Backpacking Trip Report: Erbie Loop

State:

Arkansas

Location: Buffalo River
Type: Loop

Mileage: 4
Days: 1

Loop begins at the East end of the campground. It crosses the horse trail in a few places so a map is needed to keep track of where to go. There is a trail that drops down to the river and there are places to camp. From there back track up to the main trial and then continue on the loop. The trail makes an ascent to go along the river. There are several places where the trail intersects with the horse trail and the loop can be extended or shortened depending on the trails taken. The hike passes by some old homesteads. The main one is the Parker-Hickman homestead. The place was taken over by the government when the river became a National Park. On up past the house is an old cemetary dating back to the 1800’s. There’s a lot of history in the area. Also the trail winds through some fields where elk and deer can be seen as you come back into the campground. The trail can easily be done in one day, but we didn’t get there until about 10:30 at night so we packed in and made it a short overnighter. This trail also ties into the Buffalo River Trail that runs almost the length of the river. There are many other loops that can be done in conjunction with this one.

Backpacking Trip Report: Timberline Trail, Mt. Hood

Area: Northwestern Oregon

State: Oregon

Mileage: 41

Days: 1

Type: Loop

Month: August

As I stumbled through the darkness that rapidly descended on us, my knee joints ached and lighting bolt pain radiated through my feet with every step. Was I a rehab patient recovering from a debilitating car wreck? Was I an 85 year-old living in a nursing home? No, I was 28 miles into a voluntary hike.
The blisters on my feet were huge, the ibuprofen I popped like M&Ms no longer had any effect on the excruciating pain, and there was no way to quit even if I wanted to. To my dismay, I still had 13 miles to cover. I realized that would take me over six hours and that all of it would be in the dark. As I stopped by a small stream to rest and bandage up my feet, reality started to set in. That is when I reached my low point.
We were hiking the Timberline Trail which circumnavigates Mt. Hood in Northwestern Oregon. At 41 miles long and with 12,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, it is rated America’s Hardest Dayhike by Backpacker Magazine. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, a section of the trail was officially closed because a severe winter storm had decimated it. The Mt. Hood National Forest web site said that “the trail is impassible over the Eliot Crossing.” It further stated that the route was “impassible” because the “drainage is very unstable and hazardous with long vertical drops.”
Our journey began at 4:45 a.m. on August 8th at the Timberline Lodge. My hiking companion was my future brother-in-law, Gabe Garcia. Gabe is a towering 6’5″ member of the U.S. Coast Guard and is an animal when it comes to hiking. He typically hikes alone because no one can keep up with him. Despite being considered a strong hiker by most of my friends, I was no exception. Gabe’s backside, off in the distance, became a familiar sight for me.
In the weeks leading up to our hike, I managed to contact a pastor from Oregon who was planning a group hike of the Timberline Trail a few days before us. Pastor Tom Farley of Portland, gave us advice, marked the tricky spots with bright orange tape, built log bridges over some of the river crossings, and even left ropes in place for us to use during our trek. Without his help, our chances of success would’ve been substantially diminished.
The trail itself was amazing. We were above the clouds the entire day. Stunning views of Mt. Hood and other surrounding mountains greeted us around every corner. The trees, which grew on steep slopes, bent at an unusual angle to grow vertically, and were often covered in a hair-like fungus that gave the place a Lord of the Rings vibe. Beams of sunlight pierced through the trees illuminating the path at our feet and wild flowers blanketed the hillsides around us.
The river crossings were an adventure. Many required us to descend with a rope which was tied to a large boulder at the top. The crossing at Eliot Glacier was the crux. It was official closed and off-limits. When we arrived there the place was so fogged in, we couldn’t see more than 50 yards. As the fog began to lift we saw the challenge before us. The entire drainage had been obliterated by a winter storm. Where the trail used to be, there was only a near vertical drop-off perhaps 100 feet high dropping down to the river and a taller wall up the other side. The slopes were covered in sand with rock and boulders, some the size of small cars, loosely stuck in them. While just standing there, we could hear rocks falling off the slope tumbling all the way down to the river. To get struck by one of these projectiles while at the bottom would mean certain death.
After much deliberation, we lowered ourselves down the steep wall with a rope. We then scrambled across the river and used the other rope to scale the other side. Unfortunately, the rope ended about 3/4 of the way up. So for the last 35 feet, we had to carefully pick our way up the slope without protection as rocks we stood on slid out from under our feet and disappeared into the abyss below us. I breathed a sigh of relief when we both safely reached the top.
As the hours ticked by, the pain in my feet steadily increased to the point where it was hard to tolerate. When I reached my low point, I was searching the map for an escape route to shorten my misery. However, there was no easy way out. So Gabe taped up my feet, gave me some words of encouragement, and we pushed on. At some point in these monster hikes, the challenge evolves from one that is mostly physical to a primarily mental one. At that point I’m exhausted, I’m in agony, and sometimes I’m hallucinating. To succeed, one must ignore the pain and will oneself to finish.
The last 6 hours of our hike was miserable. I was exhausted and stumbled along in what felt like slow motion. I couldn’t see more that 20 feet in front of me. I was walking in a small bubble of light illuminated by my headlamp. In several places, a narrow trail cut across a steep slope. One false move and I would have plunged down to unknown depths and injuries.
When Gabe and I completed our hike 22 ½ hours after we started, I had mixed emotions. Part of me never wanted to do something like that again. However, an interesting phenomenon occurs when these monster hike are over. The pain fades, the blisters heal, and I start dreaming about doing another one.

Backpacking Trip Report: Killarney Provincial Park

Area: Ontario, Canada

State: Michigan

Mileage: 48

Days: 6

Type: Loop

“I’m just trying to survive.” Bob muttered in obvious pain as he trudged down the trail. This was a far cry from his blissfully ignorant demeanor before the trip. Then, he was sending out emails with an exact hour and minute countdown to the start of the trip. He was so excited that he couldn’t sleep. Now he was disgusted that he had agreed to join us on his first backpacking trip ever.


We were deep into the remote Canadian backcountry of Killarney Provincial Park in Northern Ontario. The temperature spiked into the 90s each day. The trail was extremely rugged and much more challenging than expected. The rangers recommend 7-10 days to complete the entire loop trail. However, knowing from past experiences that these recommendations are almost always overly conservative, I planned our trip to last for 4 full days and 2 half day. What a mistake. Who would’ve thought that we would average less than one mile per hour on some of the days? Each night, as we hobbled into camp near dusk the race was on to set up camp and eat dinner before the mosquitoes attacked like piranha. The annoying little blood-suckers swarmed in every night as soon as it got dark.


We all suffered through various levels of agony during the trip. At the end of each grueling day we pried off our boots to inspect the damage. We marveled at the large blisters and skin tears on our feet dreading the fact that we would have to put the boots back on and do it all over again the next day.


My partners in pain were Mark Kowalczyk from Mt. Pleasant and Midlanders Bob Peters and Dennis Maschue. While Dennis and I had extensive experience, Mark had not backpacked and Bob had never even hiked before. The trail we tackled was the La Cloche Silhouette. Of the 46 miles that constitute the trail, about 8 of them are the smooth, well-beaten dirt variety on flat terrain. The rest are root and rock infested with steep inclines and declines that sometimes required using your hands as well as feet to cover them. The trail climbs up one mountain to a spectacular view and them immediately down the other side only to reach the start of yet another climb. A couple parts of the “trail” even consisted of beaver dams with loose crisscrossed sticks that you had to balance across while trying not to fall in the water.


By the middle of the trip, we developed a system and fell into a routine. Mark and I hiked together at a fast pace. Bob and Dennis hiked slower and would meet us at a predetermined campsite at the end of each day. Part of the difference in pace was due to a truly nasty fall Dennis had taken at the bottom of a ridiculously steep section we scaled down. Bob, who witnessed the accident, said that Dennis slipped and his chest landed full force on a large pointy rock. Dennis then rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. Bob later admitted, “I thought that he was dead!”


On day four, Mark was hiking behind me and shouted, “holy crap, there is a wolf coming right at us!” As I turned around, my view was blocked by Mark. Not being terribly mobile with my 60 pound backpack, I held up my trekking pole ready to stab the beast if it attacked. Suddenly, a large wolf-like creature ran right past us on the trail. Stunned, we cautiously moved ahead to see where it went. Around the next corner we saw it drinking in a small stream. To our relief, we also noticed a bell around its neck and realized it was someone’s dog.


 


Day five was torture. We followed the trail up and down on an exposed rocky ridge in sweltering heat. Amazingly, after purifying water at a lake off the trail, I led us down the trail the same way we had already come from. While it took Mark and I just under 6 hours to complete (not including the extra hour I bought us retracing our steps), Bob and Dennis stumbled into camp at around the 10 hour mark. Despite the oppressive heat, the injuries, and the severe pain, amazingly everyone kept a positive attitude.


Beauty surrounded us. There were many views that took my breath away (or was that the hiking?) The wild blueberries that grew all over the place were the sweetest I’ve ever eaten. Also, we were rewarded for our struggles, each night, by a spectacular campsite. Day five’s site was at Proulx Lake. The campsite sat on a raised peninsula which jutted out into the bluish-green lake and was surrounded by exposed white rock cliffs. There was even spot to jump off the rocks into the deep, refreshingly cold water. As always, we had the place to ourselves. It was our last night in the park and we savored it.


The next day, the challenge was on. Dennis and Bob had figured out an escape route which would get them out to a lightly traveled road several miles before the end of the trail. They planned to then hitchhike back to the car from there while Mark and I completed the trail. Whoever got to the car first would be able to take a long hot shower at the campground while waiting for the others to arrive. Mark and I set our alarms to get up before sunrise and got a two hour head start on our friends.


The amazement factor was at full strength as we reached a famous section called “The Crack.” The trail descended several hundred feet very quickly. The first part of The Crack consisted of a fairly easy fifty yard long section that went through a skinny gap in the rock where the walls rose up on both sides. The second part was an exposed cliff-like area that was made up of large boulders ranging from the size of a suitcase to an SUV. The only way to proceed down the slope was to hop from one boulder down to another all the way to the bottom. It was not a place you’d want to lose your balance and fall.


At the bottom of the descent we eventually reached the relative safety of the woods. Mark and I then trudged on for a few more hours until we got to the car. After getting showers we found Dennis and Bob sitting by the side of the road at the end of their escape route apparently unable to flag down a ride. Within an hour or so of being off the trail, we were eating fast food and felling better. Everyone already started to forget the struggles we had endured along the way. It is remarkable how quickly only the good things come to mind when remembering an adventure. I guess that is what keeps us coming back for more.


To view a short video of this hike, go here

Pathway of Pain

“Are you some kind of sicko that enjoys suffering?” “Why would you want to do that?” “Is that your idea of a vacation?” “What’s wrong with you?” Fielding these questions leading up to our trip led me to reflect on the Subaru commercial with Lance Armstrong where he explains that he is “driven by what’s inside” or the Gatorade commercial that asks, “is it in you?” I wanted to face the biggest physical and mental challenge of my life and see what I was made of.

 

I found four people willing to either assist or participate in my madness. Our voluntary suffer-fest was on the Coastal Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park in Ontario, around a three hour drive North from Sault Ste Marie, Canada. At 65 kilometers (39 miles) in length, the trail is rated as a “very difficult” 5 to 7 day backpacking trip. According to park officials, no one had ever hiked it all in one day. We were determined to be the first. The trail climbs and descends steep cliffs and hills as it follows the rugged Western shore of Lake Superior. It also crosses countless beaches of sand and various size rocks, boulders, and driftwood.

 

The beginning of the trail is literally in the middle of nowhere. You can’t just drive to the trailhead. To get there we left the main road and drove 40 minutes down a narrow, pothole-covered dirt road that tunnels through the woods and ends at Lake Superior. We then backpacked around 6 miles into the Northernmost point of the trail which dead ends at the often deserted Chalfant Cove. After setting up camp and downing several boxes of cous cous, we laid down for a few hours of sleep. Three of us awoke at 1 a.m. on Saturday, July 23rd, 2005, scarfed down some instant oatmeal, and started hiking by headlamp into the dark Canadian night. Our support crew, which consisted of Mt. Pleasant criminal defense attorney, William Antrobius, and Mattawan Village Manager, Heath Kaplan woke up several hours later, broke camp and packed out our gear. Then they met us at several predetermined locations where the trail comes out near the highway to resupply us with water, food, and much needed encouragement.

 

Throughout the hike, we each drank gallons of fluids and ate thousands of calories worth of energy bars and power gels. Our toes were blistered and bandaged. Steep ups and downs on the jagged rock wore us out. Every step on the loose rocky beaches sapped our momentum and energy. One particular beach, which held a million pea sized pebbles and stretched on for miles, inspired Isabella County Senior Assistant Prosecutor, Mark Kowalczyk, to utter in despair: “this is like a bad dream!”

 

During a break, when we were purifying water from Lake Superior to drink, a humming bird landed on one of our brightly colored backpacks we had laid down on the rocks. It caused us to smile and motivated us to push on. Periodically, I would shout out “I feel good!” to keep our spirits up. At our first checkpoint with the support crew, fourteen hours into it, Kowalczyk was reluctantly forced to abandon the hike. He had twisted his ankle countless times on the perpetually uneven terrain. Despite a valiant effort, he could not continue. Two of us pushed on, hiking through our second straight night of darkness. Navigation was difficult. Each step felt like someone was pounding my feet with hammers. I almost fell asleep while walking and even suffered from hallucinations.

 

On July 24, 2005, at 5:41 am, Beaverton Elementary school teacher, Brian Rise, and myself, Isabella County Chief Assistant Prosecutor, Roy Kranz, stumbled out of the woods at Agawa Bay campground, the Southernmost point of the trail nearly 28 hours after we started. Victorious but in no condition to celebrate, we were exhausted, nauseated, and in desperate need of showers. After cleaning up, we crawled into the tent. In the fleeting moments before surrendering to sleep, the only question running through my head was “how are we going to top this next year?”

Backpacking Trip Report: Hemmed in Hollow/ Sneeds Creek Loop

Area: Buffalo River National Forrest

State: Arkansas

Mileage: 7

Days: 1

Type: Loop

This is one of the steepest loops on the river. You reach the trailhead by going to Compton, AR and tuning on the old Compton-Erbie Road. About 1/4 mile down the road there is a cross-roads. Turn right and go about 3/4 mile to the first right and you’ll see the parking area. There are also brown park signs on the Hwy. that say Compton Trailhead.At the parking area there are two trails. The left takes you down to Hemmed in Hollow which is a 300 foot water fall. This part of the loop is 2.6 miles. The trail starts with a gradual descent and comes to a place where the world falls off and you begin a 1200 ft descent in a little under a mile. At the bottom the trail takes you out the the river. After crossing the river the trail goes to the right. Within 1/2 a mile there is a junction. Stay straight and cross the river to one of the most awesome campsites on the river. It’s all sand and is across from a bluff and a huge swimming hole. Taking the left will take you up on top of the bluff and on towards Kyle’s Landing. There is great camping on top as well if you have a free standing tent.

From there you follow the ORT (Old River Trail)across Sneeds Creek and there is another great place to camp for large groups. On past that about 100 to 200 yards the junction for Sneed’s Creek trail heads right. Staying straight on the ORT will take you into Steel Creek Landing. 1/4 mile up the trail is Granny Henderson’s old homestead. There is another junction there. Stay to the right of the house and you’ll be on the Sneed’s Creek Trail. There are some awesome sights to see as you wind back up away from the river. On the trail you will cross Flat Rock. A open field that is one rock probably 100 yards wide and 300 yards long with the creek flowing through it. Passed that there are some small caves and some more old home sights. Waterfalls and just awesome scenery. About 2 miles into this 4.6 mile section you come back up the ridge. This side is about a 1200-1300 foot ascent.

There are plenty of places on this loop to filter water so you don’t have to pack in a lot. Just what you’ll drink on the hike. This loop is a moderate because of the elevation changes and the terrain on the descent into Hemmed-in-Hollow. The trail down to the falls is where most of the rescues are done on the River. So be in shape and expect some rugged terrain.

This is my favorite hike on the Buffalo. The views are great and the river sections are some the best places to fish and swim.

Trip Report: Dolly Sods Wilderness – A Series of Unfortunate Events

Location: Dolly Sods Wilderness

State: West Virginia

Miles: 9

Days: 2

Type: Loop

Last weekend I went on a backpack trip with another group. It was a trip we had been planning for a few months and was supposed to consist of 3 days of backpacking. Our plan was to do a 15 mile loop in the northern section of the Dolly Sods Widlerness.

So, we meet up at Seven’s house at the butt crack of dawn (5am to you leiman) and head on down the road. Our destination would be the Dolly Sods Wilderness of WV in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest. This was all of our first time’s there with the exception of Steve that had gone on 2 other occassions. This would be his first time in the northern section of the wilderness area, however. We were playing phone tag with Eric from Cinci who had gotten a late start. I told him we’d leave an estimate of where we would be setting up camp the first night on Seven’s vehicle.

Now, let me just say, we were all aware that it had snowed about 6 or 7 inches earlier in the week, but figured a majority of it would’ve melted by the time we got there. As we get into the higher elevations of WV, we soon realize that that isn’t the case. Houses still have a good 5 inches of snow on their roofs and the snow hadn’t melted off the ground yet. Plus, we started to run into intermittant snow showers. This is going to make things very interesting…

We arrive at the trail head of Bear Rocks at around 1pm and it was just as we suspected. It was pretty darn cold, windy and snowy. We all can’t wait to get out on the trail and start getting warmed up.

Somehow…I end up at the head of the pack breaking trail in areas. About 10 minutes into the hike, the cluts in me breaks free, I lose my footing and just miss a pretty jagged rock. Thankfully, the snow was soft… After that, I relinquished my powers at the head of the pack and fell somewhere in the middle.

The scenery was spectacular with the snow covered pines and plains. The clouds looked extremely ominous and took on a life of their own. We knew we’d be hiking in flying snow soon.

I noted how extremely wet this place was and mentioned it to a friend when we returned. She said that it’s always wet, but the cold would definitely play a huge factor in this story.

At our first stream crossing of Red Creek, Cathy decided she would go first. She’d never done a stream crossing before and made a mistake of trying to do it quickly. She lost her footing and balance and fell in. The rest of us made our way across and quickly got up into tree cover to get her changed into dry clothing. Thankfully, nothing inside her pack had gotten wet. After she was changed, we headed on up the trail.

Everyone was starting to get a bit tired. The cold and wind really does a number on you. But, the views were unsurmountable…

We get to the sign stating we had come to Blackbird Knob trail and decide which was to go. If we went East, there was a campsite about a 1/4 mile up. West and we’d hike another mile and a half. We decided to go east and got to our campsite about 10 minutes later.

We started setting up camp and then attempting to collect firewood. Surprisingly, we found an ample supply. About an hour after arriving at camp, our 6th member of the group arrived. He had hiked in an easy 1 1/2 miles to camp to find us busy making home and starting the fire to dry out our boots and such.

Oddly, I didn’t have much of an appetite that evening and only ate about 3 handfulls of trail mix. Seven mentioned he was hungry, just not for any of the food he had brought. So, we sat around the warm fire and chatted and Eric had brougth a little Elmer T. Lee to share.

Around 9:30, Steve decided to go to bed. Our first thought was, “but the firewood isn’t gone yet!” About an hour later, the rest of us followed suit leaving quite a bit of wood for the morning.

I fell asleep with my hot water bottle at the foot of my sleeping bag keeping my feet nice and toasty. At about 12am I was awakend by a ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ crunch’ in the snow and heavy breathing. My first thought was, “is that a bear?” and then, “what the heck am I gonna do?” The next thing I know, I hear someone cry out “Can somebody help me?” “I’m lost!” “I fell in the creek about 4 hours ago, I’m wet and I need some dry clothes!” Again, I thought to myself, “What the heck am I gonna do?” He went over to Cathy’s tent and tried to unzip it at which she left a near blood curdling scream. We yelled for Steve and Bill to get up and check out the situation.

They got up and walked out to check the guy out. Bill searched his daypack and found he only had food, a flashlight and a soaked map with him. They guy was completely drenched. When they asked him what he was doing, he explained that he had gone for a day hike that morning at 5am. He was about 1.5 miles from his car when he made a mistake and fell into the creek just before the sun went down. He got disoriented and lost the trail so decided to start walking up river to the next trail crossing. When he missed that, he kept going. Somehow he ended up on the trail that took him to our camp.

We scrounged up dry clothes, made some hot cocoa for him and draped him in a couple of space blankets. We got the campfire going again and start drying out his clothes. The plan was for Bill and Steve to take shifts so the guy could get some rest. The guys told us girls to go back to bad, that we had done all we could do. We were all reluctant.

The next part of the story I didn’t find out about until the next morning. At around 2:30 am, our midnight visitor said he was going to get more firewood. Bill told him not to worry about it, that there was enough there to get them through till the morning with a small fire. He insisted and left camp in search of more wood. Bill waited up for an hour and he never came back. At around 4:30am I heard ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ again, then the rustle of the space blankets. I figured he had just gone to the restroom.

So, at around 7:30am I wake up. I’m the first one up and I decided to go out and tell our visitor to craw into my tent and attempt to get warmed up. By now, I’m scared to death to walk out and find what I might find. I shook him and he woke up. He went and layed down in my tent and sleeping bag until I woke him up about 2 hours later to start tearing down camp.

Based on everything that had happened and the fact noone got a very good night’s rest, we all decided to bail out and hike out with our visitor and Eric (who was only there for the night anyway).

It’s a story I don’t think any of us will soon forget. The most surreal thing I think I’ve ever experienced. The guys completely kept their heads which in turn helped me. Hypothermia had already started to set in on our visitor when he found us. He was very disoriented and stumbling around. Thankfully there was a happy ending and we got him back to his car which was parked at the Picnic area at the very southern section of the wilderness area.

I left our visitor’s name out in case he lurks here as he mentioned that he does backpack. I’m just glad he made it out safely.

Backpacking Trip Report: Dale Mining District

State:

California

Location: Near Joshua Tree Nat’l Park

Type: Loop

Mileage: 5
Days: 3

OK, this wasn’t really a backpacking trip, we drove through in 4WD and camped. Still, the area would have been fun to explore on foot, so here’s the report.

I have often camped at Joshua Tree Nat’l Park, and while it’s a beautiful place, I was always intrigued by the blank space on the map labeled only as the ‘Pinto Basin’. Theres a few places along the park road where you can look down into it. Its just a huge, flat, empty, remote space. I’ve never met anyone who had been there. So, naturally, I had to go…

A little research revealed that the easy way in is not from the park, but to drive down from the north through the Dale Mining District. About 13 miles east of Twentynine Palms is ‘Gold Crown Road’, which eventually becomes ‘Old Dale Road’ and proceeds through mountains, into the basin, down a many mile long jeep trail of deep sand, and finally into the park.

So, on the last weekend of February, my daughter and I loaded up the ol’ Ford 4×4 and headed east.

When you leave the pavement on hwy 62 east of twentynine palms, the road starts out innocently, leading straight and narrow with just a few inches of sand. About 4 miles down the road the road forks, and you reach the first of many mines, shafts and audits. This is the Virgina Dale mine. Here you’ll find a short tunnel ending in a shaft, a rusty overturned car, a few cyanide vats, and some concrete foundations. We collected a few shiny rocks, but nothing of any value.

Now the road becomes rougher, and from here on 4WD was required. We went another couples miles, past a few more old rusty cars and a few audits and mine tailing piles, then pulled over and camped on a ridge with a great south view. We spent two days here, exploring and enjoying the last of the Southern California winter weather. Sunny, but only in the mid 70s. By mid summer, it will still be sunny, but running in the 90s-100s temperature.

We drove over to the nearby Supply Mine, and found a VERY long tunnel to explore. This must have been one of the largest mines in the area, with water tanks, concreate foundations, multiple tunnels and shafts, rock walls from what must have been a cabin, scattered sheets of corregated steel, and the biggest pile of rusty tin cans I have ever seen. It completely filled a ravine, nearly an acre long and maybe 12 feet deep.
Again, we collected a few shiny rocks. Some pieces of quartz so pure it looked as dazzling as sugar in the sun. No gold though, so it looked look I would have to drive back home to go to work on Monday.

Since we had the truck, we brought all the luxuries we don’t usually have when backpacking. Plenty of water for hot showers, the meat smoker to cook ribs, cots to sleep off the ground, etc… Well, we got lazy and spent the rest of the weekend there, and never did get all the way down into the Pinto Basin.

Backpacking Trip Report: Woodswoman’s Glacier Gang Trip report

Area: Glacier National Park

State: Montana

Days: 5

Type: Loop

This is going to be a long trip report. What a trip it was! The Glacier Gang finally met up for the HOC, one that was planned for months and was much anticipated by all. We divided up into two groups – the Two Medicine Group and the Belly River Group. In the Two Medicine Group were The Fogduo, Burntfoot, Justdropin’, Coloradodcs, LiRM35, and Woodswoman. In the Belly River Group were Squilax, Eduk8er, Mtbackpacker, PJSaeli, MsKatieBear, Ardwick, and Hollowayb. The Two Medicine Group had one no-show; I won’t tell you who it was, but he gets the Grizzly Bear Poop Award for not letting anyone know he wasn’t coming.

Before I start my story, I will say this was the trip of a lifetime for me. Not only was GNP a spectacular place, but the Two Medicine Group was a great group of people to be with. We worked well as a team, and we got along famously. Friendships were made and bonds were formed. I want to thank the Two Medicine Group for the wonderful laughs, the sharing, and the memories we made while on our trip. As for the Belly River Group, even though we didn’t hike together, I enjoyed meeting all of you and hanging out together at the motel.

No s**t…there we were in Glacier National Park…
The Glacier Gang made their way to East Glacier Park by way of planes, trains, and automobiles. We met at the Circle R Motel in East Glacier, most of us getting there by Thursday, July 15. Squilax had some flight issues and then his backpack was temporarily lost. Eduk8er waited in Kalispell for him. They finally made their way to East Glacier in the wee hours of the morning of July 16. Justdropin’ was due to arrive on Friday morning via Amtrak. The evening of July 15 the rest of the Glacier Gang hung out at the motel, visited and got to know one another. We made our way to Blondie’s, a local bar near the motel, where we ate and drank an assortment of drinks (beers and sodas). Our excursion to Blondie’s is a trip report all to itself. There were 11 of us, and it was our waitress’s first night. We befuddled her and she in turn befuddled us. Food orders got confused, some food didn’t arrive for a long time, sour cream got spilled on Burntfoot’s lap, and Mr. Foggy was bonked in the head by the waitress. We survived the excursion, but we don’t know about the waitress. She probably quit after we left.

On Friday morning, we gathered and sorted out our groups and got headed on the way to our trailheads. Burntfoot was gracious enough to wait behind for Justdropin’, so the rest of the Two Medicine Group went on to the trailhead and began our trip. I think it was around 11:30 when we started out, and it was a hot day. The first day was an easy 4.1 mile hike in to Atlantic Creek. Burntfoot and Justdropin’ showed up not long after the rest of us arrived in camp. We selected our campsites and set up tents, hung food, and rested. After we ate our dinners, LiRM35, Coloradodcs, Burntfoot, and I decided to take a hike up to Medicine Grizzly Lake, just over a mile up the trail. It was well worth the short hike – was very pretty, and Coloradodcs did some fishing (he caught a few trout). I showed my clumsiness when I tripped and fell on the way up to the lake. I was impressed – none of the guys laughed at me, at least not then. That came later. At the lake, Burntfoot spotted a bull moose with antlers in velvet in the water really close to us. We all took pictures and oohed and awed at our good fortune to see it. After the moose left, the Fogduo and Justdropin’ showed up. Mr. Foggy joined Coloradodcs in fishing, and LiRM35, Burntfoot, Justdropin’, and I headed back to camp. The night was uneventful, other than it was hot and muggy and the mosquitoes were in fine form. The Fogduo shared a tent, Burntfoot and Justdropin’ shared a tent, LiRM35 and I shared his wonderful tarptent, and poor Coloradodcs was left all alone in his tent.

Saturday morning most of the folks were up early for a 3.1 mile hike to Morning Star Lake. “What’s wrong with those people?!” was my voiced thought (insert smiley face here). After breakfast, we headed out and made good time to Morning Star. Again, it was very hot. At Morning Star, we were treated to a beautiful lake that also just happened to be ice cold. Some of us had the notion that taking a dip in the lake would be a welcome relief from the heat, but we never made it past our ankles. Justdropin’ showed us who the real man of the group was. He jumped in the lake not once but at least three times! At this lake we had our first sighting of………THE HAT LADY! Yikes! What a sight to behold! This lady had a huge white, wide-brimmed hat, and was covered from head to foot in a mosquito net shroud. When we first saw her, we all wondered “What the heck is that?!” Her outfit was a pale yellow suit of some sort. All you could see was her face. I must admit, after a few days of fighting mosquitoes, any of us would have gladly offered The Hat Lady money for her outfit. On with the story….in the morning we woke up to the sound of Foggy’s flipflops flipping and flopping. She had been making her way to the food prep area and spooked up a moose. She came running back to camp to get her camera. Let me tell you, those flip flops were going to town! Poor Foggy didn’t get a picture of the moose, though. While at Morning Star Lake, LiRM35 gave knot-tying lessons to Foggy and me. I don’t think I passed.

Sunday morning we all got up early so we could get started on the Death March – a 8.6 mile hike that included a 3-mile traverse along the sides of some mountains. We had a 1800′ elevation gain ahead of us, and a 2100′ elevation loss. We got lucky that day – it was overcast and cooler than it had been the previous two days. When we left Morning Star Lake, the climb began immediately. We climbed and climbed; the views got better and better. We stopped at Pitamakin Lake and took a nice long break, and looked UP at where we had to go. Burntfoot and Coloradodcs took the lead here and made it to the first pass before the rest of us. FYI: Coloradodcs was a great “Hey Bear!” person. He led us most of the time and made sure no hungry bruins picked off any of us. After reaching this first pass (I can’t remember the name) we again rested and enjoyed the views. Then we started our final ascent up to Pitamakin Pass. This involved crossing a small snowfield, and I for one HATE crossing snowfields. It was a first for Justdropin’ and LiRM35. I nervously watched as everyone came across, and nearly had a heart attack when LiRM35 stepped on an icy patch at the end of the snowfield. I’m not sure which scared him most – slipping a little on the ice or me screaming, “DON’T STEP THERE!” Everyone made it across without mishap. Burntfoot and Coloradodcs were already the the top of the pass waiting for us slow pokes. As each of us reached the pass, we exclaimed “Oh My God!” at the views. All except LiRM35, that is. What he said can’t be written in the trip report for fear of getting banned. I’m telling you, the views were the most outstanding I have ever seen. It was like being on top of the world! We stayed there for a long time taking it all in. Justdropin’ took a nap up there while the rest of us took his picture. And then we saw it, a sight that struck fear in our hearts (well, in the hearts of some of us). It was scary, it was nasty. It was…..THE TRAIL. The trail we had to take. The Trail of Tears. The Trail of Death (we hoped not). The Trail of Heights. The Narrow Trail. And it went on for 3 miles! This trail was narrow and on a ledge. A couple of us knew we had a problem with heights before doing this trip. A few others developed a fear of heights while doing this trail. As we did this traverse across the sides of mountains, Foggy and I cursed hollowayb. He told us it wasn’t a big deal; it wouldn’t be a problem. Ha! We wanted to kick his butt. He is lucky he was with the Belly River Group or Foggy and I would’ve….well, we would’ve done something. As it was, everyone made it across this traverse, again without mishap. We were proud of ourselves when it was done – WE HAD DONE IT!! Finally we made our way down to camp at No Name Lake. We were a tired bunch of stinky backpackers. And what did we see at the lake? The Hat Lady! Some of the guys saw her after she had taken a swim. There she was, standing on the lakeshore, a siren wearing nothing but a mosquito net shroud. Later on she made her way to LiRM35’s tarptent to ask about the tent (she was dressed by then). She was very nice and explained her outfit to us and made us all drool with envy. During this time I again impressed everyone with my clumsiness when I knocked down the tarptent (insert blushing emoticon here). The tarptent is great, and I was very impressed with it, even though it was knocked down easily (it was a test, okay?). We all crashed pretty early that night ’cause we were tired physically and mentally from the Death March. Somtime in the night, though, something got into LiRM35’s hair. He didn’t scream or anything, and kept his wits about him. We were, after all, in Grizz Country. Then I woke up. It was ME in his hair. I was dreaming about my two cats at home (I really missed them) and reached over to pet one of them. Only it wasn’t one of my kitties, it was LiRM35’s head. I’m lucky I didn’t get a face full of bear pepper spray (again, insert the blushing emoticon here).

Monday morning we made our way to Upper Two Medicine Lake, 3 miles away. We arrived there to find day hikers eating their lunches in the campsites. Not a good idea in bear country! Foggy told them they couldn’t do that, so they moved out by the lake. We set up camp, then enjoyed looking at the lake. It was a pretty spot, even with all the day hikers. Clouds started moving in, so we decided to try and have dinner before the storm hit. We didn’t make it. We all were eating halfway rehydrated food, scarfing it down as quickly as we could while getting pelted with HUGE raindrops. We finally gave up, tossed food into the food bags, hung stuff up and made a run for the tents. It rained hard and there were gale force winds. Let me tell you, LiRM35’s tarptent held up like a champ. We stayed dry. Again, I am very impressed with this tent. While it was storming, LiRM35 regaled the Fogduo and me with stories and songs. He is a good story teller, and has a nice singing voice. Coloradodcs, Burntfoot, and Justdropin’ were too far away to have the pleasure of this entertainment. After the storm passed, we all made our way out of the tents and back to the food prep area. It was now a lake! You could’ve floated in it with a thermarest pad! At the real Upper Two Medicine Lake, we saw bald eagles, a treat.

Tuesday morning we got up, ate breakfast, then headed down the trail for the last leg of our hike. We hiked a couple of miles to the boat landing on Two Medicine Lake, and waited around for the boat. We all had decided to catch the boat back to the trailhead instead of hiking the last 4 miles. When the boat did arrive, the boat captain, a petite lady named Dabney, told us the engine was over heating but not to worry, she had worked on it a lot. She proceeded to take a bucket, dip it in the lake, and pour cold water over the engine. It worked because we made it back to the trailhead without having to swim.

We had it all on this trip – good weather (most of the time), mosquitoes, beautiful scenery, mosquitoes, lovely wildflowers, mosquitoes, good company, mosquitoes, lots of laughs, mosquitoes, cold lakes, mosquitoes, waterfalls, mosquitoes. It was really and truly a great trip!

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.