A week off and a short flight recently brought Julia and I southbound, to one of the most amazing places on Earth, the Grand Canyon. After a bit of pre-trip planning, we concluded that car camping on the South Rim and venturing out for a couple of runs would be an effective way to see a lot of the canyon in our short 3-night January stay. This was my second trip in over a decade and Julia’s first glimpse of the area. The inexpensive flights came with the small price of landing us in Phoenix, where we rented a car and then drove north, through Flagstaff and onto the canyon. We didn’t mind at all, as we drove through the desert and iconic Saguaro on the way to higher, colder elevations.
After our brief detour, it was onward and upward for the last five miles and 3000′. Fairly reasonable given the many mule switchbacks that lazily wind their way to the South Rim. By this time we could feel the legs starting to weigh but the scenery and solitude in such ridiculously outlandish country was enough to sustain. The last stretch went by easily and with much appreciation for the day. I’d like to give a big word of congrats to Julia for cruising on her longest run to date. Twenty miles in total and an experience not to be forgotten. Well done, J!
We experienced temps ranging from highs in the 50°s F to lows in the 20°s. From bluebird to overcast and even a a couple inches of snow fell one evening. Perfect running and hiking weather for the Canyon. Both Julia and myself used running vests from Ultimate Direction, much to our satisfaction. In these we carried wind pants and wind shirts, nanospikes, gloves and buffs, fuel for the day (mostly chews, gels, and bars), P&S camera, a liter of water apiece in soft-sided bottles (refilled along the way), a map, and a small emergency/FAK.
The only bit we didn’t need were the nanospikes, as nearly all of the trails that we encountered were free from snow and ice. Truly a pleasure. We did some hiking, sightseeing, and good eating for the remaining two days along the South Rim. Took in as much as we feasibly could during our short stay in such a large and intricate place. It was a wonderful trip and one that I imagine will trickle back to us for years to come.
Ahhh… a full-length Montana fall. We’ve had quite the autumn this year so Julia and I have been trying to squeeze in as much outside fun as possible during this impeccable weather window. While we have accomplished a lot of “done-in-a-day” recreation, backpacking has fallen off a bit this year due to a few large life events. Thankfully, this long fall season has allowed for us to play a little catch-up with the outdoors. Two free coinciding days recently yielded a most amazing, 20+ mile loop that is not too far from our back door. And with what has amounted to a quintessential Montana Indian summer, it has been hard not to get out to soak it in.
Ridgelines are high on the list of fun, as well as loop/lollipop hikes that allow one to traverse different ground nearly the entire trip. Time is sometimes of the essence, and bang for buck has become an increasing theme in our (and maybe your?) ever-evolving backcountry strategy. This particular loop held just what we were looking for – distance not too far or short, miles of ridgeline travel above and at timberline, high and wide alpine vistas, peaks to incorporate just off trail, a logical campsite midway at an alpine lake, and enough up/down to keep us working for it. Everything you need and nothing you don’t.
The loop begins and ends at S Fork Spanish Creek TH (N end of Madison range) and can be easily figured out from there with a topo, as it is the only true non-redundant loop. It is a great overnight trip, or would also be a great longer run for those so inclined. Overall length is in the low 20’s for mileage and ~5000′ for vert. Clockwise or counter is the only major remaining question. My vote is for a counter clockwise run, based on water availability and terrain selection. It could feasibly be done with just a handheld w/ inline filter if ran in this direction. It could almost be done without a filter, except for one important, and semi-suspect water source. As for backpacking it, we put in the longer mileage day and Indian Ridge first, and thought that this may be the preferred method to camp. But either direction would still be most pleasing.
A cold, calm night on a bench sitting above the lake yielded, (go figure, yet again) significant condensation inside of our single walled/hybrid Big Sky International Mirage 2P shelter. You’d think we have had enough time over the three-plus years of use to just get rid of it, but no, we press on because of weight/space balance and the hopes for optimal conditions. We do have a double-walled Hilleberg for more serious weather but it is overkill for a lot of summer use here in the Montana Rockies. So along comes the Mirage 2P and then we end up cursing it about half of the time. And loving it the other half.
So, it may be time to rethink the 2P summer shelter situation come next year. We’ll have to leave that one for when the time comes though, so until next time folks. Winter is currently knocking on the door.
Weather and Labor Day plans don’t always see eye-to-eye when living in the Northern Rockies. While a lot of the US is heading into an ideal backpacking season, Montana can be getting snowed on this time of year. Despite the definitive forecast of rain/thunderstorms/snow up high, Julia and I packed our rain gear and headed into the Beartooth this recent holiday weekend.
While we planned to hike a bit further on The Beaten Path via East Rosebud, we stopped short at Rainbow Lake after being properly soaked for the duration of the hike in. Berries, bear scat, moose, and the surreal scenes that occasionally crept through the clouds kept us occupied along the way. It ranged from a steady drizzle to a full-on gale during the walk and we soon realized that wet was going to prevail. The early stop allowed us to properly set up camp, attempt to dry out, and have a fire with dinner. We even utilized a high-pitched HMG Flat Tarp for standing protection when away from the fire. The decision to stop early resulted in quite the enjoyable evening.
The next morning we eased into things – lying in and listening to the constant patter of rain on our silnylon shelter. The rain eased up and we slowly broke camp while enjoying coffee/tea and shortbread. We then hiked a couple of miles up the trail to scope the next alpine lake prior to turning around to head back. We lucked out with a little bit of clear skies at Lake at Falls which was soon to be socked in on our way back. The rain heightens the colors and the experience. Not every trip can be with bluebird skies and waist-deep wildflowers. At least that’s the mantra when in the thick of some nasty weather.
The gear highlight of the trip goes to the new MontBell Ex Light Down Anorak. This hooded, UL down pull-over has a big kangaroo pocket and a draw hem. My men’s medium (sans stuffsack) comes in at 173g/6.1oz with a claimed 65g/2.2oz of 900 fill power goose down. At over 35% down and just a hair heavier than its predecessor, the Ex Light Down Jacket (160g/5.6oz), this new anorak has me grinning. This little number was unleashed soon after arriving at our soggy night’s camp and provided plenty of warmth as part of my layering system throughout the night and into the next morning. Low temps were around the upper-thirties (°F) based on overnight snow levels. While not the burliest or warmest, it is one of the most viable UL jackets currently on the market. Nice job, MontBell.
It just snowed again (!) – this time to the valley floor, but will be trending back to traditionally warmer end-of-summer temps come tomorrow and for the next week or so. In the meantime I’ll be participating in Big Sky’s 2nd annual The Rut 50K on Saturday along with a slew of other runners. Best wishes to all involved and a big thank you to all of the folks who manage such an event – here’s to a great race and a wonderful autumn!