Sunday, May 27, 2012

A typical Memorial Day weekend

Jill and I spent the past week in southeast Nevada, watching the eclipse and then exploring Great Basin National Park. We got home Saturday evening to a typical Jackson Hole Memorial Day weekend, 40 degrees and raining! Sunday morning we saw snowflakes, some of which managed to stick to the grass in the yard.

Eric was getting cabin-feverish after most of a week indoors working, and then watching the lousy weather on his days off. He suggested a hike somewhere just to get out of the house, after all, we do have Gore-Tex and fleece! Jill stayed home to catch up on tasks, Eric and I decided on Granite Canyon.  There was a sloppy wet inch of snow at the trailhead. We saw two skiers hiking out at the bottom of the canyon; otherwise we had the place to ourselves. We turned around after about two hours, a little bit short of the forks; 5-6" of wet snow at that elevation (8000') was starting to make for tedious walking.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Lexington Arch

Lexington Arch is a six-story limestone arch, located in the southern part of Great Basin National Park. It sounded like a good objective for our last day in the park, before we started heading homeward.

The trailhead is 12 miles from the highway, all of it on BLM gravel roads. Hmmm, I don't think we want to pull our Scamp trailer all the way in there.... Fortunately, we found a small pullout area just off the highway, and stashed the trailer there for a few hours. There were also several other usable places in the first 3 miles from the highway.

The BLM district in Utah must have more funding than its counterpart in Nevada. The first 3 miles of road, still in Utah from the highway to the Nevada border, were well-graded and maintained. Once we crossed back into Nevada, the road became just a typical desert two-track; nothing awful, doable in a passenger car under most conditions, but a marked contrast to the Utah side of the border.

The hike to the arch was straightforward, 1.5 miles in and 1000' up. The trail is mostly in open terrain and would be a scorcher in hot weather. The arch was impressive, well worth a few hours round trip.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baker Lake non-loop

We were going to do a loop hike in Great Basin National Park: up Baker Creek to Baker Lake, over the divide to Johnson Lake and then down Johnson Creek and across to the Baker Creek trailhead. As it turned out, May 24 was too early in the season, even in a low-snow year.

The Baker Creek trailhead is at 8000', at the end of a well-maintained gravel road. We saw a couple other cars at the trailhead, but never saw anyone else while on the trail. On the way to the lake, we hiked past one area with some very impressive avalanche damage, lots of large (12" +) trees littered like matchsticks at the bottom of a large bowl.
Baker Lake is a typical pretty mountain cirque lake...
The maps we had showed different routes for the trail between Baker Lake and Johnson Lake. Some showed the trail directly at Baker Lake, others showed it about 1/2 mile down below the lake. We didn't see a trail junction on the hike in; after less than a minute of exploring at Baker Lake, we found the well-cairned route to Johnson Lake.
The cairns were very large, usually 2 feet tall, and spaced very closely, rarely more than 30 yards apart. It was obvious, though, that the route had been laid out later in the summer after all the snowmelt was gone...
The small pond was easy to bypass. The route led up to the divide between Baker Creek and Johnson Creek, elevation 11300 or so. The views were impressive.

From the divide, we could look over and see Johnson Lake just below us. However, there was a snowfield on that side of the divide that would be more accurately described as the remains of a huge cornice, with a near vertical face dropping into a very very steep bowl. There was one small snow-free section, Jill thought it looked passable but I thought it too steep for my comfort level. So instead of a 13 mile loop, we did a 12 mile out-and-back. What is the opposite of a loop? At least we did get to see Johnson Lake...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wheeler Peak

While we were in Great Basin National Park, Jill and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to hike to the top of Wheeler Peak. It is the second highest peak in Nevada at 13,063'. The trail is a straightforward 8.4 mile round trip on a good trail.

The weather had turned cooler and breezy, temperatures in the 40s and winds 15-20 mph.The most-exposed section of the trail (ridgeline between 11,000 and 12,500 feet) was a bit unpleasant. Nearing the summit, the trail wound around to the sheltered side of the mountain. Surprisingly, the summit was not very windy at all compared to the lower ridgeline.

Yes, that is a Blackberry in Jill's hand. But there's no cellphone coverage to speak of (with?) there....

And a 360-degree panorama video....
Our GPS track is online at my EveryTrail page. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Caves and bristlecone pines and ...

... rock moraines, not to mention mountain peaks, glaciers, and alpine lakes.

Great Basin National Park has been on our to-do list for quite some time now. We were already in southeast Nevada to see the annular eclipse, so what better time? After a stop in Ely NV on Monday for a new trailer battery, minor medical services, and some quality internet time on the Blackberries, we pulled into the Lower Lehman Campground about 6pm. We were just in time to snag one of the few remaining campsites. This campground and the Upper Lehman Campground filled up that evening; later in the week that they were not as crowded. Apparently we weren't the only people in the area who had come for the eclipse and then stayed for Great Basin NP.

We had made advance reservations for a tour of the Lehman Caves on Tuesday morning. The tours do sell out ahead of time (ours did), so making reservations in advance is highly recommended. We picked the 90-minute Grand Palace tour. It is an amazing place, discovered in the late 1800s by a local rancher. We enjoyed the tour immensely...

After lunch we drove to the end of the Wheeler Peak road at 10,000' and went for a hike. There are 3 trails that leave from this trailhead: Bristlecone Pine loop, Glacier and Rock Moraine trail, and the Alpine Lakes Loop trail. They're all fairly short, so we did all of them for a total of 6-7 miles. (Click on any of the photos for a larger view...)
Bristlecone pines are very long-lived, found only in the higher mountain elevations of the Southwest. Great Basin NP has several bristlecone pine groves. Some of the trees here are over 3000 years old. At these elevations (above 10,000') they get exposed to some extreme weather and look as if they've led very hard lives.

(Umm, just to make myself clear here, I do mean the trees look as if they've led very hard lives, not the people...)
From the Bristlecone Pine loop, we continued on to the Glacier and Rock Moraine trail. We reached an elevation of about 11,000' and had some nice views of the SE side of Wheeler Peak -- our planned destination for Wednesday's hiking. (It's the peak on the right)
Just before reaching the trailhead on the way back down, we turned left and began the Alpine Lakes Loop trail. This trail took us past Teresa Lake ...
... and Stella Lake, with Wheeler Peak in the background.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Echo Canyon State Park, Nevada

Jill and I headed to Echo Canyon State Park, east of Pioche NV, hoping that it would be a good base for watching the annular solar eclipse on Sunday May 20. We pulled into the campground on Saturday afternoon and had our choice of several good sites; the campground was about 2/3 full. The camp sites (about 30) had shaded picnic tables and running water, and were well maintained.

The main attraction here is Echo Canyon reservoir, a small dammed reservoir that appeared to be full of hatchery trout. The trout received steady pressure from fishermen on the bank, in float tubes, and in small boats.

After two days of driving, we were ready to get some fresh air and exercise. The Ash Canyon trail is a short (1 mile or so) trail that runs from the campground at Echo Canyon State Park, through Ash Canyon, to the Meadow Valley Road. It can be done as an out-and-back, or as a loop by walking back along the road. We added a little bit of distance and elevation gain by hiking up to the top of a nearby ridge, looking for potential eclipse viewing sites. Ash Canyon has some very rugged volcanic rock formations that are a striking contrast to the surrounding juniper ridges.

After the hike, we went for a drive to Spring Valley State Park, about 15 miles by road but less as the crow flies. Spring Valley SP also has a (larger) reservoir full of hatchery trout. The campground here was full, so we congratulated ourselves on having picked Echo Canyon instead. Spring Valley State Park was quite the busy place, full of weekend campers and day users. I have to admit, it is a more scenic location than Echo Valley.
On Sunday we took the mountain bikes for a road ride from Echo Canyon SP up to Spring Valley SP, but we took a shorter route on paved roads through Meadow Valley. This valley was lovely, and we saw very few cars on this back road. North of the reservoir at Spring Valley SP (which is actually known as the Eagle Valley Reservoir, hmm) we did a short hike through some interesting sandstone formations.

On the way back to camp, we stopped at Eagle Valley Resort for an ice cream bar. The resort is a small RV park with a bar, restaurant, and general store; nothing special in my book. Other camping alternatives in the area include lots of BLM land, and the Meadow Valley BLM campground between Eagle Valley Resort and the Spring Valley SP. The BLM campground is small, maybe 8 sites, and only a couple of those would be suitable for a small trailer.
Back at Echo Valley SP, we showered off the day's sweat and then drove up in the hills south of the Echo Valley reservoir. The evening before, we'd found a great spot for eclipse viewing; we set up lawn chairs atop a small ridge just 50 yards from the road, opened a couple of beers, and settled in to enjoy the show.
We had that viewing site all to ourselves. I didn't think to bring a camera tripod on this trip, so my eclipse video is all handheld; it turned out well enough, though.
We enjoyed the Echo Valley - Meadow Valley - Eagle Valley - Spring Valley area, and thought that it would merit a longer visit for more exploring. Mountain bikes would be a must, and the area is much less crowded mid-week compared to the weekends.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Eric at the trailhead

BS Mathematics
Montana State University
May 5, 2012

He'll return to MSU in the fall to start on a Master's degree in math.