John Wesley Powell reportedly used this iron-prowed skiff and ones like it on his 1869 exploration of the Green River in Utah. We travelled in far better skiffs, in fact I was the crew in a restored Grand Canyon dory owned by a Durango friend, John Lawson. This dory was recognized by other rafters on the same river and John was told that there are photos of the Niagara running the Grand in a movie making the Art House film circuit, called DamNation. This was my first time in a dory and I was lucky enough to row her and take her down a couple class 3 rapids. The ride is much different than in a conventional raft because it only has a four-foot wide “wetted surface”.
Great trip, 11 people on 6 boats for six days. Actually, the best trip I’ve ever had down the Green River thru Desolation & Gray Canyons because the heat and bugs weren’t an issue this time of year. Forecast was for perfect warm weather, but high winds and night rains struck us several afternoons during our dinner gatherings. Fortunately all the boaters were experienced and well-enough equipped to handle adversities both on and off the river. The pictured “para-wing” tarp covers the kitchen and most the galley. Only one night did we have to have five people hold down the tarp as 35 MPH and higher winds whipped down the beach just after dinner. As you can see in these photos, most of the camps were on sandy beaches which makes for easy camping.
For those who’ve never done multi-day river trips with a private group, the meals are divided up by boat and on this trip each boat was responsible for one dinner and one breakfast (lunches are individual since they don’t require a community kitchen). It’s always a treat to see and eat meals the other boater provide for the group. Our “directives” were not to make very fancy or elaborate dishes so our crew made grilled pork chops, vegetable shiskabobs and mashed potatoes. Cheese cake with berries for dessert. (We forgot to pull out the Cool Whip for topping.)
Lunches weren’t too shabby either.
Fun time on the river and evidently the same storm came thru Durango and shortened the Memorial Day traditional Iron Horse Classic to only 25 miles and none of the passes. Glad I’d opted for the desert and hiking this year rather than training for the mountain passes.
And just because it doesn’t warrant a full blog on it’s own, I made a quick 2-day mountain backpacking trip just out of Durango behind the Purgatory Ski area the day after getting off the river. We started high behind the ski area and hiked down the Little Elk Creek trail to the Hermosa Creek drainage, 13 miles, and then back up another trail further south called Dutch Creek trail. It was fun once again being the first footprints on the trail after the winter snows melted.
We’d hoped to see lots of animals this early in the season. Lot’s of fresh tracks and scat, but we only saw a young black bear scooting away at a speed I’d never thought possible. When I asked about their mobility my hiking partner told me they can easily do 30 MPH and uphill at that. Creeks were so high on the return up Dutch Creek that we had to ford with our shoes off three times. Amazing how easy it is to get in a first-class backpacking trip in just two days only 30 minutes from home.
Several friends and I were itching to go backpacking once again. Our backpacking trip in the desert several weeks ago, was probably the last one possible until the Fall because the daytime temps make hiking uncomfortable. We finally got to backpack into the (lower-part of the) High Country wilderness around Durango, by going up the “Horse Highway” as one friend at Rotary called it. About 32 miles ENE from Durango are the Vallecito thresholds to the Weminuche Wilderness. I’ve hiked several trails directly north of the Vallecito Lake drainage into the Weminuche, but not the more Easterly drainage of the Pine River. Many Trail Head parking lots have hitching posts for horses in our area, but this TH had rails for 25 or 30 head. It must be a horse highway because of it’s gentle rise along the Pine River for over 20 miles. Fortunately for us, we were the first to travel more than the 3 miles up to the Weminuche boarder sign and get the first look on to the trails this season. Horseback riders are probably aware that it’s not a good idea to venture out on these freshly thawed trails because of the all the deadfall from even our mild winter makes the going tough. We’d come across so many downed trees that we couldn’t clear, it would be very discouraging for anyone on horse back. One family of beaver were very active recently leaving more than 20 large sized trees blanketing the trail.
Most of you don’t know, but I’ve joined a group of volunteers known as Wilderness Information Specialists (WIS) and this was just the type of hike where we can be helpful, in that we recorded the quantity and size of the downed trees that a trail crew would have to come and remediate.
By enlisting as a WIS volunteer I’m forcing myself into spending more time in the backcountry that I have habitually said, “I’ll enjoy the area close to Durango when I get grey”. Well, what’s left on top is certainly grey, and as the byline says, “How many summers do you have left”. Now is the time to get out there.
Having converted to an evangelist ultralight backpacker makes the endeavor all that more enjoyable. Four of us, all similarly out-fitted, pushed the season door open and tramped almost 20 miles up this horse highway until the snow line only offered “post holing” for passage. Over the two nights and three days we camped low (8,880′) and hiked high (10,000′) so that the night time low temps wouldn’t be more than our light weight gear and packs could handle. As it was the lows hit 23° F and we all slept in every stitch we brought inside our sleeping bags (No one got cold). We did allow ourselves a campfire in one to the established campsites both nights, so that kept the chill off while we waited to bed down. It was really fun to see the foliage pressing itself out of the ground like the skunk cabbage (false hellebore) shown below. This plant will grow to be 4 to 6′ tall by Fall.
And even though we all had base weights in the 10-12 # range we still had room for a birthday cake, albeit with only one candle. Mike Taylor celebrated a “surprise” 71st birthday midway thru the hike. I should also probably mention that the average age of the crew was 69 years old.
A good time was had by all. And ice cream was the first stop on the way home.
We’ve written not as much about Stanna’s adventures primarily because there aren’t as many photos to show off her exploits. Just now she’s editing those from the India/Bhutan/Nepal trip and perhaps we’ll feature that trip retrospectively. Nevertheless I intercepted a couple photos from her Sedona hike with 8 of her Wednesday Hiking Ladies group, just last week. Several of the same group made the Nepal trip this year and another, Debi, led the Switzerland trip several years ago. Reportedly there are more than 20 women on the emailing list and typically 6 to 12 can show up any given Wednesday. They’ve been taking overnight excursions to regional trailheads in addition to the local day hikes.
The trip to Sedona, Arizona (6+ hours from Durango – south of Flagstaff) is the latest multi-day excursion where they hiked several trails over the three days they were there. Stanna has hosted several overnights up in Silverton in the past and they’ve gone to Pagosa and Moab as well. The Ladies share trip leader responsibilities over the year and Stanna has led quite a number hikes herself.
Hikes change each week so there is variety in distance, terrain, and effort: something for everyone, but generally they are 3-4 hours, and cover 4 to 6 miles average each time. On the calendar for this summer is a Hut hike over in Dolores County and maybe a backpacking trip into Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness, besides the weekly Wednesday hikes.
Other than a welcome routine of gym workouts and Wednesday hikes we haven’t done anything special. We’ve been host to a German Warmshowers.org cyclist who completed his 8,000th mile arriving in Durango this last week. Daniel Poetschke from Dresden was on the home stretch of his 7-month adventure thru South America and the West Coast of the U.S. when he rolled up to our condo. We convinced him to stay an extra lay-over day in Durango so he could warm-up and catch-up before the final leg to Denver. It’s always a pleasure hosting these young tourers because we inevitably learn something and feel the good will is well worth the time and effort. It’s continually amazing how much these folks carry on their bikes, Daniel could set a weight record for our cycling tour visitors. However, at the same time he’d travelled the longest distance by far, so who are we to judge. Suffice it to say we travel with about the same weight he had in just one of the small front orange bags on his bike. He’s camped probably 90% of the time and the photo of his tent covered with snow in the high Sierras deserves the hardiest award.
It’s probably worth mentioning that Stanna got a replacement for her mountain bike we left in Trang, Thailand. The Durango youth cycling club Devo had a swap meet last weekend with several hundred bikes available at really
great prices. She found a Trek 7.2 FX her size tricked out with cross wheels and tires, 24 speed gearing and a rack, all for $95. Only item she’ll replace are the gummy pink hand grips. So now we have the full complement of five bikes stored the the living room.
This blog wouldn’t be right without a food foto inserted, and the tasty treat we experienced was an avocado lime pie with almond and coconut crust. This was so healthy it could very well have been the main course. Thanks, Carol, for the wonderful dessert, everyone should be as fortunate as us to have dinner at your house. Speaking, or more aptly, writing about food, both Stanna and I were very pleased to find that our Thai diets returned us home weighing in almost the same as when we left, even with the daily ice cream and popcorn regime I adopted.
The Ultra Light gear list got several upgrades as a result of the last trip to the Utah desert. All minor tweaks, but I’ve saved another several ounces and even added a couple of essentials, or better, things that make sense. The lightest of all the tweaks was adding a simple iPhone camera pole mount with a ½ ounce piece of shock cord [credit to John Martin]. My base weight is still under 10 pounds. As soon as it warms up a little more, we’ll be able to get up in the high country around here; right now all the hiking is day hiking because the overnight temps still hover around freezing and there is plenty of snow on the north facing slopes, even in a light snow-pack year. (Our usual Tomato plants are currently just inside the deck doors waiting for those overnight temps to rise.) And we’re just about set to make reservations back to Switzerland for another Fall trek, let us know if you’ll be joining us.