Thursday, August 29, 2013

Almost-to-the-Heavenly-Twins from St. Mary's Peak

In the middle of our experiments with cheap packrafts, my friend Stewart and I decided we needed to spend some time up high. The ridge line from Saint Mary's Peak to the Heavenly Twins seemed to fit the bill: it has a high trailhead and a summit post description that dwelled on the gendarmes.  We expected a pleasant scramble through alpine terrain. Ignoring the large amount of vertical gain visible on a map we set our alarms for 6:30 and were at the trailhead after 8.  

We made good time to the Saint Mary's lookout, signed the guest book, chatted with the woman who works there and used her Osborne Fire Finder to identify a few peaks. A resupply hiker told us that a party had made the traverse in 6 hours the previous week and we were unlikely to make it any faster.

From the lookout the traverse looks quite easy. Just run out that red ridge and up that rocky one (see photo above). You can't quite see that instead of the pleasant run along bare ridge, you need to make a thousand foot drop through steep scrub forest before you even get to the rocky ridge.

Looking back towards Saint Mary's from a few miles out the ridge you can see the scrub forest. Less fun then we had hopped.

We enjoyed views of these Spires and walls to the South.

And the weathered peaks to the North.

The granite of the ridge became whiter the further west we progressed.

Just before a large drop off we found a very cool old summit register one entry had dubbed the "Almost-There" jar  after reaching it after a 4am start. We eyed the terrain between us and the main summit and, worrying a bit about the forecast storms, decided the lakes below us looked more tempting than the peaks above. Stewart probably could have made at least one of the proper summits but I was wondering if I would have legs left for the climb back to Saint Mary's.

When I uploaded the photos for this blog post google+ automatically made the panorama above which turned out quite nicely.

The lake we visited was pleasant and not that far out of our way as we needed to drop down to begin the climb back up through the scrub forrest. We both swam and Stewart noticed that it was much warmer than a typical Cascade lake which would have been fed by snow melt much later into the year.

The climb back to the Saint Marys peak & lookout was a bit of a slog, but I suspect we managed to be both the first and last entry in the guest book for the day, some 30 people had signed it between our visits.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Scouting rapids on Hillmap

Low water on the West Fork

You can use as a first step in scouting rivers for put ins and take outs, rapids, dams and other potential river obstacles.

Here's a trip report of our first time in whitewater, with $12 "packrafts".  Great trip, even better because we arrived at the river knowing where we might need to get out of our boats and scout ahead.

A small dam on the main channel of the Bitterroot and the irrigation canal

Map layers for scouting rivers

A combination of the Satellite view and a topo map layer will allow you to scout the length of the river and measure the distance from landmarks to obstacles or the next take out.

In Satellite view zoom in on the section of river you want to float and slowly pan the river.  Sections of white water can indicate rapids, a very straight band of white water spanning the width of the river can be a dam, and sometimes you can see trees in the river that could be a strainer.

A topo map layer will show you where the river bed enters gorges or where it may have quite steep banks, where streams enter the river or where the river branches.  It will also show established take outs, campgrounds, roads and identify other structures.

Rock garden on the West Fork, could be rapids depending on water level

Class III - IV rapids on the famous Browns Canyon on the Arakansas River

Mapping put ins, take outs and other information

The information you need may not always be present on the map layers available at hillmap.  You can add information through the "Add a Waypoint" function on the Paths tab.  For our most recent trip on the West Fork of the Bitterroot, we added take out locations that we found through a web search.

Waypoints for potential take outs or put ins on the West Fork

See our West Fork map of the Bitterroot on hillmap.

At this point in time, Hillmap does not have a map layer that officially shows rapids and other river-specific information.  Using hillmap as your sole source of information for serious rapids would be folly, and is not its intended use.  The map layers available at hillmap are from a variety of sources, and may contain inaccurate, incomplete or out-of-date data.

Given the super low water and mild rapids on the West Fork of the Bitterrot, combined with easy access for scouting in person, we felt that hillmap gave us additional information about the river that proved useful for the trip.

Using Satellite View to scout terrain?  Check out this post that includes screen shots of an area littered with downed trees.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Whitewater in our $12 "Packrafts"

Buoyed (heh) by the lack of instant deflation on our first trip down the Bitterroot in our $12 Intex "Packrafts", we decided to seek out some whitewater up the West Fork. The river was quite low but we found some stretches with lots of rocks and small waves (maybe rocky class II). We spent an afternoon up there yo-yo'ing a stretch of white water near one of the put-ins and a couple days later (after a few minor repairs) did a (car shuttled) 12+ mile day trip including lots of rocks, gravel bars and numerous snags.

Sitting backwards, the large "stern" helps to fight the wheelie effect.

It was an absolute blast and I'm sold on the sport of packrafting. I'll let the photos do most of the talking but the rafts performed admirably. They aren't the most durable things in the world but we are certainly getting our money out of them.

Jen found a nice chute between the rocks in this rapid also seen in the top photo of me. Stewart and I had to attempt it a couple of times before we could run it.

We sit backwards in the rafts. Sitting this way, the large tubes and duck-butt like stern made them stable.  They aren't fast in the water but are  fairly easy to maneuver with back ferrying as Roman Dial recommends in Packrafting! An Introduction and How-To Guide. The tubes could actually stand to be a bit smaller to allow for easier paddling and I'd consider buying the smaller Intex Explorer 100 next time.

Preparing to carry back to the top of the rapid, Stewart's yellow raft is an old life raft.

The rafts are admirably light and easy to carry thanks to the thin material. We were fully planing on ending up swimming but they kept us afloat with a few bits of Tyvek Tape.  Eventually, a few miles into the third day the floors of both of our rafts succumbed to the numerous rocks (and one mandatory log) we'd slid over. The handling of the raft certainly decreased with the floor deflated. For the next trip I plan on using a sleeping pad inside of the now non-inflatable floor.

A gash in Jen's floor. 
Tempering after repairs. The Tyvek tape held but the floor sprung more leaks.
Deflation is a pain but jamming a stick in the valve to hold it open helps.

Getting out on the river has renewed my interest in building a more durable cheap pack raft and I'm sure we'll get a few more trips out of them this summer.

The whole kit:

Carrying boats back up above a rapid in a permanent sunset provided by forest fire smoke.