Saturday, August 28, 2010

Black Rock, Wild Horses, and a Day in the Northern Red Desert

 Well we had taken the wrong road. Instead of turning off Interstate 80 at Point of Rocks we drove till we got to Sweetwater County 19 and so now we were way east and north of Black Rock, our intended destination. We could see the volcanic neck, I mean we are out west where the trees don't block your view, and so we decided to just enjoy the extra ride across new country.
Looking at the map we saw that we wanted to take county road 15, heading west, and just as we neared it we got an unexpected pleasure as a herd of wild horses were on the road!. Renita fumbled with the camera case as the horses bolted and ran away from the truck. They were probably shy as there had been a round up recently and so any truck had to be viewed with suspicion.
A few more miles and we reached a rutted four wheel drive road that headed toward Black Rock. Bouncing along the road we both were glad that we had four wheel drive as the ruts were deep and getting high centered was a real possibility. I thought again of the handyman jack in our sons garage, but at least we had a shovel.
The ruts lessened as we connected with another four wheel drive road that took us past an abandoned homesteaders rock house. Crossing a creek bed and slowly driving through deep holes we reached the trail that circles Black Rock. Watching carefully for claims stakes we stopped at some ant piles and looked for peridot crystals.
The book Leucite Hills of the Red Desert, talked about the geologic history of the igneous intrusions of the Red Desert and told about the possibility of diamonds in an olivine rich lava flow but we didn't find any. Further around the road we did see a claims stake and so we continued on, not wanting to bother another's find,(they still shoot claims jumpers out west).
Reaching the northwest face we stopped and I decided to hike to the rim of the neck, hoping to find an easy way to the top. Starting up the slope I had to stop and catch  my breath as the steep grade and loose talus made each step difficult. Further up the ground became firm as I walked through tall sagebrush and I carefully watched and listened for the unwanted buzz of an angry rattlesnake.
I thought of the rattlesnakes I had encountered elsewhere, especially the one I had stepped over while descending the talus of Devils Tower. That snake hadn't buzzed me but had only ticked its tail, a warning I wouldn't have even noticed had not my fellow teacher friend, Paul Lussow  kept live rattlesnakes in his classroom.
Reaching the base of the columns I looked up and saw two obvious routes that would probably go fourth class or free solo, as its now called,(fourth class climbing means you use your hands and feet but don't use ropes). I thought of Renita far below and decided not to try for the summit unless I had another person to back me up,(there are few old and bold rock climbers).
I saw Renita far below checking out the ant piles and as it was lunch time I descended carefully to the truck, sliding really as the bottom was mostly loose vesicular lava, rock that resembled pumice. Safely reaching the bottom I told Renita that the rock would go fourth class, to which she emphatically stated that I was not to try it without a climbing partner.
The drive back home was shorter as we took the right road this time. Another herd of wild horses watched us as we passed a waterhole full of cattle and it reminded me that finding wildlife in the desert is pretty easy, just find the oasis. It wasn't as dusty as last time we had been on the same desert roads, a much wetter year had helped and the desert was full of vegetation, or a full as one could expect of a desert.
It had been a good day, as each day in retirement can be, as long as you fill your time with a new quest or revisiting an old one. I was told, a few years ago, that I was too old to be climbing, but I really don't think age should be apart of ones decision, that you should look in your heart and never let anything keep you from new heights. Clear skies.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sweetwater Moss Agates at Agate Flats

Be sure and watch out for rattlesnakes, she told me as I discussed our days plan to visit Agate Flats. I was walking Molly and had stopped to visit with a retired lady that was picking berries for making jam. She went on to say that she had grown up near a rattlesnake den near Lander and her mother had kept her and her siblings inside.
I told Renita about my talk with the lady as we drove to Agate  Flats. We had been  there rock hunting last year and had found seven agates, not a great day but enough to make us want to go back. Armed with a BLM map of Bairoil, Wyoming, we had found on it a mine sign and so we wanted to return and look in the new site.
Now the book Prospecting Wyoming tells people that you have to dig for the agates as the surface ones have all been picked and so I had brought along a shovel and Renita was armed with her new pick axe, that I had bought her for mother day.
We left the truck and soon we both had found a Sweetwater moss agate. It took awhile before I found another but then I started to find larger ones away from the road. Looking at my watch I saw it was time to return to the truck and so I started to walk back on a four wheel drive road. As I walked I looked down and found a nice agate and then another.
By the time I got back to the truck I had found a whole pocket full of agates in the rutted road! Renita had found quite a few herself and so we spent the rest of the day picking up treasures. Now the sweetwater moss agates are well rounded, semi polished chalcedony with beautiful inclusions of dendritic pyrolusite,(in other words  shiny white to clear rocks with black crystals shaped like little branches of moss). They are similar to Montana moss agates but much rarer and found in a small area.
By the time we called it a day we had over five pounds of agate, twenty five of which were already shaped into cabochons and just needed  polishing. As I write this I can hear the tumbler making its low pitched sounds and can't wait for them to be finished!
We never did see any rattlesnakes this time, we saw two last year, nor did we find any World War Two artifacts but it was a great day for agates. More rocks for our house! Clear skies.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lake Helen, A Personal Best in a High Place

I had forgotten how beautiful it was. Above Lake Helen the central core of the Bighorns reflected on the lakes surface. The hard granite of Cloud Peak, Bomber Mountain, Florance Pass, it was all there and it brought back so many memories. I didn't think I would see it again, at least not today but I was  there and  sharing it with Jenny and Renita.
Now we had taken a day to rest after hiking the East Tensleep trail and it was a day of rest that we needed to recover from the grueling hike. I could barely walk and I wondered how I could be in such bad shape. Renita felt pretty good but she was still sore and Jenny, well you know how it is with dancers, they seem to float with every step and she kindly told us that she needed a rest day too.
The plan for the next day was to hike from the trail head at West Tensleep lake to a meadow about two and a half miles up. There Renita and I would stop for lunch and rest while Jenny soloed the trail to Lake Helen. Renita and I had last tried to hike to Lake Helen in 2007 and it had been too much. It was an early June hike and we battled snow and mud and fallen trees and we had almost reached the lake but again the key word was almost. Renita had tired, we didn't know she had undiagnosed diabetes and I had to carry her pack back down the trail. We had both been unaware as to how sick she was and it was lucky it was only the pack that was carried.
So as we left the trail head we had no idea that we would feel so good that we would attempt the ten mile round trip to Lake Helen. We reached the meadow in a little less then two hours and after eating lunch we felt too good to not try. Jenny led us up the switchbacks as we climbed moraine after moraine. We stopped often and I took my pulse, keeping my heart rate below 145 beats per minute which was the maximum rate for a person my age.
Renita moved slow but she kept on moving and so we worked our way higher and higher as we passed Indian paintbrush and a myriad of alpiine flowers. Wild asters were predominant with their purple petals and yellow centers. It reminded me of school.(purple and gold were the school colors), as they flowered just before summer was over and it was time for me to go back to work, but today I could enjoy their beauty.
Further and further we hiked and we passed and then were passed by backpackers and other hikers. Most were heading further up to Mistymoon, a jumping off base camp for those climbing Cloud Peak. I had climbed Cloud four times myself and so I gave advice although they really didn't need it.
Renita asked me if we had passed the spot at which we had retreated in 2007 and I told her it was only a little further before she would reach her personal best.
We climbed more switchbacks and more moraines stood before us but they weren't too bad just another obstacle that you attack one bite at a time. At one point we were discouraged but I hurried ahead to reach the lake and then return to tell them of its beauty, As I went back down I met them just a little ways below the final push and they both seemed to charge up the hill, Lake Helen beckoned.
Now the entire West Tensleep valley is a glacial valley with a chain of paternoster lakes, ( a French term used to describe a chain of lakes that look like the rosary beads hanging from a priests belt), all formed when the glacier retreated. Its marked with straiated rocks, rouse mountainees, and one can see the high cirque lakes. Sitting along the lakes shore we simply enjoyed the solitude of a high mountain lake, the beauty of my favorite place on earth, and the company of each other.
The return was long and tough but we knew it would end. Tired, Renita and  I both stumbled on rocks but never lost our footing. Finally we reached the trail head and we both raised our walking poles to celebrate a ten mile hike at elevation. It was a personal best for both of us and a new bench mark for our travels. Clear skies.

East Tensleep Lake, The Bighorns

We saw the silver car from Minnesota arrive and we soon had the salmon that Jenny had brought grilling over the open wood fire..It didn't take long after dinner was over and the maps came out as we started planning the next days hike to East Tensleep Lake.
Now we had already decided to hike up from the trail head to Lake Helen but East Tenslepp was tantalizing as we had never been there. Added to that, the campground host Cindy had suggested it as an easy(?) hike and said it was only two and a half miles one way. We really weren't concerned about the distance  as much as the elevation gain of 1600 feet but we figured it was a good warm up before we tackled the longer hike from West Tenspee,(We started at 8000 feet and the lake was 9600).
The next morning we packed our day packs and of course I packed mine to heavy. Besides the necessary goretex suit I put in a first aid kit, a water purification pump, emergency fire starter, my fly box, fly rod, a heavy duty knife for building a shelter, and of course lunch and water. Hmmmm, had I forgot anything?
The pack seemed fairly heavy as we started up the trail and we slogged along, ever upward as it seemed the trail was really a series of rocks over which atvs had scraped their way after leaving bits of metal and even the occasional transmission fluid.
We walked among the lodge pole pines, long and straight and they told of a old fire as we could see some blackened stumps from years ago. We walked and talked and rested as we really wanted to take it easy on Jenny, after all she had driven from Minneapolis and had come from 600 feet above sea level. Strangely the altitude didn't seem to bother her 30 year old body as much as it bothered us but we continued ever upward and onward.
I think it was Beverly Johson, the first female climber to solo EL Capitan, who said  climbing a mountain was just like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. So ever since I have always remembered what she said and have tried to concentrate on each step and not the whole journey.
We really couldn't see much, but we just kept slogging and finally we reached a opening where we could see the summit of Mount Darton. The tail forked and we knew we were near the lake! We took the left fork and then the right until the only hurdle left was the terminal moraine that dammed the lower lake of East Tensleep.
Scrambling up through gooseberry and raspberry bushes, darn it we had just missed their peak, Lower Tensleep Lake came into view. We stopped for pictures and to admire the high country and then hiked along the southern shore where water flowed from Upper East Tensleep lake. We had left the lodgepoles and were now among a forest of sub alpine furs and I was quickly reminded about their sap as I touched a branch and was rewarded with a gooey mess on my hands.
A fly fisherman looked at me funny as I asked him what fly was working and he grudgingly told me to use a black ant. We found a good rock on the shoreline and watched him catch several cutthroats as we talked and ate lunch. Jenny was soon napping and taking some rays and I left them as pika appeared among the rock piles.
A few casts later and I had a nice fish one. It jumper twice before tossing my fly and I missed several more before I eased a small but pretty cutthroat into my wet hand. Not really wanting to keep any fish I released it and continued to cast. Several more fish lost and I realized that my hook was damaged but it didn't really matter, it was simply a quick release.
Returning to Renita and Jenny we lazed away the afternoon before deciding to head down. I entertained them with my story of climbing Darton Peak from the east face, and told them about the close encounter we had had with lightening. That day an unseen storm had caught us unaware as we reached the peak, and my climbing friend Mark actually sounded like a transformer as his climbing gear literally buzzed from the electricity. It felt like worms were crawling in our hair ad we raced down from the peak, barely escaping from the bolt of lightening that crashed down above us.
There were no storms today and so we headed back down the trail. Renita cranked her way down the mountain trail and I found that I was the one lagging behind. now there is an unwritten rule for being in the mountains and it is that you only go as fast as the slowest member. Of course it means that everyone should be in shape for the hike, but it doesn't always happen that way and so its the responsibility of the party to keep together in case of an emergency.
So we kept together, with Jenny getting ahead and then waiting patiently for her two wards to reach her spot. Now I had felt great going up, yeah short on breath when I pushed it, but good none the less, and so I was surprised at the problems I began having going back downhill. My planer fascia started to give me problems and my hamstring ached and so I stopped to stretch.
The stretching helped and we continued down what seemed like a never ending journey. It really wasn't, of course, and we reached the truck about an hour and a half after we had left the high country lakes. Congratulating ourselves on making the hike we picked up firewood before returning to our fifth wheel which was parked at Sitting Bull Campground. I felt blessed to have had the day, hiking with Renita and Jenny. Clear skies.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Canoeing The Gunnison, From Hotchkiss to Delta

Our previous blog, Doing It On the Road ,was stolen by a hacker and so we have been forced to start a new blog! Google has so far denied our attempts to return access. Furthermore the hacker used our email to send a request for money saying we were in England and have been mugged. We are safe and need no money.

We were in a narrow branch of the river and something wasn't right. The current was too fast, as the water was being forced into the narrow channel, by a newly constructed coffer dam and there was no sign warning a river traveler. Worse yet the rapids on the main channel were too much for us and so we had to run the left channel.
One of the things we had wanted to do was go with Val and float down the Gunnison in Colorado. George had agreed to drop us off above the town of Delta and pick us up at the fourth bridge, where there is a pickup point and a warning sign about further travel. So it was with some trepidation that we pushed off from shore and started our float.
The Gunnison was a little stained but it had cleared considerably from recent monsoon rains and so we could see submerged rocks and snags. It was flowing pretty fast and we quickly reached a small class one rapids. Keeping our mad river canoe straight we scrapped bottom once and then reached a relatively calm stretch of moving water.
I saw place after place where I wanted to fish but I hadn't brought my fly rod as this first time down the Gunnision was really a test of our skills and the canoes capabilities,(If you read our old blog you know that we had primarily used it in protected waters). Renita took the camera out and started to take some images of the river and surrounding cliffs, but she soon had to store it in its waterproof bag as a much stronger rapids neared.
Following Val, who had run the stretch of river before, we passed through a chute and actually took in a little water as the bow of the canoe almost stuffed a wave. Renita, in the bow, held on firmly to her paddle and quickly obeyed my commands of paddle left, no left, and change sides and we made it through our first class two rapids.
The float went swiftly as we drifted and rested through calm stretches followed by rapids and then another calm stretch. A great blue heron lifted from the water and flew to a promontory where it stood and watched us pass. Two ducks flushed ahead and flew downstream but we soon caught up with them and we played tag for a bit till they flew around us.
Ahead a strong rapids made us take a narrow channel to the right and the water slowed to almost a crawl. We soon ran aground in a shallow rapids and our first portage of the day went easy, except for wading on the slippery rocks of the shallow stream bed.
Houses started to appear along the banks, or should I say vacation homes, and a bridge told us that we were getting near Delta. Two more bridges loomed in the distance, and then I saw something I didn't want to see, a newly built coffer dam!
Msking a major mistake we decided to float into a narrow channel on the left side instead of landing on the right side of the coffer dam and portaging around it. Well deciding really wasn't the right choice of words as the current was so fast that we quickly passed any chance of taking the portage.
The channel narrowed and sped up! It curved around and we saw cement walls. Putting our paddles to good use we were barely able to canoe against the current and land on an island. I saw a possible portage to the other side and we dragged the canoe and Val's kayak back to the man channel. Val, ever the daredevil decided to try and ride her kayak into the river, pretending it was a luge, and she almost made it!
Laughing, we helped her as she climbed back into her craft and we headed for the bridges.
Now the other channel appeared and we were able to see that the narrow channel we had been in ended in a small dam with a five foot waterfall, oh my! It was a place that we would have definitely crashed and rolled the boats. I reminded myself to be sure to check out google earth from now on and to always inquire about the current river conditions.
Muddy water entered the river from the irrigation ditches and it became harder to spot submerged rocks. To add to the excitement it started to first drop big raindrops followed by a strong rain. Of course we had launched in beautiful blue skies and hadn't brought our rain gear.
Val reassured us that the take out point was near and so we paddled on, at least the rain was warm ,and we stayed comfortable as we were wearing our life jackets. Another rapids appeared and then a small drop where large rocks dammed much of the channel.
Drawing more water then Val's kayak, we hit a rock dead center, turned sideways, and started to roll over. The canoe lucrhed big time and then righted itself. We stayed out of the drink! Maybe the mad river canoe really was a good choice. It sure gave Renita confidence and she stated her opinion as I thought to myself about my mistake in misguiding the rock.
Alls well that ends well and the fourth bridge appeared. along with our truck and a wet and shivering George. It turns out he had fell, while wading a rapids and had rolled over before regaining his footing. He wa proud however in his fishing ability as he told us of the 20 inch brown he had caught and released.
It had been a nice four hour float, we had successfully run some class one and maybe easy class two rapids. Our canoe had met or exceeded our expectations. What could be better then a day on a Gunnison. Clear skies.