Saturday, March 06, 2010


Many of you know of my disgust of Buck Hill Ski Area in Burnsville, MN. It's semi-warranted, but kind of not, too. But I still don't care for it. It's my choice.

I was happy to find a better place to claim the name tonight while looking through various maps (something I often do to get future trips on the calendar).

Buck Hill, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Looks like a nice place. Void of suburban quality. Certain rattlesnakes and bison have so far been better neighbors to me than certain affluent snowboarding teens. Not to include horses, however, but that is another story, which some of you know.

February North Shore Weekend

Northern Minnesota in the winter is not what many people would think of when they are wondering where to spend their weekends, right? But I suppose if you love being outside all the time, and you happened to live in St Paul, that’s what you do. And you discover that it’s an experience that people shouldn’t write off before they see it for themselves. A certain amount of mental gusto and quality winter gear are required, and I suppose this is what detracts the masses. OK. That’s fine, more solitude for those of us who know better.
I spent last weekend on MN’s North Shore of Lake Superior, snowshoeing and camping with a couple good friends, Ty and Joel. It was a short trip, but it is always refreshing to get out of the city and into the woods. We camped at Temperance River State Park, and only saw one other tent in the whole place.
Saturday we snowshoed up Carlton Peak. A short hike to a small summit, but MN is not known for mountains. If you go in expecting the same experience as the West, you wont find it. Don’t look for epic heights in the North Woods. Look for the North Woods in the North Woods. It is an entirely different experience, valued for it’s own unique outdoor settings. When reaching the top of a “peak” in MN, you find yourself not high above an epic valley or gorge, out of breath in thin air, or at all nervous about making it down safely before nightfall. Rather, you find yourself in a peaceful place just high enough to get a good look at the vast expanse of tranquil woods and lakes (one of them Great) that contain some truly wonderful hiking and paddling. Carlton is one of those lookouts (and it even has a bit of climbing). A nice place to spend a Saturday.
Saturday night we cooked, ate, maybe sipped a little whiskey, and enjoyed a good fire after a great sunset/moonrise over Lake Superior. Sleeping was pretty good, despite the temps somewhere around 12 F, estimated. Not at all cold for the region.
Sunday, I’d say, was the highlight of the trip- a snowshoe hike down part of Wolf Creek and up part of the Devil’s Track River near Grand Marais. February had warmed quite a bit, and the water was not as frozen as January. Still walkable, but only if you’re ok with punching through occasionally (the water in most areas was only knee high at most). We had to be a bit careful picking our route to stay to the areas acceptable for falling in. Honestly, it made it more fun; I guess I’m a little off in the head.
On the up the river, we passed what is apparently one of, if not the seminal MN ice climbs- Nightfall. I think in the next couple years I may finally take the plunge and learn to climb ice. We seem to have enough of ice here in MN to make it worth it.
The weekend was a great experience and yet another lesson in just making trips happen, regardless of the season. MN in the winter is harsh, yes, but staying inside all the time is to me even harsher. We were treated to a great time in relatively balmy MN February temps and I’ll be going back soon I’m sure.

Snowshoeing up Carlton...

Sunset at Lake Superior near camp...

Home sweet tents...


Snowshoeing down the Devil's Track...

Getting a bit sketchy here...

I may have put a foot (or both) through at the left side of this shot...I appreciate both great gear and shallow ice water...

More "Superior Times" here.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Yosemite February 2010

I went into our recent Yosemite trip with high hopes, and came out with a smile on my face. As usual for the Sierra Nevada. It being our secondary, last minute plan, we didn’t have much of an itinerary, but I wasn’t too worried. We brought a whole heap of gear, including mainly hiking, trail running, snowshoeing, and winter camping equipment- all of which was used. Our trips to Yosemite thus far have only been a couple of days at most, so it was nice to “move in” to the Valley for the better part of a week away from work.

We flew into SFO on Sunday and hung out with friend Edward D for the evening down at Fisherman’s Wharf (a place I once felt had a certain charm, but now am agreeing with many is way too touristy and expensive for what it is.) Nevertheless, it’s always great to see Ed and we had a great time. We stayed in Livermore that first night at the illustrious Livermore Comfort Inn with airline discount and did some grocery/supply shopping for the week.

Monday morning we made the drive out across the Central Valley (now in it’s green season- a much different winter than here), and entered the mountains. Always great. The air got very noticeably fresher leaving cities behind and arriving in cleaner places (even as developed as Yosemite Valley is). I’m always impressed by the first view I get of the Valley when driving in. I’ve seen it on a thousand postcards, in tons of magazines, and in person a few times now, but seeing it live always stirs the outdoor fiend in me. It’s one of the places I’ve been that I will surely keep returning to because it’s left such a mark. That goes for anywhere I’ve been with towering rock walls. And I mean towering. Moab, Zion, Little Cottonwood, Alaska, Colorado, Yosemite. Just to name a few. Many others out there; I don’t mean to ignore them.

Monday evening we set up camp and hung out at Upper Pines, where I’ve stayed before. This time was different though, as it was February, and folks in California seem to think it’s cold or something. Not many people were there. I’m used to barely getting a campsite, and we had the place largely to ourselves. I guess people haven’t been to Minnesota to realize what winter really is. Yosemite was beautiful last week. Highs in the upper 50’s, low’s in the mid 30’s. Nice. That beats the 5 degrees it will potentially be in my tent this coming weekend in Northern MN, but that will be another story.

Tuesday marked a great day hike. I’ve been meaning to hike the Upper Yosemite Falls trail since I first saw it four years ago, and we decided to take the opportunity this trip as it was still open during the winter (it isn’t always). It climbs 2,700 feet in 3.5 miles from the Valley Floor to the North Rim and end in an overlook of Upper Yosemite Falls. On the way up there is a mix of wooded trail, dramatic Valley views, snowfields, and plenty of switchbacks (and the occasional falling rock- watch out.) Overall a wonderful hike, but I’m going to have to do it again, as the final overlook of the falls at the top was unsafe to reach due to snow/ice conditions.

Wednesday we decided that since we never stop running around, we’d have a change of pace and see some of the things to see in Yosemite Village, such as the Ansel Adams Gallery, and the Yosemite Museum. Worth checking out I’d say.

In the evening we hiked out to the base of El Capitan to see it at sunset (and to risk an epic solo of the first five feet of the Nose- barely made it out alive. J ). You simply must place yourself at the base of a rock wall this tall once and a while and just stare.

Wednesday evening involved lots of campfire time and chasing away raccoons (Yosemite is known for it’s crafty animals that are good at stealing. The bears were reportedly waking up and touring the campground just a couple days earlier than we arrived, but they didn’t visit us.)

Thursday we drove up to the Badger Pass area, and put on snowshoes. We hiked a mixture of groomed trail at the resort, then well stamped meadows, than a bit of deep fluffy stuff on our way out to Dewey Point, which overlooks Yosemite Valley from the South Rim. Earning a view of the Valley from above is a Yosemite must, and winter makes it even better. I was wishing we were staying the night at Dewey, as many others on snowshoes or skis were doing, but we had another great night at Upper Pines after the day hike instead. Next time. There are hut options out there as well, where the backcountry rangers are even known to roll sushi for ski/snowshoe overnight guests. Sounds like fun (although a rather commercialized backcountry experience).

Friday needed to be a “use up your energy and leave tired cuz it’s your last day” day, so I decided to bite off a good trail run. I’m still a new runner, so I didn’t plan on going all that far. I planned out a 6.5 mile trail loop that would take me under El Capitan and Bridalviel Falls along semi-rocky trail, as well as through the grassy area of El Capitan Meadows. I ended up doing that much, and then extending it to Yosemite Falls, making my first 10 mile run. It felt great. I have of course never felt that kind of motivation running on the treadmill at my climbing gym while it’s dark and freezing outside, so it was great to get the extra boost from such an amazing place. I just felt like going and going. Another note was that I ran the route in the only footwear I now run in- my Vibram Fivefingers. I am now completely convinced that this is a better footwear choice than modern running shoes. The terrain was burly, and my knees/hips felt just fine. So did my feet. I couldn’t handle running a quarter of that distance without ending up in pain in my expensive Asiscs. Actually feeling the terrain underneath, and thus setting down softly and gracefully on the mid to forefoot (as it seems the foot is designed to do) is a big difference from mashing down on heels that have a deceptive inch of padding that somehow is supposed to dissipate the full force of a body impacting the ground (in an unnatural way) without hurting your joints (not going to happen). Check out Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall; I won’t regurgitate it all here. The point is that I am enjoying being a runner for the fist time in my life, (and doing it in Yosemite was quite alright.) I was able to leave for Livermore Friday night feeling nice and tired, satisfied with a good few days spent playing in the Valley with my wonderful wife.

We will be back to Yosemite. As an inspiring outdoor locale always does, it motivated and intrigued us to build more trips to the Sierra. We haven’t yet seen the vast majority of Yosemite that lies outside the Valley where most of the people are. I want to do a high country backpack trip sometime in the next couple years. It may already be too late for this year as I have so much planned and it takes several months for permits in a park as busy as Yosemite. And I really would like to climb in the park as well. I’m no big wall hero, but I’d love to do some of the more “reasonable for working people” lower pitches in the Valley. It would be great.

I hope you get the chance to see this place for yourself sometime (if not many times). For now I’ll leave you with a few pix:

On the hike to Upper Yosemite Falls:

El Capitan:

Staring up at El Cap:

Snowshoe prints on the way to Dewey Point:

Near Dewey Point:

Dewey Point above Yosemite Valley:

Trail run in Yosemite Valley in the Vibrams (and Hawaiian shorts in honor of the original failed Kauai trip :) )

Trail along the Valley floor:

While running through El Capitan meadow:

Finished with the run at Yosemite Falls. "Look at that man's shoe's mommy!" (heard more than a couple times during the day) :)

Pushing gear through SFO to go home. I'm going to go back. :)

A larger collection of pix from the trip can be seen here.