Thursday, September 22, 2005

It's like blood doping, but in reverse ...

The bloodmobile came to work today, as it does every few months. I've never donated before (although I sold quite a bit of plasma during my poor college days.) Anyway, I figured it was time for me to donate some blood, since I'm done racing for the season. Seemed like a good thing to do.

Kind of forgot that I had plans to ride with Doug after work today. With the limited daylight nowadays, we did a truncated version of the Medicine Lake loop, for about 30 miles door-to-door. It didn't take long for me to realize that having fewer red cells was affecting my performance - the few small hills between my place and Wirth Parkway were leaving me a wee bit winded - not normal.

Once I was fully warmed up, things improved a bit, but after about 15 miles I really started draagggiiiinnnnngggggg. I was off my game, and serious efforts, like hammering downhill to hit 40.8mph, left me feeling totally spent.

The ride was still fun, and we finished just before dark, but a little more blood would have been nice.

Wind Rivers Backpacking Trip, Sept 2-9, Days 5-8

Sun rose and warmed out camp by 9am, so we were able to get an earlier start today. Day started w/a long descent (giving up lots of altitude that we'd immediately have to make up) followed by a long ascent along creeks to the Highland trail.

Nice view of random peaks in the background

Before we started the ascent to the Highline, we encountered the only humans of the day, 2 sheep hunters on horseback. Very friendly gents, and very curious whether we had seen any sheep in the direction they were heading. As Paul noted, these two guys were straight out of central casting. Both Hispanic, on horseback, thick accents. Cowboy hats. Rifles in slings alongside their saddles. The upper teeth of the older guy seemed too large for his lower teeth - almost certainly dentures. The older guy also had a dog with him - a small terrier of some sort, riding in a canvas bag slung alongside his saddle. Super cute! The dog didn't seem to mind, although I'm curious why they had him along - being small, and a terrier, I doubt he was very useful when the sheep hunt is on.

Had a fierce headwind for the entire climb and along the flats of the Highline Trail, making it even more arduous. I usually only think about the wind being a challenge while biking, and sometime running, but it sure makes climbing with a heavy pack more difficult too!!!

Along the Highline Trail, with Summit Lake on the right

After stopping at Summit Lake (a high, desolate lake along the Highline Trail) we turned to the southwest, where we spotted a moose cow about 75yds away. We proceeded cautiously, having no idea whether the cow had a calf nearby. Moose are pretty dumb animals, but they're big and will be quick to put the hurt on if they feel you're a threat to their young. So we kept moving, keeping her in sight as best we could. Lots of spur trails in this section - pretty confusing. Shortly thereafter spotted 3 mule deer, all does, maybe one younger one.

Moose (you'll have to click on image for large version)

Descended down to a lake whose name I can't remember (starts with a B though) and found a campsite with quite possibly the most stunning campsite view ever - across the lake, in the distance 2 dome peaks, lit with the late day sun. We had some daylight to spare, so took advantage of the time to find a nice rock where I could dive into the frigid lake and rinse off 3 days of trail dirt/stench - I like to imagine the force of the water blasting dirt out of every crevice in my body. Refreshing!

Gorgeous lake, gorgeous backdrop, good food, cleansing swim, great day. Pretty simple needs out here.

Hoped we might not see anyone the next day, but saw several people today before we had even fully broken down camp. A husband/wife couple passed by, headed a few lakes up in search of trout. They were followed by 3 hunters on horseback, with 3 additional pack mules.

Paul and I discussed how the horses and mules must do much more damage than humans. My back-of-the-napkin calculation: Stock have 2x as many legs as humans, and each leg supports 2x the weight of a human (probably more, but I'll give 'em the benefit of the doubt). So each stock animal is generating 4x the trail damage as a human (and I think that's even being generous.) Factor in the fact that stock really don't care where they're walking, and they can't even see where they're planting their rear legs, and I suspect it's actually worse. So for this party of 3 humans, with a total of 6 stock animals, is generating the equivilent trail damage as a party of 24 backpackers would. This would go a long ways toward expaining the terrible trail erosion we'd come across later this day.

Hiked so much today, with so much elevation gained/lost that I could hardly remember all of it at the end of the day. Thought we lost the trail in a meadow by Heart Lake, early in the day, and it took us a while to realize that what looked like a washout was actually the trail leading up from the meadow. Climbed, climbed, and climbed some more. Our target for the day was Parker Lake, but we got off course when we ended up on an *extremely* eroded stock trail along the way. It was all uphill, and pretty brutal, with few switchbacks. Tough on the feet, mostly rocks underfoot due to the dirt being washed away by erosion. In some places the trail was in it's 3rd or 4th iteration, as each previous iteration had become a washed-out trench.

Trail erosion - this was bad, but there were areas that were much worse

Paul near the top of the pass - you can see those same twin dome peaks in the far distance - we've already come a long way today

View to the east, from the top of the pass - the Wind River mountain range

View to the south, from the top of the pass - Wyoming flatlands

Made our way up over the pass, picked some landmarks and tried to get our bearings. We suspected we were on our way to Rainbow Lake, not Parker Lake. Pumped water at a small alpine lake, swore a little, and kept going. Came upon a trail marker that verified we were in fact on our way to Rainbow Lake. By this time we're feeling pretty beat up - sore feet feeling like they're bruised from the rocky climb, realizing we still had another hour of hiking ahead of us. We would have been to Parker Lake by this point! Thankfully the remainder of the hike was rolling hills, then a long descent to Rainbow Lake.

Finally see water - the lake is close. Picked the first available flat spot at the lake to pitch our tent - too tired to seek out a better spot. After resting for a bit, we relocated the tent to a more secluded spot up and away from the water. Totally beat. Early dinner. We weren't alone at the lake, as there was a family across the lake. At one point, I heard them across the lake - one woman saying to another - "why did you pack fingernail polish?" Funny.

Rainbow lake

After sundown, I sat in clearing by the lake reading, when I heard a very soft "whoosh whoosh" somewhere above my head. Turned out my headlamp, there was still enough light reflected off the rock face along the lake to make out the silouettes of several owls hunting in the clearing. The "whoosh"ing was the sound of their wings as they flew from pine tree to pine tree, including one pine tree just behind and above my head. They seemed to have 4 trees that they flew to/from over and over. I got the impression that they probably came here to hunt pretty frequently. Don't know if they didn't know I was there, of whether they knew but simply didn't care. Paul was already up in the tent, and I thought about calling him down to see, but was afraid the owls might get scared off. Cool.

Meadow at Rainbow Lake - the owls would show up here after sundown

Final day. Hit the trail thinking we'd have a fairly easy 6 mile day, back to the trailhead. Should be mostly downhill, since we had quite some altitude we had to lose to between here and the trailhead. The family across the lake broke camp and took off shortly before we did, and we ran into them not too far down the trail. In one of those "small world" moments, it turns out that the younger couple in the party were from Mpls, and they had also driven out for their trip. Mike, I think the guy's name was, works at REI. Small world indeed!

I was wholely unprepared for the downhill switchbacks today. I was anticipating an easy downhill day - boy was I wrong. Switchback after steep, rocky downhill switchback was the agenda for the day. And since we were heading away from the alpine meadows and down into the woodlands, the scenery wasn't much to look at either - couldn't see very far into the trees, no overlooks or anything like that. Then, outside the wilderness area, about 2 miles from the trailhead, a stream crossing with no rocks or logs to cross on, and brown murky water - probably colored brown from all the cowpies the pasturing cattle had left behind in the area. Nice. Poo water in my boots - just what we needed on the last day :-)

Poo crossing

Finally arrived back at the trailhead, and took the boots off content in the knowledge that I could spend the rest of the trip in comfy sandles.

View looking up the valley we hike up into on the first day, this photo was taken as we hiked out.

Drove into Pinedale and rented showers at some shitty "campground" in town. Really just a small lot where people could park their RVs or trailers if anyone actually wanted to stay at that shithole. Wanted to get out customary post-backpacking-return-to-civilization pizza pie, but it seemed almost all the restautants in town we closed until like 4 or 5pm - weird. Found a mexican restaurant that looked promising - at least it was open! Had high hopes that were quickly dashed. My food was far from good, Paul later described his burrito as simply horrible. Kind of a downer.

But we were back on the road, headed for home, so we had that going for us! Saw a cool storm, with lightning, in the distance to the south which made for interesting viewing. Had hoped to soak in the hot springs in Thermopolis on the way home through Wyoming, but it was already dark when we passed through. Smelled the sulfur driving though the town, though.

Storm clouds

The mule deer were so think along the highway through the Bighorns that it was a *seriously* stressful time. We were both on full-adrenaline deer alert the whole time, traveling about 40mph most of the way though. Don't know how many deer we saw - dozens, for sure. Oh, and pronghorns here and there throughout the day, too.

Stayed over in Buffalo,WY got a good nights sleep (yeah, sleeping in a bed again!) and hit the road Friday with the goal to be back in Mpls that night. It was a super hot day, with both Paul and I choosing to sweat rather than turn on the air conditioning. Overloaded on New Orleans coverage on NPR. Super windy today, blowing from south to north. I mean Seriously Windy - on numerous occasions we saw birds (seagulls and hawks) trying to fly against the wind, failing, and giving up. Crazy stuff.

Pulled off the highway in Mitchell to look from some dinner. Drove by the Corn Palace - what a piece of junk that thing is. I was imagining a building make entirely from corn. No such luck - it has a brick first floor, with upper floors having what looks to be an outer facade made of corn. Disappointment. Ate dinner at some semi-depressing diner, complete with waitstaff with that deer-in-the-headlights look that belies mental numbness and understimulation. Diner was sort of quintessential, however, in that it had these two guys (regulars, I'm sure) drinking coffee and chatting/bitching nonstop - I bet that diner is a second home for those guys.

It was very interesting to observe the transition as the prairies of Wyoming and western South Dakota gave way to the first row crops (corn) as we progressed eastward across South Dakota, and finally reach the comparatively lush farmland in Minnesota. Maybe it was just the opressive heat while driving all day, but being back in MN surrounded by green fields as opposed to brown or gold prairie was truly refreshing.

Some general observations about the west:

Having never driven out west, I didn't know what to expect. Whenever I travel somewhere new, I really Really REALLY want to like the new place. I want to love it, and add it to my list of places I could imagine relocating to someday. But very few of the places we passed through on this trip made me feel that way. Actually, Jackson was the only place that came close, and Jackson is too small. The rest of the west really didn't appeal. The west seems like a land of extraction (mining and oil drilling) populated with all the heavy equipment that goes with it. Everywhere you went, tractor-trailers, big rigs, heavy equipment, heavy-duty pickup trucks.

The West

However, I also have to note that the PEOPLE in the west seemed much more open and friendly than midwestern folk. I've always described Minnesota "Nice" sort of like Minnesota "Mind Your Own Business" or maybe better as Minnesota "I'll Be Nice, But Keep You At A Distance". I didn't feel any of that in the west - everyone seemed genuinely nice, helpful, and well, just plain NICE. It was refreshing and appreciated.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wind Rivers Backpacking Trip, Sept 2-9, Days 1-4

Disclaimer - there's probably more detail in this post than anyone wants, but it's for my benefit.

Took the northern route on the drive out, as we wanted to check out Yellowstone before we entered the wilderness (we were afraid we'd be too tired and too intent on getting home if we tried to drive through Yellowstone at the end of the trip.)

So we left mid-afternoon Friday, driving out on I-94 through North Dakota. Pretty uneventful, with one exception - somewhere west of Bismarck the Northern Lights really fired up. Believe it or not, this was the first time I ever saw them (despite numerous other backpacking trips out west and to northern MN). They danced around for about 5 minutes before gradually fading out, leaving us with nothing but the Dakota flatlands and the open road.

Made it as far as Dickinson, and after calling several hotels (none of which had an available room w/two beds) we ended up at the Oasis Inn, just a short ways off the freeway. Nothing special, but decent for the price. Cinderblock building, clean bathroom.

Woke up midmorning, and hit the road. Passed through some very scenic landscape in western North Dakota/eastern Montana - which I'm told is similar to the terrain in the Badlands in South Dakota, except in North Dakota the spires are a little more eroded, more rounded. Didn't take any photos, but it's an otherworldly landscape of peaks, ridges, valleys, all cut through layers of multi-colored rock, so all around you see the striations of the different layers of white, tan, brown, red colored rock. Pretty cool.

But before too long, this landscape again gives way to the fairly monotonous flatlands. Drove onward, stopping only for gas (we were eating out of a cooler of food we packed). Finally hit Billings, turned southwest onto 212. The drive along 212 into Yellowstone is supposed to be one of the most scenic drives in America, however a portion of it is closed due to mudslides earlier this year. Bummer. So we had to detour, missing out on the most scenic stretch.

But even with the detour, the drive into and through Yellowstone was still good, especially after some of the monotonous stretches we'd passed through. We entered through the eastern entrance. Saw this huge tabletop mesa-type geologic formation in the distance, something I'd never seen before. Stopped to check out a herd of elk (at a distance) and later traffic was brought to a standstill by a large herd of buffalo crossing the road one at a time. Weird animals, buffalo - to me, their smaller hindquarters look undeveloped, as if they all contracted polio when young, and their hind legs never fully developed. Wait about a 1/2 hr to see Old Faithful erupt, which quite frankly wasn't all that exciting. But it is one of those quintessential american experiences, so I suppose it's good to take it in.

Elk (or caribou?)


Old Faithful

Driving though the park took much longer than expected, it was nearly dark by the time we left old faithful, and we wanted to make it down to a campground at Coulter Bay, south of the park. We finally found the campground, after a fair amount of messing around. We got the last available "tent cabin", a little 4 bunk cabin with 2 sides made of logs, and the other 2 sides made of canvas cloth and a canvas roof. Slept well, and the patio outside the cabin made for a nice flat area to do our final sorting and packing of gear for the backpacking we'd start later in the day.

Tent cabin

We didn't realize it, but we still had a lot of driving to do. The drive to (and past) Jackson had some incredible scenery, with a mountain stream paralleling the road for much of the way, and the Tetons in the distance to the west. In Jackson we searched for a store to buy tent stakes, since they apparently didn't make the trip. Having taken care of that, we headed southeast on 191, encountering unexpected road construction.

Tried to call the ranger station in Pinedale to ask about and trail/wilderness conditions we should be aware of, but they're closed on Sundays so we just headed to the New Fork Lakes trailhead. The last I-don't-know-how-many miles were on a washboard gravel road - slow going, not too much fun.

It was 2pm by the time we actually hit the trail. First few miles were very dry, on a trail paralleling the shoreline above New Forks Lake. We were in the National forest, but not yet in the wilderness area. Lots of cattle grazing in there, lots of trampled vegetation and cowpies. From what we read, grazing is also allowed in wilderness areas in places where grazing was allowed before the area was designated as wilderness. Paul was bothered by the cattle's presence more than I was, but I have to agree that it's weird to have cattle grazing in a wilderness area. Thankfully we left the cattle behind after the first few miles, so they were no longer a distraction.

After leaving the lakeshore, we followed the trail up up up as it followed a stream up into the valley. Spent about 5 hours on trail - it got to be 7pm and we needed time to find a camp and set up before dark. So we found a flat spot near a game trail and a dry creek bed, with a steep talus slope on one side, and rugged rock face on the other. It was a new experience camping in a meadow so boxed in on both side - it got dark early and fast, but it was a nice spot.

Talus slope, east side of campsite

Rock face, west side of campsite

I slept outside, under the stars like I usually do when backpacking or camping, but was forced into the tent when it started drizzling rain around 2am. Woke in the morning to the sound of a large hooved animal walking on the rocks making it's way up the dry creek bed. Stuck my head outside the tent, but couldn't see it - either it was farther away than it sounded, or it was behind a large stand of trees near our tent. Later in the trip, we ran into some backpackers who saw several moose in that meadow, so I'll assume that's what it was.

Outside, it was a cool morning - not near freezing, but definitely cold enough to see your breath. The rock face side of the canyon was bathed in sunlight, but it would take a long time for the sun to reach our campsite down in the meadow. I crossed the stream (which contained small, extremely wary trout) and found a patch of sun where I could read a bit of Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" (highly recommended reading when spending some quite time in the woods, IMHO). Paul was sleeping in, but that was fine as he got up shortly after the sun warmed our tent.

Creek crossing

Altitude is the currency of the backcountry. Absolutely stunning views views today, and we paid dearly for each and every one with altitude gained by climbing switchback after switchback.

View from the switchbacks today

Near the top of the many switchbacks today

View from near the top of the switchback - you can see the valley meadow (that we camped in last night) in the distance. The talus slope is on the left side of the valley.

Alpine meadow somewhere past the switchbacks. Terrain makes it tough to tell where treeline really is.

We slowly climbed out the valley, reaching a handful of alpine lakes (Lozier Lake, etc). Looking back on those lakes was beautiful, but the view looking down upon Clark Lake (our final destination for the day) was enough to take your breath away, magestic peaks with snow in the background. With our late start, we needed every available minute to reach camp. We saw very few human tracks today and had Clark Lake all to ourselves.

Series of alpine ponds and lakes

Lozier Lake - pumped water and snacked here before continuing to Clark Lake. Nice peaks in the distance.

Paul, with Clark Lake way down below in the distance. Long descent down to the lake, giving up a lot of hard-fought altitude.

Down at Clark Lake.

Slept outside again, fitfully. Woke up frequently, each time noting the constellations had rotated and shifted only slightly from the last time I awoke. Being able to sleep outside, under the stars, is one of the things I most enjoy about the backcountry. Watching the constellations march across the heavens, and marvel at the overwhelming number and depth of the stars up there. Especially the depth - it's as if you could reach up and into the sky, like plunging your hand into the inky depths of the sea.

During one of the many times I woke up that night, I was lying on my side and in the darkness and started asking myself "what if I heard an animal behind me, sniffing my head it's hot breath on my neck - what would I do? Play dead? Roll away down the hill? Bolt?" Not very good sleepy time thoughts!