Tuesday, December 26, 2006

12/6-10/2006: Big Bend National Park, TX

Day 1 (12/6)- I got off work at noon and came home to finish last minute packing. Our original plan was for Wyatt and I to spend the long weekend biking around the park. I saw the weather report was calling for a chance of ice so at the last minute I tossed the kid carrier in
the truck in case we decided to make a run on the high country for some snow. Wyatt had repeatedly been asking to see some snow on this trip, but I had to explain to him that we were headed to the desert and would not get to see snow on this trip. I did not mention the remote chance of getting to see some frosty weather. We arrived at the Basin around 10:30. After setting up the tent Wyatt decided he wanted to sleep "under the sky" instead. We tossed out our sleeping bags next to the tent.

Day 2 (12/7)-Morning dawned cloudy and cool. We cooked oatmeal and loaded up the gear, bound for the Basin Ranger Station. In talking to the couple manning the desk we discovered there was a "sixty percent chance of some ice". We decided to risk and got our permits for SW2 backcountry site. According to the folks there, there was only one other group with backcountry permits so far. We unpacked the bike trailer and threw gear and rations into the kid carrier. I asked Wyatt if he wanted to ride or walk. He decided to ride. In between him and our gear and water, the pack weighed in at nearly 80 lbs (I weigh 155!). As we climbed up towards Laguna Meadows clouds began pouring into the Basin through Panther Pass. I finally coaxed Wyatt into walking the last set of switchbacks before cresting the small pass into the meadows by telling him I would sing him Christmas carols. My shoulders were able to enjoy a brief rest. As we climbed the wind began to pick up and clouds began tumbling down into the Meadow. The temperature began creeping into the mid to upper 30's. Finally around 4 we made it up to the campsite. We had not seen a soul on our trek. By this time we were socked in by fog and the wind was really picking up out of the northeast. It began misting with some intermittent sleet. We cooked a quick dinner of Spanish rice and tuna steaks and zipped ourselves into the tent. In case this just ended up being rain, or worse yet, sleet, I moved all of our gear except the food into the tent with us to keep it dry. This made for some cramped quarters in the ancient A-frame. We lay in bed reading "A Most Singular Country" (I had forgotten to toss in Wyatt's kids books into the pack) and listening to rain and sleet on the rain fly.

Day 3- I had prayed that we would get to see some snow. Friday morning I held my breath and unzipped the tent door. Wyatt's smile was spectacular as we looked outside. We cooked breakfast and I turned Wyatt loose to play in the snow. His first action was to run out and clean off the bear box, followed by pelting me with snowballs. While he played I took down camp. Finally around 11 we started back down. He decided he would walk this time, but changed his mind as he figured out he couldn't see the rocks beneath the snow. We walked through a fantastic Madrean
winter wonderland. Wyatt has been on several overnight snowshoe trips in the Rockies, but I have never heard him as delighted by the wintry backcountry as this trip. We progressed down the mountain making much better time on our way down than up. After heading out of Laguna Meadow we were treated to a spectacular snowy view of the Basin. As we descended the snow began rapidly melting. In fact the Basin itself appeared to be free of snow. Around 2 we made it back to the Basin. We headed into the ranger station and secured permits for the Glenn Springs 2 site and began climbing out of the Basin. At Panther Pass we were again treated to spectacular
winter weather and dense fog. The fog and snow stayed with us all the way down until about 3600 ft in elevation. mulations of wet snow fell from the trees as we headed into the warmer air down below. We made it to our site and set up camp. We made bean burritos for dinner and turned in to continued cloudy, cold skies and views limited by the shroud of fog in the mountains.

Day 4 (12/9)- Saturday dawned to more of the same in terms of cloud cover and cool temperatures. We decided to bike up Glenn Springs Road and out to Panther Junction. I loaded Wyatt into the bike trailer and we
started pedaling north over the slightly muddy roads. About 4.5 miles into the the ride I heard one of the trailers tires making a little noise. I stopped to find that we had blown a tire. I pulled out a spare tube and got ready to pull out the irons and my mini pump when I realized that I had never attached them to the bike! We limped back to the site on a blown tire as I mentally kicked myself. We got back to the truck and changed the tire. Rather than try to repeat the trip I loaded the bike and trailer into the truck and we drove out to Rio Grande Village via the River Road. Parking at the ranger station we biked west to Hot Springs where Wyatt got to compare the temperature of the cold river water to the springs. We then biked west another 5 miles before we turned around and coasted back to the truck. Dinner at the picnic area was followed by a movie at the ranger station. We then made it back to the campsite around 8:30.

Day 5 (12/10)- Finally a desert sunrise! We spent time around camp before loading up the truck and heading back to Dimmitt

11/17-19/2006: Guadalupe Mountains, NM

Wyatt, Colter and I left Dimmitt around 6:45 bound for the Guadalupe Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest. Finally, around midnight, we had camp set up. We awoke Saturday morning to clear skies and a temperature in the mid 30's. We went for a short hike throught the upper reaches of Big Canyon before breakfast. After a breakfast of oatmeal I loaded the boys up in the truck and we drove the remaining quarter mile to the trailhead.

Big Canyon Ridge Trail is actually an old jeep track following its namesake ridge between the Middle and South Forks of Big Canyon. We started walking around 11:30. Our pattern for the next 2 hours was to walk for a few minutes, stop and rest, then repeat. Needless to say, the boys were not setting any land speed records.

We set up camp on a shelf with a fantastic view down into the Midddle Fork of Big Canyon. A mixed canopy of ponderosa, Alligator Juniper and occasional Douglas Fir shaded us. We spent the afternoon exploring and playing.

I took advantage of the calm winds and low fire danger to build a fire. I took two large pieces of limestone and joined them together. I propped both of them up on "legs" of small rocks so that each was elevated a few inches off the ground. Subsequently I built a small windbreak of rocks around on three sides. We were thus able to have a nice fire without even browning the grass beneath the rocks.

We cooked beef stew for dinner and spent the reaminder of the evening around the campfire. Colter actually fell asleep sitting up as I read to he and Wyatt. Soon after Colter fell asleep Wyatt announced he was tired and climbed into the tent. I read by the fire for another hour before turning in.

In typical form, Wyatt and Colter were up around 6:00 the next morning. We got up, lit the frire and watched the sun rise as the temperature warmed from the balmy upper 30's.

After breakfast I took down camp and we walked the 0.7 miles back to the truck. We folowed FR 307 through the upper reaches of Dark Canyon. It was very rough and a lot of fun. After some additional exploring around the area we turned north to head home.

10/9-10/2006: Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Jen, the boys and I arrived at Rocky a little after 10 in the morning. We proceeded to the backcountry office to pick up our permits. As it was the middle of the week in October we virtually had our pick of available backcountry sites. We chose the Old Forest Inn site on Fern Lake trail and drove out to the trailhead.

The drive to the trailhead was beautiful with fall colored aspen quaking in the breeze against a backdrop of snow dusted mountains. Despite the high number of available permits, we were far from the only car parked at the trailhead. While Wyatt and Colter played in the piles of fallen leaves, Jen and I loaded the packs.

Finally around noon we started out on the trail. The lower portions of the trail paralleled the Big Thompson River through a wide valley. Scattered stands of aspen illuminated the valley with their oranges and yellows. As this was to be Wyatt's first trip to walk the entire way by himself, we made slow progress.

We inched our way down the trail with frequent snack and rock-throwing breaks as we ascended the narrowing valley. Finally around 3:30 we made it to "The Pool". Wyatt and Colter found some horses that they imitated by stomping their feet before we started the short climb up to the campsite.

The Old Forest Inn site is named for a backcountry fishing lodge that existed on the site in the early 1900's. We chose our tent site and set up. After securing our food in the bear box (actually an old military ammo box) we got back on the trail to see Fern Falls.

Our plan was to keep a brisk pace to get up to the falls so there would be plenty of daylight left to cook by. I had Colter in the backpack carrier and Wyatt on my shoulders. The trail switchbacked up the mountains, necessitating occasional rest stops. At one of these stops Colter decided to get out of the backpack to walk. He kept up a great pace all the way to the falls.

We spent 10 minutes or so at the falls before heading back to camp. Once there we cooked dinner and I took each of the boys for a walk to get them settled down for bed. This was successful for Colter, but Wyatt and I had to lay outside watching the moon for about an hour before he succumbed to sleep.

Morning brought an unusually warm temperature in the low 40's and cloudy somewhat threatening skies. We cooked oatmeal for breakfast before breaking down camp and loading the packs. Intermittent rain showers helped to encourage Wyatt to keep a good pace as we descended. Wind stirring the aspen caused them to shed large amounts of leaves which Wyatt described as "leaf rain". We made it back to the truck around 1 and were treated to herds of bugling elk as we drove back out of the park.

About Me

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I'm a father to seven young children and a husband to my beautiful wife Jennifer. I work as a family physician in a small rural hospital in north central Idaho. We enjoy learning more about our Lord as we explore His creation.