remember – field journal entries are brain dumps without spelling/grammar distractions.
I had a meeting in flagstaff and since i have a new ride that I absolutely love to drive I jumped at the opportunity for two hours of highway speed and refined driving pleasure. I recently sold my f150. I know. it was a good truck but I was ready for something different, sportier and a little more inline with my corporate gig. yea I could have kept it as a dedicated offroad rig but I am on a minimalist kick lately and I need an extra car on my insurance declaration page like I need another hole in my head (do you have any idea how expensive it is to insure three teenage drivers and don’t even get me started on college tuition). what I really needed was one vehicle that could get me to the trailheads and ski areas yet looked at home on the executive parking level. I looked at everything from the Subaru outback to Toyota sequoia. I narrowed it down to three. Porsche cayenne, jeep grand Cherokee overland, and one of the land rovers (lr4, range rover, range rover sport). I was a bmw and Porsche driver early on and I appreciated, er, loved driving those cars. I really wanted to go back that direction. however, bmw didn’t have anything that fit the off highway bill and while the cayenne is a boat load of pure fun/raw sex appeal it just doesn’t have enough space for people and gear.
the grand Cherokee overland is a very nice machine with every bell/whistle you can imagine, it has a ton of power when properly outfitted with the 5.7 ltr v8 (you can also now get a diesel engine in it but that is no fun), and is very capable off road. truth is I would have gone that route if the 16s were in stock but once I make my mind up to do something I don’t have a lot of patience and I kept running across pristine, very low mile land rovers that swept me off my feet. in the end the rover won me over and I am happier than a puppy with two peters. they are magnificent on the road regardless of weather conditions, extremely good off the road, and I wont get any more funny looks from the boss when I drop him off at the airport. it needs a few tweaks and mods to work perfectly for what I do but I will write more about that later.
it was snowing in flag and my meeting was moved from lunch to dinner so I had an entire afternoon to kill. the kachina trail from top to bottom is 7.2 miles one way. piece of cake with plenty of time to clean up and make my appointment if I did it right. I parked in the snowbowl parking lot and asked a buddy to pick me up at the bottom. given the condition of the 5 miles of forest road he had to negotiate and the fact that it was still snowing that was no small favor. thanks tony, I appreciate it very much.
the beauty of having my system down pat and all set up is that when I want to go I just pick a few things off the rack, grab my pack, and go. prep time takes all of 10 minutes and I like that. here is what I went with for mixed snow conditions and sub-freezing temps at 9500ft –
- hardcore baseball cap
- under armour long sleeve crew neck tactical t shirt
- under armour 9 inch boxer briefs
- danner xstatic otc socks
- hanwag mountain light boots
- arborwear ascender pants
- yates uniform rappel belt
- rei active stretch half zip long sleeve top
- kuiu chugach nx rain jacket
there were already two new inches of fresh on the ground, snow was coming down hard and steady when I left the truck. that continued for the next two plus hours while I worked my way down the mountain. the temp was 19 degrees.
I had additional clothing in my eberlstock hunting halftrack pack in case I had to bivy or the weather got worse
- hanz nomex liner gloves
- arcteryx alpha mitt shells with fleece liners
- under armour coldgear balaclava
- kuiu chugach nx rain pants
- Patagonia das parka with hood
the snow was filling in the barren patches of ground and covering up the trail. I lost it at least half a dozen times and I thought about turning around/heading back up more than a few times. at least I could have followed my own tracks back to the parking lot but I pressed on.
I stripped off the rei “sweatshirt” and stuffed it back in my pack. the kuiu jacket kept the snow/wind out and did a good enough job venting that I wasn’t getting soggy inside even with the hood up. I kept my cap on but my gloves off. as long as I kept moving at a good pace I wasn’t too hot or too cold, I was just right. and that is the point to the whole active ventilation/physical exertion control thing I have talked about for so long. adjust your pieces and your physical activity level to stay in that “just right” zone. with the right gear it works like a charm.
If I had wanted to I could have left the jacket in the pack and used my umbrella (if it were 10 degrees warmer I would have).
I didn’t need the kuiu shell pants to stay dry, the arborwear pants did a great job of sloughing the big fat snowflakes and moisture from brush/logs. I have said it many times, they are the best backcountry pants I have ever used.
I love my lowa rangers but the hanwag mountain lights are I think my true favorite boots. especially in wet slick conditions because the rubber compound they use on the soles just grips better. suffice it to say my feet were dry, warm, and comfortable from start to finish.
as I descended the precip whittled down to just spitting and the snow covered ground gave way to mud and open grassy meadows. I hit the Shultz tank/weatherford trailhead parking lot and a waiting ride back up to get my truck just as the sun was setting. another nice afternoon on the san Francisco peaks.
the moral of this story is develop a good system, keep it and keep your gear ready so you can take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, and even mini-adventures beat being stuck in the office so enjoy them. also, don’t be afraid or too proud to pull the plug if the situation doesn’t feel right. then again pushing through adversity is part of the pay off, right?
the challenge for me on this trip was losing the trail on the upper half. I wasn’t worried about getting lost because the area isn’t that big, I knew where I was, and that I could bail of the side to end up on the highway below if needed but that would have been a cluster. the risk here was the footing. I could easily have slipped and turned an ankle, twisted a knee or tumbled down any number of steeps which could have been interesting considering nobody else was on the trail. of course I had my WEK, good comms and responsible people knew generally where I was/what I was doing/when to push the panic button but you have to be careful. the trick to solo excursions in iffy conditions is to mitigate the risk by slowing down, being deliberate, concentrate on what you are doing (don’t let your mind drift or wonder – focus up), and using your head. a good hiking pole as a third leg helps a lot too. if it gets too western then stop and turn around. no biggy. trust me it is more embarrassing to have the SAR gods come haul your sorry ass off the mountain then it is to admit that discretion is the better part of valor and not finish what you started.
good trip, good meeting, good to see an old friend, and the new rig was an absolute joy to drive.