Thursday, July 19, 2012

Trip Report: Crow Lake Basin, Uintas

A big shout out to Cordell Andersen for his report on attempting to get into the Crow Basin. Tom and I have been planning this trip since last fall and without Cordell's info, we would never have known about this hidden gem. If you are a fan of the Uintas, we strongly encourage you to head on over to his blog at, Cordell M. to check out all the info he has on the High Uintas. At age 78, he recently had back surgery and is hoping to return to the backcountry later this season. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and hope that he can get backpacking soon. His Fall 2011 trip to get into Crow Basin can be found here.

Wow!  What a Trip!  Tom and I arrived at the end of the Jackson Park road, Dry Gulch drainage at about 9am on Saturday, June 30, 2012.  As we stepped out of the vehicle to start our (3 day) weekend adventure, we were amazed at the distance we were able to cover via vehicle to shorten our overall hiking milage considerably.  We only had a short 3 mile hike to get to the first lake in Crow Basin.  "This is going to be easy, we don't have far to hike at all", I exclaimed.  How challenging a short hike can be was just beginning to unfold and we had no idea of the great memories ahead.
The road leading to Jackson Park was crazy rough!  We highly suggest that you take a higher clearance vehicle to this trailhead.  Although we made it in an SUV, I would not do it again.  It took us about 45 minutes to just get from Hight Line Road, on Trail #120, to the top of Dry Gulch...Crazy, considering it's only about 4 miles.  We are now officially backpacking 'ultra-light'.  The term refers to having a base pack weight (everything but food/water) less than 10 lbs.  Packing ultralight is an amazing experience and really made all the difference in the world for us on this and other trips.  Being able to keep your head up, and not feel like you just want to collapse at the next rest stop is quite an experience.  This makes the overall experience more enjoyable and we are able to be much more mobile and cover more ground in less time.  Being able to cover the majority of Crow Basin would not have been possible, in the short few days we had, if we didn't 'lessen' the burden.

Ready to Go - Packs weighing around 15 lbs. with food and water is liberating.
Dotted Red is the route we took. It's only 6.5 miles one-way, just no trails and lots of dead fall. Despite what the map shows-the road ends at 'Start of Trail' 

The initial start of the hike was not difficult as it followed that old road that leads all the way to Jackson Park.  Since the ATV/Vehicle barriers were installed, the trail is not as well used but compared to what we would be seeing, this was CAKE.  My GPS showed just less that 2 miles (as the crow pun intended) to get to the first lake in Crow Basin.  As we continued on uphill, the terrain shifted from lodgepole to some more open aspen and pine.


We then had to start our way east.  This is where we began bushwacking and we never saw a well-defined trail the rest of the way to Crow Lake.  

Looking east from the trail leading to Jackson Park- from here on it was UGLY
We worked our way down a side hill and then hit Timothy Creek.  This is a great place to top off on water. From here, it was straight uphill around a ridge, just west of Crow Basin.

Timothy Creek
As we continued we crossed the only real open area, just a few hundred yards from the edge of the canyon into Crow.

Tom, on the rocks
Had to post this photo of a footprint of Big Foot.  Apparently, he had just stepped in a creek before he stepped over this downed tree... :) not sure why people continue to doubt the legend. (Trekking poles are for scale).

Undeniable Proof
As we worked our way east, we hit the ridge line that drops into Crow Basin.  Again, from Cordell Anderson's site, we knew that I may get a little hairy from here on down.  The pictures don't do it was spooky.  Slick, Steep and Rocky...we were glad we had our trekking poles for support.

Looking North into Crow Basin
The ridge into the basin is steeper than the photo shows.  Approximately a 70 degree slope.
Once we dropped into Crow Basin, we worked our way to the first lake in the basin.  It is unnamed DG-1 (DG stands for Dry Gulch).  This lake is said to be unable to sustain fish and that was what we found as well.  Probably not deep enough to survive winter kill, the lake is scenic and there are plenty of primitive campsites around.

We continued on north to the next lake, Crow (DG-3).  We knew from research that Crow would probably be our best bet for having a decent amount of fish and we weren't disappointed.  We were only able to follow some game trails up to the lake.  It was better that the bushwhacking that we had been doing but, It was still a bit slow going.

Crow Lake (looking North)
Crow Lake is 18 acres in size and has a maximum depth of 26 feet.  Good population of Cutthroat Trout and not a lot of visitors.  Due to the difficulty of access, we were able to enjoy this lake all to ourselves.

Crow Lake (DG-3)
We crested up to Crow Lake at about 2:30pm.  As we looked at the lake we determined that we would work our way around the east side along some large boulders to get to the north end to camp.  As we started around the lake I looked back for Tom and he had made it all of about 100 yards before he had his spinning rod rigged up and throwing a spinner to test the waters.  Well, second cast yielded Tom a beautiful Cutt and that was the way it was, all weekend at Crow.  I wasn't going to let Tom catch 'all' the fish!  I quickly rigged up my pole with a medium Gold Jake's and was rewarded as well.  We caught nothing but Cutthroat at Crow and their colors were amazing!  We had success with flies and spinners.

Crow Lake Cutt
Another Beauty
 As the day progressed, we decided to set up camp on the north end of the lake.  There is a well used campsite there that we set up our tents. Best camping is on the southwest side or the north.  If coming into the lake from the south, the best way around the lake is from the west side.  As I mentioned earlier, the east side has large boulders.  This does provide great deep areas for fish but it also has a significant number of our friends, the infamous Rock Spiders that are found throughout all areas of the Uintas.  I wasn't able to get a great photo of them because once you get close to them, they begin to vibrate their webs, to attract prey or what, I don't know.  The constant movement makes it difficult to get a great shot.  Needless to say, they are between 1-2 inches in size, hairy and UGLY!  I'm not necessarily arachnophobic, but both Tom and I were in no mood to hang out surrounded by them.  They were everywhere on the rocks and we had to resort to using our trekking poles to tear down their webs and shaking the spiders into the rocks where they would scurry away.  Don't think they are poisonous but, to avoid them...just head around the lake on the west side.  

Rock Spiders
Tarptent Rainbow and Zpacks Hexamid Twin Tents
Almost sunset at Crow
The next morning we continued North to check out the other lakes in the basin.  We knew from our research that most of the lakes in the upper basin were probably not able to sustain fish.  Most are just not deep enough to survive winter.  The progress up the basin was very similar to what we experienced the day before, trying to find, and stay on, decent continuous game trials.  Lakes DG-6,7 and 8 were about .75 miles away from Crow and they don't sustain fish.  As you may notice from the photographs, it was quite hazy from all the recent forest fires in the state.
We continued another .8 miles on a tougher leg toward lakes DG-9 and 10.  DG-9 was best fished from the northeast to east side as it's deeper.  We did see some fish after our lures but, never did catch anything.  This goes along with what we've heard that there are small numbers of cutthroat in both of these lakes.

Amazing Uinta Scenery
The hike from DG-9 to 10 was not bad at all. From the southeast side of the lake (where I'm standing to take the photo of DG-9 above) head east about .5 miles.  Another beautiful lake with camping available on the north end.  There are supposed to be fish here but we didn't catch any and we didn't see any surface activity.

It was later in the day and we made the executive decision to head back to Crow Lake and spend more time fishing there.  Further up the canyon are lakes DG-14,15,16 and 17.  Of these, DG-17 is supposed to hold the most fish, although all of them are claimed to hold some.  Our experience is that the guide books are typically very accurate but, some years can give you better luck in some lakes more than others.  I realize this is not 'ground-breaking' news to those that fish the Uintas, It does however remind us that you really need to get out there and find the opportunities.
Let's summarize this trip.  First of all, this is not an easy hike.  Crow Basin is secluded and difficult to access and that indeed is part of the draw.  Secondly, even though there are a number of lakes in the basin, the majority are not great for fishing.  Certainly Crow is good fishing, we are just not sure on how good the upper lakes are.  If you are willing to put the work into getting to the upper lakes, you just may be able to cash-in on what we consider better than Spanish Gold...Wild Trout! Crow Basin is truly a gem of the Uintas and based on all the cutthroat trout, forget Crow...we just may refer to it as 'Cutthroat Basin'.     ----Darren

Final Night Sunset on Crow Lake

Saturday, March 3, 2012

MYOG: Freezer Bag Cozy

Post Edit - March 4, 2012
I have added a new cozy template at the bottom of this post.  I feel this new template is even better.  It allows you to make two cozies by cutting a 23 inch piece off the whole roll of Reflectix.  Then cut it down the middle and follow the instructions on the template.  If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.  
Hey everybody!  Got a great project for anyone looking to keep their dehydrated or freezer bag meals warm while in the backcountry.  I know most of you know what the acronym MYOG means, but for those of you rookies to the world of means; Make Your Own Gear.  We will have quite a number of MYOG articles in the future because much of the enjoyment of being outdoors is that you don't have to spend loads of money to get outfitted.  In my opinion, some of the most rewarding aspects of backpacking is gearing up and being creative and resourceful with your equipment {off soapbox}.

OK, with all that said, one of the challenges eating in the backcountry is keeping your dehydrated food warm while it rehydrates.  After you add boiling water to your meal and you seal up the bag, you've got to wait around 10-15 minutes before that meal is ready to eat...what to do.  If you leave it sitting out it gets cold rather quick and the food never does really rehydrate completely. Come on now, we've hiked 10 miles in...lets do this right, I'm starving!   Some of the more creative options we have utilized are:
  • Placing the boiling hot bag of food into a jacket, coat or worse...pants (while worn).
  • Nestle the boiling hot bag of food around your down sleeping bag.
  • Bury the boiling hot bag of food in the ground and then cover it with dirt, twigs, pinecones, etc.
Well, the latter is a bit of a stretch, but the others are realistic options- just not good ones.  Taking the risk of spilling that gourmet serving of spaghetti or Ramen all over your sleeping bag, jacket or other unmentionables is not a good idea, nor is it necessary.  Enter the COZY.  Some genius came up with the idea to utilize a small bag to insulate the food while it does-its-thing!  Love it.  Simple and cheap.  The internet offers many sources for making your own or some people will sell you some all ready to go.  I decided to take you on my journey with this project and hope that some of you may find it helpful.  

Disclaimer:  OAU's legal team advised me to be sure to let others know that neither OAU or any of it's staff, can be held liable for any bodily harm that occurs while attempting to construct this project or any others listed on this website.  Choosing to attempt the construction of this cozy leaves you, and only you, completely and wholly responsible for any and all outcomes associated with manifestation of the emancipation proclamation...blah...blah...blah.

That was fun, always wanted to do that.  OK, here we go:

First you'll need to get a few supplies.  The material of choice for insulation seems to be a product called "REFLECTIX".  Reflectix is basically like the thin bubble packing material covered on both sides with foil.  I found this at the local hardware store, Lowe's to be exact.  The problem with this stuff is that it's actually used for insulation jobs in a home, hence the large rolls.  I got the smallest roll available but, it still runs about $15.  

That's good and bad...the good is that you can make cozy's for the whole neighborhood, the bad is that you have to pay more money than you should for a small cozy.  The same problem exists with the aluminum tape that you also need to pick up.  It runs about $5.  Again, enough to tape the whole neighborhood!  No doubt it's a bit expensive up front, but if you have other friends that you backpack with, there will be plenty for all.  Now, just get a measuring tape and scissors (don't start running! -that's why we had to put in the disclaimer).
Ready to Go!
I've included a template that I made that worked well for me.  Feel free to adjust as you need and my design is in no way the best's just my way.

These measurements will allow a standard quart size Ziploc bag to fit inside the cozy.  You may want to alter it slightly to your own needs.  I don't like to have the Ziploc sit so far into the cozy that you can't reach it or that the Ziploc gets all covered in food as you eat so you have a mess when it's time to zip it up (clean up time).  If you would like to have the bag sit further into the cozy, just make the 7 inch depth measurement a little deeper.  This material is so easy to cut and work with.  Just fold the two sides in and run some of the aluminum tape along the seam and then along the bottom.  Here's a photo of the tape on the seams and a shot of the quart size Ziploc nestled in it's new home...ahh...nice and cozy!

Center seam and bottom taped

Not too deep so that I have to dig for the Ziploc bag

Now were almost to the finish line...once you pour the boiling water in the bag, seal it up and place it in the cozy.  You have a couple of options to keep the flap down.  The easiest is to just fold the flap into the cozy.  You can also buy some small adhesive velcro strips.  Attach one to the flap and another to the cozy.  Simple!  Don't forget that the cozy also makes a safe, convenient way to hold onto your food while you eat it.
Flap tucked into the cozy
Last but not least, no self respecting nerd would dare enter the outdoors without first seeing how much this contraption weighs!
almost nothin'!
Only 1.1 ounces!  Not a bad price to pay to keep your food toasty and your pants dry!  Hope you found this helpful if you were looking to make your own cozy.  Please ask questions, make suggestions, or let us know what has worked for you with comments below.  We'd love to hear from you.  Thanks for stopping by!  ---Darren


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review: The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide

There are plenty of resources available to the hiking/backpacking crowd looking to expand ones knowledge on techniques and gear.  So, what makes one stand out from the others? What could possibly be gained from 'another' backpacking/hiking book?

Well, let me lay out some facts about the author and I'll let you decide.  Andrew Skurka is an accomplished adventure athlete, speaker, guide, and writer.  At 30 years of age, he is most well known for his solo long-distance backpacking trips, notably the 4,700 mile 6-month Alaska-Yukon Expedition, the 6,875 7-month Great Western Loop, and the 7,775 11-month Sea-to-Sea Route.  In total, he has backpacked, skied, and packrafted 30,000+ miles through many of the world's most prized backcountry and wilderness areas--the equivalent of traveling 1.2 times around the Earth's equator! 
Wow!  Bottom line is that Andrew knows what he's talking about and his book (released just last week) is a virtuoso of hiking and backpacking knowledge.  This is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the book, I simply wanted to share a few of the highlights that I found particularly interesting.  In the books introduction, Andrew states;
"I wrote this book for backpackers who want to enjoy hiking more".
How simple this statement seems on the surface, yet to all of us who are trying to lighten and streamline our packs, we know full well the implications that this new paradigm offers.  In the first few chapters he outlines the philosophy of hiking and the questions one should ask in the pre-hike stage, to maximize their experience.  He further asks us to define if we are Hikers or Campers.  Defining the difference between those looking to pack their belongings to a location and staying there for a length of time, or those who's goal it is to pack-light,  cover ground, and see more territory.

Andrew Skurka - Grand Canyon
The rest of the book is related to Tools and Techniques (gear-heads...prepare to salivate!).  He spends time tackling topics of clothing, footwear, sleeping bags, pads, shelters, food, and the list goes on-and-on.  Andrew's in-depth discussion of the fabrics and insulation used in backpacking clothing and sleeping bags/quilts had enough insight to keep me reading into the wee-hours one early morning!  My wife found it hard to believe that I could find so much interest in; polyester vs. merino wool vs. nylon...oh my, after 20 little does she really know me!
Andrew's insights into effective use of VBL (vapor barrier liners) in the cold, winter months was also insightful.  Understanding how to control the evaporation that occurs and the effects on our clothing and sleeping bags, can transform a cold/wet miserable winter trip into a summer vacation!  The format of each chapter lays out all the options and information in just-enough detail, and then summarizes each section with "Skurka's Picks" where he unashamedly shares his experiences and recommendations.  Love it!  For example, Skurka is not afraid to take on the industry when it comes to 'Waterproof Breathable' fabric options, i.e. GoreTex.  Basically, they don't work as advertised and he's not shy about telling it, like it is.
"In my opinion, the performance of WP/B shells has been greatly oversold- the product category name, "waterproof-breathable", is itself an oxymoron.  My real-world experience is that they fail to keep me dry during prolong storms, or even during short storms if the fabric has been compromised by dirt, body oils, and /or abrasion, which is unavoidable on a long trip."
The depth and detail in this book is worth the price of admission. It's easy reading format can be enjoyed by even a lay person, and it has enough depth to keep you coming back as a reference.  I truly believe that our experiences hiking and backpacking can be improved exponentially by learning from others experiences, both good and bad.  Avoiding the purchase of ineffective equipment, lightening our packs, and utilizing effective techniques can make all of our outdoor experiences more rewarding.  This is the essence that Andrew shares in his new book and I highly recommend it. Links are below if your interested.  Prices range from $10-13 depending on format.   Thanks for reading and feel free to post questions or comments below.  ---Darren
Amazon Book
Amazon Kindle Version
Apple iBook

Monday, February 20, 2012

Snapshot Review: MSR Snowshoes

Welcome to Outdoor Adventures Utah!  Are you ready for the most comprehensive resource for all things outdoors in the state of Utah?  Stay tuned for some great content. Here's just a taste of whats in store...

Who said science was easy?

"Many people do not realize that the snowshoe can be used for a great many things besides walking on snow. For instance, it can be used to carry pancakes from the stove to the breakfast table. Also, it can be used to carry uneaten pancakes from the table to the garbage. Finally, it can be used as a kind of stainer, where you force pancakes through the strings to see if a piece of gold got in a pancake somehow."       --- Jack Handey [Deep Thoughts]
Now there are some wise thoughts about snowshoes...Do you know how hard it is to find a quote on snowshoes? Tom and I rented some snowshoes this President's Day weekend to test and evaluate which ones we are looking to purchase in the near future.  The two models we rented were:
I'll include specs for both models below:

EVO Ascents-
  • Sizes: 22 inch / 25 inch / 30 inch
  • Weight Per Pair: 4 pounds, 1820 grams
  • Dimensions: 22 by 8.2 inches
  • Binding Type: PosiTrack AT
  • Gait: Unisex; normal width
  • Footwear Size Range: 4.5 M - 15 M
  • Weight Capacity: Up to 180 pounds
  • Load with Tails: Up to 250 pounds
Lightning Ascents-
  • Sizes: 22 inch / 25 inch / 30 inch
  • Weight Per Pair: 3 pounds, 12 ounces / 3 pounds, 14 ounces / 4 pounds, 8 ounces
  • Dimensions: 22 by 8 inches / 25 by 8 inches / 30 by 8 inches (L x W)
  • Binding Type: PosiTrack AT
  • Gait: Unisex; normal width
  • Footwear Size Range: 4.5 M - 15 M
  • Weight Capacity: Up to 180 pounds / 120 - 220 pounds / 150 - 280 pounds
  • Load with Tails: Up to 250 pounds / 120 - 280 pounds / 180 - 300+ pounds

Both of these models worked fairly well despite the deep powder conditions that we had.  In the end, we both approved of the Lightning Ascents due to the slightly better flotation and the ease of utilizing what MSR calls the 'Televator' bar.  This is a small wire extension that can be flipped up to support the heels of your boots in an upright position.  These are 'heaven-sent' when ascending a hill or mountain and are extremely effective at reducing calf muscle strain.  With the Lightnings you can flip up and down the televators with your poles while standing up.  The EVO's adjustment has to be done by hand and even though there is a large plastic tab to assist, it's still not as efficient as the Lightnings.

MSR sells the Lightning Ascents in 3 sizes; 22 inch, 25 inch and 30 inch models.  The EVO Ascents are available in 22 inch only.  Each size is specified for overall body weight, so the heavier you are the longer the shoes you need.  The accessory 5 inch tails (6 inch on the EVO's) can be added onto any of the models, increasing the effectiveness in deep or powdery snow.

Summary: MSR Lightning Ascents Snowshoes get two thumbs up for a great quality mountaineering snowshoe.  The EVO's are no slouch and for a slightly lower price, offer great value as well.  Overall, both of these models from MSR offer the backcountry explorer all they will ever need in versatility and durability.  

Check out this short clip of Tom running a good clip down a small hill.  ENJOY!