23 March 2016

Happy Trails Steve Watts

The world lost a voice worth hearing in Steve Watt's passing. He and I had traded communications over the years, mostly to do with Col. Whelen among other topics. I always appreciated his perspective and deeply respected the man.

His words, wit, and wisdom will be sorely missed.

Christian Noble has written a wonderful piece on the man and it would be well worth your time to read it.

Happy trails Steve, may the mountain you find be the one that you always searched for.

Good bye my friend.

21 March 2016

With nothing better to do....

It was my weekend in Utah and next week I'm off to Tejas so I spent some time driving and hiking, shooting and exploring.

Late Friday evening I changed the oil in the jeep, topped off the tank and my spare water can with the anticipation of hitting the road early Saturday morning. I had planned on driving the Pony Express trail and then finding a place in the west desert to do some shooting. I'd bought new glass for the AR, a Vortex Viper PST 2.5-10X32 FFP and a Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6X24. From there I'd just see where the road would take me but I was itching to get into some high places.

It doesn't seem to matter much, which direction you go here, There's not an unpleasing sight. Somewhere out there I made a left and headed off to the south for about an hour or so, after arriving at a spot with some good backstops I set up and did some shooting. I sighted in the PST first and was delighted with both the clarity of the glass and how well I was able to punch paper with precision at 500 yards with it.

Similar tune with the Strike eagle, while I didn't shoot out to 500 I was consistently hitting well at 250. After I get some more time behind both of them I'll write up my thoughts on each.

The AR is a Rock River Arms LAR-15 Advanced Tactical Hunter, .223 Wylde Chamber, for 5.56 and .223. (Hey ECW, really digging it man, thanks again!)

Some no name shoulder bag made a good mag/misc gear/hydration carrier. HC Canteen rides well in the main compartment with lots of other spots to stash gear.

I had more fun running some drills with it, kind of dull doing them alone but I did enjoy having a chance to knock some dust off some old skills.

Dusk came on and I head back, had KFC on my mind!

Next morning I tooled south down 6 towards price and made a left onto 191. This section of 191 is called the Indian Canyon Scenic Byway and runs from near Helper to Duchesne. Stretching northeast from the historic mining town of Helper in the canyon of the Price River, US-191 ascends Willow Creek featuring open vistas and passing through the beginnings of the Roan and Book Cliff formations. Peaking at Indian Creek Pass, 9,100 feet in elevation, the byway passes through the Ashley National Forest.

Of course I can't help myself and often turn off on every unnamed road, trail,  and goat path I find. This road trip was no different but I got myself in trouble this time.

I enjoy the drive down 6, it's winding and rolling through bluffs and gorgeous scenery. One of my free weekends in the future I'm going to explore that Price Canyon Recreation area. The ride to 191 was uneventful.

Some where near the summit there was a muddy turn to the right and I took it. Things were going just fine at first. The as I got into the shadows the mud turned to snow. It was packed pretty good with some sign that a snow cat had come through probably several days before. It seemed pretty well packed and the jeep was moving along without much difficulty. I began to feel her sinking hard on the left and sure enough we broke through and I got sucked into the softer stuff on the shoulder which was far deeper than I'd figured. I didn't hit the bottom and the snow was near the tops of the 32" tires.

No matter where you go, if you're touring the back country it always pays to be prepared. Especially if your a bit of a nutter and doing this stuff solo in a place where you know virtually no one and any real life line is 1500 miles away. There was no cell service up there, hence no Instagram shots, so if I couldn't self recover it was going to be a long walk!

I popped open the back gate to grab my recovery bag. It's an old mag bag that I keep the remove for the winch, some gloves, a few spare shackles, a snatch block and a 25' 20,000lb rated tow strap.

I ran the tow strap around the trunk of a tree about 40' from the jeep, hauled out the synthetic which line, through the snatch block and back to the big shackle on the jeep bumper. This is a classic double line pull, easiest to explain via the graphic below,

In essence when you run the line to a snatch block (pulley designed for this) back to the vehicle you can double the pulling power of your winch. Fist pump for mechanical advantage!

In short order the winch had pulled the jeep back up onto the hard pack. It was a little touchy because it wanted to just pull through. I'd already engaged both front and rear lockers when I was trying to escape the suck, so with a little coaxing I got her back up onto the hard stuff.

With that done I cautiously flipped ends and headed back to the mud and the main road.

Some time later I turned off somewhere in Ashley NF and did some hiking.

Reluctantly I pointed the jeep out and up and then north to the mountains and back to Provo. Work beckons, and this coming weekend back home in 'Sota. In all I drove a little over 350 miles and hiked probably another 15 or so. It's not the oaken hardwoods in the mountains of my birth, nor is it the green swamps of my childhood, the Appalachians of my young adulthood, nor the Boreal of my most recent home, it's a whole new kind of intriguing, both mysterious and treacherous but full of life. The kind of life I find worth living.

Thanks for reading the rambles...

10 March 2016

That thing, you know, when you perceive the unseen? Part II

Sometime in the wee hours I woke to a pattering sound, at first I didn't understand what I was hearing. I was enjoying that state of existence where upon the body is in this warm pocket while cool air nips the nose. It's a feeling I find most often when camping, cocooned in my sleeping bag, just the right temperature. I blinked a few times as I listened, then I realized it was raining.

As comical as it might sound I actually said aloud, 'it's raining, it's raining in the desert and you camped near a wash up the canyon.' I tried to focus on how long I'd been hearing the rain, waste of focus that was. I sat up and slithered forward and unzipped the net tent and turned on my headlamp. It was clear the sand was wet but it didn't look like it had been going on for a long time. Nevertheless I didn't want to be caught up in that canyon if it really started to pour.

I had planned on a morning fire but in light of the weather impediment and concern for being stuck in a serious storm I pulled the old pocket rocket stove out and made breakfast plus coffee from the relative comfort of the Megatarp. Incidentally, the kettle in the image below started life in Norway. It's the 1.5L version, I also have a 4L, both of which were sent to me by two fine friends more than half a world away. The kettle in the picture spent a decade or thereabouts on various adventures in Norway and Finland, made it's way to me and I've had it all over the place including North Slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska and now the deserts of Utah.

After downing the 'breakfast' and some coffee I struck camp quickly, loaded up and started the journey out of the canyon in the darkness and the rain.

The drive was just plain old fashion fun, the road narrow and winding and at times a sheer drop on one side or the other. The rain ceased and I drove higher, I wanted to try and catch a sunrise over Temple but it was too overcast. I drove back out of the area and stopped long enough to snap a pic of the pictographs at the mouth of the canyon.

I headed back to I-70 and rolled out to Green River. After fueling up I plotted my course for another canyon about halfway back to Provo that has been referred to as 'The Worlds Longest Art Gallery', Nine Mile Canyon which is anything but nine miles long. It's actually little over 40 miles long and is home to over 1,000 rock art sites and over 10,000 individual images. There's more rock art concentrated in this canyon than anywhere else in North America.

The drive back up 6 was unadventurous but beautiful nonetheless.

The first section of Nine Mile before you get into the rock art sites is a twisting, turning, demon of a road with incredible vistas. The rain picked up and was going pretty good by the time I got to the first site.

Back on the road the rain lessened a little, coming around a bend I spotted some mule deer.

The clouds continued to disperse as I drove deeper into the canyon, simply amazed by the surroundings. I constantly saw game, I saw plenty of water, I saw canyon fortress like walls and I began to understand. Humans have lived or passed through this canyon for between 8,000 and 10,000 years. It's full of resources, littered with defensible positions, protected by rugged terrain, heights and sheer impossible to get to easily spots. Many cultures have lived here, all for the same reasons.

By the time I'd made it this far the sun was out and there was a pretty solid breeze flowing. I rounded a bend and pulled off the road at the foot of the trail leading up the mountain to a 'Fremont Village'. This is a fairly steep trail that leads to a 'pithouse' and further up the mountain to several alcoves on the wall with narrow ledges and breathtaking scenery.

Further up the mountain you'll find the alcoves in the ledges. I can only imagine what life must have been like living here. I can see a lookout posted, watching up and down the canyon floor. How smoke must have wafted through the alcove up high, nearly invisible against the sky. Children playing just below, a mule deer being worked in the shadow of the mountain. 

Walking back down I had the sensation of being watched. I stopped multiple times and looked around, I looked hard at every nook and cranny. I know the feeling, it's unmistakable, I know when I'm being watched. I must have searched with the naked eye and my field glass for upwards of forty minutes but I could find nothing. With a physical shiver and the hair standing up on my arms I slipped quickly back down to the jeep.

Another bend in the road and I was at 'Big Buffalo' panel.

Another short drive and I was at the Great Hunt panel. Probably one of the most recognized panels of rock art in the world.

The Great Hunt is the last primary panel in Nine Mile Canyon that is easily accessed. In all I don't believe I saw a tenth of what's out there. I still had this unshakable sensation of being watched. My eyes continually scanned the canyon rims but I, as expected, saw nothing. 

There are two ways out of Nine Mile, either drive out the way you come in or head up the unpaved section of the canyon, 32 miles north it will dump you out near Myton, east of Duchesne. The first section of this drive is unpaved and there was absolutely no rock art that I could find. It's a twisting and winding even more than before road. I climbed and I climbed, the skies darkened and the rain returned. Finally I nosed the jeep up and out and onto a high plateau, it felt like I'd climbed out of something, something I cannot explain. As the jeep gained speed and the Colorado Plateau, red rock and pinyon pine as far as I could see played out before me I had the oddest sense of relief.

The skies opened up at this point, torrential down pour. 

I hit 6th and didn't look back, eventually the Wasatch Mountains loomed in their own foggy fortress before me.