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Archive for April, 2008

Dark Canyon Utah

We fled Denver’s traffic and chaos after work on Thursday and drove through snow flakes in the mountains in search of some place warm and relaxing. Seven hours later and 13 miles of barely-marked dirt roads we illuminated Cheryl’s tent with the highbeams. Perfect, it’s 10:45 at night and we found the middle-no-where we had been searching for.

Torrey was excited to be in a new place with new smells and people. The large 3 person tent wasn’t big enough for Helen, Torrey and I. After nearly getting trampled and licked to death Helen opened the tent door and let Torrey run off some energy. Soon her collar jangling faded and as the silence stretched I heard Helen worry “I think I just lost my dog.” I swear a coyote howled in the distance right then. John, Brett and Cheryl were awakened again as Helen called for Torrey. I was organizing a search party (read: tying my shoes) to assist when Torrey finally showed up and was promptly jailed in her crate in my car.

Day One:

Dawn came too quickly to the Sundance Trailhead, while the warmth it promised came slowly. Torrey ran around on dog investigations while Cheryl’s dog, Sheeba, searched for sticks. Cheryl had been coming here every spring for seven years now. Dark Canyon is fairly remote, not well known and very scenic. It’s also dog friendly with plenty of water, provided you hike in and out of the canyon in the early morning hours. I was last here four years ago, but it would be the first time in the canyon for Helen.

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A quick struggle ensued as Helen wrestled Torrey to the ground and strapped on her new dog booties. I had my doubts that Torrey would accept them, but she wore them without complaint all the way into the canyon. Heading out we found our rhythm under heavy packs, today was the first backpacking trip of the year for several of us and we were hauling in extra water to cache at the rim for the hike out.

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The trail followed an old two track dirt road and contoured around the rim. The trail head had recently been moved and we missed the old, more direct route that also included a little slick rock scrambling. Before too long we reconnected with the old trail and enjoyed the single track route through the sage brush and into rockier terrain.

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When we reached the edge of the rim we took a break to admire the view and drop off our excess water under some boulders. The day was cooler than when I was last here and Cheryl would later declare this weekend her coldest of all her visits. Finally, we left the vista for the 1,000 foot descent into Dark Canyon.

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Once in the canyon we quickly headed for the following stream and the dogs jumped right in to cool off. Hiking up stream around a few bends we selected a sandy spot with room for all our tents and a few cooking rocks.

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After lunch we left camp and doubled back downstream and continued on toward the canyon’s mouth at the Colorado River. Dark Canyon’s mouth used to be under water from Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam which had backed up the water this far upstream. The western drought of the last several years had seen the water levels fall enough that four years ago Dark Canyon’s creek was flowing and cutting into the silt deposits all the way to the Colorado. We wondered what the mouth would look like this year – a year with increased snow fall in the mountains feeding these downstream rivers and filling reservoirs.

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One of the features I like best about Dark Canyon is the variety of the hiking. Along the way to the Colorado we’d hike through shallow streams, along rock shelves above the creek, hop over boulders and admire waterfalls. The Narrows in Zion is one of the few other southwestern canyons I’d been in – and it was spectacular, but monotonous in comparison. It was also crowded, a trait Dark Canyon avoids by not being part of a National Park.

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We soon reached a spot I well remembered on my last trip here – a narrow ledge about 10 inches wide that you walk around a corner before it widens out again. Torrey was frightened of this spot and had to be practically dragged around the corner. Most of the way downstream Torrey was nervous and tentative about rock hoping and narrow ledges.

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Right after the ledge the trail climbed up the side of the canyon to avoid several waterfalls and narrow slots that would have required ropes to navigate. The views were amazing but the dogs wanted back down to the water.

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Just after returning to the canyon bottom, we ran into 3 other people – our first sighting of other people since hiking in. We also passed another familiar spot with a double waterfall.

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The canyon widened out a little after this point and we started seeing piles of tumbleweeds in the creek. The water also started pooling up and became still. Now we knew that the Colorado was running high enough to backup the water in Dark Canyon.

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To get to the actual confluence of Dark Canyon and the Colorado, we had to climb up an eroding slope then cross a grassy flat and hike down to a beach waiting for us at the Colorado.

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We took in the view and waited around a while wondering if any rafters, overloaded with provisions, would float by and offer us cold beer, margaritas, chips and guacamole, or other wonders. Once our imaginations ran dry we started back up the canyon.

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Torrey did much better with the rocks on the way back. She leap up places she had to be hoisted down on the way out. Walking toward the narrow corner I wondered how she’d handle it. She stopped at the corner, peaked around then looked back at me as if to ask “Are we going back this same way?”. I simply nodded by head and she zipped around the corner with out any of the paralyzing fear that gripped her earlier.

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We reached camp again around 6pm and quickly settled in to enjoy the wine we’d packed in and set in the creek to cool.

Day Two:

Thankfully, Torrey was tired out yesterday and slept through the night. We had kept the tent fly off and each time I woke up and rolled over during the night I observed where the little dipper had moved. The half moon also came out from behind the canyon’s walls and lit up our campground. We all slept in later and then watched the cliffs above us take the first light.

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The old day two plan had been to hike 8 miles up canyon to Youngs Canyon – a side slot with a waterfall that emptied into Dark Canyon. However, Sheeba was getting too old for the complete 16 mile trek and we weren’t sure how Torrey’s pads would do on the rocks. Helen and I briefly considered making a day of it, but decided we’d rather not get back into camp late but instead enjoy everyone’s company today. So we took a leisurely walk towards Young’s, but without the goal of getting there.

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We took numerous stops along the way to snack and enjoy the views. Other stops were required to route-find around waterfalls and cliffs.

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Unfortunately, it wasn’t warm enough to entice any of us to jump into the pools we strode path. However, at least in the cooler weather the hiking was very pleasant and not a sweaty affair.

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Only a few miles up the canyon we all decided to organize a siesta – not that it really required organizing.

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I napped, ate and got some reading done in between staring at the cliffs above and the large boulders around us that used to reside up higher. Siesta would have been prolonged indefinitely, but we all heard the siren call of the remaining wine left back at camp. Happy hour would trump siesta just as soon as we got off our rumps and started walking.

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Torrey took an interest in the many 3-4 inch lizards out sunning themselves and started chasing them out of our paths. I wrongly misjudged her once again and was surprised to see her return from a quick dart off the path loudly chomping something in her mouth.

Day Three:

My head throbbed in a low pain while I stumbled up the path towards the “Wall of Death” with a soaked back and butt. Too much wine needed to be drunk last night so we wouldn’t have to choose between dumping it out or hauling it up the shadeless, 1,000 foot climb back to the rim. After leaving camp my funk deepened as I realized my Camelbak bladder was leaking into my pack and down my back. Lost in my own world I rushed to the foot of the climb before trying to debug the problem.

I decided there was too much pressure on the Camelbak which had emptied to about 1 quart of water, leaving two quarts to absorb into the contents of my pack, soak my back and temporarily wet the sandy path. I moved the Camelbak to the top of the pack and thought about the cached water up above.

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Once I started moving and climbing I began to feel a lot better. Before long, I decided to attempt the 1,000 foot climb within 30 minutes. I’m not sure why I thought hiking at a 2,000 foot ascent per hour rate was a good idea, but I did. I tried to ignore the time and altimeter reading on my watch for as long as possible and just climb.

With 2 minutes left and what looked like more than 2 minutes of climbing, I thought I’d missed my goal. Just then the path traversed right and I stepped around some rocks and came on our water cache – exactly 30 minutes after setting out at the base of the climb. Feeling much better I drank some water from the cache and waited for the others.

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Helen, Brett and John arrived about 10 minutes later, helping Torrey along. She had tired rapidly on the climb up in the sun and lost each of her booties along the way (retrieved and stuck in pockets by Helen). I brought down some of the cache water to meet them and nurse Torrey back to the rim for a long break.

Once recovered, we set off for the walk back to the trailhead. Thankfully, it was remaining relatively cool with a slight breeze so the only real trials remained the sandy walking surface and the long road section. Eventually those passed and we arrived at the trailhead and clean clothes.

I enjoyed the drive out, being able to see the landscape we’d driven a few nights before.

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Dark Canyon again next year?
More Dark Canyon Photos

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Mount Falcon Park

With gusts up to 60 mph forecasted for the high country, Helen and I decided to visit another one of the Jefferson County Open Space parks. Mount Falcon Park was right next to Red Rocks and Mount Morrison where we’d hiked a few weeks ago.

It was a warm and sunny day with plenty of wild flowers out, including this spring beauty – one of my favorites that I’d come to know from hiking in Indiana.

Our route was a moderate 10.9 miles taking in the Turkey Trot, Castle, Meadow, Tower, Old Ute, Devil’s Elbow, Two Dogs and Walker’s Dream trails. Since it was such a nice day, there were plenty of other hikers and mountain bikers out. Mount Falcon’s 7,851 foot summit was our highest elevation today, plenty easy after climbing Mount Whitney a few days ago. However, we still weren’t recovered from that effort and could feel our legs protest on the uphills. Toward the end of the day we found this shaded bench with nice views:

The day had really warmed up by the time we finished and Torrey finally settled down in the car with the AC blasting on the ride home.

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Helen and I climbed Mount Whitney on Thursday, April 17th. That completes all the 48 contiguous state high points for me. More photos and a detailed report will come later. In the meantime, here’s a handful of photos.

At Bighorn Meadow, on the way to Mount Whitney:

Mirror Lake, just above Bighorn Meadow:

Nearing Trail Camp (12,000ft) with Mount Muir just above my head and our ascent route (the snow covered slope) to Trail Crest (13,800ft) to my left:

Our camp at Trail Camp with Mount Muir above (Mt Whitney is off to the right of the photo):

Helen ascending the snow slope to Trail Crest, ice axes and crampons were definitely needed:

Helen resting at Trail Crest (13,800ft). From here the summit was about 2 miles away:

The “Lord of Pain” at the summit of Mount Whitney:

Helen hiking out the next day, just below Mirror Lake:

From the highest point in the 48 states, we drove through Death Valley and visited the lowest:

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Two weeks ago I attempted to reach Mount Silverheels from Hoosier Pass and the continental divide. That hike ended when I encountered whiteout conditions on Hoosier Ridge. I noticed that the Colorado Mountain Club had a scheduled hike up Silverheels and Helen was planning to ski at Vail on their closing day. I made some calls to the trip leader and luckily they planned to stop at a gas station a block from the Breckenridge condo where I could meet up with them.

While waiting for the group to show up I enjoyed the morning light on distant Buffalo Mountain:

I caught a ride with Kurt and we chatted about climbing in Ecuador and Peru on the ride over Hoosier Pass. The trip leader, Dave, was planning a different route than the one I attempted a few weeks ago and so we parked about 2 miles south of the pass and then started snowshoeing through the trees. After a pause for introductions we continued upwards and into the sun.

While contouring through a basin to reach a gap in a ridge, I chatted with a Dave and a few of the other members. At the gap we looked down some 350 feet that we’d have to descend to reach Silverheels. Unfortunately, we’d also have to ascend that ridge on the trip back later.

After the descent we cached our snowshoes since the ridge above was blown mostly clean of snow. Dave had everyone taking turns leading the group up and breaking trail in the light snow and loose rocks.

Once we all gathered together with only the last 400 or so feet to climb, Dave let us set off on our own pace for the summit. I felt like pushing myself and reached the summit just ahead of some of the other hikers and enjoyed the 360 degree views on this nearly cloudless day.

While on the summit of Colorado’s 96th tallest mountain, Dave told me the origin of the name “Silverheels”. Silverheels was a popular dance hall girl (prostitute) in nearby Fairplay during the mining era. During a smallpox epidemic she stayed around to care for the sick but eventually succumbed herself. This mountain overlooking Fairplay was named in her honor.

The winds were calm when we first arrived, so we lazed about for nearly 30 minutes having lunch and naming the mountains surrounding us. Eventually, the winds decided we’d become too complacent and picked up. Coming down we headed further south on the ridge and investigated a low angle gully to descend. A combination of glissading in the snow on our butts and then post holing out brought us back to our snow shoes.

Now we had to face the climb back up “Heartbreak Ridge”. I again decided to push myself and ended up spending a while waiting for everyone to reach the gap again. Then we had a simple walk back in warm sun and soft snow to the cars. Our hike took about 6 hours – including the 30 minute lunch break and was around 6-7 miles with 3,400 feet of gain.

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Radical Reels filmfest

On Friday night I attended the Radical Reels film festival at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden. Radical Reels is an off-shoot of the Banff Film Festival that consists of extreme sports films. I wasn’t able to attend the regular Banff Film Festival in either Colorado and Indiana this year, but this would be the first time for me to see the Radical Reels line up. I definitely missed the regular Banff’s programming mix of extreme sports and more thoughtful documentaries. Here’s the films I saw in the rough order they were presented:

Trial & Air: A short 6 minute film combining paragliding and extreme skiing. Some of the footage was taken from tandem paraglides with the pilot spinning wildly and making the camera man sick. I enjoyed the “behind-the-scenes” view that differentiated this from so many other extreme ski films.

Light in Liquid: Kayaking films always put me to sleep and this quarter hour production was no different. Maybe if I understood something of white water kayaking I’d stay awake, but it seems every shot falls into one of two categories: 1) paddler dropping into a waterfall with so much spray that you can’t see anything or 2) slow motion shots that try to capture the “flow” of paddling whitewater.

Swedish Meatballs: This 12-minute bouldering film woke me up – but not due as much to the strenuous bouldering as the characters and their dialogue. Fun.

Ephemere: Another short film (6 minutes) that attempted to transcend the normal extreme sports formula. Action shots were slowed down or sped up – seemingly by the control of a mystical women with a hourglass.

Sevenvision: 18 minute mountain biking film. Mountain biking films are always good for a few crashes and this film didn’t disappoint. Highlighted several bikers including one healing from multiple fractures.

Intermission with a prize raffle – I didn’t win anything.

Rock Wings: Shortest film of the night (3 minutes) featuring two wingsuit flyers buzzing famous mountains in the Alps.

Yamabushi: 13 minute film featuring climber Will Gadd as he establishes a new route on an overhanging, crumbling limestone wall. Lots of exposure and joking humor kept this film from being too serious and let the climbing speak for itself

Lost and Found: 23 minute by ski porn masters Teton Gravity Research. Lots of extreme skiing and hip music – there wouldn’t be much else to say if this cut hadn’t included a segment on a skier who lost the use of his legs in an accident and returns to skiing via adaptive equipment like the sit-ski. A message about enjoying what you can do and struggling against limitations.

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Helen and I slept in then headed for Alderfer/Three Sisters Park near Evergreen, Colorado. We started out in the ponderosa forest at the base of Evergreen Mountain (8,536 feet) on the East Evergreen Mountain trail. Before long we hit snow patches then constant snow as we neared the summit trail where we had lunch in the sun and out of the wind.

We took the West Evergreen Mountain trail down and passed through a different trailhead before connecting a series of trails to loop us back to our car. The Bluebird Meadow, Homestead, Bearberry and Mountain Muhly trails took us to the opposite ends of the park from Evergreen Mountain and finally deposited us at the base of the Three Sisters. These rock formations were fun scrambles and Helen and I took turns watching Torrey while the other took in the views.

Our entire hike was a little over 10 miles and had over 3,000 feet of gain. Torrey was very tired at the end of the day and Helen and I had a good weekend to prepare us for Mount Whitney in a few weeks.

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Centennial Cone Park

The pack (Helen, Torrey and I) was augmented by Cheryl, our mutual friend from Utah who was in town for the weekend. We picked her up in Golden, then drove west up Clear Creek Canyon to Centennial Cone Park. The trailhead was cold and windy, but the clouds mostly cleared off as we started hiking on the Travois Trail.

I’d planned a loop hike around the namesake Centennial Cone, but the Elk Range trail was closed for elk migration. So our plans turned into an out and back hike on the Travois trail. The trail was very open and would be hot and unpleasant in a few months, but was perfect now with plenty of views. We caught up with a CMC group at the Elk Creek bridge.

They had setup a car shuttle and so were hiking almost half of we’d end up doing. I was also surprised to see that the CMC group had a few dogs along and the group was spread out. I’d heard their hikes normally kept everyone together and that dogs weren’t generally allowed.

Most of the trail was soft dirt and gentle grades suitable for mountain bikes, but there was still a lot of elevation gain. The CMC hike announcement had predicted around 2,000 feet of gain for their route, and ours ended up around 4,000 feet (for the 16.9 miles we hiked). We wouldn’t see any mountain bikers today since the weekends were divided up into odd numbered days for hikers only and the even numbered days for mountain bikers.

We found some patches of snow on the shaded northern aspects and had to watch our footing for icy patches. The snow was useful to us to pile on Torrey and keep her cool. This was Torrey’s longest hike and she did really well.

We finished up in about 6 hours and headed back to Golden for a wonderful dinner with Cheryl’s mom that included wine from the makers of Clif bars!

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