Another Spring Break in Canyon Country

21 April 2016

We have just returned from southern Utah once again. It was a late spring break for us, but well worth waiting for April to make the trip. The weather was perfect right up till the end, when we caught a bit of the storm that brought winter back to Colorado. We spent our two weeks in the usual places, revisited some of our favorite canyons, and explored some new ones. We made it a point to include plenty of time enjoying sunrises, sunsets, and the star filled night sky, and more than a few afternoons sitting on the slickrock with a cup of tea.

Blooming holly. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Holly in bloom. The desert was alive with color and fragrance.

Our itinerary brought us straight to southern San Juan county this time. We made an afternoon stop in Moab for final supplies as always, but the weather was so perfect that Moab was too busy for us. April is the perfect time of year for most people- warm days and not too cool nights, without the extreme heat that comes in another month or so. Besides ATV’s and other off-road vehicles, there were mountain bikes everywhere, and more RV’s and camp trailers to be found around every corner than I have ever seen. This was the case everywhere we went- down every road whether it be along Comb Ridge, on Cedar Mesa, or around Green River, where we finished up our trip.

Grand Gulch
We did get a few days of backpacking in this trip. We walked in through Dripping Canyon, had a day in Grand Gulch, and walked out Step Canyon. This is something I have done before, so knew the walk quite well. It was perfect for Nicolai and I- nothing an 11-year-old couldn’t handle. As always, we could have used a couple more days in this short stretch of the canyons- there was just so much to see that we had to choose where to spend our time. For anyone venturing in any time soon, water was not a problem. At least finding drinking water that is. From another perspective, that of walking, it was quite a problem in places. There was so much water in the canyons that we found ourselves skirting pools all along the walk, and especially in Grand Gulch.

Yellow ancestral puebloan pictograph in Grand Gulch, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

“Yellow Man” panel in Grand Gulch.

Cedar Mesa was a busy place. The Kane Gulch ranger station was packed on the few occasions we stopped in. But once we got in the canyons we only saw, and heard, one group of people. I should say heard more than saw them. Their presence was known to us by their extremely loud voices, yelling I would call it, and their crashing wildly through the brush. We made it a point to discuss this problem with the folks at the ranger station after our walk- noise pollution is  a problem everywhere and especially in such a place as this. I feel that these days so many people don’t know the difference between a place that is… sacred, and say, the grocery store. The analogy I like to use is that I would not come bounding and crashing and yelling into your church, so please don’t come into mine that way. But I suppose, to continue the analogy, I am preaching to the choir here.

Comb Ridge
We have a favorite camp in view of Comb Ridge making it easy to get into the canyons there. We spent five nights on the slickrock at that camp, really enjoying the night sky. I have to make a plug here for one of my more recent equipment purchases. I have been sleeping better than ever these days on an Exped SynMat 7 Sleeping Pad. This inflatable sleeping pad has an integral pump which inflates it in just a couple of minutes. No blowing it up by mouth involved! I have the synthetic fill version which is rated at an insulation value of 4.9, but there is a higher rated pad that has down filling.  I use it at the truck and on the river- it’s just too heavy for me to carry on a backpack. The pads are not cheap, but if you are struggling with getting a good night’s sleep on a thinner pad, you may want to give one a try.

We spent a couple of days exploring Comb Ridge, and as always found more ruins and rock art, middens and moki steps, sweat lodges and seasonal campsites. Comb Ridge is truly a place where one can learn about the varied archaeology of the Northern San Juan region all in one place. One ruin we visited stood out in the amount of mud that was plastered on the walls. The ruin lacked for stone, but still held together well with mud. Looking at it you could see the way it was applied, in great masses, each appearing to be left to sag and dry before the next mass was applied. The interior of the walls had niches built-in, and the end walls were curiously rounded, as if they were not continued across the front, but were left open.

Ancestral Puebloan structure in Comb Ridge, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Comb Ridge ruin with walls lacking in stone but showing an abundance of mud.

Ancestral Puebloan dwelling in Comb Ridge, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

End wall of plastered ruin showing rounded finish. Note the thick mortar beds between the thin pieces of sandstone.

There is always so much to see, and to write about afterwards, on our Utah trips. But for now it’s back to preparation for the next trip. In about a month we are back in southern Utah for more archaeology at Nancy Patterson Village. For more about us and our desert adventures visit the Desert Explorer website.


A New Look at Trail Snacks and Backpack Foods

13 December 2014

Everyone has their favorite trail snacks and backpack foods. I thought that most of my choices were quite healthy these days (excluding the ramen and Cornuts). While most of my trail foods are healthy, it turns out that some of my choices are no longer healthy for me. I recently ran into some issues with some of the foods I have been eating for most of my life- including a lot of what I eat on the trail and in the bush. These days it seems that almost every other person you meet has some kind of food sensitivity- lactose, gluten, soy, peanuts, and so on. Well, I am joining that group. For me it is not that big of a deal, nothing that is life-threatening. It is more about how I feel after eating certain foods, both physically and mentally.

My changes start with cutting out some of the big culprits- gluten, peanuts, and lactose. It is not really that hard to do at home. But out in the desert at the back of the truck, or on the trail, it is a different story. I have started to make the changes in the snacks that I eat. From regular pretzels to gluten free pretzels, no more sesame sticks, no more fake jerky (made from wheat). I have switched the wheat-based “jerky” for actual turkey jerky sticks. And nearly all of my favorite bars are now off-limits. This includes Power Bars (now owned by Nestle and full of things I cannot pronounce), Kind Bars (peanuts in everything), and even Lara Bars (peanuts and gluten). To work around this problem, I did a search online for “gluten free energy bar recipes” and was immediately given over one million options for this part of my new diet. I am sure a few of those were repeats though, and I cut it down to about 5 recipes. From those, as I always do, I created  a couple of my own.

To summarise the process of my first try at custom energy bars, I started with pitted dates, a little warm water, and a food processor. Once I had the sticky paste to bind everything together, it was just a matter of adding my favorite flavors to it. It used flake coconut, almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries, dried currants, and added mini-chocolate chips to one of the bars. I also added a little sea salt, almond butter, blanched almond flour, and vanilla to the bar that I finished by baking. Next time I might try chia, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds, and maybe dried cherries. The list of ingredients is limited by what you prefer, and what you can find dried.

My first batch, after mixing, I just pressed into a plastic wrap-lined baking dish and chilled in the refrigerator. The other batch with more liquid and vanilla, I poured out, flattened and formed, and covered with almond flour. I then laid it on a piece of baking parchment and baked it at 250 degrees for about half an hour. The first batch, without the almond flour coating, were definitely a bit sticky. The second batch can be eaten without much mess. And both tasted great. The big test will be in warm weather- will they hold up in the heat, or will there turn to sticky, messy masses? I’ll let you know next summer.

Moving on to backpack meals, this will take some more time. I plan to go through all my recipes and just remove or swap out ingredients. And of course give them a try at home before I head into the bush. For me, again, there are not massive changes to be made. There will be some work on the staples- I’ll switch the standard ramen noodles with rice noodles and end up eating a lot more Vietnamese noodles soups. Fine with me. Rice and beans won’t need any changes- what luck! Pasta will be easy. At our local natural food store, Vitamin Cottage, they sell quinoa and corn pasta in all forms- penne and macaroni most importantly. Easy to change. The hardest thing for me is cutting out lactose- being a tea drinker, I have had a hard time there. But I am back to green tea for the most part. And then there is my hot breakfast recipe- mostly wheat. I’ll work on that.

On the positive side for me, with my menu changes I have noticed that I am not as hungry and am eating less. In the end this will help lighten the load a bit and make my walks even a little easier.

For more on our desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Trip Report- July, 2014- San Rafael River Backpack

7 August 2014

I had a chance to spend a few days on the San Rafael River at the end of July. I went in on Monday and returned Wednesday evening. I was alone, so it was an out and back hike to Fuller Bottom, starting and ending at the San Rafael River bridge, about 15 miles each way. I looked up a few side canyons although conditions and time didn’t allow for much exploration. I will definitely need to go back. The walking was easy, the “trails” fairly clear and not too brushy, and it wasn’t terribly hot even though the forecast was calling for temps over 100 degrees.

I traveled light as usual foregoing even a sleeping bag this trip, taking a Golite nest for bugs and an Integral Designs Ultralight Bivy Sack and silcloth poncho. All in all these were good choices. Of course I had the usual backup lightweight ploypro top and pants, Golite Trinity raingear, and a couple of other items for safety. The only piece of gear I didn’t have and could have used was a PFD  (Personal Flotation Device), but more on that later.

San Rafael river canyon. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A sunny morning on the San Rafael River. Looking down canyon at the amazing geology of the region.

Fun With Weather
When I started walking on Monday my first river crossing, about one kilometer up river from the bridge, barely got the soles of my boots wet. I just hopped across the calm, clear river on exposed rocks. A few hours later when I had to cross over again I could tell the water had risen and was definitely more silty- there had been some rainfall far off to the west. Still, it was an easy crossing, with the water barely over my boots. I should mention that as part of my plan I retrieved my pair of OTB combat boots from the bottom of my gear closet- see my Escalante River Trek blog posts or Gear Review pages for more on those. I knew I would have to make some river crossings, and wasn’t sure how wet I would be, so I played it safe with these lightweight, quick dry boots with good drainage.

Monday night brought a few drops of rain, but nothing substantial. Tuesday was a calm, clear morning, ominously cool and quiet. Mid-day Tuesday I was at the point where the trail to Fuller Bottom branches off from the river, with about 2 kilometers to go to Fuller Bottom. I left my pack here and made a dash for the put in, but I didn’t quite make it all the way. As I made my approach on the road to Fuller Bottom I could hear thunder off in a couple of directions, but still felt safe enough to continue. I’ll summarise the events that quickly occurred over the next 15 minutes: the sky grew dark, the thunder became louder, lightning started flashing all around me, icy rain began to fall, then chunks of ice, then balls of hail, the rain became sheets of wind-blown rain, and visibility dropped to about 100 meters. What fun! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Flash flood in San Rafael River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A drainage, dry an hour before, with water already quickly dropping.

Flash flood along San Rafael River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The same drainage one and a half hours later. All you have to do is wait the storms out- don’t panic and try to make crossings. This is what gets people killed.

By the time all this happened I had found myself a dry, north-facing ledge to hide under; the storms came mainly from the south-southwest. Even though I was dry and safe, and I knew my pack was double-waterproofed (I use Sea to Summit ultralight silcloth pack liners), I was still a bit worried about it back there alone, tucked up under a juniper. My concern was not so much my pack itself, but being able to get back to it. My walk to this point had been up, down and through quite a few drainages that I knew were at this point filling up with water. I waited till the biblical squall had subsided and began making my way back towards my pack, curious to see what the drainages looked like. Sure enough, some of them had become raging torrents as the mesa tops were drained of the rain that had just fallen. Even the road I had just walked in on, dry 45 minutes before, was near waist-deep in water. What a storm. If you ever have the chance to safely view the outcome of storms like this, and see what flash floods are and can do, it is something not to be passed up. But again, do it safely. These storms can sweep you away in an instant, just as they do boulders, trees, and tons of other debris.

River flow graph for late July, 2014. From 2 to 100 CFS.

River flow graph for late July, 2014. From 2 to 1000 CFS in the course of 24 hours.

I’ll skip over the details of the walk back, but I made a few crossings that may have been safer with that PFD. My pack was where I left it. I retrieved it and started my return trip down the river. I had a plan to make it to a certain side canyon that evening, camp there, and explore it the next day. But that didn’t happen. A couple of hours later, another storm came, bigger than the previous, that kept me in place for the night. This was the storm that brought the river up to 1000 CFS from the 2 CFS that I started out with. There were no more river crossings to be done that day. The amount of water that fell from the sky, and then came raging down the river was astounding. The massive cascades of red water that fell from the previously dry and quiet canyon rims were deafening. The intensity of a storm like that really puts the power of nature into perspective. If you try to fight it, you don’t stand a chance.

The safe way to face a storm and flash floods like this is to simply find a high, dry if possible, place to spend some time. I was prepared to sit out the night under some cottonwoods; they offered some protection. But the storm passed, the sun came back out right at sunset, and the sky was clear overnight. The next day I continued down canyon, taking in the sights along the way, and wading a river that was again knee to waist deep.

So much for the weather details. The hike was a good one, but needed more time for the side canyons. Five or six days wouldn’t be too many. The access to the trailhead is an easy one, down a very well maintained. There is plenty of water on this hike (no need to carry too much on your back.) The “trail” is descent, though not technically maintained in any way- just by hikers, cows, and people on horses. There are lots of side canyons to explore, you might see some rock art along the way, and you will definitely see wildlife- bighorn sheep, peregrine falcons, wild turkey, a very large gopher snake, and deer were on my viewing list.

Bighorn sheep on the San Rafael River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Curious bighorn sheep on the San Rafael River.

A few notes about walking rivers, something I have done a few times now. Plan to get wet. Waterproof everything. Use waterproof cases for your maps and camera. Make sure everything is secure before making crossings, especially if swimming. Remember to unbuckle waist and chest straps and remove one shoulder strap before water crossings- if you need to ditch your pack you don’t want to mess with buckles under water. Find good shoes or boots that will allow you to be wet, and somewhat comfortable.

A Visit to Green River
The San Rafael Swell is reached from the south through the town of Green River. Be sure to visit the town on your trip. Stop in for Mexican food either at the restaurant La Veracruzana, or the taco truck located next to the park in the old Shell station- good tacos and tamales can be found there. Green River Coffee is just down the street from either of these eateries, and if you are early enough they should be open. If you need water you can fill up at the back of the parking lot at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum right next to the river.  If their water is not on, the West Winds truck stop has spigots at the gas pumps. Starting in the late summer, you won’t want to miss the melons available all through town. I loaded up on them before returning to Colorado. If you are around in September you can enjoy the town’s Melon Festival.

For more on our desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website. Next up: back to the San Juan River in mid-August.

 

 

 


2014- A New Year of Adventures Lies Ahead

28 January 2014

The new year is upon is and it is time to start planning our desert adventures for the year.  Our first trip is less than two months away- Nicolai and I will make our usual spring break trip in mid-March. Writing about it makes is seem closer, like it’s just around the corner. And my philosophy is that it’s never too early to begin planning and preparing.  It also makes me feel closer to the desert, and not just closer to the next trip- pulling out my packs and checking them over, finding something left in the bottom of one; a pair of gloves, a fuel bottle, a bunch of sand, and some dried willow leaves- this puts me back in the canyons. It places me where I belong, living my purpose in life. All else is just incidental, tasks and goals that lead to my purpose.

Bighorn sheep on the San Juan River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Bighorn sheep along the San Juan River.

Now, with the deep philosophical thoughts out of the way, on to the plans. This year we are planning more backpacking. Nicolai is now tall enough and strong enough to carry a larger, heavier pack (heavier, but not heavy). He can carry more of his own equipment, clothing, and food. This will make it easier on me and allows us to stay out longer. Of course he has his own set of the lightest gear we can find- a Golite quilt, an extra-small Therm-a-Rest Prolite pad, titanium cup, and so on. This all helps.

We have also added to our backpacking food supplies with dehydrated and freeze dried foods from Costco and a couple of other places, making our food a little lighter as well. Costco.com has a pretty extensive selection of long-term storage foods, some of which are backpacking ready. Be sure to note before you buy them if the meals are individually packaged, or bulk packaged. You may have to measure and repack them into smaller portions. A couple of other online vendors are Augason Farms and My Patriot Supply. Much of what you will find is dehydrated, and again, often in bulk. There are plenty of options out there besides these few. Just do a little searching.

beartrack

An old bear track in Jones Canyon. It is found in dry mud, but still must have been a big one for the area.

Most of the meals we currently use are things we mix up ourselves using ingredients we dehydrate and those we purchase at our local natural foods store. The majority of our recipes are largely based on those in The Back-Country Kitchen by Teresa Marrone. But we have amended many of the meals in her book, and created more of our own. You can read more about our meals and see some recipes on our Backpack Foods pages at the Desert Explorer website. They are definitely cheaper, but not necessarily lighter than packaged, freeze-dried backpacking meals. The Costco additions bring the weight down some. The only possible drawback might be the Costco-sized packages, buckets in many case, that you have to buy. Be sure to consider the shelf-life of the foods, and if you will be able to use it all within a reasonable amount of time. If you take one trip a year, the meals might last you a long time, or even go bad before you use them, depending on how you repackage them. But for us, backpacking, hiking, and floating throughout the year, they will be used up.

Another focus for the new year is tracking. Really it is just a continuation of what we are already doing. Lots of reading, studying, research, and whenever we are in the bush, finding tracks and following them. That is the extent of our “training” so far. I have never taken any sort of tracking class, but this year I am planning to do so. Joel Hardin offers classes around the west, and one is offered near us later in the year. I think it’s time to learn from a professional. In the meantime, we will continue with our practices which have taught us well so far.

Next on the blog list- gear reviews. We have yet another outdoor gear retailer with their headquarters now in Boulder. Fjallraven, the Swedish gear maker, has also opened a retail store very near us. We have recently purchased a Primus 2-burner propane stove and I have tried out a pair of their trekking pants. Reviews to follow. Until then for more on our adventures, tracking, and kids in the wilderness look over some of our older blogs, or visit the Desert Explorer website.


Trip Report, June 2013- Jones Canyon

17 June 2013

After many, many years I finally managed to get back into the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness along the border of Colorado and Utah. I spent four days in the area, walking the many drainages of Jones Canyon. Jones Canyon is accessible from the trailhead at the end of BS Road, although it is a long drive and the road can truly be impassable when it is wet. (See our Colorado Canyons page for more information on how to get there.) It was never clear to me whether Jones Canyon was accessible from above or not. The trailhead is there, the head of Jones Canyon is there, but I never found any data on getting into the canyon. So to make sure that I could get into the canyon I came in from below.

Jones Canyon Utah backpacking

Cattle trail leading into Jones Canyon. I counted 14 head up one canyon. They can only get so far up and then the Canyon is untouched.

I started out on a Monday morning by swimming across the Colorado River just above the Westwater ranger station, where I left my truck parked. I walked up river about 1 1/2 kilometers, to a point where the river was narrower, the bank on the south side was not completely overgrown, and to where I thought I was on public land. I am still not sure that I was on public land- there is clearly a working ranch on that side of the river- but how far down their land reaches is still unclear to me. Either way, I crossed, skirted around the irrigated fields, and made my way up and over the ridge to finally drop into Jones Canyon.

A point of note here- the river was flowing at 10,000 CFS. I wore a full wetsuit (my $20 Goodwill, 2 mil canyoneering wetsuit served me well) and my PFD- just to be safe. On the swim over I really pushed it and made the crossing in about 500 meters downstream distance. On the swim back across, which I did at about 7 in the morning, I was happy to have the wetsuit. It took about ten minutes to travel the kilometer downstream to the take out while casually swimming across from where I waded in. That was enough time to cause a chill even with the wetsuit in the early morning. So remember- safety first, especially when you are alone. For both crossings my backpack, boots, and clothing was in two drybags that I had lashed together and towed with a long piece of one inch webbing.

The Canyons
The many drainages of Jones Canyon run the gamut of canyon possibilities- from wet to absolutely dry; from narrow, near-slots to flat, wide canyon bottoms; from shallow with easy exits to deep with no way out except the way you came in. I did manage on day three to climb out one drainage and back in the one next to it. The route out was easy, taking no more than 15 minutes. Getting back in was another story- it took a full hour of downclimbing, route finding, and pack-lowering to get back in. In hindsight it wasn’t the best entrance, but it wasn’t the toughest I have ever encountered.

Jones Canyon backpacking

View north from the mesa top after an easy climb out at the head of one of the Jones Canyon drainages.

The vegetation in the canyon bottoms is just as varied, changing from sage brush, bunch grass, and tamarisk, to willows, river cane, cottonwoods, and poison ivy. I saw peregrines and other raptors, lots of little grey birds, and very old sign from elk and bear up every drainage.  There were also endless reptiles and amphibians- the usual array of lizards, Woodhouse toads, and a variety of water snakes. There was very little in the way of cultural remains, aside from a couple of hole-in-top cans and one petroglyph.

Jones Canyon snake

Small snake in the clear water of a running spring in one of the Jones Canyon drainages.

As I noted above, water was available in most of the drainages, nearly all of it in springs.  There were a few potholes with remnants of spring runoff still in them. The water was definitely drying up though, and based on that I would recommend earlier in spring or fall for a visit. Chances are that summer is very dry in nearly all the drainages.

The best part of Jones Canyon was its feeling of isolation. It is not a popular destination for backpackers. I found only two sets of boot tracks in different drainages, both possibly months old and signs of a fire with some bits of trash that was even older, nothing more. If quiet isolation is what you are looking for, then Jones Canyon is the place.

For more on our desert adventures, see the Desert Explorer website. Look for another post soon- we are off to Grand Gulch and points south in another week for more backpacking and exploration. You can follow our progress while we are out on our SPOT Messenger page.


September Trip Report, Part One- Fish Creek Canyon and Grand Gulch

13 October 2012

I was lucky enough to have the last two weeks of September to myself in the Grand Gulch area of southeast Utah this year. I managed to spend about a week in Grand Gulch and on Cedar Mesa, and a few days hiking Comb Ridge. During my hikes I found countless rock art panels- a few that I revisited, but many new ones, and ruins all along the way. I also made a side trip down to Chinle, Arizona for an evening of Navajo singing and dancing sponsored by KTNN, the Navajo Nation’s radio station. The weather was perfect, not too cold, and warm during the day. There was one night and morning of sustained rain while I was down in Grand Gulch. There was enough rain to send water cascading off canyon rims and to turn the previously dry canyon bottom into a fast-moving stream.

My hikes started out with a few days in upper Fish Creek Canyon- 3 days and 2 nights to be exact. I entered from the Fish and Owl trailhead and then walked up the Main Fork and came back down the South Fork. This was a section of canyon I had wanted to visit for at least the last ten years, ever since my first trip into lower Fish and Owl Creek Canyons. The head of the canyon seems very inviting as you drive across it on Highway 95. Looking down canyon, it appears that it would be a gradual, even descent on slickrock canyon bottoms. This is not really the case, especially up high.

Entrance to Fish Creek Canyon, view north from canyon rim after walking across mesa. The walk is rough in the canyon bottom down below.

Since I was traveling alone and not carrying any technical canyoneering gear (no ropes, harness, slings) I started from below and worked my way up. It always feels safer to me to work this way- if I can climb up something I can usually climb right back down it. Coming in from above and following the canyon bottom in an unknown canyon often requires a lot of climbing out- around- back in. This adds the potential for becoming “rimrocked” while trying to find a way back in. Then there is the possibility of downclimbing and coming to impassable pouroffs requiring backtracking and climbing back out. Of course the same will then be true for traveling up canyon, but the potential for getting into trouble is minimised, in my opinion, by traveling up canyon.

Upper Fish Creek Canyon is not lower Fish Creek Canyon, not that lower Fish is that easy of a walk. The canyon started out with water everywhere, and associated brush, requiring lots of skirting of pools, and some climbs around bigger pools at pouroffs. I found pools of hundreds and even thousands of gallons of water on my hikes in Fish Creek, Grand Gulch and side canyons.  I should mention that just a couple of weeks before my arrival there was a tremendous downpour lasting some 10 hours at certain locations. This filled the canyons with water, scouring them out and depositing debris, and creating problems for navigation both in the canyons and on the mesa top. I was told by the rangers at Kane Gulch that “the narrows” of Grand Gulch had become a swimming hole at the bottom, and was jammed with debris at the top. There was a group of volunteers clearing out brush and rebuilding trails in that area while I was there.

Pothole- upper Dripping Canyon, Cedar Mesa, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Large pothole holding thousands of gallons of water, upper Dripping Canyon.

Back to Fish- canyon bottom walking was rough at times. Besides water and brush, there was plenty of climbing over, under, and around boulders higher up in the canyon. Slots were a problem higher up, requiring climbing out, skirting on a bench, and climbing back in. The vegetation changes as I gained elevation traveling up canyon occurred in conjunction with the slots- once I started seeing Ponderosa and other pines, the canyon narrowed and started to slot. I encountered more slots coming back down the South Fork than moving up the Main Fork. A rope, harness, and some slings would have made for an interesting experience in these upper sections.  I spent a few hours on benches skirting slots on  the way back down.

Slot in upper Fish Creek Canyon, South Fork. Don’t be deceived by the photo- it is about 40 feet or so down to the water. This would have been fun with rope and harness.

After I finished up with Fish Creek Canyon I headed across the mesa into Grand Gulch proper. I entered via Dripping Canyon, which is passable. That is about all I will say on the subject; it is a fun one, and can be done. I spent the afternoon in Grand Gulch and headed out via Step Canyon, where I stayed the night. Along the way I passed by some of the well-know panels and ruins in the canyon bottom. If you are new to Grand Gulch, it was at one time very populated. This is evident as you walk along the canyon bottom; all you have to do is look up every now and then to see ruins and rock art.

Pueblo dwelling, Grand Gulch, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Large, well-preserved, and defensible ruin in Grand Gulch.

Part two of my September Trip Report will cover hikes in Comb Ridge, rock art along the San Juan River, and my visit to Chinle, Arizona. I will also include an update on my tracking book bibliography. Look for that in about a week. In the meantime, for more on visiting southeast Utah, see the Desert Explorer website.


Escalante Trek, May 2011- Gear Reviews

29 May 2011

This post is a continuation of my post from 27 May, which outlined a recent trek down the Escalante River. In this post I will discuss some of the new gear that I tried out on this recent backpack trip. I should state that I am not paid nor sponsored by any of the companies whose products I am writing about. With the exception of Rokit Fuel, I purchased all products reviewed here and was not contacted by any of the companies. Rokit Fuel is a semi- solicited review- I received the products from the company for free for my own trial use.

Golite Malpais Trinity Rain Jacket
My most important piece of new gear on this trip, based on the cool and sometimes wet conditions that I encountered, was the Golite Malpais Trinity Jacket. In packing I hoped for warm weather, but was prepared for anything- and that is where this jacket comes in. Normally I carry only a silcloth poncho which serves as my rain gear, pack cover, and shelter. I also carry a Golite Wisp wind shirt to add a little more protection if it’s windy. On this trip, based on the potential for cool and wet weather, the amount of time I would be out, and the distance involved, I switched the Wisp out for the Malpais. I pulled the jacket out on about day 3 and I barely took it off until I got back to the trailhead. I even slept in it on one particularly cool night.

Golite Malpais jacket

The Golite Malpais Liteshell jacket.

I make every attempt to travel as light as possible and in doing so I haven’t carried rain gear in many years. But this jacket has changed my way of thinking, and I’ll keep it in my pack. The Malpais jacket weighs only 7 ounces, about 3 ounces more than the Wisp shirt. The jacket is made of Golite’s ultralight 3-layer Trinity material, a waterproof, breathable fabric and is the lightest that Golite makes. Besides the Trinity fabric, to get to such a light weight they did away with pit zips, most of the cordlocks, hood stowage, and made the interior pockets out of a super thin mesh material. After days in the jacket, and hour upon hour of rain on one occasion, I was comfortable and dry underneath. Without question, if you are looking for a lightweight rain jacket that will really protect from the elements, this is it.

OTB DesertLite Boots
Next on my list of impressive new gear is the OTB (Over The Beach) DesertLite boot. I needed strong, comfortable footgear for this trek that would perform well on land and not fall apart being wet for 4 or 5 days straight. These boots were designed by U.S. Navy SEALS and are engineered and manufactured by New Balance. Those two facts made me take a closer look at the boots.

The OTB line has in it two 8 inch boots that I looked at- the DesertLite boot and the JungleLite boot. The boots are exactly the same in every respect, except in color and leather finish. The DesertLite boot is available in a tan upper with suede tan leather finish, the JungleLite boot comes in olive drab or black upper with polished black leather. I chose the DesertLite simply because the color fits in better in my area of operation.

OTB DesertLite boots. Photo by Gerrald Trainor.

OTB DesertLite boots.

The boots feature mesh ventilation holes on the instep and the outside of the boot, 3 on a side. These holes function as drain holes when working in a wet environment. The uppers are mesh and drain extremely well and quickly when stepping out of water. I was concerned that the drain holes might let sand in, either in the water or when walking on dry land. I did find that a small amount of fine silt did make its way into the boot, but the amount was negligible. I was also concerned about drying. But each morning when I put the boots back on they were comfortably dry, enough so that if I were on dry land for the day, my feet wouldn’t feel wet. I did set the boots out in the sun on a slab of sandstone one afternoon to see how long they took to dry completely. In about two hours they were dry to the touch, inside and out.

I wore these boots for 8 straight days, they were wet for 6 of those days, and I traveled just over 100 miles in them. The only visible wear in that time is on the “reinforced climbing rubber” on the inside of the toes. A small piece tore off on the upper corner of both boots- I did do a large amount of scrambling up and down and over sandstone boulders and rocks. Other than that, it is hard to tell that I just put a very tough 100 miles on the boots.

As far as I know there are no other boots or shoes out there that are anywhere near comparable to the OTB DesertLite boot. I have tried other “water shoes” (see the reviews from the first part of the Escalante Trek) and found them woefully inadequate- fine for frisbee in the park, but nothing beyond that. The OTB DesertLite boot gets the job done.

Rokit Fuel Endurance Foods
I am constantly refining, amending, and otherwise changing my packing lists, the gear that I carry, and the foods that I carry and eat while in the bush. I make most of my own meals by the way- see our Backpack Foods pages for more on that. I was recently emailed by a representative of Rokit Fuel, a local, Utah company, and asked if I would try their products. As I am always happy to try any new outdoor product on the market, I heartily agreed.

Crystal from Rokit Fuel supplied me with three of their products in various flavors- Stud Muffin and Cherry Almond Cereal Cups, two prototype Energy Bars (not yet on the market- but coming soon as Booster Bars according to the Rokit Fuel website), and four flavors of their Cereal Pouches. I can summarise my experience with all of them in one word- delicious!

Okay, so good taste is obviously important, but what about the energy part of the foods? I have to admit that it is really hard for me to tell sometimes how an energy bar, or endurance food in this case, actually affects me. I can say that I specifically tried the products at a time when I needed a boost, on longer parts of the walk, and in between meals. Based on this I can say without a doubt that I got the boost that I needed. The highlight of all the products is the fact that they are made with whole foods- grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits- and that these foods in minimally processed form are better for you and are digested and absorbed faster by your body then processed foods. The products range in calorie content from about 250 calories for the Cereal Pouches to about 350 calories for the Cereal Cups. There are plenty of carbs, protein, fiber, and other good things you need when out there pushing yourself. See the Rokit Fuel website for a complete nutritional breakdown of all their products.

On to the products- the Cereal Pouch comes in a small bag and requires water. This could be an obvious problem if you are in a race or on your bike for example, but for backpacking it becomes a non-issue. In fact it only took seconds for me to tear the pouch open, squeeze water into it from my Camelbak tube, mix it up and enjoy it. I was concerned about how it might mix up, how long it might take. But again, it wasn’t an issue. Once the water was in it took a few seconds of massaging the pouch until all the ingredients were saturated. And the outcome- imagine a quick few bites of tasty granola cereal in milk right on the trail. Or maybe a liquid granola bar. Either way, it tasted great and I was on my way in a couple of minutes. My favorites were the pumpkin chocolate and the stud muffin.

The Cereal Cups come in some of the same flavors as the Cereal Pouches. If you are using those oatmeal breakfast packets from the grocery store shelf, the ones that require 3 or 4 to fill you up, and end up being a gooey mess, you should look into the Cereal Cups. I dumped mine into pint Ziplock bags. In the morning I poured enough hot water into the bag to moisten the contents, closed it up for a few minutes, and my breakfast was ready. Each cup makes a decent sized, filling, and not-too-sweet trail breakfast. Give the cherry almond a try.

Rokit Fuel Cereal Cup dumped into Ziplock bag for backpack breakfasts. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Rokit Fuel Cereal Cup dumped into Ziplock bag for backpack breakfasts.

Finally, the Booster Bars were a welcome change of pace to my usual peanut butter Clif Bars, not that I will shun them forever. But change is good. The Booster Bars will come in four configurations- two chocolate covered and two without. I try to stick with bars that are not chocolate covered; the desert heat and chocolate in foil always ends up as a mess. But excluding this fact, the chocolate covered bars will please your taste buds and give you the energy to keep moving.

Unfortunately at this time these products are only available at a few outlets and online. But once you give them a try you probably won’t have an issue ordering a big box of them online. And I’ll bet we will see them in stores in the near future.

Part Three
Check back in a few days for part three of  my Escalante Trek post. I’m still planning to touch on the geology and rock art that you might see while walking down the river, discuss a bit of the flora, and relate my methods of getting in some tracking practice while hiking. I’ll also go over LNT, or Leave No Trace principles while backpacking. For more on ultralight desert backpacking and associated gear, backpack foods and making your own meals, water, and desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.