AT/Torry Ridge loop, (Maupin Field to Humpback Rocks) 1/15

Jan. 1-3, 2015

32 miles

To break in 2015 Bob and I wanted to try a new area.  We had both, separately, tried to figure out a loop that included the AT with the famous Humpback Rocks and Torry Ridge and the area north of the St. Mary’s Wilderness.  Part of the problem was that the section of the AT past Humpback Rocks runs right along the Blue Ridge Parkway so the chance of lots of people was high.  A few days before the trip I checked the parkway website and they said it was closed through there so we decided to go for it and I found what looked to be some old forest roads that could connect a loop up.

This trip had all the features Bob loves- cold weather, hiking in snow, bushwacking, stream wading, frozen precipitation, rock fields, staying at a shelter, crowds of tourists, the chance to be shot by hunters, meth labs and pit bulls.

We parked at Reeds Gap at the Blue Ridge Parkway just as they re-opened the gates on New Years day, perfect!  No one will be out driving on a holiday, much.  Headed north on the AT with temperatures in the teens, a thin layer of snow on the ground and ice on the rock faces.

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Moving fast to stay warm the trail actually runs below the parkway with great views from several cliffs along the way.  You can see long Torry ridge in the middle, which we will walk tomorrow, and the far ridges are the north end of the St. Mary’s Wilderness.

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Down the Heart of Death Valley

Hottest (not this time of year), Driest (not this trip), Lowest (check that)

Dec. 3rd-9th, 2014

88 miles walked, 79 with pack, 9 without

“Death Valley!  Why?” was the standard reply when I told people that was where my next desert trip was going to be.  Fair question and, almost to a person, from folks who had never been there but had just heard or read about it.  Me too, I have walked a lot in the desert and traversed much more by car but had never been to this huge spread of the Basin and Range province and Mojave Desert.

Always in the back of my brain but sparked by this trip report that Bob found nearly ten years ago I slowly started doing research on possible trips in this massive park, the largest national park in the lower 48 states (3.4 million acres).  More thoughts and information on trip planning at the end of this report but two general logistical issues 1) there are very few water sources and essentially no natural water sources on the valley floors 2) much of the park is not accessible without a high clearance vehicle which makes dropping water in advance not very practical.

I decided that a walk down the valley, something like the trip report above, would give us a good introduction and maybe the quintessential DV experience but what does “walking down the valley” really mean?  Within the park, the valley stretches something like 175 miles from the head of Death Valley wash in the Last Chance range in the north to the Saddle Peak Hills in the south.  Only 108 off those miles are accessible from paved roads and the lower 33 of that are along a gravel road which I was not interested in walking down.  That left around 75 miles down most of the heart of the valley.

To make it more of a total picture of the park I wanted to include some time in one of the many canyons that drop out of the mountains on either side of the valley and Bighorn Gorge appeared to be the obvious choice for location and spectacular features.

The call went out and because of schedule conflicts only Mark was available for an early December trip.  He too had never been to DV but was very interested in its possibilities.  We had not walked together since the arduous 2011 Big Bend trip and this one loomed equally difficult, he was game.

One of the convenient parts of DV is that it is only two hours from Las Vegas so one should have an easy time getting there.  Dec. 2nd we left the farm at 4:00 a.m. for a 6:00 flight that would put us into LV at 8:30 Pacific time but after mechanical problems and exceedingly slow baggage claim we walked out of the airport 3 hours behind schedule.  The days are short this time of year and we had to hustle to get our caches dropped.

We knew that a storm system was moving in today and as we arrived at Furnace Creek at 2:00 the bulk of the precipitation had just moved through dropping almost a half an inch, more than one third the yearly total and the first rain since summer, and water was running across the roads everywhere.  We still had to drive 40 more miles up valley to drop a water and food cache and the flash flooding across the roads made travel very slow.  3:30 we pull over at milepost 23 on the Scotty’s Castle road, in a light rain we walk a mile down the alluvial fan to DV wash and drop 5 gallons of water and two days food.  As we climb back up to the car it is getting dark and too late to drop our 2nd food cache at the Visitor center at Stovepipe Wells.  We retreat to the Furnace Creek Ranch and get a room so we can sort and pack equipment in a dry and lit place instead of the campground.  Little did we know how much this moisture would tint the whole trip.

Dec. 3rd Trail Day One

Still on East coast time we were at breakfast at 6:00, finished packing and checked out by 7:30 for the 50 mile round trip to Stovepipe Wells (SPW) to drop more food.  Turns out the visitor center is irregularly manned so we went to the General Store where we were warmly greeted and they gladly took our bag and put it in the cooler.

Back to Furnace Creek visitor center for a permit and to continue the process of trying to find a ride up to the start at Ubehebe Crater.  The volunteers were somewhat skeptical of our plan but accepted it.  We tried at the restaurants, general store, gas station and reservation desk to find someone who wanted to make some extra money to shuttle us but no takers.  Not much traffic at the visitor center so we just went out on the highway and stuck out our thumbs.  Minutes later a wonderful couple picked us up who were headed to the Racetrack and could drop us at Ubehebe as they drove past.

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The Search for the Perfect Pack

If you have been here before there is a major 2018 update at the bottom, otherwise read on!

For me, especially for the desert and the occasional heavier loads

This piece is as much about the decision making process, what I wanted in a pack, as to which pack I ended up with.  It took nearly a year to finally arrive at a decision.

The more than decade long descent from traditional loads to the edge of ultralight with lighter equipment and smaller volumes has been a good learning curve, particularly when it comes to the pack to carry it all in.  The only other piece of equipment that is as personal to the user in fit and use is shoes.  The three packs I have used during this time (#3-5)

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all have some good features that I really like but no one design or kinds of materials meets all my needs.  My main requirements in looking for a new pack were comfort/load carrying capability, durability (particularly for harsh desert conditions) and a few features that I find essential, all in a unit under 2 pounds.

My design needs: Continue reading

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Big Bend XI (Down The Eastern Side), 2/14

Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega, almost.

Feb. 2nd-9th, 2014

79 miles walked, 68 with pack, 11 without

I always have trips in the planning stage, some take years to get around to actually doing, this one was just such a case.  The idea of a long walk, north to south down the long eastern side of the park that would tie together many interesting places I had never been to was the basic idea.  The initial sparks for the actual route came from threads on Big Bend Chat about some out of the way places not normally seen by folks.

2013 marked the 40th anniversary of my first trip to Big Bend but we couldn’t get it together to do a December trip which has become my normal window.  Early February would do nicely but the crazy winter weather of 2014 would conspire against us a bit.  Scott and Lee would both return to the park with me, the first time back for each of them since Scott walked with me across the eastern half of the park in 2004 and Lee the western half in 2008. Just getting to the park was its usual endeavor.

Flying into Austin, Lee’s flight was delayed by 5 hours and put us into Ft. Stockton at midnight, long day.  Up early with rain and wet snow it begins to clear and warm up as we drop down out of the Glass Mountains, the clouds spilling down off the mesa after us.

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A stop at the Marathon Café for the last real meal for a week then into the park where we drop a cache off the Dagger Flat road and then to Panther Junction for a permit. Our exit is the Marufo Vega/Strawhouse/Ore Terminal trailhead which we don’t want to leave a car at for a week, overnight OK but not 7 nights, so we drive down to the Boquillas border crossing station to see if we can leave it there in the relative safety of the Border Patrol etc. and it would only be about a mile and a half walk from the trailhead.  They say sure.  We drive back to the Rio Grande Village visitor center to finish packing and meet our shuttle by 11:30.

I had put out a feeler on Big Bend Chat for a ride and got a reply about a week before we were to leave.  Casey showed up right on time and had us to Bone Spring draw by 1:00.  It was great to meet him, found out we even graduated from the same high school!  Without his help the logistics of getting to the trailhead would have been more difficult and expensive, we cannot thank him enough!

Off down Bone Spring draw, just about a mile, to the Devils Den exit for the night.  I had planned this first day to be just a short walk in as I was not exactly sure how long it would take to drop a cache, get permits and get back to the starting point so we carried in an extra gallon of water each just for the afternoon and next morning with the rest of the water in the packs that would get us to our cache on the third day.  You can see Devils Den cutting its way down the slope directly ahead.

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It was a beautiful day but windy, we found a campsite up on the flats mostly sheltered behind some big creosote bushes and settled in for a late lunch.  Late afternoon we day hiked on down into Dog Canyon with its flat bottom and tortured geology, especially on the southern Sierra del Carmen side.

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??????????????????????????????? Back to camp we have a nice dinner with a gentle sunset on the Santiago mountains.

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MST (NC 181 to and then over Grandfather Mtn.), 8/13

Waterfalls, swimming and nearly 6000′ on Grandfather Mountain

August 10-12, 2013

33 miles

The summer sweatfest was on.  We tried to combine some low level walking with plenty of swimming opportunities and a bit of high ridge walking with good views, partially successful.  The usual early departure and we were on the trail by 9:00.  Parked Bob’s truck where the MST crosses NC 181 just east of Linville Gorge, muggy and some pesky gnats as we descended towards the first of our tens of stream crossings at Upper Creek

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Plenty of water in all the streams after this really rainy summer.  The only map we had was the large scale Trails Illustrated which leaves some to be desired but we could follow the trail fine with the MST blazes.  Found the junction with the Raider Camp trail which we wanted to take over to South Harper creek.  Somewhere it drops off the old road bed but we missed it and entered into some prominently marked private land but made our way to the creek just below a nice set of falls, first swim at noon

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Bob wasn’t familiar with these falls but we ran into three gentlemen all dressed in kilts (anyone hear bag pipe music?) who assured us we were just above the really big South Harper Creek falls.  Can’t really get a good picture from the top but they are 200 feet high. Continue reading

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Peaks of Otter area, VA (AT and Glenwood Horse Trail loop), 2/13

Feb. 1-3, 2013

32 miles

So Bob and I headed up to Virginia for our favorite holiday of the year, Groundhog Day.  We drove up through some pretty serious flurries/light snow as we went over the Blue Ridge to the north entrance to Jennings Creek (FS road 21) and the trail head at the base of the Apple Orchard Falls trail.  Our route is in blue, going clockwise.

Peaks of Otter map

It was cold as hell as we started up the trail in a 1 inch dusting of snow, in the teens for sure.

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We got to the falls and the water was flowing over the walk way and was a bit tricky to cross with all the ice, sure as hell didn’t want to fall and get wet in these temperatures.

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GSMNP XI (Cataloochee Divide/Mt. Sterling ridge run),12/11

Dec. 29-31, 2011

40 miles in 45 hours!

Not quite a New Years run but close enough.  We had the opportunity to do this route because we had the rare situation with two vehicles because Chuck met us after visiting with family in Waynesville.  We left one at the Big Creek trail head and then drove around to Cove Creek Gap and headed out under beautiful clear skies.

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We made good time up the trail, taking in great views of the Mt. Sterling Ridge, the object of tomorrow’s walk.

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We strolled into the SWAG Inn’s grounds.  They were open for guests, I guess for New Years as they were not when Bob I last walked this trail in Dec. 2009.

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We pushed on up to the top of Hemphill Bald and the view was tremendous and better than we had seen it before. Continue reading

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