Kayak Camping in Search of Bioluminescence

Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a bucket list item labeled
Experience Bioluminescence but I’d let it slide down the list and out of my thoughts long ago. Like most people, I knew what bioluminescence was – some mercurial variety of plankton that, if you’re lucky enough to find you can stir up to reveal an ethereal and viridescent glow – but I hadn’t the faintest idea of how or where to experience it.
In walks Hannah, a fun and fiery mentch for adventure. We met Friday night at Burning Man when the metropolitan implosion was coming to a head, and, though we spent 12 wonderful hours together, we never saw each other again. Such a typical scenario in that frenzied desert wonderland. But, in our continuous missing of one another, Hannah left a little note with her phone number on my pillow. So when I found myself inching ever deeper into California as I checked off must-do mountain bike rides on my post-Burning Man roadtrip, I dropped her a line. I received a prompt and unequivocal reply: “I have two-and-a-half days off and I want to go on a kayak adventure.”
Now I hadn’t kayaked much and neither had Hannah but what we lacked in raw experience we more than made up for in enthusiasm and gall. We dragged the kayaks out from under a friend’s deck and strapped the 13- and 15-foot-long galleons to the roof of her 26-year-old Toyota Tercel. With the backseat housing a compendium of gear and supplies, we headed north out of Berkeley for a couple hours as we fleshed out our plan. (Sidebar: we’d spent the night squatting a sailboat in the marina there.)
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Guided by tips from her local acquaintances (I’m from Colorado, she’s from New York,) we parked and put in at Miller, a county park with a boat ramp and $5 overnight parking. A kayak loaded for an overnight trip weighs at least 40 pounds, so a boat ramp is welcome if not entirely necessary. Permits are typically obtained a fair distance away at Bear Valley but we had arrived too late and resigned ourselves to guerilla camping – a euphemism that outdoorsman use to refer to camping stealthily, and usually illegally, which was us despite our good intentions.
Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too. ~Aldous Huxley
Regarding red tape, permits are required for camping on Tomales Bay, and we were keenly aware we had been remiss. But not a soul entered our purview in the time we camped on the far shore. It was a Monday-Wednesday trip, though I am told that fall and October in particular is prime viewing season.
So for two days we camped and paddled the serene waters, all but silent and all but alone. Day paddlers and the occasional fishing boat would come and go, and the roar of the open sea crashing against the shores of Point Reyes on the far side of the peninsula that creates our luminous sanctuary was omnipresent, but the signs of other life consisted mostly of the squawks of sea birds (also omnipresent) and the rare bark of a seal.
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Bioluminescence turned up in spades. It was everywhere, every night. It would stream from the bows of our boats in the moonless darkness and sparkle on our fingertips. Kudos to Hannah for the desire to touch it, a simple but strikingly beautiful experience that might have otherwise escaped me. Fish darted beneath our boats, trailing gossamer trains that lingered in proportion to their girth. Hannah hoped for a wiley seal to pass by us in the aqueous darkness below and leave a sparkling wormhole, while I silently imagined the rush of seeing the pointy-finned silhouette of the sea’s most notorious predator against a cloud of noxious green. After moonrise “bio” as the locals call it was to be found less strikingly, now appearing as what at first glance just looks like bubbles in the wake of our paddles.
We crossed the bay at the epitome of a casual pace. We set up camp on a deserted shore, upon a bed of matted vegetation scarcely above the high water line. Indeed, it took a bit of looking just to find that. Awaking in late morning, we frolicked but did not venture far, and then we dozed off for the afternoon. We ebbed back to Tomales Bay just as it was, bucolic and devoid of any obvious enterprise or ambition, a current that powerfully overcame the drive we’d once had.
We dressed warmly for the paddle back, and rightly so – a damp wind pummeled our city-soft skin while the outgoing tide sapped our speed with unsettling facility. We found lubberland just as crupuscular rays spread into the saturated blue beyond and we sat down to eat in the warm sanctuary of Nicks Cove restaurant. We shmoozed and noshed on chowder and oysters and bread, and then slipped back into inky darkness and onto the water to chase streaking stars and sparkling plankton once again.

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The church from the movie The Rock is on the way

#bioluminescence #tomalesbay #california #kayaking #campin #burningman

Mount Columbia and Mount Harvard: Collegiate Peaks Backpacking Combo

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A fabulous, moderate and less crowded way for Denverites to spend a weekend bagging 2 of Colorado’s 50-some 14ers.
Type: two-summit lolliloop
Length: 2 days, about 15 miles
Day 1: Leisurely drive to the North Cottonwood Canyon trailhead outside of Buena Vista, about 2.5 hrs. It’s at the end of county road 365. From there hike about 4 miles up Horn Fork Creek on a good trail, passing a left fork to a small lake at mile 1. Camp near the next intersection in the trail, an unsigned junction of the trails that lead to Harvard (straight) and Columbia (right.) Water is readily available as of July 11.
Day 2: You can summit either peak from the junction, but if you’re doing both it’s much easier to do a counterclockwise loop. That way you ascend the loose scree slopes of Columbia, descend to the peak to peak traverse with the valley you need to cross almost in full view, and finally descend back to camp on the well built trail and steps of Harvard. From here camp again, or descend an hour back to your car. If you’re camping two nights it might be nice to bring a fishing pole and camp a little closer to Harvard at Bear Lake, which is purported to have good cutthroat fishing.
Packing List: hat, gloves, insulating layer and rain jacket – we were cold! Plus your usual backpacking and peak bagging gear. Happy Trails!

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A fabulous, moderate and less crowded way for Denverites to spend a weekend bagging 2 of Colorado’s 50-some 14ers.
Type: two-summit lolliloop
Length: 2 days, about 15 miles
Day 1: Leisurely drive to the North Cottonwood Canyon trailhead outside of Buena Vista, about 2.5 hrs. It’s at the end of county road 365. From there hike about 4 miles up Horn Fork Creek on a good trail, passing a left fork to a small lake at mile 1. Camp near the next intersection in the trail, an unsigned junction of the trails that lead to Harvard (straight) and Columbia (right.) Water is readily available as of July 11.
Day 2: You can summit either peak from the junction, but if you’re doing both it’s much easier to do a counterclockwise loop. That way you ascend the loose scree slopes of Columbia, descend to the peak to peak traverse with the valley you need to cross almost in full view, and finally descend back to camp on the well built trail and steps of Harvard. From here camp again, or descend an hour back to your car. If you’re camping two nights it might be nice to bring a fishing pole and camp a little closer to Harvard at Bear Lake, which is purported to have good cutthroat fishing.
Packing List: hat, gloves, insulating layer and rain jacket – we were cold! Plus your usual backpacking and peak bagging gear. Happy Trails!

Seatbelt Sunburn – or A Letter to a Friend

Days that burn forever, stretching, stretching and then – CRUNCH! The recompression sets in gently but the feeling is immediate and unmistakable. Time for everything turns to everything into such limited time. And me sent familiarly whirling into the universe. It’s a friendly sort of discomfort. I climbed a mountain to get away from it, though the escape was never the physical distance nor the isolation – it was the exertion. A heartbeat that is slowly forced higher and higher, thumping in your chest,  pounding in your throat, then eventually slamming in your ears till all other sounds dies away and the world in every direction is just a sunset limned in ethereal glow. To this end I chose one of the highest in all the Rockies, Blanca, and never mind that it was easily accessed from where I happened to already be camping. The 2 hour drive to get there was too short and when I arrived I still didn’t have a plan. I set out in the afternoon, knowing full well a lengthy climb lay ahead. Almost immediately it clouded over and hailed. No coat. I hiked on. Up and up for 4 hours I climbed. The sun returned as I walked above the trees on a great trail if only all of the tumbled-down rock in it could be hoed away. Alpine marshes, then snow. Steep snow, deep snow. Hand over hand up the slide path of a slushy spring coulier. Finally, rock. Some of it loose, some of it stable. Some of it sparkled with green lichen I’m not sure I saw. But miles of colossal rock. All to summit the 14,000′ leviathan that wasn’t even my goal – it just happened to be in my path. Up and over and a cliffy descent in the hard shadows of a horizontal sun at dusk.

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Smokey skies and a fiery sunset is what I found when I climbed – quite literally, exposed, class 5 and unroped – the final granite ledges to Blanca’s 14,344 foot summit. And presently I turned right back around. Sitting somewhere in the 90s in the valley below, the temperature had plummeted into the 50s, and I only in shorts and a hoody. But the real problem was darkness. In the fading twilight I put as many boulders as I could behind me. The next 7 hours found me glissading 1200′ by headlamp, boulder hopping, sloshing and walking, always walking, to relinquish the 5,000+ feet and 7 miles I had so excitedly acquired in my lust for exertion. I whimpered silently with a new understanding of what is so great about a bed. I staved exhaustion with micronaps in the trail, not bothering to even remove pack or wet clothes. In these moments the painful ache in my knees abated, only to return in the first few steps of resumed descent. 5,000 feet is a long way down. By 2 a.m. sleeping by the road was hardly unappealing, shoot, in an outsized rollerskate would have been an option if it hadn’t been for the flees swarming in. The next day I hiked to a waterfall and took pictures but as I began my return I doubled back – a swim was much deserved – and now the minerals feel so good on my skin that I still have not showered 3 days later. Maybe the oils are helping my sunburn.
Love & (twi)light,
Kyle

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Mayventure Days 4 & 5

Allan took us out to House to celebrate his raise and we watched the high school marching band play for Carbondale’s monthly block party, First Friday. We went to bed early and the next day we packed our climbing gear alongside our camping gear and headed toward the Flat Top mountains. Despite on and off rain, we spent the afternoon “sending,” as avid climbers say, on the steep sedimentary walls of Elk Creek canyon; having returned from a five-year hiatus I was back to on-sighting 10s and red-pointing 11s. I told Allan about how my recent re-familiarization with climbing had so vastly improved my canyoneering in the preceding four days. By 7pm the rain had let up for good but a winter chill had settled in, the upshot of two sunless days. We donned puffies, coaxed a fire out of abundant but dripping wet logs with the generous application of white gas, and then we played light-up Frisbee and complained about our stinging hands.

Mayventure Day 3: Fiery Furnace

Kyle and I arrived at the Arches National Park backcountry desk just as they were opening at 7:30am. We were about the sixth in line and we received permits 43 and 44 out of 50; six more people ahead of us and we would have been looking for an alternate adventure. But it was mother’s day weekend and all of the camping around Moab had been full the night before, so the fact that this will known beginner-friendly adventure was almost sold out was hardly a surprise. We paid six dollars each for our hiking permit, topped off our water and drove the 10 miles to the trailhead.

The fiery furnace is the name given to a small section of Arches National Park where a series of parallel sandstone fins forms a life size maze roughly a half a square mile in area. Young and old alike wander in to spend hours exploring narrow passageways, looking for breaks in the towering walls that will allow them passage to deeper levels of the labyrinth. The only thing missing is David Bowie. Despite the name, which is derived from the maze color’s resemblence to the that of an active furnace, the Fiery Furnace is a bit of a desert oasis: flora like juniper and poison ivy abound, as do the smaller fauna, birds and lizards, and much of your hike is spent in the cool shadows and even the dark recesses between towering fins.

From the parking lot we headed north first, eventually finding our way out onto open sandy desert where we headed toward the western edge of the maze. We attempted to head back south down myriad parallel valleys but continuously found ourselves “cliffed-out”. Twice we encountered webbing and rappel ring anchors which gave rise to us questioning the logic in our decision not to bring full canyoneering gear (and pull the accompanying permit.) Once we even descended a convoluted slot by down-stemming some 75′ to reach a disappointing conclusion: this would be an ideal place to rig a chokestone anchor and rappel free-hanging out a hole in canyon bottom, had we had the foresight to add webbing, harness and a belay device to the rope we were carrying in case of emergency. As it stood our only choice was to stem back up and out of the dark and sandy slot, which we quickly did to escape our disappointment. Then we laid on the rocks there at the head snacking and talking.

After gaining several fins to get a lay of the land and to practice forearm stands and take pictures flanked by the snowy La Sals, we made several simple (class 3) downclimbs and one class 5 stem of about 8′ to reach the lowest part of the Fiery Furnace. We began to spy other visitors who had started in the lower part in an attempt to do the opposite of us: work their way through to the top. As far as I can tell this requires some technical climbing. We did not attempt to navigate back to the west to get a look at the bottom of the three rappels we had seen earlier.

Instead, we returned to the car feeling satisfied with our four-hour adventure, successful in having passed through the Fiery Furnace end to end, though admittedly much of this time was spent backtracking. There, I sat on the sidewalk cooking us eggs and toast in the unsettled May overcast as the tour returned and visitors young and old smiled at me, the content desert rat, as they dissipated back to their cars.

We soon dissipated too, leaving the park and opting for the scenic drive up 128 to return to Colorado. Bikerpelli was going on and I excitedly jabbered to Kyle about what it’s like to spend 3 days mountain biking 150 miles thorough the Colorado’s rocky river benches into Utah’s high desert and finally over a shoulder of the La Sals to finish out with the most epic 26 miles of downhill mountain biking ever to grace God’s green earth, the Porcupine Rim, all the while being fully supported with food, beer and your camping gear. (It’s a good time.) My jabbering was derailed when we saw two guys gawking at dark mineral-stained slabs of toppled sandstone high on a hillside above the biway. “That can only mean one thing,” I thought,  and I had Kyle turn around. Sure enough, there were Fremont and Anasazi petroglyphs chipped onto two sides of a square black boulder, a veritable roadside billboard for the ancients.

We got a good look and then finished out the last few miles of our scenic drive up the Colorado River gorge to discover billowing dust blotting out the modern day billboards of the I-70 corridor. Sustained northerly winds peeled dirt and plants from the ground. Greenery tore up and tumbled across the highway. Orange constriction barrels blew over and rolled across the lanes they were not supposed to impede, and we watched a portable electronic sign detailing the closure blow off the shoulder and into a ditch, probably incurring severe damage in the process. Dirt streamed from the hillsides and was carried away in a life-size diarama of fluvial erosion. Kyle frowned as the dirt pelted his new car’s paint.

Mayventure Day 2: Cheesebox Canyon

We woke to cool overcast. Expecting sweltering sun, we had toyed with the idea of leaving behind our wetsuits, which was my idea. Actually, being a minimalist I had suggested that we leave the rappelling gear too. All this despite the three prescribed rappels and four lengthy swims in Cheesebox Canyon.

Camping abounds on the Cheesebox Road and we were able to camp at the head of a small tributary of Cheesebox Canyon, 10.9 miles from Soldier Crossing and the highway. We entered the canyon there with wetsuits, rappelling gear and 60′ of rope. A serious of simple but brushy downclimbs over half a mile brings you to the canyon bottom and your first slot. You’re in the water immediately and wetsuits are unequivocally welcome at 75°F and cloudy.

The rappels happen close together and are not into water. #1 is downclimbable, as is #3. This blogger did not have the stomach to risk downclimbing #2, though I surmise it is possible despite the slick and wet walls, which would obviate the need for rappelling gear completely. Rappel #3 does not look immediately downclimbable but there is a passage through the boulder jam that makes it possible and in fact easy. To rappel this would require at least 70′ of rope.

The swims are just that – lengthy bottomless pools – and there are 4 in all. The last one, a “swim slot” as author Michael Kelsey badges it, is bypassable with careful stemming. The exit is a quarter mile passed this swim and puts you back on the Cheesebox Road about 3 miles from where you entered.

Mayventure Day 1: Back to the Black Hole

Finally. I’m back. This time with Kyle Hurd. We’re back. Feels amazing. Invigorating. Relaxing. True.

There’s a lot I could say about today, a ton. There’s the beta – what’s the Black Hole like? There’s the personal part, thoughts and feelings.  Then there’s the interpersonal part, all the time I’ve spent with Kyle

But I’m falling asleep, it’s midnight now and kyle and I have been up watching for meteors|

Woke up looking down on the Fry Canyon Ruins for the first time since 2014 with Beth. Seems it’s a place I come to once each year when I can. Took a very leisurely start to the day, playing harmonica and drinking tea. Packed up and drove 10 miles down to the trailhead.

The Black Hole is a riot IF YOU HAVE A GOOD WETSUIT. In a passable wetsuit it is doable but not so much enjoyable. Kyle was markedly cold before the swims were over in his 2/3 surfing wetsuit, and I was comfortable but not interested in any more swimming without first warming up in my tri suit. Luckily all of the swimming cones back to back, so it’s easytoo justkeep going. After the first three you want more and your sure you won’t get enough. By the fourth (the best, go down earlier not later, “the bunny grotto” as Kyle called it, long story) you’re loving it and you’ll be so glad you have your wetsuit and can hang out. How quickly awe dissipates. By the fifth swim you’re dealing with some heavy conditions – slithering through a log jam and moving through 30′ of log soup – and you’re starting to realize how cold you are and that you don’t know how long the obstacles go on for but it could be a long time. You start to think back to that sign at the beginning of the canyon that says that experienced canyoneers say that safe descent is impossible and you really hope that it’s wrong and you push forward and when you get out of that pool without getting crushed by the logs above you or ensnared by the logs below the water you’re thanking you’re lucky stars. And then you have another long narrow swim. And another, and you’re in and our odd the water a few more times not knowing how deep or will get and you’re doing it just to get through it and take a break and then gleefully not walk or wade or swim or have to even think about muddy water where you can’t see the bottom anymore. And eventually you get there. But the point is you WILL get enough water in the Black Hole.

Timing is key, we walked a little faster than average and were in nice sun by the very last swim, having left the trailhead at about 11am. Then, we had a hot but not sweltering May jaunt back up the blacktop to the car at 4pm, a 5 hour roundtrip. Excellent. Dry bagged music – that is a lightweight speaker and mp3 player in a MAC sack – was a blessing and really helped to set the mood when we were downing waterfalls and swimming through caves, and then to keep us positive when the soup got thick.

We got in the car and finally located Soldiers Crossing, passing it twice in the process, then creeped up the Cheesebox Road at 10 miles an hour to a campsite near the head of Cheesebox Canyon, some 11 miles in. We grilled filet mignon that I picked up and had seasoned in Glenwood Springs. The stars were good, but they were much better and I was able to observe a couple of fireballs in the predawn hour, having set an alarm. It was a prelude: the Eta-Aquarid meteor shower peaks tomorrow night.

Mayventure Day 0: Running

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Packed late the night before, then got up today at 6. Hit the road to Summit County, was plenty early for my 9am appointment and dipped out early. Picked up the necessary gear at Allan’s and by 2pm Kyle found me in the park about to do some yoga. Gorgeous air-conditioned drive west and the evening found us stopping to take pictures of vistas and pictographs and petroglyphs and Lake Powell. We were ecstatic to find the Fry Canyon overlook unoccupied. Or at least I was. I let Kyle discover the ruins in the morning. Frogs ceaselessly bellowed from the canyon bottom, filling the starry night with an eerie bustling chatter that was palpable in every void, including the gaping canyon between us and them and the gulf that lies between all of us and the stars. This would be a prelude to the playful amphibians that would dot the walls and peer down at us from the alcoves during tomorrow’s adventure. We grilled bratwurst and slouched in our camp chairs as we identified constellations in the moonless dark. We had come here in part because the peak of the Eta-Aquarids meteor shower coincided with the new moon almost to the minute, so our night-one mission was simple: locate the shower’s radiant (Aquarius) so that we’d know where the meteors would be coming from two days hence.

Northwest Fork of Three Canyon

Nickname: That’s It?
Fun: 3/5
Difficulty: 1-4/5
Beauty: 2/5
Time: 1.5 hrs down and back up
Hiking: 90%
Rappels: 0-3
Advanced DCs: 0-3
Water: bone dry

There’s really not much to this canyon. An advanced canyoneer who enjoys climbing and a full day adventure would likely prefer to descend the Main (East) Fork of Three and exit via the three upclimbs in the Northwest Fork. If they’re too difficult or the exposure proves unmanageable there’s always the prescribed exit route near the bottom of the fork, which,  incidentally, is itself very exposed.

Another alternative route would be to do the North Fork (which this author has not explored) and the Northwest Fork in the same day,  with perhaps a jaunt along the green in either direction, or up and back down East Three.

Allan and I parked nearby and were in the canyon in less than 10 minutes. The first rappel is obviously downclimable and we mistook it for such. R2 is intimidating due to its height,  a sold 65 vertical feet,  and so I did it with a top belay. The canyon’s lower pouroffs are easily identified by a righthand (western) bypass trail, again very exposed. We turned around above these, realizing we’d completed the canyons interesting parts, though I suspect that the section below the pouroffs is lush and beautiful,  seeing as Three’s lower main fork is said to have perennial flowing water and this is where the Northwest Fork joins it.

I free soloed both rappels and assisted Allan with a top belay on each using a 9mm static line,  a grigri and two locking biners; both raps already had wrql anchors around chokestones. The risk of a big fall is minimal because neither rappel is vertical. You could, however,  slide deeply into the back of either crack, making restarting your climb difficult as both cracks are too narrow there.

The drive to Green River was less than 30 minutes, and Ray’s Tavern turned out two mediocre burgers like usual.