Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday night in Helena,MT

... and I ate a microwave Amy's burrito and strawberries from the safeway while watching 'Chopped' on the food network in my room at the Motel6. Exciting!

Helena is ok.
Bozeman was pretty damn cool. If it weren't for the many feet of snow in the winter and the overwhelming whiteness year-round I'd consider locating there.

Yellowstone conundrum

The place is beautiful. The rivers, cascades, rapids, lakes, bison, elk, thermal features are all amazing. But the front country hiking sucks, it does. It's all small boring trees , with lots of dead ones lining the forest floor, and then it concludes at a lake or a river that can be just as well seen from the road.
Part of the problem is that although it's high elevation,  the mountains aren't all that much higher so there are no good climbs. Today I hiked 4 miles through mind-numbing tiny pine/ bear cover and then decended through some interesting thermal stuff for 1.5 miles to get to a raging river. Then turned around and did the hard climb to return to a trailhead that is only 1/4 down the road from a spectacular lookout onto the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
It's a great touring park but my central activity is not supported. Maybe the backcountry is better.
Anyway, I cancelled the Monday night cabin I was happy to score and will exit the park .. probably to the north and head towards bozeman. Am about a week early on the semi-plan to spend July 4th week in Missoula.

Also, I hate people.

Double also, I ordered 'golden waffles' at a "diner" in one of the general stores here and they served me 3 frozen waffles they had nuked then put in a toaster. All for only 5.95 + tax and tip. I hope Montana I cheap. It has to be,  right?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

result of trail lunch experiment

I give the peanut butter and hot coco mix sandwich a B. Because I made it the night before eating, a lot of the oil from the peanut butter turned the powder into a dense paste. So the whole thing was a little dry but not as gritty as if it were eaten right after assembly. If I try it again I'll add a soupsong of water with the soupsong function of my swiss army card

I am the only man in America...

... who does not spit when using a public urinal.

Ladies, you may not know this but men feel an urge to evacuate ALL their fluids at once. Other guys hock a small loogie at the urinal cake. I prefer to sneeze or have a nose bleed.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Trail lunch experiment

Is peanut butter and hot chocolate mix on whole wheat a crazy delicious sandwich or just crazy? (And dry)

I'll find out on Sunday somewhere around Mt. Washburn in the Canyon section of Yellowstone.

Yes, there's a general store at the campground about a mile down the road but I forgot to buy jam. Besides, these are the last slices of bread in the loaf and if I bought jam I'd have to buy more bread to use the rest of the jam and I'd just restart the cycle of consumptive co-depenency that got me here in the first place.

Update: not wolves

The ranger at the backcountry desk who lives on site says there is a den of coyotes nearby and they have pups.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to me since the coyotes I've seen in Yosemite are robust shiny coated creatures that do not resemble their scraggly skinny Bay Area cousins.

Also, not a surprise I was mistaken since I'm from Philadelphia and probably better at distinguishing a .22 report from a .38 at 5 blocks range than classifying cries of wild dog species.

(Though I would have pee'd had I known it was just coyotes)


I drove 22 miles to a trail this morning and didn't do the hike because the sign said it was a "Bear frequented" area. There was also a handwritten annotation, "Almost Daily - NPS"

One person walked past me and started up. Another pair came down finishing their early hike and reported no bears. I walked back to my car.

Am deep inside my own head again.
Wish the scare tactic signs would distinguish between black bear and grizzly.

Saw a huge bison eating grass by the side of the road. Same area of the park where I almost collided with a bison *in* the road 20 years ago.

Nature's alarm clock

I admit I was already mostly awake at 4:50 when the noise came. I was struggling with the leave the tent to pee / ignore and hope I go back to sleep decision.

Then I heard something through my earplugs. Had those damn kids at the nearby campsite woken up early and resumed their "screaming game" from 10:30 the previous night?
I pulled out one plug. This was not a human noise. It was a chorus of animals. Bass, baritone, and tenor. One note steady, another rising and fading, one voice warbled with vibretto.  It was loud; it was close but not in a specific direction. Though I've never heard them before I'm pretty certain this was wolves claiming dominion.  I cede it to them. Though sunrise is around 5:05, I don't exit the tent to pee till after 6am.
Maybe it's time to get a dedicated bottle to bring in the tent.  .... or make a bunch more money and stay inside all the time.


My brother-in-law's dad died this morning. Arthur was the only cigar smoker I've ever known who wasn't an asshole. I envied his decisiveness. He loved what he loved, no dithering, and had no problem or embarrassment about doing whatever need be done to have it be part of his life.
Though he enjoyed the "finer" things, you always got the sense that he never lost his appreciation for the baser pleasures: a bloody steak, a strong drink, winning, profit, people in his tribe.
You were in pain and I'm glad your suffering is over though I wish you could have been in my niece & nephew's lives through to adulthood.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Can a brother find a place to hike?

So today I transitioned from Grand Teton to Yellowstone. I actually did some research on this and have a list of hikes planned. This morning was supposed to be Union falls but the dirt road that was only supposed to get impassable at the trailhead got impassable to 2wd vehicles about 5 miles from the trailhead.

Plan B : the hike to Heart Lake was right on the way to my campground. So organized was I that I even had a note on the photocopy admonishing myself to not take the spur to go up the peak because that would turn back a flat 16 miles into a grueling 20.
There were no cars at the heart lake trailhead. A small sign proclaimed the area closed to hiking because of high bear activity. The sign also warned of severe penalties for removing it (I guess some people have really awful and dangerous sense of humor). As I sat in the car, door open, flipping through pages in a manilla folder, a half-dozen mosquitoes swarmed me. Bugs. I hate bugs. Heat's bad. Cold's bad. Rain is depressing. Wind is annoying. Those are all outdoor adverse conditions that I dislike. I HATE bugs.

Yellowstone is not off to a great start. The two shorts hikes I did manage to do with the advice of the back country ranger at the Visitor center were just OK; not national park worthy.
I did manage to score a cabin with a bathroom for Monday for 98$ so I hope these 2 nights of camping don't put me off what's supposed to be a top 5 park

Also, I'm not upset about the bear closures. It's been a little stressful hiking in this part of the country. In the sierras I don't think about bears. Here, they are constantly on my mind and keep me from digging into a challenging hike, enjoying scenery,  or just spacing out.

Wish they did mosquito closures.

Bear bells don't work on Moose

Either they don't hear that frequency at all or don't give a fig about a us puny humans. On Thursday I almost ran into a pair of yearlings at the entrance to Death Canyon in the southern end of Grand Teton National Park. The male's butt was about 6 feet in front of me and 2 feet off trail to the left, in dense scrub, when it startled at my presence. After about .1 seconds when I realized it wasn't a grizzly about make me a Werner Herzog subject, I backed up, took some pictures, and tried to get them to clear the trail. No dice. I whooped and hollered and insinuated their ancestors messed around with pronghorns. They were determined to slowly chomp all the vegetation in that narrow section between the stream and the valley wall. There was no way past without coming within 10 feet of one of them. So much for hiking into death canyon.

This is a good place to point out that I: A - suck at whooping to scare animals and B - am not all that observant of my surroundings while on the trail.

Just before encountering the Moose I had loosed one of my meek anti-bear "whoops". One is supposed to periodically make a little holler to give the animals warning so as not to come right upon a bear. For some reason hollering calls domestic animals towards oneself (because they learn they are going to get fed {until that last holler call}, and sends wild animals away (no curiosity?)
My "whoop" is actually a "woooooo!!"
Actually it's Ric Flair's "wooooo!!"  Nothing else I try comes out loud. It works but I have have to exert my willpower to keep from proceeding it with "To be the man, you have to beat the man!!!" And from following it with a little stulted turkey trot of pride. After all I'm not trying to provoke the local ursine into a ladder match; quite the opposite.

About 20 minutes later as I hiked back to the trailhead, I "wooooo!!"ed then came to the edge of Phelps lake. Then I turned to my right and saw 2 children about 20 feet away. I said "hello" and they said,"there's a deer right behind you". Which there was; a big ol' mule deer about 15 feet away. Conclusion: for me to notice if an actual bear was nearby it would have to be Balu from 'The Jungle Book' and he'd have to be in the middle of a musical number.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Back on the road

The wandering was suspended for 6 days in order to fly to the east coast and be with family. An extended family member is on his deathbed and I wanted to see him and support those in his day-to-day unit.
I cancelled a couple of nights in a walk-in yurt in a Colorado state park and a couple of nights in a cabin in a national forest in southern Wyoming ; back tracked 3.5hrs to Denver airport and flew to nyc. When I returned I drove 4hrs to rawlins,wy and the next morning another 4.5hrs to get to Grand Teton national park on schedule.
The teton's are beautiful and the park has a good array of services without feeling too over-developed.
Bought bear spray on the way in Laramie but there's a wide assortment at good prices here at coulter bay general store.
Did an easy 3.5hr 9.5mile walk on trails next to Jackson lake this afternoon to get reacclimated to altitude. No respiratory problems. Though adjusting to carrying the bear spray will take a few outings. (some of you may be thinking, "but scott, if anyone should be used to having a 9 inch steel hard cylinder swing about the hips, it's you". It's true... I used to win bar bets doing a hula while activating small belt-hung fire extinguishers to the rhythm of "inn a gada da vita" but that was a long time ago when I didn't respect myself)
Having a little trouble getting back into the swing of things. Could be the transition from the density of NYC to desolation of southern and central Wyoming. Could be the altitude. Could be the social change: seeing a family pull together in crisis, going to two school functions where the parents all know each other, brushing next to the neighborhood where my father knows his neighbors and goes to my step-nephew's graduation just 2 miles from his home.... To being alone again in my car with a bunch of podcasts (you're never alone if you've got Dan Savage in your ear advising on how to tell your special someone that you need to be suspended from the ceiling by your ankles to be sexually satisfied)
Don't get me wrong, I'm still essentially a loner but my visits to family aren't usually so very "family oriented" and my return isn't usually to a home-free environment so the differential is much greater.
Wednesday I'm going to take the shuttle boat across jenny lake and hike cascade canyon to the snow line. Then maybe kayak on Jenny.
Thursday.. I wouldn't consider it unless the ranger suggested it but I might try Death Canyon. She says its beautiful and doesn't have much snow.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Immediate update on "Bears are out in the Tetons" post

From the Grand Tetons Bear Safety brochure...

"Make noise when you are hiking or away from your vehicle. Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear you approaching. Calling out (such as ‘Hey Bear’) and clapping your hands at regular intervals are the
best ways to make your presence known. Bear bells are not sufficient." (Emphasis added)

I will sing The Bobs cover of Led Zepplins "Whole Lotta Love" on a loop.

Am still more scared that Dick Cheney will show up and shoot me in the face.

Great, now I need *TWO* of you to fly to Wyoming by Tuesday

From the front page alerts of Grand Teton National Park
Bears are active in Grand Teton
Black and grizzly bears are roaming throughout the park--near roads, trails and in backcountry areas. Hikers and backcountry users are advised to travel in groups of three or more, make noise and carry bear spray. Visitors must stay 100 yards from bears.

I do have a bear bell and a bad singing voice. Also, I'm staying in a tent cabin in a place I think will be like Curry Village in Yosemite (minus the falling boulders) so perhaps I can recruit some also-afraid-of-bears buddies.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Limits for thee but not me

I think most people think this way:
When I'm approaching a small town the speed limit ratchets down to 45 then 30 and sometimes to 25. Then on the way out of town it increments back up to 55 or 65.
On the way in, slowing down, I feel like I have to be  going under the speed on the sign *when I get to the sign*
On the way out, accelerating, I feel like I get to go the speed on the sign *when I can read the sign* even if I'm a couple hundred feet from it.

The secret to Colorado being the thinnest state?

Smoking. At least here in Steamboat Springs that seems to be the case. Maybe there's a selection bias to the 7 different smokers I saw on my short walk through downtown. Maybe all the fit people are out in the countryside biking, boating, and not smoking.

The saddest state-of-America stat I've heard in a while is that the rate of adult obesity that makes Colorado the sveltest today would have made it the fattest in 1995

Friday, June 08, 2012


I'm in Kremmling,CO Friday night and will stay till Sunday morning. I will not hike, paddle, drive, rinse sockliners, or anything planning related. This morning's hike to Baker Gulch in the Never Summer Wilderness next to RMNP beat me. I'm tuckered out. The last time I had to stop every 100 yards like that was Alta peak in Sequoia National park. Vacation from vacation. Back to the world I know of wi-fi and tv.

pictures of rocky mountain national park from charles

the data card survived the fall into the stream, the camera did not.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Reflections on Grand Lake

Went kayaking on Grand Lake this morning.
Very pretty and glassy. Whenever I paddle in a place like this and see the waterfront homes it reminds me that the though I am by no means poor, that wealth is an asymmetrical distribution. That is, the mean is much higher than the median (the lower bound is zero, but the upper bound just keeps on going)
One of the houses in the channel is for sale and has a large QR code on its dock. Welcome to 2012
Finally, though I've been seeing it for nearly two weeks, this morning it really hit home just how devastated the forests are here by the pine beetle. About half of all the trees are dead. Some this is cyclical and some is enhanced by global warming (the larvae aren't killed off in winter because of unusually mild winters)

I sound like a bummer but the paddling was really great.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Still a little early

Decided to stay a few extra days at Rocky Mountain National Park. But it's still snowy up at the higher elevations. Wanted to do some of the Ute trail but t-storms threatened above tree line.
This morning went to miller pass to hike mt ida only to be confronted with piles of snow 5 steps into the trail.
So I drove down to hike to timber lake. 5 miles into the 5.4 mile trail I lost the path amongst the snow fields.
Tomorrow I'll kayak on Grand Lake.  I know there is no snow there. The choice is cold in the morning but calm; warm in the afternoon but a little windy.
Another month of this and my thighs will not jiggle when driving on washboard dirt roads.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Artist's recreation
Okay, that's the bridge.
Imagine Charles is the little girl in the pink shorts and I'm the guy with the big pack.
Now shake your screen like it's the opening credits of 'Land of the Lost' and you get the idea

Seemed like a good idea at the time

Almost opened the door into an old woman with a portable oxygen tank at the Alpine visitor center at Rocky Mountain national park...... at 11,760 ft above sea level
Beach vacations Miss, let me suggest beach vacations.
Also, the trails are telling me to avoid chapped lips as I've found a tube of blistex on the trail for the 2nd time in as many weeks
Saw many Moose today, some on the trail and some by the side of the road. Ranger says that they are the most dangerous animal in the park because something always goes wrong when they try to pull a rabbit out of a hat

UPDATE: I put the 2nd tube at the trailhead for whomever lost it, then 2 days later the 1st one that I kept ran out!! The universe is mysterious.

Monday, June 04, 2012

One month

On the road a month today. Only 5 nights camping. It's just too high here. Every night is still cold and there are  thunderclouds every afternoon.
Probably have lost weight but there are no scales at places like "H&H motor lodge"

What have I learned so far? They grow beans in southeast Utah; there is some kind of junk food tax in Colorado ; Colorado has its own style of pizza that involves honey; I can sleep well despite not knowing what im doing or where im sleeping the next day as long as I burn 2000 calories hiking; I still don't like bars or people who drive large trucks with tinted windows; a lot of people like to fish.

I've skipped a bit in the blog. Still have to go back and talk about yurts.

Today hiked 15.5 miles with 2500ft elevation change maxing at 10,800
Yesterday's hike of about 10 miles started at 10,600 feet and went up.

Am in Granby,CO staying at a ski condo place for a few days

Thinking of trying waterskiing next week at steamboat lake.

No place has felt like home yet. But I don't expect anyplace to make that impression. I don't believe in home-at-first-sight

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Please help me welcome special guest wanderer, Charles W

Now join me in wishing special guest wanderer Charles W a speedy recovery.

Before starting out from Cali I'd arranged to meet Charles for 4 days at Rocky Mountain National park. He was going to be in the area visiting family and running a road race.
1st day we hiked from fern lake to bear lake. If we'd done it in the more conventional direction we'd have seen the signs at the bear lake shuttle stop that said winter mountaineering gear is highly reccomennded. No matter, we crossed snow fields with agility and stability.
2nd day we hiked to upsilon lake and took in the sights of the cross-park road
3rd day we hiked to beautiful mills lake.  Though we tried to hike beyond to black lake, a swath of fallen trees as far as could be seen blocked the trail. After testing a few through routes we decided to turn back instead of risking impalement on any of a thousand spikes branches in the swampy horizontal forest.
We proceeded back along mills, mainly walking on low planks that formed the trail over wet marshy land.
Once below mills we crossed the outflow on a park maintained footbridge that is a split log with a hand rail installed on the downstream (right as we were crossing). Charles was about 2/3rds across when he misplaced his right foot and slipped. He crashed down to his left knee, then tumbled to his right about 4ft down into the fast moving rocky stream onto his side. He stayed down for a moment. I rushed forward and almost went off the bridge to help him before thinking better of it, running across to the far bank, downstream 5 feet then into the water.
He'd righted himself to knees, seemed to take stock for a split second then left out a roar like a Klingon letting the dead know a warrior was on the way.
"What's hurt?"
"I dislocated my shoulder"

I helped him up a little. Then we tried a little field medicine where I pulled the injured arm out from body and honked him on the shoulder. He roared again and despite being in severe agony moved out of the stream and away from me as if to communicate "we are not trying that again."

(I am going to gloss over the arguments we had about hypothermia and wet clothes)

Yada yada , helpful hikers staying with him

Yada yada my running back and forth on the trail .3 miles each way 3 times to a spot with cell phone reception

Yada yada, rescue dudes Adam and Mike arrive (they look 12 years old except for the beard and muscles) Jump over rescue team radio confusion. Charles WALKS out 2.5 miles with the shoulder OUT. Then I drive him to the hospital where there is NO waiting at all (perhaps the most shocking moment of the day). Nurse and doctor play with his arm for a while , they seem simultaneously professional & compassionate yet masochistic about it. "It's sooo close, tie that sheet to him and pull him the other way" Eventually they decide to drug him. I head back to the hotel to pick up dry clothes for him. At this point he admitted we weren't going to make the 645 dinner reservation. When I get back they haven't put it in yet because Charles has lots of well formed small muscles from swimming and a strong resistance to morphine that comes from I know not where. They add bursad to the drug cocktail. Charles is responsive but slurring. The little lip-smacking thing he does is now comically longs loud and hee-haw-esque. I cancel the dinner reservations entirely. Finally, after *6* hours the shoulder is back in. Charles is high as a kite and does not remember the xrays, the insertion, my leaving and coming back, and a bunch of other stuff. The take-away here is not that people who travel with me get hurt; it's that they get the treatment they need, they get dropped off at their parents, a story to tell, and a script for hydrocodone.