Columbia #OmniGames: Supporting Storylines…

Columbia Omnigames

Dog sledding

The raw excitement around the dogs was palpable and contagious as they yipped, barked and howled with anticipation in the falling snow.  While one group of riders split off and mounted their growling machines, I followed Beth, Justin, Katie and Derek through the thick snow to the sleds.  Snow swiftly swirled around us and the restless dogs as the winds picked up and visibility diminished.  The wirey dogs were quickly harnessed up and attached to the leads one by one, each of them seemingly bursting with excitement for the first sled run of the day.

Columbia OmniGames

Due to injury and lack of mobility, I would not be competing in the long anticipated games.  Nearly 40 outdoors enthusiasts and social media influencers from the past four seasons of Columbia’s #Omniten program gathered near Park City, Utah for a collective competition.  The competition would be a secret set of challenges, completed in teams, with a serious prize on the line.  Once the content of the games was revealed and the teams were chosen, I began my own challenge: To tell the story of the games through photographs.

The final challenge for everyone in the competition would be “Charles Dickens”, a storytelling challenge.  I knew the teams would be immersed in their activities,  in some cases fighting the clock, and there would be little time or opportunity for them to capture the images that could bring their stories to life.  In the highly visual mediums we have to portray our stories, images are invaluable and grab a reader’s attention quickly.  So my challenge, my contribution to the games, would be to capture the moments that would help support the narratives of the competitors to the best of my abilities.

I chose to start my shoot with the first dog sled teams, passing up an opportunity to follow the first snowmobiles to the archery site.  Everyone was excited about the dog sleds and I knew I needed to capture that excitement early while it was still raw, while the dogs were still fresh, while the apprehension was still visible.  I wanted to focus on two things at this station, the excitement on people’s faces as they readied for their first ride and the explosive energy of the dogs.  The dogs were much less cooperative than the #omniten but were the real stars, beautiful animals straining against their harnesses with incredible power.

Columbia Omnigames

The shooting wasn’t too difficult here, but getting around in a foot and a half or more of snow with a bad knee made for some sketchy moments.  A couple of falls and bad twists made things interesting and set a cautious tone in my head about being physically able to follow the games.  Still, I would do my best.

Making fire exciting

It was quiet once the dogs had run off with their sleds in tow.   I set off across the snow to find the other teams working on their challenges.  luckily for me the other events were clustered together, but they were up a hill…normally not an issue but this time it felt like an arduous trek.  I struggled up the snowy, uneven path to the Fire Challenge.

Columbia Omnigames

Each team had 25 minutes to light a fire and get a small pot of water boiling.  Not quite the excitement surrounding the dog sleds.  Looking for storylines I focused on the expressions of concentration,  I tried to capture the spark flying off the flint starter, and for those who were successful…flame.  I started to realize my background in graphic design and sequential illustration played in to how I thought about the photos.  During the Fire Challenge I really began to treat the photography like I was setting up a storyboard. I looked for “scene setting” images, “character” images and “action images” while in my head I stitched them together sequentially so I could visualize and capitalize on the gaps.  This technique of visualizing a sequential storyline helped get me through the next few events.

Columbia Omnigames

I can’t be everywhere

I really wish I could have covered everyone at every event, but it just wasn’t possible. The Dog Sledding was too mobile and the archery event was too remote.  Even the clustered events were difficult because I was having a hard time moving quickly enough through the snow to catch each team at each event.  Knowing I couldn’t do it all, I began to broaden the scope of the story I could tell.  Instead of focusing on individual stories, I realized I needed to tell the broader story of the games in general. I started thinking about the group story and how the individual stories would intertwine.

Columbia Omnigames

This released me from the idea that I had to capture everyone at every station. As long as I could cover different crews at each event I would be supporting the overall story. Still, the first day was a serious challenge.

Archery in the snow

I managed to grab a ride along on one of the snowmobiles later in day one. The weather had become more aggressive and our visibility was getting pretty tight when we took off. I remember thinking that this could make for some great dramatic images or it could ruin my equipment. I stored my gear for the ride out to protect it then set up once we reached the archery station.

Archery turned out to be some of the most dramatic imagery I captured on the first day. The wind picked up and the snow whipped through the frame while I narrowed in on the expressions of focus and concentration of our archers. Just the image of a drawn bow exudes tension, power and drama and has been used in imagery of warriors for millennia for just that reason. This was a pretty stationary event, like the fire building, so I worked my angles to capture a higher sense of action to support the narrative.

Columbia Omnigames

Day one of the #Omnigames wrapped up in whiteout conditions with the last of the #Omniten warming themselves indoors with bowls of fresh chili and hot chocolate. I found myself continuing to head outside even though the games were over just to enjoy the weather. Standing outside, wrapped in my warm Columbia gear with the wind and snow whipping around me I was able to have a little quiet time to think and appreciate where I was and how I got here.

Columbia Sportswear has developed a culture built around pushing boundaries and exploring our limits. Their products are designed with this in mind and the “Trying Stuff” mantra is a corporate rally cry that echoes throughout everything they do. We were brought together by Columbia because we embody this message, we live the “Trying Stuff” lifestyle with everything we do. To me it is just that,  a lifestyle, a philosophy that permeates every part of our lives. It’s a personal commitment to accepting challenges and facing them with persistence and excitement…even joy.

Once you stop facing challenges, once you stop pushing your boundaries, you stop growing…you stop improving and learning. You stop living. I will always be “Trying Stuff” whether that means pushing my limits outdoors, developing my home and gardens to their full potential, learning new skills, or expanding my career. I was limited by injury on this trip but it didn’t stop me from “Trying Stuff”. I was able to explore my limits with photography and push my equipment, knowledge and skills to knew levels. Something that has me excited about doing more photography work in the future. At this point who knows where it will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

Photograph of the Week: Working the details…

Back in December, I shot up to Sedona to catch the first snow of the season.  It was a truly amazing day trip that resulted in some really beautiful shots.  The day was just perfect for photography.  The sunrise was bright and clean, the low wispy clouds clung to the base of the mountains and everything had a dusting of snow and frost.  Sedona photography at it’s best and we took advantage of it.

One of my favorite shots from the trip was not one of the spectacular sunrise directly, or one of the iconic rock features.  It was a simple shot, just north of the Bell Rock feature.  It was sort of a quiet moment for me in the frantic shooting that morning.  We had been scampering around since the sun first crested the horizon, dashing about to catch different angles while we had the window of opportunity.  Then I took a moment…just to take it all in.  It was a beautiful moment and I smiled at the pure, simple pleasure of being there.

As I took in my surroundings I turned away from the sunrise, something I hadn’t done yet, and there was this whole amazing scene behind me bathed in a warm glow.  I took a couple of short steps to frame a few branches from a nearby tree into the shot.  Shortly after that, I resumed my frantic shooting to grab what I could before the day pushed on.

Shooting in low light (sunrise/sunset) can be difficult.  The low angle light creates high contrast and vibrant colors but can be difficult to show without some “dark room” adjustments.  Our eyes do a much better job of working with high contrast than the camera does, so to get a photograph that mimics the experience it can take a little work.  For me, the biggest thing is to bring the shadows forward so that we can see what is hidden there.  To do this (in Lightroom) I push light into the shadows, then immediately increase the Black to restore contrast.  Increasing the clarity will also help bring detail out of the shadows and create contrast.  I rarely have to adjust the contrast directly as the shadow and clarity adjustments do it for me.

The problem with boosting light into the shadows is that you can lose detail in the highlighted areas.  In this piece, the low clouds on the right became a white blob, but by playing with adjustments to the Highlights I was able to get the detail back.  I don’t always boost the Saturation because it’s very easy to get a photograph that looks unnatural.  However, adjusting the Vibrance setting (especially in sunrise/sunset shots) will bring out the vivid colors that make low light shooting so fun.

Photograph of the Week - Original

At this point in the editing process Lightroom lets you fine tune the saturation and hue by color.  I don’t play with this often as it will also easily create a look that is unnatural and “over processed”.  But in some cases (like Red Rock country) where the colors can become either muted or oversaturated depending on the natural light, I will use these tools to push and pull to recreate what the scene felt like.

You can see from the original shot that the details are all there.  The light is much more subtle and the shadows disguise much of the section of trees in the middle.  You also don’t get the feel of the sunrise which was much more vivid in person.

The last thing I do once I have the colors and shadows adjusted is focus on detail.  Lightroom has fine detail adjustments that let me strip out some of the noise and Sharpen the finer details.  Sharpening the image will usually bring out even more noise, but by also increasing the Luminance to match the Sharpening I can drop the rough noise out.  This, to me, results in a much cleaner and more readable image.

Photograph of the Week - Sedona Sunrise

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D70s with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/160, F/9, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

 

…And the big announcement!

I finally created a virtual gallery for my work!  I’m really excited to introduce Wilderness Dave Photography where you can see (and purchase) the top photos from my outdoor travel sets.

Wilderness Dave Photography Gallery

Go check it out, I’d love some comments and feedback.  The gallery will be updated with new work as it is produced.  Every week I will feature a special price on the Photograph of the Week for my readers if anyone would like to purchase a print.  This week, use coupon code POTW4413 to get 40% off your purchase.

Chasing Winter in Oregon…

Phoenix is world famous for it’s scorching Summer heat.  It’s borderline uninhabitable here during the Summer months, but our Winters are nothing short of amazing for beautiful weather.  However, that means we don’t really get a traditional Winter with frigid cold, crisp ice and beautiful soft snow.  I grew to appreciate the Winters around Reno and Tahoe for the short time I got to spend up there with Merelyn before she was transferred to Texas.  I missed the snow and the cold.

In December, Sedona got it’s first snow of the season and I dropped everything and ran up there to enjoy the snow and capture some photos with a fellow shutterbug.  After that amazing trip, I wanted more snow.  I wanted to really get some quality Winter time in and I knew January was going to be full of opportunities.

Since my wife works retail, we don’t get to travel on Christmas.  So in January, we headed up north to Oregon to visit my brother and his family.  My mother also came out to visit and we had a late family Christmas together at my brother’s new house.  Merelyn had never been to Portland and I was excited to get her on the plane for a new adventure in Northern Oregon.  It helped that a storm had been rolling in and there had been fresh snow throughout that part of the country.  I just hoped the freeways were clear as we crawled into the SUV with my brother for the drive across the state.

Winter in Oregon - Multnomah FallsMerelyn and I had been sitting for hours and were looking at another long sit in the car, so we had asked if we could stop and check out any short hikes along the Columbia River.  My brother suggested we check out Multnomah Falls.  None of us had ever hiked it before and the falls is located just off the highway so it seemed like an easy choice.  It was cold and rainy and Merelyn wasn’t feeling well, she’d caught the seasonal crud like everyone else.  But she curled up in one of my new Columbia shells and braved the weather with my brother and I.

Multnomah Falls is 620 feet high, making it the second highest year-round waterfall in the Country.  The trail sets off from the lodge and crosses a couple of quaint, picturesque bridges before turning into a series of paved switchbacks that offer views of the Columbia River before reaching the top.  There was some trail maintenance going on at the top so the end of the trail along the edge of the water was nothing but thick, sticky mud.  My brother and I slogged through the mud to the overlook which offered a view straight down the 620 foot drop.  Nothing spectacular, but I would recommend anyone do the hike at least once if you’re in the area.

Weather was clear for the rest of the drive, and we arrived at my brother’s place in the dark.  We had a great time with the family and I was finally in cold and snowy conditions allowing me to put some of my Winter gear to the test.  Columbia had sent me a battery powered Winter jacket just as the weather turned warm in Arizona and I hadn’t had a chance to use it all year.  I was finally spending a week in weather down to 4 degrees allowing me to test it’s functionality.

I really just enjoyed the cold.  I was outside every chance I got, even if just to walk out onto the back porch while it was snowing to play with the dogs.  I’ve always preferred the cold over heat.  How I ended up in Phoenix of all places sometimes eludes me.

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

All of us took one particularly cold afternoon and visited the Oregon Trail Center in Baker.  While most everyone was happy to stay indoors and casually meander through the displays, I breezed through the covered wagons and educational videos and headed outside to the snow covered trails.  My footprints were the only ones out there besides the birds and a few cats.  I was bundled up and I had my camera to capture some really nice shots of the sun flooding through the stormy clouds over snow-covered valley.  It was a really nice area and so different than the scenery in Arizona.

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

My mother left early to try to make it out of the valley before the next storm hit.  The next day we all bundled up and headed out early for an afternoon on the slopes.  I had never snowboarded before and was anxious to try it out.  On the way out, we stopped at the Elk Feeding Station outside Baker City for a quick tour of the Elk.  Operated by T&T Wildlife Tours for the last 22 years, they use huge draft horses to haul people down the hill to the feed operation where you can watch the Elk feed only a few yards away.  They also offer a wealth of information about the animals and the feed operation.

Winter in Oregon - Draft horses pulling the carriage at the Elk Viewing

After the Elk we headed up the hill to Anthony Lakes to try out some snowboarding.  We got our passes and rented the gear we needed for the afternoon.  Merelyn, feeling a little better by now, rented skis and I got boots so I could strap into a borrowed snowboard.  The kids were off for some lessons at the you-don’t-belong-here slope while my brother tried to talk me through the basics.  We joined the kids at the tiny we-don’t-know-what-we’re-doing area where I was surrounded by miniature skiers and snowboarders who already knew more than I did.

Winter in Oregon - Anthony Lakes

Winter in Oregon - my brother and I on the liftEntirely frustrating at first, once I learned how to stand up without immediately falling back down I started to have fun.  My brother had little patience for this, as did I, so as soon as I could stand up he suggested we get on the lift and try a real hill.  “You’re not going to learn anything on this”, he had said at the bunny slope.  He was right.

Of course I did my fair share of falling, but not as much as I expected.  I really only toppled over a few times and recovered quickly.  It was also not nearly as exhausting as I expected it to be and we managed to get a couple of runs in on one of the longer intermediate slopes.  Our second time out the whole family went up and while my brother helped his youngest with his snowboarding, Merelyn skied circles around me.  Still, I had a blast and wished we could have done more.  I was just starting to get comfortable on the snowboard when it was time to go.  I look forward to getting more opportunities to learn.

Winter in Oregon - Merelyn and I on the liftOn the way back we grabbed sushi and the six of us had a great dinner together.  I downloaded the images I managed to get off of my new GoPro for everyone to check out.  The next day I took the GoPro out again and got some video of the kids sliding around on the icy roads while we walked to their grandmother’s house.  Those kids love to be on camera and really ham it up.  I loved it.

Leaving was bitter-sweet.  I hated to go, but I knew I’d be heading to Salt Lake City and Idaho within a week or so of getting home and that would be another fun adventure in awesome Winter weather.  It was snowing in Portland as we left and I couldn’t help but think how nice it will be when, one day, we can live where the Winters are white.

Somewhere like, oh…I don’t know…maybe TAHOE!

 

Winter in Oregon Gallery…

Amazing Sedona – Part II: Sunrise, Photography and Snow…

Only a couple of days after my Sedona trip with Tim I left for Houston to spend some time traveling East Texas with my new wife.  I flew out and the next morning we headed north in her little Honda Civic for Nacogdoches, a small town a couple of hours north of Houston.  The claim to fame of this little Texas tourist destination is that it is the oldest town in Texas.  Originally a settlement of Caddo Indians, the official town of Nacogdoches was founded in 1779 by Gil Y’Barbo with permission from the Spanish Government.

My wife and I spent a day hiking trails and exploring the small downtown shops and restaurants after spending the night in a really nice, rustic B&B cottage outside of town.  The history in Nacogdoches is rich and there are still some original buildings from the early 1800′s.  Outside of town are the Caddo Mounds, archaeological sites from around 800 A.D.

While in Nacogdoches the weather turned incredibly cold (for the southwest), reaching down to the low 20′s overnight.  I checked the weather back in Arizona and saw there was supposed to be a storm system moving in.  This put me on the lookout for snow.  Soon, the weather forecasts were calling for snow over the weekend in Flagstaff and Sedona, a few days earlier than the historic forecasts had estimated.  I immediately put a message out to my occasional hiking partner and photographer, Jabon Eagar exclaiming, “Snow in Sedona this weekend!  Time to play hookie!”

Jabon and I had been talking about heading to Sedona to catch images of fresh snow for months.  Jabon had been discussing this prospect with another friend for close to two years.  So when snow came to Sedona, we both were ready to drop everything and go.  It was starting to snow in the upper elevations around Sedona by Friday night, I didn’t get back in to Phoenix until Saturday evening and had plans for Saturday night.  Jabon and I laid plans to drive up Sunday morning, early, and be in Sedona before sunrise…and this time I meant it!

Once again, I found myself forced to leave a party early so I could get a few hours’ sleep before driving north for an adventure.  Jabon arrived at my place right at 5AM, I was already packed and had the truck running to warm it up.  Jabon’s buddy Mike was due to join us, but no one had heard from him and Jabon’s attempts to reach him went unanswered.  We soon left, figuring if he was running late he’d call and we could turn around and toss him in the truck.  We never did hear from him.

There was little traffic on the cold, dark drive to Sedona.  Aside from hitting a patch of black-ice at about 80 MPH (and totally maintaining control of the truck without spilling a drop of the coffee in my hand) and missing my exit onto 179, the drive was uneventful.  Even with lost time we hit Bell Rock just as the first light of the morning sun was beginning to endow the frosty morning mists with a supernatural glow.

misty fog clinging to the rock

We stopped the truck and quickly got out to chase the first photo-ops of the morning.  I ran across the road and scrambled to higher ground across frost covered red rock ledges looking to capture the mood of the view that was unfolding.  The thick, wispy clouds clung to the desert floor and gathered around the base of the red rock towers to the east.  As the sun climbed higher it gave life to the misty fog, like stormy seas crashing around these crimson battleships in the desert.

Bell Rock in the morning mist at sunrise

We were there for the photography that day, and Mother Nature was giving the performance of her life.  Jabon and I hiked on and off-trail looking for angles, framing compositions in the viewfinder, excitedly shouting back and forth, “The light is amazing from this spot!” “Look, the fog is clearing over there!” “This is incredible, I’ve never seen it like this!” “This is perfect!”

framing the light at Bell Rock

When we came off the trail, after exhausting every photographic consideration, the parking lot had filled with early morning photographers looking to snap their own versions of this amazing sunrise.  I was glad our ambition had carried us there first, before it got crowded.  There was thick frost on the ground, but we still weren’t high enough to be in the snow…and that’s why we were there.  So we loaded up and continued through Sedona and on in to Oak Creek Canyon where the snow had collected over the weekend.

I had to stop the truck several times before we made it to West Fork because the view along the road was too good to pass up.  We would stop, pile out of the truck and scurry along the narrow shoulder snapping shots as the light and shadow played with the mountain tops.  Then quickly back to the truck to move on so we wouldn’t miss the best light further up.

View of Oak Creek in the Snow

Jabon taking a shot at the first creek crossing at West Fork Trail Oak CreekWe finally made it to the West Fork parking lot, which was closed, and found a spot further up along the road where we could legally park.  We hiked back toward the trailhead along the roadside careful of the growing traffic on the narrow, winding roads.  We were not the first ones to the West Fork trailhead and we followed the footprints through the snow back in to the canyon collecting shots along the way.  Once we reached the first creek crossing, the foot traffic grew thinner…not many wanted to cross the frozen water.

bright light behind the cliff at West Fork Oak CreekWe took our time and watched for subtle changes in the light inside the canyon trying desperately to choose our shots wisely.  The snow was 6 to 8 inches thick and clung fresh and soft to the rocks and trees.  This was one of those perfect places where you could easily snap off thousands of photographs if you weren’t more discerning.  The combination of the brilliant red rock in the intense morning light against the stark, clean whiteness of the snow was a dramatic scene.  Then layer in the deep emerald of the tall evergreens, the electric blue of the sky all of it wrapped in the ever-changing misty morning clouds.

Living in southern Arizona and growing up in California, I haven’t had opportunity for much hiking in the snow.  I really enjoyed this hike!  Snow along a trail, even an easy one like West Fork Trail, completely changes the hiking experience.  Finding the route is challenging unless there are footprints to follow, the deeper snow forces you to pay closer attention to each step.  Snow covered trails also means fewer people in most cases, which is how I like it.  My wife loved snowshoeing in Tahoe for the same reasons.  I’ve collected better Winter gear and will be looking forward to more snow hiking.

white snow and bright sky at West Fork Oak Creek

Soon there was only one other set of footprints in the snow, only one person ahead of us.  We finally came across her as she was headed back, another photographer out to capture this pristine wilderness.  Soon after that we stopped near a large boulder along the creek and where I heated up water for hot cider.  We sat there for a while, watching the light change in the canyon and snapping off the occasional picture.  Jabon took some shots of the frozen creek and we both worked to find angles for shooting the icicles hanging from the huge boulder next to us.

Snowy trees at West Fork Oak Creek

Heading back out of the canyon, being scolded for hiking in a “closed” area.  Some of the other early morning opportunists had received violations for parking in front of the closed gate.  We drove higher up the mountain after helping an older couple get their car out of the snow bank long the road.  There was little more to see and the casual visitors were starting to get thick as the morning grew late.  Jabon suggested we head in to more remote country and offered to show me a set of ruins he’d photographed a while back.  He was anxious to get another opportunity to shoot them, especially with snow around.

Hidden Canyon Ruins in the snowWe had time so we headed down a muddy 4-wheel-drive road to a remote canyon where Jabon led the way into a small obscure canyon.  After climbing up the drainage, we reached the head of the canyon.  A rounded bowl lined with 100 ft sheer red rock cliffs opened before us.  Tucked unobtrusively under a recessed ledge at the base of one side of the vertical canyon walls is a small, semi-circular stone structure.  The lower portion of the walls are original, still held together with ancient mortar.  The top has been obviously reconstructed including the lintel above the entrance.  The interior shows recent use, and even relatively recent remnants of a camp fire.  The site was simple, but the setting was magical.  I was really glad we could squeeze this last little excursion in to the day.

View from Hidden Canyon RuinsIt was getting late after that and we’d had an incredible morning.  Both of us were anxious to get back and start going through our images.  I am really happy with what we captured in Sedona that day.  It was one of those trips that we’d talked about taking for a long time and it turned out to be even better than we could have imagined.  Luckily the first snow of the season was a good one and it laid down thick and clean all over the upper elevations around Sedona.  I don’t know how I’m going to be able to top this trip…but that won’t stop me from trying!

Trip Gallery:

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Jabon is another one of those great friends I’ve met through Social Media.  I found him a couple of years ago when I did a quick search and discovered that he and I were planning to take groups on the same hike on the same weekend.  I reached out to him about the possibility of combining our groups and we hiked to the Pueblo Canyon Ruins together a few months later.  Since then we’ve talked about many possible adventures and collaborations.  We also have done Cold Spring Canyon, a quick photo-hike to Tom’s Thumb and this Sedona trip.  You can check out more of Jabon’s photography on his website or visit his Facebook Page.

Winter Outdoor Giveaway – Week 2…

Week 2 of the Winter Outdoor Giveaway is here so you get a second chance at some awesome winter gear.

We’ve added a new entry option called Refer-A-Friend.  Use this entry option to score up to 10 bonus entries!  Here’s how it works:

After you enter using any of the options, a box will appear at the bottom of the widget that will give you a unique URL that you can share with your friends. For each friend that enters the giveaway, you will receive +1 entry into the giveaway. You refer up to 10 people.  Cool, right?!

Win lots of great winter gear

Entering is easy, just click on the entry options below to secure your chances.  The more you enter the better chance you’ll have to win this fantastic gear:

And don’t forget to show your support for our fellow outdoor bloggers who have put in considerable time and effort to pull this outdoor giveaway together.

What are you waiting for?  Enter the Winter Outdoor Giveaway now!

 
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Winter Outdoor Giveaway – Week 1…

Winter Gear Giveaway

Let’s get this party started, folks!  Winter is upon us and you KNOW you want some fancy new gear to play with this season.  We had great participation last Spring and we’re hoping to give even more people a chance to win this time around.

Entering is easy, just click on the entry options below to secure your chances.  The more you enter the better chance you’ll have to win this fantastic gear:

Week 1 Prize Package:

And don’t forget to show your support for our fellow outdoor bloggers who have put in considerable time and effort to pull this outdoor giveaway together.

What are you waiting for?  Enter the Winter Outdoor Giveaway now!

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NEW Winter Gear Giveaway starts Thursday!

HEY! It’s Winter Gear Giveaway time!

Winter Gear Giveaway

 

You guys remember last Spring, right…a bunch of us handed out piles of awesome gear!  Well, it’s time to do it again and we’ve got 3 weeks of killer winter gear giveaways starting this Thursday from:

You know the drill, we will give you tons of chances to enter.  The giveaways are even bigger this time around.  But don’t worry, you can accumulate entries over the week leading up to each drawing.  The more you enter the greater your chances are to win this fantastic winter gear.

Here’s what we have to giveaway this time:

Week 1

  • Backpackers Pantry Freeze Dried Meal Set
  • Teton Sports Trailhead Ultralight Sleeping Bag
  • GU Energy Packs
  • Patagonia Men’s Scree Shield Boots
  • Bottle Bright Cleaning Tablets by Clean Ethics
  • Klymit Sleeping Pad
  • Injinji Toe Socks

Week 2

  • Hillsound Crampons
  • Hillsound Gaiters
  • Chaos Sports Balaclava
  • GU Energy Packs
  • Hydrapack Day Pack
  • Bottle Bright Cleaning Tablets by Clean Ethic
  • Injinji Toe Socks

Week 3

  • Tubbs Mountaineering Snowshoes
  • Terramar TXO 3.0 Half zip top
  • Terramar TXO 3.0 pants
  • Terramar TXO 3.0 beanie
  • Black Diamond Trail Back Trekking Poles from The Gear House
  • JetFlow Hydration Pack
  • Eco Vessel Water Bottle/Filter
  • Chaos Sports Gloves
  • GU Energy Packs
  • Chaco Tedinho Waterproof Boots (unisex)
  • Bottle Bright Cleaning Tablets by Clean Ethic
  • Injinji Toe Socks

Stay tuned and DON”T MISS this giveaway!  In fact, if you subscribe to WildernessDave.com in the form at the top of the page you won’t miss a thing!  Just drop you’re email in and you’ll get all the updates straight to your Inbox!  It starts Thursday so GOOD LUCK!

Mund’s Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is a magical place. It is a world famous tourist destination known for it’s signature red rock cliffs, new-age vibe and artist community.  People from all over the world have made a visit to Sedona’s “Red Rock Country” part of their travel bucket-list.

Sedona was originally homesteaded back in 1876 by JJ Thompson when he claimed squatters rights to land across from today’s Indian Gardens Store.  Just a year prior, scouts from Fort Verde (Camp Verde) were still chasing Tonto Apache through this rugged wilderness.  As people began to move in to the valley, the need arose for a Post Office.  Many of the original names for the Post Office were turned down because they were deemed too long by the government, and so the area was named after TC Schnebly’s wife….Sedona…because it was short enough to fit on a stamp.

I wasn’t originally planning a trip up north, but when I got a call that I was needed on a job site in Sedona for a mid-week meeting I immediately seized the opportunity to get some hiking in.  It’s pretty rough being contractually obligated to visit one of the most beautiful and scenic places on Earth.  The call was for an early morning meeting that would last until about noon.  So the plan was to do the meeting, grab some lunch and then hike part of the Secret Canyon area.  Unfortunately, FR 152 (which in best conditions is still a rugged 4×4 dirt road) was closed and I would either face a long hike in, before I could even get to the trailhead or find another hike.

On a suggestion from some Twitter friends, I stopped by the The Hike House for a map ($15), my Red Rock Pass ($5) and some trail advice (free).  They were very knowledgeable and helpful and were able to point to a handful of trail options that were open, accessible and would fit into my time frame.  I chose to hike Mund’s Wagon Trail which crawls along Schnebly Hill Road (which was also closed).  Looking at the map, I could access Marg’s Draw from a trailhead just blocks away from The Hike House and hike that trail to Mund’s Wagon.

The parking lot for the trailhead was a small gravel patch located a block or so behind a Circle K close to the main road.  I parked, organized my gear, strapped on my new Osprey Mutant 38 (thanks Phil!) and headed out.  Roads were closed and trail conditions were questionable because Sedona had recently seen a decent amount of snow.  However, this day was bright, clear and reasonably warm and there was no snow on the ground where I started.  By the time I got to Marg’s Draw, I started to get glimpses of what I would run in to.  The soil in Sedona is loose, sandy and has enough clay content that it gets very slippery and muddy when wet.  With the previous week’s snow melting, parts of the trail were very slick.  Marg’s Draw is a pretty flat, easy trail that meanders through the short, sparse Juniper and Pine forest and offers some very nice views of Mund’s Mountain.  It’s a pretty low trail, so the views are limited but that allows you to focus on the immediate scenery.  High desert landscape can be very beautiful, especially if you haven’t had much experience with it.  Blooming Agave plants, prickly pear and yucca are sprinkled in to the landscape along with Manzanita and sage brush.

Marg’s Draw Trail passes over Schnebly Hill Road where it connects to the Huckaby Trail.  Taking a left would head you up Huckaby and along Oak Creek.  Mund’s Wagon Trail is to the right and takes you to the main trailhead with parking, picnic tables and an automated kiosk for purchasing your requisite Red Rock Pass.  From here, Mund’s Wagon Trail twists through Bear Wallow Canyon along a small creek in an area called Mund’s Mountain Wilderness.  The creek was mostly frozen but there was still some moving water under the ice.  This trail never really strays too far from Schnebly Hill Road and, in fact, crosses the road several times.  The main rock formation along this trail is Mitten Ridge on the north side of the trail which rises above a lower formation called the Cow Pies. Mitten Ridge is a sliver of Red Rock that towers high above the trail and, this time of year, is in the perfect position to catch the light of the setting sun and I was hoping to time my return to catch a shot of sunset light splashing against the red rock.

As the hike took me deeper in to the canyon, the ascent was gradual but obvious.  The ice in the creek became thicker, the snow on the ground was deeper, the muddy red soil became frozen and hard.  Being in a canyon, and the afternoon getting late, most of the hike was in shade and the cold was creeping in.  As I looked at the map I decided on-the-fly that a good stopping point would be a feature named the Merry-Go-Round.  This is a prominent Red Rock formation sitting on top of a shelf of a harder, lighter sandstone layer that erodes much slower creating  a narrow ledge that completely surrounds the main formation in a rough circle, thus – The Merry-Go-Round.

The Merry-Go-Round

 

This ledge offers some of the best, unobstructed views down the valley and would have been a beautiful place to wait for sunset and get some amazing photos.  I hiked around the Merry-Go-Round for a while and climbed to the top of the main formation where countless people have carved their initials and/or date of their visit into the soft sandstone at the top.  I climbed back down and unpacked my NIKON D70 to get some good shots of the view.  I also took this opportunity to pull out my handy JetBoil and make some hot coco.  Sometimes it’s the simple things, like sitting on a cliff overlooking a scenic canyon with a cup of hot coco at the end of a snow-covered trail.  Priceless!

I didn’t stay long.  The winter sun was setting quickly and I knew I’d be hiking in the dark before I got back to my truck.  I decided, in the interest of time and safety, I would hike back using Schnebly Hill Road instead of the icy trail.  There were still portions of the icy, snow-covered road where footing was questionable.  As the sun disappeared behind the cliffs to the southwest, the temperature dropped significantly and I stopped to unload the cold weather gear so I could finish out the hike comfortably.  The moon was offering enough light to cast a shadow once the sun had dropped below the horizon and I didn’t need to fire up the flashlight until I was close enough to the original trailhead to start double checking the map so I didn’t miss my turn.  I returned to the truck after dark, changed into some warm dry clothes and began the long drive home.

Even though I’ve lived in Arizona for nearly two decades, this was only my second hike in Sedona.  Now that I have an appropriate trail map and a job that will require me to visit, I imagine I’ll be logging a lot more miles in Red Rock Country.

Total Hike: 9.5 miles RT (roughly)