The summer is passing and like all things, the seasons drift by. Sometimes the milestones we strove for in the past escape us unnoticed, then we are all one year older and the passing seasons can never be recaptured. With our family and probably with most families, as our children grow, their interests take center stage and the family traditions are set aside for greater ambitions. Such is the case this year.
This summer has loaded with adventure and opportunities for our kiddo to spread her wings and grow her talents, but it is still important to spend time together in the quiet, forced to just be as the natural world just exists. So, with the next few weekends filled and time slipping by we made a mad dash to the Current River for a day. That's a two and a half hour drive each way and 10 miles of river on this section full of past adventures and it was worth it.
This section of river is familiar to us, numerous days have been spent gliding upon this spring fed water and numerous nights have been spent on these gravel bars. I couldn't help but flash back to places we had camped as we took in the scenery, paddling past areas that jar memories into place. Yet, one thing was crystal clear; the river had changed too, gravel had been remolded by the floods of 2017 and this year, nothing stays the same. So the sentiment that embraces me at this time is one of reflection. Happy we took the time to make past adventures happen and thrilled that our daughter still enjoys these family outings, and now paddles at the bow of the boat every opportunity she gets! I can only hope we continue to Make time for these outings as long as we can.
Richland Creek Wilderness Area, Arkansas. Since this is a wilderness area there aren't any "maintained" trails to traverse. I explored the Richland Creek Wilderness with some friends about two years ago. We followed a trail that was hard to follow, but helped with some navigation, the majority of it stuck to the edges of the water and made for some easy travel, this time was different.
We traveled through some intense rain on our way to Richland Creek Campground, our goal was to set up camp before midnight. We hit an intersection in Snowball and my buddy, Kyle suggested we take a "shortcut", sure, what could go wrong. So in the spirit of adventure we head up a hill on a gravel road. I engaged the subaru and double timed the windshield wipers to disperse the rain that continued it's humdrum song on the roof of my car. As we climbed an Ozark mountain we became engulfed in fog so thick that I had to find my foglights, you couldn't see anything. A couple of stream crossings on the downhill and Voila! A long stretch of water (not moving) that had no way to tell how deep it was stretched across the country road.. I ventured in slightly, door open, marking the depth with my hand. Kyle volunteered to Chaco up and be the depth gauge, walking through the water as I followed. We made it! Only to reach a hard flowing stretch of water that submerged our road with a raging fit of noise and turbulence. Sooo.... We backtracked to the highway and found our way to Richland Creek Campground. Kyle and I chatted as the rain fell and decided to set up camp and the campground, then start hiking the following day.
The storm came and went throughout the night. By daylight it was evident that we wouldn't be crossing the creek and a decision was made to take the bridge near the campground and begin our cross country trek using map and compass.
We crossed the bridge, found a shelf and began your regular map and compass traverse. The ground was soggy, slick, and covered with leaves, Due to the creek flowing with great force, we couldn't drop down to the trail we'd traversed a couple of years ago, we had to stay higher on the ridge, this forced us to navigate on very steep terrain and small boulder covered shelves. The boulders were wet and covered with moss, making things slick as snot; and the spaces between the boulders were leaf covered, sometimes hiding deep holes in the ground. We navigated this terrain for about 1- 1.5 miles, with full packs on. Dangerous and slow was the name of the game. This lead to up to a scramble where I was on hands and knees with a full pack, scrambling up a hill. A quick lunch and look at the map lead to a plan of action that produced more of the same.
Finally, with tired legs, we saw the confluence of Long Devils Fork and Richland Creek. Next, we saw three rafts make their way into this confluence and stop at and established campsite across the creek from us. Some quick waves from the local paddlers and a thumbs up gave notice that we were ok. At this point, we were very near our destination of Twin Falls and the water was easing. We started up the creek toward the falls, even traversing a wet rock ledge a few feet above the creek with out much room to move, a few handholds and water dropping onto us from the ledge above. this lead to a beautiful view of the falls where Long Devil's Fork and Big Devil's Fork met to create the twin falls. Without anywhere to go we found ourselves in a dead end and we began to prepare for a wet crossing. The flow of the water was still intense so we pursued plan B, and decided to climb the steep hillside. Once again, I was on hand and knees, sliding down a precarious slope and reaching for roots, rocks and anything solid to stop the slide.
Standing above twin falls and our campsite in view across Big Devil's Fork, we began looking for a safe place to dip our toes into the cold water without being swept over the waterfall. Donning our Chacos and unbuckled packs on we made our way across the drainage on to our campsite. We slept well to the sound of roaring water.
A chili morning with mist rising from the thundering falls creates and orange sunrise amongst the moist air. My tent and sleeping bag are heavy with condensation. The totality of sleeping between two waterfalls.
We looked at the map once more while firing up the stoves and taking in some coffee. We decided to return to Richland Creek Campground by heading past the Sandstone Castles, then walking out a well used trail to the gravel road that surrounds the wilderness area. It was interesting to find these "Castles" carved out in the cliffs. There were a few that could hold a few tents, but had water on the floor. Our 12 mile walk back to the campground was worth avoiding the stone filled traps that we'd navigated the previous day. Yes, We will be back.
Grand Teton National Park, Paintbrush Canyon Trail-
Grand Teton National Park has a certain amount of backcountry campsites throughout their park that need to be reserved. The reservations aren't specific, they relate to camp zones, not particular campsites. Luckily they also hold a certain amount of reservations back for those that walk in and intend to begin their hike within the next 24 hours. Intent on obtaining a backcountry permit for our backpacking trip, I woke the family and we drove to the Moose visitor center in GTNP to line up for a backcountry permit. We arrived before the visitor center was open, adding to the line that had already begun to form. We were able get a permit on 7/3/18 for the lower paintbrush canyon camp zone and a permit for the upper paintbrush canyon campzone on 7/4/18. The information from the park rangers said there was significant snow at Holly Lake and portions of the Upper Paintbrush canyon camp zone. Ready for an adventure, we went with it.
We arrived at Leigh Lake TH and started pulling our packs out of the car. The sky's began to darken as we prepped for our departure, the rain began to fall just as we tightened our packs, it was raining hard enough for us to take off our packs and put on our raincoats, then packs on our backs once again and we were off.
The first .8 miles of our hike circumvented string lake to Leigh Lake. It was flat with numerous people on the trial, but there were amazing views to be had of the Teton Range. We stopped to take a picture with the mountains in the background, this also gave us an opportunity to remove our rain gear since the sun popped out and the precipitation had ceased.
Once we were ready to proceed with our hike we ran into a volunteer park ranger. She informed us that she was from Boston and asked to take our picture since we had little American flags strapped to our packs in honor of the Fourth of July. We talked about our trip plans and the volunteer ranger informed us snow travel was very difficult on the last portion of the trail to the Upper PB Canyon campzone. I informed her that I had wanted to stay in the Lower PB Canyon camp zone for both nights but that wasn't an option when I acquired the back country permit. The park ranger said she could change that and asked for our permit, she wrote on it and Voila! we had two nights in the Lower PB Canyon Camp Zone.
By the end of our conversation with the Volunteer Park Ranger we had numerous mosquitoes extracting blood from our legs, so we applied Deet before taking off once again. The trail wasn't too bad, a fairly easy ascent most of the way. We stopped at a beautiful waterfall of snow melt for a breather, soon after the waterfall we entered the lower PB camp zone. We looked at the 2nd camp area available, it was a very nice spot with picturesque views of the mountains; we arrived at this camp spot at about 5pm so we decided to make camp. As we started putting up camp some mosquitoes started bothering us, and when we began making dinner it was evident that the mosquitoes would be relentless. After dinner we tried to enjoy our surroundings, but the mosquitoes drove us inside our tent. There Sophia and Kelli took turns reading a book Sophia brought for some good entertainment.
That night, Kelli had ventured out of the tent. She prompted me to come outside. I stepped out to take in a sky full of stars that called to us from the Back Country. The moon lit the steep mountain face that bordered us, the air was refreshingly frigid and the bugs had gone to bed. these are the moments I live for.
The following morning I unzipped my tent door allowing a rush of cold air to enter the tent and a blazing sun peeked over a rock to greet us. I pulled my thermarest and sleeping bag out of the tent and perched on the nearby rock. The mountainside with its white snow and speckled colors of wildflowers lit up with the rising sun in a light I have only seen in the mountains, almost glowing in a radiant light.
While Sophia and Kelli got ready for the day, I went to the kitchen area and prepped food. I was getting ready to go back to the tent when something caught my eye; a yellow bellied marmot. The next thing you know, like magic he pops up next to the kitchen. I shooed him away and watched him make his way down to camp. I told Kelli and she took action, making sure our gear was safe. The Park Ranger at Moose informed us that these critters like to eat the salt from trekking pole handle and backpacks!
We discussed plans for the day, the previous evening was so relentless with mosquitoes that we decided to hike out after a day hike to upper paintbrush canyon camp zone. I carried snacks, 1st aid kit, water filter and layers, then we were off.
The day was filled with incredible scenery. As we gained elevation forests thinned and we entered the beginning of alpine country. We crossed a scree field covered with snow, adventured into canyons with edges rising brilliantly over us. All the while the sound of rushing water filled our ears as new snowmelt created crystal clear trickles, then streams that turned into rushing white water. I can't find the words to convey the beauty that surrounded us. After about 3 hours of hiking and playing we turned back, 1 hour later we were at our camp.
Everyone was feeling pretty good when we returned to camp. It was much hotter when we reached the lower elevation (approximately 7,600 ft) The mosquitoes were beginning to make their appearance once again, so we packed up and headed out. The long day of hiking accompanied by the increased activity of the mosquitoes began to take its toll. We finished the hike, returning to the Leigh Lake Trailhead feeling a sense of accomplishment and embracing the beauty from which we had just emerged.
Our whitewater rafting experience was wonderful. We used mad-river.com for our guides on the Snake river. They were located in Jackson Hole, made it super easy to get what we needed and the features on the section we took were thrilling. The flow was moving at 1200 CFS and we tackled some class III water. I was in the front paddling and Sophia decided to join me, Kelli rocked the back with a paddle in hand. It was a great adventure and we got soaked from the get go. Luckily I had rented a wetsuit top and Sophia had a top and some booties. Up front, we didn't get just wet, we got drenched. Some of the rapids were Lunch Counter (the biggest), ground meat and Champagne. We spent the rest of the day laughing about the thrills and lounging in Jackson Hole.
On to Yellowstone! After a quick stop at a rest area for a PBandJ sandwich we made our way to Old Faithful. I really wasn't feeling it, the parking area was huge and packed! The whole situation had a Disney type of feel, but when we approached the geysers with their steam, crust of mineral and bubbling water, I quickly embraced the other worldly feel of this natural treasure. Old Faithful went off just about as predicted, this impressive also, glad to experience this one. Next we traveled to Grand Prismatic. The incredible colors, steam and the surrounding landscape was beautiful
We spent our nights and evenings at Lake Lodge. We rented a cabin that was a short walk away from the main lodge. The accommodations were clean and met our needs. We spent the evenings taking advantage of the Lake Lodge porch, overlooking Yellowstone lake and the Absoroka Mountains in the distance. Every evening we were greeted by two bison that walked through the field in front of the lodge, almost on que for the sunset.
Lamar Valley turned out to be a wonderful day hike. The landscape was almost too immense to comprehend. We saw many buffalo and a black bear that was safely in the distance. This was one of those places that I wish we could have spent more time exploring and finding out what was on the other side of the various mountains surrounding us.
Shoshone Guest Lodge and Ranch, Shoshone National Forest, just outside of the Yellowstone east entrance. https://www.shoshonelodge.com.
Horseback riding is always on the agenda. We decided to use Shoshone Guest Lodge and Ranch. We booked a two hour ride, but arrived quite a bit earlier than we needed to. No GPS in the mountains, so weren't exactly sure how long it would take us to get there. Since we had a little extra time we ordered breakfast before our adventure and what a fantastic breakfast! The staff was very kind and helpful. We ventured down to the horses and greeted them. Soon we were joined by other adventurers and asked about our experience with horses. One of our leaders, William, gave a great introductory lesson about how to work with the horses. The horses we rode was based on our experience and the horses temperament. I rode "Drummer", Kelli rode "Otis" and Sophia rode "Trixie". The trail was in the Shoshone National Forest providing some excellent views.
Kyle and I unknowingly scheduled an outing on the same stretch of water for the same two days. It's hard enough to find a weekend that works for both of us, but this was amusing to say the least. He called to see if he can borrow a couple of items then we put two and two together; so we decided to join forces.
When I called Two Rivers to schedule the shuttle I wasn't sure what I'd get. Springtime floods had impacted all of the outfitters and tore down the cabin that had stood since the 1940's and was used for the home base of Two Rivers Outfitters. They're currently doing business out of a trailer and in the process of rebuilding. The owner of Two Rivers was glad to see her dog, Harvey playing with our kids as we loaded our canoes onto the trailers for the shuttle to Williams Landing. We settled our bill and when Kyle and I looked at the total, we noticed the owner had lowered the price significantly since we booked the shuttle separately but were going to the same place.
Once the van and trailers were loaded, we were off with serious enthusiasm. We started the steep climb out of Two Rivers and noticed some smoke seeping out of vents and radio. We crawled to stop and made our way off of the van as smoke filled the interior. We shared glances and tried to make light out of the situation. Soon a small school bus pulled up, we loaded into our new yellow chariot and rode it to the top of the hill, the van followed with the trailer and drivers transferred the loaded trailer from the van to the bus. Once again a roar of enthusiasm came over us as we began our journey anew: the adults talking of school bus rides from years ago and the children talking about last weeks school bus adventures.
We finally arrived at Williams Landing and unloaded our duty boats. The bustle of carrying canoes, paddles, PFD's, coolers, dry bags, and fishing rods carried on in frenzy, only interrupted by hungry kids seeking snacks, PB and J sandwiches and sealed snack packs. Only after everyone's bellies were satisfied did we put on PFD's, loaded the children and eased out into the barely moving current.
Sophia took the bow of the boat. We covered the some of the basic strokes once again including the draw and cross-draw, she was spot on and ready to roll. Kyle and Chris joined us as we finally relaxed and let out the contended sigh that only a quiet river could evoke.
The trees rose above us on both sides and sat atop cliffs, some teasing with colors of change. Soon we spotted a bald eagle looking majestically down upon us, our necks craning to take in his beauty while we floated underneath his perch. A few moments later another bald eagle was gliding above the crystal clear water in the high blue skies.
We took notice of the changes in the river since the springtime floods. We did this stretch of the river last fall, and our campsite last year was washed away, leaving a drop off where a sturdy rope hung connected to a tree. We took time to enjoy the 80 degree day as the tree swings invitation was to welcoming to pass up.
What a trip full of adventure! This was Sophia's first trip out west, and first time to see the mountains!
I was so excited to introduce our daughter to the Rocky Mountains. I wanted her to experience the difference in the air, new ecosystems and the grandeur of the glorious mountains.
The schedule was full from day one. We arrived at YMCA of the Rockies on Sunday afternoon. This turned out to be a splendid place to stay. First of all, they don't have tv's in the room, I was enthusiastic about this one, second, the wifi is spotty and its difficult to get texts out, OK with this too. I also liked the ability to use their pool, volleyball court and some other amenities for free in addition to paying a small price for art supplies in the art room on a very rainy day. The YMCA endorses a couple of companies that we used, including whitewater rafting with rapidtransitrafting.com and flyfishing with www.sasquatchflyfishing.com, we had a great experience with each of the outfitters.
Our first adventure was family fly fishing with sasquatch. We were outfitted with waders, boots and fly rods. We traveled to Sprague Lake in RMNP for where we wet our lines. The staff was energetic as they took their time to teach my daughter how to cast and they gave my wife some good pointers, now she doesn't snap the fly off the line. Me and two others went with our guide to a small stream that was an outlet of Sprague Lake. We spent time chasing Brooke Trout and Rainbow. Our guide did a nice job of getting us into some fishing and letting us know his thoughts about what fly should work. After the fly fishing excursion, we drove to a high elevation trail in RMNP. We took in some breathtaking views on the UTE trail. Only oncoming storm clouds chased away from this experience.
We followed up the fishing excursion with Horseback Riding. This excursion began on the YMCA grounds and traversed into RMNP. I was surprised to learn that the YMCA of the Rockies was their prior to the 1915 creation of RMNP.
The last three days of our trip we spent backpacking in RMNP. It was a great trip filled with elevation, rain, hail, bear markings, a high altitude lake and tremendous scenery.
We began our trip in Wild Basin at the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead. The gameplan for the first day was to hike 2 miles to hole in the wall campsite. We arrived at the trailhead at 3:30, just in time to watch a storm roll in, so we thought we'd give it a little time to pass. By 4pm it looked like we were good to go. So we hoisted our packs and began the 2 mile trek.
Beauty surrounded us as we made our way through Aspen groves and Pine stands, the distinct smell enveloping us as we passed through one to another. The elevation gain was noticeable in difficulty and in our views, getting more wide open once the curtain of trees separate from each other. Rain began to fall on us, and the clap of thunder caused us to head to a safe place. We patiently waited for the weather to pass under an ENO rainfly, chomping on snacks in the theater of RMNP.
It took about 2.5 hours before we arrived at Hole-In-The-Wall backcountry campsite. The campsite was near a stream and quite pleasant, although a bit buggy. We set up our tent in the designated area. We placed our kitchen on a ridge overlooking a valley with a nice breeze to disperse the mosquitoes. We all were in good spirits as Sophia munched on her ramen noodles and I cooked up some red pepper and chicken for fajitas.
We celebrated our day by handing out some awards at dinner. Kelli won the award for toughin out the hike an Sophia won the award for dealing with new adventures in an upbeat way. She took on rain, bugs, hiking and a significant elevation gain in an upbeat way. Nice expedition behavior.
I woke at hole-in-the-wall before Sophia and Kelli. I ventured to the ridge and took at look at the valley view, checking the cooksite as I went. I spent a good deal of time reclining on the ridge, watching the sun rise and taking in the warm glow. Eventually I took the drahm down to the creek to get some water for breakfast. On my way back to the cooksite, I took a moment to watch some menacing clouds, when I turned around a large elk with a handsome rack was on the trail. He quickly took off down the hill, but stopped to return my stare. With a flash he was gone and continued down the hill.
Kelli and Sophia began to stir and started get ready for day, as Kelli began packing the sleeping bags, I started prepping for a simple breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. The topic of conversation at breakfast was about how quiet the night was, no crickets, locusts or whipperwills, just the rushing of wind through the mountain tops until morning when the birds began to warm the woods with their music. To our surprise, we were buzzed by humming birds as we ate breakfast!
It was 11:00 am when we began our two mile trek to Sandbeach Lake. The trail was steep and difficult, especially for day two on the trail. I was beginning to second my decision to hike on this trail, but my late action limited the backcountry campsite availability. We continued on for a couple of tough hours when we crested a hill and Sandbeach Lake was visible through the trees! We had just enough time for a brief celebration, then the rains came. I set up the ENO rainfly where Kelli and Sophia took refuge and consumed some calories. I looked for an appropriate camp and cooksite. It rained hard, and in a brief respite, I set up the tent. Thank Goodness because for the next three hours it rained hard! We set up sleeping bags and thermarests, Sophia read her book and at one point we all took a nap.
Eight pm and the rain finally stopped. It was still light and we started dinner. A fantastic version of chicken noodle soup with homemade dried veggies warmed all of us. Sophia said it was the best chicken noodle she ever had, I think it was first time she had chicken noodle on the trail. We discussed the ups and downs of backpacking , and the work it takes to acheive something special. By the time we hit the hay, we were all tired.
We were greeted by a beautiful morning. The sun once again crept up a mountainside, but this time the sun was reflected in a lake. Mt. Meeker stood over us with its rocky and somewhat snow covered wall.
We had time to walk and play before departing. The lake stands at 10,300ft, in our explorations we found some really cool large boulders, a pond and significant snow to play in. We packed up camp and departed by 10:30am. We had 4 miles of downhill trail to traverse. The sun was our friend all morning and for a bit of the afternoon, then it began to rain and hail. We took the usual steps to stay safe and dry. We had a great time on this adventure, all of us were full of smiles as we made our way back to Estes Park for a well deserved lunch.
The Poudre River, class III rapids.