Posts Tagged ‘Backpacking’

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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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!

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! This was wonderfully refreshing for me. I love the mountains, and Yosemite in particular, and I almost hurt my neck swiveling around to see all the sights while we walked. I would have liked to see some of the wonderful mountain lakes, but now that is on the list for next time. Staying on the south wall of the Valley due to the reroute we did was a stroke of luck; the views were worth the sweaty walking needed to get there. It was hard walking, but I find that refreshing and uplifting (especially after the pack is on the ground and the tent is up!).

I am already looking forward to my next backpacking trip there. It might take five years, but it will happen.

Backpacking Greenleaf State Park, OK

31 March 2011

This past weekend, the Ghost Patrol of Boy Scout Troop 15 took a backpacking trip to Greenleaf State Park, OK. Greenleaf is in eastern Oklahoma, east of Muskogee; the nearest town is Braggs. We took five boys and three adults, and had a great time.

Summary: Two days, 17.8 miles of trail, 200+ft of altitude change. Wonderful time!

We left Oklahoma City around 1800 and got to the park around 2100. Tents went up quickly, and everyone was in them for the night around 2200. At some point around 0100, we had a couple good thunderstorms come through that dumped a bunch of rain. One thing I was impressed by: the campground was full of people. I think there were several hundred people camped there, including two other Tulsa Scout Troops.

We shook everyone out around 0730. Breakfast was heated up bacon and oatmeal.

We got the boys to fill their water, and we got out of camp just before 1000. Now the fun began!

The crew posed for photos (we told them it was for SAR…), both front and backpack sides.

We walked through the camp area (which was called Trailhead Camp), and found the road that leads down to Cabin on the Lake. At some point, we saw this:

We headed up it about 100 ft and found the actual Greenleaf Trail! Turns out the actual trailhead was on the road that leads out of the park area (you can see it on the GPS track towards the end of the post). We walked south along the trail. It was classic Oklahoma Ozarks terrain.

The trail runs above the lake, and eventually gets to the Greenleaf earth dam and heads west. Above on the north is the Gobbler Ridge part of the park. When I was a kid, it was a tent camping area with a couple shelters that the YMCA used as a day camp. Now, it’s RV pull-throughs. There are some outcroppings that got a lot of climbing on back then.

After walking along Greenleaf Creek, and then over it on the Highway 10 bridge, we eventually made our way to the Greenleaf Spillway. There was a fair amount of water coming over this WPA project, probably from the rain the night before running off into the lake. I did a lot playing around in the spillway, and the rocks that used to be exposed below it, when I was a kid.

We left the spillway area and started following the south end of the lake. The terrain was beautiful, the trail well marked. We ran across a number of other groups of hikers, including a couple Scout troops.

There was a pretty neat outcropping that made a small cave along the trail.

There was one part of the trail along here where you wanted to watch your footing, lest you slide down into the lake.

Along the south shore is a swinging bridge. It’s nice and loose and bendy! It saves probably a half mile of walking.

This is a view of the earth dam from the end of the bridge. There was a bass fishing tournament going on while we were there, and the two guys in the boat were some of the contestants.

Once we all crossed the bridge, we ran into another Scout Troop from Tulsa that was backpacking as well. We also learned some trail lore here. The Greenleaf Trail is a pair of linked loops. The first, or south loop, is from the swinging bridge to Mary’s Cove on the lake. The second loop runs from Mary’s Cove north to the primitive camp.

Each loop is characterized as a having a low side (that runs along the lake) and a high side (which runs along the ridges of the mountains on the east side of the lake).

At the swinging bridge, the Tulsa Troop took the right turn up the high side to start out, and our guys took the left turn for the low side. I thought we might run into them at the primitive camp, but never saw them again, so I presume they camped trailside somewhere.

A note here about water. I was worried about water, not wanting to carry more than we had to, obviously. I had called the Greenleaf Ranger station and asked about water on the trail, and was told there wasn’t any. I also emailed a guy who had hiked the trail in February, and said that there was plenty of water. Greenleaf is kind of unusual in that it is not surrounded by agriculture. The lake water is very clear. We found numerous places along the low trail where there were creeks feeding the lake that were perfect water sources. We also hiked half of the high trail, and the only water we saw were a couple places were rain had pooled in rocks.

We used a filter pump for some of our water, chemical purification (Aqua Mira), and boiling. We got water at Mary’s Cove (from the lake, outbound, and from a creek at the main campground, inbound), from a creek south of Mary’s Cove, and also from the lake at the primitive campground. The lake water tasted good!

The low trail towards Mary’s Cove was really nice.

The trail did a lot of popping up and going back down. We were never more than 50 or so feet high, I think. The cumulative changes started to get to the Scouts a little bit, but never enough to stop them.

At one point, we had passed the main Greenleaf State Park area on the west side of the lake, and I saw this:

There used to be a Group Camp area on the north end of Gobbler Ridge. I have heard that it is used by the National Guard now. Our High School class used this area for our Senior Class Picnic in May 1978. I have never seen it from this perspective until now.

There were occasional Dogwood trees in the area. They are beautiful.

We had lunch at Mary’s Cove, along the shore. Everybody had tuna salad, using a neat kit that was pretty inexpensive. It was 3.0oz of tuna, some mayo, and some relish, with crackers. I took this idea from Traci of the Girl Scout HAT, and thanks to her!

Mary’s Cove had a largish camp area, and west of there were some other camp areas that looked very nice. One of the camp areas was near what looked like a beaver den, with other evidence around.

The weather was not the best for the trip. The forecast for the area had been going downhill all week. When I first looked on Monday, the weekend was 50s/70s. Midweek, it was 40s/60s. The actual weather was 30s/40s. We actually got sleeted on twice on Sunday. Not much, but there was clearly a cold layer close above us. I took a sweatshirt and a long sleeve shirt that got a lot of use. I wore my shorts, but didn’t bring sweatpants. I ended up using my vinyl rainsuit a lot during this trip. It was not so cold as to be debilitating, but it was close. One of our Scouts brought a fleece sleeping bag liner, which was probably not quite enough to keep warm.

North of Mary’s Cove, the walk got a little more up-and-down. There were a lot more outcroppings, and we occasionally climbed to over a hundred feet over the lake.

There were a lot of wildflowers, and some other plants I didn’t recognize.

We got into the primitive camp around 1600. There was one other guy there. Everyone got tents up quickly and relaxed. Dinner was backpackers beef stew and mac and cheese.

We were right on the lake shore for camp. You can see that the campsite area is very tight. There are a lot of trees and short grass. It makes LNT kind of hard to implement.

We got everyone up around 0830 and left camp around 1000 again. Breakfast was more oatmeal. Since we taken the low road in, we started out on the high road. We had a couple steep climbs, but the views were magnificent!

This is looking back toward where we camped Saturday night; it’s on the right, and around the “corner”. We are two mountains away at this point.

Glen noticed this tree growing around a rock.

At this point we had a problem. Most of the Scouts had not in fact filled their water bottles up. They were getting dry, and we were not even halfway back yet. We decided to take the low road back as we knew there was water there. We took the connector trail down to Mary’s Cove. It was beautiful, with deep ravines.

We got to Mary’s Cove, filled bottles using the pump, and some we chemically treated. Lunch was a cup of peanut butter, choice of grape or strawberry jam, and Ritz crackers.

We headed back south towards the trailhead. We got a new perspective on some of the streams and other features we had passed yesterday.

We got back to the spillway area, and most of the Scouts were bushed. Glen and another Scout and I power hiked from that area back to the main part of the State Park. We saw our guys in the spillway from across Greenleaf Creek.

We got to the main part of the Park, coming out at the actual Greenleaf Trail trailhead. We then drove back around to pick up the rest of the crew along Highway 10.

There were some crashed Scouts on the way back. I had been concerned that the almost-10-mile length of each days hiking would be too much for the boys, but they handled it just fine.

This is a GPS track for the trip.

This is the GPS track overlayed on Google Maps.

And finally, this is the altitude plot of the trip.

Random Comments

Some of the boys managed to get to camp largely without some basic gear. They needed to have personal water bottles, cups or mugs, a bowl (or use a cup or mug), and utensil(s). Stuff like this is in the Boy Scout Handbook. I think it is because they are used to being able to get stuff out of the patrol box during regular camping. Before the trip, I worked with the Patrol Leader on a message about the camp, and he and I decided to not include a full equipment list in that message, under my assumption that the boys would know about basic equipment. It worked out more-or-less in the end by me having more than one utensil, so they could share, and re-using some of the lunch stuff for eating oatmeal.

We probably should have had another medium pot for boiling water. We had two, but another would have made dinner go a bit faster.

It took a while to get out of camp both Saturday and Sunday morning. I expected it Saturday, since it was the first day of the camp and the boys had stayed up late talking as usual, and then we had a couple thunderstorms.

Our overall forward speed was somewhat less than I had predicted. I had though that two miles an hour was reasonable, but we ended up making 1.5. This included the stop for lunch, and the rest stops we made.

Water on the Greenleaf Trail bears another mention. If you are on the low trails, you will have plenty of water from the lake and the streams that flow into the lake. If you are on the high trail, at least the north segment, there will be none.

I had read some comments on the web prior to the trip about the condition of the trail being overgrown and impossible to find. That was not the case, ever. The trail is well marked by blazes, and of course the trail itself was worn down a bit. A couple times, our point guys walked past a blaze into and off-trail, but someone else always caught it and got us redirected. The only place I totally missed a blaze was when we took a shortcut along a road coming out of camp – the road crosses the low trail twice, and I never saw the second crossing. We were taking the high trail, so that didn’t matter anyway. We had GPS with the area topo map loaded into it, and that verified that we thought where we were. BTW, if you have a Garmin GPS, I can heartily recommend getting open source topo maps from GPS File Depot.

The low trail had a couple campsites along the south segment, but the trees and brush are denser, kind of like it was at the primitive camp. The high trail had a lot more camping options, since the trees were spaced farther apart, and there was a lot less dense brush. The views up there are better, also, and you can probably find a place with semi-flat places to pitch tents near rock outcroppings that would make good cooking/sitting/eating areas.

This trip was important to me as a shakedown. I am planning a 24-mile 2.5-day trip in California over the summer, and knew this one would be close to 20. The altitude change there will be much greater, but the raw distance is comparable, so I am confident that I will make the summer trip without too much problem.

Overall, this was a fantastic trip. I love the terrain of eastern Oklahoma, and while the weather was a bit chilly it beat 100F and 100% humidity!

We saw no (zero) mammals. There were a fair number of birds, to include a couple woodpeckers, but that was it. Only one reptile – a small frog. There were a lot of tracks of coyote and deer at various points.

This trail is recommended. It might be a better hike for beginner backpackers to take the first loop for a starter trip. That would be roughly ten miles round trip.

Backpacking Part of the Ozark Highlands Trail

20 October 2010

This past weekend, the Oklahoma City area Girl Scout High Adventure Team (HAT) did a backpacking trip along the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) in western Arkansas. It was a great trip, with perfect weather.

The HATs are a newish idea that are meant to keep the girls interest in Scouts as they start to get older (11+). The HAT for the OKC area is a great group, and they have already had three adventures that Erin has been able to attend; all three were outstanding.

This time, the trip started with a rendezvous at the KOA Kampground in Alma, AR. I have never camped at a KOA. We pitched out tents out next to a nice pond, and had a great nights sleep. The next morning we got up and had breakfast. One interesting thing: a group showed up as we were setting up camp (around 2330), and set up a couple tents the next campsite over. The next morning when we woke up at 0730, they were gone. The camp manager came around looking for them, and it seems they gave a false name and phone number, and so skipped paying for the camping. Kind of crappy, I think.

We divided into two groups (beginner backpackers, and those with some experience), and headed to the trail heads. We went out a a trail crossing at mile 10.5, and the experienced group went to Lake Fort Smith State Park, the OHT trailhead, and started from there.

We got to the trailhead around 1015, got squared away, and headed out at 1030. We had a pretty happy group:

Erin was raring to go (at least that’s my interpretation):

My apologies for the smearing on a lot of these pictures. I had some crud on the lens, and I finally noticed and cleaned it much later, on the trail.

The parking area for the trailhead is right in front of the eastern departure for the OHT. The western departure is about 50 meters back along the road to the south.

The trail up here is largely dirt and occasional roots. There is quite a bit of brush along the trail. The trail is marked with white blazes, and it’s easy to follow.

We walked a quarter mile or so, and then stopped and had an equipment check.

The trail is really nice. It meanders around a lot of native rocks.

We took a break after about a half mile. These girls being beginner backpackers, we let them set the pace, so we were not blazing along the trail. That’s OK, though, since we didn’t want them to get burned out.

We crossed a large number of dry watercourses along the trail. Many of them are filled with rocks.

At about 1.3 miles into the trip (so this would be about OHT mile 9.2), we crossed the first water we saw. At the crossing, the water was quite brackish, but as we walked along, we climbed a bit above the water, and saw clean water flowing below us.

We stopped for lunch after about 1.4 miles. We found some nice rocks piled up, and they made good tables. We had peanut butter and jam, on pita bread. Some of the girls got to experience in-the-woods potty for the first time here. Erin climbed up on a big rock, and found a partial deer skull with small partial antlers.

The trail was getting a bit more crowded with brush along here. A couple of the hikers (including me) got scratched by brambles on the trail.

We ran across this tree that had an odd growth around it.

The trail goes up and down, but overall down, as it travels towards Lake Fort Smith. The highest altitude gain isn’t very much, but the trail is occasionally steep. You are looking down about 40 feet here.

This was a really neat watercourse that had a stone bottom, like a natural flume.

At one point along the trail, our leader, one of the Scouts, did a very heads-up observation of a three-foot rattlesnake in the dead center of the trail. I think it’s a timber rattlesnake; the rust-colored stripe along the back is diagnostic. There is a good article on them at Wikipedia.

After about 3.8 miles (OHT mile 6.7), we found a nice water source, and stopped to pump filter some water.

We continued along the same stream, which got wider and was flowing faster. We found a nice camp spot. This was 4.1 miles into the walk, or about OHT mile 6.4. The water here was really nice! There were two places just downstream of the camp that would make fine summertime swimming holes. There were some flat rocks that made for perfect cooking and sitting places.

Dinner that night was all dehydrated. We had beef stew, potatoes, and mac and cheese, and fried bread dough with cinnamon and sugar for dessert. It was excellent, we were all pretty hungry. Most of the kids had never had dehydrated food before, so it was quite the experience for them.

A couple words on food. Our trip leaders had put the menus together, and they were pretty much perfect. Great quantity, taste, and ease of cooking and cleanup.

The kids played along the river for a bit, and there was some talking, but not much.

I left my pocket Sudoku book in the car (poor planning on my part), so when I retired to my tent around 2015, I lay there and thought for a bit, and then just went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning at 0715. I had almost 11 hours of sleep, and really felt well. I do not think I woke up all evening.

I really liked my tent. This was my second use of it. It is a Kings Canyon two-person three season tent from Academy ($60). It weighed about 4.5 lbs. The extra weight was worth it for the space. I made a ground cloth out of heavy black plastic sheet that worked just fine.

While I was packing up my stuff, a really nice buck ran through the part of our camp where my tent was. It passed no more than 20 feet away from me, bounding along through the woods.

I FINALLY realized that my camera lens was all crudded up. Here is a before-and-after.

We got started after breakfast. The trail was a bit more winding, and had a lot of rock on it. This was an example.

A bit farther along the trail, we ran across one of the two campsites that were along the trail. This was nice, in that it had some more flat tent spaces, but I liked our rock ledges better.

The flora also slightly changed as we got a bit farther on. There was less underbrush.

About a half hour into the hike, we ran into the other crew, who were working their way east. We took a group photo, and then headed back out again.

A bit farther and we started seeing Lake Fort Smith.

We crossed a number of ravines and stream beds. Some of them were a bit steep, but the total altitude change was only about 30 feet each time.

We found this tree across the trail, and Erin was kind enough to move it :).

We soon had our second and third snakes on the trail. These were both the common Rough Green Snake. One was climbing up a limb, and the other was right in the middle of the trail, and was lucky to not get tramped by the passing crew.

We had been preparing for the infamous water crossing of the north end of Lake Fort Smith. It turned out that it was down far enough that we were dry the entire way.

There is what would normally be a marshy area between the two parts of the water crossing. It was high and dry.

I carried my GPS for the entire hike. This is an overlay of the track on Google Earth. The total length of the trip was 6.8 miles.

This is the topographic map of the area with the GPS data for the path we hiked overlayed. The topo map shows a trail (dashed line), but the actual path is a little offset for most of the length of the trail. I would look at the GPS every once in a while, and the error calculated was usually in the 16-25 ft range. The flags: OHT TH (Trailhead) is where we started, Lunch is, well, where we ate lunch, and Camp Water is where we overnighted. EOT is End of Trail.

There were some ups and downs on the trail. This is the altitude plot of the hike.

This is interesting in that it generally follows the drainage into the lake.

This was a great weekend. I would not mind hiking more of the OHT. The weather was perfect. I thought it was a tiny bit cool after the first day of hiking, so I wore my sweatshirt, but I didn’t need my sweatpants at all. The amount and type of food was just right. The Scouts were real troopers. There was no complaining or beefing at any point along the trail. We had a couple of the girls be hike leaders.

Our rate of advance was fairly slow, but only if you compare the usual rate of an adult to an 11 year old girl, carrying everything she needs for two+ days on her back! I was really impressed by the girls (and the adults), with their stamina, and their work ethic. The tents went up smoothly, and they went down smoothly. We had no injuries, except a couple scrapes by brambles near the trail.

We had little wildlife, a noticeable lack of birds, but had three snakes and the deer that came through camp. There were a tremendous number of critter holes along the trail.

Over the two days on the trail, we saw about 10 groups, and a couple singles, out backpacking. Most of them were going west to east, and we had two groups pass us east to west.

The water was clear (except that one place it was brackish, but it was clear a few yards upstream).

Since we were hiking to the west, we ended up at Lake Fort Smith State Park. Everything looks pretty new there. The Visitor Center had a couple critters on exhibit, and a small gift shop. They needed showers! The Visitor Center had wifi, but it wasn’t working. We had a couple hours until the other group met up with us, so I hiked the Warren Hollow trail (1.6 miles one way); it ended up at two buildings (again, new) that are the Group Camp area, on top of a hill. Those buildings had open wifi, so I used my Blackberry to connect and get my first email download since Saturday morning, and to call Raegan and give her a quick update.

I don’t know that I would through-hike the OHT (although I might change my mind on that!), but I would like to get some of the other sections over the next couple years. Great fun!