Saturday, December 18, 2010

Here. Now.

Winter met us in Spokane. It was cold, then colder. The mountain got a great start and we skied pow the first week of December. Then it got warm and stayed cloudy. The snow melted and the streets dried out. I went on a bike ride. I thought Spokane might have a secret cloud cover that never went away.

Then the sun came out. We went to the river. No one was there because it was cold. The trails were melted out and there were great blue heron and mallard ducks and beavers.

The swinging bridge above the rapids was sitting in a sliver of winter sun. It was warm and shiny and smelled like old railroad ties. You could feel the cold air coming off the river and mixing awkwardly with the sun warmed pines. Back in the tress, leaving the river, we dodged puddles of black ice, and it was bitter cold. The sun had gone down.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The end of an era

Now that I'm settling for the winter I can take the time and look back through last seasons photos. IanOutThere came to an end as fast as our free-time summer when work at Naturalists At Large came crashing in from all sides. After a final last hurrah in the Tetons with Alok we made a 18 hour push from Jackson to Ventura to start our fall season. The photos from the season at NAL sum it all up... too busy for much more than work. Looks like I didn't even take my camera out for almost 5 weeks according to the date stamps.

My driving schedule was huge and so were the trips. I spent countless hours on the highway, alone in the cab of a box truck. I made a classic tour of California, including all the regular NAL haunts: Joshua Tree, Mono Lake, Point Reyes, Yuma and the Colorado River, all the while with Ventura in between. The state just seems to get bigger and bigger as the years go by.

I was happy to be part of the core crew on two of NAL's biggest, most logistically insane trips of the year. Highlights include 80 pounds of meatballs, on the river under only stars, and rally-driving overloaded box trucks through the sand. Let's just say supporting 300 people down a wild desert river is not a simple task.

So happy to have explored so many corners of California. The wild west is still wild.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cle elum, Bend, Jackson Hole, Utah, Vegas, Ventura, Point Reyes, Tilden Park, Oakland farmer's market, Ventura,Bishop, Levitt Meadows High Sierra, Mono Lake, Berkely

Why don't I blog about work. probably because I'm too busy driving.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back in the Washington Cascades

I've been telling people this: Those Washington Cascades are nothing like ours in Oregon. Yup, the volcanoes are there but the exploded remnants up north are bigger and more glaciated. Squeezed in from all directions throughout those big volcanoes are endless ranges coming from all directions. The approaches are wild with waterfalls and the mountains shoot up into every view. From the dense valleys to the icy summits its a long way up and the trailmakers' favorite tool is the switchback... and once your in the mountains there's granite and andesite and snow and ice to keep one busy for a lifetime.

Well, all this still holds true, and there's more. Yesterday we made a one-day ascent of Mount Daniel's 7,899 foot East Peak. It was our first notable journey into the Central Cascades this summer and we were quickly reminded of the sheer size of the range.

We climbed from 3:30am to the reach the peak by 10am. During the dark hours of the morning we climbed through pitch black forest to reach still ponds reflecting the morning clouds. Mount Stuart and the entire Enchantments sat to the east and we watched them fend off an early morning advance of desert cloud cover to leave us with a fantastic clear route to the summit.

Unfortunately the summer heat was immediately upon is and the snowfields turned to guck at once. We rushed up through the heat to beat the encroaching mountain melt-down. We climbed straight through the morning to make sure we could descend the steep snow before the sun had its full impact. The day was wild and hot and long and gave us a complete view of the many ranges laid out before us.

The Cascades, in their entirety, are all well within striking distance from Harvey Basecamp and from our Mt Daniel summit we saw we had a lot of work to do. I wished to be able to point of the names of each and every peak near and far, and for that, we must climb and explore across the range. Sometimes the only way to pick out and name the mountains in the distance is to have climbed them before. So, we go.

Photos: 1)The view south from Daniel's southeast ridge showing Rainier and Spade and Opal Lakes, 2)Michelle at the summit 3)up the steepest of the snow gullies 4)Mt Daniel East peak and our route

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Middle Sister is surely my favorite peak in the Oregon Cascades. Last weekend, the classic central sister made for a good day in Bend's local range. Eric, Tyler, and I had finally got our shit together, our schedules aligned and we made a midnight rendezvouz in Redmond. The drive through the night is a great part of these adventures, and from when we left Redmond at 3am we past not a single sole on the way to the Pole Creek trailhead.

With record hot temperatures forecasted for the day I was a little worried about the snow stability as the day warmed up. And indeed after returning home we heard of a late afternoon rescue on Hood the previous day. Somehow there are still mountaineers out there that don't understand the dangerous nature of a melting sno-cone. I had set in my head a 'summit-by' time for 11am. Knowing the steep snow step midway on the north ridge may pose a problem after a few hours at these temps we had move along before the inevitable melt-off began.

And move along we did. Stopping briefly and infrequently and keeping our eye on the prize as we blasted up the steep and forested east flanks of Middle Sister. The sun came out abruptly and everything was immediately hot. This was going to be a test of endurance in these temperatures. It reminded me of the Arizona desert – only with the added reflectivity of the snowfileds. Higher onto the mountain a slight breezed picked up and at the col I tossed on my shell and good my helmet and ice axe ready for action. We had very short food supplies between us – we ate the last of the pretzls and fruit snacks (I will pass by the story illuminating how this happen). We happily found the steep snowfield step well travelled with good steps kicked in and now starting to melt into rotten snow. The pitch was short and deposited us on the north shoulder which then relented in steepness, cross another low-angle snowfield, and plopped us onto the small summit.

Views in all directions. A little bit of whining a rejoicing. A sip of water and enjoying the summit breeze. Then reverse down the continually softening snow step and back to the col, which is now seeming like grand central station with a roped party descending, two couples ascending and a few solo hikers departing to the west. I attribute it to the general increase in recreators in Bend lately – the trailheads and notable backcountry areas are clearly seeing increased use (not to mention the Search and Rescue seeing a lot more boneheads lost in the reasonably straightforward Three Sisters Wilderness).

Once off the solar-oven snow fields and down through the thankfully shaded forests we reached the catchtrail heading back north to Pole Creek. The temperatures low on this west flank under scant lodgepole trees were truly opressive. I can recall no other time in Central Oregon where I have felt so blasted by heat and sun – my only comparison to this afternoon come from adventures in Mojave and Colorado desert lands. There is heat that can not be escaped, dry wind that sucks the moisture from your pores, and shade to thin to help. Our final trail miles were as all final trails mountaineering-in-day trips should be: brutal, hot, and way longer than they seemed going in. What a great trip!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

An exploration

An intense month of exploration in Southern Utah's canyon country has come to end. Back in the comfort of the casual Central Oregon landscape I am almost finding time to reflect on the very wild places we have been recently. We explored, I believe, the heart and soul of the mighty Colorado Plateau. We navigated into the most intricate of slickrock mesas and defiles. We descended canyons, made wild by the extreme nature of their terrain and later traversed every two-wheel drive road we could in search of the most open land.

Finally, we made ourselves psuedo-locals in the culturally bizarre small towns of Springdale, Escalante, and Page. The region is completely one-of-a-kind and beautiful, but most importantly, it is still wilderness. It has fought back against the spread of humankind and won. Its rivers have been tamed and exploited and cities continue to expand their tentacle but the harsh life this wilderness promises has helped maintain a wildness in the place.

When we first arrived in Zion on May 15th the rivers were high and flowing thick with red sand. The desert sun was still tempered by the spring rains and everywhere was exploding with wildflowers. We counted up to fifteen different species in bloom on one trip into the Escalante. The winds were present too. We had read about the tortuous May winds of the desert in a couple of guidebooks but nothing could have prepared us. The desert is an exposed place and a strong wind just adds to the desolation and intensity of the landscape. There was no help from vegetation so you had to turn to the geology for reprieve. It is a rare day when reading the wind on the landscape in needed for your daily comfort and survival. Finding a spot out of the wind does not to prove to be as easy as finding a spot out of the sun for example – having the telltale sign of shade as your guide. With wind it is more subtle, you hike across a wide sand-blown valley to an alcove that looks great and its the windiest place out there. Where there is less wind, the sand drops out of the heavy air and onto you and into your eyes. There is no escaping the wind.

By June the desert was feeling regular again. It was hot, but not unbearable, there were flowers, but only those guarded by canyon walls, and clear, spring-fed streams replaced silty torrents. It was the quality and nature of the watercourses and the water within them that changed the most for us. The amount of silt carried in the creeks seemed to change the colors of the whole canyon. First torrential snow-fed maroon cream, then blue glacier-like pools and iridescent falls, then crystal clear mirror-like pools that reflected the ripples into magical orbs. The combinations of colors and light are infinite in a water-filled desert canyon. After a month of day-to-day experiences within these rare, remote canyons the seasonal variations that changed the entire nature the of the beast became apparent. In Escalante, where water is harder to come by than in Zion, the wildflowers and shrubs seemed to respond to the intensifying summer on a daily basis, tightening up their skins almost before your eyes. Every component of the desert wilderness is invariably teased or shaped by the Earth's most precious resource. Its hard not to notice the immediate and ancient role of running water in the landscapes' creation. We were there too, following its courses downwards towards the all-encompassing Colorado and learning about the coming and going of the land.

Photos: 1)The Waterpocket Fold 2)Descending into Deer Creek, Escalante, 3)Buckskin Gulch, Paria River 4)All the rocks of the desert end up in the ocean

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The dragon came from Escalante. He, or she, lived in a grand slot canyon that entered into the heart of the mighty river. In times past the mighty river flowed strong and thick into the even mightier Colorado. Nowadays it was summer, and 2010, and the once formidiable Escalante now trickled into the cold and narrow lake arm that swallowed it without notice.

In the canyon that he, or she, now resides in, is a Grand Cathedral. The alcove holds a spring and large boulders that have fallen from above. It is surrounded on all sides by towering red walls. The walls fortify and protect dark arches that make up the roof of the alcove. These ledges, dark and wet, make good homes for dragons.

After the rivers ran still and the mightiest Colorado backed up behind the dams the dragon found he, or she, no longer gained the satisfaction from cursing through the long river canyon from sea to mountain crest as he, or she, did when the water flowed strong. With wings wide he, or she, would bank from wall to mighty wall and follow the boisterous froth in its entirety, which was reportedly an easy feat for a dragon. Once the heavy waters stilled, parts of mountains dropped from them to the bottom of the not-so-mighty ponds, and with the settlement came that of the dragon. Clear, cool water now seeped from the bottom edge of the concrete spring and filled the former channel with sharp jumpy water – no place for a dragon regardless.

Its easy to see why he, or she, would pick such a place to settle. The slot would be a good place to hold up for the remaining long life of a dragon. The tourists aren't much of a bother and, for a dragon, the climate in surprisingly mild. The sun there is strong and reassuring and the ferns have many day to day usefulnesses. The canyon is named on maps but the name can not be said here. The dragon wouldn't like it published. He, or she, has asked nicely, and considering all that he, or she, has been through.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

We are in Egpyt

If Zion is adventurous, then Escalante is wild. Escalante Grand-Staircase National Monument was designated with a signature by President Clinton and with that penstroke almost 2 million acres of the most wild country in the nation was set aside to be managed by the BLM. The land has changed little under its new federal designation, though now it has been discovered by adventurers. It is a limitless maze of red and cream sandstone canyons and gulches, slot canyons, 1oo-mile dirt roads, primitive campsites, pictographs and pytroglyphs, springs, creeks, and swimmin' holes. The silty Escalante River is the backbone of the region, collecting the 1,000 year old trickling springs and alpine creeks pouring off the 10,000 foot Aquarius Plateau and delivering them all to the backwaters of the Colorado River forming Lake Powell.

We find ourselves again in the land shaped by the Colorado River. After working for so long canoeing great sections of the lower Colorado River, we feel happily connected to all the water flowing on this grand plateau. For we have seen it further towards the sea and know its future place on the land.

The Escalante is a river, but it is also a place. Though it's not an ordinary place. In the Escalante distance has a way of expanding, water is precious, and the energies of cultures past permeate the land. It's the sort of place you top off your rank and fill up the water jugs before heading out into it. Regular maps will lead to being hot and lost. Compasses become important again. I see it as a wild land, long explored by wild people. 1st the Pueblo and Anazazi, then the Navajo, then the hearty (and most likely crazy as all hell) Mormom pioneers, and now us. Hmm?

We've been driving on rough dirt roads for hours now – haven't seen a soul. We are headed for a desert slickrock bench named Egypt. There we will look for the aptly named Egypt slots. They are a collection on sinuous, miles long slot canyons dropping abruptly south into Twentyfive Mile Wash. We imagine them as damp, shady recesses offering cool routes through the Earth with nary a glimpse at the sky.

We get out of the car again under a hot desert sun. I move rocks, fill holes, get down like a golfer reading the break of the putting green. This is a rough road, it has been rough for hours, and Egypt doesn't seem to be getting any closer. We decide to go for it. The mini-van claws at the gravel and slickrocks. I marvel at its strength in this desert blast-furnace, the engineers back in Japan surely never imagine their Honda Odyssey in these conditions. No one would ever imagine anyone or anything in these conditions. These conditions, this place, can can not be planned for or a machine built for. This wilderness road with not a structure in sight attest to that. We are in Eygpt.

That night we burn a bright, smokeless fire of bone-dry juniper. From our lonely site the desert vista is long, yet there is not another fire or electric light to see. The fire reduces to a smolder and the starlit desert is all ours.

In the morning we pack our bags for the unknown, all the while pounding water and feeling dehydrated. We start down the road, continuing where we left off by van the evening before. A small Toyota truck comes around the corner and it is a weird reminder that other people still inhabit plant Earth. They stop and we climb into the bed of the truck. The road is surprisingly rougher still and we flop around in the back of the truck as its tears at the rubber-smeared slickrock trail. We are in Egypt.

We stand atop the 3rd slot counted from west to east. The landscape below us is another world. Slickrock rules the eye. The sandstone has been swirled and pressed by forces past, then eroded by the sensual yet unforgiving hand of water. There is little vegetation and its hard to focus because of the depth and distance in one frame.

The slot is cool and narrow and dark. The bottom is sand and mud, but the walls are hard and sometimes smooth and sometimes rough. We turn sideways , dragging our backpacks behind us. Michele is having a blast because her shoulders fit through almost every squeeze straight-on. I turn to the side and suck in my stomach. The sandstone is all around us – it is comforting but unnerving at the same time. Water has indeed carved this place; best not to think about the how's and when'snow.

We are blinded and melted as we are spit from the bottom of the slot. There are murky, tannic pools of water that we purify and drink. We are in the desert wilderness. The Toyota truck is long gone, our van (thankfully full of gas and water) is 2000 feet up the slickrock that forms our backdrop.

There are no trails in Egypt. There are no bushes or trees to warrant them. You can walk anywhere. A good map and a compass tells you where to walk. We take a bearing and follow it blindly (like in a snowstorm) up and across the tan, and peach, and maroon ramps of rock. It is afternoon and the sun is at its fullest potential. We weave through patches of cacti and sand; we marvel at our posistion on the land. We begin to call it: open desert. Because that's what it is. No water, no trails, no shade, no people, no informative brochures, no shuttle buses running on propane and bureaucracy. Nope. We are just walking on a bearing of 285 degree NW in open desert. We are in Egypt.

Photos: 1)Michelle plots the course for the day. Egpyt 3 below 2)They don't call it Grand Gulch for nothing 3)hiking slickrock 4)Wildflowers everywhere this spring 5)Native rock art along the Escalante River 6)I'm not really stuck, but I could be, Egpyt 3

Monday, May 31, 2010

Zion Canyon Country
Winter Water

Its the first week of a summer long adventure and we've just left Zion. Snow was heavy this spring in the mountain southwest and the rivers there were running high – clearly not conducive to exploring and rappelling the regions wild canyon watercourses. Though the handful of canyons we were able to explore left us dumbfounded by the beauty of this red rock desert landscape. Its a landscape so completely created by the course of water carving through sandstone on its way from the high desert to the Colorado river the irony is not lost on us. We cannot explore the place fully, purely because the regular forces that created the massive steep-walled canyons are at work at present.

At first entry to Zion National Park we were excited and ready to put some new canyoneering gear to the test. We choose a canyon with a short drainage, supposedly little water, and an easy approach. Easy approach means: park the car at the end trailhead, hitchhike with the tourists scurrying around the park like ants, hike an hour or two straight up exposed slickrock, backcountry navigate to the canyon head. Easy. Turns out the most likely people to pick up hitchhikers these days (even those clearly not running from the law) are French tourists roaming around Utah with a full-size van they bought when they landed. I think our French friends picked us up from the roadside of the wildwest simply for the stories back home – but we got a ride and were soon gaining elevation and perspective of the massive Zion landscape unfolding below us.

Spry Canyon is mellow to an experienced canyoneer (which we are aspiring to be), but to the armchair adventurer it may sound a little extreme. The entrance to the canyon is guarded by loose and exposed sandstone ledges that empty into a narrow defile chalked with brush. This side canyon pours out into a wide and wild-looking bowl surrounded by towers. All the while the geology has mixed up and swirled all the colors of rock to give the place an otherworldly sense. After traversing the bowl and dodging catci we came to a small stream pouring over the slickrock and ending in a wispy fall of maybe 40 meters (130ft). Just a glimmer of water apparently reached the pool below, the rest was sun dried or blown away. We locate two bolts and some webbing, uncoil our ropes and prepare the rappel. The ropes fall through the water then splash and tangle into a smaller pothole halfway down the falls. I clip into the ropes, check the system, and slide the near-vertical watercourse towards the chilling shadows below. “Now we're canyoneering,” we say.

Honestly, after that first big drop in Spry the rest of the canyon seemed to go by in a blink of the eye. The next morning we were ready for more deep Zion. We got what we were looking for, as spring conditions meant melting snow and deep and cold water in the traderoute canyons of Pine Creek and Starfish. I will pass by the chance here to soapbox about how the National Park reamed us, charging us $10 per canyon, thus $20 for a day of technical permits, while the hoards scramble freely amongst every day hike and viewpoint in the park. But my digression on the state of park management in the 21st century will have to wait for another blog entry. A second ride through the Zion tunnel puts us atop Pine Creek, clearly Zion's most accessible technical canyon.

When you see snow at the top of the drainage your just about ready to swim through its OK to be nervous. Despite our wetsuits and neoprene booties the many long, dark pools in the deepest recesses of central Pine Creek Canyon turned out to be debilitatingly cold. Be reminded though: once you start on your way down and pull that rope down to you while your treading water in an iceberg pool your on your way – no u-turn. While the cool water and cloudy conditions made Pine Creek kinda a freeze fest, we found it hard to get caught up in our own discomfort. Spinning down a free-hanging rope though water-carved red walled sandstone amphitheaters vertically hiking past hanging gardens and natural arches it's easy to say to yourself, “I'll be in the sun soon, even though I can't feel my hands, this is beyond fun and way too beautiful to worry.”

Photos: 1)Michelle gets us a ride through the tunnel 2)climbing from Upper Pine Creek to find Spry Canyon 3) Egypt 3 mile-long slot 4)special thanks to our 5.10 canyoneering shoes 5)the final rappel into the wild sandstone alcove of Pine Creek

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I am back from China, back from behind the "Golden Shield" and thus reunited with IanOutThere at BlogSpot.

Soon! look for upcoming stories and adventures from my last three months in Yangshuo, China.

Until then look at the updates on my China photoblog at: