I wrote a new post on my other blog entitled All Creation Sings. I recount a specific moment in Alaska when summiting Mt. Eielson when I saw Denali for the first time. It is a faith post, so if that’s not your thing you may choose to disregard… but I thought you each would identify with the emotions that I share in the post.
Btw… I am heading to Wrangell St. Elias NP in Alaska at the beginning of August for a week in the wilderness. New trip reports will be coming then.
After we finished the Grand View Point Trail we drove to Upheaval Dome for the highlight of the day’s activities, Syncline Trail in Canyonlands National Park.
Upheaval Dome is believed to have been created by the impact of a meteorite, as you can see from the crater and concentric circles in the picture above. Syncline trail is a loop trail that follows the perimeter of Upheaval Dome for 8.3 miles, opening up midway through the hike. This particular hike takes about 6-8 hours and would classify as strenuous, involving quite a bit of scrambling. The trail is marked by cairns for the duration of the hike. The trailhead starts at 5680 feet elevation and slowly descends over 1000 feet for the first half of the hike.
I have to admit, from everything I have read about this trail, that April is the perfect time to be in this area and an ideal time to hike this particular trail. July temps easily reach in the 90-100’s. That would make me reconsider what time of day I would attempt to hike this trail and what I would pack (like a gallon of water). Our April hike stayed in the mid-60’s and allowed us to pack a couple of liters of water.
The stunning beauty of this desert area is comprised primarily of sandstone and shale, which make for some amazing formations and sights. There was one particular area (picture below) where we sat down and just took it all in. It was absolutely quiet, not a sound to be heard… just complete stillness. Such artistry in what we saw and the stillness of being enveloped by all of it. A person does not get to experience that very often. It was heavenly.
No… Patrick was not drinking the water! It was staged.
At the midpoint of the hike it open up with the opportunity to take a trail to the center of the crater. Although we initially wanted to take that trail, we realized that the first half of the hike took longer than we had anticipated… because we stopped for so many pictures! We decided to not make any stops for the second half of the trail so that we could finish in reasonable time. Take note: if you travel counter-clockwise on this trail… the most strenuous portion is the last mile with a 2000 foot vertical ascent to get back to the parking lot. Needless to say, I didn’t take many pictures during this time.
Syncline Trail, which loops around Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park, is an absolutely amazing and rewarding 8 mile hike that will not only give you an amazing full body workout because of the hiking and scrambling, but an opportunity to see views and formations that will give you glimpses of heaven. I highly, highly recommend this hike.
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.
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.
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
Will and I traveled to Brown County State Park early this morning before it got too hot in order to hike the 2.2 mile loop simply known as Trail 10. The early morning temperature forecast showed 85 degrees but this trail has excellent tree covering so i knew it would be a bit cooler.
Trail 10 is extraordinarily well-maintained only narrowing in one spot on the back end of the loop. The specs on this trail list it as a moderate trail with 400 elevation descent and ascent. I would probably describe this trail as leisurely with very gradual elevation changes over the 2 miles. The temperature stayed at about 75 degrees but I worked up a small sweat with it being quite humid.
The greatest compliment I can pay to Trail 10 this morning is the gift it gave…and that I received-solitude and silence. Will and I had the woods to ourselves and the birds entertained us in song while the trees welcomed us along. Breathing easy and taking in the sweet Spring aromas, I was reminded of something I wrote a while back that perfectly describes what I experienced this morning:
It is an understatement to say that our lives are full of chaos. We do not take the time to stop and realize how dependent and addicted we are to the noise and the rush around us. Every minute of the day is full noise and busyness. It is the television, music, conversation, kids, and incessant chatter. When we finally come up for air we gasp, “God, where are you? This hardly feels like the abundant life you promised. Where is the peace?” We don’t stop to think how our minds have become so conditioned to the three second snippet or the fast paced motion of life. It is no wonder we are so anxious, impatient, discontented, addicted, and medicated. My God, where is the peace?
Think about how this affects us. We do not stop to listen to others. We are constantly thinking about what we are going to say next or do later or the next thing on our schedules. We are unable to concentrate and sit in silence and just listen. We have to speak. We have to turn up the volume. Is it not true that we live lives that make it seemingly unable to quiet those things around us and those things in our heads? We are unable to just sit still and breathe, contemplate, find peace, and hear God.
In solitude and silence, we intentionally remove ourselves from everything and everyone for a period of time. We cut ourselves off from everything we have become dependent upon or addicted to…standing still and alone with God. Solitude and silence strips away everything that we have filled ourselves with and leaves the infinite void of our soul wide open and exposed…preventing everything but God to fill us. In solitude and silence we realize that there is no thing or no one to trust in but God alone, and this is an excellent beginning point for all of us.
Today I am thanking God for the peace and solitude of the leisurely Trail 10.
In an Indiana winter it might be 50 degrees by day and snowing a foot by night. It is completely unpredictable. But when nature blesses you with a temperature 25 degrees above the seasonal average…you better be outside enjoying it!
I jetted out to Brown County with one of my good friends, local craft brewer Jon Myers. Our plan was nothing more than to get out, breathe deep, and enjoy a brisk hike. For as lush, vibrant, and alive that Brown County State Park is during the spring and summer… winter is a completely different story- there is not one leaf on a tree. For a place that is renown for rolling hills clothed with the finest green that nature can afford… winter strips the hills in haunting nakedness. While far from it’s full glory, there is a simple beauty resident in a Brown County winter.
We started off on the northwest corner of Ogle Lake and took Trail 7 (which winds all the way around Ogle Lake) until it connected with Trail 4. As we broke off onto Trail 4, the trail stayed relatively flat with a few small elevation changes. While the leaves covered both sides of the trail, I was a bit surprised how muddy the trail was. This was my first hike in my new Merrell Outbound Hiking Boot that I got for Christmas so the mud was sure to initiate them. We soon connected with Trail 5 and we worked our way into the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve. The trail began to ascend along the side of the hill and continued about 300 feet upward until we reached an opening at Rally Campground.
We stopped for about ten minutes at the top and then continued our loop by connecting to Trail 4 again. This trail would take us back to Trail 7 and then Ogle Lake. Most of this section of Trail 4 was downhill. I thought that this was a really nice section of Trail 4. The warm sun was beaming overhead and we took a leisurely pace to soak it in and just be at peace.
Ogle Lake was soon in sight and we connected with Trail 7. The last leg took us the rest of the way around the lake. The beavers had obviously been busy as there were several trees down and several trees that had been gnawed fairly significantly.
We finished our 3.75 mile hike and made our way back to the parking lot. Hiking in the barrenness of winter definitely gives me an overwhelming sense of stillness, contentment, and simplicity but more than anything it produces a longing within me for spring… for rebirth and life… and that from death… something below the surface is waiting to awaken… and when summoned to come forth… life explodes and abounds. Praise God for winter and longing and hope and anticipation and this profound sense of expectancy down deep in my soul.
If you live in the Midwest, one place you definitely need to check out is Red River Gorge just southeast of Lexington, Kentucky in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
“The Red” is known around the world by climbers because of the vast number of cliffs in and around the area. The pocketed sandstone formations lend themselves to avid climbers on hundreds to thousands of bolted and non-bolted routes. The popularity of this area for climbing can be evidenced at Miguel’s Pizza, one of the finest hole-in-the-wall restaurants of which you will ever have the pleasure of eating pizza, as the parking lot is a collection of vehicles sporting plates from all across the United States.
But on this early Spring excursion we were not there for climbing. Two of my good friends and I would be embarking on a two night, three day hike that would take us in a loop covering about 15 miles. This was my fourth trip to the Red River Gorge but my first time hiking Rough Trail.
We finished our three and a half hour caravan arriving in the early evening. Our plan was to hit the trail, hike until dusk, and then set up camp on a nice little knoll in the backcountry that Patrick knew about. But as we pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead we could tell that the sky looked menacing. Almost instantly it began to pour down rain.
We laughed about it and decided to wait it out. The rain however had decided to wait us out and came down even harder. Like true outdoorsmen, we got out of the car, loaded up our gear, and began marching triumphantly in the rain. And then it began to hail on us. Despite having hats and hoods on, the hail pelted our skulls in an uncompromising effort to turn us around. And in less than ten minutes we were victors. The sun came out from behind the clouds long enough to congratulate us and then hid over the hillside.
It seemed as if we were on our way to breaking a few of the cardinal rules of hiking and camping: we were soaked and the evening air was cooling. We did not have our shelter set up. And we did not have dry wood or a fire. To add further to our unfortunate circumstance… we could see that another group had already established camp on our knoll. We had no other choice than to press on. We put our headlamps on and hiked upward out of the valley. It wasn’t long before we found a nice spot just passed Gray’s Arch.
We set up the tent in less than three minutes and scoped out the area for an already established fire pit, which we found about twenty feet from the tent. It was going to be nearly impossible to get a meaningful fire going and knock the chill off our bones. As I kicked around in the wet ashy stew of a fire pit I noticed a small miracle- an ember! Not to let our circumstance rise above our pursuit of doing things the hard way, we quickly rallied together in order to nurture this thing to life. Eric, Patrick, and I gathered as much dry organic material as we could find and brought this miracle to life! It wasn’t the biggest fire in camping history, but we warmed up and dried out.
The next morning we were up and off early, but not before imbibing in some mandatory Starbucks Via to get the blood pumping. Although the sun was up early as well we knew that the chance of rain was high. In fact, it was almost certain to storm at some point during the day. In the meantime we hiked and explored the area. The rock formations in Red River Gorge are all so unique. If you didn’t know better, you might think that the natural bridges, caves, and cliffs were hand crafted.
We continued on Rough Trail toward the juncture with Sheltowee Trace. Overhead the clouds began to mist on us and we predicted that this might we a good time for a lunch break, as more rain was imminent. We scampered up a small hillside and ducked beneath a cliff, took out our lunch, and watch the rains come down. Pretty good timing.
We finished lunch and continued on Sheltowee toward Koomer Ridge Trail and Hidden Arch. The trail took us away from all of the sandstone structures and into more wooded areas. This was an interesting development because the sky was turning very dark and I was becoming concerned that something big was brewing without anywhere to take shelter. I wasn’t interested in taking on a huge storm in the middle of a forest, so we picked up the pace double-time. Our prayers were answered as we got to an area close to Hidden Arch that opened up wide with a large rock overhang. We got there with absolutely no time to spare. The winds began swirling and blowing very hard and horizontally. The heavens opened and IT RAINED HARD…but we had the best seats in the house. What an awesome event to watch and what an awesome place from which to watch it!
After the rain subsided and we jumped on Koomer Ridge Trail, we passed some hikers who weren’t able to find shelter during the storm and stop out in the forest as it passed. The were soak to the bone. We, on the other, we completely dry. Just saying.
In an area close to where Koomer Ridge Trail and Buck Trail connect we found heaven on earth- a camping spot in the middle of a Y where two streams come together as one. We plunged in and crossed the thigh high current to the other side and began to set up camp. Travelers before us had already constructed a very nice fire pit and stone seats. I am not sure if I have ever camped at a place where I felt more at home. And what beauty! The two streams rushing and crashing together was so peaceful and soothing.
After a night by the fire in conversation and then sleeping soundly by the water, our hike out would celebrated with a slice at Miguel’s.
Michigan– the outdoorsmen’s paradise. Whether spring or summer, fall or winter…Michigan is the place to be. Hiking, camping, canoeing, biking, kayaking, snowmobiling, ice fishing, boating…you name it and it can be done in Michigan.
On this particular trip I was vacationing with my family on Lake Michigan in South Haven. My brother-in-law Jon and I were feeling ambitious, as we had taken our mountain bikes with us and were planning to do some biking in the area. Through some research of the area we discovered an interesting multi-use trail stretching 33.5 miles from South Haven to Kalamazoo. I say interesting because this trail was previously a railroad operational in the mid-to-late 1800’s. As it was no longer used as a rail line it was converted into a crushed limestone/slag trail that passes through small towns, over bridges, and passed historical points of interest.
While I was determined that we ought to tackle the 67-mile round trip, reason was victorious and we would instead opt to take the trail from Kalamazoo to South Haven. Our plan was to be shuttled by my wife and father-in-law to the trailhead in Kalamazoo so we could get an early start and avoid the midday heat of July. We hoped to be back in South Haven before noon.
The good news was that it was going to be an overcast day with a very slight chance of rain. As far as we could tell, the day was starting off just right. The trailhead captured the history of this line with a restored train at the origination point. I thought this was a really cool idea and a nice tribute to the past while moving forward into the future. As we moved over the wooden pathway and onto the paved trail, I couldn’t help but hope that the entire trail had recently been paved, instead of the crushed limestone/slag. In only a few minutes I would have my answer. For the next 33.4 miles we would be laboring over a compact bed of crushed rock. Don’t get me wrong…I wasn’t upset by the crushed rock trail. I just knew that we would be pedaling non-stop, as the rock would not allow any coasting.
The beauty of this multi-use trail during the summer is the way it captures the full measure of life in nature and allows you to be a part of it. The summer green simply envelops you. This is where Michigan really shines in the summer- flowers adorning in their full glory, berries bursting forth in all their richness, and trees reaching out to embrace and carry you along. This is a place where a person can breathe deep and find life again. The smell of deep woods and fresh summer reinvigorates the soul. Not to mention that you can eat blackberries the size of your thumb to your hearts desire. And we did!
The Kal-Haven Trail led us passed little towns like Bloomingdale, Berlamont, Grand Junction, and Lacota. Each town had it’s own story and character. We stopped in a couple of the towns for a water break. But if the truth be told- we stopped to take in the simplicity of small town America, and there was just something refreshing about that.
The Kal-Haven trail is a special trail. It isn’t a trail that winds or changes elevation. It isn’t the easiest trail on which to pedal. But it is a trail long enough to seclude you from the busyness of life, while helping you to find your heart and soul. Don’t take this trail and treat it like something that needs to be accomplished. Don’t approach this trail like you are going to do something to it. Rather, join it, become part of it, and let it do something to you.
As our third day started on the Buffalo River in Arkansas the only thing on our minds was the river level. Would it be high enough to launch from Ponca? We arrived early at the Buffalo Outdoor Center, the outfitter through whom we would rent our canoes and be shuttled, and waited to hear what the verdict was. The word was that it was too low to launch from Ponca but would be perfect to launch from Steel Creek. Steel Creek was downstream from Ponca about 2 miles so that was not that big of a deal. We would spend the next two days leisurely canoeing a little over 20 miles to Pruitt while camping and playing around on the Buffalo.
The morning was a bit overcast as we arrived at our launch point at Steel Creek but it promised to heat up quickly with little relief on the open river. We decided to leave quite a bit of our gear behind since we would only be camping overnight and used our dry bags to store most of what we decided to bring. The six of us paired up by two’s and boarded our canoes, secured our gear, and hesitantly took off one at a time. The reason I say hesitantly is because we had already watched some people before us get dumped on the first maneuver.
We were certainly not in a race canoeing, even though we ended up covering most of the distance to Pruitt the first day. After close to 30 miles hiking over the previous two days, we were ready to experience the Ozarks and the magnificent bluffs from the water. The sun was beginning to break through for an absolutely PERFECT morning. Being that we were going to be in the open on the river most of the day we put on some sunscreen to avoid frying to a crisp.
There wasn’t too much activity on the river. In fact, we broke away earlier from others who were canoeing. This made for a peaceful ride as passed Big Bluff and then paddled toward Horseshoe Bend. This area was very familiar, as we finished day one jumping off a small 12-14 foot bluff. The consensus (and excitement) was unanimous…we would pull off at the embankment and do some more bluff jumping.
If we thought we were somehow really cool or unique in our jumping…we would soon find out how inexperienced we were. We climbed to the top to find two locals already jumping. As soon as I watched the first guy jump, I just sat down. These guys were ridiculous. They were doing backflips from a higher platform (about 24 feet) like they had been born to do this their whole lives. And here we were jumping off this little platform like we were from Indiana.
Well a few of us, not to be outdone, decided to elevate and jump from the 24 foot height without the flip. We went up, our buddies counted down, and we jumped one at a time. I was impressed that we did it. The thought of jumping that height in an uncontrolled environment made my stomach swirl as I walked up and jumped.
And then, just as I thought things couldn’t get any more crazy, one of our guys upped the ante on the locals. He went up to a spot above the trees and about 30 feet above the Buffalo. Without even a second-guess he jumped…and splash! He did it! Even the locals were smiling. And then Tim jumped next! These guys were insane. There was a zero percent chance that I would be jumping from that ridiculous height!
We made our way back down to the canoes and were ready to launch. It was then that I started thinking- when will you ever be in Arkansas again? When will you be on the Buffalo River again? When will you ever be at Horseshoe Bend jumping from these amazing bluffs? I turned to Ben and said, “I will do it if you do it!” Ben just smiled. We made our way up to the big 30-footer. At that point, all the people we passed early on were now slowing their canoes to watch this insane spectacle. They should have arrived earlier and watched the real show! Ben jumped off like a pro. Man…good for him. This is ridiculous…and really high. I was a bit nervous. Then the countdown started from ten. I knew if they hit zero and I didn’t jump…it would be over and the cat calls would begin. Three, two, one…I jumped. It wasn’t pretty but I did it.
What an absolute blast…and all of this before noon! This was definitely nature’s playground. We finally loaded up and took off. We planned to stop at Kyles Landing for lunch and we had about four miles to go until we arrived there. We had heard that most people ended their canoe trip at Kyles Landing…so that would mean fewer people traveling to Pruitt. These boys were going to have the Buffalo River all to ourselves for the next 15 miles.