Jan 2, 2011 at 9:49 am #1267191
Desert Wasteland? – White Mountain Wilderness, NM, Three Rivers Canyon Trail, 12/30-12/31/10
Speeding down HWY US-70 directly into the blast zone of the famed Trinity Site location, my brother in-law Ben Wood recalls to me a conversation he had with his culinary chef instructor back home in Missouri over a few pints at a Kansas City pub, this fellow whom I know nothing of apparently has it in for New Mexico, referring to our land as a "barren wasteland". I hate this guy's perspective already but I cannot help but see the foolishness in my argument considering my geographical location at this moment in time. My defense dangles by a thread considering the fact that we're literally driving through one of the most desolate and hostile stretches of land in the desert southwest, a swatch of dried up deposited gypsum and massive selenite crystalline dunes that constitute the Tularosa Basin. The seasonal absence of water and any water outlet has left this desolate lowland a dry and barren place at the surface, especially when you're down in the thick of it kicking up dust and choking on your own tongue. However, a traveler wandering through this desert only has to look up against a blazing sun to make out the silhouettes of the mountains stretched out before them in the distance. All too often we're caught with our heads down forgetting to look up.
I want to tell Ben's instructor that sand dunes don't need water, in fact it's water that forms the very particles that shape the dunes, that there's nothing 'barren' about them, that cactus make due with what the skies spare them, that the roadrunner runs fast and light because the scorching earth beneath them tells them too. Of course, I only recall to Ben how foolish it is for his instructor to think such a thing, but I'm reminded by my own words that you have to earn the rewards in New Mexico; for some, this is unattainable, for us it's home.
With the nod from our wives for all 'the boys' to simultaneously split town right before the new years bell rings, we run to the hills. I threw together a quick route for a pre-holiday overnighter, the only objective to purely hike up and get out in the mess of it. Leading up to (12/30) Thur. forecasters and weather models were calling for a fast moving low pressure system to slam into the Sacramento Mountains right as we would be pulling in to the trailhead. It would not disappoint.
Dawn patrol. Blazing east over the Organ Mountain range into the Tularosa Basin. The sun briefly rises up from the horizon to burn off some morning frost, but would later be blocked out by the wake of the encroaching winter storm.
Sitting in the front seat with half of a green chile, egg, cheese, bacon, and sausage burrito in my gut, prepared with meticulous detail and skill by a former penitentiary resident who insists on calling me "Boss", I welcome the cold weather that's brewing outside the windshield.
Forest Rd. 579. Few miles west of the trailhead hopping cattle guards and skidding along an old washboard road. The thermometer shrugs off one degrees Fahrenheit with every yellow dash in the road that slips under our tires.
An enthusiastic and atypically informed and welcoming BLM employee/resident gets the scoop on our intentions as we arrive at the trailhead. At this point I desire to falsify our itinerary for fear he'll scold us for heading up into higher country when a strong low pressure system is about to unload. He only suggests we do an out and back. We'll see.
I zip up my windshell just as the anemic sun is finally being blotted out by the dense cloud cover. Last minute gear suggestions, eliminations, re-evaluations, additions, adjustments, etc. are made out of the back of the vehicle. We shoulder our packs and hit the trail mid-morning, typical pea-cocking rituals over the title of lightest pack is the last thing on anyone's mind… no one cares. It's all about the joy of the hike now.
Different textures crunch underfoot. Snow fell the night before.
For prospective anglers, the Three Rivers Canyon still holds small trout pools, despite the excessive blow down and a massive monsoonal flood that nearly decimated the brook trout population in 2008 ripping down the canyon to the basin below. The week prior to this trip I had every intention of trying my hand at some winter nymphing with my Tenkara Iwana rod and letting my brother in-law check out the setup before purchasing his own, however the weather would dictate otherwise. I've been desiring to get in some quality backcountry time with the clever little TrailLite Designs Ebira Rod Quiver, BPL's own Thom Darrah has been developing some unique pieces of UL adventure gear and this item has been one that I've had the pleasure of using at a limited capacity since late summer. I'm anticipating a few fishing specific outings to this area when the weather turns for the better in spring. For now I'm enjoying the wintery transformation this canyon is undergoing. The freeze and thaw cycle is a good thing.
Large slabs of canyon wall are adorned in fresh snow. Further up the Three Rivers Canyon trail the weather conditions continue to become much more pucker inducing for this ragamuffin group of desert rat hikers. The beauty of the muted sky and the roar of the heavy winds swirling through the canyon evoke smiles that only a good day of hiking can bestow.
As the light of morning prematurely slips behind a thick veil of gray I'm reminded of one of my favorite songs:
Listen to the silence, let it ring on
Eyes, dark gray lenses frightened of the sun
We would have a fine time living in the night
Left to blind destruction
Waiting for our sight
–Joy Division, Transmission
My typical trail banter is swallowed in the white noise of the day. Our feet move to the natural rhythm of the trail: breathe, hike, look up, look down, rock hop, hike, stop, breathe, hike (repeat).
We hike with a sense of anticipation, for something up ahead, just around the next crook in the trail.
Each individual enjoys the process.
Following the impressions of a large male elk left in the snow there's a particular comfort in knowing that we're not the first to break trail this morning. We hardly ever are. In jovial conversation I point down like some fledgling naturalist to the tracks of a male elk, which stirs up an argument over whether the tracks belong to cattle or elk. I insist to my buddy that they are indeed elk and that no cattle in their right mind would wander up this canyon. He's wholly convinced otherwise. I try my best to hold my tongue and let it go. Shortly after, while searching for a suitable camp, I stumble across a frozen corpse lying in the ground, with only the massive creatures fallen crown jutting out of the soil, I cannot help feel a sense of divine intervention. I was one immature response away from saying "Told you so, told you so!".
We discuss our options at this point as the storm increases. In an instant the cool gray/white sky above us slips away like a phantom and an eery uncharacteristically dark and brown sky casts a shadow over us, transforming the trees into dark figures. I raise my head and immediately recognize the smell that fills my nostrils… dust. The storm had stirred up an enormous all consuming cloud of dust from the Tularosa Basin below us and was now stirring these particles into a wintry slurry. The hour hand said 1pm, but the sky was full of deceit, for it appeared to be closer to sundown.
Shangri La-2 and Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar respectively. Both shelters held their ground against the wind blown snow of early afternoon, and well into the evening with the constant winds. Big thanks to Dave Chenault over at Bedrock and Paradox and Hendrik and his Hiking in Finland Nordic LightPacking constituents for convincing me with all their great accolades and reviews over the Trailstar.
Shelters pitched for the night, we rummage about in search of material for fire. Gathered damp wood and frozen blades of grass prove unsuitable for burning. It's going to be a long night. Everyone senses the awkward standstill we've arrived at and we retreat to Kenny's shelter for some honey whiskey, food, boisterous conversation, and good company.
By 530 pm we head to our shelters for evening. Kenny and I tank up on water walking down to the stream on fresh powder. The now partially frozen creek is a touch disconcerting. I tuck my container of water under my quilt with me so there's something to cook with come morning. Slam a Snickers bar and flip the lamp off. Night.
Ice crystals formed on the surface of my newly acquired Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar.
3am comes fast and I wake up fresh and ready to go, back at home I never get more than 6 hours rest, I'm already pushing 9hrs. With nothing else to do I stare at the peak of my shelter some more.
Patiently I wait until I hear the stirring of the other guys to fire up my stove. Nothing is worse than sitting around watching other people eat breakfast when you've already had your fill. There's always room for more, especially when it's only a few degrees above 0F.
In regular form Ben is first to rise. In regular form my little point and shoot is in everyone's face.
The early morning sky ebbs and flows seamlessly from dark to light.
Morning congregation takes place inside Kenny's REI Quarterdome T3. We pass around a fresh pressed pot of coffee and whiskey of course. Conversation subject matter is sporadic, but mostly focuses on the subject of urinating into bottles in the middle of the night, or avoiding compromise of down loft due to poor technique.
Only had to tap off accumulated snow once in the evening, come morning the few inches of fresh snow on the skirts of my Trailstar were only a welcomed addition.
Microspikes armed, trekking poles unsheathed, ready for the short hike out anticipating beautiful sights with every step. Would we make first tracks?
The flowing creek took the time to freeze over and rest, making the short crossings easier to avoid wet feet.
Typical hikes for me always have some underlying physical challenge or goal in mind from the start. This morning's hike was about the serenity.
The creek came back to life lower down the canyon.
About 1/4 mile from the trailhead the Ponderosa and Fir trees are replaced by alligator juniper, yucca, cactus, and mesquite, allowing a first glimpse of the fresh powder dumped on the Sacramento Mountains.
Kenny and Keith arrived back at the trailhead a few short minutes behind us, in perfect timing, as I remembered that I had thrown in a 6'er or Guiness Extra Stout, which somehow managed to not explode inside the car. Slushy Guiness overflowing out of a freezing cold bottle in a used wool sock cozy is about as good as it gets.
Relishing in the finality of our quick overnight, we're fully aware that all of our family, school, and work schedules won't align like this for another full on group trip like this one until at least spring. For Ben who has been studying to be chef over in Kansas City, MO, the homesick pains for New Mexico were strong, hopefully after this trip he'll be able to get through until spring.
Packed up, heater on high, defrost the toes, we head for home with a smile on our faces.
It doesn't take long, maybe 10 minutes down Forest Rd. 579 before I realize we're now being swallowed whole by the barren sand of the Tularosa Basin. Some might call this place a "barren wasteland", for some of us who take the time to look up once in a while, it's home.
(Temps: 5F-35F Conditions: cloudy, snowy, windy)
Pack: ULA Ohm
Mountainfitter Paklight cuben packliner
Shelter: MLD Trailstar
Sleeping setup: Nunatak Arc Alpinist
Ridgerest (full length sectioned)
MLD Superlight bivy
Clothing worn: Upper- Pata Cap 1 sleeveless-T
I/O Bio Merino Hoody
Patagonia Los Lobos Hoody
Lower- Smartwool boxer briefs
Patagonia silkweight tights
Patagonia Traverse pants
Clothing carried: Montbell AlpineLight Parka
Mountain Hardwear Powerstretch tights (sleep/morning hike)
Footwear: Adidas Adizero XT3
Kahtoola Microspikes (used only on return hike morning of day 2)
Defeet "The Blaze"
synthetic liner socks
(VBL. 1 pair of Subway sandwich bags for morning hike)
OR Flex Tex gaiters
*Extra socks for evening/morning hike:
Darn Tough Cushioned Hikers
Expedition weight Smartwool Calf Socks
Handwear: Ibex Merino liner
Arcteryx Delta SV
Headwear: Merino Buff
Pata lightweight alpine beanie
Cooking and hydration:
MSR Titan Kettle
Snow Peak Litemax stove
BPL Trappers mug for coffee
firesteel+cigar matches in aloksak
small 6×8 piece of shamwow towel
x1 2L Evernew bottle
x1 Gatorade bottle
Micropur tabs + Frontier Pro filter
Poles: Tigoat AGP w/ snow baskets
Lighting: Photon Freedom (worn around neck on cord)
Princeton Tec Quad
Camera: Canon Powershot SD1400 *(tiny and frustrating to use with gloves)Jan 2, 2011 at 10:03 am #1679790
Nice report, wonderful photos. Thanks Eugene.Jan 2, 2011 at 10:06 am #1679794
W I S N E R !BPL Member
Great report and pictures man, way to end a year and begin the new one.
Thanks.Jan 2, 2011 at 10:17 am #1679797
Ken T.BPL Member
Another great report. Thanks. I really need to use my camera more…Jan 2, 2011 at 10:39 am #1679805
Joe ClementBPL Member
So wait………….you're saying New Mexico is a state?
Nice report. You're trip reports are why I would never attempt to do one, the bar is just set too high. And Tularosa Basin is about desolate; I used to hate driving my oldest son to New Mexico Tech.Jan 2, 2011 at 11:00 am #1679818
@davidlutzLocale: Bay Area
I really like the B&W photography.
I told my Dad once that I wanted to take black and white digital photos but I couldn't find a black and white compact flash card.
He couldn't tell if I was joking, what does that mean?Jan 2, 2011 at 11:04 am #1679822
Katharina LångstrumpBPL Member
@kat_pLocale: Pacific Coast
What a beautiful trip report and pictures! Thank you so much, really.Jan 2, 2011 at 11:27 am #1679829
Truly inspiring.Jan 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm #1679912
Tom ClarkBPL Member
@tomclarkLocale: East Coast
As always, nice report. Hard for me to think that New Mexico gets more snow and colder weather than Pennsylvania…live and learn.
TomJan 2, 2011 at 5:33 pm #1679925
Thanks all for the kind words, these are always fun to put together.
New Mexico is pretty mild really, we just have extremes at any given moment, one day it can be 60F and sunny in January, then snowing and 20F the very next day. It's that whole high desert(4,000+ft.)/ low latitude complex we have going on, also helps that we have some mountains scattered about.Jan 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm #1679932
todd harperBPL Member
@funnymoLocale: Sunshine State
You have a new career waiting for you … Guide and author.
As always, I enjoy your reports.
ToddJan 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm #1679944
David ChenaultBPL Member
@davecLocale: Crown of the Continent
That first pic looks like the beginning of the end.
I miss the desert (powder skiing today makes up for it).Jan 3, 2011 at 11:29 am #1680126
@dharmabumpkinLocale: San Gabriel Mtns
Winter always looks great in B&W. Putting that art degree to good use i see! I am also amazed at how diverse New Mexico is. Did your new Alpine Light Parka keep you warm enough?Jan 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm #1680255
Steven ParisBPL Member
@saparisorLocale: Pacific Northwest
Wow, great trip report (just seeing it now).
How was the Patagonia Los Lobos top? Looks like an interesting winter layering piece.Jan 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm #1680281
@truenorthLocale: San Francisco, CA
I always throughly enjoy your trip reports. Love the writing. Your stoke for the wilderness comes through loud and clear. Love it! Looking forward to reading about your future adventures.Jan 4, 2011 at 6:48 am #1680340
Thanks for the kind words. I need to take things seriously and invest in a real digital camera, my tiny point and shoot is frustrating to work with, hopefully soon, thinking Panasonic Lumix series (GF1?, something…). The Alpine Light I only wore the 2nd morning around camp doing chores packing out when it was most chilly, it was excellent, just threw it over everything like a typical outer insulation piece. It kept me much warmer than my UL Inner Parka. I'd recommend it for an affordable down jacket.
The Los Lobos worked very well, I never took the thing off. I was concerned about the lack of a hard face lining to the jacket and not handling wind very well, but when thrown over a Capilene 1 and thin merino hoody it handled uphill hiking with a pack on extremely well, breathes great, and kept me warm without overheating. The pile fleece insulated me without overheating in the 20's and didn't trap any sweat, what little built up moisture dried quickly. I always pack a wind shell or rain shell, so if I have this jacket in the pack and things get really nippy and cutting I'd just throw on a proper shell over this. I'd say the jacket makes a great cool-cold weather active hiking midlayer/outerlayer. The Powerdry sleeves are very warm and comfortable. If I could change anything about the jacket I'd probably say they should have put a hardface lining on the inside of the front panel, added thumbloops to the sleeves, and trimmed down the fit a little.Jan 4, 2011 at 7:11 am #1680350
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
Great report and glad to see someone getting out in the snow. New Mexico is indeed a land of contrasting beauty. Trips like these really encourage me (and probably others) to get out more often with lighter loads.
Question: 3-Rivers is often somewhat wet during the regular season (I'm currently from the area). How was the footing in winter and did you need the microspikes the entire way down?Jan 5, 2011 at 7:11 am #1680678
@lopezLocale: San Gabriel Valley
Excellent. Just excellent. Thanks, I'll definitely be tuning into the Eugenius channel for the next installment.Jan 5, 2011 at 7:45 am #1680685
Mike MBPL Member
Eugene- you have a great knack for writing (and photographing) trip reports! very enjoyable read (and viewing)
how did the vbl system work out for you? anything you'd change foot wise?
also how did you like the Flex Tex gaiters- I've been using a very short pair (MB Stretch) for snowshoeing and were looking for something a little taller like the Flex Tex (haven't seen a real need for the knee high ones)
MikeJan 5, 2011 at 9:27 am #1680706
Richard NisleyBPL Member
@richard295Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
You should be getting paid by BPL to post your reports as part of the bi-weekly content. Your words and pictures are truely professional… thanks.Jan 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm #1680817
Whereabouts are you? We should try and meet up sometime for a hike if you're in the Las Cruces area. Footing would've been perfectly fine sans Microspikes, I only had them packed expecting icy creek crossing in the morning, which was the case leaving camp the 2nd day. Wore them all the way down but not wanting to fiddle with them taking them off, wasn't needed for more than 3 miles though. I appreciated the added traction on a few icy crossings leaving camp where the two guys who hiked out behind me lost their footing. I had teased with the idea of doing a loop up to the Crest Trail and coming down Dry Canyon but some of the guys weren't prepared for a full day of fresh powder hiking. The "Bowl" section of trail #44 around mile 7-8 leading up to the Crest is steep and Microspikes in the deep pow would've been worthless.
The VBL subway bag liners worked fine at keeping my socks dry, hence warm(ish). It was a poor mans solution that the fit the bill. Changes? A pair of Rocky Goretex socks are in the mail for some early spring trips. I'm done hiking through crusty spring snowpack in April with cold wet socks. The Adidas XT3's shoes worked surprisingly well but definitely provided no insulation as expected. I don't have enough experience on snow to really know what will work for me in the long run but I was happy with this short stint, still learning. If anything I learned that my feet get realllly cold easily. I'm more adept at handling hot sand and rocks than snow, I look for feedback from guys like you Mike! OR Flex Tex gaiters are great, fit is trim and snug, and the durability is a bonus for the slight weight over some of the lighter options like: Dirty Girl and Simblissity. They strike a good balance of fit, weight, coverage, and durability for me. Nylon instep strap are a bonus. I'd recommend them to a friend.Jan 6, 2011 at 6:20 am #1680951
Mike MBPL Member
Eugene said "I'm more adept at handling hot sand and rocks than snow, I look for feedback from guys like you Mike! "
fair enough :) I'm going to try and come up with a lightweight foot setup that will work for multi day trips, my current setup (a waterproof, insulated mid) works fine for day snowshoe trips, but I think moisture would spoil things on longer trips.
thanks for the feedback on the Flex Tex- I'm going to get set orderedJan 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm #1681171
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
@ Eugeneius – Just returned to between New Mexico and El Paso TX, so I will try the PM route. Backpacked around here for years before work sent me out of the area for 2 yr, plus just finished a 2 mo. California family vacation.
After traveling, New Mexico offers one the best contrast of deserts, forests, and mountains, except for drought years.Jan 6, 2011 at 11:23 pm #1681315
Tony WongBPL Member
@valsharLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
+1 on what Richard said.
Holy crap! How did I not see your report til now?
Great report and you truly have a gift for words and painting us a picture with them of what it was like to be there.
You have definitely raised the bar when it comes to trip reports.
You should consider adding links to your other trip reports at the end of your most recent trip reports.
It would be a shame to cheat people of the opportunity to see and read about your other experiences.
Besides, with all the care and effort that you put into creating them, it would be a shame to let them get pushed into the back pages of the history of trip reports to be forgotten.
Few questions for you….did you shot the photos in black and white or did you convert them to black and white after your trip with software?
If so, what software program do you use?
As for maybe moving to a "real" camera, I think that with the smaller one you are going to take a lot more photos than with a DSLR.
I have a Canon Powershot SD880IS pocket camera on my last trip to Lassen National Park, I took some 900 photos and video clips over a 4 day trip.
On the same trip, my childhood friend, Jeff, took a fraction of shots that I did on his DSLR.
Still, it might be neat to see what your shots would look like if you had a different camera.
Anyway, really enjoy your trip report and you have opened up my eyes to the beauty in places so unlike the Sierras that I am fortunately to live close to.
-TonyJan 7, 2011 at 9:57 am #1681421
You're always an encouragement, cheers!
All photos were taken on my Canon SD1400IS, all are full frame in color for widest range of information in the images (helps for when they are converted to grayscale in Aperture), I'm not happy with the 'B&W' setting in my cameras Priority mode. I've been using Aperture on my Mac for photo organizing and non-pixel based editing, these were done using this. The extent of my photo software use is for establishing desired Levels in my highlights, middle gray, and blacks, other than that I'm inept at photosoftware. I'm really an oldschool wet-lab kind of guy and know more about shooting with a Holga and developing or pushing 120 roll film.
Point and shoots are valid tools as a means to an end, the image quality just suffers along the way and has its limitations, the content of a photograph is always up to the user whether it's shot on a 3mp camera phone or a $20,000 Hasselblad. I enjoy my point and shoot very much and the pluses outweigh the minuses, but as I've been shooting more images lately my desire to have creative control from conception down to shadow detail has increased, I'm realizing my SD1400IS definitely has its strong points and increasingly noticeable weak points. The photographs I take are still just footnotes to my time outdoors though, the conversations, sights, smells, memories take precedence.
There are a lot of 4/3rds, full sensor, mirrorless digital cameras coming out now that open up a lot of opportunities, they give you slightly larger than point and shoot camera size but many of the benefits of using a fullsize DSLR (fullsensor, interchangeable fast lenses, manual controls, durability, image quality, high ISO, FullHD vid).
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