July 01, 2010

Imlay Canyon - Deep and Wild

I continue leading the way as cold water traps into my wetsuit chilling me to the bone. I am already cold and it is only the beginning of a long day of swimming in a sunless corridor. I jump into another pool and my feet don’t reach the ground. I swim forward clenching on to my backpack using it as a flotation device. I run into a series of logs floating in the water so dense I am unable to swim any further. My head is the only thing above water. A giant stump is suspended in the air above me, wedged in-between canyon walls. Behind the giant stump lies another debris pile stacked about 3 feet high blocking the climb out of the pool. I cannot tell if this high stacked pile of logs is on solid land or floating on the water.
This canyon hasn’t seen humans in months. Snow has covered the canyon, filling the holes and freezing the narrow corridor. As spring and summer returned, it has brought warmth to the entire canyon melting the frozen water ways. Fallen trees and forest debris have been released from its frozen state forming dangerous flash floods and creating barricades for future canyoneers. I am the first person to meet this obstacle. I need to investigate the large debris pile blocking our way out of the pool. We have already rappelled 100 vertical feet into the canyon so turning back now is not an option.

The logs are so dense I am able to crawl on my hands and knees on top of the logs, my back scrapes against the giant stump. I sink back into the water and I am now chest deep in a pool still unable to touch the ground. I reach the stack of debris and press ever so lightly of a log sticking out the pile. The huge stack of logs slowly tumbles towards me. I have never been in an avalanche, but I think this is what is would fill like. Everything around me is unstable. My head is inches away from a path of logs about to collapse. I investigate the huge log, maybe I can climb on top of it to get out of this dangerous position. I pull down using its rotting root system as hand holds.

The stump moves. I am now in between a stack of logs and a 800 pound stump, all about to collapse. I quickly go back the way I came I reach out for Ian’s hand. Still floating in the cold water we take one of the logs floating on the water and use it to take down the avalanche of debris. Five minutes of jamming the log against the pile we dislodge the 800-pound stump and it crashes violently into the pool. We wait until the whole pile stops and settles. We continue our descent ready for the next obstacle.

June 10, 2010

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Wild Lands

“…the Escalante country belongs to us. It lies entirely within the public domain, and is therefore the property not of land and cattle companies, not of oil and mining corporations, not of the Utah State Highway Department or any Utah Chamber of Commerce, but of all Americans. It’s our country. Or should be. It’s suppose to be. Edward Abbey, 1971.

About 80 percent of Utah is public land. A state that is mostly run by the BLM, forest service, national park, etc. Although each agency has different intentions, one thing holds true – these are OUR lands. Lands to explore, to escape to, to gain a sense of place, to lose yourself or to find yourself. America has places set aside where no development, logging or mining can exist. Places where roads aren’t paved and where trees are left to rot on the ground – only to grow new life again. Places where water flows free without dams, except made by beavers. Where the night sky isn’t interrupted by light pollution and when you look up into the vastness of space the stars are so dense finding the big dipper is challenging. Places where the sense of time escapes you, letting you to wonder free. FREE! A feeling so powerful it is hard to describe because to be free means something different for everyone. Have you really ever felt freedom – a life or a moment without distractions? I strive for this freedom everyday.

The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is one of the wildest places in America – just barely escaping the claws of developers. It encompasses 1.7 million acres of land across southern Utah. This land is so diverse and grand you would need multiple lifetimes to explore it. I spent a week and a half here. Escalante is the type of place where one mile feels like ten and where canyons turn into cathedrals. It’s an intimate place with a power streaming through every grain of sand. This area has a history so intense you actually feel the struggles and triumphs of people’s past. When you’re hiking across the rugged country you feel how the cowboy felt when leading a herd of cattle, but when gathering water from the willow shaded streams you feel native. The history of the Escalante is seen on the canyon walls through petroglyphs and pictographs - stories portraying great hunts of big horn sheep, symbols and human figures that only the original artist knows the full details. Secrets hide in every canyon. The adventures I did where some of the best I have ever experienced. But the thing about this place is that every footprint made in the sand here will disappear when the wind comes, wiping away your presence so the next traveler can discover the secrets this place has to reveal to them – this is Escalante.

Pictures: Above left: Me looking out onto fence canyon in the Grand Staircase NM. Above right: petroglyphs of human figures. Lower left: Ian sitting in Ringtail canyon, the darkest canyon we have gone into. Lower right: me standing on an exposed pillar in Box Death Hollow wilderness

May 31, 2010

Road Trip 2010

Heading Toward the Middle of Nowhere
Ian and I “officially” started our road trip on “The All American Road” highway 12 in southern Utah. The road weaves through a series of National Parks and Monuments. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef and Grand Staircase are desert fairylands for the tourists mostly observing these sites out the window, but for myself, they are the most roughed and wild landscapes I have ever laid foot on.
Our first stop (but not our last) is Zion national park, which lies in the southwest corner of Utah. A geological wonder so intense it takes your breath away. Red sandstone layers line every angle of the road. It is the type of drive where you swerve all over the road because your eyes are so fixated on the intense landscape. But to truly experience such a brilliant place is through the mountains drainages, the Canyons. Water is the mastermind behind shaping this place into a maze of intimate corridors. Between the soft structure of the rock and the immense power of flash floods, narrow canyons lie hidden in the mountains. Our goal is to explore these treasures.

Canyoneering ranges in technical difficulty, from walking on a flat riverbed with slow moving water to rappelling hundreds of feet through waterfalls then swimming in water recently filled with snow melt. We prefer the latter. Ropes, wetsuits, harnesses and belay equipment provide us the means to explore the canyons. To enter the drainages you must first walk through the desert, more specifically the ‘slickrock.’ Slickrock is the term used for sandstone formation, yet it is not slick, rather it is like sandpaper. The rough landscape of sandstone domes cover the majority of the landscapes until you arrive to the mouth of the canyon and an emerald green paradise welcomes the weary traveler. Shade covers your shoulders and you are now at the mercy of the water course. You start descending the gravity fed route and soon you are trapped between two walls of red and golden streaked sandstone. The walls tower so high dark consumes the already unworldly experience until streams of light filter through the narrow opening from above. The canyons meander, leaving unknown obstacles around every corner. The water course may lead you to a 150 foot waterfall to rappel off then to a 15 foot waterslide then to a boulder jammed between the two walls leaving you to climb over and drop onto the other side. There are also mandatory swimming sections in water so cold it takes you breath away. I compare the adventure to a real life video game. The days are long from 3 to 10 hours of constant motion and scrambling your way through roughed terrain. Unfortunately many of Zion’s canyons are closed due to the high water flow of the Virgin River, but we promised ourselves we will go back for more.

More stories of backpacking and canyoneering in the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument, camping along the Grand Canyon, and exploring the expanse of the Colorado Plateau will be coming soon. Many highlights of the trip so far, but seeing a lecture by Craig Childs, a famous natural history author, is among the best. He taught me this- once you experience these desert landscapes and the sand runs through your blood, the place becomes intrinsically apart of you now and forever.

January 29, 2009

Where did the snow go?

After seeing record breaking snow fall depths (20 inches in one day in Spokane; 36 inches in Coeur d alene) the end of December I imagined this was going to be the best ski season ever! But as the month of January ends I was proven terribly wrong. With the high pressure systems rolling through the PNW no snow has shown up in our area since that memorable December storm. However the blue bird days have been endless. And nothing beats driving above the foggy and dreary valley of Spokane to meet the sun's welcoming rays.

Picture: Mom enjoying the view from the summit of Mount Spokane

December 06, 2008

The Planet Magazine is the quarterly student publication of Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment. Founded by students in 1979, it is the capstone course for students enrolled in Huxley College's undergraduate environmental journalism major. The magazine's mission statement, as articulated by its student editors, is as follows: "We are dedicated to environmental advocacy and awareness through responsible journalism."
The Planet magazine is now on the shelves and online. Check it out. ThePlanet

December 02, 2008

Weekend Holiday

It was an unconventional Thanksgiving as my mom and I visited our friendly neighbors of the north – Canada. A 90 minute ferry ride landed us in Victoria, BC offering visitors a city experience, but with a small town attitude. Getting lost is not a worry because the minute you open a map a stranger approaches you offering their guiding service - Even if it is a homeless guy who asks for a small fee. Not veering far from its British roots, Victoria is surrounded by world renowned gardens, cobblestone streets and English pubs. Double Decker buses wander through the streets and at high noon, tea is offered in almost every restaurant and hotel. The city is softly outlined by ocean bays with tall ships floating in the marinas. Yet the prime waterfront real estate viewing the snowy peaks of Washington’s Olympic mountain range is occupied with hotels. The quaint small town atmosphere is almost extinct as tourism invades the city. It is always the small hidden gems that receive the most impact. Whether it’s an island in Thailand or a remote coastal town of Alaska a tradeoff occurs with the gain of economic viability – the community and culture slowly disappear. Yet remnants of the past will always remain because they are appealing to outsiders. I am an outsider to the places I travel and I appreciate the beauty they have to offer.