Weminuche Traverse

Messages Image(3109858939)I was privileged once again to follow along one of Will Rietveld’s epic treks across the Weminuche Wilderness area of the San Juan National Forest.

Will has been hiking the San Juan’s for over 50 years and at 74 he doesn’t carry a map any longer, since just about every trail and mountain has  been etched in his memory.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, Will is a writer who reviews and tests ultralight gear from various vendors and has a blog UltralightInsights featuring that gear and his tips.

This year Will’s friend, the founder of Gossamer Gear Glen Van Peski came along as well.  They’ve hiked the Weminuche several times in the past, so it was fun to hear them revisit those previous trips.

IMG_5676Will generally only uses the normal trails to and from the Trailheads.  He prefers Elk trails and often times “bushwhacking” to get where he’s planned to hike.  When I say we probably climbed 3 or more passes a day it’s not an exaggeration. The couloirs between peaks is how he likes to traverse the alpine landscape and usually there’s only been four-legged animals before us.


DSCF0027As you might imagine, the views are spectacular, and above 13,000′ you can generally look in any direction. Camping above tree line we never need worry about insects or bears. The wildlife we saw was primarily Elk in herds and pairs, a number of curious mountain goats, a lumbering porcupine and countless ptarmigan with their chicks. We did see at least 3 bald eagles, one perched on a stunted spruce watching over the fish in Lost Lake.

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Ostensibly this was a fishing trip.  Those who know me know fishing isn’t my forte, in fact I just don’t fish because I’ve lost more lures and flies than I’ve ever landed fish.  But there was a novel fishing rig along and I was keen to try my hand: a TicTac fishing rig that Glen brought along as his UL fishing kit. I didn’t get a chance to weigh it but I’m sure it was just over an ounce.

DSCF0066IMG_5681 I caught four fish that day, probably more than all I’ve ever caught in fresh water. (Trolling for Tuna, Dorado or Mackerel off Paradox excluded). I only kept one 16″er and could only fit DSCF0064half in my beer-can pot Esbit stove for dinner, so I dried the rest Thai style on my pack for the next 3 days and enjoyed dried Cutthroat Trout.  I’m hooked and already have a TicTac box of mouth freshners to build my own fishing kit.



P1420975The six-day trip was challenging in that we covered 60.2 miles, which itself would only be 10 miles a day, but we managed 19,990′ ascent and 22,081′ descent in that distance.  One day was just over 14 hours. We didn’t anticipate as much snow as there was this time of year and had to alter route, glissade and scree-slide more often than we figured.

Good thing that each of us was packing UltraLight gear, averaging between 7 and 9 pounds base weight.  Six days food at 1 ½ pounds a day was as much as our base weight.  Glen is a master UL hiker and showed us a few of his tricks which I’ll try and incorporate in my kit for the next trip.

By-the-way, most of these photos are from Glen and Will’s cameras as I wasn’t taking many photos in an effort to see how long my iPhone 6+ would be able to track our daily routes.  GaiaGPS tracked 58 hours of hiking and only needed a short charge on the 5th day. As a result we’re now able to “fly” our track in Google earth for some exciting views.


Here’s the crew, Will on the left and Glen on the right. Will and I logged Wilderness Informational Specialist credit by wearing our volunteer shirts and talking to the backcountry hikers and climbers we ran into.  The trip basically took us from Durango to Silverton, zig-zagging thru the Weminuche Wilderness area. For Glen’s version of the trip click here.

Here’s a few more photos to give you a sense of the adventure.

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Walking the Talk

IMG_5642July has been unusually good weather in the San Juan’s for hiking this year.  Typically the monsoons start on July 4th, but this year we’ve managed about 15 days without a single rain drop. Not that we’ve hiked every day so far this month, but between the two of us we’ve got in at least 15 days on the trails. From a two hour training hike with my sister Donna and niece Vanessa (with 19#, 8 month-old, Oliver on her back) to an epic 6 day traverse of the Weminuche, with lots of miles in between.

IMG_5635Stanna has up’d her hiking regime to M-W-F with her Ladies Hiking Group, tackling harder trails on Monday and Friday with those ladies who want the additional exercise. She even took me on one hike the morning of the 4th.  I could barely catch her at the parking lot when I tried to add another ¾ mile to the Cascade Creek waterfall inbound leg.  In 4.7 miles back  I didn’t see her until I had sight of the car and her at the same time.

IMG_5629In prep for the UL trip in the Weminuche (see next post) I managed an easy peak climb in the La Platas, with Will Rietveld and Travis Ward where we saw a mountain lion and almost stepped on a 2-day-old fawn.IMG_5627




I’m not a peak bagger, but I did sign the log books on two peaks in the last 10 days, none of them 14’ers but they seem to have jars with logbooks on most mountain tops over 13,000.

IMG_5618Since Stanna and I both use GaiaGPS, she has been able to follow some of the tracks I’ve recorded with her hiking ladies. As WIS volunteers, I did the Snowdon Notch right after my aborted Colorado Trail attempt (to establish it was my new trail shoes that foiled the CT, not my body) and she and her group visited the same trail several days later.

Sure wish we could take some of you along.  The mountains of Southwestern Colorado are beautiful this time of year.  See if you can join us.




GaiaGPS Gear Review

GaiaGPS LogoGaiaGPS is the single best App I’ve ever purchased, and that’s coming from a parsimonious Scots miser who hasn’t purchased more than a dozen App’s for his smartphone, and those few all under $3.

Let’s just get the price issue out of the way at the onset: it costs $19 from the App Store for iOS devices and at Google Play for Android devices. If the cost puts you off from trying this invaluable backcountry App, then find someone who’s using it and get a first-hand demonstration, or visit the GaiaGPS website to view a demo.

GaiaGPS has extended my hiking and backpacking experiences many-fold since I first saw another hiker using it on the trail. He was following a track someone had given him, recording his own track with all the real time stats, all the while viewing his current location on a clearly visible fully-zoomed USGS topo.

Questions immediately came to mind: What does it cost? How much are the topos? How large is the app? How do you get other people’s tracks? Does it eat up your smartphone battery and what was that name again? (It’s GaiaGPS).

I’ll have to admit I had to look up “gaia” on the internet; its The ancient Greek goddess of the earth, mother of the Titans, in case you’re clueless as well.

IMG_5520I’ll also admit more than once I’ve been “off track” when hiking and backpacking. Now with GaiaGPS on my smartphone it happens less often, or more to the point, for not as long. Having a real-time GPS cursor following my footsteps is a pretty amazing feature to have in my pocket.

GaiaGPS on a smartphone doesn’t use or need cell tower availability or coverage, rather it uses the phone’s internal GPS chip. It works anywhere in the world, unless you’re in a deep dark canyon with walls that obscure most of the sky. My GaiaGPS recorded tracks seem to do just fine in dense forests and wooded areas but will jump diagonally off track when it’s bouncing off steep walls and cliffs, righting itself once it can “see” more sky.

The phone stays in my pocket (or hip belt) until I’ve sensed I’m off track, have an intersection choice to make, or just am curious how far we’ve gone. But GaiaGPS can tell you much more if you choose: such as knowing the distance, altitude, moving time versus your total time, average speed, and stopped time, to name a few.

What really pleases me is that I now have all those GPS features combined with a camera and phone. I’ve eliminated my Garmin Trek’s 5.1 ounces (that I rarely used) along with 4.75 ounces for my point-and-shoot camera and consolidated those functions into my iPhone. The 9.85 ounce savings allows other gear, or better yet cutting my base weight down closer to that elusive 10-pound number.

And just as preparing for an adventure is enjoyable and rewarding, checking out my tracks and stats after the hike has added to my overall joy of backpacking.

Sharing the track is fun as well. You can export the track via email or text message as well as import it into Google Earth or other mapping applications like Garmin Base Camp. I often take a screen shot of the imported Google Earth track and place it in my blog to give folks a sense of where I’ve been hiking.

Just buying the app can be a little intimidating and even frustrating if you don’t know how to use it to its full potential. GaiaGPS offers you all the USGS topos for the United States for free, as long as you are online (connected to WiFi). You must select an area (draw a box around and Save) the region you’d like to have on your phone while you’re still online.

GaiaGPS screen shotsThe features and operation are very straight forward, but it takes a little exploring to figure that out without someone showing you or watching the numerous very short how-to videos offered in the Help Section of their website.

You can certainly Record a Track without a single bit of help and download the map tiles after-the-fact, but if you’re actually trying to navigate with a topo offline you need to have those USGS (or other versions of the many maps provided) loaded beforehand. Users new to the app complain of “blurry” topos when in reality they haven’t downloaded the actual map tiles and are just seeing the default low resolution overview map.

IMG_5521There is a long list of features provided with the basic version, but the overall beauty of the app is having a super clear, zoom-able topo of where you are traveling and the GPS cursor arrow marking your current location. If you’ve started recording your track, the line of travel is shown in a contrasting color telling you where you’ve been and possibly how far off track you might be.

I especially like loading up someone else’s track for a hike or ride, and using that to show me the route I’m planning to travel. That feature is as easy as emailing yourself the previous track (from a friend or off the internet), tapping the attachment and selecting Import to GaiaGPS. It loads in your GaiaGPS Folders section and you can “Show on Map” with the press of a button.

IMG_5625After using GaiaGPS and collecting numerous tracks, I really appreciate the easy way I can organize the various tracks into Folders, making finding and utilizing previous tracks far easier.

This app could be something you didn’t know you needed, but it soon will be something you can’t live without. Especially if it helps get your pack weight down by eliminating an extra device. As mentioned earlier, GaiaGPS has numerous short and to-the-point video tutorials (https://help.gaiagps.com/hc/en-us/categories/202519108-iOS), in the Help section of their website online, for each feature. Check it out; you’ll like it.


Changing WebSite Host (names)

UpDate:  They found away to roll us over without the hassle of changing accounts. Hooray! iPage hosting is worth staying with. I’m now back for 3 years at 2.25 a month.

The price of hosting this website rolls over from $1.99 a month (introductory offer) to $11.99 a month.  So we’re cancelling the current hosting and will start up again under Stanna’s name for the next two years.

tgsgblog.com should still be our domain name, but you never know.  Send us an email if you can’t find our website.