Category Archives: Snow Hike

Kinglet Traverse – Chugach – Day 2 – AK (7.2.17)

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Campside lake views

Brendan and I woke to the sound of rain hitting the tent. The rain started the night before as soon as we zipped the tent closed. Unfortunately there was no sign of it giving up. We poked our heads outside to see a low looming cloud near the surrounding peaks and a grayed out sky slowly drizzling down its rain on us. Gah, I didn’t want to move, I had slept so well that I didn’t move an inch all night. Regardless we had no choice but to get moving, trying to find our way out of the Chugach.

Welp, time to get moving!

We packed up camp, pulled on our rain gear, and soon stood ready to let out from the no name lake we found the night before. I bought Frog Togs on the way to the trail head as I neglected to bring my rain pants with me . . . . . they ripped in the first 2 minutes, right up the crotch . . . hahaha! I could tell it was going to be a good day!

Nice and soppy

The rain drizzled on as we began to skirt north, across the wide open side draws that fed the North Fork of Ship Creek valley. The ground was covered in a cushy nice moss and speckled with jetting rocks here and there. We gained a small ridge and we could see the whole valley including the contributing side canyon that we oringinally intended to use to approach Organ Mountain and Synthesizer Peak. All we could do was speculate from a far, as the weather, snow in the shoot, and whiteout conditions made us call for a “raincheck” on the peak attempt.

Beautiful, even with the fog
Damn bro, couldnt you hold it?! Hahaha little Grizzly sign

With bluebird dreams in our heads we dropped into the next valley, crossing a stream were the open draw headed up canyon via Ship Creek towards Moraine Pass. We saw a nice big pile of fresh bear skat in this valley, we kept our heads on a swivel in this grizz filled country. No one wants to accidentally come face to face with a bear, especially way out here in the heart of the Chugach. We kept skirting the south side of the valley headed east, and soon Grizzly Bear Lake came into view.

Further up Ships Creek
Choss and snow be darned, up we go!

Even with the clouds looming and the rain drizzling it was still gorgeous out here. Gnarly looking raw peaks jetted up on either side of the valley loomed in clouds with lush green bases, touting huge vertical gains, just daring to be summited. We stopped for a nice snack break. Grubbing down on PBJs and chips we looked in the distance to the snow covered Paradise Pass that we had to gain for our exit. We planned to dump down into Paradise Valley which would connect us back into the trail to Crows Pass. Brendan pointed “When you see this thing up close you are going to be like “why the heck did they name it paradise pass?!””. We chuckled at we snacked on taking in the incredible views.

Let the snowfield begin as we ascend Moraine Pass

Still a long way off to go, we pressed up a steep snow covered hill to enter the open Moraine Pass. Brendan took off up the snow like a Polar Bear, walking straight up and soon kicking in steps as the incline became almost vertical. I followed suite, and after a nice steep push we could see the next obstacle. Snow patch after snow patch, we hopped between the good snow and rocks avoiding the rotten snow pack. When you stepped on it, it would just give way, letting you sink like a brick.

The long steep slope up towards Paradise Pass
Looking back down towards Moraine Pass

A snow patch just below Paradise Pass was particularly rotten, so we decided to use a snow ramp to climber’s right to gain a rock traverse that would eventually bring us to the thin knife-edge pass. We kicked in snow steps once again. High on the ramp I looked down as the snow started to rot out just before reaching the rocks. This is the last place I wanted to fall I though to myself . . . one careful step after the next I finally grabbed chossey crumbly crap rock on the other side, whew!! Relatively safe?! We skirted the chossfest rock face until just before the pass when the great Chugach gave us one last nice class 4 step across crumbly rock. Not one hold was good, and the price of a mistake here would send you a few hundred feet below. You probably wouldn’t die . . . but it would definitely hurt. Everything was coming apart like trying to rock climb a sandcastle . . . with a nice big pack on. Brendan moved past it and was chilling on the pass I went for the move. Not one good hold, I just tried to distribute my weight out to 3 points as I moved. I stepped across as lightly as I could . . . and to my relief, soon standing on the knife-edge Paradise Pass with Brendan. Gotta love the spice level . . . Spice Word! The rain stopped and the clouds rose just momentarily enough for us to cook some lunch and take in the sights.

Its Paradise Boys! Count Chossula has definitely been here!
This looks like a good place for some Maruchan Chicken!
The fog moves in and out, giving us glimpses of the land below

We packed up once again and got going. We dove the scree field into Paradise pass, pushing quickly, surfing rocks and snow when there were good patches. We soon found ourselves at the mouth of Paradise Pass side hilling on a small goats path towards Clear Creek valley. We dumped down into Clear Creek valley and searched for a good crossing, I went high and Brendan went low. Soon, after some careful navigation and wet feet, we were on the other side of the creek. We pressed on, finishing out the side hilling and tied back into the trail to Crow Pass.

Dropping over the pass, we pressed further towards the trail
Lush, green, and beautiful

We gained Crow Pass, meeting a few day hikers and backpackers for the weekend. The rain kept coming down and the clouds closed us back up. As we descended the path headed towards the truck, I thought about how I wasn’t ready for the trip to end, and how special Alaska really is. Then all the sudden a white mountain goat appeared on the trail headed directly for us! The huge beast just walked towards us without a care in the word. We went high standing on a slope just 15 feet above him. He trotted by grazing on grass and flowers as he went, not caring that we were standing just feet away.

Almost back to Crow Pass
Look at this huge fella!
GOAT!!!! Photo Credit: Brendan Lee IG: alaskan_bren

Excited we snapped pictures and watched him closely pass. Awesome!!!!! I had been hoping for this the whole trip, and just feet away I finally got a close encounter with a mountain goat in Alaska. We trekked the final miles to the truck high on the experience and were soon throwing out packs in and pulling off our wet clothes for dry ones. Alaska is a beautiful raw place, and I was so happy to see it.

And there he goes, trotting up the trail like he owns it
One last glimpse up valley before finishing off the last 1/2 mile

ADDITIONAL PICTURES:

  • Cool plants right where we camped, no idea what they were, some kind of lichen perhaps
  • Paradise Pass

HIKE INFO:

HIKE STATS:

  • Weather: Hi in mid 50s, Low in upper 40s, Foggy, Rainy, Socked-in
  • Water: 4 Liters
  • Food: 1 Bagel, 2 Protien bars, 2 Cliff Protien Bars, 2 granola bar, 1/2 bag of gummyworms, Apple, 1 Mountain House: Chicken and Mashed Potatoes, 1/2 bag of Salt and Vinegar Chips, 1/2 bag of trailmix, 1 PB&J sandwich, Maruchan Chicken Ramen, Snickers.
  • Time: 7 hours
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Accumulated Gain: ~3100 accumulated

GEAR:

  • 58 liter exos osprey backpack
  • Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent
  • Big Agnes QCORE SLX sleeping pad
  • Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
  • Jet Boil – Sol
  • Black Diamond trekking poles
  • SPOT Gen3 Tracker
  • Sawyer Squeeze – Water Filter
  • Black Diamond Helmet
  • 60 ft 7mm pull cord
  • Black Diamond Ice Axe

CLOTHING:

  • Smartwool – long sleeve 195 shirt
  • Cotton hankerchief
  • Arc’teryx hoody
  • Patagonia Pants
  • Solomon Waterproof Hiking Boots
  • Darn Tough wool medium weight socks
  • Threadless hoody
  • Patagonia Rain jacket
  • “FrogTog” Rain Pants
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Kinglet Traverse – Chugach – Day 1 – AK (7.1.17)

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Alaska is a hard place. It’s a different kind of hard than New York City, but it can toughen you up and man out of you just the same. There is no trail to 95% of the peaks here. You get a nice approach trail to the base of the peak, then the rest is up to you! Grind on, through the chossfest, up the very steep scree, onto some nice rotten exposed scrambling, and finally to the top where you get slapped in the face by breathtaking views. This was pretty much the story of our trek, except much more choss, rain, and silly jokes about made up characters like Count Chossula and BooBoo Johnson (to keep us going) than I’d like to admit!

Lets get going! Starting in, headed up to Crow Pass

Brendan and I pulled our packs from the truck and strapped them on, ready to head deep into the Chugach State Park. We put feet on trial headed up Crows Pass where we would start our journey. The country here was beautiful! The trail meandered through a valley surrounded by lush, green, steep mountains that jetted almost straight up from the valley floor shrouded in clouds. I grinned from ear to ear, so happy to be on the trail. As we trekked further up the trail Brendan would point in the distance, calling out peak names and telling me stories of past treks.

Nice 180 view from the trail, awesome views everywhere! (Click to Enlarge)
Crow Pass!

We finally reached crows pass where there was a nice cabin, settled in the middle of the long meadow. What a nice place to spend the weekend and chill, but we had other plans in mind. The sky was still grey from the passing fog which would fade in and out, covering the mountains, and then opening up momentarily to give us incredible views. Just past Crow Pass we got a great view of Ravens Glacier to the east. Its ice cold blue core melted down creating incredible huge waterfalls at the headwaters of Raven Creek that eventually fed Eagle River.

Ravens Glacier

We trekked on down the trail until just before Clear Creek canyon, where Brendan stepped off the trail saying “whelp here is our exit!” We skirted the grassy hillside avoiding cliff outs before finally dumping into Clear Creek canyon. Let the boulder creek hopping begin! We made our way up the valley, back and forth across the creek until finally reaching the base of Steamroller pass. It was time to go to work and we slogged our way up the steep chossfest. Step after step through loose rock and finally a long patch of snow, we finally gained the top of the pass. As soon as we hit the saddle, fog rolled in, giving us whiteout conditions and it began to rain . . . time to dawn the rain jackets, frog-togs, and pack covers!

  • Clear Creek Canyon

From here we ditched our packs and headed up the knife-edge ridge through the white-out conditions towards Camp Robbers Peak standing at 5855 ft. picking our way through the exposed class 3/4 ridge finally found the final approach to Robbers. We made our way up the rotten final push false summit after false summit. Each handhold or foothold had to be inspected, and even it was never to be fully trusted as it could easily give way and send you hurdling down a never-ending gully. Gotta love the Chugach choss!

Brendan, looking like a champion on the ridge to Camp Robbers Peak
Camp Robbers Peak (5855)!

After summiting we headed back to the pass that was still socked in, no visibility. We found the path of least resistance and scree surfed our way into the Arch Angel lakes valley. As soon as we dropped into the valley, all the rain, clouds, and cold wind died off and let way to beautiful bluebird skies. We trekked over to one of the lakes and took ourselves a nice lunch of Maruchan Chicken soup and PBJs. It was a nice change of pace from the morning and we hoped the rest of the day followed suite.

Headed over Steamroller pass, further into the Chugach!
Cool little lake below the Kinglet Traverse we decided to have lunch at

We packed back up and trekked on towards Arch Angel Pass it see a white mountain goat standing just before the pass checking us out, until he spotted us, and turned slowly walking out of sight. We pressed on, eyeballing the Kings traverse as we went, until finally reaching the pass to be blasted by incredible clear views of the Chugach State Park. What a gorgeous moment! Looking north we saw the Organ Mountain’s approach chute was totally caked in snow and we didn’t have the right gear to ascend, so we decided to take the Kinglet Traverse instead and were afforded some great views.

Looking over the edge of Arch Angels Pass
Alaska and Brendan in all their glory! (Click to enlarge)
Looking north from the Kinglet Traverse

We pressed on and up the good grind to East Kinglet peak (5190). We finally reached the summit and once again were taken back by some incredible views. We could see Paradise Pass, Arch Angel valley, Camp Robbers peak where we came, and north into Ship Creek valley guarded by Organ Mountain and Synthesizer peak. We felt like we could see all of the heart of the Chugach. We kept trekking on the ridgeline touching off on Middle Kinglet and soon West Kinglet (5175). The views from the ridgeline were something of a dream.

West Kinglet
Brendan, looking down, finding a way into the valley where we planned to camp.
Little accessory cord assist to get us through the ballbearing downclimb!

Finally we decided to drop into Ship Creek and find a nice camp for the night. We continued to skirt the ridge until we found a weak spot in the ridge, leading to the valley below. Using a 7mm hand line we lowered ourselves across the ball bearing entrance until sure footing was found. One more hand line drop got us to a scree route that went. We scree surfed our way down into a no name lake where we pitched out tent, filtered water, ate dinner, and finally zipped down our tent before crashing like tranquilized beasts.

  • Looking down into the valley

What an incredible day! Just think we still had another full day before leaving this paradise!

ADDITIONAL PICTURES:

  • Coming down off of Crow Pass
  • Lets get started!

HIKE INFO:

HIKE STATS:

  • Weather: Hi in mid 60s, Low in upper 40s, Foggy, Rainy, Sockedin
  • Water: 4 Liters (including dinner)
  • Food: 1 Bagel, 2 Protien bars, 2 Cliff Protien Bars, 2 granola bar, 1/2 bag of gummyworms, Apple, 1 Mountain House: Chicken and Mashed Potatoes, 1/2 bag of Salt and Vinegar Chips, 1/2 bag of trailmix, 1 PB&J sandwich, Maruchan Chicken Ramen, Snickers.
  • Time: 10 hours
  • Distance: 12 miles
  • Accumulated Gain: ~6100 accumulated

GEAR:

  • 58 liter exos osprey backpack
  • Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent
  • Big Agnes QCORE SLX sleeping pad
  • Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
  • Jet Boil – Sol
  • Black Diamond trekking poles
  • SPOT Gen3 Tracker
  • Sawyer Squeeze – Water Filter
  • Black Diamond Helmet
  • 60 ft 7mm pull cord
  • Black Diamond Ice Axe

CLOTHING:

  • Smartwool – long sleeve 195 shirt
  • Cotton hankerchief
  • Arc’teryx hoody
  • Patagonia Pants
  • Solomon Waterproof Hiking Boots
  • Darn Tough wool medium weight socks
  • Threadless hoody
  • Patagonia Rain jacket
  • “FrogTog” Rain Pants
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Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point – CO (6.30.16 – 7.1.16)

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View From camp at 12,200 feet the afternoon before the climb

My stomach flip flopped as we pulled up to the Blanca Peak trailhead. I am not the biggest fan of sitting in the backseat of vehicles, and something about not being the pilot just throws me into nauseous spins. As the truck came to a stop, I threw open the door and practically fell out of the truck.  Feet were finally back on the ground! My buddy Stevo, his gal Annalise, and I decided to go to CO for a week and explore the outdoors. Stevo was from Durango and wanted to go back to his mother land, see some family, and show Annalise around his old stomping grounds.  Of course I was there to hunt down a few 14ers. We were about 5 days into the trip and sitting in the truck for longer than a few hours had me begging for a bag on my back and some good trail time. I planned on backpacking up towards Lake Como and sleeping for the night, then waking the next morning and attempting to take on Little Bear Peak ( ft.), Blanca Peak (14,345 ft.), and Ellingwood Point (14,042 ft.).  I would then return the same way I came and grab a ride back to camp with Stevo’s family at The Great Sand Dunes National Park.

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The start of the climb, the road gets pretty chunky from here

I wasn’t much in a talkative mood as I slowly gathered my things, my stomach still performing acrobatic feats.  It was pretty warm at 2pm, but even in the heat I pulled on my long sleeve smartwool shirt and long pants (rolled up of course) because I knew the temps up at 12,000 feet where I would be camping and hiking would prove to be much cooler. Pack strapped, glasses on, and trekking poles in hand I waved goodbye to Stevo and Annalise and headed up the boulder covered dirt road that lead to Lake Como.  Chunky and hot describes well the climb to the tune of 3,900 feet gain in 5.5 miles with a 30 pound backpack on. There was no one else around as I climbed through the high desert surroundings.  The road snaked back and forth across the face of the mountain, every once in a while giving glimpse to the peaks above.

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We Cant Stop Here . . . Its Bear Country!

Finally I pushed up into canopy cover which was a relief from the sun beaming on my head. There was an inviting creek crossing the road where I paused a moment to take in the sight.  I dipped my hand into the cool creek and threw some in my mouth to wash around before spitting it out and pushing on. The last thing I needed was to get sick on the way up to altitude. I felt something wet hit my shoulder. I glanced up into the sky and watched a cloud rolling in full force, just starting to dump a bit of rain on my head. I quickly pulled my raincoat and pack cover out. Thunderstorms in CO afternoons at altitude have never been my favorite (lightning at alt = no bueno).  As quickly as the rain came, it moved on, much to my enjoyment.

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Clouds forming as I climbed
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Finally pushing into the trees before it started to rain on me

I hiked on for a few more miles to the entrance of the upper valley that houses Lake Como. Another beautiful place! High pines surrounded the lake, shading the area and giving shelter to the bears in the area (according to all the warning signs on the trees).  I hiked around the lake looking for a suitable camp to stop for the night when I ran into two other backpackers, Doug and Stacy. They were all smiles and in the middle of cooking dinner as I walked into their camp. They were there for the summit as well and had brought their 2 kids with them (14 and 10 years old). What an awesome little family unit! Doug had mountaineered for some years and now that the youngest was old enough, he was pushing them all to new heights and experiences!

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Lake Como, getting closer now!
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Skirting around Como towards camp

Doug had done Little Bear Peak in the past and knew about the sketchball upper Class 4 traverse to Blanca Peak. “It’s a little sketchy, and I heard about a guy bringing climbing shoes for the traverse” he told me. This didn’t boost my confidence at all.  On top of that, the clouds overhead didn’t look the best for summit, and I had heard the only time you should do Little Bear is in perfect weather.

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Beautiful lush green flora around Como

I said my goodbyes and pressed further up past Como to one of the smaller lakes. The tall trees around Lake Como were all but gone and only short hip high shrub remained. I set up my tent and made dinner. The marmots here were relentless and practically walked up and tapped me on my shoulder asking me for handouts. After finishing my Mountainhouse meal I threw all my food into 1 bag and piled it under a large stack of rocks (no trees to hang food from), gambling that no bears would come up this far and marmots weren’t strong enough to move the rocks. As I got ready for bed I watched marmots run up to the rock stack, sniffing furiously at the contents below. If they got to my food I would have to turn back and couldn’t summit the next morning.  I crossed my fingers and went to bed.

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Higher into the Alpine I pushed, the trees turned to shrubs

Waking early at 4 am to rain on my tent I prepped my bag and stuffed water and snacks for the day in. Searching, searching . . . no headlamp. What a bonehead move! After checking everything, I realized I must have left it in Stevo’s truck after using it the night before. Welp, I had to make the best of it. I set my alarm for 5am and went back to sleep. Beep beep beep, lets try this again! Sleeping at 12,200 is always tough but I had to get motivated.  I saw a few headlamps in the distance which could only be Doug and crew, but the light was just enough to see without one so I leapt from my tent and took off.  The trail climbed up the large waterfall feeding the small lake I camped next to. At the top of the fall I met up with Doug and family who were all smiles, even the kids, pushing up a huge peak in the dark. After quick greetings I pressed on.

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Time to get moving, upward, into the cloud!

After the waterfall was the summit plateau, which housed another small glacier lake and the final trail to the col/saddle between Ellingwood Point and Blanca Peak. The only thing that stood between me and the ridgeline was a large frozen snow field.  No ice axe, great! I crossed the snow carefully and made it safely to the rocks on the other side. Pushing up from here, after some searching I found the trail. Switchback central! The sun was just lighting up the sky enough to see that I was hiking into a thick cloud clinging to the top of the peaks. The rocks were wet and slick, every step was critical. Up and up I went until finally reaching the col/saddle where a large cairn stood.  Left to Ellingwood, or right to Blanca? Ellingwood was a Class 3 traverse I was anxious to see, so left it was!

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Large cairn at the Ridge, at the split to Ellingwood and Blanca

I followed the cairns across the ridgeline towards the first peak of the day. The looming cloud prevented me from seeing out past more than 10 feet in front of me. Scrambling up, down, and traversing I continued to route find. I skirted rock faces looking down into the cloud not knowing if it were a 10 foot drop for 100.  No matter, just don’t fall! After half an hour I finally made it to the home stretch.  Out of breath and tired from the ascent, I carefully pulled myself to peak! I stood up giving it a quick 360, nothing but whiteout conditions! Then on my way back down to the ridge for a brief second the clouds gave way and opened up, so I snapped pictures as quick as I could before they closed back in around me. It was a short celebration, and fearing the weather could turn on me, I scrambled back down across the traverse to the base of Blanca.

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Views to the West from just below Ellingwood Point (click to enlarge)
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Views to the East from just below the Ellingwood Point (click to enlarge)

I made it back to the large cairn and started pushing up Blanca. Blanca was a decent Class 2 with a few scrambles here and there, but much less threatening than Ellingwood Point. I climbed through the clouds again upwards towards the peak, and in the distance I heard voices. It was Doug and crew once again, going for their summit bid of the day! I caught up with them and pushed to the peak together. His kids were doing surprisingly well under the low oxygen, wet, whiteout conditions. Finally we reached peak, every step was well worth it! I snapped a few pictures for them and headed back down the way I came.

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Looking back down the chute to the valley below (click to enlarge)
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Climbing down the waterfall just above the small lake I camped next to (click to enlarge)
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Views of Lake Como as I headed down (click to enlarge)

On the way down I finally dropped out of the clouds and saw bluebird skies over the valley below, giving me some hope for the return hike. I reached camp, broke it down, packed it up, and with trekking poles in hand headed back down the mountain. I was surprised at the number of people pushing up the mountain into the clouds so late in the afternoon. I wished them luck and dropped back down into the warm of the valley below. As I hiked west I watched this wall of clouds just dumping rain across the fields below. It was time to move! I picked up the pace and barely made it to the car before we were covered in a downpour! What another awesome adventure! Tired, smelly, and grinning ear to ear I rested in the backseat headed for the Dunes with another story to tell. It’s a beautiful country we live in, get outside and see it sometime!

  • Pushing up to the valley where the Lake Como resides
  • Into the trees!

HIKE INFO: http://www.14ers.com/photos/peakmain.php?peak=Blanca+Peak

HIKE STATS:

  • Weather: Hi 70s, Low in the lower 50s, Cloud cover, Fog, Sparse Rain, Partially Sunny, Slightly windy
  • Water: 6 liters (2 days)
  • Food: 4 protien bars, 2 Clif Bars, 2 Granola bars, 2 via starbucks instant coffee, 1 Mountain House, instant mashed potatoes, 1 bag black forest gummies, 1 bag of trailmix, 1 Twix bar, Bag of salt and vinegar chips, 2 plums
  • Time: 2 Days (Hiking time – 5 hours, Day 1; 12 hours, Day 2)
  • Distance: 6 miles day 1, 12 miles day 2.
  • Accumulated Gain: 7,000 feet

GEAR:

  • 58 liter exos osprey backpack
  • MULE Camelback
  • Big Anges Copper Spur UL2 tent
  • Flash REI sleeping pad
  • Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
  • Jet Boil – Sol
  • Black Diamond trekking poles
  • Sawyer Squeeze Filter

CLOTHING:

  • Smart wool 195 long sleeve shirt
  • Arc’teryx hoody
  • Patagonia Rain Jacket
  • Smart Wool Beanie
  • Smart Wool Gloves
  • Patagonia Pants
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Darn Tough wool medium weight socks
  • Threadless hoody
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Alaska: the Last Frontier – Eagle Peak – AK (5.26.16)

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Flight in, sunset on the “promised land”

When I stepped onto a plane headed for Alaska I had no idea what to expect, nor did I know much of an impact it would have on me. It is undoubtedly the Last Frontier! My buddy Brendan has lived in Alaska for 4 years now while serving in the US Air force. In his off time he somehow found himself amongst the mountains and was soon honing his skills to become a darn good mountaineer! Ice climbing, snow climbing, rock climbing… you name it, he’s got the credentials. So I couldn’t resist when he invited me to visit and take on a few treks with him!

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trekking towards Eagle Lake, mountains peaking out from the back

The wheels of the plane chirped on the runway as the plane touched down.  I had finally reached Anchorage and would soon have my feet on dirt in this legend-(wait for it!)-dary place. Brendan met me at the gate all smiles and let me know that all the plans were set for the next day. We were to take on Eagle Peak of the Chugach State Park, just outside Anchorage, a sprawling range of approximately 495,000 acres of land and one of the four largest state parks in the United States. I was awe struck by the mountains surrounding the city, even on the flight in, and my first impression seeing the light dance off the peaks was “I have found the promise land!”

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Another small lake as we get closer and closer to camp

The next afternoon Brendan, Ryan (a local friend of his), and I let out, headed for Eagle Lake to set up base camp for the weekend ahead. My head was constantly on a swivel, looking left, right, up, and down, taking in all the views as my curiosity was raised by the snow-capped peaks in the distance. As we hiked the 4 miles approaching Eagle Lake, we strolled through beautiful creek ridden grassland until Eagle Peak finally came into view. What an intimidating beast! It stood tall and covered with snow on its north side, just daring us to make a summit bid. We met Nathan, another seasoned mountaineer, at a small shack at the head of Eagle and Symphony Lakes and chose a spot to bed down before the big push the next day. We all cooked up our freeze-dried meals, took in the 11:30pm sunset, and gazed up at the unknown adventure to come.

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Finally a view of Eagle Peak looming over Eagle Lake, just down from our camp

It was a bit early in the season to take on the peak, but with the mild winter conditions were favorable, although the unspoken threat of avalanche loomed over us. We woke early; the sun was still up due to the long 20 hour days in Alaska this time of year. We cooked breakfast, packed our gear, and were soon heading up the valley that would serve as the approach route to the “gully” eventually leading to the peak.

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Let trek on! No idea what this plant is, but it looked cool!

The valley was fed by snow runoff which was a nice crisp, cold temperature, undoubtedly in the 40s. I strapped my trail runners on, wanting to keep my waterproof boots dry for the push up the mountain. At our first creek crossing I plunged my foot in, pain immediately shot up my legs as they were submerged shin deep in the creek.  The pain died as the cold water numbed my senses, but soon enough I was on the other side and the pain returned with a vengeance.  Nathan was strapped up with mountaineering boots, Brendan with some Gore-Tex throw offs, and Ryan with some running shoes. I suddenly felt unprepared for 40 degree creek crossings, but I knew this would only last a short while.  Before long we would be at the headwall of the waterfall feeding the valley where I would be strapping on my own dry, warm, waterproof boots (or at least that’s what I told myself).

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Overlooking the flooded valley as we began to ascend the head wall, you can see Brendan, Nathan, and Ryan in the lower left of this picture

We weaved in and out, across the creek, through bushwhack thickets, until finally reaching the last crossing where we decided to take a break. Relieved, I put on my boots, grabbed a quick snack, and rejoined the guys ready for the next challenge. We finally reached some good gain and I was thrilled as I went to work against it. My original plan was to avoid the snow all together up the headwall to the valley to the canyon above, but soon found that Brendan and the other guys had different plans.

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looking up towards the head wall and the creek making the waterfalls that fed the flooded valley below

Ice axes in hand (using them as an anchor stuck in the snow), I watched as the guys kicked in steps across a large angled snow patch, making the traverse look easy as pie. Never having to deal with snow of this magnitude myself (hard to come by in the Arizona desert), looking down the snowy 40 degree slope ending abruptly in sharp rocks admittedly made me a bit nervous. I plunged the axe into the snow and kicked my first steps. One after another, I tried to take it slow and easy so as not to go skating down to certain injury. I kept my eyes on the snow, and slowly but surely made it to the other side.  Whew, safety of the rocks never felt so good!

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Above the head wall, the snow covered bowl that would eventually lead us to the base of the “gully”

We pressed on up the headwall into the snow covered bowl above where the large sub-surface creek flowed, feeding the valley below. We pushed across the snow pack, plunging our ice axes in to search for weaknesses in the pack, before finally coming to a thin snow bridge that traversed the creek. Brendan cautiously probed the bridge for strength. Encouraged by the lack of collapse, he took the first step across . . . success! The bridge held and Ryan and Nathan followed suit, stepping over like it was solid ground.  Soon we were all across, now debating the route up the bowl which would lead us the base of the southern gully, the path we planned to utilize for our summit bid.

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Slim Ice Bridge! Nathan beasting it across

Pushing up yet another snow-covered slope, we finally found ourselves looking up the southern chute which had some small avalanche sign. This was anything but confidence building, so we decided to push up the snow on the edge for safety. As we made our way up the aggressive incline, we decided to split up to check out two different routes. Brendan and I would take to the cliffs on the left while Nathan and Ryan would look at a snow pinch, putting them just below a cascading waterfall that ran down the gully. Brendan and I quickly found ourselves pushing class 4 moves and gaining some traction up the steep beast. Meanwhile Nathan and Ryan found themselves dangerously close to a slip crack, an early sign of a large avalanche that could spell utter disaster for our entire group.  In the interest of safety, they returned to the cliffs find their own route past the pinch and back into the safety of the gully.

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Ascending the side of the snow covered bowl, man i would hate to fall down that without an ice ax!
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Nathan and Ryan discovering the slip crack, and immediately going towards the safety of the rocks!

After they caught up, we started poking away at what seemed to be never ending cliff bands. Obstacle after obstacle we would attempt to circumvent either via a class 4 low class 5 climb or getting in the snow chute traveling towards the edge hoping for the best. This was slow work but soon we found ourselves pinched down in the final snow/scree chute just before the summit. Brendan and I pushed up first and Ryan and Nathan followed suit.  Nathan accidentally pushed into the fresh snow with a boot.  As it began to give way, he hollered up “Watch out!” We looked down and just below his seemingly innocent footstep the snow began to move, gaining momentum and girth as it flowed down the mountain. The snow picked up rocked and dirt, flinging them downwards to the chute below. We were all quiet for a moment before Nathan stated what we were all thinking: “Yeah, I think we should stick to the rocks as much as possible.”

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careful steps!

Back into the scree we went, pushing on and up until finally meeting the col and the final ridge to the peak! The sights were incredible; we could see all the way back to camp and many miles further into the snow covered Chugach Park. All smiles, we scaled the homestretch and summited together! Breaking out snacks and taking pictures, we took time to enjoy our hard work. From the peak we heard numerous avalanches in the distance crashing down the steep faces of the surrounding mountains. Every once in a while we could spot them from a far and nervously watched as they covered the base of the routes below. Knowing the day was only half complete, we packed up and headed back down.

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Just above the col! Views of Eagle Lake below, we are almost there!!!
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Summit baby! Well deserved!

We had learned our lesson and stuck to the rocks, challenging the cliff bands to keep us safe. Ryan took the lead, and soon gained the nickname “3up5down”. His seemingly nervousness on some of the up climbs was nowhere in sight as he lead us down some easily class 5 routes. As slowly and safely as possible we scrambled down the rock faces, which always had some large penalty for failure. Once or twice we broke out a 60 ft piece of 7mm rope which came in handy down some of 3up5down’s route selections!

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One of the tamer scramble downclimbs

Finally we reached the snow chute near the bottom of the gully.  Brendan looked at me and said “you may have to come dig me out” just before plopping on his butt above a good 50 yard slope. He slid with ease, looking as giddy as a kid on a sled in the first snowfall of winter. We all followed suit and were soon safely down at the base of the chute. At the bottom of the gully, the angle of the slope decreased and cradled the glissade which was a lot safer than attempting this move on the higher, steeper slopes. After this little bit of fun we gathered back together and crossed the snow bowl, the headwall, the flooded valley, and the edge of Eagle Lake before finally making it back to camp. What a long but glorious day!

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Sunset as we returned to camp

Proud of our accomplishments, we all plopped down, made food, and began to get ready to rest for the night.  That is, all but Nathan. Nathan, the trooper that he was after taking on a huge mountain, had to pack up camp and walk the 4 miles out to his truck, drive home, and get in bed so he could be at work the next morning. What a guy! Alaska is truly a wild land, untamed and raw, and nothing was easy about the day’s trek, but after all that we encountered you realize that its what makes it so beautiful and fulfilling.

  • Eagle Lake
  • Lets Get Started!

HIKE INFO:

http://www.summitpost.org/eagle-peak/952255#chapter_3

HIKE STATS:

  • Weather: Hi 60s, Low in the lower 40s, Sunny
  • Water: 6 liters (3 days)
  • Food: 6 protein bars, 2 Clif Bars, 2 granola bars, 2 via starbucks instant coffee, 2 Oatmeal Medly cups, 2 Mountain House, 1 bag instant mashed potatoes, 1 bag gummy worms, 1 bags of trailmix, bag of Salt and Vinegar chips, 2 Avocado, 1 pear, 2 plums
  • Time: 3 Days (Hiking time – 2 hours, Day 1; 15 hours, Day 2; 2 hours Day 3)
  • Distance: 4 miles Day 1; 16 miles Day 2; 4 miles Day 3
  • Accumulated Gain: Approx 6000 feet

GEAR:

  • 58 liter exos osprey backpack
  • Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter
  • Big Anges Copper Spur UL2 tent
  • Flash REI sleeping pad
  • Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
  • Jet Boil – Sol
  • 7mm Rope – 60 feet

CLOTHING:

  • Smart wool 195 long sleeve shirt
  • Smart wool beanie
  • Smart wool glove liners
  • Arc’teryx hoody
  • Cloth bandana
  • Patagonia Pants
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots – Waterproof
  • Nike Running Shoes (used for water crossings)
  • Darn Tough wool medium weight socks
  • Threadless hoody
  • Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet
  • Black Daimond Raven Pro Ice Axe
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Vermilion Cliffs Sand Hill Crack Climb Loop – AZ (3.7.15)

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View of the foothills below the Vermilion Cliffs

After finishing Day 1 at The Wave (post here: http://goatmanmike.com/2015/03/coyote-buttes-north-the-wave-az-3-6-15/ ), we packed up our gear and headed out towards Jacobs Pools (not to be confused with Jacobs Lake) to camp for the night. An old ranch house stands on the edge of the wilderness boundary where we pulled into a corral and set up base camp. After a nice dinner session and a few cold brews we bedded down and got ready for the Vermilion Cliff climb the next day.

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Ranch House at Jacobs Pools

Waking early (but not before sunrise) I climbed out of my tent and proceeded to throw gear in my daypack and get a fire rolling for the corn beef hash and bacon we all looked forward to in the morning. The view from the base camp was awesome. To the south the snow covered Kaibab Plateau stood tall expanding the horizon. To the north, the daunting Vermillion Cliffs stood daring us to attempt a climb that day. Soon after we finished washing down the campfire breakfast with piping hot java, we let out from camp and headed towards the cliffs.

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View of the Vermilion Cliffs from base camp

The “road” turns into a wash and eventually runoff, there is no single discernible trail. The just headed towards Hancock Springs, across the black and red foothills. The rocks in this area were very interesting. They looked as if someone had been mining and some of the white, red, and black underbelly of the earth had been spewed out atop the base of the cliffs. We continues to climb finding an  old use trail that headed up to the spring.

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Approaching the first crack climb
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Petroglyphs on the east (right) wall just below the large sentinel spire (click to enlarge)
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Petraglyphs on the Sandstone walls at the exit (click to enlarge)

Once reaching the base of the Cliffs we headed east (right) do begin our rapid scaling of loose rock and unforgiving slopes to access the crack that would lead up to the paria plateau. The “trail” was lightly cairned with treacherous drop-offs to the west (left) and sheer cliff walls to the east (right). Intuition, experience, and sheer luck drove the choices to go high, low, boulder hop, and scramble to ascent the right side of the cliff. About half way up we found a group of petroglyphs on the east (right) wall just below the large sentinel spire. A rare sight to be seen, we took a quick snack break to snap pictures before pressing on.

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View of the valley below from the cliffs above (click to enlarge)

Once we exited the cliff climb the landscape opened and incredible sandstone formations stood in front of us. Like a mini slot canyon there were a few choices to pass through the red, orange, yellow, and white rock. The fins, rock formations, and vibrancy of color are incredible! This hidden gem would be only seen by possibly 50-100 people/year or far less.

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One of the slots at the exit of the cliff climb – Colors were amazing (Click to enlarge)
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Fins of sandstone at exit of the crack climb (click to enlarge)

Once past the first set of formations we found that the top of the paria was covered in 6-12 inches of blinding snow! Although the temps were nice, the sun beaming down on the snow made for an eye squinting struggle trek. Along the way sandstone formations jetted up and through the snow for some great stop and snap opportunities. As we crossed the plateau, skirting the cliffs, we saw a huge rock formation in the distance reminiscent of an atomic bomb explosion; we nicknamed it “Atomic Rock”. I stopped to snap tons of pictures in awe before pressing on to the Easter Sandhill Crack where we would descend. To our surprise Michael, one of our party members who sustained an injury the day before and decided to stay behind, popped up from the cliffs below with all smiles!   We happily greeted him and after a quick break descended down together.

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Snow covered Paria Plateau (click to enlarge)
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Atomic Rock – Awesome Formation we found on the Plateau (click to enlarge)

 

 

Off to the west (right side if descending) side of the cliff walls there were more petraglyphs just after starting the decent. View from the cliff tops are uninterrupted and incredible. All divers colors of the rocks in the valley below all the way across to the snow covered Kaibab Plateau to the south, absolutely breathtaking.

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Sandstone formation up on top of the Paria Plateau

Dropping the final decent we crossed dry waterfalls, long horned sheep tracks, and towards the bottom a spring where someone set up a pump and some game cameras. We pressed on back down the sand hill, through the beautiful foothills, and finally along the old dirt road back to the ranch house and eventually camp. Tired from the days hike, we all grabbed camping chairs and a few beers and sat on the porch to shoot the shit about the day and enjoy the fast setting sun in the distance over the incredible landscape that we just traversed. One heck of an awesome day!

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View from the East Hill crack just before the descent (click to enlarge)
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Petraglyphs on north wall of the cliffs just before descending the east crack (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • View of the valley below
  • Sentinel Rock

HIKE INFO: Book : Hiking and Exploring the Paria River by Michael Kelsey – Sand Hill Crack hike

Vermilion Cliffs Loop Hike
Topo GPX of trek

HIKE STATS:

  • Weather: Hi mid 60s, Low in the mid 30s, Blaring Sun (felt like 80s)
  • Water: 2.5 liters
  • Food: 2 Clif Bars, 1 Clif Builder Bar, 2oz Beef Jerky
  • Time: 5 hours
  • Distance: approx 5-6 miles Round Trip
  • Accumulated Gain: 2,500 feet

GEAR:

  • Mule Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)

CLOTHING:

  • 195 Smart wool long sleeve shirt
  • Patagonia Long Pants
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Smart wool medium weight sox and liners

 

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Mount Wrightson and Josephine Peak in Southern AZ (1.10.15)

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View South towards Mexico at Baldy Saddle (click to enlarge)

In a last minute decision I found myself driving south of Tucson AZ towards Mount Wrightson (9453 feet) with intentions of a first time peak bagging and checking out the surrounding area. Let me tell you there was no disappointment or lack of incredible views on this hike! Driving up into the Madera Canyon (where the trailhead is located) is a treat in and of itself. This microclimate has lush green trees and killer mountain views; nothing you would assume is in the middle of a desert in Southern Arizona!

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Views on the drive up

I pulled up to the trailhead, got my stuff together, and let out on the trail at mid morning. As I ascended the Old Baldy Trail #372 towards the peak and I was continually surprised at the density of the forest sprinkled with cacti and flowing creeks. I only saw a hand full of people on the way up which didn’t bother me; I needed a little solo trail time. There were a few small patches of snow on the consistent grade towards Josephine saddle. About a half mile after the saddle I found that the northern faced trail was covered in packed snow turned ice and I knew I was in for a slipping and sliding.

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Heading up towards Josephine Saddle

I continued to ascend the 4000 foot climb and I astounded by the changes in rocks, plants, and opening of expanded views of the desert floor below. The snow persisted all the way to the peak, and so did the incredible views. It was everything I could do to stop taking pictures and keep moving. The peak was engulfed by a low hanging cloud and despite my hopes that it would burn off the cloud lingered only clearing out 30% of the 360 view only for a few brief seconds.

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One of the few clear views from the peak (click to enlarge)

On the way down I decided to take the Super Trail #134 and attempt to do a small side trip on Josephine Peak Trail to bag Josephine summit (8474 feet) that I noticed on the trailhead map. Let’s just say this “Josephine Peak Trail” was nonexistent. This bushwhack, sketchy (reminiscent of Browns Peak (Four Peaks in the Tonto National Forest)) loose up climbs (in 2 small sections), unmarked, and unclear “trail” lead me along a ridge to the summit. I maybe over exaggerating the toughness of this “trail”, but I was definitely surprised that it was posted on the trailhead map. At any rate, I peaked out, signed the registry, took in the views, and headed back towards the Super Trail.

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Let there be light (click to enlarge)

I tied back into the Old Baldy Trail and headed back down. As I did, a mean dark cloud moved in and blessed me with some light hail, and as I descended (quickly) some cold rain. Despite the weather being what it was I was still really enjoyed all the mountain ridges, canyons, streams, flora, fauna, and just everything that the trail had to offer. This is one gorgeous trail, and it was just what I needed that day to get grounded and get my head clear. Another awesome day on the trail!

  • Valley below
  • Ascending Old Baldy Trail

Hike Info: http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=158 (Mount Wrightson peak)

I added the Super Trail and Josephine peak as seen in the map in the slider pictures for some bonus miles.

HIKE STATS:

  • Weather: Hi upper 60s, Low in the lower 40s, Overcast / Sunny/Hail and Rain (quite a mix)
  • Water: 1.5 liters
  • Food: 2 Clif Bars, 1 Clif Builders bar, 1 Nature Valley peanut butter granola Bar, Pringles
  • Time: 6.5 hours
  • Distance: 11.2 Miles Round Trip

GEAR:

  • Mule Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)
  • Black Diamond trekking poles

CLOTHING:

  • Smart wool 195 long sleeve shirt
  • Smart wool beanie cap
  • Patagonia Pants
  • Arcteryx Mid Layer Hoody
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Smart wool medium weight sox and liners
  • Giro Mountain Biking Gloves
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Crabtree Falls – Va (11.27.14)

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Icy Falls

It was cold in the morning when I pulled up to the trailhead, my breath spilled out as smoke in the crisp air. I climb the falls as a Thanksgiving tradition every year that I visit the area. This year would be the first time I approached the trail as a somewhat seasoned hiker. The trek was a 2 mile one way, and I couldn’t wait to get my feet on the trail and see the falls cascading down the mountain the entire hike.

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Hello snow!

Gloves on and hoody up, I started walking. At the trailhead there was no snow on the ground, but as I climbed the 1500 foot mountain side it wasn’t long before I encountered a nice thick layer of packed snow blanketing everything. The falls had ice lining the edges of the rocks and the trees surrounding the frigid waters. There were not that many people on the trail that morning, and I ground down the first portion of the hike quickly, pausing only briefly to snap pictures of the breathtaking scenery along the way.

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Views from the Upper Falls (click to enlarge)

I finally reached the upper falls and was smacked in the face with a wide view of the surrounding snow dusted mountain ridges. Most people turn at the upper falls and head back down, so I was happy to see the trail that went further up paralleling the Crabtree Fall creek had an unbroken layer of snow on it. I trekked on enjoying the peaceful stillness of the snow saturated woods around me. I was only ¼ from the end of my trek before I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.

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Hello black bear

I came across footprints that came off the hillside and lead to the creek. At closer inspection I found that they were unmistakably bear tracks! The tracks were about the size of my foot with some nice claws impressions protruding from the pad. I instantly looked up and scanned my surrounding looking for the creature that made these tracks. The beast was nowhere to be found (to my relief!). I snapped some quick pictures of the tracks and did a U-turn heading back towards the trailhead. The entire time I trekked back along the creek I scanned the creek edge, behind my back, and in front of me always expecting to see a large black figure in full stride heading for me. Fortunately I made it back to the trailhead without one of these chance encounters. Another great, unforgettable outdoor experience!

  • Map at Trailhead

Hike Info: http://www.hikingupward.com/GWNF/CrabtreeFalls/

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Mount Union + Mount Davis – Prescott AZ Snow Hike (1.1.15)

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Large Evergreen on the Ridge to Mount Union

We stepped out onto the chilly snow covered porch on the lodge, all bundled up and ready to face temperatures in the teens with twelve inches of snow on the ground. I had the opportunity to join a small group of friends up in Prescott, AZ for a New Year’s celebration the right way…on a snow covered trail. We planned on walking from the lodge on and off snow covered trail to bag Mount Union and Mount Davis before returning in the early afternoon for a hearty lunch to replenish our batteries. My first (intentional) true snow hike, it was one to remember!

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View from the back porch of the lodge

I borrowed a pair of waterproof boots, which saved my feet from becoming cold, wet, and possibly driving me to hypothermia (thank you Peter for the boots, you’re the man!). We set out early that morning, I had no idea what to expect. I had been in snow once or twice before, but nothing this deep and nothing with the temps we were going to see. I was not disappointed!

We carved through the snow across the trails and up the ridge to Mount Union, where the unguarded peaks whipped wind and snow at us. The white out conditions came and went and, given the right moment, we could glimpse the beautiful landscape surrounding the mountains. We pushed to the towers and the help pad just to check it out and put it in the bag.

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View of Mount Davis from Ridge to Mount Union

From there we dropped back down the saddle and headed for Mount Davis. Another off trail push brought us to the rocky nipple of Mount Davis jetting out from the snowy tree covered landscape. Snapping pics and quickly signing the registry, we took a short rock climb down the ridge that would lead us back to the trail and eventually the lodge.

Once we were back, we all mashed down on grub like demons! We made homemade stir fry on the fly and a Korean style soup that really hit the spot given the winter weather beating at the lodge door. What another awesome trek! My first true snow hike: lesson learned, the right gear (waterproof boots) make all the difference!

  • Gorgeous snow
  • Heading down the ridge from Mount Davis back towards the lodge

Hike Info:

GPS, shaded topo route for the hike
GPS, shaded topo route for the hike
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