Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cliffs Notes

Here are some photos and quotes from my trip with Isobel to Tent Rocks, the condensed version of the Bravado post.

"Hey, that looks like a weak woman."
"A weak woman?"
"Well, she's kind of sad. She has a line under her eye. And she has a haircut like Eva's."

"But Dad, I like climbing more than hiking."

"Whoa, we can see the WHOLE WORLD, it looks like."

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Here's a PS about that hike with my Grandpa Joe.

I remembered it wrong. We didn't even bring any water. That drink from the spring was my first of the hike, too, but I was dying for it. He was just taking his medicine.

On the question of whether to ever drink untamed (wild, unfiltered) water, here's my opinion. I try to always purify water in the woods. Unless I can see it bursting right out from under its first rock. Or unless I miscalculated how much water I'd need, didn't bring a purifier and there is a small, cold, bubbling stream staring me down.

I never stay thirsty in the presence of a clear, cold stream. I'd drink from a lake if I were hallucinating or something. But to drink from a big houseboat-covered reservoir, I'd have to be staring into the gates of hell and feel sure that that was my fate if I didn't take a swig.

The first time I get giardia, the clear-stream/spring policy may change.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I have always been a bit skeptical of technology's role in the woods. Compasses, for instance, and first aid kits, and the principle of hydration. You know, the If-you-get-thirsty-you-will-die mentality. A good friend of mine took the "clear and copious" doctrine so far as to tell me, "If you don't need to pee, you're not drinking enough." I said, Well, sure, if you don't need to pee for a whole day or something, you're probably not drinking enough, but he said, No, if you don't need to pee RIGHT NOW you are dehydrated. He told me this just after relieving himself and just before guzzling half a liter of purified water and dancing along the ridge for a hundred yards or so to the next bush.

Another favorite rule of the hydration-obsessed is, No caffeine, no carbonation. But there's very little I like better than downing a can of Coke, the ultimate dehydrator, just before descending from a high peak. I drink it for a treat, a boost, not for hydration. I also drink water on the trail, but only when I'm thirsty. I still drink a lot more water than my Grandpa Joe. I remember huffing, puffing and guzzling along behind him one day about four miles to a spring, where he stopped for his first drink (right from the source, by the way, with only a passing, snickering reference to giardia).

"I take water like medicine," he said. "My doctor said I need to drink water, so I try to remember."

I once asked a wilderness survival type for some suggestions for being out in the winter. He said, "Number one rule, no cotton." But I still wear a cotton T-shirt on every hike, every backcountry ski trip, and Levis on all but the wettest and coldest.

Maps and a GPS are fabulous tools. I consult them to find out roughly where I am and where I'm heading. But more than a tool for getting found or not getting lost, I use them to find out where I want to go and remember where I've been. A compass does neither of those things and the imperfect measure of the position of the sun is all I've needed, so far.

All this could get me into real trouble sometime. But it hasn't yet. (And you could make a good argument that if it hasn't gotten me into real trouble yet, then you'd have to be either miraculously unlucky or monumentally incompetent -- because I am a good bit of both -- to get into real trouble on the kind of mildly adventurous trips I take).

Today, Isobel and I went to Tent Rocks National Monument. I decided to turn it into a winter hiking story for a local newspaper, so I found a group of Sierra Club members that were headed there and kind of tagged along. "Kind of tagged along" means I met them at their office at 8 a.m., when it was 8 degrees, talked to them about the place and whether we should expect snow and ice in the bottom of the deep, narrow slot canyon, told them I'd probably see them down there and went home to get Isobel.

I did see them down there. They were almost back to the trailhead. I asked how the trail was. A 50-year-old lady with trekking poles said, "Spectacular, a little icy near the top." And the trip leader said, "You won't make it in those sneakers. You need some boots with gripping soles like these," then brandished his $200 hiking boots.

That's when I thought of Devin forgetting his Sorels and wearing Vans to near the top of a snowy peak last winter. And Devin scrambling in his Vans up a steep off-trail boulder field to a 13,000-foot pass in the Wind Rivers. And Devin's old, shredded, treadless Vans skiing down a snowy slope toward Logan Canyon during a recent deer hunt. (Thankfully, he wasn't hunting and, you know, carrying a gun.) I thought of Devin's recent geology field trips and his complete disregard for the "mandatory sturdy hiking boots" rule.

I said, "I guess we'll just go as far as we can."

Isobel did slip once, then spent the rest of the trip warning folks we passed. "Be careful," she said. "It's a little slippery up there. You might fall." ("I'm being a good helper, aren't I, Dad.") But she didn't tell anyone to turn back. In fact, she said, "This was SO FUN. I'm going to tell Mom and Eva that they should have been here. We have to bring them with us next time."

Like I said, I know there is a chance that my disregard for sensible advice could get me into trouble someday.

A friend of mine told me of a 30-mile hike into Yosemite with a guy in running shoes (the wisdom of which my friend questioned at the trailhead), followed by a 30-mile hike out with a guy with a broken ankle. Vince once rock-crawled off a rugged dirt road in a beat-up pickup and gave a bit of advice to a couple of hot shots in a brand new Toyota -- "It's a little rough," he said, and the hot shots laughed -- then Vince heard gears grinding and metal crunching for a few minutes before watching the hot shots belly-crawl by with heads down and eyes averted.

This has never happened to me. When I ignore advice, nothing but good ever comes of it. For instance when Bettie said, "I think we should stop for gas here before we drive into that secluded forest," I ignored her. And when we ran out of gas after dark with a 10-month-old girl in the back seat, it wasn't five minutes before a car came along and drove us all to the next little dingy hotel.

It always turns out OK in the end.

Knock on wood.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Gunsight Peak reprise

This blog's first-ever post (see it here) should have had this photo in it, but the light when we started the drive toward it (at 1 a.m. in a rainstorm) just wasn't quite right.

Devin sent me this photo later.

This is the view of Gunsight Peak I saw growing up, the little volcano across the valley.

Out one day with you, hallelujah ... Moab part IV

On the fourth day of Moab, Eva sang to me ...

That song is why I take those girls out into the wilds (whether they like it or not). Once again, they learned this from driving around with their mom, not from listening to their dad. I don't even remember the name of the artist, but it's very sweet. (We heard it on a great mix from Bettie's friend, Jayna.)

While I like to think she was singing to me, Isobel's definitely her favorite climbing partner.

This was our last day in Moab. We spent the morning on a short hike at Mill Creek; it's in town near the Slickrock trailhead. Follow the creek, take the north fork and soon you come to a pretty little waterfall and a large pool that I hear is great for swimming in the middle of the summer. March, not so much, especially at 9 a.m.

Then we went back to the spot we saw the first day, along Onion Creek near Fisher Towers. We went up the next canyon and looked hundreds of feet straight up at the spot we'd sat a few days before looking hundreds of feet straight down. On the way up, Eva started singing again and kept it up for the rest of the day. And once again, Isobel joined in.

I love my girls.

On the way back, Eva got hold of Devin's hat and backpack, dipped the hat in the creek to keep her head cool and marched down the trail saying, "Look at me. I'm Devin." For about 20 minutes, she would correct anyone who got her name wrong.

I, for one, think Devin is pretty darn cute.

I'll end with this great picture Devin took of Isobel on Mill Creek. This is like a photo from Harry Potter -- I can see her happy little strut like it's a video.

Hallelujah, I love my girls.