Posts Tagged With: the great outdoors

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.


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

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


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