Posts in Category: Hiking & Backpacking

Iron, Lion, Zion

Sometimes a quick reset is in order. You know – a change of scenery, pace, weather, etc – looking at things through a fresh lens. A cheap flight to Vegas, a short drive later, and voila, Zion NP beneath the feet.

Being that this was our first time in the park, folks who had spent considerable time in Zion suggested that in lieu of running and/or fastpacking the 50ish mile Zion Traverse, doing multiple, shorter trips would be preferable. So we heeded. Mid-April, with temps in the 70°s and the very beginning of the spring bloom. Not too crowded, but still some folks to contend within the first couple miles of all the main trails.

We spent the first day running/hiking a bunch of the main trails, and getting a feel for the lay of the land. Vertical relief about sums it up with gorgeous Navajo sandstone rising from the Virgin River for thousands of feet. The highlight of the day was an 8+ mile outing from Weeping Rock to Observation Point, where one is treated to panoramic views from 2100′ above the river. Highly recommended.

Day two consisted of catching one of the first shuttles to the Grotto TH. Our first destination of the day was Angel’s Landing where we jogged up the mostly runnable lower terrain until hitting the steeper, switch backed sections about 1.5 miles in. As this trail is a crowded, bucket list hike, there is guaranteed to be foot traffic no matter the time of day but an early morning start helps to mitigate the inevitable cluster fuck. And sure enough, despite our early start, we encountered a few parties that were in over their heads while we were on our descent. The views and the trail are stunning, but the human dynamic in such a place is also quite the marvel.

From here, it was a venture away from the crowds and into the backcountry towards the West Rim. This lollipop loop can eschew with the ~one mile side trip to Angel’s Landing and take you straight out to the junction of Telephone Canyon/West Rim Trail in just under five miles and ~2500′ of vertical gain. Here is also where you can find the only water source, Cabin Spring, which we scoped but did not use due to carrying just enough water in our running vests. From this junction, I’d recommend taking Telephone if you’re looking to do the loop, as this allows one to finish the second half of the loop with stunning vistas. Telephone Canyon is great, runnable singletrack, but with a different feel than the wide expanses of the West Rim. I’d say it is more enclosed and subtle in it’s beauty. Whereas the West Rim is in your face with miles of surreal sandstone scenery. If you haven’t been up here before, allot for extra time to gawk and take photos if that’s your thing. It was my perogative, for sure.



At the junction of Telephone and West Rim, one can descend North towards Potato Hollow for some out-and-back bonus miles (this is where the Zion Traverse goes) or you can round the bend to the West Rim. We took a brief detour towards Potato just to get a view of the land and soon turned back for the West Rim, as we only were carrying 2L of water apiece and didn’t want to cut it too close. The West Rim trail stays high for a while with views of Phantom Valley and further canyons to the south. It is quite the stunning landscape, especially seeing it for the first time. We were accompanied by a few backpackers and a handful of raptors aloft for this entire loop.

We took off the next afternoon, after stretching our legs for a few miles on one last trail out of the campground on the Watchman trail. Then back to the wretched city that is Vegas and soon back to home in Montana. Where, go figure, I was able to ski over a foot of fresh powder that very evening! Paradox and stark contrasts, to say the least.


Sweet Amarillo

It has been a while, I know. Thanks for visiting, you fine, kind people of this world. Where have I been, you may ask? Well the short story is, around.

It’s spring in Montana, and we’re getting dumped on as I type. Likely about 18″ or so in the alpine in the last 24 hours. That is on top of a plush 8′-12′ of snowpack that we’ve been so very fortunate for this season. It has been quite the winter – both in terms of stability and depth.



I’m currently on my 18th month in a row of skiing (and 75 months straight of throwing snowballs :), which may seem a bit contrived and/or fun. But I really didn’t have to work too hard for it this last late summer/fall. I even got to ski from one of the tallest peaks in the Wind Rivers during the total solar eclipse while on a five day backpacking trip there last August. Surreal, to say the least…Ask politely, and you might receive.


Well, enough small talk. I’ll leave you with a departing snap of the Winds looking towards Gannet Peak from an amazingly high and wide 12000′ plateau. Some trips tend to leave the well brimming for some time…

Summer ’15 mountain running adventures

The Beaten Path in its early season splendor

The Beaten Path in its early season splendor

Well, well. After a full summer’s hiatus from the old blog I am back to share with you some personal highlights of the summer season here near home in SW Montana and beyond. Some technical WordPress difficulties led me to discard a midsummer 1000+ word recap of my longest race to date (53 miles) but I’ll do my best to decant some of that here in the near future. In short, 50 miles is a lot longer than 30 🙂

Somewhere during the 2015 HURL Elkhorn 50M, sometime before things got really real

Somewhere during the 2015 HURL Elkhorn 50M, sometime before things got really real

The main theme that unfolded for the warm season has been mountain traverses and ridge running for long distance training – both single-push days and planned overnights with tiny packs/vests. Fun, big weekend objectives with moderate mid-week training led to an avg of 40 mile/10,000′ weeks from June through Sept. Both my mileage and vertical gain ramped up incrementally (and slowly) through the summer as strength and weather joined forces. This training revolved around three mountain ultras – an Old Gabe 50K early summer tune up, the HURL Elkhorn 50M mid summer main event and lastly, The Rut 50K end of summer celebration. All of these runs are heavy on the vert with each over 10K’ on the up, hence the emphasis on such in my training. This proved to translate well, thankfully.

Myself and RD, Steve at the HURL Elkhorn 50M finish

Myself and RD, Steve at the HURL Elkhorn 50M finish

This summer has been spectacular for high mountain adventures and the segue into autumn has been most pleasant with an abundance of sun, warmth, and limited precip. A bit of end-of-summer snow fell here at Sept’s finish, but nothing to shut down sneakers in the high country. Recent snow will certainly linger on some aspects until winter lays its white brushstrokes again… but until then I’m into soaking in as many golds and bronzes as I can.

After a Beartooth night beneath Medicine and Castle

After a Beartooth night beneath Medicine and Castle

Here’s a quick recap of this summer-into-fall highlights for me. Most of the distance/elevation stats came from my Suunto Ambit2 GPS watch. Thus, variance is to be expected. In chronological order:

Beartooth: Beaten Path from East Rosebud to Cooke City. July – 26 miles, 5000′.

Jonah, into the clouds on the Beaten Path

Jonah, into the clouds on the Beaten Path

Gallatin: Mt Blackmore to Hyalite Pk high route. July – 18 miles, 6700′.

Adam on the Hyalite high route

Adam on the Hyalite high route

GTNP: Paintbrush/Cascade Canyon loop. August – 20 miles, 4300′.

Julia nearing the top of Paintbrush Divide. And check out that rockslide splitting the tarn below!

Julia nearing the top of Paintbrush Divide. And check out that rockslide splitting the tarn below!

-Bridger: High ridge traverse from Morgan Cemetary to the ‘M’ (Overnight). September – 35 miles, 17,000′.

Adam on the full Bridger Ridge traverse. Windy was an understatement.

Adam on the full Bridger Ridge traverse. Windy was an understatement.

-Crazy: Big Timber Canyon to Cottonwood traverse (Overnight). September – 23 miles, 6200′.

Sarah, Adam, and myself early on in the Crazy traverse (pic: J)

Sarah, Adam, and myself early on in the Crazy traverse (pic: J)

-Gallatin: Devil’s Backbone (Gallatin Crest) Portal Creek to Grotto Falls high traverse. October – 25 miles, 6100′.

Julia mid-route on the Devil's Backbone - highly recommended

Julia mid-route on the Devil’s Backbone – highly recommended

Julia and I also spent quite a few starry nights out in the alpine whenever we could. We actually bivied more than spending time in a tent this year, learning from it and giving more opportunity to practice astro and night photography. I’ve got a lot to learn in this discipline but am really stoked on some preliminary results.

A new moon, the milky way and sleeping under the stars in the Tetons

A new moon, the milky way and sleeping under the stars in the Tetons


Shadows of giants

Shadows of giants

As always, I’m super thankful for the support that I receive from friends, family, sponsors, and those of you out there on the internets/the gram/the whatever/ that are filling the well, one drop at a time. I’m looking forward to Hyalite ice coming in here shortly and to the (hopefully) ridiculously deep winter that will follow. Cheers, folks!

Elation expressed on a summit nearing the end of a fine day on the Gallatin Crest. With the best running partner ever - my wife. Thanks Julia for being the raddest! (and for the snap!)

Elation expressed on a summit nearing the end of a fine day on the Gallatin Crest. With the best running partner ever – my wife. Thanks Julia for being the raddest! (and for the snap!)

Transitions

Not too bad of a view - the Tetons on Julia's Birthday

Not too bad of a view – the Tetons on Julia’s Birthday


As the days now grow shorter (yet again, how crazy!), I reflect upon a winter and spring that brought new peaks, new lines, and an abundance of good skiing. Julia and I recently got back from the Tetons where I put in a last hoorah of sorts for the season on skis. Had to hike em 2700′ before skinning but I still eked out a couple K’ of big mountain corn skiing. And we got to celebrate J’s 30th B-Day in one of our most favorite places!

Not a bad place to bivy. Julia and the Middle Teton

Not a bad place to bivy. Julia and the Middle Teton


Iceflow Lake and into Idaho

Iceflow Lake and into Idaho

It’s now running season for me – having just completed the Old Gabe 50K for my second year and looking forward to a couple other mountain ultras before the short lived Montana alpine running season is re-blanketed in white. For the few months of summer that we have here, I do my best to run the hills as much as possible. But when I feel the need to ski, there’s usually snow to be found if you walk far and high enough.

About 30K into the 2015 Old Gabe 50K. Thanks for the morale boost Julia!

About 30K into the 2015 Old Gabe 50K. Thanks for the morale boost Julia!

Skiing off of the Middle Teton. Photo: Julia

Skiing off of the Middle Teton. Photo: Julia


The flowers are out and stunning as usual. Wildlife is moving about. Things are generally opening up in the high country and the trails are mostly runnable. Not a complaint here. I hope that the solstice was enjoyable and the ensuing summer treats you all the best!
A colorful explosion in my own backyard at June's end

A colorful explosion in my own backyard at June’s end

A Teton birthday grizz

A Teton birthday grizz

Winter camping in the Greater Yellowstone

The ever stunning Lamar Valley. New Year's Day 2015

The ever stunning Lamar Valley. New Year’s Day 2015


Over this past holiday season, Julia and I went out on a couple of backcountry camping trips in the Northern Gallatin range and also along Slough Creek in the Yellowstone Park. One trip to the alpine and the second to high grassland/coniferous forest. Both different and bolstering in their respective offerings. There are multiple ways to go about it, but the name of the game is to stay warm and dry while out overnight in the winter. That’s my sage advice 😉
Julia trying to stay warm among the pines in the Park.

Julia trying to stay warm among the pines in the Park.


The art of staying out in lower 48 winters isn’t beyond reason and as per the norm, practice always helps. Emerald Lake just before Christmas was accompanied with marvelous powder and moderate temperatures in the high teens/low twenties (°F). What we didn’t bargain for were the all-night and into morning gale winds. We woke concerned that our previously secured packs/skis/poles outside had been ripped from their perches. But all was well. Lesson learned here was to be prepared with the correct shelter and campsite for the situation. We chose a 9000′ alpine cirque to perch and paid only the small price of a loud night’s sleep. Julia and I have weathered similar winds in the BD Firstlight on previous occasions and can attest to its classically stout design. Prior to the night’s wind, it was dead quiet and lightly snowing as we warmed ourselves around a glorious winter fire.
BD Firstlight's wind shedding curves

BD Firstlight’s wind shedding curves


Confetti sparks. (photo: Julia)

Confetti sparks. (photo: Julia)


Yellowstone was, as always, expansive. The north and northeastern parts of the park are held closely in my heart for many a reason. And winter, dear winter… The forecast for Mammoth and Cooke City were to be in the single digits. New Year’s eve in the park yielded temps down to well below zero. It was -5°F around 9pm as a reference. Chilly, and just manageable. Insulated pants, booties, and jackets were worn in conjunction with our amazingly crafted Valandre Mirage sleeping bags to keep us from freezing in the late night/early morning hours. While not necessarily warm, we weren’t shivering either.
Waking to a frosted tent on Jan 1. (Photo: Julia)

Waking to a frosted tent on Jan 1. (Photo: Julia)


A fresh wolf kill on our ski in. Quite the big elk. Howling commenced close by in the foothills soon after we skied off. (photo: Julia)

A fresh wolf kill on our ski in. Quite the big elk. Howling commenced close by in the foothills soon after we skied off. (photo: Julia)


Ringing in the New Year amongst Yellowstone’s wildlife and under the blanket of the Milky Way is well worth dealing with a bit of cold. It also helped to have a bit of leeway in our systems to allow for deviation from the expected temperatures. All of our gear worked as planned, with the exception of a blown seal on my rehydrated dinner. The glue melted away from the zipper and I soon found this out with the bag tucked in my layers, while leaning over to tend to melting snow. With Julia’s patient help, dinner was largely salvaged and I got most of the beef stew out of my clothing. What an ordeal at the time but a lesson learned all the same. I can safely say that after smelling the spilled remnants on my clothes for the remainder of the trip, I no longer have any desire for said stew! And it was nothing that a New Year’s bubbly couldn’t fix!
Backcountry bubbly to help ring in 2015

Backcountry bubbly to help ring in 2015


Besides this, I’ve been skiing these rolling and relatively flat trips with a fairly lightweight AT rig and my TLT6s while Julia has been using her Fischer XCD setup. Both work just fine, with reliability, stability, and warmth points being awarded to my setup. Julia’s XCD ski ensemble wins for overall weight and kick/glide. If money were no object, Julia would most likely have a Voile Vector BC or similar with simple tech bindings and TLT boots. But the XCD skis fill that void in the meantime. As for the rest of our gear, I’ll give shoutouts to the NeoAir X-Therm and the MSR Reactor. Both are arguably gold standards of winter recreation and proven in our usage.
Cold and crisp New Year's ski. (photo: Julia)

Cold and crisp New Year’s ski. (photo: Julia)


These recent winter camping trips in the Greater Yellowstone were learning experiences that continue to shape and mold our day-to-day existence. Drops in the well. I look forward to more of these in the future. We’re pushing our boundaries and gaining ground, one day at a time.
East Fork Hyalite. Shining.

East Fork Hyalite. Shining.