Backpacking Trip Report: White Rocks Trail



Location: Shenandoah National Park
Type: In and Out

Mileage: 6
Days: 2

On a weekend late in June, a few other Shenandoah National Park Student Conservation Association volunteers and I decided to go for an overnight trip in the park. I had previously done a circuit hike on Hazel Mtn Trail to Hazel River Trail to White Rocks Trail and suggested this location. The circuit hike was about 9 miles with a bunch of elevation change, but for our overnight trip we decided to just head in on White Rocks Trail and find a campsite between the waterfalls and the White Rocks.

This overnight trip was a spur of the moment thing as we didn’t start hiking until 45 minutes before sunset. Each of us also had about 5-10 pounds of liquid weight to make sure we had a good time… The hike to our campsite was downhill the entire way and we made it to the waterfall spur trail without needing a headlamp.

The challenge now was to find a preexisting campsite to spend the night at. This area was significantly changed by the huge fire in 2000 and the understory was thick with brush and mountain laurel. Luckily we found a campsite just as we put our headlamps on. The campsite we found was tucked away in the mountain laurel 150 yards past the White Rocks – Waterfall trail intersection.

Shenandoah National Park’s camping regulations differ from many other parks since you can for the most part camp anywhere as long as you are 20 yards from a trail or 10 yards from water. However, fires are not allowed, which for a leisurely overnight trip is really a bummer. We made the best of it though using my whisperlite stove as a heat source and light. We sat up drinking beer around the stove for hours and finally made it into our bags at about 12.

I slept great during the night even though the winds picked up. I bet we had wind gusts up to 40 mph, but the beer probably helped out quite a bit.

The next morning we hiked down to the white rocks, which is basically a bunch of large boulders to climb up on. The views were fantastic as we almost had a 360 degree view. We sat up there for a good hour until the wind chilled us enough to make us want to move again. We then hiked the 3 miles back to the car and took the 20 minute drive back to the house to catch some World Cup Soccer action.

Spur of the moment trips like these really make me appreciate working in a National Park and living so close to a great resource. I’ll have to start posting some of my dayhikes now!

Hiking Trails

With the current changes in the economy, it is great to know that there are still ways to get out and have fun without having to spend a lot of money to do it. And one of the best ways to get out of the house is to enjoy a weekend camping trip or even a simple day hike. In fact, there are so many camping sites and hiking trails across the nation that you could experience a new one each time you set out on an outdoor adventure! No matter what your fitness level or hiking experience, there is sure to be hiking trails that will work for you.

When choosing which hiking trails you set out on, a little research can go a long way. Choose hiking trails that match your skill level and make sure to note how far the trails are and how technical the terrain is. The last thing you want is to get to a hiking trail and realize that it is not at all what you expected; a little research beforehand can help you avoid this problem situation.

And no matter what type of hiking trails you choose, make sure to come prepared with the proper foot wear and enough water to get you through the hike. Hiking shoes should fit properly, be comfortable, and give your feet the support that they need. You will quickly learn that the right gear can make the difference between a fun outing and a painful experience.

Backpacking Trip Report: Lost Lake

Area: Chugach National Forest

State: Alaska

Mileage: 15

Days: 2

Type: In and Out

I was recently building trail at Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska for a month as part of a Student Conservation Association crew. On one of my weekends, my girlfriend and I went for a short backpacking trip to Lost Lake.

We began the hike from the Seward side and soon ran into a wind that just about knocked me over when we reached tree line. When I turned around the wind would smack the straps on my backpack against my face, but the view of Resurrection Bay was amazing. It was a crystal clear fall day in Alaska and was the peak of the color change. The mountains were covered with the red of fireweed and other tundra plants while the aspen gave the lower forests an awesome golden glow.

The trail was somewhat heavily used by locals as a common dayhike. We passed several trail runners and day hikers. I guess the lake was no longer lost.

We didn\’t end up camping on Lost Lake but stayed on a slightly smaller one to the east. My girlfriend and I tried our luck on fishing, but gave up after a while. We had the perfect spot to camp, out of the wind with a terrific view.

The next day we began hiking out but focused on berry picking for a solid hour. We collected nearly one gallon of high bush blueberries and probably ate many more that didn\’t make it into our ziplock bag. My hands and lips were stained purple for the rest of the day. The rest of the hike was a bit more peaceful than the day before; there were fewer hikers and much less wind.

It was a wonderful backpacking trip and I suggest the trail as a dayhike to any visitors to Seward, AK.

Backpacking Trip Report: Pyramid Peak



Location: North Cascades National Park

Type: In and Out

Mileage: 10
Days: 2
After a few weeks of not getting to the top of anything, (tiger doesn’t count tongue.gif ) I was getting hungry for a summit. But where to go? To the North Cascades of course! I’ve been spending a lot of time in the n.c. this winter because I love the views. Unfortunately, the weather can be bad a lot of the time. Most times when it’s nice everywhere else, it’ll be bad in the n.c. To get around this issue, I figured if I went there nearly every weekend, my chances of good weather would improve! I had been fiendishly checking the weather all week, and it was not looking good for the weekend. On the other hand, it was not looking good anywhere in the state, for saturday anyway.Laurie and Katie arrived at my place at 5am on saturday morning. I wanted to give them the dire weather report, and give them fair chance to bail. Not that there was anything to bail to. We all agreed to go anyway, 100% chance of precip. be darned!

Medium rain had slowed to light mist by the time we left the car. We were on the trail to pyramid lake by 8:15am. (1100ft) We followed the trail until it became obscured by snow, after which we followed the creek up towards pyramid lake but never crossed over to the lake itself (not really worth seeing, IMO), instead we headed up steep timbered slopes until we reached an undefined ridge with an open area where we stopped for lunch(4500). It had been snowing lightly since 2000ft and there were no views at all. We were wearing snowshoes, but removed them for the next steep slope ahead. Two rocky, cliffy areas we encountered were bypassed to the right(north). We broke out into open alpine slopes at about 5200ft. I strained my eyes for views, but alas, all was obscured by fog and snow. We found a semi sheltered place for camp(5350ft) and set up the “baby”.

The “baby” was a 3 person, 4 season tent we had borrowed for this trip. Since I wasn’t familiar with this type of ‘suspended in the fly’ tent, I didn’t want to take it all apart to split up the weight between us for fear that I wouldn’t be able to re-assemble it properly in a snowstorm embarassedlaugh.gif We worked out a system instead, where we would rotate the baby every few hours so each of us could have the pleasure of carrying the whole tent (minus the poles, of course). After my turn with the baby, I handed it over to Laurie, who didn’t want to give it up once she had it. Katie and I couldn’t find a reason to complain about this situation up.gif

After some april tomfoolery with the tent poles, we had our palace set up for the night, and went to sleep to the sound of snow hitting the tent, and hopes for views and maybe even a summit in the morning.

All that was hidden the previous day was revealed in all its glory for us on sunday morning! But, we had slept in too long to make a real summit bid – or had we? We had some breakfast (can’t climb without coffee doh.gif ), and set off with day packs toward the col at the base of Pyramid peak, which was only about 20min. from camp. We were ready to have a look at the traverse we would need to do below the east face of pyramid peak to gain the colonial glacier. Our route would be a U-shaped one, and traverse below paul bunyans stump and Pinnacle peak in order to gain the easy south slope of pyramid peak. The traverse from the col to the snout of the colonial glacier was the crux of the climb. It was an exposed traverse, and would have to be done one at a time, quickly.

We stood at the col, sizing up the route ahead. We had many factors against us and few in our favor. The sun had been baking the slope for hours, and as we stood there, snowball after snowball rolled down its length. We had decided to leave the snowshoes in camp (a weird call, in retrospect) and were postholing and moving slowly because of it. We would have to re-cross this slope later in the day, which would make it even more dangerous than it was right now. We all decided it would be unsafe to cross, and climbed up and over the knob to the east of the col to get out of the wind, sit in the sun, and enjoy the views. About 10 minutes later, we heard the thunder of a good sized slide, and ran back up to the knob to take a look. The slope had released a good sized, long running wet slide right across where one of us would have been had we gone. eek.gif No foolin’.

We were happy with the decision we made, and made our way back to pack up the “baby” and head down. From a couple thousand feet below, we could look up and still see the slide path. A leisurely descent had us back at the car by 4pm with many hours of daylight left!! We almost had time for another hike…… wink.gif

Trip Report: Bandelier National Monument

Location: Bandelier Nation Monument

State: New Mexico

Miles: 8

Days: 2

Type: In and Out

Friday, March 11 – I worked until 3:30 and left for the airport. I flew into Austin by way of Dallas to meet up with eduk8er. He picked me up outside the baggage claim area around 11:30 PM and we hit the road, headed for New Mexico. We drove until about 3:00 AM or so and pulled off into a rest stop to catch a few winks before continuing the journey.

Saturday, March 12 – Awake at 6:30 AM, eduk8er started up the truck and we were “on the road again”. We stopped briefly for breakfast along the way and the miles started rolling by. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived in Clines Corner, NM. We called power_hiker from there, around 6:00 PM or so, and told him we’d probably be able to make Juniper Campground in Bandelier by about 7:30. When we arrived, we were greeted by power_hiker and CuervoBravo. They waited for us to get there to light the campfire. CuervoBravo had driven up from Socorro, NM to provide us with transportation from the Bandelier Visitor Center to our trailhead (what a nice guy!). We ate supper and laid out our sleeping pads and bags on the ground, then sat around the fire getting to know these two new companions.

Sunday, March 13 – I got up around 9:00 AM and the other three were already stirring. They had made and eaten their breakfasts, so I made mine while eduk8er repackaged our food for the week. Once done and cleaned up, I dragged my pack out of his truck and we began loading up for our adventure in the backcountry of Bandelier. We left for the Visitor Center and once there, we transferred our gear to Cuervo’s van. Eduk8er went in to get the permit and the three of us wandered around, taking in some of the sights. I checked out the gift shop and books while we waited. When eduk8er had our permit in hand, we piled into Cuervo’s van and headed for the Apache Spring trailhead. When we got there, a ranger pulled up to make sure we had everything in order. We were finally on the trail! We hiked in about ½ to ¾ of a mile and met up with some pockets of snow. As we made our way further up the trail, there was more snow, crusted over enough to walk, at least for a few steps at a time, before post-holing – sometimes up to our knees. After following this snowy track for awhile, eduk8er suggested that maybe we should go back to the van and enter Frijoles Canyon by way of the trailhead out of Ponderosa Campground. That is what we did. The trail from Ponderosa was very easy going. It was great to be out in this magnificent forest on my way into a land I had never been to before. We reached the canyon rim and began our descent. Man! What a lot of switchbacks there were! Being from the east, I usually don’t encounter more than four or five switchbacks on a section of trail at any given time. On this descent, I lost track of their number. Each turn gave us a beautiful view. The day was mild with hardly a breeze, and I could smell the butterscotch scent in the air from the Ponderosa pines lining this canyon wall. We arrived at the bottom of the canyon and eduk8er remarked that he didn’t remember ever seeing so much water in Frijoles Creek. We sure wouldn’t be lacking water on this trip! We stopped to eat lunch at Upper Crossing Junction. It felt good to drop the pack, lean back against a comfortable rock and have something to eat and drink. CuervoBravo had accompanied us in but was going to head back home this afternoon, so we visited a while longer until he had to go. We packed up and hiked further down the trail finding a nice campsite to set up for the night. We strung tarps, laid out sleeping pads, sleeping bags, food and other necessary gear, organizing our site. Camp chores took up some of the time – filtering water, setting up the stoves, selecting food for supper and preparing our evening meal. Just before dark, I noticed a light sprinkling rain beginning to fall. During the night, as the temperature fell, the rain turned to snow.

Monday, March 14 – We woke up early to the sounds of eduk8er smacking the tarp to knock off the accumulated snow. There was about 8-10 inches of the white stuff on the ground already and it was still coming down – thick! We ate a hastily prepared breakfast, packed up quickly and headed down the trail toward the Visitor Center and our cars (where we would pick up the rest of our supplies and gaiters). I also discovered that I had left my gloves in the truck, so I improvised and used a pair of wool socks for mittens. We shuffled through the powdery snow, still accumulating on the trail, crossing the creek many, many times. Some of the crossings were quite easy, using the log bridges that were in place. Other crossings were done gingerly stepping from rock to log, to rock, to shore. Even though I was as careful as possible, I still managed to occasionally slip into the stream, a couple of times going in over my boot tops – OOPS! That was COLD water! When we reached the approximate halfway point to the Visitor Center, eduk8er found a nice, dry overhang/cave so we stopped and made something hot to drink and ate some lunch. After a half-hour break, we continued slogging our way to the VC and our vehicles. It ended up taking almost seven hours to go approximately 6¼ miles. The VC (and the entire Monument) was closed but there were a couple of rangers at the office. We got in our cars, warmed up, and headed into the closest town – Los Alamos. When we were close to the VC, power_hiker asked me if I would mind if we spent tonight at a motel – I told him I was going to suggest the same thing, but didn’t want them to think I was “wussing out”… LOL! We did just that – got a motel room, hung out our wet gear all over the room, took hot showers and went out for a hot meal. It was nice sleeping in a warm DRY bed that night.

Tuesday, March 15 – When I got up it was still snowing. We turned on the weather channel to find out that the northeast section of the state was totally shut down due to the weather. This ended up working to our advantage because we used this down time from the trip to work out the details for the Wind River trip in July. We went to the grocery store and I went shopping for a pair of waterproof boots. In the evening we walked to a nearby restaurant for supper and some local brews. You’ve got to try the Woodchuck Cider sometime. It was awesome.

Wednesday, March 16 – Feeling a touch of cabin fever by now, it was nice to finally see the sun. We packed everything up and went back to Bandelier. The contrast of the deep blue sky and the stark white of the snow on the ground was unbelievable! We took the loop hike from the Visitor Center to the village ruins and cliff dwellings, checking out some of the caves, wall paintings and petroglyphs. During our travels, we saw mule deer nearby. We decided not to go out to the backcountry because of the weather, so we ended up back at Juniper Campground where this adventure started. We sat around the campfire, made dinner and talked about everything that had happened. Tonight we slept out on the ground.

Thursday, March 17 – Got awake around 9 or 9:30. Not feeling in any hurry today, we had a casual breakfast. We decided to head towards home today – power_hiker going back to Colorado to hopefully beat another weather front moving into his area, and eduk8er and I headed south through Santa Fe and Albuquerque hoping to meet up with CuervoBravo for dinner in Socorro. We stopped at the REI in Albuquerque to check out a few things. While I looked at gore-tex bivy sacks, eduk8er picked up a few items, including a new Jet Boil stove. We made it to Socorro by about 4:30 and I was able to raise CuervoBravo on the telephone. We met up with him at a local steakhouse and had a great time together over dinner. He was heading up to Taos on Friday morning for the weekend to do some cross-country skiing with friends, so it wasn’t a late night. We ended up staying in Socorro.

Friday, March 18 – Getting a pretty early start, we left for Three Rivers to visit the Petroglyphs National Recreation Area. On the way, we passed through the Valley of Fires, a series of lava beds covering a fairly large area south toward White Sands. We spent about 3 hours searching the rocks and taking photos of various rock pictures we discovered. Leaving the petroglyph site, we headed over to the Lincoln National Forest where Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett once roamed and the home of Smokey the Bear. We stopped briefly in Capitan at the Smokey Bear Museum and looked around in a couple of souvenir shops, then got back on the road. The next stop was Roswell. Yes, the site of the infamous UFO crash in 1947. Almost all the local businesses were decorated in an outer space theme – even the streetlights resembled alien faces. After eating supper, we headed to Texas and stopped for the night in Big Spring.

Saturday, March 19 – We were up and on the road by shortly after 9:00 AM. Our final destination was the airport in Austin, where I was scheduled to catch my flight back to Philadelphia at 7:00 that night. It was a long day on the road and we got to the airport by 4:30 – plenty of time to check in. I arranged for an earlier flight to Dallas because a severe wind and rainstorm was blowing up. Eduk8er and I said our good-byes and I told him I was really looking forward to the Winds trip in July. My flight arrived in Philadelphia about 20 minutes later than planned – around 1:00 AM. From there it was about a two hour drive home.

We got a taste of the Southwest in more ways than one. There were lots of different weather patterns, terrific food and local microbrews, and we made a couple more new friends – power_hiker and CuervoBravo. I’d like to attempt this trip again next year on spring break – maybe the weather will be more appropriate for spring than this year was!

Trip Report: Wind River Solo

Location: Wind River Range

State: Wyoming

Miles: 40

Days: 5

Type: In and Out

Trip Background: Ever since returning from my NOLS backpacking trip, I couldn’t wait to get back into the mountains. A solo backpacking trip was the only solution as I didn’t have anyone to go with on such short notice. I also decided to return to the Wind River Range in Wyoming because of my familiarity with the area and so that I may visit some friends in Colorado.

Route: Middle Fork Trailhead to Pinto Park Trail to North Fork Trail to Cirque of the Towers and back. Approximately 45 miles over a 5 day trip. Late August 2005.

Pictures: I really didnt take many pictures. Some of the pictures were taken simply for comparison of camp spots from my NOLS trip in June.

August 19th: lots of people with horses on the trail, although I was still close to trailhead. feeling pretty good physically even though I had left WI less than 24 hours earlier and had only 2 hours of sleep at various waysides. already at planned first camp by 1:20 and will continue hiking to three forks park for a total of 11 miles. the weather is great. high 70’s with a cool breeze.

August 20th: got out of the tent at 9:30 and made breakfast. I was on the trail at 11:00 with the plan to hike 5 miles to Pinto Park. only saw 4 people total today, but was off trail and in camp by early afternoon. made some dough for pizza and cinnamon rolls in my spare time. definately notice the need to hike longer so that I’m not in camp all day long by myself.

August 21st: woke up last night to “animal noises’ at about 10 pm. I crawled out of my tent and saw a small herd of elk in the moonlight about 150 yards away. I really wish I could have taken a picture. woke up at about 9:30 and used the rest of the dough for breakfast.

I started hiking at about 11:30 and went approximately 6 miles to the base of Lizard Head Trail with an awesome view of the Cirque. I was planning on taking Lizard Head trail and changing my route to include a larger loop over to Dickinson Creek Park. a storm forced me into my tent later in the afternoon.

August 22nd: woke up at 6:00 to get ready for the longer day on Lizard Head Trail. noticed someone camped above me 300 yards back; they must have gotten in during the rain yesterday. also saw lots of nasty clouds this morning so I sat in camp until about 8 to see if the clouds would clear out, but it must have been a front moving through. decided against the route change because of how exposed the trail is and hiked back to the North Fork of the Popo Agie. didnt want to take too many chances while solo. the hike down reminded me how much I hate doing steep downhill sections.

I had camp setup by 9:30 near Papoose Lake along the North Fork of the Popo Agie River. at about 10:30 a storm blew in and dumped some rain on me. at about 11:15 I crawled out of the tent and went fishing for the next couple hours. at one point I was catching fish every other cast with a spinning rod and spoon. I really wished I had a fly rod though.

later in the afternoon I took a shower using my nalgene and washed all of my clothes out. I was still considering changing my route a bit at this point to make a loop near Shoshone Lake. I spent a long time today just sitting in camp…

August 23rd: something rubbed up against the side of the tent in the middle of the night. I just told myself it was a marmot(it was something smaller) and somehow fell back asleep. woke up at about 7 and made a quick breakfast out of powerbars. I started to get lazy with making nice meals a couple days in.

cleaned up camp and started hiking at 9. the plan was simply to hike as far as I felt like going today and camp wherever I stopped. three spots I had picked considered before setting out were pinto park, three forks park and sheeps bridge. at about 11:30, i had already passed pinto park on my way down to three forks park. i stopped at the pinto park trail and middle fork trail intersection around 1:00 to take a break and fix up my feet a bit. I actually had a couple blisters which were caused from hiking so much the first day and my feet not bing used to the work. at this point I had already gone about 11 or 12 miles and felt great besides the feet, so I kept on hiking.

by the time I made it near Sheep’s Bridge, I had decided I was going to test my physical limits and hike until 5 or 6. this would put me close to or at the trailhead. at about 5:00, I got a glimpse of the water falls above Sink’s Canyon and became determined to hike all the way to the trailhead. at about 5:45 I set my pack against my car and began the adjustment back to civilization. in all, I hiked 21 miles in just under 9 hours.

Summary: I had a lot of fun on my solo backpacking trip. It really didnt take me much adjustment to deal with the loneliness factor as I am already am a rather independent person. The scariest part of the trip was definately not when I was in the woods, but while I was driving. On the way out to Wyoming, I drove through a nasty storm in South Dakota and simply driving through RMNP while visiting friends in Colorado tested my nerves. I definately plan on backpacking again, but it will have to wait until next spring/summer unfortunately.

Backpacking Trip Report: Saddleback Butte State Park



Location: West Mojave

Type: In and Out

Mileage: 6
Days: 3
This months trip was to Saddleback Butte, a state park just outside of Lancaster, CA.What a crappy campground. I do NOT recommend this place at all. The campsites are ok, with water, toilets, and the usual amenities, but the location is just terrible. Maybe this was nice 30 years ago, but now when you look out at the horizon, you can see houses, highways and telephone poles. I prefer something a little more remote.

Anyway, the hiking was OK. 2 trails lead out from the campground and wind their way up and into the butte. Relatively short, but fairly strenuous, you start by trudging through deep sand, and the final mile to the summit is pretty steep. Nice views from the top. We wasted a good 2 hours on the top searching for a geocache, which we finally found.

Not a whole lot of wildlife out here. Saw a few snakes, a rabbit, a squirrel. A few lizards, some ravens and swallows. The Kangaroo rats came out at night and cleaned up the tortilla chips we spilled during the day.

If you go, bring an umbrella and water sprayer. Its hot, and there is no shade at all.

There are some other interesting things to do within easy driving distance. The Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve is nearby, the Lancaster Indian Museum was better than I expected it to be. There is a challenging sand hill just outside the park for you offroad driving types.

This is probably our last desert trip for this season. Next month we will be in the mountains, above the heat and smog until the weather changes again.

Trip Report: Rainbow Bridge

Location: Navajo Nation

State: Arizona

Miles: 25

Days: 2

Type: In and Out

Rainbow Bridge–north trail–25-26 miles in/out–2.5 days

The start–
I follow a dirt road, watching the fresh tire tracks. I am surprised I am doing this, the Jeep seems to find its way to the parking spot for the north trailhead for Rainbow Bridge without my guiding it. I knew another backpacking party was in, had sort of invited myself, then disinvited myself on the trip, thinking I could not get up here in time. The weather looked not good, with big boiling clouds and some wind. Oh well–could get rained on here as well as up by Hite.

I park, glance at the sky, and swing the pack on. Feels heavy as I probably have not packed well. I start down the obvious trail at the end of the car park, and let my feet find the pace.
It’s beautiful here, quiet, and uncrowded. The trail is plain but I sense the remoteness, a few flowers appear to appeal to my senses. I have never seen so many brillant blushes to the Indian Paintbrush. Soon the wonderful Navajo sandstone appears, in close and distant towers. Navajo Mountain wears a cottony crown of clouds, with silvery snow streaking its flanks. The trail dips into several washes –the first being Cha, which has enough water to make for a boulder hop over the small stream. Nothing like the sound of running water in the desert–we are so lucky this year.
I rise to walk more on the benches and the views abound. The distant Henries and Little Rockies–snow topped; the straight cliffs with clouds hovering, the intriguing sandstone formations bounding this area, the expanse of Navajo Mountain–seemingly so close. The sun is out more and the clouds less thick. Such a pleasure to be walking with this weight on my back. I would be no where else right now.
I arrive at the top of the switchbacks for Bald Rock Canyon and love the view down this deep canyon. At the bottom the water runs over slickrock and forms shallow pools, gorgeous, with nice campsites nearby. A large alcove looms that I will explore on my return. Right now I wish to make some miles before dark, then get to Rainbow Bridge the next day and not have to rush. The long light of spring days is on my side.
More of a slickrock ramble up then down again to Nasja canyon, more intimate and as beautiful as Bald Rock. An old graffitied picnic table is at a killer campsite after crossing the rocky creek. Shortly I feel my eyes drawn away from the trail—its a small perfectly formed arch!!! The later afternoon light is nice for photos. I walk on, climbing out of this canyon surrounded by towering rock walls. Some sexy sandstone is nearby–I think its Entrada, super smooth and silky, I run my hand along the surface of this petrified dune, amazed at the textures I feel. I go into a little valley, a graben, the walls tighter and more varied–its Surpise Valley.
Here its wooded and cozy, no water however. It opens some; again onto the benchlands with extraordinary views of the north side of Navajo Mountain. I am tiring from the long drive, then hike, and start to seek a campsite. I cross over one more deep canyon with water. I am not sure it is Oak Canyon, as it is narrow and much smaller than the other canyons. I want to camp high, to get the warm morning sun’s rays, and to pay homage to the mountain. The bench is very rocky, discreetly covered in Sego lilies, a couple of varieties, and I find some white ones which I understand are a little rare to see. I finally find a sandy hummock off a small sleight of slickrock; and pitch my tent. Its’ after 6:00, still lots of light. I carried some unnecessary extra water, as I was not sure of the H20 situation, so had plenty for my dry camp. The wind is cold, but light. I keep my vestibule door open all night– to great stars and no rain. The morning is perfect, the sun flaming the towers of sandstone all around me and streaking the sides of the mountain right in front of my doorstep. It’s warmer, and no ugly clouds in sight, just nice fluffy fat pure white ones, a lenticular cloud coming off the mountain.

I start walking again, early, not sure how far my destination is. I dip into a narrow rocky crevasse, then a dry canyon with a few pools. Again, up and drop into a large canyon —is it Oak, I think??– I revise that as I keep walking in this incredible canyon with rising walls so familiar to me, a bit like the east side trending canyons of the Escalante. The running water, the trees, the green, the red walls, the blue sky. How could a place in time be so perfect. Yet it is. I do not know exactly where I am and that is ok. I have a trail and I will follow.
I have noted some fresh horse and donkey tracks more and more, at first I thought a day ahead but now closer. As I amble along I look across the canyon and see a pack train coming my way, a few Navajo horsemen mounted and the rest empty saddles. They ask me to stand off the trail uphill and I do so. They are very friendly and say “You are almost there!!”.
I must look blank and they point down the canyon and there is Rainbow Bridge! I hadn’t seen it yet. They were surprised I was alone (what is it about that???Is it because I am female—I’ll bet no one asks men that question!!).
I press on, note a split in the trail to what must be Echo camp and drop my pack there and walk around the old camp up the the spring and alcove. Noises do reverberate there.

I take my camera and my water to the bridge. I approach expecting voices, the party dropped off, people from the boat up from Lake Powell, the others in the backpacking party. There is no one. Ah, my beauty you are mine all mine!!! At least for a few minutes. I make my pictures, then sit along a stone wall in the shade, just looking, listening, dreaming. Perfection in an arc of stone. It is nature to make it that way, we can never touch that for all our vaunted technology. Why does the blue sky look more so through an arch, why does it seem so magical? I felt the whole time was magical so far.
I stay about an hour and want to be on the road again. To some campsite by water this time I think. I can read and dream some more. When I head back I bump into the group–two I know–Sredfield and Dave, the others I do not. I say my lines “Dr. Livingston, I presume” , chat briefly and head out as they go to spend time and take their own photos. I do not see them again.
My walk takes me to Oak Canyon for the night, I camp off the trail in a nice obviously used site, with water nearby and a good sized rock to lounge on. Insects and birds sing, no problem with mosquitos though. Another nice, warm night and another day of walking. The sun higher, in spots the blooming cactii and dune primroses make quite the showstoppers. I stop and eat a snack at ye old picnic table at Nasja, find the Navajo horse pictograph, then play at Bald Rock. Here I drop my pack, climb the little hill right after the trail crosses the creek and climb to the base of the large alcove, the bottom a dried pool in a hanging paradise garden. Getting into the alcove is tricky with a little ledge climb then up a very steep loose talus slope, so silty at times I’m in to mid calf. At the top, if anything was there it is buried under tons of debris. There was an old fire ring and some wood, it would be hard work to get up here but what a campsite, safe from weather and a view. I am fascinated by the crinilations in the rock roof where the rocks had spalled off. Such precise ovals, evenly spaced. I couldn’t begin to draw like that.
After I come down a different way I decide to take my boots off and walk up the slickrock stream bed, its soothing cold waters to tired feet. I find a spot and lay down for a nap, the rock curved perfectly to my body, my head and feet inches from the split stream, I drift off for a half hour or more. When I wake I can’t decide to stay or go. I am not far from the trailhead and lots of light left yet. More adventures north call to me. I hate to leave, its so beautiful here. Back on the trail, uneventful to the Jeep, I am refreshed. I drive on out, to spend the night at Mexican Hat, to get a shower and a meal. Then on to more the next day—

Backpacking Trip Report: Spring Break In the Gila

Area: Gila Wilderness

State: New Mexico

Mileage: 35

Days: 3

Type: Loop

For spring break I decided to avoid the typical college student destinations and instead go backpacking. My roomate decided he also wanted to do something and would be trying backpacking for the first time.Our route was basically to head up the west fork of the Gila river and eventually come back down the middle fork. We did not set a specific point for crossing over between the canyons.

The first thing we noticed about this trip was the amount of river crossings. It seemed as though I crossed the river every 200 yards. Definately not a trip for those who like to keep their feet dry. Luckily, the water was never much higher than our knees.

The first day we went something like 10-12 miles, but I think our average speed was about 1.5 miles an hour due to the river crossings. We were exhausted after the the first day, our own fault for driving the last 24 hours straight.

Late that night it started snowing and when we finally awoke, there was approximately five inches of snow on the ground. We were not really expecting this much snow for the trip based upon the dry winter and being from Wisconsin, it wasn’t too much to handle; although we did decide to take our shortest route option.

The second day was characterized by blowing snow and a climb out of the west fork valley at Hell’s hole. Temperatures were in the mid 20’s F and wind gusts were probably in the 20-30 mph range. Eventually we made it to some more sheltered areas and found a great spot to rest near Prior Cabin. We continued another 2 miles before finding a decent spot to camp at.

The second night was by far the coldest night I have ever camped in. The temperature dropped down to -2F and I was literally frozen. I ended up starting a fire in the middle of the night and dragging my bag out next to it. Miraculously I kept ash from burning holes in it. We ended up cooking breakfast at 4:30 and started hiking at about 6. The first few miles were painful as my boots were frozen stiff even after sitting by the fire for a few hours.

The third day was definately the highlight of the trip as we made our way to the Meadows on the middle fork of the Gila River. We had an amazing view from above and quickly forgot about the temperature.(It was still in the single digits).

Anyhow, we proceeded down the canyon side and into the river valley on our hike out. It was clear blue skies and the sun was beginning to warm things up. At about 2 in the afternoon, the temperature was 70F and were both in shorts. At this point, we wished we would have taken one of the longer route options, but I guess thats how things go.

Eventually we made it near Jordan Hot Springs, but I wasn’t impressed and somewhat disgusted with the impact on the canyon there. It looked like a park… So we kept on hiking until Little Bear Canyon and began a little climb back to our car at West Fork Trailhead.

Overall, I definately enjoyed this trip. I really wish the temperatures would have been a little nicer throughout, but that’s how March is.

Trip Report: Appalachian Trail Across NJ

Location: New Jersey

State: New Jersey

Miles: 72

Days: 5

Type: Shuttle

Pre-Trip Bar Night

I busted out of work like a bird from cage at 4:12 pm—a whole 18 minutes early. The week had been an agonized dripping of seconds, all 432000 of them. Finally freed, I hopped on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (that I-76 for those of you who aren’t from these parts) and drove like a solitary snail in a herd of snails until I got to Bethlehem, PA.

Arriving early, I decided to drive around town and check it out. Bad move. I got lost pretty quickly and ended up driving aimlessly around town. It’s a burnt out steel town and I was reminded very much of Lackawanna, NY, where Bethlehem Steel pulled out 30-40 years ago and left the hulking shells of useless buildings, the blackened-rust coke ovens and thousands of unemployed families, lots of run down houses and a whole bunch of bars, the last item a stark reminder of why I was there in the first place!

So I finally got unlost and made my way to the Bethlehem Brew Works. The lovely spindle was sitting at the restaurant’s waiting station with one of those flashy-buzzy thingies, all dressed up and ready to hit the trail. She’s confused, that one. Last time I saw her she was wearing a short kilt, leather jacket and little black boots at the campground. . . So I sat down and we chatted for a few minutes and CrazyPace showed up with Mrs. CrazyPace. We were promptly seated and just after our drinks were delivered Pennsy came in followed shortly by ENS.

We parked a bunch of pub grub and couple of beers, compliments of CrazyPace and the magic gift certificate, and then me and spindle hit the road. We drove about an hour to Delaware Water Gap, dropped my car and then headed up to Waywayanda Sate Park, loaded up our gear and hiked about a half mile in to the Wayawayanda Shelter: arriving at home for the night shortly after midnight. We quickly set up the tent and discovered that the bear box was broken, so we hung a bag and called it a night.

Day 1

We were up early, but it was cold as hell so we hunkered down in our sleeping bag for a while. There was no hurry since ENS and Cap’nBobo were supposed to meet us at the shelter around 9:00 so breakfast and coffee was a pretty lazy affair. After everything was packed and ready I ran back to the car to refill my water and swap out a few gear items while spindle lazed about and read the trail journal at the shelter. I came back and we hung out a bit. ENS and Bobo were running late, but they finally showed up at 9:45, just as we were getting ready to start without them. Introductions were made as neither Michele nor I had hiked with Cap’nBobo. In fact the only thing I really knew about Bobo was this little tidbit of hiker hearsay wisdom: Cap’nBobo packs in the fun! And judging by the size of his pack I was not inclined to count myself amongst the disbelievers.

So we hiked. I was more than a little surprised at the beauty of the landscape and the feeling of remoteness. We were in New Jersey after all, the Armpit of America; yet, the air was serene and pure. It was a perfect day: sunny and cool with very little wind, and even with the late start I was confident that we would make our target before dusk since it was the second shortest day of the trip, coming in at right around 13 miles, and the elevation profile was fairly level, with one big drop followed by gradual climbing for a few miles on the other side of the valley and another descent to the shelter at the end of the day.

The miles passed easily under my feet and before I knew it noon was upon us. We had covered a little over four miles and stopped to lunch in the sun on a rock with a view. The break was short, but fuel is always good, and we started out again, only to find a side trail to a Vista about ten minutes away. When we got to the vista there were some day hikers there, one guy had two toddlers with him. One of the kids was in awe of us as his father explained that we were backpackers and spindle was tickled pink when the lad said, “You mean they sleep outside? Where are their sleeping bags?”

The rest of the day was spent crossing over farms and swamps. I picked a good time of year to do this stretch of trail since I imagine that hikers coming in at the height of thru traffic—late June to early August—must suffer greatly from a constant aerial assault by midges and mosquitoes. On the other hand, we did see two pairs of hunters. I believe it was junior day since they both pairings appeared to be father and son and only the youngsters were armed. Fortunately we had plenty of blaze orange going on, and so we were able to avoid being mistaken for deer . . .

Moving toward evening we topped the last hill and were rewarded with an amazing view as the horizon began to slowly swallow the sun like a snake working on the hindquarters of a frog. (Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite so violent but it was certainly just as natural.) A quick break allowed us to take in the view and snap a few pictures, but with the sun going down and more than a mile to go it wasn’t very long before we were on our way again.

We moved pretty quickly after that and got into the Pochuck shelter just before the last light of day dropped faded into darkness. Camp was set up quickly and dinner was just starting when a headlamp came bouncing toward us from the trail and in no time at all CrazyPace appeared. He had hiked in about four miles from a road crossing since he’d had other obligations during the day. After CP arrived and everyone had eaten, spindle busted out the Trailgaritas and Cap’nBobo treated us to a potable delight known as TurkeyTea™®: 12 parts wild turkey, 1 part tea and a sprinkle of sugar. Nice! The rest of the evening passed inside the shelter, with some entertaining conversation, including harassment phone calls to Pennsy (who couldn’t make it because of homeowner issues) and PhantomSoul (who couldn’t make it because of hang over issues), as well as the industrious log sawing of ENS who dosed a bit in between servings of TurkeyTea™® . . .

Day 2

I woke up with the first light. There’s something special about watching the light slide over the world with slow increase, and I probably would have gotten up to watch the sunrise had we not been half way down the Western slope of Pochuck Mountain. As it was, I spent a good hour snuggled up in my sleeping bag (is there a common theme developing here?) and listened to the wind and the scuffling as the rest of the crew gradually came alive. I finally got up and CrazyPace was on the move. He had retrieved the food bags from the bear box and I quickly set about making oatmeal, hot cocoa and coffee. ENS was up too, and he was hell-bent on providing some entertainment as he fired up his new white gas stove. The ensuing fireball treated us to a magically dazzling display of light and heat disbursement, and offered a good lesson in priming techniques.

We finally got under way around 9:00: not as early as I had hoped. CrazyPace was only heading back out to the road. ENS and Bobo were staying with us for about 13 miles, but spindle and I were looking to haul our carcasses nearly 17 miles to the Rutherford Shelter. I’m not saying that 17 miles is a monstrous hike, but we were hoping to get in while the lights were still on and avoid hiking in the dark . . .

Anyhow, we hoofed it down the hill and followed the trail into a wildlife refuge area, skirting the edge of a small marsh until we turned onto a brief road walk. The sun was up and the day was warming and we made pretty good time since the trail covered mostly the same rolling farmland/swamp terrain that we had seen the previous day. We were back to CrazyPace’s car in a little bit under two hours. We waited around for a few minutes and PhantomSoul showed up. He had arranged to meet us so that he could pick up some tires that CrazyPace was holding for him, and he brought us a dozen doughnuts and a box of coffee. Second breakfast!! For his efforts, I have dubbed him PhantomSoul, minor god of Food Delivery. (Thanks George, I owe you one.)

Second breakfast complete, CP and PS parted and the four remaining hikers were back at it: more hills and a farms and swamps. At a road crossing we met a couple of dayhikers, one of whom was wearing a suit and tie. He told how he likes to dress up for hikes and has worn Star Wars costumes and such. “Strange guy, I thought. But then again I once hiked in a grass skirt and coconut bra so I guess I’m not one to talk . . .

All day long we had been catching glimpses of the High Point Monument on the ridge in the distance, and now I tried to pick up my pace to match ENS as the looming phallus grew ever nearer, but that boy can really move and there was no way my stumpy little legs could keep up with his long stride. spindle was keeping pretty close behind me, but Cap’nBobo had started to fall back. He’d been out of action for a while, and the big mileage combined with the pack-O-fun was starting to get the best of him.

Stopping at Gemmer Road we waited for him to catch up. We rested up for about twenty minutes and as we started out again, Bobo gave ENS his car keys and told us not to wait anymore because he didn’t want to hold up our progress. I said farewell, since I wouldn’t be seeing him again on this trip, and started the long slow ascent up Kittatiny Mountain.

The terrain began a significant shift at this point, the rolling hills and soft trail turned rocky and hard. The mean-spirited, ankle-biting rocks of Northern Pennsylvania have quite a reputation in AT Lore, but we quickly discovered that the foot-grinding madness begins in New Jersey. The next 56 miles of trail were prepared to bear witness to this simple fact, and neither spindle nor I will contest it.

We climbed on, reaching the confluence with the side trail to the High Point Shelter around 3:30. About a half mile further on there was an intersecting trail that led up to the High Point Monument. A brief discussion over whether or not to take the side trip ensued, and ENS decided that he would run up the hill for a look, while me and spindle planned to skip it in the interest of covering some miles while the light was still good so we said good-bye to ENS . . . and then there were two . . .

Reaching the top of the hill we found a flat clearing and both of us called home to check in. Shortly after that we came to a raised wooden platform so we went up for a view, which we shared with a couple of tourons, just a quick stop to look around and then back under way. About a half-an-hour later we reached NJ Rt 23, which was where Cap’nBobo had parked his truck. We stopped to look around, wondering which truck was his and considering breaking into it since we knew that Bobo had a case of beer inside. We decided against the break-in plan and took a moment to look at the map instead. Three-and-a-half miles to go and the sun already threatening to set, we started out again. But just as we were about to head back into the woods we heard ENS calling us as he came running down the hill . . . WITH THE KEYS!!

Ah, sweetness! ENS opened the truck and as the three of us stood around drinking beer, a little old couple pulled into the parking lot and drove right up to us. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Backseat Bobo!! Everyone’s favorite clown came bounding out of the car and we were all reunited long enough to say cheers, take a couple of celebratory photos and part at the trailhead as originally intended.

Then I grabbed a couple of beers for the road as spindle and I turned tail and headed for the hills. The daylight died quickly and we were soon hiking in the dark. I haven’t done any night-hiking previously, but be could see Lake Rutherford down the hill to our left, sleeping peacefully, and the AT was pretty easy to follow; albeit, the going was slow. But when we got to the side trail leading to the shelter it was an entirely different story. The blue blazes were nearly impossible to see. We threaded our way down the hill slowly, navigating by instinct, a cut log here or there indicating that we were still on course. And after what seemed like an eternity we emerged into a clearing with a picknick table, a bear box and a shelter: 17 more miles down, dinner and goodnight.

Day 3

A thru-hiker had come in during the wee hours. He slogged into the shelter for a nap. He was up before dawn and I chatted with him for a few moments before he was off again. Spindle rolled out of bed and we watched the sun rise over lake Rutherford as we prepared breakfast. We got started pretty early for a change, and that was a good thing since I had planned another big mileage day at about 15 and –a-half.

We took the first four miles rather quickly and stopped at the next Shelter for a mid-morning snack. Ever-curious, spindle went poking around in the bear box and voila! BIG SCORE!! Someone had left a container of lemonade mix behind. We dumped some sugary sweetness into our water bottles and enjoyed cold lemonade for the next few hours.

By now I’d gotten my trail legs on. I had developed a nasty blister and my feet were killing me, but my legs had forgotten their soreness early in the day and I was making pretty good time. spindle was going a bit slower, trying to take it easy on her foot, having just gotten out of her cast the week before, so I broke out my MP3 player and let the Beastie Boys carry me up hill.

The rocky terrain continued as we made our way along the roller coaster ridgeline. We passed a solo hiker going the other way and continued on, the stunted rhythm of occasional gun blasts in the distance reminding us that it was the opening day of black bear season in NJ.

Around mid-day we climbed up the top of Sunrise Mountain and stopped for lunch at the rest area there. While we were there I learned a valuable lesson: do not pack in little plastic jelly tubs stolen from diners. The two that I had left had exploded in my food bag, making a sticky mess of the items that shared zip-lock space with them. L While we were finishing up our lunch another hiker came by, she was playing pass the keys with the hiker we had passed earlier and apparently heading for the road-crossing at Rt 206. She babbled crazily for a bit but eventually she got far enough ahead of us that we didn’t have to deal with her any more.

More hiking and distant gunshot ensued until around 4:00. I stepped out onto Rt 206 and stopped dead in my tracks, struck dumb with awe and wonderment. A single beam of light shot down from the heavens, spotlighting a small, plain-looking building. I heard the chorus of angels singing Hosannas as I read the sign:
coffee, breakfast sandwiches and hot subs

spindle came walking up behind me a few minutes later and stood there as well. After a moment she asked, “Do you want to stop or do you want to keep going?” Hell yeah I wanted to stop. There was no way I was going to pass up a hot sub and a bottle of Gatorade at this juncture. Daylight be damned! Our hot ham subs were amazing, Gatorade is always good and we picked up a couple of bagels for breakfast. Fed and refreshed we started up the steepest climb of the day with the sun going down and four miles to go before we hit the Brink Road Shelter.

It got dark quickly and this was our longest stint of night hiking, probably about three miles in total darkness. The trail was also infrequently blazed in this area, so we were flying on instinct again, looking for sawed off blow downs and open lanes. Our progress was slow but we stayed on the trail and eventually strolled into the shelter just before the rain began to fall. Perfect timing! We snacked and drank trailgaritas and I drank a beer that I had left over from the previous day and fell asleep listening to the rain on the roof of the shelter.

Day 4

We breakfasted on the previous night’s intended dinner and bagels since Jo-To-Go had precluded the need to cook the night before. The rain had all but stopped by morning; although, the wind was strong and there was some occasional drizzle. We packed up and broke out the rain gear just be on the safe side, heading up the mountain with our earliest start yet. We hit the top of the ridge quickly and the wind came at us like the wind. The exposed rock face left us completely unprotected and at times the gusts knocked us off balance as the water continued to blow around, but we could see the lightening edge of the storm to the West and the strong winds promised to carry off the threat of rain if nothing else.

Overall the day was uneventful: a good piece of fire road walking with the big wind keeping us company. The original plan had been to hike nearly 19 miles on Day 4, stopping at a backpacker campsite in Worthington State Forest, but some last minute research before the trip revealed a hostel at Camp Mohican. There were some nice overlooks on this section, and at one point some a hint of snow filtered around us as we crossed a very narrow shelf.

All in all we made excellent time, arriving at Camp Mohican around 3:00. We went to check in and there was a big vat of vegetarian chili on, so we sat down to a second lunch, complete with sodas. Then we trucked up to the hostel building where we took hot showers and laughed at the ‘lightweight’ gear ads in an old copy of Backpacker Magazine from April of 1980. They were also making a big stink about those newfangled internal frame packs. The article brought a smile to my face a few minutes later as I was rummaging through my (virtually frameless) Granite Gear Vapor Trail. After that we ordered a monstrous Sicilian Pizza, drank Trailgaritas and discovered the miracle of the hot Nalgene massage. Now THAT was sweet!

Day 5

We were up early again and had reheated pizza for breakfast along with coffee and hot cocoa. This was the shortest day of the trip and we wanted to get out early in order to complete our shuttle and try to get home before the holiday rush hour traffic settled in. It was also by far the coldest day. As we turned off the road at the trail crossing there were icicles forming on some of the twigs that brushed against a small bridged stream.

The miles passed easily. My legs felt great and I ignored the sore soles of my feet. Once we hit the ridgeline we had fairly constant views of the Delaware River. At one point we climbed a small peak where a pair of photographers had their equipment set up. They were all bundled up in parkas and facemasks and big honkin’ gloves. We stopped long enough to take a couple of pictures and say hello but that was it. The wind was whipping through there like nobody’s business and it was cold as hell. I had no intention of standing around and catching hypothermia. Yet despite the chill it was an absolutely gorgeous day, and once we got out of the wind it wasn’t so bad.

So we hiked on down the other side of the hill to Sunfish Pond: a small glacial lake, picture perfect in every way, and a very popular destination in fair weather. On this occasion we had the whole lake to ourselves, and I stopped to take pictures as we scrambled amongst the rocks along the water’s edge.

Beyond the pond we stopped for an early lunch just past the backpacker campsite, which had been our previous day’s destination in the original trip plan, and then followed waterfall-laden Dunnfield Creek out the rest of the way until we hit I-80. As we crossed the Delaware on the I-80 bridge I found myself wishing we had taken a hint from General George Washington and found a canoe to ferry us across. This bridge walking business is for the birds.

That’s all folks!

What I learned:

Cap’nBobo packs in the fun!!
New Jersey isn’t so bad after all . . . if you can get past the F***ing jug-handles.
Little plastic jelly tubs explode under pack strap pressure.
My new hand spun wool hats kicks some major ass. (Thanks spindle)
It really is the little things that count, like a ham sub or doughnuts or a hot shower.
You’ll never get cold with 11 pounds of high quality goose down in an REI Quarterdome.
Night hiking sucks when you forget to change the batteries in your headlamp.
New Jersey has its fair share of rocks.
ENS is ALL leg.
All the AT shelters in NJ have bear boxes.
Cap’nBobo packs in the fun!!