Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Day 7 - November 30 (Thursday)

Woke up very early and got going without breakfast. I got to Zion very early and cooked up some oatmeal in the empty visitor parking lot. After that I checked again to see if the gate was open and I could pay for pass, but it wasn't. So I headed over to the trailhead for Observation Peak. The parking lot was under construction though, so I had to go back about a quarter mile and park at a pull out. I started walking just before dawn.

The initial part of the trail is a series of switchbacaks. This is the view out towards Angels Landing from the top of it.

Then the trail goes into a canyon. This is looking back through the narrower section.

And starts heading up again. Taking switchbacks and traversing slopes were it needs to. It eventually does another series of switchbacks before finally traversing all around the canyon to the actual Observation Point.

Observation Point is a beautiful lookout along the canyons rim. To the right you can see Angels Landing. 

Requisite gram photo.

Off the trail you can find other little viewpoints, this one gives a great view to the northwest up towards the narrows.

I stayed at the viewpoint for maybe a full hour. Watching the sun come slowly into the canyon. Eventually I had to head down though and start my second hike of the day: Angels Landing. I walked back along the road to my car then tried to find a spot in the parking lot for Angels Landing. It was full, so I went back to the last proper pull out before it. I headed down and then started up the trail after changing into my approach shoes.

View of Angels Landing to the left and Observation Point to the right. The trail switchbacks up to the left of Angels Landing, then goes through the Refrigerator Canyon.

Then up Walter's Wiggles.

After that I got to Scout Lookout, and had to start out on the route. I wolfed down some chocolate for sugar induced bravery and off I went. I was nervous because I'd seen some pictures of the exposure. They'd made it all look much harder than it was though. In reality once I'd calmed down it was quite easy.

There were enough people around, I could occasionally get someone to take a photo of me. 

The final section looked horrible, but was actually also easy. The narrow section with the step like rocks is in between here. But even then the exposure isn't too bad, and there is usually the chain to help you. 

A tree growing on the route.

Another photo opportunity. There were quite a few people around, but there were actually a lot of spots to let people pass you so it wasn't difficult to manage. I wouldn't have wanted it to be super crowded like I'd seen pictures, though.

The final section. 

After the climbing there was quite a bit of traverse of the summit to the viewpoint. Here is the view south down the valley from the summit.

View north down the valley from the summit.

Gram shot again. 


View down the valley from the top of the first switchbacks. I got down quite fast, and the drove to the end of the road to check it out. I saw some rock climbers on the way back. 

Then I headed over to the bridge at the start of the road to watch the sunset on Watchtower, take photographs, and hanging out with actual photographers.

Initially the light painted the mountain red. A lot of people got out of cars and stopped by at this point. Taking a photo then leaving. Since I had nothing to do but eat dinner and go back to my "spot" (which of course I didn't leave anything at) in the Dixie National Forest, I stayed around with the few actual photographers waiting for sunset.

And here is my not so good sunset photo. You need a proper tripod, and knowledge of using long exposures or something, to get the photos you see all the time. But it was nice to talk to people again. 

Eventually I left and headed out of the park. The gate was not staffed again, so I still couldn't pay. I'd been to the visitor center before the gate, but it was closed as well. I dropped off some recycling in the bin at the parking lot. Its rare to find those on a road trip so I had to use the opportunity I got. Then I decided to go out for food again, and headed over to the Zion Brew Pub for dinner. Which was great. Sorry Zion National Park, but if you don't have staff at the gate except for the shortest period in off season, then the brew pub gets my $30 instead. I would have paid if I could. I wasn't trying to cheap out. I do believe in park fees to pay for roads, parking lots, washrooms, trails, and staff. But they just didn't let me in my schedule. Which I had carefully planned to get the most out of the park I could on my one day.

After dinner I drove back to the forest, and got into bed. Thinking that the first three of four times I'd set up my "home" in the back of the SUV; including the blanket to block myself from the front window, and all the Reflectix / black fabric window covers, unpacking the sleeping bag again (which I hide during the day under other stuff because its expensive), it was fun. Sort of like building a fort in your car. Or rather, really like building a for since it does include blankets strung up between chairs: the front seats. But after a while it had grown into more of a tedious chore for sore arms at the end of a long day. How I long for a van. However it was still fun in a way, and still complete worth it.

Day 8 - December 1 (Friday)

I woke up at 6:30am and started off without making breakfast. Thinking that I would stop and brew coffee after the sun came up, and it was a bit warmer. I eventually ended up just buying one when I got gas two hours later. Eating apple sauce and cheese sticks for breakfast. I continued driving through the horrors of Salt Lake Cit and its endlessness. Taking a break part way through and going to the REI. Looking around at a bunch of guidebooks, but I didn't buy anything. I continued onto Idaho and turned off the I-15 to get onto the 93, passing Borah Peak. The highest peak in Idaho. I have to go back here and climb it when its dry. While there are a lot of mountains that look super easy in the area to climb in the current conditions, Borah Peak would need to be dry for me to attempt it.

Not a photo of Borah Peak, but just some mountains along the side of the road. It was quite the lovely area.

Eventually I got to my destination of the day: Challis Hot Springs. Though commercial; the water is completely natural, and continually cycling through the rocks at the bottom of the pools. So its super clean and clear. There are two pools: a large warm pool and a hotter smaller pool. They both have fences around them. Which isn't just for privacy but also to block the wind, I would think. It was extremely uncrowded. I sat around in the large pool talking to one other couple for about an hour, and we were the only people in the pool. Just before they left a man and his son joined us, but they also left soon afterwards and I had the entire place to myself for over an hour. The smaller pool I had to myself everytime I went over there. The owner is the nicest woman ever. I hadn't planned to stay; meaning to drive into the forest and free camp there, but ended up doing so. I cannot recommend this place enough. It doesn't have that typical feel commercial pools do of cement, uncleanliness, and overcrowding. It was really quite lovely.

This is the larger pool. It has a bit of view of the surrounding hills.

 And this is the smaller pool. Not much a view of surrounding peaks, but you absolutely cannot beat having such a clean and lovely place to yourself. The stones on the bottom of the pool making it feel very natural.

Eventually I had to get out and make dinner, I parked near the washrooms and went to bed very soon after dinner.

Day 9 - December 2 (Saturday)

I woke up around 4am again cold. A humidity problem again for sure. This time I just burrowed further into my sleeping bag and tried to sit it out. I could of put on some more layers, but wasn't cold enough to overcome my laziness. It basically worked and I got some more sleep before finally getting up after sunrise.

I ate my breakfast and drove up to find Goldbug Hot Springs. A super popular natural hot springs. And for good reason. The views from the pools are amazing, and the various different sized pools make the springs very interesting to begin with. It is a short hike to get in (starting across private land) of 5.8km and 300m. 

I got to the parking lot and it was crazy full. Which made me wonder if I shouldn't bother, and instead should try to go somewhere else. A group of two couples walked by and we talked a bit and they convinced me it was still worth it. I'm very glad they did. I probably would have gone anyway, but I felt better about it after I talked to them. And they were right. Just as we got to the springs a large group was leaving, and there was plenty of room for everyone else around. Most people only stayed less than an hour, so though a lot of people came and went there wasn't any overcrowding.

The hike in was easy and you get this interesting view of where you are going for some of it. It was short and the trail was easy to follow.

Here is the photo your supposed to take in the springs. As you can see, the view down the valley is great. There are various pools on different levels, of different temperatures. Some have little waterfalls as well. Most pools are a bit shallow, but otherwise the only problem is the amount of people that come here.

I spent some time in the large cooler pool, but eventually moved up to this smaller hotter pool. Hot water came in around one corner and cold water another, letting you sort of move around and pick another temperature if you got too hot or cold. You couldn't feel the water circulating though so it wasn't distracting. 

I also took quite a few photos of course. I can't help it now. I took this one because, as a peakbagger and a scrambler, that ridge is so much more interesting to look at than the rounded hill to the left. Even if the view down the valley isn't as good from this spot.

Eventually it became obvious that there would be no sunset, only a slow fading of the light into the ever increasing cloud cover. I also didn't really want to hike out in the dark. Preferring to have time to find another spring, or find the brew pub in Salmon an older couple recommended to everyone, with the last of the daylight instead. I couldn't find the motivation to leave though, until it became obvious that a whole new set of people were coming up and there was quite a lot of them. The evening crowd. I got out, changed, and headed down. Sure enough there were a lot of people were coming up. I had picked a good time to leave.

Photo of part of the river on the drive between Elk Bend and Salmon, which I found really pretty. It would have been a better photo if I could have been bothered to get down to the river level and get those rocks in it properly. But I was getting hungry.

I found the brew pub; Bertrams Brewery, and got a sampler of their beer and a burger, which was great. Then I headed over to Sharkey Hot Springs. It was dark by then so no photos. You'll have to follow the link to see it. They are two cement soaking tubs with continually cycling water (which is actually quite loud), washrooms, heated change rooms, and a fire pit. It was pretty busy with people coming and going. I stayed there quite a while and the same two couples from Goldbug showed up and we talked some more. It was nice to be able to have a beer right in the tub so I stayed quite a while planning on sleeping extremely close by. The two couples left, and eventually I left as well about half an hour later.

I was pretty tired at that point, and I'd already drank a bit (but wasn't actually drunk), so I only drove back the ~100 meters to the last intersection on the gravel road, and headed up the other way. Less than ~200 meters down that, at the very first pull out spot I parked and set everything up. Halfway through I realized you could see this spot from the road to Sharkey, because there was no intervening hills or trees. I figured it would still be fine, mostly because I was too tired to have motivation to go elsewhere, and went to bed. 

Day 10 - December 3 (Sunday)

I woke up at ~1:30am to lights and voices. I was on my side but fully stretched out at this point which meant my feet where against the trunk. I felt the distinct feeling that someone was trying to open the trunk using the handle When it didn't open, the walked away and I could see more lights flashing from the small opening around the edge of the blanket. Coming from the front window left uncovered. Then nothing. 

Slightly scared; not knowing if I was hallucinating or if that had been real, I slowly got up. Pulled down the blanket and crawled into the front seat without unlocking any doors. Then without pulling anything more than the drivers seat side window cover off, I started the car and drove away. Finding no other vehicles in the pull out or one the road. I drove straight back to the secondary highway where I pulled off the remaining window covers. Then drove down that road for about 12 minutes until I got to an official campground just off the highway. Feeling that the criminals of opportunity shouldn't be in this area, or might be scared off by the road being so nearby, I decided it was good enough. I pulled in and though it was clearly a pay campground in the summer, there was no one around so it was free in off season. I parked near the washrooms, re-set up, and went back to sleep.

Waking up in the morning, I was more sure it was true than coming from my post-drinking grogginess imagination. My mistake: parking too close to something popular but far enough away from civilization. If I'd driven farther down that road into the public land I would have most likely been fine. Just like I'd been fine every other time I'd slept in my car on this trip. Thankfully they weren't the type of criminals to actually smash windows. I don't think they knew I was in the car. Obviously they couldn't see me. Most of my Reflectix window covers where glued quite well to the black fabric, meaning you cant see anything but black looking at them. A few are a bit sloppy and have obvious glue lines, which you can see. Either way there was no way they could see me from any point around the perimeter of the car. Only a blanket would be visible from the front and a lot of junk. They were probably thinking it was an unoccupied parked car from someone hunting or camping elsewhere. And were hoping it was unlocked so they could easily steal some shit. I'm not sure what they would have done had it opened and they'd seen me. But it did make me think that I should have a knife near me just in case. 

I would like to point out though, that in no way does this incident make me feel like I shouldn't have been using this sleeping arrangement. Only that I shouldn't make poor choices on where to park. I'd known when I could see the road to Sharkey from the pullout it wasn't a spot I'd pick if I'd had a choice. I'd just let myself get into a state that I didn't really have a choice. Driving under the influence being something you should never do (the 300 meters along abandoned dirt road to get to the pull out being a necessary tiny bit of evil to get away from the constant Sharkey traffic in and out of the pool). Had I been able to, I would definitely have chosen a spot this would not have happened at.

Here is my best photo of my setup. The window covers only have the black fabric on the outside, while the Reflectix goes on the inside. It probably increases the heat of the car by 0.001 degree Celcius, because your supposed to have an air buffer between the material and the outside surface your protecting yourself from. But the Reflectix makes a fantastic window material for another reason beyond its improperly used ability to reflect heat: it is just the right rigidity for the purpose. It is just rigid enough to stay in the window and keep its form, but not too rigid you cannot shove it around in the window edges and bend its edges to fit parts that are cut slightly too big. Really its quite perfect, I'm so glad I found this stuff when I searched 'how to cover your windows' on google. A lot of people used spray paint, but that's just lazy in my opinion. The fabric will last longer and won't make a mess as it wears out.

I woke up in sort of the eye of a snowstorm, but didn't realize it at the time. Dark clouds to the south and west, but none to the north. I decided to take the "back way" to get to the I-15 as it would save many kilometers of travel and time. So I went north up the 29 until it became the 324 east, which took me to the highway. It was a bit rough going but the snow wasn't too deep so I didn't really think I'd get stuck. 

On the I-15 I made great progress for only a short bit, then hit the snowstorm I'd though was only west of me. From about Dillion to Butte I was driving through a full on storm and conditions were terrible. I passed a jack-knifed semi-truck and a little car in the ditch. I feared that if it was like that for too long, and I could only go 60 to 80km/h, I'd never make it back to Calgary that day. Instead I'd be forced to continue driving overnight, have to take a nap, and only make it back to Calgary in time for work. 

However after Butte it cleared up slowly, until after the interesting canyon like section, I could finally get back to proper speed. The border was uneventful, the officer letting me through with my collection of beers you cannot buy in Canada. Then it was just the long drive back to Calgary. Somewhere around Nanton I realized I'd only eaten chips and cashew butter on crackers all day. It was far too late to fix that, so I continued on. It was surprisingly good to see Calgary again.

In total I drove 5387km on this trip (I have two odometers I can reset to track the whole trip on one, and short distances to find things on the other). I know 4 days of driving to 6 days of hiking is a poor ratio, but that was the best I could do with my allowed time off. It felt like I was gone a lot longer, something which didn't happen quite as much on previous road trips. Perhaps because I was alone, or because of the bum lifestyle, but it felt like I'd been gone two or even three weeks not 10 days. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and will definitely be doing more trips like this. To everyone who said it was a bad idea, it was not. To everyone who said it was (two adventurous badass women of course), thanks for the support! 

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Day 5 - November 28 (Tuesday)

I got up before sunrise and cooked my breakfast before heading out to the scenic drive. I found a nice overlook and took some photos of the major peaks as the sun came up.

You cannot see the peak I'm going to do in this photo. Gunsight Notch Peak isn't as high as the surrounding peaks in the area. But the two major scrambling objectives of the area; Mount Wilson (left) and Bridge Mountain (right) are visible. 

White Rock Hills also looked spectacular in the sunrise. Once the nice light faded I went off to Pine Creek Trailhead which would lead me into Pine Creek Canyon.

At times on this hike I was sure I would die falling off the mountain, or in the canyon. The sign of a successful challenging scramble. Totals: 10.2km / 656m / 7.5h. Indicating that travel was generally slow!

I started off down the trail with only rock climbers around me. 

They rapidly went off to their climbs as I left the official trail and headed down into the wash, and eventually the canyon. Which is just ahead here.

There was a lot of bouldering in the canyon. Cairns and arrows marked in white chalk (I think?) marked the way. So the route finding should have been easy. But at times I didn't know what the cairns wanted and/or didn't trust them. A lot of them were built more for descent than ascent I suspect.  So it took me a few minutes to solve some of the larger problems.

There were a lot of stemming moves, and trusting your feet on sandstone boulders which conveniently sloped the way you needed them to. 

More of Pine Creek Canyon.

After what felt forever, I passed some of the side canyons and finally was nearing the turn off. Which is not pictured here.

I had heard a group of at least three people behind me at times, and they were catching up at this point. However when I turned off for Gunsight Notch Peak, I heard them discussing which way to go and then never heard them again. I guess they were climbing a different peak.

 I started up the main rock canyon that bends around to the left towards the peak.

The rock was very interesting and the  whole canyon was amazing scenery.

This rock formation in particular was neat.

However it got steeper and slightly slick were the moss was. I started to not trust I could stick to it and decided to stick to a route more to the left. Following cairns for the first bit and coming back out onto an open area. From there I knew I probably should go right, but feared the terrain and kept left. I had to do a ~10 meter bushwack to get to an open area. In the Rockies that would have been easy. Here the hardy desert trees and bushes didn't snap when I wacked them! Instead prickling me and forcing me to simply crawl through them. I made it to my open area which turned out to be a boulder field. I followed that up, nervous it wouldn't connect to the actual route. But it did, easily traversing to the right, back to the route starting next to a large dead tree. 

From there I followed a route along bits of broken slab, actual real pieces of slab, and occasional rubble to the summit block. Finally making it out into the sun. A lot of cairns around here. Most leading you up steep slabs; which undoubtedly work, but you can find an easier route if you look around. I found mine back to the left again. The summit block was slabby, but I headed up with the confidence of summit fever knowing the end was near.

The summit was a welcome sight because half the route finding was done. I was a bit worried about my route down back to the canyon and finding the right detours around the drop offs in the canyon. This photo is looking east back out towards Las Vegas.

Looking north towards Bridge Mountain.

Looking west into the farthest regions of Pine Creek Canyon. Also the way I came up for the last little bit.

I headed down, and except for staying a bit too left to begin with, generally followed the exact route down I'd gone up. Much farther down; almost into the canyon I took another short break, then I went left on purpose to see what it was like. It was steep but manageable, though kind of slippery. I wasn't too disappointed I hadn't gone up that way. In the canyon I found the cairns were actually much easier to follow on the way down, therefore what they must have been built for. It went really fast. I'd feared on the way up that descent would be slow, but I was much faster than I thought I would be.

At the edge of the canyon I saw some rock climbers far up a route. I also passed a lot of hikers. I could smell the soap on them from 10 yards away. Meaning that I must spell awfully good myself.

I headed into Vegas and went to best buy to buy a cigarette lighter converter to charge my camera with. Then out to Lovell Canyon. It felt far away at the end of the day, but it really was only a half hour drive. A lot of space for dispersed camping, though not a lot of trees. I could hear the highway from where I parked, but you could easily go farther into the woods to get away from that.

Day 5 - November 29 (Wednsday)

I woke up after sunrise. A luxury I was trying to let myself have about every second day. Especially when I didn't need all the hours of light. I cleaned the covers off the windows, and got out of the car to find my lower back was aching quite badly. Maybe it was the thin sleeping mat, or maybe the angle I parked at. Which was downhill so I'd constantly been sliding into the trunk. Whichever, I didn't think I could safely scramble in this condition, and/or lacked motivation to do so. I'd planned on only the tiny Kraft Mountain, but I wasn't in good shape at all, and even the short 3.5h day was too unappealing. 

I finished up my breakfast (pictured here), and headed back off to Calico Basin in Red Rocks anyway. Standing in the parking lot looking up at the scrambling I just couldn't do it. Thinking of what else was available to me to do on the drive there, I'd remembered the Valley of Fire State Park which was just on the other side of Las Vegas, and basically on my way over to Zion. Once that thought was lodged in my mind; of a new place to explore and easy hiking on tourist trails, I couldn't get it out. So off I went. 

I certainly felt like I was leaving Red Rocks without truly experiencing it, except for my one peak yesterday. I have a lot of unfinished business there. Unlike in the Mount Charleston area; where I completed all my goals and saw the majority of the landscape, I'd barely scratched at the surface of Red Rocks Canyon. I will certainly be back. To spend my very first day of a trip here. When ambition and body are still fresh and sharp. Climbing Mount Wilson and/or Bridge first.

In the Valley of Fire State Park I started out on the Scenic Loop road at the western side. This was actually my favorite part of the park and I wished afterwards that I'd spent more time here. There road was half gravel so you could actually park on the side and get out and look at things here, unlike along the main White Domes Road. The rock formations were mainly red, but they were extremely varied in shape and wonderful to look at and play around on. An elderly couple were walking along the road and stopped to talk to me. They told me they were from Turner Valley in Alberta when I said I was from Calgary! 

However I thought I had to move on to do the main hike of the park that photographers do: Fire Wave (1.4 mile out and back). The hike took me to the Fire Wave rock formation which looks nothing like its photographs, which all seem to be taken at sunset (seriously, go look them up). In the height of the day it was rather unimpressive. I knew it wouldn't be as nice in the middle of the day, but I didn't think the difference would be so great! Plus the top photos of it seem to be over-saturated for even better effect. I'm not kidding, this isn't a matter of photographic skill/camera used (for once), this formation wasn't particularly impressive in person at this time of day. Or maybe the sunset photos had just ruined it for me... that could very well be it.

So I continued on farther around the landscape; clearly off trail, looking for something else interesting. There wasn't anything, so eventually I returned. I hiked around to this side. However I didn't manage to remember the most famous angle, and didn't get that photo. I think you have to stand in the middle of the wave to get it.

Here is another photo of its northern lines. I like this angle best for the time of day that I hiked it. The formation is quite pretty, but I wasn't about to stay for sunset. I wanted to be at my campground, which was more than two hours away from the park. So I could be well rested for Zion the next day. 

I took another detour on a trail marked "one way", and got this bit of a nice view/photo. The sign though, was actually completely nonfactual and seemed to be an outright lie. The trail to the fire wave was not a loop, but an in/out trip. This trail marked "one way" was actually either an old relic of people wandering around, or a climbers trail. And should have been marked as such, rather than misleading people on purpose to make them avoid it by tricking them. Or maybe I'm misinterpreting the intention here.... perhaps in the future they plan on making a loop at the start of this trail? If someone knows better, please do correct me.

Afterwards I drove of to the end of the road to do another hike: White Domes (1.1 mile loop). This was an actual loop which takes you around some formations, past an old movie set, through a short narrow canyon, and past some more formations. It was quite nice really, and as I'd never seen photos of it previously, definitely not disappointing. I also changed from my approach shoes and soaks; which were just getting sand ground into them anyway, to sandals. Despite that the sand got onto my feet even more, I felt that for the short hike it was actually more comfortable in an odd sort of way. Here is the start of the short canyon.

Another part of the loop, and the typical surface of a lot of the hikes: sand. Definitely gets you more exercise as your hiking them.

A pink and yellow rock I quite liked. As it did look just as good up in person.

Along the road was this amazing looking rock, which I found far more appealing that the Fire Waves one. It has red, white, pink, and yellow strips from what I can see! However they had no parking areas anywhere near it, and several signs for no stopping right beside it. There was no shoulder on the road, so I simply stopped the car and took this photo out the window (checking behind me several times during the whole thing). I could have hiked cross country to it (and would have), if I'd had more time. It would have been maybe a ~4 mile return trip from either the north or south. But Zion was more important to me (or rather beating the crowds was), so I didn't. But its a shame they don't have an actual official trail leading here, no matter how long they chose to make it (to avoid graffiti or whatever other reason they wouldn't want you to be able to park right beside it, which is completely understandable).

I headed out of the park, and continued my drive north to where I would camp for the night. I stopped in St. George for gas and food, then continued onto the Dixie National Forest. Which I accessed through the town of Leeds.

Photo of sunset over St. George from the edge of the Dixie National Forest. This forest was a bit odd though. Unlike the other ones I'd been to, you were only allowed to "dispersed camp" in designated areas. Which isn't really my definition of the term, but as long as I got a spot not too far out I didn't mind. I had to drive about 10 minutes down the road. The first 7 spots being occupied by RV's, some of which looked to be abandoned as no attending vehicle to pull them was in sight. The sight I took was farther off the main road, still free, and with plenty of trees/shrubbery so I was happy. I went off to bed, setting my alarm crazy early so I could guarantee myself a parking spot for hiking in Zion the next morning. About an hour's drive away.