Reblog: All Creation Sings

Hey lovers of the outdoors!

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.

Peace…

Brandon

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California: John Muir Trail- Guitar Lake to Whitney Summit to Whitney Portal- Day 8

John Muir Trail- Guitar Lake to Whitney Summit to Whitney Portal

Mileage- 14.0 miles

Elevation Gain- 4022 feet

Elevation Loss- 7159 feet

Guitar Lake to Whitney Summit 1Guitar Lake to Whitney Summit

Our eighth, and last, day on the John Muir Trail in California took us from Guitar Lake to the Mt. Whitney Summit and then to a Whitney Portal exit… and this day was nothing short of a MONSTER. We knew this day was going to be long and grueling. Mentally we had been preparing for days, but I had never put in 14 miles with a pack nor had I ever tackled over 4000 feet of elevation (especially at the altitude…remember I am from 650 feet above sea level in INDIANA!) in a single hike. I am in above average physical condition and in pretty good hiking shape, but I am also over 40 and I recognize that 40 is a bit different than my 20’s and 30’s. I knew that I would be able pull of this day with no problem, but in the back of my mind I wondered how long it might take me. Once we had our gear prepped and everything in it’s place, we went to bed. We wouldn’t be summiting Whitney early enough to see the sunrise (and we were all cool with that), but we were awake and geared up before sunrise using our headlamps to guide our path.

The first half mile from Guitar Lake is harmless; it’s just positioning you for a series of twelve-ish switchbacks over a couple of miles. While the cool morning air at altitude was crisp and refreshing, it didn’t take long for the perspiration to make it’s first appearance. To be really honest, I don’t like elevation to start my day (hahaha). I prefer to have my morning coffee, which I didn’t get to have on this morning, and to begin with a nice leisurely hike. Anyway, this is not leisurely. It’s five miles of up. Five miles of up to the highest point in the lower 48, at that. But man, the views as the sun came up were something else. It was cool to look down on Guitar Lake and see how it got it’s name. The skies, again, were clear and a marvelous blue.

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At the top of the switchbacks is Discovery Pinnacle, which is the highest rock formation above the switchbacks.  It is close to this location where one can drop some gear and begin the final 1.9 mile climb to Whitney summit.  I took a few heavier items out of my pack (i.e. bear can, etc.) and left them at this location.  I still carried my pack with everything else in it.  I didn’t feel comfortable leaving all of my gear and pack at this location.  There were just so many people passing that a person could potentially pick through your pack.  I didn’t think, however, that they would be interested in my heavier junk so I left that stuff there.  The trail hugs a ridge line with impressive views both eastward and westward.  The jutting rocks formations and the perfectly placed Tetris rocks were equally awe inspiring.

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It is a beautiful sight when the Survey Hut comes into view. This is where you can sign the Mt. Whitney trail registry. The other guys were ahead of us and Ryan and I were a bit winded. We decided to chuck the packs at this point behind some rocks. Our logic was that if someone wanted to steal our heavy packs and lug them all the way out, they could have them. We picked up the pace and headed to the top. My watch had been calculating the oxygen level throughout the previous days and I was really curious to see how it would register as we approached 14,500. You can see the picture below… 57% of the oxygen level that a person would have at sea level. I could feel it for sure.

When I got to the top it was a really emotional experience that I am not sure I can adequately put into words. All of the months of days prepping, studying, and working out. The long, strenuous days that tried us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The inability to see or speak to our families for eight days. The beauty of this glorious creation day after day that left me in awe and completely speechless. The accomplishment, the achievement, of fighting through adversity to top Mt. Whitney. The view from the highest point in the lower 48 with great friends. And then for my phone to hit a signal… and texts and voicemails from my family to begin pouring in… telling me that they miss me… and love me. My God, it all came together and I cried. What a beautiful, wonderful life. I don’t take any of it for granted.

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And as much as I wish our trip ended on top of Mt. Whitney, the reality was that we had close to ten more miles of hiking down over 7100 feet. Did you get that? Do you understand that? 7100 feet! When we hiked Grand Canyon… that was close to a mile (5200 feet) down. This was a gargantuan dive. In fact, there is a series of switchbacks that I called “Death by a Million Switchbacks,” because they never end. I promise you have never done that many switchbacks in your life. All I can tell you is that we got in a zone and just went for it. I took a few pictures, but I was so focused on getting to the parking lot at Whitney Portal I didn’t take any time for anything (except pumping water one time where the trail crosses Lone Pine Creek). If you don’t have an opportunity to hike the entire John Muir Trail, let me recommend this eight or nine day hike from Bishop to LeConte to Whitney Summit. Make it a bucket list trip and resolve to do it while you have the legs. You won’t regret it.

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Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route Quick Summary…

I just finished the Escalante Route in Grand Canyon National Park and want to give a quick summary of the hike before I give a more detailed day-by-day account, which I will post soon.

My overall impression of this hike was AMAZING! It was, by far, the most strenuous extended hiking I have ever done… but some of that may be due to the fact that we packed six days of hiking into four days. We covered 40 miles of very difficult terrain from Tanner Trail, Escalante Route, New Hance Trail, Tonto Trail, and then out via the Grandview Trail. The views were stunning and everything about the trip was right on.

Here are a few things that really surprised me:

1. The Colorado River was a beautiful blue-green and not the dirty brown I expected. When I was in Moab, Utah last year… the Colorado was dirty brown. I am not sure what happened but our approach to water access changed dramatically. We just used our water pump filters like normal. Not only that but we actually got in the water to swim a couple of times. We planned for the worst and were pleasantly surprised at the Colorado. That was a huge relief.

2. If you do this hike any later than May… you are insane. The base was about 30 degrees warmer than the rim and we spent the majority of the time along the Colorado. If you add together the tough terrain, the physical exertion, and the heat… man it is rough. We were able to pump at our campsites at Tanner Creek, Escalante Creek Mouth, and Hance Creek. So we usually never carried more than 2-3 liters. But as we left Hance Creek, we took 4 or more liters because that would have to last to Horseshoe Mesa and then Grandview Point. Keep in mind that our trip was in mid-April… so water quantities will vary based upon time of season and how well you hike in hot conditions. I don’t happen to hike well in hot conditions, so April was ideal for me… even though it was toasty on our final ascent.

3. Escalante is not really a “route”… it is a trail. At this point… Escalante has been hiked by serious backpackers and the route has become quite noticeably a trail. You do not have to have navigational skills… other than following cairns and the occasional map orientation. While this was a small let down… it was still incredible. Should you take the Escalante seriously? Absolutely! But just don’t be afraid if you don’t have the best nav skills. You will make it. You should be more considered about your physical condition because the terrain will eat you up if you are not ready for it. We were… and had an amazing trip!

There was also tons of solitude. We only saw 20 passerbys over four days. We did, however, see a ton of helicopter tours passing overhead and quite a few rafters.

Here is the link to Day 1- Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP)- Lipan to Tanner

Brandon

Notice Every Detail of Creation…

This excerpt is from the post Thanksgiving at my other blog brandonandress.com.  I thought this portion was a perfect perspective for those of us who love nature and the outdoors.

The Spirit cries out to me: See the wonder! See the glory! See the beauty! And move forward in awe!

Listen.

Smell.

Feel.

Take it all in and delight. Let the wind blow at your back and let the sun shine down on your face.

Listen to the conversations.
Joy in the laughter of your children.
Celebrate that you can give your baby a bath.
Delight in the songs of the birds and the rustling of the leaves.
Be enveloped by everything and everyone around you.
Count your blessings.

Smell the autumn fragrance.
Let the preparation of your meal be a prayer and a blessing.
Savor every bite as if it is your very first.
Feel the textures.
Let the work of your hands be praise.
Count your blessings.

Sit in the woods and notice every detail of creation.
Close your eyes and absorb every note and harmony.
Glory in every drop of your morning coffee.
Embrace the touch of another.
Join in the chorus of all creation in praise.
Count your blessings.

Can any one of us even utter a grumble…in the midst of creation’s immeasurable wonder?

It is good.
It is good.
It is good.

From the depths of my soul and with every breath…thank you God. I am an unworthy man.

Utah: Canyonlands National Park- Upheaval Dome Syncline Trail

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.

IMG_5444Upheaval 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.

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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.

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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.

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No… Patrick was not drinking the water!  It was staged.

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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.

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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.

Brandon

Colorado: The Boulderfield- Rocky Mountain National Park

I remember sitting outside of my tent, which was set-up right smack in the middle of the roughest terrain I had ever camped, and thought- Am I on Mars?

The Boulderfield is located on Long’s Peak Trail at 12,750 feet above sea level. It is one of those places where pictures just can not adequately describe. You just have to go there yourself to see it. And believe me… it will not let you down. While it certainly is the hardest terrain on which I have ever camped, it was the most gratifying.

The most difficult thing about simply looking at pictures of the Boulderfield is that one can’t appreciate the scale of the picture, the enormity of the rocks, or the vastness of the entire field. The only way to appropriately contextualize the pictures is to see a person or an object in the very midst of the field, especially from a distance. In the picture below, the red circle contains a cluster of tents including my orange and brown North Face tent. This picture was taken from the Keyhole (only a few hundred feet above the Boulderfield).

If you decide that you would like to camp at the Boulderfield there are a few things that you will need to take into consideration while planning:

1. There are a limited number of designated camping spots in the field. I would suggest registering months in advance to guarantee that you have a spot. However, my impression is that the Boulderfield is easier to get a camping site than other backcountry sites because more people tackle Long’s in one day and do not want to deal with the hassle of packing extra weight for tents and gear, but I would still HIGHLY RECOMMEND camping there for the experience and registering in advance. The individual spots are not marked and they are nearly impossible to figure out on the official Boulderfield camping map, so just make sure that you have your paperwork with you when you select a spot.

2. The temperature at 13,000 feet can drop significantly at night. During our end-of-July trip, the Boulderfield low the night we camped there was 47 degrees. Being that building fires are prohibited in the Boulderfield (there isn’t anything to burn in the Boulderfield anyway), it is wise to take appropriate clothing. During the day when we arrived in the field I was wearing shorts and short sleeves, but as the evening approached I zipped on pant legs and then later added sleeves, and then a sweatshirt, and finally a windbreaker. Maybe it was overkill, but I really got chilled. I eventually went into the tent at 10pm in order to warm up in my mummy bag. Without proper clothing and protection, I believe that a person will be extremely uncomfortable and could potentially become hypothermic. Plan well.

3. Running water is available at the Boulderfield, but it must be filter-pumped or cleaned with iodine tablets. This is important because if you plan to make a summit attempt you will want to take a minimum of 32 ounces with you, and you will have likely consumed most of your water on the trek to the Boulderfield the previous day. At high altitude, you have to stay well hydrated. Make sure that you plan accordingly.

The greatest piece of advice I will pass along for the Boulderfield is stay awake to see the stars at night! I had every intention to stay awake, but as I mentioned earlier I was cold and decided to go to sleep. It was a bit cloudy that night anyway and seeing the stars was limited. FORTUNATELY for me I woke up in the middle of the night because I had to relieve myself. My general rule of thumb when camping in the cool/cold is if it is before 3am I will get up to relieve myself (otherwise it is too long to hold it), but if it is after 3am I will suffer through it. I figure that the discomfort of having to pee is less than the discomfort of stepping outside the tent in shorts and t-shirt in the cold.

Anyway, it happened to be 1am which meant I had to get out of the tent to go. When I stepped out of the tent I was completely frozen in my tracks as I looked up to the sky. I have never in my life seen such beauty as I did that night. So much so that I stood in the cold in the shorts and t-shirt for 20 minutes just staring upward. No city lights competed with the light coming from the distant stars, planets, and what looked like other galaxies. No joke. I have NEVER seen anything like it EVER. I turned to my left and saw the Big Dipper. I felt so close that I could almost reach out and touch it. It was a spiritual experience. Praise God. I only hope others will get the opportunity to experience that as well.

peace…

brandon

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- Long’s Peak Trail- Day 5

We woke up early on Thursday to make our way to the parking lot and trailhead (TH) for Long’s Peak Trail. The day before we had just finished the 25-mile North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop trail which was simply spectacular, but summiting Long’s Peak, towering over the park at 14,258 feet was going to be an adventure. The first leg of our journey would take us to the Boulderfield which would involve nearly a six-mile hike and a climb near 3400 feet in elevation.

Day 5 (Thursday, July 26)

Longs Peak Trailhead (9400 feet) to Boulderfield Campground (12,750 feet)- 5.9

Total Day 4- 5.9

Elevation- 3370 feet

The journey to Long’s Peak (via the Keyhole Route) is quite an endeavor. Before I discuss the details of this hike I would like to share a few thoughts. This is not an easy or casual hike. It is tough terrain that involves a lot of physical exertion for many miles. Additionally, people have died trying to summit Long’s when proper precaution has not been exercised. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to dissuade anyone from hiking this trail. I am simply saying that, while this is a very popular peak to summit, do not just show up and start hiking. Do your homework and be prepared.

Here are a few important factors to take into account when preparing:

– Wear (and potentially pack) appropriate gear. The temperature swing from the TH to the summit may surprise you. Be prepared with sleeves and long pants.

– I would HIGHLY recommend sturdy hiking boots. Leading up to the Boulderfield and beyond you will thank me for this advice. It is very rough terrain. Headgear and sunglasses are also recommended.

– Take plenty of water. This is a long hike with a significant altitude difference. Dehydration is a serious concern at higher elevations. If you have a pump, the Boulderfield has accessible water to pump.

– Make preparations to summit and be below the tree-line before early afternoon, as afternoon showers typically roll in with lightning.

– If it has been raining or is continuing to rain, I would not pass the Keyhole or continue to the summit. Many people have fallen off of the shear cliffs to their death because of wet and slippery conditions. The same can be said for wind. If it is a really windy day, take precaution. It is not worth risking injury or death to reach the top.

– Follow the designated route to the summit. There are bulls-eyes marking the best and recommended route while scrambling over the rocks. Always know where your next bulls-eye is located and go straight towards it. Not following the suggested route can, once again, put you in a very precarious situation leading to injury and potentially death.

– Before beginning your hike, talk to the ranger at the trailhead to get up to date information about the trail and conditions.

 

Despite the significant elevation gain from the TH to the Boulderfield, it is made easier in that it is a gradual incline over six miles rather than a steeply graded incline. That definitely makes this trail more enjoyable to hike. Be prepared for a lot more people-traffic going up and down Long’s. The alpine hike continues for over a couple of miles before it breaks out around 10,500 feet into Mills Moraine and then onto Granite Pass. You will know why the Rockies are called the Rockies when you get to this area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we approached the Boulderfield in the early afternoon, I had a lot of different feelings. I was relieved to be at our end destination so that we could set up camp and get ready for our summit attempt the next morning. I was overwhelmed by the Boulderfield and how surreal it was to be hiking in a place I had studied about for so long. And then, I was confused and a bit frustrated as we approached the reserved camping spots and noticed that many people had already pitched their tents. What made this frustrating is that none of the spots were marked in any way and it was hard to determine who was supposed to camp where. Ultimately, after much investigated and talking, we decided to simply take two open spots. We had our reservations and the appropriate paperwork, so we wouldn’t have any problems anyway.

We decided to stay overnight in the Boulderfield for several reasons, but the main reason being that it is just a REALLY COOL place to camp. In my next post I will write about the Boulderfield specifically.

peace…

Brandon

 

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 4

After going to bed at 7pm because of the pouring rain on Day 3, we awoke the next morning with clear skies overhead.  In terms of elevation, the last leg of the North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail was almost entirely downhill.  In fact, this final 9.2 miles would take us down 3000 feet through Big Meadow and back to the North Inlet/Tonahutu 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

 

This was one of the toughest mornings.  Of course it was really wet when we got out of our tents, but then packing up our wet stuff is another thing.  The sun would not be offering any help because it was still hiding behind the mountainside.  This is more of a reality for this area than what we experienced throughout the entire trip.  We were really fortunate that we did not get rained on more.  I would advise anyone backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park to always have a raincoat accessible at the top of your pack.

 

The coolest thing about the North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop Trail is that you get a ton of variation and diversity in terrain.  While my favorite portion was the alpine hike through the cairns along the Continental Divide on Day 3, there is no question that there was something refreshing and reinvigorating about falling below the tree-line and then walking out into a vast green meadow.  Big Meadow makes you take off your pack and stand still… so the calming breeze can envelop you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The homestretch of our nine-mile trek took us back through the pines.  There were not many exciting moments on this day, it was just a peaceful hike back to the TH.  As we approached the parking lot to wrap up North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop Trail, our minds were already thinking about the next day when we would be tackling Long’s Peak, the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park at 14,258 feet.  Day five would have us hiking over 3300 for five miles to camp at the Boulderfield, which will be by far the coolest camping spot to which I have ever been.

 Day 5 (Thursday, July 26)

Longs Peak Trailhead (9400 feet) to Boulderfield Campground (12,750 feet)

Total Mileage Day 5- 5.0

Elevation- 3370 feet

peace…

brandon