Sunday, February 25, 2018

Crater Lake Ski Circumnavigation 02.21-23-18

Finally posting again.

Almost every year Jennifer and Mirabelle head to Florida in February. And every year I try to plan something while they are gone. So far, I have been shut out by bad snow, warm temps and you name it. This year I bought new skis for the purpose of not being shut out. This year I came up with a destination that would have a higher probability for snow and reliable weather. This year I finally got out and did something bigger while they were away.

I often had long tour plans for this time period. But many involve dangerous terrain that would require someone joining me. Then this past year we went to Crater Lake where they had early snow. That is when I added another destination to my plans. I researched it a bit and most of the avalanche terrain could be avoided and this meant I could go solo.

So I called the ranger station just to make sure they don't have any requirements I was not meeting to get a back country permit. I checked all their boxes and headed down the following day hoping to get a permit so I could start early the day after my travel. As always, it is not easy driving the I5 corridor in the northwest. This time it was due to snow from Seattle to Salem. The Tumwater area was littered with wrecks and emergency vehicles. It was slow going. I called the ranger station from Chemult to let them know I wouldn't make it in by 4pm and that I would be there at 8am the following day to get a permit and start my trip. Then I set about finding a place to sleep for the night. Mostly because I am cheap, and perhaps partially because I like to suffer that place was my car in a snow park just outside the west side of the park.

I started Wednesday morning repacking for my trip and then driving into the park. I got the ranger station a bit before eight and then caught the ranger just before he was heading out to the weather station. I read their instruction book, and signed for my back country permit. I was pointed to the overnight parking and I was on my way. At the parking there was a couple who were also planning on the circumnavigation. I thought this would be good in case either of us ran into issues. But shortly starting up the Raven Trail to the lake, they appeared to back out and left me to break trail for 50km around the lake.

I got up to the lake and there was some spotty sun. The lake was visible and it was fun to see the lodge all wintered up. I took some photos and got moving as I had a later start than I had hoped. I west rim road and started to follow it. I hadn't see the others, or anybody for that matter since I left the Raven Trail. At first the going was easy. Trail had been broken in one of the previous days, but it had been snowing alot, so it was not that easy. The road is marked by sticks that the park service puts in for spring plowing, so it is not too difficult to follow as well.

As time went on I was slowed. I blamed my lack of acclimatization. But it could have been lack of conditioning, or sleeping in the car. There were endless snow drifts. I fell off one and was concerned that I would not dry out for the rest of the trip. Then the weather got less clear. And I slowed more. I feel like there was one part I just kept skiing over and over because everything looked the same. The sky matched the earth and even had trees. At one point I got a little off course when I could no longer follow the road. Fortunately by the time I back tracked to the last known place, it cleared enough that I could track where the road continued.

Seven hours after I had left the ranger station, I had finally reached the north junction. It was short of where I wanted to stop for the night. But it was snowing, and the wind was blowing hard. I headed a little further up into the trees where I would have some shelter from the wind.

I found a spot off the road that would work for my intended sleep system. Being a solo traveler, I had a lot to carry. (Especially because I opted for a bear canister.) A tent was not a very viable option for me. I opted for a snow trench. Since I figured there would be lots of fresh snow, I brought a tarp in case there was no solid snow to build a roof. This was good, as I would have had to dig deep to quarry good blocks for a roof. The tarp works well, but has the drawbacks of not being as insulating as a snow roof and allowing the condensed ice crystals to fall on you instead of attaching more firmly to a snow roof. I quickly dug a trench and set up shelter before setting about eating. It was difficult to keep everything dry as the snow just kept falling. On a positive note, it was quite cold, so the snow was also quite dry. After eating I got into my trench and realized it was not long enough. But I wanted to make it work. Eventually, I gave in, and gear back up and took the tarp off and improved it a bit, making it significantly better. I got back in and slept well until a little after six the next morning.

Thursday started like Wednesday left off with snow and clouds. I got underway and seemed to make good time for a bit. The day went between sun and snow. And sometimes I had both. Lake views were mostly non-existent until later in the day. Wind was also not as bad for most of the day as I rounded to the lee of the mountain. This meant there was much less snow drift navigation to deal with. However there were certain points where the road met the rim and the wind had actually scoured the snow down to asphalt. The day went as planned except for me losing steam for the final climb. I did not make it as far as I had wanted. But I also wanted to have a little more time to do a better snow shelter. I picked a spot that I thought would hide me from the wind and then it started to snow heavily. My trench came out a bit better, and a bit worse. Because I was attempting to use trees to shield it from the wind. I was too close to the trees and the trench was a bit short with a somewhat difficult entrance. I did not sleep as well as the previous night. I also think the shortness of the trench did not allow my legs and feet to recover as well.

I awoke early the next morning and decided to get started. Because of not covering the distances I wanted to the previous two days I had the longest mileage day ahead of me. Getting to see the sunrise would be a bonus too. Although the night had turned clear and the temperature was cold. I went about the business of eating breakfast, filling my trench and melting snow for the day and then got underway around 6am.

Navigation was easy and after a short uphill to regain the road and cross a meadow, I was headed downhill toward the crater rim. I got to the lake in what seemed like no time and got to see the sun hit the far rim as I cruised past three overlooks on the road. The road continued to descend and I made good time. When the sun was finally fully above the horizon, I took over my heavy jacket and forged on.

As I descended to Kerr Notch I was assessing the avalanche situation from Dutton Cliffs. It was clear to me that taking the bypass would add a significant amount of climbing. And that taking the road under the cliffs was also quite a climb. What a change from the nearly 5+km of descending. It was only 8 am when I arrived at Kerr Notch. I poked around following some tracks I believed to be from a bobcat that appeared fresh enough to be from the last eight hours. I had already decided to try to go under the cliffs as I could see some had already sloughed when the sun hit and did not even reach the road surface. Mostly the danger was isolated to a few chutes that I could quickly cross. I headed up the hill under full power crossing chutes and taking breathers in safer locations. By the time I had crossed under the cliffs, I was tired and still had a good deal of continuous uphill travel ahead of me. My progress slowed and I baked in the sun in the exposed meadows of the next portion of road.

I finally rounded to the corner to what was supposed to be the next downhill. However, it was full of snow drifts. So the low effort downhill I anticipated was a little more effort. Although not as much as the previous portion of road. As I made the descent, I viewed the next avalanche zone of Applegate Peak. This was one I was going to avoid. There was a wide steep face loaded with snow that was being blasted by the noon day sun. And since it was noon, I took my only side trip to Sun Notch which would be my last view of the lake on this trip.

I skied back to the road, but did not see where the avalanche bypass was. The ranger stated they were clearly marked, but did I miss it? I started up the road to see if it was further on. It wasn't but I decided I could find it by skiing down into the valley from the road just before the avalanche danger.
This was the most effortless portion of the trip. I got a little less than 100m of descent in a traverse into the valley. The map show the bypass trail loosely following a creek so I found the depression that would be the creek and followed it through the valley. This trajectory would also have me bypass the next avalanche area, Vidae Cliffs.

This was also one of the truly fun parts of the trip. I was not on the road. I was navigating for myself in the forest and a few meadows. Then I reached Grayback road. This is part of the bypass, and can be used to bypass the Dutton Cliffs earlier on if so needed. I climbed up Grayback Road and was back on the rim road quickly. However I was pretty sure I still had to get through the Vidae Cliffs area. This turned out to be true. But the Vidae Cliffs were much more of a steep wall on the side of the road that were not particularly snow loaded. They even had plenty of ditch space to empty into if they did slide. I passed through this section on the final real ascent of the trip.

It was about this time that there was actually fresher ski tracks in the snow. Near the end of the climbing my ski was starting to collect snow and not glide so well. The heat of the bright sun and the clouds starting to come in had turned the snow a little stickier. I made a final stop to was the scales on my skis. This also involved knocking ice off the edges that were icing up. I wasn't sure if the waxing was going to help, or these were just the conditions I would be in for the final descent to the visitor's center and my awaiting car. It turned out that stopping paid off. My skis glided better and I also made use of even fresher ski tracks to make the descent a little easier. There is a bit of climb back out at the end that is pretty mellow, but after a 20km plus day it is not how you really want to end.

Ending with a climb would be easy enough, but at the end of the trip I then had to dig out my car from the previous two days snow before I could get moving. Fortunately I was still pretty stoked to be done and the shoveling went quickly.

Overall I am happy I did this trip. It was interesting and it was great experience keeping myself alive for a few days in the winter. I went over 50 hours without seeing another person. At times it felt I had the park all to myself. The disappointing aspects are that it did not increase my wildlife sightings, and I made no turns. I saw exactly two Ravens and one other bird the whole time. I did hear a few other birds, and perhaps a squirrel at one point. I saw no mammals at all and saw very few tracks that alerted me to their presence. There were plenty of skiable slopes. But without a partner they were too dangerous. Although I had a day or two extra to make the trip, side trips to ski glades seemed too time and energy consuming.

If I was to head to Crater Lake again in the winter I'd probably do it with someone. Then set up camp where we could have access to ski slopes. It was a mild form of torture to have all this boot top powder, and not be able to make turns in it.

Pics are here.

Monday, June 19, 2017

June 5 2017 Unicorn Peak

I talked Matt into joining me for a ski of Unicorn Peak. Being a Monday morning we felt pretty good about having a good time on the peak and getting back to Seattle by dinner. 

We left fairly uneventfully. (Although a turnaround for forgotten skins in Seattle did delay us.) We pulled into the park around 7:30am and were at the parking lot around 8am. There were at least a half dozen cars with Oregon plates in the lot which I told Matt meant the Mazamas were climbing the peak. Hopefully they would be done, or we'd pass them before the summit block. 

Going through the flats at bench like was uneventful and pleasant. Except for Matt who had to stop a few times because his boots are not right for him. Climbing over the ridge to get into Snow Lake basin had some minor difficulties and found us taking our skis off to boot some steeper, more narrow sections. Then we were skinning again heading to the gully at the far end of the basin. We stopped one more time and discussed crampons for the gully, had a snack and Matt once again adjusted boots. 

From there we booted up the gully. We both started with trekking poles and no crampons. The peak appears to have been climbed during the weekend and there was a sitting glissade trench in the middle of the gully as well as numerous foot steps. I picked a set that I felt were nice to follow but led me into the shaded eastern half of the gully where the snow was more firm. Then the steps stopped. I did not feel comfortable traversing back over the icy glissade path to the sunny side, so stopped and got out my ax and crampons. This change allowed me to make quick work of the rest of the gully. Matt had continued on the sunny side of the gully and felt that swapping into crampons was more dangerous than continuing without. When we topped out we put skis back on and continued to skin up the cirque toward the saddle. A party of two women overtook us on the final steeper pitch to the saddle where we took our final uphill break. 

We left skis at the saddle and booted up the final ridge to the summit. I counted no less than 14 Mazamas mulling about on and below the summit. The party of two was starting their ascent on one of the farther right routes up the summit block. There was a kerfuffle between the party of two and the Mazamas after a Mazama attempted to rappel down onto their lead climber. We took our time to get ready and took a combination of the far right route and the next to far right route to get to the top as the Mazamas were rapping the two left routes. 

By the time we were on the summit the party of two was rapping and we had it all to ourselves. We hung out in the wind, and snapped a few pics before rapping down off the snag. I had a minor incident in the rap where I opted not the go over the roof near the top and it put me in a pendulum situation down low that left me a little scratched up. I instructed Matt not to do what I had done and then we were back in ski boot hiking down to our skis.

Back at our skis we noticed that the Mazama leader aiding one of his scared followers down the steeper pitch from the saddle. We made sure to ski around them, and then I went far skier's left into the bowl for my turns while Matt took a more fall line approach with his run. At the bottom the the bowl we eyed the top of the chute which now had an even deeper glissade trench in it. Matt said he was going to try skier's right of the trench and side slip down. I opted for the right side due to a left side constriction but made turns before crossing at a shallow spot and just above where the skier's left of the chute opened up. The chute didn't ski as great as the cirque due to the amount of boot holes in it, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. Below the chute the snow got heavier and stickier and I attempted to make a high traverse back to the ridge. Eventually we both booted back over the ridge and were now skinning back across the bench to the car. In order to avoid any more uphill, we headed to the road a bit east of where the summer trail would take us and got in a few more turns before reaching the road and walking 100m back to the parking lot. 

This was a pretty successful trip and while we could have been faster, we had fun and did not get involved in the conflict that comes with bringing more than a dozen people on a peak. Turns in the cirque were pretty close to perfect and had we been faster, I would have lapped it one more time at least. Unicorn is also a good place to take in the view of the Tatoosh traverse to plan for later this year.

Pics are here.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

May 21 2017 Paradise Skiing

Mirabelle has really improved alpine skiing this year. Probably from the more than 10 visits to the slopes she got. (The season pass really helped.) But also because she is a bit older, and maybe just more willing now.

A few years ago we took her to Paradise to ski. It was a low snow year, and really the only place that had snow. Jennifer and I did laps on a hill where they normally have the sled run, while Mirabelle played in the snow. Then we all skied back to the parking lot.

This time we went up in late May with Mirabelle on snow shoes and Jennifer and I skinning. The weather was warm and sunny. Mirabelle complained about snow in her boots and of being tired. I towed her up the last bit to Glacier Vista. Then we turned them downhill.

There were a few parts where Mirabelle was a little concerned about the slope angle. It was late in the day, and the snow was slow and sloppy. But she persevered and I even heard her "woo hoo" once or twice. It might have been mostly type two fun for her anyway, because she remembers the whole fondly.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Utah National Parks Part II

Capitol Reef to Bryce

After narrowly missing getting a campsite in Moab, we opted to take the short way to Capitol Reef. We felt fairly confident that heading to possibly the least visited Utah park on the Thursday afternoon would get us one of the first come first serve campsites in the park. Little did we know that we were traveling on a Thursday that most school districts in the state had off for a four day weekend.

As we approached the park you could see what a geologic wonder it is. Capitol Reef is based around the Waterpocket Fold, a 100 mile long monocline, largest in the US. What looks like a mountain range coming from the east is really the Fold. Contrary to what we experienced in the Moab area, as we drove west on highway 24 was more lush terrain. This is because the highway actually follows the Fremont River into the fold/park. There were green cottonwoods all around and a very different feel than the other parks we had already visited. When we got to the western end of the park, we saw the dreaded "campground full" sign at the visitor's center. I had to press on, in case it was wrong. We talked a bit to one of the campground hosts who informed us of the Utah holiday. She also told us there would be about 11 spots opening the following morning and I could come back at 7:30am to try and get one. And possibly the most important thing she told us was where to find camping as she knew the commercial campgrounds in town were full.

So we made a brief stop in the visitor's center and then headed out to dispersed camping on national forest land just west of the park. This was very primitive camping with no toilets or running water. It was also free, so that was nice. The ground was rough and we had to be careful driving in our sedan. We finally located a patch where we were willing to throw down our tent. But because there was no water, I had to leave Jennifer and Mirabelle at camp while I drove back into the park to secure water for our night's dinner. I came back to discover Mirabelle playing with a large group of kids that were camping nearby. We let her play until dinner and then she sat at their campfire until well after her bed time. The goal was that I would wake up early (which I had been doing) and head into the park to wait for a camp site.

The next morning I woke up and headed right into the park, arriving at the campground just before 7am. I was fourth in line. Around 7:30 the ranger pulled up and the three vehicles ahead of me dispersed. I was now talking to the camp host and he was asking if I wanted sun or shade. I thought beggars couldn't be choosers? So I opted for shade and paid for two nights of camping. I then headed to the Gifford House to wait for cinnamon rolls to bring back for breakfast. I watched turkeys and deer waiting for it to open at eight. Then I rolled in and had to wait fifteen minutes for the baked goods to arrive before I could buy a few cinnamon rolls and a pie and go pick up my family.

After picking up Jennifer and Mirabelle we went back and claimed our campsite and set up our tent. Then we walked over to the Ripple Rock Nature Center for the Snakes Alive show. Mirabelle was pretty excited about it and pushed her way up front. She even got to hold a rosy boa! After the show, we went back to camp and drove out to our hike of the Grand Wash. This was a hike we needed to do this day as flash flood warnings were in effect for the following two days. It can be done as a 2.5 mile point to point, or a 5 mile round trip. The hike started off good, but grew increasing long. Mirabelle usually looses steam in the afternoon and at some point after the narrows, we stopped for lunch. It was looking toward the end we wouldn't even make the other trailhead and Jennifer and I discussed how we would accomplish this hike. That is when the reality of the math struck us. If I hiked back to the car, they would still wait an hour in the parking lot for me. So we figured we would see if someone would shuttle one of us back to the car. When we finished the hike we found a local family who was willing to transport all three of us back in their vehicle and they even had a car seat! This act of kindness really made the hike possible for us. After dinner we stayed up for the evening ranger program at the amphitheater before retiring for the night.

The next day we hiked to Hickman Natural Bridge. This was a fairly short hike that rose out of the parking area and eventually through the wash to the bridge. It was gray and misty, so we weren't too concerned about the short section of wash, but we were prepared to move if it seemed like the rain would pick up. The bridge was fun as you got to walk under it and hike a short loop before returning to the main trail and back to the car.

We then drove to the short hike to view petroglyphs. There were some nice examples, although we could not get as close to them as the one we views back in Moab. It was starting to rain a little harder at this point, so we took the park's scenic drive. This was a good thing to do in the wet, and to give Mirabelle some sitting time after two hikes. However, the road crossed several washes and even was a wash for a short distance before the pavement ends. I was a little spooked by this, so we didn't get out at any of the viewpoints or stay too long on the road. We had reservations at a restaurant in town, so we just headed that way, stopping at a few view points in the park on the way out. One of which was the Goosenecks Overlook which overlooks Sulphur Creek winding through a canyon. It was quite unexpected as some of these deep canyons are not noticeable until you are standing on the rim.

We continued into Torrey to the Cafe Diablo. We probably didn't need reservations for the 5:30pm time we had made, but when we were leaving they had to open the outdoor seating to accommodate people who were arriving without reservations. It was nice to eat inside on the first rainy evening of our trip. While the empanadas appetizer was great, and I enjoyed the pomegranate chipotle ribs, Jennifer wasn't bowled over with her pecan chicken and we felt the restaurant was maybe a bit overhyped. The great thing is that instead of the typical placemat and crayons that restaurants give kids, they let Mirabelle borrow an Etch-a-Sketch. Which made us vow to purchase one for the longer road trip segments as soon as we got back to civilization.

Because of our early meal time we were once again able to attend the Ranger talk at the Amphitheater before turning in for the night.

I awoke early in the damp morning and was planning our travel day in the car when I decided I had enough time for a bit of a hike. So I grabbed the camera and headed up the Cohab Canyon trail which leaves across the street from the campground. The hike up was short and steep and in no time I was at the head of the canyon. I hiked in a bit poking around, but wanted to get back for when Jennifer and Mirabelle woke up so I wouldn't delay our travel day. When I got back to the mouth of the canyon, the sun was shining a bit, and there was a rainbow beyond the campground. After snapping some pics I headed down and we once again had pie at the Gifford House for breakfast. We packed up the tent, and then Mirabelle played with some other kids for an hour or so before we finally got on our way.

We got underway and headed out to Scenic Highway 12. Our goal was somewhere in the Grand Staircase Escalante area but it would be determined by weather. It was raining lightly for the most part and when we climbed through Dixie National Forest, it was really foggy and going was a bit slow. We stopped for lunch at Hell's Backbone Grill, easily the best food we had on the trip. Jennifer had some pumpkin pinon enchiladas and I had posole. The meal was so good we fantasized about returning this way on the way home to eat there again. Then we continued on to the monument.

There was some wild terrain, and some creative highway engineering that went into the scenic highway. At one point the road occupies the top of a ridgecrest called the Hogsback. We drove through the monument before actually reaching the town of Escalante, where we stopped in the monument visitor's center. After talking with the ranger, it was determined that we couldn't do anything in the monument because of the rain. All roads in the monument are unpaved and become streams or sandpits. So we hung out at the visitor's center and checked out the displays which included a dinosaur skull and microscopes for looking at cryptobiotic soil crusts. We decided to continue on to Bryce, which had a similar weather forecast. But being farther west, we hoped it would get out of the rain sooner.

When we arrived at Bryce we checked on the camping situation. There were sites available. I guess not a whole lot of people like to camp when it is raining and in the forties. We contemplated getting a hotel room and drove into town to check prices at Ruby's. (We checked for a room, a cabin and a tee pee.) Then we decided all of that was too much to spend and we should set up the tent. We drove back into the park during a break in the rain and hoped to get our wet tent set up before it started raining again. But by the time we picked out a site it was raining. We made the decision there it was time to get a room, dry off our tent and get some showers. We drove back to the hotel in sheets of rain, streams running down the street and lightning lighting up the sky. We picked the right time to have our hotel night after a run of twelve nights camping.

We immediately took the tent out to dry and then made a choice for food. We opted not to go to the restaurant located inside Ruby's and head down the road a short distance to Cowboy Ranch House. It wasn't worth the trip out in the rain, but it wasn't horrible. Then we went back to the hotel and Jennifer and Mirabelle went swimming in the pool before bed. In the morning it was still raining and we got some laundry done while we ate breakfast at the Cowboy's Buffet and Steak Room located within the hotel. I had a surprisingly delicious breakfast burrito, and I would say the food was a touch better than down the street. After the laundry was done we checked out and headed into the park.

Reminder: Pics are here

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Utah National Parks 10.06-27.15 Part I

Seattle to Moab

We took some time off to visit the Utah National Parks; Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion. We had rough plans to spend a certain amount of time in each park with select itineraries for each. The plan was to head from north to south and return from the southern end of the state.

As road trips with a preschooler go, we left late on the sixth. Our intended destination was somewhere in Idaho, hopefully as far as Boise. During longer summer days, and pre-kid we could have easily made Salt Lake by the end of the day. The drive out was uneventful and we even got to stop at a taco truck we had wanted to try in Yakima. We were benighted before Idaho but pressed on to Martin Landing a nice (and free) campground at the confluence of the Boise and Snake rivers. We slept and headed out the next morning hoping to make it to Moab. Along the way we stopped at the Buffalo Cafe in Twin Falls for lunch (of breakfast items.) We continued on and stopped for dinner at the Red Rock Brew Pub in Downtown Salt Lake City. After our nice al fresco dining experience, we were benighted again on our way to a camp site at Lake Utah State Park. The $30 a night camping was the highest we paid the whole trip, and was as least offset by the previous night's free camping. On the way out of town, we stopped for kolaches at Hruska's in Provo. Although we had to make an extra stop for coffee as they don't serve coffee until the first snow.

We took a nice scenic ride down to Moab and were poised to arrive in the mid afternoon. We opted to skip some hikes we planned earlier in the day to make sure we could secure a campsite. This proved fruitful as when we entered the visitor's center in Moab, we were told there was little camping left but we found a great site on BLM land up Sand Flats Road, just walking distance from the Slickrock trail head. We set up camp for what would be the next seven days. Since we had a free but short afternoon, we went into town so I could secure a rental bike at Poison Spider. Lucky to be an XL frame size, I was able to get a Kona Process 134 for my next days adventure. We went back to camp and had dinner and explored the slickrock around our camp before retiring for the evening.

The next morning was a little lazy and we got down to the bike shop before 10am to pick up my ride. I had to wait a bit before I could catch a lift to the trail head and start my ride. The woman who drove the shuttle said her favorite trail was porcupine and I considered telling her to drive me there, but I stuck with the original plan. The funny thing about the slickrock trail. The practice loop is not easier than the full loop, only less committing. I knew that, but really struggled with the practice loop. Mostly on the climbs. Part of this was the saddle on the bike being set too low. Another part of it was I had a difficult time gauging the steepness of the climbs and usually found myself in too low of a gear. The riding was fun, and I stopped at a canyon overlook before finishing the practice loop. I raised the saddle at the end of the practice (but still not enough) and wondered if it was a good idea to continue on.

With the saddle raised a bit the climbing was a little easier but I still wasn't finding my groove. Many climbs had awkward starts (from sand pits) or even more awkward 90° turns at the start. And I was still finding myself in too low a gear. Then around three miles in I adjusted the saddle upward again. Around this same time I finally attempted to use the larger front chain ring and climbing got easier. The benefit of "discovering" the outer chain ring was now I descending faster as well. I was really enjoying myself, and spent little time walking the bike except for a few sand pits. Later in the ride, I was getting tired as I did not pack enough food and it was getting hotter. The climbing got difficult again, and some climbs I didn't even bother trying as I knew I would expend 10 times the energy of walking the bike and not really go faster. Of course, my descent speeds increased and at the final descent before reconnecting with the practice loop I was able to hold off a couple of motor bikes. Me on a dual suspension bike is point and hold on. Lots of fun.

The slickrock was like nothing I had ridden before. Other than the occasional sand pits all the riding was on rock, and usually smooth. There was little shade, but I did stop to rest a few times under junipers or behind rock outcrops. It was also fun to watch the rock crawlers do their thing on the Hell's Revenge trail as well as a few guys on trials motos doing what ever they could. The uphills were technical in the sense you needed some skills with body position to get up them, but overall the riding is not very technical. I had a some fun riding down the road back into town to meet Jennifer and Mirabelle at the bike shop.

We ate at Milts for lunch (perfect way to end the slickrock.) Then we headed to the civic center to swim in the pool for an hour before buying some groceries and heading back to camp.

The next day we headed to Arches. The road makes quite the entrance into the park. We went on a short ranger led hike and saw Balanced Rock before having a picnic lunch. Then we went over to Park Ave for an "art crawl" at Mirabelle's insistence. This involved hanging out with a Moab artist who gave us colored pencils and paper to draw what we saw. We sat in the shade for an hour or so drawing before we finally started our hike down Park Ave. This was a nice hike through a wash, but late in the day Mirabelle could not make the return trip. I had to hike back and do the car shuttle by picking them up at the courthouse towers parking lot.  That concluded our first day at the park.

The following day we headed up the road to check out dinosaur prints. This involved a longish drive up the highway to a dirt road leading to a small parking area. There happened to be a stage mountain bike race going on, so the small parking area was a bit more full as there was a water station set up there. We took the 500 foot hike to see some cool tracks left in a river bed millions of years ago. We left that location (Copper Ridge) and headed to another location Mill Canyon where the tracks were only recently unearthed or discovered. There was a boardwalk and at least a half dozen different dinosaur tracks including some crocodile tracks as well. A short and quite sandy drive further up the road revealed fossilized dinosaur bones in the rock near a wash. It also happened to be a great place to view pack rat middens. after carefully driving out of the sand we headed back to camp. After that we managed a hike to double arch in Arches. Although perhaps a little ambitious for late day with a preschooler.

The day after that we spent making the long (for a preschooler) hike to Delicate Arch. While it is a fun hike, it is not so much when you are in a conga line with all the other tourists. The trail starts at an old homestead and crosses a stream (with frogs!) before going up slickrock slabs for a quarter mile then winding around a while until taking a blasted into the cliff route to the arch. Mirabelle was perhaps feeling tired on this hike and we were doing it close to midday so it was real slow going on the way up. She was pretty chipper on the way down. This arch is the one on the Utah license plates. It is nice, and you can walk under it. But there was so many people there all I wanted to do was turn back to the car. After the hike we drove Potash Road to look at petroglyphs.

We decided to change things up a bit and head to Canyonlands. Partially to start Mirabelle on her second Junior Ranger badge of the trip, but also to avoid crowds at Arches. (Entry times into Arches for us were about 30 minutes. We were never more than the third car at Canyonlands.) Our first stop was Mesa Arch and the short hike to it. This was a fun arch you could get up close to and looking through it gave you a good view of the canyon as well. Interesting thing about this hike is that it is a loop, but when we were there over 90% of the tourists took the same (southern) trail back instead of the northern leg. We had it all to ourselves on our hike back.

We then headed out to do a hike at Whale Rock. Before we did, we had a picnic lunch at the Upheaval Dome picnic area. Then drove to and started out on our hike up Whale Rock. This was a fun hike with scrambling involved that kept Mirabelle engaged. The views from up top were nice, and it was also not a very populated trail. After finishing that hike we did a little poking around at the Shafer Canyon overlook before returning to camp.

We were back in Arches the following day and did a morning hike on the windows loop. While the main trail in was mobbed, the return "primitive" trail was more quiet and much fewer people which made it a nicer hike. We had a picnic lunch at the shady Devils Garden picnic area, and then proceeded to hike to Landscape Arch. Landscape Arch is possibly the longest known natural arch in the world. But what makes it dramatic is the how thin it is for the length of span. Much more deserving of the name "delicate." On the way in we saw a few other arches and then made our hike out. Right near the start of the trail is a sand slope that Mirabelle and other kids played on before we returned to the car and went back to camp.

The following day it was time to say goodbye to Moab. We had planned to do one hike in Canyonlands before leaving for Capitol Reef because entry into Canyonlands was quicker in previous days. So we packed up camp and headed for Canyonlands and our last hike in the Moab area. For the hike we opted for the Grand View Trail which is at the southern end of the mesa that makes up the Island in the Sky District. We started with a ranger talk and then headed out on the trail. This trail runs along the cliffs for most of its duration. At some point you can see the Green River, but the Colorado remains elusive. The views are expansive and really made me want to explore the other districts in the park as well as the White Rim Trail. In a funny sort of thing, when we got to the southern tip of the mesa and had snacks, I heard a woman calling "Gilbert." I asked if that was in fact what she was calling and she said yes. But not only was her husband named Gilbert, so was another guy that was on the trail. After some joking around, we headed back to the car and the drive to Captiol Reef.

Photos can be seen here

Monday, October 5, 2015

First Mother, Fay, Pleasant and Hessong - 09.24.15

4000' of elevation gain
~8 miles RT
Left Car: 8:15am
Returned: 4:45pm
8.5 hours car to car

I had two days available and was thinking big. I had settled on a plan to attempt two mountains on the Bulger list. But then when the time came, the weather wasn't going to cooperate for two days of scrambling. Closer to the date, it was looking like rain might even come to the North Cascades Thursday afternoon. So I thought of something different that would be adventurous and could be completed in a day. However, with no partner, the Tatoosh Traverse would be a very tall order. I scaled back and came up with scrambling peaks in the Mowich Lake area northwest of Mount Rainier. This plan afforded me the ability to wake up a bit later, and didn't involve a bicycle.

There were a few people camping at the Mowich Lake sites when I left the car and headed toward Knapsack Pass. As soon as I passed the ranger cabin, I regretted not bringing a bear bell. Alone in the morning on a trail through blueberries was just the place to run into a bear. And I wasn't really up for whistling or singing to myself, but did my best anyway. As I made quick work of the trail up to the pass there was only one delicious blueberry left that I could find, but the bushes were on fire with shades of red.

I paused at the pass to view Mount Rainier before heading on to First Mother, a somewhat impressive looking rock form sticking up from the ridge. I donned my helmet and scrambled up the first rock outcropping after some confusion of Peggy Goldman's description. But I soon realized I was too low and headed further toward First Mother still believing it was something different. (It looked steep and third class from where I was.) I eventually read another part of the route description and realized that the tower was First Mother. Once below it, it was not steep and was a simple walk up loose rock to the summit. I paused on top to view the route to The Castle, which looked sort of mundane. Then I looked toward Fay, my next objective. I descended back to the pass and then a few switchbacks below to gain the ridge leading toward Fay. This was fairly easy and I was moving well enjoying some cool rock formations near Knapsack Pass.

I kept going on the ridge until I ran into a cliff off one of the higher bumps on the ridge. So I turned back and found a bypass on the south side of the ridge. It started as a bit of a climber's path, but turned into goat trails pretty quickly and I wandered in the direction of Fay. At some point it was looking a bit more difficult and I turned back to gain the ridge once again. Then it was a quick trip up to the summit where I sat and ate around noon. Two smaller hawks flew by me and one larger raptor that I could not recognize also flew above. I sat and watched (and photographed) the clouds pushing over the summit of Mount Rainier mesmerized. I then started the trek over to Mount Pleasant.

I dropped down off the ridge again and must have missed the location where I originally left the ridge and was now wandering goat trails in the meadows. After traversing under a rock outcropping I decided I should head up to the ridge again. I couldn't attain the ridge. Or perhaps found it too difficult, or too much of a bushwhack, so I traversed at my new higher elevation. It looked like I could descend by following goat trails, so I had to back track and drop low where I eventually crossed under a cliff band and continued to wander the meadows on a goat trail that perhaps humans have also used. I kept looking for a logical place to regain the ridge, but I was not finding one that made sense (was simple and easy.) So I finally made a decision to traverse the basin and ascend to the saddle between Pleasant and Hessong. This proved simple and easy and in no time I stashed my poles and hiked to the top of Pleasant. The view was nice, I ate a chocolate bar and then headed toward Hessong.

After I returned to the saddle I headed up Hessong. Some more confusion with the map from Peggy Goldman had me ascending the ridge ascending from the saddle between Hessong and Pleasant. This quickly got too difficult and I retreated back a bit to read the description which stated to ascend the Northwest Ridge. I started out to get there, but realized there may be a descent off the ridge and I wouldn't need to return the way I came. I then back tracked to my poles at the saddle before finding a climber's path across the talus to the ridge. Again, I covered this terrain/distance much quicker than it had looked from farther away and I was soon standing on the summit and trying to find the "south facing 2nd class gully" to descend. I couldn't find it, so I descended the ridge I so quickly came up. Back at the saddle I quickly found the trail that heads to the Wonderland trail and in no time I was in the meadows of Spray Park. I turned onto the Wonderland and headed toward Mowich Lake.

I made a few quick side trips to Spray Falls and Eagle Cliff before finally arriving back at the car.

When Mirabelle was a bit younger one of the things I missed about the outdoors was night hiking. Whether it be heading up the Palmer Snowfield under a full moon, or hiking Tiger Mountain with some friends.  It was just not possible with a toddler. But after climbing Mount Thomson earlier this year, I realized what I miss even more is off trail travel. The adventure that comes with picking your way through a talus field or the mystery of leaving the maintained trail to seek out the path before you. From the time I left Mowich Lake to the time I got back into the woods on the Wonderland Trail, I did not see another person. While the paths I were on gave me some direction, I did have to make route finding decisions and choose what worked best for me in the conditions I had. This is something I have missed since Mirabelle was born. Hopefully I will get to do more of it in the coming year.

Some pics here

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mount Thomson 07.30.15

Spoiler alert! Third time is a charm.

I worked it out with KJ that we would do this climb as a "warm up" to Torment Forbidden traverse. We had not yet done it, and we had not climbed an alpine ridge together. So it was sort of a shake down of us climbing together. Although it was a route I had been wanting to tackle since I had been unsuccessful attempting it twice.

We left Seattle on time and somewhat casually at 5am. I think we were shooting for a 12 hour car to car trip. But I was doing this off the couch, so who knew what would happen? We arrived at the trail head a little after 6am, and by the time we were hiking it was closer to 6:30am. I was feeling nervous about losing some time. After sampling some fine thimble berries down low, the miles melted away beneath us in the cool morning forest. We finally arrived at Bumblebee Pass at 9:30am. There we cached our water filter and one liter of water and then started the difficulties.

 In the grand scheme of the climb coming down from Bumblebee pass into the basin in not really difficult. But with the lack of rain this summer the soil was quite loose and sandy with loose rocks deposited in it. KJ was in trail runners and myself in approach shoes better suited for rock. It made for somewhat slow going. then we hiked the climbers trail through the basin where we cached a few items for our return trip that we would not need on the climb like trekking poles. There was some discussion of bringing only one pack for snacks/water, but we both opted to keep our packs on. (After all this is supposed to be a shake down for Torment Forbidden.) We then made our way to the talus field to get to the base of the climbing.

We were now in the sun heading up hot rocks to the base. This also felt incredibly slow, especially trying to avoid loose patches which makes a lot of rocks start sliding beneath your feet. We picked our way up and eventually gained the ridge where we had to scramble an exposed ledge on the north side to make it to the base of the climb. It was now 11am and we took a break and geared up.

We did not bring a route description or topo. I really didn't think it was needed with a five pitch route up a ridge. But perhaps it would have been speedier to have it. KJ took the first pitch, and then I led the next up steep terrain. Perhaps KJ stopped short of the top of the first pitch and I stopped short of the second. But it took us three pitches to make it to the third pitch slab. Which I cruised and brought KJ up and sent him on his way up the next pitch. We simul-climbed for a bit before I took the lead again to the summit with a bit of simul-climbing as well. Arriving at the summit around three hours after we left the base.

Unfortunately for us the summit was not a pleasant place to be. While I belayed KJ up the last bit, I was being bothered by swarming ants flying about me and landing on me. When he went to use the summit register, he too was being swarmed. So we didn't stay long and have a snack, and started the descent quickly. The descent was pretty straightforward. There was some easy scrambling that led to two rappels. Although they are fourth class down climbs, we rapped these as we had the rope out and our harnesses on, so it would be faster and safer to rap. There was a bit more hiking, and then some third class steps before we were once again on loose dirt paths heading down from the notch. This was probably the most unpleasant terrain of the day for me as a misstep would cause you to dirt ski, or worse fall. It was now close to the hottest time of the day and there was little shade. We hiked for a long time on this climber's trail before it gave way to talus again. The talus was actually a welcome relief, but not much faster going. Especially because if there was a faint trail in the talus, I couldn't manage to follow it.

We regrouped at our cache location, picked up our gear and proceeded onward toward Bumblebee Pass. By the time we reached the pass, it was about an hour and a half since we were on the summit, and even longer since we last had water. And even longer for me since I last had food. We shared the stashed liter of water (with NUUN) and headed back to the PCT. We could not wait to get to Ridge Lake to filter some water.

A few uphill minutes on the PCT and we were at the lake. I lagged behind KJ as I was bonking. It became more noticeable when I sat beside the lake with a light headache. I dipped my feet in and got the shivers. We pumped some water and I drank a liter or two. I wanted to jump in, but my body was having difficulty managing temperature, so I thought better of it. I finally got up after being beside the lake for a long time. I was a bit dizzy, and nauseous. I needed food. I tried to eat some bison jerky but it took forever to chew a bite. What I wanted was a fresh juicy Yakima peach, but I didn't have that. The best thing in either of our packs was a Clif beet, banana, and ginger squeeze. It turned out to be the perfect thing, liquid sugar. After a bunch of slurps, we were off again and I was only slowed by picking some really wonderful blueberries on the side of the trail. After we left the blueberries I caught KJ and was back on track.

The hike out seemed to take forever. We kept thinking we were reaching a part we remembered only to have to hike longer to reach that part. This was particularly true with the Commonwealth Basin trail turnoff. This marked the 2.4 miles to go point, but that still meant we were about an hour out. We reached the car around 8pm. We're calling it "less than 14 hours" but I actually forgot to bring a watch so we only checked time when KJ took out his phone.

Overall the climbing was fun if a bit chossy at times. There was no stellar crack pitch or anything like that, just typical Cascades alpine climbing. I was expecting it to be like a bigger version of The Tooth, and maybe it was, but it didn't feel like it. It seemed more adventurous and definitely steeper for the first few pitches. I think this route would get significantly more traffic if the approach wasn't eight miles in. I'm glad to finally achieve this climb and actually enjoy it. Not to mention getting out on a rare occasion.