And the Lightning Hasn’t Even Started – the Weber Fire

6pm at Casa Gardiner.  97 degrees, 5% humidity and I think of being head to toe in Nomex, 10″ heavy leather fire boots, humpin’ a 15- pound chainsaw and line gear up the gnarly side of Menefee…hats off to the firefighters out there because it.is.so.goddam.hot.  Heat stroke has to be a serious concern.

The situation is bleak.  No rain since April and nothing but chances of dry lightning in the high country for the foreseeable future.  It’s not hard to imagine why the Anasazi packed up their shit and headed somewhere else if they faced 10 straight years of this nonsense.

Fort Collins got it started with the High Park fire (now at 82,000 acres), Pagosa followed suit with the Little Sand (20,000), and now we have our very own neighborhood scorcher, the Weber Fire.  The Rocky Mountain region just hit the 200,000 milestone and it’s only June.  Colorado is a tinderbox and the burning is just going to get worse.  I’m here to cheer everyone up.

As of this evening (Sunday) the fire is within a 1/4 mile of Highway 160 but ‘in an easily defensible spot’.  Knowing the neighborhood but not having seen the fire up close it would seem they could keep the beast south of the highway but all it takes is one gust of wind to blow something hot across and it’s back to the races.

This is from Deputy Dan Bender via Pam Wilson just now.
From Dan “Here are photos I took Sunday in the subdivision(s) on Rd 46 south of the top of Mancos Hill. One area is in the Elk Stream Ranch section. None of the houses in the photos with flames as close as 80-100 feet were damaged, thanks to not only the work of the ground and air crews but also the great fire mitigation that was done by the home owners when they developed their properties. …
Dan Bender

Much to the credit of the fire crews, luck, and the proactive partnerships with the Forest Service for thinning done in Elk Springs Subdivision, no structures have been  lost yet, which is amazing when you see a towering column and know there are houses in the way.  Same with the Weber Canyon structures.  Again, solid work firefighters.

fire on Menefee Mountain, Mancos, Colorado. Not my picture so please holler at me if it is yours and you want it off this site or credit for it.

We were north for the weekend, in Ridgway and Montrose house-hunting laying in the Uncompahgre River (life support on a 95 degree day) trying to guess what the fire was doing based on the fact that from Ridgway we couldn’t see the mountains in Ouray.  The smoke was thick and the column seemed to be following us.  At one point it bent over the sun and the temperature immediately cooled by 10 degrees (the banner picture).

the IR heat perimeter as of 0300 June 26th

We spent the night in the Ridgway State Park and just gawked in disbelief as 200 little campfires were allowed to burn in the campground, surrounded by nothing but a foot of concrete and then a sea of long-cured grass and flammable tents.  Nothing like a pack of mouth-breathers, a bottle of lighter fluid and a burn ban to make a weekend exciting.  Todd left the keys in the ignition so we could get the hell out of there in a hurry.  Craziness.  Similarly, the fireworks booths are doing what I am sure is a brisk business in Montrose – with the pyrotechnic holiday season just a week away I shudder to think of the coming weeks for my Forest Service peeps.

Time will tell how this year pans out.  I noticed that there is a glimmer of hope building to the south, the red/blue bulges of moisture starting to line up in Mexico.  If we could get a hint of monsoonal moisture without all of the lightning precursors I think we’d all count ourselves very lucky.

let’s root for moisture and not electricity

Fire is nature’s way of keeping the balance.  Humans have complicated the simple nature of that reality.  But it is what it is now and all I can hope during a season like this is that people with vulnerable homes proactively take steps to protect their property and by association protect all of our friends and family out there trying to keep the beast from burning up all of your stuff.  In the meantime, firefighters, I wish you good RH recovery, cooler temps and a kick-ass caterer in camp.

that’s my honey badger chicken. she doesn’t give a shit about the fire. or that cat stalking her

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Categories: Colorado Fires 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

A Brilliant Sort of Different

Image

a lovely change in the status quo

While brilliant blue skies are nothing to complain about, those of us that have been under nothing but take great pleasure in a change of scenery.  Till a big grey one bearing much-needed rain comes over, this lovely bit of sky art will do quite nicely.

Categories: Other Drivel, Photos To Share | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Cornholio Goes Hiking in Desiccated Colorado

If I can impart any wisdom at all to those of you out there dragging children around the earth let this be the one bit you remember:

When visiting Silverton, Colorado and getting yourself an icy cold mocha latte at the fabulous Avalanche Coffee House to chemically bolster your afternoon spirits (because it isn’t quite happy hour), do not let your cherub-faced monster-in-disguise commandeer that drink for any length of time.  You will end up with this on your hands:

Addy?

and you will still have that on your hands at 11 pm, ricocheting off of the interior of your (insert camping dwelling of choice).

Fire, FIRE!

Hey, guess what?  After having done some expert field studies the past two weekends at high elevations where moose and elk are supposed to be frolicking in lush greenness, I have a highly scientific report to make:  If Colorado doesn’t get a shitload of rain soon, the first thunderstorm that rolls through is going to burn the whole state down.  So don’t delay visiting if you want to see the pretty trees.  Anyone remember 2002?  Rodeo-Chedeski, Missionary Ridge, Valley, Hayman?  Mother Nature is throwing a bitchin’ 10-year anniversary party with 120,000 acres burned already.  The governor has gone so far as to implement a state-wide fire ban.

Standing our ground in 2002, the Long Mesa Fire – Charlie Peterson’s photo

While there is currently no nuclear plume out the window (never mind, I am told there is now a mushroom cloud care of the Little Sand fire) here in the SW corner of the state, the only thing missing is an ignition.

so much for no fire

With the humidity bottoming out consistently around 5% and dry hot winds blowing, it is shocking that no one has accidentally lit the place up.  The last time it rained at our house was April 26th; we got a whoppin’ .02″ which followed .07″ April 19th.  The last ‘significant’ rainfall we got was April 15th when we got .23″.  April was a big month…we were the happy recipients of a third of an inch altogether.  2.79″ on the year.  Prime up your sump pumps, people.

the 2002 Long Mesa Fire at Mesa Verde gets after it

Those of us that were living here in 2002 are having flashbacks because it looked just like it does outside today, except that I had two fewer children, was working fire 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, and somehow was still way less tired.  My brother came to visit in 2002, the hottest, driest June in decades and it was miserable – it never got below 90 degrees during the day and even Telluride was unbearable because it was 85 there and none of the shops had air conditioning.  He and his friend had flown into Phoenix and rented a convertible because they were cheaper even than the Ford Fiestas on the lot.  About 10 seconds into the 110-degree Phoenix heat they quickly realized why.   He has been reluctant to repeat the trip ever since.

Hurry up and go stare at the wildflowers…they’re a month early

So, anxious to put the desiccation problem out of sight, out of mind, we headed up to Silverton and the South Mineral campground for the weekend.  We decided Friday morning on this plan and then maniacally starting throwing crap into the back of the pickup.  It reminded me why I love backpacking; every time we car camp it looks like we’re never coming back home.

what it basically looks like when we go car camping

For all the STUFF we managed to bring, in our haste to get out the door we forgot to pack the camera, two pillows and two sleeping bags.  For a family that owns 8 sleeping bags that was mildly humorous.  Kind of.  Luckily the tenement on wheels had two big thick comforters in it so no one froze to death.  I don’t want to talk about the camera part.

the Silverton Gun Fight – loud bangs are seriously annoying

We spent Friday evening in Silverton, Addy chugging a double shot of espresso, me hating the gun fight thing (you’d think I had some serious PTSD issues…I about shit my pants every time they shot their guns which was approximately 1,000 times).  Ugh.  Get me out of there.  We saw the train off, filled the kids full of ice cream (because who doesn’t love the science experiment of ice cream and espresso in a 3 year old?) and then went to visit the cool mining and historical museum.  There was something quite satisfying about putting the children in the old jail that is there. They’ve only called once; I choose to believe it’s because they’re settling in nicely and not because that was their one and only phone call.

WAY better than a naughty bench though not terribly soundproof

Todd with his ole ball ‘n chain

We hiked up the Ice Lake Basin trail on Saturday, soaking up the cloud cover that threatened to mist the area.  Alas, though it snowed on us a bit, little if anything made it all the way to the ground.  The wildflowers appear to be peaking about a month early and are pretty thin.  The ground at 11,500′ is NOT supposed to crunch when you walk on it.  Just sayin’.

my favorite flower, the green gentian as taken by Maisy’s iTouch

We didn’t make it all the way to the upper lake this time but this is what it looks like:  Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

Ice Ice (Lake) Baby

In the evening I talked the family into bouncing down the Rico-Silverton trailhead road to an old mine so that I could bang on some rocks.  I know nothing about rock-hounding, had no idea what I was looking for or what I was doing.  Todd loves my ignorance-driven projects.  But after a while I started seeing rocks that were different from the rest, whacked them with the butt end of my axe and lo and behold, found some fun stuff, crystals and gold and silver flakes.  Maisy got into the act and seemed to like slugging rocks as much as I did.  Hey, what kid doesn’t love a good treasure hunt?

pretty treasures

little sparkly chunks of gold!

Categories: Camping with Kids, Hiking, Hiking with Kids, Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Xanax, 2 Eviscerated Mice and A Picnic at 12,000′

Our house went on the market this week and with that came the reality of the maddening effort it will take to leave the house every day looking like no one actually lives in it.  And hey, a 3 and an 8 year old can fully absorb the situation and will pitch in in an effort to keep me from going insane, right?  Someone please just shoot me now.

It was a week where our kittens had a coming of age ceremony whereby we were each presented with our own maimed but very much alive field mouse, a week of juggling two kids casting about in the black hole between when school ends and summer programs begin, a week where I planted 20 of what are likely going to be someone else’s tomatoes and a week that was so stressful that a friend took one look at me and very seriously offered up her Xanax.  Stress and I are unfamiliar bedfellows; I wear it poorly.

However, with this totally crap week in the rear-view mirror and a perfect Colorado day on tap (although we’re starting to redefine perfect around here with the need for rain becoming quite pronounced), oh, and having to be out of my house between 9:30 and 11am so that it could be shown, I figured what better way to waste away a Saturday than to take the girls and go on a nice relaxing picnic.

still snow, but it’s sublimating quickly

Yeahhh…picnics…the only problem is that parks are not my scene.  Pushing my kid on a swing is fun for about 8 seconds.  In 92 degree heat maybe 2 seconds.  Sue me.  Instead we stuffed the pack full of junk food and down jackets, vacuumed the rug AGAIN and ran screaming out the door with 5 minutes to spare.  We threw the neglected dog in the truck and pointed it east towards Sharkstooth Pass, another one of those benign local favorites that gets you big giggles for your buck if you can find your way to the trailhead.

examining every bug, rock and molecule of dirt takes time

The most entertaining part of the day was negotiating the blind curves on the forest road heading up to Sharkstooth.  Each one came factory-installed with mouth-breathing, helmet-less idiots doing 50mph on the wrong side of the road on their ATVs.  Listen, I’m driving a Tundra.  I’m probably not going to FEEL you under my tires if your normally cat-like reflexes are dulled by your day-after Schlitz headache and the grace of the divine timing intervention that has kept you alive to this point fails.  I’ll just think it’s another bumpy washboard moment and continue on to my picnic.  And yet still you test that fate, large, soft-headed person coming around every corner through blinding, choking dust on your little machine.  Luckily for you, today was your day.  On two occasions I did the math and with 3-4 seconds of head-start, if I had not let Addy buckle her own belt and been on that road 3 seconds earlier, I would probably be cleaning your teeth out of my radiator and be up to my eyeballs in aggravating paperwork right now.

look, they’re not fighting

Anyhoo…

Having avoided vehicular homicide as something to cross off of my bucket list, we finally got to the last turn to the trailhead, a punishing mile and a half of  ‘road’ that you really only want to attack with a high clearance vehicle or a rental car.  Once upon a time I took my Matrix up there when it still had new car sticker residue on the window.  And it made it just fine, thank you.  I only lost one plastic piece but the nice person behind me stopped and picked it up and handed it to me at the trailhead.  Hey, I had to test the mettle of the thing.  Todd considers it a defining moment of what he was going to have to deal with till death do us part.

big air in the shadow of mighty Hesperus

It’s a measly 2 miles from the trailhead to the pass.  Getting to the trailhead is far more trying than the hike.  Even with a 3 year old.  The girls were in a good mood other than having to walk up a hill instead of being pushed on a swing.   Maisy hikes like an adult.  Her legs are already longer than mine (not a huge feat, so are the legs of most 8 year olds).  Addy hikes like a 3 year old.  She likes to really examine things.  She likes to wax poetic about the efforts of going uphill.  They both REALLY wanted to know where the lunch spot was going to be and if we were getting closer.  The answer is always yes, we’re getting closer.  It’s noncommittal.

taunting the dog is a marmot olympic sport

27 animal, fairy and dinosaur stories and a social marmot later we came to the pass where the wind was blowing at about 30mph.  We ducked into the lee side, covered ourselves in down and kicked back to enjoy the view.  A nice couple came to the top  a bit later and marveled that there was a 3 year old there.  The girls and I just looked at each other and laughed.  Please, sister.  This ain’t nothin’.  This is a walk to a picnic, not a hike.  She asked Addy ‘How did you get up here young lady?’ Addy smiled and looked at me.  I told the nice lady that a helicopter had dropped us off and would be back to pick us up momentarily.  Right on cue a helicopter (that we hadn’t seen yet in the day) came roaring up from the south.  I just smiled, pointed and said ‘see, there they are now’.  I think they walked away believing we were using a helicopter to get around the San Juans.

a raven fighting a dragon, according to Maisy. See it?

We lingered longer than usual with, luxuriously, nothing to rush off to and soaked up the sun as the kids licked every molecule of food out of the baggies.  For some reason they continued to choose to not spend the time efficiently trying to kill each other.  We grudgingly ducked back into the wind and started down after about an hour of being lazy.  Gravity is the friend of all children hikers and I gleefully hiked full-stride to keep up.  The only price to pay was making train noises all the way down the hill (as demanded by Addy).  Being last I had to invent the noise that a caboose makes.  Use your imagination.

sister snuggles at 12,000. still not trying to kill each other. maybe the lack of oxygen is a good thing

That’s all she wrote.  No burned limbs, no screeching hissy fits, just a beautiful day in the mountains.  Todd’s foot is about healed up enough where we might get out for a backpacking trip next weekend and create more Scarred for Life family memories.

look they’re TOUCHING each other and not crying

Categories: Hiking, Hiking with Kids | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Series of Fortunate and Unfortunate Events at Navajo Lake

May 19th, 2012  –  5pm Navajo Lake, Lizard Head Wilderness elevation: 11,155′         

“Maisy.” I find her in the tent.  “If we have to hike out of here can you suck it up and get it done?”  She doesn’t hesitate for a second and looks me in the eye.  “Yes.”

That’s my girl.  With that I start packing up the giant mess we had made only an hour earlier at our 11,150′ campsite, scrambling to get tents, sleeping bags, pads, kitchen stuff…god there was shit EVERYWHERE…stuffed back in the backpacks.  Did all of that gear really fit in our packs?  Somewhere in there I even found a few seconds to heat up another cup of water to finish the cooking process on our Backpacker’s Pantry-sponsored dinner knowing that if we all didn’t eat something before hightailing back down the trail, it was not going to be pretty.  Hurried eating and packing complete, Todd and the girls started down the trail while I filtered enough water to get back to the truck.

Hiking up the Navajo Lake trail

It had been an unnecessarily rough day already.  Picture-perfect weather after a cold front had come through opened up the high country with just a few scattered clouds and so we decided to pack up and head out for an overnighter at Navajo Lake in the Lizard Head wilderness.  This is one of those great local hikes that gets you into beautiful territory quickly.  That’s not to say it isn’t a little bit of a butt-kicker but it’s so beautiful you (kind of) forget about those wretched switchbacks towards the end.  We hoped that the snow was gone enough to reach the lake.

the Lizard Head Wilderness welcomes you. even you, Addy.

The kids were…challenging…from the minute they woke up, screeching and fighting about stupid crap and then carried that onto the trail where Addy decided the payback for all of the wrongs ever inflicted upon her (you know, like when Maisy wouldn’t let her use the red marker and when I told her she couldn’t have popsicles for breakfast) was to hike .074 miles per hour.  Husband’s note: Although Addy’s pace may at times seem incredibly slow, that little kid averaged 1.4 miles per hour over 5 miles with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. She’s a tough and strong little monster.  Wife’s note: Note the use of the word MONSTER.  She was in a bad mood, taking great pleasure in torturing her sister, perfecting her whine…all with an accompanying evil grin.  Hey, I get that she’s 3, and a pretty amazing 3 year old at that.  On this day she was exercising her right to be a very challenging 3.  Lunch time brought a momentary reprieve; food seems to improve everything, at least for a few minutes.

momentarily placated with calories, the girls get big air at lunch

I have gotten so used to the kids being awesome on hikes that this scene caught me off-guard and I immediately began to question the madness of the August Wonderland Trail trip.

ah, those lovely switchbacks

I always assume moments like these present themselves for a reason.  Anyway, we inched onward, upward.  We invented a jelly bean hiding game whereby Maisy and Todd hiked out ahead and left jelly beans along the trail for Addy to find.  This helped pick up the pace.  At long last, after putting together enough baby steps, we finally arrived 2200′ higher at the lake.  Even on the best days this is a tough hike for a kid, but they did it.

Once camp was set up Addy proceeded to use the brand new, decidedly delicate-seeming Big Agnes tent and my sleeping pad as a bouncy castle.   Every time I asked her to stop she just grinned and invented new ways to make me crazy.  The kids didn’t want to wander around and explore; they just wanted to eat non-stop which I am coming to find out the hard way must be accounted for (a fourth meal) in backpacking trips.  On top of that the heat of the sun would start to overheat everyone just enough that we’d peel off layers and then a cloud would come by and drop the temperature by what felt like 60 degrees.  We were a grouchy hot mess, and in such a picture-perfect setting.  I said I’d be honest in this blog.  There you have it – it ain’t always pretty.

room with a view

Hoping that yet more hiking would distract the kids, we walked down to the lake.  No one wanted to go swimming which I thought was too bad since it would have made for great pictures what with the giant chunks of ice in it.  Todd continued around the lake while I brought the kids back up to camp and immediately remanded them to their own corners.  I started making dinner as everyone was hypoglycemic from the militaristic rationing of food (something completely foreign to the Gardiner household…we’re enthusiastic eaters) – again, lesson LEARNED.  More food.  Got it.

Navajo Lake, by Todd

Todd returned from his Happy Moments Away from the Bickering Children and Wife About to Lose Her Mind, I pointed to the boiling water, grabbed the camera and started up the rocky scree slope above camp.  I had been gone all of 5 minutes when Maisy started yelling something.  Finally the wind brought it up to me clearly.  “Dad is HURT we need you NOW he burned his LEG”.  I see Todd in a snowbank trying to put out the heat from the boiling water.  When I finally made it down I saw that skin was shedding from his ankle.  Not good.

So it’s 6pm, we’re all tired and hungry.  There is shit everywhere.  Todd’s leg is melting and feeling really pretty horrible and we have to make the decision – wait this out till tomorrow morning or get the hell out of there.  The only good news is that the 5 long-ass miles in to the lake are all uphill.  We had gravity on our side on the way out and Maisy said she could do it.  Addy didn’t have a choice…I was going to haul her ass out of there but really I think she was so taken with the idea that this situation meant she could sleep in her bed and wake up to cartoons and have a popsicle somewhere in there.  What’s to complain about?

beautiful Maisy

We decided that poor Todd wasn’t going to be able to sleep, we didn’t have a huge pile of clean dressings, and the last thing I wanted was a 175-pound immobile, feverish husband at 11,000′.  I’m strong, but I’m not that strong.  So I stuffed spoonfuls of food into the girls while helping Todd wrap up his burn with goods from the added-at-the-last-minute first aid kid, he shoved the rest of the gear in his pack and we were out of there.

After I finished filtering water I looked up and saw that Todd and the girls were still just 200′ away and of course wondered why they weren’t a half mile down the trail.  When I caught up I found Todd talking with the only other campers there, a group of guys that had been up on the 14ers in the neighborhood that day.  One of them volunteered to help shoulder the load down the trail for a while.  Unfortunately for poor Tim, I am at a point in my life where I no longer stubbornly refuse any and all help and so I tossed him my pack, put Addy on my shoulders and we started cruising down the hill.  I let him follow us down the trail for about a half an hour and then begged him to return up the hill.  Without his help up and over that first hump we probably wouldn’t have made it back to the truck before dark.  As it was, the four of us got back to the trailhead right at 9pm as the last usable light had disappeared.  We had headlamps, of course, but that just complicates things when you are trying to dodge little creeks, snow drifts, rocks and giant bunnies on the trail.  Headlamps make you feel completely separated from reality which is not good when hungry, exhausted and in pain.  Or a child.  Anyway, thanks Tim.  It was the perfect amount of help at the end of an already long day for you and we are thankful.

the fading light of day on the evac hike out

There is a silver lining of course, besides finding a really nice person who was willing to help – walking out of there at twilight meant getting to see critters…I was just waiting for a big old black bear to really make the night interesting.  But instead we came across elk in one of the meadows, got to see the last light of day light up the mountains in their most glorious and got to witness the greatness both of our kids possess.

a crappy picture of elk in evening meadows

There was not a single complaint in that 2 1/2 hours of evac – Maisy put in a solid 10-mile day and Addy hiked at least a mile or two of the way out giving her a solid high-altitude 6.5-7 miles.  No meanness, no whining, no nothing – amazingly they just knew what had to be done and did it.  Todd mentioned that maybe in the future he would just pour boiling water on himself before every hike.  Maisy got into the truck in the darkness with a huge sense of accomplishment as well she should.  That kid is amazing.

mini-me

But here is the final dilemma.  Within a matter of 4 hours I went from total insanity to total awe of what our kids were able to do when they had to.  Our packs are down to 30 pounds including water, food for two days, magazines, beer and wine and we figured out that, when we need to, we can haul gear AND 38 pound Addy up and down hills.  No problem.  Was there a little adrenaline involved?  Sure.  But we are strong and stubborn and that’s a good combo.  So I guess we’ll continue to assess the whole Wonderland thing.

a bit of a post script -it’s 12:30am and Todd just called from the emergency room (he was able to drive himself down there) and they found his burn to be substantial enough for some follow-up treatment.  Apparently he’ll do just about anything to earn a few guilt-free hours in his chair watching golf.  Here is what it looks like today (the next day).  Nasty.  Glad we hiked out.

gross. anything to get out of making dinner, I swear

Lessons learned this time around:

so glad I put that good first aid kit in at the last second.  we’ll never be remiss about packing one again

when it seems like I’m packing too much food I’m going to add another 2 pounds

hiking sticks make awesome crutches.  glad to have a pair along in this case

occasionally my kids kick some serious ass.   my husband is a pretty tough creature himself.  I mean seriously…look at that mess.  ugh.

Categories: Backpacking, Backpacking with Kids, Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Gear Review: the Six Moon Design Lunar Duo

Here we go with tent #3, the Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo.  When I read on Brett’s Blog that four grown men were able to sit in this tent playing cards while riding out a rain storm on the Wonderland Trail I had to see it in person.   Especially since it comes in at under three pounds (41 oz without stakes or poles).  It does require 4-6 stakes so add another couple of ounces if you’re counting.  Another 4 oz if you’re not using hiking poles and want to buy the optional carbon fiber poles.

This tent is able to deliver massive interior space by using only two small spacer poles curving at the roof and relying on two hiking poles (or optionally two carbon fiber poles that can be purchased separately for those that don’t hike with poles) to be the bones of the tent.

Similar to the Double Rainbow this is a single-walled tent meaning that the mesh sides are sewn directly into the silicon-nylon roof.  It has a bathtub floor, gets staked out at the corners and by adjusting the height of the trekking poles you can create tension where you need it instead of with your tent-mate since there is enough room for the whole family.  You will likely want to add a few guy lines to this set-up; there are two guy points from which you can add some stability.

While the Lunar Duo doesn’t have a porch option like the Double Rainbow, it does have vestibules on each side large enough for gear.  I would be curious to know how this sheds water and wind with its surface area being so large, but it is the same surface area that creates such a huge and comfortable interior so I guess there are tradeoffs.  With good staking there is no reason to doubt that this tent can hold up to quite a bit of abuse.  Again, a great comparison review has been done of this tent and two others here.  All in all this seems like a fantastic option for claustrophobic backpackers who want to make everyone around them envious of their living space.

Cost: (as of May 18th, 2012) the Tent is $310, optional carbon fiber poles are $30 each, optional seam sealing is $30, a Tyvek ground cloth is $12, and a set of 6 stakes is $10.50

Preliminary Pros

Massive.  No complaints about the size of this tent.  It is the largest of the three reviewed.

Easy to set up once you get the hang of it.

The zippers are the sturdiest (#5s) of any of the three tents.

Made in the USA

Preliminary Cons

Unless you have good firm dirt to plant your stakes in, keeping it tensioned might be a problem.  I guess that’s where rocks come in.

Relies on hiking poles or extra carbon fiber poles which add to the weight by about 4 oz.

Click HERE for my review of the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2

Click HERE for my review of the Tarp Tent Double Rainbow

Categories: Backpacking, Backpacking with Kids, Gear | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gear Review: the Tarptent Double Rainbow

I found this tent via Brettonstuff.com (a great site for ultralight backpacking tips and trip reports from the NW) who mentioned the Lunar Duo in a Wonderland Trail trip report (my review of the Lunar Duo).  His mention of the Lunar Duo led me to THIS website which does a way better job of reviewing the Lunar Duo and Double Rainbow than I will here.  Why reinvent the wheel?  I’ll just add my 2 cents.

Tarptent has been lightening the loads of backpackers since 1999 and they are still a cottage industry gear supplier; all tents are made in Seattle.  The Double Rainbow is their mid-sized two person tent and, in my humble opinion, brilliantly designed.  It has one pole that runs lengthwise in an arc, through a sleeve.

With the four corners staked out it is just about set up.  Two vestibules on either side have the options of being simply tied up for maximum air flow on beautiful days, staked out for vestibule area, or set up with hiking poles into a porch option.  Two doors make getting in and out easy and the interior feels positively palatial compared to the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 (my review is here).  6’2″ Todd was much happier in this tent; plenty of extra length in it.

The floor is a rectangle instead of the tapered design of the Big Agnes.  Here is a shot of the Big Agnes footprint laid on top of the Double Rainbow floor for comparison.  While it doesn’t look like a big difference, those 4-6 extra inches in width at the foot SEEM like a lot.  Maybe it’s the mammoth head room that helps complete the feeling of grandeur.

We ordered the extra liner – not sure how it will work once we’re camping in condensation-making parts of the country but it’s a 4 oz piece of nylon that clips into the corners and along the ridge to form a second wall in a single wall tent.  It adds warmth in the winter and I can attest to it cutting down on the heat from direct sun as when I was setting this thing up it felt like it was probably 150 degrees out.  I’m sure it was more like 78 but my comfort zone is pretty small.  Ask Todd, I do a lot of bitching.  Anyway, once the liner was clipped in it was noticeably cooler in the tent. The liner is decidedly hard to illustrate with a picture but here is a shot of part of it:

The two vestibules and doors are a slam dunk for me.  Camping with kids means they’re ALWAYS moving, having to pee in the middle of the night, spreading their stuff everywhere.  With their own side to get in and out of and a patch of vestibule to keep their stinky socks and shoes so they’re not right in MY face…perfect.  Here is a shot of the profile, vestibule staked on the left, porch out on the right:

And this porch option, how cool is that?  Allows for great airflow, lets you open up the view in a light drizzle…if you’re hiking with trekking poles this is an easy sell.  If not you can certainly guy the porch out with a couple of sticks.  A triangular piece of fabric attaches the two vestibule triangles with velcro to create the porch.  You’ll need a couple of extra guy lines to stake it out from the hiking sticks.

One last cool thing they’ve done is allow you to use your hiking poles in order to make this a free-standing tent.  It should be noted that not all hiking poles will be long enough (my superlight Leki Makalu’s were a few inches too short).  I remedied this by taking the pole repair sleeve from another tent and putting it on the tip of the hiking pole to extend it to the required length.  It didn’t make for the strongest option but would work in a pinch.  With proper length poles, which we had a set of in the garage, it was sturdier.  It isn’t as good an option as staking the tent out but it is there when you need it, if you have hiking sticks.  Options are good.

All in all I think that this tent will prove to be my favorite.  It feels solid when set up, doesn’t require hiking poles, has great doors and vestibule room and is enormous on the inside compared to the Big Agnes.

Tent Specs:

Tent body, pole and 6 Easton stakes: 41 oz or 2 lbs 9 oz

Clip in liner: 4 oz

2 extra stakes: 1 oz

2 extra guy lines: 1 oz

total weight that we will be carrying: 2 lbs 15.8 oz

Cost: (as of May 18th, 2012) Tent is $275, the Liner is $30, they’ll seam-seal it for you for $30, you can buy a Tyvek ground sheet for $12

Preliminary Pros

Roomy.  Long.  Vestibules. Porch.  Etc.  It rules.

Super easy to set up

Made in the USA

Preliminary Cons

Hmm…

I’ll work on thinking of one.  I guess we’ll see how it does when we get into humidity, but I’m hoping the liner will help with that.

OO, I thought of one.  It’s slippery as a greased-up pig.  Getting it back into the stuff-sack was the hardest part of this experiment!  I can live with that.

Click HERE for my review of the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2

Click HERE for my review of the Six Moon Design Lunar Duo

Categories: Backpacking, Backpacking with Kids, Gear | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gear Review: the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 tent

In our efforts to significantly reduce pack weights we have been systematically sending bricks of cash to various gear-makers in exchange for shaving pounds off of our current stash.  Choosing two tents for the four of us has been an interesting hunt and revealed that a lot has changed in the tent universe since I last cared about how much one weighed.

The Walrus Swift that I used in ’97 was a great little tent, but from what I remember that little bitty 1- person tent weighed 3 1/2 pounds.  This time around the goal was to get two 2-person tents under 3lbs each.  Here is the first of 3 preliminary reviews (read: we haven’t started beating the crap out of these things yet) of tents that are in house and under consideration:

The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2

This is the only one of the three tents that is a traditional double-walled tent, meaning it has the standard mesh/floor body and a separate fly.  It weighs in at 2lbs 10oz with 10 stakes and guys.  The ground sheet adds another 4oz (and $40) so we’ll put the total at 2lbs 14.8oz.  They list the minimum weight as 2lbs 2oz but honestly, I have no idea how on earth they’re cutting out 8oz.  It has one hubbed pole that, when connected, is in a Y-shape;  this shape allows for a ‘freestanding’, if not totally ideal, option.  Yes, it will stand up by itself without stakes but two stakes are necessary in the foot of the tent to make it liveable.  Here is what it looks like in freestanding mode; you can see how the hiney end needs a little stake help.

The fly attaches to the corners with buckle clips and to the tent body itself so that when the sides are guyed out, the tent is also pulled taught.  Good design.  The vestibule is just barely big enough for one pack and maybe a couple pairs of boots but don’t plan to set your lawn chair up in it.  I’m not sure that you could successfully get two packs in it either but then putting two adults in this tent would be equally tight.  Our plan for this tent was for Addy and I to use it.  Addy is 3 years old and I am 5’6″ which leaves enough room INSIDE the tent for my pack.  Todd (6’2″) found the tent too short; technically he fit in it but his feet were brushing the end of the tent uncomfortably.  Here are 2 78″ long pads to give you an idea of the interior size:

Yes, we have gotten our money’s worth out of that old z-rest.  The other thing to consider, if you are thinking about using this tent for 2 people, is that it only has one door and whatever is in the vestibule will be between you and the exit.  If it’s raining and you have wet nasty gear the vestibule, this will be a pain in the ass.

When you buy the ground cloth you have the additional option of ditching the tent body and just using the fly.  This could be a good lightweight option where bugs or sideways rain are not a concern.  Here is a shot of the pole/footprint set-up before the fly is on and then the view from inside once the fly is up:

All in all this seems like a good little tent and may just work for wee Addy and I.  Because it is lightweight I am sure that durability, both in materials and zippers, is not that of your standard issue canvas hunting tent and only time will tell how it stands up to the abuse of family chaos.

Tent specs (using my scale):

Tent body 14.5oz

Tent fly  11.8oz

Stakes (10 titanium with stuff sack)  and pole repair sleeve 4.6oz

Pole  10.7oz

Footprint 5.4oz

Total weight whole tent (with all stakes)  2lb 14.8oz

Total weight fly-footprint option (5 stakes)  24.5oz or 1lb 8.5oz

Cost: (as of May 18th, 2012) Retails for $369 but saw it recently at REI for $269 on sale.  You can find the footprint for $40 out there.

Preliminary Pros:

Traditional 2-wall design may mean less condensation should we actually go somewhere where things condense.

Sturdy design with the most pole of all three choices.

The tent-body-free option could be great in bug-free, nicer-than-miserable weather situations.

Preliminary Cons:

Least amount of interior space of all three tents.  Two good-sized adults will be tight.

Small vestibule

Only one door

The zippers seem awfully dainty.  I guess we’ll see how they hold up.  This tent will probably not be allowed in Utah where Sand Destroys Everything.

Not made in the US as the other two are

**We’ll report back after seeing what this tent can handle under the tender, gentle care of a 3 year old.

Click HERE for the review of the Tarp Tent Double Rainbow Review

Click HERE for the review of the Six Moon Design Lunar Duo Review

Categories: Backpacking, Backpacking with Kids, Gear | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The April 2012 Bluff to Mexican Hat San Juan River Trip

April 20th-22nd                                                   *underlined bits are links!

This float is a neighborhood favorite, one we first did in a canoe (aka DIVORCE BOAT) before children, then in a borrowed raft, and finally many times in our own floating dirigible.  Kid 1 came along and we strapped her tiny screaming butt into a straight-jacket PFD or into a car seat hog-tied to the front deck, noting happily that, with every consecutive year, the screaming seemed to decrease.  Five years later I was talked into kid 2 and we started the process all over again.  Now they’re both Cool, content to run off and play with their other boater-trash kid-friends, wallowing waste-deep in putrid river quicksand for hours at a time.  The dues have been paid; please pass the gin.

The Kid Crew on the Windy Trip – hardy little farts, these kids

This trip starts in Bluff, Utah, a tiny outpost at the edge of the back of beyond, destination for the San Juan Expedition of Mormon settlers who had an almost surreal journey of suffering to reach that remote corner of the universe.  Once they got to Bluff, starving and exhausted, some of their crew was told ‘Sorry, you’re not done yet – you actually have to get all the way to Montezuma Creek.’  Local people will feel the pity in that one.

A memorable moment on the river a few years ago was sitting at Cottonwood camp one night while a member of our group read from the journal compilations of that journey.  There, around a fire, in the shadow of Comb Ridge a quarter mile away from where the Mormon trail was hacked into the sandstone in the last push up and out of the canyon..well, it’s humbling to be so close to such a heartbreaking story of sheer determination.  Anyhoo…

No suffering here – I did note that the stuffed animal brought rafting was 1/4 the weight and size of the stuffed animal that came BACKPACKING

We are lucky to live in a time where visiting Comb Ridge and the San Juan river involves no suffering beyond keeping kids full of granola bars and piloting non-aerodynamic watercraft through 60 mph headwinds (which we have done and survived with minimal suffering, not that it is something I would outright recommend).  Happily we seem to have filled the karma cash register on that trip and enjoyed sheer weather perfection this time around.  And hey, there was only one large dead (or very sleepy) animal on this stretch.  Things were peachy.

River House on the River Juan – I can hear the Ancient One Mom now – IF I HAVE TO TELL YOU KIDS ONE MORE TIME NOT TO PAINT ON THE WALLS

With Todd’s mom along we had three generations of crazy in the boat and a second boat filled with the fabulous Baldwin family.  Good company makes for happy times.  The river can be run as low as 400 in a raft – we have run it anywhere from 500 to 5000 but on this day it was 600 cfs, an easy flow with no winds to battle, a flow that floats you upstream Lewis and Clark-style with winds whispering by at 10 mph.  Again, we lucked out with the most windless 3 days I’ve ever spent on the San Juan.

Lime Ridge camp at sunrise

We made a stop at the always lovely River House and then floated down to Lime Ridge camp where the children immediately immersed themselves in spa-like mud treatments and set up a Kids Club where Parents Are Not Allowed.  Perfect.

I hear stinky river quicksand muck is great for the pores

Ok, you two create a diversion – Maisy, go zip your head in the tent! and we’ll grab the donut holes. Meet back here in 5.

The kids are so used to this trip and each other that there was shockingly little to report in terms of Testy Moments.  Oh, except when Maisy started wailing as the sun was setting.  I held out hope that she was just super-sad that the sun was leaving for the day.  No such luck –  I looked over to see her standing in the tent, asked her what she needed and she hollered that she needed ME.  Now.  Turns out she had zipped her head quite effectively into the tent zipper.  I successfully resisted the urge to take a picture.

More bling than Mr. T

It was a great trip for animal sitings – the usual suspects were there – blue herons, bighorn sheep, lizards everywhere…but also lesser-seen animals this time around – a white-faced ibis (or a black curve-billed bird, anyway), egret, a big toad, snake, a  flock of turkeys and best of all a herd of wild horses that were gridding the area around our camp.  At one point they went galloping past full tilt.  I know that wild horses cause ‘resource damage’  or whatever but it really is something mystical to see wild horses being wild horses.  Kelly got a great video of them tearing past camp.  I love Zane’s reaction – WOW, so cool.  Man this is a good sandwich.  Awesome.

I call this one if the Pringles run out

the pure darkness of a new moon night in SE Utah

The kids all but put themselves to bed after having over-expended all of the energy gleaned from piles of garbage food only found on rafting trips.  We adults settled back in our chairs to gape at the new moon night sky.  It never gets old, even living in one of the darkest corners of the country.

Day two was a leisurely float in perfect conditions once again, just hot enough to jump into the icy waters, screaming like an injured peacock every time.  It takes a great deal of bullying and insult-hurling to get me into the water when that water is 50 degrees.  But the sun was hot, even if the water definitely was not.  The kids?  I have no idea what temperature water would start to affect them.  Something way lower.  Maybe with ice floes floating past.

Todd employing the Baldwin Escape Pod

The inner canyon  is a lovely place to waste a day as the walls rise up and close you into an inner world of of tranquility only broken up by the unmitigated volume of children engaged in mortal water combat.  The boats bumped along, exchanging smallish passengers back and forth as we searched for bighorn and headed for 8-Foot camp to start the hunt for where happy hour was to be held.  The 8-Foot neighborhood was totally deserted so we set up our migrant camp and within minutes had the place looking as though we’d been living there for months.  Immediately a bunch of bighorn came down to see what the ruckus was about; they lingered, surprisingly, for half an hour, posing for pictures and seemingly immune to the murderous shrieking of four happy kids.

the river tribe

Evening at 8-foot is always lovely, the gin and the bats came out (what is it about bats that you unavoidably picture one flying into your hair?), the children slowed down just long enough to get them into dry clothes, stuff them full of non-junk food for dinner and pack them away.  They sleep.  And sleep.  And sometimes sleep until I have eaten a leisurely breakfast and had two cups of coffee and packed up everything in the tent that they’re not on top of.  A good sign that life has been had to its fullest.

sleeping in at 8-foot

All that was left to do was float on through the narrows, have Todd bully me into rowing the World’s Heaviest Oars through Ledge ‘rapid’, polish off what was left of the Pringles and go through the anti-climatic process of disassembling the mess for the ride home.  It was one of those weekends that makes you appreciate how lovely life can be, at least until the groover clean-out.  🙂

Mexican Hat – the end is near

Lovely claret cup, official flower of the Desert in Spring

Smile

Categories: Rafting, Rafting with Kids, Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Gear Review – The Osprey Jib for kids

The Osprey Jib – A Serious Backpack for Kids

I’m not sure why companies like Osprey make real backpacks for kids.  I don’t imagine that the quantities sold can justify the R&D and production but maybe I’m wrong.  Whatever reason they have for doing it, I am grateful because there is nothing that will submarine a backpacking trip with a kid faster than a crappy pack on their backs.

If you’re thinking about taking your kid backpacking here is my advice: get them a REAL backpacking pack, not a suped-up book bag, not a Justin Bieber Walmart special…buy something made by a company that makes the backpacks that YOU would wear.

The Osprey Jib and Ace are essentially full-featured, miniature versions of an adult pack with a frame, contoured air space to keep the pack off of your kids’ back, and a hipbelt that is real, adjustable and essential.  It has a whistle built into the sternum buckle (important for any hiking kid), a built-in rain cover and a stuff-it pouch handy for that stuffed animal that is coming along whether you approve it or not.

It’s lightweight, tough, well-designed and my kid likes wearing it.  Thumbs up, Osprey.

Categories: Backpacking with Kids, Gear, Kids' Gear | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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