We quickly changed into dry clothes, loaded our gear, and headed out.  We got lunch at Braum’s in Heavener and ran into the incoming deluge close to Warner.  The hike back in was 8.8 miles, since the west part of the loop is a bit longer than the east part.

So the backpacking worked out well from the weather standpoint.  Highs were in the 70s and lows in the low 60s, no significant rain, and mostly cloudy so no sunburn.  Little problem with bugs.  Good water when we needed it.

Several of the Scouts earned the Backpacking Merit Badge on this trip.  We had a couple new backpackers on this trip, who did well in spite of getting a bit on the tired side (one of the new backpackers was the guy we found asleep on the trail).

This was a very nice trip.  I think that next time we might go down into the rest of the Billy Creek system, as our campsite down there was quite pretty.

Adventures In Ubuntu, VMs, and GPS

21 April 2016

NERD ALERT:  Nerdy talk follows!

Since I switched my HP laptop to Ubuntu Linux, I have made a fairly smooth transition in terms of software. I can get company email via webmail (using a security token for the connection), even though the webmail is Microsoft Outlook Web Access and the browser is Chrome. In the past couple days, I’ve used LibreOffice to build briefings, create documents, and read stuff for work, used various Google apps to transfer files around, and generally had a problem-free transition. There are a couple nits. One thing that sounds silly, I edit pictures quite a bit. In Windows, I could use Paint to add text and draw lines that are pointers. In Linux, GIMP does the text just fine, but it doesn’t draw lines. I’ll figure that out.

The one thing that’s weird is working with GPS files. I do a lot of GPS work for planning hiking and backpacking, and then downloading the saved tracks from the trips. Those require a bit of editing to clean them up, join tracks from each day, and the like.

We just got back from a nice trip to Eastern Oklahoma, and it was a bit of an effort to get the tracks out of the two GPS units. I carried a Garmin GPSMap60, and Ian carried a Garmin GPS62s.

I’ve tried a couple Linux tools to extract the tracks (via a USB connection), and had trouble getting them to recognize the devices. I also tried to install the Garmin Basecamp tool I’ve used forever using Wine, and had no luck. One tool (QmapShack) I tried to install from source, and between requiring a specific version of cmake and other oddities I couldn’t get it to work. I tried installing the Windows version, but it requires the Visual C redistributable, and that wouldn’t install. So that was just Too Hard.

BTW, the command I used was:

gpsbabel -t -i garmin -f usb: -o gpx -F [trackname.gpx]

In the end, I decided to use the Basecamp tool that was in the Virtual Machine of my previous HP 6930p, which I had brought into Virtual Box under Ubuntu. The problem was trying to get the GPS tracks to the VM. I tried some stuff to make the GPS units visible to Basecamp under VirtualBoxm, no way. With the 60, it took an obscure command line using GPSBabel (which was installed on the computer when Ubuntu was installed to get the track data our and into Linux. The same didn’t work for the 62s. Turns out the 62s mounts as a USB stick as far as Ubuntu is concerned, and the track data is in a folder a couple levels deep.

So now I had the files, but still needed to get them to Basecamp. USB sticks were tried with no luck. I’m pretty sure the stick(s) were visible to the VM, but they didn’t show up.

In the end, it took a roundabout way. My laptop had Apache installed on it. I made a connection to WiFi (that got an IP address for the laptop). Then I copied the two GPX files to the root of the web server and started Apache. I went to the VM, fired up a Windows command prompt, and could ping the IP address the laptop had from the WiFi. I fired up Chrome, typed the IP address, added the filename of each GPX. That got them downloaded.  They came in from Chrome with an additional xml extension (so they look liker gpsmap60.gpx.xml), but a rename fixed that.

Then I fired up BaseCamp and imported the tracks, and editing worked well.  Once the tracks were in and edited, I displayed them on a topo map, and as an altitude plot.  In both cases, I did a screen capture of the display that included the Windows VM, and the capture was saved in the pictures folder of the Linux box.  From there, I brought the captures up in GIMP for annotation, and from there they went to Google+ with the photos I took on the hike.

This was all pretty cool and easy for me, but I think for a non-geek it would have been sorta hard.

Gear Review, Teton Sports Tracker 5F Sleeping Bag

18 February 2016

As I have mentioned in a couple previous posts, I have been upgrading my backpacking gear over the past year. My most recent acquisition was a new sleeping bag, and I’m very happy with it.

Going back a bit. I used to carry a very bulky Cabela’s 0F bag (5.75 lb), or a bulky 25F Kelty bag (4 lb). I bought the 0F Cabela’sbag back in 2010 and was very happy with it, except it completely filled up the bottom compartment of my pack; the 25F Kelty was a bit better, but it just reduced the strain on the fabric of the bottom compartment of the pack.

Back in 2013, I was getting ready for a backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the evening before, I saw a Sportsman’s Warehouse (which I’ve always liked), and in there I found a Teton Sports 20F bag that was about half the size of my 25F bag, weighed 2.2 lbs (instead of 4), and was only $40. I bought it and tried it out the first night in the Park, which in September had a low near freezing; I was perfectly comfortable. I’ve used that bag on most of my backpacking trips since, and when I use it I can get my entire tent and some other stuff in the bottom compartment of my pack, very comfortably. So that’s an endorsement of the Teton Sports 20F Trailhead sleeping bag.

In the past couple months, I looked at many sleeping bags in the 0F range. While a few were compact, they were very expensive, in the $300 range. Then I ran across an ad for a Teton Sports 5F bag, the Tracker. It was about 2″ more in diameter and 2″ wider than my Teton 20F bag, but it weighed 4 lbs instead of 5.75, and the kicker, it was only $60 on Amazon (retail was something like $110, still a bargain).

Getting it in my pack was pretty easy, and I still had room for my entire tent, and a couple small items, but while the compartment was not straining, it was full.

I took that bag into Grand Canyon the first week of February. It didn’t get above freezing the entire time we were in the Canyon, and lows were in the 10F – 15F range. Ian had his Trailhead 20F bag, and he was a bit cold. I had the 5F Tracker, and I was perfectly comfortable and never cold (until I got out of the bag in the morning).

So, those Teton Sports sleeping bags are great! They are a very good combination of price, size, weight, and temperature rating. Recommended.

Gear Review, S2S UL Sleeping Pad

11 February 2016

I have used a closed-cell sleeping pad from Ridgerest for camping and backpacking since around 1985.  It is comfortable, and fairly light.  The only issue I have had with it is that is bulky.  I usually have it tied to the outside of my pack somewhere.

So I have been upgrading parts of my backpacking gear for the past year, and a couple months ago looked at sleeping pads.  After some research, I found a sorta tradeoff curve of weight, bulk, and price that essentially drove how comfortable the pad was.

Last December, I tried several at REI, including a Sea to Summit pad.  There were four or five other S2S pads, and I asked if I could try a couple out.  The REI guy said that I could only try the several that were out.  I laid down on Thermarests and REI and other pads, and one S2S, with varying levels of comfort.  I thought most of the pads were pretty heavy compared to my 14oz Ridgerest.  The S2S Ultralight felt pretty light, and it was very small.

The next day, we went to Mountain Sports in Arlington, TX.  We found they had the S2S Ultralight, and the guy there said sure, take it out and lay on it a while.  I did, and I was amazed.  I’m 6’2″ and weigh about 205 lbs, and when I stretched out on that pad, and rolled over on to my side, my usual sleeping position, and stayed there for about 15 min, I was amazingly comfortable.  Ian is taller and slightly heavier, but he had the same experience.  We bought a pair of them.  A little expensive, but in the end, so comfortable.

The pads have a pretty darn cool stuff sack that has a fitting that connects to the S2S inflation valve.  You can blow into it, but the better way is to connect the stuff sack to it, roll the sack to close the top, and push down and pump that air into the pad.  Three pushes and that pad is full, and I’m not staggering about dizzy from blowing it up.

I’ve had the pad on a camp and a backpacking trip.  The inflation bag is a largish waterproof stuff sack, so it does double duty.  I put my cold weather after-hike stuff in it, and I have to get that stuff out anyway once we get into camp, so the inflation bag is available.  I slept very comfortably on the backpacking trip in particular.  One thing I liked was that as I rolled side to side, in my sleeping bag, on the S2S pad.  I didn’t slide off the pad, which was very nice.  Even better, the bag didn’t have a friction grip on the pad, so it stayed with me as I rolled in it.  Ian reports similarly.

The S2S pad weighs the same as my closed cell pad.  The S2S packs down to about 15% of the volume of the Ridgerest.  The S2S is compartmented in the event of a leak.  The only downside is a $100 price difference.  But the bottom line is, the S2S is awfully comfortable.

Backpacking Grand Canyon National Park, 31 Jan – 05 Feb 2016

8 February 2016

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Hike Summary: 48.4 miles over five days, with 8900 ft of altitude gain. Stunning scenery. Main question asked: “How *can* it keep getting better, backpacking Grand Canyon?”

The photos from this trip are on my Google+ here.

This is our third trip to GCNP. The blog post for the second one is here.

Getting There

Very straightforward. Four of us flew OKC-PHX, picked up a rental car, and headed north. We stopped at REI Flagstaff for stove fuel, then into the Park. Two others drove from San Diego to Flagstaff, then to the park where we all met up. We spent the first night in Maswik Lodge. The next morning, we loaded up, and checked in at the Backcountry Information Center (BIC) for an itinerary check (and change).

Weather Forecast

Our past two years in the Canyon were bedeviled by weather as we traveled there, but it was beautiful and warm while we hiked. This year, it was weather at the Canyon that was the issue. Forecasts were for highs in the 30s, with lows in the -0s for the South Rim, and up to a foot of snow. We were not enthusiastic about finding the Tanner Trail and Escalante Route when covered with snow, with our way out of the Canyon blocked in all three of our potential exits, and even the road closed along the Rim. We worked with the Backcountry Information Center (BIC), and they changed our route and permit, which turned out to be amazing regardless.

Day 1

We started at 0715 with breakfast in the Maswik food court, then got to the BIC right after it opened at 0800.

We headed out from the BIC after changing our route and walked directly to the Bright Angel trailhead.  Not much to say except it’s a long way down.  We started out around 0900, had lunch in Indian Garden, and then got into camp around 1530.  I was very happy that I didn’t have any knee problems this time.  I had practiced by walking a lot of stairs in the month prior to the trip.  The Bright Angel trail (sloped) is also a lot easier on the knees than the South Kaibab trail (large stair-steps).

We all walked around, Corey fished, and I looked for my missing SPOT in the group camp we were in last year (no luck).

Water was weird.  Apparently the NPS was working on the Transcanyon Water System, and there was only one place (right in front of the Phantom Ranch Canteen) to get potable water.  The heads had no water, and to flush, you emptied a big bucket of nasty-looking water into the head after you did your business.  We sent a patrol out to fill water bottles at PR (it’s a half mile there) and dipped water from the creek for boiling for food rehydration.

We decided not to go to the Canteen at 2000 as we were tired, so we all crashed at 1945.

10.5 miles and loss of 4380 ft.

Day 2

We all slept in a bit here, and didn’t hit the trail until 1030.  We walked up through Phantom Ranch to the Clear Creek turnoff, where it was new trail for all of us.  We walked through The Box, where the canyon sort of slots a bit.  The GPS lost lock several times.  We always had water very near us.  There were numerous places where rockfall had happened.

When you come out of The Box, the canyon opens up a bit to several hundred yards wide.  It’s quite the transition, and now you have tall walls in the distance.  It snizzled on us pretty much all day.  The trail doesn’t get a significant slope until just before Cottonwood Camp, then it bumps up and back down about 300 ft in a short distance.  Shortly before you get to the first bump you can see Ribbon Falls to the northwest, and it’s impressive even from a distance.

Going through The Box (and later tomorrow, as well), there are a lot of pour-offs and streambeds that would probably be very pretty waterfalls after a heavy rain.

We got to Cottonwood Camp, and we were the only people there.  We spread out to three of the small campsites.  They have tables and pack hangers there, and composting toilets.  There was no Ranger.  It’s a little hike to get water from the creek, but only about five minutes.

The stars up there were stunning!  So dark, so clear, so…  freaking… cold.  We saw a pair of ISS passes, very bright and pretty.  We all sat up and talked a while, all the way to almost 2000!  Party animals, we were.  🙂

7.2 miles and gain of 1600 ft.

Day 3

We woke up around 0745.  I thought it was cold the night before…  no way.  Our water bottles were liquid when on the ground under the tent fly, but in less than 20 minutes of being out on the table, ice crystals were growing.  I think the temps were between 10F-15F (both mornings).  We fired up Coreys Whisperlite for breakfast.  Ian and I made cheese rice that we had planned to eat with the Chili Mac the night before, but it was better that cold morning.

We headed out with daypacks continuing up the North Kaibab trail.  Our plan was to walk as far as we could until the snow got too deep, or until it was 1330, then head back.  We left around 1000.

We first hit the Pumphouse Ranger residence after about 30 minutes.  A bonus here was seeing a fresh cougar print in the snow, and several more later in the mud.  At this point the trail starts up quite a steeper slope, we started seeing more snow next to and on the trail, and it was getting colder.

After about another hour, we came into view of Roaring Springs, the source of water for the National Park.  It was amazing!  We kept going up, coming to several enormous layer-cake pouroffs.  Eventually, at the 5900 ft level, we ran into a foot+ of snow, and turned back.  Most of this hike was in shade, and it was very cold.

When we got back to Cottonwood, Dave, Neal, and Corey walked down to the trailhead for Ribbon Falls.  Ian and I tried to get across the creek to explore a side canyon, but we couldn’t find a safe place to cross, so instead we explored the area around camp.

We had company in camp when we got back, a couple from NYC.

We eventually had dinner under another cloudless, sharp night, and racked out.

8.2 miles and gain, then loss, of 1820 ft.

Day 4

Very straightforward hiking day after a cold, cold morning.  We got out of camp around 1000 and walked over the first hill to the trail junction for Ribbon Falls.

That Falls is impressive.  The Falls are probably 100 ft high, and you can walk around in back of them for some very pretty views.  We met several other day hikers from Bright Angel/Phantom Ranch there and had nice conversation.

We continued back down trail and through The Box.  When we got to camp, we “upgraded” to the group site we stayed in last year.  Corey and Neal hit the fishing holes again, and Dave, Chuck, Ian, and I headed up to the Phantom Ranch overlook, a 3 mile round trip with 700 ft of elevation gain.  There is cell service there, so I called Raegan and let her know we were OK.

After dinner, we talked for a bit, then headed up to the Canteen for a beer.  We stayed up all the way to 2045, then walked back, and crashed.

12 miles and net loss of 1600 ft.

Day 5

Not much to say about this again.  Chuck, Ian, and I left camp at 0800 and came over the South Rim at 1515.  It’s a bloody long walk.  10.5 miles (to the BIC) and gain of more than 4380 ft.

We went directly to Maswik and had cheeseburgers, then I walked to the nearby BIC, weighed my pack, and we went to our Maswik rooms and essentially ran out the hot water :).  Hot tea was consumed in significant quantities.  We tried to catch up on news as well.

Dinner and beer was had in the Bright Angel Lodge.  I had an undistinguished Salisbury Steak.

10.5 miles and GAIN of 4380 ft.  Whoa.  This single activity is harder than all of the walking of the past four days.

29 February 2016 update:

I put all of the GPS data I had into a single GPX file, then exported it to a text data file. I plotted it in 3D but the result didn’t look right. I realized that the problem was the scale was not right in that the elevation Z axis was in feet, while the X and Y axis were in Lat/Long. I used a USGS online tool to determine the distance in feet between latitude and longitude for the area of Grand Canyon, then wrote an Excel formula to convert the Lat/Long data to feet. Then I replotted the data to get the altitude relative to our walking distance. This is what I came up with, annotated with some major landmarks:

Grand Canyon 2016 Altitude Profile

No matter how you slice it, Grand Canyon is steep!  It’s either up or down pretty much everywhere you hike.  The Box was really the only place that it was fairly flat.  This plot is the 3D view turned on its side.

Getting Back

Very straightforward again.  Dave rode with Neal and Corey to PHX, while Ian, Chuck, and I went to the Geology Museum, the Visitor Center, and then the Planes of Fame airplane museum between Williams and the Park.  We all rendezvoused at PHX and flew back to OKC.

Equipment Notes

My pack weighed 36 lbs when we hit the trail, and 32 lbs coming off the trail.  Not bad, considering that I had just short of *7* lbs of clothing.  I used every bit of it, it was cold!  For a warmer weather camp, that would put my hit the trail weight near 31 lbs, which is pretty darn good.

My REI Quarter Dome 2 tent fit Ian and I with no problem, in spite of me being 6ft 2in and him being 6ft 4 in.

I love the Sea to Summit sleeping pad!  One thing that was nice:.  I used to have to put my closed cell sleeping pad in the bottom of a big duffle bag, then put my partially disassembled pack on top of it.  With the new inflatable pad, everything is stowed in the pack.  It’s nice to be able to pick it up at bag claim, sling it on my shoulders, and head out.

Food Notes

I carried a bit too much food. I started with roughly 6 lbs, and when I came back I had 1.7 lbs still. Most of the food was lunch and breakfast stuff. There was also a lot of trash I carried for other people, maybe a full pound. I maybe ought to not be so nice :).

Lunch was PB&J on tortillas, or tuna salad, or for the first day, a sammich I bought at the Maswik food court. One thing I did here was to buy a packet of Newman’s Own Caesar dressing that I liberally used on the sammich, very good.

One lunch item neither Ian or I liked was Underwood Deviled Ham on crackers. The crackers were crumbly but good. The UDH, not so much. We ate it, but quickly, and then started in on some snacks to get the taste out of our mouth.

Breakfast was oatmeal or Pop Tarts, pretty standard, and the day we had the cheese rice :).

We both ate a lot of snacks on the trail. My favorite is M&Ms. I ate more than usual on this trip, given how cold it was.

Dinners. I’ve written before about the quantity of Mountain House/Backpackers Pantry meals. They are “2-person”, but I used to eat an entire meal myself. This time, Ian and I shared them, and we carried supplemental rice or noodle packets. In the end, we didn’t use any of the supplemental stuff for dinner, but we ate a cheesy rice for breakfast. It was hot and gooey and delicious.

We tried a new Mountain House entree on this trip: Chicken Fried Rice. It was very good, but we added two cubes of S&B Golden Curry medium to the meal as it sat, it melted and we stirred it around, and it was one of the best meals I’ve had backpacking. Ian agreed. Great stuff!

Mountain House Chili Mac. Lordy, it was good. So was the Mountain House Spaghetti.

What Went Wrong

Stove fuel.  I have consistently carried (me personally and/or our group) too much stove fuel.  In this case, we went on the trail with exactly 2 8oz and 1 4oz canister of isopro stove fuel.  We had to cook enough water for four breakfast meals and four dinner meals.  Given what we know about that, for our six guys, it’s 2 pots (10 cups) of water for breakfast, or about 8 overall, and another 3 pots (15 cups) of water for dinner, or 12 overall, with a total of 20 pots of water for the entire crew for the trip.  From my testing, that is well within the capacity of the two canisters Ian and I carried (8 oz and 4 oz).  Chuck had an 8 oz canister as well, so we should have been fine.

BUT, we weren’t.  I broke out my 8 oz canister in camp for the first night, and we boiled 4 pots of water.  It emptied my canister completely, very annoying.  We used the canisters Chuck and Ian carried as well, and both of those ran out as well.  I thought maybe we had bought canisters that were sold to us short (maybe partially used), but after thinking about it, I wonder if the air temperature affected the fuel delivery.  I need to research that, and/or test it.  Regardless, I think the lesson learned is that I should have had one other guy carry another 4 oz.  Maybe we should have tucked the fuel canisters into our sleeping bags to keep them warm.

Speaking of cold fuel canisters, the isopro stoves failed miserably for breakfast both Tuesday and Wednesday morning.  I think the temps were in the mid-teens.  Fortunately, Corey had an MSR Whisperlite (kerosene based) that fired up just fine.  Lesson learned, carry a Whisperlite when the temps get low.  Again, I wonder if they needed to be tucked into our sleeping bags.

What Went Right

Pretty much everything!  It was cold, but we coped and no one got too cold.  Ian was a little cold in his 15F bag, but we piled all our outerwear on him and that jacked the R-value up.  The route we took was stunning!  We got out of camp when we needed to, and got into camp in good time.  In particular, we all got up the Great Big Wall before it got dark.  No one got hurt.  Gear worked

Closing Thoughts

I’ve now hiked more than 150 miles in Grand Canyon, between the three backpacking trips and a number of day hikes on both Rims.

It was super cold this trip. All of our trips to Grand Canyon have been the first week in February, and while the first two were shorts and short sleeves once we were over the Rim, we made up for it with the low temps this time. I do not think that it was over 32F the entire time we were out.  The lows were probably in the 10F-15F range the two nights we were in Cottonwood.

I could not have asked for a better group to hike with.  Everyone was cheerful (and astounded!), and there wasn’t a cross word spoken (except about the cold, not to/at each other).

The change in plan from the Escalante Route to the almost-to-the-North-Rim was not a loss at all.  It showed us an amazing part of the canyon few get to see.

We’ll have to go back next year and try the Escalante Route again.  🙂

Gear Review: REI Quarter Dome 2

8 February 2016

This is the first of a couple reviews of new backpacking gear I have acquired in the past year or so.

Last April, I researched new backpacking tents for both me and for my Scout Troop 15.  The objective for the Troop was the best tent to get the Troop started with self-supported backpacking, while my objective was size and weight reduction.

A bit of history.  The tent I have been backpacking with for the past seven years is a No Limits Sunlight Peak 2-person tent.  It served me well, but has experienced three pole failures in the past two years.  That tent is also 5.5 lbs.  I gave $50 for it on sale, so it’s done well.

After looking at more than 30 tents in the 2- to 3-person range, I settled on the REI Quarter Dome 2 (QD2) for my tent.  The QD2 was $300, and I had a 20% off coupon for being an REI member, so that dropped the price to $240.  Since we had no REI store in the state at the time, and it was over $50, I got free shipping and no sales tax, both good things.

 

 

I have had the tent out on something like seven camps since I bought it, including a pair of weekend backpacking trips, and two week-long backpacking trips (Grand Canyon and Weminuche Wilderness, CO).  I’ve also had the tent on a 10-day trip to Colorado where we camped a number of places.  To summarize, only one minor issue.

That issue first.  When I was on that the Colorado backpacking trip, we had several instances of significant rain (rain in Colorado in the summer, who would have thought?  🙂 ).  When it started pouring, I hid in the tent to work a Sudoko or take a nap, or both.  After the rain, I noticed a little bit of water that had worked through the bathtub part of the tent near the head.  It didn’t hardly trickle.  I took a photo of it, and when I got back home I spot sprayed Scotchguard on it, and haven’t noticed any issues.

There was a lesson learned from this:  There is a guyline on the part of the fly that pulls the fly out from the tent maybe 10 inches.  If I had staked that out, I probably would not have noticed the issue to begin with, since the water that worked its way in was water that splashed up off the ground and under that part of the fly (it was heavy rain and small hail).

Some positive details.  This tent shaved (no, cut!) 2.5 lbs off my pack weight.  That’s great in itself.  I’ve seen no wear on it.

One thing I find a little unclear:  this tent can be used as an ultralight shelter (fly, poles, an stakes only), if you don’t worry about bugs or snakes crawling on you.  That saves you probably another pound and some bulk.  I have been laying the tent body out and putting the poles through grommets at the corners of the tent, then laying the fly out on the tent, and placing the similar grommets on the fly underneath the tent corner grommets.  It’s a little hard to do (or undo) with gloves.  Then I would stake the tent down.

This last trip, Ian and I put the tent up, then staked it down using the fabric anchors “downstream” of the grommets, then hooked the fly grommets to the stakes.  The fly grommet anchor has an adjustable length.  One advantage of this is that before, small parts of the tent bathtub were exposed.  With the modified setup (which may be the actual way to set it up; I can’t find clear instructions online), the fly extends out another couple inches and completely covers the corners and front (foot) of the tent.  I didn’t have any stress issues with the fly zippers, either.  If you have to go completely freestanding, you probably have to do with both fly and tent grommets on the poles.

Speaking of Ian, he is 6 ft 4 in, and I am 6 ft 2 in.  We shared this tent on the recent Grand Canyon five day, and both of us fit in it just fine.  You could get your outer layers off and piled down by your feet, and still have about 8 in of room for your head.  Now, it’s not palatial, but we only had a couple instances of elbow-to-back on the trip  I think that if we had chosen to, we could have easily left the tent behind and gone ultralight, which would have provided another foot or more of space for each of us to the side, and another 8 in head to toe.  I would want to use a Tyvek footprint if I did that to keep our gear off the ground.

This tent has plenty of ventilation; it’s unusual for me to find condensation.  The vestibules have plenty of space.

My assessment of this tent is that it is wonderful.  I can get either of my sleeping bags (20F or 5F) into the bottom compartment of my pack, and still get every bit of the fly, stakes, and tent in there (the poles go inside the main compartment of the pack as they are slightly too long for the bottom compartment), and still have some room for other stuff.

Good job, REI.

Backpack Weight, Again

6 February 2016

I spent most of last week on our third backpacking trip to Grand Canyon. This was the first chance for me to check out some of the new gear I bought.

This started after my realization that my pack was a hefty 46 lbs before a trip in 2014, and getting it down to 36 last year.

This year, I was very happy that my “wet load”, i.e. all food and water, was 36 lbs again, for five days on the trail. Ian had a pack weight of 28 lbs, and so I went about finding the difference after this trip.

After getting off the trail, I went directly to the backcountry office and weighed my pack – 32 lbs. In our room at Maswik Lodge, I pulled almost a full 1.5 pound of trash out of the pack, which was trash both Ian and I generated, and some I picked up from the other guys. That took the pack weight down to about 31.5 lbs.

Here is what I weighed at the house:

Leftover food: 1.7 lb left, out of about 6 lbs taken. I need to eat all of my applesauce, that was the heaviest single item left over.

Clothing: 6.8 lbs. This was the single biggest amount of stuff in my pack. It was darned cold on this trip, I don’t think we got above freezing the entire five days. I also wore everything I carried in the mornings and evenings. I was warm, but the clothing was heavy. I will research to see if I can buy stuff that is just as warm, but lighter. I had these layers: bottoms were base layer, hiking pants, fleece sweatpants, and the bottoms of my Frog Togg rain suit; tops were base layer, a thin hiking shirt, a long-sleeve mock turtleneck, a thick hoodie, and a fleece lined rain jacket with a hood.

Lows on the trip were about 15F, highs near 32F.

I think I could have left the fleece lined rain jacket behind in favor of the Frog Togg top; that was have saved 1.2 lbs.

Tent:  2 lb.  Ian and I split my tent, my part was 2 lbs (maybe a bit less, the fly was still wet from the last day condensation when I weighed it).

Pad:  14 oz.  My new Sea to Summit inflatable pad was 14 oz, about what the far more bulky closed-cell pad weighs.

Bag:  4.1 lb.  I carried my new 5F Teton Sports bag, 4.1 lb (as opposed to my far more bulky Cabelas 0F bag at 4.8 lbs, or my 20F Teton bag at 2.5 lbs).

The lesson here is that the keep-you-warm stuff (clothing and sleeping bag) was really the weight driver for this trip. Ian carried less clothing and his 20F Teton bag (and was a bit colder). I think we could have even left the body of the tent behind, and just used the fly and poles method (no bugs or snakes to worry about), which would have had negligible impact from the thermal insulating standpoint, and would actually have given us more room.

We hike, we learn.

Scouting and Wood Badge

22 January 2016

A couple years ago, I decided I should complete the Scouting Wood Badge (WB) program.  This was kind of driven by two things, both my thought that I needed to “up my game” as far as Scouting goes, and also due to numerous recommendations by Scouting friends.  It’s quite the time commitment, six days of “classroom” training, and then five projects you do to benefit your Troop or other Scouting organization; these typically take about a year of effort to complete.

My five ticket items were a mix.  The easiest one to complete was the BSA Trainers Edge course, which is one day on site.  I figured it would not be useful, but it turned out to be very useful, even to a guy who has done a lot of presenting in his career.  I had one ticket item getting our Troop to be able to put on a backpacking program.  Another item was to enhance availability of Merit Badges to our Scouts by the Troop, and one more item to enhance recruiting of new Scouts from the geographical area around our Chartering Organization.  Finally, I had a ticket item to give service to the District organization our Troop is part of.  I completed the five items and am waiting to be awarded the Wood Badge in the next month or so.

Naturally, I have been reflecting on the WB program during this process.

First, I have to say that the impetus given by the ticket items really helped with getting some things done for the Troop that needed doing.  One I actually consider a failure; the recruiting effort had little success.  However, I did come up with some new ideas for next year, so I will consider it an item to be built on.   The other two Troop related items were completely successful, and the backpacking item I am particularly proud of.  The District service is a continuing effort.

26 January 2016 update:  A note on the ticket item I refer to as a failure in the previous paragraph.  I was trying a direct mail effort to 35 churches and schools in the area of our Troop meeting place, asking to let us come by and recruit for our Troop.  I got one response back out of 35, which I was very disappointed by.  I was bothered enough by it that I ginned up a second letter, with a postcard enclosed asking for feedback on why they didn’t want us to recruit.  This one got six responses asking us to come recruit.  So maybe not so much of a failure, but I still wonder why there were so many non-responses the first time.  Back to the blog post:

As I said, WB starts with a six-day commitment, and for me, that was the hardest part of the program, as I am fairly booked up by family and work.  I bit the bullet and signed up for the course as presented in two three-day chunks, over a pair of Thursday-Saturdays about three weeks apart (there are WB courses that happen in a single six-day block alsob).  In both cases, I ended up on business travel the first part of each week, which meant arriving in camp very late Wednesday the first week, and getting in to OKC at 2200 Wednesday the second week, and then getting up at 0430 to get down to camp by 0700 Thursday morning.  The first session was essentially booked with stuff 0700 – 2100 all three days except the last, which was depart at 1700.  The second session had some blocks of time for doing stuff in camp and relaxing.

Wood Badge has a number of objectives, and the primary objective is team building.  There are a number of activities like games, videos, and briefers on these topics.  Some of it was useful to me, some not so much, but overall a positive.  I’ve read about the theory of WB, and the designers are very certain that in order to form a team, it must be forged in the heat of – something.  Battle, or intense work, stress, or conflict.  I think that’s why the days are so full, it’s meant to stress people.  There was also a lot of ritual involved for everything, which is meant to enhance a sense of belonging and binding to the other people you are with.

The staff for our WB had obviously put in a heck of a lot of work to make the sessions work.  They were up before we were and went to be after we did, and in talking to them they had been meeting and camping and working together for almost a year before the actual WB course.  That’s a level of commitment that is very impressive.  The meals and infrastructure were well done.

There is some improvement in the Wood Badge program I think could be made. The biggest (this could sound elitist, but I don’t mean it to), I think that the basic orientation to Scouting parts of WB should be eliminated, to include the camping practicum, the model campsite, and the like.  There were a lot of people in my WB class that were new to Scouting.  Of the five guys in my patrol, I was the only one that had been through BALOO, IOLS, and Scoutmaster Fundamentals (for those who don’t know, BALOO is training to take Cub Scouts camping, and IOLS and SMF are basic training for Boy Scout Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters); on top of that I’ve been involved in Scouting since I was a kid.  I’m a fan of training, and I think that making SMF/IOLS a prerequisite for WB would help BSA with getting leaders fully trained (and I think that you should be able to “test out” of IOLS with experience, which all of our guys had).

I guess what I’m saying here is that you shouldn’t be at the premier, advanced training for Scouting if you don’t have the basic training completed, and at least some practical experience.  I would rather the time I am volunteering (and the associated dollars I am paying) be used for enhancing the direct objective of the course, instead of rehashing stuff I already know.  The structure of the course (patrols/troop) is good, appreciated, and 100% relevant to the course objective, but it shouldn’t have to be explained at length.

The accommodation concept was for the participants to sleep in wall tents the first session, then set up a patrol-based campsite for the second session.  I would rather be in a patrol camp both sessions, and perhaps have more time to spend with my patrol members in the camp in the evenings, rather than go with courses until late.  The mix of dining hall meals and cooked in camp meals was a good mix.

Wood Badge ended up costing me about $750, aside from the annual leave I used to attend the four days during the two workweeks.  That breaks down to $200 for the course, about $100 in transportation to the course and back (I rented a SUV for the second half to carry equipment for the service project we performed), about $250 for the Trainers Edge (I took it in Dallas, and so I had a couple hotel nights plus the course fee), and then about $200 in costs for copying pertaining to the recruiting ticket item (which was higher than I thought it would be).  I could have avoided the cost for Trainers Edge had I taken it in OKC (I had schedule conflicts for various offered TE courses through the end of 2015, almost all for Scouting activities).

The service project our course built in camp was a lot of fun, although it was also very sweaty.  Everyone worked and got it done very quickly.

So overall, I enjoyed the Wood Badge experience.  I think the bottom line on it is that completing the ticket items and the awarding of the beads is, for me, a milestone on a path ahead in service to youth.  I think that the lessons learned will help me continue to support my Troop, my District (and perhaps Council at some point), and my other service interests, in particular the Girl Scouts and St. John’s.

Troop 15 Backpacking Shores Lake to White Rock Mountain Loop, 04-06 Dec 2015

29 December 2015

Summary, a beautiful 15-mile look through stunning Ozarks winter terrain.  Five Troop 15 Scouts and three leaders, a good group that included two new backpackers.

My photos are on Google+ here.

We left OKC right at dark and didn’t get to the trailhead until around 2200.  It was cold and a very clear night.  Everyone got tents up quickly and we racked out.  The trailhead was Shores Lake, which is about 15 miles NE of I-40 and Mulberry, AR.  Note that all water to the area is shut off at the first sign of a freeze; that’s not on the Forest Service website.  We found out when I called White Rock Mountain to ask about water, and the nice lady told me they had it year round, but the water at Shores was shut off the week before.  So we were able to bring a jerrycan full of water from OKC.  We could have pumped water from the stream there as well.

The next morning, we woke up at 0830.  Yes, that’s the whole crew sleeping in a bit.  Breakfast was meant to be fast and filling:  two pounds of pre-cooked bacon and Little Smokies cooked in a dutch oven, followed by 18 eggs.  Not a scrap was left.

In the meantime, the crew made pita pocket sandwiches from ham, turkey, and the like.  I like pita pockets, but mine fell apart.  I think I either need to get larger ones next time, or stick with tortillas.  Everyone packed up.  We hit the trail very late, at 1155.

There is a $10 fee per night to camp at Shores, which is reduced to $6 when the water is turned off.  I only had a $10 bill, so that’s what it cost us.  For that we got a campsite next to a pit toilet, and a couple nice picnic tables and a fire ring.  We used all of them.  Being that it is a National Forest, you can also camp along one of the two streams running into the campground, as long as you are out of sight of any trail or other campgrounds (that’s USFS policy, not me trying to get people to do something sketchy).  If you were to get to the trailhead by around 1600, you could hike up the trail a mile or so, there are a LOT of nice places to camp that are near water.  There is also a $6 per vehicle fee to park at the trailhead.

The trail is beautiful.  We were in the post-leaf-drop period, which means the forest floor was covered in orange and red leaves.  You could also see a long distance through the forest.

The first five+ miles of trail are a mix of gentle rise and contouring.  There was plenty of water (at least two large creeks and several smaller) that the trail crossed, and in many cases, the trail is very near Salt Fork Creek (you would have to hike downhill a hundred yards or so, but there are also a multitude of nice campsites down there).

Once past the five mile point, you’ve done about 500ft+ of altitude gain, then you intersect the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT).  At this point, you have a serious climb in front of you:  1200ft over less than two miles.  It is tough.  I was a little worried about our two new guys, but in the end, we were ALL worn out by the climb.

Once you get to the top of White Rock Mountain, you pass some cabins that look very nice, and find the campsites on the west side of the ridge.  There is water, and pit toilets.  Again, $10 per night to camp, and you get a picnic table and fire ring, both of which we put to use.  Dinner was Mountain House spaghetti, chicken noodle soup, and hot chocolate.  Pretty darn good.

A note on the campsite, there are two rows of them that run north-south.  We picked the first one we came to, which was the first site (south end) of the western row.  The site had some slope to it, and my tent site straddled a sort of run off; if it had rained I might have been partially in a river!  The two sites to the north were flatter.  That’s the risk you take when you get into camp late.

We were told at the office another Scout Troop was in one of the other camps, and the next day I went over and said hello; they were from West Fork, AR, which is the gateway to Devil’s Den State Park, another lovely area that I recently backpacked with our Girl Scout High Adventure Team (HAT).

It was cold up there that morning, but it warmed up quickly.  Breakfast was Pop Tarts, oatmeal, hot chocolate, and snacks.  We got out of camp around 1045 (an hour-ten better than yesterday) and headed to the overlook for some beautiful views of the Ozarks, including the mountain we hiked around the day before.

The hike back to Shores Lake was pretty straightforward.  If you look at the hike path on the Google+ photos, there is a marker “Falls”.  This was a beautiful grotto and 70ft+ waterfall (with several stairstep waterfalls above that) above White Rock Creek.  After a rainfall, I would imagine that waterfall to be spectacular.  This was about three miles from the Shores Lake trailhead, and there was a SPECTACULAR campsite below the fall.  I think it would be a perfect location for a beginning backpacking trip, or a base camp location.

A little farther towards Shores Lake is another gorgeous waterfall that spans the entire creek, and has a six+ foot drop.

We got back to trailhead around 1530.  The Scouts ran down to look at Shores Lake (in the daylight 🙂 ), then we loaded up and headed back towards Oklahoma City.

We had two beginners on this trip, but both those Scouts did just fine.  I’m proud of the entire group.  We only had one incident, when I let the Scouts get ahead a little bit, and they blew through a trail junction, which led us to a discussion about what to do in that situation (which is stop and wait for the group to close up).  Food was good.  The trail was the right length, and as I said before, just beautiful!

I hiked this area as an Explorer Scout in 1979, and the memory stuck with me.   I don’t think the Shores Trail was there back then, and we bushwacked and followed roads.  But the memories now will be a lot fresher.

OKC Trails

13 December 2015

Yesterday a group of Scouts and leaders from Troop 15 did 20 miles along part of the Oklahoma City trails system.  This is the third time we’ve used the trail system as part of our Hiking Merit Badge program; in the past we’ve used the Katy Trail (along I-35 from near 63rd down to near the I-35/I-40 junction, then back), and a couple months ago along the Oklahoma River (from the Boathouse area to I-44 and back).

Yesterday we walked the Overholser East and most of the West River trails, for a total yo-yo of 20 miles.  The photos from our expedition are here.  Weather for the hike was perfect, just a touch on the cool and breezy side.  We got a couple rain showers.  The hike crew blazed on the trail, covering the 20 miles in just over nine hours.

Since this is our third city trail adventure, I think we have some data to make comments on the trails.  I think, first of all, that it’s GREAT that the city finally got around to working on some outdoor recreation, including trails.

My two biggest beefs about the trail system is a lack of water and restrooms along the trails.

There is no place I found to get water anywhere along the three trails we have hiked.  There is a water hose for non-potable water at Crystal Lake (and I wonder at this, why would you need a non-potable water spigot next to a really nice picnic area?).  We had our Scouts carrying two water bottles each, which is fine for a five-miler.  What we ended up doing is stopping for lunch at Crystal Lake; two of the adults hiking from the trail south on Rockwell to a 7-11, and buying a couple gallons of water to refill the guys water bottles.  There isn’t a good way to do that along the Katy, or the River trail on the north side (there is a playground/park on the south side, but I don’t know if there is water there).  Regardless, if you hike these trails, particularly during the summer, carry a lot of water.

Yesterday we found a restroom at the Overholser dam, in the form of a porta-potty that was on its side.  The next facility we found was a porta-potty at Crystal Lake, which is a long ways to go, if you need to go.  There were actual restrooms as Crystal Lake, but they were locked.  It is worse on the Katy Trail, no restrooms on the trail at all (although you could hit the Zoo, OK Railway Museum, or the golf course, but those are all clustered together on the north side).  For the River trail, you can use the Boathouse, but that’s pretty much it.

A note about Crystal Lake.  That place is a diamond in the rough.  I had ZERO idea it even existed before yesterday.  A nice lake (although “Crystal” clear is a bit of a reach 🙂 ), really nice picnic grounds, and a second area on the west side of the lake that looks like it could be a second pavilion area.  For some reason, that area is fenced off from the trail.  There ought to be a trail from the West River trail around the SW and S side of Crystal Lake through those beautiful trees; that would make a nice roughly 1.5 mile loop around the lake.

One more note.  If you look at aerial photography of the area south of 10th Street and west of the West River trail, there are medium density woods all the way to the North Canadian/Oklahoma River.  Those woods would be a PERFECT location for some mountain biking/hiking trails like those at Draper Lake.  You could probably get 10 miles of looping trails in there.

My plan is to hike or bike all of the OKC trails eventually.  It’s a great system, and a couple minor tweaks would make it great.

GPS Comparison Testing

29 October 2015

This past weekend, I took a group of Scouts from Troop 15 on a 10-mile hike for the Hiking Merit Badge. We went out to Lake Thunderbird State Park, where there are a number of hiking/biking trails that total just under 20 miles.

One of the things I wanted to do was check out the GPS capabilities of several of the units. When we go on these hikes, we typically start a GPS, and hike until it shows 10 miles.

I also had a secondary objective, which was to check out my Garmin GPSMap 62s battery usage. We had taken that unit to our backpacking trip in Colorado, and it seemed to use an entire set of batteries in less than a day. My GPSMap 60 usually gets about five days of use out of a battery pair. In this case, I completely reset the 62s, put in fresh batteries, and at the end of the day, the battery indicator showed full. So that was probably the issue.

Anyway, I tested the following units: Garmin GPSMap 60 and 62s, a Samsung Galaxy S6, and a Google Nexus 5. Both of the phones ran Runkeeper.

Our hike was over a trail network that has a significant amount of weaving in and out, in order to maximize the mileage in the limited surface area.

At the end of the hike, these were the mileages displayed:


Unit       Displayed   GPX   Points Captured
GPSMap 60:     10.02     9.7   1148
GPSMap 62s:   9.97   9.5   1748
S6:           9.90   9.9   1604
Nexus:         8.20   8.2

These results are pretty annoying to me. I’ve noticed the GPX track shortage (by way of example, displaying 10.02 while the downloaded GPX is 9.7) numerous times over the years, but I do not understand why it should be.

The difference is particularly pronounced in the GPX for the 62s. It’s a newer unit, and it has a setting to control the granularity of the data taken. For this hike, it was set to the most granular setting, and generated the largest number of data points, but the reported GPX is a half mile less, which is 5% and significant. I suspect that the better granularity of the 62s is the “real” mileage, as it would capture the numerous sharp bends in the trail network. But that is contradicted by the significantly shorter length of the GPX.

Note the very short mileage for the Nexus. We noticed the mileage displayed being less and less of the other units. Ian checked out GPS settings, and found a power-saving mode that was set that limited GPS update.

Have a look at the ground tracks. Here is an overlay of the tracks of the two phones:

S6 and Nexus 5 Tracks

S6 and Nexus 5 Tracks

You can see that the S6 (green track) and the Nexus (red track), are close together for a bit, then they diverge (the series of straight red lines), then come back together again. It’s easy to see where the longer green tracks near the straight lines are the source of the mileage difference. The question is, why did the first mile+ match up very well, then diverge?

Here are the overlays of the tracks of the 60 (green), 62s (dark), and the S6 (red) (I did not include the Nexus track due to the divergence):

Hiker and phone GPS overlaid

As I look at the tracks, I see about six areas where the green track diverges (in some places, significantly) from the other two tracks, adding mileage to the total. The 62s and S6 tracks (and most of the Nexus tracks) are very, very close.

My conclusion is that the newer GPS units are closer to showing true mileage.

I also looked at the altitude displays. These trails were fairly flat (relatively! 🙂 ). I used Mapsource to generate altitude plots and captured them as identically-sized jpegs, but there wasn’t an easy way I could see to merge them together (I tried GIMP). So instead, I exported the altitude data to an Excel spreadsheet. The number of data points didn’t match, so I wrote a q&d program to read in the data points, and insert an identical value every x lines. That got the dataset lengths pretty close. Then I imported them back into Excel and ran an XY plot:

Altitude_Comparison

I noted previously that the altitude recorded by the GPSMap 60 is way spiky. The 62s are as well, but less so. The altitude differences between the two Garmin units is significant. Three notes: the 60 tends to show altitude significantly less than the 62s for the most part (there are only two places where the altitudes match, and the altitude is 40 or so feet less than the 62s); the altitude shown by the 60 lags the 62s by some amount, and the altitude for the last couple miles is really, really off.

The altitude recorded by the S6 is closer to the 62s altitude, and also lags the 62s, but in both cases not as much as the 60. The S6 is almost smooth, not spiky.

I am going to take the units out in a car and drive about 10 miles and check the odometer reading against the GPS display and GPX. I will report on that after I do it.

I think I need to take all four units in a straight-line test to see how those mileages compare.

Backpacking Butterfield Trail, Devil’s Den State Park, AR

23 October 2015

Summary: 17.3 miles over three days, decent altitude gain of about 1300 feet, beautiful but dry terrain.

The photos for this trip are on my Google+ site here.

I’ve been wanting to hike the Butterfield Trail for many years. The Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-WEST) High Adventure Team (HAT) decided to backpack Butterfield for a long weekend, and so how could I resist? While most of the crew headed over toward Arkansas last Thursday morning, work and personal commitments kept me in OKC until Friday morning. I got to the park around 1445, had my permit by 1500, and was on the trail by 1515.

A word on the permits. They are no cost, but those folks are apparently serious about getting them back. When you sign in, you put an expected return time, and a time to start SAR. No kidding. I said I didn’t want that, but got a nope for that. I appreciate folks wanting to look out for me, but it makes me wonder if there is a problem around there that isn’t generally known. I kept an eye out for skeletons and such regardless.

I parked by the trailhead, fired up and zeroed my GPS (more on this later), and loaded my two Nalgenes with Red Diamond Sweet Tea I had bought at a gas stop in Springdale (I like water, but that tea is amazing on the trail).

I started off in grand fashion by going the wrong way. I booked it up the trail, and then realized that I was headed the counterclockwise way around the loop, turned around, and backtracked to the trailhead, then kept going, hoping no one had noticed :). The (correct direction) trail takes a bridge over Lee Creek, then goes along the creek almost a mile before crossing over near the walk-in camp. Lee Creek, BTW, had pools of water, but OTOH, the campsites on the west bank have potable water.

I had a minor screwup here. I assumed the Butterfield crossed Lee Creek a couple hundred yards before it actually did. The trail I was seeing across the creek actually heads up to Twin Falls. I had hiked up to Twin Falls with some of my Troop 15 Scouts a couple years ago, it’s quite pretty. It’s a little more difficult with 30+ lbs of backpack. I looked at my GPS to see where I screwed up. At this point, the GPX of the Butterfield Trail I had loaded the previous evening was not in evidence. I quickly realized that when I zeroed the GPS, I did a Select All, which naturally includes downloaded tracks… Oh well.

I pretty much knew where I was, and instead of hiking back the 1/4 mile or so to the trailhead, I bushwacked NNW and found the Butterfield right after the point it crosses Lee Creek. I continued north. Pretty soon I passed the walk in camp. I was making good time, I was loose and fresh and booking. At the point the trail turns sharply to the east, you start climbing. Not so much using switchbacks, just UP. It’s about 800 ft of climb over about a half mile, so it’s decent. It was in the 70s, so a good temp for a bit of a workout. I stopped twice on the way up to rest a minute.

At the top, you turn sharply south, and over the next four miles you lose all that altitude through some stunning Ozarks terrain. There is some cell service up there, but it is intermittent. I called Raegan and let her know I was on the trail.

While I saw a couple watercourses on this part, they were bone dry. After crossing another trailhead at AR 170, the next major place is Quail Valley. You should plan on spending some time in this area. There are a number of overlooks, and amazing rocks and bluffs. This would be a good campsite. There is water on the east side (but not much), and decent water on the west side.

I continued on and met the crew at Rock Hole camp. The trail parallels a creek that is maybe a hundred yards to the east after making a jog from WNW to SSW; the water was in large pools. Near Rock Hole camp, the trail comes down to the shore. This is a nice set of campsites.

The trail follows that creek (again, with water in largish pools) all the way to Junction Camp, but you would need to bushwhack down a couple hundred yards in places. We headed down the trail to Junction Camp maybe a hundred yards, then had lunch, and left our packs to walk down (pretty steep) to the creek to pump water.

From there, you pop up about 200 ft and contour for the most part. You get above some bluffs and a nice overlook at one point, and you hike through Butterfield Falls (dry for us). It was all very pretty.

Our plan was to find a horse trail that looked like it switchbacked down to Lee Creek for camp for the night. I was watching the terrain for a bluff that was on the other side of the reputed trail; we never saw it. Eventually, we crossed a road a half mile farther on, and followed it 3/4 mile to a nice campsite on Lee Creek. Again, water was in big pools.

The next morning we all crossed the creek, and followed a series of trails and roads back to the trailhead. The maps we had were not a good match to the actual trails.

After reflection, I would almost have rather just followed the bed of Lee Creek back to the main part of the Park.

We had a latish lunch in the Park, turned in our permits to ensure SAR was called off, loaded up, and headed back.

The Park was *packed*. If I were management there, I would have had the cafe and store open.

Free Advice

There was little water on the trail in the Fall. It’s probably better in the Spring.

The “easy” way to hike this trail is clockwise. You have the gradual climb to the ridge along MM 2. Going the other way, you have steep climbs in two place (MM 12 and Quail Valley), and a gradual to steep climb along Blackburn Creek.

The maps of the area that are given out by the Visitor Center have little detail on them. If I had a couple weekends on my hands, I would consider hiking the entire park with a GPS, and giving the map to the Park. The trail signs that show mileage are not right in at least several cases.

Camping in the State Park is in designated sites only. Once you enter the National Forest that envelopes the Park to the east and south, you can camp pretty much anywhere that is 100 ft off trails and water.

Summary

I loved this trip. For a 14 or so mile loop, you could spend a couple days in the middle of it. I would not mind leaving my car at the AR 170 junction and hiking down to Quail Canyon, and basecamping there a couple days.

We saw little wildlife, doubtless due to the dry conditions.

The leaves were just starting to turn colors, I would bet they are stunning in a week or so.

Hiking Bell Cow Lake Flat Rock Trail

5 April 2015

A group of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts hiked Bell Cow Lake near Chandler, OK today.  The group did 10.3 or 10.5 miles depending on which GPS you believe (the Garmin GPSMap 60 or Runkeeper on the Galaxy S4).  Regardless, it was a great hike.

Photos are at:  https://plus.google.com/photos/105156699699052376728/albums/6134014484762042529.

We got to the lake a little later than we wanted at 0910 and hit the trail about 15 minutes later.  We hit the Flat Rock trail on the south side of the lake, which is advertised as 12.4 miles, or 6.2 out and back.  We kept up a good pace all the way to what I think was the next to the last loop, where we had lunch.  We walked just under five miles in about 2.5 hours.

There was an amazing variety of tracks in the muddy trail, including turkey.  The only actual wildlife we saw was birds, but there was a pair of Bald Eagles!  We also saw one turkey crossing the road as we drove into the lake.

I was slightly surprised we saw only one stream flowing.  Water was available at the trailhead.  Even though the trails are mixed hiking and equestrian, we didn’t see any horses on the trail.

We made slightly less speed on the way back, leaving lunch at 1230, and getting back into Area C camp at 1440.  Since we had less mileage coming back due to taking the direct trail instead of the looplets (or “thumbs”), we walked down to the lake front and back, and that got us to 10+.

Weird stuff:  I used Runkeeper with my S4 to record the track (it’s in the photos), and both Runkeeper and the Garmin MapSource program reported 4,000+ ft of altitude gain for the hike.  I didn’t feel like I had done a Grand Canyon sorta walk, so I don’t think I believe that data point!

Backpacking Stove Fuel Use

5 March 2015

I used an MSR Whisperlite for boiling water on both backpacking and camping trips forever. Before we went to RMNP last summer, I pulled the stove out to test it, and there was a serious pump leak. No repair kits were available except via mail order, and they wouldn’t get here in time.

So I decided to take a Primus stove I had bought at WalMart for $20. It uses canister fuel that is a mix of butane and propane, and works to well below freezing (which I didn’t expect to get near). The stove worked fine, and I have taken it on several other trips since, most recently to the Grand Canyon.

Since you can’t take the canisters on an airplane (it’s understandable, the FAA wouldn’t be too crazy about compressed flammable gas in the cargo area), I bought an 8 oz canister when I got to Phoenix. When we got off the trail, I donated it to the Backcountry Center at Grand Canyon since I couldn’t take it back. At the time, I though that the canister seemed quite full still.

Before I bought it, I had a lot of thought about getting an 8 oz vs a 4 oz. I did some research and came to the realization that those canisters use quite a bit less fuel that I thought.

So I have four of the things at the house, with various amounts of gas. Last night and this morning, I did an experiment to see just how much fuel was used. I boiled five pots of water, each with five cups of water each. The canister with the burner weighed 420 grams. After the five runs, the rig weighed 370 grams.

So… each run used about 10 grams of fuel to go from tap temp to full boil. Very impressive.

The metal canister weight is reported online as around 130 grams. The burner is 200 grams. The 8-oz canisters have 220-230 grams of fuel. Less-than-impressive arithmetic yields about 20 full pots of water able to be boiled from one of those canisters.

I typically make a couple cups of tea or hot chocolate in the morning, and might use a bit more for oatmeal, so if I am with a partner who wants the same, that’s two runs in the morning. Two cups are typically needed for a two-person rehydrated meal in the evening, and maybe some more tea or coffee, so that’s another two or even three runs in the evening. So, four to five runs per day for two people means five or maybe six days per canister, or 10 to 12 days for a single person. That’s very impressive, especially given that the canister is $5.

A couple other interesting facts: The Whisperlite and empty fuel bottle is 350 grams. The Primus and empty canister is 330 grams.

Backpacking Grand Canyon, 02 – 06 February 2015

13 February 2015

A group of seven friends had a great backpacking trip to Grand Canyon last week. The weather was perfect!

I took a bunch of photos again. Those are on my Google+ site here.

Hike summary: 5 days, 46.6 trail miles, and huge altitude loss and gain. Sore calves and knees. Staggering and sublime views everywhere!

This is our second trip to Grand Canyon National Park. My blog post for the first one is here.

Getting There

I left Oklahoma City Saturday morning and arrived late morning in Phoenix. Car and baggage were no problem, and I spent my day first with a wonderful brunch with longtime friend Keith and his husband Ben. We followed an excellent meal and talk up with coffee at a nearby Starbucks. We split for a bit for errand running (and me driving all around Phoenix), before meeting back at their house for brownies, ice cream, more talk, and playing with their kitties. A wonderful way to spend a day!

Sunday, the rest of the team was arriving around 0930. They actually arrived around 1300. Fog in the area of PHX caused a ground stop for the flights arriving from DEN and SAN. Dammit. Once everyone arrived, we had a quick lunch (El Pollo Loco, yum), and we booked out of town to avoid any traffic due to the Super Bowl that was being played a couple miles to the west.

We stopped in Flagstaff for the guys to get food and last-minute supplies, and then drove to the Canyon, checking into the Maswik Lodge, having dinner in the Bright Angel Lodge dining room, before returning to the Maswik to get our packs stuffed and a last night in a real bed.

Day 1 (Monday, 02 Feb)

So… this was our short day. Yow.

We got up, checked out of Maswik, had breakfast at Bright Angel Lodge, and drove our cars to the Backcountry Info Center (BIC). Caught the Park shuttle to the Visitor Center, then took another shuttle to the Kaibab trailhead near Yaki Point. We weighed our packs before checking out, mine came in at 38 lbs, about nine less than last year (yea!).

At the BIC I had an electronics fault. The evening before, I had tested my Garmin GPS in the Maswik, and it worked fine. At the BIC, I fired the thing up, and it would beep and shut right off. This happened about 10 times in a row. It had new batteries. I was annoyed by this no end. I didn’t want to carry a nonfunctional GPS, so I left it in the car (another 5oz down). So the end result is I don’t have any GPS track data for the trip. The most annoying thing: when we got back, I picked the darn thing up and it fired right up. Well, crap.

Regardless, we got the Kaibab trailhead, those that needed filled up water bottles, everyone hit the head one last time, we shouldered our packs, and headed down. We hit the trail right at 1030.

This day was down, down, down, down, down hill. There were some level-ish places along the trail, but I do not recall any up. Much of the trail is big stairsteps. It is jarring after a while. There are a couple places to stop on the way down, and at least two toilets (one at the first tip-off point, and the other on the Tonto Plateau). There is an emergency phone at the Tonto location. There are also a couple places that have staggering views down and over the river. But the dominate memory of this day is the relentless down.

That day was the hardest day of hiking I have had. At the end of it, I had a very sore spot behind my left knee, in a place I’ve not been sore before. It reduced me to a very slow pace for the last hour or so of the hike. The trail is so steep it is hard to believe.

I had two full water bottles at the top of the trail, and had the last of my water at the Bright Angel side of the bridge.

The Kaibab ends up at the eastern suspension bridge over the Colorado. Once across the bridge, you are about a third of a mile from camp. We got into camp right around 1730. We stayed at the Bright Angel Camp for backpackers, in one of the two group camps at the south end. The campsite had a nice shelter that was built into the rock face. Two of the guys rolled out their pads and bags right under the shelter. The rest of us put up tents. My tent is not freestanding, and this made me wish it was. The ground was uniformly dirt, but there were a plethora of rocks about two inches under. I found a nice fist-sized rounded rock and took several attempts per tent stake to get them in. Several of them only went in about halfway; for each of those I took a largish rock and used it to hold the stake down.

We all got dinner going. I had Backpackers Pantry Santa Fe Chicken and Rice, and it was pretty good. I could not finish it, and only finished about half of it.

After dinner, I changed into my cool weather clothes, and took a couple Advil. My knee was really bothering me. Fortunately, after a good night sleep, the knee had no pain. I had been worried about it enough that I was going over abort-and-walk-out scenarios. So I didn’t have to carry one of those out. The rest of the guys headed up to the Phantom Ranch canteen for a couple brews. I stretched out in my tent to work a Suduko, and passed out around 1945.

Bright Angel Camp is very nice. The group site we were in had a shelter, and the bathrooms have actual flushing toilets. Very plush.

For the first day, we had 7.1 miles of hiking, brutally down, a total of 4,780 ft of loss.

Day 2

We got up at 0830 (really!), and were packed up and out of camp by 1030.

It’s about a half mile from Bright Angel camp to the junction with the Clear Creek trail. Right off the bat, you climb at a good pace. The trail is a bit on the rocky side. It climbs to an overlook for Phantom Ranch. There is a pretty cool bench made of stone there. Right past the bench a short trail goes to a small area with a great view of the Colorado River. After that, you spend a lot of time contouring and climbing and contouring and climbing to get up to the Tonto Plateau, but this time on the north side of the Colorado.

Once up at the bench and overlook, and for maybe another half mile or so, you actually have cell service. Not much, but I was able to call Raegan and tell her we were OK.

There is no shade up there, except a couple places along the trail where the wash is deep enough to provide some shade, and one great big boulder that provides enough shade (see the photos, it’s enormous).

There was one place on the trail to get water, it was just past our lunch place outbound. There were a couple tepid pools below the trail, and one nice looking pool, albeit small, very close to the trail. When we came back Thursday, the same area had a slight, very slight, trickle that had formed another small pool. If that’s what you get in February, I’m thinking there isn’t any most of the time.

Shade is another thing, as noted above, there’s basically none.

The views were another thing altogether. Constant, and staggering, and head turning, and majestic, and all around. The view of the south side changed as we walked along, and of course the north side has those magnificent walls with the grand names like Zoroaster.

The last part of the trail down into camp was tough (but not as bad as coming down Kaibab). A lot of the trail is a sort-of worn area in red dirt, and it slopes down, so if you slip you get to roll 400 ft into camp. The parts that were not like that were rocky and steep.

We got into camp around 1730, with pretty much empty water bottles, and being on the trail eight hours. Camp is small and set in among some cottonwoods. There are a couple areas to camp in, and I think I like the southern one best. Clear Creek was burbling along happily with a good flow.

There is a dehydrating toilet north of the camps. I thought it was a little odd that the toilet was upstream of the camps, but on the other hand it was quite a ways back from the creek, but on the other other hand it was surrounded by washes. Hmmm….

Dinner was very pleasant. We talked a bit after dinner, watching the amazing dark sky and tons of stars until the Moon rose and the extra light wiped a bunch, and then crashed.

This (and Thursday, clearly) were our long days. We had 10.8 miles of trail. We had a 1,680 ft gain from Bright Angel Camp to the Tonto Plateau, and we lost 560 ft of that down into Clear Creek camp, for a net increase of 1,120 ft. The true “up” for the day is something like 1,900 ft, as we had numerous examples of walking up a hill, then back down the other side, and back up the hill on the other side of the side canyon.

Day 3

This was a side hike day for us. You have three basic choices: stay in camp and chill, go down Clear Creek through a slot canyon to the Colorado, or go up canyon. We decided to head up canyon. There are some ruins up there, and the largest waterfall in the Canyon, Cheyava Falls.

You can’t just follow Clear Creek. The creek disappears, and reappears, and there are side canyons. It’s full of brush and low limbs and occasional scrambles up what would be waterfalls if there was water. There are three streams of reliable water: from the Clear Creek camps to about a half mile upstream, then about five miles upstream, and then below Cheyava Falls.

The Falls were not running when we were there. Rangers told us there had been fairly little snow on the North Rim, so there was little to flow down Cheyava.

There are some super pretty sights up those canyons. They collapse down to slot canyons in a couple places (the NPS warns that there is a flash flood risk if there is a storm up-canyon, so obviously you need to watch the weather). There is a huge variety of rock types, shapes, and sizes in the canyon.

One thing to watch: there are an amazing number of cacti of various types in the canyon. Some of them are clustered close together. Now, there are cacti on the Tonto as well, but not nearly as close together as they are in the Clear Creek drainage. I counted 32 (yes, thirty-two) punctures and scratches on my legs. Dave caught one in the shin that we thing punctured a vein just a bit, as he had a huge amount of blood on his leg and boot. Very impressive.

After dinner, we stayed up all the way to 2040 ( 🙂 ) to watch a short pass of the ISS, and then crashed.

This day was 8 miles round trip, and a 1,378 ft climb, then return to camp with the same altitude loss.

Day 4

Not much to say about today, except the views were just as massive and sublime coming from the opposite angle.

As I mentioned above, there was one more trickle of water at one point. I wouldn’t count on it being there now.

We got up and left camp around 0830. It took us 35 minutes to walk from camp up the first big climb and level out some. After that, we motored right along. This walk took us about 7.6 hours coming back instead of the 8 hours going out. We went faster, and took shorter breaks.

We got back into camp in time to stop at the Phantom Ranch Canteen for a beer.

We had dinner in camp, watched an excellent pass of the ISS starting about 1830, and then hung in camp and talked. While we were there, a ring-tailed cat raided the camp! It was hanging out in the roof area of the shelter next to the rock wall the shelter was built into. S/he was not terribly afraid of us, and we took some pictures while getting peered back at.

Around 1955, we headed back to the canteen for some beer, iced tea, and talk. We stayed about an hour, headed back to camp, and crashed. Four of the guys didn’t bother with a tent, and crashed on the floor of the shelter.

Another 10.8 miles, and a net loss, but the uphill out of camp and the back sides of the hills we walked down made for some decent altitude for the day.

Day 5

We got up at 0530 for what we figured would be a long day. Turned out, not so much!

During breakfast and packing up, I noticed my SPOT was missing. We searched all around the camp, and saw the remains of some plastic Ziplocs around, especially in the roof above the shelter. I figure that the darn ringtail was rooting around, and took the Ziploc with the SPOT in it. Damn cat. Rather, damn raccoon family member. I figure the SPOT is in the roof somewhere, or around the camp area. Hard lesson to learn, but put the $150 SPOT in the bear canister with the rest of the food and trash. I let the Rangers know after returning home; who knows, it might turn up.

We got out of camp around 0730 and went directly to the west bridge over the Colorado. James spotted a bighorn sheep above us, which was cool.

On the way, I stopped where I lost my Nalgene last year and looked for it, even venturing down the cliff face a bit. No luck.

Shortly after this we hit the Devil’s Corkscrew. It’s a tough walk with a big pack, even on the last day, but we all made it in good time with minimal stops. We showed up at Indian Garden around 0930 and took a water and snack break. It was 42F there, and since we were sweating and then stopped, it was darn cold! We didn’t stay long, it was better to be walking and warm.

So started the Big Slog. Walking out of Indian Garden, you are walking up. After a mile or so, the trail tilts upward and you begin four miles of trail going up several thousand feet. The view gets better as you go, but that’s about it. It’s just keep the feet going one after another. Around 1430, I came over the South Rim to complete the trip.

The last day is 9.9 miles, and 4,380 ft of altitude gain. I think the only level is walking from Bright Angel Camp and crossing the bridge, and the only down is a couple short segments along the river, but every bit of the rest is unrelenting up. Still, we all did it without any pain. Rest along the trail every once in a while, and keep a good attitude, and you make it.

We went immediately to Bright Angel Lodge for late lunch and beer and iced tea. From there, it was a walk to Maswik, getting checked in, getting the cars parked at the BIC, showers, and all that.

We drove out to Hermit’s Rest right before sunset to watch the sun set. Then it was back to Bright Angel Lodge for dinner, and a long sleep.

Heading Home

Saturday was pretty straightforward. Up and pack, check out, breakfast, and a visit to the Visitors Center and Mather Point for a last look into the Canyon. It’s a long drive back to Phoenix, but we left the Park around 1030 and got to the rental car return by 1400, and on our flights on time.

Things That Didn’t Work

Losing my SPOT is in this category for sure. Lesson learned is put the thing into the bear canister.

I had a tent pole break Thursday morning. I was sitting by the tent, no stress or strain on it (I had pulled the fly off sometime earlier, and the pole broke next to an insertion point, pop! The same thing happened to the front pole earlier. So, that pole will go off to Tent Pole Technologies for replacement. I had the backup sleeve, and took the pole apart by having two of the guys hold it apart by the shock cord, then cutting the shock cord, threading the backup sleeve through the shock cord, and tying the shock cord back together. I used a couple pieces of duct tape to hold the backup sleeve over the break area.

I had something new on this trip, pain in back of my left knee, mainly toward the extreme down of the end of Day 1. A good rest and a pair of Advil, and no more issues. The same muscle I hurt at Rocky Mountain NP last July re-pulled on this trip; it made it difficult to bend at the waist, which made a couple areas on the day hike a bit problematic. Dave is a professional purveyor of PT, and he identified the muscle, and some exercises to heal it. I’ve been doing those.

Maps

Since my GPS got all weird on me right before we hit the trail, I have put these together using some of the tracks from our trip last year, and manually drawing the rest of the tracks in my Garmin Mapsource tool. The waypoints are from my SPOT reports, except the last day.

First, an overview. Our Day 1 hike on South Kaibab is in purple, Days 2 and 5 on the Clear Creek Trail in green, Day 4 to Cheyava Falls in blue, and our last day on Bright Angel Trail in red.

The entire trek in one JPEG.

The entire trek in one JPEG.

Next, a series of zooms on each segment, Days 1, 2, 4, and 5.

Days 1 and 5

Days 2 and 4

Day 3 Day Hike

Things That Worked

I was happy with my clothing choices here. I would typically wake up in my base layer, and immediately put my long sleeve mock turtleneck and Scout pants on over them, with a hoodie over the mock if I still felt the need. Then, either right before leaving, or shortly after hitting the trail, I would strip down to get the base layer and stuff off, and put on a t-shirt. That would be my hiking shirt. Immediately after hitting camp, the (usually damp) t-shirt would come off and the dry base layer go on. I would continue layering as it cooled. The t-shirt was always dry be morning.

I am going to investigate newer fabrics. Most of the crew had these, and they dried amazingly quickly, and I think the stuff was lighter and compacted better.

I went 100% Isopro/pro stove and fuel for this trip. Worked great, flawless, and heated water darn fast. I carried an 8 oz fuel canister, and ended up with about 3/4 of the fuel left. So, I could have carried a four oz canister and saved the extra weight.

Pack Weight

WOW! After my pack weight investigation last year, my loaded pack weight was NINE pounds less than last year! So I went from 47 lbs to 38 lbs. I also am about seven pounds less body weight. Was the pack light? Heck no. But it was also very manageable.

I am going to look into a new tent. At REI, I saw two tents that are two-person models (as mine), and one was in sort of the same form factor as mine. But, they were in the 2.5 lb range, which is about half my the weight of my tent.

Food

Couple things here. For dinner, I’ve always carried one backpackers meal per day. Those things are marked as two servings (read, two people), but I’ve always been able to put a full package away. I didn’t have nearly the appetite on this trip, and on the first day, only managed half the meal. So for the remaining dinners, I emptied the package into a Ziploc, then put half back into the the cooking pouch and used half the water. Worked out well, and I didn’t have to carry a number of half finished but rehydrated dinners.

My usual breakfast is a package of Pop Tarts and a package or do of applesauce. It was even so on this trip.

But I did something a little different for lunch. I took one tuna salad kit, ate that on day one, and went with Pop Tarts and applesauce for lunch.

I’m thoroughly sick of Pop Tarts at the moment. I had nine packages of them on this trip. It’ll be a while before I have any more. They kept me from getting hungry, but just got a bit monotonous. Maybe half Pop Tarts and half tuna next time? I need to think that over.

Summary

So this trip is in the books. I almost wish we had done a side hike (maybe Thursday afternoon up North Kaibab) to get in a 50 miler, as we needed 3.5 more miles.

Everything pretty much worked on this trip! The company was fantastic, and the views were the reason I go to National Parks.

A Tent Pole Win

13 August 2014

I camp and backpack in a No Limits Kings Peak two-person tent. I think it is a very good design; it has enough room to easily sit upright in. The tent is wider at the shoulders and narrower at the feet (less fabric, less weight), and while I have had two people in it quite comfortably many times, it’s exceptionally roomy as a one-Bill tent. It weighs 5.1 lbs and packs down very nicely, has never leaked, and I’ve only had condensation issues a couple times.

So I was unhappy when one of the tent pole segments broke during our HAT Cossatot backpacking trip. I think hail hit the pole and literally shattered the aluminum section right at the end.I tried a couple Q&D patches (duct tape is our friend), but knew I needed it fixed.

My first stop was to customer service at Academy, where I bought the tent. I called and told them the name and part number of the tent. The bright-voiced young lady on the other end of the phone said yes, they had replacement poles; the first one was 8 FEET LONG, 1 INCH in DIAMETER. No, I said, that’s not right. They also had a fiberglass tent pole repair kit, which was the wrong length and diameter for the aluminum pole. I pressed a bit to find out who made the tent for Academy, hoping to go to the actual manufacturer, but supposedly they didn’t know. Right.

I went looking online for tubes and parts. What I found was the pole had a fairly standard outside diameter, but the inside diameter was significantly less than available tubes. For those who do not know, tent poles are sectioned and hollow, with a stretchy cord running through them. The cord holds the whole thing together (both broken down and assembled), and the end of each section has a hollow insert that fits into the next section. The inserts that were available that I could easily find didn’t match the inside diameter of the pole sections.

While I was doing all this research, I went on several camps with the kludged fixes to the pole. I wasn’t happy with any of them.

I read that REIs did tent pole repairs. I visited several, and at one, they let me root around through all the tent pole pieces they had collected over several years. No luck on one the correct size.

Then I ran across Tent Pole Technologies (http://tentpoletechnologies.com/). I had a couple email exchanges with them, and then measured the existing pole and essentially sent them an engineering drawing of the pole, with a couple stitched-together photos of the whole thing, and got back a quote of $35 for a complete replacement. I paid them electronically, and in a week, got the replacement pole in the mail.

For one thing, it’s 1 oz less than the previous pole. When backpacking, every ounce counts!

The important thing, that pole was a perfect copy of the existing pole, except the broken piece. I took it camping this past weekend and it was perfect.

So this was a pretty cool experience. There is a lot of life left in that tent, and the new pole will help me get that life out of the tent.

This is a good example of the power of online. A company I would have been unlikely to find easily, communications that were fast and high confidence, a secure payment, yielded a super fast turnaround and a quality product.

A couple words about Academy: I expected better support. I know they don’t make their own stuff, but I would expect them to at least have a line on who makes it for them, and to have customer service people who would know that a tent pole for a backpacking tent is not the same thing as the center pole for a beach tarp.

Backpacking RMNP, 14-16 July 2014

19 July 2014

Trip Summary

32 miles of hiking in the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) over three days, with 3,800+ feet of altitude gain.

I’ve posted the photos from this trip to my Google+ site. They are pretty amazing.

Getting Ready

Last Fall, our first RMNP backpacking trip was washed out by severe monsoonal rain and storms (the blog post is here). I put together this trip to enable completing the “loop” I wanted to do last time.

I got the permit 01 March after settling in on the couch with my phone earpiece in, and started a sequence of dial-busy-hang up-repeat when the backcountry office opened at 0800 Mountain. It took 245 calls (I just went back to my Facebook post to verify) and 1.5 hours to get through and get the permit.

After my last RMNP hike up Flattop, where my breath was always short, I started some running exercises to prepare. This time, there were no issues. My permit was for seven total; we ended up hiking with five after a couple people dropped out for work or family issues.

We drove from OKC Saturday, leaving around noon and getting to Colorado Springs around 2100. We took a leisurely drive to Grand Lake on Sunday, getting to town around 1600 and going directly to the Backcountry Office for our permit.

Day 1

The crew got up Monday morning and had a fine breakfast in town, loaded up the backpacks in Lance’s car, and he hauled them up to the trailhead at the north end of town while the rest of us walked the 0.6 mile up there. We took a group picture and headed out.

Temperatures were perfect. We headed north towards Big Meadow, stopping for lunch on the north edge of the Meadows. About halfway along, we spotted a bull moose! Once we walked out a bit into the meadow, there were seven of his friends! Four of them were bulls! Very cool. We watched them for a while; how often are you able to do that?

We kept walking after a while, and on the northwest corner of the meadow, we got out first rain and hail. It was small hail, just chips, but it got our attention. We had stopped for a short break, and had noticed a cow moose and her little mooselet about 50 yards out into the meadow, and we had to watch for a bit.

At this point, we swung around to the east and started a gradual climb up to Granite Falls. There are campsites at Lower Granite Falls, and we were past the Falls at Granite Falls. Pick the campsite farthest to the east; it looks out onto a beautiful meadow.

We saw a number of backpackers along this trail; about four groups.

Camp had a couple huge logs split and made into tables (or benches) that were fine cooking and eating surfaces. We finished dinner, talked for a while while watching the meadow in the fading light, and crashed.

My dinner was Backpackers Pantry Santa Fe Chicken with Rice; I’ve had this meal a number of times, and enjoy it. Forgive the image, but for some reason this dinner tore my guts up chemically. Not in a painful way, but noxious at 0200. As my former E-4B friend Ray once said, “it’s really bad if you offend yourself”. I did. I hope it was just that particular package of food.

Day 1 ended up as a 9 mile hike, with 1540 ft of altitude gain.

Day 2

This day started fine for Lance. He was up early, and a moose walked right past him and right through camp. Very cool.

We got up the next morning at 0730 and had breakfast. I think it had rained a bit overnight, as all the tents were damp. We hung up the flys to dry stuff out, and took a side hike back down to Granite Falls. They were amazing!

We headed back up to camp, packed up, and left around 0930. It was a steady climb to Haynach camp, our days target. We passed through a burned area, and a couple pretty meadows. We passed two groups of backpackers, both out for dayhikes. Eventually we got to the Haynach turnoff, and headed north. This was pretty hard; it was steep. But we made good time, and got to camp around noon. We rested a couple minutes, and then got the tents put up, just as a storm rolled through. It rained and hailed repeatedly until around 1630. We stayed in our tents, had lunch, napped, or worked a couple Sudokus (in my case).

Camp had a lot of snowdrifts! I think that all of the tent sites were clear (although many were dampish). Several of the snowdrifts were 3+ ft high, and 20-40 ft long. A guy the next camp over had stuck his bear canister in a drift.

The rain finished around 1630, so we side hiked up to Haynach Lakes. These got us up to around 11000 ft, and were stunning! If we hadn’t had the rain, I would have liked trying to peakbag one of the peaks surrounding the Lakes. Next time. There were HUGE snowdrifts all over the place up there.

We had a nice dinner and talked for a while, then went to bed. My dinner was Backpackers Pantry beef stroganoff, it was a bit on the bland side but good.

It stormed on and off pretty much all night. No one had issues with tents or gear.

Day 2 ended up as a 2.8 mile hike, with an immediate loss of 165 feet (to the Falls), which we immediately got back, followed by 1000 ft more of altitude gain to get to our campsite. The side hike to Haynach Lakes was 2.3 miles roundtrip with a gain of 350 ft.

Day 3

This was going to be our hard day, we knew way in advance. Two people were killed by lightning the previous week in RMNP, and this day was going to be about 70% above tree line. We had seen storms every day since we arrived in the Front Range area Saturday. Our Rangers had warned us as well. So we were paranoid, and our plan was to be up early and try to make the Flattop Mountain trail junction before noon. It was also going to be a 10-mile day, with a lot of altitude gain early on.

We got up around sunrise and tried our best to dry off very wet and dirty tents and flys, get packed, and have some breakfast. None of our gear was dirty; the vestibules each of our tents have worked well. It was a bit chilly but not too cold. We headed out around 0730, losing the altitude we gained coming up the day before.

The the Climb started. We headed on east on Tonahutu trail, gaining altitude steadily. I don’t think there was a truly flat place on the trail. It was relentlessly UP. Some places the trail was cut with stairs, some places it was sloped, but it was always up.

We got above treeline about halfway up. Lots of snow, but none on the trail. We saw an elk herd on the tundra to the west of Ptarmigan Pass, it was about 50 strong. We weren’t too close.

Right before we passed a 12250 point to our south, we could see Spirit Lake far to the southwest. We pulled out our phones, and amazingly enough, had signal, so we all called our spouses to check in. Raegan hadn’t been feeling 100% when we left Monday, and now she was full-blown sick, and seriously dehydrated to the point she didn’t feel she could drive, but needed to go to the hospital. I immediately decided I had to be down there. We were headed that general direction anyway. I gave the guys options of staying on the original itinerary, or maybe just staying in our camp for that evening and hiking out the next day. Beer in Grand Lake was mentioned, I think. The crew made the decision to hike out. It would mean a long day, but we were already done with 95% of the uphill, the rest was contouring and downhill.

We got to the top of Tourmaline Gorge around 1115 and were just stunned by the depth and relief of that beautiful area. We were starting to see convection to the south, and that motivated us to keep moving. We ate candy and snacks on the move, and didn’t stop for lunch. We go to the Flattop junction at 1130, barely paused, and moved out on North Inlet trail. We were flat to down here, and really moved. I checked the GPS later, and found several points we were making 5.5 mph, darn near a jog.

We found a large snowfield a bit past the Flattop junction. It was several hundred yards long, and probably two feet deep. We post-holed our way through it, but didn’t accumulate much snow in our boots.

We saw numerous marmots and several pikas (and heard many more), in the rock areas. We passed several other snowfields, but none on the trail. Several of these were in ravines and had significant streams flowing out of them. Water, BTW, was not an issue this July day. There were numerous places to pump.

At one point, while we were on the “big switchbacks”, we smelled first, and then saw, four bull elk that were about 50 ft upslope from us. They were magnificent!

There isn’t a lot to say about most of the hike down. It was tough, not because of slope, but just length. We had planned on 10 miles already, and the additional mileage to town was almost 8 more.

We were below Cascade Falls when a series of rain showers and thunderstorms started rolling through. Here my rain gear was a bit too much; it was warm, and I had a fleece-lined rain jacket that made me sweat almost as much as the rain would make me wet.

We got to the Grand Lake trailhead at 1630, and were exhausted. The last couple miles were tough. I took a shower and took Raegan to the ER in Granby, where they rehydrated her. I was glad I had come back early.

Day 3 ended up as a 17.5 mile hike, with a starting loss of 368 feet, followed by 1850 ft of altitude gain, and an immediate loss of 2750 ft back to Grand Lake.

Things That Went Well

The Rangers in the Backcountry Office at RMNP rock. I got outstanding beta on our campsites when checking in, and in return, I went back and gave them back beta on trail conditions up high.

Critters! We saw moose, elk, deer, fox, pika, and marmot.

Food was well done.

Things That Could Be Improved

I carried too much colder weather gear. Normal temps in the mountains are in the range of 40s for lows to 70s for highs. Forecasts had been for lows in the upper 20s and highs in the 40s. Actuals were lows in the high 40s and highs in the mid-60s.

This meant that I carried a heavier 0F bag instead of my 20F bag. I carried a fleece-lined rain jacket, much heavier than my Frogg Toggs rain jacket, a base layer, a hoodie, a long-sleeve mock turtleneck, and some other stuff that probably added at least 3-4 lbs extra. All I really needed was my hoodie, or maybe the mock turtleneck, and my Frogg Toggs.

I carried something new for me, a 5×7 ft lightweight tarp. We didn’t really need it, but I put it up the first night anyway to experiment with it, and I think it is too small. I might find another one, or get a second 5×7 and tie them together to make a 10×7.

I tried to tone down the hike this time after several rounds of feedback, but I think this was still too tough. I should have had us enter at the Green Mountain trailhead off US34, then the Granite Falls target would have been more appropriate. Staying at Renegade, and side hiking Haynach, would probably have been smarter, and saved us a long climb with packs. I don’t know that I could do much with the big hike up to Flattop junction, except maybe stay at July instead of down at North Inlet Junction.

I think this would have been a better itinerary:

Day 1: Green Mountain around Big Meadow to Granite Falls camp. 5.3 miles and 1127 elevation gain.

Day 2: Renegade or Timeberline camp. Maybe layover here, then dayhike Haynach.

Day 3: Up and over Flattop to July. This would cut several miles off the day.

Day 4: July to Lake Solitude Cross-Country Area.

Day 5: Up and over Ptarmigan and Andrews and exit East Inlet, or dayhike Nanita and exit North Inlet.

This would have made a lot more sense in balancing out the effort needed.

Another alternative would be a three-day trip, say, up North Inlet to North Inlet Falls a couple nights, and dayhike up to Nanita; or North Inlet Falls to the cross-country area, and then up and over Ptarmigan/Andrews and down to Verna, then hike out East Inlet.

A three-day trip would allow a couple days of dayhiking, and doing that before the backpacking trip allows a little more acclimation.

Summary

I’m a little disappointed in having a second bust at RMNP. I did the right thing by heading back down early, but I know it was disappointing to the rest of the crew.

I’m glad we were able to complete most of the loop we missed due to the flooding last September. As I told Raegan later, the views were almost overwhelming, constantly changing, and even different perspectives within a couple hundred yards along the trail. There were lots of critters to marvel at. My hiking companions couldn’t have been better.

This Park, although relatively small, still has a huge untapped hiking potential. I will be back.

Hiking East Inlet Trail, RMNP, CO

18 July 2014

Yesterday Erin and I hiked almost 3 miles out-and-back on the East Inlet trail in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).

I posted photos to my Google+ account here.

It was a straightforward hike; we wanted to see Adams Falls, and did, and we hoped to see moose in East Meadow. No luck there, but we saw a pretty doe.

There were two highlights, I thought. There is a stunning area that would be a perfect campsite or picnic area at the base area of the Falls. We also saw a pretty doe curled up in tall grass off the trail. East Meadow is beautiful.

Here is the hike path on a topo, annotated with where we went.

One thing to note: the trail as represented by the Garmin Mapsource program is quite a bit north of the actual path as shown by the GPS.

Here is an altitude plot.

There is a nice 80 foot climb to the Falls, and then we climbed back down to the base area. The scramble on the rocks was a lot of fun.

Now, there are a number of things on the plot above I don’t believe. Most of the walk was quite smooth. Notice the spikes of 20, 40, or 60 ft? No way. There’s a big drop of 50 ft right before a spike of 20 feet. Didn’t happen. At the end of the hike, we ended up back at the car, so the altitude should have been the same we started at. Not so much. I promise we didn’t step off a 60 foot bluff to get back.

I’m going to see if there is a software update for my GPS Map 60 that might address this. The GPS clearly has altitude issues.

Walmart and Camp Stove Fuel

22 June 2014

A couple months ago, we bought a couple stoves for Troop 15 that are powered by a canister of alcohol that is pressurized.  I tried to buy a couple of the fuel canisters as well, but that WM didn’t have any.

I had another errand near school, going there I passed another WM; I stopped but that one didn’t have the canisters either (both stores had a label on the shelf for the fuel canister).

So I went to a nearby Academy,  they had one canister.

So at least in OKC, there seemed to be a shortage of the alcohol fuel canisters.

That was in early May.  Since then I have been in roughly 10 different WMs; in each case, the store had a label on the shelf for the fuel canisters.

We needed a couple of them for summer camp in mid June,  but I still didn’t find any, even when I looked at a WM in Colorado Springs.

We found the fuel at a Big 5 in the Springs.  That store had more than 10, in different suzes.

So this leads me to wonder why WM carries the stoves,  but doesn’t have the fuel.  They clearly intend to have the fuel.

I looked at the local Bass Pro Shop last evening;  they had eight canisters.  Very odd.

Backpacking (part of) Lost Creek Wilderness, CO, 11-12 June 2014

16 June 2014

Summary: 2,800 ft of altitude gain, and 16.5 miles of backpacking through aspen and rocks.

I posted the photos to my Google+ site here.

A group of four Troop 15 friends took a short backpacking trip to the south end of the Lost Creek Wilderness in Colorado, 11-12 June. We got out of camp around 1030 and arrived at the trailhead at Spruce Grove around 1100.

I had no idea the Lost Creek Wilderness even existed, until it was suggested to me by the Camp Alexander camp director. I scored a map of the area and started looking a trails a month or so back.

We didn’t really know where we were going until the evening before we left camp, and then we changed it mid-hike.

When you get to Spruce Grove campsite, note that the gates can be closed for the night at some point, and more to the point, all of the parking is for campers in the Spruce Grove campsite. Backpackers and day hikers are supposed to park next to the road, outside the gate. It is a short walk to the trailhead from there. The camp host was very nice. His dog came over to wag at us and get some petting; that was nice.

We had one detour right away; Tarryall Creek was running high and was on the start of the trail, so we found a way around some rocks about 100 ft upstream. We had no issues after that.

The first part of the hike is a longish approach on Lizard Rock Trail, AKA Forest Service trail 658. 658 ends at the actual boundary of the Wilderness Area. There are self-serve permits there; all of them were used when we were there, so we called the local Ranger District and let them know. We dropped our packs at the boundary and headed NW to a neat overlook of the valley, and then a bit farther to (I presume) Lizard Rock for an amazing view of the Tarryall Creek drainage, and the area over by Lake George.

We had thought we would take trail 607, camp around the junction with 639, and then loop up to Lake Park on 639 and come back. We decided that since it was already about 1400, there were clouds around, and we needed to be back at Camp Alexander by Thursday after, we would shorten the hike a bit.

We headed east on trail 630 and got to Hankins Pass around 1600. The only water we saw this entire time was a stream out of the Pass (it’s annotated on the topo), and some runoff that was across the trail a couple hundred yards below the pass. You really can’t see the stream, but we heard it.

We found an interesting corral-looking structure at the pass, a hundred+ feet east of the trail junction. We quickly set up camp and got water going for dinner. I had Chili Mac. Yum as usual!

After dinner, we got a bear bag hung, and then took a recon hike up the trail to Lake Park. There was an amazing view back to the west that we sat at for awhile and talked.

The days hiking was five miles; this included the approach, the side hikes, and the arrival at Hankins Pass. Camp was at 10000 ft.

We had a decent storm late that night that dumped hail (very small) that we saw a couple places along the trail the next morning.

After our usual breakfast the next morning (we all slept in until 0800), we got daypack stuff and headed up trail 639 to Lake Park. The trail topped out at 11000 feet before dropping into the bowl of Lake Park. It’s a beautiful area that would be fine to camp in.

After lunch, we headed back down to Hankins Pass, packed up our stuff, and walked back down. We got down around 1530, were back in camp by 1600, and already missing the mountains.

Good Info To Know

The one-way length of Forest Service trail 658 (Lizard Rock) is 2.4 miles.

Water: It’s not available on 658. We didn’t see any until near Hankins Pass.

This was a nice (but short) trip that barely scratched the surface of the Lost Creek Wilderness. I would enjoy going back and finishing the loop we wanted to try in the first place.

Summer Camp At BSA Camp Alexander, CO

16 June 2014

BSA Troop 15 had summer camp the past week at Camp Alexander, part of the Pikes Peak Council of Colorado Springs.

I put the photos from camp on my Google+ page.

We drove out of OKC in two vans, a truck with a troop trailer, and a minivan last Saturday at 0930. Pretty good for moving 30 people and about a ton of equipment! We managed to pick up a nail in the van I was driving, and so we stopped in El Reno for a quick fix.

We got to our overnight stop at the National Guard facility in Springer, NM.

I have to rave about those guys. When we got there, the main building was locked, so I walked up to the vehicle maintenance shed and found a couple guys working on one of the Hummers. After I told them who I was and what we were doing, these two guys called or POC (who was there in less than five minutes), and then they gave every one of our Scouts an outstanding orientation to the Hummer, and then a ride on the test course in back of the Guard facility! Above and beyond! Our Scouts were so excited they talked about it for days. Our nighttime quarters were the gym of the Guard facility. We had access to the kitchen, the workout facility (there was a lot of iron pumped that evening), and the front yard, where one of our leaders cooked some great chicken and beef fajitas. We cooked breakfast out there the next morning, and were able to give breakfast to some of the Guard members. The entire unit was so friendly. We made sure we cleaned up completely, and headed out.

We got to Colorado Springs, and were having lunch in a local park when we notices a tornado warning due west of us, over Lake George, where camp was. The storm tore up a mobile home park there, but no one was hurt. It dissipated before we met up with it.

Camp was a very nice place. It’s at 8200 ft, so it was quite a bit cooler than down on the plains. There was quite a bit of paperwork to get us checked in, but we made it in time for dinner, which was a piece of chicken breast, with some BBQ sauce smeared on top. It was OK, and typical of the meals in camp. I don’t know that the food was adequate for an older boy. I know I just ate everything they gave us, got seconds every once in a while, and ate a LOT of salad.

Our day was morning flag ceremony and breakfast. The boys would go off to merit badge classes until lunch, then repeat for the afternoon classes. Each evening was closing flag ceremony and dinner.

The staff did announcements at each ceremony, which was nice.

The staff: simply put, outstanding. Every one was outgoing, enthusiastic, and informed. One of the best groups of staff I’ve seen.

Midway through camp, four of us were able to take a two day backpacking trip to the nearby Lost Creek Wilderness.

It was chilly there! Our first couple days, when it was mid-June, had highs in the 60s and lows in the 20s. It was one of those funny things where if you were sitting in the sun, it was too warm, but if you were in the shade, and it was breezy, it was too cool. One mistake I made was not bringing a fleece to camp, or my base layer. I bought a waterproof fleece jacket for $14 when we stopped to buy some butane stove fuel at a Big Five in the Springs, and that jacket was wonderful! I had brought my Tyvek Frogg Toggs, but the layer of fleece in the new jacket was great.

One food note: they didn’t have iced tea to drink for the meals. I think they should have.

Our camp was Sioux. Each camp has a number of canvas platform tents, that were plenty roomy for a couple or three adults, or four to six Scouts (they generally don’t mind packing in). Camp also had a couple flys over picnic tables; that’s where we gathered each evening.

There were opening and closing campfires, which were nice. The OA also had a campfire Wednesday evening.

I was impressed with how each unit mixed early and often. The kids played football and Frisbee, mixed at the meals, and walked to activities together.

We had a couple scrapes, and one boy who fell while playing football and needed five stitches in his leg (he’ll be OK).

The lake in camp was under repair, but is supposed to be open by next season.

The camp has wifi hotspots at at least three locations, but it seemed to be a Mbps or less, and got saturated often. I needed to do some email comms with work, and occasionally OWA (which isn’t a paragon of stability) would lose its mind. I also had W7 start a 40MB update at some point. Did you know there is no way to manually stop an update download once it has started and is saturating the low-bandwidth link? Well, a bit of Task Manager and killing the process is a less-than-acceptable way of doing it.

Camp Alexander has a lot going for it. But for me, the best part is the fact that it’s in the mountains. I will take the chilly temps over Oklahoma with 90+F/humidity anytime.

Some New Camp Stuff at WalMart

8 June 2014

I was at the Edmond (I-35) WalMart a couple days ago, and I saw these two things on the shelf:

Primus Stove

Sawyer Squeeze

I was kind of surprised to see these at the WalMart. The Primus Stove is an alcohol-based (butane, I think) stove that is typically a backpacker item.

Curiously, that WalMart (and another one I checked at Belle Isle) didn’t have any fuel canisters for the stove (although both had places on the shelves for them).

The other is a Sawyer squeeze water filtration system. This is a relatively new system that works well (it’s my favorite water purification system). Again, it’s a backpacker item that would seem to have little in common with the mass market stuff WalMart focuses on.

One impact: the Sawyer sells at places like Cabelas for $50; it competes with pump filters costing $70. WalMart sells it for $30!

The alcohol stove is also very competitively priced at $20. I bought a couple, and they work well.

OKCs Boathouse District

26 May 2014

Erin was invited to a birthday party for one of her friends this evening, at the new Boathouse District on the Oklahoma Rive, south of downtown.

We’ve watched the building of the river area, and the boathouses, with some interest over the past couple years, but this was the first time there for us.

It’s a pretty cool complex. I was struck by how the age spread for the activities works out. There is a pretty nice big toy for the little ones to play on. It’s under a huge canopy, so that helps with rain or Oklahoma summer temps. This area has a couple swinging and spinning toys that are a lot of fun.

Next door is what is essentially an open-air moonwalk/trampoline toy. I was surprised that you could get a pretty good grip on the fabric with bare feet or socks. This thing is a BLAST. I bounced up and down a couple hundred times (and I can just feel that in my neck somewhat). This area also had a rubber band launcher for little ones, and an small version of the adventure trail on the big tower.

There was a triple-route climb tower and a larger triple version of the rubber band launcher as well. These were a portable version, but hopefully they are a permanent part of the area (or there will be a permanent set built).

One thing I liked was a small bicycle track with some bumps and steep turns. It was about 75′ long total.

The Tower.

WOW!

This is the tower:

The Tower

I’m guessing this is 100+ft off the ground. The thing with the most press is, of course, the zipline. It takes you from the top across the Oklahoma River to a similar tower. To get back, you run up to the top of the south tower and zipline back!

But the zipline is only one part. There is an enclosed climbing area for smaller friends at the north foot of the tower. There is a free-fall drop from the top on the west side (it looks like this uses the same type of automatic belaying devices used in the Rocktown climbing area). There is a slide (from the TOP!) on the east side. These are all very cool.

But the tower itself as an adventure trail. Check out this view of the interior, looking up.

Whoa...

A little explanation; before you can go up to zipline, you get a harness put on, and you are hooked into a self-belaying system that fits into tracks in the tower components, and protects you the entire way up (there is a small version of this on the kids adventure trail). So you can hook into the tower and walk safely all the way up. BUT, each of the tower rails, and the crosspieces you can see in the picture, have various kinds of walking surfaces you can negotiate. The things that look like ladders? The single cables? Those are things you walk on. The structural components as well. There are four levels of those!

Finally, there is an area under a large tent for birthday parties and such. That’s nice.

The only real thing I could complain about would be the zipline times. Erin went up to take a turn at about 1815, and didn’t get done until 2010. Two hours of waiting, and she had only about 10 people in front of her. That’s 12 minutes per person. There were a couple instances where the zipliner didn’t quite make it all the way to the other end, and a staff member had to clip on the line and go pull them back in; that’s understandable. But there was a LOT of (what appeared to me) staffers at the two ends of the zip line just standing there. That is going to have to speed up.

Things that I hope are being considered:

Some restrooms. I didn’t see even any porta-potties out there.

There is one converted cargo shipping container that is used for a ticket window and for selling drinks and snacks. They will need another drink/snack stand, with some sitting areas, as this place gets more popular.

It would be smart to put a cover over the kids bouncy thing and related play areas, like the one over the big toy. Oklahoma gets too hot in the summer for those to be safe.

It may be there, but I think that there should be a trail from the Bass Pro Shop area to the zipline area. I have not explored the area fully, so don’t know.

They should consider putting in another bike track, maybe on the other side of the tower.

And it will be hugely popular, I think. This is good for OKC, and good for the community. I hope they plan on being open late.

I wonder what they do if someone freaks after the first zipline, and refuses to zip back?

Troop 15 Backpacking Skills Camp, McGee Creek NSRA, OK

13 May 2014

Boy Scout Troop 15 had a great weekend at McGee Creek National Scenic Recreation Area (NSRA), Oklahoma 09-11 May 2014.

Hike Summary: Around 12 miles around a beautiful and pretty much unpopulated hilly area. Good training ground.

I posted photos from this camp on my Google+ site.

This is my second visit to the NSRA. The GSOK-West HAT had Intermediate Backpacking at the NSRA back in October; it was a great experience. I recommended the NSRA for our backpacking skills camp.

Our objective was to introduce the Scouts to some essential skills. We ate 100% trail-type food. First breakfast was oatmeal and applesauce, lunch was PB&J with trail bars, and dinner was dehydrated meals. Second breakfast was Pop Tarts.

The other skills were how to potty in the backcountry using catholes, and water treatment. The first was accomplished using AP carried by the boys, and a number of trowels, and the second using a couple varieties of water filter pumps. I also wanted to work on topo map reading skills with the boys.

And of course we needed to hike.

We got to camp around 2200 Friday and got set up in the wall tents the boys are used to, pretty standard. The next morning we got up and had our backpackers style breakfast of oatmeal and applesauce, packed up our daypacks, and headed out.

We started on the South Rim trail and had a nice walk with a little uphill. We took a break on the Bugaboo Canyon Overlook, and made it to the junction with the North Rim trail easily. We had lunch at the Wildcat Canyon junction. After lunch and a rest, we headed down. Most of the boys were short of water (as they should have been), so we stopped at Wildcat Creek and had them pump water.

We resumed hiking, and kept going generally west-southwest. We found another place to pump water, and noticed a lake to our left. This was great, except there wasn’t supposed to be a lake to our left. We hiked to a trail junction, and spurred a bit north, realized we didn’t need to be there, and headed back south/SSW. We knew we were, if not lost, a bit off our desired trail location. After some map and topo work, we realized we needed to go back NNE, and we bushwhacked our way to trail we recognized.

We got back to where we recognized Wildcat Canyon, headed up to a flat area, went a little back, and then struck off SSE. It took about 20 minutes of hiking through the wilds, but we ran into a trail. We were pretty sure we needed to head ESE on this trail, and a scouting (literally!) party was dispatched, finding the right trail in about 10 minutes. We had a short rest at this trail junction, then headed on south, pumping water one more time, before getting to camp around 1815.

Now, all this annoyed me greatly. There were several things I should have done. First, when I printed the paper maps of the proposed hike route, I took all the other trails off the topo map. I should not have done that; maybe the proposed trail should have been in a different color, but the rest of the trails should be left on the map.

I carried my GPS, but I didn’t download the map of the proposed route into the unit. I could have easily noted we were off-route, and navigated back to the route easily.

I checked the GPS battery before we started, and thought I had enough battery to complete the hike. With the extra time on the trail, this was a bad assumption. I *had* spare batteries in my bag, in camp. No one else had AA-powered devices, like flashlights. So the GPS died when we were backtracking, and I ended up leading a bushwhack by dead reckoning. It worked, the skill is there, but it didn’t have to happen.

We totally missed a trail junction. I’m talking 20 people here. I don’t know if there is a sign, or if the trail is faded, but I should have realized that we needed to be going SSE instead of N, NW, W, or WSW.

The trail we were on was pretty obviously new. It had rock cairns (the only place I’ve seen those in the NRSA).

So we were never in any danger, but we were way behind schedule. We were thinking we would be back in camp around 1600, and got back at 1815.

We went ahead and took the boys to the beach at McGee Creek State Park, and they had a great time swimming. When we got back to camp at 2115, the boys elected to switch the dry and fast breakfast with the rehydrated and slightly slower dinner.

Everybody slept really well! The next morning everyone had various trail dinners, including Chili Mac. We packed up and got out quickly.

The basic hike I had proposed was about 7.5 miles, and with side hikes on the Whiskey Flats spur and the Overlook Loop, it would have clocked in at 10.1 miles. The actual distance was around 12.5-13.5 miles.

The area was beautiful, the weather perfect. The Scouts were cheerful and looked after each other. This is a GREAT place for a hike. There are at least two trails that need to be marked (the other was a trail running along the bottom of Bugaboo Canyon that we noticed last time).

Couple Notes

There was good water at both Big and Little Bugaboo Creeks, Wildcat Canyon Creek, the lake, and Bog Spring Creek. We had a couple ticks, but no bug issues.

We and an RV were the only campers at the trailhead area. I wish the management would institute a site reservation for those who call and get a permit. There seems to be only about five campsites there, and I would hate to roll up at 2100 with 20 Scouts and find no campsite.

Recommended!

Hiking Robbers Cave State Park, OK

14 April 2014

Hike Summary: 6.7 miles through beautiful Ozarks terrain, and a 10-mile weekend.

I posted the pictures from this hike at my Google+ site:

https://plus.google.com/photos/105156699699052376728/albums/6002117905448460353

Our Scout Troop 15 had our monthly camp at Robbers Cave this past weekend. I got there early since I came in directly from a business trip to Dallas, and had a chance to hike a beautiful trail.

I love Robbers Cave State Park. I grew up in Muskogee, and so our family made many trips to Robbers Cave. The trails in the park have been added since those days, when we would hike around Lake Carleton by bushwhacking. I got to hike the Mountain Trail at Robbers Cave when our Troop had Winter Camp there in 2012.

I got to our Eagles Nest campsite around 1645 and set up my tent, and then headed off. The blue-blazed trail extends north from the Mountain Trail just west of our campsite; I walked a short distance on a yellow-blazed trail to get to the intersection.

The yellow-blazed trail is an equestrian trail.

The trail winds generally north to Cattail Pond. The dam on the east side of the pond was torn up. I found out from a Ranger later that a primitive campsite is being built on the west side (we did a night hike to Cattail Saturday night, and sat at the under-construction camp for telling ghost stories). On the way, you get to walk along the side of Rough Canyon, which is really a Rough Ravine, that has a very nice stream running through it.

From Cattail, you swing east and go up and down until you get to Lost Lake. That is such a beautiful area. The Lake has a great-looking primitive camp area, and would be a good swimming area.

The next landmark is the Cave area. I had not realized it, but the trail goes right in front of another huge bouldering area that is a couple hundred yards west of the Cave area. That is on the list for exploring next time I’m there.

There are no trail signs to lead you there, but the trail ends up in the parking area below the Cave area. It continues on from the west side of the parking lot, and follows Fourche Maline Creek for a while. Fourche Maline is French, and means “bad fork” in English. I wonder why?

As the trail veers away from Fourche Maline, it heads up. I managed to miss the fork in the trail, and followed a social trail for a couple hundred yards until I realized I had not seen any blazes in a while. I backtracked a little, and soon saw blazes higher up, and bushwhacked up to them.

The trail goes up and over a ridge, and is flattish until you get near Rough Canyon again. There is a beautiful creek crossing, then it’s back up and out of the Canyon, and then pretty much all downhill back to camp.

This trail was lovely. It’s quite rocky. You are shaded most of the time. If you want to pump water, there are a number of creeks that were flowing in April (Rough Canyon in particular had quite a bit) and of course Cattail and Lost Lake had lots of water.

Here are the topo and altitude profiles:

Saturday I talked to a Venture Crew that was getting in shape for Philmont. They were doing a loop from the base area, to the Cave area, to Lost Lake to camp, and then on around to the Mountain Trail to finish off. That sounds like a great loop.

The Troop had a 2.8 mile night hike from Eagles Nest to Cattail Pond using a road (maps below). This gave me 9.5 hiking miles for the weekend, and certainly over 10 once you count all the walks up and around the Cave area.

I talked to a Ranger Saturday evening about the trails. I had seen several references to a Yellow trail. Turns out that is an equestrian trail – network! The Ranger said there were about *90* miles of trails! I found this map online. I also got a paper map from the park office that I will scan and post. The Ranger said that while the trails were meant for horse riders, they had no problem with hikers or backpackers using them, as long as it wasn’t the same time as an equestrian event, and as long as the use is coordinated with the Rangers. Some these trails are in the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) to the east, but others are on the far north side, and some very nice trails on the far west side up in the mountains. Lots of terrain there to be explored.

Backpacking Cossatot River Corridor Trail, Arkansas

26 March 2014

Summary

8.6 miles and 800 ft of altitude gain over two days of backpacking on a beautiful trail along a stunning river.

I posted the photos from the trip on my Google+ site here.

The Trip

The Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-WEST) High Adventure Team (HAT) backpacked part of the Cossatot River Corridor Trail in Arkansas 20 – 23 March 2014.

The Cossatot River flows from the Ouachita Mountains southeast of Mena, AR south into southwest Arkansas. The river flows between two ridges in the trail area, is narrow in places, and has a decent drop in altitude, making it a fine kayaking and canoeing river.

The crew left Oklahoma City at 0900 Wednesday and traveled to Mena for lunch. From there, we went south to the Cossatot River Visitor Center. The Center is a very nice nature center, a small shop, and an excellent staff.

There are four campsites below the Visitor Center right on the river. Each site has a raised platform filled with shale chips (for drainage, I imagine), a picnic table, and a fire pit. There is tons of decent firewood laying around the site – there area is obviously flooded frequently (see later in the post) and lots of wood gets carried in. What the sites do not have is water or trash cans. The trash part is easy, carry your trash out. But the water adds a logistics issue – you have to bring it in or take it from the river and filter or treat it. By the time we had camp set up and were thinking about dinner, it was close to 1700. We took everything we had that would hold water (including pack bladders) and the center staff allowed us to fill them up in the janitors closet.

There is no cost to use the campsites below the Visitor Center.

Dinner was spaghetti and salad – excellent! We had brought a couple Coleman stoves for this purpose.

We had pitched tents all over the place at the campsite. One of the Rangers let us know the next morning that tents were only supposed to be pitched on the shale surfaces. Some of the tents were on flattish surfaces above the camp area, and that wasn’t cool. Note this also applies to the Cossatot Falls area.

The next morning we got up in a most leisurely fashion, had pancakes, did a final pack, and loaded up. We stopped by the Visitor Center and topped off water bottles using the water fountains there, and drove in our three cars to the north trailhead at the Brushy Creek Day Use area (there are composting toilets there, but no water). Two of our leaders were staying in camp as a base, and they shuttled the cars back to the south end of the trail.

We hit the trail and headed south. You very quickly head away from the river and up a decent distance. We had the usual pack adjustments as we walked which necessitated stop and go. We found a nice place up on a ridge and had lunch on a long fallen tree.

Our plan had been to hike all the way (7 miles) to the Cossatot Falls area for our overnight stop. We got started about 1220, though, and we were taking it easy, so we decided to change our plan and stop at Ed Banks, which was about 5 miles in.

We got there about 1700 and got camp set up quickly. This was a beautiful camp, a lot of tall trees with lots of open space around them, and nice soft ground. We found two fire rings. It actually took a bit to find the camp; we had to recon west and south a bit to triangulate on the site.

We all went out on a rock bar to wade and skip rocks in the river; it’s a very nice place. Camp was about 150 meters from water, and down a bit of a hill, but NBD. Dinner was a mix of dehydrated beef stew, noodles, and rice. We made a nice fire. Again, there was a lot of dead wood around. This area has a lot of evidence of flooding, so that’s something you would want to keep an eye on.

We had a decent rain overnight, maybe a half inch. The ground soaked all of it up. Breakfast the next morning was mainly oatmeal. We got out of camp at 1100 and headed south. The foot bridge across the river at Ed Banks was high and dry.

On the east side of the river now, you wind to and away from the river, and mainly stay pretty high. As we had seen the day before, about 1 of every 3 creeks we crossed had water that you could filter.

Crossing creeks: all but about three of the crossings have really nice bridges over them. Many of the creeks had nice waterfalls.

At one point we passed by a group of Boy Scouts from Texas; they were doing a yo-yo of the trail.

We got to Cossatot Falls area about 1400 and had lunch. There is a composting toilet here also, but no water other than the river. They have four campsites; one south of the parking lot and the rest north. There is also a picnic area just south of the first campsite.

After lunch, we decided to go climb the rocks in the Falls. It looked from the map like the trail was right down on the river, but no, we climbed about 150 ft before deciding to go back. We dropped our packs and headed down again. It was starting to get a little dark, so we took our rain gear.

The Falls are a set of uplifted rocks that the river rushes around, making a series of stairsteps all the way across the river. We climbed down and up and out into the river for a while, at which point we realized it was 1500, and we had five more miles to go. We decided to head back to our packs.

At this point the sky opened up and a steady rain began that turned into a deluge that lasted the next five hours!

We were now reversing on the suddenly very slick rocks; we had one of our girls slip 15 or so feet right off the rock, but she landed in river rock. While not soft, it beats solid rock. By the time we got to our packs, it was pushing 1600, and we were reconsidering the wisdom of hiking five miles in the rain with no campsites. The rain continued, with steady downpours, and near constant lightning and thunder. The lightning also made us reconsider hiking, as the first couple miles are on a ridge.

So we quickly decided that we were spending the night at the Falls area. We took two campsites; the larger one was for the Scouts, and the smaller one for the adults. We got out our Kelty backpacking tarp and had the girls hold it up over their heads, and we lashed the thing up to trees, the rail around the campsite, and trees. Pretty soon we had it up and keeping the rain off. We sent some of the girls up to the composting toilet as it had a roof, and others started putting their tents together under the tarp, moving out from under the tarp as the flys were put on. This kept the majority of rain out of the tents.

Everyone got in their tents to put on dry clothes, and we fired up a couple stoves and started making hot cider, cocoa, and soup for everyone to drink. We also inventoried the dry food, and distributed it to the Scouts for an inside-the-tents dryish dinner. By the time all this was done, it was 1900, and we were done for the evening/night. The rain continued. We had 4+” by the time it was done, sometime around 2300.

Our plan had been to send everyone down to set up camp, and then Blair and I were going to power-hike the five miles to the baser camp to let them know our situation and coordinate the next day. We were helping with setting up camp, and it was getting dark, and we were not enthusiastic about hiking in the rain, in the dark, on a ridge in a thunderstorm. About this time, the Boy Scouts we had seen on the trail came back through, and mentioned they were heading on to the base camp area. They very graciously agreed to take our message to base camp, and did so in spite of having to go out of their way to do so.

So THANKS to the Scouts and leaders for doing us a huge Good Turn that rainy evening. I tried to look up the Troop in Palestine TX using what I thought was their unit number of Troop 110, but couldn’t find a Troop with that number. If you are from that group and reading this, please contact me so I can thank you properly.

A Ranger came by several times to check on us. I also asked him to pass the same message to our base camp crew, and he did.

The next morning, we woke up to mainly clear skies, warm temperatures, and a river that was way high. We strung rope for clotheslines, got stuff started drying, and the Scouts cooked the dinner we skipped the night before, for breakfast. It was great!

We also got a good look at how far the river rose with the rain. These two photos give some perspective on how far up the river rose:


Before


After

We found out that the base camp crew had been evacuated the night before as the river was up into and through the base camp area.

The base camp crew showed up at the Falls area around 0930. We did the car collection while the camp dried out. Eventually, we loaded up and headed out, leaving the last five miles for a future hike.

Random Notes

Cell service along the river is iffy. Erin had service on her iPhone 4S at Cossatot Falls, and there was some service next to the Visitor Center. I was annoyed that Erin had 2G and intermittent 4G service, while my Galaxy SIII had squat. The Center has pretty good Wi-Fi.

The staff and Rangers at Cossatot ROCK.

Lessons Learned

Those camp sites with shale chips are tough on tent bottoms. I have a bathtub bottom on mine, but I wish I had brought a tarp to protect the tent.

There is NO water at any of the campsites except for the river. If you car camp, make sure you bring enough water, or you can purify enough. The center staff was kind enough to allow us to fill our bottles, but they close at 1700, and there is no guarantee you would be allowed to do the same.

We were super happy to have brought our lightweight fly; using it to pitch the tents under and provide shelter for our campers made a huge difference in comfort.

There are no established campsites between the Falls and the south trailhead at the Visitor Center. I think there are some areas it would be possible to camp, but water might be an issue, and I don’t know that the Park management would necessarily approve.

Suggestions

Some signage is needed at the Ed Banks campground. There is one of the platforms with shale chips near the river, but the actual campsite is farther along the trail, about 300 meters south of the that platform. It looks like there are two campsites there from the fire pits we found.

The web pages for the trail should be explicit in mentioning that you have to bring water to the Falls and Visitor Center campsites. I also think the situation with the parking tags needs to be explained. It would suck to drive up to Brushy Creek and start hiking, and get your car towed or locked in there.

The Brushy Creek area at the north end of the trail (no water there) is really nice. I think the park should consider letting backpackers camp in the area. My suggestion would be to open the “delta” between Brushy Creek and the Cossatot to camping. That would be out of sight of the day use areas. If crowd control is an issue, a capacity permit system is no-cost.

Closing Thoughts

This was a perfect first “serious” backpacking trip for our HAT Scouts. While we didn’t complete the trail, the distance was on the money, I think. It is a beautiful trail, with a mix of hardwood and softwood. The river is an amazing companion as you hike along. There was plenty of water.

I would be happy to go back and hike this trail again.

“How Much Does My Backpack Weigh???!!!”

22 February 2014

My friend Dave brought a portable scale to our Grand Canyon backpacking trip (he left it in the car and didn’t carry it on the trail). Right before we headed down from the trailhead, we weighed our backpacks. Mine started at 46 lbs. If you had asked me before we used the scale, I would have guessed that I was carrying about 35 lbs, so I was more than a little startled.

The generally accepted ratio of pack weight to body weight is around 25%. So for 215 lb Bill, 46 lbs is well within that guideline. But there is a lot of difference from the perception of 35 lbs and 46 lbs. I determined that I was going to find out where the weight was.

None of this includes the stuff I carry on my person, like boots and clothes, the multitool on my belt, and the like.

When we got off the trail, I basically put my pack and everything (including trash I packed out) I was carrying directly into my travel duffel bag that I use to check the pack on the airline. First, I weighed the pack using Daves scale. It clocked in at 37 lbs, so I had lost 9 lbs of pack weight during the trip. I also noted the weight of the duffel when I checked in at PHX. It was 37.8 lbs, which accounts for the weight of the duffel. I also noted everything I had taken out, namely, the amount of leftover water at the top of the South Rim, and a couple things like my phone, which I carried on the trip in my backpack, and my trusty Kelty daypack.

Back at home, I checked the duffel weight again using our backroom scale: 37.5. Close enough. I got our food scale out (it’s a 5 lb scale), and checked it against a couple cans of food to make sure that if the can was 18 oz, so was the scale. Finally, I proceeded to take everything out of the pack and duffel one at a time and weighed it.

Here is what I came up with. I divided up the stuff I carried into several groups.

Must-Carry Stuff

This list of stuff was 26 lbs. The biggest items were:

Pack, 5.25 lbs
0F Sleeping Bad, 4.8 lbs
Tent, 5 lbs

I carry a Cabela’s Shasta 98 pack; it’s a big pack, 6000 cu in (and I just noticed that the Cabelas website claims the pack has a convertible hydration pocket/day pack; I did a quick look and don’t see how that it possible, but I will look again later). It may be that I could shave a couple pounds with a smaller pack.

I realized while putting my tent up that I had way too many tent stakes. It turns out I brought twice as many as needed (!), and on top of that, I had several tent stakes in there which were much thinner than the others. I carried 1 lb of tent stakes. If I had carried just the 12 I needed, that would have been about 0.65 lb, and if I just carried 12 of the thinner version, it would have been about 0.56 lb. So that’s a good savings right there.

I probably could have just used my tent fly for cover on this trip. That fly is just 24 oz and only requires eight stakes. That would have reduced the tent weight to 3 lbs. You don’t want to do this if there are bugs about, but it was certainly feasible on this trip.

Given the weather conditions, I probably should have brought my 20F bag (only 2.5 lbs). I don’t think we got much under 40F.

The next heaviest stuff was personal electronics at 1.8 lbs. I carried my GPS, phone, a wallet, my SPOT, and a charger. The phone was the heaviest thing, but it also serves as a backup GPS and camera. I don’t know that I would lose any of this.

I carried a cooking pot and stove, didn’t use either. We had three guys with stoves, and I shared with Chuck. I should have left the 1.5 lbs behind. Lesson: coordinate better next time.

My closed-cell pad weighs 1.1 lbs (which I find surprising, it seems lighter). I have heard that some people cut the lower third of their pad off so that it ends below the hips. If I did that, I would save 0.3 lb. Maybe.

The rest of the things are not conducive to being reduced (a 0.5 lb t-shirt can’t be reduced; maybe changed to another kind of fabric?), or they are inherently very light (a travel toothpaste). The total weight of those items is 6.6 lbs. One thing: a Sudoku book, with about 200 puzzles, is 0.43 lb; I probably could just bring 10 pages.

Food and Consumables

I started with 8.98 lbs of food, and ate about 2/3rds of it. I didn’t eat 10 of the snack bars I brought (0.5 lbs) and never opened up a 0.5 lb bag of M&Ms (not the first time I’ve done that, argh). The biggest mistake here was bringing along too much PB&J; that stuff is dense and heavy.

Winter/Cold-Related Stuff

I carried 3.0 lbs of winter-weight stuff, to include some heavy gloves If it’s going to be cold, you really need that stuff, but in this case, I didn’t wear the gloves once, so I probably could have left them behind (I used some very light fleece gloves a lot).

Special Items

3.0 lbs

These were my Kelty daypack and a fleece blanket. I carried the Kelty as we were going to be dayhiking on the third day, and I needed something to put my water bottle and other dayhiking stuff in. The Kelty weighed in at 40 oz, which is a lot of weight for a single-use item. The other item, the blanket, was a mistake on my part. I had brought the blanket off my flight from OKC-DFW, put it in the middle pocket of the Kelty, and never removed it, so I carried it uselessly on the entire backpacking trip. It was only 8 oz, but the 48 oz total is 3 lbs, or 6.5% of my total weight.

Summary

I need to find a less weighty daypack, or some alternative. 2.5 lbs is a lot of weight for a single-use item. I need to be able to carry a water bottle or two, a water filter if needed, lunch/snacks, and my GPS and SPOT. I don’t think a WalMart sack tied to my belt is the answer, I need something a little more substantial.

I carried a total of 5.72 lbs of completely useless stuff. This is the fleece blanket (0.5 lb), twice as many tent stakes as I needed (0.5 lb), uneaten food (2.6 lb), and the pot and stove (1.5 lb). So the action here is to calibrate the food a bit better, to specifically include the heavy stuff like peanut butter and jam. I think it would make sense to make a couple PB&J tortillas at home, then mix the required amount of PB&J into a bottle that holds just enough for the trip.

The trash was a little heavier than expected at 20 oz. The heaviest part was the remains of the applesauce squeeze pouches, and surprisingly enough, the used teabags. So I need to squeeze those out better, and maybe hang them up overnight after use to let them dry out.

I switched to the squeeze bottles of applesauce after having a cup split a top open in my pack. It was inside a WalMart sack, so there wasn’t a huge mess, but I don’t want rouge applesauce roaming around.

So getting rid of the useless stuff would have immediately brought my pack weight down to 40.2 lbs. A couple of the smarter packing ideas (lighter sleeping bag, less winter weight stuff) would drop the weight down to the 33 lb range, which is pretty reasonable.

My next backpacking trip is in Arkansas in March. I expect to put these to use for that trip.

Backpacking Grand Canyon National Park, AZ, 07-12 Feb 2014

17 February 2014

A group of six went backpacking at the Grand Canyon 08-11 Feb 2014.

Hike Summary: Four days of backpacking from the South Rim to the River, 40+ miles, immense altitude change, perfect weather. A fantastic experience.

I posted the photos from the trip on my Google+ site here.

Getting There

Well, the trip didn’t get off to a good start. I was on a short-notice business trip to Boston. Was supposed to be gone Monday-Wednesday, returning in time to catch my flight to PHX Thursday morning. Instead, a snowstorm headed to Boston, and I booked out of town late Tuesday, getting into OKC at 0215 Wednesday morning. I went to work Wednesday, got packed that evening, and went to bed late.

I got up early Thursday and got to the OKC airport early, in spite of a sleet and snow mix. We were late out of OKC, but I had a five-hour layover at DFW, so I wasn’t worried. I was planning on having dinner with my friend Keith and his husband Ben in Phoenix, so I thought I had plenty of time. But the connecting flight into DFW was late, and the DFW-PHX flight was really late pushing back, and then we had to wait in a line for deice. At the end of deice, the flight crew gets on the PA and tells us that if they continue the flight, they would blow their duty day. So American canceled the flight, we returned to the gate, and I was left to reorder the trip over the phone. I got on another flight the next morning, got one of the last rooms at the Embassy Suites north of DFW, canceled my hotel in Phoenix, rewickered the rental car at PHX, and called Keith to let him know I wasn’t going to make it. Then it was a shuttle ride to the hotel. It was sort of a pain since I didn’t have any of my bathroom stuff (it turns out my bags made it to PHX that evening), but the hotel had some stuff for stranded travelers so that helped. I had dinner next to the hotel and called it good.

The next morning I got up early, made it to the airport, and got to PHX around 0930, met Chuck at the rental car area, then met our four partners, and we loaded up and headed out.

There was only one sort of funny glitch here: I had reserved an SUV at PHX, for carrying three big guys and backpacks. Avis upgraded me automatically to a Mustang; I don’t think I could fit our bags in that car, much less three of us and bags… I selected a Toyota SUV off of the “free change” line (first of those I’ve seen) to fix the issue, and off we went.

We stopped in Phoenix for supplies and lunch, and then made the drive up I-17 to Flagstaff, and up US180 to Grand Canyon National Park. I re-upped my National Parks Pass for another year coming in to the Park. We went straight to the Rim, and got there in time to see the setting sun illuminate the north part of the Canyon; a great way to start the trip!

We checked into Maswik Lodge for the night. Dinner was at Bright Angel Lodge. We walked over there, and back, just to admire the dark skies and stars.

The Lodge was a good lodging choice. Once back after dinner, we got our backpacks ready to go for the start tomorrow, and crashed.

Day 1

We got up and showered and had breakfast at Bright Angel Lodge again (wonderful!). We checked out of the Maswik, checked in at the backcountry office, and then headed out to the trailhead at Hermit’s Rest, drinking in the views of the Canyon from the Rim as we drove along, all thinking “we are going down there!”.

We got to the trailhead and dropped off our packs. Dave and I drove back to the backcountry office parking lot to drop off my car, and then drove back out to Hermit’s Rest again. On the way there, we saw some elk right next to the road, which I think was very cool.

At this point, we shouldered our packs (mine was 46 lbs, seems too much), took several deep breaths, and headed down the trail. We started out about 1000.

You can follow along on the Google+ site where I posted all the pictures from this trip.

It was pretty cold (high 30Fs) at the Rim, but we quickly lost outer layers as we hiked. I ended up in a t-shirt and shorts for most of the hike.

We had been worried about snow and ice on the trail, but we only had a couple hundred feet of it, and it was not even slippery, so that turned out to not be an issue. We didn’t even put on our Yak Traks.

The dry part of the trail was enough. It was slow going. There were all kinds of rocks on the trail, from gravel sized to fist or better, and you had to watch your footing at the risk of turning or rolling an ankle. It’s also steep (very steep), and so we made slow going. The first part of the trek, we dropped from about 6600ft to about 4800ft, about 1800ft, over about two miles!

The next not quite three miles are relatively ( 🙂 ) flat, but you slowly but steadily lose another 800ft. There is a spring along this stretch, but unless it happens to be raining, there is no other water. The Spring features a nice little hut that provides protection from the elements.

Speaking of which, as you walk, you go in towards the cliff, then out, then in, then out, over and over again. These are small washes and subcanyons, and there are dozens of them.

We got to the top of Cathedral Stairs, which is a serious set of switchbacks, short and steep. I was glad we were going down. It was here we ran into the only people we saw on the trail this day; a party of three, and a solo hiker, all four of which were headed back up, late in the day. The drop down the Stairs is about 1300ft. Once at the bottom, we found the Tonto Trail junction, and headed east.

This was an interesting hike. Sticking out from the Stairs is a large, pointy ridge, and we had to walk around the point, contouring up a bit, but generally down, back into another subcanyon area. It’s around a couple hundred feet, mostly down.

The closeout of the days hike is a walk to one of the arms of an upside-down “Y” canyon, down into one of the arms to the bottom of the canyon, and then to the junction and back up the other arm to camp. At the junction is a very tall rock tower.

We got to camp about 1830, got set up quickly, and made dinner in the dark. Everyone was in their tents and asleep by around 2000.

Our campsite was Monument Creek, in a stand of scrubby trees. The campsites can hold one or two tents only. There are plenty of rocks for cooking and sitting. Water is a bit downstream from the camp area.

There was a newish composting toilet at the camp, which was kind of surprising.

Our first day hiking was 3600ft of altitude loss (probably closer to 4000ft once you count the pop-ups and back-downs), and 9.2 miles of hiking.

Day 2

We all woke up around 0700 or so on the second day. It was warm overnight, probably in the 40s.

After breakfast we headed out again, about 0820. Right out of camp, you zip up about 500 ft to get onto a plateau. From there it is a steady more-or-less level, but overall you have a steady up. There are several rises on the way there, and the now-expected drops into the heads of subcanyons.

We had company in camp overnight, they left shortly after we did, and passed us on that first climb. We caught up to them on the first major ridge and talked for a bit; the three of them were on a 90-mile trip along the Tonto Trail. They had hiked into the Canyon over a period of months and cached food. That’s serious backpacking.

We found water at Cedar Spring, but it took some doing. We search upstream first, then James noticed rock cairns going downstream, and we found a nice little area about a quarter mile down.

That spring flow was in an amazing almost-tunnel cut into the rock. It opens into a sheer drop of at least 500 ft. This would make a Yosemite-class waterfall in a heavy rain.

We had lunch just above Salt Creek camp. We kept on walking. The trail was a nice walk, with subcanyons and views of the Colorado occasionally.

We got into Indian Gardens around 1800. This camp has several composting toilets, but even more luxuriously, it has picnic tables and shelters in all campsites, with large ammo boxes to store food in. There are also pegs and t-bars to hang packs from to keep critters out.

After we got the tents set up, we walked back up the trail a little less than a half mile to watch the setting Sun illuminate the north part of the Canyon. It was beautiful.

We had a more leisurely dinner, and talked for a while before heading to bed.

Our second day hiking was net 900ft of altitude gain (probably over 1500ft once you count the pop-ups and back-downs), and 11.8 miles of hiking.

Day 3

This was a dayhike day. We left our tents up in Indian Gardens, to hike down to the Colorado River.

We got up around 0700 again, and after breakfast and a bit of clean up, we put on daypacks and headed out on the Bright Angel Trail. This follows Bright Angel Creek steadily downward, until the creek dives down a slot canyon, and we dive down what I called the “Death Spiral”. The trail goes down a series of steep drops and switchbacks around three sides of a what looks like a large shaft. The altitude drop is about 600 ft in about 400 ft of space: it’s steep!

At the bottom of that, it’s a decent slope down right to the river, in a series of narrow canyons. At the river, it pops up and down a couple times until you end up at the silver bridge.

We walked up to Phantom Ranch and had lunch. They have snacks and drinks. The guys got cold beer, lemonade, and iced tea! Talk about civilized. PR has cabins for people to stay in, and a real dinner (steak for $60 and stew for $25, IIRC) for people staying down there. And flush toilets!

After we had lunch, we walked down to the river to a sandy beach and felt how cold the water was, then we headed up the other bridge, and hiked along the south side of the river back to the other bridge, and then we traced our steps back to camp. It was a heck of a climb.

We had our only equipment casualty of the trip here. I was hiking along at a pretty good pace, and stumbled pretty good. My water bottle came right out of the mesh pocket of my daypack, and went right over the cliff. There was river access just in front of us, so while the guys went there, I backtracked on the shore to look for my bottle. I guess it got hung up somewhere up above.

We got back to camp well before dark, talked a bit, had dinner, talked a bit more, and crashed.

Our third day hiking was a net 0ft of altitude change, but in reality 1500ft of gain, from the river to Indian Gardens, and 12.2 miles of hiking.

Day 4

We got up around 0645, had breakfast and did some packing, and then did a side hike out to Plateau Point to our north. It has marvelous views of the river, and an interesting perspective on where we hiked yesterday.

We walked back to camp, finished packing, and headed out for the last time.

The highlight of the day is walking back up to the South Rim. There’s not a lot to say except it’s doable if you are in reasonable shape. The views are incredible.

One note: it was February, and it got colder as we climbed. There was ice and snow on the trail for the last 800 or so vertical feet, and the Yak-Traks we brought were invaluable. Don’t go without them for any winter-related trek.

We got to the top to find a bunch of Chinese tourists. There was a language barrier, but they made it clear that we were interesting, and they took a bunch of pictures of us, and then they all took pictures of themselves, with US! Kind of cool.

Our last day hiking was 3300ft of altitude gain, and 7.7 miles of hiking.

We went and had a snack at Bright Angel Lodge, then walked to Maswik and showered, did our reverse car shuffle at dusk, and then walked back to the Lodge for dinner. We walked around the Rim some more, checked out the lobby of El Tovar, and generally took it easy. We all slept really well that night.

Some Perspective

After breakfast Wednesday morning, we went back along the Rim to Hermit’s Rest.

It was way, way cool to look down, and be able to recognize the terrain, because we had walked it! I couldn’t get enough of the rock tower we had walked next two at Monument Creek. The top of it just peeks out from the vantage point of the Rim, but we saw the whole thing.

After the Rim drive, we headed back to PHX and went home. Definitely sad.

Things That Worked

Food

I was really happy about the food situation. I’ve pretty much decided to stay with dry breakfast, with the possible exception of hot tea or cocoa. My typical breakfast is a package of PopTarts (I like brown sugar cinnamon), a 3.2oz squeeze bottle of applesauce, and a Quaker Oats bar or two. I do two tea bags in my blue metal mug, and carry sugar and some sort of powered milk or creamer. At the REI in Phoenix, I found Backpackers Pantry dried WHOLE MILK! It was great in my tea. I have found packets of dried skim here, but that whole milk blows the skim away.

My lunches were usually PB&J on a tortilla, usually a couple. For this four-day trip, I packed a 15oz tub of PB (used about half) and a 20oz strawberry jam (used about 2/5th). So that’s a good chunk of weight that could have been eliminated. I usually also had another applesauce and a trail bar.

Dinners are dehydrated meals. I sometimes had another two-bag tea. My dinners this time were Backpackers Pantry Potatoes and Gravy with Beef (OK at best), Mountain House Chili Mac (outstanding as usual, recommended), and Backpackers Pantry Santa Fe Rice with Chicken (excellent, I liked this a lot!). The P&GwB was bland, very bland. The Chili Mac and Santa Fe meals were just spicy enough to be enjoyable, and both have strong flavor.

One thing I tell people: those dehydrated meals claim to feed two, but use them as single-serving. You need the calories.

I like flavoring my drinks while walking. Country Time lemonade comes in packets that are for 8 oz, and I usually double those up (as we called it at Philmont, “ranger strength”).

My snacks on the trail are “puppy chow”, which is wheat chex coated with powered sugar, peanut butter, and chocolate. Braum’s in OKC sells a very good variety.

Things That Could Be Improved

NOTHING! This trip was perfect. I can’t say anything about how strenuous it was; that comes with the territory. Our timing, teamwork, and training were right on.

Equipment Notes

Backpack Weight: I think my backpack was too heavy. I started with a 46lb load, and at the end of the trip it was 36lbs. I am going to weigh it all and see what can be pared down.

Yak Traks: this way my first time to use them. They will always go with me any time I go hiking in the winter.

Summary

Here are the overall trek path and altitude:

And here is one annotated with our major locations:

Trek Altitude Annotated

This was a perfect trip. The distances were long, but not unmanageable for us. If you wanted, you could have done an overnight at Salt Creek instead of the layover we did at Indian Gardens.

You need to watch the water situation along the trail.

Next time I do the Canyon, I think I would like to go down from the North Rim. We’ll see.

An Example of Trail Map Accuracy

16 February 2014

This is not meant as a critical post. I know that people who put trail maps together do the best they can with their maps.

For the record, I loved the hike at Bell Cow Lake!

I used the online trail map, and Google Earth, to overlay our GPS track with the trail map. The technique is called georeferencing, and Google Earth does a great job. Here is what I ended up with:

Bell Cow Lake Red Trail Georeferenced

There are a couple things to note. The actual trail clearly does not match the trail marks. The trail goes outside the boundaries of the park a couple times (look at where the trail crosses the road on the lower right).

If you look at the north section of the trail, there is a blue pushpin. The Redbud Trail is marked by red and white plastic strips tied to trees, but it intersects in a number of places with blue and white strips. I looked briefly at Google Earth , and those look like bypasses to shorten the Redbud Trail.

I’m going to offer to send my GPS track to the City of Chandler, or maybe just generate a new trail map and send it to them. Now, that would mean I would need to go back and hike the Flat Rock Trail, and the rest of the Redbud and the “blue” sections… 🙂

04 April 2015 Update

So today I got back to Bell Cow!  A group of Boy and Girl Scouts hiked the Flat Rock trail, and I captured the GPS track.  Here is the map above, overlayed with the GPS track in orange.

Bell Cow Lake north and south overlays

Not surprisingly, the track captured by the GPS does not match the trail map.  One really different parameter is the trail mileage.  The track looks like it goes out to Point G, and that point is just over 5 miles from the trailhead, not 6.2 miles.  Just above Point G, where the trail goes pretty much east to west, there is another loop that starts and looks like it heads off to the NW.  I would guess that trail is closer to the 6.2 miles mark.

As with the north side, there are a couple trail deviations that are not accounted for in the mileage.

Regardless of GPS differences, this a a great place to hike.

Hiking Bell Cow Lake, Chandler, OK

16 February 2014

As part of our Hiking Merit Badge program at Troop 15, a couple Scouts and a couple Scouters headed up to Bell Cow Lake to take the Red Trail, which is a 22-mile trail from the south side of the lake, around the dam, and then up and around to the northwest side of the lake.

Photos are at:

https://plus.google.com/photos/105156699699052376728/albums/5980834274479487409

We got started at 0800 after driving in from OKC. We walked steadily until just after noon, when we stopped for lunch at the 10-mile point. We got started again around 1245, and walked again until about 1745, for a 20 mile hike.

The trail was really nice, well laid out, and a mix of dirt, rocks, and grass. We were able to vary the path a couple times. The trail is a mixed use trail that was originally laid out as an equestrian trail. We saw a total of three horse and riders on the trail.

There was an amazing variety of wildlife. We saw lots of bluebirds, jays, mockers, geese, a couple herons, flickers, juncos, and sparrows. There were no less than three armadillos. We saw three places where birds were had for dinner, and a variety of owl pellets, a couple of which we took apart.

The trail passes through most of the public areas of the park. Most of the restrooms on the north side were closed, but the water was on to refill our bottles.

Surprisingly enough, we got a couple ticks off of us.

The fee to hike the trails is $3.00/person.

This was a great hike, mostly level, but there is some up and down in the rolling terrain typical of eastern Oklahoma. Great park. Try it out!

Troop 15 Winter Camp at Beavers Bend State Park

30 December 2013

Our Scout Troop 15 usually does a short winter camp each year. This year it was to Beavers Bend State Park.

I’ve posted the pictures to my Google+ site here.

I’ve done a lot of hiking in the eastern part of Oklahoma, but none south of Talihina. So I was looking forward to this trip. It’s a longish drive from OKC; we left about 0930 and arrived at the Park at 1430, after an hours stop in Ada for an early lunch. Camp went up pretty quickly, as usual.

The first full day was a hike on part of the David Boren Trail. We put in just over 5.5 miles, in beautiful conditions. Decent altitude gain as well, given that we went from a river bottom to the top of ridge, then down to a ravine, repeat several times!

The second day was a trip to Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, which is a diamond-producing extinct volcano in SW Arkansas. We had a blast digging and sifting the dirt in the crater for diamonds. There was a nice little hiking trail there also.

The weather was very nice for the camp. It got into the low 20s one night, high 20s the others, and the highs were the low 50s, with beautiful clear skies. We saw the ISS on high, bright passes all three nights.

So two hikes, great food, no griping, make for a wonderful Winter Camp.

Backpacking McGee Creek NSRA, 18-20 Oct 2013

26 October 2013

Hike Summary: 8 miles and several hundred feet of altitude gain in a beautiful area, with perfect weather!

Last weekend, the Oklahoma City Girl Scout High Adventure Team (HAT) had an Intermediate Backpacking trip to the McGee Creek National Scenic Recreation Area (NRSA). The NRSA is north and east of McGee Creek State Park and Lake, east of Atoka, OK.

The pictures from the trek are here on Google+.

Getting There

We met at the OKC Girl Scout office between 1500 and 1700 on Friday, 18 October. The weather was pretty “meh”, with rain that alternated between drizzle and downpour, temps in the low 50s, and very windy out of the north.

We drove the roughly three hours to the NRSA with stops in Ada and in the State Park. The stop in the State Park was a mistake; I just sort of assumed that getting into the Park would get you eventually to the NRSA. Reading the map shows that is clearly not the case, but it let us make a restroom break.

We got the the NRSA around 2100; the rain had just stopped there, and since the camping area is down in a hollow we didn’t have much wind. There are a couple camp areas near the HQ building (which was completely shut down, probably for the season), but most of them are on the last left-hand turn off before you get to the HQ building. Campsites are not marked, just find one that no one else is in. An equestrian camp was being held that weekend, so there were at least eight trailers. A couple of the camps have corrals, which was cool. I think the NRSA map ought to be annotated to show the campsite locations. We got tents set up quickly, and everyone turned in shortly thereafter.

Hiking!

The next morning it was dry, a bit warmer, and calm. We had breakfast, did final packing, got the cars tucked into the trailhead parking area, and headed out at 1140. A bit of a late start, but we did get in much later than we wanted to.

The NRSA map shows that the trail into the area follows a road leading from the HQ building, but in reality the trailhead is about 50 yards east of that road, from a picnic area north of the HQ building. The road intercepts the West Branch trail, which took us east to the Little Bugaboo trail, then south to the South Rim trail.

At this point we started some climbing. The South Rim trail is either double-track, or a jeep road, depending on your point of view. It winds through forest for the most part, and is out of direct sun for the most part. A one point near the park boundary there is a nice view of a chimney.

We passed numerous creeks as we walked, every one of them dry. A couple of the crossings looked soft or marshy, so there was maybe water just under the surface. But only one place had water, and that was muddy water, where Little Bugaboo Creek crosses the trail near Box Springs Camp. We had lunch in a beautiful rocky area just south of Box Springs Camp.

We had our only injury of the trip here. One of the girls was exploring to the west of the lunch area, and stepped on a log that was full of yellow jackets. She was stung three times (twice through her jeans), and the sting on the hand had the stinger in. We got it out with tweezers, gave her Benadryl, and her hand swelled significantly. We kept a close eye on her for the next couple of hours, but she was fine. Her hand was still swollen the next day.

We continued up the trail,passed the Bugaboo Canyon overlook (and some trail riders), and made it to camp at site B4 around 1530, for a 4-mile walk. We set up camp about 100 yards off the trail, found a nice rock to be our cooking area, and then decided to find water. After dumping all our existing water into our collection of cooking pots, we headed out, using one of the empty backpacks to carry the water bottles and stuff.

The Quest for Water led us right over the rocky south edge of Bugaboo Canyon. We dropped through two ranks of boulders that line the canyon into an area that was moderately thick with trees, but little brush. There is a fair amount of brambles, but it was easy to maneuver around. One thing that was neat, we passed what looks like a new trail about halfway between the rim and the creek at the bottom:

New Trail in Bugaboo Canyon

We walked to the bottom of the Canyon to find a completely dry creek bed. Figuring that the best chances of finding water would be farther downstream, we walked through the creek bed until we found a largish branch to the north, since there was a trickle. About a hundred yards up that, we found a pool of water about four feet across and 6-8 inches deep. It had a milky color that is characteristic of the lime coloration we see in the Ozarks. We pumped water into every bottle and hydration bladder we had. It took a while, and we lost the Sun behind the canyon wall towards the end. After filling everything, we headed back up, and had a good time climbing back up the two ranks of boulders. The water run was 1 mile round trip.

Back in camp, we started dinner. It was a mixture of different backpacker foods, including vegetarian options. I learned quite a bit about the needs and limitations of vegetarian diets on this trip.

We had a nice campfire that evening. Everyone turned in around 2230. It got down to around 40F again overnight, nice and chilly. The next morning we had pancakes and bacon (this is another example of the pre-cooked bacon that doesn’t require refrigeration being very good). We got everything cleaned up and packed up, and we headed out around 1115.

We came back down the South Rim trail until it intercepted the Whiskey Flats/Little Bugaboo Trail at Box Springs Camp, and took the Little Bugaboo branch. This goes down along the Little Bugaboo Creek, through a very open and tree-lined area. This trail is a traditional dirt trail. Eventually, it crosses Little Bugaboo Creek in a beautiful area that likely has a couple waterfalls when the water is flowing. As it is, this is probably the best water we saw on the trip, with large and mostly clear pools both upstream and downstream of the trail.

Shortly on the other side of the creek, the trail meets the West Branch, and we followed this on to the HQ building area. We got there around 1400, had lunch, separated troop gear from personal gear, had Thorns and Roses, loaded up, and headed out. We ended up with a 3-mile walk back, and a total of 8 hiking miles for the trip.

Maps

The big dip in the middle is our water run into Bugaboo Canyon.

Critters

We saw some pretty cool wildlife there and on the way back. There were not a lot of birds, surprisingly, although we saw a flicker. We saw a couple deer. There was the snake eating the frog (see the pictures).

We saw a trio of turkey on the road on the way back, causing one to take flight. We also had a roadrunner run in front of us. Passing through Coalgate, we saw a raptor (probably a Merlin) dive into a bush full of sparrows and starlings and take a bird.

Summary

Really, nothing went wrong on this trip. We were lucky to not be setting up in the rain Friday night, and while it was chilly, it wasn’t cold. The food was great. The water situation was a little disconcerting, but a half mile walk (and then back) to find water is not unusual. I would recommend carrying extra water in the summer/fall. I would guess the water situation is much better in the spring and early summer.

One thing I would like to see here in terms of trails is a connector from the end of the North Rim trail across the river to the west end of the Whiskey Flats trail; this would require a couple foot bridges. That would make a big loop that would be a worthy three day trip through the area along both of the big ridges. It may very well be that this could be done by walking along the east bank of McGee Creek.

This area was a very pleasant surprise to me. It’s beautiful, tree-covered, and only a couple hours away from OKC. I am looking forward to exploring more of it. It reminds me of the Ozarks in far eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, but is closer. I would be concerned about water in the summer, but that’s about it.

Great trip, recommended.

10-Mile Hike at Lake Arcadia Today

22 September 2013

Had a great 10-mile hike at Lake Arcadia today with some of our Troop 15 Scouts. The weather was perfect.

The photos are here on Google+.

We saw a number of critters, and were able to ford Spring Creek this time. We started at Spring Creek Park at the east end of 15th street, parked at the beach there, and then wound our way through the disc golf course to find the trailhead. We went northwest until we hit the crossing, then went north and east until we hit 5 miles, at which point we turned around. When we had a trail choice, we took the one we had not already taken. We also walked along the shore some.

I tracked the hike with my GPS60 and my S3 with Runkeeper. The GPS reported 10.3 miles on the odometer, while the downloaded gpx track showed 10.1 on Garmin Mapsource. The Runkeeper app showed 9.78 miles. The discrepancy is annoying. I will look into it at some point soon.

Backpacking Rocky Mountain National Park, 07-09 Sep 2013

15 September 2013

Hiking summary: 25+ miles over three days, with over 4700 ft of altitude gain, massive views, hail, and an abrupt end due to bad weather.

Photos from the trip are posted here on Google+.

Preparation

We all arrived in the Loveland/Fort Collins area on Friday evening, 06 September. The Omaha part of the crew stayed in Fort Collins, and we met for dinner there. The next morning, we met at my hotel in Loveland, moved all the backpacks to my rental car, and we headed out to Estes Park.

We got to the Park about 45 minutes later, and went immediately to the Backcountry Office. Our initial selection was a trip that I found in Backpacker magazine called the “Rocky Mountain Grand Loop”. When I mentioned this to the Ranger in the Backcountry Office, I got an earful about why that route was a bad idea: both due to a high, exposed crossing of the Divide, and due to ice on Long’s Peak. At the same time, Lance was getting an earful of the same advice from a well-informed volunteer at the Visitor Center. In fact, there were two rescues there the week before, and one guy died. That sounded like good advice to me, so we changed the route to a loop that had three segments; two were Continental Divide Trail (CDT) segments, and then a south-to-north segment that paralleled US 34 on the west side of the Park. This route is about 8 miles shorter than the Grand Loop, so our trail days dropped from six to five.

They do things differently at RMNP. At Yosemite, the NPS rents bear canisters for $5 no matter how long the trip is; the proceeds go to the Yosemite Association. At RMNP, the NPS does no canister rental, you go to outfitters to rent the canisters. After visiting several places, we found a guy who sold all of us canisters for $5 more than the rental price at other places in town.

Other things that are different. No showers in any of the campsites. There is no food service in the Park, except at the Alpine Visitor Center (11,000+ ft). No groceries or places to buy supplies. We adapted, of course.

We managed to secure a campsite at Moraine Campgrounds, on the first come first served “B Loop”. It was a decent campsite. Two of our tents were deemed by the camp host to be on “vegetation”, so we were obliged to move them. NBD.

We did some exploration of the Park the rest of the day. We went up to the Alpine Visitor Center for some staggering views and white-knuckle driving along the road. We did a couple hikes totaling about a a mile off the road, saw a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, some elk, marmots, and pika.

We hit a restaurant in town for dinner. On the way there, a herd of 70+ elk came through Moraine campsite. The bull was in the process of fending off a couple younger rivals, and it was fascinating to watch him bugle hot death at the rivals, and do some serious herding of his herd. Eventually, about 20 of the elk went around him and trotted off to the NE. The rest crossed the camp to Moraine Meadow. After we left, we drove out of the campsite, and the missing 20 crossed the road right in front of us, a private show, and then rejoined the rest of the herd. Immensely interesting to watch. The bugling of the big bull sounded a lot to me like the old Godzilla of the movies. Bugling by cows and calves was a lot higher in pitch.

After dinner, we came back and talked a bit, and hit the sack. Every time I woke up, I heard the bugling in the distance, all cows I think. An owl also hooted right over the camp at one point.

Day 1

We got up and started moving around 0615. I think we were all excited; I know I was. We headed out to the trailhead, arriving at Bear Lake around 0800. I loaded my fuel bottles up, we shouldered our packs, and headed out.

It was a hard walk up to Flattop Mountain. As you can see from the altitude plot, it’s about 2700 ft over 4.75 miles. The trail is steady up. You don’t get any level until you walk down the other side of a peaklet and traverse over to the last climb up to the top. There was no water after we left Bear Lake. We saw a number of dry watercourses as we walked up. Maybe there was water in those in the spring or early summer. I carried two liters of water up, and I could have easily consumed both on the way up. As it was, I ended up at the top with about half a Nalgene.

Our moving average for the day was 1.1 mph. It was slow going up, of course. We took lots of short breathers (we were all flatlanders, of course), and two longer breaks.

Once we got to the top of Flattop, we rested on the Continental Divide and had a lunch break. It was very cool up there at 12300 ft. We had been watching the weather around us since about 1000, and by the top, we had active weather in every quadrant except the southwest, which was luckily where we were headed.

We headed out after about a half hour rest. The slope was generally downhill but more flat than the climb up. We were burning along here; at one point the GPS showed a max speed of 5.1 mph. Maybe the thunder overhead was motivating us. We walked for more than a mile exposed. Eventually we got to a north-facing slope, and started dropping very quickly. This lead to a set of very steep switchbacks. About halfway down these, it started to rain, and switched over to hail after about 1 minute. The hail lasted about five minutes, and was pea sized, with a couple larger. The main effect of the rain was to make the trail bloody slick. The slope of the ground away from us was about 60 degrees, so a slip would have been pretty dangerous. We kept moving pretty quickly through all this. Once we started on the switchbacks, we finally ran into a number of streams, so water was not an issue.

The switchbacks eventually get to the forest along the drainage. This trail follows the contour of the hill for a while, and gets to a really steep set of switchbacks. The bottom of the switchbacks is where the camp is. You have to cross the stream out of the canyon you were just in, and go back and up a bit to find Pine Martin camp.

The camps are pretty far above the nearby creek, but are very pretty. We got camp set up quickly with Sun peeking out from the overcast to the west. Water was pumped and filtered, boiled, and had dinner. There were no mosquitoes (yea!). The camp surface was some exposed rocks, but most of it was very soft dirt that was easy to sleep on. There were LOTS of rocks a couple inches deep, that made putting tent stakes in a bit of a problem. We went to bed right about sunset. It rained a couple times overnight.

Summary: 10.5 miles, 3267 ft of elevation gain, net 0 ft gain/loss.

Day 2

We got up a bit later than the day before, about 0730. Breakfast was consumed quickly. We hung up tent flys to let them dry out a bit. We headed out about 0900. Once back on the main trail, you contour along generally downhill. The trail pops up several times. We got sprinkled on several times. This trail has a number of waterfalls along it. One in particular was in a narrow slot, and I ended up putting on water shoes and walking across the stream using a trekking pole I borrowed from Lance.

When we got near our second night camp, Summerland, we followed the first sign we saw off through the meadow, but didn’t find the open campsite. We studied the map closely, and decided we needed to walk farther along. We found the proper camp (Summerland Group) at about 1530.

I walked right past a moose while headed for Summerland Group. It was 10 feet off the trail, and I was so single-mided that I roared right past it. Lance got my attention and I got a chance to see her through the trees 100 ft away.

One note: we looked at a map at an outfitter in Grand Lake, and it showed the Summerland Group campsite, while our NatGeo map did not. The camp description that came with our permit clearly showed the Group camp as well (which I noted while laying in my tent later on that evening :)). I like those notes that the Backcountry office provided, BTW.

We had just made it into camp and dropped our packs, and as soon as the tents came out we got seriously rained on. Huge drops and intense rain. We kept working on our tents, and as soon as they were up, in we went, along with our gear. I changed into dry stuff in the tent, and then put on my rain gear, and came out again after the rain let up, about a half hour later.

Justin noticed that he had cell service, which was sort of cool. After talking it over, we decided to walk the 1.5 miles into town for dinner. We had a really good New Mexican dinner. We ate out on the deck, until the wind suddenly picked up, and rain poured down. It got quite chilly. After a bit, we decided to head back to camp. We got there about sunset, and headed for bed again.

It rained five or six times overnight. I also woke up at one point to roll over, and distinctly heard a tree fall! It was nowhere near us. Justin heard it also, he reported the next morning.

Summary: 11.3 miles, 2058 ft of elevation loss, with another 1012 ft of elevation gain, for a net loss of 1088 ft.

Day 3

We got up around 0715. Everything was wet, and a lot of stuff was dirty from the huge raindrops making small ejecta of dirt on to the tents and gear. I used one of the dish towels I carry to wipe it all down, making the towel very dirty.

We packed up and headed out. We had a recommendation for a breakfast place in town, so we decided to have breakfast there as well. We walked about 1.4 miles to the trailhead, where the going-north trailhead was. We dropped our packs under cover next to a latrine, and headed into town.

While we were in town the night before, I got a weather update that I did not like. We also talked to a local who ran an outfitter in Grand Lake, who talked about dropping temps and heavy rain. The NWS forecast called for heavy rain for the entire day (this was Tuesday), and worse, severe weather for Wednesday and Thursday. We would be climbing steadily all three days, and camping just inside treeline on Wednesday, then being exposed above treeline most of the day Thursday. I kept thinking that severe weather and lightning and being above treeline didn’t mix.

I don’t mind hiking in the rain. We all had the gear for it. The only thing I might have that would have helped was a tarp to be able to protect the gear during setup and takedown, and to cook under. But I was worried about the exposure above treeline.

So I made the decision to call the rest of the trip off. It was a hard choice, but I think that the safety risk assessment I made was borne out by what actually happened.

So this led to another issue. How to get back around to Bear Lake, where our car was parked? No taxi service in town. The RMNP shuttles don’t come around to the Grand Lake side. The outfitter folks offered to call around to see if someone was headed to Estes Park. I did a Google search and got Avalanche Car Rental in Granby, 16 miles south. Janet the owner agreed to rent us a minivan for one day for a very reasonable price, and further, after hearing our situation, she drove up to Grand Lake to pick us up! THANKS! We hung out in the city picnic shelter downtown for a couple hours while we waited. We took her back to Granby and headed out.

The driving conditions in the Park as we headed along US 34 to the east side of the Park were less than ideal. At about 10000 feet, we found ourselves in near-whiteout conditions due to being in the clouds, and with the occasionally gusty wind we had quite the white-knuckle drive (we would have been walking in that all day Wednesday and Thursday if we had stayed on the trail). We got over to the east side of the park around 1500, got our car from Bear Lake trailhead, and made it back to Estes Park around 1700. There were no campsites to be had, so we got rooms at the Comfort Inn (thanks, Justin), had dinner, and then checked in.

I spread my wet stuff out all over the room, fired up the gas fireplace in the room, and generally relaxed. Outside, it kept raining.

Summary: 3.5 miles, 580 ft of elevation loss, with another 459 ft of elevation gain, for a net loss of 120 feet.

Here are the various maps for the hike:

The next morning, we packed our stuff up and headed out in both my car and the minivan. It pretty much rained the entire time. We drove back to Granby to drop the minivan off, then drove back to Estes Park, with another white-knuckle drive both ways, getting there around 1100. We continued on to the hotel in Loveland, got stuff sorted out into Lances car, and the Omaha guys headed that way, while I headed to Colorado Springs. It rained pretty much the entire way there.

My intention was to go to Colorado Springs a couple days for day hiking, but US 24 was closed by the same flooding situation that was hitting Denver, Boulder, and Estes Park that afternoon. So I changed my flight out to Thursday morning and headed home.

Things That Went Well

We saw a lot of critters! Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, elk, deer, bear, marmots, turkey, bunnies, squirrels, birds, pika, some fish, moose (both bull and cow), and I’m sure other stuff I don’t remember. Lots of critters!

Hiking was done well by all. It was hard up and over Flattop, but that’s the thing about mountains. The trail was rocky and hard on ankles and feet, though.

We were lucky that the nice lady in Granby drove the 16 miles to get us. I seriously thought about renting a bike, as the run from Grand Lake to Granby is mostly downhill, and I thought I could bike the 16 miles in a couple hours.

Things That Went Not So Well

Obviously, having to call the hike at three days instead of five sucked. The deteriorating weather would have caused all kinds of problems, from our stuff just not drying out, to perhaps making the trail impassable, to being above treeline in lightning. If we had spent another day, we would have been stuck in Estes Park.

I’m surprised at the lack of connectivity between the east and west sides of the Park.

I made a bad tactical decision in sticking with Bear Lake as a starting point. It meant that the complete hike would have two assaults of Flattop Mountain, one of which was unnecessary. Better to drive over to the west side and park the car at Grand Lake, and start out and end there.

Closing Thoughts

I was seriously in self-doubt mode about calling this trip early. Since then, watching the news, I am convinced it was the right decision. I think we would have had a heck of a time with stream crossings due to the huge amount of rain. Also, making the exposed crossing of Flattop would have just been foolhardy. I pulled NWS lightning data for Thursday, and there were over 100 lightning strikes in the area around Flattop. As it turns our, if we had stayed the course, we would have been coming in to Estes Park after all the roads leading out had been closed by flooding.

I am going to complete this hike in the late Spring or early Summer, and this time I am going to start in Grand Lake. There may be an advantage in that I can get there a bit more directly from the Denver area, as Granby and then on to Grand Lake is accessible from I-70 out of Denver.

Lance, Luke, and Justin were a great hiking team. No one griped, and there wasn’t a single harsh word. Well, except for the hail.

The scenery is stunning.

A Great Weekend of Scout Camping

28 August 2013

Troop 15 spent the past weekend at Slippery Falls Scout Ranch.

The main event was working on the Canoeing Merit Badge. We also had a couple of the boys work on the Kayaking Merit Badge, and took one of the sailboats out (for far too short of a period). The camp has a big jumping platform on the lake, and the boys spent a lot of time jumping into the lake, which was really nice on the hot August afternoon.

Food was great, and the company better.

Pictures are on Google+ here.

Hiking the Katy Trail, Oklahoma City, OK

11 August 2013

Yesterday, a group of Scouts and leaders from Troop 15 hiked most of the Katy Trail in Oklahoma City.

Hike Summary: 10.3 miles, out and back. 463 feet of altitude gain (and loss).

We started at 0835 and finished at 1345, for a pretty decent pace. The weather was perfect, in the 70s when we started, and 84F when we finished. It was cloudy about 75% of the time, and we had a nice breeze from the N/NE.

Pictures from the hike are on Google+.

There isn’t any designated parking at the north trailhead. We parked in what looks like a former driveway or road entrance on the east side of Grand about 100 yards from the trailhead. There is parking at the 16th Street access, and the south trailhead.

Most of the trail is unshaded. There is a nice stretch between 16th and 4th that is like walking through a tree tunnel.

There isn’t water on the trail. You can fill up at the Lincoln Park golf course, and maybe the golf course at Douglass High near the south end. You can exit the trail at 10th and cross I-35 to the east; there is a gas station and McDonalds there with restrooms and water and such.

OKC has done a nice job on this trail. I haven’t walked many OKC trails, but they are on my list. 🙂

The OKC webpage for the Katy Trail is here.

Northeastern Family Trip, 24 July – 02 August 2013

5 August 2013

We took a 10-day vacation trip that combined a bit of work for me with a lot of travel for all of us, a loop that started and ended at New York LaGuardia airport, and looped from New Jersey back to Connecticut.

Photos from the trip on on my Google site here.

Trip summary: Just under 1400 miles, and seven states: New Jersey, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

We started out by flying from OKC to LGA on 24 July. I bought my ticket through my work travel site (saving over $100 by flying to a NYC airport instead of Boston, where I would be working), and got the family tickets by cashing in some American AAdvantage miles. We had good flights in, arriving at LGA around 2130. Here is where it got fun. The signage out of LGA is for crap. We had no less than three oops moments trying to get from there to our hotel in New Jersey, every one of them within five miles of the airport. It wasn’t any better on the way back in (see that later). We broke a couple laws regarding turn lanes and such, but eventually got moving, and crossed the RFK bridge to get our first sight of Manhattan!

As we approached the Washington Bridge, it turns out that the RFK-westbound bridge ramp was… closed! No signs telling us that. We did watch as a couple enterprising New Yorkers drove around the barrels and cones and a curb to get on the bridge anyway. We drove down the Hudson for a couple miles, broke another couple laws turning around, and got up on the bridge that way. We then continued the drive to Parsippany, NJ, our base camp for several nights. The only remaining adventure was being passed by at least 15 motorcycles, weaving in and out of traffic. We were doing 80, they had to be going 120; those guys were moving.

The next morning, Thursday, we got up and had breakfast. Our plan for the day was to take the Staten Island Ferry to New York. That plan survived until we passed a National Park Service sign that pointed to the Thomas Edison Factory National Historic Park in West Orange, NJ. It was a GREAT detour! I was utterly fascinated by the place. Edisons work was so wide ranging as to be incomprehensible. The mostly self-guided tour led through the main building where stuff was machined. After lunch, we headed north to the town of Paterson, NJ, and the Great Falls there. We next just drove out into the countryside to look at the pretty hills and trees. We ended up back in the hotel around 2100.

Friday we made good on the Thursday plan. We drove through the Newark area and made our way to Staten Island. Since we were inbound to NYC, it was a $13 bridge toll. We mad a heck of a time trying to park at the Ferry lot, but ended up using on-street parking a couple blocks away. We missed a ferry by one minute, and so had a half hour wait. The half hour ride across the Hudson was amazing! Tours out to Liberty Island were booked up through September, but the ferry ride past Liberty Island was awe-inspiring. I always enjoy ships and ports, and that was a huge bonus on the ferry crossing.

We got to NYC with the expected crush of people; it was amazing! We had lunch at a streetside shop, and headed for the Subway. We had a little glitch here. Each ride is $2.50. I went to a subway pass station, and bought two $15 passes. The third one, it complained about my credit card. We used Raegans card (same company and account, different number), but same result. WTH? We used Ians card to get the last two, no sweat. We figured that USAA was being prudent since us using the card out of state was tripping a flag. We called, and that was NOT the case. USAA showed the two passes being bought, but no declines on the other attempts. And the card worked two minutes later at a restaurant. My theory is that the subway machine/network was unhappy about buy three cards of the same denomination in a row. Regardless, we had our passes.

We headed uptown to the area south of Central Park. We walked the famous 42nd Street, Times Square, the Rockerfeller Center area, visited the flagship American Girl store there, and just generally drank in the sights, the people, the smells, the food carts. It was ALIVE there. Eventually we were quite walked out, and so we headed for the nearest subway stop, which happened to be Grand Central Terminal. That was one amazing building! The architecture was stunning. Although the high ceiling was intended to collect and vent steam and smoke, now it is just gorgeous and HUGE.

We rode the subway back to the ferry port, had a short wait for the next one, and then an amazing ride back to Staten Island with the lit up NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty lit as well. After some car stuff on Staten Island, we found a restaurant, and got back to the hotel around 2300.

Saturday we visited the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. This is the WWII/Korean War carrier USS Intrepid along with a lot of other exhibits. We headed out from the hotel and drove to NYC via the Lincoln Tunnel (another $13 toll), then parked on a former dock ($35). We spent basically the entire day at the Intrepid; there is a LOT to see. A number of the decks are open. I wish the engine spaces were open, I think that would be fascinating! We were able to attend a lecture by four senior NASA folks on the future of manned spaceflight (and both Raegan and I got to ask questions, very cool). The Intrepid has the shuttle Enterprise on her after deck, which was a nice treat. Again, I wish the shuttle was actually open; I don’t see why it wouldn’t be able to be. It would be the coolest thing to walk the middeck and into the payload bay. The only thing we didn’t get to do was walk through the submarine Growler; they close it early for some reason.

At the New Jersey Meadowlands, there was an interesting structure that reminded me of enclosed ski areas I’ve seen pictures of in Asia. A little research here showed that’s exactly what it was, as part of a large entertainment and amusement park development for the Meadowlands. Not open, unfortunately. Maybe this fall according to Wikipedia.

We headed back to NJ through the tunnel again (no toll since we were outbound), had dinner, and got back to the hotel around 2100.

A note on meals here. We ate in a number of diners. I’ve seen NJ referred to as the diner capital of the world. The meals we ate in diners were at worst pretty good; none were bad. They were by and large, huge amounts of food. The menus were varied. It’s hard to get fried chicken in the OKC area, but I think every diner we ate at had fried chicken, and it was good stuff. The only downer, we had one place with decent iced tea during the trip; it was at a diner. I actually looked in a WalMart for a jug of Red Diamond; they had some other brand, but it was lemoned, so I passed.

On Sunday we got up and packed, and headed north. Our objective was Burlington, VT. We got a late start. We drove through Parsippany and one other small town. We then stopped for a full gas tank, and found that NJ requires gas stations to be full service. You can’t do anything in the process except hand your credit card to the attendant. We continued north through stunning rolling, tree-covered hills, eventually getting off the interstate to find Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills.

This was a great little hike, about 1.3 miles roundtrip and 600 ft of elevation gain.

The only problem is that the parking area is a bit away from the trailhead, and you have to walk along the road with only about two feet of space. It’s dangerous. I would be very surprised if people have not been hit and injured or killed along this.

The Catskills were beautiful. There are lots of trails in the area that I would like to go back and walk. Evetually we got into Albany, accompanied by heavy rain with a couple vivid bolts of lightning. We got dinner at a very good family style place, and continued north. Darkness was falling as we got to Lake George, and eventually we crossed a very pretty bridge over the southern end of Lake Champlain. We got into Burlington around 2200. I would far rather make that drive in daylight next time.

On Monday morning, we were in the Hilton right on the waterfront in Burlington. We toured the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center (ECHO is Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunities). This is a bit of a natural history center, partly an aquarium, partly a childrens museum, and partly a research center). It’s pretty cool. We also walked along waterfront for Lake Champlain. From Burlington, we headed out through the Green Mountains of Vermont through Montpelier. We drove on into New Hampshire and towards the White Mountains. There were a bunch of very slow drivers along this route, like 20 miles an hour under the speed limit. It is, however, a beautiful drive.

One word about wildlife. From the moment we left Burlington, we saw sign after sign after sign warning us about moose crossing, moose activity, moose this, moose that. We saw exactly zero moose. I think that the VT and NH tourism departments need to get on the ball and get those moose out for us tourists to gawk at.

We drove up Mount Washington in NH. The views were magnificent. We saw a stunning, bright full-arc rainbow on the way up. It was cold (50F) and pretty windy up there higher than 6,000 ft. I enjoyed looking at the views, and the exhibits of the “worst weather in the world”. Afterward, we headed south into the Boston area, getting in around 2245.

On Tuesday, I went to work for the day. Raegan and the kids went to Concord and explored the area.

Wednesday, I worked again. Afterward, we went back to Concord, visiting the Minuteman National Historic Park where the American Revolution started. We also went to the Concord Museum, which was a very neat facility. Afterward, we drove down the battlefield trail to Lexington. The day ended with us tooling around outer Boston for a while, then driving downtown to look at Old North Church (which is wedged very tightly between many newer buildings), the Boston Commons, Beacon Hill, and the State Capitol.

Thursday, we took it easy heading back towards New York. We had lunch in Rhode Island, visited Misquamicut Beach, stopped in Mystic, CT to visit the Seaport and have tea, then drove through New London, into NY and our last hotel for the trip.

We got up Friday morning for our last day, had a leisurely breakfast, and headed out the 24 mile trip three hours before departure time. It took and hour and a half to get there!

Random Notes

We had a Hyundai Tuscon rental car. It was a good size for the four of us. We traveled with three biggish rolling suitcases, and one checkable rolling suitcase. Those and our four backpacks were our entire gear set. We did pretty well, I think. We bought some stuff on the road (including some shirts on sale for Ian), and managed to get it all back with no problem.

This was a connected trip. We didn’t use a single paper map (although we had one for Vermont). We relied on Google Maps for navigation. There were a couple places we didn’t have connectivity; mainly along the eastern shore of Lake George, NY. The car had dual 12VDC plugs and one 5VDC USB up front. I bought a 200W inverter/power supply at Target that took a 12VDC input and put out 120VAC, 5VDC USB, and another 12VDC (it was only $25, a good deal). We ran that inverter into the back seat for the kids, and Raegan and I shared the USB up front. It worked out pretty good.

Some of the roads we traveled on were terrible. We were constantly driving on a minefield, it felt like. NYC roads were especially bad, to include the expressways, the arteries, and the side roads. Signage was lacking in many instances. We totally missed (for example) the turnoff for the RFK bridge. Once we figured that out, we hit the toll booth for the bridge, and were looking for I-278S; we only saw a sign for I-278 and followed it… north. The turn the other way had no sign for I-278 at all; it should have had one for I-278S.

If you are reading this and you are in charge of road signage around LGA, you should be fired. Every other airport I have been to has large signs on approach for rental car returns. The only ones around LGA are ON THE GROUNDS. And since the rental car returns are on the far west side, they should have signs before that exit to get people there who are coming to LGA eastbound. After getting turned around, I saw a sign (it was probably only 8×14″) for Avis as I came west. Dumb.

Summary

We left a LOT undone up there. Raegan and I were constantly amazed at how green and beautiful it was. I’m already thinking that the next time, we will spend less time in NJ/NY and more time in upstate NY, maybe Canada, and drive over into Maine.

This 10-day trip cost us about $3,000, which isn’t too bad, I think. We saved a huge amount of money by staying 20 miles out of NYC. Of course, that is partially offset by the tolls, but the hotel costs in NYC were $250+ per night; our Embassy Suites was $120, and the HGI we stayed in the last night was only $105.

There is a lot of cool stuff that we didn’t realize was doable, for example, visiting the Coast Guard Academy in New London, and the USS Nautilus museum in Groton. We saw the Edison exhibits via a National Park Service (NPS) sign on the Interstate; we otherwise would have had no clue that it was there. And it was very cool. We also passed on many shorter stops that could have added up to hours of extra time; an example is the overlook of the Hudson from the parkway we drove down from our last night hotel on the way to the airport. More research next time.

Food… we ate very well on this trip, all local. Diners have huge amounts of food. I think the prices are 20% higher than prices back home.

We need to get moving more quickly in the morning… OK, the heck with it, we haven’t learned how to do that in 10+ years, so never mind.

Navigation in the NYC area is tough! It’s best to have a navigator that is able to look ahead a turn or so so help the driver out.

I wish the NYC area would accept credit cards.

I would like to walk around more of NYC, including every borough, the islands, and the like.

And there is a heck of a lot of hiking in the northeast…

Hiking Ponca State Park, NE

15 June 2013

Back on 11 May, Brad and I had an open Saturday from the testing activities we were in Nebraska doing, so we headed to NE Nebraska for some hiking at Ponca State Park. We took two hikes totaling 6 miles, with 1581 ft of altitude gain.

The photos and topo/altitude maps on here on Google Plus.

We got there around 1000, paid our daily entry fee of $5, and checked out the very cool visitor center.

We hit the Buffalo Run Trail first. This one goes from near the park entrance east towards the bluffs over the Missouri River. It’s a moderately difficult hike of just over 3 miles. It’s an easy to follow lollipop trail, that goes up and over a ridge on the way to the bluffs over the Missouri. Once up on the big ridge, there are a couple open areas with picnic tables. We were overflown by numerous birds, including an eagle!

After the first hike, we found the trailhead for Begley’s Ravine and followed it around to the Whitetail Trail. This hike was right at six miles, and it’s pretty easy.

This was a very cool park, and there are a number of trails there left unhiked. I’ll be back.

Replacing Garmin MapSource

12 June 2013

I use a Garmin GPS-60 when I backpack or hike. The unit came with Garmin MapSource, which I used for several years exclusively. Eventually MapSource was replaced by Garmin Basecamp. Both would extract GPS tracks with relative ease. One thing I didn’t like was Garmin wanting huge dollars for topo maps. They ran $50 PER STATE! I found a project that had digitized maps for all states (and a lot of international locations) and converted them into the format needed by MapSource/Basecamp. They asked for $15 donations, I sent them $50.

But occasionally I forget to bring my Garmin GPS. I use my Samsung Galaxy S3 with the Runkeeper app in that case, which uploads GPS tracks to the Runkeeper website, and can export GPX files. BUT: I discovered quickly that MapSource/Basecamp only accepts tracks from Garmin GPSs, not general GPX files.

I found out from my hike yesterday that when you use Runkeeper, and use the pause function, then restart the app again (we hiked a loop, paused Runkeeper, drove to another trail, restarted Runkeeper and hiked that loop), the uploaded tracks are joined on the Runkeeper website. So I need a function to separate the single GPS track into two. This is pretty common. When a GPS unit loses lock, or is turned off, you need to be able to edit the track information to join segments due to signal loss, or delete spurious track pieces that are generated during the GPS unit startup). MapSource/Basecamp does this pretty well, but again, only for tracks downloaded from a Garmin GPS.

BTW, the issue with MapSource/Basecamp not importing GPX data is clearly an administrative decision made by Garmin. It also keeps me from viewing downloaded GPS tracks to “preview” hikes. So to the Garmin corporation, a general observation: you suck.

I played around with a number of other GPS programs, including those that support GPX files, such as Google Earth, and Open Street Maps. These didn’t do a good job of letting me edit, or they didn’t produce a good altitude plot, or there was some other problem. One good program that had promise was ExpertGPS. It’s $74, but has good topo map support, and would get aerial imagery and overlay it. I got an idea, and had it import the GPX that was produced by RunKeeper. No problem there. I connected my GPS, and transferred the GPX into it. No problem, and the track now showed up on the GPS60. The only issue I had was when ExpertGPS told me that my GPS60 would only take 750 data points, and so the track needed to be edited down. ExpertGPS also told me it had a function to do that, and it worked.

Next, I shut down the ExpertGPS program, and fired up MapSource. I told it to transfer the data from the GPS60, and it did!

So I successfully “laundered” RunKeeper GPS tracks from my Galaxy S3 through the GPS60 and ExpertGPS to MapSource. From there, I was able to make good topo maps, and altitude maps.

I downloaded and installed the EasyGPS program, and was able to do the same laundering thing.

So I am able to use my RunKeeper tracks, or tracks that I have downloaded from the Internet, on MapSource, in spite of the deliberate lack of support from Garmin.

Data wants to be freely usable!

Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas

3 June 2013

We had a great weekend at Devil’s Den. I had previously visited the Park with a group from Troop 15; we intended to hike the Butterfield Trail, but instead ended up day hiking.

Raegan and Erin and I had one of the park Cabins for the weekend. It was a very nice one-bedroom that has a small pullout sofa bed. The cabin has a nice kitchen with a full stove, a microwave, and a full refrigerator. There is a complete set of cooking stuff (pots, pans, utensils, plates, etc.). We only used it for making hot tea.

The cabin has Direct-TV, and a phone, but there isn’t any internet (there is decent wifi at the cafe area). The cabin has a nice sitting area outside (with a charcoal or wood grill). Water pressure and quantity was great.

There are plenty of places to walk around, and trails, and a nice river with a small lake. We really like this place. We will go back.

Bedroom

Living Room

Cabin and Sitting Area

Cabin Kitchen Area

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Downstream From The Waterfall

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She could get a couple bars of EDGE on her iPhone 4s from there.

She could get a couple bars of EDGE on her iPhone 4s from there.

View from Overlook on West Side of Park

We saw five (living!) armadillos around the cabin Sunday morning. We also saw a small fox while driving through the Park.

This place is amazing for beauty. We will return, and this time we will bring food to cook at the cabin for dinner (the breakfast and lunch convenience of the cafe is too great to pass up).

Hiking Equipment: Merrell Geomorphs

6 April 2013

I am somewhat of a cheapskate. Frugal, even. I bought a pair of Cherokee lightweight hiking boots in 1991, and literally put several thousand hiking miles on them. They cost me $20. Those boots served me well, obviously.

Then one of them failed spectacularly. In August 2010, the front sole of the right boot came completely off on top of Lassen Peak in California. My foot went right into snow, brrr… I carry string and such, and managed to tie the sole back to the upper for the walk back down. 19 years out of those boots.

I went to Academy shortly thereafter and bought a pair of Navados, I think for $34. They seemed to fit OK, and I started walking in them. Less than a year later, I got a huge blister, my first ever hiking, while at Yosemite backpacking. I had noticed that my socks each day were very, very dirty, but figured that the trail dust was sifting in from my ankles. I checked the boots out when we got off the trail, and found that the sole on one had split completely through for about six inches, fore and aft! Not side to side (which is where the bending stress is). The huge amount of dirt was coming into the boot from the bottom! That was the reason I got the blister. The other boot was failing exactly the same way, but the split wasn’t as long or wide. Those went into the trash. They had about 150 trail miles on them.

I went somewhere and bought a pair of Ozark Trail boots for about $35. A year later (now we are in September 2012), I did another Yosemite trip and while on the trip, noticed that the darn boots were starting to split side-to-side along the sole. Grrr… The splitting was not too bad, but it was already letting water into the supposedly waterproof boots. Those boots accumulated about 250 trail miles in that year.

I’ve used trail miles several times here, but I also wear my boots when it’s cold outside, or rainy or snowy, or if I am working out in the yard, so there is additional wear on them.

I started reading the boot reviews in Backpacker, and looking at new boots casually over the holidays. Finally, I had a business trip to Omaha in February, and there was a huge snow event forecast, so I determined to hit various outlets in search of good boots. I talked it over with Raegan, who encouraged me to be a little less of a cheapskate, especially given how much walking I did.

So I did some web searching, and visited a couple stores. The Dick’s Sporting Goods in La Vista was visited. I tried on a couple pair, and then put on a pair of Merrell Geomorphs. I described it to someone a while later, it was like when Harry Potter picked up his wand the first time, it glowed and the wind blew. My feet slipped into those boots like butter, and they felt molded to my feet.

I walked around the store for almost an hour. The Geomorphs have a goodly amount of padding inside on the sole and the uppers. They weigh just over two pounds, and are very comfortable. I walked out of the store in them (literally). They set me back $129 and sales tax.

Here is a picture (taken from the Merrell website):

Merrell Geomorph Blaze

One note: these boots have Vibram soles. I noticed while I was walking around in the store that the soles gripped the slickish store floor very well. I noticed that extra grip a couple times on the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) a couple weeks ago; the whole area was wet, and the Vibram did a great job of hanging on to the slick rocks.

So far, I’ve worn them on three hikes and one backpacking trip. I have about 40 hiking miles on them, and a lot of walking around. I wore them all last week when it was raining heavily, and they kept my feet warm and dry. On the backpacking trip, they walked in snow, sleet, and rain. I forded a number of creeks where the water came to right below the top of the boot, and they didn’t leak a drop. I use polyprop socks, and even though the boots are waterproof, I don’t get sweat-soaked (we’ll see how that works this summer, though).

So I am very happy with these boots. I hope to get 10+ years of service from them.

17 July 2015 Update:

Not a happy post. Our Scouts went backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness week before last, we were out for six days. On the evening of Day 3, I took my boots off and inspected them. They were in the process of a massive failure, along the arch and on the opposite side. By the time we were off the trail, the failure had widened to five and three inches, respectively.

This is what it looks like:

The yellow lines show the failure points.

The yellow lines show the failure points.

So I’m not happy about this. I had two instances of loops the laces thread through breaking. The first happened after about nine months of service, and Merrell offered to replace them, but I had a local shoe repair place fix the problem. It happened again about five months ago.

So I got just over 2.5 years of service from these boots, and probably 300 trail miles out of them, including the brutal Grand Canyon backpacking trips.

Hiking Red Rocks Open Space, Colorado Springs, CO

1 April 2013

This is a bit of a catch-up post. Back in January I had a business trip to Colorado Springs, and found myself without much to do around 1400. I did a quick bit of research and headed to Red Rocks Open Space on the west side of town.

The photos from the hike are here on Google+.

I did just over six miles in about three hours. It was about 40F when I got started, and in the low 30s when I finished. Most of the most interesting rock formations are in the west side of the park. As you go south and climb, the rock is somewhat replaced with forest. It’s all very pretty.

As I got up a little bit, I could look to the northwest and see the burned areas from the Waldo Canyon fire.

There were a LOT of people out there! That’s always impressive to me. There isn’t any water anywhere in the area that I found, so be sure to fill up your water bottle before coming out. A very pretty area very close to town, a worthy hike any time.

Hiking Elk Mountain, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK

27 March 2013

On 16 February, I hiked Elk Mountain in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge (WMWR). The hike was 4.5 miles and 1,124 ft of altitude gain.

Pictures from the hike are here on Google+.

I tried to park at the actual trailhead, but for the nth time, a Park Ranger was blocking the road, and he rudely told me to go elsewhere (this same guy I’ve seen several times over the year, and he is uniformly unhelpful at best). I drove over to Caddo Lake a mile or so to the west, parked there, and headed out overland at Elk Mountain.

I popped over a ridge after a bit and found myself near a herd of bison. I move away from them, but the herd crossed in back of me, and one of them charged me; it was a bluff charge, but it was intended to get my attention, and it succeeded.

I got to the parking area for Elk Mountain, and went over to the Charon’s Garden trail, as I thought that was also the trail for Elk Mountain. It wasn’t. I decided to bushwhack straight up the slope. It was pretty tough. I used bouldering and some rock climbing techniques.

When I got to the top, I was amazed. I had sort of thought that Elk Mountain was very much a peak, but it wasn’t; it was a jumbled almost-mesa! Probably 20 acres of area. There were numerous “high points”, and I walked around up there a while looking at all of them.

Eventually, I worked my way to the eastern part of the top, and found the trail down. It was a nice trail; I got to the bottom in short order, and walked cross country back to my car.

I really enjoyed the hike; I have wanted to hike Elk Mountain for a number of years, and on other trips to WMWR, I either didn’t have time, or the parking area was full. I’m glad I took the cross country route this time, it was well worth it.

Backpacking Part of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT)

25 March 2013

Trip summary: 14.6 miles of backpacking through some amazingly beautiful Ozark terrain.

Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-WestOK) have a High Adventure Team (HAT) that is a most excellent organization. Their latest adventure was to hike part of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT), which is a backpacking trail that runs from west central Arkansas ENE to near Missouri.

The photos from this adventure are here on Google Plus.

We headed out from OKC Thursday morning. Our plan was to get to the trailhead Thursday afternoon, hike a couple miles in, then walk a bit both Friday and Saturday, and come off the trail Sunday and head back to OKC. All of this ended up pretty flexible. We were starting at the Ozone Camp trailhead in the Ozark National Forest, and exit at the trailhead at Forest Service Road 1003, for a roughly 13 mile hike.

We got to Clarksville (the last city of size) around 1330, and headed towards Ozone. Now, on the way, we were in a constant sleet all the way from the Fort Smith area. As we climbed into the Ozarks, the sleet turned to snow. Then it got heavier, and finally got to the point that visibility was less than a hundred yards. The temperature was also dropping rapidly. We had read of a forecast of thunderstorms overnight as well. After checking the trail conditions, the expedition headed back into Clarksville, and we checked into three rooms at the local Hampton Inn. The girls went bowling, we fed them pizza, and then crashed.

The next day, the weather was scarcely better. We headed out to the entry trailhead, dumped equipment and campers (the Ozone campground had a nice shelter), and headed out to shuttle two cars to our exit trailhead. Final prep was done. It was below freezing, and it was a combination of ice and snow coming down.

We headed out about 1100 down the trail. It kept on sleeting and snowing, and slowly changed over to rain. It rained on us for the next half hour or so, then stopped. We had a short equipment-settle stop, then got to the floor of the valley and started making some time. After a bit, we stopped for lunch, and right after starting out again, had the first of about eight river crossings. I’m not talking about a couple steps across a stream, I’m talking a river 20-50 ft across, like this:

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These were fast-moving waterways that would take the unwary hiker down. Some of the crew had water shoes, some of us didn’t, and so we employed a variety of techniques, including stepping stones, logs, combinations, and barefoot. That water was cold, brrr….

The shortest time we were able to cross one of these was 20 minutes, and one took more than an hour, between scouting up and down the shoreline, making the crossing, and then hiking back to the trail.

Camp was in a flat area where a river and a stream came together. It had stopped raining, but we had some damp and wet gear and equipment. We built a fire, had dinner, talked a bit, hung a bear bag, and crashed. Mileage for the day was 5.8 miles.

We had looked at the weather right before we hit the trailhead, and expected thunderstorms overnight Friday into Saturday, with deteriorating weather Saturday into Sunday (snow and high winds). We had made the determination that if we could, we wanted to get off the trail Saturday afternoon.

We had a couple sprinkles that night, but no rain to speak of.

We got up Saturday morning and had breakfast, and a bit of a later start than we wanted, but the real issue was water crossings. The first one? About 1.5 minutes after we started. Not miles, minutes. It cost us 45 minutes.

The hiking was stunning along here. Words just cannot describe the beauty of the landscape in that part of the Ozarks. We had a number of other crossings to contend with, and some stuff and people got wet. We had a lunch stop at a nice campsite, and as we left camp, we had another water crossing that set us back another 45 minutes.

We had been bouncing up and down over shoulders both days. As we neared our exit trailhead, we started going up, and up, and up. It rained on us at this point for an hour or so, but it was not heavy rain.

We got to the exit trailhead about 1815, a couple hours after we had targeted. We did the car shuffle in reverse, and while waiting for the car shuffle, we broke out a stove and heated up all our remaining water and loaded the crew up with hot chocolate, tea, and apple cider.

Our mileage for the day was 8.8 miles, making a total of 14.6 miles over two days. We were doing some decent walking. Our gained altitude was just short of 3,000 ft, and we had a net altitude loss of about 260 feet from the entry to exit trailheads.

We headed back into Clarksville and checked into hotels, getting there about 2200. We had some extra food.

It turns out that the mountains didn’t get any snow the next morning, but the winds up there were howling (30mph gusts to 40mps), and it was very cold. We made good decisions to keep our crew from doing miserable hiking just for the sake of being miserable. The crew were in good spirits. Food was well managed and good to eat.

Lessons learned.

  • Get started earlier. Well, that’s always a lesson learned that I have never learned. But keep on trying, I always say.
  • I should have brought water shoes. If we had all had them, the crossings would have been a bit faster.
  • Water was not an issue, obviously.

    We managed the cold pretty well. It was below freezing for a significant part of our hike.

    This was an amazing hike. It solidified for me that I now have two long-distance life list hikes; the OHT and the Muir Trail.

    I am again super impressed with the hike ethic of the Girl Scout HAT members (and the leadership of the group). The crew did the hike, through rain, snow, sleet, river crossings, and cold, without any beefing! In fact, listening to conversations, the girls were concerned that we might cancel the hike altogether; they wanted it to make! How cool is that, and how impressive of those young people.

    I’m already looking forward to another part of the OHT, hopefully soon.

    Troop 15 Spring Break Camp

    21 March 2013

    Troop 15 had a blast this past weekend camping at Boiling Springs State Park, and then Black Mesa State Park.

    The photos are here.

    We headed out from Oklahoma City around 1830, stopped for dinner at Braum’s in El Reno, and then continued on to Boiling Springs State Park. We go there around 2130, and set up a very quick camp. The weather was nice, so most everyone just slept out on the ground under the stars.

    One thing I was surprised at. There are east-west railroad tracks about a mile south of the park. There were trains rolling on those tracks on average every 20 minutes! All evening, and all night! The train horns were really loud (but not loud enough to wake you up), but the trains came from both directions. It’s a double track, and it’s busy!

    It got down to around 28F that evening. The next morning we got up, and the boys cooked bacon and pancakes for us. It was pretty darn good. We packed up and headed out in good time.

    Our first stop was Woodward. We went to the The Plains Indians & Pioneers Museum, which is a really nice museum (we had taken our Girl Scouts there on a NW Oklahoma tour a couple years ago, and really liked it).

    After Woodward we headed up past Fort Supply, and stopped in the small town of May to have lunch on the parking lot of the local fire station. The parking lot was graveled, and a lot of the gravel was clear calcite, some of the pieces were very large.

    After lunch we made our way into the Panhandle, stopping at Guymon for food to cook in camp. The long drive across the Panhandle was a bit tedious, of course, but the scenery is, to me at least, very interesting. We got to Black Mesa State Park around 1700, and had the interesting experience of setting up camp in daylight! Dinner was outstanding shepherds pie cooked by Simon, one of our adults. The adults built a fire, the boys built one, and we talked for a while. We tried to look for the comet from a hill to the west, but clouds defeated that.

    It got down to the high 20s again overnight. We woke up the next morning, and the boys made green scrambled eggs and ham, and scrambled eggs and (green) spinach. Both were very good.

    After breakfast, I laid out lunch packages for everyone, and we headed out to Black Mesa. We made it into a 10 miler (one of the boys completed his Hiking Merit Badge!), and had lunch at the Oklahoma high point. Lunch was PB&J (grape and strawberry jams). We hiked all the way to New Mexico ( 🙂 ). We watched a large band of showers develop to the north as we hiked up, and had some other rain develop around us, but we just got a couple drops. Lots of wind, though. We also saw lightning to the north (comfortably far away), and some to the east (making us uncomfortable). We burned off the Mesa.

    After the Mesa, we went and looked at the dinosaur tracks to the NE, and then went to the Tri-State (OK/NM/CO) marker.

    Back in camp, dinner was chicken fajitas. More fire was made, more talking, another unsuccessful attempt to see the comet, and then we crashed.

    Breakfast the next morning was a not-cooking meal. We struck camp and headed out, and made the long drive back to OKC, stopping in Guymon for lunch, and getting back to OKC around 1700.

    The boys were largely a young group, but they got the jobs done, and there was minimum of griping. Food was good. I really enjoyed this trip. I hadn’t been to Black Mesa since 1994, and the only thing I would have liked to do was visit Lake Etling, and hike into the canyon on the NW side of the lake.

    Next time.

    Some Beautiful Scenery: St. Crispin’s

    15 March 2013

    The Oklahoma Episcopal Diocese conference center and camp is St. Crispin’s, located between Wewoka and Seminole, OK. The main part of the camp is on a hill that juts out into a couple lakes.

    Last Sunday, Ian and I were working on prep for his Eagle Scout project, which benefits St. Crispin’s. I heard water running, and after we were done, we went looking for it.

    First, there was a lake that I didn’t even know existed! The hillside photo shows part of that lake; I thought the rocks on the hillside were just beautiful. The lake had a very pretty stream that had a couple waterfalls; that was the source of the running water sound.

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    Skiing Sierra At Tahoe, CA

    23 January 2013

    28 August 2013 update: I found pictures from the ski adventure on my phone. They are here on my Google+ site.

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    I have meetings in the Sacramento area this week, so I came out a day early to do some recreating in the Sierra. I decided to take the day skiing, and chose Sierra At Tahoe basically since it was the nearest area to where I was staying. The west coast has been under the influence of a high pressure area, and so the temps were quite mild. It was about 36F when I got to SAT at 0820, and about 45F when I knocked off at the end of the day.

    First, it was a lot more expensive here than at our usual ski area, Wolf Creek. My lift ticket was $79, and the day of ski rental was $46. Even my locker rental was a sky-high $8. I should have brought my boots and skis.

    So skiing is expensive. The snow was excellent, except in a few places for the first couple runs: it was a bit icy. As more people got on the mountain, and as it warmed up, the snow softened and the surface improved.

    I never waited for a lift. I hit six lifts at various places on the mountain. There was one place on the backside of the mountain that had a couple rocks poking through the snow, but there were poles to warn of that. There are a lot of blue slopes at SAT. I would have to say that the difficulty of the blues here is greater than the blues at Wolf Creek. The main thing is that most of the blues here are significantly steeper. I only hit one black; it was narrow, and steep like the blues. I was not impressed by the greens, aside from the training area near the base, most of the greens were roads.

    There were a couple excellent runs off the back side of the mountain.

    There are three restaurants. I had lunch in a Mexican-themed restaurant on the west side. It was pretty good, although it was expectedly expensive at $20 (I had a three-taco plate, which was pretty good). I also visited the BBQ-themed restaurant at the top of the ski area. It was amazing views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains. I only got a drink and a snack, but the BBQ looked good (I will try it the next time I get to come to SAT). SAT is a Pepsi shop, but one thing that was neat – free refills. The BBQ place had sweet tea, but it wasn’t very good.

    There is a viewing deck on top of the BBQ restaurant, with great views.

    The staff I interacted with were uniformly friendly. The place wasn’t crowded, not surprising for a Tuesday following a holiday Monday. One thing I noticed was about half the lifts were not even in use, so there is a lot more lift capacity for busier days.

    It was a fun and low key day. I had about 15 runs all day, and was pretty tired as the day wore on. I need to ski more often.

    Hiking Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, San Diego, CA

    1 December 2012

    Hike summary: 4.6 miles and 340 ft of altitude gain.

    I got into San Diego early last Wednesday, and took care of business, then checked into the hotel. Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is only a couple miles north of the hotel, and I decided to take a hike. I got there at 1500. I did a quick check of sunset for San Diego… 1640. Really?

    The trailhead I used was through a dog park off Carmel Mountain Road and Ocean Air Drive. The trail goes from the southeast corner of the dog park through some thick brush. This leads to a service road that traces under some high power lines. There are several places where trails drop off into the canyon. Steeply.

    At the bottom, it’s pretty much out in the open unless you go through one of the crossings from the north trail to the south side. There is not a lot of scenery. I took these photos.

    One of the north-to-south crossings

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    This last one is a hot air balloon I saw to the north.

    Here are the maps for the hike.

    Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve Terrain

    Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve Altitude

    There isn’t a lot of signage for the trail. Basically, walk along the north or south trail, cross over when you want.

    That’s it!

    Hiking Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland

    13 October 2012

    Hike Summary: 8 miles, some decent altitude gain, in a beautiful area close to the DC metro area.

    Yesterday afternoon the meeting I was at in Herndon got out a bit early, and I couldn’t get an early flight back home, so I decided to hike Sugarloaf Mountain. I had found this area a couple years ago while researching hiking in the DC area. I really wanted to hit Shenandoah National Park, but decided it was too far for just a part of an afternoon.

    I got there about 1500 and left at 1845. It’s a free area. I sort of expected a Visitor Center, but didn’t see one. Signs said the area closed no-kidding at 1900, so I left my car parked at the gated entrance. I didn’t realize until later that the road into the area goes up to the east viewing area, which I walked up to.

    I started out on the White Trail. I used the Orange Trail to hit the high point, then picked up the Blue for the longest segment, ending up on the White Trail again for the home stretch.

    The initial part of the trail was very nice, but steadily UP. The trail was very rocky, and I was feeling it through my sneakers.

    The weather for this expedition was wonderful! Temps were in the low 60s, and the sky overhead was a perfect blue. I did get a bit sweaty, though. I had packed a sweatshirt in my backpack, but was wearing a long sleeve mock turtleneck, so I was constantly putting the sleeves up and then back down.

    The first stop on the way up is the East viewpoint. The road from the entrance ends up here, and there are a couple picnic tables, one of which was being used by a group of four. I took a panorama up there (I love this feature of my camera!), and a couple closeups.

    After this break, the orange trail heads up to the top of the mountain. It’s steep! There is some serious stairstepping that needs to be done along here, and parts of the trail that are dirt only are slippery, and would be quite hazardous if wet. I got to the highpoint and took the obligatory photo, through the trees. There is a neat little rock face right below.

    Below the high point is a nice rock bluff. If you look at the last photo, of the mountain in the distance, you can see a bare spot just below the peak; that is where I was sitting when I took these.

    I got to say Hi to a young black Lab up there who was having a walk with his person. I also had a nice extended conversation with a guy who is lucky enough to live about 10 miles from Sugarloaf. We had kids about the same ages, and common issues with them, and a shared passion for the outdoors.

    From the high point I headed north, steadily down now. The trees were beautiful, tall and without much in the way of undergrowth.

    I walked steadily for almost an hour here. My target was White Rocks. I got here, and figured I was at White Rocks.

    Well, cool, I thought, a crowd-sourced rock cairn. I added a couple rocks to it, and headed down the trail, just knowing it would turn back to the south. I kept thinking that as I kept walking west and then northwest, and north some, and more west. Eventually, I passed a trail junction that pointed to the front of me – “White Rock”. Live and learn. There were some more very pretty views off to the northwest and north.

    This is looking down. Pretty far down.

    Now I headed back south for real. The trail steadily went down for the most part, but there were some no-kidding down-in-the-deep-holler turns that were getting a bit dark, so I did some trail jogging. Turns out it wasn’t really necessary, and I had plenty of sun for the walk back. The Blue Trail joined the White Trail, then the White Trail went off on its own around the south base of Sugarloaf and back to the parking area.

    As I drove back to the metro area, I took this shot of Sugarloaf Mountain.

    The treeless spot to the left of the peak is a bluff area. I was sitting on top of the bluff area when I took the photos looking out to the west and northwest.

    Maps and Such

    These are the topo and terrain maps, and altitude plot for this hike.

    This last chart is interesting and new. I used Google Earth. The altitude is pretty standard. GE automatically calculates altitude for you, and it says I did 2080 ft of altitude gain. It happens that my informal designations for a serious hike is 10 miles or 2000 ft (what are these based on? 10 miles is a Bill Arbitrary Impressive Sounding Number, but 2000 ft is based on the hike I took up to the top of Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park). So eight miles and 2000+ feet is pretty darn cool for the (relatively 🙂 ) flat East Coast region, especially in just under four hours.

    It also shows speed. You can see where I stopped to admire the view, or rest, or take pictures. You can also see one place where I was walking very fast downhill (5-6 mph), and three places where I tried some trail jogging (10 mph) where I thought I was going to run out of daylight (see Gear Notes).

    Gear Notes

    I had left my boots home, as in Oklahoma City. I will not make that mistake again. Sneakers were not the footwear for this area. My feet were literally sore from getting stabbed with rocks from some parts of the trail.

    My Garmin GPS lost satellite track at one point as I was headed home. I was on the west side of Sugarloaf proper, and under some serious trees. I think that it was that combination that caused the GPS to lose lock.

    On the other hand, my Android Nexus 7 didn’t! I had downloaded an app called Runkeeper into the Nexus on the recommendation of friends Wendy and Chuck. It’s a runners app primarily, but it has a hiking mode. So I started a track in the parking lot, then put the Nexus into it’s case, and tucked that in a pocket of my backpack, zipped the pocket closed, and off I went. It still kept satellite lock the entire time. The only issue? Shortly into the hike, my backpack announced LOUDLY how fast I was going and how far I had gone! I about jumped out of my skin when I first heard it. I turned the volume all the way down on the tablet, and later figured how to mute the voice altogether.

    Speaking of boots, I did this hike with pretty much none of the stuff I usually take. I had planned to take my SPOT with me henceforth, but it, along with my water bottle, headlamp, first aid kit, BOOTS, etc. all got left at home. I didn’t know if I would be able to get any hiking in this trip, but as a Scout I should Be Prepared. It’s all about risk management. The main problem would have been trying to walk a strange trail after dark on a moonless night. I could have used my phone as a flashlight (it’s good at that), but a headlamp is more reliable. I had disposable water bottles from the hotel as well. But I need to just carry my hiking stuff regardless.

    Critters

    There were numerous squirrels, six deer, and a few birds, including some very small flitting birds with a golden/yellow breast.

    Random Notes

    I had a heck of a time getting the Runkeeper GPX file out of the Nexus. The email app would not find the file (it defaults to pictures only for attachments), and when I tried a method I found online, the file attached, but didn’t transmit with the attachment, in spite of multiple tries. In the end, I did something very simple: I used a USB cable to attach the Nexus to my laptop, and the laptop mounted it as a drive, which I drilled into the Nexus Downloads directory, found the GPX, and copied it over.

    Now I had the Runkeeper GPX. The Garmin Mapsource or BaseCamp programs would not open them, complaining that the files were not formatted properly. Google Earth was quite happy to open the file, however. I don’t know what the Garmin programs were so picky about.

    This was a great, relaxing hike. It was just hard enough. The trees were beautiful! I look forward to my next visit.

    Backpacking Yosemite National Park, 22-28 September 2012

    4 October 2012

    Summary: 60+ miles and 8300+ of altitude gain over six days, beautiful weather, stunning terrain, critters, and great fellowship.

    The photos from this expedition are here on Google Plus.

    My buddy Chuck also posted photos on Google Plus.

    Getting There And Preparation

    We headed out Saturday to Fresno via American Airlines, arriving there around 1330. After lunch at Irene’s, and stops by REI and WalMart to buy food and last minute supplies, we headed out to Yosemite, getting into the Park around 1800.

    We checked into two cabin/tents in Curry Village. These are pretty basic Baker tents on wooden platforms. They are in a shady area, and stayed nice and cool for us. Each has a number of bunks with mattresses, sheets, pillows and pillowcases, and blankets and towels. Most of the beds are singles (twins?), and one is a double. The tents each have a bear-proof food storage container, and is lockable with a padlock.

    We unloaded, had buffet dinner in the Pavilion (open until 2000), checked out the Lounge (wifi, but only a T-1 shared amongst everybody there), and then racked out.

    Day 1

    Awoke all excited!

    We were all in the showers at 0645 and out shortly thereafter. There are 500+ cabins in Curry Village, and there are 35 showers scattered around. We were able to jump in each time we showered with no wait, but the Village was not terribly full, I think, so I suspect that if you try to shower in the summer rush, you are looking at a wait. The showers were nice, each had an alcove for you to stash your stuff and get undressed, and the shower area itself was big enough where you don’t feel cramped. The water was nice and hot and had good pressure. Each shower had two big containers of liquid soap and shampoo, which was nice when I really needed it later. Towels are provided by Curry Village. I took two towels, and used one as a washcloth.

    We ate breakfast buffet in the Pavilion; it was good. Afterward, we loaded up all our stuff in the car and headed over to Yosemite Village and the Wilderness Center to get our permit. We got a mission briefing (very detailed) from one of the Rangers, picked up an anti-bear food canister each, loaded up again, and drove to Glacier Point. We got there around 1115, and walked over to look at the views from the east edge, and then the Point. We filled our water bottles from a faucet, loaded up our backpacks, stashed the extra food and fuel in one of the trailhead storage lockers, took a deep breath, and shouldered our packs and headed out, at 1155.

    We started out on the Panorama Trail, heading down the steep slope towards Illilouette Falls. We passed above the Falls and continued above Illilouette Creek, descending gradually until we met up with the Creek. From that point, we were steadily climbing. We saw a bear (about time!), had a deer walk through our lunch site, and generally steadily walked for six hours.

    We passed under Mount Starr King, seeing it from three sides, which was pretty cool.

    My original target was Merced Pass Lake, but we were starting to lose light while we were still several miles away, and at one point ran into a very nice open area right next to the Creek, with a perfect cooking area right by the Creek. We decided it was home for the evening, and set up camp. There had been a few cumulus clouds to our east, but nothing developed from them, and they evaporated at sunset.

    Camp was very nice. There was a nice, sandy, soft dirt over most of the area, that was a wonderful sleeping surface. We didn’t put the fly on the tent, and most of the upper part of the tent is netting, which meant that Dave and I had a wonderful view of the sky all night from inside the tent. Everyone cooked and ate dinner (mostly in the dark), and then we all pretty much crashed. I woke up around 0200 to pee, and the view of the sky was absolutely stunning, with the sky full of stars, the Milky Way clear across the sky.

    Gosh, it was beautiful.

    I had a Backpackers Pantry Chicken with Dressing and Potatoes for dinner. I added a bit less water, and the consistency was good, but I was hungry and started in on it after the standard cooking time of 13 minutes, instead of waiting a bit longer due to the extra altitude. As a result, some of the veg and stuff was not fully rehydrated. It didn’t matter much, the stuff got eaten anyway. I’ve had better tasting backpacking meals, though. I think I will not take that one again.

    I had brought my 20F sleeping bag for the trip, or so I thought. As I climbed into it, I noticed it was my 0F bag. Oh well, a bit more weight, but I was never cold.

    Our distance for the day was 9.4 miles. We started at Glacier Point at 7200 ft, and dropped down to 6100 ft very quickly. At that point we had a (relatively 🙂 ) level walk for a bit, and then started back up again, ending up at 7400 ft, for a gain of 1300 ft.

    Day 2

    We all started waking up around 0700 or so, but moved slowly. After breakfast and packing up, we headed out around 0900, again slowly and steadily upward. The first order of business was to knock of the mileage to Upper Merced Pass Lake. We got there around noon; everybody needed water, but the lake, which was on the map, pretty much didn’t exist, not even as a dried up lake. Dave took an expedition overland about a half mile due west to Lower Merced Pass Lake, finding it easily enough, and getting all the water bottles filled up. We had lunch, and then headed out, almost due east towards Ottoway Lakes.

    This was some serious altitude increase now. We were all exerting pretty well, but staying pretty cool. There was a series of switchbacks alternated with consistent rises. After about three hours, we got to Lower Ottoway Lake. The lake was beautiful, clear and cold. There were a couple people camped near the shore. We took an extended break and thought about swimming.

    One cool thing, a raptor launched from the trees across the lake, and flew over the lake and over us only about 20 ft overhead. It was an owl, reddish brown. Very cool. [08 Oct 2012 update: after looking online for a bit, I am of the opinion that we saw a Flammulated Owl. The color and head shape are diagnostic, and the size was about right.]

    We had a short debate about where to camp. The lake would have been a very nice choice, and our target was Upper Ottoway (about three miles and 500 ft of altitude gain farther), but we had a long walk for tomorrow, and didn’t want to extend it. But the water issue at Merced Pass had us a bit concerned also, and we didn’t want to get up to Upper Ottoway and not find water. We could see that there were lines of green coming down from the rocks to our east, indicative of at least some water up there, so we decided to take the gamble and press on. We made sure our headlamps were easily available, and headed out.

    Walking around Lower Ottoway was pretty easy. On the east side, we started up. It was a tough climb, I was sweating a lot and starting to tire. It was about 1.5 hours of exertion, and as Sun started below the ridge far to our west, we got to Upper Ottoway Lake (or rather, Lakes; there were two of them, which we took to calling Upper Upper Ottoway Lake and Lower Upper Ottoway Lake, where we camped).

    It was starting to get dark and chilly as we made camp. We got the tents up and the water started heating, but ate dinner by headlamp. I had my Mountain House Chili Mac for dinner, and once again, it was the perfect backpacking dinner, just the right consistency, just the right spicy, and just the right amount of food. Yum! Everybody pretty much crashed immediately after dinner. Again, we left the fly off, and the stars were stunning. It was in the lower 40s when we went to bed.

    Our mileage for the day was 8.5 miles. The impressive number was our altitude gain, which was 3100 ft! Camp was at 10500 ft. The altitude gain was fairly steady over the day, but that still adds up.

    It got down to 30F overnight by the thermometer Chuck carried. Polar Bear patches for all!

    Day 3

    This day started chilly. We didn’t get Sun for a while due to the rock wall to our east. Everyone took a bit to get the kinks out from the long climb the previous day. The view down to Lower Ottoway Lake was stunning.

    We got started about 0830 on the walk up to Red Peak Pass to our north. The trail was fairly short in distance, but steep! We all had a lot of appreciation for whoever had built that trail. It was a combination of switchbacks and steps. The first couple switchbacks were each a couple hundred feet long, but quickly shortened as we got higher.

    As we climbed, we were able to see the Upper Upper Ottoway Lake that we had suspected. The UU lake was much larger than the LU lake. Turns out the LU lake we had camped at had another arm around a U turn we had not been able to see from camp.

    After a 600 ft climb, we arrived at the Pass. The views to both sides were wonderful. We met another crew of three from SoCal who had come up the east side of the Pass. While we were up there, we had a day-early celebration of Chucks 50th birthday. I had put some medium Hostess cupcakes in a cleaned-out Pringles can to keep them from getting crushed, along with a birthday card Raegan had ginned up, and a candle. I figured a day early at 11200 ft and the top of our world was better than the actual day and a forest trail.

    We had thought about side hiking to Red Peak, but it would have involved boulder scrambling that looked positively dangerous without ropes, so we decided to skip that.

    After a while, we started down the east side. It was just as steep down. We also had a lot of places where we were walking on big rocks, that reminded me of walking towards Jicarita in Pecos Wilderness. As we got lower, we made better time.

    We had lunch on the shore of a very pretty lake.

    We started walking again, had one ridge crossing, and then started walking along a creek, steadily going down. We had one serious 500 ft of down to reach the Merced River, and then walked along it for a while. Our target for the day was Washburn Lake, and we reached it as we were losing the Sun again.

    Camp was on the shore of Washburn, and was beautiful, if a bit tight. Yosemite wants you to camp 100 ft from water sources or trails, and it just was not possible in this case, as the ground to the east of the lake went up at a 30 deg angle. So we camped between the trail and the lake shore, about 30 ft from each. Dinner this evening was beef stroganoff with noodles. I let it cook 21 minutes instead of 13, and it was pretty darn good. I note that each of these backpackers meals were supposedly two servings, but they made a good meal for one hungry walker. We talked for a while, and then headed to bed with a beautiful Moon and stars overhead.

    This was a long day. We had 13.8 miles of hiking, Our net altitude loss was 3500 ft, but we also had about 900 ft of gain, so we had lots of aerobic activity.

    Day 4

    We were up and moving by about 0845. The walk started along the shore of Washburn, and then followed the Merced down to a backcountry ranger station. There was a trail crew camped there, and some horses that were very friendly and curious.

    We continued along, steadily but gradually losing altitude, until we got to Merced Lake. There was another trail crew working there. I don’t think we saw the High Sierra Camp hut. The lake was very pretty.

    My original plan had been to hike along this trail until we got to Echo Canyon, then go to Half Dome via Little Yosemite Valley (LYV). After some map reading the evening before with Jason, we decided to take the trail up towards Sunrise Creek and the John Muir Trail, and so knock off some of the climbing we would otherwise have had to do tomorrow. This was a good plan on several levels, but the one variable was whether we would be able to find water up there. If not, then we would have to continue on down to LYV, where we knew we would have water from the Merced. We were not encouraged when we got to the trail junction, and the creek there was completely dry. Dave led a crew about a half mile down the trail to LYV and found water in the Merced.

    We headed up towards the Muir Trail. It was hard! The altitude gain was almost 900 ft. When we got up there, the scenery was breathtaking. We walked along a series of granite domes that formed steep cliffs above Echo Valley, Lost Lake, and LVW. Eventually, we could see Half Dome looming ahead of us behind a ridge. We crossed the ridge and intercepted the Muir Trail, at a beautiful campsite in an area with huge trees. We were in camp, set up, and done with dinner before Sun set. Clark made a campfire, and we spent a nice couple hours sitting and talking.

    Dinner for me was Backpackers Pantry Shepherd’s Pie. It was really, really good. I used a 1/2 cup less of water than the package called for, and let it cook 20 minutes instead of 13. The consistency was perfect, and it had great flavor.

    Our gamble paid off in that there was a stream at the Muir trail junction. It was a very low flow stream, but we got the water.

    Our mileage for the day was 11.4. We had a net altitude loss of 500 ft, but the profile was a 700 ft loss, followed by a 1000 ft gain, then another loss of 800 ft to camp, so we were seriously tired.

    Day 5

    Half Dome!

    We woke to see the sun lighting up the south side of Half Dome in the short distance to the NW. We had breakfast and packed up, headed back up to the water and topped off bottles, and headed out. It was about 0900.

    It was only about a half mile to the Half Dome trail junction. We dropped our packs and headed up the trail. It was two miles to Half Dome. We had made a conscious decision to leave our water bottles with the packs to lighten our load on the climb it. Here is my advice:

    DO NOT MAKE THAT MISTAKE!

    From the trail junction, it’s 1700 feet to the top of Half Dome, and you need your water on the way up. We didn’t get dehydrated, but we needed the water, and probably some snacks.

    It’s a hard walk up the dome. When you get to the bottom of SubDome, you leave the shade of the forested path, and start on rock steps, in unrelenting sunlight. It was hot and sweaty work. We got to the base of Half Dome at 1100.

    We had brought carabiners and rope. I cut a loop of rope and made a sling; when I did rappelling frequently, we called it a diaper sling. The sling was attached with a three foot section of rope to the biner. The two cables going up the Dome make a great place to put the biner as a backup. At each step (which is a 2×4 placed between the cable stays) I would switch the biner to the next segment of cable. It was a bit of a pain, but I am really glad I had the protection in place.

    Going up the cables was hard work. You don’t have that much traction to walk up with your legs, so you have to use your arms a lot to pull along the cables. It’s hard on the hands also, since you are in serious grip mode.

    It took a bit, but we got to the top. Half Dome has two “points”. The eastern point is the high point, and the western point is more gradual, and slopes off fairly gradually. We walked over all of the Dome, and after an hour or so, headed back down.

    It was harder going down the cables. I tried forward, sideways, and backwards. I think the easiest way is backwards, using the cables in the same manner as a rappelling rope and working down it hand over hand.

    When we got down to the base of SubDome, there was a Park Ranger checking permits.

    We headed down, got to the trail junction, took long drinks, put on our packs, and headed down. The trail down was rocky, with lots of steps, lots of dust. We hiked down to Little Yosemite Valley, passed through the backpackers camp, and walked down the trail until we met up with the Merced. Water was topped off and snacks consumed. We headed down the trail, past Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls. That is a very hard walk down. We got to the bottom at 1700.

    Our daily walk was 10.5 miles. We had 1700 ft of altitude gain, followed immediately by 4600 ft of loss, from the top of Half Dome all the way to the floor of Yosemite Valley.

    The total hike was 56.5 miles (that doesn’t include some of the side hikes for water and the like). We had over 8300 ft of altitude gain for the entire trek.

    We got checked in to Curry Village, and took quick showers, putting on our still-dusty from the trail clothes, and took ourselves to a steak dinner. Following dinner, Clark and Gayle drove Shawn and I up to Glacier Point to get the cars we had left at the trailhead. We had a rude surprise: someone had taken the stuff we had left in the bearproof containers. We had left some extra food (like trail bars), a partial can of stove fuel, and a couple of shaving kits. So, if you were up on Glacier Point the week of 22-27 September, and you got stuff out of the bear containers up there, doubtless inadvertently, please let me know so I can let you know where to send it (you can keep the stove fuel, we were going to donate it to the Backcountry Office anyway so others could use it).

    Driving back down to the valley, I had a Ringtail Cat run across the road in front of me, the first one I have seen in the wild. The moonlight on the granite was stunning! We got down about 2230, I went to the Curry Village Lounge to get some wifi and email before hitting the sack.

    Day 6

    We got up lateish this morning, had showers and breakfast. We went over to Yosemite Village to turn in the bear canisters, check to see if the Rangers had taken our stuff from Glacier Point, checked out the Visitor Center, and the like. After lunch, we went to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Redwoods and hiked there a bit. We had dinner in Wawona, and headed back to the Valley.

    One cool thing. As we drove into the Valley, there was a flash of light from the dark face of El Capitan. We pulled over and got out, and watched for about 10 minutes; there were at least eight groups of lights on the El Capitan wall. I’m guessing these were headlamps being worn by climbers. Very cool.

    After doing some packing, and spending some time at the Lounge, and spending some more time on the bar patio, we all hit the rack around 2300. The next morning it was up, finish packing, drive to Fresno, and fly home.

    The Route

    Here is the route we took, overlaid on a Topographic map, and Altitude. I annotated the Altitude map to show our locations.

    Things That Went Well

    The weather was beautiful! We had sunny days, clear nights, great temperatures.

    Sleeping was easy! In every case, we had semi-soft ground to sleep on, that was very comfortable.

    Every day, as soon as we got into camp, I would change my tshirt, underwear, and socks, and rinse the stuff I just took off. It was dry by the next afternoon, and I would do the change cycle again. It helped me keep from getting chilled in camp. I also really enjoyed having a hoodie to wear.

    Things That Could Have Gone Better

    I screwed up my food packing a bit. I need to always go with the following: Breakfast, two packages of oatmeal and a Quaker Oats bar. Lunch: Tuna or PB and crackers, along with a Quaker Oats bar. Two more Quaker Oats bars for snacks (or a bag of M&Ms).

    I need to carry some insulated pants; it was chilly a couple of mornings.

    I probably need to carry hot chocolate instead of tea.

    We probably ought to have done the hike in six days instead of five.

    I got a blister on Day 1! I learned to stay off that thing. I don’t understand why I got it; my boots were in great shape, and I walk a lot in them. I used a couple good-size pieces of moleskin, and the blister slowly shrank over the hike.

    We had our stuff taken at Glacier Point.

    Equipment Notes

    I carried a SPOT beacon. I sent locations and we-are-OK signals at the start of each hike, at lunch, and finally at dinner. I haven’t completed my analysis yet, but it seems that some of the signals did not make it. I will update this post later with results.

    I carried a bit too much. Again. My 0F bag is about a pound heavier then the 20F bag I thought I had brought.

    I carried a small frying pan/dish that I never used. Not all that heavy, but I didn’t need it.

    The Cabelas pack worked out very well; it was comfortable and held all my gear internally, except my closed-cell plan.

    Summary

    This was an amazing trip. I could not walk very far without turning my head constantly to check out the views. We probably could have shortened each segment so that we had a bit more time in camp each evening. The walking was hard, but the guys all did really well!

    I think next time, it’ll be the North Rim area.

    “About A Mile”: Backpacking Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico

    26 July 2012

    Summary: 45.5 miles over five days, mostly above 10,000 feet, 5700 ft of altitude gain (and loss), waterfalls, elk, cold, hail, and a wonderful time!

    The South Plains Council of the BSA has a camp facility named Tres Ritos in north central New Mexico. The camp is between Las Vegas and Taos, NM, and is about 45 miles SW of Philmont Scout Ranch (beloved of Bill). Ian and I were able to go to Winter Camp at Tres Ritos a couple years ago, and Ian went to Summer Camp there three years ago. We were both able to go this year, and both attended the Tres Ritos Pecos Packers program, which is a five-day backpacking trip in the Pecos Wilderness.

    Update: I have some aerial shots of the Pecos Wilderness area we hiked on another blog entry, here.

    We left OKC Saturday morning, with about 45 people in three vans and a couple personal vehicles, and three trailers filled with personal and Troop gear. We had our first “oops” outside Clinton, OK. The van I was driving started having transmission slippage. We thought that going through the mountains with transmission problems was Not A Good Thing, so we left the van in the K Mart parking lot after redistributing the people riding in the van, and rearranged trailers. We had lunch at a rest stop in the Texas Panhandle, and made our way to Tucumcari, where we stayed overnight on the grounds of the New Mexico National Guard Armory. The nearby Mesalands Community College has a wind turbine:

    We went through the Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum, which is an excellent paleontology museum and research facility in Tucumcari. The staff was kind enough to take us through both the public areas and the research areas. The crew there had been out in the field that morning collecting fossil specimens for cleaning and display.

    These are fossilized turtle shells found in the area:

    A bone found locally:

    It was dry and warm, so I elected to unroll my closed-cell pad on a sidewalk next to a hedge (there was a lot of lights on the outside of the building) and slept under the stars. When I woke up, this way my view:

    We had a great dinner cooked in the parking lot of the Armory Sunday evening, with chicken and steak fajitas ala Sweatt, including beans and rice. Great stuff!

    We headed out Sunday morning after breakfast and went to Las Vegas, NM. We bought lunch stuff at the Wal Mart there and lunched on the parking lot, while one of the Troop vans that had been running hot was getting a new thermostat installed. We had a longish wait, and took the boys to a city park, which was shaded and had a lot of playground stuff for them to burn energy. After a bit, we headed into Tres Ritos and got checked in and camp set up.

    Dinner in camp Sunday evening was cooked by the staff; it was fajitas, and they were pretty darn good.

    The pictures from the camp and the Pecos Packers backpacking trip are in my Picasa/Google+ account.

    Day 1

    We got up long before the Sun hit the meadow. The boys cooked breakfast of eggs, sausage, cereal, milk, and juice. When the boys went off to morning flag ceremony and got to the first program of the day, the Pecos Packers (there were 16 of us) got our trail food and got packed up.

    We got divided into two crews due to a Forest Service reg that allows no more than 15 “noses” in a crew (one horse is a nose, and one person is a nose). Four of our guys (including Ian) went with a partial crew from Texas, and the rest of us went as a group (so we had 13 including our Pecos Packers guide, the very fine guide Danny).

    Only one comment as to the groups. The food is rationed for four people. The guide joins one of the groups, which means that five people have to eat the rations for four. The rations are NOT enough. From Tuesday noon until Friday, I was literally hungry 90% of the time. You burn a lot of calories while backpacking (I’ve seen estimates of 7K-8K calories per day), and the food bulk needed to replace those burned calories needs to be larger than the Backpackers Pantry four-person meals. Lesson learned: bring more food to supplement those meals.

    We loaded up into our vans and headed to the trailhead, getting there around 0930. We started at the Santa Barbara trailhead. The first of the three Pecos Packers crews headed out, we waited about 20 minutes, then we headed out. The altitude was just under 9,000 ft.

    The trail heads steadily uphill for a while, then enters the Pecos Wilderness area. We had lunch at a bridge over the Middle Fork of the Rio Santa Barbara; it was PB&J on “mountain bread”. Mountain bread looks like a Ritz cracker on steroid, but doesn’t taste like a Ritz; they are dense and largely tasteless. Recommendation: bring your own crackers. Put the mountain bread in the container for toxic waste :).

    After lunch, we hit a series of switchbacks that took us up at 700 ft. The trail continued to gently rise. We made it into camp around 1600 and got set up. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but it was good.

    The first day was 7.3 miles and about 1700 ft of altitude gain. Sleeping was great! Camp was at over 10,600 ft.

    Day 2

    We were up the next morning around 0700. Breakfast was good and fast. We hit the trail around 0800.

    Again, the trail started up. And continued up. We walked steadily up the Santa Barbara valley. The views were stunning. We say towering cliffs on the west, and rock slides to the east.

    Eventually we made it to treeline, and took a couple long switchbacks to the Santa Barbara Divide, above treeline at just over 12,100 ft, for an altitude gain of 1500 ft. We had lunch here. It was chilly and a bit breezy. More mountain bread. Oh boy. The views were of the Rio Grande plain to the NNW, and the Pecos River drainage everywhere in front of us.

    After a bit we noticed that our guide Danny was headed up a ridge to the east. In the spirit of the buddy system, another Scout and I followed him up. We walked up, and up, and up. We saw fossils in some of the rocks, which was very good. We got to the top of the ridge and walked along it for a while. The altitude was over 12,600 ft (so, another 500 ft) and the side hike was 1.75 miles.

    I took these photos while up there with my Blackberry. I had signal up there as well, so I sent it to Raegan. This is looking SW. You see the Pecos River drainage, the mountains above Santa Fe, and in the distance, the Sandia Range near Albuquerque.

    After the side hike, we headed down down down. After a bit we ran across a large slide area to the left. We kept heading steadily down until we got to the Pecos Falls. These were beautiful! We headed down a trail on the east side of the Falls, then headed downstream. It was slow going. It was also wrong going! We realized pretty quickly that we were not on the right trail. Or *any* trail. We sent out a scout to find the trail; it was about 100 ft above us and back to the north. We bushwacked up a steep slope back to the trail.

    We got to camp around 1600 and got set up quickly. One thing we hadn’t known was that camping is prohibited unless you are farther from the Falls than something like 300 yards. We were quite a ways away, and at 10,600 feet. Our nearest water was a walk of a couple minutes, and down about 70 feet below the camp.

    We heard a couple rumbles of thunder here during the evening, but only got a couple spits of rain.

    Our guide Danny told me about the SPOT device he was carrying. It gets the current GPS location, and sends one of three signals back to a satellite at the push of a button: OK, in trouble, and send help. The unit is pretty compact. The signal sent is emailed to one or more recipients, who are supposed to take action.

    One of the Scouts found an abandoned camp site on the other side of the stream. There was a large tent, a sleeping bag stuff in a trash bag, and some cooking stuff including a 10″ cast iron skillet. I used a couple pine cones and a flat rock to whet away most of the rust on the skillet.

    The Day 2 hike was 8.35 miles (plus 1.75 more for the couple of us that took the side hike up the ridge). The net altitude gain was pretty much zero.

    Day 3

    Day 3 was a layover day for us. We were to take a day hike to an abandoned cabin to the south, and loop back up along the Pecos River.

    Since we didn’t have to break camp, we decided to cook the breakfast that had pancakes in it. One thing to note: the pancakes need cooking oil, which are not in the meal packet. We used the cast iron skillet from the abandoned camp to cook ours. They were good, but I just do not think that pancakes are a good trail food. The pancakes used a lot of stove fuel, as well.

    We had a bright blue sky overhead through all this. I took the clothing I was not wearing and rinsed it out in the stream, ran a clothesline, and hung it all up to dry. I also took my fleece hoodie and hung it up to air.

    We all selected a lunch, loaded up packs for a day hike, and headed out. We hiked along with the though of a side hike to summit a peak to the NW of camp, but by around 1030 the clouds had completely covered the area, and we started getting hail and rain. We got at least an inch of rain over more than an hour, and *five* rounds of hail, raining from tiny to pea sized. When the hail started we dodged into a grove of trees, and spread out under the biggest ones. Lightning stabbed around us. We all had rain gear that we had broken out as soon as it started raining. It was cold. We couldn’t get our of the grove due to the lightning. The storm lasted almost an hour.

    After the storm had passed, we continued hiking. We got to a large meadow and lost the trail. A couple of us spread out to find it again, and found an abandoned platform made out of logs on the north end of the meadow. We found the trail eventually. We had lunch on the north side of the meadow, and decided to head back to camp. A couple of the Scouts were pretty wet.

    We had two shorter delays due to more lightning, and we burned across one meadow during a slack period. We got back to camp to discover hail piled up. My laundry from the morning was still wetter, and worse, my hoodie was soaked.

    A couple of us tried to light a fire for about 30 minutes. I blew air into the fire for about five minutes, and when I stood up I was so dizzy I almost fell over. James and Brent eventually got the fire going, and they and the boys piled enough wood up to form a veritable bonfire.

    The fire dried off a bunch of boots, socks, sleeping pads, and one hoodie. It took a couple hours, but I eventually got that hoodie dry. I also dried off the socks I had been wearing during the day (got them a little scorched, in fact), and my boots and liners.

    As we were finishing dinner, we had a couple instances of Sun peeking out. It was pretty chilly. We went to bed before the sky was fully dark.

    I needed to wash my clothes, but I should not have left the hoodie out. I was lucky to be able to dry it. The other issue is that I should have carried a set of shoes for camp. I will from now on.

    While we were having dinner, a couple cows tried to walk through camp. James ran them off.

    Day 4

    The next morning, we got up and had oatmeal for breakfast, tried to dry the tents off, and packed up. There was still hail on the ground.

    We got out of camp around 0900, and headed the wrong way. It was only a short detour, and added about 3/4 mile to the trek. We crossed the Pecos River above the Falls. We headed back up along a ridge, and started contouring along the side going north. We continued to climb until we got to saddle, and pushed over it at about 11,800 foot, for an altitude gain of about 1200 feet. We got into camp at Middle Fork Lake around 1615.

    My stuff was finally drying off. I had tied it all to the pack for the day’s hike, and over the day it got drier and drier, and finally was dry in camp.

    There was another abandoned tent site at the campsite. We took it down and packed it out the next day, but before we did, the boys spent the night in the tent, so they didn’t have to pitch theirs (or take them down the next morning in the dark).

    We camped at just under 11,800 ft. Our total mileage for the day was 8.7 miles.

    Day 5

    This was a long day. We got up before dawn. Venus and a couple other planets were stunning in the east. I went to get the bear bag, and look at the sky, and saw three satellites and a couple meteors. The ISS made a pass to the NW as well, brilliant.

    We headed out at 0600. We started up by bushwhacking pretty much straight up the cliff face to the west of camp. I think this was the most dangerous thing we did on the trek. It was steep and rocky. We saw some Rocky Mountain sheep on the hillside above us.

    As we got up to the top of the ridge, we swung around to the south side of the ridge. Below us, we saw some elk emerge from the trees into a meadow. We stopped to watch, and the elk kept coming. After about 20 minutes, probably 100 elk had passed through the meadow. We were up much higher than they were, and we were in shadow, and quiet, so it was a perfect place to watch from.

    We got to the top to get a beautiful view of the camp from the night before. We had come up 650+ ft in just over an hour. It was a tough climb.

    Now started The Slog. We headed along the high ridge towards Jicarita. We walked 5 miles along the ridge pretty much continuously. The walk was up and down in 200ft+ increments. The altitude changes are not that much, but a lot of the walk was over big chunks of rock that were not particularly stable. This area would be prime for turning or breaking ankles. Some of the path was steeply down on the rocks. With packs it was not particularly fun. We all made it, but there were slips for everyone.

    Eventually we got to the Jicarita trail junction. Most of the crew headed out to summit Jicarita. I didn’t, and was lucky enough to be there when Ian came down from Jicarita! His crew had spent the night at Serpent Lake below, and had side hiked from Serpent back to Jicarita. It was great seeing him and hearing how his trek had gone (well!).

    For the second time on the trek, I had signal, so I made contact with Raegan and we made sure we were coordinated for meeting that evening. We waited for a bit, and then headed down to wait at the Serpent Lake trail junction. After a bit, the Jicarita summit team came down, we had late lunch, and then headed down the trail towards Tres Ritos.

    This was a long segment; 9.8 miles. It was mostly downhill, and we blazed along with only one short break to pump some water at a creek. We got into camp around 1620. Our walk for the day was 14.5 miles; a long walk any day.

    A longish shower was refreshing. I wasn’t particularly dirty, but it felt nice. Raegan and Erin got into camp around 1800, and we loaded up and headed out to our next adventure in Wyoming and Montana.

    Maps

    These are the topo, terrain, and altitude maps for the trek. I have both a plain topo, and another annotated topo.

    What Went Right

    I was pleased that I was physically strong enough to handle this. Mental attitude is also a large part of it, and every day on the trail helps with that aspect.

    My pack worked out just fine. The Cabela’s pack had more than enough room for my personal gear and my troop gear, including food.

    What Went Less Than Right

    Need more food! I was actively hungry at non-meal times for several days after the trip. The Backpackers Pantry entrees are very good. They taste better than Mountain House, and the recommended amounts of water to rehydrate them are correct (the Mountain House meals tend to ask for more water than needed, and are runny). The “four-person” meals are probably 2.5-to-3-person meals. It didn’t help that we had our guide eating with us (not blaming him, of course), but the food groups should include the guide in the four-person concept.

    If you use the Backpackers Pantry meals, either use one four-person meal for three people, or pack along extra food objects (maybe an extra veg or two per meal). For every breakfast and lunch, you should pack two extra food bars for each person.

    Equipment Notes

    My Cabela’s pack worked well for this trip. I had enough stuff that I needed to strap my closed-cell pad on the outside of the pack (Dave and I shared his tent, I carried the ground cloth, tent, and fly, and it was a bit more bulky than my tent; and I carried a 20F bag that was pretty bulky as well).

    The 20F bag was good for this trip. Morning temps were probably in the low 40s (hail on the ground wasn’t melted even 20 hours later).

    One of my water bags for the Sawyer filter failed, right at the top. I will try to repair it with some super glue. I also did a little research, and the Platypus hydration bag fits the Sawyer filter unit, and I think it is more sturdy. I am going to try it out on my next hike.

    Summary

    What a wonderful trip! The backcountry was beautiful. I was not even really aware of the Pecos Wilderness as an outdoors destination before this trip. I would like to hit some of the southern parts of the Wilderness at some point, and I would like to summit Jicarita as well (that’s worth a patch flash!).

    You might be wondering about the title “About a Mile”. That was our guides standard response to the inevitable question of “How much farther?”. Perfect response.

    I’m already looking forward to my next visit here. Maybe next summer?

    Going To Be Offline A Bit

    15 July 2012

    I’m currently in Las Vegas, NM. I’m with our Scout Troop for summer camp. We have about 45 people going. About 15 of us are departing tomorrow morning for five days of backpacking in the Pecos Wilderness. Should be a lot of fun, but I will be completely offline until Friday late.

    Hiking Lake Thunderbird, Norman, OK

    10 July 2012

    Saturday, a group of people from First Presbyterian’s Troop 15 took a very pleasant 10.3 mile hike at Lake Thunderbird. The hike had a couple purposes. First, it was an opportunity for some of our Scouts to get a 10-mile hike for the Hiking Merit Badge, and it was also a chance for people headed out to a backpacking trip at summer camp to get some trail time in with their loaded backpack.

    The trail network is in the Clear Bay area of Lake Thunderbird. A trail map is here. The photos from the hike are here.

    We got started about 0830, and got done at 1300. We were moving right along! The trails here are maintained by the Earthbike Fellowship, but are available for hiking. These trails are wonderful! Here is a great example:

    There are three trailheads that I know of. These connect to a series of linked loop trails. The trailhead has a head, a couple shelters, but no water immediately available. There is water a several places in the park nearby for certain.

    We started off at a trailhead across from the stables. This puts you on the Green trail. This connects to the Yellow and then the Red trail. Eventually, you get to the Blue trail, which is a longish trail that runs eventually over the high point of the trail system and along the lakeshore. The trail is singletrack, but it is quite wide. Most of it is packed dirt, but there are plenty of rocks and roots. Occasionally the trail is sand-covered. 95% of the trail we were on is tree-covered. There isn’t a lot of low underbrush. This all made for some really nice walking.

    At about Mile 6, we got to the north trailhead, which is by Clear Bay Cafe. We had our lunch under some trees, and the Cafe was kind enough to let us refill our water bottles from the hose outside. It was about this point the batteries in my GPS ran out. Oh well.

    We came back a different route. Back at the trailhead, we took a right, and an immediate left, to get onto the Red trail. We followed it backwards to the intersection with the Blue trail, and the followed the track backwards to the trailhead.

    Here are the topo, terrain, and altitude maps.

    There is still a lot of hiking there. The Gold trail by itself is another 10 miles.

    We saw a total of three other groups of two or three riding bikes. No hikers. The trail is excellent. Recommended.

    Hiking Arcadia Lake, Edmond, OK

    1 July 2012

    Yesterday I led a group of Scouts from BSA Troop 15 on a 10.15 mile hike at Lake Arcadia, in Edmond, OK. This hike had two purposes: it was a shakedown for some of the folks that are going on a five-day backpacking trip in July to the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico, and it was an opportunity for the Scouts to earn one of the five required 10-mile hike segments for their Hiking Merit Badge (something I think every Scout should earn).

    We got started about 0820 and got off the trail at 1320. That works out to about 2 miles per hour overall, including walking, breaks, and lunch. The temp was around 75F when we started, and 97F when we got off the trail. Significant sweating was had by all!

    We started at the Dam/Project Office trailhead. There is parking there, and a nice walk to an overlook for the lake, but I don’t think there is water there, so fill up before you start. There is water at several places on the trail. There is a fee to hit the trail: $2 on weekdays, and $3 on weekends, per person.

    Here is our hike path on a topo and terrain.

    The trail has several places where it will split. We generally took the red segments outbound, and the blue segments inbound (or vice versa, whatever). The trail is mostly in shade on the eastern parts, and has some open areas on the western part.

    As you walk west, you cross a road but there isn’t anything there. The second road you cross is right by an entrance fee station. The station sells ice and drinks and stuff. There is a water spigot right where the trail emerges, so that’s a place to fill up if you need to.

    Proceeding west, you walk through the rolling terrain under cover, with 2nd Street/Route 66 to your right. The trail crosses the third road here. There is water down by the RV station.

    Now you are mainly hiking in the Sun, and it was pretty hot yesterday. Sunscreen is needed for certain. Eventually you turn more south, and come back under cover at Opossum Hollow. The trail bends SE at this point, and runs into Spring Creek.

    The last time I was on this trail was with Ians Cub Scout Den. It’s been a while. There used to be a bridge over Spring Creek, but I couldn’t see anything that looked like a bridge. I just quite a bit of Google Earth review, and so I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a water crossing. The water looked to be about 18 in deep. I suspect that later on in the summer, this area is probably dry.

    We turned back at this point, at almost exactly the five-mile point. We had lunch under a shady area back to the west, then headed back. We took the opposite trails coming back. One of the turns leads back through the primitive camping area of Arcadia Lake. The trail passes a head, and has a very low-flow water spigot here. You are fairly near the main part of the lake here.

    The rest of the hike was pretty much walk it out. It was starting to get hot, and the breeze had died off, so we were all sweating. The last segment gets to within about 20 yards of the lake, and so goes down in altitude a bit, but then you turn around and walk back up again shortly. The drop and gain is about 50 feet each.

    Everyone was glad to see the parking lot again. 10 miles is quite a bit for most anyone, especially adults with trail backpacks, and 11-year-old Scouts that haven’t done any serious walking. But it was a nice walk in a beautiful wooded area. Recommended.

    Electronics and the Wilderness

    28 June 2012

    I read an article today on Time.com. The article basically talks about an uptick in backcountry travelers who get into trouble due to a lack of basic equipment, instead relying on their electronics for everything from maps to flashlights.

    This article struck a chord with me. I’ve rescued a woman while hiking from the north rim of the Grand Canyon. She had her sneakers fall apart about 2000 ft down in the canyon, and she had one small bottle of water and no food, and serious blisters. I shared my food and water, and purified more water for her using the chemical purification I carried.

    I got stuck near Feather Falls in California a couple years ago, after dark, with no headlamp or flashlight. I had marked the trailhead on my GPS, and used the GPS to navigate back in the dark (the GPS pointed me towards both the trailhead, and the bread crumb track of the trail I had walked out, and I intercepted that trail in about 20 minutes). If I had been equipped with a flashlight, I wouldn’t have missed the trail to begin with.

    So I don’t always hike with a rope. But I usually have a map and compass, flashlight, water, GPS, something to start a fire, and small medkit. I also usually carry five or so food bars, which is a couple meals. My cellphone also acts as a flashlight ( 🙂 ). But I also have enough miles in the outdoors that I an not terribly worried about getting lost.

    An interesting counterpoint. An issue of Backpacker magazine a couple months ago recommended that backcountry travelers ditch the maps and the external GPS, and use a tablet, which was touted as being able to hold not only the map of the area you were hiking, but every map of the planet, and reading matter for those nights in camp. One part of the rationale was that a paperback book weighed a bit more than most tablets, and the tablet could hold a lot more. Of course, for an overnight or couple of day trek, that might work out, and even then, one of my hike buddies has already used a solar recharger on the trail in Yosemite. I’d be a bit worried about keeping water out of a tablet, also.

    So I think that for anything more than a dayhike, you ought to carry a paper map. On my last backpacking trip a couple weeks ago, I had a GPS loaded with the topo map and track of the area I was hiking in Arkansas, but I also had a compass, as did Ian, and three paper maps.

    So this electronics geek, and backwoods geek, likes low-tech for the ultimate fallback.

    Cabela’s Shasta 98 Backpack

    19 June 2012

    I have hiked with external frame packs forever. My trusty Kelty has hundreds of backpacking miles, and many camping trips. We ended up buying internal frame packs for the kids, and I used Ian’s on several backpacking trips, including my Yosemite 30 miler last year.

    I ended up buying the Shasta 98 from Cabela’s last Fall. I gave only $98 for it on sale. I’ve had it on five weekend camping trips since then, and weekend before last I took it on a 21+ mile backpacking trip in the Ouachita National Forest.

    The pack was very comfortable. The hip strap carried the weight very well. I never had any back problems with the pack. I never got “sweaty back”; there was enough air circulation that I wasn’t running sweat down the back all day.

    The pack has a builtin raincover. I took it out to make sure it works OK, but I’ve not used it in the rain. The pack has two zippered compartments that I just discovered before the backpacking trip. One of them divides the lower compartment from the main compartment, making one loooooong compartment. The other gives access to a compartment that runs along the entire length of the pack next to your back.

    This pack has 6000 in3 of space. I was able to get all my personal gear, the troop gear I was carrying, and the food I was carrying in the pack, and I never even needed the top-of-the-pack extension. I had lots of spare room in the lower compartment. I rolled my closed-cell pad up and lined the inside of the main compartment, so I had nothing at all on the outside of the pack.

    The very top compartment was about 70% filled with stuff, including my Sawyer squeeze water filter and bags (the big Sawyer bag fits very nicely in the hydration pocket when filled with water, BTW).

    The mesh side pockets each fit a Nalgene very well, and are easily reachable while wearing the pack. You have to make sure that stuff in the lower compartment doesn’t bulge out to the side – it makes the water bottles fit poorly.

    I kept the tent, fly, and stakes in the lower compartment, and had room left over. I put the poles in the main compartment, along one of the corners close to my back.

    There is a large, but pretty thin pocket on the back outside of the pack. I have repair stuff in there, including rope and the like.

    Here is the pack loaded up, right before we hit the trail.

    There are a couple things the pack needs. A map pocket somewhere is needed, accessible while wearing the pack. I think that the hip belt could use a couple small pouches. I’m going to add some of those myself before my next trip.

    The pack could use at least one deeper pocket on the upper side of the pack. This would be great for some of the smaller things that you don’t need immediately, or that a companion could get to quickly.

    I’m very happy with this pack. I inspected it very closely after this last trip, and I have not found any sign of wear that might indicate a failure in process. I paid particular attention to the hip belt, since if it fails you have a serious problem. The seams are all solid as well. I’m going to carry it partially loaded on a couple 10-mile shakedowns over the next month in preparation for a trek in New Mexico in July, and check it again after each. But I don’t think it will exhibit any issues.

    The Cabela’s site for this pack is here.

    Backpacking Eagle Rock Loop Trail, ONF, AR

    14 June 2012

    This past weekend, the Extreme 15 patrol from Boy Scout Troop 15 of Oklahoma City had a backpacking trip to the Ouachita National Forest east of Mena, AR. We backpacked part of the Eagle Rock Loop trail.

    Summary: 21.1 miles in very hot and humid conditions, significant altitude gain. The posted trail mileage is wrong!

    I posted the photos from this trip to Picasa.

    We got out of Oklahoma City about 1500, stopped to gas up the van, and headed east. We got to Mena, AR about 1930, had a quick dinner at a Subway in the local WalMart (and picked up the peanut butter the hike leader had forgotten!), then headed the 18 miles to the trailhead. We had five Scouts and three adults.

    The plan had been to get to the trailhead, hike about 1.5 miles to the top of the second ridge and camp, then do half the remaining trail Saturday, and finish up the rest Sunday, probably mid-afternoon.

    None of this worked out. It was almost a real issue.

    We got out of OKC an hour later than planned, and then spent longer on dinner, and then the last six or seven miles to the trailhead took a lot longer than we thought due to the roughness of the roads. We got into the trailhead well after dark. We needed to do a final prep (load fuel into the stoves, pump water, etc.) that meant at least 30 minutes of work before we could hike, and I wasn’t thrilled about hiking in the dark (no moon). We decided to camp at the trailhead and start early the next morning.

    The people who were camped by the nice stream at the trailhead told us there were not any more campsites there. Here is an example of when getting into camp before dark helps. Glen went off a bit, and discovered a very nice camp pretty much right in front of where we parked the van. There were at least two more camps on the west side of the parking area as well. We got camp set up, and everyone pretty much crashed.

    Notes on the area: there are no trash cans or any potable water at the campsite. The stream had excellent water flow.

    The next morning, we got everyone to breaking camp, having breakfast, and getting ready to go. We got out of camp around 1040 – way later than we wanted.

    I usually put this towards the end of a blog post, but it needs to be here. It’s the altitude plot for this adventure.

    We wanted to do the loop counter-clockwise. The first day is a series of decent ridges. On post-hike analysis, we did more than 2400 ft of altitude gain! That huge amount of gain was exacerbated by the 90F temps and 90% humidity. We were sweating buckets. There wasn’t very much in the way of breeze to help cool us off, but we did have most of the hike under the tree cover. There was good water in every one of the valleys, also.

    We also had one problem. One of our adult leaders was completely out of energy after the first ridge. We had an extended rest but he was not recovering. We both felt it better if he returned to the trailhead to rest, so he went back with the van keys. FORESHADOWING: This would turn out to be very lucky for us on Sunday.

    There are a number of side trails to overlooks and the like. I never saw a trail marker pointing to the side trails. At the top of one ridge, we stopped for a short rest, and I just happened to notice that a faint trail ran off to the west. Some markers would be nice.

    One thing I was really disappointed about. We stopped for lunch between the third and fourth ridges, in a beautiful camp next to the confluence of a stream and a river, with a lot of tree cover. While eating lunch, I noticed smoke from a fire ring. There was active heat and fire burning in that ring! Someone had camped there Friday night and left a fire burning. Another fire ring nearby (about 10 ft away) was full of partially-burned pouches that used to contain dehydrated backpacking food, and it was also smouldering. It’s really lazy to partially burn stuff just because you are too lazy to pack it out. One of the Scouts and I dumped about 10 bottles worth of water on the fires to put them completely out.

    This was a very hard hike. Our packs were at their heaviest, of course, with food and water. You can see from the altitude plot that we did no less than six ridges that first day. It made for frequent rest stops and a slow pace overall. There were wonderful views at many of the locations along the trail.

    There was an amazing camp on the last ridge, at about the 8 mile point. It has wonderful views to the west and east. It’s a dry camp, so you can either walk back north about 3/4 mile for more water, or carry enough up to begin with.

    At the 10.05 mile mark we made camp. We were on the Viles Creek trail, which is the south part of the Eagle Rock loop. The creek/river had plenty of water.

    That evening we made a wide variety of backpacking food to try out. We didn’t eat nearly all of it, but we darn sure packed out everything!

    The walk along Viles Creek was much faster. We got out of camp an hour earlier than Saturday morning, and made much better time. There are amazing rock formations all along this area.

    A note about rocks. The variety of rocks was amazing. This illustrates:

    The rock on the left is a soft, chalk-like specimen. The center piece is a slick piece that was one of two that flaked off a larger rock. The piece on the right is almost translucent. There were veined pieces (white rocks with black veins, black and brown with lighter veins), many varieties of marbles and granites, and polished river rock. That part of Arkansas must be very geologically interesting.

    One example of the rock veining is on the Picasa site. If you look around that rock, there are several other types of rocks in the frame as well.

    At the end of the Viles trail (about Mile 13), you cross the Little Missouri River. Most of us took our boots off, used water shoes if we had them, and waded. The water was about 18″ deep max. At this point, we started up the trail, and got to a “T”. We didn’t realize it was a “T” and headed south. After about a half mile, we realized something was wrong. It was next to a very pretty, perfect swimming and fishing hole. We turned around and headed back, picking up the north trail and getting back on track.

    We came through the Winding Staircase area, which is really neat. The trail passes a cave. Right before that, we took another wrong turn and gained about an extra half mile of hiking. The Winding Staircase area featured beautiful river swimming holes. One thing we found out was that the parking area for this area is about a mile away, so you have to walk in with all your stuff (we saw the usual tents, but coolers, cots, and lots of other semi-portable infrastructure that had to be carried in). We had lunch here, and a couple of the boys took a swim.

    Just upriver of here is a second river crossing, requiring another wade. You also head up into the hills again, so make sure your water is filled up. This is a moderately hard hike segment.

    Eventually we made it into the Albert Pike area. It shows on the maps as closed, but it’s open for day use, and there are commercial cabins there. There is also very nice swimming. We were at Mile 20+ at this point.

    We also had a rude surprise. We had expected to be about six miles from the van. Looking at a map there, we were 10+ away! So it was about 1600, and we were looking at three to four hours of hiking, in the dark, with an already tired crew. A park ranger drove up, and I asked him to drive to the trailhead we had used, and ask Glen to drive the van back and get us. Was this the wrong thing to do? I don’t think so. The safety margin while hiking drops when you go after dark. Walking rocky trails with heavy packs, when we were already tired, was just too much of a risk. So THANKS! to the Ranger for helping us out.

    It took a bit over an hour, but Glen drove up in the van. It took a good 45 min to get back to Mena. The van was gassed up, we got a quick dinner, and headed for home, getting to the church at 0045.

    We saw three other groups on the trail. One was a group of three trail runners that were doing the entire trail in a day (WOW!). We saw a family, and a Venture crew from south of Houston, TX, which was really neat (we first ran into the Venture crew as we passed through the ridgetop camp I mentioned above).

    Trail notes: Overall, the trail is rocky. This is not for sneakers, folks. You need boots. The water crossings are much safer with water shoes instead of barefoot. On the south and east sides of the trail, it’s pretty wide open for the most part. On the west side, the Ridges, many parts of the trail have brush right next to the path. We found a number of ticks, all of which met instant death. There was quite a lot of poison ivy as well.

    The advertised mileage for this trail is 26.5. The actual trail mileage has to be around 32. Trying to do that in two days is just too much. Even if we had done the Friday part as planned, we still would have been in a world of hurt Sunday afternoon. So that’s why it worked out for the group as a whole when Glen needed to return to the trailhead.

    Most of us carried too much. We didn’t coordinate on food as well as we could have, and ended up carrying quite a bit of re-hydrated food back.

    Water wasn’t really a problem. Most every creek/river had enough to filter.

    There are real restrooms and trash cans at Albert Pike.

    We had two of the relatively new Sawyer Squeeze filters. They worked really well, and light, and fill water bottles fast. The kits come with three bags; one will fill about a Nalgene and a half, the medium one fills one Nalgene, and the small one does about half of a Nalgene. I think I will carry all three bags – they are almost weightless when not filled, but can be filled and used to carry water to a dry camp if needed. One thing about the Sawyers: they really need running water to fill. Since they collapse, they have no air in them, so submerging them won’t really fill them. Flowing water, especially a small waterfall, works well. We also used a cooking pot to scoop water and pour into the Sawyer bag.

    As a shakedown for a New Mexico trip later this summer, this trip was very successful. It was a good shakedown. It was very hot and humid. We did some serious altitude. I would have liked to do the loop, but I think that the loop is three days, or even four! Three 10-mile days is doable. Something like 9/8/8/5 would be a good option that leaves the last day short to enable a decent drive back home (if you start at the Little Missouri trailhead in the northwest, that first 9 will put you on that on-the-ridge camp).

    Below is the trail we hiked overlaid on a Topo and Google Earth terrain.

    I’m looking forward to going back and doing the last ten miles!

    14 June 2012 update:

    I looked at the altitude profile again, and saw some interesting data. The GPS clearly shows the river flow levels. Here is an annotated plot.

    While we were walking Vines Creek, it didn’t fell like we were walking that steeply downhill, but the GPS altitude clearly shows it.

    The really amazing number is the altitude difference for the Little Missouri River between our trailhead, and down to the Albert Pike area first, and then going farther down to the confluence of the Vines and Little Missouri. That drop is about 650 feet total. If we had tried to hike that last segment, we would have added 400 ft more to the 250 ft+ along the river, and on top of the 450 ft that we got from going up the last two ridges. That would have been a total days climb of more than 1100 ft. That just reinforces my thought that we were lucky that the Ranger had come along when we were at Albert Pike. Thank you again, sir!

    A Bit More Hiking in WMWR

    1 June 2012

    Memorial Day, Ian and Erin and I went down to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. My objective was to hike down into the Narrows and hike Elk Mountain. We needed to go into the Narrows as Erin had lost her phone somewhere in that area and we wanted to look for it.

    I’ve posted all the photos from this hike at Picasa.

    BTW, there seems to be NO water at the camps. We filled up at the Visitor Center, and then refilled at the Refuge Headquarters (there is a pump in front).

    We hiked down into the Narrows area first. There are few marked trails here. We had to walk over a gate that protected the Boulder Cabin; the trailhead is on the far side of the cabin. We went down and looked for the phone for a while, no luck. There is a nice small lake in West Cache Creek that has a bluff overlooking it. I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t take the time to hike farther down the Narrows. I want to go down to Panther Creek next time; we didn’t get a quarter of the way there.

    Here is the trail we took; it’s 0.9 miles total.

    Next Erin wanted to see Lost Lake. I knew there was trail on the south and west sides of the lake. We drove there, parked, and headed out. It’s a nice walk out to the dam, and easy crossing of the dam, and then you are on the Bison Trail part of the Dog Run Hollow trail system. We followed it to the next dam, Fish Lake. We crossed the top of the dam. It’s only about 18 inches wide, and was slick in spots. If you slip, it’s either into the lake on one side, or down the face of the dam about 30 feet.

    On the other side, we looked around and thought we found a trail. It petered out, and I took a bearing towards the nearest road, and so off we went cross country. I kept a close eye out for snakes. Eventually we found the road, and walked back to the parking lot on it.

    Here is our trail. It was 1.3 miles.

    We went over to Elk Mountain. We got flagged down by a Ranger, who would not let us onto the road since the parking lots were full. So that didn’t work. It was about 1215 at this point, so I made a command decision, and we headed off to lunch, then back home. There were only more people coming into the Refuge, so I figured that our chance of getting to Elk Mountain was nil.

    On reflection, I should have gone back to the Narrows. I will head back down there at some point, maybe int the Fall.

    Hiking Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Lawton, OK

    26 May 2012

    Hike summary: 6.1 miles through amazing terrain. About 240 ft of altitude gain.

    I took a group of Scouts to WMWR last Saturday. Our objective was a shakedown hike for a backpacking trip to New Mexico in July. We wanted to do 10 miles. We ended up getting 6.1 due to a late start out of camp (and we were at Quartz Mountain, so we had an hour drive there and back).

    We met another leader at the Visitor Center. A number of swallows have built nests above the entrance door. If you go there, cover your head! The Visitor Center has some really nice dioramas and other displays about the Refuge.

    We drove a couple miles to the trailhead and loaded up. Here is the crew:

    The hike follows Cache Creek for the first part. The river is really pretty.

    After hiking up a while, you get above a really unexpected site, which is a medium deep canyon with Cache Creek flowing through it. It’s BEAUTIFUL! There are a number of pools of water that are swimmable in here, and if it were hotter, that would have been a real treat.

    This is looking back into the canyon. It’s stunning!

    If you stay on the trail, which is the east side of the canyon, you hike on to Lost Lake. However, we climbed down into the canyon and crossed the creek, the climbed back up on the west side to join the Bison Trail. It runs along the west side to the other side of Lost Lake. You do some climbing along here.

    At one point, I used my cameras panorama feature to sweep from Lost Lake to the canyon.

    Past Lost Lake, you hike along the creek a lot farther. There is good water all along the route. It’s nice and clear, so it’s filterable.

    After a bit you vector away from the water. Ian had sharp eyes and saw this collared lizard right next to the trail. A bit farther on, we saw some bison in the distance.

    We stopped at some point and had lunch on a rock outcropping. You will want to know that unless you get down near the shore, there is little cover along this part of the trail. We were running short of time due to our late start, so we detoured on the Longhorn Trail.

    I was really surprised by how green it was. All of my previous experience at the Refuge has been in the Winter or Fall. With our good rain so far this year, the Spring in the Refuge is green and beautiful. I was constantly amazed by the carpets of red and yellow flowers.

    We had some sprinkles as we walked, but the clouds had moved in shortly after we had lunch, so the temperature was very comfortable. We turned back to the southeast as we continued along the loop, and camp back to the river canyon. We crossed over again, and made it back to the van after about five hours on the trail.

    Note that while there is some water on this side of the loop, there’s not that much.

    Here is the hike path:

    There is a lot of terrain down there left to cover. I’m looking forward to going back down there again. I want to hike Elk Mountain, and the lower part of the Narrows.

    I took a lot more photos (and they are the full resolution pictures). They are uploaded to my Picasa site.

    Hiking Hitchcock Nature Center, Crescent, IA

    9 May 2012

    I’m catching up on some posts due to being quite on the go for a couple weeks.

    I was in the Omaha area the week of 23 April. On the 24th, my meeting got out a little early, and so I decided to hike at Hitchcock Nature Center. It’s north of Crescent, IA, which is about 10 miles northeast of Omaha, in the rolling hills east of the Missouri River.

    Summary, 3.6 miles, lots of up and down, lots of bugs.

    I got there around 1600. The very nice and enthusiastic young lady in the visitor center pointed me at the trails on the north side of the center. They have water at the visitor center, and leave the doors to the restrooms open there as well, a nice touch. The center also has a very tall observation tower to walk up, with fantastic views. It costs $2 to get in. The gate doesn’t close until 2200.

    The trails are pretty easy to follow for the most part. The main part of the part is very well signed.

    The north part of the park had some fairly trackless areas. I took a slight detour to look at a farm that was FULL of very large tadpoles (like, 5″ long tadpoles).

    Here is the ground track and altitude.

    Lots of up and down!

    My recommendation: bring bug spray! I was constantly waving gnats away from my face, and picked about 10 ticks off my socks. It was unseasonably hot, which meant a lot of sweating.

    But this is a very nice area for a walk. I saw no animals except for tadpoles and some birds, including a couple bluebirds and what I think was a gold finch. I’m looking forward to going back.

    Hiking Patapsco River State Park, MD

    19 April 2012

    Summary: 5.3 miles, about 300 ft of altitude gain, nice out-and-back with a lollipop.

    Monday I got into BWI around 1330, checked into the hotel, and got a late lunch. After doing some work, I decided it would be a good afternoon for a hike. I have wanted to hike Patapsco River SP for a while, so that was my target.

    A word about planning. The state parks of Maryland are uniformly wonderful. The hike information provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) uniformly sucks. There are no maps online – they only want you to buy maps from their vendor. It makes planning difficult.

    So I headed towards the PRSP HQ. I got there and paid my $4 fee, and asked the attendant about hiking trails. He handed me maps (why can’t these be online?) and told me that at that part of the park there was less than a mile of trails. The longest trail is at the Avalon area, he gave me directions, and told me that my $4 fee covered me there as well. I headed out.

    I got on the trail around 1700. A sign warned that the park closed at 1945. I note that when I got off the trail and headed out, there was an MDNR ranger parked at the gate with his lights on, waiting at 1930 to close that gate at 1945.

    As I drove to the trailhead through the park, I immediately saw several deer off the road in the woods. It’s a pretty drive. You go under I-95, which is on a bridge at least 200 ft over your head. There is no water at the trailhead, although I did find water at one of the shelters. Bring your water bottles full.

    I headed out on a nice wooded trail. The trail is near the river, and winds around quite a bit. It also doesn’t go very far.

    There is a lot of pretty neat stonework in the area; here is an example.

    This heron was sitting by the river. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this bird is about four feet tall.

    The nice hiking trail ends at a big pond. I went around the pond on the south, and picked up much smaller trails that continued along the river. Eventually, the trail veered back to the paved path due to a deep culvert. The culvert went all the way to the path, and turns out was sourced from a creek that came from Vineyard Spring. There was a VERY nice trail here that led up into the hills.

    This trail went up at a fairly steady pace, and it was a very nice walk. The trail along here is shared between hikers and mountain bikers. About halfway up, the trail splits, with a hiker-only segment to the right. It goes up very steeply and then levels out (the shared trail continues up at a constant but shallower rise). At the top, you can lollipop back down, or take a trail to the NE or to the NNW (I note for the record that these trails are documented on a big map at the trailhead, but are not online).

    At the bottom, I headed back towards the river. There were occasionally abandoned stuff along the way, like this gas/oil tanker.

    At some point, you lose even the smaller trails. I ended up walking back to the paved road and finished my walk there heading back to the trailhead. This shelter was along the trail; it’s where I found the working water fountain.

    Here are topo, terrain, and altitude maps.

    The image above is courtesy of Garmin MapSource.

    The image above is courtesy of Google Earth.

    The image above is courtesy of Garmin Basecamp.

    This was a nice hike. The emphasis along this part of PRSP is the paved jogging/biking trail. The rougher trails are up in the hills. It bugs me a little that the MDNR will not post maps to allow you to plan your hike. If I had known that the main emphasis here was the paved path I would have diverted somewhere else.

    Hiking (Towards) El Cajon Peak, San Diego, CA

    1 April 2012

    Hike summary: 6.2 miles round trip. HARD uphills, in both directions, with altitude gain of 775 feet net, 1700 total. For sure the hardest hike I’ve been on in San Diego. Or most anywhere else!

    Last Wednesday, I took a shot at hiking El Cajon after work. I headed out for the trailhead about 1230 after lunch. Unfortunately, road work on Wildcat Canyon Road delayed me for 45 minutes. I didn’t get on the trail until after 1430.

    The last time I tried El Cajon, the parking lot was closed at 1700. Wednesday, the parking lot was signed to be closed at 1900, so I set a time limit of 1630 to start my return. I’ve got to say, I was too optimistic on this hike. I got off to a good start, but I haven’t had a lot of hiking time in the past nine months, and so I wasn’t in good enough shape to keep a steady pace. The thing is, most mountain hiking is up up up, then back down down down. This one is up, down, up, down, up, down. It’s nearly has hard coming down as it was going up.

    When you get to the trailhead, the parking area is a fenced and gated lot. Why? There is no water, so fill up before you get there. Once you get started hiking, there is a road that goes up continuously for a full half mile, to another smaller parking lot that you can’t park at, where the actual trailhead is. There is a toilet here, and a small picnic area, but again no water.

    The trailhead is marked, on the east side of the toilet. There is a road on the south side, that I figured out later is a second trailhead. I switchbacked up a while before I ran across a sign that pointed to the parking lot, to the right. WTH? When I was coming back, I was a little ahead of schedule, so I took that right turn and walked up a bit more to a nice overlook that had a rough bench, where I took a break.

    The trail is fairly wide.

    There are a lot of cactus-type plants. This one was just starting to flower.

    This is an example of the up and down nature of the trail. The first part of the hike ends up in the “saddle” that is visible in the upper right of the below photo. Then you hike down into the valley that is in the middle of the picture, and then come back up on the trail. You can see these clearly on the altitude plot.

    The views up there are pretty impressive. There was some kind of helicopter exercise going on down in the valley while I was up there, three of them moving around over the valley floor.

    As you get a little higher, the view gets better. In this picture, Mission Trails Regional Park and Cowles Peak is in the middle, and off in the distance you can see the downtown skyline in front of Point Loma.

    One of the things the wannabe geologist in me noticed was that thee are several varieties of granite in the area. I saw at least four varieties.

    On the way back, I stopped for a break at the overlook. It’s high enough that you can see the ocean from up there. Not much, but it’s there. This is the area of Torry Pines Preserve.

    So I didn’t make it all the way to El Cajon peak. I was just not in good enough shape, and got too late a start. I made it just over halfway to the peak. I was planning on starting serious conditioning for my next Yosemite hike in June, but instead I will be starting Monday.

    There is little shade on this hike. This was my first extended time in the sun since last fall, and I got a bit of a sunburn (it was gone the next morning). It’s really dry; I ran across no flowing water anywhere, although parts of the trail was just a bit muddy due to seepage.

    Here are topo, terrain, and altitude plots for the hike.

    Note on the above. I have been using Garmin Mapsource for my topo maps, and Excel for the altitude plots (pasting data from the Mapsource point listing). I got the latest free Garmin product, Basecamp. It downloaded from my GPS with no problem, and generated this altitude plot easily, but it was much harder to use to grab the tracks out of the GPS. I will play with it a bit more to see if I missed something.

    This last is a terrain plot from Google Earth, as usual.

    I am looking forward to giving El Cajon another try at some point in the near future. I need to get in a little better shape and start earlier.

    I do not understand the logic in California of closing access to the backcountry at some point in time. I wrote an email to the San Diego Parks and Recreation asking why they close the parking area at 1900, but have no answer yet.

    One thing that was pretty cool was the use of photovoltaics by most of the houses on the lower part of the trail. These houses had solar arrays outside, pretty big ones.

    On Being Prepared

    6 March 2012

    I’ve been taking an increasing number of people into the backcountry. I’ve been with or led groups as far as 20 miles into the backcountry, where there is no cell service, you don’t see people, and the nearest first responders are probably eight or more hours away. I have firm plans for three more wilderness experiences this year.

    So this led me to want to make sure that my various preparedness skills were up to date. I have been taking first aid courses since I was a teenager. My last formal certification was probably 10 years ago. I also wanted to get certified in the use of Automated External Defibrillator (AED) machines. So I signed up for a first aid from scratch course that included CPR and AED use, followed by a wilderness first aid (WFA) course. The basic first aid and CPR was taught based on the American Red Cross course, and the WFA was put on for the local Sierra Club chapter by the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO); the course was based on the Boy Scouts of American WFA course.

    I was pretty charged up by all of this. I think my expectations were pretty high at learning new skills.

    Both courses were taught by experienced professionals who clearly knew their stuff. The material was pretty surprising to me. The emphasis in all cases was to basically collect information for the professional first responders showed up. Sure, stopping arterial bleeding is still a priority, as is CPR for cardiac arrest or stopped breathing. But for almost everything else, it is basically make sure the area is safe and controlled, and call 911.

    The WFA course was first basically a study in very conservative risk management. If there is any risk at all, don’t go. Have bad dental work that might cause a toothache? Don’t go. Have a pain in your back (any pain)? Don’t go. The majority of the WFA course was basically the same material that we did during the basic first aid course. We did do some play acting, but the emphasis wasn’t wilderness specific, it was the process for assessing someone who was or might be injured. There was a bit of instruction on how to move someone who was injured (the firemans carry, for example). I think I expected to get some techniques on things like how to make a litter to carry an injured party out of the backcountry, but things like that were not addressed.

    There was an emphasis on legal protection in both courses. Numerous times I heard the phrase “according to your company policy”. As an aside, I work for both a large company, and for the USAF under a contract to that large company. I do not recall any policy from either of these organizations petaining to first aid application.

    The Red Cross seems to be intoxicated with mnemonics. In the event of an incident, you have ABC (airway, breathing, and circulation checks). There are probably a dozen other mnemonics, some more than six characters. I must confess I do not know all of them.

    So I do not know if the combination of courses really did more than just refresh my knowledge base. I think that the more critical thing in a wilderness emergency will be clear-headed thinking followed by improvisation, past basic first aid. I hope I never *have* to put any of the skills to use, but I will make it point to keep the recertifications up over the next couple years. There are other courses that are more advanced, such as wilderness first responder, but I just don’t know how useful that course would be (and it appears that it would involve travel to another state, and takes almost a week to complete).

    Hiking Billy Goat Trails B and C, C&O Canal NHP, MD

    3 February 2012

    I really enjoy C & O Canal National Historic Park. It’s so close to a major metropolitan area, but so accessible. In May 2010, I was able to experience the Park for the first time, hiking the rugged and wonderful Billy Goat Trail “A” segment. Then last April 2011, I tried to hike the “B” and “C” segments, but the flooding Potomac prevented that. This week, I flew into BWI around noon Tuesday, and was able to complete my “B” and “C” hikes on a wonderful, spring-like day.

    Summary: The rest of the Billy Goat Trail. 6.8 miles of fairly rugged trail next to a beautiful Potomac River.

    The B and C trails are not quite as rugged as the A segment, but they can get very close! I have not been able to do much hiking in the past six months for a variety of reasons, so this was a pleasant challenge. I got to the parking area to find it gone, or rather, under repair. There is new construction there, some sort of building on the Park (I hope it will have water!). Visitors need to park on the road during this period.

    I got changed into my shorts (it was mid-60s) and got started. It was about 1400. The towpath is washed out and being worked on between the “A” and “B” segments, but there is a bypass that uses a maintenance road.

    I started out walking down a short path to the river. There was a lot of crud that had been washed up from the floods last Spring. The river was beautiful.

    The trail along here starts out flat and wide.

    It quickly gets more narrow and going up and down a bit.

    This was a pretty neat little climb. You get to go up the rock at a 45deg incline, left to right.

    The Potomac is almost always nearby. There are a couple islands as well, that help make some very scenic secondary channels.

    At one point along the “C” trail, this heron was perched on a rock.

    At one point on the “C” segment, the trail splits, with one going up and around some rocks, and one going right down to and along the river. It follows the bottom of some huge and beautiful rocks, and ends where the rocks jut out into the river. This is an excellent spot to sit, have some water, eat a snack, and relax. The rocks soar up about 100 ft behind you.

    Towards the end of the “C” segment, you are right opposite a place where the Potomac has some gentle rapids.

    These are images of my ground track, with terrain from Google Earth, and altitude.

    So my basic path was to walk down to the towpath, go east until I found the first entrance to the “B” segment, walk it, take the towpath farther east to the entrance to the “C” segment, then walk all the way back on the towpath.

    I saw no animals except for birds (and not many of them). No squirrels, even.

    This was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. I have been on most of the trails in the NHP, but would not mind going back and rehiking some of them.

    Hiking Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas

    22 December 2011

    Summary: 5.4 miles of hiking in rough and beautiful terrain, with high bluffs and lots of trees.

    The Extreme 15 patrol of Troop 15 is working up to a serious high adventure backpacking trip, and decided to go to Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas to backpack the Butterfield Trail. Another leader and I accompanied them. Unfortunately, one of our Scouts got quite ill with some stomach crud overnight, and could not keep food down, so the next morning we decided to do some low-intensity day hiking and then head back a day early. The Butterfield will still be there.

    We headed out from Oklahoma City about 1740 and got to Devil’s Den around 2200, after a couple short stops along the way. It was chilly (around 40F) when we got there. Everyone got tents up quickly, and racked out. We shook everyone out around 0730 then next morning. Our first view of the park in the daylight revealed a beautiful area. We were in Area B, above the river, which was burbling happily. It had been down to about 22F, so all of the tents had frost on them.

    We had brought a Coleman stove, and quickly got water hot for cocoa and breakfast. Breakfast was the famous eggs and sausage in a ziplock, and everyone seemed to enjoy it, since nothing was left… After Glen and I checked with our less-than-happy ill Scout, we decided to bag the original plan to backpack the Butterfield, and instead left the tents to dry off, loaded up our backpacks, and headed off to day hike.

    Almost forgot, the cost to camp was $14 per night. The Visitor Center was closed when we got there, but before hiking I headed over and paid the fee the next morning.

    We chose to head up the Yellow Rock trail. It winds around and touches other trails, goes under and around large rock outcroppings, and skirts the top of bluffs that have excellent views down into the valley that the Park is in.

    The trail crosses water at many points. Several of these streams had a series of tumbling waterfalls. If the water situation on the Butterfield is similar (no reason to think otherwise), then getting water on that hike will not be an issue. There didn’t seem to be any agriculture to speak of around the Park either, so no worries about fertilizer or pesticide in the water.

    One thing about hiking in December – you can see a good, long ways through the trees. I think that the green oaks during the spring and summer are really pretty, but the starkness of the winter, with the leaves on the ground, has it’s own beauty.

    When we started out, the temps were in the low 30s. The high got to around 50F after noon.

    We took our first break at a spectacular bluff. The ridge in the background is the structure that the Butterfield loops around. The ridge also has a trail along it’s spine.

    This was a particularly beautiful stream we crossed. It had a series of small falls above and below the trail.

    The hike to the overlook ran along a number of ridges. This was a typical view. The trail was well defined, but I must note that the trail map the Park uses doesn’t show all of the interconnections. The blazes were easy to follow, though.

    This hike was 4 miles long, with a maximum altitude gain of over 400 feet.

    We had lunch at the Overlook, and then headed back down to camp. We were looking for a trail that paralled a road, but instead just followed the road to camp. Once there, we took the tents down, a couple of the guys took short naps, and then we headed to our next hike.

    Before we broke camp, I walked up to some overhanging bluffs that were above our camp. The bluffs had hundreds of steady streams of water coming over them.

    The next hike was the short Devil’s Den Trail. It starts and ends at the Visitor Center. This trail leads by some spectacular terrain features! We first came up to some rock formations that lead down into caves. None of the caves were open, due to concerns about protecting the bat populations from White Nose Syndrome.

    As you can tell from the pictures, some of the cracks were very deep.

    The rock outcroppings were pretty amazing.

    There is an amazing waterfall along the trail.

    This is near the end of the trail.

    This hike was 1.4 miles long.

    Here are our hike maps. The first hike to the overlook is in yellow, and the Devil’s Den trail is in blue.

    This was a wonderful, if short, experience. The Park is stunning. There is no cell service in the Park proper (it’s in a deep valley), but we got occasional service on the ridges above the Park. I’m going to bring the family here to stay in one of the cabins, and certainly come back with the Scouts to backpack the Butterfield.

    I Got Trained This Weekend!

    21 November 2011

    I have been a Boy Scout or Scouter for much of my life. I started as a Cub in 1968, aged out as a Boy Scout at 18, and aged out again as an Explorer at 20. I became a Girl Scout leader with Raegan in 1988 (and still am). I came back into Boy Scouts in 1992, and was a leader on and off for a couple years until 2001, when Ian came in as a Tiger. I’ve been a leader since then.

    So I would like to become an Assistant Scoutmaster, and perhaps even a Scoutmaster for some Troop. The Boy Scouts had no required training throughout all this time, and only had one required training in the past couple years (that was Youth Protection, a good thing to have). Raegan and I took all kinds of training through the Girl Scouts (things like Troop Camp, First Aid, and the like), and some Cub training (BALOO in particular comes to mind). This was all on top of the experience both of us had as Scouts as kids, and our literally hundreds of nights of camping experience.

    But just this year, there has been a push to have formal training for all adults that work with kids. I took a bunch of training offered online, in fact, everything I could take. For a potential Scoutmaster (or Assistant), there are two trainings that you need to have face to face. These are Scoutmaster Essentials, and Introduction to Outdoors Leadership (IOLS). I took SM Essentials at the University of Scouting mass training held about a month ago in OKC, and then signed up for IOLS, which I took this past weekend.

    As might be expected, the volunteers who put this training on were enthusiastic and motivated. The format was two days in camp. I packed up my backpack for an overnighter (except I didn’t take fuel for my MSR stove), and off I went at 0820 Friday. I got to camp, got checked in and assigned to a Patrol (the Cobras), got my tent set up, had opening ceremony, and then… nothing until lunch.

    Over the next day and a half, we had lecture and demonstration in skills such as fire building, lashing, camp wood tools, knot tying, map and compass, and the like. The most interesting part to me was the fire building. Although Raegan has been taking a helpful fire starter to every GS camp she has been on for the past couple years, this was the first time I have seen one of the cotton ball-and-Vaseline starters used – WOW! That stuff can burn!

    We also cooked together as patrols, and I learned how to cook eggs and sausage in a ziplock; that will be forced on some kids in Troop 15 (NO MORE BAGELS!).

    So now I’m a trained SM/ASM. I got pitched pretty hard to attend Wood Badge, we’ll see about that.

    A Great Weekend Touring Northwest Oklahoma

    19 October 2011

    We had a great weekend touring around part of NW Oklahoma this past weekend. It was sort of a come-and-go party for our Girl Scout Troop.

    We headed out Friday evening, had dinner in Guthrie, and drove to Great Salt Plains State Park. This is a cool little park, and the cabins are perfect! We had five of us: Raegan and I, Erin and her friend Bridget, and Ian. Ian crashed on one of our camp cots, we took the bed, and the girls got the futon. The cabin was really neat, with a full kitchen, satellite TV, a view of the lake to the west, and a porch and back yard.

    The next morning, we got up and headed around the north end of the lake for Cherokee. At 0810 on a Saturday morning, there were no restaurants open. Not one. We met up with the other two members of the group at the United Supermarket in town, bought some breakfast stuff (milk, juice, fruit, cereal, donuts, and the like), and had a picnic on the parking lot. Erin came up with a good (NOT!) marketing slogan for the place: “Cherokee: come hungry, leave disappointed”.

    From there we went selenite crystal digging at Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) (selenite is a crystal variety of gypsum). I have never done the digging before, and it was fun! You basically pick a spot, and start digging. We did bring shovels and trowels and such, but we *should* have brought a sit-upon (Bree did), a couple gallons of water to rinse the crystals and wash our hands, and to drink. Raegan brought some gallon zip bags for the crystals. Basically, you dig a minute, and if you feel crystals, you keep digging for a while, otherwise, you move somewhere else and dig.

    This is Ian and Erin digging away. As you can see, you can get really dirty!

    I’ve seen the salt plains from the air numerous times. They are flat and featureless up close.

    The crystals are pretty cool. Most are small, 0.5 – 1 in, but they get bigger. The kids found a couple that were 6-7in.

    We had one glitch, we were there on the 15th, the last day of the year (or diggers can interfere with migrating birds), and the gate was locked, but I called the State Park, and the very nice lady there called the Feds (who run the Refuge), and one of them came right over and unlocked the gate for us.

    From the crystal digging, we headed to Alva and had lunch. We then hightailed it to Alabaster Caverns State Park and took the cave tour. This is the fourth time I’ve been on the tour, and I’ve enjoyed it every time.

    One thing I have not been able to do at ACSP is hike the various trails there. There are a number of them that go down into various canyons that look fun.

    I noticed off to the NNE of ACSP a mining operation, it looked like it was making gypsum. I asked one of the Rangers, and she had heard that the plant was mining gypsum gravel for roads. See the discussion later about the Chesapeake Energy facilities and the roads.

    We drove to Woodward and toured the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum. This was a neat museum. It had dioramas and maps from the 1800s, and a lot of artifacts from the early days of Woodward. While there, we were able to try using a Atlatl to toss projectiles at a hay bale, it was fun!

    We had dinner at a real diner in Woodward, then checked into Hampton Inn (very nice!). The girls had a swim. The next morning, we headed out again.

    We went to Little Sahara State Park to check it out. This was kind of a dud. LSSP is basically only for people who have dune buggies or ATVs. We walked up a hill on the north side of the park and could see the immense sand dunes, but could not walk out to them.

    From LSSP, we headed east. I am amazed at the terrain out there. Around Enid, and around Woodward, it’s relatively flat. But between there, you get mesas and ridges that are up to a couple hundred feet above terrain. Some of them look right out of New Mexico. Of course, there is a lot of salt, oil, gas, minerals, etc. under the ground.

    There are hundreds of new extraction facilities out in the area. A lot of them were Chesapeake Energy facilities. In some cases, there was a pump jack next to the new tanks, and in most cases, it looked like there was a valve tree where the pump jack used to be. We drove over to look at one. The road was finely crushed gypsum. So I speculate that the near-surface gypsum near ACSP was being extracted and crushed into gravel for all the roads being laid out to the next extraction facilities. There were a lot of white roads. The facilities consisted of some equipment, and two tanks, one labeled “PRODUCED WATER” and the other “CRUDE OIL”.

    First, this led me to search for the permit that each of these facilities have to have. There was no searchable data at the Oklahoma Department of Mines. There are publishing requirements in newspapers, but these particular facilities weren’t seen via Google. I asked via the ODoM website, and got a nice email back saying that they could point me to data, but not online.

    I also looked at the tank labels, and got a bit more education. The labels have four fields, three of which were used. The blue field is for “Health Hazard”, the red is “Fire Hazard”, and the yellow field is “Instability”. So… the two tanks contain slightly hazardous material with a flash point below 73F, that is stable. I think that the tanks are from a fracking operation, since fracking can use water, and the water comes up with the oil.

    We were driving along 412, and this set of formations showed up ahead of us.

    So as we went up into the cut, there was a sign, for Gloss Mountains State Park! For some reason, I thought that GMSP was out in west central Oklahoma, but no, here it was. So we pulled off, there is a hiking trail there, and we took it! From the parking area (a head, covered picnic table, but no water), there is a steep trail/set of stairs up to the mesa-let that makes up the state park.

    We walked up there, it’s about 160ft, and to the back of the mesa-let. There are a couple benches up there, and very little shade. It’s about 0.7 miles out, for almost 1.5 miles total.

    There is so much selenite up there, along with other forms of gypsum. We saw the flashes from reflected sunlight constantly. I took this sample. The first is a bright sunlight reflection, and then I shot the same rock looking straight down from the top.

    It just doesn’t look like that rock could reflect sunlight so brightly.

    We had a late lunch in Fairview, headed south back to OKC via OK 3. This was a nice, relaxed weekend, fairly inexpensive. Things I was surprised by: we had cell coverage over virtually the entire trip! It was mostly GPRS (a couple places I saw only GSM, a couple of places I saw EDGE). I lose coverage over southern or southeastern OK quickly once I get away from I-35 or I-40, so this was a pleasant surprise. I wonder if it was due to the large number of mining and extraction activities? Which was another surprise, the sheer number of extraction facilities. Also, we saw no less than four gypsum mines in various places.

    We visited four state parks (another one of the families visited a fifth) and a national wildlife refuge. Ate some decent food. Had very little inter-kid argument. We really enjoyed having our temporary daughter Bridgett along for the weekend.

    There is still stuff to do out there, and there are lots of weekends ahead.

    Hiking Waldo Canyon, Colorado Springs, CO

    1 October 2011

    Hike Summary: 7.3 miles, 1085 net altitude gain. Decent hike. Started about 1445, and done around 1830.

    The meeting I was at got done early, around noon, and after lunch and an email check, I selected Waldo canyon and headed out. It’s very close to downtown Colorado Springs, right up US 24. The parking lot holds about 15 cars. There is no water there, so fill up before you get there.

    There is a lot of up here, but it is balanced by some contour following. I took one break to participate in a telecon for work, and another near the top to admire the view and the breeze.

    The trail starts out wide and graveled. Note that there is NO cover for this part of the hike. The trail goes up to a loop, and every bit of the pre-loop, and about 1/3 of the east side of the loop, is pretty much exposed to the sun.

    A couple hundred feet up, there is a formation of Pikes Granite. It’s pretty cool.

    One other thing I noted on this part of the trail, there are tons of sparkles of pyrite in the trail. It makes for an interesting effect as you walk if you are looking down.

    As you get higher, you get some pretty decent views of Colorado Springs. I took this shot from a trailet that led a bit east off the main trail. That’s Cheyenne Mountain to the right, and US 24 left of center.

    There are some places where you get cover. The trail is always side and well paved. There are very few places where you have to stairstep using rocks or roots.

    As you get higher, Pikes Peak comes into view, looming a couple ridges over.

    I think this very cool cliff formation is Williams Canyon. More on that later.

    Eventually you come to up and over the trail high point, and you are at the top of Waldo Canyon. This pano is naturally dominated by Pikes Peak.

    You start heading back down at the point. One thing I noticed, at one place on the trail, there were a bunch of pine pieces; each had a lot of small pine cones on. I wondered if some squirrels had been stocking up.

    Going down the canyon, there were a couple mongo boulders – huge!

    The trail down follows a creek. This was the only water on this trail, and there was not very much of it. It was clear, at least. This is looking back up-trail. A pool-let of water is just to right of center.

    I saw a number of squirrels and some birds, but no medium or large mammals. There was some rustling in the leaves to the side of the trail every once in a while, but it could have been birds, chipmunks, or a cougar, who knows.

    Here are the maps for the trail topo, terrain, and altitude:

    I have tried a couple times to do a 3D plot of a hike. Excel (which I use to generate the altitude graphs like the one right above) claims 3D capability, but I tried many times, with no luck. I tried GnuPlot today, and generated this in about five minutes:

    This was interesting. GnuPlot generated the plot, and using the arrow keys, you can shift the perspective in all three dimensions. Useful? Don’t know. Cool? Very.

    I saw a total of about 10 people on this hike, and three dogs. It was about 83F when I got on the trail and about 75 when I got back down. I had cell coverage for probably 80% of the hike. Nice hike, I’d do it again.

    My plan had actually been to hike both the Waldo Canyon loop, by going up the Waldo Canyon loop counterclockwise, then head on a trail connector over to Williams Canyon, then to the head of that canyon, then complete the Waldo loop. But, I never saw the connector to Williams Canyon. One thing I did not do before I headed out was download the local topo map into my GPS. I just did a quick look of my GPS File Depot Colorado Map, and it shows neither a Williams Canyon placemark or a trail connecting Waldo and Williams. I will have to go back to find the site that referenced that connector trail and see if there is a GPX I can get. Later.

    This final shot is not part of the hike, but it is the sunset behind the mountains as I went looking for dinner. I think that the sun is setting over the Waldo Canyon area.

    Happy trails!

    Hiking Starkey Wilderness Park, New Port Richey, FL

    19 September 2011

    Last Monday I got into TPA near noon, got across the Bay, had lunch, got checked into the hotel, and got the accumulated email taken care of. I wanted to go for a hike, and picked this area. It was about 30 miles from my hotel in Largo.

    I got there about 1600. There is a staffed booth for campers. They sort of rudely have a sign in the window that they did not make change. The fee to enter the park was $2. It cost me $5 since they did not make change.

    I walked 6.9 miles at this park. I really had no idea where I was going, there were no trail maps at the entrance station. I saw two trail markers – one for the nature trail, and one for the bike trail. I ended up stumbling across another trail, and I essentially walked until I got so sweaty that I decided I was done for the day. It was pretty humid, but not terribly hot.

    The first thing I did was find one of the parking areas. On the way there, I passed this guy scarfing grass on the side of the road; he’s about a foot long. I believe this is a Gopher Tortoise, which is native to and common in Florida. I saw one just like him right before I got on the nature trail.

    I started off walking along what I thought was a trail through the trees. Not so much. I walked on a road for a while, detoured off the road to an open play area, and then ran across a sign that pointed to the nature trail. The nature trail was a little more like it.

    At some point the trail branched, so I took the branch. I ended up in a swamp. It should be noted that there were many places on the nature trail (and everywhere else) where the ground was waterlogged and muddy. But this was a no-kidding, the-body-will-never-be-found, swamp. There were a lot of mosquitoes there as well. I backtracked.

    Eventually the nature trail came back to a playground. I came right back to the parking lot my car was in, and that’s where I ran across this very wide trail that led to the south.

    I wandered along this trail for a while. I have a pretty good internal compass and distance indicator, so I knew how to get back (and I had set a waypoint in the GPS as well). There was lots more swamp and mud to walk around. I walked out to a point, looked at my sweaty shirt, and turned around and walked back. I sort of looped around another swampy area, then near the entrance station, and finally back to my car.

    Here is my path on a topo map, a Google Earth overlay, and finally the park trail map that a work friend found online and sent to me.

    The area I hiked is outlined in yellow. There is a lot of park left to hike.

    I left around 1830.

    Signage for the park is not very good. It’s flat. It’s got a lot of pretty trees and shade. It’s a swamp in places. It was nice hike. Max altitude gain was… 6″ (that was going from the trail to the road surface 🙂 ).

    I really thought the “no change” sign was rude.

    One thing that I find myself amused by. My last hike was thousands of feet of altitude change. This one was the equivalent of walking across a parking lot. Both were sweaty.

    Backpacking Yosemite National Park, CA, 26-28 August 2011

    5 September 2011

    I have wanted to do some serious mountain backpacking at Yosemite for years. This year, a two-week business trip to San Diego, which had a three-day break in the middle due to the work schedule at the facility we were visiting, provided that opportunity.

    Note: This blog post has only a few of the pictures I took. I uploaded the rest to Picasa here.

    Hike summary

    29.2 miles, from 4090 to 7983 feet altitude. Total elevation gain: 5750 ft. High waterfall climb, massive views, unexpected hordes of mosquitoes, hard walking, and great fellowship on this hike, with only minor injuries. Five guys, NO bitching (except for the comments about the hike leaders lack of consistency in what is “relative”, as in “After that little rise, it’s relatively level, guys!” 🙂 ).

    We really scored well over 30 miles on this trip. The GPS noted at least an extra 0.5 miles when walking from the second camp out to the rim of the Valley several times, and we had extra mileage at lunch at Chilnualna Falls and at Glacier Point, and another 1.5 miles at the Mariposa Grove. Some serious walking, to be sure.

    Getting There

    We left San Diego Thursday and headed north through LA towards Yosemite. On the way there, north of Fresno, we saw an interesting smoke/cloud phenomenon. A lightning-caused fire started right outside the park a couple weeks ago, and per NPS policy, the fire is allowed to burn itself out naturally. The fire occasionally flares, and as we were outside Fresno, a flare occurred, and it got high enough to cause a cumulus cloud to form.

    We got to Yosemite just before 1700 local. We had to buy a new yearly National Parks Interagency Pass; they cost $80, but are good for National Park and National Forest access for an entire year. It would cost $20 per vehicle otherwise. We hustled to Wawona, and got to the Wilderness Permit office at basically 1659. The Rangers were very accommodating, and got our permit issued, after a briefing on trail impact and sanitization (always camp or crap or pee 100+ft off any trail), fire safety, and bear safety. I also picked up three anti-bear food storage canisters (more than 1lb each).

    We ended up each carrying an individual food storage canisters, since the interior was not sufficient to hold more than one mans worth of “smellables”. Each canister was $5 to rent, and they take a credit card as a deposit in case you want to keep yours. We didn’t.

    One thing that I had missed was that we needed a reservation in a campsite for the first night. I had mistakenly thought that our permit entitled us to camp free the first or last night, but it turns out that only applies to a backpackers campsite in the Valley. We were cheerfully informed that we could drive the 40 minutes to the campsite in the Valley, but declined (since it would also mean a 40-min drive back in the morning).

    One thing: there were only a couple available campsites at Wawona that evening, out of more than a hundred sites in the camp. Reservations in advance are taken, and I recommend making them.

    We got a campsite in Wawona for $20, got set up, and then headed to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Redwoods to check out the huge trees there. When we got to the Mariposa Grove, the crew hiked up to the walk-through tree, then back down again. Those trees are amazing.

    This is our campsite at Wawona; we didn’t use rainflys:

    These are a couple photos of us hiking through the Mariposa Grove:

    This little squirrel was eating one of the green pinecones that hung like bananas from some of the trees. He would shake the cone, throw off a “leaf”, and then eat something inside the cone, maybe a seed. A much larger squirrel came along while we were watching, and the little one started yelling in Squirrel, and eventually the little one rushed the larger one, and ended up running the larger one off. Tenacious little guy.

    We had dinner at the Wawona Hotel. I wrote a blog post about it here. The staff at the Wawona were reluctant to give out the access code for their wifi, and there is no signal that my Blackberry could pick up, so I was not able to send any status message back home. I tried an ancient and formerly trusty device called a pay phone at the hotel, but it claimed that the phone I was trying to call would not receive my call, but they would be happy to connect anyway for $17. “Up yours”, thought I.

    We got to camp around 2030. The sky was clear, and the stars… were… stunning!!! Even with the limited light from the other campers, the Milky way was clearly visible, and the stars were bright. I had to get up around 0200, and so had yet another group of stars visible, along with a super bright Jupiter.

    We had breakfast (again at the Wawona Hotel) and final packing the next morning. We got another couple bear canisters (they open at 0830, not 0730 like the website says), filled our water bottles, drove to the trailhead, got our packs on, took a deep breath, and headed out.

    Why We Went There, or Backpacking!

    We hit the trail the first day at 0941. Our entry was the Chilnualna Falls trailhead, and the altitude was 4090 ft.

    The trail was very nice along here. The trail is used by day hikers, so it is wider and smoother than a lot of backcountry trails. There was a lot of shade on the way up.

    Since I had planned the route, I knew that the first day would be the hardest. It was brutal. It was hot, probably in the mid 80s, we were going up a steep path, with heavy packs. Even with the occasional fairly level places, we gained 2100 ft of altitude over about 5 hours. We took frequent breaks, but even so, it was an exercise in getting air. I don’t think any of us had problems from the muscle exercise, but getting air was an issue.

    As we climbed, the view off to the west was increasingly pretty. We had a good view of Wawona Dome also. We all were thinking, “we are headed up there?”.

    We also started seeing the Falls. The Falls isn’t a single or several waterfalls like Yosemite Falls, it is a series of cataracts that tumble down into the Wawona valley. The last one is as we were getting closer to the top.

    Across the valley, I saw a structure on the ridge. I put my small binoculars on it, and it looks like an observation tower, maybe for fire monitoring.

    When we got to the top, it was clearly time for an extended break. We had lunch, topped off our water, rested for a bit, sunburned a bit, and then explored the area.

    A note here on people. On the climb up, we saw three people on horseback, about 10 day hikers, and two backpackers (and those two were headed down). On the second day, we saw not a single person on the trail until we passed Glacier Point Road, and even then, we only saw about ten people, all day hikers. For August, I expected to see more people in the backcountry.

    When we were sufficiently rested, we headed back out. We soon found out we were not even at the top of the Falls. Whoops… We kept going up and up and up, and eventually found the top of the Falls, and then branched southeast into true backcountry.

    We used every form of water purification on this trip. Lance had a bottle with a built-in filter. I used Aqua Mira liquid. Chuck and Brad had Aqua Mira tablets. Jason had a pump. Of course, we used the boiling method also for the dehydrated meals. The water was uniformly wonderful tasting. We didn’t have any issues finding it, except in one instance on the south rim of the valley, very high (there was a spring in the area, but we couldn’t find it, and we hiked a couple miles dry after using all our water for breakfast).

    My original plan had been to make our way into the backcountry to one of the mountain lakes on the trail; Johnson or Crescent Lake. By the time we got to the second trail junction (that either went towards Bridalveil Creek Camp, or towards the lakes, we were pretty much done in for the day. If we had continued on to the lakes, we were looking at five miles or so more, which wasn’t so bad, but it was also about 1500 ft of additional altitude, up to 8500 ft. After talking it over with the team, we turned toward the north, and determined to make camp near the next trail junction, which was about ¾ mile away.

    We found a nice campsite near a stream with good water shortly. It also had a fire ring (Yosemite requires all campfires to be in established fire rings). We stopped, pitched our tents, and got camp set up, all while being eaten alive by ravenous and obnoxious mosquitoes! We had limited bug spray, and basically used it all. Those blasted bugs were extremely obnoxious!

    Our first day was a hike of 7.6 miles and 3365 feet (!) of altitude gain. Our campsite was at 7455 ft.

    Camp was beautiful. A couple of the guys made a campfire, and the smoke helped with the mosquito situation a bit, which was very nice. There were a number of rounded rocks sticking out of the ground, which made for nice surfaces for our stoves.

    We got water going for dinner, ate dinner, and then basically retreated to our tents before we became sucked dry. One of the little SOBs apparently was on me in my tent, and when I smacked it, I could not believe how much blood was on my hand.

    It was cloudy that evening, and there had been a small chance of thunderstorms, so we used our rainflys. Almost as soon as we got into the tents to escape the mosquitoes, there were a couple passing spits of rain. I don’t think we would have been bothered even if we had not put the rainflys up. It was very pleasant temperature-wise, almost chilly. I was in my sleeping bag, but it was mostly unzipped.

    I spent some time in the tent looking at routing, and thinking about our air capacities and legs. I thought about going east-northeast towards Buena Vista Junction for our second night (which was my original plan), but it was up and over some pretty high terrain. Instead I decided we would make north through Bridalveil Camp, and on to the south rim of the Valley.

    The next morning, we all woke up earlyish, got our water boiling, ate, broke camp, and got moving around 0900. Everyone was a bit stiff from the uphill walk the day before, but we loosened up pretty fast. It was clear again. And the mosquitoes were back again.

    The hike to Bridalveil Camp was about 7 miles, and was level for the most part. The day started out pleasant, but it got warm quickly, and so the sweating started again. The bugs were a little less annoying while we were walking, but were still there. We really moved out along this stretch.

    It was a beautiful walk to the Camp. The terrain was varied, from woods to small meadows, to domes off to both sides.

    There was an amazing variety of wildflowers along the trail.

    As with most trails, there were occasional obstacles. These included fallen trees; this was the biggest we encountered.

    We ended up on a ridge that had amazing views of the Parks high country off to the east. We rested here a bit, and drank in the views.

    We followed Bridalveil Creek after a while, it was beautiful.

    We stopped for lunch at the Bridalveil Creek Camp. They had real bathrooms there! We also took the opportunity to wash up as best we could – we were really dirty. One thing that was interesting, the Camp had pretty much been dedicated to fire crews that had been staged in from all over California. I don’t know if they were all fighting the fire outside of Yosemite, or were there in contingency, but there were a lot of them.

    We left the camp, crossed Glacier Point Road, and headed for the south rim of the Valley. We got to the footbridge over Bridalveil Creek, and then headed back up again.

    We filled water bottles here, and I think that this would have been a good place to have an extra bottle apiece. Between dinner this evening, and breakfast in the morning, we consumed every drop we carried up there. According to our map, there was a spring very near where we ended up camping, but we never found it (it was August, and the spring might have stopped).

    We walked up a couple hundred feet at this point; it was hard but doable. And it was worth it. We ended up on a large mostly open area, and decided to camp there. Walking off the trail to the north, I knew the rim of the Valley was somewhere ahead, and then saw this through the trees:

    It turns out that we were right between the face of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. We stood and marveled at the view for a while. A long while, it was stunning. The pictures really do not do the views justice. Finally, realizing Sun was going down, we went back and set up our tents, then we did some exploring.

    That last one, is Luke waving from the next bluff over. The cliff walls below our camp were fairly sheer, thousands of feet pretty much straight down.

    Sun set behind the smoke from the fire at the west end of the Park.

    Our second day was a hike of 11.7 miles and a net 123 feet of altitude loss (there was still a lot of up there); we were at 7332 ft altitude. This was the single most beautiful camp I have ever been in. You could not be there for more than a minute without looking out at the view. And then standing there for a while. We still had mosquitoes, surprisingly enough, even with the altitude, the dryness of the camp (no water anywhere close), and a nice breeze. We noticed several bats as it was getting dark, and fervently wished them to come over and scarf the darn bugs around us.

    That evening, the stars were even more stunning than they were at Wawona camp. The Milky Way was so plain. We saw numerous meteors and about 15 satellites. I stayed out a bit later than the other guys, with my head craned back until it hurt. There were occasional sightings of lightning; a storm was visible off to the Northeast once, but it was on the horizon, nothing near us.

    We were all up and moving around 0700 Sunday morning. We got breakfast going and kept looking at that view.

    One side note. When we were at the Wawona Hotel, there was an unusual package on top of a car. I wondered if it was a folded up hang-glider, and when the owner came out, I asked and he confirmed it. He said that the NPS gave them a “launch window” for flying at Glacier Point, and that for that weekend it was Friday – Sunday 0800 – 0900. Well, shortly after 0800, we saw this from camp:

    That white dot to the right of center is a hang glider. We saw three of them flying around by Yosemite Falls. It takes some cojones to throw yourself off a 3Kft cliff, held up by some aluminum poles and ripstop nylon.

    No one was in a hurry to leave that view. We got breakfast done, reluctantly packed up camp, and headed out again. Very reluctantly.

    We hiked along close to the Valley edge for the most part. The views were amazing. Eventually we came to The Fissures. The Fissures have two interesting sets of things: the actual Fissures, but also some sheer walls. And I mean SHEER:

    There is a railing there, but it doesn’t protect much area.

    There is a place marker up there, and I had to compare the reported GPS altitude with the altitude measured by the surveyors who were up there before Oklahoma became a state. They did very well!

    After the Fissures, we hiked another bit, and finally found a stream. It was small, but it was flowing and tumbling along, and we pumped everybody a couple full bottles of water, took big drinks, and topped them off again. The water was especially good tasting!

    We walked under Sentinel Dome, but we were concerned about the time, so we bypassed walking up it. It’ll be there for another trip!

    Below the trail to the Dome, and before we got to Glacier Point, we got this view. Staggering.

    The path down to the Point was steep, and much of it was exposed. Hooray for sunblock.

    The view from the Point is one of the most beautiful on the entire planet.

    The hiking snob in me sort of wishes there was not a road to the Point.

    Half of us decided to take the shuttle bus from the Point down to the Valley. The other half decided to finish the weekend out with a hike down 4-Mile Trail. It is STEEP. Luke got a burst of energy and jogged down most of it, wow! Lance and I jogged a bit, but going down is hard on a different set of muscles, so we ended up fast-walking most of it. Along the way, I got this view of Half Dome and the area of the Mirror Lake Trail; I decided this is one of my favorite views of the Dome.

    Most of the way down has great aerial views of the Valley, and of course Yosemite Falls is part of that. You don’t usually get a view from directly across the base of the Upper Falls.

    And of course here are the Fissures, and the area where we camped the night before. Amazing.

    Eventually, we reached the bottom. And a good thing, too, since we were literally footsore. I had to take the obligatory “We were up there?” shot.

    Our last day of hiking was 9.9 miles, and we had 3470 ft of altitude loss, ending up on the floor of Yosemite Valley.

    Once we got down, we met up with the rest of the crew at Yosemite Lodge. I had three bottles of Lipton Iced Tea from the shop there (that stuff, by the way, is pretty good for mass-manufactured tea). We also went over to the Merced and waded a bit to wash the crud off our feet. And a lot of crud there was. That water was cold, wonderfully cold. I didn’t stay long, as I had washed off my sunblock along with the dirt. I used the bathroom at the Lodge to re-up deodorant, and we waited for my friend Jim to arrive from Fresno to shuttle us back to Wawona.

    BTW, the black canisters on the ground in front of us are the anti-bear food canisters we carried. A little over a pound of extra weight.

    The timing of our exit from the Valley was such that we got a wonderful backlit view of the entrance to the Valley. Not a bad way to call it a day.

    We got our van from the trailhead, had dinner, and headed back to San Diego, arriving at 0400 Monday morning. The next day (or rather, the rest of that day) at work was kind of tiring, but no one crashed, at least until that night.

    Here is our hike path over a topographic map, a Google Earth terrain, and an altitude plot. I broke the topo maps into the entire trip, then to zoom in on each days hiking.

    This is the same altitude plot, but the waypoints from the GPS are annotated. I also took off the last part of the plot to accurately show that our end point in the Valley was higher than our starting point in Wawona.

    Metrics

    I was looking for some good metrics from this trip. I calculated the following for this group of guys in decent but not spectacular shape on average.

      Average speed over level ground: 1.75mph

      Average speed up hill: 0.87mph

      Average speed down hill: 2.4mph

    This includes breaks. Level is relative, of course ( 🙂 ).

    I was interested in how much fuel to bring for my MSR stove. In the end, I brought way too much! I used the smaller bottle first, it has 11 oz of fuel. Chuck had an MSR alcohol stove also, and we used them in tandem. Mine heated water for 1 dinner, 1 breakfast, and part of a second dinner, and his worked for 2 dinners and 1 breakfast, and part of a second breakfast. I should have only taken the larger (20 oz) bottle, filled half way or so. That would have saved 1.2 lbs.

    Wildlife

    After the incessant bear briefings, we saw: NONE. There were two deer, both within 300 yards of Glacier Point. A number of squirrels. A fair number of birds, including the beautiful Stellar’s Jay.

    Things That Went Right

    Food was pretty much right on target. I used a variation of what I called Tracy’s Menu from a previous trip to the Ozarks, and it kept me and the guys fed and going without any problem. Lunch was a tuna salad kit that had three ounces of tuna; they are perfect with the included mayo and pickle relish. One of the other guys had some that was pre-mixed, I might have to find out how those are.

    I used two Backpackers Pantry meals for dinner; the Backpackers Pantry Shepherd’s Pie was good, but so soupy it was hard to eat. I’d reduce the water for that by ¼ cup to thicken it up. But the Chili Mac from Mountain House was PERFECT. The perfect amount of food, with decent sized meat pieces in it, and it had just the right amount of chili spice to it. I’d like that for dinner at home every once in a while, great stuff.

    I used two Backpackers Pantry meals for breakfast. The package for Granola and Blueberry recommended cold water for rehydration, but hot is much better! The blueberries (and there were a lot of them) were a good flavor for the morning. Peanut Butter Raisin Oatmeal was decent, thick and hot and pretty good taste.

    The Katadyn Hiker PRO Water pump for water purification worked well; we used it for the majority of water purification. With a strong pumper, it will fill a Nalgene in about 1 minute. I’ve had those break on a trip, though, so carry backup purification. I prefer the liquid Aqua Mira, since it gets the job done in 30 minutes. The tablets take hours.

    Things That Went Wrong, Or At Least Not So Right

    I carried too much! I took my pack apart post-trip, and I estimate that there was about seven pounds of stuff that I carried to no good use. I brought and carried a sweatshirt and sweatpants in anticipation of possible low temps, but a last-minute weather check would have showed that those were not needed. It got down to about 60F at the coolest, and the sweatstuff was not needed, is bulky, and fairly heavy. I had also bought a pound bag of M&Ms for snacking, and then packed them into the bottom of the bear canister, and carried them the entire time. So extra load, and didn’t get the benefit of the snack energy: not terribly smart.

    I ran out of the powdered lemonade I like to flavor the water with, but it was not a big deal since the water from the streams was wonderful to taste!

    I didn’t bring enough bug repellent. I had bought a small spray tube of DEET, and I carry a couple moist towelettes that are DEET soaked, but when shared among six guys that are being eaten alive by mosquitoes, they were used up quickly. All of us should have had the small spray tubes.

    This was a first – I got not one, but three blisters while hiking – two big and one small. I never got the predictive hot spots, and when I checked my feet at the end of the trail there were not blisters. But when I woke up the next morning, there they were. They are long gone now.

    My Navarros boots failed, both in the same way. The left boot split from the heel to arch, along the foot (not side to side, surprisingly). The right boot was cracked the same way, and was miles away from splitting wide open. That explained the huge amount of dirt in my boot, and why my sock and foot was so dirty (I had thought that it was due to dust leaking in from the ankle).

    I had been checking the weather, and the forecast the week before had been for chilly nights in the 40Fs range. In reality, it was in the 60Fs. I had brought a heavier sleeping bag, and should have brought the liner I use in warmer weather – it’s also much lighter. Bring both next time, and select which to take the day before.

    During trip planning, I was overconfident of our ability to scale the waterfall the first day. We made it, of course, it just took longer than I thought it would. I had already looked at multiple routes when doing trip planning, so it was easy to reroute us, and the reroute to the rim of the Valley was spectacular, so nothing was lost. The metrics I collected will help for next time.

    Would I Do It Again?

    YES!