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Archive for the ‘backpacking’ Category

Our backpack would begin near the Boulder Airport in Utah. Airport security failed to confiscate our liquids (water and bourbon) and even more spectacularly failed to keep us off the runway.

I left Paul and our backpacks at a Starbucks near the international terminal (read: in the middle of nowhere) and drove a dozen miles down the highway to the Escalante River where I dumped his Jeep in the reeds and started to walk and hitchhike back up the road. A lovely lady from Holland traveling with two toddlers picked me up and cut my walking dramatically. My own country men couldn’t be counted on today to help a fellow out.

By noon we were clear for departure and started down the Boulder Mail Trail. Early pinion and juniper forest gave way to slick rock hiking as we neared the Sweetwater/Sand Creek drainage.

Somewhere around here we crossed paths with an old telegraph line which became fodder for many jokes at the expense of AOL forums.

Before diving down into Death Hollow itself, we took a side trip up a stone knob for an amazing view into the upper canyon.

Back on the Boulder Mail Trail we followed it to a cairn placed on the edge of the earth, before following the carved out ledge that we carefully followed down into the canyon.

On the way down we passed two hikers, they’d be the last people to see us enter Death Hollow. We decided to skip the first campsite we saw and hunt for something better. The first of numerous creek crossings quickly came up so we switched to sandals and survived our Death Hollow initiation.

Luckily for us we located camp right at happy hour. Which meant the bourbon load would weigh less on our shoulders tomorrow. Which meant we could hike faster and eventually get back to civilization about the time the bourbon ran out. I love it when a plan comes together.

Normally I might sleep lightly in a canyon where flash flooding can be a major concern. However, our forecast looked clear and Paul assured me that his tent was rated for debris flow.

The next morning we woke looking forward to the highlight of the 3 day trip – our passage down Death Hollow through some narrows and beautiful scenery.

The temperatures were warm enough that we quickly stopped trying to rock hop across every bend in the stream, and took to wading liberally in the creek in our sandals and neoprene socks. A few long wading sections we discovered were due to beaver dams.

After quite a few creek crossings and much dodging of poison ivy we came to our deepest crossing of the day. I volunteered to scout it out sans-pack, and found the muddy water to be only mid-thigh deep. All our other crossings had been knee-deep or less so far.

Around noon we stopped for a lunch break somewhere – neither one of us had really been paying enough attention to the map to know exactly where we were at this point. Our navigation was pretty easy, just head downstream.

Shortly after lunch we did cross a big side stream which I figured was Mamie Creek. Below this point Death Hollow would get narrower and the rains from 2 weeks ago would decide just how hard our passage would be.

We’d already found a couple trash bags, tossed around in the recent flooding but surprisingly intact and filled with sand. We’d dug those out and packed them out like good LNT hikers. But when I came across two blue external frame packs that was a bit much to pack out. We could have helped our selves to a sierra cup and spork, but left those items with the pack thinking that scounging anything from this bounty would be bad juju.

The first real waterfall in the canyon soon presented itself, so I broke out the tripod and 10-stop filter for a long exposure.

Half wading, half balancing on a narrow shelf we passed through the following narrows section.

We managed to get through without slipping into the deep pool of water and testing our dry bags.

Hiking the rest of the canyon was a little more enjoyable knowing we’d passed through the one area that could give us the most trouble already. And there was certainly plenty of Neature left in the canyon, including water snakes and water ouzels.

We hit the junction with the main Escalante perfectly for happy hour (this is becoming a habit). We found a perfectly flat campsite on a sandy bench surrounded by cottonwoods and investigated a nearby set of pictographs. We also madea point of pulling our drinking water from Death Hollow as it was much clearer than the muddy Escalante.

We may have been two days out and hadn’t seen another soul for more than 24 hours, but don’t let that fool you. There was certainly an element of glamping, after all, we had two fine bourbons to taste and Paul whipped up some salmon croquets for our dinner.

However, the glamping theme was a little put out by the wind and cold that came in as we cooked our croquets. And next morning’s cold wade across the Escalante for more of that Death Hollow water was bracing. But by 9am we were off and headed down canyon. Before too long we heard a chainsaw and came across a volunteer crew out removing invasive tamarisk trees from the canyon. The Escalante had also seen a lot of flooding two weeks ago and many debris piles had be to dodged as we bushwhacked between the creek and the higher banks.

We ran into some day hikers just as we reached the significant landmarks of this stretch of the Escalante – the Escalante Natural Arch and Bridge and some Anasazi ruins.

After this trip and our spring visit to Grand Gulch we were starting to formulate our own theories of the Anasazi’s defensive cliff dwellings and sudden disappearance. I’ll share just two words with this readership while we wait for our peer-reviewed article to find a home in the appropriate scholarly journal: zombie apocalypse.

The last two miles were fraught with dangers as we had nearly emptied the last of our flasks and wondered if we could make the town of Escalante before going dry. Fortunately, Paul’s Jeep remained where I’d left it 2 days before and crisis was adverted.

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The worst part of spring desert trips is that the weather in Colorado so often tries to stop you from getting there. Despite the best efforts of storms to close both the Chicago and Denver airports, Kyle finally managed to fly in where we did a rush job outfitting him for his first backpacking trip before spending a Thursday driving out to the middle of no where (nearby Natural Bridges National Monument is known for having the darkest skies in the National Park system in the lower 48).

Car shuttled and permit acquired we left the Kane Gulch ranger station to start down Grand Gulch.

Within a couple miles we left the flats and found ourselves within the canyon.

The scenery grew more interesting but the first arch was a disappointment.

Thankfully arches aren’t why one comes to Grand Gulch. The plethora of ancient Pueblo (old term: Anasazi) ruins of granaries, homes, kivas and petroglyphs are the main attraction.

On this first day we’d see Junction Ruin, Turkey Pen, Split Level and several other smaller, unnamed sites.

After 14 miles we camped near the junction with Shieks Canyon.

The best water of the trip was found at the Green Mask spring just up Sheiks Canyon. The site also had some of my favorite pictographs.

Our first night’s dinner of black bean burritos were a big hit and got rid of the biggest weight for a single meal (2 avocados, 10 tortillas, salsa, dehydrated black beans and veggies plus summer sausage and cheese – I was glad to get that off my back).

The next morning we continued down canyon just a mile and a half to Bullet Canyon.

Here we setup Paul’s tent and stashed most of our gear inside to make a 5.4 mile round-trip hike to see Jailhouse Ruin and Perfect Kiva.

Perfect Kiva turned out to be the perfect place to use my fisheye lens.

While in Bullet Canyon we had to celebrate with a shot of Bullet Rye.

Then we traversed over to Jailhouse Ruin.

Exploration complete, we headed back to the Kane/Grand/Bullet junction and had a lunch before putting on the big packs again.

More ruins were seen and some explored as we worked on completing our afternoon mileage.

This section of the canyon had some of the worst hiking – deep sandy creek beds – that really slowed us down. We were all beat up and exhausted by the time we reached Cow Tank Canyon.

While the others took naps or tended to blisters, Grant and I grabbed the empty bottles and filter and hiked a half mile up Cow Tank Canyon to a muddy water source and spent an hour getting 3.5 gallons of clean water.

The silt-laden water took forever to filter but Grant I and eventually came back to camp and very hungry. Tonight’s meal of pasta, pesto sauce, sauteed mushrooms and salmon was largely prepared by Kyle and Paul.

Everyone crashed pretty early and I hoped the hiking would be easier throughout the rest of the canyon or else we’d be in for a very long day tomorrow.

Well rested and feeling better we all took a warm up hike less than a quarter mile up Cow Tank Canyon to a couple ruins and petroglyphs.

Then it was back to the main gulch to carry our burdensome packs onward. Quickly we came to the “Bird Parade” panel and then the Big Man Petroglyph (which required a short, but step hike to reach).

Our next stop was Pollys Canyon where we had an early lunch and filtered more water to get us through the afternoon. The report we’d gotten from the rangers was pessimistic about water availability from here to our exit point. Not wanting to waste a lot of time waiting for the gravity filter to do it’s job, I strapped the dirty reservoir near the top of my pack and the clean hung off my hipbelt while I let Grant navigate for us. I was too busy keeping the connecting tubes from snagging on cacti.

With only a few breaks we pushed on through to Bannister Ruin, finding more water along the way than we’d been told would be available. Also, the canyon views were at their best and the long stretches of sand that plagued us the day before were gone.

We were all pretty tired by the time we hit Bannister and we settled into the shaded alcove for a break. The ruin was interesting but a few of us were more attracted to the barrel cactus flowers.

Past Bannister we only had 3 more miles of hiking today and the canyon had some great views left.

We found a campsite near the turn off for Collins Spring and our exit point tomorrow. In the shade of some cottonwoods we all regrouped and enjoyed our last dinner as the sun set.

We’d gone all day with seeing only one other person but had a visitor as night set in.

I figured I should try to get a few night shots on our last evening in the canyon.

In the morning we did another leg stretcher warm-up hike to the narrows which were only a short distance away.

Then we picked up the full packs back at camp for the 2 mile walk to the Collins Spring Trailhead.

And that pretty much caps a great trip with a wonderful group. Overall the trip was a bit harder than I’d anticipated and I’d recommend 4 days (or going lighter) for the Kane to Collins Spring trip to better enjoy it. Milt’s in Moab provided an always satisfying lunch for the drive home and the Colorado weather reared up with another spring snow storm that nearly kept me from reaching home.

Complete photo album.

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After two nights at Colorado National Monument I moved just slightly west to the BLM’s Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness via the Pollock trailhead. The terrain was dry, dusty and hot, so the 5 quarts of water weighted heavily on my back and the photography and backpacking gear joined in to heap troubles on my shoulders.

Still, the views were pretty amazing, and if I hadn’t already spent the last two days surrounded by sandstone beauty I might have been more blown away. Instead I hustled up the trail wanting to reach the one of the highest concentrations of natural arches outside of Arches National Park before the sun set.

Concentrating on hiking as fast as I could, I didn’t take as much time to appreciate the scenery and few things about the terrain entered my consciousness. The occasional unique cairn, wilder-than-usual rock formation, and an awful smell in one tiny canyon did get through.

Before reaching the Rattlesnake Arch loop, I found a good spot for a tent and left it with one quart of water and a sleeping pad, taking everything else with me as I raced on to the arches. By the time I reached the west facing arches, I had only about 30-40 minutes of direct sun left and hustled down the line up shooting photos from the hip.

Reaching the last arch, Rattlesnake, I could relax. It faces southeast and was already out of the sun, but the lights I wanted wouldn’t come for another couple hours. Taking time to setup for the next shot I also ate dinner, listened to a few podcasts and read. Setting up the camera to snap away a series of 20 second exposures I read nearby and wouldn’t get the results until getting home to the digital darkroom.

After packing up I had over 2 miles to hike back to my tent. With two headlamps, a good trail, and a GPS waypoint for the tent, there wasn’t much concern with finding the way back. Hiking at night is something I often enjoy, but having listened to a Halloween-themed outdoors podcast involving being stalked by a mountain lion, my mind was not as a settled as it normally would have been and it was with much relief that I reached my tent (oh secure fortress of flimsy nylon!).

The next morning I woke to some colorful skies and realized I wasn’t far from another arch – Window Rock.

Leaving in the early coolness I could take more time to appreciate the hike in I’d rushed through yesterday afternoon.

On the hike out I again noticed the foul smell in the same canyon, but this time caught the source. In the narrow canyon below the trail I could see a horse’s head peaking behind a rock. The terrain above was a slickrock slab. Slickrock is a confusing name for modern hikers with shoe and boot soles that grip the rock confidently, but the name came from the lesser friction interface between rock and horse shoes. I wanted to believe the horse was wild and the accident of it’s own volition, however, the more likely story involves someone leading the horse where they shouldn’t have. Now I wished I hadn’t seen that horse and have my hike out end on such a sour note.

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Friday after work I again left town for parts further west and spent the night amongst the pinion and juniper at the Saddlehorn campground in Colorado National Monument. Sunrise was easier to get up for on this trip with a later schedule for first light.

I skipped Grand View this morning for the Monument Canyon View location I’d scouted on a prior trip.

Then I headed towards the opposite entrance to make the short hike to Devils Kitchen.

Extending the hike I headed up No Thoroughfare canyon to the first waterfall (after the largely dry spring).

Returning to the trailhead I drove further north to Ute Canyon. I’d been intrigued by a spot on the map marked “Suction Point” and the maps all showed a trail headed there from the bottom of Ute Canyon. I found a trace of a trail which promptly led me into some serious bushwhacking which I didn’t have the heart or time for so quickly bailed on the mission. Reaching Suction Point might be an all-day affair.

Headed back towards the visitors center I stopped to watch a few parties atop Independence Monument, then picked up a backcountry permit for Monument Canyon.

I took a lunch break down in Fruita at Suds Brother’s Brewery, then returned to the Monument and backpacked in some 4+ miles to locate a previously disturbed spot with great view of Independence Monument. My desire was to get a photo of the monument illuminated by the moon with long-exposure trails of the stars above.

The early sunset and still relatively warm nights this time of year were ideal for this activity.

Plus, my campsite offered excellent sunrise photos of the tower.

Re-packing my bag I headed back the way I’d hiked in.

The interval timer I’d used the night before to capture star trails came in handy for another multiple-exposure shot as I hiked the switchbacks out of the canyon.

It being nearly lunch time, I felt another trip to Suds Brothers Brewery was called for. Bonus: 2 dollar beers since the Bronco’s game was on.

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Tara and I escaped town Friday after work and headed up past Eldora to the Hesse trailhead. I hadn’t been here since they got serious about cracking down on people’s parking and clearly marked out all the legal spaces. At this day and hour it wasn’t hard to grab a spot very close to where the road gets rugged.

With Tara still recovering from a knee injury, we were planning on heading into Lost Lake, a relatively close hike and just before the wilderness boundary – meaning permits weren’t required. However, there are only 9 legit places to camp around the lake, so we still wanted to get in before the crowds. We ended up up getting a pick of the last couple remaining spots and grabbed site #9 as it seemed somewhat secluded.

After sleeping in we strolled around the lake saying hi to a few of the other campers.

After breakfast we packed up (including packing out a giant blanket someone had discarded, thank goodness for spare trash bags), and started down the trail running into 50+ people before reaching the trailhead. Sure enough, parking was now tight as the hordes ascended into the wilderness.

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Puttering along in first gear we babied Grant’s pickup out the Fortymile Ridge road to keep a mismatched fan from allowing the radiator to go super-nova. Eventually, we reached the end of the road and finished stuffing our backpacks while the wind grabbed anything it could and attempted to make off with it. From the trailhead the route managed to follow deep sand while avoiding the perfect-for-walking rock slabs on either side. Slowly the accumulated sand took over our shoes and when we hit some rock it was time for a spring cleaning.

After some more sand trudging and a game of follow-the-cairn across rockier paths we reached the Crack-in-the-Wall that would allow us to descend to Coyote Gulch, a side canyon of the Escalante River.

Sitting tight for a minute we allowed another group to come out of the narrow slot before we squeezed through the sandstone wringer.

An easy downhill sand slope took us by some great formations and right to the stream of Coyote Gulch.

Dropping our packs we set out for the short distance down the creek to the Escalante.

Just before reaching the larger river, the wind picked up and brought rain with it. Deciding it was best to be back with our gear, we turned and retreated. Picking up our packs we headed up canyon for a little ways before finding a campsite with a small sheltered overhang to wait out the weather.

Grant’s pack had suffered some damage to a frame stay during the squeeze through Crack-in-the-Wall so we gathered some sticks and used up our tape splinting the broken carbon fiber stay. Hopefully, we wouldn’t later miss any of that tape for ourselves!

Clearing weather sent us on a short ramble where we got to see Steven’s Arch in the best light yet.

The next morning we packed up and headed up canyon passing several small seeps and waterfalls.

The first big formation was Cliff Arch.

Petroglyphs were the next stop on our Coyote Canyon tour.

The scenery just keep getting better as we reached Coyote Natural Bridge.

Unmentioned in the guidebook was a cool section of narrow water-carved walls and some short falls that we dubbed the “sluiceway”.

By now Grant’s Chacos straps had torn and he took up barefoot walking through the stream as we neared Jacob Hamlin Arch. Despite it’s size, I was underwhelmed by this formation after all the beauty we’d seen so far.

Near the arch is a 45-degree sandstone slab leading out of the canyon. On the recommendation of one guidebook I’d even brought along some rope to haul our packs up this section.

Unfortunately Grant doesn’t have a lot of climbing or sandstone scrambling experience and found it difficult to trust his running shoe-clad feet. After trying several variations we decided to play it safe and lower the packs and retreat back the way we’d come.

Much to our horror, that meant we had to walk 6 miles back down the canyon through all those wonderful sights. I could think of many worse places to have to traverse twice in one day.

The trip back took a lot less time as we knew the few detours from the stream bed and didn’t need to stop for so many photos. The section I wasn’t looking forward to was the hike back to the Crack-in-the-Wall, an ascent up loose sand. A few clouds and some shade eased the effort and we were soon squeezing through the crack and facing the wind for a bit of death-march back to the trailhead.

Once we reached the car our adventure wasn’t completely over as we found ourselves pressed into duty to help tow a Honda Accord out of the 4WD road and back to something manageable. At least the Escalante Outfitters came through with some cold beer, great pizza and cheap-ish cabin for the night. The shower was also a welcome luxury.

Complete Coyote Gulch photo album

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This certainly hasn’t been the snowiest winter on record, so I was unsure just how much of the white stuff I’d find in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The Rollins Pass Road was completely clear on the drive in, but the trail was snow-packed (if thin) and fresh flakes were starting to fall as I left the trailhead.

Continuing pass the trail junctions for Forest and Crater Lakes, I headed further up the main valley than I’d ever been before. While my shoulders protested the heavy pack, my ego was stroked by all the day trippers who seemed impressed that I was going to spend the night.

Around 11,000 feet the trees started to thin and I figured I should pick a semi-sheltered spot now before continuing higher and risking a windier camp. The perfectly flat and sheltered bench appeared and I stomped out a tent platform and setup camp. Hours of watching snow fall while drinking hot beverages kept me entertained until dusk.

Once it was truly dark I left my headlamp in the tent and spent some time trying to capture the next image, all the while wishing for another light source and an off-camera flash.

Just before falling asleep I noticed the nearly full moon shining into the tent and went outside to investigate the clearing skies. The following shot was a 10 second exposure illuminated only by the moon.

With the clear sky came an overnight low of 14F so I stayed in camp through breakfast until it had begun to warm back up to 20F. Then I quickly packed away my night’s home and headed back down the trail through the 5 or so new inches of needed snow.

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