Thursday, July 17, 2014

Exercising options.

All of last week Jeny and I alternately debated weekend plans and checked weather websites.  The normal summer pattern of afternoon thunderstorms has settled in, which is ideal if you're among the parched flora that blanket this state.  Not so good if you're a sentient bike rider looking to ride up high without getting electrocuted.

As we neared the weekend very few options remained in play, and we began considering staying low and paddling in what little moving water remains.

Then a hail-mary email came in from Jeff and Tim, inviting us to join them on an overnighter near Salida.

Even though the forecast there looked every bit as bad as elsewhere, somehow the fact that it was someone else's trip, with plans already firm, made it seem like a better idea than not.

The storms started early on the first day, catching us out a long ways from shelter the first time.  We all got soaked through despite good rain gear, prompting an impromptu stop under the eaves of the next trailhead loo we came to.

And while we did get some good weather for riding over our two days out, wave after wave of storms washed over us, necessitating a lot of stopping and waiting at low points when they presented themselves.

All that rain made for hero dirt, a condition no one seemed to mind.

We camped strategically on day one so that we could top our high point early on day two--theoretically before the storms began and closed the door on that option.

Mere moments after the group topped out on Tomichi Pass the thrumbles began to our west, and would hound us increasingly through the day.

Much of the second day's route was in thick enough trees that shelter of a sort was always at arms reach.  Still, we ended up having to shortcut our route substantially because of all the downtime spent waiting for charged clouds to roll on by.

We used that downtime wisely--by sharing scoobysnacks, catching up on each others lives, and, of course, talking smack.

In the end the weekend turned out nowhere near any plan any of us had envisioned.

Despite that, we had a great time and would go again at the drop of a hat.

To Tim, Roz, Heather, and Jeff--thanks for having us.

And thanks to you for checkin' in.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dark Canyon.

20+ years ago, shortly after moving to Crested Butte, I overheard an acquaintance talking excitedly about the Dark Canyon.  I was eavesdropping and as such didn't get all of the details, but the general demeanor of the speaker was of reverence and awe, such that I knew I needed to see it, somehow, someday.

Credit the packraft with finally making that long-deferred desire a reality.

Greg Luck joined me for an overnighter that coulda been done in a long day.  We opted to drive to Kebler Pass the night before, allowing us to savor some non-plugged-in camp time and just decompress a bit while photogeeking the dark, starry skies up there.

A leisurely start to the day (and why the hell not?!) saw us dawdle around camp for the sheer sake of dawdling.  Seems I'm not the only one that's hit 'terminal velocity/summer sleep deprivation mode' earlier than normal.

We followed Ruby Anthracite Trail #836 for about 3 miles, trending downhill, around the eastern flank of Marcellina mountain.  The trail had excellent tread for hiking, was lined with lush early-summer foliage, and only occasionally interrupted by beaver pond or root garden.

Views of the West Elks, Raggeds, and Anthracites kept our jaws slack, while auditory accompaniment came courtesy of the resident hermit thrush.  3 miles of laden walking is no lark with ankles as fooked as mine, but the sights and sounds that surrounded us while hoofing it had me both relaxed and energized when we arrived at waters edge.

Lower Ruby Anthracite is a steep (~150'/mile), narrow little creek with a handful of blind corners, horizon lines, and a propensity to collect wood.  We shore-scouted wherever we couldn't boat scout, and in so doing learned that the earth here is simply unstable.  Nothing was static, everything, including whole mountainsides, seemed to be in flux underfoot.

Ultimately we found only one riverwide piece of wood--it was both easily seen and easily portaged, right at the confluence with Anthracite Creek.  That portage felt like a gift, in that it deposited us just upstream of the confluence in a gorgeous, trout-filled green pool we wouldn't have otherwise seen.  

The overall flavor of the run was playful, fun, technical--largely because the flow was low enough that we could move around as needed and eddy out more or less at will.  Sometimes eddying required parking on the abundant F-U rocks or grabbing a handful of willow branches long enough to throw a glance over your shoulder to see the next 'eddy'.  Engaging, yet not scarily so.

Greg, as we transitioned from boats to bikes at Erickson Springs: "This feels like the kind of thing these little boats were meant to do".  By which I think he was referring to both their portability and competency.

We closed the loop with a mellow (weekday 'traffic'!) climb up Kebler Pass road to where we'd left my car at the trailhead.


Ascending through one of the planet's largest living organisms.

In sum this day may go down as one of my favorites of 2014.  While we can't claim to have discovered it, the revealing of this wilderness whitewater gem on this day, and in this way, was among the most satisfying boating experiences I've yet had.  

Why?  Most of my boating to date has been on routes pioneered by others, or on roadside 'learning runs'.  This one cracked open a new genre for me, by rekindling the desire to blend mapwork with my favorite tools for exploration: mountain bikes and packrafts.

Oh, and the Dark Canyon?  What we saw of it was alluring, but the speed of the water and the (short) length of the canyon meant we didn't get to linger, or focus.  Need to head back in afoot once the water recedes...

We had ~610cfs, arrived at by subtracting the Muddy Creek reading from the North Fork at Somerset gauge.  Felt perfect for a first time down at our skill level.  I wouldn't go back with much less, and would be hesitant to dive in with too much more.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I first met Mike Webster mid-autumn of 1990.  Leaving a 200-level Poli-Sci classroom with head swimming in abstract theory I walked into the crisp fall air and almost directly into him.  These days you can't swing a pair of skinny jeans without hitting at least one fixie-riding hipster, but 24 years ago fixed-gear bikes were beyond rare.  

In my 4 years on campus this was the only one I saw, and Mike was riding it, in circles, backwards.

Maybe you had to be there.

Fast forward a few decades and the guy that taught me much of what I know about riding and racing bicycles hadn't yet been on one in 2014.  His ever-loving and uber-thoughful wife called me with a plan: Take him camping, riding, boating--just generally outdoors--for Fathers Day.


She and I concurred that there was no need to give him advance notice of this plan--the day before would be fine, since he wouldn't use said notice to get ready anyway.

At the agreed upon time and place, give or take 2 hours, he showed up and we got down to it: suited up in drysuits and dove straight into the Gunnison Whitewater Park.  An hour+ of faffing about there saw him learn to peel out into current, catch eddies on both weak and strong side, swim a few wave trains, catch a rope bag heaved him-ward, and just generally learn a bit about being in moving water.  

The next morning we did a highlight lap of Hartman Rocks for old time's sake, then headed up-canyon and did a pretty if sketchy (due to barbed wire) lap on the Taylor Park run.  Mike swam once when a mid-stream boulder caught him zigging where he should have zagged.  No blood no foul, and it was obvious he immediately internalized the lesson.

Just before sunset that same day, Stevil Kneivil met us for a lap of the Upper Upper Taylor, with about triple the flow we'd ever run it at.  Juicy.  Mike had two more swims, both self-rescues, while Stevil stayed in his boat but seemed umpteen times more gripped.  His words: "Holy adrenaline dump batman!  Not sure I'm ever gonna run this one again!"

(He says that every time we run it.)

Dinner at the SketchyBurger in Gunboat was followed by a calm, clear, cold night of much-needed sleep under the stars.

We wrapped up our activities on Sunday with several hours spent riding, laughing, and sessioning on Vitamin B.

Minutiae aside, we spent the weekend outside and immersed as Herself had requested, recharging our batteries and each, in our way, remembering a little bit of how we've gotten to be where we are at this moment in time.

Can't wait to do it again.  Soon?

Hope so.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dave's delight.

Last weekend Jeny and I joined David Nix and Stan Pitcher for a packrafting adventure that Dave referred to in pre-trip emails as 'Cracking the Tavaputs'.

The general idea was to find a walkable route from the Tavaputs Plateau down to the Green River, then to float the river back out.

Italicized text below belongs to Dave, our route architect, the man with the plan.

Our Jack Creek to Swasey’s packraft through the Desolation and Gray Canyons of the Green river in Utah was a product of much labor.  Powell had it wrong, way wrong in naming these canyons. They are beautiful beyond compare, part of multiple wilderness study areas, and contain some of the last largely untouched Fremont Indian ruins.  

They are also targeted for development by the oil and gas industry. Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy has been a siren’s call to come drill. There’s not much to hold them back.  Lots of private land to purchase and few to no recreationists to protest due to major access issues with gated county roads. 

Many folks do raft “Deso” each year, yet none visit the massive Tavaputs Plateau through which the Green cuts and few hike the canyons that descend from the plateau to the river.  Jack, Rock, Firewater, Steer, Flat, Chandler, Range, Price, etc, each is a wilderness in itself, some even deeper than the Grand Canyon. 

The purpose of our trip was primarily exploratory, to see if we could convince the BLM to allow us to use an alternate check-in, to find a way in from the top of the Tavaputs and a way out via the river.  It was also to open a door for further recreationist trips and their voices to offset the “drill baby drill” crowd. 

So how to crack the Tavaputs? The standard Sand Wash “Deso” put in wouldn’t work, it starts on the river and off the plateau.  Moreover, its initial 1-2 days of mosquito-infested flat water paddling didn’t appeal.  

Map gazing and many calls revealed several possibilities. The Van Deusen trail does go if one is willing to spend a night (and a small fortune) at the private Tavaputs Ranch.  Access via Range Creek and an upriver hike will eventually be possible but currently this sort of through-hike isn’t allowed until NHMU completes their archeological excavations. 

Hike up from the top of the Green River Daily? Too hot in June. Risk a sojourn onto the Ute reservation? Hmm. The last option, Sage Brush Flat/Peter’s Point, looks horrible on Google Earth with a spiderweb of drill pads and roads yet it has an airstrip on public BLM land.  So with packrafts in hand and much trepidation, we booked a one-way flight into the heart of darkness…

                                    ~David Nix

Dave's plan was as creative as he was persistent: His patience in convincing the BLM to allow a non-standard river check-in is a bona fide gift to the rest of the packrafting community.  The door is open, please proceed respectfully and responsibly.

Salient details:

-We had 20,000 cfs on the Green @ Green gauge.  Big, boily water with lots of weird swirlies and 'seam monsters' that alternately entertained and spooked us.  The rapids are not difficult--very straightforward and easily scouted--but that volume of water does demand focus, and respect.

-Days were hot and nights were very warm.  We brought warm weather sleep gear but it was still too warm, prompting us to kick our bags off when roasting became imminent.  Which brought another problem to light: Bugs.  Once out of our bags, they feasted.  Not sure I got more than a few minutes of actual sleep the first night.  Somewhere in the wee hours Jeny mumbled something about 'getting us a bug tent' and I wondered why we hadn't thought of that sooner.

-Clear water was scarce in early June--no surprise.  Dave and Stan had beta on several springs and we filled from these at least once a day.  Settling river water would work fine--had I remembered to bring some alum.

-The ~20 minute flight into Peter's Point saved us ~9 aggregate hours of driving.  We followed that with a ~5 hour hike down (mostly) Jack Creek to the river, then spent 2.5 days on the water down to Swasey's beach near Green River.

Really neat trip, punctuated by the fact that we didn't have to spend $$$$ and take a week+ off work to go to Alaska.  This one truly was in the backyard.

First two still pics up top are courtesy of Jeny.  Thank you Jeny.

Thanks for checkin' in.