Friday, September 24, 2010

Flash Flood

I just returned from the Glen Canyon NRA project where we are removing Russian olive trees from the main corridor of the Escalante River. I've been involved in this project since the mid-1990s, and really enjoy seeing the river cleared of this massively invasive alien. These trees kill the native species and crowd everything along the river's edge, hanging over the river and making travel along the river a painful experience. The trees have long needle-sharp red thorns.
Here are two shots of the river, before and after removal of the trees.We reached the 40-mile mark with this trip -- 40-miles of the river corridor have been cleared of the awful trees from the reservoir (Lake Powell) upriver. Follow-up trips every fall keep new starts and any regrowth in check.

On our day off, GLCA Ranger Bill Wolverton takes us on the most incredible dayhikes. I've been in tiny slot canyons, up scary Moki steps, up and down chimneys, learned all about canyoneering, visited remote arches, slithered through mud cracks, rinsed off in refreshing waterfalls, climbed sand dams and entered fern grottos. I can't wait for the next trip here in the spring.

Which brings me to to the title of this post: We are always watching the river while on these projects, and have witnessed several episodes of the water rising quickly and side channels flooding, even when the sky is clear. When it's raining, we are careful to keep all the volunteers on the side of the river where camp is located, but have had a couple of incidents where folks were trapped on the other side for a couple of hours or overnight waiting for the river to drop. We've had no injuries due to our diligence.

Wilderness Volunteers leader Curt Mobley has a story of a flash flood in Zion when he was hiking with this wife Ann Kruse a few years back that was told in the Sept 2010 issue of Sierra Magazine, and he's given us permission to share his story here (click on the picture to see the full image):

Sunday, September 19, 2010

By Foot and By Paddle - WV Heads to the Hills and the Water

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, CO (2010)

It's been a busy year for volunteer leaders Robin and Carter Bland, who have led four trips all across the country, ranging from the canyons of Utah to the mountains of New Hampshire. And they're not done yet, as they've just embarked on yet another trip to Maine's Acadia National Park. As you can imagine, all that hiking makes for plenty to write about. Here's Robin's report (and a recipe) from their latest adventures:

"Over a five week span this summer, I enjoyed two different and beautiful Wilderness Volunteers experiences. In late July, I participated in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness project led by Brian Bone and my husband, Carter Bland. We camped at 10,800 feet beneath spectacular jagged peaks and alongside huge meadows of wildflowers at peak bloom. Our work project was building check dams and waterbars on the West Maroon Pass trail between Crested Butte and Aspen. Each day, as we lunched amidst this glorious scenery, I thought there’s no better view at the best table in the finest restaurant! On Tuesday, a photographer from the Crested Butte News happened to hike by and stopped to take a photo of our crew. Later in the week, other hikers passing us on the trail mentioned that they had seen our picture in the paper - what great publicity for Wilderness Volunteers. On our day off, some of us hiked to Frigid Air pass, where we were rewarded by a fantastic view of the iconic Maroon Bells. Luckily, we reached the pass before any rumble of thunder - a daily occurrence in summer afternoons - could turn us back. It was a week enjoyed by novice backpackers and veterans alike."

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN (2010)

"A month later, I enjoyed a very different landscape when Carter and I led a WV crew to a beautiful corner of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in the Superior National Forest of northern Minnesota. The BWCAW comprises over one million acres of crystal clear lakes, sparkling streams, and boreal forest. After shuttling across Lake Vermillion in a US Forest Service power boat, we paddled our canoes across Trout and Pine Lakes to our basecamp where we set up for a week of portage trail maintenance and campsite rehab. One of our tasks was to build a stone staircase at the landing for our campsite. We were treated to gorgeous weather all week and, after work each day, were rewarded with a dip - or long swim for some - in the warm water. As for the legendary BWCAW mosquitoes and biting flies...they more or less left us in peace for the week. Loons and whippoorwills serenaded us each night as we sat by our campfire and watched the light of the full moon glisten across the water. It was a little bit of heaven."

Two beautiful trips, two different landscapes. Two great ways to Give Something Back.


Here is a recipe for a cereal/energy bar that was popular on both trips. Some ate it at breakfast; others took it to have alongside their lunch.

1 cup peanut butter
1 1/4 cup honey
4 cups Grape-Nuts cereal ( or use a generic barley nugget cereal)
1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1 cup raisins or craisins

Combine honey and peanut butter in saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients, mixing well.
Spread into a 9”X13” baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking oil (e.g. Pam). Use wax paper to press into pan and flatten it out. Cool in refrigerator for 30 minutes, cut into bars, and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Lights, Camera...Awesome!

I've enjoyed lots of incredible sights during my time in the woods with Wilderness Volunteers. Bull elk grazing along the Continental Divide. Mama moose and calf taking a dip in a mountain lake. Eagles soaring on high. Breathtaking sunsets and moonrises, and gorgeous views of peaks and valleys. Beautiful waterfalls, picturesque streams, and swimming holes that leave you with a smile. A week's worth of work knocked out in a matter of days. And total strangers transformed into lifelong friends in only a week's time.

It's what keeps me coming back.

But nothing I have seen over the last ten years could have prepared me for what I witnessed in Idaho's backcountry last month. Heads are still shaking, jaws still agape at the slightest mention of it. The display of sheer skill and athleticism was mesmerizing, unparalleled in the rest of the animal kingdom, and left me (and others) in disbelief.

I don't know how else to say it: we witnessed greatness.

Fortunately, the cameras were rolling. I could go on, but it's best you see for yourself.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Idaho's Sawtooths Revisited

Sawtooth Wilderness, ID (2010)

One of the numerous rewards of having been a Wilderness Volunteers leader for many years is working with the same people - both trip participants and agency personnel. Often on my trips, I will already know close to half the participants from having worked with them previously. I have also enjoyed the working relationships I have established with certain agency personnel in areas to which I have returned over the years as a trip leader, and in no place is this more so than in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in central Idaho.

I have been going to the Sawtooths since 1992, and I have been leading WV trips there since 2003. Since I began leading trips to the Sawtooths, I have come to know Liese Dean, the Wilderness Program Coordinator, and we have an easy and cordial working relationship. In 2004, I began working in the backcountry with Deb Peters, who not only packs in, with the help of some mules and horses, all the tools, commissary gear, and food but works with and guides the WV groups in various projects. I have felt fortunate in knowing these two individuals who are dedicated to preserving and maintaining the beautiful Sawtooth Wilderness. Their enthusiasm and love of the area is contagious and has been instrumental in my returning year after year to the Sawtooths.

This year’s trip was a special one for me because Liese and Deb honored me and my co-leader and wife, Bunny, with tangible recognition of our contribution in sweat equity to the Sawtooths. I was given a beautiful framed photograph of a lake high in the Sawtooths surrounded by mountains. Bunny received a much more practical but no less thoughtful gift of some Smokey Bear sleep bottoms. She proudly wore them each evening of the Sawtooth trip. My memento now has an honored place on a wall at home.

The trip was special for other reasons as well. John Kaye and his son Rob have been participating in the Sawtooth trip since 2004. John has been there every year, and having him along is like having a third unofficial leader. Rob hasn’t been on the trip every year, but when he is, I appreciate his strength, work ethic, and enthusiasm for the task at hand. I was especially happy to have veteran trip participants such as John and Rob on this trip because the work we did was not only technical in nature but difficult and strenuous. Luckily the entire crew was equally enthusiastic and hard working, making the week we spent in the backcountry one of the more pleasant and satisfying in recent memory.

Our work was on the Iron Creek Trail, the trail which leads to Sawtooth Lake, and is probably the most popular trail on the east side of the Sawtooths. The main project was rebuilding a section of shelf trail that was in danger of collapsing. Repairing this section of trail required a method known as cribbing. Cribbing involves placing a sturdy base of rocks below the trail tread by digging into the downhill side of the trail. Rocks are then added to this base until the structure reaches above the existing trail. The tread is then filled in. This method of trail building requires the use of large rocks which are of the appropriate size and shape. Five of us worked on a section of trail which was approximately thirty feet long. The cribbing base was in some parts about ten feet below the tread. The group dismantled and rebuilt the section in two and a half days. Other members of the group completed a smaller section of cribbing, removed rocks from the trail, widened the trail, built stone steps, cleared rubble from the trail, cut back tree branches, and generally improved the trail. Each day dozens of day hikers and a few backpackers came by as we worked; our group and the work we were doing became a showcase for what WV does.

Not only did this group work hard, but its members played hard and were a hardy group. Our campsite was at Alpine Lake, a small lake about a half mile from the main worksite. Each evening we reaped the benefits of lakeside camping by utilizing the lake for leisurely swims, fishing, and contemplative relaxation. One hardy soul took a chilly, early morning swim each day. On the free day, folks went fishing at other lakes, climbed nearby peaks, and hiked. No one stayed in camp. Camp chores got done quickly and often by someone who wasn’t even on duty. I was even brought freshly caught fish on more than one occasion, and I gladly prepared these treats as additional appetizers for the group. Thanks to all who helped make the 2010 Sawtooth trip one of the best ever.

Below is one of the dishes I prepared on this year’s trip.

Vegetarian Curry

4 cups Dried potatoes
3 cups water
2 onions chopped
3 bell peppers chopped
2 cups Lentils
1 tsp cumin
¼ cup Curry Powder
Basmati Rice