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




Indiana: Canoeing Driftwood River…

The weather forecast for this weekend looked to be incredible so I suggested that our family (minus Will this time) canoe a 7-mile stretch of the Driftwood River just north of Columbus, Indiana.

This was our first canoeing trip as a family…and the first time canoeing for Jenny, Anna, and Caroline. I was curious to see how they would do but I also knew that this section of the Driftwood River would be easy on beginners without many obstacles.

We rented our canoes from Blue’s Canoes Livery and they were incredibly easy to work with. They soon shuttled us just north of Taylorsville and we would launch from the Atterbury Boat Ramp. It was a cool, crisp morning with blue skies and large, puffy cumulus clouds overhead. This was definitely the kind of day you want to be on the water- low humidity and a high of 72 degrees.

Despite our proximity being less than a mile from US Highway 31 you would never know that you were that close to any sort of civilization. We could have just as easily been canoeing in the Ozarks… being that we were so remote and the river brought plenty of surprises- dozens of nice banks, trees growing out over the river, ducks, snakes, strange looking birds, freshwater mussel shells on the bank, etc. It really caught me by surprise because I really didn’t expect our voyage to be very primitive or exciting… but it really was.

The river was relatively low. There were only a few spots where we had to push to get through the rocks, but it was minimal and hardly a hindrance. For the most part, the depth was anywhere from a couple of feet to at least 6-8 feet. There is no doubt that a lack of rain over the last month was a huge contributor to the shallow water but, once again, it wasn’t a big deal at all. In terms of rapids, there were about a dozen areas that would be considered small/insignificant rapids. I will say, however, if you are a beginner you could very easily get tipped without some basic understanding of paddling and positioning your canoe. We were fortunate that everyone put their skills into action and avoided any wipeouts.

We stopped on both rock and sand banks to have lunch or to just take a break. The girls had an absolute blast finding freshwater mussel shells, of which they kept, brought home, and cleaned up as souvenirs.

If you live in South-Central Indiana and are looking for a 7, 9, or 2-day canoeing adventure I would highly recommend Blue’s Canoes Livery. They make the experience very simple with no confusion. Driftwood River is fantastic for beginner or intermediate canoers or kayakers and/or anyone who wants a leisurely trip on the river with minimal effort. While this is far from a Colorado River experience, it is a great and accessible place to get lost in nature for a bit. I am hoping that our next canoeing trip on the Driftwood will be the two-day overnight camping on a sand beach. I will keep you posted!


Arkansas: Bluff Jumping and Canoeing Buffalo River

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.



Virginia: Ascending Furnace Mountain

Hiking to the top of mountains is a truly spiritual experience for me…but let me quickly qualify that. I am not saying that I necessarily have this fluffy, feel-good experience with every step I take… because that is certainly not the case. In fact, most steps feel exhausting- as you step higher and higher your legs burn, your breathing speeds up, and your heart races.

That doesn’t sound very spiritual does it?

But if you view your spiritual life as an undertaking toward a glorious end…then you can see how each labored step, each heavy breath, and every racing heartbeat is ultimately worth it.

To me: there is a great story in the hike. Every step has character. Every breath has an emotion. There is an elegant and beautiful antagonism of the elements and the terrain. They confront you and remind you that they can’t be controlled or defeated. They are the great molders and shapers…teaching you respect and cooperation. And though you might be tired, winded, and ready to fold…the trail beckons and summons each determined step and every heartbeat of perseverance until you have arrived.

At the summit you realize that you are a much different person than you were when you started.

That is what our lives are all about. Living day to day and experiencing tough and difficult terrain, catching glimpses of beauty along the way, allowing our difficult and positive experiences to transform us into something new, and partaking in the glory of God when we reach the summit. What an experience!

This perfectly describes my Furnace Mountain ascent.

We left base camp near Madison Run Fire Road in the mid-afternoon without our heavy packs and gear. Even though our plan was to take this exact same trail the next morning to get to our next destination…there was a turn-off on the trail that would take us to the summit of Furnace Mountain and we did not want to take the time to do it the next morning. We had done enough research that indicated it would not be a good idea to hike this portion of Furnace Mountain around noon or early afternoon, so we wanted to wake early the next morning to get through it before the sun was high overhead.

Although we only needed to hike about a mile and a half to the summit of Furnace Mountain, it was all up. In a short stretch we would ascend from 1300 feet to around 2800 feet. To be honest, we may have underestimated how taxing this hike was going to be. Not necessarily because it was a hard hike, but the sun decided to heat up in the late afternoon. I thought I was done sweating for the day…but soon I was pouring sweat. There was only reprieve behind a lone tree or bush. And, of course, no one brought water on this “easy” and “leisurely” hike…hahaha. Furnace Mountain was heating up.

We finally reached the turn-off for the final ascent. This portion was just under a half mile and we picked up the pace. We topped Furnace Mountain and found an absolutely brilliant rock shelf in the shade to rest and take in the majestic view of Austin Mountain and the main ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For the forty-five minutes that we sat there at the summit overlook, I was completely enveloped in the beauty. Green was alive around us. Birds glided by and circled with ease seeming to float passed us. The rocks below us were smooth and cool and just asking us to lie on them. I obliged…and closed my eyes. This was worth the heat, the sweat, and the work.

Climbing High Mountains by Sam Amidon

furnace mountain and trayfoot mountain- day 1

furnace mountain and trayfoot mountain- day 2