Tag Archives: summer

Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado Upcoming Trip

16 Jul

Mid summer marks the time when a limited window of opportunity opens to explore some of our country’s most dramatic alpine landscapes.  This year marks my fourth annual pilgrimage into some of the most wild and remote places in the Western United States.  Some of the places I’ve been to in the past include: the Ruby Mountains, the Great Western Divide, the Bechler River Wilderness, and the Galatin Mountains.

Early July, Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Early July, Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Depending on the location, there is at most a three-month window to get to these places before the inclement weather settles in. This is the main reason why summer has a special place in my heart. For me, it is the most intrepid time of the year.  This year I am planning a visit to the Weminuche Wilderness.

To those of you not familiar with the area, the Weminuche occupies the far southwestern corner of Colorado to the immediate  east between  Durango and Silverton.  Its location is at nearly the epicenter of the San Juan Mountains and at just under 500,000 acres, it is Colorado’s largest wilderness area. This is a place that contains three 14,000 foot peaks as well as the headwaters for many major streams and rivers including the Rio Grande, San Juan, and Animas Rivers.  The Weminuche is also the state’s  deepest and most impenetrable wilderness. Many of its spectacular back country locations are accessible only by long hiking trails where days of backpacking travel are necessary.  Some years, the trails are snowed in until the middle of July and a snowstorm  is not uncommon in September.

To date, I’ve spent about a week in the state of Colorado on two different trips that both involved staying in my favorite place called Telluride, which also happens to be nearby.  During my travels, I’ve driven around the western periphery of the Weminuche, but I have never ventured into it.  The Weminuche proper is surrounded on almost all sides by other wilderness areas, generally consisting of the same mountains and rugged terrain, but technically of different names. Trying to familiarize yourself with a general wilderness area this large and complex is like trying to put together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

I am waiting on several more maps coming in the mail.

I am also waiting on several more maps coming in the mail.


The research is intensive.  For me, it started with a map followed by a guide-book and then more maps and books and finally Internet research. Moreover, this will be my first solo backpacking trip in several years and will also be my longest.  Some of the other major considerations I must take into account are: road conditions, weather, driving distances, supplies, hiking miles, wild animals, altitude acclimatization, and wilderness rules/regulations.

Mental preparation becomes as important as physical preparation.  One of the focal points of my preparation for this trip is what do in case of a lightning storm. Colorado is known for its mid summer monsoon storms and its high peaks and lakes are like lightning rods. What happens if an electrical storm rolls in when I am ten miles and 3,000 feet up from my vehicle? Noted below is the best information I have found on this subject to date.

NOLS Lightning Safety Guidelines.pdf (application/pdf Object)

My trip is coming up fast and I have some other ideas and information to share with you about it before I leave near the end of this month.  I am also going to post a detailed itinerary and try to make this trip more interactive than what I have done in the past.  If you have any suggestions for restaurants,  campgrounds, driving tips,  or anything at all I’d love to hear from you. I am looking forward to sharing more with you in the future. Have a wonderful day!

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Wild Moments in the Wilderness #4: Wild Weather + Bad Trail Maps = Mental Anguish

17 Jan

Ask any seasoned outdoor traveler and they’ll tell you that if you spend enough time outside, you’ll see just about every kind of weather imaginable. This is especially true when traveling in the mountains. Weather forecasts are generally unreliable when dealing with high altitude backcountry travel.  Currently, I find the national weather service’s website to be the best for detailed weather forecasts of hard to get to wilderness locations.

For example, this past summer Joyce and I were planning a series of two backpacking trips to the southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In late September, the weather is usually clear and mild even into the far reaches and heights of the High Sierra. For the weeks leading up to our trip, I continuously checked the weather forecasts. The forecasts, much to my dismay were clear, clear and more clear skies. They called for unseasonably warm temperatures during the first leg of our trip.

However, the forecasts also predicted a strong cold front  coming into the region (from the Pacific NW)  by the middle of our trip. This was not supposed to change, and believe me, I scoured every website looking for anyone or anything calling for clouds.  

There weren’t any surprises concerning the weather (clear, blue Sierra skies) when we started our trip. Unfortunately, the weather on day two was even much hotter than what was forcasted. It was literally scorching hot without a cloud in the sky. Coincidentally, it was also one of our most arduous days of hiking. Despite the incredible scenery, this made traveling unpleasant. Oh, not mention, our National Geographic topographic map seemed entirely inaccurate. What looked to be a fairly straight line on the map was actually a winding, weaving, up and down, thigh burner of a trail. It ended up being at least 3/4 mile longer than what was stated.

When combined with the hot weather and long distances can really demoralize a hiker’s attidue.

This was sunset at Hamilton Lake taken on the hottest evening of the trip. The High Sierra Trail is visible on the far side of the lake - this is where it makes its final ascent towards the Great Western Divide.

The  following day the weather started to change. Just my luck, another perfectly clear sunrise without a cloud to be seen.

Taken shortly after sunrise near Hamilton Creek.

The Changing Day

Two hours later, the clouds came out of nowhere and started rolling and swirling around. At first it was in a concentrated area and then things really started to intensify. We didn’t break camp until almost noon and so thereafter the fog started descending on us – hard.  On this particular day, the map was even less accurate. It was a long, cold, strenuous, uphill venture and fresh bear scat along the trail added to the intensity and mystery.

This is the view from the top of a steep fall on the way to Tamarack Lake.

What was even more difficult was the fog covered all of our vantage points so we really had no visual frame of reference as to how how far our final destination was. Long story short, after several hours of exhausting travel we arrived at the lake.  A couple of times, I actually thought the fog might lift and we would be treated to a spectacular sunset. Alas, that never happened.

Later that night, it started to snow. It snowed hard for several hours, which seriously worried Joyce. Rule one for wilderness travel is to hope for the best, be prepared for the worst and keep a level head. That’s what we did and things turned out just fine. The next morning it was sunny and clear. Once again, not a cloud in sight. Later that day, the fog settled in, right on cue.

That’s about three days worth experiences summarized in three paragraphs. There are several lessons to learn from all of this. Remember, the difficulties in backpacking are 50/50 mental and physical. Weather patterns while traveling high in the mountains are completely unpredictable.  It is crucial to be both mentally and physically prepared for the worst. Keep a level head and take one step at a time. Don’t rely too much on trails maps for complete accuracy.  If you need to cut back on some weight, you can always leave some of your camera gear at home . Well, hopefully not! I hope you enjoyed this post. Look for #3 around next Friday.

5 Photography Tips & Bryce Sunrise 24 x 36 Print

1 Dec

Before we get into the photography tips,  here’s a quick personal update on the latest happenings in my photography world. The first big festival of the winter is upon us and we are making final preparations for a successful show. Our inventory is fully stocked, show pricing is in place, and we have several options of styles including framed and matted prints, notecards as well as canvas giclees.  For this show, we also made a couple of large prints including my bryce canyon sunrise shot entitled, “Celestial Alignment” at 24 x 36. That’s my largest print to date, we just got it home this afternoon and here’s a quick snap shot with me in it to give you a sense of size. Including the matting and frame – the image is 49 inches wide.

One of my showstoppers for Tempe this year. This is a 24 x 36 Lightjet print on FujiFlex paper with distressed gold trim, suede matting, museum glass, and a Southwestern wood frame. For more information on purchasing this piece...please contact me.

Now onto my photo tips. Ron, my contact at Induro Gear,  asked me to submit my top five photography tips and he published that article on the Induro blog earlier this week. You can read it here.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I apologize for not updating my blog for frequently. This has been an incredibly busy time. You can expect me to update the blog at least once per week from now until the new year.

Michael

Top 10 Parks for Summer Travel #8

18 Jun

8. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Pros: Breathtaking Views,  Abundant Wildlife, Centralized Location,  State of the Art Visitor Center, Easy Access, Family Friendly

Cons: Small in Size, Sometimes Overcrowded, Very little natural water

Dates of Visit: August ’06, August/September ’09,  May ’10

Bryce Canyon is probably the hottest park on this list right now as I continue to enjoy myself more and more every time I visit. In fact, this park has gone from a middle of the road contender to one of my favorites in the country. Although it is smallest in size on this list, it packs quite a punch. If you have never visited, the scenery here is second to none. Jaw dropping at first sight and continually beckoning the interpid sole.

Unbelievable scenery awaits you at Bryce Canyon

The base elevation of this park is over 8,000 ft. making it the coolest national park in Utah during the summer. There are two rather large campgrounds inside the park and several more just on its outskirts.

Furthermore, summer also means monsoon season and  Bryce Canyon is certainly known for its spectacular skies. Sunset and sunrise views here are both fantastic, arguably some of the best views in the world. I give a slight edge to sunrise for photography as most of the park’s vistas are facing East and the color is slightly better.

There are about 40 miles of hiking trails in the park, which is substantial considering its size. Hiking is relatively difficult here because of three reasons:  1) all the trails descend into the canyon 2) the air is thinner 3) there is no water in the canyon. There are backpacking opportunities as well and getting a backcountry permit is relatively easy because this park is more geared for tourists rather than hardcore hikers.

There are two items of interest that have specifically captured my attention that I want to talk about. First off, the trees in this park are absolutely beautiful. I could spend days here wandering around looking at the distinguishing character of the trees. The way they are set apart and scattered amongst the red rock makes it seem like a natural chess board. In my opinion, this is a very underrated aspect of the park.

The trees are fascinating at Bryce Canyon

The second suprising tidbit about this park is the abundance of wildlife. Now, I haven’t seen a lot of diversity, but cruise the main road in the park at sunset and you’re sure to see some deer and or antelope grazing in the meadows. There are quite a few birds in the parks as well…..

Because of its location, there are plenty of opportunities for other forms of recreation in and around the park. Whether it be ATV’s (certainly not my thing), fishing, swimming, rodeos, horseback riding, rock climbing, bicycling, etc., it is all here. For a first time visit, I’d suggest spending a solid week in the general area devoting about 1/3 of your time specifically to Bryce Canyon. At any point in time, two to three nights seems like the perfect stay there. It’s just simply not that big of a park to spend a week or longer there.

A visit to Bryce Canyon wouldn’t be complete without the mandatory stop at Ruby’s. The folks at Ruby’s basically discovered Bryce Canyon and put it on the map so they are the only game in town. Ruby’s is like the grand central station of Bryce Canyon. It has everything you need, want, or forgot from high-end souvenirs to groceries and sporting goods. Of course, don’t forget to try the buffet. I’ve personally sampled it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your dining options are pretty limited in these parts and for that fact alone – I do endorse this buffet.

At $11.99, lunch is a dollar more than breakfast I believe and much better quality. It’s not the greatest selection in the world, but it is hearty, decent quality, standard american fare:  salad bar, soup, chicken, pork, corn, carrots, beans,and a pretty killer desert bar that features some scrumptious brownies and soft serve ice cream. (The desert bar is not available for breakfast) It also runs until 5pm before it switches to dinner and the prices goes way up. If you get there at 4:30 you’ll pay for lunch and get to eat dinner, which basically involves adding some fish and maybe beef. Between shopping and eating plan on spending at least a couple of hours there. It is actually a pretty cool place and most of the employees are helpful and friendly.

So there you have it, Bryce Canyon in a nutshell:  indescribable views, amazing colors, special wildlife, the best buffet around, and literally bus loads of Europeans everywhere. This park is awesome. Please don’t make the mistake of just driving through. Get our your vehicle and explore! That is a fantastic place and highly recommend a summertime visit.

Top 10 Parks to Visit During the Summer

11 May

Today, we are going to start with our first ever Top 10 List, the best parks to visit during summer travel. My goal is to make these posts as fun and informative as possible. Starting today, with number 10  – we’ll count down in our blog to the number one national park in the lower 48 to visit during summer travel.

 Please keep in mind, I define summer as the period of days starting on June 21st and ending on September 21st.  Before we start, one thing I’d like to make clear is that I have not visited all the national parks – so for the sake of this list I am only including the parks I have visited during the summer. Also, I am unable to access some of my computer files right now so I will update each park on this list with a picture sometime in the near future.  I hope that makes sense! Without further a due…

10. North Cascades National Park, Washington    http://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm

pros:  small crowds/solitude, pleasant temperatures, world-class scenery & adventure

cons:  inconsistent weather, poorly maintained roads, unusually dangerous terrain, limited amenities and services

date(s) visited:  August 2007

I have only had the privilege to visit this park one time and it was at the end of August a few years ago. I was there to do a charity climb for the non-profit group Big City Mountaineers. I spent about 4 days there and the weather was extremely erratic. The first day and half it was beautiful – sunny skies, highs in the 80’s…let me give you a picture. Snow capped mountains, dramatic vistas, glacial fed lakes, incredible waterfalls, lush greenery, endless beauty. The night after our climb of Mount Shuksan, I was awakened to the sound of snow cascading off a 1000 foot cliff. It was amazing. 

Then it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and rained. It actually never stopped. And it rained hard. It wasn’t a drizzle that you can go out and walk about in.  I actually had to leave early because I just couldn’t anything it was raining so hard.

Despite all the spectacular scenery, the one thing that left the most lasting impact during my visit was the lack of crowds. I visited the main visitor at 4pm on a Saturday and it was practically dead. I couldn’t believe it. What a surprise!

One other thing that really got my attention was the topography of the land. It is extremely rugged and dangerous. You really can’t hike off trail. It is just too overgrown with thicket hiding unexpected drop offs. The rocks around the water here are extremely slippery. Just writing this conjures up so many incredible memories of this place.  Because its been a few years and I have only visited it once, I think this park would move up the list before it moved off.  It is certainly that special.

Planning Ahead to Ensure the Best Time Possible

3 May

Today we are going to discuss another important nuance in planning your exciting vacation to America’s Greatest Idea, our national parks. Here’s the concept: make sure you plan appropriately for contact with the outside world because things work a little differently inside our  parks. Allow me to show you what I mean in mathematical terms: no televisions + no cell phone coverage + no Internet = no contact with the outside world.

Now, it isn’t that extreme in all the places, all the time. Of course, there are some areas where communications are similar to our everyday lives, but at some point in time, you will deal with this potential issue one way or another. So let’s examine how to prepare and addresss this situation.

Mentally, this is how I recommend you approach it: embellish, embrace, and love it! It is an absolutely wonderful thing. No longer will you worry about work, bank accounts, stocks, news, sports, family, business partners, etc. And the best part about it is there are no excuses, you can’t help it if you don’t get cell phone reception and you need to drive forty plus miles just to make a phone call.  It really is an essential part of getting away from it all and refocusing your priorities. All you need to do is just change your voicemail before you leave and you are good-to-go.

Hopefully I’ve sold you (if you weren’t already so) on this idea of the power of not having power, so to speak. However, there are times when these technologies are vitally important and it can take appropriate planning and knowledge to utilize this to your advantage while vacationing. Let’s go over a few scenarios where you may need access to technology at a specific point in time and how to plan for it in advance.

  • Reaching out to loved ones on an important birthday, event, or holiday. In all of these circumstances, it’s always best to plan ahead. Try to know exactly where you are staying and on what dates and attempt to verify ahead of time whether the place has cell phone coverage. Remember, even if there is no cell phone coverage  you may be able to find a pay phone to use. So bring some pre-paid calling cards with you. Otherwise, bring along lots of extra cash because you’ll need it for that expensive, long distance, pay phone call.

 

  • Attending church services. Most of the major national parks do have some  limited theological services in the summer time available to visitors. These are usually run by young adults and normally pertain to the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and LDS denominations of faith. Again, planning is your best bet so make sure that you’ll be close to the area where the services are taking place. Remember, some of the parks are huge and you could have a considerable drive if you don’t know where you’ll be and where you need to go. So don’t cut corners or you could pay for it later, take the time to study maps and estimate mileage and drive times.

I am feeling a little under the weather today, so we’ll stop for now and I’ll finish up this thread later in the week as we continue examine more scenarios and talk about even more solutions. Until then, have an awesome week and God bless you.

Intricacies of Decision Making

29 Apr

Let me give you an example. This one has to do with backpacking, but it can easily apply for even the most “metro” of travelers. Last summer, we made an epic voyage backpacking through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park. For those of you who don’t know, the Tuolumne River provides the city of San Francisco with its drinking water and has to be one of the most inspiring and pristine rivers anywhere in the world. In a course of approximately 20 miles, its aquamarine, crystal clear waters turbulently spill, plunge, and drop through a canyon of sheer granite walls and almost unimaginable beauty. 

 We made the trek in early July of last year when water levels were still very high. This had its pros and cons. The waterfalls were absolutely incredible running at almost peak volume. Around every corner and turn, there was white water. Conversely, it was difficult and dangerous to swim because the current was SO swift.

 I greatly enjoyed my experience, but if and when I visit again, I’d like to come back in late August or early September just to experience a different kind of tranquility. Water levels are lower and much slower moving then. It is easier to go swimming, especially when it is very hot out.

What’s even more interesting is the reason we chose this time of year. It was because of the water levels, but it’s not what your thinking. You see, we were doing a backcountry loop of 70 miles, which finished in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, but didn’t start there. The trip began with a 13 mile passage on the Pacific Crest Trail, through an area known as Virginia Canyon, which has notoriously very little water in it. The streams there trickle and by late in the season run dry. We didn’t want to deal with spending a night in the backcountry without a reliable water source for cooking and drinking and that factor greatly influenced our decision to make the trip earlier in the season. 

Here’s the ironic part, because of the water (the snow was still melting at 8000 ft) and time of year, the bugs were absolutely atrocious! (see picture on previous post). Knowing what I know now, I would rather deal with the lack of consistent water sources and have little bugs then vice versa. So if I were to do the hike again, I’d do it in late August instead of early July. In case you are wondering, yes, we closely monitored the temperatures in making our decision and early July and late August are historically about the same in Northern Yosemite. It’s the middle of July to the beginning of August that are the hottest times of the year there. 

Standing at the top of the Waterwheel Falls section of the Tuolumne River after 60 miles of hiking with 40 plus pounds of gear. It was a grueling trip. This water was really moving fast and one slip could end in certain physical death! This picture was taken near the top of the canyon coming out and there were many more tributaries down below adding to the rivers intensity.

Hopefully,this story gives you an entertaining and insightful glimpse into how these factors (temperature, time of year, elevation, bugs, wildflowers, and water levels) all influence one another. There are always pros and cons in every decision and it just depends on what is important to you and how it fits into your schedule. 

Lord willing, during my next post I will discuss one more potentially important consideration when making your summer travel plans to our National Parks. You don’t want to miss it. Until then, may the good Lord bless you and have a wonderful day and we’ll talk to you again soon. 

This is Return Creek. A major tributary of the Tuolumne River. This scene was about 3 or 4 miles down the canyon from the last shot. One interesting tidbit about Return Creek is that it also forms the northern boundary of Virginia Canyon - so we actually crossed it twice. Joyce captured this wonderful image from a bridge, but while leaving Virgina Canyon - we precariously forded this puppy! In between, we looped around up and over two high mountains passes and up the canyon for 40 miles.

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