Monday, June 24, 2013

From Weminuche

From Weminuche:
Dates: p.m. 6/21-6/24
Section: 104m
VL Mileage: 1330.5m

Instead of walking into Molas Pass I hiked down the resort because of the West Fork Fire Complex and CDT closures. In Durango, I managed to plan a route by trail through the Weminuche Wilderness. After a surprisingly easy 3 car hitch from Durango back up to the ski resort, I lazily loped down the Purgatory Flats trail in the twilight of the first day of summer. For the first time in over a month I had prime singletrack trail to trod on. I felt the giddy with energy; my legs, my heart, my back all wanted to move swiftly. I hiked a 11m until I found a camp spot right along the shores of the Animas River.

The morning came quickly, for I think my body still felt the excitement from walking on trail. Up Needle Creek I went and entered the Chicago Basin. Spires of silver granite pointed straight up into the blue sky, bright green painted the basin foliage, and white shaggy fur clung to the mountain goats. I sat on a speckled rock and gazed at the lofty peaks all around me, an amphitheater of rock. A goat came out of the alpine buckbrush and flanked around me only to backtrack towards me. His abstract face stared blankly at me from about 20ft. He broadened his shoulders and inched closer to me. He walked like a gorilla with his sturdy and stout chest bulging with muscles through his white coat. He bullied me off my rock and I moved on. I looked back quickly only to see him paw at the ground to lick my urine off the ground.

The trail wended through the alpine meadows among dwarfed pines. Rivulets of cold cold water fingered its way down gullies. The peaks loomed over top of me, almost making me fall backwards head under heels, as I stared upwards. Another 30 or so mountain goats pranced and nibbled in the meadows. Soon, I made treeline and switchbacked up and over Columbine Pass, at around 12,600ft. On the other side, a teal blue, mirror-faced tarn tainted a stark contrast to the mangled, sharp rock surrounding it.

I didn't waste no time that day. The sky was crystal clear, the day warm, and the trail inviting. I made my way steeply down Johnson Creek drainage until its confluence with Vallecitos Creek. The wide valley held a crystalline water channel in its cradle below massive peaks. River rock, round and polished, tinted in earth shades, gleamed through the clean, pure water.

I went up valley 6m or so until my intersection with the Rock Creek trail, which had a copper hued water, the river rock stained bronze. I gaped at this sudden change in water color for about 15 minutes. I looked all around me, up to the mountain heights, as saw no red. Where did this come from? I am always befuddled by the wonders of the deep heart of the mountains.

And that is where I was at. Up the Rock Creek drainage along gentle switchbacks, I attained a large meadow with the creek channel lined with willows. Signs of moose were imprinted on trail and I kept my eye out. The trail topped out at a broad saddle near the Continental Divide, about 12,000ft. The CDT was only a short 1/4m away. I took a break up there and marveled at the billowing cloud of towering wildfire smoke to the east. Despite this stunning view I kept looking at the Divide and recalling last year's hike. I stood up there and saw my first true glance of the San Juan Mountains, from the inside out. I will never forget how powerful yet meek those jagged and violent looking mountains made me feel. 

I heard a noise. Not more than 3ft from me a marmot sniffed the air at me. I stood up to get ready to leave and he nosed on in. At my feet, he licked my urine from a rock, his tongue sounding raspy like a cat's tongue, like sandpaper. I thought: 'Maybe I should taste my urine if everything else is liking it.'

Needless to say, I didn't and leapt back onto trail and headed down Flint Creek. Before I knew it I had walked 35m before 7pm. I found a bluff to set camp on and nestled up in my sleeping bag with daylight out, a first in a couple months. I watched the refulgent last sun rays of the day dazzle off the granite cliffs. Lights of gold and red reflected a soothing ambience. I soon fell asleep but was startled awake by the moonshine. The almost full moon was as bright as the sun! Orange and red, the moon seemed to be right in front of my face. Its light drowned out the stars and constellations; that night the moon held all the glory and stories.

Another cool morning woke me up. I quickly broke camp and soon enough I hit the Los Pinos River. Huge smoothed-out boulders littered the river, most of the aspen laid bare, defoliated from the tent caterpillar. A couple of miles later I crossed the river at a beaver dam and went up the Sierra Vandera drainage. Sign of elk, deer and moose imprinted the trail, no sign of people at all. The drainage was spectacular, though the spruce and firs were infested with the mountain pine bark beetle, causing for a red and green spectrum in color. Trail was non-existent at times but after navigating the Hayduke Trail, this was nothing.

I attained the bald crest, just a tad east of Flag Mountain. I ran into a herd of 80 or so elk. They were grunting and dancing in juvenile displays of machisimo. The young calves chirped and cried out for their mothers. They raced away when they noticed me. I sat down for lunch and watched the towering fire clouds off in the distance. I felt bad for the people of Colorado who have to go through the infernos again. I felt bad for the CDT hikers who had to make detours or, even worse, skip. But they sure could take a route similar to mine to avoid the fire closures and danger.

A long descent from the crest and I was back in defoliated aspen. I laid in the shade along side the dirt road. A forest ranger happened on by and he helped me in deciding a route to take into Pagosa Springs. I felt a bit refreshed in his assistance. I must admit, I have been a tad surly lately at our government agencies in how the regulate and manage our land. But this ranger, Anthony Garcia, really related with me and offered genuine assistance and knowledge. We spoke of how the insects are taking over the forests. We spoke of campfires and how we don't really need them, especially in areas with beetle stricken trees. We spoke of just enjoying the silence and solitude of the mountains, wilderness.

Off I went down Sand Creek! Jumping over logs, hopping over rock slides, for this drainage had burned last year. I navigated a scant trail and I found it amazing that a year after a fire how everything can become so green again. Life will re-build through the barest of times, through the most charred times, and show resiliency. I had camp on a lush meadow sitting on a high bluff overlooking the Piedras River.

The moon, back at it again, shone brighter than I think I have ever seen a moon shine. I was amazed and laid on my back, staring up, most of the night. The grand-scape of the scene was enormous, and I just a speck, a spectator of a great show.

Along the Piedras River I hiked the next morning, swiftly making miles. I hit the graded, dirt road and by 1pm I was in the outskirts of Pagosa Springs. I walked into town along the highway. I just couldn't believe how loud the vehicles were. Such a drastic change from the silence of wilderness, this hustle and bustle...

Friday, June 21, 2013

From Moab

From Moab:
Dates: 6/15-6/20
Section: 190m
VL Mileage: 1226.5m
I had a great week in Moab. I finally got a well-deserved rest without any disruptions and route planning and preparations. Well, I had at least 3 days of pure rest.  The last days of rest in Moab I tried to rid myself of a stomach ailment as well as a minor bout of poison ivy, most likely acquired in Courthouse Wash on my last day of the Hayduke Trail.

I left Friday, the 15th. I had to. I got wind of wildfires scorching land and forests near areas where I would be walking. The VL had been all about chasing water. It still is, however, now I have to chase fires, or outrun them.

My first day I slugged up almost 27m and 7,000ft into the La Sal Mountains. My stomach growled and I hesitantly hiked on with a cautious mindstate. The higher I climbed the better I felt. I had a feeling in Moab that once I hit dirt I would be okay. The air cooled and my brain was no longer being boiled like it had been for the past 2 weeks. Dark, stormy clouds moved in from the west and thundering booms reverberated off the high 13,oooft peaks. That night I laid down under a sub-alpine conifer with a fanning foliage to keep me dry from the booming storm. I set up my tarp and through the translucent cuben fiber I observed quick, bright flashes of lightning and heard pealed, sharp claps of thunder. I slowly fell asleep through all the jolting.

The next morning everything was wet. The grass, the trees, the road, the dirt, but not me. I made quick miles down the other side of the La Sals and noticed how much different the biosphere. Verdant and green, large meadows covered the mountains. Huge ponderosas stood guard in huge open glades of green grass. Ultimately, I walked out of the steppe of the La Sals and into Paradox Valley. I found my first hut and my first warm meal while on trail this season. I cooked me up some mac 'n cheese and napped a wonderful slumber. My stomach eased in its grumbling though I was as gassy as a pack mule. After the hut, I walked another 7m and found camp on a bench overlooking the dry, and mud-caked Dolores River.

The morning was warm as I went up Catch 'em Up Trail. The cattle path zigged and zagged wildly up a mesa's layered wall. The trail seemed right out of the Hayduke. Once on Davis Mesa I intersected a jeep track and moved quickly. The walking was easy and the miles flew on by. At a junction going to the Wedding Bell Hut I took a cut-off saving me about 10m and some time, as well as a more direct route to Durango. I just had to hope for a water source across the arid Dry Creek Basin.

I found water from a water spigot near a cattle trough. The water was cold and straight from an aquifer beneath the barren basin. I gulped and gulped, then breathed out and listened to the gusty, hot wind penetrate through the tough branches of sagebrush. I finally was beginning to feel a bit north of normal. And it showed in my hiking pace. It felt good to be alone, away from town noise. All alone with my thoughts, I let the wind coerce my brain pattern and pitter-patter at my spirit. The sky was big and blue, plenty of space.

But along the way of my crossing of the basin I noticed newly erected oil wells. They weren't scattered about the place but concentrated in a large area really close to each other. Now, normally I wouldn't express to many political views in blog form but I got to thinking. It seems we finally found a use for the Dry Creek Basin. For many years spanning over a century, pioneers tried to farm and cultivate, and ranch and graze the basin. Eventually, the CCC was created in 1934 and had a work center in the valley to help with erosion control mainly. The valley disappointed the folks who lived here. But the H-bomb happened and now the basin was ravaged by uranium and vanadium miners. The radioactive ore boom busted and the basin laid barren until the oil boom began. The rigs sprouted up everywhere to form a silo-edificed city. My thoughts drifted to our lifestyle that supports our raping of the valley. Can't we just let things be, in their natural state? The order of nature was getting that way in the basin. Not any more.

Walking into the tiny hovel of Basin I passed an oil company with a logo of Lone Cone Peak, the prominent conical peak noticeable from almost every point of the valley. I looked away in disgust as I thought the logo a pleasantry of deception. I thought if the area was as pretty as some parts of Utah or Colorado then someone higher up would try and save the area, because there still would be money to be made, then it would be protected. Every single piece of land, if not protected, must be used somehow. That's how things work in this country.

Our American lifestyle is diminishing our spirit as humans. I eyed the oil rigs in disgust. I thought of all the RVs, the ATVs, and other vehicles using fuel. I thought of all the technology trying to help me stay found. Do we honestly think we are free? Freer than most countries, yes. But, the average American is herded like cattle so they think they are free but are actually confined to cities. Fed enough and given enough to make life easier, most complain and do nothing about it. Is it our innate nature to be herded? Maybe so. Not me.

My point is that we should retain the action of wandering, of travelling, of vagabonding, of what Ruess accomplished.

Here's my ramble:

I pondered deeply for a while the state of our country's lifestyle: the greed for more, instant gratification, conveniences, and such. I believe people should undertake a Vagabond Loop of some sorts in their life. I think it doesn't matter the age but if we strive to search at a young age, and it's supported by family and friends and society, we can achieve so much more in life, at least make it fulfilling and significant.
I've met a lot of older people on trail who have said 'I wish I would've...' This bothers me as I see young'ns enrapt in video games, etc. I really believe that a 'sense of place' should be harnessed and taught to our youth. To me it's as important as the 3 Rs. You learn how to interact with people respectfully, you understand the consequences of your actions and how it can affect others, and develop a relationship with the out-of-doors, among a slew of other things. Being outside or going on a wandering you realize it is all a metaphor for real life because it IS real life.

I told my granny yesterday my stomach and metabolism are getting back on track, as I had a stomach bug in Moab. She said it'll get back on track once I'm back in the real world. I told I AM in the real world out here. When I go to a town that's when my stomach and metabolism get screwed up. While hiking this last section I briefly thought 'I'm not listening to my elders anymore.' Except in love and family, of course. But their way of thinking is so archaic. Now, I understand their plight to make things easier for us but look at what it has done. It is even more evident in the younger because people my age and a bit older have made it even easier. How do we change a lifestyle so prevalent by millions of Americans? I think: walk, just go wander.

It is a shame to say that wandering like Ruess did maybe a lost art, or cause. Industry, tourism, population growth, urban growth, private land have changed the landscape, even technology, such as GIS and GPS. I realized this while walking. Our human footprint, our relatively new human footprint, is seen everywhere, and all just to fuel/enable a lifestyle. Imagine the landscape when Ruess walked. Hardly any roads, scarcely a mining operation or an oil rig, only a few cultures. Now, we can go every single place in the world just on a computer image. Ruess disappeared in 1934, almost pre-CCC. He walked into a veritable frontier with hardly any signs of man. He was free to wander according to his personality and what the land and natives presented or communicated with him. Constantly, everyday, I intersect roads, even in wilderness areas; GPS has marked the globe, mines pilings are littered everywhere, etc. Why must we try and conquer or make our lives easier when we cannot even sit alone somewhere and do nothing and figure out our selves? There is so much life in this world. But we ignore it, purposefully. 

 I look at the positive: people can go on a 'Vagabond Loop' because that is precisely what we've built in the states: trails! Our trail system is the most intricate and developed in the world. But because our lifestyle says we've got to slave away at a 9-5, then retire, then try and enjoy something when were too old, we cannot. So, our relationship with the world is developed when we can hardly move from our RV!

Do you know trail funds come from highway funds? Think about how great our roads are. Amazing right? Now, some of our trails are being lost, or letting nature take it back. Most of these areas are in wilderness. So, that leads me to believe that if trails in the deeper reaches of wilderness are being neglected then as humans we are neglecting the deepest reaches of our mind and spirit. Wandering and wilderness are on the way out. I adamantly defy that and say that is the only thing worth fighting for!

I know who I sound like, and I am damn proud of it.

I go light-weight to live responsibly, to live simply, to minimize my impact on the world and others; I go light so as to try to wander in a marked, manipulated, expended and used world. I go light to not be 'extra.' I wander to search, to be free. I am different than Ruess, though I admire him greatly. I've got a personality flaw that is enabled more by our 'take more' society: driven and goal-oriented. Everett floated, roved and roamed; I mash with intent. But our premise is the same, our essence fuels our existence.

I sauntered onward on this leg of the VL encountering hut after hut. I was grateful and amazed each time I entered a hut. Food stocked the shelves and the huts were in tip-top shape. You could tell someone cared for them. The funny thing to me was that every time I entered, rested, and left the hut I felt like the Ridgerunner of the Bitterroot-Selway area in Idaho in the 1940s, another elusive loner of the wilderness, who broke into Forest Service cabins to pillage goods and food. I, of course, had permission and a key to enter, rest, and eat in the hut. But the elusiveness and roving about struck a chord with me while going from hut to hut.
I mashed and mashed, putting in close to 35m a day for 6 straight days. On the second to last day I met Joe, the owner of the San Juan Hut System. Immediately, I could tell I was in good company, a lover of life and mountains. We spoke with each other for about a half an hour before parting ways. I was really happy to have met him.

So you ask: what do I think about out there? I drift; my mind wanders. Sometimes I reflect on the past for understanding. But more often than not I walk with the current of life and my driven personality. I listen to the wind, and my heart thumps. I watch clouds take shape and re-shape. I especially like this. I squint from the sun's glare. I nap. I breathe, I walk, I think, I face my fears: my inner machine is fueled by the freedom I feel within nature and in my self. Mostly, most acutely mostly, I think of nothing. And feel the most alive I can possibly feel...



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Systems Check

Systems Check

The second leg of the Vagabond Loop is in the books! Here is another synopsis of gear, logistics, etc. on the VL during the Hayduke Trail hike.

+GG Kumo Superlight. I had some doubts going into the HT in regards to weight capacity with all the extra food and water weight. However, the Kumo proved to be very durable and reliable. Actually, I liked having the Kumo for the HT because of the maneuverability and flexibility it provided me in rock climbing, bush-thwacking, and scrambling. The Kumo showed no ill-affects of extra weight and clung tightly to my upper torso. I only received some slight tears in the outer mesh pocket but they are not detrimental to its durability nor usage. At the end of the HT I did have some concerns from all the salt I had sweated out onto the back during the hike. I just washed it with cold water on a 2 rinse cycle, no soap. Then, I hung dried it. Nice and spiffy now!

+Marmot Plasma. There is nothing finer than a new sleeping bag. I still cannot believe I am not using a quilt anymore but the Plasma provided me with warmth and comfort. Towards the end of the HT I just slept right on top of it in the open as the night became warm. The vertical baffles kept the down where it should be, too. All around, a great lightweight sleeping bag.

+YAMA Mountain Gear Cirriform. My favorite tarp I have used to date while thru-hiking. Funny, I only set up the tarp 2x while on the HT but I did see the functionality, high-quality material, and flexibility of the tarp.

+Ipod. I loved having the Ipod on trail. It made me look forward to the road walks when I was in a gloomy mood. I did not use the Ipod when I had to navigate or needed to hear, such as in canyons and scrambles. I am keeping it with me for the duration of the VL.

+Water Capacity. I never carried more than a gallon of water on the HT. I was able to hike the mileage between water sources just fine. However, I will keep the extra bladder and have a 6L capacity as I am not through the dry stretches yet. The Rio Grande Valley and the GET will be arid!


+Diet. I floundered a bit on this but only during town stops. My diet stayed the same on trail and is still kicking butt! I lost a bit of weight when I was sick and walking through the Grand Canyon so I began to crave and eat more meat in town. I craved fatty food! But I think this proved to be a good thing as it helped me relax and reward myself. The HT will push you in every way imaginable. Relieving stress was of a topmost concern.

Vagabond Loop:

+Hayduke Trail: Absolutely one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. The HT is incredibly scenic and diverse, but it is also challenging and tough. I was surprised at how quick I completed the HT (34 days) but I am in prime thru-hiking shape. Plus, the days are getting longer which led to more time to hike. I will never forget the starry nights that shone so brightly that I woke up many nights thinking I could grab a hold of one. The stars kept me company and I spoke to them often. They were like a portal to an alternate universe.

I will miss the random footprint in some remote canyon. Some foot impressions were from the past year, like last Fall, but I know some were at least 20 years old. The Red Rock Desert takes your trace of your being when it wants to; you leave a piece of your soul out there whether you want to or not. Those human prints, those passed communications, have left a trace on my heart. They made me feel a part of something bigger than anything I can imagine. In some ways, those footprints represented all of humanity in a pure form, essence.

I will also miss the archetype of Hayduke, of walking like I had a pure sense of freedom, of hiking with orneriness, of wandering with intent, and of living the life of a rebel adamant against normal society. I did not get any permits for the trail, I used no GPS, and camped where I wanted to. Because of this spirit I developed a more intimate relationship with the land I have never felt nor exhibited before. I have become more of a steward of the land, especially against all causes who wish to destroy, pillage, or 'use' the land.

Connection Between Moab and ABQ. Here it is! The Vagabond Loop bridge connecting the HT and the GET!

I have decided the Colorado Trail is not going to be a part of the VL. A lot of thinking and fleshing out have occurred within me during the past 2 months on trail. While on trail the Vagabond Loop has defined itself more clearer to me. Here are my reasons:

*I want a quality driven VL, one that may be hiked again. I believe the route I have between Moab and ABQ is much more enticing than trying to gain access through a huge chunk of private ranches. Logistically, the route I now have planned is easier to plan, more walkable on terrain that does not include paved roads, all on public lands, and is extremely scenic. The new connection shaves off about 500m of the VL, as well.

*I think I initially wanted the CT in the VL for egotistical reasons. I did not know it at the time but walking 1,600m can give time to think and a humbling effect. Quality over quantity.

*I do not think the CT fits in with the theme of the VL, especially after hiking the AZT and HT. Canyon walking, desert terrain, the people, culture, all seem not to tie in with the CT, in my opinion. Wandering, a vagabond like Everett Ruess, fits in more with what I have planned.


*Moab to Durango (205m). Joe and Kelly at San Juan Hut Systems have been kind enough to lend me a key to the 6 huts between the 2 mountain bike towns. The huts are stocked with water, food and other provisions. They also passed along the maps. I cannot express how thankful I am for their support. Really awesome people.

*Durango to Pagosa Springs (90m). I will be using the CDT for this section. From Molas Pass in the San Juan, where I will end the Durango section, I will jump on the CDT and hitch into Pagosa Springs from Wolf Creek Pass.

*Pagosa Springs to Chama (65m). I will continue this section on the CDT as well hitching into Chama from Cumbres Pass.

*Chama to Red River (105m). From Cumbres Pass I will take the CDT about 15m or so then take forest dirt roads toward San Antonio Mountain. From there I will piece a series of BLM roads, as well as some crosscountry, across the plains of the Rio Grande Valley to Sheep Crossing where I will ford the Rio Grande. From there I will access the Latir Mountain Wilderness in the Sangre de Cristos, then go up and over the range to the tiny mountain town of Red River, where I will have a food drop waiting for me.

*Red River to Sipapu Ski Resort (70m). Now, I will be firmly entrenched in Brett Tucker's Northern New Mexico Loop. I will walk the crest of the Sangres, via a series of trails and crosscountry methods, south summitting Wheeler Peak, the highest point in NM, all the way to Sipapu Ski Resort to receive my next package.

*Sipapu Ski Resort to Santa Fe (70m). Continuing on the crest, I will tromp through the Pecos Wilderness via a series of trails and eventually walk into the city of Santa Fe and its town square. 

*Santa Fe to ABQ (70m). More details on this route when I will be in Santa Fe. All I know at this point is that I will hike up into the Sandias from the east, take the tramway down to the bottom of the west side of the Sandias, then hike back up to the crest and begin the GET.

So, the bridge between Moab and ABQ will be about 675m. The route will be challenging, incredibly scenic, and adventurous. I will be departing Moab on the 14th or 15th of June.

******Note****** As I updated this page, I learned the Pecos Wilderness and the Jemez Mountains, both gateways to Santa Fe, are under fire. Changes may come in this route. The news is very unsettling to me. I have no control in this matter other than to continue onward and adjust my route as needed as I get closer and gather more information. ******Note******

+Support: An assortment of some incredible people have helped me along the HT. Li in Grand Canyon is a wealth of trail-knowledge and a very hospitable host. He withstood my blowing my nose constantly and talking like I was underwater. Steve at the Vagabond Inn in Escalante put me up for 2 nights. I relish our conversations about Ruess and of the spirit of wandering and the relationship with the land. I am very grateful for him. I also, want to thank Karl and Malanda who was also a part of my Escalante experience. Instantly, we became lifelong friends. Without this support I would be bombarded with stress by more logistics.

The support I have received on the HT is at a level of emotion that I almost breakdown thinking of it. If only the whole world had more of the people like all of the people I mentioned. A deep thanks to you all...

The Vagabond Loop, with a lonely wandering spirit lighting its core, would not exist with the people that I meet and have supported me. You keep the wheel rolling along...