A little something about #TryingStuff…

OmniTEN-jump3

The Columbia Spring/Summer 2013 #Omniten set out on the Rogue River in southern Oregon this Summer in the spirit of #TryingStuff.  A grand time was had by all and I wrote about my experience a little bit, and some of you may have seen the pictures and read posts from the other Omniten about the trip.  Amazing group, amazing time, all with a truly amazing company.

We had a great photographer on the trip by the name of Mark Going who took some cool footage and interviews with the group.  This is the resulting video sent to us from Columbia.  Toward the end there’s a peak at me doing a little bit of a back flip.  Good fun.

Rogue River with Omniten

It’s pretty awesome.  The Winter Omniten has been selected and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them!

Failure on Mount Graham…

Two years ago I made a trip out to Mount Graham in eastern Arizona to see the Perseid meteor shower.  On that trip, we arrived late as a storm had rolled in and set up camp in the rain.  It rained all night and was a soggy mess in the morning, but we hiked, bagged some peaks, got in trouble with the feds, took a few pictures, slept through a second night of rain and clouds and came home.  I never got a chance to see the meteor shower, or much of the night sky at all.  Bummer.

Since that trip, I’ve become much more serious about photography and really, really wanted to do a night sky shoot.  With the meteor shower reaching a peak this weekend I wanted to get back out to Mount Graham and try to not just see the celestial event but capture images of it.  So I packed up some basics and headed out Sunday morning to make the 4 hour drive to Mount Graham.

Mount Graham and the Pinaleno Mountains are one of the Southeastern Arizona “Sky Islands”, a collection of isolated, high elevation peaks that are throwbacks to Arizona’s ancient past.  As the climate has changed and the Ponderosa Pine forests have been pushed higher in elevation these mountains have become the island homes for many species that can’t survive the desert.  The Sky Island Alliance has boasted, “the region harbors a diversity exceeding anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America, 29 bat species, over 3,000 species of plants, and 104 species of mammals.”

Mount Graham photography view

These mountains also have pretty crazy weather.  At nearly 11,000 ft they tower over the desert floor and clouds tend to pile up against them and then let loose.  This is what caught me two years ago.  And this is what was in store for me this weekend.  A perfectly clear pleasant afternoon soon hinted at a cranky, grumbly storm as I drove up the twisting mountain road to camp.  I stopped to take some pictures as the storm approached and built up steam.

Mount Graham photography camp

Just as I reached camp and started to set up, the storm bullied it’s way over the mountain and let loose with a massive downpour.  The camp host said it hadn’t rained for a week or so but the last time a storm came over lightning struck a tree at one of the campsites convincing the temporary residents to pack up and go home.  This storm rolled right over the top of camp with thick walls of rain and hail, lightning striking so close I could smell it and thunder that seemed to crashing right between my ears.

Luckily I had the light rain jacket from Columbia to keep me dry as I scrambled to set up camp.  I got the tent up in a hurry then decided I didn’t want to be stuck in the tent and set up the tarp I normally reserve for hammock camping.  This allowed me to set up a nice little dry area where I could cook, hang out and watch the storm.  The storm blasted camp for a good two hours, causing torrents of runoff to carve a path through camp.  I took a stick and dug in a channel next to the tent to divert the drainage around the tent instead of under it…it helped.

Mount Graham photography camp

Once the rain had stopped, I pulled out the camera to see if I could get a few post rain shots during the sunset.  I didn’t get much and what I got seemed off but I didn’t know why.  I waited out the sun busying myself with other camp duties.  The moon would set around 9PM offering a nice dark sky for night shooting.  I got the camera out and set up to do some long exposures and catch the Milky Way while I waiting for the meteor shower.

Mount Graham photography night shotsThis was my first attempt at night shooting, my first attempt to do open shutter captures…and I couldn’t figure it out.  It took me close to an hour to figure out how to lock the shutter open on the damn camera (I know, I felt like an idiot).  Once I finally got it to work, I was having a really hard time capturing anything.  Even keeping the shutter open for 3 or 4 minutes and with the ISO pushed up I was having no real success.  Then I noticed that when I did get something in the viewfinder it looked weird.

Everything, and I mean everything, was wet from the storm.  The storm had dropped so much water that as it got cold there was not a single dry surface anywhere…that included the lens!  Dammit!  I have been struggling to get these long exposure shots and all I was doing was shooting through a foggy, wet lens.  After some necessary swearing, I finally found a cloth I could try to clean the lens with.  I hoped I could get it clean and then get some shots.  The problem was, the shots would take anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes to shoot and the mist would collect on the lens in less than 2 minutes.  Ugh!

Mount Graham photography night shotsBut I tried.  I would set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter…wait.  I would also have to hold my breath when setting up the camera because the steam from my breathing would fog the lens immediately.  So I would hold my breath, set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter, then scurry far enough away to exhale and take a breath.  Seriously….?

It was about the time I got this system down that I realized my battery was dying and eventually wouldn’t let me take a shot.  How the hell did I take off for two days of shooting without charging the battery??  Good thing I had a backup.  I swapped the batteries and, nope, that one was dead too.  GOD DAMMIT!!  What the hell?  I could have sworn I had charged the batteries after my last trip…but I guess I hadn’t.

So, dead batteries, wet lens, battery going dead on my headlamp and the cold starting to get to me…I put the camera away just as the meteor shower was supposed to get going.  At least I will get to watch it, even if I can’t try to shoot it.  I waited.  1AM…not much to see, a couple of streaks but not much of a show.  1:30AM…still nothin.  Peak show is supposed to be from 1AM to 3AM…where is it?  2AM…Do I have to buy a ticket?  Is that why I’m not seeing much of anything?

At about 2:30AM I got frustrated that I wasn’t seeing much.  I was cold, tired, wet and my foot was killing me from stumbling around camp all night.  I called it and went to bed.

With the good camera useless, I decided to pack up and head home instead of doing a second night.  If my busted foot wasn’t feeling so sore I might have stayed just to hike around the mountain a little bit.  It’s a beautiful place.  But I had come out for the photography and my equipment was shot.  The upside was that I did get to use my new Induro tripod and I really liked it.  So much lighter and easier than my older tripod.  Very impressed with it.

Mount Graham photography

 

Mount Graham photography

The next morning I walked around a little with my smaller camera and tried to shoot some of the scenery in the morning light.  There really is an abundance of stuff to shoot in the mountains.  Especially for late Summer, this is the place to find some amazing plants and animals to capture.  I really wish I been better prepared and in better shape to hike around the mountain this weekend, but I will go back.

That’s two failed trips to Mount Graham…one of these days I’ll do it right.  I promise!

Test Run with a Teardrop Trailer…

The Wilderness Wife and I like to travel.  We talk a lot about trips we’d like to take and places we’d like to see.  I like to run pretty lean when it’s just me, but the wife likes just a little creature comfort when we’re out road-tripping and camping for multiple days.  A couple years ago we saw a couple pull into a camp ground hauling a small teardrop trailer from T@B.  That began our obsession with teardrop trailers.

This past May we took a few days off and drove to the Overland Expo outside of Flagstaff, mostly to see friends, but with the secondary motive of checking out the trailer options for overlanding.  The Expo proved fruitful and we came home with a stack of brochures for all the trailer and gear options.  There were a few stand-outs that we really liked.

The Moby1 Teardrop Trailer…

teardrop trailers- Moby1 trailerOne of the first trailers we saw that we really liked was from Moby1 Expedition Trailers, LLC.  We liked that it was light, clean and simple with high clearance and plenty of options.  A very versatile trailer that we could take anywhere and probably tow with any vehicle.  They have a variety of configurations ranging from super light, bare bones trailers to heavy duty, cross country, off-road trailers with tons of amenities.  A viable option, but we wanted to see more…

 

So-Cal Teardrops…

teardrop trailers- so-cal trailers

We looked around and saw a few others, most of which just didn’t fit us.  Then we found the setup from So-Cal Teardrops and really liked what we saw.  These teardrops were pretty sweet and have a TON of optional upgrades (more than we could ever afford).  They fit most of what we were looking for – off-road capability, solar options, water storage and pumping options, kitchen setup, optional bike racks, awnings, etc.  As with most of this kind of equipment, there is some sticker shock when you start asking.

Even so, we had the bug after the expo and just couldn’t let it go.  The wife was shopping for used trailers looking for deals.  I wasn’t sure if she’d really be as comfortable as she thought in one of these.  I mean, they look like they could be stuffy and cramped…it’s a tin can in the desert, what’s comfortable about that?

So we had to try one.  That was that.

When my foot injury kept me from flying off to California to tough out two weeks on the JMT, we decided to spend her birthday camping.  We settled on the Grand Canyon and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out a teardrop trailer and see if it was something we really thought we would use.  Luckily, she found a local outfit renting Little Guy Trailers under the name Old School Teardrop.

Old School Teardrop Trailers…

Old School Trailer- teardrop trailer

I contacted Old School Teardrop via email after checking out their site and Facebook Page.  The wife had pretty much decided already that she wanted to try to rent one from them if it was available…and it was her birthday so I had to see what I could do.  Jose, the owner of Old School Teardrop, got back to me and we slowly hammered out the details via email.  Jose was very accommodating and actually let us pick the trailer up the night before our rental so we could get an early start with it.  He has two trailers he rents out and has plans to get another one.  Both trailers are kept very clean and he has rules against allowing pets or smokers use the trailers.

Teardrop trailers - Old School Teardrop

My giant truck barely knew the trailer was there.  The one we rented was pretty light weight and stripped down.  Jose had it outfitted with a bed, storage pockets on one wall and a set of old-school metal lunchboxes on the other wall for storage (pretty cool!).  We got the trailer up north and made our first night’s stop at Bedrock City.  The trailer was still holding some of the heat from the valley and took a while to cool off inside.  Even with the roof vent wide open, the two side windows open and the back left wide open all night it was still a little stuffy until about 4 in the morning.

Old School Trailer- teardrop trailer

After that first night though, it stayed cooler and was much more comfortable.  We spent three more nights camping at the Desert View Campground in Grand Canyon National Park.  The trailer gave us a nice spot to chill out, nap, crash at night, change clothes in privacy and a secure place to stash our stuff while we were out exploring.  The most important part: After 4 days on the road and camping the wife was not ready to go home!  WIN!  Four days in and she was ready to keep going and a lot of that had to do with the trailer.

Teardrop trailers - Old School Teardrop

So, it sounds like a trailer of some kind is in our future.  It’s just a matter of figuring out what we can afford vs. what we need to make it worth while.  Renting the trailer was a great learning experience and gave us a lot of information to work with in making a decision.  I also think Old School Teardrop will continue to be a great resource for us until we find one of our own.  Jose seemed pretty excited about having Wilderness Dave take one of his trailers out.   We’ve already talked about renting one again for an extended trip out to Joshua Tree National Park in the near future.

 

When I mentioned online that we had rented a teardrop for our trip I had a TON of responses from people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram asking about the trailer and what I thought of it.  The teardrops seem to be really popular right now.  If anyone has any questions about the trailer or our experience that I didn’t cover here, just hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Bored Hipster Seeks…Adventure!

It’s interesting the conversations you overhear, out of context, that resonate with you.  It happened for me at camp this weekend in Grand Canyon at the Desert View Campground.

Desert View is a first-come-first-served no-reservations campground on the extreme eastern end of the park.  It sees a lot of last-minute campers that couldn’t make reservations at the main campground near Grand Canyon Village, so it’s quite the motley crew when it fills up.  We had everything from drunk Canadian party boys to German families to nomadic guitar playing hippies.  We also had a small herd of urban hipsters who were seemingly lost, because they sure didn’t seem to be happy about this whole “camping” thing.

One morning two of the hipsters had broken from the purposefully-uninterested, apathetic  herd and were conversing in the typical condescending fashion.  Clearly, one of the two was not satisfied with sitting around camp practicing cool indifference and honing his snarky, sarcastic wit.  He struggled to explain his ambitions to his friend.

“I don’t know, man…it’s just not what I want to do.”

“Well, what is it then?”

“I…I want to…to go for a walk…go somewhere.  You know…meet random people, see random things.  Maybe do something slightly unsafe…”

I have never heard anyone struggle so much to explain their need for ADVENTURE.  In his struggle to verbalize his inexplicable desire to do something exciting he inadvertently delivered what I believe is the best definition of “Adventure” I’ve ever heard.  I really hope this guy got the adventure he was after, but sadly his tribe probably snarked him into submission.

But his plea for adventure got me thinking about my own trip.  How did our little trip to the Grand Canyon measure up to these requirements?  Would he have approved of our own little adventure?

…Go for a walk…go somewhere…

Broken foot or not, we did hike.  It wasn’t far and it wasn’t difficult, but we hiked.  Even with a full campground and a tourist packed National Park we found and hiked trails that had few, if any, other people on them.  We found places along the South Rim with epic views and quiet solitude.

Wilderness Boot - Adventure

…Meet random people…

Most notably, we made the acquaintance of local photographer, and ex-Grateful-Dead-chasing-hippie Jeff Franklin.  As we sat at Shoshone Point waiting for sunset, Jeff made his way out to the point and chatted us up for the next couple hours.  He was an interesting guy with a lot of stories to tell.  He lives in the area and his wife works for Grand Canyon Village so he spends his time biking and hiking the area exploring and taking pictures.  We talked about The Park, conservation, history, nature, and he offered some tips and insight for exploring some of the more remote regions of the Canyon.

Random Encounters - Adventure

…See random things…

Among seeing tourists dangling from the edges of the canyon, posing with dangerous wildlife and wearing some of the most inappropriate and outrageous clothing you’d expect to see at a National Park…I’d say it got pretty random.  But nothing takes the cake for randomness like Bedrock City.  It’s the one place where if I were to show you the pictures, out of context and without the story, most people would react with a big fat WTF!  In the 1970s when The Flinstones was still a very popular cartoon and Hanna-Barbara was the king of Saturday mornings this place made perfect sense.  Now though, it qualifies as a VERY random roadside oddity.

Random Things - Adventure

…Do something slightly unsafe…

Admittedly, this is my favorite part of any adventure.  This one is pretty subjective because what I consider “unsafe” and what others consider “unsafe” can vary by a wide margin.  With my busted foot, I wasn’t in a position to push the boundaries too much.  But I imagine our hipster buddy would potentially break into a cold sweat and get wobbly in the knees standing too close to the 400+ foot drop offs at some of the Canyon edges.  We saw plenty of tourists who’s own fear of heights kept them well behind the guardrails.

Desert View Hike - Adventure

I guess, all in all, when I look back on the trip through the thick-rimmed retro glasses of Mr. Skinny Jeans I think we satisfied his criteria for fun and adventure.  Standards differ and there are varying levels of adventure, but the basics are all here…go somewhere new, see random stuff, meet random people and do something that scares you…even if just a little bit.

If you have a story about seeing random stuff, meeting random people or doing something that scares you…share it with me in the comments!  I love those kinds of stories!

Desert View Hike - Adventure

Birthday in Bedrock…

There’s a lot to write about after all that we’ve stuffed into the last 4 days…but it all starts in in the stone age.

It was my wife’s birthday this week (we won’t talk about how old she is) and since I wasn’t going to be on the John Muir Trail we wanted to take a trip together.  We settled on a short camping trip to the Grand Canyon and got all of the necessary things in order so we could head out mid-week.

There were a lot of big things in play this week that made the trip exciting.  First it was Merelyn’s birthday and this was all about her having fun.  Second, it was a test of my busted foot to see if I could handle a little easy hiking so I could start getting out again.  Third, I have really been after shooting at the Grand Canyon since getting back into photography last year and this would be a great chance to catch Summer storms in the canyon.  Last but not least, we rented a teardrop trailer for this trip to see if it was something we might consider purchasing in the future.  I’ll get into most of that stuff in separate posts, but this post is about Merelyn’s birthday in Bedrock.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

If you haven’t cruised up 64 just outside of Williams, Arizona towards the Grand Canyon then you’ve probably never heard of this gem of Americana.  Bedrock City was built in 1972 as an homage to the 1960′s Flinstones Cartoon.  It originally had live actors, a stage show and a variety of interactive displays but these days feels more like some surreal amusement park ghost town.  But that’s what makes it awesome!

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

We had a late start getting on the road and I told Merelyn she got to pick our campsite for the night since we weren’t going to make it to our ultimate camp destination in the National Park until the next day.  She did a quick look on Yelp and saw Bedrock City and we just had to check it out.  I mean seriously, what good is a vacation if you can’t make a spontaneous, impromptu stop at a defunct amusement park based on a beloved childhood cartoon?  Isn’t that what adventure is all about?

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

This place lived up to every possible expectation we could have had.  It was fun, scary, strange, amusing, exciting, creepy, playful, nostalgic and bizarre all at the same time and we loved it.  I limped and hobbled along in The Boot trying to keep up with Merelyn as she explored every building and posed with every display.  The place is deceivingly huge with buildings everywhere including Fred and Barney’s houses, a general store, post office, movie theater that actually plays the old cartoons, a police station, hospital, school and various other assorted buildings including a huge brontosaurus slide.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

It was her birthday and she got to choose the type of adventure we would have and from her ear-to-ear grin I don’t think she was disappointed.  We started our day in Bedrock and ended it at camp in the Grand Canyon.  The next few days were a perfect balance of excitement, exploration and relaxation…perfect vacation if you ask me.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

One Day in Zion…

As night draped over the desert like a thick blanket, Dave and I sat near the small, crackling fire and talked in hushed voices about our grand plans for the coming adventure.  He had flown in to Salt Lake City and made the four hour drive across Utah to Zion that morning.  I had made the robust seven hour drive across Arizona and Southern Utah from Phoenix.  Both of us were short on time.  Saturday was our only day to really see the park, to drink it in until we were intoxicated by it’s unique beauty.  We asked ourselves, “What do you do when you only have one day in one of the most amazing places on Earth?”

Our only answer, “Everything!”

 

The main section of Zion National Park is not terribly huge.  The section of park along the North Fork of the Virgin River from the park entrance to The Narrows is only about 6 or 7 miles long.  But that stretch of canyon houses within it’s hallowed walls some of the most dramatic and iconic scenery in North America.  There are monuments and trails within this sliver of earth that many only dream of visiting.  We’d see icons like The blood streaked Altar of Sacrifice in the Towers of the Virgin, the Sentinel watching over the Court of the Patriarchs, and the Great White Throne of God looking down upon the razor thin edge of Angel’s Landing.  We’d walk among lesser icons like Echo Canyon and plunge our tired feet into the frigid waters of the Virgin River.

Sharp gusts of canyon wind carried a chill through the darkness at camp, rustling the grasses and the cottonwoods.  I fumbled with breakfast in the dark while we packed for the day.  Dave, who is more accustomed to lightweight backpacking than I am, carried a tiny bag with almost nothing but water and a few small bags of snacks.  I had my camera gear to contend with and shouldered a far heavier burden.  The earliest park shuttle would arrive at 7am and by 6:45 we were the only ones stirring in camp, a good sign we’d have the trail to ourselves.  The morning sky was just beginning to glow as we walked quietly among the deer that were loitering at the visitor’s center.

There were only two others on the first shuttle of the morning from the visitor’s center.  The other early risers were an elderly fellow who had plans to see sunrise from further in the canyon and fairly large man in a ponytail who wanted to “hike Angel’s Landing without his wife and kids slowing him down”.  We picked up a few more ambitious hikers before reaching The Grotto, where we would find the trailhead to Angel’s Landing.

Angel's Landing hike-1

We chose to conquer Angel’s Landing first for a few reasons: First, I wanted to shoot from Angel’s Landing in early light.  From all accounts, this would be a technical, heart-pounding hike with serious exposure and there was no way we were going to try to hike it for the first time in the dark just to catch “sunrise” from the top.  I was happy being able to shoot in the early morning light, hoping for something dramatic.  Second, we wanted to beat the crowds of weekend warriors and all-out tourists shuffling up the trail.  The park tells you to plan 4 to 5 hours for your round-trip to Angel’s Landing, but we were confident we could shave that down a little.

Zion National Park - Angel's Landing hikeAngel’s Landing was an absolutely amazing hike.  Short, a little strenuous, and potentially nerve-wracking for anyone with a possible fear of heights.  Since neither of us have ever experienced a fear of heights, the hike wasn’t as white-knuckle-scary as it was made out to be.  There are a few sections where well-worn chains guide you along and give you something to cling to.  I don’t think the chains are necessary though.  We were alone hiking most of the trail, running into very few people hiking that early.  We made short work of it clawing our way to the very end of any navigable path within 45 minutes of leaving the shuttle bus.  We spent nearly an hour at the tip of Angel’s Landing just enjoying the view and taking pictures and never saw another tired, sweaty soul until we packed up and headed back.  On the return hike it was easy to see how this hike could turn into a 4 hour ordeal when it gets crowded.  We never did see Ponytail.

Zion National Park - Angel's Landing hike

Before too long we were back across the Virgin river and waiting for the next shuttle to take us up the canyon to Weeping Rock where we’d catch the trailhead to Observation Point.  This was a busy trailhead, but we were ahead of schedule and doing well to stay ahead of the real crowds.  The beginning of this trail can be busy as it’s shared with those making the short hike to Weeping Rock, or venturing a little further to see Echo Canyon.  A small fraction continue on up the long, winding, never-ending swithcbacks leading to Observation Point.

Zion National Park - Observation Point

Echo Canyon-3This one takes some time, and is one of the most popular hikes in the park for one reason…the view.  From Observation Point you are treated to a plateau level view of the entire valley.  The point itself sticks out from the adjacent canyon wall enough that you are awarded near 360 degree views down into the park.  We sat at the point for a long time, resting the feet, taking pictures and befriending the local wildlife.  We both dreaded the long downhill and what that would mean on our tired, old knees.

I had expressed an interest in checking out Hidden Canyon, which we would pass on the way back down.  We looked forward to a little uphill hiking again after the descent from Observation Point and didn’t lose a step in the transition.  The trail to Hidden Canyon offered the kind of fun we found at Angel’s Landing, narrow trail clinging to the canyon wall, chains provided for the sketchy bits.  We managed to pass a couple of other groups who seemed to be in over their heads on this one.

I really love seeing those people on the trail, sweating with fear and clinging to the chains or rails with a death grip.  They move slow and sure, sometimes swearing and screaming at a misstep or stumble.  This, to them, is the pinnacle of adventure and they are doing it!  It reminds me of my mother on the trail down to the pool below Mooney Falls in Havasupai.  She was scared to death, but she made it.  I’m there because I don’t fear those trails, I love it and I’m comfortable there.  These people are there in spite of their fear and discomfort, pushing past their limits and experiencing wonder.  It’s commendable.

We found ourselves at the bottom of the trail on another shuttle, sore, tired and out of food and water.  But we still had a little more of the most important commodity in our whole adventure…TIME.  So we headed to The Narrows.  After a refill of sweet spring water and a little “Vitamin I” we were back on the trail with a vengeance.  Late in the afternoon, the River Walk Trail leading into the narrows is choked with “tourists”.  These are typically NOT hikers or adventurers but “tourists” in the purest sense of the word and  I’m not ashamed to admit that we bullied our way past the sluggish cattle.  Our time was fleeting and we were moving with purpose.

Zion National Park - The Narrows

Reaching the end of the paved River Walk Trail we scuttled down the concrete steps to the rocky beach.  We continued our brisk pace weaving past the people lingering there.  We reached the water’s edge then, without hesitation, we continued our hike through the cold water.  Further up the canyon the only people we saw were those returning from day hikes into The Narrows wearing wetsuits and drysuits and accompanied by a guide.  We continued to pick our way up canyon, watching our footing in the swift water.  I set up a couple of shots, feet going numb in the cold Spring runoff.  We hiked as far into the canyon as we could, stopping before the water became deep enough to force us to swim.

We hung out for a while, savoring our sampling of The Narrows and mentally adding to our To-Do lists for future trips.  I hear Fall is a great time to hike The Narrows…

We returned to camp at dusk thoroughly used, tired, wet, hungry and sunburned.  Surely a sign we’d done our duty well.  We changed into dry shoes and clothes and walked to the Zion Brew Pub (Dave had convinced me that our day warranted more than freeze-dried backpacking food).  We ended our epic day in Zion National Park the way one should end any epic day…with stories and beer.

Many of these images from Zion National Park are available in print or download from my Gallery.

One Day in Zion Gallery…

A Stranger in Zion…

The late afternoon light was stretched low over the horizon casting long shadows in Zion National Park.  I had unpacked my gear from the dusty truck in Watchman Campground and quickly set up my home for the weekend next to another small tent quietly occupying the same campsite under a large cottonwood.  I didn’t know much about my mysterious campmate yet.  Less than an hour earlier, I had received a single text message – all set in F4.  They have a parking permit for you as you enter watchman campground.  If I’m not in camp, I’m off exploring.  Sounds like we’d get along just fine.

View of Watchman from the Campground in Zion National Park

The National Parks and Monuments of Utah have always called to me, especially Zion National Park.  I don’t normally make a huge effort to visit the National Parks, preferring instead to explore Wilderness Areas where I can find quiet and solitude.  There are exceptions.  When my dad passed away in 2005 we were in the planning stages of several trips together.  We were on the wait-list for a private trip down the Colorado River, we were just starting to plan a trip through Yosemite along portions of the John Muir Trail and we were talking about touring the Utah Parks of Zion, Bryce, Arches and Canyonlands.

In Fall of 2007 I was able to raft the Colorado through Grand Canyon on a private boat trip with several of my dad’s closest river friends.  This Summer I’ll finally be hiking most of the John Muir Trail through Yosemite with a small group of backpackers.  And for years I had been patiently looking for opportunities to visit Arches or Zion…when I received this message on twitter:

The timing seemed to fit perfectly into my jigsaw puzzle of a travel calendar.  I managed to scrounge up some petty cash for fuel, take the weekend off and drive 7 hours across Arizona and Utah to meet up with a fellow adventure seeker after nothing more than a handful of Twitter messages.  Twitter has been funny that way, especially when it comes to the outdoor community.  I see it happen all the time with messages like, “Anyone up for climbing near SLC this weekend?” or “I want to do Humphrey’s next time in Flag.  Who’s in?”  Social Media allows us to connect with like-minded people for outdoor adventures that just wouldn’t be as fun (or safe) alone.

This time it was Minnesota native David Wherry, hell bent on making the most out of his first whirlwind trip to Zion National Park in the shortest time possible.  David would have one day, sun-up to sun-down, to doggedly chase down as much adventure and general badassery (yes, it’s a word) as law would allow…and he was looking for a partner to help him run it down.

As I organized my gear at Workman Campground I knew we were staring down the barrel of a long sunrise-to-sunset day of steep, sweat-stained canyon hiking.  So when Dave came strolling into camp after a casual 7 mile trail run, I knew he’d be the guy pushing the pace the next day.

That night we sat around the campfire and discussed our strategy for the next day.  We didn’t know each other before that night but we both seemed very much on the same page about our agenda.  We listed out our priorities starting with Angel’s Landing at sunrise and worked our way from there with every intention of hungrily devouring as much of this amazing park as we could stomach before sunset.  We would not be content to shuffle along with cattle-like tourists.  We would push hard, move fast and end every trail with an eager and emphatic “What’s next!?”

David turned out to be a great trail companion and bad-ass adventure partner.  Hopefully his work continues to land him in parts out west so we can pull off another epic slam-dunk in another amazing location.  The sooner the better…

The Epic Day in Zion National Park…

Angel's Landing at Zion National Park

Echo Canyon at Zion National Park

Observation Point at Zion National Park

The Narrows at Zion National Park

 

To see more of my images from Zion National Park visit my gallery.

Teton Sports Mammoth 20° Double Sleeping Bag Giveaway…

Teton Sports has been working with Trail Sherpa and the Trail Sherpa Network to promote a couple of their sleeping bags.  The Mammoth Double Sleeping bag was the focus of the spotlight, but I also got to review the Super comfy Fahrenheit Sleeping Bags.  These are a great line of camping sleeping bags that offer plenty of warmth and creature comfort.  They are by no means backpacking bags, unless you’re into carrying your own bodyweight on the trail…no judgement here, have fun with that.  But for car camping, where the tent is a stone’s throw from your trunk, these are perfect.

mammoth sleeping bag

Tim’s review of the Mammoth shows how well the Double Sleeping bag works for families with smaller kids, “We took the three kids (my buddy and his daughter were camping with us) into the tent, got them snuggled in the bag, and started a movie for them.  The three of us sat around the fire talking about what had just transpired.  We talked for 45 minutes about it in fact.  To the kids, it was probably the coolest fort ever…I asked Tater the next day what he thought of the bag.  He said it was ‘way soft and super cushy’.

Amelia also had a chance to review the Mammoth with her young ones, “Nothing like taking your cozy bed from home camping with you.  The Mammoth does just that with a plush interior, great sleeping weight and the option to make it as big as your family needs.  It is made for the camper that doesn’t want to sacrifice comfort in a tent…

Teton Sports makes a nice sleeping bag.  Check out this video from Shawn at Teton Sports discussing the technology and design behind the Mammoth and Fahrenheit bags:

If you would like to win a Mammoth Sleeping Bag of your own, use the Rafflecopter widget below for multiple entries into the giveaway.  The contest ends soon, so get your entries in and Good Luck!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Amazing Sedona – Part I: Gear testing, Sunset and New Friends…

I haphazardly packed the back of the truck in the cold, dark pre-dawn hours Saturday morning as the dogs looked on through the glass front door.  I’m sure they were just as curious as I was about what possessed me to be up this early on a Saturday after only a few short hours’ sleep.  Friday night I had been out with friends enjoying our annual Christmas Party and had stayed longer than I had planned.  I had double-booked my weekend and needed to be in Sedona by sunrise to meet a new friend for a weekend of camping, hiking and gear testing.

Tim had arrived in Sedona early Friday afternoon ahead of me and claimed our campsite at the tiny Manzanita Campground along Oak Creek.  We had planned this trip on the spur of the moment realizing that we both were planning outings to field test new gear and figured it was the perfect opportunity to meet.  After a few phone calls and a handful of emails back and forth, we had reservations for a campsite and a loose itinerary.

I was in charge of figuring out our hike for Saturday since I am more familiar with the area.  I noticed that there was a nice, strenuous hike very close to our camp that would take us to one of only a few natural rock arches around Sedona.  Vultee Arch is a small natural rock bridge named after the owner of a small aircraft manufacturing company.  Jerry Vultee and his wife got caught flying in a severe blizzard over Wilson Mountain in 1938 and crashed on the north end of the plateau.  Between the crash and the resulting fire, neither survived.

Tim and I had both discussed our increasing focus on photography in our outdoor pursuits so the arch was a great fit, but I wanted to make it even more interesting so I proposed we plan our hike so that we’d hit the arch at sunset.  This would mean an afternoon hike, a nice pause while we waited for the light and grabbed some shots, then a night hike over the pass on our return.  Tim responded with, “Sounds good to me.  Night hikes are awesome.”

Between last minute packing, a longer than expected stop for coffee and fuel as well as not accounting for the extra distance from the my new house, I was running late.  I realized I wasn’t going to make it to camp before day break, but hoped I would at least make it to the lower end of Sedona’s Red Rocks by Sunrise.  I barely made it to the turn-off as the sun was getting ready to crack the horizon.  I stopped for a few pictures of first light and found a great old tree to use as foreground.

my sunrise shot near the turn-off to Sedona

I continued toward Sedona and made it as far as Bell Rock before I decided I needed to stop and capture more images of the sunrise.  I managed to take some really nice shots at Bell Rock as the sun climbed higher.  I decided to skip a stop in Sedona and head straight to camp, knowing I was running late.  There was really no reason why I needed to be to camp so early except that I had specifically told Tim that I would be.  That was enough reason for me to worry about being late.

Sunrise at Bell Rock, Sedona

When I got to camp, Tim was up and had been down by the creek.  After a handshake and an apology I unloaded my gear and set up camp as we visited like old friends.  We spent the better part of the day talking about gear, the outdoors, family, food and life in general.

Tim is one of a small handful of people I’ve now met in person after getting to know them through Social Media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.  It’s the modern version of finally meeting a pen-pal you’ve written to for years.  There is an instant familiarity, comfort and friendship that is merely extended by the shaking of a hand and the sharing of a meal…even more so when done around a camp fire.

more Oak Creek at sunrise at Manzanita Campground

It eventually came time to head out for our hike, we needed to make it over Sterling Pass and down to the arch by 4:30 if we were going to have a chance at being in position by sunset at 5:15.  I had studied the times and angles of the sun against the topography around the arch to insure that we wouldn’t lose the sun early due to some distant peak.  It looked as through we’d have light at the arch until at least 5pm.  We headed out at 2:30 to give us plenty of time to hike the pass and make it down in to canyon below the arch.  I did not have an exact idea of how difficult the hike up to the arch itself would be so we needed a little padding in the schedule.

Dead trees along Sterling Pass Trail

The marked trailhead for Sterling Pass was almost directly across the street from camp where we began the steep climb up and over the rocky pass.  Much of the area was still recovering from the Arch Fire that devastated this canyon in 1996.  The blackened skeletal remains of the formerly thick forest jabbed skyward through the lush new growth optimistically trying to regain it’s footing.

The rock and vegetation changed at the pass before we plunged back down the steep switchbacks on the other side.  The forest was much thicker on this side of the pass where it had clearly been protected from the fire.  My knee was reminding me throughout the descent that it is still not 100% and I was relieved a bit when the trail leveled out finally along the bottom of the canyon.

Sterling Pass on the way to Vultee Arch

We were on the lookout for the side canyon containing Vultee Arch and, with the sun chasing toward the horizon, we were getting short on time.  Finally we reached a point where we could see the arch, still drenched in the glow of the setting sun.  As we approached the rock ledge that house the plaque describing the arch’s namesake, I noticed we were not going to have light on the arch for as long as I had estimated.  This was going to significantly shorten the window for getting the photographs I was after.

I was feeling the pinch of time and when we found what appeared to be the small trail leading to the actual arch, I took off leaving Tim to find his own pace.  I aggressively scrambled through brush and cacti along the overgrown trail before finding the right spot to venture off-trail in an effort to find a unique angle for shooting Vultee Arch.  I waded through thick Manzanita and danced around prickly pear cactus and agaves as I climbed under and around the arch.

Sunset light on Vultee Arch, Sedona

The sunset light was well worth the effort and I was glad that we’d made the decision to visit the arch when we did.  The sunset that evening gave us an amazingly warm orange glow that accentuated the red rock of the arch.  Even the vegetation took on a supernatural glow as the sun cast the last of it’s fading light across our little canyon.  Tim caught up and found a perch atop the arch to watch the sunset and nibble on some trail mix as I scrambled precariously along all points collecting my shots.

Long view from below Vultee Arch, Sedona

View of the late sunset from the base of Sterling Canyon

When light had faded from the arch we hiked back down to the rock vista, made hot coffee and watched the remainder of the sunset.  Once darkness had pushed the last traces of light from the horizon we packed up and headed out.  The cold was kept at bay with the exertion of climbing the switchbacks back up to Sterling Pass.  As we crested the pass we were greeted with a rich, black, moonless desert sky deeply punctuated with brilliant stars.  We sat here for a while, with headlamps off, taking in the night sky.  Both of us live in larger cities where the night is never truly dark and stars never laid out so thick.

Some time later we strolled back in to camp and started dinner.  We ate well and talked late in to the night around the camp fire.  This is the perfect example of what I love about being outdoors.  We encountered very few people on the trail and all of them had bailed before light ran out.  We had the arch entirely to ourselves and experienced it in a way that very few ever would.  The desert was our playground and I reveled in it with a giddy, childlike joy.

When it came time to head home the next day, we said our good-byes and vowed to do this again soon. With any luck, the next excursion will include our wives and another amazing location.  I left Sedona that afternoon tired, happy and hoping for another adventure very soon.  Little did I know at the time, that I would be back to this very same area in only one week…

…but that’s another story.

Trip Gallery:

For more pictures from the hike check out Tim’s gallery here.

Lessons about knowing your outdoor gear…

Have you ever made a mistake?  A stupid mistake?  The kind of mistake that makes you kick yourself for doing something you KNEW you shouldn’t have done?  No?  Then stop reading, this isn’t for you.  Piss off.

We all make mistakes from time to time.  We get complacent, or hurried or distracted and we do things we otherwise wouldn’t do.  Sometimes these mistakes make us laugh at our own folly, but (particularly in the backcountry) mistakes can be very dangerous.

I’ve had my share of mistakes.  One night camping in the mountains around Mount Graham outside Safford I hurriedly tossed the rain fly on my tent in the dark as a storm was starting to move in.  It wasn’t long into a pretty solid downpour that I discovered I had put the fly on upside down.  Turns out those waterproof-breathable fabrics they use for protection only work one way.  I knew that, I just missed it.

Another time, on luckily just a short hike, I had performed a quick check of my small pack, checked the hydration hoses, filled the bladder, packed a snack and shortly thereafter shot out the door to make my hike.  It wasn’t until I arrived at the trailhead and picked up my unusually light pack that I realized I had left the full hydration bladder on the counter, right by the sink, right where I had set it after filling it up.  A stupid mistake because I wasn’t fully paying attention to the process.

There was also the time I loaded my tent for a quick backpacking trip and discovered, a day’s hike in to the middle of nowhere, that I had grabbed the rain fly, not the tent.  Luckily I was able to easily make a bivvy shelter with the fly and it wasn’t a total catastrophe.  I’ve also packed my tent with the wrong set of poles before…that was fun.

This most recent mistake learning experience was a result of simply not paying attention.  I even remember second guessing myself and some little voice telling me, “nah, it’ll be FINE…”

My Snow Peak 450 Insulated mug on the SoloStove cook system - outdoor gear

I had just built a nice little fire in my new SoloStove.  I had received one to test out and was anxious to put it to use.  I prepped my fuel, built a beautiful little top-down fire (as instructed) and had quite nice burn going.  Now I just needed to boil some water, time it, record it and round one of the testing would be in the books.

I’m in the process of moving so I don’t know where half of my stuff is currently.  I could not find a camp pot anywhere with which to boil a little water.  In haste, I grabbed my Snow Peak Titanium mug and filled it with water.  There was a piece of me that hesitated, but I couldn’t put my finger on why and dismissed it.  I set the mug on the stove and watched the flames lick at the titanium.

Now, this is for a review, so I’m taking pictures, recording a little video, talking about the technology of the burn system and why the fire was built top-down…so I’m distracted.  The nagging hesitation was set aside so I could focus on the review.  Then it hits me!

The Snow Peak Titanium 450 Double Wall mug is an insulated mug.  The outer shell of the cup is made up of two walls of titanium with air space in the middle to serve as an insulating layer.  This helps reduce heat transfer through the wall of the cup.  This means it will NOT heat efficiently, it is not a good cooking vessel.  More importantly, and the reason for my sudden anxiety, is that the super-heated air trapped between the two layers of titanium will expand when heated and can cause the weld seam to burst.  Depending on how well the seams hold, this could be a pretty dramatic rupture or simply a small hole to let the air escape.  Once I realized this error I pulled the cup off the heat.

Luckily, my seam held and the only real damage (aside from severe discoloration) is a slightly bulged and rounded bottom on the mug.  Not the end of the world.

In the privacy of my own home, I can simply kick myself for being stupid and potentially ruining an expensive piece of gear.  In the backcountry, we can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes.  This sort of thing is a reminder of how easily, and innocently, mistakes can be made.  It’s a reminder that we really do need to slow down, pay attention and think through our actions…especially in the field.  It’s also a reminder to know your gear.  Know it’s intended uses, it’s limitations, be familiar with the technology and why it works.  The proper gear can save your life, but only if you know how to use it properly and do so with thoughtfulness.

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I’d love to hear about YOUR gear related mistakes.  Comment below if you’ve ever made a mistake with your outdoor gear…it’ll make me feel better about my own stupidity. ;)