Friday, June 21, 2013

Week Two: Army of One.

Outdoorsmanship and warfare are quite possibly two of the oldest and most intertwined activities of mankind. There is clear evidence that these activities were being practiced by Hominids before Homo Sapiens-sapiens were even a species. The main difference is that the arts of warfare get to the nasty business of really pissing someone off and maybe loosing your own skin; where-as the nasty side of outdorsmanship involves really pissing some creature off for your dinner or meeting some unfortunate, untimely end.  Consider the parallels if you haven't.  One of the most famous achievements of military history is Hannibal getting his army across the Alps. The great battle at Thermopylae hung on the balance of a geologic feature exploited by the Greeks. Firearms? There are about three real uses for firearms, Military, Sport (target shooting), and Hunting (outdorsmanship). Being a good marksman in the back county is good because you get dinner, being a good marksman at war means you might keep truckin' a bit longer. The training and preparation for being a good solider and being a good outdoorsman are strikingly similar. Endurance in a number of situations, capable of dealing with prolonged stress and lack of comforts, proficiency in a number of tactical skills, maybe rappelling, climbing, or being able to silently paddle a small watercraft. Hell, they even use the term "military expedition". But to dispel any other doubts you might have: Lewis and Clark. The United States basically created a new branch of the military, "The Corps of Discovery" so it could happen and almost everyone in the crew was military. The only thing in american history that surpasses the achievement of their expedition is what has been accomplished in the past 60 years by NASA, once an attachment to the military and still strongly associated. Is the horse dead yet?

Day 7 - 6/10/13

The battle at Stillwater enters its second day. I hoped to get the Jeep into the Firestone at 7am but once I got there the employee that was to do my work wasn't and apparently wasn't going to be there at all. They suggested another shop, one that had also been suggested by the Jeep guys I talked to the other day. They were open by 7:30am and took my Jeep in. By 10:30 they called with the damage. Poor ignition caused by a bad spark plug. I had them change everything, Distributor cap, wires, and plugs. I even asked to put in a new air filter. While they did the work I visited the local gear shop: Stillwater Summit Co.

By 3:30pm the Jeep was done and running just fine.  I picked her up test drove around the town, picked up my remaining gear from the hotel and decided to head out to Texas. I can not begin to explain how bad the cross winds were. I had to pull over and do double tie downs for the bow and stern of the canoe.

I ended up driving into the night and didn't even realize that the site I selected was in a National Monument.

The battle at Stillwater had come to an end, with much relief,  but I was not quite sure if there was a clear Victor, seemed a bit of a stalemate.

Day 8 - 6/11/13

Today began a series of events: "The Seige of Jicarita"

The morning went by rapidly as I made haste to get out to New Mexico. The drive took a bit longer than I had wanted but I made it to my first mountain destination, the Pecos Wilderness, by 3pm. There was one problem though: the wilderness was on fire.

Morale was already low following Stillwater and now to be confronted with a fire at my first mountain did not help. At the trailhead I found the official notice. The enemy's terms were simple. I could still climb the mountain but I would run the risk of six months imprisonment or 10,000$. Logistically and logically, I could not commit to these terms. I would not take this as a defeat, I had simply been routed. The mountains could be accessed just 25 miles north in Carson National Forest and I could move south. I made it to the Angostura trail head and set out on a recon mission with my mountain bike to find a suitable campsite.

The recon mission was a success and I found a site just about a mile and a half up the trail. I got my backpacking gear together and set out for camp. My overall mission here started to come together on the hike to camp: Take the time to explore the trails in the forest  trying to find a mountain peak and make notes. I did not have a map but I could tell there was a complex trail network. The campsite I choose was right before the first fork in the trail.
The enemy was not done with me today yet. I thought my site was very nicely situated next to a small stream with nice grassy banks. At about 7:00pm an onslaught of rocky mountain mosquitoes attacked from said grassy banks.

I didn't care much though, I'm from New Orleans I can take some skeeters', I was just happy to be in the Mountains.

Day 9 - 6/12/13: Enter the Labyrinth.

My mission, to explore the trails and take a mountain, needed a few days and I had only brought two days of food with me. I had also forgot to tell anyone where I was because I wasn't in Pecos, like "I was supposed to be". Leaving base camp where it was, I hiked back to the Jeep with a light pack. There I would take my road bike and ride to set up a communications link. I knew there was a ski lodge about five miles down the highway and that they would have a phone at the very least.

It was an easy downhill five miles to Sipapu Ski Lodge.

This place was quite a stronghold of outdoor culture in the middle of the national forest. They even had an outdoor bar  and grill next to a mountain river. Hells yes.

I gained my communications link, purchased a few supplies and went back up the road to my Jeep. I picked up more food from my cache in the jeep and went back to base camp. At base camp I decided to start the recon mission of exploring the trail network. Not knowing what way to go I took the right trail in the first fork. This led me to immediate uphill and a major boost of morale; finally getting some action!

This was something I was looking for, I wanted to follow any uphill lead. I crossed a few more trail intersections but kept following uphill leads. Eventually I found this:

The sight of a mountain with snow was a great relief in the wake of the past few days. I took a bearing of the mountain with my compass and then started following uphill trails in its general direction.

Four hours passed on the recon mission and I came into a number of other meadows that had views of the mountain, each time closer and closer. Optimistic that this had to be the way, at about 10,100' the trails just started going down hill. Later, I would find out that this was a point called "The Knob" (great, so the first thing I climb is "the knob") I resolved to call the recon mission quits for the day and regroup back at base camp. Feeling well, with enough time and energy I packed up base camp and established a forward base of operation at the first meadow.

Forward base was at 9,000' of elevation and I could tell from the distance I had hiked earlier, and how close I got to it, that the mountain had to be in excess of 12,000'. The only mountain I knew of in this area at that height was Jicarita Peak and I had read there was a trail up it...
...find the trail!

Day 10 - 6/13/13

I had crossed the meadow yesterday by the north side going west but there was a southern trail I had bypassed. It went about SSW and I decided that I would take it once I got outfitted for another day of recon in the labyrinth of angostura. Immediately it went uphill and kept going uphill. I started to encounter a number of meadows that had multiple trails leading into them. Pig trails to secret spots, trails to campsites, and general trail intersections. I had to change tactics from just writing notes on bearings and landmarks in my journal. I started making cairns and these guys:

Coming into a nice meadow at about 10,500', I saw this:

There was quite a pick up in my pace at this point. The recon mission had clear orders to find the mountain and engage the enemy if the opportunity presented itself. It was only 11:30am and I knew the storms didnt start until about 3pm. Right when I started to rationalize the storm threat, there was a building thunderhead over the next meadow.

I continued to push uphill and eventually was certain I was on the right path when I encountered this stream with a high flow. The streams down the mountain were fairly small but this feature was flowing. Only one thing can produce that kind of water volume: Snow.

It wasn't too long after that I found myself exactly where I wanted to be...

 ...but it wasn't when I wanted to be there.

Waiting at the treeline for a half an hour, I watched the storm. Lightning and a rolling thunder that I have only heard in the mountains at altitude. I decided that the recon mission for the route up the mountain had been a success and that I would descend back to forward base at meadow one. I got back to camp and hashed out the details for tomorrow and the assault on the ridge.

Day 11 6/14/13: The Sack of Jicarita.

- 3:00am.
They say an "alpine start" is getting up earlier than your grandfather. This is true. It took some motivation to get my act together at this hour. At 3am the prospect of climbing 3,500' feet of elevation in the next few hours is not exactly exciting. It had taken me 3 1/2 hours to reach the alpine yesterday so I figured I could make it that far just after sunrise for around 6:30am.  I got out of camp at 3:45am, a little later than I wanted, and after a cold breakfast because I didn't want to spend the time prepping my stove.
On the trail by headlamp and flashlight I could see the band of the milky way. In the darkness though I started to spook myself. "Mountain lions! Are they stalking me? I'm alone!?!?!" I started to stop in the middle of meadows and say "ok I'll just wait until sunrise and continue". Keep ur' wits bout' yer'. I kept moving but I did loose a good bit of time in this paranoia of being preyed upon. The assault force continued. I watched the milky way fade and a pale blue take the sky. Suddenly, the entire forest lit up with a faint pink and I knew that I was in the phenomena that is the namesake of these mountains. The Sangre de Cristo mountains are translated as "The Blood of Christ Mountains" because the hue of their exposed rock looks a brilliant pink to red when hit by Alpen Glow. Alpen Glow is the phenomena of sunlight hitting a point of prominence (ie. a mountain) prior to sunrise.

I was still a ways off from the alpine though. At about an hour after sunrise I was in the alpine and does the sun rise fast up there! I took a break at the tree line to recover before the actual attack. I ate , drank water and psyched myself up. Jicaritas fortress walls met me:

Rush into 75 vertical feet of a moraine scramble. The ridge was mine.
Once over the walls a vast boulder field lay before me and gentle slopes

I ascended the hill that seemed to be the highest point on the ridge thinking that it was the summit and a victory had been won with fairly little action. I slowly began to notice the grade of the hill had obscured another point, the actual summit. I had made it into the courtyard of the castle. It was time to take the keep.

I was greeted on my approach by some of the most noble and respected guardians of the mountains.

This hill was huge and gnarly and I wasn't particularly happy about descending about 200 feet from my current hill only to go climb that beast.

A beast she was. Jicricta did not fall easily. Near the final few feet the boulders forced me into a class 3 scramble.

The summit was a soft rounded top with stunning views all around.

I had successfully found my way through the labyrinth to find this mountain fortress. After I had taken the Keep for myself I enjoyed its spoils of war.

It was about 9am and I started to notice a few thunderheads already building in the West. The wilderness had sent  for reinforcements to drive me out. It was a reminder that no matter how hard we fight in this world we are only visitors.

I got back to camp for about noon and there had been a significant amount of thunder on the descent. When I got into camp the sky opened up. It started hailing. Lightly, thankfully. I waited until the storm passed and pack up my gear to get out of the forest. I wanted to go to Sipapu for a good hot lunch and some cold beer after my victory in the siege.

The bar tender mentioned that they had made the decision to close all of Carson National Forest due to fire risk. I was really upset to hear this because Wheeler Peak (highest point in NM) is in Carson. I decided that if the forest was closed the best option was just to head into Taos and get a room and plan.
 The battery on my camera had died on the mountain and when I got back to the jeep to recharge it I received an error with the camera. I searched the issue once I got into Taos and found out that its an issue that can only be fixed if I send it to Cannon for repair.
I stopped in the main office for Carson National Forest at Taos and asked about the closure. The staff looked at me like a fool and said that only Pecos had closed due to fire. I already had got my room for the night so I decided to make the best of it and get a new camera while in town and go see a movie for the evening.
I saw that silly new movie about the Magicians that rob a bank. Eh, it was OK, there was a good third of the movie in New Orleans though and for the first time yet I missed home.

Day 12 - 6/15/13: Post climb recovery. 

By the time I had got out of the theater last night my legs had gone out on me. I really needed to just relax. I slept in as long as I could and ate as much free breakfast from the hotel as possible. I leisurely went about town and did my laundry at the local laundromat, visited the outdoor and cycling shops in town and "made some groceries". In a massive blow to my pride I had found a map of Carson National Forest. It turned out that the main trail from the trail head was the approach trail to the mountain. For all the "exploring" I did I only had to go straight. Some labyrinth...
 I knew the camp site I selected for the night was just outside of town and I could get there instantly. I didn't rush my day. Beer was a necessity and once I got to my site I cracked em and strung up my hammock.

I got a little carried away at camp watching these ants. I don't know if i was just getting drunk or if I was genuinely fascinated.


I thought he was gona make it. One big beetle vs one ant. Nope. The ant tossed him off the picnic bench and into the fray.

Day 13 - 6/16/13: Recovery day 2?

So... I have to recover another day. From drinking. I think the altitude crept on me ; ) but it will make for a good day to edit all these photos and write this.  Back in the war room...

Yes I am drinking a beer.



Handi Cam. Ep.3 "Roughin it" from mumblefords on Vimeo.

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