Sunday, May 16, 2021

Road Walking isn't Always Terrible

If you are reading this post on any site other than http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com, it is stolen content. Please do not continue to give this site your attention.

If you have ever been on any long distance hike, you know the horror of road walking. Hikers hate it. Some "yellow blaze" (get rides to the other end) and others endure them, but nobody really likes them. On the PCT, I had my share of road walking, including a blistering 100 degree slog to the town of Seaid Valley, a hypothermic trudge on an endangered frog closure, and still another through the town of Agua Dulce. I have decided not to hike the CDT based on the amount of road walking. No thanks! Road walks are boring, hard on the feet, and sometimes dangerous, if on the side of a highway. 

But there is one exception! Road walks can be great if it is a closed (due to snow) Forest Service road and the views are outstanding. I was feeling cooped up and miserable, but the mountains were still covered in snow. The canyon window was closing due to snakes waking up. Where to go? I pondered. It was bear hunting season, so I didn't want to go to Grizzly Ridge or thereabouts. Then I perked up, What about the Hat Point road?

This road leaves steeply out of Imnaha and ends 22 miles later at a fire tower. A number of trails leave off the road, but are only hikeable in summer. There's a couple of scary single lane sections, but for the most part it is eminently driveable.

Except now. I decided I would drive as far as I could and walk as far as I wanted, finding a campsite perched on the rim. Under the guise of dog training, I took Spruce. We drove to the six mile mark, finding a large snowbank and some guys with a horse trailer who obviously weren't from here. They commenced to back down the road, while Spruce and I took off on foot. 

The many snowbanks made me regret my choice of trail runners, but the day was warm and the walking easy. We cruised along the road, finally deciding to turn around at mile 15 and make our way back to a campsite I had eyed for years. I rarely car camp, so I never stayed here, but I always admired its location. The only downside was no water, but there was a nearby snowbank for melting and life was good.

What I love about the canyon country are the wide open sunsets and sunrises, and this area didn't disappoint. Spruce bounded out of the tent at 5 in the morning and I followed suit. We retraced our steps back to the car. The entire trip had been a short 15 hours, but it had been just what I needed.




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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Following the Snake: four days on the Idaho side

 This post first appeared on http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com. If you are reading it elsewhere, it is stolen content. Go to the original site for more and don't give scrapers clicks.

Where do you go when it's snowy everywhere? You head for the river. Spoiler alert, it can still be cold. But Flash and I were longing for a real trail, and last year our planned trip came right at the moment of a stay at home order. (Note, only a few of us actually followed that order.)

Iconic Hells Canyon shot.

We arrived at Pittsburg Landing in a snowstorm/rain which didn't bode well, but being hardy types, we soldiered on. Out goal the first day was a mere 5.5 miles, to the campsites at Kirkwood Ranch. These are civilized sites, with picnic tables and the cleanest bathrooms I've ever encountered. 

We gazed with dismay on a terrifying sight. There were at least 25 tents and twice that many people huddled against a bitter wind. Kirkwood was a big nope. Hoping the trail would provide, we kept going.

About a half mile later, a small beach appeared. A tent was set up on the far end of an adjoining beach, but we managed to find a small site that blocked the wind. We felt lucky to have found it.

The following morning we rallied early to take on the next section, a rocky climb up to Suicide Point, then a rolling hike across the benches of the canyon, remnants of old ranches rusting in the sun. Most people stop at Kirkwood; besides seeing a raft flotilla across the river, we were alone in a vast landscape.

Yard sale at camp 1. Photo by Flash.

The Sheep Creek ranch was deserted; a caretaker is in residence for much of the season and river trips stop there, but it was obvious that nobody had been there since last summer. The campsites were spectacular though, so we decided to stop for the day.  I wandered up the trail that eventually led to Hells Canyon rim, dreaming of other hikes, other days.

On trail. Photo by Flash.

Our objective the next day was a long day hike to Bernard Creek. It is possible to hike past that point, though you may encounter more poison ivy and some brushy conditions. With light packs, we made it to the cabin by mid-morning. It is in a lovely spot, with a creek and a fine back porch for a snack break. An interpretive panel told us about some of the history of this place. A woman lived here with her husband, and would walk to a spot along the river to meet another woman who lived on the other side. They would holler across the river, trying to have a conversation to combat loneliness. People were tougher back then. 

We arrived back at our campsite to a terrifying sight. A group of music-listening guys were setting up a huge camp near the ranch building. Any hope of a peaceful evening was dashed, so we decided to relocate downriver to one of my favorite campsites of all time. It included a brief but amazing river swim.

Kirkwood was deserted as we passed back through. Tempting as it was, we had long drives the next day, so we defaulted to a motel in Grangeville to break it up. There we ate the most expensive pizza in the universe and contemplated our life choices. I've hiked about 1000 miles with Flash, and after a year of isolation, it was reassuring to be back to normal, even if only for a few days. We had covered fifty miles, but had gone way back in time in the canyon. 






Note: So far I am leaving this blog as is, but some complications have arisen. Not only has content been stolen, but in June the "notify by email" feature is going away. Do you get those notices? I'm trying to gauge how disrupting this will be. 


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Monday, May 3, 2021

Hike Mike steals content!

 I typed in the title of my recent post because I was at work and wanted to send a picture from it to an ill co worker. (I don't log into Blogger at work.)  To my surprise I found my last three posts on a site called Hike Mike. Don't go there and give them clicks. It's obviously a fake site with a bunch of stolen articles perhaps gathered by a bot, because the contact and other about info just has gibberish.

Blogger and WordPress are no help because that site isn't hosted by them. My blog isn't literature but I don't spend time writing it to have it stolen. So I'm going to write one more adventure post and see if it gets stolen. If so, this blog is going private with a password.

If anyone has ideas on how to protect content let me know. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Return to the Canyon, part 3: Creepy camp and farewell for now

 Please note: if you are reading this anyplace other than The Mountains are Calling (mountainsskin.blogspot.com) then you are reading stolen content. Please report this and let me know in the comments. Thank you.


I was on the trail by dawn. Even though I only had a short distance to hike, 6.5 miles, the high winds predicted would not be pleasant on the high, exposed Beamer trail. Early in the morning, the walking was slow but easy, climbing in and out of the side gullies and treading with care on the eroded sections. For the entire hike, I saw nobody.

At Palisades, I knew I had to find someplace sheltered. There wasn't a lot to choose from. A few skimpy bushes and some boulders; nothing looked good. Then I followed a narrow trail into a grove of trees. There was a campsite, obviously used before. The sweltering air barely stirred. This would have to work.

I immediately named it Creepy Camp. Some blood, fairly recently drained from some creature, pooled on a rock. A claustrophobic path led to the river, adding to to the creepiness factor. However, the beach was magnificent, a small slice of sand where I could wade in happily.

I looked across the river at a beach on the other side. A woman appeared, pacing the sand. There were no boats in sight. Had she been left behind? The roar of Lava Rapids drowned out any attempt at communication, and swimming the river was not an option. I watched for awhile as the woman continued to pace. It seemed like a canyon mystery never to be solved, but then I saw some rafts pull over and pick her up. I found out later that there's a route from the North Rim that comes down there and hikers often hitch rides over to Tanner Beach.

The wind began to blow and I retreated to Creepy Camp. As scary as it was, it had been a good choice. Camping in the sandy sites would have been impossible. 


The next morning, unscathed from any creeps, I packed up and headed back to Tanner. Several people were there, with tales of effort and failure in reaching the beach the night before. This theme was repeated as I hiked out. It was clear that some people should not be on this trail and did not know what they were getting into. 

I had planned to camp on top of the Redwall, but a strong wind discouraged this notion as did all the people hiking down who planned to camp there. (It was only about 4 groups, but this was way too many for one spot.) Hoping to find something suitable, I poked around 75 Mile Saddle and found an acceptable spot with a great view. My brand new thermarest pad predictably deflated as it had the past several nights (don't buy an Uberlite.). I was only a few miles from the trailhead, but I needed one more night in the canyon.

I gained the top before eight the next morning and pondered my life choices. It seems like I have hiked most of the Canyon trails; there isn't much left to do on this side. Even some of the off-corridor routes are getting busier. Is it time to find somewhere else to go? I don't know. It's hard to give this place up.







Monday, April 26, 2021

Return to the canyon, part 2: Cruising the Beamer (sort of)

 I nervously packed up and started on the Beamer trail by six. The other group that was heading on the Escalante route was leaving then too. We all knew the future: another blazing hot day on exposed terrain. I loaded up with three liters, overkill for 6.5 miles, but I knew it would not be at a fast pace.

"The Beamer kicked my butt," a former desert rat had told me. "It's the hardest trail in the Canyon!" I had heard about exposed shelves above the river where a single misstep could be your last. Endless gullies to climb in and out of. A miserable slog, several trip reports agreed.

The first part of the trail traverses above the river, drops into a few gullies, and then stomps along in deep sand to the next major campsite, Palisades. This part wasn't hard. Where was the narrow part, I wondered. When would the butt kicking begin?

I strolled into Palisades to discover a rafting trip. They gave me an orange. Looking around, I saw mostly sandy, sun blasted campsites. No way was I going to spend all day here (though in cooler temperatures it would be fine).  I would proceed with my new plan--hike all the way to the confluence.

The Beamer gets more serious after this point. There's a steep climb to the Tapeats and then a narrow traverse, broken in and out of various gullies. Some of these were rough and marked with cairns, but I still had to occasionally search for the route. But the views more than made up for my slow pace. 

After a couple of hours I saw the last legal campsite far below me (you can't camp at the confluence due to sensitive wildlife habitat). I puzzled over the supposed butt kicking, which had never materialized. Also, people had agonized over the narrow section. Where was that? I hadn't even noticed. What I did notice was that it felt like I was the only person on the planet.

The small beach had an overhang which was perfect for one tent. After a refreshing swim I headed to the confluence. Even though I had been told that the sky blue color of the Little Colorado was a sight to see, I still gasped in amazement. A few river rafts were parked there, and the clients were floating down the LCR to the main river. The water was warm and swimmable, even with a skim of limestone in it. It was close to one hundred degrees at two in the afternoon, but this was heaven.

I finally returned to my campsite for a starry night, the sound of the river, and nobody else around. I knew the next day would bring a return to Palisades and wind gusts of over 35. Unless I wanted to be blown off the cliffs for a one way trip down the Colorado, I would need to start early. For now, there was nowhere I would rather be.






Sunday, April 18, 2021

Return to the canyon, part one: to Tanner Beach

 I sat in idling traffic, feeling more annoyed by the minute. In total, it took three hours to travel the four miles from just outside Tusayan to the entrance gate of Grand Canyon National Park. While admitting that I was part of the problem, I also couldn't believe the traffic jam. In all my years of coming to the Canyon, I have never had to wait to get in. Maybe I've just been lucky.

I had built in an extra day before my permit started in case the flights were weird, so I spent an exorbitant amount of money to stay on the rim. Hiking along the rim trail was also deeply weird. There were more people than usual, and no international travelers. Just white people as far as the eye could see.

I drove to the Tanner trailhead to scope it out so I could leave by dawn the next day. A trio of intrepid explorers were packing to go in. "I've been in the canyon 90 times," one of them felt compelled to say. He also mentioned that the trail I was planning to connect to, the Beamer, had "kicked his butt." I felt more and more nervous. The Park Service's description of the Tanner and Beamer isn't overly welcoming. The words "nasty" and "eroded" feature prominently. Also, a heat wave had descended on the canyon. It was going to be in the high 90s, and one day the winds were going to gust to 35. For Pete's sake, I thought, why am I doing this? Is this really dumb?

My nervousness had reached a high point the next morning as I stepped onto the Tanner, burdened with four liters of water. The sun was just beginning to rise, and it was still cool. Many trip reports bemoaned the first mile and a half, which descend 1800 feet. However, I was relieved to find that it wasn't scary, just painfully slow. There were some scrambles, and careful feet placement was required. 

It took an hour and a half to reach the top of the redwall, where the walking became briefly easy before diving down through the sandstone, which was composed of rolling rocks. Still, I was enjoying myself as I came upon a man trudging upwards just past what is ominously named Furnace Flats.

"I'm halfway!" he declared. It was clear that he wasn't even close to halfway, but he insisted, "Look, there's the watchtower! It's really close." He then described how fit he was and that he had hiked nine miles every day of his trip. I left him to his delusions, knowing I was only about an hour to Tanner Beach. A river oarsman on a layover day joined me, hefting a large umbrella. I looked on enviously. I have a trekking umbrella and remain unconvinced of their benefits, since they seem to inhibit airflow, but shade in the Canyon is a wonderful thing. However, I can't seem to find a good attachment to my pack, so I left mine behind.

I hit Tanner Beach in less than five hours, and my butt wasn't kicked. It was only eleven, but the temperatures were reaching roasting. I didn't relish the thought of a sandy hike to the next beach, so I decided to swim and read for the rest of the day. I'm not normally good at this, but there's something about the Canyon that invites relaxation. I hurry through life as it is, why not sit still for a while? The water was breathtakingly cold, but refreshing. I saw several rafting trips hurtle through the rapids.

I sat and contemplated my life choices. I had planned to move my camp three miles to Palisades, stay there for the night, and then do the 12 mile day hike to the confluence with the Little Colorado the following day. The high temperatures and predicted wind dictated a change in that plan. I had read that the Beamer had very exposed, narrow sections. A friend in town had claimed that the Beamer had "kicked his butt." That was two reported butt kickings. I was nervous about the following day, but the sound of the rapids and the bright stars drifted me off to sleep. I was back in the Canyon, a place that for whatever reason, seems to be my place.








Friday, April 9, 2021

We interrupt regularly scheduled programming...

 I want to tell you about my hike (spoiler alert, I panic packed too many warm clothes and ended up carrying them down 5000 feet and back up again unworn) but two things have happened which I wanted to mention. 

One, my new book came out! I wrote it in 2017, so it is kind of strange for it to be "new" (publishing takes forever!) and I am not sure I would have written it today. But here we are. I feel the usual mix of terror and excitement: for a relatively private person, I'm not sure why I put myself out there so much in my writing. I'm not one to yap about my life to strangers. But once again: here we are. 

I'm not writing this to push sales; buy it if you want, don't if it doesn't sound interesting. It's just a big milestone that I am proud of achieving. I recall many tourists asking me on my nature walks in national parks what my degree was in. "English," I said hesitantly. Cue the snarky laugh. "What are you going to do with THAT?" So there, tourists.

Second, J tore his Achilles skiing. Unfortunately, the Achilles is not something that heals quickly. Which means that my summer will be a much different one than I planned. I had planned to stay local, but to continue backpacking every weekend. With three dogs to exercise, someone to caretake, and two tiny houses to deal with, that probably won't be happening. I am trying to see the bright side of this but since our short alpine summer is what makes going to work worth it, it is looking pretty grim. Of course, I'm not the one who has to deal with the rehab and the annoyance of not being able to hike, bike ride, and everything else, so there is that.

Tell me something good to brighten my day!