On the Flanks of Mt. Rainier

Tammy and I have had a busy schedule these past couple of months! Turns out, our kids have been busy too! They’ve managed to deliver us four Grand babies in six weeks! Most of our kids live in Texas and we get to see the Grandies often but we have one rebel child and his wife living in California so Tammy and I just had to head West to see our newest grandson, Sloan. What a charmer he is. We had alot of fun with his older brother Evan too. We spent several days enjoying our kids and grandkids and detoured back to Texas via Seattle.

We arrived in Seattle the day before Independence Day; my luggage however, arrived on Independence evening! Thankfully, Tammy’s luggage made it to Seattle; mine took a trip to Aspen – Airport code (ASE) versus Seattle’s (SEA). After a quick trip to the mall, we spent the 4th in downtown Seattle at all the typical must-sees – Pike’s Place Fish Market and REI!

REI was not in the plan but an error on my part (leaving our trekking poles at home) meant we took advantage of REI’s rental department and for around $20 rented two pair of poles. Our knees would say probably the best $20 spent!

The next day we decided to head to Crystal Lakes, on the NE flank of Mount Rainer. It’s a 6 mile round trip with 2600 feet of elevation gain! It was definitely a hill for these climbers. I think we have been eating too much cake lately. The trail is well used and easy to follow and after three miles uphill you can set a spell and take it the mountain beauty. We rested awhile at Lower Crystal Lake where there are only two campsites and a bent over bear pole.

On the way up the trail, you get some spectacular views of Mt. Rainier. For those of you who, like me, are geologically inclined, the USGS calls Mt. Rainier  one of our Nation’s most dangerous volcanoes. It’s an active volcano at rest, having last erupted in 1895. Capped by snow and having 25 glaciers that would melt during an eruption, it would produce torrents of meltwater that would pick up boulders and mud in a soupy slurry called “lahars” that can flow at over 20 mph and have known to be almost 500 feet deep! How cool is that! Geologically speaking that is. Beautiful and dangerous – God is quite the craftsman.

Mt. Rainer
Gorgeous view of Mt. Rainer

 

We continued on to Crystal Lake marching ever upwards on switchbacks carved through the cool shade of the tall pines. What a respite from the heat and humidity of Houston. We soaked in the beautiful weather, the smells of summer cedar and pine and the quietness of the dark forest.

It ended up being a respectful hike for a couple of let’s say, “experienced” hikers. We chilled at the lake and devoured a Picky bar, taking in the scenery and as we kissed on the shores of Crystal Lake, I felt young and alive and thankful.

Crystal Lake
Lower Crystal Lake Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

What a day! Our knees thanked us when we got back down to the little log bridge at the start of the trail. We have been blessed to be able to spend time in the outdoors, challenging ourselves and hopefully staying young enough to keep up with all these grandies!

As Chief Seattle said, “This we know. The Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth. All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the children of the Earth. We do not weave the web of life; we are only a strand of it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”  That’s something  we think about when we hold these precious little creatures in our arms!

Tammy at the trailhead
Tammy at the Trailhead

The Osprey Goes for a Swim!

Ah, springtime in Texas! Tiny little shoots of green push themselves through the warming brown dirt. Soon the blue bonnets will dance across the Texas Hill country, luring thousands to dress the children in their favorite Easter attire and sit them among the swaths of blue for this year’s photo. It really is a great time to be outdoors in Texas.

Tammy and I headed to Austin to celebrate her birthday and get some outside time hiking. After a Friday night spent Ubering (is that a word?) from one honky-tonk to another in search of some good dancing music, we were ready to shed some calories enjoying a Saturday outside. We planned to hike along Barton Creek to Twin Falls and then on to Sculpture Falls, an easy 6 mile round trip from the Barton Creek 360 Trail access.

Twin Falls
Twin Falls along Barton Creek Austin, Texas

This was also a great opportunity to test out my new Osprey Stratos 36 pack. I’ve had a few packs in my life and I still have them. After today, I’m afraid most of them are destined to reside in my gear closest all year! The Osprey is a beast! Awesome suspension system with an Airspeed mesh back panel that gives you circulation space between your back and the pack – a key feature for those hot Texas days! A seamless hipbelt which wraps you in comfort and is sturdy enough to take on a 30 lb. overnight load. All sorts of cool features like an integrated raincover, internal hydration reservoir sleeve, zippered pockets on the hipbelts which are actually big enough to hold a cell phone and it just looks cool in black with lime green accents!

Osprey Stratos 36
Day hiking Beast!

Turns out the Osprey’s not afraid of a little water either. On the way back down the trail, I thought I’d jump across the rocks and make my way to the other side of the creek. Sure the limestone was well worn and a thin coating of algae. No match for my cat-like reflexes, right? Well, I did make it across and then I proceeded to proudly announce, “Easy, come on babe.”  Stepping back in Tammy’s direction on a rock with a slight angle and down I went! Of course, this is not one of those hiking trails where it’s all peace and solitude. No, there were plenty of people and dogs just sitting around taking in the scenery and listening to the water rush over the gray limestone. Plenty of heads to turn my way just as I fell on my back and the Osprey dove underwater. Springing up quickly so that perhaps only a dozen people saw me, I gathered myself, pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and fished out my sunglasses before attempting to cross back over to my waiting bride. Lickity-split, there I was back in the water for a second time! Crawling back to safety, I assessed the damage and determined only my ego had been bruised. We headed back to the car, the squishing sound of water in my Oboz boots reminding me with every step that shit happens! You pick yourself up and hike on!

Map of Barton Creek Trail
Barton Creek Trail from 360 entrance to Sculpture Falls

If you go: Austin has lots of places to lose yourself in the woods inside a city. The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a great place to start. You won’t be lonely though, Austin people, their dogs and their mountain bikes spend a lot of time on these trails. You won’t see too many people in the water in March though! Hike on!

Product Review : Live Out There Chamonix Down Jacket

I haven’t owned a down puffy since before the term “puffy” came into vogue but since I was planning a short hiking vacation to Santa Fe, NM in December, I thought I’d do a bit of gear research and buy some new down.  I scoured all my traditional haunts like Patagonia, Marmot and Mountain Hardware, which based on the lack of space in my closet, have all been good to me over the years. Then I happened upon a short story on Gearjunkie about a company named Live Out There and decided to give their line a look.

Live Out There’s Mission is “Get The World Outside.” CEO Jamie Clark, has been a successful “brick and mortar” retailer from Calgary, Alberta Canada for years and he has come to believe that the main obstacle keeping people from going outside is the high cost of the gear. He wants to make great gear at fair prices so people can pursue their outdoor passion wearing quality gear while having a few bucks left over to actually use getting outside! In order to do that, he’s leading a retail revolution, cutting out the middle man and selling directly to his customers online.

He is also giving customers data to make an informed purchase, which I find quite refreshing. “Transparency is Power” and I applaud Jamie’s approach. So a few days before flying off to Santa Fe, NM, I received my Chamonix Down Jacket.

PhilTammy Santa Fe Plaza Dec 2017
Wintry shopping day on the Plaza in Santa Fe, NM

My wife is a Patagonia fan and she certainly rocks her Patagonia down sweater but I’m sporting a puffy that I think competes head to head and is cheaper by about the price of a really nice meal at il piatto , an Italian farmhouse kitchen off the square in downtown Santa Fe! In addition to the pricing, I also like the product comparison tables on the Live Out There website. Check it out; it’s an education in supply chain economics.

Filled with 800 Fill power, 100% Traceable Goose Down insulation with a water-resistant shell that conveniently stuffs into its own inner stash pocket, I have been impressed with the jacket.  I appreciate the attention to details like hem shock cord adjusters which cinch up the bottom of the jacket on those windy days and a zipper garage that keeps the cold metal zipper off your skin when you zip up the collar.

I’d encourage you to check out LiveOutThere.com when you’re considering making your next gear purchase. Get some great gear and save a few bucks. See you Outside!

P.S. While in Santa Fe, Tammy and I stopped by and visited with the nice folks at Outside magazine. Thanks Will!

 

 

 

 

 

We take on the Kalalau Trail!

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Tammy and I on the magnificent Na Pali Coast

Named by Outside Magazine as one of the 20 most dangerous trails in the world, the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali coast on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, seemed like one for the bucket list. My son and daughter-in-law had backpacked the entire 22 miles shortly after their honeymoon and told us it was a tough trail. Surely, Tammy and I could tackle the first two miles to Hanakapiai beach!

Kauai, Hawaii is one of the most beautiful and wettest places in the world. Receiving 450 inches of rain a year, this tropical paradise is home to exotic flora and fauna and lots of red mud! No hill for a couple of climbers though! We laced up our Oboz hiking boots and threw our Paria Outdoor Products trekking poles in the backpack and headed out. Much to our dismay, when we arrived at Haena State Park, the trail was closed due to wildfires burning on the ridge above the trail. Who would have thought anything could catch on fire in this rainforest. Although it hadn’t reached the trail, park officials closed the Kalalau as a precautionary measure. Disappointed, we hoped that it would reopen over the next week. A couple of days later the trail did reopen and we threw the gear into the Jeep and headed for the Na Pali coast.

Because the trail had been closed for several days, it seemed like a lot a hikers were milling around when we pulled into the parking lot on Friday morning. Undaunted by the numbers, we figured it was a quick four miles and we would zip past the crowds and be back to the Jeep in time for an early lunch. That turned out to be wrong.
Our first clue should have been the string of hikers coming down the trail who looked like they had taken a mud bath! Our next clue came about 50 yards up the trail when a young lady covered in mud looked over at her husband with disgust after seeing our trekking poles and said, “Why don’t we have some of those?”

Oboz on the Kalaula
Tools of the Trail

The trail winds up and down along the coast transected by a number of small streams cutting through jungle and then rises up to spectacular coastline views only to send you back down into the jungle before reaching Hanakapiai stream, which is large enough to make you think twice about boulder hopping across. I hopped across the rocks while some nice man acted as a human handrail for Tammy to step across the rocks.
Hanakapiai beach is a lovely tropical gem, half covered in smoothed black volcanic rock reaching out to clean khaki-colored sand. It’s an awesome place for lunch; unless you left yours in the Jeep! Turns out that we had spent 2.5 hours slipping and sliding along the trail and given the warm temperatures had almost exhausted two 32 oz. Hydroflasks. The Boy Scout motto was ringing in my head and we watched those more prepared enjoy lunch!
With a bit of rest, we gathered up our gear and I opted to wade across the stream providing some reassurance and a helping hand to Tammy as she cautiously navigated her way between the rocks. Occasional bursts of hot sun were drying up some of the trail and our mouths but we endured and thanks in large part to our trekking poles, managed to do the round trip without falling on our butts once! Throwing our wet gear and clothes in the Jeep, we devoured our turkey sandwiches, changed into swimsuits and spent the afternoon snorkeling at Ke’e beach.
If you go, wear hiking shoes and carry trekking poles and more water than we did! We saw lots of flip-flop casualties. Take a lunch and your time in one of the most beautiful spots on this earth!

 

Solitude in the Snow

My wife and I decided to take a road trip to Arkansas over Spring Break. I had always wanted to stand atop Whittaker Point (unofficially called Hawksbill Crag). Located in Northwest Arkansas in the Ozark National Forest near Ponca, AR, it’s a fairly easy 3 mile round trip hike, even for people on the gray side of life!

Our first stop was Hot Springs, Arkansas to partake in the healing waters of the now quite commercialized bathhouses. We opted for a private couples bath at Quapaw Baths & Spa. Very enjoyable!

Six miles of red dirt up Cave Mountain Road was no problem for Tammy’s Tahoe and we pulled out the Paria Outdoor Products trekking poles and starting down the trail which drops about 200 feet in elevation over 1.5 miles. We had a wonderful wintry walk complete with a light snow shower.

If you go, tread carefully on the crag; it’s a 150 foot fall and it happens! Soak in the healing waters of the springs and the healing power of a wintry day’s solitude in the beautiful Ozarks.