Monday, August 31, 2009

Station fire timelapse - southern california burning

Some very impressive time lapse photograpy of the Station Fire in Southern California from Brandon Riza, check out

And tragically, from the Billings Examiner:

Fire officials announced yesterday that the Station fire, currently burning in Angeles National Forest, claimed the lives of two firefighters Sunday afternoon. The deaths occurred when the firemen's vehicle ran off the edge of a mountain road while they were working to control the intense flames near Mt Gleason. Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant made the announcement after the families were notified.

These were the first two deaths caused by the fire; several civilians were previously injured after failing to evacuate from their homes near the fire.

Meanwhile, the fire continued to rage through Sunday night and Monday morning consuming more than 85,000 acres of land. With only 5% containment, the fire is expected to continue growing in all directions. Estimates for full containment have now been pushed back to September 15th......

While the Station fire rages in the Angeles National Forest, a second fire erupted in the San Bernadino National Forest. Dubbed the Oak Glen fire, the blaze started Sunday afternoon and quickly expanded to burn close to 1,000 acres by Monday morning. Starting in the hills just south of Oak Glen Road, the fire's potential to expand even more is great given the terrain and continued hot weather across Southern California.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tortured feet and trout

As I write this, my blisters and toenail have finally started to heal from the hiking trip last weekend. A couple of buddies and I hiked into a drainage north of Yellowstone National Park. Our mission was to scout the area for the possibility of a backcountry elk hunt (during the rut), catch some fish and avoid being mauled by a grizzly. We hit the heavily traveled pack trail just a bit east of Jardine. The trail gained 1000ft and descended 2500ft over 12 miles. We took a nice lunch break on the pass and had the opportunity to watch a grizzly bear frolick through the meadow. It went something like - "Hey stop, whats that?" "I think its an elk butt" "Really?" "Nope, its a griz - shit". A shot of adrenaline hit our veins as we all checked our bear spray. Sixty yards was close enough. Five minutes later we bumped into another bear, this time it was a black bear only 25 yards off the trail, time to keep moving on.

The descent ambled through alpine flats, crossed streams, snaked through dark patches of timber and finally broke out into the open scorched area that had been burned in the fires of 1988. During the lunch break I noticed a few hotspots on my feet and liberally applied some moleskin. It seemed that both my street shoes and my socks had seen better days. I had a hole working in the heel of my sock and a chunk missing out the heel of my shoe. The downhill kept on pounding and the pitch also took a toll on my right big toe I would later find out.

We set up camp in a big meadow near the Hellroaring ranger station. With the creek nearby, dry firewood everywhere and 2 flasks of Crown we had no problem settling in for the night. The bells on the packers horses in a nearby camp clanged away under the starry night.

The next day we made a 8 mile loop further up into the basin to check out the fishing. Half way up there I again stopped to assess the damage to my heel. To my surprise I found a silver dollar sized piece of skin had chosen to part ways with being attached to my body. The next remedy involved what I should have done in the first place, duct tape. We hit the meadow in a high valley and stumbled onto another bear. This guy looked to be easily 300 pounds and was lumbering along next to the creek, as if looking for an easy fish. At first we thought he was a grizzly however after zooming in the photos I took, I think it might actually be a black bear. See what you think and let me know eh? After watching him wander off through the willows, we sat down to have some lunch. One eye on our sandwich and one eye over our backs.

A primetime fishing hole beside us cut the lunch short and we started to sample the goods. I think we pulled 30 fish out of a 75 foot stretch of river. They averaged 8-10" with a dozen or so at 16". All of them cutthroat with great spirited fights. The next quarter of a mile turned up excellent cut banks stacked with hungry cutties. We must have hooked 50 fish a piece with many more strikes and refusals. I had never experienced so may refusals, the fish would often times bump the fly once then hit again only spitting it out a second later. Patience was the key.

We followed the trail back to the trail and found that something larger was also using the same trail. Some bear tracks that measured up to my foot. Unfortunately we never did cross a single elk track or see any elk scat. We fished some great canyon sections back near camp and turned in for the night, dreaming of the 12 tortuous miles ahead.

The next morning I made one of the best decisions yet, I opted to hike out in my Chacos. With a piece of duct tape over the missing pieces of heel, it was money. It definitely proved that those sandals are a worthy tool besides just lounging once you get to camp. As it so often seems to happen, the rain began to fall on the hike out. But it was a perfect cool down to a 32 mile trip into paradise. The beers that put on ice at the trailhead......yeah they tasted okay.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic - one nutty race

Andrew Skurka, Bobby Schnell, and Chris Robertson hike and packraft 180 miles in 3 days 18 hours across the eastern Alaska Range to place first in the 2009 race. They started with all the gear and food they needed to finish; no aid stations, support crews, or caches were allowed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sayulita, Mexico

Almost one year ago, some great friends of ours visited Missoula from a far off Alantic island. It was a bit of a homecoming for them, visiting the town where they had grown fond of each other while jumping from perfectly good airplanes. They had a hankering for cool mountain air, good tunes in the street and fantastic trout fishing in crystal cold waters. Low and behold they dropped a proposition on us that seemed far fetched at the time, but a few days later was total reality. Let's go to Mexico.

Our tickets out of Western MT were booked in the dead of winter. Which in some cases I'm sure contributed to the overall success of the trip. White blasted the land and the mercury hovered in the twenties, who wouldn't want to go to Mexico? The promise of 90 degree temps with the equivalent in shirt-soaking humidity sounded like the perfect remedy to winter's cold clutch. Never mind the soon to be 21 month old twin girls that would surely attempt to take over the cockpit while en route to our destination.

Oh the preparation, you have no idea my friend. We analyzed every possible toddler necessity one may need while in a 3rd world county. In the end after a massive heap of baby gear, medicines and clothes were sorted on the bed, we crammed it all into two suitcases and maxed out our baggage weight (50lb/bag). Distractions for the kids on the plane were priority numero uno (that's number one for those the don't speak Espanol). Let it be known that you should not underestimate the power of a 50 cent Winnie the Pooh wrapped in a gift sack. These little gems ran interference on the kids like nobody's business.

Three legs on the plane dropped us into Puerto Vallarta. After which we hit up the Mega SuperMarket and stocked up on 20 pounds of chorizo, drinkable yogurt and diapers (Okay, a few other items were added to the card). We learned that efficiency in a mexican super market and paying with traveler's checks do not go hand in hand. After solving the dinero challenge, I was greeted with another. One of the girls decided that the foreign smells and heat did not agree with the bottle of milk she had finished 2 hours earlier. T was unfortunately wore the brunt of her upchuck. Prior to that moment I did not know how to say "Clean Up on Aisle 7" in spanish.

The winding jungle road out of Puerto Vallarta north was a great introduction. We topped the rise and dropped down into the great town of Sayulita. Our driver knew the name of the house we were staying at, didn't even need an address. After 18 hours of travel it felt muy bueno to be setting up shop at the casa. Sounds cliche, but the place had sweeping ocean views from the patio/hammock with ocean breezes blowing through the palm trees.

The next 2 weeks or so were mainly spent something like this; walking down to the beach at dawn to try and catch a wave, lounging by the pool in the sweltering mid-day heat, sucking down Pacifico's laced with lime, sampling the best fish taco's at great little restaurants, enjoying the surf and sun at some great beaches, and constantly pondering what else we should put on the tortillas (I should have brought a case of those home). Another cliche, it was good to leave all the worries at home.

The sounds and sights of a different culture were refreshing. The slower way of life, cobble and dirt streets were perfect. My only recommendation is that they place air-conditioned booths every 300 yards for gringos like myself. I would then be able to dry my sweat soaked clothes and avoid all moisture related sores and diseases. JK. Our whole crew had a great time. A six year old learned to surf; twins developed a fine taste for sand and to frolick in the ocean spray; a land locked mountain boy caught some waves and landed a monster 30lb dorado; and parents relaxed and watched as their kids enjoyed a new world.

And I even came home a smarter man. I learned that passing on corners is not a good idea, making coffee with mexican tap water speeds up "Montezuma's revenge", the key to fish tacos is fish, mexican speed bumps are big, watching sheet lightning on the roof is exciting, wearing sandals where scorpions lurk is a good thing, and last but not least - Mama is always right. I could go on but hopefully I'm painting the picture that this vacation was just plain kick ass.

And finally, the fish that made my year, a 30 pound dorado (aka Mahi Mahi, dolphin fish).