Thursday, February 26, 2015

Writer in Review

I have this professor at school. She is managing editor of Arizona Highways magazine, as well as a published author. She said something in class that really got me thinking:

"Write as though every word is on trial for its life."

So I decided to go back and review what I have written on this blog. I have almost made it to the five year mark and I think a good clean-up is in order.

It's funny. There are so many things I didn't write about in the beginning. Why did I omit so many epic backpacking trips? The Seven Devils, Heart Lake, William O' Douglas, Revett Lake and tons more. I briefly considered going back and writing them all anyway, but I wont. Instead I'll just clean up what I have.

Reviewing my archives, it's clear that I just didn't take the blog seriously until I moved to Arizona in 2013. It's the stuff before then that I'll be working on. I want my blog tip-top. I want it to be the best.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Backpacking Stoves

Discussing 3 backpacking stoves, and weighing the pros and cons of each.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Oak Creek Fishing

Oak Creek
 It seems like forever since I've been fishing. Early last summer was the last time I went. I think. Fishing generally takes a backseat to backpacking for me, especially for overnight/multiday trips. I used to do them together when I lived in Spokane, but since I've been in Phoenix my backpacking fishing kit has been collecting dust in my gear closet. 

After an overnight stay in a plush cabin north of Sedona, my friends and I hit the creek bright and early Monday morning. Luckily I wasn't feeling the six-pack I drank the night before. The air was refreshingly brisk, and it wasn't until late in the morning when the sun finally reached the water in the canyon. I was elated by the weather. Cool air, running water and an abundance of trees isn't something I'm used too. Unfortunately, due to ongoing drought and low winter snowpack, the water level was really low. We hiked and bushwhacked up and down the creek searching for any pools big enough to sustain the brown trout we were looking for. They were hard to come by. 

Low water at Oak Creek
 The pools we did find were really shallow. Maybe 2 feet deep at most. Jim and Mike fly-fished from the top, while I tried spinners, salmon eggs and even powerbait. The water was just too low, and we saw no sign of fish at all. I posted up on one pool and spent a couple hours throwing in everything I had. If there were any trout in that water, they didn't bite. Even though I wasn't catching anything, I was still enjoying myself. Like I always say, just being in the woods is enough. I saw some ducks, a great blue heron, and what I presumed to be raccoon tracks in the mud. That's what I love about the woods. It's never time wasted. There is always something to see and something to learn. Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Desert Backpacking - Minimalist Kit

So, I finally got around to making a video about my backpacking kit. It was a lot of fun making, and I'll definitely be making more in the future. It did turn out really long though, which isn't too surprising considering I can be very long winded when talking about something I'm really passionate about like backpacking. This is worth a look if you are interested in desert gear or just lightweight/minimalist gear. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Gear Review: Red Fox Fizan Trekking Poles

World's Lightest?
Trekking poles give the wilderness walker that extra traction to go the extra mile. They save the knees on the downhills, and are great for balance. If you’re an ultralighter, they come in handy for pitching the tarp too. And there are a ton to choose from. People are generally overwhelmed when they walk into REI and see an entire aisle full of poles, but one feature they always want is light weight.

 That’s why I was so stoked to review the Red Fox Fizan trekking poles. At 158 grams they make the bold claim of being the world’s lightest, and maybe they are. Compared to my Black Diamond poles they felt like feathers. In fact the 5.6 ounce weight is lighter than the lightest Black Diamonds. But they’re tough too. There were a couple times in The Grand Canyon when I thought they would break after I jammed one between rocks while in cruise control, but the aluminum allow construction had just enough flex to make the recovery without any damage.

At around 23 inches they also get smaller than the high-end name-brand poles we’re used to. And if that’s not small enough, they’ll easily break down into three separate sections of less than 19 inches, which is short enough to fit in most carry-on luggage. 

Specs aside, it’s clear to me that the Red Fox Fizan trekking poles are exactly what other poles are trying to be. Even the locking system is superior. Most twist locks fail over time, or when pressed upon by a significant weight. The twist locking mechanism in the Red Fox Fizan poles didn't budge even when I leaned on them. In the two months I've owned them they've never slipped once.

In the short term these trekking poles have been the best I've ever used. In 5 days of hard backpacking they felt like an extension of myself more than a tool I was using for travel. All wasn't perfect however, as the rubber tips they came with were utterly destroyed by the rocky Grand Canyon terrain... But that isn't saying much.

Oh yeah.
You can check out the Red Fox Fizan trekking poles and other gear at:

Disclosure: I was given the Red Fox Fizan Trekking Poles at no cost of my own from Red Fox for the purposes of a product review. The opinions I express in the review about the product are my own.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cave Creek Deer Hunt

Some of you may know that I took up the bow recently. I can't believe how much fun it is. I can't believe it took me 36 years to pick one up. Archery deer season began in January, and with it a new reason to get outside. Some people evolve from backpacking to climbing or mountaineering, but for me, I'm evolving toward self-reliance. That's what I've always loved about backpacking: relying on myself for everything. That's why I chose a recurve. It's simple. It takes skill and instinct developed though practice. Hunting, I think, is the next evolution in that self-reliance concept that I'm pursuing. 

Jim and I decided on the Cave Creek area of Tonto National Forest for our hunt. We both know that area very well, and that played a big role in our decision. That area isn't exactly known for an abundance of mule deer, but a trail cam nearby at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area convinced me that it would bear fruit. I follow Spur Cross Ranch on Facebook and they post regular photos from that cam on their Facebook feed. Besides coyote, bobcat, javelina and mountain lion, I have seen plenty of deer on that cam, including at least one large buck. We hunted the area just north of the conservation area. 
Golite Imogene
Camp for the first 2 days.
It was exhilarating hiking under a full moon late Tuesday night. It was my first time backpacking that I've started at 9pm at night. The desert was alive with night sounds and the many creek crossings kept us on our toes. About 4 miles in we camped high on a saddle near Skull Mesa. The wind was roaring and I was concerned that my tarp would take a beating. I set it up in a simple windshield type configuration with the windward side nearest the ground. I didn't get much sleep with the wind pounding my tarp all night. I kept expecting it to collapse, but it didn't.

It was dark when we awoke. After a quick cup of coffee we geared up and hit a hillside that we expected would be a good position for glassing. We had great views into a large valley that the creek ran directly through. To me it looked like a perfect spot for animal activity, but we didn't see anything all morning. There was an even higher peak just to the south of us, so we decided to climb that to gain a different vantage point. Near the top we saw javelina sign everywhere. Holes in the ground. Half eaten prickly pear. Dug out beds under paloverde trees... And just like that javelina were darting about all around us. We saw big ones, small ones, and even babies. We walked right into a javelina herd that had bedded down for the day. Most of them just scattered, but one particularly large javelina stood 10 yards away from me staring at me. I clutched my bow waiting for him to charge me, but he didn't. Frankly I'm not sure he could even see me very well. I told James that if we had javelina tags we would have filled them the first day of the hunt.

Rusted out old Ford.
Our new vantage point on the mountain-top didn't reveal anything new. The valley appeared void of any animal life. We glassed until around 1pm, and not seeing any sign, we hiked down to the valley to get a closer look. Down at the bottom we saw some really cool Hohokam petroglyphs. Although I've seen them before, I always have to stop to check them out when I'm nearby. It still amazes me what the ancient people of the desert were able to accomplish in this dry, harsh landscape. We spent the rest of the day scouting the valley we had glassed all morning. We saw javelina and coyote sign everywhere. We saw bobcat tracks, and a rusted out old Ford that someone had dropped very purposefully over a drainage to presumably act as a bridge. But we didn't find any deer sign at all. We needed a new plan.
Jimbo glassing
That night I saw my first ever wild scorpion. It crawled out from underneath a rock when I was preparing to start a fire. It only took 2 and 1/2 years of desert dwelling to see one! The wind on that second night was even more viscous than the night before. But despite the 40 mph gusts I slept much better. I think because I wasn't worried nearly as much about the stability of my tarp. I just knew it would hold, and it did. 

The next morning we moved to a spot that Jimbo had picked out from the map. It was closer to the conservation area, and we reasoned that maybe the deer were staying closer to the park because they just instinctively knew it was hunting season, and of course hunting is illegal in the park. Hiking up a hillside Jim spotted a large buck not 30 yards in front of him. He said later that it was the largest buck he'd ever seen in Arizona (and he grew up here). The buck was onto us immediately and literally the second Jim stopped and whispered "buck", it dropped into a wash and out of sight. We came up with a plan of action right away. I would flank high up the hill and try to drive the buck down the wash into Jim's position below. I nocked an arrow and crept up the hill as quietly as I could. It's hard sneaking in the desert with all the pokey plants everywhere. I was stuck by multiple cacti during my maneuver. I reached the top of the wash and spotted Jim below. We both looked at each other and raised our arms as if to say "where did he go?" We spent the rest of the day trying to track that buck to no avail, but the good news was that new spot we were in was full of deer sign. We decided to move our camp lower so we wouldn't have to make the hard hike up and down the mountain the next day,

Our new camp was near the creek and the wind was nill. Some critter made a racket in a wood pile nearby, and the entire area was covered in Javelina tracks. A spider the size of a mouse scurried through the sand near my tarp, and I was briefly concerned that I would be sharing my sleeping bag with it or one of its friends. We enjoyed the peaceful night as we sat by the fire and planned out the next day. Even though we had come up empty so far, we felt good about our prospects for the next day in this new spot.

It's me.
Early the next morning we were glassing from a hill at the same location we spotted the buck the day before. We spent all morning out there searching in vain. The desert mule deer is not easy to find, and we reckoned that the deer were even closer to the park then we originally thought. All in all, our hunting trip turned into a 4 day scout, as we only spent one day doing any real hunting. We simply could not find the deer. But it wasn't time wasted. I learned a ton... The desert is an excellent teacher.

Jim crossing Cave Creek

Monday, December 29, 2014

Superstition Wilderness: Terrapin Pass Overnighter

Sarah and Bianca
 Backpacking during the holidays is great because everyone is at home. My Uncle Steve and I used to backpack every 4th of July. We relished the solitude and chance to have the wilderness to ourselves. So it was in the Superstitions last week. Although the Peralta Trailhead was jampacked with vehicles, we encountered only one other group of backpackers in an area that is usually extremely popular.
Rocco lapping up water
The trick with the desert, and indeed the Superstitions, is the lack of water. Due to the recent rains however there was plenty along the trail. It was great for Rocco who had lots to drink and plenty of chances to cool off. Water also gives the backpacker peace of mind. Up in the Pacific Northwest I always took water for granted. Down here in the desert it's a luxury. To have available water is a big confidence booster when backpacking in the desert.

The Superstitions
Our original plan was to connect several trails to make a clockwise loop from Peralta Trailhead and overnight at LaBarge Spring. We arrived at the trailhead much later than expected however and had to change the plan. After a relatively easy jaunt through thick desert scrub we arrived at Terrapin Pass near the base of the famous Weaver Needle. The pass offered amazing views of the desert mountains so we decided to make camp. The only drawback was that there was very limited space for pitching tents and no cover from the wind. So, I pitched the tent (for the girls) and my tarp nearly right on top of each other on the only relatively flat spot in the area. 

Sea-to-Summit Escapist Tarp
Terrapin Pass camp. Weaver Needle in the background.
Lying under my tarp with Rocco that night I felt him shivering like crazy. I felt bad for him so I unzipped my sleeping bag and let him crawl in as much as he could. It didn't work. He was still shivering. I couldn't figure out why he was so cold because his body felt warm and was radiating tons of heat. Eventually he crawled into the tent with Sarah and Bianca. I'm sure it was cramped quarters in the tiny 2-man tent, but it was the only thing we could do to keep the dog warm. At about 3am the wind picked up intensity. I had to get out and tighten the guylines to prevent the tarp from flapping so much, The wind was blowing really hard up on that pass. I'm guessing 40 mph or more. When I awoke around 6am, I saw that my tarp had partially collapsed. I also saw that the wind was hitting the tent at a direct broadside, which bowed it nearly in half. Normally when I anticipate heavy wind like that I would pitch the tent with the most aerodynamic end facing into the wind. but the area we were camping prevented me from doing that this time.

Sarah, Bianca and Rocco on Terrapin Pass.
Despite a freezing dog, a partially collapsed tarp, and a beat-up tent, we still had a great time. The temps were perfect and the scenery was amazing. If you've been wanting to get into the Superstitions, this is a perfect time. The recent rains have filled the springs and sprinkled the lowlands with pools of water. If I can find the time, I will return as soon as I can.