Ted is a husband, father, hiker, climber, backpacker, Oregonian, Air Force veteran, pilot, cat herder, new grandfather, recovering coder, and SQL Server DBA. Ted works hard on trying to be a decent human, not getting too fat, and just generally trying to keep life fun and interesting for himself and his family.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sawtooth Mountain

I've been wanting to get out to Sawtooth Mountain for a long time.  It's a great little mountain, but tends to slip down the priority list in the summer when there are grander peaks to climb.  With this year's very mild fall (so far), I had a good opportunity this month to go and cross this one off my to-do list.

I initially tried to go on Sunday the 14th.  The forecast was for a bit of wind--20 MPH at the summit--but it didn't look too bad.  But as soon as I got past Hills Creek Lake and was headed east on Forest Service Road 21 (Rigdon Road), I was surprised at the increasing and sustained ferocity of the wind.  The road was covered in small branches and pine cones and the gusts were quite remarkable.  I initially thought about canceling, but I remained optimistic and pressed on.  Then I had to stop to clear a downed tree off the road.  Fortunately the tree broke into manageable pieces when it fell, so I was able to clear a gap wide enough to get my car through.

Tree down!

About two miles before I reached the trailhead at Timpanogas Lake, I decided this whole endeavor was probably unwise.  It was 31 degrees and the wind was howling at about 30 MPH with stronger gusts.  There was a very good chance that a tree would come down and block my exit back to Highway 58 and in this area there's no cell signal to call for assistance.  And I knew if I went out to hike in this that it would be a bitterly cold and miserable experience, so I cursed the bad forecast and turned around to head home.

I went back a week later on the 21st, and I couldn't ask for a better day.  It was cool and still and sunny--a perfect Oregon fall day.

Coming in to Timpanogas Lake from Rigdon Road, you have to endure 7 or 8 miles on a wide, gravely dirt road (Road 2154) that is heavily washboarded on every incline and curve.  It'll really rattle the fillings out of your teeth.

I made a pit stop at the Timpanogas campground, which is really just about 100 yards from the trailhead. Just so you know, the Sawtooth Mountain/Indigo Lake trailhead has the benefit of a toilet at the Timpanogas campgrounds, so it's always nice to be able to comfortably take care of business before hiking, if you know what I'm saying.

I had a leisurely start from the house, and after the 90-mile drive I finally hit the trail at around 10:30.  I took the southwest trail instead of the more direct Indigo Lake trail so I could see more of the area.  It was fairly steep and heavily wooded, so although the woods were very pretty, there wasn't much to see.

I was dismayed to see that pretty much everything was allowed on this trail system.  People, horses, bikes, and even motorcycles.  Now I know dirt-biking is a heck of a lot of fun, but I wish pristine wilderness areas such as this could be free of motorized vehicles.  Plus I think that motorcycles on a trail that's heavily used by hikers is just a bad idea.  And motorcycles and horses on a rugged, narrow trail?  That's definitely a bad combo.  At any rate, I was enjoying the hike and I didn't expect to really see any dirt bikers out here.

A bit after taking a left at the June Lake trail junction, I got to the Indigo Lake trail three-way junction about a mile into the hike.  I took the middle fork--the Sawtooth Mountain trail.  You can also get to the summit via the Indigo Lake trail but I was going for a counter-clockwise loop just because it looked like the best way to go on paper.  You get most of the climbing out of the way before the summit trail so it's not a long climb to the summit like it would be from the Indigo Lake trail.

After another mile I was crossing the high ridge running down from southeast to northwest, and the trail got very rugged and quite steep in spots.  Certainly not something I'd want to try on either a mountain bike or a motorcycle.  It looked like a trail that didn't get much use, and sure enough I didn't see anyone on it all the way up to Sawtooth.  I had the forest all to myself.

Gaining the saddle about a mile to the west of the Sawtooth summit, the trail turned east to approach Sawtooth's south side.  The hiking here was scenic, easy and pleasant, but there were not yet any views of Sawtooth so it was difficult to gauge just where I should be looking for the turnoff to head up to the summit.

Route overview

Just about when I thought I'd gone too far east and passed it, I came across the unmarked summit trail and from there it was a relatively short hike with a bit of scrambling around gendarmes and up some rocks to get to the summit.  Partway there I came around a rock formation and an older gentleman, the first person I'd seen all day, was sitting nearby eating some lunch.  He and I both jumped a bit.  He exclaimed, "You scared the shit out of me!", to which I replied, "Well you scared the shit out of me, too!".  We both had a little chuckle.  He was heading down so after a brief chat we went our separate ways.

Up on the summit I took off my pack for a rest and got a snack to refuel.  With fires still burning in southern Oregon, the view to the south and east was quite hazy from the smoke, but looking northwest, it was beautiful!  Beyond Sawtooth's large talus field, Indigo, Timpanogas, and Summit Lakes, and Diamond Peak all lined up perfectly for an amazing view.  To the northeast, Cowhorn Mountain was a prominent sight; Nora and I climbed that one back in July and it was a great hike and a fun rocky scramble to the top.

As I rested and ate, two hikers came up and went to a rocky prominence at the northern part of the summit, leaving me alone on the small, flat summit.  I was curious about these two.  They looked to be in their 20's, and were wearing clean clothes and not carrying packs or water bottles.  I wondered were they came from?  Even if they came up from an Indigo Lake camp they'd at least need some water.  Strange.

Please forgive the vertical orientation of some of these pics/vids. They were shot for apps that don't do well with landscape pics/vids.

Looking up at the summit

The sentinel in the south scree field (There's a little tree growing out of the top of it)

Indigo Lake, Timpanogas Lake, Summit Lake and Diamond Peak
as viewed from near the summit of Sawtooth

Obligatory summit selfie (squinting into the very bright sun)

Sawtooth on the left; Cowhorn Mountain in the distance on the right

I started down, scrambling over and around the rocks and descending back to the trail where I turned northeasterly to continue my loop.  The trail descended very steeply through a wide drainage filled with trees with remarkably curved trunks as the trail meandered toward the saddle on the east side of Sawtooth.  The total descent was almost 1,000 feet making me glad I decided to do the loop in a counter-clockwise direction because it looked tough going the other way. 

Descending the steep drainage

Bendy trees 1

Bendy trees 2

In this section I was surprised by two motorcyclists heading my direction on the trail, coming up from behind me.  Well I guess I was going to see some dirt bikers today... 

After nearly a 300-foot climb up to the saddle, it was all downhill from there, down the Indigo Lake trail and back to the trailhead at Timpanogas Lake.  

On the way down to Indigo Lake, I heard the motorcyclists now coming up this trail, gingerly picking their way through the difficult parts with noisy bursts of throttle, and they went by me once again.  Motorcycle noise and smelly exhaust in the wilderness.  Lovely.  It occurred to me at this point that the two guys I saw on the summit without any gear were probably the riders who left their bikes and gear tucked away near the Sawtooth summit trail junction.  That would explain their cleanliness and lack of hiking gear.

It seemed to take forever to get down to Indigo Lake, but I finally arrived on its muddy shores and admired the great view of Sawtooth's north flank.  Indigo was a typical Oregon alpine lake; clean and clear and very shallow.  There were a few campers at the lake, so I didn't stay long.

On The north shore of Indigo Lake looking up at Sawtooth Mountain

From Indigo Lake it was just a nice walk in the woods for a couple of miles back down to the car.  The whole hike was about 10 miles (my GPS said 11-ish but it lies) with almost 3,000 feet of climbing, and it took me a bit under 6 hours at a fairly leisurely pace and with my summit break.  All-in-all a great hike and a wonderful day in the Cascades.

An easy stroll back down to the car

On the way out I was struck by the beautiful glassy surface of Timpanogas Lake which made it a perfect reflecting pool. I had to stop for a quick photo.

Timpanogas Lake reflection

As I often do when I hike in the Diamond Peak area, I stopped at the creek-fed overhead hose which I think is used to fill water tenders in wilderness fire-fighting situations. You can climb up to the platform and turn the valve on, swivel the hose fitting out towards the road and drive back and forth through it as a means of getting most of the dirt road off of the car. It's a pretty decent car wash. I also soaked a towel and took a little towel bath so as not to stink up the car too much on the drive home.

Hillbilly car wash

Sawtooth is well worth the trip and the effort. If you don't mind sharing the trail with dirt bikes and mountain bikes, this is a nice hike with a great scenic reward at the top.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Update on Creepy Polygamy Town in Southern Utah

Okay, I've finally had some time to sit down and do some googling, and I have discovered why my hotel in Hildale, Utah, the Zion Suites of Hilldale, was such a strange place. Hildale and its sister city, Colorado City, Arizona, (they are physically like one city straddling the Utah/Arizona border) are home to the Fundamentalist LDS church headquarters and most of the FLDS members.

Hildale and Colorado City just south of Zion National Park

The larger homes that I saw in Hildale, the ones surrounded by very large walls, were in fact polygamy compounds at one time. (Some may still be; I don't know.)

The large compound sharing the block with my hotel was, in fact, Warren Jeffs' compound. His 79 wives and 65 children lived in the large house while Warren had the private residence to himself.

The larger compound next door that I stayed in belonged to Lyle Jeffs, Warren's brother. Lyle was known as 'Uncle Lyle' and was a bishop in the FLDS church. I believe Lyle ran things after Warren went to prison in 2011, and Lyle himself later went to prison for violations of child labor laws and fraudulent public assistance claims. I believe he's due to be released soon.

Polygamy Compounds that are now in the hospitality business

I randomly snapped a pic of this place while driving in town. A former
polygamy compound that is now Zion's Most Wanted Bed & Breakfast. Honestly.

And now I know why my hotel didn't seem anything like a hotel, and what's up with Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona... towns with very sad and strange histories.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Boundary Peak, Nevada

tldr; the video trip report is on YouTube here.

The way my vacation meanderings worked out, Boundary Peak would be my last hike/climb of the somewhat epic, seven-state, 2018 End-of-Summer road trip; aka, Ted's Excellent Adventure. I was disappointed that I never got good enough weather to try Borah Peak in Idaho or Kings Peak in Utah, but all things considered, everything worked out pretty well and I got to see and do a lot of things that I wanted to see and do.

I left Bishop, California, very early in the morning, trying not to wake up others in the little motel I was staying in. I grabbed some coffee from the Starbucks in town and avoided the temptation to get a donut from the donut shop next door, and I ate a protein bar instead as I headed north on Highway 6 towards the Dirt Road From Hell™ that would take me to Boundary Peak trailhead.

Two miles into Nevada I turned south onto the unmarked dirt/gravel trailhead approach road, just as I had done 9 days earlier when a sharp rock and a flat tire thwarted my plans to climb the mountain. This time I drove very slowly and carefully, but it's not like you can avoid hazards on this road. It took me over 30 minutes to make my way 6 miles up the road towards the trailhead. This is the worst road I have ever attempted to drive on. I've read a lot of Boundary Peak trip reports that briefly mention the poor state of this road, but let me make it clear. Your rental Prius/Corolla/Charger/Mustang/minivan/whatever isn't going to make it up this road. You need pretty much a real Jeep or a dirt bike if you expect to make it all the way to the trailhead.

I have a Nissan Murano that has relatively good ground clearance for the small-SUV type of vehicle it is, but I was tense all the way on this road. It is full of sharp rocks, ruts, washouts and high spots that are just trying to rip up a tire or take off your oil pan. This road is no joke. Dash cam video doesn't do it justice at all, but here's some from my dash cam.

I got to a point right at Queen Mine where I could see the final bit of road leading up to the trailhead, and that was as close as I felt I could get without risk of damage to my car. This would have to do as my starting point, so I parked and got my gear ready, threw my pack on and started up the road to the trailhead on foot.

Even though it is a sought-after state high point, Boundary Peak is a little obscure and out-of-the-way, so I know it's not a high-traffic mountain. I truly expected to be the only climber on the mountain on a Wednesday in mid-September, so I was surprised first when I saw an empty Volkswagen SUV parked a little higher up along the road, and then again when I saw a white Jeep slowly crawling its way up the road far below me as I hiked up towards the trailhead. I guess I would have company today.

The white Jeep caught up to me when I was about a half-mile up from my car. They stopped and the two guys inside offered me a ride. It looked like it would be inconvenient for them to rearrange the back to make room for me and my pack, so I politely declined and just let them go on. Unfortunately for me, my inconvenient parking spot added a mile each way on my hike, plus over 800 vertical feet just to get up to the trailhead. It was making an already difficult day much harder.

Some extra work just to get to the trailhead
I caught up to the guys in the Jeep at the trailhead, and we talked about the various mountains we have climbed for a good 20 minutes or so. Nice guys; looked to be in their 20's and fit, so I knew they'd be fast and I wouldn't see them the rest of the day. As they departed up the trail, another group of six guys came up from the east side of the trailhead. They'd come in the other way in a rental minivan that didn't get anywhere near the trailhead. They had hiked up 3 or 4 miles just to get to the trailhead. But they too were young guys and strong climbers; they could handle it.

We all started up the mountain right at about 8 AM, and they all soon outpaced me, so I was well behind them and hiking alone within an hour. I also stopped fairly often to take pictures and shoot video, and try a new thing where I sort of narrate what's going on with the climb. I'll see if I can string those video segments together for some sort of useful video trip report to post on YouTube.

After a moderate 1,000 foot ascent, the trail more-of-less levels out for nearly 2 miles as you approach Trail Canyon Saddle at the base of the imposing-looking Hosebag Peak. You have to climb Hosebag to get to Boundary Peak's north ridge, which leads up to the summit.

Looking south from the ridge trail towards Trail Canyon Saddle, Hosebag Peak and Boundary Peak

The hike to Trail Canyon Saddle was uneventful, and Hosebag Peak loomed large. It looked very difficult. The trail up Hosebag gains over 1,100 feet in a bit over a half-mile, so it's quite steep and a very physically demanding section of trail. There was also a very strong, cold wind blowing consistently in this area, and I was concerned for awhile about being mildly hypothermic. It was very tiring. Partway up Hosebag I met the Volkswagen SUV owners on their way down. They were early starters and fast movers for sure. We chatted for a bit--they were nice folks.

The trail ceases to be a trail about a third of the way up Hosebag Peak. As with most climbers' trails, tracks just spider web all over the place and you just have to try to pick the line of least resistance for yourself as you ascend or descend. And it's 90% boulder hopping anyway, trying to find good rocks that don't move under your feet. These mountains are really just big piles of rocks held together with a little bit of dirt.

After getting past Hosebag and part way up Boundary's north ridge, I became aware of a very deep and ominous-sounding rumble from some distance away. I stopped to look around, puzzled as to what was happening. My first thought was that I was hearing an earthquake because it sounded like a very loud and not-too-distant earthquake. This worried me because if this mountain started shaking, big boulders were going to start falling, probably including the ones I was standing on, and it could get ugly fast, for me and the other 10 people on the mountain. But as I heard more rumbling and didn't feel any movement, I figured it had to be something else. I now could see a very large plume of dirt or smoke or ash in the distance to the west, probably 30 to 40 miles away. As I took some video of that, I now (wrongly) surmised that Mammoth Mountain, a very seismically-active volcano, had had a volcanic 'burp'. That's what the plume looked like; a small volcanic ash cloud. Thankful that the mountain I was on wasn't doing anything, I watched the plume until all the rumbling noises stopped before continuing up the mountain.

I now think that this was probably some very large-scale blasting for some sort of highway or mining project. I can't think of anything else it could have been.

Anyway, now above 12,200 feet, the climb was just a matter of stubbornness; a climber's most valuable commodity. Climb 20 or 30 steps, stop, rest, pant for air, repeat. Eventually you make it to the top, which I did at around 1:30 PM.

I took some pictures and video, ate a small snack and signed the summit register found in a large ammo can. It was a clear and cloudless day with zero wind on top, and the views were spectacular in every direction. I didn't think a desert mountain would be much to look at, but Boundary Peak is a very good-looking mountain.

On the summit

Just over a half-mile to the southwest was Montgomery Peak, sticking up a couple hundred feet higher than Boundary Peak. Montgomery is over the state line in California, though, so Boundary is king in Nevada. In planning this hike I thought I'd also like to also get over to Montgomery while on this climb, but the connecting saddle is seven tenths of a mile of very rugged terrain with an additional climb of several hundred feet, and that would add an hour or more to the trip, so I decided that I would not make the attempt.

At around 2 PM I closed up my pack and the summit register box (an ammo can) and started down. All others were well below me now and I was for all intents and purposes alone on the mountain for the rest of the day. I don't mind this. Solitude on a big mountain is a special thing which I covet as a rare treat.

The trip down the north ridge and Hosebag's steeply-descending boulder field was slow and arduous, as expected. Then when I reached the more-or-less flat 2-mile section, it seemed to go on forever. Every time I thought I was near the end, another section of trail appeared over the crest and it just went on and on.

I finally got to the last 1,000-foot descent to the trailhead where I signed out of the log and sat on a rock to rest for a few minutes. Then I started down the last mile on the rocky road to my car at Queen Mine. It was a very quiet and lonely mountain with everyone long gone by now. Approaching early evening, the shadows grew long and I kept my head on a swivel for cougars (not the good kind). There's been too much news of cougar attacks lately which makes your mind go to dark places when you're alone in the wilderness.

I had myself a nice wet-wipe bath at the car and put on some clean clothes as it would be hours before I reached any place with a motel, and then it took me a good 30 minutes to get my car down the mountain safely before I jumped on Highway 6 westbound and headed for Highway 395 in California. I had a new granddaughter, my first grand-baby, to go visit tomorrow.

Boundary Peak is a great climb and a fantastic mountain. It's a very challenging hike and the mountain is probably more scenic than what you'd expect in the Nevada desert, and the summit views are incredible. Highly recommended (but only if you have a very good, high clearance 4WD vehicle to get there!).

The elevation profile from my GPS watch (not the most accurate thing in the world)

Click here for an interactive topo map on caltopo.com with my GPS track overlay.

There are not a lot of photos in this post as I mostly took video during this one. If you'd like to see that edited video trip report, it's here on YouTube.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

New Mexico to Nevada

After the Sunday Wheeler Peak climb in northern New Mexico, my plan was to drive to Los Alamos and get a motel room for the night. As it turns out, the Wheeler Peak climb went faster than expected so I ended up getting to Los Alamos pretty early in the day and I spontaneously decided to continue west and stop for the night in either Cuba or Farmington, New Mexico. This would put me ahead of schedule for Monday.

I was impressed with Los Alamos; it was a good-looking little city and seemed like a nice place to live. Too hot for me, but otherwise pretty nice.

This is now a roadside rest stop

Following my GPS guidance, I departed Los Alamos going west on Highway 501. I was a little confused when this route looped around and took me to a set of gates, one for each lane, where I had to show my driver's license to a guard.

Suddenly, gates...

I told the guard I was not sure why I had ended up at these gates, and I was only trying to travel west on the highway and I was not trying to enter any sort of restricted area. I asked him if this was highway 501 and he said he didn't know. Really? You work here in a little booth right in the middle of this road every day, and you don't know what road it is? Seems like knowing where you are should be a job requirement. At any rate, he returned my license and waved me through, and there I was, driving through Los Alamos National Laboratory. Okaaaay...

Leaving the expansive laboratory grounds, I found myself traveling through the Valles Caldera National Preserve, which is a beautiful forested, mountainous area. The scenery was spectacular, and it distracted me to the point where I almost ran myself out of gas. Instead of continuing west towards Cuba, I had to detour south on Highway 4 in hopes of finding some gas, which I did find in San Ysidro. I put 19.9 gallons into my 19 gallon tank. That was close.

It was still early in the day, so I decided to push on northward through Cuba and all the way to Farmington for the night. I've never actually been to Farmington, but I've flown over it countless times in my Air Force career. It was a large farming town; pretty much as I expected.

Anyway, I rolled into town at dinnertime, and finding no local offerings that looked good, I settled on the Golden Corral for dinner. Hungry after a long day, I had seconds and dessert before waddling over to the local La Quinta to get a room for the night.

On Monday my destination was southwest Utah, but I'd allotted a couple of hours along the way to explore a bit of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon de Shey) National Monument in northwestern Arizona, so I headed southwest from Farmington and passed through Shiprock once again along the way.


Canyon de Chelly has an incredible history as home and strategic stronghold of the Navajo, and a tactical nightmare for the US Calvary in the 1860's. I've wanted to see it for many years, and it didn't disappoint. It's a visually striking geological feature with sweeping views and sheer cliffs, and it's full of natural caves and ancient adobe dwellings. To tour inside the canyon you must make arrangements with a Navajo guide and my schedule didn't really allow for that, but I did stop and explore at several rim viewpoints. I hope to come back soon with my daughter and explore inside the canyon with a guide.

My plan for Tuesday was to hike the iconic Angel's Landing trail in Zion National Park (even though I never seem to have good experiences at national parks due to overcrowding), so I'd made a hotel reservation in the tiny town of Hildale in southwest Utah. The Hildale hotel seemed to be a good bargain compared to expensive rooms a similar distance from Zion in the Kanab, Hurricane or Springdale areas. But Hildale turned out to be a very strange place...

I rolled into town and immediately had trouble finding the hotel. I found a modest sign for the hotel on a tall brick wall that surrounded a compound of sorts that took up one fourth of a large city block. After circling the block looking for the entrance, I pulled into the compound through an open gate, and found a door that looked like a residential front door. There was an unplugged 'Open' sign above the door, but no indication that this was the hotel, and I felt like I'd be walking into someone's living room if I went in. I called the hotel and was told I was at the right place and to come in, so I did. The young woman at the desk in what looked like a dorm day room checked me in, charging my card and completing the check-in process on her iPhone. She gave me an old-fashioned metal key and led me through long winding hallways to my room. This place didn't look like a hotel. It looked like a very large dormitory. There were hallway alcoves with washers and dryers. There were intercom speakers everywhere, and thermostats along the hallways that anybody could adjust. My room was a bit of a rundown room with a ceiling fan and basic hotel accouterments. There were no signs about fire exit routes or check-out times or anything like that. I wondered what the original purpose of this building was.

The vibe of this place was just strange. And a little unsettling. As I headed out to find some dinner at one of the three places in town that served food, I found the town to be just downright creepy. Many homes were extra large and surrounded by high brick or steel panel walls. Like 8 to 12 feet high. Gates were solid and there were no decorative openings or breaks of any sort in the walls or gates. Living in one of these houses has to be like living in a prison with no view of the outside world. There was no pedestrian traffic in town. No kids playing in yards. It was just so strange...

This is a totally normal home in Hildale

While waiting for my dinner, I googled the town and learned something along the lines of what I already suspected. Hildale is the headquarters of the FLDS, the Fundamentalist branch of the LDS church, and that most (or all?) residents were members, and many Hildale families are plural marriage families. Yeah, remember that guy, Warren Jeffs?  This is his town.  I knew that bigamy was still a thing in southwest Utah, but I didn't expect to find myself in the middle of it like this. And probably support it to a small degree with my money.

So that explains the walls. Yeesh. I should have paid more and stayed somewhere else. It did not feel good at all to be a strange face in a strange car with out-of-state plates in this town. I felt like everybody was giving me the eye. I went back to my creepy hotel and went to bed, and got up early on Tuesday morning and left before anyone at the hotel was up. I wound my way through the dark hallways with my little flashlight and left my key on the front desk, threw my stuff into my car and jumped on the highway heading out of town.

It took me an hour or so to get to Zion National Park west entrance, and the $35 entrance fee set me off right away. I was expecting $20 or $30, but $35? Remember when our taxes paid for our parks? Remember when every American could afford to visit a park? I guess it's more important for rich people to have lower taxes. What's it going to be next year, $50? And then the gate ranger just outright badgered me for not having exact change, and for not wanting to pay with a credit card. She said, "It's early and we're low on fives." Okay, how is that my fault or my problem? I'm sorry I don't have what you want, now please get off my ass and let me in, is what I was thinking. I gave her the stink-eye, she relented and 'fessed up my change, and I rolled into the park already in a bad mood.

I headed for the Grotto trailhead, and was very surprised to find that only shuttles were allowed on that road; the only road to get there. I was hoping to avoid the hordes of people today, but I guess I was going to have to go back to the entrance and get on a shuttle. Crowd management; I understand. Not what I wanted to do; not what I planned on, but I understand. So I headed back to the entrance.

I then find that, even before 7 AM on a Tuesday in the off season, the shuttle parking lot is packed and absolutely gridlocked. You can't even get in there because there are so many people looking for a spot and queueing up for the shuttle. That was the last straw for me. I turned around and headed for the east park exit. All of my experiences with National Parks are like this. Big expenses, grand plans and high hopes, always trashed by hordes of people. I'm absolutely done with national parks. Never again will I enter or try to do anything in a national park.

I looped around from the Zion east gate, up through the Dixie national forest (which is quite beautiful, by the way), and got some breakfast at the IHOP in Cedar City. Then I crossed over into Nevada and headed west on the Extraterrestrial Highway to Tonopah, then down to Bishop, California for the night.

Nevada is weird

The forecast for 13,147-foot Boundary Peak on the very western edge of Nevada was nearly perfect, so climbing that state high point was the plan for Wednesday....

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Wheeler Peak in New Mexico

After finishing the Mt Elbert hike in Colorado, I immediately drove five hours south to Taos, New Mexico. I spent a couple of days there relaxing and roaming about the town. It's a pretty nice place.

Taos and north central New Mexico

On Sunday the 16th I left town very early and headed up to Taos Ski Valley, to the Williams Lake trailhead, which is a large dirt parking lot. There were only a handful of cars there when I arrived, and I got my gear together, put on my pack and headed up the trail just a bit after sunrise.

The first half mile or so winds through the ski resort, and then you're into the woods. A pair of fast hikers overtook me not long after I started, and then I had the trail to myself. It was cool and quiet, and much more wooded than I expected.

The trail to Williams Lake is relatively gentle and gains a little over a thousand feet in about 1.9 miles. At the lip around the lake, before you actually see the lake, the Wheeler Summit trail branches off to the left (east) and starts switchbacking up Wheeler's steep western slope.

Soon after I started up, a solo hiker came up behind me and passed me by without exchanging any pleasantries. He was a man on a mission, I suppose.

The topo maps look like this section will be a strenuous climb, but it's really not bad at all. It averages about a 16% grade and the switchbacks are well designed to make the route manageable for most hikers. There a few talus fields along the way to cross where careful foot placement is required, but they're not too bad.

The Williams Lake Trail Route

Just above treeline, looking up at Wheeler Peak

Before I knew it, just a little over two-and-a-half hours into the hike, I was at the saddle just to the north of Wheeler Peak, in between Mount Walter and Wheeler Peak. The rest of the ridge traverse to the Wheeler summit only takes a few minutes, and although it was a bit cold and breezy there in the saddle, the view was absolutely beautiful in every direction.

The fast solo hiker that passed me earlier on the ascent had tagged the summit and now descended past me just as I reached the saddle, again without a word. As I crossed the ridge to the summit, the couple that I had seen near the parking lot started their descent from the summit, leaving me alone on the ridge and at the summit. There are few things better than some time alone on a summit. I enjoyed a snack and some Gatorade, and took some pictures.

After about 10 minutes I heard a couple coming up, and after another few minutes or so they were nearing the summit. I greeted them as they came up, and we chatted for a bit. They were locals and the woman mentioned that Mt Walter, just to the north of the saddle where we came up, is the second highest mountain in New Mexico, so I thought, "Well, hell, I guess I need to go over there and tag that one, too!"

Strange summit plaque

Northern view from Wheeler summit

Summit Benchmark

Southeast view from the Wheeler summit, looking at Old Mike Peak (right)

I snapped a summit picture for the couple, and then left them on the summit of Wheeler and I crossed the ridge and climbed the other side of the saddle to briefly visit Mt Walter, which is just 28 feet shorter than Wheeler. So it was kind of a twofer hike for me.

Looking west from Mount Walter

Looking over at Wheeler from Walter

I then returned to the saddle and started down the switchbacks.

About halfway down offered the only view of Williams Lake, which is the destination of many hikers on the Williams Lake trail.

Williams Lake at the valley floor

I passed a gazillion hikers who were on their way up as I descended. This is a popular trail, especially on a weekend, and I was very glad that I'd started early and beat the crowd. It was quite the conga line of people going up; over a hundred people would be my estimate. And down in the valley, many of the hikers along the Williams Lake portion of trail were casual hikers; people out for some Sunday time in the woods, and unfortunately, many were unaware of or unconcerned with leave-no-trace principles or any trail etiquette. Many children were freely roaming in off-trail areas, apparently on destroy-all-nature missions while oblivious parents strolled along. One unleashed dog seemed quite intent on ripping my leg off, and as I yelled at the dog and prepared to spear him in the head with my hiking pole as an act of self defense, I gave his owner an angry, WTF kind of look and said, "Don't you think that a maybe a leash would be an appropriate thing for this dog??? There's tons of little kids running around out here." He said something like, "Yeah, I guess I should do that." People can be incredibly thoughtless sometimes. And when I say thoughtless, I really mean moronic.

There was dense trail traffic for the entire 4 miles back to the car, and the parking lot was overflowing with cars when I got there. The descent only took me about 90 minutes, so the whole hike including time on the summit was about 5 hours; significantly faster than I expected.

I left the parking lot immediately to free up a spot for others, and I cleaned up and changed clothes at a quiet spot further down the mountain before I headed into town for lunch, and then onward to my next destination.

It looked like the only state high point that I could get to that had a decent weather forecast was good old Boundary Peak in Nevada, so I was headed west to try that one again. This time I hoped to make it all the way up to the trailhead without puncturing a tire so I could do the hike.

Anyway, Wheeler is scenic and pretty easy, and I recommend this hike as a great climb. But go on a weekday if you can, and go early!

P.S., This trail is full of rugged sections with very sharp rocks, and I'm really tired of seeing limping dogs in obvious pain on climbs like this with selfish owners urging them on. Although this trail is relatively short and easy, it's really not a good trail for dogs; please don't abuse your dogs like this--leave them at home.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Welcome Bradley Rose

She's a little bit early, but we're all overjoyed to welcome little Miss Bradley Rose Glick into this world.  My son Tom Glick and his wife Maurissa are the proud new parents of Bradley who was born on the 13th at 11:50 PM.  5 lbs, 9 oz, and 18 inches long.  Congratulations Tom and Maurissa!

Grandma CoCo and Proud Papa Tom

Auntie Nora and Papa Tom

Auntie Nora meets Bradley

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

New Places and Plans

Leaving California, I decided to head for Colorado instead of New Mexico. Wheeler Peak in New Mexico had a long stretch of good weather forecast, so I though it would be best to go get Mt Elbert in Colorado right away while there was relatively good weather forecast there for Thursday. After Thursday it didn't look that great for Elbert.

So on Tuesday I said goodbye to Mom and I drove towards northeastern Arizona, spending as much time as possible off the interstates. I went through the Joshua Tree and 29 Palms area; endless miles of empty desert. I did stumble across two Marine Corps Ospreys (V-22 tilt-rotors) out in the middle of the desert, and I watched them take off and fly around. I've never seen an Osprey in person, so that was pretty neat.

The temperatures along this stretch were very high, ranging from the low 100's all the way up to 116 degrees. Ouch. I did see one nutty guy apparently doing some bicycle touring in 110 degree heat, and that did not look pleasant.

AC on full blast

I went through Needles and took the interstate to Kingman, where I jumped onto old Route 66. After leaving the Kingman area, Route 66 got more and more beautiful as I headed east. It was a fantastic drive, and I was unhappy to have to return to the intersate a bit west of Williams.

I had an okay steak dinner in a touristy steak house in Williams (where many of the Grand Canyon's visitors stay), and then got back on the road.

Meh Steak House

At Flagstaff I jumped off the interstate for good and headed northeast. I got to Kayenta, Arizona, near Monument Valley, a bit before midnight, and I took the gravel road off the highway to the edge of Kayenta's little municipal airport. I parked in an out-of-the-way spot next to the airport fence and slept there in my car for the night. I didn't want to spend a hundred bucks for less than 8 hours in a motel. Showering is overrated anyway.

I was up at 7 on Wednesday and I got some crappy McDonald's coffee in town to de-groggify myself. It's either that or Burger King--Kayenta is not a big place. I then took advantage of being close to the four corners area to visit that monument (tourist trap), and also to drive by the impressive 1,583 foot high Shiprock before turning north and heading up to Cortez, Colorado.

Obligatory Four Corners Selfie

Yep, that's the spot


I cruised through southern Colorado, going to areas I've never had the opportunity to visit before, and then headed north towards Leadville. The valley north of Pagosa Springs is one of the most beautiful areas I've ever seen. Spectacular.

I made it to Leadville in time for dinner, and then I found a motel. After all the changes and cancellations on this trip, I'm done with reservaations. I'm playing it by ear in each town.

Leadville is at roughly 10,000 feet elevation, so spending the night there was good acclimitazation for the day to come on Mt Elbert.

I was up before 4 AM on Thursday, and I headed for the Mt Elbert trailhead about 20 miles southwest of Leadville.

The Mt Elbert trail starts at 10,000 feet, and goes to the summit at nearly 14,500 feet. Elbert is Colorado's highest mountain, and the second highest mountain in the lower 48. I knew this was going to be a very difficult hike, and it made me a little nervous.

One Tough Hike

I was expecting to be huffing and puffing on the trail pretty quickly with the altitude and the relatively heavy pack where I carried my just-in-case cold weather gear, but it really wasn't bad for the first couple of miles, and I made decent time. I stopped for a break and to eat some cheese crackers, and the Gray Jays came up and ate out of my hand. They are bold little beggars.

Then at around 12,000 feet, the altitude kicked in. It slowed me down considerably and made my stomach churn. I had trouble drinking, even just plain water, and I couldn't eat anything. I had to completely loosen my waist belt on my pack and carry the full load on my shoulder straps because the belt pressure made me more nauseous.

Elbert's trail is grueling, and there were a multitude of false summits, raising and destroying the hopes of hikers who wanted to get to the top. It seemed to go on forever. The slopes were littered with hikers like me, struggling to maintain any sort of pace and stopping frequently to catch our breath. I expected it to be difficult, but I underestimated how difficult it would be.

Finally, after nearly 6 hours of rock-hopping, I made it to the summit. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, but a cold wind was howling so I got some video and snapped some selfies before hunkering down behind a rock windbreak for a rest.

Just above treeline,
looking up at the first false summit

The light-colored aspens look great in the fall

Mount Massive to the northwest

I thought the rockpile would be the summit, but no...

The summit is up over there

Looking northwest from the summit

Summit Selfie

I headed down after 20 minutes or so on the summit, and down was just as hard as up. It just went faster with the gravity assist. Fortunately, even though the trail was extremely rocky and rugged, I did not destroy my feet and they're in pretty good shape, so I'll be ready for another hike after a couple of days' rest.

The descent only took 3 hours, and I was pretty happy at being successful and with the whole experience in general. It would be bad to come so far only to fail.

I then drove 5 hours to Taos, New Mexico, where I am resting for 2 days before trying Wheeler Peak just to the north of Taos. Wheeler is slightly easier (on paper) than Elbert, with only 3,100 feet of climbing to a 13,200 foot summit. The last 2,000 feet are brutally steep, though, so we'll see how that goes.
The Climb to Wheeler Peak in New Mexico

From here, I'm still looking at mountain weather forecasts, but I think my best bet may be to go back to Boundary Peak in Nevada for another try, and I can do some touring and see some stuff on the way there. Stay tuned...