Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mt Hood Trip Report, Hogsback Route

"Late fall ascent of Mt Hood, climbing and conditions report"
Crater Rock, Mt Hood
Well, I bagged Mt Hood again! I'm sure there's some other late season climbers looking to snag Hood before the Winter snows begin. The Cascades have actually had an incredible snow season which has been delightful for climbers and skiers alike. I climbed this route last year on almost the same exact date and the conditions were not even close to how good they were yesterday.

General Impressions: The southern routes are in good shape with a good amount of snow at the higher elevations. In the morning, the route was very icy and hard pack while the afternoon sun melted it into a slushy snow mix. The afternoon sun brought a large amount of snow melt and rock fall- saw a couple of refrigerator sized snow-boulders careening down the slope. Of course, every day is different, but the rock falls started happening around 11 AM. I left at around 4:45 which was unforgivably late in the mountaineering world- better leave before 3AM to really avoid the rockfall danger.

The Pearly Gates, Mt Hood

Trip Report

Without coffee, even the mountaineering world would fall apart. Coffee, powerbars and poptarts is what fuels the climber. After that hearty breakfast I hit the route in the dim moonlight of a crescent moon. The stars were still amazing as I skirted around the ski resort that is the bottom portion of the Hogsback route. Once I made it to some snow, I strapped in and began ascending the rock hard ice that would become slushy later in the day. The first part of the hogsback route is always uninteresting.

I was able to pass up the "miracle mile" before sunrise an started ascending the small glaciers just South of Crater Rock and east of Illumination Rock. The oncoming sunrise made the ascent a little warmer, but the route was icy all the way to the Pearly Gates just below the summit. Make sure you've had your crampons sharpened before going, even this late in the season!

Cut Trail below the Crater Rock

As I was climbing I got some deja vu. Last time I was on this mountain, I had just finished my undergraduate degree and a summer job out in Maine. After spending some time with the family, I took about two weeks to tour around the Cascades and climb some mountains while I was inbetween jobs. So basically, I had no job, no home and only a vague concept of what I would be doing a year down the line. And now, almost exactly one year later, I'm two semesters into Nursing School on my way to becoming a Nurse Practitioner. I live 3,000 miles away from home and there's a whole new set of adventures and life challenges. My how the times change when you're in your early 20's! I was remembering famous mountaineering quote: 
"The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too." ~Hervey Voge

Mt Hood Summit

The familiar and awful smell of sulfur was actually quite welcoming- I was coming towards the glacier. I remember the first time I climbed Mt Hood and I wasn't expecting to see sulfur vents; in my own ignorance, I was slightly worried that the mountain might erupt! Of course, these sulfur vents at the crater are of no immediate concern. However they do allude to Mt Hood's potentiality for a massive erruption within the next 100 years. (Climb it now!)

The icy section below the summit proper was tricky although not technically difficult. There were a couple of sections that were enough to make me sweat a little bit and if you are a cautious climber, you might want to consider bringing a snow wand or two and some rope. Nothing too crazy, just steep and icy towards the top. I was wishing I had a second ice axe for that last part.
Mt Hood from Timberline

Finally upon the summit, I set to work in taking my standard 11,000 summit photos. There were views from Mt Rainier all the way to the Sisters! An impending thunderstorm made me descend as quickly as possible. Although only a 30% chance on Mt Hood, the thunderstorm hit the east side hard and I got out just in time.
Overall, great climb, good conditions considering the time of year with only a few tough sections. Next up, trip report of Mt Shasta!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Aerial Views of Central Oregon Cascades and Climbing Routes

Three Sisters, from the Air
Hi All! I'm back out west for a week in Bend, Oregon! Located smack-dab in the middle of the state, this is an excellent location for a launching point for several adventures in the Cascades and the High Desert. Bend is an outdoorsman's paradise and I am living it up as much as I can before going back to grad school in the fall. 

Today I had a unique opportunity to fly around the cascades in a small four seater aircraft! A family friend who also happens to be an avid climber and aviator offered us this opportunity and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to see some of the routes I've climbed from 12,000ft in the air. It was an adventurous experience even though I was just riding shotgun. I'm also thoroughly infected with the flying bug and have predetermined that I will learn how to fly some day and own an airplane. Yeah... instead of having a mid-life crisis and buying a motorcycle, I'll just buy an airplane.
Cleared for takeoff!
Aviation has found a particularly useful place in the rock-climbing and mountain climbing world. My friend who is an avid Cascade Peak-Bagger will commonly fly around routes he plans to climb. This trip around the Cascades helped me see some of the stuff I've done and future routes! We left from the municipal airport in Bend, Oregon and flew straight over Mt Bachelor, Broken Top and the Three Sisters.
The summit crater and ski area on Mt Bachelor
Aerial View of the Standard Trail up South Sister
South Sister Summit Crater and the Largest Glacier in Oregon
The Sisters from the air where all spectacular. The geology and age of each of the three was much more evident. North Sister and Middle Sister are considerably older and more eroded than the taller South Sister and hence the climbing routes are much more difficult. Glaciation has carved ugly and tricky gullies up North Sister making it a very difficult ascent. Middle Sister has a slightly less challenging ascent up several snow filled gullies.
North Sister
Heading North from the Sisters, we got an excellent view of a somewhat newly discovered Wolf Rock in the Central Cascades. Although it was first climbed over 30 years ago, its so isolated from any major road or town that there are still new routes being pioneered. It is becoming the new frontier in Cascade climbing from what I've heard.
Wolf Rock, from the sky!
The overhand on the right is a challenging route up Wolf Rock
From Wolf Rock, we headed North to fly over Mt Washington (Oregon) and Three Finger Jack. Both of these mountains are very eroded and have some difficult scrambles and climbing routes. The rotten rock that is so indicative of the Cascades has the consistency of "smooshed gram-crackers". Never the less, there are some worthy challenges that seem to be safer in the winter when colder temperatures freeze up the tricky sections.
Aerial view of Southwest side of Mt Washington in Clouds
Three Finger Jack, Southwestern Side from the Sky
Finally we had a chance to see Mt Jefferson which is an imposing climb from any direction. There are no easy routes up Mt Jefferson as the summit pinnacle is a class 5 climb. Its heavily glaciated and not too unlike Mt Hood although far less climbed. Its a two to three days climb from most conventional routes. Its towards the top of my list of climbs I'd like to do within the next couple of years.
South Side of Mt Jefferson, Aerial View
West Side Routes and the Summit Pinnacle, Mt Jefferson
North and East Faces of Mt Jefferson
The last stop on the trip was a view of Smith Rocks from the air. Smith Rock State Park is the premiere rock climbing destination in Oregon. Unlike the Cascades, the rock is solid and not crumbly! On nice days in the spring and fall, you can get into a traffic jam of climbers. The summer heat tends to ward off most visitors, but the state park is visited all year long.
Smith Rock State Park
So there you have it! Aerial perspectives on the Cascades gave me a higher appreciation for this wilderness. Although I don't show any pictures, it was also interesting to see the massive lava flows that have covered the forests over time. This is an ever-changing landscape that could change again at any time. The Cascades are a unique range and I'm glad that I'm able to be here for a week and enjoy what the West has to offer. Stay tuned for some climbs and spelunking trip reports!
Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Capitol Reef National Park: Hiking the Narrows

Hiking the Narrows at Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is Utah's forgotten national park. Overshadowed by 3 more infamous parks- Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion, this spectacular park is often missed by roadtrippers and travelers. To most, it appears a strange 100 mile long but narrow corridor of protected land on a state map. Fortunately for solitude seekers and wilderness lovers, it is one of the least visited but most rugged National Parks in America.

Ever gotten sick of all the people clammering to get a permit in Zion National Park's Narrows? Well there's the Narrows at Capitol Reef which are just as amazing and you don't need a permit! Plus, you have a chance to see the Cassidy Arch, a massive natural feature which was a hideout for American outlaw heroes- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid! Between the two, I'd pick Capitol Reef's Narrows over Zion's Narrows.
Grand Wash, Capitol Reef National Park
Getting to Capitol Reef National Park and the Narrows

Capitol Reef National Park is located in the dead center of Southern Utah near the *tiny* town of Torrey, Utah. Its also not exactly the place you "just end up at". Here are the directions. The narrows trail can be reached by driving to the Grand Wash Pullout which is about 4.5 mile due east from the Visitor Center in Fruita. The trail itself is a pretty easy to follow trail with little elevation gain and follows into the canyon.
Narrows Trail, Capitol Reef National Park
The trail is not too long as it meanders through the Grand Wash and it will dump you out at another dirt parking lot. Just before you reach the dirt parking lot, you have the option of turning around or continuing on to the Cassidy Arch. The trail to Cassidy Arch is marked and ascends the cliffs of the grand wash for about a mile before coming to the turnoff for the Arch. Keep your eyes peeled as you ascend this trail- it is easy to miss and I ended up hiking right past the turn off! After you get on the side trail, you will meander another half a mile before coming up to the viewpoint. One of the really neat things you can do here is actually walk across the Arch! This is strictly prohibited in Arches National Park. 
Dwarfed by the Cassidy Arch (can you see me?)
As you survey the vast wilderness of Central Utah, you can probably understand how ideal this place was for an outlaw hideout! Walking in the trail of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made the moment even better. Quintessentially Utah. 

If you chose to do both the Grand Wash and the Cassidy Arch as one trail, you're looking at a 7.5 mile (12km) round trip hike which can easily be done in a day. You're almost guaranteed to see very few people and some of Utah's best scenery on this trail. But don't let this be the only thing you see in Capitol Reef! This is a land of unique rock-formations and desert life. There's hundreds of other sights and hikes to do in this park! Don't forget, this is also one of the country's best stargazing locations!
Chimney Rock Capitol Reef National Park
I just can't seem to get enough of Utah and that's why I'm always writing about it. Even if you've visited Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches National Parks, don't stop exploring this wild and rugged state. Here's some other guides I've posted to illuminate some other excellent preserves:

Natural Bridges National Monument: Located in the Southeastern corner of Utah, this park had 3 of the largest natural bridges in the World. Also an excellent stargazing location!
Monument Valley: Located on the Utah Arizona Border, this Navajo park preserves massive monoliths that are often featured in Western Movies and Adventure Films.
Valley of the Gods: Although not a park, this massive valley has one of the trickiest roads I've ever driven, not to mention endless viewpoints!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gear Review: Aurora Bivy by Outdoor Research

Aurora Bivy Sack: an excellent choice of the ultralight backpacker and mountaineer!
You may or may not know that gear reviews are an important part of outdoor blogging and I'm one with an opinion on everything. Therefore, I'd like to start submitting some thorough gear reviews of the things that accompany me on my trips. My style is- keep it simple, keep it light, and  it better be cheap! I would say I'm an ultralight backpacker on a budget and any gear reviews are based on this paradigm. So here we go with this blog's first gear review!
Aurora Bivy, kept me warm on Mt Rainier!
Outdoor Research Aurora Bivy

So... I'm not paid to say this, but this bivy sack has rocked my world ever since getting it in 2009. I got this bivy sack for the John Muir Trail as a desperate way to keep my pack weight down. Weighing in at 1 lb 7.5 oz, its got every ultralight tent beat! It kept me warm for 2 weeks on the John Muir Trail and worked well in many a Sierra thunderstorm. I loved it so much on that trip that I've seldom gone back to using tents. Since 2009, I've tested my bivy sack in almost every capacity and part of the country. Some notable trips I've been on have been with the bivy sack are:
  • Mt Rainier ascent in early September 2010
  • Mountaineering expedition in the Palisades, Sierra Nevada, Winter 2010 (temperature was close to 0 degrees and I slept outside with it!)
  • Grand Canyon, November 2010, (rain tested!)
  • Maine Island Trail, August 2010, July 2011 (Rain and thunderstorms)
  • Utah National Parks Road Trip, Spring 2010 (rain and snow)
  • Wheeler Peak, Nevada Winter Ascent, 2010 (winter temperatures)
  • Winter climbing trips in Joshua Tree (winter temperatures)
  • Presidential Traverse, New Hampshire, 2011 (rain tested)
Winter in the Sierras
I've tried and tested this bivy sack and its become one of the most important parts of my gear repertoire. I bring it on almost every solo trip and mountaineering expedition.

Pros of the Aurora Bivy Sack:
1) Tent Replacement: When you're going on longer backpacking expeditions and kayaking expeditions, every ounce counts and you can't afford to be dragging around a big tent. Especially if you are fond of solo trips, I'd fully endorse it.
2) Emergency Shelter: Often when I'm going on solo day trips or trying to bag a summit in a day, I bring this along as an emergency shelter. I brought this on my ascents of Mt Hood and Mt Adams as well as trips across the desert in the winter.
3) +10-15 Degrees to your Sleeping Bag: This bivy sack really does add 15 degrees to your sleeping bag. I have a North Face Snowshoe sleeping bag that's rated 0 degrees and the bivy sack makes it a -10 degree bag. It a crude but effective way to increase the warmth of your sleeping bag without spending more $$$.
4) Low Profile Camping: Sometimes when your on the trail or on the road, you need to um... keep a low profile! This is the perfect color for those times!
Good emergency bivy on those one day ascents!
Cons of the Aurora Bivy Sack:

1) Rain and Wet Snow: The Aurora has come in handy when it rains but I've noticed that my sleeping bag might be ever so slightly damp when I've endured a full night of constant rain. It still kept me warm and dry, but I'm not sure I would take it on an extended trip where steady rain is possible. Then again, nothing is truly waterproof.
2) Sleeping on Wet Snow: This is more of a problem with bivy sacks in general. When you sleep on wet snow, your heat can melt it and then freeze it to your bag

Realistically, if you're doing a trip through Minnesota or the Olympic Peninsula where it rains 9 days out of 10, you might want to consider bringing a pretty hardcore waterproof tent. In a pinch though, it works well!
Maine Island Trail bivy!
Again, I was not paid to say any of that. I hope its a pretty good and objective view of the Aurora Bivy Sack. Here is the website!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Outdoor Adventures in North Dakota, Hiking and Paddling

"I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota."~ Theodore Roosevelt, American President and Founder of US National Parks
Chances are, you don't have North Dakota on your "Top Outdoor Adventure Destinations" list.
This is a shame, because I (and many others!) consider North Dakota to be one of the last true wildernesses in the country. Ever since visiting, I've said that North Dakota has the most wildlife I've ever seen in a single place. Free range Bison, wild horses, elk, deer... its all here! So put this state on the map of destinations. Here are 5 Epic Adventures to be had in North Dakota
The Little Missouri River through Theodore Roosevelt National Park
#1 Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, North Dakota

Almost all North Dakota Adventures begin at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This park preserves the badlands of the state and the Little Missouri River. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this park is the shear amount of wildlife. As soon as you enter you will probably see a bison heard and some of them stand taller than a car. I loved simply sitting on a forgotten butte and watching bision herds roam around. If you go in the spring, you will see the bison and wild horse herds calving! Yes there are hundreds of wild horses which roam these badlands as well! If you're not too into hiking, its okay because the roads will take you by most of the good viewing spots. If you're not from the midwest, you might even get a kick out of seeing acre-sized prairie dog towns!

The South Unit is located near Medora, North Dakota and is where most visitors enter. There is a 36 mile loop road which meanders around the Little Missouri River and up into the badlands. Its an excellent drive that takes and hour. Several turnoffs have scenic lookouts and hiking trailheads. However the best hiking in the park in the west side of the River. The Petrified Forest Trail is the best in the park and showcases petrified logs and bizarre rock formations of the park. Getting there can be difficult as the road to it is a rough dirt road. You can also park on the east side of the river and cross the river when levels are low.
The North Unit is even less traveled and is out of Watford City, North Dakota. If you have a full day or two, it is worth it to drive an hour and fifteen minutes to the North Unit. This part isn't necessarily different from the South Unit, but there is even more wildlife. If, for some reason, sharing the park with a couple other people is too much, cruise up to the North Unit and you will essentially be alone!

#2 Horseback Ride, Bike, Hike the 96-mile Maah Deeh Hey Trail

This is one of the greatest adventures you can have in the midwest. It has also been ranked as one of America's greatest adventures! The Maah Deeh Hey Trail is a 96 mile trail connecting the North and South Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and is three trails in one. As a backpacking trail, its a week to week and a half long trip. It can also be done as a mountain biking trail although you will have to take a different route around the national park. Lastly, it is a horseback riding trail! Regardless of your method of travel, this trail is a challenge and a wilderness adventure. You will seldom see signs of human development as you wander up and down the badlands. Although I've never done this trail myself, I've wanted to return ever since I went to Theodore Roosevelt National Park for the first time. The official website is here.
Highest Mountain of North Dakota
#3 Hiking White Butte, the Highest Point of North Dakota, Amidon, North Dakota

Highpointers praise this butte as one of the most scenic and most difficult to get to high points in the country. The hike itself is nothing difficult, but you REALLY have to want to be out here! As in, you don't just end up in one of the least populous counties in America. Located in Slope County, North Dakota, White Butte is 3,506ft tall and rises about 500ft above the surrounding plains. Despite is low prominence, I would highly recommend this mountain to highpointers and normal hikers alike. The view from the top is endless as you survey the great bounty that is North Dakota. I felt a real appreciation for the hard work of midwestern farmers who live and work in this harsh, yet beautiful landscape. 

Directions to White Butte, North Dakota-
  • Start at the town of Amidon, North Dakota
  • Head east on Highway 85 for 2.0 miles to a gravel road on the right
  • Turn right on the gravel road and head south for 5.0 miles (2-wheel drive is fine)
  • Turn right at an unmarked gravel road (you should be able to see White Butte)
  • Drive west for a mile
  • Here you will see the mailbox for White Butte, donate $10 to the family who owns the land
  • You can park here near the mailbox OR if you have a high clearance vehicle, drive south for another mile to a parking area.
From here its a really easy 1 mile hike to the summit. There's a faint trail, but its not too hard to get to the top from any route. Be careful though, there are rattlesnakes and millions of ticks along the route! For some more help, here's my own trip report
Summit of White Butte, North Dakota
#4 Center of North America, Rugby, North Dakota

This is another crazy geographical adventure that is somehow appealing to folks like me! Did you know that the geographic center of North America is in North Dakota? You probably didn't and may not even care, but this is another great adventure of the state! It might seem a little strange, but if you are coming out to North Dakota, you might as well snap a picture with the center monument... just to say you did. I was equally proud of myself for successfully visiting the center of the United States in South Dakota.
#5 Kayak Little Missouri River, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

This yet another grand adventure near Theodore Roosevelt National Park which offers wilderness serenity. I have to note that I haven't done this adventure...yet! The Little Missouri River flows from extreme Northeastern Wyoming northwards into the Missouri River. This river cuts through the badlands of the state somewhat like the Colorado River runs through the Southwest. Its an important irrigator of many farming communities and wildlife. Kayaking it can be a difficult affair because there is a very small window of opportunity. You want to be hitting this river in the late spring, after all the ice is gone and before the mid-summer when river levels are too low for kayaking. The National Park website gives some great trip-planning tips to paddling the Little Missouri and the rangers will be happy to assist you over the phone.
Legendary North Dakota!
I hope this has given you a glimpse of all the hiking, paddling, and other outdoor adventures that North Dakota has to offer. If there's one thing I learned about traveling through the Midwest, its that every state has epic adventures to be had.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Top 10 Caves in US National Park (Western), Part 2

Onward with some more caving adventures! Hopefully you had a chance to check out my previous post on the Top 10 Caves in National Parks. I'm continuing with some more excellent caves and lava tubes in Oregon, Washington, California, Utah and of course, New Mexico!
Ape River Cave, Mt Saint Helens
#6 Ape Cave, Mt. Saint Helens National Monument, Washington

Chances are, you've heard about Mt Saint Helens and might even be aware that it is often climbed by novice hikers. The volcano is actually preserved by the National Forest Service as a National Monument and there's much more to explore than just the mountain! Ape Cave is the longest lava tube in Washington at just about 13,000ft long. It was not created by the 1980 eruption of Mt Saint Helens and was actually mapped out by Boy Scouts in the 50's! There are two entrances to this cave and two "routes" to follow. From the parking lot, there is a large entrance with a stairway that takes you in to the middle of the cave. If you take a right, you can explore the easier section of the cave which follows a relatively flat 1.5 mile round trip route. Although it doesn't require climbing, it is very easy to make a mis-step and fall onto sharp lava rocks. If you take a left after entering the cave, you can try and complete the challenging upper portion of Ape Cave which isn't technical but is a scramble at many places. The upper cave is 1.5 miles long and goes through some rough rocky terrain. However, you can make it a one-way trip- there is another exit and the end of the upper route. Of course, bring enough light sources and backup sources for several hours underground. If you would like to do the full length of the cave, it would be a full 3 mile route which would take up to 4 hours.

Surface activities are numerous and everyone wants to have a chance to climb Mt. Saint Helens! Permits need to be made in advance with the National Forest Service. These quotas can fill up very quickly in the summer. Expect to be sharing the trail with 100 other people!

Mitchell Caverns in Providence Mountains State Recreation Area
 #7 Mitchell Caverns, Providence Mountains National Recreation Area, California. 

I don't know how you could find out about this place without simply stumbling upon it! I discovered this California gem when I was hiking around Mojave National Preserve. Smack dab in the middle of the preserve is a state park for the Mitchell Caverns and they offer cave tours for $6. Its such a wild part of the Mojave Desert that you will doubtlessly only be sharing the tour with a couple other adventurers. These classic limestone caves sport some incredible formations such as the Queen's Chamber, pictured above. The tour involves a lot of stairs, but nothing technical.

Unfortunately, due to California's recent budget crisis, the recreation area is closed indefinitely. Write your congressmen! Should the park open up soon, I would recommend also hiking around Mojave National Preserve. It is a much less crowded park than Joshua Tree and the hiking possibilities are endless. Of particular interest is the Hole in the Wall Canyon located in the central part of the park.
#8 Lava River Cave, Newberry Volcanic National Monument, Oregon
Lava River Cave is the longest cave in Oregon and a very easily traverse cave. Located near Bend Oregon, this cave is run by the National Forest Service and Newberry Volcanic National Monument. This is a very popular cave because it is not steep or technical and can essentially be walked. Most folks prefer to rent a lanturn from the forest service and do it the old fashioned way. It is roughly 1 mile in length and there is a single entrance- so 2 miles round trip. Unlike some of the other caves I've posted, this is a family-friendly cave that's also nearby to several other great sights near Bend. Here is the National Forest Website.

There is simply way too many good things about Bend, Oregon to be contained within one blog. Newberry Volcanic National Monument preserves parts of the Dechutes River and serveral volcanic buttes. Also, nearby are acres and acres of lava beds that invite scrambling and meandering. The crater rim trail follows the rim of an extinct butte and is a short hike with expansive views of the desert. This is located nearby the Lava Lands Visitor Center. I'm sure I will be posting more about Bend in the future!

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
(Not Timpanogos Cave National Monument!)
#9 Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah

I rarely write about places I haven't ben to or explored but I must make a couple of exceptions. It would be simply unfair if I left out Timpanogos Cave National Monument from the list of great western caves! This one is located in central Utah about 45 minutes from Salt Lake City (Directions). The National Park service runs cave tours in the summer and you will be able to see the large formation known as "The Great Heart of Timpanogos", which looks like an enlarged tooth. What you should really do to see this cave is include it as a stop in a bigger road trip around Utah. I've seen every other national park in the state and its perhaps my favorite place to explore!

#10 Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

This is another great western caving location I've never visited and hope to see someday soon. I write this as somewhat of a post-script because there's already an abundance of information written about these caves. From speaking with National Park Rangers, they generally rate this park as one of the best in the system which fuels my desire to someday explore this cave! Alas, I can only speculate! Here is the National Park Website.

Well, that just about wraps it up! I hope you are about to see some of the most well preserved caves in the country!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!