Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wind Rivers, 2011

This blogger program is a problem. When I add photos I also get sentences and words fragmented. I give up. Here are the words & a few photos from the Wind River Mountains 2011. The photos are in Picasa here: https://picasaweb.google.com/109537175190450928722/2011WindRivers

I started Monday morning and drove north on 35 through Oklahoma and into Kansas, then west on 70. Stopped for the night in Hays KS and on into Colorado (see the sunflower fields stretching yellow along the highway). At some point in Colorado I talked with Leslie who told me she’d talked with my professional liability agent re not renewing my insurance and I’m thinking, Oh, but a few miles up the road I began to experience feelings of freedom – the loss and the gain and now the unmistakable intro to Dark Star.

Along the road, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. Closing my good eye so I won’t see the sign that says I’m another 8 or 10 miles closer to Limon. Thinking of Leslie – I don’t know, maybe it was the roses, the roses or the ribbons, in her long brown

hair. And finally, way off in the distance, the mountains and closer, the snow high up on the mountains. Past Denver, past Fort Collins, 287 north into Wyoming. Spent the night in Laramie and on the road early, seeing magical words and places from my youth – the Snowy Mountains, Medicine Bow River – seeing snow fences in the morning sun. After Rock Springs it’s 98 miles to Pinedale, with the snowy peaks to the east, on the my right. Am I really going up there into the snow and ice! Photo: Camp in Titcomb Basin

I stopped in at the big general store and called Leslie one last time before I turned off the phone and drove up Skyline Drive to Elkhart Park TH. I was saddled up (for you DK) and on the trail by noon.

Day 1. The first hour I stopped four times briefly and then took a 5 minute rest. The second hour I stopped three times. After that I don’t know – it’s all woods for the first few miles. I was happy to pass Miller Park, a large meadow a few miles in. I’d slept there once before on the way out and was thinking I might stay there this time on the way in.

But I was doing fine and continued on to Photographer’s Point. Before I got there I met an older couple who said they’ve spent a lot of time in the Winds. The man told me they were on the way out as they’d seen a small grizzly (oooo – scary word to write sitting in a tent in a wooded area – I’m serious) and opined that the mother was nearby.

I’m camped by Barbara Lake – too close to the trail and the lake, but the bear thing is on my mind and I don’t want to be back away from where I would be found if there were problems. I’m at 10,000 feet now – a gain of ~9,250 feet from Dallas. It took me two hours

to set up camp – tent up, pump water, inside of tent set up, not eat (I had

a Snickers ~2:30), food hung, protein drink made and cooling in the lake for breakfast tomorrow. I think I’m stronger than I was two years ago, but the altitude really gets to me. Haha, a chipmunk just startled me scuffling around the tent, then the chittering – ah, that’s good to hear. The guidebook called this part of the trail “arduous.” Photo: Weasel on the hunt

Day 2. I slept from 8:30-6:30 and lay in my tent until 7. I guess I was tired. Breaking camp was slow and I was on the trail ~9. In ~30 minutes I got to a place where I’d camped before several times near an unnamed tarn in a little valley. Up, up, down, down, past Hobbs Lake. lots of trees, but some open areas, past Seneca Lake. Somewhere around there I talked with a man who said snow conditions are bad and that someone fell to his death yesterday on Gannett Peak. The understanding was that there was a father & son climbing together and that it was the son who fell. This was sobering on several levels and I decided to not try to repeat the epic trek of 2009 and instead, take the road more traveled and go to either Indian Pass or into Titcomb Basin.

The worst part of the day’s hike was a stretch of switchbacks up a dry, rocky area, sucking air, puff puff and finally over the top and into classic Winds terrain. I stopped in a timberline meadow, the same place Jeff and I had camped before and though I was again too close to the trail, this is where I stopped – wasted. I collapsed for awhile, drank the last of my water and set off down the hill to pump some water. Uh-oh, the pumping got harder and harder. A clogged filter, no doubt and hard to fix where I was. Glad for my emergency bag, which includes iodine tablets and iodine taste neutralizer tabs. Back at the campsite

I got my tent up a little faster than last night. I crawled into the tent and lay there for awhile, nauseated, with a headache, like I said, wasted. Last night I didn’t eat anything and tonight may be the same. BUT, I’m in sub-alpine meadows with granite domes and knobs and a lot of open areas and a few stands of trees and Titcomb Basin a few miles away.

So the first push is done and I’m in a place I love.

The mosquitoes are bad. I’m using 100% DEET and a head-net. I hike with the head-net pulled back and when I stop on one of my frequent rests, pull it back down over my face in the moment before they start to swarm. I try to get into the tent when the wind is blowing, hence less swarming. I open the netting fast, dive in, close it fast, lie there on my back watching for any that might have gotten in with me, and kill ‘em.

Day 3. I hiked from that good campsite past Island Lake with some dismayingly steep downhills (USMC doctrine: He who humps down must hump up.). When I got to the Indian Pass cut-off I thought, hmmm, uphill all the way, and so headed up the +/- level trail into Titcomb Basin, “a sight that will haunt you forevermore” (from Great Adventure Treks of the World). I didn't

get as far into the basin as Jeff and I got, but here I am hidden away in a small grassy area among the granite domes and knobs with the stark basin before me. I’m still not feeling great, but not as bad as the two previous evenings and here I am, at last. It’s all above timberline now.

I didn’t eat lunch today as even a Snickers or granola sounded unappetizing to say the least; gross to say the most. Dinner was ½ packet of IDAHOAN mashed potatoes (In case you haven’t tried them, a great freezer bag dish.), pepper jack cheese, dried focaccia (another break-through item), and some bacon from the Central Market salad bar.

Ahh, the sun just slipped over the peaks to the west and suddenly it’s cool and I feel good.

Overall, I’m happy with most of my decisions – to not try Knapsack Col alone again, that I hiked past Indian Basin and into Titcomb, and that I didn’t let the other people’s fear of a bear infect me. I don’t like my decision to leave my bear spray in the car to save weight (8oz).

Day 4. I was awake last night from ~2:30-4:30, awoke at 6:30, fell back asleep and woke at 8:30. Had some oatmeal and coffee for breakfast (almost everything sounds bad). I left my tent and all and hiked toward the back (north) of the basin. I met some guys from Pinedale, one of whom had a photo of a trout he’d caught – the biggest I’ve ever seen. One of the men had a pistol – a .45/410 – I want one!

What a place, so raw and wild and high. I hiked until the trail ran out and then followed the cairns across granite and tundra further up into the north of the basin. I passed where I came down Twins Glacier from Knapsack Col in 2009 in what I realize ever more clearly was a high-water mark for me. I’m feeling tremendously grateful that I did that. I’m feeling like it was probably my last rodeo.

Across the tundra, granite slabs and domes, across snow patches and snow fields (but none steep or challenging) until I got to a larger snow field that I went part way across and when the effort increased, went back – back down through the crag encircled basin, through boulder fields and marshy meadows and crossing streams from 8” wide to 20’ wide, all rushing to join the bigger streams from the big glacier run-off, cascading in waterfalls, water slides, rushing streams down to the big one, a fast shallow river down into the highest Titcomb Lake and picking up the trail again, hiking alongside the lake. I stopped to talk with two women with a golden, who sat her big wet butt on my leg, then got up to shake off on me giving me sweet Goldie flashbacks. One of the women spotted a weasel in the rocks behind us which was cool, as I’ve never seen a weasel in the wild.

Back at my campsite I was thinking about people who played a part in me being here. I’m dedicating this hike to Dave (swimswithtrout) whose passion for the Winds shines through in his brilliant photos and his tireless encouragement of others. And also to Dorf, whose excellent trip reports have provided me with many hours of pleasure and whose report of Peak Lake over Knapsack Col showed me the way to go in 2009. And also to Joe (offtrail) who has been generous in his support and who is an inspiration. As night fell, a coyote howled from about 100 feet away, just on the other side of a granite knob. I thought at first (I hope I hope) it was a wolf, but it wasn’t.

For lunch I had ½ a granola bar and for dinner chipotle cream sauce with a little dehy burger, some pepper jack cheese, and a “hunger-grab” or something like that bag of nacho flavored Doritos. I ate the whole bag.

Animals I’ve seen: today a weasel, yesterday a rat swimming underwater in one of the beautiful little streams, chipmunks, pika, marmots, and from the highway, pronghorn antelope.

Day 5. It was raining early in the morning, but it slacked off ~8. I had a protein drink and granola bar for breakfast and was on the trail ~9:30, hiking out of Titcomb, sad that I will probably never see this place again and grateful that I got here in the first place. Remember the part about hiking down means hiking up? Near Island Lake I took a wrong (early) turn and hiked up that hill only to find the trail petering out at the top. Hmmm. I hiked back a bit and talked with some men from northern Virginia who told me I was on the way to Way Lake or something like that.

I hiked and hiked, past the Highline Trail, past Little Seneca Lake where I met a 69 YO man, so that was encouraging. Past Seneca Lake I was starting to get tired. For the whole trip I’ve been in a negative energy in/out balance. I had hoped to get to Hobbs Lake, but ran out of steam and stopped at the first decent water, a little jewel of an unnamed tarn by a little meadow where I did my afternoon sinking spell. My wrong turn and poor nutrition did me in.

Haha, I’ve ripped the seat of my trousers out again. Ridicerous. Every time I come here I tear up another pair. This time the seat was somewhat torn and then I ripped it all the way out while I was hanging my food and tumbled 30 feet down a steep slope. Whomp, I landed on the trail. Really ridicerous.

When I started this hike I was thinking in terms of a vision quest. The vision was of Leslie, seeing her true essence – not just the woman I love and her true nature, but her eternal self. I’ve never seen that before.

Day 6. Crying in the morning light. My beloved wife.

I tried something new: protein drink and a granola bar

for breakfast, and then I mixed up another serving of protein drink to carry. I had thought I might stop at Miller Park, but ~11:30 I downed that 2nd protein drink and was hiking strong. I talked again with the Polish couple (Andres and the woman had a difficult to pronounce name) I’d spent some time several times over the previous days. I also talked with Jeff and Jessie from Wichita KS who I had met on their way to Gannett, but with one of them feeling bad, had backed off the snow up to Bonney Pass. I blew on past Miller Park – I could smell the stable. The bad weather was settling in on the mountains and I hiked the last mile or so in the rain. Photo above: I camped by this tarn my last night

To the car, to Ridley’s General Store, and to the Wind

River Brewing Company for one of their brilliant burgers and fries. Ahhh. Ran into the young men from Pinedale I’d met at one of the Titcomb Lakes – and the Polish couple. A perfect ending. Photo: When in Walsenberg, I always stay at the Anchor.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Birds and the mountains calling

I’ve written before about how when we’re lying in bed we can see the bird feeder right outside the back window and 7 feet past that, the bird bath and behind/beside the bird bath is a big bush that's undistinguished in terms of flowers, but is a major bird bush. Actually our entire yard, front and back, is a bird sanctuary. With all the bird-watching, squirrel studies (all squirrels are named Chubby), lizard updates (all named Mr. Green), various roses and other flowers coming into or going out of bloom, so on and so forth, it’s as if our lives inside our house extend to outside. Photo: Junior wren on the front porch - first day of flying

So many wonderful things …

The adolescent jay dive-bombing the feeder to bother the other birds.

Mr. and Mrs. C (the cardinals) are always first to the feeder, just as the sky begins to lighten.

The year before last a wren couple made their nest in our mailbox, so we closed the porch off. One day we found a tiny baby wren (no feathers, big head, totally helpless on the porch and put it back in the nest – which we confirmed later really is the best thing to do). When the junior wrens were ready to fly, they spent a few hours clinging to the brick, flying from wall to wall and away they flew. Photo: Junior wren on Phyllis' house - first day of flying

Now there’s another wren nest in the ivy growing all around and on the front bathroom window overlooking the driveway. When a parent is on the way with food she or he calls in a kind of descending trill and the babies respond with the faintest of peeps that Leslie can hear, but I cannot. After the babies get their food there is complete quiet. I walked up on the porch a few days ago and there were two junior wrens on the porch. I got the camera and went to the driveway, where the juniors were practicing flying back and forth between Phyllis’ house and ours. A few juniors were around the next morning and by afternoon they were all gone. Photo: Junior wren on the feeder on the front room aircon - first day of flying

The “homeless birds” (drab-appearing cowbirds and grackles) are the most spectacular bathers, using their wings and tails to splash water everywhere. They crowd up – 6-8 of them on and in the birdbath.

Doves are a poor symbol of peace – they’re aggressive with other birds and among themselves. They lift their wings and spread their tails to appear bigger and run toward others. What goofy birds they are. The sparrows pay them no mind, crowding around like they do. Photo: Chubby in the roses at a living room window

The sparrows are always around, crowds of them, hopping and flying around, happy as larks. They seem to have no conflicts with anyone, including among themselves. They’ll take a piece of the bread and kind of hop off the edge of the feeder to the ground where if they drop the bread often another sparrow grabs the bread and hops away. When the young ones are able to fly to the feeder they hop after adults, shivering and cheeping for food.

For awhile we had what we called sparrots – parrots that flocked with sparrows. They actually live closer to the lake and after a month or so, found their way home.

Once Leslie called me to the back of the house and there on the bird bath was a hawk – a force to be reckoned with.

We have blackbirds (all named Quoth the Raven [said in a husky deep voice]) who prefer the bread. When one of them lands on the feeder it pretty much clears the deck, except for Chubby. They take a piece of bread and fly back to the birdbath to soak it for 15-20 seconds, the scoff it down and back to the feeder. Back and forth, back and forth. Photo: Robin red breast and cedar wax wings in back. The cedar wax wings are around for one, sometimes two days/year - just passing through

Leslie rescued a baby jay from Judo’s formidable jaws. She fed it little pieces soaked dog food on a toothpick for a few days and then found a rescue place (ABC Vets) that took it.

We are on the 35th day of >100F. We’re filling the birdbath several times/day and I’ve begun spraying the leaves of the pecan tree and the bush by the birdbath, thinking that that might improve things for the birds. Yesterday, when Leslie was lying down to take a nap (actually it’s mostly lying down for her daily back, hip, and leg-rub – same as mine, earlier in the day) I saw a hummingbird hovering by the bush by the birdbath. There are no flowers – what is that little guy doing – Oh, right, having a drink, taking a break from the usual fare of Phyllis’ Turk’s caps. Photo: Quoth the Raven

This morning, before daylight we saw an owl on the birdbath.

In a few days I’m headed to Wyoming to do a similar trek to my epic (it was epic for me, anyway) hike into the Wind River wilderness in 2009. https://picasaweb.google.com/chaskemp/WindRivers2009North.

As is increasingly so, I’m uneasy about being away from Leslie, especially going into a wilderness area. But I have my SPOT (satellite beacon to check in okay or to send distress signal) and an ever increasing sense of my limitations. And this time I’m uneasy about leaving home in all this heat – Yikes! And I go with a tremendous sense of appreciation for a wife who is so supportive of this. Leslie is a rare one – in quite a few ways, actually. For all our life, all our love, all our work together, all our travel, our wonderful son, our dreams, all these days, and so much more: I love you. Photo: Looking back on the mountains I came over in 2009.

From Dallas I35 north through OK City, Wichita, go west on I70 to Denver, north on 25 a few miles, cut off to Ft. Collins, then north on 287 to Laramie, west on I80 to Rock Springs and 191 to Pinedale. Here is an exact route that will be abundantly clear to anyone around Pinedale. I’m planning on starting at Elkhart Park outside of Pinedale, through Miller Park (“Parks” are huge meadows.), past Photographer’s Point past Hobb’s Lake, Seneca Lake, Little Seneca and then if everything is real good (I’ll let you know by sending three consecutive I’m okay messages) north on the Highline Trail past Lower and Upper Jean Lakes, on to Shannon Pass Trail to Cube Rock Pass around the south side of Peak Lake up through Peak Basin and up between Split Mountain and G-4 to overlook Mammoth Glacier, then traverse around to Knapsack Col and down into Titcomb Basin to Island lake and on out. If it’s going just okay, i.e., I’m too slow or too much knee pain or whatever, I won’t send 3 consecutive okays and will go past the Highline Trail cut-off to Island Lake and from there into Indian Basin and either up Freemont Peak or just mill around in Indian or Titcomb Basins for a few days and then out.

And here's a song for you, sweet Leslie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3j4cu-MuLgc