Posts Tagged ‘Hiking’

Lake Draper Trails

26 June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backpacking 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.


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.

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.


Hiking Robbers Cave State Park, OK

14 April 2014

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

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

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

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

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

The yellow-blazed trail is an equestrian trail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the topo and altitude profiles:

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

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

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

Hiking Bell Cow Lake, Chandler, OK

16 February 2014

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

Photos are at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10-Mile Hike at Lake Arcadia Today

22 September 2013

Had a great 10-mile hike at Lake Arcadia today with some of our Troop 15 Scouts. The weather was perfect.

The photos are here on Google+.

We saw a number of critters, and were able to ford Spring Creek this time. We started at Spring Creek Park at the east end of 15th street, parked at the beach there, and then wound our way through the disc golf course to find the trailhead. We went northwest until we hit the crossing, then went north and east until we hit 5 miles, at which point we turned around. When we had a trail choice, we took the one we had not already taken. We also walked along the shore some.

I tracked the hike with my GPS60 and my S3 with Runkeeper. The GPS reported 10.3 miles on the odometer, while the downloaded gpx track showed 10.1 on Garmin Mapsource. The Runkeeper app showed 9.78 miles. The discrepancy is annoying. I will look into it at some point soon.

Backpacking Rocky Mountain National Park, 07-09 Sep 2013

15 September 2013

Hiking summary: 25+ miles over three days, with over 4700 ft of altitude gain, massive views, hail, and an abrupt end due to bad weather.

Photos from the trip are posted here on Google+.


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.

Hiking the Katy Trail, Oklahoma City, OK

11 August 2013

Yesterday, a group of Scouts and leaders from Troop 15 hiked most of the Katy Trail in Oklahoma City.

Hike Summary: 10.3 miles, out and back. 463 feet of altitude gain (and loss).

We started at 0835 and finished at 1345, for a pretty decent pace. The weather was perfect, in the 70s when we started, and 84F when we finished. It was cloudy about 75% of the time, and we had a nice breeze from the N/NE.

Pictures from the hike are on Google+.

There isn’t any designated parking at the north trailhead. We parked in what looks like a former driveway or road entrance on the east side of Grand about 100 yards from the trailhead. There is parking at the 16th Street access, and the south trailhead.

Most of the trail is unshaded. There is a nice stretch between 16th and 4th that is like walking through a tree tunnel.

There isn’t water on the trail. You can fill up at the Lincoln Park golf course, and maybe the golf course at Douglass High near the south end. You can exit the trail at 10th and cross I-35 to the east; there is a gas station and McDonalds there with restrooms and water and such.

OKC has done a nice job on this trail. I haven’t walked many OKC trails, but they are on my list. 🙂

The OKC webpage for the Katy Trail is here.

Hiking Red Rocks Open Space, Colorado Springs, CO

1 April 2013

This is a bit of a catch-up post. Back in January I had a business trip to Colorado Springs, and found myself without much to do around 1400. I did a quick bit of research and headed to Red Rocks Open Space on the west side of town.

The photos from the hike are here on Google+.

I did just over six miles in about three hours. It was about 40F when I got started, and in the low 30s when I finished. Most of the most interesting rock formations are in the west side of the park. As you go south and climb, the rock is somewhat replaced with forest. It’s all very pretty.

As I got up a little bit, I could look to the northwest and see the burned areas from the Waldo Canyon fire.

There were a LOT of people out there! That’s always impressive to me. There isn’t any water anywhere in the area that I found, so be sure to fill up your water bottle before coming out. A very pretty area very close to town, a worthy hike any time.

Hiking Elk Mountain, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK

27 March 2013

On 16 February, I hiked Elk Mountain in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge (WMWR). The hike was 4.5 miles and 1,124 ft of altitude gain.

Pictures from the hike are here on Google+.

I tried to park at the actual trailhead, but for the nth time, a Park Ranger was blocking the road, and he rudely told me to go elsewhere (this same guy I’ve seen several times over the year, and he is uniformly unhelpful at best). I drove over to Caddo Lake a mile or so to the west, parked there, and headed out overland at Elk Mountain.

I popped over a ridge after a bit and found myself near a herd of bison. I move away from them, but the herd crossed in back of me, and one of them charged me; it was a bluff charge, but it was intended to get my attention, and it succeeded.

I got to the parking area for Elk Mountain, and went over to the Charon’s Garden trail, as I thought that was also the trail for Elk Mountain. It wasn’t. I decided to bushwhack straight up the slope. It was pretty tough. I used bouldering and some rock climbing techniques.

When I got to the top, I was amazed. I had sort of thought that Elk Mountain was very much a peak, but it wasn’t; it was a jumbled almost-mesa! Probably 20 acres of area. There were numerous “high points”, and I walked around up there a while looking at all of them.

Eventually, I worked my way to the eastern part of the top, and found the trail down. It was a nice trail; I got to the bottom in short order, and walked cross country back to my car.

I really enjoyed the hike; I have wanted to hike Elk Mountain for a number of years, and on other trips to WMWR, I either didn’t have time, or the parking area was full. I’m glad I took the cross country route this time, it was well worth it.

Hiking Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland

13 October 2012

Hike Summary: 8 miles, some decent altitude gain, in a beautiful area close to the DC metro area.

Yesterday afternoon the meeting I was at in Herndon got out a bit early, and I couldn’t get an early flight back home, so I decided to hike Sugarloaf Mountain. I had found this area a couple years ago while researching hiking in the DC area. I really wanted to hit Shenandoah National Park, but decided it was too far for just a part of an afternoon.

I got there about 1500 and left at 1845. It’s a free area. I sort of expected a Visitor Center, but didn’t see one. Signs said the area closed no-kidding at 1900, so I left my car parked at the gated entrance. I didn’t realize until later that the road into the area goes up to the east viewing area, which I walked up to.

I started out on the White Trail. I used the Orange Trail to hit the high point, then picked up the Blue for the longest segment, ending up on the White Trail again for the home stretch.

The initial part of the trail was very nice, but steadily UP. The trail was very rocky, and I was feeling it through my sneakers.

The weather for this expedition was wonderful! Temps were in the low 60s, and the sky overhead was a perfect blue. I did get a bit sweaty, though. I had packed a sweatshirt in my backpack, but was wearing a long sleeve mock turtleneck, so I was constantly putting the sleeves up and then back down.

The first stop on the way up is the East viewpoint. The road from the entrance ends up here, and there are a couple picnic tables, one of which was being used by a group of four. I took a panorama up there (I love this feature of my camera!), and a couple closeups.

After this break, the orange trail heads up to the top of the mountain. It’s steep! There is some serious stairstepping that needs to be done along here, and parts of the trail that are dirt only are slippery, and would be quite hazardous if wet. I got to the highpoint and took the obligatory photo, through the trees. There is a neat little rock face right below.

Below the high point is a nice rock bluff. If you look at the last photo, of the mountain in the distance, you can see a bare spot just below the peak; that is where I was sitting when I took these.

I got to say Hi to a young black Lab up there who was having a walk with his person. I also had a nice extended conversation with a guy who is lucky enough to live about 10 miles from Sugarloaf. We had kids about the same ages, and common issues with them, and a shared passion for the outdoors.

From the high point I headed north, steadily down now. The trees were beautiful, tall and without much in the way of undergrowth.

I walked steadily for almost an hour here. My target was White Rocks. I got here, and figured I was at White Rocks.

Well, cool, I thought, a crowd-sourced rock cairn. I added a couple rocks to it, and headed down the trail, just knowing it would turn back to the south. I kept thinking that as I kept walking west and then northwest, and north some, and more west. Eventually, I passed a trail junction that pointed to the front of me – “White Rock”. Live and learn. There were some more very pretty views off to the northwest and north.

This is looking down. Pretty far down.

Now I headed back south for real. The trail steadily went down for the most part, but there were some no-kidding down-in-the-deep-holler turns that were getting a bit dark, so I did some trail jogging. Turns out it wasn’t really necessary, and I had plenty of sun for the walk back. The Blue Trail joined the White Trail, then the White Trail went off on its own around the south base of Sugarloaf and back to the parking area.

As I drove back to the metro area, I took this shot of Sugarloaf Mountain.

The treeless spot to the left of the peak is a bluff area. I was sitting on top of the bluff area when I took the photos looking out to the west and northwest.

Maps and Such

These are the topo and terrain maps, and altitude plot for this hike.

This last chart is interesting and new. I used Google Earth. The altitude is pretty standard. GE automatically calculates altitude for you, and it says I did 2080 ft of altitude gain. It happens that my informal designations for a serious hike is 10 miles or 2000 ft (what are these based on? 10 miles is a Bill Arbitrary Impressive Sounding Number, but 2000 ft is based on the hike I took up to the top of Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park). So eight miles and 2000+ feet is pretty darn cool for the (relatively 🙂 ) flat East Coast region, especially in just under four hours.

It also shows speed. You can see where I stopped to admire the view, or rest, or take pictures. You can also see one place where I was walking very fast downhill (5-6 mph), and three places where I tried some trail jogging (10 mph) where I thought I was going to run out of daylight (see Gear Notes).

Gear Notes

I had left my boots home, as in Oklahoma City. I will not make that mistake again. Sneakers were not the footwear for this area. My feet were literally sore from getting stabbed with rocks from some parts of the trail.

My Garmin GPS lost satellite track at one point as I was headed home. I was on the west side of Sugarloaf proper, and under some serious trees. I think that it was that combination that caused the GPS to lose lock.

On the other hand, my Android Nexus 7 didn’t! I had downloaded an app called Runkeeper into the Nexus on the recommendation of friends Wendy and Chuck. It’s a runners app primarily, but it has a hiking mode. So I started a track in the parking lot, then put the Nexus into it’s case, and tucked that in a pocket of my backpack, zipped the pocket closed, and off I went. It still kept satellite lock the entire time. The only issue? Shortly into the hike, my backpack announced LOUDLY how fast I was going and how far I had gone! I about jumped out of my skin when I first heard it. I turned the volume all the way down on the tablet, and later figured how to mute the voice altogether.

Speaking of boots, I did this hike with pretty much none of the stuff I usually take. I had planned to take my SPOT with me henceforth, but it, along with my water bottle, headlamp, first aid kit, BOOTS, etc. all got left at home. I didn’t know if I would be able to get any hiking in this trip, but as a Scout I should Be Prepared. It’s all about risk management. The main problem would have been trying to walk a strange trail after dark on a moonless night. I could have used my phone as a flashlight (it’s good at that), but a headlamp is more reliable. I had disposable water bottles from the hotel as well. But I need to just carry my hiking stuff regardless.


There were numerous squirrels, six deer, and a few birds, including some very small flitting birds with a golden/yellow breast.

Random Notes

I had a heck of a time getting the Runkeeper GPX file out of the Nexus. The email app would not find the file (it defaults to pictures only for attachments), and when I tried a method I found online, the file attached, but didn’t transmit with the attachment, in spite of multiple tries. In the end, I did something very simple: I used a USB cable to attach the Nexus to my laptop, and the laptop mounted it as a drive, which I drilled into the Nexus Downloads directory, found the GPX, and copied it over.

Now I had the Runkeeper GPX. The Garmin Mapsource or BaseCamp programs would not open them, complaining that the files were not formatted properly. Google Earth was quite happy to open the file, however. I don’t know what the Garmin programs were so picky about.

This was a great, relaxing hike. It was just hard enough. The trees were beautiful! I look forward to my next visit.

Hiking Lake Thunderbird, Norman, OK

10 July 2012

Saturday, a group of people from First Presbyterian’s Troop 15 took a very pleasant 10.3 mile hike at Lake Thunderbird. The hike had a couple purposes. First, it was an opportunity for some of our Scouts to get a 10-mile hike for the Hiking Merit Badge, and it was also a chance for people headed out to a backpacking trip at summer camp to get some trail time in with their loaded backpack.

The trail network is in the Clear Bay area of Lake Thunderbird. A trail map is here. The photos from the hike are here.

We got started about 0830, and got done at 1300. We were moving right along! The trails here are maintained by the Earthbike Fellowship, but are available for hiking. These trails are wonderful! Here is a great example:

There are three trailheads that I know of. These connect to a series of linked loop trails. The trailhead has a head, a couple shelters, but no water immediately available. There is water a several places in the park nearby for certain.

We started off at a trailhead across from the stables. This puts you on the Green trail. This connects to the Yellow and then the Red trail. Eventually, you get to the Blue trail, which is a longish trail that runs eventually over the high point of the trail system and along the lakeshore. The trail is singletrack, but it is quite wide. Most of it is packed dirt, but there are plenty of rocks and roots. Occasionally the trail is sand-covered. 95% of the trail we were on is tree-covered. There isn’t a lot of low underbrush. This all made for some really nice walking.

At about Mile 6, we got to the north trailhead, which is by Clear Bay Cafe. We had our lunch under some trees, and the Cafe was kind enough to let us refill our water bottles from the hose outside. It was about this point the batteries in my GPS ran out. Oh well.

We came back a different route. Back at the trailhead, we took a right, and an immediate left, to get onto the Red trail. We followed it backwards to the intersection with the Blue trail, and the followed the track backwards to the trailhead.

Here are the topo, terrain, and altitude maps.

There is still a lot of hiking there. The Gold trail by itself is another 10 miles.

We saw a total of three other groups of two or three riding bikes. No hikers. The trail is excellent. Recommended.

Hiking Arcadia Lake, Edmond, OK

1 July 2012

Yesterday I led a group of Scouts from BSA Troop 15 on a 10.15 mile hike at Lake Arcadia, in Edmond, OK. This hike had two purposes: it was a shakedown for some of the folks that are going on a five-day backpacking trip in July to the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico, and it was an opportunity for the Scouts to earn one of the five required 10-mile hike segments for their Hiking Merit Badge (something I think every Scout should earn).

We got started about 0820 and got off the trail at 1320. That works out to about 2 miles per hour overall, including walking, breaks, and lunch. The temp was around 75F when we started, and 97F when we got off the trail. Significant sweating was had by all!

We started at the Dam/Project Office trailhead. There is parking there, and a nice walk to an overlook for the lake, but I don’t think there is water there, so fill up before you start. There is water at several places on the trail. There is a fee to hit the trail: $2 on weekdays, and $3 on weekends, per person.

Here is our hike path on a topo and terrain.

The trail has several places where it will split. We generally took the red segments outbound, and the blue segments inbound (or vice versa, whatever). The trail is mostly in shade on the eastern parts, and has some open areas on the western part.

As you walk west, you cross a road but there isn’t anything there. The second road you cross is right by an entrance fee station. The station sells ice and drinks and stuff. There is a water spigot right where the trail emerges, so that’s a place to fill up if you need to.

Proceeding west, you walk through the rolling terrain under cover, with 2nd Street/Route 66 to your right. The trail crosses the third road here. There is water down by the RV station.

Now you are mainly hiking in the Sun, and it was pretty hot yesterday. Sunscreen is needed for certain. Eventually you turn more south, and come back under cover at Opossum Hollow. The trail bends SE at this point, and runs into Spring Creek.

The last time I was on this trail was with Ians Cub Scout Den. It’s been a while. There used to be a bridge over Spring Creek, but I couldn’t see anything that looked like a bridge. I just quite a bit of Google Earth review, and so I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a water crossing. The water looked to be about 18 in deep. I suspect that later on in the summer, this area is probably dry.

We turned back at this point, at almost exactly the five-mile point. We had lunch under a shady area back to the west, then headed back. We took the opposite trails coming back. One of the turns leads back through the primitive camping area of Arcadia Lake. The trail passes a head, and has a very low-flow water spigot here. You are fairly near the main part of the lake here.

The rest of the hike was pretty much walk it out. It was starting to get hot, and the breeze had died off, so we were all sweating. The last segment gets to within about 20 yards of the lake, and so goes down in altitude a bit, but then you turn around and walk back up again shortly. The drop and gain is about 50 feet each.

Everyone was glad to see the parking lot again. 10 miles is quite a bit for most anyone, especially adults with trail backpacks, and 11-year-old Scouts that haven’t done any serious walking. But it was a nice walk in a beautiful wooded area. Recommended.

Electronics and the Wilderness

28 June 2012

I read an article today on The article basically talks about an uptick in backcountry travelers who get into trouble due to a lack of basic equipment, instead relying on their electronics for everything from maps to flashlights.

This article struck a chord with me. I’ve rescued a woman while hiking from the north rim of the Grand Canyon. She had her sneakers fall apart about 2000 ft down in the canyon, and she had one small bottle of water and no food, and serious blisters. I shared my food and water, and purified more water for her using the chemical purification I carried.

I got stuck near Feather Falls in California a couple years ago, after dark, with no headlamp or flashlight. I had marked the trailhead on my GPS, and used the GPS to navigate back in the dark (the GPS pointed me towards both the trailhead, and the bread crumb track of the trail I had walked out, and I intercepted that trail in about 20 minutes). If I had been equipped with a flashlight, I wouldn’t have missed the trail to begin with.

So I don’t always hike with a rope. But I usually have a map and compass, flashlight, water, GPS, something to start a fire, and small medkit. I also usually carry five or so food bars, which is a couple meals. My cellphone also acts as a flashlight ( 🙂 ). But I also have enough miles in the outdoors that I an not terribly worried about getting lost.

An interesting counterpoint. An issue of Backpacker magazine a couple months ago recommended that backcountry travelers ditch the maps and the external GPS, and use a tablet, which was touted as being able to hold not only the map of the area you were hiking, but every map of the planet, and reading matter for those nights in camp. One part of the rationale was that a paperback book weighed a bit more than most tablets, and the tablet could hold a lot more. Of course, for an overnight or couple of day trek, that might work out, and even then, one of my hike buddies has already used a solar recharger on the trail in Yosemite. I’d be a bit worried about keeping water out of a tablet, also.

So I think that for anything more than a dayhike, you ought to carry a paper map. On my last backpacking trip a couple weeks ago, I had a GPS loaded with the topo map and track of the area I was hiking in Arkansas, but I also had a compass, as did Ian, and three paper maps.

So this electronics geek, and backwoods geek, likes low-tech for the ultimate fallback.

Cabela’s Shasta 98 Backpack

19 June 2012

I have hiked with external frame packs forever. My trusty Kelty has hundreds of backpacking miles, and many camping trips. We ended up buying internal frame packs for the kids, and I used Ian’s on several backpacking trips, including my Yosemite 30 miler last year.

I ended up buying the Shasta 98 from Cabela’s last Fall. I gave only $98 for it on sale. I’ve had it on five weekend camping trips since then, and weekend before last I took it on a 21+ mile backpacking trip in the Ouachita National Forest.

The pack was very comfortable. The hip strap carried the weight very well. I never had any back problems with the pack. I never got “sweaty back”; there was enough air circulation that I wasn’t running sweat down the back all day.

The pack has a builtin raincover. I took it out to make sure it works OK, but I’ve not used it in the rain. The pack has two zippered compartments that I just discovered before the backpacking trip. One of them divides the lower compartment from the main compartment, making one loooooong compartment. The other gives access to a compartment that runs along the entire length of the pack next to your back.

This pack has 6000 in3 of space. I was able to get all my personal gear, the troop gear I was carrying, and the food I was carrying in the pack, and I never even needed the top-of-the-pack extension. I had lots of spare room in the lower compartment. I rolled my closed-cell pad up and lined the inside of the main compartment, so I had nothing at all on the outside of the pack.

The very top compartment was about 70% filled with stuff, including my Sawyer squeeze water filter and bags (the big Sawyer bag fits very nicely in the hydration pocket when filled with water, BTW).

The mesh side pockets each fit a Nalgene very well, and are easily reachable while wearing the pack. You have to make sure that stuff in the lower compartment doesn’t bulge out to the side – it makes the water bottles fit poorly.

I kept the tent, fly, and stakes in the lower compartment, and had room left over. I put the poles in the main compartment, along one of the corners close to my back.

There is a large, but pretty thin pocket on the back outside of the pack. I have repair stuff in there, including rope and the like.

Here is the pack loaded up, right before we hit the trail.

There are a couple things the pack needs. A map pocket somewhere is needed, accessible while wearing the pack. I think that the hip belt could use a couple small pouches. I’m going to add some of those myself before my next trip.

The pack could use at least one deeper pocket on the upper side of the pack. This would be great for some of the smaller things that you don’t need immediately, or that a companion could get to quickly.

I’m very happy with this pack. I inspected it very closely after this last trip, and I have not found any sign of wear that might indicate a failure in process. I paid particular attention to the hip belt, since if it fails you have a serious problem. The seams are all solid as well. I’m going to carry it partially loaded on a couple 10-mile shakedowns over the next month in preparation for a trek in New Mexico in July, and check it again after each. But I don’t think it will exhibit any issues.

The Cabela’s site for this pack is here.

Backpacking Eagle Rock Loop Trail, ONF, AR

14 June 2012

This past weekend, the Extreme 15 patrol from Boy Scout Troop 15 of Oklahoma City had a backpacking trip to the Ouachita National Forest east of Mena, AR. We backpacked part of the Eagle Rock Loop trail.

Summary: 21.1 miles in very hot and humid conditions, significant altitude gain. The posted trail mileage is wrong!

I posted the photos from this trip to Picasa.

We got out of Oklahoma City about 1500, stopped to gas up the van, and headed east. We got to Mena, AR about 1930, had a quick dinner at a Subway in the local WalMart (and picked up the peanut butter the hike leader had forgotten!), then headed the 18 miles to the trailhead. We had five Scouts and three adults.

The plan had been to get to the trailhead, hike about 1.5 miles to the top of the second ridge and camp, then do half the remaining trail Saturday, and finish up the rest Sunday, probably mid-afternoon.

None of this worked out. It was almost a real issue.

We got out of OKC an hour later than planned, and then spent longer on dinner, and then the last six or seven miles to the trailhead took a lot longer than we thought due to the roughness of the roads. We got into the trailhead well after dark. We needed to do a final prep (load fuel into the stoves, pump water, etc.) that meant at least 30 minutes of work before we could hike, and I wasn’t thrilled about hiking in the dark (no moon). We decided to camp at the trailhead and start early the next morning.

The people who were camped by the nice stream at the trailhead told us there were not any more campsites there. Here is an example of when getting into camp before dark helps. Glen went off a bit, and discovered a very nice camp pretty much right in front of where we parked the van. There were at least two more camps on the west side of the parking area as well. We got camp set up, and everyone pretty much crashed.

Notes on the area: there are no trash cans or any potable water at the campsite. The stream had excellent water flow.

The next morning, we got everyone to breaking camp, having breakfast, and getting ready to go. We got out of camp around 1040 – way later than we wanted.

I usually put this towards the end of a blog post, but it needs to be here. It’s the altitude plot for this adventure.

We wanted to do the loop counter-clockwise. The first day is a series of decent ridges. On post-hike analysis, we did more than 2400 ft of altitude gain! That huge amount of gain was exacerbated by the 90F temps and 90% humidity. We were sweating buckets. There wasn’t very much in the way of breeze to help cool us off, but we did have most of the hike under the tree cover. There was good water in every one of the valleys, also.

We also had one problem. One of our adult leaders was completely out of energy after the first ridge. We had an extended rest but he was not recovering. We both felt it better if he returned to the trailhead to rest, so he went back with the van keys. FORESHADOWING: This would turn out to be very lucky for us on Sunday.

There are a number of side trails to overlooks and the like. I never saw a trail marker pointing to the side trails. At the top of one ridge, we stopped for a short rest, and I just happened to notice that a faint trail ran off to the west. Some markers would be nice.

One thing I was really disappointed about. We stopped for lunch between the third and fourth ridges, in a beautiful camp next to the confluence of a stream and a river, with a lot of tree cover. While eating lunch, I noticed smoke from a fire ring. There was active heat and fire burning in that ring! Someone had camped there Friday night and left a fire burning. Another fire ring nearby (about 10 ft away) was full of partially-burned pouches that used to contain dehydrated backpacking food, and it was also smouldering. It’s really lazy to partially burn stuff just because you are too lazy to pack it out. One of the Scouts and I dumped about 10 bottles worth of water on the fires to put them completely out.

This was a very hard hike. Our packs were at their heaviest, of course, with food and water. You can see from the altitude plot that we did no less than six ridges that first day. It made for frequent rest stops and a slow pace overall. There were wonderful views at many of the locations along the trail.

There was an amazing camp on the last ridge, at about the 8 mile point. It has wonderful views to the west and east. It’s a dry camp, so you can either walk back north about 3/4 mile for more water, or carry enough up to begin with.

At the 10.05 mile mark we made camp. We were on the Viles Creek trail, which is the south part of the Eagle Rock loop. The creek/river had plenty of water.

That evening we made a wide variety of backpacking food to try out. We didn’t eat nearly all of it, but we darn sure packed out everything!

The walk along Viles Creek was much faster. We got out of camp an hour earlier than Saturday morning, and made much better time. There are amazing rock formations all along this area.

A note about rocks. The variety of rocks was amazing. This illustrates:

The rock on the left is a soft, chalk-like specimen. The center piece is a slick piece that was one of two that flaked off a larger rock. The piece on the right is almost translucent. There were veined pieces (white rocks with black veins, black and brown with lighter veins), many varieties of marbles and granites, and polished river rock. That part of Arkansas must be very geologically interesting.

One example of the rock veining is on the Picasa site. If you look around that rock, there are several other types of rocks in the frame as well.

At the end of the Viles trail (about Mile 13), you cross the Little Missouri River. Most of us took our boots off, used water shoes if we had them, and waded. The water was about 18″ deep max. At this point, we started up the trail, and got to a “T”. We didn’t realize it was a “T” and headed south. After about a half mile, we realized something was wrong. It was next to a very pretty, perfect swimming and fishing hole. We turned around and headed back, picking up the north trail and getting back on track.

We came through the Winding Staircase area, which is really neat. The trail passes a cave. Right before that, we took another wrong turn and gained about an extra half mile of hiking. The Winding Staircase area featured beautiful river swimming holes. One thing we found out was that the parking area for this area is about a mile away, so you have to walk in with all your stuff (we saw the usual tents, but coolers, cots, and lots of other semi-portable infrastructure that had to be carried in). We had lunch here, and a couple of the boys took a swim.

Just upriver of here is a second river crossing, requiring another wade. You also head up into the hills again, so make sure your water is filled up. This is a moderately hard hike segment.

Eventually we made it into the Albert Pike area. It shows on the maps as closed, but it’s open for day use, and there are commercial cabins there. There is also very nice swimming. We were at Mile 20+ at this point.

We also had a rude surprise. We had expected to be about six miles from the van. Looking at a map there, we were 10+ away! So it was about 1600, and we were looking at three to four hours of hiking, in the dark, with an already tired crew. A park ranger drove up, and I asked him to drive to the trailhead we had used, and ask Glen to drive the van back and get us. Was this the wrong thing to do? I don’t think so. The safety margin while hiking drops when you go after dark. Walking rocky trails with heavy packs, when we were already tired, was just too much of a risk. So THANKS! to the Ranger for helping us out.

It took a bit over an hour, but Glen drove up in the van. It took a good 45 min to get back to Mena. The van was gassed up, we got a quick dinner, and headed for home, getting to the church at 0045.

We saw three other groups on the trail. One was a group of three trail runners that were doing the entire trail in a day (WOW!). We saw a family, and a Venture crew from south of Houston, TX, which was really neat (we first ran into the Venture crew as we passed through the ridgetop camp I mentioned above).

Trail notes: Overall, the trail is rocky. This is not for sneakers, folks. You need boots. The water crossings are much safer with water shoes instead of barefoot. On the south and east sides of the trail, it’s pretty wide open for the most part. On the west side, the Ridges, many parts of the trail have brush right next to the path. We found a number of ticks, all of which met instant death. There was quite a lot of poison ivy as well.

The advertised mileage for this trail is 26.5. The actual trail mileage has to be around 32. Trying to do that in two days is just too much. Even if we had done the Friday part as planned, we still would have been in a world of hurt Sunday afternoon. So that’s why it worked out for the group as a whole when Glen needed to return to the trailhead.

Most of us carried too much. We didn’t coordinate on food as well as we could have, and ended up carrying quite a bit of re-hydrated food back.

Water wasn’t really a problem. Most every creek/river had enough to filter.

There are real restrooms and trash cans at Albert Pike.

We had two of the relatively new Sawyer Squeeze filters. They worked really well, and light, and fill water bottles fast. The kits come with three bags; one will fill about a Nalgene and a half, the medium one fills one Nalgene, and the small one does about half of a Nalgene. I think I will carry all three bags – they are almost weightless when not filled, but can be filled and used to carry water to a dry camp if needed. One thing about the Sawyers: they really need running water to fill. Since they collapse, they have no air in them, so submerging them won’t really fill them. Flowing water, especially a small waterfall, works well. We also used a cooking pot to scoop water and pour into the Sawyer bag.

As a shakedown for a New Mexico trip later this summer, this trip was very successful. It was a good shakedown. It was very hot and humid. We did some serious altitude. I would have liked to do the loop, but I think that the loop is three days, or even four! Three 10-mile days is doable. Something like 9/8/8/5 would be a good option that leaves the last day short to enable a decent drive back home (if you start at the Little Missouri trailhead in the northwest, that first 9 will put you on that on-the-ridge camp).

Below is the trail we hiked overlaid on a Topo and Google Earth terrain.

I’m looking forward to going back and doing the last ten miles!

14 June 2012 update:

I looked at the altitude profile again, and saw some interesting data. The GPS clearly shows the river flow levels. Here is an annotated plot.

While we were walking Vines Creek, it didn’t fell like we were walking that steeply downhill, but the GPS altitude clearly shows it.

The really amazing number is the altitude difference for the Little Missouri River between our trailhead, and down to the Albert Pike area first, and then going farther down to the confluence of the Vines and Little Missouri. That drop is about 650 feet total. If we had tried to hike that last segment, we would have added 400 ft more to the 250 ft+ along the river, and on top of the 450 ft that we got from going up the last two ridges. That would have been a total days climb of more than 1100 ft. That just reinforces my thought that we were lucky that the Ranger had come along when we were at Albert Pike. Thank you again, sir!

A Bit More Hiking in WMWR

1 June 2012

Memorial Day, Ian and Erin and I went down to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. My objective was to hike down into the Narrows and hike Elk Mountain. We needed to go into the Narrows as Erin had lost her phone somewhere in that area and we wanted to look for it.

I’ve posted all the photos from this hike at Picasa.

BTW, there seems to be NO water at the camps. We filled up at the Visitor Center, and then refilled at the Refuge Headquarters (there is a pump in front).

We hiked down into the Narrows area first. There are few marked trails here. We had to walk over a gate that protected the Boulder Cabin; the trailhead is on the far side of the cabin. We went down and looked for the phone for a while, no luck. There is a nice small lake in West Cache Creek that has a bluff overlooking it. I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t take the time to hike farther down the Narrows. I want to go down to Panther Creek next time; we didn’t get a quarter of the way there.

Here is the trail we took; it’s 0.9 miles total.

Next Erin wanted to see Lost Lake. I knew there was trail on the south and west sides of the lake. We drove there, parked, and headed out. It’s a nice walk out to the dam, and easy crossing of the dam, and then you are on the Bison Trail part of the Dog Run Hollow trail system. We followed it to the next dam, Fish Lake. We crossed the top of the dam. It’s only about 18 inches wide, and was slick in spots. If you slip, it’s either into the lake on one side, or down the face of the dam about 30 feet.

On the other side, we looked around and thought we found a trail. It petered out, and I took a bearing towards the nearest road, and so off we went cross country. I kept a close eye out for snakes. Eventually we found the road, and walked back to the parking lot on it.

Here is our trail. It was 1.3 miles.

We went over to Elk Mountain. We got flagged down by a Ranger, who would not let us onto the road since the parking lots were full. So that didn’t work. It was about 1215 at this point, so I made a command decision, and we headed off to lunch, then back home. There were only more people coming into the Refuge, so I figured that our chance of getting to Elk Mountain was nil.

On reflection, I should have gone back to the Narrows. I will head back down there at some point, maybe int the Fall.

Hiking Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Lawton, OK

26 May 2012

Hike summary: 6.1 miles through amazing terrain. About 240 ft of altitude gain.

I took a group of Scouts to WMWR last Saturday. Our objective was a shakedown hike for a backpacking trip to New Mexico in July. We wanted to do 10 miles. We ended up getting 6.1 due to a late start out of camp (and we were at Quartz Mountain, so we had an hour drive there and back).

We met another leader at the Visitor Center. A number of swallows have built nests above the entrance door. If you go there, cover your head! The Visitor Center has some really nice dioramas and other displays about the Refuge.

We drove a couple miles to the trailhead and loaded up. Here is the crew:

The hike follows Cache Creek for the first part. The river is really pretty.

After hiking up a while, you get above a really unexpected site, which is a medium deep canyon with Cache Creek flowing through it. It’s BEAUTIFUL! There are a number of pools of water that are swimmable in here, and if it were hotter, that would have been a real treat.

This is looking back into the canyon. It’s stunning!

If you stay on the trail, which is the east side of the canyon, you hike on to Lost Lake. However, we climbed down into the canyon and crossed the creek, the climbed back up on the west side to join the Bison Trail. It runs along the west side to the other side of Lost Lake. You do some climbing along here.

At one point, I used my cameras panorama feature to sweep from Lost Lake to the canyon.

Past Lost Lake, you hike along the creek a lot farther. There is good water all along the route. It’s nice and clear, so it’s filterable.

After a bit you vector away from the water. Ian had sharp eyes and saw this collared lizard right next to the trail. A bit farther on, we saw some bison in the distance.

We stopped at some point and had lunch on a rock outcropping. You will want to know that unless you get down near the shore, there is little cover along this part of the trail. We were running short of time due to our late start, so we detoured on the Longhorn Trail.

I was really surprised by how green it was. All of my previous experience at the Refuge has been in the Winter or Fall. With our good rain so far this year, the Spring in the Refuge is green and beautiful. I was constantly amazed by the carpets of red and yellow flowers.

We had some sprinkles as we walked, but the clouds had moved in shortly after we had lunch, so the temperature was very comfortable. We turned back to the southeast as we continued along the loop, and camp back to the river canyon. We crossed over again, and made it back to the van after about five hours on the trail.

Note that while there is some water on this side of the loop, there’s not that much.

Here is the hike path:

There is a lot of terrain down there left to cover. I’m looking forward to going back down there again. I want to hike Elk Mountain, and the lower part of the Narrows.

I took a lot more photos (and they are the full resolution pictures). They are uploaded to my Picasa site.

Hiking Hitchcock Nature Center, Crescent, IA

9 May 2012

I’m catching up on some posts due to being quite on the go for a couple weeks.

I was in the Omaha area the week of 23 April. On the 24th, my meeting got out a little early, and so I decided to hike at Hitchcock Nature Center. It’s north of Crescent, IA, which is about 10 miles northeast of Omaha, in the rolling hills east of the Missouri River.

Summary, 3.6 miles, lots of up and down, lots of bugs.

I got there around 1600. The very nice and enthusiastic young lady in the visitor center pointed me at the trails on the north side of the center. They have water at the visitor center, and leave the doors to the restrooms open there as well, a nice touch. The center also has a very tall observation tower to walk up, with fantastic views. It costs $2 to get in. The gate doesn’t close until 2200.

The trails are pretty easy to follow for the most part. The main part of the part is very well signed.

The north part of the park had some fairly trackless areas. I took a slight detour to look at a farm that was FULL of very large tadpoles (like, 5″ long tadpoles).

Here is the ground track and altitude.

Lots of up and down!

My recommendation: bring bug spray! I was constantly waving gnats away from my face, and picked about 10 ticks off my socks. It was unseasonably hot, which meant a lot of sweating.

But this is a very nice area for a walk. I saw no animals except for tadpoles and some birds, including a couple bluebirds and what I think was a gold finch. I’m looking forward to going back.

Hiking Patapsco River State Park, MD

19 April 2012

Summary: 5.3 miles, about 300 ft of altitude gain, nice out-and-back with a lollipop.

Monday I got into BWI around 1330, checked into the hotel, and got a late lunch. After doing some work, I decided it would be a good afternoon for a hike. I have wanted to hike Patapsco River SP for a while, so that was my target.

A word about planning. The state parks of Maryland are uniformly wonderful. The hike information provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) uniformly sucks. There are no maps online – they only want you to buy maps from their vendor. It makes planning difficult.

So I headed towards the PRSP HQ. I got there and paid my $4 fee, and asked the attendant about hiking trails. He handed me maps (why can’t these be online?) and told me that at that part of the park there was less than a mile of trails. The longest trail is at the Avalon area, he gave me directions, and told me that my $4 fee covered me there as well. I headed out.

I got on the trail around 1700. A sign warned that the park closed at 1945. I note that when I got off the trail and headed out, there was an MDNR ranger parked at the gate with his lights on, waiting at 1930 to close that gate at 1945.

As I drove to the trailhead through the park, I immediately saw several deer off the road in the woods. It’s a pretty drive. You go under I-95, which is on a bridge at least 200 ft over your head. There is no water at the trailhead, although I did find water at one of the shelters. Bring your water bottles full.

I headed out on a nice wooded trail. The trail is near the river, and winds around quite a bit. It also doesn’t go very far.

There is a lot of pretty neat stonework in the area; here is an example.

This heron was sitting by the river. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this bird is about four feet tall.

The nice hiking trail ends at a big pond. I went around the pond on the south, and picked up much smaller trails that continued along the river. Eventually, the trail veered back to the paved path due to a deep culvert. The culvert went all the way to the path, and turns out was sourced from a creek that came from Vineyard Spring. There was a VERY nice trail here that led up into the hills.

This trail went up at a fairly steady pace, and it was a very nice walk. The trail along here is shared between hikers and mountain bikers. About halfway up, the trail splits, with a hiker-only segment to the right. It goes up very steeply and then levels out (the shared trail continues up at a constant but shallower rise). At the top, you can lollipop back down, or take a trail to the NE or to the NNW (I note for the record that these trails are documented on a big map at the trailhead, but are not online).

At the bottom, I headed back towards the river. There were occasionally abandoned stuff along the way, like this gas/oil tanker.

At some point, you lose even the smaller trails. I ended up walking back to the paved road and finished my walk there heading back to the trailhead. This shelter was along the trail; it’s where I found the working water fountain.

Here are topo, terrain, and altitude maps.

The image above is courtesy of Garmin MapSource.

The image above is courtesy of Google Earth.

The image above is courtesy of Garmin Basecamp.

This was a nice hike. The emphasis along this part of PRSP is the paved jogging/biking trail. The rougher trails are up in the hills. It bugs me a little that the MDNR will not post maps to allow you to plan your hike. If I had known that the main emphasis here was the paved path I would have diverted somewhere else.

Hiking (Towards) El Cajon Peak, San Diego, CA

1 April 2012

Hike summary: 6.2 miles round trip. HARD uphills, in both directions, with altitude gain of 775 feet net, 1700 total. For sure the hardest hike I’ve been on in San Diego. Or most anywhere else!

Last Wednesday, I took a shot at hiking El Cajon after work. I headed out for the trailhead about 1230 after lunch. Unfortunately, road work on Wildcat Canyon Road delayed me for 45 minutes. I didn’t get on the trail until after 1430.

The last time I tried El Cajon, the parking lot was closed at 1700. Wednesday, the parking lot was signed to be closed at 1900, so I set a time limit of 1630 to start my return. I’ve got to say, I was too optimistic on this hike. I got off to a good start, but I haven’t had a lot of hiking time in the past nine months, and so I wasn’t in good enough shape to keep a steady pace. The thing is, most mountain hiking is up up up, then back down down down. This one is up, down, up, down, up, down. It’s nearly has hard coming down as it was going up.

When you get to the trailhead, the parking area is a fenced and gated lot. Why? There is no water, so fill up before you get there. Once you get started hiking, there is a road that goes up continuously for a full half mile, to another smaller parking lot that you can’t park at, where the actual trailhead is. There is a toilet here, and a small picnic area, but again no water.

The trailhead is marked, on the east side of the toilet. There is a road on the south side, that I figured out later is a second trailhead. I switchbacked up a while before I ran across a sign that pointed to the parking lot, to the right. WTH? When I was coming back, I was a little ahead of schedule, so I took that right turn and walked up a bit more to a nice overlook that had a rough bench, where I took a break.

The trail is fairly wide.

There are a lot of cactus-type plants. This one was just starting to flower.

This is an example of the up and down nature of the trail. The first part of the hike ends up in the “saddle” that is visible in the upper right of the below photo. Then you hike down into the valley that is in the middle of the picture, and then come back up on the trail. You can see these clearly on the altitude plot.

The views up there are pretty impressive. There was some kind of helicopter exercise going on down in the valley while I was up there, three of them moving around over the valley floor.

As you get a little higher, the view gets better. In this picture, Mission Trails Regional Park and Cowles Peak is in the middle, and off in the distance you can see the downtown skyline in front of Point Loma.

One of the things the wannabe geologist in me noticed was that thee are several varieties of granite in the area. I saw at least four varieties.

On the way back, I stopped for a break at the overlook. It’s high enough that you can see the ocean from up there. Not much, but it’s there. This is the area of Torry Pines Preserve.

So I didn’t make it all the way to El Cajon peak. I was just not in good enough shape, and got too late a start. I made it just over halfway to the peak. I was planning on starting serious conditioning for my next Yosemite hike in June, but instead I will be starting Monday.

There is little shade on this hike. This was my first extended time in the sun since last fall, and I got a bit of a sunburn (it was gone the next morning). It’s really dry; I ran across no flowing water anywhere, although parts of the trail was just a bit muddy due to seepage.

Here are topo, terrain, and altitude plots for the hike.

Note on the above. I have been using Garmin Mapsource for my topo maps, and Excel for the altitude plots (pasting data from the Mapsource point listing). I got the latest free Garmin product, Basecamp. It downloaded from my GPS with no problem, and generated this altitude plot easily, but it was much harder to use to grab the tracks out of the GPS. I will play with it a bit more to see if I missed something.

This last is a terrain plot from Google Earth, as usual.

I am looking forward to giving El Cajon another try at some point in the near future. I need to get in a little better shape and start earlier.

I do not understand the logic in California of closing access to the backcountry at some point in time. I wrote an email to the San Diego Parks and Recreation asking why they close the parking area at 1900, but have no answer yet.

One thing that was pretty cool was the use of photovoltaics by most of the houses on the lower part of the trail. These houses had solar arrays outside, pretty big ones.

Hiking Billy Goat Trails B and C, C&O Canal NHP, MD

3 February 2012

I really enjoy C & O Canal National Historic Park. It’s so close to a major metropolitan area, but so accessible. In May 2010, I was able to experience the Park for the first time, hiking the rugged and wonderful Billy Goat Trail “A” segment. Then last April 2011, I tried to hike the “B” and “C” segments, but the flooding Potomac prevented that. This week, I flew into BWI around noon Tuesday, and was able to complete my “B” and “C” hikes on a wonderful, spring-like day.

Summary: The rest of the Billy Goat Trail. 6.8 miles of fairly rugged trail next to a beautiful Potomac River.

The B and C trails are not quite as rugged as the A segment, but they can get very close! I have not been able to do much hiking in the past six months for a variety of reasons, so this was a pleasant challenge. I got to the parking area to find it gone, or rather, under repair. There is new construction there, some sort of building on the Park (I hope it will have water!). Visitors need to park on the road during this period.

I got changed into my shorts (it was mid-60s) and got started. It was about 1400. The towpath is washed out and being worked on between the “A” and “B” segments, but there is a bypass that uses a maintenance road.

I started out walking down a short path to the river. There was a lot of crud that had been washed up from the floods last Spring. The river was beautiful.

The trail along here starts out flat and wide.

It quickly gets more narrow and going up and down a bit.

This was a pretty neat little climb. You get to go up the rock at a 45deg incline, left to right.

The Potomac is almost always nearby. There are a couple islands as well, that help make some very scenic secondary channels.

At one point along the “C” trail, this heron was perched on a rock.

At one point on the “C” segment, the trail splits, with one going up and around some rocks, and one going right down to and along the river. It follows the bottom of some huge and beautiful rocks, and ends where the rocks jut out into the river. This is an excellent spot to sit, have some water, eat a snack, and relax. The rocks soar up about 100 ft behind you.

Towards the end of the “C” segment, you are right opposite a place where the Potomac has some gentle rapids.

These are images of my ground track, with terrain from Google Earth, and altitude.

So my basic path was to walk down to the towpath, go east until I found the first entrance to the “B” segment, walk it, take the towpath farther east to the entrance to the “C” segment, then walk all the way back on the towpath.

I saw no animals except for birds (and not many of them). No squirrels, even.

This was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. I have been on most of the trails in the NHP, but would not mind going back and rehiking some of them.

Hiking Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas

22 December 2011

Summary: 5.4 miles of hiking in rough and beautiful terrain, with high bluffs and lots of trees.

The Extreme 15 patrol of Troop 15 is working up to a serious high adventure backpacking trip, and decided to go to Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas to backpack the Butterfield Trail. Another leader and I accompanied them. Unfortunately, one of our Scouts got quite ill with some stomach crud overnight, and could not keep food down, so the next morning we decided to do some low-intensity day hiking and then head back a day early. The Butterfield will still be there.

We headed out from Oklahoma City about 1740 and got to Devil’s Den around 2200, after a couple short stops along the way. It was chilly (around 40F) when we got there. Everyone got tents up quickly, and racked out. We shook everyone out around 0730 then next morning. Our first view of the park in the daylight revealed a beautiful area. We were in Area B, above the river, which was burbling happily. It had been down to about 22F, so all of the tents had frost on them.

We had brought a Coleman stove, and quickly got water hot for cocoa and breakfast. Breakfast was the famous eggs and sausage in a ziplock, and everyone seemed to enjoy it, since nothing was left… After Glen and I checked with our less-than-happy ill Scout, we decided to bag the original plan to backpack the Butterfield, and instead left the tents to dry off, loaded up our backpacks, and headed off to day hike.

Almost forgot, the cost to camp was $14 per night. The Visitor Center was closed when we got there, but before hiking I headed over and paid the fee the next morning.

We chose to head up the Yellow Rock trail. It winds around and touches other trails, goes under and around large rock outcroppings, and skirts the top of bluffs that have excellent views down into the valley that the Park is in.

The trail crosses water at many points. Several of these streams had a series of tumbling waterfalls. If the water situation on the Butterfield is similar (no reason to think otherwise), then getting water on that hike will not be an issue. There didn’t seem to be any agriculture to speak of around the Park either, so no worries about fertilizer or pesticide in the water.

One thing about hiking in December – you can see a good, long ways through the trees. I think that the green oaks during the spring and summer are really pretty, but the starkness of the winter, with the leaves on the ground, has it’s own beauty.

When we started out, the temps were in the low 30s. The high got to around 50F after noon.

We took our first break at a spectacular bluff. The ridge in the background is the structure that the Butterfield loops around. The ridge also has a trail along it’s spine.

This was a particularly beautiful stream we crossed. It had a series of small falls above and below the trail.

The hike to the overlook ran along a number of ridges. This was a typical view. The trail was well defined, but I must note that the trail map the Park uses doesn’t show all of the interconnections. The blazes were easy to follow, though.

This hike was 4 miles long, with a maximum altitude gain of over 400 feet.

We had lunch at the Overlook, and then headed back down to camp. We were looking for a trail that paralled a road, but instead just followed the road to camp. Once there, we took the tents down, a couple of the guys took short naps, and then we headed to our next hike.

Before we broke camp, I walked up to some overhanging bluffs that were above our camp. The bluffs had hundreds of steady streams of water coming over them.

The next hike was the short Devil’s Den Trail. It starts and ends at the Visitor Center. This trail leads by some spectacular terrain features! We first came up to some rock formations that lead down into caves. None of the caves were open, due to concerns about protecting the bat populations from White Nose Syndrome.

As you can tell from the pictures, some of the cracks were very deep.

The rock outcroppings were pretty amazing.

There is an amazing waterfall along the trail.

This is near the end of the trail.

This hike was 1.4 miles long.

Here are our hike maps. The first hike to the overlook is in yellow, and the Devil’s Den trail is in blue.

This was a wonderful, if short, experience. The Park is stunning. There is no cell service in the Park proper (it’s in a deep valley), but we got occasional service on the ridges above the Park. I’m going to bring the family here to stay in one of the cabins, and certainly come back with the Scouts to backpack the Butterfield.

Hiking Waldo Canyon, Colorado Springs, CO

1 October 2011

Hike Summary: 7.3 miles, 1085 net altitude gain. Decent hike. Started about 1445, and done around 1830.

The meeting I was at got done early, around noon, and after lunch and an email check, I selected Waldo canyon and headed out. It’s very close to downtown Colorado Springs, right up US 24. The parking lot holds about 15 cars. There is no water there, so fill up before you get there.

There is a lot of up here, but it is balanced by some contour following. I took one break to participate in a telecon for work, and another near the top to admire the view and the breeze.

The trail starts out wide and graveled. Note that there is NO cover for this part of the hike. The trail goes up to a loop, and every bit of the pre-loop, and about 1/3 of the east side of the loop, is pretty much exposed to the sun.

A couple hundred feet up, there is a formation of Pikes Granite. It’s pretty cool.

One other thing I noted on this part of the trail, there are tons of sparkles of pyrite in the trail. It makes for an interesting effect as you walk if you are looking down.

As you get higher, you get some pretty decent views of Colorado Springs. I took this shot from a trailet that led a bit east off the main trail. That’s Cheyenne Mountain to the right, and US 24 left of center.

There are some places where you get cover. The trail is always side and well paved. There are very few places where you have to stairstep using rocks or roots.

As you get higher, Pikes Peak comes into view, looming a couple ridges over.

I think this very cool cliff formation is Williams Canyon. More on that later.

Eventually you come to up and over the trail high point, and you are at the top of Waldo Canyon. This pano is naturally dominated by Pikes Peak.

You start heading back down at the point. One thing I noticed, at one place on the trail, there were a bunch of pine pieces; each had a lot of small pine cones on. I wondered if some squirrels had been stocking up.

Going down the canyon, there were a couple mongo boulders – huge!

The trail down follows a creek. This was the only water on this trail, and there was not very much of it. It was clear, at least. This is looking back up-trail. A pool-let of water is just to right of center.

I saw a number of squirrels and some birds, but no medium or large mammals. There was some rustling in the leaves to the side of the trail every once in a while, but it could have been birds, chipmunks, or a cougar, who knows.

Here are the maps for the trail topo, terrain, and altitude:

I have tried a couple times to do a 3D plot of a hike. Excel (which I use to generate the altitude graphs like the one right above) claims 3D capability, but I tried many times, with no luck. I tried GnuPlot today, and generated this in about five minutes:

This was interesting. GnuPlot generated the plot, and using the arrow keys, you can shift the perspective in all three dimensions. Useful? Don’t know. Cool? Very.

I saw a total of about 10 people on this hike, and three dogs. It was about 83F when I got on the trail and about 75 when I got back down. I had cell coverage for probably 80% of the hike. Nice hike, I’d do it again.

My plan had actually been to hike both the Waldo Canyon loop, by going up the Waldo Canyon loop counterclockwise, then head on a trail connector over to Williams Canyon, then to the head of that canyon, then complete the Waldo loop. But, I never saw the connector to Williams Canyon. One thing I did not do before I headed out was download the local topo map into my GPS. I just did a quick look of my GPS File Depot Colorado Map, and it shows neither a Williams Canyon placemark or a trail connecting Waldo and Williams. I will have to go back to find the site that referenced that connector trail and see if there is a GPX I can get. Later.

This final shot is not part of the hike, but it is the sunset behind the mountains as I went looking for dinner. I think that the sun is setting over the Waldo Canyon area.

Happy trails!

Hiking Starkey Wilderness Park, New Port Richey, FL

19 September 2011

Last Monday I got into TPA near noon, got across the Bay, had lunch, got checked into the hotel, and got the accumulated email taken care of. I wanted to go for a hike, and picked this area. It was about 30 miles from my hotel in Largo.

I got there about 1600. There is a staffed booth for campers. They sort of rudely have a sign in the window that they did not make change. The fee to enter the park was $2. It cost me $5 since they did not make change.

I walked 6.9 miles at this park. I really had no idea where I was going, there were no trail maps at the entrance station. I saw two trail markers – one for the nature trail, and one for the bike trail. I ended up stumbling across another trail, and I essentially walked until I got so sweaty that I decided I was done for the day. It was pretty humid, but not terribly hot.

The first thing I did was find one of the parking areas. On the way there, I passed this guy scarfing grass on the side of the road; he’s about a foot long. I believe this is a Gopher Tortoise, which is native to and common in Florida. I saw one just like him right before I got on the nature trail.

I started off walking along what I thought was a trail through the trees. Not so much. I walked on a road for a while, detoured off the road to an open play area, and then ran across a sign that pointed to the nature trail. The nature trail was a little more like it.

At some point the trail branched, so I took the branch. I ended up in a swamp. It should be noted that there were many places on the nature trail (and everywhere else) where the ground was waterlogged and muddy. But this was a no-kidding, the-body-will-never-be-found, swamp. There were a lot of mosquitoes there as well. I backtracked.

Eventually the nature trail came back to a playground. I came right back to the parking lot my car was in, and that’s where I ran across this very wide trail that led to the south.

I wandered along this trail for a while. I have a pretty good internal compass and distance indicator, so I knew how to get back (and I had set a waypoint in the GPS as well). There was lots more swamp and mud to walk around. I walked out to a point, looked at my sweaty shirt, and turned around and walked back. I sort of looped around another swampy area, then near the entrance station, and finally back to my car.

Here is my path on a topo map, a Google Earth overlay, and finally the park trail map that a work friend found online and sent to me.

The area I hiked is outlined in yellow. There is a lot of park left to hike.

I left around 1830.

Signage for the park is not very good. It’s flat. It’s got a lot of pretty trees and shade. It’s a swamp in places. It was nice hike. Max altitude gain was… 6″ (that was going from the trail to the road surface 🙂 ).

I really thought the “no change” sign was rude.

One thing that I find myself amused by. My last hike was thousands of feet of altitude change. This one was the equivalent of walking across a parking lot. Both were sweaty.

Backpacking Yosemite National Park, CA, 26-28 August 2011

5 September 2011

I have wanted to do some serious mountain backpacking at Yosemite for years. This year, a two-week business trip to San Diego, which had a three-day break in the middle due to the work schedule at the facility we were visiting, provided that opportunity.

Note: This blog post has only a few of the pictures I took. I uploaded the rest to Picasa here.

Hike summary

29.2 miles, from 4090 to 7983 feet altitude. Total elevation gain: 5750 ft. High waterfall climb, massive views, unexpected hordes of mosquitoes, hard walking, and great fellowship on this hike, with only minor injuries. Five guys, NO bitching (except for the comments about the hike leaders lack of consistency in what is “relative”, as in “After that little rise, it’s relatively level, guys!” 🙂 ).

We really scored well over 30 miles on this trip. The GPS noted at least an extra 0.5 miles when walking from the second camp out to the rim of the Valley several times, and we had extra mileage at lunch at Chilnualna Falls and at Glacier Point, and another 1.5 miles at the Mariposa Grove. Some serious walking, to be sure.

Getting There

We left San Diego Thursday and headed north through LA towards Yosemite. On the way there, north of Fresno, we saw an interesting smoke/cloud phenomenon. A lightning-caused fire started right outside the park a couple weeks ago, and per NPS policy, the fire is allowed to burn itself out naturally. The fire occasionally flares, and as we were outside Fresno, a flare occurred, and it got high enough to cause a cumulus cloud to form.

We got to Yosemite just before 1700 local. We had to buy a new yearly National Parks Interagency Pass; they cost $80, but are good for National Park and National Forest access for an entire year. It would cost $20 per vehicle otherwise. We hustled to Wawona, and got to the Wilderness Permit office at basically 1659. The Rangers were very accommodating, and got our permit issued, after a briefing on trail impact and sanitization (always camp or crap or pee 100+ft off any trail), fire safety, and bear safety. I also picked up three anti-bear food storage canisters (more than 1lb each).

We ended up each carrying an individual food storage canisters, since the interior was not sufficient to hold more than one mans worth of “smellables”. Each canister was $5 to rent, and they take a credit card as a deposit in case you want to keep yours. We didn’t.

One thing that I had missed was that we needed a reservation in a campsite for the first night. I had mistakenly thought that our permit entitled us to camp free the first or last night, but it turns out that only applies to a backpackers campsite in the Valley. We were cheerfully informed that we could drive the 40 minutes to the campsite in the Valley, but declined (since it would also mean a 40-min drive back in the morning).

One thing: there were only a couple available campsites at Wawona that evening, out of more than a hundred sites in the camp. Reservations in advance are taken, and I recommend making them.

We got a campsite in Wawona for $20, got set up, and then headed to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Redwoods to check out the huge trees there. When we got to the Mariposa Grove, the crew hiked up to the walk-through tree, then back down again. Those trees are amazing.

This is our campsite at Wawona; we didn’t use rainflys:

These are a couple photos of us hiking through the Mariposa Grove:

This little squirrel was eating one of the green pinecones that hung like bananas from some of the trees. He would shake the cone, throw off a “leaf”, and then eat something inside the cone, maybe a seed. A much larger squirrel came along while we were watching, and the little one started yelling in Squirrel, and eventually the little one rushed the larger one, and ended up running the larger one off. Tenacious little guy.

We had dinner at the Wawona Hotel. I wrote a blog post about it here. The staff at the Wawona were reluctant to give out the access code for their wifi, and there is no signal that my Blackberry could pick up, so I was not able to send any status message back home. I tried an ancient and formerly trusty device called a pay phone at the hotel, but it claimed that the phone I was trying to call would not receive my call, but they would be happy to connect anyway for $17. “Up yours”, thought I.

We got to camp around 2030. The sky was clear, and the stars… were… stunning!!! Even with the limited light from the other campers, the Milky way was clearly visible, and the stars were bright. I had to get up around 0200, and so had yet another group of stars visible, along with a super bright Jupiter.

We had breakfast (again at the Wawona Hotel) and final packing the next morning. We got another couple bear canisters (they open at 0830, not 0730 like the website says), filled our water bottles, drove to the trailhead, got our packs on, took a deep breath, and headed out.

Why We Went There, or Backpacking!

We hit the trail the first day at 0941. Our entry was the Chilnualna Falls trailhead, and the altitude was 4090 ft.

The trail was very nice along here. The trail is used by day hikers, so it is wider and smoother than a lot of backcountry trails. There was a lot of shade on the way up.

Since I had planned the route, I knew that the first day would be the hardest. It was brutal. It was hot, probably in the mid 80s, we were going up a steep path, with heavy packs. Even with the occasional fairly level places, we gained 2100 ft of altitude over about 5 hours. We took frequent breaks, but even so, it was an exercise in getting air. I don’t think any of us had problems from the muscle exercise, but getting air was an issue.

As we climbed, the view off to the west was increasingly pretty. We had a good view of Wawona Dome also. We all were thinking, “we are headed up there?”.

We also started seeing the Falls. The Falls isn’t a single or several waterfalls like Yosemite Falls, it is a series of cataracts that tumble down into the Wawona valley. The last one is as we were getting closer to the top.

Across the valley, I saw a structure on the ridge. I put my small binoculars on it, and it looks like an observation tower, maybe for fire monitoring.

When we got to the top, it was clearly time for an extended break. We had lunch, topped off our water, rested for a bit, sunburned a bit, and then explored the area.

A note here on people. On the climb up, we saw three people on horseback, about 10 day hikers, and two backpackers (and those two were headed down). On the second day, we saw not a single person on the trail until we passed Glacier Point Road, and even then, we only saw about ten people, all day hikers. For August, I expected to see more people in the backcountry.

When we were sufficiently rested, we headed back out. We soon found out we were not even at the top of the Falls. Whoops… We kept going up and up and up, and eventually found the top of the Falls, and then branched southeast into true backcountry.

We used every form of water purification on this trip. Lance had a bottle with a built-in filter. I used Aqua Mira liquid. Chuck and Brad had Aqua Mira tablets. Jason had a pump. Of course, we used the boiling method also for the dehydrated meals. The water was uniformly wonderful tasting. We didn’t have any issues finding it, except in one instance on the south rim of the valley, very high (there was a spring in the area, but we couldn’t find it, and we hiked a couple miles dry after using all our water for breakfast).

My original plan had been to make our way into the backcountry to one of the mountain lakes on the trail; Johnson or Crescent Lake. By the time we got to the second trail junction (that either went towards Bridalveil Creek Camp, or towards the lakes, we were pretty much done in for the day. If we had continued on to the lakes, we were looking at five miles or so more, which wasn’t so bad, but it was also about 1500 ft of additional altitude, up to 8500 ft. After talking it over with the team, we turned toward the north, and determined to make camp near the next trail junction, which was about ¾ mile away.

We found a nice campsite near a stream with good water shortly. It also had a fire ring (Yosemite requires all campfires to be in established fire rings). We stopped, pitched our tents, and got camp set up, all while being eaten alive by ravenous and obnoxious mosquitoes! We had limited bug spray, and basically used it all. Those blasted bugs were extremely obnoxious!

Our first day was a hike of 7.6 miles and 3365 feet (!) of altitude gain. Our campsite was at 7455 ft.

Camp was beautiful. A couple of the guys made a campfire, and the smoke helped with the mosquito situation a bit, which was very nice. There were a number of rounded rocks sticking out of the ground, which made for nice surfaces for our stoves.

We got water going for dinner, ate dinner, and then basically retreated to our tents before we became sucked dry. One of the little SOBs apparently was on me in my tent, and when I smacked it, I could not believe how much blood was on my hand.

It was cloudy that evening, and there had been a small chance of thunderstorms, so we used our rainflys. Almost as soon as we got into the tents to escape the mosquitoes, there were a couple passing spits of rain. I don’t think we would have been bothered even if we had not put the rainflys up. It was very pleasant temperature-wise, almost chilly. I was in my sleeping bag, but it was mostly unzipped.

I spent some time in the tent looking at routing, and thinking about our air capacities and legs. I thought about going east-northeast towards Buena Vista Junction for our second night (which was my original plan), but it was up and over some pretty high terrain. Instead I decided we would make north through Bridalveil Camp, and on to the south rim of the Valley.

The next morning, we all woke up earlyish, got our water boiling, ate, broke camp, and got moving around 0900. Everyone was a bit stiff from the uphill walk the day before, but we loosened up pretty fast. It was clear again. And the mosquitoes were back again.

The hike to Bridalveil Camp was about 7 miles, and was level for the most part. The day started out pleasant, but it got warm quickly, and so the sweating started again. The bugs were a little less annoying while we were walking, but were still there. We really moved out along this stretch.

It was a beautiful walk to the Camp. The terrain was varied, from woods to small meadows, to domes off to both sides.

There was an amazing variety of wildflowers along the trail.

As with most trails, there were occasional obstacles. These included fallen trees; this was the biggest we encountered.

We ended up on a ridge that had amazing views of the Parks high country off to the east. We rested here a bit, and drank in the views.

We followed Bridalveil Creek after a while, it was beautiful.

We stopped for lunch at the Bridalveil Creek Camp. They had real bathrooms there! We also took the opportunity to wash up as best we could – we were really dirty. One thing that was interesting, the Camp had pretty much been dedicated to fire crews that had been staged in from all over California. I don’t know if they were all fighting the fire outside of Yosemite, or were there in contingency, but there were a lot of them.

We left the camp, crossed Glacier Point Road, and headed for the south rim of the Valley. We got to the footbridge over Bridalveil Creek, and then headed back up again.

We filled water bottles here, and I think that this would have been a good place to have an extra bottle apiece. Between dinner this evening, and breakfast in the morning, we consumed every drop we carried up there. According to our map, there was a spring very near where we ended up camping, but we never found it (it was August, and the spring might have stopped).

We walked up a couple hundred feet at this point; it was hard but doable. And it was worth it. We ended up on a large mostly open area, and decided to camp there. Walking off the trail to the north, I knew the rim of the Valley was somewhere ahead, and then saw this through the trees:

It turns out that we were right between the face of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. We stood and marveled at the view for a while. A long while, it was stunning. The pictures really do not do the views justice. Finally, realizing Sun was going down, we went back and set up our tents, then we did some exploring.

That last one, is Luke waving from the next bluff over. The cliff walls below our camp were fairly sheer, thousands of feet pretty much straight down.

Sun set behind the smoke from the fire at the west end of the Park.

Our second day was a hike of 11.7 miles and a net 123 feet of altitude loss (there was still a lot of up there); we were at 7332 ft altitude. This was the single most beautiful camp I have ever been in. You could not be there for more than a minute without looking out at the view. And then standing there for a while. We still had mosquitoes, surprisingly enough, even with the altitude, the dryness of the camp (no water anywhere close), and a nice breeze. We noticed several bats as it was getting dark, and fervently wished them to come over and scarf the darn bugs around us.

That evening, the stars were even more stunning than they were at Wawona camp. The Milky Way was so plain. We saw numerous meteors and about 15 satellites. I stayed out a bit later than the other guys, with my head craned back until it hurt. There were occasional sightings of lightning; a storm was visible off to the Northeast once, but it was on the horizon, nothing near us.

We were all up and moving around 0700 Sunday morning. We got breakfast going and kept looking at that view.

One side note. When we were at the Wawona Hotel, there was an unusual package on top of a car. I wondered if it was a folded up hang-glider, and when the owner came out, I asked and he confirmed it. He said that the NPS gave them a “launch window” for flying at Glacier Point, and that for that weekend it was Friday – Sunday 0800 – 0900. Well, shortly after 0800, we saw this from camp:

That white dot to the right of center is a hang glider. We saw three of them flying around by Yosemite Falls. It takes some cojones to throw yourself off a 3Kft cliff, held up by some aluminum poles and ripstop nylon.

No one was in a hurry to leave that view. We got breakfast done, reluctantly packed up camp, and headed out again. Very reluctantly.

We hiked along close to the Valley edge for the most part. The views were amazing. Eventually we came to The Fissures. The Fissures have two interesting sets of things: the actual Fissures, but also some sheer walls. And I mean SHEER:

There is a railing there, but it doesn’t protect much area.

There is a place marker up there, and I had to compare the reported GPS altitude with the altitude measured by the surveyors who were up there before Oklahoma became a state. They did very well!

After the Fissures, we hiked another bit, and finally found a stream. It was small, but it was flowing and tumbling along, and we pumped everybody a couple full bottles of water, took big drinks, and topped them off again. The water was especially good tasting!

We walked under Sentinel Dome, but we were concerned about the time, so we bypassed walking up it. It’ll be there for another trip!

Below the trail to the Dome, and before we got to Glacier Point, we got this view. Staggering.

The path down to the Point was steep, and much of it was exposed. Hooray for sunblock.

The view from the Point is one of the most beautiful on the entire planet.

The hiking snob in me sort of wishes there was not a road to the Point.

Half of us decided to take the shuttle bus from the Point down to the Valley. The other half decided to finish the weekend out with a hike down 4-Mile Trail. It is STEEP. Luke got a burst of energy and jogged down most of it, wow! Lance and I jogged a bit, but going down is hard on a different set of muscles, so we ended up fast-walking most of it. Along the way, I got this view of Half Dome and the area of the Mirror Lake Trail; I decided this is one of my favorite views of the Dome.

Most of the way down has great aerial views of the Valley, and of course Yosemite Falls is part of that. You don’t usually get a view from directly across the base of the Upper Falls.

And of course here are the Fissures, and the area where we camped the night before. Amazing.

Eventually, we reached the bottom. And a good thing, too, since we were literally footsore. I had to take the obligatory “We were up there?” shot.

Our last day of hiking was 9.9 miles, and we had 3470 ft of altitude loss, ending up on the floor of Yosemite Valley.

Once we got down, we met up with the rest of the crew at Yosemite Lodge. I had three bottles of Lipton Iced Tea from the shop there (that stuff, by the way, is pretty good for mass-manufactured tea). We also went over to the Merced and waded a bit to wash the crud off our feet. And a lot of crud there was. That water was cold, wonderfully cold. I didn’t stay long, as I had washed off my sunblock along with the dirt. I used the bathroom at the Lodge to re-up deodorant, and we waited for my friend Jim to arrive from Fresno to shuttle us back to Wawona.

BTW, the black canisters on the ground in front of us are the anti-bear food canisters we carried. A little over a pound of extra weight.

The timing of our exit from the Valley was such that we got a wonderful backlit view of the entrance to the Valley. Not a bad way to call it a day.

We got our van from the trailhead, had dinner, and headed back to San Diego, arriving at 0400 Monday morning. The next day (or rather, the rest of that day) at work was kind of tiring, but no one crashed, at least until that night.

Here is our hike path over a topographic map, a Google Earth terrain, and an altitude plot. I broke the topo maps into the entire trip, then to zoom in on each days hiking.

This is the same altitude plot, but the waypoints from the GPS are annotated. I also took off the last part of the plot to accurately show that our end point in the Valley was higher than our starting point in Wawona.


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.


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.

Hiking Winter Creek Trail to Hoegees Camp, and Mount Zion, Chantry Flat, CA

12 June 2011

After my meeting on Thursday was done, I had a late lunch, and then hightailed it across LA to Arcadia – about 55 miles. I headed up Santa Anita into the Canyon, up to the parking area at Chantry Flat. When you get off Interstate 210 and turn north, you quickly run out of businesses and into a beautiful neighborhood. If you want to grab lunch, look to head south off of 210; there is a bunch of stuff within a couple blocks.

There is a gate where you get to the hills that states it is closed at 2000; there is apparently a phone number to call in case you get locked in. Just as a general comment, I do not see the logic in closing access to the wilderness between 2000 and 0600.

I got to Chantry Flat in short order, and parked. The parking area is kind of small, and even at 1430 on a Thursday afternoon, it was almost full. You have to pay $5 to access the area; the place to buy the pass is a “general store” that is up the hill a bit, but it’s only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There is a self-service pay station, but there were NO passes there. I paid my $5 and hoped I didn’t get a ticket in the meantime (I didn’t). There were no paper maps in sight; I took a picture of a map on the wall and referred to it a couple times on my Blackberry.

They have water at several locations in the area, so you can fill your bottles on the hill. The temp when I arrived was in the 80s, and it was fairly humid. There are heads at the trailhead.

Hike summary: 8.3 miles, 2300 ft of total elevation gain. The most beautiful hike I have had in Southern California. Started at 1500, finished at 1930.

The Lower Winter Creek Trail starts off going down into Santa Anita Canyon. The trail starts out as a road.

At the bottom you can walk a little downstream to see a couple of waterfalls. I wanted to get started so I headed up the trail, which at this point is packed dirt and occasional rock.

Winter Creek is beautiful. I was amazed at how clear it is. It tumbles over rock, with a lot of little waterfalls. You can almost always hear it running as you walk.

There are a number of man-made dams on the creek as you walk along. Most are of the same basic construction.

In the first photo, note that the water downstream of the dam is clear enough to see rocks on the bottom of the stream even from the distance. That water was beautiful and clear.

The rock formations on the canyon walls were varied and beautiful. Some of them had really neat veining, others were solid chunks. It was a chore to keep your balance as often you get to rock hop on the trail. By the way, you cross Winter Creek about a dozen times on the way up.

Eventually you get to Hoegees Camp. This is one beautiful campsite. It has heads. The water is from Winter Creek.

On the hike up, you pass a number of cabins. I don’t know if those are private, or rented, but the only access is by walking.

I just keep going back to the sheer beauty of this trail. You are shaded the entire time. It’s a fairly steady climb as well, and you occasionally rock and root hop. The melody of the flowing water is there also. I didn’t hear a single human-made sound (as in cars or airplanes) the entire time.

Above the camp, there is a turnoff for the trail up Mount Zion. This trail is narrower, and has some definite watch-out spots.

Right about this time, the batteries in my trusty HP 735 camera went kaput. Fortunately, I had a backup in my Blackberry camera. As I climbed up the Zion trail, I broke out of the taller trees (less water, less woods), and started seeing some valley views. You can see how some of the LA Basic Haze-Crud was present. I think that the antennas visible on the farthest peak are on Mt. Wilson.

This is two shots looking down-valley. You can see the cities of the basin to the right, through the crud.

This really cool cactus-looking plant was at the wye of one of the switchbacks.

I reached the top of Mt. Zion after some hard and sweaty hiking. There is not a lot of cover up there (no trees, just thick bushes), but I sat for a while and rested, had a bag of Sun Chips, ate some chocolate candy, and drank some water. The bushes gave shade when I was there about 1800, but during the noon period this would be very exposed.

Looking down the valley again, and much higher, you can see the crud layer over the LA Basin very clearly.

While I was up on Zion, I noticed this lizard sitting on a bush. It was quite calm and let me get close and look at it. It has iridescent blue and green on the underside. This lizard (I saw one like it on one of the man-made dams, and several others on or next to the trail) will walk a couple steps, and then do some push-ups. Don’t know why.

I saw this very interesting plant on the way down.

After getting back to the Lower Winter Creek Trail, I decided that I had enough time to hike the longer way back on the Upper Winter Creek Trail. There was a bit of a climb after crossing Winter Creek again, but then the trail started down again. The Upper trail is a little more rugged in several ways, and is a little slippery in a number of places.

This is a view of Mt. Zion from the Upper trail.

After going around a shoulder, this light colored outcropping was very striking.

Saw a number of interesting plants. There were some very pretty small flowers, like this one. I also saw an unusual seed pod; it’s about 1 inch in diameter.

Finally, you get a good view of the parking area with about a mile to go.

Here is my GPS route overlaid on the topographic map of the area, the Google Earth Terrain, and finally the altitude plot.

The altitude plot shows the trail dropping into the bottom of Santa Anita Canyon to start, then following the stream uphill. Past Hoegees Camp, I took a side trail off to Mount Zion – that is over 1000 feet of elevation gain all by itself. Then there is another shorter altitude gain to make the “upper” part of Upper Winter Creek Trail true.

There was intermittent cell signal on some of the trails that were on the southeast shoulders of the hills.

I was just astounded at how beautiful the trail was (on the Lower trail along the stream, especially). This was a fantastic hike, not for beginners, but doable especially if you take it easy. I would like to hike some of the rest of this area, but don’t get out there very often, and so don’t know when I will have the opportunity again. I’ve done some hiking in the Mount Wilson area back in 1996, and in the Big Bear area back in 2007 (I think), but this trail blows those away in scenic terms.

On the way up the Lower trail, I passed about 20 people, and on the way down, I passed about 15 more. Coming down the Upper trail, I passed and was passed by about five trail bikers. Several of these were going too fast, and one of them came very close to running me down from behind; I heard his braking skid and leapt to the side of the trail in a very timely manner. Didn’t even get an excuse me or anything. One bike rider rang a little bell as he was coming around every turn (it was the same sound as the message-received tone my friend Gayle uses on her phone, and just for a second I wondered if she was waiting around that corner!). I didn’t see a single person on the Zion trail.

There was not a lot of wildlife. Some very nice birds, including a pair of Hooded Orioles (beautiful birds!), a number of the push-up lizards, and a couple squirrels. I saw one hawk (falcon-shaped), and heard one owl hooing (this was on the Upper trail).

A funny postscript. I did this hike Thursday evening, and then flew back to Oklahoma City Friday. I unpacked my bag in the evening, and set my hiking boots on the floor next to the bag. For the past 24 hours, our two cats have been all over those boots. They grab them with both claws, and smell and lick and rub their cheeks all over the boots, in particular the soles. Raegan says I probably stepped into sand with cougar pee in it, or where a bear crapped. It’s funny watching the two cats act like they are on cat drugs.

This was a great way to spend an afternoon and evening. Recommended.

Hiking Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, Lake Forest, CA

9 June 2011

I tried to hike here about a year ago. I got out of my meeting around 1600, and headed directly to Whiting Ranch, but rain earlier in the week had caused the Orange County Powers That Be to close the park. I had better luck this time.

Hike summary: 5.5 miles and 800 feet of altitude gain, evening animals, forest canyon and desert.

I got here around 1820, a late start. Our meeting had finished about 1645, and I hustled back to the hotel and changed and headed out. Traffic on the 405 was pretty slow due to normal traffic, compounded by a rollover wreck, and then hitting every red light in SoCal.

Parking at the trail head is $3. There is a water fountain there, but it was low, low flow, so it’s probably better to fill your bottle somewhere else. I was at the Borrego Trail entrance. The trail head is in a heavily urban area, and the trail starts out in a canyon between two housing developments.

There are two mountain lion warning signs; here is the first.

The trail is mostly hard packed dirt. You start off in trees, and it’s very pretty, before the trail gives way to out-in-the-open hillside.

You are actually following a stream bed on this part of the hike. It’s nice, there are occasional trickles of water. One downer, there are a couple stretches where you are walking in the dry streambed, and it’s sand, and very hard to walk in.

While in the streambed, I saw an outstanding example of why not to build on soft rock. The sand was coming from the bluff to the north, which had a number of doubtless expensive houses built on it.

I walked to the intersection of Mustard Road, and took it left for the vista point. At one point, I took a turn onto Cow Pond Loop, thinking for some reason it looped back to the trail I was on (when the map clearly showed otherwise), and walked it to the east fork of the Mustard Road trail. So I got a little double-tracking. NBD.

The trail up the hill sometimes goes through flowers and other plants. It’s not very wide.

The vista point has decent views, and a picnic table. After looking up there a couple minutes, i turned around and headed back, as Sun was already down.

Here is my GPS data overlaid on a topo map, Google Earth terrain, and an altitude plot.

You can see a couple things on the altitude. First, the x axis is time. The plot should be fairly symmetric since it was an out-and-back. On the way up, I took the Cow Pond Loop, which looped back to the east side of the main trail. Then, coming back from the vista point, I stopped on the shoulder and made a call back home a bit before my usual 2215 Central time; since the x axis is time, it looks like I walked a long flat trail segment when I was in reality standing.

There was little wildlife to be seen until I got back down into the canyon and it was getting dark. I saw numerous bats, saw two skunks (both of which lifted their tails my direction), a couple bunnies, numerous bush rattles, and most memorably, there were three owls talking to each other. Before it got dark, I saw three hummingbirds and a couple sparrows.

I saw about seven people walking on the trail, and about ten mountain bikers, several of which were traveling down hill like lunatics at breakneck speed.

This was a nice way to spend a couple hours. I haven’t hiked 10% of this park, and I look forward to hiking more of it.

Goddard Visitor Center and National Wildlife Visitor Center, MD

14 May 2011

Thursday, I had some time on my hands after meetings, and these two places were conveniently on the way to BWI, so I stopped at each to visit.

A place like Goddard really brings out the nerd in me!

This was my third try at visiting Goddard Space Flight Center. The first time, about a year ago, I got there at 1510, but they close at 1500. The second time was Monday when I arrived in the area; I got there at 1230, but they are closed Monday and Tuesday. I got there at 1245 Thursday. The neatest part was the Rocket Garden outside.

This one shows some of the buildings on the main Goddard campus, and the myriad of cool antennas.

Inside, there were some really cool exhibits. My favorite was a set of images of the Sun showing various activity, such as promenences and flares. I really liked this one also; it shows the Sun in X-Ray, and the activity difference between the solar minimum and maximum.

This is looking at the “business end” of a plasma generator.

They also have a mockup of a Gemini capsule. It’s the same basic shape as a Mercury capsule, but the dimensions are slightly larger. There are two seats in there, and if you sit in them, you can briefly imagine what it was like to sit in there for up to two weeks! I have always admired the courage of the men who volunteered to squeeze in a small space like that, on top several thousand tons of highly explosive material, and have it LIT.

There is a decent gift show. My favorite things there were license plate frames for the employees. One had “Yes, I AM A Rocket Scientist”, and another “186,000 MPS… It’s The Law!”. I think I would like working with those guys.

From Goddard, I went to the National Wildlife Visitor Center. I’ve passed the place a million times on the BW Parkway. Turns out the real name of the place is the Paxutent Research Refuge National Wildlife Visitor Center. There is a nice interpretive exhibit that looks like it was created in the 80s. That’s not a slam; there was interesting information in there.

There are also hiking trails in the refuge. Turns out that the Visitor Center is on the southern, smaller tract. The north, and much larger tract, buts right up against Fort George Meade. The north tract has many more miles of hiking, and I will walk some of those on a future trip (one note, a minor gripe, I haven’t found ANY information on the trails here anywhere on line. I wonder why).

I headed out on the trail on the Loop Trail, then vectored to the Cash Lake trail, taking several spurs to lookout points.

I saw this and thought it was a viewing tower. Turns out it is a nesting bird tower.

The trail is pretty.

I didn’t go fast on the trail. It was about 75F, no wind, and very pretty. The only downer is an almost constant low-frequency traffic noise from the east. There was also someone persistently shooting from the west. I crossed a floating bridge and had a flyby from two herons. Around the corner, I found one of them and snuck up on it just a bit.

You walk over the dam for the lake, and loop back the other side. Eventually, I came to the Valley Trail. This odd tree growth was on a tree there.

From the Valley Trail I came back to the Visitor Center via the Laurel Trail. I didn’t bring my GPS, but the mileage according to the map is around two miles.

I didn’t see all that much wildlife. There were some geese. One highlight – I saw a Baltimore Oriole! I have wanted to see one in the wild ever since I wrote a report on them for Mrs. Allen in my 4th grade class at Whittier Elementary in Muskogee. It was a beautiful bird that sat on a branch and looked at me from about 20 feet away for about 15 seconds (too short for me to get my camera out, on, and aimed). I also saw about 500 tadpoles in a pond, one toad on the trail, and a skink. There was also a freshly-killed black garter-type snake; I think it was on the road/trail between Cash and Redington Lakes, and was run over by an employee who drove down that road while I was on the road. The guy probably didn’t see the snake, it was only about 9″ long.

This is a map of the south tract trail system.

From here I headed to BWI. I got there about 3.5 hours early, and found out that my flight to MSP was already an hour late arriving, which meant I would have ended up spending the night somewhere there. I was early enough that I changed my flight to come home via ATL, which meant that I got to fly on a B737 and MD88 instead of a pair of RJs, and it got me in to OKC an hour before my original arrival time to boot. So that worked out OK.

Hiking Paxutent River Park, MD

14 May 2011

One of the things I really enjoy about the mid-Atlantic corridor is the plethora of parks and green spaces. Last Monday, I flew into BWI for a week of meetings in the DC area, and after I checked into the hotel, I went to Paxutent River Park. It is about 15 miles from where I was staying in Waldorf, MD.

Hike summary: 5.3 miles, from the shore of the Paxutent River to the forest and back to the river. Got there around 1545 and left around 1815.

I went to the Visitor Center to see if I needed to pay an entrance fee; the person at the desk didn’t ask for any. I picked up a trail map, and I was off!

Most of the trail is packed dirt, and is just a bit rough. That’s not a criticism, understand, I prefer my trails like that.

In general (refer to the trail map for this, I went the following route: Brown, Green, Red (very short time), Blue, Purple, and Red again. The last part of the Red trail seems to be along the road only.

The trees in the park are amazing. We have tall trees in Oklahoma, but not a lot like these, with their thin trunks and high canopies (the wind here is too much for that sort of tree).

This unusual set of roots was along the Brown trail.

At a couple points, you get a good view of the Paxutent River. There is a spur off the Green trail that leads you to an overlook, but there is an unofficial trail that leads from the overlook right down to the river bank. It was marshy down there, I don’t know if the river as a whole was down, or if there was a tide out effect.

There are a number of structures in the river. I realized that the structure to the left was a nest platform, for Ospreys. There were several along the river.

I could not figure out what the structure to the right was. When I got back to the main part of the park, there was one a little closer to shore, and it turned out that in each case it was a platform for a camera and a transmitter. They are Osprey-Cams. Very cool.

After I got off the trail, I wandered around the main area of the park. You can go right down to the water. There is a fishing dock, a boat ramp, and apparently canoes and kayaks can be rented.

Here are the usual maps of the hike, based on topography, the terrain as overlayed on Google Earth, and the altitude.

Once again, my GPS altitude is questionable. There were a couple decent climbs, but I do not think that almost 200 ft is justified. The topo map (max altitude indicated of only 80 ft) bears this out. I will investigate in my copious spare time to see what the GPS problem might be.

Here is the trail map. I could not find this online anywhere. The MD department of parks has a vague reference to hiking trails here, and some websites had hike reports, but I didn’t find a trail description anywhere.

This was a wonderful way to spend a couple hours not in a hotel room! I saw NO people on the trails, amazingly enough. There were people walking on the road into the park (why there, the forest is far prettier). As for wildlife, I saw a couple squirrels in the mammal category, and a fair number of birds, including the ospreys. One curious thing, I saw two dead voles, in both cases right in the middle of the trail. Neither had any sign of trauma, and hadn’t been there very long (no ants on them). Wonder why…

This is a basic walk in the trees. I liked it.

Book Read: Oklahoma Hiking Trails, by Frates and Floyd

7 May 2011

I have to say up front, I hate Mr. Frates and Mr. Floyd, just because *they* got to write this book! All kidding aside, this is the sort of book I would have written if I didn’t have that pesky job to attend to.

I got this book from the kids as a gift in December. I have glanced at it several times since then, and finished it cover to cover today. The authors have good advice on hiking Oklahoma, in particular the areas with lots of ticks and chiggers.

They have a list of the top six trails in Oklahoma (why not top 10?). I am proud to say that I have hiked five of the six, and will hike #6 (the David Boren Trail) sometime in May or June of this year, since it is (sort of) conveniently on the way to Dallas from Oklahoma City.

The book is divided into regions of the state. I was gratified to find that the authors identified a number of trails that I was not aware of that are near routes that I frequently travel. This will no doubt translate into some hiking diversions when I am on the road to Omaha and Dallas.

I would have liked to see a bit more discussion of water in the book. As an example, the notes for the Greenleaf trail indicate there is no water. A better description would have been that there is no water source at the alternate trailhead (which is the one used in the book, although it is not identied as such), but there is water available at the main trailhead in the state park. There is no ground water on the high parts of the trail, but there is abundant water in the lake and the streams that flow into the lake if you have purification by chemical or filtering means. The location of “last water available” is important to make sure you don’t get to the trailhead ready to go seven or eight miles, but the nearest water is 10 miles behind you in a Loves.

Most, but not all of the trails in the book have the trail overlaid on a topo map, which is a nice overview to complement the text. I also liked the beta on most of the trails pertaining to the blazes or markers you need to look for.

Books like this really fill a needed area. I’ve noted that most trails are not documented anywhere online. As an example, my most recent hike, at Indian Cave State Park in Nebraska, the Nebraska parks department has an online map with what looks like only about 1/3 of the trails in the park, but when you get to the park, the paper trail map shows the much more extensive trail set available. It is even so with “Oklahoma Hiking Trails”. I’ve lived in the state all my life, and have been a hiker all my life, and this book identified trails very close to me that I did not know existed.

So bravo to the authors for putting the book together. It’s a good read, and an excellent reference. And I’ll be on some of those trails soon.

Hiking Indian Cave State Park, NE

5 May 2011

This was a wonderful way to spend a couple hours while driving from Oklahoma City to Omaha.

Summary: 6.4 miles, steep climbs (100-300 ft), forested trials overlooking the Missouri River.

I have passed by Indian Cave State Park many, many times over the years. I became aware of the hiking potential of the area several years ago, but timing never worked out for a visit. Monday, the timing was pretty good, so I took advantage of it.

I got to the park around 1615. It has a $4 vehicle entry fee; I only had a fiver so that was my fee at the self-service station. The gate for the park had a sign that it closed at 2200, so that was my hiking limit. There are a few places in the park to get your water bottle filled; I stopped at the pump near the RV pumpout station.

A couple word about signage. The park map shows roads and hiking trails, but there is not a lot of directional signage, so you need to keep an eye on where you are. I was looking for Trail 4, and drove right past it as there was no sign pointing to the trailhead or the road the trail was on. This extends to the trails themselves. They are numbered, and some of the numbers are kind of confusing. There were two Trail 3s, for example, and they do not seem to be connected.

The trailhead itself was well marked.

Trail 4 headed down immediately. Then it went up. Then it went down again. Then it went up. I was targeting the Missouri River bank, and it was, it turns out, three ridges away. This was a hike with a lot of up-and-down.

There are no switchbacks here. If you need to get to the top of a ridge, you go straight up the side of the hill. It gets steep.

Most of the trails are made for horses.

There are some trails that are hiker-only. It’s hard to tell, but this is one of them. Note that you are looking down.

This is another example of “up”.

Trail 4 ended up (literally, UP) at an open area. A little manual recon in the area showed a trailhead for Trail 6 (the trail map shows them connecting; they don’t). Trail 6 eventually gets to a multiple trail connection. There are four trails that converge, and signage for *three* of them. That one leads towards Trails 8 and 8A, which run along the Missouri River. When I got to the intersection of 8 and 8A, there is a really nice view of the river.

I headed down here along the river. The trail along the river (8A) has a lot of debris, doubtless due to persistent flooding.

I looped back on Trail 8. It went up and up and up (you can see it clearly on the altitude plot). The view from up there is amazing.

This is a closeup. You are looking into Iowa; vehicles on I-29 are visible, along with a wind farm.

This is looking north.

Up on the ridge, there is a REALLY neat camp. It has a lean-to. I really like this, it’s one of the coolest campsites I have seen. The view up there is wonderful.

I finished Trail 8, which lead through another set of three lean-tos near the 8/8A intersection. Before you get there, there is a “Trail 3” marker that leads off downhill. I wanted to finish 8 so I kept going, and then after I walked through the camp, there was another Trail 3 marker; I walked down it for a while, and realized it loops around the camp. So it had nothing to do with the real Trail 3. I went back, found the 2/3/6/sorta 8 interchange, and went up the real 3. Up and up and up!

Trail 3 ends up (or starts out, depending on your point of view) on the same road that I parked on to start the hike, about a half mile away. A treat – there was a really neat elevated viewing platform. The interesting thing about the photo, I was on the ridge above the river a short time before.

I finished the hike with a short walk along the road to get to the car. The total was 6.4 miles, but I knew it was hard because certain muscles were telling me so! I really enjoyed it.

I saw a couple squirrels on the hike, and a lot of deer tracks, but no other mammals. There were a lot of birds. I saw what I think was an oriole (a very orange chest), jays, and sparrows, and buzzards up on the ridge. I heard a barred owl hoot a couple times, and I also heard a number of woodpeckers.

I saw a total of three people on the trail – two people hiking along 8A, and a guy on a mountain bike a couple hundred yards away.

The hike on a topo map, a Google Earth terrain overlay, and the altitude of the hike.

This is a scan of the trail map for the park. Notice that I stayed in the central part, and didn’t get near the cave, or into the northern part at all.

I spent right at three hours here, it was well worth it. I only hiked about a third of the park, as near as I can tell. I will be back to hike some more! I like the lean-tos that are along some of the trails, I think they are a great idea.

I didn’t get to visit the Indian Cave for which the park is named. Next time!

Hiking Bull Run Trail and Regional Park, Centreville, VA

22 April 2011

The meeting I was in yesterday finished a couple hours early, so I hustled back across town before the traffic rush hit, and headed out to Bull Run Trail.

Hike summary: 6.7 miles out-and-back and a bit of a loop, along two stunning rivers. Started about 1615, ended around 1930.

I first hiked part of this trail more than ten years ago. I had driven across it several times over the years, and had noticed the faded sign for the trail, and drove to it one evening, and put in one of my first 10-mile hikes, a five-mile out-and-back to the east. I remember it was a beautiful area.

A couple days ago I did a little research on the trail, and found it was part of a 17-mile trail that ran from Bull Run Regional Park towards the Potomac. I decided to go back to the trailhead and go west this time.

The trailhead has a decent sign now! There was also new signage at several places. Route 28, which runs south from Dulles Airport, runs over the Bull Run. There is a nice like ripple there.

BTW, there is no water at the trailhead, nor is there any to the east that I remember. There is water at the Regional Park to the west, but it’s 2+ miles, so bring your own. There are no heads until the Park, either.

From the parking lot, you walk a couple feet down towards the river, and quickly run into the trail. I went right (west). You immediately come to the only hill of the hike. It’s probably 80 feet up and almost immediately 80 feet back down. There is a really nice view of the river from the top.

Turns out the hillock you just walked over is a shale formation. The shale has been used as stair steps for walking down the west side. There is a very pretty bluff formation, and shale lining the river. It’s very pretty.

There are thousands of pretty bluebell flowers along the trail on both sides.

The trail winds around through bottomland. Every once in a while, it’s a bit marshy, I’m guessing mainly from the rain they had a couple days previously. There are logs and some bridges where needed.

You walk along the river for most of the trail. The river is always pretty, sometimes flowing fairly fast, and sometimes very lazily. At this point, there was a boat sunk in the middle. Kind of strange.

Eventually, and after crossing under another road, you reach Bull Run Regional Park. The signage is not very clear, but the Bull Run Trail shares with the Bluebell Loop Trail. I took the left, which was supposed to be the southern part of the Bluebell Loop. It follows the river some more. Eventually, it runs into a frisbee golf course. There are white blazes that just… stop. I walked along this straight-as-an-arrow road/trail for a bit, and then thought it veered off to the west. Looking back at the Regional Park map (see below), I think I got onto the Yellow Trail, but the trail was quickly lost. I bushwacked through to a road that was by some soccer fields, and eventually found the white blaze trail next to a maintenance yard. I followed that trail north a couple hundred yards, and just by luck saw some white blazes off 90deg to my right. I did some follow-the-blazes combined with sorta-bushwacking, and eventually found the camping area. I followed the road south until I got to the admin area, and then finally found a map that pointed me to the trailhead for the combined Bluebell/Bull Run trail.

The lessons learned here: print the damn park trail map in the hotel before going off on the hike. On the other hand, there could have been better trail blazes in the park.

The trail from this point follows the Cub Run (I guess small rivers are “Runs” here). It is also beautiful, and there are so many bluebells it’s amazing.

The run back along the trail was eventful in that I scared up *two* large herds of deer (at least 10 individuals in both cases), saw what I believe was a muskrat swimming in Cub Run, saw and was honked at by 10 or so geese, and saw a number of pretty gray squirrels. The trail had 100% cell coverage, which allowed to me to take business calls from two friends along the way.

Here is the trail from my GPS over a topographic map, a terrain from Google Earth, and the altitude plot:

A comment about this altitude plot: I do not believe it, I think. I take the data as downloaded into the Garmin Mapsource program, and paste it into an Excel or Open Office spreadsheet. I run a search and replace to change (for example) “257 ft” to “257”, and then run an XY plot. Now, I went from the parking lot about 40 ft down to the riverbank, then up an 80 or so foot hill, then back to the river. None of that matches the altitude plot. I also question the big dip about 2/3rds of the way along the hike. I’m going to have to look closely at these numbers. I know that the GPS has wildly inaccurate altitude numbers when first starting and “settling down”, but these are just a little too random-looking.

This is a Bull Run Regional Park trail map.

Overall, this was a very nice way to spend a couple hours. I saw exactly *four* people on the trail the entire time. All four of them were in the Regional Park; there were no other people on the Bull Run part. There were no problems with mosquitoes, although there were occasional swarms of some kind of gnat periodically.

This hike is recommended.

Hiking C&O Canal Historical Park, MD

21 April 2011

I was able to hike the Billy Goat A trail here at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park about a year ago, and wanted to come back and do some more hiking, in particular the B and C trails. Good idea, but the Potomac River had other ideas. There had been a LOT of rain the previous couple days, and the Potomac was seriously flooding. All three of the Billy Goat trails had parts under running water.

Summary: Flooded Potomac River, 10.0 miles more or less out-and-back, and about 200 ft altitude gain.

I did this hike last Monday, 18 April. I left the hotel out by Dulles Airport and got to the trail area about 1530. I parked at the Anglers Inn area again, put on my pack, and headed out. There is no water that I could find at the Anglers Inn area, so fill up before you come out. There is water at the Great Falls Tavern area.

I started off on a trail above the towpath (Berma Road), that is really a re-purposed road.

There are some really pretty bluffs above this road, and the trees are beautiful.

Eventually I saw a trail headed off at the Lock 16 loop area, so I turned there and started up a decent hill. There were a lot of trails in here. The trail was a bit more trail-like.

This area was stunning! The temperature was just right (high 70Fs), and partly cloudy overhead. The trees were tall and beautiful, there were leaves on the ground, and the terrain kept changing. Here are a couple examples.

I turned on the Gold Mine Loop and followed it for a while. There are a couple buildings that are the remains of gold mining operations that date back to just after the Civil War. A soldier in the area noticed gold dust, and realized that there was some gold in the quartz rock in the area. Several mining operations were set up; the process was to collect the rock, crush it up, and bathe it in mercury, which dissolved the gold. The mercury was boiled off (most collected for reuse), and the gold was left behind. There were a lot of quartz rocks around.

I ended up next to MacArthur Road, and thought I would walk down it to the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center. I saw this camoflaged cell tower.

After I walked on the road for a while, I ran across an unmarked trail. I decided to head down that, and so was back in the trees. Eventually I ran across another segment of the Gold Mine Loop, and took it down to the Tavern area.

The river was right up to the bank of the Tavern area. There is a river overlook there, and it was a fine place to look at all that water.

The Tavern area has a lock preserved, along with the Tavern building that has been restored from post-Revolutionary times.

The Tavern was surrounded on the River side by some sandbags, so I’m guessing that the River was expected to come up even farther than it did.

This beautiful tree was near the parking area. I thought it was a cherry tree, but on post-hike review, it’s a Dogwood.

My plan was to take the Ford Mine Trail north from the parking area. The map I had showed the trail connected to the towpath, so I was going to come back on the towpath; it was 0.7 miles, so that made a nice 1.4 mile loop. Well, I walked out there 1.7 miles, and never found a bridge or anything like that. So I turned around and came back the same way.

It’s a beautiful trail. I saw a number of herdlets of deer. There were a number of stunning streams, including one that had a couple small waterfalls.

Eventually, I got back to the Tavern area, and kept walking down to the trail that leads to the Great Falls Overlook. That path was closed due to the floods, and there was some serious tumbling water here.

I ended up the hike by walking back down the towpath, past Billy Goat A, and to the parking area. Just as an FYI, there were a lot of people here, like the last time I was here.

Here is my path as downloaded from my GPS, followed by the terrain from Google Earth, and the altitude of the hike.

This was a really nice way to spend part of an afternoon. I got a great workout, and got to relax in a beautiful area less than five miles from serious urban area.

There are still two major trails down on the water, and a large number of forest area trails up on the hill. I’ll be back to hike them later.

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.

Hiking Sunset Cliffs, San Diego, CA

6 March 2011

Last week I had two opportunities to hike in San Diego. The first was Black Mountain, and the second was Sunset Cliffs. Sunset Cliffs was suggested by a friend from high school that I had not seen in about 30 years, and who lives in San Diego. We got there about 1620 last Thursday, and finished up about 1800. The total walk was 2.5 miles per the GPS (yes, I was nerd enough to carry it!).

I only took two photos, which I will post first and comment on later. I didn’t take too many pictures, as there was a lot of time spent talking; not a bad thing at all.

The Sunset Cliffs are on the west side of Point Loma, which is part of San Diego, CA. If I remember, we took Talbot up to CA 209, then Hill down to the beach. There are truly rugged cliffs right up against the ocean. There are numerous access points along the trail for people to go down to the beach, and we saw a lot of surfers.

The sinkhole was one of the first things we ran across. The state of California (I guess) fenced it off.

Sometimes the trail we followed would run down a ravine and abruptly end, usually 20-50 ft above the beach. You would have needed rope to get down, but there was usually no place you could tie the rope off to. The trail would also run out to numerous points that jutted out. Some looked like they were none to stable; be warned. There were a lot of places where you scramble up and down.

You can tell from the one photo above that the cliffs are abrupt and steep. It’s clear that the steep sides of Point Loma enhances runoff velocity, which accelerates erosion. There are fissures everywhere.

I was impressed by how rugged the terrain is. The rock is a mixture of igneous (not too much) and sedimentary; there is a lot of sandstone and shale.

You walk south until you run up against a fence that the Navy put up to separate their turf from the rest of the point. We walked closer to the beach until we got to the fence, then went up to a parking lot, and stayed more or less on road up high to get back.

Here are the topo, terrain, and altitude plots from the GPS.

This was a very pleasant way to spend a couple hours or so on the coast. The trail can be a bit slippery, and there can be some wind, but the scenery is beautiful. It was a bit chilly from the onshore wind, so a long-sleeve shirt or a sweatshirt might be needed.

As Nancy pointed out, there are few places in the San Diego area where you can feel that you are completely away from the bustle and noise of the city, but in reality, we were only five minutes from downtown. I plan on going back to spend time here, and walk some more on the beach below the cliffs. It was a beautiful walk, which is really the reason I do it, and the company was very nice also.

Hiking Black Mountain, San Diego, CA

2 March 2011

Today, I had intended on heading out to El Cajon for a hard hike. Instead, my flight into San Diego was quite late, and then getting people into their hotels, and lunch, took up more time. So I headed to my secondary destination, Black Mountain, to give it a try. I went with two work friends who came out for the same meeting.

Summary: Up at 1630, down at 1825. Total trip, 4.1 miles. Out and back on the same trail. Altitude: 800 to 1550 ft.

We found a trailhead at a community park, on the south side of the mountain, and headed out. It was about 65F when we left, and 55F when we came down; a bit chilly. You have a great view of Black Mountain from there.

The first part of the trail is steep. The trail is wide. It’s quite rocky in most places.

The rest of the trail, except for one section, is flat or quite gradual.

There was a large variety of plant material up there. Not much in the way of trees, but a lot of bushes and low plants. I really liked this flower.

We got to the top as Sun was starting to get close to the horizon. The views were excellent. This is off to the east. Iron Mountain and Mount Woodson frame the picture right and left. Note the trail running off at the bottom.

This is Mission Trails Regional Park, including Cowles Peak.

This is looking southwest, towards the parking lot where the car is.

Finally, this is downtown San Diego, and Point Loma.

We saw a couple bunny rabbits, and a number of small and medium birds, including a hummingbird, and a couple raptors. We saw a couple owl pellets, and tracks from deer of several sizes.

The following is my downloaded GPS track data overlaid on a topo, then Google Earth, and finally an altitude plot.

This was a great short hike. The views were fantastic. Very enjoyable.

Hike to Rampart Lake, CO

12 February 2011

Hike summary: On a road, to Rampart Lake. 5.8 miles total, about 500 ft altitude loss and gain. Pretty cold.

Yesterday, after work, a friend and I went up into the mountains west of Colorado Springs. My target was to drive to and hike around Rampart Lake. The Forest Service had the roads to the lake blocked, so we walked down a road to the dam and back. We got started about 1645 local, and finished up at 1845. The temp the entire time was about 26F, but I suspect it was a bit colder down near the lake.

On the drive out, we pulled a guy out of where he had stuck his truck in the snow next to the road, and saw a couple of what can only be described as ice sculptures.

There were pipes with a “sprinkler head” arrangement that dripped water down, where it froze in unusual shapes. There were four or five of these, but these pictures turned out the best.

I didn’t take any pictures walking in our out, just down by the lake. The road was pretty clear, with a bit of snow and ice every once in a while. It was drivable, I don’t know why it was blocked off.

We didn’t see any animals or birds this entire walk, surprisingly enough. We had seen one coyote on the drive in (with a *very* bushy coat and tail), and we saw coyote or dog tracks on the road, and a couple deer tracks, but no critters.

When we got down the lake, we walked out on the dam to check the area out. We got a really nice view of the terminator off to the east.

We had a great view of Pike’s Peak off to the south. There was not as much snow as I would have expected, I wonder if this has been a low snow year.

The lake, not unexpectedly, was frozen over. There were places along the shore where the ice was that particular aqua color that I associate with glaciers.

There were two big microwave horns mounted on the dam. One was pointed through a gap in the mountains, and the other pointed down at a receiver at the base of the dam. You can see the receiver towards the bottom of the second photo, the green circle.

It was getting dark when we left the dam, walking back along the dam road. We went around the dam gate, and past the dam (locked) restrooms. And it was getting colder. We kept a pretty good pace on the way back, but stopped to rest and stargaze a couple times, since we were headed uphill at a pretty good rate.

We had a half moon, but the sky was gloriously clear, and we saw tons of stars. Three satellites made an appearance also.

Here is the hike route overlaid on a topo map, followed by the Google Earth view (which most certainly was NOT green,since it was completely snow covered), and finally the altitude chart.


This was a great way to spend a couple hours. It was pretty darn cold, but walking fast helped mitigate that. After we got back to the car, we headed down into Woodland Park for a decent tex-mex dinner, then back to our respective hotels to get ready to head back home. Thanks, Lance, for walking with me!

Hiking Cheyenne Mountain State Park, CO

12 February 2011

Hike summary: 4.3 miles, all in snow 2-8″ deep (more as the altitude increased, of course). Temp 11F, 450 ft altitude change.

Last Wednesday, after I had completed a bunch of work and a couple telecons, and lunch, I headed out to Cheyenne Mountain State Park (CMSP), which is southwest of Colorado Springs, and between Fort Carson and the NORAD facility.

So the day before I got to Colorado Springs, it had snowed some. I wanted to rent some snowshoes. I checked out the website for CMSP, and noted that the park was open, although the Visitor Center was closed due to flooding. I called the main number to ask about whether I would need snowshoes, and got an answering machine. The Voice On The Machine noted that the park was open, but the Visitor Center was closed, but people were there, and if you would leave your question, they would get back to you ASAP. So I left my number and my question. Three hours and two more calls later, I didn’t have my answer. Hmmm….

So I drove out there, and as soon as I hit the parking lot I ran into a Ranger, and asked him the same question. He said that if I didn’t mind occasional snow up to my ankles, I didn’t really need snowshoes. I avoided the temptation to ask why they couldn’t seem to be able to return phone calls.

It costs $7 to get into the park. A bit high, especially given that there was not a single restroom available anywhere. The Visitor Center was closed, of course, but all of the heads at all the other areas (the day use area, the camping area, etc.) were all closed. I think the fee is cash only; I didn’t see any credit card stickers. I paid at the drive-up window entrance to the park.

After paying, I walked back to the visitor center and finished getting ready. I was pretty heavily dressed, since the temp was 11F at 1330. It didn’t get any warmer, in spite of the cloudless, sunny sky. I wore thermals top and bottom, jeans, and my insulated pants, and a t-shirt, mock turtleneck, and sweater. This was finished off with a knit hat, my boots (with two layers of socks), and a heavy coat. I was never cold, and in fact, I got a bit sweaty during some of the slogging phases of the hike.

The snow was in fact over my ankles, just a few places. I didn’t posthole into the snow very often, but walking efficiency was not very good.

I had a vague plan for hiking, but it got modified after the first trail… The trails are largely a set of interconnecting loops, which is nice, as you have a lot of options. I started off by the visitor center. The mountain is Cheyenne Mountain.

I started off in about two inches of new snow. I was the first person to walk on it, so that was kind of cool.

One thing I was amazed by, the animal tracks. I saw a number of different critter tracks. These are coyote or dog tracks, albeit filled in a bit.

This was a set of mouse or vole tracks, leading to (or away) from a burrow. While most of the tracks were into the brush on the side of the trail, one set came out of a burrow, then went down the trail at least 50 ft, then turned around and went straight back.

These were deer tracks.

Most of the trail was pretty easy to follow, as it was the wide stripe. As I got farther back, there were more human tracks, which was nice, since the trail was a bit harder to pick up due to rocks and roots.

As I got farther away from the Visitor Center, and higher, there was more trees and a bit more brush. The trail got a bit steep in places, and with the altitude, this flatlander was puffing a little bit. A minute on the side of the trail to rest got my breath back quickly. You can see the snow here is quite a bit deeper.

This tree was one of the few with snow stuck to it. I could not figure out why. There were a number of other conifers nearby that didn’t have the snow on them. I also liked how the tree stood in contrast to the sky.

This was about as thick as the surrounding trees got.

As I walked up the hill, at one point I came around a slight bend and walked within 10 ft of these deer. They looked at me a minute, and then walked off. I didn’t seem to worry them very much.

This area was about the deepest the snow got for any period of time. It was consistently about 6-8″, and one or two places close to 12″. I was wearing my insulated pants, which have built-in gaiters, and didn’t get any snow inside my pants or boots.

I was headed back down when I came into this clearing. The mountain is a bit closer, and there was a good view down onto the plain. The view is generally Fort Carson, I think.

I got done around 1645. It was, of course, harder to walk in the snow. I saw exactly *1* other person on the trail the entire time I was there. The stillness was broken by traffic on CO 15 and helicopters from Fort Carson.

Here are topo, Google Earth, and altitude tracks for the hike.

The trails I walked were Coyote Run, Talon (very little), Zook Loop, Blackmer Loop, part of Boulder Run, Raccoon Ridge, Acorn Alley, Bobcat Way, and finally Soaring Kestral.

This was an enjoyable hike. I didn’t have any problems finding the trails through the snow, although a couple times I did walk off the trail, I found it again in seconds. I would like to go back and hit Cougar Ridge. The Park includes the peak of Cheyenne Mountain, and will supposedly be developed to extend the trails to the peak at some point in the future. That would also be a nice hike.

Hiking Iron Mountain, Poway, CA

25 October 2010

Iron Mountain is near Poway, CA, which is near San Diego, CA. These mountains are on the edge of the western edge of of serious mountains about 10 miles away, but are great for afternoon hikes. After I arrived in San Diego and got checked into the hotel, I was at the trailhead about 30 minutes later.

Summary: Roundtrip mileage 5.7 miles (2.98 up, 2.72 down), net altitude gain 1088 ft. Started at 1530, down at 1800.

The parking area is across the intersection of CA 67 and Poway Road. There is a decent sized parking lot, with restrooms. There is no water there, so be sure to fill up your water bottles before coming to the trail head.

You get a good view of Iron Mountain from the trailhead. As you look at the high point, there is a ridge running down to a secondary summit. That ridge is what you switchback up to get to the top.

There is a neat “tunnel” through the trees near the start of the hike.

The first part of the hike is on a scraped road.

There is a branch in the trail that loops a bit to the south, and then reconnects right at the foot of the mountain. Taking the south loop is the longer path by 0.25 miles (so it would add 0.5 miles if you went that way both up and down). I took the south branch on the way up, and the north branch coming back down. Both trails run through a band of low trees.

Past where the trails reconnect, the trail becomes quite rocky, and you get to do some stairstepping. As you come up the shoulder of Iron Mountain, you also start to get some views, including part of the trail you walked up.

One note about online resources: This sign was at the halfway point of the hike. I did a little research last night, and there was very little online about several of these hikes. The bottom line to me is that there are thousands of nice trails to walk, but it’s kind of hard to find them if you are arriving from out of town. I have some more targets for later!

The trail goes around the east side of Iron Mountain, has some switchbacks, and then ends up on the ridge below the secondary summit. From there, it gets very rocky and steep.

This is looking at the summit from the bottom of the ridge.

At the top! This is looking south, at San Vicente Lake.

This is looking southwest of the mountain. The mountains to the left are Mission Trail Regional Park (the tallest one is Cowles Peak), and moving right you see downtown, San Diego Bay, and Point Loma.

This is looking west north west at Mount Woodson. I hiked Woodson a couple years ago.

Finally, these are looking northeast at the next peak over, and the east towards El Capitan and El Cajon Peak (on my list for this area!).

This was a very enjoyable way to spend part of an afternoon. I was happy at how crowded the trail was. I saw probably 80 people on the way up and down. There were a number of people running the trail, and one guy trying to mountain bike it, but most were hiking. There was a small group of Cub and Webelos Scouts, so that was neat! A number of people had dogs. Total wildlife was one rabbit, and two small skink-sized lizards.

This is the hike path overlaid on Google Earth to give you an idea of the vegetation.

Here is the path overlaid on a topographic map for terrain.

And finally, here is the altitude plot. A pretty typical up and down out and back!

The temperature was in the low 70s when I started, and in the low 60s at the end. There was a decent breeze at the top that made it a bit cool. On the way back, there were three hot air balloons off to the northwest.

Great hike!

Hiking Kings Canyon National Park, CA

29 August 2010

I took a day of leave and drove from Sacramento to Fresno last week to hike Kings Canyon. It was a beautiful park to walk in.

I checked in with the rangers at the Cedar Grove Visitor Center, and decided to start at Roaring River Falls. I had arrived around 1100, and thought to get some lunch first at the cafe there, but it only serves lunch Saturday and Sunday. As a fallback, I bought some snacks at the attached grocery. As an aside, the lodge there has wifi, it’s open, and my Blackberry locked onto it and went into VoIP mode, so I got a download of email and voice mail before I went off to hike. You can get water here (don’t get it in the bathroom, it’s HOT, use the water fountain).

I drove about three miles to the parking area for Roaring River Falls. There is a short trail there, and it’s paved. About halfway up, I said the heck with it, walked to the bank, and did a boulder scramble the rest of the way.

After the Falls, I headed east on the trail to Zumwalt Meadow. The view of the granite rising above the valley was amazing.

Now the hiking is on real trail. You alternate between somewhat open areas and woods. Sometimes the ground vegetation was quick thick.

In just a bit, the trail gets pretty close to the South Fork Kings River. It’s a beautiful stream, clear and fast moving in places.

I usually walk fairly quietly. At some point, I saw about four birds slightly uphill from me (I looked them up just now, they were mountain quail). As the birds walked towards some underbrush, I realized there were four deer in there (two does and two fawns) looking at me! In the first photo, you can see the outline of a mountain quail between the deer and the trunk of the tree.

Soon I got to Zumwalt Meadow. It’s a marshy area. I took the north loop around it. There is a boardwalk for part of it, and trail for the rest. Notice the granite walls in the background?

Bears are common in the area. They go potty in the woods. This was fresh-looking, so a bear had been in the area shortly before.

The trail along here is fairly flat. You do some uphill, but no more than about 30 or 50 ft at a time.

There were several area where small streams flowed down the rock faces. As always, I am amazed that these are still running so far into summer.

I got to the Roads End area after about an hour. It’s about 3.5 miles from the Roaring River area. There is a staffed permit station there for backcountry camping, and some picnic areas, but most importantly, there is water. I refilled the half bottle I had consumed to this point (I carried two Nalgenes).

The trail continues for two miles to an intersection with a bridge over the river. There is a five-mile loop to the southeast, or a three-mile out and back to the north along the river up Paradise Valley to Mist Falls.

The trail along here is a mix. There is some sandy crud along part of it (when you are not in trees) that’s like walking along beach. It was not fun. I tried to stay on the edge of the trail. It got better a little higher, back into forest.

When I got to the bridge, I stopped and had a snack. This is looking back downstream from on the bridge.

I started up the Paradise trail. You start getting some real stairstepping here, and the trail is quite rocky in places. I was passing through a really rocky outcropping at one point, and I heard a buzz! It sounded like a rattlesnake, but I didn’t think rattlesnakes were in the Sierra. I looked around (carefully!) and here is what I saw.

I saw part of the body on the other side of the rock. I didn’t poke at the darn thing or anything stupid like that (I’ve grabbed a live diamondback by the tail!). I did some Googling, and that snake is a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. Here is a photo from that Google search for comparison.

I climbed steadily up the canyon. This is looking back down from where I came.

You walk right along the river for most of this. There are numerous cataracts and some pools of water.

I got to within a mile of Mist Falls. I was meeting my friend James back in Fresno for dinner, and so had set a time of about 1630 to leave the park for the two-hour drive back to Fresno. I sat on a huge rock over a falls and had a snack, and then turned and headed back down. Those Falls will still be there some other trip.

When I got to the intersection with the bridge, there were a couple people looking at another snake! I was impressed that no one was trying to beat the thing to death or anything like that. It was quite pretty. I believe it is a Sierra Mountain Kingsnake.