Comfortly Uncomfortable: Part 2 of A Trip to Death Valley

It’s early and the light of the soon to be rising sun is beginning to breech the inside of the tent. The night was cold, and I can’t wait to greet the sun like a loved one that I haven’t seen in a long time. The agenda for today is a big one, and we will be making our way into the National Park, so sleeping in is not an option. I sit up still zipped up in my sleeping bag and take in a deep breath of the cold morning air. I struggle briefly trying to find the zipper that will set me free. I get out of my sleeping bag, and step out of the tent to get my boots on. I stand and marvel at the horizon to the east, as the deep blue night sky begins to lighten and be intruded on by orange, red and pinks. Soon we will be on our way.20141120_060159

I love traveling on dusty beat up roads. There is just something about them that makes the driving experience feel like, well an experience. The bumps and dips, the rattle of the vehicle as it moves over the rocks that have migrated onto the road. The trail of dust we leave in our wake acts as if it were masking our departure from the rest of the world; sort of like saying don’t follow me, find your own way. Yes dusty dirt roads are harsh and probably shouldn’t be driven on all the time, but you really need to do it once in awhile. Get out of your comfort zone as much as possible, and in the end you will find comfort at every turn.

20141122_095021We travel through through the desert making stops along the way and taking in the scenery that this beautiful desert has to offer. We make a stop at Badwater Basin and Devil’s Golf Course to see the salt flats and salt structures. Much to my surprise I seem to be able to meet new people whenever I travel. If anything I suspected that my rugged beard would drive people away. Yet I always seem to be approached by someone. Whether it is a kind elderly person or an enthusiastic college aged person I seem to attract them. I enjoy talking to strangers, and they seem to enjoy talking to me just as much, or even more. I meet a ready to retire Geology teacher and talked with him for a bit at Badwater and a group of college kids from USC at Devil’s Golf Course, and another Older gentleman and Lady at the Hot Springs in Tecopa the evening before. 20141122_105754Each one had something fascinating to share. For Instance the Tecopa people were big time rock hounds and talked about their extensive collection from all over. The Old Geologist in Badwater talked about his time being a teacher and how much he loved it. Two of the USC kids were from France and I talked briefly to them about the geology of the area and how it all formed. After all, even though I’m an adventurer I am still an amateur scientist.

20141122_161307As the afternoon came upon us we found ourselves in Mosaic Canyon. This place is absolutely fantastic! It’s one of my favorite places in Death Valley. As you walk into the mouth of the canyon you are greeted by magnificent sloping and narrow path. The marble is smooth and polished from years of flash flooding. The path meanders through the rock, with each turn revealing a beautiful story in front of your eyes. When you begin to enter the upper Canyon, your eyes will be in for a treat as there is a great view of the mountains ahead. I decided to make may up a small slope to get a better view of the canyon ahead. Once I was at the top I noticed my friend had climbed a steep slope up to a peak. I watched and hope I wouldn’t seem him fall. It wasn’t a designated trail and there didn’t appear to be an easy way up, but he reached the top fast and safely.

When he returned back to the bottom, I asked how was it, and he said it was pretty 20141122_141354easy. He showed me pictures of the view from up there and I knew I had to go up there and see it for myself. It’s one thing to enjoy another person’s beautiful pictures, it’s another thing to experience the view for yourself. Now, I’m afraid of heights and this trek was going to be walking straight up a steep slope with no room for error. I decided to leave my daypack so I would have a natural center of gravity, and once I filled my canteen we were off. This slope was comprised mainly of Noonday Dolomite and much to my surprise it was very easy to walk on. It was strenuous because you are walking straight up, but it’s easy because your not slipping and sliding, it’s like you are Spider-Man. It took me a bit to get comfortable while walking up. I kept wanting to get low to crawl, even though I didn’t need to. I didn’t even want to really take any pictures because I thought I would fall back and down.

Once near the top though, was a different story. The rock here was scree and it was 100 times harder to move through. You have to watch your footing on rock like this, because your not sure what is loose and what can really support you, and one wrong move and you will slip and tumble down the slope to the ground below. At the top I took a big sigh of relief as I had finally made it up safely. The view from the top was everything I expected and more. Every direction I looked was breathtaking. The colors of the rock sung as the sun’s light reflected off it. The blue sky stretched on and on beyond the mountains. It was incredible, I was overjoyed to be there at that moment. Images of incredible beauty and the serenity in the moment is what I love most about being on top of peaks. I love to sit there and look at that horizon, and dream of chasing it for the rest of my life.20141122_142219

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Exploring the Kingston Range: Part 1 of A Trip to Death Valley

It’s been five days since I’ve been in civilization. I’ve just got back from being in Death Valley, and now I’m sitting in an In-N-Out enjoying a grilled cheese in silent company. My pants are torn, and the once dark green color is now muted by layers of dust and dirt. My right boot is being held together by a few strips of duct tape. A light ring of salt stands out on my navy blue shirt. I don’t even want to imagine how I possibly smell at the moment. The only thing that looks slightly good on me is my beard. Yet despite all of this, I’m smiling from ear to ear, from having an incredible adventure, with some incredible people.20141120_122202

It’s been over ten months since my last trip to Death Valley and I can attest that it has been way too long. I didn’t go by self on this trip, but rather a large group. Large group camping trips aren’t really my thing. I like to be in small groups or solo whenever I can, but sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone and do something different. After all, variety is the spice of life. The trip was planned for five days and four nights. Over half of the trip was to be spent outside of the national park but still in the surrounding area known as the Kingston Range.

We camped out at one of my favorite campsites called Horse Thief Camp. It is usually completely empty and it has a vaulted toilet so there is no need to bring your own toilet or make a cat hole if you need to go. There are remarkable views in every direction in this camp. Last time here we mainly focused on exploring nearby abandoned mines, however this time we explored the nearby mountains.

Hiking up these mountains are a bit challenging as 20141120_155532there are no trails that really lead to the top. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can find a worn path, or at least something resembling a path. If you do go, and decide to hike these mountains, be prepared to scramble. The rocks here in and around Death Valley are mainly made up of carbonate rock and when they weather and break they can become very sharp. My best way to describe it is to imagine touching a starfish only the tiny spines are much sharper.

The first mountain was not really a problem and it was relatively easy to get to the top. Once at the top my friends and I were treated to some spectacular views. The partly cloudy sky made shadows that stretched through the valley. It was as if an artist’s brush had painted the valley. 20141119_141536It was surreal on that peak, almost like in a dream, but with the cold air to remind you that you’re alive. You couldn’t help but just stand there and take in the breath taking views as hawks screeched and dived around the mountain. I almost wanted to stand there forever, looking off into the distance, at the horizon. It was so peaceful, it was tranquil. But all good things must come to an end, so we headed back to camp.

The first night in camp was spectacular. The camp fired roared and we all gathered around to keep warm, as the night grew cold. You can learn a lot about a person while at a camp fire. There are no distractions, no television, no phones, no communication with the outside world. In that time, you learn about a person, and what makes them who they are. You learn what makes them laugh, and if your lucky you learn a story about them. It’s funny to think that in the end, we’re all just stories. Everyone has a story to tell, and every person you meet will become a character in the story of your life.

The next morning we drove a little down the road to the only open area near the north side of Kingston Peak. We hiked a couple of miles through dry riverbeds and prickly brush as we tried to head up, what looked to be a way up to the spine of the mountain. 20141120_080643When we got closer to the top we found that it would be treacherous to continue on that path as the natural rock had formed spires that would need to be climbed and jumped through. Some of the spires were about 20 feet high and the range was as long as a mile, so that way was out of the question. It appeared we would have to go back and try to make our way up another peak.

20141120_120721As we approached the next peak we found it more difficult than anticipated. This mountain was covered in scree, and with no trail to lead up to it, we had to make our own way up. I snaked my way up as if I was on a switchback trail. Taking care to ensure I had sure footing as I went up. A slip and fall here would be unforgiving so I had to tread lightly. At some points the incline became to difficult to walk and you had to use your hands to scramble up. On more than one occasion, as I scrambled up the rocks beneath me gave away and began to slip. Let me tell you, I’ve never scrambled so fast in my life. I was winded as the hike was strenuous but when the rock slipped out I was able to move quickly. I scrambled for my life and once I reached stable ground I took a big sigh of relief.

It was all worth it, once I reached the top of the peak. It was higher than the peak I climbed yesterday, and the views were even better. Most of the group gathered on a different peak then me, and for a bit of time I was the only one up there. I felt like the king of the mountain. I sat on the rock and basked in the view. I’ve been telling myself for about a year now that one day, this will be my life. One day, each day will be a new adventure. One day I’ll pack some things and leave, and it will be just me chasing that horizon. But for now this will do. For now, I’ll enjoy the company when I have it, and explore as much as I possibly can. 20141120_125545

Going Solo in Joshua Tree National Park

It’s Tuesday Afternoon and after getting some more bad news, I decided to take the only medicine that ever does me any good. A trip to clear my head. A couple of days alone in nature should be just enough to get me feeling like myself again. I start packing up my things in the back of my truck. I’m not taking a lot, but I’m not going ultra light either. I take my day pack, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, chair and food and water for 3 days. As I load up my truck, I keep asking myself “Is this enough?” and then I ask myself “Is it too much?” I don’t want to take too much, but then again I don’t want to take everything either. I finally decide that it’s the perfect amount. I close my truck up, thinking that tomorrow I set off on an adventure.

The next day when I arrive at the Park. I decided to enter from the North and make my way down south to my planned campsite. The best thing about doing this mid week is that there is hardly anyone here. The campsites are practically empty, and there is blissful stillness in the park that is only broken by the occasional speeding car. I spent my first day near the Jumbo Rocks campground. The surrounding area is absolutely fantastic. I found small little trails that lead me near the large rock outcrops. Once I got close to the rock I decided to scramble up to the top. There are no words that describe how much I love scrambling. It makes me feel so alive to move up the rock, and the slight danger factor really gets the blood flowing.

After spending the better part of the day hiking and scrambling, I decided to head out in order to make camp before sun down. I had made the decision to stay on a patch of BLM land that is located a few miles outside of the park. While there are some wonderful campsites located inside the park, I really felt like roughing it and being isolated on this trip. There was no surprise when I arrived to an empty camp lot. Not a soul was in sight, which was great news to me, as this is what I wanted. I pitched my tent and as the sun sank in the distance I started a fire.

The night sky was simply stunning that night. The Milky Way stretched over my head and extended beyond the horizon. The stars glittered and shined in every direction. Growing up in an area with a lot of light pollution, you don’t get to see the stars like this. It’s great to have opportunities like this to see the night sky with little light pollution. Every time I see the stars, it’s like I’m looking at home. I see my family and friends in those stars, and it comforts me.

The next day, I decided to hike into the park. I wanted to have a really long hike and I figured this was the best way to do so. I had enough water and I knew of a Ranger Station where I could refill my hydropack so I wasn’t worry about not having enough water. I should have paid closer attention to the map before deciding on this course of action.20141113_103300 As I didn’t realize I made a mistake of underestimating the distance of the hike. I thought I was only about 4 miles away, when in fact I was around 6.5 miles away from the Ranger Station. That hike in took most of my morning, and as the days grow shorter, every minute really does count. Still it wasn’t that bad and after a short break at the station I headed towards Mastodon  Peak Trail. I was told the trails where well marked, but it didn’t appear to be so. Now don’t get me wrong, I love exploring, I love taking the beaten path and such, but when you have already hiked about 8 miles, you really just want to know where you are going.

It was literally a few feet after the trail head, when I couldn’t tell which way to go. The map from the station was not detailed enough to show the path clearly, so I did what I usually do when I don’t know which way to go. I followed the footsteps in the sand. I did this for about a half mile until the foot steps lead to the road. Great, now I either can backtrack or press on and see if I could find the trail again. I decided to press on, and shortly I found a trail marker not to far from where I was at. I scrambled up to the marker and thought finally I’m on the trail everything is going to be good. About 50 feet later I realize that I’m not on the path again. Seriously, this never happens to me. I backtrack again until I find the trail again. I scanned the area to see which way I should go next. That is when I saw a little stub of a post poking out of the ground. It didn’t look natural so I made my way towards it. The little stub only poked out by about  8 inches and it had worn out painted arrows on it. So now I knew I was surely on the trail.

I thought it was rather odd for a trail marker to be so small and so low to the ground. If you were not looking at the ground, you could easily miss it. Not to mention some parts of the trail looked washed out from recent flash floods making it hard to see any distinguishing trail marks. It was a bit annoying but then I remembered reading a post on the information wall, that due to recent increases of vandalism the rangers who would usually be working on maintaining the trails were now removing graffiti. So now when I can’t find the trail I just get upset at taggers for defacing the environment , which in turn causes the trails to deteriorate.

I eventually made my way up to Mastodon Peak. It was magnificent.  It wasn’t really that high up, but all of those rock structures poking out of the ground, much like a whale breaching the surface of the ocean, were incredible and beautiful. Rocks always have an interesting story to tell, and these were no exception. I scrambled up a structure that looked like it overlooked the trail. Near the top were crevices that separated the rocks. Now I’m afraid of heights, and of getting hurt, so what do I do? I jump across the crevices, of course. I then sat at the top and soaked in the view for as long as I could.

The sun was beginning to get low in the sky and I still had a long hike to camp, so I started heading back. As I walked out of the park and through the mountain ranges I knew it would be dark before I reached camp. The temperature was starting to drop, and I was still a good five miles away from camp. That is when someone who was driving by, stopped and asked if I was lost. I informed the man that I wasn’t, just making my way to camp. He offered to give me a ride if I needed it, and considering the alternate would be walking the next few miles in the cold dark, I decided to accept the offer. His name was Jose and he helped me out in a big way. Thanks to him I got to my camp before dark. It was going to be my last night camping here, and I was already pretty tired from all the hiking from the past two days. Doing that last five miles would have really been something that I didn’t want to have to do.

As a sat by the fire I reflected on the past week. The ups, the downs, and all the craziness that life likes to throw at us. It didn’t feel as bad anymore. I knew the sun was going to rise tomorrow and with the new day, will come new opportunities and another chance to make things right.20141113_054038

A Moment of Inspiration at Angel’s Landing.

It was the morning of June 20th in the year 2014. It was my first morning in Zion, and even though I didn’t sleep much, I could not wait to get up and get going. Today was the day that I took another step in conquering my fear of heights. Most people wouldn’t guess it, by the way I seem fearless on cliffs and mountains, but the reality is that I am terrified of heights. Being up on ladders is nerve wracking for me. So when I learned that there is a hike, where the last half mile is guided by chain, I told myself that I could do it.

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It was cool and still that morning. I waited impatiently for the first tram to pick me up with all the other early adventures at the stop inside the park. I could feel my anxiety begin. All I kept thinking about was how crazy this hike seemed. I wondered if I would be able to do it. I wondered if I would give up once I got to the last part. I wasn’t sure of how this would all play out. I could feel my fear gripping and tugging at me, but I wasn’t listening to it. Or at least, I was pretending to keep my cool. After all there is a saying “fake it until you make it.”

When I arrived at the the trail head I could see Angel’s Landing not too far off in the distance. It didn’t look  that high, but still, it was quite high. I began my trek and was quite surprised to find a paved path lead it’s way to the trail. I remembered hearing that Zion was tourist friendly, but I didn’t expect it to be that friendly. Still it felt a little nice to have a clear path for once. I began to feel tired, already. The odds were against me this morning, with the lack of sleep, already hiked 20 miles this week, blisters forming, and being over weight were all contributing factors. Still I pressed on, I was determined to get to the top.

It wasn’t that long before I got to what I thought was the top. I felt amazing,  I felt like I just conquered the world. I sat on the ledge and took a couple of pictures. That is when I remembered, that there is supposed to be a chain section. I looked over my right shoulder and saw people headed up a long narrow path that seemed to stretch on and up. I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. 20140620_082320

I got to my feet, buckled my day pack, took a sip of water and headed for the dreaded chains. I knew I could not take my time on this part of the trail. The morning was getting later and with each passing hour, more people were making their ascent. As I began my hike aong the chains, I felt more relaxed. Now that I was actually here, I felt better. Each and every step was getting more comfortable and my confidence was improving. I came to a small section that had a small drop. I grasped the chain and as I began to crouch down I stretched out my left foot. I had hoped to be able to touch the next rock and climb down but something else happened instead. My right foot was to close to the edge and I slipped. I immediatly death griped the chain and held on for dear life as I nearly went off the cliff. I may be embellishing a bit here, but trust me, if I didn’t hold on I would have hit the rock and went off the steep cliff. I pulled my self up and got my footing back. I could feel my heart beating fast. The adrenaline was pumping and I felt alive.

I continued up the trail, because I have already come this far, and I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to see that incredible view. Time seemed to be moving slow, or maybe it was because I was moving slow, I really don’t know. That last half mile seemed to go on forever. Finally I was nearing the top. I just needed to get up the last steep portion and I would be there. I gave it all I had left and boom, I was there.

The view was incredible. Every direction you looked at gave you a new and beautiful view. It was so amazing that I forgot how tired I was. I was taking photos left and right, trying to capture the beauty of this place, and the emotions that I was feeling. I was taking a panorama when I felt a strong breeze hit me, and it rocked me a bit. That is when good Ol’ fear came creeping back in. I started to feel like I was being affected by vertigo and so I decided to sit down for a bit. 20140620_091424

As I sat there I felt a little better, but I was also dreading the fact that now that I was up here, I needed to get down. As I sat there and ate my pitiful pb&j I saw an elderly woman. She was so full of life and energy. She was beautiful. She hadn’t a care in the world, nothing was going to stop her from living her dreams. She inspired me so much in that one moment than anyone else I have ever meet in my entire life. I remember hearing another hiker say that when he grows up, he wants to be like her. I replied with I want to be like her, right now. 20140620_090814