Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Grand Adventure Part 2: The Tetons

After leaving Kings Peak, I headed north to the Tetons. By time I got there, I was just about ready to throw my dad’s GPS in Jackson Lake. It sent me on an unnecessary detour and told me to turn down roads that didn’t exist. I eventually just turned it off because it was doing more harm than good. And of course I didn’t think to buy an actual road atlas beforehand (yeah, I know, 21st century kids these days, yadda yadda), so I ended up navigating the next 1800 miles using road signs and my intuition. Oops!

So between a malfunctioning GPS and a road closure due to bear (!) activity, I didn’t get my backcountry permit and hit the trail until right around sundown in the Tetons. I did discover, though, that hiking at night can be really spectacular. I turned off my headlamp off at one point and just took in the night sky. I was about 1500 feet above Teton Village, WY and saw just a few glittering lights below with a really clear, dark sky above.
In less idyllic news, I managed to scare a skunk on the path. Thankfully, he chose the “flight” option instead of the “fight” option, and for that I’m quite grateful. I also caught a deer in my headlamp and managed to count all 16 points of his rack while he stared at the light, transfixed. I finally made it to my camping zone around 11PM and turned in for the night. Thankfully, I kept my water bottles away from my tent; a bear had clawed up my water bottle and managed to slightly puncture my Camelbak during the night.
The next day was just exhausting. I didn’t get on the trail until about 9AM. I hiked through Open Canyon, over Mt Hunt Divide (9,600’) and down into Granite Canyon. I didn’t get on the trail until 9AM and stopped already by 6PM; I needed a short day to recover from what had been three intense days in a row. I saw two people at lunchtime that day, and that was it. The trail was simply desolate. 

The next day was a bit schizophrenic. I woke up to sprinkles and decided to pack up and hit the trail to keep me and my gear from getting soaked. It rained off and on all morning. I passed Marion Lake and over Fox Creek Pass, both of were beautiful (and would have been more so, had it not been gray and/or raining) and dropped down into Death Canyon. No, I didn’t die. Right around that time it cleared up and the sun came out. Within a few miles I had stopped shivering and started sweating. It also made a difference that I had dropped 3000 feet in elevation. I didn’t stop all morning because it was raining, so I was at where I had planned to camp by 2:30PM already. Since the weather was supposed to be iffy the next morning, I decided to hike out. I spent that night in the National Forest immediately to the west of the park. The sunset over the Grand Teton is quite spectacular. 

The next day dawned with not a cloud in the sky (it just figures) and I got up leisurely late. I drove northward along the Teton Range, past Jenny and Jackson lakes and arrived at the south entrance to Yellowstone around mid-afternoon. That's the end of my Teton adventure, but there was more spectacular fun to be found in Yellowstone. But of course no post would be complete without the Utterly Impractical Hiking Item Of The Week. Sadly, there weren't any morons to laugh at on the trail, but I do have an entry in the Colorful Characters Series. After the sun came out as I hiked down Death Canyon, I came across a crew of masons (the stone kind, not the Free kind) doing some work on the trail. At that point I hadn't seen as much as a tent, much less a human, in 24 hours, and was willing to talk to anything that had 23 chromosomal pairs. So I come across this guy and he has cataracts so bad I have no idea how he can even see, and ONE TOOTH. Think Larry the Cucumber except with white whispy hair. I've got to give him credit though; if I were in that kind of shape I probably wouldn't be inclined to hike 5 miles in the backcountry, do hard physical labor all day, and hike out.

Whenever I get around to it, Part 3 will include Yellowstone and various sculptures in South Dakota.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Grand Adventure Part 1: Kings Peak

A grand adventure you say? Well I most certainly had one. On my way back to Michigan, I decided to hit a few things I really wanted to see/hike. The first stop was Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah (13,528’). I was a little nervous about it, to be honest, because it was 2000 feet higher than anything I had hiked this summer and I really didn’t want altitude sickness. It was about 27 miles roundtrip. I had originally planned to do a huge day on Day One, summiting and then camping a few thousand feet below. However, packing didn’t go as anticipated and I hung around to say goodbye to my family (such as we are; love you guys!) in Salt Lake, so by time I actually got on the trail it was 12:30pm. With that in mind, I didn’t summit that day, instead camping about where I had planned to camp, but with the summit to do the next day. I was camped at probably 10,700 feet at the base of the first pass I had to cross, Gunsight Pass. Take a gander at the photo below and you’ll see exactly why it was called that.

The next morning I woke up with ice on my tent. Now I had plenty of clothes with me to stay warm, but I never dreamed I would need GLOVES! Rolling up a wet tent when you can’t feel anything past your knuckles is just as difficult as it sounds, and even less fun. So off I went, trotting down the trail with my pack on. Except that I’m a moron. The previous day had been ridiculously easy (2000 feet in around 9 miles) and packing 25 pounds was no sweat. That day, however, we gained 2000 feet in 4.5 miles… ish. It was constant ups and downs, and STEEP at that! I quickly abandoned everything I wouldn't need that day on the trailside. My pack thus lightened, we went over Gunsight (11,222’). Instead of dropping back down into a basin and then climbing back up to Anderson Pass (12,500’), we went straight over the top of a ridge. It was a tough scramble to attain the ridge, but it was definitely worth it and saved a lot of time. We took a brief rest at Anderson. The final 1000 feet was a big scramble to the summit. I ditched the pack entirely, jammed a couple things in my pocket, and more or less flew up to the summit.

In shocking news, the “we” I refer to does NOT consist of a group of BYU students! I met Bob and Travis and Sophia at the end of the first day when I caught up to them. I ended up camping just a few hundred yards away from them. The next day, we started about the same time and hiked together for a while. Sophia had just been cleared for physical activity following back surgery, so clearly a three-day hiking trip up the tallest mountain in Utah was a wise idea. She and Travis poked along VERY slowly. Meanwhile, Bob is a very fit guy and likes to hike fairly quickly (for being almost 60). So we ended up hiking together up and over Gunsight up to Anderson. From Anderson to the summit I hiked alone, as I love scrambling and like to do it relatively quickly. Bob joined me at the top a few minutes later. The summit was windy and just barely warm enough. But the views were amazing (and would have been better, if not for the rainclouds everywhere).

Taking Bob’s advice, I decided to go down a different way than I went up. Instead of going back down to Anderson Pass and then doubling back over a ridge and then down Gunsight, I went straight down a rockslide slope directly from Anderson to the basin where I had camped the night before. Think 2000 feet of loose dirt and rock at a 60 degree angle. It probably saved me a couple hours, but it wasn’t worth the terrible decent. After doubling back to the trail to grab the stuff I had discarded, I did a couple more miles and called it a night. I probably could have hustled more that day and gotten down to my car around maybe 10 or 11 PM, but there was really no point in that, as I would have to camp there at the trailhead anyway. So I called it an easier night around 6 PM and decided to just hike it out the next day.

The final day was more or less a cakewalk. It was about 8 miles to the  trailhead, which I would have pounded out in about 2.5 hours had it not been the time I spent talking to Greg. Greg is a former Scout leader (by the way, scouting is incredibly popular in Utah, especially among Mormons) who has a badly degenerating back. Because of this, he’s unable to pack anything on his back. However, he wanted one last outdoor hurrah. So he got a two-wheeled card, packed all his stuff on it, and was huffing and puffing and bumping his way up the trail with this cart (which doesn’t bode well over rocky terrain). He was complaining about how we’re a “nation of wimps” and that young people don’t like to challenge themselves anymore. He was apparently very impressed that I had done Kings and told me that I was making it into his “memoirs”. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I think it’s a compliment. He also kept calling me Jason for some reason. I suppose he’s made it into my memoirs too.

I was back to the car by 9:30 and refueled my gas tank and my belly and headed to the Tetons. More to come on that.

Oh, the Utterly Impractical Hiking Item Of The Week? I have two entries: First, I found a watermelon rind wedged between two cracks at the summit. If you thought bringing a watermelon up to Lake Blanche was dumb, this is just braindead. I love watermelon as much as the next guy, but I wouldn't want it on my back for a day and a half and carry it all the way to the summit!

And of course, Diet Coke Lady (we all know one of those, I'm sure) decided to bring not only her Soccer-Mom Drug Of Choice, but a lime for that aspartame cocktail. But of course, both of these items pale in comparison to the fact that she packed a (glass) DRINKING GLASS to consume it with.

Kings Peak, center, with that brutal stretch of Anderson Pass below it

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Monarch of the Wasatch

Yep, that's Lone Peak. It may not be the tallest mountain (around 100 feet shorter than the Twins and the Pfeifferhorn at 11,253') but it's one of the most scenic. Often referred to as the "monarch" of the range, Lone Peak divides the Salt Lake valley to the north from the Utah valley to the south. From the top, both valleys are clearly visible. Seemed like a good mountain to finish up my Wasatch hiking experience on.

I ran into yet another group of 5 BYU students this week. As typical, they were very pleasant and I enjoyed hiking with them. In slightly more surprising news, the sun rose in the east and set in the west that day. A couple of them probably didn't bring quite enough water so I ended sharing some of mine. Stop me if you've heard this before.

The trail starts out with a section that doubles as a mountain bike trail. It's enough to make you despair that the entire hike is going to be an absolute joke. After that, the trail gets really steep for about an hour and a half. To be honest, that part was really really unpleasant. After passing through a brief meadow, we hiked into a glacial cirque near the summit. To get to the summit, we had to climb up the side of the cirque and around the horseshoe-shaped ridgeline and scramble up to the top.

And oh what a scramble it was! Definitely a tough Class III at points with fairly extreme exposure. You basically climb up, over, and down house-sized boulders for a few hundred feet. The summit itself consists of like 3 rocks, so trying to fit 10 people up there at a time was a wee bit challenging. We spent probably close to an hour up there, chatting, eating and taking pictures designed to give our mothers a heart attack.

This weeks Utterly Impractical Hiking Item of the Week award goes to... me! That's right, I was an Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron and decided that wearing new hiking shoes on an 11-hour hike would be a great idea without breaking them in first. My feet decided otherwise right around the time I started downhill. Granted, there wasn't much I could do about it (my old pair died a sad and painful death on Timp the week before), but it was still an ambitious hike on new shoes. I think I may or may not have jacked up a tendon in my big toe as a result of those shoes (it's hurt all this week especially when I bend it).

Still, I'm glad I did it this week to give them a test run before I head out on my grand adventure on the way home to Michigan. I plan to stop in the Uintas, Yellowstone, the Tetons, possibly Rushmore, and NW Iowa on my way home. I've been ponying up cash for backpacking equipment over the course of the summer. Now all I need of the essentials is a tent and I'm good to go. Programming note: probably won't update this blog until the end of August again, but when I do, it will hopefully be a big update. Shoutout this week to the grandparents (Start and DeVries). :)

By the way, if you'd like the original of any of these photos, just let me know and I'd be happy to provide. Just no using them for commercial purposes. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Of Moose and Men

Here's the man...

And here's the beast!

Congrats to any of you who caught the reference. Today's climb was Timpanogos, the second tallest mountain in the Wasatch. Although Mt. Nebo is taller, Timp offers much better views.

The same guy must have designed both the trails up Deseret Peak and Timp. Once again, the mountain was replete with completely unnecessary switchbacks, each of which gained maybe 10 feet of elevation. Consequently, the trail was entirely too long (to the tune of 14+ miles round trip) and gentle. Naturally, a really easy trail with terrific views at the top attracts scads of people; Timp is a local legend and is undoubtedly the most popular hike in Utah. My friend Sid and I spent most our day dodging, passing, and avoiding an almost continuous parade of people going up and down the trail.

At 11,700 feet, Timp is the tallest mountain I've climbed. The trail isn't strenuous at any point, including near the top, so I had no problem at all with the elevation, although I did see several people gasping for breath. The mountain is, however, very dramatic. It's one of 57 mountains in the country classified as "Ultra-prominent" (sticking up really vividly 5000 feet above its surroundings), and it certainly lived up to its name. I saw both the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake (in Provo) to the west and the Heber valley to the east. It was truly incredible.

I managed to completely and utterly destroy my shoes today. They've been in terrible shape for a while now, with chunks of rubber falling off and no grip left on the bottom (making it really tough to climb up or down scree; see last week's post). But today was the final blow. I caught the back of the sole of my right shoe on a rock, and it tore the sole off from the foot-enclosure about 2/3 of the way. So for the rest of the way up and the entire way down, i had the sole of my shoe flapping open and closed like a Venus Fly Trap on amphetamines. Those things are going in the trash can as soon as I can convince myself that it's really a necessity to spend $110 on a new pair of Merrells. 

 And how could I forget? Your Utterly Impractical Hiking Item Of The Week is...? A high school football team. This is bad news for a couple different reasons
1) The Noise, Noise Noise Noise! What do you expect when you get 40 high school boys together?  It's not like Timp is a place for solitude to begin with, but when you yell across the mountain to each other for two hours about the most inane subjects possible, noise pollution is taken to a whole new level
2) Football players stink at hiking. And it's not just the linemen either. They hiked painfully slow, and rested every 5 minutes near the top. When there's 40 people doing that and blocking the trail, the rest of us get antsy.
Apparently 8-year olds can hike Timp just fine; it's the high schoolers who struggle. To be fair, though, the coach gave us a ride in his pickup from the trailhead to where our car was parked.

And now for one of the best pictures I've ever taken:

Scree is not your friend

Since I'm sure everyone checks this blog daily just to see if more Pulitzer material gets posted here, I should explain. Two weeks ago the weather was iffy, so I ended up getting a half hour up the trail and it started pouring. Since this blog is already boring and contrived enough, I thought it would be considerate to spare you a post about pretty much nothing.
Last week (7-21-2012),  I had a grand adventure, but then my browser session crashed when I was 80% finished writing my post, and I lost everything because I'm neglectful and didn't save it. The frustrating part is that I can see the draft of the post I wrote, but can't edit or copy-paste it.
Anyways, enough with the meta-blogging. This post is dedicated to the Broads Fork Twin Peaks (now that's a mouthful). The main story of the Twins is scree. In case you don't know what scree is, it's a bunch of loose rock. The Twins consisted of at least 2 miles of nothing but gravelly rock fragments covering smooth stone. The only thing that's harder than climbing up a scree-covered slope without falling to your death is climbing down a scree-covered slope without falling to your death. I'm going to be honest, the hike was a lot of fun, but that section was really nerve-wracking.
The Twins were the tallest mountains I had hiked thus far, but barely. The Pfiefferhorn is 11,326 feet, West Twin is 11,328 feet, and East Twin is 11,330. The funny thing is that when I was standing on the Pfeifferhorn, I saw a pair of peaks (The Twins) that looked way taller than the Pfeifferhorn. But when I stood on the Twins, the Pfeifferhorn looked taller. So either the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, or the height of the peaks of the Wasatch are determined by the current gas price.
 Ah yes, the good parts: The views were tremendous. I could literally see every hike that I had done so far with one turn of the head. Even Deseret Peak was vaguely visible in the distance. The 10 miles were quite difficult (one guy I talked to said this was the hardest hike in the Wasatch in his opinion), but they were well worth it. I'm lazy and don't want to type out a really long description, so I'll let the pictures do the talking.

 Below: standing on West Twin looking at the East Twin.

 And this week's Utterly Impractical Hiking Item Of The Week is...? Nothing. I only saw probably 5 or 6 people on the entire hike. But although I didn't see something bizarre, I certainly met someone bizarre.
Meet Greaser. Greaser is a very strange yet eccentrically personable older guy. He picks a mountain and hikes it every day for 5 or 6 months at a time. As I was descending the scree slopes, he was huffing and puffing up with an ancient metal-framed backpack that probably weighed 10 pounds empty and doubled as a lightning rod. After greeting me Tacky-the-Penguin style (complete with a loud nasal "hey there, partner!" and an especially hearty slap on the back), he proceeded to regale me with stories about his close encounters with bears, falls down snowfields, and lightning strikes. I estimate about 10% of it to be actually true, but 100% of it to be highly entertaining. And the kicker? He only refers to himself in the third person.
Greaser: a guy with so much personality, even I couldn't have made him up.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Headed West

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. 

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

This week's destination was Deseret Peak. Just slightly shorter than the Pfeifferhorn, at 11,031 feet, Deseret Peak features fantastic views. Unlike the other hikes I've done so far, this peak is not in the Wasatch range. Instead, it's part of the Stansbury Range, which is the easternmost mountain chain of the Basin-and-Range physiographic region. What that means, for those of you who don't research geological provinces in your spare time, is that Deseret peak is a lot more isolated than are the peaks in the Wasatch, providing better views.

The views are what made this hike worth it; the hike itself wasn't at all challenging. Whoever made the trail must have been paid by the mile. Almost the entire trail consisted of switchbacks, even when they were completely unnecessary. The trail zig-zagged back and forth across a cirque up until it hit a ridgeline. After that, the trail got less insultingly easy; I saw a few "weekend warriors" in their jeans and brand-name polos really gasping for breath as they climbed the ridgeline toward the summit. But overall, it was easy; even at the high altitude I never maxed out my heart rate.

That brings me to this week's Utterly Impractical Hiking Item Of The Week. This week's winner is a pair of horses. You may say, "they sound like very useful Hiking Items". And you'd be right... for the riders at least. For the rest of us, horses are a huge pain in the butt (pun completely intended). You see, horses, unlike dogs, don't wander off the trail to do their duty. And when you think about how big a horse is, and how narrow the trail is... Suffice it to say that I played a lot of hop-scotch.

Above: view toward the Great Salt Desert with the Bonneville Salt Flats in the distance
Below: looking northeast toward the Great Salt Lake

Next week's update should be significant, assuming the weather cooperates. I have a couple ideas rattling around in the old brain. If anyone would like to recommend a hike to me, I'd love to hear it. Just leave it in the comments or email me.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I'm Speechless

And they say there's no God...

Today's climb was one of the most ridiculously named peaks in the Wasatch: The Pfeifferhorn. I wish there was a fun story about why it's named that, but it's just because some Mr. Pfeiffer, many years ago, liked to climb a mountain that vaguely resembled the Matterhorn. It's also the biggest mountain I've climbed to date; it weighs in at 11,300 feet, give or take a few.

Speaking of giving a few, I finally brought enough water, thanks to my Dad, who mailed me an extra Camelback that he wasn't using. Of course, I managed to screw that up, as I didn't really need 4+ liters of water. Instead, I ended up toting 10 pounds of water all over the mountain for 7 hours. I needed way less than I thought because I got up early (thanks to the old people who live next door and blare their TV with the windows open at 6:30AM) and was on the mountain before 8:00. On the way up, I was shaded for the first half of the hike. The temperatures were very pleasant; I got just a tad chilly at the summit, which we reached around noon.
We? Yes, we. I started by myself and hiked three miles before reaching Red Pine Lake (which is in itself a spectacle). There I ran into a group of BYU students and we climbed from there to the top together. Their company was very pleasant and, just as importantly, they drank part of the reservoir I was lugging around. 

Before Red Pine Lake, the climb was fairly easy. Apparently the older guy who blew past me thought so too; I've never seen anyone on the far side of 60 hike THAT FAST. Grandpa Start, you'd would be proud. Once I got to Red Pine Lake however, it very quickly got difficult. First was a massive boulder field with a steep grade. After leveling out for a bit (although still across boulders), the trail went up a steep slope with subpar footing up to a ridge. The views from the ridge are fantastic. The ridge very quickly turns into an extremely rugged, exposed knife's edge. Afterwards, the final climb up to the summit is at about a 60 degree angle for around 500 vertical feet. By that time, the altitude was really getting to me, so my progress was not exactly rapid. 

This brings me to the Utterly Impractical Hiking Item Of The Week: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made between two halves a baguette. Sounds delicious, until you consider that the thing had turned into a gooey, runny mess inside this guy's black backpack. As he was eating it, more red and brown slime was falling out of the sandwich onto his lap than was making it into his mouth. I tried to surreptitiously snap a picture of the debacle, but shot without looking at the camera (or him) and completely by accident got this beautiful photo:

The lakes from above:

We made snow angels!