Thursday, December 20, 2012

Off The Beaten Path

Whether you lose it, or just step off it, sometimes you find yourself off the beaten path.

Tumwater Mountain

In this case we lost the trail near the top of the mountain. At first we pressed on navigating with map & compass, but it was just too hard. We postholled in waist deep snow for an hour before we decided to turn back. By the time we found a dry spot to make camp we were totally exhausted. We had to melt snow for water, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't start a fire.

Upper Priest River

When you see huge trees in the backcountry, sometimes you feel compelled to stand next to them. These are giant Western Red Cedars and my Uncle Steve and I both jumped off the trail to check them out.

Olympic National Park

Some of you might recognize this picture as the old header to my blog. When you hike on the beach there is no trail, but getting lost is not much of a concern. In this case we were travelling north. As long as we kept the Pacific to our left we knew we were heading in the right direction.

Bloody Basin

Its a lot easier to travel cross country in the desert because there isn't much blocking your view. On this hike we were almost always within line of sight to our jeep parked just off a dirt road, and when we couldn't see the jeep, we could still see the road.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ode to Campfires

Nothing beats a good campfire, especially when you're worn out after a long day on the trail. My Uncle Steve is a master fire builder, and is the person who taught me the tricks of the trade. One of those tricks is to start small. People have a tendency to start too big, but you need tinder in the beginning. Tiny twigs, old man's beard, pine needles, and even wood shavings all make good tinder. Once the tinder is nice and hot and burning good, you can start adding the kindling. But remember, if you throw in the bigger stuff too fast, your fire will die.

My Uncle Steve tending the fire.

This lesson is especially true in wet conditions. On the Olympic Coast I day-dreamed of the campfire. It was always wet and windy and cold. I remember our second night, all of us were soaked to the bone by the time we reached our camp, and all the wood available was soaking wet. The principles of starting a fire in the rain is the same, but it takes more time, and a heavy dose of patience. Start small, but keep it small longer than usual. Keep feeding it tiny twigs until you have a small ball of burning red coals, and then slowly start adding bigger stuff (still feed small stuff as well). If the fire is dying, get on your hands and knees and blow into the coals. Build a wall around your small fire with your kindling and larger wood. The fire will dry it out over time, and it will also help shield the fire from wind and rain. It can take a lot of time to start a fire in wet conditions, but it's definitely doable. My cousin Luke and I spent hours once trying to start a fire in the backcountry after days of rain. But our efforts paid off, and eventually the fire was so hot, anything we put in it, no matter how wet, caught flame. You'll have to constantly tend it, constantly blow on it, and constantly feed it, but it will be worth it in the end.

Steve starting small in the rain.

Building a good fire is sometimes challenging, but for me it's a lot of fun. If you arrive in camp early, building and maintaining a good fire is a fun way to just pass the time. It can also be a big morale booster, especially at the end of a long, cold, hard day. Just don't forget your lighter or waterproof matches, or at the very least Swedish Fire Steel. When I backpack I bring two 2 sources of flame, usually a small lighter and a box of waterproof matches (as a back-up) in my first aid/survival kit. Lately I've ditched the lighter in favor of Swedish Fire Steel, which when combined with good tinder will produce flame. I always bring tinder as well. Something that will easily catch a flame and burn long enough to ignite the organic tinder I add. You can find all kinds of fire starting materials at REI or any other outfitter. I just take a few cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly. You can make them easily at home, and they are cheap and lightweight, and will immediately ignite from a spark.

Chillin' by the fire.

I leave you with my favorite campfire ever. I think Its my favorite mainly for the location, on Gem Lake in the Seven Devils. We had the lake to ourselves. It was so clear and still, and beautiful. We sat on that log and cooked trout for dinner that we caught from the same lake earlier. It was an amazing evening in the backcountry.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Birthday Sarah

Today is my sweet Sarah's 29th (wink wink) birthday, and I dedicate this blog to her. She is not only an amazing girlfriend, she is also my partner-in-adventuring. It's so awesome having a significant other who shares a passion for the outdoors.

The first thing you'll notice about this picture is how beautiful she is. Having a beautiful woman along really adds an exciting extra-dimension to hiking. I really have to be on my toes when preforming various outdoor related skills, otherwise I might make myself look like an idiot, and shatter my mountain-man image.

I really like this shot because she reminds me of a really hot Indiana Jones or Francisco de Coronado. She's an adventurer, an explorer, a conquistador. She's holding a set of binoculars in her hands, looking up at the mountain, and thinking, "nothing will stand in my way".

She has great outdoor instincts. In this shot she waits for the first group to reach the other side before she steps into the swamp. That way she would be warned if there were any unseen hazards in the swamp like quicksand or venomous snakes. 

You'll notice that she has a little bit of swagger in this shot. That's because this was the end of a 3 day backpacking trip; her longest ever. Three days with the bugs and critters and things that go bump in the night. We also climbed the 2nd highest mountain in Arizona. Right now she is thinking, "I came, I saw, I conquered". She's feeling like a bad ass, and already thinking about the next adventure.

I feel pretty lucky to have her. Happy Birthday Sarah, I love you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sonoran Sky

The Superstitions
Cloudy day in The Superstitions
Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Phoenix Mountains Preserve
The sky above this park is usually crisscrossed by vapor trails from all the air traffic coming in and out of Phoenix.

Lost Dutchman State Park
From Lost Dutchman State Park

Saguaros -
What passes for trees in the desert. Some of these can get pretty big.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Friend In Need

Dear friends. Recently a friend of mines wife was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer. Right now they are basically selling all their belongings just to make it through Christmas. I know many of you know what its like when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, and are familiar with the financial hardships it can cause. Well, we can help my friends Josh and Wanda and their little girl Gracie. I am asking as your friend, to click on this link and donate whatever you can...

  Donate Here


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Trail Days 3

Sarah and the Superstitions

Sarah in Mount Baldy Wilderness

Steve in the Seven Devils

"Are we there yet?" Kelly on Tumwater Mountain.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Bloody Basin

Someone told me last weekend that Arizona had more public lands (percentage wise) than all the states in the lower 48. Although that isn't true (Nevada takes the #1 spot), Arizona does rank in the top 10. Seeing the urban sprawl stretching to the horizons while flying over Phoenix, I never would have guessed there would be so much to explore out here, but there is.

 One of those places is called Bloody Basin, in the Tonto National Forest. I don't know if its called Bloody Basin because the Indian wars that were fought here, or the red tinged soil, but it is a really cool place to explore. One could probably spend a lifetime exploring here. But the catch is that water is really scarce.

Bloody Basin
My friend and long time Arizonian James (aka Jimbo) took me out there for a day trip on Saturday. He is an outdoor lover like me, and has introduced me to a lot of cool places since I moved down to the desert.

Bloody Basin

We decided on an off trail excursion. Doesn't look too bad from this view, but let me tell you, when you get down there a midst all those prickly plants, it can be poke city. There is a bush of some kind that grows here that had barbed hooks on it which embed in your clothes and skin when you get too close.

Bloody Basin

As remote as this place is, the roads back here are remarkably well maintained. But even with the nice roads, we only saw perhaps 5 other people all day.

Turret Peak
Turret Peak

That peak in the center is called Turret Peak. In 1873, US Army scouts sneaked up on some Apaches that were hiding there, killed 57 of them, and captured the rest. The ambush basically broke the back of the Apache resistance. I love how rich in history Arizona is, despite how sad it can be. It really adds a new dimension to my outdoor experiences.