Trail Journal (May 12, 2012): Explorer Canyon

Trail Journal – May 12, 2012

I’m in the midst of a nasty flu and I’m sweating, and extremely dehydrated. I ruptured a disk in my back three weeks ago. I miss my wife, she’s a thousand miles away. I’m in a psuedo-wilderness, camped in an alcove in the Escalante Arm of Lake Powell.

My Jewish companions are on lockdown, it’s the Sabbath. I feel the need to rest, but the opportunity to explore. I get in the powerboat and deliriously navigate to the end of the canyon, the whirr of the gas engine lulling me to doze while Abbey screams in my head about the disaster that has risen up the walls of Glen Canyon. I ignore the guilt, and floor the throttle.

After idling through a maze of flooded tamarisk, I beach the boat on a tiny sandbar and flop out, wavering like a drunk, struck by a combination of physical debilitation and desert heat. I look for my water bottle. I forgot it back at camp! How stupid. Certainly there’s a creek, or a spring, or something up here. I check satellite phone reception. Nothing. So I leave it in the boat. Dead weight.

I walk.

There’s only one direction to go. The end of the canyon.

I look to what I think might be a horizon (horizons don’t exist in this canyon, as I think on this later) and see heat waves. My mouth is dry from thirst and I spit out grains of sand delivered there by a hot wind. Whiptail lizards are darting here and there. They stand on their tiptoes, cock their heads, and (I think) they blink at me. I yearn to know what they are saying so I invoke mental license and hear them clearly: “dude, you gotta drink.”

That’s when I hear the trickle of the stream.

I wade down a steep slope of loose sand past the rarely blooming prickly pear and unmistakably aromatic juniper, tumble through broken talus, and ignore the game trails though the willows when I see the shimmer of the water surface. I remove all of my clothes, enter the deepest pool I can find (18 inches), lay on my back, plug my nose, and drink.

I think I fell asleep in the water after making my way to a shallow sandbar. I woke up to the tickling of minnows against the sides of my stomach. I had a clear head, but a mouth that tasted of algae and grit. My groin was exposed to dry air, and hot sun, an oversight for which I’d pay dearly for the next day.

I emerged from the cool water and searched for my clothes. Fifteen minutes passed before I found my second shoe.

I let out a belch that echoed off the canyon wall, reminding me that I was hydrated enough to continue. I nibble on a piece of sun-dried smallmouth bass from my snack stash, a tenkara catch from two days before. I walked up the creek towards the seep-stained walls of the amphitheater, and discover a bit of healing in having reached my destination.

Five hours later I return to camp.

“How was it?” they ask.

“I feel better”.


November in Montana is exciting because of the promise of snow.

Before November, you have to go to high elevations to find snow, like in this photo, which is my camp in Maloney Basin in the Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness with the Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp on the night of November 1, 2012.

The promise of snow has me excited more this year than in years past, because of a number of projects I want to work on, like:

  • Camping with a flat, Cuben Fiber tarp in winter.
  • Catching trout on a Tenkara rod when ice is floating down the river.
  • Testing the new Alpacka Dry Suit in a packraft while dodging icebergs in the whitewater of the Gallatin River’s Mad Mile.
  • Hiking in Kahtoola Microspikes on steep, icy trails.
  • Introducing my son to backcountry skiing in remote couloirs.
  • Firebuilding in awful conditions.

You see, for me, winter doesn’t mean putting gear a way, it just means changing gears.

A lot of people have anxiety over cold temperatures and snow, but I really like the beauty that winter brings. I want to share that beauty, and help you enjoy winter, too. That’s why I’m making some intentional efforts to bring solid winter backcountry education to the members of BPL this year. We have cool stuff coming about nordic skiing, base layer technologies, winter shelters, traction devices, and gear made with goose feathers.

Here’s a sneak peak at one of my favorite skunkworks projects this winter: a 12 oz down parka shelled with breathable Cuben Fiber. (Yes, it’s rather warm, and not 3-season-ish at all):

2012 Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness

I just returned from two trips in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness with Stephanie. Chase was attending a leadership camp at Camp Arcola in the Seymour Creek drainage, so we took the opportunity to do some location scouting and exploring of the A-P.

Here’s a Flickr slideshow showing a few of the pretty spots we visited:

View a Slideshow of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness

Photos: Ryan Jordan

Also be sure to watch the video that we put together, which can now be seen on the Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp Page.

For kicks, here’s what I’m using currently for photo/video —

Camera: Sony NEX-7
Lenses: Sony 16/2.8, Sigma 30/2.8, Sony 50/1.8, Leica 90/2.8 (with adapter)
Tripod: Gitzo GT0541 + Really Right Stuff BH-25 Ballhead. I tote along a Gitzo G2180 if I need fluid panning, but it usually stays in the truck. I’m also playing with a Red Rock Micro Running Man (Nano) rig, which I really like, and am shaving grams from, by using carbon rods and such. I’m in the process of building a follow focus for it suitable for the tiny lenses of the NEX-7, which are hard to rack by hand.

Compared to the Nikon D7000, the NEX-7 setup offers video and photos that are as good, for less weight and a lot less bulk. I’m carrying the entire setup (sans tripod) in a Simms Waist Dry Pack (usually worn at my front, slung over the shoulder straps of my pack for support), with a foam insert for protection. I throw in a polarizing filter and ND8 for each lens size as well, along with some cleaning supplies.

The NEX-7 is a bit of a compromise for an “outdoor camera”. Sure, it’s smaller and lighter (and the lenses are much smaller and lighter) than my old D7000 rig, but lack of weather protection continues to rear its ugly head, and I’m on my second body. In addition, serious overheating problems in direct summer sun prevent more than a few minutes of video at a time. Outdoor videography in hostile environs requires a more robust camera. The NEX-7 is not it. I’m crossing my fingers for Panasonic to deliver the rumored weatherproof GH3, but I’m not a huge fan of MFT for stills, so we’ll see. I haven’t sold my D7000 yet…and I may just go back to it.

Not Today’s View from Apgar, Glacier National Park (Leica M9)

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park


The view from Apgar would look like this today if not for the rain and fog.

This photo was taken a few evenings ago when there were just enough clouds to add character and just enough ripple on the lake to give it a little bit of texture.

Today we leave here and trek into the upper reaches of the Middle Fork Flathead River, back in the Great Bear Wilderness, where we’ll see fewer tourists, no tire tracks, and no wooden viewing platforms over the rapids of the river.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot: Rocky Mountain Tough Guy (Leica M9)


Tough Guy of the Rockies: Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Leica M9, Zeiss 35/2.8C

The Arrowleaf Balsamroot is the first wildflower that shows itself on drier and rockier slopes in the Northern Rockies. It starts to appear in May and really gets going in June.

I think it’s the toughest flower in the West. Here’s a photo of a posse that dealt with their fair share of Stuff by the time July rolled around.

The flower above is being crowded by thorny things and has already seen its fair share of hail and frost. I know because those veins in its big leaves tell these kinds of stories.

This is another exceptionally edible plant, with a caveat.

Any part of it that you see is nasty and sappy and tastes bitter, like pine-sol, but it won’t make you sick at least.

The rest of the parts you can’t see – the fleshy roots – are nutritious and tasty, and are quite good when sliced thin and fried in olive oil and black pepper over a Bushbuddy stove.