SCOUT Epic, Day Two (August 6)

On the morning of day 2 of my roadtrip, I woke up early (about 6am) and packed up camp so that I could head to the dunes. I didn’t end up going all the way to “High Dune”, since I wanted to get moving, and wasn’t really hanging around for that long. I’d like to go back and try going for a hike deeper into the dunes though, maybe even camp in there. Camping would be tough just because you’ve got to carry everything, and hike through sand.

After the dunes I headed east through Monte Vista, on my way up to Crested Butte. I stopped off at North Clear Creek Falls (apparently Colorado’s most-photographed waterfall) to stretch my legs and take a look, it was pretty impressive. Rio Grande National Forest also looked pretty amazing, and I’d love to get back there and spend some more time on the river/in the park. Between the dunes and Crested Butte, I got a surprise when I came across a small group of guys on horses, in full Civil War regalia, riding down the side of the road. They were part of some sort of small town fair, but I hadn’t seen that yet. I also saw a dude dancing on the side of the road with headphones on, totally rocking out. It was a very Napoleon Dynamite moment. Here are some shots from along the way:

When I turned up in Crested Butte, I quickly realized a few things. First of all, CB is small. Like, tiny. Secondly, there was an arts festival going on (which shut down the main street of town) and thirdly, that Saturday night, in summer, is a bad time to turn up and hope to find some “last minute” accommodation. Being a cute little mountain town, it’s completely overrun on weekends. I called around all over the place, and the only accommodation I could find was a bed in a shared room in a hostel. Oh well, at least it had access to a shower.

Since I was a bit early for check-in, I went for a walk through town (and through the art festival), and grabbed some much-needed lunch at The Last Step. Then I could check in, so I went to get a quick shower (glorious), and claim a bed. I also met Kelsey, who was staying at the same hostel, and works for the Forest Service. We ended up hanging out in the afternoon and getting drinks/food together, since we were both rolling solo. We went to Montanya Rum (delicious cocktails), Brick Oven Pizza, and The Dogwood Cocktail Cabin.

After a few drinks, and another long day, it was time for a quick shower (just because I could), and then crashing in my dorm room.

SCOUT Epic, Day One (August 5)

On the first day of the trip, I wanted to head south through Deckers to go fishing, and then get down to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The fishing in Deckers turned out not to be too great (and it was drizzling), but it was beautiful nonetheless. The water was also a lot colder than I expected, so I really should have brought my waders/boots so that I could have gotten out there properly.

From there, I took 67 and 24 down to Colorado Springs, and then I25 all the way down to Walsenburg. I was going to grab something “local”, but things seemed to be pretty shut/quiet, and I ended up just grabbing a burger at Carl’s Jr (barf) before heading out again. Heading west on 160 (some beautiful scenery along here), and then north on 150 took me to the Great Sand Dunes, which were super impressive. This is where I picked up my “America The Beautiful” pass, so now I have no excuse not to get out to more parks/forests etc.

I had originally planned to hike in the afternoon, and then camp at Zapata Falls Campground, which is a few miles outside of the dunes. When I talked to the rangers at the park though, they suggested that since I had a high-clearance 4WD (yay new Ranger!), I should head up Medano Pass Primitive Road a bit, where there are a bunch of first-come-first-serves campsites. I got there later than planned, so I was going to be hiking the dunes in the morning anyway, so this made a lot more sense (coming back that way already).

To be honest I was a bit nervous about heading up this road, because I’d read a little about it, and it sounded like some pretty serious 4WD-ing. I hadn’t even turned the knob to make sure the 4WD worked on the Ranger, and definitely hadn’t taken it off-road. I was also driving alone, and didn’t feel super prepared for if things got ugly (no winch, no high-jack, etc etc). But… YOLO. So I headed off, and it turned out to be relatively fine; some good mud, some sand, a couple of small creek crossings and I was into my campsite (site #0, right after you technically leave the park, just over 5 miles in on the road).

I initially grabbed a campsite a little further up the road, but after fatbiking up and down to the next creek crossing, I decided to come back to the the very first one, which was more protected and looked nicer. It was a pretty awesome campsite, although it had been raining pretty heavily (and continued drizzling) there, so everything was wet. Getting a fire going was pretty tedious and involved a lot of stoking and blowing. Eventually I got something to hold a flame though (albeit with a bunch of smoke), which gave me something to do in the dusk hours.

Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area Adventure

As chance would have it, in the weeks leading up to my Colorado River canoe trip, I managed to hitch onto another canoe trip. This one was a little more “extreme”. A group of us were going to Minnesota for a friend’s wedding, and so the plan was to get there early, drive up to the Minnesota Boundary Waters, and head out into them on canoes for a 4 day/3 night adventure. Apart from this being the first time I’d flown into a different state to go camping, I’d also be going with 4 people I’d never camped with, and canoeing into very, very remote wilderness, where we had to portage our canoe between lakes, and were beyond the reach of motorized vehicles of any kind (let alone cell phone reception).

TL;DR: It was an amazing trip, the BWCA is stunningly beautiful, and we all got along great, and had a fantastic time! Here are some highlights:

  • Day One (Monday July 25th)
    • Almost everyone else’s flights into MSP were delayed, which actually worked out OK, because it meant we all ended up landing at similar times (otherwise I would have landed a few hours later).
    • We grabbed our rental car, loaded everything in (whoah, 5 people + gear in a single SUV!), and drove up to Grand Marais.
    • Lake Superior is pretty incredible. The largest fresh-water lake on the planet, and apparently holds about 10% of the Earth’s fresh water!
    • That night we camped in Cascade River State Park, which is just outside Grand Marais. We got rained on a bit overnight and into the morning.
  • Day Two (Tuesday, first day in BWCA)
    • Drove into the Boundary Waters and got to our put-in point, Seagull Outfitters. After chatting with the folks there, we decided to try to get to Lake Ogishkemuncie (aka “Ogish”).
    • We headed off on Seagull Lake, and got turned around a bit in amongst all the small islands, so that instead of going along the North shore of Seagull Lake, we got South of Three Mile island, and effectively tracked the South shore of Seagull. Oops — mostly my bad.
    • Once we realized what we’d done, we got on track, and had a better sense for the scale of things IRL vs the map.
    • Our first portage was actually the longest one we’d have to do the entire trip, from Seagull into Alpine. It’s roughly 100 rods (portages are measured in “rods”, which are approximately equal to the length of a canoe). It was pretty flat, but there were some ugly muddy patches which made it a bit tricky. It’s also just rough carrying a canoe on your shoulders for any real distance.
    • Not too long after that we had another portage into Jasper. Since we were pretty tired at that point, and didn’t really want to attempt another two portages to get to Ogish, we decided to base camp at one of the campsites suggested by the folks at Seagull, on Jasper lake.
    • That turned out to be a great decision — awesome campsite, so we stayed there 2 nights.
    • The next morning we got a little more rain, but nothing too serious.
  • Day Three (Wednesday)
    • On Wednesday we decided to day-trip over to Ogish and finish what we started. We realized it would have been a really long day if we’d tried to get all the way there on the first day, especially having to portage all our gear. Since we were base-camped, our portages were much lighter/easier this time.
    • In the afternoon, Brandon and I tried our hand at fishing. My Tenkara rod didn’t yield anything, but he caught a smallmouth bass on his spinning rig (in addition to hooking himself pretty deep on the thumb!). We kept the fish and ate it that night.
    • I also managed to pick up a bunch of leeches on my feet, I think perhaps while I was fishing and standing in the shallows. I thought I remembered that you’re supposed to burn off, so I used a lighter and did that (Note: you’re not).
    • We slept at our basecamp again, and saw a little bit of the Northern Lights (green haze, some streaking). We also stayed up and checked out some amazing skies/stars, including a huge, clear view of the Milky Way.
  • Day Four (Thursday)
    • We needed to be able to get out of the Boundary Waters, and back to the Twin Cities relatively early on Friday, so we paddled back to Seagull and went looking for a good spot to camp there for the night. Our requirements were in Seagull Lake, past a certain point (closer to our take-out point), and on an island. After going past about 5 of our shortlisted spots and finding them all taken, we started getting a bit stressed out, but ended up finding a really fantastic spot on an island just off the south-west tip of Three Mile Island (which is itself within Seagull Lake).
    • Along the way, we foraged for blueberries and raspberries while portaging, and had a delicious healthy snack.
    • I managed to get more leeches. My guess is that they were actually camping out in my sandals, and that when I put them back on in the morning, they all just jumped on. Either that, or I’m just really unlucky.
    • In the afternoon, after setting up camp, Brandon and I went out with his spinning rod and each caught a fish! We had them both that night as well, combining three of my “bucket-list” items — going on a multi-day canoe camping trip, camping on and island on a lake, and cooking a fish that I caught over an open fire.
    • This night we were treated to another absolutely amazing sunset, and then the real spectacle — serious Northern Lights. We had all sorts of green glowing, streaks, flashes and swirls. It was absolutely stunning (even though I know it wasn’t remotely as intense as it gets sometimes).
  • Day Five (Friday)
    • Up early (about 6am) and pack everything up quickly so we could get on the water. There was some mist floating around when we set off which was pretty dramatic.
    • We paddled out within a few hours, got back to Seagull Outfitters and unloaded everything.
    • They have a shower-block, so we cleaned up a bit and loaded everything back into the SUV so that we could make the drive back down to the Twin Cities in time for a pre-wedding pool party!

This was definitely one of the most memorable trips I’ve been on, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. The Boundary Waters are a truly special place, and I hope we can maintain and protect them for years to come. I’d love to return for another trip there, and would hope that things were exactly the same as I left them.

Colorado River Canoe Adventure

This was my first ever canoe-camping adventure, and actually crossed something off my “bucket list” — going on a multi-day canoe-camping trip. I’ve kayaked a fair bit before, but have only been canoeing once or twice, and only on lakes, so in very calm water. For this trip, I was lucky enough to just tag along on something organized by Erika’s friend, Tom. He has actually done a very similar trip a few times before, so it was good to have someone who knew the score to point us in the right direction.

We rented canoes through Rimrock Adventures, so we put in at their location in Fruita, and had them pick us up and shuttle us back there (where we left our cars). I found camping in canoes really awesome, and it was closer to car camping than it was to backpacking, in that we could carry a lot of equipment (and beer), without it being a burden. Since we’d just paddle all day, then pull up to a beach-front campsite, we didn’t really need to carry things around much. We also didn’t even need to paddle that much, since the current of the river carried us a lot of the way. We actually had to watch our progress and make sure we weren’t going too fast, and pull over and take a break if we were! Unfortunately, at the last minute we found out there was a fire ban, so we had to keep our meals simple enough to be able to be prepared on a small stove. Bit of a bummer, but not much we could do about it.

The first night we camped at “Cottonwoods 4” campground, which turned out to be a mosquito breeding ground. It was pretty brutal. I’ve never been amongst so many/such aggressive mosquitoes. I don’t even normally get bothered too much, and they attacked me. Others (including Erika) got absolutely mauled. We had to dash back and forth to the tents/waterfront, to try to avoid the worst of it, and all ended up turning in pretty early just to escape to the safety of our tents. That day was our first on the water, and we saw a bald eagle aerial-dogfighting with another bird, battled some crazy canyon-windtunnel-headwinds, and lounged around in camping chairs literally in the river.

Up early the next day, quick breakfast, and bail out from mosquito-town. We got moving, all hoping that our campsite that night was less painful. As it turns out, it definitely was, although it was a bit of a challenge to actually get to. Tom had warned us that it involved some technical paddling to get there, just because you had to make some quick maneuvers across some small whitewater and fast-moving current. I think we were all freaking out a little bit, and so we scouted ahead, figured out exactly how we were going to tackle it, and then headed in, one boat at a time. It was well worth it. Such an amazing campsite. We had our own private, beautiful, sandy beach. Earlier in the day, we also saw an Amtrack train (the line runs right down in the canyon, next to the river) which was pretty fun. Apart from some wind around dusk (my tent blew away and rolled up the hill before I had it staked down!) there was absolutely nothing to complain about at this site. It was gorgeous.

On the last morning, we got moving and kept heading downriver. Towards the end of paddle-time (noon-ish) is when we got into some really flat/open, boring landscape. It was pretty amazing how different it felt to the breathtaking canyons of most of the previous 2 days. We found the take-out, unloaded, waited for our shuttle back to Fruita, then squared up, packed the cars, and headed back to Denver.

I had an amazing time, and it really set me up for my next adventure, a multi-day canoe adventure in the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area (more on that soon).

Colorado River Canoe Trip

Thanks Caltopo for the custom map!

Camping in Worthington State Forest, New Jersey

Over the weekend, Erika and I went (car) camping with friends Pedro and Genny at Worthington State Forest campground. While it was pretty horribly cold (got down to 27 degrees on the first night!) we had a great time. We got ourselves together and left on Friday night, grabbing a Cracker Barrel dinner along the way. We arrived at the campground at around 10:30pm.

When we got there, someone else was in our (reserved) spot — pretty sure they were just squatting their way around without paying for any spots. Rather than deal with moving them, we told them they could stay, but had to be out tomorrow morning. We got our tents set up and I got a fire started to warm us up. It was pretty brutally cold that night, so we needed it! Since we were kind of amped to be there, we ended up staying up until about 1am around the fire chatting.

The next morning we got up and and had breakfast (bagels with cream cheese, lox and capers), made some lunch to have on the trail then set off on our hike. I picked up a copy of the Kittatinny Trails maps from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference; they make really good quality maps (tyvek, waterproof/tear resistant, nice detail, topo) in advance so that we knew where we were going. Here’s the trail we took (snapped from Map 120 of that map series):

Worthington State Forest Hike

We stopped for lunch a little ways onto the Appalachian trail (the white section), and also took breaks at the intersection of Appalachian/Douglas, and at Sunfish Pond. Note the white “tail” to the right of Sunfish Pond? Yeah we overshot our turn-off and took a while before we believed it and turned around. Oops 🙂 It was a really nice hike, with beautiful fall colors and some good elevation climb. The hike back down Garvey Springs (Orange) was pretty rough (steep), and we had a few ankle/knee complaints (because we’re old!)

I had Moves running most of the time, and according to it, we covered 20 km that day (all day, so includes a bit of stumbling around the campground). The camp spot we had (site 003) was pretty nice, although the fire ring was really tall, so it blocked a lot of the heat and light from the fire, which was annoying. I don’t think they bothered burying it at all. The grounds had nearby pit toilets, and there was a shower/sink block not too far away (which we just ended up driving to, since it was cold).

I’d really like to get back to this campground in the summer and check it out — maybe rent a canoe and try out one of the canoe-camping spots on one of the islands in the Delware River!