Dark Canyon, Utah, spring break backpack

Erik Lund, Tom Baskin, and I finished a backpack in Dark Canyon, in the desert of South West Utah.  It was between Hanksville and Blanding, near Lake Powell on the Colorado River.  It is very remote, and one has the feeling that a rescue is out of the question, there is no cell coverage, and its a long hard hike back to civilization.



The pic above shows the starting point, Sundance trailhead.  From there, we hiked around and canyon and descended a rough, difficult, scary rockslide of 1200 feet.The red line in the picture below is the route down the rock slide, more or less.  Each step was down, onto rocks with gravel on them, that could turn or roll, and was hard on old knees.

IMG_0082 with route

The picture below is on the rockslide, but doesn’t capture how steep and difficult it is. There is no trail, but a lot of different use trails criss crossing the steep slope. There are places with a 100′ drop off.


Pic below of Tom Baskin, partway down the slope, with Dark Canyon in the background, a long way down.


Below: the bottom of Dark Canyon.

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Below: The second day we hiked up river, walking on ledges above the water.  Most of the time the water was not reachable due to cliffy sidewalls.



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Below: Erik leaps the river.


Below: Erik edges around a boulder blocking the ledge we were on, with a 60′ dropoff to the river below.




Below: Tom using his little wood burning stove, with a few sticks of wood heating 3 cups of water to boiling in 6 minutes.  It is very effective for heating water.






We saw plenty of awesome swimming holes, but it was too cold to swim.




We spent the 2nd night on the grassy area above, then headed upriver to Young’s Canyon for the third night.



Bob and Erik at the last water before tackling the slide on the last day of the trip.


Below: back up the slide on the last day, to get back to the trailhead. Erik taking one step at a time.  The hiking was very exhausting.


View of Dark Canyon from the climb up the slide.


Winter Camp

Went camping with the scouts, and after last year’s bitter cold 10 below nights, I was braced for cold weather.  Instead we got bad weather.  I stayed in a 4 man, 4 season tent, and wondered just how big those 4 men were.  I found the tent to be about right for two guys and some gear.







Saturday it rained all morning.  It finally cleared a bit my the afternoon, and by evening we saw a bit of sun.  Saturday night was windy and it snowed about 4″.




Echo Rock Hot Springs

We planned to take the scouts on a hike along the Owyhee River in mid November, but the weather was predicted to be rain or snow for Saturday, clearing by late Saturday.  We woke up to snow on the ground in Boise, and 6 of our 12 scouts dropped out.  Were they the smart ones?  Maybe.  We decided to risk it, and six adults and six youth headed out on the trip in cold windy weather.  Its about a 2 hour drive to Leslie Gulch in Oregon, then a 3.5 mile hike up the Owyhee River.  This part of the river would be under the water if Owyhee Reservoir in the summer, but now its easy going on a well traveled road.


The colors of the cliffs were vibrant, made better by the slant of the November sun.  It was windy and cold, but the scouts were dressed for it.  I didn’t see much of them, as I was bringing up the rear, hiking solo or with Tom Baskin.




The hot springs are wonderful, made of concrete with a fill valve and a drain valve.  The scouts and especially Erik Lund picked up a lot of beer cans and trash around the hot springs, and Erik carried out a full trash sack, earning him the nickname of The Trash Man.  The work on the hot springs was done by Owen Jones and friends, hikers associated with the web based hiking group Idaho Outdoors.  If every visitor took out as much trash as our group of scouts, it wouldn’t be as trashy as when we got there.  Its such a special place, with the view and the perfect water temperature, if anyone is inspired to hike there please take a trash bag to carry out the trash of the trash leavers, whoever they are.

The water when the hot springs was filled is a perfect 102 – 103 degrees.  This is definitely the way to camp in cold weather.


Tom’s pic below of some yutes and the trip leader Bill Kreisle enjoying the hot water, with a perfect view of the valley upriver from the hot springs.  I hope these kids realized what a special place they were camped in.


Below:  This is a view of the canyon from close to our camp, looking downriver.


Our campsite, below a feature we called “Jabba the Hut.”  Thankfully, the wind died down after dark, and Sunday morning was cloudy, cold,  but calm.  DSC04731

Below: view from the hot springs in the morning.  You can’t beat a soak in the hot springs before a cup of coffee in the morning. DSC04735


Below: the view downriver from near our campsite.  A cold but beautiful hike out.  DSC04744

Backpacking Chair – REI FlexLite Chair

What blasphemy is this, taking a folding chair backpacking?!  I can’t believe I am uttering these words.  It all started in 2012 when I did a hike with the scouts in Grand Gulch, in southern Utah.  George Walters and his son were with the group, and George brought a chair for himself, one for his son, and one for his friend Rachelle.  After a few days, I tried it, and ended up carrying George’s son’s chair so George didn’t have to carry it.  These were aluminum law chairs, and really weren’t too heavy to carry.


Rachelle liked the comfort of a camp chair so much that she started mentally designing one that would be a little lighter for backpacking.  I had to admit that I liked having a chair to sit on in camp also.  A year later I sat in a FlexLite chair at an REI store, and mentioned to my son that maybe his Mom would get me that chair for my birthday.  Surprise, I got one for my birthday/father day combined.

flexlite chair

I really had my doubts that it would last, but thought I’d test it on a 8 day backpack to the Uinta Mountains of Utah.


It weighs 1 lb 10.5 oz, and has actually held up pretty well. I sat on it every day in the Uintas, and if I wasn’t sitting on it, someone else was.  I thought for sure the metal legs would bend from someone rocking in the chair, or the seams would split out from use.  It did get rocked in, but the legs and seat are holding up fine.   I’ve had it on a few backpacks since then, and maybe I’m just getting old, but I appreciate the comfortable seat in camp, and I’m taking it on every trip from now on.  The only issue I’ve had is that if the ground is soft, the legs can sink into the ground, so you have to move it around to find harder ground.  One time on a canoe trip, I sat in it too vigorously, and went right over onto my back.  You have to lower yourself down into it, not plop down on it recklessly.  Anyway, our group with included my wife, my son and his girlfriend, and they thought it was hilarious.

Bear Valley Hot Springs

Bear Valley Hot Springs might be my favorite late season backpack.  Its about 3 miles in, and is probably the best wilderness hot springs I know of.  The main pool is at a perfect 102 degrees, has a gravel bottom with no algae, and could hold maybe 8 people at a time.  The way in is either by a trail with a cliffy/ sketchy part for about 100 years, or the other way requires a fording of Bear Valley Creek.  It is only fordable in late season, and we hit it mid October, and the water was frigid.  I tried to get a picture of some of the sketchy trail, so people could decide for yourself if you can handle it.  Either way you go in, you need hiking poles, and a second pair of socks and shoes.  Dave crossed in Crocs and it was OK.




The picture above is part of the sketchy part of trail.  Its slippy, and the drop off is about 100 feet to the river below.  There are some short straight up portions, but the worst are the short straight down portions.  Hiking poles are a life saver.



Here is Dave on one of the better portions of the sketchy trail.  Its only 100 yards long, but could be a freak out for some. This shows the drop off to the river below.


The view above show where the hot water comes out of the hillside.


Above is the main pool, about 3 feet deep, a uniform 102 degrees with no hot or cold spots, a wonderful hot pool.  Its all the better because there are no crowds, and its deep in the wilderness.


The river from near the hot springs.



Above is the river near camp, with nice autumn colors.



Morning sun in cutting through the steam from the hot water. DSC04587


On the hike out we decided to try out the alternate route, fording the stream.  The rocks were not too hard to walk through, but the water was like ice.  Dave crossed first, then I crossed, then we called to Ginger to try to get her to cross.  She got about 1/3 of the way across, then headed back to shore.


This was about as far as Ginger got before turning back.  I dropped my pack and headed back for her using one hiking pole.  Her pack had a handle on the top, so I grabbed her pack by that handle, and dragged her across.  As soon as her feet got traction near the shore, she was off.  Man that water was cold!  The hike from the ford to a pack bridge across the river was about 3 miles.

Rapid Lake backpack with the Scouts, September 2013

Troop 100 was scheduled to hike to Box Lake, a popular lake off Lick Creek Road, but as the departure date approached, the roster was becoming too large for the limited camping at Box Lake.  We picked an alternate destination to Rapid Lake, also near McCall, a 4 mile hike from the Boulder Meadows campground.  Leaders for the trip were Mt. Fujino and Mr. Mick.


The water level was low at the reservior, and the old tree stumps were showing in the mud of the lake.  Tom B. saw the beauty in the patterns of the stumps, and got the shot below.


We had a break at the two mile mark, on the concrete dam of the upper reservior.  The last 2 miles were through dry grass hillsides, across a meadow, and up a hill where the trail had been obliterated by downed trees.  At the lake, some of us hiked all the way around  the lake, and found the best spot for a large group like ours.  There were no other people at the lake.
Below are some pictures of the scouts at our campground.




Tom, Jim, and Grant hiked up to the top of Rapid Peak, and got the shot below of our tents at Rapid Lake, and they hiked down to Summit lake and approved it for a future campsite.





Uintas Trip, July 2013

These pics are from our week long trip to the beautiful Uinta range of Utah.  We started at the Highline Trail trailhead in the Unintas, after spending the night at a campground at Trail Lake Campground.  These places are about 30 miles east of the town of Kamas, Utah.

From the trailhead, we headed to Jordan Lake in Naturalist Basin for the first night on the trail, which required about 900 feet of elevation gain and maybe 5 miles of hiking.  At Jordan lake we first observed what would be the theme of the trip, and that was mosquitoes and knife throwing.  Jim brought a set of 6 throwing knives, and he and Tomio threw them about a bazillion times into a dead tree near camp.  From then on we had to choose a campsite with a nearby dead tree.







The Uintas are the only east west range in the Rockies, and they are high.  We were at 10,000′ elevation for the whole trip.  Starting out that high just seemed to suck the energy out of my legs, and I was moving pretty slowly on the trail the whole trip.  I

We had a layover day at Jordan lake, and Tomio, Josh, Jim and I headed out to visit the upper lakes in Naturalist Basin.  They were very nice, and the overcast sky made the hike cool.  It spit rain a bit, but didn’t rain. Meanwhile, Kevin has been fishing, and we ran into him as he used his Tenkara fishing setup in the stream out of Jordan Lake.








The next day we left Jordan Lake, we headed cross country to Rocky Sea Pass.  We went up a bench, and reconned a route up a higher bench.  Not finding a good route through some rough looking talus, we skirted the bottom of the bench, till we found a gully that looked doable.  Up the gully we went, slowly.





As I approached Rocky Sea Pass I thought I saw mountain goat near the pass, close to where the rest of our group was assembled.  As I got closer I saw it was a goat, but one with a pack on.  Just ahead of us descending the pass was a group of about 15 people with maybe 8 or 9 pack goats.


From Rocky Sea Pass we descended and camped near a lake close to the pass.  We got the tents set up just before it started to rain.  We huddle around a fire in light rain, and retreated to under a tree when it rained more heavily.  Our tents would be tested on this trip, as it rained nearly every day.  It was generally at a convenient time, and didn’t last a long time, so it was find.


From our camp at the foot of Rocky Sea Pass we headed to Rosalie Lake, in hopes of isolation and good fishing. Our campsite was on the West side of the lake, and off the main trail.  We quickly got tents set up before it started to rain.   The next day we dedicated to fishing and exploring the area, and fishing nearby Margie and Uinta Lakes. Both lakes had fish and are very isolated, and very spectacular also.   We caught fish with Josh’s spin casting setup, my fly fishing, and Kevin’s Tenkara and fly fishing gear.



Kevin catching another one, above. DSC04100

ABove, Uinta Lake, very secluded, and lots of fish.     A fish in Uinta lake is below.




Jim and Tomio cooked up fish for all, and they were delicious!  We wore mosquito head nets a lot., and had small fires to keep mosquitoes at bay somewhat.



The next day we headed back over Rocky Sea Pass to Four Lakes Basin, and camped at the lake closest to the trail.  It was not the greatest campsite, but it had a standing dead tree which the boys riddled with throwing knives.  At almost every camp we had a small fire, to keep some of the mosquitoes away.  The next day we hiked out to the trailhead, and headed for much anticipated burgers in Kamas.




Tenkara fishing

Tenkara fishing is a Japanese style of fishing which uses a rod, a line, and a fly.  It uses no reel, no eyelets on the rod, but the rod is telescoping.  I first tried tenkara fishing when I was a child in Kansas, but we called it fishing for catfish with a cane pole on Grampa’s farm pond.    The pole had a string tied to the tip, and we attached a big hook with a piece of liver on it.  With that, we tossed it out into my Grampa’s pond with a cork bobber, and we tried to catch a few catfish.  The best part was riding the hay wagon behind the tractor back to the house.

Tenkara fishing is a much refined version of cane pole fishing.  The tenkara rod telescopes down to the size of a drumstick, and it has a little woven tip at the end to which the line is attached by a loop.  Below, Kevin using his tenkara outfit on a small stream in the Uintas. DSC03952.23

Shown below is the rod all compressed for travel, and below that photo is one of the tip of the rod, where a fly line attaches by a simple loop.  The only knot that you have to tie is the one holding the fly to the tip of the fly line.




In Kevin’s tenkara setup the line is removed from the rod when not in use, but in other tenkara rods the line can be left on the rod when it is retracted.  Care must be taken to pull each section out one at a time, and also when the sections are pushed back together.  The rod is very thin at the tip, and its possible to break it if you are not careful.  The fish is landed by the fisherman grabbing the line and pulling the fish in by hand.  We caught as many fish using tenkara as we did using fly fishing gear, or spin casting gear.  Below, Jim cooking some of the trout we caught in the Uinta Range of Utah, July 2013.



Shock cords for tent lines

For several years I’ve been using shock cords on my tent lines.  They are sold in fishing stores as snubbers, and they come in various sizes.  For fishing they serve to absorb some shock when a really big fish hits a line, so the line doesn’t snap.  In tents, they also serve to absorb some impact, such as when a tent is in a severe wind gust.  With the snubbers, my tent has survived micro bursts, wind storms, and being knocked around by wind for hours.


I have them on the tent lines that hold up the front and rear poles of my Tarptent Squall 2, and on the 2 side guys for that tent.  I would get the large size and the thickest size they have.  They are made of surgical tubing, and have metal loops on the end that make it easy to connect them to your tent lines.





Making a Wooden Handle Knife

I wanted to make my son Jim a knife to commemorate his reaching Eagle Scout.  I thought I would make the handle fit his hand perfectly, so we put a layer of modeling clay on both sides of the tang of a knife blank.  Jim then squeezed the handle and squished the modeling clay into a mold of his hand grip.  We let the clay dry, measured it for thickness at various points, then I set out to shape the wood handles to match his hand print as shown in the clay.


The shape above was the clay mold of Jim’s right hand as he gripped the handle of the knife.


The shot above is with the slab of wood flat on one side, with the brass rods sticking out.  The wood slabs have been epoxied onto the tang, and a excess around the tank was cut off using a hand operated jig saw, and a rotary sanding tube.  The excess brass was cut off using a dremel with a grinding blade.  The ridges of the mold were drawn on the wood for future shaping.  The blade was covered by duct tape, to protect the blade from scratches, and to protect me from getting cut.  It was critical to mount the knife so the blade was solid and accessible, by using C clamps to clamp it to a vice.


The shot above is with the rods filed off, and the side of the wood marked for removal of excess wood to the profile of the mold.  I thought the brass rods might present a problem when shaping the wood, but the rasp took the brass off about as fast as it took the wood off.


Some more of the profile trimmed off, with the sides still vertical.  One brass rod ended up on the ridge between finger slots.


A finger slot started, and more of the top profile trimmed.


More finger slots started, roughly trimmed off with a rasp.


Rough shaping done with rasp, ready to do coarse sanding.

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Sanding done!


and finally, a sheath to match, and the brass and blade polished up a bit.

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Magic Rocks

The Magic Rocks are carved from solid basalt by millions of granite rocks, stones, pebbles and sand, driven by mega force water during spring runoff.  The water borne abrasives cut through the softer basalt like butter, leaving pot holes, and strangely shaped smooth boulders and bedrock. A contingent of T100 scouts and scouters visited Magic [...]

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High Uintas Backpack, July 2013

We are planning a backpack to the Uinta Range of Utah for July next summer.  The pictures below show the scenery to expect.  The land is high elevation, with gentle terrain and lots of nice lakes.  Looks like we’ll need a big fry pan, and some lemon pepper for the fish.  The trip is scheduled [...]

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Bonneville Hot Springs in Winter

Winter camping with scouts, or with anyone, is better when there is a hot springs around.  A few hardy scouts and Todd and I as leaders headed to Bonneville Hot Springs for a snow camp. We hauled our  gear in about a mile, and set up tents for sleeping.  The boys sledded most recklessly using [...]

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Loon Lake, Oct 19-20,

Loon Lake has become a regular with our troop as a late season and early season hike.  It is about 6000? elevation, so is snow free when higher mountains are snow covered.  Of great interest to the scouts is the crashed D-23 bomber.  The bomber crashed in a winter storm in WWII days.  Three of [...]

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The John Muir Trail

Ever since I hiked the John Muir Trail with my brother and friends in 1971, I hoped to do it again. Doing it with my kids would be a dream.  In August 2012 I set off with Kevin Anderson, a participant on the 1971 trip, who has been joining my son’s scout troop on backpacks [...]

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Mt. Williamson, Independence, California

My brother Mike and I drove up and down the Owens Valley many times, and we were always struck by the impressive view of Mt. Williamson, near the town of Independence, California.  Ansel Adams took a striking photo of Mt. Williamson and we always wanted to find the site of his photo some time.  I [...]

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Packing a Bear Canister

For out upcoming hike from South Lake to North Lake on the John Muir Trail, I have an unfamiliar challenge.  That is to get food for 5 breakfasts, 6 lunches, and 5 dinners into a bear canister.  In Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Washington, we just don’t have that constraint very often (never in Idaho).  Taking [...]

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Take a Measuring Cup on Backpacks

Sometimes a measuring cup is very handy, but if you are trying to reduce your packload, you don’t want to pack gear you can do without.  A handy solution is to make your regular drinking cup into a measuring cup.  Get a 1/4 cup measuring cup, and pour 1/4 cup of water into your drinking [...]

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Bear Valley Hot Springs

I hiked with my dog Ginger to what has to be the nicest hot spring in Idaho, and Idaho has a lot of hot springs.  It was a 3 mile walk from Fir Creek campground, but I would not recommend the hike for kids or anyone with balance problems.  There was a part where the [...]

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Gear Shopping Advice for Folks (adults) new to Backpacking

This is a guide for adults who are new to backpacking and want to get gear for this fun sport.  This advice comes from me having started backpacking in 1967, been active in mountain rescue, nordic ski patrol, peak climbing, backpacking and mountaineering, and teaching college classes in backpacking for 12 years.  I don’t do [...]

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