Part 2: Tatahatso Canyon

If you were tooling down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon somewhere near RM 38 in Grand Canyon river parlance, you’d pass the mouth of Tatahatso Wash. You might notice the pool at the mouth, but not give the drainage behind it, largely invisible above and behind the 50-foot cliff that rises from the pool, a second thought. But what a cool drainage it is. In the end, I enjoyed the slot and the challenge more than the loop through Big Canyon that we’d just completed (and that’s saying something– Big Canyon was great).

dsc_1825Post-Big Canyon foray, Bruce, Bob, and I drove up the road to Tatahatso Point to revisit Tatahatso Wash (Bob, Mo, and I had been there two years earlier, but had to scratch the technical descent because of illness).

A note about driving across the Navajo land to Tatahatso point–it can be confusing! Even having been out there previously, it was difficult to follow the written directions. Bruce’s GPS came through (although on a bit of a convoluted route).

We reorganized gear and camped the night at the point for an early morning start.

 

Early-ish, anyway. We started walking at 7am.  We made great time to the break, down the sketchy slope, and boulder-hopping, scooting, scrambling, and a bit of thrashing, to the top of the Redwall for a lunch break in about 4.5 hours of walking (allow more time if you aren’t familiar with the route).

In retrospect, we probably lolly-gagged at lunch a little too long before what proved to be a long–and awesome–slot.

The pools at the top of the Redwall where much deeper than the last time I was there. This suggested the slot would be wet, a good suggestion as it turned out.

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Following lunch, we plunged in. Literally. The first rap was into a pool deep enough that even this 6’5″ guy needed a short swim to get across. It was clear a group had been through recently, as the anchor was new and in good shape. We’d run into several more like this through the slot, but we still had to clean a few and build a few.

Todd Martin’s Grand Canyoneering lists the second rap at 75′. It may have  been from wherever his anchor was placed, but from the anchor right at the top of the chute, we found it to be a good 90′ straight down into the pool (we had to extend the pull side of our 160′ of rope with a good 20′ of webbing). Yep, into the pool. Another deep swimmer. We did a lot of swimming, and we were glad for a layer of neoprene in the cooler Fall temps.

Somewhere in the deep murky pool at the base of the third rap, Bruce unknowing dropped his camera. (Reward for the return of this camera hereby offered!) That’s a shame, because Bruce had taken some great shots in Big Canyon, and was the guy who had recorded much of the morning’s scamper down the wash. A short while later, my camera battery died, and I found my backup battery wasn’t charged. (The OEM battery had given a false positive in the after-market charger back at the hotel in Flag.)

While Grand Canyoneering lists 7 raps, we did 9, and we don’t think that included the “tricky downclimb”.  A couple of times we diverged from at least the previous group’s selection to avoid what we felt was an unnecessarily exposure approach to the anchor.

Given what appeared to be a very recent descent, I was surprised by one anchor. It was a different webbing that the new stuff, but still looked newish and supple. It seemed in great condition. I really wanted to inspect the whole sling though, and that took some doing since fine debris had clogged the pinch point. I worked it at for a minute and was able to free it enough to slide the webbing. It showed on short section that was severely abraded, with about half the material gone. I suspect we would have been fine, but it does speak to the importance of not just assuming the anchor the last guy used is fine today.

What a long, beautiful slot. It was taking some time though. It was getting late in the day on this post-Equinox trip. And then we stuck a rope  on the penultimate slot. Maneuvering for different pull angles was awkward and ineffective in the deep pool, and eventually Bob ascended to work it loose, followed by a a sporty slide-jump into the pool. (Alas, Bob dropped his Ushba Basic ascender in this deep pool–and thus another reward offered for this piece with sentimental value.)

The section of the slot between this second-to-last rap and the final exit is spectacular. You’ll see others’ photos with some interesting pillars carved into the wall. And in them, you’ll generally see bone dry narrows. Not so this time.  I was enamored with the swim through the twisted corridor in this section–again, the water was deep. And a bit chilly. With the above mentioned camera woes, and because it was getting late and the light was fading, we’ve got no photos of this area.

Finishing the last rap in the dark, we plunked down to spend the night on the debris field beach at the mouth of the wash.

Morning came with the plan being a leisurely float down the river with a side-trip to Buckfarm Canyon. (Not as grim a prospect as the following photo suggests!)

Oops. Perhaps we were a bit too leisurely in our approach. Perhaps we were more concerned about running the riffles in our pack-raft pool toys. And I know we were a bit thrown by the speed we made it down the river. We ran the rapids (really riffles) at Buckfarm before we even realized we’d just passed our objective. And made it to President Harding Rapids in about 2.5 hours, much faster than the 4.5 hours we were expecting.

Had we had enough rope along, we would have done a quick loop through Tatahoysa at this point. But we didn’t. So there we settled in to dry out our gear, eat some food, and drink the can of cider that Bob found floating in the river.

The hike up Eminence Break is steep, but it’s pretty straight-forward (Bruce decided to try to a sportier high-route near the beginning–not necessarily recommended). The footing is good, and the route is solid even when you’ve got to use the hands. Not recommended as a first trail, but in terms of Grand Canyon river-to-rim exits, it’s toward the lower end of the effort scale.

A great little loop. Hat tip (or propeller beanie tip) to Bruce and Bob for a great time!

(More photos)

Tatahatso Point

(Once again!) “We survived the ordeal by drinking our own urine.”

 

 

 

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Mike’s 2017 JMT Gear List – With Comments

IMG_3479Here’s my gear list for the presumably snowy and wet first-half-of-August 2017 JMT hike from Horseshoe Meadows to Happy Isles. (See further thoughts on August 2017 trail conditions.) This was a 14+ day trip, with one resupply at MTR.

I’ve provided actually measured weights for the items listed. But something doesn’t quite add up! My measured pack weight was more than a pound and a half less than the sum of the items below. Some of this is likely variance in food weight as I kept playing with the load. Some may be transcription error. Either way, you get a sense. Note, I’m 6’5″ and most of the sizable gear (e.g., clothing to pack to quilt) if slightly bigger than the average bear.

Holler if you have questions, and I’ll do my best to answer.

Items in green really stood up for me as favorite/best-in-class items.

While there were a few things I guessed wrong on, most of this gear is tried and tested, and I didn’t really have any gear “fails”, per se.

Pack/Shelter/Sleeping System: 102.5 ounces (6lbs, 6.5oz)

Item Ounces Notes
Pack  
Hyperlight Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 (Tall)r Southwest 2400 Pack 28.8 I really like this pack. It
handled even the maximum weight comfortablly. It seemed more than up to the
task durability wise. Very impressive in a sub-2 lb package. And the dirty white makes it look like something I stapled together in my garage for bonus style points. 😉 I only saw 7-8 HMG packs out there. The most common brand I noted was Osprey, and most of these were larger Aether/Ariel/Atmos models,
stuffed to the brim–likely a heavy set-up. (A lot of these folks were grimacing on the uphills.)  I saw four folks struggling with Zpacks failures, one broken carbon stay, and three versions of the stay supports failing–2 of the 4 were leaving the trail to get a fix or a new pack. The Bearikade Weekender fit in (just) positioned vertically. I was definitely at the limits of capacity for the pack with 8 days of food.
Trash compactor bag liner 2.4 Pack liner. While the HMG pack
fabric is waterproof, the pack itself is not completely. The liner gives added assurance, for down quilt and dry clothes in particular. (I think the trash compactor liner works better than a pack cover in extended rain.)
Essential Elements shoulder strap bottle carrier.lder strap water bottle holder 0.8 Securely held 750ml bottle. Fit was perhaps too “perfect”–sometimes took a moments wrestling to to get the bottle in.
Essential Elements shoulder strap camera caselder strap camera holder 1.0 Worked great. Very Convenient.
Shelter
Hyperlight Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp

r Flat Tarp, with guy lines, in stuff sack

10.7 One of the most versatile lightweight shelters out there, it can be pitched many different ways. Twice during afternoon rain storms, I pitched it high as a fly, allowing myself and
others to hang out out of the rain. In an evening thunderstorm at 12,000′ below Forester pass, I pitched it off a rock wall without using poles. 3 can sleep under it in a pinch. The only downside is lack of an integrated bug net.
Bearpaw Bug X-Long Shelter, plus lines 8.0 Bringing the flat tarp, I wanted bug protection. Easy to use, if a bit tight. The combo wasn’t as light as some options…but I guy can only own so many tents! For 2 people, the on-trail winner seemed to be the Zpacks Duplex.
Stakes in sack (5 MSR Ground Hogs, 2 aluminum wire stakes)round Hog + 2 aluminum wire) 3.4 The MSR Groundhogs are great stakes. Not the lightest option, they were more practical and durable than the titanium wire stakes I used to carry.
Sleeping Gear
Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm (Large)m (Large) 20.3 With two added cords for quilt attachment. Super comfortable, warm. Temperatures where warmed than anticipated, even at elevations, and I could have saved a few ounces with my regular Neoair, but I can’t complain about the decision.
Katabatic Gear Palisade (Long/Wide)s Quilt (Long-Wide) 22.8 A few ounces heavier than the 35-degree Western Mountaineering bag it replaces, but wow, I love it! As a thrashing side-sleeper, it was extremely comfortable. On the one sub-freezing night I’m aware of, I was toasty without even cinching it down. I can see this easily going down to 20-degrees comfortably.
Sea to Summit Air Pillow (Small) 3.0 Not pushing the limits of temperature range, I could have used clothes–but this pillow is more comfortable. I hike better, especially on multi-day outings if I sleep better.
Zpacks down hood 1.4 Very practical and comfortable, pairs with the quilt to extend the range of sleeping comfort. It wasn’t needed this trip.

Other Things In or On the Pack: 234 ounces (14lbs, 10oz)

Item Ounces Notes
Kitchen
JetBoil Sol w. .8L Cup 11.8 Probably not ideal for a one-person trip. Nonetheless, as it is efficient with fuel, I made it the first 8 days with 110 g fuel canister (small) with room to spare, and ditto
the second 6 days.
Sil Mug 2.3 To drink my coffee! Extra weight, but I just like it that way.
Bic Lighter 0.8 The piezo igniter on the Jetboil is very unrealiable.
Sea to Summit Alpha Long Spoonht Spoon – Long 0.4 Great for reaching deep into food bags.
Fuel (Starting weight) See consumables, below
Bearikade Weekender 31.3 The lightest option for the volume (6+ days for me)…and occasionally used with my sit pad as a camp stool.
Bubble wrap insulating food pouchpouch 1.6 At elevation, this definitely helped food rehydrate faster and stay warm longer. Some folks used there hats…but I don’t like eating dinner out of something I’ll be sleeping in an
hour later.
Packed Clothes
Smartwool Microlight Boxer Brief Underwear (Medium)derwear boxer briefs 3.1 Sleeping/Spare.
Darn Tough 1/4 Light Cushion Sock (Large)shion socks 2.2 Extra hiking socks if need be,
and/or clean, dry socks to wear at night. Darn Tough are comfortable and
durable. They seem to have a tight weave than Smartwool and some other
brands, helping keep dirt out and blisters at bay.
Smartwool Tights (Large) 10.1 I was prepared for colder temps, especially at elevation. These were overkill. I could have used my Icebreaker long johns at about half the weight. But they’re comfy!
Ibex Indie Hoody (XL) 12.6 Love this piece of gear! It’s a very versatile base layer or primary layer. Huge comfort range. Treated with permethrin, the long sleeves and hood were great at keeping the mozzies away, except in a couple of insane locations.
Montbell UL Down Jacket 8.5 Nice light insulating layer. Not as cold as I was expecting, I could have left this at home–but it’s hard to anticipate the weather above 10,000′ toward mid-August.
Wool hat (actually my pink acrylic hat) 3.5 Could have deleted this–but I like a beanie instead of a hood if it isn’t too cold.
OR Realm Jacket (XL) 11.8 Rain/Wind Gear: Awesome, breathable, dry, and light. I could hike in this without swimming in my own sweat.
Mountain Hardware Stretch Ozonic Rain Pants Large-Longch Ozonic Pants, Large-Tall 10.5 Rain/Wind Gear: Comfortable, super breathable, and almost long enough for my long legs.
MLD Event Mitts (L) 1.0 Rain Gear. An ounce of insurance for cold, rainy conditions. Didn’t need them, but don’t regret carrying them given the potential conditions.
Misc. Bag
Silnylon dryish bag 1.0 Bag to hold all the first aid and small stuff together.
First Aid Kit 4.3 In Small Aloksak, including: Blister Pads, Band-Aids, Alcohol Pads & Neosporin, Dipenhydramine Tablets x8 (50 mg), Chewable Pepto x4, Lomotil x4, Acetominophen 325mg x10, Ibuprofen 200 mg x20, Aleve 200mg x15 Diamox 125mg x10, Valerian Root tabs x10
Leukotape 2.6 Biggish roll! But I shared with a few different hikers in need.
Repair Kit
2 Safety Pins, Needle & ThreadThread in a Small Ziploc 0.2 Sewing Kit, First Aid…and somehow I lost my safety pins between the hotel in Mammoth and Day 7 on the trail.
~30 feet 2mm Lawson GloWire 0.8 Used a couple of times for unique tarp pitching, and once as clothes line
Tenacisous Tape (24″) 0.5 Fix-it–only repair this trip with the top to my Smartwater bottle.
Small roll Gorilla Tape 1.2 Different fix-it
Small Zip Ties x 4 0.3 For other things that need fixing (Used two ties and some Leukotape to repair a woman’s boot–the sole had delaminated-a pretty solid repair than only had to last her a day and a
half.)
Small Carabiner 0.9 Used to attach camp shoes/hose
Miscellaneous
Aquamira tabletsnt tablets 1.2 Back-up water purification
Iodine tablets 1.2 Back-up water purification
Ear Plugs in Tiny Case 0.3 Just in case
Firestarter 0.8 Spark can light stove. Tinder.
Brunton TruArc 3 Compass 1.2 The most basic compass…
Micro Leatherman 2.0 Knife, scissors, file, flathead screwdriver, tweezers & a toothpick…
Travel Toothbrush w/ head cover 0.3 To brush my teeth…
Toothpaste tube 0.5
ID/Cash/Cards/Permits in small ziplockn small ziplock 1.5 Prevent chapped lips, backupfire starter.
Other
Erik the Black Pocket Atlasde 2.3 Easy to read while walking
Closed cell foam sit pad 0.5 Use as sit pad during the day
and to supplement/protect my NeoAir at night.
Sea 2 Summit Bug Head Net 0.8  Saved me at Deer Creek. (Some folks walked much of the day in them.)
Glasses in Hardshell case, plus micrfiber cloth 3.2
1 Gallon Ziploc Bag 0.4 First Garbage Bag
Sawyer Mini Water Filter 1.8 While I’ve used the mini for several years, I’m leaning toward replacing with the slightly bigger and heavier, but twice as fast, full-sized Sawyer.
2L Evernew Bottle, Gravity hose, plunger, spare cap, in a small sackty Hose, Backflush plunger, spare dromedary cap, small
sil stuff sack
5.8 Dirty water bag, and gravity set up.
MSR Dromeday with hosee 5.8 I’m used to carrying more water, longer distances. Not necessary this trip–although I still like the flexibility offered by the extra capacity, and the ability to gravity filter a few liters in camp in the evening.
750 ml Smartwater Bottlee 1.1 Drinking vessel…
Toilet Paper in Ziploc Bagg + Dirty Bag 3.9
Deuce of Spades Trowelrowel 0.6 To dig a hole…works well enough
Purell 1.1 Kill the nasties on my hands!
Dr Bronners in Smaller Bottleopper Bottle 0.0 Forgot it!! Hence the zero weight.
Lotions and Potions (sunscreen, bug juice, body glide) 7.2 Stored in hipbelt pockets
Lip Balm 0.2 Stored in hipbelt pockets
Micro Leatherman 2.0 Knife, scissors, file, flat
head screwdriver, tweezers & a toothpick…
Black Diamond Storm Headlampeadlamp, w/ 4AAA batteries 4.1 To light the way… I’ve been
impressed with the durability–it’s been submerged in water canyoneering many
times.
mini Space pen 0.8 Ink doesn’t freeze or run in water. Used it to jot down notes about my gear so that I could tell you later, 😉
mini sharpie 0.2 In part for emergencies, this also helped me easily make a hitch hiking sign that landed me a ride directly from Yosemite Village to Oakland, within a few blocks of my target
destination.
iPhone 7 w/ case 6.3 Camera/GPS/and communicator
Garmin InReach Explorer+ w/Biner 8.8 Generally worked very well. Had a hard time finding a signal under tree cover in a heavy storm…as I would expect.
Large cotton Hankerchief 1.4 Got heavy use, including wiping off gear before packing during the rainy/wet first part of the trip.
Things I wouldn’t normally bring…ly carry
Anker Powercore 10,000 mAh Battery Charger,  6.3 Battery charger. Worked as advertised. Not quite enough to make it 8-days. (I may have mismanaged phone battery a couple of times.)
Cords & 2-port Plug 1.7 6″ USB to Lightening & Micro USB cords and wall plug.
Tiny tripod 2.5 Didn’t really use…but I’d like to.
Aleader Camp Shoes (w/o insoles) 8.7 I normally don’t bring camp shoes. But with the many wet crossings and rainy nights, I’m glad I did this time. Part of a dry foot system at the end of the day/early morning.
SealSkinz Road Ankle Socks w/ Hydrostop 3.7 Again, not something I’d normally bring. But with the many wet crossings and rainy nights, I’m glad I did this time. Helped ensure dry feet at night for the first half of the trip. Not used at all the second half. They also worked well hiking in snow and shallow water walking for a few hours around Muir Pass. (They would be way too hot for hiking in normal above freezing conditions.)
Extra Black Diamond Storm Headlamptorm Headlamp, w/ 4AAA batteries 4.1 I initially broght a second to aid with night hiking. However, the trails were generally so clear and easy to follow, this wasn’t at all necessary. I did lend it to a couple summiting Whitney for sunrise (with only one light) and they found it useful. I mailed it home
from MTR.
Petzl Leopard Ultralight Crampons, in Sack, with Biner 16.4 An educated guess based on condition reports just prior to departure–but I never once wore them, and sent them out with friend on Day 6.

Food/Fuel/Water: 269.4 ounces (16lbs, 13.4oz)

Item Ounces Notes
Food 192.0 1.5 lbs/day x 8 days. (This should be the most carried at one time…will have a 6-day resupply at MTR, upped to 2 lbs/day.) Including various ziplocks which will be repurposed.
Water 70.4 Water weight at heaviest
Fuel 7.0 110 g Snow Peak Fuel Canister, max weight. Still had some fuel in canister at end of first 8 days (ditto with new canister at end of 6 days).

Max Weight of Pack: 605.9 ounces (37lbs, 13.9oz)


Worn or Carried (not in Pack): 85.2 ounces (5lbs, 5.2oz)

Item Ounces Notes
Darn Tough 1/4 Light Cushion socks (L) 2.2 They’re darned tough. Comfortable and durable. They seem to have a tight weave than Smartwool and some other brands, helping keep dirt out and blisters at bay.
Smartwool Boxer Briefs (M)(9″ Inseam) 3.1 All day comfort! Once you go wool, it’s hard to go back.
OR Ferrosi Shorts w/ Mountain Hardware Belt (34)untain Hardwear Belt 8.2 Tough, breathable, water-resistant, fast-drying, good sun coverage, light. Perhaps my favorites shorts ever.
Ibex Echo T-shirt (L) 5.5 This is my favorite hiking T-shirt ever. Wool. Broad comfort range. 1/2 zip for venting. Collar for warmth/bug protection. Alas, Ibex doesn’t make it any more, and this one doesn’t have much life left.
Smartwool Sleeves (L/XL) 1.9 Very glad I had these. Expand comfort range of T even further. Great on cool morning. Great on warm days–sun protection that feels good. On hot days, awesome, as I wet them in
streams (along with hat and shirt), and it was like walking in air-conditioning. I preferred the weight of Ibex’s Indie sleeves, but I can’t find them for sale anymore.
Sunday Afternoons Ultra (L)

Adventure Hat

2.7 Wide brim, great back-of-neck protection for NOBOers, good ventilation.
Sunglasses 1.3 Don’t leave home without ’em. Regular polarized sunglasses. If I’d been heading South, I think I would have preferred good Class 3 glacier glasses.
La Sportiva TX3, with Superfeet Insoles (12.5)perfeet insoles 33.2 I really like these shoes.
https://mikeshikes.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/review-la-sportiva-tx3/ The trail is so good on the JMT, I probalby would have been fine with Altra’s Lone Peaks–but that pack was heavy with 8 days of food starting from Horsehoe Meadows.
Dirty Girls 1.2 Help keep feet cleaner and pebbles out of the shoes
Black Diamond Leather Palm Gloves (XL)Palm Gloves 3.4 A guess, but a bit much. Sun gloves would have been better. Leaving today, I’d bring these, though. (It’s getting colder.)
Timex cheapo watch 1.4 I use this to gauge distance, time until dark, and alarm for early morning starts (e.g., Whitney and Half-Dome).
Leki Corklite Poles 18.3 My weight puts me above the comfort level for carbon poles
Tether for knife, whistle, washer 0.2 On a small piece of GloWire in shorts pocket.
Storm Safety Whistle 0.2 On a small piece of GloWire in shorts pocket.
Knife 2.4 Redundant, but I use this more than the micro Leatherman

IMG_3471

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Some August 2017 JMT Conditions and Thoughts

I’ll have a fuller report and pictures soon. Gear notes are here. And following are a few quick thoughts which might help those leaving in the second half of August/September, based on my two-week NOBO trip the first half of August (Horseshoe Meadows to Happy Isles, with Whitney and Half Dome visits). NOTE: Conditions can change rapidly in the mountains. A couple could rain/snow storms could mean a totally different picture!

  1.  Getting around on the East Side.  The new shuttle service from Sherpa Max is awesome! Max is prompt, accommodating, and has extremely competitive rates. Contact him at SherpaMax @yahoo. com or phone or text (805) 341-6360 (Max doesn’t cover Mammoth, but he handled us from Bishop to Horseshoe Meadows.)
  2. Snow. The question of the year, or one of them anyway. 99+% of the trail is clear (as of the first half of August). You can SEE miles of snow, but you should be WALKING on very little snow, for very short stretches–think more like a football field at a time, and less than a mile total over the whole trail. It is mostly low-angle (“flat”) terrain, with just a couple of steep sections at Silver, Muir, and Mather (avoidable if desired) all manageable without microspikes or crampons. I walked them in my low-tread approach shoes (think trail runners). I saw only one person actually using microspikes, and many more walking through the short sections of snow carrying microspikes on their packs. Out of an abundance of caution, I even brought crampons (lighter than my microspikes), but I never came close to putting them on, and handed them off to a friend hiking after five days. The “trick” is to STAY ON THE TRAIL to the extent possible. Ignore footprints far off the trail that may have made sense in early July. That said, Winter is Coming! (Keep that in mind as you think about clothing choices.)
  3. Stream crossings. These were downright dangerous in July. Right now, all streams are crossable at the trail. So stay on the trail! Yes, there is still water, and you’re going to get wet. But you can cross safely (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise due care). Bear creek–less than knee deep, slow moving, and crossable at the trail. Evolution Creek, about the same, wide and slow moving, and crossable at the trail. I did not cross the South Fork of Kings the first week of August, taking the bypass instead (and keeping my feet dry the whole bypass). However, even then, it looked crossable at the trail. Apparently, the park service now agrees–South Fork is crossable at the trail.
  4. Mosquitos. Hit or miss, depending on micro climate and hatch. Some places, they were absolutely insane–Deer Creek comes to mind. There, permethrin-treated clothes and DEET seemed to have little effect. Full body armor was required! (Sufficient thickness of layers that they couldn’t bite through and head net–the only time I donned the head net.) People warned me about Bear Creek, 20 minutes before I got there, but I didn’t see one skeeter. Didn’t see one at Garnet Lake overnight, but they were swarming in daylight at Thousand Islands Lake at about the same elevation just a couple miles away. Be prepared. The permethrin treatment seemed to help a lot in low-load areas–I’m normally a guy the mozzies love to munch on. This trip, I only noticed three bites. (And three fly bites in two days in the Yosemite section.) With longer, colder nights on the way, upper elevations will increasingly see freezing temps, and this problem will go away.
  5. The hiker boxes at MTR. Overflowing with food and miscellaneous supplies.
  6. Crowds. Outside of Disneyland, er Yosemite, there weren’t any. The tougher conditions seem to have keep people away. Even areas like Rae Lakes which are normally quite busy this time of year. There were/are still people out, but it generally didn’t feel like rush hour.
  7. That third pair of socks. And camp shoes. I’ll discuss gear separately. Normally I bring neither a third pair of socks nor camp shoes (I cross streams in my trail shoes). I was glad I did this year, particularly the first week. The many crossing on the south half of the trail, and frequent rain, and heavy overnight dew and condensation, meant things stayed very wet for several days. It was nice to have something dry to wear in camp and sleep in the first week. And then, they weren’t needed the second week. (Other gear notes.)
  8. Gear editing. Some people had enormous packs! And there was a strong correlation between big pack size and grimacing, especially on the uphill stretches. By all means, HYOH. At the same time, if you’re new to this, ask some folks to evaluate your gear. Someone with a 59 lb. pack asked why mine was so small. “You must have a lot of expensive gear.” And I do. But I expect I could have easily chopped 15 lbs out of his pack without spending a dime (other than on postage to send stuff home). It’s worth taking some time to think about what you really want to carry for 200+ miles. (See some of my specific gear thoughts.)
  9. It was absolutely gorgeous out there! The remaining snow made nice contrast on the peaks. The southern half in particular was lush and green. The wildflowers were still blooming all over. Even the clouds and thunderstorms  added different contexts and textures. What a great year to go!

Have fun out there! Holler if you have questions.

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Women’s March on Washington

img_2347This didn’t look like most hikes I take, but it will likely remain one of the more important days walking I’ll spend walking (well, stood, mostly, although we did cover about 8 miles on foot).

img_2445HOLY CRAP! What an amazing day. So many people, standing and marching (in DC, it was mostly standing—there was literally no room to march for streets stretching out a couple of miles). A block and a half away (and around the corner) from the stage, I didn’t hear the speeches. But it was inspiring and humbling to stand among so many, young and old. We talked, we laughed, we chanted, we helped each other out, we read signs, we saw points from different angles.

With essentially no cell service for most of the day, I didn’t know the tremendous outpouring around the world, or even blocks away in DC for that matter. I didn’t see many friends who were somewhere in the masses, too. But I did get to hang with some friends, old and new, and with strangers, sharing their concern and their energy. And I’m catching up on was happened today. Thanks for everyone who’s shared.

In DC, you’ll see pictures of enormous crowds on the Mall. The Mall was actually where we went to get some breathing room AWAY from the crowds down Independence and packed in so tightly in side streets that people couldn’t move.

Trump is a disaster already, and it’s going to get worse. A lot of our political “leadership” lacks the courage to do what right rather than what they think will get them re-elected. We’ll use that as a tool. Our media has failed us, repeating tit-for-tat posturing rather than trying to find and report facts and the truth. But I’m heartened by those who will not go quietly into the darkness. I’m convinced people will rise. (The politicians who don’t see that will be in for a surprise.) We will be resilient, and we will resist. Trump will go. I hope we’ll also recognize that as bad is he is, Trump is a secondary disease. We’ve got to treat that now. But we also have to recognize that he’s just a symptom of a larger set of issues we must address, too.

It’s going to be a struggle. But, Yes We Can. So…Let’s! Coffee up, people. We’ve got work to do.

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Part 1: Jane and the Reynolds Boys visit Big Canyon

Jane on Rappel - Big CanyonRather than an extended dance mix Sufferfest in the Grand Canyon, Bob and I talked ab0ut doing two short loops this Fall, Big Canyon, and revisting Tatahatso where we’d had to skip the narrows on a previous trip. Bruce signed on. And Jane was able to join for the first loop.

Big Canyon is one of the tributary drainages of the Little Colorado river. We tackled this as a loop, driving to the Big Canyon trailhead (as described in Todd Martin’s Grand Canyoneering), having camped and spotted a car at the Salt Trail trailhead the night before.

img_2302The roads across the Navajo tribal lands (permit required) can be confusing, but Bruce’s GPS took us right to the Salt Trail trailhead. (Be prepared for a few misses is you’re relying on written descriptions alone.) After the obligatory gear futzing to prepare for the trip, and a beautiful sunset, we hunkered down for a very windy night, sandblasted by strong winds all night, with gusts seemingly in excess of 50 mph.

Morning found us piling into Bruce’s jeep for the quick shuttle to Big Canyon. (Thanks again, GPS!)

The approach involves picking one’s way through some Class 3 hiking (or Class 4, depending on the specific line you take) down a steep ravine to Sheep Wash, and continuing to Big Canyon. It’s some fun hiking, especially as the narrows start to form and the scrambling returns.

 

dsc_1718Water levels in Big Canyon appeared lower than in others’ photos. (This was in stark contrast to the trip a couple days later in Tatahatso, where we did a lot of swimming.) But water was still flowing over the little falls below the spring.

While this likely isn’t a canyon that’s visited a lot (yay for difficult approaches!), it may be that every group feels it has to leave it’s own tangled mess of webbing on top of the other tangled messes. Boo! I found I was cutting away a multi-colored spaghetti of nylon at every anchor. Two words on this: If you’re rebuilding an anchor, please remove the previous stuff, and pack it out. And in the Grand Canyon area, black is the standard webbing color–keep the funny colors for your propeller beanies. (Bruce might be willing to lend you his.)

Proceeding down the canyon, the travertine falls and the pools at their bases are beautiful. Some wading, and a couple of very short swims. And a lot of fun.

 

Big Canyon Emerald RoomEventually you pop into the double-falled Emerald Room. As it was getting late, and we were getting cold, we opted to rappel canyon right and avoid the plunge into to pool.

Plopping down, we removed neoprene and continued on to the Little Colorado. Hint, stay left and stay high and go all the way to the river–within about a foot on this trip–to pick up the trail leading downstream. The routes to the right and down the middle proved quite sporty!

From there, we walked downstream a short ways to eat dinner and camp.

After spending the night under a mesquite tree, we walked another 100 yards downstream, to the mouth of the Salt Canyon trail, and found the much bigger campsite used by AZFRO. We would have had a lot more elbow room and much less silty water to filter there!

From that point, it was a pretty straightforward hike up the Salt Trail, including some fun Class 4 up near the top. We exited and went to retrieve the Jeep. Jane headed back to Flagstaff and Bruce, Bob, and I headed up to Tatahatso Wash for Round 2.

More photos of the Big Canyon foray.

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A few short ones in RMNP: Thunder Lake, Lily Mountain, Estes Cone

While in Colorado last week for a reunion with some of my favorite people in the world (fellow Peace Corps volunteers in the Central African Republic), we managed to tack on a quick overnight, and some other short hikes in/around Rocky Mountain National Park without having to wrestle with the very crowded Beaver Meadows entrance.

250px-Thunder_Lake_Patrol_CabinFirst, Karen and I did a quick hike 6.8 miles up to Thunder Lake, pleasant walking on a well-established trail. Being the first day away from home (200′ elevation), the last mile or so above 10,000′ had the lungs working overtime as we raced to beat the potential thunderstorms. The thunderstorms came, but we didn’t bear the brunt of it. Because of a permit mix-up at the RMNP office, we got the stock campsite, very nice, quiet, and closer to Thunder Lake than the others.  On the way back the next morning, we stopped by Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascade.


With the full group in place, we wanted a couple of quick hikes that didn’t take away too much of our time together. The first day, as others were acclimating, we strolled the 3.8 mile RT trail up Lily Mountain, with a fun scrambly bit at the top. This was finished with a quick drive into drive from some whisky drinks, vodka drinks, and lager drinks at the iconic Stanley Hotel.

Scott, John, and I decided to round out the trifecta with a quick 3.7 miles (one way) walk up Estes Cone to crack the 11,000′ mark. And it was pretty quick, at about and hour and 20 minutes to the summit. There we had a great 360-degree view of the area including the Long’s Peak diamond, I got to school a couple of youths about rock-throwing etiquette (i.e., don’t), and Scott and John sat by and watched as I watch ambushed by a chipmunk. After cheese, crackers, and a summit soda, we trotted back down to continue the festivities.

Lovely. You don’t have to do a 14’er every time, and you don’t have to look too hard to avoid the crazy traffic in the park.

Cheers!

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6 Day (or 6.5 Day!) Tour de Mont Blanc Itinerary

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Refugio Elisabeta, a wonderful oasis after my shortest day of the day, and home of risotto, wine, cheese, oatmeal stout, and the gracious Marta

I walked around Mont Blanc (read a bit more narrative and see some pictures). Here are my thoughts on how to cover the TMB in 6 or 7 days. Your mileage may vary. And there are lots of ways to slice and dice this. (And here are some TMB gear recommendations.)

This was done at the end of June with the longest days of the year, and a couple weeks before the crowds really take over, so I made no reservations and always had great flexibility to go the distance I felt like.

Day 0

Stay at Hotel Slalom www.hotelslalom.net 44 rue de Bellevue, Les Houches. +33 (0)4 50 54 40 60. Nice place, and VERY convenient to the traditional start/finish of the TMB (the old start is literally right across the street. The new start, maybe 100m up the road. The owner, Tracey is extremely helpful and accommodating—and served the best breakfast of the week (both times). UPDATE: The Hotel has been sold…and is not a hotel any more! C’est dommage!

Day 1

The plan: from Les Houches to Refuge De La Croix Du Bonhomme – 29km – 10-11 hours book time. Actual time about 10.5 hours, with a very long lunch (over an hour) in Les Contamines.

This worked pretty well, even with the nasty weather for the last few hours, rain followed by snow as I gained elevation. A decent place to pull up short would be Refuge de la Balme, allowing you to sleep lower your first night. (Or if you’re itching to move, push forward to Les Chapieux.

Day 2

The plan was to take the variant via Col des Fours to Ville des Glaciers and on to Refugio Elisabeta. (about 17m and 6-7 hours.) However, fresh snow and visibility dropping down to a couple meters, combined with my inappropriate footwear, made that less then prudent. (Two very fast hikers did take the route—these guys flew by me after—and it took them ~2 hours longer than expected, navigating one step at a time by GPS, with visibility about 1-2m and no signs of markers/footprints.)

Instead, I walked the main route down to Chapieux and then back up to Elisabeta. 22km, 8 hours book time. This was my easiest day, despite the fact that it was also the day that I felt the acclimatization/elevation issue the most—I walked more slowly than normal for me, and still made Elisabeta in about 6.5 hours.

I LOVED Refugio Eliabeta. Food and drink were awesome. Nice house wine. Nice craft oatmeal stout. Marta was a gracious host. That said, the were 12 guests that night. Capacity, which they hit in busy season is 90. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much with 89 other guests crammed in. I might have pushed on to Courmayeur.

Day 3

The plan was to haul ass to lunch in Courmayeur  (18km/5 hours) and then on to Refugio Bonatti (12km/4.5 hours) for a 30 km/9 hours day. I took a long lunch in Courmayeaur—could have spent a couple days wandering around there. I also took about a 45 minute delay at Refugio Bertone, grabbing a cup of coffee, and waiting to see what the weather was doing. A thunderclap just before Bertone, didn’t lead to anything, and I continued to Bonatti.

Bonatti is well-run, and the hosts are great. Since locals can hike up from the road in about 30 minutes, they do, and it was crowded, even in the pre-season. I’d probably push on to Refugio Elena which was a pretty easy 7km past Bonati, giving me more options on the remaining days.

Day 4

Head to La Fouly for lunch, book time, 20km/6 hours, and on to Champex (15km/4 hours). (This was a back-up stopping point, depending on how the previous days had gone–but not needed.)

Even with the bad weather slog up and over Grand Col Ferret, my new-found hiking partner and I made it to La Fouly in 5 hours. We were pretty close to book time for the continuation to Champex.

Stayed at the Pension En Plein Air. Food was OK. Showers were awesome! Long and hot!

Day 5

This was to have been a very big day. Champex – Fenêtre d’Arpette – Col de la Forclaz (14km/6.5 hrs) Quick lunch and on to Tré-le-Champ (13km/5 hours), and then energy permitting, another 6km to Refuge du Lac Blanc.

But my trail companion and I made some weather related decisions, decided to head for the Refuge du Col du Balme, and then continued on to Montroc when the Refuge was closed (and the Auberge la Boerne was full.) This was about a 10-hour day, with some extra walking back and forth between Montroc and Tré-le-Champ because of poor signage and a not sufficiently detailed map.

Day 6

This would have been a hike out from La Blanc to Les Houches. (20km, 8hrs) But having decided the day before to add a ½ day, the new target became Refuge de Bellachat. With bad weather, very poor visibility, and poor trail markings, we opted not to take the standard route over Le Brévent. Instead, we took a lower down and up alternative to Bellachat—this turned into a long day with about 10 hours of walking through rain and mist with a leisurely lunch at La Flégère in the middle.

We arrived at Bellachat prior to its opening for the season, but having phoned ahead, we knew they’d accept us as the only two guests that night. What a great view of the Chamonix valley, Mont Blanc, and the Bossons glacier right off the deck. Bellachat is a simple refuge, but what a view!

In good conditions, the hike from Lac Blanc to Les Houches would be pretty fast and easy.

Half-Day 7

This was a bonus day. And glad I waited for the clouds to clear. Rather than the simple 7km/2.5 hours walk down to Les Houches, I added a ridge walk up from Bellachat to get some better views, and then a more meaning path down. This added ~3km and an hour or so, but it was worth it.

Spent another great night at Hotel La Slalom before catching an early shuttle back to Geneva for the flight home.

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