Friday, September 14, 2012

Dunanda Falls

Thirty-plus years in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming, and I'd never gone backpacking in the  Bechler Meadows region of Yellowstone National Park. About twenty years ago I went dayhiking there to do some fishing. That trip didn't work out very well; after a two hour drive from home and a two hour hike in to where I wanted to fish, I found that I had left my fly reel back in the truck. Oops... Back in the parking lot, I met a former park employee who had just spent a couple of nights near Dunanda Falls and couldn't stop crowing about the best fishing he'd ever had, not to mention the hot springs that fed some wonderful soaking pools at the base of the falls. Um, not exactly what I needed to hear right then, but I did file Dunanda Falls away for future reference.
The southwest corner of the park is home to some very flat areas (hence the Meadows), and also some lovely rivers, waterfalls and hot springs. The meadows are very boggy, often knee-deep in water through much of the summer; the Bechler region is very much a fall trip after the meadows have dried out and the brutal hordes of mosquitoes have met a frosty death. The classic Bechler backpacking trip is to spend four or five days on the 30 miles between Old Faithful and the Bechler Ranger Station at the southwest corner of the park. 
We had a good weather forecast and a few days of uncommitted time; Jill suggested backpacking into the Bechler. She had never been there, so it would be essentially new territory for both of us. We planned a two-night trip, enough to get a taste of the place. The morning we planned to leave, we woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm and steady rain. We decided against hiking in that weather, and scaled back to an overnight trip leaving the next day.
At the ranger station, we were fortunate to find our first choice of campsites was still available -- Boundary Creek site 9A2, about 6.5 miles from the trailhead, and 1.5 miles from Dunanda Falls. We took the shorter of two routes: the Boundary Creek trail rather than the Bechler Meadows trail. This route is a half-mile shorter, at the expense of two additional stream crossings. Both crossings (Bartlett Slough and Boundary Creek) were easy knee-deep crossings in water that wasn't as cold as I had expected.
After a third stream crossing (this one unavoidable), we reached our campsite, set up camp, lightened our packs, and hiked on to Dunanda Falls. The maintained trail stays high, above the top of the falls. There is a very steep trail down to the base of the falls, it would be dangerous when wet and muddy. The falls are indeed very scenic. We found a couple of hot pools on the edge of the creek, and one of them was just about perfect for a soak. We had the place to ourselves, and stayed there until it was a race against sunset to hike back to camp and prepare dinner.
After a chilly night (29 degrees inside the tent at 8am), we cooked breakfast and waited for the sun to bake the frost off of our tent. We decided to hike out via the slightly longer route through Bechler Meadows, mostly to see more new territory but also to skip two of the stream crossings. Bechler Meadows is a surprising expanse of flat terrain, quite a contrast to the elevation changes we're accustomed to when hiking in the Tetons.
 The Bechler Meadows trail has a suspension bridge across Boundary Creek.
I didn't take fishing gear on this trip; I was lazy and didn't want to carry the extra weight, and also didn't think I'd have enough time to really do it justice. But I do want to go back equipped with a fly rod and more time...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Packsaddle Loop

Today we finally got around to doing a classic mountain bike loop ride over on the Idaho side -- Packsaddle Loop. It's a 15 mile ride in the Big Holes, west of Driggs. The riding is on easy forest service roads, with some gravel county roads down on the flats to close the loop. 
Janet and Lisa were already planning to do this ride, so Jill and I tagged along. We had some gorgeous views east to the Tetons, no traffic to speak of, and perfect weather.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Muddy water in the Big Ditch

Jill and I were fortunate enough to get invited on a Colorado River trip through the Grand Canyon, which might be our favorite adventure. Sixteen of us launched from Lees Ferry on August 17, and we took out at Pearce Ferry on August 31. It was a fast-paced trip; we floated 280 miles in 15 days. I was at the oars on an 18-foot raft. Jill kayaked a few days and shared some time on the oars as well. She had hoped to spend more time kayaking, but the water turned out to be so muddy that kayaking wasn't very pleasant.
For the first week of the trip, Arizona was experiencing unusually wet weather. Some monsoonal flow with afternoon storms is typical in August, but what we got was way over the top. We had rain six out of the first seven days, including some long steady rainstorms that are unusual for the desert. Two significant tributaries to the Colorado -- the Paria River and the Little Colorado River -- experienced extended flash flood conditions for days at a time, dumping huge amounts of muddy water into the main Colorado. Here are the flow graphs for the Paria and the Little Colorado... over ten times their typical flows!

The exceptionally muddy water made it difficult to read some of the rapids; instead of frothy whitewater to highlight rocks and pourovers, the waves were the same brown color as the rest of the river. The waves also tend to be slightly smaller, because the water is denser due to the entrained silt and mud.
We had six rafts in our group, four 18-footers and two 16-footers. One raft flipped in House Rock Rapid, and two rafts flipped in Hermit Rapid. Only the 16-foot rafts flipped, hmmm... I managed to keep my raft right side up, though in Hermit I thought we were going over for sure; the waves were the biggest I'd ever run. Hit it square and hope for the best! The waves in Hermit get largest when the river flow is 17-19000 cfs; it was about 19000 when we ran it. The daily releases from Glen Canyon dam cycled between 9000 and 17000 cfs. Other rapids get easier at these flows, notably Horn Creek and Bedrock. We all ran Lava Falls (nominally the most difficult rapid in the Canyon) on the classic right-hand line without incident.
And what would a Grand Canyon trip be without costumes? Big thanks to Shane for inviting us...