Weekend Bash


On this hike I rarely took time to smell the flowers.  It’s the end of July and the wildflowers are still prolific at altitude and the Colorado Columbine always catches your eye.  It just wasn’t a hike that I wanted to take the time to get the iPhone camera out and snap away.  Besides I’d just done this exact route either last year or the year before on my mountain bike.

The occasion to duplicate a route I’d just recently done, was that it was some place with sufficient distance, close to home and where I could snag a ride to the trailhead without inconveniencing anyone (thanks Christopher).  I’ve wanted to know, ever since I met a thru hiker (incidentally on this same trail while I was mountain biking) who had averaged 33 miles per day out of Denver on the 550 mile Colorado Trail to Durango.  He’s the first UltraLight hiker I ever met and I was fascinated on how it was possible to cover over 30 miles a day with a backpack.

Now that I am an UltraLight backpacker I’ve wanted to learn how many miles I could cover in a day (realizing that he’d done that for over 14 days in a row).  With several time constraints, re-covering the same segment of the Colorado Trail made perfect sense, so I hastily packed my gear and hitched a ride to Molas Pass above Silverton.  Starting just before noon on Saturday I managed to make my goal at the top of Junction Creek by Sunday noon.  (Daniel and grand girls were arriving from Portland late Sunday).

Every hike is a shake down, but this one had several things I wanted to test, besides my body.  New hiking shoes, the iPhone Gaia GPS system, new poles, a SteriPen water purifier and most important how fast I could travel with 8.5# of base weight in my pack.  I’m sure I started out too fast, because at the 3 hour mark, when I took my first break, another UL hiker breezed by and I never saw him again.

First day there was no rain, only loud clatterings of thunder and lots of lightening south of my track.  I managed 20.5 miles when I quit walking at 8 PM, this was just shy of my first mt.bike camp from the year before.  Next day looked wonderful, and I was doing great until I missed a trail marker when I merged into a forest service road.  Evidently the route was just 100 yards up the road to the right, but I was expecting the trail to go left and missed the trail entirely.  I followed 4 mt. biker tracks I’d seen pass me earlier, down a trail I later learned was Hotel Draw, and it was well over an hour before I realized I was on a descending ridge to the east of where I was supposed to be.  Turning around an hiking uphill an hour was a hard decision, but once I got back on the right trail I was glad I had.

I was trying to make 30 miles that day but fell about a half mile short when I chose a campsite just below a towering scree slope at 8:30 PM, with rain starting to close in.  I’d stopped about 6 PM during a short squall to cook dinner in the trees, so all I had to do was put up the tent and bed down.  Funny thing I learned was, my body was so sore that I couldn’t get to sleep.  No position was comfortable and it took 2 ibuprofen at midnight to settle me down.  Heavy rain all night tested my newest UL tent and proved it dry.  I’ve seldom, if ever, broke camp in the rain but Sunday morning I did, rolling my tent up last and stowing it outside the pack, on top.

It rained the entire morning, unusual for the La Platas, as the thunderstorms generally come in about noon.  Traversing Indian Ridge was exciting with driving rain and hail at over 12,000′ and no trees to break up the torrent.  Just as I headed down from the last pass the rain abetted and I was possible to view the vast forest below.  I used the Spot Locator to signal Stanna that I was approaching the trailhead meeting point and she was there just before I got to the intersection.

Met and saw a number of hikers and bikers along the way.  Most interesting was seeing 3 solo bike packers, one of whom was a racer from the Colorado Trail race which started 7 days earlier.  She had gotten altitude sickness in climbing the first 6,000′ out of Durango and bailed down to Rico on the western side of the LaPlata mountains.  After recovering for 4 days, she set out again to finish the race to Denver.  Wish I’d taken her photo as we talked about 10 minutes at a stream.  Her bike had much the same gear I use on my bikepacking rig.

MolasJunction ElevationsWith the extra mileage down Hotel Draw I’d covered 61 miles in 48 hours, from noon Friday to noon Sunday.  What I learned was: 20 miles is okay, 25 is tiring and 30 makes for a real hard day.  I’m still trying to validate the elevation gain and loss, but my GPS says 34,000′.  My new shoes aren’t that great, I need waterproof over-mitts and I should have loaded the topo maps in my GPS before I left.  SteriPen works fine but I need to modify the wide-mouth bottle cap.  All good to know.

Mt. Saint Helens



It’s hard to backpack on the devastation side of Mt Saint Helens.  Most the trails on the north side of the mountain, where the 33 year ago volcano wiped out miles and miles of National Park forest, visitors are relegated to day hiking or trailheads for very distant backcountry camping.  We had assumed you could backpack in the National Forest like you can in Colorado, just about anywhere.  As we found out once IMG_0225arriving high up the park road at the Johnson Observatory (well worth a trip on it’s own), the only unregulated camping is on the south side of the mountain.  Fortunately with the late summer sun we were able to retreat about a 100 miles to the south side of the mountain and actually get much closer to America’s youngest and most active volcano.  The contrast between the two sides is well worth experiencing.  Mordor on the north IMG_3321slope and a verdant and dense old growth forest on the south facing slopes.  Since we only had two days for our outing we made the best of the time and were able to hike in almost 3 miles and find a camp site just below tree line well before dark.  The girls do real well once we get going and love “tight-roping walking” downed trees, scrambling on rocks and fooling around with found objects.


Fortunately camp food never goes down with a fuss and it doesn’t take long for them to go to sleep.  We sure like hiking with them and hope they’ll remember these times with us.IMG_3351


Middle Fork 2013


Once again we had the pleasure of rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon, but this was one of the best trips ever. Even though the initial rigging and pre-camp was totally in the rain, plus the temps for day one were in the 60’s, it was a superb trip.  The 12 folks on the trip got along super, the food was great, the hot springs wonderful (we were the only one’s at Sunflower), we saw enough wildlife to write about, and the flows were just right at 2.6 to 2.9′.

Our trip leader was the only one who knew each one in the group before launch, but it didn’t take long for everyone to blend in.  One technique Ed Zink (an experience hunting guide) used to get folks to talk about themselves was his “Question of the Day”, where he asks, in round-robin, something like “What was your most interesting: River Trip/Vaca

tion/Childhood Memory”.  Within a couple days we knew quite a bit about everyone and had new ideas for travel, books to read and things to talk about.



Once the rains stopped, Idaho was slated for unusually high temps which we appreciated.  As the photo shows we had quite a variety of rafts, including 2 inflatable kayaks and a pack raft.  Best news was the old Argonaut’s most current patch job held the best ever.  No flips and only a couple rafts got “high centered” on rocks.


SunFlower Shower

Two of our favorite hot springs were completely vacant when we visited them.  And the trough shower at Sunflower is always a favorite even though you can’t use soap or shampoo.

One of those totally unexpected encounters happened as we arrived at Indian Creek.  Standing atop his raft as I pulled in, was my old high-school buddy Don Ahlert, who I cycled across the latter half of the Southern Tier of the US with in 2011.  Great to catch up with him before we each headed down river to meet up with our individual trips.  He launched one day ahead of us and was able to hook up a double permit for the Middle Fork and Main Salmon combined.

Elk Bar


Elk Bar is a totally sand beach where we tried to camp with Don Pole back in aught 11.  We made good use of the bar and even managed an extensive biology lesson watching a dozen randy frogs mating in the fish trap at the north end of the beach.

stuckey'sIf Ed asks us again “What was the best river trip you been on”, we’ll all have to say Middle Fork 2013 because when John Lawson answered about the most interesting place he’s ever visited in his travels, following answers such as, the Sistine Chapel, the Panama Canal and Ankor Wat, with “a Stuckey’s along the Kansas Interstate”, to which Ed laughed and cried for a very long, long time.  No one could speak again for hours without using the word “Stuckey’s” in their comment.