Indiana: Charles Deam Wilderness- Peninsula Trail

We recently took a weekend guys hiking/camping trip to Charles Deam Wilderness, which is south of Bloomington, Indiana and nestled right up against the Hoosier National Forestry. If you remember… a handful of us braved a single-digit weekend excursion to Deam this past January, putting all of our survival skills to the test! In January, we navigated Axsom Branch as well as portions of Grubb Ridge Loop. This time we set out without any sort of plan, except that we wanted to spend some time on Monroe Lake.

We parked at the parking lot southwest of Axsom Branch and headed northwest on Grubb Ridge Loop. Being that we started the hike in the evening, we didn’t want to be too ambitious. Our goal was to set up camp close to the split of Grubb Ridge Loop trail and the Peninsula Trail. The temperature that autumn evening was a fantastic and cool low 60’s with a low overnight in the high 40’s (perfect Indiana camping weather). We set up the tents in a really nice area with thick pine needle covering and spent the late evening around a fire.

The next morning we decided to continue on the Peninsula Trail until we hit the end of the trail at Monroe Lake. We took our time packing up and got a late morning start. With no agenda, our only goal was to enjoy our time venturing through the wilderness. With many of our trips it seems as if we are always moving and trying to get to the next destination at a reasonable time to set up before sun down. It was actually really nice to take our time. It was around noon when we made it to the end of the trail at Monroe Lake. As I looked out into the lake I saw what appeared to be an island about 1/2 mile offshore. I jokingly commented that we ought to swim out to it. And of course a few guys got really serious about it. For the next ten minutes they were just waiting for someone else to say let’s do it! I finally began to take off my boots and socks, “Let’s do it boys.” We stripped and gingerly made our way over the jagged rocks to the lake’s edge. We began to wade slowly into the cool water and then just began to swim. Our amateur voyage to the island took about 40 minutes and we were all glad that the swim was over. We walked on the other bank, looked at each other, and then wondered aloud how we were going to get back to the other side.

Never one to do more physical work when I can use my brain to avoid work, I suggested that we wave down one of the boats on the lake to take us back to the other side. Being that is was turning into a really nice afternoon, the lake activity was beginning to pick up. Our first victims came over in their speed boat and assured us that they had no interest in disrupting their fishing expedition to take us to the other side. Not to be disheartened, we began to wave down a pontoon boat that was around the bend of the lake. We thought it was unlikely that they would see us, but we began to hear cackling and merriment and knew that our arm-waving had become a source of great entertainment. Fortunately enough for us, the pontoon began to creep in our direction…and the jovial uproar grew. It was infectious, as we began to laugh as well. And we laughed even harder when we realized the boat was full of 50-60 year old ladies who had been imbibing the spirits as breakfast and lunch. Needless to say, they were more than happy to pick up some hapless, beleaguered, and shirtless hunks on beach. We boarded… became the focal point of all sloshy conversation, and then were greeted by heckles and jeers from the rest of our contingency. What a story. Too bad we don’t have photos of that huh? : )

After lunch, we decided to stay along the lake side and hike to one of the campsites on Monroe Lake.

This was a stunningly beautiful hike along the lake. The sun brought out all of the early fall vibrancy- the yellows, greens, and browns. Just being able to breath deep and enjoy such beauty recharges one’s batteries and refills one’s soul. As much as I would highly recommend this particular hike and route, there were a couple of things to take into account. Our decision to hike along the lake overall was a good idea because we didn’t have to backtrack at the peninsula. However, there were about four areas where we no longer had a path to walk so we had to hike up the steep hill, walk through the woods, and then back down to a walkable path on the lake’s edge. Maybe the greatest challenge hiking along the lake’s edge was when the terrain turned almost exclusively into an angled pathway comprised of wet shale rock. It was incredibly slick and we had at least two or three guys slip and fall. The final thing to take into account is pumping water. We brought our pumps and at our final camping destination we went into the lake to pump. It was a slow and laborious process because the water was so green that we had to clean our filters several times to get a few bottles of water.

Nonetheless, the sunset on Monroe Lake was exquisite and it was a joy to watch it settle in behind such a magnificent backdrop.

peace…

brandon

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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 3

We left July backcountry campsite, where we stayed at the end of Day 2, early on Tuesday morning.  We would be ascending over 1700 feet as we continued on North Inlet Trail to reach our connection to the Tonahutu Trail, which travels along a portion of the Continental Divide.  We would then drop 1800 feet altitude to finish up our 7.5 mile hike at the Renegade backcountry campsite.

Day 3 (Tuesday, July 24)

July Campsite (10,650 feet) to Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet)- 7.5 miles

Total Day 2- 7.5 miles

Maximum elevation gain- 1713 feet

As we started out the morning… the name of the game was elevation.  We were climbing by switchbacks along the mountainside which overlooked an absolutely brilliant valley.  In every way this spacious vastness just screamed life…and we took it in with every breath.  Forget about the heavy packs and trudging upward fighting gravity…this was heaven on earth man.  It was just good.  But it didn’t take long before we were left standing still in our own tracks.  As we looked 25-feet uphill… a 6×6, 600-pound bull elk was hovering over us chewing on this green breakfast.  He thought we were interesting, but his breakfast was more interesting.  He was close enough that we did not want to move for fear that he might get defensive, so we stayed put.  Eventually he began to move away but only to move ONTO OUR TRAIL AT THE SWITCHBACK.  He never snorted.  He never stomped his hooves.  He was definitely cool.  But we didn’t have the courage to move forward.  So we retreated back by 30-feet and had to climb straight up the mountain to connect to our trail.    Some fellow hikers, without our knowledge, was below us on the mountain and snapped a couple of pictures for us.

Photo by Melanie Glissman

photo by Melanie Glissman

Once we made it above the tree-line into the alpine region… my heart began to skip from the striking beauty.  These are the places you see in magazines and say, “I wish I could be there.”  And here we were.  It was so surreal.  Forget my words… just look at the pictures.

The beauty speaks for itself.  You find out very quickly how the area got it’s name because it is definitely rocky.  Some of the boulders and boulder configurations baffle the mind.  The temperature on this July day was in the mid-60’s at this elevation (over 12,000 feet).  We needed light shirt with sleeves… but it was the ultra-violet radiation which was the concern.  We wore our UV sunglasses and put on sunscreen for our exposed skin areas.

We could see the valley opening up with a mix of wildflowers and pine.  The final leg of our hike along the Tonahutu Trail would take us to Renegade.  This final section, in my opinion, was rough hiking.  The rocks were many times the size of baseballs and softballs, which made our steps rough.  We also began to see a ton of marmots running out from the rocks across the trail and into other rocks.  Pretty amazing stuff.

We set up quickly at Renegade and went down to the creek to cool off and wash up.  We ate supper early and sat back to relax when the storm clouds rolled in.  It started to rain at 7pm and we hopped into our tents.  We ended up falling asleep as it rained all night long.

This was one of my favorite days on the hike.  Day 4 will take us through the Big Meadow and back to the TH.

Day 4 (Wednesday, July 25)

Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet) to Tonahutu/North Inlet TH via Big Meadows (8540 feet)- 9.2 miles

Elevation- downhill

Read North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 4

Peace…

Brandon

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 2

At the end of Day 1 we really didn’t stay up too late. Of course there was some eagerness about really getting started the next day, but the truth is that it is a different dynamic settling into camp in the evening without a fire. Without the glow and warmth of a campfire to settle in around, staying up late and talking feels awkwardly incomplete. Even if the conditions were favorable to have a fire, Rocky Mountain National Park bans all fires except those in designated areas. Early to bed…early to rise!

Day 2 (Monday, July 23)

Cascade Falls Campsite (8840 feet) to July Campsite (10,650 feet)- 5.1 miles

Total Day 1- 5.1 miles

Maximum elevation change- 1810 feet

The extra rest would pay off for me because day two would prove to be more altitude than I had expected. Each of us were ready for the five mile hike and the 1800 feet of altitude change, but another guy and I would also tackle another 2300 feet of altitude to see Lake Nokoni (11,060), but more on that in a bit.

We woke up early to a relatively cool morning with the sun still hidden behind the mountains. We had coffee and breakfast and awaited the arrival of the sun to warm us up a bit and to knock the dew off of our tents. We also went down to the stream and pumped before heading out. Keeping hydrated at higher altitudes is really important…so we made sure that each person was carrying a minimum of 64 ounces of water.

Our end-of-the-day destination was the July backcountry campsite, which requires a permit. The five miles taking us to our destination could be a little misleading in regards to elevation. I would estimate that the first four miles of Day 2 was somewhat flat with very little elevation gain. The majority of our 1800 gain would be the final mile. So leading up to lunch we followed alongside the stream weaving through some spectacular areas below the tree-line.

A little bit after noon we reached the juncture for Lake Nokoni/Lake Nanita. Three of the guys were going to have lunch and possibly get in the stream to cool off. Josh Brown and I decided to ditch our packs behind a big boulder and take the 2.5 mile hike to Lake Nokoni. Oddly enough, we didn’t take a hard look at the map to see what kind of elevation was in front of us. We just took off. If you are interested in taking this 2.5 mile hike to see the lakes… know this- every single step you take for the next 2.5 miles is up. No joke. After 2.4 miles of hiking and not knowing if we were close, we sat down to determine how far away we were. We decided that if we were not at the lake within 13 minutes (3pm)… we would turn around. We both knew that once we got back to our packs we would have another 1800 feet to climb to get to camp. Fortunately, as soon as we stood up some other hikers passed us and said we were within two minutes of reaching Nonita. At that point, if you would have asked if anything would have impressed me enough to justify that hike… I would have said NO! But, as we hiked just over the ridge to see Lake Nonita I was completely blown away. It was an absolutely magnificent lake at the top of a mountain. And that is pretty cool.

While it took us quite a while to reach Lake Nokoni… it only took us 30 minutes to get to the bottom. With storm clouds threatening overhead, we ran the trail in order to cover our bags, put our raincoats on, and then begin our ascent to July.

Truth be told it was a relatively quick hike to our campsite. The majority of the steep elevation was comprised of about eight long switchbacks and then a long stretch ending at July. We joined the other three guys who had already set up camp and then set up our own tent. It didn’t take long for a family of mule deer to welcome us to the area.

The next three days would prove to be the best hiking days of my life.  Day three will take us on North Inlet Trail along an alpine portion of the Continental Divide connecting to Tonahutu Trail.

Day 3 (Tuesday, July 24)

July Campsite (10,650 feet) to Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet)- 7.5 miles

Total Day 2- 7.5 miles

Maximum elevation gain- 1713 feet

Read about North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 3

Peace…

Brandon

Indiana: Charles Deam Wilderness

The date of this weekend long trip to the Charles Deam Wilderness in the Hoosier National Forestry south of Bloomington, Indiana was chosen before the full extent of the weather was forecast. And as our trip date approached it became apparent that only two words were needed to describe our weekend: very cold. The high was forecast in the low 20’s F and the low was forecast in the single digits.

We arrived on a dark Friday evening at about 7:30pm and were already in the midst of a moderate snowfall with a temperature just below freezing. Obviously our main priorities for the night were to get to our camping location, set up our tents, and start a fire.

Our hike started in the parking lot east of Sycamore Trail. We wanted to get a little more than a couple of miles into Sycamore Trail before setting up for the night.

Our excitement and energy were more intense than the snow and cold. We jumped on the trail and got moving. The trail condition was as good as it could have been considering the conditions. Since the temperature had just fallen below freezing, and being that we have had an unseasonably warm winter in Indiana, the trail was a bit muddy… but not inhibiting. It didn’t slow our pace as far as I could tell. As would be the case throughout our hike, the elevation changes were minimal, but very enjoyable.

The next 100 minutes of hiking really flew by. The only stop we made along the way was to look at a mouse that had climbed up a small tree. He was just chillin’ and watching it snow. We left him in peace and made our way to our camping destination. We quickly removed the debris from the area and set up our tents. We knew the more difficult task would be getting a fire started when everything was relatively wet. We began gathering as much dry material as we could, from the ground and our packs, and within 10 minutes we had a really nice 3-foot fire.

We ate a bit, chatted, and warmed up. Even though the temperature and snow were falling around us, spirits were high and we looked forward to a productive hike the next morning.

We woke up Saturday morning to a bone-chilling 11 degrees.  My mummy bag worked well but for some reason my toes were really frozen.  We crept from our tombs and made our way to the once raging fire pit and began to stoke it back to life.  It wasn’t long before we were warming up and enjoying some breakfast and coffee.

The truth is that what REALLY warms a person up is…hiking.  We broke down camp, put the site back to it’s original form, and then geared up.  We hit the trail and it wasn’t but ten minutes before my blood was pumping…warming everyone extremity on my body.

 

We follow the remainder of Sycamore Trail loop, which was comprised of a relatively flat, wide trails, a few downhill switchbacks, and one steep ascent.  The beauty of Sycamore Trail and Axsom Trail, which we would be connecting to later, is the stunning pines that line the trails.  Even in the cold of winter the pine smell is just refreshing and reminds me why I am enduring the cold.  It is a magnificence and a beauty that is uniquely different than spring, summer, or fall.  It would be a mistake to avoid winter hiking for fear of being cold.  Closing your eyes, breathing deep the cold air, smelling the crisp, clean pine, and feeling the blood warmly pulsate through your body in the frigidness of winter reminds me that I am alive.  It is good.

In total we had covered roughly 7.5 miles before we settled on a campsite on Axsom Trail.  We found an extremely nice spot in the middle of some pines right next to a small pond.  Before setting up the tent we made a huge bed of pine needles as a cushion and then set the tent up on it.  We got another raging fire going and settled in for the evening meal and conversation.  Wild mushroom and herb couscous was on the menu for me…and I was really excited about it.  Two days of Clif Bars, almonds, and cranberries makes one crave some flavor!

Before I went to bed the last night, I took a large rock that had been next to the fire with me to bed.  The rock was very hot and would be hot for quite some time.  I figured that I would put it in my sleeping bag and the radiant heat would keep me toasty warm for hours.  I was right!  For a little over three hours I was toasty, toasty warm in my sleeping bag.  I slept like a baby.  I was still relatively warm the rest of the night, but I highly recommend sleeping with a warm rock (and peeing twice before you go to bed).  You DO NOT want to get out of your bag when it is single digits outside!  : )

peace…

brandon