Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Missing gear

I'm not quite sure how this happened; but my two younger sons borrowing some of my gear is no doubt at least partially to blame.  But I find myself having to replace a few items of my backpacking gear that have somehow gone missing.  Sigh.
  1. Lost my waistpack.  I'm considering ditching it entirely, though, and not replacing it.  I'll have to be a little bit more judicious with how I pack my stuff, but I think I can pull it off.
  2. Lost my SteriPEN.  I actually really liked that, so that bums me out.  I'll have to replace it, I think, although I could go with iodine tablets or a filter for less money.
  3. Lost (both of my) pack rain covers.  I think I'm going to ditch these too, though, and just line the inside of my pack with a plastic bag from now on.
I'm also thinking of not bringing my tarp anymore.  When I camp in more xeric climates, like most of the west, I don't really need to worry about water getting in the tent anyway.  When I camp in rainier climates, like here in Michigan, I've actually had water pool up on the tarp and soak into the tent; I don't think it actually helps keep my tent drier at all.  It does protect the bottom of the tent from the ground on which it stands, but honestly, I'm not worried about getting rips in the bottom of my tent anyway.  If I truly do ditch the waistpack, that means I really only need about $50 to get back into backpacking, replacing the gear that mysteriously went missing.

Sadly; there is no urgency around this; I won't be able to make time in my vacation schedule for a backpacking trip this year.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Palo Duro canyon

About a week ago, I got to hike in Texas' Palo Duro Canyon State Park, not far from Amarillo.  It's a beautiful place; maybe a bit understated compared to some of the Colorado Plateau badlands like the Grand Canyon or Canyonlands or Zions or Arches, but comparable in many ways.  The Llano Estacado is a large flat plateau that makes up most of the Texas panhandle as well as eastern New Mexico and some of the area just north as well; it is the southernmost portion of the High Plains and the largest mesa area in the North American continent, of over 37,000 square miles.  It's edges on both the west and the east are marked by rather abrupt north-south running escarpments.  Although there is a very slight slope to the entire Llano Estacado rising from east to west, both ends are still marked by drop-offs of a few hundred feet, and at this edge, erosion has given us some fascinating terrains, including Palo Duro canyon and the nearby Caprock Canyon area.

I also made a number of mistakes on this hike.  My initial intention was to take Palo Duro fairly easily, doing a number of small hikes; I ended up hiking a loop of about 8-miles instead.  I originally intended to go early in the morning; I ended up leaving Lubbock, where I was staying at 8:30, so by the time my boots hit the trail, it was 11:00 or 11:30.  And I had plenty of water, but only two small bottles that were portable in my little day-pack.

In terms of weather, a cold front was just ending, which lured me into thinking that early May was a good time to hike.  It ended up not being.  Had I been able to go 3-4 days earlier, I could have faced highs in the 60s; as it was, I faced highs in the 90s.  Combined with not a single cloud in the sky, hardly any shade at all on the trail, insufficient water for the miles I had staked out, and the fact that I'm not exactly in the best shape, I ended up limping back to the car dehydrated, over-heated and very uncomfortable.  Had I brought my water bladder I probably would have been OK; had a brought my bladder and started two hours earlier, I certainly would have been.

Better yet, had I gone in early April, or even mid March, I probably would have been fine even without worrying about either of those.  As it was, it was a challenging hike; not because the hike itself was difficult, but because it's hot, it's dry, there's no shade and no water.

I started the hike at the big P listed above, which is the trailhead for the Givens, Spicer, Lowry trail (clearly marked with trail markers every tenth of a mile as the GSL.  This wanders in a remote part of the park, and I saw only a handful of other users on it for a little over three miles along the edge of the canyon bottom.  Had I started earlier (and had more water) I would have also taken the Fox Canyon Trail lollipop, but I could tell even then that I needed to move on and get back to the car before it got too hot and I ran out of water, so I skipped it.  That's OK; for various reasons, I'd love to come back and see more of the canyon anyway, so I'll have a shot at it later.  When the GSL joins the Lighthouse Trail, continue on to the formation known as the Lighthouse, the most iconic element within the canyon (which sadly I didn't get a great picture of up close.  But I think the best pictures are from the more northerly canyon rim trails, which I didn't even attempt anyway.)  Go to the end of the trail, take the left-hand branch to avoid too much scrambling, and climb up to the base of the formation.  Then take the Lighthouse Trail back to the road.  At this point, you can take the short Paseo del Rio (PDR) trail back to where you started.  I had expected the PDR to be shady and cooler; in fact, it wasn't much shadier than the Lighthouse or GSL had been, although the trees managed to block the breeze, making it actually hotter.  I did have to stop under a big cottonwood tree in the shade and cool off before finishing, which was a shame because I was pretty close to the car.  This completes the 8-mile (or so) loop.  Like I said, in spring or fall, with lower temps and a full water bladder, this would be a lovely hike, and anyone who can walk 8 miles can do it; the terrain is not difficult and the trail is very well graded and groomed.

Although I was warned about rattlesnakes, I suspect that you only see them on the trail in the early morning as they come out to catch some rays.  By the time I hit the trail, they were back in the shade to avoid overheating.  I did see a number of lizards of various types, including a horny toad, lots of birds, including a flock of wild turkeys, and very briefly, a coyote popped around the corner right on the trail about 50 feet in front of me.  As soon as he saw me, he disappeared into the brush, and I didn't see hide nor hair of him again.

The trailhead is also kind of confusing.  There are two readily apparent trails at the trailhead, but only one on the map.  As you can see, the PDR doesn't actually come all the way to the trailhead on the map, but in reality it does.  If you take the left-hand trail, you'll end up in short order on the PDR, even though it technically has a different trailhead (although it's only a couple hundred or so yards away.)  Take the right hand trail that goes slightly uphill to end up on the GSL.  Because all of the trails are so well marked with markers every 10th of a mile, you can hardly get lost unless you really try.

One of many strange eroded hoodoos on the GSL trail.

Another GSL hoodoo.

If you look closely, you can see the Lighthouse in the distance.  From the GSL.

Hoodoos and the canyon wall.  You can also see the spring bloom of the mesquite and Texas juniper, which gave the canyon a greener than normal appearance.  In reality, it had hardly had any rain all year and was in a serious drought.

Very dry grass and distant cliffs from the canyon bottom.

Swinging wide towards this hoodoo on the GSL.

Typical Palo Duro scenery, including dry grasses, mesquite, cedar and prickly pear.

A bone dry creek bed that I crossed on the Lighthouse trail.

You can see the high quality of the trail here.  This was also one of the very few spots where you can catch some shade if you need to cool off a bit.  I did.

More hoodoos and badlands terrain.

Getting much closer to the Lighthouse, which looks like a double formation from this angle.  The one on the right is the Lighthouse proper.  The left one is actually a fin viewed front on; up close, and from other angles you can see that it is not actually a spire like the Lighthouse is.

Another hoodoo near the Lighthouse trailhead.  Some poor guys I passed thought this was the Lighthouse.  They were only a half mile in and had two and a half to go.

Another bone dry creek bed.