Winter Moonscapes

The Moonscape Trail is an unofficial route in our area that it is frequented by mountain bikers, hikers, and walkers.   We have to cross a fence to get to it, so we only use the trail in the off-season and we leave nothing behind but our footprints.   We can’t encourage use of the trail; it is up to individuals to make responsible choices on their own.

When we do go along this trail, we wind through the sagebrush on relatively level terrain.

Moonscaper 003brThis trail has a south exposure so dries more rapidly, aided by a lack of tree cover.

Moonscaper 004brIt is an out-and-back trail, easy to follow.

Moonscaper 010rIt has long been a favorite for locals.   The land may see development at any time, so we quietly use the trail in the winter when there can be no conflicting uses of the trail.

Moonscaper 008brOn the last day of the year we were able to hike under the low winter sun.

Moonscaper 002rWe enjoy a winter moonscape each year and hope to do so for a while yet.

Fat Man’s Misery

In Zion National Park, we can hike on designated trails, scramble across the slickrock, or we can canyoneer on technical (or non-technical) routes.   Technical routes require equipment to get down the drop-offs when going down a canyon route from top to bottom.   We picked Fat Man’s Misery and the Subway on our last trip to the area.   Fat Man’s starts off the road in the eastern area of Zion.   The route starts by going through a wooded canyon between Checkerboard Mesa and Crazy Quilt Mesa.  Once over the crest of the canyon divide, the route is cross-country, requiring some navigation skills, then a descent into Misery Canyon across the slickrock.

The entrance into the narrows of  Misery Canyon is the place to put on wetsuits and harnesses.   Sculpted narrows await the explorer and the next two hours is a combination of scrambling, hiking, down-climbing, and rappelling.

Zion 3 104rSome sections are dark, many are quite narrow, some require “spidering” over narrow spots or past obstacles, but it’s all great fun.

Zion 3 106rMany of the sections of this route have picturesque grottos, carved canyons, and sinuous passages.   The technical sections lie outside the park boundaries so a permit is not required, but this is no route for novices.

Zion 3 107rFour natural bridges are found along the way, but the author was too busy keeping up more experienced canyoneers to take the time to fish out his camera for the photos.   Frequent plunges and cold-water swims through potholes means keeping electronics carefully double-drybagged.   (Nevertheless, the camera was still damaged by being banged into walls on narrow downclimbs.)  The water was cold and neoprene socks and a wetsuit are a must for this route.

Zion 3 109rWe rappeled a number of times with the longest drop being about 40 feet.  Eventually the canyon spills out to the East Fork of the Virgin River.   After lunch on the shore, we headed down another impressive route, Parunuweap Canyon.

Zion 3 113rSimilar to The North Fork of the Virgin River (The Narrows), the East Fork has sheer cliffs rising on both sides and wading in the river is required for about half a mile.

Zion 3 116rThis canyon would be a destination in itself as a scenic route, but it is not an easy place to get to from any direction.

Zion 3 118rThe route out can easily be missed so we watched for cairns in a grassy area on the right side.   The Powell Plaque (commemorating the 1872 expedition) is also there somewhat hidden in an alcove.   The “trail” is a bit of a scramble up a steep gully to the rim above.   From there, cairns mark the return route, but good navigation is still required in the expansive bowls,  ridges, terraces, and cliffs of the area.   The return requires a long northwest traverse west to the right (hidden) canyon.   A map, gps, or guide is recommended.   This last section is south-facing and there are few trees for shade on a hot day.

Zion 3 128rThe entire route can be done in 6-10 hours, depending on the ability of the group to move through the canyons quickly.   We took about 6.5 hours, but the whole thing was so interesting, it felt like a shorter day.   This was the highlight day of 2014 for me and a first venture into the world of technical canyoneering, but not the last….

The Low Winter Sun

While snowshoeing and hiking in the middle of winter, we find ourselves in low-light minimal-chromatic environments.   White snowbanks, brown-grey trunks, green-grey conifers, and dull skies await us.   On a sunny day, the blue skies and reflected light brings out a greater range of colors, but also harsher contrasts of light and shadow.

The low sun, though, can be used to frame colorful views and interesting photos.

Hills Exploration 026brIn open spots, south or southwest facing slopes, or on south-facing hills, look for patches of sun shining through clouds, dispersing the colors through the mists.   In summer we can’t take into-the-sun images without some careful adjustments, but in winter the lower sun (more atmosphere to shine through and more slanted rays), winter condensation clouds and mists allow us to turn our attention southward, toward the sun.

Hills Exploration 029rEnjoy the lightshow while out on the trails and take some trial photos.   The images will probably need some post-processing to find the right mix of light, dark areas, color, and composition, but the rewards of wonderful views + good photos continues to call us out to the low winter sun. Hills Exploration 028br

Red Mountain Scramble

Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah is a great place for outdoor-minded people.   It has paved trails, hiking trails, and many rugged areas to explore.   It also has some very interesting slickrock scrambling opportunities.   We were lucky enough to be guided by a local hiker (Susan) up an unlikely route onto the flanks of Red Mountain.   The word “unlikely” is used to explain that the route is almost all scrambling, winding our way up ledges, ramps, and gullies to the top, then down by another unlikely route.   This is a route only for those who enjoy this kind of challenge.   The following photo shows the first part of the route up along the spine of a hill from right to left.

Zion Trip 1 012brThe cross-bedding and erosion of the sandstone creates a series of ledges that can be climbed.

Zion Trip 1 019rNumerous viewpoints invite the scrambler out to the edge for a look down into the canyon.

Zion Trip 1 008rThe climb up is all steep slickrock scrambling, slow and careful work.   On the edge of the desert on exposed rock, this is also hot and demanding hiking.   We reached the top and enjoyed lunch at another viewpoint.

Zion Trip 1 017rA rainstorm had passed through a few days earlier so potholes on top of the mountain were full of water, contrasting with the orange and white slickrock.

Zion Trip 1 024bbrWe skirted a number of ponds on top of the plateau on our loop route.

Zion Trip 1 026rThe route down was steep and required individuals to find a reasonable choice for each section, but the back of our shorts took a beating sitting and sliding down steep slickrock ramps, boulder slopes, ledges, and gullies.   A particularly long ramp of ledges brought us a long way down above the Three Ponds Trail.

Zion Trip 1 032rThe rock shapes in Snow Canyon are stunning.   To be able to hike over them is a great gift.

Zion Trip 1 040brWe spent a few hours scrambling over the rock on a unique route, one that could only be figured out from many days of exploration.   We were lucky to be able to follow Susan up to the top and back down on a fine September day.   Once we saw the possibilities and scanned the horizon from our high viewpoints, we realized that there are many more days of exploring for us in future visits to the Snow Canyon area.

a personal impression of Snow Canyon

a personal impression of Snow Canyon

In Search of Winter Snags

When snows blanket the hills, we can still hike.   In fact, it is a good time to explore new areas, especially rarely-visited hills, grasslands, and open-forested slopes.   With low winter light and frequent cloud cover, slow progress in the snow, and limited access to viewpoints, we can reset our objectives.   An interesting choice is to hunt out dead standing trees (snags).   The spiral twisting trunks of pines, the “witchy” branches of firs, and misshapen spines of broken trees can be found on the slopes, especially in drier, open spots.

Hills Exploration 001rOlder snags may have no branches left.   More recent snags may have bark and many branches.

Hills Exploration 002r Hills Exploration 003r
Hills Exploration 015r Hills Exploration 006r

We look for trees on slopes as silhouettes to the open skies behind.

Hills Exploration 005r Hills Exploration 007r

The best snags are on the tops of hills or on the edges of steep slopes.

Hills Exploration 012brJuniper clumps and other trees may create unlikely combinations of shapes.

Hills Exploration 016brA snag deep in the forest is harder to capture in a photo and probably will be less interesting.  Single snags on open slopes make the best subjects, but a windswept tree on top of the hill welcomes us for a brief winter visit too.

Hills Exploration 022rThis winter, go out for a visit into the hills and find your own collection of snags…..