Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pics of random adventures in a local canyon

This was about three years or so ago. I was doing an eighty-foot rappel. This section was fun because you would drop down with nothing to touch for thirty feet. You can see that I just kicked off and am about to fly down. It's all kid's stuff, though.
This is an example of the stuff that I find off of the beaten path and why I really like finding mines. Pictured above is part of a steam compressor that has been abandoned for over a century. Oh, and the mines...They are a bit scary, I admit. But I am not too afraid to pop in and see what might be lurking in them. I occasionally find big ones; however, most are small prospects that either never produced or the ores were so poor as to not be profitable. Some mines later served as a hideout for moonshiners. Even more interesting are the mines that were used as scams. These played out or phony holes were "salted" with gold from a shotgun blast (the shot replaced with some amount of real gold or silver) or other method, so that crooks could lure in investors and then run off with their money. With gold at today's prices, you'd really have to con some serious money out of someone in order to make it worthwhile. It's these kind of stories that intrigue me the most, not the hole itself. I also like hiking to "death" cars. Having a couple of connections to search and rescue, I get the low down on these grizzly places. This one was particularly gruesome. Three guys came down a dirt canyon road at night and missed a corner. This is what a six hundred foot tumble looks like. Two guys died, with one of those guy's head getting completely crushed. The third guy was thrown out of the Jeep a third of the way down. Although he was seriously injured, he crawled up the incline to the road, nearly died, but then was found and saved. It may seem a bit weird, but I know of guys who have scavenged these wrecks to fix their own vehicles. Don't worry, I would never do something like that.
Then you have more appealing to the masses stuff: waterfalls. I would have to say that checking out waterfalls is my first love when it comes to hiking. Just to give you some scale on this picture, that rock on the right is about twelve feet tall. A sad story about this waterfall: A girl fell to her death here about ten years ago. She was with her boyfriend. They were walking around the rocks at the top and she slipped and fell head first down to the bottom. Her boyfriend scrambled down the hole (the bottom is a very treacherous spot to get to) only to find that he could not do anything to help her. So, he ran down the canyon as fast as he could to get help. In fact, he ran so hard that he broke some bones in his feet from the impact. It was not enough, though, and it was later determined that she had died instantly.
Well, I can't have a bummer ending for y'all, so I thought I'd include my other favorite thing to find on my expeditions: finding rock art. Now, this panel was not in the same canyon as the previous pictures, but is still in my hometown. These simple figures were probably drawn by some Shoshone or possibly Blackfeet--they were both in the area before the settlers came and pushed them out. I've found better examples of rock art outside of my backyard, but I still enjoy hiking up and looking at these little bunny-eared stick figures.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Solo Expedition, Nov. 20, 2011: Discovery/Excavation of Tunnel

This site is high up on the mountain. I drove up a dirt road up one canyon and then hiked down to this location. It's really steep. You take a tumble and it will take awhile to stop rolling.
Anyway, these might look like your everyday rock outcroppings, but underneath lies something hidden. I got a feeling looking at this ridge line, from a canyon road miles away, that there was something man made here that had been taken back by mother nature or TNT.You can see my ruck sack and pickaxe, ready to go to work on what I could tell was the remnants of an old prospect.After about a solid hour of swinging my pick, leveraging out some pretty big rocks, I managed to break through. This confirmed that I wasn't smoking old ropes from the garden shed after all. What you see is the largest I could make the opening, due to a massive rock slab that had fallen from the ceiling wouldn't let me dig the hole taller or wider. It was time to either leave, tape a camera to a willing squirrel, or suck in my gut and squeeze through this birth canal. I chose the last one...and it was almost the last choice I ever made.
The slide in was terrifying. I had a sharp rock digging right into my back while my stomach was trying to slug crawl over a smooth domed rock. I relaxed and let gravity take me down into the pit. In the picture above you can see a tunnel that is pristine. Nobody has been here for many decades, if not, a whole hundred years. There were no indications of footprints in the dirt, litter, or animal nests. From what I could tell, it was a very old prospect that collapsed not long after it had been abandoned. I was rather excited to be the first in a long time to be in this place. Little did I know that soon I would be in serious trouble. Though, the euphoria I was experiencing didn't let on that I was waltzing into my tomb--usually when one is giggling and stumbling around in the dark, it isn't deep inside a mountain hole that they just dug their way into.Bad air in mine shafts is something that I've certainly read and heard about. I clearly knew better than to just jump in this hole without a buddy, without more safety precautions, and (duh) letting the damned thing air out for a week. I was too jazzed to remember these important details to not leap in like I was chasing a leprechaun into his den. Like I said earlier, I started feeling euphoric. I was getting dizzy and started laughing for no apparent reason, other than it just felt good. I don't know what I was breathing, but it wasn't oxygen. It was probably carbon dioxide or possibly methane gas. The moment that I realized that I was suffocating, I got my wits back enough to turn around and head back the hundred or so feet that I had walked in. Despite my legs feeling heavier than lead at this point, my retreat was frantic, bumping into the sides of the tunnel as I weaved.The sight of blue light coming from the entrance calmed me down. Despite the urgency of the situation, this was picture worthy--I mean, it was like a micro rapture happening for me right then and there. It's hard to express the terror I was experiencing, yet somehow I was still in some strange la-la land of foggy elation. These feelings were all going on while I was thinking about potential death and how to escape from it. Nobody could even know what was happening to me at this time. It was all me and the Great Gazoo.

I laid down on the ground for awhile where this picture was taken. I could literally taste the air on my tongue. However, resting at this spot wasn't getting me enough air. My head was hurting more than I've ever experienced before, with exception of having actual head injuries. I started my crawl up the collapse to my hole, pushing my pack ahead of me.

The thing about climbing up, versus sliding down, is that now I have to use all my muscles to climb out. When I use all my muscles, I get bigger--I can't suck in anything. Simply put, I did not fit. I was smart enough to pop my pickaxe head off and throw it down the hole before hand. I don't know why I did this, but I am glad that I did. This move saved my freakin' bacon. I slithered back a bit and dug out the pickaxe head. I only had enough room to paddle the dirt from side to side, down behind me, as I rocked left to right. This was slow going, but I eventually made enough room to get past the tightest spot, but then my feet didn't have enough room or traction to get me out the rest of the way.

The pickaxe handle was left at the hole (you can actually see it at the top of the hole in the last picture). I reached and grabbed it with my right hand, turned it sideways, wedged it into the sides of the outer rocks, and pulled my body up enough to make it out to safety. I spent another twenty minutes laying outside on the dirt pile I had made. My body was burning, and my head was taking longer to clear than I had expected. Snow flakes started falling all over my body, but I didn't care; it felt good. Embarrassment and triumph are odd feelings to have at the same time, but that is what I felt at that moment. I gathered myself together, thanked God for saving me from my own retardation, and then realized that I still had to hike a long way uphill back to my truck.

Good times: I won't ever do that again by myself. Do you know of any women that like to do this sort of thing?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Just stuff

This last weekend I went for a hike. I was eager to try out some new crampons out on the trail. I've been trying to stay active this winter. Exercising like a normal person at a gym or jogging is not my deal. I need to feel like I am on some adventure; this is my motivator. Anyway, the snowy trails get packed down and then ice over, making it hard to hike safely without using poles or any type of crampon (strap-on spikes for your feet). Full-on crampons are overkill; it's not like I'm trekking over a glacier and scaling walls of ice. So I ordered some medium-duty crampons and received them last week.

The canyon that I hiked up this weekend had more use on its south side. I was not interested in bumping into people, so I went up the north side. At one time, this canyon had a wagon trail up it that miners built to get up to their claim. Ranchers used this way as well to get up to the flats above for grazing. In 1930, overgrazing of the hills and flats above this mining operation led to a small disaster. After a hard rain storm during the spring runoff, and instability from the overgrazing, a flood washed out much of the mine, mill, and road that was located up the canyon. My intentions for choosing this route on the north side of the canyon was to retrace what I could of this wagon trail.

The trail up to the highest Bonneville shoreline was sandy and steep. Approaching the mountain, the trail became overgrown with scrub oak and maples, but I could make out that a wider than normal path existed there at one time. It was at the start of this higher trail that I picked up on moose tracks and scat. This trail took me up into a bottle neck between two cliffs and dropped in just above a small waterfall. It was here that I lost all trace of the wagon trail, but picked up some cougar tracks; I followed.

The surrounding cliffs are prime area for predators to get a good vantage of what is coming up or down this canyon. During warm months, the flats are host to big animals, such as deer and moose, and of course, beaver, which have made more than several dams up there. Birds of prey, bobcats, and mountain lions have prime real estate in this bottle neck, essentially being able to keep tabs on what food is coming through and then pounce on them. Coyotes mostly hang out below on the benches.

I have never had such a hot spot for wildlife this low in my county than in this canyon and on the side I went up. (The south side trail is more developed and popular, but follows the bench and then switch backs ascend up and to the southeast over to another canyon). Most people don't want to deal with unimproved trails and bushwhacking. This is what I count on when I am picking a hike that will give me a more unique experience.

Anyway, I was mostly psyched hiking up, following the moose and cougar tracks. But then I had to make the descent; something about turning my back to the mountain made my hair stand up on end. This feeling of having cat eyes on me was a bit too much. I was at a point where I really needed snow shoes. The snow pack was up to my thighs, and if I had to stand my ground it would be very hard not to appear vulnerable. So I picked up a tree branch and swung it around my head, beat it on tree trunks/rocks, anything to make me look big and threatening. If anybody was able to hear me, they would have been treated to my "outdoor voice" version of self analysis. It's always the same on these more isolated adventures: I'm all brave and eager on the way up, and then paranoid and twitchy heading back.

I made my way down with the setting sun. It was quite a sabbath for me; one where I didn't have any judgment or expectations from people, but God and nature deciding whether to grace me with beauty and grant safe passage. I probably should have taken somebody with me, but I figure my only sin is in not having taken any pictures.