Yellowstone National Park, Part 3

Alas, we have finally been vanquished by the frozen north. Our original plan was to spend four days in Glacier National Park (northwest Montana), but they’ve received 200% normal snowfall this year and many of the good trails are buried 4 feet deep.

Then we thought we’d try Rocky Mountain National Park down in Colorado. We called RMNP this morning, and apparently they’ve received RECORD BREAKING snow this year [insert witty Al Gore joke].

Plan C? Make like Napoleon Bonaparte and retreat to warmer climes with our tails between our legs. As of now, we hope to leave either tomorrow or the next day for Grand Canyon National Park.

But this post is about our day in Yellowstone:

Our plan for Saturday was to hike some trails in the Tower Area of the park. When we stopped at the ranger station, however, we learned that a rockslide had completely shut down the Mammoth-Tower road.

Instead, we stumbled upon the Sentinel Meadows trail a few miles north of Old Faithful. We initially thought we’d hike a few miles and be back for lunch, but ended up going 11.3 miles to Fairy Falls and Imperial Geyser. Since the trail was wet, soggy, and remote, we had it almost completely to ourselves.

Morning snow

Fairy Falls

Imperial Geyser

I really enjoyed the trail, since it gave us a bit of everything: hot springs, waterfalls, marshes, rivers, pine forests, and open fields. With the exception of two brief but heavy snow storms, the rest of the day was nice and sunny.

Afternoon snow

Hiking alongside hot springs

Staying high and dry

At one point we found ourselves cornered by a small group of bison. We hugged the tree-line in case they decided to get aggressive.

Grazing bison

Waiting for them to leave

Yep. I stared down the bison, and the bison blinked first. They left us alone.

As we approached the falls, the ground became completely saturated. A crude walkway helped with some areas, but we still ended up with a few slippery stream crossings.

Crossing a footbridge

Stream crossing

We finished the hike (I insisted on calling it a “morning stroll”) around 4:00pm, made some sandwiches for lunch, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in the Old Faithful area.

We hiked another 3.0 miles through a geyser basin to see some of the more well-known landmarks (Morning Glory, Grotto geyser, Daisy geyser, etc.).

Morning Glory hot spring

Daisy geyser

We arrived at the Daisy geyser 48 minutes after it was due to go off, and ended up sitting there for another hour before it finally started spraying. By then all the expectant onlookers had given up, except for us and another 8 or 10 people.

Approximate Total Distance: 14.3 miles

(Bringing the total to 36.6 miles for our 2.5 days in Yellowstone)

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Published in: on May 29, 2011 at 2:20 am  Comments (2)  

Yellowstone National Park, Part 2

For our first full day in Yellowstone, we ate an early breakfast at the hotel before starting a hike to Undine Falls via the Lava Creek trail (8.6 miles). We followed two sets of grizzly tracks for several miles, but only ended up seeing some elk, bison, and a bald eagle.

Elk

Crossing Lava Creek

Bald Eagle

The falls themselves were pretty impressive, particularly because the creek was running high due to the spring snow runoff.

Route to Undine Falls

Undine Falls

We finished the hike around lunchtime, then swung by the visitor center for trail updates before starting on the Beaver Pond loop (5.2 miles). The trail meandered past several mountain ponds and beaver dams, but the elevation changes were very tiring.

Beaver Pond

Snack break

By the time we finished around 4:00pm, we decided to drive down to Canyon Village (overlooking the Yellowstone River). On the way, we passed a group of bison walking in the opposite direction. Traffic was backed up for at least half a mile, but they didn’t show any signs of moving to the shoulder. We also saw another grizzly bear on the return trip.

And I thought tractors were slow

Even though the temperature was down in the 30’s, we were fortunate enough to avoid snow for most of the day. The exception, of course, was when we stopped to take pictures of the canyon.

Lower Falls (honest)

On the way back, we decided to stop in Norris to walk through the geyser basin (2.0 miles).

Cistern Spring

Norris geyser basin

Approximate Total Distance: 15.8 miles

Published in: on May 28, 2011 at 2:08 am  Comments (3)  

Yellowstone National Park, Part 1

I hate to sound like a grouch, but this lousy weather seems to be following us around. Normally, daytime highs in Yellowstone are in the 50’s and 60’s this time of year. Instead, the majority of the park is covered in several feet of snow, and the forecast calls for more snow every day this week. Highs in the mid-30’s.

Welcome to Yellowstone!

On the bright side, we’re still determined to make the most of things. Today we watched Old Faithful erupt (while standing in a mini-blizzard), hiked ~2.0 miles along boardwalks through nearby hot springs (in a mini-blizzard), drove through much of the park (in a mini-blizzard), and hiked the ~4.o mile network of boardwalks and pathways at Mammoth hot springs (…you guessed it).

Old Faithful

Matt by a geyser

Colorful hot spring

Gibbon Falls

The geysers and hot springs were very neat – well worth standing in the snow for. I particularly enjoyed some of the otherworldly landscapes up near Mammoth:

Oooh

Aaah

As with Grand Teton, the highlight thus far has been the wildlife. We’ve already seen some buffalo, two bears, some goats, and a momma elk with her 3-hour-old calf. I definitely lost some man points carrying on about how cute the little guy was.

Bear #1

Bear #2

Goat with kid (behind rock, but I promise he's there)

Bambi learning how to walk

Elk and calf

Tomorrow we plan to bundle up and hit the trails all day (or until the snow becomes too much to handle).

Approximate Total Distance: 6.0 miles

Published in: on May 27, 2011 at 1:38 am  Comments (6)  

Grand Teton National Park

It seems we picked the wrong time to visit Grand Teton National Park. Allison and I had been planning to stay for 2-3 days to do some serious hiking and climb a mountain or two, but that wasn’t really possible. Apparently snow levels are 200% normal this year throughout the entire region (where’s global warming when you need it?) – so there are only two or three trails in the park that are even partially accessible.

Park Entrance

We ended up spending only one full day in the park hiking around Phelps Lake (6.8 miles) and up to Taggart Lake (3.9 miles). At least half of the hiking was on top of several feet of packed snow, which made for slow, cold, tedious going.

Hiking on snow

We started the morning with Phelps Lake, which was supposed to be a 7 mile loop. It was very scenic, so I was able to get some nice pictures. Unfortunately, much of the trail was buried under snow and difficult to follow. At one point, we lost the trail completely and spent an hour or so wandering around in a marsh before finally backtracking and trying a different route.

Phelps Lake

Allison + Phelps Lake

Since it was a warm day, snow runoff from the mountains made everything wet and soggy. As we were searching for the trail, I slipped on a wet log and smashed up a finger:

Bear bait

Eventually, we gave up on circling the lake and just returned the way we’d come. After lunch, we decided to try the hike up to Taggart Lake, which was supposedly the least snow-covered trail in the park (it ended up being about 40% snow and 60% dirt). It was considerably easier to follow, and offered some good views of the Teton Range and the partially-frozen lake.

Taggart Lake

Teton Range

The highlight of the park was definitely the wildlife. During our short time in Grant Teton, we saw numerous moose and buffalo, some deer, a wolf, a bald eagle, and some fresh bear tracks (I tried following them, but no luck). We saw an adolescent moose and its mother from just a few yards away after nearly running into them on a trail, which was pretty cool.

Buffalo crossing

Adolescent moose

Bear print

We spent two nights camping in the Gros Ventre campground, and actually had a large bull moose walk right past our tent on the second night.

Campsite

Bull moose behind tent

Since it was cold and rainy for much of the time, we constructed a shelter to cook under using a giant blue tarp:

Tarp shelter

“Grand Teton National Park strives to provide its visitors with an aesthetically pleasing camping experience. We regret to inform you that your hobo tent fails to meet these standards and has been the cause of numerous complaints. Please remove it immediately, or face a fine in the amount of –“

“Real funny Matt.”

Taggart Lake trail

Our next stop is Yellowstone National Park, much of which is also buried under several feet of snow. According to a man I met at our campsite, parts of the park near the hot springs are relatively snow-free…so we’ll see how things go. Right now we’re leaning towards skipping out on Glacier National Park (another several hundred miles north) and doubling back to Rocky Mountain National Park down in Colorado. I guess the other option would be to invest in some snow shoes and/or a dogsled.

Approximate Total Distance: 10.7 miles

Published in: on May 26, 2011 at 11:33 pm  Comments (2)  

Capitol Reef National Park: Day Hikes

During our two days in Capitol Reef National Park, we took three relatively short day hikes: Cassidy Arch on Sunday morning (3.5 miles), Sulfur Creek on Sunday afternoon (3.0 miles), and Freemont Gorge Overlook on Monday afternoon (4.5 miles). We also ventured into the backcountry for a 14.0 mile overnight trip through Spring Canyon (discussed in a separate blog post).

On our way to the Cassidy Arch trailhead, we stopped to inspect some deserted mines along the cliff walls. When we approached near enough to read the signs, we saw that they were actually former uranium mines from the early 1900’s. The atomic bomb obviously hadn’t been invented yet, but the uranium was actually mined for its perceived ability to alleviate arthritis.

Warning sign

I’d already received my daily dose of vitamins with my breakfast cereal. Now that I had my daily dose of radiation, we were all set to get hiking.

The Cassidy Arch trail was probably our favorite of the three day hikes. After a steep upward climb (670’), the trail hugged the cliff edge before coming to an end directly over the gigantic arch.

Climbing to Cassidy Arch

Allison watching woman rappel down

Matt on the arch

Unfortunately, the only way to observe the arch from below is to rappel down the cliff. Another young couple was doing just that when we arrived. Their rope actually got caught at one point, so I got the honors of belly crawling to the edge and freeing it up.

Allison near the cliff's edge

Since it was still a bit too early to start on our backpacking trip, we killed some time hiking down Sulfur Creek and back. I honestly didn’t think it was all that impressive, particularly compared with what we’d see in Spring Canyon. Nice warm-up hike though.

Route to Sulfur Creek

After returning from our backpacking trip the next day and swinging by Subway for lunch, we drove back into the park to climb the Freemont Gorge Overlook trail (1090’ elevation gain). The view from the top was certainly worth the effort, which was considerable in this case. We had to climb fast to avoid some of the oncoming thunderstorms (successfully I might add).

Fremont Gorge Overlook trail

Interesting red rock

Fremont Gorge

Satirical attempt at artistic photography

We finished the hike around 4:00pm, just in time to play 9 holes of disc golf before dinner. The course was pretty unique, considering its proximity to the national park (2 miles or so). I definitely should have worn the hiking boots instead of my running shoes, however; a cactus needle easily penetrated the mesh and buried itself nearly an inch into the side of my foot.

Hole #6

Hole #9

After the disc golf, we shared a pizza and hit the road for Grand Teton National Park.

Approximate Total Distance: 11.0 miles (3 day hikes)

Published in: on May 24, 2011 at 3:01 am  Comments (3)  

Capitol Reef National Park: Backpacking

After discussing our backpacking options with a park ranger, we decided on a one-night trip through Spring Canyon. Some of the more ambitious routes we’d hoped to try were inaccessible due to flooding and road conditions. After a couple of morning hikes (mentioned in separate post), we loaded our packs and departed from the Chimney Rock trailhead around 3:00pm.

Route into Spring Canyon

We followed the Chimney Rock trail and a connection trail for several miles before reaching Spring Canyon. Although our route would lead us downstream, we decided to add a couple miles to the trip by first hiking upstream for a short while. We only ended up seeing two other people during our time in the canyon – a pair of day-hikers fleeing the afternoon storms. Even with ponchos and trash bags, we spent quite a bit of time cowering under rock crevices to stay dry.

Entering the canyon

Matt & Allison

Waiting out the rain

After a few hours of exploring, detouring, and backtracking, we decided to start looking for a campsite. I got this idea in my head that it would be fun to climb up out of the ~1000’ walls of the canyon and camp out on the rim…so poor Allison got dragged into a long and tedious climb. I say “dragged,” but she actually outpaced me most of the way (to be fair).

Halfway up the canyon wall

After 30-40 minutes of the mountain goat routine, we were rewarded with a flat, sheltered area overlooking the canyon below. I might have been sleeping outside the tent that night had we hauled the packs up there only to find some jagged, windswept rocks.

We still had an hour or so of daylight, so we pitched the tent, rigged a food line to keep away rodents, devoured our dinners, and took a few pictures.

Campsite, looking east

Cheese sandwich

I had to do a bit of climbing to get this one:

Best campsite ever

The next morning, we packed and set off around 8:00am. The climb down was a bit of a challenge, but it went rather quickly.

Climbing down from the rim

We hiked another ~5.5 miles down the canyon by noon, stopping periodically to take shelter when it rained.

Canyon floor

Canyon floor

The route was fairly easy, except for a few boulder-strewn sections and a narrow bypass trail along the rim of a deep slot canyon. We also had to wade barefoot through some moving water just before reaching the highway.

Scrambling through boulders

Slot canyon

One of the tricky sections

Although the hike technically ended at Highway 24, our car was parked another 7-8 miles down the road. The ranger who issued our permit had recommended hitchhiking back, so that’s what we did (sorry Mom…I had my KA-BAR close at hand though!). Twenty minutes and twenty cars later, a middle-aged man from southern California pulled over to give us a lift. We ended up back where we’d started around 12:30pm.

Approximate Total Distance: 14.0 miles (including highway walking and an estimate for backtracking and detours)

Published in: on May 24, 2011 at 2:26 am  Comments (4)  

Bryce Canyon National Park

We arrived in Bryce Canyon National Park around 2:30pm on Friday the 20th. Since this was still our “rest day,” we mostly just drove to the various lookout points in the park to take pictures.

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

Natural Bridge

Rainbow over Ponderosa Canyon

Altogether, we only hiked two short trails totaling 1.2 miles (Piracy Point lookout and the Bristlecone Loop). These were located away from the canyon area and up in the higher pine forests, so there was still a good deal of snow cover.

Bristlecone Loop

Our original itinerary allowed for two days of hiking in Bryce Canyon, but we decided it was worth gaining an extra day by condensing this into a single mega-hike on Saturday. We got started shortly after 8:00am, and hit all the major trails in the canyon by 3:00pm – a total of 15.1 miles. Not too bad, considering the elevation changes, snack/picture breaks, and a stop for lunch.

We started with the Fairyland Loop, and then hiked sections of the Rim Trail, Queen’s Garden Trail, Peekaboo Loop, and Navajo Loop.

Fairyland Loop

The Fairyland Loop was considerably north of the main canyon, and included a short side-trip to the Tower Bridge. This was where we picked up our 3rd companion for the day – a bright blue bird with a mohawk. He stalked us for several hours looking for handouts, but I just tossed pebbles at him.

Tower Bridge

We also lucked out in finding a tiny little stream, which we used to refill the water bottles. After all the rain/sleet/snow/hail we’d seen earlier in the week, this was actually the first completely dry day of the trip. We needed more water than usual.

Filtering water

After lunch, we began hiking the network of trails in and around Bryce Amphitheater. Ironically, the Peekaboo Loop (which had been recommended by a Milwaukee law student back in Zion), was both the most scenic and least crowded trail in the park. It offered great views of the Wall of Windows and Cathedral rock formations, along with plenty of limestone fins and hoodoos.

Exploring Queen's Garden

Stopping for a break

Peekaboo Loop

Wall of Windows (in background)

Some hoodoos

We ended the day by climbing out through Wall Street and up the switchbacks to Sunset Point. We left Bryce around 3:30pm, bought gas and groceries, and set off for Capitol Reef National Park.

View into Wall Street

Approximate Total Distance: 16.3 miles

Published in: on May 21, 2011 at 11:07 pm  Comments (5)  

Zion National Park, Part 2

For our second day in Zion, we decided to try a canyon hike on the northernmost end of the park. Both our legs were slightly fatigued from a day of climbing, so we figured a nice, meandering walk along a creek would be best.

Entering Kolob Canyon

We decided on the 14.0 mile trail through Kolob Canyon to see the famous Kolob Arch – one of the largest natural sandstone arches in the world. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the trail also included 56 stream crossings (28 each way…and yes, I counted).

Allison crossing a stream

Before the rain started

The first 5 miles or so were great. The sun actually came out for awhile, and we made fairly good time. Around the time we stopped for lunch, however, it began to rain. We figured another 2 miles to the arch wouldn’t be a big deal, so I threw on a poncho and she pulled out a rain jacket and we set off.

Kolob Arch (and waterfall)

Matt: “Pop quiz. What’s the largest arch we’ve seen so far on this trip?”

Allison: “I think it was Landscape Arch, wasn’t it?”

Matt: “Incorrect. St. Louis Arch.”

Kolob Canyon

By the time we began our 7 mile return trip from the arch, the rain was really starting to come down fast…and it would stay that way until we made it back to the car. Zion has probably received two months worth of rain in the few days we’ve been here.

Trying to stay dry

Aside from being cold and wet, our progress was hindered by the muddy track that had once been a dirt trail. The real problem, however, was the rapidly increasing level of the creek we were following. What had once been a shallow, peaceful creek had transformed into a violent, churning river. Our stepping stones from the morning’s hike were all several feet underwater. These pictures should give you a pretty good idea of things:

Morning stream crossing

Afternoon stream crossing

Of the final ten crossings, only two were navigable by stepping stones. Another two were avoided by leaving the trail and cutting cross-country, though this provided challenges of its own. We were forced to scramble down several treacherous drop-offs, and my poncho was ripped to shreds by the undergrowth. For the remaining six crossings, our only real option was to hold hands and wade across – waist deep in the fast-flowing water. The picture above shows where we made the first crossing, but this was actually one of the mildest of the six.

Needless to say, we were both soaked and shivering when we finally made it back to the car. We were also pretty beat-up from hiking 25+ miles in 29 hours, so we decided to scrap our plans to ascend Angel’s Landing the next day and settle for a tamer hike.

After vacating the campsite Friday morning, we decided on a 3.0 mile hike to the lower, middle, and upper Emerald Pools. The pools were definitely scenic, but the trail was much more crowded than we’d seen on more “strenuous” hikes the previous two days (except for one other couple, Kolob Canyon had been completely deserted after the rain started).

Upper Emerald Pool

Nonetheless, this was definitely a nice break from our brutal hiking schedule. After another brief 0.2 mile climb to see The Patriarchs (3 peaks named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), we ate some lunch and made the two hour drive to Bryce Canyon.

The Patriarchs

Approximate Total Distance: 17.2 miles

Published in: on May 21, 2011 at 12:54 am  Comments (5)  

Zion National Park, Part 1

After spending Tuesday night in a motel, Allison and I decided to stock up on groceries before driving the rest of the way to Zion. The weather once again refused to cooperate, alternating between snow, hail, and rain for virtually the entire day.

Campsite in Zion (2 nights)

We didn’t arrive at the park until around 11:00am, and by the time we set up camp and took a shuttle to the Weeping Rock trailhead it was close to 1:00pm. On the upside, the cold and rainy weather meant that the trails were practically deserted. For our first hike of the day, we took a 0.5 mile roundtrip climb to the “Weeping Rock” overlook. Supposedly the cliff face oozes water throughout the summer, but today it was producing a full-blown waterfall (sobbing rock?).

The next hike – Observation Point – began in the same area. The trail consisted mostly of switchbacks carved into the sides of cliffs, gaining 2148’ in elevation over the course of 4 miles. There was also a brief section through a slot canyon, requiring hikers to shimmy along the sandstone wall to avoid falling into a stream (we had to assure a trio of reluctant German backpackers that this was, in fact, the only way forward).

View from the switchbacks

Dodging waterfalls

The views from the east rim of the canyon were pretty spectacular, despite us having to fight through a miniature hailstorm on the way to the summit.

View from Observation Point

Allison at Observation Point

Stopping for a rest

Toward the end of our return trip, we realized that it was only about 5:00pm…so we decided to branch off the main trail to explore the “Hidden Canyon” side route. Most of this 2.4 mile excursion isn’t actually considered a maintained trail, so hikers like us get the pleasure of climbing and scrambling through a slot canyon.

Navigating Hidden Canyon

The canyon itself wasn’t particularly challenging (the water level had fallen considerably as the rain slackened off during the afternoon). The fun part was actually the exposed climb over to the canyon, which was made all the more difficult by the wet and slippery sandstone.

Dry sandstone? Easy

Wet sandstone? Not so much

Approximate Total Distance: 11.3 miles (Weeping Rock + Observation Point + Hidden Canyon + Campground Trail)

Published in: on May 20, 2011 at 11:16 pm  Comments (5)  

Arches National Park

After a day-and-a-half of driving (including a night in Kansas with Aunt Rachel and Cousin Dustin), Allison and I arrived in Moab, Utah shortly before dark. We decided it would be fun to camp out the first night, so we drove up into the mountains of Manti-La Sal National Forest a few miles away, pulled off the road, and pitched our tent right as the sun went down.

Campsite (Mt. Peale in background)

Allison cooking dinner

The next morning we found ourselves caught in a snowstorm, which gradually turned into a rainstorm as we descended into the valley. Though it only lasted a few hours, this was hardly the kind of weather we expected for our first day in the desert.

For our morning hike, we decided on a 7.2 mile trip through Devil’s Garden. This is actually the longest maintained trail in the park, and offers views of Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch, Navajo Arch, Partition Arch, Black Arch, Double-O Arch, Private Arch, and several smaller unnamed arches. By the time we finished, my poor belly was requesting a trip to the golden arches (it had to settle for tuna salad).

Landscape Arch

Partition Arch

Double-O Arch

The trail itself reminded me a bit of Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois, with plenty of climbing, scrambling, and exposed cliffs. Rather than following your typical dirt/gravel trail, much of the route traversed wide stretches of slickrock and was marked by strategically-placed rock cairns.

(That's me)

Natural bridge over Devil's Garden

Devil's Garden

Trail marker

"Cliff? What cliff?"

In the afternoon, we decided on a 3.0 mile hike up to the famous Delicate Arch. On the way, we got to see a late-1800’s cabin and some Native American petroglyphs. It was only 4:00pm when we finished, so we decided to drive partway to Zion National Park rather than stay another night near Moab.

Allison & her hiking hat

Delicate Arch

Petroglyphs

We’ll be hiking in Zion Wednesday-Friday, so expect another update later this week.

Approximate Total Distance: 10.2 miles

Published in: on May 17, 2011 at 11:55 pm  Comments (7)  

Smoky Mountain Backpacking Trip, Part 2

Compared to Russell Field, the Spence Field shelter was pretty high class (that is to say, it had a privy).

View from inside the shelter

Spence Field Shelter

The next morning, despite our battle scars from the “day hike” to the waterfall, we decided to leave our packs behind for a 2.6 mile stroll to Rocky Top for some scenic views.

Battle scars

Appalachian Trail, near Rocky Top

Sunrise over Thunderhead Mountain

Allison and I on Rocky Top

Group photo on Rocky Top

We returned to Cades Cove via the Bote Mountain and Anthony Creek trails (5.5 miles) after returning to Spence Field and packing the bags. Following our post-caving tradition, we hit up a local Pizza Hut for a late lunch before the drive back to Indy.

Lowest Elevation: 1966′ (Cades Cove)

Highest Elevation: 5440′ (Rocky Top)

Approximate Total Distance: 23.1 miles (including Saturday’s “warm-up” hike and a 5.7 mile estimate for Sunday’s off-trail hike)

Allison and I will be leaving for our trip out west this coming Sunday, so you can expect another post in about a week. The first stop will be Arches National Park in Utah.

Published in: on May 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm  Comments (6)  

Smoky Mountain Backpacking Trip, Part 1

After my graduation dinner Friday night, Allison and I drove to Townsend, TN to meet up with her parents and brothers (Alex and Jonathan). After a short warm-up hike Saturday morning, we loaded up the packs and set off for Russell Field (5.2 miles).

Leaving Cades Cove

Group Picture

We made it to the Russell Field shelter with plenty of time to change clothes, filter water from a nearby spring, and cook dinner before it got dark.  Although most of us had freeze-dried meals, we also had room in our packs for luxuries like zucchini bread and fresh fruit. Needless to say, this earned us some jealous looks from the more hardcore Appalachian Trail through-hikers who’d been living on the bare essentials for several weeks.

Cooking Dinner

The next morning, we departed around 8:30am for a 5.7 mile, GPS-guided off-trail hike to a waterfall.  The plan was to leave our packs (and lunches) at Russell Field, so we’d only have to bring water bottles and a few light snacks. So…just to give you an idea of how things went down:

1 hour later

4 hours later

10 hours later

It turned out that much of our route was overgrown with thick patches of rhododendron, so we spent at least 5-6 hours walking along the sides of ridges, crawling through tangled bushes, retracing our steps, crossing streams, crawling through more bushes, and descending ~1000 feet into a steep ravine before we even reached the waterfall. Then, in order to get back to Russell Field, we had to spend several more hours climbing back out of the ravine and plowing along a thorn-covered ridge.

Highlights included stumbling upon a nest of snakes (while perched precariously on the side of a ravine), hacking through vines for water (pictured below…but no worries, we also had the water filter), and nearly getting crushed by a falling slab of rock (pulled loose by yours truly as I tried to descend a rock face).

KA-BAR > vine

vine water > bottled water

On the upside, we got to see a pretty sweet 40ft waterfall that very few people have seen before. There were also plenty of red toads, and I caught a quick glimpse of a wild boar before it ran off into some bushes.

Alex under the waterfall

We made it back to camp at 6:52pm and spent 15-20 minutes scarfing down some food before loading our packs and setting off along the AT. Thanks to a quick pace, we arrived at the Spence Field shelter (3.1 miles) just after sunset.

Published in: on May 10, 2011 at 12:59 am  Comments (10)  

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo…

Allison and I are doing quite a bit of hiking and backpacking this summer, so we figured this would be a good way to keep track of everything (and let our family know we haven’t been eaten by bears).  Planned locations for the next ~40 days – in roughly chronological order – include:

Thunderhead Mountain, TN

Driving through Kansas

Arches National Park, UT

Zion National Park, UT

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Capitol Reef National Park, UT

Grand Teton National Park, WY

Yellowstone National Park, WY

Glacier National Park, MT

Horn Creek Family Camp, CO

Horn Peak, CO

So then. If you’re easily bored by descriptions of rocks, trees, and bodies of water, then this likely won’t interest you. Our 3-day trip in the Smoky Mountains begins this Saturday with Allison’s parents and brothers. We plan to see Thunderhead Mountain, do some off-trail hiking, and spend 2 nights in primitive shelters along the trail. The rest of the fun starts in about 2 weeks, after we’ve had time to move into our new place in Milwaukee.

In the meantime, I have a biochem final to study for.

Published in: on May 3, 2011 at 2:55 am  Comments (4)