Monday, August 26, 2013

Gear Review: Keen Cascade CNX sandal

The Keen Cascade CNX are lightweight synthetic sandals great for summer trips to your favorite watering hole. Designed with a narrow shape and low-profile cut, the fit is both snug and comfortable, and true to size.  Weighing in at a measly 9.7 ounces (7.4 for women), you won’t even feel the weight on your feet, especially in the water where these sandals really shine.

Read my full article on the Mountain Blog here:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cabin In the Woods: Historic Cabin Loop Overnighter

Another backpacking adventure in the books. This trip turned into something we didn't plan for at all, but was still a ton of fun. The original plan was to hike the entire length of The Cabin Loop on the Mogollon Rim in Coconino National Forest. Starting the loop clockwise, we planned on hiking around 10 miles to Barbershop Spring on Saturday, and finish the loop in another 10 miles on Sunday. Well, it didn't quite turn out the way. After a conversation I had with a Forest Ranger, we ended up in a maze of poorly marked forest service roads and even missed the trailhead, completely diverting us off course. By the time we found the trailhead, at a spot marked simply "Houston Draw" it was 1:30 in the afternoon. We knew based off our research that the first few miles of the loop on the U-Bar Trail was confusing and difficult to follow, and since it was late in the day and the gray sky was pounding us with rain and plenty of thunder and lightning, we decided to shorten the route 5 miles by taking The Houston Brothers Trail along Houston Draw straight to Barbershop Spring. 

Cabin near Aspen Spring

The area was absolutely beautiful, with tall ponderosa pines towering overhead, and carpets of fern covering the forest floor. Walking in an area like this can make you forget that you're in Arizona. It was very reminiscent of the Cascades, especially with the rain, the ferns, and the clear flowing streams. About 2 miles in from where we parked we reached Aspen Spring and one of the coolest campsites I have ever seen. In a small clearing surrounded by ponderosa pines sat an old log cabin with a covered porch area. In front of the cabin was a large fire ring and right next to Aspen Spring (where fresh water actually flowed from the hillside under an Aspen grove) was an old fire place and chimney. It was all very beautiful and alluring, and I was overcome with the urge to camp there. "But we just started" was Sarah's response to that suggestion. Indeed, we had, but it was such a great place to camp, why not? I mean, isn't that one of the reason we go backpacking, to leave schedules and plans behind, and just do what we want to do? Besides, wasn't I just saying in a blog last week that backpacking isn't about mileage, it's about just being there?

Sarah in front of an old fire place. On the right below the Aspens is Aspen Spring.

It didn't take any convincing. She loved the spot too, so we made camp in the rain 2 miles from where we parked. At first we pitched a tent in front of the cabin, but feeling sorry for the dog (who I was not going to let sleep in my brand new tent) we decided to move it under the cabin's covered "front porch" area, so he could be close to us, and stay dry.

Rocco after a long night.

We explored the area, and saw lots of wildflowers and pretty scenery. We also saw lots of barbwire fencing. In fact, I've never seen so much barbwire fencing in the backcountry before. I found it out of place, and an eyesore. In the early evening I made ready to build a fire. Sarah was having serious doubts about whether I'd be able to do it, since everything was so wet, but I brought an Esbit tab just for such a scenario, and after a lot of blowing and feeding it with small twigs, I got a great fire going that burned through hours of rain.

Wildflowers in adundance

We turned in early, but that night around midnight I was awaken by a very strange sound coming from the woods. At first I thought It must have been a coyote, but as the sound continued I realized it didn't sound like any coyote I've ever heard. In fact, it didn't sound like anything I've ever heard in the woods ever. I counted 6 howls total, but it wasn't a howl as much as a high pitched screech. It almost sounded like screaming, except with no desperation or random pitch change. It was the same howl every time, and it was just really weird. It sounded like it came from something big, because it was really loud and each screech echoed through the forest. I just laid there quietly and listened, wondering what it was. After it stopped I asked Sarah in the dark if she heard it, "Yeah, what was that?!" she replied. 

writer in the wild
Yours truly.

Sunday morning we awoke with the rising sun. The clouds were gone and the morning was crisp and clear and beautiful as the sun's rays shot through the trees and brought the forest to life. A couple backpackers strolled into camp about 8 am. They had been hiking The Cabin Loop since Friday and our cabin was the first cabin they had seen. They described a frustrating (but still fun, no doubt) weekend of constantly losing the trail, and hunkering down in their tents at camp to stay out of the rain. I felt good about cutting the hike short and camping at the cabin. It was such a perfect spot, and we had an amazing time. I definitely want to go back. That area is just too beautiful to be neglected, and I feel like I need to give The Cabin Loop another go...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Weekend Warrior

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to devote my life to backpacking. I didn't want to work some nine-to-five, and squeeze backpacking trips in whenever I could. I wanted to backpack full time... But the more I worked toward that goal, the more I realized how difficult it would be. Everyday I read about people thru-hiking the long trails every year, and I wonder, "How do they do it?" How do people afford spending half the year on the trail? What becomes of their home life? What do they go back to?

It was easy for me to give up most of my possessions when I decided that I no longer wanted to be controlled by them. That was the easy part. My last apartment I was afraid to sign a year lease. I was afraid  to be tied down, to be contractually obligated to one place for a year. I kept thinking that having a lease would hold me back from what I really wanted to do... Hesitantly I relented, and signed the year lease... and moved to Arizona 6 months later.

Until I can find a way to support my family doing what I love, I will remain what I have always been, a weekend warrior. Backpacking on the weekends has taken me on some epic adventures to some amazing places. To me, backpacking is about seeing and being in those special places, and I feel like they are all a part of me now. 

Being a weekend warrior does not make me less of a backpacker, though sometimes I feel that way when I read about guys like Barefoot Jake or The Hiking Dude, who's adventures seemingly follow one after the other. Sometimes I feel that way because of this sort of backpacker elitism attitude I've encountered from other bloggers, or on certain forums, or even from some comments people have left me on my own blog. Man, I can't really grasp that kind of useless negativity, because In my world there's no time for it.

 It's perfectly fine if your pack weighs 30 pounds, or if you prefer boots over shoes, or if you use a free-standing tent instead of a tarp. There isn't anything wrong with filtering your water or using a canister stove. And if you only hiked 5 miles in one day then I say more power to ya, because it's not about speed, its about being there, and soaking in the grandeur, and embracing that peace of mind that you only get from being in the woods.

I long for the days when I can backpack the long trails. When I can spend weeks, even moths, at a time in the woods. The call of the wild is too strong in me for that not to happen eventually... For now, I'm proud to call myself a weekend warrior.

My cousin Luke at Revett Lake in north Idaho.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Spokane Adventuring: Iller Creek and Q'emiln Park

Sarah and I at one of my favorite places in Spokane
 Sharing my favorite places with people is one of the biggest joys in my life, even though sometimes I worry if the places I brag about will live up to the hype. Late last month I had the opportunity to share some of my favorite spots around Spokane with Sarah and the kids. First was Farragut State Park for my family reunion (which I wrote about earlier this week). Boy did I talk that place up! Rightfully so, as Sarah and the kids were very impressed and a great time was had by all. I also got the chance to take the kids to Q'emiln Park on the Spokane River in Post Falls, Idaho. This place is usually hit-or-miss depending on the crowds, but as we visited during the week, we had a nice stretch of beach all to ourselves. Considering the kids are more accustomed to desert reservoirs, they were plenty happy with the grass, and the trees, and the clear blue water.

Jonah testing his balance
We also hit up one of my favorite local trails at Iller Creek Conservation Area (which I've written about previously). When I lived in Spokane this was a trail that I normally hiked in winter and early Spring as a good training spot for the warm weather backpacking season. I think this was the first time I actually hiked the loop in the middle of summer. Accompanying Sarah and I was her oldest daughter Bianca, my cousin Jesse and his lady friend Alexis, my cousins Luke and Jen, and my Uncle Steve.

Jesse and Alexis
 The hike was even better than I remember, and such a welcome change from the desert heat. We hiked the loop counter-clockwise and the first 3 miles is a steady climb through a lush green tunnel of pines. It really makes you feel like you're deep in the woods even though the conservation area is just on the edge of town. Unlike Phoenix there was zero air-traffic, which unfortunately is something I'm becoming too accustomed to as of late. Another thing I noticed immediately was just the abundance of sounds. The buzzing bees, chirping birds, scampering squirrels, and the breeze blowing lazily through the trees provided the best soundtrack for a hike that I've had in a long time. It made me miss the Pacific Northwest for sure.

Lots of Bees

Overall it was a great hike, and everyone had an awesome time. I wish I could have done some more hiking when I was up there, but the circumstances just wouldn't allow it. I haven't been backpacking once this summer, which means this is the first summer in 5 years I haven't gone! Wow, that's depressing to say the least. Hopefully I can get out soon because I have 2 new tents that still haven't been used, and a backpack I'm supposed to be testing for The Mountain Blog. I better get on it!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Reunion: Farragut State Park

Spending time with family is time well spent. Luckily for me, I have a family that gets together out in the woods every year for the annual Morley Family Reunion. We come together from all around the northwest, mostly from Spokane and central Washington, but also from as far away as southern California and Colorado. For the past 8 years (I think) we've had our reunion at Farragut State Park in north Idaho on Lake Pend Orielle. It's a great spot in a thick pine forest with plenty of shade and everything we need for 4 days of family fun. 

My nephew Mason
In recent years, our reunion has centered around one epic family event. The annual Buzz Cup Horseshoe Tournament, named after my Uncle Buzz who was a big horseshoe lover, and a great thrower too. Every year my cousin Scott organizes the big event which usually involves 10 or so teams of randomly selected partners in a two-day long double elimination tournament. The winning team is presented The Buzz Cup (which they must bring back the following year) at a ceremony around a bonfire on the last night. It's all stooped in tradition and lots of fun. To ensure a continuing crop of players, we even have a Junior Buzz Cup Tournament, so all the little ones can learn the game of horseshoes, and be ready for the day they're old enough for the big show. This year, I'm proud to say, my girlfriend Sarah won the trophy with my Uncle Shawn, and he was gracious enough to let us bring the cup here to Phoenix, were it will sit proudly on our mantle above the fireplace.

Uncle Ozzy teaching Bianca how to horseshoe.

It's not all about horseshoes though. We play volleyball, hike, bike, explore, and generally just enjoy each others company. Saturday is the big day of the reunion. On Saturday morning we cook a huge breakfast on big cast iron skillets over a wood fire, and Saturday night is a big potluck. After the potluck we move over to a large stone fire-pit left over from World War 2 when Farragut was the largest inland Naval base in the United States, and we have a talent show, the trophy presentations, and talk about any family issues that may have arisen over the course of the reunion. One thing we always discuss is where to have the next year's reunion, but we all love Farragut so much that no one wants to leave.


The consensus was that this year may have been the 50th year of the Morley Family Reunion. I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty awesome that we've been getting together for so long. The reunion has given me so many great memories over the years that I hope it will always be there for the younger generations. Its important that family get together, and its even better when family gets together in the woods. 

Me, relaxing.