Gear Review: Osprey Aura 50L

Specs: Osprey Aura 50L, size medium, weight 4lbs 3oz with brain

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The night before my Collegiate Peaks Loop attempt the vertical stays in my Arc Haul bent and my only other backpacks were 400 miles away in Idaho. I had one choice; to drive the 120 miles to Colorado Springs and the REI to purchase a new backpack so I could get on the trail.

As I have my gear dialed in to my 62L (49L main compartment) Arc Haul I knew I didn’t need anything larger so the Aura 50L seemed to be a good starting place. As soon as I put the pack on it fit like a glove and kind of felt like I was being hugged from behind. It was a novel concept and feeling.

Of course I don’t ever just try one but I dismissed many out of hand due to belt designs. Gregory, REI’s own brand and others all have belt attachment set-ups that “bulge” in the same way that the ULA Circuit does, and I found it uncomfortable and miserable to wear. That really left me with a choice of Osprey packs with their mesh and Anti-Gravity or Airspeed suspensions.

In the end and after walking around the store for 10 minutes with 20lbs on my back I went with the first pack I tried: the Osprey Aura 50L in size medium.

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At a little over 4lbs the Aura is heavy for a 50L pack but without the brain (something I have zero need for) it comes in at around 3.5lbs. While still not light that puts it not much heavier than my Arc Haul (with all the add-ons and mods) and with the AG suspension you can barely feel the pack on which makes up for the extra weight.

My only issue with Osprey’s sizing is the discrepancy between height and belt size. I am very slender, petite woman (5’5″ and 112#) but I have a 19″ torso and as such I needed the pack in a medium size. However, the belt on this size can barely be made short enough for a skinny person, but at least it IS adjustable. I had to bury the movable wings behind the pockets on the belt as far as they would go and I still almost run out of webbing to tighten on the buckle.

With my odd sizing issue a side this pack fit my gear great and in almost the same manner as my Arc Haul. The compartment design is different and has a sleeping bag compartment with  zipper access. I do not use this but the compartment divider is movable so it can be turned into a single-compartment pack. The bottom of the pack slopes up from the frame which means it does NOT stand up on its own…a feature I find very frustrating on any pack and I don’t like to lean my pack against rough surfaces in case they get torn or snagged. However this is a minor annoyance and since I carry my dogs’ sleeping pad on the lower back straps the pad keeps it from falling over unless I am packing it.

The first day I had it out I constantly wondered at how little I could actually feel this pack on my back or hips despite the 27lbs I was carrying for 5 days of hiking. Again I was reminded of being gently hugged from behind. I often forgot the pack was there. My legs of course felt the weight especially when climbing up from the trail head, but the pack felt like it was part of me.

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Osprey, in the past, has made some dumb design moves…including hip belt pockets that are impossibly small, compression straps that cover pockets and water bottle pockets that could barely hold a pencil when the pack was full. This pack seems to have addressed most, if not all, the design issues that previously plagued Osprey backpacks. The hip belt pockets are spacious and could hold my good aka not-small point-and-shoot camera in its case, plus chapstick and a small bottle of contact lens solution. On the other side I could fit a king-size packet of M&Ms, my pocket knife, four cheese sticks and at least one other snack of the day.

The water bottle pockets are no longer covered by compression straps, although they do cross the very bottom of the pocket. The pocket is large and bulges, unlike the flat pockets of before, and the elastic at the top is almost too tight but fits and holds a Smart Water bottle in it perfectly. The side pockets have two holes…one on top and another pointing towards the hiker while wearing it so bottles are easily reachable while wearing the pack. The 1L Smartwater bottles I favor were too tall to take advantage of the side openings though as my elbows would hit them but I liked the thought that went into that design.

I found the stretch pocket on the front of the pack a little too tight for my liking and it doesn’t fit very much stuff in it when compared to the Arc Haul’s more spacious but similar-sized (LxW) front pocket where I can carry my tent if necessary. It is a good place to carry tall slender things and that is where I carried my shovel, bug spray, tent stakes, Anker battery and long-handled spoon.

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I made two modifications to the pack. First I trimmed down the ridiculously-long belt webbing…when pulled tight to secure the hip belt the ends hung down well below my knees. Secondly I added the two mesh pockets from my Arc Haul to the same location on the Aura…it works if you get inventive. (I did not use these on the Wind River Range trip). I love these top mesh pockets for my water filtering stuff, extra snacks, maps, my GPS SOS device, phone, mini-tripod and FA kit. Eventually I removed some of the straps I found myself not needing and removed the divider between the sleeping bag compartment and the main bag.

I carried this pack again (my Arc Haul had developed another issue despite the broken stays being replaced extremely quickly by ZPacks) on my Uinta Highline Trail trip with 30lbs of gear, food and water and the suspension continued to keep the pack very comfortable at that weight. It also accompanied me in the Wind River Range as the stays ZPacks had sent me were the newer-length for their 2018 packs, not the 2016 model which were longer. It served me well again in the Winds for a 7 days trip and remained comfortable and suitable for the long food carry although it felt like it dwarfed the packs the guys carried (an MLD Burn and a Superior Wilderness Designs 35L).

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Overall I would recommend this pack despite the slightly heavier weight when compared to other 50L offerings and I almost prefer it to my Arc Haul for comfort.

 

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Backpacking the Uinta Highline Trail, July 2018: Part 3

Day 5 – Kidney Lakes to Whiterocks Lake

It wasn’t the bright sunny morning I was hoping for but the light wispy clouds weren’t particularly ominous but I packed up quickly and was on the trail by 7:50am, just in case they turned into something more serious.

The trail mostly wound down through pine forests before splitting several times. I had located the oddly-named Fox-Queant Pass that hadn’t made sense to me yesterday (it is the pass south of the one I was aiming for).

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Eventually the trail led us to Fox Lake which was below North Pole Pass. I had hoped to be at the base of the pass by noon to beat the afternoon thunderstorms but I managed to make it by 10:30am which was awesome. I grabbed a bite to eat and watched the gradually-building cumulus clouds in the west…the kind that eventually turn into thunderstorms. With that in mind I started the climb up North Pole Pass.

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I think this pass was my absolute least favorite pass to climb, initially because it was in the trees and had no view and then because it was steep and nasty and rocky, and I didn’t know where the top was…not to mention I was keeping a sharp eye on the possible rainstorm behind me.  I generally don’t mind the steepness of climbing the passes because you can see the top and have a goal, but not this one…it just kept going on and on and on. It’s only saving grace was the very pretty waterfall/canyon that we had to cross a few times.

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It was gorgeous at the top…endless alpine tundra and rocks and beautiful views in all directions but I was more worried about the storm building behind me and couldn’t fully appreciate how stunning it was. I was in a hurry to get off the high plateau and get to lower, safer ground. North Pole Pass was unlike others in that they were generally a saddle between two higher peaks and there was a very short distance between the up side and the down side whereas North Pole was a wide and  expansive tableland. This was not a place you would want to be if a storm came through.

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After a mile of hiking across the tundra and passing the wilderness boundary sign the trail finally started to descend just as raindrops were starting to spatter but there was no thunder…yet. Thankfully the trail was easy to follow and the cairns were obvious and we slowly descended into the valley. The impending storm had not yet materialized and the storm looked to be going around us to the north. I didn’t stop until we hit treeline and there we took a much-needed break. After a quick look at the map and being thankful that the rest of the day we would be below treeline I set my sights on Chepeta Lake, three miles from our location. The hiking was fairly easy and the trail was decent and we made pretty good time.

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Chepeta Lake was also a trail head and parking area and I chatted with one guy about the weather forecast (an obsession for me in a place like this) and about where I was aiming to camp that night. The map showed a great location before two final passes and just below treeline at Whiterocks Lake….he said it was 4-4 1/2 miles. That didn’t sound encouraging and I wasn’t sure I could manage another two hours of hiking although it was barely 4pm and I certainly wasn’t ready to stop for the day as there is little to occupy my time once camp is set and 5 hours of downtime would be way too much.

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The trail on the map looked pretty consistent and level, staying at around 10,500 ft for the entire distance so I decided to see how far I could get, even if it wasn’t quite to the lake. As the map promised the trail was level and easy to hike (the best section of the trail I think) and we made it to the lake in an just over an hour and a half. At the lake the sign said 3.5 miles so we made good time. Storms had been going around us pretty constantly and the growl of thunder to the north and south was pretty consistent but the skies above us remained clear and blue with a few clouds. I was thankful.

It was also the first time I got the chance to walk by and photograph a large herd of elk in a long meadow.

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I decided to make for the creek at the far end of the lake and we found several decent, flat campsite locations in the trees not far from the creek. A deer almost wandered into camp before bounding off as dusk set in. I finished the normal camp routine and chores for the night, including filtering water with my now-leaking dirty water bladder and went to bed which is when I usually write my journal entries.

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For some reason my phone kept booting me out of my app for an “Unlicensed App” but of course I was in airplane mode and had no service so couldn’t fix it. Writing usually fills up the last half hour before I sleep so without that to do I stared at the roof of my tent as the sky darkened and twiddled my thumbs for a while as I listened to the passing of deer and elk in the night.

Day 6 – Whiterocks Lake to Hacking Lake Trailhead

It took me a while to get to sleep last night as I was stressed about today’s weather. I set my alarm for 5am so that I could be hiking by 6 when the light was just about bright enough to see the cairns. I didn’t have too many miles to hike to the truck, about 8 from camp to trail head, but all but the first mile were above treeline with absolutely no cover. I was hoping for a good weather window.

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I was awakened at 2:30am by the low grumblings of a thunderstorm which slowly got closer and which was directly overhead 20 minutes later. I pretended to continue to sleep so the dogs would think I wasn’t worried…I think it worked as they didn’t overreact too much when the thunder was loud and almost overhead. Unfortunately I was also now very much awake and barely snoozed until my alarm went off.

It was a very cold way to pack up camp but we were hiking before 6am, and I managed to spook a cow elk who must have been sleeping in the brush not 30 feet from the tent when I went to put my back pack on. How I had not disturbed her before that point I don’t know.  We managed to spook several deer and at least two more herds of elk as we climbed to some unnamed pass to Dead Man Lake.

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I lied when I said yesterday was my least favorite pass…today was worse.

This no-name pass had no trail, rough footing and sooo many rocks…plus it was a lot longer and further of a climb than it looked from the treeline. It wasn’t much fun, but the sky was blue, the sun was slowly turning everything gold and the views were amazing…it certainly could have been a lot worse.

We trail then led in two directions…one in a steep descent to Deadman Lake and the other over another pass to the north. Now why the Highline Trail goes down to the lake only to have to climb back up again is a mystery to me but it would have been perfectly feasible to stay on the higher trail and cut across.

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I, however, followed the trail that was on the map and hiked down to the lake, through a herd of cows who eyed us suspiciously, especially the dogs. We paused for a break at the sign post before starting our climb to Gabbro Pass…the final pass of the trail before the Hacking Lake TH. We gave wider berths to the small pockets of cows and calves despite the fact that they were all pretty much standing between the first half mile of cairns. It was the only section of trail today that was easy to find and follow, even if it wasn’t as easy to hike.

And this was where I started to get pissed off…after negotiating around the cattle. Not only were the cairns tough to find but there were also random cairns that didn’t actually have a point…I wasted at least half an hour wandering from the only cairn I could see to the next cairn I could see a mile away but 90° in the wrong direction only to have to recross the meadow and rocks back to the only other cairn I could now see. There seemed to be a lot of random cairns strewn about and it got confusing. It was only due to my GPS app that I was able to fully determine which was the actual right way to go. (Coming up from Hacking Lake TH this trail would be easier to navigate as the lake would be an obvious and visible point to head to). This half hour delay would prove to be worse than imagined.

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Now on the right track we crossed Gabbro Pass and took the north trail around Wilder Lake. It was a prettier option (vs the southern trail) with views looking down the valley and over the lake, and less climbing was involved at the other end since it didn’t go down to the lake level. It was a little rough and overgrown in parts so seemed like it was less used. Eventually the trail turned upward again and we were climbing towards Leidy Peak and again we had to gently ask some cows to move along on their merry way.

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Although the sky had remained clear and blue all morning, and still was above me, just over the ridge to the north there were black clouds building in a line of succession that looked like it ran for miles. I thought about trying to wait for it to blow by but they were, at that moment, only dark clouds and I made the final ascent to the top of the ridge which was actually more of a plateau like North Pole Pass. The clouds weren’t looking better, nor were they looking worse and at that point I had not choice to go on.

Once again I went to the wrong cairn and had to backtrack after visible cairns disappeared and I again made use of my GPS app. Once I located the right cairns on the plateau they were easy to follow and I finally reached the intersection of the north and south trails aroud Leidy Peak. The Highline Trail goes to the north so that is the trail I took…and yet more misleading cairns, up, down, back etc. I was relying heavily on my GPS as I didn’t know which cairns to trust anymore.

And this is where that lost half hour from earlier was really missed…and less than half a mile from the truck. Initially a short, no lightning grumble-storm came through but I kept hiking as it was pretty minor but following that came a major thunderstorm. It was as if the black clouds hit the head of the valley and magically transformed into some growling, drooling monster within minutes. This one was serious.

Lightning was visible and the thunder was loud…it was overhead and I wasn’t going to take unnecessary risks. We had just reached the very scrubby, low evergreen trees that were the beginnings of treeline and I dumped myself and the dogs by one of the larger groups of trees that would be useful. I grabbed my poncho just as the rain started to pour…then the marble-sized hail came, all during which the thunder banged and crackled overhead and lightning sizzled around us. I witnessed a lightning strike not far from where we sat and the gunshot-like sound had Kye pretty scared, running back and forth and not knowing where to go until I got her calmed down and under a shrub.

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Eventually the backside of the storm cane over and I risked getting up and moving on in the direction of the trail head. I no longer had cairns to navigate by and was relying solely on my phone to get us to the right place. Another storm was already growling on the heels of the last one and I was almost jogging in order to get to the truck before it hit. At least we were now near taller trees, although the lightning hit we had seen earlier didn’t give me quite the confidence in their safety.

In my hurry to get to the trail head I manged to roll my ankle, although not badly this time, stumble, trip and do a complete 180° tumble finally landing on my backpack with some of the contents spilled out on the grass, and complete with a nice bruise on my arm…not what I needed with the encroaching weather. I quickly gathered my fallen belongings and secured them in my pack before walking, slower, to the trail head. I came across two backpackers and a trail sign at the same time and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of my truck. It was definitely a day of frustration and emotion and probably my least favorite day on the trail. But it was over and I was headed back to Wyoming and what passes for civilization out here in the untamed west.

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Trail After-thoughts

While the trail and the Uinta mountains are gorgeous I don’t know that I would choose to do the trail again. I say this for two reasons: 1) The constant threat of thunderstorms, and the reality of multiple thunderstorms a day made for a very stressful hike. I was constantly watching over my shoulder to watch the weather and calculating where I needed to camp and hoping I wouldn’t get caught in a storm. I was actually extremely lucky in that the only storm I truly got caught hiking in was in the last half hour of the last day; most people I talked to got caught in multiple storms on multiple days during their hike. I don’t count the two night storms that came through as I was safely ensconced in my tent and generally below or at treeline. And 2) The tread of the trail was a lot rockier and on a lot more of the trail than I care for which made hiking it pretty tough. There are always exceptions and if I was to hike it again I think I would go the opposite direction and aim for early to mid September when thunderstorms are less likely.

Water was crazy abundant, even at the end of July and on a dry year, and the longest dry stretch started maybe two miles east of Anderson Pass for several miles to Kidney Lakes. This obviously isn’t a problem unless its a hot day and you didn’t filter enough at the previous location. Even though the map lists all permanent and seasonal creeks (of which 99% were flowing) there are dozens of springs and other seasonal creeks that aren’t marked. I was surprised at how much water was available at the top of some of the passes or above treeline…it seemed like every 10 ft I was stepping over a water flow. Some of it was easy to get to and others were tougher or would be hard to filter from but were fine for the dogs.

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The highlights of the trail for me were the basin between Dead Horse Pass and Red Knob Pass where the turquoise blue of Dead Horse Lake surrounded by towering granite cliffs took my breath away, and Anderson Pass and Kings Peak.

Backpacking the Uinta Highline Trail, July 2018: Part 2

Day 3 – Lambert Meadow to Yellowstone Creek

No one ever wants to be awoken by the sound of rain on the tent but that’s exactly what woke me at 6:30am; it was not the sun to warm the tent I had wanted and positioned my tent for. It showered briefly and quit and I laid there with my hat over my eyes until the second shower passed. It did not bode well for a pleasant day of hiking.

I let the dogs out and packed up faster than I ever have before as I watched another band of rain move in from the west but thankfully it missed us this time and we only got a few sprinkles from the edge of the rain cloud.

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I broke my morning record yet again and was out of camp at 8am…still not sure how THAT happened! I knew I wanted an early start as I was hoping to cross at least two passes before the thunderstorms moved in.

I had attempted to put the worst of the early non-pass climbing behind me yesterday but there was still some rocky trail to navigate. There wasn’t much and after about an hour the trail leveled out at around treeline. We made good time and took a break at 9:30 when a family of four, three kids and their dad, passed us going the other direction. I asked them where Porcupine Pass was and the answer was not what I wanted to hear. It looked to be about 8 miles from Lambert Meadows where I camped last night so after an hour and a half I was wanting to hear something closer.

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It was a day for cairn hunting as I lost the trail several times where cairns were needed but non-existent. The irony of this is that there are so many places on the trail where there are dozens of cairns in places where they aren’t needed. It can get frustrating and was the first time I pulled my InReach out to check my location and where the trail was…I was on it, I just couldn’t find the cairns. I did eventually find them and eventually we climbed into the grassy alpine tundra to begin our gradual climb to Porcupine Pass.

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The pass didn’t look that far away and certainly didn’t look like a tough climb…then of course I pulled out my map and realized I was looking at the wrong saddle. I seem to have a habit of mistaking passes! I kept an eye on the weather behind me but at that point, well above treeline, I was committed to the trail and the pass.

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The trail slowly climbed across green rolling tundra before turning sharply into the scree field and climbing steeply up to the pass. I was still watching the weather but when we were maybe two hundred yards from the top I watched a band of rain moving to the south of us. It didn’t look ominous but I pulled my poncho out as it started to spatter in our direction. Then 100 yards from the top the thunder started to rumble. I quickly took a seat and watched the storm build above and to the south of us. I waited and watched for a while. Eventually I made a mad dash for the top and over the crest and quickly descended. The storm was still now directly east of us and heading over Kings Peak with what looked like torrential rain. It looked amazing from my point of view but I was glad I was nowhere near it.

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I took a break and had to pee. I only realized Shan was walking up from North Star Lake towards Porcupine Pass as I got done…hopefully he was too far away to see anything or was just watching the ground as he hiked. We chatted for a while and I gave him his car key fob that I hadn’t been able to store in the place he had asked me to leave it.

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With the weather still threatening we both moved on. To the south black clouds and thunder rumbled, and just on the other side of the ridge to the north thunder growled but other than a few raindrops I was spared the storms. I was thankful. Tungsten Pass was ahead of me and I’m not sure it could really be classified as a pass…it was more of a low saddle/ridge vs a pass.

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It was starting to look black behind me, the way the weather was coming to me, and I hurried over the pass and down the other side, passing a lake or two in my bid to get to lower ground. Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah loomed ahead of me and to its left was the saddle that was Anderson Pass…the highest pass on the Highline Trail. It was what I would be doing tomorrow.

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The trail was either downhill or flat but still rocky and I was careful where I stepped. I had removed my ankle brace as it was causing other issues. We crossed a no-name creek where I got water as I was out, and had been since I had crossed paths with Shan. I was pretty parched as I hadn’t wanted to stop with black clouds behind me.

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Just before we reached Yellowstone Creek I found a great campsite and I quickly unpacked and put my tent up in record time as I watched yet more storms move in, but they continued to go around us and stayed north.

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It was still early but the sun finally came out and we all relaxed in the sun for a moment and I prepared the dogs’ meals. They had just started eating when it started to downpour and I hurled my backpack and the dogs into the tent quickly. It didn’t last long and the sun came back out to warm and dry the tent and the ground, and the dogs finished their meals.

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For another two hours we relaxed and snoozed in the sun. The wind had started to pick up and I was getting chilly so we crawled into the tent and I started to write. Not ten minutes after we had made ourselves comfortable it started to hail and storm in a major fashion and right over the top of us. While we weren’t on a high point  (there were high peaks and ridges all around and in we were in a low dell) and there were some trees nearby but it was a pretty nerve-wracking experience and all I could think about were the two aluminum hiking poles holding the tent up!

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The wind gusted and tried to blow the tent over but it held, and the hail tried to bury us, but again the waterproof cuben fiber held up. I was praying for God to just keep us safe and dry. Cody had leapt on top of me at the first loud thunderclap and I just laid on my sleeping pad in the middle of the tent and held him. I’m not sure who needed it more. Lightning didn’t strike super close but it was close enough to be spooky. I knew the chances of being hit were lower than winning the lottery so I was nervous more than scared…but try explaining that to the dogs!

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The storm finally moved on and left us in peace so I could finish writing, re-tighten all the guy lines of the tent and make one last trip to the bathroom with the dogs before bed.

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Day 4 – Yellowstone Creek to Kidney Lakes

All I had wanted for the morning was to wake up to clear blue skies…and that’s exactly what I got. I was thankful. It was crisp and cold and I had had to put my down jacket on in the middle of the night as it was getting pretty chilly.

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I wanted an early start and was awake at 6am, and despite the cold air I packed up quickly. I wanted an early start as Anderson Pass was my only major climb and I wanted to accomplish it before the now-standard afternoon thunderstorms came rolling in. I was on the trail by 6:50am, which I doubt will ever happen again.

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Other than a few deer in the meadow we saw no wildlife as we started the gradual climb to the shoulder below the pass. We were soon back above treeline and I took plenty of time to admire the views before slowly meandering our way across the boulder-strewn grassland. The trail was fairly clear and when it wasn’t the cairns were easy to locate.

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We took a 15 minute break before the trail started the steep upward climb through scree and shale and boulders of all sizes. I heard voices behind us and looking back I could barely make out several tiny figures about a half mile behind me. It was time to climb and I shouldered my pack as I eyeballed the multiple switchbacks above us, most of which couldn’t be seen.

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It was slow going and I took lots of break as I watched the party of about 15 finally reach the bottom of the climb and pause for a few minutes. Then they too started to climb. I was pretty determined not to let them beat me to the top, but I also wasn’t going to kill myself trying to get there first. The climb was a mix between rubble, dirt, shale and boulders…some of which were more than a ton and had landed directly on the trail fairly recently as the trail was still fresh underneath them. That was certainly an eye-opener and I kept one eye on the cliffs above me.

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I was nearing the top (maybe 200 yards away) when the first four of the hikers I had been watching finally caught and passed me. I could have been an ass and not let them by (it was dangerous to step off the trail y’know) but I’m not that mean. I still have no idea how they climbed so fast with packs much heavier than mine…I think it had something to do with them all being young men under 20!

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So some of them (at least not all of them) reached the top ahead of me but I got there in the end and dumped my pack as I talked with the boys and their group leader for a while. Apparently the first guy to pass me had set his sights on me and beating me to the top…how funny that I had been determined to do the same thing. They were summiting Kings Peak and I told them I was hiking the Highline Trail. I got several looks of disbelief about hiking 80 miles, and how light my pack was compared to theirs (one kid had a 90l pack…mine is only 50l and I still have more space than I need) and surprise and admiration that I was doing this all in 6 days, solo with just the dogs. Their group leader asked me all about the trail and some of my gear and then took some pictures of Cody, Kye and me so that not all of my pictures are selfie-style.

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I said my farewells as the other nine in the group caught up and reached the pass and headed down the east side. Now I started running into a lot of groups who were heading up to summit Kings Peak…apparently it’s very popular and almost every group asked if I had been to the top already. My much-repeated answer was “no, not safe for the dogs”. I finally reached the bottom and ran out of people to ask me.

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I reached a trail junction not marked on the map and as a group came up the left-hand trail I asked them if that trail ran into the trail going east-west to Gunsight Pass and down the valley. They confirmed. I asked the following group and they concurred. So that’s the way I went until I realized it WAS taking me to Gunsight Pass, and probably the trail I wanted but going the long way round. I located the correct trail (the right-hand trail I should have taken) but in doing so I rolled my ankle again on an uneven section of ground…it’s always in the places you least expect it.

Gunsight Pass is the notch in the background:

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I took a break and then followed the cairns across the creek. Once across it was another game of find the cairns which is fast becoming my favorite game…not. With the trail finally located we headed east down the valley dipping in and out of the trees. The trail split and the sign pointing to the path I thought I wanted to take mentioned nothing that was on my map. It was definitely confusing and I cross-checked with my GPS to be sure it was the right trail…it was.

Anderson Pass and Kings Peak:

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We crossed another creek and I stopped to pee, only realizing afterwards that there were three hikers in the next meadow…I’m glad there was a tree between me and them or they would have got an eyefull!

I stopped and talked to them and they were also doing the Highline Trail and had seen my truck at the trailhead (good to know). As with most backpackers I talk to, and I talk to most of them as they are different from day hikers…there’s an unspoken camaraderie there…we talked about the trail, the weather, the passes and where we had camped the night before. The final information was useful as I later found out.

I said goodbye and continued on down the trail, climbing yet again. I thought I was done with climbing for the day. We stopped and took a 15 minutes siesta just as the climbing started…it helped a lot but it also meant it was tougher to get going.

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I had omly filtered a liter of water at the creek crossing and we finished the last of what I had more than a mile before crossing the Uinta River. It was hot and I was parched by the time we reached the river, as were the dogs, and this was the first water crossing that wasn’t a simple rock hop. There was a slender dead tree across the creek but I didn’t like the look of the fall if one of us fell as we tried to cross so i wandered downstream 100yards and found a better place to cross. Kye still managed to get wet as, for some reason, she didn’t jump to the last rock and instead went into the water. We backtracked upstream and I let the dogs rest for 20 minutes while I filtered water and ate a snack. As I stood up I got a fly-by from a hummingbird who buzzed me then my pack (they love red) and twice he must have landed somewhere on my pack. Eventually he took off after realizing my pack wasn’t a pretty red flower. Quite cool though.

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It was already 4pm and I was pretty tired already. I realized we would never make it as far as I had wanted to…that had been a long-shot anyway and I pulled the map out to give the trail ahead a look. I remembered what the hikers had told me about Kidney Lake. It was a little over two miles away and seemed doable…I figured I’d be there by 5pm.

What I didn’t count on was yet another steep climb that was more rock scramble than hiking trail for a good portion of the way; it was certainly not fun in any way. I walked up on a little buck at one of the creek crossings and didn’t want to spook him into hurting himself (possible because of where he was standing) so I called out. He didn’t hear me over the water and kept eating. I called louder and finally he looked up, stared at me for a second and then took off.

The exhaustion I felt in climbing, climbing, climbing was getting to me and I was desperate to see the sign for the trail to Kidney Lakes. After much begging and pleading I finally got there just after 5:30pm and then had to wander around for 10 minutes to find a suitable campsite (no rocks, level etc).

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Camp was set up quickly and I had to force myself to eat something even if it wasn’t dinner as I wasn’t hungry, and generally hadn’t been for most of the trip. The lake was warmish, for an alpine lake, and I took advantage of the water to wash my feet off…it felt good and they were pretty grimy after four days on the trail. If there’s one benefit to the rain last night it’s that the trail wasn’t dusty.

I watched the sun on the lake for a while before heading to bed and as I typed I heard some cow elk chirping across the lake. I risked a quick walk in the dusk to see if I could see them but there was no luck there and I went back to my tent to try and get some sleep.

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Backpacking the Uinta Highline Trail, July 2018: Part 1

Prologue

I left Casper and covered 100 miles before camping for the night north of Rawlins, avoiding all the major thunderstorms that threatened the area. I covered the last 200 miles the following day and met up with Shan, my “shuttle” at the turn off for the Red Cloud Loop north of Vernal, UT. He arrived earlier than expected; I was just finishing lunch and nowhere near ready. I hate feeling rushed, even if I’m not actually being rushed…I always forget something. We switched vehicles and gave each other a run down of the ins and outs of the each other’s vehicle. Shan was heading up to the Hacking Lake/ Leidy Peak TH and would be hiking west from there. I was driving his car to the west end and leaving it at the Highline Trail trailhead on SH150, and would be hiking east. It was a good plan.

I headed south, through Vernal and Duschene and got nailed by some torrential rain. The Lexus hybrid was definitely different to drive. I met up with a friend for dinner in Heber City, another final farewell (there seem to be a lot of those lately), before covering the last 50 miles to the trailhead. I had planned on covering a few miles but it was cold and still threatening to storm so I pulled out my pad and quilt and spent a very uncomfortable night in the car.

Day 1: Highline Trail Trailhead to Rock Creek

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Monday dawned clear and blue and I quickly packed up, made final use of real privies and hit the trail by 9am. For a long time there was very little to write home about as the trail stayed mostly in the trees, passing turn-offs to lakes and basins either high or low. We passed several other groups coming the other way, including some solo hikers and others with loose dogs (and only two out of five kept control of their animals…it gets old, especially without even an attempt or a care, and barely an apology).

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As we took a break after an hour of hiking we were passed by a very large, very noisy group of day hikers…there must have been twenty of them. They were all polite though and I ran into a couple of them a few miles further up as they were resting…they were astounded that I was planning to be in the wilderness solo for seven days with the dogs and insisted on taking our picture…they were very sweet and I obliged.

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It wasn’t until we were only a couple of miles from Rock Sea Pass that things got a little interesting. I had been watching some black clouds to the south and hoping they weren’t going to develop into a thunderstorm…but that’s exactly what they did. So I hiked for a while until it looked like it was coming our way and then I hunkered down under a tree with the dogs…I certainly didn’t want to get caught above treeline with lightening being a threat. The thunder growled to the south for a while and seemed to be moving east more than north. A couple of passing hikers said there was plenty of tree cover for a while yet and recommended I keep going…so I did. By this time the storm was obviously going around us and I thought it best to get up and over the pass before another one came behind me.

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We finally broke free of the treeline above Pigeon Milk Spring and followed the valley up to Rock Sea Pass…as gorgeous as it always is above treeline, in my opinion, but without the lakes of the Bighorns.

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A final short, steep and insanely rocky ascent took us to the top of the pass and we got our first look at the valley and trail below, as well as the storm churning in the east that had missed us…thanked God for that one a lot. Breathtaking is a word I will probably use a lot in this trip journal…but that’s the only way to describe it. Steep cliffs half encircled the rich green dell below us and ponds and lakes dotted the landscape. Ahead of us we could see Squaw Peak and the pass we would be doing the following day, although I was not sure exactly which one it was.

The trail down went below a small snow field and was pretty sketchy; it was rubble and rocks and boulders, and a little bit of dirt path. It was slow going and I was insanely careful, especially with my bad ankle but I still managed to slip once and fall on my ass…better backwards than forwards though on a trail like that.

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We reached the soft green grass at the base and took a break. I let the dogs sleep for half and hour as I finished the last of the water and snacked on some M&Ms. I thought I heard rocks falling and then voices but could see no one on the trail…I finally located two figures at the very top of the pass who were looking down into the lake-dotted valley.

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After a short rest we continued on through the idyllic terrain; an easy flat trail for a short while that soon dipped back down into the trees. It was here that somehow I rolled my ankle again and hit the ground but with slightly less force than on the trail in Colorado. I had been so careful, especially when going downhill. I picked myself back up and continued on, pausing for water at the creek and taking another brief respite.

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The trail soon split and we turned right and east again as the trail paralleled the river. I continued to be careful about where I stepped as the trail was steep and rocky in places. I spooked a small herd of cow elk in an open, marshy meadow as I turned a corner. I’m not sure how I got so close but I couldn’t have been more than 20 ft from the first cow I spooked. Sadly they disappeared before I could get any pictures.

I lost the trail briefly in the grass but quickly found it (no cairn on the east side apparently) and caught a glimpse of a copper-colored coat through the trees. Sure enough I was rewarded by the sight of a gorgeous and huge bull elk grazing in the pines. I don’t think he even knew I was there until I said “hey bull”. He had a gorgeous rack and I got a good picture or two.

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From that point it was another short and steep and rocky descent (are you sensing a theme here?) to Rock Creek. I hunted for a campsite; they were in short supply but I found a flat spot in the trees just off the trail and made do. The dogs were eager to be fed but I wanted to get the tent up before the rain came…which the sky had been threatening all afternoon.

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They were fed soon after and then swiftly fell asleep while I filtered water and cooked dinner. The final highlight to the day was the doe that walked just beyond the perimeter of camp, stared at me and then took off before the dogs even realized she was there. I spent some time trying to figure out why my camera was no longer willing to take HDR but to no avail and I finally gave up and crawled into bed (I did eventually, accidentally figure it out).

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Day 2 – Rock Creek to Lambert Meadow

I slept okay and woke at 7am. I tried to wait until the sun hit the tent before braving the cold but it was taking too long and I wanted to be on the trail early so I could hit the passes before thunderstorms threatened. I let the dogs out of the tent while I packed up inside. It is always good to see them feeling good enough to run and play when we are hiking as it ensures, to me, that I am not over-doing it with them.

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The trail started off rocky and up…and I was glad I hadn’t attempted it the night before…something I had thought about doing so I would be closer to the pass in the morning. After a mile or two it leveled out and the going was fairly easy although the trail disappeared often in the lush meadows and marshes that were frequent and mosquito-laden. Only once did I have a hard time finding the cairn I needed to direct me but I eventually located it and continued on.

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Fresh cow pies were prevalent…something I’m not sure I like in the wilderness, but I guess the cattle serve a purpose or they wouldn’t be there. I filled up with water at Ledge Lake and checked the sky…a few clouds were skimming across the blue but nothing ominous…and I started the ascent to Dead Horse Pass.

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I had been warned about this pass the day before by a solo hiker who said he would love to do the trail again but probably never would because of this particular pass. So I was definitely nervous.

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The climb was decent but as always, rocky and occasionally non-existent with only cairns to follow. I finally reached the top and was confronted with a Cirque of the Towers-like view with towering cliffs and a couple of lakes below, including the very turquoise Dead Horse Lake.

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The trail was nowhere to be seen and I peered over the rocky ledge to see if I could see where it went…nothing except a faint trail in the scree directly below. It looked terrifying. Thankfully there were two other backpackers who had just come up the east side and directed me to the RIGHT way (don’t ignore the cairns).

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I drained my water and ate some snacks while we took a break before heading down the treacherous trail. I moved my DeLorme InReach SOS device to a place I could reach it better, just in case I fell. While the first couple of switchbacks were definitely nerve-wracking and one wrong move would send you hurtling down 1000ft it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. (This pass, as well as Rock Sea Pass are NOT recommended for horses and pack stock but if you do this trail then coming from the east would definitely be the way to do it as horses do better going up steep than down steep).

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We finally made it to the bottom after several stops for pictures, including one of the horse skull for which (I believe) the pass is named…or some other dead horse. The lake was stunning and looked a little surreal as we circumnavigated it…such a cool color.

That is the pass behind me…and yes, it looks impassable from any distance away:

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From the lake we followed the trail that paralleled the creek before turning off to make the ascent over Red Knob Pass. The climb was fairly easy but I was definitely struggling and my legs had felt like jello all day…but it was still early afternoon and I couldn’t justify stopping for the day.

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After a mile we were thrust above tree line and we were once again following cairns. The trail, which I had seen from the top of Dead Horse Pass, seemed so far above and we were stopping every 100 yards to give my legs a break. We took our last break before the final steep ascent to the saddle and then slowly climbed on a pretty decent trail, albeit with a few rocks.

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I was eyeballing the saddle constantly, watching the pass get closer and closer…but when we reached it it wasn’t the top. Ugh. The views, however, were stunning and I kept taking picture after picture while keeping an eye on the weather although there was nothing to worry about even with the blacker-looking clouds.

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We made the final push to the top and took another break, chugging most of my remaining water before heading down. The descent was easy and soon we were on a flat, cairn-guided trail that traversed the wide open alpine grassland and eventually delved below treeline.

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For another two miles we followed the mostly-level trail beside the creek. Black clouds were now starting to threaten some serious activity but nothing more than a few raindrops appeared. With the storm to the south of us I made the decision to climb 500ft and a mile up to our chosen campsite in Lambert Meadow. The clouds continued to look menacing for a while until they finally started to rumble.

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I was below treeline so didn’t worry too much but once we got close to open ground we took shelter beneath a large evergreen for half an hour as the storm boomed. It never went directly over us and the rain was only cursory, with one decent shower. Eventually I deemed the storm far enough from us to continue and 10 minutes later, and having gone 7pm, we arrived in Lambert Meadow with the storm still growling in the east and black skies shadowing the mountains.

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I quickly fed the dogs and got the tent up, just in case more rain was due but the western sky was sunny and clear and I finished up evening chores before heading to bed at 9pm with the sky a dark azure blue and the almost-full moon beaming down on us.

Gear Review: Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack

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I have used these packs exclusively for 3 years and hundreds of miles with my two border collies. Kye is a 34lb female and Cody is a 40lb male.

When first buying these packs I bought the small for Kye and the medium for Cody, according to the measurements and weight guidelines on the website. Despite this the medium pack really was too large for Cody and I had it cinched down as tight as possible to make it fit. The panniers themselves were massive on him. Recently I replaced his medium pack with a small and it fits much better and has smaller panniers.

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What I love about these packs is how they fit and carry on each of my dogs. The weight is carried over their shoulder and is not suspended from their back like other bags. This creates less fatigue and rubbing.

The fully-adjustable 5-point harness of these packs means that they do well on any shape or size of dog (assuming you get generally the right size), and as long as they are adjusted correctly I have seen absolutely zero chaffing, rubbing or hair wear during or after our backpacking trips. The key to this is not having the harness too tight; it needs to keep the pack on the dog NOT keep the pack in place on the dog. Keeping the pack in place is achieved by correct placement and balance of the pack’s contents, much like the panniers on a pack horse. I have seen several dogs with packs hanging to one side…this is uncomfortable for the dog and causes chaffing and fatigue.

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The panniers themselves, on a size medium, have the capacity to carry about 3-4 days worth of regular dog food (about 2 cups per meal) on each side. I usually only have my dogs carry two meals on each side due to weight more than capacity.

The fabric of these packs has held up extremely well. My dogs generally stay on trail with me but they have been through boulder fields and up talus trails, through scrub, under and over trees, between rock faces and more. The only wear, after 3 years of use, is along the very bottom of the panniers where have often rubbed against rocks, trunks and tree limbs as the dogs have climbed over or around them. Even snagging on large branches has not affected the fabric.

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These packs also feature a grab handle (useful when Kye almost fell between two boulders on Jackass Pass in Wyoming) and a leash D-ring if you don’t want to use their collar (which every dog should be wearing on the trail). The positive aspect about the leash connection on the pack is that a leash is less-likely to get wrapped beneath the panniers than if using their collar.

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All in all these are great packs, they fit well and my dogs love them. Highly recommended. The only packs that I have seen that are comparable in quality and fit are Groundbird Gear Dog Packs but they have a long wait period and are much more expensive. Ruffwear dog packs are readily available in REI and at online retailers.

Colorado Trail, Collegiate East Section Hike, June 2018: Part 2

Day 3 – Frenchman Creek Campsite to Silver Creek Campsite (9 miles)

Kye startled me awake this morning with a few barks at 6:30. Kye rarely barks and it had me on edge not knowing what it was. I called out “what’s out there” thinking it was a critter if some kind. A voice answered back “it’s just me”…like I would know who “me” was. Either way the voice confirmed it was a person although I hadn’t expected to have another person walk through my campsite so early in the morning. It was only later that I realized there was another trail (French Creek Trail) that went right by where I was camped.

So we were awake and despite the cold I got out of bed, pulled on my puffy jacket and started packing gear. I set a new record and was out of camp at 7:50am. I was happy for an early start as we had a big day of hiking ahead of us.

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The first half of the day was a few ups but mostly downs. We swiftly covered the miles and we ran into several day hikers heading for Harvard Lakes which were half way between camp and the trail head, and just outside of the wilderness boundary so I was starting to see bike tracks and run into some cyclists…they looked like they weren’t having much fun with the steep climb.

We reached Silver Creek trailhead by 11am which is what I had been hoping for. I wanted to fill up on calories and take an hour break before attempting another steep climb.

During our lunch break two ladies who were section hiking, Clara (from Colorado) and Stacy (from Arizona), stopped and chatted and then decided to also eat lunch. We talked a little longer and then I headed up the trail at noon. It started out fairly moderate for the first 3/4 mile but soon got ugly and steep and I was counting steps, always trying to reach 60 before pausing. It was tough and was the steepest grade we had done yet on this trail. It didn’t help that the trail was mostly in the sun and we were pausing in the shade of each tree on the way. We passed several day hikers on their way back down (I forgot it was a Saturday) and got a report from each about much further it was to each data point I was using as reference. With the trail so steep (including to the side) it was impossible to step off the trail with the dogs but everyone was very gracious about it and they still got lots of compliments.

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I had only packed a liter of water as I was expecting to find a water source at 1.5 miles up the trail. I never found the location the data book meant but we managed to reach the creek at 2.5 miles with a little water to spare. I’m still amazed that we didn’t run out.

I had originally planned to hike over the saddle below Mt Yale but after seeing where the trail still had to go, with another 800ft gain over a mile, and feeling completely exhausted I gave up on my plan and found a campsite along the creek.

Less than 30 minutes later Clara and Stacy showed up with their massive 40lb packs (I thought they would take longer with that kind of weight to haul) and set up camp next to me in the small and only camping area. It was nice to share the afternoon and evening with others for a change and we chatted, ate dinner and chatted some more until the sun disappeared behind the mountains and the mosquitoes came out to feast. Cody and Kye certainly got their fill of attention and love for the day.

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With our mileage falling short of our plan tomorrow would be a longer, albeit easier day with the last 800ft to the saddle being our only major climb. I am certainly looking forward to being on the Collegiate West where the trail doesn’t constantly go down steeply to trailheads and then back up again just as steeply.

Day 4 – Silver Creek Campsite to Dry Creek Campsite

Another early morning started at 6:30am again. I had not slept well the past couple of nights and believe it was due to the altitude (both campsites were around 11,000 feet). I also managed to break yesterday’s early-start record by 5 minutes this morning and was on the trail at 7:45am.

I knew what was coming…800ft elevation gain over a mile to a saddle below Mt Yale. We took our time, and being the first climb and activity of the day it was a lot easier than I was expecting and took a little under an hour. I was also expecting to come out on an exposed saddle above the beaver ponds as that had been the trail I had seen yesterday…and my reason for stopping so early. However this was not where the trail went and I wondered if I could have made the climb the day before. It all worked out for the best though as I had thoroughly enjoyed my evening with Stacy and Clara.

I passed a couple with a dog. Another one of those irritating “he’s friendly” dogs who didn’t listen well and wanted to get up close and personal with Kye and Cody. The couple moved on but we soon heard them behind us again…apparently they were wanting to summit Mt Yale and had missed the trail turn off on the saddle ridge…that’s a whole lot of extra elevation they did there.

I stopped at the top and snacked on some cashews while I waited for Clara and Stacy. We exchanged numbers as they were hiking to the top of an exposed knoll and I asked them to send me a picture as I was on a bit of a mileage crunch and didn’t want to make the detour.

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The first mile of the way down was just as steep as the way up but it soon mellowed out and we were cruising well for a while….right up until I rolled my ankle, again. (I had twisted it a month prior to the hike when I stepped on the edge of a hole in a friend’s yard). I had rolled it at least once a day so far but this was the worst and I hit the ground with my left knee as pain ripped through my ankle…I wasn’t sure I would be able to put weight on it. I stood, gingerly, and was happy it could hold me. We were still a couple of miles from the trailhead and we took it VERY slowly and carefully down the steep and rocky trail. I was determined this wasn’t going to put an end to my hike.

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Once at the bottom we took a break at Middle Cottonwood Creek and then checked the data book. The trail was moderate for a while with limited downhill and mostly level. I was willing to risk another 2 miles on my ankle and to see how it did. It did fine although it was tender and I had to be careful where I stepped.

With another climb ahead of us we took a long 90 minute lunch break at South Cottonwood Creek where the dogs snoozed and I took advantage of the water to clean some pretty grimy feet…again. I also wanted to fill up on calories for the climb ahead.

I had planned on a 2 hour break but after an hour and a half I was bored and getting chilly so we set out on the climb. The climb up to the saddle/ridge below Bald Mt. Was 1200ft over almost four miles…almost so gradual you didn’t know you were climbing most of the time and that was a nice change. It was also a positive thing as we needed to hurry…a massive storm was coming over the top of Mt Yale and headed straight for us. I hoped no one was at the top of the mountain, or even on any of the ridges when that hit…it looked ugly although it did not appear to be a thunderstorm. Thankfully it skirted us and headed east over the valley. I was definitely thankful we didn’t get caught in it and I was constantly scanning for trees (and not lone ones) to shelter under.

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With the saddle reached the trail leveled out considerably and we made really good time, stopping for an occasional water or pee break (both me and the dogs). The views were pretty typical of the trail…looking out over the valley and Highway 24 with looming peaks in the distance…nothing special after four days but still pretty nonetheless.

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We crossed two creeks, the second with a campsite that was already occupied by several backpacking tents and I could pick out at least one Tarptent and one YAMA Mountain Gear Cirriform. I said “hi” to two girls but moved on as I still had another 2 miles to go…I wanted to be as close to Mt Princeton Hot Springs as possible for the morning…a place that meant a shower, burger and beer(s).

We camped at Dry Creek, which ironically is listed in the data book as a “guaranteed” water supply, meaning it is always running! I checked out one campsite, discarded it, went back across the creek to check out another that had no flat spots and returned to the first which, while dusty, had a nice flat spot for my tent.

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As I was clearing up around camp and getting ready to check out the information for the next day I realized I had misplaced (ie they had fallen out of my pack pocket) my data book pages…pages that give me detailed information about water, elevation gain or loss, campsites, trail junctions and other important things on the trail. I hiked back a mile along the trail but couldn’t find them which was frustrating, and the whole thing a dumb mistake on my part.

Thankfully with Stacy and Clara having texted me pictures earlier I was able to contact them (the whole Collegiate East section seems to have good cell service) and have them take pictures of the pages of the data book I needed to get me to Monarch Pass. Trail magic indeed! (I did find the pages at the BOTTOM of my pack at the end of the hike but have no idea how they got there as I had them outside my pack and I had been looking at them that day).

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Day 5 – Dry Creek to Mt Princeton Hot Springs

I slept in a little this morning (compared to others) but was still out of camp before 8am. Cody wasn’t looking great and was limping slightly but I couldn’t find anything in his paw and there was no swelling but I gave him a baby aspirin anyway. Either way we didn’t have a choice but to hike and we covered the two miles of single-track trail and two miles of road to our first resupply point at Mt Princeton Hot Springs at the 50 mile mark. Cody was doing okay but still tender every 20th step or so which meant I didn’t think it was a joint or muscle issue.

I washed clothes, took a shower and washed more clothes in the bath house sink with whatever soap there was available. With all the cleaning done we crossed back to the lodge and Cody was limping a lot more. I was having serious doubts about our ability to continue and was going over various options in my mind.

But first priority was food and I ate…ordered a burger and salad with a side or two of beer. It was soooo good. The dogs were tied to my pack under a broad pine tree and slept and enjoyed every minute of their down time. The kids of the gardeners played with them for a while and I’m not sure whether the dogs or the kids enjoyed that more.

I ordered a third beer (yeah, I’m a lush so deal with it but I needed calories…lol) and went to hang out under the tree with the dogs while I waited for the last few items of clothing to dry. I rechecked Cody’s paws and found a not-so-serious crack in one of his toe pads. It looked minor and I went to find some superglue to close it up and see if it would help…it did, but only slightly.

After taking the dogs into the rough grass to take care of business and watching Cody struggle to put weight on his leg/paw anywhere that was spiky I knew my hike was done for a while. Taking my dogs is a risk and I have to hike their hike. I can push myself when I get hurt because I have a choice and I know why I’m doing what I’m doing but I won’t do that to my dogs.

So with Cody’s well-being in the forefront of my mind I paid for a shuttle back to my truck. I was bummed to have come so far only to have to quit but my dogs’ health also takes priority over everything else. They love being on the trail and I often stop to let them explore a scent trail or stare at a squirrel as that is what they enjoy about it, and they have to enjoy it as much as I do…even if it is for different reasons.

Colorado Trail/ Collegiate East Section Hike, June 2018: Part 1

Prologue

I was beginning to think someone didn’t want me hiking this trail. Two mornings my truck wouldn’t start due to the cold and higher elevation. Then my backpack broke after I had already loaded it and stored it in a tote for the next day. I had to make a 120 mile trip to Colorado Springs to buy a replacement during which time I also got a nail in my tire. It was definitely an ordeal getting to this point, but two days after I was supposed to start we were finally on the trail…on the summer solstice aka Hike Naked Day (and no, I did not).

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Day 1 – Twin Lakes TH to Clear Creek Campsite (10.5 miles, with detour)

After a quick call to the Leadville Ranger District about leaving my truck at the trailhead at Twin Lakes we set out on the Colorado Trail for the first time. As per usual for me we managed to take a wrong turn right off the bat and headed toward the other trailhead. So with an extra mile under our belts by 9am we finally got back on track and followed the southern edge of Twin Lakes for a mile and a half before the Collegiate East trail (official Colorado Trail) and Collegiate West trail (official Continental Divide Trail) diverged.

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A short steep climb soon leveled out and we hiked through scrub, pines, aspens and sage brush. We passed another couple who had backtracked to the lake for water as they thought the seasonal creeks had no water. We chatted for a while and then I headed up the trail.

It was a gorgeous day but the sun was definitely starting to heat things up and we were glad for the shade. All seasonal creeks were flowing which meant the dogs had consistent access to water and I didn’t have to ration mine so much (we would have run out). An extra hot climb along a powerline road was the least fun part of the hike, but it was fairly short and there was a fast flowing creek the dogs made excellent use of.

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With the trail at lower elevation there were not many views but eventually we climbed over a ridge to see views of some of the Collegiate Peaks we would be climbing over the next few days.

The whole trail was very well sign-posted (loved it) and the first day on a mostly level trail was much appreciated.

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We ended up back at Clear Creek Reservoir where I had camped the night I realized my backpack was broken. It was a short 11 mile day and we camped in a very private and secluded location next to the creek, and had camp set up by 2:30pm…definitely too early to be camped when there is nothing else to do but there was no way I could have made the 3500ft climb that afternoon as it was another 6 miles to the next water source.

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The dogs played in the water, cooling off after our long, sun-exposed hike down to the lake and I tried to fill my time as best as possible. I kept an eye out for the couple behind me as we had leap-frogged fairly constantly most of the day and I figured I would see them at the lake and invite them to join me. But as hidden as I was and with my limited view of the trail I missed them. I did run into another solo female hiker while out walking on the trail with the dogs but she was making for the next water source as her time on the trail was more constrained than mine.

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Day 2 – Clear Creek Campsite to Frenchman Creek Campsite (11.8 miles)

Today was brutal.

I was up early, for me, at 6:30am  with the sun already warming my tent. With the day already getting hot I was on the trail by 8:15am. I stopped and chatted with the couple I had met yesterday but they didn’t think they’d make it to the creek crossing I was planning for as my camp site for the night…the elevation gain seemed too much.

When I say “brutal” I mean we started an ascent that climbed over 3500ft and never felt like it would ever end. It was barely 5 miles but that was the longest 5 miles of my life. I started out well but quickly lost steam and it took us 3 hours to do 5 miles. I had absolutely no energy to give…maybe something to do with just a granola bar for breakfast and a bag of chips (I just couldn’t eat and had no appetite).

I passed a handful of backpackers coming down and almost all were doing the Collegiate Loop in the opposite direction to me (I’m trying to save the best (the Collegiate West) for last.

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By the time we reached the top of the ridge which sat below Mt. Waverly I was done and I stuffed cheese sticks, some jerky and the other breakfast granola bar into my mouth before resting for a half hour…I was in a serious calorie-deficit but I still wasn’t feeling hungry. Sadly the wind picked up, the sun went away and my nap didn’t last very long. At least the dogs got to rest for a while and get some sleep.

We were finally going down for a couple of miles and the trail was great. I was really appreciating not having to go up for a while.

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Pine Creek was at the bottom of the descent and I had planned on trying for a nap again there but again the wind picked up and the sun hid behind clouds…it had been gorgeous not 10 minutes before. Rain spattered briefly so I hunkered down under a tree for a few minutes and ate a bag of cookies to try and give my body some much-needed calories.

I loaded up with water for another 1500ft climb and took a moment to enjoy the engineering feat of the beavers who had built a pretty impressive dam just above the bridge. Again we started off well and the trail was moderate but got steeper and rockier the higher we climbed. I was making it 100 yards before having to stop and it took us two hours to reach the top of the ridge below Mt Harvard. I also got my first glimpse of some wildlife…the rear end of a cow elk disappearing into the trees.

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A mile from the top I met a couple who were thru-hiking the Colorado Trail (or as much of it as was open with the fire outside of Durango) a mile from the top. The guy had the same pack as the me (my ZPacks Arc Haul not the Osprey I was currently carrying) and in the same color. We chatted about the broken stays in my pack and they were also surprised that they would bend. We parted ways after they informed me I still had a mile to go and another 400ft if elevation gain. I groaned inwardly. The worst was the false summit I reached…those things suck!

But we finally got there and this time at the top we were rewarded with amazing views of Mt Harvard and Mt Columbia and the valley below us. You certainly can’t get those views without a little work.

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Finally we were on the home stretch and we cruised the last 3 miles to our campsite above Frenchman Creek, winding down the valley and being completely awed by the towering peaks just above me. The guide stated there was camping 200 yards from the bridge that crossed the creek and we found a flat a secluded piece of dirt to pitch the tent well off the trail.

With the clouds looking like they might be threatening rain, as they had been doing on and off all day, I quickly got the tent up. The clouds moved on to places where, like those before them, they dumped their load further east…I was grateful!

Dinner, as has been the norm with my “home-made” backpacking meals, left a lot to be desired and was much more food than I could eat (again, just not hungry) and so I shared with the dogs who happily wolfed it down (glad to have them have the extra calories when it’s just rice, chicken and peas). I am going to have to rethink my meal plans for future trips as it would really help to have something tasty.

Three Days on the PCT, June 2018

Day 1 Cascade Locks to CG2032 Road Campsite

I believe today was some new version of hiking torture. In order to do a loop that incorporated the PCT I had to make some sacrifices and spend at least half my time hiking gravel roads and ATV trails…all of which I had to do today and half of tomorrow.

I left my truck at the home of a trail angel who had offered a safe place to park it and who then dropped me off at the junction of Ash Lake and Blue Lake Road. I had camped at the top of Blue Lake Road the night before so I already knew how steep the first climb was.

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Within a mile I had already taken a wrong turn as there were no signs for any roads. I pulled out my trusty DeLorme InReach and relocated myself before backtracking a 1/4 mile. The gravel road quickly became an ATV two track which at least felt somewhat like a trail. There was little to see but green trees, green bushes and green grass and it soon began to look very unused and I was hoping it wouldn’t peter out altogether.

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Another unmarked junction at the top of a climb had me pulling out my GPS again, despite my maps. I was on the right trail and it soon looked well-used again. Views over the Columbia River Gorge were few and far between.

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A brief stint on a well-maintained gravel road, used extensively by logging trucks, took us to another turn off that lead us below the powerlines…and then the road ended. It looked like there had been a landslide of some kind so we picked our way carefully over the torn-up road, and then the path REALLY ended. I could see where we needed to be…1000ft straight down, though some very ugly brush, branches and countless trip hazards. One misstep here and you wouldn’t stop until the bottom…unless you got impaled on something.

Exhaustion quickly set in with the steep descent and constantly risk of falling but we eventually made it to the bottom. I was once again reminded of how much goat my dogs must have in them! My legs felt like jelly and I’m sure the dogs’ did too…they were definitely panting hard. We finished the last of the water, took a short break and then headed up and then down the road to Rock Creek.

After crossing the bridge and climbing down another short steep slope I ditched my pack and pulled the dogs out of theirs before continuing to the creek. There were swing ropes hung from the bridge over a deep turquoise pool that looked incredibly inviting. The creek itself was gorgeous, cold and refreshing and we took a 1/2 hour break while I filtered water.

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Soon we had to continue up the gravel road (such uninspiring hiking) but after the treacherous down-hill climb my legs just didn’t have any more energy and it took us an hour to go a mile with all the stopping. My map showed a permanent creek and I was hoping it WAS a permanent creek as one I had crossed earlier in the day was dry…and that doesn’t inspire confidence in the rest of the so-called permanent creeks (as opposed to seasonal creeks).

Thankfully the stream had good flow and we bypassed it in the search of a campsite. I didn’t need water but I knew I would for the morning. My first campsite of the year certainly left a lot to be desired as it was just off the side of the gravel road and the ground was impossible to get tent stakes into…I ended up having to hunt down and make use of rocks and trees, and I was glad the wind wasn’t too crazy as I doubted some of the smaller rocks would hold.

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Dinner was a homemade freeze-dried meal concoction made with ramen and the remaining freeze-dried food stash from my camper (that which I hadn’t sold). While it was still warm I refilled all my water containers…it was looking like the next day would be a long dry stretch, especially if not all creeks were running.

Twenty minutes after I finished writing today’s entry there was a lot of snapping of twigs and other noise through the trees and behind my tent. Not knowing what it was, although the dogs were definitely interested, I made a fair amount of noise and calling out to let whatever it know that there were humans around. I grabbed my camera thinking it would just be a noisy dear but as I watched a large black bear emerged from where I had been refilling water less than 30 minutes before, and only 100 yards from camp. Thankfully he turned away from us and ambled up the road. I was definitely a little spooked and nervous and hurried to hang my food (which I actually hadn’t planned on hanging) all while continuing to make a lot of human noise.

Finally enough time passed that I felt more relaxed and didn’t feel worried that the bear would return to bother us. I actually slept fairly well. I generally don’t worry about bears…unless they are close to camp with food around or spooking them on the trail. Bison, from my perspective, have always been the one animal I have been most wary of.

Day 2 – CG2032 Campsite to Rock Creek

The dawn chorus woke me at 4:30am…and there was no way I was getting up THAT early. I pulled my hat over my eyes and went back to sleep for a couple more hours. The sleeping bag that had been way to warm at the beginning of the night wasn’t too bad by 3am (still a little warm, but not unbearable).

The day promised to start well despite the 3 liter water carry as we walked up on a doe and two very new fawns. Sadly mom took off into the brush and one fawn ran for a while before also turning off the road. The second fawn, however, took off down the road. I waited so that I didn’t spook it further if it came back, and come back it did…straight towards me. It stopped and the dogs and I watched her. She moved towards me again and stopped within about 15ft of us. She had a nasty shoulder gash but it didn’t seem to hinder her. Mom jumped onto the road and apparently spooked her again as she went around us, standing in the middle of the road. Cody unfortunately chose that moment to give into his instincts to chase. He didn’t go after her but it required a lot of yelling his name on my part…something I’ve never had to do and he was definitely disciplined quickly.

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We continued up the road now the fawn was behind us and I hope the mom and baby were reunited.

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That incident was the only decent thing about the day. We hiked up more depressing gravel roads, incessantly up and up and up, 2500ft up to be exact and it was miserable; my legs were feeling pretty burned-out from yesterday’s steep descent and the going was slow but we kept plodding along. With only two more miles expected to finally connect with the PCT the road ended…abruptly. No warning, nothing. There was no more road. I checked with the GPS…I was in the right place and even THAT showed a road. It wasn’t even as though it looked like there HAD been a road there at some time. I was pissed. I have always been the kind of person to double check Google’s directions and maps, and hiking trails elsewhere and everything told me there was supposed to be a road there. I had just climbed and would have to descend 2500ft and cover 10 miles extra miles all because of a stupid glitch.

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I dumped some of the water I was carrying as I knew we’d be crossing Rock Creek again, and could fill up there, and so we made our way back down the mountain.

After 6 hours of hiking with nothing accomplished we arrived back at the pretty creek with the rope swing under the bridge. We  took an hour long break to allow the dogs to sleep and get some rest…I definitely envied them. I soaked my feet in the water and filtered a couple of liters. The one benefit to having to come back was that I could get a photo…a benefit I could really have done without.

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Our only option now, other than calling for a ride and quitting, was to hike another 5 miles up yet another gravel road to where the PCT intersects with Rock Creek. It was a long, hot walk but at least the road remained fairly flat and we made it in 2 1/2 hours with many stops for water.

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I located a very pretty campsite next to the creek, just off the gravel road and a short way before the PCT. The tent was quickly up so it could dry then I cooked dinner, fed the dogs, hung the food bag and went to bed. We were all sore and limpy and should never have had to hike so much. I am looking forward to finally being able to set foot on the PCT tomorrow despite knowing it should have been 18 hours prior.

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Day 3 – Rock Creek Camp to Cascade Locks

Today started off so promising. I had slept well and woke up at the late hour of 7:30am. It looked to be a warm and beautiful day. I packed camp as quickly as I could but still wasn’t on the move until 9am…I’m still not sure what takes so much time.

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And finally I set foot on the PCT, and got off the gravel roads and on to single track. It was perfect. It was green, level and the footbed was perfect. My legs were still suffering from the steep downhill descent and the extra miles but I felt pretty good even loaded down with 4 liters of water.

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The climb started moderately and I knew we had to climb about 2000 ft over 5 miles…not too bad…but I swear that climb went on forever and it felt a lot more than 2000ft. Massive slugs covered the trail and that was about all the wildlife I saw.

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And while very not LNT this cute little gnome scene in a rotting tree stump gave me a smile and perked me up a little. I shouldn’t condone it but I enjoyed the surprise and imagination that went along with it.

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And just when I thought there was no more uphill…there was another 400ft to go up, again and again and again. By the top I swear we were just a few more steps to heaven. Thankfully most of the morning we were hiking in the shade of massive pine trees but of course this meant few views and it was just one long uphill, green tunnel. Eventually we were rewarded with some impressive views of Mt Adams and Mt St Helens as well as the valley below.

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Finally when I swore I couldn’t go another step upwards and was begging the trail to go down, it did. And that was almost worse. I moved slower but took a lot less breaks and my legs were screaming. I was miserable and could barely appreciate the views of Mt Hood that rose before me…but it was pretty spectacular, especially when thinking of it Middle Earth terms (it looks JUST like the Lonely Mountain from The Hobbit). At least there were views but that also meant we were in the sun a lot more and the dogs were getting hot. It didn’t help that the trail went from good dirt to rocks and talus.

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It was about the 15 mile mark I decided I was done. Cody was sore, I was in agony and there were no campsites to be found. I just wasn’t enjoying it…and I don’t hike to torture myself, I do it because I enjoy it. I called the lady who had dropped me at the Blue Lake turn off (where I started hiking) and after a lot of back and forth I finally got a ride back to my truck, although with the amount of walking I had to do to meet her, and the time it took her to find me (even with provided GPS co-ordinates), I should have just finished the hike despite the pain and exhaustion.

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I parked for the night not far from where I had camped before the hike and cleaned up with copious amounts of baby wipes (so easy and love them) and crawled into bed. I was ready for my bed but the night was rough and restless and sleep did not come very well partially, I think, due to being somewhat dehydrated. I left the organizing and unpacking for the morning.

I was extremely glad I had been picked up as the following day I could barely move for hurting, but I hobbled around and got packed up to hit the road and head for Canby, Oregon for the renaissance faire. After looking at the weather and the three days of predicted heavy non-stop rain, especially on Saturday, I sadly made the decision to fore-go the faire (the only one I could have made this year) because despite the fact that I won’t melt…my leather gear doesn’t particularly like water. So I headed out and started my drive to Idaho

Exploring Oregon – Part 2

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

We departed Bend on a Sunday after four amazing days exploring the town and its brew pubs/ breweries. One place of note that is very close to Bend but that we had avoided during our stay since I wanted to devote a day to it on the way out was Newberry National Volcanic Monument. This was one I’d never heard of but since it was so close and the map promised some interesting possibilities I wanted to make a day of it.

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I was up earlier than necessary, as always, and was on the road way to early. We stopped for some groceries at Walmart and then got fuel before heading south.

Our first stop, Lava River Cave, didn’t open until 10am and we were an hour early. I backtracked to the visitor center which was on limited hours since it was still the shoulder season (late April). I took a short hike up the on-site lava cone and followed the paved path through the lava fields. The great thing about these short walks are the many signs that explain everything you are seeing. I got great views of Mt Bachelor and the Three Sisters, and I stood in a lava valley where lava had once flowed through. It was pretty intense and very impressive to see that plants and animals can still make their homes in such a harsh and unforgiving environment.

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10am was fast approaching and I headed to the gate of the Lava River Cave. I arrived a few minutes before it opened. I tried to park in the shade as much as possible for the dogs, but as long as I pointed the nose of the truck into the sun’s direction they would always have shade under the tool box. I grabbed two flashlights and a warm jacket and headed to the orientation point.

The rangers emphasize the importance of not wearing any clothes into the cave that have been worn in any other cave system. The reason for this is the dreaded white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is wiping out bat populations across the US.

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After the orientation I confirmed that I had a pass and then rented a lantern (definitely recommended) before heading down into the cave. I was the second person in and I’m glad I was. I hiked alone, with only a high-intensity flashlight to help me see. As soon as I was in the lava tube the temperature dropped immediately and ice could be seen below the metal cat walk where daylight was still visible.

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The Lava River Cave is a lava tube, and in some places a double lava tube, that runs for more than a mile (although only a mile is accessible) more than 50ft below the surface. It has a constant temperature of about 42* and my hands were definitely feeling it after a while (I would certainly recommend gloves as well as a warm coat).

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About 10 minutes into the hike I turned off my light. I don’t think I have ever experienced such encompassing darkness. I was glad to have the light I rented ($5 at the entry kiosk) especially when I tried out my own flashlights…I would have missed a lot if I had relied on them alone…they just weren’t bright enough.

The cave was impressive and I constantly stopped to look around. Being one of the first into the tube I pretty much had the place to myself on the way in and I loved that…it was definitely worth being early for. The way out felt shorter and I ran into many groups coming down which definitely impinged on the feeling of the cave a lot.

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Climbing out of the cave I walked into the heat of the day and found an immediate need to remove many layers. I let the dogs out for a few minutes before heading out.

Our next stop was the Lava Cast Forest. What was supposedly a short drive on a gravel road ended up being a smoke-filled journey on one of the worst washboard roads I have ever had the misfortune of being on. There was a prescribed burn happening at the lower end of the road which wasn’t much of a problem and actually kind of interesting…the problem was the cheese-grater washboard road…absolutely miserable. However we did eventually reach the top in one piece…my chair sleeve was in tatters, however, since Cody hates roads like that and took it out on the sleeve. At least it wasn’t the chair!

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I left the dogs in the truck and did the mile-ish long walk through the lava field. I was expecting tall lava casts in tree shapes…what I saw was still interesting but not expected. Lava casts are where the lava enveloped and encased trees. As the trees decayed and rotted under the lava they left holes, casts of their trunks in the lava. Some casts were upright and looked like large pole holes and others were horizontal from trees that had already fallen before the lava covered them. It was worth the drive, despite the rough road.

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With the lava forest and cave done I was hoping to drive up to Newberry Crater, Oregon’s largest volcano but the road was closed for the winter. I made do with a quick stop at the South Ice Cave about 30 miles east of La Pine. I had seen other ice caves before and didn’t find this one any different, but worth a stop if you haven’t seen any others.

It was time to find a place to stop for the night and I located a decent spot on BLM land with good cell service.

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Driving south the next day I drove by Fort Rock, an old lava cone that used to be surrounded by an ancient lake. It is an Oregon State Park and looks like the fortress of something out of Morder; it looks slightly out of place in the rest of the flat landscape. I paused to take a couple of pictures but didn’t take the trail into the caldera where one side had been eroded away.

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The road continued south and I stopped to check if the road I wanted to take was open. Two state road construction employees confirmed that it was but warned that it wasn’t the smoothest road to take to get to Klamath Falls. I wasn’t in a hurry and wanted to take the scenic route. The map had the road shown as paved, and apparently this is what is classed as a paved road:

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A quick shower in Klamath Falls and we were off to find another campsite before heading to Ashland. Freecampsites.net had one listed along the lake nearby and we went to check it out but the mosquitoes were horrendous and it didn’t take me more than three minutes to decide it wasn’t for us…not to mention how busy the location was. We did find a gorgeous campsite in the pine trees not far up the road that had zero mosquitoes and much better cell service.

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The next day was a quick stop in Ashland, where I had planned to spend a couple of days but didn’t, and was followed by a pause in Medford to buy two new tires for the rear of my truck as they were almost bald and probably no longer legal. That put a hurt on the wallet! The rest of the day was a scenic drive, and a very long and frustrating one, to a gorgeous creekside campsite where someone had left some cut wood and plenty of fire-starter…so I had a really nice campfire, drank some beer and played in the creek with the dogs. No cell service but it was such a pretty place I found plenty to keep us occupied.

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I made a brief stop in Crater Lake National Park to see how it looked in early May compared to the last time I had visited it in mid July…definitely a different place with snow at the Rim Lodge still 10+ft high in places. It was cool to see but I didn’t stick around long and headed out. Before heading north again to look for a campsite we stopped at the Rogue River Gorge, a short but slightly-scary canyon where the Rogue River careens through a narrow cut in the rock. It was gorgeous but as always the overlooks made me slightly nervous when looking down into the cauldrons of boiling water beneath me.

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There were few options for campsites with cell service in the area and we ended up at one of the worst and least impressive sites I’ve ever had the misfortune of camping in. Of course in taking the dogs for a walk up the road I found a pretty nice large campsite in some trees but I was already set up and didn’t want to move…it was really only a place to sleep. We left early.

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Our last Oregon stop was at White River Falls State Park, a small recreation area with some interesting history in regards to harnessing hydro-electric power and some pretty waterfalls. It wasn’t a large place but it was a nice place to take a break before heading to a county fairground campground for $10 a night and taking a shower.

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The last couple of days were spent driving back through Washington as I returned to my friends’ place near Olympia to house-sit for two weeks while they were on vacation.

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Exploring Oregon – Bend

The first time I came “through” Bend was in 2015 after my friend’s wedding in Washington. I stopped at Walmart (obviously), didn’t see much beyond your standard large American town and kept driving towards Madras. Apparently this was a mistake…but a mistake made up for by giving me the chance to spend a few days in the town.

I follow a handful of vloggers on YouTube, and one of them “Keep Your Daydream” (well worth watching their videos, they are a lot of fun) raved about Bend when they visited last year. Apparently I had completely missed something on my last trip through.

So, with their love of the town and their raves reviews in my head I had decided to give Bend a few days all to itself on this trip. And I’m glad I did.

I arrived in Bend Wednesday morning after getting a shower in Redmond and immediately followed the signs to the downtown area. I was amazed that I had missed such an amazing place last time, even though I could not then have given it the time it deserved.

My first stop (a must) was to the visitor center where I was given pamphlets for all the off-leash locations around town for dogs, sheets for several recommended hikes and the Bend Ale Trail guide. So much to do, so little time.

Bend, Oregon is famous for its prevalence of great craft breweries and as such the tourism board has put together the Bend Ale Trail that highlights 16 of the microbreweries in the area. The aim is to visit each one and get them to stamp your Ale Trail guide in order to receive a prize at the end. You don’t have to drink at each one, but what is the point of doing an ale trail if you don’t sample the wares?

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I wandered downtown briefly with an armful of papers, sheets and pamphlets but not everything was open and I headed back to the truck. With my stomach grumbling and an hour left on my free 2-hour parking I decided I would pause for an early lunch at McMenamins Old St Francis School Restaurant and Brew Pub. A decent plate of ravioli and a really good red ale is what got me started on the Bend Ale Trail with my first stamp.

With my belly full I went to check out the Old Mill District which is now a large outdoor shopping mall along the Deschutes River. It still retains much of its character and reminded me more of English downtown shopping areas than a US mall. Of course, being me, I had to check out REI…always a bad move if you have a credit card…and I walked out with two dog bowls and some extra tent stakes. (I realized I had bought the same dog bowls already and returned them later). From there we headed to one of the recommended dog parks which was unfortunately closed…we still went in anyway so the dogs could relieve themselves.

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The day I arrived was also the first day of the summer’s Farmer’s Market and I wandered for a bit. It wasn’t large although I suspect it gets bigger as the summer goes on. I did find some raw frozen marrow bones for the dogs which were inexpensive and I got them one each.

By that time it was pretty warm and I did a little research online to find out which of the brew pubs on the ale trail had dog-friendly patios or gardens. So with a couple in mind, and bearing in mind where our chosen campsite for the night would be we checked out Crux Fermentation Project followed by 10 Barrel Brewing. Both beers were good but not as good as the red from the Old St Francis School.

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Bend’s city limits reach almost to the edge of the national forest so it isn’t much of a drive to find a decent camping location. I took a chance on the first right turn I came to and found a decent, albeit slightly busy parking spot that I would use for the rest of my time in Bend. It had limited cell service but with as busy as I had been on my first day in the city I knew it wouldn’t be an issue.

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I took the dogs for a long walk down to the creek where we ran into a few cyclists (Bend is very popular with mountain and road cyclists alike) and then headed back to the truck as dusk started to settle in.

My aim the following morning had been to hike Tumalo Falls, one of the recommended hikes I had been given, but I wasn’t loving the cold and most of the trails were closed to dogs…and the upper falls viewing platform was also closed due to a maintenance issue. So I enjoyed the view of the waterfall from the parking lot and then we headed back into town

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We headed for Walmart to get some groceries, killed more time at one of the dog parks until it reached a decent hour to check out any one of the numerous brew pubs I still had to check out.

I started at Sunriver Brewing Co with a red ale that was one of their award winners…and it was pretty damn good. There was enough shade for the dogs, and the wait staff provided water for the dogs. Sitting in the shade was slightly chilly with the breeze…but better to tolerate that than to overheat, or worse yet drink hot beer.

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From Sunriver I had no particular plan in mind but we paused at the river to let Kye and Cody have a little wander off-leash. Sadly it was pretty busy and I had to keep them close and under tight supervision. We didn’t stay long.

I had seen a used outdoor gear store earlier in the day and wanted to check it out. I pulled into the parking lot and inadvertently pulled into the same parking lot as another pub on the list, Immersion Brewing. It also had a patio and filled bowls of cold water for the dogs. I briefly checked out the outdoor gear store which didn’t have anything I needed, or wanted, and then grabbed the dogs to go have a beer. I loved that so many of these brew pubs were dog friendly.

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By this time it had been a tough decision about which beer to order since I was only trying one per brewery and I had started to ask about the award winners at each place…can’t go wrong if you order the beer that has won awards. At Immersion I ordered their Little Fawn and it was definitely the best tasting beer I had had in a LOOONG time. It truly was amazing. I chatted with an older guy who also had his dog with him and who recommended which places he liked and which places to steer clear from.

From Immersion I headed to Good Life Brewing Company. It had a beer garden very reminiscent of English pub gardens but I had to go inside, without the dogs, to order a beer. A very kind older gentleman offered to hold them for me while I went an got a brew. As always they got lots of compliments when I got back.

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I sat at one of the picnic tables while the dogs dozed and watched a game of cornhole being played by some middle-aged men. By this time a young kid had wandered over, with the normal inquisitiveness of a 2 year old, to pet the dogs. I nodded my consent to the worried parents and told them both Kye and Cody loved kids. It was a great evening spent chatting with the couple and watching the boy feed Kye and Cody with very bland Cheerio-wannabes (I asked the dad to check the ingredients for the dogs’ sake). It was a much needed social evening in the otherwise lonely life I lead on the road.

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Farewells were made, the last few sips of warm beer were downed and I headed back to camp.

The next couple of days were spent doing much the same thing. On Friday I started at Monkless Brewing, a brew pub that specializes in Belgian-style ales only, and enjoyed the company of a very cute 10 week old puppy by the name of Meg. The beer was decent but not as good as I had tried at Sunriver and Immersion. We went to the dog park again (it was open this time) and wandered the massive 14 acres which was huge for a dog park.

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A trip to Boneyard Beer was next although they only have a tasting room and serve only 4oz tasters. The first is free and they are a $ each after the first, or you can try all nine for $8. I tried four for $3. They were good but so far not the best, despite everyone telling me how good they were…maybe I just chose the wrong beer.

Boneyard was followed by Silver Moon Brewing who sadly had a cooling-system malfunction and the only beer available was one of two they had canned. The beer was good and the conversation with the very cute bartender was enjoyable, but sadly not my favorite place.

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I paused in at Deschutes Brewing to get a stamp but did not stop for a beer as I was already familiar with their offering. I had already picked up their mixed 12-pack in stores when I was looking for beer to take to camp (and good beer tastes better warm than other cheap beer). The last stop of the day was Bend Brewing Company where another beer garden played host to myself, the dogs…and their apparent appeal…and I spent the evening talking with four lovely ladies from San Francisco who had come up for the weekend. At this point I was feeling the slight effects from the beer and took a short walk before driving back to camp.

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The last day in Bend was spent buying a couple of pairs of new backpacking trail runners and returning the pair I had bought from REI. I like bright colors on my shoes and the REI pair just weren’t cutting it…too bland. I also checked out Dillon Falls, a rapids-like section of the Deshcutes River off the Cacades Lakes National Scenic Byway.

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I had finished the Bend Ale Trail the day before and headed to the visitor center to claim my prize; a silicone beer mug and Bend Ale Trail window sticker (now in my windshield).

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With not needing to fill the trail guide any more (I wouldn’t make the 16 for the “extra” prize) I decided to return to Immersion Brewing for another Little Fawn. Again it did not disappoint and I still think that it is one of my favorite beers of all time. I could have bought a case of the stuff. Another stop at another dog park and then onward to check out a couple of the breweries on the ale trail I hadn’t tried. I started at Worthy Brewing but wasn’t impressed; the beer was cold but nothing to rave about and the atmosphere just didn’t feel right for a craft brewery. The food looked decent though and they did permit dogs on the patio, and there were certainly a lot of them.

The last place I stopped was at the place that the guy with the dog at Immersion Brewing had said was “shit”. Well I’m glad I didn’t listen as the beer at Cacades Lakes Brewing Company was really good and I caved on my healthy-eating road-trip diet and ordered a fabulous cheeseburger. I also ordered a 6-pack of beer to go which sadly wasn’t as good as the beer I had ordered that was on tap.

And that, in all its alcoholic glory, is Bend. Beautiful scenery, wonderful and friendly people, great trails and outdoors possibilities, and most importantly SO MUCH GOOD BEER.

While the Bend Ale Trail was fun to follow there are many more craft brew pubs and micro breweries in Bend that I didn’t get the chance to check out, but several of the locals certainly recommended others in town that were better than those on the list. For atmosphere and beer gardens I loved Bend Brewing Company and Good Life Brewing the most. As far as beer went my preferences were for Immersion’s “Little Fawn”, Sunriver’s Award-Winning Red and Cascade Lakes IPA (of which I can’t remember the name).

There is so much more to Bend than beer of course but with only so much time and money to spare I made certain decisions about my priorities. I loved Bend and the people and it felt like a small town vs a large-ish city (90,000) since I focused on the downtown and Old Mill districts.