Every once in awhile you need to stay home and tackle the project list. Late May has been that time for us. Not to say the “Guilt meter” hasn’t pegged a few times, with decent hiking weather finally arriving and especially NOT riding in the Iron Horse Classic this year.
The good news is numerous projects are completed and it’s almost time to get back outdoors. As you can see our 30 year old cataraft needed some patching, nothing serious but when you have to pump it back up mid-dayon a river trip, it’s time to find those niggling air leaks. Two old patches had micro leaks that we never found on the river, and only after lots of soapy water and driveway conditions, did they show themselves. The Argonaut original will be ready for the Middle Fork on June 26th.
The deck sprinkler system has been installed for the season, we’ve now got WiFi available for the Highlander, teeth have been pulled, the 4Runner has a driver door lock, insurance photos finally made it to a secure undisclosed location, and most importantly the Excel Gear lists have been updated and tweaked. Oh and we now have a fresh decor in the guest bathroom, which has only been on the list since we purchased the condo. That project alone took a week and tools I haven’t used in ages.
All the while we’ve been knocking off projects, the HOA has been tearing up our parking lot to install the “heated” driveway section, which will keep the new Colorado arrivals from experiencing ice on their way to the trash and recycles. This extremely expensive upgrade is schedule to take 3 months and we are now 30 days into the project with the sound of heavy equipment beeping backwards and rumbling with various compactors. Access across the great rubble divide has been challenging not to mention playing the urban city parking roulette on the street. In case you’re wondering that’s 2″ Blue Board insulation placed 8″ below grade so that our new “in-driveway” heating will work as promised.
And just because it doesn’t fit anywhere else, I’ve included my latest MYOG* project for the ultralight gear list. At 1.15 ounces total, these blue foam camp sandals weigh less than a pair of Smart Wool socks. Sure hope they work as advertised!
*Make your own Gear
Initially excited by product reviews and then by actually weighing and including the Sawywer Squeeze Water Filter system in my ultralight gear, I was disappointed and alarmed to see untreated water dripping and squirting directly into the newly treated water. My hiking companions wouldn’t drink any on my filtered water saying, “your water isn’t clean. I’d rather pump mine.”
This was the first time I’d ever carried and tried my new Sawyer Filter system. I noticed it squirting out of two different pinholes mid-bag on the first squeeze and then saw a steady stream flowing between the nylon filler top and the bag. Good thing we had other filters and Aqua Mira on the same trip. The sparse weight and convenience to quickly filtering water doesn’t do any good if you still get tainted water into the filtered water. I’ve written Sawyer and sent photos of the two separate problems with my 1 liter squeeze bag and not heard a word from the company. A search online shows that other purchasers have had leak problems as well. Most the forum responses suggest using other manufactures bags. Here is a link to other fails (http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=65866). If that’s the case, then paying for the system and 3 included bags in the first place for $49.95 seems like a rip-off. Sure you can buy replacement bags but those will probably leak too since they are exactly the same. And if you need another companies bags why should we pay for 3 Sawyer bags in the first place. Why risk taking a system that will leak and drip bad water into good water?
Amazing how Spring can finally burst through like these mushrooms pushing thru the road base of a hard-packed forest service road. I’ve been pushing Spring for about 6 weeks and I finally managed to find a place to get out on the newly rigged mountain bike. With a little guidance I found a loop below the snowmelt line that was within an hour of Durango, and a wonderful place to to shake down the new bikepack rig. We often drive by or even through the area west of Dolores, Colorado but have only hiked off of Lizard Head Pass to the north near Trout Lake. I never imagined how wonderful this lower elevated portion of the San Juan National Forest was for a playground. In fact I had to double take on the name of the forest since the San Juan range is east of the La Platas and this region is well west of the La Platas.It wasn’t until I’d selected the route that I learned they have a trail over there called Boggy Draw and to this point I’m not quite sure where that trail starts and ends, but I did follow a few Boggy sign markers along the way. I used Garmin Base Camp software and it’s version of geodesic topos, which are literally either too old or too accurate for contemporary route selection. Garmin will route you along the most direct road between two waypoints, but what many long haul truckers have learned is, that road may no longer be in service. Having a mountain bike is much more forgiving than an eighteen-wheeler, when I ducked under the “road closed” sign and slid down the historic wagon road between several of the waypoints. I only got “stymied” once when the locked gate said No Trespassing and I had to abort in favor of a state highway. Bike, body and bags held up just fine for an inaugural bash thru the backcountry. I’ll need to add a charging cable to the list if I want to extend the battery life of the Garmin GPS. And I found that the front harness straps loosen, and a skid plate at the bottom of that harness would save the fabric from wear.
The original route was 85 miles as plotted but I’m sure I ran a little over with that one backtrack. As with the Great Divide route the ride was primarily on Forest Service roads, a few logging roads and a stretch of state highway. Early on the forest was so dense my Spot Locater wasn’t picking up a satellite signal but by mid-afternoon the way opened up into vast high altitude grasslands with grazing game and reservoirs. Keeping below 9,000′ was the plan so that there wasn’t any snow and camping temperatures would be above freezing. As with most of my pre-Spring escapades this year it was great making the first tracks on most of the trails, however it also makes for soft ground for the tires which can make handling a bit tricker. It was pure luck to have discovered this route and even better to be one of the first riders this year. Not a single bike tire proceeded me anywhere along the route. I did come across two separate horse riding groups as I got closer to McPhee Recreational Area but not many other recreationalists.
As is customary on these solo ventures, I truly enjoy listening to my selection of Audible Books. Believe it or not I got thru two great books I’m eager to recommend: The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Wow! both these had been recommend to me and they certainly are worth passing on as great choices. This was the first prolonged test of my iPhone for virtually non-stop listening and after two books (6 hours and 5 hours) plus a number of podcasts, not to mention several photos, the phone was still at 47% battery life. Pure joy to lean against a stump after dinner watching the sun set, listening to a great book. (I had to finish the first one after dark in the tent, it was so good.) And those books sure made the bumpy freshly graded forest service road slip by unnoticed. And yes the sights, sounds and sense remain unhindered.
Desert hiking is said to be addictive, but I think it’s just another version of a pastime that offers a glimpse of something many folks don’t afford themselves the opportunity to experience. Fortunately I’ve had the opportunity to visit our southwestern desert this spring with two guys who’ve spent considerable time over the last 30 years in this region, and between them I’ve managed 4 backpacking trips, giving me just a taste of what resources we have 3 – 5 hours from Durango. Our local desert, which I always said begins on the south city limits of Durango (while the alpine high country starts on the the north city limits), is just the place to spend your pre-summer shoulder recreation season.
While it still can be cool at night even on these desert backpacking trips, the daytime hiking temps are superb. (I’ve finally ordered a 20° ultralight sleeping bag to take more advantage of the high desert nights in Spring and hopefully Fall). The first March trips still had snow in the shadows and on some trails we were the first trekkers of the season, stepping on puffy humus trails swollen from a winter of hibernation under the snow. As March rolled on we saw more and more folks making their spring break/cabin fever escapes and taking advantage of desert trails of the southwest just like us. What is totally amazing to us was just how many hikers were from more than 2 full days away from these destinations. Evidently the Pacific Northwest hikers take their Spring break in the American Southwest. And while I’m thinking of it, it’s really worth noting that 96% of the desert hikers we’ve seen so far are over 60 years old, some well over.
The Grand Gulch of Cedar Mesa is so popular the BLM only allows 20 folks a day to enter the area.
Fortunately the groups are generally 2-4 and, like river trips, travel at varying paces and you might only see one or two groups a day, or even none as in our last two days on the trail. Day hikers start on both ends of Grand Gulch trail as there is a popular ruin within 5 miles from each direction, so after the first major ruin the volume of hikers falls down to the 1 to 2 backpacker groups. Of course the major attraction of Grand Gulch is the abundance of “ancient puebloen peoples” ruins, art panels, glyphs, and artifacts. The Perfect Kiva is a wonderful example of a cliffside kiva community ruin that is totally accessible to any willing to trek down the 1,200′ entry of Bullet Canyon and hike the 5 miles to enjoy Basketmaker living at it’s finest.
You’re able to see some 800- to 1,200-year-old examples of our earliest American settlers just about every other mile of the 30-mile route we choose. Grand Gulch has several access points and one can travel 50 miles if you take the farthest two points. I’ve been most familiar with the southern-most terminus on the San Juan River where we always camp on river trips. We’ve hiked up as far as three miles from the river but I’d never realized the cultural experience further up the gulch. These days not much water travels down the canyons, except those rain- and thunder-storms that frequent the region during the summer and fall. Torrents have been known to rip down these narrow canyons and evidence is rampant everywhere with leaves, branches and entire tree trunks high up on the canyon walls, above sand benches and river bed. One notable point about 28 miles into our hike (and very near the western exit at Collins Springs Canyon) is The Narrows, a 10′ wide “pinch-point” for about 30 miles of south-flowing canyon.Of all the intriguing cultural Basketweaver artifacts we saw, the Big Man Panel is a larger than life-sized graphic of an ancient couple stationed promiently high up on a gooseneck bluff north facing wall. Done in the “Fremont Man” style, this triangular torso’d couple (man with smaller head includes dangling genitals, woman has necklace, purse and waist ornementation) stands not unlike an ancient puebloen people billboard advertising who knows what. Without the hinderance of formal archeological training and study, I’m wondering if these Fremont Man graphics aren’t just how they saw themselves in the spring morning low-light shadows on the canyon walls, rather than the Abercrombie & Fitch models of that era.