Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 photo publications

I joined the Arizona Trail Association this Spring to access their excellent maps and GPS waypoints for the trail. When I got hit with snow in the Rincons and dropped off the range in the wrong place, I used the waypoints to quickly and accurately find the trail again. This probably saved me a day or more of fuming/wandering up and down cactus-filled gullies. When I received the nice AZT brochure today, I opened it and a nice photo of the Southern terminus at milepost 102 caught my eye. Hey, those looked like my old Leki hiking poles.

In fact, they were my old Leki hiking poles. That was my photo, and they had a little photo credit on the side. Here's the picture - nothing special, but certainly the February dust-free sky is pretty. They probably should have asked me before reprinting the photo (although I'm not making a legal point here because, as always, this is a blog and not legal advice), but it's a nice egoboo to see my photo being used to depict the trail.

So it was a good year for photo pubs. I had a big spread in Trout Magazine (starts at p. 38), apparently a photo or two in the new Colorado Trail Guidebook (although I haven't seen it yet), interest from Backpacking Magazine, and now the AZT. It's nice to think that I get out to the places at least a few people like to look at.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why does Will-J love his family?

Because we take him to coffee shop to eat raspberry scones and drink water:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Eric Corff - Urban Legend

Yes I've seen a few of the Eric Corff stickers. Genius.

Good Weekend: Will-J's first ski!

I missed my friend Chris' 30th birthday backpack due to other commitments, but this left us some time to get Will-J outfitted with skis and to take him skiing for the first time. As with everything parenting (or everything generally), you can read about it all you want but there is no substitute for practice. I had been told that the kid's harness is no good, but in fact it is a lifesaver for one's back. Without the harness, I spent the morning crouched down in a deep snowplow guiding him around. We'll get the harness!

I am also interested in Will-J's general approach to new activities, which is that said new activity will be extremely easy. When he was trying to crawl, he would jet himself foward as if to fly. The same with walking. His approach to skiing was that he would point the skis down the hill and go. And certainly he would have gone - very quickly - but we were also trying to avoid tears, which we largely did. He certainly loved the chair lift rides.


I really enjoy skiing at Loveland. For a few weeks a year, Loveland is the center of the (American) ski universe as all the college racers come to set up courses and practice. I was pleased to see the St. Olaf College team - St. Olaf College is in the same town as Careleton College, where I went to undergrad, and I skied "against" them in races. Of course, I don't think I ever beat a skier from St. Olaf (unless he fell down) - their team was good, whereas we were (mostly) a bunch of amateurs.

On Sunday, I went back up to Loveland to do some laps on Chair 6, and it was typical beautiful early-season Colorado skiing - warm, relaxed, and uncrowded. The snow is surprsingly good. I watched as a front smashed into the range and the wind came sweeping in. Within 15 minutes it went from blue sky to threatening - I know how this goes. I hopped into the car and took off just as the snow started to fall. Big fun.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stolen Bikes - Tales of Woe

Now about a week after my bike theft, I thought I'd check Craigslist - genius! And I find the tales of woe associated with rampant bike theft in downtown Denver. A few notables:

-A guy had his Pogliaghi stolen from Veloswap by a guy who asked to test-ride it.

-Pedicab rickshaw stolen downtown (!).

-Banal commuter bike stolen from in front of the LoDo Tattered Cover.

There are an awful lot like the last one - crummy/average bike, parked/locked in a high-traffic area, during the day - no problem, right? Wrong.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Boulder Mountain Traverse, the "Boulder Six Pack," and the Boulder experience

For several years, I've wanted to climb the ridge up from Eldorado Canyon to South Boulder Peak, and then continue across Boulder Mountain. I tried it awhile back in an ice storm, dropped down to Shadow Canyon Trail, and spent the rest of the day shivering back to the car. So today, I went back.

-A talented climber could surely take an elegant route up the ridge. However, I am not such a person. Therefore, my climb to South Boulder Peak was a four-hour brush and scree suffer-fest featuring endless cliff-outs. Here's one:

Here's another:

And here's the universal sign for "tanning beds:"

Is that the top?

Nope, keep climbing.

Finally, I sat at the summit and enjoyed my lunch. And lo! I opened the register, and my blood turned cold as I read this incredible note:

I'd been one-upped (or more properly two-upped) only one day before by Ryan Hurst and Luke Siegal! I was only planning on climbing one mountain and then hiking to three more (Bear Mountain, Green Mountain and Flagstaff). Not only were they hiking two more destinations than me, but the full six destinations had a name - the "Boulder Six Pack." I was only contemplating a Boulder Four Pack! How I had missed planning for this?

But wait, all was not lost. First, the Boulder Six Pack must be pretty obscure - Ryan and Luke felt the need to describe the six destinations for squares like me. Second, they indicated that South Boulder Peak was the second destination on their route. What did this mean? Did they knock off Mt. Sanitas in the morning? More likely, they had already climbed Bear Mountain, indicating they had hiked up Shadow Canyon.

That means my Boulder Four Pack - featuring the long climb from Eldorado Canyon - is more extreme than their Boulder Six Pack! Sort of like the Great Divide Hercules Double IPA (which is both extreme and comes in four packs). Plus, my Boulder Four Pack featured great/classic form - I stayed on or near the ridge the whole time, and hit South Boulder Peak without using any extra trail (I left the Eldorado Canyon Trail right at the Rincon Wall hiker access trail). Sort of like Duvel (which has great/classic form and also comes in a four pack).

At that moment, a glider zoomed by about thirty feet over my head.

The pilot smiled and waved at me, completely in control. Piloting a glider mere feet from a mountain is definitely more extreme than either the Boulder Six Pack or the Four Pack. Such is the Boulder experience. But what if I climbed South Boulder Peak and BASE jumped off the top, like Dean Potter?


Later I saw this sign:

But what if I mountain bike across the land? Or snowmobile? If they didn't want me to drive my monster truck across their land, then why did they only specify hiking and jogging? I love these signs because they remind me of the awesome B.S. legal principle of inclusio unius est exclusio alteruis.

I also got some (blurry) shots of the awesome Abert's squirrel:


Totally unrelated:

I'm writing this EXTREME entry at the South Boulder Vic's. It's quiet and clean, with excellent coffee and outlets everywhere. It's everything I would want in a coffee shop, and there are maybe ten other places I like just as much (I'm easy that way). But not in Denver. No. You get dirty/smelly/bad coffee, or weird stuff like no wireless (Pablo's). I want Vic's/Brewing Market/Ozo/etc. Denver branch.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bikes in China

The bike theft reminded me of a story from when I was living in China:

The first few days I was there, a bunch of the other students bought new bikes. A student would buy said nice new bike, would show up to class with the nice new bike, and then the nice new bike was gone. I didn't want to waste money on a bike. So I found out about a place - you go in the morning and tell them what kind of bike you want and then in the afternoon they have the bike. You pay them a little money and that's the end. I ended up with big-box-style mountain bike that had been quickly spray painted yellow and black, with the paint carrying off onto the components. It was the ugliest bike in the world. And it lasted. I had it for at least three months before it finally disappeared. I probably got 500 miles on that thing. Then I got a green spray painted one, and it lasted me until I left.

Love and (bicycle) Theft

Went to City Park for a big yoga class - about 1,300 people showed up, and it was surprisingly hot in the beautiful fall sun. Short video here. And then to St. Marks to cap it off. Great. Still thinking about a long/bad lecture I had on climate change on Thursday. Hey, I'll stop by the library on the way home - I remember a friend mentioning "Super-Freakonomics" had something contrarian and half-interesting on the subject. Of course Denver library still has all the bike racks fenced off, so I locked up to the fence. Went in, of course it was checked out (unless I wanted to read it in French), and walked out.

Then things happened quickly, and here's how I explained it to the police officer:

-My cut lock was hanging from the fence - no bike.

-I look up and there is a guy on a red big-box store mountain bike ghost riding my bike away.

-I drop my bag (bad idea, as it turns out), kick off my flip-flops (it was a yoga morning) and start running after the guy.

I get almost to the guy's shoulder, and he turns on 14th Ave. (the Denver Marathon is tomorrow, so the street is closed. I'm yelling my lungs out. There are a bunch of marathon-type people - in running shoes - who all stand around doing their best grazing-cow imitation.

-I suddenly realize that my bag - containing my computer - is now sitting out in front of the library - the same library where guys are apparently hacking locks at noon on a Saturday.

-I start running back towards my bag as fast as I can. As I turn away, I see the guy pass off my bike to another guy, who looks like he's getting ready to ride it away.

-I get there, and two other guys are now converging on my bag. There's a very nervous woman with her baby in a front-carrier looking at my bag, looking at the two guys, and looking like she very much wished she wasn't there.

-I go into the library, where two security guards also doing their best grazing cow impression are more than happy to call the police and let me fill out a report.


I come home and yup I still have the receipt and serial number for my 2003 closeout Giant OCR3. Goodbye bike. Not good to get attached to things, but we had some good times together. Like this.


Additional thoughts:

-I wish I hadn't seen the guy stealing my bike. I could have thought, "Well, maybe I just botched locking it up and it fell down and some poor homeless guy took it." Instead, I now know there is a team of bicycle thieves who work the library - the guy who rode the bike away didn't have cutters, and there was at least one other guy (the one who was going to keep riding it away) involved.

-I wish I hadn't thrown my bag down, as my computer screen is now quite damaged (bottom right corner square does not display).

-Prior to this morning, I had been pretty smug about my bike. It had a great patina/aura of crappiness, while still quite useful for road rides (used it for my Denver/Boulder commute, etc.) I guess I was wrong. But I'm not sure what the hell those idiots are going to do with it. The frame is covered in stickers, some of which have been on there for five-six years. The components have never been updated. So a team of thieves ended up with something they can sell for...maybe $100? Less.

-And it's lose-lose. The replacement cost is high. Maybe my venerable Giant OCR3 isn't worth much, but a replacement road bike is going to cost a lot. And now I can add in a new computer screen/computer at some point in the near future. Arg.

-Last thing. So the security guys say, "Oh, this happens all the time." The officer says the same thing. But the library still has no secure bike racks at that location. Not that I'm a litigious lawyer or anything, and not that I'd spend oh, maybe three years trying to get $700 out of the city to buy a new bike, but governmental immunity only goes so far. Especially when the city knows there's a problem. At noon. On a Saturday. At a major public edifice.

Oh, well, live and learn.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

But I showed up at 9:57 and they were closed!

Saw this in Boulder:

Funny on a few levels. Hyper-specific. And in Boulder, allegedly a laid back town.

Also reminds me of the equally hyper-specific RTD bus schedules. Am I going to catch the BX at Table Mesa scheduled for 7:58 AM or 8:12 AM. Trick question - Denver doesn't have a train system (yet); this is a bus! The bus gets there at random intervals because it gets stuck in traffic/has random number of stops. The only way to catch a bus right on time is to catch it at the beginning of the route.

Lockheed Lair

A few weeks ago, we saw Iron Man 2 and one of us remarked how silly it is in movies how high tech weapons and gadgetry are always developed/built in slick high-tech buildings, and always in beautiful locations. Then we went for a hike last weekend near Chatfield Reservoir and saw this Lockheed facility tucked against the foothills:

I think this is actually where the Iron Man suit was built. Good to see that the shareholders' investment is being put to smart use.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quandary Peak, North Ridge - 10/2/10

This weekend, we were able to climb the north ridge of Quandary Peak, another climb from the Colorado Scrambles book. Catherine showed off her fearless free-climbing skills. This one was interesting - the book points you to the ridge, and then generally advises you to head right for the towers. There isn't a right or wrong way to go, as there is with a lot of these climbs. Although the book indicates some 5th-Class moves, we never hit anything that hard.

Interesting - there used to be some skis at the top of Quandary propped up and holding a register. Gone. But there was the same-looking hungry mountain goat following hikers around on the way down as when I hiked up in 2002.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mountain Biking from Carbondale to Grand Junction - 10/18-19/10

Peter and I discussed a backpack from his family's place in Carbondale to his place in Grand Junction, which eventually morphed into an overnight mountain-bike ride. I haven't mountain biked for years, and ended up taking a too-small Trek that my father-in-law loaned me. It was definitely out of my comfort zone, which can be a good thing - especially as there were no crashes, no mechanicals, and only one flat (which I got a few blocks from Peter's house). We slept out, and carried pretty light packs. Not knowing any better, I just took my standard pseudo-lightweight setup sans tent, which worked fine.

It's a beautiful area, and one I don't know well. I've driven down I-70 many, many times, and there's the big Grand Mesa to the south. And I got to see a big chunk of it all at once. The highlight for me was the High Trail #515, which traverses a wild section of the Mesa far from pretty much everything:

My other photos here.
And Peter's photos here.

High and wild, but as Peter says, it's a "working landscape." There were hundreds of hunters roaming around on ATV's, gas wells, power-line corridors, etc. I wouldn't have been struck by this except that a few weeks ago I was backpacking in the massive Sierra wilderness corridor. So I went from an area of solitude to an area of eating dust from numerous vehicles. My main issue with this are the ATV-track "roads." These things go straight up and down hillsides:

and cause extensive erosion. The local OHV clubs are maintaining these as they can, but some of the maintenance looks more like damage control than improvement. Here, some rocks were put down in a boggy area to prevent additional damage/braiding of the road:

I suppose this works, but it's a pretty rude fix. Interestingly, we met a hunter who grew up in the area and said some of the ATV-tracks were once roads, and better maintained. It goes to his, and my, occasional frustration with the federal land-use agencies.

I like the concept of the ride-camp, if for nothing else that I get to coast down the hills rather than walking, and will do this again - but for a shorter distance. I also like the "when in Rome" approach of using wheels in the places where mechanized travel has been deemed appropriate (like Grand Mesa) and using feet in the places where only hiking/horse travel has been deemed appropriate (in wilderness). One of the things I find silly about thru-hiking the big trails (PCT/CDT/AT/etc.) is all the hiking on roads, through peoples' backyards, etc. - it smacks of stubbornness and (undefined) principle.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rafting the Gunnison River - Escalante Canyon to Whitewater

We took Will-J on an overnight raft trip on the Gunnison River - we took on about a calm 30-mile chunk river from the Escalante Canyon Road to Whitewater (south of Grand Junction). The project was basically a tryout of our new ducky boat and to see whether Will-J would enjoy being trapped on the boat for extended periods. Our ride:

Happy Bug:

Success. The river is popular, but wasn't jammed. Will-J was relatively calm, and we were able to stop and let him run around a bit when he got restless. We camped at the outlet of the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, had fun in the little rapids, etc. The highlight was floating silently amid the red rock canyons north of the wilderness area through little riffles. We did have a bit of frustration/excitement when some canoers offered a ride to Catherine to get back to our car, and then they ran out of gas. This only held us up a bit, and then we were back the car and heading home.

The trip was almost overshadowed by our big time at Taste of Colorado. While we were contemplating the overpriced rides, a family told us local radio station "Legendary Kool 105.1" (so legendary I've never heard of it) was giving out ride passes to kids. Soon Will-J was having the time of his life:

Then we stopped by the Kraft booth where he obtained free Macaroni and Cheese. At this point he was like, "Is this real? Such an awesome place actually exists?" Then I won 12 pounds of Dunkin' Donuts coffee by spinning a wheel. Quite a time.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Enjoy Every Minute

I forgot the most important part of my trip. On the first day, I was hiking through Tuolumne Meadows taking photos in the dramatic light:

A woman in her 70's was also walking along. I asked her how she was doing. She responded along the lines of: "I'm walking. I've done nothing today, but now I'm out walking." I walked ahead, but kept stopping to take pictures:

And she would catch up and have to move to the other side of the wide trail. I apologized for being in the way. She laughed and said: "Enjoy every minute."

So I did.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pacific Crest Trail - Tuolumne Meadows to Donner Pass

I was able to get away to hike for 9 days or so on the PCT. The photos are here. I forgot to post the one I took of a bear, though:

This guy was about 80 lbs. and had long sun-bleached hair - he looked silly, like a large-ish dog that someone had spilled bleach on.

I started out this trip with a lot on my mind, and finished with very little. I wrote previously that this trip was "going back" to continue a journey on the PCT. Almost immediately I realized the obvious - this was a new backpacking trip covering a stretch of the PCT I hadn't seen before, with almost nothing to do with the past (except the fact that I have hiked many/most other sections of the PCT). So, after briefly (and nervously) shaking hands with personal history in a nondescript part of Yosemite (there aren't many), I started on said new trip.

I was surprised how fast I fall back into trail-mind. Work fades very quickly and the limited-but-intense demands of the trail come to the fore: "Gotta make that lake before sundown. Um, law - doesn't that have something to do with elements?"

I was also surprised that I can still do 25-30 mile days without too much trouble - although (1) there wasn't any snow, and (2) I was beat-tired after a week on the trail. But after a day off, I was good to go again. Not that I want to spend a ton of time doing 25-30 mile days. I have a new goal, which is to complete the PCT before I'm 40. But hiking so far/fast is generally too intense/self-centered/time-consuming for me to consider other hikes of this sort - until/unless Will-J wants to go.

Other stuff:

-Yosemite is overwhelming. It's a difficult place for me to visit - I can't relate to the scale of some of the sights, for example El Capitan, or tolerate the crowds in the Valley. The rest of the time, my head is swiveling around like an office chair trying to take in the scenery - at the same time trying to survive the intense climbs. Many times the trail itself takes center stage. Blasting/carving/hanging switchbacks into/onto a 40-degree slope? Sure:

Build an elevated walkway around a lake out of huge granite blocks? Sure:

The incredible trails help contribute to the Yosemite scene. It's not just Matterhorn Ridge, it's "Matterhorn Ridge," from "Dharma Bums." People with old-school external frame packs ask you where you're going, yawn when you tell them, and name drop all the other off-trail lakes/passes you're missing. One woman - dressed in all black, carrying an external frame back from the 70's (Kelty?), and wearing those goofy foot-shoes, declares that she was the ONLY ONE at Smedberg Lake last night, and that I'm the ONLY PERSON that she's passed on the way out. She seems disappointed when I say there's a family of four right behind me with lawn chairs strapped to their packs.

After a few days of the overwhelming Yosemite scenery and scene, I was relieved to get out of the park and back in the regular wilderness (not having bothered with a permit may have had something to do with this, too).

-So yes, in California there are enough people backpacking that there are "styles" of backpacking. This is opposed to Colorado where everyone looks like an REI ad, no matter whether it's an REI ad from the late-80's or today. I was hiking through the Lake Aloha area of Desolation Wilderness - probably the most crowded backpacking locale I've ever visited - and a guy from a trail crew commented on my backpack, identifying me as a PCT thru-hiker: "You wouldn't be just out for the weekend with a pack like THAT!" he says.

Shh! He was dangerously close to revealing me as a poser. I was not, in fact, hiking the whole PCT, but only about 215 miles on my vacation from, gulp, being an attorney. OMG, I think, I'm like those hipsters at home in Denver riding around on fixies in tight pants. But in fact the truth is even worse. Those backpackers in Yosemite with their parents' 30-year old external frame packs are the equivalent of track-bike-riding hipsters. Using my disco ultralight pack for just a week-long outing is the biking equivalent of the Denver weekend-warrior cyclist riding an $8,000 carbon bike, wearing his Assos bibs and otherwise posing as a "serious" cyclist. However, unlike the Nu-Fred cyclist, who no one actually believes is a serious cyclist, the trail crew guy actually thought I was a serious backpacker - and I take a certain satisfaction in having succeeded in my poser-dom.

-Some experiences let me know my place in the world. On the way out, I few from Las Vegas to Merced on little "Great Lakes Airlines" plane:

There were four of us on the plane, including the pilots. We taxied out to the end of the runway at McCarran and waited for a long line of big planes to land. Every 90 seconds, a big plane flew over us, shaking our plane a little in the wash. Here comes 300 people. Here comes 300 more. Another 300. Another. After 15 planes or so, there was a gap (of 90 seconds, I think) and we took off.

-There has been an explosion sophisticated picnicking technology. Now, you need a portable folding picnic table, one of those pop-up sun-shelters, a portable grill, etc. I find this a natural and resourceful reaction to (a) closing down public picnic facilities due to budget cuts, and/or (2) jacking up the prices at said facilities, again due to cuts. You can't fool the American people - those budget cuts are required due to idiotic interest-rate swaps. And you can't stop the American people - grilling hamburgers is our way of life, and we'll keep grilling hamburgers no matter what.

-While I'm a poser thru-hiker, I had a day that for me sums up the experience. I left Echo Lake in the morning and hiked straight through Desolation Wilderness to Richardson Lake, on the Forest Service lands to the north. Yes, this is idiotically high-mileage, and not only did I pass numerous eye-poppingly beautiful lakes, but numerous other beautiful spots not on the PCT (or any trail, for that matter). Yes, you could spend months or even years exploring Desolation Wilderness and still not visit all of those beautiful places. But I hiked right out into a less-visited northern section of the wilderness that provided an interesting contrast to the popular lakes. On the way I ran into a group of southbound (real) PCT thru-hikers, and we swapped information about what lay ahead. For a minute, I connected to their larger journey, and the quixotic subculture of thru-hiking generally. I rolled into Richardson Lake at twilight, with frogs croaking and a cool wind passing through the Jeffrey Pines. I'll probably never visit Richardson Lake again, and I would have never gone there if not for committing to hike the PCT.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Backpack with Will-J - Father Dyer/Crystal Peak

We took another short backpack with Will-J, this time to the Crystal Creek basin in the Tenmile Range. Photos here. You can Jeep there, but we took the Wheeler Trail and then about a mile on the road. Before going up there, Catherine worked at her Cucumber Gulch field sites and I took Will-J on the new Breckenridge gondola:

This was a fun moment with Will-J. He hopped onto this wondrous new thing to ride, but then realized he was stuck and what was it going to do, exactly? It started to move faster, and he had a look of combination wonder/fear/joy/excitement. Then he realized it was just a fun thing that takes you through the sky, and he laughed/squealed for the next 20 minutes. Big fun.

At Crystal Lake, we met some folks who had Jeeped up there for the day, and Will-J met a new friend, Darien:

Interesting how he pouted and fumed about walking in to the lake, but he then spent two hours running all over with this other boy.

In the morning I tried another little tour from the Colorado Scrambles book. This one was up a ridge of Father Dyer Peak:

Then over to Crystal Peak:

This one was relaxing/easy, despite the high elevations (Crystal is 13,8-something). The ridge up Father Dyer is generously rated Class 3; I would have said more like 2+. But I was feeling slow and it was a good way to wake the legs. Plus I had the mountain to myself - no one putting on a show like the last scramble.

And it always seems like when you get up high there's another interesting-looking peak for another day. In this case it was Pacific Peak:

When I got up to Father Dyer, there were some people over there whooping/yelling. As usual in Colorado, too many mountains and too little time.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Swordfighting in Boulder

Yes I worry as a parent. Am I doing the right thing? Am I raising Will-J to be a happy, healthy boy? And so I end up reading a lot of parenting guidance, observing other parents, etc.

Then I go running in Boulder today, and I see not one but two summer camp groups of kids doing play swordfighting. The one group appeared to give each kid one long padded sword, while the other opted for the more sophisticated approach of two swords - one long and one short.

Swordfighting? Parents trying to raise their kids as D&D geeks? Parents concerned about the coming end-days - like that movie Book of Eli - where people have to fight with swords?

I find it very weird.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A few other photos:

The Edmonton Sustainable Resource Development office has these out front:

Combination law office, internet cafe, and vodka bar? All right!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Will-J's first backpack - Lake Lomond and Mt. Bancroft

We escaped the Denver heat, and USA's poor World Cup performance, to camp at the headwaters of Fall River. Photos here. It's a quick drive - paved up from I-70 to Alice, a neighborhood of summer homes, and then a pretty rough road up from Alice. Only Will-J likes Jeeping, so we left the car and started hiking. He hiked part of the way to "Loch Lomond" himself, making this his first real backpack. Lomond and the other lakes in the area are actually reservoirs. I was pretty surprised/impressed to see a small concrete arch dam at a little lake at almost 12,000 feet: It rained in the afternoon and Will-J got this picture of a rainbow: In the morning, I tried my hand at the Mt. Bancroft East Ridge, which is listed (No. 48) in the book "Colorado Scrambles: A Guide to 50 Select Climbs in Colorado's Mountains." I found Cooper's description apt - it's a pleasant climb on good rock, with a difficult notch along the way. Contrary to his directions, however, I found a way around the notch to climber's right rather than climber's left, and then crossed a steep snow col to continue: Past the notch, I saw something I've never seen during any climb, which was a couple having relations. I felt bad and moved past as fast as I could, but in retrospect it was somewhat foolish for them to disrobe right on a popular route (assuming they didn't want to be seen, which by their reaction was the case). The most pleasant part of the route was that you just walk off - no downclimbing at all. Back at camp, Will-J explored all over and then directed me back to the car:

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dominguez Canyons Wilderness - the real deal

We traveled to the newly-designated Dominguez Canyons Wilderness over the weekend, and spent a few days in this easily-accessed, yet back-of-beyond area. Yes - it's finally "we" - Catherine's folks graciously took our Will-Man for the weekend, so rather than this:

It was this:

The rest of my photos are here.

This was a special trip to an amazing area - the canyons are only a dozen miles south of Grand Junction on Highway 50, and then only a few more miles on a dirt road. But this is a world apart, full of desert bighorn sheep, towering cliffs, and petroglyphs. I had a nearly constant sense of disbelief that I was only a few miles from the humdrum drive I used to take down to Delta - staring at mind-boggling sandstone cliffs and striking rises to the Uncompahgre Plateau.

The wildness had two elements. First, there was the overwhelming natural beauty of the area. Then there is the ineffective management by the BLM. I've written about the federal land agencies' general abdication of actual lands management before. During this trip, that abdication went beyond merely disposing of a priceless legacy of lands and history, but entered into a realm of misinformation and danger. Visitors to this wilderness should be aware that what the BLM represents regarding this remarkable area does not accurately represent the on-the-ground situation. In other words, use your judgment and leave your expectations at home.

Our trip:

After hiking up the Gunnison River, and the railroad, for a mile, we crossed the fine new bridge and access the wilderness. The in-the-know crowd camps here along the river - it's a calm stretch of beautiful water, and the Canyons' highlights are only a few miles from the river. We saw numerous happy camps of boaters and backpackers - enjoying the warm weather yet lack of bugs. We camped among them, listening to Big Dominguez Creek splashing over a small irrigation diversion dam. On Saturday, we hiked about 13 miles up to Dominguez Campground. The first few miles are striking - big sandstone canyons rise up from the creek, while the creek itself alternates through meadows and smooth granite slabs. After about three miles, the trail grows increasingly rugged, with numerous climbs in and out of gullies. The trail past the Cactus Park Trail junction is on a bench above the creek and largely uninteresting.

After Dominguez Campground (free!), we continued on a series of jeep roads to Wagon Park, a large meadow on the Uncompahgre Plateau. We found the turnoff for the "Upper Bar X Trail" - a carsonite post indicating wilderness access only, belied by ATV tracks:

This trail is actually an old road gradually descending into a series of pretty meadows:

The meadows hang high above Little Dominguez Creek and are isolated from the mesa above by a cliff. We soon realized that the Little Dominguez canyon is much deeper than Big Dominguez (sort of like a big basketball player with a diminuitive name):

A few miles in, the road disappeared. We found several sets of recent footprints, and a few large cairns, but lacked the supplies/time/energy to continue. Luckily, it wasn't exactly an ugly place to camp:

The next day, we fooled around looking for the trail, contemplated continuing on to look for a way to drop down to Little Dominguez Creek, but wisely decided to turn around and head back out to the roads.

Once on the roads, we ran into the BLM wilderness ranger on his ATV. He was curious and perhaps bemused to see us hiking around out there. He confirmed that the "Upper Bar X Trail" does not in fact exist, and he described some possible off-trail routes down to Little Dominguez Creek. He also confirmed the Little Dominguez Creek trail does not exist, but is a worthwhile backcountry adventure given enough time and energy.

We enjoyed retracing our steps, taking time to enjoy the scene at Dominguez Canyon Campground (friendly music-blasting rednecks), swim in the creek:

And saw a large group of desert bighorns:

I estimate it was between 22-25 miles each way - yes we were plenty tired when we got back to the Gunnison. When we got there, we met a BLM river ranger who said he once took a trip down Little Dominguez Creek - it took him three days one way. But again, beautiful and worth the effort.

The issue:

BLM publishes a nice pamphlet on the Dominguez Canyon WSA (its old name). The map in the pamphlet clearly indicates both the "Upper Bar X Trail" and a trail all the way down Little Dominguez Creek. These "trails" simply don't exist. Of course I'm used to taking trails depicted on USGS topos with a grain of salt - a lot of them aren't there or are in disrepair. But why is the BLM publishing a nice computer-generated map of the area with clearly marked non-existent trails?

Also, Catherine called the BLM prior to our trip and asked about our plan. The BLM ranger who answered said the trails were "clearly marked," adding there was adequate camping along Little Dominguez Creek to facilitate our planned route. In other words, he indicated that what is in reality a week-long (or longer) off-trail adventure could be accomplished on-trail in three days. We don't know why.

On one hand, the situation is sad - the BLM has a small budget, is (reasonably) not focused on the experience of a few backpackers, and simply does not know in many cases what trail and other resources are located on its own lands. We saw ATV tracks in the wilderness area, and clearly from the Uncompahgre Plateau side it's essentially a free-for-all. On the other hand, the lack of trails means that the Dominguez Canyons are a strikingly wild area - the Big Dominguez Creek trail may be the only maintained trail through the wilderness, leaving the entire southern mass of the wilderness to the bears, mountain lions, etc. This is a striking thought while looking off a thousand-foot-high canyon wall at numerous mesas, canyons and lowland areas. We will return to investigate more of the area, specifically whether the "Gunnison Pack Trail" or the "McCarty Trail" exist or are more figments of a BLM mapmaker's imagination.

We are also excited to take some river trips with Will-J. Our sore feet certainly think a river trip down the Gunnison to the canyon head campsites would be a fun option the next time around.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Country Driving - Peter Hessler

Just finished “Country Driving,” by Peter Hessler. If someone were to ask me, “What was it like living in China?” I can now just hand him his book. Hessler catches it all – the massively jarring contradictions, the intense details of daily life. It’s all there.

Hessler is a very good writer. He rides the waves of China in transition without painting with too a broad brush. For example, he straightforwardly describes the process of land transfer from peasants to municipalities to private development (chapter 11, page 344), and then smoothly transitions to the effects of this process on the people he has come to know – on their lives and livelihoods, on their children and babies and dreams. He can then equally smoothly transition to describing the effects of this process on himself and his own life – his writing and world view. Although the effect is natural, his technique is prodigious and reflects years of hard work researching, refining, and writing.

And it is a great travelogue. So many stories – stories of people. Hessler speaks the language, and he walks through doors closed to those of us who lived in China only briefly as outsiders. Hessler invites us to take a drive with him, and we’re going to take our time. The leisurely pace and vibrant detail made it a book to savor – an hour here and there – with no great rush to get anywhere. We’re along for the ride in perhaps the greatest peaceful political, cultural, and economic transitions in history.

And stories of children. Hessler has a special focus, and fondness, for those trying to grow up while being carted around such a new world. I especially like his descriptions of Master Luo and Cheng Youqin's son: "In the first four months of the child's life, he had traveled twice across China, lived in a factory dormatory, and served as a pawn in salary negotiations. He had witnessed the hotpot complaint scam and he had dodged the stolen phone trick. He had been drugged and robbed. His given name was Wen, which means "Cultured." Master Luo had chosen that character because he dreamed that someday his son would become an educated man." (p. 389)

I have a personal connection to Country Driving as well. Hessler entered the Peace Corps right about the time I graduated from college. At the time I considered both Peace Corps and learning Chinese – I was overwhelmed by the commitments required for both and took different paths. He put in the time and effort, and his rewards are clear – his experience perhaps represents a best-case-scenario of a dream I briefly held 15 years ago (if I happened to be a brilliant writer and intrepid traveller like Hessler). Then, we were both living in Beijing in 2005 when he was taking his trips to Sancha. As I was fielding questions from law students about the news of Hurricane Katrina, he was fielding questions from his Sancha friends about the same event. Finally, he left China for Colorado. He was working on his book near Ridgeway while I was working not too far away in Glenwood Springs.

During my own time in China, I quickly became bogged down in the overwhelming details. The first time I took out a credit card to pay for something - at a Carrefour hypermarket - the check-out person looked at me like I had three heads. It took 20 minutes to get the card run and a crowd of employees and managers gathered to see some guy who didn't understand cash. Or how coal dust used to drift gently from the sky on every surface. Or how the university confiscated electric blankets from students because heat only starts in November. After a few months of details, I could no longer see China as a whole. For that it takes a writer like Hessler.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bike and U-Haul Conversion

I like this one - old Nishiki road frame commuter conversion with not one but two Spinergy wheels:

But not as much as the U-Haul pop-top:

Only a few hours with the Sawzall and you get the ultimate cargo carrier, albeit with no gate, no roof, and a very sharp top edge.