Utah Backpacking Trip
Stansbury Mountain Range 3/23-26/2007
Ok so Tony, Jon and I started our trek Friday Morning (March 23rd) at about 8am. Pops took our picture and dropped us off at the Davenport Trailhead on the East side of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest each with 50-60lbs on our backs. We hiked on the trail 5-10 minutes then decided to climb up the nearest slope and get to some sort of a peak where we could decide where to go from there.
We were amazed at how hard it was to climb the slope with our gear in the altitude and were breathing heavy in no time. Since we were not following any man made trails any more we had to duck under branches, climb over obstacles, try not to slide on small rocks or snow, and dodge around stuff in the way. Also off trail you are almost always dealing with 2 slopes instead of one. (not only are you climbing up but you are also climbing to one side even when going strait up) This makes hiking much more difficult then you would think.
We decided to take off the packs for a while and do some mild rock climbing on a nearby rocky peak. We thought from here we could see if it was possibly easier to go around the backside of the bowl. We ended up climbing and hiking a lot longer and farther then expected but I really enjoyed it and referred to it as every 10yr old boys dream. We were on a series of shallow rocky ledges filled with tree branches and other obstacles to climb over and around.
It was around noon when we got back to the packs and decided to take a lunch break before heading down the other side of our first ridge. At most meals or snacks we had beef jerky, deer jerky or ham jerky we also always had a variety of granola/power bars (peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, oats and honey and vanilla crisp). At this meal we also had some soft flower tortilla shells with a thick layer of peanut butter on them then sprinkled on a variety of dehydrated fruit and rolled it all up.
These were very tasty here is a picture of a banana and raisin version.
After lunch we went down the side of the ridge for a while and ended up following a dry creek bed down the slope. Following the creek bed down was really tough going and we were using our arms a lot to maneuver around all the trees and rocks. Both slopes of the creek were very steep so we stuck with it longer then we should have. We discovered that going down can be nearly as tough as going up. Eventually we decided the creek was too much trouble and climbed out and went back down the slope. We soon came to a mountain stream and pumped out some fresh delicious water. We looked for trout took a little break and found a closed trail heading in our direction. We followed this trail for a while until Jon talked us into bypassing the trail for a seemingly short climb up a steep rocky hill. The trail was nice in many spots but the farther we went the more snow we ran into and this became a problem. We would walk on dry ground 10-20 steps then be in snow to our thighs for another 5-8 steps. All of us began to get show into our boots and the snow made for slow going.
Climbing this new steep slope was quite a learning experience. We experimented with a variety of hiking techniques. First we made our own switchbacks for a while but this did not seem to be any easier so Jon put on his gloves and started going strait up on all fours then I decided to just walk strait up. I liked this technique the best you have to stop and catch your breath often but you make a good pace going up. We also learned that you almost never see the top of a peak from the side of the slope. Along the climb you see lots of spots that look like they are at or near the top but as you come to them you find it goes a long way from there but you believe this time you can see the real peak just to find it is also just a perception problem. This works both in climbing over a hill and in climbing around the outside of a hill.
Jon (left) and Tony (right) scrambling up the slope.
So the short climb turned out to be a long climb that took several hours. It began to get late in the day and we began to get a little concerned that we needed to find a spot to camp for the night. Going down seemed like such a waste after climbing for so long and going to the sides looked just as steep and nasty as where we were climbing. So we stayed determined and continued to hike up the slope. I found making small goals worked well for me. I would say I will climb to that bush then catch my breath, then climb to a rock I could see and break. After climbing to a tree and sitting down to take a break I sat down and saw a large bird in the tree. The bird looked like a fat chicken or something and we initially called it a game hen but now I am fairly sure it is a grouse. It had a large tasty-looking breast and we decided to surround it and see if we could not get ourselves some real dinner. We took off our packs and began to move in.
The bird we saw. Sharp-tailed Grouse
Jon was able to get in real close to the grouse from the top, while I came from the side and Tony from below. There were no sticks or other weapons in the area to find besides rocks and our pocket knives. We had no idea if this bird could fly or not or really anything about it but decided to close in around on it with some good throwing rocks and if it took off throw the rocks hoping to nock it down and grab it. Now remember we were on a very steep slope and were not very agile ourselves and this bird had probably been watching us for a long time trying to climb up to where he was. So we were able to creep in fairly close and Jon was sure if he had a stick he could have hit it but the bird 1/2 flew half ran up the mountain and out of our range proving that he was better equipped for the slope then us.
So the bird got away and we hoped to come upon one again in a more flat area. We decided to grab our packs and continue the hike but just then Tony’s pack rolled over, then again and in no time it was rolling over and over quickly heading down the mountain. After several yards it slowed down and looked like it was done then begin to roll again. Eventually it did stop rolling and we all stood with our mouths open for a few minutes with “ohh no” going through our heads. Then Tony started heading back down to get it and Jon and I discussed what to do. It was probably about 4pm or so now and we really needed to start looking for a camping spot. It was decided Jon would stay w/ Tony and try to help out and I would head up at a fast pace and try to find the top and a spot to camp that was flat and had some wind protection.
As I went up, I came across bits of more and more snow, more trees but still very steep everywhere. Once I neared the peak it was somehow not really flat anywhere. On the very top it was the most flat but very much exposed to the wind and a barbwire fence was running along the ridge and in the way of a potential campsite. I did see one spot that was slightly more level up against a couple of trees and suggested it when the guys showed up. Luckily pops had purchased and encouraged us to bring along a fold up camp shovel and we used it to get a more level sleeping spot. We dug down 6-8 inches on one side of the hill and removed the dirt and nastiest of rocks so we could set up the tent and begin gathering firewood and set up camp.
We ended up with a decent set up and started recovering from the hike right away. We had a small fire and we cooked a dehydrated backpacker meal of some chicken rice dish. It was pretty tasty but the serving for 4 did not really fill 3 very hungry mountain men. It soon cooled off and got dark sometime around 8:30. We lasted maybe an hour after that before going to bed. Once trying to sleep we found out it was much steeper and rockier under out tent then it looked while digging. We were really beat from such a demanding day and slept until after 9:00am.
Saturday morning we were faced with the question of what direction to go. There was a snowy slope to climb that looked to lead to a ridge that we could follow along for quite a while or we could head down the other side of the hill we had climbed and go through a valley to toward the lakes. We made some oatmeal and of course had some jerky and granola bars then headed down the slope into the valley. Heading down this slope was not too bad, much easier then heading down the dry river bed. It did work some different muscles of our legs and force our toes down into the bottoms of our boots. I think switchbacks going down are very helpful at controlling yourself. We passed a few old buried mines and soon made it to the bottom and began to work our way along.
>We headed deeper into the mountains sometimes on trails sometimes not and the going was good for a while. We spent some time following a dry riverbed going up and it was very fun and productive. Then we changed our rule not to follow river beds because going up was nice in them. Eventually our riverbed luck ran out and we hit a dead end of sorts.
We stopped to make a plan.
We could head strait across and deal with lots of snow.
We wanted to be over that ridge you see on the horizon and we believed the lakes to be off the right side of the photo.
Or we could head up and climb along some rocky shelves. We had learned to hate the snow from some of our previous treks into it but we had only had good experiences climbing over rocks. This was still a really tough decision because the rocks looked crossable but very intimidating.
As you can see we chose the rocks and began to scoot along. I took the lead and took a lower path that was slightly challenging and when deciding where to go looked for paths that if someone should slip they won’t fall far enough to get hurt. As we went along I had to change my mindset to look for paths that if someone should slip they won’t fall far enough to die. And as things got more challenging I had to really hope no one would fall because this was the only way to go.
After getting around one particularly tough chunk of rock I could see no way along that did not involve trying to cross snowy rock that looked very slick and terribly dangerous. I turned back to Jon and started telling him I did not know where to go from here. As we discussed the path ahead Tony asked for help getting around the bend w/ his pack. We could not hold onto the rocks and his pack at the same time and it was decided to abandon the rock ledge.
Getting down is easier said then done, esp. w/ 5o pounds on your back so we took off our packs and lowered them down with some rope we brought and climbed our way off the rocks and about to where we had started. We decided that we had been being stupid and should not put ourselves into that kind of danger. Unfortunately this did not get us out of a tough spot. We had in a sense wasted most of the day and had a long ways to go and nothing we could see looked to be getting any easier.
The snow was our only option we tried to walk on it and sunk deeper and deeper with each step. The snow was soon deeper then our waists in many spots and walking was impossible.
Jon was now in the lead and began to crawl along a light delicate crust.
This seemed to be the only way to move along the snow and we quickly found ourselves wet from the waste down crouching in cold snow barely able to keep ourselves on the surface. Hands and knees were often pushing through the snow and we would have to climb ourselves back out. Every time my hand pushed through, I lurched forward and my pack would push my head to the snow. We crawled a miserable 1/2 mile through the snow with hopes that the other side of the slope would be dry only to find each ridge we could see was not the real edge but just a fake. As we got higher in the mountains we found the direction a slope faced determined how much snow it had on it and if you could follow along around enough you would get to dry ground.
We did reach dry ground but it was a small side and did not last long. We had a small area of dry ground with lots of terrible slopes and the sun was sinking fast, so even in our tired state we quickly surveyed the dry area and found a small hill with a couple trees. The ground on the top looked fairly flat but was almost all rocks. We measured off a 6×8 foot area and got on our knees and started pulling up rocks. It was determined that after the previous night “holes are better then points” so we attacked all the points we could see and cleared out a lot of rocks. We then went back into the snow and gathered up wood and made ourselves a nice pile of wood and started a bit bigger fire then the night before.
We got the tent set up and started melting snow for water and setting up clothes and boot drying lines, sticks and rocks.
We spent most of the early evening drying out our clothes and in the mean time we cooked a tasty dinner.
We boiled 2 bags of minute rice in our pot and mixed in a packet of Mexican tomato chicken soup with noodles and once it was all cooked we added in a packet of sweet and spicy chunk tuna. It was all a bit spicy but very good and a bit more filling then the previous evenings meal.
Sometime before dinner I notices Jon’s boots looking funny and he grabbed them to find they had gotten too hot. the part that connects the rubber sole to the leather boot had melted around the inside ball of his foot and became disconnected also the leather around the toes had gotten to hot and shrunk up on him.
We discussed what to do in the morning and had no plans for our escape. We were a long way from where we had started and the car was still down the range a way and worse yet…
on the other side of this big ridge in front of us. I really hated crawling through snow and this slope was a huge nightmare to look at.
Around 9:30pm all our gear had dried up, all our dinner was eaten and we were full and warm and went to bed.
We woke up at about 7:30am ate a light breakfast and took down the tent and decided to get started on a long wet cold day. We began to head toward the peak on the horizon and quickly found out the going was not going to be as bad as we thought. Luckily the cold night had formed an ice crust on the top of the snow and this crust was strong enough to hold us up in the morning. I could see the sun creeping over the peak slowly burning off more of the ice and ruining our crust. At this point our pace went way up and we took off up this slope to the ridge and dry land.
Tony near the top as the sun sneaks in.
It was fairly steep and it would have been nice to take our time and catch our breaths on the hills but early morning time was precious and we climbed on very quickly. The horizon that I had expected to take almost all the day to reach only took about an hour at this fast pace on top of the ice crust.
But we made it to the top and found lots of dry snow free ground.
We take a picture from the windy top of the ridge.
We left our packs on this ridge and tried to hike around a little bit and get an overview of the the North and South Willow lakes that were on either side of the ridge. They both turned out to be very small and high and it took us a lot of climbing around to get to them with the snow melting around us.
Tony took this shot of me climbing around looking for the lake.
We decided not to try to camp near the lakes but to climb down a way and casually look for a good spot. Soon after we came to a trail and a mountain stream. We Ate lunch on the trail and then decided to set up camp and play the rest of the afternoon. From looking for the lakes our feet had gotten a bit snowy and wet Jon and I decided to follow the creak a ways but did not find any large pools to fish for trout in.
< Out of the cold snow and into the cold water we go.
We did find this used campsite and set up a nice spot for the evening with a previous campers fire ring and some wood.
The flat not rocky spot, fire ring was behind that pine tree.
It was a nice day, actually the weather the whole time was great, warm, no rain, light breeze and amazing views. Once we had a great campsite ready to go we just played around looking for animals or other adventure. Jon got motivated and started building deadfall traps.
This was a cool learning experience that could drive a man nuts. We were hoping to get one set and baited with peanut butter to catch something like the delicious looking grouse we had seen. Setting these traps takes a lot of patience and willingness to start over and eventually ours wore out. A few times we had working traps but the sticks would break or some other unfortunate circumstance would make us start over. I do think this technique would work out good if we had actually been hungry.
Well it was late afternoon and we were bored so we turned to fire and bourbon. I got out my lambskin pouch of bourbon and we got our fire started. We took off our shoes and socks and walked around barefoot some wile the the fire dried out our stuff and we occasionally went round the horn with the bourbon. After dark we cooked a great dinner of all the rest of our dinner type foods. 2 more bags of rice, a different packet of Mexican soup, and a package of some sort of beef lo mien noodles. This was probably our best dinner. Afterwards we just hung out by the fire watching clouds get dark and make us fear an escape from the mountain in the rain, then went to bed that did not feel as level and flat as it should have.
We woke up around 7am on our last morning in the mountain and decided we were too low on water to eat breakfast. We were near the stream and the path appeared to follow it but there was a lot of deep snow all around it.
The trail outside our campsite.
We decided to hike down the trail and get to the stream as soon as it was convenient. This turned out not to be the best plan as it was never convenient and then the stream was diverted and the trail and stream never met. We hiked on hoping to find water but were not too worried about it. This morning, while following the trail out we had to deal with another new problem. There was lots of ice on the trail and it was really slick in some spots. I think I fell down about 6 times and nearly fell down another 10 times. However as we got farther down the mountain the ice got less and less and eventually there was not even much snow.
We eventually stopped and ate breakfast and melted snow to filter for drinking water. We filled up our water bottles and climbed a nearby peak while the snow melted. From the peak we picked out our way down, once again heading off the trail as a shortcut. It was still early morning and we had all day to get to the car but Jon had developed a limp from ruined burned boots and the idea of making it out was getting to be very appealing. One we had full bellies and water in our jugs we headed out and once again followed a dry creek bed down the mountain. It went very well this time and eventually we climbed out of the forest and found a trail.
We recognized this trail as we had walked on it 5 days ago when picking out where to start and finish our journey. We walked the familiar mile back down the trail to the park gate and dads empty Envoy waiting for us. We put our packs in the back and started to get in when we found a cooler, opened it up and found beers and apples. We sat down on the rocks and had or celebratory drink and snack before driving back to town.