Posts Tagged With: hiking

Stories for my Kids – Hitchhiking with a Gun-Totin’ Cajun

From the ‘Check it Out – Momma Has Always Been Batshit Crazy’ chronicles, this new series is born of a desire to put a face on Who I Was Before I Was A Mom for my kids so that some day, when I’m an old crazy person with a bad reputation of being The Troublemaker at the Home for Cool Old Folks, my kids will be forced to remember that I wasn’t always old and gumming stewed yams.

In 1997 I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  Most of you know this for, as long ago as it was, it was one of those deeply affecting sort of things that to this day I still can’t help but blather on about.  Too many amazing things happened on that trip to not want to share them once in a while.  This is one of those stories:

A little backstory – the AT is a 2180 or so mile-long trail that goes from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME, or vice-versa if you happen to be going south-bound.  At 25 I found myself on this trail hauling a 35 pound pack 15-30 miles a day.  It is a grueling trek, not in the ‘escaping a gulag and hiking 4000 miles across barren tundra with no gear and no food’ sort of way but in a deliberate, acutely, frivolously American sort of way.  It’s physically and mentally challenging, facing day after day of hard hiking in all kinds of weather, whether you want to or not.  Because failure is not an option.  It’s like going to work with a lot more calorie burning.

As you plod along you hit roads, many of which hold the promise of taking you into happy little towns that abound with Places that Sell Food.  You can only carry so much, you see, so regular trips into these towns is a necessity.  You get into these towns, down these interrupting roads, by sticking your thumb out and hoping for the best.

Now, as a woman hiking the trail alone you’d think that I would have had more opportunities to take my solo female chances at road crossings, and yet when I came to the road that would deliver me into Waynesboro, Virginia, it was one of the few times I found myself alone in the venture.  It is a very social trail and you often find yourself in good company at such an intersection.  Alas, I hit the road without  my crew, stuck my thumb out and waited.

The first vehicle that came by pulled over.  I watched dubiously as the world’s oldest running pick-up lurched to the side of the road and rolled to a stop.  I walked up to it like a kid turning the knob on a jack-in-the-box and took off my pack to throw in the back.  As I did so I went to climb in after it when this crazy little toothless cajun guy got out of the passenger side and screeched ‘NO GIT IN THE FRONT!’  I blinked at him and said ‘oh no thank you sir, I’m happy to ride in the back’  you know, so that killing me is that much more of a logistical problem.  He said adamantly ‘GIT.IN.THE.FRONT’.  It was just one of those moments where you have to roll the dice, make a command decision and hope you don’t end up dead.

I got in the front.

He stood by the door so that I could get in.  Yup, not only was I to Get In the Front, I was to Sit In The Middle.  Driving the truck was what appeared to be a 100 year old woman who glanced at me not unkindly though silently.  As she eased the ancient rig into drive her little cajun companion started hollerin’ immediately ‘PUMP THE BRAKES, PUMP THE BRAKES!’  The road into Waynesboro, you see, is down a steep hill from the pass at which I had emerged from the trail.

Realizing that the most likely cause of death on this ride would probably be mechanical instead of human-inflicted, I did my best imitation of Relaxing and Enjoying the Ride.  As we rolled along, in between yelling PUMP THE BRAKES, my cajun companion reached down underneath our seat and came up with, you guessed it:  a gun.  Tired and resigned, I looked at him and asked ‘are you going to SHOOT me?’  He laughed hard, flashed his big toothless smile at me and said ‘NAW, the LAW likes me to keep this where they can SEE it.’  He set it on the dashboard where it jiggled precariously every time the brakes were pumped.

I watched in wonder as my little buddy then went under the seat – I just couldn’t WAIT to see what came up next – and brought up a dirty plastic cup which he handed to me.  Yummy.  One more trip under the seat and out came an ice cold 40-ozer.  He unscrewed the cap, filled up my cup and hollered ‘DRINK UP!  YOU LOOK THIRSTY!’  Did it matter that it was 10:30am or that the cup was of Unknown History?  You bet your ass it didn’t.  I chugged that beer because goddamit I WAS thirsty and I was trapped between an ancient driver and a gun-totin’ Cajun in a truck with no brakes going down the longest hill in America.  Holy crap.

Sooner or later the road stopped careening downward and we rolled into town.  They asked where I needed to go and I told them ‘anywhere in town is fine.’  He said ‘NO. Where do you NEED TO GO?’ I reluctantly told him as I knew it was out of the way.  The delivered me right to the doorstep and adamantly refused any money for their trouble.  He shook my hand and I his and he said ‘now you be SAFE, understand?’  I promised I would do my best (seeing as though the world is kind of a crap shoot) and I watched them lurch back down the road.  Before I stopped watching, their truck turned off the road and into a parking lot where I saw that a woman had the  hood of her car up and her hand on her hip looking lost.  The cajun and his ancient lady-friend pulled right up, hopped out and started looking at the woman’s engine.  I knew that she was in good hands.

The trail revealed to me on so many different occasions that People Are Good.  It pushed my trust-o-meter a little bit further into the green and filled my heart with bottomless gratitude for the kindnesses I received.  Was I very lucky that things turned out the way that they did?  Of course.  But that luck was delivered at the hands of human beings who were just out to be selfless and kind.

Categories: Check it Out - Momma Has Always Been Batshit Crazy, Hiking | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful – Ouray County, CO Part 2

As mentioned previously we’ve celebrated moving to Ridgway, CO by heading for the hills surrounding her during every obligation-free moment.  We don’t know what people do for fun around here if they’re not into Being Outside.  Seriously, it’s not as though there are shopping malls and Jay-Z concerts to run off to.   Happily we prefer the mountain scene and making our children Be Outside and holy crap, this new neighborhood is a kick in the pants when it comes to hiking.

We have very quickly started to redefine our sliding scale of trail difficulty, both in terms of sketchy exposure and the sheer vertical-gain-to-distance-covered graph.  In conversation we rate them ‘we would take the kids on this one, we would take visitors on this one, we would do neither for this one.’  Every weekend we go up trails that, on descent, I marvel that we’ve come up because we’re basically skidding and sliding unhindered down 2-3000′ vertical feet.  This is especially obvious with a four year old who spends a lot of that time on her butt.

yucky views from the Hayden trailhead

Next hike on the docket was Hayden’s North Ridge

The Hayden Trail – kinda sorta the route we took anyway as the trail doesn’t hit the ridgeline

Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden was a badass who back in the late 1800s tromped around the western US and did a thorough geologic survey which resulted in beautiful and detailed topo maps.  As a geographer and total map geek Hayden is one of those people I’d like to have met.  Anyway, ole Ferdi’s name is sprinkled around the west from Hayden Valley in Yellowstone to the town of Hayden, CO to Hayden Mountain right here in our back yard.

the last moments of Flatness

We had the kids on this one and I’m still feeling proud about  the climb that they did that day.  From the 9600′ trailhead in Ironton you have about 300′ of flat ground and after that you just hope that you’ve used your calf muscles for something other than walking to the fridge over the past few months.  It’s a ball-buster, straight up 3000′ to the northern summit of Hayden’s ridge.

One.Serious.Bad.Ass. I cannot imagine what this kid will be conquering once her legs are longer than 14″.

What do other 9 year olds do on Sundays?

I’m going to have to put rocks in her pack sooner than later.

Taking a moment to soak in the day and look over at our next conquest: Red Mountain #1

Man on Summit. We didn’t make the kids go up the last pitch so we tagged in and out for a summit run.

Maisy starts having fun on the way down. Better late than never, kiddo.

Late afternoon hike down, just in time to hit the hot springs on the way home

Etc.  You get the picture.  Hayden is, to put it mildly, a good work-out, yet without any of the exposure we have encountered in some of the other new hikes we’ve done.  And mid-September is pretty much an awesome time to do it.  I know I should be including trail maps or real honest trail information here or really anything to make this blog more useful but I just don’t have time.  I have crappy reality TV to go watch.  Or 50 Shades to finish.  You know, important stuff.  It’s all about balance, people.  oh NEVER MIND, I guilted myself into adding crappy maps at least.

People encountered on this hike: 1

Next: Red Mountain Number 1 via Grey Copper

Mellow and lovely Grey Copper Trail just across the street from the Hayden Trailhead

Sitting somewhere between Brown Mountain and Blue Lakes are Red Mountains #1,2 and 3.  The dudes naming these things Back In the Day had way more important things to worry about than assigning cute and creative nomenclature. ‘Hey Billy – what should we name THAT one over thar?’ ‘Hm, let me think on that for a minute.  How about Blooming Lotus Flower, Hank? You got that marmot skinned yet?’   Yeahhh…they were busy eating moldy bacon and wormy flour for breakfast, lunch and dinner, dynamiting silver out of the sheer mountain cliff faces and carving the Scariest Shit Ever Roads through the Rocky Mountains.  And besides, the mountains are indeed Brown and Red and those lakes truly are the Bluest ever.

I would have gone with Orangeish-Red Mountain

For our second celebratory child-free Friday Todd and I headed back up to Ironton to the Grey Copper trail.  Starting at 9800′ it follows a two-track for a while and then starts winding through the aspens on a nice trail.  You get glimpses of Red Mountain through the trees until you finally pop out onto the open rock slides and get bombarded by it’s technicolor beauty.  The three Red Mountains are iconic in this part of Colorado and we’ve always wanted to get on top of them.  Today was the day.

Even the signs are at a 70% tilt

Red Mountain #1 summit far left

The Grey Copper trail is one of the mellower hikes that we’ve done, not that there isn’t a bunch of elevation gain, but at least it’s only 2700′ of gain from trailhead to summit and at least someone had the decency to not make that gain happen in a mile.  No, that’s the Richmond Trail which will appear in a future post.  You wander past the Vernon Mine and up onto the end of a spur of the Corkscrew Road.  This brings up up to a pass of sorts where you can take a left if you’d like to climb up Brown Mountain or right if you prefer Red.

the Vernon Mine

Off the road there are pretty little ponds which you glance at briefly before stealing yourself for the last push up the mountain while gaping at the cheaters people who just drove their jeeps up to where you’ve been hiking 2 hours to get to.  Who is smarter?  You’d have to take a good look at Corkscrew before answering that one.

I felt like I was getting my ass handed to me getting up on the ridge from the puddles but once on the ridge line it’s a great walk, albeit a bit like being on mars.  We had a perfect day out there.  Highly recommend this one.

Red Mountain Ridgeline

Todd on the summit

the pretty hike out

People encountered on this hike: 0 hikers, 2 Jeeping folk.

Categories: Hiking, Hiking with Kids | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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 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

Canyonlands National Park – Valdereee Valderahh Style

March 9-11th, 2012                                               *hover over pictures for captions *underlined bits are links!

She stops suddenly in the middle of the trail and I nearly run her over.  She turns around and makes that face, fists on her hips.  ‘MOM, my legs aw tie-ode.’  So declares my three year old as we reach the 100-foot milestone of our first family backpacking trip.  ‘SERIOUSLY?’ I say.  ‘Addy, I can still see the CAR.  You hiked 5 miles last Sunday, what’s the deal?’  ‘MOM, I’m HUNGWY.’  This isn’t my first pony ride so I magically produce a fruit roll-up and tell her to get her butt in gear.

An auspicious and not very surprising beginning to the Gardiner Year of the Backpack.

Canyonlands National Park is right down the road, at least by Western distance standards.  In less than 2 hours we can be on the trail.  Saddled with our gung-ho determination to re-enter the world of backpacking with two kids (3 and 8) in tow, we called the back-country office, were told that there were still a few options open if we could drive it like we stole it, threw the crap in the car and crossed our fingers that no one else less than two hours away had the same idea.

Not to worry, we got there late on a Friday afternoon, raced into the office right before they closed and quickly had Big Spring 1 and Squaw Canyon 2 camps reserved.  The nice ranger mentioned that if we were going to head up and over into Lost Canyon on the way out to be careful, that if it was icy we might want to reconsider.  I smirked and thanked her for the advice.  She said, ‘No, really, we’ve had people die in that spot before.  Watch yourselves, especially with the kids.’   More on this later.

Big Spring 1 camp is a whoppin’ 1 mile up the trail which was just fine with such a late start.  It’s a lovely little camp under the pinyon pines and hidden in its own little box canyon.  We set up camp congratulating ourselves on the grueling journey thus far and I followed the kids down to the creek (picture a raging inch of water moving grudgingly downhill).  It took about 7 seconds for Addy’s feet to be soaked.  I didn’t even have time to forcefully suggest that she might want to take her shoes off before she was up to her ankles.  I’d like to say that I have learned not to overly fret about such things since we live in a place that likes to hover around 5% humidity, but that would be a joke.  They were dry before I could properly vocalize my exasperation with her.

We moved on to playing on the slickrock around the camp, the kids scrambling up the rocks like monkeys, me getting nauseous any time they got close to edges.  It must be the too-easy-to-visualize ‘kid falling off a cliff’ nightmare that has broken my brain.  Regardless, no one fell screaming to their deaths, we watched a great sunset and returned to camp to make dinner.

After dark Maisy and Todd went down the trail a bit to use her star chart to pick out a few constellations.  On the way back she stepped on a cactus and sent blood-curdling shrieks through the silence of southwest Utah.  You probably heard her, no matter where you were.  Once she stopped howling I, being the least sympathetic mom in the universe, asked her why on earth she wasn’t wearing shoes.  In the desert. Their brains work differently than ours and I use the word ‘work’ non-contextually of course.

The next day we marched to Squaw canyon, another arduous day of four big miles.  It gave us plenty of time to mess around, have a leisurely lunch and marvel at how much food the kids were packing away in all that fresh air.  Holy crap, if I hadn’t defended the food bag with snarls and bared teeth, I’m pretty sure they would have eaten it all.  I diligently made a note to self to bring significantly more food on the next trip.  Maybe a beef cow on a lead rope.

Between canyons you must go up and over the chunk of sandstone that delineates each canyon.  The big fin that divides Big Spring from Squaw wasn’t too bad – there was a pour-off that required Todd to lower the kids down.  It was a spot on which you wouldn’t really want to make too many sudden movements, but once again, no one ended up broken so that was great.  We continued up the trail, Addy singing at the top of her lungs something incomprehensible, her voice echoing off of the sandstone walls.  I have discovered, through 8 years of research, that children have no inner voice.  If it takes root in their brains there is only one trail for it to take – out their mouths.  Seeing wildlife is never a concern.  But the singing was also a sign that she was HAPPY, something for which I’d trade canyon quietude any day.

We found our next camp and Maisy rolled out her sleeping pad to read one of the books that Todd was carrying as part of the ‘library’ in his pack.  ‘Here I am counting ounces on every piece of gear yet I have 3 books, two of them hardcover, that aren’t even MINE in my pack.’  Dads have it hard.  I told him to stop bitching – at least she didn’t bring Harry Potter in all its 8-pound glory.  I do foresee downloading books onto her iTouch for the Wonderland Trail.

We wandered up the pretty little side canyon next to camp that is also the trail to Lost Canyon.  We found some nice fat potholes and headed back down to camp to grab the water filter.  I returned with Maisy so that I could show her how to use the filter which she found to be a fascinating procedure for about 12 seconds and then was off looking for crawly things in the puddles.

It was a cold night, getting down to 20 degrees.  In a sleeping bag rated 20 degrees 15 years of abuse ago I was made to realize that it was time for a refurb.  The kids and Todd were all just fine of course; I, on the other hand, dug through the clothes bag in the middle of the night and woke up with Maisy’s skirt on one leg, her hiking shirt on another, two pairs of socks…whatever I could make fit on my body.  Todd and Maisy slept under the stars and woke up completely covered in ice.  Coffee and oatmeal never tasted so good…which is saying a lot because oatmeal pretty much sucks.  I’ll give my kids credit for not even noticing that it was cold.  They are tough little buggers and in their element Out There.  Happily the sun was shining on camp within an hour, the gear dried out and we were on our way back to the car via Lost Canyon.

We ran into a volunteer who seemed genuinely confused to come across so small a creature as Addy out there in the back of beyond so early in the morning.  He told us that the trail into Lost was ice-free (and therefore we probably wouldn’t die) and that there was plenty of water in Lost Canyon should we need it.

Soon enough we came to the second big fin crossing that led to that Place the Ranger had warned us about.  Once I saw it I thought ‘shit,  that lady wasn’t kidding’ and proceeded to wish I could just close my eyes and forget where I was.  I’m not normally overly neurotic about exposure but there is definitely something about exposing your KIDS to exposure that had my hackles at an all-time high. Luckily Todd’s wits were intact and he without hesitation went through the sketchy part, dumped his pack and came back for the kids one by one before I could even get the rope (15 year old p-cord) out of my pack.  Then he made the three of us sit there on the exposed ledge for a pictureI should have thrown up for the picture – it would have been a genuine capture of the moment.  Oh, and he took a video.  Sadly the video shows nothing of the sheer 200′ drop that is below ‘right here’.  Don’t plan on any trip reports from the  Hillary step in the near future.

The day was hot and the rest of Lost Canyon was lovely.  It is a trail that, in all our years of exploring Canyonlands, we hadn’t been on.  It was shady, the water was significant – I had no idea that much water existed anywhere in the park.  The last miles after lunch were hot and dry as we slogged our way back to the car.  Up and over two last humps of sandstone and we were back, alive, thirsty and still speaking to each other, Addy with a new personal hiking record of a 6-mile day.

That silly old rule of ‘hike your age’ is officially out the window.

Categories: Backpacking, Backpacking with Kids, Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Bringing Crazy Back to the Backcountry

While Travelblog is a wonderful home for our international travels we needed a new place for the next chapter of Crazy we think we’re entering into. We noticed last fall that our 3-year-old was suddenly willing and able to hike 5 miles. Somewhere in there we talked about doing the John Muir Trail some day and that quickly became a desperate need to get back into our backpacks ASAP. The Wonderland Trail jumped out as something that maybe, with a lot of medication and deep breathing, we might be able to bribe the kids around. I mean really, it’s only 93 miles.

We dove head-first into our 1200 square foot gear emporium and started digging out the old backpacking gear which, since our 8-year-old was born, has largely become a spider-infested compost pile.  She and I had been out on two overnight trips in the past two summers which were awesome reminders of What I Love and led to tiny discoveries about backpacking with a child. It was also a reminder that my gear is old, smelly, and in the case of my beloved ancient Whisperlite, a bomb waiting to go off.

This blog will be dedicated to the tales of taking our kids Out There, not only on family backpacking death-marches but also documenting the rafting and hiking that we have done with them for years and what we have learned from those experiences.  There will be gratuitous jumping pictures.  Who knows, maybe Someone out there will find it marginally useful or inspiring as they too decide their once-mobile and adventurous lives don’t have to be re-explored only when the kids bounce off to college.  More likely, if I’m writing it honestly, it may serve as a dire warning to just stay home and vacuum.

We are not uber-adventurers, just semi-rad parents that don’t feel like retiring the idea of doing what WE love to do because we happen to have kids that (occasionally) don’t always have the same Idea for their weekends.  We’ll admit our failures, carry on about our successes, put in disclaimers when there was lots of crying and yelling, and review gear that sucks or doesn’t suck.

And it will evolve from there.

Categories: Backpacking with Kids, Other Drivel, Rafting with Kids | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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