Archive for November, 2011

Looking through the gates of Temple Canyon

I’ve lost the trail again as I stand in the grass at the edge of Grape Creek at the end of a large pool.  The leaves are all off the cottonwoods now but there is no ice over the stream and snow does not yet cover the hard gray land around us.  The sky is blue, the air is cool, and a fitful breeze dances through the canyon from time to time.  Two trout hold side-by-side in the clear water at the tail of the pool.

Across the stream and 30 feet up the rocky slope I see a large green sign and a shelf trail leading to it.  The lost trail.  For the fifth time in the first quarter mile of my hike I cross Grape Creek, hopping across a dozen teetering rocks surrounded by shallow rippling water.  Dozer, splashes through the water behind me.

The sign by the trail marks the transition between land administered as a park by Canon City, Colorado, and something called “State Trust Land.” I know from my map that the state land continues for only about a mile farther upstream before it becomes BLM land and the Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area.

I continue along the shelf trail which stays about 30-50 feet above the canyon floor.  I stop often to admire the clear green pools of Grape Creek below us.  The water is so clear that, at times, I spot trout from my high vantage point.

Clear pools in Grape Creek


Dozer on the shelf trail above the pools of Grape Creek

At crossing number six, the trail takes a hard turn to the east, following a sharp bend in the creek.  At crossing number seven we come to a rock alcove next to an abandoned beaver dam.

Beaver dam pond

The trail climbs onto another shelf as Grape Creek doubles back again.  Temple Canyon becomes more wild as the bends in the creek put rocky mountains between us and the trailhead.  Isolation, ruggedness and beauty grows as the late fall day approaches its early end.
At stream crossing number nine I notice a a long flat grassy bench along the streamside as the trail climbs to yet another shelf.  A place to camp for the night.  The grassy flat along the stream is delightful and I walk slowly several hundred yards to the far end, below the trail, but along the creek.  The sun has almost dipped to the canyon rim and I find a good campsite.

Wilderness Chef


Dozer with the sweet spot in the tent

 I finish a nice dinner and stash my food bag behind a log well away from the campsite.  It’s early, but already almost completely dark out.  Stars are appearing above the canyon walls.  Thinking about the long hours of darkness this time of year, I try to stay up reading by headlamp outside in the valley, but the temperature drops rapidly and I quickly become cold.  I resign to read from the toasty confines of my sleeping bag.
Hours roll by slowly as I listen to the gurgles of the stream next to the tent.  I’m very comfortable, but can’t sleep.  It’s still too early.  I read again.  I pet the dog.  I think.  I read.  I listen.  A twig snaps.  I get a little nervous.  A breeze flutters the tent a little.
I awaken late in the night.  Still warm in my sleeping bag I reach an arm out to feel the air.  It’s very cold.  Feels like winter.  I check on Dozer.  He seems warm and is asleep on my fleece jacket, his green dog jacket providing extra cover.  I drift back to sleep.
I awaken again.  Now there is a faint blue glow on the tent and I know it’s early morning.  It’s colder still.  I reach for my hydration pack for a drink.  No water.  Wait.  No, it’s frozen solid.  I recoil deep into my sleeping bag enjoying its warmth and I wait for more light.  Sleep again.  Awake again.  Full light, but no sunshine on the tent.  It’s still cold.  I rise reluctanty.
A significant amount of ice has formed in places on the creek.  The patch of mud near the stream bank is frozen solid.  A hard freeze.

It's a cold campsite in the morning


Ice forms overnight on Grape Creek

 Another clear day.  The sun is tracking just below the ridgeline of the canyon.  I watch with envy the upper slopes of the opposite canyon wall as they are graced with the brilliance of bright sunshine.  My valley remains shaded and cold.
With gloves and hat on I do a few jumping jacks and jog in place to warm up.  My breath is visible.  I venture over to my food stash to begin breakfast.
It’s gone.  It can’t be.  No, I know that’s exactly where I put it.  It’s gone!  Vanished.  I look around extensively for evidence, but find nothing.  No torn green nylon, no Cliff Bar wrapping, nothing.  I’ve never had this happen before.  Sometimes I hang a bear bag.  In places like this, I often just stash my food bag behind a rock or log well away from the tent.  Never had an issue.  Until now.

The log where I left my food bag which dissappeared in the night

I stand there baffled.  Dozer waits for his non-existant breakfast.  Why is there no evidence?  how could it just dissappear without a trace?  I think for a few minutes.  Since this was just an overnight trip, I decide to continue with the plan and forego breakfast and lunch–maybe shorten my hike into the canyon so we can get back before we’re too hungry.
I pack up my day pack, leaving the tent up.  We disembark for our hike deeper into Temple Canyon and beyond.

A look back at our glorious valley campsite from the shelf trail leading deeper into Temple Canyon

Walking along the shelf trail above the valley, I have long since made my peace with the missing food bag.  I notice Dozer veer off trail a bit to sniff something interesting.  Dozer excitedly jabs his snout at a sack of bright green nylon just off the trail. 
I can’t believe it.  It’s completely in tact.  No holes.  No tears.  All the food is there.  I stand there and chuckle to myself.  I conclude that it must have been a mischievous fox who simply got tired of dragging the heavy bag up a 75 foot slope and along a quarter mile of trail.  I notice two recent deposits of small dog-like scat on the trail near the bag that confirms my foxy suspicion. 
I take a moment to enjoy imagining a little red fox carrying his prize along the trail in the dark only to lose interest and move on to his next adventure.  I almost wish he stayed around so I could share some of my crackers with him.  Dozer and I get to eat our breakfast afterall.

The food bag, where it was left, unharmed, by the nocturnal thief

We continue up the trail, green bag in hand now, as Temple Canyon closes in on Grape Creek.  The creek picks its way around and over massive granite boulders, falling in whitewater here and pooling up in deep green tranquility there.

A waterfall shoots through the cracks in the rocks in rugged Temple Canyon


Deep water pools up between vertical rocks near the head of Temple Canyon



We continue towards the head of the tightening canyon until our shelf trail finally runs out of room and drops steeply down to the stream.  We pick our way back and forth across the creek, hopping over boulders.  Stream crossing numbers ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen and fourteen.  We finally are confronted with the vertical walls of Temple Canyon’s upper end.

The vertical walls of Temple Canyon's head

I look around thinking this may be our turn-around point when I spot a faint trail leading steeply away from the creek.  The trail takes us through an opening on the back side of the left canyon wall.  Cresting the hill a drastically different landscape unfolds up-stream.  We go from narrow, dark canyonland to open, bright parkland.
There at the head of the canyon, I notice a small white piece of paper rolled up and pinned to the top of a fence post.  Curiosity getting the better of me, I reach for the paper and unfold it.  To my surprise, the note is a memorial for a Canyon City man recently passed.  He was a young 56 years old.  It is indeed a beautiful place.  It’s a place that represents a transition from one landscape to another.  Perhaps for this man, the place represents his transition from one life to another.  I feel certain that his ashes are resting nearby.  I carefully place the note back where I found it and take a minute more to admire the scenery.  It must have been one of his favorite places and I can see why.

The memorial note below the gates of Temple Canyon


A new landscape appears after emerging from the canyon

 I know what the fence means.  It means legal cattle grazing in the Wilderness Study Area, which is a bitter pill to swallow for us wilderness lovers.  Within minutes after emerging from the canyon, we stumble upon the decomposing carcass of a domestic cow.

Dead cow in the wilderness

I command Dozer to stay away from the dead beast.  Within a minute of seeing the cow, I notice some movement up ahead.  It’s a herd of eleven beautiful Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep including several large rams. 
I quickly grab Dozer’s collar and leash him before he notices the sheep.  They stand their ground staring in our direction.  I sidestep slowly to get behind a large Juniper tree.  Once hidden I walk slowly forward trying to get as close as I can.  Reaching the tree I step out into the open again.  The sheep shuffle a bit but still remain.  I snap a couple pictures.  Then I just admire their beauty–magnificent animals.
Suddenly, a large ram in the group makes a decision and he heads for the creek.  The others follow and I watch the group clatter through the water and then up the rocky hillside on the far bank.  They stop a ways up and turn around to stare again from nooks and crannies in the mountainside.


Our discoveries over these last few minutes offer a combination of things to ponder and I find myself thinking intently as we continue slowly up the beautiful valley.  The loved man and his final, spiritual, resting place.  The dead cow and her final, probably painful, demise in the wilderness–a wilderness she didn’t belong in.  Then the magnificent display of natural life and vitality in those big healthy bighorns.  A bittersweet emotion rolls over me as we continue.  Dozer bounds ahead, frolicking in the sun and the outdoors.  He is not burdened with the intelligent thought of man.  He, like those sheep, lives in the moment.  Not for the past.  Not for the future.  For the moment.  We often forget to do that and I make a quick promise to myself to live more in the moment.
We stop for lunch at the remains of an old stone dwelling.  The sun is bright now and the water in my hydration pack is quickly thawing.  Living in the moment I take it all in and feel grateful to live close to such natural beauty and solitude.

The old stone structures

The mystery and wildness of the valley grows as I look ahead to the forested peaks of the Wet Mountains that I now see through the trees.  Through those distant trees I see the ground covered in snow. 
Grape Creek here is a gentle stream speckled with many light colored rocks throughout its stream bed.  Ice from last night’s freeze still clings to rocks and banks although, at times, I can hear it breaking up under the warmth of the daytime sun.
There are many soaring birds in the sky and I count most of them as either hawks or buzzards.  But, then I see a pair that looks a little more special.  They glide a little bigger, a little more graceful.  I look closely and see distinct white tails and heads.  Bald eagles.  They are high in the sky, but their markings and the shape of their wings are distinct. 
What a treat!  Today I have seen the wild Bighorn, Colorado’s state animal, and the soaring Bald Eagle, our national symbol.  We stop for a moment and watch.  I imagine them swooping down over the stream for trout,which I’m sure they do from time to time.  I am reminded why wilderness preservation is so important to me.  Days later, I can think of those two eagles in the sky and feel a real connection to their wild existence.
Continuing on, I see more movement up ahead.  Colors this time–blues, reds, yellows.  It’s a group of people, mostly boys with a few adults.  I surmise it’s a boy scout troop.  Their packs are enormous and I wonder how they manage.  I stop to talk to one of the adults.
“How far to the Temple Canyon Trailhead,” he asks.
“Oh… three-and-a-half, maybe four miles,” I respond.
He looks a little disappointed. “Okay… I thought it was closer.”
We chat a bit more before moving on.  They came from an upstream access point which I now know was probably Bear Gulch Road.  I watch the troop and their giant packs trudge down valley, silently wishing them well.  I was surprised to see people here.  I think they may have been surprised to see me as well.
We finally walk onto snow as the valley closes in towards what looks like another canyon.  The beautiful Ponderosa Pine (my favorite tree) is now mixed in with the Juniper and Pinion.  Reaching a blockage on our side of the stream, I stop and quickly decide that this makes a good turn-around point.  I look longingly into the wilderness beyond, wanting to continue on.  That urge to see what’s around the next bend pulls hard, but I know it’s afternoon now and the daylight is short in late November.

Dozer on the snow at our turn-around point

Heading back now, somewhere between stream crossings 20 and 25, I see an odd shape in the shallow water near the bank.  To my surprise it is a foot-long trout holding under a thin layer of cloudy ice.  He sees us and thinks he’s hidden from our view.

Trout hiding under ice near the bank

I wonder what a fisheries biologist would think about this.  I know from experience that trout can see well above the water line and they can see surprisingly far.  But, I can see it, why does it think it is hidden from me?  Perhaps it can’t see through the ice from the bottom.
I creep a little downstream from the fish and slowly lie on my stomach.  The trout is only a foot from the bank, the water about a foot lower than the edge.  Slowly, I reach my left hand out over the top of the fish’s tail.  Ever so slowly, I inch my hand forward.  I have to get my hand solidly over the trout’s dorsal fin to have a chance to grab it.  The fish holds still–its only movement is a slight pulsing of the gills.  I can see it’s a rainbow and admire how heavily spotted he is.
My hand creeps forward a millimeter at a time.  Dozer sits and watches intently.  In position now, I start to count down silently from three.  My plan is to drive my hand straight through the thin ice, quickly grasping the trout and then elevating it from the water, like a wild bear might do with its snout. 
Three… Two… Just a split second before I make my move, the fish sees or senses something.  With a convulsive flutter he roils the water and darts into the middle of the creek and behind a rock, out of sight.  I get up with a smile.  I would have released it immediately anyway.  But, I almost had it in my grasp.
The walk back to the head of the canyon is pleasant.  I cross the stream several more times, never needing to get wet as I hop carefully over the scattered rocks in the stream bed.

Me and my leader, Dozer, making our way along Grape Creek on the return hike

Grape Creek flows through beautiful open country above Temple Canyon

We walk back by the memorial note again, entering Temple Canyon from above this time.  I appreciate, again, the beauty and boldness of the canyon as I watch the water below pick its course among giant mansion-sized rocks.
We reach the campsite for a welcome rest before I pack up the tent and hoist the big pack for the remaining two miles or so.
Stream crossing number 40.  This is the one near the big green sign where I lost the trail the day before.  I’m close to the car now and as I make my way the remaining quarter mile or so, thoughts of home crawl into my head.  I am content.
As I approach the trailhead I see a large group of middle school kids hanging out, some sleeping on the ground. 
“Hey, we saw you earlier,” says snot-on-lip kid. “Where did you stay last night?”
“Oh, I found a beautiful little spot in the grass by the stream up the trail a bit.”
I look at their uncertain faces, full of potential, and see myself at that age, on my first wilderness trip to the Weminuche.  Most of them will remember with fondness their trip to Grape Creek when they are my age, even if they may not truly appreciate it now and how special the place really is.
Trip and Area Background
  • Points Earned:  2
  • Trip Dates:  November  19-20, 2011
  • Wilderness Area:  Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area
  • Wilderness Location:  South Central Colorado near Canon City
  • Wilderness Size:  Approx 22,000 acres between Lower and Upper Grape Creek WSA’s *
  • Total hike length:  Approximately 11 miles
  • Duration:  One Night
* The 22,000 acres includes the official acreage within the two segments of the wilderness study areas.  The Colorado Canyonlands Wilderness Legislative Proposal suggests an area about double this size for official wilderness designation for Grape Creek.
Wilderness Area Info:
Grape Creek is a BLM Wilderness Study area near Canon City, Colorado.  It is exceptionally rare in Colorado to have such a large area of roadless land with the characteristics of this area:
  • Low elevation (pinion/juniper country in the lower sections, ponderosa country higher)
  • Contains more than 20 roadless stream miles of a substantial waterway
  • On the East side of the Continental Divide

For the reasons above, Grape Creek should be highly valued as a full Wilderness Area because it provides critical corridor habitat for wildlife and it would preserve a rare combination of natural features.

Grape Creek is an interesting and unique waterway.  It’s watershed is surprisingly vast.  It drains the entire Wet Mountain Valley, rising in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, flowing out of the dam at DeWeese Reservoir in the valley, and then flowing many miles through the BLM canyon country corridor between the valley and the Arkansas River.

I found the place to be delightfully rugged and scenic.  I was also surprised at how much wildlife I saw.  I only scratched the surface of the area and would love, one day, to hike the entire length of the WSA from Temple Canyon all the way up to the Wet Mountain Valley.  The opportunity for this kind of uninterrupted ecological transitional hike is unusual here in Colorado.

Grape Creek itself is full of sizeable trout which, in clear water, can often be spotted with the naked eye.

Cattle grazing is, unfortunately, allowed in the area, but this is sadly true in many official wilderness areas throughout the West.

Access to the area is primarily at two points:  Bear Gulch Road near the middle of the WSA and Temple Canyon at the lower end.  I don’t know about Bear Gulch Road, but the road to Temple Canyon does not require high clearance or 4-wheel drive.  The State Trust Land at Temple Canyon supposedly only allows access from August 15 through May 31st.  I wouldn’t want to hike here in the middle of summer anyway.  This is a great Fall or pre-runoff Spring destination.  I would even consider this in the winter depending on weather and snow cover conditions.

I brought some new gear on this trip in an effort to reduce my pack weight and at the same time increase my sleep comfort.  New items I brought and was highly satisfied with:

  • Marmot Sawtooth sleeping bag – down, +15, 2 lb 14 oz.
  • Big Agnes insulated inflatable pad, 2 lb 1 oz
  • Inflatable pillow

The new sleeping arrangement reduced my total weight by over a pound and substantially increased my comfort level.

My total pack weight with food at the start of the trip was 29.5 pounds.  It would have been around 25 pounds in warmer weather.  I’d like to get down to a total weight of 20-25 pounds consistently.  Perhaps the biggest noticeable improvement was, as a result of the more compact sleeping bag, I didn’t have to attach anything to the exterior of the pack which vastly improved weight distribution.  Even at almost 30 pounds I felt as if I was simply carrying a day-pack.


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1.  Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness

Lake in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. Photo courtesy of Panoramio

This 35,701 acre wilderness area in Southwest Oregon covers the divide between the upper reaches of the Rogue and Umpqua Rivers.  On the “wet” side of the Cascades, this area is only ten miles west of Crater Lake National Park.  It includes an extensive (for its size) 100 mile network of trails, several mountain lakes, old growth forest and alpine tundra.

2. Norse Peak

Fife's Peak in Norse Peak Wilderness. Photo courtesy of JMZ2007 via Panoramio

Twenty-seven miles of the Pacific Crest Trail traverses this rugged Washington State wilderness area.  Its relatively small 52,315 acres is deceptive because the wilderness is bordered by the larger William O. Douglas Wilderness and its 169,000 acres to the south.  Only Hwy 410 separates Norse Peak from the 228,000 wilderness acres of Mount Rainier National Park.  Norse Peak stradles the Cascade Crest and, as a result, offers the lush big forests of the west side as well as the dryer pines of the eastern slope.  The scenery here is rugged and sublime.

3. Eagles Nest

It's hard to imagine a more sublime visual of alpine beauty than what is captured in this photo in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Photo courtesy of http://www.wildernesslandtrust.org.

The classic alpine wonderland of the Eagles Nest is a special place, and in this case, I write from personal experience.  This wilderness area and its 133,471 acres, is in my backyard, two hours from my home in Denver, Colorado.

The Eagles Nest Wilderness is pretty close to ground-zero for the enormous lodgepole pine beetle kill going on right now.  While the higher elevations are still draped in the deep green of spruce and fir framed by the classic ruggedness of the Gore Range peaks, the lower slopes have now turned to the color of rust.  Hundreds of millions of lodgepole pines in the mid-elevation slopes are dead.  But, as they say, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  In decades to come, these trees will become the austere ghost forests of tomorrow with new life growing up from below.  I just hope the cataclysmic wildfire that many are expecting  never comes to pass. 

Until then, we’ll continue to get up high in the Eagles Nest, above the dead forest, to visit its many blue shimmering lakes, its clear wandering mountain streams, and those rugged summits of the Colorado Rockies.

4. Lee Metcalf

Lee metcalf Wilderness. Photo courtesy of dougroanephotography.com

The Lee Metcalf Wilderness is an oddity because it is actually not one wilderness area, but four different non-contiguous wilderness areas that happen to have been given the same name.  Located in Southwest Montana, the 254,635 acres of the wilderness is divided into three separate Forest Service areas (141,000, 76,000, 33,000 acres) and one BLM area (6,000 acres).  Often, we see the opposite:  Where a large wilderness region is given several different wilderness area labels, as in the Southern Sierra where no less than 11 uniquely named wilderness areas are only separated by an imaginary line on a map.

Nevertheless, the Lee Metcalf Wildernes AREAS offer some fine wilderness in the Northern Rockies.  Located just north of Yellowstone, the area is home to grizzlies among many other species.  And, it is home to soaring peaks and sparkling lakes typical of Montana’s great big sky scenery.

5. Sequoia Kings Canyon

A grand view in Sequoia Kings Canyon. Photo courtesy of Wilderness.net

People probably think of giant trees when they think of the Sequoia Kings Canyon Wilderness (part of Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park).  They would be correct, but at more than three quarters of a million acres in California’s Sierra Range it is much more than big trees.

In fact, Sequoia Kings Canyon is an example of the opposite administrative effect of that described above for the Lee Metcalf.  See, Sequoia Kings Cayon is contiguous with the John Muir Wilderness, Monarch Wilderness, Golden Trout Wilderness, and John Krebs Wilderness.  The John Muir Wilderness is contiguous with Ansel Adams, and Dinkey Lakes.  Ansel Adams is contiguous with Yosemite, which is contiguous with Emigrant and Hoover.  And the Golden Trout is contigous with the South Sierra.

Whew, now that’s a puzzle.  But, what it all adds up to is just basically one giant single wilderness area with multiple names that adds up to an amazing 3 million acres plus.  This entire area is cut by highway only once–through the middle of Yosemite.

The Range of Light (Sierras) is the central backbone with endless forests of those trees, big and little, hundreds of lakes, miles and miles of clear-flowing streams and wildlife aplenty.  This is what it’s all about.

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I built a nice little Excel spreadsheet of all the Wilderness Areas in the West with the aid of www.wilderness.net, a great resource.  I also used the BLM’s excellent web resource to build a similar spreadsheet of all the BLM Wilderness Study Areas.  It’s fun to randomly select one of the hundreds of wilderness areas and then delve into some research to learn about it.

Extending the concept to this blog, I have selected five completely random wilderness areas from my list for a brief wilderness profile of each.

1.  Box – Death Hollow

A Forest Service wilderness area with a BLM-like name, this relatively small wilderness is located right in the middle of South-Central Utah.  It is a remote 25,751 acres of pinion and juniper canyon country.  There are a number of canyon-carving streams in this wild flash flood-prone wilderness.  Pine and Sand Creeks even hold brown and rainbow trout.  The canyon rims are of Navajo sandstone.  The grizly name of the area refers to the deaths of some livestock attempting to cross the rugged canyons years ago.

An ominous sign in Box - Death Hollow Wilderness in Utah. * Image courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk *

2.  Cummins Creek

This tiny wilderness area (9,443 acres) is distinctive because it is the only wilderness area in Oregon that contains old growth Sitka Spruce, some reaching nine feet in diameter.  The rainforest wilderness reaches almost to the Pacific Ocean and its two streams, Cummins and Bob Creeks, flow directly into the Pacific.  Only one trail exists in the wilderness, the 6.5 mile Cummins Ridge Trail.

The rainforests of Cummins Creek Wilderness in Oregon. *Image couresy of Wilderness.net"

3.  Gros Ventre

A random pick from a list of over 500 western wilderness areas will have a high likelihood of resulting in some pretty small and obscure gems, like Cummins Ridge above.  But, for my third pick I landed on the very significant Gros Ventre (pronounced GroVONT) in West Central Wyoming.

The name is French for “big belly.” This is indeed big country.  Part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the area is renowned for big wildlife and big scenery.  As tourists gaze west from Jackson to the Tetons, their backs are guarded by the wild Gros Ventre to their east, a large 317,874 acre wilderness that provides a vital ecosystem connection between the Teton region and the Wind River Mountains farther south and east.

The big alpine country of the Gros Ventre. Photo courtesy of bigwildadventures.com

4. Munds Mountain

Near Sedona and easily accessed from Flagstaff, the 24,411 acre Munds Mountain Wilderness is classic red-rock Arizona.  Munds Mountain rises to 6,825 feet on the Mogollon Rim (pronounced Muggyon).  Although this is a Forest Service wilderness, the area is relatively dry.  The forest is pinion and juniper and the rocks a blazing red.

The blazing red sandstone of Munds Mountain Wilderness in Arizona. Photo courtesy of azwild.org. Photo by Mark Miller.

5.  Sespe Wilderness

This 219,700 acre Forest Service wilderness is located in the dry inland coastal region of Southern California north of Los Angeles.  One reason I like doing these random wilderness profiles is because I learn some things I never would have known.  Apparently, the Sespe is located in the fourth largest roadless region in the Lower 48.  I tend to know my geography, but I would never have guessed that the fourth largest roadless region in the U.S. would be in Southern California north of LA, south of San Francisco, and west of Interstate 5.

The area is apparently heavily used–not surprising since there are about 12 million people within less than a half-day drive.  Still, it offers its share of wildness, like 31 miles of the last undamned river in Southern California, Sespe Creek (currently recommended for National Wild and Scenic River status).  And, the 53,000 acre Sespe Condor Sanctuary.

That looks refreshing and fun. Sespe Wilderness, Southern California. Photo courtesy of Superstock.




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In addition to the Canyonlands Colorado Wilderness Proposal from my previous post, there are two additional major wilderness proposal efforts underway for Colorado:  San Juan additions in the Southwest part of the state, and the Hidden Gems campaign in the White River National Forest area in the North-Central part of the state:

San Juans Wilderness Campain

The Hidden Gems Campaign

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In the prior article, I listed a few of the larger BLM Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) and posted a link to the complete list of all 545 of the BLM WSAs.  I didn’t call out any of the Colorado WSAs, but that doesn’t mean my home state is missing out.

Colorado’s Canyon Country Wilderness Proposal provides a nice detailed overview of many of the proposed future wilderness areas for Colorado.

Map of proposed future Colorado Wilderness Areas

** Source of image above is canyoncountrywilderness.org.

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The Endless Opportunities Offered by Wilderness Study Areas

Green River Through Desolation Canyon (Photo found through internet search)

I mentioned in a prior article that we currently have 757 officially designated Wilderness Areas in the United States totalling almost 110 million acres. But, how does a Wilderness Area become a Wilderness Area?

Well, usually, before they are Wilderness Areas, they are Wilderness Study Areas (WSA). Many Wilderness Areas spend years and years as WSAs before graduating to official wilderness designation. The beauty of the WSAs is that the administrative agency responsible for a WSA (usually BLM, National Forest, National Park, or Fish and Wildlife) must manage the WSA under the same rules as an official Wilderness Area. That makes them just as wild and just as quiet!

I searched around a bit for some details on current WSAs and found a complete list of BLM WSAs. I couldn’t find a similar list for the Forest Service, National Park Service or Fish and Wildlife. But, in the BLM alone, there are currently 545 individual WSAs totalling almost 13 million acres!

Many of these areas are under 5,000 acres. I find it hard to consider any area less than about 12,000 acres to represent true wilderness. However, I believe many of the smaller sized WSAs are actually recommended contiguous additions to existing Wilderness Areas.

It is notable that almost 8.5 million of the nearly 13 million acres are concentrated in the states of Utah, Nevada and Oregon. But most of the Western States have significant acreage currently designated as WSA under the management of the BLM.

Here’s a sample of some of the more significant WSAs:

Central Arctic Management Area (Alaska) – 326,000 acres

This area is in North-Central Alaska north of the Brooks Range but well inland of the Arctic coast.  Very remote.

Clan Alpine Mountains (Nevada) – 196,128 acres

Located in West-Central Nevada north of Hwy 50.  This remote range rises obove 9,000 feet in elevation over the Great Basin.

Massacre Rim (Nevada) – 101,290 acres

Very remote country in Northwest Nevada, Massacre Rim is rolling sage and juniper country with limited access.  Solitude abounds here, I’m sure.

Poodle Mountain (Nevada) – 142,050 acres

Another remote land in Northwest Nevada, Poodle Mountain is a basaltic pleateau with large canyons reaching from the edges of the flat/rolling plateau.  This is open, clear sky, big vista country.

South Reveille (Nevada) – 106,200 acres

Very remote area in West-Cetral Nevada near Tonopah.  Why is it that just about everything in Nevada is described as “remote?” Probably because it is.  I’ve been to Tonopah.  The town is memorable for one reason–there’s nothing but vast western openness around it.  How the town even exists is hard to understand. 

There is very little information on South Reveille.  It seems to be a rugged, dry mountainous area with a large nearby herd of wild horses.  Sounds wild, indeed.

West Potrillo Mountains (New Mexico) – 148,697 acres

This large area is located in Southwest New Mexico.  Part of it borders Mexico.  There is not much information on it.  It is clearly desert country.  I ran across some info indicating some Mexican drug running operations in the area.  For thrill-seekers that might add a bit more of an edge to this wild area.

Alvord Desert (Oregon) – 236,260 acres

Located in Southeast Oregan the Alvord Desert shares a boundary with several other WSAs, so the total potential wilderness area could be much larger than the already sizeable 236,260 acres.  The Alvord Desert is also near the Steens Mountain Wilderness.  It consists of a huge dry lake bed and surrounding desert uplands.

Owyhee River Canyon (Oregon) – 187,590 acres

Bordering the 267,000 acre Owyhee River Wilderness Areas of Idaho, this seems to be a sizeable extension of that wilderness system.  The Owyhee River and its tributaries cut lengthy canyons through the high deserts of Idaho and SE Oregon.  The combined nearly half million acres between the official Owyhee River Wilderness in Idaho and the WSA in Oregon would make for a true national treasure.  Hopefully it happens.  Until then, remember, the WSA is managed just like an official wilderness area.

Desolation Canyon (Utah) – 294,581 ares

A topic of heated debate it seems, Desolation Canyon in East-Central Utah, is one of the gems of the large list of BLM Wilderness Study Areas.  The central feature of this area is a giant gorge that the Green River cuts through the middle of the Tavaputs Plateau.  John Wesley Powell and his team of adventurers drifted through these swift waters in 1869, and called it the “Canyon of Desolation,” as he craned his neck and gathered in the sights of boken cliffs and ridges and distant forest covered ridges above.

Fifty Mile Mountain (Utah) – 160,833 acres

 In South-Central Utah, the Fifty Mile Mountain WSA is part of the vast Kaiparowits Plateau.  Fifty Mile Mountain is a long high ridge that forms the culmination of the plateau.  The unit is adjacent to wild areas of the Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area that the National Park Service is recommending for wilderness designation.


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To be ultra-light, or not to be ultra-light.  That is the question.

I’m not a gear hound like many backpackers.  But, I have definitely been carrying too much weight.  So, while I dream away the cold this winter with visions of sparkling mountain streams and wildflowers, I will be undergoing a re-evaluation of my standard pack to reduce my average weight from 30-35 down to 20-25 pounds.

For gear hounds out there, this may not be exciting, but I do have some tried and true materials that may work for you.  Here’s my standard inventory:

Shelter:  REI Sololite Tent

I love this tent.  It only weighs 2.1 pounds, is easy to set up and take down, and is perfect for me and my dog, Dozer.  I also really like the exterior entrance zipper flap that creates about 3 square feet of protected “indoor/outdoor” space in addition to the sleeping space.  This is a keeper.

My REI Sololite in the Bridger Wilderness Wyoming

Side view of my REI Sololite in the Never Summer Wilderness Colorado

   Sleeping Bag:  Kelty Clear Creek synthetic +20 degrees

I don’t like it.  It has kept me plenty warm down to 25 degrees.  But, this thing is a giant.  It weighs 3.6 pounds and stuffs down to the size of one of the tires on my Jeep.  It looks like I’m carrying a car-camping bag from the 1960’s.  I need to invest in a good lightweight down bag.

The picture below shows me, in the red shirt, hiking through the Dominguez Canyon wilderness in Colorado with my sleeping bag strapped to the outside of my pack seemingly almost dragging in the sand behind me.  Not good!

Me and my giant pack

Sleeping Pad:  Thermarest Trail Lite inflatable

This pad has worked very well for me.  It is light, easy to inflate, compact when rolled, and relatively comfortable.  It’s a keeper.

Pack:  Kelty Redwing 3100

This is a pretty low-end pack, but I like it.  If I were trying to get down to ultra-light status, I would invest in a lighter pack.  But, when you find a pack that works for you, go with it.  This pack is comfortable for me, and I love the utilitarian design.

Dozer and my Kelty Redwing 3100 on top of Baker Pass in the Never Summer Wilderness Colorado

Stove:  MSR Pocket Rocket

Love it!  It is light, tiny, efficient, cheap, and easy to use.  The only drawback is that it is difficult to use in windy and/or wet weather.  In those conditions you need to find a sheltered place, which is not always easy.  But, I’ve never been unable to cook food or boil water with this thing.  Highly recommended.

Water Filter:  Katadyn Hiker

I like it okay, but may consider something smaller.  This filter has been reliable and easy to use.  And, I think it works since I haven’t had any cases of explosive diarhea after using it, which is a bonus!  But, I’d like something smaller.

Water Carrier:  Field and Stream Hydration Pack

My method for carrying water has given me fits over the years.  I’ve used Boy Scout style canteens, plastic water bottles, those leather mountain man pouch things, a simple cup dipped in unfiltered streamwater (that didn’t end well), and now the hydration pack.  This system works really well because the hydration pack works as a day pack if needed.  If not needed, I can remove the water bladder and just bring that.  I did find it very convenient to have the water hose thing available without havig to dig for water bottles or deal with a swinging canteen.  I think it’s a keeper, and you don’t need to spend over $100 on a high end item.  I paid, I think, $20-something for this one.  It’s light and simple.

Clothes:  Too much!

One of my issues with weight is that I often take too many clothes, and the wrong clothes.  But, here are the items that have worked well:

  • Columbia convertable pants (the kind that unzip at the knees and become shorts).  These are lightweight, comfortable, look decent, and they are long pants and shorts in one.
  • Wind and water resistant nylon “sweats.” The Columbia convertables are pretty thin.  A lightweight wind-breaking nylon sweat pant is my choice for additional protection for the legs if needed. 
  • Under Armer t-shirt and long-sleave shirt.  Under Armer is a bit pricy but it’s great stuff.  Keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold.  And, it’s lightweight and compact when in the pack.
  • Lodge Outfitter raincoat and windbreaker.  This is no ultra-expensive gear, but it’s tried and true.  For $20 it has kept me dry in some significant rainstorms, and it’s a great windbreaker.
  • Wool sweater.  This one I struggle with.  It’s bulky and not light.  But, I always feel I need something more than just my two thin Under Armer shirts and my windbreaker.  Might have to consider replacing this layer with something more compact and light, but not cotton.
  • Under Armer glove liners:  These things are awesome!  They are thin, but they really keep my hands warm.  I used them snowshoeing in January with air temps at 15-20 degrees and windchill at around zero and I never even took my big ski gloves out of my pack.  My hands and fingers were warm the whole time.  For summer backpacking, they are perfect for early morning activities at 30-degrees.  Light, comfortable and surprisingly warm.
  • Wool or cotton beanie cap for the dome.
  • Basic thin wool hiking socks.  No need for “sealskins” or whatever.  Just your basic wool hiking sock–it’s always worked great for me.  I just tend to take too many pairs.

Cooking Supplies:  Just the basics

  • Just the pot from my boy scout style “mess kit”
  • A collapsable rubber cup
  • A plastic “spork” (it has a fork on one end and a spoon on the other)

Safety and Hygien:  The Essentials

  • Waterproof matches and a small lighter
  • A couple of Coghlans fire sticks (not the whole bag, just a couple)
  • Small first-aid kit
  • 25 feet of light nylon rope (for hanging bear bags and pulling friends out of ravines)
  • Colgate Wisp disposable mini toothbrushes.  These are awesome.  No toothpaste, no water.  They come in little packs and have a gel cap of toothpaste in the brush that ruptures when you brush your teeth.  They really work and weigh nothing.
  • Coleman bio-wipes.  When you do your business, you don’t have to mess with lighting the paper.  In an appropriate place, just take a dump, bury the poop and paper.  The paper will disintigrate within 20 days.  A few dollars at WalMart.
  • Basic headlamp.  No need for something pricy here.  Good LED lamps are available now for about 20 bucks.
  • Schrade knife:  This is a lightweight knife with a partially serrated 3″ locking blade.
  • Keychain compass:  Lightweight and small
  • Small whistle:  To scare that bear away or say “I’m lost, over here!!”
  • E-Reader:  E-Reader?  Yep.  I like to have a book to read if I’m stuck in my REI Sololite in the rain or can’t sleep at night.  An E-Reader weighs the same as a small paperpack, but you are not stuck with one choice.  If I get tired of Edward Abby I can switch to Paul Thereaux.

Items I need:

  • Lightweight inflatable pillow:  I struggle with sleep comfort while backpacking and I’ve concluded that it is because I don’t have a pillow.  I find myself trying to ball up any item of clothing that I’m not wearing and using it for a pillow.  It’s never comfortable.  I try to use the dog, too.  He doesn’t care for that and won’t stay still.  I’ve noticed at home that I can only sleep well with a very specific head position.  I need a pillow.
  • Trekking poles:  For years I made fun of people with trekking poles (not directly to them, that would be very rude).  Why would you spend $100 on a pair of sticks?  Then I borrowed a pair and found that they really helped a lot with relieving pressure from the knees going down and allowing the arms to share more of the work going up.

There you have it.  This is as “gear junkie” as I get.

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