Monday, April 29, 2013

MYOG - Backcountry Plate from a Water Jug

For those of you who are new to backpacking or hiking and are not familiar with the term MYOG, it stands for Make Your Own Gear.  Many backpackers, especially ultralighters, are always striving to reduce weight where possible, so they either improvise off-the-shelf gear or they make their own from various materials.

Since we were car camping on this tour of the Slot Canyons, we were able to take some luxuries with us in the Jeep.  We were able to stock a cooler full of steak, veggies and a few adult beverages.  We even brought a small grill to cook everything on.  One thing we forgot, plates.  Now, yes, we could probably just pick the steak up and eat it like our long lost ancestors did, but we are a bit more civilized today.  Heck, they didn't even cook their meat, just ate it raw with their bare hands.  Even though we were car camping, we were still about 1.5 hours from the nearest store, and they would probably be closed by the time we got there.  Having spent quite a bit of time in the backcountry and even frontcountry camping, you get pretty creative and learn to improvise.

We had brought 4 gallons of water, and after the first day, we had consumed one of those.  Looking around the back of the Jeep for something that might work for a plate, I spotted the empty gallon water jug.  I noticed it had two flat sides that would be the perfect size for a plate.  Taking out one of my 10 essentials, a knife, I began to cut the two larger flat sides of the container.
The resulting plate was fairly sturdy, had rounded sides to keep the juices from running off the plate, easy to lick clean (a necessity in the backcountry), and even though we were not backpacking, it is extremely lightweight and resistant to breaking in your backpack.  I have a trip planned for this summer, I might try this out as my go-to plate.

On most of my trips in the past, I've carried the Orikaso plates which are made of pretty much the same material, but require you to perform Origami to use them.  I have always liked the Orikaso, but I'm thinking my Water Jug Plate might be a winner.
A variation on this I've seen is to cut out the bottom and use it as a bowl.

Give me your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Back where it all began - Day 1 - Spooky and Peek-a-boo.

I recently returned to where the CanyonMan story all began.  I went on a 4-day trip to the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument area.  The plan was to drive from Phoenix to Page, AZ late Wednesday night.  Early Thursday, we would drive the 4WD, Smokey Mountain Road from Big Water, UT to Escalante, UT and then over to Hole-in-the-rock Road.  We would spend two days exploring Spooky Gulch, Peek-a-boo slot, Zebra and Tunnel slots.  On Friday night, drive back to Kanab, UT to attempt to snag permits for The Wave area of the Vermillion Cliffs / Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area.  We would hit Buckskin Gulch and The Wave on Saturday and/or Sunday and have some time to see Antelope Canyon.  We would see 5 or 6 of the most spectacular slots in the world. 

As planned, we made the drive from Phoenix to Page, arriving late Wednesday night.  We awoke early Thursday morning, grabbed some supplies and headed out towards Big Water.  The Smokey Mountain Road, while marked as a 4WD road, could probably done with a 2WD High Clearance Vehicle.  We did not have much difficulty making it up and over in our Jeep Liberty.  Most of the time, we ran it in 2WD anyway.  The view from the top of the Kelly Grade is spectacular.

 You do have an option, if you're headed to Hole-in-the-rock Road (HITR).  A "road" from about mid-way between Big Water and Escalante, called Left Hand Collet.  On this trip, we were told by the BLM office that it was declared "impassable".  We headed their advice.  Back in 2007, we made it through in a Jeep Commander.  I would not recommend this route in anything other than a 4WD High Clearance vehicle, with the proper equipment to self-rescue.  Part of the route is spent driving through a creek bed.  Depending on snow and water, the road conditions can vary dramatically from season to season.  Best to check with the BLM before attempting this route.  The Smokey Mountain Road dumps you out right into Escalante.  Time-wise, you don't save anything by going this route as opposed to the highways 98 and 12 around, but the scenery makes it worth it.

Our first stop on Hole-in-the-rock Road was Spooky Gulch and Peek-a-boo slot.  There are many sites that will instruct you on how to get here, but it's about 26 miles down HITR.  You will turn left on a dirt road and continue about 1 mile to the trail head.  It is very easy to find.  Others will have more detailed directions.  Especially the trail guides on  Additionally, there will be different recommendations on the routes to take to see both Spooky and Peek-a-boo.  Most will recommend entering Peek-a-boo, then coming in the back side of Spooky.  I have always done this by entering Spooky, then dropping into Peek-a-boo and coming out the entrance of Peek-a-boo.  Pick your poison.  The entrance to Peek-a-boo is a challenge as is the exit from the back side of Spooky.  Not difficult, but a bit challenging. 

If you have never done a slot, as was the case of my hiking partner on this trip, you're in for a treat with these two slots.  They immediately immerse you into the world of slot canyons in the Southwest.  Spooky gets very narrow, very quickly.  If you are claustrophobic, you might want to re-consider or consider this as therapy.  At one of the first narrow spots, I could not even squeeze my chest through.  I had to duck down a bit and slide sideways through.  I'm not skinny, but I'm not extremely large either, so be prepared for some tight spaces.  You will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views of the forces of nature on this earth.  Imagine the power of the water that formed these canyons. 

One of the tight spots in Spooky - note the debris

Having fun in Peek-a-boo

Some of the interesting arches in Peek-a-boo

The entrance to Peek-a-boo is directly above us

Spooky is about a half-mile to 1 mile long and requires a lot of squeezing and sliding through tight spaces.  It has a sandy bottom and very rarely has water in it. 

Peek-a-boo, which is about a half-mile closer to the trailhead than Spooky, is a fairly short slot.  Like I mentioned earlier, you can either do Peek-a-boo first or Spooky.  There's not even a need to go all the way through Spooky, you could simply go in and come back out, then go in and come back out of Peek-a-boo.  There are lots of options.  However, I highly recommend going through one and coming out the other. 

The entrance to Peek-a-boo from the trailhead is a short climb/scramble up the sandstone, you can see this in the picture above.  It's maybe 15-20 feet high.  If you have some good grippy soles and no fear of heights, the entrance is pretty simple.  There are even hand and foot holds carved into the wall.  Once in Peek-a-boo, there's a large pothole, that has been dry every time I've been here and it was on this trip as well.  There are other spots within Peek-a-boo that do hold water, but I don't see where any would be impassable, even if full. 

Peek-a-boo is much different than Spooky.  It has more open spaces and arches that offer some great photographic opportunities.  Additionally, the kids like it because it's much like the playground equipment with tunnels.  From the entrance to the end, Peek-a-boo is probably no more than .25 miles.  It narrows up towards the back of the slot where you can come out and walk around on top.  There are very easy to follow cairns between the back of Peek-a-boo and Spooky.

Allow yourself more than a couple of hours to explore these two great slots.  The hike to them is short, but it's great to just look around and up and down and be amazed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Backpacking Trip to the Indian Peaks Wilderness

My wife and I were fortunate enough to be able to sneak away for a long weekend this summer to the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This wilderness area is about 45 minutes west of Boulder and about 30 minutes south of Estes Park, right outside the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary.  I had a work trip to Boulder earlier in the week, so it made it a good choice for the last minute trip planning.

Our plan was to drive to Camp Dick, park and hike into the Middle St. Vrain Backcountry Zone.  We would camp at Red Deer Lake for two nights and then hike back.  Roundtrip would be somewhere around 17-18 miles gaining around 2,000 vertical feet in elevation to camp at around 10,500 feet.

During the winter of 2010-2011, Colorado saw near record snow fall, so I was a bit nervous when I called the first week of July to request the permit and was told there was still too much snow, but to continue to check back.  July brought warmer temperatures which melted the snow, allowing us to get a permit, but it came with warnings of wet, soggy conditions which translates to lots of bugs.

We were pleasantly surprised when we got there.  While it was a little soggy, and there were a fair number of bugs, it wasn't unbearable by any means and the crowds were very thin.  Indian Peaks is known to be very busy on the weekends, so we were very fortunate that there were not hoards of people.

For the most part, the Indian Peaks trails are well signed and easy to follow.  The trails were very well maintained.  The scenery was definitely National Park worthy, it is bordering Rocky Mountain National Park after all.  Due to the lingering snow, we didn't stray too much off of our planned route.  We ran into several hikers coming from beyond Red Deer Lake saying that there was way too much snow, which made it difficult to follow the trails and difficult to walk without crampons.  Taking all of this information, we decided to just relax at Red Deer Lake and enjoy the time off.

Leaving the parking lot at Camp Dick, we followed the Buchanan Pass Trail along the Middle St. Vrain Creek.  We made a brief stop for some lunch at Timberline Falls, then continued on up towards Red Deer Lake.  The topo map we had showed a Red Deer Cutoff Trail about halfway up the Buchanan Pass Trail, but we could never find it, so we continued down the Buchanan Pass Trail until you hit the main trail leading up to Red Deer Lake.

The wildflowers were in full bloom, painting the meadows with bright yellows, reds, blues, and a myriad of other colors.  We definitely timed this trip right for wildflower spotting.  Most of the first part of the trail is spent hiking under a canopy of evergreens, and thanks to the snow melt, slogging through a few mud puddles.  About 4 miles in, the trail opens up and you are hit in the face with a beautiful view of Sawtooth Mountain.

Middle St. Vrain Creek with heavy run off

Sawtooth Mountain
About 6 miles in, you cross over Middle St. Vrain Creek using a footbridge.  Part of the hand rail was broken, making Linda a bit nervous walking across the bridge with a gushing creek just a few feet below her. After crossing the bridge, you then start a pretty steep ascent towards Red Deer Lake and Buchanan Pass.  In a little over a mile you find the main trail leading to Red Deer Lake.  This gains 500 vertical feet in less than .5 mile.  It was still fairly snow covered, even in late July.  By the time we got to the top of the hill, just below Red Deer Lake, we were standing on about 5 feet of snow.

Red Deer Lake apparently is not frequented too much by campers.  There are very few trails around the lake with very few good campsites.  We did a lot of bushwhacking to find a good spot, but eventually found a great spot, right above the lake with plenty of room for our tent, and a good dining area.  We were close to the lake to make retrieving water fairly painless.  Additionally, I packed in my fly rod for the first time ever and the proximity to the lake made it easy to just pop down to the water and cast a fly every once in a while.  We even found a nice spot to put the hammock up with a great view of the lake and surrounding area.

Here are some of the pics from the trip.

What a beautiful sight.  The lake's nice, too.

My first fish on a fly rod, and in the backcountry!

A great place to chillax.

The iceberg kept crashing into the water all weekend.

Linda even picked up the fly rod.

What a gorgeous sunset.
On Sunday, we packed up and headed out.  This was a drastically different type of trip than any of my others.  We stayed close to the camp, relaxed, fished, and enjoyed each other's company and the beautiful scenery.  As far as backpacking trips go, this was definitely my most relaxing trip ever.  I'd love to do a trip like this again, soon.  I really enjoy spending time with my lovely wife and I'm truly blessed she enjoys to spend time with me doing this sort of stuff.

The hike out was all downhill and didn't seem to take too long, but we did take time to smell the flowers, literally.  Here are a few sights from our trip out.

I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone.  I'd like to go back sometime when we could explore some other areas, like Buchanan Pass and Coney Flats.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Family Summer Trip Day 12 - Spooky Gulch and Peek-a-boo Canyon

Today, we were going to make the short drive from our Bryce Canyon campground to the Escalante / Grand Staircase National Monument and visit a spot I last visited in 2007.  This was the origin of my trail name, CanyonMan.  It's about a 45 minute drive from Bryce Canyon to Escalante, UT.  From Escalante, you turn off Highway 12 onto Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Then, it is another 45 minutes or so down the bumpy, gravel road.

To give you a sense of what it's like finding this place, here's the directions to the trailhead:

Go 24 miles on Hole-in-the-Rock Road to Cat Pasture where you'll see a sign for Early Weed Bench.  Go 2.5 miles more and turn left on a dirt road.  Turn and follow this dirt road 1 mile to a parking lot.

From the trailhead, you drop down about 100 vertical feet to the canyon floor.  About 1/2 mile from where you hit the canyon floor, you get your first glimpse of the Peek-a-boo slot canyon, I recommend bypassing this and heading to Spooky first.  Continuing down canyon another mile or so, you will run into Spooky Gulch.  This is an extremely narrow canyon, but it's a great way to get your introduction to slot canyons, because there's no climbing to get into it, you simply walk right in, whereas Peek-a-boo requires a bit of a climb.

Entrance to Spooky Gulch
Entrance to Peek-a-Boo Canyon

There's several options to navigating these slots.

  1. Go in and out of Spooky from the entrance and then walk back to Peek-a-boo and go in and out the entrance (what we did this time)
  2. Enter Spooky, come out the back end, then navigate your way to the back side of Peek-a-boo and work your way down to the entrance (what I did in 2007)
  3. Climb into Peek-a-boo and out the back end, then entering Spooky from the backside and come out the entrance (what a group of scouts were doing when we were there this year)
You could easily spend a day in this area.  There's a third slot in the area, Brimstone, but I've never done that one.  I hear it's a bit more challenging and there are areas which you can get stuck in, so I would recommend going with a partner if you're going to attempt these.

The whole family eventually made it to the back of Spooky.  Some were a bit more intimidated than others by the tight spaces, but we all eventually got back there.  Here's a few pics to give you a sense of how "tight" I'm talking.  If you're claustrophobic, this might not be the spot for you.  Believe it or not, we saw a guy that was probably 5'10" pushing 250+ pounds make it through, so you can squeeze.

We played around in here for a bit and stayed in the cool shade, it was probably 30 degrees cooler than in the sun.

We exited Spooky from the entrance and walked back to the mouth of Peek-a-Boo.  Here everyone, except myself and my daughter, opted not to enter.  Like I mentioned, it's a bit of a climb, so I understand. We helped probably 5 or so others get in or out while we were there.

Once you climb into Peek-a-Boo, it's not as narrow as Spooky, but it is otherworldly.  It almost looks like an alien planet.  There are multiple cris-crossing arches and passageways.  Here's a few shots from inside Peek-a-Boo.

LT and I spent just a few minutes in here, enough to give her an idea of what draws me to this place.  I always tell everyone, there's something special about the desert.  It just has it's own beauty to it.  It's not for everyone, but these places are phenomenal.

Family photo in front of Peek-a-Boo
We exited Peek-a-Boo, gathered the family for a photo.  See the pic above and notice the carved out area above us and to the left.  That's where you climb up.  It looks pretty straightforward, but is extremely worn and very slick.  It's not terribly difficult, but is a bit nerve racking if you're not used to climbing on sandstone.

It was extremely hot that day and we were running low on water.  A bit of advice, even though you are less than a mile from your vehicle, pack plenty of water.  We brought a liter each and were only out for 2 hours, but we drank every bit of it and my youngest was pretty parched by the time we got back to the truck.

If you find yourself in southern Utah or northern Arizona, I highly recommend spending some time around Hole-in-the-Rock road.  There are many slots in this area.  There's a really good guidebook on all the different hikes in the area.  It's the Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau.  I highly recommend picking this up.

Finally, if you're coming to this area, it's worth knowing why it's called Hole-in-the-Rock Road.  Check out this Wikipedia article on the Hole-in-the-Rock.  It's an interesting bit of history and you'll be amazed when you see what it looks like now and imagining what it would have been like in the late 1800's when it was being used by the Mormons.  They must have been some extremely hearty people.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Family Summer Trip Day 11 - Bryce Canyon

After spending a day and a half driving from West Yellowstone, MT through Salt Lake City, UT to Bryce Canyon National Park, we were ready to get out and stretch our legs and walk around.  Additionally, we had been in winter-like weather since Day 2, so, everyone was ready for some warmer temps.  For those that have never been to Bryce Canyon, it is unlike any other place on earth.  While there are many places that have sandstone and arches, none (or very few) have the number of strange formations known as hoodoos (see picture below).

The Hoodoos seen along the Queen's Garden Trail
We arrived at Bryce Canyon campground around 1pm and quickly set up camp.  I had not reserved a campsite because I was under the impression, based on the NPS website, that they didn't reserve tent sites, only RV sites.  Apparently, there are different rules for the two campgrounds.  Something like they take tent reservations in the South Campground, but not RV and vice versa in the North Campground.  We were fortunate and grabbed one of the last campsites in the North Campground.  It turned out to be one of the better sites in the park, I think.  FYI, be prepared to get dusty camping in Bryce.

After a quick camp setup, we headed out on the trail.  The plan was to do a short day hike down to the floor of the canyon and back up.

The descent to the Canyon floor.
For a quick view of Bryce and all it's beauty, this was a great hike.  From our campsite in the North Campground, we followed the Rim trail to the Navajo Loop trail.  Here we descended close to 500 vertical feet to the Canyon floor using a long series of switchbacks.  

On the Canyon floor, we joined the Queen's Garden trail.  You hike along the Canyon floor for about a mile, then you start heading back up 500 vertical feet to Sunrise Point.  Along the way, we saw things that reminded us of an old Bugs Bunny / Road Runner cartoon.

Where's Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner
In all, it was a short hike, around 3 miles.  We were back at camp by 4pm or so and ready to make dinner.  Tonight's dinner... foil dinners.  Mmmmmm.

Bryce Canyon National Park is fairly small and could probably be seen in a couple of days.  Our plan was to get up the next morning, though and head to the Escalante / Grand Staircase National Monument.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Family Summer Trip Day 9 - Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

It was a pretty hefty drive from West Yellowstone to the Canyon Area.  It was cold and rainy and it seemed like a good day to be lazy, but it was also our last full day in Yellowstone.  We were going to drive the next day to Salt Lake City, UT.  So, we packed everyone up and set out.  We stopped off near Yellowstone Lake and Grant Village.  A lot of the areas near there were closed off due to the Elk Calving season.  We headed up to the Canyon Area.  By the time we got there, it was lunch time, so we grabbed a quick lunch and then headed down to the Lower Falls and Lookout Point.  This is another special place in Yellowstone and the pictures can never do it justice.  The falls are gigantic, 300+ feet high and about 70 feet wide.  There's a path that will take you down to the edge of the falls, but we didn't make it down there.  We stayed along the edge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Everyone was a bit cold and tired, so we headed back to the cabin after this.

But first, one last stop to play in the snow...

Family Summer Trip Day 8 - Old Faithful Geyser Area

On Day 8, we headed to the Geyser Basin in Yellowstone to see Old Faithful and other hydrothermal activity offered in the park.  The day started off with a bang when we came upon a traffic jam near the Old Faithful entrance.  We pulled over to see what everyone was gawking at and spotted the large Grizzly about 100 yards from the road.  This would be the first of two bears we would see today.  The other bear ran right through the Old Faithful boardwalk area.  In both cases, the bears seemed extremely scared of all the people around.

Walking around the Old Faithful area is an awe inspiring sight.  There are so many different types of hydrothermal items such as geysers, hot springs and fumaroles.  There's the distinct smell of sulfur in the air as well.  If you go and you take kids, make sure they stay on the boardwalk.  Getting off the path is illegal and deadly.  It was amazing though to see the animals such as the buffalo and grizzly just walking around, seemingly unfazed that they could fall through the crusty earth at any time and be boiled alive.

We spent probably 2 hours just walking around the Old Faithful area waiting for the timed eruption.  While not the most reliable eruption, they pretty much have it down to a 15 minute window when it will erupt again.  So, we found our viewing spot, sat down and waited.  Sure enough within 5 minutes of their guesstimated time, Old Faithful started to bubble, gurgle and spew.  If you've never seen it, it's well worth it. This was high on Linda's to-see list and it was a great show.

After that, we headed over to one of the many restaurants around the Old Faithful Lodge and grabbed some lunch.  Shortly after lunch, we headed over to the Black Sand Basin area and then hike back over to the North end of the Old Faithful area and then over to Biscuit Basin.  It's an easy hike, but there's usually not a whole lot of people out there, which is nice.  About half a mile in, we ran into a small herd of buffalo hanging out by one of the hot springs.  We snapped a quick family pic and moved on by them.

At the far North End of the Old Faithful area, most people turn around, but you can take a small trail North towards Biscuit Basin.  We did so, despite the signs of "high bear activity".

It wasn't until we got to the Biscuit Basin that we found this sign.  Which prompted a visit by the Park Ranger, asking us if we had just come through there and if we had seen any bears. 

The boys got a good picture with them and the Park Ranger.

I walked about 1.5 miles back to the Black Sand Basin area and got the truck and came back to pick everyone up.  It was a fun filled day.  On the way home, I stopped off to try my hand at fly fishing, but had no luck.  The water was gushing with snow melt.