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Hike Like a Girl Weekend Was Awesome. Now Let’s Make Some Societal Change.

Last week, I wrote in the High Country News about why closing the gender gap in the outdoors is important and steps women can take to reclaim the outdoors.

This weekend, I joined women around the country (and world!) in an effort to do just that. Hike Like A Girl Weekend, May 14th-15th, was designed to encourage women everywhere to push outside their limits. Whether that means going to a new area, going solo for the first time, or hiking an especially difficult route, women all around the country joined to show their presence.

Walking and marching have long been a part of protest. But if a protester walks in the woods, does it create any change?

YES.

On my hike, I saw women of all colors and shapes reaching for new heights. Although I was hiking solo, I eavesdropped on a few groups and heard women say, “Who knew that hiking could be so much fun?” and women say, “I never knew the mountains could be so beautiful!” These women’s minds were changed.

 

A photo posted by Minty Winty (@minty.winty) on

A photo posted by Teresa Baker (@teresabaker11) on

 

Hike Like A Girl Weekend changed women themselves, too. I heard so many people say, “I never thought I could make it all this way.” In fact, I was one of those women. My original hike (trip report to follow later) was an ambitious 6-peak, 8,000 foot gain hike over 25 miles. The full extension of the hike—which I’ve only done once, 10 years ago—adds 3 more peaks and seemed far out of my reach. But, on Hike Like A Girl Weekend, I surprised myself. I was faster than I expected and added on those last 3 peaks with relative ease. I found out I was stronger than I thought. I know other women discovered their strength this weekend, too.

 

A photo posted by JoAnn (@joannkelmaz) on

A photo posted by Katie McGinn (@kerinmcginn) on

A photo posted by Chelsea (@chelkyrie) on

While upping the number of women in the outdoors is a great help in closing the gender gap, a more equal and just outdoors world is impossible without cultural change. This means not just changing the way that women think about the outdoors, but changing the way that men think about women in the outdoors. It means changing media portrayals of women outdoors. It means changing perceptions of what it means to be an outdoorsy woman. It means, most importantly, removing barriers to entry for women in the outdoors, especially legal and professional obstacles.

I’m talking about how women get paid less than men—even in the outdoor industry: how women have to work harder to prove ourselves as able as men in a series of outdoor jobs, from rangers to gear sales reps to athletes. I’m talking about women rangers still getting harassed in this day and age. These are the real obstacles to society’s perception of women being equals in the outdoors.

Hike Like A Girl Weekend was Step 1. Now, asking demanding more for women is Step 2.

 

National Trails Day 2015

The <a href="http://www.nationaltrailsday.org/">National Trails Day</a> event in Boulder, CO sponsored by Backpacker in Heil Valley
The National Trails Day event in Boulder, CO sponsored by Backpacker in Heil Valley

The first Saturday of June is National Trails Day, an annual celebration put together by American Hiking Society to celebrate our public lands and national trail system. Each year, 150,000 people from all 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico participate in National Trails Day events. I was honored to participate in a National Trails Day event held by Backpacker Magazine in the Heil Valley outside of Boulder, CO. The event was fun, completely free, and everyone walked away learning something about trails. It was wonderful to see so many people of different ages and backgrounds all hiking together and enjoying nature.

Backpacker Magazine maintains the trail at Heil Valley
Backpacker Magazine maintains the trail at Heil Valley

What I love about hiking, is that it gives me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. Hiking is the great leveler—nature is a place where the CEO can be best friends on the guy out on his luck, the elderly can befriend teenagers, the one place in my life where I meet kids, and where Americans can connect with people from all around the world—foreigners here to enjoy the high quality and unique trail and landscape system found only in the US. In my everyday life, I rarely interact with children, and National Trails Day was so heartening to see so many kids getting out to explore the outdoors.

The Lichen Loop in Heil Valley is quite possibly the best designed family-friendly short hike I’ve been on. Way to go trail designers and builders!
The Lichen Loop in Heil Valley is quite possibly the best designed family-friendly short hike I’ve been on. Way to go trail designers and builders!

I know for a lot of people, especially families with small kids, the idea of hiking or going outdoors can be intimidating, especially if you never did it as a child or if you grew up in the city. If you’ve ever wanted to adventure, explore, and have fun in the outdoors, but aren’t sure how, I can’t recommend National Trails Day enough. It is great way to get out there in a safe and fun way, with experienced people who want to share their knowledge with you, no matter your experience level.

The beautiful scenery from the peaceful morning National Trails Day hike
The beautiful scenery from the peaceful morning National Trails Day hike

For seasoned hikers, National Trails Day can be really rewarding because we can start off the summer right by volunteering to work on the trails that we’ll be using later in the summer. By volunteering at National Trails Day events, we have a chance to spruce up trails, give back, and put a little love and sweat into something that we care so much about. Later this summer, when we finally do hit the trail, it’ll feel good to walk past a spot that we worked on and know that we contributed to making a little part of the world a better place.

Backpacker Editor in Chief Dennis Lewon speaking to the crowd at the Boulder National Trails Day event
Backpacker Editor in Chief Dennis Lewon speaking to the crowd at the Boulder National Trails Day event

So whether you’re curious about what this whole nature thing is about or you’re already an outdoors junkie, chances are there is a National Trails Day event tailored to your interest. There are gear demos, guided plant and wildlife hikes, wilderness skills and training—and it’s all free.

Although National Trails Day has passed, there are National Trails Day events all through June.

Find an event near you at www.nationaltrailsday.org.

Any Season Overnighter: Opal Creek Wilderness, Oregon (family friendly)

I’m finally getting around to writing up about some hikes in 2014, and one of the most memorable happened on a cold, rainy mid-October day in Central Oregon. I was visiting my good friend, Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa, and our original plan had been to hike the Timberline Trail, but 50 mph winds and rain that resulted in swelling of Big Sandy River and the other creeks made us change our minds to the good-in-any-weather Opal Creek Wilderness: the largest intact stand of old growth trees (500-1,000 year old trees are not uncommon) in the Cascades.

 

When we pulled up to the Opal Creek trailhead, the parking lot was fairly crowded—with good reason. The trail itself starts with three miles of wide, family-friendly, easy-graded former gravel road to a rustic, adorable eco-friendly camp (the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center) that provides organic, vegetarian meals and adorable housing. For those with kids or family members who want to overnight in the woods, but don’t want a long hard walk or to carry a backpack, the hike to the Center may be the most perfect overnighter in the world.

On the way to the camp, we passed multiple brilliant blue swimming holes and cascades that would have begged a swim had it not been October. Not far from the Opal Creek camp is Opal Pool, a turquoise cascade, with an ideally placed bridge over it to take photos.

Though I knew Opal Creek would be beautiful, what intrigued me the most about the Opal Creek Wilderness was its history. Two miles up the trail at Jawbone flats, hikers walk past remnants of an old milling plant. It’s humbling to look at these huge metal forces of manmade-ness standing alongside the forest, which is slowly taking over the old plant. Together, they give a beauty to Opal Creek that is haunting.

The most striking history of Opal Creek, though, is its battleground status during the logging debates of 1990s. In 1993, a logging company applied for a permit with the Forest Service to log old growth forest in Opal Creek area. Environmentalists, in protest, chained themselves to trees and lived in trees.

Eventually the place was saved and in 1996, all privately held land in the area was turned into the Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Recreation area, and the Elkhorn River that runs through it was designated a Wild and Scenic River. To learn more about Opal Creek’s history, check out David Seideman’s Showdown at Opal Creek: the Battle for America’s Last Wilderness.

Opal Creek is the setting for another favorite story of mine: In January 2013, Allgood set aside a weekend to hike in Opal Creek with some friends, but at the last minute, found that he was the only person who could make it. He headed off nonetheless with his four-footed companion, Karluk. Unexpectedly, Allgood rolled his ankle, and years of backcountry medical training came back to warn him that this was bad. He knew he had to get to the car back. Yet the trail was covered in blowdowns. Karluk knew something was wrong, and Allgood says that he guided him through the blowdowns, waiting as the injured hiker hobbled along. As Allgood hobbled 20 miles on steep, wet, raviney, rooty, rocky terrain, Karluk provided companionship and encouragement. To read the story in Allgood’s own words, check out his amazing story of his dog’s backcountry skills and faithfulness.

Allgood and my trip to Opal Creek was his first time back since he broke his ankle, and while it was fun, it was not without trouble. After a climb up to Thunderhead Mountain, a rocky and windy summit that used to house a lookout tower, Allgood and I took a side-trail to a spring, setting our packs down by the intersection. When we returned to our packs, however, some local residents were not so happy about our pack placement: Allgood and Karluk was attacked by wasps. I escaped their wrath by running away. Allgood concluded, “Every time I come to Opal Creek, it shows me that it hates me because I’m in the lumber business.”

Although we packed gear and had every intention of turning Opal Creek into an overnighter, towards the end of the day, we had no luck finding a flat spot to camp. As we continued on our path, searching for campspots by headlamp, we realized we were ¼ mile from the car. Pretty soaked from the day’s adventures, we opted to head back to the heated car and hit up a Dairy Queen. Nonetheless, I felt humbled and honored to walk in the presence of not only such great trees, but in the footsteps of those who worked to save such a magical place.

All the good photos in here were taken by Allgood.

2015 Year In Review

 

From desert, to rain forest, to alpine, to rock, 2014 brought me to familiar, beloved landscapes and new territories. This year challenged me and gave me new skills. Here are some photo highlights of my year.

January: Moab Canyonlands and Arches Trip, Utah
January: Moab Canyonlands and Arches Trip, Utah
Almost Feb: Outdoor Retailer Winter 2014 with beloved hikers, Salt Lake City, UT
Almost Feb: Outdoor Retailer Winter 2014 with beloved hikers, Salt Lake City, UT
March: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. AZ and UT. Photo by Rob Kelly of <a href="http://qiwiz.net/">QiWhiz</a>
March: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. AZ and UT. Photo by Rob Kelly of QiWhiz
April: Trans Adirondack Route, Upstate New York.
April: Trans Adirondack Route, Upstate New York.
May: Volunteering with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition on the Southern Terminus shuttle to bring 100 hikers, including the Warrior Hikers shown here, to the CDT. Silver City, NM
May: Volunteering with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition on the Southern Terminus shuttle to bring 100 hikers, including the Warrior Hikers shown here, to the CDT. Silver City, NM
Desolation Wilderness/Crystal Range Traverse with Sierra Club Fastpackers. California. Photo by Brian Gunney.
Desolation Wilderness/Crystal Range Traverse with Sierra Club Fastpackers. California. Photo by Brian Gunney.
June: Tahoe Rim Trail Personal Record, California
June: Tahoe Rim Trail Personal Record, California
June/July: Pioneered the Chinook Trail horseshoe traverse of the Columbia River Gorge, OR/WA with Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and Brian “Tomato” Boshart.
June/July: Pioneered the Chinook Trail horseshoe traverse of the Columbia River Gorge, OR/WA with Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and Brian “Tomato” Boshart.
June/July: Urban Thru-hike of San Francisco
June/July: Urban Thru-hike of San Francisco
August/September: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks, OR to Canadian Border
August/September: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks, OR to Canadian Border
September: Humphrey’s Basin Loop, Eastern Sierras, and White Mountains trip. Photo by Alejandro Pinnick.
September: Humphrey’s Basin Loop, Eastern Sierras, and White Mountains trip. Photo by Alejandro Pinnick.

 

September: A wonderful opportunity to speak to my peers at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Annual Gathering at Stampede Pass, WA. Photo by Jeff Kish.
September: A wonderful opportunity to speak to my peers at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Annual Gathering at Stampede Pass, WA. Photo by Jeff Kish.

 

October: Wonderland Trail with Malto, Bobcat, and Swami. Photo by Cam “Swami Honan.
October: Wonderland Trail with Malto, Bobcat, and Swami. Photo by Cam “Swami Honan.
November: Colorado Trail is still clear of snow!
November: Colorado Trail is still clear of snow!
December: The Denver-area thru-hikers reconnected with each other to put together weekly hikes.
December: The Denver-area thru-hikers reconnected with each other to put together weekly hikes.

Mushroom Trip Report

Lobster mushrooms and golden chanterelles
Lobster mushrooms and golden chanterelles

I’ve done some hiking, and done some eating, but never before has hiking actually yielded me more food than I started the trip with!

This fall, I went on my first mushroom forage with mycologist extraordinaire Lara from Portland, OR. I had always imagined mushroom foraging to be like hiking, except taking breaks here and there to pick some fungi. In fact, mushroom foraging is very different. I learned a lot on this trip, and got a taste of a new outdoor hobby with as many quirks, rules, and advice as any outdoor activity I know.

The amazing mushroomologist, Lara
The amazing mushroomologist, Lara

Lara drove us out to a top secret location in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. After a mile on-trail, it was obvious that other foragers had been through recently as the path was lined with the abandoned stems of numerous mushrooms.  Not discouraged, we hopped off trail and hit the slopes. The bushwhacking in Pacific Northwest forests was steep and brushy, but, much as in hiking, it was amazing how just getting a little bit off the beaten path can be so rewarding.

A mushroom foraging trip is a great excuse to get outdoors in the fall
A mushroom foraging trip is a great excuse to get outdoors in the fall

I quickly learned that mushroom foraging is a forest adventure not steeped in making miles! We walked in many circles and often chose the path of most resistance. Lara advised us that mushrooms tend to prefer the wetter southern facing slopes, so off we tromped up and down hills, with no care for where point A or point B were.

Can you find the mushroom in this photo?
Can you find the mushroom in this photo?

At first, it was hard to spot the chanterelles, which popped up timidly from thick old man’s beard moss and pine needles. Once one of us spotted a mushroom patch, though, we all searched the area below. Lara explained that mushrooms reproduce through spores which tend to move downhill. Mushrooming, just like thru-hiking, has its own fascinating etiquette and one of the “rules” of the hobby is that after finding a patch, a forager should leave behind a goodly amount so that the mushrooms will continue to sustain themselves.

Mushrooming requires getting creative with your cross country travel
Mushrooming requires getting creative with your cross country travel

Once we found mushrooms, Lara explained that we should harvest the fungi by slicing the stem cleanly at an angle above the buds of newly forming mushrooms, aka the “babies”. Pulling a mushroom completely from the ground messes with the underground mushroom network, reducing the chances that new mushrooms will appear in the future.

Suzy, Lara, Suzy’s boyfriend, and I celebrate our mushroom haul
Suzy, Lara, Suzy’s boyfriend, and I celebrate our mushroom haul

It was especially easy to find the bright red and aptly named Lobster Mushroom, which creepily is not actually a mushroom, but a parasitic fungus that eats other mushrooms! Unfortunately, the hot temperatures and lack of rain the Pacific Northwest had been experiencing rendered many of the Lobsters a little too squishy and stinky to pick, but we still found enough for our friend Allgood to cook up two batches of glorious Hungarian Mushroom soup. Surprisingly, we hauled in more of the rare white chanterelles than the common golden chanterelles, which Allgood fried up with butter, onions, and eggs for a mind-blowingly great breakfast.

You can order chanterelles and scrambled eggs at fancy restaurants, but they’ll never give you THIS many mushrooms!

What I love about hiking is moving with purpose, and mushroom foraging is moving with purpose as well—just with the goal of collecting fungi as possible instead of amassing miles. This trip gave me a small taste of the rabbit hole that is mushroom foraging and it is clear that there is a library’s worth of information to learn. I greatly look forward to next season when I can further partake in this hobby.

Have you ever been on a mushroom foraging trip?

Urban Hiking Denver with Walk2Connect

<a href="www.walk2connect.com">Walk2Connect </a>hikers explore the Denver area as urban hikers.
Walk2Connect hikers explore the Denver area as urban hikers.

Since urban hiking Los Angeles last year was, I hadn’t ever really gotten around to urban hiking back at home in Denver. Sure, I did a lot of in town walking, but I ambled for transportation and not as part of a hiking group. This weekend, that viewpoint changed when I met with Jonathan Stalls from Denver’s Walk2Connect, an organization geared towards changing how people think about pedestrianism. In 2010, Jonathan walked for 8.5 months from Delaware to San Francisco with his dog as part of KivaWalk. He took the lessons he learned from that journey to create Walk2Connect, a Denver-based group that leads urban walking adventures. Despite extreme weather over this “long distance” urban walk, I learned a bit about how walking in the city can be used to connect people to self, place, and others.

We’re ready to set off on this adventure!
We’re ready to set off on this adventure!

Although originally 17 people signed up for the excursion, temperatures in the 20s kept all but the bravest warm at home. Our trip started at a Denver-landmark, the independent bookstore Tattered Cover. After meandering through downtown and crossing the pedestrian bridge over the South Platte River, we caught a few more hikers who met us at the bikeshare station in front of Denver’s enormous flagship REI. From here, we headed on a 13 mile Platte River trail to the historic town of Littleton.

When construction closes down roads, planners always designate well-signed reroutes for cars to get back on track. When bike paths or sidewalks get closed down, though, these closures can be especially inconvenient. A break in the route around 6th avenue led us into residential and industrial parts of the city. We wandered for more than a mile to get back on route. At one time, we realized the path continued on the other side of the river with no pedestrian-accessible bridge in sight.

Despite the cold, we warmed up with walking and camaraderie.
Despite the cold, we warmed up with walking and camaraderie.

This detour may have been a bummer if we were in a car, but at 3 miles per hour, we had time to appreciate how the city transitioned away from the commercial and residential parts of downtown. We could afford to notice the colorful murals vivifying industrial buildings. We were treated to the aromas of large scale bakeries.

Back on the path, we spotted riparian wildlife of the South Platte unfazed by the weather.  Using birding guides, we identified great blue herons, buffleheads, and the ever present Canada goose. Soon, snow started coming down hard on us, but we were warm from the walking. It was invigorating to explore the city in such weather and to have the path to ourselves.

Serenity can be found in the city if you know where to look.
Serenity can be found in the city if you know where to look.

The best part of the Walk2Connect experience was getting to meet new people and talk in a relaxed, low pressure atmosphere while enjoying the beauty of the city. As we finished our walk at the famous Littleton breakfast café, Toast, I felt a bit like we were all on a team that went on a long, snow-filled adventure. Our waitress had noticed us walking earlier that day and it was neat to share our adventure with her.

Before this hike, somehow, the distance between Denver and Littleton had seemed vastly larger in my mind because I had only ever taken that trip by car. Indeed, I would have guessed the distance between the start and end point as 25 miles. Walk2Connect allowed me to realize with others how small and linked the city actually is. I look forward to exploring new places in Denver with them soon.

 

Canyonlands Winter Slickrock Fest

Barefoot Jake jumps skirts the red rock after a pass
Barefoot Jake jumps skirts the red rock after a pass

This is Part 2 on unreal winter dayhikes on Moab. To see Part 1 on hiking to a 17-foot long snake pictograph, click here.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve been to Moab more than a few times, but until this January, never made it out to the epically-sized Canyonlands National Park. This time around, I learned there is a reason: although it is the largest national park in Utah, Canyonlands is the least visited. The park in the winter, I discovered, is a time of extreme seclusion. After miles of seeing no cars, a group of unfazed hikers and I reached the unguarded entrance gate to the park and popped by the closed visitor center (luckily the bathrooms were unlocked!). Lawton ‘Disco’ Grinter, Barefoot Jake, Will Rietveld, Grant Sible, Trinity Ludwig and her friend Erin and I were about to enter 337,598 acres of desert slickrock and have it all to ourselves.

Towers feature many features of weathered rock. Erin gives good perspective on their massiveness.
Towers feature many features of weathered rock. Erin gives good perspective on their massiveness.

Even if I were just a car tourist, the Needles District of Canyonlands is stunning. Multi-colored towers of Cedar Mesa sandstone loom over the roadways. The Needles District has over 60 miles of primitive trails on icy slickrock—but even these were an improvement on our cross country scrambling route in Behind the Rock Wilderness Study Area the previous day. We were stoked to walk on maintained trail for a bit complete with stone stairs and cairns.

I was amazed formations like this could exist surrounded by soft soil and almost a meadow.
I was amazed formations like this could exist surrounded by soft soil and almost a meadow.

 

Our trail took us into open pinyon flats surrounded by turrets of red, brown, and white. After a lunch break at a sunny campsite, we wandered into slickrock ravines and skirted the edge of massive formations of multi-layered sandstone. Often, we would hug overhanging cliffs, posing a challenge to our taller group members.

Grant Sible, with a height of 6’3″ or 4″ , had to duck for parts of this hike
Grant Sible, with a height of 6’3″ or 4″ , had to duck for parts of this hike

Our route passed hidden slot-canyon caves and sometimes required a full body chimney through rock tunnels.

Grant and Barefoot Jake do a bit of chimneying though a narrow cave we tunneled through on our hike.
Grant and Barefoot Jake do a bit of chimneying though a narrow cave we tunneled through on our hike.

We left one valley into another over a pass only accessible by ladder. Soon, the snow-peaked La Salle mountains painted our horizon.

The snow-covered La Salle Mountains seem a world a way from this desert slickrock
The snow-covered La Salle Mountains seem a world a way from this desert slickrock

The sketchiest part of the hike, by far, was sneaking up icy slick rock pour offs. We would gingerly creep up steep slabby sandstone, following the path of frozen-over baby waterfalls. Then would come the mini-roof where we needed to commit our body and our feet to a ledge that we couldn’t see. Last year, a woman died slumping up onto this icy shelf where she slipped and toppled down a hundred feet of slab rock.

Sketchy icy downclimbing on frozen slab upped the adventure factor on any otherwise well-marked hike.
Sketchy icy downclimbing on frozen slab upped the adventure factor on any otherwise well-marked hike.

We ventured over a few more icy slick rock passes. Don’t slip, don’t slip, don’t slip, I told myself. As I carefully heel-toed my way across one of these, my chapstick fell from my pocket, tumbling to the ledge below. I wasn’t about to leave a manmade object in the wilderness, but really would be bummed with myself if I died trying to get some lip balm. I downclimbed an even icier section of steep slab, raising questions from my companions. “I dropped something!” I called out as I gratefully captured my lost treasure, and continued on the slick rock trail.

Trinity stares off into the expanse of desert scenery
Trinity stares off into the expanse of desert scenery

The last part of our trip took us to a wide, sandy wash. During some parts of the year, this gulch must fill with water—in fact, part of our trip along it had us walking on a skating rink of thin ice. Here, we were able to bust out good speed on solid, well marked trail all the way to the Campground parking lot.

The scenery in Canyonlands is very different than Barefoot Jake’s home in Olympic National Park, Washington.
The scenery in Canyonlands is very different than Barefoot Jake’s home in Olympic National Park, Washington.

What struck me the most about the Needles is that so many mindblowing formations could be found in one system of trails. For a relatively well-marked national park path way, I felt technically challenged, scenically gifted, and highly rewarded. I can’t wait to return to this section of the Canyonlands again, hopefully to do a bit of backpacking and exploring more of the amazing features that are out there.

Moab Trip to the Solstice Snake

A secret cross-country route near Moab will lead to this magnificant 17-foot pictograph
A secret cross-country route near Moab will lead to this magnificant 17-foot pictograph

For fair-weathered hikers like myself, finding a sweet winter dayhike relatively free of snow and big on scenery can sometimes be a hard task. This January, instead of making my winter trip to Henry Coe State Park in California, I hit up Moab, Utah. Well known as a mountain-biking and 4-wheeling mecca, it’s the closest town to Arches and Canyonlands National Park and winter weather can be sunny and in the 40s—in essence, perfect conditions for a pack of hooligan hikers to go tromping (in a Leave No Trace kind of way) in the unexplored backcountry.

Trinity and Erin do some stretching
Trinity and Erin do some stretching

We met up with Will Reitveld, a seasoned desert explorer of the Utah wilds who let us in on some of his favorite Moab secrets. After dropping a car at a parking lot at the Hidden Valley Trailhead, we started the hike off a dirt road along the Colorado River. With less than five minutes of uphill walking (a reprieve from the below-freezing temperatures of the morning) and a bit of rock scrambling, we emerged at a wall of 11th-13th century pictograph from the Fremont or Anasazi people (I can’t remember which—can anyone help me here?)

Pictograph of mountain goats or elk
Pictograph of mountain goats or elk

Since this was a relatively big snow year in Moab, much slush and ice remained on our cross country route, adding a bit to the navigational challenge. Our next big trial was downclimbing icy slick rock in a shady canyon.

Trinity downclimbs an icy chute
Trinity downclimbs an icy chute

After crossing a dirt road, we entered the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area above the cliffs of the western crest of Moab Valley. Known for Navajo sandstone domes and being unvegetated (60% of Behind the Rocks has no plants at all!), the navigationally savvy traveler gets 12,635 acres of mazed slot canyons all to herself.

 

A long, slow, uphill through a web of narrow ravines led us to a dead-end: we were at the bottom of a pour off with a 15 foot cliff before us. It was rock climbing time.

 

Time to rope up
Time to rope up

Once we were over the pour-off, we continued to ascend to the pass between domes. Dodging willow branches lodged at the bottom of slot canyons and navigating narrow snow-covered ledges, we emerged at a stunning sunny look-out point—the top of a cliff with a steep drop several hundred feet vertically below us.

As Barefoot Jake artistically strove to take the best shot of the group, he walked on the edge of a cliff. Moving towards the edge, he nonchalantly called: “Does this cliff out below me asked?” “YES! DON’T KEEP GOING!” we all exclaimed!
As Barefoot Jake artistically strove to take the best shot of the group, he walked on the edge of a cliff. Moving towards the edge, he nonchalantly called: “Does this cliff out below me asked?” “YES! DON’T KEEP GOING!” we all exclaimed!

After a cold day of trudging through the snow and walking on icy shelves, it was a relief to emerge at our destination: the Solstice Snake. A 17-foot long pictograph, dating to the 11th to 13th century. I had to wonder: why did the ancient people put it here? Why in a place so inaccessible and so far away from water? Above the snake on a ledge that truly could only have been reached by a great rock climber was another pictograph of a person. (Please note that if you do go to the snake, please be respectful and do not take anything and be careful sharing directions as many people consider it a secret and special place.) Nearby, there were some drawings of figures that looked a little like aliens…

Disco examines some ancient aliens
Disco examines some ancient aliens

Sometimes on a hike, I get to a point where I think, “Wait—we’re not really going to go over that next, are we?” That’s how I felt about a fin—a 100 foot slab of sandstone I would have put at a rock climbing metric level of 3rd class. Sure enough, we went up and over…

Going up the steep slab fin
Going up the steep slab fin

And then down…

 

Barefoot Jake tackles a sketchy downclimb
Barefoot Jake tackles a sketchy downclimb

The day ended with a descent down from the Behind the Rocks WSA to our car near Highway 191. Just driving 191, one might look at the cliffs out of Moab and think there is no way up them without a rope (or a big dose of courage). Will found a small, steep gulley of reasonably not-loose rocks and a good share of snow where we could descend. It was a bit dicey for a crew of seven to go down all in a line, but we experienced minimal rockfall.

Walking an icy ledge
Walking an icy ledge

We were pretty relieved to hit a slippery, windy trail for the last mile back to the car ready for more great winter dayhiking!

Do you have a favorite winter day hike?