Friday, November 30, 2007

Can you 'preciate Moab, sweetie

On the first day of Moab, Eva said to me ...

Last March. It was Devin's spring break and I had to "work" in Moab. So he tagged along. We also brought Isobel and Eva, because: Every spring break worth its sun includes a couple of girls that are super cute, and just a little bit dirty.

We hit Lizard Rock first. (This rock can be seen from the Fisher Towers trailhead, about 22 miles northeast of Moab on Utah State Road 128.) On a previous trip, Isobel had named it "Bottle Rock." After Eva's first look, it was "Mother Rock." I guess it just depends on your point of view.

From here, I think it looks like a big scary Tyrannosaurus lizard. I haven't seen any lizards standing on their hind legs like a bunny rabbit in 65 million years, but maybe the T-Rex resemblance is how it got its name.

Click on the picture for the full-size version if you can't see Isobel marching through the canyon at the bottom. She's a beast on the trail.

At some point on this hike, one of us said something like, "I don't think the pack rat that lives there would appreciate you poking your head in his home," and I guess Eva heard. Because, for the rest of the day, she was asking everyone (or no one) if they " 'preciated that."

Sometimes these girls make me nervous, but maybe it's just because I can't really keep up with them on the harder sections. Here's Isobel leaving me in the dust.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More deadline hiking

The clouds are building today, the high is supposed to be in the 30s and snow could fall this evening.

Two days ago, I hiked to an 11,746-foot lake and there wasn't any ice or snow anywhere. Good thing I left the skis and the ice auger at home.

OK, I did find a little ice ...

This is a fork of the Rio Nambe, at about 11,000 feet. On the shady side. There was a bit of snow and ice in the shadiest spots. But it hasn't snowed in at least a month, so there wasn't much to speak of.

This is a 12,600-foot peak, Santa Fe Baldy. Dry as a bone.

I didn't make it up there. But a couple was going that way. They were from San Diego, and had just finished a long backpacking trip in Southern Utah (Paria Canyon). I told them I was amazed the trail was so bare at this time of the year and they said, "Why?"

I guess the trails around San Diego are milder than those in northern Utah. I bet the Uintas aren't this easy to navigate right now.

In all, I hiked about 17 miles, saw four lakes and a bunch of peaks I'd like to come back to. I started on the Winsor Trail at Ski Santa Fe and ended at Holy Ghost Campground. Bettie dropped me off and left a car on the other side. (She had to drive 60 miles to get there; it's 13 miles by the shortest trail.)

This is Lake Katherine, the highest and probably prettiest of the four lakes I saw.

Good thing Devin and Vince weren't there, or it would have been a pretty cold swim.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hiking is not fun

Hiking is one of my favorite things. Really. Most of the time. Sometimes, though, it is nothing but a task to be completed. A tedious, painful, task to be completed. At the last possible moment.

(I have not slept for 27 hours. The 45-minute naps in the rain on the rocks do not count.)

The truth is, though I had been vowing to bag Gunsight Peak for 13 years, I may never have gotten around to it if I hadn't moved 600 miles away.

Once, a fellow canoeist on the Bear River said of Gunsight Peak, which looms over that Cache Valley, Utah, section of the river, “It’s one of those peaks you get sick of just looking at.” He’d lived in the area for about a year when he finally did more than just look at it; he climbed it.

At the time, I thought I knew just what he meant. I didn’t.

I’d had it on my list of peaks to bag for years. But as it turns out, I loved looking at it, summit conquest or no. The only thing that got me to the top was the prospect of having it looming over my memory, growing ever larger, without being able to add this note to the story: I planted my tennis shoes on the tippest top of Gunsight Peak.

That’s what drove me there, on a hungry, rainy, dark night – full moon blotted out by clouds – even pushing past a false summit at dawn.

Gunsight Peak is a beautiful mound, rising quickly from the valley floor, north of one small mountain range and west of another. The small range’s high point is named for the view from the west, where two peaks (Gunsight is the northern peak) and their connecting ridge aim above the valley at nothing but the sky. (From an airplane, you could probably sight in Naomi Peak, Cache County’s highest.) The peaks blend when looking from the southeast, where I
grew up.

There are a hundred peaks like it across the West: Small, beautiful, rising lonely out of a patch of sagebrush, watching over settlements anywhere from 100 to 1 million strong.

It’s beauty is understated: I spent a lot of time looking out of high school classroom windows at the Wellsville range, its neighbor to the south, but I never paid much attention to Gunsight Peak – didn’t even know its name – until I returned to the valley after a summer away just after high school graduation.

Once I returned from Mount Rainier National Park, I looked at it differently. From Hyrum, Gunsight Peak has nearly the same profile as that giant northwestern volcano, which rises 14,410 feet from the sea level city of Seattle in 54 miles. Gunsight’s little cone rises not quite 4,000 feet – to 8,266 feet from the valley floor of 4,400.

What finally drove me up it, however, was not tiring of “just looking at it,” it was a deadline. My brother and I planned our ascent for the last full moon before I moved 600 miles from Logan. I didn’t want to remember Gunsight Peak as the little volcano I never climbed. So I enhanced the memory.

As with so many of my unspectacular little adventures, this one was made memorable by poor decision-making and lack of preparation.

It was a full moon, according to the calendar, but we couldn’t see the full moon at 1 a.m. when we finally left the house. At least it wasn’t raining anymore. We debated the pros and cons of starting early in the morning or starting right now.

Pros: It wasn’t raining. We were still up. We had to do it sometime. If the clouds did clear, the late-July day would be scorching.

Cons: The big dinner we ate to fuel us to the top was already wearing off. We had nothing but Oatmeal Crème Pies and water to fuel our hike. After sitting in front of a movie – I don’t even
remember what we watched – for a couple of hours, I had the beginnings of a headache.

OK, we didn’t weigh any of those factors against taking the peak. Didn’t think of them until later, when we were tired, hungry and had nothing in our packs. The one we did think about was that, well, we didn’t know where, exactly, to start.

Off we went. We found a starting point and started in the dark. (Here's a Topozone map with Gunsight Peak on the left. We started just off the right side of the map, at the dead end of the road on Myler Creek.)

By three in the morning, I was ready for bed. And it was raining again. And we didn’t have raincoats. And my head hurt. So we lay down under a tree, dozed off, woke up shivering 40 minutes later and hiked again.

At dawn we made the summit.

(Oh. I'm glad
that's over.

From the summit, in new light, we could see the real summit.

(Kill me.)

We called it good - this was the summit we could see from home, after all - and headed down. Or, rather, we tried to head down. We couldn't leave it up there.

We dragged ourselves across the ridge, up the, well,
chokecherry-choked final slope - much longer than it looked of
course - and passed out on the tippest tip of Gunsight Peak. Forty
minutes later, it was raining, we were freezing, and we were on our
way down.

Going down is always the worst part. Except for driving home, copilot asleep, stomach churning nothing but sugar, after 29 hours without sleep.

It was not fun, but it's done. And we never have to do it again.