Such sexy rock

 

Navajo, that is.

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Wild canyons are of course awesome but sometimes what’s between them is even wilder.  Route planning is in one sense easier because there’s more flexibility than being restricted to a canyon but figuring out what not to miss makes it trickier and being willing to just wing it is key, even after all those hours looking at topos and sat images.

 

I’d spent quite a bit of recent time in the area so to avoid spending time covering some of the same ground again a little cheating was in order to start

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After a couple hours of mesmerizing blackbrush walking, a little evening exploring.  Water situation looking quite nice (always a worry when you’re about to spend a week out of canyon bottoms in the desert).

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Just about every day was worthy of setting up a basecamp and spending 3 or 4 days in the area exploring.DP1M0263

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Adding to the coolest-places-I’ve-ever-been list…

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Get on up…

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Of course you can’t stay out of all the canyons…

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Lucky…

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Never had to carry more than a liter…

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If you’re staying in the bottom, you’re missing out…

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I’ve ascended and descended the Waterpocket Fold maybe a dozen times in the past months and it’s always madness.  Map in your hand, thinking you picked a sweet route and then everything just falls away.  I love it. DP1M0546

 

 

 

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A successful trip when you return with weeks worth of future trips to do.

 

 

 

The big ugly

I’ve been using a Paradox Unaweep 3900 in VX42 since last fall, which is the first pack in years I’ve used that I didn’t make.  Much has already been said about the Unaweep’s brilliance, but once you’ve made a pack or two, it’s impossible to just leave things as is.

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The goal was to utilize the Unaweep’s near-perfect harness design, but in a slightly slimmer, more flexible package optimized for the canyon country hiking that I most often do.  This means a decent bit of scrambling, narrow spots, and bushwacking in canyon bottoms.  While the Unaweep moves more like a internal framed pack than other externals, it’s still rather stiff and wide for my usual needs.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fabric is X50 from Dimension-Polyant, which is 500d cordura, x-ply, .5 PET layer.  7.9 oz/sq yd.  I’m a big Cordura fan and this stuff is great.  It’s reasonably pliable and should be a decent bit more abrasion resistant than VX42, which I haven’t been terribly impressed with.  It could be made even better by removing the x ply yarn, which does nothing but add stiffness and weight in this heavy of a fabric.  Some colors other than black Multicam would be welcome as well.

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I used .16″x.5″ 7075 aluminum for the stays.  It cannot be emphasized enough how differently 7075 behaves compared to 6061.  In addition to being much stronger, you can bend 7075 quite a lot and it just springs back to it’s previous shape.  6061 stays as you bend it.

Hipbelt attachment to the frame is the same as the Unaweep, although the attachment points are about 5.5″ apart compared to ~12″ on the Unaweep.  At least on my skinny frame this allows quite a bit better wrap.  After using the external-style hipbelt attachment I can’t imagine making or buying anything else.  You have to have a bottom crosspiece but I’d wager it still ends up lighter than wing style belts because you don’t need a lumbar pad, hipbelt stiffeners, reinforcement to the belt connection, etc.

Stay sleeves are all on the outside of the pack, which makes removal for other pack bags easier and allows for much easier sealing from the inside.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Removable front compression pocket has a #8 zip with plenty of fabric to protect the coils.  Rock kills exposed coils quickly.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Bottom compression strap can be placed over side pocket to keep it nice and tight (above) or under/inside the pocket to be out of the way (below).

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This is achieved by not sewing the entire side of the pocket; it’s just bartacked with the daisy chain.

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Dimensions are about 11.5″ across the back, 34″ circumference for the lower part tapering to 38″at the top.  Weight is 3 lb on the nose plus about 5 oz for the front compression pocket.

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It’s first outing was a week long trip down in the Pollywog Bench area and it performed flawlessly.  Starting out with 7 days of not particularly light food, full packrafting gear and a six-pack of Tecate felt fantastic.  It won’t haul out an elk as comfortably as the Unaweep, but for loads up to 40-50 lb I can’t imagine much improvement.  It carries a more typical 20-30 lb more comfortably than I’ve ever experienced.

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Like the Unaweep, it should make a great platform for future projects.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More Fold ramblin

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There might not be a place where the old “39′ cliffs don’t show up on a topo” is more appropriate.  This is hard country to negotiate.

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After about halfway up crossing drainages is next to impossible so you better hope you ended up between two good ones…_P3M0166

We did, but it wasn’t looking good in a couple places…

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Things get a little easier on top, but not much

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Some (very) early Lomatium blooming before it even has leaves…_P3M0224

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To make a proper loop we decided to shortcut across what used to be Bullfrog and Halls BayDP1M0231

The upper reaches of Lake Powell are particularly maddening.  When you figure the amount of time it took for the lake to fill, all those upper reaches were destroyed for what, 20 years of use?  Lame.  The standing dead cottowoods won’t let you forget how recently things were different…

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Nice beach spot with views of some of the most awesome wilderness in the lower 48…

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Fold ramblin’ and wingate canyon headin’

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I don’t think I’ve ever come to so many places in one trip where I said, “no way this goes” and then, just barely, it does.  I laughed more than once recalling Dave’s story of running around up here in the dark.DP1M0016

For the time of year water was surprisingly scarce.  While Choprock not far north had received significant rain in the past month, there had been zero further south.  So it goes in canyon country.

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Good reason to visit some of the most strangely-located potholes anywhere, even if they’re a few miles out of the way.

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…and back to the wingate…_P3M0117

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Again, from the top (and all the way down) it looked like there was no way this route would go, but alas…

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back to solid streambed…DP1M0051

Catch up time on Cedar Mesa

Time for a little catching up.  I’ve been wanting to do something different format-wise for the site but still can’t decide what I want so might as well put up some recent (and not so recent) pics for now.  DP1M0978

We had planned on this being a bit longer Grand Gulch loop but a pretty serious incoming storm had us change our plans for something with less chance of a stranded vehicle and easier bail if needed.

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Umbrellas are quite useful with a baby…IMG_4461

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I’ll admit to being a bit of a Ancient Ones agnostic, especially when it comes to “destination” ruins or sites… DP1M0939

That said, the human-added element on this wall was a sight to behold.  Varnish, tafoni, and brick…DP1M0926

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The rain didn’t become the expected downpour until we were out, but we did get to enjoy a pretty nice afternoon weather show from our alcove camp…

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Late summer in wet canyons

…is there anything better?

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A tinge of autumn light in the air…

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…monkeyflower, columbines, orchids, and lobelia making an already strangely lush place even more ridiculously pretty…

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…and some good company.

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Like adding any new piece to backpacking, bringing a baby definitely requires some travel style changes.

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Mostly, this means much more modest distances traveled and lots of stops for feeding.  This means plenty of time to do things I don’t otherwise do, like poke around in every side canyon, do day hikes from a basecamp, and climb up to alcoves. The idea of a 20 mile day feels pretty funny…

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I also bought a tripod, which is pretty cumbersome for how I usually hike, but was a pretty rewarding experience (though I still have a totally unreasonable number of pics to go through for a three night trip).

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We took a BPLer’s advise and got a Vatanai woven wrap, which has been fantastic for warm hiking and works great under a pack when tied on the side.

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We did get turned back on Sunday hiking to maybe the best swim hole on the whole plateau by a pesky modest chockstone that was just a bit higher than last year.  There wasn’t a graceful way to get up with her strapped to me and a pass was too sketchy.  Hard to complain, though…

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We weren’t exactly want for highlights, but a pair of river otters were a treat to see.

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This was the second of these guys on the trip; the first was a monster in the middle of hole-in-the-rock on the drive in.

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We had planned on paddling down to Bishop but it wasn’t looking like we’d have time so stashed our boating gear and maintained our relaxed pace, complete with plenty of coffee, Tecate, and heavy, real food.

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I would have a lot of poison ivy in my yard if it were a little kinder to be around…

 

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I said last year that I’d like to spend a little slower time here, and this trip was that and more.  A best place on earth, for sure.

 

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The first of many

I always get pretty excited to show visiting friends and family the desert wasteland we live on the edge of out here.  It’s a perhaps silly pride of something that’s not at all mine but that is oh-so profoundly special.  The sharing last weekend was the best ever.

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Introducing Zazie, who’s been itching to get into the backcountry for two and a half weeks now.

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Things started off in appropriate fashion at the visitor center.  In the 20 minutes it took to pick up a backcountry permit and get things around for the afternoon, we observed multiple high-heels, two paramedic responses, lace gloves up to the shoulders, clown pants, a line of people taking photos of photos of arches in the visitor center, and learned of a woman stuck in quicksand for 14 hours several days earlier.

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Walk a shockingly short distance from roads or trails, though, and it’s some of the most tranquil country around.

 

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Only a little disturbed (and less so than her parents) by a lonely 30mph gust of sand…

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People are generally a bit dramatic about how much different it is to backpack with a baby (or rather how they think it would be to backpack with a baby), but there were a few things that will require some future tweaks and different thinking.  For example, site selection.  I’ve basically backpacked shelterless for almost two years, but my own tolerance for potential misery and skills to avoid it don’t mean much to a baby being feasted on by mosquitos.  We took a net inner of an old two man tent and it was a rude reminder how little air moves even in mesh when camped on a slickrock slab that’s been heated to 100+ all day.  Luckily Zazie was willing to share her evaporative cooling system of wet muslin blankets.

 

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Getting to camp early and having time to thoroughly get to know the surrounding area was an additional treat.  Bighorn beds, hidden hanging gardens, and finally flushing a pair of Great-horned owls that had been roosted in the tree we were under for two hours were some highlights._P3M0059

 

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A little more nitty-gritty:  Carrying was a little bit of a conundrum.  We have three different carriers (Ergo, Maya wrap, and a ring sling) but none seemed to tick the right boxes of cool and secure and usable with a backpack.  I made a mesh carrier that attaches to my pack but it was kinda a last minute project and wasn’t quite ready so we went with the sling.  It’s the coolest of the options and worked great with the only knock being that it isn’t as secure as the other options.  Easy walking and a short hike made this not much of an issue.  Other than the need for a real shelter, out of the norm gear was pretty minimal.  Diaper gear is really the only other thing we wouldn’t otherwise be taking.

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I’ve always admired people who don’t concede to the “your life is over” view of new parenting.  I’m not foolish enough to think it will always be as easy as this was, but practically speaking this was minimal fuss and words can’t describe the rewards.  After a crazy spring of one thing leads to another house projects and busi-ness, being out there in the miserable July heat with Autumn and Zazie was pure joy (topped off with a dip in the river, of course).

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Midsummer photo dump part 1, reptiles

I’ve got a load of photos from work and weekend trips that didn’t get reported so here goes…not sure how else to do this…_P3M0284

Midget faded rattler.  Always exciting to find these.  The darkest, purdiest one I’ve ever seen.

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We came across this longnose leopard camping out near Gateway a couple weeks ago.  I knew these guys were quite the predators but sheesh…

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A quite tame and curious smooth green…

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I find bullsnakes frequently but finding one hanging out in a juniper was a bit strange…

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…and last but not least, because one can never have too many collared lizard photos…

 

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more to come…

Some thoughts on the Sigma DP2 Quattro (and comparison with Merrill)

I had a chance to try out the new Sigma DP2 Quattro last week, which is the first of the successors to the DP Merrill line.  I also had something else much more exciting going on last week, so camera testing was pretty low on the priority list.

Sigma DP2Q ISO 200 f2.8 1/500

Sigma DP2Q ISO 200 f2.8 1/500 Daylight WB

 

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More muddy desert boating

I had assumed that the season for boating the smaller Utah waters was over, but while checking the gauges for the Colorado’s impressive runoff, I noticed that Muddy Creek was trending back up.DP2M0077

 

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Gotta jump at the chance for the waters that have such a tiny window, and aren’t even possible many years.

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Two Scouts and a Pack Cat, which looked a bit unruly in some of the narrower spots but actually got hung up less than the Alpackas.

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We hiked The Chute several years ago with my parents in September and it was impressive to see it in such a different state.

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Loads of fun little drops the entire way.

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We grabbed the last chance at camp before the longest stretch of narrows.

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Hiking around in the evening and morning confirmed that I would have preferred hiking one way rather than a shuttle but it wasn’t really possible with our available time.  Boating and walking compliment each other well; there were times I was itching to walk and when I’m walking with a boat I’m itching to get in the water.  This is a both are awesome situation rather than a grass is always greener one.

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Don’t leave your shades on top of your head through here.  They will fall back into the water and be gone.

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We had about 140 cfs and I don’t think I’d want any lower.  Forrest says 80 is possible but that seems a bit hard to imagine, though I wouldn’t hesitate to try even if it might be a bit more tedious.  Lines through the many small rapids had to be chosen perfectly to avoid getting hung up on boulders and there was a bit of dragging in the first and last couple miles.

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It’s hard to imagine a more perfect marriage of such a fantastic canyon and such fun water.  This is one to redo whenever possible.

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