Legend Trees – Escalante River

Just back from 5 days “logging” legend trees in the Escalante Wilderness Area of Utah.  Actually we didn’t cut down a single tree, we recorded the location, elevation above the river, height, health, girth, number of stems and species in proximity to the “legend” trees in the Escalante River corridor.  We were a team of three, headed by veteran Grand IMG_2819Canyon botanist Melissa McMasters, who spearheaded the tamarisk removal and vegetation replacement program along the Colorado River thru the Grand Canyon.  Mike Taylor was one of her “star” volunteers and seems to learn when she’s got a trip or a project lined up.  Fortunately Mike needs a partner and I’ve been lucky enough to go along.

IMG_2801Melissa has the contract to do the entire Escalante River corridor and it’s going to take a couple of years to count and record the legend tree data for that entire stretch.  The Escalante River is popular and famous for it’s remote, wild and scenic desert beauty.  Most of the drainage is not easily accessible to hikers unless they’re prepared for rugged riverwallmulti-day backpacking, and since it’s become a Wilderness Area the trails have become almost nonexistent.  Occasionally it’s possible to run the river in smaller rafts or kayaks, but it’s normal flow is in fractions of a CFS.  When it floods with 1,000, 2,000 or even 4,000 CFS it runs wall to wall in many places but reportedly only for very short periods. You need to be constantly aware of the flash flood possibilities.  It was .86 CFS for us.

IMG_2797Mike and I were skeptical of the minimal mileage Melissa expected to cover each day, when she told us about her previous trips above our starting point.  Less than five miles seemed too little for a full day of hiking.  Well, we diminished even that small number of miles by totaling only 1.5 and 2 miles of river in a 10 hour day.  We did manage just over 5 miles hiking each day, but when you go back and forth, round and round, across the river and back all day long, it’s hard to get very far down the river.  Below is a screen capture of our track (Gaia GPS App on iPhone) for just one meander of the Escalante River.Untitled

BanksWe did manage 29.8 miles total, according to the Gaia GPS data, but as for data recording along the Escalante River, we only managed to knock off a little less than 7 river miles in 5 days.  The hike in was 5.5miles and the hike out was 4.9 miles, and those tracks weren’t spent recording data. So that leaves 19.4 miles of walking around 7 miles of river bank.  And walking isn’t the best descriptor, since the foliage and Melissadensity of vegetation along the river proper is more like desert jungle, with Tamarisk, Coyote willow, and Russian olive, not to mention 5 and 6 foot Rabbit Brush.  Just getting out of the river and up 6-to 8-foot shear vertical sand and grass banks provided plenty of slipping laughter.

IMG_2849Legend trees have to meet certain criteria: for Cottonwood it needs to be greater than it’s cohorts, in this case at least a meter in diameter, have deeply furrowed bark, at least two dead branches and meet a subjective criteria sometimes measured as a vocal “Oh shit, look at this one”.

IMG_2802When you focus on trees, vegetation species, and go slower than the average adventurer, it makes for an extremely interesting and rewarding trip.  Mike kept us aware of the long forgotten Petroglyphs he noticed on the Navajo Sandstone walls, plus the numerous animal tracks reminded us we were only moments away from fleeing and feeding game who knew the trails far better than us.  It was a great trip in a very special Wilderness.

We all look forward to going back.SelfieIMG_2825And of course there’s always the “virtuous” reward meal…Strawberry Cheesecake milkshake, Mushroom Onion Burger and Onion Rings back in civilization.

For Mike’s photos in Picasa go to Mike’s Photos, and several of his photos are in this blog, since the iPhone was in a water-tight bag.

A Picture Is Worth…..

StuccoCompositDouble Click for Full Size photo

UPDATE: There wasn’t time to explain the photo composite for those who aren’t aware of the summer gig we have in Silverton.  The Highlander is my sister’s building that we do weekly cleaning and maintenence on when we’re in the country.  The original stucco job had a number of issues and the little fixes didn’t work, so we had to get serious about the stucco repairs.  That’s my nephew Chris doing the heavy lifting, brother-in-law Chris Senior advising and their helper.


10,000 Steps

I just figured I have to get 250 trips between the kitchen and the computer desk to make my 10,000-step goal for the day.  Since I don’t wear a Fitbit like Stanna or carry my iPhone in the house to measure steps in my Health Data app, I’ve decided to carry an almond from the kitchen each time and multiply the number of almonds times 40 to determine how many steps I take each day.

IMG_2673I’ve also learned that my favorite route tracking app, Gaia GPS www.gaiagps.com (most expensive app I’ve ever purchased at $19 – but the best value ever) now works in Airplane Mode on the iPhone and uses hardly any battery (12% on the last 5.7 mile, 5-hour total time, 2:51 moving time) during a day’s hike.  As I’ve mentioned before, having a USGS topo on your phone with a real-time GPS arrow showing your exact location is a real comfort not to mention a “which trail should I take” energy saver.  There are a number of app’s available but this one, like GPSNavX for the sailing community, gets better with each of their frequent updates.

IMG_2719Just like knowing how many steps you take in a day with your FitBit or pedometer, it’s fun to learn how far you’ve hiked or ridden, what the ascent and descent was, how fast you average and most interesting is how long you stopped compared to the moving time (1:52 Stopped Time in that 5-hour hike above).

MaggieGulchI often export from the Gaia iPhone app the “track” via email to myself or hiking partners so we can view it on Google Earth or Garmin Base Camp (free apps) or post it in a blog.


10,000 steps isn’t anything compared to the total racked up in the Hardrock 100 “an ultramarathon of 100.5 miles in length, plus 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet, at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet”.  This week’s adventure was hiking 8.5 miles in to the Pole Creek Aid Station at Mile 20 of the 2015 Hardrock 100 (thumbnail above) and nothing compared to the 153 runners who came thru our aid station.

IMG_2668IMG_2698The food and equipment is horse-packed in and the “crew” backpacks in to this fairly remote mountain point at about 11,500′ with their individual gear and food.  Water is collected at a creek a half-mile away and horse packed to the aid station where we treat the water and decant it into gallon jugs for refilling runners’ water bottles. Crew had to carry in and out the gallon jugs because the sound “spooks” the horses.

When the race is run “counter-clockwise” as it was in 2015 the runners pass the 20-mile aid station in a four-hour time-frame.  On opposite (clockwise) years when it’s the 80-mile mark it can take the runners 24 hours, and all thru the night, to pass thru the aid station because they are so spread out by that time.  This year they came between 10 AM and 2PM  so it was quick and easy, if you don’t count the effort to get there, set up, take down and pack up.  Only 3 of the aid stations are remote and inaccessible by road, this one is the most remote.

I’ve been touting ultra light backcountry travel but these runners put our base weight numbers or even total weight on your back to shame, since they carry only a vest that acts as a holster for 2-4 water bottles. Yes, they do carry a gossamer rain jacket and a headlamp, but not much more besides Gels and salt tablets.


This could be the winner, Kilian Jornet of Spain, who now holds the record, under 24 hours for 100 miles and 68,000′ of elevation gain and loss in both directions, topping off water and sampling only the watermelon before running off.  He got back to Silverton, the start/finish line, before we woke up the next morning.


IMG_6164It was a good three days, because I got to test a number of UL backpacking items. Most unusual was hiking in to the aid station 8.5 miles in a heavy downpour with sleet and finally snow on the pass, using only an umbrella for rain protection. Hiked with only a wind shirt and never got wet above the knees, if you ignore wet hands and of course feet. Another gear test was the 2015 version of the Gossamer Gear Kumo ultralight backpack which I’d borrowed from one of their gear testers, Will Rietveld. This will most likely be the replacement for my zPacks Arc Blast which I’ve almost worn out in five seasons. Lastly I’m experimenting with a very small fanny pack to carry my 10 essentials, iPhone/camera, toiletries, sunscreen and things I need quickly so I don’t remove my pack as often.  Bonus is that it takes 24 ounces off my shoulders and reduces my base weight in this last hike to 8.59 pounds.  Sweet.

Problem I quickly learned with the almond-counting method is there aren’t any almonds left at the desk by the end of the day.

“When did we have time to work?”

I heard myself saying after yoga yesterday that “summer’s half over”, in response to, “What big plans do you have for the summer?”, and it was only July 1st.  A lame answer, considering it’s just really warmed up, the tomatoes on the deck are just reaching the top of their wire cages, and the snow’s not yet melted enough to get up in the high country of the San Juan’s.  But on the horizon is our new tradition of late summer hiking in Switzerland and that’s just around the corner (…not too late to join us). It sure feels like summer’s slipping by.


We’ve now had our 2nd Warmshowers guest cross-country cycle tourer stay with us, and that always puts things in to prospective.  They’ve already cycled half way across the states by the time they reach Durango and it’s easy to wonder, once again, what we’ve done.

Felix is a German cyclist who just recently graduated from university in Geology and is starting his Master’s in the Fall.  He started on the East Coast and with occasional help from AmTrack ($10 to take your bike) has seen more of the East Coast than I have, and still has 3 months left to devour the West. His bike was fitted with the latest in German cycle technology: front dynamo hub for charging all his electronics, rear 14 speed internal hub so he didn’t use a derailleur, and all the kit in-between.  I couldn’t lift his bike loaded and he still had a newly purchased Osprey backpack filled with about 7 liters of water for the upcoming desert sections.

The day Felix arrived from Pagosa Springs I’d just finished an epic overnight backpacking trip.  Eager to get back on the trail, I chose a loop I’d done previously in the lower San Juan’s adjacent to our newly designated Hermosa Wilderness Area.  The earlier trek started from the northern access and measured approximately 24 miles.  Definitely doable, especially since I was going solo and trying out a near SUL backpacking setup.

SUL is Super Ultra Light and means a base weight of under 5 pounds. The pack, and load on by shoulders, weighed in at 6.38 pounds, however I was also trying out a minimal fanny pack with 24 ounces of gear that is normally in my back pack, so in honesty the base weight was 8.15 pounds including 1.15 pounds of electronics.  This was by no means minimal as I still had a 2 person tent with mosquito netting and floor, a 20° sleeping bag, pad and down parka, long pants and rain suit, however quite a contrast to Felix’s 100 pounds of gear.

I wanted to start in the south closer to home and there by neglected to add in the access mileage to the bottom of that previous loop that we drove to: an extra 5 miles each way.

Dutch LoopI never realized this fact until I arrived at the Loop’s Trailhead some 4.78 miles in a that gave me the incentive to “knock-off” at 16 or 17 miles the first day.  As it was I logged 21.5 because I wanted to get back down to a creek-side meadow with water and flat ground.

The next morning trail map says “Route finding may be difficult in this area” and it was. Late spring rains produced tall grasses and the seldom used trails became even more obscure every time the trail flatten out. The GPS track on my iPhone came in handy when trying to make a choice on which meadow exit track to follow.

It was in one of these lush meadows that I almost bumped into a small bear standing inside a young 6′ pine pursuing I know not what.  The tree was jiggling and I stopping to discern if it was wind and soon realized that the light brown shading inside the rich green needles was the cause.  Backing off with arms raised I retreated to the creek bank to bearreconnoiter an alternate route thru the valley.  As I was considering the choices I looked up to notice another bear just above the same trail I’d walked toward the first.  Not sure if it was just the same bear moved or a second and possible “mama” bear, I decided across the creek was the best option.  Neither bear seemed to notice me.  [Photo from Earth Times . org] I didn’t think it was prudent to pull out a camera.

SD 8536Other than a two day hike, a little electrical sleuthing for my brother-in-law Chris (switching a 3-phase compressor over to single-phase) and an evening with Mike Taylor practicing flycasting in a local lake (I now caught 3 fish 5 attempts in 10 years), one wonders how you ever had time to work.