Thursday, March 31, 2011

Utah: Part I

For spring break Jenny and I decided to plan an ambitious six day trip through Utah: Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park. This post describes our three days in Capitol Reef National Park.

After a sleepless night on Matthew's concrete apartment floor in San Francisco, we got up at 5:30 for our flight and arrived in Salt Lake City at 10:30. After picking up our rental car, a Dodge Avenger, we headed south, racing to get to the Capitol Reef Visitor Center to get our permits before they closed at 4:30. The first four hours of our drive were surprisingly dull (with the exception of the 80 mph speed limit on the interstate) - it was a grey day. Then all of the sudden we turned a corner and the colors of Capitol Reef burst into view:

All of the sudden, Utah went from gray to red, yellow, and orange. After picking up our permits at the visitor center we drove 20 miles east and turned onto Notom Bottom Road a 90 mile dirt road paralleling the edge of Capitol Reef and eventually coming out in Bullfrog Basin on the shore of Lake Powell. It was the beginning of a lot of stressful driving since we were in a 2-wheel drive car and we had heard a lot of different things about Notom road (impassable when wet, high-clearance 2 wheel drive, etc...). After an hour or so we came to the Burr Trail, a road that slices through the Waterpocket Fold and then continues south.

The Waterpocked Fold is the distinguishing characteristic of Capitol Reef National Park; a 90-mile long piece of the crust shunted upward at a 45 degree angle exposing all the underlying rocks. It's remarkably colorful:

We got to our trailhead, the Upper Muley Twist Canyon trailhead, at about 5 o'clock and hiked in three hours and set up our camp in the dark. The dirt is pleasantly soft, although I still didn't sleep well (something about the 1st night of a backpacking trip). Out camp was in an awesome spot though.

And yes, that's a crazy-huge rock behind the tent. The next morning we got up late and then hiked down to the start of the Upper Muley Twist Canyon Narrows which were sadly water-filled. And we decided it might be better to avoid waist-deep 45 degree water. After working our way around the narrows we hiked up and hiked back along to the rim, getting back to our car about 5.

The color and striations in the rock were awesome (throughout the whole trip)!

And even though the narrows were flooded...

We still got to hike up some other cool narrows.

After we got back to the car, we drove another hour south to the Halls Creek Overlook, where we made some people's day by jumping their car (woo!). Our plan here was to hiked down the thousand feet to Halls Creek and then attempt a 21-mile loop of the Narrows the next day. The hike down to the creek was one of the best views in the park- it always looks like the background is photoshoped in the desert...

When we woke up the next morning it sure was windy, though we had no idea... yet. We left of our backpacks covered under some trees and started hiking south with our daypacks, but after 20 minutes the wind was blowing hard enough (and it looked ominous enough) so we decided to turn around. On our way back we decided to try to hike to a natural bridge up a nearby side canyon and things were going well until we got to a little 15 feet climb up in the canyon. As we were climbing up the little rock ladder the wind started gusting at more than 40 mph spraying as with sand. Up on our exposed little ladder there was nothing to do but hunker down (and get sand in every hole in your body). After about 5 minutes the wind died enough for us to get down, and we spent the whole hike back crying sand out of our eyes. Unfortunately, things were starting to look really ominous when we got back to our packs...

We decided to get the hell outta there, which unfortunately meant racing up more than 800 feet in a mile. Whew. After getting back to the car, a gingerly navigated us down a stretch of high-clearance 2 wheel-drive road and then onto Notom Road for an hour and a half of trying to get back to paved roads for rain made Notom impassable. We were only 20 miles from the south end, but the ranger had mentioned that there was a ford just before the end that was running high, so we headed north, going as fast as our Avenger would carry us down the road. It was stressful driving, but I have new faith in American-made cars now. When we got to the visitor center we discovered that there was a cold front bearing down so we decided to do some hikes in the main part of the park. We first stopped for the Petroglyphs:

This part of the park, known as Fruita, was inhabited by Indians until the arrival of Mormons who planted the fruit groves that give the area its name (and that you can still pick today!). Our next stop was the Grand Wash running right through the center of the park, which certainly lived up to its name.

Next we hiked up to Cassidy Arch, 1000 feet above the canyon, and supposed hideout of Butch Cassidy and his gang.

The arch was awesome, the views down the was were cool, and we even got a decent self-timer shot! After that we drove back to a trailhead on BLM lands where we set the tent up in howling wind. I think it got down in the low 20's during the night and the wind was blowing at 30 mph, making the windchill down in the teens... certainly the coldest night I've spent in a tent. Needless to say we didn't bother with a hot dinner (or breakfast for that matter). The next morning at 5 AM we got fully dressed in the tent and packed everything up, then got out tore it down and ran to the car as fast as we could for our 4 hour drive to Canyonlands, across Lake Powell and then up and over a super-snowy pass (stressful driving!) More to follow...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Joshua Tree

We're all the way to January now! For Jenny's birthday (you might have figured out by now that Jenny and I are dating - good work) I decided to plan a backpacking trip to Joshua Tree National Park down in southeastern California. So the Friday of MLK weekend Jenny and I got on the train in San Jose at 3 PM and wound up in Fresno at 8:30. After stocking up on supplies we went to sleep early.

The next morning we were up at 5 and out the door by 6, for the 8 hour drive to Joshua Tree through Bakersfield and Barstow. After about four hours we go to the "desert," some salt flats near Barstow.

The desert is such a crazy place - I think over the past two quarters I've increased the time I've spent in the desert by 10,000% or so...

We got to our trailhead at around 2PM, the Coxcomb mountains, in the remote eastern part of Joshua Tree. You may not know (I sure didn't) that Joshua Tree is a national park because it's where the high-elevation, rainy-in-the-winter, Joshua Tree-filled Mohave Desert meets the low-elevation, rainy-in-the-summer, barren Colorado Desert. After hiking for a few minutes we stopped for a late lunch of Salami, bread, and parmesan (my backpacking lunch of choice). Mmm.

We followed a 4x4 road(ish) for a few hours and set up camp for the night in a large wash at the base of the mountains. The next morning was when I really appreciated the desert. When we woke up at 9 it was already a pleasant 70 and it only got up to about 80 in the day and 55 at night. Perfect. Even better, there's no bears so you don't have to go through all that annoying trouble of storing your food, and toothbrushes, and bug spray, and boots that your brother spilled his coffee on...

We packed up camp and then set off for a day of scrambling the nearby peaks. Sadly, the summits of all the peaks were a little too hard for us to comfortable scramble, so we mostly scrambled around peaks, but the views were incredible.

The basin we were looking out on was mind-blowingly flat. We also got to observe a sandstorm pass about 15 miles from us- a much better situation than watching a sandstorm pass directly over you...

After scrambling through canyons all afternoon, we came to this crazy man-made watering hole that our best guess was built to provide animals with a constant source of water year-round. It was a little creepy because there were animal bones all around although I did find a Bighorn Sheep horn!

True of False: Bighorn Sheep are endangered.

If you said false great job! Not only are they not endangered, they're not even threatened. Sadly, we (ahem) were convinced that they were endangered so I left my prize behind...I guess it was a national park after all.

We made it back to our original camp about 5, and then packed up and started walking back toward the road so our hike out the next day was shorter. Sunset was awesome- I swear it's not photoshoped...

Once we set up camp, we cooked another delicious dinner (on the stove Jenny got me for Christmas). And since it was a birthday celebration, I even brought along a little wine...

We woke up the next morning at 4:15, got the car at 5:30, and were back in Fresno at 1. From there we caught a 3 PM train back to San Francisco, which got in at 7:30, where we took an 8 Caltrain and were back on campus by 9:30. Whew. What a whirlwind.

All in all it was an awesome trip. Happy Birthday Jenny! The desert is an awesome place, and I have this sneaky feeling you might hear and see more about it in future posts...

Until then I'll leave you with my obligatory wilderness shot:

Sunday, March 27, 2011


As I work to update the past six months of my life, next up is Yosemite! In the middle of October Jenny, my brother Matthew, his friend Pat, and I piled into Matthew's car and cruised up to Yosemite for a weekend. Matthew's car, while great for cruising along the coast, was a little tight with all our pack and gear...

We got there Friday night and camped in a campsite way out near the park entrance and then got up the next morning, drove in, and got our permit. After convincing the park ranger that I did in fact want the permit I was requesting ("You know that's the steepest trail in the park right?"), we got started at around 9:30 AM. Our first 4 miles were wicked steep: up and out of the valley.

We ended up eating lunch at the exact spot where I camped two years ago when I went to Yosemite by myself. From here we hiked up to Tenaya Lake, which while beautiful, was also on the road. It did take a little away from the scenic beauty...

After Tenaya Lake we climbed up and camped along Sunset Lake for a chilly night: we got the season's first snow! On the bright side, we were allowed to have a fire, the first fire I've had camping in years...
The next morning we got up quickly and hiked up to a chilly Cloud's Rest, an awesome overlook behind Half Dome.

After Cloud's Rest we scampered down, got to the car, and got outta there.

All in all it was a pretty crazy weekend. When we drove up on Friday it was 90 in the Central Valley, and when we drove back Sunday it was 40! We did 32 miles in a day a and a half, and Pat had his first backpacking experience- what a warrior. The best part is that I got to take advantage of all California has to offer, what I've been meaning to do every year since freshman year!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kauai: Part II

This post will probably be a much-abbreviated version of the end of Kauai... it's been a while after all. Once Jenny and I got to Kokee State Park on the southern half of the island we spent three days hiking, including the backside of the Na Pali Coast:

We also hiked out toward the ocean: the drop-offs into the canyons were really pretty impressive- more than 1000 feet!

We ended the day at the U.S.'s westernmost brewpub! Sadly its claim to fame was much better than their actual beer. Still cool though...

The next day we hiked around the famous Grand Canyon of Kauai which was awesome even in the rain! Apparently Kauai gets its fair share.

That afternoon, we did one of the coolest hikes we did in Kauai, through a swamp. We got to the vista at the end of the trail and the fog cleared for just long enough for us to see the North side of the island. It was all in all an incredibly muddy but pretty cool hike.

The next day we did the famous Hanalei River Kayak trip: overrated. It ended up being a pretty short paddle to a waterfall and swimming hole all with 400 of our closest friends. The highlight of the day by far was showing up at the driving range at a little golf course on the south side of the island and hitting some balls barefoot and in shorts! We also finally tried some shave ice. Pretty good stuff.

Jenny flew out the next morning and then I left the following evening for Honolulu where I switched to my flight home, which was CANCELLED: dun dun dun. I did get to spend the night in the Marriott in Waikiki though, and I managed to escape on a flight the next morning.

This ending does seem a little unfair to Hawaii. I had an absolute blast this summer and got to do things I'll never get to do again. I wish I could have provided more timely closure when I first left, but this will have to do. Thanks Hawaii. Thanks for a fun summer. Thanks for memories I'll never forget. And most importantly, thanks for letting me meet some great people. I probably won't be back for awhile.



The blog is back after a long hiatus. I'm going to finish up Hawaii first, post some cool things I did in the fall and winter, and then once I'm caught up, I'll hopefully use this blog to post cool things I'm doing every now and then. Upcoming posts include: Kauai Part II, Yosemite, Christmas, Joshua Tree, and then Spring Break in Utah! Stay tuned.