Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ultra Light Backpackin' Tips, by Mike Clelland

This is good read if you are new to "Ultra-light" backpacking. It even has some helpful nuggets for experienced backpackers. While the writing is a little "cutesy", it probably makes the world of backpacking gear and spreadsheets palatable to the masses! The 153 tips inside are a valuable resource. I already figured I was an obsessive gear trimmer, but after reading this book I realized there were people even crazier than me.

If you have never thought about trimming down your load, you absolutely should read this book. It will open your eyes, and get you thinking. Trust me, a lighter pack is a good thing. You will hike farther, and be in better shape when you get to the end.  End the suffering!  Get it here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Teton's Adventure Part 2

With our assault on Death Canyon halted just a few hundred feet from the summit of it's western bowl, we had retreated back to Jackson Hole just ahead of a nasty storm.  While a cold rain beat down, we refueled with pizza and considered our next move.

I was looking over the park maps when I remembered something about a Tram close by that went up into the mountains.  I had scoffed at the very idea when reading about it before but now saw a way we could complete nearly all of our initially planned hike with some modifications.  Peter and Dylan agreed it was a good idea, especially since our legs were already crushed from the previous two days of climbing.  We would at least maximize our time in the backcountry in the limited time we had.  After getting off the tram, we would use connectors trails to get to Granite Canyon, hike all the way through it then turn south to get back to Teton Village.

Peter scored us some Tram tickets from Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain.  We spent the rest of the night attempted to dry out all our sodden filthy clothing and gear by hanging it from every conceivable (and some inconceivable) surface in the hotel room.  The rest of the night was spent doing laundry and re-sorting gear for the next two days.

The next morning, the weather broke, and we were greeted with bright and clear, if chilly morning.  We downed a continental breakfast then loaded back up in our rental van and sped off for Teton Village.  Shockingly we were able to park for free (after some discussion with the tram staff that we would be leaving our car and not returning on the tram - and no were weren't crazy, and we weren't going to die by camping out on top of Rendezvous Mt.).

Rendevous Mt. Peak
We boarded the tram with various tourists and skiers.  Some people just ride up the tram to go to the breakfast diner at the top.  It was a cool ride, with plenty of views.  We were rapidly whisked to over 10,000 feet in minutes.  It was definitely cheating, but it also sure beat climbing.      

The snow wasn't terrible deep on top, and hard enough that we forego using our snow shoes for the time being.  We passed several cross country skiers gliding over the snow.  By the end of the day we would all be wishing for some skis ourselves, but the snowshoeing wasn't bad at all.  The first descent was pretty steep as we walked, slid, and and glisaded rapidly to the bottom of the bowl.  The trail of course was no where to be seen but we had a general course to follow.  Once at the bottom we had to climb back up the other side and over into rolling downhill terrain.

We had a slippery and treacherous climb up out of the canyon, the morning sun had melted the top layer just enough to make going tough.  Though naturally now it retreated behind the clouds, and we watched as another storm front approached.  For the moment it was just north of us, no doubt hammering Death Canyon again.

There would be plenty of sliding and falling for the next few miles and we wound our way downhill and around trees.We were completely alone already and had been for a couple of hours.  Without a trail to follow we used a rough bearing and the terrain to navigate, and Peter's GPS to stay somewhere close to our intended path.  We also had plenty of opportunities to practice our glisading techniques as we rocketed down the slope whenever a clear path opened up through the pines.

We took a quick break once reaching the bottom to eat our Great Harvest sandwiches standing up.  Then crossed over the stream and started a gentle climb that felt agonizing for some reason.  I blamed it on the rapid ascent to high altitude without a chance to acclimate to the cold thin air.  Or it could have been all the pizza from the previous night.  Under the fresh few inches of snow there was a semi-hard crust so we still got by without having to use our snowshoes.

At this point we turned north and left the open spaces behind.  As we descended further we were surrounded by trees again.  We followed some rabbit or other small animal tracks deeper into the woods.

We had to contend with several water crossings to hook up with the Granite Canyon trail. After slogging for a while we finally got back on track with the help of the GPS.  We also had a break from the snow and made good time on the trail which was mostly clear of snow.  It was nice to finally be able to just walk to enjoy the scenery without having to pick out a path.

Soon we entered the camping zone of Granite Canyon, with a couple of hours of daylight left.  We refilled our water bottles then found an amazingly clear of snow five star campsite, complete with tree stump tables, seats and a large bear box.  For the first time this trip we setup our tent on clear flat dirt instead of snow.  We also setup the tarp to give us more cover in the almost certain event that is snowed during the night.

It was cold but we were sheltered from the wind, and we set about making chow and hot beverages.  Night fall comes fast in the mountains, and we looked forward to being bunked down before dark. The bear box was a great luxury as well and saved us the time of finding a suitable tree to hang our food from while also keeping everything dry.  This was actually a group site, normally reserved for 6+ people.  Lucky for us there wasn't much competition (except maybe with the bears).

All that was left was to bunk down for our last night in the wilderness as we at last shed our frozen wet boots, gaiters and pants and crawled into our bags.


The next morning the site was transformed.  Before the sun was even up there was a fresh 4 inches of snow to enjoy.  As usual I was the first up with an aching back and bladder, and got some water boiling for breakfast.  Shortly after the light snowfall became a blizzard which would continue throughout the day.  When the guys were up we ate everything we had left and then hastily packed up our bags under the limited protection of the tarp.  Then we were off!

The canyon was a complete white out, and the snow filled air whipped our faces as we marched east and down out of Granite Canyon.  We were quickly becoming soaked and frozen, but the view was amazing.  The trail was fairly easy to follow luckily even as it become more buried by the minute.           

Without the need for snow shoes the hiking was fast and furious.  We had to constantly whack at trees that hung low over the trail, laden down with snow.  A quick slap with a hiking pole and they would spring out of the way as they dumped their load of the white stuff.  We repeated the process, alternating the lead for the next few hours.          

We reached the Granite Canyon Trailhead, but disappointingly still had a couple more hours of uphill slogging in the worsening storm to get back to Teton village.  But eventually we popped out of the woods, soaked and frozen to the bone and made our way back to the van.  Soon we were defiling yet another hotel room with filthy packs and clothes. 
This was definitely one of my favorite western adventures.  The difficulty of going off season made it even more memorable.  It was easily the most remote adventure I had ever been on.  On both halves of the hike, after a couple hours in we never saw another soul.  It was amazing to have the total solitude and quiet of the woods to ourselves for a couple of days.  Learning to deal with travelling in heavy and deep snow was a bonus challenge, and I can't wait to put my new skills to work again on the next frozen adventure.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Yellow Belt Test

This past Sunday I went for my Krav Maga Yellow Belt Test along with 15 other Level 1 students from the Owings Mills and Columbia Krav MD schools.  This was my first attempt at a belt test for any discipline, and from talking with students of multiple martial arts disciplines, it is supposedly the most difficult by comparison.  More than just testing your technique and physical fitness, it is about testing your mental toughness.  In order to test you require approximately 5 months of training or 30+ classes.  You also have to pass a pretest and get instructor permission.

The test was 5 hours long.  Broken down into a one hour warm-up and workshop to loosen up and get rid of the pretest stress followed by 4 hour of nonstop grinding.  There were a lot of fellow Columbia students there.  It was the first time a lot of us had come up to the Owings Mills school.  We killed the few minutes before test time comparing stories about how brutal the testing process was.  I had spent the past 4 days resting up and hydrating, hydrating, hydrating.  I just hoped it would be enough.  I was most worried about being able to maintain the necessary level of intensity and focus throughout the test.  I knew I could push through the pain but was much less sure of keeping the techniques anything close to clean and correct.

Once the testing started, it was game on.  It's hard to compare it to anything.  Maybe a triathlon, but that's not quite right.  Unless you spend the entire race sprinting while people jump you.  Basically the instructors wear you down with a combination of pushups, situps, squats, etc until you can barely move your arms or legs.  THEN you get to demonstrate your combatives, punches and kicks.  Luckily, you get a short break holding a pad for your sparing partner - if getting punched and kicked relentlessly is your idea of a rest. I was glad to at least be paired with a guy I knew from Columbia and had sparred with in the past.  Being of similar heights and builds, it at least made it a little easier.

After going through the various Level One combatives - straight punches, palm strikes, elbows, hammer-fists, front kicks to the groin, front kicks to a vertical target, and round kicks (I struggled most with these) - we moved onto to defense techniques.  This was simple a matter of willing our burned up limbs to deflect or block various upper body blows.  Next up was wrist releases, choke defenses, and headlock defense.  By this point my sparring partner and I were pretty toasted, and had to dig for everything left to get it done.  The windows of the testing room were completely fogged up and it felt like fighting in a sauna.  One student had to take a quick break to throw up in the bathroom before getting right back to it.

Finally we were passed all the standup fighting and just had the last hurdle to complete, ground combat.  In Krav Level One there are three kicks from the ground, the round-house, front kick, and side kick.  We ending up only doing the round kick (the most difficult of the three) and lots of getting up and going right into combatives.  And of course we had the popular drill of being circled by our partner while keeping yourself curled in a ball and foot pointed towards your attacker.  This was actually the hardest part for me, as by this point my traps and levator scapula were locked rigid and I struggled to keep my head up.  When the bell rang I dropped my head, arms and legs gratefully to the ground.  It wasn't quite over yet though.

We had one last challenge to get through, the caterpillar crawl.  We lined up on the mirrors in plank postion (basically the top of doing a pushup) and held it.  The first student all the way to the left dropped down and crawled though the tunnel of bodies all the way to the end, then back to plank.  It seems easy, but the simple task of holding your body upright at this point took a monumental force of will.  We repeated this process person by person until we had circled all the way around the room and got back to were we started.  Finally we heard the magic words "One line!" and the test was over.

We were saved from several days of agony waiting for test results as everyone had passed.  There was much applause and handshaking (with shaking hands).  It was very surreal to have it done and over after all the buildup.  It was also completely awesome.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Operation Mountain Fury (aka - The Laurel Fork Adventure)

In November of 2010 I was invited to join the FDEF on their annual winter hike.  I never miss a chance to go on an outdoor adventure so I quickly accepted, despite the certainty of bone-chilling cold.

FDEF (as it came to be known) are all friends of my college roomate Jakes, most of them cross country and marathon runners.  So hiking with them is always a killer workout.  For this trip the group would be 8 including me.  The last time I went with them was to Capital Reef National Park in Utah.  THAT was a truly epic trip I will never forget.

This trip, while different, would be no less epic.

This trip would take us into the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia for 3 days of hiking and 2 nights camping in the backcountry.  We set out from the Fox Den oustide of D.C., and after a couple of GPS misdirects, a road closure, and a requisite stop at Cracker Barrel, we arrived at the Laurel Fork Trail Head about 5 hours later.  We took about 30 minutes doing a last minute gear check, leaving behind some extra stuff.  The weather was gorgeous, and a little warm.  This led me to (regrettably) leave behind my heavy Carhatt winter coat to lighten my pack. Sometime while pulling all the packs out of my Forester, one of the packs snagged on the roof cargo light switch, flipping it to 'ON' - which we would find out later.

Already burning day light, we set a brisk pace to get to the first planned camping zone for the night.  We crush piles of leaves as we went, having to watch our footing for ankle twisting rocks and also to keep from sliding.  The day was terribly sunny, and we weren't afforded any great views - but nonetheless it was invigorating just being hiking in the wood again. After reaching some camping signs at the bottom of the valley - and with light fading - we had a quick debate on which way to go, but quickly deciding to press on the mail trail a bit further where we shortly found a great campsite with fire pit ready to go.

There was plenty of flat, if rock, ground to setup our tents.  And we had a stream just feet away for easy water filling.  The site was about as ideal as you could get, except for being the lowest point in the valley.  I didn't think about it at the time but no realize this is a really bad idea in winter camping as all the cold air drops at night and sits at the lowest altitude.  But even as the sun dropped we still felt great, and with a roaring bonfire soon going we had no worries.  Several hours after pitch black settled in, we could see another group of hikers descending from the way we came.

This is when we got the bad news that a silver Subaru had it's dome light on back at the trailhead.  Groaning, I prepared to make a fast run back up the mountain.  Jake offered to go with, but in the end I decided not to bother.  The battery was still new, and I had a power pack in my car.  As a backup Jake also had jumper cables in this trunk.  I was confident we could get the Batmobile going again with little fuss. The second group of hikers made do with what little ground was still open just up the hill from us and made camp in total darkness.  We finished dinner and had camp-fire talk for a few hours more, then all turned in.

The night was bitterly cold, and that is an understatement.  I quickly realized how ill-equipped I was for winter camping in the mountains.  I had the hood draw strings of my +40 summer down bag pulled so tight barely a straw hole was left to breath through.  Without even any winter base layers, I slept in just my boxer briefs.  I cursed myself for leaving the extra winter clothes and heavy coat back at the car.  There was nothing for it, so I simply endured and slept little.  With the first rays of light I popped out of my tent and quickly rebuilt the fire to warm my frozen bones.

It wasn't long before the other guys stirred and we took care of the breakfast.  Most had been pretty chilled to the bones as well and the fire was a welcome relief.  Soon enough the temperature rose. We shed layers as we broke camp.  Our neighbors were ready to head out at the same time.  We doused the fire, then headed towards the stream crossing.  The hiking was easy and flat as we loosely followed the stream.  Still taking our time, we lost sight of the other hikers on the winding trail.

At one point we heard a large animal startle in the foliage to our left.  It plowed deeper into the brush and we never did get a glimpse of it so it could have been anything.  From the noise it made we suspected it was a bear.  Not far from that point, we had our wettest water crossing.  Great care was needed as the crystal clear mountain water was strong even though not more then a few feet deep.

Next started a gradual climb back up.  We had some steep scrambles to deal with, and the trail was hard to follow.  We fought for purchase in the loose soil, and moved from tree to tree.  Eventually the trail smoothed out and we walked in the clear sun for a while.  We found another campsite with a fire ring, and decided to stop for lunch and some photo ops.  With plenty more daylight, we pressed on.  We encountered the group that camped by us last night coming back down the trail towards us.  They said they had missed there turn around point, never intending to do the entire loop like we were.

  Now they had a very long grueling climb to make it all the way back to the parking lot.  They gave us a heads up on spotting the difficult to see trail turn.  We nearly missed it anyway, as it was unmarked and looked like a nothing side trail.  The climbing got steeper, following the stream back to it's source for a while.  We passed many beaver dams along the way which we stopped to check out.  The size of the logs they could cut through was impressive.  My legs weren't toast at this point, so I grabbed up a beaver cut hiking stick that was just the right size.

The trail become almost impossible to follow, overgrown with pine trees and brush, but we made it up to the gravel road that would quickly get us to our next camping target.  My light hiking shoes were worn out at this point, and a constant dull ache had me lagging behind the rest of the troop.  We passed by a few car campers setup next to the road, but never saw anyone.  We had to make another quick decent down from the road which was a great reprieve for all of us.  But I hated it knowing it meant a long burning climb out of the valley in the morning.

We descended until we came to a perfect open area just above a stream.  This wasn't a ready made site, so we went through some prep work.  Dragging stones together for a fire ring and clearing some spaces for our tents.  I piled a massive stack of leaves under my tent spot to give me some protection from the frozen ground.  The weather was great now, but from last nights experience I knew it would be freezing.  I slept little better though.  The final climb out was as brutal as I feared.  Falling behind my cross country and triathlon companions I had to quickly lose my warm layers as I was immediately drenched with sweat.

The trail was a little better today, but still tough to follow in spots.  Once it leveled out we cruised out of the woods.  Exhausted and sore from my heavy back, I couldn't be happier to drop it on the ground next to my Forester.  A quick jump start later courtesy of Jake's Acura and we were on the road.  Before hitting the highway we stopped at Fox Den's Pizza, were we made the mistake of ordering four extra large pizzas.  Not knowing they were each the size of a table.  But we were all starving, and we ate like wanton gluttons.  An eating contest soon broke out, but I abstained as I was ready to curl up on the floor and sleep.  The drive back to civilization was anticlimatic but I couldn't wait for a comfortable and warm good nights sleep!  This trip would be the inspiration for my ultra-light epiphany, and the last time I would drag around a 60 pound pack.

Check out gear reviews and info at

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tetons Adventure Part 1

2012's Memorial day adventure would take us to Wyoming, with the loose plan to tackle the Death Canyon loop over a leisurely 5 days, roughly 26 miles.  In May, snow is ever present at higher altitudes in the Teton Range.  The threat of hard-core snow camping and possible threat of a bear, wolf or mountain lion mauling quickly thinned the ranks of the expedition.  With 'real life' stuff in the way, it would be just three of us heading into the mountains for this Memorial Weekend Adventure.  Peter and I hopped a plane to Jackson Hole Airport where we would re-unite with Dylan for the first time since the Capital Reef Adventure.  His mountaineering experience gained over the years since moving to California would prove to be a great help.

Warning! Long post ahead!

We wasted no time to grabbing our bags and making our way to the rental car shuttle.  We were anxious to begin the hike, but first stopped to find bear spray - and on the recommendation of the clerk at the outdoor store headed over to the Garden Harvest where we quickly stuffed our faces with sandwiches and homemade bread.  On the way to the trailhead we had to make another stop at the visitor center to pick up a backcountry permit and additional bear canister.  We did a final check with the rangers on trail conditions.  The forecast had changed and it looked like we would be in for some weather.  They also reiterated we would need snowshoes, crampons and ice picks as the upper trails would almost certainly be buried under hard packed snow.

Continuing past the visitor center in our van for a few more miles of winding dirt and rock roads, we finally came to the Death Canyon Trailhead.  There were numerous cars there - day hikers heading to Phelps Lake which was just a couple of miles west.  We quickly dumped out our duffels and suitcases and loaded up our backpacks.  We strapped on our ice axes and snowshoes, and made sure our bear spray was handy.  My .45 went into my Maxpedition Versipak along with my trusty Canon PowerShot.  For this trip I would break in my new <a href="">Osprey Exos 46-Litre Backpack</a><img src="" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />, and it was filled to the point I though for sure something would explode.

The trail started out as a gradual climb before descending briefly towards the Phelps Lake overlook, which offered a spectacular view (even better when the fog lifted).  We paused just briefly for some photos, but had many miles to cover to reach our intended campzone in Death Canyon and the sun was already dipping.  We had just a few hours to cover around 5k of rough terrain.

We met a group coming up from the lake loaded down with fishing gear.  They remarked at our snow gear and were surprised when we told them about our trek.  These would be the last people we would see on the trail until we came back out!

After that brief break, it was a steady climb up into the canyon.  It wasn't long before we encountered hard packed snow.  The sky become dark and cloudy and the wind picked up.  The canyon walls rising up around us into the clouds looked truly unreal.

We found some Elk tracks and saw what we believe to be muskrats.  Heeding the many warnings about bear activity we occasionally called out versions of 'Hey Bear!" when the trees became thick or the trail made a blind turn.

Before long we came to our first ice traverse.  We put away our poles and switched to ice axes and crampons.  Peter and I had our poor man's crampons (Kahtoola Microspikes) but they worked quite well on the hard snow.  Dylan gave us a 30 second education on proper traverse and belaying technique as this would be the first time Peter and my ice axes tasted the white stuff.  We had just two crossing which we made without incident.

The climbing continued over rock trails.  We could still see far down below us but the tops of the canyon walls remained covered in clouds and Phelps lake soon disappeared completely.

As the trail leveled out, we entered Death Canyon proper.  A light but consistent snow began.  We were surrounded by narrow canyon walls, and ever larger trees.  All of a sudden we came upon a four foot snow wall - the start of the permanent snow cover.

The snow was hard-packed enough that we forego switching to snowshoes and plowed ahead as the weather came down.  With the wind whipping by us and the snow becoming heavy and wet, we picked up our pace.  We were slowed by the occasional post-holing

We crossed over several streams running beneath the snow, and took care to avoid falling into the icy water.  We were soon soaked anyway from the climb and the heavy precip.  We had our eyes out for signs that we had entered the 'Death Canyon Camping Zone', but quickly realized we could have passed many signs already - that they were likely buried.  To make it worse, we had no trail to follow at this point, and followed our intuition and general direction of the canyon to keep our bearings.  The sun had already disappeared into the haze, and we felt pressed to find a campsite.

Finally we found a bona-fide landmark, the ranger patrol cabin.  With little time left before pitch darkness settled in, we were tempted to shelter inside.  But the cabin cabin was locked up tight, so after snapping a couple quick pics we moved out.  We knew the camping zone was less then a kilometer away, but judging distances proved difficult as we were trail blazing the entire time and slogging through ever deepening snow.

With the light nearly gone, we followed some animal tracks for a while as discerning a path became pretty hopeless.  We decided to pitch camp in the first descent ground we could find.  For all we knew, we were already standing right on top of the designated camp sites,

Dylan broke out his 3 person tent, and he and Peter went about digging out a flat patch to set in up in.  I strung up my Eno Pro-Fly to give us some cover for dinner about 100 feet away.

We whipped up some quick dinner before bunking down for the night.  The snow continued until just before dawn when I crawled out of my sleeping to stretch my aching back.  I got a small fire going to warm up and melt some snow for tea and breakfast.


When the sun was up we were treated to some blue skies at last.  We finished thawing out our bones and cleaned up breakfast, then broke camp.  After topping off our water bottles from the nearby stream, we were ready to head out.

We opted to go for snowshoes this morning, as we had been post-holing constantly in the last minutes of the previous nights march.  Plus it got four pounds of extra weight off our packs.

The snow covered terrain was rolling, and we had to immediately start climbing from our campsite.  It took a little while to get our 'snow legs' in the tough terrain, and we were again weaving our way over  hills and through trees looking for any kind of trail to follow.  The brief glimpses through the canopy of the canyon walls were spectacular.

Soon enough, we finally found the sign posts for the actually camping grounds.  Turns out we had been just 50 feet short, as we found a couple of markers just peaking up from the snow.

And through that first campsite we found tracks that let us know we weren't alone!  As we backtracked the large paw prints of a lone bear, we weaved our way through the Death Canyon campsites.  The bear it seems, at least knew where the trail was.  We would spend the next couple of hours back tracking his tracks, which went right by our camp.


The fact that the bear was headed down and out of the canyon probably should have been a clue about   what we would face.  But the scenery was magnificent, and the weather was holding for the moment.  As we hiked deeper into the canyon, gaining altitude, the peaks around us rose ever higher.  While I was glad we had gotten right to hiking on our first day in country, I regretted not having the typical extra day to acclimate to the higher altitude.  The climb on the first day had been much harder then I expected, and I was glad when the climb leveled off again finally.


We still had our friendly bear tracks to follow for the moment, and we began crossing back and forth over the river using several log bridges.  The temperature was perfect for hiking, and we glimpsed the occasional mule dear and muskrats in the distance.  They always quickly disappeared before we could get good snapshot. 

We stopped for a leisurely hot lunch and a much needed break for our legs and feet.  While better than plowing through the snow, the snow-shoeing was still proving exhausting.We had barely finished lunch and filling up our water bottles when the weather starting turning ugly again.  We were at the big turn in the canyon, and the wind gusts brought snow and hail.  The peaks we had been admiring quickly vanished again as the sky fell.  We hastily repacked and got on the move before all our equipment got soaked.

The foul weather cleared up a few hours later, when we reach the 'bowl' at the end of canyon.  Somewhere to our right - buried under several feet of snow - there was undoubtedly a lovely group of switchbacks to make the climb less hateful.  With little options, we attacked the slope at an angle and began the slow march to the top.  We chase a section of the mountain with the smallest avalanche danger.  Just to our left at the steepest part of the bowl, we could see the remains of a recent one.

We were already tired at this point, and this climb would take all we had.  We spread out for safety, still climbing with snowshoes.  The incline grew steeper as we went.  Eventually I was reduced to counting out 30 steps at a time, then resting for 30 seconds.  I don't know how many times I repeated this cycle, but it felt like climbing the South Rim of the Grand Canyon again, but compressed into half a vertical mile.  I still felt ill-adjusted to the altitude.  This climb put a lot of stress on our gastrocs and achilles, with Dylan's fairing the worst.  His shoes lacked the 'heal step' that Peter and I had.

 Soon we came to climbs of trees and brush, and we were forced to take off our snowshoes as the incline approached and passed 60 degrees.  We careful changed gear while holding onto the slope to keep from sliding back down. Crawling with ice ax in hand, we climbed another hundred feet or so, reaching a slight level spot in a group of trees.  Utterly destroyed, we decided to camp here rather than be trapped at the very top with no shelter from the brutal wind.  The climb had taken about 2 hours so far, and we doubted we could make the 700 feet or so to the crest before nightfall anyway.

Peter was adamant we dig deep in our little hillock, and this proved to be the best decision ever.  Dylan's ice shovel proved invaluable, and we took turns digging and chopping ice with our axes.  We stacked up the blocks of ice around us, forming a nice four foot wall.  We got Dylan's tent setup, then stretched my tarp as extra shelter over the tent opening.   Hunkering down in the little bit of space left, we made our chow.  Afterwards we crawled into our sleeping bags, completely spent.  We worried little about bear attacks this night, figuring no animal would be fool enough to be here!

In the night, Peter awoke shiver uncontrollably.  He insisted he wasn't cold though.  Dylan and I were concerned about altitude sickness.  Though we are just shy of 10,000 feet - it was not unheard of.  He was fully lucid however and the symptoms didn't match.  Dylan produced a gel shot shot, after eating it and drinking some water the symptoms cleared up in minutes.  We reasoned that lack of electrolytes and sugar were to blame, as Peter had had almost nothing but oats so far.  Which did little to replenish the body fuel we had burned getting this far.

 A little before dawn, the call of nature and my aching back forced me out of the tent.  It took several minutes to get my boots on as they were solid bricks. I made a small fire (no small feat with frozen twigs and frozen hands) to warm up a bit while I stretched out.  The wind started gusting over 50 mph and was whirling snow around in our foxhole.  I was afraid my tarp would be ripped to shreds, so I lowered it down to and keep the wind off the exposed side of the tent.  Then took shelter back inside to keep from freezing.

We hunkered down as the wind continued to rock our tent.  Extremely glad to be dug down into the hill.  Digging snow out of the side of our wall, we had breakfast inside and waiting out the worst of the storm.  At this point we made a collective decision to abandon our original plan.  With out knowing what the weather would do, and just as important, not knowing the conditions were on the other side of the peak - we worried that we would run out of time making it back out if we kept going.  Marching along the exposed ridge didn't appeal to any of us with the wind still howling and even more fresh snow.

When the weather finally slowed down enough, we quickly broke camp - after digging through piles of fresh snow to find all our gear.  With the plan in place to book it back down the canyon, we decided on the most expedition method to get back down the canyon wall - glissading.  Strapping everything down tight, we left the relative safety of our hill shelter and approached the edge of the decline.  Dylan gave us quick tips on safely glissading, then led the charge down the slope.

What took us hours of painful climbing we retraced in 15 seconds, and it was one hell of a ride.  Reinvigorated, and out of the merciless wind, we began retracing our steps out of the canyon.  We made good time descending, despite the foot of fresh snow on the ground, and kept just ahead of the storm at our backs.  Our previous tracks were obliterated, so we had to plow a new path with our snowshoes.  Eventually we reached lower altitudes and were able to shed our shoes, and some extra layers.  We ate a fast lunch of snacks, then pushed on before our legs had a change to tighten up.

As we neared the entrance to Death Canyon, and began descending towards Phelps Lake, we encountered fresh bear tracks heading down the trail as well.  This time, it looked like it had a cub in tow. We began making more frequent bear calls as we wound through the switch backs, especially around the blind turns.  Luckily we avoided any bear run-ins, breezed through the ice traverses. We made it back to the turn by the lake and then began the last climb to the parking area.

The last ascent just about did me in.  Two nights of little sleep caught up to me as I practically crawled up the last hill.  The trails turned back to rock and mud as we made the finally push.  We encounter a huge moose just sitting a field chewing on the grass.  We gave him a wide birth to be on the safe side.

We reached the trail head with relief, eager to get warm and dry.  We took a quick pic then jumped back in the rental van.  After scoring a hotel room we rewarded ourselves with massive amounts of pizza.  Then the planning began for the second half of the trip.... be continued.

For gear reviews and ultra-light tips, visit!