Saturday, January 29, 2011

Trip Report: Maple Canyon (near Moroni, UT)

View from our campsite
About four months ago my good friend Geoff Brown started e-mailing me to see if I would be able to get away from my grad program for long enough to do a winter trip. At the time it seemed impossible, but we began brainstorming anyway. As I was preoccupied with much more than my brain could already handle, I let Geoff look for places he would be interested in visiting, and he found Maple Canyon. Although very busy during the Summer months, we felt that it would be far enough away from civilization to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Maple Canyon is known for its limitless rock climbing pitches, but we soon discovered that ice climbing is quite popular there as well. The climbers we passed were pretty impressed that we were camping up there for some reason...kind of made Geoff and I chuckle to ourselves.

We didn't know while planning whether we would be able to drive all the way up to our campsite, or if we would need to hike in. We knew that it was only a mile in though, and felt that we could carry anything we would need for a comfortable winter outing. I wanted to bring dry wood to get the most from the experience, and Geoff was smart enough to realize that if we did need to carry any wood further than 100 yards, than we would need sleds to pull it.

When we arrived we discovered that the road at the mouth of the canyon does not get plowed during the winter months. We strapped on our snowshoes (for the first time, finally), put our backpacks on, and began dragging one sled full of wood, along with a large rubbermade tote also full of wood. I was surprised how good I felt for the first hundred yards, but soon discovered that it would take FOREVER to walk the "short" mile to the campsites. We chose to abandon the wood so that we could get to the campsites before dark, and then walk back down to pull the wood by itself for a second trip. Although we were able to get to the top of the canyon without having to stop every hundred feet to adjust the wood load, the second trip was just as long and tiring as the first couple hundred yards when we were weighed down with our packs.

View of the start of Maple Canyon
Below is a picture of Geoff working his way up the canyon. He was, and usually is, much faster than I am, but he even had to stop pretty often to catch his breath. In hindsight we both saw how unrealistic it was to carry in so much wood, but we both felt that it was worth it that night when cooking our brauts, and the next morning while waiting for the sun to peak over the canyon walls. When we got back to the truck after our trip, we realized that we didn't even take all of the wood! Guess it's better to take more wood than you need??? No idea why I thought we would need so much. Truth is, we didn't have to have a fire, but just wanted to enjoy the luxury of one in the wintertime.

I intended to try a few ideas I saw on Backpacker Magazine's weekly e-mail since we were planning on having a fire. The first recipe (video posted at the bottom) was simple enough, after you dig the fruit out from an orange, fill the remaining peel with cake batter, place the top back on, wrap it in aluminum foil, and let it roast on the coals. The second recipe (if you want to even call it that) suggested roasting apples over a fire, stripping off the peel, and then rolling the warm juicy apple in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. The second idea was awesome! It was so easy to do, and was worth the little effort it took. Unfortunately, I couldn't do the first recipe because I forgot the aluminum foil at home - which reminded me to put out all of my food next time so that I can make sure I have everything I need.

Snowshoes+backpacks+heavy loads of wood = much too heavy
The weather was perfect, and the two feet of snow consisted of the driest powder I have ever seen. It had the consistency of sand, but was much lighter. Although the road up the canyon was packed from snowmobiles, we were glad to have crampons on the bottoms of our feet for traction. This was the first time I have ever tested out my snowshoes, and was very impressed with how simple, yet effective, they were.
Frost hanging over the stream where we collected water
I don't know what it was about this trip, but I felt a renewed sense of appreciation and love for getting outside and enjoying all that nature has to offer. I have realized that the more trips I go on, the more effective my planning becomes, and the more enjoyable each trip turns out to be. I also realized, once again, that having the right companion on a trip such as this makes all the difference. It's not just anyone who would want to go camping during the winter months - not to mention snowshoeing in while carrying/pulling 50+ lbs of equipment and wood. Check out Geoff's blog, Out and Back Again, to read his review of the trip.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Movie Review - 127 Hours

I am anxious to write my trip report for the great outing I had last weekend, but can't get this movie out of my mind. I didn't feel a need to see this movie, feeling that I could imagine how the events surrounding the incredible story took place, but am VERY glad that I did.

The movie starts out showing Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) quickly gathering together his equipment for a trip to the Canyonlands National Park. The cinematography was one of the more impressing components that made this film a hit (in my opinion) - which is apparent as the camera focuses on Aron's swiss army knife that happens to be casually sitting on the top shelf of his locker, yet is just out of his grasp as he sloppily gathers his things together. The camera gives the viewer a unique perspective throughout the movie, such as when Aron drops his cheap multi-tool, or when Aron's thirst drives his thoughts to retrace his steps all the way back to his truck to the Gateraid bottle that he left in the bed of his truck. It is safe to assume that the scenery of the Canyonlands speaks for itself, and was not a challenge for the cinematographer.

As most of those watching the film are already aware of Aron's story, I knew that it would be a challenge for the director to give a fresh take on the story - not to mention the challenge to actually surprise the audience when the pinnacle moment of the story actually takes place. I felt that the director did an excellent job in giving the audience a fresh view of this well-known story.

Although I have tried putting myself in Aron's situation, watching this movie gave me an increased amount of respect for the seriousness of his predicament. I have asked myself why he didn't cut his arm off much sooner than he did (instead of waiting until he was more than 5 days into the ordeal), and have also wondered why he would be dumb enough to not let anyone know where he was going, or when to expect him back. Both of these questions are addressed in the film, and left me feeling like less of a know-it-all. It actually awakened me to a realization that I may be more vulnerable to poor decision making and carelessness than I would care to admit - one of the several lessons learned from this movie.

I don't want to spoil any surprises for anyone, so I have restrained myself from going into greater details. However, I will take the liberty in dashing anyone's hopes that the emerald pool seen in the trailer actually exists. I was listening to an interview on NPR with a canyoneer who frequently visits the Canyonlands, and he said that the only pools to be found in the area are usually silty and tend to have dead animals in them.

On a seperate occation, NPR interviewed Aron Rolston. A caller asked him what it was that got him through the ordeal; whether it was God or something that kept him from giving up. Aron said something which hits home a lot more than it would have even a year ago for me, he said that he wasn't afraid of dying, but how his death would impact his family. It wasn't the thought of being gone, but the pain it would cause those he loved.

I would recommend this movie to just about anyone. James Franco is an amazing actor, and really gave a realistic interpretation of what occured to Aron. There are some gorry parts (of course), and several F-words; for these reasons the movie has the rating that was given. I didn't have a desire to read the book before seeing the movie, but now want to. If you haven't heard about this story than look it up here. I never cease to be amazed by what the human body is able to endure as long as the mind stays clear and active.

Bottom line: Be sure to always tell someone where you are going, and when you will either call to check in or when you will actually be back. Sorry to all of those who would have been quick to ping their SPOT beacons, Aron was in a slot canyon, small chance of getting a clear shot of a satellite in there...

Here is the trailer for those of you who haven't seen it:

Monday, January 3, 2011

To Ping Or Not To Ping???

I started writing a trip report about my first real backpacking trip which occurred in the Tetons two years ago, but saw this article today and had to share it.

A couple of months ago I wrote about those who misuse their locating beacons after assuming that they were lost. A couple months before that I wrote about the cranial malfunctions which occur when your average Joe walks into an REI, purchases a SPOT locator beacon, and assumes that he can rely on others to save him when he ignorantly places himself in an otherwise avoidable situation.

The author of the Two Heel Drive blog wrote about "The right time to ping your beacon," and gave some great tips. He gives five questions to ask yourself when in a sticky situation before pinging your beacon in order to call in the Calvary.

  1. Does anyone need immediate medical attention? As in, are you or your buddy at risk of bleeding to death? Did you break your leg or hip and are hiking alone? Common sense is the best rule of thumb, but the truth is that if you are freaking out, even in a small degree, your judgement may be jeopardized. Asking this simple question may, by itself, help you get your mind back.
  2. How long could you survive with the gear you are carrying? No sense in calling for help when you have enough gear to sleep though the storm. Remember, gear, not food and water. This blog author reminds us "Three hours without warmth, three days without water, and three weeks without food" before you are really in trouble (this obviously varies depending on the climate you find yourself in).
  3. Are you motivated by an urge to get your money's worth? If you are purchasing a beacon for the peace of mind, good for you. If you are purchasing it with the intent of "getting your money's worth" than forget it. You pay all that money for the device and yearly fees to have the peace of mind that you will have a lifeline in the worst possible scenario, not as a rip cord to pull when you have had enough.
  4. Is it obvious that you are royally screwed?
  5. Have you exhausted every option EXCEPT calling in the Calvary?
The article which inspired these tips came from a story about two men who went missing near Pinecrest, CA (a place I visit every year). They left their car at a ski resort parking lot to go camping, but became lost during a white-out. They became "desperate" and pinged their beacon after convincing themselves that they were lost. Tuolomne County Sherrifs found the two guys 100 feet from the parking lot...