Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Signs of Life

It has been about 18 months since my last post. I started this blog to help me get through graduate school, and (surprise) once I graduated I stopped posting. I'd like to start writing my trip reports again, as well as gear reviews and anything else related to the outdoors. My last post was about my trip to Glacier National Park, but I never actually posted about my trip! There is a reason for that, but I'll lay that all out once I actually write the post.

I have a trip planned to the Tetons next month, a local trip planned with my cousin in August, and another fishing/backpacking trip to the High Uintah's in the works as well. I'm selling my MSR Microworks filter today so I can get a Sawyer filter before the Tetons trip, and have other gear exchanges I'm working on. Needless to say, there is plenty to write about, I just need to make it happen. This was just a quick post to let my followers know that I'm still alive and well, I've been hiking more than I ever did during my three years of grad school, and am running three miles every morning so that I can enjoy my hikes even more (lightening my "load" so to speak).

Actual post still to the meantime, here is a little teaser taken during my trip to Glacier Nat Park:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Filling in Life's Gaps

Did you know that more than half of all blogs do not survive longer than their first post? I don't have a credible source to actually cite that statistic, but I look though Google Reader at all of the blogs that I used to follow, and most of them have not been updated in six months or longer. Although I haven't written in a few months, I hope to start posting more and more once I have finished the final semester of my graduate studies.
Two Medicine Lake - This is where Geoff and I will be camping our first night
Although I will have to wait until August to go on my trip to Glacier National Park, for more than five months now I have been planning with my buddy Geoff, and have gotten so excited about it that the very thought of going is what finally pushed me to write another post again. I was going to write about the planning process, but instead want to write about what has helped me get through the last 2.5 years of graduate school since I am now in my final semester.
St. Mary's Lake is where we will be camping our last night of our  3 day/4 night trip
It takes a good amount of work and dedication to plan a backpacking trip, and even more dedication to actually carry it out. To drive a full day in order to spend three days hiking and sleeping on the ground is not for everyone, and that's o.k. Such a reqirement is a great vetting of those who enjoy the outdoors, and those who are dedicated to exploration and experiences which may very well alter their own lives. It is through our own experiences that we form and shape our personalities and interests, and it is thanks to our memories that we pursue additional adventures. It is the thought of fly fishing with my father when I was younger which keeps me continuously pushing for more trips. It was the bliss I found at my family's cabin in Pinecrest, CA which got me through a period of intense struggle while living in a foreign country - a great opportunity for growth when I was unable to communicate my thoughts and insights on life (which felt as though they would burst out of me), if only my tongue would have cooperated in my ideal time-frame.

The Teton Trip (aka, the trip that saved me) - this photo was taken from our campsite in the backcountry
of the Tetons. I honestly feel that my experience in graduate school would have been less
enjoyable was it not for this trip which then set off a chain of other trips I now look at
as stepping-stones that helped me get through two masters degrees.
The amazing trip to the Tetons with Geoff before starting my graduate studies helped push me through the last two and a half years of studies. This one trip lead Geoff and I to plan additional trips which then turned into stepping stones. I can now look back on the trips and see that they helped me get to where I now am in my graduate program. Could I have put my passion for the outdoors on the back-burner to then focus on my studies? Sure, but I can guarantee that doing so would have made the last two and a half years very dull and monotonous, and I probably wouldn't have been a very pleasant husband to be around. In fact, with my undergrad studies I did just that, and by the last two semesters I was so burned-out that my performance in school waned, and my GPA paid the ultimate price.

The second trip Geoff and I planned, this time to Canyonlands. It was here that we
both realized we would compare every subsequent adventure to our Teton trip.
I remember my buddy Ben who told me (while he was working on his PhD) that he had to get out to rock climb or go fly fishing or else he would burn out very quickly. I was surprised by this, as up to that point I assumed that in order to be a "good" student one must put all hobbies and passions aside in order to then focus on excelling. Now I understand that the adventures are what filled the gaps. Just like  how a small dash of salt in a recipe can be the difference between an excellent dish or something only worthy for the trashcan, so to does a little dash of one's passion mixed in with life's obligations and duties make the difference between success and failure, or enjoyment instead of simply enduring.

I am now able to see that this lesson is not only applicable to my schooling, and that I can use this throughout the rest of my life. I want to work hard to be successful for my family, but this isn't possible if I don't continue to tap into my passions and teach my sons the importance of exploring the outdoors, and discovering the world outside of our urban lives.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Belated Trip Report: The High Uintas

Provo River Falls 
This Summer I went on a trip but failed to post a report about it. It seems that this last year of my graduate program is taking away more of my free time than the first two years, but I want to be more dedicated to posting regularly as this is still one way I have to get the natural high that I always find when outdoors.

My long time buddy Devin called me up a few months prior to this trip, shooting out the idea to go backpacking in the High Uintas so we could get some serious fly fishing in. He had never been backpacking before, so this trip would be especially significant for him. We had one goal in mind: catch fish, and a lot of them. Seemed easy enough, we had both heard amazing stories about people catching hundreds of fish in the Uintas, so we felt that as long as we got up there then we would get sore from bringing in so many fish.

During our planning process I decided that it would be a good idea to invite Chuck, my buddy/next-door neighbor who was just starting to get into fly fishing, and to also invite my friend Ben who had gone with me to Fish Creek reservoir at Boulder Mountain twice before. Although I generally like to keep my numbers down to as few as possible, I thought that four was still a manageable number, and that we would all have a blast. I'm not at a point where I feel comfortable taking responsibility for a large group of people who haven't spent much time backpacking, but felt that two (Ben and Myself) on two (Devin and Chuck) was a good ratio.

Crystal Lake
Panoramic of Crystal Lake
Night 1 - Crystal Lake
Devin suggested going to the Crystal Lake trailhead which leads to several other lakes. This was the closest trailhead with multiple options, and was also the closest to where all of us would be driving from, so it made the most sense to meet there and camp at Crystal Lake on the first night. As Ben and I would be driving from the north, and Chuck and Devin were driving from the south, we wanted to make sure that we picked a place where we would be able to meet up with ease. That evening we all met up without a problem, and I immediately saw the difference between isolation vs. companionship.  I enjoy solo trips for the feeling of isolation, but hanging out around a fire telling jokes, or standing around in the darkness calling each others lies about seeing shooting stars is hard to beat.

Fishing the next morning was slow, to say the least. It has been a few months since the trip, but I'm pretty sure that Ben caught something at each place we stopped to fish. Devin caught a fish or two as well, but we all decided to pack up and head to Duck Lake so that we could spend a good amount of time figuring out how to be successful with our efforts.

The hike to Duck Lake was really pretty. It was only about 3 miles to Duck Lake, and it was pretty the whole way. There were a few ponds which weren't even marked on the maps, and then Weir Lake and Pot Lake which were. We passed two or three groups of scouts on our way to Duck, one of which had reported successful fishing at Weir Lake. I knew that we would pass some people as this was a fairly popular trail, but I wouldn't have guessed that we would see so many boy scout troops.

Duck Lake
Night 2 - Duck Lake
We found Duck Lake without a problem. As soon as we saw the lake, we also saw a group of scouts camped right next to the trail, so we opted to hike to the other side of the lake in hopes that we would find a campsite to use. We really didn't have a desire to camp right next to a group of scouts, so we were pretty excited to find the nice campsite that we did which was off of the trail and pretty isolated. We soon came to the realization that the voices of teenaged boys carry very easily - especially since we were camped below some cliffs which only bounced their voices directly to us. I'm pretty sure that at one point the boys were having a contest to see who could be loudest, but their leaders eventually asked them to stop, reminding them that they weren't the only ones there.

Fishing was pretty slow like it was at Crystal Lake. Before the trip I had given Ben a hard time for bringing his waders and float tube, but I quickly ate my own words as he caught one fish after another. The rest of us were only able to fish off of the bank, all the while the fish were chilling in the middle of the lake where Ben was able to cast. At one point near dusk Devin found a deep hole next to the cliffs, and landed enough for he and I to eat fish that evening.

Devin casting on Duck Lake
Right when Devin and I went to the bank to gut our fish it started to rain. It quickly went from a drizzle to a complete downpour. I left my rain shell back at camp, along with the contents of my pack spread over a rock, so by the time I was done gutting the fish I was soaked - along with everything in my pack.

Ben showing us how it's done
Dinner was pretty good. I didn't have the satisfaction of eating my own catch, but Devin's fish tasted just as good as mine would have. Just as we did the previous night, we enjoyed talking late into the night. It was especially nice having a fire to dry ourselves out with. It was while hanging out and laughing around the fire that I realized how great of an idea it was to have Ben and Chuck come with us.

Day 3 - Weir Lake
Weir Lake - My Favorite
After another day of both Chuck and I getting skunked, we decided to hike back to Weir Lake and spend several hours there. That lake was, by far, my favorite of the trip. We were the only ones there and the lake was picturesque. Ben continued to catch fish after fish, and I managed to catch one - yes, only one. I decided that the next time I take a trip like this I'm going to follow Ben's example and carry the extra weight required to kick out to where the fish are. We only hiked a few miles each day, so carrying another seven to ten pounds would be worth the ten or more pounds of fish that I would catch.

No matter how amazing a trip is, there is still a level of energy which comes with the anticipation of going home. Chuck was literally bouncing on the trail (which either says something about how much he missed his wife, or said what he thought of the trip). The rest of us were excited and ready for home as well, but it's safe to say that all of us were already thinking of our next trip.

Chuck on the trail home
There are several things I learned/observed from this trip which I want to remember for future group trips:

  1. Instead of everyone keeping track of their own trash, we placed it all in a large trash bag. Bad idea! I volunteered to pack it out, but really we each should have carried our own trash back out - empty soup cans and all.
  2. We planned out our meeting location so well that even though we arrived two hours apart from each other, there was no problem finding each other in the dark.
  3. It is a good idea to not only pack for yourself when going on a group trip, but to think about "the group" as well. We only had two flashlights for the four of us, so putting tents up in the dark took more time than it would have had we been prepared.
  4. Ben and Devin both had new packs and sleeping bags. It would have been a good idea for them to test out their equipment at home before the trip. Although their bags worked out fine, the sternum strap to Chuck's pack broke. If he would have known about the design flaw a few days before the actual trip then he could have made a permanent fix without a problem. Instead, he had to go without his sternum strap - something which isn't trip ender, but which is one of three ways to distribute the weight from your pack (the other two being your hip belt and stabilizer straps). Always a better idea to discover small problems at home which could turn into bigger problems on the trail.
  5. Pumping water for the four of us is quite possible with one pump, but is time consuming as well. A 2:1 ratio instead of a 4:1 would be better. We had tablets as a backup, but didn't want to use them unless we had to.
  6. Eating fish in the backcountry is especially messy and smelly. I didn't even care about hanging our food that evening simply because we all reeked of fish so bad that any bear would have loved to use our digits as finger-food. Next time it will be a good idea to either wash everything which smelled of fish (including our hands), or place them in a bear bag along with everything else.

For a final thought I have to say that sometimes it’s best to just go and have fun - still prepare adequately, but just make the trip happen. This was Devin’s first time backpacking, Chuck's first time fly fishing, and Ben’s first trip since starting a job which didn’t allow him to get outside where he belongs. The trip provided everything which a good trip should: an opportunity to think without distraction, a chance to hit the “restart” button, and the gift of just living in the moment without thought of life’s duties and obligations. There were no mishaps, everyone made it out fine, and there were no close calls other than the three of us wanting to poke a hole in Ben’s float tube out of jealousy.

**As a side note, my camera that I posted about previously (with a horrible review) did quite well. It may be worthless at taking photos inside, but landscape photos turn out pretty well.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Packing Heat in the Backcountry

Imagine: You are hiking in the backcountry, where very few people go, when you stumble upon a camp. Unlike a hiker’s temporary campsite, there is evidence that someone is actually living there. There is a make-shift shelter, enough food to live on for a few weeks, and enough trash and clutter to tell you that whoever lives there has been there for months. Getting the creeps, you move on, longing for the isolation you had just moments before coming across the bizarre scene. As you push forward though, you remember hearing about marijuana farms being harvested on public lands, isolated enough that no one would come across it. These “farmers” would not just allow someone to come across their camp, especially since the hiker would be able to point out exactly where the camp was on a map.

Is this what you just stumbled upon? Your senses immediately heighten, and you listen for anything in the woods which would tell you that someone is watching you. You saw a trail leading into a valley just beyond the camp, but have no intention of going exploring at this point. Were you seen? You are two days into your hike, and have another two days to go, so there is no turning back…

An example of what a lone hiker could stumble upon when in the backcountry
(Taken from The Yakima Herald)
There is a never-ceasing debate about whether firearms belong in the backcountry or not. Doing a search online will show you that passions for gun rights run just as deep as passions to keep guns locked up - the same is true when it comes to having guns in nature. Some feel that there is no place in nature for guns, and that they don’t belong; such is the case for Backpacking Magazine’s gear editor Kristin Hostetter. At the same time, others feel that having a gun while in nature is a good defense from wild animals. No matter which side of the argument you favor, both sides have valid points.

Is it contradictory to go to a place for solace, yet feel the need to carry a gun?
Check out this report from Chattanooga about the AT murder/rape statistics
Personally, I like to go into the backcountry to get away from the hustle and bustle of life, so the idea of taking a gun with me on a day hike seems contradictory. A gun would make me feel like I was bringing protection, not like I was hiking into freedom. For backcountry trips however I have a different opinion. I’m not talking about hiking in designated backcountry within a national park, I’m referring to the thousands of square miles of public land within my state. Just this year the top DEA agent in Utah, Frank Smith, warned Utahans who venture into the backcountry to be cautious. Mexican drug cartels have used land in southern Utah for enormous marijuana farms, and are protected by armed guards.
NBC’s Dateline was reporting about this very phenomenon in Utah last March. Dateline's reporter expressed my own thoughts perfectly when he said “what’s going to happen when a family of hikers stumbles across one of these grows? With $20 million to $40 million on the line, do you think these growers are just going to let these people go?” Doubtful...

Although this scenario seems very extreme and far-fetched, there are still many other horrifically possible situations. Take, for instance, the incident which happened just off of the Appalachian Trail last March. Two buddies are camping in the middle of nowhere when a stranger comes across their camp. They are all friendly with each other (even have dinner together) when, for no apparent reason, the stranger shoots both men several times. They are able to drive themselves to safety and survive, but it’s just one example of what can happen when you are in the middle of nowhere. By the way, this same shooter served half of a 30 year sentence 10 years before this incident for killing two other hikers on the same trail in the 80’s.
So, to pack heat or to not? It’s ultimately your decision. Personally I would rather not come across a hiker who is visibly carrying a handgun on the trail, so if I choose to carry then it will be concealed. Will I carry at all when hiking on a busy trail? Nope. Will I carry if I am within a national park? Nope (in some parks it’s illegal anyway). If I decide to hike on a long trail, such as The Great Western Trail  or the Pacific Crest Trail, I most likely will though – even if does add a few pounds to my pack. Want to pack heat in order to defend yourself from wild animals? Read this research study from Brigham Young University before you decide to try shooting a bear to defend yourself.

Had to share this ridiculous photo I found. While it does offer  an interesting contrast, the
 medical gloves and the gun pointing at Yosemite Falls is just too much.
While searching the latest reports of marijuana farms in Utah, I came across this interesting website which shows you what to look for when identifying a marijuana farm, and this article which is only one month old, and shows video footage of an abandoned camp where DEA agents ceased 3,600 plants in southern Utah, and which agents feel belonged to the Mexican Cartel.
Opinions? Feel free to share below.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gear Review: Fuji XP20 Camera

A little while ago (as in before Christmas) I decided to sel,l what I felt was, a cumbersome camera for a simple point-and-shoot which would not only be lighter and easier to carry while backpacking, but which would also last through the elements that I encounter while in the outdoors. I wanted something that still took excellent photos, but which would give me peace of mind when hiking in the Summer heat or Winter temperatures, or would survive me dropping it into a stream. I came up with this plan after seeing an advertisement for the FujiFilm XP20 in a Backpacker magazine, and felt that if I could find one for a decent enough price, then it would be worth pursuing. I found one for just around $100 at Costco and snatched it up after selling my previous camera (Sony's Cybershot DSC-H2).

In a nutshell let me just say that I have been disappointed in some ways, but feel that the camera lives up to it's purpose. It is a small camera with serious durability, and suits my needs while in the outdoors. It does not, however impress me with indoor photos, photos with tricky lighting situations, or pretty much anything other than a photo outdoors with the right light and decent conditions. Even outdoors it is very difficult to see whether or not the photos taken are acceptable or not, as the viewfinder shows blurry photos consistently - even when the photos look good when uploading them onto the computer.

Here are a couple of better photos I took while on a trip to California

Utilizing the fun panoramic setting - be careful when you choose which side to start the panoramic shot, if you are shooting a stark contrast with lighting then one side of your photo won't look too hot.

This photo looks decent, but you can tell that it was taken with a cheaper camera. Just goes to show that megapixels are not all that counts when trying to pick out a decent camera.

The bottom line: buy this camera if you are wanting something that will take a beating and keep on shooting, but don't buy it if you are looking to be artistic. I'll take it with me on the trail, but I won't rely on it to take family photos or anything of more significance than scenery. I haven't had a chance to take any shots underwater, but will try it out when fly fishing in the Uintas next month. I guess that I now have a reason to buy a more expensive camera that will not only outshoot this camera, but the one I gave up for this one as well.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Back On The Trail Again

This is what I get to study while driving home from work
Two months without a post??? Not sure what to say. Guess I could blame being busy wrapping up my Masters of Social Work program, or the fact that my wife just gave birth to our second child two weeks ago, but the truth is that I have lost some focus on my own wellbeing to be honest. Being willing to sacrifice all of my leisure time to be with my family is not a bad thing, but while driving home this evening I realized that I temporarily lost the purpose for me even starting this blog - to remain well rounded and healthy while juggling my masters programs, full-time work, and spending quality time with my family.

It is easy to hyperfocus on the important things in life while forgetting that those "smaller" things can actually help one to be more efficacious with life's goals and values. Hiking is one of those things which help me to be a better person. Weird of me to say? I could, and just may, write a complete post about this one topic, but the short and sweet is this - by giving enough attention to all of my life's values, I am much more capable of achieving my goals (especially by being the father/husband/friend/son/brother that I want to be).

Amazing view of Squaw Peak from my backyard
Getting up in the mountains helps me to put things back into focus, so I better get up there! One of the reasons I love living in Utah is that I am within walking distance of four different trailheads, all of which lead up a different canyon and wrap around the mountains I look at whenever leaving my house or driving home. I honestly love this place! Some may bash on Utah for various reasons, but the truth is that wherever you live along the Wasatch Front (where roughly 80% of the population resides), you have an amazing view, and are within short driving distance to hike, fish, bike, or camp. It's a shame to live so close to so much and to not take advantage of it!

Just got done speaking to my wife about helping me set a hiking goal, and that was enough to get my blood pumping again, so I had to pound out a quick post. Have been planning on posting about survival stories I have read lately, and will also be posting about packing heat in the backcountry. After I finally get a couple of good hikes in then I will be able to give an accurate review on the weather-resistant camer I purchased for myself several months ago. Glad to be back!!!!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Are YOU an outdoors-snob? (Elitism in the backcountry)

A few weeks ago I posted a question in an online forum for rock climbing. As I am strictly a novice on the topic, I decided that it would make sense to ask those who know a lot about the sport before I began a business venture which would cater to it. I posted a simple question asking for opinions, and for the most part I received a positive response. There were the less-than-positive responses as well, including the gentleman who was kind enough to point out that if I "had any pull in (the) industry, (I) wouldn't be (there) asking (those) questions..." Very nice of him to remind me that I am but an ant compared to the giant outdoors industry.

This experience got me thinking about sports in the outdoors, and made me wonder if we are just as bad as any other sport out there when it comes to elitism. Do we too have a hierarchy within our sport, with the car-campers who spend hundreds of dollars at the bottom, and mountaineers who can afford thousands of dollars worth of equipment as well as expensive traveling expenses at the top? If this hierarchy does exist, what is it that sets our sport apart from the rest?

The more I thought about these questions, the more the very thought of it disappointed me. I have always loved the outdoors because anyone can afford to go there, and even the dirt poor can afford to take a walk on a trail. One of the reasons I first became interested in backpacking was due to the fact that once I purchased the essential gear needed for an over-nighter, the only costs associated with the sport is strictly for food, gas to get to the trailhead, and possibly an entrance fee if you go to a National Park.

Don't take me for an ignoramus, I've always known that there are more or less expensive products in every existing sport, just as there are those who can or can't afford them. Even if you were to enter a home repair store you will see products which "get the job done," and those that get the job done with style and finesse. The part that bothers me is that those at the top of the outdoors hierarchy take those at the bottom for pathetic little wanna-be's.

Good old family camping
While writing this, I can't help but think of my Jr. High School years when I thought that I was a skater. I owned a skateboard, had enough skating-brand t-shirts to last me a week at school, and was always looking for cool stickers to purchase for my closet door at home (I could only fit so many on my actual skateboard). I had all the skating flare someone could wish for, yet I lacked the ability to actually skateboard well. Where was I on the skating hierarchy? Although my ability to skateboard was a little better than a beginner, I put myself above anyone I deemed as a "poser," or someone I felt was in the sport just to "look cool"without the dedication to really "live" the sport.

So how does this translate to backpacking, rock climbing, or any other sport in the backcountry? Well, flip through any outdoors magazine and you will see advertising for products that are not so expensive, and those that are ridiculously costly. That isn't to say that the expensive products aren't so steep for a reason, but the point is that there is a very wide spectrum of affordable and not-so-affordable products in every sport, giving those who have money an advantage over those who don't. Thus the opportunity for elitism. Why won't you hear very many outdoorsmen bragging about their new North Face jacket? Because you can find The North Face products in literally ANY sporting goods shop - not just the stores that specialize in rock climbing, backpacking, and mountaineering. Does The North Face jacket still keep you warm and dry? "Well yeah, but...," and then come the countless reasons why The North Face is no longer taken seriously, and then talk about the many other brands which do a much better job, and which are nearly indestructible.

One final story:
I once needed to fix my kitchen sink and instead of driving all the way to Home Depot, I went to a major plumbing store used by general contractors and plumbers. When I asked one of the clerks for help finding a specific fitting, I received a cold "you're bothering me, and are worth nothing more than the dirt on my sole of my shoe" sort of look, which was followed by a quick response which included directions to walk just past a bunch of fittings I had never heard of before, straight across from some water lines I wouldn't recognize if they hit me square in the face. Thinking that I may have been a little paranoid, I asked my co-worker at UPS who also managed one of the stores where I had this experience. He confirmed that the employees of this plumbing supply chain are used to working with professional plumbers who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars with each visit, and that they tend to get annoyed when having to work with the average Joe who needs to fix his toilet. Elitism in the plumbing industry???

See! Escaping the elements WITH style:)
The point of this never-ending post is this: WHO CARES!!!! If you want to get outside to experience natures endless wonders, do it. Whether you bring a black trash bag to repel water, or a $600 breathable jacket with all the bells and whistles; either way you will be outside, and this is all that matters. Sure, there will always be the outdoors-snots who love to check out everyones gear to then pass judgement while claiming that those who are "hardcore" wear certain products - WHO CARES!!!! Decide for yourself why you get outside, or why you buy certain outdoors apparel. If you are one of those outdoors-snobs just remember, it's not about doing the sport in style, it's about loving the sport - period.